Friday, July 22, 2011


Colors & Cashews

Guatemala is the land of color. From the richly colored traditional textiles, the bright lace "ponchos" worn by the local Mayans, to the natural colors of the land, color is everywhere.

So maybe that's why I've been knitting up some more colorful stuff lately? (OK that's just an excuse because y'all know I love lots and lots of color in my work). Here are a pair of child's socks knit with a donegal (has little bits of colored slubs in the yarn) wool sock yarn. The pattern is my Hug Me Socks (a free pattern).

Next up is a square baby blanket knit from the center out to the edges with some of my leftover sock yarns. This was a simple mindless project that I could work on when socializing, playing Mexican Train
dominoes, and indulging in the adult beverage of my choice (rum). Although it was mindless knitting the knit hit the fan again with this project. Seems that I started in the center with size US size 3 double point needles. When there were too many stitches on those I switched to a size 3 circular needle. Well, at least I THOUGHT I did. Seems it was a size in between a US size 2 and a US size 3 - it was 3.00mm rather than 3.25mm. Doesn't sound like much of a difference does it? Well it is. The center of the blanket pouffed up and out!
Solution? Rip out from about the center of the orange section, pick up stitches, and knit back to the center using two US size 3 needles and 3 US size 2 needles because I don't have 3.0mm double points. It worked! Yes. I have already ordered some 3.00 needles from Knit Picks.

As I wandered around the grounds of Mario's Marina here to take pictures of my knitting I also took a few photos of some of the plantings. Seems like there's always something different blooming. The local folks who work at the marina have been busy adding new plants both in the ground and in pots.

Do I count as "local"? Because I, too, planted some things! In the back of the grounds is a large area where one of the fellows (Marvin) had planted some squash. To prepare the area, they simply cut down the big stuff, then burned out everything - the ole slash and burn farming method of the tropics.

So this is it. The "garden". No neat little rows, no fencing, no irrigation, nothing. Just an old trash heap burned to the ground.  I planted two types of summer squash - regular green "Black Beauty" zucchini and a yellow variety (Sungold?).

The green squash germinated very quickly and I already have several plants. The yellow is still thinking about it. It is brutally hot working out in the garden in the full tropical sun! But the plants love it.

I bought (for about $2.50) a big bunch of lemon grass from a new plant nursery right in town. Can you believe the price? And look how good it's doing in the garden? I hired Marvin to plant it for me seeing as the marina is looking for work from the cruisers to keep their crew busy. At $4.00 per hour I can afford their help (and that gives me more knitting time in the air conditioning on the boat). Whoo hooo - I can't hardly wait to brew up some lemon grass iced tea!

On the boat, I have a few little containers made from the bottoms of plastic soda bottles that are planted with tomato seeds. Yes, of course I can buy tomatoes here, but they are all the same type, the roma or plum tomato and I like variety in my life. So I planted a heirloom type (Brandywine) and two colors (red & yellow) of a little plum shaped tomato.
No joy yet on sprouting, but I'm a patient person.

More knitting with color - ELEVEN different colors to be exact. I was fondling my big plastic bag of leftover worsted weight Knit Picks yarns one day. What could I do with such a bizarre assortment of yarn leftover from designing Christmas stockings?
Why, knit a toddler sweater for the kids in the orphanage in Kazakhstan of course! Plain stripes would have been easy - but the extra warmth from stranded color work would be much appreciated in that cold country. I knit in the round up to the armholes, then divided for front and back. This is way so much fun!

OK - I mentioned cashews in the title of this blog post. Here's what that is all about...we have cashew trees right here on the grounds of Mario's Marina! Yep, they are the trees that help shade the volleyball court (well, at least they shade the people watching the volleyball players sweat in the sun).

Here is one of the very few cashew fruits left this season - and it is in terrible shape being eaten by bugs as it lays on the ground. The "nut" part is just that one brown lump on the bottom of the fruit. We buy really big roasted cashews (no salt) from Diego, the local nut seller for about $6.50 per pound. They are so sweet and delicious and taste much fresher than those we have purchased in the states. Gee, I wonder why.

And here is a cashew nut in a farther state of decay. The fruit has withered to look something like a sun-dried tomato. But look! The cashew nut has sprouted and now has a stalk and a root. A new cashew tree!
Oh dear, it is unfortunately located in an area that is supposed to be a grassy lawn. Look at all those new cashew trees sprouted in the lawn! The farmer in me wants to transplant those somewhere to grow up and make more cashews, but I guess there are enough trees here. Things just love to grow without our help when they are in their natural habitat.

One more piece of news ... our new Shade Tree marine/boat cover has arrived! We ordered in from the company up in the states and had it shipped to us ($$$). Here it is - mounted on the bow of our boat. We've been so happy with the ShadeTree cover over the center section of the boat that we bought many years ago so we coughed up the bucks for another one to keep the V-berth area shaded. It sure has made a difference in the temperature inside the boat - not only in the V-berth stateroom but also in the galley where I spend as little as possible quite a bit of time.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Hot Waterfalls Adventure

What do you do for fun when you live in a steamy jungle environment? Go for a road trip to the HOT waterfalls of course!

A group of us cruisers summering over here on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala tumbled into the marina's van and rode through stunning green cattle grazing lands for about an hour to these falls. Because the falls are on a little river which is the private property of a large agricultural plantation/cattle ranch we paid our 10 Quetzales ($1.25) per person fee before jumping into the waters.  COOL, fresh water flowed through the ponds but it was HOT water that streamed down the waterfall. Heated by geothermal activity, the water was too hot to touch.

We swam underneath the waterfall to a small space behind the falls. This space was a steamy "spa" that we could fit at least 5 people into. So we stood on rocks on the bottom, with cool water up to our waists and enjoyed the bizarre contrast with the steamy air while looking through a hot water curtain out to the ponds.

While standing and chatting in one little pond, we realized that our feet were getting a special foot treatment! Occasionally, little bursts of steamy bubbles would spit out of the gravel on the bottom and toast our toes! Ouch, and yes, it did smell very strongly of sulfur - eeeew!

Next about a waterfall inside a cave that you have to swim up the river in the cave to see? Sure! Just one caveat though, you have to hike through the jungle on a steep, slippery trail to get to this treasure of Guatemala. So we did of course. We started out wet from our swim in the hot waterfalls and stayed wet from the sweat rolling down every body part.

We had to hire a guide (Francisco) to lead us to the caves area and he sure earned his fee (another 10 Q or $1.25 per person). See him there in the photo carrying my basket? Yep, my knitting goes everywhere because, well, you just never know when you might have a few minutes to knit, and he earned himself a generous tip for lugging my basket. OK, not exactly a glamour shot of me (creeping downhill behind Francisco) but that was the view everyone else saw all day too.

At last, we arrived at the point where the river comes out from the cave! Within less than a minute we were all happily jumping into the water to cool off. Yikes! This water was really cold! Such a shock to the old body system to go from overheated hiker to icy cold water, but after a few minutes it was actually refreshing (that's what I kept telling myself).

What a treat it was to swim in fresh water after months of seawater swimming. It's so different! The sweet and woody smells of the nearby jungle filled our salty sailor nostrils.

So we all gathered our nerves and waterproof flashlights at the mouth of the cave. Here we go! The water was deep in some places along the way, but there were plenty of rocky ledges to stand on and rest or just enjoy the atmosphere. When somebody aimed their flashlight at the ceiling of the cave we disturbed the bats so that they flew around. But many of the bats just kept on hanging, moving about just enough so that we could determine that they were there huddled in small groups of about 20 bats in a recession in the ceiling.

And here is the water gusher we found after about a 200 yard swim up the cave river! Not really a waterfall, but really fun to see anyway. As we lounged about in the cave, we wondered just how high the water would be if there were to be a sudden thunderstorm. Our flashlights told us the answer....way up over our heads near the top of the cavern were several tree logs wedged in the crevices. And they were fresh logs from perhaps a recent storm that had found their way downstream and into this underground portion of the river. The heebie jeebies set in and we all decided that it was time to get out!

So we trudged back through through the jungle to our van. At one point our guide showed us a cave which has petroglyphs etched on the walls. He said the cave was used for Mayan ceremonies. We don't know how old the drawings are (hundreds of years or mere months?) but it was interesting just the same even if we suspected it was for us touristas' enjoyment.
Down stream from where we were playing all morning, several local women were hard at work doing their laundry. Their children played naked in the stream which I would assume doubled as their baths. We've often seen women doing laundry this way. They lay one piece of clothing at a time on a rock and scrub with laundry detergent that is sold as a bar or cylinder shaped block. Looks like hard work to me, especially in the sun.
Next stop was lunch! We went down the road a little bit to the town of El Estor which is right on Lake Izabal. Lake Izabal empties into the Rio Dulce just about a mile up from our marina, and it is the largest lake in Guatemala (about 35 miles along).

Lunch was at a new lakeside restaurant called Don Yulo and was fabulous. We each ordered a steak of some type or their specialty,longaniza, a local big pork sausage cooked on the grill. The meat was so tender - and we found out why. It was imported from the good ole USA as proved by the proprietor who showed us the big hunk of beef with the USDA stamps on it. No need for proof though as our steaks were delicious (see what you missed Jonesy?)

But wait, there's more! After lunch we headed back up the road to take a little trip up a nearby river gorge. Ahhh, this was to be a sedate tour with somebody else doing all the work - a good thing as we were all lethargic after our big lunch. After a little bargaining by Marco, our marina manager who is from this area, we settled on a good price and these boys paddled us in their cayuca canoe.This cayuca was once a solid piece of wood carved from a tree trunk, but it had been covered with fiberglass at some point in time to extend it's useful life. We also hired a second cayuca which was a fiberglass model.

So we loaded up, and the kids paddled us up the slow moving river. Soon we entered the amazingly steep walls of the gorge. It was so quiet, except for the sounds of the boys paddles in the water and the many birds and insects in the jungle. The walls towering above us were draped with vines, ferns, and tenacious plants hanging on for dear life on the sides.

So mellow, and cool in the shade from the cliffs. Water dripped down in many places making tiny waterfalls and a sweet dribbling sound. Again, the smells were incredible with subtle floral scents, wet rocks and simple earthiness.
Eventually the river widened and became too shallow to continue in the cayucas so we got out and explored on foot. We decided against doing the walk up the riverbed to a nearby village as we were all worn out from the morning trek. Maybe next time we'll just come here and then do the hike up river.

What a marvelous adventure made even more fun with the company of like-minded folks who are always ready to explore what this beautiful country has to offer. Oh, and who also kindly share their photos.

Final thought for the day: When you live in the tropics and use an open air restroom facility, remember to apply insect repellent on ALL parts of your exposed skin (including your bum) before attempting to use the toilet. Ask us how we know.

Thursday, July 07, 2011


Knitting Ups and Downs

Let's start with the knitting "ups". For the baby house orphanage in Kazakhstan I knit up this little baby set. The yarn is Lang Bebe 100% wool in a baby or fingering weight (as in super tiny).

First I started with the leggings. I was worried about having enough yarn so I made a little nordic type design and changed colors for the foot. Well, there was enough yarn left over for a little vest too! I hope this will keep some little kids warm. That's one of the benefits of knitting for the orphanage - the items will get worn by many different kids. As each one grows out of their clothes another baby comes along to wear it again.

Now, for the knitting "downs". The knit really hit the fan today. For the first time in my knitting life, I have knit a pair of socks in two different sizes. Yep. I really screwed this one up and of course I had a time deadline for it too as the pair was for a cruising friend who is leaving to travel up to the states. The sock is a rather tedious mini cabled design which hurts my hands to work. This is a lesson to ALL KNITTERS: Do NOT let your first sock sit in the knitting basket for 2 years before beginning the second, matching sock, or else they just might not match. Solution? I'm going to rip them BOTH out and knit this beautiful hand-painted wool sock yarn up in a simple stockinette stitch pair of socks.

Friday, July 01, 2011


Launcha Envy

Because we live on a river/lake here in Guatemala without roads, our transportation is by boat. Is it part of human nature to envy other men's modes of transportation? I think that may be true. Jonesy stopped dead in his tracks when he saw this lancha  (skiff, panga) tied to the dock at Bruno's marina in town. What was so interesting? The cup holders of course! Look! There are built in cup holders on the seats of this boat! Jonesy has lancha cup holder envy.

That is totally cool! We HAVE to have those. So, next time we go into town, we'll be looking for the plastic inserts. Jonesy can make the holes with his hole saw so we can do the project ourselves. Actually, these will come in handy as we always have water bottles with us that are impossible to keep from rolling around in the bottom of our launcha.

A recent highlight on a trip to town was that the cattle egrets are nesting on the little island in the lake. This tiny speck of land is covered with a noisy combination of water birds. The normally all white cattle egrets are displaying gold colored plumage (breeding plumage) on their heads and down their backs. We crept up quietly and watched as parents tended to chicks and others were hard at work displaying their special feathers and mating.

The other assorted types of egrets, cormorants and vultures acted like they didn't even notice all the activity.

I finished the little baby socks for Carmelita who works here at Mario's marina. These are knit from my "Tiny Treasures" pattern in a nice soft cotton yarn. Yep. It does get a little chilly here during the winter months, sometimes below 60 degrees F! A little baby needs some sockies then.

Life is good back here on the river again. The cruiser potlucks have been well-attended, the happy hours have been, well, happy and we have settled into the rhythms of the lowland jungle of Guatemala.

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