Nicaragua, Morgan’s Rock to Mukul, 16 February 2016


Today we transfer at noon, so no need for an early start, but still we are up early packing our things. Packing is a bigger deal for Daisy than it is for me, so I also have time to sit on our lovely Morgan’s Rock sun deck and do some more reading before breakfast…and indeed after breakfast before we leave.

We are to be taken by boat, which sounds like a most convoluted process, with three boats involved, but apparently it takes only 30 minutes compared with an hour or so by road.

When we arrived at Morgan’s Rock,  we were told that our boat transfer would probably not be possible, as the Nicaraguan Navy had suspended sea transfers due to the strong winds. Readers who know me well will realise that this news was not bad news to me, as I am always a reluctant sailor.

So I was not overjoyed yesterday when we were told that permission for boat transfers had been reinstated. We even tried hinting that road was fine for us and that perhaps, with all our heavy luggage, road would be easier for all concerned, but we were assured that boat was the better option when possible.

So, the  baggage carriers shlep our bags down to the beach, we get into a little boat with all the luggage, the team (with great difficulty, assisted by some French holiday makers) push us out far enough for the engine to start and we (and our luggage) rapidly join a bigger boat operated by Carlos. So far, so slick.

Carlos inside, luggage outside

There’s a nice shady canopy on Carlos’ boat, which is just as well because this is the hottest part of the day.

Daisy quite likes boats and is in her element for this short ride. I sing La Bamba to while away the time, placing special emphasis on the line, “yo no soy marinero”. Carlos, who speaks no English and now assumes that I speak some Spanish, asks if I am a Mexican. I try to explain in broken Spanglish that I am neither a Mexican, nor a Spanish speaker…nor a sailor.

Carlos points out the place where the trans-Nicaragua canal is due to exit into the Pacific, although we subsequently learn that the powerful Pellas family, owners of Mukul and far more besides, have probably got their way to have the canal mouth located a fair bit further away from their fifedom of natural beauty.

We get to within a few dozen meters of the Mukul beach. There is no sign of the amphibious vehicle that we expect to shuttle us to the shore. Then, ominously, the lifeguard swims towards us to speak with Carlos:

He came bearing news

My inadequate Spanish gleaned little, except that we were basically being told, “five minutes”. “Cinco minutos”, said Carlos, “tranquilo”?

“Tranquilo”, I said. Five minutes is not long. Obviously the vehicle is a little delayed, that’s all.

Ten minutes later, more ominously, the swimmer returns. I note that he seems to need far more swimming effort to get to us than he did to get away from us, which gives me some small comfort that tide and wind are in our favour; eastwards towards the shore and that enticing looking resort and beach.

Due west, of course, there’s nothing between us and the Philippines for about 15,000 kilometers, apart from an outside chance of a tiny Micronesian atoll. 15,000 kilometers; that’s almost three times the distance between London and New York. Have pity, dear reader, these types of thoughts pass through the overactive mind of a nervous sailor when all at sea.

He came again bearing more news

The Spanish conversation went on for longer this time, but the bit I understood was the notion of ten minutes.  “Diez minutos”, said Carlos with his mouth and digits, “tranquilo”?  “Tranquilo”, said Daisy, sensing that I probably didn’t have it in me to say that word again, as I was becoming a little untranquilo.

Frankly, I could have coped fine with ten more minutes if I knew it really would be ten, but by now I was really worrying about how the co-ordination of the transfer could have gone so badly wrong and therefore how long it might really take them to sort things out.

The increasing breeze added to my nerves. As did my thought that we had not donned life jackets on this boat (nor indeed the first boat). When we went on short rides to and from Jicaro, on the paddling pool that is Lake Nicaragua, we were made to don life jackets every time, as a requirement of the Nicaraguan Navy. Given that we were never much more than 150 meters away from the nearest islet, that requirement had seemed excessive there. How come this safety requirement was absent (or flauted) on the fierce and mighty ocean that is the Pacific, with winds on the borderline between sailing being permitted or prohibited and 15,000 kilometers of open ocean between us and the Philippines?

By the time an hour or so had passed, my unease had turned to something a bit closer to panic. Suffice it to say that my Ultimate Travel document wallet has teeth marks that would have enabled the recovery investigators to identify me from dental records in the absence of my carcass.

Carlos had been in telephone contact with Morgan’s Rock, but seemed reluctant to let us speak to anyone, unable to understand some fairly obvious international words such as “te-le-fon” and sign language. To be fair, he was probably being sold the same, “someone will be there soon” line of bullshit that he was feeding back to us, along with an instruction to “keep us tranquilo”, which was becoming increasingly difficult in my case, in the absence of tranquilo-isers.

Looking and feeling more than a little Moby Dick

Janie was very calm; irritatingly calm. I decided that some female panic was needed to change the dynamic and add some urgency. So I said, “if we aren’t off this boat in five minutes, I’m going to jump in the water and swim to shore.” This was, of course, an empty threat. Our passports were in my pockets, along with my wallet and credit cards. Anyone who knows me well knows that I would not place at risk nor would I readily abandon on the boat such important and beloved items. Nor would I abandon Janie on the boat, now I come to think of it.

Moreover, one of the few things I know about boats is that in almost all emergency circumstances, the safest thing to do is to remain with the boat and await orders from the skipper. That advice is on the back of a postage stamp, coincidentally in my aforementioned wallet. The inscribed postage stamp is there for the very rare occasions I have needed to substitute for Michael Mainelli as host for Z/Yen boat trips on Michael’s Thames sailing barge, Lady Daphne. I wrote memory joggers for the information and safety messages on the back of a stamp, so I could honestly say to the guests, “any further questions, ask the skipper, not me. What I know about boats can be written on the back of a postage stamp. Here’s the stamp.”

Yo no soy marinero. Yo no soy capitan.

No, I had no intention of actually jumping ship. But I did get a reaction from Janie, then a more furtive interaction going between Janie and Carlos, which at least got him onto his phone again.

Whether my near-mutiny made any difference we’ll never know, but within five minutes of my “jump” threat we were “rescued” by a small, completely uncovered boat, some 75 minutes after we arrived off the shore of Mukul.  That boat took us (and our luggage, but no life jackets) several kilometers back towards Morgan’s Rock, to another bay where a vehicle awaited us and drove us the last few kilometers to Mukul.

There we were greeted by Frederico, the general manager, with whom we agreed that now was not the time for a metaphorical post mortem on the shambles, merely for relief that no actual post mortem was needed. So we calmed down, cooled down, oriented, checked in and started our blissful week of rest at Mukul.

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