Friday, February 03, 2006

Bajorted! Dachorted!

I'm home a few days early...

Translation: Get your visa-less American ass out of our country! (More detailed document can be viewed here.)

Okay, so technically, I wasn't deported from Brazil. I was given three days to leave the country, and if I didn't, then they were going to arrest and deport me.

It was an interesting and memorable experience, spending three hours with the feds in the back room of the Recife airport. (I had to take a taxi to go to airport immigration because the maritime immigration officer didn't know what to do with me.) Not knowing any Portuguese, I explained my situation to them in Spanish -- that I'd arrived in their country that morning on a boat along with three Europeans (who didn't need visas to visit Brazil), that I wasn't aware that as an American I needed a visa, and that I already had a plane ticket to leave the country on Feb 6 -- and then I had to decipher and guess at the meaning of their responses in Portuguese. The process repeated itself each time another person walked in the room and was curious to know what that bony brown Asian was doing there in the corner.

When I wasn't explaining myself, most of my time was spent sitting quietly, being thankful that I wasn't going to spend the night in a Brazilian prison, and just patiently waiting for Mauricio da Silva Costa to finish typing up my official threat documents. Brazilian bureaucracy in action: he went through at least fifteen drafts, checking them over, printing them out, and running them by three other people, then re-editing the documents again and again, taking over two hours before they were all satisfied.

In the meantime, I watched a few coworkers of Mauricio prepare a practical joke on him involving a lot of balloons in another room -- lots of covert smiles being exchanged between them. Things got a lot more exciting when some criminal was suddenly hauled through the office and thrown in a jail cell in the back. For a short while afterwards, the office was flooded with MPs and higher-ranking suits who were investigating what had happened. When that commotion died down, I spent some time chatting with an officer who'd been a police helicopter pilot for many years before switching to airport patrol; he later helped me find my way around the airport and reschedule my flight.

The whole experience just made that first day back on land (Jan 31) all the more surreal. And in the end, everything turned out great: the officials were really quite friendly and fun to talk with, it cost me only $10 to change my departure date to Feb 2, and I still had a couple days to tour Recife before coming back home.

So now, I'm back. I've got a lot more stories to share, a lot of weight to regain, and a lot of old threads to pick up along with some new ones as well. But first, a nice long nap!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Au revoir

Well, my sailing blog is finally up-to-date -- posts between "Arrived in Africa" and "Cape Verde" are now replete with photos and anecdotes. Nothing like a deadline to stir those creative juices.

I guess this means that I'm ready for another oceanic adventure. I head out tomorrow at 5:30 AM on a Delta flight to Atlanta, followed by a SAA flight direct to Sal. I'll meet up with LouLou and Jaki in the airport on Monday afternoon, and we'll take a chartered flight to Praia, where Robert is picking us up. We are planning to spend a few days in Cape Verde to adjust to the jetlag and to re-acquaint ourselves with the boat, and then we'll be casting off for the open Atlantic around Jan. 15.

We'll be sailing from Praia, Cape Verde to Recife, Brazil, which should take somewhere between sixteen and twenty days non-stop. With four of us aboard, we'll be taking 2-hr shifts and be able to sleep for six hours straight -- quite luxurious compared with previous sails!

I'm bringing some new books, new music, new lenses, and lots of snacks, optimistically hoping that the biggest challenge we're going to face on this trip is an occasional bout of boredom. But the adrenaline is starting to flow as I imagine battling with force 7 winds, forty-foot swells, fortune-hungry pirates, and most feared of all, that forking seasickness.

Looking back, the last six months, both abroad and in the U.S., have been truly incredible, and numerous events and friendships have reminded me to appreciate how precious life is and how fortunate I am. Sorry for gushing, but thank you to everyone who has been a part of these experiences or made them possible, for touching my life and for allowing me to share in yours.

If I don't post a blog entry in Praia, then you probably won't be hearing from me again until early February. I'll be flying back from Brazil to Plano on Feb. 7, and then driving up to Palo Alto to start a new job. In the meantime, so long, best wishes, and bon voyage to you all!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Plano, TX

33º04.403' N
96º47.261' W

I've been back in Texas for exactly one week now, enjoying the comforts of solid land and being at home with my family. It's been a whirlwind of activity since I returned -- lots of holiday hustlin' and bustlin' and whatnot -- but it's been surprisingly easy to slip back into this fast pace of life.

I do miss life on the boat though...

I'm going back to Errance in January to make the crossing from Cape Verde to Brazil. While I'm still in the States, I've got a long list of things to do, including practicing my French and filling in the missing entries of my blog.

Sorry to all for being incommunicado for so long. Check for retroactive updates between Oct. 27 and Nov. 21, and in the meantime, here are a few pictures of me taken at home, including definitive proof of facial hair!

Monday, November 21, 2005


Saw this painting at the new MOMA. It seemed appropriate for my blog:

"Out at sea. Will be back some time in future..."

I'm back, baby. I'm back.

While in the area, I also visited B&H, CAW @ NYU, GCT, (badly needed IAD,) HGC, H&Y, KCL, AMT, and my aunt and cousin in Midtown East. All in all, an action-packed weekend and a thrilling way to return to the U.S.

This morning, as I was headed to the airport at 4 AM, my taxi almost got hit by a drunk driver, who then proceeded to heckle us at the next traffic light. I was too tired to be scared, probably more astounded than anything else, so I just raised an eyebrow and watched through my window as he yelled profanities at my driver.

It's good to be back.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

UV's apartment, sans UV

40º45.633' N
73º59.147' W

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Cape Verde

16º45.076' N
22º58.868' W

The passage from Nouakchott to Cape Verde was quite demanding. It was a nearly 500-mile sail, and on the evening of the second day, we began having stormy weather with 25- to 30-knot winds, varying in direction from the northeast to slightly southeast. Since we were travelling southwest, this meant that we had to pay close attention to the sail at all times, lest we jibe uncontrollably. The batteries were low, and there wasn't much sun to charge them, so one of us was always steering by hand.

We had the mainsail tied to protect against a jibe, but early that second night, we were sailing very close to the wind, when it suddenly changed direction and pushed the sail to the other side. I was below deck finishing my dinner, and the first thing I heard was the sound of shattering glass, followed by the noise of the sail flapping violently. The boat slowed down and began rocking heavily from side to side.

When we got out on the deck, we could see what had happened. The sound of glass was from a lightbulb that had fallen from one of the portside shrouds, but it wasn't a big deal, except that we needed to watch our step. The important issue was re-rigging the sail and getting the ship back under control. Since it was still tied down but had been blown across, the mainsail was basically pinned on the wrong side of the boat.

We tried turning to let the wind push it back over to the right side, but even though the sail was reefed, the wind was simply too strong for the manouevre, and we couldn't get enough momentum to complete the turn. Our only option was to lower the sail and raise it again. This required Robert to go to the bow, while LouLou and I held flashlights for him, pulled the lines, and steered the boat, all with force 6 winds blowing by and ten-foot waves crashing down around us.

In the middle of this mayhem, a flying fish jumped out of the water and hit me square in the chest, then fell into the boat, flapping around next to my feet. Since it was so dark, it took me a few seconds to realize what it was. My hand was on my chest, feeling around for a gunshot wound or something, when I finally processed what had happened. I wanted to laugh and tell the others, but there was too much stuff to tend to for the moment. I didn't even remember it happening until the next morning, when I saw the dead fish in the cockpit.

We managed to get the sail down, and we decided to stick with using only the genoa for the rest of the voyage to avoid any more potential jibes. The weather remained pretty rough for the rest of the sail, but thankfully, we didn't have any other problems.

We arrived in Sal island in the afternoon of the fourth day. Much celebration ensued.

Here are a few pictures from Sal:

Panorama of the salt mine:

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


17º59.037' N
16º01.988' W

Nouakchott was pretty uneventful. My most vivid memory of the city wasn't even in the city; it was on the boat.

As we got close to the city, we noticed more and more flies in the boat. We tried a few homemade solutions (e.g. honey in a jar with saran wrap) before resorting to the flyswatter, but there were simply too many to get rid of. Their numbers just kept growing. Also, since we were anchored far from shore and it was evening when we arrived, we didn't bother trying to take the dinghy to shore the first day.

That night, the flies were nice enough to leave us alone -- I guess flies have to sleep too -- but by the next morning, they had tripled in number. By mid-day, there were at least 500 flies in our boat. Several times, I was able to kill 7 flies with one swing of the flyswatter. Gh-ross! (a la Napoleon D.) Added to the 95° heat and the pungent drafts of smoke from a nearby landfill, life was pretty miserable on the boat. But we were stuck there another day, since we needed to wait for Bujari to make arrangements on shore before we could disembark.

The third day, we finally went into the capital to get our passports stamped and to re-stock on food and supplies. One thing we made sure to get was a chemical spray called "Fly-tox." Afterwards, Annie and I spent the afternoon in a restaurant, escaping the heat and talking with a Senegalese man who later proposed to Annie several times. In the meantime, LouLou and Bujari brought the supplies back to the boat. LouLou sealed all the windows and doors, sprayed almost the entire can of Fly-tox inside, and spent the afternoon fishing.

The Fly-tox did its trick, thank god!, but we still had over 500 flies in the boat, except now they were all dead. There were fly carcasses everywhere -- on the stove, in the sink, in my sheets, under my mattress...everywhere! LouLou had graciously cleaned up most of them from the dining area, but we were still finding dead flies in various nooks and crannies a week later.

The next day, we expected the flies to return, but to our pleasant surprise, no more came. We concluded that it was one of three reasons:
1) there was still the lingering smell of Fly-tox to drive the flies away
2) the flies had somehow communicated to each other that our boat was a fly extermination chamber
3) all the flies in the city had been in our boat, and we'd just killed them all

I like to think it was reason 3, in which case we probably deserve some sort of medal :)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Banc d'Arguin National Park

The park was AMAZING, and definitely worth all the tribulations of the previous day. Millions of birds live in this international wetland reserve, with over 100 different species. For more information on the park, click here.

We saw flocks of flamingoes, pelicans, and a dozen different species of terns, and dolphins accompanied us almost the entire way, doing all sorts of spectacular tricks. There were rainbow-colored fish that jumped straight out of the water, only to be caught and eaten mid-air by a dolphin -- not sure what the fish were thinking, but it was fun to watch!

On a related note, this experience was largely responsible for my recent purchase of a new lens... *sigh* if only I'd had it then :)

A few pictures from the park:

The people in the middle picture are, from left to right: Robert, Anne, park guide, Bujari, Annie (petite maman), and LouLou.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Cap Tafarit

20º06.683' N
16º15.644' W

We sailed to Cap Tafarit in order to visit the Banc d'Arguin National Park. Since Mauritania's entire coastal region is less than 5 m deep, we needed a guide, Bujari, to navigate us safely through those waters. Near the cape is a village called Arkeiss. It turns out that one of Bujari's cousins lives there, and we were welcomed into his home for tea and lunch.

Mauritanian tea is served in three rounds, representing life, love, and death. Each serving is progressively sweeter, which is probably why I liked the "death" round the most. However, I normally do not drink a lot of caffeine, so I was quite jittery by the end of the third serving.

Here is a picture of Moktar Bujari Heiba, preparing the tea in his cousin's home:

Arkeiss is a very small village, with only ten or fifteen homes. There are no paved roads or street lights, and of course, no dock. So we were anchored about a mile offshore and needed to take the dinghy each time we disembarked.

Here is a picture from shore, with the dinghy en route to Errance in the distance (you can just make out the dinghy with two passengers aboard in the upper left):

Cap Tafarit is roughly 30 km north of the park, but it was as close as we were allowed to sail: visitors can only enter the park with an authorized guide. Our first day in Arkeiss, we made arrangements with a local fisherman to ride with him to Iwik, where we could find another guide to take us into the park. The fisherman was the only person in the village with a car, so he was our only option. He told us to be on shore waiting for him at 7 AM.

The next morning, we got up at 5:30 AM and piled into the dinghy. It was a new moon and since there were no lights on shore to guide us, we had to use the stars (Cassiopeia) to lead us there. The water was pretty rough, and we all got soaked -- each time a wave hit us, Anne or Annie would shriek and our grimaces momentarily turned into laughs. It took us about thirty minutes to get to shore and another ten minutes to carry the dinghy a half-mile to make sure it wouldn't drift away. Then we waited for our ride to show up.

At 7:45, we were still there, groggy and wet, and we found out from Bujari that the fisherman had waited for us and left. Frustration and confusion all around, but not much we could do. We wandered around the village another day, and we decided that we would sleep on land that night, so as not to miss our ride again the next morning.

We stayed in a tent by the ocean, which sounds pretty cool, except that there were twenty-knot winds all night long and we couldn't close the tent flaps without the tent falling over. So we left them open and endured the sand that blew over us throughout the night.

Here's a picture of a tent similar to the one we stayed in:

A pickup truck arrived at 4:30 AM to pick us up, which explained why we'd missed the ride the previous day. We sat in the back of the pickup for half an hour, as the fisherman drove through the cold, pitch-black night at 50 mph along unmarked roads. Since I was sitting in the middle, I couldn't even grip anything to give me the false assurance that it would stop me from flying out when we hit the next bump. No one made a sound -- I think we were all silently making our peace with the world.

But all's well that ends well. And one of the things that kept me going was the thought that, if I survive, at least it will make a good blog entry :)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


20º54.737' N
17º02.500' W

After arriving in Africa, it was another 24 hours before we set foot on dry land. Nouadhibou doesn't receive a lot of tourists from the sea, and we needed special permission to dock in the city, which took time for our local guide to arrange. When we finally pulled into port, I looked around at the other boats: there were hundreds of small fishing boats and dozens of big cargo ships, but we were the only sailboat in the area.

As we were docking, my first impression was that we were being treated like royalty or like celebrities, because there was a large gathering of people waiting to greet us, everyone wearing regal robes. I soon found out that the robes are just a part of the culture -- they keep the sand off their clothes -- and, aside from our guide Adeja, all the people were there to ask us if we would pay them to guard our ship.

Our first stop was the police station, a dark and foreboding office, where we had our passports and visas examined. Even though the police chief was very polite and quite pleasant to talk to, it felt like we were being interrogated and needed to give the "right" answers...or else!

Next we took a car ride through the lively city, and then drove a few miles south to a hotel in Cansado that Adeja had arranged for us. I spent the afternoon wandering around Cansado, taking pictures and listening to the hypnotic Islamic prayers emanating from loudspeaker towers throughout the city.

After dinner, we went back into the city with Adeja and his friends. The city had turned into a huge bazaar, with every square inch occupied by a blanket sprawled out with goods, or by merchants and customers, noisily prodding and haggling. We snaked our way through the crowd, constantly pushing and squirming and apologizing and thanking, and I got disoriented and lost several times. I would probably still be there wandering around if my travel companions hadn't been keeping an eye on me.

We returned to the hotel, where I slept on land for the first time since leaving America. Before going to bed though, I took full advantage of the amenities by charging all of my gadgets, catching up on my journal and my blog, and watching a DVD into the early morning, so it was actually one of my less restful nights.

The following day, we went to main tourist site of the city: the train station. Called the "longest train in the world," the train is typically around 3 km in length and transports iron ore and passengers between Nouadhibou and Zouerat. Dozens of people waited patiently in the sand, some of them sitting or lying down a few feet from the tracks, and we spent a half hour chatting and taking photos with them. When the train arrived, it took less than ten minutes for them to load the wagons with hundreds of empty iron barrels and gas tanks -- quite an operation to watch!

Below are some pictures from the city:

Fishermen about to head out for the day:

Our hotel in the background, with some kids playing in the water and a man bringing his sheep down for a drink:

Adeja Sidi El Moctar, our wonderful guide and friend:

The train station:

And a few other pics: