Picture of stone steps up a hill surrounded by palm trees and jungle

The Salut Islands French Guiana

Dear Squeak

After a bit of a trying trip, we have arrived in the Island paradise of the Salut Islands just off the Coast of French Guiana.  There was a big nasty swell again as we left the coast of Brazil. We also had lots of torrential rain squalls with quite a lot of wind in them.  Sails up, sails down, canopy open, canopy closed, it was a busy trip for us both.  We are so pleased to arrive in this little paradise to relax for a bit.

The islands were first called the Salut/Salvation islands by the missionaries who came there from mainland French Guyana to escape the plague.  Later during the time when the islands like much of mainland,  were used as a penal colony, the Islands were referred to as the Devil’s islands. In those days the place may not have seemed like the paradise they are to us today.

Famous Place

The Salut Islands gained notoriety because of the Dreyfus affair.  Lieutenant Dreyfus was sent there in 1894, convicted of treason for leaking weapons information to the Germans.  He was of Jewish origin. Due to a fair bit of anti-antisemitism among the ranks at the time the finger was pointed at him.  He continually maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration and wrote hundreds of letters to protest this during his time thee. These letters are the essence of the memoir his son Pierre wrote about him in 1937. The book was called “Souvenirs Et Correspondance”  and has been translated into several languages.  The true spy was eventually convicted, but  the army was reluctant to admit its mistake, so Dreyfus was pardoned rather than acquitted.

Joseph Conrad also wrote about the Salut islands in his story “An Anarchist” but the islands became truly famous due to Henri Charriere’s book “Papillon” and later the film that was made of that book starring famous names Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.

close up of butterfly with turquoise blue flashes, orange triangles and a black background

 In the book it is claimed he was called “Papillon” because of a big butterfly tattoo he had on his chest.  Others say he was not much liked during his time in Iles du Salut and papillon in French as mariposa in Spanish refers rather to the fact that he was gay. Perhaps both are true.

The French authorities are very upset about Charriere’s portrayal of the place and the treatment the book says he received there.  They claim that many of the incidents that he describes are untrue or did not happen to him, but happened far earlier.  They say that conditions had been much improved on the Iles du Salut by the time he was brought there in 1933.

 Reading  the potted history of all the high profile prisoners that served time there, it seems that Henri Charrier cherry picked all the juicy bits from all of the stories and goings on that he could. He wanted to make his novel into a “best seller” so he may have embellished a few details here and there.  What he did was write a good story that would keep him in royalties for the remainder of his life. 

I don’t think so

The part that we, as sailors, find most difficult to believe, is that he escaped from the Islands on a raft made of Coconuts. Apparently he managed to drift to the shores of Guyana.  We have sailed those choppy waters and the tides and the currents take you nowhere near the coast of mainland South America.  He would have been lucky to pitch up in Barbados with only the current and the wind to help him. Without food or water he would have been dead on arrival.  We think he must have been picked up by a boat somewhere, but that doesn’t make for such a good story.

OOPS!

The waters around the Salut islands have very strong currents and are full of sharks so not ideal for swimming or trying to escape.  I did swim just a little, to clean off the bottom of the boat and didn’t have any encounters with any sharks.  I got in trouble from the Gendarme for being in the water though.  He came all the way out in a little rowing boat  to chastise me  but let me off as long as no-one else could see me. steve also got in trouble from the Gendarme for flying the drone. That was two bad strikes against us in one day. 

It seems the big hungry fish only come out to play in the evenings. The first night, just as we were settling down to dinner, there was a loud bang against the hull and then another one.  When we went up on deck with a torch to take a look what was making the  noise. We looked into the water and there were big fish chasing each other and slapping against the side of the hull.  I don’t think that has ever happened to us before. Obviously something even bigger that we couldn’t see was chasing them.

big green lizard sitting on a stone wall

So much Wildlife

Ashore there is still lots of evidence of the island’s history as a prison camp. The old buildings and the isolation cells are still there. Some have been sensitively restored to leave you the impression of what it must have been like in former times; others are being rapidly reclaimed by nature and the voracious jungle.  We saw photos of the early days when people first started to settle on the island and it was pretty bare, with only a few trees.  In that part of the world though, you only need to spit the seed from a fruit you are eating and in a few short weeks a tree will start to grow. 

It was a truly beautiful place unspoiled and I’d like to say peacefull but the jungle there is chock full of wild life. There are  many kinds of birds singing away. There are crickets and other insects singing at full volume too, and howler monkeys shouting to be heard above all the other cacophony of nature sounds.  It was actually really noisy and difficult to sleep at night.  Fortunately no mosquitoes, What a blessing!

As we wondered ashore within the first half hour we saw a ton of wild life.  Lizards, interesting spiders, agoutis like the small cousins of Capybara  from the Guinea pig family, tiny  blue swallow tailed humming birds , ring tail monkeys, and lots of beautiful butterflies.  Over the week we spent there we saw so many different species of animals. Critters just kept popping out from behind every bush.  The amazing thing was that many of them didn’t seem to be afraid of humans and you could get right up close to them.   For us it was interesting to visit a place with so much history. I’d have loved to bring my nieces and nephews here. Not for the history though, but to see all the wildlife up close and personal. All those animals  in their natural habitat not in cages or behind glass. 

Out of Food

We’d have loved to stay a lot longer, but after a week in that paradise plus the 9 and a bit days it took us to get there, our supplies of fresh fruit and veggies were almost completely gone.  We were even down to our last onion.  A change in the wind direction and a bit of lumpy and exciting night with anchors dragging made us decide to brave the shallow channel and head into Kourou.  We were also looking forward to a tour of the space station that launches our GPS satellites into the sky.   We had to dredge most of the channel for them on the way in but we managed to bump our way over the sand bar without any incident.   It wasn’t very far but we needed the tide to help us in so we had to wait for a while.

Once Loved Boats

We anchored again in a spot just above the pontoons which have no space for visitors, barely even for your dinghy. Sadly the pontoons are chock full of French relic sailboats that are mostly half sunk or sadly neglected and barely afloat.  It looks like a boat grave yard. Such a shame!

We managed to find a place to squeeze in and headed into town on a quest for ice-cream.  As my new year’s resolution was to give up booze for the year, it’s the first ice-cream parlour we are always in search of when we go ashore, not the first bar. 

Well dear Squeak I hope you are enjoying the Campo in spring.  We have to go now as the place wants to shut. We have to take our internet where we can get it these days.  I’ll write to you soon and tell you all about our trip to the space station.

Lots of love Ally and Steve

Miss you lots! x

Quay and palm trees drone shot looking out to sea on Ile Royal Salut islands

To see a little of the place and the wildlife we saw in the Salut Islands why not check out our Youtube Video”Devil Monkeys Jail Break”

 Birthday In Brazil

Huge rocks in the Jungle with faces

Dear Squeak

I want to tell you about my Birthday because it just so happens, it was the best day of the trip so far.  We decided to hire a car for a few days and head into the countryside for a bit of exploring. We had decided to visit Boca da Pedra (Mouth of Rock) a small area of national Park where the giant rocks all have faces. And one of them has a very large gob. It’s about 300km from the Paraiba River where the boat was anchored and we wanted to have maximum time to look around and take lots of lovely photos so we had to make an early start.

A mouth carved into the rock by wind and water.

On the day in question we set off at sparrow fart and took the highway north out of town.  At first we were surrounded by mile after mile of sugar cane fields. All the ones we could see burning as we approached the coast when we first arrived in Brazil.  Then we entered the grass plains full of cows and lots of horses to round them all up with.   It’s Cowboy country here for sure.  a

We thought Brazil had reputation for good meat and plenty of it. Second, perhaps, only to Argentina.  Not so, almost every piece of beef we ate while we were there was tough as old boots.  From what we could see the cows in that area were not being bread for their meat, but rather for their leather.  We passed more tanneries within a few miles of each other than I have ever seen in my life.. 

As we progressed towards our intended destination the roads got smaller and smaller and lumpier and lumpier. Finally it was just a severely rutted dirt track that was barely passable in places. Thank god the rainy season was only just beginning or it would have been a total mud bath. 

We thought we were lost a bunch of times because when researching the place on the internet it said that 2000 people a week visit there in summer.  To see the place now, I think, that hasn’t happened, for a very long time.  So much the better for us!  We had the whole place entirely to ourselves!!  And the silence aside from the wind and the birds and the insects was absolutely mesmerizing. 

Lump of Rock with face carved out that looks like a skull

All the rocks did indeed have faces etched into them.  Not man made though. Created by wind, water and erosion over millions of years I suppose.  Not just one face either, but as you walked around them, and viewed them from different angles, more and more faces seemed to appear.   The place had a real atmosphere: mystical and timeless.  You just had to take time to soak it all in.  It seemed like the rocks would have liked to whisper their stories to you.  To pass on the deep wisdom of all the spirits fossilised inside them, represented by all those faces.  Sounds a bit far-fetched I know.  Im not really sure I go with that kind of mumbo jumbo,  but it did feel like they had a story to tell. 

The more you study these rocks the more faces you see

At one end of the park under a huge overhanging rock a shrine to Our Lady Fatima has been built and people go there on pilgrimages on her saints’ day.  To accommodate all her followers a huge ugly auditorium has been built where they hold mass in her honour.  That concrete monstrosity was so out of place in the midst of such wild beauty.  

 

We had a fantastic day soaking it all in, taking lots of photos, flying the drone, picnicing and hiking around.  We had to cut our way through the jungle, as so few people have been there for so long.  Nature is fast reclaiming the place for herself.  It seems that in that part of the world, nature has an agenda all of its own. What we experienced that day was one of her finest displays. 

We would have liked to stay longer.  Golden hour with that backdrop would have been a photographers’ wet dream, but we hadn’t planned for an overnight stop.  It was still a long way back and the boat is best not left overnight with no-one on board and no-one keeping an eye out. Even though the holding in our spot was pretty good, you never know.  

Well, all good things must come to an end sooner or later. That was a “super, smashing , great” day though; and a birthday I’ll always remember. I wonder where I’ll be when the next birthday comes around.

Well dear Squeak, must dash. We are heading off from here soon. As soon as we can get the boat fit and ready for another Atlantic adventure.  French Guyana here we come! So I’ll tell you all about that, really soon.

Lots of love Al and of course a big squeeze from Stevie too.

Rocks with faces

 

Christmas in Cape Verde

Dear Squeak

How are you?  It’s been a long time since we caught you up on our progress. We have actually arrived in Brazil now and are really enjoying the laid back life in the tropics but let me tell you about our time in Cape Verde first. 

We were really sad to leave the sweet and friendly town of La Restinga.  With hindsight maybe we should have stayed there to get through our pre crossing jobs list. It would have been cleaner, less rolly and provisioning for the trip would have been far easier.  Gluten free is not really a concept that Cape Verde understands.  We wanted to be in the next spot for Christmas though, so we had to get a move on. 

We arrived with just a couple days to spare and some friends we had made in Arrecife were there to greet us.  It was nice to see some friendly faces to share Christmas with.

Our first move was a reccy around town. We checked out the local market where the fruit and veg was a little suspect to be honest.  Most of it looked little better than what we still had stored in our bilge, from our last provisioning in the Canaries.

 We found an interesting little project of local artists in the old Police compound.  They have set up a bunch of workshops, where they make all the paraphernalia that is needed for their festivals, particularly carnival. They make everything out of recycled materials.  There is some fantastic work going on there!

There is one guy there, who is in charge and is paid by the local council. He is said by the rest of the team to have to do the thinking for everyone. I think that was something slightly confused in the translation, but is probably closer to the truth than they would like to admit.  A communal meal is provided for all the artists each day paid for by donations from visitors such as us, so they are not quite the “Starving artists” they might be if they were sole operators.

Brightly painted ship with blue cubes all over it
Ship of Fools

 

A curious thing happened. There is another project that we encountered In Mindelo called “The Ship of Fools” www.azart.org   which is a ship full of entertainers on a pilgrimage around the world in praise of folly.  They landed in Mindelo and came ashore on the fishing quay with crazy costumes and instruments playing.  Almost immediately, they happened upon the same project of artists that we found on our first foray into town..  What followed was a collaboration of the two projects and a show using the fool’s ship as a stage to keep all the visitors entertained over Christmas.

We had quite a low key Christmas. It was just a gathering of a bunch people from our neighbouring boats, who all piled into the floating bar at midday bringing lots of food and festive cheer.  We rounded up the day on a boat called Ambition 2 being treated to drinks and Christmas Cake.

We Didn’t stay in the Marina long, it was a lot of money for what you got and it was still very rolly.  After only a few days in there the line we had tied to their buoy which hadn’t been maintained or cleaned and was full of barnacles had completely worn through. We were leaving whether we wanted to or not, as the boat was one thread away from breaking loose.

We preferred to be at anchor. Thankfully  the holding there was pretty good as it blew almost the entire time we were there so much so that our brand new Cape Verde curtesy flag gave up in disgust and made a break for freedom.

We worked hard from Christmas until New Year trying to get the boat ready, but some of the big jobs were changing the sails and re-tuning the rigging which needed a calm day with little wind. There weren’t  too many of those while we were there. The wind howled and the harmattan dust storm which meant we could hardly see the bow of our own boat for 2 weeks  spread a thick layer of dust over  everything inside and out.

 All that cleaning we did when we left the yard in Portugal, went to hell in a handbasket after the first day.  We were not looking forward to that clean up but there was nothing to do but put up with it until we had left it far behind us.

There was a town party laid on for New Year with fireworks on the beach and bands playing in the main square and a really convivial atmosphere.  It seemed like every single person from the whole of the Island of Sao Vicente and maybe some other islands besides were there. Who knew there were so many people living there?

 It was a great atmosphere and everyone was in a party mood. Just as well because there was not a single security person or policeman to be seen anywhere and there was a crowd of over 2000 people in a very small space.  We saw the New Year in and stayed for a couple of the bands but the party raged on until 6 the next morning.  We headed back to the boat long before that. I think we must be getting old!

We would have liked to take a trip to San Antao the neighbouring island which is supposed to be very beautiful.  With such poor visibility though, any film or photos we might have taken would have been pointless. So we kept our heads down and got on with the”to-do-list” so we could clear out of there a.s.a.p. 

Finally we headed off to Brava the most southerly of the Cape Verde Islands.  We had such a lovely welcome when we arrived, the locals were so friendly. A few local fishermen helped us tie our lines ashore to keep us pointing out into the bay.  It’s only a small anchorage and there were another couple of visiting boats but we squeezed in easily with a little help from the locals.

We were recommended to eat dinner at Isabelle’s place.  As we didn’t want to dig into our supplies for the long trip too much, we took up the invitation.  It seems to be the custom in Brava as it happened again the following day, to treat your guests to a mountain of food. We couldn’t possibly get through all of it. Plates kept coming with meat, fish, all the local vegetables and a salad, which we really didn’t need. It all came to only a few escudos.

The following day we went on a hike with John John our guide, no, it’s not a mistake, he calls himself John John.  He was super friendly and informative and showed us all the local fauna and flora as well as explaining all the history, progress and politics of his tiny island.  We had a super day and the views were spectacular.

Hiking trail with spectacular views on west side of Brava Cape Verde
Hike from Lomba Lomba all the way down to Faja de Agua

 

It was a long steep climb down from Lomba Lomba at the top of the island to Faja de Agua  and  the next day, with our out of shape leg muscles screaming we though he might have secretly been trying to kill us.  We had wanted to do a second hike with John John  to another part of the island the following day, but our poor little legs just couldn’t face the pain. 

We gave ourselves a day off before setting out into the waves on the long leg of the trip to Brazil. . It was really lumpy the first 5 days of the passage and every time we had to brace ourselves against the motion or climb up and down the companionway our muscles kept reminding us of the hike.

 All the People we met on Brava were super friendly and made us feel so at home there. We wished we had left Mindelo weeks ago or not even gone there, but headed straight for Brava.  It was such a lovely place.  It’s like the forgotten island, the poor relation or runt of the litter as far as the Cape Verde islands are concerned.  They get the dregs of the kitty when it comes to any funding that Cape Verde receives and there is a lot of poverty and generally poor conditions there. 

Many people there, have relations in America, Cape Verdeans who have emigrated.  They send funds and supplies to their families back in the Cape Verde’s from time to time.  For those people life is a little better, but for many it’s a very hard existence.

  Lots of things still have to be done by hand there,  as there is no machinery available.  Even the island’s petrol stations are supplied with barrels that arrive by ship and have to be hand-balled onto trucks to be taken up the hill to the main town of Sintra Nova. There the fuel is filled into a big tank at the gas station, which keeps the island ‘s vehicles supplied with fuel. 

Barrels of fuel stacked up at the filling station on Brava Cape Verde
Petrol Station Vila Nova de Sintra

 

Water is also a huge problem on the island. It too is often supplied in barrels to keep the population alive.  They have had a draught for the past couple of years and many of the reservoirs are empty or nearly empty and the mountain streams have run dry.  The Island could really use a desalination plant but that needs funds that they simply don’t have.

We left the Cape Verde’s feeling that the misery we had felt in the thick of the dust storm had been washed clean by the friendliness and rugged beauty of Brava.  Our spirits were well and truly lifted.  Now it just remained for our boat to be washed clean too.  We were praying for some tropical rain on the way, to give our mast, rigging, decks and sails a good swill.   As luck would have it, the universe provided!

Well,  I guess I’m going to leave you for now. I’ll tell you all about the crossing and arriving in Brazil in my next letter.

We still miss you lots

Lots of love A&S x

To see our latest Youtube Video about our “Cape Verde Capers” hit the link bellow

Click to view Video

 

You can also see some of the Photos we took by checking out our Instagram page.

Justbellavista Photos

 

 

And then there’s the cat!  

Cat's Garden
My Garden

Is it fair to take her with  us knowing all the challenges she’ll have to face? Or is there some kind soul out there willing to look after her till we get back?

the big trip

Getting ready for the big trip, there are so many things to do its difficult to get your brain in gear. There are so many things competing with each other for your time.

Obviously there is a ton of work to do to the boat to get her ‘Ship Shape’ for the trip. All the systems need to be serviced;  engine, generator, self- steering, water maker, winches, pumps  etc.  Our SSB has to be set up and reconfigured to talk to a new computer, as the old one blew up. The Dinghy needs to be patched and a new cover made, and the list goes on….

In a few days’ time we are off to the boatyard to scrape back the hull to zero and apply Copper Coat. We know that won’t stop the dreaded beasties altogether but it will mean that we can at least clean the hull without rubbing off all the antifoul. We need  to take the mast down and replace some of the 12 year old rigging.  Our boat has very sophisticated B&R rigging with no backstay so those wires have been under a lot of tension for a long time and have probably earned their retirement, but we will see when we get the mast down.

We are in the fortunate position that we have been here many times before, we know what we are up against and we have a few t-shirts in the bag for getting ready for the off. We are not first timers, sailing out into the complete unknown. This may prove to be a ‘swan song’ trip for us as the boat now has to compete with a Motor Cycle tours business and a rural property.

Yet in spite of knowing what we are up against, the list is long and daunting and at times confusing. Not only is there the boat to get ready, but the house needs to be put in a state that we can leave it; or we need to find someone to rent it. We have had to find someone to keep the garden under control when we are gone so we don’t get a massive fine from the fire department.  Wild fires are a huge issue here in Portugal and letting your plot go, puts all your neighbours at risk.

Then there is all the paperwork to sort before heading off the grid again.  Everything needs to be sorted while we still have a proper address that people can reach us at. Here in Portugal all your bills have to be set up to be paid by direct debit or in person by a friend as its impossible to pay when the ‘system’ knows you are outside the country.  Everything has a built in GPS these days and ‘Big Brother’ knows your if you are not home.

Then there are all the Visas which need to be applied for, while you are still  in your home country, inoculations to get up to date and health and dental checks to take care of. A big stash of your usual medication needs to be ordered and the emergency drugs you might need if something bad happens on the trip, far from any doctor.  The checks are not just for you though, what about the cat?

We never wanted to have a pet because we knew that sooner or later we would want to get wet feet again. But two years ago this little scraggly bag of skin and bones appeared on our doorstep looking for food. She was so weak and thin she could barely stand up.  We felt so sorry for her we gave her some food, and the rest as they say, is history.  Now we have the choice to either find some nice person to look after her while we are gone or turn her into a boat cat, but for that she needs to be got ready too.

 She also needs the once over from the vet, the inoculations, the chip and the pet passport before we can go.   It would be a big wrench for us to leave her, as she has got very attached to us, and we to her, but she’s a campo/country cat used to running about, chasing crickets and climbing trees. We’re worried she will find life aboard too sedentary and will miss her local feline friends.  Also we took her on a little trial trip for a month last summer, she did very well adjusting to a different life.  Although she wasn’t actually seasick though, she got so wobbly her legs wouldn’t hold her up and looked awful green about the gills when the weather got a bit lively. 

We are running out of time now to find another good  home for her and she and the ever lengthening list of jobs are starting to keep me awake at night.  Ever notice how the lists only get longer? At least two jobs go on before one comes off.  But…

If you wait until everything is done, you will never leave.

Cat Nap
Cat Nap

So we have checked the tides, which for our deep draft boat, is crucial and set the date.  Hell and high water, ready or not, first week in September if the weather will play we are off! 

 

                                                                      Cat or no Cat?

 

.

Actually we don’t know what State we are in. Currently we are in Portugal and have ourselves, what we believe to be, a little slice of paradise to call our home. Neither Steve nor I want to return to the UK/frozen north to live full time. We both feel we are much better suited to warmer climes.

Having already voted with our feet to leave the UK it was in our best interest that the UK remains in Europe which allows us the freedom to live, work and travel anywhere in the Union.   On the eve of the referendum, we sat glued to the television and eventually went to bed feeling relieved that it seemed like the status quo would prevail. We awoke to find shock horror that Britain was leaving. Don’t get me wrong, we agree the European parliament has become an enormous, self-serving unwieldy beast that needs taming and massive reform, but for us leaving may turn out to be a catastrophe.

The problem is we just don’t know, nobody knows and when you are trying to launch a business, the wait is both agonising and financially crippling. Our grand plan for our little slice of paradise is to build a small holiday complex from which we provide motorbike tours in this stunning countryside. With beautiful scenery, empty roads and warm sunshine what’s not to love?

We had just about put the finishing touches to our first cabin and were getting the plans finalised to start the next one when the folks back home upset the apple cart. Well the upshot is all our plans are on hold. If we take the most pessimistic view and prepare for the worst, then we can only be pleasantly surprised. In the meantime we have a sadly neglected boat, which has had to play second fiddle to our building projects for some time now. So while all the politicians scrap and knock heads we are off sailing until they sort it all out. Knowing how they operate, we could be gone for some time!

So Brazil here we come!!

We both fancy a new cruising ground that neither of us has visited before. When we have seen enough of Brazil, we will venture slowly northwards. Cuba has been on my bucket list for many years now so it’s on the itinerary too

First though, there is a ton of work to get through to prepare for another epic adventure. Its exciting times and we can hardly wait. Already we have reached the dichotomy where the lists get longer and longer but time speeds up. So much to do and so little time …

Hi folks

We are just about to embark on a brandnew adventure.  

This is where we will keep you up to date with our progress and setbacks. 

For the next few weeks we will be posting updates on our preparations for the trip. Once we set sail you will be able to follow us to many exciting new locations on distant shores.

You can also check out our progress on our You Tube Channel, Bella Vista. Click the video link on the home page of this web site, to take you straight there.