Sunday, 30 March 2008

Epistemics and incontinence.

Epistemology (according to TBH) is the branch of philosophy that deals with the big questions of Truth. What is it? How do we know it when we see it? “Social construction -ists,” he says, believe that they have answered these questions. Truth is what we agree it is. How do we know what we know: because everybody says so.

Turn the clock back and the Truth was that “the earth is flat”, move on a few hundred years and everyone knew “the earth is round and the centre of the universe”, while now we all know for sure that “the earth revolves around the sun”.

But, TBH says, there is another, perhaps more reliable, pointer to Truth: the stomach, the gut feel, the “epistemic detector”. How do you know what you know? Your bowels open.

The dumping reflex is part of a mammal’s fight-or-flight response. The cave man experienced it when, cornered by woolly mammoth or saber-toothed tiger, he knew for sure that this time it was life or death. The adrenalin kicked in. His sphincter muscles opened to evacuate his gut, and he braced himself for that last, desperate, dash for safety.

If someone tells you not to put your hand in the fire because you’ll burn yourself then you know why you shouldn’t do it intellectually. But put your hand in the fire and burn yourself and you’ll know why you shouldn’t do it viscerally. Visceral knowledge beats intellectual knowledge just as surely as a Smith & Wesson beats a Full House. But in an age where we value the analytical over the practical we often get this wrong.

Gut feel, intuition, wisdom if you like, is what we’ve got when we’ve forgotten what we know, when we’ve internalized all our knowledge and experience, when it’s become our instinctive response.

So it was intuition, that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach, that told me so unmistakably that the women with the pretty babies (no dark ones, no ugly ones, no birth defects) who make up the demand for Guatemalan children are very much in the wrong. Don’t they realize it? Aren’t they disgusted, too?

A number of people have agreed strongly with what I wrote in Babies and Bangles. One couple, who ran children homes for many years, had exactly the same reaction when encountering forty or more new mums promenading their latest purchases before boarding a plane back to the States.

And yet this decadence, this social decay, this insidious rot, is so sweet smelling, so cloying: elegant ladies, exotic perfumes, manicured hands, expensive restaurants, designer baby wear. Other people have reacted defensively to my horror, telling me stories of wonderful foster parents that they know personally (though actually not of Guatemalan children).

I am still in no doubt that adoption is out of control here in Guatemala and that it is long past the point where the rest of us should speak out to condemn this trade in young lives. How can I be so certain? My epistemic detector tells me so.

Cruisers describe such certainty less delicately as “brown-trouser” or “Oh-shit!” moments. They happen when you’ve been helming for six hours in breaking seas because you don’t trust the autopilot downwind, your partner is exhausted and anyway is not as good at the wheel as you are, and you realize that this weather is likely to continue for at least another six hours.

I’ve spoken to more than a few passage-makers who privately admit to being so scared that at times they’ve wet themselves, then stood their watch damp and wretched, unwilling to wake the crew on such a feeble pretext.

I have a wonderfully elegant cruising pal, Jenny. Blonde, tall and graceful she wrote me an email about a really nasty passage as they were approaching Cartagena in Colombia. A wave broke over her head and that shock on top of the fear that she was already experiencing led to a wonderful warm feeling in her wet weather gear, yup incontinence had struck! Made me feel a whole lot better I can tell you...

Want the “low down” on sailing? You’ll get it here… if nowhere else! When provisioning for a long passage, spare a thought for incontinence pads. You won’t see them advertised in chandlery catalogues. Not surprising as they don’t fit the sanitized image of our sport. But they’re as essential a part of heavy-weather gear as oil-skins and survival suits. And even if you don’t encounter bad weather, they’re great for mopping up engine oil spills (and much cheaper than pads sold only for that purpose).

Maybe nobody else says so, but it’s true.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Babies and Bangles.

We have been using our time in the city to catch up with the consumer developments that have passed us by over the cruising years – fashion, technology have all moved on apace.

We checked in to the Biltmore Express Hotel, the economy arm of the rather more luxurious Westin Hotel that adjoins its premises. It has suited us well as we spent the first few days running from Embassy to Shopping Malls and back again. Yesterday to fill in some time TBH announced that we should go and investigate the facilities of the posh part. Asking at the reception desk we were directed to an unobtrusive, unmarked door in the corner which we could open with our room key.

‘Go through the door, take two lefts and a right…’ they said.

Following hot on the trail of a well dressed young woman with two small children in tow, we went through the door….

Just when you least expect it culture shock leaps out and swipes you on the side of the head. It was like going down the rabbit hole in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or finding yourself in a bizarre Matrix-style futuristic storyline.

Suddenly we were surrounded by women wearing babies strapped to their chest like some badge of honour or club membership insignia. Little dark-haired Guatemalan babies, sturdy brown-eyed toddlers, all shepherded by saccharine-voiced, caring, US, ‘Apple Pie’ Moms.

You know I’ve had quite a lot of shocks and unexpected moments since TBH took me off around the world but this one truly knocked me for six. Initially I thought maybe I was mistaken. We strolled along the sumptuous corridors of the hotel towards the main reception. Not really thinking just enjoying a companionable chat and some window shopping. My eye was drawn to the store selling Jade pieces and we wandered in to have a closer look. My attention though was claimed by the young couple with the strap-on baby choosing a memento of the occasion for a souvenir. A baby and a bangle. One up on a T-shirt! Unique trophies of the trip to Guatemala.

I really wasn’t looking for a profound cultural moment as we studied the menus for the three on-site restaurants. TBH decided he fancied a Wiener Schnitzel, so we seated ourselves in the Viennese style restaurant…

Babies everywhere. Highchairs. Pushchairs. Baby carriers. Appalled and shocked TBH and I sat silently taking in this extraordinary sight.

Yes I’ve read about the massive rate of adoptions from here in Guatemala, looked at the figures involved, written about it but the evidence of child trafficking on such a large scale ( I can think of no other description) shook me rigid.

Snippets of neighbouring conversations;
‘Yes. This is my second time you know…’
‘We’ve not had a very good day…’
‘Well the Mother already had older daughters…’
‘You put your life on hold really…’
‘It’s worth it all…’

Young couples, older couples, single women. All here buying what Nature or circumstances wouldn’t provide.

What must the Guatemalan staff think and feel? How exploited can you be? Seeing the wealthy gringos help themselves to your nation, your children, your future.

It seems to me worse than slavery. To dislocate these infants in every sense: geographically, culturally, physically, emotionally. Taken from all they know like a puppy from the litter. Sold to the highest bidder.

And don’t tell me these kids didn’t know. If an Emperor Penguin can return after six months apart and find its mate and chick amongst hundreds of thousands of others, why shouldn’t we believe that a human child also instinctively knows that these are not its parents?

Two families caught my attention.

One was an older woman from Boston. She looked tired, affluent, confused as she poked spoonfuls of food toward the unresponsive tiny child. Treating it as you would a lap dog. Waiting for the unconditional gratitude of a puppy and bewildered by the evident anguish and hostility of the child.

The young father, in another party, bemoaned his frustration with his job, his sense of responsibility. I perceived his evident struggle with some deep personal issues while his partner ignored him, focusing on the new child, an 11-month old girl.

‘If you reject him, you have to cuddle me’ she said to the child as it pushed her away time and time again.

What are these people doing here? What is the US Government doing issuing thousands of visas so these children can be taken away?

My gut reaction was so intense it filled my eyes with tears. I’m no ‘bleeding heart’ liberal. As a Mum with three kids, I have no delusions about children or motherhood. But I knew for sure that what was going on here could not be right.

There were too many supporting signs to doubt my verdict. All the babies were particularly light skinned. All the mothers fashionably dressed. Acquiring a multi-cultural family is the latest in celebrity chic. And Guatemala is the place to do it.

I thought of the one Central American adoption that I had experienced personally. A friend’s daughter, recently married and stunningly beautiful, decided to adopt a cute baby girl. All the joys of motherhood without the pain and lasting physical effects on her body. Three years later as the divorce became final neither party wanted the child, who was passed from relative to friend to boarding school and so on.

I prayed that none of these children would suffer such a fate. But their unhappy cries and their new parents’ uncomprehending cooing made my heart sink. I saw the look in the waiter’s eye as he cleaned up the spilt food and debris and was ashamed.

To complete the bizarre unreality of the scene, a bored young man appeared, plugged his electric violin into a laptop and stated to serenade us with an mp3 of Guantanamera. The underground anthem of the Latin American oppressed.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Life in the City.

Hot on the trail of TBH`s passport we have made the long
trek across country back to Guatemala City. This time though
we availed ourselves of the service of the Marina van. Much
quicker and a direct delivery to our hotel... More expensive
though, ah well it was worth it.
My documents have arrived but for some strange beaurecratic
reason his have been held up somewhere between Guatemala and
<mexico City where they are sent to be printed. Let`s not
even go there!

We arrived on the embassy doorstep at 8am Monday morning,
the charming lady remembered us straight away and produced
my documents. She thought TBH`s should be here by Tuesday
and failing that would organise for a 12 month passport to
be printed so that we can, finally, get on our way to Cuba.
I remain optomistic that it will turn up later today...

In the meantime very serious shopping is taking place! I
came armed with a list and to mydelight managed to work
through most of it yesterday. With the help of a fellow
cruisers membership card for Pricesmart our hotel bedroom is
quickly filling with piles of goodies that we simply can no
longer live without; massive quantities of foam brushes,
velcro fasteners and TWO new toilet seats. Note that these
are EXACTLY the same ones sold in the UK for the Jabsco loo,
there one will set you back around 35 pounds here we got TWO
for under 200 Quetzals, thats a little over 15 pounds!

So we are braving the cold and windy conditions here, at 75
degrees during the day it fels bitterly cold compared with
the Rio. One more shopping trip to complete and then we will
have a very full boat. As we will have seven of us on board
in Cuba I am a bit thrown on how much provisioning to do.
However I am working on the principle that if I stuff the
boat as full as possible I should get close to what we

So fingers crossed we will be off shortly!

Saturday, 22 March 2008

No answers, more questions.

Easter is in full swing here on the Rio. Swing being the operative word! The number of motorboats going up and down past the marina is fast approaching the numbers to be seen on the Hamble. Well I guess that is a slight exaggeration but it certainly feels like it...

As our current visit here draws to a close, the bizarre disparity on view this weekend has certainly made me think about this country of Guatemala.

Yesterday afternoon there was a guy on a cayuco throwing a fishing net at the back of the boat whilst overhead zoomed a black helicopter and just across the water any number of big sports fishing boat dash up and down the river. Winding between all that, were smaller watercraft of every shape and size loaded down with families out enjoying their holiday time.

One tank-load of the fuel used by some of those boats would cost more than the guy fishing from his canoe can hope to see in a year, I wonder what he thinks as he clings to the sides of his traditional boat as the wake of motorboats threatens to sink his hollowed out tree trunk?

He, and his kind, seem to be invisible to the richer Guatemalans, they really don't even see that they are there. Talk about the 'disappeared'...

A medical mission has been using the Marina as its base this week for a group of doctors and nurses from the Mid-West area of the USA. They seemed to be a genuinely committed bunch but nevertheless their very presence here makes me ponder on the ethical and moral issues that intervention in other Nations highlights.

On the one hand, as a mother, were my child to be in danger I am certain I would be desperate for any assistance I could get my hands on... and yet...

The consequences of treating merely the symptoms of a culture's problems rather than the systematic causes are appreciable and hard to anticipate. I can go into the jungle with my 'magic' potions and save lives, mitigate birth defects and leave. But what have I really achieved for those people? Have I provided the wherewithal to feed that extra mouth that in the natural order would have died? Have I provided the knowledge and means of birth control to counter-balance the increased life expectancy that my magic has given? Have I provided a glimpse in to another world that can never be attained? And who am I really doing this for?

I wonder how deeply these, no doubt, well-intended medical practitioners reflect on what they are doing. And do they return to their places of origin untouched by these experiences or are they, somehow, more thoughtful and less arrogant as professionals?

Cultural Imperialism has been with us for many, many generations. It is sad that we have learned so little from history as we, and I speak generally here, continue to press our own beliefs and standards on to Nations that really have very little in common with the countries that we come from. To attempt to alter the lifestyle, beliefs and cultures because, we believe, our way is better is a terrible thing.

Three questionable assumptions underpin the rise of science and technology and of the industrial movement that has shaped the history of the West since the Reformation. First, that empirical science is not just a form of knowledge but the ONLY source of positive knowledge in the world. Second, that it is appropriate to purge people's minds of mysticism, superstition and other forms of pseudo-knowledge. Finally, that extending scientific and technical control of society is not just politically sound but morally right.

Do these encounters encourage us to challenge such assumptions? Or do we return home untouched by the experience, smug and certain in our superior view of the world?

What my time here has taught me is that there are no easy answers, just many, many, more questions.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Peaceful Nights...

A cold front made its way through our part of the world late last night.

After a scorchingly hot day we were sitting in the cockpit chatting about the meaning of life. Looking toward the north I could see lightening flashing in the distance and then a solid line of clouds building. Oh-oh!

We took down the windscoop before retiring to bed anticipating that there would be a bit of a blow later and probably some rain. And there was...

Apart from enjoying the fall in temperature, to a much more comfortable 78 degrees below deck (it reached 98 yesterday!) I lay in bed enjoying the sound of the wind in the rigging and luxuriated in the fact that i didn't have to worry whether the anchor was dragging.

Life at anchor, for me at least, takes me back to when my children were small. That sense that you only ever sleep with one ear tuned for trouble! The slightest unusual movement or sound from the boat has me instantly awake and alert. TBH is superb though at only waking when there really is a problem, me I can jump to attention just for an unexpected seagull landing! Without fail he only ever wakes up instantly when there is an impending crisis - and they are always very real ones. Bloody annoying when I have been up and down all night and miss the real drama .

Two events come to mind.

We were anchored in Store Bay, Tobago. Sound asleep around 10pm when TBH leapt to his feet.

"I hear a sail".

Yup he was right as we ran, half-naked out on deck we were met with the sight of the steel cutter that had been anchored next to us bearing down , under full sail in to our port side. The skipper had lost control as he was tangled in illegally laid fishing nets and smashed in to us. Thank God our boat is massively constructed! As TBH struggled to untangle the mess of wildly flapping sails I physically lifted the bow of our attacker up and off the stanchion that it had mounted. What a night!

The second time was off the island of Cubagua, Venezuela. TBH realised that we were dragging in a sudden violent squall and rushed to the deck to reset us before we went aground. It was a salutatory lesson in just how fast these things can happen. When daylight broke we could see that within the few moments it had taken us to get on deck the boat had moved some half a mile across the anchorage.

We usually have our anchor alarm set and have both become highly sensitized to the motion of the boat. Last night I was reminded to enjoy our last few days here in the marina as we ready ourselves for the next part of our adventure....

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Too close for comfort...

Not a position I'd Like to be in! Looks like their anchor dragged, you can see what looks like a big ball of kelp around the anchor...

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Making it safe to talk.

La Presa Libre reports that seven raids in the Rio Dulce area have failed to apprehend the suspects that the police are hunting after the taking of four Belgian and two Guatemalan hostages at the weekend.

The 400 soldiers and police that were transferred in to the area to assist in the search of the, now released, hostages, will remain in the area over the Easter period to ensure the security of tourists in the area.

"Our position is as it has always been: we are not going to negotiate with illegalities.Kidnapping is punishable by law, and is not the way. We have plenty of desks to solve the problems of land. What they asked for was a court case, "said President Alvaro Colom.

So it appears that the Presidents agreement to have a dialogue with the disgruntled locals was premature...or has he changed his mind? Given the nuances of translation this must be a case where the definition of 'negotiation' and 'dialogue' is crucial.

Where to next? The credibility of the new regime stands at an important crossroads. their promises of dialogue are now looking suspiciously like just so much rhetoric, were I a Guatemalan national I would be looking for a strong indication that the fears of the groups involved are truly being given the air time with the relevant authority.

Any talk of the use of courts to settle these disputes is surely a return to the old ways of the landed elite's method of dealing with an unruly sector of the community. This is a defining moment when, in my opinion, more thought on how to do the right thing and less emphasis on law could allow this struggling Nation to made a massive leap forward.

What these folks need is a safe place to talk, and it is unlikely that this will be in the public arena.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Alleged killing in Hostage case.

Controversy continues as it is alleged that one of the 'farmers' involved in the kidnapping of the Belgian tourists has been killed by the security forces who were part of the unit sent in by the Guatemalan government to free the four captured Belgian Nationals.

Rolando Yoc, an assistant in the Office of Human Rights, who went to the village Puntarenas, Lívingston, said that the body of the deceased, Mario Caal Bolón aged 29, showed signs of having been beaten and hit by an explosive device.

Ricardo Gatica, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry , said that the forces that participated in the search and release of the hostages were not armed "Our people did not fire at any time," he said.

With claim, and counter-claim, at least the hostages have been released well and safe. They were flown to the capital and amidst tight security were expected to leave for Belgium shortly.

I wonder at the claim made by the interior ministry that the forces were not armed, given the photographs that appeared in the Sunday edition of La Prensa Libre which showed naval vessels bristling with policemen and guns...

If the Government are offering dialogue as a solution to dispute they really are going to have to follow through on their promises... and fast.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

'Captain' Heather is all washed up...

... so 'Captain' Heather has thrown in the towel and the boat is for sale. Well I for one am not surprised. From the very beginning this woman, and her appalling father, inhabited a fantasy world of rose-tinted spectacles and ignorant self-delusion.

She asks that we not make unkind comments, "'cos she 'can't bear it".

This from the woman who memorably told us :

To you yahoos in your Barcaloungers: I talked to your momma. She said to tell you, "Shame on you! If you can't say something nice, hush!"

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go do my thumb exercises.

Well grow up girl. You and Daddy sneered at constructive advice and bragged that you were not a yachtie type. Well you were right on that score! You certainly aren't.

$73,000 for a twenty foot boat - still in la-la land me thinks ...

This is the latest entry on her website:

The weeks since returning have been, and remain, the most difficult of my life. I have not been able – and will not now – relay to you all that has happened. There is no sense in it. It is taking everything I have to write these few words to you.

My medical bills have escalated and I now face the probability of surgery on my declining hand. My funds are dwindling and I have returned to work in a real estate market which is not currently meeting the bills. I am in the process of relocating to Gainesville where I will rebuild my life anew, continuing to work in real estate, and probably, for a time, a part-time job as well to make ends meet.

I am therefore forced to sell Flight of Years. I will not itemize here all the costs and work which have gone into her over the last year. Suffice it to say I have countless hours of work and some $100,000 in her (provable by receipt), including thousands of dollars for rigging, equipment, the Monitor self-steering wind vane, the Air-X wind generator, satellite phone, dinghy and motor, as well as $14,000 for custom-built Ultimate Offshore Sails by the German company, Schattauer Sails. You have only to read the months of preparations on this web site to see the work, love and money which have been lavished on her.

I offer Flight of Years, the last Flicka ever built, and the most beautiful boat I have ever seen, for $73,000.00.

If you are not a serious buyer with the means to purchase, or if you have unkind things to say, please do not write me. I cannot bear it.

Meanwhile Jeannie Socrates is quietly getting on with completing her solo-circumnavigation. Now there's a woman who I am proud to call a sailor, and she is certainly deserving of the title 'Captain'!

Hostages freed.

This report from Associated Press;

PUERTO BARRIOS, Guatemala (AP) — Four Belgian tourists held hostage by protesting farmers were released late Saturday after security forces in boats and helicopters located the group in Guatemala's eastern jungle, officials said.

The four Belgians, their Guatemalan guide and a boat operator were traveling in a tourist area 155 miles northeast of Guatemala City when they were abducted Friday by farmers demanding the release of their jailed leader.

Authorities had been negotiating with the kidnappers, while at the same time 150 police officers in boats and soldiers in helicopters searched the jungle area for the hostages to mount a rescue mission if talks failed, officials said.

Late Saturday, Ronaldo Robles, the communications secretary of Guatemala's presidency, said the Belgians were free. "We can confirm that the Belgian citizens in the hands of the farmers have been freed," Robles told The Associated Press by telephone.

Luis Chol, a member of the farmers' group that took the six hostages, said they were forced to release the Belgians because they were being attacked.

The police "followed us and attacked us and killed one of our comrades," Chol told the AP by telephone.

Robles denied anyone was killed. He said the hostages will be taken to a naval base on the Guatemalan Caribbean and then flown to Guatemala City early Sunday.

So another moment of drama draws to a close on the Rio. But somehow we don't think this will be the final act of this play...

The incident took place down river from here, so my concerns that it was becoming too close for comfort were unfounded. The group responsible for these events is operating within their own, relatively small, geographical territory.

These events have, without doubt persuaded numbers of travelers to avoid the Rio, and I must admit to feeling a little uneasy myself, even though none of them have had any personal repercussions on our own way of life.

TBH however assures me that in his experience of living within areas of civil unrest(South Africa, Uganda, the Middle East) there is nothing here that is even vaguely threatening to the general wellbeing of the visitors to the Rio. After all if we wanted Disneyland we could have gone there! Good point!

Traveling has made me acutely aware that I am a voyeur of the lives of others, often those who live in circumstances which, to me, appear to be greatly disadvantaged. But who I am to judge? What can I know about the desperation of real poverty, of dislocation? It can be an uncomfortable edge to live on but boy is it a fascinating one. How I wish I had taken these opportunities earlier in my life.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Choc's supporters target tourists.

The tourists were reported to have been captured just upstream from the town of Fronteras, here on the Rio Dulce.
Mmn, thats a bit close for comfort, mind you I have seen no evidence of large numbers of troops in the area so I am not sure how much I believe of this report...

This is a translation of the news on La Prensa Libre;

Last night, at 21 hours, about 400 members of the security forces, including police and soldiers, arrived in Izabal, and could try today the release of four Belgian tourists who were taken hostage with the aim of pressuring the government to release the instigator of invasions Ramiro Choc, if dialogue fails.

Four Belgian citizens were taken hostage along with two Guatemalans (a tourist guide and a lanchero), in Izabal.

The fact is attributed to a group that has invaded protected areas and private, and claiming the release of their leader Ramiro Choc, who remains in prison in the capital, charged with three offences.

A month after the arrest of Choc, February 14, on charges of aggravated theft, aggravated robbery and illegal detention, his supporters took yesterday a new measure to retain four Belgian tourists and two Guatemalans.

The captives are Belgian citizens Gabriel Van Huysse, 64 years; Marie Paul Dubois, 62, and husband Eric Stofferis, 62 and Jenny Belaen, 59, and Guatemalans Mauritius Dubón, tourist guide, and Leider Estrada lanchero .

As recounted Dubón from the place where he is detained, tourists enjoyed the hot springs on the banks of the Rio Dulce and were preparing to take a trip to tour the Castle of San Felipe.

While carrying their belongings in the boat at 10 am, they were approached by a couple who were asked to transfer them to a point near the river lamp, Lívingston. The guide told them that the place was not in its path, and they threatened them and took them hostage.

The last thing we know is that the captives were in the river channels lamp, but Santiago Cabnal, spokesman for the farmers said that they were going to lead to another place, in order not to give opportunity for the police.

The captors are the same as the February 22 detained for nearly 33 hours at 29 policemen, always with the goal of requiring the release of Choc, but were unsuccessful. The officers were freed after a dialogue that would establish a commitment to negotiate the freedom of Choc, legalization of land invaded occupying some 14 communities in protected areas of the Cerro San Gil and Biotope Machacas Chocon.

The invaders failed to reply from the Government, which was taken as an insult, and threatened to break an oil pipeline passing through the community.

Hostages identified as Belgian tourists.

So despite the Government of Guatemala's promises to talk with the leaders of the group that took 29 policemen hostage last month it would appear that promise was not kept. And now, surprise, surprise the furious indigenous group have stepped up their demands for somebody to listen to their complaints by targeting the tourists here in Guatemala.

Ramiro Choc may be styling himself on a Che Guevara type hero but surely the authorities are laying into his hands if they fail to live up to their publicly stated promises of dialogue...maybe Choc has a point?As a visitor here I watch with interest as real life politics plays itself out in this remote and volatile country.

In a phone interview from the boat where they were being held, one of the kidnapped Belgians told The Associated Press the travelers were touring caves in the region Friday morning when they were kidnapped.

"When we returned to the boat, two people that we didn't know ... came on board and suddenly we had 15 people on the boat," said Eric Stosstris, 62.

Stosstris identified the other Belgian captives as his wife Jenny Stosstris, 59, and their friends Gabriel and Mary Paul Van Huysse, ages 64 and 62, all from Ghent.

The kidnappers moved them from place to place after the abduction, he reported.

"We are held against our will, but they haven't hurt us," Stosstris said, speaking on a cell phone belonging to one of the kidnappers.

The kidnappers belong to the same group that took 29 policemen hostage last month in the Caribbean coastal town of Livingston, Goubaud said.

More trouble on the Rio?

This is a worrying new development here on the Rio. Just in time for the height of the tourist season too...

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Two Belgian couples on holiday in Guatemala were taken hostage on Friday, along with two Guatemalan guides, by a group of farmers angry over the arrest of a local Mayan leader, the Belgium consulate said.

Hundreds of farmers stopped and surrounded a small motor boat as it took the tourists up the remote, emerald-green Rio Dulce river near the Caribbean coast. They later told a radio station the tourists were safe but would be held until authorities released the indigenous leader, who was arrested last month for invading land.

"The boat was taken around midday but we have not been able to confirm the identity of the Belgians," said Liana Santa Cruz, an employee at Belgium's small consulate office in Guatemala City. She said the Guatemalan navy was sending a ship up the river to look for the hostages.

The captors had taken the boat further upriver to hide it from police, one of the captured tourist guides told Guatemalan radio by cell phone.

"We don't know where we are but we've been moving about in the boat for several hours," guide Mauricio Dubon said.

"We haven't been physically hurt, but we haven't eaten since 10 o'clock (in the morning) and they are moving the boat to different canals off the Rio Dulce."

One of the Belgian tourists told the radio in French that the group was unharmed.

The same group of Mayan farmers held 29 policemen hostage for more than 24 hours in February demanding the release of Ramiro Choc, a community leader whose supporters say he is fighting for land rights.

Close to half of Guatemala's population are indigenous peasants, many of them landless, who often invade land for subsistence farming.

"The tourists are fine, but we are not going to let them go until the government releases Ramiro Choc," Juan Tuyun, the group's leader told the local radio.

And this report from The International Herald Tribune;

Farmers fighting for the release of their imprisoned leader took four Belgians, their Guatemalan guide and a boat operator hostage Friday, Guatemala's national tourist agency said.

The Belgians — two women and two men — were taken captive in Rio Dulce, a tourist area about 155 miles northeast of Guatemala City, said Jose Roberto Goubaud, spokesman for the tourism institute.

Goubaud said he did not have any additional information except that "police have specific instructions to not do anything to put the tourists in danger."

Cristian Zost, director of tour operator Guayacan Tours, said he had spoken with the kidnapped guide by cell phone several times before losing contact at about 11 a.m.

"We know they are fine, have eaten and haven't been harmed," Zost said.

The news from the Rio is somewhat confused so we will wait and see what happens next...

Semana Santos Rock.

Shock Horror!

Do you know that there are NO Easter Bunnies on Easter Island! No Easter Eggs, no Hot Cross Buns, I was stunned into silence yesterday when talking to Sue from s/y Pagos.

They have spent a number of months living on the Island. Initially, you may recall, they were stuck there waiting for a new part for their forestay which had broken as they were approaching landfall, and now they have returned to spend some more time with their new friends. Their sons, George and Oliver, are attending the local school and I am told even have school uniforms now.

Here on the Rio the annual 'Semana Santos' Rock has begun... no its not a musical event but rather the annual holiday pilgrimage when with every boat out on the water there is a constant rock from the wash of hundreds of small, and large, motorboats, haring up and down the river.

We have made sure that our mast is not in line with those either side of us here on the dock, that the fenders are well attached and that there is no chafing on our docklines. We are given to understand that this motion will continue all week. Oh well - it's one way of getting our sea-legs back!

And no, we still haven't got our passports back, I am trying very hard to remain philosophical.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Music and memories.

Well my week of laughter and gossip draws to a close as Karen leaves this morning to return to Canada. I have been teasing her all week about how cold it will be and when her Mum telephoned to say that they were experiencing temperatures of -50 I almost thought she might stay...

But duty calls and her mother needs some help so Karen will be leaving and we will miss her a lot. Not least her hairdressing skills, her seamstress skills, her fabulous cooking and of course that terrific sense of humour. Hurry back girl!

Last night she and Doug came to join us for dinner. The cockpit gleamed with its new varnish, the stars twinkled and some live music floated across the water to accompany our meal. Even the bugs kept a low profile and we were able to enjoy a final balmy night under the clear heavens.

Some nights are just special and that was one, after out guests had retired to their boat TBH and I sat out savoring the music and the moment. One of the greatest memories as we have cruised has been the music we have come across. The sound of a Gospel Choir rehearsing in St Eustasius, a private guitar recital on a veranda overlooking the River Guardiana in Portugal, the wild exuberance of the crowd at Gibraltar's National Day, the steel bands and calypso of Trinidad. We have sat on the foredeck whilst at anchor listening to Elton John singing his heart out, live(!) and cringed below decks at some of the excruciating karaoke singers that seem to abound!

Just a bar of a tune, a particular rhythm and instantly I can be transported back to a memory of a place, a moment, an adventure...

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Budget Humour.

What with the Budget announcements in the UK yesterday. The ever growing promise of recession in the USA and dire pronouncements on Global warning I felt a little comic relief to be necessary this morning...

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Boats and Movies.

This report from Classic Boat, talks about two movies due to be released this summer that both feature boats as integral parts of the storyline.

The Mamma Mia movie looks like a great romp and I am curious to see Woody Allen's latest offering.

By the wayI learnt last night that Jim, boss here at Mario's, appears in the Pirates of the Caribbean 2 movie, thought he scrubbed up well!

You can see both the trailers (and the boats) below...

Missed it...again!

One of these days I am going to make it to the Heineken Regatta in St Martens. Days of fun and beer and sailing and beer and sun and more beer!

So if, like me, you missed the main event here's a video so we can all live vicariously...

TBH has just said we WILL be there next year, anyone coming??

... now where did we stow that spinnaker?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Adoption or child-trafficking?

One in every hundred Guatemalan children is being brought up as an American.

Adoption is BIG business here. Orphanages abound, agencies to smooth the path of would-be adoptive parents proliferate, hotels offer special packages for foreigners going through the adoptive process.

It's a business, and a profitable one.

One of the cruisers here, Kathleen from DejaVu, drew my attention to this article on Yahoo. It is a story that I have heard about any number of times since arriving in this country. Tales of child kidnappings abound, of baby-farming, of suspected motives. What is the truth?

These statistics published on the Travel.State.Gov US site show an increasing trend of numbers of infants leaving their homelands of Guatemala.

PATTERNS OF IMMIGRATION OF GUATEMALAN ORPHANS TO THE U.S.: Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following pattern for visa issuance to Guatemalan orphans:

Fiscal Year Number of Immigrant Visas Issued
FY 2006 4135
FY 2005 3783
FY 2004 3262
FY 2003 2326
FY 2002 2419

Remember, that is just the number of children going to the United States. So assuming that the process costs in the region of $25,000, you quickly come to $100,000,000. Now that really is BIG business. That to me smells like a business in human life. What other way is there to look at it?

The organizations that run these services are, invariably, headed by a non-Guatemalan. Many are supported by religious organizations.

The nagging question that I am unable to find answers to is why, in a country that has a large extended family structure, are overseas interests funding the removal of children?

Surely money raised could be used to support the extended family structure to care for orphans and unwanted children. This is a country with a high mortality rate, historically accustomed to rearing the offspring of siblings and daughters and grandchildren. What has changed?

My daughter was in Cyprus at Christmas time. The woman in the house opposite had just collected two children from Guatemala. There was a rush to beat the new, stricter, adoption laws that were implemented in January 2008. She is a single woman, with serious health issues. probably unable to adopt through the official channels.

Does that matter? Maybe she can offer a good, loving, caring home. And maybe she will become sick one day and need to be taken care of herself. The question must be why so many of these children are being taken from their culture, is it just one more way the materialistic so-called Western civilizations can satisfy their demands for the latest accessory?

If you surf the web you will find countless sites of how to/how I adopted a Guatemalan infant. Full of justifications of offering a 'better' life, more opportunities and so forth. But in whose judgment is this a better life? A one room hut with a dirt-floor and no shoes does not necessarily equal unhappiness. Anymore than a five bedroomed home with designer clothes and a pool in the yard guarantees happiness.

When does adoption become child-trafficking?

This article appeared in The Guardian on Tuesday August 14 2007 on p16 of the International section.

Police in Guatemala have rescued 46 children from a suspected illegal adoption agency, renewing concerns about the trafficking of infants from the central American country. The children, aged from just a few days old to three years, were discovered at the weekend at a house in the city of Antigua, near the capital.

"We searched the house after we got a tip from neighbours telling us that every day they would see foreigners pick up children there," a police spokesman, Carlos Calju, told reporters.

Two lawyers at the house were arrested on suspicion of assisting with illegal adoptions. A police investigation will try to determine if the children were kidnapped or obtained from their mothers through coercion. Most of them lacked proper documentation for being in the custody of adults other than their parents.

Guatemala, in many places violent and lawless, has become notorious for illegal and unethical adoption networks which supply children to western couples.

Antigua is a popular city for such transactions. A world heritage site and tourist magnet, it has plenty of amenities for those who go there to negotiate for a baby.

Last year US couples adopted more than 4,135 babies from Guatemala, second only to China, under a legal but loosely regulated system. The number of illegal adoptions was not known.

September 2007. The Adoption Authority of Ireland has said that it will no longer permit applications for adoption from Guatemala to Ireland because of serious concerns about the corruption of the Guatemalan adoption process.

An interesting site, Fleas Biting, chronicles the experiences of one family caught up, innocently, in the results of child-trafficking in India. These people found out to their horror that their children had been stolen from their natural mothers. They have gone on to create an organisation that supports Ethical Adoption.

So be wary of helping at one of the many orphanages here in Guatemala, be wary of lending your support to an unethical and sometimes downright wicked business. Ignorance is no excuse. Do your own due diligence.

The point made by Fleas Biting is that many small voices add up to significant influence, so don't be embarrassed to ask questions, don't be afraid to talk about it. Fostering a healthy dialogue about these issues can only work in the best interest of both the children concerned and the genuine organisations

Monday, 10 March 2008

The wwweb is a wwwonderful thing!

Isn't the internet just the most amazing thing you have ever seen? I am delighted on a daily basis at the things that the web allows me to do, at how it has changed my life and at how much easier it has made traveling far from home...

I sit here, in the jungle, listening to the Howler monkeys calling as dawn breaks over the Rio Dulce, and I have just placed an order for parts for our toilets from Jabsco in the UK, a new autopilot from Jersey. I have ordered books from Amazon and scented candles from Marks&Spencer in the UK.

I can access my bank accounts, pay my bills, check the news, telephone the kids, research an article or find a new recipe for anything at all. Wow!

When TBH first moved in to my little cottage we were living very simply. Growing most of our food, heating was by wood fires and I cooked on a huge kitchen range. Bam, that all changed as swiftly he 'wired' the whole place and the house hummed, literally, with computers in every room. Overnight it altered all our lives.

At first I resisted the battery of new skills that this technology insisted I master but finally I capitulated and now I just can't imagine life without being computer literate. And as for the kids... Charlotte was a natural, hacking in to computers and making them bend to her will! She went on to gain a degree in Digital Business and E-Commerce. Lucy was a games fiend and James made his first films on the system that we had at home. So it led us all down the path of computer literacy.

It's a demanding boss though! Nothing ever stays the same. New operating systems, new technologies, new tricks.

For TBH this is the breath of life. He first used computers back in the 1960's when a whole room was needed to house the hardware that made up the first powerful, 8 k, machine. How life has changed. Now he can fit the iPod in the palm of his hand and watch a selection of movies all stored on its 164gb drive. Makes you wonder where it will go next doesn't it?

On board, with access to wifi, TBH has written a fantastic new software application, written the book to accompany it, typeset the book, set up the accounting system and designed the packaging! We intend to manage the enterprise wholly using the internet and that will enable us to continue our fabulous way of life.

We Hope!

When you think of how the world has faced the developments that have changed the course of it's history , the wheel, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, you speculate on what comes next. 1984 has been and gone and many of it's predictions are now with us. We are monitored like no other generation ever has been, controlled and manipulated like none other. And yet we have this massive technology that allows us to communicate like never before.

Perhaps one would have hoped that the ability to transcend boundaries and space would have led to a greater ability to co-operate but to date that does not appear to be the case... and yet...

There are the beginnings of a movement towards open sharing of information, the voice of the common man can find a platform to allow him to be heard. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the governments and powers that be to pull the wool over the eyes of their populations. Or is it?

Within the internet lays great power, whoever masters it has command of a great deal..
If you want to know more have a look at the book 'Who controls the internet' by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu. It is a fascinating read.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Weekend Fun.

It's been an intensely social weekend down here in Guatemala. The BBQ on Friday night was a bit like Brit night, more UK boats around than we have seen in all the time we have been here... It was a great evening, as dusk fell and the flaming torches reflected in the water of the swimming pool, we all sat back to chat , replete with the great chicken hot off the grill.

Karen knows everyone! Having spent 10+ years in Venezuela most cruisers seem to have entered her sphere at some time. So a great deal of exchanging information and gossip was going on. Some happy, some sad and some , frankly, totally outrageous!

It is sad to hear so many tales of illness and indeed death. Is it a reflection of the generally aging demographic of the cruising community I wonder? Really makes you aware how adventures like these should not be postponed too long.

There was a thread recently on the YBW forums where the writer was asking the contributors opinion whether he should return to the UK to earn some more money or press on to the Caribbean in the hope that he would find a job when he got there. I was surprised how many respondents counseled caution and a return to the known in order to earn more. Not for me that route! Grab the moment I say. Live on the edge of the mountain, preferably the edge of the volcano if you really want to be alive...

The cold front that came through in the early hours of Saturday morning bought a refreshing drop in temperatures again, bit too much for some of us who had to hunt around for warmer clothing. No rain so far with this one though which has enabled TBH to continue the varnishing.

Yesterdays swapmeet didn't really happen, too cold and windy for most people to leave their boats. Just the little old girl who paddles here every weekend with her home baked coconut bread rolls. Apparently she does the whole process herself, from preparing the coconuts to baking the bread and then delivering them upstream paddling her own canoe. They taste good too.

Last night we went to dinner with Karen and Doug. Oh My! I haven't laughed so hard for simply ages. Isn't humour the most wonderful thing. Poor TBH and Doug sat bemused a lot of the evening as Karen and I roared with laughter, tears pouring down our faces and incontinence a real risk! There is something about this life that intensifies relationships. Shared memories, the transient nature of meetings, the realization that opportunities have to be grasped. Not only was the company outstanding but Karen is the most AMAZING cook. Whatever she prepares is always so beautifully flavoured and presented, and she makes it seem so easy. Bitch!

TBH and I rolled home along the dock at the appallingly late hour of 9pm(!) well-fed, happy and thankful for the wonderful times that we enjoy...

Sorry, got a bit sentimental there but so what, isn't life grand?

James has flown off to the SXSW Film festival in Austin, Texas. It must be so exciting to see the final product of a film that has been so long in the making. And Charlotte and Lucy have made an old Mum really happy as they have booked their air flights to come and see us in Cuba, along with their respective partners. Ah my cup runneth over!

Friday, 7 March 2008

Travel and meditation.

Karen and I are still catching up on the news...

The longer we spend out here cruising the wider the geographical spread of our friends becomes. For example amongst a group of us who were together in Panama last year boats are now in New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Easter Island, Bonaire, Bahamas, USA and beyond! Keeping in touch is sporadic but its always easy to pick up again where you left off.

There has been quite an influx of 'new blood' in to the marina this week. There is a great shortage of experienced crew down here in Guatemala. At least two boats here at Mario's are looking for hands to continue their journeys.There are any number of backpackers always offering to help in return for a lift somewhere but quite honestly their lack of any boating experience is not what is needed.

What there are, in great numbers, are single handed male sailors. Often in quite large boats. I guess there just aren't that many woman who really embrace the sailing life. A number of wives join for some legs or fly in to enjoy the destination but we see fewer and fewer sailing couples, and far fewer younger sailors. Is this a result of the economic squeeze I wonder? Young people becoming increasingly afraid and unwilling to drop out of the ratrace lest they lose their place on the hierarchical ladder of home ownership and job promotions?

It is a pity if that is the case as to travel and acquire the skills to cruise successfully has to be a great recommendation for success in the world of business. Leadership, decision making, risk management, all the buzzwords of corporate life are certainly well practiced on board!

The brightwork is looking simply beautiful, although TBH is fast approaching the number of coats where we may have to call in a psychiatrist to adjudicate. Whilst I sympathize with the majority of boaters who cannot be bothered with real varnish on board it is such a lovely feature of the boat that I would not be without it.

Fortunately TBH finds the task therapeutic and likens it to a Zen meditation. He says that it allows him to clear his mind and focus solely on the beauty of the wood(!). That in turn leaves his brain free to work on another level to think and solve problems that he faces in his software development, can't argue with that!

So it's another lovely day in paradise. This afternoon the marina are laying on a Barbeque up by the pool so I guess it will be a lazy few hours of eating and chatting for me... ah well it's a tough life but somebody has to do it!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Reflections on the dark Side.

Cultural differences and the conversations between cruisers of different nations are fascinating stuff.As we meet and talk with a variety of people that we would never have met in our previous lives, so our perceptions and beliefs about the world in which we live change and grow. Just simple things like exchanging DVD's opens a whole new world of cultural education. Sure there are the global Hollywood numbers but also each nation has its own favourite movies, the ones that contain pointers to the psyche of that nation and even to the sector of that population that the cruiser comes from. The cowboy tale, the ex slave etc.

Sometimes my mind finds it difficult to cope with the information that bombards it. Some cruisers simply switch off, I have been shocked by the number of times that I have heard the statement, 'Oh we really don't want to think about those things, we just live in our own world'.

Maybe I should not be taken aback by this, but I am. It is inconceivable to me that an individual refuses to face the information and changes that are going on around them, all the time. It must be like being dead.

Recently a young friend sent us an email asking about our careers, how we trained,what we did, what we learnt etc. My final advice to her was whatever you choose to do remain curious, ask questions, don't be afraid to express a point of view.

Books like Naomi Klein's 'The Shock Doctrine' are raising disturbing issues. Take a look at this piece of film...

With the current election fever raging in the US this is a time of fundamental reexamination. Even the Oscar`award for best documentary 'A Taxi to the Dark Side' reflects this trend of questioning.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Time flies...

Oh dear! I was so excited to hear my friend Karen's voice over the VHF radio that in my excitement as I bounded through the companionway to welcome her as she arrived in Mario's I kicked over TBH's container of varnish... it went everywhere. In fact I could not have spread it further no matter how hard I tried.
Oh damnation, all over the cockpit sole, the companionway steps, me. TBH was a brick, its okay he said, don't worry. I felt a complete idiot as he set to to clear it up. You know he really is a gem!

Anyway Karen looks great and a years worth of gossip is currently being exchanged. We could be at it some time!

The varnish, despite my clumsiness, is looking superb. Many of the smaller pieces are complete and the wood work in the cockpit is beginning to acquire the 'brightwork plane'. This is where the glass like finish of the glossy varnish smooths to a perfect finish and the wood seems to glow. It's the result of many sessions with the sandpaper and an infinite amount of patience.

Good news on the passport front, should be back next week so we will move our plans for departure up a gear. Actually we are pleased with ourselves, famous last words, as the boat is coming together nicely as preparations come to an end. It has been a good stay here in the Rio but time to get out there and do some sailing - that is if I can remember how to do it.

We hope to spend a couple of months in Cuba, visit the Cayman Islands and enjoy a cruise along the coast of Belize all before the return of the hurricane season in July.It is amazing to think that this will be our 4th summer in the Caribbean, how time flies when you are having fun.

The Rio is certainly a great place to hide out from the wildness of the hurricane season and I was stunned to hear from Doug, the owner of the boat Karen has been crewing, that his insurance company demanded a $500 additional payment to allow him to leave his boat here throughout the hurricane season. We are 15 miles inland, with a range of hills and a substantial lake between us and the open ocean. There has not been a hurricane here within living memory, or maybe ever!

It confirms my view that boat insurance is just a rip off. I mean does anyone research the risks or are numbers simply plucked from the air? Our boat, launched in 1991, has never been involved in a claim. The only incident being when we were 'T- boned' in Tobago in the middle of the night by an out of control steel boat. the damage caused was less than the excess on our policy! Yet year by year the premiums are increased beyond all reasonable levels.

Finally, a year ago, we took the decision to self-insure. The premiums demanded simply ceased to make any economic sense. With all the exclusions, mark-down for older equipment and cruising area restrictions we decided to use the money to keep the boat and ourselves better equipped to deal with potentially disastrous situations. After all it's our lives that are the really valuable things out here!

Our insurance company, who by the way were happy to cover us to cross the Atlantic double handed ( often a 3rd member of crew is insisted on) told us that cover for the Pacific would rise to over $10,000 with a $14,000 excess! And they did not guarantee to continue that cover as we moved on around the world. Well I don't know about you but I found that unacceptable and regretfully after a long, and on their part profitable, relationship we terminated our policy.

I have been firing up the SSB radio as we waited for Karen's arrival and through the static, this is a bad spot for reception, I have listened to the North West Caribbean net and reacquainted myself with the boats that are cruising around in this area. Every year some names reappear. many we have now met in the flesh, so to speak, but still there are a number of new ones. It always makes me wonder where they have come from, where they are going and what tales lie behind the names...

Monday, 3 March 2008

COAP , a burden shared...

It's strange how issues arrive in your lap. There I was talking about Mother's Day and feeling very proud of my three children, savoring the independent adults that they have become. I guess I have been fortunate that they still talk to me!

And just now my daughter sent me a text telling me to look at this website, which has been set up by an old school friend of hers. It jolted me into recognising how very lucky I have been in my life not to have faced such problems.

I started to look just out of curiosity. I remembered Emma and her family as a gaggle of blonde haired glamorous creatures who clustered around the school gates in the afternoon. Then I read on and started to remember the gossip and innuendo that also happened. Little did we realise what a dreadful experience that family were living through. And truth be told I guess we didn't really want to know either... It's a sad indictment of the human condition how we can gloss over the more upsetting aspects of everyday life. Probably in the mistaken belief that if we don't talk about them then they won't exist.

Alcohol is an ever present problem in the sailing community too. Probably not affecting many children but an issue that we don't talk about openly. A lot of the social life in the cruising community revolves around the bar and drinking. What with everyday happy hours, regular 'Sundowner' invitations and 'Cocktail Hours'. I am sure we all know the cruisers who regularly imbibe one too many. And the ones who seem to sail solely for the access to cheap booze...

After a hot day on board there is nothing better than that ice cold beer or rum punch is there!

Anyway, conscious as I am of trying not to preach, I am deeply impressed by the maturity that Emma has drawn on and her commitment to helping others who face the predicament that she has lived through. Her organization , COAP, Children of Addicted Parents, deserves to be widely publicized. A burden shared is a burden halved and we could all learn a lesson from Emma. It is far better to face up to the issues and speak out loud about them than to labour under the belief that ignorance is bliss!

In Emma's words;

My mother has been an alcoholic since I was a young child. I felt different as a child, yet I did not know at that time that my mum had a drinking problem; I just saw it as normal. Through my teenage years her addiction became more of a problem for me, as I began to become aware that it was a problem for her.

... So it was in 2006 I founded COAP. The drive behind COAP is to provide children with something that I did not have as I was growing up. I set the website up for young people to talk about their concerns and fears about a person who is abusing drugs and alcohol, or is addicted to some form of behaviour. I felt like I had no one to talk too who understood. And I don’t want others to feel like there is no one to talk to.

Mother's Day.

Yesterday was Mother's day in the UK. Having done our duty and telephoned both our Mother's on Skype and checked their flowers had arrived I was delighted to hear from all of our three.

Charlotte, the eldest daughter, offered to pay for dinner and we were pleased to take her up on the kind thought! So dinner at Mario's complete with a decent bottle of wine, almost a civilized evening out!
No matter how old they get they are still always your babies aren't they! Drives them demented but tough I say!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Breakfast in Bed.

I feel that the food element of this blog has been a little lacking recently. So as I was surfing the Sunday papers, on Saturday night(!), I thought that this scrumptious delight would be just right for a Sunday morning lazy breakfast. TBH is in for a treat when he wakes up in the morning. One of these totally over the top sarnies and a cup of scalding hot fresh Guatemalan coffee. If he's really lucky I may even serve it to him in bed...

Croque Madam, the perfect Sunday breakfast. Bon Appetit!

A fried egg balanced on top of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich turns the old favourite from a monsieur to a madame.

2 thick slices of brioche

Slices of Gruyère, Emmental or Beaufort

2 slices of Parma ham

2 large free-range eggs

1 tbsp finely grated Parmesan

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil, for frying

Few knobs of butter

1 Begin by assembling the sandwich. Lay a slice of brioche on a plate and cover with a layer of cheese. Fold the Parma ham on top, followed by another layer of cheese and the second brioche slice.

2 Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Crack one egg into a wide bowl and beat lightly with the Parmesan and some seasoning. Heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a medium ovenproof sauté pan over a moderate heat, then add a knob of butter.

3 Dip the sandwich into the beaten egg mix on both sides, giving the brioche enough time to absorb some of the mix. Once the butter starts to foam, swirl it about to coat the pan evenly, then lower in the sandwich. Toast the bread for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden. Transfer to the oven to warm through until the cheese starts to melt.

4 Meanwhile, grease another sauté pan with oil and place over the heat. Place an 8cm egg ring or cutter onto the pan. Slip a knob of butter into the ring and, once it starts to foam, crack in the second egg. Season with salt and pepper and cook over a medium heat until the egg white turns opaque.

5 Transfer the sandwich to a plate. Remove the ring from the fried egg and carefully lift it on top of the sandwich using a fish slice. Serve while hot.
I think that breakfast is probably my favourite meal. The 'full English' is a gourmet's delight. Crispy rashers of home-cured bacon,grilled tomato, eggs fried in the finest olive oil, freshly gathered field mushrooms sauted in a little unsalted butter, a couple of grilled bangers(sausages) and heaps of freshly buttered hot toast. Yummy.

One of the things we miss here on the boat is our old habit of breakfast in bed on a Sunday morning. Propped up on a pile of pillows, snuggled under the duvet and surrounded by a thick pile of Sunday newspapers. The cat purring contentedly at the foot of the bed and all is right with the world! It's a little more difficult on board although from time to time we still recreate the event. Everything has to be wedged a little more firmly in case of rogue waves, rather frequent here on the Rio at a weekend. Pillows secured so they don't disappear over the edge of the berth and often a deal of improvisation on the ingredients. Still the Tropical fruit salad is usually a winner and fills the gap left by the unavailability of fresh field mushrooms and English sausages.

But things are looking up on the Rio. I have found a source of bagels and English Muffins. made a fresh batch of strawberry jam and have learnt that the bacon in Belize is just like we get back in the UK. Sundays are looking promising!

I love this cartoon from todays edition of The Sunday Times, it just makes me smile.

I do not begin to really understand the structure of US politics, it sure does seem like they take a long time getting round to the main event. I am amazed that the voters can stick with the arguments for so long. Or is it that when the big Election finally arrives they are all bored rigid!