February 27, 2013

Leap of Faith

For the first time in my life I did something I never thought I would. I left the two most important things in my life at the hands of a stranger. A stranger that doesn't even speak the same language. I don't know how I was able to do it, but what I do know is that I was trying to think about the dogs and what would be best for them.

So what happened was that we were not able to sail our boat Endymion all the way to Costa Rica. We were simply trying to do it during the wrong season weatherwise. However, my parents had planned a trip to Costa Rica to meet us at the end of February and couldn't change their schedule anymore. It was too late. So we had to get to Costa Rica somehow to meet them. My plan was simple: take a bus and take the dogs with us like that time we traveled around Nicaragua. Later on, however, I realized that this trip was going to be different. It would include a nice hotel, nice dinners and tons of things mainly set around my parents schedule and needs. It would be hard to figure it all out with dogs to consider at all times. Then I started really thinking about the dogs. Would they really enjoy being dragged around in buses and taxis from one country to the next, one hotel to the other, only to be left alone while we go ziplining or whatever else there might be for us to do? They would much rather stay on the boat which has been their home for already several years, be in a location they were familiar with and play on the beach everyday chasing tiny hermet crabs and playing with coconut shells (which by the way are Vanilla's new favorite toy!). 

At this point I was pretty much terrified. But nevertheless went on to find the Harbor Master of Puesta del Sol the next morning. I told him about our situation and he immediately said he knows a person who would love to take care of our dogs. It was someone who he knew very well and said to be honest and trustforthy. Sounded pretty good I thought. He wouldn't recommend anyone who wouldn't do the job, right?

The next day I met Ana. We didn't share a common language but with the little Spanish I knew I tried to explain to her all the details about my dogs. She was patient, caring and truthfully, a real sweetheart. I feel like we fully understood eachother, even when we didn't know exactly what the other one was talking about. But with her help I found all the right words and saw her handling my dogs as if they were her own. I was convinced she would make a good dog sitter. And just as a sidenote she was willing to do the job for 5 dollars a day!

Today I am in Costa Rica, enjoying the time with my family. Yet I am filled with anxiety. This was releaved for a little while when I got my first email from Dorian, our Harbor Master, this morning (after sending about 3 emails to him during a 7 day period) that my puppies were doing good. Not only were they playing on the beach for hours with Ana and her 7 year old daughter, but also spending time on the deck of the boat doing their guarding duties and making sure not a single little bird or form of wildlife got on our boat or even nearby. I'm sure the noise Vanilla is keeping is driving everyone nuts. Ofcourse Gin had also done her usual "i'm running after a hermet crab" disappearance and they had tried to catch her for almost an hour! This didn't worry me though, she would never go far.

I have to say I felt tons better after this piece of knowledge but only a half a day later I'm again faced with anxiety. I can't help but wonder. I just hope I will find them in one piece and unharmed when I return. On the other hand, I'm really proud of myself for being able to do this. I was able to give my trust to a stranger in a foreign country, where I basically know no one, and was unable to fully communicate and let them care for the most precious things I have. My dogs. It truly was a leap of faith. 

February 12, 2013

We conquered the volcano!

Traveling with dogs has been easier than I originally thought. However, there are certain downsides to keeping them with you as well. For me one of the biggest worries, excluding all sailing related, has been leaving the boat and traveling more like “the normal tourist”. As long as we stay on the boat, having dogs has generally been more fun than not. But after a few months of mostly solid sailing and very little time exploring outside the immediate coastline, you start to get what I would call “cabin fever.” It’s odd because living in the countryside in Finland and literally not seeing anyone for long periods of time fits that frame a lot better. But this feels more feverish somehow. You are trapped in the boat. Leaving it means either being worried about the boat or worried what to do with the dogs and the problem grows in scale the longer you’re cruising. Unlike in Finland, you do see plenty of people around, and you don’t really have a lack of things to do. To the contrary, the boat seems to be a work camp. No matter how much you do, there’s always more. Nevertheless the feeling of not being able to leave or just purely being too lazy to leave because it’s hard makes you have the sensation of cabin fever. You feel if you don’t get off you will eventually go crazy. My first symptoms usually are restlessness and a kind of unsatisfied feeling even after getting all the tasks done on my list. It’s like something is missing and you don’t quite know what.

In Nicaragua we decided to attack that feeling and take a short trip off the boat with the dogs, even if we had to camp outside the whole time. There was a bus from Puesta del Sol to Chinandega which Cody and I had ridden not too many days back. The bus gets totally packed and we heard things like, “You have to tie the dogs on the roof” where all the other animals like chickens and pigs went or, “You need to carry the dogs on your shoulders”. I can see myself carrying Vanilla but carrying poor Gin who weighs close to 70 pounds seemed more or less impossible for a full hour and a half it takes to get to Chinandega. Hence we arranged a taxi ride. And luckily in Nicaragua taxes are still very cheap. Only 25 dollars for a 45 minute ride! Once in Chinandega we had to find the car rental. It was a very small little vehicle but more than adequate for us, the dogs and two backpacks. I’m sure I wouldn’t have agreed to this solution had I been the driver but since I have endless trust on Cody’s driving skills I didn’t even worry about this. The car also gave us freedom of where to go and we were able to make better time. Not to mention the first air conditioned space we’ve been in months! Goodness, I wish air conditioning wasn’t so expensive or such an energy hog.

We hit the road around noon and survived the craziest driving of our whole trip. Chinandega is busy and there are tuktuks and bikers and horses and carts everywhere, not to mention people crossing the roads where ever they feel like or taxi drivers that obviously are exempt of all regulations. The dogs were watching all this as intently as me and Cody. They obviously wanted to see what was to become of us. By the evening, after driving about 5 hours, we reached our first destination; Granada. All four of us were pretty exhausted after some of the trickiest driving we had ever done. It wasn’t really unsafe, you don’t even drive more than 60km/h on most roads, but you had to be so aware of your surroundings at all times, dodging slower traffic and other cars passing and animals crossing the roads. It was fascinating to watch though!

In Granada my greatest fear about traveling with dogs became reality. We went from one hotel to another and were unable to find a place that would allow pets. We even suggested leaving them in the car but that was not good enough. Not that I would’ve been happy to do that, I really wasn’t, but it seemed like our last option since camping was pretty much impossible in this city. Finally we got lucky though, and got a room in the cutest little hotel, but even after paying 15 extra dollars for the dogs the guy leading us to our room said he’s going to loose his job if our dogs bark at night! Well luckily they didn’t make a sound that night. Good job! That evening before crashing we went out to town and got the best meal so far on this trip. The restaurant had fabulous food and wine! Doggies were tied next to our table and watched the street that had one live performance after another. Obviously we had come to a tourist town.

The next day we encountered another problem with our pups. We took them to the central park which was next to a beautiful old church and of course they desired to do their business there. We picked it up like any good citizen and got yelled at by a lady and finally a cop who said we can’t put dog poop in the garbage can or even let our dogs poop. Very interesting, since I was watching a stray do it’s business right next to our dogs. But at least we got a good laugh out of it. Of all the places we’ve traveled outside the U.S this was the most difficult place to deal with dogs so far. I still have to recommend Granada as a cultural destination!

The next day we headed out and drove to San Jorge to catch a ferry to Ometepe Island. It is a volcanic island with two huge volcanoes located in the middle of lake Nicaragua which is the biggest lake in all of Central America. We had to wait 5 hours for our ferry ride so we ended up taking the dogs down to the beach and got more than a few locals interested in our dog training. I suppose not many Nicaraguans are familiar with the obedience training of us Westerners since Vanilla’s heeling made even the icecream man stop an applaude.

I’ve noticed that the relationship with dogs here in Nicaragua is very different from our Western ways. Here everyone has dogs, they are all running free but they are not necessarily pets, they are guard dogs. Their place is outside in the front and I haven’t seen as much as a little pat from the owners to their dogs. And the rule of thumb? Don’t go close to even your neighbors dogs, since they might bite. I highly doubt that most of them would since all the ones we’ve encountered for one reason or another have been really friendly. Nevertheless the Nicaraguans here have endless respect for dogs and will keep their distance.

On the Island we were lucky. We found a perfect little Eco-lodge who’s owner Carlos really liked dogs. We were there for three nights at an incredibly fair of 8 dollars a night! And I guarantee that you couldn’t find a nicer spot with better view! The family restaurant there had wonderful breakfast and dinner. The place was called El Encanto. The next day we tagged along on a hike to the top of volcano Maderas. We had a guide and our group consisted of our little family and a family from Quebec, Canada. It didn’t take long to leave behind half of the group but the rest of us worked our way up the muddy and slippery trails on the steep volcano. Once in the cloud forest everyone got wet and through the mud we saw little rivers of water flowing down. The dogs were in heaven! After Vanilla had twice pulled me into the mud I took her leash off and she was set. She ran up and down the slopes of our 8 km trail. She also swam in the caldera lake on top of Maderas and played with a stick all the way down. While my legs were trembling and my whole body was aching after 16 km and 10 hours of hiking up and down around 1500 meters she still looked energetic. Beats me.

We spent a couple more days on the Island exploring it and were finally ready to get back to the boat. The trip out to see the country had been worth it. It was refreshing and interesting but at the same time my appreciation for the boat grew larger. Driving cars, trying to be on time everywhere, the ferry, the car rental, the store, or simply not being able to get out of the tourist zone as easily, created a certain kind of stress that is not present when you go around on the boat, where you are your own master. It’s a good feeling. And it makes traveling with dogs a pleasure instead of a drag even though I am quite proud of our achievement this past week. Whoever said traveling with dogs is impossible probably didn’t know what they were talking about. Most of the time it just requires a little more patience and creativity!

February 6, 2013

Vanilla to the rescue!

Here's a piece of footage of one motivated little BC at work!! Haha, I think she would do anything for a ball! Or let me correct myself, I know she would do anything for a ball! Go Vanilla!