From our sailboat, the city looked bombed, as if gone through a war. Seven story buildings are cracked in half. Concrete is fractured like massive stitches in wounded white elephants. We sailed into this dystopian landscape – resort beach town meets mayhem – which is the entrance to Bahia Caraquez, mainland Ecuador. Our trimaran Aldebaran was armed with a shipment of solar lights to give away to people living in tent camps, homeless from the massive earthquake of April 16, 2016.
6 new friends were aboard the sailboat. Nate and Sherry are an adventure couple from Reno, NV; whitewater rafting friends of Sabrina. Kelly is a high school soccer buddy and outdoor educator from Wyoming, and her partner Zach just finished law school in Kentucky. They shared a common feature: spending time on the ocean was an uncommon vacation destination, but one they were excited to explore.
All four are visiting crew part of the Green Coconut Run, our 3 year cooperative sailing adventure from California to the South Seas. Everyone helped courier lots of gear to the boat, including the big shipment of Solar Lights – thanks to Unite to Light – which Zach and Kelly kindly shlepped all the way to Ecuador.
This mountain-loving crew joined Kristian and Sabrina, who run the boat, in the Galapagos for a splendid week. First time snorkeling? No problem, here are sea horses, little sharks, and massive sea turtles. The crew was still reeling from their experience when we set sail 5 days, 560nm, in their (guess what?) first ocean passage, back to South America.
The newbie sailors did fantastic in their night shifts and kept the boat on track. We sailed over half the time with 12-15knot winds, which subsided to 5 knots. Combined with a counter current, we were required to do two days of motoring. The passage was largely monotone: grey skies, mellow seas, punctuated by the awesome meals coming out of the galley, and extended periods of great sailing.
King Neptune kept the best for the end: the last day was Kelly’s 33rd birthday, and she was treated with balloons, crepes for breakfast, and jumping humpback whales to top it off!! As we approached Bahia Caraquez, and had three hours to spare before high tide (we could only cross the river bar during full water) we zig zagged the near shore waters watching momma whales and calves put on a show. What a birthday gift!
Our crew mates jumped on a bus to Quito to return home. Farewell is always bitter sweet! We feel like family after two weeks in tight quarters. Sabrina and I plunged into deep-cleaning mode, to fix up the boat by morning, and jog around town in the afternoons. During those outings, we stopped to talk to people in tent camps set up around the city.
After the earthquake, government engineers had evaluated the structural damage to buildings and set aside many for demolishing. People were homeless and were offered the option to move to tent camps (“albergues”) outside of town. But many were concerned about theft to their possessions, and set up their own ramshackle tents near their old, abandoned homes.
Slightly overwhelmed by the task of distributing lights to so many in need, we decided to partner with the tent camp run by the military near the bus terminal in the outskirts of town. They are incredibly well-organized and support 350 of the city’s most humble residents with clean tent structures, three meals a day, and electricity until 10pm.
Uprooted from their homes and lives, the kids were still going to school with a bus line connecting the outskirts (where they had been displaced) to the city center. The solar lights would help them study at night, and bring a little joy to their world.
With the help of the coordinating team we distributed over 65 lights to kids aged 8-16. The kids were soooo happy!!! Several grandmothers also earned lights and told us their moving stories, and their hopes to return to their land, where they spent so many years… While others had given up and acquiesced to the small government apartments being built for the victims of the quake.
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What’s Cruising with a Cause?
While sailing, we wanted to make a positive impact by first collecting micro-plastic water samples on season 1 (with partner ASC) and now adding to that on season 2, solar light distribution to school kids in areas with limited electricity (with partner Unite to Light).
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