Monday, 20 July 2015

Blood, Sweat & Tears

So what do you know about Albania??  Perhaps you are far more world-wise than me, but I knew not a thing about Albania.  I wouldn’t have been able to identify it on a map before we planned on going there.  So literally as we are sailing from Corfu to Sarandes, Albania, I read in our Adriatic Pilot book the first snippets about this country we are just hours away from arriving to.  Like all European countries it seems, Albania has a long and tumultuous history of invasions and oppression.  I learned this is a country which only since 2005 has successfully democratically elected a Prime Minister who has not to date used their position of power for personal gain.  

Here are some of my favourite tidbits that I read: “Albania remains poor, and crime is a problem in certain areas.  Affluent Western visitors could be a target for robbery….Medical facilities in Albania are poor, especially outside of Tirana, and visitors are advised against having any dental treatment.  Hepatitis and Aids rates are high.  It is advisable to have medical insurance to cover repatriation by air ambulance if necessary…Should you need emergency medical treatment you can call for an ambulance on 127, but the Albanian Tourist Organisation advises that it is quicker to use a taxi…”  

So Darryl and I had many a conversation over the years about medical insurance while we planned for our travels.  Here we come from Canada, where perhaps you have to wait awhile, but eventually you get quality care at no cost.  What do we know about medical care in other countries!?  We all hear the horror stories about people traveling into the US who don’t have adequate medical insurance and end up resorting to one crowd funding campaign or another to bail themselves out of exorbitant medical bills.  But what about other countries out there?!  We follow many a sailing blog and we had a handful of examples given where medical care outside of North America was affordable without insurance.  We realize we took a huge gamble in making this decision for our family to not have medical insurance, but it is the decision we made.  

We arrive to Sarandes on Friday, July 17. The coastline coming into the harbour is stunning.  Loads of buildings line the coastline of Sarandes appearing to be a very developed city, not what I was expecting after what I just read.  We are met by the agent, Agim, who we had arranged to meet us so he could help us check into the country.  Since Albania is still relatively new to tourism and especially personal sailing vessels, the use of an agent here is required to check in and out.  Anchoring is not allowed here and you are required to moor at the ferry dock, where there is 24/7 port police presence.  

Sarandes coastline as we sail (yes, we were actually getting
great winds so sailing was an option) towards the harbour.
On Saturday evening, we had connected with all the grandparents via Skype and had dinner.  The girls were now playing on the front of the boat where we had set up the hammock.  The next thing I hear is this blood curdling scream from Iris.  Now the girls can be dramatic when it comes to injuries so I can’t say I exactly jumped to action when I heard this (I know, a fine example of my mothering instinct).  Fortunately Darryl was on the front of the boat and saw what happened and immediately scooped Iris up and brought her to the cockpit.  By the time he did and I saw her for the first time, I saw my baby literally covered in blood down her face, over her little body and saturating her shorts (as everyone who knows Iris knows, that is all she was wearing).  Now thankfully Darryl is calm when it comes to emergencies, but unfortunately Ella and I are both useless.  I actually thought at one point Ella was going to hyperventilate and pass out she was so panicked.  There I sat with Iris in my arms while Darryl tried to stop the bleeding from a one inch gash on her head along her hairline, at the same time I am trying to remind Ella to take deep breaths as she was in complete panic.  

Now you recall those lovely quotes above about the medical care here, the recommendation to have insurance to cover air ambulance as you could not possibly want to access Albanian health care.  So there began the debate between Darryl and I on how to deal with this injury.  I felt Iris needed stitches, Darryl felt the bleeding was under control and the use of steri-strips would suffice.  After much debate all the while trying to keep Ella from passing out and Iris calm, it was decided steri-strips and a bandaid would do the trick.  We even then walked to get ice cream for the girls as a way to calm them down.  Iris was a rockstar walking down the boardwalk surrounded by well dressed locals while the spectacle that is Iris with her head bandaged, topless, but at least wearing clean shorts.  As she was eating the ice cream the bleeding started up again.  Darryl carried Iris back to the boat and we ventured to look again at the wound. Ella resumed her deep breathing and finally getting another good look at the wound we both agreed that stitches were needed.  

Here we are in a country we have only been in for a day and have never had the experience of receiving medical care outside of Canada.  Talk about a lot of firsts for us in the first two weeks!!!  Darryl asked one of the police officers if they could please call us a taxi (not because that is what the book recommended, but because we didn’t think it warranted an ambulance) so he could take Iris to the hospital.  Within five minutes an ambulance arrived, clearly the request for a taxi ignored, and Darryl and Iris headed to the hospital.  I will admit I was a wreck, allowing the information I had previously read impacting how I responded to this situation.  Logically I knew it was only a cut, not life threatening in the least, especially since Iris showed no concussion symptoms.  But I allowed the one source of information I had bothered to read only hours prior to arriving on the shores of this unknown-to-me country to have a profound impact on how I responded.  

Iris waiting in the hospital at 10pm, she was exhausted here.
I appreciate it is not the most flattering of pictures.
I puttered around the boat trying to keep myself occupied expecting a late night, and was shocked when exactly 45 minutes later, Darryl and Iris returned to the boat.  From the time the ambulance was called to them returning to the boat, only 45 minutes had lapsed.  Now I don’t know if you have been to your local ER recently, but from my recent experience and the experience of my friends, a 45 minute turnaround time is unheard of.  I remember exchanging texts with a friend recently who was ready to eat her own arm because she was so hungry waiting hours for her son to be seen to receive stitches. So for Iris to return with two freshly minted stitches in her head a mere 45 minutes later was out of this world.  

Now the part of this story that makes me tear up when I reflect back on it is the people.  The police officer who sat with Darryl and Iris waiting for the ambulance to arrive to the port, she sweetly kept asking Iris how she was feeling and trying to comfort her.  (Also when she worked next on Monday, she checked in to see how Iris was doing and gave her a kiss.)  The doctor who played with Iris’s cheeks after the stitches were finished.  And the most amazing of all was the agent, Agim, who checked us into the country, arrived as Iris was getting her stitches.  The port police called Agim to let him know what happened and Agim drove to the hospital at 10pm to check in on Iris and then drove Darryl and Iris back to the port.  These amazing people made this scary situation such an incredibly positive experience.  

And I am sure some of you are saying to yourselves, man, I bet they regret not getting that medical insurance now?!!?  Not even two weeks into this crazy new life of theirs and they already need to access medical care?!  Darryl took with him their passports and all the euros and leke (Albanian currency) we had onboard.  When they arrived at the hospital, the paramedics directed them where to sit down.  There was absolutely no in take process at the hospital, no questions about who they were, where they were from or proof of medical coverage requested.  After an ambulance ride to the hospital and a doctor and a nurse working to stitch Iris back up, the whole experience cost us zero dollars.  Agim would not even accept a tip from us when we were paying him for his services as we readied to check out of Sarandes.  

Now of course there are lessons to be learned here.  The girls have a healthier respect for each other’s safety.  Darryl and I need to still allow the girls the freedom to explore and play but ensure they are able to do so in as safe a manner as possible.  But the number one lesson here is that regardless of the perceived struggles of a country, people are largely kind, generous and willing to go beyond to give their time and demonstrate compassion.  As scary of an experience it was, we were blessed to encounter these incredible people who helped us unconditionally and meeting people like these who are more similar to us than different is one of the reasons we have chosen this lifestyle. 

Iris was such a trooper through the whole experience.
The next day she even was up for an hour long ride each
way on a sweaty hot bus for a day exploring
Butrint, a national historical site.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Ups and Downs in Greece

So - we knew there would be some bumps in the road as we made this move, but we didn't think it would be quite so bumpy...that said, the ups (at this moment in time) outweigh the downs.

The downs:
1) A toilet discharge throughull that leaks a bit of effluent into the bilge with use...smells lovely...needs to be fixed at our next haul out.
2) A broken salon hatch...left it open while sailing and it got caught in some sheets - lesson learned.
3) Crazy European heat wave ('s hot from 8-8 and then just unpleasantly warm all night.  Not that I'm complaining...
4) Searching for boat bits.  Apparently the phrase it's all Greek to me is pretty accurate.  How do Greeks spell shackle?
5) Did I mention the heat?
6) Rushing north to comply with the Greek customs requirement to be out of Greece by the 18th.  Long days of motoring because there is no wind, or it's on the nose.

The ups:
1) Sunsets with the kids.
2) Our first anchoring experience was relatively painless.
3) Looking at the stars with the kids (dark nights are awesome!)
4) Having no schedule and lots of time
5) Swimming off the back of the boat
6) Things are starting to settle down so we can stop and smell the roses.

We're looking forward to completing our hustle North, to being in Albania and taking a bit more time to just chill.  Also looking forward to getting an Albanian SIM card so we can update this more frequently.

Thanks to all our readers and well wishers.  Until next time!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Grexit's one of those combined words the media like.  Akin to Bennifer or TomKat.  The name alone is almost enough to make me sick to my stomach.  The word, of course, refers to the potential exit of Greece from the Euro and from the EU.  It seems harmless enough, but, nice you add in the impact that the current financial challenges in Greece are having on folks you realize that the word Grexit should make you sick to your stomach for any number of reasons.

It could be the queue of people we see at nearly every ATM (citizens are limited to 60 Euros withdrawal daily), it could be the fact that many stores are refusing to accept Credit Cards, preferring cash which allows them to skirt the withdrawal limit, or it might be the fact that in the last week alone, Greece has lost 40,000 jobs as a result of the uncertainty surrounding their inclusion in the Euro Zone and the future of their economy.

It's also impacting our family.  We can't buy many of the things we had anticipated due to the requirement for cash, but we have the chance to leave and the funds to do so...which places us head and shoulders over those who must stay.  So far we love Greece and we do plan to come back, but for now it's just too uncertain and difficult so we will be heading North to Albania, Montenegro and Croatia for the summer hopefully to return to Greece in the fall when cooler temperatures and heads will hopefully prevail.

Regardless of whether we come back to a country that uses the Euro or one that uses the Drachma, I expect that some time will allow things to work out and we will ultimately be welcomed back.  I only hope that it is sorted out quickly, particularly for people like the older lady we saw searching for food in the grocery store dumpster this morning.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

First solo sail...

Another huge milestone for us.  On Friday we left Preveza Greece to sail south to Lefkas...its not a huge distance but it was our first solo sail as a family.  And our first sail on this boat.

Here are my first impressions:

1) The boat is well set up for solo sailing except for the fact that the mainsail is raised at the mast.  This means one of us has to go forward to raise the sail.  Not a big deal except if you're sailing alone and trying to keep the boat pointed into the wind.  I suppose that's what the autopilot is for, or I could lock the wheel...I'll have to experiment with that.

2) The mainsail takes forever to raise.  This is largely due to to the fact that it is rigged with a 2:1 block.  It makes raising the main easier due to mechanical advantage but takes twice as long...and it's a lot of halyard (that's rope for you non-sailors) left sitting at your feet when you're done...

3) Sailing with the kids is going to take some getting used to.  Janet and I want to focus on moving the boat, making sure that its behaving well, and the kids want the regular amount of attention.  We'll have to train that out of them.  Both kids said they were sea-sick but I don't know if I'm buying it.  No vomit so maybe they were just a bit queasy.

4) Med-mooring is going to take practice.  When we got to Lefkas we headed to Lefkas marina.  I don't intent to spend too much time in marinas moving forward but we don't have a dinghy yet so anchoring out is not possible.  That's why we're in Lefkas - hopefully we will be on our way by Tuesday with a dinghy so we can spend more time at anchor (free) vs marinas (cheap to very expensive).  Anyway, backing this behemoth into a specific space while securing mooring lines resulted in some expletives and some bouncing of the boat off a concrete pier.  Nobody and nothing was damaged, but frustrating and less than confidence building.  As our friend Leah says over at withbrio, everyone does it, and the best thing to do is move on with life so we're hoping for a better performance next time.

All in all, we're pleased with the boat and looking forward to some more firsts...

Saturday, 11 July 2015

On living simply

One of the appealing parts of living on a boat is the simplicity that doing so offers.  Every day you’re face to face with the elements, the water and wind dictate your course and you are the master of your own destiny.  Living life intentionally and being self-sufficient should mean we have less stuff.  Simple is good because there is less to break (and things are easier to fix). 

I thought we were doing a good job of simplifying…whittling our possessions down one garage sale, one craigslist posting, one charity donation at a time.  We eliminated our house, all of our furniture, many of the girls and my toys, tools, cars, camping gear, kitchen gear, Christmas decorations and numerous items of miscellany. 

So how come we still have so much stuff to take with us?

8 checked bags (in the era of extra fees for everything short of using the head – though some have suggested charging for that), 3 maxed out carry ons, 2 backpacks crammed with camera gear and other sensitive items.  I’ve never felt so relieved to board a 10 hour transatlantic flight in coach – at least I didn’t have to wrangle bags and kids for a while.

Confession time - I wrote all of the above while flying from Vancouver to Paris, where we planned to overnight before heading on to Greece.  Trouble is, we didn't have a connecting flight, we booked the legs separately.  Those who know travel will know that this means our bags were not through checked...

Needless to say I had the pleasure of schlepping all 8 50lb bags through the airport, onto the airport tram to the terminal where we could check our bags overnight for a low low fee of 170 Euros...we then took the train into Paris and went to bed.  

Hindsight is 20/20 but I know now that I should have just booked a hotel room in the Paris airport and been done with it...  The story of how they won't let luggage carts onto the airport tram, and the visual of me literally throwing bags and kids on and off the train to make sure we all got to where we are going together is right out of the 3 stooges.

But no matter, we made it to Greece and to the boat and I never have to move that much luggage again...  Now - we’re on our way!

I’ll share about the 7 boxes of stuff we’re having shipped some other time.