Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Sidewalks of La Paz

One of the first things I learned in Mexico is to watch where you are walking. The obvious reason is to avoid dog poop, but there is not so much of that as you would think. The primary reason to watch your step is that if you don’t, you will fall on your face – sooner rather than later. After one or two stumbles in Ensenada I stopped gawking at the sights and keep my eyes on the ground in front of me.

If an area seems interesting, I just stop walking and have a leisurely look around. It takes us a good long while to get anywhere but we don’t have to be anywhere in a hurry anyway.
I’ve said before that the three cities we have visited – Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, and La Paz - are all very different from each other. One of the most notable differences is the sidewalks. In Ensenada we often walked into the neighborhoods. Away from the marinas and cruise ship docks we saw mostly dirt or sand walkways. Many were raked daily and kept free of litter. Others were not. Cabo is very oriented to tourists and, although we walked for miles every day, we never got beyond the sidewalks and most are very well maintained, not only kept in good repair, but frequently scrubbed down with soap and water. The smell of Pine Sol will forever remind me of Cabo. 

La Paz is the most interesting where sidewalks are concerned. It appears that each home or business is responsible for building and maintaining (or not) the adjacent walkways and there don’t seem to be any rules or standards.

There are some small hills in La Paz, so several streets have stepped sidewalks, but there are also random raised sidewalks in front of individual buildings as well as some very high curbs with steps leading up to them. One homeowner has built his section more than 2 feet higher than the rest of the block forcing pedestrians off of the sidewalk and into the street.
There are frequently deep holes filled with gravel or garbage or nothing at all. Just as often there are beautiful creations of mosaics, tile, or cobblestone. There is a surprise around every corner in La Paz.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Struggling in Spanish

I want to learn to communicate in Spanish and I’m trying. I really am. I have Rosetta Stone, dictionaries, grammar books, flash cards, Spanish music CDs, and videos. I study daily and try to use the language at every opportunity. At first it seemed easy. The alphabet is similar to ours, the pronunciation is straightforward and consistent, and the concept of gender for nouns is like Italian. Sentence structure, although different from English, is logical and easy to remember. But Spanish is hard.

 Minor mispronunciations can make monumental differences in meaning. When I thought I was asking a street sweeper for directions to the nearest bank I was given directions to the lovely benches along the waterfront instead. While I thought I was being polite in using the formal “usted” (you), I’ve now been informed by a native speaker that, in this part of Mexico at least, rather than coming across as respectful, I sound stilted and “weird.” 
I always try to be considerate. I never start speaking to someone in English without first asking if they actually understand my language. Sometimes even that simple question in my hesitant Spanish generates confusion. Apparently there is a fine line between the word for English and the word for the place on one’s body where the inner thigh meets the torso. So I’m not sure exactly what I may have said to the bank teller but I now understand why her co-worker was struggling to suppress a giggle. And, best of all, the word for year is painfully similar to the word for anus. Hopefully I haven’t yet told anyone that I have 63 holes in my butt when I meant to say I am 63 years old.
There is so much that I miss by not knowing Spanish. I can’t understand the marine weather forecasts on our VHF radio or read a newspaper. Only occasionally do I know what I am ordering in a restaurant. I can never eavesdrop. And, you know telephone recordings in the U.S.: Press this for Spanish and that for Cambodian and something else for French or Tagalog or whatever? In Mexico you understand Spanish or you hang up.
On the positive side, the Mexican people are very forgiving and patient while I mangle their language. They help me find the words and correct my pronunciation. They smile a lot and we laugh together and usually we manage to communicate with a mixture of English, Spanish, and hand signals. It all works out and even when I am misunderstood, it is all good. Instead of going to the bank I had a nice rest on the benches overlooking the bay. Instead of eating zucchini I enjoy carrots. It’s all a grand adventure and I love every minute of it.

P.S. Yes, I know that the photos have nothing to do with the text, but a post without pictures looks naked and you don’t really want to look at photos of my flash cards, do you?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

La Paz - First Impressions

One day melts into the next here in La Paz. It is HOT! The temperature has been in the 90s every day since our arrival.  We try to get chores and errands done in the morning hours. The afternoons are too hot for anything but a long nap under the fans.

I knew that I hadn’t written in the blog for a few days, but it really did seem like only a few days of neglect. Then I got an email from our San Diego friend, Michael, containing only two words: “Write something.” I was surprised to realize that I haven’t yet written anything about La Paz and we’ve been here for two weeks.

This is the third Mexican city we have visited and it is as different from the other two as they were from each other. I am reminded of Audrey Hepburn's line from the 1953 movie, Roman Holiday. "Each in its own way was unforgettable..." Unlike Audrey's character, I have not yet chosen a favorite.

There is a large and well organized, semi-permanent community of cruisers here. Some, like us, are just passing through and stay for a few days or a few weeks. Others came cruising here more than twenty years ago and never left. Many boats are headed farther north into the Sea of Cortez for the summer and will return in the fall. Some cruisers will have their boats hauled out of the water and stored while they return home (wherever that may be) for the hot summer months.

We are staying in Marina Cortez, the newest marina in La Paz and the closest to town. We had originally tried to get into Marina de la Paz, the most well-known among cruisers, but they had no space available for us, nothing available, in fact, for at least two months. 

Because they are relatively new and almost empty, we got a great price here and have made some wonderful friends among the few cruisers on our dock. Marina Cortez is a little quirky, though. The strip of land that parallels our dock is home to four busy open-air restaurants. The marina office is at the head of the dock but the bathrooms and showers are on the second floor of a small office complex and one must walk through the restaurants to get there.

One of the restaurants expands onto the walkway on busy weekend nights. It is a little disconcerting to walk out of the shower with a towel wrapped around your wet head, shower bag slung over your shoulder and have to weave your way between tables of elegantly dressed diners to get back to the boat. Judging by its dock layout, it appears that this marina was designed to accommodate day charters and self-contained mega yachts rather than the typical cruiser.
The restaurants all have loud, sometimes live, music every night of the week until at least midnight. Because they are all open-air we get to enjoy all of them at the same time.

Quirkiness aside, the views from our cockpit are phenomenal.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Catching Up With Myself

My last post was written in Cabo San Lucas but only caught us up as far as Turtle Bay. Now we are in La Paz so I’ll do a quick catch up with some photos taken along the way. 

 Entering Magdalena Bay we saw these little shrimp everywhere in the water. There were thousands upon thousands of them swimming or floating everywhere we looked.There were also hundreds of thousands dead on the beach. The pink stripe on  the beach in the photo - dead and rotting shrimp. We have no idea why and I suppose we will never know. The smell was truly awful!

Magdalena Bay is gorgeous and it would be possible to spend weeks there without experiencing it all, but we needed to keep moving. We set our anchor at
9am, took a nap, went ashore to stretch our legs, took another nap and left at midnight of the same day we had arrived.

It took us 38 hours to reach Cabo San Lucas. There is simply no place to stop between Magdalena Bay and Cabo. I loved watching the water temperature rise as we moved south. I couldn't wait to go swimming. Most of the trip was calm with light winds and seas and we had the motor running much of the time. Pacific Baja was so isolated with no towns or villages, not even much marine traffic and some days the most wildlife we saw was a bird or two.

Hour after hour, day after day, this was our view.

Then we rounded the Cape and entered a whole different world. A world of parasails, jet skis, cruise ships, water taxis, fishing charters...

            ...and party boats. Lots of party boats.

...and restaurants. Lots of restaurants.

 It was time for us to become tourists once again!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Bahia Tortugas - Turtle Bay

I was anxious to get to Turtle Bay. It seems to be a favorite of many cruisers and is often referred to as the halfway point down Baja California. It did not live up to my unreasonable expectations but was, nevertheless, a memorable stop for many reasons. The locals, while not unfriendly, didn’t demonstrate the same warm welcome we had enjoyed in Ensenada. Perhaps because the people of Turtle Bay don’t have the orientation towards tourism that cruise ship destinations develop. We did have an excellent meal in a local restaurant and bought supplies at three small grocery shops. But the true adventure was at the fuel dock before we even got into town.
We really didn’t know what to expect at Enrique Jr.’s fuel dock. Because I had read warnings in two different cruising books and also a scathing review on noonsite.com, we carefully monitored the process. I have to say that although Enrique comes across as brash and over-powering, we received exactly as much diesel as we were charged for and at nearly the same price as we had paid in Ensenada. He also graciously allowed us to leave our dinghy at his dock while we explored the town.

The fuel pump station is at the end of a 400 foot wharf, approximately 15 feet above the water (I swear it was much further than 15 feet, 20 feet, maybe more, but I defer to Mike who had a calmer head at the time). A narrow floating dock is tied to the pilings of the wharf and rusting iron steps with a broken rung must be climbed in order to reach the wharf above. 

When we reached the lower dock, Mike jumped out and tied off the dinghy. I jumped out and immediately sat down.  The lower floating dock is not only narrow but also segmented and bucks wildly with the surge of the sea. Mike scrambled up the stairs with the jerry cans while I sat at the bottom, looking at the rotten stairs, and loudly exclaimed “No way in hell am I climbing that thing!” Before I knew what was happening, there was a burly, no-nonsense Mexican man on either side of me, one pushing me off the dock and the other pulling me onto the stairway. And so I was welcomed to Turtle Bay.

That was our only trip into town although we stayed in the bay for 2 nights. It was a comfortable anchorage but night-time wind and currents moved the boat enough that our anchor watch alarm went off frequently both nights. We had started with a 100 foot radius and by the end of our stay had upped it to 250 feet. With over 200 feet of chain out, we were just moving with the motion of the sea, not dragging anchor. There were two other sailboats anchored in the bay, both headed south with La Paz as their destination. One was a man who has single-handed from Japan to Victoria, Canada and down the Pacific Coast. I hope that we see him again and have the opportunity to hear about his solo sailing experience.