Thursday, June 20, 2013

Six Days in the Islands

Remaining true to our blog name, “Cruising at a Snail’s Pace,” we have taken 6 days to get back to start.  Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. And there is no “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

Twenty-seven miles north of La Paz our alternator quit alternating (or whatever) necessitating a return to civilization with its mechanics and parts stores. I can’t say that I am disappointed… Well, yes I could say that but every cloud does have its silver lining and there is certainly an upside to being here again. For one thing, I have internet access and can blog and post photos from the past week. For another, I can re- re- provision. Provisioning is an art form that I have not yet mastered. I managed to bring enough wine and cheeses, but ran out of tomatoes, bread, onions and milk by the third day. We will know this afternoon if our alternator is repaired and we can return to swimming and snorkeling in the spectacular turquoise waters of the islands or if we will be hanging around here for a while waiting for parts. 

Leaving La Paz we enjoyed perfect downwind sailing with a southerly wind of 13 – 15 knots. It was one of our best sailing days so far.

We spent a few days on anchor in Caleta Partida, the crater of a large extinct volcano between the islands of Espiritu Santo and Partida. There is a winding passage that separates the two islands and is navigable by dinghy at high tide. It is a beautiful and fun excursion motoring through the shallow waters with white sand bottom. The water is crystal clear and we could see dozens of varieties of colorful fish. Once on the other side we turned south for about a mile and explored the sea caves of eastern Isla Espiritu Santo.

From Caleta Partida we then motored four miles north to Ensenada Grande which is, as far as I am concerned, a little slice of heaven on earth. Ensenada Grande in English means large cove and that is exactly what it is, a very large cove with three lobes and room for many boats. It is very popular with locals and charters, especially on the weekends, and it was packed full on our first night there. One of the joys of cruising is the fascinating people we meet and Ensenada Grande was no exception. We spent several pleasant evening hours socializing with cruisers from all over the world and spent our days swimming, snorkeling, hiking. and relaxing in the glories of nature. I can’t wait to get back!

The rock formations throughout these volcanic islands are fascinating. They almost look artificial.

These cliffs overlooking Ensenada Grande have layers of rock that look like lace curtains hanging over them.
I would love to talk to a geologist to find out what created these stone draperies. We're thinking lava flow. Any ideas?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It's All Good, Even When It's Not

My belief has always been that your attitude determines your enjoyment of travel. I have seen too many American tourists in foreign lands who were stressed, upset, even angry because things were not the way they are at home. I always wonder why they don’t just stay at home then. Or, better yet, why don’t they relax and embrace the differences? 


It’s not only Americans who are guilty of sabotaging their own vacations, of course, and Americans don’t have to travel abroad to be miserable either. In my hotel career and my own personal travels I have seen sour attitudes everywhere.

I determined at the beginning of this adventure that “It’s All Good.” If you have seen the movie “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, I want to be Evelyn and not Jean. But recently I’ve been thinking that I am not being fair to the people who read my blog. Living on a sailboat isn't always perfect, cruising can have it's unpleasant moments, and Mexico isn't Shangri La. Recently I have been asked by two different people what things I miss from home and I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. There is very little that I really miss and a whole lot that I am thoroughly enjoying, but maybe I should be telling the bad along with the good for those who are considering a trip to Mexico or a sailing adventure. So, this post is one of (I hope) few where I will talk about the bad stuff.

This is my first trip to Mexico and I have only visited towns and villages accessible by boat on the Baja Peninsula. I am by no means an expert on Mexico travel or the Mexican people. I am certainly not an expert on sailing or cruising. But, I do have my opinions.

Regarding life on a sailboat there is only one thing that I truly miss and that is a freezer. Oh, an air conditioner would be nice, too. Minor inconveniences, really. The cruising lifestyle is everything I dreamed it would be and more. There is no downside as far as I am concerned. I have an unusually strong affinity for the sea, an extreme case of wanderlust, a passion for exploration, a curiosity about other people, a love of history, and a spirit of adventure. Sometimes I’m scared, sometimes I’m exhausted, sometimes I’m hot and sweaty and dusty, and often I’m seasick, but I am always aware that I am living the dream and I am grateful every day for this experience.  

The Mexican people are amazingly warm and welcoming. When I asked other, more experienced travelers, what they like most about Mexico, one answer that came through time after time was “the people”. They are so genuinely friendly and just plain happy that it is infectious. There is an enjoyment of life here that I have never experienced anywhere else.

But there is a dark side as well. In both Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas I saw mothers with their small children gathered in tourist areas, mainly cruise ship docks, selling trinkets and little packets of Chiclets. I often wondered why the children were not in school and felt compassion for the moms who spent such long hours on the streets with their children trying to make a living. Recently I learned that these "moms with their children" are often, in fact, handlers with children from mainland Mexico whose parents have rented them out, a startling example of human trafficking. It is against the law, of course, but not much is done about it. If the police remove the children from the streets, the handlers will not come to claim them and neither do the parents. There are no orphanages or foster homes to send them to. Only when tourists stop buying their trinkets and the system is no longer profitable will the practice end. 
There is still some police corruption here and when it occurs it makes headline news but we have neither seen nor experienced it and progress is definitely being made. For the most part, tourists are welcomed and appreciated and safe. Our only negative experience happened in Ensenada, as we walked back to the marina after dark.  When we passed two men standing outside a bar, one said to the other (in Spanish, of course) “American Gringos, they don’t belong in Mexico” and spat on the sidewalk by our feet. It was an uncomfortable experience, but even then we didn’t feel threatened.

I guess the worst thing I can say about our experience so far is that Mexico is very much more expensive than we had expected. Marinas are costly. In Cabo the price was well over $2usd per foot per night and that was with a discount for staying multiple nights. This morning in La Paz I paid $15.00usd for two bagels, a juice and a latte. On the other hand, I buy the biggest and best tamales I’ve ever tasted from a street vendor for little more than a dollar each.

  And our favorite breakfast cafe serves 18 oz. glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice for about $2.20usd. 

Hardware, fishing gear, and boat parts are generally much more expensive than in the States. Gasoline, diesel, and groceries are comparable. In small fishing villages everything will cost a lot more because it has to be brought in from the outside and you must be considerate of local needs as availability of goods will depend on when the next delivery will come. The cities have large Mexican supermarkets as well as WalMart, Costco, and Sam’s Club. When you add in the local open markets and purely Mexican grocery stores there is probably a greater selection of food products here than I am used to in Seattle. I do miss Grand Marnier which is available but beyond our budget here, but I have discovered Cuban Rum which is some compensation and Mexico is, after all, the land of tequila and Margaritas so I’m not feeling too deprived.
Outside the entrance of Bravo Market

Freshly caught fish for Bravo Market

Will people try to cheat you out of a few extra dollars here? Yes, it might happen. Once or twice we didn't realize we had been taken until after the fact. Other times we have politely called attention to the discrepancy and it was quickly rectified. If you don't know the system and you don't speak the language you are more vulnerable to being conned in any country. Pay attention, be polite, believe the best of people and, above all, don't let it ruin your day or your vacation if it happens to you.

My greatest frustration comes from trying to follow the letter of the law. We want to be considerate of their rules and regulations and we certainly don’t want to run afoul of the Mexican authorities, but it isn’t always easy. Copied directly from the Conapesca  (national commission of fishing and aquaculture) website: When operating a boat that carries fishing equipment in Mexican waters, it is necessary to hold a valid fishing license for everybody aboard the boat, regardless of age and whether fishing or not. So we wonder about guests we may have onboard. The Conapesca official in Ensenada told me that we only need one fishing license per line in the water. The Conapesca official in La Paz told me that we only need one fishing license for every fishing rod onboard. Rules, regulations and even laws here in Mexico seem very subject to interpretation and enforcement varies.
Is it legal to collect seashells? The Conapesca website says not but official government tourism websites promote it and, in fact, direct you to the best beaches.

Yes, there are inconveniences and concerns and frustrations, but the good far outweighs the bad and I’ve never for a minute considered this trip anything other than completely wonderful. If you are considering a trip to Mexico or thinking of setting off in your boat for destinations unknown, just do it. Do it now.
And, if you haven’t yet seen “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” you should do that too. It’s a great movie!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Shopping in Spanish and Rosetta Stone - a Review

Shopping at Bravo Market

You may have read my previous post titled “Struggling in Spanish”. The struggling was going from bad to worse and I was getting really discouraged. I have tried to maintain a positive attitude. I was studying and trying to communicate at every opportunity, but the taxi driver definitely did not understand where I wanted to go, the teen-aged girls in the produce market fell off their stools laughing while they tried to figure out what I was asking for, and I still don’t know how to tell the very attentive store clerks that I am “just looking.” Even my English seemed to be falling short. When I ordered 4 bottles of water to be delivered on Wednesday morning we got 2 bottles on Thursday afternoon. When I asked for 16 meters of cordage I got 60. Both times my request was repeated back to me in perfect English. Maybe their grasp of English is no better than mine of Spanish.
Mike kept trying to encourage me saying that I had just reached a plateau and I needed only to persevere. He excels in persistence and perseverance. I, on the other hand, do not. But he was right! Suddenly yesterday I was speaking Spanish and I was being understood! I ordered freshly squeezed orange juice with ice for Mike and without ice for me. I told the clerk in the fabric store exactly what we wanted to buy and also asked her where the fabric was made. I told the man in the clothing store that I was looking for a shirt that was lightweight and cool. I asked a dock hand if he knew whether or not the supermarket is open on Sundays.
There are several large supermarkets in La Paz (including a Wal Mart) and, yes, they are all open on Sundays
After months of studying and struggling it was a surprising breakthrough. What a great feeling to finally understand and be understood! Maybe there is something to this persistence and perseverance stuff.
Scene of my success!
People often ask me what I think of Rosetta Stone so maybe you who read my blog are interested as well. I am using the 5-level Latin American Spanish which my dear friend Margy generously shared with me. (Thank you, darlin’. Your kindness has enhanced this journey so very much more than you could ever imagine.) One of the nice aspects of Rosetta Stone is that the program can be installed on two different computers and each computer can accommodate several learners (10, I think). Speech recognition has been the most valuable feature of the program for me. It is a real confidence booster and especially useful if you have no one to practice with. Even with previous language learning experience, I don’t find Rosetta Stone to be as intuitive as they claim it to be. Sometimes I don’t know what the pictures are supposed to represent so I just have to guess. And, because it is total immersion, no grammar rules are explained. I often learn how to say a specific phrase or sentence but not the rule that would enable me to apply it to other situations. Rosetta Stone has been invaluable for learning pronunciation and vocabulary but, in my opinion, it is not a stand-alone program. I am also using a workbook of Spanish verb tenses, a vocabulary workbook, and a textbook of basic grammar. It really feels like work sometimes, but I’m getting there and it is well worth the effort.