Sunday, December 14, 2014

New England Holiday

Mike and I have gone in separate directions for the holidays. He is in Antigua visiting his daughter, Tami. He writes emails full of sunshine and white sand beaches. I've asked him to take lots of photos and keep notes of his activities and observations. Watch for a post from him in January.
In the meantime, I am with my daughters, Danielle and Stephanie, on Cape Cod. A New England Christmas has its own special charm, especially when spent with friends and family, so I am quite happy to be here in the cold, decking the halls and hoping for snow.
These wild turkeys are almost daily visitors.     
Wandering around in a residential neighborhood has made them almost domesticated and I can get quite close although they tend to turn their backs to me whenever I try to take a picture.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dia de la Revolucion

We are staying an extra night in La Paz (seems to be a habit of ours). I am happy that I can post my parade photos while they are still fresh and relevant. It's so much easier to write about something that just happened and difficult to write about one location after we have moved on to another.

Mexico's Revolution Day celebrates the 1910 revolution against dictator Porfirio Diaz. It lasted for 10 years and is the revolution in which Pancho Villa played a critical role.

There are a lot of holidays and festivals in Mexico and we attend whenever we can. The Mexican people are so incredibly warm, welcoming, and gracious. I try not to get in the way. It is their holiday, after all, but people were so friendly when I took their pictures, laughing and posing for me. Bystanders would not only move out of my way but make sure that no one else interfered with my photo taking. They are all so proud of their heritage and enthusiastic about sharing the event with strangers.


After the police on motorcycles with lights flashing, there were several marching groups from schools for special education bearing banners encouraging diversity and respect.

Then came dance teams and marching groups from schools throughout the city. There were so many people (mostly children) in the parade that we wondered how there were any left to be spectators.





Baseball teams, basketball, volleyball, soccer of course, running groups and karate schools were all represented. There was even a children's boxing school that staged demonstrations along the parade route.





  Folkloric dancers entertained.
Soldiers demonstrated their skills.
 Perfect ending to a perfect parade.

Departure

After a week in La Paz we are leaving in a few minutes to begin our trip to Mazatlan.
We had a great time visiting familiar places with so many old friends.
I just came back to the boat from the Independence Day Parade. What an experience! I can't wait to share the photos here when I have internet again.

Correction: Mexico Independence Day (1810) is September 16. Today's celebration, November 20, is  Revolution Day (1920 - think Pancho Villa).
 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ahhhh.... Cruising Again

It is true that for the moment we are tied to a dock in a marina, but at least it is a different dock in a different marina and we cruised for a few days to get here. We left San Carlos, Sonora a week ago and crossed the Sea of Cortez from mainland Mexico to Baja. Our goal is Mazatlan on the mainland side but, from a cruiser's perspective, it makes more sense to cross west, sail south, and then cross east to the mainland again. It is further but easier and more fun.


Our first stop was El Refugio on the north end of Isla Carmen. It is a small cove with room for only one or two boats to anchor and we had it all to ourselves. We had motored with no wind for 25 hours to get there so the first order of business was naps. Then we set out to explore the anchorage. It was glorious with a clean, sandy beach to stretch our legs and warm water for swimming.



 
I felt like I was in heaven again. After a little swimming and onshore exploration we took the dinghy around the cove. There are stunning geological formations and beautiful sea caves on both sides of the cove. Several of the sea caves went deep into the cliffs and inside were layered with beautiful colors. The water was clean and clear, the bottoms were sandy and deep enough for swimming.







El Refugio is a magical place, definitely on our list of not to be missed anchorages.     





Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bittersweet Departure

Two weeks after returning from the States we are readying the boat and ourselves to leave San Carlos. We have spent a lot of time here this summer and last, made some very good friends, and had many memorable experiences. I am excited to be sailing again, to see Baja again and, most of all, to return to my beloved Mazatlan. But I am very sad to be leaving this place that seems so much like home. We will be back in a couple of weeks to retrieve my car from storage, but we will be tourists then, just passing through and spending a night or two in a hotel. So this is good-bye San Carlos.
Sadly there are no photos to accompany this post. The internet connection is too slow to upload; one of the things I won't miss about leaving here!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Being A Tourist In My Own Backyard

We've been back in Mexico for a few days and already there are stories to tell. But first I want to write about one of my last days in Washington. I was going crazy stuck in Mike's house near Seattle. Living out of a suitcase for 2 months, missing Mexico and our cruising life. I love to travel, to explore new places, and I was anxious to be on the move again.


A few days before we were to leave I drove to Edmonds to catch the ferry to Kingston where I would have lunch with my oldest daughter, Julie, my lovely grand-daughters, Maria and Kayla and my 1 month old grand-son, Joey.








Although I was looking forward to the visit with them, I wasn't looking forward to the 45 minute drive and half hour ferry ride in each direction.
But on the ride over I got a phone call from my dear Cape Cod friend, Margy. When she heard where I was she remarked at how lucky I was and talked of a movie she had seen where there were scenes of a Washington State ferry ride. "It must be beautiful", she said.
And I realized that yes, it was beautiful, and I was lucky to be there. Although it was a common occurrence for me, the ferry ride was a travel adventure for the tourists on board. I saw several on the boat, laughing, pointing out the sights to each other, taking pictures from every possible vantage point.


So I joined in. I went up on the Sun Deck and took pictures of seagulls.


I photographed sailboats in the distance, the passenger walkway at the terminal, the seating inside. I read all of the informational signboards and picked up some brochures. I even had a snack in the galley.


A trip that I've taken dozens of times in resigned boredom became a grand travel adventure and a lot of fun.
Thank you Margy and the Washington State Ferry System.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Arrived Mexico!

We arrived back on the boat in Mexico late on Friday evening. Back in the marina where internet connection is always a challenge.
Blog posts are coming soon, I promise

Friday, September 26, 2014

How Much Does It Cost To Go Cruising?

back in the water after routine maintenance & bottom paint
Now there's a question!
And here's the answer: As much as you've got.
Ask any cruiser and he (or she) will probably give you that same answer.
It's actually a good one. You can spend as much money as you are willing to spend. It all depends on your comfort level and lifestyle.
Make no mistake, cruising can be, and frequently is, an expensive way to live. On the other hand, it doesn't have to be. There are a lot of ways to economize in order to live your dream.
I'll start with a few of the bigger expenses. Number one is marina fees. I can't speak for other parts of the world, but marina fees in Mexico are often just as expensive as in the United States.

anchorage in San Carlos Bay
If you are willing to spend much of your time on anchor and avoid tying up to a dock you will save many hundreds of dollars a month. Diesel fuel to run your engine is another major expense that can be avoided if you are a sailboat willing to move only when and where the wind blows. But, without electricity from a marina dock you will have a hard time maintaining air conditioning or refrigeration. And, without motoring you won't be going very far very fast or, in the Sea of Cortez summer, maybe not going anywhere at all.

Like I said, it all depends on your comfort level and lifestyle. You can spend as much, or as little, as you've got.
Another sizable expense is boat insurance. You are required to have proof of liability insurance if you ever want to go into any marina. So that is really a must-have. Insurance to cover your own boat is not required and many cruisers are sailing around out there without it. I certainly don't advise it, though. Bad things happen to good boats in spite of the skippers skills, experience and expertise. Hurricanes happen, derelict boats break loose from their moorings and crash through your anchorage in the middle of the night, other skippers may not always be so skilled and many a boat has suffered unexplained damage while the owners were ashore. Sailing without insurance seems like a false and scary economy to me.

shop where the locals shop
or dine with the gringos


Just like at home, food can be as cheap or as expensive as you want. Beans, rice and tortillas cost very little in Mexico but restaurant meals near the marinas cost not much less than they do back home. Street food is good and inexpensive; beer is cheap and margaritas are often 2 for $5. It's not hard to catch fish but be sure you have a license and know the rules.



















It's a well-known fact that things on a boat break, inconveniently and often.
And, what does BOAT stand for? Break Out Another Thousand
Repairs are unavoidable and parts will almost always cost more than in the States. Maintain your boat well, understand your systems, carry spare parts and keep your fingers crossed. Know that if it can break, eventually it will and a repair fund is not a bad idea.

So, to summarize, cruising will cost as much as you are willing to spend. Economies can be made but nothing in life is free. Make an honest assessment of what you expect out of cruising, budget for that, add a little more for the things that will go wrong and then get out there and enjoy the water.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Medical and Dental Care in Mexico

Continuing with the theme of answering frequently asked questions, this post is about my experiences with medical and dental care in Mexico.
This friendly guy is the attention getter in front of Farmacias Similares. Farmacias Similares is the largest pharmacy chain in Latin America. Their logo is "the same but cheaper." They don't sell brand name drugs or generics, but similars which I don't understand and have never purchased.
One day I fell on the the notoriously treacherous sidewalks of La Paz and purchased this mini first aid kit at Farmacias Similares. For the peso equivalent of $1.28 American, I got cotton swabs, band-aids, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, antiseptic cream and a wad of cotton.
I chose my doctor and dentists from among those that cater to us gringos for a few reasons. First is that they and their staff speak English and my Spanish skills are still very basic, definitely not up to describing symptoms or understanding treatment options. Other considerations are the recommendations of fellow cruisers and convenient location. I could save a lot of money by using providers who aren't gringo oriented.
I have dentists in both Guaymas and Mazatlan and get my teeth cleaned every four months. The cleanings are always done by the dentist herself and include a thorough exam for about $50 American. This includes cleaning by hand followed by ultrasonic. X-rays are not routine but are done only if there is indication of a problem. Both of my dentists are gentle, compassionate and professional. One was trained in Mexico City, the other in the United States. Last year I had extensive work done on my teeth. My dentist in the States had been telling me that my old crowns and fillings needed to be replaced but the cost was astronomical. In Mexico I had 4 crowns and 3 fillings replaced, an exam and cleaning for less than $2000.
I've had a few visits to my doctor for minor issues and an office visit is slightly less than $50 American. After a few minutes in the waiting room I go straight into the exam room and the doctor is there waiting for me. It's worth repeating: The doctor is there waiting for me. That's sure different from what I experience here in Seattle where I wait first in the registration area, wait again in the doctor's waiting area and wait one more time in the exam room. My Mexican doctor explains things in detail and in terms that I can understand without talking down to me. He involves me fully in the process, respects my feelings and turns my health care into a team effort. Nothing is rushed and it seems that half an hour is my allotted time. Once we've covered my medical issue we sit and chat about his childhood in America, Mexican politics, my life on a sailboat, our families or current events.
Last fall I injured my knee and on Christmas Eve in Mazatlan I decided that it needed attention. I went to a diagnostic imaging center without an appointment or a referral and asked for an x-ray of my knee. They asked my name and phone number, which knee, and whether I wanted x-ray, scan or MRI. I opted for a scan and waited about 20 minutes for my turn. The technician was also the radiologist who explained everything he was seeing while pointing it out to me on the screen. For less than $100 and 2 hours of my time I had the scan, the diagnosis and a treatment plan as well as the films and written report (in Spanish) in hand.
The contrasts with our health care system are startling at every turn. Medical care is so much more accessible in Mexico. I have my opinions as to why but this is not that kind of a blog.

Friday, September 19, 2014

FAQs

Friends, family, and random strangers always have questions about our life on the boat in Mexico. Some are specific like, "what food items are hard to find in Mexico?" Others are so broad that they are almost impossible to answer, like "what is it like to live on a boat?" Uhmmm......  good?
Since various unexpected chores and responsibilities are keeping us in Seattle for awhile, this might be a good time to answer some of those questions. I'll start with an easy one.
What do you miss in Mexico? 
When people ask this question they usually mean food items. The answer to this has changed over the past year and a half. I don't know if American style foods are becoming more common or we are just more adept at finding them. Black olives were an issue for us a year ago. Stores carried them but at prices more than twice what you would pay in the States. Peanut butter was rare. Now they both are easily available and affordable. Castelvetrano olives, which I love, are not to be found. Dill pickles are hard to find and I just can't eat potato salad or tuna fish sandwiches without them. Cashews cost more than gold and I do miss them. Mostly, though, it depends on where you are. In an isolated fishing village you will be lucky to find mayonnaise, a fresh tomato, or a decent loaf of bread. In the cities, major supermarkets (including WalMart and Sam's Club) carry most everything you could want.
Cape Cod Potato Chips in a WalMart in Sonora
American style chocolate bars are prohibitively expensive but that's not something we care about. Mexico produces some really good wines but small shops, and sometimes even larger ones, usually don't have much of a selection. I've been in large grocery stores where the only wine choices were Riunite, Annie Green Springs and Padre Kino. Bottled water, Coca Cola and beer are sold everywhere.
Lemons are rare but limes abound and cost pennies. Yellow onions, which I prefer over red or white, are rarely offered. You learn to adapt.
Fruit is sold seasonally. So I gorge on mangoes in season. They are perfectly ripe, sweet, and dripping with juice. When the season is over you just have to wait for next year. A much better system, I think than to have fruit available year round but under-ripe and tasteless.
Surprisingly, tomatoes in Mexico's supermarkets are no different from what is available here in the States, hard as rocks and lacking flavor. They are often imported from the United States which seems just wrong somehow. The open air markets usually have excellent tomatoes and other fresh produce. Sometimes it's just a matter of searching out what you want.
The flip side: what do I miss from Mexico when I am in the States? First and foremost, orange juice. Restaurants there serve it fresh squeezed. If you order orange juice and they only have bottled oj they will tell you apologetically that it is not fresh, assuming that you may rather order something else. There was one time when that didn't hold true. It was a restaurant in a condo complex in Mazatlan, catering exclusively to gringos. I ordered orange juice with my breakfast and was served Tang with no warning or explanation. I've never complained about food or service in a restaurant in Mexico. It is almost always all good and when it's not I just mentally shrug my shoulders and figure it is all part of the experience. So I drank the Tang with a smile and told myself to remember not to eat there again.







Really good hand made tamales are sold on the streets for a dollar or two and I haven't found anything that good in the States.
I especially miss my favorite Mexican breakfast of chilaquiles with chicken and red sauce.
Also margaritas made with real juices rather than bottled mixer.
And, a special treat, fresh chicharrones - salty fried pork rinds.  Yum!!










Other than food items (and, of course, friends and family) the only thing I really miss is Barnes and Noble. English language book stores are few and far between, quite small and expensive. Kindle is a poor substitute for a real book in my opinion and sometimes I want to just wander around inside a book store and relax. A trip to the local Barnes and Noble is the first order of business every time we come home.
A store selling nothing but dried items, everything from spices to dog food.
Another shopping option - the weekly open air market
In future posts I'll try to cover medical and dental care, driving and transportation, and safety concerns. Feel free to comment or email if there is anything you are wondering about. I'll do my best to answer.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Washington Weekend continued



Our drive back home from the wedding turned into a fun and relaxing mini vacation when we decided to take Stevens Pass over the Cascade Mountains. Although I was born and raised here, there is a lot of the state that I have never seen and I was thrilled at the prospect of exploring new territory. It was a gorgeous day, bright and sunny with temperatures in the low 80s; perfect for a road trip and a walk in the woods.


 





Our first major stop was at Dry Falls, the now dry site of what was, in ancient times, the largest waterfall in the world.


From Dry Falls we turned west onto   Hwy 2 towards Seattle and experienced the always surprising diversity of Washington State. We drove through vast expanses of wheat fields, flat and yellow with low rolling hills. Very gradually the road began to climb and we were surrounded by acres and acres of fruit trees. It is apple harvest time and there were hundreds of men working in the trees as well as many signs in both English and Spanish saying "Pickers Needed". And, of course we had to stop at one of the many roadside fruit stands.

As we climbed higher into the Cascade Range the orchards gave way to the evergreen trees for which Washington is famous; dense forests of pine, Douglas Fir, cedar, spruce, and hemlock surrounded us and sunlight sparkled on the many streams and rivers on both sides of the highway. It was magical and too inviting to pass by without stopping.





Abundant rainfall keeps everything lush and green.












Huge old trees reach to the sky and shade the forest floor.








 


Moss grows everywhere, dripping from the trees, covering the ground, fallen logs, and even rock walls.
We returned to Seattle relaxed, refreshed and already planning our next walk in the enchanted forests of Washington.