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


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.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Special Washington Weekend

Last year I got an email telling me that a very dear friend would be getting married on September 12, 2014 and asking if I would be able to attend the wedding. My instant reply was, "I wouldn't miss it for the world!" From that moment on, all of our travel plans were focused on Brittany's wedding date. Everything from summer boat storage to dentist appointments in Mexico and doctor appointments in the United States was scheduled around this special day.
On the day of the wedding everything went according to plan. We drove over the Cascade Mountains to Eastern Washington and checked into our hotel in Soap Lake 2 hours prior to the ceremony. Google maps said that we were 10 minutes from the wedding location and we left half an hour early. Fifteen minutes later we reached Google's destination which turned out to be a rifle range at the Ephrata airport, 31 miles from the wedding in Coulee City. My iPhone maps app wouldn't even acknowledge the existence of Coulee City and I was getting frantic. I couldn't believe that we would come all the way from Mexico and get so close only to get lost and miss the wedding altogether. In frustration I texted my good friend Margaret on Cape Cod. I was looking for a shoulder to cry on but instead I got a woman who could save the day. She jumped on the internet and after 10 minutes of texting back and forth she directed us to the wedding site and we arrived in time to hear the minister say "I now pronounce you husband and wife."
Reluctantly I have to admit that if I had trusted Mike's instincts instead of relying on Google maps, we wouldn't have been lost in the first place. You would think that by now I would have learned that Mike is usually right, at least when it comes to navigating.

Our hotel, The Inn At Soap Lake, is in the town of Soap Lake on the shores of (surprise!) Soap Lake. The lake is rich in minerals which give the waters a slippery soapy feel. The lake isn't especially pretty but for decades tourists have come to bathe in the waters and slather themselves with the black mud that is said to cure various ills.