It is said that variety is the spice of life. If that’s true, then our life is very spicy – and we love it. 🙂 We experience many different environments, activities, people, etc. These last few weeks have been a good example of that. We’ve traveled from the desert environment of Baja to the hilly jungle of Banderas Bay to the winter climate of New York and back to the anchorage of La Cruz. We’ve spent lazy hours sailing the Sea, cozy conversations in front of the fireplace in upstate New York, laborious hours working on our electrical system, and laughter-filled evenings reconnecting with friends. What a joy!
When we last wrote, we were preparing to leave the Baja peninsula. Our hearts were a little heavy to be saying goodbye, because we have really enjoyed the three summers we’ve spent in the area. We left La Paz and moved around to the far southeastern edge of the peninsula to wait for a good weather window. There was one last bit of tropical weather threatening further south, and we didn’t want to begin our crossing until we could be sure that it would not pose a threat. We stopped in the bay of Los Muertos, which we’ve never seen but many of our friends have used as a departure point. It’s a beautiful bay with a couple of fancy resorts tucked in to the rocks. We enjoyed a light lunch at a small palapa restaurant near where we anchored and later strolled the grounds of a very fancy resort at the other end of the beach. We’d heard that this resort had a model train display that was not-to-be-missed, so we were on a mission. It turned out that it was indeed an amazing display, with tracks ringing two floors of a very high-ceilinged restaurant. The trains were of various sizes, so they weren’t all interconnected, but each section was nicely built out with small buildings and other features. It was a whimsical sight in a resort with lots of mirror pools and dramatic views.
We left Muertos the next day for another anchorage 40 miles further south, Los Frailes, where we intended to wait a little bit longer for the storm that would be named “Winnie” if it got big enough. We sailed through the night, and in the morning when we heard the weather report we learned that the storm was getting bigger and closer, so we turned around and sailed back to Los Muertos. We arrived at 2am, dropped our anchor and went right to bed. Just a few short hours later we were awakened by the calls of our neighbor who was worried that we were swinging around on the anchor and getting too close for comfort. So we pulled up the anchor, motored away a few hundred yards and dropped it back down. Lots of activity for virtually no gain! The next day the storm blew itself out and was no longer a threat, so we departed again, this time headed directly towards the mainland.
We had a relatively uneventful crossing, which is a good thing to experience, but not very interesting to read about. 🙂 We spent just over a week traveling, starting the motor from time to time when the wind took a siesta. Much of the time, though, we had delightful breezes helping us on our way. We spotted a fair bit of wildlife on the way, including myriads of small yellow butterflies. One day we had a number of tiny birds flitting around the rigging, poking their heads into many corners, and balancing on the lifelines. They were very cute! But they didn’t stay for long. They were replaced by the usual suspects: boobies and frigates. The next day we were thrilled to see a humpback whale breaching over and over again. It seemed to us that he was celebrating the end of his long jouney down the coastline and the fact that he was finally in the Sea of Cortez: we could certainly empathize with that feeling! We saw dolphins a few times, and it was especially exciting to see them criss-crossing underneath the bowsprit at night with the bioluminescence glowing all around. The last encounter that was noteworthy was late in the afternoon, when we were about 3/4 of the way across. We saw a swordfish leaping over and over again. We didn’t see any prey to make it clear that a chase was on, so it could have been for other reasons. This was the first time we’ve ever seen a swordfish in the wild, and it was exciting to watch it repeatedly emerge from the water. As typically happens in this sort of situation, it stopped jumping as soon as we got a camera ready to capture the sight. Oh, well, the memories will have to be enough!
When we arrived in La Cruz, it was with a sigh of pleasure. The place is so familiar to us after more than three years of traveling in Mexico. But we only had a couple of days before it was time to move into the marina in preparation for our now-regular trip to New York. We spent an afternoon with our dear friends Bo & Anna on Aquarelle, we did some work on the boat (largely around the generator which has been acting up lately), and we packed our bags for winter weather!
Kathy’s passport was due to expire in February, and she was worried that she might have trouble crossing the border at the end of our New York visit. She did some internet research, and found several avenues to pursue to get a replacement. The first was to try a local embassy/consulate. We tried to visit the American consulate in Nuevo Vallarta, but they were unexpectedly closed. After spending about 20 or 30 minutes outside the office, wondering what went wrong, we figured out that we had not changed the time on our iPhone when we changed time-zones coming across the Sea. Oops! We returned on Monday and talked with the consul. She allayed a few of Kathy’s concerns, told us that it’s not unusual for her to see people whose passports were beyond expiration, and suggested that the best option was to get an appointment in New York for an expedited renewal process. Although expensive, this was a reasonable way to go. The first hurdle was to get an appointment, since they only seem to do this via a 1-800 number, which is not supported from abroad. Fortunately Kathy’s sister Jean was able to make an appointment for her, and after that it was smooth sailing (but Kathy steadfastly continued to worry until the passport was delivered the following week 🙂 ). After passing through the security on the entrance level to the New York Passport Agency, you go to a window where they make sure you’ve brought everything you need, give you a ticket and send you upstairs to the waiting room. In the waiting room there are something like 300 chairs and 28 windows processing applications. It’s an interesting place to people-watch, because everyone has a story, and some of them are unfolding before your eyes! We saw women in chadors (not a common sight in coastal Mexico!), watched couriers bring in applications (getting a fast-track through the system, but paying up to $1000 or more), and heard perhaps 15 different languages being spoken. When it was Kathy’s turn to be called, the guy behind the window turned out to be just a clerk (paper-processor), and not the bureaucrat (decision-maker) that she had expected. He did have the slightly surly attitude that is fairly characteristic of New York, but became slightly friendlier after it turned out that this was one of the easier cases of his day. We paid an extra $15 to have the passport delivered, once we realized that this cost would be less than the cost of the public transportation for the two of us to come back into the city to pick it up the next week – not to mention the time that would be involved! Getting around New York is not an insignificant factor in any undertaking!
We had a very easy trip getting to New York. We had a non-stop flight which left mid-afternoon but arrived after dark. Could it get any easier? We caught a taxi to Hackensack. He did a great job of avoiding heavy traffic near the sports stadium, but then got frustrated when he missed the exit off of the turnpike – how does anyone ever know all the twists and turns of a region as densely populated as the greater New York metroplex? We got there soon enough, and enjoyed a warm welcome and a late night. It was nice to be back in New York/New Jersey again, with the constant bustle, the abundance and variety of foods and goods, and the exuberant Finkelstein/Cooper/Samstein family. Dan’s son Jesse came to town two days after we did, and the following day we drove 6 hours in a snowstorm upstate to Aunt Nancy’s 18th century farmhouse. Dan did a great job of driving, but his mom found the whole experience to be stressful. We were all relieved when we arrived and could relax for a few days. The Thanksgiving feast was typically tasty and full of easy conversation. The only downside to the whole weekend was that Dan’s sister Eve was unable to attend because of finals in her college courses. The costs of education can be unexpectedly high! Also his neice Nora was frantically studying upstairs for her law school exams, but at least she was able to periodically wander downstairs for a hug or a drink when she hit a wall. There are three kids in the extended family now, one of which is perilously close to being an adult, but the other two are delightfully small. Emma, the eldest of these cousins, is going through the stressful process of selecting a high school in New York City for the coming year. The process appears to be as grueling as most college admissions processes! Emma and her dog Ginger enjoyed playing in the snow for hours at a time, and occasionally managed to entice an adult or two to join her for a trip down the hill on a toboggan or a snowball fight! It was a snowy wonderland, but it considerately stopped precipitating in time for everyone to return home again at the end of the weekend. 🙂
We spent almost another week in New Jersey with Dan’s mom Helene (although Jesse was only with us for a couple of those days). We went into the city a few times: for dinner at a favorite pizza place with several of the cousings, to hear Dan’s sister Beth do a reading along with several members of her writer’s workshop, to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and for a wonderful afternoon where Kathy reconnected with her high-school friend Beth who bused in from Delaware. Don’t know how time can pass so quickly (and at the same time slowly!) – but it’s surprising to see a 15-year-old friend’s eyes looking out from the face of a 50-year-old woman, and realize that she is having the same experience. 🙂 Fortunately, FaceBook helps to ease the shock. We also spent an afternoon with Aleeza, the young woman that we hosted from CouchSurfing when she was hitching north up the Baja peninsula. We last saw her in Bahia de los Angeles, but in the meantime she has driven cross-country and set up a new home in New York City. She’s found a nice little niche, tending the “front desk” of a 4-bedroom apartment being used as an AirBnB location. In return for checking guests in and out and keeping the place clean, she gets a room to stay in – rent-free! She’s also working part-time bartending and waiting tables in a nearby bar. Perhaps the coolest thing she showed us, though, was how to play a musical saw! She has a standard carpenter’s saw and a bow for a stringed instrument, both of which fit into a violin case – with extra room for her toiletries when she’s traveling! She is proficient enough to play Amazing Grace, which is pretty amazing because there’s no way to mark where a given note will be found; in addition to the location one bows along the saw’s edge, the notes are intricately tied to the tension of the bend in the saw. We each took a shot at it, but didn’t get much further than making a few squawks. 🙂
Our flight back to Mexico was less of a breeze. We once again over-purchased, and this time near-fatally! (Don’t worry, that’s just artistic license!) Our luggage was overloaded on the way back – and so were we. Kathy had nearly 50 pounds of fabric in one pack, and Dan was shlepping much of the rest, which consisted largely of kitchen goodies and boat parts, both for spares and repairs. We managed to make it across the airport fine, but once we arrived in the warmer Mexican climate and had to navigate through the immigration and customs courses the load started to get overwhelming. We had to take numerous breaks on the way, and by the time we got to the taxi we were shuttling the bags in short hops. Each time we vow that we’ll be more level-headed the next time, but each time it seems we get worse! Fortunately, it really does feel like we’ve got a larger share of discretionary stuff, and less stuff that’s absolutely critical. It feels like we’re getting closer to a fully functional boat that just needs maintenance rather than one that’s still evolving to support the change in lifestyle that we embarked on nearly 4 years ago. It was very nice to arrive home midday, and settle in gently rather than just fall into bed.
Especially since we once again came back to a dark house. The batteries were completely dead, even though we were plugged into the marina’s power. Modern chargers refuse to charge extremely dead batteries, in order to protect themselves. It took a few minutes to find a way to bypass these checks and get power coming back into the batteries (done by using a smaller functional bank of batteries as an intermediary). Both our refrigerator and freezer were at near room temperature, so the failure must have happened quite early in our trip. Although we were able to get power restored back to the boat from the dock, the batteries had lost most of their life and needed to be replaced. Perhaps we could limp along for a few more months, but we could never rely on them the way that we need, especially since we’ll be traveling through new territory in the next year and beyond. Also, a marina in Puerto Vallarta is just about the most convenient place we could imagine to undertake the arduous process of removing and replacing the 12 batteries that comprise our main house bank. We bit the bullet and laid the plans to do just that in the next couple of days. Our friends Rob & Kai on Vellela Vellela had a similar situation, although their house bank only has two batteries. So, we enjoyed the day’s outing together. The Sam’s Club just a few miles from the marina had the best prices that we found, but they didn’t take back the old batteries. We borrowed a truck from one of the marina’s dock-workers and ran around town looking for a place that would accept the old batteries. We found a recyling shop that gave us a little over $10 apiece and were thrilled! Then we went back to Sam’s Club, purchased a membership, picked up the new batteries (literally) and did a quick circuit of the grocery side of the store. The rest of the afternoon was spent carrying the batteries down the dock to the boat (still sore from carrying 100 pounds of luggage apiece just two days earlier) and reinstalling them, but we went to bed feeling much better about the state of the boat. The next day we left the marina and sailed back into the anchorage, because the highest tides of the day were getting lower (as we moved away from the full moon), and we were concerned that we might have trouble getting out if we didn’t move quickly.
Back in the anchorage, our generator continued to act out, and we spent a frustrating four days replacing the exhaust hose and the water pump for the cooling system. It was another round of tough work, with a couple of false starts, but now our electrical system is back to running smoothly, and in some ways better than it ever has. We’ve also installed a new stop switch, a new inline fuse and a couple of relays to help the system start and stop reliably. The next most important item on the to-do list was to attend to our dinghy, which had developed some persistent leaks. Due to a design flaw, some cracks had formed in the floor at the back of the dinghy, due to stresses from the heavy motor mounted to the transom. Unfortunately, the hull is made from a material that seems impervious to every adhesive or sealant that we can find. Previous attempts to repair these cracks have been successful only temporarily. In addition, the dinghy has been losing air, getting soft overnight and needing to be pumped up every other day. So it really wasn’t managing to do either of the two things that one expects of a dinghy: to keep the water out and the air in! When a nearby boat announced on the morning radio net that they were selling an old dinghy, Dan’s ears perked right up. We took it for a test drive and didn’t bring it back! 🙂 The people on yet another boat in the anchorage, Fantasia, were also interested in it, but it was too big for them. As it turned out, they took our old dinghy, thinking that they had some ideas for how to repair the cracks. (Coincidentally, they had been interested in this same dinghy last year before we even purchased it, but the timing didn’t work between them and the previous owners, and they had to leave town before it was ready to go. So they feel like they just got it a year later than they’d originally thought, and for free!) Our new dinghy is bigger and rides smoother than any dinghy we’ve had before. It’s a real step up. So now Kathy is working on another set of chaps – the third in 3.5 years! And Dan is working on building some benches, because the last dinghy spoiled us. 🙂
We have been vacillating on whether to hang out in La Cruz for the holidays or move down the coast to Barra de Navidad. We’ve changed our minds three times, depending on who we last talked with. 🙂 But now we’ve finally decided to stay in La Cruz through New Year’s – due to a combination of the stress of getting all of these projects (and more!) done before departing, a spate of poor weather, and recently learning that there’s going to be an International Fireworks Competition in the bay between Christmas and New Year’s. And who doesn’t love fireworks!?
P.S. When we first posted this, we had misplaced the cable for our camera and had no way to get the photos off of the camera. We’ve now found the cable, and have updated the posting to include some of the photos taken during this time. Enjoy!