Category Archives: Travel

A Rural Doctor and…..YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT

18 Blog Art

May 10, 2017

Imagine……… The only sounds you hear from the towering mountainsides are the high-pitched squeaking and the flapping of featherless wings of the nesting, newborn pelicans.  Just imagine

As I sat watching the red and gold brilliance of the sunrise, sipping my morning coffee, the local panga captains readied their sturdy boats, hopefully anticipating wandering adventurers looking to discover the secrets of the Sea of Cortez.  Seagulls flew above us, screeching their morning commands to each other. Tiny waves, sneaking in from an otherwise flat sea, lapped almost noiselessly to the shore.  Tony and Charro slept peacefully, as I decided this would be a wonderful day for kayak ride. Oh, what a beautiful morning it was, lending its own promise of a glorious day.

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Even the most beautiful promise can be broken.  Oh, it all started out fine.  Tony and Charro woke up and joined me to enjoy the early morning.  The captains continued to wait for their customers, fixing lines and tuning their engines.  We readied our kayak, put Charro back to bed and set off in the placid waters, leisurely paddling behind the row of pangas, chatting with the captains.

Suddenly, an upside down, rebar anchor appeared under the surface of the water. I called to Tony to “watch out”.  Its sharp points were aimed right at the bottom of our inflatable kayak.  “Oh, no,” I cried, as Tony lunged backwards, in a twist of his waist that I could actually hear. He pushed off the dangerous anchor and, in the nick of time, we were saved…….or so we thought.  Two o’clock that afternoon would prove us wrong.  He could not stand up, remaining bent over at the waist…in relentless pain.

                               The Innocents                              The Trouble-maker

Is anyone ever prepared for a medical crisis?  The bigger question is…is anyone ever prepared for a medical crisis on a fairly primitive beach, fifteen miles from a town, no idea where a doctor might be found and no idea how to communicate with a Spanish-speaking doctor, should he even exist.  I might add that I have no experience driving a 1982 Volkswagen van up and down treacherous hills and through waist-deep pot-holes to get to him?

On the other hand, I think, how hard can this be?  I raised three children, held down jobs, was nice to my mother and managed to never get put in jail.  I can probably handle this situation.  After all, I’ve driven a standard transmission car and know how to use a clutch and how bad can the hills and giant pot-holes be?  Someone here must know where there is a doctor.  Yup, I decide, I can do this.  I can do it all.  It would help if I knew where Tony kept the key to the van.

Two of our local friends, Baja John and Captain Chicho gave me instructions to the only doctor in Muleje.

 “Go back up the highway and right before you come to the first tope (speed-bump) before town, you’ll see a little blue sign that says ‘Pescadera’ (fish-market) on the side of the road, make a right, go up hill to top, start downhill, pull into red house on other side, doctor live there.  He will give Tony shot in his butt, he be better in no time,” they assured me.

Ok.  I can do this.  I pack up the van and off we go, but Tony insists on driving.  As long as he is sitting down, he tells me, he can drive. 

We find the sign and then the road.  It is solid dirt and washboard.  We slowly reach the top of the steep hill.  A large, happy looking man, sitting in his front-porch rocking chair, shading himself under a big Mexican hat and clutching a beer, calls out to us, pointing at the next house, “Doctor,” he says, grinning.

We started down the hill and the very next house is the red one.  We are on a 180 degree slant and the nose of the van is pointed straight down, aimed at a little house on the other side of the road.  There is a car in the doctor’s small driveway and Tony can’t pull the van in.  We start to slide down the dirt road and he catches us with the clutch.  Managing to turn around in the next house’s driveway, we, with screeching wheels in the dirt, manage to get back up to the top of the hill. 

Walking down to the house, I see no doctor’s sign and no visible entrance to the red house. Around the side of the house I find a sun porch with a screen door.  The car in the driveway is occupied by a man playing with a baby.  Dogs are sleeping everywhere and the man on the porch, in the house above us, is waving to me and still rocking and grinning.  Tony waits at the top of the hill as I enter the screen door.  The dogs are pit-bulls.

To the right of the door, a lady sits waiting and smiles at me.  Another pit-bull is asleep under a chair, looking at me with one eye.  In the middle of the room, a woman, the doctor and a small child are sitting at a table eating cereal and cookies.  The woman looks at me and says, “Un momento, por favor, nos comida”.  One moment please, we are eating.  I want to laugh, but I dare not….the dog is now watching me with both eyes open. 

I decide to take a different approach and return to the car in the driveway.  Speaking in very inadequate Spanish, I do my best to make the man understand that he has to move his car so that Tony can pull into the driveway, because he cannot walk without being bent over at the waist. 

Finally, with some sign language, demonstrations, pointing and repetition, he understands what I need and moves his car all the way out onto the narrow dirt road, grinning broadly at me and offering to help me get Tony into the house.  I respectfully decline his help, because I can do it all and I wave Tony in.  The guy on the porch is still waving to me and grinning and now the outside dogs are all awake and a yapping Chihuahua has joined them.

Inside, the lady in the chair and the doctor have disappeared.  It will soon be our turn, but in the meantime, the little girl decides to show us every stuffed toy she owns, tell us all their names and accepts a lollipop from me.  The dogs have gone back to sleep.  There are no visible signs that this is a doctor’s office.  The doctor’s wife…the little girl’s grand-mother…tries to have a conversation with us and somehow, with the help of God, we are able to do so.  It eased our tension with this crisis.

The doctor comes out, introduces himself and happily assists Tony through their kitchen and into his office. The little girl follows us right in and he shoos her out, much to her disappointment.  She has one more stuffed animal to show us. 

Sure enough, after a nice, thorough little exam, the doctor brings out a box containing a needle and medicine and promptly pumps it right into Tony’s butt.  He tells us that he has seriously pulled a muscle and will give us some pills and he will be fine.  Right about here, the unthinkable happens.

Now, I should interject here and state that I am not a shy or timid woman.  I am not queasy and I am somewhat adventurous. I love the medical field and would have loved to be a nurse.  I have always been a caretaker. I am not afraid to get a needle.

The doctor said in Spanish that I would have to give Tony a needle every day for three days.  Oddly enough, I understood every word he said.  I felt my face start to tingle, my knees go weak, bile rise in my throat and fear pierce my heart like a Knight’s sword.  I sat down. I have done a lot of things in my life, but this was not going to happen.  I would not learn to give a needle on my precious husband’s butt. Inside my head, I heard screams, but my ears heard my voice whimpering, “No, no, I cannot do this.  You don’t understand.”

The next few minutes seemed like a nightmare.  Tony stared at me.  The doctor held a needle up in the air, explaining how to fill it and then showed me on Tony’s butt where the needle should be inserted. I heard myself again whimpering, “No, no, I cannot do this. You don’t understand.”  He explained that this is the way of the Mexican people and it is easy.  I continued to whimper, “I am American.”  He showed me again.

A plan jumped into my head.  “Tomorrow morning, we are coming back and you will give Tony the next needle and then I am driving him back to Ensenada to our doctor.”  Nothing from this point on would change my mind.  I can drive that Volkswagen.  I can get him home.

 “I will be here at 9:00 am for the needle.”

 “No” he replied, “I still sleep at 9.”

“Then I will be here at 10 am and you will give him the needle.” 

He agreed, telling me to knock loudly, that he might still be asleep and, hence, it happened. 

I found the key. I packed up our belongings. No pot-holes consumed the van. No cows, mules or wayward goats got run over. I learned to buy gas in Mexico and put it in the VW. We maneuvered around all the hairpin turns on the edges of mountain cliffs, artfully avoiding on-coming tractor trailers. The Baja Buggy took us the whole way with no incidence.

It took one and a half days to get home, record time for us, but we were there, ready to have the next needle on time, need be.

And so it goes for an unexpected medical crisis in a foreign country, which inevitably will have different customs.  Our doctor changed the medicine, which did not include any shots administered by me, and all turned out well.  The doctor in Muleje was great and kind and doing things the way he did them.  Thank God he was there for us. I will always be grateful to him for his help and the peace of mind he gave to us that we would be alright.

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US                            &                          The Baja Buggy

 

 

Jupiter’s Song

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Imagine…..Never looking back, only forward…and then finding your own inner peace

Sipping our wine on the beach in Requeson, we watched as Jupiter rose slowly from behind a small, offshore island mountaintop in the Sea of Cortez on the rugged coast of Baja, Mexico. It created its own moon-path right to the edge of our beach campsite. Orion hung brilliantly above us and the sounds of jumping night fish broke the otherwise silent landscape.

Requeson…a tiny beach in a tiny cove, just fifteen miles south of the village of Muleje,  but a world away from civilization and a pure, innocent step down into the beauty of uncompromised nature.

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It’s February, and the days are a comfortable temperature, the water is still a little too cool for our liking and the nights are chilly enough to require pajamas and a good blanket…..a perfect time of year to be in the Baja.

Our days are filled with bike-riding and exploring the encompassing desert, kayaking over marine life-filled aquatic forests and planning our next dinner cooked on an open fire in the sand. Our most difficult choice of the day is which wine will we have with our local, fresh caught fish?

We keep watching as Jupiter moves higher into the sky and the moon and Orion move father to the west. With every increment of movement by the Earth, Jupiter’s moon-path diminishes, until finally there is none.

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Rising through the mist of the silent, starlit night, an a capella voice drifts gently across the warm breezes. It tells the tale of an unrequited love between an unfaithful hombre and the only woman he would ever love. She leaves, never to return. The beautiful, mournful voice ceases and the melodic notes of a harmonica slip in, enhancing the feeling of loneliness in the breaking of this man’s heart. The mournful pleadings of the singer return and seem to beg for help from the planets above. His song drifts away into the night. Stillness prevails once more, but only for a second. Quiet, seemingly understanding clapping is heard, ultimately building itself into a crescendo of love and appreciation. Under the moonlit sky, the man slowly walks out onto the beach and takes a long, low bow….his moon-created shadow reaching far into the souls of his listeners.

Our day is finished. The Cabernet proved to be a good one and a fitting end to a fitting day!

Observations Made While Traveling the Baja in a VW Vanagon

Imagine……Shooting stars, the Milky Way and a blanket in the sand.

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Have enough time……. the adventure is endless and stunningly unpredictable.
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Every bend, every left or right turn…..or any stop for a cool drink…..can produce an unforgettable experience.
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Learn to dawdle.
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Go to bed one night and realize you forgot to check the time all day.
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Learn to randomly say “Pullover!” only because “that tree has the most beautiful red flowers I’ve ever seen”.
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Smile at people every time you see one.
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Pretend you are twenty years old again……long enough for you to believe it.
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As you travel through magestic mountain ranges, play music you love and sing out loud.

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Realize that some of the best times you have had were made when your day took its own course and you let it interfere with your own plan.
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Bring pipe-dreams to life.
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Ride your bike in the rain.
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Take a nap and stay up late to watch shooting stars
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Always keep a flashlight handy
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Be afraid, be very afraid. Use this one cautiously and with good reason. Running out of wine is a good reason. Running out of toilet paper is another good one.
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Love dancing…learn to do the “stingray shuffle”.
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If you find sand in your sheets, be thankful.
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Flys and mosquitos can be mightier than the sword.
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If you really have to go home, consider yourself blessed if that home is a boat in a beautiful marina!

I Am a Star, A Superstar!

Imagine Being Me…. The Baja Buggy!”

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Two thousand, four hundred and ninety-two miles…..hot desert highways…..ridiculously steep mountains…….winding two-lane, wash-board roads not wide enough for one car…….hard-pack, sand roads littered with soft-sand pits……endless miles of rutty, rocky, pitted dirt roads, into and over mountaintops. I did it all, yes I did!

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My rewards…..peaceful, beautiful nights on sandy beaches…….an eclipse rising above mountaintops……breathtaking, scenic views beyond anyone’s imagination…….long leisurely rides on smooth, paved highways……. the notes of Verdi and Tchaikovsky echoing through majestic canyons……..warm rains washing the dust from my body. I did it all, yes I did!

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Baja California trip, BCS, BCN, Mx. 2015

Ouicksand? What?

Imagine……Warm sand between your toes and ice in your drink!

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San Felipe likes to think of itself as a small drinking town with a little fishing problem.”

Longfellow’s epic poem began, “On the shores of Gitche Gumee.” My tale begins, “On the shores of San Felipe.”

A casual, short drive up the coast of the Sea of Cortez led us to a charming little campo named Pete’s Camp. A campo in Mexico is a small village of homes and this one entices you with its long stretch of unadorned beachfront. We had visited here a couple of times in the past, but never stayed more than an hour or two.  Our visit last year revealed pretty palapas right on the sand and we immediately began anticipating our return with the Baja Buggy to enjoy the beautiful setting below the campo.

image We easily picked our favorite palapa. The only serious criteria seemed to be finding one with enough hard-pack sand as to not allow the Buggy to sink. Little did we know the irony in this thought.

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Almost immediately after turning off the engine, we noticed that the tide was out and just happened to be the most stunning tidal drop we had ever seen. The water’s edge seemed to be about a half mile out and we decided to forgo setting up camp and trek out across the sea’s floor. Charro decided to follow us, unusual behavior for her…she hates the water and the sound of the waves….but her tail was up, so we let her follow.

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My first exclamation at exploring the sandy bottom of the sea was that there were no shells to be found. Well, forgive the pun, but the tides turned. Within minutes, we had handfuls of black and brown ones that we had never seen before. We were delighted. We kept going further out, intrigued with the hunt for more shells. A kiter flew above us, seagulls and shorebirds circled overhead and the warm water washed over our feet. Charro frolicked a little bit behind us, actually getting wet. A perfect place to be, at a perfect time of the day.

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We stopped for a moment to look at what appeared to be a very large ATV on the tides edge, a hundred or so yards to our right. Tony thought it might belong to the kiter and expressed concern that it might be stuck.

I bravely got a little ahead of Tony, just filled with joy at the beauty of this water phenomena. As I bent down to pick up a shell, my feet suddenly started to sink into slime. I kept going down, sinking deeper, when I felt Tony grab my arm. Sheer panic propelled me upward, my feet came loose and we all managed to get across the mud flats to safety.

As we again stood on hard sand, catching our breath, Tony declared we were going back and searched for a mud-free route.

I chose what seemed to be a mud-free route to the ocean’s edge. “After all,” I reasoned, “we had come this far. Why not finish the journey? Besides, there were probably even more beautiful shells at the water’s edge.” Who could possibly argue with my logic?

He reluctantly agreed and Charro plodded along, this time tail down, as we took off into the warm, shallow water again.

It wasn’t long before Tony and I sunk down at the same time into even stronger sucking sands. Raw fear overcame both of us. Tony freed himself first, I was struggling, but managed to scream for him to get Charro. He had already reached behind him and had her in his hand, as he grabbed me and set me free. Up and on the move again, we made it a second time, like we had wings on our feet.

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After a minutes rest, we carefully scouted out a route back to shore and,ever so cautiously, walked it.

We noticed that we were very close to what we thought was the stuck ATV. It actually turned out to be a pick-up truck, abandoned by it’s owner who had gotten it stuck in the mud. The beast had unmercifully sucked the truck into a non-rescuable depth and destroyed it. It had been brand new and efforts to get it out of the sucking sea-bottom with cranes had been useless. It did not have the distinctiveness of being the entities first victim.

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How lucky can two people and a dog be?

A Goldmine, a Pastry Shop and Buried Pianos

Imagine…Being realistic is the most common road to mediocrity

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As we crossed the footbridge, we were enveloped by a serene sense of history. Before us stood a towering smokestack, reaching high into the sky. It dominated everything amidst the mid-eighteen hundred ruins of what was once a prosperous smelter for gold and silver.

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         Ruins

The hot dry air carried a slight breeze and filled our nostrils with the scent of dusty old. A lone, ancient-looking cow wandered through the crumbled ruins. The ensuing quietness allowed us to hear his footsteps and the whisper of the gentle breeze.

Closing my eyes, I could sense and hear the 10,000 residents and immigrants seeking their fortune in this small pueblo. It was easy to imagine the hustling, bustling activity of miners, merchants, working girls and anyone else adventurous enough to embrace the lifestyle of a burgeoning mining town. Built on the rugged desert floor, the earth’s treasures could not have relinquished themselves easily.

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We stood in El Triunfo, one of the most historic villages in southern Baja and one of the most overlooked by tourists. To spite its second claim to fame…although not very publicized or widely known…..of being one of first villages in the region to have electricity and telephone services, it is also famous for yet another less known legend. It’s piano history.

Yes, that’s right, piano history. During its mining days, this little place became a cultural center, entertaining such celebrities as Francisco Mendoza, pianist and teacher. He and the magnitude of money consuming the village, inspired the residents to have the best available pianos and art shipped to El Triunfo from all over Europe.

During the Mexican Revolution of 1910, as the insurgents made headway towards the town, the locals buried their prized possessions, including their European art and sculptures, money, family heirlooms and, yes, their pianos, in hand- dug tunnels across their properties.

After the marauders ravaged the town, the men dug up their belongings and rebuilt their homes. Many men and their families just left.

As you approach El Triunfo, the first thing you will see is the local church on the extreme north end of town. Continuing along, a small sign on the right side of the road will tell you to make a right and visit the El Triunfo Café. Make the right and go up one tiny little block. Enjoy a wonderful meal here or just a great cup of coffee and a piece of the best pastry in Mexico. The mine sits right behind this little Café. Take a leisurely stroll amongst its ruins.

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If you are lucky, as you come again, one block from the mine and the café, back to two-lane Mexico 1, you will hear the beautiful sound of a piano concerto, lovingly filling the air as you come upon the El Triunfo Piano Museum.

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When we were there, a wonderful man, Nicholas Carrillo entertained us with his profound ability to caress piano keys. He was a famous, native-born concert pianist, who returned to his town after touring the world. He opened this little museum….it was a former mining office….and he painstakingly preserved eighty-seven of the pianos and many other artifacts from the tunnels. He gladly led you to his private piano room and sat down at his Steinway to serenade you, filling the still air and the quiet streets with the telling sounds of history.

Nicholas, Piano

He has sense passed on, but his piano and his history live on in his pride and joy, his museum.

The town is currently being gently and respectfully being restored by a rather wealthy American woman just because ‘she loves El Triunfo and its people’. We certainly understand her love. The town’s magic creeps into your soul and stays with you wherever you travel.

An Unexpected Visitor

Imagine – Learning the definition of “boon-docking”.

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Arriving in Tecolote, we took great pleasure in knowing we had successfully fulfilled our desire to return here and, once again, experience the uniqueness and playful air of this wonderful mix of locals and boon-docking travelers.

We were welcomed immediately by Jesús, the self-appointed Director of Beach Operations. We had befriended this  happy, fun-loving fellow on our last trip to this beach community and promised him we would return.

We wiled away the days soaking in the sea, kayaking, fighting off intolerable flies and having an afternoon beer with Jesús. The Aussie kids we had met in Santispac showed up to wait for their ferry to Mazatlan and broke the solitude of the off-season beach. ​

Every morning started the same…we’d wake to the quiet stillness of the beach, disturbed only by the sound of a jumping school of fish or distant bird-calls.

As the sun’s light diminished the darkness of night,  ribbons of pinks, purples, yellows and oranges stacked up on the horizon. ​Silhouettes of local fisherman in their pongas, netting anchovies to sell as bait, appeared in the shadows. Pelicans and seagulls boldly surrounded them, hawking their catch. ​

It hadn’t been any different on the fourth day. We enjoyed coffee with the Aussie kids, we swam, we ate and we kayaked. The Aussies left for the day to finalize their plans and do some kayaking at Balandra, the beach on the other side of the mountain. All seemed well with the world. Even the flies had receded to someplace unknown. We headed to the beach bar for our afternoon beer. ​

As Jesús popped the tops on the beer, I commented on the magnificence of the day. ​

Not quite finishing the sentence, I noticed a sand-colored strip in the water, about a quarter mile down the beach. It seemed to be quickly taking on the appearance of a new sandbar. Odd, I thought. Tony confirmed my thoughts, as the colored seawater rapidly increased in width and length, reaching farther and farther out to sea. ​

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On the horizon a very thin, black line started to creep upward into the brilliant blue sky. Short, fast waves appeared out of nowhere on the sea, seemingly racing to shore like scared rabbits. ​

As veteran sailors, we are not unfamiliar with the term “Chubasco.” These violent, fast moving squalls are common phenomena on the Sea of Cortez and we have known them to scare the wits out of the mightiest of sailors. ​

Before we could think the word “Chubasco” the horizon’s black line turned into huge, menacing clouds, spewing wild bolts of thunderous lightning across the sea. The clouds raised their ugly heads at the speed of light and raced towards us. Rain pummeled the shoreline so hard that the drops sent up swirling columns of sand a foot high. Waves rose and fell on the sea likethe heaving breasts of stampeding wild animals. Howling, ferocious winds spit stinging sand and water at everything that stood still. The cloud-blackened sky turned the day into night.

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​As we stood mesmerized, the Chubasco continued its mighty quest. The infuriated monster raced across the mountain range behind us, leaving in its aftermath its powerful waves and the brilliant blue sky it had overpowered, proving to anyone watching that it could conquer all.

​In its wake, the shape of the earth had been changed forever. The sea had more sand. Its floor had more, or maybe less, hills and valleys. Its shoreline lay along the sea’s edge on a different line than it had twenty minutes ago. A river now sped down the beach from the mountains, carrying debris and mud from the storms attack. The river obliterated the road that had once served the beachgoers. The local palapa bars and restaurants would spend days shoveling the mounds of wet sand from their patios and open-air kitchens. ​

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We wondered if the Baja Buggy still stood on four wheels. To our sheer joy and amazement, it did, even with the top up! Alone, she had survived her first storm. We believe God is on our side and we now believe the Chubasco legends. ​

We have also been left with a deeper understanding of the respect sailors have for the sea and the weather, of our commitment to never take its power for granted and to always expect the unexpected. We are also thankful that we experienced this on land and not at sea. “We bow to you, oh mighty force.”

The Moon, Chocolate Clams and Scallops

                          “Imagine…..A Sandy beach, A Starlit Sky, A Glass of Wine and Still in Love”

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                                                 The Moon,  Verdi & Vivaldi

“The clouds choreographed their dance across the face of the brilliantly illuminated full moon to the magical notes of Verdi, La Traviata, Act 1, creating a sense of Zen, comparable only to the most peaceful feeling available to a human being…..a sense of completeness, a sense of understanding of life itself, a sense of joy to be alive.

Vivaldi-The Four Seasons-Spring Allegro, intervened with a competitive interpretation of the dance, majestically stating his own sense of the understanding of peace.

The moon stood alone in the center of the two empowering banks of clouds, one to the left, one to the right…..the Master’s notes bouncing from one star-wrapped stage to the other, each vying for the ultimate interpretation of Zen, the embodiment of eternal peace.

A night on the beach, toes in the sand, Playa de Santispac, BCS, Mexico

The Next Morning……..

Our kayak glided effortlessly across the crystal clear water of our beach, reminding us why we keep returning to the beautiful Playa de Santispac. It sits alone, nestled in a range of mountains, its eastern shore slipping gently into the Sea of Cortez. The tranquility transforms your very being into a state of peacefulness.

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A handful of vendors visit the beach everyday selling everything from local crafts to scallops and clams….to fifty gallon drums of water. We enjoy it all and it is our habit to buy a little something from everyone. The rewards are great. Today, one of our favorite venders, Chicho, invited us to join him on his ponga in the morning and learn how to catch the local scallops and clams. “I will be here at 8:00 am tomorrow morning,” he announced enthusiastically.

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Three young travelers headed for Patagonia in a GMC van…Nathan and Courtney from Brisbane, Australia and Kanki from Japan…..joined us for a drink after dinner. Tony pointed out that our beautiful moon from the night before had disappeared. How could a full moon just disappear, he wondered out-loud. Nathan had heard something about an eclipse somewhere, but he hadn’t listened carefully and didn’t know much.

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Within minutes, under a brilliant star-studded sky…..adorned with a vivid show of the Milky Way……a strange, little white light appeared over a peak on the mountain. For the next two hours, we sat in awe as the Earth’s shadow passed over the glowing face of the Moon, providing us with the most stunning eclipse we have ever seen. The magical moments of our life overwhelm us at times.

As promised, and only a half hour late…good compared to most Mexican time promises…. A grinning Chicho bounced onto the beach in his old pick-up truck, ready to take us to sea for the day.

As he tossed our snorkel bag into his ponga and fussed with his ornery engine a few times, he asked, “Listo, mi amigos. Ready to find clams, big ones, today?

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Happier than kids in a candy store, we assured him we were ready. The engine fired up and the boat sped across the calm sea. We headed for a place only known to him and he cut the engine and invited us into the water with him. For the next couple of hours we watched and learned as he showed us what to look for to find the beloved clams that he sold to tourists. He taught us how to find and clean scallops. He held my hand as he guided us over the sharp coral of the reef. With no swim steps to assist us, he lifted us out of the water and over the side of the boat, only to take us to another favorite spot to do it all over again. He returned us to our beach camp and humbly asked if we were happy. It was incredibly hard to find the words to tell him how happy we were on so many levels.

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What does it mean to watch a man practice a trade that was probably handed down from father to son for countless generations, a trade that has fed him and his children for his lifetime? What does it mean to watch a man so artfully move his body that you feel as though you are watching a choreographed water ballet?

I watched his every move. I watched him spot two, tiny, black breathing holes from the water’s surface. I watched his body gracefully descend to the ocean’s floor and I watched his hand dig deeply and quickly into the sand. I watched as it reappeared holding a giant chocolate clam. I watched twenty-four times and he never missed once.

Now I am left to ponder the simplicity and the beauty of his life, his culture, his dependence on the sea for his every need and his deep love of the ocean. He wants for nothing, other than the clam to feed his family. I wish I had been born a fisherman.

Playa de Santispac, Baja California, BCS, Mexico  2015

And Not A Shot Was Heard!

“Imagine……….Making friends from all corners of the earth”

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We have almost completed nine weeks of traveling the Mexican Baja in our van. To me, it is like Tony and I have been the foremost, number one actors in a Tim Conway/Carol Burnett movie.

For instance, consider this. Volkswagen Westfalia Vanagon. The van’s name is bigger than the engine! We chuckle as we toddle up 16% grade mountains, sometimes in 1st gear, but never more than 2nd.

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Big rigs, loaded down with cargo, lumbering along under their own weight, pass us, their grinning drivers waving.  Buses, driven by mocking drivers and burdened with tons of passengers and their luggage, pass us easily. It is obvious that the passengers are making fun of us.  It is a little embarrassing, although not one soul in Mexico has given us the finger or shot at us. We can only assume that these drivers are hourly employees for their company and quietly are thanking us for their extra earned income.

Big rigWe did hear a rumor that a bunch of drivers got together and had a rally to get a ‘Volkswagen Camper Lane Only’ on Mexico 1. We don’t know how that turned out.

All Is Well That Ends Well

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Imagine…Sea Creatures as your new best friends

Our next adventure is scheduled. Our plan is to sail the boat farther south than we have ever done in California. We are headed to Dana Point and we will do it from the extreme southern end of Catalina, a course we have never sailed.

We are happy and excited. We dress in our warmest winter clothes… after all it is August 2nd, Tony’s birthday and who would expect it not to be freezing cold in the middle of the summer, especially in southern California? We pull in our flopper-stopper, top off our fuel tank and set our course on our brand-new GPS and radar system. We’re off!
The sun comes up and the sea is beautiful. We can hear whales spouting and we enjoy hundreds of dolphin, leaping and pirouetting in the air, as they voraciously fish for their breakfast. Pelicans circle above us, intent on stealing anything the dolphin capture. Our music is drifting gently into the morning breeze and we munch on our breakfast of fruit and cheese. The winds are light, the sun is warm. We are on top of the world.

Actual Notes from our Cruising Log

Halfway across, our new radar and GPS system shut down. After many attempts and one threat, we got through to a technician at Raymarine and he was able to get us up and running again, albeit without any of the co-ordinates we had previously set.
As I spin into panic mode, I notice how calm Tony is. Fortunately, he had learned to chart courses, didn’t trust the GPS anyway and had been hand-charting our course on his chart all the way along. Is it no wonder I always feel safe with him?
We managed the Channel into Dana Point with ease, anchored like pros and spent the next week playing in the beautiful warm water, under a pretty blue sky. We sailed up to Alamitos Bay, spent time with our friends and attended our daughter’s baby shower.
Promising to return for the birth in September, we headed back to get more experience with our sailing skills in Catalina.

Our first major trip had been successful. We walked on air and could easily pat each other on the back. We felt we had come a long way.
The summer was quickly wrapping itself up and we decided to take the long way back to Alamitos Bay. Our newest grand-daughter was due on September 10th, and since we had done so well on our last trip to Dana, we wanted to re-visit it and possibly, sail a little further south to Oceanside. Besides, we now knew the course by heart and “what could possibly go wrong?” we asked ourselves.

Actual Notes from Our Cruising Log

Halfway down the island, we hit serious fog for about two hours…thick, soupy fog. Fog so thick, that when I went up on the bow to stand watch, I couldn’t see Tony at the helm. We had to use our radios to communicate. The radar worked beautifully and so did my air horn. At one point, three dolphins surrounded our bow, giving me quite a show in the milky air. After a near miss with a large power boat, that apparently couldn’t hear my horn over his engines, we broke through the fog into sunny, warm skies.

In hindsight, we probably should have gone straight to Alamitos Bay and skipped Dana Point.

Actual Notes from Our Cruising Log

The next day started out fine. And then, the wind came up. And then, the sea raised hell. And then, the giant multi-million dollar power boat, anchored in front of us, broke loose from his anchor, without the Captain on board.
We raced to fend off, but he hit us. The wind swung him back and we waited for him to come back at us. His wife, onboard alone, tried to help us fend off with the second hit. The Harbor Patrol appeared out of nowhere and the wife reached her husband by phone. Her words, stricken with panic, informed her husband, “Our anchor is drift….we just hit!” The wind pulled them back again, but the giant boat took aim at us again. The man showed up in his dinghy, but didn’t seem to know how to react. The Harbor Patrol yelled, “Take control of your vessel, Captain!” and he ran to his helm.
Tony held us off the best he could. I started the engine and joined the fending off party and Tony worried about him taking out our rigging. The sea was raging and the wind was howling. After many anxious minutes, the man got his boat away from us, but he could not pull his anchor up. It was just dragging across the bay, being pulled by the water and wind. He finally got it up above the water line and moved down into the channel. He eventually got the boat docked on an end-tie, but not without a lot of trouble. His anchor remained dangling from his bow. Damn these full moons!
Fortunately, we took no damage and survived nicely. Thank God! The man and his wife left the marina a couple of hours later. We remained on our boat on anchor watch. Hopefully, tomorrow we will head for Oceanside.

Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men go awry. This lesson should have been learned on our first day of retirement, but is has taken a little while for us to acknowledge it.

Actual Notes from Our Cruising Log

The interesting thing about this adventure is that not a day goes by that you don’t learn something…sometimes something largely significant, sometimes mildly significant.
Today turned out to be a largely significant learning day.
For days, the weather forecasters had been warning surfers and swimmers about what they called a High Surf Advisory. We paid no attention. We weren’t going to be surfing or swimming. They forgot to warn sailors leaving harbors.
Engulfed in our innocence, or our stupidity, or our naivety or whatever, we casually steered the Nelly Gray up the channel, while putting up our sails. We sailed out past the breakwater and made a left, headed for Oceanside.
A roller, possibly the size of a ten-story building rolled under the boat, broadside. I turned to look at Tony and saw another coming at us only seconds away. And then, another. Nothing can describe the ride, sideways, down rollers this large and then, the immediate return up the side of another one.
Simultaneously, we agreed to turn around and go back. Simultaneously, we agreed to get a slip and have a quiet week-end. Simultaneously, we agreed to drink a lot.
We also agreed that we both had learned what a High Surf Advisory means.
We revisited Tony’s interpretation of the size of rollers. These particular rollers were larger than anything we had ever seen, so I asked him to categorize them. He had previously said if they scare him to death, he figured they were six to eight feet, so these rollers were large enough to make him move inland 500 miles.
We spent the next three days in a slip, eating out, playing on Wells Beach (our feet permanently planted on solid earth) and visiting the Ocean Institute.
A great time in Dana Point!

At this point, the best decision seems to be to return to Alamitos Bay and await the arrival of our grand-child. But alas, we can’t seem to do anything without a little drama.

Actual Notes from our Cruising Log

Great ride up. Seas calm, wind light, sun out. Figures. We’ll be grounded for about a month, so it stands to reason that the weather would turn nice.
As luck would have it, just when you think you’re safe, fate has a surprise in store for you.
Heading into the Seal Beach channel, I went to the bow to put on our dock lines. I, busily involved in my chore, hear Tony call to me to bring the jib line to him. I look up and two small engineless sail boats, filled with kids, are headed towards our boat, coming the wrong way up the channel. I race the line back to Tony and he tells me our engine died when he put it in reverse to avoid a collision.
We start to pull the jib out, to sail off the rocks we were heading towards, and the dock line I had been setting up wraps itself around the jib.
Tony tells me to keep the boat under control and runs up to free the sail.
Keep the boat under control? I have no steerage, no engine and my bow is pointed towards the solid rock jetty. Like I said before, not a day goes by without learning something. I learned that it is going to take more than this to give me a heart attack.
Suddenly, the wind caught the sail, I was able to steer the boat and we sailed up the harbor.
Ironic that as soon as Tony came back to the cockpit, the engine started. Think God may be testing us?

All is well that ends well. Our baby girl was born beautiful, healthy, happy and hungry, nine days after we settled ourselves in our old marina. Our friends waited with us for Kaylee Alana Winslow and we celebrated together.
Two weeks later, we returned to our adventure, none the worse for our trials and tribulations over the last four months, but a whole lot wiser, experienced, and happier than we had ever been.
Yes, a sailor’s mantra is that ‘All is well that ends well.’ This should unarguably be the first lesson a sailor learns. If we land our boat in safe harbor, hurting no one around us, or ourselves, our journey has ended well. This part of our journey had ended well for us. We thanked God, as all sailors do.