On a rainy afternoon last week, Dylan and I embarked on a tour of La Paz’s murals. Our guide, Amelie, led us along crumbling sidewalks and flooding streets to some of the murals of downtown La Paz. She explained the project that has connected international artists with local artists to encourage them to explore what they would like to express about their cultures and communities. She walked us through the symbolism in the paintings and the stories and inspiration behind them.
Without going into the details too much – because, really, you should take Amelie’s tour (in English, French, or Spanish!) – I will say that it was really eye-opening to see how the artists depicted people’s connection to the land and ocean and tried to bring into focus the influence of the indigenous populations, whose culture is so important to Mexico but whose social and economic status is still so low. Amelie’s anthropological background and her clear love of stories and histories made this a memorable and enlightening experience.
I wasn’t sure how much Dylan absorbed from the tour as he seemed more interested in savoring the cool rain than in looking at the murals or listening to the stories. But then two days later, as we walked past one of the murals, he was intent upon showing Andy the mural and getting him to find all the hidden pictures in the elephant. This kid absorbs and observes more than I give him credit for!
If you’re coming through La Paz, you can contact Amelie to arrange a tour. See her poster at the bottom of this post.
Perhaps there is something in its name, The Peace. Or perhaps there is something about a place that that has whale murals and puppy graffiti around every corner. Or perhaps it is that its streets are lined with trees and shade and old world cobblestones. Whatever it is, La Paz is calmer, the traffic less hurried, the people less harried. It has seeped into our psyche, too, and for the first time in months, we feel like we can take deep breaths.
But it didn’t happen immediately. We arrived in La Paz exhausted and relieved, but left after only a few days for Isla Espiritu Santo so that we could at least get a small taste of the islands of the Sea of Cortez, especially before Sara left to return to Denmark. We arrived back to La Paz only to do three hurried loads of laundry, pack ourselves up, and board a bus north for Loreto, leaving Tom behind to work on the boat.
My parents awaited us at the beautiful resort of Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto. The desert colored hotel blended into the towering brown and rust hills, dotted with Baja sand, trees, and cacti. I felt a strong “hurry up and relax” reaction as I looked down on the turtle-shaped pool and swaying palm trees. It was someone’s verion of Paradise, but as long as such strong anxiety and helplessness kept my brain hostage, I wouldn’t find my paradise. While you can’t argue with happy hour cocktails over a stunning view of red cliffs rising out of a tourquoise bay, there was no amount of forced relaxation that could keep me from wondering whether Dylan’s increasingly difficult behavior was a manifestation of some diagnosable problem or simply the reaction to his world being flipped upside down. Either way, I questioned everything about what we were doing and my ability to handle it.
A tear-filled late night discussion with Tom resulted in our agreeing to have a family meeting to establish a more regular schedule and expectations (long overdue, but it was so difficult with our intense travel schedule). We also agreed not to make any decisions about the future until we had had a chance to see if a modicum of stability would have an effect. And so we returned to La Paz for our Pause. As the bus concluded its five hour journey, meandering through the streets of La Paz and pulling into its parking spot along the malecon while the sun began to dip below the horizon, I felt hopeful that we could find something here that we had lost. Perhaps a little bit of peace not only in our daily lives, but in our minds. We sat down to set our schedule together, the kids deciding which day should be baking day and which days should be game night and movie night. And so we began our week and our new year cautiously hopeful.
By Thursday, Dylan was declaring that he wanted to do science every day including Saturdays, and by Friday he was explaining to Andy excitedly that they had to work together to sweep and vacuum the floor. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t still meltdowns and episodes of uncontrollable intensity (there are). It doesn’t mean that our kids are running through fields of flowers and bringing us bouquets of flowers with peppering us with kisses and hugs (they aren’t). And it doesn’t mean that there isn’t some work to be done on our own parenting, teaching, and acceptance skills (there is, and we are still working our way through some new books and resources). But it does mean that might be able to find a way to live together. It means we have a little hope.
It means we can enjoy exploring this city for a little while and discover all the little things that make us happy: shrimp tacos, craft beer, swingsets, pools with lane lines, wood fired pizzas, restaurants with playgrounds, bunnies to pet, and turtles to feed. So here are a few descriptive pictures of the La Paz that we are getting to know:
The 50 meter pool I found out in the corner of the city was surrounded by dirt roads and rickety bus stops and took a 15-minute walk and a 15 minute bus ride to get there. It was old, but clean, cool, long, and empty. I was so excited to be in my first proper pool since San Diego that I did far more than my aching muscles appreciated.
The kids are currently on their second trip to the Serpentario to look at turtles, snakes, and alligators and to feed a bunch of rescue bunnies and guinea pigs.
We’ve made multiple stops at an open air taco restaurant with wood tables and a grass hut roof that has shrimp tacos to die for. And nestled in the back corner of the restaurant is a treehouse and swingset that is the most welcome sight of all. Another restaurant has become a favorite: Harker Board Co, which has amazing wood fired pizzas and craft beer on tap. We hear perhaps more English there than we would like, but the atmosphere makes us happy, and the waiters are thrilled when we speak Spanish.
The malecon is a never-ending delight. There is great pleasure in being able to walk along the path, watching roller bladers, runners, walkers, cyclists, and tour boat operaters encouraging more recruits. Parents sit on benches while their children lick ice cream cones or crash tricycles into trees. Toddlers navigate the playground with overwhelmed and eager eyes as older kids climb and run circles around them. Bronze statues rise out of the concrete every few hundred yards, giving homage to a life that is connected to this Sea.
And so we pause and enjoy life here. The time will come when we will move on. But that is not today. And though there is a lot of planning to be done, this Pause in La Paz gives us time to remember how to live in the present. And this city of peace is the perfect place to do it.
An addendum about Christmas: Despite the change of the plans and Dylan’s increasingly erratic behavior, the almost two weeks we spent up near Loreto really were quite wonderful. The bus ride up to Loreto was uneventful, and the kids were over the moon to see their grandparents. Dylan spent the day getting his energy out by swimming and swimming and swimming, while Andy kept his water antics to the safe depth of the stairs.
We found a small Christmas tree at a Segundo in Loreto, decorating it with the small handful of ornaments that I brought.
The kids were also delighted with the opportunity to make gingerbread houses, though their favorite was the human sized gingerbread house in the resort’s courtyard.
We had a wonderful Christmas dinner in Loreto with family and friends and had time to explore this small city, which is almost exactly the same size as Anacortes, about 17,000 people.
We said goodbye to Sara, who had been with us for 3.5 months. It was a tearful goodbye, and the boys have already been asking when she is coming back! We hope she’ll be able to come out and visit us in the Pacific Northwest someday, so she can see a little of our neck of the woods.
Though the 12 days we spent near Loreto was angst-ridden on my part, it was really wonderful to spend time with family, to be away from the boat for a little while, and to begin the resetting process. We are hopeful and excited to start 2019, and wish all of you a very happy new year, too!
As we sailed slowly past Cabo Pulmo at the east end of Baja’s large cape, we gave a nod in quick recognition that we were finally in the Sea of Cortez. The Sea of Cortez. The goal we had had our sights on for so long. But as we dropped the sails, turned into the north wind, and started to motor the rest of yet another long day, we didn’t celebrate much. We were too tired, and there were more long days ahead of us. We didn’t celebrate as we anchored in beautiful Bahia de los Muertos, even as we enjoyed a little swim and an amazing view over dinner. We didn’t celebrate as we pulled into stunning Puerta Balandra, with it’s tourquoise waters and white shell beaches. We didn’t celebrate as we came into La Paz, though we gave thanks for the availability of a dock during the next round of north winds and another kid-boat to commune with. We didn’t celebrate as we reached the red cliffs and live waters of Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. And as the tears began to flow day after day, we finally had to name our malaise: Exhaustion.
We initially blamed it on the physical exhaustion of coming down the long Baja coast, of the toll that all those overnight sails had on all of us. But we have realized that it’s so much more than that. It’s the forced daily routine of monitoring the weather and grabbing the right weather window. Of always having to press on because of that narrow window and impending dates ahead. It’s the constant worry about the state of the engine and the batteries but not being able to take the time to diagnose and fix them. It’s the challenge of pounding nose-in to the wind and waves for hours on end or even of motoring steadily into calm seas for hours on end. It’s the weariness caused by waking 20 plus times a night from the waves, wind, or swell knocking the boat around and never feeling well-rested. It’s the frustration with the severity of the northerlies that whip through here at this time of year and the sinking disappointment with the realization that we wouldn’t be able to make it to Puerto Escondido by boat for Christmas.
And it’s life beyond the boating. It’s the tedium of parenting a cheeky 4 year old and an out-of-sync 6 year old who’s acting like a 4 year old because he hasn’t had any other playmates. Of figuring out how to teach a bright, sensitive, intense daydreamer with no interest in reading alongside a precocious, know-it-all preschooler. It’s constantly trying to find the control to not yell, and to make gentle reminders over and over and over again. It’s the repetition of in-vain attempts to keep the boat tidy and finally(!)-not-so-in-vain attempts to get the kids to help (sort of).
Exhaustion isn’t a problem if you have the opportunity to recover. But with little room to recover in sight, my morale sinks lower and lower, and my confidence in myself and this whole adventure wanes. And if I didn’t know already that our kids absorb all our stress, Dylan announced to me this morning that he wanted to go back to the blue house (our house back in Anacortes) and have things the way they were. I promised I would write about the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is the ugly where the bottom feeders live. But it is the plain truth about our current mental states.
Winter is supposed to be a time of rest and hibernation, of retreat and silence and minimalism. So recognizing that we need rest and TLC, that the boat needs rest and TLC (see footnote), and that the cat is going to jump ship if we turn the motor on one more time, we have opted to get a dock for at least a month and stay put in La Paz for as long as it takes for us to feel rested and restless again. It will cost a lot of money, but our mental health needs it, including the mental health of our aging feline family member. Knowing this is the plan, and having a moment to walk alone down the long malecon and breathe deeply, I began to feel a little better, a little hope that there might be a chance to recover.
Something a therapist told me years ago was to look for and recognize ten beautiful things each day, a suggestion that has buoyed my spirits on more than one occasion over the last few years. And I feel it’s important to mention that our exhaustion hasn’t been so deep that we haven’t been able to appreciate the beauty that we are moving through. Red mountains dotted with green cacti and yellow and pink flowers. Blue waters so clear we can see our anchor 30 feet down and the wide variety of fish taking refuge under our boat. Our kids’ joy playing in the warm water and finding their own new confidence in salt water. White sand and shell beaches. Gorgeous colorful fish that we keep having to look up. Houses and buildings of all colors climbing up the hillside. Children screeching in delight as they ride bikes down the malecon. It is not lost on us. It is beautiful. We only need to rest a little – a lot – so we can once again look past our blurry fatigue to see and appreciate the beauty in what we are out here doing.
Footnote: The boat needs rest and attention as much as we do. The engine’s oil pressure has been abnormally low, and Tom’s continued diagnostics have not yielded satisfactory results. One battery charger seemingly stopped working, and though it is resolved, it has not resolved the fact that our batteries are draining quickly and that the alternator is not doing much to fill them up, even on long days of motoring. One of our bilge pumps is not working, and our forward head is out of commission again. Our little electric motor on our dinghy is beginning to be unreliable due to corrosion. In the first four years of owning our boat, we put in 250 engine hours. In the last 6 months, we’ve put in 500 more. The sails, the rig, and the steering have all been working harder, too. So, Korvessa needs rest and attention. Yet, she has continued to perform flawlessly for us and keep us safe, even in the short period 12-foot seas that greeted us as we left Isla Partida a few days ago. Time for some maintenance for all.
Six months ago we stood on a rainy dock in Anacortes and, surrounded by family and friends, we took knives to our docklines and cut ourselves loose. It’s been six months of some amazing highs and lows, and without too much introspection and analysis, I will say that we’re glad we’re out here doing this. It has not been without difficulty, and there have been plenty of moments when we have questioned what we’re doing. Kids don’t instantly become well-behaved when they have more time with parents, and years of work stress don’t dissolve upon the first breath of salt air. But yesterday Dylan ordered his meal in Spanish without prompting. I get to write. Tom gets to sail the world. And Andy…well, Andy said his favorite things are the big waves, so I guess we get to see a sailor in the making. I polled everybody with a few basic questions about the first six months, so here is a quick and dirty summary of where we are and what we’ve experienced:
Basic Stats for the First 6 Months
Miles traveled: roughly 3,300
Countries visited: 3
Nights at sea: 11
Nights at anchor: 56
Nights at mooring buoys: 6
Nights at docks: 107
Why so many nights at docks? Aren’t you supposed to be living on the hook? In the US and Canada, we would grab super-cheap state park or government docks when they were available (no water or electricity, but easier to get kids ashore), including one abandoned marina where we awoke to guys tearing it apart. We also spent 3 weeks back at a dock in Anacortes working on the boat. When we hit southern California, there were very few places to anchor, so there was no choice but to get docks in a few places, and we were happy that a few yacht clubs hosted us for free or low prices. Lastly, there was no anchoring allowed in Ensenada, but we could get a great price if we stayed for more than 10 days, so we stayed for a month with the city at our doorstep, and it was awesome. We’ve been at docks more than we expected and more than we would like, but the truth is that it’s more comfortable for us and for the kids, and we also needed to plug in to recharge batteries periodically. Now that our solar panels are working and our watermaker is up and running, the need for docks will be less urgent. However, we do find that being at at dock in a very urban area is far preferable than being at anchor due to easier access to shore.
Sandi: Bunsby Islands (West Coast of VanIsle) & Ensenada, MX
Tom: Winter Harbour (West Coast of VanIsle)
Sara: Turtle Bay, MX (see photo on right)
Dylan: “You can’t ask me that because I have over 40 favorite places.”
Andy: no comment
The West Coast of Vancouver Island must have been amazing. Why, yes, it was. And someday we will be going back to spend more time. We loved the trees, the remoteness, the (few) people there, the hikes and beaches, and the stunning beauty.
Least Favorite Place
Sandi: Santa Barbara, and the ocean between Turtle Bay & Cabo San Lazaro
Tom: Dana Point
Sara: Dana Point
Dylan: “I have less least favorite places.”
Andy: no comment
What? I’ve heard Dana Point is awesome? Yes, Dana Point was a great place to have our boat while we went to Disneyland and did some big boat projects, and we met some other great people there. But there’s not much that is walkable, it’s expensive, it was hot, the crowded anchorage was busy and loud, and the harbor police were omnipresent and annoying (we were approached and questioned by them three times, because, you know, we look pretty questionable).
Sandi: Poke from fresh caught tuna, and habanero mango shrimp ceviche
Tom: Taco condiments (salsas, pickled things, hot things, etc) and the above-mentioned ceviche
Sara: Tacos at the Hangman in San Jose del Cabo
Dylan: Carne asada tacos, quesadillas, and cervecerias
Andy: Fish tacos and eggs
Your 6-year old’s favorite food is cervecerias? Well, no. And before you ask, he did not drink beer. But he loved the ambiance and space to play at the breweries we went to. And, though he didn’t say it, the chance to hang out with another boat kid at some of those cervecerias probably added to his good memories, along with the fact that his parents were relaxed and enjoying the views, the beer, and the atmosphere.
Best Thing about Cruising
Sandi: Exploring new places, food, and language
Tom: Getting out of the sailor’s armchair and actually doing it
Sara: Freedom to go wherever you want
Dylan: “Traveling to all sorts of new places.”
Andy: “The big waves, and doing coloring and painting.”
We thought you’d say all the time you get to spend together with your family. Mmm, no, not really. In fact, that’s one of the hardest things. But we’re awfully glad that we’re out here exploring and adventuring together!
Hardest or Worst Thing about Cruising
Sandi: Child management, and not having time alone
Tom: Worried about everyone else’s comfort and morale
Sara: Many people in a small space, and getting used to young children
Dylan: “The long travels, like when we’re underway for days.”
Andy: “The long travels and not seeing grandparents.”
I thought this was one giant vacation. What do you mean there are hard things? We may not be working for money 5 days a week anymore, but it’s not a vacation. There is school to be planned and done, chores to be done (cleaning, tidying, sorting, re-sorting, laundry, trash, repeat…), groceries to be found and hauled back (without a car, remember), meals to be cooked, mail to be checked, routes to be planned, weather to be checked, paperwork to figure out, boat maintenance to be done, various research to be done, birthdays and holiday celebrations to be planned, and two spirited, energetic children to be exercised.
Thing I Miss Most
Tom: Trees and rain
Sara: Family and friends
You miss swimming? Aren’t you surrounded by water? Yes, but that doesn’t mean the water is safe to swim in. Up north I swam a few times, but the water is freezing. Down the coast, the water is warmer, but you have surf and undertow to contend with, as well as anchorages full of large sea lions with big teeth. And of course, you can’t swim in marinas. So, I miss swimming. And while hot, dry climates may be what most people come here for, Tom and I both miss trees and cooling rain. We fantasize about a cabin in the woods someday, with a metal roof so we can hear the Pacific Northwest pattering above us.
Best boat project: Fixing the A/C and fridge!
Worst boat project: Tearing apart the forward head and replacing key parts after it exploded poop everywhere. And after 3 weeks of functioning again, it is now spurting poop again. Time to say bye-bye to the forward head.
Budget: Don’t ask. We’re over it every month right now. But the beginning of a trip is inevitably more expensive due to shakedown stuff. We’ve had to fix the fridge, A/C, two heads, a broken alternator, and rigging issues, plus stock up on important spares. And we’ve been in some expensive places, like southern California and Cabo. Additionally, while we don’t want to break the bank, we’re also not willing to forgo some of the unique fun stuff along way that add to the enjoyment, like Disneyland, Sea World, breweries, good local food, and so on. Food, in fact, is a big part of the travel experience, and therefore some eating out has to be a part of it. In Ensenada, where $1 tacos were everywhere, this was not a big deal, but in places like San Diego and Cabo (where we are surrounded by megayachts and a lot of bling) it is a different story. We figure it will even out in the long run as we get away from docks and big urban centers and settle into a slower, more rural routine.
So, there’s our first six months. It doesn’t actually feel like we’ve been out that long because we felt like we started the trip from scratch when the kids came back aboard two and a half months ago in Dana Point. We had to go through the whole “settling in” period all over again, and the cool, remote, cedar-shaded beaches of British Colombia seemed like a lifetime before that.
I wanted to write about stars. About how many there were. About how the Milky Way parted the sky in a bright, infinite band. About how you couldn’t look up or out without seeing a shooting star, some leaving tracks that lasted for seconds as the falling rock burned through the atmosphere. I wanted to write about how the almost-full moon shone on the sea, illuminating the waves and the ripples and the white bellies of the dolphins that did back-flops by our boat. I wanted to write about the peacefulness and the chance to be alone with my thoughts, or just be alone.
But that wasn’t night sailing. That was night motoring. Night motoring in two knots of wind while our quiet engine pushed us through smooth, glassy water. Night motoring when we could gaze on the expansive, dark, twinkling sky and the expansive, dark, twinkling Baja coast.
Night sailing meant there was wind. And wind meant there were waves. And the change in weather meant there were clouds obscuring the stars and full moon. So night sailing was not about stars. Night sailing was about sailing deep and keeping the keeping the wind on our quarter without gybing. About steering a course with not a star or landmark to steer by except the red numbers on our instruments. Night sailing was about paying attention to the wind shifts and the wave shifts. About getting used to the inconsistent and bi-directional swell. About bracing ourselves mentally for a 50 hour passage under sail. About studying the radar, then the chart plotter, then the blank horizon… and repeating.
There was still plenty of time to think. To think how tired I was even before we had started our second night of sailing. To think how far we were from land. To do the math on how many hours we still had to go. To think back to the question a former colleague asked me: “I hear you’re going to sail away… WHY?” Why, indeed. Why do people do this? Why are we torturing ourselves and making ourselves sick (yes, I finally got proper seasick)?
The answer was not long in coming to me. Because we get to see the night sky in all its brilliance. Because we get to gaze upon dolphins who glow in the moonlight as they leap in our bow wave. Because waiting for that first glimmer of light in the sky after you’ve been staring at dark water for hours and then watching the sky turn pink, yellow, and blue as the sun comes up through the clouds and over the barren mountains is worth the bumpiness and the fatigue and the tired, blurry eyes.
I overheard a conversation between two nearby sailboats who were only a few miles away. One was a single-hander, and the other boat captain asked him how he was doing so far. I had expected an answer along the lines of “I’m tired, but fine,” but instead he said: “I haven’t had any wind since Morro Bay. I’m loving this!” Pure joy. And so I let myself find some joy in the dark, rolly sailing. Granted, it was easier when the wind was 14 knots rather than 22, but I looked for the joy and the peace. And while I may never develop the pure love of sailing that that lone single-hander so clearly has, I do have a love of traveling and exploring. And if sailing is the means, then night sailing is part and parcel of the deal. Even if (especially if) night sailing comes with a whole range of discomforts and difficulties, I might as well find the joy, the beauty, and the exhilaration that comes along with it!
[Informational addendum: Our first overnight was from Ensenada to Isla San Martin, and our second was a 40-hour, two night passage from there to Turtle Bay. Both passages gave us little wind and glassy water. The wind for our passage from Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria gave us fairly steady winds of 17 to 20 knots, with some periods of more and some of less. We sailed with a reefed mizzen and full genoa, which kept us pretty well balanced and ensured that we weren’t overpowered. When the wind dropped below 7 knots apparent (about 12 knots true), we couldn’t keep the genoa full in the big swell, so we would roll in the genoa and motor until the wind picked up. We sailed about 85% of the trip and motored about 15%.
For the six overnights we spent underway going down the Baja coast, we generally split the night by having Tom do the early watch until about 10:30, Sara do the middle of the night watch from about 10:30 to 2:30 or 3:00 am, and I took over from about 2:30 until 7 or 8 am. However, Tom made himself available at any time we needed him and was always there during our shift change in the middle of night. So, all six nights the three of us would sit out there for 10 or 20 minutes talking together in the cockpit while I drank my coffee and Sara and Tom readied themselves for some rest. Somehow those midnight conversations reminded me of college, and I was 20 again.
The kids did better than expected on these long passages, mostly entertaining themselves with coloring, legos, tablets, TV, and lots of snacks, though they showed signs of boredom and fatigue, too. And though we did give them both some seasickness medicine on the rough passage out of Turtle Bay, they may or may not have needed it. The hardest thing was that they still needed fairly constant attention, which made napping and resting hard for us. It basically meant that one person was sailing, one person was napping or resting, and one person was tending the kids. This voyage would have been much harder without Sara along, and we’re so glad that she’s here to help us with this really difficult stretch!
After reaching the tip of Baja, rounding the Cape, and spending one extremely rolly night at anchor in Cabo San Lucas, we’re now in San Jose del Cabo in the dry, not-rocking beds of my friend Tracy’s parents’ condo. What an absolute gift! Thank you, Bonnie and Doug!]
It’s time for us to leave this intriguing city that has been our home for the last four weeks. Four weeks of exploring, of learning Spanish, of making mistakes, of making friends, of battling bureaucracy and paperwork, of establishing a rhythm. Ensenada was our first taste of Mexico, a spicy and dusty taste, as well as comforting, friendly, and gourmet taste. We’ve fallen in love with the variety that Ensenada is.
Mexico is not like any place I have ever been before. It reminds me to some extent of southeastern Europe, a juxtaposition of the grungy and the cosmopolitan, but with more chilies and color. One major first impression is the overwhelming middle class that we see here. Many – though not all – of my former students came from rural areas of Mexico and were not able to continue their education past sixth or eighth grade due to lack of money, the need to work, or the distance of the nearest high school. Most came to the United States to escape poverty and oppression and to find better work. And so I didn’t know much else about Mexico. This month has given me a much broader glimpse (and it is just a glimpse) of this country that is the 10th largest on the planet. I’ve been able to talk about Mexican history and the linguistics of indigenous languages with my Spanish teacher, to chat with a local chef trained in France, and to practice my Spanish with an Uber driver who was trained as a lawyer but worked in the fishing industry for 15 years. We’ve visited indoor and outdoor playgrounds where our kids played and interacted with Mexican kids and got to see a few Mexican birthday parties and celebrations. All while navigating our way through cracked sidewalks and streets, taco stands, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. What a rich variety of experience Ensenada has given us. And there is still so much more of Mexico to see and live!
Baja Naval Marina has been an excellent home base. Temoc, Victor, and Carmina have been so helpful and welcoming, and we will miss their smiles. We didn’t manage to finish up our temporary residence permits while we were here (shouldn’t I have known that things always take longer than you expect), so we’ll all have to come back to Ensenada in a little while to finish things up, but the length of time we were here is what gave us the opportunity to get to know this city and a few awesome people. And I don’t really mind the “forced” road trip back to Ensenada, which will give us an opportunity to see a lot more of the inland part of this peninsula. There’s opportunity in everything, right?
And now it’s time to head down Baja’s Pacific Coast. We had two options for doing this – hopping down more slowly and anchoring at various nooks along the way, or taking bigger leaps and longer passages. We opted for the second option for two reasons: first, we are fairly wary of rolly anchorages as I don’t tend to sleep at all in them, and second, our time frame of getting to Bahia Candeleros (south of Loreto) by Christmas is prompting us to do the Pacific coast a little more quickly so that we have plenty of time to head north once we reach the Sea of Cortez. We know there is lots we will be missing along the way, but there is also lots to look forward to once we round the Capes!
We’ve already made a couple leaps, sailing into the sunset on Friday evening for a short one and a half hour trip to Punta Banda so that we could all get our sea legs back by spending a night at anchor. We then jumped off onto our first overnight passage as a family, motoring in 2 knots of wind to Isla San Martin, where we arrived at 7:00 a.m. We dropped the hook, and I took the kids ashore to play on the while Tom and Sara caught up on sleep. My nap came later. This little volcanic island is a slice of paradise, at least to visit for two days. We played in the surf. We traded beer and cookies for eight lobsters from the six local fisherman who live here, who are, in fact, the only inhabitants of this remote island. We ran around on the sand and got way too much sun. We fished from the boat. We talked to the harbor seals. We enjoyed this nook.
Now it’s time to press on, and we leave shortly for our next long passage: two nights and and a day and a half to Turtle Bay. The kids are excited. We are excited. And there’s wind. So away we go.
The pictures below are of Ensenada and a few of the Islas Todos Santos, which are two islands ten miles off the coast of Ensenada, where we spent a day with our friends from Blue Heron.
It’s been ten days since we crossed the border into Mexico, making a short little jog in our track to go check out a NOAA weather buoy. Mexican fishing licenses already in hand, we dropped a hook in the water and caught a tuna 15 seconds later and then treated ourselves to the freshest poke we’ve ever eaten. What a high to start our Mexican adventure on. But the past ten days haven’t all been highs, and our short time in Mexico has already reminded me of one of my favorite things about international travel: the great highs paired with the similarly great lows. Somehow when you’re navigating a foreign land, highs and lows are more intense, more poignant. Maybe it’s the difficulty of finding your center while you vacillate back and forth between them. Maybe feelings and reactions are heightened by the challenge of, well, everything. Or maybe it’s just something in the water. Here’s a small collection of the pairings of highs and lows we’ve had here in Mexico so far:
High: I can communicate in Spanish! Low: I can’t communicate in Spanish. As the designated Boat Linguist, I have had to dive quickly into using what little Spanish I have. I’m proud of myself when I can make myself understood and even receive a compliment! But it doesn’t always happen. Those moments when I simply don’t have the right words are so discouraging, when I don’t know enough to even circumlocute a concept or a question and simple frustrated silence ensues. I’m grateful that most people don’t immediately launch into English when I fail. And so I take a deep breath, pull out my dictionary, and learn more.
High: Exploring a new city. Low: Very few street signs. Tom and I agree that exploring a new foreign city is absolutely one of the highest highs we’ve had since we’ve been here. We are travelers, and we love the process of navigating a new environment, finding special nooks and crannies, perusing grocery stores, trying new foods, and just taking in the surroundings. We feel in our element being, well, out of our element. I suppose that comes from a combined eight decades of international travel. It’s a lot harder to do with kids, but we’re managing, and they’re learning. It’s the lack of street signs that makes it extremely frustrating, and we find ourselves relying much more on landmarks than on street names.
High: Beer gardens and restaurants with places for kids to play while us parents enjoy awesome craft beer. Low: There’s really no low to this. We took a 15-minute bus ride with our friends on Blue Heron up to El Sauzal to check out a few local breweries and discovered a wonderful world of Mexican craft beer culture. Our first stop was Aguamala, which had an amazing selection of beers, almost all of which we tried (!). We then stopped at a local pizza restaurant with a kids’ play area, and then at the Baja Brews beer garden, which boasted 7 local craft breweries and overlooked the waves crashing on the rocky coast El Sauzal. The kids (and their parents) can’t wait to go back.
High: Dollar tacos! Low: Bacteria. Street tacos are awesome and cheap. Tom and I have, however, already been afflicted with traveler’s, um, indigestion a few times already. Sigh. Since we’re going to be here a while and since we love trying new foods, we might as well get used to it.
Low: Paperwork I can’t seem to get right and 5 trips to the National Institute of Migration. High: The opportunity to walk all over town, to see places most tourists don’t go, and to get to know the city a little better. I had no less than 5 visits to the INM to get all our papers in order to get our temporary resident permits, 4 visits to banks to figure out how to pay the annual fee, and wild goose chases to find places to get pictures taken of all of us and to make copies of all our documentation and payment receipts. This whole process was more frustrating than I am letting on, and Tom admitted that seeing me so torn up by it was one of his lows. The up side is that I got to know the center of the city pretty well while figuring out how to get all this done. Plus, I’m pretty sure my Spanish improved in the process. (For those interested, the reason we are applying for temporary residence cards is so that we don’t have to pack up all four of us and the cat and leave the country every 180 days. These cards will give us the flexibility to stay as long as we want and leave on a schedule that works for us. I like to think it’s worth the frustration now to avoid the expense and frustration numerous times later.)
High: Introducing your kids to a new culture, new language, and new foods. Low: Your kids melting down and becoming crazy due to the sensory overload of a new environment. The first few days were hard on the boys. On us, too, but the kids’ craziness made it almost untenable for us, and I believe we all found ourselves in tears at various points in those first few days. But we all seem to be settling in a little better now that we have developed more of a rhythm to the days. I’m even hoping to get the kids enrolled a few days a week in a local day care since we’ll be here for a few more weeks, but this is challenging the limits of my Spanish.
I asked the kids what their highs and lows were. They both said that the migration office on the first day was their least favorite thing about Mexico (waiting in line for two hours would push any kids’ patience, I suppose). Dylan said his favorite thing was the breweries. Well, playing at the breweries. And the trampoline park that he hasn’t been to yet. Andy said his favorite part of Mexico was the bus ride and the breweries. Glad we’re making an impression.
High: Customer service. Low: No low to this either. The customer service we have experienced at Baja Naval Marina has been wonderful. We feel so welcome, and everybody has been so helpful. Additionally, the officer at the INM went above and beyond what she needed to do to help me get the paperwork in order, and the numerous people I spoke with at banks were helpful and patient as they answered my questions. We could learn a lot from such patience, customer service, and welcoming attitudes.
High: Color and beauty everywhere! Despite some of the difficulties, we are loving Mexico and so glad that we made the decision to stay here for at least 18 months. We’ve only been in Ensenada for ten days, and a huge land beyond awaits us. We can already see that there is so much to learn from this fascinating country that is full of its own juxtapositions and contradictions. What a wonderful place to spend a slice of our life.
Point Conception loomed before us and the wind slowly began to creep up knot by knot until – bam! – all of a sudden 22 became 29. The direction changed so I could no longer hold a direct course to steer around the point, but rather knew that we would have to gybe (turn with the wind behind the boat) at least twice in strong winds to make it around. The waves grew.
Comfortable seven foot waves became nine, and some eleven and twelve foot waves snuck in every few minutes to remind us how quickly seas can build. We managed our first gybe smoothly, Tom pulling in the mizzen sheet (the mizzen mast is our second, smaller mast at the back of the boat) and then easing the mizzen out so the strong winds from behind us didn’t slam it forward. The self-tacking staysail (our small jib at the front of the boat) took care of itself. The next gybe should take us on a course around the point, but we had to wait, wait, wait until we knew we could clear it. The winds grew. We were seeing 30 and 31 regularly. It’s not yet a gale, but it’s close.
We prepared to gybe, and again I turned the boat, and Tom took in the mizzen sheet until a wave caught us broadside. All of a sudden I had no steerage, no ability to steer down the wave. “Tom, help!” I cried. He immediately realized that the mizzen (even reefed!) in the process of being pulled in and then eased out, had acted instantaneously as our rudder, trying to steer us into the wind and completely overpowering our actual rudder. Tom quickly blew the mizzen sheet and within a millisecond, we had steerage again and made our course to round Point Conception, the “Cape Horn of the Pacific.”
We had made it to southern California. But there was little time to celebrate as we had to turn up into the strong wind to find our anchorage at Cojo, a barren strip of land tucked in just behind the dreaded point. We warily eyed the beached sailboat on the sand in front of us and picked our way through thick, dark kelp beds to find our spot, dropping the anchor with 21 knots of wind on the nose to blow us backwards. Little need to back up and power-set your anchor when the wind does it for you, but we did it anyway. And we were here.
We opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate our official arrival in southern California, comforted the angry cat, and laughed as we watch the champagne bottle slide back and forth across the table with every swell that hit us. It didn’t feel like southern California yet as we watched a family of wild boars trot along the beach, baby boars in tow, and sat alone in the anchorage, not a building or boat to be seen. The full enormity of southern California would come later as we headed south and east down the coast.
The world around us then began to change. Huge, shiny boats filled the Santa Barbara Harbor. There was a catamaran we could have sailed under. Mega-yachts dotted the end-ties. We sat at rolly anchor outside the safe marina breakwater and pier, rocking in time with other salty, grubby, well-used boats. Massive mansions towered above us on the coastal cliffs. We felt foreign.
Architecure became adobe and clay. The air carried the scent of desert flowers and smog. Tanned bodies strolled long, white beaches. People were everywhere. Harbor patrols were everywhere. Buildings were everywhere. Concrete was everywhere. When was the last time we saw a tree? And all the best anchorages were full of private and expensive mooring buoys. And the inescapable heat kept beating down on us.
We felt like fish out of water. Even our attempted escape to the trails of the Catalina Island proved rocky as we braved the surf and the surge coming north from Hurricane Sergio and sustained a few uncomfortable nights at anchor. We missed our rain and our cool temperatures. We missed the come-as-you-are grunginess of the Pacific Northwest. We missed our calm island anchorages, hugged by spruce, cedar, and Douglas fir. It has not been an easy transition to southern California.
But southern California has also served up some wonderful gifts in the form of all the people we have met. My mom’s friend since 3rd grade, Diane, gave us a tour of Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach, took us out to breakfast, and drove us to the airport and back to pick up Sara flying in from Denmark. I got to spend a few days with my old friend and swim teammate from high school, Tracy, which was such a gift (Tracy, we didn’t take a picture!). The folks at Redondo Beach Yacht Club immediately invited us to come to their big weekly party. We met Blue Heron, another boat headed to Mexico with a boat kid. At Dana Point, we met Gail and Ron, who drove Tom to West Marine, and other boaters who offered us some contacts in Mexico. At anchor there, so many people saw the Washington on our stern and came over to talk. Some folks having a big party on the beach invited us over to celebrate and partake of the great spread.
Further south, the folks at Oceanside Yacht Club – Les, Rick, Tim, Mike, Brianna, Tessa, Jeanie, and so many others made us feel so welcome and showed us such wonderful hospitality. Dylan and Andy got a friend to play with for a few evenings, and Mike gave us some helpful fishing gear and advice. We could not have asked for a better stay and a more welcoming community. The negative feelings I was having about southern California dissolved in the warmth of the welcome we received.
Once the high surf warnings dissipated and Oceanside’s harbor entrance calmed, we headed south to San Diego, our jumping off point for our leap down to Mexico. I hadn’t really looked forward to San Diego in any other way than as the place to get the final items of the to-do list done (vet appointment, fill fuel tanks, send ballots, provision with boat supplies), just an extension of the coast. But San Diego has been a complete experience on its own. It surely warrants its own blog post, but since I find it so hard to squeeze out time for writing, San Diego gets its moment now.
One of the most amazing experiences here is meeting other kid boats. We tied up for three nights at the Port of San Diego Police Dock, because it is the only dock that has at a reasonable price for transient boaters down here – and immediately met up with a bunch of other boat kids, all headed to Mexico. Dylan and Andy were over the moon. At one point, there were six boat kids aboard Korvessa. The girls immediately adopted Sara and took over her cabin for their girls’ club. The boys proceeded to do more fort building up in the v-berth at Dylan’s strict instructions. The kids needed this.
The other unforgettable experience was visiting Sea World. We knew we really wanted to make this trip now, because Sea World will be phasing out its orca programs over time. To see the wonder in the eyes of our kids as they saw the animals was priceless. I feel that I would like to reflect on this more, so I will leave more for another post.
Perhaps it is a little silly, but anchoring across the bay from a pool in Coronado almost made me want to cry. We now live on the water, but there have been precious few opportunities to swim. Even the Dana Point Harbor Patrol picked me up at one point and told me where I could and could not swim. Two days in a row, I was able to get some me-time to swim, just swim, for 45 minutes. To just move myself through the water. I didn’t have to look up. I didn’t have to worry about getting run over by boats or kayaks or stand up paddleboarders. There were lane lines. There were backstroke flags. I may not see a lap pool for a long time, so this was a very sweet experience.
Point Conception was a turning point, both literally and figuratively. Southern California hasn’t been a dream for us. We aren’t “sun” people, and we wanted to dance when the rains came. We were overwhelmed with the structure and regulation of harbors. But we were also overwhelmed with the warmth, camaraderie, and fun. Southern California was always a place I came as a kid in the summers, viewing the world from the safety of a house in the hills and paying little heed to everything else. It’s a special experience to visit it as an adult and to have the perspective of gazing from the water out east onto the cities and the hills. I appreciate the opportunity for my experiences, my assumptions, judgments, and opinions to come full circle – or, more accurately, to be influenced and developed by so many different factors and to grow into a more nuanced, unforgettable experience. Point Conception gave me that experience with its difficulty and exhilaration, and southern California has indeed followed suit.
If it wasn’t already enough for my parents to have the kids, the cat, and me aboard the RV for ten days as we traveled down the Washington, Oregon, and northern California coasts, they got rewarded with the opportunity to do it for eight more – without me. And I’m sure they weren’t thrilled with the announcement that we wouldn’t be able to get to Dana Point on the 20th, but rather on the 23rd. Make that an extra 11 days alone with the kids. And so my parents rightly deserve the title of Grandparents of the Year, because they not only signed up to do it, but successfully completed the major task without giving our kids away or leaving them on the side of a highway somewhere.
Our kids can be intense. Really intense. And strong-willed. I mean, um, spirited! And Andy, in particular, has very selective hearing, which works when you’re talking about treats, but not when there’s anything helpful to be done. Managing two spirited, whiny, constantly hungry kids for that long while also trying to make progress down the coast was a Herculean task.
They managed it with the help of the kids’ bikes, some awesome campsites, a few other campground kids, lots of toys, lots of snacks, and good old DVDs. And, of course, a fair bit of patience. And sternness. And probably some wine. It also helped that the cat was no longer on board, since the kids could not keep themselves away from her, and poor Demon was forced to find every place imaginable on the boat to hide from the kids’ constant attention. It may have helped that I wasn’t there, because I’m pretty sure they’re at their worst around me. It also probably helped that they had already gotten used to the routine of the RV: putting the convertible couch out in the evening and folding it up in the morning, driving in the morning, playing outside in the afternoon, bedtime stories in the evening. And to cap off the whole experience, they got a full three days at Disneyland and California Adventure, which was the cherry on top of the trip for them.
There were certainly some trying times, not least the time that the RV’s brakes began to have problems, so my dad pulled into a place in LA to get them fixed while my mom headed down to Oceanside with the kids in the car, with no snacks or TV to tide the kids over. The hope was that my dad would get to the campground by bedtime. I told my mom there was no shame in taking them out to McDonald’s and getting a hotel room for the night. Whatever needed to be done to say sane. In the end, they found a playground and a pizza place, and my dad made it to the campsite by 8:00 pm that night. Difficult day survived, but not an easy one to get through.
When the time came to give the kids back, my parents were ready. But they were also sad to see them go, knowing what incredible changes will take place just in the three short months before they see them again. For their part, the kids loved the RV trip and the time with Grandma and Papa, and it remains a highlight of their trip so far. And we can’t say enough to thank our parents for taking the kids down the coast – Grandparents of the Year indeed. Hard as it may have been, it was a far better option for everyone than having them with us for the long, difficult boat delivery down what turns out to be a very long coast!
“I’m so happy!” Andy beamed up at me with a face that radiated pure joy. His little brown eyes twinkled, and his smile was so big and so sincere that I was about to turn him toward his grandma so she could see his genuine, pure happiness since she was the mastermind and benefactor of this trip. And I was wondering how much Disney Corporation would pay to have that quote and adorable face on video.
“I’m so happy that I’m tall enough to go on the ride!” Queue screeching-to-a-halt sound effects. Because the day before there had been tears. Twice. Because he hadn’t been tall enough. Because even though he had eaten his healthy heart out to get from 38 to 40 inches, which would get him on _most_ Disneyland rides, he fell just shy of the 42 inches required to get on a few of the others. Never mind the fact that he probably would have been terrified of the rides (as he was of most). It was the closed door that affected him and his hungry, tired 4-year old soul.
Disneyland is a peculiar place. There is so much joy, so much fun, so much happiness and anticipation and excitement. But it runs parallel with so much discomfort. The standing in line in the blazing sun on throbbing feet with a tired, petrified 4-year-old while wondering when you should sit down to shell out another $50 for a mediocre lunch because the lunch you packed was already devoured as a 10:00 snack. And then it ends, because you sit down on the ride and see such joy as they point at the characters with stubby fingers and stare wide-eyed at the amazing engineering that has brought the story and the characters to life. It is worth every penny and every sore foot and even every tear.
Having spent so many summers of my childhood in southern California, I’m perhaps too familiar with Disneyland. Too familiar with the run to your favorite roller coaster. Too familiar with the long lines. Too familiar with simply what to expect. And it was hard to pull myself back from the eager 10-year-old still alive and kicking inside me in order to take each Disneyland moment a little more slowly and try to experience this new world from the eyes and steps of novice 4- and 6-year-olds. To stop for the photo ops with Disney characters, to forgo the fastest rides, to seek out the gentlest and brightest rides. It shouldn’t have surprised me that our perceptive 6-year-old, in answer to my question “What are you most looking forward to about Disneyland,” said something to the effect of: “I’m looking forward to seeing what it feels like and seems like inside.” And so I tried to remember just to embrace the atmosphere, even when all my 10-year-old self wanted to do again was race back to the line for Thunder Mountain.
Where my memory failed me was in recalling the darkness of so many of the rides, both the literal and figurative darkness. As we got on our first ride, boarding a a flying Peter Pan pirate ship and venturing into a dark room lit up only by little tiny stars, I could think only of how our kids would handle the darkness and the scariness. And it only goes downhill from there. Snow White is petrifying. Alice in Wonderland is really freaky. And even Dylan came out of Winnie the Pooh saying it was kind of scary during Pooh’s dream – going through a room full of mirrors and fluorescent magical creatures. And so the Storybook Land Canal Boats, It’s a Small World, and the Monorail were among the favorites. And despite the odd Pooh dream, Winnie the Pooh made it to the top five, as well. Though I have to hand it to Dylan, who, though absolutely petrified on the Halloween-ified Space Mountain, declared hours later that it was one of his favorites. We have an adrenaline junkie in the making.
Meeting all our expectations was Dylan’s excitement at seeing Cars Land in California Adventure. This is the kid whose second word was “car” and who has been a Cars fanatic from birth. His excitement at walking through a real life Radiator Springs and seeing Lightening McQueen in the parade was worth all the exhaustion. And he was so thrilled with the opportunity to get in every sort of car imaginable – the best being the Radiator Springs Racers, which we managed to get on three times in one day!
Another special experience at Disneyland was the opportunity to share it with our new crew member, Sara, who is joining us from Denmark for a few months. The kids took to her like little magnets, and Dylan would ride next to no one else. Not even over jet lag when we started our first day, Sara was a trooper and made it through more than I would have!
In the end, the tears, fatigue, sweat, and foot pain don’t negate the happiness. Rather, they spice it up. They make it flavorful and memorable. And we’re so grateful to my parents for giving us this opportunity to make these memories together. We will not soon forget them. Dylan is already ready to make more, however, and was asking today when we would be going back to Disneyland again. Sorry, kiddo. It’s going to be a long time. But let’s now go make some more fun and memories in Mexico for the time being!
(Where are we now? We’re in Dana Point installing our solar panels and waiting for Hurricane Rosa to get out of the way. We’ll probably spend a few days at Catalina Island, then a week or so in San Diego before crossing the border.)