January 24, 2010

Los Hospicios Cabañas
With the camera, I have focus. The details of this world call my attention: bundles of cable, pitted cobblestones, repeated arcs of shadow and light. With this pure sun and blueblueblue sky, all is sharpened and I gaze and measure, crouch and gawk, savoring and perhaps capturing rather than rushing and avoiding – my ordinary orientation toward big cities. On these benches – 3 viejitos discussing their lottery winnings, a grubby young boy and a clean one-eyed man with a wound in the center of his forehead arguing about whose turn it is to shine shoes in the park, a young mother changing her son’s diaper. I’d never noticed that pigeons land leaning back, carefully, shifting weight onto their surprisingly red feet, moving like much larger birds of prey rather than the head-first crumb-hunters that they are.


Meanwhile, the sun is crossing that finest of lines between warm and hot and the smallest toe of my right foot remains swollen and fiery, more resembling a small chorizo than a toe. I slammed it against a doorway during my last day on Boomer, the sailboat on whose bright redness I crossed from La Paz to Puerta Vallarta, and I’m fairly certain it’s broken. I took advantage of the 30 peso ($2.50) medical exam while in Vallarta and the doctor told me it wasn’t broken, exactly, because I can bend it at the appropriate place, but could easily be fractured. A total of 80 pesos ($6.50) later, I walked out with anti-inflammatories (which help) and anti-biotics (which I’m saving for when I really need them).

El Mercado San Juan de Dios

Al Teatro en Bici
This group gathers bicycles and anyone who wants to join for a once a month nighttime ride a rotating theater venue. The night I happened to go, it was the rare experience of getting in free to the most elegant theater in the city, Teatro Degollado, for spectacular French circus performance. There were 600 of us riding through the streets that night!

San Sebastian del Oeste

January 23, 2010

Thursday – 14 January, 2010
Back, finally, in traveling mode. Picking up every couple days and moving on, exploring, adventuring, a bit removed from the day-to-day reality of where I am. Not speaking much Spanish but having a grand time with Joe. Today, sun, coffee with cinnamon and just a touch of chocolate, and sweet samples of coconut and tamarind candy, spicy chickpeas and fava beans. Feeling good, well-rested. We spent most of the day walking in the hills above San Sebastian del Oeste, following streambeds and mysterious paths lined with long-needled pines, crispy ferns, woodpeckers, tiny perfect flowers emerging from rusty clay sandy soil eroded well by frequent rains and giant ochre wasps, and the first sounds of jets I’ve noticed in days.

It was rather chilly up there, by mid-afternoon the famous fog had arrived and proceeded to settle on the entire pueblito. By the evening, this place had become downright cold. Just after dark, the procession of the Virgen would past our hostel, consisting of explosions and banda music in equal measure. We noticed most of the shops closed around 3pm and opened again around 7 for the dinner and post-procession crown. Delicious chile relleno and hot coffee grown nearby for lunch and, of course, the requisite few slugs of raicilla, the maguey liquor that’s the local version of tequila. Tequila is a regionally specific product, like Champagne, any agave-based liquor produced outside of the two federally approved areas of Mexico goes by another name. And tastes just a tad different, a bit smokier in this case, more like a mescal.

Dove today, entering the water via a backwards roll, off a boat (both for the first time). I realized what I love about diving is witnessing the natural motion of these animals, these perfect, water-dwelling lifeforms, as they kiss the algae off of rocks or appear to smile as the pufferfish do or glare as moray eels do (I believe I can thank Disney for that particular anthropomorphism). What I didn’t like was the speed. I wanted to keep still and watched, which I didn’t know until today. And I wanted to know way more about the dive site – Las Marietas – and about the fish we saw. Way more than just a laminated fish identification guide and a blurb in a dive shop pamphlet. Basically, I want to dive with naturalists, not tour guides.

Life above water was spectacular today as well, however. As we headed back to Vallarta, suddenly – ballena! Humpback whales were breeching around all sides of our little speedboat. We cut the motor and just watched, jaws open, and childlike grins on the faces of all, even the captain who’d certainly lived here long enough to have seen it all before. Apparently, the distinct experience of closeness to whales can blow even the most aloof out of the water.

Let me introduce you to…

The vessel :
Boomer is a 42-foot, full keel sailing vessel, complete with a flatscreen TV, indoor and outdoor GPS and steering, indoor and outdoor speakers (to better pump captain Byron’s favorite music – trance!).

The Crew:
Captain Byron Alperstein… you’ll see.
1st Mate Joseph – also brand new to sailing, 24 year-old Canadian Philosopher, jazz guitarist and my future travel companion
and 2nd 1st Mate, myself.

The Vessel and Crew

Sunday night, 3 January, 2010 – Marina La Paz
To facilitate an early start tomorrow, we sleep on the boat tonight. Surrounded by red lights, instrument panels, and tiny windows and doors; I feel overgrown in this cabin. But, at least the doors are open, the moon is up and the fish are jumping every couple of seconds. Life will not be locked out!

Monday, 4 January, 2010 – Marina La Paz to Bahia de los Muertos
, (recently renamed Bahia de los Sueños, but it’s not sticking with the locals), then to the open ocean
We averaged approximately 7 knots today, motoring and sailing alternately, between 9am and 4pm.
We left Bahia de los Muertos around 9pm, and spent our first long night of little sleep under the ¾ moon with a few stars and mighty bioluminescence roiling in the waves as we cut through the water.

Tuesday, 5 January, 2010 – Open Ocean – ahem, Blue Water
Flying fish! Wings and all, they appear as blue hummingbirds gliding for tens of meters parallel to the ocean’s surface.
I learned today it’s not called “the open ocean,” but rather “blue water.” Ah. Luckily, Boomer is a blue water vessel, so despite the high waves, we’re doing just fine. No land in sight, and no boats other than one sailboat early this morning, the Amy E.

Blue Water

The waves have finally “laid down,” and winds are down to 8 knots. The sea only got nice and gentle as of today, mid-morning. All night, we were hitting 5-8 foot waves and winds were 12-20 knots. We even lost control of Boomer’s boom at one point while trying to change the main sail to the other side. Oy vey.
Twice a day we take Cinarizina as a prophylactic for seasickness. Who knows what that’s doing to me in addition to clamping down on any remote inkling of nausea. They say it’s worth it, though, and I believe them.
Today, Byron shared a story that to me explains why trance is the most appropriate music for him. He’s been a high-performance athlete most of his life – downhill ski racer, 4-time marathon runner, multiple Tae Kwon Do trophy winner and, not to mention, the first person to ever beat Chuck Norris in a karate tournament. I’d call him a professional winner. But now, at 68, his hands are virtually crippled from carpal tunnel, he’s had 3 back surgeries and lost three inches of height as a result. Although impatient and with extremely high standards, he’s constantly laughing at himself and teaches well and kindly. Oh yeah, US National fencing champion, too.
Sunset at 22.48 degrees North and 107.38 degrees West

2am – 22.14N, 107.22W
Our radio is indicating low battery, so we can’t transmit and our buddy boat, Dauntless, is getting worried. Just me awake at the moment, ¾ moon with a hazy halo around it like last night. Earlier, the stars were sharp, bright and plentiful, but now the sky’s half-shrouded with thin cloud. The moon is reflecting in the shine of the polished chrome grilltop here in the outside cockpit. One woman dance party, vanilla hazelnut coffee (Byron’s favorite) and not a single light on any horizon.
Earlier, Joseph and I had made a go of steering the boat back onto course after the wind had pushed us 1.5 miles right of course. Byron had course-corrected, then gone to sleep and we over-compensated. But with the first small turn of the wheel (who knew these things were so sensitive?), we were quickly perpendicular to our course and had to wake Byron up. He righted us, then explained (and explained and re-explained, how and why aim left of our course now that the wind’s pushing us right. Got it.

Wednesday night, Isla Isabela, 60 miles NNW of Puerta Vallarta
Humpbacks! Dolphins! Joe and Byron woke me to show me dolphins racing alongside the boat. I was fast asleep after a long night watch – midnight to 6am with Byron, during which (1) I read most of the manual for our radar (which hasn’t worked for the last day and a half), and (2) Byron experienced severe chest pains. So severe they even frightened him. My first thought was heart attack, so as he was doubled over, I somehow had the presence of mind to ask, “Do you have numbness in your arms?” “No.” “Is your breathing compromised?” “No.” Whew. Not like I could have taken him to the ER, but for some reason that calmed my fears, a bit. The pains lasted for minutes. And with our low-frequency (long-distance) radio not transmitting and no other boats in sight…

Isla Isabela

But, this morning brought us calm seas, beautiful skies and whales! With the sun, all is well. We disembarked at Isla Isabela, an island uninhabited by humans other than a cluster of new biology students from the UNAM in Mexico City unloading their gear for a 3-month research project. Their gear included a case of canned chilies. There are plenty of avian inhabitants, however, and that’s the draw – Blue-footed boobies! Yep, I never thought I’d have the honor unless I somehow got to the Galapagos, but there they were, nesting in the sand, altogether fearless of our presence. A few meters higher, the boobies gave way to the Magnificent Frigate Birds, who roosted in the short trees covering the majority of the island. The heart of the island is a volcanic crater, now a rather stagnant lake whose inhabitants, other than the lizards, kept themselves hidden from Joe and I as we picked our way down to the shore. Picking my barefoot way among of the razor grass, coral and chunks of volcanic rock, I found myself unconsciously rocking slightly and avoided standing still as the beginnings of nausea immediately arose. Guess I’ve got my sea legs.
I lay relaxed in warm, green water, remembering to love this body as it floated. I felt I could have slept atop the water, stretched out, my lungs as buoys, the cries of whales vibrating my ears just below the surface. Pure peace. Neither feet nor head sank; I was completely supported. Thank you, Ocean!
After a sunny afternoon exploring the island, we took advantage of the warm waters to swim a bit before boarding our buddy boat, Dauntless, for a delicious fish and wine dinner. Life is so hard. (PS – Dauntless has been making the trip in a speedboat and generally travels at twice our pace).
I’m eager to re-enter Mexico tomorrow! Tonight, we actually get a full night’s sleep. It’s only 8:30 and we’re ready to lay down already. ETA to Puerta Vallarta, 10 hours after we start off again in the morning. While I’m certain I chose the right ride, it’s certainly been a doozy.

10:30am, Thursday, 7 January, 2010. 6.5 knots, bearing 155.9, current location 21.20N, 105.45W
Left pinky finger is throbbing after I slammed it into the steering wheel. Byron wrapped the wheel in a red nylon rope, but I still didn’t avoid it. Ist day on the boat, I banged the longer toe on my right foot against the ledge of Byron’s cabin door. That one bled. The rocking of the boat tranquilizes me to the point of sleepiness, until I need to walk somewhere. Then, it’s alertness or injury. Those are the options. Same with sleep. Since the safe (and comfortable) time to sleep is never known in advance and rarely lasts longer than 2 hours, one must develop the ability to lie down on a moving bed and drop immediately into sleep, and yet be constantly ready to wake up! Be alert in case someone calls – fish on! Man overboard! Whales! Help! Or some such thing. So sleep deeply and lightly at the same time, that’s the trick.
Speaking of alert – I just woke up and was told “We weren’t gonna tell you but…” Oh no. I’m awake! “There were 2.5 feet of water in the boat. When we lifted the panel to check if we’d taken on any water [as Byron did every 5 hours], oily water was almost up to motor.” The mechanical pump broke 2 days ago, so Joseph was left to pump it by hand – while I slept!
As I was still reeling from that near-death experience that I wasn’t even awake to experience, the wind picked up and Byron barked to Joe to steer as we hurried to crank in the sails. But, unbeknownst to Joe, the auto-pilot was still on, so as he threw all his weight into turning the wheel, he only succeeded in stretching the steering cables and disabling the auto-pilot for the rest of the journey. Meanwhile, the mast nearly ripped off. Oh, and the GPS stopped working, so we hand-steered the last 6 hours into port.
Despite all the ways our journey could have ended in tragedy, to my great good fortune, it instead ended with a dance party! As we neared Bahia de las Banderas just North of Puerta Vallarta, and my arms were getting sore from hand-steering for hours, Byron cranked the Pointer Sisters. In the last few miles, we passed ball after ball of leaping tuna and sardines, and arrived at the marina just after sunset.

Here you’ll see my best slideshow so far. Resolution and editing have, hopefully, improved quite a bit from the previous slideshows. Subject – flora and fauna of the states of Baja California Sur and Jalisco, according to my eyes:

Coming Soon… My Best Fotos of 2009! (The condensed version)
For all those who have slogged through the inordinate amount of fotos on my Flickr site. Thanks and sorry! My editing is improving, I swear!

Here you’ll see my best fotos of la Isla de Ometepe and las Isletas off Grenada, Nicaragua.