March 10-March 19, 2002: Still In La Paz and holding…
March 10th, 2002:
Well in 3 days we will have been here in La Paz for a month. And for a change, I don’t have much to write, at least not much in the way of excitement. As I said in the last chapter, La Paz, the City of Peace, is just that… a very quiet, Mexican city. Since it is the capitol of Baja California, it is the seat of a lot of businesses, but the tourist business while in existence, is far from booming. The majority of the “tourists” or non-Mexicans are the cruisers.
One interesting thing as another example of what a small world it is: Joe actually ended up knowing the owner of the Marina De La Paz, where we are staying. Joe and he used to belong to the same tennis club in Chula Vista and played together all the time. Joe remembered he (the owner) supposedly had something to do with one of the Mexican marinas… and here he is the owner for more than around 20 years, I think, of this place. Seems he couldn’t find any good tennis partners here so goes to San Diego every few months to play tennis (He and his wife, who actually is the REAL manager of the marina… still keep a small apartment/home there in Chula Vista.)
The cruising community here is fairly multinational. There seems to be almost as many Canadians as Americans; and for the Americans here, there are more boats home ported in Washington, I think than from California. There also are a lot of German accented cruisers, a few French (I think mostly French Canadians), and an Aussie or two. I’m sure the further we get from California, and even more over at mainland Mexico, the more international the community will be.
And “community” is a good name for what we find here. Although there are 2 main marinas, a large anchorage, and some smaller marinas in La Paz, the cruisers are fairly well “net-worked” together. Every morning at 8AM they take over the local VHF radio channel and put on a network type program, which starts with “Attention to the Fleet.” Each day of the week a different volunteer runs the program announcing in sequence each category. They ask first if anyone has any emergencies, then they go to the weather and the tides (2 people who are connected to internet sources are assigned to give those reports daily). Then they announce who has mail, faxes, messages, packages, etc. (both marinas report in). They also have a section of “lost and found” and announcements of local events (concerts, jam sessions, museum showings, lectures, domino tournaments, charity events, etc) and go from there to “local assistance.” Here anyone who needs anything pops up with their questions, such as: “Where can I find a place that fresh roasts coffee beans?” “Where can I find a good English-speaking dentist?” “Where is the best lobster?” As well as important boat type questions such as: “Where can I find someone who can fix a water pump?” “Is there anyone out there who can do electrical wiring?” Finally they ask if anyone has anything to trade (“trade” actually means sell, but since they can’t officially sell anything on the radio, they use loosely the word “trade.”) People offer up anything from spare parts, sails, barbeques, and software.
It sounds stupid, but it actually has becomes addicting, as Joe and I gave up our attempts to occasionally sleep in for racing to turn on the radio every morning to hear the latest on the net. What is amazing is the camaraderie though when someone actually needs help. A couple of days ago, a sailboat went aground in the channel, and although they were in no immediate danger, they put out a call for assistance (Even though this morning program is only on for about 30-45 minutes, most of the cruisers monitor this channel all day long on their boats.) Anyway a handful of cruisers offered immediate assistance to the boat. It is a great feeling to be a part of this close “community.”
Unfortunately for us (but actually very “normal” and expected), a lot of things have broke on Mi Gitana since we started out trip. And for almost every service or part we’ve needed, we have been able to find answers/solutions from the other cruisers through this network. Fixing anything on a boat is a challenge, but trying to fix it in a foreign port offers new and unique challenges. Take something simple, like a burned out light bulb on our boat. (If you remember from earlier chapters our adventures in the high seas had our bowsprit being totally submerged in the seas… NOT great for port and bow light fixtures that are mounted there!) We not only burned out the port and bow “running” lights, but also the mast headlight, which is on top of the mast. So to change THAT light bulb, requires climbing a 50’ mast! One of Joe’s least favorite jobs (ranks with fixing the head and holding tank–puuueee!) But it means not only one trip up the mast but TWO, as since it’s never been changed before, we don’t know what the part number/brand is, so he first has to go all the way up and find out that information. Going up the mast involves putting on a harness, and using a boson’s chair and multiple lines and “brakes” (similar to a mountain climber) for safety. And Joe physically is no mountain climber. It is an exhausting exercise. Oh yeah, did I mention, he also has to depend on me at the bottom to “steady” him and hold the lines so he doesn’t fall? That alone would give anyone a heart attack!
I mentioned boat repairs being even harder to do in a foreign port: (also an example of how we have spent much of our time in La Paz)… so now with the part number in hand, Joe and I go to the 3 “marine” stores close to the marina. No luck. But they refer us to 3 other places. Etc.etc. Also none of them speak any English, and describing boat parts is not part of my Spanish lessons. After about a dozen or so attempts to locate the part, we came to the conclusion, it was not to be found here. So then we contact our boat source in San Diego, which of course has no problems getting the part… only there is a big problem getting the part to us. To send a boat part to Mexico, you have to deal with custom’s officials who from what we have heard make it VERY difficult to ever get your part. Plus for a $5 light bulb, it cost $35-40 shipping AND duty charges. So the store we use, usually waits for someone who is flying or driving to La Paz to bring all the cruisers the parts they are waiting for. (Again part of the “community” is that anyone who goes to San Diego is highly encouraged to go by this boat store to pick up everyone’s parts.) So anyway, it took over a month, but we finally got our light bulb!!!! I know that was a long example, but for those of you not familiar to boats, I thought I’d tell you how unlike with a house, when if something goes wrong, you drive down to Home Depot, pick up the part and have it fixed instantly, things here are not so simple, nor easy.
Since while we were in Cabo San Lucas, we spent mucho time relaxing, eating out, beaching it, and enjoying a margarita or two - - and very LITTLE boat work, we are paying for it during our time here. We started to tackle again our boat “to do” list, at first with our 2nd wind of enthusiasm, and now because we are about to leave again, with a little harder energy as we cannot leave now until some of these things are done. Joe does of course most of the mechanical/electrical work by himself, but I am always on “stand-by” to assist or give him a 3rd hand. One of my projects has been studying the cruising guides and articles we’ve saved for years and doing the initial route planning for our future trips. I also spend hours a day writing, and sending e-mails (the latter sometimes not as easy as “clicking a button”). Also I am doing a lot more cooking here than I did in Cabo, and that is always a challenge in our small galley (especially since I am used to a professional 4-6 burner stove, double oven and tons of counter and cabinet space in which to work at my new kitchen at home!!!) And as small as our boat is (in comparison to a normal house), it gets dirty fast, and clutters up rapidly if things are not cleaned up and put away daily. So although, by many of your standards, our life may sound boring, we seem to be busy most of the day with our “boat chores.”
A lot of the cruisers who have made La Paz their permanent home or boat headquarters have also gotten involved with the local community. They have adopted a small village, that although only 6 miles out of town, has no electricity nor running water. They have a program to help the children learn (increase their alertness) by providing them with a hot breakfast every morning. They also pay for “scholarships” for almost any child who wants to go to school after 6th grade. (In Mexico, only the first 6 years are “free”. After that the Mexican families have to pay for the children’s uniforms and books; by American standards, it is still cheap, but most poor families cannot afford that so the children quit school at age 12.) Anyway, one of our neighbors here in the marina asked if I wanted to go and help with the breakfast and the arts and craft program they put on for the children last Saturday, so I did. It was quite a heartwarming experience. About 80 children attended (all under the age of 12), bright eyes, very clean and neatly dressed, and all, of course, curious about the new American lady (me) that had shown up. I took along our digital camera and took lots of pictures of the non-camera shy ones. They had fun looking at the instant replay of their pictures. It was obvious also that they (and their parents) were very appreciative of all the help from the “Club Cruceros” (the Cruiser’s Club).
Our marina neighbor that took me has started an “orchestra” with these children. Through instrument donations from the United States and by getting members of the La Paz orchestra to donate their time for instructing the children, they actually have 3 violinists, 3-4 horns, drums, and several flutes. For children who are so very poor, this music has brought a little more light and fun into their life. A few weeks ago someone from the LA Times got wind of this and even wrote a fairly large column in the Sunday entertainment section complete with pictures about this little 3 world orchestra. Tom, our neighbor, is hoping it may initiate some more donations of used instruments.
The weather here for most of the month has been quite “mild.” A few hot days, but mostly dry and in the high 70’s/low 80’s in the daytime and very cool in the evenings. (We are still using a down blanket on the bed). We had one overcast day when it looked as if we might possibly get a little rain, but none has fallen so far. Some days the winds really kick up, and although we don’t get much affect from them here in the marina, we can see big white caps outside the breakwater from where we are. Sort of San Diego-type summer weather. Hopefully this beautiful weather will hold up for next week when we are planning to leave here.
Well that’s all I can think of to write about for now. I will add to this once we leave La Paz next week… as our adventures on the sea start again.
March 19th, 2002:
We are still in La Paz and were scheduled to leave two days ago for 3 islands off the coast in the Southern Sea of Cortez. We plan(ed??) to cruise around there, anchor off some nice beaches, and just take it easy and do what cruisers are supposed to do–enjoy sailing and exploring in different places. However, AGAIN the weather is not cooperating. First it was so cloudy, overcast and cold that we thought we’d hold off another day, and then this morning we woke up all ready to take off, it’s blowing harder than snot. In our PROTECTED marina, at dockside, we are clocking winds steadily over 27 knots with gusts in the mid — 30’s… (So we can hardly imagine how bad it would be if we leave the protection we have here and head out to sea!) And this was NOT predicted at all. So we will wait out another day, and another one… whatever is needed.
So I thought I’d make use of this “lay day” and catch up on my writing as to what’s happened since I last wrote about 9 days ago.
One interesting thing that happened is the tall ship “The California” pulled into port for a few days. It is one of the few working tall ships and is home-ported in southern California. Joe and I (and Scott) toured it once when it was at a Tall Ship Celebration in San Diego a few years ago. I can’t remember how big it is exactly, but it’s BIG, maybe around 180 ft. Anyway, during the school year they have aboard a program that they call a “SeaMester” where about 15 college kids attend a semester at sea aboard The California. They have instructors aboard for their academic lessons, and they have the regular ship’s crew to teach them hands on about sailing, navigating, and other seamanship subjects . They live in tiny spaces, have NO showers aboard (they were taking salt water baths… yuck!), and by our standards are roughing it. They also share in all of the duties aboard, including, steering, standing watches, and even helping the chef in the galley. For their “cruise” they came down the Baja coast as we did, and La Paz is their first port to touch land. They are taking off in a few days to the northern areas of the Sea of Cortez via some of the off shore islands. Then they will head on back to Southern California.
A few days ago they announced on the morning Cruiser’s radio net that they were going to have an open house and invited all the cruising community to attend. Joe and I went (even though we had toured it before) since it was just down the dock from us. It was great as they went all out with food and even wine for everyone. The “kids” were all there to give tours and share their experiences and answer questions about their school on the sea and the ship. Most of them had a marine biology type major and all of them were from a small college in New York (Long Island, I believe). What a great opportunity they had to participate in such a unique learning experience!
I spent a few days last week doing some major re-provisioning (food and staples stocking) to get ready for our trip. It was actually quite an adventure. First of all, since the super-mercado (super-market) was too far to walk, one of our neighbors offered us to use a car (and I very loosely use that word, “car”) that he and several other cruisers share. They call it the “yellow perro” (yellow dog), but I’ve NEVER seen a dog as mangy as that car. There was a towel over the seat cushions (what was left of them) to cover up the holes and springs that were sticking through, and wires were sticking out everywhere under the dash board. The gear shift indicator (automatic transmission) did not work, so there was no way to tell when you changed the column gear, if you were in reverse, neutral, park, or drive except to see what the car did… i.e., lurch forward, backwards, or just sit still. The exterior color yellow was almost disintegrated by rust. Joe refused to drive it, as it also was uninsured, so he navigated as I made my way to the market. Anyway, although not in style or grace, we did make it to the store and back… my first driving in a few months since we left San Diego.
The super markets here are similar to a K-mart and a huge grocery store under one roof. I was prepared to NOT be able to find US products, but was surprised that they had a lot more things (that I thought I’d have to do without) than I ever thought they would, such as Charmin’ toilette paper and Oreo cookies! On many products though it is a real mystery to try and interpret what they were or what the American equivalent is. Several things I just guessed on and then used my extra-large Spanish/English dictionary to interpret when I got home. One thing I thought was funny: I wanted to buy some fillet mignon steaks and couldn’t find any so I asked in my best Spanish where the filletes de carne were. I was pointed to a whole fillet (they didn’t have cut into steaks) and although more than what I wanted, I bought them as I was surprised when the price was so low. But here’s the funny part, when I got home and read the label it said “Fillete de Res”. My dictionary said “Res” meant “beast or animal.” So anyway we have since eaten our beast fillets and especially since they were so cheap, have NO idea what we ate… but the BEAST was pretty darn good!
Speaking of eating experiences, the other interesting thing we ate was listed on a menu at a beach hut type restaurant next door to the marina. It was Manta Ray tacos. The giant mantas breed at an island group (called the Socorro’s) south of Cabo San Lucas, and I guess they are a specialty found in this area on the menus. So we tried it. Our waiter said their fillets are almost as big as the restaurant tables… and they boil them and then pull off the “meat” so it had an almost shredded texture. … Slightly fishy, but not tough. I probably wouldn’t order again, but at least I can say I tried.
Well that’s about all of the adventures I can think about to write and so ends another chapter. I was going to hold off sending this until I could write something new about the islands we are about to visit (hopefully), but since I left you, my listeners, before stranded at the end of the chapter, waiting in anticipation to find out if we ever got out of Cabo, I will leave you again, wondering if we ever got out of La Paz. I will write again probably when we get settled into Mazatlan on mainland Mexico (after our island hopping) in a few weeks.