Monday, September 1, 2014

Summer Vacation

Wow! Today is the first day of September! The days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning to flame and the temperatures are beginning to drop. It seems like we just arrived home and it is already time to start packing for this winter’s cruising.
Family time: Sandy with sisters, Barb & Kathy and Mom

As summer comes to a close I have to mention how blessed we are to be in the Pacific Northwest where, other than some pretty vicious fires, we haven’t had the brutal conditions other parts of the country are experiencing. It is very difficult for me to understand how anyone can deny the evidence that major climate change is going on. All one need do is watch or read the news. Almost every day there is a story about record high or low temperatures, drought conditions, super storms, etc. Obviously this trend is not going to end any time soon and we will all need to get used to experiencing (and surviving) weather events the likes of which we’ve not seen before. I recently read that an “extra warm” El NiƱo is expected this winter so that likely means we’ll be dealing with snottier weather for passages and less serene anchorages.
Garden bounty

Overall, we have had a wonderful summer vacation. The garden has provided us with beautiful flowers all summer and even the few vegetable plants have been producing like crazy…especially the zuchinni! We have had plenty of time to get caught up on our medical and dental checkups, joined a gym to work on some of that flab, and Chris has lost a good chunk of weight. I, on the other hand, seem to be more successful at the weight loss when I am south of the border. Go figure!
Garden beauty

Last month I got a new (to me) car and have been having a ball driving it. I’ve always wanted a convertible sports car but, being the practical girl that I am, just couldn’t bring myself to buy something that was pretty much just for fun. Thus, I’ve always had station wagons or economical imports. Last month, I learned that a good friend was selling his ’99 Porsche Boxster due to health problems. The price was right and I knew the owner and car and the care it received. So…it now resides in our garage and is “Sandy’s new fun ride”.  And it is definitely f-u-n!
Sandy's new fun ride!

We managed to take a couple road trips this summer. Our first getaway was to the Oregon Coast. We wanted to visit friends and were missing the sand and the sea. The friends part worked out just fine and we really enjoyed seeing them. Beyond that, though, the “walk along the beach” part was a bust. The rain poured and the wind howled and, other than the foray to our friends’ house, we just hung out in the RV with our books. Not a bad thing by any means, but not exactly what the “plan” was.
Chris absorbed in a good book

Last month we loaded up the RV and headed to Canada (Vancouver Island to be precise) to attend a “cruiser party”.   
There is a lot of great art on Orcas Island.

Our first stop was Anacortes, where we left the Coach while we ferried to Orcas Island for 2 days to see some cruising friends we’d met our first season in Mexico. We’ve missed seeing them for the past 3 years and they have brought their boat back to the States so this was a good chance to catch up. We’d not been to this island before so Tom took us on a wonderful tour complete with lots of history. Barbara & Tom’s lovely home overlooks Puget Sound so cocktails on the deck at sunset were a must. As an added bonus, it is crab season so they served us delicious Dungeness Crab for several meals. Yum!  
Happy Anniversary to us! Five wonderful far!

We returned to Anacortes on the 15th (our 5th wedding anniversary) and it seemed only appropriate to indulge in a romantic dinner at a wonderful restaurant overlooking the marina. While we ate we realized that the docks were filled with “pirates” and the Jolly Roger flag was flying in abundance. Of course, we needed to check it out so after dinner we wandered down to the dock to discover that it was one of the get-togethers that “Cruising Outpost” magazine hosts during the summer. We didn’t stay for the festivities but we did run into a guy we’d met in Mexico last year. The world is, indeed, a very small place!  
Front row on the ferry but not much to see.
The next morning we ferried to Sidney and then drove to Victoria where we settled into a nice RV park right on the water. It was a lovely spot but very, very tight spaces. I’m constantly amazed at how talented Chris is at squeezing the behemoth into and out of small spaces!
Doe & her "kids" crossing the street in Comox.

From Victoria we could explore Vancouver Island by car and our first foray was to Comox to visit our friends, Rolande & Angus. It is a pretty drive through forest and along the water and their home is just across the road from a nice beach that is perfect for sunset strolling.  We’d last seen Angus & Rolande 3 years ago just before they left Mexico for Australia. Since then, they have cruised the South Pacific, sold their boat in Australia, flown back to Canada to finish building the house, returned to Australia for a several months long road trip and returned again to Canada. We had great fun catching up and, since they have decided they aren’t done cruising Mexico and have purchased another boat we’re excited to see more of them this winter.  
Enjoying the beach with Angus & Rolande.

After returning to Victoria, we spent a couple days exploring the city, 
The Empress Hotel in Victoria. Oh look...a Boxster!
 touring the Royal BC Natural History Museum and wandering Butchart Gardens.
Enjoying a sunny day at Butchart Gardens.

The last day was the big cruisers’ party that Fran & Jean-Guy hosted. There were over 30 people at the party, some we knew and some we didn’t. It has been 6 years since we left the NW and headed for the tropical climes of Mexico and during that time we’ve collected many wonderful friends. But the cruising community is nothing if not fluid. Some folks have moved on to new places to explore (Panama, Venezuela, Great Britain, the Caribbean, the South Pacific), some have decided it is time to stop cruising completely and come home and some have, sadly, passed away.   
Cruising Friends

Now that we are home again we are in the throes of amassing all the gear and supplies we need for this year’s cruising season. Already we are excited to get back to the boat, the water, Mexico and, our friends. Every year we make new friends but it is nice to know that this year some of the “old guard” will be back again.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

At Long Last the Final Chapter of This Year's Trip

Wednesday, April 9th, we finally got out of La Paz! We’d actually planned to leave on Tuesday but a Norther came roaring in during the wee hours that morning and the wind howled all day. Wednesday morning dawned on a perfect day…no wind at all and flat, slack tide! On our way back from checking out in the office, we had one more chance to say good-bye to our good friend, Kevan, who was leaving that morning for Great Britain (via L.A. & Las Vegas) after selling his boat. I’m not sure when or where we’ll meet again but one thing about cruising is that you can usually be fairly sure there will be an again.

The "view" from our slip.
Another view from our slip. This is why we like anchorages!
Our friends, Manny & Lola from S/V Desire, cast off our dock lines and, as usual, nothing went “as planned”. I really thought I’d be able to entice “Faith” to go straight out of the slip (forward) and turn left to negotiate between the two gihundous yachts on the end docks. Not so much. She refused to make a sharp enough turn, which meant backing up and trying again. That didn’t work so well either so I finally gave up and let her back her all the way out. The “up” side is that, to the untrained eye, it would have appeared that was exactly my intention from the beginning.

All alone in Caleta Partida. Ahhhhh.....
Finally, we were on our way. After spending 5-1/2 months at docks we were both looking forward to some extended stays in anchorages as we made our way back to San Carlos. With not enough wind to sail we motored on flat seas to our first stop, Caleta Partida. This is a very pretty anchorage in a deep cleft on Isla Espiritu Santo. Beautiful green water and white sand beaches surrounded by steep red rock canyon walls. This anchorage is quite popular since it is so close to La Paz so we were surprised to have the place to ourselves. By sunset five more boats had arrived and snugged up so close to the wall on the other side we had to use the binoculars to see them! We were a little concerned that we might have a Coromel that night (big wind off the desert) as the day had been quite warm but that didn’t materialize so a good night’s sleep was had by all.

Early the next morning we were off to Isla San Francisco. This is one of the places we like best so our “plan” was to hang out there for several days. Once again, a very popular anchorage was practically deserted. What a nice surprise to arrive and find only two boats here! With beautiful turquoise water, a long white beach and an easy hike to the top of the island, it is a very special place. The swell was coming out of the south so we anchored inside the reef in hopes of having a quiet night. The rest of the day was spent reading, watching as a few more boats arrived and trying to stay cool. Chris took a quick dip in the water but I resisted. Judging by the gasping when he first broke the surface I surmised that it wasn’t as warm as it looked! Our hopes of staying at Isla San Francisco for several days were quickly dashed when the next morning’s weather net brought a prediction of strong northwesterly winds for several days. After a short discussion we decided to move on to San Evaristo where there is a bit more protection from that direction.

Even the really big boats wanted to hunker down. This guy tried to fit into several places before finally giving up and leaving.

Obviously we weren’t the only prudent sailors as there were easily a dozen other boats hunkered down in this pretty little anchorage by the end of the day. Because there are big mountains on the north side that shelter the little village here, we were protected from most of the wind but the best part is that there is very little fetch (distance that waves have to travel and increase in size) so there is very little bouncing around which makes for much better sleeping. The village here is home to many fishermen so pangas roar in and out from sunrise to sunset, and I do mean roar! They NEVER go slowly. As soon as the panga is off the beach and fired it is full throttle from there out. Also, there is no phone service in this village so the residents use their VHF radio for communication. Channel 16 is supposed to be strictly for hailing and for emergencies but not so here. We monitor 16 all the time in case someone has an emergency but with all the chatter around here it gets pretty noisy.

As soon as the “wind event” had passed there was a mass exodus and we were at the head of the pack. We left early to make the 8 hour passage to Agua Verde (Green Water) in hopes of getting a good spot to anchor and spend some quality time in one of the loveliest spots in the Sea of Cortez. We expected quite a crowd at this well-loved anchorage so it was nice to arrive and find that there was plenty of room. Unfortunately, that evening the wind and waves switched around yet again began to come in from the ONLY direction that is unprotected. We were rolling and bouncing all night long. On top of that, we arrived at the beginning of “Holy Week” (Semana Santa) for Mexico. This celebration, which lasts the entire week leading up to Easter, brings the Mexican people to the beaches in droves and Agua Verde is no exception. Tents and RV’s were packed in cheek by jowl (interspersed with beer tents) all along the beach. Jet skis and motor boats sped through the anchorage and VERY loud music (which is a staple at any Mexican gathering) went on all night long. The amount of SERIOUS partying that goes on between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is astounding. The general consensus seems to be “Party Hearty because all is forgiven on Easter”. I really thought Agua Verde would be too remote for this holiday but, clearly, I was wrong! So…after one rolly night we fired up the engine and headed north again.

Puerto Escondido - virtually empty.
And yet...the Gigantes are the stunning backdrop for Escondido.

When we arrived in Puerto Escondido, which used to be a wonderful place to hang out for a week or two, the overwhelming emptiness of the main anchorage was pretty eerie. In the past there were 100 mooring balls here but the few remaining are un-maintained and unusable so we ended up anchoring – which costs the same as using a mooring.  The wonderful restaurant & tienda (general store) that have been here for several years closed while we were there, the local yacht club was forced out of their space and has moved to another location, the restrooms are only unlocked from 9 to 5 and there is no TP and no hot water and the entire facility has a deserted feel. Previously we would have happily stayed at least a week but this time, as soon as we’d done the laundry, re-connected with our yacht club friends, picked up a few last minute groceries and had one last meal at Pedro’s restaurant we were happy to leave.  

Trying to even out my tan at Isla Coronado.

The next stop was Isla Coronado for a few days. We rarely have “company” there and this year was no exception as there was only one other boat and it was so far away we needed binoculars to see them. Besides the beautiful water and all the sea life (dolphins, turtles, birds, etc.), we enjoy having internet access from the cell tower across the water in Loreto.

San Juanico was the next destination but, alas, once again we had fluky conditions. After one day there we moved around the corner to La Ramada to avoid the predicted southerly…which never arrived. From there we were going to Santo Domingo but after 30 minutes of pounding into oncoming wind and seas (in expectation of 8-9 hours of the same) we went back to San Juanico for one more day. The snotty wind was predicted to hold off for a day or two so we decided to scoot on up to Bahia Concepcion before the big stuff arrived. Turns out, the weather guy was wrong again and it took 12 hours for us to make the passage and by the time we got to Santo Domingo we were exhausted. At least we had a quiet night! Next morning we hustled into El Burro Cove where our friends Dan & Mary live. That evening we were invited into their palapa, along with our new friends, Robin & Kathryn, from s/v Agave Azul for a spaghetti feast. It was a wonderful evening filled with wine, pasta and great conversation. It was especially enjoyable since we expected to spend the next 3 days on the boat waiting out another “wind event”.

The dream of so many...just a grass shack on a tropical beach.
The morning after the big wind had blown itself out, Dan & Mary drove us all into Mulege (Moo-la-hay) for some grocery shopping and a delicious lunch at “Scotty’s”. As soon as we returned to the boat it was time to move out to Santo Domingo in anticipation of crossing the Sea back to San Carlos the next morning. It was time to go home.

Mary's Palapa.
We had a different kind of “season” this year. A lot of sitting at docks while repairs and improvements to the boat were done. A lot of weird weather that meant we were constantly changing and tweaking our plans. We saw some old friends and met some new ones. We made a few road trips, read a lot of books, got to know La Paz better and found some great new destinations. We are already looking forward to next fall…well, at least I am. 
Gorgeous Bouganvillia

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The La Paz Vortex

As you know from the previous blog entry, when we crossed the Sea from San Carlos, seemingly on our way to La Cruz, we had “power issues”. Let me just interject here that the two most common difficulties on a boat are power (as in having enough to run all the “stuff” when not plugged in at the dock) and plumbing (in particular, heads). Our new autopilot (Steady Eddie) had started out his new job by working perfectly – even when we were sailing with the motor off. As night approached and the solar panels were unable to locate more sunshine to suck in Eddie began to hiccup. We turned on the engine, turned off all other power using items and still it was necessary to watch him constantly and to hand steer much more than we wanted to. When we diverted to Agua Verde and Chris started trouble shooting he discovered the problem was the alternator was not making power when the engine was running. Thus, when the sun was shining the batteries still had juice for “Eddie” but once the sun went away they went down, down, down. Thus, it was necessary to divert to La Paz to replace the alternator before continuing on to La Cruz.  

Upon arriving, our expectation was a one week stay to have the replacement done and then we’d continue on to La Cruz. Hah! In two days the alternator had been replaced but then the weather window we had slammed shut. As it turned out we'd be here for two months! 
While projects are being done I read several 1,000+ page books!
Chris decided as long as we were here he would call Sergio (the Michelangelo of stainless) to get an estimate on having a stern arch built. Arches have become very popular over the last few years as they tend to work as a jack-of-all-trades to carry dinghies, outboards, solar panels, surfboards, kayaks and all manner of miscellaneous paraphernalia cruisers need to enjoy their experience. We had already put a lot of money into the boat this season so the “plan” was to have it built next year. We have both been lusting after one of these contraptions for at least 3 or 4 years so when Sergio said he was having a slow spell and could do it now we promptly paid another month of moorage and told him to go for it.

In order to have some mobility, Chris took the ferry & buses back to San Carlos (a 3 day process) to bring the car (and the new solar panels and wind generator) back here. Buses don’t come this far out of town and the marina shuttle only runs three times daily so it has really been a blessing. We have been able to explore new restaurants, haul groceries & parts without paying for a taxi and make some road trips.

Lunch at Tequila's Sunrise in Todos Santos.
We haven’t been here in 4 years and the town has changed quite a bit. Most notably there are a number of great new eating establishments. There are now two BBQ Rib joints, a salad place and a Thai restaurant that serves the best Thai food I have had anywhere. There is even a brew pub that is reported to have great American-style pizza (we’re trying that out tonight).

The pretty new sculpture on the Malecon.
The Malecon is still as beautiful as always and there is even a new sculpture.

Last month was Carnival so there were parades, carnival rides & games, booths with everything from wigs & masks to household goods for sale and music. LOUD music. Until the wee hours every night. We had never been to a Carnival celebration and it was great fun…especially since it was very family oriented rather than the X-rated versions in Rio and other venues.

New water heater waiting for installation.

Before leaving San Carlos we had discovered that our water heater was leaking pretty badly so, since we were here for a while, we ordered a new one which was shipped to a friend in San Diego who shipped it to us here. It sat on the back deck for a couple weeks while Chris contemplated the installation headaches. In the end, he hired a local marine plumber and was exceedingly happy he had done so. Even with an expert doing the job it took 3 days and much profanity to get it installed and all the leaks stopped. Seems the manufacturer apparently didn’t believe in plumber’s tape!

New stainless rails and solar panel situated so it doesn't interfere with walkway.

The new arch is completed as well as beautiful new stainless rails that run from the stern to the mid-ship gates. Sergio made numerous interesting innovations, not the least is a unique extra rail for our original solar panels so they won’t block the walkway anymore when they are out. The whole set up is beautiful and the cost was a third what it would have been in the states.

The new stern arch...all done! Note solar panels & wind generator on top.

Chris is just finishing up the wiring on all the new “toys” (2 additional solar panels & a wind generator). All that new power should make “Eddie” very happy.

Sherri & Paul enjoying the shade outside the ice cream store.

This past week we have had guests visiting so we’ve been enjoying showing them a bit of the area. 
Beautiful Playa Balandra

The water is knee deep all the way across the bay...and crystal clear!

They fly home tomorrow and after that we’ll spend the next week or two doing a few last little chores and preparing to get underway.

Beautiful sunset...but soon there won't be boats and barges and cranes in the way.

Soon…we’ll start meandering our way northbound. It is time. It’s nice to be at a dock but we’re getting antsy to get out to the islands and enjoy the peace & quiet of anchorages.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mexican Showers

One of the things we particularly like about being in a marina is that it gives us the opportunity to take long, hot showers in a space that is quite a bit larger than we have on the boat. Well, that is the theory anyway. In practice, however, bathrooms south of the border often leave a bit to be desired. 

Let’s start with the showers here at Marina Palmira in La Paz. Now, mind you, I am speaking specifically about the showers in the women’s bathroom since I have no interest in checking out the ones in the men’s room. And, really, why would I? There are three showers in this restroom and I have now tried out all three. They all drain with the speed of a slug crossing a sidewalk in the NW. Thus, once you have finished your ablutions, there is a reasonable risk of immediately dropping some important piece of clothing into the pool of water at your feet and soaking it. One shower stall has no lip so the water that doesn’t drain also doesn’t stay confined to the area and, instead, covers most of the bathroom floor thereby endangering anyone coming in to use the toilet. One shower has a hot water faucet that sounds like a machine gun on full automatic the entire time it is in the on position. One shower sprays water directly into your face (it is not possible to re-position any of the nozzles) no matter which way you turn. The up side is that, so far, whenever I have gone up to take a shower there has been hot water and no line.

Marina San Carlos has two different restrooms with showers. The one closest to the docks is, of course, the most heavily used…unless there is no water, which is not an uncommon occurrence. There are two shower stalls that are quite spacious and even have a raised bench and three hooks so your clothes & towel stay dry. Again, the drainage system leaves a bit to be desired but at least these have enough of a slant built in that the majority of the water stays inside the actual shower area. One shower works surprisingly well. The second one produces only a dribble of water that runs down the wall. Thus, there is often a wait involved. In the past, hot water was pretty much a rarity in this facility but this year they installed a new water heater so, unless you are arriving at the tail end of the pre-dinner rush you aren’t likely to be shivering in your attempt to wash off the daily grime.

Fonatur (previously Singlar) Marinas (these are all built from an identical template) seem to have a somewhat twisted idea of what women want in their washrooms. NONE of the shower stalls have doors or curtains and there is a wall-to-wall mirror facing them. It is rather like stepping back in time into the days of high school gym class. You can not only observe your own (at this point in my life) less than perfect body, but can also explore that voyeuristic part of your personality that you had been previously unaware even existed. My least favorite stall choice in these facilities (and, invariably the only one available when I arrive) is the one that is in a direct line with the entrance. This provides the best view for everyone who walks in – including the occasional confused & inebriated male.

My favorite marina showers are the ones at Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz. There are five stalls, each with a WOODEN door and a bench in a DRY dressing area to put your “stuff” on. There are still drainage problems but once you figure out which shower is the worst culprit it is easily avoided. These showers always have plenty of hot water and the shower room is completely separate from the toilet facilities so there is a lot less traffic.
Our shower closet!

So, while there is something to be said for having more room than a “closet” and an unlimited amount of water available, sometimes the boat is the best bet. But…I draw the line at showering on the bow!

Friday, February 7, 2014

First Passage

The Maria & Isabel on our starboard side.

Well, here we are attached to a nice dock between two extremely large yachts in La Paz. “WAIT! WAIT!” you might say. “Weren’t you going to La Cruz? What happened? Well, as usual, there is a story. And, in that story, new lessons learned and old ones re-learned. So, here is the “story”. I hope you will enjoy it.

At anchor - last night in San Carlos.
The day before leaving San Carlos we had to take the boat out and “do some turns” to calibrate the new auto pilot so we decided to anchor in the Bay that night and leave from there. As it turned out, there was enough of a swell to make the anchorage pretty rolly so neither of us got much sleep.

At first light we raised the anchor and headed southwest. The weather prediction (from several, usually very accurate, sources) was for NW wind of 12-15 knots and seas of 1-2 feet with both decreasing each day. Perfect sailing weather. When will we learn?

As we pulled out of the anchorage, the new auto pilot was working beautifully and in a couple hours we had enough wind to sail. The sails went up, the motor went off and the new auto pilot acquired a name of “Steady Eddie”. “He” actually seemed to LIKE sailing and we cruised along at 7 to    7-1/2 knots (8 – 8.6 mph) for several hours. The wind and seas started building just after lunch so we were now seeing waves of 3-4’. They were mostly on the starboard quarter so were helping but our speed was building to a fairly consistent 8-1/2 knots (almost 10 mph). As nighttime approached “Eddie” was becoming less & less cooperative. It was time to take in the headsail and start the engine to slow down a bit and (hopefully) make more power for “Eddie’s” voracious appetite. Steering by hand, for those who don’t know, is a LOT of work in a big boat…and the bigger the wind & seas are the harder it is. Chris & I have done plenty of hand steering in the past and, for us, it means two hour shifts are about all we can do before we are exhausted. Two hour watches also means no one gets any sleep. The cold nights exacerbate the problem. 

After we'd been motor sailing for a couple hours Chris realized we weren’t making power. Not good. We turned off everything we could (refrigerator, interior lights, radio, etc.) so all the juice would go to “Eddie” and that worked enough to make it through the night with minimal periods of hand steering.By sunrise we had decided to divert to La Paz to effect repairs. No easy task, of course. La Paz was still almost two days away and between the rougher than predicted weather and physical exhaustion we really needed to get some rest.

Abby wishing she was on the land.
The closest anchorage was Agua Verde but even that was still many hours away. Getting there also necessitated crossing a good sized piece of water that would mean taking the waves on the side. With seas now upward of 3-5’ when they hit the side, the boat rolls from side to side and the "stuff" starts flying onto the floor of the cabin. It gets pretty annoying listening to the noise.

Anchored in Agua Verde.
Before making the turn we needed to find a partially protected place to drop main sail and the lee of Isla Catalina was just quiet enough to get that accomplished. The whole process seemed to take hours since we couldn't trust "Eddie" to hold the boat in one position. After much maneuvering we got it done and three freezing, bouncy hours later we were finally tucked into the quiet cove of Agua Verde.

Chris checking the batteries in our "spacious" engine room.
The next morning we put the solar panels out and Chris crawled into the engine room to check the batteries. Hmmm. They were all fine. That’s odd. By the end of the day the solar panels had re-charged them about 2/3.Chris started futzing about having to replace yet another $1,000 worth of batteries but after much contemplation and borrowing a meter to double check he realized the problem was actually the alternator. Much cheaper to replace!    It was warm and calm inside the anchorage and I was feeling pretty beat up so I made the decision to stay an extra day. As Captain I can do that. It was just Heaven to finally be warm enough to wear a swimsuit – the first time this year.

View of the anchorage from one of the pretty little beaches.
From Agua Verde we made a one day (10 hour) passage to Isla San Francisco and had another quiet night. After that it was just two four hour days to La Paz. We could have done the last bit in one day but it was Super Bowl Sunday and the likelihood of raising someone on the radio to get a slip was pretty slim.

Back in the land of beautiful sunsets!
So here we are at a dock in La Paz. The alternator was replaced on Wednesday, the laundry is done, the boat is cleaned up and we are enjoying the chance to catch up with old friends and meet new. And now...we have decided this is the perfect place to have some additional work done on the boat so looks like we'll be here until the end of the month.

Oh well...cruising is all about flexibility!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Uniquely Mexico

After having been away from Mexico for 17 months I am re-learning some of the interesting differences between our two countries. I have several cruising seasons worth of learning experience but still some things surprise and delight me and others feel a bit frustrating. I thought you might be interested in a little insight into what it is like to live here.

Human gate guard/manual gate
1) Manual labor: As we drove to Guaymas last week we passed a large industrial complex with a security gate. At the gate is a guy who checks ID’s on people who are entering the complex and – manually – opens the gate to allow the cars to pass. No high tech gate cards or automated gate. An actual person who is paid a wage! This is common practice here. People doing work that has often been automated (or outsourced) in the States.

No prices!
2) Gas Stations: Anywhere you drive in Mexico you will be purchasing gas from a Pemex Station. Fuel in Mexico is government controlled here. None of the signs have prices on them because the price is the same everywhere. So… no need to drive around trying to find the cheapest gas.  Note: It is always cheaper than in the States.

This woman is selling newspapers at the traffic light.

Juggler in Bucerias entertaining the traffic while they wait for the light.
3) Intersections: Wherever there is a traffic light there is activity. While driving in the traffic can be entertaining in and of itself, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Often there is a guy who walks up and washes your windshield in hopes of getting a few pesos for doing so. Someone may be going from car to car selling newspapers or flowers or food (often food they made at home). As you are waiting for the light to change you may be entertained by a juggler or musician performing in the intersection in hopes of earning a tip. A couple days ago in Guaymas we even saw a guy juggling fire sticks!


4) Topes (pronounced toe-pays): Topes are speed bumps. Very, very large speed bumps. If you do not slow almost to a stop you will surely be launched as if shot from a cannon. Unless your car has low clearance which can lead to many other dire consequences. You will find topes not only in neighborhoods but on highways as well. The fact that you have to slow to the speed of a person with a walker is often an open invitation for local people to try to sell you something (pork rinds, cheese, shrimp, etc.) or collect donations for the local charity. We always keep a few loose pesos in the car just for that reason. 

Here's the tricky part: Sometimes the topes are brightly painted (usually yellow). Sometimes they are the same color as the road making them almost impossible to see. Sometimes there is a sign but no tope. Sometimes there is a tope with no sign. Pay very close attention!

Portable car wash machine in the Walmart parking lot.

5) Car wash opportunities: While there are car washes here, there are few, if any, do it yourself models and I have yet to see an automated one. Most often you will find a slab of cement with a plastic awning or tarp over it and a couple of guys who do the washing BY HAND. It is also common to find guys with a bucket and a rag outside grocery stores and restaurants who will clean your car while you are inside. The roads here are pretty dusty so car washes are a regular necessity. The cost is about 60 pesos (currently $4.60 US). Well worth it, and they usually do a beautiful job.

Car being washed while the owner shops.
6) Loud Music: Everywhere you go there is noise. Pretty much every shopping center and market place blasts very loud music the entire time they are open. I find it incredibly amusing that much Mexican music has its roots in Polka! Since I have Norwegian ancestry, it always makes me want to break out in dance!

7) Uniforms: One of the things I think is especially nice here is that employees everywhere wear uniforms and are always clean and well groomed. Even the parking lot attendants and floor sweepers are nicely dressed. ALL the school children wear uniforms. Just imagine how much easier it must be to concentrate on learning when you don’t have to be concerned about whether you are wearing the latest fashion. If only the schools in the U.S. had those same standards.

8) Grooming: I have to say that Mexican women really know how to shine! They are always dressed to kill, complete with perfect hair, make-up and nails. In addition, they seem to be exceptionally comfortable with their bodies – no matter what shape it is in. Even when they are just “hangin’ out” they look good. I have NEVER seen a Mexican woman in pajamas at the grocery store. They have a real pride in themselves that is sorely lacking in the U.S.

9) Guns: Owning a gun is absolutely, completely illegal in Mexico. While people do have guns here, they are the police and the criminals. It is as common as dirt to see an official pickup truck driving through town with 4 or 5 uniformed men in the back carrying serious automatic weapons. Contrary to what the American media says, I feel quite safe here. I am not interested in buying drugs (which will make you a target from both good & bad guys) and it is nice to know that if I wander into a restaurant or movie theatre I don’t have to worry if the guy next to me is “packing” and just found out his wife is leaving him.

10) Interesting Food Tidbits:

Milk that doesn't need refrigeration until opened.
               Boxed Milk: While it is possible to buy refrigerated milk in plastic cartons, the majority of the milk here comes in very convenient 1 liter boxes that do not have to be refrigerated until opened. It really helps when you need to have a good supply and are cursed with a small fridge! There are lots of other items that come this way as well: juices, sauces, etc. Not only are they easier to store but they are recyclable.

Eggs on the grocery shelf.
               Eggs: All my life I have been warned about eggs making you sick if they are left out. Here is the shocker! If the eggs have never been refrigerated they do not have to be refrigerated! I purchase my eggs here by the flat (30) and store them under the settee. I have to turn them fairly regularly or the yolks get stuck in one end but other than that they are just fine. Once they are in the fridge, though, they must stay there until used. In five years I have only come across two bad eggs and they were pretty easy to discover as soon as I cracked the shell. Eew!!

               Bread: I don’t know which ingredient they don’t put into bread here that they do in the U.S. (or vice versa) but as soon as you pick it up it begins to fall apart and by the time you finish your burger the bread is a pile of crumbs on the plate. On the other hand, the one and only loaf of Bimbo Bread (like Wonder Bread) I ever purchased was still good after 2 months!

This is what brown sugar looks like in Mexico.

               Brown Sugar: For the longest time I thought you just plain couldn’t buy brown sugar in Mexico. I now know that you have to buy it in the produce department and it comes in a kind of spool shape. I have no idea how to use it so I bring my own from home!
No Crisco - lard!

               Crisco: Can’t find it here. Period. The one time I needed Crisco I hunted everywhere and finally discovered that what they use here is lard and it comes in a plastic bag that, once opened, is not recloseable. Of course, if you aren't using the entire bag, you now have a very messy glob to deal with. Again…I bring my Crisco from home!

               Paper Products: Toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, Kleenex…all are flimsy and inferior to what we are used to. Paper plates cannot be found here. It would appear that the U.S. has dumped all its leftover Styrofoam south of the border. Since we try to be somewhat “green” I bring paper plates from home for those few occasions when I don’t use regular dishes.

               Cheetos: OK. I happen to like Cheetos! But…I like the original flavor, crunchy style. It is not possible to buy those here. Oddly, all the Cheetos I’ve come across in Mexico have chili powder or some type of “hot” flavoring on them. So…the Cheetos, too, come from home with us. Fortunately, I can make a bag last for months! I rarely eat more than a handful at a time. And “no one” else in my family likes them.

Freon in re-sealable bags!
In addition to the things you can’t find here, there are others you’d never see in the States. Who would imagine you could buy Freon in re-sealable bags in the grocery store?

It is so interesting to travel to other countries and see the differences as well as the similarities we have.

The one constant is that people are people everywhere.