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Sunday, March 20, 2011

3/20 Not feeling the love in La Paz

La Paz

I like to think we are pretty laid back visitors and tend to find the good in most people and places but somehow we are just not connecting with the town of La Paz. The marina we are staying at is just a few blocks from the towns’ “malacon” which is the main road that runs along the waterfront area. Every malacon seems to be full of restaurants, hotels, dive shops, trinket sellers, street venders and hoards of sunburned tourists yet here in La Paz there seems to be very few tourists. The marinas are full but there seems to be few cruisers out and about either. Or maybe we are just not looking in the right places yet?

The non touristy parts of town seem seldom visited by gringos. Yesterday we wanting to find a decent local taco stand for dinner so we set off to explore. The first restaurant we stopped at brought us menus and the usual platter of salsa and accompaniments and then left us in limbo land. No waiter returned and no one even noticed when we finally stood up and walked away. We then walked a few blocks this way and a few blocks that way with no luck finding an open restaurant.

Off we went a few blocks this way and a few blocks that way, looking for someplace interesting to eat. Ahead of us we could see a family sitting in chairs on the sidewalk in front of their home. This is one of the striking habits of the local Mexicans, when the day warms up they move outside. Late afternoon or evening comes and out come the chairs, a table, the radio, maybe a charcoal grill and soon the whole family is sitting happily across the sidewalk or in the street. So, do we step off and go around or walk through? Either seems to be OK though it always feels sort of like your walking through their living room. We try to be courteous and generally make our decision based on a combination of how crowded the sidewalk is, how busy the street is and whether or not there are smiles on faces or wide eyed looks. This time we chose to walk on through.

Then we saw the dog. A big boxer spread out on the cool pavement but there was lots of room and the people smiled as we came closer. Then the suddenly Fido barked, jumped up and lunged at Bill. !!&%$#! Now growing up I was always taught that if a dog comes at you aggressively you can usually stop them in their tracks by getting big and loud yourself: raise your arms, yell and move towards them. So without thinking I yelled in my biggest, meanest, get away from me, big, bad dog voice. My reaction was actually rather superfluous to the whole encounter but the dog did pause and a family member kicked him quickly into the house. Looking back the dog was likely an adolescent and he didn’t have much bite to his bluff but there was no look of concern or word of apology, no show of being concerned at all.

Now I have to say that we have already learned to treat the dogs and cats here differently than the average pet back home simply because they do treat their pets here differently. Most seem to be, well, little more than street dogs with mangy coats and flea bitten skin. They are almost never leashed and are usually unsupervised. We have often seen them roaming in packs with no human around and they have proven to be rather untrustworthy. Most seem friendly enough but in just these few months here my friend Barbara was bitten during her visit with us, I had a dog snap at me close enough to feel the air woosh by and I met another cruiser who had to undergo the whole shebang of rabies shots. The cats too are tattered and torn and look pretty ragged. So, as much as I love animals I am keeping a safe distance from the local dogs and cats.

As our adrenalin leveled off we continued on our quest for dinner. Just a few minutes later we wandered on to a little taco stand. We approached politely and asked if they were open. "Abierto?" "Si." So we took a table. There was soon an air of unwelcome that came wafting over the table. A woman came to take our drink order but at each question we kept getting no's. Agua fresca? No. Horchata? "No. Coca light? No. Ice? No…… you get the idea. So we ordered a single coke and three tacos.

Our Spanish is not great but we could tell the waitress was talking about us and not in a nice way and then laughing and ignoring us. The vibe was beginning to feel rather hostile. Soon another patron came in and I heard him ask for a Coca light. Walla’ no problem. She simply walked four feet into a building and came back with a Coca light and a big glass of ice. Now by this time we were finished with our three small tacos and didn’t think we were too welcomed so tried to pay the bill. The three tacos cost us at least double the going rate. That part was our fault, we should have gotten the price before we ordered and ate. So, we paid the bill left the change and walked away just not feeling the love in La Paz.

I know it takes time to get to know a place and we are not giving up on La Paz as of yet but it was odd. There have been so very few times we have not felt welcomed. This wasn't a bad part of town, we were not being disrespectful and our ability to communicate is pretty good at least for the rudimentary stuff. We left with our adrenalin level jacked back up and feeling sort of sad at the way we were treated but we calmed down as we neared the marina district. This one incident will not slow us down or deter us the next time we head out into the local neighborhoods and we really do prefer to shop and eat away from the touristy areas but it sure put a damper on the evening. Right now we are headed out again to see what we can find.


Friday, March 18, 2011

3/18 North Again

We are now in the Sea of Cortez and it is stunningly beautiful. There is nothing new really. The dusty dirt roads far outnumber the paved ones and everything has a sense of long hot days. But here in Baja the mountains surrounding us often shear sharply into the sea. The hills are shades of brown, black, red and yellow and the waters shallow fast into shades of blue and aqua. Everywhere you look it is pure desert with cactus far outnumbering the palm trees. The people still are speaking this new language we are struggling to learn. The dirt roads and paths surrounding the stereotypical adobe homes lead into towns that bustle with activity and the conveniences of modern life. La Paz is a modern and relatively large town but it feels as different from Mazatlan as Mazatlan did from la Cruz.

We had an easy and uneventful passage up from Mazatlan. The sailing was decent though the wind could have cooperated some by clocking around behind us a bit but hey free wind is free wind. We arrived at Bahia de Muertos early in the morning after sailing through two nights. After a short nap we jumped over board and finished scraping the bottom clean accompanied by hundreds of fish who swam below us waiting for the bits of barnacle and green slim we were raining down for them. We have refined our snorkeling technique: deep breath, dive, scrape, swim, spout and gasp! The plan is to try and dive the boat every week so we can stay on top of the job. Now that the water is warming it should be much more enjoyable.

Bahia de Muertos (Bay of the Dead) was so enjoyable we stayed an extra day so we could snorkel the nearby coral garden. The water is still a little cold, about 66 degrees but we both have shorty wet suits so we didn’t freeze. There are very few places in the Sea that have live coral so it was an unexpected treat. It was alive with fish and there was plenty of sun to soak up when we were done. Bahia de Muertos by the way is being systematically renamed as Bahia de los Suenos(Bay of Dreams.) I guess the big wig land developer thought Bay of the Dead was too depressing.

We left the bay for La Paz at 3:00am in order to catch a good tide to help sweep us through the Cerralvo Channel. We hoped to get a spot at one of the marinas so it will be easier to have guests but when we arrived after a 10hour passage the current was running so fast that we decided to drop our hook out in the anchorage until slack tide so we could get into a slip. There must be 4knots of current running sideways through the marina here! Oh yea, guess what? We finally found the heat. It was 93 today and as we made our long passage we found barely a breath of wind.

La Paz feels different than the other towns we have visited. It’s my experience that the human brain sort of shorts out and expects that the way life is is the way it will be. So when we travel we get a false belief that seems to expect each place to be basically like the last. But, here just like everywhere in the world each new place has a totally new life to it. La Paz’s is almost tactile. I wont really be able to qualify that statement until we have been here a while I suppose but it has a very different and new feel. Maybe it’s the heat? Downtown La Paz is bustling. The malacon is just a few blocs from our marina and was full of life last night as we searched for something cold to drink. We don’t have much of a lay for the land yet but we were surprised to see very few tourists other than a few handfuls of other cruisers.

Here is where we begin running into the other cruisers who we will be spending the next six months with. The pack has broken off now. Some have left heading to the South Pacific. Others turned due south for Central America. The boats here are either getting ready to bash back up the coast to California or plan on spending the entire summer inside the Sea of Cortez. There is a very active and involved cruisers network here and they seem very organized and settled. There is a little for everyone. Announcements filled the daily “net” with activities ranging from yoga to volleyball to a daily coffee hour at Club Cruceros – the local quasi yacht club. They try to keep us up-to-date on the local happenings and cultural events as well as the opportunities to help with some local community charities. So, other than a trip south to meet my sister and my mom we will be here in the Sea until November 1st. I will be great to have a chance to really get to know all the nuances of this place and slow down enough to really get an appreciation for the beautiful Sea of Cortez..

The kids (Josh and Dianna along with cousin Ryan from St Louis )drive down from Santa Barbara on Monday so we will spend the next few days getting everything ship shape and hauling groceries before taking the off to the islands for some hot weather fun. Hopefully we will still have some time to get our bearing in town too. Kat

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Waiting out a tsunami

Our passage from La Cruz northward turned out to be very different from what we had planned. After taking time to hit the fish market for fresh shrimp and the carniceria for chicken and carne asada we had a bit of a late start so we decided to stop in Punta de Mita. PdM is only 10nm from La Cruz but it made for a great first day and we got there in time to be able to jump in and spend some time cleaning the bottom of the boat. All those days of sitting still in the marina allowed a whole army of slimy things to begin growing on our hull as well as the dreaded barnacle. We could have had a local worker scrub it all off at the marina but decided we needed to figure it out for ourselves so, we donned our snorkel gear and over we went. It took a bit of finessing to not float away on the waves and a few gear adjustments to be able to dive efficiently down the hull but eventually we got the hang of it though it sure wore us out.

The next morning we headed towards Chacala. It felt great to be back underway. It was the warmest day we have ever sailed through and the Humpback whales were breeching off in the distance most of the trip. The only downfall to the day was the wind was on our nose so sadly no sailing. Once we arrived at Chacala that same wind and swell was rolling right into their anchorage. Since that meant a rolly night we opted to keep going for a few more hours and so headed towards Esenada de Matanche'n near San Blas were we had a lovely peaceful night.

When we motored out of the big quiet bay the next morning the plan was to go to Isla Isabel about 44nm NW. Again it was sunny and beautiful but we were headed to weather so we banged and crashed as the wind and waves built throughout the day. As we neared Isla Isabel I was hot, tired and hungry and all I wanted to do was make a quick meal and get some sleep. Unfortunately the rocky anchorage had such a surge that we decided to sail right on by and head towards Mazatlan. There really aren't any decent anchorages between Isabel and Mazatlan so instead of a simple dinner and a cool bed I was suddenly looking at cooking amid the banging and night watches! Plus I was disappointed to be missing the island. I wanted to see the volcano crater, the iguanas and the blue footed boobies. Oh well, maybe next year.

We continued on through the night with approximately 90nm to go. Eventually the wind and waves subsided enough to get a few hours sleep. Bill was on watch as we neared Mazatlan. When I woke up and came stumbling out bleary eyed he said "you have no idea what’s going on do you?" I looked around and saw that it was several hours past when Bill should have woken me for my watch. I looked out and saw that we were drifting off the islands that lay off the entrance to Marina Mazatlan. Still not following what was happening at all he told me there was a tsunami warning and the Harbor Master had closed the harbor to all traffic. So we had breakfast and waited. Then we listened to the VHF reports and waited. We read and we looked for whales and we sailed too and fro. We flushed our water maker and made some water. I cleaned the boat and we waited some more. For twelve hours we bobbed around waiting for the harbor to reopen or the tsunami to hit. There was virtually no information coming from the Harbor Master and there was lots of talk, speculation, questions and noise on the VHF. And still we waited.

The entrance to the three main marinas in Mazatlan is through a dredged channel that is long and narrow. A dangerous place to be in a deadly surge. The Harbor Master was not allowing anyone to leave but they were asking everyone who was outside to come in. We opted to stay out in deeper water. For all intents and purposes there was no tsunami here. We did feel a sort of weird wave set -bigger and off rhythm-but no giant wall of water and no standing wave. Still we waited. Eventually after picking up information about the timing in California we figured whatever was coming was done and it was safe to go in. Turns out we were the first boat to enter the harbor all day. But we were safe and sound as was everyone else in Mazatlan. We do know of course that the devastation in Japan was wide spread and many places in California sustained damage. One of the places on the coast that had the most damage was Brookings where we had sought refuge when we came down the coast last summer. I am just grateful that it turned out to be nothing and the worst we had to deal with was boredom and worry. And in the end regardless of what the Port Captain was imposing we are glad to have had the option to stay in deep water until the coast was clear. Tomorrow morning we head across the very bottom of the Sea of Cortez from Maz to La Paz. Will write soon. Kat