Welcome to our mid-life crisis! These are the chronicles of Laura and Patrick, their young son Jack, and their goofball Labrador Retriever named Evinrude (Rudy), as they travelled the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico in their catamaran. We went cruising in search of a change of pace, a closer knit family, and peace of mind. We found all three and more. The fun all started in October, 2008 and nearly four years later the Mexican adventure came to an end August 3rd, 2012. With our mid-life crisis cured in Mexico, we are excited to start a new adventure - life back in America.

Candeleros Chico

Candeleros Chico
Just another beautiful day at anchor on the Baja. 2010

Dolphins at play in the bow wake 2011

Dolphins at play in the bow wake  2011

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dog Spa

Rudy's treatment
Rudy is on a luxury cruise these days.  He's receiving doctor-ordered hot, herbal compresses lasting at least 20 minutes five times daily, followed immediately by a massage using herbal unguents.  Now if only we could get him to stop eating the cold cucumber slices covering his eyes!

It all started a few days ago when we noticed a lump on Rudy's neck.  It was very strange, about the size of a golf ball, and had just appeared in one day.  We brought him in to the veterinarian that evening who checked him out.  His analysis was simply a "fatty deposit" which we had not noticed before. He obviously had no idea of the amount of time we spend petting Rudy every day, or he would have known there was no way that growth could have sneaked up on us.  However, he was the expert, so we acquiesced.  Benign fatty deposits in Labs are pretty common.  So the vet sent us on our way, free of charge, telling us to return if it got noticeably bigger.

The following day by the afternoon, the lump on his neck grew to the size of a banana and got very hard.  While we were waiting for Patrick to get back from ferrying people around in our car, we watched Rudy sprout "moobs" (man-boobs) on his chest. His new breasts grew at an alarming rate.  Within about an hour, he had "B cup" breasts hanging on his chest.  I could only watch in envy.  They felt like water-balloons.

Jack, Rudy and I went in to shore so we could get Rudy in to the vet as soon as Patrick got back to the marina.  Finally at the vet's, Dr. Tomas instantly saw the difference (who couldn't notice the lush new look) and drained some fluid from both growths to analyze.  It was clear liquid and his diagnosis was that Rudy had been bitten by some poisonous insect (A spider?  Was it on the boat???) and had developed an allergy to it.

The doctor's recommended treatment was very interesting.  We were sent all over La Paz gathering up the ingredients we needed.  First we went to a beautiful, local nursery to buy a specific plant called Ruda.  Then, we went off to a specific pharmacy that carried a hard-to-find medication.

For Rudy's treatment, I was told to boil up water, put some of the plant leaves in the water to steep for 30 minutes, and then apply hot compresses with this special liquid for no less than 20 minutes, constantly re-warming the compresses.  Directly following the hot compresses, I was to massage his growths with a pungent, deep-green unguent that smells like Vick's Vapor Rub.  I'm to continue the spa treatment FIVE times a day for eight days!  In addition, Rudy will be taking prescribed  medications, 3 times daily for the following 16 days.

After the late afternoon vet visit and gathering up the necessary items, we finally got back to the boat at 8:30 at night.  I decided to start the treatment right away and got the compress ready.  The amazing thing was, after the first hot compress application, his "moobs" had completely disappeared.  It was truly incredible.  Though I was skeptical at first, I am a believer now.  I think it is so cool that the vet prescribes herbal medicines - how cutting edge is that?

Continuing the discussion about how life in Mexico is a more affordable, the following are the costs of treatment.  First vet visit - no charge.  Second vet visit - 300 pesos.  Plants - 60 pesos.  Diuretic medicine was 280 pesos for two bottles.  Antibiotic Cephalixina  - 50 pesos.  The green unguent was 150 pesos.  The grand total is 840 pesos, or $60.82 USD  at today's exchange rate! 

The bummer is we were all ready to leave for the islands the following morning (Saturday) but instead we are hanging around until the doctor can give us a pass to leave.  Rudy has a follow-up visit scheduled for Monday afternoon, and if he passes, we get to leave Tuesday morning bright and early for the islands.  Let the "vacation" begin!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hot-Dipped and Delivered

We just got our 200 feet of 3/8" anchor chain back from Mexicali and we couldn't be happier.  It's bright, shiny, and a perfect heavy coating.  The entire process cost far less than replacing our rusty, heavily used chain, and it's better than new.  The cost of shipping our chain to Mexicali from La Paz round trip, using Castores shipping company was a total of $1,000 pesos (about $80 USD).  The re-galvainizing cost was $115 USD.  

Grupo Fetasa Galvanisadora is the only company that we know of in Mexico that re-galvanizes.  The contact person Patrick worked with was Jose Carlos Villavicencio Liera and his email is  josecarlos_fetasa@live.com.mx  The phone number for Fetasa is 01 (686) 555.9196.   Jose Carlos speaks very good English and quickly responds to email.  When our chain took a detour on its trip up with Castores, Jose Carlos was very helpful and contacted Castores to help us track it down.  Then when the chain was finished, he arranged its ride back to La Paz and dropped it off at Castores.  Paying the bill for the galvanizing was as simple as going to any Banamex (a big chain bank in Mex) and depositing the money in Fetasa's account.  It took about five minutes.

Castores shipping was a very good company, too.  Considering that the alternative is renting a car and driving your chain up to Mexicali yourself (we know several cruisers who have chosen this route), the $80 we spent on shipping was a steal, even though the trip took a little longer than Castores told us.  They also were very professional and they track your shipment with a tracking number. 

A very happy Patrick with his shiny chain.

We've heard of several other cruisers using Fetasa and eveyone we have talked to has been happy with the results.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Your money goes a long way in Mexico

There was so much food in our dinghy it was hard to find room to sit!

There are so many different ways that life in Mexico is more affordable than life in America.  We won't even go into the whole debacle of America's health insurance system and cost of medical care - I've covered that before.  Today, we'll focus on just that basic staple of life - food.  We just came back from a shopping trip  to Mega - a grocery store that is indistinguishable from your typical upscale Safeway in America.  Mega has all the amenities you would expect in a nice grocery store in America - an on-site bakery, deli, butchers on staff to help with any special meat order, a huge veggie/fruit section, pharmacy, and aisle after aisle of goods for sale, all set in a very clean, new, brightly lit facility with soft music piped in and well oiled, brand new carts without wobbly wheels.

The only difference you notice is when you step up to the register to pay.  Today, we were provisioning for the next month we plan to be out cruising, so we were stocking up on all the things that are either hard to find in the little tiendas up north, or are just too expensive off the beaten path.  Our pile of goodies filled two shopping carts to the brim.  We bought lots of expensive items including 3 fifths of alcohol, 5 1/2 pounds of boneless chicken breast, 4 lbs of beef roast, 2 lbs of pork roast,  2 lbs of hamburger,  2 lbs of bacon, bags of potato chips and snacks, 24 big boxes of good quality juice (pomegranate, cranberry and pineapple-coconut), about a case of pop, and lots more.    The grand total, you ask?  Hold on to your hats, folks.  At today's exchange rate we spent $292.95 USD.  At those prices, it's really no wonder how we stretched our budget out so we could be out cruising nearly four years instead of the two we planned on.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Mother's Day Present

Jack just amazes me nearly every day.  Usually the amazement centers on things like "How many times do I have to ask you to do your reading?" or "Have I honestly never told you to sit up straight and stop shoveling your food?" or even "Did you think that was a good idea?".  And then that beautiful kid does something that is really helpful, wonderful, and unexpected and gives us a glimpse of the fact that maybe we are successful parents (at least in the areas that matter!).

Jack loves engines, all kinds and for every purpose.  He loves power tools from the generator to the handheld vacuum and he uses them at every chance he gets (yes, he loves to vacuum!).  He doesn't just love using them though, he loves caring for them and keeping them in perfect working order.  His latest pet project centers on our car, the Volvo.

Volvo's are not common down in Mexico.  Often when we are out tooling around, people will point at our car.  When we pull over for gas, they stand around to see under the hood when we check the oil.  They point at the little wipers on the headlights and laugh when they are turned on.  They just have not seen a lot of Volvo XCV70's and even though our car is ten years old, it's a novelty.  It's kind of funny.  The bad thing is, as we found out in Santa Rosalia last year when it broke down - there are no parts and many mechanics don't want to touch it.  Which all comes down to the fact that we haven't had our oil changed in quite some time.  No Jiffy Lube, no Volvo dealership.  Sure, Patrick will change the oil in an old Chevy pickup, but that Volvo seems to be built complicated just so you have to bring it in to the dealership.

The more we used the car, the more concerned Jack was becoming about the oil.  Jack strongly advocated we change the oil ourselves.  Patrick had brought an oil filter down from the States last time we were there, just in case, but had no intention of using it unless absolutely necessary.  Finally, to stop Jack from talking about it, Patrick told him HE could change the oil if he wanted.  And so Jack, my very intelligent but very dyslexic child who hates school, started researching on the Internet.  After several day's search, he found all the information he needed to complete the project.  He had learned the tools he would need, the layout of the engine, the steps to follow and the parts it would require.   He showed the info to Patrick who looked it over and said, "OK."  Then Patrick helped Jack move the car to a level spot over the gravel.  Then Patrick came back into the house and sat down.  I was amazed.  I couldn't believe Patrick was not going to supervise.  Patrick told me he was supervising - he was available for questions!  

Well, Jack did come into the house with a few questions, but Patrick never did get up to check on the project.  And then Jack was done.  The whole thing took about two hours.  I am so impressed.  I can't tell you how proud I am of Jack for researching the problem, finding solutions, and acting all on his own.  I think that's pretty damn good for a fourteen year old.  And the car runs great.  There is no better present for a mother than to see her child's accomplishments.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Poor Man's Sandblasting

House-sitting gets a bit boring after a few days.  Especially if you are a teenager.  So what did Jack and I do to pass the time and liven things up?  We went chain draggin'!  In Texas they have truck pulls, Iowa has cow tipping, and here in the Baja we go chain dragging.
The rusty chain getting unloaded.
Actually it all started because we desperately needed to do something about our anchor chain getting rustier and rustier.   Going on four years of nearly constant anchoring, the chain was getting bad.  The solution is to either buy new chain or get the old chain re-galvanized.  A new chain in the States would run over $1000.00 dollars and then we would have to get it here. Here in Mexico, you would be hard pressed to find the right type of chain and the quality would be suspect. Anchor chain comes in specific sizes that fit the gypsy on the windlass, which hoist the chain and anchor off the bottom. For all those reasons, re-galvanizing was the right thing to do. Anyway, to ship it with a local trucking company, have it acid-bathed and dipped should cost about $250.00, so it seemed a no-brainer.  There is a galvanization plant in Mexicali, Mexico up near the border that can "dip" our chain in a vat of hot molten galvanization and make it like new. 

Since we were land-locked for a couple of weeks and not using the anchor, it seemed the perfect time to get this taken care of.  However, the chain was really rusty and it ideally should be sand blasted first.   Paying for sand-blasting is expensive, but leave it to cheap cruisers to come up with an alternative.  I do not know where I first heard of the idea but I know I didn't come up with it on my own.  Somewhere, some cruiser did it first and told another.  I think I heard about it from Hal on Airborne.  Anyway, chain dragging is an inexpensive,  innovative poor man's approach to sand blasting. 

Hotel California's Rick enjoying "male time."

Jack and I grabbed our friend Ricky on Hotel California and the three of us hauled the 200' of rusty 3/8" chain off the boat, tossed it in the back of the Volvo wagon and headed for the desert.  We drove way out, because we figured we needed to get out of populated areas due to the violent dust storm we were anticipating creating.  We selected a power line road, unloaded the chain, and strapped it to the rear bumper.  Killing two birds with one stone, we let Jack drive so he could get some driving time in.  With Jack at the helm we took off in to the desert Chain Dragging. 

It was quite impressive!  The chain was heavy enough to bog the car down in some of the sandier spots.   When we got going 30 mph or so it would dig into the surface and disappear three or more inches under the sand.  Corners were tough towing 200' of chain but Jack managed well and we only took out a few acres of brush, but no cactus were damaged.  And the results were beautiful.  The chain was shiny when we were done and it was tempting just to toss it back on the boat.  But off we went to Castores, the local trucking company and they put it on a pallet and whisked it away promising it would be in Mexicali (almost a thousand miles away) in two days.  Well nine days later I was getting worried but last night we had confirmation that our chain had just arrived in Mexicali at the Galvanization plant.  Now lets hope it makes it back.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Things You Give Up

We've been getting a lot of sympathy for the end of our cruise - like it's some sort of death in the family.  It's almost like we have cancer.  To our peers, the unspeakable has happened - we are ending our cruise. Like it's a failure, or a tragedy, or an unimagineable hardship.  

Well, I have news for those people feeling sad for us.  It's not what you think. We aren't going back simply because we ran out of money.  It's mostly because of the things you give up to go cruising.

Every single cruiser out here has given up some pretty important things to be cruising.  The list is long and different for each one.  For us, the main thing we've given up is being with family.  I miss spending time with my parents.  More importantlly, I want my child to spend as much time with his Grammy, Grandpa, Poppa, Aunt Pat  and his aunties, uncles and cousins as possible.  There are no guarantees in life, and time is limited.  I want them to know him as the fine young man he is becoming.  Family is a gift that we have been ignoring for too long.  So many of our friends down here are grandparents who are giving up time with their grandkids and I see the pain it causes.  It's sad in either direction.

We have given up being part of a steadfast community.  Yes, I know that cruiser's have their own community, and I love participating in it.  But let's face it.  We are all water gypsies.  We come and go, move here and there.  You often don't even know when the last time you will see someone is.  One minute they're in the next anchorage over, and the next minute they're off to Timbuktu.  Or vice versa.  It's a very transient life and if you are truly cruising around yourself, you never have coffee with the same friend two weeks in a row.  That's cruising.  I miss having friends that you see every week and know what's going on, and have over for dinner every Thursday, month after month.

Jack has given up puttering in a garage, having friends who are available for a bike ride or a face to face chat.  He's given up mountain biking, and spending time with his grandparents.  For the most part, Jack has given up time away from his parents.  That's pretty important for a teen searching for independence.  There's not a lot of places to go to be truly away from your parents in a boat.  Sure, you can take the dinghy to the beach, or go for a hike alone, but there's not a lot to do.  We have gone months without even seeing another teenager.  It can be a pretty lonely existence for a young teen.

Patrick and I miss donating time to charities that are important to us.  Yes, you can give money to thousands of good causes down here.  However, as a cruiser you never get a chance to teach English at the orphanage every week and build up a relationship with the kids, or spend months helping to build houses, or even muck out the cages at the local dog pound once a week.   If you are truly cruising, you are moving every few weeks.  People who are living on a boat, staying in one place can do those things, but they aren't cruising.  We miss making a meaningful committment to a good cause.

I miss having a home with a garden.  I miss working in the Earth and seeing the beautiful flowers after months of work starting them from seed.  I miss picking the apples from the tree I planted, the blueberries from my bushes, the strawberries from my plants.  I miss pouring over seed catalogues planning next year's plantings.  I miss making a mess in the garage knocking together a birdhouse from broken bits of old things.  I miss painting new colors on my walls every couple years.  I miss creating art.  There just isn't enough room on a boat to have a place to store all the things you need to be creative.  I never could get excited about beading (a very popular art form for lots of cruiser ladies since it doesn't take much room.)  I wanted my 4'x6' canvases, my oil paints, gold leaf, gesso, my stash of brushes and the mess of creation.  There just wasn't room, or time on a boat while cruising.

The funny thing is, I totally understand why people are feeling sorry for us. Over the last few years, when I heard that some family was going to quit cruising, I felt deep sadness for them. Even if I knew nothing about their circumstances or their plans.   I just felt sad for them.   I must have annoyed at least a few of them with misplaced sympathy. I'm sorry. Now I get it. When it's time to go home, it's not a sad thing. Sure, it's a challenge, it can be hard. But it is not a death or a failure. It's a rebirth. A new beginning. I love those.  That's why I love spring, and the new flowers just coming up.  The sky is the limit.