Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Extremely Long Fifth Siesta of the Third Voyage (Day 150-215) aka What the hell have we been doing all this time?

Many apologies, faithful Ravenaires, for the long and blogless period. I wish I could say that we’ve been busy brokering peace accords, curing cancer, and ending world hunger but unless scrubbing marine life out of strainers, eradicating roaches, and keeping the local bars in business count as humanitarian efforts then I guess there’s no excuse for not at least checking in now and again. Plus, I’ve had writer’s block and/or I’m sure you’re tired of us bitching about the heat, the mosquitos, and the roaches. Editor’s Update (and feel free to skip over if you’re tired of the aforementioned bitching) The magic switch was flipped and the weather is officially fabulous! Days in the mid-80s with low humidity and nights on the chilly side (and by chilly, I mean that t-shirts have replaced tank tops) have become the norm. Mosquitos? Still get the occasional bite, but vitamin B and double doses of antihistamine keep the discomfort to a minimum. And the great roach war? We’ve added Ortho to our regular RAIDing parties and have dispatched our new secret weapon: Borax. Supposedly, it not only boosts your laundry detergent, it butt-kicks your pests as well. A light sprinkling on the counters—perhaps a tempting little sugar cube in the middle—and the borax gets stuck on their legs. When they get back to the nest, they clean their legs and promptly die. And because roaches aren’t just nasty, they’re uber nasty, the live ones eat the dead ones…and promptly die. Editor’s Note to the Editor’s Update: if you’re one of those people that think that’s cruel, then instead of Borax, I’m sending the next roach down to the nest with a one-way ticket to your house.

So best to start with current events:  the Deck Boss had surgery! Ten years ago, in her lubber days, the Deck Boss had this great idea to take down a window shutter right after a heavy rain. Soggy ground, cheap plastic step stool. What could possible go wrong? Quite a lot, actually. Having thoroughly destroyed her right knee and everything below it, she dragged herself to the back patio and called my dad who promptly fell and, given his health problems at the time, could not get back up. By the time the Captain and I got over there, I had two parents splayed on the family-room floor and immediately thought aloud, “Is this a test?” Luckily, a Sophie’s Choice was averted as it was quickly apparent that my mother could not be moved and so an ambulance was called. Three hours of surgery, one titanium rod, nine screws, and three months of immobility/rehab and she was finally back on her feet. Fast forward ten years and the ensuing knee pain became unbearable. How unbearable? Let’s just say that I come from a long line of not-so-silent sufferers—and married into a family of them. Scenario:

NSSS: My God! The pain is excruciating! I may die!
Me: Do you want to see a doctor?
NSSS: Nah. I’m okay.
(Repeat as needed.)

I, on the other hand, believe that if there’s a pill for what ails, then who am I to poo-poo possible relief.

At any rate, the fact that she visited a doctor at all should give some idea of her distress. And so it was that we made an appointment to see Dr. Gutierrez. Now at this point, some of you are probably thinking (and I say this because people here actually asked us), “You’re having the surgery done in Mexico?”, “You’re not going back to the US for this?”, “Do they even have doctors in Mexico?”, “Aren’t you worried about the drug cartels?” (This comes up in most conversations with our friends to the north.) And our answers are, “Yes.”, “No.”, “Of course.”, and “Really?” Some may assume that healthcare here is “third-world”, but that is unequivocally not the case. Both Dr. Gutierrez and Dr. Marron McNaught, the orthopedist who performed the surgery, are highly educated, speak English fluently, and have stellar reputations. The facility was clean, modern, and had a higher ratio of staff to patient than most US hospitals. The procedures are progressive—having the metal removed from her leg was secondary to repairing the knee which entailed removing the calcification, smoothing out bone spurs, and taking stem cells out of her hip and injecting them into the knee to regenerate new tissue. And the cost? Sit down because this will blow your mind. Four pre-procedure consultations, X-rays, lab work, EKG, the surgery itself including the anesthesiologist, hotel stay for post-op recovery, and all medications: approximately $3500. This is why places like Puerto Vallarta are turning into “medical tourism” destinations. Come here for a procedure that’s probably less than your US healthcare deductible, then recuperate in paradise. Oh, and the doctors make house calls. Mind blown.
She was having some trouble with the crutches, so to get the Deck Boss from the taxi to the hotel room, we “appropriated” a chaise lounge from the pool. The Captain doesn’t just think outside of the box, he crushes it and spits on its carcass.

So the total time lapse between the first consultation with Dr. Gutierrez and the surgery itself was about one month. And that’s only because we had already planned another sojourn back to the states—this time to Corpus Christi, Texas, where the Deck Boss grew up and where many of her friends still live. It was important to make an appearance so she could prove to them that she was still alive and somewhat sane after a year and a half of voyaging. On our way back, we stopped and spent three days in Mexico City. First impression from the airplane? Good God, that’s a lot of humanity! Mexico City and its surrounding municipalities sits in a large valley in the high plateaus of central Mexican and every square inch of said valley is covered in dwellings. House after house after building after building—all crammed with humanity…21 million people worth of humanity. Second impression? It’s one beautiful city. And not at all what I expected. I was expecting Tijuana on steroids, but it’s is more like a microcosm of Europe. Castles, palatial homes, cathedrals, wide boulevards, big open green spaces, and extravagant public buildings abound. After three hundred years of Spanish rule, it’s a given that much of the architecture reflects old-world Spain. But as the Second Mexican Empire was ruled by the French, there are entire sections of the city that wouldn’t look out of place in Paris. The Palacio de Bellas Artes out-neoclassicals anything from Italy. The modern skyscrapers could be from Germany. And the hotels are brought to you by IKEA. Intersperse this with a bit of pre-colonial Mexico (think Aztec meets hacienda), sprinkle it with an abundance of monuments, add a liberal dose of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and garnish with millions of people and you have Mexico City. Outside of the city proper is another story. Endless neighborhoods full of small, boxy homes packed tightly together, each painted a different bright color and sporting a satellite dish in a complimentary color—some middle class, some lower, some with a hint of squalor, but all with character. One particularly poor outlying municipality is split by a multilane highway, so the government installed a gondola—like the kind you’d see at a ski resort—to go over it. Now the people can get from their homes on one side to the markets on the other in about 15 minutes. It may look like the barrio version of Aspen, but it did cut the commute time by about 90 minutes.
The people of Mexico City were friendly, but much more aloof. But it’s not something to take personally. I think it’s a big city thing—the go-go-go mentality. The people walk faster, talk louder, and seem more preoccupied. And in the early evenings, everyone gathers in the parks so they can walk, talk, and be preoccupied together. And they all have a car. All 21 million of them. The honking, beeping, tailgating, stalling, edging, blocking, and near-miss side swiping was unbelievable. The Captain and I did one of those Hop On/Hop Off tours where you ride a double-decker bus, get off at someplace that looks interesting, and when you’re done, you just hop on the next bus that comes by. In between there is audio commentary and you can sit on the upper deck and try not to get hit by low-hanging branches and powerlines. Unfortunately, this was late Friday afternoon. So it was more like a “Hop On/Sit in Traffic for Three Hours While You Slowly Freeze to Death” tour. Where was the Deck Boss? After we spent a good portion of the day clambering up the hillside to visit Chapultepec Castle, she hobbled up to her hotel room with a bottle of wine and “hopped into” bed.
Atop the Hop On/Hop Off bus. We sat in this intersection for a good fifteen minutes so a photo seemed to be in order. I think this company must own every radio station in Mexico. In the time it took us to get across the street, they had acquired five more.

The next day we did something a little different. If you ever find yourself in Mexico City, do yourself a favor and take an extra day to travel outside the city to Teotihuacan, the ancient Mesoamerican city that’s home to three major pyramids including the Pyramid of the Sun, third largest in the world after the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Puebla, Mexico, and that other one in Egypt (you know, the one with the better publicist.)
At the city’s height—around 400 AD or so—Teotihuacan had something like 250,000 citizens. What was fascinating was that it was a planned city with large plazas, markets, artisan and trade workshops, paved streets, and a sewer system. The people lived in what can best be described as apartment buildings—first class buildings were nearest the temples, the other classes spread out from there. Only 7% of the city has been excavated but the size is still notable. And obviously, the main draw is the Pyramids along the Avenue of the Dead.
During their heyday, the three major pyramids—Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon, and Temple of the Feathered Serpent—would each have been covered in limestone, adorned with colorful mosaics, and topped with an elaborate temple. The view from the top—250,000 inhabitants (the old-world equivalent of seeing 21 million people from an airplane)—must have been impressive. Probably, the only one not impressed would have been the virgin being hefted up the 100+ steps to the temple to be sacrificed to the deity du jour. “All these people and I’m the one getting lugged to the top? I knew I should have checked off the ‘Harlot’ box on the questionnaire.” they’re probably thinking. Surrounding the major pyramids were hundreds of “ceremonial platforms” which were basically baby pyramids with their own temples dedicated to their own gods. And each of them got a virgin, too. Archeologists differ as to how many sacrifices would be performed but it wasn’t uncommon in Mexico for each temple to have one daily sacrifice. So with, say, 300 temples at one virgin each (two on special occasions) over 365 days that comes to…a sh*t ton of virgins. Most victims came from neighboring tribes, others were procured through war, and quite a few came courtesy of the local families. As they started running out virgins I’m sure the standards became a little lax. Virgin Procurer: “Are you, or have you ever been, a virgin? You have? Okay, come with me then.”
Like many other Mayan and Aztec cities, the population just kind of disappeared one day. It could be they ran out of people to sacrifice and when the last two sacrificed each other, that was it. Or maybe they just moved the party south (into virgin territory so to speak). However, archeologist have noted that in the 7th century the city was sacked and burned…but only the nice parts of town. In other words, the rabble turned on the elite. Probably because they kept all the good virgins for themselves.
But at any rate, what’s left of the city is awesome and if you don’t mind a thigh-burning climb up and a stomach-churning skooch down, you too can stand atop the pyramids where the ancient Aztecs stood and take in the same view. I took in the view and it is indeed breathtaking. The Captain, who suffers from extreme acrophobia, took in the view for approximately 15 seconds before handing me the camera and quickly making his way back down. He said later that going down was easier than going up because the faster you descend, the less steps there would be to smack your head on if you fell—and that’s a great motivator. I asked one of the guides how many tourists fall down the steps each year, but he very diplomatically waved off the question and instead said, “The priests would cut out the still-beating heart, then tip the body over the side and let it roll down the steps.” Which I think is guide speak for “history repeats itself a lot here.”
We visited Teotihuacan through Amigo Tours and would highly recommend it. Be forewarned though: they start early to get a jump on traffic (this tour takes eight hours; the tours that start later are 11 hours because…traffic.) and they have this nifty little trick wherein after clambering about the pyramids in the hot sun for four hours, they stop for a “tequila tasting” on the way to lunch. After one to two shots each of three different tequilas on an empty stomach, you’re set loose in the gift shop. Needless to say, we bought two bottles.
Pyramid of the Moon:  Pre-tequila

Pyramid of the Moon: Post-tequila

On our final night in Mexico City, The Captain and I were witness to a demonstration. About four hundred protestors from one of Mexico’s many political parties were calling on the government to release documents in regards to the 43 students missing since 2014. They were impassioned, they were loud, and apparently, they were hungry. They had marched the full length of the Paseo de la Reforma to their final rallying point at the Benito Juarez Monument in Alameda Park—about 9 miles. Trundling along beside them were dozens of food cart vendors, selling everything from chalupas to tortas to sodas. That’s what I love about the Mexican people: they find an opportunity in every situation—good, bad, or otherwise.  I can just imagine the scene in Teotihuacan…a body, devoid of heart, tumbling down the steps of the great Pyramid of the Sun. It comes to rest at the bottom. A throng of people stand in silence until a lone voice cries out, “Tamales!” 
Riot police wait for the protestors…and the taco trucks.

Meanwhile, back at the boat...

Edgrrr up to no good. As per usual.

Because apparently the water in his dish isn't as tasty as the toothpaste cup.

Want to see the “real” photos of our trip to Mexico City?  Go to the page marked “Totally Not Boring Travel Slides”

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Fourth Siesta of the Third Voyage (Day 110-150): In which, unfortunately, there is a downside to paradise.

Admit it, you read that title and thought, “Oh great. More bitching about the heat.” But I’m going to throw you a curve. The climate here does takes some getting used to (I’m thinking about ten years till I can go a day without using the words “heat”, “humidity”, and “Hot feet! Hot feet! Hot feet!”) but in all honesty, I really don’t mind it. Summer is considered the low season here in PV and as a result, there is only about 30% occupancy in all of the bay area. We have yet to wait in line at a restaurant, bar or shop. A taxi is always available. The beach is empty enough that we can let Otter play in the surf off-leash without alarming the other patrons. And the marina is quiet at night. Let’s just say that it’s easier to take the heat when you can cool off by yourself under the waterfall in a quarter-acre size pool. But, alas, paradise does come with its own drawbacks. A Trifecta of Terror if you will—two of which I have already touched upon. Aside from mosquitos and the little creatures that gum up your air conditioning hoses, there is one other entity that forms the Axis of Evil (well…four if you count T-Mobile). I’m talking of course about the ubiquitous cockroach.

We’re not sure when they arrived or why they chose us (although our well-stocked bar IS quite notable), all I know is that they’ve become the bane of my existence. Now the Deck Boss grew up in South Texas aka cockroach country so she knows a thing or two about the nasty buggers. She also knows that eradicating them is practically impossible, which is why her best advice for dealing with cockroaches is to name them. Fair enough. Let’s name them. It’s easier to kill “Succubus” than one of the nameless rabble. Editor’s Note: The Deck Boss found one in her bed one night. I think she named him “Victim”. 
So I spend my days RAIDing nooks and crannies, setting traps, and putting a coffee grounds/cinnamon/clove mixture amongst the food in the pantry (on the plus side it’s kept them out of the pantry; on the minus side it looks like a sugarplum fairy took a dump.) At night I go on roach patrol. I tiptoe into the galley with my can of RAID and flip on the light. There’s always one that freezes for a split second then makes a quick break for the edge of the counter. Like any good marksman, it’s important to shoot ahead of your target to counter his speed and trajectory. Barring a direct hit, the poisonous fog it just scuttled through will be enough to slow it down for the double tap. Then it’s on the next one because roaches, like dachshunds, always come in pairs. Moving a couple of containers will generally send the other one scurrying out. He’s easier to dispatch because it’s hard to run quickly when you’ve just pooped your pants. A scan of the other counters and a couple of warning shots into the corners and it’s mission accomplished. If I had just one word of advice to the makers of RAID it would be that every can should come with a holster so you could totally twirl that bad boy before sliding it back onto your belt.

For those roaches that are too cowardly to come out and fight like a pest, I’ve got bait traps strategically placed around the galley and in the heads (and by strategically I mean every twelve inches.) These are like the old Roach Motels (“Roaches check in but they don’t check out.”) except these are more like roach crack houses where they score some bad dope, take it back to the nest, and everyone od’s. So when I see a roach, I’m always in a quandary…should I wait for him to visit the dealer and deliver his deadly package to the masses or just RAID him right now? And then I remember hearing that for every one roach you see, there are a thousand lurking below—presumably sending out more scouting parties--and immediately hit him with a double dose.

Recently we’ve added something new to the arsenal. Costco sells an all-purpose cleaner (with a fresh lemon scent!) that does double duty as a repellent. It only came in vat size but when it comes to roach warfare, anything is worth a try. So I spent an entire afternoon washing down cabinets, counters, floors and sinks. That night I walked in on a record seven roaches. They were erratic, confused and had a distinct case of “Hot feet! Hot feet! Hot feet!” It took less than five minutes to add another seven notches on my belt. The Captain figures they were driven from their home by the RAIDing I had done earlier, attracted by the bait, repulsed by the all-purpose cleanser (with a fresh lemon scent!), got high on the drug cocktail, and freaked out. The next night there were no roaches. I have won this battle. We’ll see about the war.
You're going down, esse!

You’re not a true expat until T-Mobile kicks you out of the country.
We had a little trouble with our cell phone company. Now the obvious question is…why the hell would we go with T-Mobile in the first place? And I’d say that there was a method to our madness. You see, while Verizon and AT&T were busy trying to dominate the US, T-Mobile has been quietly taking over the rest of the world. Which would be beneficial to us beings how the rest of the world is where we want to be. Sound judgement to be sure. Why else would we venture into one of their stores aka “a pink neon discotheque where you can hardly hear over the thumping baseline” and put the fate of our communications into the hands of someone who spends their entire paycheck at Forever 21.
Now I can’t speak for the other cell phone companies (except for Sprint…because apparently we’ve made it a habit of backing the losing horse) but getting a straight answer and/or the truth out of anyone at T-Mobile is like trying to get defense secrets out of the Pentagon. They run their company on a need-to-know basis and plausible deniability aka “complete ignorance” starts from the ground up. The front line aka “disco kids” at the store know just enough to sell you on the service aka “if the customer asks if the plan can [fill in the blank], the answer is always ‘yes’.” We found out they were full of shit when our “International Plan Including Mexico and Canada” did not in fact cover Canada (well, to be fair, we had free text messaging, but no phone; which is great when you’re trying to arrange for the fabrication and international shipping of a manifold in 100 characters or less.) Not to suffer the same fate in Mexico, we visited a T-Mobile in San Diego and got confirmation from the manager aka “I’ve been here three years, sold the most plans, and have earned my Level 1 Clearance” that our international plan would indeed provide us with unlimited talk, text and data in/to/from Mexico and all points south. We found out he was full of shit when we got charged for calls made to the harbormaster in Ensenada. So we called a customer service rep aka “I can’t answer a question if it goes off the phone script but I do have Level 2 Clearance” and was told that the manager had misspoke (which is T-Mobile speak for “he had no idea what you were asking but knew that the answer was always ‘yes’.”) She informed us that we shouldn’t have been on the “International Plan Including Mexico and Canada” but rather the “International Plan Plus Mexico and Canada”. Whatever, Ernestina. Sign us up before the second ringy-dingy. Fast forward four months and we are each informed via text message that we have violated the terms of our agreement and will be cut off. We are given a special number to call (roaming charges may apply) and put in touch with a customer service rep with Level 3 Clearance. This is where we learn that buried deep down in the fine print is a clause which states that you can only qualify for an international plan if you’re not planning on actually being out of the country. The Captain naturally takes umbrage and gets in contact with someone with Level 4 Clearance. He tells her that everyone we talked to knew our intentions—that we would be leaving the country and not coming back—and all assured us that the plan would be fine. She told him he was “misinformed” (which is T-Mobile speak for “Thank God the fine print is only available online so we can change it at will”) and that the plan was only good if we were going to be spending HALF our time in a foreign country. When The Captain asked if anything could be done, she suggested we send our phones to a relative in the US and have them use them a couple weeks each month aka “the stupidest thing we’ve ever heard.”
As you can imagine, this didn’t sit too well with The Captain. Long story short, a customer service rep with Level 10 Clearance informed him that we are forthwith banned from T-Mobile. Next time you go into one of their stores, look for our mug shots. I’m sure they’re there behind the dj booth.
Out of the frying pan. Into the tortilla maker. Now I wish that this story had a happy ending in that we rode off into the sunset with our new Mexican carrier, Telcel, but if there’s something that Mexico does well it’s that it adds a whole new level to “que?” With some exceptions (read: 18-month contracts), Telcel operates on a pay-as-you-go system. Daily, weekly, and monthly plans are available—most with unlimited talk and text, but all with miniscule amounts of data. Fine for the average person, but when you use your phone for emailing, translating languages, checking exchange rates, utilizing GPS, checking the weather, and occasionally catching up on US news (shudder), it’s amazing how quickly those 1.5 gigs get eaten up. Extra gigs may be purchased and are good for 30 days but run concurrent with your base plan (which may only be a 20-day plan because it’s more cost effective to just add the extra gigs) so you must be vigilant about both deadlines so that you a) don’t end up with data but no talk/text or b) lose your extra data because your base plan got ahead of you. Confused yet? It gets better. They provide three ways to see how much time and/or data you have left but none of them really work and when they do, they don’t match and/or have nothing to do with reality. So you really have no idea how much time/data you have until you get an ominous text message in Spanish and your phone ceases to work. Ready to renew your base plan and/or buy more gigs? That can be done via text message…AFTER you put money in your account. So you either have to go to a Telcel kiosk or take your chances online (where the Spanish equivalent of “Page Not Found” is prevalent), put money into your account, then send the text telling Telcel how much you want to buy. Didn’t get a confirmation text? Clear your calendar; you’ll be spending the next three hours at the Telcel store trying to get it sorted out. To be fair to Telcel…we’re only one month in (although I’ve already bought two packages of extra gigs…thank you, Microsoft, for downloading “updates” to my computer without my knowledge and blowing through four gigs in under fifteen minutes.) and I’m certain we’ll eventually get the hang of it. Until then, we’re getting to practice our Spanish a lot. The first thing we mastered? Telcel es frustrante, pero es major que T-Mobile. Chupa T-Mobile.”
Pictured: Manager at the San Diego T-Mobile "Store"

Honorable mention to the Beast of Bucerias.  About a month ago we received some sage advice from one of the locals. It went thusly, “You’ll see a lot of dogs, cats, horses and other animals but no matter how cute or how tame or how much they seem to want it…do not try to touch them!” In other words, unless you get the okay from the owner you don’t know if that dog is over-protective or just a stray. Street cats are probably not the friendliest of felines (and most likely fleabags to boot.) And, especially here in caballero-country, it’s just not polite to touch a man’s horse without first asking. Good advice not just for Mexico but for everywhere really. I bring this up because The Captain and I went to Bucerias one day and ended up taking a stroll along the beach after lunch. We passed by three boys playing in the surf. Watching them from the shore was a medium-size terrier-type dog sporting a blue harness and a distinct air of superiority. We passed him. He watched us pass. No muss, no fuss. Until we got a good 50 yards past him at which point he ran up on us like a flash and sunk his teeth into the back of my calf. He made a couple more passes at us and each time The Captain chased him off till he finally backed off. I was more in shock than injured although I did sport a well-formed goose egg with faint teeth imprints on the back of my leg for a couple of weeks. So there you go…don’t touch the animals. And if you don’t and they still act like jerks, it’s okay to drop-kick them in the ocean.
Artist's rendering of the Beast of Bucerias

And because I just can’t let it go. With the exception of the week when The Captain’s brother and his wife came to visit and brought a five-degree respite with them, it’s been incredibly hot. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m happy to report that it’s not just us being whiney. Several people who live here year-round have remarked that this has been one of the hotter summers on record. So in the succinct words of La-Z-Guana…


Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Third Siesta of the Third Voyage (Day 89-109): In which we’d like to address Los Elefantes en al Cuarto.

A few weeks ago there was a kidnapping in Puerto Vallarta. We know it made the rounds of the US media because friends and family started contacting us, some out of concern for our safety, others out of curiosity. For those that may have missed it, one of the sons of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and five of his companions were kidnapped at gunpoint from a restaurant on PV’s main drag. Now if you’re not up on your Mexican drug lords, El Chapo is the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, arguably the most powerful cartel in the world and the main supplier of illegal drugs to the US. The DEA has called him the “godfather of the drug world” while the US Department of the Treasury considers him the “most powerful drug trafficker in the world” (which is Treasury-speak for “He’s imported products into the US worth billions of dollars. Forget evading the DEA; he’s evading his taxes!”)
After having escaped from prison back in July 2015, El Chapo was recaptured this past January and is currently awaiting extradition to the US. So right now his organization is basically undergoing some leadership changes and rival cartels are taking advantage of the situation to get themselves a bigger piece of the pie. The popular consensus is that the perpetrators of the kidnapping were members of the Cartel Jalisco New Generation or CJNG (and no, I’m not using an acronym because I’m lazy (okay, maybe I am) but that’s what’s on their logo. Yes, they have a logo. Who knew?) Editor’s Note: what the US media didn’t report was that everyone was released after a few days of “negotiations”. What was negotiated is not exactly known because CJNG might have a logo but I don’t think they do many press conferences.
So far that’s been our one brush with violence and by “brush” I mean that we were familiar with the restaurant (having walked by it numerous times) so there’s that visceral connection that comes with personally knowing one part of the where/what/who equation. Editor’s Note: The restaurant, La Leche, stands out in that it’s a white pseudo-modernist structure with prominent black scroll markings (that and its name means “milk”). But I must admit, it was kind of exciting in a “you hear about it but does it really happen” kind of way. Because if security is the smoke, then whatever fire you’re being protected from is always in the back of your mind. And there’s a lot of security around here. It’s not uncommon to see military trucks driving around convoy-style, each filled with marines armed with assault rifles and at least one manning a mounted machine gun. The Federalis are prevalent on the highways where they randomly pull over vehicles to search for guns and drugs. All properties in Nuevo Vallarta and the hotel zone in PV are gated and have 24-hour security. All stores have uniformed guards and security cameras. Editor’s Note: We were leaving a Sam’s Club and there were two men armed with semi-automatic rifles at the exit. For a minute I thought, “Wow. They’re really serious about checking the receipts.” before I realized they were guarding another guy servicing an ATM machine (which prompted The Captain to remark, “Just how much cash do they keep in those things?”)
Now I must be honest. When we were planning the third voyage, we were going to fast-track Mexico. You hear all the stories, you see all the news footage, and the State Department travel warnings only add to the dilemma with their passive-aggressive…”Government employees are prohibited from travelling in certain area after dark. The rest of you? Do what you’re going to do. We can’t stop you.” (Thank you, US Government, for once again not being very helpful.) It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype, and I think that sells the whole country short. Because after three months, we’re so glad we decided to stay. Aside from the weather which does take some getting used to and some run-ins with aggressive vendors, we have not had a bad experience since we got here (weird and/or interesting incidents yes, but nothing that would make us want to cut our residency short.) Granted, we are in a town that’s heavily reliant on the tourist trade and it’s easy to feel warm and fuzzy when you know the local government is doing everything in its power to keep its visitors, expats and law-abiding citizens safe and happy. It’s likely that things will be different the farther south we go, and a healthy respect for current events will confine us to the more reputable ports and anchorages.
But as we all know, there is no “safe” place really. And I’m not talking about getting mugged, or being hit by a bus, or drinking the water (more on that later). I’m talking about getting caught up in the unfortunate downside of an otherwise great country—physically yes, but more psychologically. The odds are extremely low that we’ll get caught in any gang-related conflict, but hopefully we won’t scare ourselves out of seeing some really amazing places just because we think we might get hurt. Like anywhere else in the world, it’s important that we be smart, cognizant of our surroundings, and not take any unnecessary risks. In other words, we’ll just continue to enjoy ourselves and hope that cartels “keep to the code” and leave tourists and law-abiding citizens out of their endeavors (or as Jerry says to the gangsters in Some Like It Hot, “It’s none of our business if you guys want to bump each other off.”)
All that being said—and at the risk of contradicting myself—we will be bypassing Acapulco. Whereas many Mexican cities have recently dropped off the various “most dangerous cities” lists, Acapulco is currently sitting at #3 right behind Caracas, Venezuela and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. They call it Guerrero’s Iraq. Street killings, kidnappings, and other crimes associated with the drug trade have turned the city—including the previously safe tourist zones—into a battleground which even a heightened military presence can’t seem to abate. Foreign tourism has become virtually nonexistent (plummeting from 3.6 million in 1999 to less than 110,000 in 2014), Mexican tourists have taken to bringing weapons for protection, and armed military personnel now patrol the beaches (apparently jet skis have become a favorite mode of transportation for the modern assassin.) Even the US Government has outright forbidden its employees to travel there. I guess for once, we’ll go ahead and agree with them on this one (See? Pigs do fly!)
And as if we needed one, we also have another—more personal—reason to skip Acapulco. Apparently the Deck Boss contracted a nasty case of what she refers to as the “Aztec Two Step” during her last visit in 1951 and has harbored a grudge ever since (and as Canada can attest, she does know how to hold one—a year later and it’s still all about the eggs.) Now I had heard of Montezuma’s Revenge and even the Gringo Gallop, but never the Aztec Two Step. But a little research into travel articles written in the 1950’s unearthed a plethora of colorful euphemisms coined by travelers who just couldn’t not drink the water. Visiting the pyramids? Mind the Gippy Tummy. Istanbul? Watch out for the Turkey Trot. Visiting the Taj Mahal? Delhi Belly! Interestingly, the Mexican people have their own euphemism—the Turista. (That they don’t call it the Posterior Piñata is just a wasted opportunity.)
So Acapulco is out due to violence (of one kind or the other) but the rest of the Mexican Pacific coast is open for adventure. And if we have any mishaps? Well, I guess that what keeps this blog going.
Editor’s Note: Keep a copy of this blog entry. If we fall victim to Mexican cartel violence, it’ll be the ultimate in irony.
Pictured: The Mexican army in Nuevo Vallarta. That's an M60 mounted on the back. They should mount one with a t-shirt cannon and shoot D.A.R.E. shirts at unsuspecting passersby. "Stay off drugs, amigo!" PHOOMPH!

Pictured: Got milk? La Leche—where it all went down.
Not Pictured: Dairy Farmers of Mexico lamenting, "Great. We finally get people to consume more dairy products and then this happens."

Pictured: On the bus to PV about a week after the kidnapping. The group in front of us all pointed and started talking very excitedly as we passed La Leche. Proof that even the locals find this a bit of an anomaly. Coincidentally, they were on our bus on the way back to NV where they spent the entire time singing, "Who let the dogs out! Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof!" So there you go.

Now because elephants always travel in herds, it’s time to discuss that other hot-button topic: Zika.
Mosquitos outnumber gang members by about a billion to one. So it stands to reason that you’re more likely to get a mosquito-borne illness than caught in the crossfire of warring cartels (unless you live in Acapulco where all the mosquitos packed up and left long ago—primarily for their safety but also to avoid the Bloodsucker Squirts.) 

In an earlier post, I blogged about the importance of using bug spray. Editor’s Note: I say “blogged” instead of “wrote” because the latter implies that I use correct grammar and punctuation. At that time, the emphasis was on comfort (because it’s hard to be comfortable when you want to rip your skin off) but of course the underlying motive is illness prevention. West Nile Virus was the big bad for years, but now it’s Zika. A lot has been reported about this latest in mosquito-borne maladies with the three biggest takeaways being that it’s spreading quickly, there is no vaccine, and for some that contract it the results will be devastating.
In Mexico, it’s not just Zika you have to watch out for. They’ve also got malaria, dengue fever, and some nasty piece of work called chikungunya down here. All come with a fever (which is a glorious thing to have when it’s 95 outside); a couple come with a rash; some have vomiting; and most throw in extreme joint pain for good measure. The severity (or even onset) of symptoms varies from person to person as does recovery time. So of course every time one of us gets bit, the “worst case scenario” prize wheel starts spinning and every ache, pain and bodily anomaly is heavily scrutinized. Editor’s Note: For a couple of days The Captain felt sluggish—just kind of blah—which we immediately attributed to yellow fever because that’s what happens when you live in a mosquito-infested environment and WebMD is your primary physician. But he quickly recovered, as did the Deck Boss from her sudden bout of cholera.
So what’s to be done? In the truest spirit of ounce of prevention/pound of cure, don’t get bit. Or at least put up a good fight. Apply bug spray, put screens on hatches and windows, make sure there is no standing water around like in a bucket or crevice or even a fold of canvas, treat door and companionway openings with insecticide, invest in some citronella coils or candles if you’ll be on deck after dark, and apply bug spray. The experts say that you should also wear long pants and long sleeves and long flowy things but in all honesty, I’d rather get bit. It’s fricking hot here! It’s only modesty that keeps me clothed at all.
Paradise Village does a pretty good job of spraying to keep the mosquito population down but when you’re dealing with a pest that can go on Tinder, hook up, get pregnant, lay 10,000 eggs in a puddle of water, and get back to the bar in a span of ten minutes, you’re kind of fighting a losing battle. 
We keep a can of OFF! next to the door and try to be good about spraying it on before going up on shore, especially if we’re taking Otter out. When doing his business, he prefers greenery. And because he likes to milk every last ounce of walking time, he will hold it till we are way off the resort property where the grass has gone wild, the trees hang low, and it’s perpetual spring break in mosquito-ville. It was out here where we first learned that when applying bug spray, you can’t just hit the major areas and hope the rest of you is protected by residual waft. The little bastards are adept at finding the one patch of skin that got missed—the chink in the armor if you will. I’ve returned from walks with a welt above my left eye and three bites on my middle toe. The Captain got bit underneath his watch—we’re still trying to figure that one out. And speaking of, animals get bit too. Otter is on Bravecta, but when out we try to keep mosquito contact at a minimum by walking him in a zig-zag pattern. Zig to a bush, lift a leg, zag back to the pathway, repeat. The longest time spent in the grass is for doing his duty. Which is why God forbid Otter should get into something dodgy. A raging case of the Doggie Doo-Dah-D’ohs! will keep his butt pinned to the ground for hours.
Suffice to say that Zika has already entered the pantheon of “reasons why mosquitos shouldn’t be allowed to exist.” Seriously, why are they here? Besides reproducing, drinking blood, and keeping bug spray companies in business, what purpose do they serve? And before someone pipes in with “they serve as food for other creatures”, I’m sorry but anything whose main goal is to wipe out the human race should have been eradicated long ago. Besides, those “other creatures” should take one for the team and eat flies instead—they’re annoying as hell, too.
Editor’s Note: Keep a copy of this blog entry. If one or more of us contracts a mosquito-borne illness that, too, will be the ultimate in irony. The only thing more ironic would be contracting Zika, then falling victim to cartel violence on the way to the market to pick up some Imodium.

Pictured:  One of a series of public service ads. This one is imploring people to wash food containers thoroughly to avoid inadvertently creating a mosquito breeding ground.
Not Pictured: A group of juvenile-delinquent mosquitos. Those pupas got their doo-rags on, their pants slung low, and their spray paint at the ready. There's gonna be some tagging tonight!

Pictured: Ground zero for mosquito-borne illnesses: the stagnant puddle of water. Brought to you by the chicken in the Walmart parking lot.

Special Editor’s Note: The Deck Boss would like to say “thank you” to everyone that commented on her last photo. We think she looks good, too.
We’re also happy to report that even though Dr. WebMD suggested she go immediately to the emergency room, the small pox cleared up on its own after two days.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Second Siesta of the Third Voyage (Day 75-88): In which we make a run for the (Northern) border only to return and find out what happens when critters get “all up in there."

I’m going to say something that will probably make me very unpopular with some of the cruising community…if it’s your first time taking your boat into Mexico and you’re clearing into Ensenada (where all of the government agencies are under one roof), DON’T attempt to do your immigration online before you go. All the guidebooks I consulted before we left said, “Do as much as you can online. It’ll make the process easier and faster. Blah. Blah. Blah.” Bullshit. For two reasons: 1) It took me longer to navigate the Mexican government websites, find English-language translations and/or run text through Google Translate, and fill out/submit all the forms than it did to go through the entire process in Ensenada, and 2) even after completing the online process, I never got any official paperwork back like I was supposed to (either by email or snail mail) so when we got to immigration all I had to show for my efforts was a screenshot from the Banjecito website showing I had paid a (presumably correct) fee. Long story short: we were probably the only people who entered Mexico on a 90-day visa as opposed to the customary 180-day one. Editor’s Note: If you’re a cruiser who had no problem with the online process and/or wrote a guidebook, then bully for you. But if you’re new to this, I highly recommend doing everything in person. The officials seemed fully prepared for the “first timers” but not so much the “I paid something online but didn’t get any paperwork and now I’m not sure what I paid for” people. The former requires very little Spanish-language capability; the latter requires a college degree.

At any rate, the only way to extend a tourist visa in Mexico is to leave the country and come back. If you’re near a border, it can be done the same day. But as PV is a good three hour plane ride from anywhere in the US, we opted to make a long weekend of it. And that’s how we found ourselves back in Southern California. So fasten your seatbelts, it’s time for some more travelogue….

We spent the first day visiting our favorite bartenders at Café 64 at SeaWorld. We drank microbrews, laughed at the sea lions, and rode the rollercoasters. Good times. Then we decided to check out their new Cirque du Soleil show and that’s when things got a little surreal. It started out innocently enough. The show was at the old stadium on the shores of Mission Bay—a stadium that must have been built back when the average height of an adult was around five feet because there couldn’t have been more than six inches between bleacher seats. As the Deck Boss was sitting down, her foot accidently brushed against the backside of the woman in front. She glared. We apologized. She said something to her friend, made an exaggerated movement to one side that caused her ample backside to spill out into our row even more, then kept giving us the angry side eye as if she was just daring us to do something about it. And that’s when the Deck Boss shifted in her seat and all hell broke loose. The woman turned around and literally started screaming at the DB to stop “repeatedly kicking her in the back” and “I told you to stop kicking me” and then her friend got in on it and started yelling that we were being rude and inconsiderate because we would not stop “harassing” her friend. And we’re apologizing and then not apologizing because they’re being so unreasonable and The Captain is trying to tell the women that he seriously doubts that his 81-year-old mother-in-law is really trying to “start something” and maybe they’re the ones being inconsiderate by bypassing civilized and going straight into barbarian mode and the whole time this is going down the men sitting with the women are hiding their heads in their hands as if to say, “Dammit. Their mouths are writing checks that our butts are going to have to cash…again.” Eventually, and before security had to get involved, the situation died down. But safe to say that in the court of public opinion, the jury was squarely on our side as evidenced by all the people in our section looking at us sympathetically and mouthing “WTF?” Editor’s Note: Once the show was over, the women grabbed their men and beat a hasty retreat toward the exit prompting the Deck Boss to remark, “Maybe I should have kicked her in the head.”
Pictured: Wadus & Tim, Bartenders Extraordinaire and intrepid followers of the blog (Ravenaires?)
Not Pictured: The ample backside that caused all the grief (we couldn't get that to fit in the frame)

Still amped up after what will forever be referred to as the “Scuffle at Cirque du Suck” our second day was decidedly more low-key. We did some gringo shopping i.e. stocking up on things that we either can’t find and/or are more expensive in Mexico. The former includes items such as Aleve and microwavable side dishes (it’s been awhile since I mentioned it so here goes…it’s hot here in PV! And when it’s really hot, the last thing you want to do is heat up your boat making rice.) The latter includes anything for the boat (shipping is a pain in the butt and costly in import fees if not done right) and cheap towels. We use cheap towels for everything—drying off dogs, blocking out sun, polishing stanchions, scooting large pieces of machinery across the deck, etc.—and I’ve yet to find a towel that costs less than $6 in Mexico (oddly, Walmart is little more “high end” here.) We then visited our other favorite bartender, Annie, at the Tipsy Crow and then finished off the day at Seaport Village to pick up a few bottles of The Captain’s favorite hot sauce and have ice cream while gazing out over San Diego Bay. Editor’s Note: if you have a chance to go to Seaport Village, do it now. The land was sold and it’ll be a parking lot in two years’ time. Seriously.

On our last day, we decided we should do something really touristy because you can’t be this close to Los Angeles and not see Hollywood, right? And that’s how we ended up on Sunset Blvd at the office/museum of Dearly Departed Tours. If, like us, you prefer your tours have a little death and dismemberment to spice things up, then I highly recommend their Tragical History Tour. It’s got everything the other tours have: Hollywood landmarks, movie and TV studios, Beverly Hills, etc. but with a skew toward scandal, crime, mortality, and mysterious “accidents”. It’s also multimedia in that there are audio clips of 911 calls, descriptions from police files, and (if you’re so inclined) crime scene photos from cases like the Black Dahlia and the Menendez Brothers. It’s really cool in an “on your right is where Lucile Ball lived and on your left is where the scriptwriter of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein was decapitated by a meth-head” kind of way. In short…you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cringe, and you may even get a little queasy, but you’ll have a blast!

The Deck Boss:  She came. She toured. She bought the t-shirt.
Pictured: Terry Bolo (right) of Dearly Departed Tours. She played "Biker Chick" in Peewee's Big Adventure which automatically makes her a celebrity in my book.
The next morning we headed to the airport with our “gringo care package” in tow. In hindsight, a 40-lb duffle bag filled with varnish, CO2 sensors, canned chili, cheap towels, and Spanish-language flash cards must have looked like the quintessential “Inept Insurgents Starter Kit” but it passed through Mexican customs just fine despite being pulled for a random search (yes, I pushed the button and got the “red” light). Editor’s Note: I had receipts for everything we purchased and produced them as each item was pulled out. It not only sped up the process but the agent ultimately got bored of playing “stump the chump” and quit looking before he even got to the varnish (which was good because that was the only item we weren’t sure would pass muster.)
Side note: While we were gone, Otter vacationed at the Beach Dog in Mexico cage-free boarding facility or as we like to call it, “Lab Flab Fat Camp” as he was deprived of his usual two breakfasts, six lunches, three dinners, table scraps, and assorted treats that he usually manages to con out of us (What do you mean you already fed him? I just fed him! He was acting like he hadn’t been fed. What? You fed him, too? Why is he eating the cat’s food? Why I oughta!)
Speaking of the cat…Edgrrr stayed on board with three large bowls of food and ten big bowls of water. He would have gone to camp too but they don’t allow a**holes.
Pictured: Pancho, Otter's most favorite iguana. He got a mini-vacation, too. For five days he didn't have to endure feverish ogling, uncontrolled whimpering, and large drool puddles.  

Before we left for California, a most dreadful thing happened. In fact, aside from the boat sinking, it was probably the worst thing that could happen. The air conditioning went on the fritz. Waaaay back—about a year ago—I think I mentioned in the blog that the Deck Boss had insisted on having AC installed before the odyssey even began. The Captain and I weren’t convinced at first, but now we are true believers.  Extreme heat can be “tolerable” during the day as long as you’re keeping busy and not thinking about it. But at night, it’s hard to sleep when it’s 95⁰, the air is thick, your skin is clammy, and you don’t want anything to touch you. End result: everyone is tired, sticky, and extremely cranky (which I think is the technical definition of a toddler.) But luckily, three (insufferable) days after we got back, Scott, of Power Marine Services, came to the rescue. Before he even came on board—let alone looked at our system—this is what went down:
Me: “Thank God you’re here! We’re dying!”
Scott: “First summer in PV?”
Me: “Yes.”
Scott: “I know exactly what the problem is.”
And he did.
Now if you’ve been to or have already spent time in Mexico then you already know, so this is for those that have yet to make the voyage…the marina water here is like primordial soup. As in it’s so full of assorted critters and sea creatures that there’s not enough room for them all so the more ambitious ones move on to your boat. And they bring their baggage (sand, pebbles, spare shells) with them. We have the hull cleaned once a month to combat the growth that comes with warmer waters. But what we didn’t realize was that barnacles as well as sludge from the estuaries had come up into the thru-holes of our raw-water cooled AC units ultimately corroding the strainer and clogging up the hoses. No water, no coolth.
After procuring a new strainer, Scott set to work clearing all the hoses which entailed first forcing out the larger matter with water and then pumping an acid concoction through the system till it finally came out clean. To clean out all three units took about eight hours and necessitated tearing apart both the forward and aft cabins. But I’m happy to report that the AC is working admirably—and with the addition of the canvas cover we had made to protect and shade the boat from the harsh sun, we are staying reasonably comfortable despite the climbing temps and UV index. Editor’s Note: I must admit that it was kind of fascinating (in a revolting way) to see all the crud that first came out of those AC hoses—a steady stream of mud-like substance with the occasional belching out of a shell or rock. Scott’s going to look at our head system in a couple of weeks. If he uses the same method on those hoses it’ll be interesting to see what pops out of those (or poops out as the case may be.) On second thought…maybe I don’t want to know.
Pictured: The original strainer. Our first line of defense against squatters. Left unchecked, it quickly turned into a crack house.
Not Pictured: The new and improved strainer already installed. We're taking back the neighborhood one thru-hole at a time.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The First Siesta of the Third Voyage (Day 51-74): A few (thousand) words about cena, skin care, and slowing it all down.

In our lubber days, the Captain and I were quintessential workaholics. We owned a successful printing company, I had a separate career in communications, and every hobby or interest the Captain had would inevitably turn into a side business (you name it: photography, sailing, hockey, CrossFit). When we weren’t punching a clock, we were ripping out floors, renovating bathrooms, and restoring woodwork because why buy a house when you can buy a 115-year old historic home in need of massive amounts of work. The purchase of Raven in 2012 and her subsequent refit added a whole new facet to “not enough time in the day”. Days were packed, nights were spent planning out the next day, and downtime was a euphemism for “pack up the car so we can go be busy in another city”. Needless to say, the closest we ever got to “siesta” was that one Sunday a month where we’d be too tired to do anything besides order a pizza and watch a Law & Order marathon on TV. And that was not so much “rest” as it was “wall”.

I say all this because slowing down has been one of the more difficult things to get used to in the year plus we’ve been on the boat. Now obviously there’s not a lot to do when underway but at this early stage in our cruising lives, we don’t consider it “slowing down” because it’s not exactly relaxing. Constant vigilance coupled with the incessant motion of the boat can be really taxing for both body and mind. But more than that, we felt compelled to fill up every minute of every day when at dock because that’s how we were wired. During the First Voyage there was always something to do, always something to fret about, and if there wasn’t, then we’d make up something to do so we could fret about not getting it done. It’s probably why we fast-tracked leaving on the Second Voyage—we needed to get back out into the unknown so there’d be more to do. But a strange thing happened down the coast of the western states—we started to loosen up a little. I guess we have the transmission to thank for that. All the time spent broken down in all those different ports showed us that it’s okay to spend a couple hours reading a book, or playing Angry Birds, or just taking long walks till the foreign became familiar. We started to realize that no one would think we’re slackers because we didn’t spend all our waking moments cleaning, fixing, or installing something. The seven months we subsequently spent in San Diego taught us how to chill even more (beaches!). But now, here in Mexico, we are learning what it’s really like to slow down. And nothing encapsulates that better than siesta. Now technically, a siesta is the nap you have after the midday meal because it’s too hot to do anything aside from digest (and even that can make you work up a sweat). The Deck Boss has siesta down pat (and the more wine she has with lunch, the better she is at it.)  I tend to retreat to the aft cabin where it’s dark and slightly cooler, rev up the laptop, stare dumbly at the screen hoping that somehow this blog will just write itself, make the mistake of going online to check email and…what’s this? The ultimate Lord of the Rings quiz? “The majority of Americans” can’t get more than 27% correct? Why yes, I’m game! Two hours and ten quizzes later and I can say that I know more than “the majority of Americans” about I Love Lucy, serial killers, the wives of Henry VIII, and budget airlines of the US (but apparently I need to brush up astrophysics, hedgehogs, and Murder She Wrote.) And just like that, the outside world has cooled down a few degrees and people emerge sleepy-eyed from their dens (if you don’t see your shadow, it means the UV index is too high and more siesta is in order.) Editor’s Note: The Captain is still working on his siesta. He’s decided that now that he’s got more free time, he’s going to revisit one his first passions…photography. Knowing him, he’ll have a side business set up in a month so you can go ahead and pre-order his first coffee table book: “Siesta: One Hundred Photos I Could Have Shot in My Sleep.”
Pictured: Edgrrr taking a siesta
Not Pictured: Siestas #2-28

So this is a nice place in the narrative to segue into cena. Cena is Spanish for dinner. Editor’s Note: Why didn’t I just call it dinner in the heading? Because I love me some alliteration. At any rate, we tend to have our main meal early in the day before it gets too hot to cook (so technically we should be eating around 8:30 am) and then have something light at night (light being something that doesn’t require heat of any kind nor much chewing because that takes too much energy). But at least once a week, we do like to go out. And this is where it’s going to get travelogue-ish because I’m going to promote two of our favorite restaurants here in Nuevo Vallarta. We stumbled upon both of them by accident and since they met the criteria—they serve cerveza and they allow D.O.Gs.—decided to give them a try. Glad we did.
The first is La Isla on Paseo de los Cocoteros. It’s a palapa-style, open-air café with maybe a dozen tables and a small kitchen at the back. They specialize in straightforward Mexican comfort food. Recommended dish is the Camaron de Diabla (Devil Shrimp) which is simply fresh shrimp in a slightly sweet yet very spicy chili sauce. Full dinner for three with two rounds of cerveza is around $20.
Just down the street from La Isla is our most favorite place…La Dinamita. It’s slightly larger but still open-air. It backs up to the estuary so you can dinghy in from the marina if the “Precaucion! Cocodrilo!” signs don’t frighten you off (and yes, that does mean what you think it does.) Simply put…Best. Food. Ever. Don’t order off the menu. They prefer you just tell them what you like (meat-wise, seafood-wise, vegetables, etc.) and they bring out one dish after the other—each better than the last. The first course is always their signature appetizer which is seafood and rice topped in an unbelievably creamy queso. Following courses can range from marinated steak skewers and ceviche to tacos hand-prepared at the table and a bubbling cauldron of spicy, meaty goodness served with tortillas. After dinner, the Deck Boss is especially fond of the Spanish Coffee—prepared table-side with four types of liquor set aflame and finished off with a dollop of ice cream. Complete dinner experience with three rounds of cerveza and Spanish Coffee runs around $65. Resulting food coma? Priceless.
Editor’s Note: Remember that part earlier about slowing down? Take that to heart when dining out in Mexico. Meals are meant to be long and leisurely so you won’t find wait staff hovering at your elbow, you can expect a little more lag time between courses, and the bill will never arrive until you ask for it. Personally, I like it. My advice is, if you can’t spare a good two hours for dinner, maybe it’s a good day to order pizza.
Pictured: Hand-made tortilla! Wait...wait...wait...release!
Not Pictured: Otter places shot of Jameson Whiskey on The Captain's nose. Wait...wait...wait...release!
Now obviously going out to all these great restaurants entails just that…going out. And as I may have mentioned, it’s hot. But don’t let that stop you. Even when the sun is straight overhead and there’s not a cloud in the sky and you swear you can hear the rays of the sun scorching everything around you (don’t worry, those are just mosquitos), it’s amazing how much better you feel in the shade of a palapa with a cold cerveza in your hand and a breeze coming off the water and/or a well-placed fan thoughtfully provided by the proprietor.
Now this seems as good a place as any to segue into a topic that’s become very important to me of late…skin care a.k.a. the “No sh*t, Sherlock” segment of the travelogue.
Here’s a no brainer (but it always bears repeating)…don’t forget the sunscreen! The UV index down here frequently hovers in the 8-9 range. The higher the UV index, the faster you burn (with an index over 11, unprotected skin can burn in minutes). SPF should be used early, often, and in generous amounts if you want to protect your skin from damage. That and you don’t want to be the only person in Bahia de Banderas that doesn’t smell like an oily coconut.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t work on your tan. Even before 25 years of prevailing cloud cover in the Pacific Northwest washed all the color out of my skin, I was a borderline albino. When The Captain and I would go on a “warm weather” vacation (i.e. anything south of Portland, Oregon), inevitably he would tan and I would burn. It wasn’t until we spent a week in the Caribbean and used copious amounts of SPF that I came back with any kind of tan (Nancy, stop shaking your head. It totally was. If you look at the Pantone book, I had clearly progressed from a “Bright White” to a “Snow White”.) So knowing it could be safely done, I was really looking forward to finally having a little color.
Unfortunately, when you’re travelling from temperate (Washington) to tropic (Central Mexico) and doing it gradually and through all types of weather, it can have an adverse effect on your tan planning. An unobstructed sun down the upper west coast will touch an exposed face but nothing else. As the weather gets warmer, short sleeves replace long sleeves and eventually shorts replace long pants. Feet go from tennis shoes to flip flops. A t-shirt gives way to a tank top, then a halter top, then a halter top with crisscrossed straps, and so on. All the various configurations of clothing coupled with the time of year, cloud cover, sun reflecting off water, and the amount of SPF used on any particular day, means that every part of the body tans and/or burns at a different rate and/or hue. Add to this the daily bruises one inevitably gets from living on a boat (Where did that bulkhead come from? Has that always been there?), and the body becomes a canvas of white, red, brown, black, blue, ecru and various shades of taupe. So it’s not so much a “tan” as a “calico.” Except for The Captain of course, he seems to tan nice and evenly. Unfortunately, he always tends to wear the same type of sleeveless shirt so until he can get some serious pool time in, he’s going to continue looking like an advert for Hanes’ undershirts.
They're tagless!

Here’s another skin tip…when dining out, if a can of bug repellent suddenly appears on the table, use it! The first time we went to El Dinamita, a can of “OFF!” inconspicuously arrived with the first round of cervezas. Amusement gave way to conversation about zika, malaria, and dengue fever. Unfortunately what it didn’t do was motivate anyone to actually use it. Big mistake. About six hours later and the first twinges of irritation began—a tickle here, a tingling there—that promptly gave way to intense itchiness and indiscriminate, hardcore scratching. Fingernails just couldn’t cut it (and neither would forks, cheese graters, and industrial-strength sandpaper…I tried.) Cortisone cream and anti-histamine tablets provided some relief but it was still an uncomfortable couple of days. When the redness from overall scratching receded into individual swollen bumps, I counted at least eight bites on my lower legs alone.
Editor’s Note: There may have been more. I had one of those allergy tests once where they prick your forearm with about 40 different substances—from pollens and animals to molds and foods—to see what you’re allergic to. It’s supposed to take about 20 minutes to see results. Within three minutes of the last puncture, both forearms had swelled into a single irritated welt. By the time the doctor was able to differentiate one bump from the other, it was determined that the only thing I wasn’t allergic to was dust and cockroaches. So when the world turns into an apocalyptic wasteland, I’ll be all set.
Since then, we’ve taken care to apply bug repellent along with the sunscreen, especially if we’re going to be anywhere near an estuary, river, or undeveloped area with stagnant water and overgrown vegetation (aka The Land of Nopes). Even the beach is iffy as that is the territory of the noseeum. Editor’s Note: If you’ve never heard of a noseeum, you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard of them until I started reading the guidebooks. Apparently it’s a teeny-tiny, biting machine that can really pack a punch. My guess is that they started out as a mosquito’s mosquito before graduating to humans (i.e. big game). Before you come to Mexico, I highly recommend purchasing an assortment of products as we’ve found that bug repellant—like fine wine—should be paired thoughtfully with foods. OFF! Familycare has a faint, almost citrus-like smell that complements fresh seafood nicely whereas we’ve found the baby oil bouquet of Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard pairs well with gringo beach food like hamburgers and hotdogs. Repel 100 Percent DEET should only be used when consuming authentic Mexican cuisine that’s heavy on the habanero because when your lips, tongue, eyes and nose are burning you’re less likely to notice the “bad day at a chemical plant” smell. (It’s also wise to avoid sitting on lawn chairs as the stuff can melt plastic.) But whatever you choose, reapply often. It’s hot and humid down here (no, really?) and bug spray will sweat off faster than you can say, “Ow! What the hell was that?!”
Pictured: Victoria Beer with an OFF! Chaser
Not Pictured: Noseeums. For more reasons than one.
And as long as I’m insulting your intelligence…be sure to stay hydrated! Yes, it’s very exciting when you sweat off three pounds of water weight and it’s easy to think, “This is the best diet I’ve been on since I got Norovirus!” but losing so much bodily fluid is a dangerous thing. For starters, when you start to dehydrate the first thing to go is rational thinking such as, “I should really put on some sun screen…and bug spray.” Disorientation follows soon after and instead of walking into a bar, you wander into someone’s living room and ask for a table by the window. Once Juan and Maria have safely deposited you at the cantina next door, you will find that your body is so starved for fluids, those five shots of tequila are absorbed right into the bloodstream immediately throwing good judgement out the window. Which is why six hours later, you wake up on the beach and find yourself lying in the surf fully-clothed with a crowd of people standing around and hear someone remark, “At first I thought it was a giant, red tick. Then I realized they just forgot the sunscreen…and bug spray.” “Yeah. But what’s up with the donkey?”

Raaahr! Anabolic steroids a.k.a. another poor decision
(But don't worry. They also sell ExtenZe for the side effects.)