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 cafĂ© 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.)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Day 32-50 of the Third Voyage: In which we’re going to resort to travelogue since we’re not technically travelling.

First off, we’d like to bid a belated farewell to HMS Cliff who left us a couple weeks ago. The 980 nm journey from San Diego was so much easier with his help and even though we were having a lot of fun, I think the lure of home (and corvette) was calling him back. Either that or the heat just got to him and he decided that the 115⁰ temperature at his home in Phoenix was a bit more tolerable. Yeah, yeah, yeah…dry heat. Whatever.
Sweat on, big guy!
So we’ve now been in Puerto Vallarta for about a month and are settling into a routine. As usual, everything revolves around the boat and its constant upkeep. Weekly tasks include running all the systems (engine, generator, water maker, etc.), keeping tanks and fluids topped off, running errands, and lots of maintenance and general cleaning (inside and out). Our big projects over the next few weeks will be installing the new windlass, overhauling the head system, redoing the bright work (again!), and getting a custom canvas in place over the pilothouse and foredeck (because that should help with the heat—because it’s hot. Did I mention it’s hot?) But we still have lots of free time to work on our Spanish, get into the gym (because unfortunately extreme sweating just doesn’t burn the calories you’d think it would), take advantage of the swimming pools and beach, and do some exploring.

And since somewhere in there I should do some blogging (so as not to get out of the habit), I thought I would share some of our observations and/or things we’ve learned that might be of benefit to fellow cruisers and/or first-time travelers to the area. (Because of course you want advice from the crew that can’t go anywhere without something going awry.)

Getting around…and around…and around (they really like their roundabouts here.)

Walking. When walking, it’s best to have a plan. Did I mention it’s hot? (I think I have. I can’t remember.) In more temperate climes, you may be able to walk a mile without breaking a sweat, but in this climate the sweat starts about two steps in so be prepared for that mile to feel like two. And when you’re walking a 90 pound dog that’s on constant iguana patrol it’s more like three. To this end, we’ve identified strategic rest stops along our favorite walking paths and incorporate them into our outings (the fact that they all serve cerveza is just a happy coincidence). When exploring PV or one of the nearby towns or villages, the best places to stop for a respite in between cantinas are the OXXO’s. These are found on virtually every corner and are the Mexican equivalent of a 7-11 with the only difference being that OXXO’s are kept at around 55⁰ inside and there’s always about 20 people in line at the register (I think most of them are just buying gum…and 10 minutes of coolth.)

A note about walking: PV is very hilly so some of the roads can get steep…but not as steep as some of the sidewalks. If you suddenly find yourself about four feet above the road, that’s natural. Just watch for businesses that actually are at street level as the sidewalk will go around them with abrupt drop-offs on either side. If you’re not watching where you’re going, you could fall face first into an auto repair shop.
Pictured: Sidewalk in Puerto Vallarta. That's a four foot drop off the left there. That tree ain't growing out of the sidewalk, it's falling off it.
Pictured: The view from the other side.
Not Pictured: Nose bleed.

Travelling by taxi. First off, all taxis are not created equal. Some are quiet, comfortable, and have good air conditioning. Others have seats so worn down you’re pretty much sitting directly on the car frame, the brakes are so loud they drown out the radio, and any air comes courtesy of an open window. They’re all small so if you’re fitting any more than two people in the back seat, you’d better hope you get along…and bring a towel because you’re going to perspire like a sardine in a sweat sock. The length of the ride is in direct correlation to how bad the shock absorbers are. Going to the MEGA supermarket just outside NV? Smooooooth. Going up to La Cruz on the other side of the bay? Bring a helmet; you’ll be hitting the roof a lot. Taxis to and from PV generally run 180 pesos (a little less than $10) unless you’re coming from Costco and then they tack on an extra 20 pesos (wear and tear fee for lugging your five cases of beer and bottled water all over the bay area.)

Getting around by bus. Whereas taxis are great for getting the lay of the land and for schlepping groceries back to the boat, the best mode of transportation is by bus. The bus to PV costs 15 pesos (about 80 cents) one way; buses in and around PV itself are 7.5 pesos (which is why it’s always good to travel in pairs because the half peso coin is about the size of a flattened Tic-Tac and easily lost among pocket lint.)

The buses come in different sizes, colors, and states of disrepair. The ATM buses from NV are most likely old tour buses as the seats are upholstered, the windows are tinted, and sometimes there is air conditioning. The local PV buses (the blue ones) look a lot like old school buses, ride rough like old school buses, and are generally driven by men with the world-weary look of someone that’s been hauling around unruly school kids for the past 10 years. But they are clean and drivers like to give their buses a little flair so it’s not uncommon to see rosaries, holy pictures, and stickers of your favorite tennis shoe brands affixed above the windshield. Destinations are hand-written on the front windows, but if you can’t find your bus there’s usually a “wrangler” at the major bus stops who will get you on the right one for a small tip. The de facto bus terminal is Walmart—all buses seem to go there and it’s the best place to change from one line to another.

At least once during your trip, someone will get on who will be selling something or soliciting donations. They slip the driver a few pesos, do their spiel, and get off at a stop down the road. Most leave empty-handed, but the guy selling Otter Pops made out like a bandito (You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to use that clichĂ©!)

One more thing…buses only have two speeds: Get Out Of The Way and Screeching Halt. So be prepared.
I ain't afraid of no bus.

Where to go first? Of course it should be Downtown Puerto Vallarta! Even if you’re berthed at the PV marina, downtown is still quite a hike. Grab a blue bus that says, “El Centro” in the window and get off at the Main Plaza/Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is basically the start of El Centro/Old Town as well as the beginning of El Malecon. El Centro is full of restaurants, shops, and nightclubs. It’s noisy and hot, the traffic is out of control (and extremely loud as the streets are cobblestone), and it’s chock full of humanity—tourists, working folks, local families celebrating birthdays and weddings, etc. It’s crazy in an exciting sort of way but the further you get from the water, the more stifling it gets so don’t forget your OXXO stops. At the south end of El Centro along Rio Cuale is Old Town aka Zona Romantica. This is where you can stroll through meandering streets, marvel at the beautifully restored old buildings, have a great meal at one of the many outdoor restaurants, and fend off 200 of your new best friends all promising to give you the best deal on t-shirts/silver jewelry/tequila/etc.

Definitely stroll El Malecon at least once. It’s a mile-long promenade along the seawall that’s known for its bronze sculptures and expansive view of the bay. It’s also known for street peddlers, living statues, and aggressive cantina and souvenir shop barkers so be prepared to say, “No, gracias.” a lot.  But the nice thing about El Malecon (as with most of the touristy areas) is that one dollar beer is the norm at the cantinas so there are plenty of “rest stops” to be had. If I could give out one piece of advice though…if you’re looking for a beer, pop into the first place that strikes your fancy. We got caught in the “this looks nice, but let’s see what’s further down” syndrome and ran out of bars. And that’s how we ended up at Senor Frogs—which I’d never heard of till we got to Mexico but they’re absolutely all over the place (and not just restaurants; there’s at least four swag stores for every eatery I think.) Because it’s so ubiquitous, we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And I think I speak for all of us when I say, “meh.” The drinks were fine, but three times more expensive than the local joints. We weren’t eating, but the menu looked like it was the Mexican equivalent of an Applebee’s. The service was mediocre though the servers were lively. It’s one of those places where the music is as loud as the paint, there are “funny saying” signs everywhere, and the employees have scripted shout-outs and routines. I’m sure this works well on a weekend night, but not so much on a Tuesday afternoon. Part of their shtick is they put big obnoxious signs behind you when you’re not looking like, “Will do anything for tequila” (which isn’t true because The Captain is a whiskey man) and “Future Divorcee” (which may be true because I haven’t yet told The Captain that I lost his new torque wrench overboard.) Editor’s Note: I guess I have now.

Of course there’s so much more to PV than just El Centro/Old Town. But I’ll get to that later. Otter needs his walk and we need a rest stop.

Pictured: Typical street in El Centro
Not Pictured: The bus that almost hit you. And the car. And the donkey cart.

Pictured: Flea market aka the gauntlet that you must run to get from El Malecon to Old Town
Not Pictured: The vendor stampede upon one tourist saying, "Why yes. I might be interested in a sombrero."

Pictured: Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe as seen from the Main Plaza. El Malecon is behind.
Not Pictured: Senor Frogs. We left that behind us. Far, far behind us.