We’ve been in El Salvador just shy of one year now which just blows my mind because it seems like only yesterday that we were flailing about helplessly off the coast sans engine, sans steering, sans generator, and apparently sans sanity and/or any common sense. But I guess a year is about how long it takes to forget the crappy parts about being on a passage and start to think that maybe it’s not that bad. So, I guess what I’m saying is that it’s time to leave—time to hit the open ocean and see where it takes us. That and our visas expire on April 17th and we do not want to go through that bullshit again.
Of course, we do know where the ocean is (hopefully) going to take us only it’s not where you think it may be and—up till a couple months ago—not where we thought it would be, but…we’re going back to Barra de Navidad. I know, I know… it seems like a huge step back, but we have our reasons. Specifically, we have a list, but here are the highlights...
Reasons to go back to Barra:
1…Mexico is infinitely less expensive than pretty much everywhere else. Taking the cost of moorage out of the equation (because it’s going to be either “are you joking?” high or “okay, what’s really wrong with the place” low, depending on the season), living in Mexico is just so much more economical. If you shop where the locals shop, the staples (meat, dairy, vegetables, fruit, bread, etc.) are about 30% less than what we’re paying here (and half of what we’d pay in the States) whereas most other goods can be found for less because Mexico manufactures just about everything—including drugs (of the pharmaceutical variety) where we figure we’ll save well over $150 per month on our prescriptions between the three of us. An added bonus is that we won’t have to pay a driver or rent a car to procure said goods and staples because things are more accessible in Barra. Looking to the south, things won’t get much better from a cost and/or convenience factor. Costa Rica is frightfully expensive and much of Panama isn’t much better. And as we can all agree, saving money is a good thing because we’ll need all that extra dough when the next system on the boat goes kablooey. As for moorage, we’re negotiating a rate with Marina Puerto de la Navidad that should make us all happy. The harbor master there loves the Captain because he designed the invitations for his daughter’s quinceanera so that practically makes us part of the extended family. That and I’m pretty sure we singlehandedly kept their bartenders employed during the slow season so we’re good for their bottom line.
2…Medical care is more accessible in Barra. So a scary thing happened about two months ago and by scary I mean that it started off as an “oh shit!” moment but then turned into an “oh shit…” moment and yes, there is a difference. One morning—about a week after she had returned to the boat after her knee replacement—the Deck Boss greeted me by saying, “I think I had a mini stroke” which 1) is NEVER preferable to “Good morning” and 2) is NOT something you want to hear before you’ve had your coffee. Cue the “oh shit!” moment. Her symptoms had included numbness, dizziness, and vision changes which according to WebMD (our primary physician) might be indicative of a mini stroke. Upon further research, these same symptoms also fit the description for someone who has just ended a regimen of post-surgery anti-coagulants aka the more likely diagnosis. After everyone was satisfied that she was not dying and after two cups of strong coffee, came the “oh shit…” moment as in “oh shit…what if this HAD been a stroke? What would we have done?” Because as the medical establishment likes to stress, the difference between having a bad day and having a catastrophic, life-changing, horrible bad day comes down to how fast you can get treatment. Had she had an actual stroke (mini or otherwise), we’re at least an hour away from medical attention—and only if someone here has a car. Even an ambulance would need thirty minutes just to get here. In looking ahead at some of the marinas and anchorages in Costa Rica and Panama, we’d be in the same boat (no pun intended, though technically true.)
Now broken bones, gaping wounds, animal bites, allergic reactions, and the ilk can (generally) be tended to using the first aid we have on the boat until proper treatment arrives or can be obtained (witness the events of Day 883-909.) But strokes are a whole other animal and the one that got me thinking that we need to be someplace where time is taken out of the equation. There are doctors within Barra—only 10 minutes away by water taxi; 24-hour emergency clinics in Melaque and Cihautlan (half hour by car); and, better yet, there’s an on-call doctor at the Grand Bay that will make “boat calls” (as described in the events of Day 457-557) and also has an ambulance on the property at his disposal. Also in the immediate area: dentists, eye doctors, dermatologists, and a really good vet. More specialized doctors can be found in the city of Manzanillo about an hour south by car. Given age and accident proneness (Deck Boss), propensity for odd maladies (Captain), and susceptibility to a complete mental breakdown (First Mate), these are all advantages.
3…We really miss the food! Growing up, I didn’t eat a whole lot of Mexican food. The Deck Boss broke out in hives every time we drove by a Mexican restaurant so Chinese became our family’s go-to ethnic fare. There was the odd school outing to Casa Bonita in Denver, but even at that young age I knew that much like the restaurant was supposed to resemble a Mexican village so, too, was the food supposed to resemble Mexican cuisine. In other words, it was all an illusion crafted from plaster and paint, and just about as tasty. In college, I was introduced to Taco Bell—which I love like a junkie—but have since been informed it’s about as Mexican as apple pie. In Seattle, the Captain and I used to frequent several Mexican restaurants. At least I think there were several—could’ve been the same one. The food all tasted the same from location to location, only the name of the establishment changed. The Captain said it’s because most of the chain restaurants get their stuff from the same food distribution companies, so it’s not so much “Las Palmas” as “Los Sysco”. But that’s all in the past now, because we’ve seen the light and it’s covered in mole. The food in Mexican is as varied as the country itself, and after having sampled everything from a simple street taco to pozole to a molcajete mixto simmering in a volcanic bowl, we’ve come to really appreciate how lively and full of flavor even the most basic food is. And yes, there will always be dishes that aren’t quite to your liking, but at least it’ll never be boring. Here in El Salvador they have the mighty pupusa which is a thick tortilla (either rice or corn), stuffed with beans, cheese, and whatever else you want, and fried on a griddle. Good ones are delicious and satisfyingly filling—the Salvadorean comfort food you didn’t know you were missing. Bad ones taste a little like paste and sit like an adobe brick in your stomach. But whether good, bad, or somewhere in between, the flavor is enhanced when covered in a hot sauce that we picked up in Mexico. So, there you go.
But beyond that, we miss our favorites in Barra…our pollo asado guy across from the Ixtapa Tienda, the fresh tortillas just down the block from him, the carniceria that stocks the best smoked pork chops and cut-to-order bacon anywhere, the flan man that sets up his dessert cart by the Malecon in the early evenings, and the fresh fruit vendors that come to the Thursday market, to name a few. And, of course, there’s Pipi’s, Manglito’s, and our regular haunts. Editor’s Note: When we get back, we’re going to try the home-made tamales that the lady sells out of a cooler across from Loco Loco Pizza. We never got there in time and she was always sold out. Fresh tamales are the best! Back in the States, I used to make those tamales that came in the can. It took a couple of dinner disasters before I realized that the paper should come off BEFORE you cook them. It’s definitely not Mexican food. It’s more like “what shall we do with the leftover ravioli paste at the Chef Boyardee factory?” food and “I know! Let’s fashion it into tubes, wrap them in repurposed can labels, and slap a Mexican flag on the lid!” And speaking of individually wrapped food, the first time I bought hot dogs in El Salvador I was surprised to find that each weenie came in its own wrapper. At least I think it was a wrapper. If you took it off, the whole thing fell apart. But if you left it on and cooked it, you couldn’t bite through it. It’s like they wanted us to question our food choices or something. But we weren’t deterred, because sometimes you just want a taste of home and few things are more American than hot dogs, apple pie, and Taco Bell.
Of course, there is one thing that the Deck Boss does not miss about Mexican restaurants. She’s not a fan of mariachi bands—specifically ones with horns…which is all of them. She thinks they’re deafeningly loud, earsplittingly loud, and just overly loud in general. I don’t know if she’s always had an aversion to them or if this is something new since her hearing started going wonky, but she’s pretty convinced that a) mariachi bands never had horns back in “her day”, b) the only reason mariachi bands added horns was so that people would give them money to stop playing, and c) the restaurants that employ mariachi bands with horns only do so to compel people to eat faster and thus create higher table turn-over. So imagine her surprise when a mariachi band showed up at our favorite restaurant in El Salvador—horns and all—and proceeded to play the entire afternoon, even after it started raining and they had to take refuge in the swim-up bar.
"Don't look over there. You'll just encourage them." Deck Boss
4…Barra will be better for Otter. He doesn’t get a whole lot of off-leash time here (reference blogpost Day 697 -782), but he sure did in Barra. Every morning we did a big 3-mile walk up, down, and around the hillside surrounding the marina—all of it off leash which means that he did twice as much walking as I did due to the constant intreat to, “Get back over here!” which would require him to trot back toward me before pulling a u-turn about five feet shy and taking off again. Add to that the frequent trips to Barra (where there are an abundance of dog-friendly establishments) and he was getting in some damn good exercise and on a consistent basis. We all were, truth be told. Here…not so much. And it’s starting to show. The Labrador Retriever in him means he is predisposed to “lab flab” as it is and let’s just say I can’t let his harness out any more. Editor’s Note: Change “lab flab” to “land lubber blubber” and “harness” to “shorts” and I could also be talking about myself and the Captain. We try to keep him (and us) active with regular trips to the beach, but the circumstances of our surroundings coupled with the extreme heat of the day makes additional exercise challenging. I think Barra will be good for him in this regard—more opportunities to be more active. That goes for all of us really.
Reasons to continue the voyage south:
Well, there’s only one…but it’s a doozy. Namely, there’s a whole world out there that we haven’t seen and, technically, the point of the odyssey is to travel, have adventures, and live a less conventional life. There’s no telling what’s out there. And it’s quite possible that we’ll find another Barra somewhere along the way.
So perhaps we’re doing ourselves a disservice by not moving forward, but sometimes there are reasons as to why it’s best to go back, if only to just stand still. Because in truth, it was a tough year. Besides the usual parade of shit going wrong and the health challenges and the hip replacements and the knee replacements and all the things that happen in the course of living that you just deal with because that’s what you do, there was one event that was wholly life changing and one which has not been touched on in this blog because it is not my story to tell. But Neil lost his brother last April and I think when the rug has been pulled out from under you, sometimes it’s best not to have the floor moving as well. He needs—we need—some stability. A place to feel like home. At least for a while. And Barra is our happy place.
So, what does this mean for the odyssey? Well, it’s not over. The Third Voyage only ends when we reach the Panama Canal so while it’s very possible that it will take another 1,283 days to get there, we will get there. The world isn’t closed to us; we’re just doing some backtracking until we find our footing. And there are still new places to see and adventures to be had—we just might get there by car or plane instead of boat. I guess what I’m saying is that I’ll keep blogging as long as you keep reading. Besides, there’s still 849 miles of ocean between us and Barra. And as we all know, shit is bound to happen—especially to us. We could experience a catastrophe between here and there that would fill a thousand blog pages. It could be such an adventure that only a blockbuster action movie starring Jason Statham, Olivia de Haviland, and the Taco Bell spokes-dog could possibly tell the story. Who knows what will happen? Besides…the nice thing about journeys and adventures and less-conventional lifestyles is that you can change your course almost as easily as you can change your mind.