Learning locally

Last week, I had the privilege of tagging along in the kitchen while our friend Coqui made tamales for her Friday night special.

Starting to knead in the quart (!) of lard

Starting to knead in the quart (!) of lard

Starting with four kilos of fresh masa, we went through how to prepare the dough; whipped up different batches of meat–one chicken, one pork; and assembled and steamed over 80 tamales for her restaurant’s dinner service. She also gave me a quick tutorial on how to whip out tortillas with a press and quick hands (something that will take years of practice to really master), and showed me how they make their incredible barbacoa.

Chicken to the left, pork to the right, deliciousness everywhere

Chicken to the left, pork to the right, deliciousness everywhere

DSCF3605It was a pretty exhausting morning. Once upon a time, I used to spend 12-hour-days churning out food in a commercial kitchen; but cruising has made me soft, and my fingers have lost that asbestos hardness that let me manipulate food on the griddle without pain. Coqui has no English, and her Spanish is fast and idiom-filled. Her techniques are not easy to replicate on our boat, either–a blender is crucial, and we don’t have one. But the whole day was amazing, learning both the recipes and how they operate their fonda (casual restaurant), and when we’re feasting on tamales back in Wisconsin, we’ll be remembering our time in La Cruz.DSCF3606

Social overload

We finally made it to La Cruz, a focal point for cruising families. The marina hosts a kids’ club that’s becoming pretty famous; we’ve been told since Panama that once we arrived, our kids would never want to leave. Fortunately, the anchorage is rolly enough that I don’t think that’ll be a problem, but we do have quite a bit of time to spend here before pushing on to the north.

F works out her CPR technique

F works out her CPR technique

And that time will be action-packed. Before we’d even arrived, we signed up the kids for activities. Scuba Ninja ran a CPR clinic in the marina lounge, and both kids got to run through their first drills on a resusci-Annie—if they’re anything like their parents, the first time of many. This immediately rolled into a slime-making workshop by the pool, with more cruising kids that we’d seen since the Bahamas.DSCF3562

T overcomes his short stature with a boat hook

T overcomes his short stature with a boat hook

The next day, Kat from the marina had organized a kids’-only camp out on the beach. We dropped our kids off with what gear we could scramble from deep storage, and stuck around to watch the kid-led construction of an elaborate base camp structure—maybe not up to building code, but enough to keep the morning dew off. As the parents went off to town in search of tacos, we could see the flames from the bonfire reaching up over the trees. In the end, the intensive kid together time proved to be too much for our guys to handle, and they opted not to stay the night, retreating to the calm and quiet of our boat.

Structure taking shape on the beach

Structure taking shape on the beach

After a day off to regroup, they were back in action, with a movie in the VIP lounge, plus some hosting of kids on our boat. One of the big advantages of a monohull over a catamaran for family sailing: we can rig a swing from our halyard. Our neighbors took full advantage, and we sent them home covered in bruises but smiling.

Another cool activity run by the kids’ club lets cruising kids get some restaurant experience by taking over service in a local place for part of an evening. T opted for the kitchen, learning to mix up guacamole and plate tacos, while F worked the front of the house in tandem with an eight-year-old buddy. I wouldn’t say that things went smoothly, but our kids had a really good time, and T has been using his new skills to assault all the avocados on the boat. He was also really proud to be the most fluent Spanish speaker among the kitchen kids, and did the bulk of the translating.

Kat gives the kid/servers the 411

Kat gives the kid/servers the 411

F joined in to some grown-up activites, as well, jumping in with the Wednesday afternoon musicians and joining me at the Women Who Sail meet-up on Thursday. One week down, seven activities attended, and we are just about maxed out for social events.

There was a lot of Grateful Dead.

There was a lot of Grateful Dead.

The packed calendar!

The packed calendar!

We’re feeling like we occupy a weird middle ground here among the cruising hierarchy. Most of the people we’ve met have come down the west coast of the US, either from California, Seattle or Vancouver; and while that’s a challenging stretch of coast to navigate, they haven’t done a lot of boat travel to other countries. The other side of the coin is the circumnavigators—a small group that’ve gone around the world, or around the Pacific Rim, and returned to hang out in lovely Mexico. The long-term sailors are in the minority, though, and when we mention how we find Mexico to be akin to the US in terms of availability of goods and services, we’re met with gaping stares. Honestly, we feel like there’s so much English spoken here, so many tourists, expatriates and cruisers, so many American chain stores, that we’re really understanding how distinctive our time in Central America was.

That’s not to say that we feel like awesome, worldly cruisers. We don’t feel much different then when we left, although we don’t worry much about the anchor dragging any more, and a three-day passage isn’t disconcerting. But it does make us look back on the last year and a half and realize that yes, we’ve seen a lot of stuff, and learned a ton. We’ll always have more to learn, but we apparently can’t think of ourselves as newbies any more.

F on the radio; the kids have their own cruisers' net following the regular net--no grown-ups allowed!

F on the radio; the kids have their own cruisers’ net following the regular net–no grown-ups allowed!

By popular demand: another fart joke, by T

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Cost to Cruise: January, 2018

Boilerplate disclaimer: this is not what it will cost you to go cruising.

My feelings about free public art, personified by a statue

My feelings about free public art, personified by a statue

People’s constant advice, discussing cruising finances, always seems to be: It’ll cost what you have. We did not find this helpful in our planning, however true it may be. What we’re trying to show is the cost to us, more or less, for one month to go cruising. We’re going for monthly expenses, because they’re easier for us to track; so you won’t see the boat insurance amortized, you’ll just see that expense when we pay it. It won’t be what you’ll spend, but it was the kind of information that helped us out when we were trying to wrap our heads around that magical number for our cruising kitty.

Living in high resort style this month. Fortunately, we have extremely generous family who treated us like kings.

Numbers for January:

Marinas: $695.14
Grocery: $538.90
Restaurant: $448.54
Supplies: $198.36
Booze: $92.39
Laundry: $57.90
Communications: $176.90
Fuel: $62.05, diesel; $28.75, propane for the grill
Ice Cream: $24.56
Transportation: $101.98
Water: $14.89
Boat Parts: $92.57
Grand Total: $2532.73

This is not nearly enough to account for the massive amounts of restaurant food, ice cream, and booze spent on our tribe by our awesome family. Still, we did some damage. Let’s take a look:

  • New record for restaurant meals! We ate out a shocking number of times. Remember all of those months in remote Panama and the Bahamas, when we were only eating out a couple of times a month? Me, neither. You’d think that would make me happy to spend more time in my own kitchen, now that it’s just our family again, but you’d be wrong. I miss people bringing me things.
  • It’s possible that the numbers for booze are…less than accurate. We may have lost track. Ahem. Moving on.
  • We’re paying for water again. Some marinas in Mexico have potable water, but they’re the exception. We filled our tanks for free at Paradise Village, but from here on out, I think we’ll be buying water more often. Many people cruising Mexico have water makers to get around this problem; others fill their tanks with non-potable water, and carry bottled water for drinking. We hope to keep our tanks topped off with the good stuff, and will happily pay for the privilege.
  • “Communications” was up, due to our continued love of the sat phone and a disagreement with Telcel. I’m just gonna’ say it: the Telcel app is garbage. For the first time, we are finding the local phone company to be really inconvenient. If you’re headed this way from the US, we recommend buying a Verizon plan, instead of using an unlocked phone and the local SIM card. On the plus side, we’re getting what we call the “NAFTA special”—unlimited free calls and texts to the US (and to all our friends in Canada). Unfortunately, after a year and a half of traveling and being pretty out of touch, we’ve forgotten how to use a phone for calling people.

Familia: Rounds Two and Three

Our first round of family flew out just as our second round was flying in, but we had a location change to affect before their arrival—from Marina Vallarta to Paradise Village, a resort a few miles to the north. Fortunately, we had our friend Lisa with us; she just happened to be in town from Alaska for the day, and it was fantastic to hang out with her on our short boat ride. Unfortunately, we did not have a smooth entrance to the marina.

Happier times in Paradise Village, by the pool at night

Happier times in Paradise Village, by the pool at night

We won’t go over the whole thing in painful detail; we’re convinced we were right, the marina feels otherwise. Suffice to say, there was a breakdown in communication. The harbor entrance is narrow, and prone to silting up; it’s constantly being dredged out to keep the water deep enough for boats such as ourselves. We entered the breakwater with some pretty big waves behind us, keeping the dredge to our left as instructed. Clearly, the dredge was not in a position to let another boat through, and we quickly found the edge of the channel and ran aground. It didn’t take long for the waves to push us into five feet of water, which is not helpful when you draw seven feet.

We immediately called the marina to let them know we were aground, and they sent two pangas to tow us off. The dredge moved over, pretending they’d been in that position the whole time and trying to look innocent, if that’s possible for a big old steel boat. Within ten minutes, we were back on our feet, unharmed but shaken. We’ve been nervous about the entrance ever since, and begged off taking people out for the rest of our visit. Our exit strategy involves high tide, clear and unambiguous communication with the marina office, and loud yelling at the dredge if they’re in the channel when we leave.

On to happier things, and a full embrace of the resort experience. Paradise Village is well north of Puerto Vallarta, in the thick of huge complexes from which you need never venture. Three pools, two hot tubs, three water slides (fast, slow, and toddler-level), many restaurants (with surprisingly good food), two spas, and more palapas than the eye can take in—we embraced it all.

Mexican Fiesta night. Like being on a cruise ship that doesn't go anywhere.

Mexican Fiesta night. Like being on a cruise ship that doesn’t go anywhere.

A little public are in downtown Vallarta

A little public art in downtown Vallarta

First up for the resort treatment were my mom and her husband. While we did take one trip into downtown Puerto Vallarta, for the most part we were content to stroll the beaches and test out the pina coladas. There were tacos. There were cold beers. There were breezy lounge chairs set out on the hot sand. There was one very disappointing Vikings game, but we got over it pretty quickly. Things we were lacking: stress about the boat; challenges about logistics; cold, wimpy showers; an overwhelming need to get stuff done.DSC_0063

Frieda and Diego are used to sell all kinds of garbage down here, but I would totally buy this bench.

Frida and Diego are used to sell all kinds of garbage down here, but I would totally buy this bench.

Wedding in the

Wedding in the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Selecting from the candy cart downtown

Selecting from the candy cart downtown

Big kids on the bus with Starbucks

Big kids on the bus with Starbucks

A few days later, my cousin showed up with her partner and kids. This was the moment my own kids had been waiting for. Yes, they were very excited to see grandparents and aunts and uncles, but it’s hard to compare to the pleasure of hanging out with cousins their own age. The Resorting kicked into high gear, as we exhausted the pleasures of ping pong, bocci, shuffleboard, boogie board rental, beach massages and seriously elaborate fruity drinks.

It. Was. Awesome.DSCF3548

Counts for boat schooling art class...

Counts for boat schooling art class…

We are not people who would intentionally book a vacation at an all-inclusive resort like this, so on the one hand, it was hilarious to look around and convince ourselves that yes, we really were here, and could charge pizza and mojitos to a week-long running tab as they were brought out to our beach lounge chairs. On the other hand, it was amazingly convenient. We didn’t have to struggle to meet up, choose third locations where we could all hang out, or buy day passes to a hotel to use the pool.

Beach sushi!

Beach sushi!

Our string of visits has come to an end, and we’re slowly returning to our more-normal(ish) lives. We have a long list of tasks we want to accomplish before heading to anchor in La Cruz on Wednesday—the convenience of stepping out to a pier is something we’ve gotten a little too accustomed to, and it’ll be a bit of a shock to once again be at anchor, dinghying in through the waves with the groceries or the laptop. Overall, though, we’re looking forward to some relative peace—especially among the cruising kids we hope to find a bit to the north.DSC_0083