Sunday, December 28, 2014

Feliz Navidad de La Paz - Christmas in Mexico

Happy Holidays to all!!

Christmas in Mexico is a very big deal. It officially begins on December 12 with the Dia de Guadalupe, and continues through Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), Christmas day, and concludes on January 6 with the Dia de los Reyes, or Day of the Kings (aka the Twelfth Day of Christmas or Epiphany). This year in La Paz the Christmas holiday is an extra huge deal since their Mexican Independence day was pretty much obliterated by Hurricane Odile. The city went all out to make sure the streets are filled with decorations, Santa Claus in numerous iterations...

Santa Cow at the local market

...and tons of inflatable snowmen. Yes, snowmen! Go figure. Are they still called "Frosty" in La Paz? Maybe "Sweaty" or "Melty" would be more appropriate.

Lots of "Frosties" in La Paz
Tom and I were a bit unsure of how we would handle the holidays, since this would be our very first Christmas away from our families. But it turns out we do have "family" here in La Paz, and we have been enjoying the holiday season with our cruiser and marina friends.

On Dia de Guadalupe we joined our boat neighbors Manny and Lola from Desire for a walk over to a Christmas in the Park sort of thing. We were expecting much holiday tackiness, but it turned out to be cleverly decorated and filled with families and kids who were enjoying themselves immensely.

Manny, Lola and Sylvia make a Christmas postcard.

As you can see the kids love Santa.

On Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, cruiser Katie from Pangaea, treated us to a concert of Christmas Carols held at the marina bar. Katie is a trained opera singer and has a beautiful voice. Her finale was O Holy Night which she sang a capella, and there was, quite literally, not a dry eye in the house. It was a very special night which made me feel much closer to my fellow cruisers.

Katie puts us in the Christmas Spirit with her concert of carols.

Poinsettias are VERY popular here, and in Mexico they are called Flor de Noche Buena, the Christmas Eve flower. I was surprised to find out they are indigenous to Mexico and Central America and were introduced into the U.S. in 1825 by a minister named Poinsett, hence its unimaginative U.S. name. While shopping, Tom and I were happy to discover that Bohemia beer gets into the spirit with their excellent holiday-release amber beer, Cerveza Noche Buena.

Bartender and amiga Conchita and I with Flor de Noche Buena

On Christmas night the marina restaurant held a special Cruiser's Christmas dinner, a traditional turkey dinner done gringo-style with all the trimmings. 

Good meal for a great price makes us happy.

Salad, dinner, dessert and one free wine or beer for under $18 including tax and tip!

It was surprisingly delicious, and even though we missed the over-the-top family feasts we are used to, it wasn't a bad runner up, especially considering it was 81 degrees and we were gifted with a stunning sunset.

The restaurant's nod to their local cuisine included flan for dessert which, although tasty, was a far cry from my sister's delicious pies or the traditional Finnish Karelian Pastry that I knew my family was enjoying...sniff. At least sis sent me a picture of these beauties...

Oh karjalanpiirakat, how I missed thee! 
We were pleasantly surprised to run into some friends from South Beach where we used to keep our boat. They were visiting a friend who had sailed his boat (Belle) down in the 2014 Baja Ha Ha. After dinner they invited us over to their boat to finish the Christmas with a little liquid cheer. Before we knew it the clock chimed midnight and Christmas was over! (But we still have New Year's and Dia de Los Reyes to look forward to.)

WARNING: drinking with Irishmen can be hazardous to your health!
(L-R, Belle owner Jack; Gerard, Sylvia, Mike)

So even though we missed our family and friends back home, we ended up having a very merry Christmas and happy holidays. A few more pictures of our holiday season can be found HERE.

And as we cruisers like to say, HO HO HO and a bottle of Rum!!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Driving Down the Baja Delivering Boat Gear

We are finally back in La Paz aboard Cinnabar!! We elected to drive here from northern CA and overall, it was another good road trip. 

It is expensive to ship goods into Mexico, so with a truckload of new boat gear, we decided to just deliver it ourselves.

The Mexico/Baja section was the big unknown. It seems that most cruisers who drive down the Baja, trying to get back to their boats, do it in three days, but we decided if we pushed hard, we could probably make it from San Diego to La Paz in two days (which we did), via Highway 1, aka The Trans-peninsula Highway, aka Carretera Peninsular Benito Juarez.

We left Cupertino, CA on Dec 1st and it took us a couple of days of running around the SF Bay Area to purchase and pick up some last-minute items. We finally broke free on Dec 3rd and left Salinas in the pouring rain (yes, that's correct - rain in California). 

Could Baja be more treacherous than this??

At least we had a bag of homemade cookies courtesy of our friend Dayna. Weather was wet off and on that day and we arrived in Long Beach just in time to pick up our new dinghy and life raft. 

We spend the night aboard Ciao Bella in Seal Beach and Tom shares a beer with his old friend the Pirate Chicken.

The next morning the weather had cleared and we made our way to San Diego via Costa Mesa and Dana Point, where we were scheduled to pick up a few more items. That day was super busy as we sped around San Diego purchasing more items at West Marine, Pacific Offshore Rigging, and Trader Joe's. We even visited the local library so we could apply for Mexican auto insurance and print out the proof.

Miraculously, we seemed to finish most of the items on our "to-do" list just before everything closed for the night. Barely. We rolled into good old Sweetwater Regional Park where we pitched the tent and fell asleep to the dulcet tones of our extremely loud and verbose neighbor yammering away in profane Spanglish. 

I felt like I had just fallen asleep when Tom woke me at 4:30 to break camp and cross the border. We were a bit nervous about crossing with our truck absolutely packed with boat gear. Would they make us take everything out and declare it? Would we have to pay customs duty on it? If MX Customs happened to question our import of gear, we were prepared to legitimize it (and no duty payment) with the Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for our boat. But still, it would be time-consuming.

Our friend Mike told us that 5:30 a.m. was the best time to cross and he was right! Tom told the Mexican customs agent "Nothing to declare", even so, the customs agent did ask to see the inside of our truck. Tom told him we were going to Baja for camping and de vacaciones, and I guess the agent figured it would be too much hassle to inspect our heap of gear at 5:30 a.m. so he waved us on through. We pulled a hard right and parked the truck at the immigration office, got our 6 month tourist cards and were on our way!

We wondered how the roads would be after the hurricane and rainy weather. They were generally in good condition, but partway along the toll road from Tijuana to Ensenada we had to take a detour through the mountains because the highway was closed. We finally hit Ensenada and stopped for a coffee pick-me-up and some internet.

The Tundra's first time in Ensenada. We stop at Starbucks for some caffeine and internet. Two years ago we 'lived' at this Starbucks while our boat was being painted.

It was slow-going as we drove through all the little beach towns along the west coast, and we were absolutely amazed to see the vast acreage of agriculture! We saw acres and acres of tomatoes, brassicas, lettuce, vineyards, and berries. Next time I buy berries from Driscoll farms, or tomatoes from MX, I'll know exactly where they came from.

You know you're in Mexico when you see the ubiquitous Pemex gas stations.


Agriculture that went on for miles and miles, watered by underground aquifers.
(In the desert, this does not seem sustainable/prudent.)

Most people who drive down the Baja stop in El Rosario to spend the night, but when we passed through it was barely 1:00 p.m., so we pressed on as we drove eastward into the heart of Baja toward the vast Vizcaino Desert. The terrain in this area was, to me, some of the most interesting and beautiful. The landscape was covered with all kinds of cactus, and sometimes huge boulder fields would appear and seem to go on forever.

A very impressive Cardon cactus, which is the largest cactus in the world.

Highway 1 can be dangerous, as evidenced by the numerous memorials along the road.

We've been told by many people that it's extremely dangerous to drive in Baja at night due to the livestock that like to wander onto the roads, as well as all the semi trucks that travel at night. As the sun set we approached our destination of Guerrero Negro, famous for its salt mines, and it did seem like the volume of trucks on the road was increasing. Just prior to arriving in Guerrero Negro we crossed the 28th Parallel which signifies the time change from Pacific to Mountain Time, as well as leaving the state of Baja California and entering Baja California Sur. As we crossed this border we were cheerfully relieved of 20 pesos (about $1.35) in order to fund an agricultural spray on the Tundra's underbelly. 

Welcome to Baja California Sur! Now prepare to get sprayed.

Our very comfy beds at the new Hotel Terra Sal in Guerrero Negro

The next day was another early start as we left Guerrero Negro before dawn. We experienced some dense fog as we hit the middle of the peninsula, so we stopped in San Ignacio to make coffee and have a little breakfast.

Look at that packed Tundra! It all seemed important when we put it in.

The numerous military check stations helped break the monotony, even though they all asked the same questions: Where are you coming from and where are you going?

Once we passed hurricane-damaged Santa Rosalia and neared Mulege we really felt like we were back in the hood, so we had to drive into Mulege for some treats and to check out the hurricane damage.

We visit Mago's in Mulege for a snack and internet. Mago even remembered how Tom likes his coffee!

Water Purification building destroyed by hurricane (we used to buy bottled water here). 

Casa de los Suenos had a bit of damage.

We even stopped at our favorite Casa de los Suenos to look at the hurricane damage. If we had chosen to take 3 days to drive down this would have been our second stop, but since it was only noon we kept going.

We sped past Loreto and approached the very mountainous areas of Baja. It was a long climb up from Puerto Escondido, as we turned westward and once again headed back into the heart of Baja. 

We were surprised at the number of cyclists on the road! (12 in 2 days)

After Highway 1 takes a left turn south, we drove through the metropolis of Ciudad Constitucion. Since Constitucion is only 210k (130miles) from La Paz we were really starting to feel like we were "home". It was in this area that most of the road work was taking place. We don't know if they were doing repairs or simply upgrading the road, but there were long stretches of dusty dirt road to contend with. 

A tight fit.

Finally, at about 4:30 p.m., we popped up over a mountain and could see the Bay of La Paz below us. At last! It felt very familiar to drive into La Paz and along the Malecon as we made our way to Marina Palmira.

In spite of still unrepaired hurricane damage, they were decorating the Malecon for Christmas.

Of course, we did have to stop at Harker Board for a glass of cold Baja Brewing amber, a burger, and some first-hand hurricane tales from the owner Vanessa, but we eventually arrived at Marina Palmira with full stomachs and happy to be reunited with Cinnabar.

Cinnabar was waiting for us, and the next morning we pretty much verified that she'd had nearly zero damage from the hurricane. We had left her in good hands with our boat managers Susan and Dennis Ross, and there was only a small patina of grit on Cinnabar's counters and floors that showed she'd weathered Hurricane Odile. Even her anemometer is intact and still working! 

Photo courtesy of Nancy on Shindig

Now, we have to reverse our trip and get the Tundra back to the Bay Area. That will be the next adventure. 

More pictures of our trip can be found here in our DRIVING DOWN THE BAJA album. 

- 1570 Miles including our 2 days of errands around SF Bay.
- 6 days (5 nights) duration.
- Beds:
  • Sailboat Eyrie in SF (thanks Synthia!)
  • Dayna's house in Salinas (thanks Dayna!)
  • Sailboat Ciao Bella in Seal Beach (thanks Joe and Kitty!)
  • Sweetwater Campground in San Diego
  • Hotel Terra Sal (550 pesos/$37 US) in Guerrero Negro
- Boat stuff hauled down:new 77 lb Spade anchor, new liferaft (old one condemned due to delamination), new dinghy (upgrade to Hypalon Achilles 10') with dinghy wheels, new genset head, new snubber and dock lines, 7 gals engine oil, new foam for cockpit cushions, 20 yds Sunbrella Toast for new bimini and wheel cover, Sunbrella furniture fabric for cockpit cushions, 3 cases of wine, lots of microbrew beers, good stuff from Trader Joe's, Jib for Cinnabar, and gear for fellow cruisers (spinnaker, battens and sail slides, solar charger).

Friday, November 7, 2014

Cinnabarbarians on Wheels

Tom and I left Cupertino on October 1st and spent the entire month on a most enjoyable journey. The goal was to visit friends in Colorado and New Mexico, stop in San Diego to take care of some business, and just spend some time enjoying the beautiful southwest.

We loved driving along US Route 50, "The loneliest highway in America". Nevada's roads and historic markers are excellent, and we enjoyed traveling this famous road that somewhat follows the Pony Express route, and reading all about Nevada history along the way. 

Miles and miles of this.
You never know what you'll see on the Loneliest Highway.

Welcome to beautiful Colorado!
We eventually made our way to beautiful Clifton, CO, to visit our friends the McGuires who own the lovely Casa de los Suenos in Bahia Concepcion. What with visiting them in CO we managed to mooch off of them at all their properties this year, Bahia Concepcion, Gualala CA, and Clifton CO. They are all very scenic places with excellent views, so hooray for us!!

While in Clifton we enjoyed some hiking, biking, wine tasting, beer tasting, visiting friends and TONS of eating great food.
Downtown Grand Junction had lots of art.

Quiche made using the McGuire's fresh eggs and Kelston's elk sausage.
Mike and Kelston had just returned home from a California lobster trip, and our first night was a surf and turf of Elk filet (shot by Kelston) and lobster. Then Mike and I bought some freshly roasted peppers and made lots of elk and lobster chili rellenos. Sorry, no pics of those rellenos; all the evidence was eaten immediately.

The weather was gorgeous so we spent lots of time outdoors. 

Ten Mile hike to Independence Monument

After inflicting ourselves on the McGuires for 1.5 weeks we left Colorado and headed south to Taos, to visit the infamous Joe and Kitty with whom we had rendezvoused in Bahia Concepcion in April. We checked the website and found some great, FREE, BLM campgrounds, and spent a pleasant (but kind of chilly) night along the Million Dollar Highway on our way to Taos.
Tom makes a "hobo dinner" of chili and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale at Lower Hermosa Campground, Durango CO.

Kitty and Joe live in a fabulous place in Arroyo Seco near Taos, with fantastic views in every direction. 

They even have a cute rental on their property,  Kitty's Casita that they rent out via VRBO and Air B&B. It's a terrific place!
It was great fun to enjoy the wonderful Taos climate, which was sunny and warm most days, although we did get hail one day.

Joe and Tom cycle the Rio Grande Gorge Canyon Rim trail

Kitty and I couldn't resist this HUGE Kohlrabi at the farmer's market

Taos is fascinating and filled with artists. We went to one of the best museum exhibits I've ever seen, "The Kings and Queens of Cool, Lowbrow Art", which was modern, colorful and mind-blowing. 

"The Birth of Ginger". Gilligan's Isand...Oh hell yes!
My personal favorite - "Carne de Amore", babe reclining on a taco. Who wouldn't love that?

After leaving Taos we made our way to San Diego via more beautiful and free campsites. 
Stunning view from El Malpais campground.

The dramatic gorges of New Mexico
Camping in the Sonoran Desert.
We camped at Sweetwater Regional Park in the city of San Diego for three nights. After a couple of days of "taking care of business" in SD, we drove up to Seal Beach to rendezvous with Kitty and Joe, and Nick from Iolanthe for a reunion of the old Bahia Concepcion gang. 

Nick sailed over from Catalina.
We even managed to rendezvous with Jake in Santa Monica one night.
The gang is reunited!
It was the first time since 2013 that we were all together again. Kitty and Joe were nice enough to let us sleep on their boat, which was super comfortable. It felt GREAT to be sleeping on board once again, but it made us miss Cinnabar even more. The weather was fantastic, but alas, we needed to be home by Halloween to keep a Trick-or-Treating date with some special little goblins. So we left at 5:30 a.m on Halloween day and arrived back in Cupertino around noon.

We're taking care of some last-minute things and then we hope to head back down to La Paz very soon. We miss Cinnabar and can't wait to check her out to see how she survived Hurrican Odile. We heard she is fine with no damage, but we still want to see for ourselves.

I tried to map our route on Google Maps, but they have "improved" Maps to the point where it is ridiculously complicated and unmanageable and I finally gave up in a fit of pique. Harrumph!! 
UPDATE: Tom mapped our route!! Thanks Tom. Here it is: Tundra Road Trip Western States

Or here is a picture of the route:
CA to NV to UT to CO to NM to AZ to CA

The entire PICTURE ALBUM of our trip is HERE. 

Six states - CA, NV, UT, CO, NM, AZ
Miles - 4, 075
Beds - 8 (including a boat and the Toyota)
1) Lower Hermosa, Durango CO - FREE BLM land 1 night
2) Joe Skeen/El Malpais, Grant, CO - FREE BLM land 1 night
3) Buckeye Regional Park, Buckeye, AZ - FREE BLM land 1 night
4) Sweetwater Regional Park, San Diego, CA - $29/night 2 nights, 1 night FREE (couldn't find anyone willing to take the fee)
Straight days spent above 4,000 ft. altitude - 24 days

Our trusty Toyota Tundra that took us everywhere we wanted to go.