01/26/2011, Acapulco, Mexico & Ghost Ships!!!
Ben's 73lb BIG fish!!!
January 26, 2011
On to Acapulco
With the water maker installed we bid farewell to Ixtapa and made an 18 hour passage to Acapulco. We always feel sad saying goodbye to the people and places that we've stayed for more than a few weeks, however it does feel good arriving in a new area to be explored. We've been warned fervently about Acapulco. Drug cartel, mafia, dirty, crowded. Yeah...I'm sure it's all that. But, it's also cool, old, and bustling. Floating on our mooring ball in the evenings is like sitting in a bowl of diamonds, with all of the twinkling lights. This is the first place since I can remember that we have not been eaten alive by mosquitoes and no-seeums, and actually can sit out at night. We have become very close with two gentlemen that over see some of the mooring balls in this anchorage, Hugo and Alex. They have taken a particular liking to Ben and his passion for fishing. On a deep sea fishing trip he took with them today he got to help pull in his first sailfish! Alex and Hugo have also been helpful in...yes folks...more repairs on our boat. I know...you're shocked! We just had a little engine problem several hours out of Ixtapa, well okay...the engine actually stopped...and we just drifted for awhile (no wind), but my amazing husband fixed it, at least enough for us to move on safely. Oh yeah, and when the generator also decides to stop working, well then you have problems with such things as power, refrigeration, not being able to run the new water maker etc... and so the saga continues!
A very wise woman recently told me how she thought that this new journey in Larry's life, meaning water, was the perfect compliment to his career in fire. Hmmm...thank you for that Margalit. I think you are right. I'm glad I get to come along for the ride!
Now the Ghost Ship part: If you look on Google Earth you at the Lat/Long shown above you can see the "Ghost Ships" on the bottom of the harbor.
01/14/2011, Ixtapa, Mexico
Night shot of Ixatapa Marina with S/V Stolen Kiss nosed into her slip!
January 14, 2011
Ixtapa and Morelia
How time ticks by. Happy New Year everyone! As much as we missed our families and friends for the holidays, we had a very nice Christmas here in Ixtapa and have really enjoyed the company of some of the other cruisers and crew that are here. We truly are like a little family and I cannot even express how good the camaraderie feels. Thank you Pax Nautica, Royal Albatross, Yat Ta Hey, and Adam and Zuzanna!
We have been busy though! The windless is fixed for the anchor. Also, one of the cars that run the main sail up and down the mast that came off on the way to Ixtapa is fixed, and the autopilot that stopped working on the way down here as well has been fixed by my amazing husband. You do know the definition of cruising don't you? Fixing your boat in exotic locations! And that is what we do best! Our new water maker (yes folks...45 gallons an hour this puppy makes!) arrived several weeks ago and Larry has been installing it for ten days. It is a huge job. There is a lot to be said for all of these mishaps, he is learning about this boat from the inside out, literally. But he is so crippled from tendon damage in his arm from having to hand raise the anchor so many times that the work is going painfully slow. Once again our buddy boat Santosha has moved on. We do however hope to catch up in the near future.
A highlight for Larry, Ben, and I was a three night inland trip we took just after Christmas. We took a luxury bus (big reclining cushy seats with foot rests, TV's for each passenger with a large selection of movies, documentaries, and internet, a beautiful bus attendant in high heels and all serving sodas, waters, chips and candy and...get this folks...cocktails!) The bathrooms were immaculate. It was amazing! So our five hour trip to the beautiful colonial city of Morelia cost us a whopping $37.50 each. Now, this was a rather adventurous thing for us to do, seeing as we really weren't sure where we were going, with no reservations, we just had one thing in mind...Monarch butterflies. Morelia had also just been the scene of a huge battle between drug cartels where they were literally turning over trucks and vehicles and setting them on fire to close off access for the police and the federali's to the city. There is so much fear brought on by the media that I have to say it is somewhat infectious. But we try to not let that influence us so we ask everyone, friends, tourists, taxi drivers, waiters, I mean everyone, "Would you go?" All but one said yes! So we went, and it turned out to be one the best trips we have ever taken. We stayed in the downtown historic section that reminded us of being in Europe. Morelia was founded in 1541 and its' historic area is a Unesco World Heritage site. The Hotel Virrey de Mondoza where we stayed was a spectacular old home renovated into a hotel with original walls dating back to the 1500's. We loved it and Ben was convinced it was haunted! After a lovely dinner at an outdoor restaurant on the town square with a view of the magnificent lit up church, the waiter helped set us up with a tour for the next day to the El Rosario Sanctuary of the monarch butterflies. Score! We did it! There are just a few things in life, such as Laguna San Ignacio where the mother gray whales give birth to their young that we stopped at on our way down the Baja, and now the butterflies here that we know if we don't stop and see them now, chances are we would never come back.
So, let me tell you why this "super generation" of butterflies is so special. This generation lives up to eight months, where the others only for one to two months. They have been coming to this area in Mexico for thousands of years, from Dec. - March, swarming and living in the pine trees, eventually mating in February. The males then die off and the females begin their migration north to Canada in March, depositing their eggs along the way and then they too die off. The new generation is born, depositing their eggs as they continue north and the cycle continues until the fourth generation which again will be the "super generation"! First of all, it is just fascinating that through some kind of genetic memory the subsequent generations know to return here year after year. Secondly, it is just incredibly beautiful and surreal to see these clusters of colorful butterflies in the trees and flying all around you, often landing on you. The pictures that you see just don't do them justice. We are so glad we went. The added benefit of this was that being on a small group tour, we got to meet people that were from other parts of the world and we had very interesting conversations. The ride was about 2 ½ hours each way, which went by surprisingly fast as we climbed from about 6ooo to 9000 feet. Some of the small villages we drove through reminded me of driving through the Alps. When our driver/tour guide made a stop along the way and insisted we buy chocolate for energy I knew this was the trip for me! Once we arrived at the sanctuary, having been at sea level just the day before, it is a bit of a shock on the system. And, it is cold! But, we managed just fine to hike the next 1000 and something feet to the butterflies. We returned back to Morelia tired but happy that evening with a lifetime memory. Ben was thrilled because he was able to get his dinner from Burger King (a rarity in Mexico), and then soak in a real bathtub in our hotel room! Dad and I were thrilled because we had a dinner date (alone!) at the elegant restaurant down stairs. Let me tell you, this trip has been good in so many ways!
Through some convincing by other tourists, we decided to stay an extra night and do a different tour the next day to Patzcuaro and Isla Janitzio. Once again we were with a great group of people where we even toasted in the new year (with tequila of course!) at 5 o'clock because one family was from the Netherlands so it was really midnight their time. (Perfect for us because we seldom make midnight!) Our first stop on this day was at the property of the artist, Juan Torres, who is well known for his Dia de los Muertos figurines. The Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico around Nov. 2. It is a day of true celebration, giving families a reason to go visit their loved ones in cemetaries, often eating and drinking and listening to the favorite music of their deceased. The grounds of this artists haven were very unique in an artsy, funky sort of way. The gallery being in an old chapel.
Another interesting stop we made was in the village of Tzintzuntzan, meaning place of the hummingbird, in the indigenous language of the Purepecha Indians. We mostly stopped there to tour a beautiful religious complex called the Ex-Convento de San Francisco. As we toured these grounds, learning how this is where the Franciscan monks began the Spanish missionary effort in the state of Michoacan, we couldn't help but feel a little bit sad as we could look up the hill at ancient Tarascan ruins (from 600 BC) that had been blown up by the Spaniards because they thought there was gold inside. Somehow to us, the supposed love of Christ that they so wanted to force and the subsequent atrocities they committed on these people just don't seem to jive. As we walked around the property you can see stones with carvings from the ancient Purepecha that the Catholic Church "allowed" to be built into the buildings to gain the trust of the Indians and encourage them to turn their life towards Jesus. There are also ancient olive trees said to be the oldest in the America's, one for each year of Jesus's life, planted within the compound.
Lake Patzcuaro and Isla Janitzio were the highlight of the day. All around the lake are traditional Purepecha villages, each with its' own craft specialty which has maintained self sufficiency for the indigenous people. In the middle of the lake is Isla Janitzio, which reminded me of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, France. We traveled to the island in this funky sort of barge boat, learning that 6000 people lived on it, no cars, and that everything is either carried up and down this island by hand or on their backs. Of course the thing to do was to hike up to the statue at the top, and so we did. Phew! And then once we reached the statue we wound our way up the stairs on the inside - stepping out at the top for an amazing view of the surrounding country. The statue is 40 meters high, representing independence hero Morelio. The murals inside depict his life. This colorful island really was something you have to see to believe.
We returned to Ixtapa the next day, tired but happy, mindful that we need to not only pay attention to the ocean that we are traveling on but the land that we pass by.
12/15/2010, Barra de Navida
View of the Grand Bay Hotel in Barra de Navidad, Mexico
December 15, 2010
Stuck in Paradise
Yes, we are still here, anchored in the lagoon of Barra de Navidad. As they say in the boating world, all plans are set in jello. They are jiggly, wiggly, and can fall apart or melt in a minute. Because, a minute can be all it takes for something to break...sigh....Santosha, our buddy boat family of Tammy, Patrick, and Jack, moved on a day early to Manzanillo to anchor in front of the lovely Las Hadas hotel. Tammy was feeling like she needed the extra day to finish her Christmas shopping in a larger city that would offer more. "No problem." we said, "We'll catch up to you on Saturday." Well, as we pulled up our anchor Larry quickly realized that our windless (the motor that pulls up our 75lb anchor and many feet of heavy chain) decided it was time to die. Now you might think, no big deal, just pull it up by hand and move on. But, it can only be pulled up at about six inches at a time, and at least we're only anchored in about 9 ft. of water here, therefore much less chain to pull in, only 50 feet. Could you imagine if we were in 30 - 60 ft of water, therefore having much more chain out? Besides, your anchor is kind of like your brake in an emergency. You wouldn't drive anywhere in your car if your brakes didn't work, would you? If our engine died as we were moving, our anchor could be the only thing that will keep us off the rocks. So, Ben and I patiently wait for days as poor Larry works on it, eventually hiring someone with expertise in these things. This person initially diagnosed it wrong as well, then sent the part to a shop in another town who eventually decided that they couldn't fix it! (Days slowly go by.) Next thing we know...it has been shipped off to Guadalajara. Again...sigh.... So much is out of your control on a boat that it is overwhelming at times. We've been at anchor now for three weeks and it is somewhat challenging. Water is an issue for example. We hold about 250 gallons. We can go about six days on this. That is three of us drinking, showering, washing dishes, flushing the toilet etc...you can't make water in a lagoon, the water is kind of a brown, muddy color and I'm sure full of sediment that would instantly clog the membranes of a water maker. However, our water maker has finally made up its' mind to die anyway. It needed to. It was probably original with the boat, so for a water makers life span it was old. So what do we do? We drive the boat to the fuel dock, that has one water spicket for a hose with non-potable water and we run it through our fancy dancy water filter machine which takes about an hour and a half or so to fill our tanks. Mind you, Larry has had to pull up the anchor, six inches at a time, by hand, which as I said before, it is a long, hard, painful process. Then we drive three miles out to sea to macerate and discharge our holding tank (because you definitely don't do that at anchor either), and so our day goes. But you see...the days are ticking down to Christmas...and Ben and I are getting antsy...and we don't want to be stuck in this lagoon any longer. And we feel pressured, because we are now with a "buddy boat", and you don't want to hold them up because you have a problem. So, there are definitely pros and cons to this situation. We decide to leave, (after I have a mini breakdown!) and rather than stopping in Manzanillo to enjoy the Las Hadas resort, we will just travel 35 hours straight to Ixtapa, and yes, once again, Larry raises the anchor by hand.
12/07/2010, Barra de Navida
Yesterday, just before we were pulling into Barra de Navidad, Ben caught his first MahiMahi/Dorado/Dolphinfish all by himself. It is so cute to watch him rig his lines on either side of the boat, one being a hand line, the other his pole. Then he lets out an empty liter bottle filled with some rocks. This creates a disturbance in the water, like a bait ball of fish would, therefore attracting the big fish and wham...there's Ben's Mahi! (Thank you Stan for this great fishing tip!) Needless to say, we really stink at killing things. I mean this is the most beautiful fish ever, bright lemon yellow, turquoise, light green, and silver, and it is fighting like heck for its' life. Larry says, "We can't kill it!" Ben says, "Why not?! It's dinner!" I stay quietly out of this one. Ben comes to his own decision to let him go. So Larry takes a picture of him just as Ben is pulling him in and then the fish falls off the hook (thank you Lord!). We have since had to convince Ben that he wasn't a 50 pounder, probably more like a thirty, but it's still the biggest story on the boat, The Mahi That Got Away.
12/06/2010, Tenacatita, Mx
Six AM. On the move to Barra de Navidad! The cute little town we spent five weeks in last May, in the beautiful Grand Bay Hotel marina. We are so excited to see our old friends there! Here is another place where we were able to find an English speaking church in the town of Melaque, making lifelong friends; Wynn, Lou, and Rouette.
After leaving Puerto Vallarta we had about a 24 hour trip to the anchorage of Tenacatita. We have been here as well before, this being the great spot where we took our dinghy on the 'jungle cruise" (see video on facebook, Lisa Anderson), as well as had daily visits by Nick and his gang, the friendly dolphins that come and scratch their backs on our anchor chain. Sure enough they were here again. The cool thing was, that this time we were able to kayak and paddle board around them. They keep their distance, but it still is a surreal experience. The night before we left Tenacatita, the 3 of us spent a quiet evening watching the documentary movie "The Cove". It is not easy to watch, but is a must see. It is about a small town in Japan that from Sept. thru March every year they round up dolphins into a cove, hand pick the ones they want to ship to various dolphin swim parks around the world (selling at $150K a piece) and hacking and slaughtering the rest to eat. It is a bloody scene. Watching this on film is difficult, but listening to the dolphins squealing and clicking in horror is almost too much to bare. Depressed yet full of activist fire, we made our way up on deck afterwards to check out the night sky, and what do you know, there they were, our friendly dolphins, swimming around our boat, scratching their back on the chain! Earlier that day, Ben actually hopped in the water with them. Now, that is the kind of "dolphin experience" we want to have.
The next morning we moved our boats a couple of miles to anchor in front of the small village of La Manzanillo. Cute and quaint, not only is this village full of artisans and friendly people, but enormous caymans as well. Ben and Jack got to feed them fish and we all watched in awe as these prehistoric creatures lolled about. We were so fortunate to hook up with a panga driver who picked us up from our boats, escorted us through town, and then took us by water to the spectacular resort called Tamarindo. As we walked the path along the beach of the resort it reminded me of a place you would see on the TV show "The Bachelor" or something. (Yes, I've been known to watch that show a time or two!) A niche of paradise, in a gorgeous location, decorated beautifully, down to the shell of a sea star in the sand ashtrays. We had a wonderful lunch by the pool, including their famous Tamarindo margaritas. We had been lucky enough to meet the owners last summer on their yacht and have wanted to come ever since. Definitely a place not to miss if you are ever in the area. Or, if you are ever looking for a quiet, beautiful, warm get away, (there is an award winning golf course as well), this would be the place.
11/01/2010, Puerto Vallarta
It is 11:30 Sunday night, November 28, 2010. I am very sad. I have just started my night watch, out at sea, as we head south to an anchorage called Tenacatita. Our very good friends, Tammy, Patrick and their nine year old son Jack Finnerty, see sailingsantosha.blog, just pulled in on their beautiful catamaran to buddy boat with us for the next two years. That is a great thing, don't get me wrong, but we have been in Puerto Vallarta for six months and cannot believe how fast the time has gone by. It has been very painful to say goodbye to the friends we have made. It is not very often that you can say you are a better person having met someone, (Brenda, John, Luce), but we can honestly say that of several friends we have made over the last six months. So, it makes me sad to leave such beautiful people.
We were so blessed to have found a church home right in Paradise Village where we have been staying. The foundation of this church is to end poverty at the Puerto Vallarta dump transfer station through temporary support of the people and education. Being able to volunteer there twice weekly was the highlight of our stay. The resilience of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me, but to be a part of it, to see it live is a whole new experience. I'll admit I was initially squeamish. The heat and the smell and the mud in this small Colonia of Majesterio this past summer was sometimes overwhelming...for me. You see I'm somewhat of a wimp, (bet y'all are surprised!) but when I hear stories of how it was there, even just a year ago I tell myself..."Buck up!". You see, it is no longer a dump, it is a transfer station. Trucks come and drop off the trash, that is then gone through by hand, and anything of recyclable value is pulled out. This is how many of the families up there survive. There is no longer anyone living in the dump. There are no longer any children working in the dump. Families at the Dump does many, many things, but seeing that 250 children are in school is truly what will changes lives. Education breaks the cycle of poverty.
It has been great for Ben to have surfing lessons, electric guitar lessons, and Muay Thai lessons for the last six months. Thank you, thank you Adrian and Louis. For not only teaching Ben, but for being his friend as well during a very lonely time for him. Until Jack arrived, we still had not hooked up with any cruising families. Ben still is insanely passionate about fishing, and caught his first Mahi Mahi in September on a fishing charter with our good friend Sandy!
We were so grateful to have had our mom's visit, and many friends! Thank you to Melissa, Gerry, Jenna, and Garrett (who stopped in for the day on a Carnival cruise ship), Krysten and Rene, Donna and Sandy, and Cathie and Gene. To share such wonderful experiences with you, catch up, laugh and reminisce about old times made us feel very privileged to have your company.
Fostering a kitten and a dog provided us with some much needed four legged love this summer. We were so fortunate to be able to place each into loving homes. The kitten was just a matter of being too young to survive on its own, plus it was really cute! The dog...well, we see many dogs running around in Mexico, cat's not so much. This one dog in particular was the worst thing I had ever seen in my life. And I saw him on several occasions over a six week period but could never get close enough. He was literally starving to death. Then one day we were driving by a street vendor roasting chickens and lo and behold, there he was, lying in front on the road. "Stop the car!" I yelled. We immediately bought him a chicken, which he literally about took our hands off eating, and after I asked in my (still) Tarzan and Jane Spanish with the chicken lady that the dog didn't have an owner, we scooped him up and placed him in the car. Larry angrily said, "We're not taking him on the boat!" About two blocks later and much convincing by Ben and myself he emphatically said, "Well, we're calling him Lucky!" The new owners have since renamed our Lucky to Kruiser. Get it? Cruiser with a "K" for the Lisa Kay! We had quite a time with our Lucky. Severe diarrhea, vomiting, hospitalization, IV fluids, multiple dewormings, all sorts of medications and special foods, but he survived and is thriving! Come to find out, the veterinarian didn't think he was going to make it. We all got "lucky" on this one!
Back to my night watch. It is very cool, being the only one awake, responsible for my family as they sleep while the Lisa Kay is underway. The night sky is gorgeous, with trillions of stars. It is not uncommon to see shooting stars, or dolphins racing up to your boat looking like torpedoes coming at you in the phosphorescence! (Phosphorescense is the dinoflagellates, or something like that, in the water that glow when it is disturbed.) So, that means any wake, wave, or fish darting around, lights up! I wish everyone could experience this just once in their lifetime.
So, go we must. Ready to meet new amazing people doing amazing things in faraway lands.
And now, for some humor!
A Day at the Doctor's
First you will notice there are no pictures in this section. Our time in Puerto Vallarta has been a whirl wind thus far. Meeting new people, exploring new places, trying to learn a new language, learning how to drive a car "like a Mexican" (their words, not mine), getting into a routine of activities for the three of us, and more medical appointments? Yes folks, doctor's visits! As my sister said, "You guys are always going to the doctor!" And it does seem that way, with the multiple appointments it took before our final departure for things like; Yellow Fever and Hepatitis B vaccinations, meeting with the travel nurse to get our typhoid vaccinations, malaria and assorted other medications for travel, eye exams, six month dental checks (throw in three root canals on the same tooth for Larry, and the tooth still hurts!), the last orthodontic visits for Ben etc., etc...but, now it's time for us to start all of our semi-annual/annual check upee sort of things. You know, those sort of "checking under the hood" sort of things that we all SHOULD be doing but aren't always real good at keeping up on? So, I thought I would put some of these experiences in writing, just to share some of my observations, going through this in a foreign country. I can't really say yet, whether the medical care here is better than the states or worse, but I definitely can say that it is very different. I can't even say if it is expensive, or inexpensive, because we never saw a bill from our medical provider in the states so we never knew how much a procedure cost. (But, we all certainly know how much we pay each month for medical insurance, don't we?!) Here, we pay for everything at the time of service in pesos, sometimes paper, sometimes plastic. I don't think that would always be possible in the states due to the exorbitant prices. So, let me back up here because you're probably like, "Why is she going on and on about this?" Well folks, today I had the really cool experience of being in the room with Larry for his colonoscopy. Now, some of you are probably on the floor gagging right about now, some of you are probably thinking "Wow, what a gal!", and some are probably laughing hysterically. After watching Katie Couric's colonoscopy on TV I kind of felt like this was déjà vu, in a weird sort of way. We got lost this morning (no street signs) trying to find the medical center where this procedure would take place, which was stressful of course. So, we're calling them hoping to be able to speak with someone there who speaks English and can possibly help guide us in the right direction. As we get closer, and we are told that we are to look for a green building, Larry starts pointing and saying, "if that's the green building, I'm not doing it"...and then pointing to another green building, "If that's the building I'm not doing it ." You see, as in any big city I'm sure, there are all kinds of buildings, nice ones and not so nice ones, all kind of intermingled together. We finally find it and make a quick determination that it is definitely worth it to take a look inside, after all Larry has been through heck with the "clean out" for this procedure and the thought of going through that again in the near future is worse than the thought of the actual test itself! We actually had to check in to a hotel room for the night because we would have exploded our holding tank if we didn't. You're probably wondering why I'm telling you all of this, but this is our world now and frankly sometimes it is funny! So, sitting in the waiting room, I make the observation of how casual all of the employees are dressed. I seriously doubt it was "wear jeans and platform sandals with opened toed shoes to work Thursday". Hmmm...but then I notice how nice some of the men are dressed, casual but nice. Ahhh, those must be the doctors. The other observation I make is how the men greet the female workers with a kiss! Could you imagine that in the workplace in America? Heaven forbid! I have to say, I found it endearing. They all seemed happy. They all seemed like they liked each other. Like they were a team, a unit. Next thing I know, shortly after Larry has been called in for his "procedure" and I am sneaking out the door, I hear my name. (For crying out loud, can't I just go get a Starbucks?) "Si?", says I. It's the doctor and he would like to know if I would like to be in the room for the test because so many times the patient wakes up afterwards and doesn't believe that anything was ever done, therefore I can be Larry's
witness. (My mind was screaming, "Oh that's okay, we'll believe that you actually did the test, really!), but my mouth said, "Cool.". And, that is how I ended up in a tiny room, with three other people, totally in the way, but was made to feel so comfortable. I learned more about colons than I would ever really care to know, but it was a good experience. $400.00 later, we walked away with a DVD and a biopsy of Larry's special event which yep, you guessed it, we'll take to another doctor's appointment tomorrow. And, so the story goes...welcome to paradise. A Day At The Zoo There have been many times during our travels in Mexico that we have made the comment, "Only in Mexico!". A day at the Puerto Vallarta zoo was definitely one of them. It felt like such a festive day for us because we got to celebrate this adventure with our new "boat people" friends, Nicole and Tom, in honor of their daughter, Mackenzie's, fifth birthday. Her brother Max, was also with us.
The zoo is about a 30 minute drive south of PV, near Mismaloya which is an incredibly beautiful, jungly area. For the first few hours I think we were the only ones in the zoo. We immediately knew it was going to be an unusual experience when at the front gate we all purchased a bag of goodies for the animals ranging from breadsticks, carrots, dried corn, grains etc...hmmm...but what do we feed to what? Oh, there's writing on the bag that we can somewhat decipher. I think the first animals we came across were monkeys. You know the cute kind that stole Ben Stiller's keys in "Night at the Museum"? Only these were mommies with their babies attached and we could stand right by them and they would gently reach out and take their piece of bread. We fed flamingos corn right out of our hands, bread crumbs to ostrichs off the tops of our heads (well, okay, I was the only one that did that!), and lo and behold we come around a corner and a giraffe is craning his long neck over his little two foot tall rock wall that is keeping him in, looking to see if we're coming. Yes, I fed the giraffe a carrot stick from my mouth. Did you know they have a really long, black, slimy tongue? I do now! Around the next corner, the young employees in bare feet and blue jeans rolled up, were giving a baby tiger a bath. Right in the middle of the path through the zoo! This is done every day, apparently, to the baby tigers and lions. Then they are bottle fed and for a nominal fee you can go in their pen and hold them. See what I mean? Only in Mexico. Ben was given the instructions, "If he bites, don't pull your arm away because he will rip your skin." And that is exactly what happened, but Ben didn't pull away and he took the few little puncture marks very well!
The kid's had a wonderful time. I was enlightened. I am not a zoo person. I don't believe our children need to see animals in cages in order to grow up with a mind of conservation and compassion. However, I found this zoo refreshing. It was far from perfect, don't get me wrong. But, the animals seemed happy. The caregivers seemed to genuinely care. We knew it would be a once in a lifetime experience...and so it was.
A Day Driving in Mexico
For the past five months, we have been blessed with a renting a Jeep Cherokee. $750 a month but worth every penny. We found it on "Craigslist" (yes they're in Mexico too). Cheaper than rental agencies but still hard on the budget. The car has given us the freedom to volunteer up at Families at the Dump, making the bi-weekly donation run where Sam's Club and Walmart are kind enough to donate their damaged/opened goods, as well as really explore Puerto Vallarta, so as to not be stuck in the "paradise bubble", as we like to call it. HOWEVER, driving in Mexico is a whole new experience. So, I thought I would share a little!
Here goes: First thing you have to learn, is that left turns or u-turns are made from the right lanes. Yes, you have to plan way ahead, so that you can pull over onto the frontage road to your right, in order to get into the left lane there, to make your left turn from the right of the main road! It is a little intimidating crossing four to six lanes to turn, especially when the green arrow on the light isn't really visible or is not working at all, but when people start honking, it generally means it is your turn to go!
NEVER stop at a stop sign. You WILL get hit! The stop signs are merely a suggestion, to be aware that there is merging traffic.
DON'T get excited if there is a cop car coming near you or behind you with their red lights on. They drive around with them on all of the time. Only pull over if they turn on their siren on.
Speaking of which, we have been pulled over several times. Sometimes, because we deserved it, sometimes not. Whoever thinks there aren't any rules in Mexico is wrong! However, the police can say whatever they want, and you really have to be strong and stand up to them, in a subtle sort of way, because we definitely don't want to end up in a Mexican prison!
So, the first thing that they do is make the driver get out of the car, therefore removing them from any passengers over hearing their conversation. Next, they ask to see your driver's license, car registration etc...also asking where you are staying. "You're on a boat eh? Hmmm..." I'm sure they see many $$$ signs, and in true Mexican fashion they offer to "take care" of the ticket for you for a mere 2000 pesos. That's about $160.
See the deal is, that you can promptly take them up on their generous offer to "take care" of the ticket for you and pay them the 2000 pesos, or they write you a ticket, keep your driver's license. If you take the ticket you can go the next day to wherever the government building is (good luck finding it) and pay your ticket (usually around 100 pesos!) and then get your driver's license back.
Then you say, "Well however will I drive the car without a license?". And they say, "Well you can't. You must leave the car here." (We have since learned that this is not true, your ticket is confirmation that you have (had) a driver's license, therefore you can continue driving.) So, what we have learned is to eagerly ask for the ticket, no...demand a ticket! Oh and, "Could we please get your name and badge
number?" They are appalled at this of course. "No, please, write me the ticket." So far they have just gotten angry, told us to forget it and huffed away!
I'm sure this will bite us in the butt one day, but we would still rather do the right thing and pay the right way rather than pay a bribe. Nothing makes Larry more furious. After a thirty year career in the fire service, serving the public, where trust is everything, being held up (they just don't point the gun at you) by a police officer, just about gives him a heart attack. It is our understanding that the officers' salary is a mere $20.00 a day, therefore in a sick sort of way, you can't blame them for wanting to supplement their salary.
Beware of herding cattle, or as we like to call it, "the running of the bulls". There have been several instances where we have been driving along and suddenly come across a herd of cattle on the road with cowboys and doggies and everything. It is slightly intimidating, weaving your car between them!
Number one rule here...the bus ALWAYS wins. Let's back up here by saying that buses are a major form of transportation here, as many people cannot afford to have their own car. Therefore there are a lot of buses, and they have to keep a schedule. Another words, they mean business on the road! Some buses have spikes on their wheels! Some have this sort of "Mad Max of Thunder Dome" type bumpers on the front, which is very frightening as they are barreling down on you. Needless to say, this gets back to my first sentence, the rule of tonnage...the bus always wins!
Cobblestone roads are quaint, charming, cute to look at...for about five minutes. And then when you start to feel the fillings in your teeth loosen, and you can't hear any conversation in the car from the rumbling as you roll over the street, you quickly get over the quaint, charming, cute thing.
Things to keep in your car: An umbrella for the torrential rains, or skin melting sun, your own personal supply of toilet paper (because not all restrooms have it), water, and at least 2 days of medications (sometimes you just never know if you're going to get to your destination or back to the boat!
DO get used to speed bumps ("Topes"), or as our friend Rick calls them, "uncomfortables". Heavy rope, dirt mounds, metal balls, some are marked, some are not, some are in the sun, some are in the shade (you totally don't see them), and... well at night...just forget it....because streetlights are virtually non-existent. Mexico is in love with speed bumps. They are everywhere! There are capable of removing the undercarriage of your car.
There are lot's of random one way streets, and you can't just tell by which way the cars are parked. I generally figure out I'm going the wrong way when cars start honking at me and people are pointing the other way. (Oops, sorry Christian!)
Use turn signals cautiously. If you do happen to put your turn signal on, it can mean to the driver behind you (which could be, and have been a "Mad Max" bus) that it is safe for them to pass you on that side. Therefore left hand turns can sometimes be tricky, and exciting.
It is not uncommon to see a family of four on a small motor scooter, a horse loaded in the back of a small pickup truck, or 6-10 people riding in the back of a pick-up (even in the rain). Beware of the rainy season. We have driven on more roads that turned into rivers. Sometimes Larry gets out of the car to walk the road first just to see if we can make it!
Well, there you have it. We survived and maintained quite a sense of humor. We thoroughly enjoyed driving everywhere!