Reflections by Kirk
31 March 2015
We have been living on our boat now since December of 2012 and living away from our homeport or "cruising" since June of 2013. It has been long enough to generate some impressions about the out-of-the-mainstream lifestyle that we have adopted. How has it been for us? The short story, that I tell my family, is that we are still talking to one another and the boat is still floating. I guess they are really the two most important things, but the story goes a little deeper. Time is getting to be an unreliable way to measure things for us. For much of our lives, everything seemed like it happened yesterday. For the past two years or so, it seems like everything we have done happened a long time ago. It was actually less than two years ago that a very large group of people joined us at Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle to help us "cut the dock lines" and head off into a life of complete uncertainty. It seems like a different lifetime. We had studied and prepared to the best of our ability, but this was still completely uncharted water. It, so far, has turned out pretty darned good for the most part. One of the downsides, for me, is that so much has happened to us, we have seen so many awesome sights and met so many wonderful people, that my brain cannot quite keep track of it all. I sometimes worry that this may be the result of age related memory issues, but those worries do not last long. We really have covered a lot of territory in a most intimate fashion and have met a most eclectic bunch of people from the cruising community as well as the people who live and work in places we have visited. Not to say that we did not live a good life from our home in Redmond, WA. It was an awesome piece of dirt. We had/have an excellent group of people that we call friends. But this is different in a mind-boggling kind of way.
From our home in Redmond, we would drive our cars to shop or work or to visit with friends. Over the years the drive might change as work changed or we found new places to shop. Like us, most of our friends tended to stay in the same homes for long periods of time. So, although, each day might be different than the one before, there was still a bit of sameness. We knew all of the shortcuts in driving routes. We knew the good places to shop for whatever it was we were buying. We had comfort in having a very fine group of people we knew as friends and knew that we could visit them just about any time we wished. That sameness was a certain source of comfort.
There is a degree of sameness to this new lifestyle, but it is more in our relation to the boat we call home. We have the constant quest to find more efficient storage solutions for the things we need or choose to have. We have the never-ending resolve to conserve our supplies of water and electrical power as for the most part we make our own and do not have the ability to flip a switch or turn a valve to receive unlimited supplies of either. Waste management, both the kind that would go into the trashcan back at our home in Redmond and the kind that we would flush down the toilet requires thought and planning. Maintaining our floating home is different than maintaining our Redmond home. True, there is no lawn to mow, flowerbeds to weed, shrubs and trees to trim or leaves to rake. But now we have to maintain all of the infrastructure that we used to take for granted; power and water supply, waste disposal, fuel storage and distribution. We have two engines - a large diesel that provides propulsion and electrical current to charge our batteries, and an outboard motor that powers our dingy, which is our equivalent of the family car. It really is essential for us to keep both of these engines operational at all times. There is an array of solar panels and a windmill generator that we rely on to make power for charging our batteries; but, if the sky is too cloudy and the wind does not blow, we need the big diesel to make power for us. Electricity is usable to us solely through a large bank of 12-volt batteries. If these batteries fail, we have no lights, communications, music, modern navigation tools or refrigeration. The salt-water environment in which we live, and now, the stronger UV exposure, create a need to be ever vigilant against the scourge of corrosion and UV degradation. All in all, the effort needed to maintain our floating home is greater than that required for the lovely little home in Redmond. But there is sameness in the constant effort to keep our home comfortable and operating efficiently. Every day we monitor fuel and water levels in our tanks and the amount of power available in the batteries. Most days there is something that we do in the way of maintenance. There is comfort in the daily exercises needed to keep our home operating as we like it to.
The mind-boggling part comes from the fact that our only home is mobile. We have covered a lot of territory during the past two years and have spent nights in more different places than I choose to try and count. Food shopping becomes a bit of an adventure in every new place. First, try and find out where the stores are and then weed them down to places that we can walk to if possible. This sounds relatively simple. But sometimes just finding someone who knows the local "lay of the land" can take some effort, especially in a land where we are not conversant in the language...yet. Once we discover what the local options are, we need to figure out how to get there. In the US and Canada, directions are usually easy to understand; and if we can actually remember where and when to make the appropriate lefts and rights, we ended up where we wanted to go. In addition, in the US and Canada, most food shopping occurs in supermarkets, where everything you are liable to want is all in the same store. The shopping takes a little longer as we are not familiar with store layouts and usually need to go up and down every aisle to find what we are looking for. In Mexico, there are supermarkets, but they are a relatively new concept and tend to be built only on the outskirts of the largest towns. Most of the food shopping occurs in small market spaces. It is unlikely to find everything you need in one place. Extensive wandering becomes necessary to try and find the meat market, the fish market, the market that may have fresh lettuce, and the other ones that have fresh bread, cucumbers, mangoes, limes, so on and so forth. Rather than driving the car to the supermarket, loading it all into the car and then driving back home to unload, we leave the boat with backpacks containing only cloth bags and walk around to do the shopping and then walk back with full backpacks and hands full of bags loaded with merchandise. Sometimes we break down and take a bus or taxi to big markets. The act of shopping for food used to be easy. We knew where to go. We knew the stores and could be in, out and back home with relative ease. Food shopping now is an adventure nearly every time we do it. That is not a bad thing, but the mental and physical effort required can mess with oneself. And that is just for the simple stuff. Discovering where to go for sewing supplies, boat parts, general hardware, medical services and such add degrees of complexity. We renew this effort in every new place we stop. In Victoria, British Columbia we spent enough time to feel pretty comfortable with our shopping, but still limited our shopping for everything, including medical services, to locations within walking distance. We spent awhile in San Diego and had a similar comfort level, with the exception that sometimes we needed to take the dingy to a place from which to start walking. Recently, we spent many weeks in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (pretty big name for a small town) and as we got to know our way around, we started to have more fun dealing with basic shopping needs. Given the issues involved with shopping and the space limitations on the boat, it is not such a big surprise that there are a bunch of previously necessary things that no longer seem so necessary.
People are also part of the mind boggle. It really is a comfort to have friends and acquaintances that you have known for a long time and with whom have been able to cultivate a relationship that time enhances. Same with people whom you have come to depend on when help is needed, like medical professionals, repairpersons of all types, the people who help with legal or accounting advice. Time has been the test of whom you can trust and with whom you care to share your time.
We have met more people in the past two years with whom we have spent some time or at least had significant conversations than I suppose we have met in the ten years previous. This has been wonderful. Some have been truly extraordinary. Many, if not most, have been folks that we would like to cultivate deeper relationships with. But that is a problem. Either they or we move on long before we really know if these people will develop into close friends. Long time boat cruisers tell us that there are many people you will share time and place with again and again. I suppose that given enough time and repeated encounters there will be some with whom we will feel that special relationship. There is a family on a boat that we have seen in many places over the past two years. We feel a special closeness with them, but expect that sometime in the next year our paths will take a major divergence. I see these types of situations as being a potential problem for the soul. How close do you allow yourself to become attached, knowing that there will be the pain of leaving? We have been through that already in leaving the people with whom we have had decades of some degree of intimacy. And it did hurt to leave them.
I had written the previous paragraph a few days ago and thought a lot about the process of making and then losing friends over a short period of time. And then an event happened that brought things into a clearer focus for me. We were anchored off the beach of a very small town called Chacala for a few days. This so far is the loveliest small town we have visited. On the downside, anchorage is by far the rolliest that we have been in, the boat really moves around quite dramatically and comfort levels are reduced. We stayed there to witness the invasion of nationals to beaches for the biggest holiday time of the year, the week before and the week after Easter. Schools throughout the nation are closed for these two weeks. Anyone within a day's drive of a beach area has aspirations to spend at least part of this holiday under an umbrella on the sand. Local folks here at Chacala tell us that there will not be any space on the beach which is not shaded by an umbrella by the Thursday before Easter. So here we sit out at anchor a few hundred yards off the beach just waiting to see what happens.
A few days ago we were sitting in the shade of a small thatched structure in Chacala just big enough to cover a table and six chairs in the sand. There are several such structures and large umbrella covered tables attached to an establishment serving good food and cold beverages. Hills around the small bay had orchards on the slopes and we were curious as to what was growing. We asked our waiter, who did not know and then an older (than I) man walked by and we asked him. This was the start of one of those afternoon discussions that ran into evening. His wife and younger (than I) daughter joined the group and we found three people that were open, honest and just plain easy to talk to. The next day at the same beach palapa we saw them again only this time the daughter's husband, who had just arrived from Albuquerque, joined us. They basically added us to the family group, all four, being folks that are just plain nice to hang out with. We left them; again well after dark, with an invitation to come out to the boat the following day. The next day, two plus generations of people talking freely as though we had known one another for awhile left us feeling sad when they left the boat. Then I started thinking again about the relationships that we have been and will be making and breaking during the course of our adventure. I was fresh from the high of excellent conversation and that may have clouded my feelings. However, it became clear that the wonderful feelings of friendship are much more powerful, for me, than the pain of losing those relationships. So when the occasions arise, I will leave myself open to give, as well as receive, the gifts of friendship regardless of the consequences.
While we were aboard the boat with our new friends, the younger couple asked if we would like to accompany them to a nearby place where petroglyphs had been carved into the rocks. OK, sounds like fun. Next day we met at the same beach palapa, had a nice breakfast and then drove, maybe five or ten miles and turned off onto a series of dirt roads that bordered orchards containing a wide variety of tropical fruit trees. The narrow dirt road finally became too rough to drive, so we parked in the shade and started walking. The road then became a little more than a donkey trail, still bordering the orchards. We finally came to a fence where a man sat by himself on a milk crate in the shade of an enormous tree. An entrance fee was paid and we entered Alta Vista Park. The character of the trail changed almost immediately. No more orchards, just what we assume to be native vegetation. We walked through shade along a streambed. The slopes leading up from both sides covered with a combination of leafy trees and palms, birds singing and butterflies dancing. The trail was easy with a bit of scrambling over piles of rocks and boulders. Our friends had been here before and knew when to move up the slope to study the curious carvings on the rocks. Turns out we were in the company of a Doctor of Archeology and he had led us to a relatively unknown site of this mysterious ancient art. He had educated guesses about the various shapes and forms carved with rocks into the rock that helped put us in a frame of mind consistent with the history of the place. I asked if he thought that only special people like spiritual leaders, healers or warriors would have done the carving or if maybe folks just like us may have done the work. I was assured that only those of special prominence in the ancient societies would have done the carving. The trail turned a bend and a scene of awesome beauty stood before us. During the heavy summer rains, I'm certain that this area is a long waterfall. Falling water would not drop straight like Niagara Falls, but a long steep tumble over boulders and water carved bedrock. This time of year, there was a nice pool at the bottom and a small stream winding its way down through rocks and boulders. On one side a solid rock wall, nearly white, stood vertical with what appeared to be nature made steps along the base to the top of the "waterfall." On the other side, the rocks and boulders were ready made for walking to the top. Ancient petroglyphs were everywhere. No matter where you stood one or more were in plain sight. Tall palm trees filtered the sunlight; waving fronds creating moving patches of shade intermixed with bright sunlight on the boulders. I wandered around for a while in complete awe before sitting on a rock surrounded by flowing water. Sounds of the water mingled with birdsong and I knew with absolute certainty that I was in a sacred place that for many hundreds of years has been giving people the same almost out-of-body experience that I was feeling. About then, haunting notes of a flute joined the babbling water and birdsong. I closed my eyes and was transported to some other place. It seemed as though my soul was infused with gentle spirits of the countless people who sat on this exact same rock over the millennia. The flute music ended and I sat on the rock with the whole body, feel good tingle of positive magic.
Thank you Matt, the Doctor, and Bonnie, the musician, for enlightening us as well as to Stan and Carol, the dad and mom, for offering your friendship.