Sunday, April 22, 2012

Colin's Favorite Song

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Happy 1st Birthday!

Colin celebrated his first birthday on Sunday with mom, grandparents, family and friends in Florida.  Hawaiian luau was the theme for the big party and the birthday boy looked festive in his flower shirt and lei. 

At times he didn't seem to be enjoying himself -- a little overwhelmed by all the attention and a little cranky from new teeth -- but perked up when the presents were brought out and he showed us that familiar smile we all adore.

He won't remember this day but the people who love him will carry it in their hearts and one day, years from now, will share the stories and pictures of his first year of life with him.  He'll hear about the beautiful places he visited, the wonderful people he met, and the many adventures he had along the way.

Happy Birthday little Colin.  Your infectious smile and playful giggle have brought a welcomed and immeasurable joy into the lives of your parents.  May you celebrate many joyous birthdays to come and your years be filled with happiness, wisdom, and love. 

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Guadalajara Road Trip

Following the last conversation with our mechanic I estimated that our stay here in Barra would be extended by, at a minimum, three more weeks.  Given our current circumstance, the morale level aboard the good ship Jean Marie has been decidedly lower.  It didn't seem necessary for all of us to sit here waiting for the engine, so in an effort to deflect any discussion of mutiny we decided to get off the boat for a little while. 

Millie was planning on taking Colin back to Florida to visit his grandparents in June but, since we have a lot of spare time at the moment, April seems like a better month to travel.  Millie and Colin could enjoy some quality time with friends and family, and I could stay here and work on a few long overdue boat projects.  Even though I would be missing Colin's first birthday party, we both agreed this trip would be the best use of our time.

To get the best deal on flights in or out of Mexico requires a trip to Guadalajara, a 5-hour bus ride.  The first-class buses in Mexico are comfortable and inexpensive and, after being cooped up on the boat for weeks, a long bus ride offered a welcomed change of scenery.  And, if we're going that far, we may as well spend a few days checking out the city.

My only memory of Guadalajara is a dusty unappealing airport where I was forced to fly in to a couple times many years ago.  I never considered the city to be much of a tourist destination, but as described by the Lonely Planet guide:  "Guadalajara's countless charms are distributed equally and liberally throughout its distinct neighborhoods.  The city's Centro Historico (Historic Center) is dotted with proud colonial relics that house museums, government offices, bars, and hotels.  [...] Guadalajara's many contributions to the Mexican lifestyle include tequila, mariachi music, the broad-rimmed sombrero, chareadas (rodeos) and the Mexican Hat Dance, and these days it is also known for its outstanding food."

That description certainly piqued my interest and Millie, understandably, would have agreed to go anywhere with a warm shower and a flush toilet.  So, we booked a flight, worked out a 2-day itinerary in the Historic Center, and started packing.  Reggie and Phoebe on Three Sheets graciously offered to dog sit for us and then, to our complete surprise, Jo Ann and Ralph on Ensueño offered to drive us there. 

Reggie and Phoebe are a Canadian couple who were originally planning a pacific crossing this year until their engine seized up.  Due to countless delays with insurance agents, shipping agents, and parts supplier they've been stranded here in Barra waiting on a rebuild even longer than we have.  We share a common empathy and frustration with shipping and engine repair in Mexico.  And, although I'm sorry to see them suffer the same fate it's nice to have someone to share engine woes with.

Jo Ann and Ralph are an interesting, energetic, and well-traveled elderly couple from Lodi, California.  They like to spend their winters down here and prefer to drive down and have a car available for inland excursions.  Like us, they have been cooped up on the boat due to Ralph's nagging hip injury, so when they heard we were planning a trip to Guadalajara it was all the motivation they needed to go for a drive.

We called for a water taxi in the morning to take us to the marina where we dropped of Keiko, loaded our bags into the car, and headed for Guadalajara.  We stopped in Colima for lunch where we dined on surprisingly good Chinese food at a shopping mall and I took over the driving.  I managed to get us all the way to the Hotel Frances in the city center with only a couple unintended detours along the way.  

The Lonely Planet guide describes the Hotel Frances as a "living, breathing baroque time capsule [...] operating since 1610".  This is an apt description of the hotel and if it weren't for the TV sets bolted to the wall you'd think you stepped back in time.  It certainly is not a luxurious hotel, but the rooms are clean and in such an historic setting it's easy to do without modern conveniences.  We checked into a large suite on the second floor with a king-sized bed, an iron balcony, hardwood floors, and plenty of room for Colin to practice his newly-acquired walking skills.

At some point in the previous day or so I managed to catch a cold.  This would be the third time in the past few months that I've been sick.  It seems my immune system is taking a siesta here in Mexico.  We've had a talk about it and, with help from vitamin supplements, it will try to step up and do a better job.

In the meantime, I've been fighting through the runny nose, the coughs, and the sneezes in an effort to see some of the sights.  We've only got a couple days here and I'm not going to spend that time lying prostrate on a hotel bed.  So, off we went.  First stop...the pharmacy.  Armed with sinus spray, cough medicine, and Kleenex we went on a walking tour of Guadalajara's old Historic Center.

I have to say the Catholics really know how to build a church and spare no expense in the process.  The twin tower Cathedral is magnificent.  Consecrated in 1618 it's the central landmark in the old city.  We sat in the back marvelling at the ornate detail as Colin napped in his stroller and I sucked on cough drops. 

Muscle memory or, perhaps, guilt from a Catholic childhood soon kicked in for Millie as she demonstrated the proper way to kneel and make the sign of the cross.  She declined my offer to take her confession so we continued our walking tour through the busy plazas and street markets.

In the late afternoon we made our way back to the hotel for a nap before dinner.  I'd read about a restaurant south of the city center that specializes in "birria", meat steamed in its own juices until its so tender it melts in your mouth.  We had to go. 

So, that evening, we strolled through the city a half-dozen blocks to a quiet little street where we found the restaurant.  We took a seat near the sidewalk as two elderly women stirred large pots and a smiling young waiter handed us menus.  We came for the "barbacoa de borrego" (baked lamb) so it didn't take long to order.  Fifteen minutes later we feasted on hot plates of tender lamb and homemade corn tortillas while Colin devoured his mashed veggies and refried beans.  Qué rico!
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Life Without Engines

Well, here we are, still parked, engine-less,  in the Barra lagoon.  Only now we're also without a working dinghy and losing patience rapidly.  We've had enough of Barra. 

The latest blow was dealt last week as we were making plans to move the boat back to the marina and drop the rebuilt engine in.  I had spent the day before with our mechanic while he refitting new valve seals and wanted to be there when he fired it up for the first time.  Everything seemed to be running fine when I left and we planned to let it run all of the next day to check for leaks before reinstalling.  So, when I got a call in the morning to meet him I knew the outcome of the conversation would not be good. 

"We have to start all over again", were the first words I heard followed by my dazed and inarticulate response, "huh?!".  As he explained to me the details of the failed rebuild -- how the engine oil was flowing through the exhaust, how the piston rings had not seated, how he would tear it all apart again -- all I could focus on was the cold realization that our cruising season was quickly coming to an end right here in Barra and I needed to start making arrangements for the summer.

What else could possibly go wrong?  I asked myself in an uncontrollable moment of self-pity.  Well, the answer to that question would come the very next day.

Millie and I planned to go into town to run a few errands and do some provisioning.  The wind has been coming up over the past several days making the dinghy ride a very wet and uncomfortable one, especially with a small child on board.  Fortunately, Barra has a water taxi service and for a few pesos they will come out and pick us up.  So, with the wind beginning to blow I tied the dinghy to the stern and called for the taxi.

The wind blew pretty hard that particular day.  And, when the wind blows hard small boats tend to get into trouble -- even boats at anchor.  We've already seen a few boats drag here in the anchorage, and when I saw people on our deck as we returned in the water taxi that was my primary concern. 

My first thought was, "That can't be good", which, by the way, is the appropriate response anytime you see people on your boat when you're not there.  Judging by our position relative to the other boats I quickly ascertained that we hadn't moved.  So, good, we're not dragging.  But why are those guys on deck, and what's that thing hanging on the side of the boat?

Some lessons are learned the hard way, especially for first time cruisers.  And, as first time cruisers, we certainly seem to be receiving our share of hard lessons.  This particular lesson involved the proper method of securing an inflatable dinghy in a windy anchorage.  On a typical day I simply tie it loosely to the side, next to the gate where it's easy to get on and off.  When the wind comes up it tends to bounce around a lot so, like many other boats, I let it hang off the stern where it's more sheltered from the wind. 

There are two very important points to consider when doing this:  (1) there may be sharp metal objects on the stern of your boat and (2) inflatable dinghies are not as tough as you may think.  In light of these considerations it's best to leave a long painter on the dinghy.  In our case, point number 1, the sharp metal object, proved to be the Monitor wind vane, and point number 2 was quickly demonstrated when I neglected to leave enough slack in the painter.

So, after rubbing up against the wind vane one of the tubes on our dinghy sprung a leak and quickly deflated.  At which point the 80-lb outboard attached to it turned upside-down and drowned itself in the muddy lagoon.  Shortly afterward, two cruising neighbors, as they were rescuing another boat that was dragging nearby, noticed our dinghy hanging half-submerged off the stern.  Once they finished securing that boat they hopped on our deck, tied a halyard to our dink and began hoisting it up -- which explains the scene I witnessed as we approached in the water taxi.

A heartfelt "thank you" goes out to Pat on Cricket and Larry on Hemisphere Dancer for their assistance.  Not only did they help me get everything back on deck, but they also stuck around to show me how to resuscitate a flooded outboard. 

The good news is that, after a little effort, our little motor seems to be running great once again.  The inflatable, on the other hand, is questionable.  I found a six-inch gash in the tube which I've already patched.  I'll try to inflate it today to see if it still holds air. 

Right now I think I'll take a minute to remind myself, once again, that it's all part of the adventure...isn't it?
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Friday, April 6, 2012

More Barra


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