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6/1/22 – 6/25/22: Tahiti

With Samsara on the hard and repairs ongoing we rented a car and circumnavigated Tahiti Nui looking for a museum that was apparently closed and stopped off at the Vaipahi Gardens, which were a surprising delight.

Along the way we stopped at a few of the ancient Marae, the stacked stone, ceremonial/religious sights and stumbled onto some dancers practicing for the big Hieva competition coming up soon. They told us not to shoot any pictures so this clandestine video is not the best. It was really cool!

We also drove down to the famous Teahupoo where the waves were huge, but we got there too late in the day to arrange a boatride out to see them and the brave surfers. I did get Katie catching a wave however.

Once Samsara was back in the water we moved around to the NW side of the island in Taina Marina. It was beautiful with views of Moorea in the distance.

While side tied in the marina we got the parts in to repair the main roller furler (pictured is the damaged flange), installed a new tricolor light on the mast top, replaced the faulty bilge pump and changed out all of AGM house batteries for new Lithium Ion batteries. A little pricey but so much better!

Invited by neighboring cruisers we went to an organized performance of Ukelele singers and dancers of all ages. We shot too much video and I’ve tried to reduce it to some of the best ones. Very entertaining!
These youngest dancers are so focused thoroughly committed they’re guaranteed to make you smile.
It appears that everyone in Tahiti must learn to dance at some time.
This was the grand finale!

Katie and I also had the time (while waiting for parts to arrive) to take an 8 day scuba re-certification class that included dives in the lagoon and outside the reef. Great fun!

One of our favorite restaurants we discovered close to the marina was the Blue Banana which offered good food, great service and amazing views!

So we had guests coming towards the end of June and we planned to sail to Fakarava a week before their arrival to get the lay of the land but the day we took off we discovered that our depth sounder was not working. We had to order a new one and it took about one week to arrive from Florida. We did a lot of waiting in this paradise but it was a good place to be delayed. Once it arrived our favorite tradesman, Thomas the electrician, installed it the same day and we were ready to go to Fakarava in the Tuamotus!

5/13/2022 – 5/30/2022: Nuku Hiva to Papeete

With a little concern, we weighed anchor and headed south east out of Taiohae Bay at about 17:00 heading for Fatu Hiva in about 15 kts wind on our port beam. I unfurled the main as we exited the bay keeping it reefed to the first point. Our plan was to sail through the night and arrive at Hanavave or the Bay of Virgins before nightfall the following day.

Outside of the bay the wind picked up to 25kts and I tried to reef the main further but found that the in-mast furler would not move in or out! Without being able to drop the sail and head back, we were committed to press on and hoping to resolve it the next day. Somewhat close hauled in 25kts of wind and into the swell made it a very challenging night. We tried not to leave the cockpit as any movement below was dangerous.

The next morning we had not even made it to Tahuata, the island just north of Fatu Hiva. My calculations suggested we wouldn’t make our intended anchorage by sunset so we turned more west for Tahuata. In the meantime I tried to fix the stuck main furler, first thinking it might be a kinked or twisted line, which was fed back to cockpit under the deck. It was indeed twisted and I fixed that but still no movement. When I took off the plate at the base of the mast to look at the main furler flange, I found that the securing bolts had sheared off and the furler was ceased in the tight space.

With this new knowledge and the fact that with the sail permanently reefed to the first point and not able to be taken down, we committed to turn and sail directly to Papeete where we would deal with it in about 8 days. Fortunately the weather was favorable, at least for the first 3-4 days that we could trust on Predictwind forecasts.

To add to the excitement, we had taken on water during our rough night passage, crashing through waves and for some reason the bilge pump was not coming on consistently. We got it all dried out and committed to installing a new bilge pump in Papeete, but it seemed a little more onerous at the time. By the next morning we had made good progress in favorable winds and seas. Above is a video taken of the stern just before sunrise.

After the sun rose, the light would become so intense we had to put up a screen.

The squalls would come and go all around us occasionally dumping buckets of water on us and changing the wind direction.

Sunrises and sunsets were a daily show!

To get to Papeete in Tahiti, we had to pass through the Tuamotus, an archipelago of just under 80 low lying islands built on the reefs remaining from ancient volcanoes that have long since eroded away. The area was know as the “dangerous archipelago” to the early sailing explorers and has only recently become safer with improving navigation charts. In the picture above we’re passing Tahanea in a gap between motus of less than 10 miles. The sun had just gone down.

We passed the time reading novels, sometimes to each other, and writing blogs. For the last three days we lost our wind and being reluctant to run the engine (and the water compromised sail drive) we were forced to drift with the permanently raised main sail slapping back and forth in the swell. That was painful knowing that it was hurting the sail.

We finally sighted Tahiti and what a magnificent sight, as welcome and enticing a landfall as it must have been to sailors in the 18th century.

An excellent rigging company (Fenua rigging) in Papeete talked us through letting go the out haul and gathering the main sail and lashing it to the main mast so we could motor into the marina and safely into our slip. In hindsight we could have done this if we had visited Fatu Hiva, but it was probably best that we got to Papeete before we had bigger problems with our sail drive and propeller. We made our way to Techni Marine to haul Samsara out of the water to fix the sail drive.

Though expensive, Techni Marine was professional and thorough. While “on the hard” we also re-painted the bottom.

While our home was high and dry, Katie and I relaxed at the Tahiti Pearl Resort and enjoyed the purple sunsets.

5/2/2022 – 5/13/2022: Nuku Hiva

Carlos was a tremendous asset on what was our first long passage and a pleasure to be with. On our arrival in Taiohae Bay we cleaned the boat and went up the mast to recover the spinnaker halyard stranded when the Code 0 swivel block broke. We enjoyed some good meals and rented a car to explore the island a bit. Carlos was of course missing his family and eager to go home. We drove over the island to the airport on the north west side and bade him a sad farewell.

With Taiohae Bay facing south there is usually a good swell entering the bay that makes going up the mast a little more exciting than usual. Here’s our neighbor Doug up the mast on Paseo with Nan in control of his life on the winch below.

Nuku Hiva was lush and beautiful from any angle. Once we had checked in and got our French Polynesia Long Stay Visas moving forward. We re-stocked with the beautiful fresh fruits.

Nuku Hiva is where many cruisers get their first, obligataory tatoo, but somehow, though we talked alot about it, Katie and I kept the canvas clean. I did, however sign up for Ukelele lessons. There were always people on the dock and in town playing and singing.

Taiohae Bay is where Herman Melville jumped ship in the 1840’s and found the inspiration for Typee, his first book. Katie and I listened to the entire audio book together on the way over and were eager to see the wild, beautiful places and potentially cannibalistic people that lived here.

Up and out of the caldera that is Taiohae Bay and over the pass to the east (a path Herman Melville’s characters struggled on, trying to escape the disciplining ship captain) there is another bay called Taipi (or Typee) as written by Melville. Up valley from the bay are ancient Marae, or stacked stone religious structures. Katie and I coordinated with a few other cruisers on an organized tour that was excellent.

Along with the ancient ruins, we also got instruction on the plants, flowers and fruits.

Getting ready to leave, we topped off the diesel by taking the tender to the fuel dock and filling up the jerry cans. Turns out that while we were in Nuku Hiva there was a championship soccer playoff game between Tahiti and the Marquesas. The winner, in this case the Marquesas, went to Paris!

The game brought out the whole town. I love this second action video because of the casual dog in the penalty box!

Sometime in our second week in Nuku Hiva I was checking the engine fluids and that included our saildrive, which is like a transmission between the engine and the propeller. In it I found the oil “milky” indicating that water had somehow made it’s way in, probably through the drive shaft seals. Using it was not impossible but doing so would cause potentially larger problems if not failure! To fix it required hauling Samsara out of the water and the closest marina capable of that was Papeete, almost 900 nautical miles away! We decided to head for Fatu Hiva then non-stop to Papeete. Fatu Hiva was supposed to be amazing and we did not want to miss it.

4/11/22 – 5/1/22: PV to The Marquesas

Day before departure we topped off the tanks!

Checked the weather forecast. Note there are 6 different weather models and all of which predict a passage of less than 15 days, maximum wind speed of 17.3Kts and less than 4 days motoring. Sounded perfect! Predictions like this become progressively less reliable out more than three days….

And we finally untied the lines and shoved off! Nuku Hiva here we come! We sailed away on the afternoon of April 12th. and found a southerly giving us a pleasant sail through the first night.

We were very fortunate to have an excellent crew member to help with watches and more.

My watch began at 4:00am so I had lots of time to think, read and write. Every morning I was rewarded with an awesome sunrise! The winds were perfect and the seas moderate.

We caught a Skipjack Tuna on our second full day out!

Katie turned it into a healthy and delicious dinner

Besides taking a watch, sailing, cooking and cleaning, Katie made an extra effort to always look her best!

… and afternoon/evening meals were always a special event!

Oddly we saw Boobies throughout the passage. We often wondered where they rested beside on the few transiting boats. As the winds died down, they landed on Samsara. The can make a stinky mess in no time at all!

In the lighter airs we hoisted the code 0 out of the forepeak and raised it on the spinnaker halyard.

We sailed with the Code 0 for about 24 hours in about 10 kts of wind and it was beautiful. Then, on afternoon of the 5th day, we heard a pop, which was the swivel block at the head of the sail exploding. With surprise and dismay , we watched as the sail drifted down and under our hull as Samsara continued forward powered by the main sail. It took about an hour to get it all back on board and may not have happened if Carlos wasn’t there to help. I would have had to just cut the lines and let it go….

Life went on with lots of resting.

More great Sunrises. We think Carlos was missing his wife and kids!!!

Showers on the back of the boat!

And laundry! We cleaned up the cockpit later this day as we crossed the equator!

Of course there were many more beautiful sunrises and sunsets! Below is a nice video of a sunrise.

Some happy selfies!

We caught another Skipjack Tuna!

Katie took several videos out of the forward window….

We took one last selfie before arriving at Nuku Hiva!

After rounding the SE end of Ua Huka we finally closed in on Nuku Hiva. The cliffs look like carved chess pieces! After 19 days at sea we finally motored into Taiohae Bay seeing our friends Nan & Doug on Paseo for the first time in about a year, though we had been tracking their progress on Predictwind and reading their well written and entertaining posts.

Nan & Doug were taking a video of us as we came in as well!

We wasted no time, cleaning up the boat and going out to the nicest restaurant in Nuku Hiva with the captain and crew of Paseo.

1/1/22 – 4/6/22: Puerto Escondido to Puerto Vallarta

On New Years Day Puerto Escondido was sunny and bright. Definitely the nicest marina in the Sea of Cortez. We loved it there but had to push on to Puerto Vallarta to get ready for the big Jump!

We first sailed a lazy day south to Agua Verde, with it’s distinctive island rock at the entrance that looks like a breaching humpback whale from a distance.

After a good night’s sleep in a somewhat crowded anchorage we rose to clear skies and winds in the high teens and twenties. We headed out into the waves then downwind to San Evaristo.

This was our third time anchoring at San Evaristo now and it was as beautiful as ever.

From San Evaristo we sailed to Ensenada Grande near the north end of Isla Partida to spend one night leaving the next morning to sail to Bahia Los Muertos but once we rounded the north end of the island we decided to change course directly for Puerto Vallarta expecting a double overnight.

By 10:40pm we were sailing 8 knots on a broad reach. At 2:00am we cam a little closer to traffic than I would prefer!

By the afternoon of the third day, passing Isla Isabella and the Marias, our wind gave out and we had to motor the last few hours, passing the Tres Marietas at the entrance to Banderas Bay before arriving at the La Cruz Marina, our home away from home for the last year.

We enjoyed La Cruz and Puerto Vallarta. There is a market every Sunday in the Marina with music, vendors and great food!

While in La Cruz we painted new markers on the chain, installed a new VHF Radio, added another 375 watt solar panel, acquired seven 5 gallon Jerry Cans for extra diesel, visited with friends and re-provisioned for our possibly 3 week passage to the Marquesas.

Kate’s Blog #12

Family Christmas aboard Samsara.

Clearly, we got a teensy bit behind on our posting,  but we are determined to play catch up because life aboard Samsara, honestly, keeps getting better and better.  Our motivation for posting sometimes gets swept under the rug in light of time spent exploring new places, the tedious process of navigating our website ( we have to relearn every time we do it, it seems), recovery from overnight passages, making repairs….. major and minor which ever seem to end (don’t get me started), reading, day dreaming, dedicating time and effort to getting more proficient at the whole process, and preparing for the next leg of the adventure of our lives.

After our awesome trip to the Copper Canyon, we left San Carlos and headed west back to the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez to Loreto in time to meet our family Christmas guests, Janet and Ron Sauls from Greenwood, Ca ( my sister and brother in law). How we convinced them to leave their 30 acre ranch in the low Sierras with multiple horses, a full kennel of dogs and puppies  and a multitude of daily ranch chores, not to mention their own kin, is beyond me, but we were extraordinarily excited to have them on board as well as humbled that they chose to spend the coveted holidays with a couple of lonely sailors.

We greeted our holiday crew at the airport at Loreto, but not before the customs officials nabbed Ron, rifled through his backpack and luggage, and made him pay import taxes for the many parts and gadgets he was carrying in his suitcase for us (i.e.  marine parts, a new radio, foldable beach chairs and table, to name a few) and headed to Samsara.  After getting all their gear sufficiently stowed, we untied from the dock and headed to one of our favorite places….San Juancio, where we would all kiss under the mistletoe and celebrate the season together on December 25.  We stopped for a night at Isla Coronado with its crystal-clear water and white white sand, did a little hike on the island, watched the birds, made dinner, had more tequila, and got rocked to sleep in the beautiful bay swaying from Samsara’s anchor.  Well rested the next morning , we pointed Samsara  toward San Juanico….FISHING LINES IN THE WATER AT ALL TIMES….for a full day of sailing the beautiful Sea of Cortez.

San Juanico was quiet, but not totally deserted, and after we arrived, anchored and had a margarita (or four), we engaged in some fun.   Ron unveiled an early Christmas gift he’d brought for Jeff: a veritable plethora of colorful sparkly fishing tackle and gear of all kinds….like tons of it! (Check out the related photograph).  So, off the two of them went in the dinghy “likety split” to see what, if anything, might be coerced to bite the colorful, shiny, shaggy objects in their tackle boxes.  Janet and l had our fingers crossed for a nice Mahi Mahi, or a silvery tuna as we waved them good bye.

Meanwhile, my sister and I took the opportunity to cuddle up on the boat and catch up on family news including our individual adventures.  Janet runs a thriving business breeding Rocky Mountain horses ( she’s on the cover of HORSE Magazine in Dec 2022), and gorgeous Labrador Retrievers, and devours books faster than the speed of light.  We chatted about our favorite reads and took notes only to text or email later about the ones we loved best. She is an ultimate resource for my reading pleasure, and I love that about her (along with lots of other things.  She’s the baby of 7 kids, and I am the middle, but we have always found rich common ground.   She’s a huge part of my soul.

The guys eventually returned with no fish this time but huge smiles on their faces , the value of which is immeasurable, and I think we ate chicken that night.

 In San Juancio a couple months earlier, Jeff and I had hiked to a lovely little local organic farm because we heard through the “kelp vine” that one could buy fresh herbs, vegetables, lettuce, eggs, and fresh goat cheese from Jose, the owner of the farm.   While the goat cheese didn’t materialize (the goats seemed more interested in feeding their babies than making chevre), we did make a plan in very broken English (in fact, sign language might have been more effective) with Jose to take us on a horseback trip on Christmas Eve day, 2 months away.  Have you heard the term “fat chance”?

So, the time had come and here we were, the four of us hiking up to Jose’s farm for cheese, veggies and our pre-arranged horseback ride.   As we approached the ranch, we were cautiously optimistic but realistically leery that we would find Jose there and not a note saying sorry, he had gone to Loreto for a traditional Christmas dinner with his family of homemade tamales. But lo and behold, we rounded the corner after a mile walk and there they were, 5 donkeys all tricked out in hand tooled genuine leather saddles chomping on a bit of grass waiting for their charges.  Off we went on a tour of the bay and down to the water’s edge.  

Our Christmas Eve was a lovely barbeque on the beach with Sonora Prime steaks, and all the other festive fixings while sitting comfortably on our new beach chairs on the sand around a campfire with two of our favorite humans drinking a fantastic magnum of Harlan that I’d been saving for years, laughing and feeling damn lucky.  Bit by bit, San Juanico was also celebrating the holiday by delivering a gift of a mind blowingly beautiful sunset in her signature electric pinks and oranges.  Eventually, the colors dissipated, and the night sky grew dark illuminated only by the fanciful patterns of twinkling constellations overhead.   It was a magical night not to be forgotten.

Before we left the bay, we did an obligatory excavation of “Indian tears” from the cliffs….that’s what the locals call the round beads of obsidian that are imbedded into the rock surrounding the bay.  With a little muscle, some can be chipped out with a strong fingertip, but others need a little help from a small screwdriver.  From our two visits, I have a small jar of tears that I someday will have an artist forge into a cool piece of jewelry.

Janet and Ron’s ETD was sadly fast approaching so we pulled up anchor, slithered out of beautiful San Juanico and headed back to Puerto Escondio.   Nearly every day on Samsara is a treat, but the one thing that leaves an empty feeling in our gut in spite of the joy of our adventure is that we don‘t get to share it with others enough.  We speak about missing friends and family often, but being so far away much of the time remains the absolute hardest part of our lives at sea.

Our holiday crew packed up their bags and left us feeling pretty sad and lonely, but enriched knowing we had just shared a uniquely extraordinary space in time with special loved ones.

After a few days in Puerto Escondido, by far the nicest marina we’ve every stayed, we headed back to the Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay to wrap up our preparations for our long awaited ( thanks to Covid)  journey across the Pacific Ocean.  It was going to be EPIC!

12/12/2021 — 2022 : San Carlos to Puerto Escondido for Christmas with Family

After our Copper Canyon adventure we crossed back over the Sea of Cortez to Baja then south to Puerto Excondido/Loreto to pick up Katie’s sister Janet and husband Ron to join us for a Christmas cruise.

With Samsara all cleaned up and ready to go in the beautiful Puerto Escondido Marina Kate and I provisioned then picked up our guests for the sail north.

We stopped first and Isla Coronado for the night and explored the shoreline.

When Kate & I had been in San Juanico a month earlier we arranged with “The Farm” to take us all on a mule ride so Christmas eve morning we made the 1K walk out to the farm.

We took a ride south and inland through the chaparal then down to the beach and back along the shore. It was beautiful!
At the end of the day we grilled steaks on the beach reminiscing about past Christmas eve dinners.
Moonrise off the stern.
Ron is an eager, persistent and consummate fisherman. Here you can watch an expert land a Pacific Bonito. These are the most common fish in the Sea of Cortez and a good fighter. We tried eating it once and that was enough. We let these go!

Another example of Ron’s prowess. I think that’s a kind of Trigger Fish. We let him go as well.

After many hours of trolling we finally caught a beautiful Mahi Mahi! We didn’t let this one go!

Proud father! Here Ron is having a heart to heart with Ms. Mahi Mahi expressing his serious gratitude. Tastey!

Ron generously brought all kinds of tackle, new boxes and a spin cast rod and reel which I duly organized. Kate’s not very happy with the cabinet space this is using but this is essential stuff and needs to be accessible!

Back in Puerto Escondido we had our Mahi Mahi prepared by the restaurant and shared with fellow cruisers. On the 28th Janet & Ron taxied to the airport and we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary. Life is good!

12/6 – 12/12/2021 San Carlos, Guaymas & Los Mochis to Creel via the Copper Canyon Train

We left early from Los Mochis on “El Chepe” the luxury train up to Creel and the Copper Canyon.

The views out the windows were often spectacular

The dining hall was usually empty but had the Christmas Spirit.

Our guide, the next morning, took us to Diversadero, the next pueblo down the railroad tracks. It overlooks the Copper Canyon and has Zip Lines and other adventures.

This video gives and idea of the height and distance traveled on the zip line. This rider is not one of us.

Katie preparing and launching.

Jeff coming in for a landing. Muy Bueno! At the end of the Zip line we hiked about 15 Minutes up to the tram that takes us back to the top enjoying the views.
After our mountain excursion we returned to San Carlos and sailed west back across the Sea of Cortez to Bahia Conception. Heading for Puerto Escondido again to pick up Katie’s sister Janet and her Husband Ron for a Christmast sail.

Kate’s Blog #11

Our train ride to the Copper Canyon

Lured by the reputation of being the most beautiful train excursion in the world, Jeff and I went to great lengths to embark on “El Chepe”, the luxury train into the Copper Canyon that departs 3 times/week from the town of Los Mochis up into the state of Chihuahua.

In order to get to Los Mochis, we had to hire a driver from our marina in San Carlos to transport us to the local bus station in Guaymas, a short 30 minute ride.  Hand sanitizer in tow and face masked up, we bought our tickets at the station and boarded the “local” to Los Mochis, a 6 hour trip with many scheduled stops (and some unscheduled) through the state of Sinaloa….yep, that’s the one notoriously controlled by the Mexican cartel. Our assigned seats were in the back of the bus right across from the bathroom…not ideal to say the least, but an inconvenience that proved to be the least of our concerns as we journeyed on.

Aside from scheduled stops, the bus stopped seemingly often for what appeared to be make-shift “check points”, mostly in the middle of nowhere.  During these unscheduled stops, the fully armed federales often boarded the bus, gravely looked the passengers, then departed.  Sometimes all passengers were directed to disembark for no apparent reason while the police walked through the bus looking for ??? Their demeanors were always ominous and very serious.  Passengers were directed to line up and wait on nearby dirt roads while luggage was unloaded from the belly of the bus and looked over by the policia, sometimes random pieces opened for further inspection after which passengers and luggage were reloaded, bus door clanged shut and off we went.   

One time late in the evening, the bus driver mysteriously pulled into a dark empty parking lot in the middle of nowhere and proceeded to open the door.  Straight away 2 armed federales boarded our bus with machine guns over their shoulders, black jackets, pants, boots and dark cammo face gators.  No patches or badges to designate any official status on their outter-wear, like, say, a shiny police badge were apparent.  Just leather belts of extra ammo slung across their chests. They went determinedly and directly to one row of the bus and roughly lifted a passenger out of his seat by his sweatshirt hood hauling him off the bus in a huff. 

Finally, and a bit nervously, we arrived at the Los Mochis bus station late at night.  We hailed an uber and hungrily went to have dinner before we settled into our hotel for the night.  Early the next morning we would board our train ride into the Copper Canyon.

The building of the Chihuahua al Pacifico train, more affectionately known as “El Chepe” began in the late 19th century. Political unrest, lack of funding, and the overall difficulty of building a railroad over such terrain hindered its completion until 1961. El Chepe borders on luxurious, by the local standards, especially after a 6 hour bus ride. There is a separate dining car and a bar car with a lounge area. The passenger car is relatively modern, clean, and comfortable.  We even ran into a few sailors we had met previously in the Sea of Cortez!

The railroad comprises 405 mi of rails and travels across 39 bridges and through 86 tunnels! The total trip takes approximately 15 hours and passes through quaint pueblos, as well as stunning towering cliffs and canyons in addition to crystal waterfalls. The scenery is spectacular. Along the railway, many Tarahumarans, or local indigenous people, dressed in their amazing handmade and super colorful clothing, lay out their food, crafts, and other wares for sale. It’s all pretty cool.

The Tarahumara Indians are best known for long distance running…… barefoot or in huaraches (handmade leather sandals). Often the men kick wooden balls between runners as they run relay style in races that can last over several days without a break.  The women typically run using a stick and a hoop. They are dark skinned and with black hair and big dark eyes.  They are quite handsome.  The women carry their babies or grandbabies on their backs nestled in the folds of hand-woven colorful scarves.  It is common to see an entire family walking home with their kids in tow after school.  The women and girls always wear hand sewn, colorful, full, long patchwork skirts that kick up rhythmically and cheerfully as they walk along. It‘s quite a lovely sight!

The end of the line for El Chepe in a small pueblo called Creel.  Tourism is alive but not particularly well. Rustic hotels mostly have vacancies and restaurants are nearly empty.  We stayed at the Lodge at Creel which was built entirely out of pine logs and was an eco – resort and “spa” although we never saw a hint of any massage rooms, etc.  However, it proved to be more than satisfactory.  We had a large room, king sized bed with lots of woolen blankets, a more than adequate shower, and plenty of hot water for about $100/night.

It was cold but we took full advantage of being tourists doing our best to see the sights and partake in the beauty of the area.  The Canyon is a whopping 4 times larger than the Grand Canyon and is deeper with a depth of over 1 mile. There is a beautiful lake, lots of hiking and camping options, horseback riding, ATV excursions, etc., but a highlight attraction is ziplining across one of the Copper Canyons many expanses and touted as the world’s longest zip line!  Neither Jeff nor I had zip lined across anything significant, however, we suited up and stepped up for a truly exhilarating experience.  We climbed the spectacular rock formations, walked along the beautiful lake, and supported the locals by shopping for their hand made souvenirs and crafts and eating local tortillas stuffed with veggies, cheese and shredded beef.  A highly recommended side trip and a nice change from life aboard Samsara. 

This trip coupled with our 3 week road trip earlier this year into the interior of Mexico only broadened our appreciation of this amazing country.  VIVA MEXICO!

11/8 – 12/5/2021 Bahia Conception, Bay of LA, MidRiff Islands & San Carlos

As Kook sailed south we headed north stopping first at Bahia Santa Domingo at the top of Bahia Conception and saw one of the most amazing sunsets. We even had some bars on our phones!

In Bahia Conception there are several anchorages but one of favorites was El Burro with a shore lined with small, colorful beach houses, many for American Ex Pats. One day we took a hike up a little mountain behind the beach.

We’d read that the rocks were so rich in iron that the rang like a bell when struck!
We hitched a ride in to Mulege to visit an ATM and get some pesos. It was shocking to see so much water and green!

While anchored in Puerto Don Juan in Bahia de Los Angeles we foraged for the local clams! They were abundant and delicious.

Sunrise in Puerto Don Juan

We sailed over to the pueblo at Bahia de Los Angeles and visited the most amazing little museum featuring shells and bones from thousands of sea critters and marine life. That afternoon we sailed up to Isla La Ventana to a beautiful but tight anchorage. It was calm and the sunset was awesome but we knew the wind was supposed to come up and change directions in the middle of the night.

This show of the Chart Plotter instruments at 03:43 in the morning shows our original anchor drift track to the left and the moment when the wind shifted 180 degrees and settle for a while before our anchor dragged then re-set. It was nerve wracking in the middle of the night.
We sailed east across the Sea stopping off at the barren Isla San Estaban to anchor on the south west corner.  No person, building or boat as far as the eye could see...only birds and frolicking sea Lions.

We continued east to Isla Tiburon and spotted a couple very large whales, then sailed south stopping first at a small, isolated anchorage called Pozo Moreno. The stark beauty of the extraordinary rock formations and chaparral were typical of the Sea of Cortez

Southward to San Carlos we stopped in La Condesa and had a late afternoon lunch at the Soggy Peso. Samsara was the only boat in the bay and the restaurants were pretty empty. But we are usually happy to be served guacamole and chips!

Looking south from our anchorage at La Condesa we could see the famous Tetas de Cabra (literally translated: goat tits). The next day we were on the other side looking north tucked safely in our slip.

Marina San Carlos became our home for a couple weeks. We took advantage of being in a slip to clean Samsara’s bottom, polish the top sides and stainless steel. This photo was taken from the top of the mast of our neighbor boat, Pura Vida. Jeff volunteered to be hoisted up her tall mast to repair Pura Vida’s wind vane, since neither the owner nor the crew were willing. As payment, Captain Bernd, insisted on treating us to a nice dinner. A fair trade for sure!

9/23 – 11/7/2021 Exploring The Sea Of Cortez North

The summer months in Banderas Bay are hot and muggy with nightly thunderstorms. We were happy to escape the heat and humidity and get back on the water.

Before we pulled out of our marina, we made one last trip into Buccerias with our friends on Kook, passing this mural, typical of Mexican street art.

Enjoying good food, a drink or two with our dock mates, the crew from “Kook” .

We waited until a hurricane passed and headed out of the harbor passing a marina landmark!

Our first stop was The Marias, a small island group previously serving as a prison site and off limits to people and all marine travel. To stay over night requires a permit which we did not have. We were busted by the Mexican Navy and Jeff sweet talked them into letting us stay the night over the radio.

Isla Isabella, home to the Blue Footed Boobies and Magnificent Frigate birds was our next stop. On the way Katie caught a Pacific Bonito that put up a hell of a fight only to be released back into the deep blue sea.
We anchored, spent the night and woke up to the arrival of our friends on the sailing vessel, Kook. Kook and Samsara would sail together for the next couple weeks to San Juanico where Kook would head to La Paz to be sold and Samsara would continue on to points north.

Thanks to Jeff….FRESH FISH FOR DINNER!!!

We left the anchorage at 4 am heading north to Mazatlan and caught the moon setting in the west and the sun rising in the east.

Our biggest ocean hazard, the dastardly shrimp boats who motivate the sea at night with no radar and no respect for sailors.

Dinner at Presidio in historic old town Mazatlan with Bill, David, and Linda the crew from Kook (not sure how we made it home safely after being “over served” by our waiter)!

We left Mazatlan sailing west all day and through the night and were rewarded with this the next morning.

We arrived at Bahia Los Muertos about 1400 and had an early dinner on shore and enjoyed remarkable sunset.

With favorable winds we sailed north up the Canal de San Lorenzo towards Espiritu Santo and surprisingly had cell service part of the way!

ENSENADA GRANDE one of our most favorite spots in the Sea of Cortez! Noted for crystal clear turquoise water, white sandy bottom and truly stunning rock formations that frame this beautiful bay. A special spot for sure. Flip through the slide show below to see why we love this place so much….

Kook and Samsara continued north in winds much stronger than predicted. This video shows Kook struggling to maintain forward momentum before they turned around and headed back. Samsara weathered the storm a bit better and continued on making an unplanned but necessary stop at Isla San Francisco to get out of the blow.
San Evaristo and Kook resting safely in the bay
Another Sea of Cortez personal favorite…Agua Verde
In Puerto Escondido we joined the Day of the Dead celebrations with Katrina.
On our way north from Puerto Escondido we anchored in the bay on the south west corner of Isla Coronado and were visited by a large pod of Dolphin.
“Ciao for now” to our friends on Kook: Captain Bill Smith, First Mate David Roddy and Chef Extraordinare, Linda Steidel! We will miss seeing you across the water but look forward to a reunion!

Kate’s Blog #10

Beauty and the Bees….

In early October, I made a quick overnight trip back to Orange County for a business matter.  I returned swiftly to our home base at Marina La Cruz in the northern most part of the Banderas Bay very near Puerto Vallarta anxious to continue our adventure.  It seemed like COVID was waning a bit, and we were beginning to hear rumors that French Polynesia was opening up to cruisers FINALLY!  We never understood exactly why dumping a jet load of 450 tourists in Tahiti for a two week vacation was COVID safe, but allowing a tiny  sailboat with a small crew of 3 was COVID dangerous! So, after hearing the good news, we hired an “agent” in Tahiti to handle our paperwork and was told that we could likely obtain our long stay visas,  9 months vs 90 days. We would need to sit for an interview at the French Embassy in LA and provide our approximate date of arrival.  Great news EXCEPT, now we were staring down the barrel of the hurricane season in the Pacific and even if we were cleared to enter after the 28 day with “no land in sight” sail, it would be foolish and rather perilous to tempt fate and set out before the storm season passed.   We had already survived one hurricane in La Cruz just weeks before and that was enough!

We had time to waste and few options: head south to Panama and Costa Rica?  Make another trip into the Sea Of Cortez?  For many reasons, we decided to head back into the “sea” as they call it here in Mexico.  Only this time, our plans would take us the most northerly ports and most remote areas of this unique and beautiful part of Mexico that we had not explored last year.

For the weeks we had been at Marina La Cruz north of Puerta Vallarta, a sailboat named “KOOK” was docked on our port side with no one on board ever.  One day, the ancient Aztec gods seemingly decided we deserved some good fortune after enduring the extreme heat and stifling humidity in Banderas Bay because, miraculously, the owner and captain of “KOOK”, showed up with his good friend and first mate, and we haven’t stopped smiling since!  The 4 of us became fast friends and spent many a night sipping tequila and eating street tacos while the sun set.  Captain Bill Smith and his mate David Roddy are both from New Mexico and have been friends for years and years.  They were back in La Cruz for the final journey of KOOK before Bill became a permanent landlubber. KOOK was to be delivered to a yacht broker in La Paz on November 18 and the captain’s final passage itinerary mimicked our plans to head north so we decided to “buddy boat” (sail together for as much as the winds allowed, meeting at assigned anchorages each night) for most of his journey after which, Samsara would continue on.  

Both Bill and David had been on the water for many more years than Jeff and I and had done extensive sailing in Sea of Cortez.  Bill, a retired CEO of many cruise lines and maybe even smaller airlines, as I recall, is a tall handsome captain with a full head of gorgeous grey hair and all the charm of a true Texas gentleman.  Dave, a retired advertising executive

(think Madmen) originally from Michigan, met Bill in business and became fast friends years ago sharing many adventures both on land and on the water.  Dave’s is hilarious, a terrific conversationalist and a knowledgeable and outstanding sailor. Dave also has a boat in the marina called RHAPSODY, but for now, he was first mate on KOOK’s final journey.  Bill’s girlfriend, Linda Steidel, from Redondo Beach, was to join KOOK’s crew list for our trip. Linda is a worldly retired flight attendant and current professional chef who has penned numerous cookbooks for Williams-Sonoma, and led countless culinary trips for private clients all over the world. Talk about a dream job!!! 

We decided that every night we would alternate and dine together on either Samsara or KOOK.  Food prep on a sailboat is quite a bit more challenging than meals prepared out of one’s Sub Zero refrigerator, on Wolf stoves and cooktops, or in our outdoor wood burning pizza oven and BBQ!  Needless to say, I listened to Linda’s every word and asked a million questions when she was in either galley.  I learned a multitude about simple and delicious “one bowl” meals using ingredients at hand.   We shared our food stores as needed, and helped each other serve up some pretty impressive feasts! Thank you Linda!  Having you here was inspiring and a hell of a lot of fun!

It seemed every port of call was prettier than the last as we made our way down to San Juanico with stops in Isla Isabella and then Mazatlan. I find it always takes a little bit of an attitude adjustment to go into town where I feel slightly assaulted by the hustle and bustle of buses and taxis with their honking horns; streets jammed with people walking hurriedly screaming billboards overhead, and well, civilization. It’s a double-edged sword: we get lonely and then we get irritated when we are back in the fray. Jeff would call that another of life’s “paradoxes”!  In any case, we like old town Mazatlán a lot and last time we visited, we had discovered a wonderful restaurant and were excited to share it with KOOK’s crew.  So, with our dress up clothes on, we loaded into a taxi and went out to eat. We had a wonderful meal laced with plenty of laughter at El Presidio, an amazing restaurant spotlighting a talented young chef set in the courtyard of a very old estate in the middle of old town Mazatlan. I’m pretty sure we would be hard pressed to remember precisely how we all got back to our boats that night after being “over served” by our cocktail waiter!

From Mazatlan, we headed out to Ensenda Grande on La Partida where we enjoyed some of the most beautiful water we had seen anywhere in our worldly travels.  Crystal clear turquoise seas atop a white sandy bottom were a stark contrast to the cacti dotted, steep, striated, lava and sandstone rock cliffs painted in desert hues of charcoal gray, blush pink, iron ochre and chocolate brown that bordered our little anchorage.  We spent several lazy days there swimming, snorkeling, watching the pelicans dive bomb their unsuspecting prey headfirst from 75 ft in the air and leave with dinner for a week in their beaks.  We explored the water caves, and applauded the playful jumping rays as they reached heights of 20 ft, did several perfectly executed front flips ( eat your heart out Greg Lougianis ) and slap back down on the water. We took the dinghys ashore for sunset cocktails on the clean white sand and held dinner parties every night aboard either Samsara or KOOK.

Next stop was Isla Coronado, a long low lying white sandy thin crescent island floating in turquoise water.  It was gorgeous except for the invasion of the most annoying BEES ever!  Bees, EVERYWHERE….ALL DAY LONG, until the sun set when we got a reprieve until sunrise when we would wake to their buzzing around the main cabin. There they were AGAIN….EVERYWHERE… on the hunt for fresh water.  We dried the bathroom and kitchen basins, put cutting boards over the sinks, put sponges outside in the hot air to dry out, covered our faucet spigots with baggies and zipped them up tight around the stems, covered fruit bowls, removed damp kitchen towels and avoided using the fresh water if at all possible.  All of which did little to escape their irritating wrath.  Trying to cook dinner was like being in an air war…swatting and batting them away in between sautéing, baking and boiling, suddenly running away from hot burners to escape an attack from the latest swooping squadron.  Admittedly, watching them die gave me sick and delicious pleasure.   Finding a slew of them in the sink basin, I would trap as many as possible under a drinking glass and watch demonically until they shriveled up and died (apparently, they have a very short lifespan without the elixir of fresh agua).  Or I would ambush them with sprays of scalding hot water and swish them down the drain putting the stopper quickly on as desperately they tried to climb back out on their weak spindly legs to escape their well-deserved fate.  Mostly it didn’t matter.  There was an endless supply of the swarming little annoying buggers and the mornings l uncovered a virtual graveyard of them dead on the floor still able to activate a sting if you happened to step on one. We went over to KOOK for dinner one night and Bill announced that his arm was hurting him.  When I asked what happened, he said it was sore from swatting the dreadful BEES!

In an effort to escape them, we relocated to the back side of Isla Coronado.  We were not successful at escaping the bees, but, as a bonus, we were greeted in the tiny azure bay by a gift of dozens of black dolphins lazily feeding and jumping playfully all around us.  Seeing a huge crowd of dolphin, in seemingly no rush to go anywhere, is always a magical moment that causes us to pause and pinch ourselves reminding us how rare our new life was.  We bow to the shamrock gods!  Amidst the dolphins were dense pods of tiny, silvery 6 inch fish skipping out of the water in unison to escape a predator on their heels.  They resemble a ballet troupe all jumping together on cue on state. Right behind them was a 3 ft long, gold and grey pug snouted dancing Dorado porpoising 4 ft out of the water before it pounced, mouth open, on the bait fish pod.  A veritable bottomless seafood buffet for the Dorado. We were entertained for hours, but the icing on the cake?  Leaving Coronado, we saw our first humpback whale of the season lugging it’s way alongside Samsara, a mist of sea water spraying out his blow hole as he exhaled audibly and then dove into the deep. Now we know they are back for the winter, and we will have a watchful eye out for these truly wondrous creatures.

After a stop at two of our favorite places, Agua Verde (the best fish tacos to date) and San Evaristo (the BEST raw shrimp aguachile to date), KOOK and Samsara sailed on to San Juanico. The snorkeling here was off the charts with fish so varied and plentiful that were left optimistic that all the oceans currently stripped of nutrients by short sighted humans might one day return to such abundance.  Dave and Jeff and I took the dinghy out to one of large rocks in the cove and were entertained for hours.  Mask, snorkel and fins on, we lost ourselves in a floating confetti of hundreds of fish, pale periwinkle colored with neon yellow and azure stripes. A camouflaged khaki colored sea snake with dark grey irregular spots outlined in beige slinked around the sandy sea floor passing by purple sand dollars.  Large armies of uniform dull gray fish with shimmery yellow tipped tails and stripes enveloped us as they swam determinedly all around us if they were late for an appointment.   Flattish, deep inky blue parrot fish with bright yellow tails, and fins tipped in electric magenta swam solo beneath us munching on the algae covered rocks. Slews of carp-like brownish fish with tiny black dots lay motionless on the bottom unfazed by our flapping fins as we did a fly by. Darting in between the rocks were the teensy-est electric blue fish so small you wondered why they hadn’t been gobbled up by a lurking predator.  Furry lilac colored starfish suctioned on to the slurry covered sea bottom while sprouts of sea fan coral waved above them. It was epic!

And it was here, at San Juanico, where we would say good bye to KOOK and her crew as they set sail for La Paz to the south and we headed north into uncharted seas.  Clearly a sad day and one that eerily reminded us of more to come.  That’s one of the things about cruising,  you meet wonderful, incredibly interesting people of all ages, have a fire on the beach with them or a drink on deck and listen to their experiences at ports ahead; hear their solutions to common live aboard problems;  share recommendations for safe anchoring spots; make notes of a remote beach shack where one might find a small tienda in the back that sells a fresh vegetable or two and a piece of fruit; or divulges the exact time and place where a certain fisherman returns to shore in his panga with a fresh catch that he would be willing to sell.   All this comes with the inevitability that we will soon watch our newfound friends hoist their sails and disappear into the sunset… often in the opposite direction

 leaving just us, alone again.

Kate’s Blog #9

It was hot here in Puerto Vallarta, really hot and steamy as a Chinese pork bao.  Then hurricane Nora brought torrents of water, rain, thunder and lightning.  We were tied down tight and got by with no damage, but we witnessed two sailboats that did not fare with as much luck.  In front of our very eyes we watched as both boat’s anchor lines apparently severed or dragged and after being tossed around like a wash cloth on the final spin cycle ended up on the beach…one after a brutal and continual battering on a rock jetty before it laid over and died.  By morning, the 36 ft sloop was stripped of all stainless steel, water maker, sails and any other equipment that might bring a peso or two or on the black market and was lying on its side, mostly submerged, in the shallow, murky post hurricane waters.  It’s hard to express how it felt to see that boat knowing, like us, only yesterday it was someone’s home and most likely someone’s chariot of dreams of adventure on the high seas.   We watched with an eerie sadness as it gave way to nature’s boxing match and the TKO suited up in 80 mile per hour winds. 

It was time to get outta town.  The weather was oppressive, Samsara was safe and secure but it was too early in the season to venture into the Sea of Cortez, our next destination, as we await the borders of French Polynesia to open to cruisers’ traffic.  So, we rented a car at $43.00/day including insurance and unlimited miles, and mapped out a 3139 km route into the interior mountains of Mexico that would satisfy both of our interests: the prolific ancient ruins of Meso America, the arts and crafts of central Mexico and the diverse indigenous cuisine from each of the different regions!  We set aside 21 days, packed our gear including our foldable bicycles (which we used once in Mexico City where, right off the bat, I crashed into a metal gate leading with my left cheekbone) and tons of clothes we never even wore, let alone unpacked! We learned a good lesson about how little one really needs on a trip into a land where the cost of having our laundry done averages $4.00 US, and not even the nicest restaurants required anything more than our tennis shoes, t-shirts and shorts.   Many people told us we were crazy and warned that our plans could even be dangerous, but we chose to listen to those who offered tales of a similar adventure and lived to tell about it.

After being here in coastal Mexico for nearly a year now, it feels familiar.  So, delving into parts unknown felt like sitting at a sumptuous 10 course tasting menu of what we had not yet discovered inland.  In Mexico, there are towns or villages that are designated as “Pueblo Magicos”.  In order to gain such status and the government funding that comes along with it, the locations must have a population of at least 5000, be in relatively easy reach of a city and must commit to honoring the “magical” qualities of each destination by preserving the original architecture (including the traditional colors of the buildings), unique traditions ( such as mural painting), history and local culture ( crafts, cuisine, etc). There are 121 such Pueblo Magicos, a some of which we had visited already on our sailing excursions, but we were excited to add a few more to our log that are accessible only by land.

We began our trip steering our well-worn Nissan X-Trail toward our first stop: Teochitlan a small village south of the town of Tequila.  Teochitlan is home to the ancient ruins of Los Guachimontones, unique for their round pyramids.   Our hotel, Hacienda Labor de Rivera, about 20 minutes outside the town, was far more magical than the town of Tequila.  A 500 year old hacienda turned hotel accessed by a long and very muddy road, this amazing property sits on hundreds of acres of land with gardens and stables and even a building that previously served as a school for the children of the workers.  Equally intriguing as the gorgeous setting, was the fascinating history of “El Patron” ( the big boss) from early last century whose corrupt and murderous ways was a sordid tale made for the big screen. It was documented that a man in the surrounding town which housed many of the haciendas work force, had made “El Patron” jealous.  In retaliation, el patron brutally shot everyone who lived in the village but worked at his Hacienda.  The hacienda even had its own currency, minted by the boss, that was used to pay the workers and had to be used by them in the tiendas and mercados, also owned by el patron.   We were entranced by the beautiful property… and its creepy history.  And, as the hotel’s only guests, were very well attended to by the large and lovely staff.

From the Hacienda Labor de Rivera, we ventured out on an obligatory pilgrimage to the town of Tequila to do some tasting and get educated in the art and process of distilling Tequila!  We found the town actually slightly overrated and very crowded, but a designated Pueblo Magico that we got to add to our list!  On the road into town from our hotel, we were stunned by the gorgeous countryside with endless fields of blue agave, corn and sugar cane.

Next, we traveled to the town of Ajijic, also a Pueblo Magico, on the banks of Lake Chapala, the largest lake in all of Mexico, with a maximum depth of only 35 ft! This little town came highly recommended by many (we found ourselves scratching our heads as to why) and is populated by a sizeable number of American and Canadian ex pats.  Our hotel there was relatively new, only 4 rooms with tall thatched roofs tucked behind a wooden gate off a nondescript side street and looked and felt like we were living in a set  out of Swiss Family Robinson!  While it was obvious that Covid had thwarted some of the “magico” of the area, two nights in Ajijic and we were ready to move on.

Next stop, historic Guanajuato! Yep, you guessed, it another “Pueblo Magico” and an UNESCO world heritage site, too.  Surrounded by beautiful hills, Guanajuato is a city maze with streets so incredibly narrow that they make the cobblestone streets in the 6th Arrondisement of Paris

(San Germain) feel like freeways. In fact, one of the city’s claims to fame is that they have the narrowest street in the world, so narrow in fact the upper floors of the balconies on either side of the street almost touch!  Its name is El Callejon del Beso (the alley of the kiss) and it is rumored that if a couple kisses on the third step of the alleyway, they are sure to experience 15 years of bliss.  A kiss on any other step is said to bring sadness and heartache to the lovers.  The lore is that an irate father once caught his young daughter kissing a boy on exactly that step and subsequently beat him to death.  His spirit, apparently remains very much alive and is rumored to overlook and protect any such young lovers from similar harm.  We decided we did not need any more marital bliss, so we avoided the tourist spot.  But we did enjoy the city’s incredible small cafes, spectacular colonial buildings, and noted an abundance of young residents.  In fact, I nick named it the city of love in my mind because it seemed everywhere we went, we saw young 20 something’s walking the narrow streets hand in hand, or staring lustily and longingly into each other eyes at some outdoor café, hands stretched out across the table as their fingers caressed, or couples head to head whispering privately and quietly to each other in the corner of some museum, an occasional sweet giggle bubbling over.  It was lovely and we felt old, but enchanted.  The average age of the city’s population is quite young because of the high percentage of college students.  We loved our hotel in the city, too! Casa del Rector is a totally refurbished early 19th century boutique hotel that once was the home of the rector of the local cathedral. It was majestic with high beamed ceilings, old stone floors, rooftop bar, sculpture  garden, and lovely attentive staff.  We had some interesting meals in Guanajuato, visited the museum that was the family home of Diego Rivera and moved on to San Miguel de Allende where it was our turn to fall in love.

We expected to be smitten, which can be dangerous because disappointment looms large sometimes when expectations are so high. However, SMA (also a Pueblo Magico) did not disappoint in any way. And like falling in love, our senses were continuously rapturous in this quant, charming, beautiful, artistic village we had heard so much about for so many years. Founded in 1542 by a Franciscan monk, we spent hours walking the city’s cobblestone streets, with smiles on our faces….even kept track of our “steps” on our iphons for the first time in our lives. The well preserved Spanish colonial architecture, the elevated food scene, the history, the people, the peace, the vibe, the harmony. It’s almost indescribable! There’s just a feeling coupled with a feast for one’s eyes that makes SMA totally unequivocally magical. Our hotel was new (well old, restored to new), modern and equipped with all the luxurious amenities you might expect to find in any cool US hotel, like nice linens, good shampoo and soap, and soft pillows… even though we spent little time with our heads on them. The city center location made walking to and from completely enjoyable and a seemingly new adventure each day. Making our time there all the more mystical, one of our days was spent at the archeological ruins about 20 miles outside of town: Canada de la Virgen. It was the kind of excursion that made Jeff deliriously happy, and me calculating how many hours looking at art and shopping I was racking up to even the score. SMA lived up to every travel guide’s boastful verbiage, and we left thirsty for more but on a schedule. Hard to leave…very hard to leave, especially when our next stop was the bustling, hustling, enormous, and slightly foreboding….Mexico City.

Before we set out from SMA, I said to Jeff that we needed to be aware that we were about to leave a sort of Mexican paradise an land in a place potentially equally as interesting, but not as calm.  I suggested that adjusting to city life after the peace and quiet of SMA might take some serious mindfullness so that we could really take in what the city offered. And, by god, it did! We were not within the city’s limits more than 5 minutes when we were flagged down by a motorcycle cop who informed us, in Spanglish, that our rental car had a license plate that prohibited us from being on the freeway on Saturdays and Thursdays!  It was Saturday….  After plenty of banter between Jeff and the cop, it became clear we were being extorted.  I have to hand it to Jeff, I was ready to just pay the f-ing 400.00 US he was demanding and go about our way, but Jeff talked the cop down to 150.00 and all the threats of “impounding our car” and taking us “down to the station” melted away as the cop put our 150.00 greenbacks in his pant’s pocket and off we both went.  So corrupt and not the most welcoming experience.  We had been warned a lot….to be careful in Mexico City.  We thought that meant watch your wallet and your purse on the streets, don’t ever leave anything in your hotel room and double check your receipts at restaurants and stores, etc.  We, naively, did not expect to get robbed by the local police.

With that behind us, we forged on to our hotel where we stayed in the lovely, treed neighborhood of La Condessa, a chic area with an abundance of green parks, small cafes, boutiques and lots of bike riders and dog walkers.  We, unfortunately, did not get to visit the many museums on our wish list, especially the Frida Khalo Musem, either due to Covid closings, limited access, or just because it’s Mexico and that’s the way things go. We settled in for our time there and noticed how really different people who live in such a large city occupied predominantly by Mexicans of Spanish descent were from our previous stops in the more rural  villages of the mountains of Mexico.  The impact of the Spanish conquistadors’ invasion was apparent in the features of the more European like faces in the city. In general, the people were taller, the women were beautiful and very modern.  In fact, the contestants for the Miss Mexico pageant were staying at our hotel and they were stunning!  We ate at a highly recommended Polish restaurant (go figure), took a deep dive into street food, which we had avoided up until then for obvious reasons, and visited the fascinating ancient ruins at Teotihaucan in the hands of a highly knowledgeable and likeable guide named Enrique, who confided in us that he was abandoned by his parents at 14, went to work for the cartel smuggling cocaine in his pant legs, then turned his life around by using his drug money to attend college, funding not one, but 3 degrees:  law, computer science and archeology!  The site of the ruins was fascinating….even I thought so…made more so by the insights of Enrique.   We really lucked out. 

All in all, we wrung out as much fun as possible in one of the worlds most populated cities and were not regretful to move on.  In fact we were totally jazzed to leave because, ahead, was another much anticipated stop, Oaxaca, a mecca of artisans specializing in everything from food (dozens of different types of mouth watering moles), to beautiful hand thrown ceramics (the intricately carved jet black is most typical), to hand loomed textiles ( gorgeous wool rugs of every size and color, dyed by hand with extracts from local plants and fungi), to colorful hand embroidered fabrics(made into pillows, table runners, or bedspreads), to meticulously and colorfully hand painted wooden “spirit animals” whose imagery is rumored to be evoked by  the hallucinations that result from ingesting peyote and other mind expanding local plants. 

Set amidst impressive lush green mountains about 7000 ft high, Oacaxa was heaven.  Our hotel was stunning and chic and if it were plopped down in the hippest areas in New York or LA, would not have looked out of place. We paid about 75.00/night and had an amazing gourmet 8 course dinner for 40.00 US.

Much like San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca (also a Pueblo Magico) did not disappoint. In fact, I could have cried when we left.  The small town surrounded by beautiful lush green mountains was quaint, the architecture original and meticulously maintained, the temperature just cool enough to feel divinely comfortable. The majority of the inhabitants still live simple family centric lives, the streets and town square are incessantly busy with locals selling crafts or manning street food stations,  essentially mobile kitchens hitched to bicycles planted on nearly every corner of the town offering tacos, empanadas, charred corn, tamales, or tyludas (local quesadillas). It reminded us of Bali. In both places, it seems like everyone is engaged in doing something creative, and almost everyone appeared muy contento.  We ate at Criollo (our most expensive meal of the trip), where the owner is the most Michelin starred chef in al of Mexico and owner of the renowned restaurant, Pujol, in Mexico City.  It was good, but honestly, we fell in love with our dinners and lunches in smaller cafes that, in the end, were not much more than 35.00 US. Outside of Oaxaca we visited the ruins at Monte Alban. Some of the oldest and most impressive and grandest ruins in all of Meso America.  Our guide, Mario, was a wealth of meticulous information and his lengthy and thorough descriptions of the site afforded all the time in the world for the local mosquitos to feast of our legs to their hearts content.  Even now, weeks later, I am still itching!

Our rental car contract was for 3 weeks.  So, hesitantly, we left our Mexican Valhalla and made the long trek to another Pueblo Magico, Cholula, site of the largest pre-hispanic pyramid…oh, and did I mention that the Spanish conquistadors, in their garish tendency to display their dominance over the ancient meso American people built an enormous cathedral right on top of the pyramid?  Hard not to view it as a big Cortes “F you”! Cholula  ( a Pueblo Magico)  was a very colorful town of 2-3 story buildings with cafes and coffee shops, but other than the charm of the myriad of colored buildings, it was not really hard to bid adieu.

One more stop in Morelia, and then were on the road back to Puerto Vallarta and our floating home base.  Located in the state of Michoacan, Morelia is laden with large, heavy, overbearing colonial government looking architecture.  It is a city and a state pretty much run by the drug cartel we were told. The streets were buzzing with people coming and going and tacky touristy “artisans” markets. We ran across few, if any Americans. It was here we saw our first homeless tents pitched right on the concrete streets of the city square.  For us, Morelia was an overnight stop to break up the remaining part of our trip back.  We tried to find the charm, but it was difficult when every other car on the street was a truck with 6 stern looking men dressed in camo with helmets riding in the back holding machine guns.  The best thing about our less than 24 hrs in Morelia was our hotel room!  Again, it was a super cool, brand new hotel in a 500 year old building, under 100.00/night.  Our room was bigger than the entire square footage of Samsara, with décor straight out of Architectural Digest.  And….not for the first time on our trip,  we were the hotel’s only guests!

After a dinner of sauteed local trout and chiles en nogada ( a local dish of chiles stuffed with ground meats and topped with a walnut based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds, served cold), we braved the throngs of people out and about and headed back to our hotel.  We woke up with a long 8 hour drive back to PV ahead of us. 

We made the best of the final leg of our journey by finishing up an audible book, Apples Never Fall, by Lianne Moriarty of Dirty little Lies fame, and by making a midday lunch stop in yet another Pueblo Magico, Mascota, about 3 hrs outside PV. If we were not listening to an audible book, we often listened to music downloaded on our phones while traveling the back roads of central Mexico.  To avoid any arguments about what to listen to, I put myself in charge and I simply started with songs in my musical library whose titles began with an A…then B…then C, etc.  We heard everything from Ylang Ylang play “Ave Maria”, his musical piano notes so astonishingly expressive and eloquent like feathers falling from the heavens; to Yo Yo Ma interpreting the solemn music of Appalachian folksongs on his cello; to Eric Clapton singing “Don’t think Twice”, a tribute to Bob Dylan; to Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, singing impeccable and often hilarious harmonies; to lots of Latin sambas and cumbias.  Between music and the book, we ate up our time between stops and relished having the undivided attention to just listen.

1950 miles later, we were at our marina unloading our gear from our rental car, which held up surprisingly well against the numerous, enormous potholes and speed bumps we encountered everywhere, very ready to sleep in our own bed aboard Samsara (also a Pueblo Magico) as the sea surge gently rocked our weary heads and bodies to sleep after our long drive.   Home intact and with our hearts full of new memories (and a just a few souvenirs) from an adventure that few could replicate.

Viva Mexico! Where people love to sweep ( even city streets), paint colorful murals on buildingswear hats, drink coca cola, love their dogs, routinely walk long distances, wear clothes that are mismatched, love their kids, talk to their dead relatives, are kind, helpful, hardworking, trustworthy, eager to please, love to sing and play guitars, and who are content with the duality of existence, something I think  people with many more material comforts cannot come to grips with, and a recurring lesson in my own life as I have traveled from Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes, to Turkey’s enchanting Istanbul, to the remote and pastoral country villages of Columbia and Ecuador, to the various white sand islands of the Caribbean, to the banks of the desolate Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, to the wondrous cities in old Europe, to the streets of Manhattan and Los Angeles, to the remote hill tribe villages deep in the jungle of Thailand, to the smog filled cities of China, to the palm tree lined beaches and islands of Tahiti and Tonga and to parts beyond still yet to be experienced.  Needless to say, I am grateful for my life.

9/1 – 9/21/2021 Mexican inland adventure

First stop, Hacienda Labor de Rivera outside of Teuchitlan. Driving on a pot-holed dirt road through corn fields Katie protested that this couldn’t be the right way but we came to this gate.

The gate opened….

Turns out we were the only guests and we enjoyed the doting staff and beautiful grounds.

At the Tequileño Distillery we learned about the tequila making process and enjoyed an amazing lunch.

Teuchitlan; a Pueblo Magico with narrow cobblestone streets with brightly colored buildings and magnificent murals.

Above Teuchitlan are the Guachimontones’ ruins, unique in Meso America for their round pyramids. The above picture was taken from the top of the largest but un-excavated pyramid.
The excellent museum on site, including this mural helps one imagine what life may have looked like 1000 years ago.
Did we mention that the streets in Guanajuato are narrow?

Our wonderful Hotel, The Casa Del Rector, carved out of a 500 year old building was on just such a street. Guanajuato know for it’s Spanish colonial architecture was bustling and colorful.

Guanajuato is built in a narrow valley. We took the panoramic drive around the city to visit silver mines and take in the views.

In San Miguel de Allende our Hotel, Casa Quebrada was also carved out of an ancient building but beautiful and modern once through the door.

We walked from our hotel a short distance to the main square. The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel dominates the square.

Walking the streets one sees many old and interesting doorways. Occaisionaly an open doorway reveals a beautiful home and lush courtyard.

We visited the square at night.

On to Mexico City where we visited the iconic ruins of Teotihuácan about 45 minutes north east of the city. Ruins that were over 1000 years old when Cortez arrived and destroyed Tenochtitlan now buried under downtown Mexico City.

Though so old and continuously looted the ruins are still an awesome spectacle. Our excellent guide Enrique gave us many insights helping us not only appreciate the pre-Columbian history but also his own interesting life and experiences.

In Mexico City we stayed in an area called La Condessa with tree lined streets, shops, restaurants, hotels and lots of people moving around. They Love their dogs….

We walked the streets, shopped, watched the people and sampled delicious street food.

After visiting Diego Rivera’s Anahuacalli Museum Katie said she was done with seeing any more ruins….

The drive south to Oaxaca took us through some breathtaking vistas.

But there were more ruins and Monte Alban, outside of Oaxaca, some of the oldest, continuously inhabited buildings were perhaps the most impressive. Our guide Mario was a gem.

Hotel Sin Nombre in the Oaxaca Centro was different a special.

We visited a town outside of Oaxaca that specialized in making textiles and got a thorough lesson in rug making. Katie was very happy.

We walked the streets and took in the sights doing a little shopping.

Beautiful at night as well.

We drove back north to Cholula to see what was once the largest pyramid (by volume) in the world but of course the Spanish have built a church on top of the mound that is left and there was a carnival at it’s base. Sad and perverted.

Heading back to Samsara we stopped one night in Morelia. Our hotel was again very modern carved out of an ancient building. We were the only guests!

Though during the right season one can see the Monarch Butterflies in Morelia, all we saw as another old church and tacky goods.

4/3 – 4/49/2021 From PV to Zihuatanejo and back….

With Cal and Cathy Roth on board, Los Quatros Amigos began a special journey south to Zihautanejo.

Arrived at Careyes after our disturbing meeting with a submerged rock and managed to drink and eat our worries away at Playa Rosa, a favorite spot of ours that we were happy to share with the Roths!

Late to bed but early to rise, we left Caleta de Campo with Zihatanejo as our destination.

Hello Zihau!

Dinner overlooking Bahia Zihau from Tentaciones shared with our crew! A memorable evening all around.

The Bay is full of life and always changing.

Jeff building our foldable bikes that come in a back pack making exploring on land a little bit easier! Katie’s bike is electric assist and Jeff’s pure pedal power!

Wandering around the town one day, we ran across a painting studio that offered classes. Katie immediately enrolled in 3 sessions and using a photo taken at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as inspiration, produced her own masterpiece! Let’s face it the teacher was a genius!

Images from in and around Zihua

We walked down to the Playa Madera–where there is a whale tale sculpture–for dinner and could see Samsara anchored in the bay.

Walking back later that evening the whale tale takes on a different meaning….

New crew, Mike Gordon, has arrived. We now have a doctor and a real photographer on board….you can expect the photos to get a lot better from here…!

The incredible magic of Zihautanejo at night!