Jan 2012

Blog, North America

DISCUSSION 11 Comments

Fish Egg Ferry – La Paz to Mazatlán

Sitting on the dilapidated concrete dock at the Pichilingue ferry port in La Paz I glimpsed the name of the ferry we’d soon be boarding.  Mazatlán Star.  More intriguing was the name under it, which had been painted over: Montpellier Mieuxquevous.  The last word was something else, but I didn’t write it down.  The point is that the ship was French.  A ship broken in under the sunny skies of the French Riviera.  The idea of traveling over sparkling blue Pacific waters aboard a majestic French vessel was to me the epitome of romance.  A  man with a machine gun blew his whistle, pointed at me, and I drove Nacho into the fairy tale ship’s nether regions.  I drove down two levels to the very bottom of the hull, or whatever, and parked.  Nacho would spend the next 16 hours driving under the sea.

Once aboard the ship, we found our way to the sixth floor where we had reserved a 3 bed cabin.  We paid a total of USD$263 for the tickets, which included under the sea parking for Nacho, the 3 bed cabin, dinner, and breakfast.  Not a bad deal if you ask me.  What it didn’t include was electricity for charging our computer, as Nacho still didn’t have an inverter.  No, when the ship arrived from France nobody bothered to replace the outlets, so it required continental European plugs.  Furthermore, the electricity was 220V instead of 110V.  Welcome to Mexico.

Our entertainment options aboard the ship were fairly limited, as this was no cruise.  In fact, the Customs agent in La Paz reminded us of that.  Due to some mislabeling on our Mexican street map, we were unsure as to whether the ship would go directly to Mazatlán or if it would first stop in Cabo San Lucas to pick up more passengers.  When I asked the Customs agent if the ship was stopping at Cabo, he gave me a half smile and said, “No sir, this isn’t a cruise.”  So no pool?  No cabaret shows?  In the end we found that we could either hang out in our cabin, or we could go to the cafeteria where they served food, drinks, and had an endless stream of American films dubbed in Spanish.

Just after shoving off from La Paz we hit up the cafeteria for our free dinner; we had our choice of barbecued chicken or fish in some kind of sauce.  We ate chicken, watched Wall Street in Spanish, and then went to bed at 8:00 due to sheer boredom.  When we ship Nacho to Malaysia in about a year, we’ll have the option of riding aboard the container ship for multiple weeks.  Multiple weeks of eye-stabbing boredom.  Pat and Ali were able to stand it, but Sheena and I are soft, so we’ll fly.

In the morning we awoke and hurriedly made our way to the cafeteria for free breakfast time.  Nothing gets us going like Mexican breakfast.  Sheena staked our claim at a table by the window and I stood in line for food.  Our choices this morning were salchicha (cut up hot dogs), or huevos con salchicha (eggs with cut up hot dogs).  Come on, that’s not a choice!  Huevos con salchicha please!  The tired looking “chef” with the scraggly beard filled our two plates with giant mounds of the egg/hot dog concoction and I returned to the table.  My hot dog and egg euphoria quickly turned to nausea as I took the first bite.  Fish.  What we saw was a wonderful medley of processed meat and the ovulation byproducts of a flightless bird, but what we tasted was fish.  Fish, as in last night’s other dinner option.

We disembarked in Mazatlán at 10:30AM, our bellies full of fishy eggs, ready to start the arduous search for our friend Santiago’s house.  Due to our inverter failure we still didn’t have a computer, and thus no ability to tell Santiago when we would be arriving, or whether we had actually made it onto the ship.  As we left the ship yard, who else would be walking across the street in front of us than Santiago.  He gave us a quick wave, hopped in his Mercedes, and zipped out into traffic along the peninsular road toward the historic center.

“So, how was the ferry?” Santiago asked, once inside of his apartment in the town’s historic center.

“Not too bad.  Slept most of the time.  We had the worst breakfast though.  They didn’t wash the pan that they used to cook the fish from the night before, and then used it to cook the eggs for breakfast.  Most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted.”

He gave an understanding nod and the corner of his mouth rose in a half smile.  “Welcome to Mexico.”

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Jan 2012

Blog, North America

DISCUSSION 24 Comments

Our New Life

In 2006, during the same trip on which I proposed to Sheena, we visited the Greek island of Santorini.  We had heard that the most amazing sunset in the world could be seen from the town of Oia, high on the edge of the caldera of the island’s blown out volcanic center.  We made our way to Oia one evening and took our place on the cliff’s edge.  As the sun plunged slowly into the sea, we kept waiting for the sky to ignite in the most beautiful sunset we’d ever seen.  It never happened, and the sunset from Oia went down in history as the 128th best sunset I’d ever seen.

A couple of days ago when we finally left Arizona, we reached the Mexican border at Sonoyta just as the sun reached the horizon.  We crossed over, and a few minutes later the sky exploded into flames like a cheap polyester suit, creating a rainbow of color that filled the sky.  There’s really nothing like a desert sunset, and hardly a better visual display to welcome us into our new vagabonding life.

In crossing the border so late in the day, we violated our first self-imposed rule of Mexican travel: no driving after dark.  Given the delays in our trip thus far, and the relative safety of the road to Puerto Penasco, we decided that it was okay just this once.  Don’t get me wrong, when I say “safety” I’m not talking about banditos and narcotraficantes with guns.  I’m talking about cows.  As soon as the sun goes down, the country’s livestock takes to the roads.

Sheena napped in the passenger seat, and when she awoke at the outskirts of Puerto Penasco, she was wielding some fierce hunger-induced anger; a term we’ve come to call “hanger”.  We stopped at the first sign of a street side taco stand for fear that she would get any hangrier.

If there were to be an embodiment of heaven on Earth, it would be the Mexican taco stand.  The one we found was fronted by a piece of plywood with the words Tacos al Pastor spray painted on it.  We sat in the ubiquitous plastic lawn furniture that graces every taco stand in Mexico, and ordered several tacos and quesadillas.  From a rotating spit of meat and pineapple and the well practiced hands of the taco guru, our dinner was crafted; fresh flour tortillas filled with roasted pork, cilantro, onions, and fresh guacamole, a plate of limes and grilled and salted green onions, an assortment of salsas, and bowls of radishes and cucumbers.  We washed it down with a bottle of sangria flavored soda called Topo Chico, paid our $10 bill, and were on our way.  The Mexican taco stand.  Pretty much the best thing ever.

Puerto Penasco, or “Rocky Point” to Americans, is a small resort town at the northern end of the Sea of Cortez. As the closest bit of ocean to Arizona, it is quite popular with the college crowd during Spring Break.  January isn’t a hopping time of year here, as evidenced by beachfront resorts all along the water front with empty parking lots.  We drove Nacho northward past all of the resorts along Bahia de la Cholla until the road turned to dirt.  We continued on until we came to Puerto Penasco’s northern outpost; a small bar and restaurant called Wrecked at the Reef.  For $5 per night we could camp on the beach in peace, a good distance from the concrete resort jungle.

Reaching the Sea filled us with an overwhelming sense of joy, and we’ve been riding a wave of endorphins ever since.  When we arrived, I went down to the water’s edge and sat for a while.  This is your new life. No matter how often I remind myself, I still can’t believe that we’re doing this.  We opted to simplify our lives to save money, and our lives got so much better.  Now we’re on this adventure and our lives have gotten magnitudes better.  Can it get any better than this?  I guess time will tell.

Yesterday I put on the snorkeling gear and headed out with the spear gun to see if I could catch us dinner.  My visualizations of being an underwater fish-dominating Rambo went unrealized, as I only spotted a couple of small fish hanging out by the reef.  Next time you dirty rats, next time.  This morning before leaving Puerto Penasco for Baja’s Pacific coast, Sheena headed out on the paddleboard.  After scooting around Bahia de la Cholla, her streak of never having fallen off the thing remains intact.

As I write this, the sound of crashing waves fills Nacho’s interior.  In the morning we’ll wake up without aid of an alarm clock when the sun warms our little home.  We’ll roll out of bed to the sight of enormous waves crashing on the Baja coast.  We’ll sip our coffee and eat breakfast outdoors before going snorkeling.  Or fishing.  Or surfing.  This is your new life.  Holy shit, this is our new life.

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