Monday, May 31, 2010

The things you can do on a bike

We just bought a a beautiful, red, folding, second-hand bike, and already it’s paid for itself. Rather than take buses or taxis to run errands, we can now ride within reasonable distances.  Michael had to return to Home Depot three times the other day in his attempts to find the right material to create a cable to lock our dinghy, and he did it all by bike.  Besides, his bike tune up was only 20 pesos (less than $2!). Now we’ll be on the morning net during the ‘swaps and trades’ segment looking to buy a second bike – although Michael is a bit reluctant: where will be put them? Our boat will soon start looking like those homeless people’s carts with all their possessions strapped to the sides.

A few days ago we borrowed a second bike so that two of us could ride with other cruisers for brunch (the other two took the bus), and the bike allowed Michael to relive some old memories as he stopped off on the way to see the Torres Mazatlan Resort where he and his family vacationed - over 25 years ago!

One issue we have not yet solved:  Bike helmets are unheard of in these parts.  Do you think it’s because bikers in Mexico just don’t have accidents? Perhaps that’s why Mexicans still ride in cars with kids in their laps in the front seats?  Or don’t wear seatbelts at all?  Or pile as many people as possible into the back of a pickup truck (okay, so we’ve tried it a couple of times)?

-Barbara from Mazatlan

A Cruiser’s Schedule

There is a popular adage that a cruiser’s schedule is written in the sand at low tide.  Yesterday was proof of that.  We started out thinking we were going for brunch at Playa Las Brujas (Witches Beach), and then we’d go to the El Cid Marina and Resort to swim in their pool.  Perhaps we’d fit in a bit of homeschooling.  Only the first part actually happened.

While at brunch, our friend Darlene of s/v Scrimshaw (who, with her husband Roy, now lives in Mazatlan full time and has also purchased and lives in a condo at the marina) told us that her friend who makes custom swimsuits and jellysuits was visiting her at 2 p.m.  A jellysuit is necessary for swimming in the Sea of Cortez this summer as there are many jellyfish around; the suit is head to toe lycra (including booties) to protect you from stings.

At 2 p.m. we got to Darlene and Roy’s condo, chose our jellysuit fabrics  for the four of us and swimsuit fabrics for Danielle and I (approx. $25 for Danielle’s and $40 for mine – custom swimsuits – can’t be beat), got measured, and swam in the pool there. (By the way, the swimsuits and jellysuits will be ready in 3 days!).

We only got back to the boat at around 5, at which point our friend Larry barbequed the snapper he and Harrison caught yesterday early morning and we had a yummy potluck dinner with Larry and his wife Vicki.  Larry and Harrison then went out fishing again (best times to go are at sunrise and sunset) and they caught two bass, which we’ll have for dinner tomorrow night. 

In between, the kids played with their friends on s/v Hotspur and s/v Outrider.

The kids are now in bed, and Michael and I are heading to the marina’s hottub for a late night soak.

We never made it to El Cid, nor did we do any homeschooling.  A take-it-as-it-comes day.  The people you meet often make or break a place. This was one fulfilling day.

-Barbara in Mazatlan

Sunday, May 30, 2010

First Named Storm of the 2010 Hurricane Season

Her name is Agatha.  Formed in Central America and dissipated before hitting Mexico.

Check out the National Hurricane Center website to follow the storms and hurricanes as we do.

-Michael, from Mazatlan

Partridge Family makes a comeback as the Mitgangs!

IMG_8441 IMG_8443Over the last couple of evenings we’ve had the good fortune to ‘jam’ with our friends Larry and Vicki Byers of s/v Rocinante.  We’ve mentioned previously that Larry is a musician, and he had the foresight to bring a bag of instruments with him on their voyage, in order to get others in on the action (sounds like Rockin’ Family Shabbat, no?).  They have also put all the lyrics on their computer, so we can all sing along.  While we’ve never been terribly musical as a family, these photos would have you fooled.  Don’t they?

My Mexico Project

Many of you may have been wondering why I hadn’t posted blogs for a while.  The reason was that I was working on a history and geography research project on Mexico.  I learned a lot, and hope that you do too.

Click here to read my project on Mexico.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Copper Canyon Trip

We have recently returned from our first inland trip and it was a huge success.  Over eight days, we traveled by trains, buses, cars and horses, as well as a couple of pick up trucks.  We did a lot of hiking, touring and learning, and we had loads of fun.

While many take their boat up to Topolobambo to begin the trip, it would have required us to motor for 2 days over 240 miles with the wind on our nose, so instead we decided to leave our boat in Mazatlan and took a 6 hour bus ride from Mazatlan to Los Mochis, the start of the train ride.  Bus travel in Mexico is really quite nice, with tons of leg room, reclining seats, air conditioning that is often a little too conditioned, and movies (who cares if they are not family rated and have loads of violence and swear words and inappropriate subject matters?).  The movies ran non-stop for the full 6 hours at high volume - just another example of how quiet is not a Mexican word.

After spending the night in Los Mochis, we took a 7 a.m. train all the way to Creel, high up in the Copper Canyon system.  Harrison has already blogged about the 10 hour train ride and the spectacular scenery we went through.  “Copper Canyon” actually refers to only one of the several canyons in the canyon system, many of which are deeper than the Grand Canyon. This is an experience I highly recommend.  We traveled on the ‘economica’ train as opposed to the ‘primera’ as it was less than half the price and certainly more interesting.

We spent the next two nights in Creel for 300 pesos per night (about $25), which included breakfast and dinner!  It’s great having Michael on your side when you need a negotiator…  Memories of backpacking. The water got turned off between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. - no one told us, but we figured it out when Michael turned the taps on and found no water, forgetting to turn them off.  It became our 6 a.m. wake up call when we awoke to water pouring out of the taps on full blast.

testWhile in Creel, we toured the area which included a hike down to Cusarare falls, seeing rock formations in the shape of an elephant, a frog and some mushrooms, visiting the Tarahumara landholdings including a cave (see Danielle’s post), a hike to some hot springs IMG_8142(with a very challenging hike back up), and a well-done museum teaching about the Tarahumara people.

From Creel, we made our wayIMG_2081 back with stops in Divisadero, Posada Barancas/Arepo, and Bahuichivo/Ceracahui. The highlight for all of us was horsebackriding in Arepo in the morning light with incredible views of the canyons.  Words cannot describe the awe we felt.  Simply breathtaking.

We took a tour down to Urique, a town on the canyon floor, which turned out to be the dustiest and driest place we had ever been, on perhaps the scariest road we have ever been (snaking down in often only one lane).  IMG_2163Mix that up with extreme heat and we can honestly say it was not terribly enjoyable.  Imagine being in a snowstorm where your car gets covered quickly with snow… then switch the snow in your image to dust.  There was at least an inch of dust on all vehicles, and it came into the car as well.  Our luggage, our clothes and our skin was covered with dust. Days later I was still coughing up the dirt. The SUV we rode in had recently been broken into, so the control panel on the ceiling of the car was hanging down, held only be a couple of wires.  For the two hour ride down into the canyon and the two hour ride back up, Michael, who was sitting in the front seat, held onto the panel in fear that it would swing and knock the driver out as he drove along the snake path on the steep mountainside.

We ended the trip in El Fuerte, a colonial town with many buildings dating back to the 1700’s.  Many of the restaurants and hotels are now in some of the old haciendas with a wonderful history and fascinating stories behind them (for example, the owner of one of the haciendas had affairs with two of his maids, killed them off, and hid their bodies inside the walls, together with his stash of gold and silver). We really enjoyed exploring this town, its fort, and hiking along the gorgeous river to see some 1500 year old petroglyphs.  IMG_8416 IMG_8423
The couple who took admission were perhaps from the same era. Our hotel, the Rio Vista, did have a view of the river (hence the name Rio (river) Vista (view)), and was a very cute hotel for only 500 pesos per night (about $45) – my kids said it was the nicest hotel they’d ever stayed at.  It’s great when they have short memories. We were the only guests at the hotel, if you don’t count the scrawny mama cat and her brand new litter of kittens (which my kids thoroughly enjoyed playing with).

While at the Rio Vista, Danielle was holding onto a rail made out of a log in order to pull herself onto a ledge, and the log fell on top of her arm.  We have since had it x-rayed and visited an orthopedist and it is apparently only tendonitis.  We’ll keep you posted.  The bloggable moment, however, came when I almost passed out as I watched Danielle get a cortisone shot in her wrist.  They had to lay me down on the exam table until I recovered.  Can you see the capital ‘L’ on my forehead??

IMG_1906 Possibly one of the best parts of the trip was traveling with some new friends from s/v Rocinante, Vicki and Larry.  We traveled the entire way with them and our kids also just adored them.  One night, Larry entertained us with his guitar as we all sang along – he has spent several years of his life in a band.  Vicki is adventurous, funny and loves to swim, as do our kids, so she was happy to get into the frigid waters whenever I didn’t feel like it (which was always). We shared a lot of laughs and great memories together.

See additional photos in Harrison’s Copper Canyon Railway post and in Danielle’s Tarahumara post, as well as in the Picasa photo album posted on the right hand sand of this blog.

Now we are back in Mazatlan and will eventually make our way across the Sea of Cortez, back to La Paz and up north into the Sea of Cortez for the summer.  In the meantime, we’ll enjoy Mazatlan for a few more days.

-Signing off from Singlar Marina in Mazatlan,

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Tarahumara Indians

The Tarahumara people, with a population of about 50,000, are the largest group of indigenous people in Mexico.  They are also known as the Raramuri-the people of the swiftly running feet, known for their long-distance running ability and their primitive ways of living.  Each year, they have a relay where they kick a ball through 160 kilometers of rough terrain without stopping for three to four days.  These Indians live in caves or wood huts.  The men chop wood and hunt while the women weave, cook, look after their families, and sell goods.

Tarahumara tradition and culture have survived only because they’ve isolated themselves since the Spanish Conquest. They lived above the canyon, but in the 1500’s, during the Spanish Conquest, they fled to the bottom of the canyon to be able to practice their traditions freely. In the 1700’s, half of the Tarahumaras came back up from the bottom of the canyon. They continued to follow their own beliefs, but some got caught up in the Catholic religion. So, 20% of the Tarahumara follow both Catholic and Tarahumara beliefs while the rest follow only Tarahumara beliefs. An example of this is in the Tarahumara village of San Ignacio where the church, built in the 1700’s by the Tarahumaras themselves, included Tarahumara symbols in one of its walls.

When we visited Copper Canyon, we got the chance to visit the Tarahumaras both at the bottom and top of the canyon. At the top of the canyon, we were allowed to go into someone’s cave. Inside the cave were four beds and a table that were made level by stacking wood under the legs. The Indians that we saw at the top were shy and scared and wore traditional clothing. At the bottom of the canyon, some Tarahumaras wore traditional clothing and others wore the clothes we wear. The lower Tarahumaras were very friendly and not nearly as shy as the higher Tarahumaras. I had so much fun at Copper Canyon and seeing the indigenous people there made it much more enjoyable.

Copper Canyon Railway

harrisonThe Copper Canyon Railway has 36 bridges and 87 tunnels with 409 miles of track. It was opened in 1961 after many years of building it.
The railroad starts at Los Mochis, Sinaloa and goes all the way to Chihuahua city, Chihuahua. It starts at sea level and goes up to 8,000 feet.  It goes into scenic canyons and towns, and cost over $90,000,000 to build because of the rough terrain.
IMG_8051At the top of the canyons it is a lot cooler and there are pine cones as compared to the canyon floors where there are tropical fruits. IMG_8045
On the train ride we played games and looked out at the scenery, while  standing in between the cars.  This was a pretty  amazing trip.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Photo Updates

We just updated the slide show and photos on the right hand side of this blog.  Click on either or both to see recent photos of our jungle river trip in San Blas as well as our trip to Copper Canyon.  We will share a more detailed blog of our trip to Copper Canyon shortly.

At the Singlar Marina, Mazatlan

Friday, May 21, 2010

Nature Lovers' Paradise

This post was created several days ago but we were unable to post it until today:

We left La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta area) about 10 days ago with our friend Sally Martin on board, and headed to San Blas, a stop on our way to Isla Isabela. We spent two nights anchored in Mantanchen Bay as the swell getting into the San Blas marina was too ominous and surely would have drenched our cockpit and who knows what else. Plus, if you click here you'll see a video of a boat that tried to get over the swell and lost a camera in the foray. As it turns out, Mantanchen Bay was a great anchorage and kept us far from the jejenes (no-see-ums) for which San Blas is known. On the other hand, a wasp swarm made its home in our sail bag and brought our Friday night dinner to an abrupt halt as we all ran inside the boat and sealed all the hatches. Thousands of wasps covered surfaces of our sail bag and bimini in such a way that you could no longer see the blue fabric. Another cruiser had told us to spray very concentrated dish-soapy water to get rid of them, and eventually it did the trick. Most departed that night and the remainder departed while we were en route to Isla Isabela. Many died after being sprayed with the soap water and we cleaned all the dead ones off the deck. Days later we are still finding dead ones on the boat.

While in the San Blas area, we took a jungle river 'cruise' where we saw many different types of birds - herons, egrets, eagles, etc. We were advised by another sailor to tell the panga driver that we were bird watchers so that he'd go slowly. clip_image001We brought our Birds of Mexico reference guide to show some semblance of credibility, but in truth it was pretty incredible.

We took the first panga up the river that day and as such, none of the birds were disturbed by other boats. We saw many turtles and crocodiles too, and also visited a Cocodrilia (crocodile farm). The piece de resistance was at the end of the tour when we swam in beautiful clean and clear crocodile-free river water (gated off from the rest of the river), with a rope swing and all. I, Barb, even swung off the rope swing into the water!

To get to the launching off point for the river cruise we got a lift in the back of a pickup truck. The kids loved it! Later that day, we visited the remains of the famous San Blas cathedral and fortress, with a spectacular view of the city.

Isla Isabela was another spectacular site, located 25 miles from mainland Mexico and about 85 miles south of Mazatlan. For the first couple of days, we were the only boat in the anchorage. We were, of course, surrounded by water, with only this small island in site - no other land - and with the sounds of birds and waves crashing, it was very peaceful. clip_image003The island is a bird sanctuary for blue footed boobies and frigates, and whether or not you are a bird watcher, you cannot be disappointed. We went on several hikes around the island, and often had to hike off the beaten path, so to speak, to avoid upsetting the nesting birds with their babes. clip_image002

Many hundreds of frigates were also nesting in the low citrus trees. What a site.




After four days at Isla Isabela we departed at 4 a.m. to make it into Mazatlan before dark.  When the sun rose, the seas were calm. Flat calm. On our way, we thought we saw many coconuts floating in the water, until we realized they were sea turtles. Dozens of sea turtles.


Next, we saw hundreds of dolphins. We'd come close to a pod, they'd start darting towards clip_image005us, and then swim in the wake of our bow for a few hundred yards, and then swim off. The sea was so calm and clear that we could see the dolphins diving deep down and rays swimming deep below the sea surface. I don't think we'll ever tire of seeing beautiful dolphins swim alongside us.

We coasted into Mazatlan before sunset, where we had a great few days exploring parts of the city we hadn't seen during our first go around back in December. We were anchored in the old harbor, which is walking distance to the old part of Mazatlan. We spent the first day with Sally's brother, Forrest, who is the doctor on the Carnival Splendor cruise ship which was anchored in Mazatlan that day - he knew the local hotspots and took us around. Later that day, we said goodbye to Sally who had to return to La Cruz to send her son off for his school's Washington DC trip (he attends the Collegio Americana in Puerto Vallarta).

clip_image006Over the next few days, we hiked El Faro, the lighthouse (kind of like the Dish, for those bay area folk familiar with it), which takes you up to the highest (or is it the second highest) lighthouse in the world. We also went to a local hangout where we had awesome pizza at Benji’s Pizza (Benji is the owner’s pet donkey) on Stone Island which is accessible only by boat/dinghy.

Monday morning we left our boat in one of the marinas and hopped a six hour bus ride to Los Mochis, where we began our Copper Canyon (Barranca de Cobre) trip yesterday morning at 7 a.m. - an 11 hour train ride into the mountains and a series of canyons, five of which are deeper than the Grand Canyon. The 400+ mile railroad trip goes over 36 bridges and through 87 tunnels as it winds its way up into cooler climates at an altitude of over 8,000 feet. We'll spend a few days hiking in the mountains before returning to the boat in Mazatlan. We will certainly blog about this trip when it's done.

Signing off from Creel in the Copper Canyon area, Chihuahua, Mexico


Saturday, May 15, 2010

My New Business

I'm interested in making money, even though I'm only 9 years old. So I started my business as a website and blog designer.
First, I made a website for myself to demonstrate my abilities and to advertise. (Visit my website at .) Then, my dad advertised for me in La Cruz by telling people about me (he gets 10%) and got my first potential costumer, S/V No Name. Finally, I designed a business card, another way to advertise my services and to hand out to people.
I think making websites is a good job when you are a kid on a boat because you can do it remotely and only have to see your customer once at most. Maybe you'd like to do business with me. If you do, please email me at


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Couple of Mexican Experiences...

Last week Barb mandated that we all get our teeth cleaned and checked so, on a recommendation, we headed to the local dentist in Bucerias.  Kind of reminded me of the dentist in the movie Marathon Man.  Anyhow, for kicks I went first.  Went into the room, sat in the chair and started to scream.  I thought it would be a good ice breaker and would also make my kids laugh (which they did).   Turns out it also scared away a walk in patient!  All in all, our teeth are all nice and clean and the four of us got it done for about $100!

Last night there was a big fair in the town of La Cruz.  It culminated a week of festivities (and rockets/fire works going off at all hours) in honor of the Patron Saint of La Cruz.  There were rides, a rodeo, the award of "Queen of La Cruz" as well as fireworks like they had in Melaque (read that post here). The noise level in the square and on the rides was unbelievable.  In fact, it did not look like they had much in the way of coordination in their music.  In the square in La Cruz there was a band playing music.  Ten feet away there was another band playing music,  ten feet from them another.  You get the point!

Danielle dragged me onto one of those rides where you sit in a car and it goes around in a circle at high speeds both forward and backwards.  Well, it reminded me of the rides at the CNE in Toronto 35 years ago and this ride looked like it was the very one I rode back then.  I guess that once it was no longer safe to be used in Canada it must have been sold to someone in Mexico who is still using it at fairs.  They ran that ride so fast (I am sure it was never rated for those speeds) and it went on for about 15 minutes!  Both Danielle and I could hardly wait for the ride to be over.  All I could do was pray that a rivet or joint did not break while we were on it!  Thankfully, it did not.

Later, Barb rode one of those mechanical bulls.  What a hoot that was!

Signing off from La Cruz (hoping to leave in a few days for San Blas and Mazatlan),


Daily Life in La Cruz Awaiting our Visas

At least some decisions have been made.  We decided to apply for our FM3 visas (received them yesterday) which allow us to stay in Mexico for at least another year if we so choose, and we've decided that we will be spending the summer in the Sea of Cortez (or at least I've decided, but Michael is just not quite there yet - however, we are proceeding as if this is our plan).  Whether to continue another year or not is still up in the air, but we don't have to decide just yet.  It will depend on how we are doing with all this 'togetherness', if the economy suddenly and miraculously turns around, which way the wind blows, and who knows what else.

In the meantime, as we awaited our visas, we've had our day-to-day routine.  We've been late risers, as we've been going to sleep rather late - it's tough when the sun goes down after 9 p.m.  The kids get to their schoolwork, and some of the mornings when the sea is calm, they have gone wakeboarding first (thanks to our friend Dave on Lady Lexi and his 25 hp dinghy motor).  The kids and Michael have gone hobee-catting with our friend Forrest (who is only in town on Wednesdays as he's the Chief Medical Officer for Carnival Cruiselines) - the hobeecat goes 30 mph, a bit too fast for me.  We've has our teeth cleaned (about $95 for the four of us total!). We've been doing a lot of re-provisioning with the help of Sally (she's the one who hosted the Friday night dinner back in January).  We've become quite close with Sally, who as you may remember lives on land in La Cruz in a beautiful open-air house surrounding a gorgeous pool - the house belongs to her brother Forrest (see above) and his wife.  Sally has a car and has been so generous driving us around to Costco, Mega, and other stores on her way to pick up her son from school in Puerto Vallarta.  We've been spending many afternoons in Sally's pool.  And this week has brought the Patron Saint festivities to La Cruz with rides, cannons going on at 5 a.m. and into the night, a rodeo, parades, fireworks a la Mexicana, and tons of fun.  We went zip-lining one day with the kids also getting a dip in the river located at El Eden which is the former set for the movie Predator. We've gone to hear live music, quite good music at that, at the local bars (adding to the late nights).

I have so enjoyed living in La Cruz and the Banderas Bay/Puerto Vallarta area for so long this season.  You may recall that we spent nearly 2 months here in January and February, and now we've been here another 3 or so weeks.  We've made 'land-friends'. We've gotten a real feel for the people, the pueblitas (little towns) and the issues facing them, and life in Mexico.  It really feels like home, very familiar and comfortable. I look forward to returning in the future.

On the other hand, there are not any kid boats left around here, so we've had a lot of together time.  At times it's clear we could use some personal space, but we are still managing okay.  We are planning our departure for points north later this week. Sally will be crewing with us and we're excited to have her join us.  We're heading first to Isla Isabella, which is a marine sanctuary, sort of a mini Galapagos Islands, for a few days.  From there we'll head to Mazatlan, and then to Topolobampo for an inland trip through Copper Canyon via train.  After that, we'll be heading north into the Sea of Cortez for the summer.

Onto the next leg of our trip.

-Signing off from La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (perhaps for the last time this season),