Song Of The Blackbird

After the wild storms all the way up the Oregon Coast, this is what I found at Cape Disappointment on the mouth of the Columbia River. Peace!
It was a perfect mid-winter afternoon. Folks were out and about to absorb every minute they could.
The Columbia River near Astoria Oregon. It is surely one of the world’s great rivers.

In Mexico, in the mornings, their blackbirds can conjure up a symphony of calls that sound like a jungle filled with a hundred different birds. It is splendid. This morning, Jack and I went for a walk at Swallowfield Farm. The wet snow had frozen so the long trampled path was easy enough for me clomping along in my winter boots. Jack trotted along happily on top of the untrampled frozen snow with a great grin on his old phizog. In the distance I could hear the call of red-winged blackbirds. I waited until I actually saw one to confirm it was the real thing and not some starlings mimicking the song. The blackbirds, with their red epaulettes, were real and their trilling song was true. It is a first sign of spring here, despite the harsh winter the northern hemisphere is enduring this year.

Home again. Note the heron in the middle of the image. He has a long wait until the tide comes back.
Have a long look then close your eyes and hear redwing blackbirds singing from the forest’s edge.

I look back on the last month’s mad travels (8,000 km/5000 miles in one month) and see how how I could have done things much differently. I should have stayed home and completed the deal on ‘Seafire’ then ambled south with nothing to rush anywhere for. With the harsh winter, and cool temperatures with snow throughout the Northern Hemisphere, It would certainly have been best to wait a while. Hindsight! Shoulda, woulda, coulda! In another two months the Sonora desert will be starting to bloom profusely. Maybe I can return there in time for that. I do know that I saw many marvellous things and met some incredible people with a perfect timing which almost seems predestined. I know that this old salt has left a big piece of his heart in the desert.

I have previously travelled to Mexico while towing a teardrop trailer. I learned a lot from that jaunt and I now have my experience with the old camper van. It’s not sexy but it did get me home again. I’ve made up my mind that I need a small, sturdy trailer of less than twenty feet which can be used for shelter in inclement weather. I have a blind fantasy of living outside beneath an awning at a small table but the weather dictates how that happens. I’ll pull the trailer with a 4×4 truck that is old enough to be affordable and also repairable by myself. The trailer can be dropped off while I explore especially rugged areas with the truck.That towing vehicle can then hold tools, bicycles, extra fuel, a kayak, an inflatable boat perhaps. The trailer has to be rugged enough to be eased along rough back roads without falling apart. Many new trailers being marketed as “Offroad” could not survive for long off-pavement. Putting knobby tires on a trailer is stupid and does NOT make it into a rugged offroad RV.

I could write about what are my does and don’ts, but those may not be especially helpful to someone else venturing out. There are many different ways to direct the same script. I found that Northern California was very expensive. I am told that the southern part of the state is considerably more ridiculous. The secondary roads in California are in dreadful condition, on a par, or even worse than back roads in Mexico. Diesel fuel, in many places, was more expensive than regular gasoline sometimes by a dollar more per tiny US gallon. Gasoline generally was up to a dollar more than in neighbouring states. I soon learned not to buy fuel at the first location in town that one comes to, sometimes the fuel in the middle of town sells for as much as sixty cents per gallon less. Most gas pumps will ask you for your zip code when you stuff your credit card into it. It was frustrating until I was taught that with a Canadian card, you enter the numbers in your postal code followed by two zeros. It always worked like a charm. in my case I found that the road signs in the US in many places were inadequate or downright misleading. My road maps often did not agree with each other and my GPS, at times, seemed utterly confused about which planet it was on.

In any case, do not put yourself in a space where you are regretting what you did not do. Today is all you have, go for it! In the blogs I have written about this trip, I have often alluded to the vastness of the states I crossed. Despite man’s imposition of change everywhere he goes, there are still massive expanses between the horizons of a majestic, sprawling land. There are many areas where you can view the planet almost as it has always been. Then, when a person looks at a map and sees they have only travelled a tiny scratch of the earth they become very humble. That is a good thing.

Perhaps not as fascinating as a cactus but this old, rough bark has its own beauty.

Presently I am unloading my beloved ‘Seafire.’ It is a big job which I hate, especially when performed through misty eyes.This vessel is a huge part of who I am. (I have arguments with myself about stuff being part of my identity.) She’s going to good new owners but, for me, it is hard to envision a future without her. I’ve painted myself into a corner financially, this is my way out. I intend to have a trailer and a powerboat in which I will live and travel and write into my dotage.

As I write, I close my eyes and can smell the sea air of Mexico, the pure silent wind in the desert; I can see red rocks and sand, cacti and palms, high-altitude twisted, stunted pines. I have fleeting images of jackrabbits, wild burros and horses and perhaps an illegal immigrant hiding in a thicket of mesquite. I think of people whom I met there who know only their world and are very content in it. My home is here on Vancouver Island, which folks come from around the world to see, because it is spectacular. I need never leave this island to have a full and wonderful life. But I am one of those who is cursed with a compulsion to see what is around the next corner…and so I go.

Jack regarded me with his special look of disdain during my first few days home. I’d been away without him. He’s over it now.

This Saturday evening came with bursts of heavy sleet and snow during the drive to Nanaimo to see a movie, ‘Green Book.’ It has many nominations and awards and certainly deserves them. I suggest that if you see only one film during the entire year, this is the one. I’ll end this blog with one of many great lines from the film.

Buddhy. He is my travelling companion, security system and charmer of officials at border crossings. “Who’d want to deal with one of THOSE nutters?” I believe that is what they might think. In any case, he works well  for me with his incessant grin as he sits velcroed to the dashtop. This photo is about his actual size.

The world is full of lonely people afraid to make the first move.”

To The Wall

(Note: This blog is finally being posted eight days after beginning my journey southward From Ladysmith. At present I am in an RV Park in Yuma Arizona. I’ll catch up to immediate events as soon as possible)

Ladysmith, just before the Christmas light-up season ends. The wet street should explain why I am southbound

I’m almost on the road, finally, into the land of Trump, heading for the wall. It has occurred to me how that man could effectively close the gaps in the already half-built fortification, if he simply erected a continuous billboard across the continent, ten feet high with shoulder to shoulder portraits of himself, facing into Mexico. He could be shown waving his hands horizontally as he does, and with a quote saying something like “This will be very effective, very effective, you will pay.” Better than bullets! An endless chain of his porky fizog peering out from beneath that blond mop on his head would certainly repel me. Sorry Republicans, nothing personal, it’s just a repugnance I’ve developed after all the news stories about this character’s latest tweet. (Feel free to slander our own flacid Canadian Prime Minister.) Well, I know that I’m supposed to be a smiling non-partisan guest as I greet each gun-toting American child of God. And so I shall. “Is that a Smith & Wesson in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

A view south from the BC Ferry to the mainland. The big island is Orcas Island in the US San Juan island archipelago

My experience with the ordinary American citizen is that they are warm, friendly, generous and compassionate. They are trusting and complacent which is why they’ve ended up with the porcine fuhrer they presently have. When questioned about the dangers of driving in Mexico I always explain that I’ve beaten the odds once over the Mexican border. After the drive across the US I feel much safer. It is a beautiful land with lots of great people, too bad there is a cloud of constant anxiety above it.

So here I go. The old van I bought has proven to have the usual plethora of used vehicle woes but I sally forth with some tools and optimism. I’ve even cut a hole in the floor above the electric fuel pump which is mounted inside the fuel tank. If that fails, I would otherwise have to remove the entire tank, which of course will be full with gasoline when the fuel pump dies. This is accomplished by squirming underneath the vehicle, on your back, while laying in the dust of a remote desert area. I’ve been in that situation before. There’s no romance to any of it, even looking back. There is no valid excuse for putting a pump inside a tank without providing an access panel like many foreign vehicles. A friend has loaned me a used fuel pump to carry, just in case. I know that since I have that angle covered, Old Murphy will find something else to to nail me with. Well, enough nattering. Shut up and drive! Find a country music station on the radio and let the miles erase the angst. I’m worried that I have forgotten how to relax and how to play. So here goes!

So what is it that I like about Mexico? I love a journey with constantly changing scenery. I love being warm and dry. I love Mexicans. Despite all the negatives I’ve heard I am far more inclined to trust a Mexican than most gringos. I have not met a lazy Mexican, which is why the US economy is built, in no small part, on the backs of these folks. Their economic system does not allow them to sit around leeching off of others. Work or starve. They possess a dignity that defies our comprehension and also the wonderful ability to live in the moment. If you can feed your children today, bueno! Besides, what can you really do about tomorrow? Mucho Gusto!

Mexican also still embrace the concept of family. Both children and the elderly are treasured and provide elements of security within the basic unit of government in any culture. Drugs. Yep a, nasty business, made even worse by the incessant focus of the media. Nature abhors a vacuum and we all know where the huge market is for that poison. Yep, right here! If you want to stop the drug trade, stop buying the shit! There is plenty of violence and death right here at home, drugs or not. By the way, The Mexico and its people I know is always as far away from the tourist centres as possible. There are many folks who go into Mexico, stay in a resort area and never see nor taste the real country. I prefer the back roads, rural areas and remote pieces of coast. I also do not portray myself as a shiny, wealthy, arrogant Northerner. A smile and a sincere effort at the language also goes a long way. Ándale!

Well finally! January 17th, 10:15 With a mighty boooop of the ship’s horn, we pull away from the ferry dock at Duke Point in Nanaimo. Propitiously, we are exactly on time. The van is two decks below me, stuffed randomly with food, clothing, tools and cameras. I will have to sort it all out later, but the immediate objective is to cross the border. There is an electrical problem, the brand-new battery which runs the house system including lights, fridge, and furnace is flat dead. I need to find out the problem right away so the battery can recharge while driving along. I am dead shattered-weary but I’ll fix it.

There is an exhaustion which is due in part to the stress and duress of preparing the old van, worries about money and the general low health blaahs which I fall into every winter. My arthritis this year has made it difficult to walk at times, to hold a wrench, or even a pen. My handwriting is more terrible than ever. My fingers miss the letters on this keyboard and I understand why as a youngster, I knew old people were often grumpy. Now I get it. I hope that I do not yet exude the old man smell I remember when I’d have to sit near an oldster on some hard oak pew. It was not pleasant. To increase my duress there is a tentative deal cooking on my beloved ‘Seafire’ which is very bittersweet. But I have plans beyond parting with my dear old boat and I assure you, I have not swallowed the hook. There will be another boat, somehow, in my future. I have a dream. Continuing my blog is part of it. Thank you all for your support and your many cheering compliments and creative criticisms.

Onto the mainland and a stop to repair the house battery charging system.
The attempt failed.

So the first hurdle is dealing with Homeland Insecurity as I cross the border. They can see the horn which sprouts on my forehead each time I have to deal with them. I need to thumb through my copy of “ Being Contritious With Bureaucrats For Smart-assed Old Farts.” Perhaps I have enough points to earn a free trip to Guantanamo Bay. As it turns out, they did query me about all my camera bags and if I was going to work in the US. For once, I kept my pie-hole shut and simply answered YES/NO as required.

One of the grand things about travelling in the US is that there are fast food outlets everywhere, in fact it is often difficult to find a real restaurant that serves those jelly belly hi gluten and trans-fat meals otherwise know as home cooking. The fast food joints all have wifi so the blogs will continue to be beamed out to you. You’ve been warned!

I’m told Jack is depressed and missing me. By the time I get home, he’ll probably bite me.

Ps: Here’s a link to a blog posted by my dear friends Tony and Connie. They’re home taking a brief sabbatical from their ongoing wandering sail around the globe. They’ve been on this trip now for nine years…and it ain’t over yet. Tony posted a blog about the walk we went on in the fog at my now-beloved Swallowfield farm on the same day.

Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.” …Raymond Lindquist

Poised for Flight

Goodbye Edgar
As if in farewell, Edgar watches from his favourite perch

The weather has eased into spring- like conditions and I’ve managed to complete scraping, sanding and refinishing the cap rails on ‘Seafire.’ I’ve used a new-to-me product called Semco, a very expensive teak sealer. I’ll see how it stands the test of time. I’ve given up on my beloved Cetol; it failed miserably to withstand the challenge of an up-coast winter. I feel better now that the worst part of restoring the boat’s exterior woodwork, or “Brightwork” is behind me but there is plenty to do yet. That can be achieved while sailing along.’

Poised for Flight
‘Seafire’ sits ready to go exploring

Seafire’ shows her scars and wrinkles proudly, she’s earned them, and I’ll give her a good clean-up once back in Southern latitudes. I cannot, however, bear a buildup of grunge. There has been a patina of winter filth on the bottom-side of the mast spreaders and on the radar scanner’s cover. A large storm is coming with high winds and heavy rain so I‘ve scooted up the mast this Sunday morning and scrubbed away the green stuff before the rain comes again. Now I feel “Gooder.” Checking my e-mail, I find that friends on their boat ‘Sage’ have hunkered down in a mangrove swamp in Martinique in anticipation of a potential hurricane. You can access their blog “Sage On Sail” through the sidebar on the cover page of this blog. They later posted a quick blog with a note of relief. Their storm threat had passed.

The weakest link.
A very risky way of holding your rigging up. The bent tang of this turnbuckle is holding this bobstay to the sprit, which in turn holds the forestay which holds the mast. It is often the way things get done here.


Evidence. It’s actually fish blood, there was more inside the boat as well as prawn heads. In remote areas, police are permitted to use official vessels for personal reasons.
That’s the easy one. This is an autohelm drive motor installed in the binnacle of a German-built yacht. The visible bolt is one of four that have to somehow be  removed. The stainless steel base was bolted in place, then the bolts were welded.
Bleary eyes, after a bug-bitten night.
Heiltsuk grow-op. A community garden in Bella Bella. At the time of the next full moon, tiny alien warriors will emerge from their pods.
A lobster boat replica. It is one of the prettiest power boats to come to our docks…in my opinion.

Sunday evening in Shearwater comes with the forecast rain. I was debating about what to do for supper when there was a knock on the boat’s deck. My neighbour has just returned from a successful day’s fishing. He offered me two huge slabs of white spring salmon. Guess what I had for supper and will again tomorrow. There is nothing finer than fresh fish, What a treat!

The squirrelly heist. Learning how to swallow uphill was the hard part.

A week later, I’m poised for flight. ‘Seafire’ is now moored on the “Hobo” dock, a jetty for fishing boats, tugs, workboats, and any transient freeloaders who can find a spot here. Perfect! It is, in fact, a much better spot than where I’ve been. It was made clear that since I was beyond my usefulness and no longer an employee then I could “Git yer pitchin’s and go!” Fair enough, thanks for the memories. What I find interesting is that despite urgent repeated requests to move and make space for a fifty-five foot boat, which so far has not yet appeared, no one saw fit to advise me of the impending blast in the adjacent rock quarry. At one pm I noticed other boats leaving and learned of the coming rock blast at three pm. Last time some rock was shot, one piece went through the end of a house and more bits were found on the end of the dock. Nothing personal, I’m sure, it’s just the way things are done here.

A “Culturally Modified” tree. Cedar bark and planks have been stripped from this tree.
Heiltsuk grave marker, hand-carved board
Returning to mother earth.
Another grave marker’.
Gone but not forgotten.
An ancient petroglyph carved in granite. How did they do it? I’ve just washed it with water to help enhance it’s lines.



A beautifully painted box left on a grave.
Flowers everywhere
A flooding tide

It is an odd thing, the vagaries of human personality. Most of us have experienced them from time to time, both of our own making and from others. Many folks here have bid me a fond and warm farewell. I’ve been touched by that. Then a fellow here whom I considered a good friend and a solid character suddenly subscribed to a false rumour about something I was alleged to have said. He invented an accusation which others know is raw fabrication. There are witnesses who can confirm what actually happened and whom my accuser won’t approach. I can’t fathom his motivation and thats the big question for me. He wants his fiction to be true. Why? This old bird has to admit to feeling quite hurt and bewildered but life goes on and this will soon be forgotten. I do wonder about the snowball effects of the Franken-monster this guy has created. It will come home to bite his ass. I’m counting the days until the end of the month when I leave this place. There is a tension and darkness in the air here which no-one can define and yet most readily acknowledge. Even without my health issues, I believe I’d move on.

Salmon Berry
Flowers becoming berries

The ‘Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz is an outline of Toltec dogma. One of those agreements is to be impeccable with one’s words and for the responsibility of the good and the harm they can do. Another agreement is to not make assumptions. It is just too small a community here to wilfully create acrimony and invent false scenarios. I’ve made some wonderful lasting friendships here, and despite the corporate ineptitude, I hold many fond memories. I won’t miss the bullshit but this country will always have a piece of me. It seems sad to leave on such a sour note. So, the other two agreements are to always do one’s best and especially for me at this moment, to take nothing personally. Enough said.

Meanwhile the weather has turned gorgeous. It is clear and warm. Summer solstice passed a few days ago and my first horsefly of the summer has been swatted. I’m spending the weekend tinkering and cleaning on the boat and simply defragging. Today I found a very old friend on the dock. ‘Shukran’ is a boat I loved over twenty years ago. She’s a Fisher Noreaster 30, one of the biggest little boats you’ll ever find. ‘Shukran’ was the original name bestowed when purchased new. The owner had earned her price while working on a dream contract in the middle east. Shukran is Arabic for “Thank you”. I looked up her current owner in the restaurant here to commend him for the loving care he has bestowed on one of my passions from days gone by. He was quite pleased at the praise from a stranger.


On Sunday my friend Paer and I took a tour around the Archipelago which protects Kliktsoatli Harbour where Shearwater is located. We visited native burial sites, pictographs, beaches and islets where a profusion of flowers and berries grow. We saw what we now think is a female Northern Elephant Seal and then journeyed back to Shearwater; all in about six hours. What an amazing rich area. Up and down the inlets and around the islands there are thousands of miles of natural wonder as well as the secure feeling that this coast is nearly infinite in it’s vibrancy and size. Soon old ‘Seafire’ will meander southwards toward new horizons and unimagined adventure. To know that this wild labyrinth and sanctuary exists will always be a reassurance. That, I think, is the best reason for preserving wilderness; just to know that it is there.

Nakwakto Rapids, One of the world’s most notorious tidal rapids.
It is a poor photo taken through the aircraft window and jet exhaust but you can see why the island in the rapids is called Trembler Rock.
Sea becoming sky, sky becoming sea.

Now at the beginning of the next week I’ve flown south once again for another round of jiggery pokery in the hospital. The flight was idyllic. I napped, waking regularly, looking out on a new vista of the passing scenery. What a fantastic place we live! Tonight I’m sitting at my desk in Ladysmith. My belly is full with Jill’s cooking, Jack is asleep at my feet and the television is on with a program about obesity. What a different world from the one I left this morning. In a few day’s we’ll be aboard Seafire to begin our meandering trip south. What comes next?

Plaque on a Heiltsuk Grave

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.” Vincent Van Gogh

Homeward Slowly and Reluctantly From Tuxpan

Homeward behind a load of sugar cane
Homeward behind a load of sugar cane

Tuxpan was a hell-hole to my gringo eyes. (Pronounced Toose-pan) As mentioned in my last blog I corrected the error of my ways and got the hell out of there before total darkness fell.

I was not welcome there and could feel it in the air. Like roadside markers out on the highway, there were crosses on the streets and I knew these souls had departed their bodies for reasons other than any driving error. I had bought an eighteen inch machete with a saw-toothed back for collecting firewood but it didn’t leave me feeling more than defenceless. Occasionally you hear yet another bandito horror story but apart from my own blundering I actually feel safer in Mexico than at home. I’ve explained to a few other gringos that the big difference between here and Mexico is that our police keep most of their weapons hidden in the trunk of their vehicle.

Another cross coming soon. A coke truck bites the dust. See! Coke really is bad for you!
Another cross coming soon. A Coca-Cola truck bites the dust. See! Coke really is bad for you!

I stayed in the back of another Pemex station that night, not at all an exotic place but I felt safe enough and sleep well. In the morning the same attendants were on duty, now sustaining themselves against the chill of dawn by drinking tequila-braced coffee from Styrofoam cups.

A siter Nissan truck...Mexican style
A sister Nissan truck…Mexican style

I declined their generosity.  I drove northward stopping regularly to take photographs. The Policia Federales stopped to enquire what I was photographing and then drove off to accost a madly-careening eighteen-wheeler, all the while I’m sure, puzzling about yet another mad gringo with a camera. Being desperately broke and worried about police wanting mordida, my truck breaking down, exorbitant toll fees and whatever else that might go wrong, I made my way north on the libres, or toll-free highways. The tolls, or cuotas, equalled the price of two tanks of gas on the way down and yes things were looking that desperate. I ate once a day at the less-grotty roadside cuchinas where truckers stopped. The food is freshly prepared over wood fires,  is delicious and generally cheaper than cooking for yourself. I have not had one bad meal in Mexico anywhere. I did not ever drink tap water but nor did I take any special preventions against eating the local fare.

Restaurant kitchen
Restaurant kitchen
Restaurant kitchen chimney
Restaurant kitchen chimney

After again passing through El Rosario, (Which I learned in amazement was founded in 1655,) the libres led me into Culicán. As usual in these places, it seemed to be rush-hour. Hot, dusty, thirsty, needing to pee, low on gas, I tried to stay alive in the traffic while desperately looking for a sign that would lead me out of mayhem. Eventually, I ended up in Navolato, about twenty kilometres on, and although I had actually passed under the freeway, I could find no way onto it or the adjoining libre. After ending up in a cornfield I began to drive back the way I thought I had come feeling very lost and frustrated.

A family moment in the restaurant
A family moment in the restaurant

Spotting two municipal traffic cops, I careened in front of their car, and slammed to a stop. They emerged with pistols half-drawn as I frantically tried to smile while saying “Hola amigos, hola senors. Jo gringo esta mucho perditio. Dondé esta la camina a Nogales? Esta nada signas!” They tried to explain the escape route and then decided to escort me onto the highway. With red and blue lights flashing the led me on a convoluted trail through the bustling streets as more and more cars swerved into the increasing gap between us.

Finally I found myself grovelling in gratitude as they explained that this was the highway to Nogales. They made it clear to me that this stupid gringo was to stay on this road until safely out of their country. At the moment I took it as good advice. As they were leaving, but still in plain sight of them, a giggling little man jumped head and shoulder into the driver’s window and began trying to peddle a huge bag of cocaine in front of my face. Terrified that the police had set me up for a bust I began cursing loudly and honking my horn as I drove off with this rascal still trying to close a deal. All I can recall is that he was finally gone and I don’t give a damn what happened to him.

So….yet another  couple of don’ts:

Don’t drive the streets of larger urban areas with your windows open. Keep them up with the doors locked; that is what air-conditioning is for.

Don’t drive alone in Mexico. I’ll never do it again. Driving is a full time job, especially in Mexico with all its mad motorists hurtling in and from all directions. There are other characters to watch out for as well as the full-time job of watching for topés. As well as those big speed bumps there are vibradores which are multiple smaller speed bumps in rows. The name is perfect. There are also mucho baches, or many potholes. The military will set up roadblocks at random and they use heavy ship hawsers zig-zagged across the road. I guarantee you’ll stop for these. Especially with the kids in pickup trucks on the side of the road. They have .50 calibre swivel-mounted machine guns. At one check point I watched desperately as a young fellow in full battle dress cleaned his weapon. It was clearly loaded, a bandolier snaked down into the truck bed. As he polished his little cannon the muzzle swivelled wildly but all the while pointed at me.  Yeah right! It’s funny now!

As an interesting footnote, a few days later, Joaquin Guzman was arrested in Mazatlan, one hundred twenty miles to the south. The “Most wanted drug lord in the world”, “El Chapo” is regarded by many as a sort of Robin Hood character, known for amazing generosity to locals. In Culicán, hundreds have taken to the streets demanding his release. Their parochial loyalty will remain rock-solid even to whomever takes his mantle. I rather expect an escalation in violence as the next in line to head the cartel is decided.

Why panic now? Another day in a Guaymas shipyard.
Why panic now?
Another day in a Guaymas shipyard.

After yet another Pemex evening I arrived next morning in Guaymas, a destination of my dreams. I’ve heard so many sailors tell what an incredible place this is. After thumpy-bumping my way past a waterfront industrial area, complete with a decaying, but still-functioning shipyard I arrived at a crumbling water front and single dock.

Beautiful downtown Gyuamas... Come on in!
Beautiful downtown Gyuamas…
Come on in!

Immediately there was someone lurking in my peripheral vision who wouldn’t face me, nor leave. After my recent adventures I was beginning to feel a bit paranoid and suddenly felt an uncanny ache to be back in Amurica. I’ll

Where even pagans (like me) are awestruck
Where even pagans (like me) are awestruck

admit, in retrospect, I was merely becoming worn-down but at the time I felt more than a little endangered, much like a brave old moose being worn down by a pack of wolves.

In the barrios
In the barrios
The pigeon catcher
The pigeon catcher

Downtown Guaymas is a beautiful old town and I photographed another amazing old cathedral. Broke as I was, I bought a small finch-like bird for thirty pesos from a vendor, who was puzzled that I didn’t want a cage.  He seemed completely amazed when I released it. It probably flew home for him to sell again.

A detail from old Guaymas
A detail from old Guaymas

It made me feel immensely better. Once again, there was a lack of road signs but eventually I found my way to San Carlos, an icon of security for all yachters in the Sea Of Cortes. I found one ‘Marina Sec’ or dry-storage yard and can agree that it is a fine place to leave a boat hauled-out for an extended period. However let me warn you that the hot, hot summer and the intense ultra-violet sunlight is harder on a boat than our Pacific Northwest winters. Also, think twice about those cheap boats abandoned in Mexico. Remember that something for sale at a bargain price has not had any money put into it for a while. Apart from the tricky paper work if you want to bring the vessel home, and despite the yacht broker’s cavalier claims, you get what you pay for.  What really offended me about San Carlos was that it seems to no longer be Mexico. It is a clutter of gringo holiday houses, hotels, high-end marinas, convenience stores, and hurtling, self-righteous blue-hairs in various recreational conveyances. You may as well be back in Los Angeles or San Diego. Why the hell do we always impose upon ourselves, and everyone else, what we came to escape? Enough said.

The jewel of Guaymas A tribute to the fishermen of the Sea Of Cortez
The jewel of Guaymas
A tribute to the fishermen of the Sea Of Cortez

I sat on a concrete wall after scrounging a meal from the soggy dregs in my ice box. I watched the ice melt and then dry up under the sun and felt very much the same. A few days earlier I had put the finishing touch on a forty-year old ankle injury. With that throbbing pain and my sense of defeat about my stupid misadventures, I too simply wanted to vaporize.  Sadly I headed for the border hoping I had enough gas and pesos to make it to the crossing in Nogales.

By comparison... Gringoland in San Carlos
By comparison…
Gringoland in San Carlos

Invariably, when the chips are down, scavengers show up to try pecking out your eyes and strip your bones. I became overwhelmed with a sense of being extorted. The closer to

A field of broken dreams One marina sec in San Carlos
A field of broken dreams
One ‘Marina sec’ in San Carlos
The anchorage in San Carlos, a last piece of the way it was, shiny gringo casas sprawl over the hill above
The anchorage in San Carlos, a last piece of the way it was, shiny gringo casas sprawl over the hill above

the border, the more our poisonous capitalist influence becomes apparent. The toll gates, or ‘Plaza De Cobra’ also known as ‘Pavilion Cuote’ become closer together. Each time you stop you are besieged by vendors

The ubiquitous desert island. my last view of the Sea Of Cortez... for now!
The ubiquitous desert island. my last view of the Sea Of Cortez…
for now!

and kids leaping onto your vehicle to wash your windshield, clean as it may be from the last round of cleaning. I began shouting “NO!”, very loudly, and only after yelling repeatedly “No esta No!” only then did the assaults end; albeit with some very colourful Mexican curses of a vivid sexual connotation. They are especially poignant coming form the mouths of children.

For what the tolls pay! An overpass to nowhere
For what the tolls pay! An overpass to nowhere

Finally, I passed the Mexican aduanas where my jaunt had began so ingloriously. I returned my vehicle-duty decal and then exchanged my few remaining pesos for Americanos. I was crossing the border with US$31 to my name and a quarter tank of gas. Sheet! The crawl northward to Nogales, Arizona takes you past Nogales, Mexico. It is a sprawling barrio that runs up and over the distant hills. Barefoot children play among the garbage, wrecked cars and skinny, limping dogs.

A moment of decision. Someone couldn't make up their mind
A moment of decision.
Someone couldn’t make up their mind

It is a scene from hell. All these desperate people crowd against the American’s high metal border fence that extends over the hills out of sight in either direction. There is nothing more desperate than seeing thousands living with faint hope within such hopelessness. Helicopters clatter overhead and the tension in the air is palpable. There is yet another Mexican toll gate a short distance from the US border crossing, which is a blatant effrontery.

Finally you heave into sight of the Homeland Security gauntlet ahead. Still the vendors persist a few car-lengths from the gates selling everything imaginable. One woman tried selling me a beautiful puppy. When I explained that this dog-lover couldn’t take him because the pup hadn’t had his shots and papers she exclaimed, “Oh no senor, he is not for to be shooting!” I tried to explain but I’m sure she knew exactly what I said. He would have been put into quarantine within minutes but I’ll bet some gullible family rescued him. I can only imagine the wails of grief as he was hauled away.

Sniff, sniff, question, question, peek and snoop, the multiple interrogations were finally over and I was no longer in Mexico. There is a very definite line, like stepping from one planet to another, as you drive into Nogales, Arizona.  Machine gun Spanish is still being spoken, but it clearly NORTH America.   I slept peacefully in the Walmart parking lot, secure in the knowledge that I was now where there is at least one handgun in every purse or pocket.

By morning, I was missing Mexico badly. I could not understand why other cars were following me on the road instead of passing on a double line or a curve. Isn’t it strange? Behaviour which, would have incensed me a few weeks earlier, was now normal in my mind. How quickly we become a product of our environment!  I know the one I prefer. As I sit here, now back at home watching a foot of snow slowly melt before a chill West wind, I’m already preparing to go back to Mexico. I haven’t felt warm for over a week. I’ve left a huge piece of my heart there.

The Policia Federales stopped to see what I could possibly find to photograph!
The Policia Federales stopped to see what I could possibly find to photograph!
Morning dew
Morning dew
Welcome to the swamp!
Welcome to the swamp!
Rio Bonito
Rio Bonito
At an abandoned roadside cantina. Can you hear the rusted tin siding squeaking in the wind?
At an abandoned roadside cantina.
Can you hear the rusted tin siding squeaking in the wind?
Road flower
Road flower
'Bent Hitch' A Mexican souvenir and a great name for a rock band
‘Bent Hitch’
A Mexican souvenir and a great name for a rock band
One morning in an avocado orchard
One morning in an avocado orchard
Prima Vera blooms They're everywhere I like to call them the yellow rose of Mexico
Prima Vera blooms
They’re everywhere
I like to call them the yellow rose of Mexico

Fred Goes For A Drive

Fat Man In A Tiny Trailer       Part 1

This series, Fat Man In A Tiny Trailer, is the first in a series about my motor trip to Mexico and back home to Vancouver Island. I’m incorporating it into ‘Seafire Chronicles’ as part of that journey.

Orf to see the wizard
Orf to see the wizard
The little guy brings up the rear at the Coho Ferry terminal
The little guy brings up the rear at the Coho Ferry terminal

Aboard the M.V. Coho, Victoria is in the rear-view mirror, Port Angeles ahead. The journey has begun!  I’m feeling utterly ragged, old, obese, tired, even in some pain as I sit at this lap top computer blinking in the light of the sun setting over the Strait Of Juan De Fuca. There’s a fabulous sun dog hanging over Race Rocks. It’s twin lays to the south over the Olympic Mountains.  The seas are calm with a light Easterly wind and no swell. Never leave port on a Friday it is said, but I feel optimistic.

I love this old boat and its crew’s informal competence. The Coho runs as a successful example of free enterprise and should embarrass the hell out of British Columbia Ferry Corporation with its incessant whining and fare-raising. But…I’m leaving that all behind for a few weeks and hope I come back far better able to cope with life in the fat lane. (NO, not a typo!)

It’s been another day in the life of Fred, driving down to Victoria from Ladysmith, touring auto-wreckers along the way to find parts for the old truck I’m driving to Mexico. I actually found what I needed in only five stops, had a lovely visit with my daughter in Victoria, left Jack the dog in her care and I’m off.

God knows I can’t afford to do this, I already live the role of poor starving sailor-writer all too well but I also know that I can’t afford not to go. I can’t see anything clearly so I’m off to walk in the desert, literally and figuratively. It’s time for a pilgrimage. Thanks to a very supportive spouse and other good friends, I will see this through.

My personality flaws have me digging a grave with my fork. The fatter I become physically and mentally, the lower I feel and so even more comfort eating occurs. It is a deadly spiral. I’m two-hundred fifty-four pounds and with a surgically repaired heart it is overdue that I come to terms with living a whole life. I can plead to be a compulsive artistic type but I also know most artists aren’t recognized until they’re dead so better anonymous than stiff and famous. This will be a travel-log, more spiritual and esoteric than geographic but I hope its going to be as much fun as painful epiphany. 

I’m orf to see the wizard!

I’m armed with a down-loaded e-book call ‘FatLoser!’ It is about self discipline and mental toughness, explaining in blunt terms how to regain control of your life. It has grabbed my attention. I’ll share some quotes from time to time.

So rule one: Get used to feeling hungry and living with it.

I once smoked like a smelter and was only able to quit when I resolved to discipline myself to live with my compulsion. I knew that to stop smoking did not mean I would quit craving them for the while. So, a change of life style, a change of habits. Like so many in our culture I eat for every reason except to fuel a healthy mind, body and lifestyle.

Far out man!
Far out man!

This morning I’m writing in a tiny cafe on the Washington coast south of Forks. After buying a few groceries there last night I think it should be re-named ‘Knives.’ Wow! The store is the only game in town and bloody-well knows it. Their prices are

The seagull crossed the T
The seagull crossed the T

rapacious. I spent the first night in the trailer parked in a gravel pit under the waining gibbous moon. Rolls of fog drifted by, freezing in glittering beauty everywhere. All around me was the burned ruin of a raped forest and in the distance, I could hear the surf roaring on the beach. It was eerie. I managed to bend the truck’s back bumper against the trailer tool box while turning around on a muddy logging road and the trailer wiring needs some attention. But I’m taking the glitches as a good omen. I buy coffee and a small breakfast of biscuits and gravy, the sun is shining. I won’t eat for the rest of the day. The pavement where I’ll work on the ‘Rig’ is dry. Life is good.

Yeah Really.... A drift woody!
Yeah Really….
A drift woody!
As named by Lewis and Clark
As named by Lewis and Clark
Astoria Oregon and the bridge across the Colombia River as seen from Dismal Nitch, WA
Astoria Oregon and the bridge across the Columbia River as seen from Dismal Nitch, WA

In Astoria I stopped for a day to visit with my good friends Dave and Renee who live aboard their grand ketch ‘Aquarius’. I’ve met these folks through the Fisher Poet’s Gathering. I helped them in the early stages of their purchase when the boat was up in Cowichan Bay. I didn’t do much except to do a quick survey and help tie the boat deal up until they were able to close it for themselves. Mine was a tiny part but it sure is a treat to see how a plan can go right. The boat clearly is loved and responding nicely to their attention. It is very homey now and the two enthuse about the day they can cut her loose and sail South.

Astoria dawn
Astoria dawn

I then drove on down the coast as far as Newport, Oregon. The day was bright and warm and sunny. At times the road wound along a cliff-edge hundreds of feet above the pounding surf, where sea-spray clouded windshields and kept the road wet. Even though it is January the beaches

This marina is FULL!
This marina is FULL!

were filled with people. Happy children flew their kites and dogs pattered about happily. I acquired an indelible image that day while picking up a few supplies in a Fred Meyers store. This is a monster retailer that sells ever thang under one roof. I didn’t find the coffins and the used aircraft section, but I’ll bet they’re there. Some food isles ended near the sporting goods and there, next to the potato chips, I saw a father bending over with his very young daughter admiring the handgun display. Say no more!

Haystack rock, Oregon coast
Haystack rock, Oregon coast

Next morning the sky was clear and warm. I rose at five AM and headed inland to Bend. After the snowy cold of the mountain pass and the tourist town charm of Sisters the central and eastern Oregon Badlands are dramatically different from the coast. I felt a very long way from the sea and wanted to turn back. Eventually I turned south from the dying town of Burns into an ever expanding panorama of semi-desert high plains, volcanic rocks, cones and ridges and finally entered Nevada in the dark at a ghostly place called Denio. IMG_0105

A ghost from days past, when men were men, and nobody knew what a computer was
A ghost from days past, when men were men, and nobody knew what a computer was

It had been a T-shirt warm kind of day, but I awoke in my little trailer to find frost on my blankets and door windows, my water bottle was almost frozen solid.  I learned that the temperature was ten degrees Fahrenheit. Oh yeah, right, it’s still January!

Choose your ride
Choose your ride

Now writing in a dreary cafe in a deary place called Valmy Nevada, I’m catching up on my notes and taking another back road south from Battle Mountain. My diet is supported with a scarcity of restaurants in

Sport model, Sisters, OR
Sport model,
Sisters, OR

this big country with its many very big people.  I don’t know what they eat but WOW! My Fat Loser manual points our how libido and physical attraction diminish with the onset of obesity. Perhaps that’ll be nature’s way of thinning us porkers out!  It has occurred to me that a good analogy is how poorly a gasoline engine runs when it is out of adjustment and trying to burn a fuel mixture that is too rich. It just doesn’t operate smoothly, uses too much fuel, and is slowly self-destructing while offering diminished allround performance; just like a human!

Perhaps it’s the old pilot in me, but I’ve learn quickly to top up with gasoline at every chance in this big country. Signs promising ‘Next gas 127 miles’ may well be proven liar when and if you finally get there. I’ve filled a Jerry can with fuel that I carry in the back. Signs in fact are vague, sunburned blank, missing, or badly shot up. I’m glad I have a compass and altimeter which have actually proven their value, as well as the off-road floodlights I installed on the truck. Jackrabbits, deer, and antelope bound out of the dark vastness immediately in front of you.


After studying maps and Google Earth I thought I had a handle on my route but nothing prepared me for the vastness and hugeness of this country. It is stunning. I have driven past a hundred fantastic photographs in my determination to get to Mexico as soon as possible. My bladder and aching bottom determine where the next photo opportunity arises. Maybe this will be known as the squirt and click trip.

The evenings are already clearly longer with the southing I’ve made but oh God how I miss the ocean! Sea of Cortez or bust! 

Posted in Parker, Arizona