Fred Leaves The Dock

My Wake Soutbound from Point Roberts after clearing US customs
My Wake
Southbound from Point Roberts after clearing US customs
Into the night. it was one of those evenings when the sky and the light begged photographing everywhere
Into the night.
it was one of those evenings when the sky and the light begged photographing everything everywhere
Shining mountain, Shining ship A loaded tanker at the Cherry Point WA refinery dock, Mount Baker in the background
Shining mountain, Shining ship
A loaded tanker at the Cherry Point WA refinery dock, Mount Baker in the background
Flight When all fails, look up then fly away
Flight
When all fails, look up then fly away

I’m starting to write this aboard ‘Seafire’ while moored at the Victoria Harbour Commission Wharf Street dock. Victoria was a very old queen and it is the Victoria Day holiday long weekend when we celebrate that long-lived monarch. There are also a few more old queens here in Victoria, English or not. (It’s up to you how you take that) So one excuse is as good as another to have a celebration. It’s a sunny Sunday with a lovely westerly breeze. Folks are out having a good time. Food concessions are booming, the squares are full of live music while vendors in white kiosks tempt the crowds with wonderful treasures. There is a happy din of buskers, marching bands and general mayhem. I’m sitting in the boat watching and hearing it all, feeling weary and waiting for guests.

Thalia Bee My neighbour at the dock on the Victoria waterfront
Thalia Bee
My neighbour at the dock on the Victoria waterfront

I’ve been up since one o’clock this morning when I weighed anchor in Port Townsend. It seems that whenever I need to make this wonderful crossing, the best ebb tide to ride back home to Canada is in the wee hours. There wasn’t much wind, thankfully. When a Westerly blows against the tide in the Strait of Juan De Fuca a small boat is left bashing and swirling like a bug in a toilet. On the tugs we called it the Strait of “Wanna Puke Ya”. The strait is like an inland sea. It is huge. It drains the entire massive Strait of Georgia and all its tributaries, as well as Puget Sound and its mountain tributaries. Mixing with the infinity of the vast North Pacific, the tides swell back and forth twice a day.

Dawn on Juan De Fuca Strait
Dawn on Juan De Fuca Strait

The Southern side of the Strait is guarded by the imposing Olympic Mountains so-named, allegedly, by Juan De Fuca, a Greek pilot with the earliest Spanish Explorers. I’ve no way of knowing if the story is true but it always come to mind when I’m out there dodging freighters, nuclear submarines, fishing boats, tugboats, and miscellaneous other vessels from anywhere around the world. If rough seas and marine traffic don’t keep you awake, there are copious logs and other flotsam to go bump in the night. I try to imagine being in this cold, remorseless piece of ocean, with not one light ashore, where only the towering timber crowded down to the shore. Neither were there any lights to mark the reefs and banks and points waiting to snag the luckless or unwary. Was this possibly the fabled Northwest Passage, the express lane back to the other side of the planet? Was it the edge of the world? Imagine the imaginings while standing aboard a small wooden ship that was slowly being eaten by ship worms as you sailed into the unknown. You had no engine, no charts, no electronics. Only your intuitive seamanship kept you alive as you sailed into this uncharted realm. Eventually, amazingly, you found your way all the way back home to Europe again.

Under the D, a weary sailor tries to catch a little sleep
Under the D,
a weary sailor tries to catch a little sleep

Last night I Listened to an Asian accent on my VHF radio calling repeatedly for Tofino Traffic Control on the frequency for Victoria Traffic. He insisted despite being advised several times of the correct radio channel to use. A small matter about a twenty-thousand ton or more freighter confused about places a hundred miles apart in the ‘Graveyard Of The Pacific’. (Perhaps the terror about foreign tankers invading our coastal inlets to export our crude oil is justified.) When I pulled into my berth here, the wharfinger expressed amazement at my ability to dock my boat alone. I, in turn, am amazed at his wonder. Is basic seamanship becoming worthy of mention? Mind you, the fabulous million-dollar Ocean Alexander power yacht tied ahead of me is registered to Bend, Oregon! Huh? That’s a very long way from the sea, nearly half-way to Kansas in fact. “Dorothy? Hello Dorothy!’ “Is that you Roger? Roger!”

Beamliner, a nautical yuppy
Beamliner, a nautical yuppy!

Have you ever noticed how Bureaucrats love to move their, excuse me, our facilities and offices around. One of the great Canadian games has become trying to find a post office. No don’t go to the old post office building, it’s something else now. Victoria is a great example. It is quite unreasonable to expect a government office to be in the same place two years running. The new address is seldom in the newest phone book. On my way into the harbour I noticed a new dock in front of the Coast Hotel Marina. There was no legible sign saying CANADA CUSTOMS, only little grey signboards and a tiny phone box on a post in the middle of the dock. It looked suspiciously official so I swung the boat in for a closer look at the little signs. Sure enough!

I made fast and went to the phone box with ship’s documents and passport. I lifted the receiver. A recorded voice explained in French that if I wanted service in English to please press button one. There were no buttons! I imagined a burly Amurican son in the same situation. “Dang, these Canajians sure do parlé the old Espanol kinda funny!” Eventually a live Anglophone voice began asking who I was and where I was calling from. I explained in puzzlement that I was using the official telephone on the Canada Customs dock in front of the Coast Hotel. Eventually it occurred to me to add “In Victoria….BC…. Canada”. There was a pregnant pause, I assume while this person, in Ottawa or New Brunswick (Or Washington DC) in an underground office, confirmed there was such a place. I was promptly given a clearance number after a few more cursory questions. “Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

Hit Me! Somebody went boink on the center-line
Hit Me!
Somebody went boink on the center-line

I’m not complaining about the cavalier treatment. After all the searches and surly interrogations I’ve endured from both Canadian and US Customs and Immigration officials this was too easy. I at least expected a quiz about illegal bananas or swarthy terrorists lurking in my bilge. Nada. Nothing. Rien. Eh bien! I expect we’ll be having our taxes raised yet again.

By another stroke of luck I actually found fifty feet of empty dock space into which I could tie my forty-four feet of boat (Including her guns and appurtenances). So I did. After the wharfinger made it clear whom he felt was boss (The Victoria Harbour Commission has always made it clear ‘Zat you VILL occomodate Zem’ …. this despite being the first live folks you talk to in the biggest tourist town in Canada) but then went on to compliment me on my boat handling. I’ll forgive him his officiousness….this time. I suppose it IS normal to see boats crashing into other boats with a plenitude of shaking fists, waving boat hooks and high drama. My flat response is that I read about how to do it in a magazine. There’s no point in trying to explain about a lifetime at sea.

The old customs house in Victoria Harbour
The old customs house
in Victoria Harbour

Do people compliment a flight crew on a successful landing? There are some things you’re expected to do right. Aren’t there?

Victoria was throbbing with the various activities of a long weekend as well as the wind-up for the Swiftsure race next weekend. This is a famous non-stop sailing race from Victoria out to Swiftsure Bank and back to the harbour. The race leaves one day, runs through the night and ends sometime the next day depending on wind and current, and the management thereof.

S.A.L.T.S, vessels Pacific Swift and Pacific Grace...NOT Swiftsure racers!
S.A.L.T.S, vessels Pacific Swift and Pacific Grace…NOT Swiftsure racers!

It has evolved into a huge international event and the preparlibations require a week’s head start. I had a great visit with my good friend Tony Gibb who with his partner Connie are visiting their old home port. Their boat is currently stored in Phuket for the monsoon season. Their adventures and photos are documented on their blog “Sage On Sail.” (There’s a direct link in the side bar of this blog)They have both been a tremendous inspiration to me and their blog provided the impetus for this one. Tony and I visited on the same dock where I last saw him and Connie. They threw a huge party with the carefully traditional ceremony of officially renaming their sailboat ‘Sage.’ That was three years ago. Already. I also had a lovely visit with my daughter and her friends and felt ready to deal with life for a few more days, especially after the flu ordeal. I’m almost feeling whole again.

There's 50 ways to leave this town
There’s 50 ways to leave this town
Take the third Otter on the left
Take the third Otter on the left
Don't laugh it's almost paid for ...A liveaboard boat in Victoria Harbour, 70 feet of waterfront unreal estate
Don’t laugh it’s almost paid for!
…A liveaboard boat in Victoria Harbour,
70 feet of waterfront unreal estate

 

Downtown Victoria, my kind of high-rise
Downtown Victoria, my kind of high-rise

This morning I’m lolling about in Montague Harbour, half-way home to Silva Bay from Victoria. I’m in no rush, I have to wait out a substantial ebb tide. There’s no point in trying to fight a tide when a bit of waiting will put you at the same place at the same time without burning a large amount of fuel. Sailing, in part, is about dealing with what you are handed. My work will be still be there when I get back. I’m listening to a wonderful radio station based on nearby Saltspring Island. It’s called CFSI Green FM and is one of the best music mixes I’ve heard. It is a commercial station, but even the ads are nicely done. And… it has no news broadcasts! Dead luvly! You can find it online by taping in Green FM.ca and I’m happy to make this plug.

Trial Island Light, Port bow. note the sails have been scrubbed.
Trial Island Light, Port bow.
note the sails have been scrubbed.

By the way, what does the term” Sustaining member” bring to mind? This raunchy old salt immediately conjured up some very bawdy images. Yeah baby! It is actually what I heard NPR radio calling folks who donate funds. Sponsor, donor, patron are words now supplanted by “Sustaining member.” God bless the politically correct. Or as Billy Connolly says, “Bloody Beigeists!”

The light was on, but nobody was home! A solar panel at the Trial Island Light Station, now unmanned
The light was on, but nobody was home!
A solar panel at the Trial Island Light Station, now unmanned.

Speaking of politically correct, I conversed this past weekend with a brassy American woman who told me she hated Mexico because it was “Full of Mexicans.” I replied that I understood the US had the same problem. “ Huh?” she ruminated. “Well,” I said, “It’s full of Mexicans too. They do your dirty work!” Nope, no phone number from that one.

Arbutus Trees in full bloom, achoo!
Arbutus Trees in full bloom, achoo!

I’m now finishing this blog back in Silva Bay. The flu symptoms cling on but it’s time to go back to grubbing for some income. The weather is fine with a threat of rain and the latest spring flowers are putting on their show. The Arbutus trees are in full bloom and the air has a cloying tang as if someone got carried away with the bathroom air freshener. My sinus passages are quivering. I hope it does rain and scrub the air.

Yep he's home again! More damned flowers
Yep he’s home again! More damned flowers
The Broom is already going to seed. Achoo again1
The Broom is already going to seed. Achoo again!
Arbutus root burl
Arbutus root burl

Old Lord Nelson once said that ships and men rot in port. After five days away from the dock I’ve been reacquainted with the reality of what this old boat is really about. That was long overdue. It’s meant to go places. She does that very well. The old prune barge is fast, stable, comfortable and easy to run and she’s paid for. She draws compliments from all who see her, even other seasoned mariners and land lubbers too. I’ve left her lines singled so we can cut loose again. Soon.

Forest Mystery
Forest Mystery

Inner Weight

A ship heels in wind and sails well because it has inner weight.

With inner weight, we yield to the way of things and move just-so in the winds of the world.

When inner weight has been found, trust its deep and constant balance.

From this centre that no one can explain, the difficult is made easy and adversity is mastered. But no one knows how.”

… Ray Grigg, ‘The Tao Of Sailing’

INNER BALANCE
INNER WEIGHT

 

Writer’s Block

The Harbour Light, looking out from Silva Bay to Howe Sound across Georgia Strait
The Harbour Light,
looking out from Silva Bay to Howe Sound across Georgia Strait

Thank you! It’s working. My Flickr photostream is becoming easier to find due, in part, to your interest. https://www.flickr.com/photos/flickrfred/ will get you there; I have over two hundred forty frames up so far.

The Morning After
The Morning After

I’m hoping to earn some income from my writing and photography as I travel. In today’s world, if you have no cyber presence, you don’t exist. It would be much nicer to sit with pen and paper beneath a palm tree writing the world’s ultimate novel but that is only fantasy long lost. I know that I cripple myself by avoiding the mad scrum of twitter, titter, squeak, squack and honk yet I have to do something to validate my creative existence in the cyber world. A few years ago a publisher told me that e-books weren’t “Real”. Now it seems, writing is not legitimate if it isn’t an e-book. So, that’s what I’m up to with all this effort at seeking attention.

The old and the new
The old and the new

I’ll admit I’m a dinosaur in this modern world of computer-everything but I’ll hold my low regard for the sheep-like manner in which people eagerly accept persuasion to follow corporate marketing innuendo. Our culture has become hopelessly addicted to cyber devices. It seems that even a primal survival instict, fear, has a declining sensitivity. We are rapidly loosing the ability to fend for ourselves to the point of wandering into danger’s way while texting, tweeting and gaming. People drive and walk with head-down texting focus as they stumble through traffic, crowds, the woods and even on the docks. Kerplunk!

More old and new
More old and new

Amazingly, in our enlightened age, few ask questions. Our thumbs keep twitching out unimportant messages and we stumble along without looking where we’re going. Letter-writing has become a lost social art. Correct spelling and grammar are a foundation of clear communication. Language and communication is a cornerstone of civilization and we apparently don’t much give a toss about those basics. I recently saw a dictionary of texting abbreviations. (Lol ddba wm yy2.) No! I don’t want to have children with you! Huh? Coincidentally, as I write, a radio announcer reads a story about how people “Are married to their smart phones”.

Don’t we see how addicted and reliant we have become? Whenever the electricity goes down or we lose one of our devices we panic. Even in the backwoods of Mexico people appear entirely dependant on their cell phones. It seems like a deadly epidemic to me and I’ll admit that like it or not, I’m infected with the cyber bug as well. But I do care and will maintain a questioning attitude. You wouldn’t imagine the blank look I got in the cell phone store when I said I wanted a phone that only made calls, took calls and messages. Neanderthal!

I will readily admit that I heavily utilize the internet for research. A few minutes online can easily replace a day in the library. But, it doesn’t replace the collective intellectual energy of a building full of books.

It is important to remember who is slave and who is master.

Honey Bee evening patrol
Honey Bee evening patrol

Most offshore sailboats don’t even have a sextant aboard anymore. We DO have access to all sorts of satellite rescue systems when our incompetence prevails. If Uncle Obama flips the switch and there is suddenly no GPS available it will be a total disaster. I’ll admit that my sextant lies dormant in its case and I’ve forgotten how to use it. Mind you, leaving the dock is the first step to needing it. Here comes an embarrassed, pregnant silence.

Think Green
Think Green

I’m having a bout of writer’s block and as I poke away at my laptop the tely is on playing the 1961 movie ‘The Misfits’. It is a beautiful film made on location in Nevada. Marilyn Monroe is outstanding, her acting is incredible and Clark Gable is grand. He utters lines like “People can get so afraid of dying that they don’t ever live. Of course there’s danger in most worthwhile things”. In real life he died within days of finishing this film. Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter and Montgomery Clift all turn out stunning performances. A believable script encompasses human longing and weakness within a parable about greed versus the environment. I love the clever use of light in black and white films and this one is certainly no exception.

The old Waco biplane had me lusting heartily. John Huston was the director and the messages about fiscal wealth versus integrity and compassion, from over forty years ago, are stunning. Not surprising, it was a flop at the box office. Few know of it. I think it should be re-released.

Quacks
Quacks

Now it’s Sunday, a week before Easter. Another stellar weather day dawns. We will almost be able to hear the leaves bursting out and see the flowers opening. Fluorescent white flesh is on display everywhere and I smugly flaunt the remains of my Mexico tan. Then as the evening sun settles behind the trees, it’s back into our woolies. Drifts of fir and maple pollen fill the air and everyone’s sinuses. Folks are finally back on the docks checking to see if their boats have survived the winter. They offer the usual annual cliché yucks about how boats are holes in the water that you shovel full of money. I offer my standard responses about how a “Stitch in time saves nine” and that houses are holes in the beach that you shovel money into while the scenery never changes. A few visiting cruisers are appearing at the marina now. Next weekend the marina circus will begin for another year.

Step into the picture
Step into the picture

A friend en route with his yacht to Easter Island and then the Marquesas stopped at the Galapagos two days ago, for forty hours! He had a passage From La Paz, Baha with light winds and he ran low on fuel but forty hours? I’m sure he has his good reasons but I can’t imagine how hard it would be to put to sea again without a decent rest and a long reconnoitre of that fabled place.

Jimmy has his daughter Karmin aboard and I hope they find a place to stop and can make their marathon a wholly pleasant odyssey. He’s put so much into preparing for this journey.

Gabriola Pass light
Gabriola Pass Light

Other friends have left their boat ‘Sage’ in dry storage for the monsoon season in Northern Phuket and are coming home to Victoria for a break away from the heat and humidity where they have been sailing. Connie and Tony did this once before on a tiny Vancouver 27. They spent seven years exploring the South Pacific and Japan. Their blog ‘Sage on Sage’, is what prompted me to start my own. I am deeply inspired and humbled by folks who are able to achieve their dreams.

Good on you all.

Now it is Monday morning. As the sun rises in the East (As usual) a high thickening overcast is rapidly approaching from the South. The barometer is holding steady, for the moment, but it looks like rain to me. It didn’t rain. In fact this afternoon my pallid shanks were sticking out again beneath a pair of tattered work shorts. This evening there is a new overcast blocking any view of tonight’s lunar eclipse.

It was quite a day. I don’t know why but I’m experiencing a massive lethargy and depression accompanied with all sorts of strange pains, swollen glands, and a generally pathetic state of being. I know, I know, it shows in my writing. Spring fever, allergic reactions to all the pollen in the air, a chronic attack of self-pity, I can’t explain it. Other folks report they are laid low with flu so I’ll go with that.

In the midst of this gloom a friend recommends going online to a ‘TED Talk’ and looking up an essay by a conductor and classical musician named Benjamin Zander. “Yeah right”, I thought as I typed in ‘The Transformative Power Of Classical Music.’

It was spell-binding, a midday epiphany.

This brilliant man explained things about classical music which I never understood and then leads the viewer on to some wonderful concepts. “Who I am being, if my children’s eyes aren’t shining?” Who am I being, if other people’s eye aren’t shining?”

His message, I think, is to apply your unique gifts in such a way that other people are inspired and enlightened.

Become a bird that flies above the fields. Fences are no longer obstacles”.

Now it is Tuesday morning already and I’ve awakened cynical and jaded as ever. That might have to do with the aches and pains of my battered old frame. (I used to wonder why old folks were so often grumpy!) Jack the dog is out on deck surveying the world and absorbing the moment in the light of the rising sun. He has, as usual, the correct philosophy and is immersed in the moment. I’m sitting with my morning coffee pecking away on this blog trying to find a clever ending. Perhaps a final quote from Zander will work.

Never say anything that won’t stand if it is the last thing you ever say!”

Hmmmmm. Flap, flap, flap, bang!

Skunk Cabbage, all through the woods, A hydroponic aroma clung in the trees
Skunk Cabbage is blooming all through the woods
A hydroponic aroma hangs in the trees, but then that smell is common on this island in a lot of places!

Mexican Sunrise

Mi Casa a playa y la cuchina
Mi Casa a playa y la cuchina
Mi cuchina
Mi cuchina

I know I’ve finally arrived somewhere important when there is absolutely no wifi available. I’m sitting on the beach a few feet from surf’s edge on the Sea Of Cortez. The surf is light, the stars are bright, the lights of shrimp boat at work dot the black horizon. Some

Inside track
Inside track

young folk sit a way off around a fire with their boom box.  I’m on the outskirts of a small fishing town named San Blas. It is ubiquitously grotty, with squalor everywhere, lots of stray dogs, people sitting around dinner tables outside so that some chairs are actually in the street, boom boxes blare and thump. Trucks, cars, scooters and bicycles weave their way around each other

The rest of the story
The rest of the story

on the cobbled streets. In the event that something should happen to me (I’ll explain later) let me stress how much I abhor categorization, especially about people, in any regard.

However, if demanded at gun point to summarily describe Mexicans I would probably use words like ‘Gracious hunter-gather suicidal stunt recyclers,’  but let’s start with my entry into Mexico two and a half days ago at Sonoyato.

San Blas sunrise
San Blas sunrise
San Blas shrimper
San Blas shrimper

I was advised to cross there because it was a “Nice quiet” place. The guards waved me through; there was no office to pull into for official paperwork. Suspiciously intrigued I carried on through the immediate contrast of how life is lived in Mexico. There is no doubt about where you. About one hundred kilometres on I arrive at a checkpoint where the lady guards are incredulous that I have no tourist visa nor any importation papers for the truck and trailer. They loved the little silver bullet and called it “Chiquito.” However they also made it clear that they thought I was an idiot to not have the documentation. They made it clear that I had to go immediately to the Nogales crossing, where the paper work could be done, or get back up across the border into the US…which is difficult to explain when you don’t have your papers in order for the country you’re leaving.

The old bells of San Blas
The old bells of
San Blas

Two hours later, in the dark and, yes, spattering rain, I arrived at the Aduanes and the Mexican bureaucratic shuffle began. Fill out forms, get photocopies over there, take all your papers to the bank wicket, go back for more photo copies, pay a six month tourist visa (Because I’ll be in the country more than six days) pay an import duty on truck and trailer, discard all the unnecessary photocopies. Fortunately there was a very kind soul there who took me under his wing and helped me through it all and then refused any gratuity.

Dos Corazones
Dos Corazones

Off into the night I went, now legally. I pulled into the edge of a field next to the lights of a Pemex station. (Most gas stations in Mexico are government -owned Pemex, always with an OXXO junk food store attached. Immediately a vehicle pulled in to check me out.

Now what?” I wondered. A kind couple with a beautiful little daughter were making sure I wasn’t in trouble.

I later discovered that I could have done all of this paperwork at Guaymas, a port further south which I intend to visit anyway. It is just within what they call “The Hassle-Free Zone,”  (Yes, go ahead and laugh) an area immediately south of the border for day-trippers. Ah bueno!  That’s Mexico. This all gives me an excuse to come back for more, now that I know some of the local protocol.

Downtown San blas
Downtown San Blas

Exhausted, I slept well despite the din of heavy trucks at a nearby “Topé.” This is speed bump found everywhere on paved roads and highways. They are a various sizes, some are marked, some are not, some have signs warning they’re ahead except they’re not there. Then suddenly Topé! I have bent the hitch on my trailer from hitting them too hard.

There also plenty of potholes or baches as per the translation. Anyway, the trucks braking down the hill for the Topé use their engine brakes and the uphill-bound trucks roar as they shift up and away once past. It is a din that somehow is exceeded at around 04:30 by the roosters, everywhere. Somewhere at the edge of the field a radio began to play Mariachi music. I finally dragged myself out to the aroma of burning straw (also Mex-ubiquitous) and fresh cowshit (Ditto). As I hit the road a young fellow walking by on the road’s shoulder gave me several blasts of his trumpet.

"Quatro cervesas por favor!" A tribute to Lola, the opera singer.
“Quatro cervesas por favor!”
A tribute to Lola, the opera singer.
Old Rosario
Old Rosario

I drove south for a  few hours until I found a spot safe  to turn off and make some breakfast.Then the wind shifted. It turns out I was now downwind of a very ripely dead burro.Yet another aroma of the country but I finished with my “Breakfast Burro” and moved on.

Heuvos el Toro
Heuvos el Toro

Despite the usual graciousness of the average Mexican it seems to disappear when many get behind the driver’s wheel. There is nothing like Latino testosterone. I’m told it’s the same all the way to the end of Chile. Speed limits, all signs, center lines, double lines are meaningless. They’ll pass anywhere, even between meeting vehicles that at times already have a closing speed in excess of two hundred miles an hour!

Sinaloa farmland, smell the pesticide.
Sinaloa farmland,
smell the pesticide.

The amazing number of memorial crosses, sometimes in clusters of many, and the eternal roadside shrines, bear solemn testament to this lemming need for speed and recklessness, on the open road, and in town. I mused angrily at another near-miss today, that in a country where the popular religion still condemns birth control, perhaps this is nature’s way of trying to balance things. I witnessed one horrific accident today where a wild highway truck ran everyone off the road before knocking a young mother and child, in a new car, down the bank into a swamp. The driver promptly locked the brakes on the left shoulder, lept out and ran off into the bushes!

After passing a huge prison in Hermosillo where bus loads of women and children clogged the road, waiting to visit inmates, I understand.

Of course there are the copious old beaters lurching and belching along. Bicycles with huge loads of firewood being pedalled down the freeway, small motorcycles billowing  smoke, putt-putting along at the head of the parade, oblivious to everyone else. It all confounds my sensibilities and leaves me fully terrified. There’s little chance of falling asleep at the wheel as you drive for yourself and everyone behind, beside, and ahead. Last night, in the dark I came very close to hitting a man and woman in a wagon pulled by a desperately trotting mule as they crossed the freeway in front of me. A buggy whip flailed furiously as they headed for safety.

no matter how poor, the Mexicans appear to love their horses
no matter how poor, the Mexicans appear to love their horses

This brings me to some dos and don’ts for anyone contemplating a drive to Mexico.

I thought I had it all figured out because I’ve been in the country twice before. Until you have to drive and navigate, alone, you’ll never get it. Let me tell you that if you arrive by air you are in a gringo-oriented area. Many locals speak a bit of English and a lot of nearby Mexican reality is glossed over. I thought because I’ve rented cars and ridden on the local busses, knew a few words of Spanish, have a big smile and good street smarts, that I had it aced. No! Nada! Nunca! The hot spots like Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Matalan and so forth do very little to represent the real Mexico. If you have been down here on an all-inclusive vacation, I’m sorry, but you have not seen the country, at all.

Here are some things I’ve learned the hard way.

– If you don’t see yourself as a very seasoned and alert driver, it’s simple.

Don’t drive here!

If you do, use the main highways where you’ll pay an onion sack of pesos in toll fees, at random distances and in random amounts. If you use the secondary roads, or “caminos libre” it is all white knuckle, full-time driving.  No sight-seeing while driving. Shoulders seem to be considered a decadence, there are few places to pull over. Rare viewpoints make excellent garbage dumps. I’ve missed a huge number of fabulous photographs because I just couldn’t find a safe place to stop. That’s really frustrating.

Even if another vehicle has almost killed you, let it slide. Don’t use your index finger to signal your frustration, there is a reason the copious number of Policia are heavily armed. Avoid driving in the dark, vehicles without lights and roaming livestock can appear anywhere, even in town. I almost hit an elephant!  The circus was in town. I was the clown!

– Don’t expect anyone out of gringo-town to speak even a little English. I find some locals are even a bit contemptuous of my inability to speak their language well. A big smile, a few polite words and phrases go a long way, especially if you demonstrate an interest in learning the language. They’ll really try to be helpful. However, I doubt that even Spanish language immersion classes can prepare you for the machine gun staccato that the locals speak.

– Don’t expect American dollars, or credit cards to be accepted outside of tourist areas. Mucho pesos amigo! I filled up with gas at one Pemex and offered a credit card that bounced. The card was fine, but the machine didn’t like it. I didn’t have enough cash and the attendant immediately began shouting “La policia, la policia.”  A backup card did the trick. In the next town, Navolato, I see the welcome sign of Scotiabank, which is entirely a Mexican institution here. It would not accept my debit card. The ATMs at Banamex were both out of service. I was told there were no more banks. I was very happy to discover an HSBC which liked my card. I hit an all-time low realizing the depth of my situation. No money for gas, for toll fees, or for police mordida, should that rear its ugly head. What if the truck breaks down? What if, what if? Onwards and southward, all’s well that ends. Don’t assume Mexico is dirt-cheap. In places some things are, but everywhere that the gringo has intruded, prices are rising.

– Treat everyone with respect, even when some are being pushy and rude. Most are just trying to feed their kids today. One of the great things about Latinos, is that no matter what their station in life, they have a strong sense of dignity. Many of the dirt-poor peasants you meet, living in apparent abject misery, can look you in the eye and smile. I was amused yesterday to see an old man, clad in filthy rags, whip out his mobile phone and begin texting. The young, in black cars with dark windows have an arrogant aggressiveness. Always remember that you’re in their patch. Bad manners are something we have taught them.

-Don’t think motels are motels to our gringo sensibilities. I didn’t understand why they were all walled enclaves with each unit having a garage with a closing door. Men appear from the darkness to explain that the units were rented by six hour increments and were quite puzzled about why I needed a room with a telephone and why I was alone. Then I got it!

– Don’t carry raw eggs in you food box or cooler, they won’t survive the topés and the baches.

Hi mom, I'm home!
Hi mom,
I’m home!

It has been marvellous watching the scenery evolve as I drove southward from desert scrub land to very rich, vast volcanic farmland. I made a daily meal today in a gravel pit and as crop dusters droned and buzzed in the distance. At times the choking smell of pesticide was overwhelming during the day’s drive. Slowly the vegetation has changed from arid desert to swamp and then to lush, sub-tropical jungle. Finally you are driving along sections of beach and see pelicans skimming the waves.

Lunch
Lunch

I spent my second night in Mexico camped on the beach at San Blas with the music of surf on sand soothing my weary soul. In the morning a glorious sunrise broke over the mountains behind me. An old man sat himself facing the sea and began to sing. He was immersed in passion, gestured freely and wiped tears from his eyes. I wondered to whom or what he sang. A bank of fog lingers for a while then is gone. Church bells, flat yet resonant, toll in the distance. Roosters crow and burros bray. Another ancient hombre comes to feed the gulls. He expressed wonder at my little trailer, delight to learn that I am Canadian. I am terrified that this is a dream and I will wake up.

San Blas is a delightful harbour and fishing town. The church, still standing, was open for business in 1749. Longfellow visited here! An excerpt from his poem about the bells of San Blas is mounted above the town square. It is shivery stuff for me. There is some sort of festival going on. I soon learn that there is always some sort of festival going on. If you’ve missed one, wait a few days, there’ll be another. I think it is why this Catholic country has invented so many saints. Each one deserves a holiday.

A local American ex-pat has lived here for twenty years. He briefed me on things to expect and not expect. He told a story about when the town was smitten with Dengue Fever and how tank trucks drove the streets spraying copious amounts of chemical antidote. The children ran beside the trucks, cavorting in the spray!

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I drive on through the states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit and finally Jalisco. Three long days south of the border I arrive in an unmapped fishing village where friends winter.

I have survived the drive. The roads and drivers deserve at least a full blog. I have survived, by nan o-seconds, a horrific accident and I cannot estimate how many crosses mark fatal accidents throughout the country. They are everywhere.

Ant's nest
Ant’s nest
Cocodilo 12 feet long
Cocodilo
12 feet long

The laws here require seat belts and helmets on motorcycles, for drivers. That means that the eighteen men in the back of a careening pickup truck which has justed passed you on a double-line, with more standing on the bumper, are fine. It means that a family of four, riding a scooter are fine so long as dad is the only one wearing a helmet. A police car with one headlight zooming around a curve on a hill, halfway over the center line is fine.  I muse that in a country where the prime religion condemns birth control’ perhaps this is nature’s way of trying to balance things. I have abandoned a life of bizarre incongruity for new incongruous dramas here. I have no problem staying awake while driving here. Egret

On the main highways there are government toll stations at random distances which charge random amounts. The tolls prove to equal an amount about half of my fuel costs. Finally despairing at paying and paying, I abandon the main highways for the secondary routes, or “Libres”. It is where you find the real Mexico and pass through hundreds of unmapped villages. Rounding a curve I hit the brakes as I enter Quente Ellano. The road is blocked with youngsters on burros and caballeros and the whole damned village celebrating something that is entirely obscure to me but it is wonderful.

Festival, Quente Ellano
Festival, Quente Ellano

I drive on and on and on.  The sights, sounds and smells of Mexico inundate my brain and I am in love with this place. Yes there are many negatives but the local philosophies will help me overcome. That, in part, is why I came here.

Roadblock in Quente Ellano
Roadblock in Quente Ellano

Where I am now camped on the beach the sun rises on another cloudless day. Condensation drips from the canopy of palm branches over my head. Coconuts threaten to fall. Acrid smoke from a copra cook fire fills the air as a local woman begins to make salsa from bushels of green tomatoes. Exotic birds dart and chatter. Gringo joggers on the beach pass Mexicans standing waist-deep in the surf, fishing.  Pelicans crash into the sea, fishing. Beyond, swimmers parallel the beach. Beyond that, whales often cavort and leap clear of the water. Their landings are heard as deep booms. On the horizon, pangas work the opean ocean. I am at a loss to describe the feeling of this place. It has vastly exceeded my expectations. I never want to leave.

A partridge in a palm tree
A partridge in a palm tree

Future blogs from Mexico will have a minimum of text and be mostly pictorial. For the moment I end with a quote from a neighbour. He explains the difference between gringos and Mexicans.

Yes, Really!
Yes, Really!

We live in a state of doing. These people live in a state of being.” He had been paddle-boarding out on the bay when a grey whale breached close to him. My friend said, “Yeah, I felt the wave but I didn’t see the whale. I was too busy doing.”

Wake up and taste the tequila!
Wake up and taste the tequila!