Puddle Jump

02 Apr 2010

 I thought I would share with all of you an event that Liz and I experienced yesterday.

As you may know, Puerto Vallarta is a popular place for people to prepare for the "puddle jump" to the South Pacific.  Latitude 38 Magazine tries to keep track of people heading over - this year over 200 boats signed up with them, leaving from all over the Pacific Coast.  A large number of them are leaving from here.

We made good friends with the owners of a Nordhavn 64 called Oso Blanco (White Bear, after their 7 year old son, Bear).  They've been planning this trip for years, and after all that time, they were able to start yesterday.  If you ever met Eric, the owner, you would know that starting on April 1 sort of matches his sensibilities.  Eric has logged 25000 miles in Nordhavn cruisers, but even with all that, Lloyds of London was reluctant to give him insurance without people on board who had actually done the puddle jump previously.  He was able to convince the underwriter that he would buddy-cruise with another Nordhavn that had people on board with experience of that passage, and Eric would take three extra friends onboard with experience of long-distance cruising.

Nordhavns are known as expedition cruisers - powerboats with enough fuel and standby systems to give them incredible range.  Oso has a range of around 3500 miles, and is equipped with an entirely separate get-home engine system that they can use in case the main engine packs it in during the trip.  For this trip, Eric bought an extra flexible fuel bladder for another 300 gallons of fuel.  When you get going, there's really nothing out there as a stopping point until you reach the Marquesas, which is their first destination, only 2700 miles away.

The whole Puddle Jump thing has been a real eye opener for Liz and I. When you go to the marina, there are crowds of kids running around. Whole families are making these trips, many with pretty small children on board.  Obviously, the vessel of choice is a sailboat, but these days  there are a few long distance trawlers who are making the trip.  What an amazing thing for a kid to be involved in.  It reminds us of the kids we met while we were living internationally: a little smarter, a little more worldly, and a lot more self sufficient.  The parents are different too:  They don't freak out when their kids are jumping from the dock to boats or driving their scooters down the docks at high speed in imminent danger of going into the water. 

For us, as our new friends head over the horizon, it has been a mixture of happiness and sadness.  We're obviously happy for them to be following their dreams, but sad to be the people standing on the dock, tears in the eyes, waving goodbye to such good friends.  Casting off their lines and watching them cruise out of the marina, with Bear and his mother standing on the back deck waving, us knowing it would be months or years before we have a chance to see them again.  Then turning and walking back down the dock with other friends, all of us in tears, joking about how one of those "Left Behind" books ought to be written about us.

It was a special moment that Liz and I will never forget.

200 Motels

30 Sep 2009

Yes, it all fitsIn 1971, Frank Zappa released “200 Motels”, a film about life on the road for a touring rock musician in the early 70s. It was apparently frenetic and plotless, but fun in the end.

A lot like our road trip this year.

Starting from our Miata's home in Gentry, Arkansas, we visited 12 states and put over 4700 miles on the odometer. We went as far south as Florida and as far north as Indiana, from the hills of the Ozarks to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We rode three ferries. In total we spent 25 days on the road, sleeping a single night in 10 different motels, staying with friends the other nights. We ate way too much barbecue and fried fish. We avoided the freeways when we could.

I'm not one for detailed logs of trips – they are usually only interesting for the original participants and besides, I don't remember that sort of stuff anyway.

I did, however, think about what I would tell people who decide to do such as trip in a two-seat roadster. Here is what I came up with (in no particular order of importance):

  • Get a GPS. It will virtually eliminate the arguments and provide a bit of humor. Get one of those GPS systems that allows you to change the voice. We used the voice of Karl from the movie Slingblade. It wasn't long before we named our GPS “Karl”, and discussed routes with him. Occasionally, Karl would make a mistake and take us on a totally unexpected route. Those were the best times of the trip.
  • Figure out how to tell your GPS to avoid freeways. Use that option as much as possible.
  • Stop and talk to people. Often.
  • Try not to set a schedule. I realize that most people don't have the luxury of unlimited vacation time, but do your best to keep your schedule as open as possible. Plan the next day roughly, plan the day after that vaguely.
  • Get an audio book for the trip. Limit your listening to one disk a day.
  • Put the iPod on “all shuffle”, but listen to local radio stations when you can.
  • Road tripping in a roadster is not like traveling in other cars. You don't have space for much of anything, so storage requires creativity. (Very) soft bags are important, and an understanding of your cars various storage spaces critical. For soft tops, don't make the mistake of thinking that the space behind your head where the top goes can be used for storage – if you do, you'll never take your top down again. Those little soft cooler bags that kids use for lunch boxes now make great little coolers. Put a Blue Ice bag in your hotel freezer at night and have a couple of cool water bottles all day.
  • Realize that you are on vacation and arguing about a particular route or mistaken exit is pointless. We considered our many mis-turns to be a gift. We rarely made a U-turn to get back on the original track, we just told Karl to recalculate our route based on the turn we had just made. We were never sorry.
  • If you are staying in lots of motels, figure out what sort of frequent-stayer programs they have and use them. Some programs will let you pay a few dollars extra for the room and get lots more points that can be used for a free room farther down the road. For example, if a room costs 10,000 points and you can pay an extra 10 bucks to get 3000 points on the room you are staying in tonight, you'll get a room down the road for around $30.
  • Another motel tip: Don't book ahead unless you are sure that there won't be rooms where you are heading. You might decide to change your route during the day, and often motels that aren't full will give you a discount or a room upgrade just to put people in rooms. In one case we checked online to find that a hotel we were heading for was completely full, but when we got there they had a room for us.
  • ...and the most important advice of all: Road trips, like life, are not about the destination, they are about the journey. Don't look at the road you are traveling on as a barrier to where you are going; the road is just an extension of the destination. Enjoy it.

Here's a few photos from the trip


Stupid is as Stupid Does

09 Jan 2010

Well, it's 8:40 pm and I got home about 20 minutes ago.  The last 8 hours or so have been quite an adventure.

We drove back from Barra de Navidad today, after an excellent few days with our friends on Oso Blanco.  About 40 miles from PV all sorts of lights went on the car.  From what was happening (power steering not working, AC suddenly warm), it was pretty easy to see that the car had thrown a belt.  We were in the middle of nowhere, so I decided that even through the alternator was no longer powering anything, there ought to be enough energy in the battery to keep the electric radiator fan running and keep spark going until we could limp to the next town.  Stupid.  Belts power water pumps, too.
It didn't happen.  The car died about 3km short of Tuito (about 30 miles from Puerto Vallarta).  There just happened to be a bare spot on the other side of the road, and as I opened the hood to look at the steaming remains of my engine, a guy pulls up on a very small motorcycle.  He looks at the situation, introduces himself in broken English and says, "I'll get a taxi.  Be right back".  He turns around and heads back to Tuito. Ten minutes later he leads a taxi back to where we are.
Liz and I get in the taxi and head to Tuito, where the taxi driver has a favorite mechanic.  Mechanic in tow, and we all parade back to our car.
The mechanic opens the hood.  His English is excellent, "Your water pump is gone".  
So, we are back in the taxi to go to a car parts store in Tuito.  Of course, no water pump.  After heading back to where the car is to tell the mechanic what is going on (and to get the old water pump), me, Liz and the taxi guy head for the Jeep dealer in Puerto Vallarta, a 45 minute drive over curvy roads.  When we get there, we find they are closed for another 30 minutes, so the taxi driver takes Liz home and comes back for me.
Water pump and new belt in hand, we head back to Tuito to pick up the mechanic and head to the car.  I paid off the taxi driver in Tuito and jumped in with the mechanic and headed back to the car.  It took him all of 10 minutes to mount the new water pump and belt.  Just before he asked me to try the engine, he checked the oil.  Oops, wayyyy too much.  Bad sign.
Sure enough, the engine wouldn't start.  Heads probably blown, or worse.
We discussed the situation, and determined that my now-favorite shade tree mechanic Alex could probably do a reasonable job of figuring out exactly what had happened to the car.  The problem was that we needed a tow.  Alex had an idea.
We drove back to Tuito, he jumps out of the car, and walks over to a police truck.  Then Alex comes back and tells me to come over and get in the police truck with him, and the three of us drive off at a high rate of speed toward my poor car.  The lights were a nice touch.
Alex produces a very worn piece of rope, and attaches it to my car, then to the bumper of the police truck, and off we go back to Tuito.  Even the policeman was skeptical about Alex's tow rope.
The rope broke going over a tope (speed bump) near Alex's garage, so he coasted there with me giving a little extra push.  The tow cost me a 200 peso contribution to the police benevolent fund. 
So, that's where we are now - I'll know by 5pm tomorrow if Alex can fix it.  
We are philosophical about it.  We couldn't believe our luck to have someone who spoke English stop right after we broke down.  We were also very lucky to be broke down so near Tuito, the last town with mechanics before you get to PV.  We got a very, very patient taxi driver who probably drove us 60 miles total.  The car is what it is - it'll either be fixed or it won't be.  We'll have to see what happens after tomorrow.


"I'm Getting Better!"

03 May 2009

Do you remember the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail?  The knights were riding through a town that was rife with plague.  A man was pushing a cart through the town calling "Bring out your dead!  Bring out your dead!".  A man walks of a house carrying an old man, presumably his relative, saying "here's one!", at which time the old man over his shoulder says, "I'm not dead yet!  I'm getting better!"

I guess at times like these, one resorts to dark humor.  The fact is that the evil swine flu plague never materialized, and both Mexican and US governments are being "cautiously optimistic" that what's going on now isn't any worse than the normal flu that kills over 39,000 people in the US every year.  People here in Puerto Vallarta are more than a little ticked off that all their tourist business has vaporized, and they have to deal with the kids being home from school.  To get the kids out of the house, one local tour company, Vallarta Adventures, has offered any of their tours for $500 pesos each (about $36US).  We are swimming with dolphins this week and next week we are enjoying a catamaran tour out to a local beach for kayaking and snorkelling.  These tours are usually around $100US per person, so this is quite a savings!

(Note: I guess my humor is a little too dark - some read the above and immediately assumed I had the flu.  That is not  true.  There have been no cases of H1N1 here!)

So, what's the deal with H1N1?  Here are the facts (from Associated Press):

Total fatalities from H1N1 globally: 20 (19 in Mexico and 1 in the USA)
Total reported cases: 800 (this in no way is an indication of the total number of people who may have gotten H1N1, as many cases have been so mild that people just got the flu and got better)

All Mexican cases have been isolated to two states around Mexico City.  There have been ZERO reports of H1N1 in Jalisco or Nayarit states.  Even so, all our schools are shut down, cruise ships aren't stopping, nightclubs and restaurants are closed.  Puerto Vallarta is empty.

The good news is that the panic on this thing seems to have peaked, and people seem to be turning their anger at the media for scaring the hell out of them.  Of course, it doesn't help that the WHO and CDC have been playing fast and loose with their new "Pandemic Threat Level" indicators, which they have never used before.  Hopefully, when this thing finally blows over there will be a little soul searching on the part of those organizations to understand what they really achieved by using their cool new scale.  

That's about the extent of our situation around here.  We enjoy the warm days and cool evenings.  I just looked out the window and noticed that the hummingbirds are back - they must not have read the memo from the FAA about unnecessary travel to Mexico.  We enjoy a glass of wine occasionally, and head to the beach when it all just gets too stressful.  Liz made a great cherry pie which we had with homemade vanilla bean ice cream - Mexican vanilla is the best!

It's tough, but we will soldier on...