Lisa’s summer update

I have realized that it has been over 1 year since “firing the job”…full time job, that is. Last July (2015), I left my state job to travel with my freshly healed, adventurer husband. How time flies. I hadn’t updated the blog in some time, and this morning I woke with this sense of meaninglessness. I have been home from my last trip about a month now and haven’t had a regular routine; no appointments, no meetup plans with friends, no part time teaching gig (due to summer break). Now, almost August, it is blazing hot here in Reno…supposedly hitting 104 degrees today. My motivation for doing anything during the day is low and I feel kind of useless at the moment. To cheer myself up, I felt led to review what an awesome summer I have had so far, in pictures.

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Late May, early June. My 4th year of garden experimentation. For some reason, I felt I needed to utilize free pallets from my friend’s company to try out raised beds. This was a lot more work than I had imagined, but it was a learning experiment. This was taken at the beginning of summer. Herbs and lettuces grace the pallets while squash and tomatoes are spaced on the other side. Nevada has a short growing season and almost no rain, but my superstar husband built new automated sprinklers to help water while on our travels. I came back to more weeds than veg. ha ha. There is something about growing a garden that calms the soul, so I am not complaining.

JUNE 2016- ST. AUGUSTINE, FL 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Augustine,_Florida

To help celebrate me and my friend’s 40th birthdays, we decided to meetup and take a trip together after almost 5 years. Jen had always wanted to explore St. Augustine and I was on board for that adventure too.

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The Spanish architecture is so cool in this historic city.

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I love church architecture as well. Imagining when these buildings were constructed in 95% humidity, blows my mind.

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The fountain of youth is a little sulfery…lol.

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Peacocks love the Fountain of Youth attraction. There were dozens on the property.

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My traveling partner-in-crime, Jen, obviously sad that we had to stop by the winery in St. Augustine. Wine tasting makes for a fun day of sight seeing!

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I love this street. Living in the desert of Nevada does make me miss the trees of Florida.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castillo_de_San_Marcos

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Castillo de San Marcos on the Bayfront of St. Augustine. Supposedly, there are recreated pirate ship battles in the bay that people can watch. We, however, did not witness this spectacle.

After 3 glorious days of sight seeing this wonderful history-filled town in northeastern Florida, Jen and I traveled south to visit her mother in Port Charlotte. We spend the next several days being “adulty” and assisting her mother with downsizing her home in preparation for a future move. I offered my assistance by posting large furniture items on Craigslist and helping Jen clean out and organize closets. At the end of a long, dusty week…we held a yard sale and made her mom a little extra cash and got rid of a few big items. During the yard sale, Jen and I remembered why we don’t live in Florida anymore. The oppressive humidity and heat during the summer, combined with the plethora of biting insects, make staying dry and sane an issue. During the yard sale hours…sitting in the driveway while sweating and swatting mosquitoes, Jen and I would look at each other and say, “I hate Florida”. Too bad almost all of my dad’s family lives here…my Florida adventure was not finished yet.

After saying goodbyes to my friend and her mother, I rented a car and traveled north again to Marion county to visit my kinfolk. My ‘mamaw’, (now 80 yrs. old and living alone) who had recently had shoulder surgery, was awaiting my visit, spare bedroom ready. My dad, stepmother, aunt, uncle and cousins were also texting to see when I would come and visit them. Thankfully, most of my kinfolk all live within an hour radius of each other…most living within a couple of miles (which is wonderful to be able to check on mamaw). Definitely convenient for the visiting rounds. This trip to Florida was rare for me. First, it was summer…I vowed not to visit in summer, ever. But, with most vows, there are circumstances that bend them. Secondly, Alex and I had just visited Florida 5 months earlier on a Christmas tour of the south…visiting his family in Texas and Louisiana, then traveling all the way to Florida to see my family.  In any case, I felt blessed to have the extra time with family that I rarely get to spend time with. To make things just a bit sweeter, I was able to be with my dad on Father’s Day…this was definitely a rarity as well. It was a special time and I planned on making the most of it.

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Mamaw on her lush porch. Reddick, FL (not the clearest pic)

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Souvenir photo from Father’s Day dinner at a Brazilian Steakhouse, Ipanema, in Ocala. What a meal! Great evening with my stepmom and dad.

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Rainbow River canoe trip. Dunnellon, FL

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Dad, Twila and I canoeing on the Rainbow river. Dad had not been in a canoe in 30 years. He still knows how to paddle like a champ!

I stayed with Mamaw for a week, then I flew to Pittsburg to meet up with Alex. During my trip to Florida, Alex had volunteered to drive his company vehicle and trailer to New Jersey for a drone demonstration. The rest of the drone crew flew to meet him for the flight. Alex and I were able to coordinate a meet up after the demonstration so I could help him drive the company vehicle back to Reno from the east coast. (Did we know we would be driving across country twice in one year? I think not. It’s just how we roll, I guess.) So, I flew to Pittsburg and he picked me up with no issues!

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Alex driving the company car after picking me up. We are just about in Ohio in this pic.

Alex informed me that he was not on a crunched timeline to get the company vehicle back, so we planned to stop in Toledo, OH to visit his grandparents, both in their 90’s and living by themselves! We knew that we would not be this way again for awhile, so we took advantage of getting in a visit with these angels.

 

After a short visit, we got on the road and planned to make another stop outside of Chicago to attend an ERE (Early Retirement Extreme) meetup and Alex’s friend’s house.

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Ahhh, Chicago. Your skyline is impressive, your construction is not.

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ERE meetup at Jacob’s home. These are some frugal cats!

After a surprisingly hot afternoon of frugal conversations, we hit the road again to make our way home. It took us about 6 days to get home as we took our time and stayed in hotels and enjoyed the feeling of living on the road on a company card. ha ha. Actually, Alex is not one to take full advantage of other’s money (another reason he is so awesome), he would have been fine parking on the side of the road and sleeping in the Volvo. Being the woman that I am, I brought out the “diva” requirements of at least a 2-star hotel and two meals a day. lol. Some hotels had breakfast included, so that saved a few dollars as well. I am not that “diva”. lol.

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On our West bound travel, my dear friend, Ana, was watching on Facebook. She begged for us to stop in Wyoming for a hug! So, we had to oblige.

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The trusty ‘steed’ and trailer that traveled 6,000 miles across the country and back. I have to say Volvo makes a good vehicle. We had to get a new trailer tire/wheel on the way back, but otherwise we had a blessed trip. Alex is a “very good driver”. I drove some of the way, when he let me.

We made it back to Reno safely and washed/returned the company vehicle without incident. We were able to get back before July 4th and spend some time with friends at Lake Tahoe and enjoy some fireworks and BBQ.

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Packed beach at Lake Tahoe awaiting fireworks.

Now, that the fun times have simmered down. The house chores are starting up. Alex finally was able to find a roofer who could replace our roof. The responsibilities are always waiting…

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Roofing job with the magnificent 20 yard dumpster in the driveway.

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Alex cutting fascia boards. The house needed repairs before the roofers came. I think we are now on our 50th trip to Lowe’s at this point. He’s and adventurer and a home repair guru.

Well, life is never boring around here, but I am getting the itch to travel again. In response to this, I have booked a trip to Israel in November of this year. This international trip will be the first solo one in many years for me. I look forward to posting more about this trip.

Until then…thanks for checking in!

 

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Oh no I’m working again!

flirtey-drone

I am a complete failure at retirement. Here it is only nine months after quitting my job with the intention to never work for someone else again, and I’m working for a company again. I found myself with some idle time between adventures and projects. A friend of mine works at a Reno startup company doing deliveries with drones and he said they could use someone like me. I sent a resume and they hired me as a part time drone pilot. And get this… health insurance! The company is very secretive about its operations so I can’t really talk about what we are doing, but it’s fun and the company culture is very cool. The engineers there are under considerable stress, however I don’t get that vibe on the flight operations side.

I will continue to update the blog, even though the name is now unfortunate.

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Isla Tigre in Honduras

Isla Tigre, as we approached

Isla Tigre, as we approached

The last place we explored in Fonseca Bay was Isla Tigre. It was named “Tiger Island” because of the Pirates who used it as a base of terror in the 1700’s. There is the main town Amapala and several nice beaches around the island. At the port captain’s office we met Carlos, a Honduran who lived in the US for three years and speaks passable English. He is a tuk tuk driver so before we left we made a deal with him to drive us around the island for a tour the next day.

John, one the many friendly Hondurans we met

John, one the many friendly Hondurans we met. Would you believe this guy has an 18 year old wife? We didn’t either.

Amapala is a cool little town with friendly people everywhere. In the town square an old guy John walked up and introduced himself in English. He has lived in Amapala since the 1950’s. He worked on the cargo ships which used to come to the port there before the main Honduras Pacific port was moved to the mainland. We asked him if he would meet us the next day in the town square so we could take him out to dinner and he could tell us more about Amapala and he agreed. At dinner John showed us old pictures of the island and talked about its history, and then he told us he has an 18 year old wife (and a 5 year old child with her!). This was such a surprise to us because he is so old. Later he insisted on taking us to meet his family. The family was his nephew and family. I asked about his wife, who I really wanted to meet, but he said she doesn’t live here. Hmm.

John's family

John’s family

We went to a restaurant in town for lunch and I ordered tacos. What arrived looked more like what we would call in the US taquitoes. These were 1″ diameter rolled tortillas deep fried to a crisp with cole slaw and peppers on top (and ketchup!?). It was seriously good! The tacos and beer cost the equivalent of $2. They were so good we went back there the next day too.

Honduran tacos

Honduran tacos

Our hotel was very fancy by Honduran standards but I think we were the only guests there. It is right on the water and we were able to park the dingy right there next to the hotel. We were a bit concerned about the dingy being stolen, but John assured us that would never happen here on Amapala. He was right, nothing happened to the dingy even though it was parked next to the road.

Hotel Mirador

the empty Hotel Mirador

I never noticed the nude woman or pelican in The Last Supper before

I never noticed the nude woman or pelican in The Last Supper before

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empty hotel pool

In Central America the people are brown but in advertisements the people are mostly white. With deformed butts apparently.

In Central America the people are brown but in advertisements the people are mostly white. And that butt can’t be real, right?

Carlos the tuk tuk driver took us on a great tour of the island. The island uses tuk tuks as taxis. There are about 200 of them on the island and they are mostly custom decorated. They are made by Bajaj in India. You shift gears in a tuk tuk by rotating the left grip… really strange. They use 170cc 4 stroke engines and they aren’t very reliable. We found that out when Carlos’ tuk tuk lost power and stalled a bunch of times. It was obviously running out of fuel so we pulled over and took a look at the engine. I noticed it had no air filter but Carlos said it’s OK (it is not OK!). Carlos produced a water bottle full of gasoline and poured it into the tank, which helped but didn’t completely fix the problem.

Carlos and his tuk tuk

Carlos and his tuk tuk

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There is a road that circles the island, which is dominated by the giant volcano sticking out of the center of it. There are several very nice beaches along the road with thatch roofed restaurants out on the sand. We stopped and bought a delicious watermelon on the side of the road. Then we stopped at a nice restaurant and ate right there on the sand, with the chair legs sinking in and tipping every so often. A fat guy rode back and forth on the beach on his motorcycle, doing tricks like riding with no hands while standing up. Afterward he came and sat with us because he is a friend of Carlos’. He delivers cheese to the restaurants on the island with his motorcycle.

View from the restaurant

View from the restaurant. The island in the background is Meanguera, El Salvador

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Scenic overlook

This Gargoyle hotel is very cool

This Gargoyle hotel is very cool

As we tuk tuked along Jamie and I talked about how nice it would be to live on a tropical island like this. We asked Carlos how much it would cost to rent a house at the beach and he said from $100 to $300 per month, depending on how nice of a house. At a roadside pullout at a viewpoint we met an Aussie man who lives on the island. He says he loves it. The weather here is awfully hot though!

After the great time we had on Amapala it was time to sail back North to Bahia del Sol again. The winds were favorable for a while but once we exited the bay we were upwind and motoring the whole way back.

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Great sailing in Fonseca Bay

After returning to Bahia del Sol we did the hard work of preparing the boat for storage. We washed and folded every sail and completely cleaned the boat. It was extremely hot that day too. I kept thinking about the people back home enjoying freezing temperatures. At least in the cold you can put on more layers! I donned a swim mask and scraped the barnacles off the wind vane and prop. While scraping the prop a sharp barnacle nicked my knuckle pretty good and it bled everywhere. Then John cut himself on something sharp too. We were glad to be done with that day. The last night I stayed in a room at the hotel with air conditioning. It was pure luxury and worth the $60. The hotel front desk guy drove me to the San Salvador airport and I was headed back home to Lisa and Scooter in Reno, sailing trip over.

 

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An update from the Mrs.

Apparently, I have not updated anything from my perspective since October 2015. Much has happened since then, for the both of us.

Alex and I enjoying a snow hike months ago around Donner Lake area, CA

Alex and I enjoying a snow hike months ago around Donner Lake area, CA

Since our cross country holiday tour (Dec 2015/Jan 2016) in my Toyota Yaris (something we probably will only do once! 6k miles in a tiny car is too much), Alex was able to act on his dream to complete an ocean sailing trip and check that off of his bucket list. (Sailing is not on my bucket list as I suffer from awful motion sickness on small vessels.) While he traveled for 6 weeks, I held down our fort with the animals (our cat and dog). During this time, I was able to substitute teach for the local school districts to make a little extra cash and scratch my teaching itch. I still have a current NV teaching license and with a background in special education, I have no trouble finding work when I want (preferably once or twice a week max). The beauty of subbing is that I pick the “when” and the “where” and I don’t have to grade, take data or write IEPs. I go, I teach, I leave. Pure beauty…most of the time. The other parts of my time were filled with helping friends and relatives. My aunt, who lives here in Reno, recently had a slew of medical issues that kept her from being able to drive and get to appointments, shop and pick up medications. I assisted when needed as she lives alone. Watching my aunt and the burden of getting older made me profoundly aware that taking time away from full-time employment was a great decision for me. I am never going to be this young again. My body will fail one day and the days of traveling will be a memory. I am so thankful that I have my health and saved my money so that I could enjoy this piece of my life, and to make choices based on ‘want’ instead of ‘need’. Most people only dream of living this way.

Hiking in the neighborhood with wild horses.

Hiking with girlfriends in the neighborhood to check out the wild horses.  This spring brought many babies!

Another perk of not having a full-time gig is enjoying the outdoors when most people are at work.  Occasionally, I will be able to wrangle some of my stay-at-home mommy friends (pictured above) when their kids are in school to enjoy a girl hike. Over the winter, our area was able to recover slightly from a 4 year drought. With snow and rain, Nevada looks more like Ireland with the green hills. The horses are loving it! We will also be loving the water levels at nearby lakes, like Lake Tahoe which is at normal levels for the first time in years. Alex and I are looking forward to camping and playing on the water this summer.

A recent hike near Hope Valley, CA

A recent hike near Hope Valley, CA

Alex and our chihuahua, Scooter, enjoying the hike

Alex and our chihuahua, Scooter, enjoying the hike

After Alex’s sailing adventure, he was solicited by a new start-up drone company to become a part time drone pilot. I was so excited for him, not about getting a job, but excited that someone was going to pay him to do something he already did as a hobby! To add to the excitement, they were going to allow him to work part-time, pay him to go to New Zealand to train and offer him benefits! We agreed that if he didn’t like it or felt that his freedom was being squashed, he could always give the company the boot as he didn’t need the money anyway. He has only been there a couple of weeks and he seems to love it so far.

Our dining table is often an RC work station.  This is a common sight in our house.

Our dining table is often an RC work station. This is a common sight in our house.

So, we are keeping busy…Me with the family, sub jobs, coaching my 12th season of Challenger Little League and mini adventures (next trip to VA to visit my bestie college friend)…and Alex with his part-time hobby job, CraigsList flips and plans for camping this summer, Life Is Good.

Spring in the mountains of NV

Spring in the mountains of NV

A short video of my hike today.

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Exploring Islands of El Salvador

At Bahia del Sol Captian Jamie told me he was planning to leave the boat here in Bahia del Sol for the rest of the season. The reason is his next crew member that was supposed to meet up with us in Panama and take my place bailed. There isn’t anywhere else reasonably priced between Bahia del Sol and Panama to leave the boat. So I won’t be going all the way to Panama. Which is OK since I had been away from home for over a month anyway. But Jamie did want to continue South to explore Fonseca Bay, and then return to Bahia del Sol. So more sailing and exploring by boat! Fonseca Bay is a large inlet shared by El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Map of Fonseca Bay, showing Bahia de Sol

Map of Fonseca Bay, showing Bahia de Sol

We left Bahia del Sol at 7am and the harbor master, customs and immigration people were there right on time. Super convenient compared to Mexico! I think when you have a sea port which is only open for a few minutes at high tide each day, not even Latin American culture would tolerate long delays waiting on lazy government workers. The passage out of the estuary was uneventful but we did see 2.9 ft depth below the keel at one point which is a little scary.

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Leaving Bahia del Sol

The wind was good and we were sailing along in nice weather. As we inched along the El Salvador coast the wind speed gradually picked up. The seas turned rough and bounced us around pretty good. At about midnight I was sleeping below deck and Jamie woke me up to reef the main sail. The wind was 25 knots and 10′ waves. I was groggy but quickly donned my pfd and harness. It is surreal to be happily sleeping one minute and the next minute lowering a flapping main sail in howling wind and spray, tying it down with square knots. Both Jamie and I donned our foul weather gear because with the wind and spray it was actually cold for the first time for us in Central America.

After rounding the point into Fonseca Bay we anchored to spend the rest of the night in the relative calm that the point of land provided. It was my first time using a windlass and it just so happened that the anchor chain was tangled up in the chain locker and wouldn’t deploy. I had to go below deck and sort it out but I got it done. The next day we sailed on over to Meanguera Island, part of El Salvador, and anchored in the bay at the South end of the Island. Some El Salvador Navy soldiers came up next to us in a Panga. Jamie was nervous at first because only one of them had any kind of uniform on, the rest were wearing T shirts, one of them a Golds Gym T shirt. They were really nice! They promised us a tour of their boat the next day but they were gone by morning so we got to see it. Since Fonseca Bay is shared by three countries that aren’t on the best terms with each other, there is a big Navy presence. We saw Navy boats from El Salvador and Honduras patrolling the bay.

Anchored at Meanguera

Anchored at Meanguera

At night we could see people with flashlights walking around on the beach and up in the hills. A few pangas were anchored at the beach and constantly coming and going out to the open ocean. We took the dingy ashore to explore the island. The beach is gorgeous! There were a few shacks on the beach and some people working on building a new palapa. The locals seemed friendly with waves and smiles. I was able to speak a little Spanish with one of them.

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You get a sense that El Salvadorans are not happy with their government.

You get a sense that El Salvadorans are not happy with their government.

We explored an island trail that lead to some shacks on the hill. I didn’t get a picture of it, but we came across a fisherman shack with a guy named Raul outside grilling a fish. He was so happy we stopped by! He thanked us and told us a little bit about his life. His corrugated metal house had a TV, stove and CD player. He complained there are not enough women on the island. What a nice guy. On Google Earth (I had data with the Google Fi phone) it showed a small town with hotel around the corner. It showed a road leading to the town so we decided to check it out. It was so sunny and hot and we had little remaining water with us. The “road” was so incredibly steep I’m amazed it was on the map. We came across the guy I had talked to on the beach and a friend of his who had smashed his finger while collecting wood for the palapa. Jamie had some band-aids on him and the guy was thankful. Jamie gave him a box of crackers too.

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The “road” to the town

Guy with injured thumb

Guy with injured finger

I was hot and thirsty but Jamie was really hurting. His shirt was soaked through with sweat and he was going really slow up the hill and taking long breaks. I was a little worried about him. My 10 year old sandal had chosen this day to break so I was hampered a bit too. The town was finally in sight and the “road” turned into a real paved road after we crested a hill. We walked to the hotel and it was super refreshing. They had only 600ml water bottles so I ordered four of them and drank three right then. We ate a nice dinner there and afterward paid the hotel for a panga ride back to the beach where our dingy was. That panga has a 75 hp engine and it was fast! Pretty exciting to go that fast over waves and through breaking waves and onto the beach.

The trail improves

The trail improves

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Sandal malfunction

Hotel Joya del Golfo

Hotel Joya del Golfo

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View from the hotel deck

Panga ride from the hotel back to the beach

Panga ride from the hotel back to the beach

End of a great day of island exploring

End of a great day of island exploring

Back at the beach we had a conversation with a guy who spoke English with no accent, but he used only simple words. He lived in the US as a child but moved to El Salvador at age nine. He told us the whole South end of the island is owned by his uncle and all of the people now living here are squatters and most of them are gang members who kick his ass from time to time. Earlier in the day this same English speaking guy had said a few words to us as he passed us on the trail when the hurt guy was getting bandaged. One of the islanders said he’s loco and to not believe anything he says.

 

 

 

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Exploring El Salvador

At the top of Santa Ana Volcano

At the top of Santa Ana Volcano

After settling in at the hotel marina slip we wanted to explore the country a bit. Seeing the numerous volcanoes from the water inspired me to want to climb one. Jamie was also enthusiastic so we researched and then took buses to the city of Santa Ana, the second largest in El Salvador. The city seemed really run down at first, and then we walked a few blocks and found a sparkling clean mall with the same stores that would be in a US mall. But the prices! We were used to Mexico prices, which are about half US prices. El Salvador is a country with lower wages than Mexico but higher food prices than the US. Not a good combination to have. I don’t know how Salvadorans can afford the mall prices, and indeed it did seem that the mall was much less crowded than the street market.

Buses are plentiful and cheap in El Salvador. For example the two hour bus ride from Bahia del Sol to the capital San Salvador costs just $1.80. But it stops every few seconds and can sometimes be extremely crowded. Driving in a car would take about half the time. The real problem with the buses is there is no map or schedule of any kind for them. The only way to know which bus number to take to get somewhere and when is to ask a local.

El Salvador buses are blinged out ex-US school buses

El Salvador buses are blinged out ex US school buses

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Even the insides are customized. Usually there is music blaring but it was actually good music most of the time. Sometimes the bus was so crowded another person couldn’t possibly fit, but I was proven wrong over and over

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Sometimes a preacher of some sort would come on board and start talking loudly and with conviction. Then he would walk around selling some sort of merchandise. This guy was selling chocolate but I also saw one selling ipod shuffle knock offs.

Santa Ana street market area

Santa Ana street market area

Gleaming Santa Ana mall

Gleaming Santa Ana mall

Every building has bars on the windows and most have concertina wire outside too. Our hotel had a secured entrance with a buzzer to get in. We didn’t feel comfortable walking around after dark even though we did a few times and nobody ever bothered us.

In the morning we took a bus to Cerro Verde National Park. On the bus to the park was the first time we had seen other tourists in El Salvador. At the park entrance there was a $3 fee to enter. To hike the volcano you must hire a guide and have a police escort. The fee for this is just $1 per person. The hike was about 4 hours and very nice. A little bit strenuous but that is exactly what we wanted. The views were amazing. The peak is at 7800′ and there is a boiling green lake in a crater at the top. Really nice and the temperature was perfect for such a hike as well.

The police escort for the hike

The police escort for the hike

At the bottom of the hike in the visitor area there is a small family run outdoor restaurant. They were roasting and grinding up coffee beans that they had grown on site. Since we had to wait there for over an hour for the bus, Jamie and I helped grind up the beans. They offered free cups of coffee but neither of us are coffee drinkers. Too bad because it was top quality stuff.

grinding fresh coffee beans

grinding fresh coffee beans

After the hike we returned to the hotel room for a shower. This photo below shows what it looks like. To make the water hot, you flip the breaker beside the shower on. The electrically inclined will notice that the ground is entirely inadequate. If you touch the water knob or the shower head when the electricity is on, you get shocked.

Hotel shower

Hotel shower

We spent another day exploring San Salvador. Some people warned us it is a dangerous place to be and others said it was fine during the day. We never saw anything bad happen. San Salvador is noisy, dirty, and hard on the lungs. I’m not much of a city person but that was my perspective. Since the bus system is impossible to figure out, we ended up walking a lot. One interesting thing we saw was the military history museum. It showed glorified photos of men in uniform holding guns, especially during the civil war of the 80’s. Photos and mentions of the soldiers killing unarmed civilians by the hundreds were suspiciously absent.

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Town square in San Salvador

Disgusting river running through the city

Disgusting river running through the city

Relief map of the entire country at the military museum

Relief map of the entire country at the military museum

Military museum

Military museum

Artist's depiction of Mayan life before the Spanish arrived

Artist’s depiction of Mayan life before the Spanish arrived

After seeing Santa Ana and San Salvador we were ready to get back to the boat to start provisioning for the next leg of the sail.

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Hospitality in Bahia de Sol, El Salvador

Bill giving us a ride in his pink panga

Bill giving us a ride in his pink panga

Bill and Jean, the expats who live on an island in Estero de Jaltepeque, really go out of their way to make sure visitors have a great time. There are a few other expats around and every Sunday they all have a barbecue at Lou and Lynn’s house. Lou and Lynn are from Sacramento originally, they moved here about 5 years ago. They are so welcoming! They always invite all of the sailors who happen to be in the area to the party and they treated us as long time friends. We were lucky enough to go to two of the parties. Their house is spectacular too. It’s right on the water with it’s own dock and swimming pool.

Bill and Jean at the hotel dock. They don't own a car, just this boat, as their house is not accessible by car anyway

Bill and Jean at the hotel dock. They don’t own a car, just this boat, as their house is not accessible by car anyway

View from Bill and Jean's dock

View from Bill and Jean’s dock

Bill and Jean's house

Bill and Jean’s house

Lou and Lynn's pool area

Lou and Lynn’s pool area with dock in the background

Lou and Lynn's house

Lou and Lynn’s house

Sitting there in the paradise of Lou and Lynn’s yard it seems like such an easy thing to do to pack up and move to a third world country where land is cheap and the weather is always warm (or hot in this case). Lou told me his house cost $275k. It would easily be 10 times that in the states considering it is right on the ocean with a place to park your boat. They have a maid too which they told me they pay well above market rate and she’s only $15 per day.

The area around the estuary is tranquil and safe, however you don’t have to dig deeply to find big problems in El Salvador. I befriended a security guard at the hotel named Henry. He spoke no English but by this time I could piece together enough toddler-level Spanish sentences to have a conversation. He told me about his work shift, which is from 8am to 8am… that’s right, 24 hours! He works every other day, averaging 80 hours per week and makes only $270 per month. That’s less than $1 per hour. Henry went three years to a university for business administration and made good grades but never graduated because his mother could no longer afford the tuition. He lives with his wife and three year old daughter in Zacatecoluca, a three hour bus ride away, in an area that is “muy peligroso” because of all the gang activity. Here he is guarding the boat docks at night with no flashlight. I asked him about this and he said the hotel requires that he supply his own light (so he showed me his cellphone light). At least the hotel supplied the 12 gauge shotgun he carries at all times.

Another person I met was Justo, the hotel front desk guy. This guy is an entrepreneur. I asked him what the best way to get to the airport in the morning was. He said he will arrange a taxi but it will be $40 (it’s a 40 minute ride). It seemed high but convenient so I agreed. In the morning Justo himself knocked on my room door. He would be driving me in his own car! On the way to the airport I learned why he speaks perfect English. He grew up in San Francisco with a US green card. At the age of 23 his mother wanted to return to El Salvador to open a restaurant in San Salvador. She did that but was later in a car accident and critically injured. Justo came to San Salvador to help his mother recover (she did), but in the mean time his green card expired since he was outside the US for more than 6 months. In order to reinstate it there are expensive legal fees which he can’t afford. So now he is stuck in El Salvador making $1/hr. He said he was making $23/hr in San Francisco, also as a hotel front desk worker.

Previously Justo was living in the capital San Salvador working at a Sprint call center where the wages were good. But gang members followed him home one day and told him if he doesn’t pay them $75 every two weeks they will kill him. So he moved out to the rural area where the Bahia del Sol hotel is. He said there are even gang members around here but they haven’t demanded protection money from him yet.

Hearing these guys’ stories really makes me appreciate the US and our easy lives. Poor people in the US would be considered well off here!

Walking on the beach near the hotel. This dog found us and came along as if he were escorting us

Walking on the beach near the hotel. This dog found us and came along as if he were escorting us

Abandoned beach house

Abandoned beach house

The stray dogs here are everywhere and super sad

The stray dogs here are everywhere and super sad

 

 

 

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Sailing for Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

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We finally had a weather window that was acceptable for us to set sail south from Puerto Chiapas, Mexico to Bahia del Sol, El Salvador. It was a short window made one day shorter by Mexico’s lax sense of duty and timeliness. It took almost a whole day to get checked out by the harbor master, immigration, and customs. So we postponed leaving to the next day (Tuesday). It is a 48 hour sail to El Salvador and bad weather was coming on Friday so we had to go on Tuesday morning, and we did (after the Navy inspector was two hours late to give us the final approval to leave). Then there was another delay when the boat’s engine seemed to be having a problem. It was fixed by me donning a swim mask and scraping the barnacles off the prop with a putty knife.

Bahia del Sol is situated on an estuary which has a sand bar at it’s entrance. The bar is only crossable at exactly high tide and since the opening is narrow and invisible, a professional pilot has to be there to guide in the boats so they won’t run aground. So it was critical that we arrive at exactly 9am on Thursday or we would have to anchor out overnight in forecasted bad conditions.

The forecast called for light winds but at least they would be in a favorable direction. The reality was a few hours of favorable winds, and then for most of the way the wind was directly on the bow. Mostly less than 15 knots but at times up to 25 knots. Because of the time constraint we had, we ended up motoring for the majority of the trip.

It was a great experience and the starlit night sailing was really special. The bioluminescent organisms were clearly visible in the bow wake like fireflies. We stayed 5 miles off the coast of Guatemala and El Salvador. From that distance we could see the lights from shore. Sometimes my Google Fi phone even had data. I was able to call my wife while sailing along at midnight! Laying on the fore deck looking up at the milky way and seeing shooting stars while the whole world gently rocked around me with perfect temperature gentle breezes.

The 3 hour shifts sleeping and then on watch were something to get used to but not too bad. The good news is I never once felt seasick. We always had to keep watch for fishing boats and their nets. Sometimes the nets and boats were lit up but usually not.

On Wednesday morning a pod of dolphins passed the boat. There were hundreds of them and they surrounded us. They were jumping into the air and spinning along their axis, flinging off water everywhere right next to the boat. From a documentary I watched on Netflix I later learned these are Spinner dolphins and this is normal behavior for them. When they jumped out of the water they would lean away a little bit to get a good look at me and the boat. For a Nevada boy this was a special treat to see. The video below shows the dolphins but I didn’t capture any spins. Don’t get seasick watching it!

video of dolphins

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The cockpit. Notice the high tech ropes that connect the wind vane autopilot to the wheel

The cockpit. Notice the high tech ropes that connect the wind vane autopilot to the wheel

We arrived at the entrance to Estero de Jaltepeque, where Bahia del Sol resides, on schedule. We called Bill and Jean on the radio and they answered. Bill and Jean are American expats who live on the estuary. They were sailors but now mainly just make sure sailors visiting this part of El Salvador have a great time. They also do a ton of volunteer work with the locals. Stuff like buying a mosquito sprayer for their island, building fresh water tanks, and helping the locals sell their crafts to foreign buyers.

Approaching the entrance

Approaching the entrance, with the pilot boat guiding us in

The entrance to the Estuary

The entrance to the Estuary

Inside the Estuary

Inside the Estuary

Hotel Bahia de Sol

Hotel Bahia de Sol

The Hotel Bahia del Sol is an official port of entry into El Salvador. They have the port Captain and Immigration officials there full time. They were extremely efficient and the hotel even had drinks waiting for us on the dock as we arrived! I’m liking El Salvador already!

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Festival in Tuxtla Chico, Mexico

Streets of Tuxtla Chico

Amazingly empty streets of Tuxtla Chico on festival night

I apologize for not updating the blog for over a month. The photo uploading was acting up on my phone. Now I’m home and will be making up posts.

Captain Jamie and I joined some other sailboaters in a trip to Tuxtla Chico, a small town in the Chiapas state of Mexico. They were having an annual festival which has happened there for 80 years. The purpose of the festival is to celebrate the Virgin of Candelaria, a character featured in the Catholic religion and one of the favorites in this region. The celebration consists of the residents of the town making colorful murals in the streets in front of their houses with colored sawdust. Then at 9pm a procession leaves from the church and winds it’s way through the town, walking over and ruining the alfombras (Spanish for rugs).

It was an amazing thing to see! The alfombras were very intricate and colorful. When I heard about this event I was picturing throngs of tourists blocking the streets. But that was not the case at all, there were practically no tourists, just the townspeople. We never actually saw the procession because the alfombra trail was like a maze running through town and we didn’t know where it was, but we could hear the fireworks going off at the start of it and we saw stampeded parts of the trail where they had been. I think fireworks in the States are special quiet ones because I have never heard any as loud as these before.

There was no alcohol for sale anywhere. It must be Mexico’s equivalent of a dry county. At one point we were thirsty and went into a convenience store looking for beer. After not seeing any for sale I asked the owner if he had any cervezas. He happily went into the house part of the store (he also lived there), opened up his own fridge, and brought out three beers for us. He didn’t even gouge us on the price. What a great guy! He got a big tip for that. Typical Mexican hospitality.

How fun would it be to have an annual event where you and all your neighbors decorate the streets for a day and then have a big party while the artwork gets trampled by a parade? The kids, grandparents, and everybody helps make the artwork. What a great bonding event for the community. I’m jealous.

This excursion to Tuxtla Chico was the highlight of my time in Mexico so it deserved a post of it’s own.

The church at the town center

The church at the town center

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Still at the boat in Puerto Chiapas

Palenque ruins site

Palenque ruins site

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An example of the abundant wildlife at the marina

Two weeks since arriving in Mexico, I’m still here and no sailing has occurred. First we waited a few days for a refrigerator to be delivered and installed, and after that the weather wasn’t cooperating. We have a weather window opening up and we will be leaving on Monday the 15th of February, two more days from now.

To occupy our time we have been taking trips into the interior of Mexico to visit Mayan ruins, going to the beach, learning about the boat, and finding things to improve on the boat. This morning I programmed the route we will take into the chart plotter and we cleaned the deck (again).

Jamie and I took a trip to San Cristobal, a small city at 7200′ elevation. It was chilly but a nice break from the heat of the coast. It’s a cool town with all cobblestone streets and kind of a hippy vibe. We stayed at a hostel one night and met some other travelers. You meet the most interesting people at hostels. Michalo is a 21 year old baker from Chicago. He started his trip in September by canoeing from Illinois down to New Orleans. Now he is in San Cristobal after exploring Central America. He told me about a new website for couch surfing but it’s only for bakers. Seems crazy to limit your customer base like that but he never said it was a successful website. The hostel (Iguana Hostel) was only $8 per night and included a great breakfast. My only gripe was the St Bernard dog they had who claimed the spot next to my bed as his own and snapped at my when I went to it. Maybe a huge vicious dog isn’t the best idea for a hostel but hey this is Mexico.

Jamie on the streets of San Cristobal

Jamie on the streets of San Cristobal

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One of the many churches in San Cristobal, this one was next to the Artisan Market

We drank at an upscale Mezcal bar and then ate next door at the Funky Burrito which was easily the best burrito I’ve ever had. This was the touristy part of town so the total bar and restaurant tab was $20 combined. Very nice people at both places.

Proof that the bus driver was texting while driving

Proof that the bus driver was texting while driving

San Cristobal is busy right now because the Pope is there. Glad we missed that.

From San Cristobal we took a bus to Palenque, home of the Palenque Mayan ruins site. We stayed there for two nights and toured the ruins. They are very impressive. While there I found myself wondering how much of the ruins were original and what was “restored” by modern man to attract tourists. On one temple surface I noticed rusted steel rebar showing on a chipped area. Makes you wonder.

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We took a combi taxi (an overloaded minivan that is dirt cheap to ride) to Ocosingo and the Tonina ruins. These ruins were less improved, huge, and empty. For an hour we were the only tourists there, but then three more showed up. The museum is free and very nicely done with lots of original carvings.

A video from the top of the Tonina pyramid, the highest in meso-America

A cruise ship docked here yesterday. The port area is pretty dodgy, I can't imagine why the ships come here.

A cruise ship docked here yesterday. The port area is pretty dodgy, I can’t imagine why the ships come here.

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