Mexican Dentists – Finding Affordable Dental Care in Mexico

A trip to the dentist’s office isn’t fun for anyone anywhere, but Mexican dentists do terrific work, and we have received outstanding and very affordable dental care in our travels throughout Mexico, both on our sailboat and in our RV.

This page offers a glimpse of what a trip to a Mexican dentist’s office is like, what to expect when crossing the border to get dental work done, which dentists we’ve been to and recommend, and what various dental procedures have cost us. There’s a ton of info on Mexican dentistry here, and if you don’t want to read it all in one sitting, these quick links will get where you want to go:

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Getting a Crown in Mexico — Our Experience in San Luis south of Yuma, AZ

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Our first experience with a Mexican dentist, and the one that totally changed our attitude towards Mexican dentistry in general, was in San Luis Mexico, just a little south of Yuma, Arizona, back in 2008.

Mexican Dentist crown in a tooth

Getting a Mexican Crown was quite an adventure for us back in the day.

We walked over the border and continued on for half a block to the office of Dr. Sergio Bernal at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. We did not have an appointment, but we wanted to see what could be done about a baby tooth of Mark’s that had never fallen out but had suddenly started bothering him.

After two minutes in the chair, Dr. Bernal recommended he get a crown. We weren’t sure about getting something complicated like this done in Mexico, and were also unsure whether a gold crown or porcelain crown would be preferable. We walked around the streets of San Luis for an hour debating whether to go for it, and if so, what kind of crown to get.

When we returned to Dr. Bernal’s office, we met a group of Americans from Las Vegas in the waiting room. A big friendly guy in the group told us he gathered up his friends and family every year, rented a car, and drove down to San Luis to get their teeth checked and worked on by Dr. Bernal. He’d had extensive bridge work done by Dr. Bernal 10 years prior, and he had been so impressed by the quality and affordable cost of the job that he’d been going back ever since.

Mark decided to go for it, and in no time Dr. Bernal had ground down his tooth, made an impression of it and made arrangements for a porcelain crown to be delivered to his office by noon the next day. Because the permanent crown would be installed so soon, there was no need for a temporary crown (how nice!).

As we walked out the door (without having paid a cent for the diagnosis, the tooth grinding or the impression), Dr. Bernal asked Mark his name, scribbled it on a yellow sticky pad and put it on the impression. He waved to us as we left to walk back over the border and said, “See you tomorrow!”

Despite the next day being a Saturday (we later learned Mexicans work six days a week), we walked across the border again at noon, and Dr. Bernal quickly cemented the crown in place.

The cost? $130 US.

Best of all, it was a perfect color match and was the best fitting crown Mark had ever had. It has been fine ever since.

From that moment on, we have entrusted our teeth to Mexican dentists throughout the country without a moment’s hesitation.

Dentist chair Dr. Sergio Bernal San Luis Mexico

The Dentist Chair… yikes!

During our nearly four year cruise of Mexico on our sailboat, we visited dentists (and doctors) up and down the Pacific coast and in the Sea of Cortez. The dental care was always top quality, very caring, and very affordable. We have never had unnecessary work recommended (as happened to me 15 years ago in the US when an unscrupulous dentist recommended I get five crowns immediately, only one of which I actually needed).

I always feel like going to the dentist in Mexico is basically like going to the barber. You walk in off the street without an appointment, talk to the dentist directly, hop in the chair for him or her to assess what you need, get it done right away or return the next day, and walk out with everything completed at a fraction of what it would cost in the US.

Where Are Mexican Dentists Trained?

There are some urban myths about Mexican dentistry. I’ve heard people say, “The best Mexican dentists get their training in the US.”

In our experience, that is not true. Of the ten excellent dentists and doctors we have been to in Mexico, none received their training in an American university.

Usually, Mexican dentists and doctors hang their diplomas on the wall. Whether the diplomas are hand calligraphed in Latin or typed up in Spanish, it is pretty easy to tell if the university was in Guadalajara, Mexico City or Baja California (the three areas for medical and dental schools we’ve seen on diplomas).

Do Mexican Dentists Speak English?

In our experience, most speak at least a little, especially in tourist areas and in the border towns where a lot of Americans come specifically to receive dental care.

Why Are Mexican Dentists So Cheap?

People also wonder how it is that Mexican dental (and medical) professionals can charge so little for their services if they are really as good as (or better than) their counterparts in the US. The reasons are complex, but in a nutshell, the American and Mexican economies and cultures are totally different. Even more important, the business models for the dental and medical professions are not at all alike in the two countries.

A Lower Wage Scale in Mexico

The average DAILY wage for an unskilled Mexican worker is around $5 per DAY. Obviously, skilled workers make more, but the entire spectrum of wages, from professionals to janitors, is scaled down much lower than the US. In many cases, like that of a city employed street sweeper we met in Huatulco, the employee provides the equipment for their job. This industrious city worker we met had fashioned his brooms for his government job from tree branches and twigs himself.

Cheaper Office Space

Commercial property rental is also much cheaper. A friend of mine who owns a store in the popular seaside tourist town of Zihuatanejo pays $30 a MONTH to rent the space. Office space for Mexican dentists and doctors may not be quite that low, but even if it is double the price, it is still negligible by American standards.

Very Little or No Staff

Mexican dentists and doctors also don’t employ much staff, if any. Some dentists have an assistant, but many of the best ones we’ve been to don’t. Also, there is no one dedicated to answering the phone and making appointments. Any time we have had our teeth cleaned, it was done by the dentist and not by a hygienist. One very conscientious dentist spent an HOUR cleaning my teeth and then spent another HOUR on Mark’s, for $45 US each.

Little or No Malpractice Insurance and Marketing

Unlike their American counterparts, Mexican dentists and doctors don’t have to carry massive amounts malpractice insurance. Also, they don’t invest in marketing. None of the dentists we’ve been to have websites, and it is very difficult to find information about any of them on the internet. The few Mexican dentists that do have websites cater primarily to Americans, and we found that their fees are often adjusted upwards accordingly.

No Third Party Relationships

Mexican dentists and doctors also set their fees according to the market demands of their patients. There is no insurance company operating as a middle man. Patients pay their medical providers directly rather than paying an insurance company who, in turn, then pays the dentist or doctor, as happens in the US.

This keeps the patient/doctor relationship very pure. The doctor or dentist is employed by the patient, not by a third party insurance company. Fees for unexpected issues that come up requiring return visits, extra x-rays, additional prescriptions, etc., can be discussed between doctor/dentist and patient. In our experience, though, those little extras have been free because the dentist/doctor is managing the relationship with the patient/customer and wants to provide good value.

 

Getting A Root Canal in Mexico — Our Experience in San Luis south of Yuma, AZ

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A few weeks ago one of my teeth began to bother me, so we decided to return to our dentist, Dr. Sergio Bernal, in San Luis, Mexico, who had done such a fine job with Mark’s crown years ago. We took our rig to Yuma, drove our truck to the Mexican border and parked it in a parking lot on the American side right next to the border crossing area. The parking fee was $4 for 24 hours (in 2017 it is $5 for 24 hours).

Parking lot in San Luis Arizona

The parking lot on the American side of the border at San Luis, Arizona. $4 for 24 hours.

It was 8:45 in the morning on a Tuesday, and we followed signs that walked us through the border crossing. We saw a few Mexican border agents, but none asked for our passports. Then we emerged on the other side and saw a soldier dressed in desert camo holding an automatic weapon.

The soldier smiled broadly at us when we said “buenos días” to him as we passed by, and he said “buenos días” to us in return.

Having lived in Mexico for a few years, we learned that Mexicans always greet each other with a warm “buenos días” (before noon), or “buenas tardes” (after 12:00 p.m. – sharp), whether they are passing in the street, or standing in front of a store clerk about to pay for something, or boarding a crowded bus (everyone on the bus responds!). Mustering the guts to say that phrase in Mexico will always get you a smiling response, and it is heartwarming and fun to give it a try.

We also learned that the presence of soldiers is just standard procedure at Mexico’s borders (we’ve seen them at the US and Guatemala borders). It is also standard procedure when the Mexican Navy boards boats at sea.

Our sailboat was boarded 8 times during our cruise, either to to check our papers, to check for weapons and drugs, or to make sure we had proper safety gear on board. Each time the inspectors couldn’t have been nicer or more polite. In one case, when they brought aboard a drug-sniffing dog, they put booties on his feet so he wouldn’t scratch the boat. Another time we were given a performance evaluation form to fill out for the boss!

I touch on three of the Mexican Navy boardings we experienced in these blog posts:

Moments after crossing the border, we emerged onto a lively and busy street in the town of San Luis Rio Colorado, the Mexican sister city of San Luis, Arizona.

After emerging from the border complex, we walked straight down the street, crossing a small intersection and looking to our left towards the opposite side of the street as we walked.

Crossing the border at San Luis Arizona into Mexico

Mark crosses a small intersection after crossing the border.
Dr. Bernal’s office is on the left just beyond the lavender “Genesis” sign (center of photo).

We were walking south on First Street (“Calle 1”). Dr. Bernal’s office is in an alcove on east side of the street (the opposite side…the left side in the above photo) about halfway between the first intersection we had just crossed and the street light at the next intersection.

The shops are small and tightly packed with colorful but faded signs overhead.

Shops near Family Dental Dr. Sergio Bernal San Luis Mexico

Walking down Calle 1 (1st Street), and looking left, these shops are just before Dr. Bernal’s alcove.

Catching sight of the lavender “Genesis” sign on the left side (east side) of the street, we spotted the alcove where Dr. Bernal’s office is located just beyond that sign (to the right of the sign while facing that side of the street (facing east)).

Inside Dr. Bernal’s alcove, we saw a large grinning tooth out in front of his office door. A sign overhead and a sign on the roof both said, “Family Dental.”

Family Dental care in Mexico at Dr. Bernal in San Luis

Dr. Bernal’s office is in this alcove. The door is on the right.

Mexican dentists Dr. Sergio Bernal Dentist San Luis Mexico

We head in!

Even though it had been 7 years since we had been here, back in 2008, memories flooded back as soon as we walked in. We had known nothing about Mexico back then, and we had been quite overwhelmed by the differences on the two sides of the border.

Things are not as spiffy or glam in Mexico as they are in much of America, and this dentist’s office wasn’t in fancy Class A office space like we were used to back home. That had been a little off-putting to us back then. But during those early days of full-time travel we had yet to learn that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Dr. Sergio Bernal Dentist Office San Luis Mexico-2

The waiting room.

When we walked into Dr. Bernal’s office with all these memories swirling around, he greeted us with a big smile. I explained (in English) that he had done a crown for Mark way back when and that we had come back because I had a toothache.

“Oh yes, I remember….” He said.

“You remember us???!!” I asked, incredulously.

“Of course I do…” he said, “Gold crown or porcelain… you couldn’t decide.”

Wow.

We were the only patients there at the moment, so I hopped in the chair right away and he tapped my teeth and said I needed a root canal. Darn! I was afraid of that.

Dr. Sergio Bernal Dentist Dental Surgeon San Luis Mexico

Dr. Sergio Bernal tells me I need a root canal. Oof!

Mark got in the chair and was given a clean bill of health. No problems, no need for work, no need even for a cleaning. “Come back when you have a problem,” Dr. Bernal said. I should only be so lucky!!

Wasting no time on my behalf, Dr. Bernal got on the phone to an endodontist across town, Dr. Horacio Avila, to make sure he was available to see me right away. Then he walked us out to the corner and hailed a cab for us. He handed the cabbie a business card for the endodontist, and we climbed in the cab.

Taxi cab San Luis Mexico

Dr. Bernal puts us in a cab to go to endodontist Dr. Horacio Avila across town.

The cabbie swung the car around and then let another guy in too. The cabs in San Luis are shared cabs, and it is normal to have the cabbie pick up someone else who is headed in the same general direction.

A few minutes later he dropped us off at Dr. Horacio Avila’s office. The cabbie wanted 40 pesos or $2, whichever we had. We happened to have some pesos we wanted to get rid of, so we paid in pesos. Back when we got those pesos in 2013, the exchange rate had been less than 13 pesos to a dollar. What a shock it was to find that the exchange rate is now 19+ to the dollar!

Mexican dentists Dr. Horacio Avila Dental Clinic Endodontist Mexico

Dr. Avila’s office at Calle 13 (13th Street) and Madero

Dr. Avila’s office was nice inside, and like all dentists and doctors we’ve been to in Mexico, his diplomas hung on his wall. He had earned his dental degrees at the University of Baja California. Dr. Bernal had earned his degrees at the University of Guadalajara.

Dental Surgeon Endodontic Degrees Dr. Horacio Avila

Dr. Avila’s diplomas. He was trained at the University of Baja California.

I was blown away by Dr. Avila’s equipment. A quickie x-ray yielded an image on a computer screen in seconds, and he explained (in English) that the root canal would take about 45 minutes. He said it would normally cost $180 US, but because it was in a tooth that already had a crown on it, the extra work of drilling through the crown to perform the root canal would raise the cost to $230 US.

I leaned back, he numbed me up, and in no time the root canal was finished.

Mexican dentists Dr. Horacio Avila Endodontist San Luis Mexico

Dr. Avila had very modern equipment with x-rays that went directly to a computer screen, etc., etc.

When I got out of the chair, he explained that I needed anitbiotics and anti-inflammatory meds. He described how to take them and wrote up a prescription, handed me an envelope containing prints of my x-rays as well as the images of my root canal in progress, and then he led us to the door.

His assistant asked me my name and wrote it down on a pad. I gave her $230 in American dollars in cash, and she asked me whether I wanted a receipt. Then she took us out to her car and drove us to Liquis Farmacia, a big pharmacy back near the border crossing area. (“Farmacia” is pronounced “far-MAH-seeya” even though it doesn’t look like it).

Liquis Pharmacy (Farmacia) San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Liquis Pharmacy (“Farmacia”) is a block away from the border.

She took us through the drive-through lane, placed the order for the meds at the window for us, and passed our cash through to the clerk (we paid in pesos, but dollars would have been fine too). It was about $10 for a supply of amoxicillan (Ampliron) and anti-inflammatory Supradol. Then she drove us to Dr. Bernal’s office.

We tipped her $5 in American dollars for driving us around town and making sure we had the right meds in hand before we left the country.

Liquis Pharmacy Drive-up Window San Luis Mexico

Dr. Avila’s assistant drove us to the drive-through window and ordered my meds for me.

We walked over to Dr. Bernal’s office and I climbed back in his dentist chair (gosh so many times in and out of dentist’s chairs in one morning!!). He took a look at Dr. Avila’s work and said he would complete the job by putting a filling in the crown where Dr. Avila had drilled through to do the root canal. But he didn’t want to do it until a few days had passed and the tooth was totally pain free.

So he sent us on our way (and again, did not charge us a cent).

It was 10:00 in the morning when we crossed back over the border into the US and got back in our truck.

San Luis Arizona Pedestrian Entrance

The pedestrian crossing going back into the US

The whole thing had taken an hour and a quarter — with no appointment. In that short span of time we received two check-ups, a diagnosis, a root canal, x-rays and meds.

Including the cab ride from the dentist to the endodontist, a tip for the assistant who drove us to the pharmacy in her own personal car, and the parking fee for our truck that was waiting for us on the American side of the border, it all came to a grand total of $241 US.

So far, we hadn’t paid Dr. Bernal a dime, yet he had masterminded the whole thing.

Does this sound like American dentistry?

We returned a few days later to check in with Dr. Bernal (no appointment, we just walked in). My tooth was still a little tender, so he told me I wasn’t ready for him to do the filling in the crown yet yet. So I was in and out of the chair once again! And again, he didn’t charge me for the checkup.

Finally my tooth was back in action and pain free, so we crossed over the border to Mexico again. This time we went to the endodontist, Dr. Avila, first to get a final x-ray of the root canal and verify that everything was A-okay. He was happy to see me and said everything looked great and sent me on my way. He didn’t charge me for the x-ray or the office visit.

Dr. Horacio Avila Endodontist affordable dental care Mexico

Dr. Avila explains to me about teeth and roots. The x-ray is on the computer screen on the wall.

Then we stopped in at Dr. Bernal’s office. He had a line of patients waiting this time, so we took a seat and waited with them. I got chatting with an American woman next to me, and she told me she and her family had been coming down from Phoenix to see Dr. Bernal for 25 years.

“He must have been just out kid out of dental school back then!” I said.

“We were all a lot younger back then,” she laughed.

Suddenly, an old, hunched Mexican woman came in clutching her mouth. She was moaning as she took a seat. Mark asked her in broken Spanish if she was in pain, and she nodded and rubbed her fingers along her whole lower jaw, obviously in agony.

We were next in line now, but we got up and stuck our heads into Dr. Bernal’s office where he was working on a patient and told him we’d be back later and to please take care of this old woman first.

We wandered around town for a while, and when we returned the woman was gone and Dr. Bernal was free again. I hopped in the chair, and after a few quick zips with the drill, he was done filling the hole in the crown. Then he did a full check on the rest of my teeth and polished some of my white fillings that had started to leach and turn a darker color.

Affordable dental care in Mexico

Back in The Chair with Dr. Bernal.

He charged me $40 US. This $40 fee covered the three times I had sat in his dentist’s chair over the past few days since we first crossed the border as well as putting a filling in the crown where the root canal was and polishing me teeth. We handed him the cash, and went back to the border half a block away.

Easy peasy!!

So, my entire procedure involved sitting in dentist’s chairs five times for check-ups and procedures, x-rays, a root canal performed by an endodontist, a filling performed by a general dentist, cab rides between dentist’s offices, antibiotics and pain medications, a tip for the dental assistant who drove us across town and took us to the pharmacy, and the parking fee for our truck waiting for us on the American side of the border.

The grand total for my root canal plus all that other stuff was $281

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Tips for RVers Crossing the Border to San Luis Mexico for Dental Care

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Yuma is 23 miles north of the US/Mexican border, so it is very easy for RV travelers to get dental work done in Mexico at the San Luis border south of Yuma, AZ. Allow about 35 to 45 minutes to get to the border (it’s mostly highway).

There are loads of RV parks of every description in and around Yuma, and Yuma is a fun town to visit anyway. There are some pretty buildings in the Old Town neighborhood, a really funky burger/bar scene in town at Lutes Casino, and an interesting glimpse of how the Wild West used to be for the bad guys at the Territorial Prison.

For RVers who want to be a little closer to the border and don’t mind dry camping in their trailer or motorhome, Cocopah Casino is 16 miles from the border and has a paved parking area out back that is striped for RVs. As of January 2016 the cost to stay there was $10 for 3 nights. It was very busy when we were there in late January, and I imagine the place is quite packed through the winter season.

Motorhomes at Cocopah Casino Yuma Arizona

There are tons of RV park options in Yuma. At Cocopah Casino there is dry camping as well.

In Mexico’s border towns like San Luis, you can do all financial transactions in US dollars. Some businesses, like Liquis Farmacia (the pharmacy Dr. Avila’s assistant drove us to), will take a credit card, but in our experience most dentists and doctors prefer to be paid in cash (some don’t even have credit card machines in their offices).

If you want to get some Mexican pesos, there are money exchange shops on both sides of the border. But you certainly don’t need to.

Money Exchange San Luis Mexico

There are money changing shops on both sides of the border, but US dollars work just fine.
Take lots of $1 bills for cabs and tips.

Walking over the border is easy, and if you are finished in San Luis early in the day, the walk back over the border is easy too. There was no one in the pedestrian line going back into the US when we got there at 10 a.m.

Later in the day, the border crossing into the US gets much busier. Walking back over the border late in the afternoon can involve a long wait in line for pedestrians (and much much longer for cars). Riding our bikes, we never saw anyone in line at the Sentri Gate.

For us, in all our travels and dental office visits in Mexico over the past eight years, figuring out which dentists to go to has been a matter of talking to the locals and to fellow travelers and to ex-pats who live in the area.

We first heard of Dr. Bernal from RVers staying at the Escapees Kofa RV park in Yuma. Some places with lots of ex-pats have online forums where local dentists are discussed and referred, and that’s how we found two of our favorite dentists in southern Mexico.

Some quick tips:

  • You need a passport to return to the US from Mexico
  • Take lots of $1 bills for tips and cabs just in case you want or need to be driven around town
  • Change will not be made with American coins, just bills. Take a variety of bills to avoid making change in general.
  • Some dentists and doctors will take credit cards, but not all. We carried about $350 in cash.
  • Bigger pharmacies will take a credit card. Unlike most stores in the US, Liquis was set up for the new chip style credit cards!
  • To save on currency exchange fees, get a credit card from Capital One. They waive the standard 3% currency exchange fee
  • If you bike over the border, you can save a lot of time getting back into the US because no one uses the Sentri pass / bike gate
  • Make a day of it. Go to El Parianchi (10th St. and Obregon) for some awesome food and a truly authentic Mexican experience, especially on a busy Saturday

Here is a Google Maps link for the locations of things in San Luis, Mexico. In this map link, the locations are:

  • Dr. Sergio Bernal – showing as “Calle 1 115”
  • Liquis Pharmacy – showing as “Calle 1 7”
  • Dr. Horacio Avila – showing as “Madero 1307”
  • El Parianchi restaurant – showing as “El Parianchi” at 10th St. and the border road.

You can see the location of the town square “Plaza Benito Juarez” too.

Mexican Dentists we recommend:

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Here are some of the dentists we have been to and that we would return to. One thing that can be confusing about Mexican names is that the Spanish convention is to give your mother’s maiden name as part of your own name, at the end. So, you state your name like this:

First-name Father’s-last-name Mother’s-father’s-last-name

So “Pedro Diaz Hernandez” would be called “Pedro Diaz” using English conventions.

San Luis (south of Yuma, AZ)

Dr. Sergio Bernal does general dentistry and is located about 1/2 block over the San Luis Arizona/Mexico border on the left hand side in an alcove marked with a large sculpture of a tooth under a sign, “Family Dental” on 1st Street (“Calle 1”) just north of Obregon as described in detail above in this article. Call him directly from the US by dialing this number: 011 52 653 534 6651
Address: First St. #118-9 San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. Open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 9-2, Sunday 9-11

Dr. Horacio Avila is an endodontist located at 13th Street (“Calle 13”) and Madero (address is 1305 Madero). He did a root canal for me in 2016 as described above in this article.

Loreto (Baja California Sur – Sea of Cortez)

Dr. Aldo Velásquez works with his father Dr. Eduardo Velásquez at #53 Benito Juarez Street in downtown Loreto. In 2011 Dr. Aldo Velazquez filled a cavity in one of my teeth and checked Mark’s teeth for 450 pesos. At the exchange rate of the time, this was about $40. We went to his office because we passed it on the street while out walking and it appeared well kept and attractive. Later we found out that Aldo and his father are very highly regarded in town. I wrote about our experience in HERE at this link

Zihuatanejo (Southern Pacific coast of Mexico)

In 2013 Dr. Oliverio Soberanis (#210-E 5 de Mayo Ave.) replaced several large fillings in my teeth and fixed some work that had been poorly done by an American dentist long ago. See some pics HERE at this link. I found him by reading an ex-pat forum for Zihuatanejo. He had brand new equipment with TV screens showing the work in progress. I had a cruising friend who is a retired dentist check his work afterwards, and he was very impressed that he took the time to polish the fillings, something many American dentists don’t do because it takes extra time.

Huatulco (Southern Pacific coast of Mexico)

In 2012 Dr. Francisco Hernandez (Sierra de Ixtlan, Edificio B Dept 101, Conjunto Residential Los Mangos) did 2 cleanings for us (550 pesos, or about $45, each) and 3 replacement fillings (450 pesos, or about $35, pesos each) for us as well. The cleanings were the most thorough we’ve ever had, taking about an hour each. He was gentle and very conscientious. We went to him because the dentist that had been recommended in an ex-pat forum was on vacation, and she had left a note on her door giving Dr. Hernandez’ name and address. Another cruising friend (whose boat appears at the top of all our blog posts from Huatulco had an excellent experience with getting some fillings replaced by Dr. Hernandez as well.

If you have been enjoying your RV down near the Mexican border this winter and have been on the fence about whether or not to get some dental work done south of the border, hopefully our stories and info here will help you decide to give it a try.

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Typical Costs of Mexican Dentistry and Where It’s Cheapest

Mexico has lots of dentists and doctors practicing all over the country. After all, Mexico’s population is nearly 1/2 of America’s population, and all those people need medical and dental care, just like Americans do!

Because of the big difference in the cost of living between the two countries, Mexican dentists are well aware that their services are sought after by Americans because it’s cheap.

Mexican Dentists Whose Practices Serve Primarily Mexicans Are The Cheapest

Most Mexican dentists set up practices in predominantly Mexican communities, and they charge prices their patients can afford. Their prices are typically 10% to 15% of the costs for identical dental procedures done in America.

San Luis is such a community, even though it is a border town. A few Americans cross the border to get dental work and medical procedures done in San Luis, but they are a smaller percentage of the dentists’ and doctors’ total patient base than in other locations.

In San Luis, Mark’s porcelain crown cost $130 US in 2008. At that time, in America, the cost for a porcelain crown was typically $1,000. My root canal in 2016 plus medications, cab fees and parking fees cost $281. At that time, in America, the cost of a root canal in a tooth that had a crown on it already was typically $2,000 or more.

Mexican Dentists Whose Practices Serve Primarily Americans Are More Expensive

In contrast, dentists that are located in places where Americans tend to congregate often establish their practices specifically to serve Americans. After all, they can make a lot more money that way than by serving Mexicans. This means that they have flashier office space, they have marketing geared towards Americans that is in English, both of which Americans appreciate, and they have higher prices.

Their services may not be any better than the Mexican dentists who focus on Mexican patients, but it will feel more like dentistry “back home” in America. They may require that you make an appointment in advance, they may accept a credit card for payment, and they may speak very fluent English.

The prices in these kinds of places are typically 40% to 50% of the costs of equivalent procedures in America.

One area that is extremely oriented towards Americans is Los Algodones near the border of Yuma, Arizona. Los Algodones is a tiny handful of tightly packed streets that are wall-to-wall dental and medical offices that serve an entirely American clientele. Few, if any, Mexicans go to these dentists and doctors for care. It is way too expensive for them.

Likewise, we found in our cruise along Mexico’s west coast that the dentists who operated in the more central and touristy parts of any town tended to have more American style facilities and higher prices.

In Ensenada, a cruise ship destination 70 miles south of San Diego, a dentist on the “front side” of town greeted us wearing scrubs (you rarely see that in more Mexican-oriented dental offices). He spoke perfect English and gave us a quote for a very American sounding price for a simple cleaning and a filling.

We decided to pass on his services. However, during our stay in Ensenada, we got to know the affluent looking owner of an ice cream shop in town and asked him for a recommendation for a dentist. He sent us to a totally different part of town where a very skilled dentist in a much simpler office took care of us at the typical 10% to 15% of American prices that “Mexican dentists for Mexicans” charge.

So, when looking for a dentist in Mexico, keep in mind that dentists whose patients are primarily American will charge you prices that are much higher than dentists whose patients are primarily Mexican. Whether the actual dental care they provide is any different is truly debatable. It’s just more expensive and feels more familiar because of the outer trappings of the office space itself and the way they run their business.

Map showing Los Algodones and Yuma, Arizona

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Make a day of it and HAVE SOME FUN between Doctor and Dentist visits in San Luis!

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Crossing the border on foot forced us to rely on taxis to get to the more distant locations on the other side, so after our first visit, we decided for future trips it would be a whole lot easier and more interesting to ride our bikes over the border instead. We simply parked our new truck on the American side for the day, unloaded the bikes, and walked them across.

Once on the other side we could get around town quickly and easily.

Riding bikes in San Luis Mexico

We found riding our bikes around San Luis was much more fun and made the border crossing back to the US easier.

And that’s when we really started to have some fun too.

Mexico is a vibrant country with really exuberant, fun-loving people. Everybody is outgoing and friendly and warm, and we have always found it really enjoyable to chat with people on the street, whether in our halting Spanish or in their typically very good English.

Like all Mexican towns, there is a town square in San Luis that is lined with palm trees and has a bandstand at the center. It wasn’t quite as festive as the one in Guanajuato or the town square in Oaxaca, but it we enjoyed wandering through it.

Bandstand Benito Juarez Park San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

The town square/park named for Benito Juarez has a small band stand.

We really enjoyed seeing San Luis beyond the dentist’s office. There’s plenty of security too — we saw police riding around on Segways (how fun!). They very kindly came over to offer assistance when we looked a little lost at one point.

Police on Segways in San Luis Mexico

Now there’s a great way to get around town!

There are lots of places to eat, and if you find yourself in town waiting between dentist or doctor visits and need a bite, there is a Subway that makes sandwiches exactly the way we’re all accustomed to. The only difference is the menu is in Spanish. But don’t worry, the workers will take your order in English — and if they struggle, sign language and pointing at what you want always helps.

Inside Subway San Luis Mexico

Subway has a shop in town, and the only difference we found was the Spanish words on the menu.
Pointing and smiling works fine if you can’t make out the Spanish words.

If you have a little more time, check out El Parianchi, a fabulous restaurant that is the Real Deal for Mexican food, Mexican flair and Mexican fun. We LOVED it there.

We found El Parianchi one day when we were looking for the other top restaurant in town, El Herradero where we had enjoyed some chips and salsa and beer on an earlier visit. We were a little lost, though, and we found ourselves in front of El Parianchi instead. When we asked the parking lot attendant, Fernando, for directions to El Herradero, he talked us into staying at El Parianchi, because the food there was truly delicious.

“I’ll put your bikes in here,” he said, pointing to a locked shed in the back of the restaurant. “They’ll be safe.” Deal! We rolled them in between the rakes and shovels and barrels, and went on in.

We had been noticing that we were the only gringos in the whole town. And now we were very definitely the only gringos in this restaurant. We were also the only people dressed in cycling clothes.

Talk about standing out!

It was a Saturday afternoon, and the place was hopping. Waiters rushed here and there, grabbing extra tables and chairs for people, and the food was flying out of the kitchen at a wild rate.

El Parianchi Mexican Restaurant San Luis Mexico

The servers were hustling at El Parianchi on Saturday afternoon!

Two big parties — what looked like a baptism party and an engagement party — were in full swing at long tables on either side of the restaurant, and a Mariachi harp player was singing and strumming his heart out in a corner.

People were laughing and eating and have a grand time while the waiters ran at top speed from one end of the room to the other.

Eating at Mexican restaurant El Parianchi

Gringos in cycling jerseys. Sure…we blend right in!

We were seated to one side, and in an instant, a waiter was at our table welcoming us.

We both ordered Corona with a lime, and Mark got a bottled water and I ordered a Jamaica water as well. Jamaica water is an absolutely delicious drink make of hibiscus flowers that has a tartness like cranberry juice (and is about that color) but is much sweeter. Jamaica is pronounced “Hamikah” with a long “i” (even though it doesn’t look like it), and it is a refreshing drink I enjoyed repeatedly throughout our Mexico cruise.

The drinks arrived along with tortilla chips and a bean dip that was to die for. If only I could make beans like that!

Suddenly the harp Mariachi player appeared at our table. Mark handed him a few dollars and asked for a song.

Harp player El Parianchi restaurant San Luis Mexico

A harp playing Mariachi sang some songs for us — what total fun!!!

“What song do you want?” the harpist asked.

After racking our brains to remember the name of a Mexican folk song, we came up with “Alla En El Rancho Grande!”

He proceeded to play a great rendition of it. I don’t have a video of him singing, but I do have a special video of another Mariachi singing this exact same song for us when we were in Huatulco Mexico at a little beach bar in the sand. Our sailboat Groovy was anchored just out of sight.

When he finished the song, the folks at the tables around us clapped. He wanted to sing a second song for us, so we asked for Mariachi Loco. This is a really cute song we first heard on a day charter catamaran called Picante that used to circle past our boat at anchor in Zihuatanejo.

We were having so much fun in this restaurant, we hadn’t even looked at the menu yet!

Suddenly, the manager, Jose, came over and asked if we were having any trouble understanding the menu. We told him we wanted a beef and bean burrito, and he recommended one of the “percherones.” We’d never had one before, but the “Sonorense” was absolutely scrumptious. It was so good, in fact, that we came back another day just to sample it again!!

Menu El Parianchi restaurant Percherones San Luis Mexico

For a genuine Mexican culinary experience, check out El Parianchi on 10th Street and the street along the US/Mexico border by the international boundary wall.

When the bill came, it was $17.73 US including our 20% tip — and we had plowed through four beers, a bottle of water, my Jamaica water, our chips and bean dip plus the huge percheron burrito we had split.

We got up to go, rubbing our aching tummies, and suddenly a waiter was carrying over two huge sombreros for us.

We put them on and cracked up.

The harp player placed his harp in front of us, and Jose took pics of us while everyone at the big party at the long table clapped and laughed. How fun!

Good dental care in Mexico is cause for celebration

Olé!!

Then someone handed Mark a guitar and he strummed a few chords.

What a total blast this was!

Singing with Mariachi El Parianchi restaurant San Luis Mexico

Mark finds a guitar in his hands and a sombrero on his head!!

We left to a chorus of cheers and found Fernando waiting in the parking lot. He unlocked the shed door and helped us disentangle our bikes from the rakes and shovels and buckets inside. We tipped him a dollar for his efforts.

Rolling back to the border on our bikes, we passed dozens and dozens of cars lined up to cross into the US. By now the pedestrian line was really long too.

In San Luis, bicycles go through the Sentri Pass gate (a special gate for people who cross the US border on a regular basis). This was awesome because there was never anyone in line at that gate!!

Bicycling over the Mexico border at San Luis Arizona

What a fabulous day… and no line for bikes at the border!

Our smiles went from ear to ear when we settled back in our little buggy after a great day in Mexico.

Note: We returned to San Luis to see Dr. Bernal and Dr. Avila for more dental work a year later in October 2016. Read the blog post here:

A Visit to the Dentist in Mexico

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For more info from other RVers who have gone over the border to get dental care, see the following two blog posts by Nina Fussing of WheelingIt HERE and HERE.

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Life on the Hook in Mexico – What do you do all day when you’re cruising in the tropics?

cruising, sailing, living aboard in Mexico

Mark makes music on Groovy

Sailing off into the sunset is a dream a lot of people share, and some even get the crazy idea to go ahead and actually do it.  What’s it like?  Here’s a glimpse of some of the things we do each day in our cruising lifestyle — kind of a behind-the-scenes look at our life of leisure aboard a sailboat in the tropics.

snorkeling huatulco mexico cruising and living aboard

We have fun above and below water.

When we decided to cruise Mexico, we planned to anchor out pretty much 100% of the time.  That way we could put more of our budget into a comfortable, newer boat, while keeping the day-to-day expenses to a minimum.  Marinas in Pacific Mexico typically cost anywhere from $30-$50 a night or $600-$900 a month for a boat our size, so living “on the hook” at anchor can mean big savings.

But living on the hook has its ups and downs.  Literally!!  The Pacific swell keeps the boat in constant motion, frequently lurching it from side to side for hours, or even days, on end.  Also, the beautiful ocean is often held hostage by red tide — or algae blooms — that cloak it in an unpleasant color and odor, and fill it with debris, making swimming impossible and dropping the water temps as much as 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit.

87 degree water in Huatulco Mexico

Ahh… warm water!!!

For the past week, however, we have had one ideal day after another (November, 2012, in Huatulco).  The water has been turquoise and clear and in the high 80’s.  The air has been sunny and warm, and the swell has been modest, jolting us awake with a jerk only once or twice a night, if at all.  Our days have been spent swimming til our skin is wrinkled, kayaking in the bay, and walking the beach where the waves caress our feet with the warmest of sun-heated ripples.

Mexico cruising clear turquoise water

The water in Huatulco is gorgeous

Life on the hook, even during these heavenly days, is not exclusively about umbrella drinks in the cockpit, however.  Each day we have a few hours of work that needs to be done.  Mark keeps us on track with this stuff, making lists and making sure we stick to them.

I always find my interest in these things wandering quite a bit, though.  Left to my own devices, I’m afraid the list would soon be lost, and after a few weeks we’d be living in true squalor.

swimming in Huatulco Mexico (Tangolunda Bay) living aboard a sailboat

Who wants to quit swimming to do a bunch of boat chores??

Back when I lured Mark into this cruising lifestyle (well, let’s see, I think I dragged him into it by the ear!), we divvied up the responsibilities according to skill, inclination and interest, rather than going straight “pink” and “blue.”

Since I’ve worked with computers all my life and had cruised before, the chartplotter was easy for me to learn, and I became navigator and skipper while underway.

Cruising Mexico - living aboard a sailboat To Do List

Mark keeps us on track with our boat chores. Notice: “clean bilge” is not yet crossed off…

In our RVing life I never tow the trailer and rarely drive the truck.  Last time I tried parking the rig, I put us exactly perpendicular to the spot I was aiming for.  Mark’s last docking experience with the boat went just about as well.  So this division of labor has been a happy one.

I love technical things and understand the theory of many things on the boat, and I got a huge kick out of researching and specifying the boat’s major system upgrades.  But when it comes to holding a wrench I am still flustered by which end is which.  Mark was a professional service engineer for Xerox’s high speed (room sized) printers and grew up working on cars.  He is a master when it comes to electro-mechanical troubleshooting and installation.

Mexico cruising living aboard a sailboat and cleaning the bilge

I like using a kid’s bazooka water gun to clean the bilge!

So, in exchange for putting all the responsibility for all the boat’s systems squarely in his lap, I volunteered to keep the bilge clean.

Having a clean bilge makes it is easier to notice when something isn’t right.  Water in the bilge must be coming from somewhere.  Is it salt water or fresh water?  Guess who gets to find out!  Hopefully if a chemical is leaking into the bilge it isn’t lethal!!

In our earliest days in Huatulco, “clean bilge” went on the to-do list (our engine’s packing gland material is getting old, so it drips now).  Mark had the luxury of taking a snooze next to the open bilge compartment when he finished his items on the To Do list!  I dawdled as long as I could.

Cruising Mexico living aboard a sailboat

Boat work done? Take a snooze!

I’ve found the easiest way to get water out of the bilge is to use a kid’s bazooka water gun.  Ours has a pointy end that can get into the crevices, and it soaks up a good bit of water that can then be squirted in a pail.  Doing a final squeegee pull with fresh water before putting the toy away has kept it in good working order.

cruising mexico sailing mexico living aboard clean bilge

There, it’s done, and we have a clean bilge once again.

Living on the hook means that going ashore requires either a swim or a boat ride.  So taking out the trash requires loading it in the dinghy first, and then finding a trash barrel on shore somewhere to throw it away.

The kayak works for this task too.  The cool thing is that after the trash is gone you’re free to go exploring either on foot ashore or in the kayak.

cruising mexico living aboard a sailboat taking out the trash

Time to take out the trash!

Getting the laundry done also means loading it up in the dinghy and then lugging it to a laundromat — that is, if there is a laundromat somewhere nearby!  In most Mexican ports laundry service isn’t hard to find.

cruising life aboard a sailboat hand washing laundry

Everyday we wash yesterday’s clothes in the sink. We wear light clothing around here and it’s an easy task.

Here in Huatulco the laundromat is a cab ride away — in addition to the dinghy ride to shore.  Once you get there a woman washes and folds it for you (for 15 pesos per kilo, or about $4-$5 USD per load).  But you don’t get it back til the next day!!  (Ahem — that means another combo dinghy ride / cab ride to pick the laundry bags up…).  If you splurge and stay at the marina, you can have your laundry picked up and delivered back to the boat for 20 pesos a kilo…

liveaboard cruising mexico drying clothes in the rigging

Luckily there are lots of places to hang the laundry out to dry

So, to avoid the laundry hassle while living on the hook, we’ve found it’s easiest just to wash out yesterday’s clothes in the sink each morning and hang ’em out to dry.  Luckily our clothes down here consist of bathing suits, running shorts and light shirts. We haven’t worn shoes and socks since we got here.

I’ve learned that what gives our clothes that “clean” smell from a washer/dryer is the fact that they don’t get fully rinsed out.  So we always rinse our clothes to a point — but leave enough soap in them so they smell nice after hanging on the line.  Sheets and towels have to wait for real laundry service, however…

living aboard a sailboat cruising mexico changing zincs

Mark gets ready to install new zincs

cruising mexico living on a sailboat bottom cleaning

Tools for the bottom: scraper, new zincs, scotch brite pad…

 

We both keep the bottom of the hull as clean as possible.  In some places (like Zihuatanejo), the barnacles grow so fast you have to scrape the bottom with scrapers every few days.  In other places (like the Sea of Cortez and Huatulco), you can merely wipe the bottom with a towel to get the algae slime off.  It takes a lot of breath to get to the bottom of the keel, though, and Mark is much better at that than I am.  So I do the hull and he gets the keel and scrapes the prop.

Electrolysis in the water, especially at marinas, can eat a prop down to nothing in no time.  So we put sacrificial “zincs” on the prop and shaft that are made of that softer metal.

Living aboard cruising Mexico changing zincs

Screwdriver and zinc in hand, you gotta get down there and get it attached all in one breath.

Cruising on a sailboat in Mexico new zincs

A new zinc is installed on the prop shaft

Over time, these zincs get eaten away by the electrolysis instead, sparing the prop shaft and blades’ slightly harder metal.

However, the zincs are not that easy to install.  Mark makes it look like a piece of cake, completing the task in just a few free dives.  I would be spluttering and drowning and would probably drop the screw driver or the zinc in the sand deep below the boat, never to be found again…

Bountiful fresh water is critical to a comfortable life aboard, and we get our fresh water from a “watermaker” that converts ocean water into drinking water.

Cruising mexico making water with the watermaker underway

We go out to clean deep water to “make water”

This is a rather miraculous system, and our watermaker is enormous by cruising standards, converting 60 gallons of water an hour by pushing it through a strainer first (to remove the fish and sea creatures) then through two filters (to remove the algae) then through two 4′ long high pressure membranes (to remove the salt, bacteria and viruses).

Cruising mexico there is frequent red tide

Wow – clean water!! Such a special treat. Red tide is an unfortunate fact of life on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

The system is rated for 38 gallons an hour, but after the two membranes failed in our first season, the manufacturer (EchoTec) kindly replaced them with high capacity membranes, so now we fill a gallon jug in 63 seconds.  It’s quite thrilling to watch.  Shower water, toilet water and deck cleaning water all go into our holding tanks (140 gallons), but we keep our drinking water in gallon jugs as a habit held over from living in our trailer.

Mark hated the watermaker the first year.  It was a bear to install due to inaccurate manuals, incomplete parts shipped to us, and difficult positions for the various parts in the boat.  Plus, installation required fabricating a bracket to hang the high pressure pump from the engine.

To top it all off, the first membranes we received were dead on arrival.  Then the replacement set failed after four months!  Now, however, with great, working membranes, the watermaker is his pride and joy (“I want to keep it even if we sell the boat someday!” he joked recently).  It is his favorite part of the boat.

cruising mexico in a sailboat EchoTech watermaker

EchoTec’s main watermaker panel. At 800 psi the system pegs at 60 gph.

sailing mexico watermaker installation

Mark runs a hose to the deck to wash it down as we make water

The purity of the water is measured by a TDS meter (“total dissolved solids”), and we found the San Diego water supply at our son’s apartment got readings of 350, and the FDA limit is 500.  Our watermaker usually gives us readings between 75 and 95.

Most boats our size have systems that convert 6-13 gallons an hour.  However, we’ve found the 60-gallon-an-hour flow is fast enough to be able to wash the deck and cockpit with a hose run out a hatch.  This is a real boon at the end of a salty crossing or after sitting in a dusty area for a while.  So, making water and/or washing the cockpit/deck is often on our day’s to-do list.

sailing mexico watermaker 60 gph

60 gallons per hour gives a good flow

Then there’s food.  We are simple eaters, so our diet is pretty plain by most standards.  In Mexico we’ve discovered many familiar foods can be found on store shelves, even if the packaging is in Spanish.

The most common bread available in Mexico is “Bimbo Bread,” which is equivalent to our Wonder Bread.  But it turns out that Mexico’s Bimbo Bakeries actually owns the US brands Oroweat, Arnold, Thomas’s English Muffins and many others.

ex-pat living in mexico buying bread

Oroweat Bread is owned by Mexico’s Bimbo Bakeries

We’ve found Oroweat breads in most supermarkets in Mexico, and the price of around $3 to $3.50 USD is comparable to home.

Mexico cruising ex-pat living cereal

“Azucaradas” sounds & looks like kids’ sugar cereal

mexico cruising sailing blog living aboard quaker cereal

 

It helps to learn some of the basic food terms in Spanish: “avena” (oatmeal), “integral” (whole wheat), “grano entero” (whole grain), “pasas” (raisins) and “azucar” (sugar) are a few.  So when you see a cereal called “Azucaradas” with a crazy, wild zebra on it, you can tell it’s probably a sugar cereal for kids!

In this age of jet-setting food, we’re used to seeing tomatoes from Mexico in the supermarkets in the US, but what a surprise to find Washington apples here in Mexico as well as organically grown California spinach.

 

California organic Spinach is imported into Mexico

Did this spinach bring a passport?

This spinach was a bit wilted (it’s a long flight for a little leaf!), and the price was $6 USD a box. But it’s available.

Bean burritos are a common dinner aboard Groovy.  They’re yummy, easy to make and don’t take a lot of ingredients.  But I was amused when I asked our friend Andrés from southern Mexico if he’d like a bean burrito, and he responded, “Is that an American dish or a Mexican one?”  What we always thought of as being so very Mexican isn’t really…

cruising mexico sailing blog living aboard movies

Matt Damon & Scarlett Johansson – We’ll take it!

At night we often settle in with a movie.  TV reception is non-existent on the boat, but the bootleg DVD industry is alive and well in Mexico.  DVD’s are sold on the street for 20 to 30 pesos apiece ($1.60-$2.40 USD).  The titles often have no resemblance to the English titles, so you go by the actors’ names and hope for the best.  Who knows what this one is, but with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, it oughtta be okay!

Mexico cruising living aboard a sailboat in Huatulco Mexico

Groovy is happily anchored off a lovely resort in Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco

 

 

 

 

So we live rather simply, floating in a tub on the ocean and washing our clothes in the sink!  It’s a crazy life, but lately it has been fabulous.

 

 

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More funny stories from our Mexico cruise + Tips for planning your own sailing cruise

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World Cruising Done Right!

Fixing the boat alternator Mexico cruising blog

Mark fixes our boat in an exotic place

Sailors often say with a sigh that, “Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places.”  While this sounds funny and always elicits a laugh, it is unfortunately a very true statement.

When you cast off the dock lines to go cruising, you are signing up to spend long hours working on your boat.

Paradise Village Marina Sunset

Paradise Village Marina at sunset — dreamy!

The further afield you go, Continue reading

Untying The Lines – A nautical send-off

Sunset Cliffs San Diego California

The beautiful tidepools of Sunset Cliffs in San Diego

The boating world is full of tradition, ritual and quite a bit of superstition.

Of course, any endeavor where you take your life in your hands — or, more accurately, hand your life over to the whims of Mother Nature and King Neptune — is worthy of all kinds of superstition, blind faith and silent prayer.

Certain wise truths are written in the hearts of sailors:

— Never start a voyage on a Friday
— Don’t change a boat’s name
— If there’s a red sky at morning, take warning!

 

Sunset Cliffs View

Sunset Cliffs is a magical place where many people feel great peace
and a strong connection to the universe

Although, in today’s age of science and skepticism, some boaters look a little askance at these pearls of wisdom, all it takes for many to change their minds and take heed is to start a voyage on a Friday and subsequently run into some big challenges at sea.

Along with cracking a bottle of champagne across the bow, some new boat owners go through special ceremonies and rituals to change the names of their boats and circumvent the wrath of the sea gods.

And most sailors, even those on Navy ships, go through unique rites for crossing the Equator for the first time.

 

Sunset Cliffs sentinel rock in the water

It is a place for communing with nature
and expanding your soul…

But I’ve never heard of a nautical ceremony for saying goodbye to your ship, and wishing it fair winds and safe voyage, when you pass its command on to new masters.

As we prepared to leave our sailboat Groovy behind at our broker’s docks in San Diego, she was in as pure and virginal and showroom-ready condition as she would ever be.

The caves at Sunst Cliffs

Down below the cliffs, near the rocky shore,
we had an unusual encounter…

She wasn’t sold yet, but we had moved everything off of her and we were leaving her behind so we could resume our land-based travels in our trailer.

Our truck was ready and waiting in the parking lot, stuffed to the gills with our remaining personal belongings, and we were polishing our way out of the cabin and into the cockpit.

“I want to do something special before we leave,” I said mournfully to Mark.  It didn’t seem right just to walk away from the boat.  I wanted to recognize the occasion somehow, to say goodbye to her, and to wish her well in her future adventures

Suddenly his eyes lit up and he ran off to a dock cart that was overflowing with our last boxes of stuff.  He rummaged through a little container of knick-knacks and then came back into the cockpit.

Living One Vibrational Energy

This little stone came to us in an intriguing way

“I have just the thing,” he said, holding a very round rock out towards me in his palm. Hand painted on its face were the words, “LOVE – Living One Vibrational Energy.”

Some weeks earlier he had been given this odd stone by an intriguing, nature loving, free spirited woman we had met while we were prowling around at nearby Sunset Cliffs.

We had noticed her doing some reverential poses on the rocks, her long hair and soft dress billowing out behind her.  She had seemed to be summoning the spirits of the sea by the water’s edge.

It was a classic California sighting, and we chuckled to ourselves.  But then she turned and began to engage Mark in conversation.

She was loving this day — the ocean and the sky and the beauty of everything — and she wanted to share her good feelings with all the world. Suddenly she cupped her hands around this little stone and pressed it into Mark’s palm. Then she wafted away. He slipped the stone in his pocket, amused and touched by her unusual gift.

A woman on the shore appeared to be invoking the spirits of the sea

A woman on the shore appeared to be invoking the spirits of the sea

Now Mark put the stone in my hand, and I rubbed its round, smooth surface.  There was something appealing about it and the funny way it came to us.

“I’ll toss it in the water right here below the boat,”  he said.  “That will definitely give Groovy good vibes.”

With that, he knelt down by the hull while I grabbed my camera.  He held the out stone and let it fall.

Such a simple gesture.  Such a fleeting moment.

But the gravity of it caught us both off guard.  Suddenly we were embracing, tears in our eyes.

Going...

We devise an impromptu goodbye ceremony for Groovy

A neighbor on a newly purchased Hunter 46 spotted us from his cockpit.  His Mexico cruise was still ahead of him, and for the few days we had been docked side by side, he had been as excited about loading up his boat up with goodies as we had been about unloading gear from ours.

“It has to be bittersweet…” he said as we walked past him on the docks.  His bright smile oozed happy anticipation of his own adventures ahead.

We nodded with a sniffle and trudged up towards the truck.

Throwing Stone 2

.

We promptly bumped into our broker who greeted us with a great big salesman’s grin.

But his expression changed to a look of surprise when he saw us blowing our noses and wiping our eyes.

“I guess you really loved your boat!”  He said incredulously.  “So many people just hand me the keys and say, ‘Sell it!'”

Not so with the Groovy boat. She was our little home on the sea, a fabulous cruising platform and our dream boat.

I have never cried when I moved out of any other home.  I have always been excited to leave.  I’ve never felt a deep emotional attachment to any house I’ve owned. But saying goodbye to our little pad on the water was really hard for both of us.

We had poured our hearts and souls into making her as ideal for living aboard at anchor as possible. We had lovingly polished every inch of her, inside and out, over and over, and we had worked on every system, from the tiniest pump to the largest sail.

Sitting in Groovy's transom lockers

Groovy was a wonderful little floating home for us.

That’s the way it is with boats.  You get to know them on a very intimate level!

She had delivered handsomely on all the promise we had seen in her when we first laid eyes on her.  Steadfast and secure, she had taken us to all kinds of new sights and experiences, in safety and in style.

With hopes that some caring new owners will discover her and be as inspired by her as we were, we waved goodbye from the top of the dock ramp and climbed into our truck

There were lumps in our throats as we drove the city streets out onto the highway in the morning light.  But by the time we crested the hills that separate the lush coast of San Diego from the desert to the east, we were smiling again and talking excitedly about the future.  We had closed a beautiful chapter in our lives and were now turning the page to see what would happen next.

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Groovy

 

On the Road to your Dreams, Stay the Course!

Driving in Utah brings one jaw-dropping view after another...

Yet another breathtaking drive in Utah. For us it was worth it
to give up our stuff for endless scenic drives like this.

Getting up the guts to untie the dock lines and go cruising, or to drive out of the driveway and hit the road in an RV full-time, is often the hardest part of starting a new life of adventure and travel.

Once you’ve set up camp a few times in your rig, or dropped the hook a few times along the coast, new patterns begin to get established and eventually the new lifestyle becomes routine.

But taking that first step — saying goodbye to all that is familiar and comfortable — can be truly frightening.

 

 

Pangas in Huatulco

Before we began cruising in our sailboat,
we knew nothing about Mexico.

Before we started full-time RVing in 2007, I used to sit in our home and gaze out the window and wonder how in the world we would ever be able to leave home and go live in a trailer.

A life on the road sounded so thrilling, but in many ways it seemed so impossible to achieve. Our house “needed us” to keep everything running right…would tenants trash the place?  Our friends and family were all staying put…would our relationships survive the long distances and time apart?  And we had so much stuff (and it was good stuff too!)…would we regret letting it go?

Sunrise in Puerto Balandra

We didn’t have sunsets like this in our neighborhood back home!
Puerto Balandra in the Sea of Cortez

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we sold off almost all of our belongings and put the rest in a shed behind a friend’s house, a mixture of terror and excitement filled our hearts.

 

Rainbow over fifth wheel

A rainbow over our rig in Flaming Gorge Utah

When we drove out of our neighborhood the last time, we headed 1,000 miles east with all our remaining worldly possessions in the back of our truck.

We were on our way to pick up a new rolling home that we had purchased online — sight unseen — and we were both utterly thrilled.

But at the same time a tiny voice inside asked, “what have we done?”

When we arrived at the RV dealership outside Dallas, we discovered our brand new trailer had been sitting on the lot for a year and was full of black mold under the fridge.

Cathedral Gorge, Nevada

We found this fascinating place (Cathedral Gorge)
while driving down the road in Nevada!

Holy cow!! What had we just done?

On our first trip to a laundromat, Mark looked at me glumly. “So this is it from now on,” he said.  “Laundromats… I used to have a really nice washer and dryer of my own!”

Oh dear… What in the world had we just done?

We can look back at those early days now and laugh.

In the end, Marshall’s RV Center was very upstanding and replaced our trailer with a fresh-off-the-line unit that was perfect in every respect.

 

 

Natural Bridges National Monument

A great spot to sit for a spell — Natural Bridges, Utah.

And we gradually got used to laundromats, and now enjoy doing three (or four, or five) loads of laundry simultaneously.

We returned to our home when we had been on the road for four years, and after just 10 days of painting and repairing, the place looked better than when we lived there ourselves!

After six years on the road, we returned again to do the same thing, with the same result. Maybe our home “needed us,” but apparently in small doses!

But what a lot of panicky feelings we went through on the way to those happy endings!

 

Cathedral steeples in Guanajuato

We had no idea our sailboat would introduce us to
sights like this in Guanajuato, Mexico

I think these kinds of mixed emotions and rocky beginnings are common among many new full-timers and cruisers.

As one friend wrote to me in an email during his final weeks before he left San Diego to cruise Mexico: “This is a confusing time, as we have wanted to do this for a long time, but getting ready is very stressful. Everything about it is scary.”

Emotions run extraordinarily high as you force yourself to let go of almost every material thing you’ve ever held dear, often for ten cents on the dollar, or less, at garage sales.

 

Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains

Leaving behind familiarity, comfort and stability, we opened our lives to
experience the beauty and wonder of places like Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

How hard it is to see your precious things get snatched up by vulturous yard-salers.

And — for cruisers especially — how frightening it is to see all the money you have carefully saved all your life, dollar by dollar, suddenly flying out of your bank account thousand by thousand.

No one REALLY told you that this is what outfitting your boat for self-sufficiency and safety in third-world countries would be all about… did they?

 

A fawn

A fawn stops to look at us

This preparation phase can shake you to the core.

Yet if you don’t hold fast to your dream, and march through these transitional days with strong resolve, you can’t ever open yourself to the new life that awaits you on the other side.

If your heart soars at the idea of sailing off over the horizon, or you long to sample a more exotic life on the road, pursuing that dream will ultimately push you out of your comfort zone. Only by accepting that can you escape the “same old same old.”

If you get scared, and give in, and give up before you ever get going, you are effectively saying your dream isn’t worthwhile.

Dreams are flighty and delicate. They flit around us like butterflies on a warm summer day, hard to pin down, and quick to fly off out of sight.

playing guitar on a boat

A tranquil moment at anchor aboard Groovy

Reaching out to catch our dreams can be a stretch. But we have to take that leap of faith, and sometimes even suffer a little scary uncertainty, if we want to make them come true.

Ironically, after six years on the road, three in a fifth wheel and three in a sailboat, Mark and I find ourselves right where we started, as we rearrange our lives to support our new dreams.

We are giving up cruising, resuming full-time RVing, and we plan on traveling in other ways too.

For all those wonderful things to happen, though, we have to make some big changes.

Santiago Sunrise

Glorious sunrises are routine in Manzanillo Bay!

For starters, we need to sell everything we bought for the boat, and sell the boat too.

Over the past few weeks, we have held a daily Cockpit Sale aboard Groovy in San Diego and sold off piles of wonderful cruising gear

How great it is that we never needed our EPIRB (emergency radio beacon) or spare storm anchor or spare macerator pump.

But how hard it is to let them go for half of what we paid.

 

An all day every day cockpit sale on Groovy.

An all day every day cockpit sale on Groovy.

It is not quite as hard as getting rid of a 25 year accumulation of stuff like we did when we started full-timing, but it entails the same mixed sense of loss — and of growing freedom.

To make things even more complicated, our tenants’ lease on our home is up and they have moved out.

We like to choose who lives in our home, so this new wrinkle has forced us to dash to Phoenix to tidy up the place and find new people to live there.

Saguaro cactus in the clouds

A saguaro cactus stands amid
monsoon clouds in Arizona

 

 

 

Putting the Cockpit Sale on hold for a bit, we are now in Phoenix, sleeping on an air mattress and using paper plates and plastic utensils in our empty home, as we clean and repair little things and show the place to prospective tenants.

All of our incredible travels suddenly seem like a distant dream. Stranger still, I am now gazing out the windows of our former home, and I am wondering how in the world we will ever get from here into our next phase of life.

The anchorage at Las Hadas Resort

I never imagined we would anchor in places like this —
Las Hadas Resort in Manzanillo Mexico.

I can envision it, but it seems worlds away.

Gorgeous red rocks at Capitol Reef Utah

Gorgeous red rocks at Capitol Reef Utah

 

We need tenants.

We need a boat buyer.

We need to sell the rest of our cruising stuff and downsize back into our trailer.

The key, I think, both for first-timers and for folks like us that are making a midstream adjustment to their traveling lifestyle, is to Stay the Course.

I’ve said this to lots of people who have emailed me in a panic in the last weeks before they take off on their dream adventure. Now it is time for us to remind ourselves of this important message too!!

The beauty of full-timing is that we can boondock among Utah's red rocks as long as we like.

The beauty of full-timing is that we can boondock among Utah’s red rocks as long as we like.

hobie mirage i14t tandem inflatable kayak

First days with our super fun kayak in Florida

When we were going through our initial big sell-off, before we moved into our trailer, my mom asked me how I could part with so much of my personal memorabilia.

In a way, purging all that stuff was like clearing out a place in my own soul.

Only by letting go of it all could I make room for new memories, new experiences and new thrills.

 

porta-bote portabote

Mark and his son check out our slick new porta-bote.

If I clung too tightly to my past, I wouldn’t have room for the future.

And so it is now as I watch other people walk away from our boat with our fins, our cruising guides, our kayak, our dive tanks, our cool portable VHF radio and our dinghy.

Each holds precious memories — both of choosing the gear in anticipation of our cruise and of putting it to use in Mexico — and in each item I see a younger and more innocent me who embraced our cruising life with such enthusiasm.

Groovy anchored in Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco

Groovy anchored in Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco

Now it is time to let it all go.

We could try to keep all that stuff — we might use some of it again — but our new life is still on the road, and there is absolutely no room for any of it in our already full fifth wheel trailer.

If we need any of it in the future, we can buy it again.  That may not be the most cost-effective approach, but at least we won’t have had to lug it around with us either.

 

 

Big hole Montana boondocking

A rainbow over our rig in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley

Likewise, as I sit between our home’s bare walls and wonder when those wonderful new prospective tenants we’re waiting for will suddenly walk in the door and fall in love with our place, I have to dig deep for the faith that they will indeed show up, that they will truly love our home, and that they will pay the rent on time.

A big part of having a dream and pursuing it is also having the faith that all the pieces will fall into place and allow it to come true.

For three straight weeks we have turned into expert salesmen, day in and day out, selling everything we have right out from under us, from tarps and fishing gear to a lease on our home.

Standing on a corner

Standin’ on the corner in Winslow Arizona

But this uncertainty, and these weird feelings, and this soul searching are all part of the process.  They are the small toll we must pay to transit the gate to where our dream lifestyle not only resumes but takes flight.

Once past all this, once our new adventures get going, I now know that I will eventually look back on these days and remember this younger me, gazing out these very same windows, wondering how it will all come together.

I will look back, too, and remember how, beneath my nervousness, I was so full of anticipation, expectation and hope.

Sunrise in Huatulco

Good monring sunshine!

 

If you are working towards a dream of escape, and putting together the many pieces that will go into a new life of full-time travel, remember: Stay the Course.

When things get a little emotional, and you question your own sanity, and you wonder if giving up your current life for a fragile dream will be worth it in the end, have faith in your vision.

If you are like us, with wanderlust and adventure in your soul, imagine yourself in your final years. Which will be most fulfilling to reminisce about, a lifetime of possessions or a lifetime of experiences?

When you fear your dream may not work out, believe — with all your heart — that your innermost yearnings and your deepest desires are right for you.

You will cherish the days when those intangible longings have become the very essence of your day to day life.

 

_______________________________________________

New to this site? Heading off on a life of adventure? Welcome – and please stay a while!  These links will help you figure out what’s where: 

Cruisers start here and RVers start here

 

Leaky Batteries = Ruined Gear… Arghhh!!!!

Kirkland AA Batteries

Before we left to go cruising, we stocked up on AA, AAA and 9v batteries.  We have lots of electronic gear that relies on these batteries, and we wanted to be sure to have plenty of spares.

So when we were in Costco and saw the huge packs of batteries, it was a no-brainer to throw a few packs in the cart and keep moving.  Little did we know that these batteries would eventually cause us all kinds of grief.

Electronic weather station 301

After suffering battery leaks, the outdoor sensor on this weather station stopped communicating reliably…

 

 

As many cruisers eventually do, we left our boat Groovy in the tropics for the hurricane season.  For seven months, we traveled around the mountains in the western US while Groovy was tied up at the dock in Marina Chiapas, Mexico, in sweltering humidity.  How hot and humid was it?  It made Houston in July seem cool and dry!!

When we returned, the boat was in tip-top shape.  We were amazed.  Both the exterior and the interior of the boat looked like we had just gotten off it the day before.  However, our little portable electronic devices were hiding something…

The first thing we noticed was that the outdoor sensor on our electronic indoor-outdoor weather station was no longer communicating with the indoor display.  Mark took it all apart and discovered the AA batteries had leaked all over the interior of the unit.  He cleaned it up as best he could, and got it working, but it failed again and again over the following ten months of our cruise.

More frustrating was that his favorite high-end and expensive LED flashlight couldn’t turn on.  Opening the battery compartment, he found that the AA batteries had leaked all over the interior and were stuck fast inside.  There was no way to pry the batteries out.  This fabulous flashlight that had been used just a few times went in the trash.

Sangean AT-909 ssb radio provisioning

This Sangean AT-909 portable SSB radio had leaky batteries, but was not damaged — thank goodness!!

Mark quickly hunted down every piece of battery operated gear we could find on the boat and checked out the batteries.  All the batteries were leaking.

Many items were salvageable by swabbing the battery compartment with rubbing alcohol and replacing the batteries.  We had stored our spare batteries in a ziploc bag, and they were not leaking in the bag.  But a few other pieces of electronic gear were lost to these leaky batteries.

Part of the problem may be that the cheap Kirkland alkaline batteries aren’t made all that well.  We recently discovered the website http://batteriesandbutter.com which looks to be a great place to buy batteries in bulk.

We were intrigued to see that they list where each battery brand and model they sell is manufactured.  Even with name-brand batteries like Duracell, it turns out you can buy cheaper Chinese-made Duracell batteries or USA-made Duracell batteries for a slightly higher price.  Who knew?

The other problem is that we should not have left the boat for so long with the batteries sitting inside of any piece of gear.  This is common knowledge, but in the excitement of packing up, stowing things, and wiping down every surface with vinegar to prevent mold from growing, it was easy to forget to remove the batteries from everything, including the clock on the wall and the flashlight in the ditch bag.

I hope our mistake will help you avoid this problem on your cruise!!

Living, Loving and Perfecting “The Dream”

Sailing Groovy

Happy days aboard Groovy!

June 2013 – We’ve been living the Good Life here at Paradise Village Marina in Puerto Vallarta for three months now. Wow!

This is a wonderful place to hang out, and lots of folks stay for years at a time. But the reason we have stayed here so long is actually because we’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and thinking about our next move.

Bahia Concepcion, Sea of Cortez

Bahia Concepcion, Sea of Cortez

 

 

 

Heaven on earth at Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco

Heaven on earth at Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco

We’ve had an unbelievable run of good fortune and exciting times this past year.

Last summer in our trailer, and this past winter in our sailboat, we were gifted with one beautiful experience after another.

Groovy Isla Coyote, Sea of Cortez

Groovy at Isla Coyote, Sea of Cortez

The jewel box interior of Morelia's Our Lady of Guadelupe church.

The jewel box interior of Morelia’s
Our Lady of Guadelupe church.

It seems that everywhere we went we met kind and caring people who quickly became friends.

All year long we have been pinching ourselves, saying, “Is this all possible? Are we really living this life?”

It may seem strange, but on that very high note we have decided to make a huge change in our lives and take Groovy back to California and gradually close the cruising chapter of our travels.

After sailing up and down Mexico’s west coast several times, we have fulfilled our cruising dreams completely — and then some.

 

Monte Alban - the first ancient pyramid ruins we ever saw

Monte Alban – How stirring it is to see these ancient pyramids.

Throughout our travels this past year, in the background, behind all our exhilarating escapades, we have been digging deep in our hearts and pondering all the different ways we could move forward with our cruising lifestyle.

Cruising is a unique way to travel. Even though you move from place to place, the focus is always ultimately on the boat and the process of boating rather than on the destinations you visit.

Groovy anchored at Isla Coronado in the Sea of Cortez

Groovy anchored at Isla Coronado in the Sea of Cortez

As one seasoned cruiser told me before we started our sailing adventure,

“The boat takes up the majority of our budget and the majority of our time.”

We have found that to be true!

When we started cruising we had already traveled full-time by RV for two-and-a-half years.

We thought that cruising would be much the same as RVing, just doing it on the water instead of land.

Sea of Cortez

Sea of Cortez – RVing on water?

Colorful Bahia Careyes on the Costalegre

Colorful Bahia Careyes on the Costalegre

But we have found that while RVing is all about the destinations we visit, cruising is largely about the boat.

Why is the boat such an important part of cruising while an RV is so much less important in RVing?

Because a cruising boat is a very complicated vehicle.

The boat’s Plumber, Electrician and Mechanic are all very busy people as they work to keep the boat’s power plant, water treatment plant, sewage plant, mechanical propulsion system and wind propulsion system all functioning.

Aboard Groovy, my sweet hubby Mark filled all these roles while I concentrated on navigation and sailing the boat.

Barra de Navidad, a favorite cruiser hangout.

Barra de Navidad, a favorite cruiser hangout.

Needless to say, we were both very busy, but Mark bore the brunt of the responsibility of keeping us afloat, and it weighed heavily on his shoulders.

Unlike a sailaboat, an RV, especially a trailer, has very simple systems that rarely require any maintenance or repair.

In addition to the boat itself being more complicated than an RV, living aboard a boat at anchor is infinitely more complex than living in an RV anywhere.

In the cruising life, simple day-to-day tasks like provisioning, doing laundry and getting around require forethought, planning and time.

A spotted eagle ray soars over the sand in Huatulco

A spotted eagle ray soars over the sand in Huatulco

They often involve dinghy rides, crazy beach landings, intense study of the weather forecasts and all-night travelJust showering is an adventure!!

And then there’s the simple maintenance of cleaning. After every sailing passage the entire boat would be covered with salt crystals, and although it was sometimes a fun adventure to swab the decks underway, it was still a chore that had to be done regularly!

Not only did the decks need swabbing, but barnacles needed to be scraped off the bottom of the boat every few days. Every time I jumped over the side to snorkel and enjoy the reef fish, I took a few tools too so I could to spend an hour cleaning the hull!

One huge surprise was the crazy noises at night. Nevermind the live bands that played at the resorts lining every beach in every anchorage, but the fish were surprisingly loud too! This often made sleeping a challenge, as the boat rolled relentlessly in almost every bay.

One of our favorite pastimes - swimming and playing on the back of the boat.

One of our favorite pastimes – swimming and playing
on the back of the boat.

In contrast, in the RV lifestyle you’ve always got wheels to get around, the weather plays a much less important role in travel planning, you can let a few weeks go between rig washings, and nighttime is for sleeping.

Therefore, out of necessity, Travel, in the traditional sense of sightseeing, mingling with the locals and becoming immersed in a new culture, is a secondary focus in the cruising lifestyle.

Sunrise in Santiago

Santiago – Land of Sunrises!

In our sailing travels we’ve found the happiest cruisers are those that have a deep and lasting passion for everything to do with boats and boating. Many are skilled handymen who love working in, on and around boats as well.

We love our boat Groovy. It is our dream boat in every sense: beautiful, sleek, well engineered, meticulously maintained, easy to sail, and as comfortable as a sailboat of its size could possibly be.

We have poured our hearts and souls into making it ultra-efficient for long-term life afloat at anchor.

Misol-Ha waterfall in Chiapas

Misol-Ha waterfall in Chiapas

However, as we have cruised Mexico for the past three and a half years, we’ve discovered we are actually more passionate about Travel than we are about Boating.

We are drawn towards seeing the sights, spending time with the locals, taking photographs and writing about our adventures. Time spent working on the boat and on the logistics of our lifestyle afloat often feels like time away from what we really wanted to be doing: traveling.

Our recent phenomenal trip to Guanajuato was a peak experience we’d love to repeat over and over. We absolutely loved our visit there. But Guanajuato is nowhere near the coast and has nothing to do with sailing, the sea, boats or living aboard. How do you put all this together?

As we spread out our maps of Mexico and Central America and studied our options for cruising beyond Mexico’s border, we pinpointed the many fabulous destinations we wanted to go see and then thought long and hard about whether it would be best to travel there by sailboat or to go another way.

Guanajuato city street

Guanajuato, like no other!

It turned out that most of our bucket-list locations were well inland from the coast and not easily reached by boat. Cruising south just doesn’t make sense for us.

If we could use the boat for just three months each winter and leave it inexpensively and with confidence that it would not deteriorate during the rest of the year and need loads of work upon our return, we might continue cruising.

Sailing Groovy

Sailing Groovy

Then we could enjoy all the things we do love about boating each winter. However, that’s not possible, at least not in the areas we’ve explored that are within a reasonable distance of Pacific Mexico.

We will miss the lively day-sailing we’ve had in Huatulco, Acapulco, Zihuatanejo and near Loreto. It will be really sad to give up swimming off the back of the boat and living in our tiny home in the middle of beautiful tropical bays.

However, we have lived that dream — and loved it — and we have three-and-a-half years of vibrant memories, tens of thousands of photos, and hundreds of stories that we bring away from the experience.

 

Palenque - an evocative and mystical place of the ancients

Palenque – An evocative and mystical place of the ancients that fascinated us.

So we have made the most of our time in Puerto Vallarta as we have waited for July to approach. The 1,100 miles between here and San Diego are a very difficult voyage.

Sailors call it the “Baja Bash” because it can be a very long, scary, miserable and dangerous slog directly into huge winds and waves. After making the trip last month, a cruiser said simply: “I thought I was going to die.”

The advice from experienced sailors that have made this trip many times is that the best months to go are July and November.

Agua Verde anchorage, Sea of Cortez

Agua Verde anchorage, Sea of Cortez

We are waiting for a weather window to make the first 280 mile (48 hour) jump across the Sea of Cortez to Cabo San Lucas. From there we will take it section by section, trying to catch the best conditions we can as we make our way up the 850-mile coast.

If this post has surprised you, or saddened you or just seems strange, because you thought we would be out cruising “forever” — or at least a lot longer than three and a half years — here are some parting thoughts:

In the end, going cruising is all about dream fulfillment. The most important thing is to HAVE a dream and then to make it come true.

Beach time at Playa San Agustin in Huatulco.

Beach time at Playa San Agustin in Huatulco.

The thrill of having a dream and making it come true is being able to live it, to live WITH it, and to find its true essence.

Only when you are actually living your dream, day in and day out, can you decide which parts of it are dreamy and which parts need a little adjustment.

Many people allow themselves to be scared away from pursuing their biggest dreams. The fear that pens them in is fear of the unknown.

However, if you don’t jump into your dream with both feet, you’ll never know what that dream might have become once you wrestled with its limitations and figured out how to make it even better.

 

Enjoying some sweetie time in the romantic hot tub at Paradise Villaage resort.

Enjoying some sweetie time in the wonderfully romantic hot tub at Paradise Villaage resort.

It is said that cruising is about “The Journey,” and in our experience the most important journey you end up taking is one that goes within.

It is a journey where you learn a little more about who you are and what you truly want out of life.

As we have lived our cruising dream, we have learned that we are Travelers more than we are Cruisers. It took us a while to understand this.

While we love doing both, our preference is to spend our time seeing new sights and experiencing other cultures rather than taking care of and living on a boat. We can’t wait to see Mexico’s Caribbean side — by plane, bus and hotel!

 

The sun sets before our overnight passage.

The sun sets before an overnight passage.

Once we get settled in San Diego, we will be offering our beloved boat Groovy for sale so she can continue her own adventures with new hands on her helm.  She has been our “dream boat” in every way.

We so appreciate all of you who follow our travels. We have many many more adventures ahead, not least of which is this upcoming voyage (yikes!).  We should have internet in many locations along the Baja California coast, and we expect the trip to take about three weeks, so stay tuned for more stories from the sea and for many future land-based capers!

Note added later: Our Baja Bash trip had exciting moments but went very well in the end. Here’s the story:

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For more comparisons of the cruising and RVing lifestyles, see the two articles I wrote for Escapees Magazine, “RVing by Land and Sea” and “Life Afloat and On the Road” which are about 1/2 way down this page in the Other Articles section.

Oh, That’s Just Swell! – Life on a Boat that ROLLS At Anchor!!

A container ship rolls in the swell in Manzanillo Mexico

The container ship rolled slower than this, but I can only imagine what it felt and sounded like inside!!
Notice that there are no visible waves!!

It is rare — no, it’s nearly impossible — on Mexico’s Pacific coast to find an anchorage where the boat stays flat. The direction of the wind, the tides and the ocean swell conspire to keep the boat in constant motion, endlessly pitching and rolling and ignoring all pleas from the crew to “Please Stop and Let Me Get Off!!”

It’s not that big a big deal during the day.  If we’re on the boat, we’re busy doing things.  Of course, sometimes we get caught off guard in the middle of something that requires coordination — like pouring a hot cup of coffee, standing on one foot while putting on a bathing suit, or walking up the companionway stairs carrying his-and-hers lunch plates in both hands.  The boat will suddenly lurch to one side and the coffee will spill all over the floor, or I’ll topple over with one foot stuck in my bathing suit, flailing helplessly as I go down, or the lunch plates will fly off in all directions as I try my best not to get too many bruises bouncing down the stairs to the floor.

At night, however, it’s another story.  The offshore winds at night in Pacific Mexico almost always turn the boat so it is beam to the sea, and it seems to me that the swell always picks up too.  So, even if during the day the swell was mild and the boat was taking the rolls on the nose, gently pitching from front to back, at night (like clockwork after the sun goes down) the boat turns and the side-to-side rolling begins.  Finding a comfortable sleeping position can be a good challenge.  On my side, I find myself rocking forward and backward, over and over.  A better position is either on my back or my front, arms and legs stretched wide on either side for stabilization.  The starfish position!  Get two people doing this in one bunk and… well, it’s a little like the game of Twister.

On more tumultuous nights, the doors, bulkheads and stairs creak with every roll. Sometimes an errant flashlight or coke can begins to roll back and forth on a shelf or in the fridge, banging at either end of its path. Thud, thud, thud.  What the heck is that noise?  Our ears perk up, listening for each thud as our bodies rock around around in bed.  Then we’ll find ourselves doing an hour’s worth of cat-and-mouse hunting, as we try to figure out what’s making the noise and squelch it. Sometimes the sound is in a cockpit locker, making for a naked dash outside to repack the locker so everything stays put.

Sometimes the boat plays games with us at night.  As it swings at anchor it faces beam to the sea for a while and then swings to face bow to the sea, moving in a slow 90 degree arc back and forth all night long.  When the boat finally turns all the way so the swell is on the bow, the side to side motion suddenly stops.  Ahh… such sweet relief!  We sink back into delicious oblivion and sleep steels over us.  For a few seconds.  Then the boat gradually swings back on its arc to put the beam towards the sea, and the noise and motion begin once again.

Anchoring all over the west coast of Mexico, we’ve become apprentices in the fine art of taking a shower on board, which can be an adventure unto itself, as well as landing a dinghy on the beach, which is frequently a true water sport of the wettest kind!

When we visited friends in the Las Hadas Resort Anchorage and stood on their balcony enjoying the view of Manzanillo Bay, we suddenly noticed a container ship leaning way over on its side.  Wow!  We watched for a few seconds and it slowly rolled all the way over to the other side.  Holy Mackerel!  What was it like to be on that ship, and what did all those containers sound like as the boat moved?  I don’t know, but it sure makes a great animation to watch from a solid foundation on sweet Terra Firma.

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Other blog posts that give a glimpse of what it’s like to live on a sailboat:

What Is It Like to go Cruising on a Sailboat in Mexico?! – Insights for planning a sailing cruise of Mexico

Our most recent posts:

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Go Fish! – Some wild ways to catch dinner – It’s for the birds!!

Osprey & frigate bird in flight.

Osprey & frigate bird in flight.

One of the unexpected joys in cruising Mexico has been getting to know the wildlife around us. The birds, in particular, are fascinating to watch (as long as they don’t build nests in our boom or soil our decks too much!!).

Osprey in flight

Osprey

And one thing that has surprised me is how many different techniques they use to catch fish.

Osprey were familiar to us from north of Mexico, and we’ve heard their piercing cry up and down the west coast and in Maine. They like to fish feet-first, swooping down to the water and grabbing their prey with their fuzzy taloned feet (here’s a cool video).

 

Frigate bird on wire

Frigate bird

Frigate bird Flying

These guys have a bright red neck
pouch they puff up to impress
the girls!!

Less familiar to us were frigate birds, which we first saw when we started sailing south along the Baja coast. Several played all night long trying to land on our mast!

These prehistoric looking birds fish by skimming along the surface and dipping their long beaks in the water to pluck their prey from the surface. It looks slick (when it works), although it’s less dramatic than the ospreys. However, it doesn’t seem to be all that effective!

So frigates frequently steal fish from other smaller birds – mid-air!

Tern sitting on rock

Tern on a rock

Tern flying

A tern in flight

Terns are terrific fishermen and flyers. They dive beak first and then fly like mad to take their fish somewhere they can eat in peace.

But the frigate birds often gang up on them, hassling them to drop their fish.

The flying displays and dog-fights in these disputes is awe-inspiring. The terns are incredible aerialists, ducking, dodging and darting about, but the bigger and slower frigates usually win, forcing them to drop their catch.

Pelican flying

Pelican scopes out dinner.

Pelican in water

Post-dinner satisfaction.

Pelicans were familiar to us before we started cruising. They soar high above the water and then fold in their wings tight against their bodies as they start their dive. By the time they hit the water they are streamlined to the shape of a javelin.

When a flock of pelicans attacks a school of fish near us, the sky and water look like they’re filled with flying swords. The funny part is when they tip their heads back and gulp down the fish they have caught. Sometimes you can see the fish wriggling down their neck!!

Brown booby flying

Booby

 

Booby on turtle

A Booby rides a sea turtle
It’s a “turtle-bird” !!

Boobies were new to us. They are stout, ungainly birds, and they, too, dive headfirst. When they hit the surface it sounds like a huge boulder landing in the water.

When we first heard a flock of boobies fishing around our boat, we ran out on deck because we thought someone was throwing big rocks at us!

Oddly, these guys barely penetrate the water. They must be extremely buoyant because they seem to penetrate only up to their shoulders. Their tails splash and wag in the air as they right themselves.

Cormorant

Cormorant – free diver!

Cormorants, however, are not buoyant in the least. They are excellent free divers, going quite deep and far. As a small child growing up on the north coast of Boston, Massachuestts, I fondly remember a game I played with my great uncle. We’d count how long the cormorants stayed under water, and we’d guess where they’d pop up again. Some never seemed to resurface!!

Cormorants have much denser bones than all other birds, and their feathers aren’t water resistant. This weighs them down and helps them stay under water longer. A common sight we see is cormorants standing on rocks with their wings spread out to dry!!

Snowy Egret with fish

Snowy Egret
Doesn’t get one feather wet!

 

 

Snowy Egret

Snowy egret in the waves

Egrets are the opposite. Their long legs let them wade into the water and never get a feather wet. Snowy egrets have wonderful bright yellow feet and some very fluffy and decorative feathers that would look just terrible if they ever got wet.

They manage to fish from the shore with great success, tip-toeing in and out of the waves with ease.

It has struck me, watching all the leggy shore birds that scamper in and out of the waves for dinner, that they know as much about wave mechanics and wave sets as world class surfers do.

Fisherman

When you don’t have wings.

Of course, humans don’t fly, but we’ve developed our own fishing tactics over the years. Many modern human fishing techniques aren’t very green or planet-friendly, but one of our favorite sights on the Mexican coast is watching the fishermen ply the waters with their nets in an age-old technique that is used the world over.

 

 

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Snap, Crackle, Pop – Fishy Sounds from Deep Under Our Boat!

Mexico cruising ecosystem under the boat

– A school of fish swims under Groofy’s hull and keel –
We always have a complete ecosystem living under the boat!!

April 17, 2013 – No matter how remote the anchorage, Groovy is never alone in the water. We are always playing host to a whole ecosystem around us! And these creatures aren’t particularly quiet. One of the craziest things about living on a sailboat at anchor is just how noisy it gets at night!

We can’t hear the cacophony on deck and don’t notice the noise while we’re watching movies or listening to music. But once the lights are off and we’re lying still in bed, the noise level is astonishing.

The most common sound we hear is a crackling noise like bacon sizzling in a frying pan. This popping sound engulfs the whole boat and is often very loud down below. Puzzled by it at first, we had to do quite a bit of research to track it down. We discovered it is made by snapping shrimp (also known as “pistol shrimp”).

These tiny little guys live in nooks and crannies on the ocean floor. They are like ordinary shrimp, although quite small, and one of their claws is a very special weapon. This claw can be cocked open and then slammed shut with such force that a huge air bubble shoots out. When this bubble collapses — almost instantaneously — a loud POP is produced. The noise is enough for the shrimp to stun and kill its prey! Here is a wonderful website describing snapping shrimp, as well as a brief and cute YouTube documentary where you can hear the sound snapping shirmp make, and a YouTube explanation of the science and acoustics behind the shrimp’s snap.

Snapping shrimp aren’t the only noisemakers, however.  Down south in Zihuatanejo‘s nutrient rich waters, Groovy grows a long grass skirt almost overnight, and the ecosystem living under the boat blossoms into an entire city. We often hear the swishing sound of fish attacking the tiny crabs that have taken up residence in the seaweed on the hull, and the fishermen in Zihuatanejo and Huatulco love to cast their nets under our boat in late afternoons and early mornings to catch these fish. On a regular basis we get woken up by the sound of a fishing net hitting the hull!

During our six months up north in Ensenada, we heard a completely different and unique sound every night: a honking kind of a noise that made us go up on deck at first to see if it was a fog horn. But all was quiet on deck. The noise was only in the cabin. The honking would go on for about ten minutes, starting far away from the boat and then getting closer and closer, and then drifting away again. We never did figure out what it was, but it seemed to be some kind of fish. He visited us around 9:00 or 10:00 every night for months. We had forgotten all about this noise until we heard it again on the Costalegre recently, some three years later. It had the same pattern, honking at 10 second intervals, growing louder and louder and then fading away.

Perhaps the best aquatic noise of the night we’ve ever heard, though, was when we were anchored in Puerto Marques outside Acapulco. Lying in bed the night before we left, we both bolted upright when we heard the strangest, eeriest, squeakiest kind of wailing noise. What the heck? We dashed up on deck to see what it was, but could hear nothing out there. Returning to the cabin, we heard it again, plain as day: a kind of haunting singing. Suddenly we both knew: it was whales! We climbed back in bed, and listened for hours, eventually falling asleep to the mysterious songs of these magical creatures. A few of them must have swum into our little bay. When we awoke in the morning the sounds were gone.

Last spring, when we returned to our trailer and first set up camp in the northern Arizona woods, we were really startled by the deafening silence and our utterly stationary bed. There were no popping noises of snapping shrimp, or swishes of fish gobbling crabs from the hull, no singing whales or creaking bulkheads.  All was still and silent.

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Other blog posts that give a glimpse of what it’s like to live on a sailboat:

More funny stories from our Mexico cruise + Tips for planning your own sailing cruise

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU above.