Divorced Eggs…?!

Pollo Asado on the street

This pollo asado stand is very popular in La Manzanilla!

One of the things many travelers love about Mexico is the delicious food.  For us, the street food is the most fun.  We have enjoyed many a meal of fish tacos or carne asada (grilled beef) tacos from a street cart.

Sometimes we’re lucky and find a fabulous pollo asado (grilled chicken) dinner made right in front of us on the sidewalk over coals in a metal half-barrel turned on its side.

This kind of food is pretty low risk in terms of knowing what we’re getting.  If there is a large crowd of local patrons eating enthusiastically, and a long line of eager customers waiting to be served, the food has to be good.  Even better, we can see what the meal is before it lands on our plates!

Roasted chicken pollo rostisado

It’s nice to know what will be on your plate!

Going to a sit-down restaurant and ordering off the menu is a whole different story, though.  If the restaurant caters strictly to the locals, we’ve found the menu is often indecipherable without a Spanish/English dictionary.

There is an awful lot of unfamiliar vocabulary packed into Mexican restaurant menus!  To make things even harder, many dishes have names that don’t show up in a standard dictionary.

Carne Asada Tacos from Las Brisas in Ensenada

Tasty carne asada tacos.

Usually we end up ordering something recommended by the waiter, and we find out what it really is only after it arrives at the table.

In the restaurants in the tourist areas, however, there is usually an English version of the menu, or at least an English translation appearing near each item.  Thank goodness!

Once in a while, though, there is something on the menu — on the English side — that sounds just a little funky in translation.

The first few times we went out for a big breakfast at a nice place, I found myself scratching my head when I reviewed the various options for eggs.

Everything was okay at the top of the menu where there were descriptions of fried eggs, scrambled eggs and omelets.

Divorced Eggs or Huevos Divorciados

Two fried eggs split by the the color of sauce they wear (plus beans)!

But lower down they had this strange sounding one:  “Divorced Eggs.”

Checking the Spanish side of the menu didn’t help:  “Huevos Divorciados.”

Divorced eggs???  I didn’t know eggs got married!!!

It turns out that this very popular dish consists of two fried eggs, each covered with a different hot sauce: a green sauce on one egg and a red sauce on the other.

Aha!  So this is what eggs do when they decide they have irreconcilable differences.  If only human divorce were so easy!

 

huevos divorciados or divorced eggs

Have these eggs filed for Divorce due to “Irreconcilable Differences”
or is it just a Trial Separation so they can think things over?

I looked up the word “divorciado” in my Spanish/English dictionary and found that its meaning is slightly closer to the word “separated.”

Hmmm.  So it appears these unfortunate eggs may actually be undergoing something that is more like a Trial Separation.

Perhaps they are not Divorced at all. Perhaps they just want a little space and some time apart to think things over!

Whatever the exact marital status of the eggs happens to be, the dish is very flavorful, and it is usually complemented with a big serving of delicious refried beans and some tortillas.

It is very Mexican and it is muy rico (very yummy).

 

 

Is Mexico Safe?

Dancer at Paradise Village

Dancer at Paradise Village

When folks find out we’ve been living and traveling in Mexico for a few years, we are frequently asked:  Is Mexico safe??

Mexico has been in the headlines a lot recently as the country has engaged in its infamous drug wars. Tragically, tens of thousands of people have died.  So we’re not surprised to hear this question so often.

Girls in Oaxaca Zocalo

All dressed up in the Zócalo in Oaxaca.

However, we have felt as safe or even safer in Mexico than we have at home in the US.

More important, we have discovered our southern neighbor is full of friendly people, really fun towns and has a fascinating history, from both ancient times when step pyramids were in vogue and more recent times since the Spanish arrived.

Cheerleader with flag

Dancers practice their moves in the main plaza in Ensenada.

It is always easy to be frightened of a place we’ve never seen in person.  Reading the news coming out of our own hometowns lately — Boston for me and Detroit for Mark — we might think twice before going to either city if we hadn’t already been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.  Both cities have made headlines in the last six months, one for gruesome attacks on innocent people and the other for taking a trip down the road of corruption to bankruptcy.

Kids in the train Ensenada

Kids wave at their parents from a train in Ensenada

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wait a minute!  Isn’t Mexico the place that is known for gory crime and corruption, and not the US?

Bakery in Huatulco

All kinds of yummy goodies come out of this
Italian Bakery in Huatulco

Bobbing around at anchor in a sailboat on the Mexican coast while reading these disturbing headlines about these frightening American cities, we have the same reaction as folks do up north when they are kicked back in their cozy living rooms in friendly American and Canadian communities, reading about the freaky goings-on south of the border.

For all of us, our first reaction is naturally, “Thank God I’m not there!” The second really should be, “Is that the only thing that’s happening there?  Is there really no one living a normal life in that place?”

Family on motorcycle

A family on a motorcycle in Huatulco.

Whenever we open up Google News to see what’s going on in the world, we are always horrified by the daily muggings, robberies, murders and general mayhem that is happening in our adopted hometown, Scottsdale, Arizona.  Scottsdale is a chic vacation destination for lots of snowbirds, and it’s a city that considers itself quite swank and rather trendy.  But good grief, they have stabbings in the bars and murders in the streets there!  Stay away!!

The media loves to shock us and they do a really good job.

It is hard to measure the “safety” of a community in precise terms.  Crime is a very black and white matter — either you are the victim of a crime or you slide by unscathed.  You aren’t “kinda” mugged or “sorta” killed.  So, looking at crime statistics is rather bizarre.  If the murder rate for a city is 40 per 100,000, or perhaps 380 per year, what does that really mean to the average tourist that arrives on that city’s streets?  Will you be attacked while toting your suitcase to your first hotel or will it happen after a month or a year or a decade?

Contrary to the terrifying news stories splashed across the US media, the US government’s current travel advisory for Mexico opens with the following very benign assessment of the situation for Americans traveling to Mexico:

Horse and buggy Ensenada

A horse and buggy trots by in Ensenada

“Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day. More than 20 million U.S. citizens visited Mexico in 2012. The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) have targeted U.S. visitors and residents based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that is reported in the border region and in areas along major trafficking routes.”

So, in a nutshell, almost 7% of the US population visited Mexico last year.  If that’s true, it can’t be all that dangerous, can it?

Callejoneada in Guanajuato

Singing in the streets in Guanajuato

A statistic that is not mentioned in this report but that I have read elsewhere is that a million Americans and Canadians make their homes in Mexico.  Many have long term residence visas, and quite a few have had access to the free public health care system, us included.  Now that’s a twist, isn’t it?

Girls in San Cristóbal de las Casa

San Cristóbal de las Casas

I think that when reading headlines and stories about the dangers in Mexico, it is worthwhile to take a look in the mirror and think about the dangers of living at home, wherever home is.

The NY Times published an article recently stating that in 2012 Detroit had 386 murders (more than one a day) and Indianapolis had 101 (one every 3-4 days).

Class Trip to Monte Alban

A school class on a field trip to the ancient
Monte Alban ruins gets a class picture on a pyramid.

Meanwhile, ABC News published a story about the worst neighborhoods in the US, and found that in certain parts of Atlanta, Georgia, your chance of being the victim of a violent crime is 1 in 12, while in Nashville, Tennessee, it is 1 in 14 and in Tulsa, Oklahoma it is 1 in 15.

I’m not sure how to interpret those statistics.  It sounds like out of twelve people walking down certain streets in Atlanta, one will fall prey to a violent crime!!  Holy cow!!  Run away!!  However, thousands of people live and work in Atlanta, Nashville and Tulsa very happily every day.  Statistics tell only part of the story.

Lovers in Comitan

Lovers on a park bench in Comitán

Perhaps more important is that crime everywhere is localized and focused in specific areas.  We all tend to brush off the stories of violence that happen around us in our home towns, because they happen “over there” somewhere, whether “over there” is a few miles away downtown or a few streets away where the neighborhood starts to get iffy.  The thing is, at home, we know where the dangerous places are, and we don’t go there, or at least we don’t go there late at night and alone.

Girls in Tangolunda Bay

Kids play in the waves in Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco

 

 

 

 

 

The same is true traveling in Mexico, or anywhere for that matter.  Mark and I have stuck to the tourist trail — after all, those are the places that we want to see, just like everyone else — and we have done our wanderings in the daytime and early evening.  The precautions we would take if we were to venture to the more dangerous parts of Phoenix, Arizona, are the same precautions we have taken in Mexico.  Of course!

Dinghy valet in ZIhuatanejo

Locals help Mark launch the dinghy in Zihuanatnejo

Whereas in San Diego we locked our dinghy and outboard to the public dinghy dock with a thick chain and padlock because we had heard stories from other boaters of rampant dinghy and outboard thefts there, when we were in Zihuatanejo and Huatulco Mexico, we happily left the dinghy unattended and unlocked all day every day for weeks on end. We never had a problem.

Catch of the day - Huatulco

Catch of the day – Huatulco

 

 

 

Of course crime does exist in Mexico, as it does everywhere, but it is localized, just as it is elsewhere. And the most violent and grisly stuff we all see in the news is not targeted against tourists and takes place far from the tourist destinations.

Friends of ours had their outboard stolen while anchored in Mantechen Bay, an area in Mexico well known among boaters for outboard thievery. We were also particularly cautious in parts of Acapulco and Mazatlan, cities known to be more dangerous than other places in the country.

Guest helmswoman aboard Groovy

Groovy enjoys a guest helmswoman

 

 

 

To me, however, it is much more frightening to think of a life lived without leaving home and seeing some of the world than it is to face the fear of traveling, even to a place that has made headlines for violence.

If fear keeps you from venturing out, and you let the terrifying headlines fence you in, you will miss out on some of the most beautiful experiences life has to offer.

 

Family in Boat in San Evaristo

A family comes up in a panga to sell fish
to the Groovy Boat in San Evaristo (Sea of Cortez)

The Mexicans we have met have taught us the true meaning of graciousness and kindness to strangers.  It is a lesson we hope to take home with us.

From the guy on the street who turned around 180 degrees and walked with us for four blocks to make sure we got where we wanted to go, to the guy that drove us 30 miles, in his own truck, to a mechanic who could rebuild our alternator and who stayed with us all day until we had the fully repaired alternator in hand, we have learned the precious value of watching out for your fellow man, not for personal gain, but just to be nice — because we’re all living this life together.

Couple with dog in La Boacana Huatulco

A couple from Mexico City enjoys some beach time at La Bocana in Huatulco

 

The kindness, generosity and warmth we have found in Mexico is exceptional, and it is virtually universal.  Our lives have been immeasurably enriched by our travels here.

If you have the opportunity to visit Mexico but have held back because you think it might be dangerous, all I can say is:  GO FOR IT!!  You’ll be so glad you did.

 

Anchored in Careyes Mexico

Anchored in Careyes

Travel Tips – Visiting Mexico by Sailboat and RV

Our travels in Mexico so far have been by sailboat along the Pacific coast and Sea of Cortez, and by long distance bus inland from the coast.  We have several posts on this site with tips for traveling this way:

Camping on the beach in Mexico

Camping on the beach on the Costalegre

We have not traveled in Mexico by RV, but lots of people do.  Two useful resources for planning an RV adventure in Mexico are:

  • Mexican Camping – by Mike and Terri Church, long-time veterans of RVing in Mexico
  • On the Road In – Comprehensive info about Mexico, including RV Park reviews & seminars.

 

For another perspective on safety in Mexico, check out this outstanding essay from the keyboards of the Lonely Planet Team: 
Are Americans safer in Mexico than at home?  I hope you take a trip to Mexico, and I hope you have as much fun and learn as much as we have!!

 

Quinceañera – Sailboat “Groovy” Helps Celebrate a Mexican 15th Birthday

13-07-13 Quinceanero-4407

July 13, 2013 – This afternoon, Mark was busy in our sailboat Groovy‘s cockpit here at the marina in Ensenada, Mexico, when he noticed a well dressed man in an elegant suit walking on the docks.

The man seemed to be eyeing up our boat Groovy, and he walked back and forth in front of it a few times.  Mark called out a greeting, and suddenly the man stopped and said in English, “My daughter is celebrating her 15th birthday today.  Do you think we could take some photos of her on your boat?”

Mark looked around and thought for a moment.  But of course!

13-07-13 Quinceanero-4370

Within a few minutes a crowd of young teenagers showed up, all dressed to the nines in suits and fancy dresses and stiletto heels.  They were giggling and chatting among themselves as they shuffled down the dock.  Mark flew into the cabin and told me to grab my camera, quick!

friends

 

Quincenaera aboard Groovy

The birthday girl poses on Groovy’s bow.

As I came into the cockpit, the birthday girl appeared at the top of the dock ramp.  She was wearing a beautiful fluffy white dress and had pearls around her neck.

For girls in Mexico, the quniceañera — 15th birthday — is a very special day.  The celebration is something like a coming out party, and it is an occasion for donning a prom dress, wearing makeup, posing for lots of photos, and having a big party with a live band that lasts long into the night.

This birthday girl was obviously relishing every second of her moment in the spotlight.

 

Paparazzi crowd around the birthday girl!

Paparazzi crowd around the birthday girl!

Her proud dad, Carlos, hung back while a professional photographer and videographer posed her all around the boat.  What total fun!

Mark and I ran around behind the scenes, trying to catch her poses as best we could.

Meanwhile her friends all giggled and fidgeted as they stood on the finger pier next to us, jumping up and down, and looking very cute in their dressy clothes.

Suddenly a few boxes of pizza appeared out of nowhere, and the teenagers got busy scarfing the slices down in an instant.

friends

After a little pizza, her friends are ready to party!

A very special day to remember!!

A very special day to remember!!

Once the photo shoot was finished and the sun had set, Carlos invited us to come up and join the party that was in full swing under the tents next to the office.  What an invitation!!

When we got up there, we walked through a few lighted arches onto a dance floor that was surrounded by tables and chars.  Everything was decorated in pink.

Carlos showed us to the family’s head table and introduced us to everyone sitting there — grandma, aunts, godparents and little brothers and sisters.

 

13-07-13 Quinceanera Helm

Several family members had flown in from far-flung parts of Mexico to take part in the celebration.

We’ve been lucky enough to see several quinceañera photo shoots from a distance — the girls are always so lovely in their big bouffant dresses — but this was the first time we had been invited to be a part of the action at the party itself. We were loving it!

As we sat chatting with the family at the head table, explaining to everyone who we were, where we had sailed from, and how we had unintentionally crashed their party after the impromptu photo shoot aboard Groovy, they happily swept us up in the festivities.

Everything around the dance floor was decorated in pink.

Everything around the dance floor was decorated in pink.

 

The man on my left, Alfredo, fondly told us how he had held the birthday girl at her baptism fourteen years earlier when she was just a baby, and we could feel his pride at being her godfather.

Everyone whipped out pocket cameras, cell phone cameras and iPads to get pics of the party, and suddenly we found ourselves being posed into the group shots too.  We were just the boat people from down on the docks, but that didn’t seem to matter — we were welcomed right into the heart of the family!

 

birthday cake

A birthday cake fit for a princess and
decorated with icing starfish!

When we finally stood up to go — wanting to let this jovial group enjoy their special moment together — the grandma didn’t want to let us go.  “Sit down, sit down!” she insisted, patting the chair next to her where Mark had been sitting.  “No, no… thank you, thank you!”  Mark said as we tip-toed out backward and bid them all goodbye.  This was their party, but they had been so kind to invite us to join them so we could get a glimpse of a true quinceañera celebration.

Back on the boat, we crawled into bed and listened for a long time as the band got rowdier and rowdier and the heavy bass thumped a steady beat through the hull of the boat.  What a fantastic tradition this 15th birthday party is, and what a great way to bring together the whole family to celebrate the arrival of a young girl on the threshold of adulthood.  Most of all, what a lucky day it had been for us!

 

It’s Not About the Hair!

Getting a haircut in Mexico

Lorena gives me a hairstyle called
“cola del pato” (tail of the duck)

June 16, 2013 – One of our favorite things about traveling is all the little encounters we have that make us stop in our tracks, scratch our heads, and say, “Wow, this is so different than home.”  After living strictly within our own comfort zone for so many years, focused on our workaday lives, we now find ourselves refreshed, over and over, as the folks we meet here in Mexico, so far from our backyard, show us that there are other ways to live.

I’ve been wanting to get a haircut for a while, and as a full-time traveler this is always a great opportunity to have a long conversation with someone from wherever we are visiting.  More important than finding a top quality salon, I’m always hoping to find someone that will tell us a little about the community we’re in or share something about themselves.

Yesterday, as we wandered the quiet, dusty streets of a small Costalegre coastal village between Tenacatita and Barra de Navidad taking photographs, we asked a few people where to get a haircut.  They all said to go to “Lorena” and they gave us directions. In our usual lazy way, we didn’t wind up on her street until dusk.  A group of people sitting on the sidewalk around a folding table with fruit laid out for sale pointed us towards her shop.

Unfortunately, it was now so late in the day that her shop was closed.  We shrugged.  Oh well.  Tomorrow!

“No, we’ll find her for you!”  One of the guys by the fruit stand said to us.  He asked his friends if they knew where she was and then yelled her name a few times.  A few minutes later, she appeared at the far end of the block, hustling towards us and waving.  The fruit guys grinned.

“Come in, come in.”  She said as she opened the door to her shop.  She began clearing some things from around her work area to make a place for me to sit down.  The room was about 9′ x 9′ and stacked with manicure equipment, brushes, combs, a few random cups, a chair and other stuff piled up.

After asking about my hair (I’ve learned my hair style is called “cola del pato” or “tail of the duck”), we began to have a lively conversation in Spanish about life in America and life in Mexico and the close similarities and vast differences between these two worlds.

She had grown up on a ranch far out in the countryside, one of twelve kids — ten girls and two boys — along with lots of horses, cows, burros and fruit trees.  Despite having no electricity, the family found plenty of diversions among themselves, always sitting around in the same configuration at night, mother here, father there, and kids circled around in between.  Outside, there were a bunch of tree stumps, and they would all sit together on the stumps and sing songs under the stars.

Her mother and grandmother had always worn traditional, colorful dresses, long sleeved and well below the knee, and her father was very strict with the kids.  He died when she was a teenager, and when he died her world changed forever.  The family moved to the city and she was shocked by the stress of urban life and the different interests of her peers at school.  She missed the fresh fruits from the garden and fresh meat and milk from the cows.

Lorena's hair salon in Mexico

Lorena shared her life experiences and cultural insights
with us as she gave us haircuts in her shop.

As I listened to her tale, I could just imagine the adjustments she had to make as she moved first to Mexico City then to Ensenada and Tijuana, and eventually to California.

“It was all wonderful.”  She said warmly.  “I learned so much.  About people.  About cultures…  And I learned what I liked.  In California I made a lot of money, I wore fancy clothes and makeup.  I had lots of beautiful shoes.  Now I just wear flip-flops.  I like to live in a small town where life is calm and quiet.”

By now Mark had decided to get a trim too, and her sheers snipped around his ears as she went on.  “America and Mexico are very different,” she said.  “In Mexico, out in the rural countryside, it is a man’s world.  The man is everything.  Girls are told they don’t need an education because their husband will provide.”

And then she said something about women and keeping a rifle in the corner of the house, and she laughed. Oh how I wished I understood better. She was on a roll, and I didn’t want to ask her to repeat. She had said either that women in the country kept a rifle in the corner so they could hold their own with the men, or that women who lived alone kept a rifle for protection. Gosh, I don’t know, and now I so wish I had had her explain further…

“But in America, In my neighborhood in California, I didn’t know my neighbors,” She continued.  “We waved and said “hello” every day but that was all.  We didn’t know each other like we do here. And in the US, when a store is closed, it’s closed!  Neighbors don’t go yelling for a shop owner to come open it up for customers after hours.”

So true.  Here we were in her shop because of the fruit sellers in the street.  Not so at Great Clips and Supercuts back home.  I usually end up reading a few magazine articles while I wait for a stylist to become available.  The stylists at home all commute to work, and who knows where any of them live. Certainly not in the rooms behind Great Clips!

As she finished Mark’s hair, she invited us to go camping in the mountains with her.  “I’ll show you some beautiful places.  We can sleep in tents close to nature.  We’ll make tortillas over a fire and you can meet my horses.” What a great invitation!

As she swept up all our locks on the floor, she said the haircuts were 40 pesos each (about $3.20 USD). For us, the experience was priceless.

See more about Life in Mexico and check out Our Most Recent Posts!!

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

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Free Spirit – Travel inspiration from close to my heart!

free spirit - travel Inspiration for all of us

Free Spirit!
Photo courtesy of LavaTop.com

A very special woman in my life turns 83 this week — my mother, Anne. Full of spunk and fire, grace and enthusiasm, she is the essence of youth despite having 83 candles on her birthday cake.

An avid fan of the performing arts all her life, my mom took up ballroom dancing when she was 55, and is now a living legend in Boston’s Argentine Tango community where she is adored for being a beautiful dancer and a gracious “tanguera.”

Her free spirit and effervescent air defy any hints of aging, and she is admired by all women under 83 because she gives us hope that we too can be vibrant and spry and still wear high heeled shoes and sexy clothes no matter how many years go by.

It is little wonder that Mom has the spirit of a twenty-something and that her motto for her birthday gala two years ago was “81 is the new 18.” She has never believed in limits.

When I was a little girl, instead of admonishing me to be cautious, she always encouraged me to push myself. When I’d say, “Watch me!” as I jumped and jigged around like all kids do, I never heard “Be careful!” Instead I heard, “That’s great, but let me see you do it again, only this time jump higher” or “run faster” or “do it with your arms over your head!”

Of course, this bought her time, as she could sit back and relax while I burned up all my childhood energy running, leaping, climbing and diving, ever higher, further and faster — with toes pointed, for style, of course.

There are no limits in life

There are no limits!
Photo courtesy of LavaTop.com

She has always had a passion for travel, and she hits the road with the same intense eagerness. When I was growing up, I loved hearing her travel stories from the year and a half she spent in France doing a college year abroad.

Between semesters, she traveled around Europe on her own with a rucksack (they weren’t called “backpacks” in 1949), and she stayed in youth hostels. From learning to ski in the Alps to sharing a late night meal of couscous with a group of Moroccans in a hostel, her tales were exotic and exciting.

Traveling Europe solo at 19 made her a savvy budget traveler for life, and she passed it on to us kids by taking us hosteling on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. We vacationed in dormitory style housing with travelers from overseas! Later, in retirement, she took many trips to New York City and Hawaii, always staying in hostels where she would meet folks from all over the world.

At 79 she decided to travel internationally once again, but she felt she had outgrown the hostel scene. Always a city girl, her dream was to go to Paris, see some sights and practice her French while sipping coffee in street-side Parisian cafes. What fun!! Next thing I knew, she had hopped on a plane and rented a tiny apartment for a month in the heart of the action by the Seine.

After she arrived in Paris, the first email I received from her was truly breathless with excitement. Emailing me from a 24-hour internet cafe as the sun was just beginning to lighten the city streets, she described how she had discovered a huge outdoor, all-night Argentine Tango festival in an enormous city park. She had tripped the light fantastic amid hundreds of dancers into the wee hours of the morning, and now it was dawn…!

travel inspiration from a free spirit

Happy Birthday!!
(Thank you to whoever took
this beautiful portrait — I love it!)

Wow!!  Every year since then she has returned to Paris for three months, on her own, suitcase and dance shoes in hand. Each year I can’t wait to receive her daily travel emails. I find my mouth agape and my head shaking in absolute wonder as I read every one.

On these Paris jaunts, every hour of every day is chock full of thrills, from taking guided city walking tours and canal tours to going on outings with new friends to stopping by the Louvre or watching vintage French films in the afternoon to attending ballet and opera performances in the evening to dancing the night away whenever the opportunity arises.

And, of course, being a lifelong budget traveler, she does it all for next to nothing.

All my life I have turned to my mom for inspiration to be brave, to be daring, to be fearless and to be free. I hope you will too. Seize the day — and go have an adventure!

Happy Birthday, Mom — “83’s your Prime”!!

Love, Emily

Spanish Learning Tools – How To Learn To Speak Spanish!

Learning and speaking Spanish

Mark checks his homework before class.

April 30, 2013 – One of the most fulfilling aspects of cruising Mexico, for us, has been the crazy roller coaster ride of learning to communicate in Spanish. We’re not super competent at it, but it is so much fun trying.

Our mistakes are always great for a few laughs, too. One time, while the Mexican Navy was doing a routine inspection of our boat at sea, I happily rattled off the answers to the Navy officer’s many questions in Spanish.

When he asked how big the engine was, I chirped “54 caballeros,” quite proud that I knew the correct word for 54. Seeing him smirk at me over his glasses, I wondered what I’d said wrong. Then I suddenly remembered that “horsepower” is “caballos” (horses), not “caballeros” (gentlemen). Oops!

Before we started our RV travels in 2007, I had a hunch we might someday buy a boat and go cruising in Mexico, so I took a year and a half of conversational Spanish at the local community college. For anyone planning to cruise, travel by RV or live in Mexico (or any other Spanish speaking country), I can’t recommend highly enough that you enroll in a community college Spanish class right away, even if your departure date is years away! The more semesters of Spanish you have under your belt before you take off on your voyage, the better off you will be once you get here. I had three semesters. I sure wish I’d had six.

What I loved about my class was that everyone in it had a deeply vested interest in learning Spanish. Our class was full of nurses, hospital administrators, cops, lawyers, construction foremen, and people married to native Spanish speakers who wanted to get along with their in-laws. We all progressed through the semesters together, and we had a blast!

It was quite a challenge, however, to take all that good class knowledge and apply it in the streets of Mexico once we started cruising, especially living in a community of English-speaking cruisers. When we first got to Mexico, I was very surprised at how much Spanish I didn’t know. However, by constantly asking directions, asking vendors for mechanical parts for the boat, and generally bumbling along, I slowly improved.

Spanish Learning Tools

There are several tools that have been helping me bridge the gap between in-class Spanish and on-the-street lingo. One of my favorites is Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish by Joseph Keenan. It is hilarious and is chock full of phrases, concepts and goodies that are glossed over by traditional text books.

Besides being very amusing and easy to read, it gives lots of colloquial phrases.  So when “Really?” or “No way!” or “Imagine that!” is on the tip of your tongue, you can come up with the equivalent Spanish phrase.  It also discusses the most common verbs and adjectives in great detail, explaining the nuances implied by using the words in certain contexts.

Another excellent book to help cement all that grammar and vocabulary in memory is Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish by Margarita Madrigal. This book works extensively with the most common verbs and adjectives as well, but breaks it all down in bite size pieces and focuses on the forms you are most likely to use on a daily basis.

Whereas Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish is a book you can sit back and read page after page, laughing the whole time while picking up little jewels along the way, Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish is a book I like to grab for five minutes at a time, flipping to a random page and diving in. Both are awesome, and I’m glad to have each one on my bookshelf.

Spanish Reference Tools

http://translate.google.com (Google Translate) is terrific for translating phrases and words. This is really helpful if you get a message from TelCel about the status of your USB modem account and have no idea what it says. Cut and paste the message into Google Translate, and you can get the gist of what the message is all about.

Once I started making friends here in Mexico, I suddenly started connecting with them the modern way – via email and Facebook (they call it “Face”). Yikes! What a shock to start reading emails and FB comments filled with slang and colloquialisms, all written in the modern “texting” form of Spanish where “que” is shortened to “k” and punctuation is skipped all together! I guess English isn’t the only language undergoing major changes with “u” “ur” and other bizarre abbreviations taking over the written word and making the literary greats of yesteryear turn over in their graves.

Google Translate doesn’t work for translating friends’ email messages and FB comments. For those I find I turn to the following websites and my own imagination.

http://www.spanishdict.com is a Spanish-English dictionary and an excellent word translation tool. Type in your word in either English or Spanish and hit enter, and you’ll get pages of information. That’s what I love about it. Rather than giving you a one word translation, it goes on and on, showing how the word works in different phrases, and analyzing it from every angle.

http://conjugation.org will conjugate any Spanish verb into every person in all the tenses. I use this all the time when writing emails.

When we first got to Mexico, I always carried an electronic Spanish English Dictionary with me whenever we went out on the town. It was especially helpful in the super market where the packaged food ingredients lists were unintelligible because the words for most basic ingredients are not at all similar between Spanish and English. More than one cruiser has lamented buying a container of plain yoghurt only to find out later it was sour cream!

Back on the boat we also have a traditional Spanish-English Dictionary (book). For those of us who grew up in the era of one telephone per family, sometimes it’s just easier to grab a book and rifle through it…

We have also used our Spanish for Cruisers book quite a bit, as it gives the words for all the parts on the boat, from “proa” to “popa” (bow to stern).

Immersion Spanish Classes

Almost every city has immersion Spanish classes available. Just ask around or hop online. We both took a week of Spanish classes at Instituto Jovel in the historic Spanish Colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas. For $100 USD per person for the week, we each had three hours of tutorial instruction a day (we each had two different teachers for an hour and a half apiece with a break in between). We also had an hour or two of homework every night. We both learned a tremendous amount, and it bumped our Spanish skills up a notch.

For me, just conversing one-on-one in Spanish for three hours a day made a huge difference in my ability to think on my feet and spit the words out. For Mark, learning the basic grammatical constructs helped give his sizable vocabulary some glue. However, even he — who took one look at the desk-chairs in my community college Spanish 101 class and said “no way” and walked out — now wishes he had braved some conversational classes before we started cruising Mexico.

Adding a home-stay to our week of classes in San Cristóbal would have made it true “immersion,” but we enjoyed doing our homework in the comfort of a hotel. The experience was intense enough as it was. Some folks do two, three, four weeks or more, but we found our brains were mush by the end of Day 5!

Another excellent immersion Spanish school is in the gorgeous city of Guanajuato — a city that no cruiser should miss. Escuela Mexicana is set up much like the school we attended in San Cristobal, and all the students we talked to there said they loved their experience. The only caveat we would have is that if you choose to attend this school, don’t stay in the hotel they recommend, because all your classmates will be there too, and you will end up speaking English together. We heard this from every student we conversed with there.

Lots of folks like Rosetta Stone and other audio courses on tape and online. These are probably great for supplemental learning, but I think the most effective (and realistic) method is to talk to and listen to a live instructor whose mission is to teach you.

Getting out and Practicing!

I was shy to try to speak in Spanish at first, but Mark was so bold with the few words he knew that I quickly jumped in too.  I knew I was making progress when the folks I talked to stopped switching into English as soon as I opened my mouth. Wow! They understood what I said. Once in a while I even understood their reply! After a year of cruising, when I carried on a conversation with a hair stylist throughout my haircut, I felt totally triumphant.

Now, I take advantage of long cab rides to engage the cabbie in conversation. A 20-minute cab ride can turn into a great Spanish lesson that makes the cab fare a bargain. Street vendors enjoy shooting the breeze with passersby, so we try to do it in Spanish. The silver tongued timeshare tour salesmen love to talk, and are happy to chat up a storm.  Get them to do it in Spanish!!!

What do we talk about? We compare notes on where we’re from, where we’re going, where we grew up, our families, what the best things are to see around town, what we’ve all done for work, and on and on. Many folks we meet have lived north of the border for a while, and we enjoy sharing our thoughts about places we know in common. These aren’t earth shattering conversations, but they tune our ears and help us get the words flowing out of our mouths.  And it’s fun!

Keep a Notebook

We ask people all the time, “¿Como se dice…?” to find out how to say something in Spanish.  But by the time we get back to the boat we’ve forgotten all those golden nuggets we learned.  Jotting down these words and phrases we hear in a notebook is really helpful.  (Remembering to BRING that notebook is another story…!!)

I hope you find these ideas and tools as useful as we have… buena suerte (good luck) !!

For a recap, here are what all these goodies look like:

We receive a 4-6% commission — at no charge to you — for any purchases made through the Amazon links on this site. This helps us cover our out-of-pocket costs for the site. It does not pay for our time spent editing photos or writing posts. If you make a purchase, let us know so we can say thanks!

Wondering what else there is to help you learn Spanish? Maybe it’s here:

More Tips for Cruising Mexico

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

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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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The Tourist Tangle – All tied up in knots!

The Tourist Tangle - choking straps everywhere!

All those straps can make a mess!!

April 9, 2013 – When we hit the shore to do some sightseeing, we both always have quite a collection of stuff to bring with us: hat, sunglasses, camera, spare lenses, reading glasses, Hoodman loupe (to see what’s on the back of the camera), spare filters, wallet, marina key (now that we’re living the high life in a marina).

My lightweight shorts generally have no pockets, so much of this stuff ends up around my neck where it is easy to reach when I want it.  Throughout the day, I shuffle all this gear around, grabbing each item as needed.

The sunglasses go on and off as we walk outdoors and indoors.  Same with the hat which, when off, slips down my back and leaves the strap choking me.  The sunglasses get swapped with the reading glasses when I need to actually see what i’m looking at up close (the sunglasses usually end up on the hat – just don’t forget they’re there!).  The loop comes out after I take a picture to see if ths pic’s any good.  And the camera has to be ready at a moment’s notice for that really cool, unexpected shot.

But it never fails: we’ll be walking along somewhere and something magical will happen near us.  I go to grab my camera and end up in a tangle of straps.  And what a mess it is if I’ve got an ice cream cone in my hand!!

A fellow watching me wrestling with my spider web of straps one time began to chuckle.  I tugged and struggled to unravel the snarl, and he just shook his head and grinned: “That looks like a tourist tangle!”

Aha – it has a name!!

Now whenever either of us ends up with both arms flailing around our heads, gear dangling precariously as we fight our way free, we just laugh out loud and cry: “Help help! I’m caught in the Tourist Tangle!”

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

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