Rockport, Massachusetts – Quaint Charm on Boston’s North Shore

Usually we travel just a bit at a time, savoring each place as we go, and covering as little distance between stops as possible. This week, however, I jumped on an airplane in Florida bound for Boston, Massachusetts, to meet up with friends and family for a very brief visit.

A few days ago, we took a daytrip to the scenic seaside village of Rockport, Massachusetts, a quaint and historic town that oozes charm and has long held a special place in my heart.

T-Wharf Sandy Bay Yacht Club Rockport Massachusetts

Sandy Bay Yacht Club on T-Wharf in Rockport, Massachusetts

Rockport is just an hour north of Boston, and on any summer weekend it is filled to overflowing with tourists to the point where you practically brush shoulders with fellow walkers as you stroll the town streets. On this visit, however, we somehow magically caught it just right and got there on an ideal 75 degree brilliantly sunny day in mid-April when hardly a soul was in town!

Rockport’s heart and soul is the lobster trade, and there are lobster boats all around the tiny harbor.

Lobster boats Rockport Harbor Massachusetts

A lobster boat in Rockport Harbor

A classic red fishing shack, called Motif #1, presides over the center of the harbor. This iconic building is framed in countless photos and paintings, and ranks as one of the most photographed buildings in New England and the most frequently painted building in America.

Motif Number 1 Rockport Massachusetts

A New England icon: Rockport’s Motif #1

Motif Number 1 is so well loved that when the original building was destroyed in the infamous Blizzard of 1978, a new exact replica was built in its place!

Rockport Motif #1 Massachusetts

Lobster boats in the inner harbor

The land on the outer protective edge of the harbor is called “Bearskin Neck,” and it is the site where a man named Babson killed a bear armed only with a knife sometime around the late 1600’s or early 1700’s.

On the back streets of the Neck there are lobster shacks where many generations of lobstermen have done the necessary maintenance on their pots and bouys.

Lobster shack Rockport Massachusetts

A lobsterman’s shack on Bearskin Neck

Everyday, each lobsterman drops his pots off wherever he thinks the lobsters might be hiding.

Lobster boat Straightsmouth Island Rockport Mass

A lobster boat heads out for a day’s work

Lobster pots are marked by colorful bouys, and the lobstermen go from trap to trap, hauling each one up to see what he caught. The lobsters that are too small are thrown back and the other critters that wander into the trap are thrown over the side too. Then he puts fresh yummy bait in the trap and drops it back into the sea.

Every lobsterman chooses his own design of colorful stripes and dots and other markings for his bouys to make it is easy to identify not only that there is a lobster pot below but who the trap belongs to.

Lobster bouys at a lobsterman shack

Lobster buoys on Bearskin Neck

Lobster bouys in Rockport Mass

Each lobsterman paints his own patterns on his buoys

Roy Moore Lobster restaurant Bearskin Neck Rockport MA

We stop for a lobster roll at Roy Moore’s

A tiny hole in the wall on Bearskin Neck, called Roy Moore’s, is a great place to see lobsters up close in glass tanks and to get a delicious lobster roll for lunch. A lobster roll consists of chopped up lobster meat mixed with a little mayonnaise and served on a hotdog bun.

This may sound funky, but it’s a fantastic way to enjoy lobster without donning a suit of armor, grabbing assorted weaponry and surrounding yourself with dishes of butter melting over flames to grapple with the hard shell and strange anatomy of lobster served whole (bulging eyes, skinny legs, antennae and all) on your dinner plate.

The Pewter Shop Bearskin Neck Rockport Massachusetts

The Pewter Shop is an icon on popular Bearskin Neck

The shops on Bearskin Neck are all small, colorful buildings, and the cute, bright red Pewter Shop has greeted visitors to Bearskin Neck since time began.

The Country Store Bearskin Neck Rockport Massachusetts

The Country Store has delighted kids with candy for decades

The Country Store is a favorite among kids because of the huge candy selection, and there was a time, a rather long time ago, when the place was lined with glass jars filled with penny candy. Kids would excitedly point at the jars ordering “one of these” and “one of those” from very patient store clerks who filled tiny paper bags with candy behind the counter.

Rockport is loaded with history too. Back in 1814 a British frigate showed up, and when the bell in the big, classic Old Sloop Congregational Church in the center of town rang out an alarm, they fired a cannon to silence it. They missed and hit the steeple instead, and a replica of the cannon ball is still lodged there.

Dock Square Rockport Massachusetts

Dock Square is lined with historic buildings

Old Sloop Church Rockport Massachusetts

The Old Sloop Congregational Church was struck by British cannon fire in 1814 to silence the bell.

Rockport Art Association

Rockport has been an artists’ colony for years.

Front Beach in Rockport Massachusetts

The Rockport Skyline seen from Front Beach.

Rockport has also been an artists’ colony for a century, and not only is the town full of art galleries but there is also an active Art Association.

For many people, however, it is the beach that makes this town so special, and combing the sand for pretty lady slipper seashells and well worn beach glass is a soothing way to pass a few hours. We were amazed that a mere ten minute stroll on Front Beach turned up a treasure trove of beach glass!

Beach glass

Beach glass gathered in 10 minutes of casual walking.

In town we found an artist who is using the local beach glass to make jewelry. What a creative idea!

Beach glass jewelry

A creative jeweler in town is making jewelry from the local beach glass. How clever!

Without doubt, the cries of seagulls — punctuated by the hourly chimes of the Old Sloop Church bell — are the song of Rockport.

Seagull on Front Beach

This guy’s mouth is full, so he’s quiet for the moment!

Another kind of music comes from the Shalin Liu Performance Center that now dominates the Rockport skyline behind Front Beach.

View from Front Beach in Rockport MA

The Shalin Liu Performance Center (left) has massive windows overlooking Sandy Bay

Once a grocery store and later a dress shop, this fabulous building has been expanded and renovated to offer enormous views of Sandy Bay from its back side.

Shalin Liu Performance Center Reception Hall Rockport Massachusetts

The Reception Hall on the top floor has a lovely view.

Shalin Liu Performance Center Concert Hall Rockport Massachusetts

Evening concerts are often accompanied by a visual feast of waterfront sunsets.

A wedding reception in the upstairs Reception Hall would be nice, but a chamber music concert while watching the sun setting on the beach behind the stage must be truly out of this world.

All kinds of groups and musicians perform at the Shalin Liu, but we were advised that if it is a loud, amplified band, they may have to close the curtains behind the stage because the sound reverberates off the glass windows. So if you go, keep that in mind!!

______________

We had a picture perfect day in Rockport. If you take your RV anywhere near Boston’s North Shore, a trip to Rockport is a must. Midweek or off-season, it is a truly delightful excursion!

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The Artsy Side of Sun Valley, ID

Camping in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Ketchum Idaho

Pretty as a picture…or a painting!

August, 2014 – Sun Valley, Idaho, the “ski resort town,” has an artsy soul, and this is especially evident in the summertime.

While happily camped in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, we got on our mountain bikes one morning and began roaming around the dirt roads through the woods.

All of a sudden we came across an artist set up with oil paints and a palette, creating a painting on an easel.

Sun Valley Plein Air Artist Bart Walker paints in the Sawtooth Mountains

Bart Walker brings the landscape alive on his canvas.

What a great place to paint!

The artist introduced himself as Bart Walker, and we watched him quickly bringing the bucolic scenery around us to life on his canvas.

It turned out that he was making paintings for the upcoming “Plein Air” art exhibition held at the Kneeland Gallery in town in a few weeks.

Blurred water with trees at the Big Wood River in Ketchum Idaho

We were inspired to get artsy with our
cameras too!

Even though he is from Wyoming’s Teton Mountains area, he knows the Sawtooths well, and he suggested we go to a spot down on the Big Wood River where we might get some good photos.

Beautiful flowers in Sun Valley Idaho

We promptly followed his suggestion and had loads of fun on the riverbanks getting artsy shots with creamy water.

When the appointed weekend for the art exhibition came, we found ourselves surrounded by plein air artists in the woods recreating the stunning landscapes of the Sawtooth mountains.

We wandered from one easel to the next, intrigued by how differently each artist interpreted their natural surroundings.

Artist Lori McNee paints in oils "Plein Air" in Sun Valley Idaho

We loved being surrounded by these artists out in nature.

We discovered later that the 10 or so artists that are invited to show their work at the Kneeland Gallery’s Plein Air art exhibition each summer are all very accomplished and well known artists.

We were watching true pros painting around us in the woods, folks who make their living from their art!

A whole group of knowledgeable admirers were also roaming from one canvas to the next, and we fell right in step with them, getting the low down, in whispers, on who was who and who did what kind of art.

Sawtooth National Recreation Area plein air artist paints on canvas

Some of the artists were staying in their campers.

Robert Moore creates colorful paintings in the national forest of Idaho

Robert Moore’s unique style of painting is almost performance art!

“That’s Robert Moore over there,” a fellow told me in a low voice. “He’s one of the best.”

I looked aver at a guy with a huge palette of paints and a canvas spread out on the tailgate of a pickup truck.

“He’s color blind,” the guy went on.

What?!  I had to learn more.

Robert was extremely friendly and unassuming, and as we talked, he painted in brisk strokes with two brushes, one held in each hand.

 

Robert Moore shows off his unfinished painting

Robert shows me his unfinished painting.

He even dipped his rubber gloved fingers in the paints and squished them around on the canvas, like a kid finger painting!

“I can’t distinguish between greens and oranges,” he explained to me, gesturing to those colors on the palette.

“My assistant, Silas, helps me by arranging the colors on the palette so I know where each one is.” He worked very fast and with great self-assurance.

At the beginning, when the canvas was blank, he had started by squeezing paint from the tubes directly on the canvas.

Robert Moore Murdoch Creek Oil Painting

Finished, framed, and on the wall at Kneeland Gallery in Ketchum.

The lines of paint were still there, and as his brushes reached them, they blended the colors. Yet each brush stroke visibly retained all the colors that were in the mixture.

Miraculously, a beautiful painting of a stream was emerging.

“You can play Beethoven with one finger on the piano,” he explained to me quietly, “but it sounds so much richer if you play with all the fingers of both hands. That’s the way my painting is. You can see all the colors in every brushstroke. That’s how light is in real life.”

He held the painting up for me. Wow!

RV boondocking in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Ketchum Idaho

Audience on the lawn at the Sun Valley Pavilion

Families picnic and listen to beautiful music.

The next evening we went to the gallery open house. Little did we know that every Friday night in Sun Valley there is an Art Walk where all the galleries (and there are lots of them) open their doors and pour generous glasses of free wine for visitors.

With an increasingly wobbly gate, patrons and admirers of the arts wander from gallery to gallery, taking in beautiful works of modern impressionism, fine art photography, modern art, sculpture and more. After a few glasses of wine, even the most stark modern art makes total sense!

Sun Valley is also famous for its outstanding free summer symphony concert series.

Sun Valley Symphony free summer concert series

The Sun Valley Pavilion is a beautiful home for the symphony orchestra.

For three and a half weeks, the Sun Valley Pavilion comes alive almost every night with music played by the top notch Sun Valley Symphony.

 

Sun Valley Symphony plays Brahms' 2nd Symphone - ahh!

We are treated to a night of Brahms — sheer joy for me!

Outside the Pavilion, families and friends enjoy picnics on the lawn where the music is played over mammoth speakers. Inside, there is loads of free theater seating that is all first come first serve.

The Pavilion is a tens-of-millions-of-dollars architectural marvel and was a gift to the community from the owner of Sun Valley Resort. While waiting for Mark to get a beer, I happened to rest my hip on a low interior stone wall.

An usher came over to me and said politely that I shouldn’t sit on the wall.

Sun Valley Pavilion was built with stone from the same quarry as the Roman Colosseum

Don’t sit on the walls…this rock is special!

Slightly affronted, because I had been leaning on the wall, not sitting on it, I decided to joke a bit with him.

“Is there something special about this rock wall?” I asked, laughing.

“Well, as a matter of fact there is. The stones came from the same quarry in Italy as the stones that were used to build the Roman Colosseum.”

A young violinist plays her own concert in Sun Valley ID

A young violinist gives an impromptu
concert of her own.

Are you kidding?!!

I sprang away from the wall and then gingerly reached back and touched it in amazement.

After the concert was over, a little girl stood up amid her family’s picnic blanket and chairs and began an impromptu violin concert of her own, singing and playing some country tunes.

A small crowd gathered around her, and her smile got bigger and bigger as she performed for a rapt audience.

And that’s the way life is in Sun Valley, Idaho, where mega wealth and majestic natural beauty come together to make a playground for everyone that is full of fine art, exquisite music and outdoor fun. Best of all, most of it can be enjoyed for free!

Boondocking in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Ketchum Idaho

A sunrise worth leaping out of bed for!

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Joseph, Oregon – At Heaven’s Door!

July 2014 – Even though the cyclists at the Baker City Cycling Classic had seen rain and hail and all kinds of miserable cold weather on their first day of racing, a scorching heat wave was predicted for the upcoming week.  We decided it was time to get out of the valley.  We ventured east at first, checking out the new Oregon Trail Interpretive Center that stands proudly at the top of a hill with some pioneer wagons parked outside that look very authentic from the highway below.

Oregon Trail Wagon train ruts

Original ruts on the Oregon Trail

Most intriguing, however, were the original wagon train ruts of the old Oregon Trail that can be seen just a few feet from the highway.

We tromped around for a while, not sure if these were a modern two track road or the real thing, but after a short walk we came across a Bureau of Land Management sign that confirmed these were the real deal.

Fifth wheel trailer on the road to Joseph Oregon

Heading down our Oregon Trail!

The original Oregon Trail was a wide, shallow ditch made by the horses and oxen that pulled the wagons.  Early motor cars used the old trail route too, though, and turned it into a two track road.

I was floored to learn that during the peak of the migration, diaries indicate that thousands of wagons could be seen from horizon to horizon at certain spots along the trail.

How easy we have it today, driving down the smooth, paved highway, towing our fifth wheel down the road with the Mighty Dodge.  What those pioneers would have given for a rig and road like this!

Wallowa Mountains in Joseph Oregon

The first glimpse of the scenery surrounding Joseph – WOW!

The tiny town of Joseph, tucked way up in the northeastern corner of Oregon (by Washington and Idaho), has been begging us to visit for years. It wasn’t an overt invitation, but Joseph beckoned me on the map because it sits at the end of a dead-end road right at the base of the Wallowa mountains.

Red barns and Wallowa mountains in Joseph Oregon

Such pretty landscapes!

We needed to skirt the western and northern edges of those mountains to get there, but as the road finally turned south towards Joseph, our jaws dropped at the majestic views taking shape around us.

Joseph Oregon barn

I love those old red barns

The mountains were still snow-capped, and the rolling farm and ranch land stretched green and alive as far as the eye could see.

Snow-capped Wallowa mountains and red barn

The Wallowa mountains make such a beautiful backdrop!

Wonderful old barns filled the foregrounds of every view, each one seeming more picturesque than the last. We stared out the windows wide-eyed.

Main Street and mountains in Joseph Oregon 681

Main Street in Joseph

Lilacs and the Wallowa Mountains in Eastern Oregon

How’s that for a backyard garden?!

If this bucolic alpine scenery weren’t enough, as we pulled into town we were smitten with the quaintness of the place.

Just 1,000 people call Joseph home, and even though it swells a little with visitors in the summertime, it is remote enough that it is still very quiet.

Asking a fellow from Portland how long it had taken him to get here, he laughed and said, “Days!”

Red Horse Coffee Roasters cafe in Joseph Oregon

Red Horse Coffee Traders is a favorite gathering place.

The Red Horse Coffee Traders coffee shop soon became a second home for us, and we had lots of company there.

Rodeo sculpture in Joseph Oregon

Ride ’em cowboy!

The locals hang out there just like we were doing, not only because of the great coffee and unbelievably yummy muffins, but because it’s a fantastic spot to relax in the shade of the trees and mess around on the internet.

“You don’t have internet at your house?” I asked the guy next to me incredulously.

“Nah, I live ten miles out…”

Chief Joseph sculpture in Joseph Oregon

Chief Joseph watches over the town.

Joseph, Oregon, is home to a Valley Bronze, a foundry established in 1982. Bronze sculptors from all over the country cast their works here.

Indian sculpture at the Joseph Oregon post office

Even the post office has a beautiful bronze sculpture outside.

Each corner of Main Street in town is adorned with beautiful bronze sculptures, including one of Chief Joseph, the town’s namesake, that was purchased by Sam Walton’s daughter-in-law and given to the town to display.

A bronze rodeo rider, a soaring eagle, a cougar and Indian guide Sacajawea are all posed elegantly amid the flower boxes around town.

Garden flowers against snow-capped Wallowa Mountains

Daisies and the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon

Wild daisies were in bloom everywhere.

Even the tiny post office has a handsome bronze sculpture of an Indian warrior right outside the front door.

Still drawn in by those dramatic mountains at the back of town, we drove towards them until we came to breathtaking Wallowa Lake.

Kayakers and paddleboarders were out on the water while a few sunbathers laid out on blankets on the beach.

Wallowa Lake in Joseph Oregon

Wallowa Lake

What a place!!

We ran around with the cameras for days, composing photos of those gorgeous mountains with anything and everything we could find in the foreground: wild daisies, vivid pink flowers in a garden, trees, cows and barns…and more barns!

Sometimes we spotted deer as they wandered through gardens in town or bounded through the hay fields on the outskirts.

Deer in our yard

Deer wandered all over town!

Mark even saw a doe with two little spotted fauns when he was out on a run one morning.

Sunset behind our fifth wheel trailer

Happy camper!

As we hung around and chatted with people, we discovered there was a ton of stuff to do in the area besides take photos.

Going over our growing list of hikes and rides and places we wanted to visit, we soon realized we would be here in Joseph for a while!

 

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On the road to Baker City, Oregon

Big Money Bank Dayville Oregon

Mark greets patrons at the Big Money Bank

June 2014 – Leaving the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument behind and continuing our scenic drive to northeastern Oregon along Route 26, we passed through lots of small towns.  Each one celebrated the historic American West in its own way.

Still pondering the early 20th century sheep ranching lifestyle we had seen at the Monument, we came across a funny, fake old western town front in Dayville.

Rather than building a sheep ranching enterprise, perhaps the easiest way to make a fortune in the old west was to work at the Big Money Bank. Mark certainly thought so!

Miners' homes black and white

With the railway shut down, Whitney, Oregon, is now a ghost town.

Another community we passed, named Whitney, was once a railroad town for the logging industry. Now it is a ghost town.

Rails extended in all directions from Whitney so that an immense stand of yellow pine could be harvested and shipped out on rail cars.

From 1901 to 1947 as many as 150 people called Whitney home.  Today only a handful of crumbling buildings remain.

Sumpter Railroad Oregon

The Sumpter Valley Railroad between Sumpter
and McEwen is still alive and well!

Further east in Sumpter, Oregon, we found the lovingly restored remnants of the same logging railroad line that had put Whitney on the map: the Sumpter Valley Railroad

This railway now offers excursion rides. From the brake man to the conductor to the engineer, all the positions are held by dedicated volunteers.

Mark at the wheel of Sumpter Railroad Oregon

The engineer gave Mark a turn in the driver’s seat.

Volunteers work for a few years to learn all the skills necessary to be advanced to the level of train engineer, and that was the goal of several volunteers we met.

 

Meadow of Lupine Sumpter Oregon

We came across a vast field of wildflowers.

The train goes only a few miles between Sumpter and McEwen, but it is a popular ride for young and old alike.

The engineer invited Mark to have a seat in front of the engine. What an antiquated mechanical marvel that is!

The old mechanics who worked on these kinds of engines back when they were still in commercial use are now passing their skills on to younger mechanics who are learning how to restore them and keep them running.

Lupine in the woods

Lupine were blooming in the woods nearby too!

Back on the road again, we saw snowy mountains beginning to appear on the horizon.

When we passed a field full of purple and white lupine, we had to stop for photographs!

Hay bales in Baker Oregon

Baker City is smack in the middle of beautiful farm and ranch land.

While we were both knee deep in flowers, a fellow driving by stopped his truck and walked over to us, saying, “I was hoping someone would photograph those flowers!”

Welcome to Baker City Oregon

Baker City’s small town charm is infectious.

We ended up chatting with him for quite a while, right there on the side of the road. He wasn’t in a hurry and neither were we!

We had arrived on the quieter side of Oregon.

Baker City is the biggest city for hundreds of miles around. How big is big? 10,000 people live there.

How fast is it growing? The population has hovered around 10,000 since 1940!

Baker City Oregon city streets

Baker City Oregon

Baker Tower in Baker City Oregon

Baker Tower is STILL Oregon’s highest building
east of the Cascades!

What a contrast to other western cities like Phoenix that is 23 times the size it was in 1940, or Bend Oregon that has quadrupled in just a few decades.

City Hall in Baker City Oregen

The grand buildings like City Hall
belie the small size of the population.

When I asked at the fabulous Baker Heritage Museum in town why things haven’t changed much over the years, I was told it’s because a lot of old timers like the city just the way it is.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Grand Geiser Hotel Baker City Oregon

This small historic city oozes charm.

The nearest Walmart is 45 miles away, and there are no big box stores.

What really makes it special, though, besides its quiet, down to earth and friendly nature, is the beautiful Victorian arcthitecture all around town.

The Geiser Grand Hotel presides over downtown, along with the Baker Tower, the tallest building east of the Cascades.

Five pound gold nugget Baker City Oregon

Baker City was known as the “Queen of the mines” for good reason…

Keeping a lid on growth and resisting change doesn’t mean there’s no money around, however.

Northeast Oregon is the richest part of the state for gold, and the US Bank branch in town has a glass enclosed exhibit of gold nuggets that includes a fist-sized “nugget” that was found nearby in June, 1913.

The day after unearthing it, the two men who discovered it hopped on the Sumpter Valley Railroad (which was carrying passengers as well as logs by then) to take it to Baker City to have it appraised.

At 80.4 ounces (over 5 lbs.), it is one of the largest pure gold nuggets still in existence today (most others were melted down).

Adler House Baker City Oregon

Not all money came from gold and timber…
Magazine distribution magnate Leo Adler lived here.

At the time it was found, gold was about $18 an ounce, making it worth about $1,500 to those two lucky men.

Today, 99 years later, gold is worth over $1,300 per ounce, but as a collectible, this nugget is probably even more valuable.

One of the town’s most successful residents is Leo Adler who created a magazine distribution empire in the mid-1900’s.

 

Deer crossing Adler Path Baker City Oregon

A deer and his buddy surprise us on the bike path in town.

He started out by walking around town at age 9 carrying the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal!

Young buck Baker City Oregon

They call this a city?!!

He loved Baker City, and he left the city a substantial sum, part of which has been used to create a paved bike path through town.

Fifth wheel trailer under a rainbow

What a soul-satisfying town
to call home for a while.

While we were riding on his namesake path one day, Mark saw a young buck nibbling leaves on a tree.

He trotted right between us!

We followed him and his buddy to a big field where they started grazing, totally unconcerned with our presence.

Such is life — one of peace and tranquility — in Baker City, Oregon.

 

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Costalegre: La Manzanilla – Exotic animals & RVing Copper Canyon!

Casa Maguey La Manzanilla

Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla – Our beautiful home for a week!

Late June, 2013 – We were loving our stay at pretty Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla.

With a bird’s eye view of the bay from “El Mar,” our casita, we enjoyed the ocean’s ever-changing colors and moods.

This is a place where tranquility reins.

Mystery red flower

The flowers were truly unique

Yellow Flower

Love it when the building behind the flower is a vivid color!

After a few days of oceanfront living, we moved to the garden unit called “El Sol.” We thought we would miss the ocean views, but instead found ourselves enchanted by the bird songs that filled the air.

Casa Maguey - El Sol casita

“El Sol” Casita – surrounded by tropical birds and flowers.

Some of the calls were new to us, and sounded truly jungly.  One bird had a deeply melodious voice and he or she preferred to sing in the wee hours of the morning.

Casa Maguey gate La Manzanilla

The village of La Manzanilla was
just steps away from Casa Maguey.

Casa Maguey Garden La Manzanilla

Stairs through the garden.

The song was so haunting and mysterious that we didn’t mind being woken up to listen. We laid in bed entranced.

Just outside our bungalow door, flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors were in bloom.  A few were so fragile that they blossomed for just a day.

Venturing off the Casa Maguey property into the village of La Manzanilla, we discovered the town is so tiny and rustic that its main street was just paved in the last two years.

We enjoyed watching this very peaceful village wake up in the mornings, and quite a few townspeople joined us in the gourmet coffee shop Cafe del Mar every morning.

El Mar Coffee Shop La Manzanilla

Hector made great lattes, and we enjoyed them with
homemade muffins every morning!

Gourmet coffee shop?  Yes!  Cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, you name it, they were all there.  We became regulars.  If we got there early, the yummy muffins brought to the shop by a young gal from Arkansas were still warm.

Squirrel on my back

Hector, our latte man, brought in his pet squirrel one morning.

One morning, we noticed the owner Hector was playing with a baby squirrel.  He cupped his hands, and the squirrel ran round and round between his fingers like he was on an exercise wheel.

“He fell out of a tree when I was cutting down coconuts,” he explained as he put the bundle of fuzzy energy into my hands.  The little squirrel promptly zipped right up my arm onto my shoulder, tickling me and making me giggle.  He was a cute little guy, bright orange-red on the belly and speckled grey and black on his back.

Coatimundi

What a surprise to find exotic creatures were the norm around here!

It turned out that unusual animals were just part of the scene in La Manzanilla.

Later in the day when we stopped at Palapa Joe’s to get a slice of pizza, I caught sight of a long skinny tail out of the corner of my eye.  I turned and found myself staring right at a coatimundi, masked face, ringed tail and all.

“Look!” I gasped.  Mark grabbed his camera and we were both in shock as this unusual animal snuck up to a dog dish and started eating the kibble.  Our cameras couldn’t snap fast enough.

We’ve seen coatimundi in Arizona, but only fleetingly. This guy was as calm as could be. And he was really enjoying that dog food!

View in La Manzanilla

We climbed up the hill to take in the ocean view.

Just then the owner of the restaurant appeared.
“You wouldn’t believe…” I started to say, pointing.
“Oh yes!”  He laughed easily, “He’s my pet!”

A pet coatimundi?!  Geez, what other kind of tamed wild animals would we find at the NEXT eating establishment?!!

Pangas on the beach

Pangas ready for fishing and touring.

Mangos on sticks

My favorite way to eat mango — when it’s cut like a flower and served on a stick!

We left there in high spirits and wandered the dirt streets to the back side of town where we walked up the steep hills to see the view.

The blue bay stretched in front of us with palm trees framing the views over the tops of the homes.

It was a Sunday, and back down on the beach it seemed that everyone for miles around had come to play.  Crowds kicked back in the beach bars alongside us and vendors walked up and down the beach selling all kinds of things,.

One fellow came by selling mangos on a stick.  Cut like flowers, this is truly the most ingenious and clever way we’ve seen to eat a mango on the go, as you can enjoy all the juicy sweetness without getting all sticky!

Playing in the waves

A big wave takes everyone for a ride.

Sun in sand dollar

Mark finds a sand dollar on the shore.

Families played in the water, and occasionally a big wave would come in and send everyone flying, launching the boogie boarders onto the beach.

We strolled along the beach back towards Casa Maguey, splashing as we walked along the edge where the waves meet the sand and the sand-pipers dance in and out of the water.

Suddenly Mark reached down and picked up a sand dollar.  Although we have lived on a sailboat in Mexico for a few years, this was the first sand dollar we had seen on a beach.

 

 

Cabana on the beach

We bumped into a fascinating little cabana on the beach.

As we turned to head back onto the streets of town, we looked up and saw the most unusual structure.

It was a small thatch roofed hut tucked under a palm tree.  A man was standing out front and we soon struck up a conversation.

“I built this place,” he said.  “It’s kind of unique.  I’m an artist.”

Cabana on the beach La Manzanilla

A tiny cabana on the beach

Intrigued, we stepped up onto his tiny deck.  He had fashioned the deck and railing out of logs tied together with stringy vines.  “It’s very strong,” he said when he saw Mark testing whether the posts wiggled.  “Come on inside!”

We squeezed inside and found ourselves standing in the coziest and tiniest little two rooms.  Everything had been made by hand, even the wooden windows and shutters whose handles were made of stout twigs.

Most surprising was that he had installed electricity throughout.  Besides a blender and coffee maker, he had a big flat screen TV, and internet access on his computer!  What a great mix of Rustic and Modern!!

Cabana Windows

Everything was handmade, including these cool windows
with stout twigs for handles!

 

“I built it under this big palm tree so I’d always have shade.”  He explained.  He gestured towards a group of chairs in the sand.  “That’s my beach bar – in winter,” he went on. “It was destroyed in Hurricane Jova two years ago, so I built this cabana to be much stronger!!”

We looked around in wonder.  There are so many ways to live a life, and what a fun way he had found!

This is a friendly little town, and we found it easy to chat with anyone and everyone in the streets.  Two little girls were playing outside their house, and Mark entertained them (and himself!) for a while with the camera.

Girls check out pic on camera

Mark entertains a pair of sisters and himself with the camera.

Further on, we passed a young boy carrying a crate.  “Do you want some bread?” He asked.  I said “No” automatically, but when Mark saw the perfect loaves of homemade banana bread wrapped in plastic in the crate he instantly said, “Sure!!”

Boy sells banana bread

Banana bread!! Sweet!!!

At the far northwest end of town there is an estuary and crocodile sanctuary.  There were a few stuffed crocs near the entrance to entice people to spend a few pesos to check it out.

We wandered out onto the sanctuary trail, and soon caught sight of a roseate spoonbill, a very odd looking pink bird.

Taking photos of a crocodile mouth

Mark’s lucky this guy is stuffed!!

Roseate Spoonbill

A roseate spoonbill pauses to look at me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crocodile with mouth open

The crocodiles don’t move much, but when they do, watch out!

Not much further on we started to see the crocs. Not just one, but dozens!!

They lounged on the mud banks, half submerged in the water, lying totally motionless like logs, some with their mouths agape.

Once in a while, one would move, lumbering awkwardly, slowly crawling across all his buddies to slip beneath the murky water.

A few times a croc got startled and ran.  Yikes, those guys can move fast!!

 

Airstream camping on the beach

What a fantastic camping spot!!

Wandering just a bit further on to the very edge of town, we discovered a row of beach-side RV parks.  This was the off-season, so most of the parks were completely empty.

But we could imagine that this is a really fun place in the winter when snowbirds come down from the cold country to spend a few months living on the beach.

Rosie at water's edge

Our hostess Rocio at Playa Tenacatita

One morning our hostess Rocio took us on a drive to see some more of the Costalegre.  This coast is lined with beaches of all kinds, and the first one she took us to is Playa Tenacatita.

We had been hoping to do some swimming and snorkeling, but the weather gods had other plans.

Rosie walks on the beach Tenacatita

Rocio didn’t know why we we were taking photos of her — until afterwards!”

Instead, as we watched Rocio walking towards the waves, we both suddenly saw the same image.

Her pretty pink beach dress was flowing in the wind, and she looked beautiful against the overcast day and frothy white waves.

“Wait, stand right there!” We yelled in unison.

Anchored in Careyes

Anchored in Careyes

Rocio had no idea what we were up to until she saw the photos on our laptop later — and she loved them.  What fun!

Once we were done playing high fashion photographer, she drove us to the little bay of Careyes, a gorgeous spot where we had anchored a few months earlier. We wanted to get a glimpse of it from a shore-side perspective.

Careyes View

The only public shore-side view of stunning Careyes.

However, when we drove down the road leading to the public beach, we were stopped by two security guards at a gate.  The entire bay is now in private hands, and the public is not allowed on the beach.

What a shock! In the past, Mexico’s property laws allowed public access to all beaches, but this is changing under the new president.  A law is being passed that will allow both Mexicans and foreigners not only to own oceanfront property but to close public access to the shore if they so choose. Fortunately, Careyes will become accessible to restaurant-goers as soon as the old restaurant on the beach is renovated and is once again open for business.

Playa Los Angeles Locos

Playa Los Angeles Locos.

On our way back to Casa Maguey, we stopped at Playa Los Angeles Locos (“Crazy Angels Beach”) to take in the dramatic view of the bay. What a spot! It was incredible to think that our host John had grown up camping on many of these beaches in his family’s motorhome.

Champion motorhome towed away

The Lehmens’ Champion motorhome gets towed away for repair.

Back at Casa Maguey, John brought over his family’s photo albums from their RV travels in North and South America one morning.  As he began to flip through the pages, we were fascinated by the stories each photo provoked.

Any family that ventures off in an RV or a sailboat to see what lies over the horizon is eminently brave, but I can’t imagine the intrepid determination John’s parents Helga and Josef had when they took their 26′ motorhome all over the American continents in the 1980’s.

Their first motorhome, a Champion, gave them a bit of grief mechanically, and it got towed off to a garage on more than one occasion.  Having dealt with boat repair projects in Mexico, we can only imagine what it was like to have a motorhome break down in Central or South America in the 1980’s!!  But that was just part of the adventure.

Josef digs a well

Josef digs a well for fresh water
for dishes and showers.

Unlike the privatized beaches of today, the Mexican coast was completely open for boondocking back in those days.  After setting up camp, John’s dad would sometimes dig a well near the motorhome and use a motorized pump connected to a hose to get fresh water into the rig for dishes and showers.

RV on flatbed train car Copper Canyon

Young John checks out a train while the motorhome waits
on its flat bed rail car behind him.

Perhaps the most riveting story John told was of the family’s trip through Copper Canyon.  In Chihuahua, John’s dad Josef noticed that a lot of the trains had flat bed rail cars, and he got the idea that perhaps his motorhome could be loaded onto one.

 

Motorhome on flat bed train in Copper Canyon

The first RV to venture into Copper Canyon on a flat bed rail car.

He asked around, and was able to persuade a train operator to put the motorhome on the train to Los Mochis.

As they were rolling through the countryside, Josef was intrigued by the small town of Creel.  He asked the train operator if the flat bed car they were on could be unhooked and left in Creel until the next train came through three days later.

No problem!!  The car was unhooked in Creel, and the family suddenly found themselves swept up in the unbelievably welcoming embrace of the local Tarahumara Indians.

Many of the Indians had never seen white people before, and they were as fascinated by this traveling family as the family was by them.

Copper Canyon flat bed train for RV

Little did they know they would be forgotten —
only to be remembered at 3 a.m. !!!

Three days later, the train came by Creel — but it didn’t stop!

For most people, this would have been cause for alarm, but John and his family were enjoying the generous hospitality of the Indians so much that they thought nothing of it and patiently waited for the next train.

Then one night at 3 a.m. they were jolted out of bed by a huge crash just outside the motorhome.  The train company had suddenly remembered them and had sent a 30,000 horsepower locomotive to retrieve the flat bed rail car. Unannounced, it hooked them up!

 

Casa Maguey La Manzanilla

We will always treasure our memories of Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla
and its lovely — and fascinating — hosts, John and Rocio.

Flying down the tracks at warp speed, with diesel soot spewing everywhere, the huge locomotive pulled their little home aboard the flat bed car on the sleigh ride of its life.

Josef was a freelance writer, and many of the family’s stories graced the pages of AAA Magazine.  Surely, that tale of their flat bed rail car adventure was a huge hit. Not long after their escapade, tourism companies began leading RV tours aboard flat bed rail cars into Copper Canyon.

I could have listened to John’s stories and gone through his photo albums with him for hours.  What a fabulous and adventurous childhood he had.  But now he is enjoying a more tranquil life hosting lucky guests like us at his family’s villas in La Manzanilla at the beautiful Casa Maguey.

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Pátzcuaro – A “Magical City” with a colorful outdoor market

Patzcuaro Mexico sailing blog Hotel Chaluma

Our cute little bungalo on the edge of Pátzcuaro

Mid-February, 2013 – After our very full day of hiking among the monarch butterflies in the mountains near Morelia, we drove with our friends Joe and Nancy to Pátzcuaro, one of Mexico’s “Magical Cities.” These cities have been designated by Mexico’s tourism board as being particularly charming and fun to visit, and we were not disappointed.

We found a cute place to stay outside of town, Hotel Chaluma, which is made up of a row of small cottages. But for just 350 pesos ($29 USD) per night, it didn’t come with any heat. There was a fireplace in our room, but no wood.  The proprietor told us wood was available for sale from a neighbor, but we never managed to make contact with him. So we shivered in the brisk morning mountain air and laughed when we could see our breath.

Patzcuaro Mexico cruising blog hotel courtyard

Fancier digs in town.

There are finer places in town, and we peeked in the courtyard of one that had a very elegant ambiance.

Patazuaro Michoacan hotel living aboard blog

For an authentic old-time atmosphere, stay here!

You can also stay in more rustic hotels in the old historic buildings that are lined up in and around the town square.

Patzcuaro Mexico library mural living aboard blog

This mural on the back of the library depicts the Mexican state of Michoacán’s history.

We wandered into an old stone church that now houses a big public library. At the back of the room was a huge, colorful mural. There were images of ancient pyramids and Spanish soldiers in plated armor carrying spears on horseback.  There were vivid images of priests and ancient indigenous manuscripts being burned in bonfires.  People on their knees were enslaved in chains. We found out that this mural depicts the history of Mexico’s state of Michoacán.

Patzcuaro Mexico church cruising blog

One of several picturesque churches in town.

There are several old stone churches around town, and peering down a street we were drawn to one at the far end.

Patzcuaro Mexico market garlic seller sailing blog

Garlic for sale (just remember in Spanish it’s called “ajo”)

Patzcuaro Mexico market woman sail blog

A woman heads to the market.

 

As we approached, we saw lots of people milling around in front of the church, setting up blankets and tarps to sell produce and homemade food items.

It was Friday, and we discovered that Friday is market day when all the people from the surrounding villages and towns bring their goods to sell on the streets of Pátzcuaro.

We were fascinated by the hubbub. Everyone was busy, either hauling stuff into the market in handcarts or wheelbarrows, or shopping and filling their baskets with items to take home.

The air was festive and the place was hopping.

 

Patzcuaro Mexico mercado bags of beans

All kinds of dried beans for sale…

We have been to many a “mercado público,” or public market, in Mexico, but this one was different. Being inland and situated near farm country rather than near the touristy coast, the quality of the produce was fantastic and the prices were low.

Patzcuaro Mexico indian market wheelbarrow sailing blog

Bringing stuff to market!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patzcuaro Mexico indian market cruising blog

This was a busy market…

All the fruits and veggies were plump and ripe and uninjured. Handwritten signs advertised 10 pesos for 2 kilos of avocados (about 36 cents a pound). Same price for oranges. Dried beans were 16 pesos a kilo (about 60 cents a pound).

This weekly market is known as the “Indian Market” because so many of the people bringing their wares to town are indigenous people from the rural countryside.

Patzcuaro Mexico mercado fruit cups sailing blog

Colorful plastic fruit cups with Starbucks style tops!

Some of the vendors laughed and pointed at us as we passed.  We were the only gringos there.

The exotic air of this market was wonderful, and we couldn’t help but snap a zillion photos of the people around us.  We heard snippets of conversation about “fotos” and “fotografos” (photographers), and some vendors made funny faces and posed or gave us a thumbs up. Our own foreign oddness seemed to add to the jovial chaos around us.

Patzcuaro Mexico indian market

The women wore colorful, pleated, lace-trimmed skirts and shawls

Patzcuaro Mexico friday market

Lots of men wore hats and everyone bundled up because it was cold!!

The women all wore colorful calf-length skirts, often decorated with lace, and frequently pleated thickly in the back. Most of them had shawls of one kind or another too (it was cold!).

Some shawls were a simple rectangular scarf or wrap, but others had a collar and were shaped to drape over the shoulders with a clasping system to keep it all together.

We wandered among the throng, admiring the beautiful veggies and fruits, and wondering what some of them were.

Patzcuaro indian market vendors

People presented their goods for sale anywhere they could find space.

 

Lots of folks were selling homemade food items, including cooked tiny fish from the nearby lakes. There were hot sauces and diced fruits and veggies in plastic cups that looked like colorful frappuccinos.

Patzcuaro farmers market woman cruising blog

A woman lays out pails of small fish, both cooked and raw, from the nearby lakes.

Patzcuaro indian market eggs cruising blog

What type of bird laid these eggs??

One big box had dozens of tiny speckled eggs in it. We weren’t sure what kind of bird produced the eggs, or how the eggs were used. Ordinary chicken eggs were for sale too, and as is often the case at Mexican markets, you could buy the eggs individually in a plastic bag. So if you wanted only 7 eggs, that’s all you had to buy. Just be careful with that baggie on your way home!

Patzcuaro Mexico indian market woman living

There was something warm and friendly and inviting about this market

Patzcuaro Mexico market woman living aboard blog

The old ladies especially seemed to enjoy simply taking it all in.

At the far end of the market we found a lady selling gorgeous cactus flowers and irises. Each was unique in shape and color. They were similar to the “Christmas cactus” we see north of the border, but she had so many more varieties, and the flowers seemed much bigger.

Joe and Nancy bought two flowers with instructions from the vendor that if they put them in the ground in Ixtapa they would grow. No need for rooting them first in water. We’ll keep our fingers crossed, because those cactus flowers would make a spectacular addition to any garden.

There is more to see in Pátzcuaro, and there are intriguing other towns in the area, but our beloved sailboat Groovy was calling us home.

Patzcuaro Mexico cactus flowers sailing blog

Colorful cactus flowers.

 

We had left the boat at anchor in Zihuatanejo for four days, and we needed to make sure our home hadn’t drifted out to sea.

Michoacan Mexico steel bridge cruising blog

The brightly painted steel bridges turned golden in the afternoon sun.

Michoacan Mexico Infiernillo dam

We descend from the mountains towards the lakes.

Michoacan Mexico cactus

We’ll be back to see more of Morelia and Michoacán.

We retraced our route back down to the seashore, passing the lovely serene lakes and golden hued bridges followed by the thick cactus stands along the desert.

This part of Mexico had enchanted us, and our only regret was that our trip inland had been so short. With any luck we’ll get back to this area again someday and be able to spend more time enjoying all it has to offer.

But for now, Groovy welcomed us home without any hint that we’d ever left, and we resumed our floating life in Zihuatanejo Bay.

 

 

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Huatulco Farewell – Fabulous Memories of a great stay

Playa Entrega Huatulco Mexico cruising blog

Playa Entrega is one of Huatulco’s best beaches.

Late January, 2013 – After all the fun we’d had with our new friends on the luxurious properties of Villa Escondida and Las Palmas, we wondered if we would ever have the heart to leave Huatulco, Mexico. This little seaside community had enchanted us for three months.

Huatulco Mexico Cruise Ship Dock sailing blog

View of the cruise ship dock from our boat.

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Mexico Cruise Ship Dock sail blog

Pier in the little Santa Cruz harbor.

Pelican Huatulco Mexico cruising blog

A pelican checks us out.

For two of those months we had been anchored in Santa Cruz Bay.

We had been there so long that the exposed part of our anchor had become encrusted with barnacles. I guess that’s the cruising equivalent of putting down roots!!

As we began thinking about leaving, we realized we would have to spend at least one night at sea. Although there are a few marginal places to stay overnight along this coast, none sounded all that inviting until Acapulco, which is 210 nautical miles away. Traveling at an average of 6-7 knots, that’s a minimum of 30 hours “on the road.” Zihuatanejo was 140 miles further.

Full Moon on ocean Sailing Mexico blog

Full moon at sea.

It is much easier to see at night on the ocean when there is a full (or nearly full) moon. Otherwise there is no horizon, and the ocean and the sky become indistinguishable. It’s very eerie.

Guitar singer Huatulco Mexico sail blog

This guitarist belted out “Alla en el rancho grande” to everyone’s delight.

Having a moon in the sky is also more comforting, as those inky black waves lapping the outside of the hull from the pitch dark bottomless depths can wreak havoc on your imagination.

So we had planned to leave when the moon was full, or as close to full as possible. That would be at the end of the month, which gave us plenty of time to prepare.

We slowly made the rounds to our favorite places to say “goodbye.” Over at Santa Cruz beach we enjoyed final beach-side beers served by two waiters we had befriended, Eugenio and Martín.

Waiter Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Eugenio brings joy to patrons.

Orange fronted Parrots Huatulco Mexico cruising blog

The parrots smooched in the trees every night.

And after having watched the strolling guitarist-singers for months, we finally asked one to play us a song. We chose “Alla en el rancho grande,” after listening to an inspiring rendition of this song on a CD by our friend, cowboy poet Don Cadden.

The guitarist did a fabulous job and got a round of applause from everyone in the beach bar. I was so tickled to have captured it on video that I forgot to find out his name…

We walked the docks and got final pics of whatever we could think of — all those special things we’d seen day after day and wanted to take with us as images to reminisce with in the future.

One of our favorite hangouts had been in the middle of the charming town square in Santa Cruz where there was a little kiosk bistro calle Cafe Huatulco. It is a delightful place to while away an afternoon or evening, and during our time in Huatulco we had spent many an hour there.

Santa Cruz kiosk Cafe Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

The pretty town square in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz town square Huatulco Mexico sail blog

A great place to enjoy an ice cream coffee drink.

Santa Cruz town square Huatulco Mexico cruising blog

We loved the huge, exotic shade trees in the town square.

So back we went to find a shady spot under the truly exotic and enormous trees for one last frappé ice-cream-coffee drink. Yum!

One of the crazy things about writing a blog is that sometimes you realize after the fact that a past post is missing something important.

And so it was with our pictures from Villa Escondida. One of Mark’s favorites that he took while we were there was of a little statue decoration in the house that I’ve added here.

Fat lady statue Huatulco Mexico sail blog

She looks like we always felt after those yummy frappés.

This chubby lady must have just been to Cafe Huatulco and slurped down one of those tasty ice cream coffee frappés.

Coffee ice cream drinks Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Delicious!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fixing the boat alternator Mexico cruising blog

Installing the new alternator – fun fun fun!

When we first arrived in Huatulco, around Halloween, we discovered that our 35 hour dash across the Gulf of Tehuantepec had fried the “smart charger” on our alternator. This little gizmo controls how much current the engine alternator puts into the batteries.

We learned the hard way that these smart chargers are extremely heat sensitive. We had made the crossing motor-sailing at a slightly faster pace than our usual cruising speed, and the ambient temperature in the cabin had been well over 90 degrees F the whole time.

The cruising life aboard groovy Mexico sailing blog

This is more like it – real fun!

To top it off, the original installation of the smart charger was right next to the engine in an enclosed compartment. That is a recipe for disaster!

Marimba Santa Cruz Huatulco Mexico sail blog

Playing the marimba on the beach.

Since we had already had the alternator rebuilt once, we decided to buy a new alternator / smart charger kit.

Bringing things into Mexico is not easy, and we went down various avenues to try to figure out how to get our hands on one of these kits. After four weeks of hemming and hawing, West Marine had told us it would cost $953 to ship the 20 lb. kit to Marina Chahué in Huatulco.

Cruise ship Huatulco Mexico cruising blog

Huatulco’s roots are fishing but it’s now a beautiful tourist destination.

That fee didn’t include the purchase price of the kit, the California sales tax, or the Mexican import duty! Geez. For that price, rather than shipping the part, one of us could fly to San Diego, pick one up, and bring it back!! So much for working with West Marine.

Kiskadee Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

This little kiskadee has a great big voice!

We explored other methods, but each had its issues and complications. Then our hero and friend Ron from Las Palmas offered to bring one down when he flew back to Huatulco after a trip home. Wow. What a godsend!! We couldn’t believe our good luck.

Tropical bird Huatulco Mexico sail blog

What is it?

Pelicans Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Pelicans flying overhead remind us there are many more distant horizons to explore.

 

Fortunately, Huatulco was an awesome place to hang around while we were sorting all these things out. However, after months of glorious fun visiting orchards, playing on the beach, making new friends and prancing around five star resorts like royalty, Mark finally got down to business and installed the new alternator and smart charger (he gave that little beastie a cool room of its own outside the engine compartment).  So, very sadly, it appeared it was at last time for us to move on.

Gulls on bouy Huatulco Mexico cruising blog

Gulls line up on a buoy facing the sun.

San Agostin Huatulco Mexico sail blog

Gorgeous San Agostín beach… discovered on our last day (sigh!)

We checked the calendar again and suddenly realized the full moon was coming much sooner than we’d expected. Oh no! Suddenly the gradual goodbyes and leave-taking I had imagined got compressed into a few very busy days.

Reef Fish Huatulco Mexico cruising blog

Fish on the reef at San Agostín beach.

 

 

 

 

On our last day in Huatulco, we took some friends on a daysail out to the northernmost bay, San Agostín, where we discovered yet another snorkeling paradise on a sensational reef. What an amazing place these Bays of Huatulco are. We could easily stay for another month! But we had to go… Or did we??

Reef Fish Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Baby wrasses

Our friends caught a cab back to Santa Cruz while we prepared the boat for a double overnight 350 mile passage to Zihuatanejo, our emotions in turmoil.

“Well, now we’ve got to break down the dinghy and tie it on deck,” Mark said as the sun was setting. I made a face. He made a face back. Did we really have to go? There would be another full moon in a month. Why not stay four more weeks? We both sighed.

“All right, all right…” he suddenly said. “Let’s stick around another month.”

Sunset sailing Huatulco Mexico sail blog 450

Sunset on Groovy… goodbye Huatulco!!

We both grinned, happy to abandon the dinghy breakdown project. We toasted our sudden and brilliant decision to stay in Huatulco instead, and went to bed planning to sail back to Santa Cruz Bay the next day. However, overnight we both changed our minds yet again. We could easily have stayed in Huatulco forever, but more adventures surely awaited us up ahead.

Next morning we broke down the dinghy and packed up the boat and began our 350 mile sail to Zihuatanejo. But, as so often happens in this crazy traveling lifestyle, we didn’t stick to our plans for very long.  While underway we changed our itinerary one more time…

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Lake Michigan – Charming coastal towns

Saugatuck Michigan Chain Ferry

Saugatuck Chain Ferry

Saugatuck Michigan Chain Ferry

Hand-cranking the ferry

Saugatuck Michigan shops

Saugatuck Main Street

Saugatuck Michigan shops Saugatuck Michigan shops Mt. Baldhead Saugatuck Michigan

282 steps to the top

Mt. Baldhead Saugatuck Michigan

Looking down at Saugatuck

Grand Haven Michigan

Grand Haven, MI

Grand Haven Michigan Higgins Lake campground Michigan

Higgins Lake

Higgins Lake campground Michigan

Behind the ice cream shop is a secret path...

Higgins Lake campground Michigan

Higgins Lake

Bay Breeze Yacht Charters Travers City Michigan

Bay Breeze Yacht Charters

Bay Breeze Yacht Charters Travers City Michigan

Free sailing!

Chateau Chantal vineyard Traverse City Michigan

Chateau Chantal vineyard

Old Mission Lighthouse Michigan

Old Mission Lighthouse

Old Mission Peninsula Michigan Old Mission Peninsula Michigan boat Pyramid Point Michigan Hike

Pyramid Point Hike

Pyramid Point Michigan Hike Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park

Birch tree -- not aspen

Pyramid Point, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Michigan

Pyramid Point, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.

Pyramid Point, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Michigan Iris farm Michigan Iris farm Michigan Iris farm Michigan

Saugatuck, Higgins Lake & Traverse City

Early June, 2009 - We left South Haven, Michigan and drove a little

further up the coast to Saugatuck, another utterly charming town along

the the state's southern Lake Michigan coast.  At the far end of town

we discovered the hand-cranked Saugatuck Chain Ferry which takes

passengers across the river.  As we stood at the little ferry dock

marveling at this contraption, a mom, dad and daughter on bikes

appeared on the other side of the river.  They started waving their

hands excitedly, the little girl especially.  Suddenly the two young boys

on the chain ferry leaped into action.

One boy managed the lines while the other manned the hand-cranking

station.  He cranked the lever round and round, and slowly the ferry

began to move along its chain.  The current is quite strong in the

middle of the river, and it made sense to put this hand-powered ferry

on a chain system so it couldn't drift downstream faster than it could be

cranked across.  The family on the other side happily loaded their

bikes onto the ferry and the boys switched roles for the return trip.

The town has a lovely main street

for walking and window shopping.

We found many pretty flower

displays along the storefronts as

we walked.  We wished we had our

bikes so we could venture a little

further from the center of town.

However, being bikeless, at least

this pretty flower basket bike was

nice to photograph.

On the far side of the river, where

the family of bicyclists had flagged

down the ferry, Mount Baldhead

has  282 stairs leading to the top.

Lots of people seem to climb this

staircase as a workout -- at

different paces.  Mark pumped

his way to the top at a steady

trot, while I gave myself a few

breathers near the end.

After admiring the view at the

top, we ran down the sand path

on the other side to Oval Beach

for a quick peak at the lake.

Then we got our heart rates

going again as we staggered up

the sand path to the top.

Sweaty and grinning, I started

down the stairs to the car.  I

hadn't gone 12 stairs when I

met a 79-year-old woman

coming up.  She had stopped to

catch her breath, and as she

wiped her brow she told me she

climbs this stairway once a year.

We got back in the car and started making our way north again.  On a

small road that wound through the backs of some pretty neighborhoods

we saw a commotion ahead of us in someone's front yard.  Kids and

bikes were everywhere and a small pen was set up in the yard.  We got

out of the car to see what the fuss was about and discovered a family

was selling a litter of six adorable Golden Retriever pups.  Hardly any

were in the pen; all were in the arms of the neighborhood kids.  The

momma retriever stood to one side looking very proud and rather

exhausted.  Mark finally got a chance to hold a pup, and he was in

heaven.  If we weren't living a traveling lifestyle, he would have been the

proud owner of a new puppy that day.

A little further up the road we stopped in Grand Haven, another small town that has grown

up along the shores of Lake Michigan.  An ice cream cone and a stroll around town, and

we were happy tourists.

We returned to Detroit for a week or so to catch

up with family again.  Then we got the itch to

see more of Michigan and set out for the

northern reaches of the state.  Our first stop

was Higgins Lake, Mark's family's old stomping

grounds when they camped with a myriad of

cousins and aunts and uncles in large family

caravans years ago.  The little Shasta sister-

trailer we had seen in Elkhart had hosted many

a family campfire at Higgins Lake.

Mark remembered the rangers at

this campground as being quite

cranky, and sure enough they

wouldn't allow us to drive through

the campground to take a look

around unless we paid for a night's stay.  As teens, Mark and his friends

had referred to the ranger there as "Ranger Danger," and had done

dastardly things like played very loud Led Zeppelin from their oversized

car stereo systems, blasting everyone out of the campground.  Now, of

course, whenever rowdy teens disturb our serene camping spots, I have

to remind him that it is simply payback time.

But our mission of the moment

was to get into the Higgins Lake

campground just long enough to get a good nostalgic

look around.  Mark drove past the campground entrance

to the old ice cream stand that he and his cousins had

walked to every day, and sure enough, the little path he

remembered still led into the campground out of sight of

the main entrance.  We snuck down the path and got

our trip down memory lane despite Ranger Danger.

Mark's dad had always rented a big party barge during

their stays on the lake, and as we looked out on all the

happy boaters, the many family slideshows we'd been

watching over the past few weeks suddenly came to life.

Continuing north across the state, we spent some time

in Traverse City.  This charming area was feeling the pinch from the bad

economy and we stayed in a motel that had posted a sign saying: "We're

almost giving rooms away," which they were.  As we drove along the

shorefront of this very pretty town, we heard

advertisements for a boat show.  Who could pass that up?

So off we went to see what a Great Lakes boat show might

be like.

Bay Breeze Yacht Charters was the center of attention.

The business had been recently acquired by Dave and

Kristin who had Michigan roots but had just spent 14 years

in the Caribbean bareboat yacht charter business.  "Your

brain turns to mush after that long in the Caribbean," Dave

said, so they had returned to Michigan to shovel a little

snow and sharpen up a bit.  They were offering free sails

on the bay for the boat show and needed two more people

before they pushed off -- so we hopped on.  What fun to

be out sailing again!  As we hung around on the boat for a

while afterwards, all the thoughts about our sailing

dreams that we'd been

avoiding for the past month

suddenly flooded back.

Hmmm.

Early next morning we drove

out along the Mission

Peninsula on beautiful winding

roads past farms and orchards

and vineyards.  Chateau

Chantal is perched high up with

views past their vineyard to

distant farmlands that roll down

to the bay on the horizon.

At the end of the peninsula we walked around the Old Mission

Lighthouse and swished our fingers in the waters of the lake.

It was a glorious morning, and we must have said 50 times to each

other: "this would be a perfect place to ride a bike."  Sure enough,

before long, we came across a group of cyclists out for a morning ride

along those wonderful sweeping roads.  We followed them down a tiny

road that led out to the bay and watched the scenery unfold next to us

as we returned back towards Traverse City.

Every home had a boat dock across the

street, and boats of all shapes and sizes

were ready to take passengers out for a

ride on the lake.

Dave and Kristin of Bay Breeze had

recommended we drive straight west to

the open shore of Lake Michigan and

hike out to Pyramid Point in the Sleeping

Bear Dunes.  The hike took us through

some lush forest.

We noticed birch trees -- not our familiar

aspens -- along the trail.

At the end the

trail opened

up to a commanding view of Lake

Michigan.

The water was clear and turquoise,

shading to a rich blue a little further

out capped off by some low islands in

the distance.

We drove along the rural roads that

looped back towards Traverse City.

Suddenly a colorful palette of flowers

appeared, and we stopped for a closer

look.

It was an iris farm, and the

irises were in stunning bloom.

The farm had planted varieties

in every possible shade and

color combination.

We roamed along the rows of

flowers for an hour, stepping

gingerly between them.

Looking around at the many

hues, I felt like I was in the

middle of a Monet painting.

A second night in the

motel where they were "almost

giving rooms away," and we

were ready to go to further

north in search of more scenic

waterfront villages along

Northern Lake Michigan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North Lake Michigan – Alluring Coastal Towns

Charlevoix, Michigan

Charlevoix, Michigan...

Charlevoix, Michigan

...flowers and charm

Charlevoix, Michigan Harbor

Charlevoix's Harborfront park

Charlevoix, Michigan fountain

Summertime !!

Charlevoix, Michigan painted park bench

Lighthouses on a park bench

Charlevoix, Michigan lighthouse

Charlevoix Lighthouse

Charlevoix, Michigan lighthouse

A boat waits for the drawbridge to open.

Charlevoix, Michigan lighthouse sailbot

The channel leads from Lake Michigan to Charlevoix

Harbor

Charlevoix, Michigan lighthouse sailboat and drawbridge

The drawbridge lets sailboats pass through.

Charlevoix, Michigan beach

The town sports a beachside playground.

Lake Michigan's clear water

Lake Michigan's clear water: turquoise and inviting.

Lilacs were in bloom.

Petunia beds escorted us out of town for miles.

Harbor Springs, a sparkling gem on Lake Michigan

Harbor Springs, a sparkling gem on Lake Michigan

Harbor Springs, Lake Michigan Harbor Springs, Lake Michigan sailing lessons

Local kids drop their bikes and bags to take sailing lessons.

Harbor Springs, Lake Michigan sailing lessons Harbor Springs, Lake Michigan wooden boat

Beautiful wooden boats were everywhere.

Harbor Springs, Lake Michigan wooden boat

Harbor Springs' waterfront park

Harbor Springs, Lake Michigan

Have a seat and stay a while...

Harbor Springs, Lake Michigan Harbor Springs, Lake Michigan

Large equestrian estates fringe Harbor Springs.

The Tunnel of Trees scenic drive Michigan

The Tunnel of Trees

Macinaw City, Gateway to Macinac Island.

Macinaw City, Gateway to Macinac Island.

Charlevoix, Harbor Springs & The Tunnel of Trees

Mid-June, 2009 - We continued our tour along the beautiful Lake Michigan coast, leaving

Traverse City and making our way to Charlevoix.  I was amazed at how many quaint,

peaceful and picturesque villages perch along these shores.  Charlevoix has a lovely park

along the harbor in the center of town, and it was lined with bright petunias in beds along

the ground and in hanging flower baskets.

A small stretch of grass leads to a small marina,

and we walked along the docks soaking up the sun

and talking to whatever boat owners we could find.

There is an outdoor concert pavilion as well, and we

could imagine many a balmy summer night sitting

there listening to music.

Some kids were making the most of the park's fountains, trying to

stomp out the various spigots of water as they shot up and then

clustering around the big fountain.  I could sympathize with the little girl

on the edge who was freezing.

There is a

sense of

whimsy in this

town, and one

park bench is

adorned with

colorful

paintings of

Lake

Michigan's

lighthouses.

We found the

Charlevoix

lighthouse at

the end of a

very long

channel that

leads from the open lake waters to the tiny inner harbor.  It was a perfect

day for strolling along the channel's boardwalk and, as we walked, a few

sailboats made their way in and out of the harbor.

A drawbridge separates the channel from the inner harbor, and when it is

scheduled to open all the sailboats scurry to get through.

At the end of

the channel

there is a town

beach with a

playground.  I

could easily

imagine many

happy summer

days spent

here.

Everywhere we

went I was startled by the clarity of the water.  Lake Michigan's water is

turquoise, much like the Caribbean, and is extremely clear.

Lilacs were in bloom.  They are one of my favorite spring flowers, and

they had already faded down south around Detroit.  We both buried are

noses in their fragrant clusters.

All of these

towns were

places where

we could have

easily stayed

for the

summer, but

we pushed

north on our

tour.  The

charming, whimsical air of Charlevoix stayed with us for a long time.  The

road out of town was lined on both sides with beautiful petunia beds.  It

made for a lovely drive.  After watching this continuous flower bed escort

us for at least three miles, I just shook my head in amazement.  That's a

lot of flowers.  This town is truly loved by its residents.

The next stop was Harbor Springs, a tiny village on the

water's edge.  It is an upscale town that boasts some

beautiful Victorian homes that were meticulously

maintained.

We arrived just as the

kids were running down

from the yacht club to

prepare their little

sailboats for sailing

lessons.

The area was lined with bikes and backpacks, and the

kids made quick work of getting the sails up and getting

the boats off the dock.  What a priceless, fun filled

summer lay ahead for those kids.

One thing we had noticed in every harbor in our travels was the large

numbers of wooden boats, all in beautiful condition.  Harbor Springs was

no exception, and this boat really turned our heads.  The woodwork was

pristine, with shiny varnish that was deep and lustrous.

We didn't realize until a few days later that one of the nation's three

major wooden boat schools was just a hundred miles north in the

Upper Peninsula.  No wonder the many gorgeous wooden boats here

in Harbor Springs were so beautifully crafted and maintained.  There

was plenty of skill and knowledge about wooden boats in the area.

Like so many other waterfront villages along this coast, Harbor Springs has a pretty park

overlooking the bay.  Yet again we felt we could stop and spend the rest of the summer right

here in blissful tranquility.

This town is very posh, and not only do

the fortunate residents spend time on

their boats, but they also enjoy

equestrian entertainment, tennis and

other country club pursuits during their

leisure time.

We passed some beautiful country

estates on the way out of town.  In many

ways it felt like we had just spent a few

hours observing a way of life that may

be fast disappearing in this oh-so-busy

workaday world of ours.  It felt like a

gentleman's town from

another era, especially with

so many stunning wooden

boats dating back to the mid

1900's.

Route 119 leading out of

town is one of Michigan's

scenic byways called the

Tunnel of Trees.  For an

hour we drove along

through this winding,

green one-lane tunnel,

weaving our way under a

thick green canopy of

leaves.  Occasionally there were glimpses of the lake on our left or of small log cabins tucked

back into the woods on our right, but for the most part it was a curvy, narrow road, encased in

tree limbs.

At first the trees

were all deciduous,

but as we drove we

came across a few

clusters of skinny

pines.  Some historic plaques explained a little about the

area.  One spot, Devil's Elbow, had been a spring in a

ravine where the Indians believed local spirits made their

presence known in the wee hours of the night.  Another,

L'Arbre Croche, was the name the French gave to this

whole Tunnel of Trees region, so named because of a

huge crooked tree that towered above everything.

We emerged into daylight and made our way towards Macinaw City, the northernmost point of Michigan's mittened southern

peninsula.  It is the "Gateway to Macinac Island," the famed island where only foot and bicycle traffic are allowed.  However, we

took the other road and headed over the Macinaw Bridge to Michigan's Upper Peninsula instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kanab & Alton, UT – Whoa!!!

Kanab, Utah Kanab, Utah Kanab city park, Kanab, Utah Kanab city park, Kanab, Utah Kanab city park, Kanab, Utah Kanab, Utah Squaw Trail, Kanab, Utah Squaw Trail, Kanab, Utah Squaw Trail, Kanab, Utah Squaw Trail, Kanab, Utah Squaw Trail, Kanab, Utah Squaw Trail, Kanab, Utah Squaw Trail, Kanab, Utah Kanab, Utah Kanab, Utah Welcome to Alton, Utah Alton, Utah Alton, Utah Alton, Utah Alton, Utah Alton, Utah

Kanab and Alton, Utah

July 15-19 (and again August 21-26, 2008) - We left the cool pine

woods of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and

descended into the flat, hot desert floor of Utah to the north.  Kanab,

Utah, is the only town of any size (pop. 3,800) between several

national parks:  Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Grand

Staircase Escalante.

It is a charming community tucked up against a row of red

rock mountains.  At this time of year the town is loaded with

rental RVs and foreignors.  Groups of Europeans were

caravaning in their rental RVs, hanging the flags of their

homelands off their radio antennas and in the back windows.

Our weeks in the woods at

the North Rim had emptied

our shelves completely, so

we stayed for a few days to

replenish everything.  We

were fortunate that the

monsoons were still very

active.  Even though Kanab is

at 4,900 feet elevation, it was

blazing hot in the sunshine.

The cloud cover and

downpours in the

afternoons kept us

from sweltering.

Kanab's city park

features beautiful

gardens and a brand

new huge swimming

pool and water slide

that was packed to the

gills with happy kids all

day.  While we strolled among the flowers, the park's longtime caretaker

described the boisterous family fun of the Mormon Pioneer Days that are

celebrated with an enormous city-wide barbecue in the park's barbecue pit.

Hundred of kids and families spread out on the grass on the July 24th

weekend to celebrate the unique heritage of the Mormons who settled

Utah with great purpose in the mid-1800's.

Behind the park, Squaw

Trail climbs up a canyon

to heights way above the

city, passing steep red

rock walls along the way.

We clambered up the trail,

shouting "hello" at the

tops of our lungs as the

trail took us ever deeper

into the canyon.  I have

never heard such a

perfect echo with such a long time delay.  As we

shouted, it was as though the canyon walls were

shouting back at us, each word enunciated with

absolute clarity.

The bird's eye view of Kanab from the top of the

cliffs was worth the sweat we lost getting there.  We

had often hiked similar trails around Phoenix in the

olden days, but this trail was unique because it was

utterly quiet.  We didn't pass one other person on

the entire trail.  From the top of the mountain we

could hear the town's internal workings below:  a

tractor in a distant field, a motorcycle rumbling down

the main street, kids playing ball in a back yard.

The air around us was perfectly still, and these quiet

murmurs from the town's streets drifted slowly up to

us on sun-drenched air currents.

The rocks were every

shade of orange and

red.  Some faces were

rainbow streaked, with

stripes formed over the

ages, offering a full

array of orange-hued

swirls and bands.  As

we climbed back down,

we found furnace-hot

rock faces were now

baking the spots where

there had been cool

shade during our ascent.  The beauty filled our senses, but this red rock

desert environment is unforgivingly harsh in the sun.

The road leading north

out of Kanab is

stunning, without being

showy.  Crowded in

among tourists and

locals hurrying along

this busy stretch of

road, I caught myself

gaping at the exotic

cliffs that lined its

edges.

Over eons, the darker hues of

some red rocks have dripped

lazily down the lighter colored

cliffs, leaving dribbled stains on

the rock face like an old paint can.

August 21, 2008 - We saw a small

road on the map leading away

from the highway to a dot marked

"Alton."  Accepting this open

invitation into the hinterlands, we

hoped no cars would want to

share the one-lane road with our

behemoth truck and trailer as we

approached the town.  We arrived

unscathed, but found ourselves

hopping out of the truck each time

the power lines crossed the road,

worried that the buggy would snag its

roof on the low-hanging wires.

Tucked away, far from anything, amid

farmlands that stretch as far as the

eye can see, this picturesque tiny

town charmed us with its "Whoa" stop

signs and warm welcome from

people working in their yards.

We asked a man in a cowboy hat

where we might find a place to park

for the night, and he suggested the town hall parking lot.  "Really?"  we asked.  "I'm the mayor,

and it's okay with me!"  Another fellow, Paul, set his shovel aside for over an hour to chat with us

about the town and its history.  He told us the mayor, Claren Heaton, was the great-grandson of

the town's founder, and that the name of the town was drawn from a hat, back in 1908, by two-

year-old Gwen Heaton, as the citizens of the new town looked on.

He said it is not unusual to see a horse

strolling down the street, and that no one

minds.  With just 134 people in town,

there's no such thing as a strange face,

human or equine.  100% of the citizens

are Mormon, he said, adding, "probably

80% are related to each other too."

As we talked, Paul's fifth cousin three

times removed, Victor, pulled up.  He

parked his truck in the middle of the

road to join our conversation.  We

were on the main drag, and Mark and

I looked up nervously when a truck

approached in the distance.  Paul and

Victor laughed and assured us there was no need to move: the truck would go around us.

We watched in amazement as the man in the truck, marked "Sheriff," waved "hello" to our

little group, and then drove off the road into the dirt to get past.

We rode our bikes throughout

the town, utterly delighted with

the prettiness and happiness of

this little community.  We eagerly

jumped off the bikes every few

minutes to snap pictures.

Without being backward or old

fashioned, this miniscule hamlet

seemed untouched by the rest

of the world, living in peace, and

removed from time.

So we had to laugh when we discovered we had a wi-fi signal in the trailer.

But the joke was on us.  Mark popped off an email to his cousin, describing this wonderful town we'd discovered.  Almost instantly,

he received a reply, complete with a link to the Alton, Utah, website showing the long line of Claren Heatons' ancestors that had

been mayors of the town before him.  Mark's cousin also included a link to Alton's satellite photo on Google Earth, detailed enough

to see the shed next to where we were parked.

At peace, yes.  Removed from time, perhaps.  Out of touch, hardly!

We spent the summer of 2008 bebopping around southern Utah.  Two of our most heartwarming experiences were the

discoveries of two unusual Utah animal sanctuaries:  Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a no-kill domestic animal sanctuary in

stunning Angel Canyon and the Southwest Wildlife Foundation which rehabilitates and reintroduces native fauna.