Hola from Mexico!
After a nice Christmas visit with our son Aaron in San Diego, the weather turned rainy. We watched the weather
day by day looking for a break to move on down the coast. The break we were looking for was not so much in rain
or wind as it was in wave height and period. For the non-sailors reading this, the wave period is the time it
takes between the crests, or high point of two waves to pass under you. If you have 1 or 2 foot waves, that is
not bad, if you have 10 foot waves and the period is 15 or 18 seconds, that is not bad. BUT, if you have
10-foot waves, and the period is less than 10 seconds, it's barf city! The weather delay in San Diego did allow
us to meet up with some old friends who were VERY nice in showing us around and checking to make sure we were not
getting cabin fever. As it turns out one of them, Ted, Greg used to work with a long time ago, in Field Service.
And we had a chance to meet Kerry, who has a boat like ours. It is always a gabfest when you get to see how
others have put their boats together. Emerald is a beauty!
This has been a very unusual year for San Diego weather. The storms have just stacked one behind the other. Each
morning we listen to the weather report and calculate how the weather is doing. We watch for it to settle down a
bit and predict our departure. The next morning with the new prediction, we reschedule our departure. With rain
and strong winds every day we struggle to keep spirits up. We had one day when 60 knot winds roared through the
anchorage. A reminder (if we needed one) that this weather predicting is serious stuff.
We had hoped to depart on the 12th. Another boat, a 56 foot motor sailor headed out on the 11th at about 11 PM.
When we got up the next morning, they were back in the slip in San Diego. All 5 members of the crew (Mom, dad,
and 3 kids) were very sea sick due to the short wave period. They said they were going to watch us head out next
time and make sure the weather was good before they moved again. We sent out an email when we entered Mexican
waters. Looks like we little boats have to show the way (Grin). As it turns out, they did just that! We next saw
them behind us as we were entering Ensenada harbor. Our good weather window opened on Thursday the 13th. We decided
to head out late in the evening in an effort to get in Ensenada before noon on the next day. We fueled up and
departed the channel as the light of day was fading. After just a few hours it looked like we were averaging more
speed than we had expected. So, we slowed the boat down by de-powering the sails. We crossed the boarder between
Mexico and the U.S at about 6:15 PM local time.
Greg was just coming out on deck around 8:00 PM, (well inside Mexico) when he heard the phone ring! We were over 4
miles off the coast and wondered how this was taking place. It was Aaron, The first thing he said was "So, you're
still in San Diego". Then, "WOW, KOOL", when we told him where we were actually at. We are about to cancel our phone
service, as it is NOT an international phone. As we traveled down the coast, we were getting a boost from the
current. Our knot log, (speed through the water) was reading 3 or so knots, but the GPS, SOG (speed over ground),
was reading over 5 knots! As it turns out, once we got close to Ensenada, we had to heave-to (a sailing term for
just sort of parking at sea, or to just idle in place) for two hours and wait for the sun to come up before we
entered Bahia Todos Santos (All Saints Bay). We never enter a new harbor in the dark. As we enter the harbor, we
scan the town with our binoculars, looking for the famous Mexican flag that is used by boaters to this area, to
navigate by. No flag, but we did locate the tallest flagpole (103.81 meters) we have ever seen.
I was not too happy with this passage. I would rather have sailed during the daylight into our first foreign port,
but because of the distance, we didn't have an option. It was a cold and moonless night. But we were very excited
to arrive at our destination.
Once we got in, we started to get all of the paper work done. Entering a new country requires quite a bit. We
prepared as much as we could when we were in San Diego, but now the real deal starts. As it turns out our marina
helped out a lot! We are staying at Baja Naval. They are so familiar with the processes and the charge for their
services is so reasonable, that we had them take care of the clearing in process for us. We could not use the ham
radio once we entered Mexican waters, as we didn't have our Mexican ham license for a few days. Roger, here at the
marina speaks excellent English and knows about everything you could possibly think to ask. In spite of what we
have heard, our expenses have gone down considerably. The accepted exchange rate seems to be about 11 to 1. We were
given a map of the town with grocery stores, pharmacies, bakeries and a few restaurants (like McDonalds, KFC and
Pizza Hut) marked on them. Roger tells us there are no laundry facilities here but see the guard on duty, he will
arrange pickup and delivery within 24 hours. The water at the slips is not potable "drinkable". Fresh water is
available for $.35 per gallon. The marina also offers twice a week to drive cruisers to a huge market to provision.
There is no charge for this service and they are very serious that they do not want any of the workers to receive
tips. They had us sign an agreement to that effect when we arrived. Roger tells us that we may use their wifi
free of charge! And if we use the office phones, we may call all over the US, free of charge! They have a small
office with a door set up for privacy just for cruisers.
The paperwork "Cha cha" at most ports of entry is as follows: Find out where it is and walk to migracion. You must
have copies of all your information as they do not have copy machines. Then you must go to the bank to pay any fees.
Then walk to the port captania with your receipts and stamped papers, leave copies with him. And then back to the
bank to pay fees again. You are not legally in the country until you have done this and are not to stop anywhere
until this procedure is completed. The offices can be in different parts of the town and it can take a whole day
to complete this. When you leave, you go through the same process again.
After getting our check in paperwork completed, we were directed to a nearby restaurant for a meal before grabbing
some sleep. Alfonso's serves Mexican food as well as the best pizza we have had in a while. Sounds funny to find
pizza but there you are! Santiago is our waiter. He brings us cheese quasadillas, complimentary, while we decide
what to order. He is proud of his restaurant. No, he is not the owner but he has worked there for 23 years he proudly
tells us. After we have been here about a week, we asked Santiago where is the flag? He tells us that they don't
raise the flag when it is windy, as it will tear up the flag. Ok. That makes sense. But we have had 80 degree weather
with no wind or very light breeze since we have been here! Over the course of our stay, we learn that the town uses
propane for fuel. Until recently, they only had one company delivering propane to the homes. It was very difficult on
the people because sometimes he left them without propane for a week or more. The government finally realized that
this led to corruption because the company was taking bribes to deliver the fuel. The government allowed another
company to supply propane to allow competition.
But Santiago confides, I think the same man owns both companies. Ensenada is a GREAT small town to start our adventure
It seems like it is about half Mexico and half U.S. Every place we go they speak English and try to help us learn some
Spanish. At every store they seem to take U.S. dollars or Mexican Pesos. Yes, we are in the land of Spanish, pesos,
meters and kilos. One thing that we see that is unique and delightful is that the families, mothers, fathers, kids and
grandparents all seem to spend time together and take walks together! They all seem to be happy and smiling. We are
close to the "Malecon" or harbor walkway, and watch the never-ending parade going by. We smile as the young lovers kiss
and hug, as they gaze out over the bay. It shows that we, all of humanity, are more similar that different. Looking
back over our travels, we wonder why so many Americans seem to be very serious and not smiling, when we have so much
to be grateful for, while here they are smiling and content to be alive. Also, we are smiling big time, there is an
Abalone farm close by and we can purchase fresh Abalone here at a fantastic fish market. They sell it like it was sold
in the U.S. in times LONG gone by.
On our second day in Ensenada, the town took a dramatic change. The cruise ships are in port! This sleepy town has just
woken up! We see an increase in traffic both on foot and autos and horse drawn carriages. We also observe a greater
presence of police patrolling. The street vendors quadruple in quantity and so do the prices. Just thought I'd let all
you cruise ship travelers know that fact. The cruise ship buses the passengers to the "main" street. Here the
restaurants and bars and shops are "Americanized". Prices are fixed and there is no bartering going on. Posted along
the streets are signs asking the visitors to please not give money to the beggars that have their children with them.
Apparently, these moms take the children out of school to use for this purpose and the locals frown upon it. Believe
me when I tell you that they are not out on the streets the rest of the days when there are no ships in port. We did
observe one female beggar after the cruise ship sounded its horn to call back the passengers, shopping for jewelry
in a side street shop.
The city has what they call the tolerance zone. This is the area were the "gentlemen's clubs" are located. The city is
struggling with keeping them and the revenue they produce or banning them. My guess is that much of that revenue comes
from US dollars and since this city runs on tourism, it is a real dilemma for these people.
We are paying for our impatience. We need to get our mail to take care of some business so we had it sent express. Huge
mistake! It cost us $240 US for the shipping before customs charges. We really must learn to relax more and stop
planning. Because we were held up in San Diego so long we have a sense that we should keep moving before the storms
catch up with us. This is not the case; we just have this drive going on. We want to get to tropical weather, but we
want to enjoy the journey also.
As in San Diego, the cruisers use Channel 22 as a phone. While you are on your boat, you leave it turned on and tuned
to 22. Every morning at 8 AM, they take turns running the net. They ask if there are any emergencies or illness, give a
weather report, a little US news and any useful information, and any new comers can ask questions. They had a swap meet
and we were able to meet some of the cruisers who have been here and elsewhere in Mexico for many years.
Greg is becoming quite the radio/computer guru and is invited to help out others who are struggling with the mysteries
of communication devices. There is a bartering system that goes on in the community. For helping with the radio, a
cruiser may deliver mail to the US to be mailed. Or pick up items at the Costco/West Marine/etc. in San Diego when
they make a trip. A few people have autos and are very generous with them. Jill was lucky enough to get a ride to
the lavanderia, and a lesson how to buy tokens for the machines. It is quite expensive to wash and dry clothes. My
concern was that if I gave my clothes to someone to wash for us and something disappeared, how would I retrieve it?
The guess here is that if you don't have a full load of clothes to wash in the machine, they will add someone else's
clothes to your wash. They try to be very careful not to mix up peoples clothes but it happens. I was told by a long
time cruiser that you can be pretty safe having your clothes washed in larger cities and if you miss something, just
call on the radio and ask if anyone else got it in their laundry. In remote villages however, if you have two matching
items i.e.: pillow cases, towel sets, they will keep one for them selves. She has no towels or sheets that match for
that reason. I don't know that this is true or a rumor. I have found the people here to be very honest.
We did find that there is free Spanish lessons twice a week at a local coffee house. We showed up for our first lesson
and discovered that there is no special treatment given to newbies. We were immediately given a paper to read and
translate. Then we were to take dictation in Spanish. Thank you every one in class for letting us copy from your paper.
Jill had brought with her a small pad of paper and Greg had to beg a few from her. The instructor told us at the end of
class, "Buy index cards and make flash cards and next time bring a large pad and notebook". What pressure!! We went out
to dinner with another couple after the class. We can do that ok.
We signed up for a ride to the Super Gigante
for Tuesday morning. It is a beautiful market as good as any in the States. There are many Americano foods and many that
we recognize but they have Spanish writing on them. We spent much time looking and reading and figuring out what things
were. We didn't really need provisions as we are will stocked from San Diego, but thought we should see what is
available. There is a small lime here that is delicious! We put it in our Coka for lime cola and we found mayonnaise
with lime in it. We also add limes to our drinking water and it gives it a little kick. After buying a few things at
the Gigante, Jill took all the packages and boxes, etc. and looked up each Spanish word in the diccionario and wrote
it on the containers. Reading our receipt was another leccion in Spanish.
Some sample prices here are:
14.5 Oz canned Strawberries, 11.50 or about $1.00 U.S.
29 Oz Fruit Cocktail, 11.50 or about $1.00 U.S.
11.5 Oz Joy dishwashing, 11.50 or about $1.00 U.S.
80 pack of Baby Wipes (work great when water is short) 11.50 or about $1.00 U.S.
A fifth of Kahula is 84.50, or about $7.68 U.S.
Drinking water, brought to the boat, $0.35 per US Gallon
Diesel Fuel, brought to the boat, $2.00 per US Gallon
A note to any cruisers who may follow us down, stop in Ensenada and do your provisioning here! You will save 25% or
more!! And about EVERYTHING (except cake decoration items) can be easily obtained.
We were ready to leave after about a week, but on a trip into town we discovered that the first week of February, there
is "Carnavale" here, and apparently all over Mexico.
We WILL stay for it! We met a local woman who is very involved in the Carnavale and she invited Jill to a woman's only
party and preview of the costumes. The tickets for this event are very coveted and scarce and gringos are not usually
invited, so Jill went.
That Friday evening (1/28) was the unofficial beginning to Carnavale here. The local women's club holds their own party.
The party is in a private club and for women only. Even the police were women. A friend from another boat and I were the
only Norte Americanas there. Everyone comes in costumes to compete for trophies, but the highlight of the evening are
the ladies competing for Queen. They wear costumes that would rival a Broadway play. Each competitor devices a theme and
builds a performance around that theme. She may have as many as 25 girlfriends participating with her. The costumes and
choreography are all at their own expense. This is all for the one night and then the costumes are retired to their
closets. All done for the honor of being crowned Queen. These girls stood for over 5 hours in 5-inch heels and huge
headpieces. As I understand it, this is a very conservative community and they don't like uncouth men touching or being
rude to their wives and daughters, so this is their celebration of Carnavale. We had a wonderful time and danced all
Sorry for my poor camera work, it can't begin to show you how elaborate these costumes are.
Our good friends, James and Ann, aboard Novia (from England) departed south on the 24th. We will miss them. We have been
meeting up with them, at the same ports, ever since we were in the Channel Islands. They have a short amount of time to
cruise, and for them the clock is always ticking. We hope to catch up with them again before they head off to the South
We will close for this month with only one regret. You will have to wait until next month to hear of the Carnavale.
Greg & Jill