Sunday, November 16, 2014

BAHIA SANTA MARIA TO CABO SAN LUCAS 2014

November 6, 2014

Punta Tosca
Everyone’s phones were charging on the chart table next to my head, so I was the only one awakened when the alarms went off at 06:00.  (From here on out, I will be using a 24 hour clock per a reader's request.)  The radio came to life shortly thereafter.  Boats barely had a chance to check in before the official start of 07:00.  We lifted our anchor by 06:45 and motored out of the bay with the rest of the fleet.  Winds were light, so nearly everyone ran their engines so as to make some progress.  We motored out of the bay and along the rocky spine of peaks between Mag Bay and the Pacific.  Almost no vegetation grew on the mountains, but the rocks varied in color from grey to white to red.  The landscape looked almost lunar except for the very blue water.  The fleet kept closer together on this leg than previously and we had boats around us all day.


Don and Kathy saw three whales just after noon, but they had sounded before I could get out of bed to see them.  The skies were finally clear of clouds and the weather was perfect.  I rested until early afternoon and then came up to enjoy the sunshine.  The wind increased and we killed the motor and sailed along, listening to music and enjoying the scenery.  We passed the mouth of Mag Bay and gradually made our way to Punta Tosca.  From there, the coast curved away to the east and we were out of sight of land.  I came back on watch at 16:00 and really enjoyed sailing until it was time to make dinner.  Dinner was stuffed acorn squash so, once they were assembled and popped in the oven, I was free to return to the helm until they were done.  The evening was so balmy that I stayed up for an hour or so after my watch was done just to enjoy the full moonlight.
Full Moon Rising

Richard had informed us of the results of the election and I found it truly depressing that the Republicans had taken control of both houses of congress.  I suppose it will now be the Democrats’ turn to block all proposed legislation, but I fear for the rights of women and am heartily glad that I am no longer of reproductive age.  A large part of me doesn’t want to return to the United States, but I have yet to find a stable place to move my assets. (Not that I don’t worry that the United States isn’t stable, any longer, either.)

November 7, 2014

Sunrise on the Way to Cabo
What little wind we had had died the previous night and we motored most of the way to Cabo San Lucas.  The weather was finally clear and warm.  Even on my 4 am watch, I didn’t need my jacket.  The sunrise was gorgeous.  I stayed up after my watch to drink a cup of coffee and then went below to read, but fell asleep and didn’t wake up until we were rounding the corner into Cabo San Lucas.  A giant cruise ship half filled the bay.  We thought about stopping for fuel, but decided that the fuel dock would be mobbed with arriving boats and instead headed for the anchorage.

Coming into Cabo San Lucas
The Arch at Cabo
Don's Diving Form
The anchorage in Cabo has a fabulous view of the arches and the sandy beach lined with hotels.  We anchored in about 25 feet of water so clear that we could see the bottom.  The only downside was that the anchorage was rather rolly.  We spent the afternoon lounging on the boat and then called a panga and headed in to shore just before dark.  We walked over to Squid Roe to have dinner before the Ha-Ha party started.  Squid Roe hadn’t suffered from Hurricane Odile, but the club next door had been heavily damaged and was still under construction.  Hurricane damage was visible everywhere.  Traffic lights hung at strange angles and construction workers were making repairs even on a Friday night. 

Party at Squid Roe
Ha-Ha participants kept trickling in until, by 8:00, Squid Roe was packed with dancing, drinking sailors.  It looked like a scene from “Seniors Gone Wild.”  The Ha-Ha class of 2014-2015 hadn’t been big partyers, but they made up for lost time.  It would have been a lot of fun to stay, but the deafening music finally drove us out.  Fortunately, we were able to find a water taxi to take us back to our boat.

November 8, 2014

We wanted to get our grocery shopping done before the beach party started at noon.  The swells in the anchorage were quite large, making the transfer from the boat to the panga challenging.  Fortunately, it wasn’t a long walk from the dinghy dock to the grocery store.  The store had only a limited amount of fresh meat and produce.  Chicken was the only available meat and we were only able to obtain a couple of tomatoes and some bananas.  They did have a large selection of junk food, which made Kathy happy.  She was able to stock up on Cheetos, cinnamon rolls and sodas. 

After shopping, we headed back to the boat.  Getting back on was even more challenging with several bags of groceries.  At one point, the nose of the panga slammed down onto our deck and left behind a big chunk of fiberglass.  We had to be quick to avoid getting body parts trapped between the boats.
Cabo Anchorage
It took us half an hour or so to stow our purchases and get ready to go to the beach party.  Don decided to stay with the boat.  By the time Kathy and I were ready to go, we couldn’t find a water taxi anywhere.  After at least a half an hour of fruitless waving at every passing panga, the driver of a glass bottomed boat took pity on us and picked us up.  His other passengers were entertained as we leaped down onto the deck of the furiously heaving panga and then tumbled out onto the beach in front of the restaurant where the party was being held.  The Ha-Ha usually holds their Cabo beach parties at the Baja Cantina on the beach but, because we had been delayed by the weather, they couldn’t accommodate us because they had a wedding reception happening.  The party was moved next door to the Mango Deck, which turned out to be very loud.  They were running a competing program of entertainment that Richard said made one want to swear off sex and drinking for at least a month.  We couldn’t hear what prizes were being awarded, but had a good time talking with crew from a couple of other boats and eating a tasty lunch.  We stayed until it started to get dark and then grabbed a water taxi back to the boat before we got stranded again, once again making a death-defying leap from the bucking panga to Comet’s deck.

The boat rocked and rolled all night.  None of us slept well but, fortunately, none of us got sick, either.  I gave up on sleeping and read from two to four in the morning and Don was up, also.

November 9, 2014

Comet in Cabo Marina
We got up, ready to take off for Puerto Vallarta and get out of that rocking anchorage.  Before we were even completely awake, Richard came on the radio to tell everyone that a tropical storm was headed straight for Puerto Vallarta and that we shouldn’t leave for at least two days.  This was disappointing, although I was secretly glad to have another couple of days in Cabo because I wanted to see Carlos, our crew member from the previous year, who lived in town.  We had had it with being stuck in the boat, rolling constantly and having to pay $5 each way every time we wanted to go to shore.  We decided to try to move into the marina.  We called the marina office, but they said they were closed on Sunday and couldn’t help us.  We knew boats were leaving, so decided to head in, buy fuel, and try to talk to security about finding a slip.  The security guard said we could come in if we could find someone willing to let us raft to them.  Kathy tried hard to find us a spot, without success.  Someone told us that the office had decided to open because of all the Ha-Ha boats trying to check in and out, so Kathy called again and was told to call back at noon.  Since it was only 11 am, we decided to putt around the harbor for a bit.  When we reached the end of the marina where the office was located, they saw us coming and sent a boat out to direct us to a slip.  We tied up at 11:20 and our escort even hauled away our accumulated garbage.  We were very happy.


Hurricane Damage in Cabo
Kathy was tired and wanted to catch up on sleep, but Don and I headed out to locate the Telcel store so that I could get a Mexican cellphone and he could get a SIM card for his tablet.  After walking for several blocks, we finally located the main Telcel branch for Cabo San Lucas.  Cabo was eerily devoid of tourists and the neighborhood seemed deserted on a Sunday afternoon, but the Telcel store was crowded.  We waited in line for over an hour, but I finally managed to purchase a basic cellphone for about $25.  For another 200 pesos, I got 200 minutes.  I could also call the U.S. for 2 pesos (about 15 cents) per minute.  Don got a SIM card for about $6 and then got 3 gigabytes of data for 399 pesos.  We left, feeling very satisfied with ourselves, and repaired to a local taqueria where we each got two tacos and a couple of draft beers for a whopping total of $14, which is about what one lunch entrĂ©e cost at the Mango Deck.  It really pays to walk a couple of blocks inland to find a restaurant if you want to save money.

George, the Resident Sea Lion
Kathy was still sleeping when we returned to the boat.  I read and Don played with his tablet until Kathy woke up and we went up to the Baja Cantina for dinner.  We hoped to meet other Ha-Ha participants there, but it was late for dinner and very quiet.  We did have a lovely dinner.  The evening was balmy and perfect for a stroll around the marina.  The vendors along the marina walkway had been hit hard by the hurricane and few were operating.  There was almost no one out.  I remembered the previous year when the area was thronged with tourists.  Large sections of dock had been destroyed.  Some of the Ha-Ha boats were moored to pilings without docks and had to use their dinghies to get to shore.  We were very content to be safely inside a still marina, even if our dock was inhabited by a large sea lion named George, who often waddled around the dock and barked at passers by.

November 10, 2014

Having decided to remain in Cabo for another couple of days, we could no longer avoid checking in there.  Don and I got up and, after stopping at the marina office to get the weather forecast (a firm “wait and see”), we headed off to Immigration.  The crews of several other boats were there before us and we all chatted amiably while we filled out forms and went back and forth with the officials until everyone’s paperwork was in order.  Fortunately, we had plenty of copies of everything we needed and the Immigration office was kind enough to supply us with a crew list form and then to make a couple of copies so that we would have three copies for the Port Captain.

Port Captain's Office Was a Bit Worse for Wear
Scott and I had had a devil of a time locating the Port Captain’s office the previous year, but Don and I managed to walk straight there from Immigration.  The Port Captain’s office was a bit worse for wear after the hurricane and most of the houses along the way looked pretty down at heels.  Fences and gates leaned at crazy angles and vegetation looked ragged.  We filled out our forms and then had to make a four block detour to a bank to pay our port tax before returning to the Port Captain’s office to complete our check-in process.  We also checked out at the same time.  The Port Captain was not issuing zarpes (exit documents.)  For the duration of the Ha-Ha, he just had a log book where we entered our boat information and check-out date.  We managed to complete the entire process in about three hours.


Kathy Working on the Dodger
Our next mission for the day was to complete the dodger that we had been working on since before we left Marina del Rey.  We took it off the frame.  Don produced a hot knife and Kathy held the seams taut while I melted the edge of the fabric to prevent them from raveling.  There were several layers of fabric in many seams and none of them seemed to be the same length, so we had to go over each seam multiple times.  It took us a couple of hours to complete the task and we melted the duct tape holding the battered hot knife together before we were done.  Next, we dragged Don away from his tablet and installed the remaining snaps on the dodger.  We finished just before Carlos arrived to meet us for dinner.


We all piled into Carlos’ SUV dubbed “the Zombie” because it had been killed several times (was struck by lightning), but kept coming back to life.  He drove us to a local taco joint where we had delicious tacos with all the fixings.  Carlos and I got a chance to catch up on all that we had done in the past year and he regaled us all with stories of the hurricane and its aftermath.  Carlos, who normally works in tourism, was temporarily working in construction, helping to rebuild homes after the hurricane.  It was great to see him again and he promised to visit me again in La Cruz, as he was headed there to visit his other Ha-Ha friends later in the season.

Back at the boat, a downpour sent us scrambling to determine the source of the leaks that sent water dripping onto the head of my bunk.  When we removed the dodger, we had left screw holes in the fiberglass that allowed water in between the deck and the head liner, which then ran along until it dripped out through holes in the headliner where a traveler had once been installed.  We eventually solved the problem by covering the holes with a tarp.  I went to bed feeling quite satisfied that we had made good use of our extra time in Cabo.






Tuesday, November 11, 2014

HIDING OUT IN TURTLE BAY AND THE NIGHT OF THE FLYING TEA KETTLE

October 22, 2014

Heading to Marina Del Rey with all my sailing gear plus enough clothes and essential food items to last until February made flying out of the question.  I took the Coast Starlight down the coast with my two big duffel bags, bedroll and daypack.  I felt like I was running away from home.  Scott dropped me off at the station in Martinez and the train left about 7:30 am.  Having spent the ten days or so prior to departure madly trying to complete projects around the house, it was nice to spend a leisurely day reading on the train.  We made good time, at first, and it looked like we were going to be early.  Then we sat on a siding in central California for an hour, waiting for the northbound train to pass, so I didn’t arrive in Van Nuys until nearly 9:15 pm.
Comet Was A Bit Disorganized When I Arrived

Tom Frillman, ground crew extraordinaire, met me at the train.  We had a quick deli sandwich (the same meal I ate when I arrived in LA from Columbia two months before) and then headed down to the marina.  Despite Don’s having taken everything off the boat to clean the previous weekend, belongings, boat parts, and tools were strewn everywhere.  We could hardly walk inside or outside the boat.  We worked on the boat for a couple of hours and I finally hit the hay around one in the morning.


October 23, 2014

I had come down a day early to do the provisioning, but decided to leave that for the afternoon because the last thing we needed was more stuff in the boat.  I spent the morning cleaning and stowing Don’s old dinghy and unwrapping and inflating the new, hard bottomed dinghy he had purchased for the trip.  All of Don’s friends stopped by to help.  When afternoon came, we had cleared a small amount of space in the boat and I took Don’s car to go shopping for non-perishable items and enough fresh food to get us to San Diego.  Comet has only a small refrigerator, so we planned to put our meat in a cooler with dry ice.  We wanted to wait as long as possible before buying the meat.  By the time I got back, Tom and Kathy had arrived and Andrea was in and out helping with the shopping for non-food items.  The worrying problem was that Don had installed a new fuel tank and the fuel wasn’t getting to the engine.  Don and Tom worked on it all afternoon and evening before finally discovering that the “Y” valve to select between the new and old tanks had been installed in the wrong orientation.  We were all very relieved when the engine roared to life and ran healthily.

Kathy had been hard at work constructing a dodger for Comet, but was having trouble getting her sewing machine to punch through several layers of heavy fabric.  One of Don’s neighbors was kind enough to set up his Sailrite sewing machine on the dock and she worked on the dodger until two in the morning.  Trish stopped by to lend her support later in the evening.  I passed out around one, having slept only four or five hours the previous two nights.


October 24, 2014

We had originally planned to leave for San Diego on Friday morning.  Later we amended that time to noon.  Noon came and went and we still weren’t ready to go.  Don had pulled the stitches out of a wound on his arm while contorting himself to work on the engine and needed to make a trip to the doctor before we departed.  Kathy stayed at home, diligently working on the dodger, but John, Nancy, Andrea, Emily and Shoshana were buzzing about, running items to storage, and shopping for last minute requirements.  When it became clear that we weren’t going to make it to the fuel dock before it closed, John and I made a couple of runs to fill jerry cans with diesel so that we would have enough fuel to make it to San Diego.
Don and the Ground Crew in Marina del Rey
It took a village to get Don underway.  Everyone on the dock had followed the preparations for several days.  Don’s friends made it quite clear that I needed to take care of “their Don.”  Kathy was still sewing and hadn’t had a chance to pack.  We decided to pick her up at her boat in King Harbor on our way south.  We finally pulled away from the dock at 8:00 pm to the sound of all the neighbors blowing air horns and waving.

We received a warm welcome from Kathy’s neighbors when we arrived in King Harbor.  Kathy still hadn’t packed.  We tied up across the stern of her boat and she passed all her belongs over the bow in paper grocery bags, before finally hopping aboard herself.  More horns and barking sea lions saw us away from King Harbor.  By 11:00 pm, we were on our way. 

We kept three hour watches on our way to San Diego.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep until I came on watch at 2:00 am.  My watch was uneventful, but I found it difficult to stay awake despite music and books on tape.  I thought Jules Verne’s Off on a Comet was an appropriate book to listen to during this voyage, but it began to lull me to sleep after an hour and a half.  I switched to some lively music and just managed to keep my eyes open until Kathy came on at 5:00 am.  I slept soundly from five until ten.

Don Currie on the Way to San Diego
 October 25, 2014
San Diego Bay
Despite having left late, we made six or seven knots most of the way and arrived in San Diego Bay by two in the afternoon.  We stopped at the fuel dock to fill our tanks and were safely in our slip in the Cabrillo Isle Marina by three o’clock.  We still had plenty of boat projects to do.  Kathy worked on the dodger and I gave the boat a scrub.  We all worked diligently until it got dark and then we went out for a nice dinner.

October 26, 2014

Kathy’s boss lived on his boat in the Cabrillo Isle Marina and he was kind enough to lend us his car for the early morning.  We picked the car up at 7:00 and I went grocery shopping for meat and perishables while Don and Kathy made a quick trip to Home Depot for lumber and fittings to attach boards to the stanchions so that we would have a rack to hold jerry cans.  We were back in the marina by 8:45.  Don had to go to the skipper’s meeting.  Kathy and I stayed behind.  She worked on the dodger and I spliced new polypropolene line to our man overboard pole and horseshoe buoy.  We worked until 1:00 pm and then took a taxi over to West Marine to meet Don for the Ha-Ha kickoff party.

Giants Fans at the Ha-Ha Kickoff Party
This year’s kickoff party seemed a bit subdued to me.  There were some clever costumes, but most people seemed in a hurry to get back to their boats.  We stayed long enough to eat, drink a couple of beers and buy a few siphon hoses and t-shirts and then did our shopping at West Marine and called a cab. 


We still had lots to do on the boat.  I installed new hailing port lettering on the transom and removed the Calfornia registration numbers from the bow of the boat, since Don had gotten the boat documented and it was important to have the numbers on the paperwork match the numbers on the boat before we entered Mexico.  Don worked on installing the boards.  Kathy worked on the dodger.  Once again, we worked until it got too dark to see and then I made a quick dinner and we actually relaxed for a few hours before hitting the rack.



October 27, 2014

Kathy and Don with Comet in San Diego
Don and I got up early, but we had more trouble rousing Kathy.  They wanted to get the dodger installed before we left and Don had to finish putting up the boards.  I did a few things and then helped Kathy install hardware on the dodger.  The fleet started to parade at 9:30, the marina emptied out, but we were still working.  The rally officially started at 11:00, but we were still tied up in the slip, working on the dodger.  Finally, we determined that we didn’t have enough snaps to finish installing the dodger, so we put it on with what we had and finally left the slip at 12;30.  By 12:40, we had filled our jerry cans with diesel and were on our way.  We crossed the official start line at 1:20 pm.


Trying out the Asymetrical Spinnaker
We could hear other boats complaining about lack of wind over the radio, but we rocked along under sail at 4.5 to 5 knots, flying an asymetrical spinnaker.  It had been warm in the marina, but was cool on the water.  I went below to relax before my 4:00 watch.  I was delighted to discover that Don and Kathy considered cooking part of my watch time, so I would have the 4 to 8 watches, which are my favorites.  We had roast turkey breast with mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and cranberry sauce for our first dinner underway.  The evening was warm, so I was comfortable until my watch ended.  I was tired and hoped to be able to sleep when I went below, but we had had to turn the engine on and the noise and general activity made it difficult to sleep soundly as I was occupying the quarter berth and my head was right next to the engine and electrical panel.

Kathy and Don Dousing the Spinnaker
October 28, 2014

I came on watch at 4:00 am and had a tough time keeping my eyes open.  Once again, my audio book worked more towards putting me to sleep than keeping me awake, so I switched to music so that I could occupy myself by singing along.  Although the CPT autopilot did a fine job of steering, I stood to keep myself from nodding.  The morning was cloudy, so the sunrise was unremarkable.  While there were no colors in evidence, the water did turn silvery like a sea of mercury just before the sun cleared the horizon.  I could see rain falling over the land, but we avoided the clouds.

The day passed uneventfully.  We saw a couple of large pods of dolphins.  There wasn’t much wind, so we motored most of the day except for several hours in the afternoon when we took a break from the noise and sailed so that we could enjoy the stereo.  I made tacos for dinner and we turned the motor back on.  Once again, the evening was fine.  I went to sleep after dinner and slept until 12:30 when they turned the motor off and rolled out the jib.  We managed to sail for the rest of the night, although we had to head far out to sea to do so.  I slept fitfully the rest of the night, as the wind was inconsistent and the sails banged around as Don tried to edge us closer to our desired course.

October 29, 2014

I came on watch at 4:00 am, again, and the morning was pretty much a repeat of the previous day except that we were sailing.  I elected to continue on the same course, although we were still sailing out to sea, because it was so much easier for Don and Kathy to sleep without the engine running.  At daybreak, I could see three boats, although two soon gybed and sailed over the horizon towards shore.  When Kathy got up, we gybed as well. We tried to check in via the radio, but were so far away that no one could hear us.   An hour or so later, the wind dropped and we reluctantly started the engine again, which allowed us to return to our desired course.  Comet has an especially noisy engine (or lack of sound deadening material.)  It is almost impossible to hear anything else when it is running.
The Coast of Baja California

The wind came up in the afternoon and we were able to shut the motor off just after 3:00.  We sailed all afternoon.  I made pork chops and baked yams for dinner.  It was a beautiful evening and, though the wind dropped somewhat, we sailed until we crossed the finish line for the first leg off Isla Natividad at 20:18.  I stayed up long enough to have a glass of wine after my watch ended and then went below to sleep.  The wind continued to die and they started the engine at some point during Kathy’s watch.

October 30, 2014

Don called all hand on deck at 12:30 because we had come upon a vessel drifting with a stalled engine.  The vessel, Cavale, was a Cheoy Lee 44.  They were drifting towards land and requested a tow.  We rigged a towing bridle and took them in tow, but no sooner had we overcome their inertia than we ran out of fuel in our main tank.  We switched to the second tank, but there was air in the lines and we couldn’t start our engine, either.  We were tethered together and both drifting towards shore.  Don worked to bleed the air out of the lines while I tried to keep from crashing into Cavale.  It was pitch dark and I had no steerage, so it was very disorienting and difficult to tell if we were nearing the shore.  It was a tense hour and we were all (on both vessels) relieved when our engine roared into life.  Comet is a stout little vessel and, once we finally got Cavale moving, we towed them handily through the entrance to Turtle Bay, following my waypoints from the previous year.  The last thing I wanted to do was to tow a vessel through a crowded anchorage in the pitch dark, so we cut them loose fairly close to the entrance and they immediately dropped anchor.  We continued somewhat further inside and dropped the hook amidst the outer row of boats at about 4:00 am.

Sunset in Turtle Bay
We all slept soundly until about 11:00 am, once again missing our check in.  We were moving a bit slow, but eventually made it ashore to the Vera Cruz Restaurant where the fleet was meeting for a festive meal.  We hoisted a couple of beers and ate a nice meal before trooping off across town to the baseball diamond.  Turtle Bay is a dusty former fishing village with mostly dirt streets and one Pemex station, but they are crazy for baseball and have a spiffy baseball stadium with an astro turf field.  A game was underway where everyone seemed to be on the same team and no one struck out (they were using tennis balls).  Many local boys played along with us.  Kathy, who is a former softball player, wanted to hit.  I acted as a designated runner and managed to make it home, although I don’t think anyone was keeping score.  Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

When interest in the game started to wane, we wandered back down the hill and stopped for a drink at Maria’s on the beach.  We headed back to the boat when the sun started to sink low and passed a peaceful evening aboard.

October 31, 2014

Dinghies on the Beach at Turtle Bay
We got up in time to check into the net at 9:00 am.  I started cooking right away so as to be prepared for the beach party at 12:30.  I made kalua pork and bacon slaw and then made an omelette out of leftovers for breakfast.  We had some trouble keeping the oven lit for some reason.  Due to trouble keeping the oven hot, the food wasn’t ready until 1:30.  Kathy and I left on a panga shortly thereafter, but Don stayed behind to wait for the fuel panga.


Beach Party at Turtle Bay
The beach party was held in the eastern part of Turtle Bay where there is a long, sandy beach and fantastic scenery of different color banded mountains and mesas.  A tangle of dinghies rested on the beach and the locals had set up a tent for food and beer and ice cream concessions.  A mob of people milled on the shore.  It took us nearly two hours to work our way through the food line.  I ran into my friend, Jim Mauldin, from the Single Sailors Association in Alameda and met his shipmates, one of whom turned out to be an acquaintance of mine from La Cruz.  The sailing world can be very small.

The party proceeded.  After the food, the kids threw water balloons at Richard, the Grand Poobah, who was unfortunately standing behind where Kathy and I were sitting.  We got pretty soggy before we determined what was happening.  There was a tug of war between men and women and a volleyball game.  Don never appeared.  We returned to the boat as shadows started to lengthen.  We found the fuel panga tied alongside and had to leap up onto the deck without the aid of the boarding ladder.  Once all of our tanks were topped up, the fuel panga left us and we passed a quiet evening watching the movie Gravity and drinking a bottle of cabernet.

November 1, 2014

Turtle Bay Sunset
I got up at 6:30 to boil water for coffee and be ready for the check in at 7:00 am.  At 7:00, Richard came on the radio to tell us that the combination of tropical storm Vance in the south and a strong high pressure system to the northeast was creating high winds and large seas along our course to Bahia Santa Maria.  Due to possible hazardous conditions, the fleet would remain in Turtle Bay until we could ascertain more about the path of the storm.

We spent the day on the boat, installing dodger hardware and finishing the hand sewing.  Don got one of the dinghy wheels installed.  The rest of the fleet amused themselves with paddle board races, domino games, beer drinking, and poker.  I made Tuscan chicken cutlets and roasted curried cauliflower for dinner and we lounged over cocktails for a couple of hours after dinner and then retired early.

November 2, 2014

We began the day with a long radio discussion about whether or not to continue south.  It looked like Vance was going to develop into a hurricane and then rapidly diminish.  The hurricane wasn’t expected to come anywhere near us, but there were strong northern winds forecast.  The issue was whether to go right away and possibly sail in high winds or wait for lighter winds, but have to sail in hurricane swells.  The fleet was split about 50/50.  Richard was adamant that any boats continuing on would not be a part of the Ha-Ha.  The fleet heading south renamed themselves the Bravehearts.  The Bravehearts (about 40 boats) mostly consisted of large, newer boats.  We were tempted to go, but knew that they would soon leave us behind and we would find ourselves alone, so we elected to remain with the fleet.

Boats at Anchor in Turtle Bay
Kathy and I spent the first half of the day working on the dodger, hoping to be able to go ashore for dominos at 2:00.  Don and I got the dinghy launched and motor mounted, but the fuel hose then developed a leak.  Kathy didn’t feel very well and went to sleep.  I took a short nap, Don fixed the hose, and he and I went ashore about 4:00.  We were anchored quite far out and it was a long, wet ride to shore.  We survived our first dinghy landing with the help of the boys on the beach who charged us a dollar to watch the dinghy and help us land and launch.  Someone else was eager to relieve us of our bag of trash and two bucks.  We had a beer at the Playa Deposito and then strolled up the dusty street to the San Martin market where we found a reasonably good selection of produce and I was able to buy a jar of decaf instant coffee.  The sun was getting low by the time we got back to the beach, so we hopped in the dinghy, got launched by the beach boys, somehow managed to avoid hitting the rocks with our motor, and zipped back to the boat.  The wind was at our backs, so it was a much drier ride home.

The avocados didn’t survive the dinghy ride, so I made guacamole and then started preparing spaghetti squash with a red meat sauce.  I took a chance on preparing the squash in a pressure cooker and was delighted to find that the squash was done by the time I had finished making the sauce.  We cracked a bottle of red wine and enjoyed our dinner.  After dinner, we listened to James Taylor music for an hour or so until everyone started nodding.


November 3, 2014

Richard came on the radio at 9:00 am with the news that we would be leaving at 10:30.  We had our hands full getting the dinghy aboard and everything stowed so as to be able to weigh anchor and leave with the fleet.  Everyone was glad to be underway, at last.  The high pressure systems to the north were sending wind blasting south towards the low of Hurricane Vance.  Winds were 15 to 20 knots and the seas five to six feet and rather confused.  We put a reef in the main, but still charged along at something like seven knots.  The wind and seas increased as the day progressed.  We had wanted to stay close to land where the wind and seas were  less pronounced, but were unable to do so because we would have been taking the seas on the beam.
The Fleet Charging Towards Bahia Santa Maria


By dinner time, things were quite lively below.  Piles of belongings covered the cabin sole.  Fortunately, Don had a pressure cooker.  I managed to make pot roast with sweet potatoes and carrots while the boat slewed up and over the quartering waves.  Things started to get wet.  We had to close the hatches and the occasional wave would even splash me in my quarter berth.  My quarter berth extended forward to become the bench for the chart table.  This had its advantages and disadvantages.  I could talk on the radio and check the instruments without leaving my bunk, but it also meant that I could receive a face full of water or the odd flying tea kettle from the galley across from me.  We dubbed the passage, “The Night of the Flying Tea Kettle.”

November 4, 2014

By the time it got light, winds were 20 knots sustained, with gusts up to 27 knots.  We were rocketing along.  Fortunately, the wind direction changed slightly and we were able to correct our course and head in the desired direction.  We continued to sail all day.  The wind dropped somewhat in the afternoon and we were able to fly the headsail and even go wing on wing for a couple of hours.  We spied our first sea turtle.  Once again, the wind built as evening fell.  We rolled in the headsail.  The pressure cooker saved the day, again, as I used it to prepare corned beef, carrots and potatoes.  When dinner was over, we were only a few hours away from the finish line, speeding along under reefed main alone, happily enduring 18 to 20 knots of wind in the absence of the previous night’s nasty seas.  We crossed the finish line for leg 2 just short of 11:00 pm.

November 5, 2014

I leapt out of bed about 1:00 am when the motor fired up, certain that we were about to enter Bahia Santa Maria.  Actually, we were still about 8 miles out.  I stayed up until we got there.  The moon was nearly full and it was quite beautiful, although rather chilly.  We saw some bright lights at the mouth of Bahia Santa Maria.  At first, I thought it was anchor lights, but eventually the anchor lights resolved behind the lights at the entrance.  My next thought was that it was fish pens, but it turned out that there was a fleet of 21 fishing boats, lights ablaze, working the left side of the entrance to the bay.  The anchor lights of more than 100 boats looked like a city in the distance.  Don and Kathy kept referring to the “city lights” and I had to keep reminding them that the only “city” in Bahia Santa Maria was the Ha-Ha fleet itself.
Moon Over Bahia Santa Maria



We finally dropped anchor in the northwest corner of the bay about 3:00 am.  After anchoring, we sat in the cockpit, shared a bottle of red wine, and watched the moon set behind the rocky peaks as boats trickled in behind us.  We went to sleep just before 5:00 am and slept until Richard woke us up to check in about 9:00.  

We spent a leisurely morning.  Miraculously, Victor and his family still managed to produce our beach party, band and all, even though we were two days late in arriving.  We went ashore by panga and had a nice meal of shrimp or grouper and lots of cold beer.  The Ha-Ha class of 2014-2015 was not made up of party animals.  There was very little dancing, but lots of surfing on the beach below the bluff.  Kathy went back to the boat early to work on the dodger and Don and I took a walk down the beach.  The sand spit between Bahia Santa Maria and Mag Bay is covered in dunes and mangroves.  It would have been fun to spend a few days exploring, but we had to cut our visit short due to our extended stay in Turtle Bay.  Don and I also left the party fairly early.  We returned to the boat, but spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in the cockpit, listening to the band and enjoying the warm sunshine and beautiful view.  Bahia Santa Maria was brown and dry this year, but still starkly gorgeous and isolated.  It was the cook’s night off, so we munched on leftovers and went to bed early, knowing that we would be getting an early start the next day.
The Ha-Ha Fleet in Bahia Santa Maria

Friday, October 10, 2014

HITTING THE RESET BUTTON

The Baja Ha-Ha (cruisers rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas) didn't go so well for the crew of Fool's Castle, last year.  Continuing mechanical troubles left our skipper grouchy and I spent most of the time I should have spent getting to know our fellow cruisers and exploring our ports of call madly trying to repair some system of the boat or another.  While the situation later improved, I was left feeling like I needed a do-over of the Ha-Ha.

I know most people are feeling like I just got home, but I have secured a berth on my friend Don's boat, Comet, for the 2014 Baja Ha-Ha and will be leaving in just a couple of weeks.  While I have been extremely busy trying to catch up on all the deferred maintenance items around the house, I still wake up every morning feeling at a loss for what to do because I am not traveling.  I think I am even more eager to go, this year, because I am going on a well-prepared boat with friends I know will keep their cool under the pressures of cruising.  Cruising is wonderful and exciting, but it can be stressful, especially for those who feel a need to be in control.  Someone once referred to cruising as herding a boat somewhere and that's kind of how it is.  You can try to make your boat go where you like, but sometimes it has a mind of it's own and you just have to chase after it.

After the Ha-Ha, I will be continuing south to La Cruz and hope to spend a few months there and make a visit to Fool's Castle in Chiapas.  My plans remain somewhat vague.  That is what traveling is all about ...

Monday, August 25, 2014

SAN AGUSTIN TO BOGOTA – EXTREMES OF CLIMATE

August 8, 2014

I left San Agustin somewhat reluctantly, despite the rain, because everyone had been so nice and helpful to me there.  People started up conversations with me as I walked down the street, even when they weren’t trying to sell me something, and the scenery really was gorgeous.  I called a taxi to take me to town (the same one who brought me to the hostel) and then rode 25 kilometers or so in another crew cab pickup truck to the bus terminal in Pitolito (6000 pesos.)  Pitolito wasn’t an attractive or memorable place, but it did have a nice bus terminal.  I easily found where to purchase a ticket to Neiva for 24,000 pesos (200 kilometers for about $13) and got a cheese bunuelo (looked like a roll, but was stuffed with cheese), potato empanada, and chicken filled arepa (corn cake) for a total of 2500 pesos (about $1.35.)  That was a satisfying breakfast.

From the mountains of San Agustin, we had descended some to Pitolito and continued descending, following the Rio Magdalena, to Neiva.  Mountains gave way to hills, forest to grassland, and the weather got warmer and warmer as we proceeded.  Fields planted with coffee and cane gave way to rice and cotton. Twice, the bus was stopped and all the male passengers searched.  According to a tourist policeman that I later befriended, that was done for the passengers’ own security, to be sure that no one was packing arms on the bus.  Everyone was very friendly about it and no one seemed concerned.  Sometimes the passengers were counted as we left the station and the doors sealed with a sticker, but then we would stop and pick up more passengers from the side of the road, so I never figured out what that was about.  It took us just under four hours to get to Neiva.  Once we reached the floor of the valley, the road was mostly very good.  It would suddenly decay into a bumpy dirt road for a few hundred meters, which happened randomly everywhere in Colombia. 


Neiva was a large, hot, dusty regional center with little to recommend it.  On a Friday afternoon, swarms of motorcycles were heading out of the city.  I saw one scooter with four people riding on it.  Often, I would see parents wearing helmets while children rode with bare heads.  The bus terminal in Neiva seemed small and crowded.  I had half an hour to kill before my van left for Villavieja, so I grabbed a quick lunch in a cafeteria.  For 7500 pesos (about $4), I got soup, a chicken quarter, rice, beans, plantain, juice and an arepa.  I barely managed to eat half of it.  I did get quick service for the first time since leaving home.  I guessed the secret was eating in the bus station where everyone was in a hurry.

From Neiva, I took a rickety minivan to Villavieja for another 6000 pesos.  We wound through arid grassland dotted with organ pipe cactus.  The scenery was reminiscent of southern Utah.  As we drew closer to the desert, strange rock formations hove into sight.  My driver made sure that he delivered me directly to a mototaxi driver who would take me directly to El Desierto de la Tatacoa.    Technically, the “desert” is actually an arid forest, but it looks like a desert for all intents and purposes.  While it wasn’t unbearably hot when I arrived, temperatures sometimes reached 50C.  The surrounding mountains wrung all the rain out of the clouds before they reached the area.  Average annual rainfall was 1,028 mm.  From the amount of erosion visible, it looked like all the rain came at once.



Desierto de la Tatacoa
My Tent
The mototaxi ride was very scenic.  We couldn’t go very fast on the bad dirt roads, so I got plenty of time to observe the colors and rock formations, although photographing them from the taxi was virtually impossible because of the constant bumping motion.  I had been told that all the places to stay were near the observatory and were close together.  “Close together,” turned out to be a relative term.  They were all within a half hour’s walk of each other, but if I had been let out at the observatory and left to find myself a place to stay, I might have expired before I staggered to some establishment with my pack.  Fortunately, the taxi driver made sure that he deposited me at an establishment where I could stay.  It wasn’t really what I was looking for (a private room), but the people were so nice that I finally agreed to sleep in a one person tent that they pitched for me and provided with a mattress and bedding.  Most of the accommodations in the area consisted of clusters of concrete dorms, sheds hung with hammocks, and campgrounds surrounding restaurants.  It was basic, but truly let you experience the environment.


La Tranquilidad
As soon as I changed into shorts and flip flops, I retired to the restaurant for a cold beer.  Suddenly, I heard someone calling, “United States.”  It was the Italian woman from the jeep tour in San Agustin.  I answered, “Italy!”  We hung out and talked while I drank my beer and then we had a long conversation with Mario, the friendly tourist policeman and the owner.  We were speaking Spanish, although I had to translate Marcia’s Italo-Spanish from time to time and we all had a good laugh at the result.  When it started to get dark, Marcia and I walked back to the observatory, but it was cloudy so we couldn’t see any stars.  We had a nice dinner when we got back and then I started passing out, even though it was barely 9:00.  I retired to my tent to write and try to go to sleep early.


August 9, 2014

Cusco Labyrinths
It rained during the night and someone in the tent next to me snored loudly.  I can’t say that I slept well.  I was glad to get up early, take a shower, and take some photographs in the early morning light.  My guide was supposed to come for me at 8:00, but arrived just as I was served breakfast at 7:30.  I ate quickly and we were off by 7:45.  Our first stop was the Cusco Labyrinths.  What was once a lake bed rich in iron, has now been eroded into fantastic shapes reminiscent of Bryce Canyon.  We left the mototaxi and wandered down into the bottom of the labyrinth.  The weather was perfect, but I was sure it could be an oven in there at times.  It wasn’t really a very large formation, but was just big enough to fill the horizon, which made it seem endless.  The red color of the iron contrasted with the cloudy morning sky.


Rino and His Mototaxi
Me at Las Ventanas
Path to Las Hoyas
                                                                                                                                                                                            After exploring the labyrinths for half an hour or so, we remounted the mototaxi and drove back past my camp to Las Ventanas (the windows), which was the highest point of the desert and offered clear views of the desert and mountains in all directions.  The ground in that part of the desert was grey.  After taking in the view for a few minutes and having my picture taken, we continued deeper into the desert to Las Hoyas, where someone had taken advantage of a natural spring to build a couple of swimming pools in the middle of an eroded canyon.  We took the long way to get there and wandered through canyons where a layer of volcanic bombs perched precariously atop softer sediment that was eroding out from under it.  The three locations were impressive, but all were easily reached from the road without a guide.  I felt that the 50,000 peso price of the tour was a bit excessive.  It would have been cheaper to rent a horse or bicycle.  I was back at the camp by 10:00 am.

Pool at Las Hoyas
 I did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day besides eat, read and sleep in a hammock in the shade.  About 4:00, it started to cool down and I got up and spent a couple of hours walking through the desert, taking photographs in the late afternoon light.  As the sun dipped lower, the scenery just got more and more incredible.  The sky was filled with dramatic cloud formations which, combined with the Andes, provided an amazing backdrop for the impressive desert view.  It was heart-breakingly beautiful and almost made me cry with happiness.  I wanted to paint it all, but had to settle for taking photographs that I could reproduce later, once I got home.

Moon Over Tatacoa
As it started to get dark, a full moon rose.  I headed out to the observatory, as there was enough clear sky to see some stars.  There was a big crowd waiting when I arrived.  At 7:00, I paid my 10,000 pesos and climbed to the roof.  An astronomer had directed four telescopes towards the sky.  Unfortunately, while he gave us an introduction to astronomy, more clouds began to gather.  There were probably 150 people up there and I only got a chance to look through two of the telescopes before the clouds closed in completely.  I got a look at Antares (still just a speck through the telescope) and Saturn, which was more impressive with its clearly visible rings.  I stayed for an hour or so, listening to the astronomer talk, and then slipped out when I saw the other people from our camp leaving, since I didn’t want our hosts to have to serve dinner more than once.  It was 9:00 by the time we got back to the camp.  We ate a dinner of rice, lentils and eggs and then I retired to my tent just as it began to sprinkle for the second night in a row.


August 10, 2014

I got up early to pack, eat and pay my bill before my per-petually early mototaxi driver arrived at 7:30.  The total bill for two nights lodging (in my silly tent), two dinners, two breakfasts and a lunch came to 79,000 pesos (about $43.)  Getting there and back was the most expensive part of the trip.  I was reluctant to leave the desert because it was so incredibly beautiful and the constantly changing light and clouds were fascinating.  One can, however, only take so many photographs.  While I could easily have whiled away several more days there, I had a plane to catch.  Heading for Bogota definitely felt more like starting the journey home than exploring another new city.

Church in Villavieja
We bounced the four kilometers through the desert to Villavieja and then I waited there for 45 minutes until we gathered the required 5 passengers to make the van trip to Neiva worthwhile.  It was Sunday morning and people were trickling into the church across the street from the bus stop.  The church was playing religious music over the loudspeaker from the top of the bell tower, which filled the park and surrounding area.  A few people drank coffee at cafes lining the plaza.  It was very quiet.  I had time to visit the ATM and get some cash for the final leg of my trip.  I could only withdraw about $150 worth of pesos at a time, which made frequent trips to the ATM necessary.  Most places charged a 5% surcharge for using a credit card, if they took credit cards at all.  I seldom used mine.

Collective Van
The trip to Neiva took an hour in the same rickety van that had brought me to the desert in the first place.  In Colombia, collective van drivers also act as couriers and often deliver packages for people, which can make for interesting detours.  I loved the collective van concept and tried to figure out how to make it work in the United States, but the cost of labor would make it unprofitable in competition with subsidized public transit.  In Neiva, I bought a ticket on a first class bus to Bogota.  The long distance buses actually left from a different terminal than the one served by local transit.  I had to schlep my belongings quite a distance, following the arrows painted on the pavement, until I arrived at the Centenario Terminal.

Fields Outside Neiva
Outside Bogota
The bus to Bogota was comfortable, although I didn’t get one with WiFi, which was a disappointment.  We left Neiva at 11:00, but didn’t arrive at the northern bus terminal in Bogota until nearly 7:00 pm due to terrible traffic.  It took us more than two hours just to cross the metropolitan area.  From Neiva, we drove through fields of rice and cotton, gradually climbing through hills where cattle grazed, until we reached the high plateau where Bogota is located.  Bogota sits at 8500 feet on a high plateau in the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes.  The metropolitan area is home to some 8.5 million people.  The southern part of the city was the usual Latin American sprawl of unattractive, low, red brick buildings.  Bogota featured more graffiti than other cities and some of it was quite impressive.  If I had been there on a Saturday or Thursday, I would have taken the graffiti tour, but I picked the wrong time to come.  The city became more attractive as we crawled northward.  The downtown area included many tall skyscrapers, one of which was covered with LED lights that changed colors and patterns and made an impressive spectacle.  

Graffiti Outside Bogota
Hostal Ole Mi  Casa
I took a taxi from the terminal to the hostel Ole Mi Casa.  I had chosen the number one rated hostel on TripAdvisor because it was located in a good                                                                                                                                        area and seemed like a large and professional operation from what I could see on the internet.  I knew it was on the second floor of a building and was expecting the sort of hostel that occupied a floor of a high rise like the ones where I had stayed in Spain.  Taxis in Bogota are quite regulated.  When you take a taxi from the bus terminal, you must first stand in a long line to see a clerk who enters your destination into her computer and then assigns you to a designated taxi and prints out a slip of paper to give to the driver.  I showed her the email I had received from Bookings.com, but addresses in Latin America don’t work like addresses in other parts of the world and they had omitted the crucial number of the building, although I did have the cross streets.  The clerk further confused things by typing Carrera 4 instead of Carrera 4a.  The result of all that was that we drove around in circles for 15 minutes before the driver looked the place up on the internet and we finally found the hostel.  Ole Mi Casa turned out to be a tiny place without a sign on the second floor of a small apartment building.  I was terrified that the taxi bill was going to be outrageous, because we had come a long way even before we got confused, but it only came to 20,000 pesos (about $11.)  I was so relieved that I gave the driver a tip, which is not normal in Colombia and pleased him greatly.

My Room at Ole Mi Casa
The hosts were very friendly and the room, while tiny and windowless, was well appointed.  Fortunately, there was a big, thick blanket because it was quite chilly.  I hadn’t eaten all day, so went to a Lebanese restaurant on the corner for dinner.  The food was excellent and I really appreciated tasting something different for a change, but the prices came as a shock.  I had taken 36,000 pesos with me, thinking I could splurge, but ended up having to forego having a glass of wine with dinner because I couldn’t afford it.  Just a glass of wine cost more than I had paid for dinner in the rest of Colombia and it wasn’t a fancy place.  Realizing that Bogota was going to be expensive, I paid with a credit card and conserved my cash.  I went back to my room, bought a bottle of Spanish wine (The owner was Spanish.) and crawled under my blanket to watch the latest Star Trek movie in Spanish until I fell asleep.




August 11, 2014

It was chilly when I woke up and I wasn’t eager to get out of bed.  I had ordered breakfast for 8:00, however, so had to make an effort.  At least the shower had nice hot water.  I really didn’t have the clothes for Bogota, so I dressed in my dive skin and the one pair of long pants I had that didn’t smell like horse.  The host had laid out a breakfast of cereal, fruit and coffee for me on what was once the back porch, which had been enclosed and made into a small breakfast room.  It was even chillier out there than in my room, which had at least been warmed by body heat.  After breakfast, I spent a couple of hours writing and sorting through my belongings, trying to determine what I could leave behind to make room for the gifts and hammocks I planned to buy.  By 10:00, I was ready to head out to explore  Bogota.

End of "Calle 27"
Carrera 7 in Bogota
I really wasn’t in the mood for sightseeing.  Once I left the desert, I felt I was on my way home and really just wanted to get it over with.  I walked down Calle 27 to Carrera 7, which is a main north to south artery in Bogota.  The last block or so of the “street” was actually a series of stairways leading down between high rise buildings.  Carrera 7 reminded me a lot of Market Street in San Francisco.  It was crowded with people and shops, but slightly seedy.  Shortly after I started down the street towards the historic center, I came across a mall of souvenir shops.  One of them was selling hammocks and I bought two of them: one in the yellow, red and blue of the Colombian flag and one in red with rainbow stripes.

Plaza Bolivar
Courtyard at the Botero Museum
Botero's Mona Lisa
                                                                                                                                           I continued down Carrera 7 until I reached the Plaza Bolivar, a large empty square surrounded by the Cathedral, Palace of Justice and some other governmental buildings.  It was Monday and many of the museums (and the cathedral) were closed.  I knew the Botero Museum on Calle 11 was open, so I headed up there.    Botero was the Colombian artist specializing in mis-proportioned figures whose work I had first encountered in Medellin.  The Botero museum featured not only the paintings and sculptures of Botero, but also his extensive collection of works by other famous artists.  I especially enjoyed the smaller, less monumental, sculptures in the museum.  Most were bronzes, all highly polished and some featuring an opaque green patina.  A few were carved from marble.  While I usually found his work interesting, but cartoonish, I found some of these glistening forms beautiful.  The collection of works by other artists was also impressive.  Most well-known impressionist artists were represented and there were many works by artists such as Miro and Picasso.  The knowledge that he was able to collect such valuable works gave me an insight into just how successful Botero had been.
Botero's Cat

The Botero Museum was only one museum in a bewildering group of museums clustered around an interior courtyard.  The Banco de la Republica displayed their collections of art and coin minting equipment in the Museo de Arte and Casa de Moneda (House of Coin) museums in this extensive complex.  The museums were all free.  The art museum displays modern Colombian and other South American paintings and some sculpture.  The coin museum has very detailed exhibits explaining the history of coining money, which I probably would have found interesting if it hadn’t been crowded with noisy groups.  As it was, I spent more time in the quiet halls of the art museum.

After working my way through three museums, I was ready for lunch.  A cluster of small restaurants serving typical Colombian far clustered in Calle 11 near the Plaza Bolivar.  I had a crock of delicious bean soup for lunch in one of them.  I was just the thing on a chilly day.  The cathedral was closed, but the baroque Capilla (Chapel) del Sagrario next door was open and I ducked in to see the six large Velasquez paintings in the nave.  When it stopped raining, I headed back up Carrera 7, shopping for gifts along the way.  Most of Carrera 7 was closed to vehicular traffic and the street filled with crowds as the afternoon progressed and people finished work and school and ventured out to do errands and socialize.  I walked back to Calle 27 and then continued north for a few blocks where the city quickly became more modern and less social.  High rise buildings were filled with offices and condominiums, but the street was open to cars at that point and there was little foot traffic.  I backtracked to the stairs leading up to Calle 27 and dragged my purchases up the hill to my hostel.
Cathedral and Chapel on Plaza Bolivar in Bogota

Modern Bogota
I spent the rest of the afternoon working on my blog and finishing my packing.  Just after dark, I ventured out to find dinner.  Many businesses had been closed on Sunday night when I arrived, but Carrera 4a was lined with restaurants, all of which were fairly pricey, but seemed to be doing a good business.  Bogota appeared prosperous, or at least to have a large prosperous element.  I elected to eat divine osso buco in a Spanish restaurant.  It was the best thing I had eaten in months.  Then I retired to my room to drink Spanish wine and try to go to sleep early because I needed to rise at 3:15 in order to catch my taxi to the airport at 4:00 am.


August 12, 2014

It is impossible to order a taxi ahead of time in Bogota, so my poor host had to get up to call the taxi for me.  When you call a taxi in Bogota, they give you a passcode that you have to give to the driver before he will let you into the cab.  There was no traffic at 4 am, so we sailed straight out to the airport.  Despite the instruction to be at the airport three hours ahead of time for an international flight, the check-in counter didn’t open until 5 am, so I waited in line for about 45 minutes.  There were many people in line ahead of me.  When I finally made it to the first employee at the entrance to the maze leading to the counter, he asked me for my name, leafed through a big sheaf of paper, and pulled out a printed sheet with my flight information on it.  He looked at the sheet and informed me that I needed to stand in line to get my passport stamped by the aviation taxing authorities.  It was the strangest thing.  I stood in line, got my stamp, and received a 70,000 peso refund of a tax that I am not at all sure I ever paid in the first place.  Once I got my stamp, I returned to the line and was finally allowed to check in and leave my luggage.  With an unexpected 70,000 Colombian pesos to spend, I spent some of the waiting time shopping for overpriced coffee and chocolate in the airport gift store.

My first flight was three and a half hours from Bogota to Miami.  I had a five hour layover in Miami, but much of it was consumed with waiting in line at passport control, claiming my luggage and passing through customs.  Despite having come from Colombia, I wasn’t hassled, although the whole process was maddeningly slow.  Once I rechecked my bag, I was free to eat lunch and wait for my flight to Houston.  The flight to Houston was half an hour late leaving, which concerned me because I only had an hour to connect to my flight to Los Angeles on the other end.  We made up most of the time enroute, however, and the departure gate was adjacent to my arrival one, so I had no difficulty in making it to the plane on time.  Unfortunately, the last three and a half hour leg of my trip was on a tiny American Eagle plane where everything seemed to be about ¾ sized.  I was wedged into a window seat with nowhere to put my feet because my day pack didn’t fit in the glove box sized overhead, so had to be stuffed where my feet should have gone.  It was the most uncomfortable flight of my life since smoking in flight was outlawed.  I had to keep reminding myself that, after the tax refund, the whole trip home had cost me only $60 and 17,500 miles.

I returned to Los Angeles to be greeted by dear friends and spent a week visiting people in the Marina del Rey, Long Beach and Orange County areas before taking the train to San Luis Obispo to visit more friends and catch a ride home with a friend heading that way on vacation.  It was definitely the long way home, but helped to ease the transition.  The sailing community was abuzz with preparations for the coming cruising season and I started to wonder if I could get all my mundane tasks done in time to start again.