Saturday, February 26, 2011

Reporters (Parents) on the Beat

We launched in December with about 8 or 10 Christian Science Monitor news magazines.  They are our “news in print” and we enjoy any moment we have sitting and reading, and at times re-reading, the well-written articles.  When finished, we give issues to fellow cruisers who snatch them up and express true gratitude for a copy or two.  It’s hard to let go of the news magazines, not knowing when we will get another…print version that is.  We read the online edition whenever we have internet connection but that beautiful print edition is a rarity in our world right now and we appreciate having even just a few remaining copies onboard. 

Our home schooling includes reading an article or two from The Monitor with the kids and then discussing the articles.  It’s a great way to think about solutions to world issues, contemplate different lifestyles, consider varying viewpoints, and travel to reaches farther than our little tent strings have taken us.  We always enjoy the maps included with articles, showing us the area of the world in which the stories take place.  And the photographs capture our attention every time.

Recently, Doug and I tried to come up with a way to get the kids to tell us their story about this sailing adventure in their words without it seeming like mom and dad just asking them about it. So we told the kids someone from The CS Monitor (an easy reference since it was our news source) and Rolling Stone Magazine (Ann had a Rolling Stone t-shirt, you’ll see how this fits in) were coming by to interview them, since their life story is a little different than some kids and the reporters wanted to know what it was like.  We told them Scott Baldauf was coming from The Monitor and Fiona (fictitious) was coming from Rolling Stone Magazine. 

Doug and I motored to shore in our dinghy where the kids couldn’t see us, changed clothes, and came back as the reporters.  Upon arrival at the boat we introduced ourselves as Fiona and Scott, much to the kids dismay.  After a few giggles and comments like, “Mom, it’s YOU?” and “Where’s Scott Baldauf?”, Henry got into the act and accepted me as “Fiona” letting me ask him questions and answering each one. Chandler, who had appropriately prepared to meet a professional reporter, changed back into her boat clothes, and made it clear she was disappointed the real deal, Scott, wasn’t interviewing her.  She finally acquiesced and made it work.  Throughout the interview she referred to Doug aka, Scott, as "Mr. Bulldust" instead of Baldauf. 

It was a fun exercise to go through.  Hearing what the kids think about their experience and how it allows them to view life differently than before they were cruiser kids, was interesting.  Who knows, their viewpoint might just work as a whole other blog!

Fiona and Scott

Friday, February 25, 2011

Home school and learning through play

Home school takes on a different tone out here than it does in our house.  For one thing you never know where you will be on any given day or what opportunities will present themselves for unexpected learning opportunities, so many days we go with the flow and demonstrate to the kids how learning takes place anywhere you want it to.

The typical home school day onboard has all of us reading together and/or individually, and the kids doing math, research, writing, as well as art and crafts on their own or with our help.  We also incorporate chores into home school.  At the end of all that (typically 2 - 4 hours) we give reports to each other noting what we did/did not accomplish and what we learned.  It's always interesting to see what Chandler and Henry choose to learn. For example they know math is an important skill to develop so at times, even though they know it won't  be simple they choose to do 3 - 4 pages of challenging math. Some days they don't do math at all. It's their choice.  We ask them how they did during their schooling activities and they answer, as many 9 and 11-year-olds would,... "Fine."  But as time wears on and we ask what "fine" means, they've figured out, that answer won't always fly.  Now they tell us if they accomplished what they thought they would and if not, why they thought they didn't.  We ask them if they would hire themselves and why or why not.  There's very little criticism, but instead suggestions on how they could do their work differently.  After all, they should be their own critics, not us...we're still analyzing our own selves and improving our own learning skills.

Photos of typical home school activities, crafts, projects, and marine life discoveries follow.

Henry Wyatt hard at work

Chandler attacking long division
A comfy position, shade cover, and a good book...Black Beauty

Henry working on math and Ann researching inland destinations

Chandler making pot holders to sell to fellow cruisers

Chandler and Henry putting on a play with friend, Maia, aboard sailing vessel Ceilydh. 
The kids sold tickets, made costumes, and wrote the script!

Doug teaching Henry how to use the nautical spreaders for charting our course.

Henry giving it a go on his own.
Chandler and Ann have enjoyed reading together, especially the Anne of Green Gables books.

A friendly cruiser, and former marine biologist, came along one day and saw Henry netting a few sea creatures from under the dock. He stopped to help identify them and ended up giving a small group of kids a marine bio class!

This is an Ascidian; a primitive sponge that has a brain, two siphons, and one eye.  It senses things through chemicals that tell the brain where to settle for eating and least that's what the resident marine biologist said!?!  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Friendships and the Net

It’s really wonderful to hear cruisers connect or reconnect via the VHF radio when cruising.  There's an undeniable lilt in people's voices when they hear an old friend on the radio and make plans to get together.   Many times it's the friendships that act like glue, keeping us in ports longer than anticipated. 

For you non-boaters, the VHF radio is a lifeline for all of us out here.  When we are in range of a port or an anchorage where many boats are anchored at once, there are typically "Cruiser Nets" each morning around 8:30 depending on where you are located.  We all dial into channel 22 on our VHF radios and one person conducts the NET.  There's a formality to it, in order to allow everyone who wants or needs to, to participate.   The person leading the NET starts by asking boats to "check in" and listens for all those wanting to be recognized and accounted for.  It's always fun to hear that someone you've been hoping to see has arrived or what port another boat has come from.  From there the NET goes on to note any local activities, lost and found items, spare boat parts needed, services needed, etc.  So we get tons of info each morning and find many solutions to problems that arise along the way such as needing to borrow someones fuel filter, etc.  The supply of traded goods and services is endless in this community and we are forever grateful for that!  In turn we have been glad to help others in need and "pay-it-forward".

In fact Doug and I have discussed how helpful a NET would be in a land-based community too.  Can you imagine everyone on your street connecting via their VHF radios at 7 each morning to discuss ways they could help each other?  Imagine this conversation, 

"Does anyone have a jack? My tire is flat." 

"Sure, be right over with it."

Hmmmm, we might get that going when we get back to civilization!

Chandler heard a 13-year-old girl conduct the NET one morning and was inspired to give it a try too.  Two days later she did it...she conducted the NET...and beautifully I might add.  She was even given "clicks" (clicking the VHF "speak" button on and off two or three times) at the end of the NET which is the way cruisers congratulate kids who attempt this sometimes intimidating activity.

Chandler reading from her list of items to include as she conducted the Cruisers NET

Back to friendships.  Making friends out here and then leaving them to our memories when boats head in different directions is an everyday occurrence.  It’s not easy to let some friends go, knowing you will most likely NEVER see those people again.  Chandler and Henry Wyatt make friends so easily and then ask repeatedly, when we leave their friends for different ports, “Will we ever see them again?”  Sometimes the answer is “yes” but more likely it’s “no” or “we don’t know”.  We explain that we can stay in touch via their blog or email but that doesn’t fully satisfy.  It’s a lesson in cherishing the moment and understanding that friendships are everywhere whenever you yourself are a friend.  

We are grateful our "friendship net" has brought us many connections that we won't lose or forget.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Trip to See Interior Mexico – The Trip to “Do Something”

It started on a fine, sunny day in the calm lagoon of Barra de Navidad.  The French Baker had just puttered through the anchored sailboats and had emptied his panga of moist breads and creamy croissants and pies.  The temperature – 80; the breeze -- just enough to turn the pages of a novel.  It’s 9:30 a.m. and we dine:  warm almond croissants and corn flakes.   Ten days now in the “laguna”, and a North American characteristic says, “Let’s do something” as if a perfect breakfast, in perfect temperature, in a perfect location lacked “something.”  “Remember that couple we met that said they are going to Morelia and up in the mountains to see the Monarch butterflies migrate…”  That thought ended our fine, 80 degree, sunny day in the lagoon where there was just enough breeze to turn the pages of a novel. 

Morelia is a Spanish colonial town, supposedly one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Mexico.  Lonely Planet says it’s, “the most beautiful town you’ve never seen…” 10 hours away from Barra de Navidad by bus including transfer time; that is, if you go through the big city of Guadalajara because “there are more transfer options.”  Not mentioned is the huge, winding mountain pass of 4.5 hours from “Barra” to “Guada”.   If you go First Class you’ll get a coke and two cookies and the rollercoaster ride of your life.   In the first three curvy klicks (kms) of the two-lane, mountainous ascent, our Sr. Maurio Andretti turned faces green and put more than a couple Coke and cookie bags to use.   Theme parks have found that humans can wedge and brace for about two minutes of torque and turns and exit with smiles.    Mexican “Primera Clase” estimates this endurance at about two and a half hours.   This is the half way point.   We arrive, and passengers turn to complete strangers and congratulate each other.   We however got out, removed our luggage, and booked the next bus back.   If Jonah had received a sign out at sea and ignored it, we weren’t chancing any whale’s belly for two more hours before getting spit out in “Guada”.   We stretched out in the terminal until a normal color returned to our faces and we could finally laugh.   

 Then, to test our readiness to depart, we ordered a couple plates of tacos and a chocolate shake (made with strawberry ice-cream -- no kidding), and we knew we were healed enough for the ride down the mountain to our peaceful lagoon where -- The French Baker delivers croissants, the temperature is 80, and the breeze…just enough to turn the pages of a novel.  Whether we had seasoned or the driving improved, we all slept on the return ride.   We’d take the seas any day over a Mexican bus and a mountain pass. 

Unfortunately a satisfaction-or-your-money-back, North American mindset wasn’t available at the bus depot that day and since it isn’t easy to swallow $350.00 in non-refundable tickets on a cruiser budget, certainly there must be other charming towns – no butterflies maybe – without mountainous barriers.  Our tickets could be transferred.   So, at a perfect beach, at a perfect temperature, and after another perfect French croissant, we thought about trip options to “do something”.   Hadn’t our friend, a travel writer, on the catamaran, Ceilydh, just the other day mentioned mariachi bands and free tapas at a quintessential colonial town just a quick jaunt away?  And for a skip more up the road, one could then see the festival, wooden mask maker who is the last of his line in this craft?  Cashing our tickets in at .50 to the dollar we reserved a First Class bus to make good a crazy American impulse to “do something.”  And again, setting out on a fine, sunny day, bellies full of almond cream croissants, at 80 degrees, and a light breeze that could be turning pages on the back of our 35’ yacht, we tromped off to the terminal.  Destination:  Colima.  Duration of trip: 2:46 minutes.  Terrain:  flat to mole-hillish.  And this is where our next adventure began.

Colima:  “Its art and history extend as far south as Peru and … as far west as the Gulf coast’s mystery-shrouded monument builders, the Olmecs…  (F)ell to the swords of 145 conquistadors in 1523.   Cortez appointed his nephew as mayor over the settlement of 100 Spanish colonists and 6,000 native tributaries.”  -- Moon’s MX Handbook.
When our very rotund and solidly seated hotel owner, Angelica, checked us in, we felt securely trapped.  She was a get-down-to-business, straight shooting, husky woman who had cut her teeth working three illegal jobs in the US to put four kids through school:  veterinarian, computer tech, doctor, and farm boss – all still in the US – while she returned to Colima to buy the family house and hostel from underneath the lazy noses of her eight siblings.  This night, she was going to put us in a room and we were going to have an itinerary and personal driver for the next day.  Although I could have paced 100 yards with family, luggage and one child on my back between us and her before she could rise and move a husky two steps, I knew we were staying put and signing on.  Her inn was full (guests from as far away as Korea and Hungary), but a two-story, three-bedroom, one bath apartment was all ours for 400 pesos (35 dollars).  How bad could it be? 

Henry sat on the steps and cried.  He looked down the street a half a block and said, “How about THAT hotel instead?”  Chandler took Mom’s arm.  Dad assured the troops, “We’ll pay one night and move on.  Let’s get food”.  

 Falling in step, we broke from Angelica’s prescribed dinner plans and followed the Moon Tour Book (the same guide book that recommended Angelica’s Inn).   The most favorably recommended eatery wasn’t close, but each block put distance between the lodging place and eating place.   It had great interior colors, a smiling waiter, clean toilets and the best goat I’d had in months. 
Decorations from Valentine's Day still hung from the ceiling

Although delicious food was served, the restaurant never saw more than one or two tables full while we were there

Unwrapping a tamale

Birria (goat) tacos and delicious tostada

 The troops were refreshed, and we marched back to “el centro”.  The night was young, on Mexican time, and we could still pull off a Cultural Event and visit a large mural in a government building stairwell.   Why are such remarkable paintings so unknown to the local population?  We pointed out Moon’s page to several uninformed Mexicans.  No luck.  Tired, we found Magnum ice-cream bars – the great international culture bridge -- and watched a wedding party enter an ornate, rock cathedral off the central plaza.   And, unbeknownst to any travel book, there was a clown performance in the plaza, and Chandler and Henry skipped into the front row to enjoy cultural slapstick and balloons.  

Back at the hotel, the overhead and floor fans blocked out most of the droning of a nearby piano bar and street traffic below so we could sleep.

A new day ahead, showers under our belts, we checked into an up-graded hotel, coincidentally the one Henry saw the day before, and met our taxi chauffeur after breakfast.  We gave him Angelica’s list of places to see for the next eight hours:  2 country lakes, a view of the area’s active volcano, the mask-maker factory in Suchitlan, the house and artwork of artisan Alejandro Regando Hildago (the 1963 Unicef card designer who outsold all previous Unicef greeting cards one Christmas); mariachi bands and tapas in the colonial square of Comala … and all fairly close, within 30 kilometers, on country roads and rolling hills amidst sugar cane fields.   It was about an hour when our driver stopped a bike rider for directions.  Yes, that sign back there was the way to the scenic lake and camp grounds of Lake “Lago” Cerrazilillo.   Burning North American daylight, we finally pulled in and walked to the shores of Lake Cerrazilillo.

Some perspective is necessary here.  There are salsas we would call hot that another culture considers mild.  In the same way there are some scenic areas that could be described as “hot” or “mild” depending on one’s experiences.  For example, my first camping trip in Japan:  My friends (tomodachis) planned this event.  They had first class gear and Patagonia digs.  The wilderness we arrived into however was a gravel lot roped off in 8x8 squares for each tent in neat rows.   Ball park lights for safety flooded the area until 10:00 p.m.  Music blared and cautionary announcements were made reminding us to extinguish hibachis, be aware of drifting smoke into your neighbor’s camp site, and check out at 10:00 a.m. sharp.  Okay…there were trees and day hikes. So, if riding a packed train six days a week through terminals where more passengers than the population of the state of Colorado commute, then yes, this is camping.  Back in Mexico…Our surprised driver popped up from just settling down on a log.   We explained that we saw the tent, an egret, and five ducks, and the next lake could be skipped.  Thanks anyway.
Suchitlan – just up the road.  
A small, hilly town with lots of broad, dusty trees and cobblestone streets.   We ask a few folks for directions but their discussions about the possibilities took longer than if we had gone over all the available streets on foot.  

 No one knew of the village’s famous wood mask carver written in the North American tour book.  Finally we got a confident finger-point instructing us two blocks one way and then a block to the left.  We arrived, got out, and walked around the four corners of a small, dirt road intersection.   We called up to a laborer stacking cinder blocks on a roof.    

He said, “Here” and he’d be right down and his uncle would be back shortly.   He invited us down the steps into a back yard shaded by laundry and trees and pointed us to an open work room.   Stumps of logs were stacked (the kind of wood called “tourist wood” because the trees’ bark is red and peels in the summer like the shoulders of tourists), and there was an assortment of tools: chisel, hammer, chainsaw.   
semi-carved out wood

tools of the trade

Colorful, shiny masks hung on nails or dried on a wooden work bench.  There was no exterior sign or advertisement of his craft.  You’d think his work was in hiding, but the uncle, the famous carver, welcomed our questions on this Sunday afternoon shaded by trees and colored by brilliantly painted masks and a full line of laundry.    

The children’s many questions surprised him: which tools he used, where the wood came from, when the masks were worn (Christmas and Easter mostly); how long they took to carve (a week for a big mask).  Henry bought a small bird mask and asked him to add two more painted lines.  We found a striped lynx we liked, and he signed them both.   

We felt like honored guests glimpsing a skill and thought process in a village of time long gone.   Angelica’s plan was looking better.   Now off to second base – Comala and the mariachi’s … just down the road.

Comala:  Moon’s guide says, “…where cares seem to float away in the orange blossom-scented air around the picture-perfect old plaza.”  

Quintessential.  The central park with gazebo, the large white church facing the park, the rows of tables running out to the street and under the shadow of the restaurants’ balconies.  Mariachis circle through.  The tables packed.

Tapas are free every day from 2 - 6:  avocado on chips, taquitos, cerviche and tortillas, cheese enchiladas…  They bring it all out, and take your drink order.   Trumpets blasted, voices crooned, guitars filled any void.   All you could do was smile, lean back, enjoy the view, food, and cold beverages. 

That evening we returned to Colima and found an orchestra playing in a gazebo in the center of town.  Folks danced around the park where the band played, and  the breeze wafted around us as we took in the very traditional, local setting.  Chandler and Henry hid their faces when their mom and dad danced alongside the locals.  It was Sunday night, the weekend was winding down and we were enjoying the whole of it.

Our land tour was a bit like making a bean dip too lopsided with one ingredient and throwing in 3 or 4 more to bring it to life.   We rode the bus home full of the variety of events that flavored the trip.   We headed back to the lagoon, a French Baker’s delivery panga, perfect temperatures, and breeze just enough of turn the pages of a novel. 

Miscellaneous photos

This is the way one restaurant served cream for their coffee.  FYI - there were no babies at the restaurant.

Henry met an oyster fisherman and watched him hone his craft.
There was one restaurant on the beach where this guy sold his catch.

Doug checking out the storage space under the v-berth mattress.
Kids snapped this photo and I howled when I found it in the camera.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Day at School in Barra de Navidad

In most routines, Friday means punch-in at work or head-off to school. In Barra de Navidad, Mexico that routine remains, but it could be labeled in other terms.

A fishing panga sweeps by our boat in the lagoon and ferries us to a wooden wharf that sticks out from a sandy inlet with several more wharfs that jetty out for fishermen and their morning catches. We shuffle down the planks with a surfboard, boogie board, and beach gear. The wharf leads to a narrow, stone street to the right, with small shops and restaurants. Straight ahead on the other side of the narrow, stone street is the Pacific Ocean and the beach front to Melaque Bay a couple miles to the north. The jetty for the harbor is to the left, and it catches a pretty good “right” when the waves are up.

Water taxi dock


View of docks and pangas that line the shore in Barra

This is our recess from school – home school – where Chandler reported on Lewis and Clark: why Thomas Jefferson chose Lewis to explore the continent; what he would do had they not returned; how they met 50 tribes and recorded 250 common words from each tribe. Then she reported on long division; the Mother Daughter Book Club book she is reading; and displayed a horse and its foal modeled in salvaged clay found around the hatches when they were sealed to keep water out during hurricane season. And she had helped Dad filter three jerry cans of diesel this morning. 
Henry reported on doing a couple pages of multiplication. He drew a reef scene with enlarged examples of his favorite kinds of fish: yellow tail, dorado, and pargo. He read a chapter in Magic Tree House, copied a page to practice writing, and reported on jelly fish as follows:
“The long tentacles sting. The short one’s don’t. The long one’s hang down from the purplish part in the center of the body. Jelly fish are born at the bottom of the sea and eat broken up crab meat…”
“Wait a minute”, Dad interjects. “Can you show me where you found this last bit of information in the fish book?”
Henry replies, “They didn’t have jelly fish in the book. I’m reporting from what I found out by catching them yesterday in my net. Remember that black hard thing that looked like a baby crab claw? Well, I pulled that out of a jelly fish. So he must have eaten a crab claw, and he must have been on the bottom of the sea to get the claw.”
I blink and nod. Henry continues. “Jellies are 90% water, and turtles and sunfish eat them. Sunfish can get up to 700 pounds, and they have the most bones of any fish…” We all sit back and listen to this young fisherman free-spout about fish and facts he’s picked up at docks and bait tanks while the deft, sunburned hands of local fishermen cleaned the day’s catches. Henry is reciting from his own book at this point. 

During beach recess, we boogie board and body surf the shore breakers. A friend from another boat joins us. Henry wants to dig a sand tunnel big enough to pull the kids through. I reply, “We’d need a shovel and it’ll probably collapse.” He says, “No Dad. Tristen said his dad did it once.”
“Without a shovel?”
“Yeah. Just with his bare hands.” 
So, game on, I’m digging and in twenty minutes, sure enough there stands a sand tunnel dug with hands, big enough to pull kids through and not collapse. Just another kid fact and lesson for Dad. 

Going under

Made it!

Carolyne, Maia, and Chandler after surfing and boogie boarding

At the end of the day, for 40 cents there are indoor, fresh water showers heated by whatever sun beats on a large black barrel on the roof. Then, a walk down the wharf and a wait for the zooming panga that will whisk us back to the boat. And as we walk down the wharf, I look down at Henry with his boogie board, a leash draped over his shoulder; Chandler in her swim suit, pony tail and bag of shower supplies, and I think, “Friday… in Mexico… on a boat… mass trans via a panga… jelly fish, diesel cans, sand tunnels, gritty showers… its all schooling.”