Mexico & Costa Rica - Oct - May 2004

After our whirlwind tour of the southwestern USA in early October, we were glad to settle back into a quieter existence in the People's Republic of Berkeley - probably the only place in America where there is a Ho Chi Minh Park and where the craft market is full of super-annuated hippies still selling the same things they did in the 70's and probably wearing exactly the same clothes. Vicky's sister, Fiona, came to visit which gave us an excuse to head to one of California's principal wine growing areas, the Napa Valley, as well as visiting some of San Francisco's tourist haunts. Berkeley is a very bike friendly place with designated routes everywhere. After a bit of preparation, we headed further afield, biking up and down SF's steep hills and then across the Golden Gate Bridge in brilliant sunshine to Sausalito. On one of the last fine days of Indian summer - Vicky's Birthday - we walked to the top of Angel Island, Alcatraz's partner in the middle of the Bay, to share with the deer and the hawks the sparkling view of the whole area. A few days later we flew out for two weeks in New York, celebrating Thanksgiving with Tom's family


Quite apart from having good time with family and other NYC friends, the high-light of our visit to New York was a visit to Ellis Island in the middle of New York harbor, near the Statue of Liberty. The museum there catalogues and commemorates the experience of millions of immigrants to the USA. The exhibits are both evocative and informative, while the bright, unexpectedly warm day made the best of the elegant architecture of the Island's buildings - as well as nearby Lady Liberty herself. Since virtually every American apart from a few pure bred Native Americans has immigrants among their ancestors, it is hardly surprising that the museum is popular.

San Francisco at the beginning of December was transformed to its winter gray and the weather fax showed the North Pacific depressions tracking further and further south. It was time to head to San Diego. Hitting a perfect weather window, we escaped the Bay area two days ahead of the first big winter storm which brought 30' seas just outside the Golden Gate, but gave us pleasant sailing all the way to San Diego, where we were reunited with Joseph and Marci of 'Horizon', our OCC cruising friends from Hawaii and British Columbia. San Diego is the 'last chance saloon' of the American cruising world, where those headed south can stock up with all the things they may not be able to get in Mexico and points south. Some cruisers seem to spend so long doing this that they lose the urge to leave altogether. Five days of socialising and stocking was enough for us. We were on a misssion to make La Paz by Christmas and time was short.

Our departure from San Diego was only just ahead of a strong Santa Ana - the vigorous north-easterlies which accompany the develpment of a strong high pressure system over the southwestern desert area. A night of blustery sailing saw us to Ensenada, where we had our first, but by no means last, taste of Mexican bureaucracy. Everyone is very pleasant and friendly, but there is lots of paper and several offices and a bank to visit, which are all some distance from each other, and of course no one can give clear directions to the next destination and in any case the directions are in Spanish, which our imperfect linguistic skills can't cope with and somehow Latin hand-signs are either culturally different or less clear than they might be - or both. It takes most of a day to complete the formalities. Unfortunately, we know that in Mexico this won't just happen at the first port and the last, it will happen every time we visit a port with a port captain - and each time it costs you. There are no national cruising permits in Mexico. The only blessing is that since President Fox's clampdown on corruption, no one is any longer looking for 'mordida', a present to smooth the way. From Ensenada we made a longish hop down the coast to Turtle Bay where we refueled and carried straight on. By 23 December we were rounding Cabo San Lucas at the south-western tip of the Baja peninsula and still just on track for Christmas in La Paz if we weren't hit too hard by head winds going back north. Of course we were, but not badly enough to hold us up. On the morning of Christmas Eve we anchored in the virtual marina - planned, but as yet unbuilt - in the harbour at La Paz, just behind our friends and fellow OCC Roving Rear Commodore Bill and Jane McLaren on 'Vagrant of Clyde'.

If you didn't already know, La Paz and the Sea of Cortez generally gives you a very good idea of just how many different kinds of cruisers there are, not just in terms of experience but in goals and attitudes. La Paz itself, with San Carlos, further up the Sea are home to a large number of resident cruisers, who spend most of their time in one or the other with occasional forays into other parts of Mexico. Then there are the addicted Mexico cruisers who do the Baja Bash down from and back to California every year. There are even trailer sailers, mostly escaping the winter in the frozen north of Colorado or Montana, cruising on a shoe-string in pocket cruisers in the Sea. Finally there are the real transients, like us, who are passing through Mexico on their way elsewhere. It makes for an interesting, but not always easy mix, as we found even in our brief Christmas stop in La Paz. By New Year's eve we were ready to spend it away from crowds to have a proper Hogmannay with the Scottish McLarens in Caleta Partida with suitable amounts of liquid refreshment.

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