December 31, 2007

Getting out and walking on the beach with Max

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral woke me just before 7 a.m. and announced that we really needed to start a routine of walking in the morning and getting some exercise. Since we settled in, it's been a lot of work (unpacking and setting up) but physical exercise hasn't been a priority.

I agreed, reluctantly, but wished I hadn't had that last glass of red wine (or was it two?) right before retiring last night.

But a half-hour later, I was up and about, hiking boots on and ready for the beach.

Yes, I shook the boots carefully before putting them on. No scorpions, thank you very much.

We took along Max the guard dog, who we knew would like some free-running time on the sand. And because it was early, there weren't many people (or dogs) yet out-and-about. Max doesn't walk comfortably on the leash (Who can blame him?) but we were a little unsure what he might do between our house and the beach where we would pass by at least a dozen wandering chickens in our travels.

We returned without ruffling any feathers, of either fowl or people.

December 30, 2007

A few leisurely hours at Admiralty Beach

TENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico - With Dustin, Cami and Max (their well-behaved pooch) along for the ride, the Admiral and I drove the Trooper out to Admiralty Beach (where our beach lot is) for our first actual go-to-the-beach day since arriving in Mexico a few days before Christmas.

Given that we expect to be living here until late May - or early June - it didn't seem like there was a cultural imperative to get sunburned too quickly.

It was a drop-dead gorgeous day, even nicer that it has been. Humidity was low and the sun was shining brightly - very little haze. The surf was its usual state: huge. Swimming at this beach is only for those wanting to tempt fate.

On the way in, we saw that someone had marked a foot-deep pothole with a unique marker:

Tire tope
The tire makes the spot

Had we hit the pothole at 50 mph, we might be sitting in a tire shop right now, not at home, full of beach-imbibed beer and waiting for neighborhood guests to show up for cocktails. We are going to talk about all the normal stuff, good restaurants, best recipe for margaritas and how to keep scorpions out of the house.

We learned today that the former occupant of this house was stung by a scorpion and nearly died.

Nearly died.

But she wasn't at this house when it happened - she was in another part of the pueblo.

This first visit to the beach also gave me a chance to check out swim wear styles again. They haven't changed a lot since last June.

Testing the waters
Testing the waters

Fishing with bikinis
Waiting for the big fish

One of our soon-to-be neighbors roared up on his quad, giving me a bright idea for the next beach-house accessory that I might need for Casa Admiral.

Hell, it might be fun just to have one of those things here in La Manzanilla to bomb around on.

Neighbor Dave
Neighbor Dave (on the quad) with son Dustin

With VHF radio, now we are fully wired for communication

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - Son Dustin came bearing gifts Saturday - a VHF radio and an antenna which he installed this morning.

And already we have been in contact with some sailboats out in the anchorage, including Tumbleweed, whose captain and admiral (Dave and Mollie, respectively) are on their way north to Puerto Vallarta where we expect to catch up with them in a few days. We knew them in Zihuatenejo several years back when we all worked on Sailfest.

That's another story.

The radio was the final comm link. We also have internet access, a Vonage phone (with a Sacramento area code), and two Mexican cell phones.

The Mexican cell phones, by the way, are actually cheaper in some ways than their American counterparts, though dialing can be complicated.

Here's our new radio and antenna:

December 29, 2007

Open microphone night at Palapa Joe's an experience

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral and I - along with Dustin & Cami and Mario & Sharon (Mario and Sharon are the current occupants of the Grey Goose Express on the beach in Tenacatita) went to the open mic night at Palapa Joe's Restaurant & Cantina tonight, a short stroll down the hill from our casa. It's the local gringo hangout, has free wireless, excellent food and is the social hub of the town. At least for gringos.

Dinner (and the heavily poured Cuba Libres) was great and by the time emcee Jane Gorby arrived, the place was filled to capacity and we were glad to have a table. Jane usually does her own standup piece - the Seven Dirty Words George Carlin made famous years ago. But Jane does them in Spanish.

I will never see a Chi-Chi's Restaurant again and not laugh.

We toyed with the idea of the Admiral and I doing a violin-ukulele duet of some kind, but because we have barely had time to play at all, we decided we would wait for our debut when the other two members of the Four Headlamps arrive sometime soon, we hope. Our lamps are lit and ready.

The entertainment included a few bawdy songs, some poetry, a joke that I am still trying to fully understand (it was told by a Canadian woman) and ultimately a ukulele player.

A ukulele!

The fellow with the uke pointed out up front that his was a $20, off-the-shelf plastic ukulele. And he sounded pretty good, playing a Jim Morrison tune. He was accompanied on the drums, adding a nice touch.

Perhaps the Four Headlamps needs to add some percussion units, too.

Anyone want to take up the tambourine?

Grey Goose Express in new home at Admiralty Beach

TENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico - My early optimism about parking the Grey Goose Express in our driveway here at Casa Lupita in La Manzanilla evaporated quickly when it was obvious the rig would not be able to fit in through the gate.

If there was no house across the street, sure. But the geometry said no and so the Goose sat on the street Christmas Day while we unloaded everything into our rented casa.

The next day, we went out to the beach to visit friends Mario and Sharon from Oregon whose home was supposed to be finished by now, but is still a work-in-progress. And Sharon was done with camping on the beach - sans toilet and shower. They had been living in a small tent for about five days while the workmen poured concrete and generally did workmen-like stuff.

So we offered our amigos use of the Goose until we can set up our lot with a palapa (for shade) a tank for water and septic tank, for, well, septic stuff.

Getting it into the place was a trick, however, as the sand is very soft around their house and I did not want to get the Trooper mired up to the axles with sand.

So I backed the trailer the 200 yards or so, up to the shady spot. No problema ... Really!

On the way driving there, the Admiral faced a bigger problem when she reached into her purse and a scorpion crawled out.

I have never seen her speechless before.

December 28, 2007

Colleague from Sacramento drops into La Manzanilla

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - We spent most of the day getting our Internet connection hooked up at the house, alternately taking turns waiting at home or going down to the pueblo.

And mid-afternoon our CSU, Sacramento colleague Diego Bonilla showed up. Diego has been on sabbatical for a semester and is going back into the classroom this fall.


Diego took a tour of the crocodile swamp (on banks, not in the swamp). We also spent some quality time at Palapa Joe's Restaurant, about 200 yards from the couch where I am writing. Diego's chorizo quesadillas looked soooo good, I think I might have to have some for dinner tonight.

Here's a short video of Diego at Palapa Joe's and an art gallery we pass every day on the way up and down the hill to our casa.

DAYS THREE & FOUR - Going into Mexico

PHOENIX, Arizona, USA - We left the Carr Resort and Spa appreciably lighter, making our way south to a small town named Green Valley, Arizona where the median age is 75.

That's right - median age.

The RV park we stayed at for two nights requires that all guests be 55 or older and there were no bikinis around the swimming pool.

The night we arrived, I managed to drive down a dead end street and while turning around, I knocked off a tail-light cover and did some other minor trailer-hitch farbles, which (along with serious fatigue) suggested a full day of rest... We didn't really rest, but the pool (even sans bikinis), a quiet dinner and not moving 500 miles in a day made us ready the next day to cross the border.

We crossed at Nogales, a border town that the people in the RV park spoke very dismissively - kind of like people in San Diego speak about Tijuana. We went the truck route and avoided all of the downtown traffic and, according to some new Canadian amigos, Jim & Pat, it was about as quiet as the border ever gets.

Customs did board the Grey Goose and searched for whatever customs searches for. But we were let through with a simple wave of the hand and we were on our way.

That night we spent in a Pemex service station parking lot, shadowed by the 40-foot motorhome driving by our Canadian friends. The Pemex lots are informal rest stops all along the highway and although a little noisy, very safe. On the other side of Jim & Pat's motorhome, a Mexican family pitched a small tents and slept with their three kids - after cooking dinner on a campfire.

I guess they don't worry about scorpions crawling into the tents.

December 27, 2007

DAYS TWO & THREE - Swooping into Phoenix in an overloaded Grey Goose Express

PHOENIX, Arizona, USA - After our first night on the road, we swooshed into Phoenix on Day Two, headed for the Carr Resort in South Phoenix.

Day Two driving was less stressful and as we crossed the Arizona border, the cost of a gallon of gasoline along Interstate 10 went from $3.15 in California to $2.69 in Arizona.

Yup, $3.15 in California to $2.69 in Arizona.

But then, on the advice of brother Dan Schwartz, we pulled into a truck stop and weighed the Trooper and Grey Goose Express together to see if we still had a weight issue.

The Grey Goose Express came in at a trim 4,300 pounds (a full 100 pounds under the total axle weight allowable.) The truck came in at 5,800 pounds.


The total package, (according to the book for the truck) could not exceed 9,600 pounds. That explained why the transmission was getting a tad warm, particularly on hills.

Fixing the Grey Goose weight problem
Fixing the Grey Goose weight problem

So the next morning (Day Three) we spent about two hours unloading everything in the Grey Goose - and the Trooper - weighing things, and then making weighty decisions about what had to stay behind. It was sort of a modern-day version of the pioneers offloading Ma's piano to make it over Donner Summit.

Several cases of wine, a dozen of cans of varnish and chemicals, numerous books, chain (no kidding, I was taking 30 pounds of chain, 40 pounds of weights (for exercising) and a lot of other miscellaneous stuff got left behind, dropping the overage to about 200 pounds.

We decided we would eat our way through the canned food as quickly as possible.

But those decisions were ignored the first night of our visit, during which we imbibed enough Grey Goose and fine wine that I jumped out of a 104-degree hot tub and into the 58-degree swimming pool. Luckily, the Flip video was inside and so my last swim of 2007 in the U.S. was not captured on film.

Oh, and while I write this, Casa Lupita is airing out after the fumigator arrived early this morning to spray to keep out any and all scorpions.

The video below is from Day Two:

December 26, 2007

On the ground in La Manzanilla - Grey Goose Express made it

TENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico - The Grey Goose Express pulled into La Manzanilla Christmas Day at about 3 p.m., after a 2,039 mile trip from Sacramento.

It took us nearly five hours to drive the last 130 miles - 25 mph over many of the long hills (both up and down). But the Goose made it fine, and along the way we even found a spot to dump our blackwater tank.

In the U.S., this is no big deal, but here there aren't public dumps and the private RV parks are hard to get in to. So in Chamela (an hour north of our new house) we pulled into an RV park owned by a half-deaf gringo named Harry who directed me to a tiny spot mid-park and said 'you can drop your load there.'

That's what he said. I can't make this stuff up.

We arrived at Casa Lupita (our rented house) and attempted to park the Goose in the driveway as planned but were foiled by some ugly geometry. There was a house across the street where I really needed to drive, in order to make the angle to push the Goose up into what is a very nice, wide, driveway.

But the story has a happy ending.

Our friends Mario and Sharon - building their beach house a few lots down from us - ran into some construction snags and instead of living in a plush beach house, were camped in a tiny tent, using the sand dunes as rest rooms and wondering why they ever started the project. The workers are busy, but it's not exactly what they had in mind.

So we dropped off the Grey Goose on their property this afternoon, giving them a nice spot to live. And this weekend which they are off on trip, we will likely head out to the Goose and spend the night - our first on that stretch of beach.

More tomorrow on the scorpion the Admiral found in her purse - as we drove down the highway, Grey Goose in tow.

Not something you want in your handbag

December 24, 2007

DAY ONE - Leaving Sacramento for points south

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - We left Sacramento one day later than anticipated, but at least partially rested for the seven days ahead.

Our amigos Pat and Sanders Lamont convinced us to spend one more night in town and so we did just that, having dinner at Vallejo's, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Sacramento. (Dinner at a Mexican restaurant on the night before beginning a 2,000 mile trip to Mexico? Si.)

We said our farewells and were on the road by 8 a.m., zooming out of the neighborhood we called home for the last few years, getting on Interstate 5 with a heavily loaded trailer and Isuzu Trooper, bouncing our way along for about two hours (I mean seriously bouncing) until we pulled into a truck stop in Westly where I had the air in the tires checked and we weighed the trailer.

I knew we were still pretty far from Mexico when the 'attendants' at the truck stop charged me $15 U.S. to check all eight tires and put some air in.

dollars. Madre mia.

But the biggest surprise came when we weighed the trailer and found it was about 200 pounds over the maximum weigh for the two axles. Ouch!

Visions of bending axles in the middle of the Mojave Desert filled my head, so we pulled into the first RV park we could find and dumped all of the tanks - fresh water, grey water and the best of all, the black water. Being new to the RV sport, I didn't have any of the proper hoses aboard and had to rely on an RV angel to help out. He also pointed out that we were carrying way too much weight in the front of the trailer.

All of that threw us way behind my intended schedule but because the Admiral took over the helm, we ended up well past Los Angeles by 10 p.m. that night, overnighting in a truck stop with diesels running on both sides of us.

I didn't hear a thing that night, nor have a single dream I remember.

The nightmare came the next day when we were on the outskirts of Phoenix and we weighed both the Trooper and the trailer together.

We found out we needed a serious Atkins-Pritikin-Jenny Craig-South Beach-Weight Watchers program for the Trooper and the trailer.

More in the next blog on how we shed 500 pounds in two hours at the Jim & Pam Carr Resort in south Phoenix.

December 23, 2007

Prelude to liftoff - the Grey Goose Express adventure

SACRAMENTO, California, USA - The days before we left the U.S. are a blur of packing, saying goodbye, followed by more packing and more goodbyes.

In the last days we packed up the entire house, went our for dinner with friends and realized that we had waited waaaaay too long to handle the final details of such of move. Besides packing the list had 27 items on it (shut off the cable tv, the newspaper, change phone messages, got to the safe deposit box, and, and, and...)

Our deadline day was when two house cleaners were set to arrive at 8:30 a.m. - by which time the house had to be empty so they could do a serious deep cleaning.

It wasn't. Merde!

So Admiral Fox and I fought room-to-room, corridor-to-corridor, and doorway-to-doorway, just ahead of vacuum cleaners, mops and other implements of destruction, loading things into the little red Nissan truck, the Grey Goose Express and some into the garage for later storing in the Troupey.

It was way beyond crazy.

But that night Sanders and Pat Lamont (the other two members of The Four Headlamps) arrived to reclaim their house (in which we have lived for the past two years, or is it three?) and we went our for a nice dinner (another one) at a neighborhood restaurant where Sanders and I had Grey Goose drinks (what else?) to celebrate our departure the following day.

But the following day we didn't leave as planned.

That's for tomorrow's episode: 10,000 pounds in a 9,000 pound bucket.

Safe in Puerto Vallarta - 1900 miles (and adventures) later

NUEVO VALLARTA, Jalisco, Mexico - We arrived safely at Dustin & Cami's casa Saturday at about 6 p.m. after an overnight stay in Mazatlan and a visit with Captain Dan Olsen and his admiral, Lorraine.

We made it sans major problems, though we did drop a torsion bar driving through Hermosillo right in the middle of a busy street, backed into a fence and lost a tail light (found it later) and hit some topes (speed bumps) going a wee bit too fast.

Like the airlines say: Be careful opening overhead bins, some things may shift in flight.

I'll post more about the entire seven-day trip later - right now my internet connection is about to disappear, I believe.

Grey Goose in Nuevo Vallarta
Grey Goose Express at Dustin's house in Nuevo

We will be here until Christmas morning when the Grey Goose Express will make its last passage (for now) to La Manzanilla where Dustin says the driveway is wide enough - by a foot or so - to back the trailer in.

But that's days from now.

December 12, 2007

Staying ahead of the wave on our way to Mexico

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - We are in the final days of countdown before we leave for Mexico, the house almost emptied and the Grey Goose Express getting more packed by the hour.

Today the Admiral and both woke up at 3 a.m. and by 4:30 gave up, got up, and got back to tasks.

When I can't sleep, that really says something about the stress level.

Complicating matters slightly has been selling a few pieces of furniture: the desk at which I am writing this blog and an exercise bike I bought to help me recover from knee surgery last year. The bike was sold last night and today a family is coming to look at the desk. If they don't buy it, it will find its way to storage. Or as we call it, stowage.

One mantra this week has been - and remains - just ride the wave and go with it.

Oh, the other is: breathe.

Look behind you!
Ride the wave, but don't look behind you

December 9, 2007

Rooftop storage - probably not recommended, but....

LAND PARK, SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Today's big project turned into, well, a big project. What I had projected to be a one-hour start to finish enterprise turned into about 3 hours.

But tonight the two kayaks, the Captain's Gig (the 10-foot sailing dinghy), oars, paddles, masts and an assorted collection of other stuff is neatly (ok, not too neatly) tied on the top of the 25-foot Aerolite trailer in anticipation of a Friday liftoff for the Grey Goose Express.

The trailer is only about 8 feet off the ground, but the way it shakes when walking on the roof... Let's just say my fear of heights came back for a brief time. How did I ever climb the sailboat mast? Oh. Yeah. I didn't. I sent someone else up all the time.

Still, after about a dozen trips up and down on the ladder, I was feeling pretty cocky, too cocky it seems as I nearly slipped off the edge.

The Admiral would not be amused if I broke my leg a few days before we have to drive 1600 miles.

I ended up making one trip to the hardware store to pick up some extra line, a few 's' hooks and a giant bungee cord all to secure the fleet on the rooftop. You can never have enough bungee chords.

December 8, 2007

To start a yacht club, exactly what do you need?

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - When I started a freelance writing & consulting business in the 1980s, I discovered all you really needed was two things: a really nice-looking briefcase and some well-done business cards.

In 2007, I think it would be necessary to add a really fast laptop computer and a web page.

But what about starting a yacht club? And a yacht club in Mexico on the shores of Tenacatita Bay?

The Admiral and I have toyed with the idea since last January when we bought our oceanfront lot, fully intending on making a part of the property into a yacht club for cruisers passing through. (Our travel trailer, being loaded as I write this, is likely to be the temporary clubhouse.)

And while we have vacillated over web pages, designs for burgees and various other yacht club appurtences, the Admiral today took the first step, shown in the photo below.

Tenacatita Bay Yacht Club
License plate frame - going on sale soon

We are toying with the notion of showing up in La Manzanilla with a box of these license plate frames and bringing them to an organizational meeting - at Palapa Joe's no doubt.

We might also offer them for sale online - via the yet-to-be-built web page, of course.

More on all this, once we leave the 95819 U.S. zip code and head south and east.

Mariposa ole!

December 7, 2007

Generator on board the Grey Goose Express

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - I made the last major purchase before we head out one week from today on our way to Mexico.

In fact, at this time next Friday, I think we will be well on our way down Interstate 5, headed for San Diego as our first stop. (Gulp...) That is unless we decide to do something else. (Us? Come on!)

The last major purchase (that I know of, anyway) was a 2kw Honda gasoline generator, a relatively light little unit (50 pounds) that starts with one pull and is sooooo quiet that it hardly noticeable. It will run everything on the trailer except the big box air conditioner on the roof. That would require the equivalent of two of the generators I bought today.

So, I'll buy a few extra electric fans and we can swim often.

Saturday is the day allocated to finishing the Captain's Gig repairs, started so well by Chief Engineer Scott Noble and being finished not-quite-so-well by me. But between Scotty's excellent fiberglass work and my thorough use of Marine Tex, the rig ought to survive.

When we hoist it to put it on top of the trailer, I'll know a lot more about how strong the repairs are.

Oh! And the Grey Goose Express you are wondering? What's that all about?

One of the stops will be in Phoenix at the Jim & Pam Carr Resort, Spa and Trailer Park where the drink du jour is a vodka collins made with Grey Goose vodka. As these cocktails are not on the approved drink list in California, I am going to take the opportunity to hoist a few with my amigos Jim and Pam Carr. Just a few. Honest.

I hoisted some ice tea earlier today with daughter Anne and granddaughter Kami when we went out for lunch. I can't wait to be able to buy that little one milkshakes, et al.

If you have had enough grandkid videos, skip this one. (But if not, well, Kami is soooo cute, you won't want to miss it.)

December 2, 2007

Up the mountain for a day of food, friends and songs

MURPHYS, Calif., USA - We took a much-needed break from our packing and planning endeavors this past weekend, zooming up the hill to Camp Connell to visit friends Sanders and Pat Lamont at their cabin. (Cabin? It's a castle....)

It was also a good test run for the Trooper, which has lived most of its life in the flatlands and not been challenged much by hills. When we leave for Mexico in 11 days (Jaysus! 11 days?) there will be plenty of hills - and a 3, 500-pound travel trailer dragging behind. (Whoops, I forgot about the two cases of beer & the two cases of wine. Better add 75 pounds to the total.)

No trip to Camp Connell is complete without a visit to the Lube Room, a local tavern where we had dinner Friday night. (Would you like a hamburger, a hamburger and fries or a hamburger and onion rings?)

Then Saturday we wandered the streets of Murphys, the small mountain town where the Lamont's daughter Ruth, son-in-law Brian and grandchildren Delaney and Connor live.

Ruth & Brian and Co. moved to the hills (3,000-foot elevation) from the SF suburb of Pleasanton and now are the proud owners of an eight-acre ranch that has a fabulous house on it.

They scored big time with the place. But what a contrast! Suburban Pleasanton is, well, very suburban. At the secluded Murphys' house (a half-mile up a one-lane road), Brian watched a bear saunter by his home-office window the other morning.

And they get regular visits from a bobcat. Just ask any of their surviving chickens.

In our travels we also visited a gift shop where we found what might be the perfect musical accessory - a wooden pig you run a stick over to get some music.

We may need to get a whole set for the band we are putting together, The Four Headlamps. More on the band in a future posting.

Musical pig
With an oink, oink, here and an oink, oink there ...

December 1, 2007

Having a cold beer, with a boa constrictor

CAMP CONNELL, Calif., USA - A group of politically active students from Humboldt State University traveled to Sacramento Friday, meeting with state dignitaries to lobby on behalf of their college - and to get some reform in the entire university system.

A system several of them labelled as corrupt.

No argument here.

I wouldn't count myself as a dignitary, but because I presided over the Faculty Senate vote last year, in which the vast majority of faculty said they had no confidence in our campus president, they asked me to join them for a discussion of tactics.

They had met earlier in the day with the Lieutenant Governor and various state officials but were still full of questions when we all met at the Fox & Goose tavern.

Yup, same tavern we went to earlier in the week to listen to Irish music.

My blood pressure did go up a few points in reliving last year's election and contentious time, but it was interesting to see how earnest this group was - and how puzzled they are that the designated adults are making such a hash of their university.

I sat next to Jessica - one of the leaders - and it wasn't until we were getting ready to head off to Camp Connell to visit Sanders and Pat Lamont that Admiral Fox noticed the head of a snake sticking out of the shirt of my neighbor.

A snake?

A snake!

It turns out that the critter is Jessica's pet, a boa constrictor that goes everywhere with her.

The one scene I wish I had filmed was the look on the bartender's face when Jessica walked up and ordered a drink.

Here's Jessica, her slithery amigo, and a clip of our visit to Camp Connell.