Saturday, November 27, 2010

travel mode, again

We are currently sitting in Andes Hostel in Santiago counting down the minutes until we leave. We have been in Santiago, Chile for 10 days and both of us feel restless and ready to move on. Tonight we will board a bus and take a twelve hour drive to Pucon, Chile where we will stay for two days.
Santiago has not been all that exciting or interesting but it did provide us a place to stay and take some spanish lessons. Buffy improved her language skills quite a bit and I improved my ability to order food. This city, however, is crowded and poluted and our sinuses and spirits desperately seek the southern air Chile is renowned for. Late next week our friend Claire will be in Bariloche, Argentina and we will begin our descent through Patagonia.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Catching up on the blog

So for the sake of catching up the Blog I have decided to write a little note of the occurances over the few weeks.
We arrived in Mexico City after hanging out in Mazatlan for about 48 hours. We had thought that Mexico City was unsafe and so were not thrilled to go, even if only for the two days we planned.  However, we arrived in a metropolitan city of friendly, polite and gracious people. We were able to safely explore the city throughout the day and into the night.  It was great exploring a culture we had thought we would be familiar with but actually were not. Mexico City shocked and amazed us beyond our: we thought we would find a dirty, impoverished, crime ridden city, but instead we found an amazing culture with great food. We visited the amazing Teothihaucan Pyramids and walked as much of the city as we could. Our one regret is that we stayed only two days. After those few days in Mazatlan and Mexico city we slept in the Mexico City airport and then headed to Santiago, Chile.

Santiago, Chile
We originally wanted to come to Chile because we thought it would be safer and more exciting than Mexico City- we were wrong on both accounts. However, we currently sit in Santiago have found it to be relatively boring. The city is nice because it is easy to get around and it is clean and it is almost European, and because it is so European it is boring: we already know this culture and were looking for something different. The food is reallllllly bad: the Chilenos eat tons of junk food and mayonaise and nothing is spicy at all. But we have met cool and interesting people.
The future?
On Saturday (it is currently Thursday) we will take a twelve hour bus to Pucon, Chile. Pucon is renowned for its access to major Andean hiking areas and is one of the most visited of the Lakes District towns. Pucon will be our access to Argentina. Next Friday we will meet our long awaited friend, Claire, to continue our journey south to the end of the continent.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What I learned from sailing down the Baja coast

1.)    Stars will outnumber black spaces if you get out far enough
2.)    The sounds of whales at night is better music than I have ever heard
3.)    When you start to think your crew mates smell you should jump into the Pacific because you last took a shower six days ago too
4.)    The Pacific and a large bottle of shampoo only makes you smell reasonable enough to hang out with fellow sailors
5.)    Salt water takes many washes (showers and laundry) to get out
6.)    If ever troubled with insomnia in the future- go sailing and let the water rock you to sleep
7.)    Hand carrying the asymmetrical sheet forward and around the forestay in the middle of the night is more exhilarating and scarier than just about anything
8.)    Racing dolphins, sea turtles, jumping stingrays and flying fish is better than any perks a city may have to offer
9.)    You cannot control much- wind direction and speed, waves and their speed and height- these are the things that dictate your life and its pace
10.) Resources are scarce…if you run out of water, you are out of water; if you have eaten all of the food on the boat, no more will magically appear; what goes in, must come out; trash must be managed and space is tight

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mazatlan, Mexico

Currently we are sitting in Mazatlan, Mexico- trying to figure out how to get to South America. Yesterday, our plan was: Mexico City to Santiago, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina but today we realized that means we will have spent half of our savings and we still have 6 months to go. I guess this will be one of those moments that changes the course of our course. We shall see what happens tomorrow! Will it be Chile or not..........only sleep will tell.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Great Philosopher- Jan.

Jan’s advice and information is wide ranged and often hilarious. When Buffy asked Jan how he got himself into a position to travel so freely he simply stated: “Find a young impressionable girl, make sure this girl is an alpha and has a sister who is also an alpha and get her through college- then ride the success of this girl.” He said this with a smile and then explained that he met his wife while she was in college and taught her to ski, climb, camp, backpack and kayak and she married him. He then told us that his wife was/is amazing and was so easy going they rarely argued and never fought, this he explained- was also why she was so successful in her career. Jan also threw out other wonderful words of wisdom such as:
“Three rules to life: don’t get dead, don’t get pregnant and don’t do wrong turns.” Wrong turns, it turns out can be interpreted in many ways…. Don’t do bad things to others; don’t make bad decisions, etc.
 “If it is supposed to move and doesn’t- wd40 it. If it moves and shouldn’t- duct tape it.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Buffy (Liz) on Sailing

Jynene and I arrived in San Diego harbor around 5am on October 25th.  The Baja Haha started the morning of the 27th, and we hadn’t yet found a boat to crew on.  We fully expected that we wouldn’t find a boat and would end up flying to South America, but figured we had nothing to lose trying.  After sleeping for a few hours in the car, we decided to check out the local marine stores to get information on how to find a boat.  The first store we went to, Down Wind, had a bulletin board with a bunch of boat parts for sale or boat parts needed, some apartments for rent and whatnot, but also three or four listings by skippers looking for crew for the Haha.  We wrote down the names and numbers, left our own little sign, and made a few phone calls while driving to the next marine store.  The folks working at Down Wind were confident that we’d get a ride.  The first skipper we called was Erik, and he said he was at his boat and had been about to leave the boat to walk the docks looking for crew.  We immediately drove over to his boat for an on-board interview.  Well, we were both in luck, Erik and us! Erik was happy to have folks with little experience because he thought it would be more fun to show people how to sail than to just sail with people who already knew what they were doing.  He had so far wrangled one other crew member-Jan, who had a bit more experience than Jynene and I and had sailed with Erik down from Sacramento.  There was still as scramble for crew, though, because Erik really wanted at least 5 folks to make the night watches a little shorter and easier.  He ended up calling a couple from Seattle who had posted on the Latitude 38 sight that they’d be available last minute to  crew, so that’s how we gained Eric (dubbed “EJ” for the duration of the trip) and Marylin, a couple in their late fifties who had a lot of racing experience but no blue water (ocean) sailing.  So then there were six!  On Sunday, Jynene, Jan and I went to Trader Joe’s and Walmart for provisioning.  We also went out to dinner with Jan’s daughter and her boyfriend who were awesomely helpful driving us around, were extremely interesting, nice and fun, but who were not able to join us for the Haha.   On Monday morning, we filled the water tanks, hoisted the sails, and joined the fleet of a few hundred boats leaving San Diego bay on the Haha!  The weather forecast called for rough seas and the Coast Guard issued a small craft warning, so Jynene and I were pretty worried about sea-sickness.  We donned those pressure-point wrist bands and some Skopalomene patches, drank ginger tea and emergencies to stay hydrated and hoped for the best.  Everytime our stomachs felt off, we thought we were getting sea-sick, but most of the time, we were just hungry…we didn’t end up having any major issues for the whole trip.
Sailing out of the harbor to Turtle Bay: We sailed in high seas and strong winds for three days and two nights to Bahia Tortuga…Turtle Bay.  This was my first sailing experience outside of a few weekends of lake racing several years ago in New Mexico (yes, although I’m from Massachusetts, my first sailing experience was in New Mexico, watching out for tumble weeds getting caught on the rudder).  A naval air station sits on the San Diego shore, so the departing Haha fleet was seen off by a few sets of F18 fighter jets, an A-10, and, most interestingly, a submarine with it’s head sticking out of the water…how cool!  The submarine was surrounded on all sides by escort cutters with police lights on; apparently there wass some concern that the watercraft designed for stealth may be overlooked by boaters more accustomed to scanning the horizon for white hulls and sails.  That sub was huge! 
On board our own watercraft, Jan was at the wheel, and he and Erik were talking in some foreign language consisting of numbers and nautical lexicon: “Heading 1-0-3?”; “No, fall off 10 degrees”; “That catch 15 lengths off our Starboard has better wind higher up.” “Well, let’s haul in the sheet and slack the lazy sheet; the Gennie’s luffing.”  Oh no, I thought, Erik is going to kick me off the ship first time he asks me to do something….I have no idea what they’re talking about and it all sounds so complicated I probably won’t be able to decipher it by the end of the Haha, either.  I watched the other crew members responding to the commands to haul or slack the main, lazy, and active sheets and hoped I’d picked up on the pattern.  Before long, Jynene and Marylin made sandwiches for lunch, passing each one up to the other three mariners and myself up on deck.  The helmsman (the driver working the big, cool looking wheel like you see on pirate ships) gets fed first, so the sandwich came up from the galley (kitchen) through the companionway (that’s the entrance to the living quarters below deck) in on hand, and got passed through three other hands in the cockpit (that’s where most of the sailing action is done in the stern, or back, of the boat deck) before making it to its intended recipient.  Yikes….I’m going to have to get comfortable with other people touching my food with their bare hands!  (You, dear reader, may not think this situation merits an exclamation point, but my stomach is turning with the mere remembrance of that first hesitant bite).  Oh well, I had to eat, so bottoms up.  I was still worried about getting sea-sick…we’d only been under way (out to sea) for about an hour, so I ate that sandwich slower than I’ve ever eaten any sandwich before, listening and feeling very closely to my belly for signs of protest.  Somewhere in the middle of this ceremony, Erik told me to slack the main. Oh no!  Had my close observations paid off?  This meant I had to find the crank with the rope connected to the main sail and loosen it, giving it more rope so the sail would swing out and catch more wind.  I grabbed what I understood to be the main sheet (sheet means rope connected to a sail), un-looped a few coils from the crank, and got the rope to slack a few very abrupt inches at a time.  Erik said, “You need to use both hands, like this,” and demonstrated the proper way to let the sail out smoothly.  Of course, using both hands meant I had to hand my sandwich to someone to hold onto…Yuck!  More hands on my sandwich!  I gave it to Jan, who had just turned the helm over to Marilyn, and let the main out.  First nautical command executed (somewhat) successfully, I settled in and enjoyed the rest of the day.   I got my shot at the helm, as did everyone else.  After we all decided manually steering the boat for several hours at a time is extremely tiring and monotonous, Erik told us there was another crew member we would all welcome onboard….Otto…A.K.A. autopilot.  All you do is set a heading (compass direction, expressed by a number between zero and 360) using the wheel, and flip a little switch.  We all embraced our newest crew member and set him to work immediately.  
Sailing 24 hours requires that someone be up in the cockpit at all times (Otto is great, but protests his long working hours sometimes by veering off-course, and he doesn’t have eyes to see things that might be crashed into, and he can’t change sails to adapt to new wind conditions), meaning there is some loss of sleep, familiarly titled “Watch”.  This was one term I knew, as the military occasionally directed me to stand some sort of watch or another for an entire night.  Watch on Viking II was actually less painful than the watches I’d stood before, though, because there were six people on board to share the sleep-loss with.  We set up a 12-hour watch cycle consisting of six two hour watches.  The cycle staggered experienced and inexperienced sailors in the following way: for two hours, each individual was on watch, awake, paying attention, doing what needed to be done to sail safely and quickly.  For the two hours following the watch, each individual would sleep on one of the benches in the cockpit, available to help whomever was on watch.  The watch cycle went from 6pm to 6am, and 6am to 6pm, with a lot more flexibility during daylight hours when everyone was awake.  I loved watch!  I had the 4 to 6 shift, which was perfect for my sleep schedule.  I am a morning person.  I struggle to stay up past 10pm (in fact, one thing I enjoyed about sailing was that everyone went to bed with the sun…sun sets at 7, everyone goes to bed), and if I get woken up at night I have a tough time falling back to sleep, particularly if there’s a lot of noise, as there is below deck on a sailboat.  I loved the solitude up on deck in the middle of the night.  I love using my headlamp to do everything.  Out at sea, the boat rolls rhythmically, constantly, back and forth with the waves.  Below deck, the rolling can feel like the boat’s about to snap in half because all sounds are amplified, like the sails catching wind and the mast taking the load, and the water slapping on the side of the hull; but above deck, it’s a completely different experience: quiet, peaceful, and relaxing.  The stars at night a few dozen miles off-shore are amazing!  The sky is full of stars…you can see the milky-way clearly, and if you scan the sky for just a few minutes you’re sure to see at least one shooting star.  I love the sense of the immensity of the universe that comes with looking at stars, a sense of possibility and the amazing and mysterious way the universe is put together.  Then, I got to watch the sun rise at the end of my shift.  To top it all off, enjoying the waves above deck rather than fearing that the boat was going to snap in half below deck, I got the best two hours of sleep in the cockpit after my shift.
The second morning out to sea, I got off my watch and decided to make breakfast for everyone.  Meals on a boat are very communal, with people taking turns preparing food for the crew and washing dishes.  I wanted to cook eggs and potatoes with onion, mushroom, and cheese.  Cooking on a boat is hard!  The waves constantly roll the boat side to side, making walking, standing, pouring, cutting, opening refrigerator doors, and setting anything down on the counter downright treacherous.  First, I retrieved the ingredients from the refrigerators at the front of the cabin.  There was one fridge with its back on the starboard (right) side of the cabin, and one on the port (left) side.  Well, the eggs were in a carton on the port side, which was a problem, because we were sailing with a port tac.  This means that the wind was hitting us from the port side.  When the wind hits the sails, it propels the boat forward, but it also tips it to the side, or heels, with each wave.  With this heel, I couldn’t open the port refrigerator without everything in the fridge falling out onto the floor!  I waited a few cycles of waves to get the feel of the rolling and try to time my fridge-door opening for when the boat was upright, and get the door shut before we tipped off the wave.  Alas, I screwed it up!  It took me too long to get the egg carton out, the boat heeled before I could shut the door completely, and every beer-can, mustard bottle, and other round object fell off the shelves.  Some things fell on the floor (luckily, nothing broke), and other things got stuck between the door and the shelves, preventing me from shutting the door so more things kept falling out.  Marylin was near by, so she ran to my rescue, and we went through several cycles of waves, opening the door to clear out the hinges when the boat was upright, pushing the door as far closed as it would go to prevent more items from falling when the boat heeled.  It was a comedy or errors.  I almost shut the door on Marylin’s hand a few times, but we finally got the fridge closed.  Marylin went on her way, and I brought the ingredients for breakfast back to the galley.  Jan joined me to help me cook, which was a great thing because I needed the help!  He cut and cooked the potatoes while I cut and cooked the veggies and prepared the scrambled eggs.  I cracked the dozen eggs into a big bowl that was sitting on the counter, but realized I needed a fork to scramble them with.  The waves were rocking the boat back and forth, so I let go of my hold on the bowl of eggs and observed whether the rocking would cause the bowl to tip or not.  The bowl was steady, so I took a few steps to the right to grab a fork.  And we got hit by a wave bigger than the others.  The bowl of eggs flew off the counter and landed upside-down on the carpet at the bottom of the companionway latter.  Ick…what a sticky, dirty, gross mess, and I wasted an entire carton of eggs!  I cleaned it up as best as I could, ventured back to the fridge and got more eggs (with better timing, I didn’t repeat my earlier fridge problems), and Jan helped me cook up the eggs without causing any more destruction. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

All things Sailing!

A few weeks in California gave Buffy enough time to finish grad school applications for 2011 and on October 22nd we rented a car a drove to San Diego where we hoped to catch a ride via sailboat to Mexico. So let me tell you a little about this possible ride to Mexico; first there is a yearly “race” from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas called the Baja HaHa which I learned about as I asked around and searched the internet for a ride across the Atlantic 12 months ago. About 9 months ago Buffy and I put our information up on Latitude 38 a sailing forum and website for sailors who race the Baja and for “puddle-jumpers” who literally jump from Mexico to the Pacific Islands. We realized quickly that we were too early to actually find anyone looking for crew for the Baja Haha and so we simply gave up for the time being. We returned in August hoping that we could find a skipper looking for two relatively inexperienced female deckhands and got about 12 replies. These replies were from an assortment of skippers looking for experienced crew, inexperienced crew, romantic interests or large daily costs. We corresponded with a few of them but nothing came to fruition most wanted to meet us well before the race but we were already in Europe so could nothing to help our cause. One skipper finally told us that if we were unable to find a ride we should show up in San Diego before the race and go to two Marine stores and simply walk around asking for a ride. So on October 22nd, two days before the race began, we showed up in San Diego. I wrote out a note that looked like this: “Got Crew? Buffy and Jynene looking for a ride, willing to share expenses, call ……” We were advised by the Marine manager to hang this on the bulletin board and to start calling any numbers listed there looking for crew. There were exactly two posts on the board looking for crew and we called Eric, the first of the two, immediately. Erik asked us to come by and so we drove down the dock and found the described Macgregor 65 known as Viking II and its skipper Erik. Stepping on Board we had no idea what we were walking into.
We stepped on board and introduced ourselves firming up our handshakes to make it clear we were strong and capable women- not ones to be easily bull-shited. Inside the cabin we were asked a series of questions such as: why do want to race to Mexico, what experience do you have, what will you do for sea sickness, and so on. Very quickly it became clear that Erik knew my grandfather (another sailor) and had actually sailed with him in the Pacific Northwest and alongside him in the Baja Ha Ha a few years ago. He invited us to sail with him and we immediately accepted. And that was it, we drove to San Diego and literally five hours later we were moving our gear onto our new 65 foot home.
The race started on October 24th and I knew immediately this would be the time of our lives. I don’t say that simply or without reservation since I know from experience and just basic common sense that sailing can become very dangerous very fast. Also, being on a boat with five other people, no matter how cool they are, can be trying, uncomfortable and awkward. But with this in mind and our grocery shopping finished we left San Diego forty-eight hours after arriving.
Leaving San Diego we passed a Submarine just barely above the water line, dolphins, a Navy fighter and were happily joined by 180 sail boats headed to Mexico. Our ship mates included Erik the skipper and owner of Viking II, Jan from Utah, Erik and Marilynn from Seattle, Buffy and myself. Everyone on board was obviously an adventure seeker and we were in excellent company.
So a little about our ship mates…. Erik the skipper is a life-long sailor and an engineer by trade, he retired a few years ago and set sail doing the Baja three times and sailing the Californian coast frequently. Marilyn and Erik live in Seattle and are avid skiers and race Lightning’s (a small racing boat) for fun. Jan is also an avid skier- additionally he climbs, backpacks, camps, sails ice boats, rides motorcycles, and travels everywhere. Late into his seventies he looks about sixty and sounds about thirty, he is by far our most adventurous companion. Currently Jan is sailing to Cabo with us where he will meet up with a life-long friend and haul another boat back to San Diego. In San Diego Jan will meet up with his equally interesting grown daughter before he jumps on his motorcycle and heads south again, he hopes to take Spanish classes in central America near the end of the year. He speaks of his daughters and wife with a palpable mixture of respect and admiration. He told us, when asked about his wife and children, that they had their first child late and found her so much fun that another was soon on her way. His oldest daughter spent a few years in her early twenties as a smoke jumper and his youngest is a passionate rock climber. I consider Jan to be our resident philosopher, comedian and intellectual, he has made our trip.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Beginning!

“Chasing Summer”
After a few requests from family, friends and fellow travelers I have decided to write a blog. Mostly I am amazed that anyone might be interested in reading about this year of travel and have thus far posted very few and very short notes on facebook about this year. I feel sure that if anyone was actually interested in the adventure it is because of their relation to one of us, our mothers for example. But I suppose the stories of our adventures will be relayed to our mothers through my verbal recantations next year and this blog will therefore serve as a daily (perhaps weekly) version of our very long summer.
And so to catch you up…..
About two years ago my friend Buffy and I decided that we would take a year off and travel. The first version of our plans went something like this: take off a year and travel. Over the last 24 months the plans were revised, exaggerated and periodically abandoned. About 9 months ago we finally decided that we would go to Europe for a while and then we would jet off to South America and attempt to live in a developing country for a few months. Now to understand the enormity of this decision you must understand the complexity of our differing personalities. I had no desire whatsoever to actually make plans and Buffy wanted plans and lots of them. We thought, initially, that we could spend an entire year in a developing nation with very little money and so were sure that was the way to go. Then I became aware that my friend Buffy was going to have something like 70 days of paid time off just about the time we wanted to head off. Buffy was going to get out of the U.S Air Force in October but was going on leave from August until the end of her commitment in October. So Buffy would continue to receive a pay check for two entire months and so I suggested we go to Europe. The surprising thing was that she actually agreed. So we started talking about going to Europe and I started scheming about how to get there. Buffy was still in the military and so could get a free ride on a military flight, which left me to get to Europe on my own and I wanted to make it interesting. Flying was simply not interesting enough so I started looking at sailing across the Atlantic from Boston to England. However, this did not work out at all I could not find a ride being an inexperienced deck hand that really just wanted an interesting ride. But the idea led to me to look at sailing to South America. And so I started to talk to Buffy about the possibility of sailing from southern California to Mexico and beyond. Around May we had our plans we would fly (separately) to Europe and stay there for two months and then come back to the United States and go to southern California to catch a ride to Central America.
At first Liz wanted to know when and where we were going and how long we would spend In each location and how we would get to each location and where we would stay and so on. However, very quickly she realized that I would not be travelling on a plan and so she adjusted for this and I agreed to commit to our destination countries. In Europe we ended up spending about 5 days (each) in Prague, Vienna and Budapest getting us to Turkey in time to meet my friend Claire. Two weeks in Turkey and a few days in the Greek Islands landed us in Athens in mid September so we trained it up to Macedonia and spent our last ten days spread between Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia. On October 4th I left returned to Prague and spent my last night in Europe alone in a youth hostel before heading back to Phoenix where I sadly forgot to tell my dad when I was coming back and so spent the night in the Airport. But anyways, Buffy flew on an Air Force cargo plane to Seattle and we met up again in Boulder Creek California where my uncle lives.