We have been in La Paz since November 15, and here it is, December 5th. And we have no plans to leave any time soon! Finally, we have no agenda we have to meet. I mean, we still have to do things like getting the laundry done, shopping for food, preparing meals, bathing ourselves – the basics. And there is a fairly long list, albeit on the back burner, of boat projects we must eventually get to. But beyond that, well, whatever we want to do or not do, that is what we do! I think this is really the first time since I retired 19 months ago that I don’t feel like there is something I have to get done in a hurry to go somewhere. What a relief. This is what retirement should be!
Our excuse for not leaving sooner, even though most of our friends are taking off for the warmer winter waters of Puerto Vallarta any day now, is that we have salsa dancing friends arriving in late January to visit us. Besides, it feels good just to stay in one place for a while, and integrate a bit. After all, getting to know other cultures runs a tight second to sailing as our primary goal of this adventure.
Of course, neither Rick nor I can sit still, so we have kept a busy schedule nevertheless, and frankly we are a little concerned about not getting too entrenched in La Paz or we may never get out there cruising again! We have a slip in a lovely, friendly marina, where some people have lived on their boat for years. One woman kept stopping by our boat trying to recruit me for all kinds of activities, from Zumba classes to bridge to Mexican Train (a kind of dominos, I think). Sometimes I feel a little like I am in a retirement community – I look around at the Cruisers Coffee Hour at Club Cruceros at our marina every morning and I swear, everyone there is OLD! But then I realize, they are probably my age! How come everyone my age looks so old? HaHa.
Between 9:30 and 10:30 daily, Club Cruceros is packed for coffee hour. We can check out videos, send mail through carriers to the States, and hear the daily radio cruisers’ net, all thanks to Club Cruceros.
Amongst the things we do that keep us busy is dancing salsa. We have found a salsa dancing venue with either a live band or classes, six nights per week! If it weren’t such a Catholic country, we would probably find salsa on Sundays too! And a trip to town usually takes several hours, even though it is only a short walk away. We still have places to explore, so we are always sightseeing, stopping in for a coffee or beer at some new place, or buying something.
The first week we were here included November 20, Revolution Day. The Mexican revolution that ousted the Dictator Portfirio Diaz from power actually lasted from 1910 to 1920, but they picked November 20 of 1910 to celebrate its beginning. There was quite the parade down the main street along the Malecon, a several mile stretch of flat, tiled wide sidewalk bordering the shoreline in downtown La Paz. It seemed that all the schools were represented, either by marching bands or fancy costumes or just rows and rows of students in their uniforms. And there were beautifully dressed girls on horseback, and cowboys galore, and military doing human pyramids on top of trucks or sliding down zip lines extended between two trucks with a mattress to break their fall at the bottom. A young female announcer at the exhibition stand introduced each parade entrant with such incredible clarity and enunciation that I found her mesmerizing. She spoke with such enthusiasm and pride in her community, reflecting the joy and pride seen in the faces of all who participated and all who watched as their friends and loved ones performed. Besides the San Francisco Gay Day Parade 30 years ago, I can’t remember seeing so much pride in being part of a community. On the contrary, in the U.S. we have replaced the concept with so much negativity that people who advertise being “proud to be an American” scare me rather than inspire me.
While of course all the talk about Mexico is drug wars, what was apparent from being in the crowd at the parade was how much support young people have for participating in sports, in school, and doing good things for their community. I also see it in the way mothers and grandmothers talk to children: I have not yet heard one woman speaking to a child harshly; it is always “mi amor or mi cariño” with love and affection as they give their child instructions to do something or not do something. Children are absolutely adored. With a support system like that, children can’t help but grow up feeling loved and in turn, being kind and respectful to others. I admire this culture so much; it makes me sad for the U.S., and almost jealous.
These feelings of admiration for the people and their personal pride and interactions do not extend, however, to their public infrastructure. Except for the Malecon, a shining example of an extremely well maintained icon for the city’s tourism interests, the sidewalks are atrocious. In the US there would be lawsuits galore. But here, it is considered your own darn fault if you trip or fall. The edge of sidewalks often drop off several feet with no railing; cracks are everywhere, the pavement is uneven, and there are tripping hazards of several inches everywhere. You literally have to watch the ground as you walk to avoid them; don’t you dare look up to see what is around you or you will fall!
Shopping has been an adventure. There are two old-style enclosed Mexican markets in the Centro, called ‘mercados’; I think I have decided that is my favorite place to buy fresh fruits and vegetables – you get personal service and the quality is outstanding. The fish markets there are also wonderful – you watch the fishermen bring in the fish and then they clean them right in front of you. Similarly, we were standing in front of the meat counter examining the fresh meat in the refrigerated case when a man came walking by to deliver a whole pig over his shoulder! The old days of mercados selling unrefrigerated meats are gone – everything is kept on ice or in refrigerators as necessary.
The food preferences are a little different here, however: a complete pig’s head is popular market item! I can find several different types of fresh, prepared mole but the salsa we are accustomed to in the states is no where to be found – I have had to search out recipes to make my own. For packaged and non-food items, there are two large supermarkets and a few smaller ones within a long walk/short bus ride from our marina. Getting there and back may be a little easier from now on because we bought a used folding bike yesterday.
Grocery bills have been less here – We find ourselves spending about half as much as in California. That is not as cheap as it used to be here, but still good. Part of the reason the bills have increased is that the availability of imported items has increased, but at a higher cost than local items, and of course, it is hard to let go of some of our favorite things, like Rick’s swiss cheese or the better-sealing baggies made by US companies.
We haven’t been too successful clothes shopping here yet; I am not sure if they just don’t carry what we want, or if we haven’t found the right places yet. I must admit that clothes shopping has not been our priority; we have so little room for clothes that if we buy something, we must discard something! But that wouldn’t be hard to do – one thing we have discovered is that they fewer clothes you have, the faster they wear out. Rick has been looking for cargo shorts with no success, to replace the threadbare ones he has, and I need some “intimate apparel,” but so far I haven’t found any that fit a real woman, just pre-pubescent girls! I did find some one-size-fits-all synthetic dresses in a small shop in the Centro at a great price that work wonderfully for salsa dancing.
Rick has been studying his Roseta Stone Spanish religiously, and is communicating more and more in Spanish every day. He used to pause and wait for me to ask for something; now more than not, he beats me to it! In the meantime, I have been pleased with my ability to understand personal, one-on-one conversations with native Spanish speakers, at an increasing level of complexity. I have received a number of encouraging comments that my Spanish is excellent and almost accent-free. But I take those comments in stride, considering the bar around here is pretty low; there are so many monolingual English speakers in the cruising community that my Spanish by comparison seems much better than I feel it is. The other day I was trying to outline the regular verb conjugations in the past tense for Rick, and realized I wasn’t sure anymore of some of them. When I was first learning Spanish, the rules were constantly on my mind; now that I haven’t studied it for years, the rules have fallen by the wayside to the point that I am not even conscious of them; the words just come out as if I were speaking in tongues! Vocabulary I thought I had forgotten, just comes falling out of my mouth when I need it! But then other times, I am at a complete loss for the right word, and find myself dancing around it with all kinds of other words to describe it. Try to imagine walking into a hardware store to buy a hammer and not remember the word for a hammer (clavo). You end up saying things like “a piece of metal with a handle that you use to force nails into wood”, except you probably forgot the word for nail as well. I trust it will all come back, in time. So far, we are communicating pretty well, although I doubt we will have as many opportunities for long and intimate conversations in Spanish compared to when I lived here 30 years ago, working full time and immersed in the culture. There are still just too many Gringos around, and by virtue of being cruisers, our principal community speaks English, not Spanish. Fortunately, as we get more involved in salsa and other community activities, that may change a bit.
We will continue to run out to the many islands within a few days’ sail to enjoy the cruising lifestyle whenever the weather permits, like we did last weekend with Lynne to Isla Espiritu Santo.
It is still in the 80’s every day with a very hot sun, and then it cools off at night to the mid 60’s or so – just about ideal for us. I haven’t yet needed anything more than a light wrap at night, and certainly nothing more than modesty requires during the day. But they say that at least twice per winter month for four or five days each in La Paz, northern winds caused by high pressure systems in the “four corners” area of the U.S., bring strong winds and big seas that you wouldn’t want to be caught sailing in. There was one early last week that caused several boats to drag anchor or lose their dinghies in the blow. You can be pretty sure you are okay for a week or so after one blows through, as they come in cycles. So we will probably wait for the next one to come through, and then take off again for a several day trip, as long as we can tear ourselves away from dancing! So expect more highlights from our cruising lifestyle in the coming weeks.