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The Calm Before the Storm

Dear reader and followers,

Last you heard from us we were traveling over the Sea of Cortez in a cargo ship as a little family, full of wonder as we imagined the road ahead.

Today I write to you, from my iPad, alone, just south of Puerto Escondido, trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of the storm, no the tornado, that passed through our lives between then and now.

WTF?!? You say. My thoughts exactly. Let’s see if we can put the puzzle pieces back where they belong together.

After landing in Mexico mainland, we proceeded to make our way down the coast. We had several wonderful adventures of which I’d love to show you pictures, but I can’t for reasons which will soon become clear, and so I’ll do my best to use words to describe some of our experiences, if you promise to try to use your imagination a little.

Mainland side, it seemed every little town we ended up in was having some sort of annual fiesta just the day we landed. We hit up at least 5 towns that I can think of that were setting up carnival games, food stands, and fireworks for some sort of saint’s day, or Mother’s Day, or town anniversary, or you name it.

Mexican towns welcomed us with sky rockets and Chamoyadas galore. One evening in Santa Cruz just south of San Blas, the town of no more than 2,000 habitants put on a wonderful display of endearingly failed fireworks, ending with the top of a fireworks tower being launched with a loud hiss sideways and into the crowd, instead of straight up into the sky. As if this sort of thing was completely normal, the party proceeded, mariachis and all, without skipping a beat, a metal and paper mâché bull set ablaze with colorful firecrackers thrust over a gentleman’s shoulders while he chased the town’s children around the square.

While this doesn’t sound like fun to a North American parent, trust me, I haven’t heard children laugh like this in AGES. Gabriel ran behind the hoard or children, camera in tow, and took some National-Geographic-worthy snapshots of their faces looking back over their shoulders as they ran, frozen in the most twisted of expressions of laughter and joy, shining in all shades of fluorescent against the night’s velvet curtain, with the sparkling bull looming just out of the camera’s depth of field behind them. He took hundreds of these and came back to me out of breath with a smile just as big as the kids’. You’ll never see any of them.

It didn’t seem to matter that we were the only two gringos there, and had nothing to do with this town or its celebrations, we were welcomed warmly, and unlike in more “developed” tourist towns, our presence was actually a non-event. No one pestered us for some extra pesos, no one threw out any out-of-context English phrases as we passed by. We were just another two faces in the crowd of jubilant townspeople enjoying a pleasantly warm evening surrounded by children shooting silly string at each other and cajoling their technicolor 5-peso chicks-in-a-cup in the soft glow of the plaza central’s yellow street lights.
Mostly, Phi enjoyed all the food on the ground, but also ran excitedly with the playful children, and did not at all like the hissing sounds of the sky rockets, or the firecrackers.
The surf was also in our favor. We had great waves that next morning in Santa Cruz, but also at many spots along the coast, including, most memorably, at La Ticla, where we stayed a week.

La Ticla’s beach infrastructure suggests that it once welcomed a whole hoard of foreign surfers, but it was pleasantly desolate when we rolled through. The swell was a clean 5-6 feet and formed into a pretty peak which we comfortably shared with a half-a-dozen other surfers. Here we ran into a friend we’d made back in Scorpion Bay who’s dog was not quite as happy to meet up with Phi as Phi was to meet up with him.

We spent most of the days chilling in the shade of the thatched roof while waiting for the right surf conditions, and most of the evenings sharing meals with the two couples in the van next door.

Phi learned to swim across the river, although he didn’t like it much, he managed to do it on his own when called to the other side, despite the current. It was like witnessing a baby’s first steps, and he ran off with pride after his accomplishment, tongue sticking out the side of his face, rubbing himself into the sand, neck first, desperately trying to get that pesky water stuff off himself.

One evening, just before going to bed, cleaning up camp as the conclusion to another successful communal dinner, I noticed something wriggling where I was about to put my foot and held back my step just in time to save a baby turtle from meeting an untimely death-by-careless-crushing.

I cried out in excitement “guys!!! Baby turtle! OMG GUYS!!!! Look at the baby turtle!”

Next thing you know the six of us were grabbing the little beasts and bringing them away from our confusing lights to the edge of beach, where the lapping waves stole them from our headlamps’ spotlights in the dark ethereal blend of sky, sea, and sand. They would now be at the mercy of the ocean’s currents and hopefully live a long and prosperous life, despite all the odds against them.

We pushed words of encouragement at their little souls to help propel them into the harsh reality of life with an upper hand. Their waddling instinct never once stopped and as we picked them up their tiny flippers kept going, and going, and going like little wind-up dollar-store toys. I imagine they’re still going now.

Phi’s hunting instinct didn’t stop either. All he wanted was to feel one of those little guy’s shells crush between his teeth and I had to hold him back from every single one of them. He was still going nuts as the last one was taken away by the sweep of an oncoming wave.

We had video of the turtles’ epic beginnings, but you’ll never see it.

We had had an expensive month with the new suspension in La Paz and the ferry crossing fare; as it stood we were cutting it close with gas money for the month, but things became more dire when a bank machine ate my card. With little else for options we opted to take a break from the sea and head inland for some farm work near Pátzcuaro while we waited for a new card to be sent to us. There, we were fortunate to find the most wonderful of wwooofing hosts who welcomed us with warmth and gratitude. We spent a wonderful two weeks on his farm/property while getting our fingers dirty and finishing projects. We were there long enough to see some of the seeds we had planted sprout and that felt nice.

We were also there long enough for Phi to get sick bad. Something he ate didn’t sit well with him and he managed to get to skin-and-bones before finally recuperating with some help from the local vet and a few antibiotics.

We welcomed the break from the ocean’s incessant cleansing fluidity and felt grateful to be able to be grounded. The temperature change was also a welcomed variable. Who doesn’t love cool nights under a fluffy comforter, especially after a well-deserved sauna session to celebrate a hard day’s work.

We got along so well with our host and cooked many communal meals in his amazing kitchen which we scarfed down together at the dining room table overlooking the grandiose volcano valley out to the lake ahead.

The food in general in Mexico filled us with a delicious sense of well-being. At least emotionally. Sometimes our guts didn’t agree with our palates, but in general we ate well, and of everything: tacos and quesadillas galore; warm, hand-made tortillas by the kilo; and the molé, oh the molé!

After the farm, things started to get a little wonky. Although our fridge had broken down a few weeks before, Gabriel managed to get it repaired in Pátzcuaro but there began our van issues.

Our first morning in Pátzcuaro, Big Blu refused to start.

After messing with a few things and getting some advice from a local mechanic, Gabriel got it going again. It seemed the engine had flooded after a failed crank.

We proceeded toward the ruins of Teotihuacan, without issue. There we found what would once have been a very powerful place left in a sorry state of disarray. While the sheer scale of the site left us breathless, we couldn’t help but feel like the efforts to preserve the magic were miles short of satisfactory.

Upon attempting to leave that evening, Big Blu again refused to start.

Maybe the altitude was the cause of her mood swings. We were after all at nearly 3,000 meters.

After fiddling with the fuel pump, Gabriel again managed to get her going. The next morning we headed into the overwhelming metropolis that is Mexico City, and bee-lined for a mechanic that came recommended on Yelp, across town. Thinking we’d be done that day we rented a sweet AirBnB pad a half hour drive from the shop. We were looking forward to a bit of city chaos and culture to add to our mix of experiences. As it turned out, for all the bad rep it can get, The DF (pronounced “dae effae”) seemed pretty manageable upon first impression.

The month that followed would surpass our expectations of how many things can possibly go wrong with one trip and leave me here, on this beach, alone, to tell you all about it.

But you’ve had enough for the day, come back next week for the rest of the story.

7 comments

  1. Don’t give up! Jacqui and I have definitely been through the sh** on our journey to drive south. Our first adventure rig we crashed in the middle of Mexico and suddenly found ourselves homeless and taking a bus back to the States so we could walk across the border. Our second rig, the Westy, broke down in every single major city on our way through Mexico, costing us a small fortune before we got to Guatemala and finally just had to turn back. (And I’m a professional mechanic!) Even now we’re back in the states preparing to make a third attempt, after we earn some more budget and get this van a bit more mechanically sound. But as I’m sure you know, there’s always people to support and help you on the open road. And the journey is worth all the pain! Here’s a good example of the BS that our little PennyWagon has put us through. I think it might make your situation feel a smidge better. :)

    http://www.followthewind.com/blog/2015/3/11/hazardsofoverlandinginavanagon

  2. Hey guys I just read your post about your Westy issues. Very unfortunate. We have a Westy too but have put a ford motor in it through the bostig conversion. Been running it for the past 6 years with no issues. But I digress. We will be finishing up an Alaska run in the late fall. After that we will be heading south in November/December. We are heading to Argentina. If you want to caravan together and were going to re-start around then let us know. Just write the blog site listed above. Better luck with your travels.

  3. Hi Jade,
    We Just closed the loop ans back home in France yesterday…just a break to earn money and start again. We crossed your road in a small village as we were about to cross Cortez sea to La Paz. We were fixing a flat tire on a parking. At that time every thing looked ok for you. I really wish all the best and send you a big bunch of good vibe. Do not give up…all this s… Is at leat a good material for an exciting book/blog. And I can’t wait to read you. Big hud and I’m you will make it.

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