One of the most frequent questions we're asked when someone around here asks us our plans is "Why are you waiting until July to leave?" Was it Roy Clark who sang "How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?"? Feels kind of like that although I'm sure (or at least I hope) that's not the speaker's intention.
So, why are we waiting until July? Well, the original reason, which still holds, is that it's not summer until then. Actually, on the Oregon coast it's not really summer yet in July but if we wait for actual summer weather we might still be here in 2011. But, that aside, July is summertime and that's when the predominantly southerly winds that have prevailed all winter are supposed to start turning around and coming from the north and northwest which is what we need to actually sail the boat down the coast. And, by July we should start to just generally see better weather.
The other reason, which has become tied with the first reason in importance is that I made a commitment to the Oregon Coast Aquarium to stay with them until July. They put their volunteer trainees through a pretty extensive training program before letting them loose on the floor. I attended 8-hour classes every Saturday for 6 weeks back in October/November. In return for that training, the Aquarium asks volunteers to commit to at least a year of service. I told them at the time that we would be leaving in July but that I'd put in as much time as possible until then. And I've lived up to my part of the deal. Besides my regular Sunday afternoon shift as a volunteer interpreter, I also spend an hour and a half every other week cleaning the otters' toys. Can't just throw them all in a toy box like we did for Lucas and Cody. We actually have to spread everything out, rinse it off, spray it down with disinfectant and then rinse it two more times. I've also helped with an outreach program where we went to a bunch of schools and put on assemblies for the younger kids. Matter of fact, I have another outreach coming up this month. The Aquarium also is available for evening events (Christmas parties, appreciation dinners, etc.) and volunteers are always needed to help with those. I've done three of those events so far. But one of the coolest things I get to do which will keep me there through June is helping with the new Swamplands exhibit opening on Memorial Day weekend. A new feature that the Aquarium is trying out with Swamplands is animal handling. Obviously most of the critters at an aquarium belong in the water so there's not much chance to pick them up and show them to the visitors up close. Well, with swamplands we'll be exhibiting a number of reptiles and amphibians and some of these do lend themselves to handling. I, along with a number of other volunteers, applied to be handlers. There is a fair amount of training that goes along with the assignment and, since they knew I was leaving in July, I really didn't expect to be chosen for the program. But I was. So, for the past several weeks I have been getting comfortable handling Grey Tree Frogs, turtles (Florida Softshell, Red-Eared Slider, and Alligator Snapping) and, best of all, snakes (Colombian Red-Tailed Boa Constrictor and Burmese Python). We've been trained on handling the animals so that the visitors are safe and, more importantly, so that the animals are safe from the visitors. We've also received training in caring for them, recognizing stress, etc. Really looking forward to the exhibit's opening.
So that's why we're waiting.
Now, to the second question:
"Where are you going?"
"Well, we're going to make a slow harbor-hopping trip down the west coast ultimately ending up in Mexico where we'll spend at least a couple years before possibly venturing out across the Pacific."
"Really? Mexico? Wow I wouldn't feel safe traveling in Mexico these days."
At this point I flabbergasted. I can't figure out what they're scared of. I guess it's the difference between reading the news and reading first-hand accounts of people who are actually there right now doing the same things we'll be doing. If your only source of information is the nightly news, it seems that Mexico comes across as some wild west frontier where life, especially gringo life, is cheap and violence is rampant. But even if all you did was compare Mexico's murder rate with that of the United States, Mexico would come out looking pretty darn good. Nowadays, you can do so much more. With the advent of the internet and everyone writing blogs, you can get near-real-time accounts from everyday people (not reporters) who are actually there right now. Here are 2 blogs that I follow from 2 cruisers (a couple and a family of 4) who are down there RIGHT NOW:
And here's one from a young Minnesota couple who, after traveling extensively through Mexico in their 1958 VW bus, went back last fall to have their baby because they could actually afford to pay for childbirth in Mexico:
bumfuzzle.com (They're back from Mexico now so you'll have to check out their archives to find accounts of their Mexico trip. If you want a real treat, go back and read the archives from the very beginning and join them on a trip around the world on their catamaran. But don't blame me if you find yourself wanting to run out and get a catamaran and sail away after reading their account.)
Reading these blogs makes me think that the biggest dangers in Mexico are sunburn and getting fat from too many Mexican hot dogs (a whole different beast than your basic ballpark frank). Actually, I think that Mexico should be issuing travel warnings to their citizens who are considering travel to the U.S. instead of the other way around. One good thing about the recent drug violence in Mexico is that we're hardly ever asked "What about pirates?" anymore.
The folks who warn us about Mexico also ask about carrying guns. Every country has their own rules In Mexico, you aren't allowed to have a gun. So, on checking in to the country, if you declare your weapon, it will be held at the local police station until your departure. So, if you needed a gun in port you wouldn't have it anyway. If you decide to take a chance and not declare it and maybe hide it on the boat in case Customs comes aboard, there are three possible outcomes:
1.) You never need the gun, Customs never finds it and no one is the wiser.
2.) Customs finds the gun that you said you didn't have, you go to jail for smuggling and the Mexican government confiscates your boat.
3.) Customs doesn't find the gun or never comes aboard in the first place, you have to use your gun to defend yourself and either injure or kill the intruder (or just scare him off). In this case you go to jail on smuggling and attempted murder (or maybe assault) charges or on smuggling and murder charges. And, in either case, they confiscate your boat. If brandishing the weapon succeeds in scaring the intruder off and word never reaches the authorities that you have a gun (fat chance as it sounds to me like cruisers are an incredibly gossipy lot), you might get away with it. But after reading the day-to-day accounts in the aforementioned blogs, you have to wonder why on earth you would ever take the chance.
Okay, that's it for me for today.