Considering a sailing adventure to Mexico? Just look at how engrossed that guy is in the book! Grab a copy of the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico, and you too can find yourself sitting on a Mexican dock with an oversized (but very attractive) hat.

Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico

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You can also find me on G+ and twitter, and most of my photos get uploaded to radpin.imgur.com

Sunday
Oct202013

puerto escondido to la paz

We had actually decided to leave Puerto Escondido (Spanish for "a goat's filthy asshole") two weeks ago. We got as far as Candeleros, 7nm south, but Hurricane Manuel headed our way so back to Puerto Escondido we ran. When we finally dried off from that we put our metaphoric foot down: we're done with Puerto Escondido. We bought whatever miserable provisions we could: stale bread, paper towels, and Red Bull. We spent two days prepping the boat for passage making mode and away we went.

Sunrise on the Sea of Cortez. Single reefed main, heading south.

I was pretty happy with my planning on this one. Diesel usage in the Sea of Cortez is normally a huge joke. The joke is you motor around all day and then get blown out of an anchorage at night. But on passageweather.com I saw a pretty good window of steady N-NE winds in the 10-20 knot range and combined with Charlotte wanting to put some miles between us and Puerto Escondido we punched it.

In the end, we managed the whole affair in two rather straight forward days. Twenty four hours, sailing through the night, then dropped into Isla Partida for some rest the second night. Woke up this morning, motored down to La Paz, and clinked our margarita glasses together to a safe and speedy passage. The total diesel consumption was somewhere around 4 gallons: a joke in these parts.

Moonrise over the Sierra de la Giganta.

Ever since single handing the Pacific side of Baja I've grown to favor the longer and more offshore routes. Granted, "offshore" is a relative term in a Sea that's barely two hundred miles across in some places. But in the middle of the Sea you get steadier winds, less refracted waves, and less of the current-induced choppiness that can be common in places such as the San Jose Channel. 

I've done and will continue to do night time gybes between islands in the dark, hoping that your plotting skills are dead accurate otherwise a rocky cliff is in your future. But if I can avoid that by going around something, even if it adds a few miles, count me in. Two hours spent with white knuckles in the middle of the night versus three hours relaxed listening to some MP3's of This American Life while sipping tea: which would you pick?

Cora with the Hydrovane in the background.We managed to knock out just over 100 nautical miles (of a ~130 nm run) without running the engine which is a miracle on the Sea of Cortez. Even better, we hauled ass. This was really my first time putting the Hydrovane through it's paces and I've got to tell you: I'm impressed. If there was enough wind to sail, the Hydrovane could steer. Even better it doesn't use a single electron of electricity and is built like a tank. Note to self: trying to pull into a marina with the rudder down is like walking around your friend's apartment holding a 20' long pole. The reduction in steerage response is dramatic in close quarter maneuvering so typical in a marina. We had a cross wind and cross current (opposing each other), but still, I'll be popping that sucker off before we take up another slip.

Our plan is to sit tight here, wait out Hurricane Raymond who hopefully doesn't come up this way, and haul butt down the 4-5 day passage to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. 

Tuesday
Oct012013

now reading: The World's Most Dangerous Place

I don't know when I became a foreign policy wonk but I think it had something to do with seeing the often glaring disconnect between what we think we know and what's actually happening.

The first time one of your long cherished opinions gets rattled by evidence to the contrary tends to leave a mark.

I'm not sure if the Internet has made us dumber, but I know it's made it a lot easier for people to read news and articles that re-enforce their own beliefs. People on the right and left of the political spectrum listen to their respective prophets but they both have a similar weakness: over simplified and boiled down arguments.

This is on purpose of course, since we hate nuance and rarely have time for detail. Research is dangerous: you may very well end up learning something that conflicts with what you believe. 

Take the "fallacy of the single cause". After any major event there is the simple question of "What was the cause of this?" The question implies that there is only one, or at least one primary explanation. Unless we're talking about how ice cubes are made, real life is rarely so polite to make itself simple.

Needless to say I was intrigued when I saw The World's Most Dangerous Place reviewed in Foreign Affairs

I have seen Black Hawk Down, I know there are pirates, and I know Mogadishu is a great place to get killed. To put it another way, I didn't know anything and my opinions were based in Hollywood movies and some cable TV news, both of which are entertainment. 

On a practical level Somalia comprises the majority of the Horn of Africa, and of course is the global hotbed of ship piracy. For the latter reason alone it would behoove any sailor transiting the Indian Ocean to understand the dynamics involved and crank up their knowledge beyond second hand information and a few websites. At a geopolitical level there is also the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab.

Author James Fergusson moves between Somalia, Kenya, London, and the United States to provide the full picture of Somalia and its diaspora scattered around the west. 

May 2013, Mogadishu. Note the guy floating in the inner tube, relaxing.What struck me the most about Somalia was actually something similar to Mexico. To many there is an over-simplified belief that Mexico is a "dangerous place". Once that stamp is applied there is little interest in learning more. That over simplification, that you can hold an opinion valuable enough to express based on Hollywood movies and readily-consumable-journalism, is precisely why this book is so valuable.

The trouble ain't what people don't know, it's what they know that just ain't so.

James Fergusson put together a very engaging book which arms the reader with an educated look at a country that is on the brink of peace or argmeggedon. Whether your interests lie in your own personal safety or that of your nation, or simply in the plight of the vast majority of innocent Somalis, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

Saturday
Sep282013

the hall monitors strike again at cruisersforum.com

I've spent a lot of hours, and in particular most of this morning, combing through the language of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), trying to help other sailors understand it. Its impact to people living and traveling abroad, like cruising sailors, is nuanced and in flux. 

You would think that, perhaps, a website devoted "cruising boats, cruising people, and cruising answers" would allow a helpful discussion that has a huge financial and regulatory impact on many of its members. If you thought that however, you'd be wrong. CruisersForum.com deleted the discussion, and in typical CF-style offers no rebuttal or explanation. Some vague and non descript policy was violated, or wasn't, and that's the end of that.


The thread has now been removed.I don't dare breathe a word of this on CrusiersForum itself, less I recieve yet another official scolding from the moderators. My last one was because I dared to mention a previous thread that was also removed for some unknown reason. I was told that I was "instigating dissent", and the moderator did not know why I insisted to do so.

CruisersForum really is a great resource for anyone with a sailboat, but nuking a thread about health care for international health insurance? And don't claim that there's some high minded goal of curating content before you look around for yourself at some of the drivel that passes moderation muster.

Saturday
Sep282013

the affordable care act (obamacare) and cruising sailors

Lyra seeing the doctor in Loreto, Baja Sur, Mexico.If you're an American citizen the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare) affects you. If you're a sailor heading to far off locales or residing in foreign lands for prolonged periods of time, your interaction with the PPACA is going to get interesting.

As a full disclaimer, I work in the insurance space but am not acting as an agent or providing personal counsel. I'll source everything directly; you can read the details yourself. This legislation is also evolving so look for updates. In fact the law is changing so rapidly that I urge you to view the real Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) viewer on ECFR.gov. In researching this article I found several out of date CFR's from sources as reputable as Cornell Law and CFRRegsToday. Cornell at least notes that there are updates not reflected in their texts.

Q. I'm sailing outside the United States, do I need health care insurance even though I'm not in the USA? Come on bro, I don't need insurance, do I?

Basically, by January 1, 2014, almost every American citizen requires health insurance that meets certain standards ("minimum essential coverage"). The IRS has listed a few exemptions from the PPACA, criteria that if you match, you do not need to have insurance. Two of these exemptions are relevant to many long distance sailors: the 330 rule and the no-filing-requirement rule.

Q. What's the 330 rule?

The IRS has had the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) for a while, which basically lets you exclude up to ~$90K of income every year from federal taxation. To qualify, the IRS has a Physical Presence Test to verify that you spent 330 or more days of the year outside the United States.

Why this matters is that the IRS is using the same logic to determine if you are exempt from the PPACA's individual mandate

There are a lot of variables to the physical presence test, so consult IRS Pub 54 for more information. In short, if you qualify for the FEIE, you are excluded from the PPACA's individual mandate.

Charlotte getting a checkup and sonogram in Ensenada, Baja, Mexico.

Q. But bro, the requirements and realities of medical coverage are completely disjointed. In some places there aren't even medical services, and even just the definition of preventive coverage is different.

The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury (noted as "The Departments") have joined together to address problems with the PPACA, including its enforcement to expatriates. To that end, there is a smidgen of wiggle room because they are still working on it. New legislation will come into play by January 1, 2015, and until then you'll see the 2014 year marked as the "temporary transitional period."

Q. I'm on Medicare Part A, Medicare Advantage, or a Medicade plan. Do I need to buy coverage?

No. Medicare Part A and Medicare Advantage provide "minimum essential coverage", and most Medicade plans do but you'll need to check specifically on your plan provider's website.

Q. Well I still need insurance, what kind of insurance do I need to have then?

If you're covered under Medicare Part A, Medicare Advantage, or most Medicaid plans you don't need to do anything. All of those, and typical employee (or self) provided health insurance plans provide"minimum essential coverage". These coverages are sufficient through the 2014 temporary transitional period and onward through 2015.

Note: this does not include "self insured plans" where you just squirrel away money in an account and call that a medical insurance plan.

This however is of little help to people who meet the following conditions:

If that's you, starting in January 1, 2015 you'll need to have a PPACA compliant health care plan. Starting in January 1, 2014, you'll either need a USA plan that covers you when you travel internationally or you'll need an expatriate plan. The definition of an expatriate plan is as follows:

For purposes of this temporary transitional relief, an expatriate health plan is an insured group health plan with respect to which enrollment is limited to primary insureds who reside outside of their home country for at least six months of the plan year and any covered dependents, and its associated group health insurance coverage. 

So you'll need to read the specific plan details to see if your expatriate policy has the exclusion of it only being available to people outside their home country for six months.

Lyra's birth, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico.

Q. So wait, we saved up for a couple of years of cruising. We're not planning on working and if we do it will probably be under the table or just random non-reported income. Do we need to buy insurance?

Probably not. You can be exempt from the PPACA individual mandate for several reasons, one of which is if you don't make enough money that you need to file a tax return. Use the IRS's calculator to determine if you need to file a tax return, and if you don't, the PPACA individual mandate does not apply to you.

Working on a guy's boat or in a local bar for cash on the barrelhead is one thing, but take note of FATCA which now has many foreign governments reporting the transactions of US account holders directly to the IRS. 

Additionally, if you spend at least 330 days or more every year outside the USA, you meet the physical presence test, exempting you from the individual mandate via that mechanism.

Q. What is an expatriate health insurance plan?

Most "expatriate plans" (a.k.a. international plans) do not include coverage inside the USA, however most USA plans do include coverage abroad. The reason is simple: health costs in the USA are astronomical, usually to the tune of 7x the international average. A regular check up in San Diego might cost $100, as where in Mexico it can be $10.

Also note that nearly all expat plans, and USA plans rendered abroad, are reimbursement plans. You pay out of pocket and file a claim, to which you'll get paid back by the insurance company upon their review. Check the terms and notes in your policy as it will generally be quite different than what you may have experienced in an employee sponsored stateside plan. 

Whether you travel with a stateside or expat plan you'll need to keep your receipts, file claims, and take an active role in your insurance. 

Q. This all seems expensive, I'll just pay the ~$100/year per person penalty.

I'm sure many will but by 2016 it will be roughly ~$700/year per person getting pretty close to the cost of most health care plans. At that point you're spending a decent amount of money without getting anything from it.

Also note that for some countries, like France, if you want a long-term visitor visa you'll need proof of medical insurance (which has nothing to do with PPACA). So ignoring the law in the short term, forgetting about the value of medical insurance itself, is feasible, but as the years tick by you'll probably feel the squeeze. 

Q. What are my options and where can I get a policy that satisfies the 2014 year and then the 2015 year?

This is already a pretty dry blog post, but in a future one (soon) I'll review some some health care plans and discuss their details. 

If anyone has any comments, questions, or thinks there's a different interpretation of the laws please let me know.

Tuesday
Sep242013

answering some questions (wall of words, tl;dr)

Maybe Charlotte will take a stab at these as well, but I'll provide my answers here. A very nice person emailed our website and asked some questions which I thought might be helpful for a few other folks out there. I'll omit the person's name and contact info.

My family and I are thinking of taking up sailing and sailing the world for a few years.  I was wondering did you grow up learning about sailing or did you learn once you decided that that is what you wanted to do?

I grew up knowing about sailing, but certainly not in a diehard sailing family like Joshua Slocum or the various icons that I read about. Living in San Diego and surfing I knew about wave trains, fog, (local) storms, swell, marine life I had encountered, and other things fairly common in the surfing community. I had gone on out sailboats with my dad and his friends when I was little, read a lot, sailed dinghies, sailed with friends, rented some sailboats, and around 23 owned my first keelboat.

There is a very accurate expression that you can teach someone to sail in a weekend and they'll be good twenty years later if they keep practicing. I'm definitely in the "keep practicing" realm, but I generally make new mistakes instead of repeating old ones, so that's a good yard stick for progress I suppose.

You can learn the basics in an ASA course but there is a lot of nuance and things you simply can't get out of a book. Reading and studying can certainly give you a leg up but the reality is that sailing is very hands on and requires a lot of judgement. Happily you can (and will) acquire skills over the years, generally one lesson at a time. If you try to stay within your limits the sea will naturally throw you curve balls but with a good mind and a sound vessel it will probably be nothing you can't handle. 

How long have you been sailing and have you ever run into safety issues?

Realistically I've been sailing keelboats as a skipper (as opposed to dinghies or just sort of being a useless crew member) since about 2001. I've run into safety issues all the time; it's just part of the learning process. Normally there are enough layers of safety that even if you do something stupid (like fly across the cabin when a swell rolls the boat hard) you don't get truly hurt because you didn't do something else stupid (like have sharp objects jutting out in the cabin).

Personally I think there's a correlation between hyper-safety and newness to sailing. It sort of makes sense and honestly it's better to error on the side of being overly cautious. As your experience expands so will your ability to identify risky situations and more importantly to identify the type of risk. 

As an example, if I had to pick between jacklines and a preventer, I'd pick the latter. They don't sell them in West Marine's safety isle, but the damage caused by an accidental gybe in a big wind is severe. I'd really advocate for doing what you can to make the boat safe: preventers, reefing, understanding weather, safe handling of ground tackle, tying a rolling hitch, etc. An organized and well maintained boat goes a long way towards being safe.

What did you wish you knew before you set sail that you have since learned?

That's a tough one because I'm still learning. A lot of challenges have been about living in Mexico as much as being on a boat, and I imagine that being in the South Pacific will present a new host of issues (and wonderful things, of course).

People talk about flexibility a lot. "Plans are best written in the sand at low tide," and all of that. It's true to a large extent although if you don't make plans and prepare to cross an ocean (as an example) you never will. The boat won't just magically get ready by itself: you do need to have plans and work towards them, but at the same time you need to be flexible.

If I could go back in time I would tell myself not to stress out so much. I'd also thank myself for taking care of the important stuff (rig integrity, engine, steerage) and skipping on other things (brightwork, fancy electronics, and other non-essentials). No one's ever lost a boat because of blistering brightwork. 


What is the best part of sailing?

The world is very much your oyster, and the things you learn make you a better person.

You can basically go anywhere you want to, including really remote places and stay there for long periods of time. You can marina hop along the popular cruising routes or become a nomadic voyager going to literally the ends of the Earth (in so much as a spheroid has ends). You can go to Cape Horn, sail into the rivers of Russia, get a slip in Paris, tour Washington, DC, or be a desert rat lurking around in the Sea of Cortez.

The challenges you'll face, in my opinion, are challenges worth having. You're forced to confront aspects of this world and yourself that would largely remain hidden in a conventional lifestyle. The realities of yourself and other cultures are in your face quite often. 

What is the worst part about sailing?

It's a lot of work, and much of it is uncomfortable and expensive. Worse, you often need to perform it in third world locales (or no-world locales such as in the middle of an ocean). And even worse than that, the tolerances are much smaller. If your car breaks down, you can call AAA. If your home toilet stops working, you can call a plumber.

I think most successful sailors tend to be a rather pessimistic lot, at least when it comes to their vessels.

There's never a break, as the ocean is a brutal environment with wave action, salt spray, moisture, and storm force winds.

Have you ever run into an unexpected storm?

It depends what you qualify as a storm, but according to the Beaufort scale a "storm" is force 10 and has winds in excess of 48 knots. We've been in a gale but knew it was coming. We in fact left on purpose so that we could ride it's southerly winds to Catalina from San Diego. 

I've also never crossed an ocean yet on a sailboat and from what my friends have told me it's normal to have short lived squalls. The highest winds we've seen underway were in the lower 40 knot range during a Southern Californian gale, and the highest in Mexico was in the mid 40's during Tropical Storm Ivo. For Ivo however we were nestled safely in Puerto Escondido which is nature's gift to boat safety.

There are sudden (and extremely rare) weather phenomena like microbursts and (true) rogue waves that it is effectively impossible to avoid anymore than you can absolutely guarantee you'll never be hit by a meteor. 

Weather prediction has come a long way in the last fifteen years, and it is definitely possible to avoid large storm systems or at least be aware of their existence. If you choose to enter known cyclone areas, like everyone in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea does from June through November, you're choosing to enter that area during known storm season. If you head to the polar regions, you're intentionally putting yourself in an area with poor weather prediction and notoriously violent seas. 

In short while you can't avoid bad weather entirely you can stack the odds dramatically in your favor. 

Sunday
Sep222013

farewell, solar furnace: the equinox has arrived

Cora's tan-dots from her Crocs.To Mr. Sun, you who are a third a degree lower in the sky today than you were yesterday.

You have left your mark on our bodies, our boat, and our minds. In the short run we all have weird tan spots, in the long run probably some skin cancer to go along with it. We've learned a lot about sunscreen, big hats, and long sleeve clothing. Varnish has peeled as if under a heat gun. Paint has cracked from the expansion and contraction of the wood underneath.

You are still high in the sky: roughly 7 degrees higher than our friends in San Diego are experiencing. But you are lowering, every day, as our planet makes its orbit around you. Like many of its inhabitants our planet is not upright but tilted. The northern hemisphere has been seeing you at a lower angle in the sky and for less hours. Starting today, at the fall equinox, we'll finally start seeing you for less than half the day.

One of Rebel Heart's two 135 watt solar panels, complete with bird shit and sun.

I must thank you of course, Mr. Sun, for all the electricity you created for us. Hundreds of gallons of fresh water, hours of movies and music, fans, lights, phones charged, and tools operated. Radar signals, AIS transmissions, VHF and SSB conversations, and even powering the Iridium phone that connects to satellites. Forgetting about the capital costs of the panels and associated storage and wiring, all of this power was free. So thanks for that, big fusion reaction in the sky.

Of course we're headed back further south this fall, so we'll be seeing more of you shortly. And then we'll be at the equator in the early Spring, where you never go away. And further still, just to flip this whole thing on its head, we'll be in the southern hemisphere. Down there winter is summer and summer is winter, people read right to left, and walk around upside down on their ceilings. 

Tuesday
Sep172013

yup, still in puerto escondido

Rebel Heart sitting on her mooring in Puerto Escondido. Note the bird shitting from the spreader.Well we're still here. It's still hot, this place still basically sucks, and we're really looking forward to getting out of here as soon as we safely can. In the mean time though I've been oddly productive. With us staying in a weird apartment nearby I've been able to turn the boat into a workshop and do all sorts of jobs that are a pain in the ass to do when you live on the boat (think: interior varnishing).

Look familiar? No, this isn't an old picture. I took it today.The heat has been paralyzing as usual, but a few days ago I noticed a betterment of sorts. The "improvement" of the weather was that it had stabilized. Yes, it was still 100f in the cabin today. Yes, there are clouds of mosquitoes and flies. Yes, there are scorpions, roaches, beetles, wasps, hornets, bees, and kissing bugs.

But there aren't anymore than there was a week ago: that's a first. The weather had been, until recently, getting progressively more shit-tastic every few days. We're not jumping for joy or anything because it's still punishing outside (even at night), but there's a ray of hope. No bigger than Sarah Palin's book collection, but it's there. And we need to cherish these things.

Speaking of bugs, I'm not a "bug guy" and only through Baja-induced desensitization therapy have I come to not scream like a little girl when a roach the size my child's fist is walking (or flying) around. But I must say that some of the bugs are down right interesting. Beautiful moths with vibrant colors. Clouds of mosquitoes with mating pairs of dragonflies buzzing through them like RAF Hurricanes through Luftwaffe bombers.

My daily commute.Every day I, normally with Cora, hike the 1/2 mile or so from the apartment down to the docks. I can get wifi at the apartment, but not cell reception. At the docks I can get cell reception, but not wifi. Oh what's that, you need to be on the phone and online to do your job? Too bad, so sad, laughs Puerto Escondido.

And then of course there's the work on the boat I need to do.

Some days when I'm really lucky I get to go back and forth a couple of times. Man, it's great, let me tell you. To the clouds of blood sucking insects I represent all that is good and holy in this world. Sometimes I actually feel bad for them, but I only have so much blood to go around so I rush through coated in DEET.

The Sierra de la GigantaMany aspects of this area are beautiful but in a raw and savage sort of way. Everything is scrambling to live. The businesses need your money, the bugs need your blood, the barnacles need your boat. Walking even two feet out the front door of the apartment you immediately get the very accurate impression: you're in hostile territory. Walk five miles in any direction and there's a good chance you'll die. And no shit, the vultures follow you around, just in case.

Puerto Escondido or any given city scene after a violent revolution?Puerto Escondido also makes an excellent argument against government-planned business ventures. Dating back hundreds of years, Puerto Escondido was a place anyone with a ship wanted to be if there was a large storm coming through. Numerous sailors came here, and some even built docks to get out to their boats. A small community was formed.

What did Mexico do? They placed (uninspected, poorly designed) moorings into the bay and started charging money (even if you want to anchor). Because hey, if a few guys with cheap sailboats like this place, that means that lots of people with expensive sailboats will like it, right? Sure!

Street lights illuminate dirt lots, buildings are either half finished or half demolished, and guard houses are manned, but guard absolutely nothing. And even then, the guy outside swatting mosquitoes is only in his plastic chair from 10am-4pm. Apparently the criminal element of Puerto Escondido keeps bankers' hours.

***

Only a few more weeks until we can close the chapter on our Baja summer. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Thursday
Sep052013

the roof, the roof, the roof is my office

Perhaps when you think of satellite phones images of Jack Bauer from 24 flash into your head. In fantasy land satellite phones are these go-anywhere tools that allow you to walk around, talking to anyone, generally the President, and always about important things.

The reality is that satellite phones are expensive, fastidious, and at their best provide the audio quality of a mid 1990's cell phone operated from inside a cave. The remote antenna, the little black hockey puck looking thing on the ledge above my backpack, needs a fully unobstructed view of the sky. Obstructed, even with a tree's thin leaves and certainly with a roof will provide either no signal or continual dropped calls.

The only place I've been able to find that works is on the roof of a two story building near where we're staying. In the sun, on the roof, with clouds of mosquitoes. Jack Bauer never had to put up with this shit.

However if you need to talk to people worldwide where there is no cellular coverage (which generally implies no wifi coverage), you have no choice but a satellite phone. I use an Iridium 9555, which is sort of the workhorse model with a long history of performance. Not all satellite phone constellations are truly global, but Iridium is. My plan is $100/month which includes 70-140 minutes, depending on how the call is connected. In general it's reasonable to assume that airtime is $2/minute, and any outbound SMS messages (which allows us to update Twitter) is $1.

Beyond all that, I have a subscription to UUPlus. For another $30/month I manage to have the majority of my work email forwarded, compressed, and available via the incredibly bad 2.6KB/s data connection (with multisecond latency). Likewise, I can reply and unless you inspect the email header it will look like it came from my Outlook client on the corporate network. 

And with UUPlus, I can download NOAA weather fax forecasts to see just exactly how screwed we are.

If you've never tried to do your job in a place that sans electricity, sans cell coverage, and even sans people, this might not really resonate with you. But for those misguided souls that are trying to bridge the chasm between first world professionalism and the third world, this blog post is for you bros.

Wednesday
Sep042013

the weather here is like a crazy ex girlfriend

(From the beach at San Evaristo, a local panga is aptly named.)

In La Paz, I got used to the blazing heat. The few times it "rained", it would evaporate as quickly as it landed on you. It was my first experience walking around in rain that for all intents and purposes really didn't matter. As punishing as the heat was, you get used to it: a nice chilly mid 80's at night, 90 by mid morning, and 100 and change mid day. Those are ventilated interior temperatures. During the day you did all you can to avoid the sun, and at night you lay naked with a fan inches from your body.

(The remanent clouds of Tropical Storm Ivo, 2013, Puerto Escondido.)

Someone told me that the last week of August is like a switch gets flipped in the Sea of Cortez and it's no joke: the switch as been flipped. It's only September 4th and already the weather has gone haywire. Tropical storms have passed through, whip sawing everything with powerful winds and several inches of rain per hour.

I'm up writing this at 3:00am because of a chubasco that passed through: squalls with nearly the wind speed and rain of a small tropical storm but much shorter lived and much harder to predict. And like all bad weather they of course like to come in the absolute dead of night. My kingdom for a daytime storm.

(Sweet, it's September 4th and we're right in the middle of this shit.)

If you read glowing accounts of the Sea of Cortez, take note of the month. In September you are nature's weather tampon: used, saturated, and discarded with extreme prejudice. I honestly think the reason so few people write about summers here is because so few people do it. 

The storms do more than blow you around and get you wet. Streets are destroyed and it takes a week to repair. Fuel becomes unavailable. Engines are advised not to run in the filthy water that persists for days: desalinators are completely off the table in the very bays you want to hide out in. 

Hurricanes unleash more than 2.4 trillion gallons of rain in a day. Most of that goes right back into the sea, but the portion that makes landfall creates huge pools of stagnant water. The aftermath of tropical systems are clouds of mosquitoes, desperately searching for a blood meal.

Does that sound a little rough? Welcome to a summer in Baja Sur.

The chubasco is over, the lightning flashes and rolls have thunder have gone away with the driving rain. Time to go back to sleep. Tomorrow, whether I'd like it or not, is another interesting day.

Friday
Aug302013

life and death in baja sur

Baja is all about nature, and nature is all about death. From apex predators all the way down to plankton, everything is trying to kill everything else.

And then some things live off the aftermath of the carnage. Turkey vultures are living testaments to the death all around. This guy and a few of his friends hang out outside of our rented apartment.

One of the most amazing things about the desert of Baja is that despite the heat, despite the cyclones, despite the insects and floods and apex predators and blazing sun, life as always manages to find a tiny foothold and establish itself.