Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The breakers around Matavau Pass at Moorea looked so bad that we had a brief discussion about whether or not we should wait another day before departing for Huahine (hooah-hee-nay). Bruce and I felt that it was not possible to judge the pass from where we were anchored, that we needed to actually line up with the pass from inside the lagoon. Sure enough, once we upped anchor and motored to the inside end of the pass we could see that the breakers were not actually breaking all the way across, that there was in fact a well-defined gap.

It was less dramatic going out Matavau Pass than it had been coming in, and the ebbing current made sure we were through and out the pass in no time.

The hydraulic autopilot on Far Fetched had failed toward the end of the passage from Mexico to the Marquesas. Bruce and his previous crewmember, Jerry Moore, had had to hand-steer for three days. Jerry had brought several pieces of it back to the States for check-out and repair and I had picked them up and carried them back to Tahiti. Bruce and I had spent quite a bit of time re-installing everything and then tediously bleeding the air out of the hydaulic lines. One thing we didn't get to do was to calibrate the new electric fluxgate compass, which was the part that had failed. Still, we thought the autopilot might steer even though it might think it was on a different course than what we were actually steering. So, upon exiting Matavau Pass, we engaged it for the first time. Yahoo, it works! And yes it does think it's steering a different course. No matter, just as long as it steers a straight course we can manually compensate for it using the GPS, which tells us the course we should be steering.

Just after lunch we spotted a small pod of two to three sperm whales, which are easy to identify because when they surface and blow their spout angles distinctly forward rather than straight up. The combined sea and swell was five feet at most with about 20 knots of wind from astern, which makes the wind feel less strong. The wind kept creeping up though, so Bruce decided to put the first reef in the mainsail, which reduces its sail area and slows us down. Still, we were doing nearly six knots with just the one sail and would probably arrive at Huahine a little early.

After dinner Bruce and Steve Smith (a friend and former co-worker of Bruce's) took what was left of the first night watch from 1800 to 2100. Sherry (temporary crew to Bora Bora) followed with the 2100 to 2400. When I went up to relieve Sherry, just before midnight, a squall was approaching, plus Sherry told me she had had to continually adjust the autopilot that it seemed to want to keep heading up (steer more into the wind). After the squall passed over and cleared away I settled down into a relatively dry corner of the cockpit and picked out a bright star directly astern that I could use to monitor our course and the autopilot's performance. I had no sooner done that when I noticed the star had started to drift off to one side and the autopilot was not correcting. Sherry had not yet gone to bed so I asked her to wake Bruce. After a brief discussion, Bruce got out the AH4000, a back-up autopilot that can steer in medium to light conditions, which fortunately was what we were experiencing at the time. However, the wind continued to increase during my watch to the point that I could calculate that we were going to arrive at the pass at Huahine much too early, plus the fact that the increased boat speed would make it harder for the AH4000 to steer. So I went to the forward cabin, woke Bruce, again, told him the situation and suggested we put in the second reef. Once again, with Sherry's help, Bruce put in the reef while I took over the helm from the autopilot so that I could head up into the wind to temporarily relieve some of the strain on the mainsail, making it easier to be lowered. Our boat speed dropped to the 5 to 5.5 knot range, making our ETA at Huahine more reasonable.

We elected to enter the first of the two large western passes through the coral reef that surrounds Huahine since it was the closest to our planned first anchorage at Avea Bay near the southern tip of the island. This pass is called Avapeihi and is well-marked. We quickly lined up the range markers, putting a big white square high on a hill, on top of a white pole located at sea-level. This told us we were in the center of the pass. There were several green markers along the right-hand edge of the reef leading into the lagoon. In the US green markers and buoys are normally on your left when entering a harbor, pass or river mouth, but almost everywhere else it is the reverse. In French Polynesia, green markers are also normally on the ocean or reef side of the lagoon and red markers on the land side, a system that is easy to remember once you've become accustomed to it.

Returning to Avea Bay was another deja vu moment for me. Kay and I had anchored here 20 years earlier. Back then we'd had my friends Don Hanset and John Sommerwerck aboard for the trip from Tahiti to Bora Bora. There had been a big blow through the bay one night and a couple of boats drug their anchors, one of which collided with another boat that hadn't drug. Now, Avea Bay looked much the same although there seemed to be at least one or two more small resorts there in addition to the one that was there back in 1991. We anchored close to that one because we could see that it now had a nice dock for tying up a dinghy.
After a quick breakfast we headed ashore for a look around. We took Bruce's mountain bike in as well so I could go for I ride. I decided to circumnavigate the south island of Huahine. Huahine is really two large islands separated by a very narrow gap. The riding was pretty much all on flat-level pavement. I saw kite-boarders at a park and since it was Sunday I was fortunate to ride by a church where the locals were singing a hymn. I had to stop and listen because there is hardly any singing more pleasant than a Polynesian hymn.
Coming around the north side of the south island I entered the gorge between the two islands. It is quite spectacular, like a tropical version of the Columbia River Gorge or Hell's Canyon. A fairly deep fjord-like bay runs up to a bridge between the two islands. It so happened that a cruise ship was anchored in the gorge, making quite a picturesque view with the bridge in the foreground. The water beneath the bridge, however, is nothing more than a small, 3 to 6-foot deep river perhaps 50 wide filled with coral heads and swift-flowing tidal currents. After a long, steep climb I passed a vanilla plantation and then was soon back at the resort with the dinghy dock.

Bruce had gone to work on the autopilot while I was gone and had discovered one of the flare fittings on the copper tubing of the hydraulic system had failed and allowed a large amount of hydraulic fluid to leak out, which explained why the steering had slowly deteriorated during Sherry's watch and then finally failed altogether on mine. Bruce had made a new flare and got the system back together. Now we needed to bleed it again. For some reason, no matter how many times or how many ways we tried, we could not seem to get all the air out. Exasperated and exhausted we finally gave up for the day and decided to give it a try on another day.

Mystic joined us at Avea Bay and the next evening Randy and Jenny came over for sundowners. Bruce may not be seeing them for awhile as they plan to spend several more days exploring Huahine while our schedule dictates that we continue on towards Tahaa and Bora Bora.

Early the next morning we motored up to the north end of Huahine and anchored off the main town of Fare (fah-ray). Fare has a good supermarket so we did another provisioning run and dropped of our laundry. Once we got the provisions on board and stowed Bruce, Steve and I all circumnavigated the north island, taking turns on Bruce's bike. Sherry rented one and also rode part of the way around. There was one very steep, long climb with a 15% grade. I saw some interesting stone fish traps arranged in a narrow pass between a “lake” and a lagoon that led out to sea. The stone walls built in the water lead the fish into a maze they can't find their way out of. Then the tide goes out and traps them. Some of these traps are probably hundreds of years old.

The next morning Bruce asked me to read the instructions for bleeding the autopilot's hydraulic system while he went ashore to try to call the manufacturer for advice. In the afternoon we spent four hours on it, but every time it seemed like we were close and we'd stop to test it, we'd find there was still too much play in it. If we couldn't fix it ourselves the options were less than appealing: go to the boatyard on Raitea, or—ugh—sail to windward back to Tahiti.

I got those steadily depressin'
Low-down, mind-messin'
My-autopilot-won't-steer blues

(My apologies to Jim Croce and his fans)

Since we'd spent an extra day at Fare trying to fix the autopilot, Mystic caught up with us. Randy is an experienced refrigeration repair technician and used to dealing with pressurized copper tubing systems so we asked him to come by and see if he could find anything amiss. But before he came over Bruce accidentally grabbed the steering wheel and noticed there was now little or no play in it. Somehow, whatever had caused the excess play in it from the day before was now gone. Good gremlins had come aboard during the night and fixed it! So, we waved-off Randy, got everyone back aboard (Steve S & Sherry had gone ashore for an internet fix), and departed Huahine for the short sail across to Raitea and Tahaa. For a while there it was beginning to look like I wasn't going to make to any of the four special places that had motivated me to make this trip. Now we were on the road again.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Moorea The Hard Way


After a quick whirlwind tour of Tahiti by rental car, it was time to get Far Fetched, a Beneteau 390 Oceanis, back out on the ocean where she belongs. Our initial plan was to head for Opunuho Bay on the west side of Moorea, only 20 or so miles away. We were chasing Captain Bruce's buddy-boat friends Randy and Jenny on Mystic, who had left a few hours ahead of us. The the winds were light and the seas relatively calm so the sailing was slow. Mystic called on VHF radio to say that they were considering pulling in at a closer pass on the southwest side of Moorea called Matavau off the village of Haapiti. Randy likes to avoid using his engine whenever possible and it was clear he wasn't going to make it around to Opunuho before sunset. So, we said, why not.

Matavau Pass turned out to be a real attention grabber. It was deep, but very narrow with huge breaking waves on either side of it, probably 12-footers. We got lined up, with Bruce steering and me crouching in the bow pulpit to keep an eye of the reefs and the surf. Then we gave it full throttle to counter the current, maintain our steerage, and get us in as quickly as possible, The water in the pass was very disturbed with eddies, rips and waves from all directions. I had to keep low and hold firmly on to the bow pulpit to keep from getting tossed overboard. The excitement was intense, but brief. We were soon inside the calmer waters of the pass heading to the right for a suggested anchorage marked on the GPS chart. We felt that spot was too close to the pass and therefore a bit rolly so we kept going further in to the right to get more into the shelter of the reef.

We were in about 80 feet of water according to the chart but out depthsounder was not giving us anything near that, in fact it was stuck on one number and flashing. We began a slow turn to avoid a marked reef to our left when the depthsounder suddenly started working. I was at the helm now, having traded jobs with Bruce. No sooner had the depthsounder started working than it began displaying rapidly decreasing depths: 30, 24, 16, 10, 8! About that time our other crew, Steve and Sherry, began reporting they could see the bottom at the bow. No kidding! We could see it at the stern as well and so I spun the wheel around and headed us back into deeper water. That was a close one. Try as we might to find something in the 30 to 35 foot range, it seemed that we were either in 80 feet or we were awfully close to very shallow water. We ultimately gave in and anchored in about 75 feet and put out lots of chain, about 220 feet to give us enough scope to have a good set on the anchor, but not so much that we could swing into danger. We were essentially anchored in a deep, narrow trench.

It was less than an hour till sunset when Mystic came through the pass (we caught and passed them a couple miles from the pass). They opted to anchor close to the pass. We saw them hobby-horsing and rolling quite a bit while we were nice and calm where we were, a fair compensation for having to anchor in deep water.

We were the only two boats anchored off Haapiti as opposed to Opunohu and Cook's Bays, where large numbers cruising boats anchor. That was our reward for having braved Matavau Pass.

The following day, Bruce loaned me his Trek mountain bike and I rode 40 miles on Moorea, including a very steep climb up to the lookout at Belvedere with its spectacular views of Opunohu and Cook's Bays. Kay and I had ridden up here on our little folding bikes twenty years ago. How we made it is beyond me. We must have walked them. But it was a great ride and wonderful to see the beautiful island of Moorea once again with its Le Dent de Requin (The Tooth of the Shark), the jagged peak made familiar if not famous in the movie version of South Pacific. It's a fair debate as to whether Moorea or Bora Bora holds the title of most beautiful island in French Polynesia.

Next it's on to Huahine and the rest of the Iles Sous Les Vent (Leeward Islands).

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Definition of Cruising

For those of you that are not cruising sailors, you might be unaware that the definition of "cruising" is "doing maintenance in exotic places."

So, given that, it should come as no surprise that when I arrived in Tahiti (exotic place) there were a couple of maintenance tasks waiting for me. One was to reinstall the autopilot on Far Fetched, the Beneteau, of my friend Bruce Albert, for whom I am crewing from Tahiti (exotic place) to American Samoa (not quite so exotic). The autopilot had come down with some kind of inner ear infection and had lost its balance, so we had to give it a new gizmo so that it could literally get its bearings back. The gizmo in this case is a fluxgate compass, no, not a flux capacitor. This is a Beneteau, not a DeLorean.

Wielding a cordless drill and considerable sweat due to the humidity hearabouts, I managed to get the fluxgate installed, and a subsequent test seemed to indicate that it is...fluxing. We won't know for sure until we go to sea to see (hominyms are interesting) if it's really fluxing or just futzing.

The other maintenance item was the installation of a part for the diesel engine that normally is just a simple copper tube attached to a flange that conducts cooling salt water from the engine to the exhaust where it ultimately returns from whence it came; i.e., the sea. Typical of the engine manufacturer, Volvo, the price for this simple little piece of plumbing was outrageous--$119--for something you could make relatively easily for probably $10, not including labor. And to make matters worse we only needed half the part (long story) so we had to cut it in half. Actually, I didn't have much to do with this task other than "stupidvise". Bruce did all the work and it seems to have stemmed the leak that was the original problem we were out to eliminate.

So, here we are in Tahiti, synonymous with paradise, just now getting ready to go check it out. For me it is a stroll down memory lane, having been here with Kay in Kavenga twenty years ago. From first indications, not much has changed, but perhaps, more on that later.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

How Not to Get Plastic Explosives Through The Airport

So as not to keep you in suspense and to save the anti-terrorist guys some time in having to read my blog to find out whether or not I'm serious, I'll simply say, don't try to smuggle it through TSA inside a brick of Tillamook Cheddar Cheese. Colby or Swiss w on't work either.

I'm on my way to Tahiti to help my friend Bruce sail is boat, Far Fetched, from there to Western Samoa. Bruce asked me to bring several hard to get things as well as some boat parts he needed. I decided to throw in a few things I thought might be hard to get.

So there I was, going through TSA security at SeaTac with almost nine pounds of cheese in three bricks in my backpack. In my carry-on I had cardboard box and inside it was a black box full of electronic gizmos, a fluxgate compass and another metal box with knobs and dials. You would think TSA would be interested in that stuff. They couldn't have cared less. All they wanted was to sniff the cheese. They took the cheese out of my backpack and rubbed it with some kind of pads that apparently will absorb traces of any kind of explosive. Happily the cheese turned to be...cheese. Just think, if the folks at Tillamook had been clever enough to play a little joke on me I might not be sending this from the boat.

So, the cheese made it through. But then they wanted to screen my backpack again. They asked me if it had any hidden compartments. Not that I knew of. Finally, they came up with the culprit. A 12 oz. plastic squeeze bottle of Heinz sweet pickle relish. Sorry, gonna have to take yer relish. "Enjoy the hot dogs," I said. The agent smiled and said, "Wish we could, but we can't."

So, would-be terrorists, don't try sneaking the cheese through security. Won't work. In fact I had to go through the same thing again when I got to LAX. They are not lax at LAX.

On the other hand if you have a bunch of funny looking electronic boxes, you might get those through. Oh, guys, if you're still reading, they were autopilot parts for the boat.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Talpa de Allende by Mountain Bike

Our good friends and neighbors here in Puerto Vallarta, Joe and Jan Sanders, suggested we take a biking holiday to the mountain town of Talpa de Allende, usually just referred to as Talpa.  So, last Tuesday morning we loaded our four mountain bikes into a taxi van and headed for the ATM bus station in downtown PV.  We had our bikes semi-disassembled and ready to load when our bus opened it's cargo doors.  Joe climbed into the deep cargo bay and Steve, Kay and Jan formed a line passing him bikes, wheels, and seats.  When all was loaded we boarded the red and silver bus and were on our way.

After minor stops at Las Palmas and La Estancia we passed through the town of Mascota, a relatively large farming community in a valley set among the Sierra Cacoma mountains at an elevation of around 3,800 feet.  So, as you can well imagine, we had done some serious climbing since leaving PV at sea level.  It was a tad bit unnerving as we were snaking our way up the switchbacks to note that our driver had his phone out and was tapping in a text message while occasionally glancing at the road ahead.

Talpa is in a valley similar to Mascota's however they are separated by another mountain ridge that rises to over 5000 feet.  When we crested the ridge at the summit between Mascota and Talpa I noticed that the elderly Mexican gentleman sitting in front of us crossed himself and mumbled a prayer.  Just then a small wayside chapel appeared at a viewpoint turnout on the right.  These factors came quickly into focus as the bus pitched over the top and started down what we later measured by GPS as a 14 to 15% grade.  A sign advised (in Spanish of course) using engine compression for braking.  Half way down a red line appeared in the middle of our lane.  It's purpose too became clear when we saw an emergency run-out for vehicles that have lost their brakes, similar to those in parts of my home state of Oregon.  The run-out is filled with loose gravel about a foot deep to gradually slow the runaway vehicle.  The red line leads to the run-out.

To our great relief our driver had finished composing and sending his text message before we began the descent and he used the compression of the big diesel engine to slow us enough that we could actually enjoy the amazing vistas.

Arriving in Talpa was the reverse of departing from PV: pull all the bikes and parts out and assemble them.  Our bus had left by the time Steve discovered that he was missing the nut and spring that holds the front tire to the forks of his bike.  Joe asked the bus dispatcher where the bus had gone and was told that it had gone to refuel at the Pemex station near the entrance to town.  With that Joe hopped on his bike and Steve borrowed Kay's and they took off to track down the bus, but by the time they arrived at the Pemex station about a kilometer away the bus had already refueled and gone so they headed back to the station.  When they arrived, Kay and Jan had good news, the bus had returned and they had found the nut and spring in the cargo bay.

Problem solved and we were all loaded up with backpacks, helmets and Camelbacks (water carriers with tubes for hydrating while riding) and headed for downtown to search for a hotel.  The first one we came to was called the Hotel Diamante.  It looked relatively new, the prices were reasonable (350 pesos/$32US) for a room with a double bed, and after a quick inspection we decided to look no further.

Like super-heroes we instantly changed into our bike clothes and headed out for a quick tour of Talpa, which is a major religious pilgrimage destination thanks to the appearance of a peripatetic virgin spirit that kept walking back and forth between Mascota and Talpa despite the fact that she had no feet, but nevertheless left footprints.

We were there just before the two week holiday and religious festival period called Semana Santa (Holy Week).  For now the hotels were mostly empty and the locals were busy cleaning, painting and assembing the temporary open tents that one often sees at craft fairs and Saturday markets.  Everywhere shops had extensive inventories of religious souvenirs, rosaries, postcard paintings of the virgin, etc.

The other big thing for which Talpa is known is its "rollos" (roy-yohs).  The area is well suited for citrus and other fruit orchards, particularly guava or guayabas as they are known in Spanish.  The rollo as its name suggests is a roll made of the fruit pulp, sugar and other ingredients.  They are typically about a foot long and three inches in diameter.  The ingredients are mixed 2-foot diameter open, spinning copper kettles mounted at a 45-degree angle.  You can detect the sugary-sweet smell of the concoction almost anywhere in downtown Talpa.  If you have ever smelled cooked Agave pulp from which Tequila is made you will no doubt notice a similarity.  And, if you've ever sampled the popular Christmas candies, Applets & Copplets you've got a general idea of what rollos are like.

After a few pictures at the huge basilica or Catholic cathedral that is the heart of Talpa, with it's twin spires and numerous bell ports, we headed the bikes out of town for an afternoon ride.  Talpa sits at the center of a long valley that trends NNW and SSE between rugged mountain ridges that in places seem nearly vertical.  For our first ride we chose the SSE leg.  After riding along a gravel road on the top of a river levee we discovered that it intersected a nice paved road that we had missed leaving town.  There was hardly any traffic and the uphill grade was practically imperceptible.  This is now the dry season and yet there are occasional fields of green alfalfa.  All along the road were beef cattle and dairy farms.

As our time was limited and we weren't sure if we'd be able to replenish our liquid refreshments further up the road, we elected to choose a small wayside grocery store called Abarrotes Mascorro as our turnaround point.  We met Sr. Mascorra, his son and his granddaughter who was apparently learning English in the first or second grade.  Sr.  Mascorra found it hilarious when we spoke to her in English and watched her shy embarrassed response--running away.  He told us that he had 42 hectares of pine-covered land for sale immediately up the road.  We concluded our rest on the benches beneath his gigantic shade trees and started the 10-mile cruise back to Talpa, with a strong tailwind and a bit of downgrade.  It took us about one-third of the time to get back to Talpa as it did to ride out.

Unlike Puerto Vallarta there are not row upon row of restaurants begging for your business in Talpa.  We actually had to search quite a while to find one, up hill and off to the right of the cathedral.  It was the El Dos Caminos and we were the only guests in the roomy pleasant facility.  It was a bit dim and the menu was limited but we enjoyed very reasonably priced platters of enchiladas.  Afterwards we strolled through town a bit and then had cups of ice cream across the street from the central plaza and cathedral.

Wednesday was to be our only full day at Talpa and therefore our longest ride so we needed a good breakfast to stoke our fires.  Based on a recommendation from a storekeeper who sold Joe a bandanna, we selected a restaurant called the Molino Rojo (Red Mill) which was immediately next door so it was easy for us to find that morning.  Appearing to be nothing more than a door between two shops, the interior opened up into a beautifully decorated salon with a large red coffee grinding mill at its center.  Again we were the only patrons.  Kay and Jan went for the hotcakes, Joe for the Huevos Rancheros (Ranch-style Eggs) and Steve with the chilaquiles (tortilla chips cooked in red sauce).  Both Joe and Steve's came with refried beans. 

All carbed-up and ready to go, we headed towards the NNE end of the valley.  Again, once we left the cobblestone streets of downtown Talpa we found ourselves on a nice smooth paved road.  All these changes in surface conditions kept us frequently locking and unlocking the front and rear suspensions of our bikes.  We soon ran out of pavement briefly where we found workers constructing a large, high bridge over a tiny trickle of a stream.  We learned later that this area becomes a lake during the rainy season of August through September.

Back on pavement we passed a turn-off on a dirt road with a sign that said "Cuale" and Steve remarked that this might be the road we would come back on if we took an alternate loop on the return instead of coming straight back up the valley.  Unlike the south valley, the north valley has several little towns along the way.  The first we came to was Ocote.  Shortly after passing through it Steve pointed out the beginning of the alternate loop that would take us to another valley behind the foothills and ultimately back into Talpa.  We continued on the nearly flat roads, paved, cobblestone, and dirt/gravel through the towns of La Canada, Los Sauces and finally, at the end of the valley, Cabos.  Each of these towns were pretty in their own way and had small plazas and churches with lots of red geranium flowers, bougainvillea and various shade trees.

In Cabos we had a nice conversation with a vaquero (cowboy) on his mule and a young man named Jorge.  Joe quizzed them about a possible route from there to Mascota that would avoid both the busy highway and the steep climbs.  Yes, there was indeed a dirt road to Mascota by continuing to follow the valley north, however, even though Mascota was only six miles away as the crow flies, it was more than double that just to intersect the highway beyond Mascota from which you then had to double-back to get there.  We decided that was too much, even for a full day.

On the way back we decided to take, for the lack of a better name, the Cuale Loop route, but first we needed to replenish our liquids, take a short break and have a snack, so we rode beyond the turn-off for the loop back into Ocote where we stopped for a refresco (soft drink) and some cookies.

Sufficiently refreshed we headed the half-mile back up the valley to the turn-off on to a decent dirt and gravel farm road.  After about a mile along the relatively flat road, Steve heard a rustling, clicking sound off to our right that sounded like locusts and we stopped to see what it was.  It was a dust-devil, a hot, fair-weather, mini-tornado.  The field in which it had formed was a hay field that had been left fallow and was full of chaff.  The clicking locust sound was caused by the swirl of chaff circling on the ground.

As we watched, the funnel, about 100 yards off the road and slightly downhill from us, began to grow in intensity.  We now could also hear the wind whistling and see the chaff being lifted higher in the air.  Simultaneously as it gained strength it began to move uphill, towards us.  We all sat transfixed on our bikes.  "Is this thing going to go right over us?" we thought.  Yes it was.  By the time it reached us it was about 80 feet or more in diameter with an eye of about 8 to 10 feet.  We felt the sudden rush of air in the eye wall and the momentary calm of the eye itself before it quickly crossed the road into a field of new grass that waved rhythmically to the gyrating vortex.  Chaff and dust were 100 feet in the air and all around us to the extent that it was getting in our eyes.

All in all it was an amazing experience that likely will never be repeated.

We soon reached the other valley behind the foothills and the good dirt and gravel road became intermittently replaced by dry creek bed, beat into an excuse for a road by the passing of numerous farm trucks, tractors and dump trucks hauling gravel and boulders.  Two miles further on we reached a junction with another apparently well-traveled dirt road.  To the right somewhere was the pueblo of Cuale and supposedly, if you followed it long enough, Puerto Vallarta via the Cuale River Canyon.  But such was not our quest today and so we turned left instead to begin the climb over what we will call the Cuale Ridge.

Now Steve had looked at this ridge on GoogleEarth prior to the ride and new that it had an elevation gain of at least 800 feet (250 meters) but he could not be certain how steep the grades would be.  Judging by all the switchbacks he saw, he hoped for the best.  As it turned out, most of it was in the 5 to 9% range, however there were brief stretches of 10 to 15% or more, and it was hot.  Fortunately, with about 200 feet of vertical left to go, some clouds drifted over and gave us a break from the midday sun.  Nevertheless, it was a beautiful route through pine forests dotted with occasional huge green maguey (ma-gay) plants which are members of the Agave family from which Tequila is made.  Sap from the big magueys like the ones we were seeing are used to make the traditional fermented Mexican drink called pulque.  The fibers of the plant were also used for weaving and rope making.

Our 800-foot ascent was rewarded with a spectacular view of Talpa and its valley.  The rapid descent back down to the paved road cooled us off and made the short cruise back to the hotel an easy one.

For dinner this evening we chose the well-known El Patio, on the plaza, just to the right of the entrance to the basilica.  Kay had a huge "Mexican Platter", Joe and Jan each had slight variations on beef steak, and Steve had chicken Milanesa-style.  This evening, everyone but Joe was too stuffed for ice-cream.  While searching for a bandanna for Kay, she and Steve met a Mexican gentleman name Juan Jorge Anaya C. who not only owned a tack shop across from the plaza, but also operated a riding school and had a large area near the entrance to town.  We got a break from having to use our fractured Spanish in that Sr. Anaya spoke fluent English.  He had studied English in both Arizona and San Francisco.  He told us he was sending his daughter, who was there helping to staff the tack shop, to Oklahoma to study equitation under Bob Loomis, a famous American horse and rider instructor.

Thursday was get-away day and so today's ride would have to be shorter than yesterday's.  Since we had a little more time than we had the first day we decided to take that same route to the south, only go further this time.  Again we stopped at Abarrotes Mascorro and had a chat with Sr. Mascorro.  We asked him a few more questions about his 42 hectares.  He said he was asking 5 million pesos.  That sounded a little steep to us. 

His roadside store marks the end of the valley and the beginning of the climb out of it.  We had started at roughly 3800 feet at Talpa.  As we began the relatively easy curving ascent with grades of 3 to 6%, we started to come across numerous landslides, or derrumbes, caused by the heavy rains of the preceding rainy season.  The cuts and fills along this route are very deep into the bright red dirt.  The challenge for the road crews is keeping the cuts from being refilled.

The winding climb was gorgeous through forests of pine and deciduous trees, some of which were now bare, but others still green with leaves.  Before we knew it we had exceeded the previous day's climb and were above 5,000 feet.  It's a lot easier on roads that are paved and where the grades never exceed 8 or 9%.  At the summit there was a viewpoint and pull-out.  From there we could see a huge network of small valleys, ridges and canyons.  Somewhere out there was the next town of La Cuesta, but unfortunately our time was running out.

We did manage to take a small side trip.  Near the summit there is a dirt road leading into a national forest.  Here we found the climbs did get steeper, sometimes into the 15% range.  The views near the top were not unlike what one might see in Steve and Kay's home states of Oregon and Washington, on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, just miles and miles of evergreen forests on steeply sloped mountainsides.

The coasting ride on the paved road from the summit back to the valley was a joyful series of sweeping turns with little or no traffic, such that we could use both lanes, which was necessary to avoid the several landslides.  We made one brief stop just before the valley floor at a little roadside restaurant and grocery store called El Refugio.  They also had 48 hectares for sale of pine covered land.  The wife of the pair was an attorney.  Joe bought a Coke bottle filled with crystal clear raicilla, which is the Mexican equivalent of "moonshine" made with the same Agave plant used to make distilled Tequila.

Before we knew it we were back in Talpa, getting showered, changed and ready to head for the bus station to catch our 5pm bus back to PV.  After Steve took his bike apart at the station he went back a few minutes later to move it and discovered that the front tire, which had been fully inflated when he took it off, was now completely flat.  A quick inspection turned up a thorn stuck in the tread.  Somewhere in the last 50 feet or so before arriving at the bus station entrance he experienced the one and only mechanical problem of all four bikes during the entire three days of riding.  It's always nice to have good luck with your bad luck.

With the sun setting in the west, the views of the canyons and gorges between Talpa and La Estancia were even more spectacular than on the bus ride up.  We arrived in PV at 8:45pm and thanks to Joe and Jan's cell phone our taxi van was there waiting for us.

A beautiful, fun-filled cycling adventure had reached its climax.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Afghanistan Deja Vu

I have some concerns about US policy in Afghanistan. I've been hearing that the majority of the Afghan people, particularly those in rural areas, don't want us there. They don't want any occupiers in their villages and valleys whether they're American, Russian or Taliban. I've heard that fighting escalates when we move in and subsides when we move out.

I've also heard that Obama is between a rock and hard place. If he withdraws unilaterally, some military chiefs will resign and accuse him of being weak and endangering the troops and the American people. If he acquiesces to their pressure to escalate, he only increases the number of casualties on both sides with no end in sight.

This sounds very familiar. I served two tours of duty in Viet Nam as an officer in the Navy from 1969 to 1971. In retrospect I think the non-communist South Vietnamese people wanted us out of there just as much as the Afghans want us out of their country today. Like the South Vietnamese, they just want the endless wars to be over and they would prefer not to have foreign occupiers on their lands. They would rather have to deal with the opposing factions of their own countrymen than with us, who they see as supporting the power groups within the large cities, whom they trust no more than they trust us.

We need to do everything we can to prevent Al Quaeda from hitting us again like it did on 9/11. But we also need to learn how to not repeat the mistakes of Viet Nam and Iraq.

Where are we going to find the inspired leadership that will put the interests of the American and Afghan people ahead of political and military interests?

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Vamos a la tienda de madera

Another little slice of life in Mexico tale.


We needed about four feet of 1x2-inch wood trim to support a shelf Steve is installing under the kitchen sink. 


We walked to the nearby lumber yard and found only a couple of the hired help on the premises.  They didn’t have anything like 1x2 in stock but Steve pointed at piece of weathered scrap would and said in Spanish, “something like that.”


One of the workers picked up the scrap, which was about the right length, and walked to the back of the shop.  He planed all four sides of it and then split it lengthwise to the width we needed.


We asked him how much?  He kinda shrugged and indicated that the office was closed.


So, Steve gave him a tip and we were on our way home.


Try that at Home Depot.

Vamos a la Dentista

We were both due to have our teeth cleaned at a minimum, so when we got a glowing referral from our friends Jeff and Kathi on Bold Spirit, we made an appointment with a dentist at the nearby Plaza Marina Mall.  (Yes, they have malls in Mexico, as well as telephones, electricity, etc.)


We had our teeth cleaned last year by a dentist right here at the marina and we were not impressed.  It was a very slapdash job and we were in and out in about 20 minutes each.  Consequently, we were prepared for the same, despite the good references.


Wow!  Were we shocked! First of all, the cleanings were extremely thorough and professional.  Steve’s was performed by a dental hygienist (Marta), while Kay’s was performed by one of the dentists (Dr. Melisia).


During the course of our cleanings several problems were uncovered.  Both of us had cavities that needed work (Kay suspected this even before her previous cleaning), and Steve needed  X-rays and a periodontal exam as well.


We were all set for a bunch of appointments some time in the future but were told:  Kay could get her cavities filled immediately,  Steve could get his X-rays done in about ten minutes, and by the time he was done with those, the periodontist was due to arrive!  Yikes, talk about not having time to fret.


Kay is very happy with her fillings.  Steve was impressed with the state-of-the-art, computer-based X-ray system, and the “bedside manner” of his periodontist, with whom he will be meeting in the near future for a couple of procedures.


And the cost?  Between ½ and 1/3 of US rates.  A lot of that is probably due to the lower, if not nonexistent, cost of malpractice insurance down here.


Given the fact that our health insurance does not include dental care, we are very happy to have found this modern, conveniently close dental clinic here in Puerto Vallarta.


By the way, to those back home who have their panties all in a twist about the illegal immigrant problem, especially as it relates to Mexicans, we have a very simple solution!  Stop hiring them!  To only blame the illegals is to look at just one side of the problem.  When your glass house is clean, feel free to throw stones.  Meanwhile, we know American farmers and ranchers that can’t survive without them.


If all of you stop hiring them, believe it, they will stop coming.  And that would be sad, because Mexicans are some of the most friendly, honest and hard-working people we have met in our travels around the world.