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Acrophobia is an extreme or irrational fear of heights.

27 Mar

Acrophobia (from the Greek: ἄκρον, ákron , meaning “peak, summit, edge” and φόβος, phóbos, “fear”) is an extreme or irrational fear of heights. It belongs to a category of specific phobias, called space and motion discomfort that share both similar etiology and options for treatment.  Most people experience a degree of natural fear when exposed to heights, especially if there is little or no protection.  Acrophobia sufferers can experience a panic attack in a high place and become too agitated to get themselves down safely.

The Napali Coast

The Napali Coast

This story begins at Ke’e Beach at the trail head of The Kalalau Trail, along the Napali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii considered by Backpacker Magazine and one of the top 10 most dangerous hikes in the USA.  Well, it actually started weeks before when we booked our flight to Kauai to do this hike.  In my old age I’ve become increasingly fearful of heights.  I’ve never been a big fan, but I would never consider it a full blown phobia.  The day we arrive in Kauai it was raining and we’re told it’s been raining for the past 3 weeks straight.  We have also been told the trail is even more dangerous when it’s been raining.  To exacerbate my already heightened anxiety we talk to a few people coming off the trail that look as if they just wallowed in a pigpen.  I mean they’re covered in thick red sticky mud from head to toe.  One guy tells me that “Crawler’s Ledge” wasn’t even the most scary part.  The slick as snot red clay hills are, which there are two, perched on top of dangerously steep cliffs.  Another guy tells me that “I wouldn’t do it if it’s raining.  I’d turn around”  My brain starts to conjure up thousands of different ways I’m going to fall to my death.

Kalalau Trail

Kalalau Trail

The next day we get started out on the 11 mile one way hike with large amount of elevation gained and lost.  It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day and it was, but I was still very nervous about my ability to do this dangerous section of the trail.  The trail immediately starts to ascend and round knife edge ridges 500′ above the raging surf far below.  So far so good, because the trail is wide and the exposure so far has been within my tolerance level.

Kalalau Trail Profile

Kalalau Trail Profile

We arrive at the half way campsite in the jungle of Hanakoa Valley and it’s a great disappointment, because of all the trash left behind from amateur hikers, the muddy campsites and the lack of a good view, but we make the most of it with a hike to a nearby 2,000′ waterfall.  We come back and have H. H. and while sitting there enjoying our cocktails of Rum and Gatorade in walks a hot young blonde woman wearing nothing but a pair of sandals, a backpack and a smile.  She seems to be going to the waterfalls we just hiked to, which I thought was a bit ambitious, because it would be an additional 4 miles, and she mentions in passing that she was doing the whole trail that night.  (without headlamp)  I don’t know how some people survive out there in the wilderness, but this girl was quite literally a “Babe in the Woods.”

Hanakoa Valley Campsite

Hanakoa Valley Campsite

The night starts to fall so we make a fire, only to see our young ambitious hiker pass through our camp site again.  By the big smile and the look on her face it seemed like she wanted to strike up a conversation, but Jen must have gave her some kind of secret girl vs girl gang sign that said “keep on going“, cause she left immediately after looking Jen’s way.  Off she goes into the fading flickering light of our camp fire as if she is some sort of mythical woodland nymph.

Woodland Nymph Meets the Ocean

Woodland Nymph Meets the Ocean

We have a couple more drinks and finish up our gourmet meal of freeze dried Lasagna.  The fire being feed with driest waterlogged branches I could find keeps wanting to go out, but I’m determined to keep it going.  In almost complete darkness in walks James silently out of the jungle and into our campsite with dreads down past his butt, barefoot and without a headlamp.  He’s British and a well established world traveler.  He seems famished for conversation, which is good because I could use a little distraction from tomorrow’s impending doom.  James is witty, light hearted and has a good sense of humor, so the hour long conversation was entertaining even though I cannot recall a single thing from it, maybe because I have other things on my mind.

James

James

We end the evening nicely saying goodnight to James and go to bed early when the terror starts brewing in my mind once it’s silent, and I have time to think about the next leg and most dangerous section of our journey.  Like an epic battle between rational and irrational fear I picture myself in great detail in thousands of different scenarios of falling to my imminent death.  These nightmares play over and over again in a constant rotation of a never ending stream of personalized horror stories like a faucet of pure terror.  I toss and turn in a cold sweat in the middle of the night like a prisoner condemned to death on the last night before their execution.  Some of these nightmares are so real I can still feel the breeze in my hair and the angry bees in my stomach as I’m falling for like ever to the rocks thousands of feet below.  As irrational as it may seem to someone un-afflicted by this phobia, it is all too real for me at that moment.  I am overcome by it and it has taken full control of my mind.  I cannot shake it no matter how hard I try.  It’s a never ending state of panic, an all engulfing fear of surely falling to my death, which my mind does not even question it’s inevitability.  I run through the various scenarios of what I would be thinking, feeling or how long I would suffer once I hit the ground.  Would it be a split second, minutes or hours before I die?  Would I be seeing my life flash before my eyes or would they be shut in a fading scream as I fall?  Trying to calm myself down I let my irrational fears think it’s won the battle by saying “I just wouldn’t go” so I could get some sleep before dawn breaks, which was about the time I finally did fall asleep.

Crawler's Ledge

Crawler’s Ledge

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The dawn breaks and we get up and start getting packed, but I cannot contain my fear any longer and tell Jen “I don’t think I can do it.”  At this moment I was willing to give her anything not to.  On the other hand there is nothing anyone could give me to do it.  I am totally overcome by this fear that has been building up for months, stoked by movies like (please watch this clip when they’re doing Crawler’s Ledge) “A Perfect Getaway“, internet reviews and the fact that it’s Backpacker’s Top 10 Most Dangerous Trails.  I think I’m having a nervous breakdown, quite literally!  We are both crying for two very different reasons.  Me, because I’m in the total grip Acrophobia and Jen because she’ll be alone in Paradise.  We reluctantly agree to go our separate ways after a long difficult discussion.  Me back to the car with my tail between my legs in complete shame and humiliation, and Jen onto a dream she’s been dreaming about for months.  I’ve already got it figured out that I’d sleep in the car and she’d spend a day out there and come back the next day.  Our bags are packed up and I’m feeling something I’ve never, ever felt before in my entire life, an epic and complete mental failure to control my fear.  At this time I am willing to face the shame and humiliation of family, friends and even recent acquaintances at the campground we’ve been staying at.  No matter how hard I try I cannot over come it’s grip on me.  At this point, I’ve just given in and we kiss goodbye with tears in our eyes.  We are about to go our separate ways when I suddenly feel that constant flow of fear that has been plaguing me for the past 24 hours has suddenly shut off like a kink in a garden hose.  The building pressure is strong and I can feel it in my racing pulse, but the sheer terror has almost completely stopped.  As I turn, about to take my first step in the direction towards the car I say “Well, I’m this close I’ll just go and take a look, since it’s just another mile to “Crawler’s Ledge.”  I can feel the fear immediately start creeping back, but somehow I’m able to shut it out.  I take a few steps forward not knowing if I’ll be able to do it, but also highly aware that I’ll have to do the same series of ledges and cliffs on the way back.  I tell myself that I can do this, and strongly believe that if I don’t it could be the start of a very bad and dangerous downward spiral of not facing up to my fears, or having it turn into something else like Agoraphobia, or worse yet becoming a general disappointment to someone I love.

Crawler's Ledge

Crawler’s Ledge

I take the first step past the sign saying “Dangerous Cliffs” ahead.  It’s terrifying, but I completely shut down that part of my brain and just stare at the ground ahead of my feet like a zombie, even though the scenery is amazingly beautiful.  The trail looks like it leads straight down to raging surf with cliffs for miles in both directions, so if somehow I do survive the fall into the ocean, I’d just be a swimming pile of fresh bloody chum for the sharks to eat alive.  We get past “Crawler’s Ledge“, but according to the guy at the parking lot the worse is yet to come.  Jen says “Yeah you did it“, but I keep looking down at the trail not wanting to celebrate until we get there.  We press on past one gorgeous view after another from high atop knife like ridges, but alls I can do is look down at the trail.

Another Gorgeous View

Another Gorgeous View

The sheer drops feel like they’re trying to pull me over the edge like a force stronger than gravity alone, but I hold tight to any exposed root, branch or tree I can get my hands on.  This hike is not easy, even though 11 miles would be a normal hiking day for us back home in WA, but this trail just keeps on going and going with little seen progress.  Plus, it’s nearly 80 degrees out and coming from 40 degree Seattle, the heat is nearly killing me.  We don’t see anyone coming or going, so huh could it be they all died trying?  “Keep calm Jim” I keep saying to myself in the third person.  We press on past one glorious view point after another.  The North Shore is lush green jungle clinging to dramatically steep cliffs and ridges kept that way because of daily rain in the winter months.  The dramatic views are extraordinary when I do look up.  I mean they’re breathe takingly beautiful and I take a snapshot or two when I’m feeling brave enough, but rarely do because my camera blocks my view of the trail and somehow my balance.  Not a reassuring feeling when you’re at the edge of a 500′ sheer drop into the ocean below.

Kalalau Beach

Kalalau Beach

The end is near and I feel like I just had accomplished a major milestone in my life.  I’m not kidding when I say that, because I never felt more relieved or had such a sincere sense of accomplishment in a long time.  I just conquered one of my biggest fears and now I am being rewarded by entry into this secret secluded Naked Beach Club Paradise.  I feel like I’m starring as Leonardo in the Beach, except now one dies in this one.  This place is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life.  Nothing like it before and we’ve done a lot of great hikes and adventures around the country in the past.  I feel like I’ve just turned a big mistake into gold.  We march on with great anticipation.  We’re immediately greeted by a group of three beautiful naked young ladies who literally welcome us to Paradise.  We continue on past more beautiful naked hippies and wonderful campsites until we see one near the end of the beach next to a large drinking water fresh clear and cold waterfall, which we drank from unfiltered for 5 days without incident.  We choose this choice campsite perched high on a bluff above the beach with a view of the entire Kalalau beach below.  It’s gorgeous spot and as soon as we setup our tent  a young man named Spencer wearing a backpack on his chest says he “likes our style” and offers us a cold beer.  Wow, a cold beer in Paradise, thanks!  Now I’m wondering is this Paradise or did I really die and this is my version of Heaven?  “Please GOD which ever it is please do not make me go back!

Kalalau Beach Campsite

Kalalau Beach Campsite

 
 

The long slog home…

30 May

Yeah, it’s Memorial Day Weekend and the start of camping season!
Like always we take full advantage of the long weekend and go someplace remote, far away and/or someplace  really hard to get to.  It’s a tradition that has served us well until now.  Well, don’t get me wrong, it was an awesome new adventure, but I knew right from the start this would be difficult, not because of the constant rain forecasted, or the distance traveled (30 miles in 3 days), nor the extremely heavy pack full of crap that I never did use, but for the long, slick, muddy hike out.  This was an out and back trip, so the tricky part is the game plan.  Do we hike the entire 13.5 miles in one day and just do day trips or tackle the majority of the mileage the first day, have a short second day and then the long slog home?  We choose the later.  In the end it was well worth it, but sitting here typing 4 days later my legs, knees and feet are still sore, so there is something to be said about over doing it.  Although, everything from here till Labor Day will be gravy.  I am sure we will continue to be overly ambitious in the future, but I will certainly not bring 5 lbs of clothes again no matter what the forecast calls for, because I always seem to wear the same outfit the entire time.  What was I thinking?  Anyway, here are some snaps for our Memorial Day Weekend hike into the Enchanted Valley in the Olympic National Park 05/26/2013.

All and all it was a great trip and I wouldn’t have changed a thing, except for maybe investing in a waterproof bag for my camera, so I could have taken some of the most incredible landscape shots on our hike out.  There was a brief moment where is was raining heavily and then suddenly the sun broke through the clouds to reveal a scene of incredible beauty for less than a minute that will be forever burned into my brain cells.  I would like to try to describe here, but would only fail miserably in lack of accurate enough words to describe it’s true spectacle…  Moments like that will keep me going back out there for more and more…

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The Inverse Effect

31 Jan

It’s been a typical Seattle winter, rain, rain and yup, you guessed it more rain.  It’s a never ending cold, dark, damp, drizzle.  This last week has been the very oddly foggy and freezing cold.  I mean so foggy it was hard to drive or see more than a few yards in front of you even at high noon.  The weatherman says there is some weird “Inversion layer” hanging over us and it will be like this for another week.  Another week?  I cannot even remember the last time I seen the sun.  So when Jen said we should go snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier next weekend and I was like “Yeah, sure sounds like fun” in my most sarcastic voice.

Well, Saturday morning arrives quickly and we throw a bunch of clothes and our snowshoes in the truck and hit the road at the crack of noon.  It’s 28 degrees and thick fog and it’s a 2 hour drive.  I’m not looking forward to this, but the mood lightens as we listen David Sadaris on the radio read from his book “Me Talk Pretty One Day“.  He helps pass the time with his hilarious observations as we groan on about what we’re gonna do all weekend if it’s gonna be like this.  There is not a chance in hell we will be able to see anything, except for maybe a couple of beers at some redneck bar in Elbe, WA.   One thing to look forward to is Jen had made a reservations a couple days ago to spend a night near Mt. Rainer, and in of all places a tree house with access to a wood fire hot tub and sauna.   Yes, a tree house and odder yet the place is owned by our old roommate Sky’s hippy mother Sunny at Well Springs Spa.  It sounds like our kinda place, but we skip check in and head right for the Paradise, because of our late start.

We had been driving in thick fog the entire time, until we round one corner near Ashford, WA near the Paradise entrance of Mt. Rainier and it’s all of sudden crystal clear out and we can see the entire mountain in all of it’s glory.  It’s sunny and unusually warm out in a blink of an eye.  I mean mid 50’s if not close to 60 out and swear to Gawd it’s T-shirt weather.  WTF is going on here?  We grab a quick six’er at the last store before the park entrance just in case of sudden “dehydration” from all that snowshoeing at high altitudes.

Jim_Mercure_iPhone_1

Mount Rainier and all of it’s 14,410′ glory.

Wow, I kinda forgot what nice weather was like or the sun for that matter and major bonus is that there is absolutely no wind.  It’s like we’re on drugs, (from what I’ve heard) its so nice out.  The ranger at the gate tells us that it was 62 degrees at Paradise visitor’s center on Thursday 01/17/2013.  We quickly pack a lunch and get going up, up and away.  Holy shit, am I outta shape.  We quickly strip a layer and I luckily thought ahead and pull out my iPod.  If I’m gonna make it up this thing I’m going to need to distract myself from this relentless uphill battle of will and monotony.  It’s hard to get a sense of scale or perspective when you’re staring up at a mountain that is 14,410′ tall and the summit is probably less than a mile away.

Jim Mercure Mt. Rainier 2013

As we climb we can feel it getting warmer and warmer, which normally the direct opposite of what you would expect.  As we approach the last very steep section before our destination of Panorama Point I tell Jen that she should take off her snowshoes because everyone else has kick stepped a staircase up to the point, but does she listen?  When I say steep I mean everyone else around use is wearing crampons and/or ice axes.  It’s scary steep and it’s a long slide, although going up isn’t as hard as going down.  But I have a plan where on the way up I scoped out a long round about loop route that looks “fail safe” from avalanches or getting lost.

The view from Panorama Point.

The view from Panorama Point.

Well, surprise, surprise there is a steeper section (basically a cliff) on the backside of Panorama Point and we would have to climb a lot higher to go around, so that slight flutter of butterfly’s we felt in our stomach about going up such a steeps section starts to feel like angry bees.  It’s a feeling where we’ve got ourselves into this mess, now let’s get ourselves out.  We had planned on eating lunch on top, but I felt it was best to use this time when the snow is at it’s softest to get down to a safe spot before we eat.  Although, having a “last meal” before we die thought had crossed my mind.

Our lunch spot with a great view.

Our lunch spot with a great view.

As a reward for surviving we treat ourselves to a nice cold micro brew.  I’ve got to say those beers never tasted so good.  We sat there for a good long time just staring at things big, small and ginormous.  I found myself taking pictures of the same thing with just the minimal amount of change like it’s going to be some miraculous work of art or Ansel for that matter.  Then I realized that there is nothing to put things into perspective in this land of giants, except for maybe the random passer by.  I take this picture below and I thought it turned out so well I went over and offered to send it to them.  He appreciated the gesture so much he returned the favor.  (photo credit above Glen Grover)

Random Passer By'er

Random Passer By’er

Wow, look at the time and we still have an appoint with a wood fired hot tube and sauna to get to.  We arrive and quickly pull all of our supplies up to the tree house 15′ above by a bucket on a rope and pulley.  A quick change into our suits and we’re off to the wood fired hot tub.  It’s couldn’t be better and all of those aches and pains are slowly fading away with each passing minute and cocktail.  If there was a way to bottle this feeling I’d be a rich man.
If you ever get a chance to stay at Well Spring Spa in Ashford, WA I would highly recommend it.  It’s right there at the gates of Mt. Rainier’s Paradise entrance.

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Random people just for perspective.

So the moral of this story is to get out there despite the weather, because it maybe better than you could have ever imagined.

Jen and I

Jen and I

 

 
 

Sorry for the delay, but I’ve been busy trying to rebuild our savings

06 Oct

I will make a concerted effort to post another blog here soon.
Please check back soon.

 
 

The Shakedown

28 Mar

Well, we’ve heard all the warnings about traveling through Mexico; from the State Department’s official website, to the constant news reports of drug violence on TV, as well as from friends and family who share this sentiment and think we’re nuts.  Sure, there’s some major problems along the border towns, but for the most part its drug on drug violence and they do not target tourist.  Traveling is never safe and it never will be, but you’re more likely to get in an accident within ten miles of your home than you are traveling abroad.  Plus iff you look at the statistics there is more violent crime per capita in the USA than any other place in the world.  Mexico is #12th.

Life is risky and its dangerous just walking outside your door everyday, but with risk comes reward.  When we travel we take precautions, keep our eyes open, minimize our exposure by keeping valuables secured and watch each others backs.  It only takes one incident to learn your lesson, so we’ve already had our wake up call and have made adjustments.  Sure, we’ve had a stolen bike seat here, a pair of flip flops missing there, but we’ve had our closest call in San Diego, so it can happen anywhere.  The scariest part about that “smash and grab” of my laptop in San Diego is that we were sleeping in the RV just upstairs and still couldn’t do a thing about it.  And this happened in broad daylight at 9:00 on a Sunday morning in a nice neighborhood.  These crack smokers were able to smash the driver’s side window and jump half way into the rig and grab the strap of my laptop bag all within seconds.  Although, given one more second that punk would be missing a hand, since I sleep with a machete under my pillow and I more than happy to use it.  I have since added a slingshot to my arsenal and a zip lock baggie full of perfectly round rocks for the next thief who has the huevos to flip me off while making their escape.

Smash and Grab

Smash and Grab

The reason I bring this up is because after 2 months of traveling through Mexico we’ve never really had a problem or felt unsafe.  A stolen bike seat was our biggest loss and being a cyclist I was way more upset about my seat than my laptop, because it wasn’t a normal size seat post and would be nearly impossible to replace while in Mexico.  I made due by tying my tennis shoe over the post’s stub to prevent a catastrophe if I happened to slip a pedal.  Anyway, as we were traveling north we came across an “unofficial” toll booth in the last large town of Hermosillo, Mexico.  We were at a stop light and as the light turned green we were taking off with the rest of the traffic, a man in a yellow reflective vest jumps out in front of us and motions for us to pull over.  I see his beat up, non-descript white van on the side of the road with some unofficial looking type on the hood “transito policia”, but it’s missing a couple letters, so I’m immediately suspicious.  The man pictured below comes up to my window and asks for my driver’s license.

Hermosillo, Mexico Hiway Robbery

Hermosillo, Mexico Hiway Robbery

At first he tells me that we were speeding.  Anyone who’s ever driven an RV knows that they’re not known for their jack rabbit starts and we were well behind the rest of the pack of cars, so that’s his first lie.  He then tells me that I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, but I had just unbuckled it to go and get my driver’s license at his request, lie #2.  I hand him my license thinking he’s just going to hit us up for a few bucks, which he immediately does.  He tells me that the price for “not” wearing my seat belt in Spanish is $–.  I tell him I do not understand $– and then he writes $70 in the air.  I ask Jen to grab some pesos from the lock box.  I fold up a $100 peso ($8.30 US) and try to hand it to him.  He refuses and says another number $— in Spanish.  I tell him I do not speak Spanish, so this time he writes $750 on the back of his metal ticket box.  I’m not even sure we have that much in pesos, since we just filled up with gas and we intentionally didn’t want to be left with a bunch of pesos before we crossed the border.

Hermosillo, Mexico Shakedown

Hermosillo, Mexico Shakedown

Now Jen starts to get upset, because she realizes that we’re getting ripped off.  As soon as she starts to raise her voice he immediately says in perfect English that she wasn’t wearing her seat belt either and the fine is now $1,000 pesos.  We argue that we were wearing them, and then he tells us he doesn’t speak English.  He tells us we must go down to the police station to pay the fine and retrieve my driver’s license.  I ask him “cuando, donde?”  As the argument is escalating I notice that he is looking all around the inside of the RV.  He is peaking his head into the cab and looks in my lap, at my feet and inside the ash tray an in the back.  I don’t know if he trying to catch us on some potentially bigger violation or if he’s just looking for something he may want to take as a bribe.

Hermosillo, Mexico ticket

Hermosillo, Mexico ticket

After I notice this peculiar behavior I take a closer look at him and realize he’s not wearing a badge, a name tag or any sort of official police uniform.  Upon closer inspection I notice that he’s not carrying a gun, his radar gun doesn’t work, because there are no lights on and his “official” looking tool belt contains nothing more than a mag flash light and could be purchased at any Army Surplus store.  I then ask him for some ID.  When he refuses I whisper to Jen to grab my camera, which is locked away in the back.  As he’s writing out the ticket I snap few shots of him just because there is no other way to identify him if he take off with my driver’s license.  Right then I noticed an RV driving by, I try, but cannot get their attention.  I get out of the RV hoping there’s a caravan of RV coming who might be able to help.  Frustrated, he asks me to sign the ticket.  I scribble a sig on the line and he hands me back my driver’s licenses.  Not trusting him enough to turn my back I walk sideways keeping an eye on him as I walk back to the RV.  I waste no time leaving.  We both breathe a deep sigh of relief as we drive away without so much as a peso lost.  To this day I’m still not too sure if he was legit or not, but I suspect not.

 

Violent crime statistics

Violent crime statistics

 
 

When in Rome…

21 Mar

We’ve all heard the old saying “When in Rome (do as the Romans do).”  Well, we only have a week left of vacation and time has flown by without accomplishing everything we’ve wanted to, so we’ve decided to start getting busy having some authentic fun with the locals.  To tell you the truth we should have left for home by now, but we’re only a couple days away from Carnival, so we decided to extend our stay by another week.

Carnival in Mazatlan, Mexico

Carnival Poster – Return of the Muses

Pacific Pearl Cover

Pacific Pearl Cover

It’s Sunday and every Sunday morning at Punta Cerritos RV park there is usually a group of people who meet at the gate and ride their bikes to a local place to have breakfast together.  This time the group must have had their extra cup of coffee, because we rode all the way down to old downtown Mazatlan.  It’s a beautiful day and it feels good to get in some exercise so early.  We stop into an old restaurant that has a big patio facing the ocean with enough room to accommodate our large group.  It’s a neat place with lots of history and old photos of famous actors from the 40’s and 50’s.  I can picture John Wayne, James Dean or Errol Flynn having a whiskey and a smoke out here on the deck back in the day.

Carnival Mazatlan, Mexico

Carnival Mazatlan, Mexico

We all have a good breakfast and the group goes their separate ways.  Jen and I decide to go check out the big market that we’ve heard so much about.  We walk around the shops that seem to sell all of the same old tourist crap.  I don’t understand how that works, but it obviously does, because they’re still in business.  Anyway, I forgot that I’ve given up on figuring out why things are done the way they are here in Mexico, and instead just enjoy the experience.  We walk through the meat market next and at first I thought I’d be totally grossed out by the blood, guts and smell, but I wasn’t.  It smelled fresh, clean and real.  No artificial colors, preservatives or steroids added here.  Some of the more peculiar items I wonder how they were consumed such as chicken’s feet, pig noses and ox tails, but I’m just not that brave to attempt such fate to give them a try.

Old Town Mazatlan, Mexico

Old Town Mazatlan, Mexico

Next stop: the oldest barber shop in Mazatlan
We just stumbled upon it as we were searching the outskirts of the town square.  I’m in desperate need of a shave and a haircut, cause I’ve ran out of sharp razors, or more like Jen started using them on her legs, about a week ago, so I’ve got a week old beard that’s starting to get really itchy.  I ask how much it cost and how long before I can get in.  They tell me it’s $50 pesos for the hair cut and $30 peso for a shave.  The young barber tells me to come back in 30 minutes and they’ll be ready for me.  I forgot it’s “Mexico” time and it was more like an hour, but it was good to take a break from walking and watch the locals do their thing.  Finally it’s my turn, and usually I like getting my hair cut; it’s relaxing, so I thought having a shave would be equally as relaxing, if not more.  Wrong, there’s nothing like having a total stranger holding a straight edge razor to your jugular vein to make you feel relaxed.  Not only that, but while I was waiting several cars had back fired and I thought for sure it would happen now and my throat would be slit from ear to ear.  I was so nervous that I really started to sweat.  I mean really sweat and my palms could have been used as little humming bird baths from all the sweat collecting in them.  It was the closest shave I’ve ever had in my life and didn’t need to shave for another 3 days afterward, but I’ll never do that again.

Old Town Mazatlan, Mexico

A view of Mazatlan, Mexico from the Lighthouse.

Next stop: Yoopers
Yes, that’s right Yooper’s bar right in downtown Mazatlan.  If you don’t know I grew up in Upper Peninsula of Michigan who are kindly referred to as UP’ers or better known as Yoopers.  I went in there thinking it might look a bit like Deer Camp, and it did in a Mexican sort of way.  Lot’s of Green Bay Packer paraphernalia and old photos of the owners in their younger days holding up trophy fish, deer or elk…  I tell the bartender that I’m a Yooper.  He’s not really sure what the hell I just said, but as I try to explain with my elaborate hand gestures I’ve mastered while down here in Mexico, he says “Oh yes, your from Michigan, Mucho Gusto” and then gives me a free bumper sticker.  It’s not exactly what I was expecting, but I would imagine every Yooper who has ever come through those doors has tried to get a free beer here.

Old Downtown Mazatlan, Mexico

Old Downtown Mazatlan, Mexico

Next stop:  Tourist Info
Better known as the Time Share Tourist Trap, but we’ve heard from our neighbor that some previous travelers at the park made the “Time Share” circuit and made $1,500 in a week.  We got all the low down on what to say to get through the initial screening process and from there on just say “No.”  We thought a couple hundred buck it would be worth slogging through their 90 minute sales pitch.  Besides, we get a free breakfast, lunch and $200 US would pay for our gas back to the border. As we were walking out of the Yooper’s bar we came across one of these “Tourist Information” booths and the salesman instantly notices me checking out his glossy 8×10 photos.  He immediately goes into his sales pitch about how great these places are and says he’ll throw in a free breakfast.  I tell him “No way, we’re on vacation and it’s going to take a lot more than breakfast to get us to sit through that”.  Well,  he says “How about $100 US?”  I said “each?”  He says “Yes.”  I ask him can he sweeten the deal any more?  He says he can give us a $50 credit for food and drinks and that’s the best he can do.  We sign up for a tour for the next day at 9:00am at the Emerald Bay Resort, which is just down the beach from where we’re staying.  We would have walked, but one of the requirements is that we had to be staying at one of the hundreds of hotels in the area, but since we’re in an RV park we had to fib just a bit.  (I had my fingers crossed)  He tells me to just call a cab and the valet will reimburse the cab driver at the lobby when he drops us off.  Perfect, maybe we should stay another week!

Mazatlan Beach

A deserted beach in Mazatlan, Mexico

The place looks just like a set from “Fantasy Island”.  It’s gorgeous, complete with pink flamingos, Greek goddess statues, perfectly manicured lawns and crystal clear blue swimming pools every where you look.  If you only have a week of vacation and more money than brains, this is the place for you.  It will serve all of your needs, but it’s not going to be cheap.  Our guide Esmeralda is a true pro and does her best to try to squeeze water (money) from a stone (my wallet), but she soon realizes we’re a waste of her time.  But giving it her best she slices the price of the time share in half, and then in half again, but finally giving up in disgust she throws the cash voucher on the table and tells us to have a nice day.  And we do, thanks to her.  We walk back to the RV park along the beach against the recommendation of the front desk clerk who tells us it’s “Muey Peligroso.”  Yeah, I guess with a pocket full of cash it is, but we’ve done this short little hike several times before without seeing so much as a foot print, so we enjoy our stroll back home along the deserted beach smiling all the way.

Mazatlan Bull Ring

Mazatlan Bull Ring

Next stop:  The Bull Fight
Some of my friends will definitely frown on this little excursion, but it’s something we would like to see.  It’s not like we’re actually killing the poor beast and it’s going to happen weather or not we’re here, so “When in Rome.”  The arena is a lot smaller than what I would have imagined and we can sit just about anywhere.  The food and beer prices are cheaper than what you can find on the streets, bars or local mini supers, so all in all it’s a good deal.  The show starts and there’s a long introduction and this being a Portuguese type bull fight the fighters are on horses.  These pretty boys looks like a couple of major pricks with egos that barely fit into this small stadium, but what would you expect from someone who fights bulls for a living, making millions of dollars do so.  Maybe, I’m just a bit jealous, because all the ladies seem to like these guys, but I’m sticking by my initial assessment until proven wrong.  Aside from my prejudice of these guys, they really can ride.  They’re not the best bull fighters according to the lack of applause from the crowd, and their failure to make a clean kill, but their riding skills make up for it.

Mazatlan Bull Fight

Mazatlan Bull Fighter

Now for one of the more bizarre aspects of the show.  There are about 8 guys who literally flip into the ring from the sidelines and they all line up in a single row separated by about 20′.  The poor little fellow who drew the shortest straw marches proudly out to center ring, and yells loudly “Toro” to the bull who is still facing away from him.  The little guy takes a couple more big brazen steps towards the bull and again loudly yells out “Toro”.  This time the bull hears this and turns quickly to face him pawing the ground angrily.  The little guy again takes a few more exaggerated steps towards him and yells out again “Toro”.  This time the bull charges full steam towards him hitting him directly in the gut.  The second guys quickly is hit and then the third, who is quickly swept under getting trampled and kicked in the face and groin along the way.  The forth, fifth, sixth pile on trying desperately to stop this freight train of an angry bull.  The last guy finally grabs hold of the bull’s tail and is being twirled around like a rag doll, but he gracefully holds on sliding through the dirt as if he’s weightless in one 360 degree circle after another until the bull gives up.  He turns his back to the bull and takes a deep bow just a few feet in front of the breathless bull and then proudly exits the ring. It’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever witnessed.

Mazatlan Bull Fight

Mazatlan Bull Fight

Then the bull takes on the second guy.

Mazatlan Bull Fighters

Then the 3rd guy gets hit

Mazatlan Bull Fighters

and he goes down

Mazatlan Bull Fighters

and under the bull.

Mazatlan Bull Fighters

He’s probably thinking he should start looking for a new job.

Mazatlan, Mexico Bull Fight

A desk job doesn’t sound so bad right about now.

Mazatlan, Mexico Bull Fight

Looks like he gets kicked in the face.

Mazatlan, Mexico Bull Fight

Where do I sign up for this?

Mazatlan, Mexico Bull Fight

Wow, now that’s a show!
Thanks goes out to our neighbors Lorne, Bonnie and Loraine for sharing.

 
 

It’s the little things

24 Feb

As I was sipping my last drink of the night and desperately trying to soak in the last few fleeting days of freedom, aka vacation, I watch as our caretaker’s girls are called in for the evening. The 3 of them march diligently across the dirt courtyard into the house and just as the big black steel door is creaking shut, the youngest shyly peers her head around the door and sweetly waves to me, goodnight.

Soaking in the last few days

Soaking in the last few days

As I type this I try to think about all of the little things that make traveling so much fun.  In the background I can hear a man singing at the construction site just next door.  He is carrying a heavy load of bricks up three stories in the hot sun, but he has been singing every morning for the past week.  He’s not all that good, but I enjoy listening and appreciate his enthusiasm.  I can also hear the fisherman just off shore passing by in their panga, joking with each other and laughing loudly.  I have no clue of what they’re saying, but when they all laugh loudly together I chuckle along with them.  Just outside the gate I can hear children in the nearby town square chasing each other around and screaming with excitement, dogs barking in hot pursuit as to applaud their joy.  It’s witnessing these different cultures, learning how and why they live the way they do, and to see how they utilize what they have available to make it all happen that makes traveling such an adventure for me.  It may not be the most efficient, but it’s what they have and they make due.

Mexican Fisherman

Mexican Fisherman

Like the fisherman who was fishing next to me the next morning who’s made his own lure out of a piece of led and some glitter glued to a piece of old bicycle inner tube tied to a hook.  He is hand lining it, but he’s casting his lure 2 times as far as I can with my brand new reel and 10 foot pole.  We didn’t catch anything that day, but I’ve seen him come back with literally a hundred pounds of fish a few days later.  I have yet to catch one that’s worth keeping.

Mexican Fisherman

Mexican Fisherman

As I travel throughout the West Coast of Mexico I try to be the American that we were so respected for in the past.  Not the ugly Americans of today who repeats their English request, or more like orders, louder, slower and more pronounced so the Mexican who speaks no English can understand.  If I hear “grassyass” one more time I think I’m going to break a bottle over their head.  Don’t worry I usually have one in hand or nearby.  So to put it into perspective lets turn the tables.  If a Mexican came up to you asking questions in the states, speaking Spanish and you just shrugged your shoulders and said “no, I don’t understand.”  Then this person gets in your face and repeats their request, but this time only closer, slower and louder, so you can magically understand.  You’d think that person was insane, but yet I’ve seen this time and time again.

Typical Beach Scene

Typical Beach Scene

As an American witnessing such things it’s a major embarrassment to me as a fellow countrymen.  Americans just don’t travel as much as the rest of the world and that’s another thing that should be a national disgrace, but it’s not.  It’s almost considered shameful to be traveling in such a bad economy, and it’s always a bad economy, except for bankers, lawyers and stock brokers. In an effort to live up to this higher ideal I’ve thought about this ahead time and brought down extra items that not only could help us on our journey, but to give away these items to people who could use them the most.  My first gift was an air pressure gauge to the gas station attendant in the middle of nowhere.  I ask in my limited Spanish if he can check the air in a leaky front tire.  He tells me no, he doesn’t have any way to check the pressure when I suddenly realize I had picked one up at Les Shwab for free right before we left, but it doesn’t go up high enough to my recommended tire pressure, so it was basically useless in our RV.  I knew right where it was, so after paying the man for gas I presented the gift and tucked it into his shirt pocket.  He immediately removes it to inspect it, and the look on this grown man’s face was like a kid on Christmas morning.  He thanks me and then immediately shows it off to his co-workers as he waves goodbye.

The next gift was an extra set of jumper cables to one of our campground host who had to push start his car, because of an weak battery.  Same sort of expression, but only after I showed him that I had a duplicate set.  The next an extra roll of duct tape to the grounds keeper who I know could use it.  His reaction was the typical back handed salute with a nob of the head in appreciation.  The next an extra winter hat to the night security guard who was complaining about how cold it was and who’s face I’ve never completely seen, because I’ve only met him at night, but as we were pulling out of town he ran across the street waving to us unusually excited and pointed to my hat he was wearing in 80 degree heat.  Again, he gave the back handed salute and head nod.  I waved back once I realized it was him and could see him in the rear view waving until we were out of sight. And then an extra volleyball and nerf football to our neighbors who were collecting items for the local orphanage.  I pretty sure it will be used as a soccer ball, but better than nothing.  I can only imaging the joy it might bring to those kids who have nothing.  Next a few extra steel fishing leaders to a local kid fishing nearby.  A spare bike pump to man who runs a bike club for kids in the small fishing village were we stayed for two weeks.  His family also serves the best Chili Renos in town.

One of the small fishing villages we stayed at.

One of the small fishing villages we stayed at.

Another gift was to offer my services as a photographer to the couple who were about to get married the next day.  They didn’t have a photographer and since I didn’t have anything going on that afternoon I thought it would be fun.  Also, I’ve always wondered if I could do it.  I’ve always been pretty good at shooting portraits, but a wedding is a whole other beast.  It was fun and the photos turned out great.  They got married on the beach and the bride was delivered to the alter on a white horse led by her father.  Later that evening we got invited to the reception dinner and I thought it would be a huge event with lots of people like a typical Mexican wedding, but we were the only non-family members invited.  They were speaking German and Spanish, but threw in a few words in English so we didn’t feel too awkward.  It was a real treat and I felt honored to attend. All together a great experience and I’m glad to know that I can do this wedding thing pretty well.

The Wedding

The Wedding

The Wedding

The Wedding

My biggest gift was a surgical kit I purchased at a g-sale that I thought I could re-sell, but had no luck in the 4 months I’ve tried, so I asked my biker buddy who I gave the pump to who could use it the most.  He told me the free clinic could make the best use of it.  They treat people from all over the neighboring villages and run only on donations.  He went with me and translated my intentions to the nurse at the front desk.  She probably has seen more blood, guts and pain than anyone I know, except for maybe a war veteran, but I could tell she was shocked when I opened it up on her desk.  I think she was expecting me to then ask for money they didn’t have by the look on her face, but as I was walking out and saying my last goodbyes I turned back to take another look at her and she gave me a look with a tear in her eye.

The Wedding

The Wedding

I’ve also stopped to help two people who were hopelessly stuck in the sand on two separate occasion in the exact same place.  The bridge near by has been washed away by sever flooding last fall, so locals try to make it around a nearly impossible bypass through deep sand and always get stuck.  The first person I helped was a 350 lbs man in a very tiny car.  The contrast was striking and I wish I had my camera handy, but it’s pretty easy to picture.  His tiny little car was so buried his wheels were no longer touching the ground.  I helped dig for a few minutes, but I could tell from previous experience it’s pointless.  I ask him if he has a jack.  He does, so we jack the car up and place wooden board from the nearby broken bridge to stick under the tires.  He is out and on his way within ten minutes.  The people watching this fiasco are stunned. The next person who was stuck in the exact same place a few days later had been desperately trying to get out and by the dark blue cloud of burning rubber hanging overhead I could pretty much tell he had given up thinking rationally.  I offered to help and after a few minutes of digging and getting prior permission to drive, he was out of there.  The trick I tell him is to dig out in front of the tires and pull forward, so you can get some momentum.  “You are my hero” the young man says while I’m walking away.  “Da Nada” I replied.  He immediately pulls out a fresh fish from the back of his truck offering it up as a reward, but I tell him we’ve already have dinner waiting, but thank him for the offer.

I don’t mention these gifts because they’re significant, or I feel sorry for them, because that far from my intent.  The Mexicans I’ve met on this trip are honest, hard working and friendly to a fault.  They’re also very ingeniousness, happy and family orientated.  One of my favorite days of the week is Sundays just to watch all of the families spend the entire day together.  They laugh, eat and drink together for the entire day.  It’s a joy to watch.  I mention these things not because I think I’m a Saint or a do gooder, but to inspire and be the positive change I want to see in the world and that’s what it’s all about.

Typical Street Scene in the places we visited

A typical Street Scene in the places we visited.

 
 

An international man of mystery

15 Feb

I’ve mentioned our little bike ride into the jungle in my last two posts, but as with all stories it doesn’t stop there.  As we were riding home we came to the top of a cobblestone hill at the edge of town where a couple of young sunburned “kids” were coming out of a very nice rental house drinking beers.  I ride by and say to the young man “I’ve heard they’re giving away free beer here.”  He says “I wish.”  This is when the salty old sea captain Darrin rounds the corner and starts into his canned sales pitch selling his sailboat tour.  I ask him how much does it cost.  Well, normally it cost $95, but for you, today I’ll give you the special friend’s price of $65 per person.  I tell him we’re on a tight budget and don’t have that kind of cash.  He immediately pulls out a ragged old brochure out of his back pocket that looks older than he does and tells me to e-mail him if we’re interested.  I ask if he’s willing to make a trade.  I tell him I have a spare fishing pole.  He says it depends, but he’ll drop by to check it out the night before the departure.  I tell him I can ask around to see if we can round up a few more folks to help differ the cost.  He says “that’ll work.”

The Sailboat Ride

The Sailboat Ride

Darrin, a self described rich kid who wasted his inheritance and youth on wine, woman and drugs.  Not in that order or limited to those categories…  A man with a weathered and wrinkled face beyond his years from working on boats and smoking 3 packs a day.  Darrin is a character for sure.  A salty old dog I affectionately like to call characters like Darrin.  He has many good stories to tell and has led an “interesting” life.  A man who is staring at 60 with regrets of how his wealth and health could have been better well spent.  A man with some troubles for sure, but considering the life he’s led he’s doing pretty well.  Olivia Newton John’s husband who mysteriously disappeared was recently found working for Darrin on his sailboat, but to me it only adds credence to this international man of mystery.

The Sailboat Ride

The Sailboat Ride

Well, it’s Super Bowl Sunday and we’re invited to go to our next door neighbor’s party.  They have a big 50″ LCD TV setup outside of their 5th wheel.  They have beer, buffalo wings and snacks, so were psyched.  Just like any good salesman Darrin shows up just as we were about to head over to the party.  He takes one quick look at the fishing pole I have for trade and he say’s “yeah, yeah, that’ll do”.  He tells me he can work “his magic” on some folks who are already liquored up.  He convinces our neighbors Jack and Julie and one of their friends Kristin to join us.

 

The Sailboat Ride

The Sailboat Ride

Later that night someone steals my bike seat, and tries to steal Jen’s, but hers has an anti theft wire attached to the frame.  The thieves gets away with my seat, our helmets and a spare set of pedals I was about to install for the next morning’s ride.  The funny thing is that I heard someone outside, so I poked my head out the side window just to catch a glimpse of someone running away.  There was no way in hell I’m going to chase someone down a dark street in my bare feet and underwear.

At a morning gathering of neighbors listening to one neighbor give a description of the thief she came face to face with when she peered out her window says he was a good looking kid about 20-23 years old with big curls in his dark brown shoulder length hair.

Our next door neighbors, the “rich kids” in their mid 30’s and living on daddy’s money immediately blurt out “That sounds like Darrin’s deckhand.”  I bet you he was casing the place when he was here last night and sent over his deckhand to rob us.  I talked to some of my friends around here and they say he’s a thief.”

First of all nothing of theirs was stolen, secondly the description our other neighbor gave looks like 95% of the young kids in this town.  In a town this size rumors fly around faster and more often than the local birds.  To accuse someone of theft IMHO is a very serious accusation and shouldn’t be said without proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  They have none, zero, zilch, but are still willing to slander someone’s reputation over hearsay that doesn’t even remotely sound like the person in question.  What’s even more bizarre is that Darrin gave them an all day sailboat trip for $10 per person with drinks and food and we all had a great time.  We saw lots of humpback whales spitting distance away, blue footed boobies,  and we went snorkeling through a cave to hidden white sand beach on a deserted island.  The deckhand in question served them drinks, cleared away their mess and came back with more drinks when their glass was low without asking.  What makes a person who was so generous to them turn around and call this guy a “Fucking scumbag and thief” without so much as a lick of proof.  Kids nowadays have no respect.

In the middle of this morning’s gathering of RV park neighbors to hear what happened Julie starts yelling at me in a such a high pitch screech that all the dogs in the park start to howl.  “You invited him into our house, you invited him into my home!”  I did no such thing.  He came over and asked a few of your friends if they would like to go on an all day sailboat trip and those who went, they all had a great time.

 

The Sailboat Ride

The Sailboat Ride

Julie is a middle aged hypochondriac who needs to be the center of attention at all times.  She always is fake coughing and complaining about some mysterious illness that’s going around.  She seems to always be under the weather until it’s time to go out and then she all dolled up and ready to rock and roll.  She seems like she is desperately holding on to her youthful good looks, but those days have long since past and maybe that’s why she is so smolderingly bitter.

 

The Sailboat Ride

The Sailboat Ride

Jack is a rich kid who grew up in La Jolla, CA.  He’s got a bigger attitude than he jacked up monster truck.  He’s been a bartender for the last two years running his father’s sports bar he’s run for the past 17 years into the ground.  They just closed it and are looking for the next town to setup shop.  Like any good bartender he has a quick smile and joke, but when he’s not serving you drinks you’re a nobody.

What bothers me most about these two is not that they’re rich, or that they didn’t earn their own money, but they’re spoiled brats.  They play their music loud even when other neighbors have complained.  It’s midnight and these two have been drinking and entertaining some old friends who look like they’re from the deep south with yellow teeth and red skin.  The neighbor has a reasonable complaint, but I’ve heard him say in response “What’s their problem?”  They just told you to turn it down or at least close your door, but oblivious you party on.  Let’s just say they annoy me.

My next post will be much brighter I promise.  I just get so pissed off at these “damn kids” now days, especially when their slanderous rumors are so unjustified and wrong, but what’s great about our little house on wheels is that we just move.  OMG, I just realized that I sound exactly like my grandfather.

 
 

And the night continues

07 Feb

So after our exciting bike ride to the beach just north of Sayulita we came back to the RV, showered and we’re off to find ourselves some entertainment for the night.  Our first stop are some $1.00 street side tacos.  Next is 2×1 fresh squeezed margaritas, and then 6 piece Mexican reggae band with a sax and trombone makes for an fun filled evening.  This is the latest we’ve stayed up in a long time.  The town is hopping with sounds of music and laughter.  There is loud conversations in several different languages happening within my circle of sound.  It’s fun to people watch as they strut around looking for that something special that will make their night especial.  Young girls in their very best “out on the town” dresses, some way too short for public display IMHO.  Young Mexican boys in there silly fauxhawk hairdos trying their best to impress the young ladies.  Children running around swinging from trees and chasing each other screeching like feral cats fighting.  Older dudes with gray hair wearing young man’s clothes and army hats slightly tilted try their best with the ladies, but in my limited observations have not advanced much beyond their 18 year old competition.  It’s a scene only to be seen late at night while enjoying my margarita at the edge of the town square.

We make the most of the night listening to some great music perched high above the band on a 3rd floor of Don Pedro’s bar in Sayulita, Mexico.  I make the mistake of making a move on the chessboard that the bartender has setup as I order another cold one and he immediately counters my move and it’s game on.  Silly me, I should know better than to challenge a person who basically gets paid to play chess and serves a few beers on the side.  I make a good go of it considering my state of mind, but he clobbers me within 10 minutes.  I saddle up to a good spot to view the band from above and see the bar tender makes quick work of one victim after another.

We stop off at a road side taco vendor for a late night snack when a couple of rich folks who obviously just flew in from the states cut in line in front of us holding out their plates like hungry beggars asking for more.  I’m not offended at all, since they’re so drunk and in desperate need of food that their brains can think of nothing else and I can empathize.  They’re definitely out of place here in there clean, pressed designer clothes, polished shoes and expensive jewelry.  The middle aged woman is tall slender and giving me such a look like I’m next on the menu.  I back away slowly.  Her companion looks like Paul McCartney’s early mod days, but not in a good way.  He has very distinctive British teeth and smells of cigarettes and stale beer.

Ah, it’s just another night on the town in a foreign country.

 
 

I saw nothing!

04 Feb

We just got caught breaking one of those warnings I’ve heard so many times before “Just don’t get caught seeing something you should have seen” and you will not have any problems in Mexico.

OK, this is a post that I don’t want to get back to my already worried grandmother, but on today’s bike ride to a deserted beach just outside of town we came across a low-rider pickup truck full of 6 men in a deep ravine of a dark jungle just outside of Sayulita, Mexico. One guy with shades on holding several large pit bulls is shocked to see me barreling towards him on my mountain bike, just as I see a guy with two rifles with scopes running out of the jungle followed quickly by a guy with something large wrapped in a blanket tucked under his arm right behind. I give the guy my most innocent “hola” and ride past looking straight ahead as if I saw nothing!

I ride on hoping not to hear that unmistakable sound of click, click of the cocking of those rifles just as Jen rides past, oblivious to the whole thing.

Lesson learned: smile, act dumb and don’t do drugs… =^ )