Getting ready for a trip

We haven’t done a lot this week, but things are noticeably changing here. The temperature has been steadily dropping, days are now in the lower 30s as opposed to the higher 30s, nightimes are much cooler and we don’t need the aircon running to be able to sleep now. Also we are just getting our first northerly blow of the season. From hereon in we can expect increasingly strong blows coming down from the north. This means I have experienced the whole cycle of Northerlies, Southerlies and Westerlies plus my first, albeit benign, hurricane season.

We leave here in two days time, so today and tomorrow is all about stocking up on supplies, downloading books and videos we want to watch later as we will have no signal wifi or Cell Phone for a few weeks once we leave La Paz. On Wednesday we take down the covers, stow the aircon, haul the dinghy onto the foredeck, top up the freshwater and head out. We plan to head back in a week solely for the purpose of listening/watching the US election results. Because we are heading back out into the sea again for two – three weeks after this we could easily wait until we reach Loreto to hear the result, but we are quite invested in it now. Being in the Americas we have been in the right time zone to be able to watch the presidential debates live. I think I was with Kathy on board in Thailand 4 years ago when Trump got in. Previously my good friend Tim was sailing with me when the Brexit result came in, I forecast both results would go the other way. Third time lucky eh?

We are glad Kathy got out of the UK when she did, Liverpool is know under strict lockdown (Tier 3) and the rest of the country is facing increasing restrictions. Parts of Mexico are seeing increases in the virus, but our area, BCS, seems to be doing ok right now.

I’m pleased with my migration over to Amazon for this blog site. Now I have full control over the server (Virtual) that is hosting things, I can try to write some interesting code. I plan to add a live data feed from the boat to this server, this means that you should be able to see our location, speed, course, water depth, wind speed and direction and other stuff, in realtime on the blog. I’m working through a design for it now, but I’m thinking of storing all the information in a database on the boats PI computer (MariaDB) and syncing it with the same database on this server. That way I can sync the databases when I get a signal. If I can get both my brain cells to work together on this I may be able to recreate past journeys by re-running the database from a previous date/time.

I’m also thinking of buying myself a telescope for Christmas, I had dismissed this as a mad idea for a boat, but my last trip out to the islands was wonderful for stargazing, the binoculars revealed so much, so I’m thinking I could set up camp in the beach at night in these remote places and see what I can see. I last had a telescope when I was about six, my uncle dropped it on the stone floor of our kitchen, smashing the lens inside. He sneaked off without taking any responsibility and that was my last telescope. I may have picked up a couple of weeks coding work so that would allow me to treat myself. I haven’t looked, but I gather there’s a lot of options out there, I understand you can get computer controlled tracking mounts and all sorts of extras. Research is needed.

Out shopping in the local markets (Mercado Madero)
A new pizza place just up two blocks from the Marina
Lovely food but prices well and truly aimed at the gringos

Paul Collister

La Paz, BCS, Mexico

Sunny La Paz.

It’s been another quiet week. Life continues slowly here, yet the days fly past. Kathy made Vegan tacos in the week, based on some rather dull shredded soy. This gave me the chance to try one of the sauce trays I had seen in the supermarkets. It seems, and I could be making a fool of myself here, that you tip the contents into a blender and a few minutes later you have a fresh sauce. I think if you want to punish yourself you can use a mortar and pestle. The pack costs about 60p and made the tacos taste great. I removed half the chilies first. We also had a guacamole sauce which was lovely. Shame they have to use plastic packaging.

Salsa Rojo

On Friday we went for a meal at Estrella Mar on the waterfront close to the marina. They made a vegan pizza especially for Kathy and I had an assortment of fish beautifully steamed with rice.

Anyway that’s about as much food talk as I want to have for about for a year.

For fun I have migrated this Sister Midnight blog over to the Amazon Web Service AWS. I’m not sure how well it’s known, but Amazon are huge in the computer cloud business. They power many of the big web sites, streaming services and a stack of Internet stuff like eMail, eCommerce, Bitcoin, I could go on..
It was mostly fun, but it took many days to get the email notifications to work as Amazon are crazy to make sure Spam and fraud can’t originate from their systems. I’m all for it, but I had to jump through a load of hoops and be evaluated by a human! The previous email system suffered from being blocked by different ISPs from time to time, but hopefully these emails should be trusted and less likely to be dumped or shoved into the junk box.
Im hoping also to be able to stream videos faster, I have attached a HD video at the bottom as a test.

On our way back from the shops tonight
These are quite big fish, Absolutely amazing to swim with them

Paul Collister.

A very lazy week

Not a lot happened, shopping, a trip to the Mogote and dinner in Bandido’s restaurant where Kathy was promised a Veggie burger, she was offered mushrooms with it, which she opted for; just as well as the burger turned out to be some mushrooms in a bap. Presumably their idea of a veggie burger is a meat burger with the burger removed!

Still it’s a lovely place to visit, I doubt we will return.

Very clear water in the marina
The fish that are making the cracking sound on the hull.

We did a bit of cycling this week and went out of town to the box stores to see if Kathy could get anything vegan there. I checked out the printers in Walmart, my current printer has run out of ink and the cost of the new cartridges is the the same as buying an identical (but with wifi) printer which includes cartridges. Just crazy. This will be one of the first things I change should I ever be voted world king.
We noticed very familiar labels on several products, like the pesto sauce and realised it was the same as Asda in the UK, who of course are owned by walmart, or where until recently.

The temperatures dropped a little today, mostly due to the cloud cover, but the sea also seems a little cooler so perhaps we might be near the end of the heat. I’m worried it might be too cold soon 🙁

Paul Collister

Quarantine over

Monday 28th September.
We have a walk along the Malecon.

Masks off for the photo

Tuesday: Nothing.
y: Bike to shop and beach.
Thursday: much like Tuesday except I make a joke based on the ‘Things, that in 2019, you would never have thought you might say in 2020’.
“Two bubbles walk into a pub and scan themselves in”

Covid freedom day, It’s been 14 days since Kathy left Liverpool, and we have decided today that we are probably safe enough to go out for a meal. The temperature readings and oxygen levels are good, although it would appear the finger on my right hand might have Covid, often reading just 85%, the left hand is fine though, usually getting 98/99%.
We go to the Vegan taco restaurant and Kathy enjoys her first ‘meal out’ here since January.

Raspados on El Malecon

Finally we get to the farmers market just off the Malecon, I feel for the stall holders there, there’s next to no customers. Then again, a lot of them sell artisan stuff, so they could well still be living off the profit on an artisan spud they sold in January. I’m mainly there for the Vegan Pesto, Arturo is coming over on Sunday to meet Kathy and we plan to do Pasta & Pesto for him with some of the real Parmesan cheese kathy brought back from Milan (Thanks again Bobbie), however she said she wouldn’t have any pesto until Tuesday.
Later in the day we cycle to Chedraui Palacio, a bigger version of the local Chedraui Abasolo. At least they have Cilantro, which seems to be in short supply here. It’s a lovely bike ride, especially on the way home as the sun sets and a cool breeze accompanies us on the 15 minute downhill cycle back to the boat.

I have setup a server in the Amazon cloud (AWS LightSail), and I’m spending a bit of time playing with this, it’s good fun, well mostly, and a side effect is that I can connect to the BBC iPlayer and we can watch our favorite programs now. I’m amazed how cheap this is, I wanted to do this a while back, but it was going to cost me around $50 / month, now it’s only $3.50/month with discounts and a free month. If this works out I’m going to move all my websites and this blog over to Amazon.

I have been struggling with the loud bangs/cracks I have been hearing in the boat since I arrived in the marina a while back. My first thought was that the mooring lines were two tight and creaking on the hawse, Something that happens when the lines are very tight, but this wasn’t the case. Sometimes the bangs are quite loud and I had wondered if debris was floating under the boat and bashing into it. Then I noticed after a few weeks that it seemed to be loudest around sunrise and sunset. I worried that the boat was expanding and contracting with the crazy heat and that perhaps parts of the hull expanded faster than other parts and that caused the cracking sounds. I was worrying that it might be damaging the boat, and today I could hear constant cracking and banging around the head area. Normally when I run outside I can’t see anything in the water and the lines are slack, but today underneath the head area I saw a large group of big fish taking turns to attack the hull, and as they did I could hear the cracking sound. I’m still not sure if it’s their teeth hitting the hull, or the crack of the barnacles being ripped off, but at least that mystery is finally solved.
The antifoul I have on, which is a Jotun Seaforce from Malaysia does not seem to be holding up anymore. I have provisionally booked a haul out for the middle of November in Puerto Escondido and will have some of the locally proven paint applied.

Arturo calls over in the afternoon and we take a trip to the Mogote for a swim, Later we have dinner on the boat and Kathy gets to know Arturo better.

Hopefully now we are out of our quarantine period we can do some more interesting things around town.

Paul Collister.

Return to La Paz

As September drew to a close here in La Paz, I couldn’t help but reflect that Mexico is the third country I spent time in during that month (the fourth if a couple of hours’ transfer time at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport counts). Not bad considering we are in the midst of a global pandemic. When I left Sister Midnight, back in January this year, Coronavirus wasn’t the word on everyone’s lips as it is today and facemasks were mainly seen in dentists’ surgeries and hospitals. It was at the beginning of its eventual progress to worldwide catastrophe. I had returned home to work for a few months and to see friends and family, yet for the majority of my eight month stay in the UK I did neither. Like most of the country I experienced the surreal state of lockdown and watched the government’s daily news briefings with alarm and trepidation (later to be replaced with growing disbelief, anger and total confusion).  Get-togethers, holidays, trips and birthday parties were cancelled and I was furloughed after just one month of employment with the education agency I’m signed up with. Adhering to the no contact with friends and family outside of my home rule, I prepared to sit out the lockdown alone. It took a couple of Zoom conversations to confirm my aversion to communicating via video calls and I promptly reverted to Facebook and WhatsApp audio or messaging as my preferred means of conversing with people. I ventured out every other day for walks and essential items and like many others, sorted out cupboards, clothes and drawers that had been long neglected. Finding myself in a not so ‘splendid isolation’, I read lots of books, watched several series and films on Netflix and managed to decorate most of my flat in that strange and ‘unprecedented’ period from March until July.

As restrictions gradually lifted I was able to fit in trips to see family in Swindon, Italy and Leyland and then finally to make the return journey to Mexico, two months later than planned, on September 18th. My daughter dropped me off at Manchester Airport to begin a journey that filled me with not a little trepidation. Having recently travelled to Italy where I faced a plethora of confusing and conflicting bureaucratic obstacles involving Covid self-declaration forms (these threatened to deny my permission to fly if incorrectly filled out), I was dreading more of the same. In the event, I was merely given a short paper form when I checked in, to fill out during the flight to Amsterdam. So far so good, but I still had my 23kg bag to put through the oversize luggage area. I’d been determined to get my money’s worth regarding the weight allowance, and since I didn’t need to pack many clothes, I had filled it with various grocery items that are impossible to get or are very expensive in Mexico, and a wide assortment of books and toiletries. To my delight, the scales displayed the permitted 23kg exactly, and as I watched it disappear on the baggage conveyor it felt good to know I wouldn’t have to tackle it again until Mexico City.

The plane to Amsterdam on the tarmac at Manchester Airport, September 18th

The first of my three flights was an uneventful 50 minute one. Passengers complied with the request to keep their face coverings on except when eating or drinking, and also to disembark row by row to limit crowding – something that hadn’t happened on the Ryanair flights to and from Italy. Schipol Airport was eerily quiet and largely deserted when we trooped into the arrivals hall late on Friday night. I wasn’t surprised to consign my self-declaration form to the paper recycling bin after presenting my passport. Perhaps there just isn’t the staff to process all these extra requirements. I managed to find one open bar near my departure gate and sat drinking a glass of wine, making the most of the strong WiFi to chat to Paul. As I queued to board the plane for Mexico City I knew that from hereon in, times for eating, sleeping and everything else that make up a daily routine would blur into a kind of ‘limbo’ period as we began the 12 hour journey across the Atlantic and through different time zones. I was pleased to see I had a row of three seats to myself, so after a tomato pasta dinner, I was able to stretch out and sleep for a few hours.

My seat for 12 hours

Reading, watching a film and listening to music took up the rest of the journey, and once again everyone kept their masks on and disembarked row by row. Toilets were disinfected at regular intervals and the crew wore masks and gloves for most of the flight. It struck me that it will soon seem strange to see people with ‘naked’ faces in public places. It was the early hours of Saturday morning when we hit the tarmac at Mexico City’s airport and I was surprised to see raindrops on the windows. Light rain was falling and the pilot announced the outside temperature as 20 degrees. People began pulling on coats and jumpers and it felt decidedly chilly as we walked down the steps. This wasn’t at all what I’d been expecting. Paul had been talking about the blisteringly hot temperatures he’d been experiencing and warned me to prepare for heat. It felt more like Merseyside than Mexico, however, as I splashed through puddles across the tarmac.    

Our flight was the only one to be processed, so getting through passport and immigration control was a relatively speedy affair. Waiting for our bags took much longer, and brought about my next spell of anxiety regarding the contents of my case. Nearby, x-ray machines were at the ready to inspect every bag passing through before it was allowed into the arrivals area. I knew from experience that the packets of coffee might arouse interest as they are a well-known way to disguise the smell of drugs. I also had large blocks of parmesan cheese, an assortment of vegan cheeses, pates and various dried burger mixes. It was no easy feat hefting the bag onto the machine’s conveyor belt and as expected, the operator nodded to the officer at the inspection table that it needed a closer look. The table was considerably higher than the conveyor belt and it took some effort to lift the bag up there but once in place I stepped back and let the lady and her colleague open it up. I wish I’d been allowed to take pictures to capture the look of bemusement on her face as she lifted certain items up and scrutinised the labels. She sought advice from a colleague about the parmesan blocks which were thankfully permitted, and for a moment I thought my precious jar of Marmite was going to be confiscated judging by the frown on her face as she set it aside. If she was intending to take every item out it would be quite a while before I would be going anywhere and I felt like the Chinese people on the Border Control programmes who get admonished for bringing in too much food. It was a relief when she smiled and nodded that I was free to go. After repacking it all and lifting it down I was at last able to reunite with Paul on the other side of the doors.

Note the paxo stuffing on the top, ready for Christmas 😉
Another item that was scrutinised

It was 4am local time by then and Paul had had to set an alarm to come and meet me from his hotel room. Luckily the hotel is situated in the terminal so it was only a short walk through the dimly-lit building to our room. We managed a few hours’ sleep before preparing for my third and final flight to La Paz at lunchtime on Saturday 19th. By now I was feeling the effects of jet lag so I was relieved that Paul took on the task of filling out the required online Covid forms. The authorities were much more on the ball about checking them than anywhere else I’ve been recently. We were questioned, had our temperatures taken and presented the completed online forms for inspection via Paul’s phone. Plenty of staff were available for this mammoth task which might be a factor for the more lax attitudes in Europe.

The flight to La Paz took two hours, with a weather view totally different from Mexico City’s as we came into land. Bright sunshine, clear blue sky and a shimmering heat haze were visible from the windows. Heat wrapped round me like a cloak when I walked down the steps, reminding me of the tropical heat in Asia. This was more like how Paul had described it – a whole lot hotter than when I left in January. A short Uber taxi ride took us from the airport to the marina and by mid-afternoon I was back on board my second home, which now has a very welcome air-conditioning unit.  The photo below shows Paul the day after my arrival, in the one shower of rain we’ve had since my return. I’d like to state that he is expressing his delight that I’m back, but I was taking the picture primarily to show the state of his ‘work’ shorts to his children.

The shorts that have since been consigned to the bin

We made the decision to isolate ourselves as much as possible for two weeks due to our respective travels through airports and generally coming into contact with more people than usual. Paul makes the odd necessary trip to the supermarket, while I still have that particular pleasure to come. I spent the first few days unpacking, rearranging my ‘stuff’ and rediscovering things I’d forgotten I had left here. I also slept a lot, unsurprisingly and after a week my body clock had adjusted to the time difference. Getting used to the temperature might take a bit longer. It’s searingly hot outside, with temperatures often reaching 38 degrees and it remains warm well into the night.  We’ve gone for a few evening walks along The Malecon when the heat isn’t as intense, and last Sunday we had an enjoyable excursion over to the Mogote, a favourite spot of Paul’s and only a short dinghy ride away, for a cooling swim and snorkel. It was my first visit there and the surroundings are strikingly attractive: lush mangroves, sandy beaches complete with cute white lizards, and a backdrop of mountains in the distance. The local cruisers’ radio network we listen to each morning warns repeatedly about the ‘dangerously’ hot temperatures we are experiencing. I am reminded of this on the rare occasions I am outside in the daytime when I feel my skin start to burn during the shortest of exposures. It will be factor 50 for me well into October I think.

In the square on The Malecon
Lots of impressive street art all around La Paz
La Paz’s Cathedral
A popular photo spot
The Mogote

In other news, we have a couple of new additions to the medical equipment we carry on board, in the form of an oximeter which measures the oxygen levels in the blood, and a thermometer – the trigger kind now familiar in public places, which aims at the centre of your forehead – a bit like a gun! I have had my temperature taken more times in the past week than in the whole of my life I think!

The marina has taken all the usual precautions against Covid-19; hand gel, signs about wearing masks and keeping a distance and so on. Most people adhere to the mask wearing. Paul tells me he has seen police on the Malecon telling people to cover their faces, but there are always going to be some who flout the rules. This semi lockdown I am in currently, while not as restrictive as that in the UK from March until May has provided an ideal opportunity to acclimatise, catch up on sleep and reading, and to generally have a good excuse to be lazy. Next week I intend to ‘get out more’ as they say. I’m looking forward to cycling and shopping and to exploring more of the place I left back in January.