A Travellerspoint blog

A Love Affair With the Sea

A Salute to the Aquatic

sunny 81 °F

Above The Water

“My lady’s seas are heaving -- her breath a fifty-knot gale force wind. I step down from the lido after spending ten minutes in her wild embrace. My hair is tousled, my clothes all askew. I’m lightly perspiring and my face is flush with excitement. I’m a bit woozy, yet grinning like a mad man. I feel like I’ve just finished having great sex. I am ALIVE, by god, and there isn’t a better feeling in the world.

Am I weird? Does anyone else have a job that makes them feel this way? Y’all need to get on the ocean…”

Taken from my journal April 16th, 2013.
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Isla Tortuga lies north of Santa Rosalia on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. In two successive weeks, we had unpredicted gale force winds hammer into us just north of this island in the middle of the night. It’s almost as though the Sea is telling us, “No More! Go Away!” We wisely turned around and ran for cover. After spending the rest of the week trying to hide from the wind, it finally succeeded in chasing us back to La Paz, where we dropped off our guests and called it a season.

Below The Water
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Yep. I’ve fallen in love again. I’ve been smitten with the under water world of the Sea of Cortez. Have you ever fallen in love? For me, it was stranger than normal, what with having to put on diving fins and a snorkel. I think the feeling of breathing underwater is a lot like being in love. At first, it feels a bit odd. Something like, “Holy shit! I’m in love with someone.” But after awhile, you get used to it and begin to explore further. All right. That’s enough terrible love metaphors for now. What is this, my Valentine day spectacular?
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I tried to become a fish. This is my last week in Mexico, which means it is my last chance to enjoy the sun, hot beaches and relatively warm water. In fact, my rallying cry was, “Sleep Less! Explore More!”

This lack of sleep made it hard to make it through my shift, but I kept finding reserves of energy to get on the beach when my shift ended. I’m good like that.

It’s good to have a diving buddy when snorkeling. My friend Cassidy is one of the best. She’s part mermaid, which makes her extremely knowledgeable about all things aquatic. This is very useful when trying to determine the name or type of species of I’m looking at. I can ask her, “What kind of sea star is that?” And she’ll have the answer without fail. “That’s a Bradley Sea Star.” And so it is.
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Either she’s a fountain of knowledge or she’s gifted liar. I wouldn’t know the difference.

My sessions have been great. I’ve explored little nooks of underwater rock around Islas Santa Catalina, Espirito Santo, Carmen, Partida, Danzante and Puerto Escondido. Each location has its own charm. Each session has its own flavor. At each spot, I came out gushing about some new undersea creature I haven’t seen before.

The more I snorkel, the more confident I have become in my explorations. I’ve gone out in snuffy seas with heavy chop and calm days with hardly a ripple. I love being underneath the swells. I love the pull of the current and waves. I love being in the breath of the ocean. I know I’ve said those words before, but they continue to ring true.

It’s especially fun to time a passage over some shallow tops of boulders. I would wait until the wave came through and then launch myself with it up an over a tall boulder using the strong current to propel myself to the other side. One must never fight against the ocean, but instead get with it and use it to your advantage.

The water temperature is warm. It’s about the same temperature as Lake Superior is at its warmest in early August. While other folks swim around in wet suits, this explorer needs only his adventure pants for protection.

My Undersea Collection

These photos cannot do the beautiful reefs of Baja justice. However, they will at least give you an idea of the various life forms found in these vibrant waters. Some of these photos were taken by Cassidy O’Bryant (the mermaid) and used with her permission.

California Sun Star
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Brown Sea Urchin
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Chocolate Chip Sea Star
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“Sea Stuff”
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I love the discarded stuff of the sea. I have a special attraction (obsession) with seashells. This collection is from a small one hundred yard section of beach that we called, “Jackpot Beach” because of all the treasures we found there.

A Crown of Thorns and Corral Structure
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Puffer Fish
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I think The Beatles put it best, “I’d like to be under the sea. In and octopuses garden, in the shade.” This would suit me just fine. Alas, my snorkeling days are over for a while. I’ve left Baja for the year. I’m heading northward to Alaska. While the snorkeling could be amazing there as well, I doubt I’ll be wearing only my shorts and fins to explore those undersea realms.

If you want my advice, I suggest you take a walk by a rocky piece of ocean. Even if you don’t go for a swim you can still check out the tide pools.
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As for me, I’m off to Alaska. To get there I have ten days of open ocean positioning, followed by twelve days of exploration through British Columbia. I can’t wait.

Posted by Rhombus 14:40 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches shells mexico oceans baja photography snorkel tidepools Comments (0)

On Healthy Deserts and Blue Water Animals

Whale Shows, Dolphins in Blue, Healthy Deserts and Lost Landscapes

sunny 81 °F

I apologize. I started this week with grand intentions of writing a well thought out piece about travel writing. I forgot how grueling working the night shift could be. It turns out, staying up all night turns my mind to mush. My creative endeavors died without a whimper.

Whale Show
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That being said, I have had a jaw-dropping week, even by my standards. I saw four different kinds of whales. This includes the giant sperm whales, orca and pilot whales. Get this, there were orca attacking a pod of sperm whales, trying to get at the newborn calf. The sperm whales were getting defensive forming a circle around the calf and batting at the orca with their flukes. There was a gigantic male taking charge of the pod. His enormous white head was scarred from a life full of battles. The orca had met their match.
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I watched a large pod of short finned pilot whales for over three hours. I should have been sleeping, but it was too good of a show. I even saw them breach for the first time. As we cruised along side of them, they passed right by another pod of sperm whales. There was another giant male logging on the surface. As I stood on the fantail of our ship, I passed not more than thirty feet away from it. It was awesome!
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Dolphins in Sapphires
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One morning we came upon a pod of dolphins. I decided to head up to the lido deck to watch them from up above. Judging from experience, I figured that the glassy seas and morning light would make for good underwater dolphin photos. I was not disappointed. These are among my favorite dolphin pictures I have. I will never forget how beautiful it is to watch dolphins glide just beneath the surface of the water.
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A Healthy Desert
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I went for a walk among the boojum trees. Boojums are endemic to a very small region near Bahia de Los Angeles on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. They look like an upside down hairy white carrot. I love this desert. It’s very healthy, full of blooming cacti, birds, bees and vibrant desert fauna.
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I sat in a narrow band of shade of a skinny cardon. It felt good to sit in the dirt. I could only hear the soft rustle of wind through the desert. I let my mind relax. Ahhh.

The only thought that came to mind was that I should continue to visit the desert in March and April. It feels really good to me be here. I don’t know if it’s the sun, warmth or desert itself, but I need to work this into my overall plan for healthy living.

Hiking Isla Danzante
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There will come a day when I will be able to spend more than just three hours on Isla Danzante. There are just too many adventures waiting to happen. I want to walk around the island along the shore. I want to see the views from every high point. I want to anchor my sailboat in honeymoon cove. I will listen to the breeze and watch the stars.
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It’s going to have to wait.
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Ah well. I had a great morning hike on Isla Danzante. I walked around the north side of the island along the shore. I saw all kinds of sea stuff. I like calling the animals and plants of tide pools “sea stuff.” The ocean is so diverse and interesting, it’s hard for me to identify and understand what is going on in just one small section of shoreline.

Fortunately, my new adventure buddy knows a lot more than I do and she tells me all about it on our walks.

Walking Through Heaven
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I took an early ride to the rocky shores of Isla Santa Catalina. I was exhausted from working all night, but I wanted to hike to a distant beach to try to find a certain kind of seashell I was convinced could be found there.
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I never found the shells. Instead, I found a gorgeous desert landscape bathed in changing light. I don’t know if I was hypersensitive to the conditions due to my weariness, but I felt like I was walking through heaven.
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I love this scene. I can't decide which one I like better. Let me know which one you prefer.
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Thank you for putting up with this sad excuse for an entry. I promise I will get more sleep, which hopefully will lead to better stories.

Cheers!

Posted by Rhombus 17:28 Archived in Mexico Tagged desert cactus mexico whales oceans dolphins photography Comments (0)

Vagabond Interrupted: A Spectacular Week in Baja

Swimming in Bioluminescence, Painting with Light, a Vagabond Interrupted, Whales, Dolphins, and a Day Off

sunny 85 °F

I promised myself that I would jump in the ocean and drink a beer after work. By the time my shift ended, it was dark out. This didn’t deter me in the least. When I stepped ashore, I stopped briefly to say hello to some friends of mine near the bonfire, before slipping away to fulfill that promise.

I walked a couple hundred yards away from the landing area to a secluded sand beach where I couldn’t see or hear the ship. I set my pack down, and turned to look up the stars. Orion, Taurus, the Milky Way, and a hundred others twinkled above. I grinned. I turned to the water and padded over the cool sand to its edge. I dabbled my toe in an inch of water. It felt delicious. I entered the water, making sure to shuffle my feet along the sandy bottom in order to warn any rays or puffer fish of my arrival. When it was waist deep, I dropped to my knees, gasping from the chill of the water. I felt my body relax, my grin widen, and I started giggling. This was what I was dreaming about all day.

When I swished my hands through the water, tiny glowing orbs swirled in my wake. The bioluminescence glowed like fireflies on a late July evening. I am totally immersed in the grandeur of the desert seascape. At that point, I just let go. I figured the sea would take care of me. The gentle swells pull me in and out. I thought to myself, “I am riding the breath of the ocean, if not the breath of the world.”

I’m not sure I’ve had a better swim in my life.

Back on the beach, I cracked my beer. I took that first sip and looked up at the stars again. I had an idea. I grabbed my camera and tripod and set up a basic composition at the mouth of an arroyo. I tried a few exposures before I dialed in my ISO, my shutter speed, and aperture. Then I started experimenting with “painting” the rock with my flashlight.
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I like the results.
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My friend wandered down the beach to see what I was doing. I set down my camera, and we sat in the sand talking of constellations, whales, dolphins, birds, and Mexico. A single shooting star streaked by. After awhile, I grew chilly as I stopped taking pictures. I gathered my gear and we walked back to the bonfire.
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We grabbed a drink and settled around the fire. Who doesn’t love a bonfire on a beautiful beach with friends? Alberto played flamenco songs on his guitar. A large waning moon rose over the ocean, gradually rising high enough to light the eerie sandstone formations of the desert.

I can’t think of a better way to cap off a great evening.

Vagabond Interrupted
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I’ve had an amazing week. It’s been hard for me to write this entry on the count that I keep being interrupted by all of the awesomeness happening around me. For instance, this morning there were fin whales right off of our bow. Fin whales might be my favorite whale species, but that can change depending on if I ever see a narwhal or not. As it is, the fin whales were less then forty feet away. They had relatively short dive intervals going down for about three minutes before coming back up for air. I watched them for an hour. I even caught a quick glimpse of a fluke. Fin whales rarely show their flukes.

This episode led to more downloading and editing of photos for this entry. When I was in the middle of editing, the call came over the radio that there were mobula rays skimming the surface of the water off the bow. Once again, I set down my computer and tromped off to the bow.
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I’ve never seen mobula rays up close before and was soon lost in the moment. The mobula rays could be the most graceful animal I‘ve ever seen in the water. They glide with elegant strokes from their wings, the tips breaking the surface of the water by a few inches.
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I ran off to wake my friend who was taking a nap. It’s common among crew members to make “wake up” promises if something awesome is happening near the ship. The mobula rays definitely triggered the wake up clause. Experiences like this are better shared than not, and I was glad to rouse everyone out of their naps.
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When I got back on deck, the rays glided along our port side, less then twenty feet away. I decided to get my camera… Ah jeez. See? Even as I write this, there are dolphins leaping just outside of my window. Well, I gotta go. I’ll be back.

From Sunrise to Sunset
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It’s difficult to explain to people what a typical day is like working on a ship here in Baja. If you were to read my journal, or look at my pictures, one might think I spend all day relaxing on a beach, watching whales, or taking photos of dolphins.

What you don’t know is that I work twelve hours a day-everyday. This gives me the chance to experience the wonderful wildlife and play on the gorgeous desert islands. Generally, I keep myself very busy with the boat operations and up keep. But when there is good wildlife, I set down my angle grinder and pick up my camera. When I’m off shift, I take off my uniform and head to the beach.
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Each day has been remarkable enough to deserve its own chapter. But, I’m not writing a book. It’s difficult to make time to write when there is so much to experience just outside that door.

The pictures that follow are this week’s featured bouquet. My days have been awesome from sunrise to sunset.

Sunrise Over Mexico
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Bow Riding Dolphins
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Land’s End
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Dolphins in Flight
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Humpback Whales near The Gorda Banks
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These humpback whales breached dozens off times in a three-hour period. The food was plentiful. They would rise half way out of the water and fall atop the bait ball with a tremendous splash. Then they would eat the stunned baitfish.
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Fin Whales
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What you are looking at here is a fin whale just beneath the surface of the water. You can see a thin white line just below and right of the spout. This is the right side of the mouth of the fin whale. The left side doesn’t have this coloration.

Magic Water
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Sunset Over the Pacific
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I often wonder about my path in life. Sometimes it feels as though I look for greater meaning and miss the point completely. I don’t think I’ve made that mistake this week.
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Cheers! To the good life…

Posted by Rhombus 01:53 Archived in Mexico Tagged desert wildlife hiking whales oceans dolphins climbing rays photogaphy Comments (3)

A Quiet Week in Baja

A Meeting of Desert, Ocean, and Vagabond

sunny 79 °F

I’m sitting on a table on our bridge deck (our highest deck). My legs dangle in the breeze. I lean back and look up to the rising moon. I have a cold beer in my left hand and my Ipod with select cuts in my right. I’m rocking out to a big moon, and a beautiful Mexican seascape. I’ve got it pretty damn good.

I’m thinking about what I want to write about this week, but I can’t come up with anything. It doesn’t matter. I take a sip of beer and smile. This week is good. I’m doing good. And sometimes, there just isn’t anything to say.

Bonanza Bay Slack-Line Session
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It took me three tries to find the right set up for this line. It was hard to find the right combination of distance, boulders and height to make this line happen. It’s hard to wrap a line around a boulder and make it hold. A taut line on boulders tends to slip no matter how hard I pull the tension. Using a couple of different knots, I finally got the line to hold.

This was the highest line I’ve ever walked. I know it doesn’t look very high, but the landing was sketchy. Should I fall, a small bed of boulders would break my fall. It took me a couple of tries to get comfortable on the line, but I overcame my fears and relaxed. I told myself it’s no different than a low line, it was just higher. For some reason, this line of logic worked, and I walked it.
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The best part of this session was soaking in the cool crystalline waters of the Sea of Cortez afterward.

Orange Whispers
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I love dawn. There’s something proper to sipping a good cup of coffee and watching the sun rise over the waking world.

The Magic of Isla Magdalena
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Isla Magdalena never fails to impress me with its diverse beauty. I’ve written extensively in the past about the finer features of Isla Magdalena. It never fails to provide me with a sense of peace, a sense of place, and a sense of time.

My buddy Paul and I walk across the wind swept dunes to the Pacific side. A fine layer of sand blows over the dunes as thin as smoke. We lose ourselves in conversation, the dunes and our destiny.
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On the Pacific side, I drop my accessories and run off into the ocean. I run until the waves trip me and I fall forward into the water. I love this beach. I love this ocean. I love this place. I time the waves and jump with them hoping for that magical feeling of flying. It’s elusive, but I finally catch the perfect wave. I accelerate as the wave curls and breaks. It seems I‘m better at flying in water than I am in the air.
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I leave fully satisfied and refreshed. To swim in the Pacific is good for the soul.

Sea Lion in Death
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A dead sea lion lay on the sand. Paul and I walk around it, inspecting it. It smells like death. It’s interesting and puts life into perspective. Everything here is temporary, so what the hell is all the fuss about? I don’t know. Neither does Paul.
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Isla Magdalena is home to the dead. The bones of countless animals, and perhaps men, litter the island. I can’t think of a more beautiful place to lie still.

Undocumented Moments
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This week I experienced several moments I can only tell you about. I’ve kept camera mostly tucked away this week. I didn’t want any distractions. I kept my senses wide open, receptive to it all. I was not disappointed.

I saw three blue whales this week. One of which brought its fluke into the sky as it dove away into the wild blue. I was inches away from several gray whales this week. When they breathed, I was blasted in the face with their breath. Some whales expel their breath at over 100 miles and hour. I breathed the same air a whale expelled. That has to be some kind of good karma, right? I watched streaking dolphins glide through black water. They are ghostly, lit by bioluminescence.

My favorite part of the week was realizing I love my job. I’m a mariner, and I work on the sea. Sometimes the sea gets lumpy and hard to work on. Every move I made was difficult. I was at the mercy of the water and the wind.

I worked with my mates and we got the job done, despite the challenging conditions. We ate a late dinner in the relative peace of the crew lounge enjoying the camaraderie of a good days work done well.
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To work here, you need a sense of timing, physical coordination, and knowledge of the sea. It’s an ancient craft, and I’m happy to say it is mine.

Posted by Rhombus 22:51 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches night desert mexico whales sunrise time photography moons slacklining Comments (0)

A Change of Fortunes: Back in Baja

So Long Winter, Lamenting Minnesota, a Cat and a Slackline

semi-overcast 75 °F

I have severely improved my predicament. I’ve left the icy grip of late winter in the midwest for the hot desert comfort of Baja, Mexico. To put it in numbers, I went from 29 to 75 (f), from freezing rain to warm and sunny. The sun hits my skin as I peel off my layers. It feels wonderful. I am reborn.

I’m in Mexico to w-w..work. Just thinking that word is hard. I haven’t lifted a finger for myself since last November. It’s been a good run, but the time has come to replenish my coppers. I’ve been hemorrhaging money lately (since 2009) and working for a couple of months will help stem the flow.
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The Baja peninsula is one also one damn fine place to play. I can’t wait to immerse myself in a silent desert landscape. I’m going swimming this week. I’m going hiking this week. I’m going to watch the sunset tonight, and I’m going to watch the sunrise tomorrow morning. Overall, things are looking up.

Returning to Minnesota

This past week was good to me. I returned to Minnesota. I once lived in Duluth, Minnesota for seven years. It was odd to drive around my old stomping grounds. I saw places that are familiar, yet unfamiliar due to the passage of time. I drove through a city of memories.

I came to the realization that Minnesota was never really home to me. I grew accustomed to living there, exploring there, and being there. But, I could never love Minnesota the way the natives love their state.

But that’s ok. That’s all part of life’s journey.
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I spent some quality time with my brother Karl and my good friend Curly. It’s great to meet someone you haven’t seen in a year and pick up right where you left off. That’s the sign of a quality friendship. Granted, most of our time was spent reminiscing, laughing and talking about nothing, but it’s all good for the soul.

Map
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My brother has a cat by the name of Map. Map reminds me a lot of Hobbes, of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame. He loves a good sneak attack. Cats love to surprise their prey. I fell victim to his timely ambush several times.
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He’s also a good wrestler. He’ll pounce on your foot before grabbing it with his claw and sinking his teeth lightly into your foot. He’s good about not stabbing too deeply, he nips just enough to let you know he’s there.
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He’s a quality cat.

A New Slack-line
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This week I bought a new slack-line set. I purchased sixty feet of one-inch climbers webbing and a strong one-inch ratchet set. I set up an experimental line in my brother’s yard one morning. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but after a few tries I found the sweet spot. It felt good to get back up on the line. I had a good session despite the cold temperatures. Now all I have to do is get it set up on white sand instead of white snow.

There you have it. One minute I’m sitting on a bus driving north through a dreary landscape, the next minute, I’m setting up my slack-line on a beautiful white sand beach. I think that’s a promising change in fortune. Or is it? We shall see.

Look for more Mexican tales next week.

Posted by Rhombus 12:55 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches winter friends baja slacklining Comments (0)

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