A Travellerspoint blog

January 2012

An Interesting Juncture

Quitting My Job, Mexican Pee Breaks, Flying Home, Starting the Next Epic Adventure

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I am at a very interesting juncture at my life right now. I’ve just quit my job, I’ve recently broken up with my girlfriend, and I’m setting off on another epic adventure with no far placed vision as to where it will lead or end. Lately, there have been moments in my day when I think about my situation, and start chuckling, or even break out in full on laughter. Life sure is interesting, and you just never know what twists the next path will hold.
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In the last three days, I’ve traveled from the Pacific cooled beauty of Magdalena Bay on the west coast of the Baja peninsula across the barren deserted peninsula by van to La Paz. From La Paz, I flew down to Mexico City, to connect to Chicago, and finally found myself knee deep in a cold winter snowy wonderland that is the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan in late January.
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I have been finishing my tenure as a deckhand on the good ship Sea Bird, and I have had no ambition to work at all, no interest in painting anything else, or improving the boat in any way. I was done, and waiting for January 28th to roll around which marks the beginning of the next path.

Since I really wasn’t working very hard, it gave me plenty of time to hang out with my friends on the boat, and I was lucky indeed to have a lot of familiar and friendly faces show up at some point during my last two months on the job. Having good friends around led me down the path of very little sleep trying to cram in as much desert exploration, and conversations that I could with my mates on the boat.

When I did sleep, it was out of necessity, and I often slipped away to unconsciousness wondering what is going to happen next.

Finally, the big day came when it was time to leave, I was up early to pack, and clean up my cabin. I went around to my friends remaining onboard the ship to wish them farewell. Then, without looking back, I began the first steps of the rest of my life, and my next adventure. My life and adventure often walk hand in hand, and, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The van ride across the desert was great. My good friend Amelia was driving, I was riding shotgun sipping cold Mexican beer, and digging the sights of new roads. It was quiet, and we enjoyed an amiable conversation as the hours passed. In the other van, was most of the crew I had been working with for the last year, and they were having a loud boisterous car ride punctuated with shots of tequila, and cheap beer. I was glad I was in Ame’s car, because I was too exhausted to put up with that rabble.

On two occasions, we stopped for a pee break. Now, Mexican roads are without rest areas. So if you have to go, you pull off on side of the road, find a cactus to your liking and let fly. There is no privacy, and the barren landscape offers little if any protection.

We all piled out, ten of us at a time, and had at it. You have never seen anything so funny in your life. There were ten half-drunk gringos, piling out of two pure white vehicles, giggling, laughing and yelling. Each of us chose a spot, some faced traffic and peed right in plain sight, and others ran off into the desert to pee on a cactus. One guy, inadvertently chose to pee on himself, a fact he was not aware of at the time (sorry folks, it wasn’t me).

Having been a lands surveyor for 8 years, I was used to peeing with little cover in public places, and I used one of the doors, and the rest of a vehicle to block the wind and passing cars.

It was great fun, and I highly recommend a Mexican pee break given the opportunity. We made it to La Paz, unscathed.

I had a quiet night in La Paz. I went out for a pizza with a friend, and since neither one of us knew much Spanish, we weren’t sure what we were going to end up with. I have to say, we did pretty well for ourselves. The pizza was delicious, and I have very high standard for my pizza. We returned to the hotel, and I passed out from exhaustion and carbohydrate overload.

I slept for about six hours. Then I jumped out of bed, threw on my clothes, grabbed my bags and went down to the lobby to catch a cab to the airport. I was tired. I was a bit uneasy. I had never flown into the U.S. before from a foreign country, and flying to Mexico City. On the ship, Mexico City International Airport is deemed “The worst airport in the world.” I was told many varied tales of torture that the crew had experienced while traveling though Mexico City.

I trusted their advice, but knew that most of these people hadn’t flown through there in a few years. For my situation, the fastest way to get home was to go through there, and so I figured to try my luck in Mexico City.

When I landed, I stepped aboard a bus that shipped us to Terminal 2. From there I was on my own, and so I started making some educated guesses to find my way to Terminal 1. I know I looked like that guy who doesn’t know what was going on, but without having any idea of the layout of the place, I found my way to the elevated train which took me to terminal 1. Once there, I followed the signs to international flights, found American Airlines kiosk, and stepped through three sets of id checks and sat down to wait for my plane.

It was no big deal. Maybe I’m just lucky.

I landed in Michigan at 11:20 at night. It was 14 degrees (F) out. I was wearing jeans and my adventure shirt, shoes and my wool watch cap. I was cold, exhausted, and happy to see my brother. I was even happier to see my checked bag arrive. How can the airlines get my bag from La Paz to Michigan without any problems, but can’t seem to get it there from Ohio?

I settled in at my brother’s house and fell into a deep sleep. The adventure begins when I wake up. I’ll be off to Duluth, Mn, St. Paul, St. Michael, and then drive across country to northern Idaho…

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Onward!

Posted by Rhombus 20:28 Archived in Mexico Tagged travel mexico deserts life jobs philosophy drives Comments (1)

The Mexican Saga Continues

Snorkelling At Puerto Escondido, Climbing High on Santa Catalina, More Gorgeous Sunsets, The Morning in Santa Rosalia

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A Morning at Puerto Escondido

I have the morning off. I know this, but I get up at 6 am anyway. I love mornings, especially when you don’t have to work. Why would I sleep in? I’m not in Mexico to sleep, and I when I get up to the crew lounge, I find a “Dirty Chai” waiting for me. The early morning crew is taking good care of me.

I sit down, drinking my chai, and finishing a book. It was perhaps the best book I have ever read, and I was quite satisfied.

The dawn came and went. I enjoyed it. I went up to the top deck to stretch out with a bit of yoga and breathing focus. Relaxed, I made my way down to the breakfast table for some vittles and conversation with some of the crew.

It’s warming up a bit, and so I meander my way up to the snorkel lockers and get some gear. My plan is to snorkel right off of the break wall. I had done this last year on the recommendation of the chief mate, and it turned out to be some of the best snorkeling I have experienced. I wanted to go back and see some more.

I walked out to my makeshift launching point, scrambling over the rocks down to the water’s edge. I test the temperature, and it’s cold. I don’t mind. I’m used to cold water, and I put on my fins, secure my snorkel and launch myself into the moment.
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For the next forty minutes, I am lost in a watery world full of interesting characters. I see a wide variety of sea creatures, all of them quite charming in their own way. The beauty of the Cortez rainbow wrasse blew me away. These small fish are beautifully decorated, taking on bright yellows, reds, blues and purples, all glowing brightly under the strong morning sunlight.
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It was safe to say I was quite satisfied with my efforts. I started to shiver. Then I began to shake, and I knew the end of my snorkeling was near. I swam back towards my take out point, I really wanted to stay in the water, but I was frozen.
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I hauled myself out, and sat on the hot black rocks soaking in the sunshine. My shivering began to die down, but I was still quite cold. I decided to get up and go take a shower, and as I crawled back on the dock, I met the security guard. He was a very nice guy, and knew enough English to be able to hold a simplified conversation. We talked of Michigan, snorkeling, and Puerto Escondido. I offered him a cup of coffee, but he preferred a coke. I brought it out to him, wished him a good day.

As the hot water ran over my clammy body, I thought of my morning and smiled. I could get used only working six hours a day.

Santa Catalina High Peaks
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I had a couple of hours of freedom and set my sights on one of the few high points that I hadn’t climbed yet on the southwestern side of Isla Santa Catalina. Looking at the terrain, I opted for a route I hadn’t tried before, walking up a desert wash, climbing to the top of a small ridge that reached up to the shoulder of the mount I wanted to summit. It would be steep, and probably sketchy, but I knew I could make it.
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I love long views from high places. Atop this mount was a clump of cardon cactus, which looked beautiful in the afternoon light.
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The descent was sketchy. I precariously placed my feet hoping that they would hold, because if they didn’t I’d be sliding down with only the spiny arms of a cactus to catch my fall. Not a pleasant thought, but one I was willing to face. I love hiking in a vertical desert world, and besides, I like this kind of thing.

Amazing Sunsets
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When the skies are overcast on the Sea of Cortez, the rising and setting of the sun in an event not to be missed. For three days straight, the coming and going of the sun has been gorgeous. Sure, there are pretty sunsets almost every day, but the addition of a few bands of clouds, increase the beauty exponentially. I was moved, happy to be experiencing these incredible light shows.
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Water and Clouds
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I had a two-hour break to position a zodiac to a deserted beach. It was awesome. I stretched out and did some yoga and breathing exercises, then sat calmly in the water up to my neck. It was very refreshing. I finished my break off by taking a nap on the pontoon of the zodiac for an hour, floating and listening to the water chuff along the rocks. There are some days where they could pay me with sand and I would still go to work.
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Santa Rosalia Mornings
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All is well here in Mexico. I have one week left before I turn my sights northward, restocking my toys and heading to the northern Rocky Mountains to ski.
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Posted by Rhombus 18:49 Archived in Mexico Tagged wildlife hiking cactus towns deserts sunsets oceans photography Comments (0)

Project: One Good Photograph A Day

Attempting to capture one good photo, Ocean Scenes, Island Scenes, Desert Scenes, and Dolphins

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I like to think I take one good photograph a day. Now, I realize this idea is purely subjective. When I say this, I realize that not everyone would agree with me on what a good photograph would consist of, or agree on my choice of “good” photographs. However, I am the only judge in this competition of self-satisfaction, and so I only have to please myself to place in this contest.

That being said, I offer you my subjects for the past week. I do not take photographs everyday, some days I am either too busy, or nothing of interest caught my eye. On other days, it seems like I take up my camera at dawn and set it down after sunset. This week, there were only two days that I didn’t take out my camera, and so offer other satisfying pictures I captured to balance out my week.

These photos are of various subjects on the Sea of Cortez, east of the peninsula of Baja California Sur.

LONG BILLED DOWITCHER
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I was strolling along the boardwalk near the beach one early morning after work. The human-like early birds of La Paz were all out, walking, jogging, biking or sitting. La Paz is a friendly city, and I nodded to a lot of people, offering a sincere, “Buen Dias” and receiving the same with a smile in return. The sidewalk neared the edge of the sea, and I noticed this Long Billed Dowitcher foraging for its morning meal. I stopped at a bench, took out my camera, and took this photo of the bird.

ON THE CUSP OF SHADOW AND LIGHT
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I had spent the afternoon perched on a bluff high above the emerald green waters of San Juanico. It was an amazing place to hang out. Turkey vultures soared by riding the wind currents not more than 35 feet away from me (probably an exaggeration). I was exposed to the elements, and therefore in my element. Upon descending (also known as skidding recklessly down) the trail, I was making my way back along the beach to the land when this scene appealed to me. I have always loved shadows, especially when I can position myself on the very edge of dark and light. In this zone, the light moves very quickly, but I find these scenes to be quite alluring compared to full on shadow or full on light.

ORGAN PIPE CACTUS ON THE NORTH RIDGE OF DANZANTE
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I went for a hike on Isla Danzante (Island of the Dancer). This is a great name for an island. The Spanish supposedly name it when they found the island. There was a clutch of native folk rejoicing in their way-- dancing up a storm. I was performing my own dance on this beautiful island. I had climbed my way to the highest point on the north end of the island. It was a scramble up a steep loose gravel trail. It was mildly taxing, but not that long. I had climbed to this point last year, and when I reached the top, I decided I wanted more.

Looking southward, I saw another high point that I had never climbed, and it sparked my interest. To get there, I was going to traverse the north ridge of Danzante. This was no easy task. The entire ridge looked to be made of crumbling rock along a narrow knife-edge. I pondered my moves, and held firm to my one spot of good footing. I decided that I would only take one step to see how it was. If I didn’t like it, I could take one step back, and call it a day. So I took that step, and it held true. It turns out, the worst looking part of the traverse held the best footing. I would have never known, if I hadn’t tried. Halfway across the ridge, and finally on better ground, I found this attractive clump of organ pipe cactus. It was an easy composition, and I decided upon a sepia exposure, as there just wasn’t much color to the scene. When there is not much color in a scene, why try to make a color image?

FIRST LIGHT ON PUERTO LOS GATOS
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To me, the Sierra de la Giganta, are among the prettiest mountain ranges in North America. Their dramatic backdrop has improved many of my photographs, and I’m longing for the day when I can spend an entire month roaming along their rugged peaks and deep arroyos.

We were on approach to our morning anchorage just as the sun came up. I had time to take these photographs of the beautiful morning glow that reflected off the sandstone to a gentle orange blush.

ANIMALS IN FLIGHT
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I am lucky. I’ve been blessed with very good photographic timing, and I offer this shot as my proof. I had never taken a successful picture of a magnificent frigate bird before this shot. We were watching a feeding frenzy take place on the surface of the ocean just off the rocky point of Los Gatos. This frigate bird flew by fairly close to where I was standing, and I panned my camera along with it in flight shooting the whole way. I didn’t know the common dolphin was airborne as well, until I looked at the photo on my computer. When I saw it, I laughed aloud. How lucky can a guy get?

This is my favorite picture of the week.

FEEDING FRENZY
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As I mentioned, we were watching a full-blown feeding frenzy take place not more than a hundred yards away from the boat. There were common dolphins driving the bait to the surface, and the sea birds were getting in on the action. It was interesting watching the various techniques used by the birds, the large brown pelicans would fly above the mass and dive missile like into the ball breaking through the surface with their large beaks. The frigate birds don’t like to get wet, and would streak in, hovering briefly to snap up a fish with it’s beak before snapping its wing and gliding away. The frigate bird looks to be the inspiration to the skydiver’s spandex wing suit. It has a forked tail, and narrow, yet very maneuverable black wings. The gulls would simple land, and swim nipping at the bits left by the others before squawking and moving on.

It was awesome to watch this kind of behavior first hand, and not on a nature documentary.

SUNRISE OVER ISLA SAN JOSE
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Looking at the pre-dawn sky, I knew the sunrise had potential to be a good one. It isn’t often that there is a nice layer of scattered clouds over the eastern horizon on the Sea of Cortez. As the sun climbed closer to the horizon, the most brilliant oranges I have seen in some time began to erupt over the island. I finished my duties as quickly as I could in order to have time to grab my camera and document this amazing display. The last zodiac full of guests was heading directly into the fiery sky, and it was an easy leading line into the scene. I shot my fill, and then went up to the highest point on the ship to drink this scene into my memory.

CARDON CACTUS OVER ENSENADA GRANDE
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Having worked a full day, all I wanted to do was go to the beach and go for a swim. This seems like and easy enough task to accomplish, but in reality, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. During the full moon, the tides on the Sea of Cortez pull a little higher than normal, and the shallow bay of Ensenada Grande is victim to them. I could not get a ride to the shore, I had to get out and shuffle my feet a hundred yards or so to get to the beach. From there, I took off my life jacket, and proceeded to walk another hundred yards along the shore back out into the bay to find water deep enough to sit down in. It felt good, and I sat there with my body immersed up to my neck in beautifully clear green water. Satisfied, I stepped out of the water and air dried. Who needs a towel in the desert? Not me. As I was about to make my way back to the populated beach, I noticed a cardon cactus with some character perched high above me. I thought about it, and figured with the right angle, I could make a compelling scene of the cactus and the bay. So I went rock climbing. How did going for a swim get so complicated? Anyway, I love spontaneous decisions, and my hunch was well rewarded.

I couldn't resist one more.

DOLPHINS TAKE FLIGHT
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Cheers to a great week down in Mexico!

Posted by Rhombus 13:14 Archived in Mexico Tagged birds islands wildlife hiking mexico deserts sunrise oceans dolphins photography Comments (1)

A Week on the Sea of Cortez

Beach Combing on Isla Montserrat, How Puffer Fish Thwarted Death, The End of My Day, San Juanico

I made my first island landfall on south side of Isla Montserrat. It felt good to be one of the two humans standing on the large desert island in the balmy winter waters of the Sea of Cortez. I had never been to this particular beach on Montserrat, having made several landings on the north side of the island last year. See Time Management and the Modern Explorer
[http://rhombus.travellerspoint.com/70/].

I jumped off the zodiac into knee-deep water and walked ashore letting my senses make the initial investigation. I was tired having worked all night from 7 pm to 7 am, but I find when I get tired, I am more in tune with the details of life. That is a good thing. The beach subsisted of hard packed compressed sand with lots of ancient seashells mixed in the particles. It created shelves of hard earth that I stepped onto like humongous stairs as I walked along the jutting shoreline I had no real intentions of walking far, I was tired, but happy to be ashore.
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We walked northwest along the beach amidst the harsh protests of the gulls. I believe they had some eggs hidden amongst the rocks, and seeing their distress, I chose to give them a wide berth walking across the gravel desert plain covered in familiar desert plants. It was kind of like meeting acquaintances from your past, “Hey, I remember you, Mr. Sour Pitaya. And there is a Chain Link Cholla.“ I zigzagged my way around the desert garden, assuming the wandering path of a snake to lead me through.
What I Found On The Beach
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Climbing down a rock shelf I found myself once again on the shore and surrounded by the white skeletons of sun dried lobster. I wonder why so many lobsters die here? The beach offered no clues, but the lobsters themselves, and they were not talking. I wandered back to my friend and looked at what she had found. She showed me quite a few vertebrae, shells, casings, invertebrate homes and the like. It was quite a feast for the eyes. It wasn’t long before I became totally absorbed into digging around the bone bits and fragments of shells that made up the top layer of beach. It was a fine way to spend a couple of hours of the morning.
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How Puffer Fish Thwarted Death
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I found a medium sized Puffer Fish fighting for its life, caught on the edge of sand that separates water from land. It was beached, and a fish on land just does not do very well for itself-- compared to a fish in water. I decided to document its struggles, rooting for the little guy to make his escape, and snub Death for another day. I pondered how came to be in such dire straits: I think it lost track of the receding tide, and one big wave pushed it onto the beach. The tide still in the early stages of flooding taking some time before more waves could reach the fish.

This puffer fish was lucky. It hung in there, conserving energy and making the best of it, waiting for a wave to reach it.

The fish was gulping for air, and to be honest, its odds didn’t look that good. It looked happy, but that was just the shape of its mouth, and not necessarily its disposition. After a few minutes of dry gulps, a single wave came far enough ashore to submerse the head of Puffer Fish, allowing for a few breaths at first, and then as a few more waves reached it, a few kicks of the tail (but still to no avail).
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As the tide began to rise, more and more waves made it far enough ashore to reach the puffer fish, allowing for a few important breaths. I began to root aloud, and my friend looked at me quizzically, but said nothing, as she has been around me long enough to accept my eccentricities. Finally, a strong wave washed up and sucked the puffer fish back into the intertidal zone where it makes its home.

The End of the Day

I love the six o’clock hour. For one thing, it marks the end of my day and I can usually ease through the last hour of my workday with ease, having completed all of my chores and projects by that time. It also marks the start of the day for everyone else, and I enjoy the feeling of winding down while others are winding up. I’ve always enjoyed being a nonconformist.

I love watching the sunrise. It begins subtle, a slight lightening of the sky to the southeast. Clouds, islands become more distinct from the dark of night. The stars wink out, one by one, fading into the beautiful dark blue of high atmospheres (from my vantage). As the sun nears the horizon, it trumpets its arrival with an intensifying shade of gold appearing around the breaking point. Often this heralding also highlights the clouds far above the scene adding to the dynamics. The air is fresh and flowing. It immerses me with coolness before the coming of the heat of the day. It is kind of like wading slowly into 70-degree water. It is neither too hot nor cold, but refreshing all the same. It is comfortable to be in a tee shirt in the balmy weather of the region.

Finally, the sun breaks the surface, and for a few minutes, the encompassing golden glow holds all of us on deck entranced in its beauty.
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I just realized it is only day two…

Morning Recess At Punta San Juanico

I was dragging ass all night. I was tired, weary, but functioning, and definitely not ambitious. The dawn came as it usually does, and I regained some energy catching a fourth wind. Then seven o’clock rolled around, and I checked out for the day. The sunlight had once again revived me from my nightly occupations; that of cleaning, fixing, and patrolling the ship I work on and call home.

I arranged a ride to shore with our bosun and soon I was once again standing on a sandy beach with my good lady in tow. It was good to be back at San Juanico, Last year I went for a long ridge walk high above the bay to a secluded little cove. I didn’t have the energy for that this year, and I wanted to explore some of the beaches on the north side of the bay.

We walked into the desert wanting to traverse around a high rock bluff which would’ve required us to rock climb, scramble and most likely fall down the other side. The desert was quiet. Deserts have a sublime silence to them, which I appreciate. I tried to be very quiet, and added no sound except that of our footsteps.

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As we made it around the bluff, we found a small river banked in bright green bushes. What a contrast to the drab colors of the surrounding landscape. We disturbed the cormorants, herons, and ibis that were hanging out there, and they flew off with their warning squawks.
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We passed into the bright sunshine once again, and I stripped off my tee shirt to feel the warmth of the sun that much better. I wanted to find a tide pool or at least a Sally Lightfoot, and so I hiked up onto a rocky point. Just beyond the rock shelf was another sandy beach perhaps a hundred yards long and arced beautifully to another jutting triangular point of rock. The beach was bordered by the large rock bluff that I had just walked around. The scene was inviting, and I knew I would soon be underwater.
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I stripped down to my knickers, stepped out of my sandals and tested the water. It was perfect, not a trace of warmth to be found, and I commenced to sing my “frozen balls” song as I waded up to my knees, then my waist, and belly. I love wading into cold water, I really do. It’s very refreshing, and to do it slowly takes all the shock out of it, prolongs your suffering which in turn builds character. For some reason, I always hold my arms out of the water as long as possible. I’m beginning to think my armpits are actually calling the shots, and not my brain. Looking at the scene from there perspective, this seems logical. Anyway, I gave in and dunked myself under the clear, aquamarine tinged, salty tasting seawater.
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Having no towel, I sun dried myself, and caught the next zodiac back to the ship. I ate a dinner of bacon and eggs, crepes, sausage and orange juice, took a long hot shower, and settled into my bunk for another “night” of slumber.

Good Night!

Posted by Rhombus 07:40 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches fish desert ocean rocks Comments (2)

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