We walked across a quiet border in Nogales into Arizona. It didn’t feel any different than Mexico, the sites and smells were the same. We still heard murmurs in Spanish of our passersby, and tequila and tacos were still cheap. But as Tara, my smiling sister-in-law, pulled into the McDonalds parking lot where we waited things started feeling a lot more like home. The five hour bus ride north from Guaymas and a few thousand feet in elevation gain put us in another, much more comfortable, world. Our desperate need to flee Guyamas’s unrelenting sun eased and we sighed with relief. We recommisioned “La Bellena”, our land-boat that lives at Jonah’s dad’s place, and set off to look for America.
So began a two-month trip full of love, connection, and wonder at the bounty and beauty of the United States.
Rocky Mountain High
When my mom, Sue, and stepdad, Gary, retired they moved to Granby, CO, a little town the middle of the Rocky Mountains, and became ski bums. Now every time I visit them I thank them because, while I already love me some family time, having it in vacationland is the ultimate treat. The Rocky Mountains are vast and wild, herds of elk saunter through grassland valleys, moose graze on the edges of rivers and streams, osprey cry overhead, and there are microbreweries on every corner. What is not to love? My parents guided us over mountain passes and glassy lakes, we ate delicious food, relaxed on couches, and enjoyed catching up and telling stories in the high altitude sunshine. As a bonus, my adored college roommate Jaime lives just over the hill in the Denver area so we got to pay her a visit too. If there was an ocean nearby we’d move to this slice of paradise in a heartbeat.
When we took off on this sailing journey we said a bittersweet farewell to an extraordinary place and group of friends. Jonah and I met in Santa Cruz and called it home for over 10 years. The central California hippies and cold pounding sea shaped us as we grew into our adult britches. Although we likely won’t return to Santa Cruz after our journey (because the cost of living will soon exceed that of New York City) it will always burn bright in our hearts. We love the consistent surf out front, the kelp forest diving to the south, and the redwood groves just inland, but what we really miss is our creative, smart, crazy, fun, adventurous community of friends… And our cat, Lala. You don’t find members of your tribe just anywhere and once you do it takes time to weave the connections into a family.
We loved sinking back into the “Cruz” rhythm of life. Our people welcomed us with open arms, killer potlucks, sweet hugs from growing babies, and never-ending encouragement for our life at sea. We got to cuddle for a few days with Lala, our 20 year old kitty, who lives with our friend and brother, Vishal. Unfortunately she’s not into boats or learning new tricks… but she crawled right into Jonah’s lap and purred herself to sleep. We took a side trip up to Fairfax to meet Gideon Atlas Chambersmith, a heartbreaking cherub, and the newest edition to the household of my best friend Cara. I am such a proud aunty of this little angel and I’m hoping he’ll get to grow some sea legs with us on Orion this spring.
From Central California we drove south toward Los Angeles, the land of long necked palm trees and long lines of cars. LA is a place one has to prepare for, it’s fast paced, crowded, and enormous. But whatever preconceived notions you may have about this sprawling city of movie stars and plastic surgery, they all fall away when you arrive in Topanga Canyon. Topanga is a small town in the middle of Santa Monica Mountains, just fifteen minutes from the coast. It has more artists, open space and coyotes than one would ever think possible in an otherwise concrete maze. Sure, a steady line of commuters weave through the canyon during rush hour, but turn off the boulevard onto a side street surrounded by trees, birds, and rocky outcroppings and life takes on a slower, more relaxed pace. This lovely oasis is Jonah’s hometown where lives his mom, childhood friends and the house he grew up in. With Karen we swam in the powerful ocean daily, walked along the beaches, visited parks, saw a fun play at Theatricum Botanicum, and enjoyed sweet quality time together. A similar secret garden of open space can be found forty-five minutes north of Topanga in Agora Hills. Here we stayed in a museum of wonder that is the home of Marsha, Jonah’s best friend. She wins the trophy for our most interesting friend and took us on her famously colorful journeys of people and secret places. Together we walked to the “top of the world” and lounged in her garden, we played with innumerable old friends, sat and told stories, and cuddled with her many furry companions.
Patagonia is the name of a mountain range in South America, an expensive outdoor clothing brand, and a tiny high-desert town in southern Arizona. The latter is where we spent the remainder of our stateside time. This little gem of a place is a mash-up of an artist colony and a wild-west ranch town. With a population of less than a thousand and a downtown made up of 20 small businesses, Patagonia is a peaceful place to exhale and gaze at a dynamic sky. Summers here bring monsoon rains that turn the desert from brown to a lush green. Squalls fill the afternoon with lightening, and the songs of birds and insects compete with the thunder for most impressive roar. It is also home to Jonah’s father, sister, and the family business that Jonah has worked with nearly all of his adult life. The business, High Spirits, makes Native American style flutes as well as a few other musical instruments and media related to the flutes. It is wonderful thing to be part of, this business of bringing the joy of music into people’s lives. We spent quality time catching up with Odell and India and celebrated their recent marriage, enjoyed time with Tara and her tiny rescue kitties, and Jonah spent a productive month working on some projects with the business. This gave me a lot of time to work on our own business ventures, catch up on our blog, and take a solo trip to Guatemala I’d been craving.
We had a blast wandering across the western USA but I’ve got to admit that the difference to the slow pace of life at sea was hard to get used to. Evidently, we are getting soft because Jonah and I both noticed that the level of heart palpitating stress went up with each passing week. It was particularly acute the minute we arrived to Santa Cruz. It is difficult to know if it was the actual day-to-day pace there or if it was simply the muscle memory of our old lives. We were pretty stressed up until the day we left on this sailing journey. Finishing up our jobs, selling everything, tying up loose ends, prepping Orion, and trying not to worry about money took it’s toll. As we drove into Santa Cruz all those feeling settled upon us as if we had never left. Speaking of driving… after months free of driving, simply sitting behind the wheel was disturbing enough, but venturing hundreds of miles into the chaos of LA and San Francisco traffic was a heart attack in the making. Like I said, we are soft now. We are also re-addicted to cell phones. We have been happily living without a cellular leash for nearly a year, but in the name of “ease” we got our phones turned on during our stay. Within no time at all we were glued to google, GPS, Pandora, podcasts, facebook, instagram, instant emails, texting, Spotify, and all the other apps I had forgotten about. We had to peel ourselves away each night and sternly remind ourselves of the beauty of just being. We only had slight withdrawals as the G4 signal turned off with our departure.
We had to be super careful with money in the USA. Probably the most dangerous thing about being in the states is that it is ridiculously easy to buy anything you want for really cheap. So much access to inexpensive stuff can end up being expensive! Amazon + Craigslist + Target = Danger! There are many items that are impossible to obtain in Mexico or that have such large import fees tacked onto them that we simply count them out. It’s actually beneficial; nothing to buy means no money spent. But we were in the USA and buy stuff we did! From specialty foods at Trader Joes to boat parts to extra tubes of sunscreen… our bags were stuffed on our trip back to Guaymas. We are counting on a few months of nearly-free living off some remote islands to balance out the yearly budget.
Life at sea is just healthy and simple. Fish, rice, veggies. No internet or tv. Sunsets and moon rises to tell the time. A change in the weather means it’s time to move. We found America and we love it – friends and family, beautiful mountains, expansive deserts, a thriving sea – what abundance! But the enormous diversity of stuff and activities allows us to fall back into old habits. We lost our tans and the muscle tone of swimming for hours every day. Access to IPAs spawned baby beer bellies… and the burgers didn’t help. So it’s back to sea with us where the only choices are take it or leave it. And for now, that is plenty.