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From The HelmsMistress: Cultural Experiences Lost During COVID?

Have you ever wondered what kind of cruising or sailing experiences were lost during COVID-19. Read on while one current cruising sailor and writer explains her perspective.

“I’m so sorry you have to cruise under these conditions, we never had to experience this,” says my mother-in-law over the phone.  She is no stranger to unexpected events and compromise as a cruiser. During circumnavigation she and my father-in-law survived the 2004 Phuket tsunami with boat intact and an amazing story of both tragedy and the strength of the human spirit to tell.  In this case however, she was referring to all the things we were missing out on that had brought them joy from their 23 years as cruisers, compounded by the general state of uncertainty we were experiencing in where to go next due to a seemingly neverending worldwide pandemic.  We feel absolutely blessed to have been out here during such a tumultuous time in the world and feel there has been no safer place to isolate, nor one more tranquil than the remote coves of the Sea of Cortez.  We do however, miss the cultural experiences that were a huge draw to setting out on this journey in the first place.  There are two cultural experiences that I am speaking of: that of being an expat living in a foreign country and that of being a part of the cruising community – both were new to us.

Kids exploring the farmers market in La Paz last December (Picture taken pre-Covid)

There are so many joys of traveling and of getting outside your comfort zone to explore the world.  For us, cruising Mexico on our sailboat was a means of beginning to experience these joys as a family: meeting new people from another country and another lifestyle, eating local food and sampling salsas that are likely too picante (spicy) for us, attempting our best Spanglish to try to navigate the town, exploring beautiful landscapes and historic sites and learning that the world is much larger and diverse than the neighborhood you grew up in – pure joy!  However, for the past several months the name of the game has been: isolate from civilization and remain as remote as possible.  In spring, regulations in Mexico had many beaches shut down to avoid large groups congregating together.  As a result, many of the small villages that housed beautiful anchorages we would’ve stopped at during our transit north were closed in the name of public health.  As news of the virus’ asymptomatic and airborne transmission possibilities evolved, we got into a routine, like many other cruisers, of isolation with the exception of provisioning and completing essential boat projects at a marina.  There is beauty in this period of isolation both for us as a family unit and in exploring our magnificent surroundings which so aptly afford wonderful sea life to explore with ever changing diverse landscapes, but something had been missing.

Tulum V enjoys the tranquility of yet another virgin anchorage.

The other cultural aspect that had been lacking was that of being a part of the cruising community.  Cruising for most, is a team sport.  Potlucks, bonfires, dinghy raftups, exchanging boat repairs in remote bays for beer or food, dinghy drivebys to meet your neighbors in an isolated cove – this is how information gets passed and how people socialize.  We had a taste of being a part of this community in La Cruz last winter which helped ease our transition to such a different lifestyle.  With that aspect now turned off, we had to be creative in socializing.  Not unlike the rest of the world, we found ways to stay in touch while maintaining protective measures when friends were nearby, which was not very often.  The girls’ relationship strengthened and their creativity flourished which in turn kept my spirits up.  All in all, for much of the spring and summer we alternatively turned to Mother Ocean for fulfilment and albeit were not terribly disappointed by bathing in the wonder of all her magnificent creatures.

The girls search for new fish to identify
The thrill of watching your boat being “swallowed” by a superpod of dolphins like this never gets old!

This past month we feel like we’re finally living again.  Preparing to leave Loreto, we visited the oldest mission in the Californias, one we had only previously admired from the protection of our boat at anchor.  Friends who live in town had recommended a drive up to the more remote and agriculturally rich Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó which was incredible!  Within minutes of a windy mountainous drive, you are transcended into a lush green jungle, a stark contrast to the rugged desert landscapes of Baja.  We visited the beautiful Mission and explored historic mission grounds complete with a 300-year old olive tree that looks like something out of a fairy tale.

Misión San Fransisco Javier
Looking for Bilbo Baggins in the roots of the oldest olive tree in North America.

Bidding adieu to Loreto meant we were on the move again with hopes of stopping in some of the tiny fishing villages we had skipped last spring.  Agua Verde offered beautiful surroundings; crystal clear, green water (as the name implies); and get this…a nightly goat procession!  No kidding – the guidebook did not lie!  “Listen for the tinkling bell” and sure enough, we heard it and then witnessed a 14 goat procession traverse the rocky coastline at low tide and climb up into the surrounding hills at sunset.  Unfortunately, our quest for goat cheese in the small town was unsuccessful and the “closed” sign at the beachfront restaurant confirmed that COVID had left its mark on the economies of even the most remote communities.  We did however find a small tienda that opened for us and enjoyed some of the best flour tortillas we’ve ever had (everything is better when it’s fresh!).

And they’re off!  The nightly goat procession begins.
We watch them parade through this tunnel every sunset

Off to San Evaristo!  Due to incoming swell, we elected to stay in the desolate cove just north of the village and enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep for once.  As in Agua Verde, there were no cruisers in sight – likely because it is off-season (heat and hurricanes tends to deter) and perhaps there are less of us out here due to COVID.  We hiked over the hill past a menagerie of farm animals and salt ponds into the village where we met folks who guided us to a fairly well stocked tienda.  Additionally, they fortuitously own the restaurant in town….and it was open!  We wandered down the beach past pangas and both dogs and children playing in the water to find a quaint beachfront restaurant.  A sign with the familiar COVID precautions was posted and we were promptly guided to our isolated table in the cool sand, just a few feet from the waterline.  Cold cerveza never tasted better and EVERYONE loved their food!  We smiled realizing how much we had missed these experiences (not to mention a break from galley cooking).

Hiking past the closed school into San Evaristo.
Beachfront dining in San Evaristo, note the neon orange sign in the background stating COVID related precautions.

Arriving in La Paz, we see friends and hear familiar boat names on the VHF radio again – the cruising community is still alive and well down here.  We experience the culture shock of returning to a large city with so many people again, but quickly get over our trepidation by realizing that despite the change in location, our ability to isolate and take precautions remains a product of our own self-determination.

Transitioning from more isolated coves such as these to more populated areas. 

There are so many places that are now open to explore, but open doesn’t always equal safe and we’re still rather reluctant to go exploring for the sake of a cultural experience.  Even so, I realized in this past month how much we had become fearful of…PEOPLE…while living in our state of isolation.  There comes a point where with responsible conversations and appropriate precautions that we could indeed start “living” again.  There is however, a fine line between living life as I so desired and complacency, given the current world situation.  This is a topic that seems to dominate our conversations as we navigate a new world of risks.  Right above safety and security on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is belongingness and love needs (intimate relationships and friends).  So it’s no surprise that with safety risk now navigable, we have been seeking human connections outside of our family.  We’ve evolved and grown as a family unit, but mom’s jokes get old, dad’s stories get real old (love u babe) and the 51 feet on this boat get a bit cramped after a while.  The new scenery, ability to explore towns and historic sites, and human interactions have really refreshed us and reminded us why we set out on this journey.  We can read, play video games or watch movies anywhere, but we wont have these unique surroundings and cultural experiences forever.  With respect for the present state of the world and that of public health, we remain optimistic and look forward to planning future exploration as a family.

Quincy too looks forward to exploring

LF2SF continues tp write, film and grow as we cruise as a family on our Aleutian 51 sailboat with our Great Dane.  We’re spurred along by all of your support, comments and cool questions.  The best thing you could do support us to FOLLOW us,,,as it helps us grow and reach out to you with great stories like this one from the HelmsMistress.

 

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