disengage.ca a quest for the technomadic lifestyle

4Dec/121

Catching Up, Part 4: Return to La Paz

Ok! Part four of updates, and then hopefully I can return to a more regular style of blog posts. I know I keep saying that. *sigh*. Without further ado:

gorgeous weather in La Paz

gorgeous weather in La Paz

The summer brought some intense weather shifts, including some of the first rain we'd seen since our arrival in La Paz in February - I guess I should have been tipped off by the cactuses and tumbleweeds, but the amount of precipitation here still took me by surprise. Once the season shifted into high summer however, the heat of the day combined with the extremely warm water (sometimes it would be 38º outside and the water would be 23º, warmer than most swimming pools!) made for some crazy meteorological events. We were treated with regular lightning storms and sudden shifts in wind speed and direction, not to mention a couple of hurricanes that narrowly missed us.

In this photo, a storm cell is crossing nearby to the south. At the time this photo was taken, the wind was blowing briskly towards the cell, but about five minutes afterwards the wind abruptly died and then within two minutes was blowing probably 40kn in the opposite direction! We were caught unprepared, and several items blew off the deck and I had to dash out in the RIB to retrieve them.

 

*sigh*. pay attention to polarity, Drew.

*sigh*. pay attention to polarity, Drew.

 While I was in Canada, I ordered a low-power Fit-PC3 computer to build into the walls of the TIE Fighter. The Fit-PC3 is a 12v-native computer very light on power consumption - set up with an internal SSD drive, it draws only  6w (1/2 an amp) at idle. I paired it with a two-terabyte external drive that automatically spins itself down when not in use, and am quite happy with the results.

Unforutnately, when I went to install the machine I didn't pay close enough attention to the polarity of the power supply, and hooked the power connection up backwards. Immediately there was a flash and a pop and suddenly the air was filled with the acrid smell of burning electronics.

electronics repair on the new inboard computer

electronics repair on the new inboard computer

Fortunately I'm no stranger to electronics repair, and with a bit of research and an email to the manufacturers of the Fit-PC3, I learned that the component that had exploded was a simple ferrite bead, meant solely to keep stray radio-frequency energy out of the computer. This bead is just a failsafe, sort of like a fuse, and I could just 'jump' over the section with a bit of wire for the time being. An hour or so with the soldering iron, and the computer lives.

...of course, that computer also now lives in a cupboard with a strong radio. I still need to track down a replacement ferrite, as I've seen three crashes so far when I've keyed up the mic on the ham radio on certain frequencies.

 

a swarm of bees overtakes the TIE Fighter!

a swarm of bees overtakes the TIE Fighter!

One morning as we left the boat in the RIB to go for coffee, we realized we'd forgotten something at the main boat so we turned around. When we arrived at the TIE Fighter, we found the boat swarming with bees! We estimated around 10,000 honeybees in the air around the boat.

Not knowing what to do, we went for coffee and solicited opinions from a few other cruisers, who brought to light one very important point that we somehow hadn't thought of... if the bees were to get inside the boat, they might not want to leave! We had to return to the boat immediately to close up the doors and windows, hoping that they hadn't already moved in.

 

the bees, landed

the bees, landed

When we arrived back at the boat, the bees had landed... but outside. The internet tells us that this means the queen bee is somewhere in the middle of the literal pile of bees on the boat. We figure they were stacked six or seven deep in this photo! Fortunately, they decided that the boat wouldn't make a great spot for a new hive, and within an hour or two of this photo they'd all moved on.

 

Miya's dirty knees from painting the decks

Miya's dirty knees from painting the decks

While I went back to my day job schedule, Miya undertook the massive task of painting the TIE Fighter's decks with anti-skid paint. We had collected a large pail full of white sand from a nearby beach, and then sifted and washed it, allowing it to dry overnight in the boatyard on a clean sheet of plywood. In the end though we decided that we'd get a better-looking result from "marmolina"; fine crushed white marble available at the local fereterias for about $0.50/kg.

 

the lights of 16 de Septiembre

the lights of 16 de Septiembre

The celebration of 16 de Septiembre (Mexico's Independance Day) came along, and rather than hole up in our little box on the ocean, Miya and I decided to brave the crowds and go see the fireworks display. The display lacked a certain... safety standard? that we had grown accustomed to in North America - the main celebration was in a town square flanked on three sides with two-story buildings, and the fireworks were launched from the roofs of those buildings, exploding directly over the square!

 

more generator maintenance, this time cleaning the carburetor

more generator maintenance, this time cleaning the carburetor

Our Honda EU2000i generator has given us incredibly reliable service for the past four years or so, but apparently one should not leave it for a Mexican summer with a third of a tank of gasoline... when I went to start it up for the first time in many months, it would not start. I quickly realized what the problem must be, and using this very well-written step-by-step howto, I tore the generator apart and cleaned the carburetor. Just like that, the little Honda purred back to life.

 

Miya swimming with a school of something (sardines? herring?)

Miya swimming with a school of something (sardines? herring?)

The heat of the summer was intense and constant, and often we had to spend the hottest portions of the day in the water just to maintain our sanity! The underside of the TIE Fighter made for a convenient gathering space, and using a series of ropes and floating toys and platforms we created a place of refuge from the afternoon sun.

In this photo Miya is swimming with one of the schools of fish that regularly gathered under the boat. Actually, if I go looking I bet I have a video that might show the situation a little better:

Crazy how you can see them avoiding the anchor line! We'd like to identify the species of fish, and then see about catching some for grilling or pickling.

avoiding the heat under the TIE Fighter's wing

avoiding the heat under the TIE Fighter's wing

Miya found an inflatable toy at one of the swap meets; three inflatable bladders joined at the center by a square of mesh, forming a floating recliner. This, paired with a Canadian Tire 'Party Platform' that we picked up on clearance just before leaving Canada in September 2011, formed the seating portion of the underwing. You can also see my Traynor TVM-10 cordless rechargeable guitar amplifier in the nets above, hooked up to an iPhone and playing appropriately chilled house music down into the watery tunnel.

flips off the TIE Fighter

flips off the TIE Fighter

Of course, with freshly-added antiskid on the topsides, the boat herself - having a good meter of freeboard - made an excellent water toy. Miya had only really learned to swim in the last year or so, but managed to learn to dive in one day!

 

 

She was so impressed with her diving that she decided to try her first-ever backflip off the boat also... to a little less success.

 

Mal serenading us on his banjo

Mal serenading us on his banjo

One of my absolute favourite parts about the cruising lifestyle is the willingness of the participants to pick up new musical instruments and throw themselves into learning. Our friend and neighbor Malcolm, an Australian vagabond living on 'Wind Pirate', picked up a banjo in a trade with another boater and within days was plucking away.

 

driving the long, lonely highway from La Paz to San Diego

driving the long, lonely highway from La Paz to San Diego

When we heard about the Wasteland Weekend festival in California, the idea immediately spoke to both of us - a four-day party in the desert, sort of  like Burning Man but more Mad Max themed, if that even sounds possible. With our Wilderness First Responder first aid certifications, we figured if they were interested in having us on as volunteer medics we'd kill a few birds with one stone; go on a road trip, pick up some much-needed supplies from the states, get some practical medical experience and go to a rad party! We rented a car and prepared to head out... but of course, what with it being hurricane season, a tropical storm had formed south of the peninsula and was threatening La Paz. We couldn't leave the boat unattended until we were sure that it wouldn't turn into a hurricane.

Fortunately, the system weakened, but not before dumping rain on southern Baja - and if you haven't seen what a major rainstorm does to a desert, it's a crazy thing indeed!

In this video, we have been stopped by a washout - the road in front of us has been replaced by a river of brown water flowing at a pretty fast clip. We watched as a compact car was swept a few feet sideways - but in the true spirit of "drive 'er like a rental", we decided to take the risk and we crossed. If you watch closely you can see water come up over the hood of the car at one point!

 

Wasteland Weekend 2012

Wasteland Weekend 2012

We arrived late to Wasteland Weekend but wasted no time whatsoever getting into the groove of things. Having come internationally we had no weapons to defend ourselves from the mutant / zombie uprising, and so we decided that we were clearly 'wasteland aristocracy' and as such had no reason to carry large weaponry of our own.

 

meeting the Party Hard Corps, fellow wasteland nobility

meeting the Party Hard Corps, fellow wasteland nobility

With this thought in mind it wasn't long before we ran into some kindred spirits, fellow patricians of the aftermath, with whom we shared libations and cheer. The Party Hard Corps crew are a fascinating group of partiers, gamers and drinkers from the midwest, who like us traveled to the desert for a few days of debauchery.

 

winning the archery competition

winning the archery competition

There were many (semi-)organized events, including robot battles and jugger matches, but the one event I was most looking forward to taking part in was the archery competition. The rules were fairly simple - scoring was based on points awarded for your five arrows to a mannequin about thirty paces down a range. I was relieved to find they had bows available for loan, as I hadn't owned my own bow in many years.

There were three divisions, for different sorts of bows: recurve, compound and crossbow. I can say proudly that out of about forty or so competitors, not only did I win the recurve division, but I also had the highest score over all three divisions - 28 out of a possible 30. The prize was a little disappointing however; a large black t-shirt. Not my size and I refuse to wear cotton t-shirts. In retrospect I should have taken the shirt and re-gifted it to one of the Party Hard Corps guys or something.

In case you're wondering, we did stop at an archery supply store in San Diego on the way back to Mexico, purchasing two bows so that we can practice on the beaches. At some point in our travels we met a guy who swore by iguana meat; as we get further south we're thinking maybe that might be a good source of free protein...

 

professional medical attention at Wasteland Weekend 2012

professional medical attention at Wasteland Weekend 2012

Our medical shift was Saturday night from 10pm until 4am - arguably the worst possible shift if your goal is solely to party, but we got enough of that in during the previous night and the Saturday afternoon, and as both the new jacks on the scene and late to the party to boot, we were happy to help out and glad to feel useful. We were surprised at how few emergencies there were, to be honest - the partygoers seemed to self-regulate very well, and aside from a few scalds from fire-show screwups and a few cuts and scrapes, we weren't actually very busy! There was always something going on, but we never felt overwhelmed.

 

Miya at the San Diego Zoo, riding an eagle.

Miya at the San Diego Zoo, riding an eagle.

After Wasteland Weekend, we had a couple of days to spend in San Diego - we slotted one of those days to provisioning and shopping, but the second day was spent touring the San Diego Zoo. This was something Miya had wanted to do ever since we left Vancouver but somehow we hadn't found the time during the two months we spent in San Diego back in December 2011. Many photos were taken, but surely if you'd like to see a photo of a giraffe you can find one on Google Image Search. 😉

 

Scott from s/v Sojourn displaying a feat of flexibility

Scott from s/v Sojourn displaying a feat of flexibility

After a long but uneventful drive back down the Baja Peninsula, we settled back into our routine by immediately having people over for another party. In this photo, Scott is demonstrating his ability to do a full split!

In the foreground of the photo, next to our friend Mike, is one of Miya's margueritas, made in the "proper Baja style". For a perfect Baja cruiser marguerita, combine:

  • one part decent tequila (100% agave only, José Cuervo is NOT acceptable!)
  • one part triple sec
  • one part freshly-squeezed lime juice

That's it; serve with ice cubes if you have them. Do not blend. Do not rim with salt. Do not use lime bar mix or Fresca. Do not add simple syrup. Mix and enjoy!

 

catching fish and shrimp in the party platform

catching fish and shrimp in the party platform

Whoops - we left the party platform deployed under the boat while we were in the states! When we pulled it up, the side-pockets were full of life. If you click on this photo, you can clearly see the large fish at the top, and several big, transparent, shrimp-like invertebrates swimming around in the captive pool.

 

the new addition to the family!

the new addition to the family!

There's a really sad story here - but before it was sad, it was a very happy story. We adopted a scraggly little Mexican street kitten and added her to our boat-gypsy family. I'll tell the story of little 'Alice' in another blog post.

 

zombie walk La Paz 2012

zombie walk La Paz 2012

It turns out that the 'Zombie Walk' phenomenon is wider-spread than we'd previously thought, and La Paz actually played host to an entire horror-themed film festival entitled 'Morbido La Paz'. There are few things that Miya and I like better than an excuse to get dressed up and silly, so we put together the best zombie costumes we could with our limited boat resources and shambled out into the town.

Best part: wandering around for at least an hour looking for the meet-up point for the zombie walk, soliciting help from the other boaters over the VHF radio and getting drastically contrasting reports of where to find the rest of the undead. Fortunately when we finally did find the other zombies, we found to our surprise that instead of the expected dozen or so fellow walkers/biters, we found a huge herd of probably two hundred! We moaned and shuffled our way through the night in search of cerebros...

 

Alice assisting with the refrigerator build project

Alice assisting with the refrigerator build project

One of the things we brought back to La Paz from San Diego was a long-coveted item - an icebox conversion kit which would turn our little built-in icebox into a proper refrigerator, complete with freezer! The kit cost an arm and a leg, and came as a box of parts and a series of cryptic instructions, including a bunch of crazy tool requirements. I had to track down someone in the boating community who would be willing to loan me an industrial vacuum pump and a set of refrigerator manifold gauges. As it turned out, none of the tools were far away and even though the build took much longer than expected, our friend Bill on s/v Wandering Puffin was a huge help in getting the system up and running.

Now, for the first time since moving aboard in 2009, we have the ability to store food for longer than a couple of days at a time! What a huge step forward... though admittedly so far my favourite use of the fridge is making ice cubes. Sill though - just because nothing in our world can ever be completely normal - the fact that our fridge is a top-loading icebox means that we're forced to use an expensive vertical ice cube tray.

going-away party at the Libertatia apartment

going-away party at the Libertatia apartment

One of the sad facts of cruising life is the realization that no matter how much you like your new friends, everyone is traveling, and sooner or later we all have to pull up the anchor and move on. This photo is of some of our friends from the summer; Malcolm and Lowell left on s/v Libertatia for California, arriving recently in San Francisco, and Mike and Nia left La Paz for Mazatlan in their boat s/v Azul, making it across the Sea of Cortez without incident... and without an engine!

Well, I think that pretty much brings us back up to current. More updates to come soon!

17Oct/120

Catching Up, Part 3: Vancouver and Burning Man

Part three of four updates, in which Our Intrepid Adventurers finds themselves traveling back to Canada and Oklahoma, respectively, for six weeks. The shared camera bit the biscuit, and hence this blog post will be relying mostly on the kindnesses of others to document the happenstances throughout. As a direct result, this post probably has the most photos of me of any blog post in the recent past!

Miya had obligations in Oklahoma, while I had obligations in Vancouver, and so we spent a solid month apart - the longest we'd ever been apart, by far. I had a wedding to attend, and a month later I had another show to promote (Sequential Circus 11), so it made very little sense to leave La Paz and come back only to leave again weeks later. I booked a month's stay at the Hotel Mike & Nicola and prepared myself for a month of splendid Vancouver summer.

photo by EspressoBuzz

playing guitar at Dave+Lori's wedding - photo by EspressoBuzz

The wedding couple are somewhat fans of my music, and as such I was invited to perform not once, not twice, but THREE distinct times during their epic three-day wedding affair out on a beautiful farm on Vancouver Island. Here I'm performing during their Friday evening talent show, using a rental guitar.

I learned a valuable lesson in this photo - I had warmed up a couple of original songs and a couple of covers, and intended to ask the audience what they'd prefer to hear. I figured I had about an 90% chance that they'd say "originals", but had a few songs in reserve just in case. So, I hit the stage.

"Do you want to hear some originals, or some covers?" I asked.

"BRITTNEY SPEARS!!" came the overwhelming reply.

...*sigh*.

 

what happens when you put dry ice in beer

what happens when you put dry ice in beer

During the reception, I was able to solve a lifelong dilemma - we all know that dry ice in warm water creates whitish smoke that bubbles and falls, but what happens when you add dry ice to beer?

Result: non-stop cold bubbles full of white smoke, and a mess. At least with Philips Longboat Chocolate Porter, the mess was delicious.

 

playing techno at Dave+Lori's wedding

playing techno at Dave+Lori's wedding - photo by EspressoBuzz

The second performance was to play a seven-minute rendition of Eddie Vedder's "Rise" on the mandolin, while the bride, groom and wedding party made their way slowly down the aisle. This was trickier than it sounds, since the original song is only about two-and-a-half minutes long... a few double-length bridges and an extended outtro and everyone was happy with the results.

This photo, on the other hand, is of the third performance of the weekend, a forty-minute return to the techno of years past, when I used to perform as 'MUX' at raves, clubs and techno parties. The outdoor venue was perfect for the style, and with the help of Jim Baxter's homebuilt laser effects rig, the dancefloor got properly techno'd.

 

playing techno at Trancemission 15

playing techno at Trancemission 15

Two weeks later (including a rejuvenating weekend at Bass Coast out in Squamish), I was invited to perform a set at Soundproof's annual summer party, Trancemission 15 in Pemberton. Miya actually flew up from Oklahoma for the weekend, and it was an extremely nice time spent with close friends, dancing outdoors in a farmer's field.

In this photo you can clearly see my new live-pa rig, comprised of my Macbook Pro computer attached to a Livid OhmRGB MIDI controller. The OhmRGB is a fantastic bit of hardware, though intensely geeky - it can do almost anything, but you really have to program it all yourself in Python!

I also was very happy to resurrect my Nord Micro Modular synthesizer - the size of a VHS tape, it's the perfect hardware synth for a boat... the only downside was that the software programming interface has not kept up with the times, and I had to build up a Windows 95 image in VMWare in order to program it. Installing Win95 for the first time in sixteen years was a serious flashback!

 

more techno, this time Sequential Circus 11

more techno, this time Sequential Circus 11

Our bi-annual electronic music concert series event Sequential Circus 11 went off without a hitch, and this time I also booked myself. I shared a stage with five other talented live electronic musicians, performing to a packed house of about 150 people in a warehouse in East Vancouver. The crowd ate it up, and this was absolutely my favourite performance of the summer! Here's a third-party review, if you're interested.

I managed to get a good recording of the set also - click the orange play button to have a listen:

[soundcloud]http://soundcloud.com/mux/full-set-live-pa-at-sequential[/soundcloud]

 

It's worth pointing out, in case you're unfamiliar - this sounds like DJ music, but I'm NOT A DJ. DJ's play other peoples' music; everything I play I wrote myself, using synthesizers, drum machines, effects and software.

Drew and Trent at Burning Man 2012

Trent and I at Burning Man 2012

I didn't think I would be able to make it to Burning Man this year, due to finances, but a surprise windfall from the tax man put me back in the black and when a ticket appeared within my reach I jumped at the chance.

It was great to hang out with good friends like Trent again, whom I hadn't seen in months!

The bright orange pants I'm wearing in this pic were ordered from Mascot, a Danish workwear company that recently opened up their distribution to the United States. I'll be doing a blog post on pants soon; I have a lot to say on the matter.

 

the Hajj, almost ready for licensing

the Hajj, almost ready for licensing

Miya, having similar financial constraints to myself, had decided earlier on that she wanted to attend Burning Man this year, and signed on with a group called 'Sacred Cow', who were building a camp of about a hundred and twenty people! This kind of camping requires some serious infrastructure, and in exchange for a free ticket and a ride to and from the desert, Miya agreed to show up in Seattle two weeks in advance, to spend a week in the city preparing supplies, a week setting up in the Black Rock Desert before Burning Man even started, and a few days in the desert after the event helping to tear down the camp!

Sacred Cow was a large camp with a middle eastern theme, and one of their bigger projects was a full-sized bus called "The Hajj", which was to be decorated like a bedouin tent and driven slowly around the desert. When I arrived, the first thing Monday morning I was assigned to a group working on getting the Hajj ready, and that project pretty much occupied the majority of my time for the next two days.

Where it got interesting was when we finally finished applying all the decorations - mostly fabrics attached to the bus with a large steel railing and series of PVC tubes - and went to the Department of Mutant Vehicles to apply for our permits. We were about 90% of the way through the inspection when a sudden windstorm came up... and the nylon tie-straps we'd used to secure the PVC pipes (I had asked for lashing wire, and someone was sent to Reno to buy some... but wires were crossed somehow and he returned with twine) started to break apart. Pieces of the Hajj started blowing across the playa, one narrowly missing one of the DMV inspectors.

"You know we can't in good conscience give you the permit the way things currently are, right?", he said. "Go back to your camp, sort this all out, and come back later to get your permit."

Fine, fine. That's what we did.

 

Miya with the road sign she broke off

Miya with the road sign she broke off

...but the travel back to the Sacred Cow camp wasn't without incident. Even with spotters on the roof of the Hajj and walking ahead and communicating with each other via handheld radio, driving a heavily-decorated bus around the crowded streets of Burning Man is no cakewalk. Miya, one of the only three people 'certified' to drive the bus, took a corner a little too sharply and broke off one of the road signs. Here she is posing with her trophy, right before I tracked down some long wood screws and a cordless drill and made the appropriate repairs... those roadsigns are a critical part of finding your way around in a temporary city of 50,000 people.

 

Jacob atop the Hajj

Jacob atop the Hajj

Jacob Stone, Miya's closest friend in Seattle, was really the reason Miya got on with the Sacred Cow group in the first place. This was Jacob's first year actually getting to stay at Burning Man, though he'd been there for the week-prior setup in 2011. Miya and I shared a hexayurt with Jacob, a desert-proof hexagonal structure made from panels of polyisocyanurate - I know this word because it is printed on the inside panels of the yurt, and I took it upon myself to memorize it! The yurts are essentially panels of insulating foam held together with industrial duct-tape, and very little else past that.

I have to say, this was my seventh time at Burning Man, and my first not camping in a tent. I was a little suspicious of the hexayurt movement, but after sleeping past noon on several occasions, I'm convinced that they're the best, most comfortable sleeping setup for Burning Man. Miya actually built several of the camp's hexayurts as a part of her advance-team projects for Sacred Cow.

 

Drew, Miya and a spork

Drew, Miya and a spork

This photo is pretty much representative of your typical Burning Man day-outing - of  note in this photo is Miya's bird-skull headdress that she made in the days following the boatyard, using her new-found fiberglass skills. She made a mold of the skull using tinfoil and masking tape, sprayed it down with Pam cooking spray and then laid up fiberglass over top. Some cleanup work with a Dremel tool and some added flowers later, she was left with the work of art you see above.

The spork is unrelated.

 

random pro-photographer shot

random pro-photographer shot

At the 3:00 Keyhole, we stumbled across a professional photographer, shooting some kind of large-format Polaroid-type film, where the photo was taken and available for viewing seconds later. He had a gorgeous gallery of photos set up outside, and almost no lineup, so Miya and I jumped at the chance. This has been my profile pic on Facebook ever since!

 

 

an afternoon bartending at Distrikt

an afternoon bartending at Distrikt

One of my favourite parts of Burning Man is working the bar at Distrikt, and this year was no exception... Distrikt is known as the premiere daytime dance party, and at peak times during the week you can expect about 5000 people dancing in the sun in front of a 30,000w sound system, with beautiful girls on towers brandishing power-washers full of ice-cold water spraying down the dancefloor.

This year was my third year working the bar, and I was brought on as a shift manager, in charge of a group of eight bartenders, four "bar-backs" running supplies to the bartenders, and two people whose sole task was dealing with the MOUNTAINS of recycling generated by this incredibly busy bar.

To give you an idea of the scale, behind the bar we had two tractor-trailers full of booze, including 360 bottles of Bacardi, 600 bottles of vodka, 3,600 cans of Red Bull and 14,400 cans of Dos Equis beer, among other things. MANY other things. Furthermore, the exchange of money is not allowed at Burning Man, so all of our drinks were given away for free - you just have to bring your own cup.

Admittedly though, this year I felt a bit of a disconnect with my Distrikt 'crew' - in the two years since I'd been a part of the bar, the camp has grown significantly, and there were only a couple of folks I felt really connected to. I showed up for an unscheduled bartending shift at one point, and worked a solid five hours right beside a young lady, slinging drinks and bantering with the "customers". Finally when the bar ran completely out of ice with only an hour or so to go I threw in the towel, walked to the other side of the bar, and tried to get that fellow bartender to make me a drink. She looked at me blankly, and told me I'd have to go to the ID Check to get a stamp before she would serve me. I was flabbergasted - we just worked side-by-side for five straight hours, and without my even leaving the bar you don't recognize me at all?!? I acquiesced, and went to the ID Check... who also did not recognize me, and wouldn't even believe I was a part of the bar until I pulled them aside and showed them my name on the bar schedule.

Clearly it was just a symptom of the massive turnover that we as bartenders see at the the bar - but still, sadly, I definitely felt more at home with the Sacred Cow camp than with the Distrikt crew this year.

 

With at least a dozen friends hitting the playa for the first time this year, and the preliminary weather reports showing the Black Rock Desert to be exceptionally dusty, I found myself dishing out dust-survival advice to anyone who'd listen... but soon I found friends referring their friends to me for guidance, and after the second "Hi, you don't know me but so-and-so gave me your number..." phonecall I decided to take a couple of hours and put together this video, showing off my technique for surviving the dust, a combination of the 3M 9211 dust mask, a pair of ski goggles and a 'shemagh' or 'keffiyeh' scarf.

 

riding bikes around the playa

riding bikes around the playa

In this photo, we're out during the day riding around in comfort in our protective dust gear. Fortunately the playa wasn't nearly as dusty as expected - the word "Dustpocalypse" was bandied about quite a lot before the event! - but there were still regular whiteouts on the open playa, and lots of folks were wandering about with little or no protection.

Even though I was conscientious about wearing my protective gear whenever needed, I still broke one of my own recommendations and forgot to bring saline nasal spray. As a result, by the end of the week my nasal passages were cracked and bleeding, all the way back to my throat, and it took about two weeks back in the regular world before they went back to normal.

 

Miya's favourite art, "El Pulpo Mechanico"

Miya's favourite art, "El Pulpo Mechanico"

This photo shows Miya's favourite art car, a gigantic, rolling, rusty, robotic flaming octopus called "El Pulpo Mechanico". El Pulpo would roll slowly around the desert, stopping occasionally (usually near an audio installation, in this case a soundcar called 'Heart Deco' playing most excellent house music. We stopped here to dance for an hour while on a wonderful evening out with our friends Chris and Angela.

If you'd like to see El Pulpo Mechanico in action, here is a video (not my own!).

 

returning to La Paz, old and new flags

returning to La Paz, old and new flags

Burning Man came slowly to a close, and we finally returned to the TIE Fighter, after just over six weeks away. I had noticed the Canadian flag getting a little bit ratty before we left, and so I ordered a few extras while I was in Canada - just in time, apparently, as the former flag had torn itself to ribbons while we were away!

 

the remains of the garden

the remains of the garden

Sadly, the guy we had hired to check in on the boat and water the garden found himself another job while we were away, and was only able to drop in a few times in the later half of our vacation. The garden did not survive. Miya has since re-planted, and so far her dwarf Siberian kale has shown the most promise... more to come on the garden soon.

Well, that concludes the third update - one more to go and we'll be back up to date!

 

29Feb/128

La Paz, At Last!

Ok! Hopefully this will be the last big photo-dump update for a while and I'll be able to get back on track with regular updates - but really, how many times have I said that before? I do take a great deal of pleasure in having this adventure online, but at some point the adventures have to be simply enjoyed without worrying too much about documentation.

On January 29th, a solid two days before we'd be legally in the doghouse with US Customs for overstaying our welcome in the United States (well, technically only I would be in trouble, Miya is American), we left San Diego harbour, turned left and headed for Ensenada.

On to the photos!

Miya hoisting the yellow quarantine flag prior to crossing the border

Miya hoisting the yellow quarantine flag prior to crossing the border

The yellow flag, flown at the top of the flag halyard on the starboard spreader, represents the letter 'Q', which, flown alone with no other signal flags, signifies 'quarantine'. The quarantine flag is flown when crossing a border, to let the governing bodies know that the vessel has not yet cleared customs for that country but does intend to.

 

sunset as we cross the border into Mexico

sunset as we cross the border into Mexico

We left San Diego in the afternoon, and we figure we crossed the border just as the sun set. We had excellent weather and a beautiful moon for most of the trip down.

 

hula hoops and coffee

hula hoops and coffee

What a stark difference over sailing down the Oregon coast! The water was a startling sapphire blue and the mornings were warm and sunny.

 

pulling into Ensenada

pulling into Ensenada

Arriving in Ensenada late at night - apparently no matter how we plan our trip we seem to be completely unable to arrive at our destination during daylight hours - we followed the instructions of our guidebooks and anchored "inside the breakwater". In the morning we discovered we were anchored near the navy base, so we quickly pulled anchor and headed further into the harbour to find the sailing docks, just past the cruise ship terminal.

 

raising the Mexican courtesy flag!

raising the Mexican courtesy flag!

Customs was a bit of an adventure, but with our careful organization of documents and rudimentary knowledge of spanish (and a great deal of help from the Downwind Marine Cruising Guide), we made it through in about three hours of standing in various lines.

The courtesy flag (in this case the Mexican flag) is a show of respect to the country that a yacht is visiting - it's usually followed by personal colours, in this case an American flag because Miya is American, and then by club colours, in this case the almost-destroyed Bluewater Cruising Association burgee.

 

Miya with her latest catch

Miya with her latest catch

Miya set her lines every day - three lines, one per person on the boat, each of us having purchased a Mexican fishing license - and was finally successful in catching what was either a skipjack tuna or a bonita, we're not entirely sure. It was delicious, if a little bit oily.

Within a day or so of this catch, we found ourselves looking down off the side of the boat at a five-foot mako shark! The shark swam up to the boat, turned on its side, looked up at us for a moment and then swam off again. When Miya pulled up her lines later, all three were missing their lures and her downrigger/diver thing had a few deep scratches where it had been attacked by something with sharp teeth!

 

life offshore

life offshore

Sailing settled into an easy rhythm, with everyone getting ample sleep and the weather (mostly) cooperating. Our main problem during the long sunny days was a lack of wind - we had to be satisfied with trundling along at 2-3 knots.

Let me say that again: we spent days at a time on our 1200km sailing trip travelling at approximately 5km per hour.

It quickly becomes obvious that sailing is for people who love sailing, not for people who are in a hurry to get somewhere!

 

ghetto downwind rigging

ghetto downwind rigging

After a time, we realized that we could optimize our downwind sailing by dropping the staysail, switching the headsail to the 150 genoa and "poling it out" to fly the main and headsail in a wing-on-wing configuration. Unfortunately, we do not have a spinnaker pole! We improvised with our boathook as seen in this photo, but the collapsible boathook pole kept... collapsing. Eventually we tried an oar instead, and it worked very well - though we're shopping for a used spinnaker pole now, as a very large percentage of sailing in the trade winds is downwind sailing. In the photo you can also see us using a snatch block and the staysail sheet winch to pull the sail downward, giving us much better control over trim.

 

Miya with the dead whale

Miya with the dead whale

This photo represents an adventure! Miya heard about the Laguna Ojo de Liebre on the internet, and we made plans to visit the lagoon on our way south. We pulled into the large bay that houses the lagoon late one night, and shortly after I got up for my midnight watch we encountered our first squall of the voyage, with winds gusting to... oh, I have no idea, our wind instruments have never worked properly. Suffice to say we required a double reef in the main, and we were still doing eight knots under just the main and staysail.

The squall was a northerly, and the lagoon was to the south - when we went to enter the long, shallow mouth of the lagoon we found ourselves swiftly approaching sand dunes, surfing down steep three-meter breaking waves. We broke our all-time speed record, hitting 15kn, before realizing that if one of those waves were to cause us to dig an ama bow into the sand the entire trip would come to an abrupt end. We quickly turned around and headed back out into the open bay.

In that bay, we saw something floating off in the distance, and I was curious so I took us on a fifteen-minute detour out to find out what that something was. It turned out to be a dead, bloated grey whale, which Miya found endlessly fascinating. The whale was blowing a steady stream of some sort of decay-gas from its mouth, and as it bobbed up and down in the small waves the gasses would alternately hiss into the air and bubble into the ocean.

 

shower time!

shower time!

Once back out into the open ocean, the water took on that unreal deep sapphire blue hue again, and we all took advantage of the warm, clear water to jump in with a handful of shampoo and get ourselves clean. With a pair of swim fins, it's surprisingly easy to keep up with a sailboat travelling at about 2kn, even with both hands occupied with shampoo.

 

Miya trimming my hair

Miya trimming my hair

By this time it was almost three months since my last haircut, so we figured it was time to let Miya have a go at it. She's performed probably thirty haircuts before, so I wasn't that worried - and besides, even if it was botched utterly it would just be an excuse to give myself a nice, easy-to-maintain buzz cut.

She did a fine job - arguably one of my best haircuts of the past few years.

 

a friendly visitor

a friendly visitor

Just after breakfast one morning, Miya called me up on deck excitedly - a sea turtle was swimming along behind the boat, apparently following the thick white fishing lines. The turtle came closer and closer to the boat, eventually seeming to play in the slipstream of the main hull - it stayed with us for probably an hour, coming close enough for us to look it in the eyes and have a lovely conversation about fishing. Miya named her 'Marguerite'.

I took a video of the turtle, and Miya posted it to her YouTube account.

 

20kn winds near Cabo San Lucas

20kn winds near Cabo San Lucas

Finally, as we rounded the tip of the Baja Peninsula, we saw some reasonable winds! We estimated around 20kn, and rather than start putting in reefs and taking down the headsail, we decided that it would be nice to "open her up a little", and we spent most of the afternoon flying past Cabo at between 7.5 and 9.5 knots, splashing through whitecaps in the Mexican sunshine.

 

jumping waves near La Paz

jumping waves near La Paz

After rounding the peninsula, we had about 12h of good winds to ride north to La Paz - but then the winds shifted, and we spent the next day trying to beat our way northwest into northwesterly winds, gaining little ground. We were running low on fuel, so we couldn't just motor the whole way - luckily we had time, so the next day or so we sailed to weather as best we could, with the winds taunting us, switching between "utterly dead" and "decent but in the exact opposite direction from what we'd like, regardless of our current tack".

Finally, we had had enough - I looked at the fuel tank and decided that we had enough fuel to make it into La Paz by nightfall, and so we turned directly into the wind and motored for the next eight hours. The wind had been blowing steadily from that direction for at least a day, so the wind waves had built up quite a bit, and we were motoring right into them. We discovered at this point that if we harnessed ourselves in and went to stand at the absolute tip of the bow, the bow would dive down into the wave trough and then leap eight or nine feet straight up with the next wave! We all had a few turns; it was a fun diversion for an otherwise gruelling day.

 

a giant moth found in the sink

a giant moth found in the sink

The closer we got to land, the more Mexico started to show up in the boat. This was a giant moth that was found sleeping in the sink drain the last morning before arriving in La Paz. It was huge!

 

Miya's garden starting to grow

Miya's garden starting to grow

On the long trip down from San Diego, Miya's garden began to thrive! Her carrots, broccoli, spinach and lettuce all sprouted, and the chives and parsley came up soon after. Combine all of those with her regular sprouting of a 'salad mix' of sprouting seeds, a 2kg bag of which she found on the internet, and her new sprout-in-a-towel technique for her micro greens, and we've got a very solid influx of green leafy things in our diet.

 

breakfast in La Paz

breakfast in La Paz

Finally we arrived in La Paz - we anchored out near the 'Magote', which as far as we can tell means "sand bar" (upon which someone decided it a wise choice to build timeshare condominiums; the mind boggles). The air is warm, the water is blue, and we're settling in for a month or so while we get used to living in Mexico.

And that, my friends, brings me nearly up to date. The reality is that we've been here in La Paz for almost two weeks, and we've had a few adventures already, but at least I'm writing about the same country now. More to come, soon I hope, and with more regularity!

 

 

 

 

6Nov/090

Proactivity

Hmm.

About a year ago I pledged, after following the blog of a certain amazing young lady, to release myself from the obligation of always posting long-winded diatribes and to allow myself to post smaller updates, more often.

On a somewhat unrelated topic, I've been spending a lot of my free time lately working on music; specifically guitar, mandolin and singing.  I'm pretty close to pulling the trigger on the purchase of a Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1 audio interface for my laptop, which will allow me to plug my good microphones in again, and record on the boat.

In the interests of shorter, more frequent posts, here's a video of a song I wrote about two years ago, prior to any of these crazy boating adventures.

I think for a New Year's Resolution, I'm going to try to post something on this blog every day in 2010. Or maybe every two days is more realistic, or maybe every weekday, I guess we'll see. If that's the goal though, I guess I better start ramping up towards it.

14Sep/090

Back from Burning Man

Well, I'm back to bobbing around in False Creek after a spectacular week in the Nevada Desert.  Actually I've been back for a week now, but I'm still trying to decompress - funny how the "default world" can seem so surreal.  I've held off on posting this so that I could edit it slowly as the memories came to me, and so that I could sort out some photos to go along with the anecdotes.

the_man

The Man: Just This Guy, You Know?

Rather than evangelize, let me just say this:  maybe you've planned go to Burning Man but something got in the way, or maybe you've seen images or TV shows about it and thought it sounded interesting.  Maybe you've just seen the deranged, happy looks in the eyes of folks who've recently returned from the desert, and noticed the lasting changes in the way they look at the world around them, and maybe that made you wonder just what the whole thing is all about.  Do yourself a favour and just get there.

It's not too difficult; the trick I've used to great success several times now is to get a ticket when they first go on sale in February, then stick it somewhere that you'll see it regularly, like on your fridge.  If you have the ticket and it turns out you can't go, you can easily bounce it on Craigslist pretty much right up until the day the event starts, for as much as you paid for it - so there's almost zero financial risk.  Drop the $250 when the tickets go on sale, and your life will mysteriously get out of the way and allow you to go to the desert.  However, if you tell yourself you're going but wait until August to buy your ticket, your life will conspire to prevent you from going, be it work-related problems, or financial or whatever.

Anyhow.  After a few frantic days of last-minute preparation (ok, I admit it, mostly costume shopping), Carrie and I loaded up her truck with a huge pile of camping equipment and headed down to Seattle to meet up with our three-RV convoy.  After being denied a border crossing back in February, I didn't want to take the chance of having our whole RV turned inside out - or worse yet, having the whole RV turned away - just because of a little black mark on my record.  We made it across with zero hassles, and spent the night in a Super-8 before reconnecting with the rest of the motley band at the Seattle REI.  Interesting fact(*): the Seattle REI is the second most visited tourist attraction in Seattle, after the Space Needle.

(*: by "fact" I mean that someone working the door at the REI told me this, so take it with a grain of salt.)

sunrise_carleigh_bayrock

Carleigh and Bayrock in the Monday sunrise

We drove looooong through the night and arrived at the Black Rock Desert at approximately 2am, where we had to wait in a long, dusty lineup of RVs, trucks and cars for the next three hours.  When we finally arrived at the Greeters Station, all the first-timers ("virgins") were pulled out of the RV to roll in the dust, ring the welcome gong, and receive a certificate good for one spanking at the Greeters Camp.  I thought the certificate was pretty lame, personally - in previous years the spanking was administered promptly and with great enthusiasm shown by both spanker and spankee, but apparently there have been complaints.  *sigh*.

Setting up camp while the sun rose was gorgeous, and went smoothly - we were all far too excited to sleep, so we broke out the costumes and ran giddily around the playa all day, hitting up bars and checking out art.  Most of the big sound stages weren't yet setup, so Monday night was by far the quietest of the week, but that didn't stop us from tracking down bar after bar and partying as hard as possible.

Tuesday was much of the same.  The first 'real' day of Burning Man; wake up, struggle into consciousness, clean up with babywipes, apply sunscreen, don your most fabulous, anticipated costume and stumble out into the blinding white desert in search of adventure.  Of course there was no shortage of adventure, and the day was mostly spent riding from art installation to art installation, making new friends at the Man, gathering and subsequently losing a posse, and drinking fabulous martinis at Martini Village.  Sleeper hit of the day: Lollipop Shot Camp, where we were served shots of Ketel One vodka and Tootsie Roll Pops in custom take-home glow-in-the-dark shot glasses, on lanyards for easy access of course.  The procedure - dunk the lollipop in the shot glass, twirl it around for a minute, take the shot, repeat - was both fun and dangerous, and we all agreed we needed to take a break from drinking shortly thereafter.

Drew and new friend 'Ja', at Lollipop Shot Camp

Drew and a new friend at Lollipop Shot Camp

By Tuesday night the Opulent Temple was up and running, and the throbbing house music could be heard from one end of the playa to the other.  Shortly after we met up with them the crew decided to head for the other side of the playa to catch DJ Dan at another stage, and Carrie mentioned being tired and planning to head back to camp.  When she left, I decided I'd had enough of house music and headed off to find some dubstep, eventually meeting some folks who told me that DJ Mimosa was playing at the Space Cowboys stage, so I took off like a shot to get there.  Mimosa was hands-down my favourite act from the Emrg-N-See festival in Oregon earlier this summer.

As I arrived at the stage, I rolled up on my bike at a reasonable clip.  I wove in and out of the hundreds of bicycles lying on the street, aiming to drop mine as close to the stage as I could to make it a more undesirable target for a bike thief, should any be around, and managed to make it within about twenty feet.  As I approached what looked like a good spot, I swung my leg up over the bike and rode on a single pedal, unravelling my long skirt and adjusting my hat while riding with one hand, and then gingerly stepped off as the bike reached the drop spot, allowing the bike to fall gently to the ground.  A nearby group of three girls, unnoticed until that moment, began a round of polite applause.

"That was the best dismount I've seen this year!", said one.

I took my top hat in hand and bowed low in acknowledgement, and at the lowest point of the bow I was startled to see that I had dropped my bike directly next to Carrie's - nearly on top of her bike, in fact.  I guess great music is universal; I spent the next half-hour tracking her down in the massive crowd, letting her know that it was just one of those quirky Burning Man coincidences, and that I wasn't in fact stalking her.

My custom-built Rad Playa Cruiser™

My custom-built Rad Playa Cruiser™

Wednesday I parted ways with my crew to meet up with Miya, whom I hadn't seen in a few months, and we spent the day riding double on my Rad Playa Cruiser™ which I had equipped with stunt pegs for exactly such an opportunity.  In four years of Burning Man I have yet to see a single other bicycle with stunt pegs, which confuses me somewhat - mine cost me a grand total of $6, and have come in handy numerous times each year.  What better way to meet cute girls?

"You're looking for Root Society, hey?  Hop on, I'm heading that way now..!"

Just as an aside, my Rad Playa Cruiser™ has now seen three Burning Man expeditions, and currently resides with my friend Dan Ross as his primary bicycle.  She began life as a $25 junk store bicycle and underwent massive reworking to become the jewel that she is today - please click here for a photo of her in the "before" state.

Rocking 'Hair of the Dog' with an impromptu band

Rocking 'Hair of the Dog' with an impromptu band

Miya and I ended up bouncing from bar to bar, eventually finding ourselves drinking at 'Hair of the Dog', an open-mic bar a block or so from Center Camp.  Miya noticed a whiteboard behind the bar, listing things the bar could use as donations, such as orange juice, tequila, baby wipes and... "little people".  Apparently one of the bartenders had a thing for dwarves and/or midgets, but this entry spawned a furious row ending with Miya standing on a barstool and berating the bartenders mercilessly, arguing that her 5'4" frame certainly qualified her as "little".  She was quite convincing, and soon found herself working behind the bar helping random burners take the edge off the day.  I seized this opportunity to take the stage, and played and sang several songs with an impromptu band.  We were pretty bad, but considering none of us had ever met before, much less played together, we weren't terrible and the crowd was quite appreciative.

Thursday was much quieter during the day than the previous days, spending most of the time taking it easy and recovering from the past three days of lunacy.  Most of our camp napped intermittantly, and I had an excellent guitar and mandolin jam with Glyn and a few random folks that wandered under our shade structure throughout the afternoon.  Thursday night on the other hand, Carrie and I got into our most dressy costumes and headed out for a night of dancing.  We made our way to the enormous Root Society dome to see Bassnectar, which was apparently also the plan of about seven or eight thousand other burners.  The dome was packed wall-to-wall, and they'd configured soundsystems outside as well, with spillover crowds extending well out into the streets.  The bass could be felt from blocks away!  We danced well into the night, and I didn't get to bed until well after sunrise.

Miya attempting to make breakfast crêpes

Miya attempting to make breakfast crêpes

Friday I met up with Miya again, who had had a very rough morning dealing with a medical emergency involving a member of her camp.  We spent the afternoon and evening just talking and wandering around from art installations to bars, spending an hour or so watching a terrible italian caveman soft-porn flick in the Bad Ideas Theatre and eating popcorn.  We ended up crashing reasonably early, in preparation for the festivities of Saturday.

Saturday, the day of the burn, felt like it arrived far too quickly.  Our camp, 'Team Gong Show' (a subset of the 'First Republic of Slacking') had planned a three-hour party in the afternoon and I had been elected bar manager.  In preparation for this, we had stopped at the Rite-Aid pharmacy in Alturas, California to purchase alcohol - the ridiculous prices of booze in the states never cease to astound me.  We purchased a grand total of twelve gallons of vodka and rum for just over $120, and in three hours of serving heavily-sauced smoothies to a crowd of about a hundred or so we went through it all.  The theme of the party was, unsurprisingly, "The Gong Show" and after buttering up the crowd with drinks and house music for an hour or so, the gonging began.  I went up to play and sing A-Ha's 'Take On Me' with my mandolin, to much acclaim, though I was gonged when I returned to the stage an hour later to perform Britney Spears' 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' on the acoustic guitar.

in the Deep Playa, surveying the land

in the Deep Playa, surveying the land

The burning of the man was spectacular, with phenomenal fireworks and a huge fireball erupting from the base of the man to start the blaze.  The man himself was particularly well built this year, and it was a solid forty minutes or so before he finally fell.  I had plans to meet up with Miya at midnight, but I took a short nap after the burn which turned into a three-hour stretch, and I woke up at 1:45am, groggy and faded from the day's heavy partying.  Fortunately, I subscribe to the theory that every Burning Man meetup plan should have at least one backup plan, and so I had also made a plan to meet her at 2am at Center Camp should we miss out on the midnight meetup.  I raced over to Center Camp, losing my third set of goggles of the week on the way, and waited - but she never showed.  When I made my way back to her camp to see if she was there, I found her fast asleep in her tent - it turned out she had also partied way too hard during the day, and had slept right through the meetup times as well.  We ended up napping for another few hours, intending to wake up for sunrise, but we even missed that by about an hour.  The early morning was spent riding around in the deep playa, checking out the furthest-flung art installations, talking and enjoying the morning sunlight.

Overall?  Amazing.  Very much a different experience from the previous two years, but that's pretty much always how it is - you go in with expectations of how things are going to be, but you can never really predict what will happen or how it will affect you.  I was a lot more 'crew'-oriented this year, instead of heading out solo like the previous years, and I stayed a lot more sober.

I will most certainly go again.