I wanted to shake up my life and go sailing (or learn on the job, so-to-speak) so headed to Florida to crew on a catamaran. This is about how it went or, rather, didn't - and my life since. Hopefully it will lead to a catamaran on the clear aqua blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, watching the sunset, a coconut rum and coke in hand. You must START AT THE BEGINNING of the blog, April 2009, to get the whole story...

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Nancy and Walker pick me up in their little white pick-up truck and we drive a few yards down the road and into a small bay where we pick up Daniel (pronounced Danielle - he's French Canadian) and his friend Meg, a cute girl from Australia who looks a lot like my niece. Daniel has a catamaran on the beach there, it's up out of the water because he rode it onto the reef at midnight a couple of months ago - he got disoriented and missed the small passage - and has been spending the time since repairing the several holes that the rocks put into his hulls. He's all patched up and repainted now and we stand about for a bit talking about getting it back in the water later today, and just how that will be accomplished. He has some round posts jammed under the hulls along with a couple of small pieces of plywood and has placed an anchor about 70 feet off shore. He figures that if he winches in the anchor rode while a few people bounce on the bows, it will roll off the logs, down the boards and into the sea. I tell Nancy, on the quiet, that I think as soon as it hits sand, it will get stuck. Unless the tide comes in a good 4 feet, I don't see this working. And the tides aren't big here, I think it's like one foot, so.... we will see. The plan is to try to get her in the water at about 4:30 this afternoon.

We load their kiteboarding equipment, and them, into the back of the truck and take off down some very bumpy, narrow, winding sand roads. So much of this island is just wild land - most of it really, covered in low growing shrubbery - not a tree in sight for miles. Palm trees are not indigenous to this island, and any that are here were planted for shade by the land owner. Consequently, there is no shade to be had at many of the beaches. That is the case with the beach we go to, Windlass Bight.

Nancy and I settle down on the beach at a spot where the water is relatively clear of seagrass and coral - it almost looks like a large circular swimming pool. I go in for a bit of a snorkel but it is very shallow and, because there isn't much in the way of rock or coral, not a lot of fish to see. Actually, there is a huge school of tiny chum, but I only see half a dozen or so colorful fish and one pure white angelfish. The bottom here is very soft sand, and when I try to stand in it I sink far down and don't like that so I really don't spend much time in there at all. Also, the water is surprisingly cold for the Caribbean - much colder than I remember it being when we were here two years ago in February. But it isn't unpleasantly so and, as is usual, feels a lot warmer once I am in it for a few minutes.

The wind is very gusty and so Walker can not get going on his kiteboard - he is just learning how. Daniel and Meg are doing great and get way out to the breaking waters at the reef, but even they are having a bit of trouble - Daniel more that he just can't do any of his jumps.
Windlass Bight

Nancy testing the waters at Windlass Bight

All shrub, no shade.

Setting up the kites.

Walker, walking out his lines to untangle them.

Daniel about to hand off the kite to Walker.

Can you see Meg way out there?

Trying out my watertight camera case.

On the drive back from the beach, Walker takes us to the salt pond where a large flock of pink flamingos live. They haven't been there for a few days, apparently. Thoughts are that they've gone down the island to nest. But when we pull up, there they are - way off in the distance. And as a cloud moves past the sun and the sunshine falls on them, they light up almost neon pink. I'd love a closer look at them but there's no way to get any closer.

I notice an interesting rock formation on the sand that looks like lava. It has perfectly smooth round indentations all over it from where rocks once were, I think. I ask Walker if it's lava and he thinks it's limestone. I notice a large indentation farther away that has the shape of a coral head. We go over and look and, sure enough, that is what it is. Walker says that this all used to be under the sea. There are two tectonic plates right under Anegada and just as we are talking about whether this could actually be lava rock, I feel a small tremble under my feet. I look up at Walker, startled. "Did you feel that?" I ask. "Feel what?" he says. "That tremble, just a small up and down right then." He didn't feel it but thats when he tells me about the tectonic plates. He says there are tiny earthquakes here every day. Wow.

When we get back to the cat on the beach, more talk goes on about getting it back in the water. Walker and Daniel scrabble about under the boat for a bit and then decide to try right then and there to get her in the water. The tide has risen a little. As they work on the logs under the boat, a fellow from a nearby beach restaurant that is undergoing renovations comes over. He is Dominican and speaks only Spanish but with the little Spanish that Daniel knows and a lot of hand waving and gesturing, they work out that the construction worker has some larger pieces of board and he goes off and returns with one. He gets under the port hull and starts clearing out some sand to make a better slope and jams the board he brought under the round post that the hull is resting on. He then goes back and brings more board for the starboard hull. Meg is on the boat and Daniel tells her to start winching in the anchor rode. Problem is, the rode is attached to another piece of rope forming a Y and that is attached to two winches... and there's only one winch handle - the other is jammed tight on a different winch and they can't get it loose. The anchor needs to be winched in at the same rate on both winches for it to work. Meg tries a few rounds on one side and then switches the handle to the other and goes a few rounds on that. I can see that the anchor is not holding; it is moving towards the boat instead of the boat moving towards it. A lot more digging of sand, moving the anchor, talking, arm waving, and so-on ensues. We try pushing the boat from the front as the anchor is winched in again and I comment that it's like pushing on a 20 storey building. This thing isn't going anywhere. I am getting overheated... the sun is beating down on us. I try moving onto the property beside where we are to get into the shade of a palm tree for a bit. I go back and forth for the next hour or so between the palm tree and the boat. There's not a lot for Nancy and me to do and I suggest to her that we go to the beach bar just down the way about 200 yards. She doesn't want to leave, she wants to watch what's going on. I can't take the heat anymore so I say I am going to walk back to my room, about half a mile down the beach. She offers to drive me but I want to walk and set off. Man is it hot. I have to keep pausing in the shade of palm trees along the way but eventually make it to my lovely cool room. I get a bottle of water out of the little fridge and gulp it down. I had taken a bottle of water with me in the morning to the beach but it wasn't enough and it heated up hot enough to make tea with it.

As I am still trying to cool off with a cold facecloth pressed to my face, Nancy appears at the door. She and Walker are done for now with the boat, it hasn't moved and they need to wait until more tide comes in later today. So I get in the truck and we head to Cow Wreck Beach and their place. I am excited to go today because I haven't been to the beach bar that I have seen so much of on Walker's web cam and photos, and I want to have a 'cheeseburger in paradise' for lunch. But when we walk over there, there's no one about and when they do appear, they are there to close up and go home for lack of business. How disappointing! But Walker, who is like family to Belle, who owns the place (it's her property they built their beach cottage on), makes me their specialty drink called A Cow Killer - rum and passionfruit - and it's SO good! We sit there on bar stools and look out at the view, and Walker tells me how much he loves this place. I tell him it is his spiritual home and he agrees.

Walker enjoying his beloved view.

Nancy joins us after a bit and is surprised to see that the bar and restaurant is closed. So we head back to the cabin and she makes us a lunch of tuna sandwiches, which I practically inhale. I had no idea how hungry I really was until I started to eat. It's the best tuna sandwich I have ever had, and I have had lots as it's my favourite sandwich. After I help clean up from lunch, we head out to sit under the palapa that Walker built, in Adirondack chairs he made from scratch. He is so clever. I take my Kindle with me but never open it as we just talk the whole time. I want to stay there for the rest of the day, I am so contended, but all too soon it's time to go back to the catamaran and get the thing in the water. I am still convinced that it will get stuck in the sand. Just as we are about to go, Walker checks his phone and there are two messages from Daniel. The boat is in the water! We are elated. And I guess I was wrong. We drive over.

I wasn't wrong. I was dead right. The boat IS in the water, half way. The rest is stuck hard on the sand. Exactly the scenario I had envisioned. I look over at Nancy and she gives me the 'you were right' nod. Walker makes some crack about next time Daniel wants to call and say it's in the water, he might want to specify just how much of the boat is in and how much is out. We all laugh at that. Then we get down to getting all of it in the water. There's digging and rocking and pushing and swimming and all sorts going on. There are directions being shouted to Daniel from several guys that have joined in from the nearby hotel, all who seemingly have had sailing experience, and who all figure out they know exactly what needs to be done to move it. One guy wants the jib, which is half unfurled and half filled with wind, moved over to starboard to catch more wind and help move the boat backwards into the sea; so Daniel moves the jib. Someone else wants the anchor lines moved, and tighter; so Daniel adjusts the lines. He runs back and forth like a chicken with no head, scrambling to obey all orders that are been shouted to him from all sides. One guy, who is leaning on the starboard hull with his hands, ready to push, looks at me as I walk over and grin at him. "Too many captains," is his dry comment. We all get to the front of the boat and, at the same time as someone else is at the stern doing who knows what, Daniel yells "One, two, three... PUSH" and we push with all of our might and the boat actually moves a tiny bit. We try again. Nothing. Someone gets the bright idea of hooking the boat by rope at the bow to Walkers truck and swinging the bow sideways. Nancy isn't too thrilled with that idea as she's worried it will burn out the motor or pull something off of the truck, but Walker thinks that it is a great idea and so the boat is tied up to the tow bar of the truck. As Walker puts the truck in drive and slowly tightens up the line, we all push and the boat moves, quite a lot. But it doesn't get it in the water and it's still stuck. We try a bit more but the truck has pulled it as far as it can without driving into the sea.

We figure that if we just had about 5 more really big guys, we could push it into the water. So Daniel sends Meg over to work her feminine charms on some guys at the beach bar that had dinghy'd in from a couple of nice charter cats out in the water half an hour or so ago. It results in just one guy joining us. The rest look like they are coming to help but then they turn and walk out onto the dock where their dinghy is and climb in and go back to their boats. Dang.

As I am doing what I can to help, I am almost giddy with happiness. This is the stuff I read about in books that people who decide to go cruising write... I am partaking in an event here, an event that never would occur in my normal life. I am out on a pristine Caribbean beach where the water mesmerizes one with it's shades of aqua blue and clarity; I am slightly tipsy on the rum and coke we had with lunch; I am part of a real team effort to help an intrepid adventurer get his cat into the sea after being wrecked on a reef - this is a real memory making day here, one I won't forget for as long as I live. It's fabulous in every way.

Daniel is such a charismatic character, which is very endearing, and his personality along with the upbeat attitude of everyone helping is really making this hard work a fun experience. I am just so happy to be part of it all.

A youngish, spry fellow in a dinghy has joined us and he is all business about the entire operation. He, at first, declares that he is a licensed sea captain so he can't help us. We all aren't sure what that means; Nancy surmises that maybe it's an insurance/liability issue. But then he goes completely against what he just said and takes control. He is shouting orders to Daniel who is on the stern manning the anchor lines. I am not sure what all he wants Daniel to do, but apparently he's not doing it right and the guy loses his temper and calls Daniel an 'effing' idiot. That shocks me but no one else seems to even notice. Regardless of how this guy thinks he knows what to do, nothing works to get the boat any farther into the water until someone comes up with the idea of asking a guy who had tied up a pretty hefty looking motor boat to the dock down the way if he would give us a tow. I had been saying all along that all we needed was a boat to give us a tow, and now we have a boat. The guy is completely happy to help and leaves his barstool and drink to fire up his boat. Walker ties a long rope from the bow of the cat to a post on a fence that divides the hotel property from where we are to keep the cat from floating away once it's in the water. I have a fleeting thought that, should the rope snap, someone could get killed... and then the thought is gone and I concentrate on pushing on the bow with everyone else. The guy backs his boat up (the rope is tied to his bow cleat) and as the rope becomes taut, we all push and the cat starts to move and, in seconds, it is completely in the water. The guy keeps backing up. Walker yells for him to stop. He keeps going, he can't hear us. Once the boat moved into the water, everyone but Daniel moved down the beach away from the fence - not for any reason other than it was a better spot to see the boat once it had moved. As the guy keeps backing up, the rope tying the cat to the fence strains. Walker yells for Daniel to look out as the fence starts to lift and then, suddenly, the rope snaps and the end whips past Daniel, seemingly missing him. I run over to him, "Are you okay? Did it hit you?" He looks at me, wide-eyed with disbelief, "No, it missed me." "Wow, what a miracle, you could have been killed." "I know" he replies. Then he jumps into the water and swims out to his cat.

Powerboat to the rescue.

This whole event, from beginning to end, has been like living a story out of a good book. And now the cat is in the water and it's not sinking. Nancy had wondered to Walker if it might just sink once it was out there; if Daniel hadn't fixed it properly. But it seem he has done a fine job of the repairs.

The sun goes down just as the boat is freed.

Tired but very happy at a job well done, we head back to Hidden Treasure for some dinner. Nancy makes some cooked spicy cabbage and two kinds of sausage and, again, it has to be one of the best meals I have had. I don't know how she does it. I think it's a combination of her cooking skills, the Caribbean air, and a good days work.

One of the best days of my life.

Note: It's taking forever to upload all of the photos, I've been sitting outside on the patio dining area, had breakfast, had a small lizard bite my toe, trying to keep the bazillion ants out of my computer, and am now thinking about lunch while trying to get this blog done and posted!!

Friday, April 29, 2011


Lucky for me, Bobby's Market was open for business as usual so I got all the essentials that I couldn't bring with me due to having only carry-on luggage; shampoo, conditioner, mousse, (no hairspray - they didn't have any!), sunscreen, a tub of cocoa butter moisturizer, toothpaste, bug repellant, bug killer spray, and then some snacks: water, club soda, digestive cookies, taco chips. Most everything I bought gave me sticker shock - the stuff that was priced, that is. And, apparently, even if it does have a sticker price on it, it just might well ring up different at the till and - tough beans - that is the price today. All part of the charm of the Caribbean. So all-in-all I spent $100.

Then I had to figure out a way to get it all on the ferry with me. Four grocery bags, one suitcase, one large beach bag - I don't think so. So I went to the Crafters Corner - a group of little beach huts that are really aimed at selling kitchy stuff to the cruise ship passengers. I found a huge beach bag (the biggest one they had) for $12, hoping all of the groceries fit, and they did! Only two or three of the huts were open for business - due to it being a holiday for the royal wedding - one of them belonging to an artist named Joseph Hodge. He was standing in the doorway as I walked near and so I said 'good morning' (it is considered VERY rude to start any conversation with anyone without greeting them first, so I always say good morning, afternoon or evening when I am close enough for conversation) and he returned the greeting. I was intrigued by what at first appeared to be some abstract sculptures hanging on the door and window shutters - very colorful and flat. I realized it was the dried oil paints peeled from his palate. I complimented him on the ingenuity of using the unused paint that way instead of just discarding it. He then welcomed me into his shop to look around. He is really a very good artist, depicting the islands as they were 30 or 40 years ago. I fell in love with one painting in particular, of the hill overlooking Cane Garden Bay with workers and donkeys. It was a huge canvas and when I asked how much, he said that it wasn't finished yet but it would be in a couple of days, and that it was $3,000.

He asked where I was from and I told him. He asked me to sit in one of two comfy chairs he had and tell him about Canada. So I did, and he sat in the other, and we ended up talking for an hour. He was a very interesting person and when I left I felt like I was walking on air because THIS is what this trip is all about for me. I want to meet as many local people as I naturally can and just talk with them, hear their stories, learn about the islands.

I went back to my hotel, Maria's by the Sea, a very nice place right on the water with a heated pool and restaurant. So handy to the town and ferry dock. It was perfect in every way for my one night on the island. I had checked out after having a breakfast of egg and toast overlooking the water, and asked them to keep my luggage for me while I went into town and shopped. I had also left my groceries in the luggage lockup while at the craft huts so now went back and gathered all my things together and headed over to the ferry for my ride to Anegada.

The view from my room at Maria's By the Sea

The view at breakfast.

A very well earned virgin Pina Colada after walking to and from the grocery store in heat I am not yet accustomed to.

There's a new waiting room at the ferry dock, all lovely and airconditioned with comfy seats and a fabulous view of the bay but no one was using it. The local people were all sitting outside on a little ledge in a narrow strip of shade, as they have done for years. Finally someone joined me inside and commented on how everyone was such creatures of habit here on the islands and how crazy they were to sit in the heat when there was this lovely room. We got to talking and he tells me his name is McKenzie, or Kenzie as he is known. It turns out that he owns Anegada Beach Cottages at Pomato Point. He was born and raised here but moved to San Bernardino, California after serving in the Navy for years and became a fire fighter there. He made frequent trips back to the island and had slowly, cottage by cottage, built the business. I found out later that he owns quite a lot of beach front property on Anegada that has been in his family for generations.

It was quite the rolly ride across to Anegada, about an hour long. The wind was up and there were no sail boats out at all, so that tells you how bad it was. But, thankfully, I am not prone to seasickness at all - in fact I quite love a rough sea - so I enjoyed it immensely and was excited to finally be starting my holiday.

When the island was finally in view - you don't spot it until a mile or so out as it's so flat - I was really struck by how different it looks than the other Virgin Islands. Very flat, not a lot of trees... the waters here are very dangerous for boaters as the island is almost entirely circled by the third largest barrier reef in the world. Consequently, it's a fabulous place to dive wrecks. There are ships that have been resting on the bottom of these waters since the 1700's.

My first view of Anegada through sea spray spattered windows.

There were a LOT of people on the dock waiting for the ferry to arrive so they could travel back to Tortola. At first this puzzled me as there are only 200 people on this island and it seemed that a good half of them were right there. Then I remembered, it's a holiday. Both of the people who I spoke to that had huts open at the craft corner had said they had planned to go to Anegada for the day but their plans had fallen through. So this was the holiday crowd heading home.

Another woman and I shared a taxi from the dock. She wanted to stop at a store to get a few things so as she ran inside, the driver and I chatted. He has lived on the island here his whole life; drives taxi and keeps the roads clear of debris for the government. He had no idea where Vancouver was - that always surprises me for some reason. Once the other woman was back in the car, we headed to my hotel - Neptune's Treasure, a very short ride. $3 cab fare short.

They were expecting me, a lovely woman checked me in (this place is entirely family owned and operated - several homes on the property houses them all - brothers, sisters, spouses and kids of the original Bahamian couple -originally from Portugal, who started the place) showed me the honor bar system, and took me to my room. She gathered up all of my luggage and brushed me off when I tried to insist on carrying some of it myself. My room is sparse but clean and seens to have all I need - it's the typical Caribbean setup unless you're in one of the few uber-luxury resorts paying $900 a night. It suits me fine as long as there aren't any creepy crawlies - and I don't see any. I notice that there is no blow dryer attached to the wall as in most hotels and ask if they have a courtesy one to loan. They don't. I guess it will be flat and stringy hair for my time on this island then.

I am settling in when I hear "SANDRA" called loudly from somewhere outside. I figure one of the children here must have my name as no one knows me yet and I am pretty sure if they did, they wouldn't summon a guest in that manner. So I just keep unpacking. Then I hear it again..."SANDRA!!" I look out of my window and there is Nancy and Walker Mangum!!! They are a couple who started reading my blog way back when I went to Florida to go sailing. He also has a website to do with all things BVI as well as another one with lots of their photos from the islands. We have become friends over the internet through those sites and on FaceBook and I actually planned this trip around the dates that they were going to be at their cottage, Hidden Treasure, at Cow Wreck Beach.

I flung open the door, "NANCY! WALKER!!" it was so great to finally see them in the flesh. We hugged like old friends. "Wow, I can't believe the restaurant here is closed" Nancy said. The woman that checked me in had told me they had no reservations for dinner tonight so they were closing but she would make me a salad if I liked. I had said I would manage - I am not quite up to eating salad just yet. I told Nancy this and she said, "Well then, I guess you're coming home and having dinner with us." and we piled into their little Toyota pickup truck and bounced along the sand road to their cottage.

I have seen this place on the internet, seen photos of the progression of building it, watched their live webcam of the beach from their deck - and imagined what it would be like to be there. As I step out of the pickup truck and walk to the front of the cottage, it feels surreal to me. To finally be where one has imagined... wow. Walker follows me and points out the camera on the deck rail that takes a photo every 30 seconds and tells me to go stand in front of it so that I will be on the webcam. So I do and he follows me and puts his arm around me and we wait 30 seconds. Then Nancy joins us and we wait another 30 seconds. I am now part of the Anegada Bar webcam!! Walker makes a movie of the shots every day, and puts it up on his YouTube page. So if you look at April 29 at the 5:04 mark you should see me there!

We had a wonderful meal together. Laughed, shared stories, and I was told I 'lived there' so make myself at home. Walker and Nancy are fabulous hosts and they have insisted that I spend each day this coming week with them. The only downer for me was that they are leaving a week earlier than they had originally told me when I asked for their dates for April. So I will only have the one week with them and then will have to fend for myself. But I don't want to think about that yet.

Walker sitting across from me at Hidden Treasure.

After a good nights sleep back in my room at Neptune's, with only one scary moment in the night where I felt something on my neck, a bite, as I slept and picked it off, tossed it to the other side of the bed and then woke with a start as I realized what had just transpired. I flicked on the light at the side of the bed, and searched for whatever it was. There was a black thing on the coverlet but in the dim light I could not make it out. So I went to the bathroom, got some toilet paper, picked it up and left it by the sink so I could see what it was in the morning. I slept a bit fitfully after that - waking every time I felt a twitch or a tickle on my skin. In the morning I took a look at the thing but still couldn't make it out (my eyesight is really failing) and so rolled it under my finger and, you know, I think it might have just been a bit of lint. But then why did it feel like I was bitten?

I hate it that I am so afraid of bugs.

Today I am going with Nancy and Walker to Windlass Bight (a beach) to watch him learn how to kite board. Should be fun!

The view from the restaurant at Neptune's Treasure

I am staying in the building on the left, bottom floor.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Wednesday morning I went back to Mexico to have the crowns placed. I was really nervous as my gums were still quite sore and the thoughts of having them poked and prodded didn't appeal. Turns out, the needles for freezing my mouth up weren't so bad but the rest was, in some ways, worse than the first appointment. But now it's all over and they're all in place and I have a smile I no longer have to hide or be ashamed of. It's a dream come true!

Dr. Arce asked if he could take a picture of the two of us together and I said yes. He wanted me to smile with my new teeth but I was so frozen I couldn't do it. Also, I didn't wear any makeup to the appointment because, what with his hands all over my face plus the water spraying me etc, I thought I'd wait until later in the day. Then he asked if he could put before and after pictures that he took of my teeth up on his FaceBook page. I said he could. Then I asked if I could 'friend' him and he said he'd like that. It took me a while to find him on there but once I did I saw the photo of me and I look HIDEOUS. So I put one up on his FB page that I took of me with a proper smile. It's the same one I have as my FB profile pic at the moment.

Dr. Roberto Arce - isn't he handsome?

The teeth have to settle in a bit yet. It will take a week or so for the gums to settle in around them. Until then, eating is difficult. First of all, the teeth are part one of two steps that need to be done and so, until I come back and get the lower teeth all done, they aren't going to fit together well with my lower teeth. Secondly, whenever I bite down on something with even a little resistance, the new teeth feel like they push up into the gums a bit, and feel 'tighter'. I asked Dr. Arce about this and he said I need to just eat soft food and soup for a week or so and it should be better after that, but I will always have to be careful.

I was all done and out of Mexico by 12:30 and at the airport by 1:30 which meant I had a lot of time to wait for my flight out of Yuma to LAX, but that was okay by me. I prefer that to madly rushing, worrying that I might miss the flight. I tried to read but ended up falling asleep for a bit - I still had Xanax in my system from the morning and it really makes me tired.

I took another two of them once I was on the flight to Washington DC, which left at 10:20pm. It was a four and a half hour flight but I slept like a log through most of it (and I paid for an upgrade to get a window seat with 5" more leg room and was it EVER worth it). When I woke up and heard that we were starting our descent, I honestly felt like it had been about 30 minutes since we had taken off.

The weather was miserable in DC, raining sideways. I was glad to get on the plane to St. Thomas and hear from the pilot that it was 83 degrees there; everyone else seemed happy as well because a huge cheer went up from most of the passengers.

Landing in St. Thomas was fabulous - so humid and hot. And it smelled just like I remember the Caribbean smelling. Those of us taking a ferry to Tortola were told to wait together in one area and then we were all directed to pile into a 15 passenger van driven by a jovial Caribbean woman. When I asked how much we owed her, she asked how many suitcases I had. I guess they charge by the case. I only had one so I paid $10.

The ferry was in when we got there but they weren't boarding yet. Rather, they were piling loads of cargo on it. People who had gone shopping on St.Thomas for the day I guess. From the looks of it, quite a bit was for bars and restaurants. There were some large personal items as well and then , of course, lots of luggage. Once all the cargo was loaded, then we were allowed on. The boat was very big inside, not unlike a SeaBus. The water was pretty rough in spots so we really bounced along the waves; which I happen to love.

It was about a 50 minute run to Tortola and as we pulled into the harbour I could see Pussers, where Shonah, Amy and I had drinks and conch fritters two years ago. I could see the little blue huts where locals sell island wares to the tourists. And once I was through customs and walked down the street to my hotel, the same road side stand selling freshly squeezed juice was there. I was so overwhelmed with being back, I got kinda teary. I am so so excited to be here.

One thing though, I seem to have the most incredible timing when it comes to planning holidays - first it was the dentist conflicting with Easter. Now it's tomorrow, when I need to go into the stores to get stuff to take to Anegada with me that I couldn't pack (such as shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, bug spray, hair spray, etc.) it seems most everyone will be closed in celebration of Will and Kate's wedding.

How do I manage that? I mean, I don't even try.

I just got back from having some chicken roti at Pussers, washed down with a Painkiller. It was delicious. I sat there looking about, hardly able to believe that I am back. New smile; in the BVI's....

Happy Birthday to ME!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


As I stood out in the barren desert the other day, listening to nothing but the wind whipping about my ears, I looked around and tried to imagine what it would have been like to come upon this vast expanse of flat valley, over a hundred and fifty years ago, after traversing the mountains in the distance... on horseback, with only the food and water I could carry with me.

It struck me how brave people were back then. What absolute raw courage - guts - it took to up and leave civilization and set out for, literally, parts unknown.

At this point, let me just say that I have had a few people tell me I am courageous for taking this trip on my own and perhaps, in light of todays feeble civilization of people who would rather watch someone else have an adventure than get up of the couch and have one of their own, it could be considered courageous for a single woman of my age to set out on a trip such as this alone, but I hardly think it is. And I don't feel one bit courageous, in fact I feel like the biggest cowardly traveler on the face of the earth sometimes. I am always afraid of losing my wallet, of someone stealing my purse or pickpocketing it, of being late for my plane, of having security pull me over and go through every scrap of content in my bag and refuse half of it and it takes so long I will miss my plane, of there not being enough room on the plane for my carry-on so it will get checked and then lost, that I will get lost once I am off the plane...stuff like that.

But to come across those rugged mountains, after who knows how long an arduous a trek up to then, and see nothing but dry, rugged, scrubby, cacti filled desert stretch out miles and miles before you, vanishing into the heat of a hazy horizon... I can't imagine, but to me - that is real courage. At least this valley has a river so that had to be encouraging - they weren't going to die of thirst, which I am sure happened all too often. But how many dry valleys did they traverse before they got to this one? And how did they sleep out in the open at night, what with the creepy crawly things that live out here - snakes, scorpions, HUGE spiders, lizards. Not to mention the bigger creatures, if there were any.

And the mountains themselves - well, as the famous line says - "There's gold in them thar hills" or there was. Eventually, the mines of Yuma County produced a total of about 771,000 ounces of gold through 1959. But before that, there were prospectors who came on horseback and searched for gold, ledge by ledge, stream by stream. And had considerable success.

There's several stories of lost or buried treasure in these parts:

- The massacre of the ferrymen at Yuma Crossing left the fortunes of the ferrymen buried somewhere near the ferry. It is reported to be in several caches and amount to $50,000 in silver and between $20,000-$30,000 in gold.

-A rotting wagon with 15 sacks of rich gold ore was found by James Hurley. He took samples to have assayed, but when returning for the rest, he could never find the wagon again.

-A rich gold placer was found by a prospector in the desert south of Topock, who gave some of the nuggets to a railroad conductor. The man returned later with his son to assist in working the mine. Both were found dead south of Topock, killed by Indians, but the Lost Placer was never found.

-Somewhere in the Tank Mountains, north of Yuma, is said to be Camel's Tank, a tank of natural water that had gold nuggets laying around the tank. It was found by John Gordon and Juan Perea, who took a load from the site, but could never relocate the tank again.

-A rich ledge of gold is said to be located in the Little Horn Mountains. Poncho (a Tonto Apache) gave a large sample to Jose Alvarado in appreciation for Jose taking care of his son during an illness. Jose died before ever visiting the ledge.
(There's several stories like this one, where the person died before they could go back).

-A streambed of gold nuggets, found by a Mexican girl and Papago Indian boy enroute to Gila City, is said to be located near Tule Tank in the Cabeza Prieta Mountains.

-A "sizable fortune" is said to be cached near the Rancho de los Yumas by William B. Rood. A can with $1,000 was found, but much more is expected to have been buried.

The rest of the state has even more stories and you can read about them here.

I'd love to get out in those hills and turn a few rocks over and see if I could find any gold. As a teen I read several books about prospecting in days gone by and of lost treasure that remains to be found in places just like this. It really caught the spark of my imagination and I loved the idea of setting out to find some of it. Being here has rekindled that spark.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I didn't have to return the rental car until 3:30 this afternoon so, once I had partaken of the free breakfast - which is surprisingly good and has saved me so much money - I headed down to Bed Bath and Beyond. It's just down the road a-ways and I wanted to get some of the vacuum bags to pack my clothes in. These bags don't require a vacuum; you just seal and then roll and all of the air is expelled through a one-way vent at the bottom. I figure I need them to fit everything back in my bags including the dress and swim suit I bought the other day. Plus I don't want to wear the same travel clothes I wore down here and they take up more room in the bag than the dress I plan to wear instead. I hope they work.

That done, I headed back on Highway 8 going west. I had seen some sand dunes on the horizon during my travels yesterday and I wanted to check them out. I had tried to take a photo of them but that was one of the instances where the bright sunshine and haze on the horizon obliterated what I was trying to photograph.

I love the way there is no traffic to speak of here. It gives me back the joy of driving. I plug my iPhone into the stereo, load my 'Driving Music' playlist, and turn on the cruise control. Fabulous.

It isn't long before I see the dunes and pull off of the highway. There are dunes on both sides of the highway and a sign about two miles back had warned of 'drifting sands'. The exit loops around and back over the highway and leads to a parking lot on the right and the dunes on the left. There's only one other vehicle here and it's parked at the base of the dunes so I pull in along side of it.

It's scorching hot when I get out of the car. I walk to the dune and look up. It's a big smooth hill looming over a hundred feet high. As I walk forward, the hard packed sand of the flat area gives way to soft sand and my feet dig in as I begin to ascend. My flip flops are hampering my ability to get a good footing and I keep slipping backwards, so I take them off and am surprised that it's not hotter underfoot.

Not sure why a lot of these pictures came out with pink sand. The sand was definitely the color of the other pictures.

When I get to the top, the dune drops drastically in front of me, along with one on each side and one ahead to form a deep bowl. The dunes roll on from there ahead and in either direction. It's like being in a movie. I bet they film all the Sahara desert shots out here for all sorts of movies.

It's quite windy and the sand blows from the peaks of some of the dunes. I turn to look back from where I came and it's a long way down. The view from up here is amazing.

A young family has climbed up the dune and, as I try to take a photo of myself with my iPhone (my camera's battery was dead, as I discovered when I arrived - thank goodness I had the phone!) the dad of the family offers to take my photo. Turns out they are from Edmonton on their way to San Diego and came upon the dunes unexpectedly. They just had to stop to see them up close.

As I make my way back down the dune to my car, my footprints from coming up are almost covered over from the sand shifting in the wind. And half way down I hear the most amazing sound - it's the soft scream of the dunes as sand is blown over sand by the wind.

My footprints back down the dune

I love Arizona. (although, actually, these dunes are in California).

You see these trucks everywhere. The government must pay a fortune to keep Mexicans out.

On my way back I decide to go back over the border to Los Algodones, and park my car in the lot run by the reservation right at the crossing. I read online awhile back that the charge to park there is $20 but those people must have had RV's because it's only $5 for a car.

I walk over the border, again just as if I am walking down the street, no border guard or checkpoint, and am at once bombarded by guys trying to get me to buy from their pharmacies, other guys begging me to stop and look in their store or to make an offer on a piece of jewelry, and yet more guys asking me if I need cheap dental work. The streets have more hawkers on them than pedestrians. The thing about it is, if they'd just leave me alone, I would probably have stopped long enough to admire some jewelry and maybe buy a piece or two for my girls as gifts. But if I even hesitate or glance for more than a split second at something, they're all over me and so I just wave my hand and say I am not interested and pick up speed. I hate being hassled by sales people whether it's here or at home. If I need help, I will ask for it. Otherwise, leave me alone. But here, that just isn't a concept anyone would grasp, I am sure.

The guy on the left already has his eye on me and, sure enough, held out that arm full of gold chains and begged me to stop and try one on.

The office of the dentist I was originally booked in to see. I was very tempted to go in and give them a piece of my mind but decided not to just incase it got nasty and no one ever heard from me again.

I make my way to my dentists office and when I get there, he is sitting at the reception desk; there's no patient in at the moment which is great because I have a bunch of questions about tomorrow. I am to arrive at 8:30 when he will put in all the crowns and bridges. I find out that I will be all frozen up again - which is better than being in pain but it means I will probably swell right back up. That's not a pleasant thought, plus I will be traveling straight from there for the following 24 hours. I hope the flight has lots of ice and doesn't mind giving me some of it.

He writes me a prescription, to fill before I leave Mexico today, for a mouthwash that will help my gums heal. They're still a bit sore and will be all inflamed tomorrow and for about four more days as they settle in around the crowns. He tells me he will also give me a prescription tomorrow for some more pain killers. And a pass to the front of the line at the border again. He assures me that I will be all done by noon, 1:00 at the very latest, and that is good because I don't want to be on pins about missing my flight at 5:40.

All my questions answered, I leave with a cheery 'see you tomorrow', and make my way to the border. I am tempted to stop and buy a fish taco at a stand, they smell and look delicious, but I really don't have an appetite; other than a bowl of soup the day after I had the dental work done, I have eaten only breakfast and a bit of snack food in a week. I hear a couple behind me say they are going to stop and have a margarita somewhere, and that sounds tempting but then I remember how sick I got after having one in Playa del Carmen when I left the resort to explore the town for an afternoon and I sure don't need that tomorrow.

So I just line up at the border and get in the car, drive it back to Yuma, and return it to the rental agency.

I am really glad I decided to rent a car. I had so much fun exploring the area and, when I come back in January, I will rent a 4x4 so I can get all the way out to Picacho Mountain.

Monday, April 25, 2011


NOTE: Be SURE to click on the photos to get the large version and see the fabulous detail, especially of the mountain I tried so hard to get close to.

I decided to rent a car this afternoon and go exploring. Enterprise Car Rental was supposed to pick me up at 1:00 but kept me waiting until 1:45 so I had them throw in a free GPS (which ended up not helping me one bit). I also got a double upgrade on the car, not sure why, and ended up with a Nissan Cube - a car I consistently deride for being drop dead ugly when I see one on my commute. But, hey; if I am inside it then I don't have to look at it.

I set off to get as close as I can to a set of mountain peaks I had noticed the other day when I was in the taxi on the way to Los Algodones. I commented on them to the driver but she didn't seem to know what they were, by the lack of any reply. So strange.

I didn't have a map but I'd checked online before I left and found a road, Ogilby, that looked like it might go out that way. It seemed there was a wide expanse of desert between me and the peaks, but I was up for it. I just hoped the car was.

I got onto the #8 Hwy headed west. On the way I passed a small church on a very squared-off, man-made hill and made a note to check that out when I came back; something about it struck me as very odd.

I no sooner got off of the highway and onto Ogilby Road than I saw a big white sign posted at the side of the road.

It was a long, flat, blacktop road stretching out ahead of me as far as I could see, it looked like a normal county road, and so I couldn't understand why I would need a permit. There was another two similair signs on either side of the road at dirt entrances to what looked like a two rut track across the desert sands, one going east and the other west. So to me, it looked like you couldn't go in any direction but back without a permit. Fabulous. I turned around and got back on the highway going east. As I did, I saw a mountain that I had seen from the plane flying in that had intrigued me. From the air it looked like there were giant steps carved out of the middle and I had wondered if it was natural or man made. It almost had the look of the start of an Mayan pyramid. Now I could see that it was definitely man made and was either from and old mine or graded to remove gravel or some such rock.

I got off at an exit marked 'Felicity' which is where the church on the hill was. I crossed over the highway on an overpass and onto the small road that ran beside the highway, passed a CHP's (California Highway Patrol) building - I was in California since passing over the river- and turned into a drive with the following sign:

Odd claim.

I parked in the wide gravel lot, where there was only one other car, and looked around. Behind me, just beyond the parking lot, there were a set of stairs that wound their way up to nowhere. They were metal and pretty rusty looking.

There were two buildings at the front of the property, one a mirror image of the other. As I walked in front of them I saw a creepy sundial to my left and, between the two buildings down a path that separated them was a small pyramid. The place seemed totally deserted and it was giving me the creeps big time. Something about this place was seriously not okay.

Each of the two buildings had signs painted on the stucco fronts; one Museum and the other Post Office. Both had their main doors, which faced the pathway between them, wide open. I stepped inside the one marked Post Office.

Five feet inside the door, there was a small glass counter with some souvenirs for sale inside as well as a few guide books to the place. There was one of the guide books laying on top of the counter along with a steno pad with three names written down and a number beside each one. Not phone numbers, just a single number per name: 9, 12, 60. Behind the glass counter was another small counter with a cash register on it and then a huge empty room behind that full of empty metal shelves. I picked up the guide book and flipped through it, trying to figure out what this whole place was.

Instead of trying to explain it, you can read about it here. Turns out the stairs are part of the Eiffel Tower. Not sure how they landed here.

I lay the book back down and stepped outside into the blazing heat and walked over into the other building marked Museum. There was one small table with some framed certificates of some sort on it - one from the military. To the left was a small TV and a couple of folding chairs. To the right was a few more empty shelves and a poster on the wall that said something about an 'Invisible Dragon' - which there had been a book about in the glass case in the other building.

I walked out of there and over to the pyramid. Behind it was the rows of pink granite triangular walls with the important history of the world written on it and beyond that, the church on the hill.

Feeling completely creeped out, I got the heck out of there without ever seeing another single soul.

I drove east, back towards Yuma and then got off the highway on the north side and, for a couple of hours, tried to find a road that would take me to the rugged mountains that intrigued me so. But I was stymied at every turn. I thought I might finally have it when the road turned to sandy gravel, but there was a sign indicating that I was about to enter a land fill site so, reluctantly giving up, I turned back and headed to Yuma.

On my travels down many back roads, I came across a field of palm trees, all planted in neat rows. It looked so odd. As I got closer for a better look, there were a lot of rather nice vehicles parked among them and at first I thought it might be a camp site but it became clear that wasn't it. There were several lift-type vehicles that were fully extended into the tops of the trees. Maybe a coconut farm? A little farther on I came to another much bigger field of palm trees and then saw a rough sign indicating that there were dates for sale! Mystery solved!! They were all date palms. Although, the first set I came across, the ones with the lifts, were much taller trees, so maybe that one was a coconut farm.

I drove back into Yuma, rather disappointed that I never got close enough to those mountains to take a good picture. The sun is so bright here that most of my photos are washed out and ones of something far on the horizon, like the mountains or some sand dunes I tried to photograph, don't show the horizon detail at all. It's like there's nothing there.

I was wondering what I would do for the rest of the afternoon when I spied a Visitors Center so I pulled in and asked them about getting closer to the mountains. At first she wasn't sure what mountains and then I described them. "Ohhh, you must mean Picacho." and went on to tell me how to get there. At first I was totally confused but it started to come clear to me that what she was describing was exactly where I had gone and then turned back because I thought it was the entrance to the land fill. "Oh, no no," she said, "the land fill is farther down the road but if you stay on that road it will take you over the canal and then it's 18 miles to Picacho over a pretty rough dirt road."

I also told her about the road with the sign and how I had turned back because I didn't have a permit. She said I could definitely have continued on that road, the signs were for the land on either side. One needed a permit to off-road there. Sheesh. That is NOT how it appeared.

I decided to go back to the land fill road and try again. I wouldn't make it the whole 18 miles to Picacho, but maybe close enough to get a decent photo of it.

The road ended up not being too rough, but there were a lot of large sharp rocks on it and so I had to drive slow and dodge them so as not to blow out a tire. I eventually got close enough that there was nothing much between me and the mountain, and to get a decent photo. As I stepped out of the car to take the picture, a commercial jet flew overhead and as it disappeared, I realized that there was now no noise. Not a single human sound. The only thing I could hear was the wind whipping around my head. I stood there, transfixed, looking around me at the expanse of dry, rough, desert that ended at the foot of some amazing mountains, mesmerized by the sound of only the wind. I took my photos and then stood there some more, listening to the wind.

FINALLY, A Pic of the GORGEOUS Mountain.

I did not want to leave. I don't think I have experienced anything quite like it. I literally had to force myself back into the car. I also didn't want to turn it around and go back. There was something that kept drawing me just a few more yards down the road. But eventually, I turned the car around and drove back to my hotel.

I also saw one lizard and two road runners in my travels.

As I took the pics of the cactus tree, I looked down and saw...
...THIS!! With only flip flops on my feet, I was sincerely hoping they weren't Desert Tarantula homes

I'd love to go back with a motorhome one day and plant myself at the foot of those mountains for a few days where the only sounds I hear are the ones nature and I make.
All photographs are mine and not to be copied without express permission from me (click on them to see the large version).
Some names have been changed to protect my butt.

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