Back when I was an International Businessman of Mystery, turning a couple of quick trips was not nearly as devastating as it seems to me today. In the beginning of my overseas adventures, I thought nothing of a week in the US, a week or two in Europe and a few more in China, only to turn around and come home. I used to be a bit out of it, but it was easy enough to get back on my regular schedule. As my gig was winding down though I began to find it harder and harder to come back home after 6-8 weeks over there. I’d just feel so bad for so many days that I began to wonder if it was even worth it for a week’s break. But I soldiered through and then it was over. The relative ease of traveling west and the incredible effect of traveling east were pretty much forgotten.
Then we started our regular trip to Spain and those memories came back. In part though, not as bad as what I remembered. Part of it I suspect is the shorter hop, 8 hours for US to Madrid vs. 14 or 15 coming from China. Because of how we traveled to Spain though, we did all the right things right. We arrived, we caught a train, we exposed ourselves to many hours of sunshine and then we got where we were going in time for a nice walk and an early dinner. It never seemed like Spain was all that hard.
Which brings me to Paris. Something about that last trip never clicked into place. I’m not sure what it was, maybe the head cold or maybe the fact that the sun didn’t come up until 8 AM or maybe the fact that on most days the sun didn’t come up at all. Whatever it was, in spite of being there for 9 days I still felt like going back to bed at 10:30 AM on every day I was there. Which I suppose made my transition back to Home Time all that much easier, because as it turned out, it was.
However, I was still waking up in the middle of the night wondering where I was when after being home for 4 days we threw a wrench into it and got in the car and drove to Mexico. One benefit – another long day’s exposure driving straight into the sun as we crossed the southern side of New Mexico and crossed into Arizona. Even though I’d once again wake up wondering where I was, at least I was now on the proper time zone.
We always spend the night in Tucson to visit our Auntie Jean and to indulge ourselves in one of Barbara’s classic dinners before heading further south the next day. On this morning I realized that there was something wrong with the car though, that telltale high speed “tick tick tick” of a turn signal that’s trying to tell you that one of the bulbs has died. Thinking that it might be best to not head into Mexico with an excuse to be stopped, I was glad to find an auto parts store at the exit where we regularly stop for groceries. Before shopping I thought I’d pull out the bulb so we could stop and buy a new one once we were provisioned for the trip.
The car’s manual couldn’t be bothered to explain how to access the rear lights. Front lights – sure. Rear lights – here are the part numbers, figure it out on your own. So I crawled around and made a few tentative pries with my screwdriver and then I spotted the two screws hiding inside of two little holes in a second sheet of steel in front, more or less, of where the back light covers were mounted. One of the things I am often grateful for is the time I spent during college summers repairing cameras. What I learned there was how to think like a design engineer. In other words where can I hide the attachment hardware from the consumer in a way that presents a pretty product but pretty much makes it impossible to access the inner workings of the device. Even if it’s reasonably acceptable for the consumer to access those guts. In this case, I was grateful for the mildly magnetized screwdriver because I knew that the basic construction here was a 100% guarantee to the two screws falling and becoming lodged in an inaccessible space. And of course that’s just how it worked out for one of them, the other, more compliant and needy for affirmation, got only partially lodged. But, we were good and so once we were loaded up I went across the street and removed a bulb, shattering it in doing so, and bought 3 new replacements, patting myself on the back for being so wise.
Using the auto parts store parking lot as a mobile combat hospital, I took everything apart, this time avoiding losing the screws, popped in a new bulb, checked that it was indeed working and put the whole thing back together, only to discover that it had failed. Okay, I still have two bulbs, let’s do it again. Still not working. Third bulb – ditto. That was pretty much it for my attitude for the day so I put it all back together and decided to check the fuse block because why not? Well, the fuses looked good and everything was peachy until I dropped the fuse extraction tool, we around the door, stood up and cracked by head on the exterior mirror. Summary at this point – headache, broken car, no hope. I got in after exhausting my entire vocabulary of vile invective and drove on to the border.
The rest of the day was a breeze by comparison. We had a nice visit with the Immigration Officer who wanted to speak English while we were practicing our Spanish. I failed to bring my camera into the Immigration Bathroom and regretted it immediately when an ideal “photo of the day” presented itself, a full sized plastic kitchen garbage can shoved into a toilet as either a warning not to use it or a dare to fill it up. The drive went on, I made cheery conversation with the toll collectors, we looked up strange road sign words in our dictionary and generally just passed the miles. We arrived well before sunset, unloaded the car and shifted into vacation mode almost immediately.
Next morning, My Lovely Wife was off to start work on her homeowner’s association election committee business. I filled my time putting together my kayak and taking to the sea. It was a beautiful morning and for a change I headed out to the ocean instead of portaging my boat around back to the estuary. The sea was not smooth, but I was traveling across the wave line in a way that made it not too terribly bad. I’d first planned to head up the coast a bit and then turn back to the shore and do a loop around the neighborhood mangrove forest. Looming on the horizon though was Isla Blanca, the island I had never set foot on. Knowing I was free for most of the morning, I turned into the wind and paddled out to sea. Blue-footed Boobies were diving on both sides of me and I’d pass the occasional flock of Grebes bobbing in the swells. A crabber was collecting pots and pulling them into his panga no doubt destined for some tourist dinner that very night.
Isla Blanca is a big flat chunk of volcanic rock sitting at the outside edge of Bahia San Francisco. Covered in guano, it wears a few reminders of what must have been a former fertilized mining operation – a twisted derrick and some concrete pylons. I’ve been out to the island a few times but never landed because it’s surrounded with submerged rocks that would take great pleasure in ripping a hole in my boat. There is a small beach on the landward side but it sits under cliffs and so doesn’t offer the opportunity to get up on the core of the island. There is another rocky beach on the seaward side but it’s steep and the approach is through a maze of those nasty rocks. So I’ve never made an attempt at landing, reasoning that if I can’t climb up on the island (landward approach,) why bother and if I stand a risk to sinking (seaward approach,) don’t bother. Well, today was different and I decided to take the safe but limited access route thinking that some landing was better than none. I steered in and built up speed and rode up on the shore. I was there.
Surprisingly, there was another kayak parked off to the side in a little cove. Kind of beat up, I wondered if it had drifted in and beached itself. No one was around. I combed the shoreline, much to the distress of a pair of Yellow-footed Gulls, picking up a couple of rocks and shells as reminders. There wasn’t much real estate and so not much opportunity for exploring so I walked back to my boat and made ready to depart when I saw some flippers and big black body lolling in the surf. Sea Lion! But then I saw a snorkel and realized it was a person in a wet suit. The owner of the kayak, a local guy out collecting crabs and lobsters. I’d met him a couple of times in the past on an island down the coast. I mounted up and headed back in towards land.
Being out on the sea can be an interesting education in how wind works. Paddling out I had a bit of struggle and fought a lot of rollers, particularly after I’d passed the end of the land on my left, exposing me to the wind blowing seaward out of Bacochibampo Bay. It was tough going, paddling in and out of big expanses of smooth blue water into choppy green but at least it was cool, the heat being kept in check by the breeze. Heading back, the paddling was easy but it was hot. Real hot, like tropical hot. But I was grateful for the ease, in spite of roasting in my long-sleeved kayaking shirt.
Phase two of the trip was now at hand, surfing the boat in through the opening to the estuary. The sands here shift regularly and you have to carefully read the ocean surface to determine the right approach, otherwise you end up grounded. Some black thing was bobbing in the water in front of me, Sea Lion!, but it dove and swam straight under my bow. Cormorant I imagine, judging from the size. I made into the opening, surfing a few breaking waves and took a turn to the right planning on a circuit of the central island. A couple of Snowy Egrets were standing stock still, waiting for lunch to swim by. A Belted Kingfisher paced me along the shore, diving every once in a while for a minnow and giving its raspy rattle call. I turned the corner and saw a big flock of Red-breasted Mergansers playing in the shallows. Off to my side were two little pods of ducks, tightly gathered into two knots and bobbing in the wind, in unison.
I didn’t have binoculars and I wanted to know what they were, because it’s pretty unusual for ducks to be so tightly packed. Further confounding the scene was the fact that they looked like Mallards, an unusual sighting for here. I paddled slowly, gliding when possible. They seemed very wary yet surprisingly calm. I thought I saw a couple of hens turn to look my way. Oddly, their feathers didn’t seem to be moving in what was turning into a pretty stiff wind. They made no sign that they were about to explode into flight. I crept closer – sure enough, Mallards. Drakes and hens, still tolerating my presence. I continued to close the gap and still they didn’t mover. But now I heard the oddest gentle knocking noise, as though they were bumping into each other and letting off little puffy sighs. A bit closer and then it dawned on me – decoys. Two rafts of Mallard decoys tied to a buoy. No wonder they didn’t fly away.
Mystery solved, I completed my island traverse and headed back out to the sea which now had turned from big rollers into an ugly green-blue chop. The trip back home was memorable, mainly for how hard it is to steer into waves at a 45 degree angle. It took longer than it should have, much longer than I would have preferred and it was good to line up with the condominium stairs and power the boat up onto the shore. Overall a pretty nice day.