Considering a sailing adventure to Mexico? Just look at how engrossed that guy is in the book! Grab a copy of the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico, and you too can find yourself sitting on a Mexican dock with an oversized (but very attractive) hat.

Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico

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merry christmas from la cruz de huanacaxtle

Apologies for taking a while to write anything. Infrequent updates are considered bad form and a great way to lose readers. But between having a rat onboard, getting sick with a low grade fever that’s held on for a few days, the whole Christmas thing, my job, a two year old, and a pregnant wife, I’m hopeful that you can forgive me for not finding the time to bring you up to speed.

Additionally, I doubt you want to hear about any of that. Although Charlotte blogs about our family and friends, I generally omit those topics and focus on the boat and where we are. No particular reason for it and as a good writer once told me, “You will find that the type of writing you want to do is often not the type you’re best at.” Charlotte is in a sense our family stenographer and photojournalist: I’ll stick with pontificating about sailing and culture.


(at the boater’s swap meet. when not walking around the marina with an assault rifle our local police officer seems quite interested in maritime technology.)

A few days ago a non-profit in Mexico City released some shocking figures. In the last six years, Mexico has had 70,000 murders and 20,000 “disappearances”. Those numbers are known to be low, but it was based on official reports which is a start. 90,000 people vanishing or dying in a six year period, in a country with 1/3 the population of the United States, is shocking.

In Mazatlan, a city to my north by a few hours, four men were hung from an overpass last week. In the state of Jalisco, which is where Puerto Vallarta is located, fourteen men were killed in cartel clashes only days ago. Machine gun toting police officers are everywhere, extorting bribes as a matter of practice for traffic violations. I got a speeding ticket in California which will cost me about $800. In Mexico you can get out of it for $15-$30: from a strictly economic standpoint there’s a lot to be said for that. Still, seeing corruption in traffic cops for such petty amounts of money makes you wonder what those same cops would do if they were offered thousands, or their families were threatened.


(a new chinese food vendor in a nearby town, out at the sunday market letting people know about his business.)

All the while, Mexico marches on. Anti-Mexican sentiment (lets just call it racism) in the United States has always cracked me up. Driving from our marina to Home Depot I would see a dozen white people begging for money. Then when leaving the hardware store I would drive past a dozen Mexicans of various skillsets looking for a day’s work. All the while people publicly wring their hands and privately harbor more distasteful thoughts, decrying the Mexican welfare mother or some other such non-representative bullshit. The “welfare mother” is almost always thought of, but certainly not articulated as being, of non-white ethnicity.

It’s one thing you simply don’t see in Mexico: begging. Even the most destitute, and we’re talking about destitution on a scale that one cannot truly comprehend until it is seen, people work for a living. There are families that live in the trash dumps called “recyclers”, because that’s how recycling works here. It’s beyond tin cans and glass bottles. It’s taking the broken toy you throw away and fixing it up, to give to to someone or to be sold. There is an old frail women with obvious health issues and skin lesions who wears a dress every day and does her hair, going through the marina’s trash hunting for value. The case of Dos Equis drained by frat boys on a party boat is her bread and butter. Seeing the cycle of it all: the party boats coming in and out, and her, before dawn 7 days a week, going through the garbage is hard for me to digest.


(only ticket holders were allowed into philo’s so most every one else just stood outside and waited. this photo might well represent the entire town’s population).

Fast forwarding a little bit, last night was Christmas and we went to Philo’s bar here in La Cruz. It’s the center of the gringo world and although I was suspicious of it at first, I’ve grown to accept that it’s about as decent of an American-in-Mexico-business as exists anywhere. They had a pretty big Christmas party which cost $4 a ticket to get in, plus you were supposed to bring a dish to share. Philo’s band played, we hung out with new friends, we danced as a family, and then Pat from Bumfuzzle tells me that the orphans are lined up outside the walls, waiting for us to finish eating so they can get their presents. He shook his head and said, “Enjoy your dinner.”


(on the left, the band plays and the gringos party. out on the street, the Mexican orphans wait in a line for about an hour for us to finish having turkey dinner and eating better for $4 than they probably do ever.)

I walked out and snapped the picture and sat back down, feeling a bit like a medieval lord finishing my peeled grapes. Soon the peasants would arrive, and I could sit back and watch with glee as they got their annual ration of mercy. Being benevolent is so grand: it’s such a wonderful thing that we parade orphans before us to receive their gifts, and then shuttle them away quickly while the smile is still on their face. So much better for me to not be disturbed by the sight of poverty in less palatable manner, and it fills me with joy to know that my $4 has done so much.


In no way am I trying to say that it wasn’t a terrific idea. Ask me how much I’ve done to support local orphans and you’ll find a $25 receipt for a single toy. Philo’s and other American run assistance groups are doing what they can which is far and away more than me, and I hope my distaste for the reasons that charity is even necessary doesn’t disparage the wonderful people who participate in these organizations.

I just can’t shake the sense of paternalism in charity, the fact that my anchor (well, one of them) costs more than most Mexicans make in a year. It’s guilt that eats at me. As I’ve said before this is my first time experiencing a developing nation and I’ve been in Mexico now for about three months, only leaving for a two day trip back to the states. In short, I can say with all honesty that I do live in Mexico.

I hate the poverty. I hate knowing that I have so much, largely because of the random luck of where I was born. The notion of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” assumes you have shoes in the first place. There is no system to avail one’s self of here. I hate knowing that I’ll leave Mexico (as will nearly everyone at the Christmas party last night) eventually and things will remain largely as they are. I hate to see the reality of poverty, I hate feeling powerless and selfish in its midst. If I do nothing or give every dollar I have it feels like the effect is the same: nothing.

Mexico is an amazing place. Blood soaked streets are shared by the most decent and honest of people. Poverty is the way of things for millions. Corrupt cops extort money for the most basic of infractions and then get murdered when they stand up against cartel violence, or shot in the back by bought-off cops who don’t.  It’s a country where you can block off a street with yellow tape: no permits are needed, just make a u-turn and use some other street. Fences that border sidewalks are sometimes barbed wire. No litigation. If you or your misbehaving children are stupid enough to get nicked by it, that’s not the fault of the guy who put the fence there.


So Christmas this year, despite the fact that I’m still sick, has been terrific. Different and un-insulated like all of my American Christmases, but good. Unlike my anniversary and Thanksgiving (both of which I spent by myself in Baja), this one I spent with my family. Even when sick with a pregnant wife and a two year old who’s up too late and didn’t take a nap, I’ll spend a day with my family over one without them anytime.

So there, I did write about my family.

Reader Comments (6)

Thank you for the honesty of your thoughts and feelings.

December 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJac

Eric-I hope you got to read the comment I wrote a few weeks ago about traveling through Mexico 50 years ago with your are experiencing what we experienced at that time and it appears that nothing has changed much...I'm glad you have such a good heart and "feel" for the people of Mexico...what is so frustrating is that feeling of helplessness...we too carried the "guilt" when we saw the Gringos eating Lobster & getting drunk in the bars while tiny children were outside selling "chicklets" in the broke our hearts, but along the way, there were wonderful experiences with wonderful people...carry on Son, have great experiences...we love you....A Good, Healthy, New Year for all of us....

December 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Kopp

Thanks Eric for your insightful pontifications. I saw this kind of poverty in Korea and felt much the same as you. I am always reminded of the sory of the boy on the beach throwing starfish back into the surf. It seems there were countless starfish dying on the beach. A man came by and told the boy he couldn't make a difference. The boy threw another one back into the ocean and said, "It made a differnce to that one."

I used to hate going down to Nogales because of the poverty. Gringos would drop a few coins into the widows' and handicapped people's pots and I would drop in $10 bills. It did nothing to assuage my guilt even though I made a difference to "that one".

I am older now and I think I have figured out it is the human condition. It is a matter of luck that we are Americans. I don't feel the guilt anymore. I help when and where I can and feel good about the one I helped.

My real anger is directed at idiots in this country who think they have it so bad because they don't have the most recent phone or whatever or they have to wear the same coat 2 winters in a row. They hate America because it is just not good enough for them or they are asked to pay some taxes. They hate our corrupt cops and politicians and courts...they have no idea, do they.

Eric, why haven't said anything about the wonderful public schools and public libraries down there? You haven't mentioned anything about their highly trained and equipped fire departments and other first responders? What is the Mexican equivilant of our 911 system? How is there Social Security system holding up.

Keep blogging Eric. Keep teaching us. I think you can make a difference by showing us what so much of the world is really like.

Smooth sailing Rebel Heart.

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Grandfather

Hey Eric, I like what you wrote, i have been living in Mexico since September (just back in Canada over Christmas) and i see the same things you do. The poverty is systemic and has been for many lifetimes now, which of course does not remove the obligation to do what we can, and i have noticed (where i am in the Baja) that it's mainly Gringos and Gringas who set up the charities.
We do our bit, but it never seems enough, and truth never will be.

Your a good man Eric, take care of self and that family and all will come around as it should.

Sending you all the Best Christmas wishes and New Years salutations from Vancouver Canada..Brrrrrrrrrrrr..very cold,,and i cant wait to get mack to Mexico in a few weeks.

Alex aka Nemo55

December 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex (Nemo55)

Hi Eric, Nice post. Do take time while you're there to visit the Manos de Amor orphanage in Bucerias. The women who run the place will gladly let you know what kind of support they need, it's a direct, personal opportunity to help. Plus, you'll have a chance to get to know the kids (and your daughter too) and not see them strictly as unfortunate, needy ones, but as happy, social kids who care for and love each other. I'm not trying to minimize their plight, but they don't live in a turn-of-the-century U.S. orphanage. Their caretakers are loving and supportive and the 21 kids we saw several times are like siblings. Here is one post I wrote about them towards the end of 2011: All the best, Michael

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Robertson


I enjoy your perspective on the Mexico you have seen to date. From the fishing villages along the Pacific Coast of Baja, to the multi cultural settings of destination sites. My first trip to Cabo was 1974, and it was as you described coming down Baja, little quaint fishing villages. My last trip to Cabo was 1997, what a change but I was prepared because my prior trip was 1991. My most enjoyable times was the 91~92 trip that had me sailing 1/2 way up the Sea of Cortez to Mulege (pronounced Moo la hay) and Santispac Beach, which is where I anchored about 20 miles south of Mulege. In this kind of community you have cruisers, expats with their home down there, and the locals, but we were all part of the local community. Some of us played football (soccer) with the local team, others organized fund raisers (BBQs) to raise funds to repair the town's water system. I think once you no longer need the infrastructure of a big city/tourist spot for the services of doctors, getting off the beaten path and blending into the local community will suit you well. The Mexican people are very friendly in the small towns and have their priorities straight, family, religion, then work. You will also discover the single price of services and provisions instead of the two prices you see in the tourist areas. Keep having fun, I'm a bit jealous.


January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBob "deckofficer"

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