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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Entries by Rebel Heart (38)

Tuesday
Aug192014

satellitephonestore.com: i have again not paid my bill

So you'd think that perhaps the nationally televised lawsuit, the written confirmation of account closure, or just a basic grasp of business practice might have caused satellitephonestore.com to take a glance at my account.

But no, not really.

Instead, despite everything at this point, they have continued to bill me and claim that my account is now past due. This is after:

1) They deactivated my phone on April 3, 2014.

2) I have notified them in writing to close my account.

3) They stated in writing my account would be closed.

4) In July they issued me a credit, one would think to refund me for when they took my money despite having a dead satellite phone, which they deactivated. 

The relevance here is simple: I wouldn't expect this kind of nonsense from a six year old's lemonade stand. And remember, this kind of bungled mess is when a national spotlight is on them and all of this will be evidence in a trial. If this is the best that they can muster, imagine what happens on a bad day.

Wednesday
Mar262014

fingers crossed for wind again

Someone in Puerto Vallarta make sure you hop on the VHF and tell Mike Danielson that, indeed, I'm glad I brought a good book with me because we've been rather becalmed for the last few days. "Becalmed" of course is a fancy way for saying "the swell will rock you around as your sails flog themselves to death with insufficient wind to move the boat in any relevant direction."

We're maybe five or six hundred miles off the coast of Mexico headed south west, trying every trick in the book to get down closer to more reliable winds. There are some not-unfriendly looking cumulus clouds floating around the barometer took a small hit so I'm hoping this keeps up through the night. I've really learned to embrace my inner light-air sailor. Three days of < 10 knot winds will do that to you, or at least they have to me.

For the last few nights the wind has dropped to around 3 knots, not "strengthening" to 7-ish knots until later in the morning. This has honestly been some of the toughest sailing I've done: needing to handle a boat in flukey air, dropping all sails and bobbing like a cork for hours in the open ocean, and trying to extract every ounce of speed I can when it does pipe up a bit. There's a certain joy in being exhausted from your day, only to hear your rig slamming about in nonexistent winds. Dropping sails on deck, the mainsail ungracefully trash-packed all over the coach roof, and my grumbling with my headlamp on.

We've only burned five gallons of diesel so far in this whole affair, knowing that since we carry so little (30, total) there really isn't a lot of fudge factor. Every drop and every minute needs to be carefully allocated and there hasn't been anywhere worth motoring towards, so sitting with johnsons-in-hand we do. In my defense this is my first ocean crossing and I'm usually a much better weather router, but I definitely screwed up the assessment on this one a bit and have been getting the consequences rammed into my respective orifices.

I haven't had a ton of time to sit around and be reflective about this insanely long passage. My waking hours are spent, entirely, working. Parenting, extracting performance from whatever wind we have, fixing a few broken things, laundry, my day job, and then trying to connect with my wife once the kids are in bed. Oh, and then there's whatever the night has in store for us which lately has been a huge back of, well, you know.

The forecast looks better starting tomorrow, we haven't seen a boat in days, and our apples should last another week if we ration ourselves.

Time to flip on the running lights and watch some Battle Star Galactica with Charlotte on my laptop.

Sunday
Mar232014

day ... 4?

I think it's day 4 now?

We're still running a somewhat normal configuration of a single reefed main, staysail, and yankee with decent results. During the daylight hours the wind tends to freshen a bit. At night we're seeing around 8 knots, and it pipes up to maybe 15-20 during the middle of the afternoon.

Night time boat speeds are hovering around 5.5, daytime is more like 6.5. We've bumped 8 knots a few times, and a few days ago we bobbed like a cork at 0.0.

I'm still trying to make sure we make a lot of westerly progress. That's not really that hard to do, but it does put the boat on a beam reach which for full grown adults isn't a problem but for a one year old it's a little... active.

At night when everyone is in bed, I sneak around and trim all the sails in a little tighter and put us back on a close reach. The motion is lumpy but people are sleeping so I get away with it. Once everyone is awake I'll widen back up again to a broad reach for the comfort factor.

The psychology of this trip has been rough. I read about everyone else's Pacific crossings: watching movies, reading books, fishing, etc. On Rebel Heart from the minute the girls are awake we're in extreme parenting mode with a couple of intervals where it calms down a bit during naps or digitally enhanced entertainmnet.

We've finally started reading about the islands from Polynesia to Tonga that we're planning on checking out: it's been a boost to our spirits to realize that we're not just crossing 3,000 miles of water for shits and grins. There is indeed, hopefully, a warm light at the end of the tunnel that involves a pleasant anchorage and some type of rum-based beverage.

Saturday
Mar222014

36 hours into our pacific crossing

Well this certainly is an interesting experience. It's not every day that one gets to sail across an ocean for the first time, and as I type this that's what we're doing. A gap materialized whereby both girls are entertained, the boat is basically on course and balanced, the water tank is full, batteries are at 14 volts, and well, things are pretty good.

Yesterday, things were not so good.

On our first day out the wind died at night, giving us the option of light air sailing with our drifter, bobbing like a cork with the sails down, or burning precious diesel fuel which will be needed later on.

Once the heavy Dacron sails couldn't keep up, I hoisted the lightweight drifter and we managed to make a couple of knots for a few hours. Dew set in after dark, saturating the boat and making everything cold and wet. Then the drifter parted, and my thoughts went to a "skied halyard", meaning one that is way the hell up there and you can't get it back down.

Portions of the sail went down into the water, forming a sea anchor of sorts, which loaded up the jib sheets (secured with bowlines). A blown out (1/3 of it was gone) sail was wrapping around the keel which fortunately on our boat is full-ish in shape so there's not a good chance of anything wrapping.

I had to literally hack the drifter up with my rigging knife, at three in the morning, on a sloppy wet deck with my headlamp on: pretty salty stuff.

The wind has actually been out of the WNW today (day 2), so we're close hauled making 4 knots or so now with a single reefed main, staysail, and yankee. The Hydrovane has been dutifully steering us around.

On the grib forecasts it looks like the wind starts shifting to be more northerly, which will let us widen up our angle to a beam reach and make true westward progress.

Psychologically, it's a pretty big adjustment to get used to an underway boat, at least for us. Day sailing is one thing, but this is a whole different bag of potatoes. I'm usually a meticulous navigator but I've found myself realizing that short of a daily fix there isn't much use in being more anal about it.

I'm really hoping the wind stays up tonight and doesn't die off like it did last night. Off the west coast of Baja, once you were about ~50nm out, the daily diurnal wind patterns dropped off and you got the prevailing northwesterlies.

It will take a huge load off of my mind to be "in the trades", or at least in a 24 hour wind pattern that we can bank on throughout the night. Bobbing like a cork is no fun, my light air sail is totally unrepairable, and diesel is worth its weight in gold.

Today we found ourselves in the cockpit for a few hours, everyone happy, the boat zipping along, and we look around smiling, realizing that this really can be fun. One day down, maybe 30 more to go.

Sunday
Feb162014

hydrogenerator sea trials: completed

I've been reluctant to write about my hydrogenerator for two primary reasons. First, it's hardly a new idea. There are commercial versions (that cost a grand or two) and hundreds of sailors have built DIY versions for decades. Second, I hadn't tested my little creation yet so it seemed a little presumptuous to wax on about something that might not work at all. 

But today, halleluiah, I sea trailed the whole mess in the dinghy with great results.

Essentially you toss the black prop (connected to the stainless shaft there) into the water. It's connected by a shackle to some single braid line, and then goes taught, the other end of the line being secured to a shackle on an Electro-Craft E722 permanent magnet motor's axle.

At 300 RPMS, which seems to happen around ~4.3 knots, the motor makes about 12.5 volts. The faster it goes the more amperage and voltage it creates. I'm not worried about a voltage regulator because the amperage is low (about 5 amps at 12.5 volts, to maybe 12 amps at 90 volts), but to reach the upper threshold of voltage we would be doing double our hull speed so at that point over charging our batteries will be the least of my concerns. 

I had a local machine shop drill a hole through the generator's shaft so I could put a shackle through it.I only lost about 1/4 of a knot in my testing, so if I double that (to be a pessimist) and do some math it means a 20 day passage would now take 22 days. But that's 22 days of making 5 amps continually, which means we don't need to haul as much gasoline or diesel. And as anyone who's sailed downwind knows, it literally stinks to run the engine because the exhaust fumes blow into the cockpit and cabin. 

For the motor I had a few criteria. One, it had to be a permanent magnet motor. Two, it had to be fairly low horsepower because I wouldn't have a lot of rotational torque (generated by the prop) to work with. Three, it had to hit charging voltage (> 12.5 volts) at a low RPM. The Ametek models are definitely the most popular, but I re-read the specs on the Electro-Craft E722 and felt it would do the job as well if not better. Both of these motors were originally designed to spin large disk drives around and as such are frequently found on Ebay. The good news is that a lot of people are building wind generators these days, the bad news is that it's raised the price considerably on the motors. I was lucky and got mine for $50 but $100-$200 seems a bit more common.

The other thing I had the machine shop do was build a shaft for the prop with an eyelet on the end.For the prop I'm sure there are better options than what I got, but I was pressed for time and saw a $400 prop on sale at West Marine in San Diego for $40. I figured that was better than whatever else I'd be able to find so I tossed it in my checked baggage and called it good. 

I had a machine shop drill a hole through the motor shaft that would accept an 8mm shackle so I could secure that to a thimble in the tow line.

I also had the machine shop use a solid stainless rod, thread it, and pop a nyloc nut on for the prop. Also, they put an eyelet on the end that I could likewise shackle to a thimble on the end of the tow line.

When testing I was happy to see that the line doesn't kink at all: the rotational twist builds up in a few seconds and then starts happily spinning the motor. The drag on the prop causes the line (at least my single braid) to not kink, and any twist is transferred as kinetic energy to the motor's shaft. 

The only other thing you want to make sure to add is a blocking diode. Otherwise when there's more voltage in the batteries than the motor is making, either because the boat is slow or possibly because your solar panels are putting out a lot of juice, the motor will start consuming electricity rather than generating it, and you can watch the prop as it tries to spin itself away from your boat.

My machinist showing me the fastener assembly he built for the prop shaft.All in, rounding up, I spent $50 on the motor, $8 on a blocking diode, $40 on the prop, $100 at the machine shop, and $40 worth of line and thimbles. So that's $240 and possibly another $30 for a soft shackle to make a fairlead, call it $300 all in to hopefully have a sizeable heap of clean energy for our passages. I'll report back with more info but I've got high hopes that in addition to being quieter and more environmentally friendly it will also end up being cheaper as $300 worth of gas and diesel really doesn't go that far.  

Regarding fish eating it. Personally I think that's cruiser-folklore (a.k.a. "sea stories"). The stainless steel shaft is two feet long and it's 1/2" single braid which is pretty tough to slice unless you hack it to death in multiple attempts. I'm of the personal belief that the loss of towed props is due much more to common and less dramatic reasons like forgetting to mouse a shackle. Either way though, the electrical connections and line that secures the motor to the boat will be sufficient but intentionally the weakest link so that if a school-bus sized sea monster bites hard it wont rip the transom off.

Tuesday
Jan072014

still plugging along on thekeel.com

Charlotte and Lyra are up in the United States so it's just been me, Cora, and a rainy week (now followed up by getting sick): a perfect recipe for writing software on my laptop. I've been messing around with the idea for thekeel.com for a while, but it's really starting to firm up in my head now. 

Links back to blogs or web sites. The reality is that there is a lot of passage data scattered around the Internet, so thekeel.com allows those to be connected to the route themselves. So you can look around the map, find routes others have taken, and then find resources they've found or created. An example of La Paz to Banderas Bay.

Visually share routes and current location. Similar to what's on the front of therebelheart.com, you can show your current location and all places you've been. Plus, this information can be updated offshore by sending a very small formatted email. Friends, families, and anyone who goes to your website (if you have one) can see pretty easily where you are and where you've been. 


So if you have some gpx files from your GPS receiver, give it a shot. Hopefully it's of use to you and feel free to hit me up with any questions or comments. 

Tuesday
Aug272013

well now, here we are in puerto escondido

Looking west in Puerto Escondido at sunset.

Now that the dust has settled from Charlotte's blog post, I submit my own meager thoughts on our current location: Puerto Escondido, Baja Sur, Mexico. 

We've mentioned it over and over again but the heat is really the overriding factor. A close second now though are cyclones, rotating masses of heat and moisture that can wreak amazing amounts of damage. Even the systems that don't graduate into hurricanes, or break apart and send their appendages scattering about, can still cause substantial damage.

Tropical Storm Ivo passed through here a few days ago and blazed a path north that resulted in a drowning related death in Las Vegas, Nevada. We had 50 knot gusts down here and roughly a foot of rain in a day. The road to the nearest town was washed out in numerous places, homes were destroyed, and the sea water itself is still loaded with palm trees, cacti, and dirt. 

Cora's head, and looking out from the roof of our apartment where we can see Rebel Heart floating in the inner harbor.Puerto Escondido, in August, with a family, is pretty rough. Some people like it here very much, and I'd put that number maybe at two dozen, none of which have families. It's one thing to like the Sea of Cortez outside of the summer months, but late August through mid September is a switch that fluctuates between tropical cyclones and the blazing heat of the desert. 

The other night I walked through sheets of rain to get out to Rebel Heart: it was her first night on her new mooring and I couldn't sleep without verifying the ground tackle was holding and there was no chafe in the 20-50 knot winds. Scorpions scurried and frogs hopped all along the the road, eyeing me cautiously. A workman in a shack wondered who the insane gringo was walking around in the storm with board shorts and flip flops on, in the middle of the night.

Last night our bathroom (in the apartment we're renting) had a roach, a gecko, and a rather large spider, all staring at each other and finally allowing me to witness a true Mexican Stand Off.

We've officially been here a long time: the switching of courtesy flags.In two months it will be a year that we've lived in Mexico. It's hard to write objectively about things when you're in the throws of the tough parts, so as someone in mile ~18 of a marathon I'll recuse myself from forming a full opinion.

Putting so much of our lives up under the public spotlight inherently invites criticism and comment: it's just part of the equation. It's hard to put my finger on it but one thing this trip has really taught me is the importance of a unified, constructive, long-term mentality.

I mean really, how often in your life do you have to literally brave uncharted courses armed exclusively with your own wits, for years at a time? The longest haul that most people do is college, which is hardly comparable since you're around a bunch of other people doing the same thing and the institution exists for your success. The sea, however, does not have guidance counselors or academic coaches to help you out when you stumble.

This is not to say that you (or we) should simply bash our heads into the problem until it relents: another lesson of the sea is that when you attempt to argue with an ocean you will lose every single f'n time. Instead, you adjust the sails, anchor in a bay and wait for the weather to pass, or otherwise find a way to strike a tenuous balance. The sea is always changing: the deal you strike with it today will be washed away by tomorrow. 

The northern Baja Sur coastline, with the Sierra Giganta, is a mountainous desert unlike it's pancake-flat southern relative. Tonight I get to walk the ~1/2 mile back down the bay and dinghy back out to Rebel Heart, double checking the ground tackle before a couple of cells show up from a non-formed tropical storm that's showing up tomorrow. 

Would I rather be doing something else tonight? Of course. But do I get to spend more time with my kids than any other person I know? Yep. Have I seen more in the last year than anyone else I know? Yep. Does my eldest child feel as comfortable in a third world shack as a first world mansion? Yep. Have Charlotte and I learned a ton about ourselves and experienced so much we don't even know where to begin talking about it? Absolutely.

Time to head out, clouds are coming over the mountain tops and sundown is in a couple of hours.

Tuesday
Jan292013

life in the expat worker yet beachbum lane

Meet my “office”, a special area in the back of Philo’s Bar in our current home town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. For a little under $5 a day you can use their insanely fast (by Mexican standards) wifi connection, use a phone that dials the US and Canada for free, drink as much coffee as you like, and even hop in the shower if that fits your needs.

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There’s also a VHF for hailing, an air conditioner that in the summer time I bet is a godsend, and a TV from the late 80’s. All in all, if you need to camp out on a laptop for a bit either for work or just to transfer some big files around, Philo’s is a terrific place to do it.

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After doing the job thing from 9am-4pm without a break I realized that I was feeling a little woozy. Three cups of coffee, a glass of milk, and a protein bar was as much as I had managed to scarf down. It was time to get back down to the boat, relieve Charlotte of parental duty, and hang out with Cora.

Take out (or para llevar, in Spanish… that was a new one for me) isn’t super common but after some quick thinking I tried over at Ya Ya’s Café and lucked out. We grabbed some tacos and some drinks: it was pretty funny seeing my beer poured into a styrofoam cup complete with lid and straw, but I just said gracias and smiled.

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Hiking back to the beach, Cora and I ate on the sand. Cora took it a step further and actually ate a lot of sand which I only became aware of when I heard the crunching sound of her teeth grinding away at tiny pebbles.

My little buddy and me, chilling on the beach, eating our tacos, watching the waves. Days like this, and really even just the small part of my day when it works out like that, makes me forget about all the shenanigans and work it takes to keep our little sailing family moving forward.

CoraCasadilla

Monday
Jan282013

goodness, greatness, greatballs of fire. and a costco membership.

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Yesterday was one of those days that just clicked. I can’t even remember what we started the day with, but I remember the tail end of the afternoon had Cora and I in a paddleboard race (which we kicked ass in). Sadly, and as somewhat a normal thing in my life now, our victory was mainly secured due to the really fast paddleboarders being down in a “real” race to the south, leaving us yokels in the north to duke it out with each other. Still, a victory is a victory and you have to savor your wins.

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Unrelated, I’ve been surprised how many people around here don’t learn Spanish. I’m far from fluent but every day or two I pick up a word I didn’t know before, and I now can get through most of my day without having to resort to charades.

There are a lot of folks for whom Mexico is about secluded condo developments and interacting solely with other English speakers. Visiting the local Costco (of which I am, for the first time in my life, a member) I realized that a lot of Americans (and Canadians) live the way some of the more un-integrated immigrant communities do up north.

In San Diego, there are Asian supermarkets that carry weird food. Food that only Asians buy with labels only Asians can read. Walking around the Costco in Puerto Vallarta today I realized that I am now that person. I’m the guy shopping in the weird store. I’m the guy cooking with the weird ingredients. The locals shop at one place, and I shop at another. True, there are some Mexicans that shop at Costco but take a look at the picture below and judge for yourself who’s coming and going.

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Going back to my kick ass yesterday, after the race Cora and I hopped in the shower and then headed over to the after party. Since all the cool kids were down at the big time race, it was a small crowd but we loved it. Our friends on Fluenta were there, the beer was cheap, and the folks at Oso’s were really nice.

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Out on the edge of the jetty there was going to be a bonfire and some dude would be doing something with fire. I didn’t give it much thought other than to tell Cora that there was going to be a party and we should go.

Not to disparage my own country, but there are certain times when America sort of sucks. Our endless obsession with rules and order really clamps down on fun. Go ahead and try to have a bonfire with a guy swallowing a sword at the end of a municipal jetty and let me know how it worked out for you. You’ll be shut down if not arrested in the time it takes one do-gooder to rat you out to the police because they’re worried about your safety.

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But no no, not in Mexico. Down here when a man has flaming objects secured by chains that he flings around, he asks you to get in closer. Bring the kids in closer. Closer to the bonfire, closer to his whipsawing incendiaries. Ten feet should be sufficient.

Where did this crazy man come from you ask? A hired professional, as would happen in the states? Surely you jest. This man is from Australia, having sailed over to Mexico and learned all his tricks about fire by stopping in with local cultures along the way. It’s his only job and he passed his hat (literally) around the crowd of 20 sailors to ask for a few pesos since that’s his only source of income.

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If there’s an overarching theme to the sailors I’ve met in my life, of which Mr. Fire Guy is one of them, it’s that they are uniformly unique. You meet people who are lonely, people who are happy, and people who are sad. There are folks with tons of friends, and some guys that just seem to row back and forth from the anchorages alone never bothering to talk to anyone else. There are the perennial socialites that regardless of location quickly find themselves ingratiated into the local happenings.

There are people with families, people who want families, and people who miss their families. There are people dying of cancer hand steering for thousands of miles. People learning to dance with fire. There are guys sailing solo, there are women sailing solo.

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But the thing that sets them apart and makes them an instant member of the tight knit club known as “sailors” is that they’re out here making it work. Faced with the same obstacles (or more) as anyone else, they manage to get their car off the highway of life that only fast tracks you to the grave.

Life is hard. Having a family is hard. Staying healthy is hard. Getting old is hard. So, since it’s going to be hard anyway, why not make life amazing on top of it all?

Thursday
Jan242013

two weeks in the states

Hopping on the bus in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, I opened the minivan’s sliding door (most of the buses here are minivans) and found an entire indigenous band complete with instruments staring back at me. There was a seat between two drummers and there I sat on the long ride to Puerto Vallarta International Airport.

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I needed to fly back to the states for business. My job is a blessing and a curse. I love the people I work with, I find the work intellectually challenging and rewarding, and any normal human on planet Earth knows that having money is better than the alternative. The curse is that it’s down right hard to do a normal Western job from a developing nation. The very things that stymy a developing (read: third world) nation are in deed the things that make it hard for business to function here. Mexico has cell towers that cut out. They don’t have mifi devices. Dialing intra-country is weird. International shipping is slow and costly to the tune of weeks and an additional 30%, which sadly is much better than the domestic mail system, it being genuinely worse than the Pony Express.

My contemporaries stateside have none of these challenges and live in a world very much catered towards being productive. Cheap broadband. High quality electronics. Quick shipping on nearly anything your heart desires. Not only are most Internet companies in America, but the datacenters are there as well. You don’t have to be a network engineer to understand that it’s cheaper to move data from San Francisco to San Diego than from San Francisco to Mexico. For all the jargon of clouds and “anywhere access”, the Internet has always been and will always be, forgive me here, a system of tubes. Really long and expensive tubes.

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Living in hotels for two weeks didn’t sound so appealing so I opted to mix it up a little bit. Little did I know that the 2013 flu season would catch up with me, making things interesting all by itself. But before I left Mexico I had concreted in plans to visit some friends, not stay in the corporate hotels (when avoidable), and even do some alternate travel.

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I stayed in my friend’s hallway in the Castro district of San Francisco. Quite the mind-screw that was, to have spent months in sleepy Mexico then 48 hours later to find myself in the heart of the most urban-gay area of the world, at night, after consuming some mind altering substances.

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We went to a comedy club that, surprisingly, was quite funny. My favorite joke was a guy who said his day job is an engineer and he always introduces himself that way rather than as a comedian. When he says he’s an engineer people say, “Wow, he’s a really funny engineer.” When he introduces himself as a comedian they say, “Man, he’s a pretty boring comedian.” I guess you had to be there.

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I stayed in New Orleans as well but was getting over the flu so other than forcing myself to walk around outside for a few minutes and see the river, there wasn’t much going on.

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The highlight of my trip, for me, was that I managed to take the train from Houston to New York City, a combined total of roughly 48 hours. I had a sleeper car and they serve you breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Short of someone getting murdered I felt like I was in an Agatha Christie novel. Why, you might ask, would I want to spend two days traveling by train when I could instead spend five hours on a plane?

Well beyond the serendipity of it fitting in with my flu convalescing, there’s something to be said for slowing down. I met a playwright and talked for hours about character development, I got a chance to see into the backyards and hometowns of countless Americans, and I slept up against the glass of my cabin’s window. When I woke up at night and opened my eyes there was America, flashing by right in front of me. It was a pretty great experience. Even with the flu.

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I also spent three days in New York City, my hotel sitting squarely in the Hell’s Kitchen region of Manhattan. Just blocks from Time Square it was again the huge punch to the gut to go from Mexico and boats to New York and its power brokers in business and corporate risk (my field). I had a little more appreciation for tourists that were shopping at the various stores. Now that I’ve lived in Mexico for a bit and seen how superior (sorry, rest of the world) so many American products are I can understand the mad dash to pick them up if you’re coming from another country.

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So sorry for the boring-as-sin blog post, but two weeks of business travel isn’t ranking super high on anyone’s list of good times. Although for the record, and I know I’m a dork to admit this, I really do like the people I work with and the work itself I take pride in.

I’ve been back in Mexico now for a few days and I’m getting back into the swing of things. Expect some more updates shortly that will be less fatiguing to read and perhaps contain some content that you would actually like to read.