Friday, June 23, 2017

A Day In School
By Michael
SAVUSAVU, FIJI

Thanuja graciously extended an offer for the girls to attend Arindie's school for the day. "I even have extra uniforms the girls can wear."

We woke early for the Robertsons, scarfed down breakfast, and arrived in Lautoka by 8:30. The girls quickly changed into school uniforms and we got back in our rental car for the 5-minute trip to Arindie's school.

The entire student body was seated in a small quad, a concrete island surrounded by classrooms. As we exited the car on the road in front of the school, we could hear the headmaster wrapping up his morning briefing.

Then he saw us approach.

"Wait! Wait students. Sit back down."

Now at this point in the story, I'll tell you that the girls were eager to check out Arindie's school, but also a bit nervous.

Neither girl expected the ebullient welcome they received upon arrival. It was a blast for this parent to watch. I got the video rolling as quickly as I could:



One thing that isn't easy to see in the video, but which was totally apparent in person, is the reaction of the two classes when the principal announced the girls would sit in with the 5th and 7th grades. Each distinct group of 30 or so kids exploded in cheers and high-fives like they'd won the lottery. It was pretty cool.

At the end of the day we picked the girls up and they were comfortable and beaming. It was a good day.

--MR

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Day One in Fiji: A Wedding
By Michael
NADI, FIJI


Frances, Arindie, and Eleanor, in
wedding attire.
Yesterday I was behind the wheel of a rented Nissan Tiida driving down a narrow, pot-holed highway headed out of the city. On the phone and in the passenger seat next to me was a Sri Lankan judge contracted by the Fijian government to preside over rape and murder cases for the nation's highest court. We were lost.

The judge hung up, "I'm sorry, turn around, he says it's back by the crematorium we passed a while ago."

72 hours earlier, shortly after Windy, the girls, and I landed tired and jetlagged in Fiji, I emailed the judge to let him know we'd arrived. We were eager to finally meet. We'd been in contact since last fall, when my good friend Manjula put us in touch. "Aruna and Thanuja and their kids are family." He explained that they are in Fiji for three years and that we should look them up when we go back."

Aruna, the judge, responded to my arrival email right away. He asked if we wanted to get together that evening, offering to let us accompany him and his family to an Indian wedding.

"Wow, that would be a very cool experience, but there's no way. We all can hardly keep our eyes open and besides, our tattered clothing isn't wedding-appropriate."

At 6:30 the next morning, I got Aruna's emailed response. "If you're really interested in attending a traditional Indian wedding, get dressed, eat breakfast, and start driving towards Lautoka. We'll meet you at the University of Fiji and escort you to the Lomolomo Village."

After a couple more hurried email exchanges and a frantic visit to our hotel's gift shop to buy something more appropriate than our cruisers' clothes, we raced down the dock, took the shuttle boat across the isthmus to our rental car, and sped away. Aruna and his family were waiting for us in the university parking lot.

After quick introductions and hugs, we learned that Indian weddings last for 4 days and that our hosts were taking a break this day, sending us instead with their 12-year-old daughter, whom we'd known for 40 seconds.

I thought puffer fish were poison, served only
in select Japanese restaurants where patrons
put their lives in the hands of an expert chef.
Yet, we see them for sale everywhere.
"Arindie will show you the way. Stay as long as you want. She'll direct you back to our house when you're done and we'll have a traditional Sri Lankan dinner ready for you."

The wedding was indeed interesting. We were there for the final ceremony, before the reception the following day (though we did enjoy a wonderful buffet lunch following the ceremony; it's difficult to imagine the scale of the official reception). Everything was in Hindi, and went on for hours, but it passed quickly, a feast for the ears and eyes.

For the next couple of days, Aruna and Thanuja and their two kids made us feel like honored guests in Fiji. Their generosity and hospitality was remarkable. They welcomed us into their home, introduced us to their friends, and showed us more of Lautoka than we'd have seen on our own.

On our last evening together, I drove Aruna out of town in search of the auto repair shop where their vehicle was waiting to be picked up.

"I'm sorry we're lost, that I'm taking your time," he told me.

I looked at the tall, jagged peaks on the horizon and at the fields of dense sugar cane that surrounded us. At the people on the side of the road sitting behind neat piles of live crabs wrapped in banana leaves they hoped to sell. At the smiles on the faces that looked down at me from the windows of a passing bus. At the High Court judge in the passenger seat next to me who had just taught me about the 1956 catalyst for the Tamil uprising in his native Sri Lanka.

"No, don't be sorry, Aruna. There's really no place I'd rather be."

--MR
Exploring First Landing after the wedding.

The Robertsons and our new Sri Lankan friends. Missing from the photo
is Asel, Arindie's little brother. Also missing are the friends and neighbors
that Aruna and Thanuja introduced us to: Sanath and Ranga.

The Loutoka market is a feast for the eyes.

The girls on a Loutoka carnival ride.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Everything Left to Lose
By Michael
AJO, ARIZONA


Me and Old Frances. This is my 95 1/2-year-old
grandma we just visited in Nebraska. She still
lives alone and drives. And I just noticed that's
also me in her acrylic tissue box.
It seems like three years ago that we were in Tonga. Yet it was only 12 months ago that we were in Tonga’s Ha’apai group aboard Del Viento, arrived from Vava’u. Then back to Vava’u en route to American Samoa to visit old friends, east to Samoa for the first time, and then southwest to Fiji. That’s where we decided to buy a house in Arizona, sight unseen, and managed the whole transaction from Fiji. In October we buttoned up the boat and flew to Washington, D.C. via a 4-day layover in Australia. Then on to California to visit family and buy a truck before driving to Arizona to start work on the house. Here we’ve introduced a number of new friends into our lives over bonfires and dinners and hikes. We’ve vacationed in Mexico and attended a gay-pride parade in Phoenix. The girls have enjoyed their first real stretch in public school and emerged unscathed. We’ve spent time with family in Nebraska and California and Washington state.

It’s been a very full year.

We’re lucky to have had it.

We’ve been able to have it because we’ve broken free.

That is probably the single biggest benefit of this cruising life we’ve chosen, freedom. And the freedom we’ve gained from changing our lives up wasn’t even the reason we left to go cruising, it’s an unexpected benefit. And I’m not talking about win-the-lottery-and-quit-your-job kind of freedom, but something different.

Making the decision to leave our careers behind and sell nearly everything except what would fit on the boat meant breaking free, free of all the trappings and obligations of lives that would have made a year like the past year impossible.

Young Frances dolled up and
being silly ahead of a school
performance.
I’ve fretted since we took off about what our end game would look like. Most families don’t cruise forever, and most don’t want to. (We probably won’t.) We didn’t leave a house rented that we could slip back into, resuming careers put on hold. When our savings ran out and we had to sell the boat and stop, we could land literally anywhere and start new lives. But where?

While in Alaska we seriously considered making that our future home (we still talk about it today). While in San Diego we realized that would be an easy place to live aboard and work, barely getting rooted so that once we’d saved enough we could make a quick escape. (We paid $75 to get our names on a waiting list for a mooring.) In La Paz, Mexico, we peeked into the courtyards of homes for sale.

“But where would we work if we lived in Mexico?”

Before crossing the Pacific two years ago, our bank statements were flashing red warning lights when we opened the envelope. We cast feelers far and wide for work. I networked through IT contacts about cleared jobs on Kwajalein Atoll and uncleared work in the Marshall Islands. I pestered Meri on Hotspur about what we were qualified to do in American Samoa. We envied the French cruisers who could work at will in French Polynesia. We listened to the stories of Kiwi expats who’d started successful businesses in Tonga and wondered if that was for us. We didn’t want to give up our freedom, but our savings were running on fumes.

Then fortune smiled on us. I got an email out of the blue from Karen Larson over at Good Old Boat magazine. She’d read my book, Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines, and I’d sold her stories and cover photos over the years and she now wanted to know whether I’d be interested in interviewing for a managing editor position at her magazine.

“But you know I’m cruising, I live on a boat, currently in Tonga, yeah?”

“Do they have internet in Tonga?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, that wouldn’t disqualify you. All of the staff works from home, wherever home is.”

A pretty view of Ajo.
That was just over a year ago.

The anxiety I’d felt over determining our end game vanished. All the writing I’d done since we started cruising, the magazine articles and the two books, had paid off. We didn’t have to give up our freedom just yet.

I’m now a member of this new class of mobile worker. My work is what I do, not where I live. I don’t earn as much money as I did in D.C., but our cost of living isn’t tied to D.C. We can continue setting sail, reefing sails, and plotting courses for all kinds of places, or settle down and live wherever we like. We’re free in a way that we never were. We have talked about renting a place in Japan for a while to see what that’s like. Of following in the footsteps of our friends on Hotspur and doing the same thing in Vietnam or Mexico.

And it’s all possible because we took the leap into the unknown to head down a road that extended only as far as our savings. When we left, we could see the length of that finite road and there was absolutely nothing at the end, except the good fortune to able to return to the lives we left behind, albeit a few steps behind our peers who didn’t take a five-year sabbatical and blow through their savings.

That’s the view that keeps many people who are otherwise interested in cutting the dock lines, close to shore. We’re a society that celebrates the risk taker, but few take big risks. Few should. I don’t begrudge the risk-averse. I don’t pretend that the decisions we’ve made are appropriate for everyone, nor that they’re prudent. I just know that they’re right for us. I look forward to another year that I can’t see from here.

--MR
Windy with Frances, working on one of the windows in our house.
Okay, just kidding, this is an abandoned place we found hiking
in the desert near our house, but its not much better than our house.

Eleanor trying to beat Old Frances at cards, big mistake showing
her hand when she scoots in for this picture.

The girls with one of the replica prairie schooners on display
in Scottsbluff. This bluff was a major landmark in the
big westward migration, part of the Oregon Trail.

So on the way back to Denver airport, we pulled off the road and hiked
to the base of one of those turbine wind generators so I could show the
girls just how massive they are, the huge blades rotating above our heads with
a colossal whoosh. So just before we reached the turbine, Eleanor grabs
onto be and tries to stop me and push me aside. I saw this big guy right after
exclaiming, "What the heck are you doing?!" She enjoyed a few hours in the
limelight after claiming credit for saving my life, but then I looked this guy up and
he's just a harmless bull snake. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Night of the Lepus
By Michael & Windy
AJO, AZ


Our own bunny cactus in our yard.
Just when you thought you were safe... They come out of the desert at night: flesh eating bunnies. Just in time for Easter, the Movie Channel broadcast a cult-horror classic famous for its awfulness. Night of the Lepus features a town under siege from adorable bloodthirsty bunnies the size of grizzly bears. MGM shot the movie in Ajo, Arizona in 1972.

For the giant killer rabbit shots, they used regular rabbits stampeding through a model town (no CGI back then) and slowed the film speed to give the bunnies a seeming heft. It was a good idea, but the end result looked like giant friendly bunnies juxtaposed with the terrified faces of men, women, and children.

At some point in post-production, the studio heads realized the problem and addressed it with a marketing plan. They stripped all rabbit references from the trailer and posters and title (lepus is Latin for rabbit). They built hype by keeping the source of terror a mystery (“Buy a ticket for the big reveal.”)

I don’t think it was effective. Even the all-star cast was lampooned for their performances.

And like all good (?) stories it’s based on a kernel of truth. Ajo is overrun by bunnies. They are adorable and plush and have the cutest white puffy tails. They do come out at night (and during the day). In fact, at any given moment, you can look around and spot at least one. They’re regular-sized and they don't eat humans, but they do eat gardens, especially savoring tender new shoots as they eke out a life in this harsh environment. Each one looks like Peter Rabbit, and so we share our garden with them.

This is why Ajo is a good place to celebrate Easter.

--MR & WR

One of the many murals of Ajo. The rabbits in this
mural look silly, but they're much more terrifying than
those in the movie.




The official trailer.



Here's a clip to give you an idea of what the movie looks like.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Back to Mexico
By Michael
AJO, AZ


The FAA doesn't allow passenger rides
in ultralights in the United States. In fact
the only approved use of a 2-person
ultralight in the U.S. is certified instruction.
But, as though we needed to be reminded,
Mexico is not the U.S. That's me in the
red shirt, about 45 seconds prior to take-off.
It’s frustrating living in our shell of a house, with six weeks still remaining before we batten the hatches and head back to Fiji. I mean, I don’t mind being here, I really like Ajo and I often enjoy doing this work we chose to do, but it’s hard being away from home, from Del Viento. It’s especially hard when I’m in regular contact with friends and others casting off and heading across the Pacific for the first time. I know what awaits them, I can feel it like it was yesterday, the anticipation before the crossing, the exhilaration that comes a few days out when you’re in the groove and you realize you’ve made enough miles that the air temperature has gone up. There’s nothing like it. Manakai and MonArc and Terrapin and others are all feeling it.

And they’re all leaving from Mexico too, where we left from.

And we’re so close to Mexico.

And a family friend was visiting.

So we battened the hatches for a few days and went to drink some cold Tecate on the shores of the Sea of Cortez. After all, it's the reason we bought a house in Ajo.

It helped, a lot.

--MR


Full power and we were off the ground in about 30 feet,
and our ground speed was super slow, headed directly
into the afternoon onshore flow from the Sea.

I got a bird's eye view of the harbor at Puerto Penasco.
This whole place is like Cabo in the 1980s. Five
years from now this view will be utterly different.

Turkeys.

I'd love to know how they came to have a twin-Beech in their backyard.

"But you got to ride in the ultralight, Dad."

My woman in her element: a drink
in each hand and close to the water.

These beautiful Katrinas were ceramic, the larger ones
about 3 feet tall.

Ally, Frances, and Eleanor on ground level, same harbor.

An excellent taco meal, I'm up playing soccer with the owner's kid.
He didn't stand a chance.

Eleanor, our dear friend Ally, and Frances.

The ocotillos were in full bloom, throughout the
Sonoran desert, but especially on the Mexico side.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Twists and Turns
By Michael
AJO, AZ


A is for Ajo.
There is no way we’re going to complete this house on schedule—on schedule meaning before we return to Fiji and Del Viento in early June. Part of the reason things are taking so long is that the house needs much more work than we anticipated. It’s going to be a gem when we’re done, but it’s gonna take longer than we planned. The other part of the reason for the slowdown is work related, like work-for-money-work related.

I’ve been freelance writing since we began cruising. It’s not paid the bills, but it’s certainly slowed down the burn rate (and it’s been a lot of fun). Then, just over a year ago, while in Tonga, I assumed the role of managing editor at Good Old Boat magazine. This job has demanded a bit more of my time, but it’s paid the bills and it’s been interesting and pretty easy to do, about a 20-hours-per-week commitment. It’s not really slowed us down.

Now, I’ve taken on the role of editor at Good Old Boat and it’s a great pleasure and excellent opportunity, but it’s a full-time job. Windy and I considered the offer carefully for about two weeks before I committed to it.

This house was my full-time job. Now I’ve got two full-time jobs.

In short, we’re making slow progress on the house, but I’m mostly spending my days learning my new magazine job.

I’ll be able to work just as easily from Fiji as I do from Ajo, thankfully, but I’m realizing that very long passages are not in our future. We could spend the rest of our lives living and working in Fiji, exploring her 300 islands and maybe even making passages to Vanuatu or the Solomons or New Zealand or Australia, but we’d long planned to head north to Japan and those plans are off the table. This is a huge blow to Eleanor, especially, who’s been teaching herself Japanese for the past 18 months.

Our plan now is to return to Fiji in June, swim and dive and sail and explore and assess and evaluate our lives as a family for a few months, and then return to the U.S. in October to attend the Annapolis sailboat show and finish this house.

We’re all still enjoying this unscripted path our lives are on. It’s with wonder that I recall where we were six years ago, on the precipice of jumping into the cruising life. Even then I could not have guessed at how things would have unfolded. And it’s still unfolding. And I don’t yet regret a single twist in our path.

--MR
We've been to four or five of these
bonfire potlucks in the desert near our home. It's
no different than cruising to look at a photo like
this from a couple weeks ago, and see a group of
people I know and call friends, none of whom I knew
just a couple weeks before this was taken.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Back to School Days
By Windy
AJO, AZ


Frances just celebrated her 11th
birthday. One thing about this cruising
adventure we embarked on is that
it marked time like nothing else,
 there's our lives before cruising and
our lives after cruising, nothing else is
like that. So the span of Frances's life
from the 5-year-old we sailed away with
to the 11-year-old we've got today is
clear as a bell, and I've enjoyed it
very much.
Having made the choice to raise our kids outside of the traditional school/home environment, cruising parents expose their families to an unusual level of scrutiny. We get kudos from fellow cruisers who perceive the education our kids receive while cruising to be ideal: "Cruising kids are so way ahead of their peers." And non-cruisers' perceptions, positive or negative, typically are a product of their ideas about homeschooling: Grandparents worry the grandkids will fall behind academically, family friends give pop quizzes mining for gaps, and total strangers take note when our kids make or do not make eye contact. And we, the cruising families, we are the harshest critics, or the staunchest advocates, or somewhere in between; sometimes it depends on the day.

The litmus test is re-entry. What happens when boat kids finally start or return to school? Are they socially awkward? Are they behind? Do they excel? Are they overwhelmed? Competent? Resilient? Bullied? Bored? Confident? Disorganized? Different?

Well, we now can speak from experience and the answer to all of those questions is: Yes.

Our kids started school three months ago in Ajo, Arizona. Prior to attending, Eleanor (13) had completed half a year of kindergarten and Frances (11) had never attended school. For the last 7 or so years we have homeschooled or boatschooled. We have not followed a set curriculum. We have not followed U.S. Common Core grade standards. Our kids have not taken standardized tests. We have provided support and materials according to their interests (art) and encouraged them to build skills at their own pace (writing). They have been expected to progress in certain subjects they might not love (math). And of course they are cruising kids and have benefited from a diversity of experiences that, when I look back over the years, is incredible.

Frances getting an academic
award from the principal and
superintendent.
So, based on our sample of two, I am going to make some generalizations about what happens when cruising kids attend school. Many of these observations may apply to long-term homeschoolers entering a classroom.

First, if your kid is disorganized in the cruising life, she will be disorganized in regular life. If your kid typically forgets her sun hat, she will forget her backpack when leaving for school. Seems obvious, but people are who they are, cruising doesn't change that.

Boat kids spend a lot of time with adults. They have adult friends. So the teacher/student hierarchy typical in classrooms is more blurry to them. For better or for worse, cruising kids are not reluctant to engage teachers.

Cruising kids are accustomed to mostly respectful interactions between and among adults and kids, and so the behavior they sometimes witness in the classroom will be shocking at first: teachers pushed to despair, kids treated like toddlers, bullying, profanity, cheating. That said, it will be shocking and it will be interesting. (To be fair, these are exceptions, their school here is great.)

Cruising kids, especially those whose families lean toward unschooling, will be out-of-sync academically. They have had more time to pursue their interests, and so will be ahead of their peers in the subjects close to their hearts (we are an arts and humanities family, all the way), and they might be behind in other subjects. But to a degree, that's all kids, right?

Cruising kids (particularly those who started young) will suck at team sports. Just yesterday Eleanor asked, "What's softball?"

Sometimes cruising kids will appear stupid to their fellow students. They will sit in the wrong seat. They will not respond to bells. They will not know the Pledge of Allegiance. They will turn in work they shouldn't, and their name will not be on it. They will ask what a "homeroom" is. They will ask if a 'B' is good, and what will happen to them if they get an 'F.'

The girls releasing one of
several pack rats we've caught
around the house.
Cruising kids will be surprised at how much of their day is eaten up by school and homework. Some kids will be so heartsick over their loss of free time that they will want to quit school. They will stick it out because their parents encourage them to give it a chance and ultimately they will come to a certain peace, but they will long for the hours spent in their berth buried in stacks of comics and sketchpads. Just saying.

So what happened when our boat kids went to school? A lot of different things. At the very beginning one of the girls experienced some trauma, some tears. The other was gleeful and fascinated from the start. Their response to the transition had everything to do with their individual personalities and very little to do with cruising or homeschooling. Academics have not been a big deal. They've either jumped right in, or they've learned what they need to know to be where they need to be. They've caught on to the ins and outs of school, classroom etiquette, schedules, and homework. They are different than their peers. They dress differently and they speak differently. They can't swing a baseball bat, but they can pick up a mooring ball. They have hiked to Trapper's Cabin, swum with sharks, and run from a hurricane. They have known the isolation of long ocean passages, and said goodbye to friends again and again. It all seems to have prepared them pretty well for school.

--WR
Frances with the Kindle reader she was awarded
by the Ajo librarian for the bookmark contest she won.
In the display to the left is Frances's bookmark,
featuring a picture she drew of Charlotte and Wilbur.

Here are the girls with another pack rat. I think they'd
have liked to keep each one we've caught. "Eye
on the prize, girls, no pets, we're headed back to Del Viento."

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Writing Recognition
By Michael
AJO, AZ


This cactus just has a
je ne sais quoi, no?
I won an award at the Miami International Boat Show this month, a writing award from my peers at Boating Writers International, for a story I wrote for Cruising World. I’m pleased for the recognition, but judges are human and subjective and many of the other entrants deserve the same recognition.

I’m writing because as the managing editor of Good Old Boat magazine, and as a reader of and contributor to several other boating magazines, I’m in the thick of the marine journalism world and I’m surprised every year when this contest rolls around to see that there are relatively few entries.

The Boating Writers International (BWI) annual writing contest features 17 categories and awards $17,000 in prize money, plus plaques and certificates. What aspiring writer in this genre couldn’t use a little extra cash and recognition? Yet, of the thousands (and thousands) of stories that were published in English-language boating magazines and newspapers and trade journals around the world last year, and that would have fit neatly into one of the 17 categories, only a tiny percentage were entered. In its 24th year, the BWI contest attracted only 151 writers and photographers who together submitted only 378 entries.

Now, you have to be a BWI member to enter, and annual dues are $50, but members are entitled to two free contest submissions, plus other membership benefits, such as a press card that can be used to get into boat shows for free, a monthly journal, access to a job board, and more.

I will boast that Good Old Boat magazine had a pretty good showing in the contest this year. We encouraged our writers to enter and in the Seamanship, Rescue, and Safety category, “The Storm Trysail” (Good Old Boat, January 2016) earned the top prize for Ed Zacko, one of our contributing editors. In the Gear, Electronics, & Product Tests category, writer Drew Frye won first place for “Splash Test Dummy” (Good Old Boat, September 2016). Finally, under the Boat Projects, Renovations & Retrofits category, writer Connie McBride earned a Merit Award for her story, “Filling in the Blanks” (Good Old Boat, November 2016).

The biggest number of winning entrants went to writers of stories published in Cruising World, and stories in the following pubs were also recognized:

Anglers Journal, Boating, Boats.com, BoatUS Magazine, Chesapeake Bay, Compass, International Boat Industry Magazine, Multihull Sailor, PassageMaker, Practical Sailor, Professional Boatbuilder, Sailing World, Sea, Sea Magazine, Soundings, Texas Fish & Game, SAIL, Showboats International, Small Craft Advisor, Sport Fishing, Yachts International, Yachting, Yachting Monthly, Yachtworld.com.

That’s it!

There are at least 50 other boating pubs out there, nearly all of which weren’t represented. That’s likely a failure on the part of the editors at those pubs for not pushing their writers to enter. That’s a failure on the part of BWI members like me for not getting the word out.

And writers—and boaters who want to be writers! —there is a huge market out there for your work. In my book, Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines, I list most of the magazines in this market (with helpful contact info). Each magazine has at least one editor watching their email, waiting for writers to send them content they can buy. Why isn’t that you?

Get writing, get selling your writing, and next year you could be submitting your published story to the BWI Writing Contest.

Trust me, you can do it. Selling your writing is not magic, it’s just work.

--MR
Eleanor, Frances, Otis, and Oliver on a hike.

Frances and her visiting cousin, Oliver.

Cactus.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hello From the Other Side
By Michael
AJO, AZ


A few nights ago the girls left Phoenix
to spend a week with their Auntie Julie
in Washington state. They fly
unaccompanied and make
their way through security and then
find their gate and board when it's time.
Funny thing we learned is that
kids do not need IDs when traveling
domestically. Last time we sent them
with their passports, this time nothing.
February 14 I surprised all three of my Valentines with a trip to Mexico for dinner.

I think I’ve mentioned this here before, but our Ajo sojourn is intended to accomplish two goals: create another income stream for cruising and test the waters for a future life whereby we spit our time between land and sea. Ajo offers a home base only two hours from the Sea of Cortez.

Of course, that puts us only 35 minutes from the Mexican border. Yet surprisingly—or not surprisingly—we’ve been so far too busy to make this short trip—until the other night.

We cleaned up, piled into the truck, and headed south on I-85. Ten minutes later we passed through Why, Arizona, which locals refer to as The Why, because the tiny hamlet is apparently named for the Y in the road where the 86 to Tucson branches off the 85 to Phoenix. Another few minutes and we were in the thick of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Then, Mexico.

Sonoyta is the town across the border. It’s small and tidy, not a tourist destination.

“It smells like Mexico.” One of the girls said smiling.

There is something comforting about being in Mexico for all of us. I can’t really say what it is. The place just feels like a second home.

Being a border town, Sonoyta is a supply depot and jumping off point for undocumented migrants headed north into the States. Driving around town, even just hundreds of yards from the U.S. border crossing, we saw a dozen sidewalk vendors selling camouflaged backpacks and canteens and all the survival equipment someone would want to have before starting a treacherous journey across the Southern Arizona desert.

That’s a weird juxtaposition against our family of four, dressed up for Dia del Amor, who drove freely south across the border, only pausing to say we’re going to have dinner and not being asked to show any form of I.D. or anything.

The one restaurant we wanted to eat at was closed and our second choice was packed with 3 dozen Federales who arrived just before we pulled up. Ten or so of their trucks were lined up outside, one unlucky soldier stuck waiting in the bed of each, standing vigilant behind the vehicle-mounted machine gun.

No, no, lo siento mucho,” said the waitress, motioning to all the Federales and explaining why she couldn’t serve us.

Crap. But to make something of our trip, we pulled up the nearest OXXO, bought two 18-packs of Tecate, a handful of avocados, and about 20 limes. Because the peso/dollar exchange rate is a crazy 20:1 right now, the savings on just this stuff more than paid for the fuel we burned to drive down.

Crossing the border back into the States just meant getting our passports scanned, then we continued on home, where we enjoyed Valentines dinner out at our favorite Ajo craft brew pub, 100 Estrella.

--MR
The Southern Arizona Sonoran Desert is so beautiful.
This is just a random stop on the side of the road, about
halfway between Ajo and Sonoyta.

Entering Mexico.
This is our new friend, Yosie (l) who drops by the house
to give us juggling lessons. Yosie is also teaching
an entire classroom of kids at the Ajo School to juggle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

In Pursuit of the Green Flash
By Michael
AJO, AZ


Eleanor watching the sunset in Fiji.
Definitely not a green flash night, too much
atmospheric haze and likely distant clouds;
note how dim the sun is at its base.
I’ve seen the green flash so many times, I forget there was a time when it was a mystery to me. Before ever seeing it, I'd heard references to it and I wondered exactly what it was and whether it was real.

It is real. But it’s also a bit of a misnomer because it’s not a flash in the sense of bright light, it’s a flash in the sense that it’s over in a flash. It makes more sense to describe it as, “a green smear that you'll miss if you blink.”

There are precise atmospheric conditions necessary to produce this phenomenon, and I’m not sure what they are, but I know that when I’m someplace with no mountains or clouds or too much haze obscuring the horizon and the setting sun, it’s likely I’ll see a green flash. To be clear, the sky can be solid overcast, but as long as there is a clear band at the horizon, conditions may be right.

Especially for folks living on the East Coast or the interior of the U.S., seeing the green flash is not easy. An ocean horizon to the west offers the best hope. Cruising in the Pacific offers plenty of open horizon opportunities. On the contrary, here in Ajo, we've got too much terrain to get a clear shot of the sun setting behind the horizon.

I saw a green flash soon before we left Fiji, while photographing the sunset, and decided to share exactly when it’s visible and what it looks like. There are better photos online, but these are what I’ve got (and I missed the flash).



Okay, this looks like a green flash night--so long as the
sun, which, as it sets, does not set behind that island
(the sun will move from left to right in this frame).
As it drops beneath those clouds, it will
reveal either a clear horizon, or distant
clouds we cannot see now.

Great, horizon looks clear, but I'm concerned about the island.

Damn the island.

Wait, it might set well to the right of the island, in the clear.
The horizon looks perfect for a green flash.

Waiting.

Definitely gonna clear the island. I still can't stare at
the sun with the naked eye at this point, just catching
glances. (But you do need to be staring at the time
the green flash happens.)

Now I'm catching more frequent glances, sunglasses coming off.

I'm almost staring constantly at this point, I don't want to miss it.

Any millisecond now.

I'm not blinking.

And this is the last photo I have that shows anything.
I saw a great green flash this night, but the camera didn't catch it.
But, this is exactly what it looks like, only green--a distinct, brilliant
green smear in place of this white light. It's the last thing
that can be seen. It's very quick, but unmistakeable.
And like dolphins at the bow, you really don't get tired
of seeing them.
And if you’re intrigued by the green flash, I offer a story from my friend Mike Litzow aboard Galactic. While I’ve seen my share of green flashes, Mike has seen a handful of doubles, and even triples. Do you even know what that means? Check out his post from the middle of the Atlantic a couple months back.

--MR
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