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.

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