Warning: This is a long post. Hang in there, or if not, skip to the Isla Mujeres portion. You have to find out about Que Sera Sera. Really, you do.
I. At Home in St. Augustine.
We received a royal welcome in St. Augustine the day after we arrived. Cathy K. drove down from Amelia Island to spend the day with us, folding laundry, having a great lunch, and giving us a tour by car. In the afternoon, we were joined by two of her (adult) kids and “UA”, her husband Stu. They were too kind. We are not worthy. Since then, we have been getting to know the area and love it, though I’ve taken few photos, we have been impressed by the city overall and by their Christmas lights. We’ve been here less than two weeks.
I will take photos. Really.
II. Thanksgiving E-Mail
Once I knew the blogs weren’t posting I realized that some folks would be wondering whether we were lost at sea. (Sorry about that.) So I wrote an email message to a bunch of loved ones, and apologize to those I missed. I have to update my Google Contacts. Oh joy.
Here are a few excerpts from the email:
There have been TROFs and fronts and all sorts of weather stuff along the Bahamas and US East Coast, and in our first attempt to reach Key West we had to turn back and head to Mexico to wait out a northerly. That one day lost in Panama getting food and checking out would have made the difference.
Ah well. We enjoyed Isla Mujeres and will definitely go back there on our next cruise. We left there with a Buddy Boat, “Party of Five”, owned by Travis and Rhonda from Alberta (think plains not ocean and understand why their family thinks they are crazy). Travis, their elder son, Quincy (whose 8) and two crew were on the dock in Isla Mujeres getting “Party of Five” ready to go to Florida for refitting. There is a great cruisers’ net in IM and the leader of that, Tim from “Tropical Fun” said told us that Travis might like having a Buddy Boat for the crossing. We met, got along, and agreed to head to Florida together.
That worked. We were in radio contact for most of the way and were able to provide moral support on a couple of issues and to email Rhonda back home on the plains with the two younger kids. “Party of Five’s” destination was Key West, we had hoped to keep going, but CP said we’d only be able to get as far as Fort Lauderdale and weren’t sure what the anchoring situation was there. Plus we really liked the gang on “Party of Five”. So, we stopped here to check back into the USA and wait out weather. Three days into it here, and Chris Parker gave us the bad news, “You won’t be able to leave there until December.”
Key West is an interesting place to anchor as there is a LOT of current. How much current? Well, we have had 20-30 knots of wind every day but today and have rarely been pointed into the wind at anchor. That’s a whole lot of current. This kind of situation means:
- We heel over at anchor. The chef does not think that’s fair.
- The bay is choppy
- The flag gets flogged on the gear.
- The painter on our dinghy broke. We didn’t lose it because we had locked it with the cable. Afterward, we used the fixed painter AND the tow line AND the cable to keep the dinghy attached to the boat.
- It’s noisy: wind, splashing water, more wind.
- We had to open the dodger window so that the boat wouldn’t sail as much, which made the cockpit too windy for comfort.
- Other than that, things are great.
By the time Thanksgiving rolled around the two crewmembers had left Party of Five and we invited Travis and Quincy over for Thanksgiving Dinner and a rousing game of Dominoes. We had taught them to play earlier in the week when we’d had the gang over for Pizza. Quincy picked it up immediately and began to offer me help. How embarrassing.
Are you confused yet? I just have to tell you about checking in to the country of Mexico.
The Universe is still trying to teach me patience. On Friday, I practiced as if I'd learned the lesson.
Here's the deal, if one is a cruiser, checking in to Mexico appears to be a bit of a crap shoot. First of all, Mexico loves paperwork. Somewhere a company still manufactures carbon paper and Mexico is their largest client. Secondly, while the authorities are trying to make sure that things are done the same way all over the country and that sailors aren't hit with "tips" or "bribes", formalities differ from port to port. We knew that. The information we read also stated that procedures are subject to change. Still, we knew that there were things we should do BEFORE heading to Mexico, but, since we weren't planning on going to Mexico, we didn't do them. Our Zarpe (exit papers) from Panama indicated we were going to Florida. That and our outstanding attitudes and abject and frequent apologies saved our bacon.
- We knew that prior to going to Mexico, cruisers from the US should get notarized crew lists (6 copies). We didn't do that.
- We knew we should have a Mexican burgee. We didn't have one.
- We knew we should have gone on to their website and notified them two days prior to our arrival. That's impossible for most cruisers as it takes longer than two days to sail from almost anywhere to here. If they had provided an email address, we could have done that, but we can't jump on the World Wide Web at sea. We knew we would have to be cleared by the Port Captain, and the departments of Health, Agriculture, Sanitation, and Immigration--none of whom expected us.
We'd also read that the crew stayed on the boat while the captain took the papers and checked into the country. That was wrong. Remember, all rules are subject to change. We did cook and/or consume all meat and all (well most) of the produce purchased in Panama. That's about all that we did right. Shortly after leaving the boat, EW returned to inform me my presence was required. I donned shore/official visit clothes and off we went, back to the office of the Port Captain. EW let him know that he had returned with his one crew person (that would be me) and we were asked to sit and wait for a bit. A short while later, two uniformed people arrived—one late middle-aged man, and one young woman. They smiled and greeted us in Spanish and also sat and waited, and when out for a smoke, and waited some more, smiled at us, and checked their smart phones. At one point EW asked me if I thought they were getting paid for their jobs. I replied in the affirmative and suggested that they might speak more English than they let on, so we should be careful. He agreed. Good thing. The gentleman represented the Department of Agriculture, and the lady was from the Department of Sanitation. These two could opt to inspect our vessel and make us pay fines for the potatoes or arbitrarily make us pay for fumigation.
We waited some more. I was very thirsty, but didn't think I should/could leave the building since we were illegal, and I figured we were kind of being detained. About 45 minutes later Julio showed up. Julio doesn't work there; we think he's a fishing captain for tourists. He spoke better English than the Port Captain or the two uniformed folks sitting near us and the Port Captain requested his help translating. Julio asked if we had five copies of all of our papers. We did not. We didn't even know that rule. (Really, it's 6 copies. He didn't know that rule.) Now this is where things go from boring to interesting. Julio goes through our paperwork with us (remember, he's not an official) and tells us we need 5 copies of the passports, zarpe, and boat document. He also said that the Department of Health was on their way to see us. This is like waiting for Godot without knowing you are waiting for him. Julio confirmed that EW is the captain, and said the captain must wait for Godot, but I must go and get the five copies. "Andale!" He actually said, "Andale! Andale!" more than once. Remember that cartoon character who said "Andale! Andale! Arriba!"? I couldn't get that out of my head. Julio was not draped with a serape and didn't wear a sombrero but his "Andale" was authentic.
He gave me directions, two blocks up, three over, one down. You know what that really is? Three block over one up. Think about it. He left the building while I was gathering the documents and getting our only cash from EW-- a $100 bill. When I reached the sidewalk, I found Julio waiting to lead me two blocks up three over and one down, pointing out a bright blue store front as he continued on with my "Gracias!" and his final "Andale!" echoing in the street. The shop sold school supplies and the young woman at the counter had clearly served cruisers needing copies in the past. I had the presence of mind to tell her I needed to change money in order to pay her, and she directed me to a money exchange place, one block down the street, from which I could see the Port Captain's office three blocks back.
I got the goods, paid her 25 pesos, and jogged back to the Port Captain's Office. "Andale!" It was mucho calor in Mexico, where we perspired while simply sitting on the boat. My charming go-to-town persona took on a whole new look of glistening middle-aged woman who just ran four blocks (one down and three across), and of course three people from the Department of Health were waiting for my arrival. Let's take a moment to think about this. These people were there to make sure we weren't coming into the country with typhoid or Ebola or some such disease, yet my running around the town to get copies was OK. EW began to call me "Typhoid Bubs".
By the time I arrived, EW had nearly completed filling out the first Health Department form. He failed form, as he had crossed something out and that isn't allowed. So, while he completed the form again, I reminded everyone (for the fourth time) that we knew we had caused problems by not planning to sail to Isla Mujeres and that we appreciated their patience. The second health department form asked us to list the three countries we had visited prior to Panama (Canaries, Guadeloupe, St. Thomas USVI) and that's when I realized they were looking for Ebola and typhoid and the flu. While they would have preferred to learn that we’d had flu shots, we were healthy. Still, part of the procedure is to have our temperature taken by the leader of the health department contingent (three people who all spoke English).
He had this magic temperature taking thingy that he pointed first at EW (who passed) and then to me (who failed). I thought I must have registered high, but evidently sweating does cool you off as it was low. Then again, my normal is lower then the norm. He frowned and asked me about illness, vomiting, and other stuff. He again mentioned that my temperature was off and I looked at him and said with no sarcasm at all, "Do you know about menopause?" Fortunately, he laughed, and the young woman with him roared, and I was allowed into Mexico. Evidently he does know about menopause. I asked that young woman if she was in training with the Health Department and she said "Sort of."
FYI, the second health department form also asked whether mice or rats had died mysteriously on the boat, or whether any crew member had died through illness or accident. Really. Note, they don't care if you have healthy rats or mice on board. EW completed the second form with no cross outs, all three from the "Health Department" shook our hands and we again thanked them for their patience. The Health Department guy wants all other cruisers to know that you MUST hire an agent when coming to Isla Mujeres. He said all of the cruising guides are out of date. He knew we were a special case, but hopes that in the future more cruisers learn to enter Isla Mujeres the right way. This is me, spreading the news as I promised to do. I don’t think it’s a requirement, but do know that the agent tips the officials with your money, so the officials prefer you to go through an agent. (Of course.)
While I had been on my trek for copies, EW had been quizzed by Sanitation and Agriculture and didn't confess to having potatoes and onions on board, passing that game of liar's poker. When I returned they had taken their copies of our paperwork. All through this adventure, both EW and I felt we were taking subtle tests. In fact neither of us believe that we actually met three folks from the Health Department and both of us think that the young slender man hovering in the background was from the Police or a Drug unit. All of the literature we had read told us health checks were done at the hospital, but we warranted three officials who met us in the cramped lobby of the Port Captain. Right. We had no problem with that, they were checking out these gringos who had not conformed to any of the rules.
Once those three had left, we were led back outside to go to Immigration accompanied by Sanitation and Agriculture. While we walked over the same three blocks, the gentleman started chatting to us in broken English and told us he would soon be on vacation to visit his son who lived in Miami. We arrived at Immigration, where we again apologized for not letting them know we were going to sail into their harbor, and explained that we had been trying for Florida. These gentlemen spoke English and were sanguine about our lack of preparation. They did take our paperwork and go online to check us out, leaving us to sit on the fairly comfortable chairs with our two escorts. The gentleman from Agriculture now considered us friends, came over and sat next to EW and said, "I love Doris Day." (This is not a lie. I still don't think the guy's that old, but whatever.) We smiled and said we liked her, too.
And, here it is. He started singing "Que Sera Sera". And he indicated we should join in. So we did. And we sang the first verse and the chorus, ending with a drawn out "Whatever will be, will be." It was a big finish. And Immigration still let us into the country. But first, we had to go to the bank and pay 362 pesos each which required standing in line at the teller's window and then waiting while she made three documents, one for each of us and one for Immigration using carbon paper and an old style printer. Our "minders" remained in air-conditioned splendor at Immigration. I still thought they were coming to the boat. But no, we returned to Immigration and completed these cards that are our Visas (items we would have had prior to arrival if we had done things right) gathered what was left of the paperwork and walked back up my new neighborhood to the Port Captain's Office. On the sidewalk, both of the officials shook our hands and said we were done, and EW and I began to walk away.
I stopped. "Did you pay the port fee?" "No," he said. "We are not done and we do NOT need to make any more mistakes or omissions." EW agreed and we turned back to the Port Captain's office where EW peered through the little chest high window and asked that official whether he needed more from us. Of course he did. And that is why you need 6 copies of everything: Health, Agriculture, Sanitation, Immigration, Port Authority, and the rest for La Luna or for Checking Out. Now here's the thing, the Port Captain has a copy machine and had no problem making that extra copies we were missing. Go figure. EW had to fill out yet another form and hand write a letter saying why we had diverted to Isla Mujeres unexpectedly. I had gone from thirsty before my jog, to parched and now that we were legal I trotted back over my favorite three blocks to the 7-11 and purchased two juices and two waters, offering Sanitation and Agriculture their choice upon my return. They were delighted. That was all the tip they got.
The Port Captain charged us 500 pesos for the boat, shook our hands, and told us that checking out would require a visit to his office first and Immigration second. The whole thing cost $77.00 and was rather entertaining. Afterwards we ended up at a little sidewalk bar that offered two shots of tequila when you purchase two beers. We toasted our safe arrival and navigation through Mexico officialdom. So far we like Mexico a lot.
Altogether now, "Que Sera, Sera .... "
This could be our new theme song. I wonder if EW will learn it on the guitar.
NOTE: Yes, I have no photos from Isla Mujeres. I’m not sure how that happened. We were only there four days, but still… I’ll do better next time. We will go back.
This completes the Way-Back posts, though I may opt to write additional posts about the trek to St. Augustine, they will pop up amid normal, current events posts.
Hope you all had a Merry Christmas or terrific holiday weekend. We had a wonderful time in Amelia Island.