Into the Rainbow

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As we prepared to set sail for the longest Atlantic stretch, from Bermuda to the western-most island in the Azores, a serious problem was on our minds. Although we were working as crew, and had paid for full room and board, it was abundantly clear that the nourishment provided on board was inadequate. Death had become a serious possibility on the last stretch. And this time things would be worse if we didn’t do something. In response Marc, Angela and I succumbed to the extremely high prices in Bermuda and snuck some snacks aboard.

We started out northbound to catch the trade winds, then curved our way eastward. Day by day I tracked our position as we approached one of the most desolate places in the world. The middle of the ocean is a strange, surreal, and symmetric place. The horizon stretches around to touch itself, like a glassy fun house mirror. You can turn left or right but nothing changes. And you can feel the danger of the waters beneath you – a palpable lurking presence.

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Large predatory fish and mammals tended to follow in our wake, probably because of Gwen’s habit of throwing all of his trash into the sea. We got into a bit of an argument over this issue during our first week at sea, but it was a pointless. Apparently all arguments are trumped by the statement, ‘the captain is always right.’ In spite of this flawless logic, Angela and I, and now Marc, have decided that in the future we will spend some hours picking up garbage on the beach to offset the damage that occurred in our presence. That said, rows of sharp teeth in the shadow of our wake pale in comparison to the fear of falling off – of being stranded in this realm of endless symmetry.

When Nature called, I would stand at the back of the boat with one arm wrapped around the aft starboard cable, imagining what it would be like to be drifting off into the distance. If the waters were calm, and if it was light out, it would be possible to survive if someone knew that I had gone overboard. If nobody heard my initial scream there was very little chance they would hear any screams after that. Even if someone noticed that I was missing a minute or two after I fell off, it would be extremely unlikely that they would ever be able to retrace their path accurately enough to find me. If someone saw me fall off during the day, then I suppose my biggest worry would be sharks (we think Angela snagged a shark with the fishing line). But if it was at night, there was little hope of ever being found. What would it be like to tread water in this place, waiting for the inevitable end? What would it be like to be reduced to a tiny speck in the middle of the ocean, waiting to make your trek to the bottom of the sea? Standing there, swaying back and forth, these thoughts would resonate in my mind.

The middle of the ocean is a place to get in touch with your self in a whole new way. Clouds paint the sky, morphing, absorbing each other, constantly transforming. Sunrises and sunsets come and go with little to no events between them. This slow pace quiets you down enough to see the footsteps of your own journey. It enables you to pull on the threads of your remaining fears, so that you might stand naked in front of the constitution of your hopes and dreams. Immersed in isolation you find an endless well of motivation, but have very few ways of directing it. It is like finding a fountain of youth, making you ripe with enthusiasm and vigor, but being unable to take it with you except for the ways in which it transforms you.

As far away from humanity as I could be, in the middle of the ocean, I found myself sailing into the heart of a rainbow. I reinforced my commitment to chasing my dream, following my passions, and braving the wild unknowns that slowly shape the story of my life.

Thad

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Bermuda

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When we sailed within sight of Bermuda we were delighted to see land. For the next seven hours we quietly inched our way towards St. Georges harbor. After surviving a tropical storm it was quite strange for our first step on land to be on the strange netherworld candy-land known as Bermuda.

Bermuda is composed of over 300 islands, strung together by roads, and decorated with pastel colored houses that all have white roofs with diagonal rain catchers on them. The cobblestone and brick roads are mysteriously immaculate. No trash clutters the sides of the roads, and the walkway cracks are magically void of dirt. The minimum wage is over $12 dollars per hour (the Bermuda dollar is equal to value to the US dollar), but everything costs between 2 and 5 times what it would in the states. The locals (including the teenagers) think that $20 for a meal is cheap. There is very low unemployment, and those that live here seem to be laid back, socially entangled, and many of them are protruding a somewhat Jamaican aura – though, without being prompted, they regularly object to any Jamaican connection.

Apparently, at any given time tourists make up about 30% of the island: mostly American, mostly of the extra-large retired type, clamoring to find some nic-nacks to take back home and put on their shelves. They pour in on 5000 passenger cruise ships, in a hurry, wearing brightly colored flower clothes, armed with cheap wind-up water proof cameras and short lived smiles.

Sailboat travelers are definitely in the minority. In our harbor there were about 20 small ships, some anchored, some docked. Those of us anchored had to had to brave the choppy waves and strong winds whenever we wanted to go back or forth to land. Our dingy, of course, was the only one that didn’t have an outboard motor, and its excessive leaks required mouth to dingy resuscitation every time we wanted to use it. This unmidigated disaster, caused by Gwen’s refusal to spend any money whatsoever, led to more than one comical, and somewhat scary tale, which I’ll leave for campfire nights.

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The prettiest gem of Bermuda, the part that I like to remember most, is its beaches. We walked for hours along a particular long stretch of soft sand beaches that were separated by towering spires of volcanic rock. We passed through caves, under tunnels, ran through the sand bars that connected stretches of different beaches between waves, and climbed the rocks to stand in erosion carved arches among the tide pools. The walk ending in Horseshoe bay was one of the best beaches I’ve ever explored. Angela, Scott, and I made almost a whole day out of it.

Scott flew home the next day. Enduring the sailboat any longer would have probably killed him. He had already lost 18 pounds of muscle due to starvation and constant subjection to poison in the water (the captain didn’t consider it necessary to provide clean drinking water). He had also nearly died in tropical storm Andrea, an experience that made him more than ready to start the next chapter of his life. And then, of course, the tension between the captain and everyone else was getting to be far too much to bare.

Scott dealt with Gwen very diplomatically, kindly not mentioning any of the real reasons that he was leaving before reaching Europe, and not asking for any refunded money (although the arrangement originally made between each crew member and Gwen was that we pay so much, but if we change our mind part way then he would refund the proportionate amount). We knew that we were going to miss Scott a lot. His ability to remain patient, and try to see the best in every situation was remarkable. We had bonded with him, talked about the important things on our minds, our dilemmas, our hopes and fears. Plus we had survived Gwen together… I mean crossed the Caribbean and the Atlantic from Panama to Bermuda together.

When Scott arrived on the boat, officially paying more than any other crew member, and after being stood up by the captain for 7 hours after flying from the states to meet him and join the crew, he somehow ended up without a bed (the captain, of course, overbooked). Gwen said “sorry, we are all out of beds, but you can sleep in the kitchen on the bench seat.” When the boat was under sail, being tossed about every which way, it was difficult to stay on a bed, let alone on a bench seat, but Scott, who was used to a fair bit of luxury, said to himself (and later told us) “Well I came on this trip to experience something different.”

With Scott leaving I worried that I wouldn’t be able to survive Gwen’s constant barrage of inconsiderate acts. Thankfully Marc flew in from Utah to join the trek to Europe and to fill the social void. He landed within the same hour that Scott left. The next day I took Marc back to the same stretch of beach. We climbed the entire shoreline of rock, standing in places that very few humans had ever stood before. At the end of the day Marc made note of how much fun we had. Pointing to the quantity of bloody scrapes and cuts he had on his arms and legs, he laughed with confidence that he had earned a new treasured memory. Ahhhh – team death punch never let’s me down.

Gwen insisted that I wire the second half of our agreed upon funds before leaving the island. We had originally agreed half up front, and half when we arrive in France, but he had made up his mind that this was no longer acceptable. Hoping that he would try to be a little more tolerable on the upcoming stretch I consented, even though I didn’t have the necessary money. I felt like something was off, but decided to load up my credit card any way; anything to make the next 15-18 day passage more socially bearable.

Thad

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The Bermuda Triangle

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East of Cape Canaveral we turned eastward in response to weather conditions. The winds had picked up, and seven to ten foot swells were coming on strong, row after row. With our new heading we were pulling 10 knots, sometimes even 13, due to heavy winds and the fact that we were literally surfing the swells. A trail of white foam traced out our path, slowly fading behind the current monstrous wave that we were hopelessly trying to reach the bottom of. Ominous darkness lay dead ahead, weaving blackness together under a moonless night as if some wizard somewhere was waving his arms and practicing his most powerful spell yet. The swells continued to grow, throwing us around to the point that all of us were no longer thinking of moving about. Clutching our nearest secure holds we were all wide eyed, and quiet. Fear began to show its ugly head, yet somewhere in the midst of it, as we sailed straight into the belly of darkness, an odd beauty stayed at our side. I watched in awe, full of mixed feelings, as our phosphorescent surfing trail percolated behind us and then disappeared over the top of the swells. “Shit, Shit,” our captain kept saying as he looked straight ahead. We all knew what that meant. We had to go outside to take down the front sail and reef the main. Splashing water poured over the side of the boat, drenching Angela in her coveted spot, and dousing the cockpit. Her facial expression didn’t change in the slightest. Constant thuds under the hull were slapping us around at will. “The winds are at 30 maybe 35 knots,” Gwen said. If we didn’t drop some cloth soon we wouldn’t ever have to again. It wasn’t raining, but you wouldn’t know it to look at us climbing outside. Angela took the wheel. Usually at this point she would turn a bit upwind to make things easier on us, but all she could do in this situation was wait to hand us the winch handle through the little plexiglass window at the right time, and be ready to throw out a life jacket if one of us got thrown off by a ten foot wave as it engulfed the bow of the ship. Dead ahead was a full-blown tropical storm. All night we slid around the boat, water crashing in, pouring everywhere. Everything was wet, everything was out of place, knives flew around as we rushed to pin them down and put them inside a secure compartment, bruising our knees, elbows, and shoulders as we slammed into walls after sliding across the floor. The wind picked up even more. “Forty knots,” our captain said. “This definitely qualifies as a tropical storm. Let’s hope it doesn’t grow into a hurricane.” There would be no sleeping this night, not a single minute. All we could do was try to eat saltine crackers, sip on ginger ale, and hold on while we tried to remind ourselves to stop holding our breaths. I kept thinking that if we made it to sunrise then we’d be ok. When day broke the only thing that had changed is that now we could see the waves coming at us. They were huge – 25, sometimes 30 feet tall. We watched with white knuckles as we went up and down, constantly in fear of double waves, the ones that would send you straight up, then just as you coming down, pointing either nose down or tipped with one side down, the second wave would come crashing in drowning us in the cockpit. The grey sky was void of any patches of hope. More saltines and ginger ale as we shivered in wrinkled skin. All day long in continued. Just before sunset we started to see small patches of blue sky, and miraculously, a rainbow. I always heard that rainbows were good signs, but never before had it been so personal. Then we noticed something crazy. According to our compass, the thing we had been staring at so intently to get us through this, we were going directly east. But the sun was setting directly at our left. I was pretty sure that even in the Bermuda triangle the sun was supposed to set in the west, but what did I know. We had all heard the ghost stories about compasses acting strangely in the Bermuda triangle, about the rough seas, and about disappearing ships. None of us had put any stock in those particular stories, but now that we were two for three, tropical storm and a northern sunset, we had to worry about what would come next. The next day I stared at our GPS position and noticed that we were tracking north, but the compass said we were going east. Then we found the culprit – a magnetized screwdriver had rolled up under the compass and was interfering with its magnetic field. Whew! Maybe that means we are only one for three and if we are lucky we can just leave it at that.

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The Calm

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Rounding the bottom of Florida, with the lights of Miami to our distant left and the soft glow of Cuba to our right, we got our very first experience of calm waters. The only waves were small ripples that made the surface glassy and smooth as they distorted the sunset clouds into a reflective surrealistic painting. No swells, no rocking back and forth, no calculating how to walk around, or trying to time your steps in time with the up strokes, and no worrying about the boom swinging around and knocking you out. This was a completely new sailing experience. With relatively light winds we ran every possible square foot of cloth up the mast. Afterwards we had the sensation that we were doing about 4 to 4.5 knots. Lucky for us, however, the currents rounding the bottom of Florida were moving at 5 knots in the same direction. So in total we were going 9.5 knots with the smooth sensation of only 4.5 knots. As Miami slowly faded behind us we entertained ourselves by watching the steady flow of cargo ships. We saw more ships that night than any other. Humans… so close, yet still so far away. I’m beginning to fully appreciate the opportunity to be social.

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The Sailor’s Life

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Ok, a few weeks back Jeff asked to know what the seafarer’s life was like. I usually try my best to share my adventures to inspire others to follow their dreams and expand their horizons. Rarely do I give a glimpse into the regular life activities that make those adventures possible. So here it is – the between the lines every day life for us (at least right now) that is making our adventures possible.

My day usually starts one of two ways. “Thad” a whisper almost entirely overwhelmed by the wind and creaking ship sounds. ”Thad,” again but a loud enough to stir me from my half sleep. “THAD!” “Yeah?” I reply half startled in the awkward position that represents my latest attempt to stop rolling from side to side. “Its your turn.” “Ok, just a minute.” I have to put my contacts in, which is a bit tricky when everything is moving.

The four of us take hour and a half shifts at the helm, which defines the backbone of the nights. During the day the length of the shift is up in the air. Everyone kind of just takes turns until they get sick of being there. If they are listening to their iPod, or if everyone else is busily doing other, less desirable chores, or if they are just trying to be nice, then they might be there for up to 4 hours.

The captain’s chair is relinquished as the person before me jumps out of the chair, which is rather high. Before they leave they give me the update – something like “We’re doing about 5 knots, the course is 30 to 40, but don’t go past 40” (because the sails will start flapping and you’ll lose steering control). And then there is often an external conditions report like, “There’s lightning on our starboard side coming our way but slowly, no ships in the last hour and a half, the swells are getting larger, and there is still no sign of Mr. Feathers.” Then I jump into the chair and begin either a series of small corrections – left and right as I stare at the glowing red compass, or wild turns hard left, flexing my muscles to hold it, then suddenly hard right.

From inside the cockpit I can’t see much at night. The glass is tinted enough to fade out all interesting data. The wheel goes four complete revolutions from hard left to hard right. It is plain aluminum with a diameter of about 3 feet. Because it is far away from the chair I usually cycle between steering with my feet when things are relatively smooth, with my hands when they require fairly dedicated concentration, or standing up when the world is coming to an end and you’re steering everyone directly to it.

Here’s the regular alternative. “Thad,” whispered just above the wind and creaky noises. “Got it,” I quickly reply. I’m up and totally ready to have an excuse to do something. I already have my contacts in because it was impossible to take them out while being violently tossed about in my cabin. The entire vessel is leaning at about 40 degrees to one side, rocking, shaking, throwing us all around like we were in a dryer. Unable to lay in the bed (I’ve been practically standing on the wall for hours) I slide down the wall and brace myself with all fours as I try to get through the little cut out doorway, which has razor sharp edges. Up the four stairs to the cockpit I walk more with my hands than my feet, which are only there to stop me when I slide across the room. The compass is dancing back and forth, turning to one side, than the other, but not rotating on its axis much. As I sit there in the fancy chair, tilted to one side, I feel like a blind person on a rollercoaster that only turns one way. I can’t see the waves coming so they all catch me by surprise.

I look on my phone, on the SEAiq Open program (thanks Jeff for helping me set that up – it is awesome!!) and check where we are, our current speed, and start fantasizing about the next location. Dropping anchor means a good night of sleep – usually. Everywhere we’ve stopped so far has been fascinating, strange, and completely new to me. It is amazing to think that we are sailing the Caribbean and are going to cross the Atlantic, following the same route that Columbus, and Drake took, learning little details about the passes, small islands, the sea life, the ocean currents, the winds, discovering some of the secrets about Nature that Blackbeard surely knew, and seeing spectacular sunsets.

We now know about little places in the middle of the ocean that have “almost islands.” Many ships have hit bottom in these places, turning them into shipwreck graveyards. We now know what its like to sail around a cape, with lighthouses in the distance trying to warn you, with the currents all mixing about, creating waves with random amplitudes and huge swells, as we fight against the wind. And with each passing day we relate more and more to the timeless human plight of deeply missing the world that you used to think of as ‘normal.’

One useful thing to know is that sailing downwind is a completely different monster than sailing upwind. Going upwind means more violent conditions because you are going against the swells, which shortens their effective wavelength and making them feel much stronger. Going with the swells is wonderful. That’s the best time to sleep. The entire ship smoothly goes up and down, up and down. It practically rocks you to sleep – so long as you are properly braced for that random wave. If we are going downwind, and the wind is relatively light, then we use the spinnaker, which is rather like half of a colorful hot air balloon. Otherwise we put out our main sail and a genoa (we have two different sizes), and sometimes we even put up a third sail called a cutter between the two.

When the winds suddenly pick up we have to rush outside like someone threw a grenade on deck and we have to toss it off before we die. First we drop the sails, pulling the cloth in as it falls. This task sounds simple, but when the ship is tossing side to side, simply standing can require more skill than you can muster. Then we untie the sail (three ropes attached) switch it out for another, retie the new one and then begin hoisting. It is important to use the right knots – the bowline has become my favorite. The ability to untie a knot is just as important as its ability to remain secure. Being stuck on the deck with cloth and rope flapping around while you are trying to untie your knot is an easy way to get hurt.

One person wraps the rope around the winch a couple of times and hoists until they can’t any more, then the other person inserts the winch handle and begins tightening to assist them. All the while teeth stay clenched and mouths stay closed because the two ropes tied to the bottom of the genoa are whipping around in the sky. If you get hit in the teeth with your mouth open it might break one of them – or so we’ve been told. We haven’t tested this claim out yet – plenty of time left for that.

In order to get a good picture of how chaotic this can all be, imagine all of those details, add rain, and enough wind that you can’t hear other people yelling at you from five feet away, remember the constant tossing of the boat, visualize the surfaces that are covered in salt crystals that you have to sit on to balance yourself as you pull ropes, and of course, imagine that everyone is in their underwear (or swimming suits). Its quite an exercise.

At the other extreme, calm conditions can be just as life changing as regular near death experiences. At night there always seems to be lightning somewhere on the horizon. When the moon is gone the plankton light up our wake, sometimes we can see stars, meteors and their reflections on the water, distant lighthouse flashes, all while the boat is caressed by the water beneath.

When the moon is out it keeps you company and makes you start to think about how different the world feels. We are sailing at an average of 3-7 knots. (A knot is about 1.1 miles.) The fastest we have pulled for a brief moment (according to our GPS) is 12.5 knots. 7 knots feels really fast on the ship. I walk at about 4 knots per hour on land, and I run at about 8.25 knots. For some reason it feels really strange to realize that we are going from Panama, to Columbia, to the Cayman Islands, around Cuba, through the Bahamas, to Bermuda, the Azores, then Portugal, Spain and France all at a speed that I can do on foot. It makes the world feel completely different to me. It even makes the stars feel a little closer.

The food situation on board is quite bad – which makes me sympathize with the sailors of old. Our captain insists on doing all of the shopping for some reason. He is French and fancies himself a good cook. He probably is, but we don’t currently have many ingredients in our kitchen that I recognize, and even less that my stomach is ok with. It turns out that on a boat I become much much more picky about what I eat. The gallon of rotten, unrefrigerated mayo makes me gag with just a little wiff. Gwen likes to toss a cup or two of that into everything he makes except coffee, which I don’t care for anyway. It is quite difficult to have anything more than a snack on the boat. Gwen happily cooks elaborate meals, throwing together some cyan, some stink dust, mayo, vegetables that now support their own ecosystem, etc. I just can’t do it.

When conditions are real smooth I can go downstairs and cook a soup, but that is about as complicated as I want. When things aren’t rough, I honestly find myself willing to wait hours for them to calm down while starving rather than trying to go in that kitchen. Nothing gets you seasick faster than trying to stir a pot on the stove without being able to see out, while the whole ship gets tossed side to side. The stove swings about, keeping its surface relatively level, but from the reference frame of the boat it really looks like it is tossing around. That’s because in the kitchen we REALLY get thrown around when the waves are bad. Once, while trying to do dishes, I had my foot half way up the far wall to support myself. The water in the sink started spilling on the floor (that’s how steep we were slanted). Being subjected to those motions, while trying to perform a concentration task (not drop the dishes and break them and somehow get them clean and safely put away before throwing up) is something I will avoid from now on at all costs. For now I’m perfectly fine eating a piece of bread and fantasizing about some of Angela’s enchiladas, Jeff’s turkey and potato dinners, or delightful restaurant experiences with Elaine and Phil.

The bathroom experience is worth mentioning. First off, it is awesome having a bathroom again. After living out of Wiggles for four months, having a bathroom right there all the time is quite nice. It has a mirror, a flushing toilet, which actually dumps directly into the water, and a sink. That’s the good stuff. The bad stuff is that somehow gas leaked into our water tank, so using the water to wash your hands is kind of counterproductive. You just end up smelling like gas afterwards. The pump on the toilet works, kind of. Sometimes it takes a bit of working on, and let me tell you, you don’t want to be down there in that cramped little space, trying to get things to go down while the whole ship is tossing about. You really don’t want that!

Showers are worth a note too. This boat has a shower, but it doesn’t work. So, instead we fill up a camp shower, like the one we had in Wiggles, from the kitchen sink. The bad parts are that that water comes from the same tank as the bathroom sink, so showering is really pointless. Still, after a few days we all break down, toss a bucket overboard, rinse with saltwater naked on the side of the ship, soap up, (the soap acts strangely with saltwater) rinse as much as we can, then use the diesel/water bag to rinse off. Then we tie the shower bag back off so it doesn’t get tossed with the next wave. The showerhead is missing, so the rinses aren’t quite as fancy as they were with Wiggles, but that’s no big deal. If we ever find out how to stop the gas leak, and can get a fresh water rinse, so our soap actually works, ahhhhhh that will be nice. On the plus side, whenever we push right through a heavy rainstorm we get a perfect opportunity to take a delightful shower. Rain-showers are wonderful experiences.

In our cabin we have our own little fan!!! I love that fan! Angela and I bought it before we left Panama. We unscrewed the light in our cabin and spliced the wires to power the fan too, which we mounted on the ceiling. When things get too hot we can always go down there and at least evaporate. That’s my little piece of sanity.

I hope that gives you a good idea what the seafarer’s life is like. There are many details that make each day unique that I haven’t included. For example, the other day we ran into a pod of dolphins that were eager to show off. Several of them had fancy jumping tricks. Mother child pairs loved to race alongside the front of our boat. It lasted for about 10 minutes. This happened in the middle of nowhere with no land in sight. The flying fish are thinning out now. I suppose they are more common in the south (where they were literally visible every second of the day). We’ve seen a few turtles coming to the surface for some air and every now and then, and when we are anchored, we sometimes get startled by a large splashing sound of an entire school of fish all touching the surface in sync and then rush back down.

Reading and writing are far more difficult to accomplish at sea than I anticipated. The capture the wind just right we seem to need to be constantly trimming the sails, taking down or putting up reefs, and making small adjustments. It is a life of rope, knots, cleats, compasses, winds, motion, and a large helping of randomness. I’m really glad to be getting this experience and I’m really looking forward to finding my way back spending time with all my friends and loved ones left behind. Wish us luck on the crossing. And please send messages. I really miss communication with you all!!

Loves,

Thad

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Sting Ray City

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To visit Sting Ray City we sailed around to the north side of the island, dropped anchor about 50 meters from the reef, and then began swimming to the coveted spot. The reef was more decorated with life than any other reef I’ve ever seen. There were ink fish, barracuda, turtles, fat face fish, schools of flat black fish, pencil fish, dozens of different brightly colored fish, and of course, sting rays.

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15 minutes later we were at the right spot, marked by two boats floating above. On the seafloor there was a pack of SCUBA divers sitting cross legged in a circle and holding out small portions of food. The Rays would come right up to the divers and glide over them, making contact with them as if they were polished marble. Holding my breath I joined the SCUBA divers and caught the attention of the rays. I joined their delicate dance and then almost screamed in excitement (and a little fear) as they began to glide all over me. Their dorsal sides were hard with almost spiny backbone regions. And their white underside was soft and squishy with cute little mouths that seemed to smile.

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One rather large ray climbed Gwen and then tried to sit on him like a hat. It was quite amusing. For about a half an hour we went up and down, holding our breath and playing with these wondrous sea creatures. Then it was back out into the great unknown where the horizon becomes indistinguishable in every direction.

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Mr. Feathers

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A couple of hours before sunset, 200 knots north of Columbia, which is about as far away from land as you can get in this stretch of the Caribbean, something special happened. An extremely exhausted, about to give up on life, pigeon landed on our boat. He was so tired that once he landed he didn’t have the energy to move away from us as we approached, even though he was surely afraid. We gave him some space for a while, then tried to feed him. He didn’t eat, but when we raised the lid of a water bottle next to his beak he drank it with vigor, and then six more.

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For 15 hours that little pigeon stood on the console right next to the big steering wheel, blinking, and watching us take our shifts. We fed him bread and water as many times as he would take them. Then, finally, he started to get his energy back. A day later he was following us around everywhere, jumping on our arms and shoulders and staring into our faces when he wanted more food or water, walking on the keyboard whenever Gwen pulled up our navigation charts, and pooping. We thought he would fly away as soon as he had the strength to, but it was clear there was a bond there. Scott and I didn’t mind repeatedly throwing the bucket overboard and then pulling it back up to wash and scrub Mr. Feathers’ mess off the deck. We needed Mr. Feathers – probably a little more than he needed us.

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When we got to the Cayman Islands we tried to encourage Mr. Feathers to go to land because the French man was talking a little too much about cooking him. We shooed him, but he came right back. We all stood on different sides of the boat and waved our arms as he flew about, but he just kept circling, looking for a spot to land. Then finally he turned away, but instead of going to shore he landed on the nearest boat and watched us. Two days later, just before we pulled up anchor, we saw Mr. Feathers fly to shore. We didn’t see any other pigeons in the Cayman Islands, so we assume that he will eventually be moving on. We were both happy to see Mr. Feathers safely on land, and sad to say goodbye to a friend that did so much for our smiles. In all the time we knew him he never made a sound. He just blinked at us and made us guess what he was thinking. We were happy to talk for him. Thanks for everything Mr. Feathers!

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The San Blas Islands

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The San Blas Islands are an amazing collection of over 400 small palm tree islands surrounded by beautiful choral and sea life. While there we say a reef shark, several rays, explored a couple of sunken ships, saw a ship become wrecked on the choral, watched a lightning storm, cleaned the barnacles off of the hull, found coconuts, were sold lobster from locals that moved around on hand carved canoes, swam all around, and saw the biggest sea stars I’ve every seen. We call them dinosaur sea stars J. This place is one of the world’s best kept secrets.

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First Watch

After the sails finally went up we set our course from Colon towards the San Blas Islands. Angela and I had our first watch from 10:00 pm to midnight. We had timed our departure so that we would arrive at the San Blas islands just after sunrise. This would allow us to use dead reckoning to dodge the shallow rocks and choral reefs. Everything started out serene. Angela sat at the wheel, following the big red compass like a video game. Left, right, hard left, slowly back right, there was no end to the corrections that were needed. I sat on the side of the ship looking out, watching for little lights on the horizon that warned of oncoming ships. The stars were absolutely brilliant making it easy to trace out the patches of dark clouds. In the distance, straight ahead, silent lightning flashes lit up the sky. Phosphorescent plankton sparkled blue and green in our wake. Even though the stars were brilliant directly above us, it was strangely very dark. The water had a dark pull to it. If our instruments were correct the waters were more than a mile deep. It already felt like an adventure, like we were on a star ship, setting out to explore what lay beyond the horizon. Rocking side to side, up and down, we were in a soothing trance, caressed by the rhythm of Nature. In the distance small lights appeared, red and white. This meant that they were passing to our left and were not on a collision course. If they were heading straight for us we would see red, green and white. Slowly the cargo ship trailed off to the left. After the first hour the waves began to become excited. The rocking gained amplitude and began to become a bit violent. Then it became even more violent. Very quickly we learned all about what the local seamen call ‘chicken assholes’ – a term they use to describe when the sky falls down on you and the ocean tries to throw it back up. Our whole ship was tossed and turned around so much that the mast went from almost touching one side of the water to the other side in only a couple of seconds. The rain was pouring down and thunder cracked all around us. The waves were far taller than we were, meaning that there wasn’t a chance in hell that we’d see an oncoming ship. Steering seemed pointless too. Our captain, Gwen, who only sleeps with one eye at a time, jumped up from his bed the second the chicken asshole started dumping on us. He was out on the deck being thrown back and forth, barefoot, wearing only a swimming suit, taking down the sails so we wouldn’t be decorating the sea floor tonight. When he came back in the cabin, soaking wet, he laughed at Angela and me because the terror on our faces was more than obvious. After about 20 minutes of this, the chicken asshole stopped as quickly as it started. My stomach was sick, but somehow I had avoided throwing up. When our shift was over we went into our cabin and fell right asleep. If another chicken asshole hit us as least we wouldn’t be driving J.

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The Lake in the Canal

Most of the Panama Canal is actually a freshwater lake. Spending the night fastened to a mooring was delightful. As soon as the ship was secure we began diving into the waters, climbing back up the rickety ladder onto the boat, scrubbing ourselves down with soap, and diving again. It took four rounds until I felt completely clean. There were crocodiles in the water, but we were told that it wasn’t eating season. Still, when the sun went down we got out of the water. Before that happened we happily busied ourselves cleaning the boat. Throwing a five gallon bucket overboard with a rope attached, pulling it back up, and poring the fresh water as others scrubbed the deck. It felt good to make our new home clean. As twilight worked it magic, a meteor shower in progress, we set up an outdoor movie theater on the deck. What a strange yet comfortable feeling to be watching Aliens vs. Predator in the middle of this lake. I think I will always remember that night.

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The Panama Canal

Going through the Panama Canal was amazing. I hope these time lapses that we took relate some of its majesty to you. Watch the huge doors that close around the ship, and then watch how fast the locks fill up, raising the ships by 20-25 feet. We went up three locks, then spent hours motoring through the lake (they don’t allow you to sail in the canal). If you can motor 8 knots or faster you can make it through the locks in one day. We only pulled about 4 knots so we got to spend the night on the lake. That was the best part of the trip, but I’ll save that for the next post. All in all we went up 85 feet, and the next day we went back down those 85 feet (plus another 8 inches – the difference between heights of the Pacific and Atlantic). Now that we are in the Atlantic, the fact that we are going to cross its entirety is feeling much more real. I can only imagine what adventure and insights await. The last time Einstein crossed this ocean it was in a small ship and he got caught in a storm that he thought was going to kill him. In those apparently final moments he went below deck and wrote that he had come in touch with his “magnificent insignificance.” What a beautiful phrase.

Until next time,

Loves,

Thad

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The Night of Magic Light

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My favorite night in Costa Rica started as we parked along a pristine shoreline, out of sight of any other humans, ten feet from the high tide line, between palm trees. We stretched out our hammocks, opened cocoanuts with the axe that Phil gave us, and then ate cocoanut until we couldn’t eat any more. As the sun went down, painting the sky in hues of pink and orange, Dave and Jeff started a fire on the sand and I walked down the beach to see if the rumors of fresh water showers were true. They were!! About a half a mile away, in the trees was a little outpost with an external working shower and it was free!! I took a long shower and then started walking back to our little perfect camping spot. In the distance I could see the glimmering fire, announcing where my loved ones were, and reflecting off of the shallow film of water over the sand.

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Above the constellations were twinkling at a slant that made it impossible to forget how far south I was, and to the South dry lightning flashes lit up distant clouds. On top of this fire flies and the fascinating beatle with two glowing spots that lives in these parts flashed like little sparks in the trees. I walked slowly, letting my eyes dilate, catching the reflection of the constellations off the water and waiting to see a second falling star. Then I noticed something strange, something tantalizing. For the first time in my life I noticed that my footprints were actually among the stars. The water beneath my feet was reflecting the stars above, something else was going on. Every time I stepped on the sand little lights shimmered beneath my feet – bioluminescent plankton! I became excited to make it back to the fire to share this discovery with my companions, but before I made it back I noticed something else. The crashing waves were lighting up too. It was unmistakable. Every time the waves churned up the water a bright swirling ribbon of blue light danced on the water.

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After hearing the excitement in my voice Angela ran out into the water with me. We swam into deeper waters and laughed as our hands and feet completely lit up as we moved. It was magical. In the shadow of the crashing waves, we stood in the warm water in awe of Nature and its wonders.

Thad Roberts

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Cozumel

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We watched for cars, bikers, or anyone else that might spot our crossing spot. “Ready?” Angela asked. “Yes” I replied. “Ninja time” she said as she began lifting her clunky rental bike over the short wall that separated the roadway from the wild jungle. I tossed my stuffed pack over the wall and then lifted my creaky bike and lowered it down. On the other side we pushed through the thick tangled green until we found a reasonable spot. Beneath a palm tree we smoothed out the ground, removing small rocks and sticks, checked for signs of an anthill, and then began making our bed. This was the very first time I had slept outside in a non-desert without at least having a backup tent. We were just out there, in the middle of it all, in the jungle of Cozumel, with a single sheet between us and the bugs. With the sheet tucked in all around us, and over our heads, I began thinking of our future destinations and schedule. At that point in occurred to me what the date was, the 7th, and I turned towards Angela and said, happy anniversary. We both began laughing.

We rose before the sun and started riding our bikes along the coastline. Fisherman were sipping on coffee, a few people were out for an early morning run, and a pair of men were down by the water practicing boxing. As the sun scratched its way past the horizon one of the anchored ships began to glow red. We decided to start by darting across the island and then looping all the way around the bottom. The trees shaded us as we cycled into a rhythmic trance. When we reached the eastern shoreline we stopped for first breakfast, a couple of hardboiled eggs with salt. A few vacant shacks, which evidently served as restaurants during the busy season, dotted the patchy shoreline. And right where we were standing was a sign, in English, saying ‘Nude Beach.’

Half way down the eastern shoreline we stopped at a small place called Playa Bonita, and climbed its quaint wooden platform to enjoy the shade of its palm-thatched roof. It was a perfect place for second breakfast. Back on our bikes we casually swayed from one side of the road to the other to see colorful flowers, to get a better look at a bird or a plant, or to see the military officers with guns walking the beach – presumably watching for drug traffickers. As we rode past a particularly rocky patch of coastline we heard a very loud sound and had to investigate. Leaving our likes we danced through the twists and turns of the sharp rocks until we came upon the source – a very powerful blowhole. As I looked towards the blowhole it spat out at me and ripped my hat off my head and launched it into the sky. It was quite funny. Angela’s hair would breathe, being pulled down, and then violently all thrown up in the air as if she were skydiving without a helmet. Cozumel’s secrets were delightful.

All day we were the only tourists actually exploring the island on bikes. Some people rented cars, jeeps, or mopeds to drive around the island, but not many. Of those that did, we never saw any of them get out of their cars to actually see these spots. The other side of the island, where the international cruise ships were ported, offered snorkeling, and suburbia, and I suppose that’s what most tourists want.

As we left the famed island of Cozumel I smiled. We had seen the island, had touched it and gotten to know it a bit, and although we were in one of the most expensive places around we stayed within budget J.

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Howling Monkeys

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I was under a calming trance, induced by our little humming electric fan and the feel of my pillow, interrupted by my need to undertake the early morning ninja session. As I opened my eyes, the where and when of my reality came rushing back to my consciousness. There would be no special ninja skills necessary this morning. We were deep inside a sugarcane field, surrounded by two walls of thick green towering above Wiggles. How relaxing.

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I find myself very comfortable in farm country. People that grow up with the sort of work ethic that is necessary to survive here rarely get bored enough to mess with others. Plus it feels more natural to be surrounded by plants and wildlife, where you have the freedom to pee whenever you need to. I’ve learned to appreciate this particular aspect of the backcountry much more lately. There have been a few disastrous town experiences that had me wandering cobblestone streets with a pocketful of tissue paper, searching for a private place among all the abutting solid cement walls, under the strict command of my upset stomach. Unable to find an appropriate spot, I was eventually forced into a few very embarrassing situations. During the worst of those (in Mascota), all I could really do was wave and smile as midnight drivers drove by staring at me hovering above my ankles. I’m still not sure why any town would keep all of their bathrooms under lock and key. It seems mutually beneficial to have at least one always-open free public bathroom.

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The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. I don’t have time to mention every notable experience here, nor do I have a complex enough grasp of language to fully convey the color of those experiences, but I will try to give the flavor of what its been like for those of you thinking about undertaking similar experiences.

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Beyond consulting our map, we have been following random tips from place to place, stopping in each new area and asking locals that look like they might know what sort of places for us to visit. It has led us to some amazing places. We’ve been over a rickety bridge that I was afraid would buckle under Wiggles’ weight, past a cluster of women washing clothes in a river National Geographic style, splashing through mud into a jungle of strange animals, ending up in the middle of a Little House on the Prairie looking field of cows. From there we hiked to a beautiful lake where some locals were on rickety boats casting nets to catch fish. Some of the creatures we saw I can’t identify. One of them looked like a cross between a lizard and a raccoon – that’s honestly my best description.

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One particularly special occasion was when we came across a wild pyramid/temple complex that was completely overgrown. We climbed through the thick trees and vines to the top of the pyramid and found a staircase that led straight down into the pyramid’s center. Going down that stone staircase was like entering into a tomb of untouched stone art. Inside it was dark, but a glimpse of jungle green stretched to us from the distance.  Following the light, we eventually exited into another section of the jungle. It felt like a real Indiana Jones adventure.

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We have seen people employ every technique imaginable to get us to buy their products. For example, the rope trick (where a chord of some sort is strung across the road with flags on it to get you to stop), or the tope hangouts (where people are selling EVERYTHING through your window (I’m still wondering who buys a calculator on the road? Food I get, but who is driving through the jungle thinking, ‘I could really use a cheap calculator right now’?) Then there’s the street kids that ask for 10 pesos to watch your car as you enjoy the hike, with the implied bluff that if you don’t pay, a break in might occur. For the most part this is simply a play on tourist expectations – an attempt to profit off of the fears that people carry here with them. That sort of malice is not natural here and it is easy to see right through the ruse. The eyes give it away. They have not hurt anyone before without making amends. They don’t have the dimmed eyes of true businessmen or the violent thugs I encountered in county jail. Except for the way our hearts go out to those that are in positions of relative poverty, all of this has been fairly simple to navigate

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We’ve been cliff jumping, exploring random beaches, finding rivers and waterfalls of all sorts to take showers in, and getting more and more used to this kind of travel. The showers are one of my favorite parts. I remember an episode of Sienfeld were Cramer installed an elephant showerhead that was superpowerful. I relate to the pleasure now. Standing in a waterfall that almost pushes me to my knees is delightful. Instead of worrying about getting clean I just try to stay on my feet and come away all smiles.

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Every now and then I feel bad for the older men in farm towns that have crooked fingers, the ones that never went to the hospital to straighten them – either because they couldn’t afford it, or because they were being “tough guys”. I suspect that the reason isn’t just money because the poverty level here isn’t what I was expecting and from what I’m told, there is some level of nationalized medicine. It is worth noting, however, that despite things like crooked fingers, the people here seem to smile far more than people back home. And from what I’ve seen so far, I’m a little jealous of the average childhood experience here – minus the lack of in-depth education

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To Mexico’s credit, exposure to natural dangers, to real life, is greater here. The adults seem to make very little attempt to steal their children’s curiosity from them via guilt, or to beat their explorer’s heart out of them. Just like the dogs around here, the children are far more-free than their compliments in my childhood culture (excluding perhaps those that grow up in Mexico’s big cities). The likelihood of physical injury is a bit higher, but at the same time they seem to do a better job at holding onto their humanity as they transition into adulthood.

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From my perspective, the dogs and humans here also seem to grow up with a richer/more healthy understanding of the complexities of social interaction. In the US many people, like I did, grow up to be very shy. By the time we are young adults we are technically dysfunctional when it comes to getting along in the world, crippled by our social anxieties. It takes a long time, if ever, for us to overcome those debilitations – to cast off the suffocating shelter/safety net that was handed to us “for our own good.”. Here people (and dogs) intimately learn what it means to be social. From an early age they are exposed to the scrapes and cuts that give them a complex understanding of how to balance interactions with others without sacrificing the need to be honest to yourself.  The dogs here are not owned by anyone, yet they never lash out at humans, or try to bite anyone. And although the humans are relatively poor, they value humanity in general far more that they otherwise would. At least that’s my take.

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So far my Mexico experience gives me much to be pensive about. As a child I was taught that my country was the greatest – that it was the land of the brave and the free. Then I watched as safety was propped up as the reason we should give away all of our freedoms. In mob fashion, and largely during my lifetime, Americans sold their potential to escape their fears. They have forgotten that brave and free go together. Now they have very little to fear and very little to live for. Depression is now the national state of being, promoted by commercialism, dogma, and nationalism. The more I travel the more I appreciate the good things that the US does have (beautiful landscapes, diversity, education, abundance, creativity…), but I am also beginning to more clearly understand the sickness that is hurting its people. Happiness has been drained from the people’s veins, replaced by nerotic pulses of sensory overload, video games, violent movies, the notion of instant gratification, etc. All of this has led to a shallowing of thought in general, which in turn has left millions with lives that are vacant of meaningful emotional interactions (a Twitter post now counts as a social interaction).

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Just before Thomas and Chihiro parted ways with us in Veracruz, we all slept at a beach together. In the morning we explored the beach and found some giant sand dunes jutting right up out of the sea. As we climbed to the tops of those dunes, jumping off the cliffs and flying down walls of sand, I felt almost weightless. I wondered how many other perfect places there were in the world, waiting to be explored. I found it amazing that out of all the people in this world we were the only ones there, playing in Nature’s sandbox.

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It was great exploring this part of the world with you Tomas and Chihiro. Such memories will always be with us. I look forward to your random updates and your fantastic pictures. Good luck on your journey. Thanks for having the guts to explore as you do. Until our paths cross again.

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After Veracruz the heat started to be unbearable. We spent a day at a mechanic shop trying to get our AC repaired. It worked for about 10 minutes, then another leak started whistling. This little upset cost us 2500 pesos, which was bothering us quite a bit, given our budget and the fact that we lost an entire day but didn’t gain a working AC. So the next day, just before we left town, we went back to the shop and Angela argued for some of our money back. To my complete surprise it worked! Evidently you can argue your way out of tickets from the police here AND you can argue for money back from a mechanic. Wow.

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Trying to escape the heat of the next morning we took a detour, following a sign that said ‘cascada.’ We ended up passing through a town with about 1000 people, half of which were hanging out at the end of the road at a place called Agua Blanca. This place was paradise. It was a five kilometer stretch on a gorgeous white rock river decorated with waterfalls and pools as far as you could see. At the top of the river there was a huge cave. It took us three hours to explore that cave, because instead of sticking to the regular path we went as far up each cavern as we could. We found sleeping bats, clutched to the rock celing, nooks and crannies that twisted into each other, and huge rooms with tiny entrances. The cave went all the way through the mountain, and it had three different exits. Near the last exit I slipped into a hole, almost breaking my leg, but limped away with just some deep bruises and a bloody shin. We spent the rest of the day in the river, exploring each waterfall, swimming into recessed caves behind the waterfalls, and showing the locals how to jump into the deep spots. The entrance fee was only 15 pesos ($1.20) for the whole day. What a day!

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Palenque was absolutely astounding. It was also exhausting as it was 95° F.  After seveal hours exploring the ruins, of which only 6% have been excavated, we cooled off in a nearby waterfall, which also had a cave behind it. Just behind the waterfall, at the mouth of the cave, we met a Canadian rasta guy and a beautiful Italian girl (who was trying hard to get with the Canadian guy), we asked them how the cave was. They said it was great. We hadn’t brought our headlamps, so we felt our way to the back, squeezing my chest through the tight spots. They followed us back, and then told us that they hadn’t actaully been back there. They were afraid to come back, but after seeing us they mustered the courage to try it.

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That night we drove half way to Agua Azul, delightfully detoured again by a sign for another waterfall. This was evidently a pay area, but we got in for free because it was so late. We parked in a random spot by the trees, popped the top of Wiggles and enjoyed the cooler mountain breeze. Leaving the light off we watched the lightning bugs flash all around us. The area slowly transitioned into a symphony hall. The frogs competed with several different kinds of birds for the center stage, and then in the distance a family of howling monkeys (we think) stole the show. We never saw the monkeys, but there was no mistaking the presence of deep howling voices  We lied in the top of Wiggles, with all the windows open saoking up the music of Nature.

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In the morning we met a really cool couple. John was an American helicopter pilot about my age, with a newfound passion for astronomy, philosophy and physics. Patricia was a robotics engineer from Brazil, studying to be a programmer, with interest in psychology. It was very refreshing talking with them. They are about a year into their travels (Wandaroundtheworld.com) and they plan to land in Brazil in about another year to work again. Both were very beautiful people, full of life. John made the comment that most people say, “I wish I could travel like that, but I don’t have the money.” Then he pointed out that nearly all of the people he has met traveling like this don’t have the money. Many of them just make it happen, stop to work here or there when they run out, or they just learn how to survive off of less. Couch surfing is free, food is cheap, and once you train yourself to collect memories instead of things, life is full, rich, and quite cheap. Good luck John and Patricia. I look forward to seeing you both in the future!

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Agua Azul – made me think of Josh. Josh you would love this place. The water is the color of the water in Havasupai, and the erosion of the rocks is reminiscent of that place too. Of course, the water volume completely dwarfs Havasupai. It is wide and powerful. And there is an extra surprise – there are a bunch of excited birds that live behind the waterfall. They fly through the powerful cascade to exit and enter their home. About a hunderd at a time come crashing out of the water, chase each other around overhead, and then they dart back through the waterfall into their home where they cling to the rocks. I’ve never seen birds flying through a waterfall before.

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I’m thinking of you (you know who you are) and the conversations that we still have ahead of us. Please learn as much as you can in the mean time, experience as much as possible, love each and every day, and then we will swap stories, lessons, tears, laughter, and hugs.

Many Loves,

Thad

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Cascada El Encanto

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I’m sitting in a cement baño with a door made out of loosely woven together vertical wooden slats. After an early morning session of wrestling the ocean’s rhythm, and soaking in a refreshing 10 peso shower, I’m enjoying being barefoot. I’m also quietly hoping that my four-day run without going the bathroom is about to end. A lot of ruckus is going on outside. I watch, waiting to resolve what the commotion is all about. Then through the spaces between the slats I see a man walking backwards, holding the back legs of a pig, then a pig walking backwards on his front feet, screaming for his life at the top of his lungs.

It turns out that when a pig screams in Mexico you quickly learn how many dogs are in the area. I’m often surprised by how many dogs occupy a single block around here. There are roof dogs, road dogs, dogs that beg stratagicially for food – positioning themselves in places that people are likely to be throwing out food scraps, societies of dogs, beach dogs, river dogs, farm dogs, and a few dogs that actually belong to humans.

Random thoughts pass through my mind. I recall the many comforts that are seeded by the single act of having a refrigerator. I remember Elaine and Phil’s nightly routine, and imagine Phil giving Elaine a foot massage. I think about the snow that is at their place right now, and fantasize about going to dinner with them again. I wonder what my friends are doing at this very moment. I imagine their laughs. Josh and Marcus would love this experience so much. I really wish there were here. It is strange not having the surge of intellectual discussions I’m used to. Phil, Marcus, Josh, Jeff – send me some emails! Marie and Maria are sorely missed, and quite frankly their energy is needed right now. And it’s been way to long without a dose Tom and Chris’ high quality wit. Every day I think about how sad it is that Marc didn’t make it on this trip. I miss looking up and seeing him trying to climb into the strangest places to get the right shot. Marc really knows what he is doing. I miss his passion. All of team death punch would really enjoy this. Deserts, pyramids, waterfalls, campfires, riding on top of Wiggles, butterflies, baby whales, newly hatched turtles, strange cities, tunnels, jungles… Yup this is like an extended team death punch excursion.

I feel a surge of excitement as my thoughts turn to the recent news – my request to participate in a very special “summer school” program in Germany has been approved! Lucas forwarded me an email telling me about the opportunity. Thanks Lucas. It is put together by about 10 of the 30 most influential minds in my field. It’s a concentrated whirlwind program titled ‘Physics and Philosophy of Time.’ Detlef Dürr (perhaps the worlds foremost expert of Bohmian mechanics) is an organizer along with Christian Wüthrich (a genius that I drove to San Diego once to meet, and then met again at the recent Philosophy of Science conference). Nino Zanghi (who often publishes with Dürr) is going to be there. And Tim Maudlin (one of my favorite math authors) is also going to be there. This is going to be great.

Although I’m in the middle of this excursion, I’m putting together a new interpretation of quantum mechanics. The crux of the new initiative stems from the insight that the state vector may represent ensemble states of the quantized vacuum. With that starting point all of the same math follows for quantum mechanical claims, but because the ensemble itself stems from a new set of axioms for the vacuum it provides a way to get beneath the formalism conceptually. I hope to get something formal written up before participating in Germany’s get together.

Success! The four-day streak is over.

Hours later we have made our way back up to the mountains. We are a bit lost and a bit sidetracked – picking wild oranges in a jungle. We have been searching for a waterfall that we heard about called Cascada El Encanto. Down dirt roads, through shallow rivers, past cows… We ran into a fence at the edge of another field. A Mexican was lying on his back sleeping near the fence. Upon hearing us arrive he stood up to greet us and request 50 pesos to pass. He also told us that when we arrived to the canyon we would have to rent a boat to get to the waterfall. We told him we didn’t need it, that we could swim there. He tried to convince us that it was impossible. Since we couldn’t afford the boat we knew it was possible to swim.

Arriving at the boat rental spot we locked up Wiggles and proceeded to enter the waters. Chihiro used her cold negotiation skills to rent a single lifejacket for 15 pesos – just in case the current has some surprises for us. Then we entered the wonderland. We began swimming up the slot canyon, with long jungle roots hanging from its walls. Everything about it was breathtaking. As we rounded a bend we saw the first waterfall, and as we approached that waterfall we caught a glimpse of the giant waterfall in the distance. Next up, rock climbing up the side of the canyon wall and over the first waterfall. Marie and Maria would have died for this place! Then we were back in the water making our way towards the towering wall of water. Our laughs we muddled and overcome by the loud roar of the water all around us. We couldn’t see anything as we tried to make our way back to the rear wall, water crashing all around us.

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A raft with a guide was carrying two girls up the canyon. He showed them how to climb the rock walls, and then the dragged the raft up the cliff so the girls could reboard and experience being under the falls while in the raft. After getting more than their fill of water in their face they were ready to depart. We all joined them for the ride off the first waterfall. I knew well before we approached the falls that I was going to be thrown from the raft. I was on the wrong side. No matter, I intended to swim back anyway. What better start the swim then to be thrown from a raft as I go over a waterfall? J

This place is being added to my list of favorites. I vaguely remember seeing it featured in a National Geographic article that I read in prison. It’s amazing to think that the fantasy that was once formed, from the inside of those walls, has now been lived. What’s more is that I got to live that fantasy with someone that is a permanent part of my life – Angela. Now I just have to convince all of you other permanent parts of my life to come live some of this with us.

Love to all of you.

Thad

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Mariposas

I’m on a braided trail that doubles as an endless staircase of loose rocks and powered dust. Left, right, it doesn’t seem to matter which trail we take, they all continue straight up the mountain. Our obligatory guide doesn’t speak a word as he races up the mountain. We are trying to make it to the top in time for the special hour, the time when we are told the monarch butterflies all start to flutter about in a large-scale social dance.

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Out of all the places in the world, this is the prime place for Monarch Butterflies (or in Spanish, Mariposas Monarca). We could say that this is their mating ground, the place where the magic starts, but things are a bit more complicated than that. From here the flutterbys (as I like to call them) initiate one of the most complex migrations in the world. After mating they lay their larvae and die. New caterpillars are born, eat from the Milkweed plants that cover this mountain, spin their cocoon, and metamorphose into majestic butterflies. Then these brilliant mosaic wonders start the trek north, ending in the southeast of the United States. There another meeting place has been designated (by some unknown process or communication).  The flutterbys then mate, leave new larvae and die. Their progeny go through the same process and then fly further north to the Great Lakes of Canada for another cycle. The generation born in Canada then fly all the way back to this spot in Mexico, which is just a couple hours outside of Mexico city, and a steep two hour hike up the mountain from our current base camp in the woods.

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The information booklet says to expect between 4 and 8 million monarchs packed in just a couple of acres, but so far I have only seen two butterflies. A French Canadian man joined our group, to avoid having to pay for his own guide. We all opted out of paying for a horse to save money (plus I’m not sure the small horses here could support me – especially up this torturous trail). Hopeful salesmen are following us with horses waiting for us to realize that this trail literally goes straight up the mountain for two straight hours. The French Canadian man eventually caved, and I was a little jealous of him. An hour into the hike my calves were burning, and I was getting desperate for a break, but Angela (who prefers uphill to downhill) was still going so I had to forego the much-wanted break. Our guide was now talking, urging us to speed up, saying that we would miss the show if we didn’t. At this point I still hadn’t seen more than a handful of butterflies.

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When we arrived we became speechless, standing in awe of the spectacle and simply soaking it in. Entire trees were covered in orange butterflies, and the branches sagged under their collective weight. When a little gust of wind swayed the trees hundreds of thousands of butterflies all took to the sky, crashing into each other, and filling the air with a sound I had never heard before. Butterflies landed on us, perfectly content to share a little moment of their life with us. We asked them about their mystery, about how they know how to navigate all the way from Canada. We became their friends and delighted in their successful completion of their journey.

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Loves,

Thad

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Tickle Turtle & Swarm

 

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Gilda & Manuel

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Gilda, my friend of 13 years, kindly invited us all into her home with her husband Manuel and their two children. I hadn’t seen Gilda since our dinosaur digs in Rincon Colorado near Saltillo Mexico. It was wonderful to catch up with her. The long warm shower was soothing, and the recharge (both of our bodies and our electronic equipment) was much needed. To top it all off Gilda made the best meal we have had on this trip yet. Just before we left Utah Jeff Chapple made us a spectacular Thanksgiving style meal. We have frequently fantasized about that meal. Now we have another culinary experience to add to our fantasy cravings.

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On the second day Gilda arranged for us to go to her children’s grade school and give a talk. It was a very positive experience. The goal was to have them learn from my mistakes but also from my passion to chase dreams and to never give up. After the talk we went for a run around a local dammed up lake. When we returned to the white city (the name we gave the double gated community that Gilda lives in on the hill, which looks entirely white from a distance) we could see the entire lake down in the valley. The view made us feel like we accomplished something noteworthy. In the evening the five of us played scum as Manuel kept pouring vodka into our glasses. It was a lot of laughs, especially when Chihiro started trying to cheat ;-).

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Thank you Gilda and Manuel!

Loves,

Thad

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Trolls

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Today we were christened into the kingdom of trolls as we woke up in the tunnels of Guanajuato. The constant dripping of water and the loud reverberating echoes of passing cars  kept us awake for most of the night. Perhaps this is  why trolls have a reputation for being grumpy. Every now and then Thomas would break out into laughter in disbelief that is was possible for those cars to be that loud. Still, spending the night in the tunnels was totally worth it. All of us are awestruck by this city. It is an elaborately woven together wonder of cobblestone streets, surrounded by vertical walls whose jutting grandeur is accented by colorful houses stacked on top of each other and angled braces that support them as they overhang the streets. There are mazes of tunnels all throughout the city, popping up here and there and disappearing with only a hint of their existence. This is definitely one of my favorite cities so far.

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Going for a run this mountainous town was exhilarating but very tiring. Up mountains of technicolor homes, down steep staircases, through underground tunnels, around the city square… it was beautiful!

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Come and join us!

Loves,

Thad

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Time Lapse

Here are some time lapses we have taken in the past two weeks 🙂
Loves,
Thad

 

 

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Tangled

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What a strange twisty turny road this is. The cobblestones of this journey have a way of making parts of my past echo in my mind, making me fixate on the people I miss, the conversations I remember, how it felt to make discoveries together as we delicately danced through the forest of words that mask and tangle our meanings. It feels good to have loved ones, to know that our connection remains even though I am sailing across the Earth in the direction of away.

It is strange to be a traveler, but then again in many ways it feels like I am being me. There are only two elements of this experience that feel unnatural to me. I miss getting to share everything with all of my loved ones, and having them participate in a shared journey, and I long for far more physics time. On both fronts I long for more discovery conversation. We spend so much time a day taking care of just survival, food, getting to where we are going, cleaning Wiggles, staying organized, and absorbing each new place, that the only really meaningful conversations that soak through my skin are the ones that are about the feel of each new place – and these tend to be mostly wordless. I recall the old adage that lower minds focus on things, medium minds focus on people, and great minds focus on ideas. Every now and then part of me feels like the ideas in me are a bit trapped, and I miss having the outlet I used to have. All this focus on places seems a bit narrow to me at times, especially when it comes to the Cathedrals in each town. On the other hand, the newness, and the extent to which this trip has thrown me out of my comfort zone, does help stoke my creativity fire.

Still, I would love to talk with someone right now about the idea that the state vector in quantum mechanics might actually best apply as a description of an ensemble – a collection of the quanta that make up the local spacetime region and how those arrangements may evolve. This assumption would explain why quantum mechanics is restricted to statistical descriptions (so long as we remain restricted to four dimensional information, relying on the state vector). This is a beautiful idea because if space is quantized, then the ambiguity that currently plagues quantum mechanics collapses, and we gain a way to understand the math currently attached to its predictions.

I would also love to just be on a walk right now with one of you, talking like we used to, allowing our connection to continue to grow as we mutually learn more about ourselves and each other. I miss you. I wish you could all be here right now, sharing this adventure. Not having a home (structure) is perfectly fine with me, but not having my loved ones all with me is strange.

Today we drove Wiggles through a place that reminded me of Morocco, or at least what I’ve seen of Morocco from National Geographic. We were wading through people on streets packed with bright colored things hanging off the walls, bursting into every square inch that could be filled. It was amazing to me that we could still fit. The people seemed nearly oblivious to Wiggles pushing through the crowd at one kilometer per hour. In the center of town was another elaborate Cathedral. From all sides of town people were on some kind of pilgrimage to the Cathedral, walking on the highway into town. When they arrived they crawled on their knees up the hallway in the Cathedral. It was amazing to be in the right place at the right time to see into the lives of the people here, but that glimpse also came as a slight sigh to me, recognizing the pain and suffering that their myths are reinforcing. Such things always make me hope for the future, for a world in which people are not held down, where there are no class distinctions, where all people have the option to turn to truth, and discovery for inspiration, and have ready access to routes that allow this. Elaine and Phil have often remarked that they are surprised that I was able to come away from my time in prison hoping for a better future instead of fixating on the flaws of the present. For me understanding human suffering is the same thing as hoping for a better future. Humans will all take the better route if they are given the proper chance. Class restrictions, religion, dogma, crime, etc. can all dissolve if we simply learn to understand each other – which in the end amounts to learning to understand ourselves in a much richer capacity.

xoxo
Thad

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Lover’s Beach

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Due to getting robbed last night, we are now in a McDonalds using wifi and looking for a way to replace our stolen camera for a reasonable price. Angela already superglued the screen back together. Surprisingly, that was the extent of the damage from the break in. I’m taking a moment to post about the spectacular adventure we had in Cabo San Lucas.

The very southern tip if Baja California is a wondrous place – I recommend it to every member of Team Death Punch! Just a few dozen meters before the end of Baja there is a beach on the rough Pacific side (catch the irony) called divorce beach. The locals say that it has that name because of its danger. They say that sometimes when couples go there only one returns. It is also said that every now and then the waves from divorce beach crash all the way up the beach, kissing the beach on the Sea of Cortez side. For this reason the beach on this side is called Lover’s beach.

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With or without history, this place was breathtaking. Cream colored sandy beaches separated by black jutting rocks that twist into interesting mountainous shapes, and at the end they come together to form a spectacular arch protected by sea lions. Best of all was the route to that arch. From lover’s beach we climbed through a small tunnel, followed the sandy shore, and then started to time the crashing waves so we could wade along the rocks to a safe sandy null on the other side. From there we walked through a dark cave, one that had waves coming into it from both directions. At the end of that cave we saw the majesty of the arch, a structure that literally divided the Pacific ocean from the Sea of Cortez. The waves were crashing all around us, filling the entire area with the echoes of a rhythmic melody and elevating our pulses. The arch was close in size to Utah’s Delicate Arch, but it was caressed by the tumultuous ocean. Its memory alone tantalizes my nerve endings.

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Cabo San Lucas is quite touristy, and it has a very distinct American feel to it. For Team Death Punch members I recommend not worrying too much about the city. But some day, if you get the chance, fly out to CSL with a small waterproof backpack, walk the coast line, sometimes wading or swimming, and make your way to the arch. On the other side there is a huge cave, sandy, with one of the best views in the world. You can camp there all by yourself and watch the sunrise through the arch. I don’t know how you would beat that experience – except for sharing it.

Loves,
Thad

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Mismaloya

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Yesterday we woke up next to the beach in San Blas. We were three cars of travelers that met on the Ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan. Thomas is now a formal part of our crew, at least for now. He is from France, speaks French, Dutch, English, and is a little ahead of me in Spanish. He’s 22, in great shape, full of energy, very positive about life and makes us laugh quite often. We met him on the deck of the ferry, returning from sneaking onto the top restricted area, exactly where we were trying to go. The captain came out just as we all met, and Angela worked her magic to get special permission for us to go up there with the captain. He tried to say no, that it was too dangerous, but I told him that Angela’s nickname is Curva Peligrosa, and she played along. It was a beautiful view from the top. Thomas joined us in our cabin, sleeping on the floor, but having a place to lay down.

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George and Stephanie joined us as we were driving off the ferry for the purpose of caravanning through the supposedly “dangerous” state. We had all heard the same rumors, and were heavily cautioned not to do certain things, to not be in states like Nayarit any more than we have to, etc. I have a feeling that most of those rumors are passed on by people that watch the news, and believe it. The information that seeded the rumors might have been based on real events, but the frequency and likelihood of such events occurring on any given day are dramatically exaggerated.

Angela and I went for a morning run on the beach. The run had a serene National Geographic feel to it. We found clam seashells decorated with several long and brittle spines and saw dozens of birds packed along the estuaries that stippled the shoreline. Pelicans, storks, vultures, gulls, the little birds that run up and down the beach as the waves undulate back and forth, some bird with a really thick beak, looking like it has a huge nose, and more. We ran to the end of the beach and back. I took a quick dip in the warm water and then took a Wiggles shower. George and Stephanie headed out to find a surf spot they had on their map. Then the four of us went into the town to check out the local scene and the Mission. Angela bought some super cheap local chicken, tortillas and roasted whole jalapeños. The jalapeños were really hot.

We took the back roads through the small towns. At a stop sign Angela and I were nearly accosted by 8 people who lunged forward to wash our windows and then ask us for money. They were using very scratchy rags, the kind that can permanently scratch your window. I drove off. It was like pushing through a mob with my car, and part of it made me feel bad.

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Down the road we starting seeing trees with fruits that we had never seen before. We stopped at a local stand to try some and learned that it is called ‘yaka.’ It’s a huge pod with sharp spikes all over its surface. Inside there are many slimy spheres of fruit, each with its own large smooth seed in it. It tastes pretty good, but its no lingonberry ☺.

As we pressed on, we came to a town where two cops on one motorcycle were waiting. This was the very first time in all of Mexico I had seen cops doing what appeared to be patrolling for speeding. Of course, as the speed limit dramatically cut in half in 10 meters, we were technically speeding for a few seconds. I watched in my mirror and saw the flashing blue and red lights come on. Thomas and Chihiro were behind us. Evidently the cops had decided to pull them over instead of us.

The cops drove into the middle lane alongside Thomas, signaling with their hands for him to pull over. Evidently Thomas didn’t see him. Then the cops pulled behind him and just kept signaling with their hands, lights flashing, and following. Thomas eventually moved over to the right lane, but just kept driving. Angela and I were talking about what the cops must be thinking. Then, surprisingly, the cops gave up and just let him go. So I guess Thomas successfully ignored the cops until they went away. I didn’t know you could do that.

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Later I asked him why he didn’t pull over and he said that he thought they wanted him to move over to the right lane, but didn’t know that they wanted him to stop. He said, “until I got the proper signal I wasn’t going to stop.” I asked what the flashing lights meant to him. He said, “well without the siren the lights might just mean that the cops wanted to go fast.”

We made it to Puerto Vallarta in time to watch the sunset from the center. Then we walked around saying “no gracias” every few seconds, turning down people that were offering us things to buy. It was already dark, but we needed to find a good spot to park for the night. So we got some advice from some locals and headed out. The spot we were told about wasn’t quite what we were looking for so we drove on, eventually parking at a place called Mismaloya. This was the best parking spot we had found yet. We were one meter from a freshwater river that poured onto the beach. A small wooden bridge stretched over the river to a dozen small bars and restaurants, and the river was packed full of colorful anchored boats. There was a freshwater shower right next to us and there were toilets.

In the morning I woke up are read some more from my book (Do We Really Understand Quantum Mechanics?), which is turning out to be a spectacular book. Then Angela, Thomas and I went for a run. Thomas was barefoot. The beach wasn’t that long so we decided to run the other direction. After crossing the main road we took random cobblestone roads and ended up on a dirt road that went up a canyon. When we were about to turn around we saw a sign that said ‘2 miles to the waterfalls.’ So now we set our sights on two more uphill miles. (It was listed in miles, not kilometers.) Along the was another sign said “Predator area.” I wondered what that meant. What kind of animal was it talking about?

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At the end of the road we found a delightful surprise. The movie Predator was filmed in this location. The crashed helicopter was still there and a beautiful elaborate thatch restaurant/bar had been built right next to it – with the best bathrooms I have ever seen! Best of all, the waterfall we were looking for was right in the middle of all of the action. It was a natural waterslide with a drop off at the end into a clear pool and it was absolutely delightful. There was also a rope to swing off of the structure into the pool.

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After playing around in the pool for over an hour, for free, we decided to start the run back. When we made it back we made breakfast in Wiggles, and then bartered for a deal (100 pesos each) to take a boat out to the arches and snorkel. It was more than we bargained for. What a great day. There were lots of fishes, and when it was time to leave we were visited by a whale. Took by best whale tale picture yet ☺ The evening was relaxing and comfortable and it was the perfect temperature. We made dinner together in Wiggles, mashed potatoes and soup that functioned as gravy, played some card games, and then went to sleep. I hope everyone can have days so wonderful.

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Xoxoxoxo
Thad

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Showers

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For those of you thinking of joining us for part of the trip… here’s how we take showers. Super cheap and way more fun than regular showers :-). This was in the middle of a cacti forest, but sometimes we have to take showers is less private places. So far we’ve been quite successful at finding free places to stay. Mexico is awesome!! Come join us xoxo

Thad

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Baby Turtles


We went for an amazing barefoot run on the beach and magically came upon these two baby turtles. They had just hatched and were making their way to the ocean and I was the first thing they ever saw. They were so cute. They were having a little bit of a hard time getting where they were going. I watched over them, and helped them get back on their bellies a few times after being knocked over and flipped over by the waves. Then I watched them swim off into the sea. I love baby turtles. This completely made my day. I hope I see those turtles again in 90 years 🙂 Sent from my iPhone

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Baby whale!!

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As we drove the main street of Guerrero Negro, our attention was completely captured by a pair of men putting gas into a truck that had run out of it. I regret not having the camera ready, because the man on top of the truck had the most beautiful, gentle, amazing smile. The smile was contagious and my heart was filled with hope towards humanity, his attitude and smile was so full of pure and beautiful human emotion. Sometimes my fatalistic attitude towards human survival tends to take over and forget how beautiful humans are, I know he will never know how much of an impact he made for us. I hope the next time I meet some one like him I can capture it with more than just my mind, so I can share the moment.

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That night we went for a Margarita at the local bar, got to meet some Americans that were traveling towards Cabo San Lucas. It was a very mixed encounter…

Have you ever seen foam made out of salt? I hadn’t, until we started to drive towards the campground where we would stay before we would go to meet the whales. I assumed the Great Salt Lake would be salt foam city, but maybe the lack of waves doesn’t allow the bubbles to form.

I will list what I have learned about whales

1. Baby whales are so dam cute…….. a four week old whale went “bump bump ” on the boat, and left splashing all around, happy to have given us a scare.
2. Baby whales sometimes are attracted to the sound of the motor, but only the ones that are 4 weeks old or older.
3. Baby grey whales are about 400-500 pounds.
4. There is a 9 kilometer area know to be where most of the mateing happens.
5. Grey whales mate two males and one female at a time.
6. The males help each other to achieve successful penetration.
7. The second male might lift the female and other male upwards, sometimes lifting a whale off of the water.
8. Females conceive every other year.
9. They only have one baby whale, no twins for them, good thing because…
10. baby whales drink 200 to 250 litters of milk a day.
11. Grey whales like to go into the Sea of Cortez because sharks don’t.
12. Sharks don’t like the area because is too shallow.
13. When a baby is born, it floats to the top, until they learn how to swim.
14. The high salt content helps the flotation of baby whales.
15. The depth of water where they give birth is sometimes only 9 meters deep.

This information comes from the courtesy of our guide.

As we were going back towards land, we were greeted by a dolphin. What a way to say bye.

As we drove towards La Paz we took a detour road and took a short with the portable shower bag we have on top of wiggles. What a refreshing feeling, it is to take a shower in a desert location with cactus all around and shampooing my hair was just ecstasy.

La Paz was the place for errands, and the lack of street sings allowed us to get to see the whole city. La Paz, has great food, beautiful views and amazing people. The people are incredibly nice and welcoming. Wiggles got a change of oil and filter, and we got to clean the air filter, I’m glad because it was pretty dirty. The mechanic was amazing, and taught me a lot. Thanks for the coffee and good conversation.

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Went to eat at El Vado where Thad was able to enjoy shrimp wrapped in bacon, and cheese. It was incredible, along with a big bowl of guacamole, and 3 different salsas. It was a succulent meal, and to finish the night in a good mood we played a joke on Chihiro. Thad started to joke about “dine and dash” and told Chihiro that we will be leaving. A while later she went to the bathroom, we to;d the waiter to tell her that we had left. All the waiters were playing along. Our server even took the already paid bill to her, that is when she said ” I don’t have an any money with me, can I work here? ”

We showed up and laughed for a while, she jokingly said “Is what you guys did racist?” we laughed some more and realized that all the other servers were also laughing. It was a good night, and the server really liked Chihiro and her attitude towards the “dine and dash”.

Lessons learned in La Paz

1. You depend on getting directions from strangers.
2. If you are attempting to mail a package internationally, go to the aduana first, if the item is of high value, go then to the DHL, otherwise the correo.
3. Auto Zone is exactly like the ones in the US. It was like being transported to the ones I have visited before. McDonalds was visible from there.
4. Most of the time people will give you directions even if they don’t know where things are.
5. People are very polite and nice.
6. They open things late, and close early.
7. You need to go to Banjercito en Pichilingue to acquire the car permit.
8. If you drive a campmobil, or an Rv, you can get a 10 year pass and no deposit necessary. Otherwise you need a $ 200 deposit and the pass will only be for 180 days. I like Wiggles.

Today we are driving to Todos Santos where we will check out the surfing, and spend a few relaxing days at the beach.

It’s time for me to finish the process of cutting my hair short, and me and Thad will be buzzing out heads. Thanks Thad for all the support you give me, words can’t express how I feel about you, but I hope my actions reflect it.

Angela Arvizu

The days seem to go so fast when you are having fun.

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Sands of Time

 

Traveling can make a lot of things happen to you, some positive and some a little less positive. There is some stress that comes along with traveling, for example the applications for grad school, preparations for what to do after the next seven months, and the somewhat unsuccessful keeping up with family and friends. I enjoy the moment I’m living, and its hard to stare at the screen when outside Wiggles’ windows the locals are moving about their business, and when driving trough the country side I feel like I’m participating in a visual treasure hunt. I enjoyed locating the colorful, individualized and stylized monuments dedicated to deceased individuals, saints, the Virgin Mary and Jesus. I would like to stop in each one of them, and measure them, photograph them, creating a well informed Archeological inventory. Right now is not possible to accomplish this, since gathering all the proper information would take more than 3 hours for each one and we don’t have time for this. For now I will enjoy them as we pass through them.

Endless Cacti

We traveled for a few day trough Baja California Norte, and for the last stretch of the road, before getting into Baja California Sur, we were fortunate to ride the less traveled, and much more bumpy road. We followed the Sea of Cortez down the coast instead of the more traveled Highway on the Pacific Side. We found the first few clusters of a beautiful but strange Dr. Seuss cacti and saw many breathtaking coastal views.

The road was nice and smooth, from Punta Estrella until Puertecitos. The pavement was fresh and WIGGLES was wagging along. Punta San Fermin had a sea front that we had to investigate, where a beautiful view of the Sea of Cortez was crashing shallowly against black rocks. The view was very meditative and what I consider to be a very clean atmosphere. I assume Thad and Chihiro will write about this experience, so I won’t carry on too much about it.

After this amazing adventure at the sea, the road turned from paved into a road very seldom traveled. Around Punta Final we found a military post, where we are usually brought to a full stop and requested to step outside of the vehicle so they can do a quick search and send us on our way. The military in Mexico have been incredibly polite, and helpful, offering places to go and see, road information, and allowing us to take a picture with them. Growing up in the States I assumed every person with uniform, or with a position of authority and power would be intimidating, but so far the military stops have been quick and helpful.

The saguaro cacti were everywhere and they came in all sizes and shapes. After about an hour of driving the mountains started to show long shadows. The sun went down and the road was the only thing visible due to the headlights. After driving for more than an hour there were still no signs of paved roads, houses, or any kind of human foot print other than the road. After two hours of driving we finally saw 3 headlights ahead. We were happy to see those three cars far in the distance, since they were the signal of a paved road, We relaxed once we reached Highway 1. The paved road and a place to sleep were something we appreciated.

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We went to a “Loncheria” inside a private house and asked for albondigas soup and a quesadilla. Before sleep we got out and looked up and saw and incredibly bright night sky. The Milky Way was clearly visible, it reminded me of the nights we’ve spent in the Southern Utah desert.

We arrived at Guerrero Negro and looked around the place. Then we got to do laundry at a laundromat where a lady shared some of her story with me. She was single and without kids. She enjoyed her freedom. She spoke of her family, I’m glad I spoke of the military in a agredable form, because she had a brother in the military, and she was very proud of him. She also spoke about how the weather has changed in the last couple of years, got hotter with heat waves that lasted months longer than usual.

After we went for a drive and found a perfect place to setup the GoPro to take a time lapse. The clouds were moving, the view was different and we were ready to have some fun. Me and Chihiro got on top of wiggles and posed, after many laughs we headed back to the city.

Angela A

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Whales

We waited 30 hours for the right weather, exploring the nearby town and trying to find wifi. Finding the right place out here in the Laguna Ojo de Liebre, considered one of the best whale watching spots in the world, was a bit tricky – mostly because we were looking for it at night.

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Now that we’ve driven at night several times, despite attempts to avoid it, I’m beginning to second-guess the advice that we “shouldn’t drive at night in Mexico.” When I first heard someone say that I took the inflection in their voice to mean that there was some bandito danger, that we had some high chance of being robbed or worse at night. Since then several other people have reinforced that conclusion. But I think this sentiment might be a bit like the claim that “the north star is the brightest star” – completely false yet everyone repeats and believes it. Maybe it was originally a warning about pot-holes or difficult driving conditions. Either way, I find it no more dangerous to drive here at night than anywhere else.

Overall the driving experience is better than what I’m used to. In the states I often find myself at an intersection befuddled by the reaction time of the drivers around me. Back home it is quite common that when four people come to a four way stop from different directions at roughly the same time, they will gawk at each other waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Finally someone makes a move and then the decision cascades. Meanwhile the cars pile up behind them and maximum inconsideration has taken place. Here that never seems to happen. People treat STOP signs more reasonably. They slow down, actually look both ways, and then go if it is clear. This significantly reduces congestion and it is quite considerate. Perhaps the difference here is that people aren’t worried about being harassed by the local law, so they feel free to drive courteously. Whatever the reason, it is rather nice.

Another thing that is nice is the gas is nationalized in Mexico. This means that there is no point in driving around looking for the gas station with the best price – they are all the same. It doesn’t matter if you are in the middle of nowhere or in a big city it is all the same. At first I didn’t know this, so I would look around trying to find the listed price of gas. In most places it is not even listed, which threw me off. Now I just have it filled up and then ask how much. Oh, and the best thing is that it is significantly cheaper than in the US. About $3.10 per gallon once we make the conversion. That’s a good thing because I’m eating a little more food than I calculated and Chihiro likes coffee, tea, alcohol and cigarettes. We calculated how much she would save if she quit everything but alcohol over the next 50 years and it was a quarter of a million US dollars. I think that’s a great argument for dropping those habits. You can pay for a whole house simply by giving them up and saving. Of course it would require actually saving ☺.

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On the water we searched for whales, which was surprisingly easy. They were everywhere, traveling mostly in mother and child pairs and about a third of them were single males. Most would slowly move away from us after surfacing, so we took pictures from about 20 meters away. After about an hour of darting around the lagoon we crossed paths with a mother and a four-week-old baby. Most of the whales up until this point had stuck the middle of their backs out of the water, every now and then bringing their blowhole to the surface and spurting up a geyser. Sometimes when they swam away we say their tales at the surface. In the distance we saw one whale trying to spot where our engine was coming from. He pushed his face high above the surface, but he was too far away to get a great picture of.

This pair of whales gave us a completely different show. The baby was full of energy and very curious about us. He began wiggling around. It looked like mommy was saying “no”, but he couldn’t handle it. He swam towards us and I reached down to try to touch him. Angela was giddy, trying to touch the baby too. Then the whale turned and bumped into our boat. The jolt was quite impressive. It almost threw us all out into the water. On the other side of the boat the whale was swimming like he was very proud of himself. He did a little dance and then returned to mom. We all instantly fell in love with baby whales!

Thad

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Wind and Dogs

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We pulled onto a small dirt path trying to find a way to the ruins I thought I saw. We parked a little past the end of the road on a rocky cliff, two meters away from a drop off that poured straight into the sea. The horizon was decorated with an endless shoreline of large rounded black rocks. As we explored we came upon the lower half of a whale’s skeleton. I have no idea what happened to the upper half, but I can imagine that someone might have fetched a decent price for it. Little crabs scurried into the cracks between the rocks as we walked. They reminded me of cockroaches. They might have even been cockroaches. Angela and I climbed back up the cliff face. My heart and I woke completely up for a small section of that climb that required me to just go for it without having a completely secure hold. It was one of those spots where one foot was in a good spot, but to get to the next hand hold I kind of had to trust everything to just that foot and then leap for the next hold. My knee bore the mark of my lack of grace by the time I reached the top. Angela seemed to have far less trouble than me, but then again she has quite a bit more grace than I do. All three of us climbed on Wiggles to take in the view. Chihiro was a bit nervous, but quickly came alive up there. “It is amazing” she kept saying over and over. I got excited because it was the first time that I felt that Chihiro was completely sharing the experience Angela and I were having, that she touched what we were out here for. As her confidence grew Angela had her stand up and grab the wind. She broke out into laughter as her coat danced and I tried to capture the moment with the camera.

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Another military check point, which means getting out of the car while a single soldier casually looks around for about five seconds and Angela jokes with the guy holding the M-16. It is still remarkable to me how unintimidating these encounters are. I can’t remember a single time when I didn’t feel intimidated in the United States around men with officially sanctioned power. In the states there is always good reason for my heart to quicken around flashing lights, or a badge, even when I know I’m not speeding, or doing anything intentionally wrong. There is a reasonable probability that at any moment I will be picked on, made an example of, or be at the bad end of some bully’s need to make a show of his power. Here the road is speckled with military personas carrying guns, but I’ve never seen any of them grab those guns like they were about to shoot me or anyone else just for asking questions. They just don’t seem to think of their job in the same way as their counterparts in the states. It is quite refreshing. I’ve never felt this sense of freedom to just move around with so little worries. The man with the gun told us that we had at least 70 more kilometers of rough dirt road ahead of us. From the Sea of Cortez side of Baja this road is the only way to where we are going – unless we want to backtrack a few hundred kilometers. Isn’t it cute, I’m thinking in kilometers already. J My Spanish is coming along too. I’m not really speaking much yet, but I’m starting to understand more of what is said around me and at this point I definitely know what “tope” means. I used to say that I can understand a lot of what people are saying in Spanish but I can’t talk back – like a dog. Now I think I’m surpassing the amount of Spanish that the dogs around here know. I can’t say for sure though because the dogs around here are a bit different from the US dogs. They are free and happy. Sure, they run the risk of getting killed by cars with all that freedom, but they also get to live a real dog’s life in the meantime.

Thad

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San Felipe

Chihiro

The drive from Ensenada gave us plenty of beautiful towns dressed in white plaster with the sea behind them, pictures can’t give enough credit to how beautiful it was.

We are now in San Felipe, where the food and the people are the best. I can understand why this spot is considered to be a must see tourist destination. We drove towards San Felipe, and found some incredible sights. Marie wasn’t able to contain herself when she saw the great boulders and she had to go climb them. San Felipe is a beautiful town and it is where I spent my 32nd birthday. Thanks Chihiro for being so sneaky and buying candles, it was an unexpected but very welcomed birthday present.

This morning we were going to go running on the beach but found a small ball and ended up playing ball as we ran. It was great exercise and afterwards I felt incredibly happy and tired. After walking around the city, we found the monument to the Virgin Mary with an amazing view to the ocean and an abandoned building that used to be called Boom Boom.

Now it’s time to meet every one at a karoke bar and enjoy some dinner.

Angela A

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Happy birthday

In many places the central desert of Baja Mexico looks a lot like Utah. As we crossed it I felt flashes of familiarity, of the comforts of being at home. As I’ve been adjusting to this new life I’ve had many different thoughts running through my head. It is strange to be completely uprooted, not having a home, blowing around so freely in the wind, and yet it is also exhilarating. I’ve planned for this transition as well as I could and now its time to face the unexpected.

Ive been thinking about something Lucas told me during our last hot spring trip. He told me about the fake documentary that National Geographic made about “me.” I haven’t ever watched it, but according to Lucas their aim was to reject Mezrich’s book. Somehow they had gotten the idea that he was glorifying my actions. In their view what I had done was a crime against humanity and anyone that attempted to see me as a human, or understand my actions, was to blame for the downfall of humanity. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I know I shouldn’t care, but it bothers me that people push such an immoral perspective on the world and then turn around and claim their position to be moral.

I’ve spent a lot of time around people, and I’ve come to know quite a bit about human suffering, the troubles we face, the dilemmas, the difficulties that everyone strives to overcome. Through it all it has become quite clear to me that the seed of morality is found in the willingness to attempt to understand instead of judge, to help instead of condemn, and to embrace the complex and sometimes competing forces that drive our lives instead of pretending that they can be separated or pulled apart.

So I say this to the creators of that “documentary” … It is too bad you weren’t willing to be open to the real story. Humans have an amazing capacity for striving for their dreams, an unbounded willingness to seek love, and a very interesting ability to think outside of their socially encoded rules when the first two goals necessitate it. Instead of automatically condemning me, so you can buddy up with your right wing stiffs, maybe you would benefit from recognizing that you too wish you had the courage to risk living. Sure I broke some rules, and yes, because people were sent to prison harm was caused. But the rules you support are to blame for that hurt more than anything else. Perhaps if you were willing to challenge the system from time to time you would see that it is keeping you down too. Perhaps if you took a deep breath and tried to make a decision, without looking to everyone else around you to make it for you, you would realize that what you really want is to live and love. If you were fortunate enough to have the chance to make that happen I can only wish that you would have the courage to try.

Of course, these words will most likely fall on deaf ears. Such is the way of the world. Meanwhile, I will keep living, exploring and loving. I cannot imagine a life richer than mine or more full of love. This moment, exactly as it is, is perfect. Thanks to all of you who are a part of my life. And most of all – thank you Angela for having the courage to live and love every moment!

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Happy birthday Angela. Last year was in Hawaii, this year in Mexico, and next year??? We will see. xoxoxo

Loves,

Thad

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Yum

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I am extremely grateful that my family and friend plans were able to merge in San Diego to bring a wholesome soulful close to 2012. Aunt Sonja and Uncle Joe welcomed us to a home cooked meal and shared photos from adventurous vacations including visiting penguins from an icebreaker ship. After saying good-bye with heart to heart hugs to the family, our group of friends concluded the year looking up at the stars and relatively bright moon over the pacific. We found an unmarked dirt lot close by to park and retreat underneath a warm down comforter for the night. I was recovering from a cold and was grateful for the welcoming flat pull-out. Two hours later rasping on the window caused my pupils to reengage while waking into the reality of my location and surroundings. Once it hit me the cops were out to harass I stood my ground with snide remarks making it clear that nobody should mess with my REM, especially when my body is in recovery mode. Thankfully, once they realized we were a group of traveling geeks out for sober adventures, they decided to let us get back to sleep. Waking into the first sunlight of the New Year with close friends fills my heart with joy. We wrapped up errands and made it to Santa Rosa in daylight where we found a chill spot to park for a couple nights. Our first evening beach walk came with $1 tacos filled with delicious guacamole and salsa. The waves romped onto the shore while little snowball birds scurried up and down in search of their food. Food is one of the best celebrations in life and the meals we’ve enjoyed here are among the best, especially when accompanied with Thad’s stories. Time is catching up to my distractible writing and I will wrap up this session with a thank you to Angela… for being the incredibly vivaciously beautiful being she is whom I am extremely grateful to be able to celebrate her birthday with in San Felipe. *)
Marie Green
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Bienvenidos a Mexico

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Yoga at sunset (Angela & Marie)

Happy New Years, as we watched the waves crash against the shore and listened to the power of the waves we kissed and hugged and welcomed the New Year. A few hours we were woken up by the lights of police cars wondering why we were sleeping in an abandoned, quite open space with no visible signs of no trespassing or any kind of determent to pick that place to sleep. Talking with the cops wasn’t that bad, and after about 15 minutes, we went back to sleep. Lets just say that we slept until late and started heading over to Mexico. Bienvenidos, a Mexico. We took some side roads getting to Playa de Rosarito, and we got to see some of the country, getting an idea of why its important to not throw trash, but after all, it’s a cultural issue, and I am not a judge. We got to eat some amazing Mexican tacos at the beach, got to watch children play, and grownups hug and birds fly. The aura of the Playa is so relaxing, it made me feel like there was something too relaxing about it, its contagious, I relaxed, and asked for a beer. Then we got to see horses, and ride a horse called “Payaso” Later, as we looked for places to sleep, we found ourselves at a very local place. It seems that it was the fishermen location to sell wholesale, it was a very interesting experience. There’s too much to tell, but a highlight of the night was the visit to “Pizza a la Leña” where we were able to eat some gourmet food. I asked for “Camarones en Aguacate en salsa de chipotle” it was amazing, and every piece of food was a delight. Thad got to enjoy “Escargo”, and he gave me a taste, it was great. Tonight I shall say Good Night. Cheers Angela
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How long have you been here?

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Horseback riding on the Beach

Last night the four of us, Marie, Johnny, Angela and I, made it out to the beach in the dark in time for the stroke of midnight. The new year started and we were ready for our adventure. Shortly after we found a place near the railroad tracks to park for the night and sleep. We were all really tired. Around 3:00 am we woke to the tapping of metal on our window and flashlights invading our vehicles. Angela and I were too tired to react, so we pretended to still be asleep. Chihiro didn’t make a peep. In the other car Johnny and Marie were already talking to the cops. Marie was rather upset that they were bothering and interrogating us. I eventually opened the door and talked to the cop. He said that San Diego recently passed a law that no longer allows anyone to sleep in their vehicles. I looked at him like he must be making that up and asked, “what about motorhomes?” “They can’t either,” he said. I wondered how people sold motorhomes… “Buy this nice new motorhome, even though you can’t use it” – doesn’t sound like an effective sales pitch. Evidently the cop had no idea Chihiro was above us. Marie was answering the cop’s questions as shortly as she could. When he asked her, “How long have you been here?” she said, “Since last year.” That gave me a good laugh. After they gave us our driver’s licenses back the cops told us that we could stay there (I guess even they recognize some rules as ridiculous). The next morning we busied ourselves trying to get some errands done (printing out our insurance policies, trying to repair a camera part, etc.). By noon we were finally ready to drive towards Mexico. When we crossed the boarder we were all surprised to find that we weren’t stopped at all. We just drove through. Thanks to Jeff tweaking our phone plan we were able to navigate and we sailed on through until we reached Playas de Rosarito. The beach was a totally different experience. The atmosphere was full of freedom, the people carefree. There were taco and cerveza vendors on the sand, with their umbrellas, and grills. And there were horses :-). Angela and I got to ride a horse on the beach for the first time ever. We relaxed and ate carne asada tacos and cerveza. Then we walked the beach until sunset, which was full of deep colors and laughter. It was strange. My whole life I’ve always heard about how dangerous Mexico is, about how corrupt and oppressive the police are, yet already I can feel something completely different. Already it feels that there is less to fear from the police here than there is from the police in the US. Parked on a random street we played card games for a couple of hours, then walked around the town and found a wonderful French restaurant to eat at. The owner came and talked to us. He was quite friendly and the food was amazing. Escargo and Caesar salad for me :-). It is strange, I never really thought about eating anything but Mexican food in Mexico. I’m not sure why. It is awesome here. I feel safe and free. And in this random spot that we parked, we have a super strong wi-fi signal for free. I’ve NEVER experienced that in the states before. Come and join us. This adventure is just getting started. Loves, Thad
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New journey, Wiggles home, Dec 26, 2012

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Wiggles – our home for this journey.
あけましておめでとうございます!!!!! いつもありがとうございます!!!!! 今年もよろしくお願いします!!!! 誰かに今、お金も時間もなんでも自由にできるとしたら何をする?と聞かれるといつもドキュメンタリーを撮ると答えていた。ただ、毎日の生活をしていてそれにはいくら必要でどのくらいの時間が必要かなどは明確にはしていなかったし、どんなドキュメンタリーが撮りたいのかすらわからなかった。でも、やっと今、やるって言って2年もかかってしまったけど。ドキュメンタリーを撮ることにしました!!!「月の上でsex!?」ベストセラー書籍「sex on the moon」の題材にもなったThad Robertsとアメリカで育ちのかわいいラテン人、Angela Arvizuと新しい旅を始めます。7ヶ月に渡って、中米をキャンピングカーで駆け巡ります。まさに!ロード・ドキュメンタリー!!!!!!これから色々、アップしていきますので、お時間があるときに一緒に冒険してください。 Happy New Year Beautiful People!!!!!!!!! Thank you always!!!!! When people ask me if you have enough money and time to do everything you want I always answered I will make a documentary. But the days passed so quickly that I didn’t ever get around to finding out how much money and how much time I need to have to actually do it. I didn’t even know what kind of documentary I wanted to do. But now, I am finally truly making a documentary. It has been 2 years since I truly decided to make one. On December 26th 2012 Thad, Angela, and I started to travel from Northern and Central America to the Caribbean and it will be the 7months journey. I will tell you more story about this journey as we go. Let’s have adventure together!!!!! yes!! One of Main Charactor of this Documentary Thad Roberts, a former NASA employee whose ethereal crime caper inspired the book Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History. In 2002, Chihiro
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New Year, ready or not, here we come.

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Today we got ready and said our good byes to Chris, Chayton and Mike, then started driving towards San Diego from Tucson. As Chihiro and I took a nap, Thad drove. Once awake, it was time to see the scenery. There is something beautiful about the wind mills, something weird about the checkpoints, and something sad about the division wall between Mexico and the United States, the wall makes me feel like it supports and accepts differentiation between humans. Once we arrived to San Diego, we started working on finding the right Mexican insurance. Let me tell you, the process created some knots in my back, but finally the process was finished, thanks to the internet. Now we find ourselves with Joe and his wife in California and heading towards Coyotes for New Years, ready to drink and partake in Californian New Years festivities. For all of you making New Years resolutions, I wish you adventure. Angela
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New Years Eve

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Mike and Angela

I’d like to thank everyone who made this such a wonderful year. I’m sending my love to all of you. Whichever way our paths go, whatever this year brings, may we all remain close and willing to love. I’m happy to travel through time with all of you! Jeff and Dave we are thinking of you – as always. Elaine, Phil, Matt and Erin, thank you for having us in your family, best family ever!! Chris (Panties) and Tom you rock – we miss your wittiness already. Maria happy 24th birthday (a couple of days ago). Chris, Mike and Chayton thanks for kicking off our adventure. It was wonderful to see you again. We will be hoping for visits from many of you (Marcus, Jason, Josh, Marc, Rebecca, Eric, Georgia, Janneke, Dawn, Karly, Keith, Mireille, Andrew, Emily, Kimberly, Jeff, Elias, Jim, Heather, Pack, Jassi, Kimberly, Ingo, Steven, and everyone else :-)). Thank you Tomoko and Chika for the beautiful, unforgettable memories. Faye and Michael let’s keep working on our project 🙂 you two are wonderful. Colleen thanks for being adventurous and Katelin I wish you many future travels. We are now in San Diego with Marie and Johnny, who will be joining us in Mexico for the first week. I’m super excited for tomorrow, but first – tonight’s party.
Loves,
Thad
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The adventure begins

 

Angela, Chihiro and I departed on the 26th after saying our goodbyes, and dropping off remaining stuff. After Marie’s house, the Emmi’s place (where Chris met us and gave us a delicious bag of cookies that she baked), and Jeff’s we drove in the snow to Provo to have dinner with Angela’s family. All of the goodbyes were a bit strange. I didn’t expect to feel this strong pull to stay, as if goodbye meant we would never see these loved ones again. But I guess after the experience in prison, after seeing everyone I cared about disappear, the fear that the same thing would happen crept up inside me a bit. But the disappearance of all my loved ones in the past was partly my fault. I allowed them to define our relationship based on the expectation that I would always be there to give. So when I wasn’t, the relationship for them dissolved. Since prison my relationships have been much more adult and equal. We define our relationship based on emotional concern, mutual support, full acceptance, and without expectation for what will come. We simply accept each other in our lives and are happy to have the connection. I’m sure these relationships will continue.

As we race against the incoming snow storm, some words that Elaine shared with us at the Christmas dinner resonated through my mind. They were something like: “One of the most neglected advices is that we should live adventurously. Life is to be lived with warmth, openness, passion, and a bit of emotion that doesn’t mind making a fool of itself occasionally.” – Gerald Priestland. For me this trip is about living, it is about claiming freedom, acting with intention, self-discovery, exposure to new ideas, new cultures, and braving the new together.

I spent a lot of down time in prison. I made the most of it, still, I feel like there is so much out there to still discover, so many people to make connections with, and so many reasons to leave my mind in a state of suspension, open to discoveries and new ways of thinking. The surest way of opening your mind and making new insights is stepping outside of your habitual worldview. My goal is to swim outside of my comfort zone for a while. And now that I’m officially homeless, and have no concrete plan for what I’ll be doing in the future, I’m definitely outside of my comfort zone. Let’s see what opportunities come our way. Let’s see who we meet. Let’s intentionally discover the future that awaits us.

At the end of day zero we pulled off the freeway and parked for the night. In the morning we woke to the beauty of new snow everywhere. We made breakfast in Wiggles, got back on the road, and made our way to Zion’s National Park. While filming a time lapse there I slipped in the snow and discovered a cactus with my hand while Angela was making quesadillas. After performing minor surgery to cut the barbs out of my skin (most of them), and enjoying every bite, we hit the road again and made it all the way to the trail head of Horseshoe Bend for the night. The moon was only a few hours away from being full. It danced behind the spotted clouds, which blanketed the night and kept the temperature near 25 degrees.

On day 2 we woke early to catch the sunrise over the bend. My winter shorts were malfunctioning evidently, because they were having a hard time keeping me warm. But the uncomfortableness was worth it because we captured some beautiful pictures. Chihiro loved her coffee and wondered why we were having eggs again for breakfast. I like eggs every morning  – I guess that’s strange :-).

By the end of day 2 we made it to Tucson where my good friend Chris Miller met us. Chris is perhaps the most gentle and friendly person I’ve ever met. After going to dinner (Mexican food :-)) we went to pick up Mike and Chayton flying in from Hawaii to visit. Its a Florence reunion. I love how all of my best friends from prison are now really living life and not wasting a day. Mike just finished two degrees – in Astronomy and physics. He says he was inspired by my Astronomy class I taught in prison, but I he was always going to go back to college. He is just always full of questions.

Let’s see what today brings.

Thad

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