Last week was Thanksgiving, a day we celebrated by unplugging the air-conditioner and opening all the hatches. We were keeping an eye on Otto, a late-season hurricane that crossed Costa Rica and Panama and threatened to make its way up the coast as a storm system but he turned into nothing coming our way. For turkey dinner we met with a group of friends and fellow cruisers at a local eatery. Yes, I missed all the smells but I didn’t have to shop, cook or clean up so I’m thankful for that.
And last week marked a special anniversary – one year ago on 24 November 2015, Nakamal pulled into the La Cruz Marina carrying John and I to this new chapter in our lives. We had just finished the Baja HaHa, a huge accomplishment for a couple of novice sailors, and were getting our feet under us in a new lifestyle. At the time, we thought this would be a temporary stop, maybe a few weeks to recover from several overnight and multi-day passages.
Fast forward 369 days ….
La Cruz and the Banderas Bay area turned out to be great fun. Then between trips to the US to renew visitors’ visas and some other issues that cropped up, we found ourselves still in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle at the start of hurricane season. We had already planned to hunker down here for the summer, making it an easy decision in May to convert from cruisers to liveaboards for awhile.
So what have we learned during our first full year?
- It’s a little more expensive than we thought
We spent more time in the marina ($$$) and less at anchor (free!) than we originally planned. Also, we have never been and never will be the potted meat, beans and rice by lantern-light type of folks so our food budget is more than anticipated as we eat out 2-3 times a week.
I took three trips to the U.S. this year, two because I had to renew my visa, and one just because I wanted to see my friends and escape the October humidity. Those added up.
But this is why we worked and saved all those years. And in reality we are living quite well on less than 25% of what we had when we were working.
- You can immerse yourself in the local lifestyle as much as you want to….
There are all sorts of ways to learn the language, the locals appreciate your efforts and are always gracious with poor pronunciation or lack of vocabulary.
Out of the way taco joints are the tastiest and the cheapest.
Over the summer I started out just by asking the tienda owners their names, now I know Mario has two kids, a cousin who helps him with the store sometimes, and plans to expand his produce and wine selection during this high season. In my other favorite tienda the mom is Consuelo and her adult children Miguel and Miriam also work in the store. Eduardo’s restaurant is in part of a block that is owned by his grandma, and family members operate the other three restaurants in the block.
My goal is to be invited into a local home for a meal – that’s like the ultimate in acceptance.
- ….or not
The lifestyle here can be just as much like the US as you want it to be.
There are people who have lived in this area for years and never learned Spanish. There are mega-supermarkets, WalMart, Sam’s Club, Costco, Auto Zone, Home Depot and Office Max in the area. The Mega Comercial carries some of the same clothing brands as Target.
You can own a car if you want. We joined a gym (and just like back home don’t go as often as we should). With a little effort you can eat at a McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, Starbucks or Outback.
Between the imported sections of the super-markets and a little Puerto Vallarta store called Casa Gourmet we can buy almost any food product we are used to. Of course we have to pay an import premium.
Everybody has cell phones. Many of the screens are cracked. Free WiFi almost everywhere so access to Facebook, CNN and ESPN websites is easy. There was no avoiding US election news this year.
Of course, once we start moving around to smaller towns or uninhabited bays our access to those conveniences will change.
- There are good people everywhere you go
The gringo population diminishes dramatically in the summer so those who remain become instant friends. The summer was filled with Friday night Mexican Train cocktail hour and Saturday evening pool volleyball. We shopped, ate, practiced Spanish, visited a turtle camp, gossiped and helped each other out when needed.
Before my last trip north, someone asked me why I was going up. I said to visit friends. Her response was “But you have friends here”. And it’s true.
- We love traveling, but we also like being here
At some point, we will continue exploring Mexico but for at least next summer, we’ll be back here. For sure, in the spring we want to be in the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulfo de California. Depending on how things go, we may pop up to San Blas and Mantanchen Bay, about a 10-hour trip from here, for a few days in January as a “shake down” cruise to make sure we still know what we are doing. But La Cruz has been good to us and the last year has flown by.
- We don’t regret it