Friday, April 29, 2011

"Isla Animals" Dog Rescue Shelter

Nan walking George (out front) and Bruno on the beach in Isla MujeresLast week, before I arrived here in Isla Mujeres, Nan went over to the Playa Norte headquarters of Isla Animals, the local dog rescue shelter, to donate some leashes, collars and ointments she had brought down with her and to walk a few of the dogs. While there, she met the founder, Alison Sawyer Current, who coincidentally is also from Colorado and divides her time between the two places. She also met maintenance worker Marcelino and, of course, all the dogs. Each dog has its own sad story, like Rusty, a young mutt with a white heart-shaped patch on the top of his head. He was found in the Cancun dump, suffering from eye infections and weighing only five pounds. Now he is at a normal weight, healing, and playing non-stop with his dog buddies.

Nan had such a good time walking Bruno, George and Karen that she suggested we go walk them together. On Tuesday morning, volunteer Irene set us up to walk just Bruno and George, who had been neutered since his first walk with Nan. Both dogs are pit bulls with histories of fighting and abuse, but aside from their scars, you would never know it. Both are friendly, affectionate and good on a leash. Like all dogs, they respond to love with love of their own. We did a big beach loop with them and they had a great time, cavorting in the surf and chasing after sandpipers. When we dropped them off, George followed us to the gate like he wanted to go home with us and looked sad that we weren't taking him.

Adorable puppies ready to be adopted from Isla AnimalsWe went back again on Thursday morning. Irene told us that George had been taken to a shelter in Cancun to be adopted. It saddened us that we wouldn't see him again, but we were happy that he was going to a good home. Irene set us up with Bruno, her personal favorite, and with Sol, Alison's small, curly-haired, black and white dog. We did another big beach loop, with Bruno off the leash most of the time and Solly sniffing and marking the entire way. We were supposed to meet our friend Juan Torres at the shelter to help him pick out a puppy that morning, but he was tied up with business. He wants to give one to his son Joab for a birthday gift next month. There are three different litters of puppies, more than twenty in total, to choose from right now.

Unfortunately, there are more puppies born on Isla Mujeres than there are homes for them all. Isla Animals does what it can to make sure the puppies in their care get a healthy start at life, and each is neutered or spayed before adoption, but far too many dogs end up on the streets, where they are rounded up and electrocuted by the local government. To help prevent this inhumane treatment, Isla Animals conducts regular spay/neuter and pet care clinics all over this area of the Yucatan Peninsula. To learn more, or to make a donation, please visit the Isla Animals website. Thank you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Easter from Isla Mujeres!

Soggy Peso bar and restaurant on Isla MujeresLocally, it would be "¡Felices Pascuas!" As in the United States, Easter is not a huge holiday here in Mexico, but the people celebrate "Semana Santa," saints' week, all week long, culminating in a day-long fiesta on Easter Sunday. Nan and I were at the beach earlier in the day, but when an emcee and his "Corona girls" took to the stage that had been constructed for the celebration, and the patter and music became annoyingly loud, we retreated through the gathering crowd to our rented apartment at Color de Verano, just a half-block away. But even from that distance, the bass still rattled the windows, so we took a drive in our rented golf cart.

As we toodled down the main drag, around where the island narrows at the single-runway airport, we passed a sign for the Soggy Peso bar and restaurant. We had commented on the name during trips past, how similar it was to the Soggy Dollar's on Jost Van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands. This time, we made a U-turn and stopped to check it out. What we found was a fairly typical beach bar, complete with palapa roof and souvenirs of past visits, in this case autographed baseball caps, but lacking an actual beach, being located near the mangrove-encrusted entrance to the island's lagoon, Laguna Macax. We sat at the corner nearest the water and ordered drinks. The owner, an American, came over and said hello. I thought, he's probably semi-retired and imagined it would be fun to create the Mexican version of a famous Caribbean bar. Believe it or not, the man sitting next to Nan in the photo above is actually wearing a Soggy Dollar tee shirt. So we are not alone in our thinking.

We finished our drinks and headed back down the road, destined for Chuuk Kay, our new favorite place on the island. Our friend Ariel, who runs fishing and snorkeling trips with his panga, had said he would be there with his clients in the afternoon for lunch, but we missed him. Instead, we found our Isla friends, Garnette and Roger, and our favorite Isla band, La Banda sin Nombre, The Band without a Name, there instead. We sat with Marla, band leader Xavier's American wife, and drank margaritas while listening to amazingly good classic rock and traditional Mexican songs. Marla joined the band to sing a few classics, including "Angel from Montgomery," one of our favorites.

Before the sun set, we drove out to Sac Bajo, at the far end of Isla Mujeres's natural harbor. On the ferry over from Cancun on Saturday, I had looked for the hurricane-devastated white house that is located there. I considered it my personal symbol of the island and fantasized about owning it one day, but I failed to see it. What we found there instead was a pile of rubble and an active construction site. The house has been torn down, and it appears that the owners are going to build a new house where it once stood. It made me sad to see it gone, but if you return to the same place often enough, and this is our ninth trip to Isla Mujeres in thirteen years, you are bound to see changes you wish you hadn't.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Suicide by Proxy

The budget quagmire in Washington has me thinking too much about politics. I wish I could disconnect from the Internet, turn off the TV and radio, and set down the magazines and newspapers, but I can't. I care too much, and so should you. Our future depends on what is happening right now.

We have elderly friends who eat up every scrap of misinformation that comes out of the Fox News propaganda mill. They forward us the phony Obama birth certificates, the disparaging caricatures, and the other hate email that is accepted as truth by people like them. These friends are almost wholly dependent on Social Security and Medicare, and yet they vote Republican in every election. If House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and his Republican cohorts had their way, these programs would be gutted or eliminated entirely.

It makes no sense to vote for representatives who not only don't care about you but who are actively working against you. You might as well hand them a gun and say, "Shoot me!" The entire financial agenda of the Republicans is focused on enriching themselves and their cronies at the expense of the poor and middle class, who are enabling it through their fear and ignorance.

Cuts in spending for Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio, and the National Endowment for the Arts do nothing but promote the Republican social agenda. Programs that promote social justice and the common good must be saved if we are to preserve our way of life and avoid the ever-widening gulf that will eventually replace our democracy with an oligarchy: Of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

We saw in Madison that people will only be pushed so far before they fight back. If Republicans continue to ram through their unjust legislation, in the name of necessary budget cuts, then we should expect to see angry people rioting throughout the country.

It's not too late to support the people who support the programs that benefit you, me and everybody else. Let's work to ensure a future worth looking forward to.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The end of a dream

Wild Iris, Paul Caouette's 1977 Valiant 40
My friend Paul Caouette emailed me this surprising message a few days ago:


How are you doing?

Progress on the boat?

We are in Curacao. Have been for a month now. Sailed from Trinidad through the islands off the coast of Venezuela. (Way off to avoid any close encounters with pirates). Had a mate aboard with us to help with the passages. He was a great sailor and a welcomed addition. I honestly don't know how couples do the long passages without succumbing to complete exhaustion.

We are taking care of this's and that's while at anchor her in Spanish Waters. Stripped the exterior varnish and will recoat with Cetol. Also redoing the deck. Lots of small blisters that are actually older blisters that weren't repaired correctly (body filling rather than epoxy). Lots and lots of them.

But the real news is that Honey and I have decided in yet another change of lifestyles. This decision precipitated, in part, by my recurring sciatica. Long passages without exercise take their toll. Numbness and weakness in my left leg does not make me a happy, or safe sailor.

In conversations with Stan Dabney about how best to list her.

I sure would like to know how much you paid for your boat and some measure of the money you've spent so far. I want to fairly represent what one can expect when purchasing an older Valiant.

Best to you and Nan.


We have no idea when we'll be back in Colorado..Perhaps by mid June.....hope for an opportunity to visit then.
Paul Caouette
sv Wild Iris (V40-133)
Paul has been having problems with his back for at least the last few years. Back in the spring of 2009, his back issues prevented him from sailing across the Atlantic to Europe. Instead, he and Honey have been sailing through the Caribbean, slowly circumnavigating the sea in a clockwise direction. Now it appears that even that dream is coming to an end.

I feel badly for Paul. He has sailed most of his life, and he has put everything he has into his boat. It is a sad reality that the complications of advancing age have interfered with his plans, but Paul just turned 63 in February so health issues should not be unexpected.

I will turn 53 in June, which means that I am not exactly a young man either. Paul's situation makes me think that I should be trying to fulfill my sailing dreams sooner rather than later. I would hate to wait too long and then live with the regret I am sure Paul is feeling.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rock climbing in Unaweep Canyon

John and Scout at the base of Lower Sun
Tower, with Wilson and "Crack of Don"
in the background 
Back in January, when I was hiking Serpents Trail with my friend John Sasso, we talked about doing some rock climbing together. John is an avid climber and gets out every chance he has. Me, I haven't rock climbed in 25 years, not since moving to Colorado from Wisconsin almost twenty-five years ago. Friends and I used to go up to Devil's Lake State Park, a little ways south of Baraboo, and top-rope the nice quartzite faces in the Bedroom Amphitheater west of Rainy Wednesday Tower. At that time, I could make it up climbs with a difficulty rating up to 5.8. Since then, the only rock-type climbing I have done has been in some tight situations while climbing all 54 of Colorado's 14ers, where I was thankful for the earlier experience with using dicey hand and foot holds.

John rappeling down after climbing "Crack of
Don." Note the rope going up "Sunup."
So last week, when John proposed that we go rock climbing this weekend, with the idea of getting in some fairly difficult training climbs before tackling the moderately difficult Independence Monument, a climb we had discussed during our Serpents Trail hike, I wondered if I was up to it after all these years. John emailed me Mountain Project links to descriptions and photos of the climbs he wanted us to do, and they didn't look too bad. Both are in the Lower Sun Tower area of Unaweep Canyon, about 20 miles south of Grand Junction. "Crack of Don" is a 5.6 climb that follows a meandering crack, as the name implies, up 80 feet of good granite. "Sunup" is a 5.8 climb that runs parallel to Crack of Don but without the advantage, from my viewpoint, of the big crack.

Me grimacing just below the first bolt
on "Sunup"
Except for today's temperatures in the 30s and some rain and snow, the weather here in Grand Junction has been beautiful the last few days, with temperatures in the high 70s yesterday, the day John had picked for our climbs. Scout and I picked him up at noon and the three of us headed down to Unaweep Canyon. We parked along the shoulder of Highway 141, just before the driveway of Bob and Lise Eakle, the owners and caretakers of the property which contains the Sun Towers. We hiked up their nicely maintained trail past their nice log cabin and climbed up the switchbacks to the base of Lower Sun Tower. Two other climbers, Wilson and Conrad, were already there and climbing the Sunup route, which worked well for us because I was hoping to start on the easier route. We geared up with climbing shoes, seat harnesses and helmets, and then John gave me a quick refresher in knots, belaying techniques and climbing protocols. He described how he was going to lead-climb the route up Crack of Don, placing protective cams every dozen or so feet, while I belayed him, and how I would then follow, removing the protection as I climbed, while he belayed me from the top.

John rappeling down "Sunup," with Unaweep
Canyon and Highway 141 in the distance
Away John went up the crack, climbing steadily, placing protection, and making it all look easy. When he reached the top, was off belay, had pulled up the slack rope, and put me on belay, I started to climb. The first few moves were pretty straightforward and felt right, like it was all coming back to me. Soon I was 30 feet off the ground. I looked down to see Scout staring up at me and that made me smile. But then the holds that were available to my right hand petered out and I struggled to keep myself from hinging off until I found better holds to the left of the crack. The verticality eased after that and soon I was standing on top with John. Scout had lost sight of me and was barking far below. John rigged a rappel setup and sent me down first. I kept my eyes on the wall in front of me as I jerkily descended, not wanting to see how high off the ground I still was.

Scout and me with one of Lise Eakle's totem
poles. Note "The Twin Owls" rock formation.
When John had rappeled down, we switched routes with Wilson and Conrad. Sunup presented a whole new set of challenges. There are so few cracks for placing protection that anchor bolts have been drilled into the stone. The first one is almost 12 feet off the ground. John had me spot him until he had secured protection to it and I could begin to belay him as he climbed the rest of the route, again making it look easy. When he reached the top, he rigged up a single-rope rappel and rappeled down while picking up the protection he had attached to the bolts on the way up. This left the rope doubled to set up a top-rope belay so that John could belay me from the ground while coaching me up the difficult climb.

On my first try, I made it only a few feet off the ground before falling. John eased me back to the ground and had me take another look at the first few moves. The key was to move quickly up to a place where I could get my right foot onto a thumb-sized horn. That would give me a resting point from which to figure out the next set of moves, with the help of John's experienced advice. In this way, I moved slowly up the 80-foot face, relearning along the way that I needed to keep my center of gravity as close to the face as possible, and put all my weight on my feet while using my hand holds only for balance. When I reached the top, John cheered and Scout barked. I leaned back against the rope and John lowered me slowly down to the ground. I was whipped, partly from the exertion and partly from the innate fear of falling. But I had made it to the top, and John told me that others he has belayed on Sunup have not made it.

We packed up our gear and hiked back out, pausing to take some photos with one of Lise Eakle's hand-carved totem poles. On the way home, we discussed plans for our next climb, a 3-pitch 5.6 rated climb up "Betty and Ray's Adventure" on the Upper Sun Tower. John wants to see how I do on a multi-pitch climb before we attempt Independence Monument, which is a 5-pitch climb with a 5.8+ overhang at the very top. I'll let you know how it all goes.