Dear F&F,

October 2nd though 9th
When Cindy and I returned from our trip up to LA and Santa Rosa, we were looking forward to our long awaited inland tour of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. This is the Grand Canyon of Mexico, but 5 times bigger. Several rivers and most of the canyon complex is deeper than the Grand Canyon of Colorado.

Part of the experience is the 6 hour bus ride from Mazatlan to Los Mochis and then taking the famous “Chihuahua Pacific Railroad” from sea level to 8000 feet. This is considered one of the most spectacular train rides in the Western Hemisphere. It took 90 years to complete the tracks from Los Mochis in the west (on the Sea of Cortez), to Chihuahua City, capitol of the state of Chihuahua.

We left Los Mochis where the daytime temperatures were in the 90-100 degree range to arrive at Creel (the top of the mountain) where the night time temperatures were in the mid 40’s. Needless to say, after the “Sea” in the summer, this was quite a shock to our systems. After only one night in a hotel that had no electricity and a fire place for warmth, we took a spectacular and quite harrowing ride down to the silver mining town of Batopilas. We sat on top of an SUV with race car style seats, strapped in and looked down into gorges over 1000 feet below us. This was a one lane, unimproved dirt road and the ride took 8 hours! We had some spectacular views and some disappointments.

Our driver, Pedro was a terrific guide and we did our best “Spanglish” with no real communication problems. Once we arrived in Batopilas, we found an active town of about 1000 people with 100 Mexican Federal troops, M-16’s and flak jackets. Drug wars go on in these areas and unfortunately there had been some recent killings of town folk by the bad guys. The town itself was nice, we stayed in a restored hotel but were the only guests. We went for a day trip to the “Lost Cathedral” of Satevo, built in the 1700’s.

We lucked upon a horseback group leaving for a 13 day trip to re-enact the old mining days and celebrate the 300th anniversary of people living and bringing silver out of the Batopilas area. After two nights, we’d had enough and frankly, didn’t understand the big attraction of the area other than the beautiful scenic drive. The bumps and bruises down and up the dirt road made this a “no recommendation” unless you had a very specific reason to want to go there.

After a 10 hour trip UP the same road, we arrived at what was to be our “luxury hotel”, the “Posada Mirador”. The accommodations were 3 star, the food was horrible and the views were spectacular. Unfortunately, the staff was used to “cattle caravan tours” coming and going on a daily basis. This didn’t help many of the “old timers” attitude toward the tourists. We had been told they had internet access and even satellite TV here. The only internet was at the front desk, the only TV at the bar. We watched the last US presidential debate from the bar at the Posada Mirador. We did some hiking and did get to see the very interesting Tarahumara Indians. These people have had many books written about them. Here, I’ll be brief. They are short of stature and LONG on endurance. They represented Mexico in the 1968 Olympics and did “middle of the pack”. Why such a poor showing? They complained they had to wear shoes and the distance was TOO SHORT! They have since entered and easily won 100 mile running races.

The Tarahumara live in caves, caverns and wooden houses. They are renowned for drinking huge quantities of “corn beer” and are very private and shy people. They are also the Indians that made “Peyote” famous. We visited a Tarahumara cave dwelling or two, but alas, they have become part of the “tourist world”.

We would only recommend a trip up here for SERIOUS BACKPACKERS. For those folks, this is heaven. The canyon we did not see and is reputed to be the most spectacular is “Sinforosa”. Sheer cliffs going straight down for half a mile! If we had to do it over again, we would have stayed only at the Posada Mirador, not traveled anywhere as much as we did which was exhausting and done day trips or hikes from the hotel.

We left to go back to El Fuerte and stay the night on the train. The train was 7 hours late!
Welcome to Mexico! A track had come loose with a heavy freight train coming up from Chihuahua. By the way, we saw exactly ONE Chihuahua in all of Chihuahua. : )

We arrived at El Fuerte exhausted from our long travel day. This is the city in Mexico reputed to be the home of the legendary “Zorro”. They even have a show and a statue commemorating the one who took from the rich and gave to the poor.

We left El Fuerte by public bus to go back to Los Mochis to catch the long haul bus back to Mazatlan. Here we were robbed. Our luggage was separated from us and we lost approximately $2000.00 of stuff including 85% of my photos. Fortunately, no camera gear was lost, but it left a bad taste in our mouths to a trip we had so looked forward to as our “vacation”. In retrospect, we would only recommend this trip to train buffs and backpackers. Also, we moved way too much and were not counseled correctly about how much traveling was involved with our itinerary. We should have known better, but live and learn. Most of the photos we posted on the website were from our little Canon point and shoot and whatever photos were on my Nikon at the end of the trip. Stay tuned, we know it’s going to get better.

Scott and Cindy

September 22, 2008

This was the main reason that we both came to California at this time. I had
a trial run applying for the visa when in Los Angeles by myself in June.
With our boat documented at my sister’s address, we were deemed no longer
residents of Southern California, so the LA office rejected my packet. We
had to apply at the French Consulate office in San Francisco. We do not
intend to cross the Pacific until early next summer, but it is takes time to
get the Long Stay Visa. Once they accept a packet it takes 3-4 months to
process. Something about SF-Paris-Tahiti bureaucracy. If you are approved
you have 90 days to pick it up. One person, of a married couple, must
personally return with both passport to pick up the visas. You then have 90
days to check into the country.

If you do not go through the hoops to get a Long Stay Visa you can only stay
in French Polynesia for 30 days with a 1-2 month extension. That is a very
long way to travel for such a short period of time. Once you have the L.S.
Visa you can get it renewed. You do have to leave from time to time, but it
is a much better way to go. With great diving throughout this large region
of the Pacific, we were motivated to do whatever it took.

Here is a list of requirements for this visa application:

· Application forms, in French (3 copies)

· Passport valid for 1 year (3 copies)

· Passport photos (3 copies)

· Proof of health insurance that is valid outside the US and
guarantee of return of our remains in case of our death

· Financial guarantee/proof of income: minimum $1700 per month per
person (2 copies of statements from bank or brokerage firm)

· Letter written in French certifying that we will perform no paid
activity

· Police clearance from the city where we reside or last resided in
the US – translated into French

· Letter written in French explaining our purpose of applying for the
long stay visa

Friends in Paris, Clark & Vincent, provided the translation service. Our
French was never very good & has not been helped by a year in a Spanish
speaking country.

Applications for this visa are accepted by appointment only on Monday and
Wednesday afternoons. The No. Cal portion of our trip was scheduled around
our Monday Sept 22 appointment at 2 pm. It was a happy coincidence that my
Dad’s side annual family reunion fell the day before. Scott & I brought Dad
& enjoyed visiting with my sister Alberta & her husband David as well as all
the other Brain’s relatives.

We had everything in order on Monday September 22 except the paper from the
Sebastopol Police Department verifying that Scott was not a known criminal.
I had gotten my clearance in June, but just for good measure got a current
one. Our translating friends used my June clearance as a sample for what we
needed, just changing the date. As soon as the secretary got in, we were
there with our $20 cash fee and were soon on our way to SF, our packet
complete.

We were early along with several others at the Bush Street office, near the
gate to Chinatown. We showed our appointment slip to the security guard, our
bags were searched & we walked through a metal detector. We were happy to
get the young, sweet looking woman behind the glass, not the more stern
officious looking man. She went down her checklist & we handed her the
documents one by one. Or in most cases: three by three. She neglected to
ask for our proof of health insurance, so we volunteered it and she said
fine.

If it goes as expected, my sister will get a call from the SF office in
early January. I will wait until nearly the last of the 90 days to fly from
wherever we are to pick the visas up. We want as much leeway as possible in
getting there, not to be rushed. We figure they must have to make allowances
for weather or repairs, since we will be arriving by boat. But no sense in
getting the officials suspicious by checking in “late” if it can be
prevented. As we left, we breathed a small sigh of relief that it was out
of our hands & now just a waiting game. If we don’t qualify for this thing,
we don’t think anyone can.

After the No.Cal trip, Scott went back to So.Cal ahead of me to pick up and
pack up the umpty umpty amount of boat stuff we needed to take back with us.
We stayed in LA mostly with Scott’s Aunt Barbara who was very tolerant of
our taking over her living room; making it look much like a cross between a
SCUBA store and Yacht Chandlery…..

Scott & Cindy, just back from L.A., Mazatlan, Mexico

September 9-10, 2008

There are certain things you never send in the mail: passports, original
boat documentation, original import permits, etc. These happened to be the
things that the office in charge of issuing permits to visit the
Archipelagos Revillagigedos required. So we flew to Cabo San Lucas.

Just reaching the right office to find out what was required to get a permit
was tricky. If it hadn’t been for the patient & persistent assistance of
Elvira Lizarraga we would not have succeeded. Elvira is the best marina
manager in the entire world. I know we have not been around the world yet,
but we can say that without hesitation. She made multiple phone calls & sent
multiple emails on our behalf. The only private boats that go there are
divers. And not many cruisers are divers, so getting this permit was not a
commonly known procedure.

Once we found out the long list of original documentation required, we
realized we had to travel in person to the Oficina de Proteccion de Flora y
Fauna de Cabo San Lucas. We could have taken the ferry but that would have
been an all day trip each way & we were running short on time. Our flight
back to Los Angeles was booked for September 13. So Elvira booked the once
daily Mexicana flight to Cabo for us. Initially the price showed as $525 per
person, so Scott was going to go alone. But when Elvira pushed the “Buy
Now” button on the Spanish language Mexicana website, the price dropped in
half. Very interesting & noted for future reference. We decided it would be
more fun together since it was the same price we’d planned to spend for
Scott alone.

At the end of the short flight we were assaulted by the Cabo hawkers for
taxis, timeshares, and rental cars. It turned out to be less expensive to
rent a car for the day than take a cab. After a few wrong turns we made it
to the office in town. Sr. Biol. Carlos Eduardo Narro Flores was most
helpful & we were glad to hear that they are now welcoming private boats to
the islands and that the permits are free. The area has a sad history of
fishermen slaughtering the manta rays & sharks that are an unintended
by-catch. It is now a marine sanctuary with a 12 mile “no take” zone. There
is a Navy outpost and they will investigate & prosecute reports of illegal
fishing. The islands were completely closed to visitors for 3 years, but now
the wildlife has recovered enough that they issue permits to a few live
aboard dive charter boats and as many private boats that wish to go. We were
only the 3rd private boat requesting a permit for this year.

Our planned visit to these islands is for the month of December. It is a
good thing we started early on the permit application process because once
Sr. Flores copied all the required documents he mailed copies to the La Paz
office for rubber stamping. The permit that was to be delivered via DHL to
Marina Mazatlan in “1-2 weeks” appeared (after much follow up from Elvira) 6
weeks later.

Scott posted a detailed outline of the process required on a cruising weblog
called the “Southbound Net” so that others might benefit from our
experience.

All our business was accomplished that first day. But there is only 1 flight
each way per day so we took it easy at the Comfort Inn, listening to the
rain. Strolling around Cabo’s marina & town was not enjoyable due to the
aggressive hawkers everywhere. We felt accomplished & relieved to get back
to Mazatlan where the approach to tourists is much more mellow.

Scott & Cindy, Mazatlan, Mexico