Living an expat life, on a boat, in a developing country brings out all sorts of characters, crusaders and criminals.
The Characters, as you can imagine, are as varied and diverse as they are interesting. Salty sailors (mostly men) whose wives have left them or who refuse to live this life full time, the ultimate in bachelor pads. Wearing the same Hawaiian inspired print shirt day after day complete with some sort of shell necklace and a well-past-its-prime straw hat, these characters claim they are seeking solitude, but when you get them out for a beer, you cannot shut them up; they have more extroverted vs. hermit tendencies, who would give that Hawaiian shirt off their back to you if you needed it (along with well worn advice about weather, hurricanes, and Mexico culture).
The Crusaders see the Sea as something to be conquered or endured. They boast of their year-round living aboard in a heat index that averages 112 degrees in these summer months, and they often have a story of saving a whale, a boat or life during a storm. Theirs is a badge of honor to endure the conditions and often loneliness of sailing. Both the Characters & Crusaders are generous with their time and resources – bestowing fresh fish, engine parts or advice as needed.
Then, you have the Criminals. These are the people who couldn’t make it in the “real world” or who are escaping something sinister and nefarious. Like our neighbor here (about 100 yards away), who, immediately after meeting him, claimed theirs was a “Naked Boat”, and so it is….morning, noon and night, this guy and his younger “caregiver”, who is looking after his 80 year old mother with dementia, are naked as the day is long. We’ve since learned this guy has a sordid and ugly past, and his host of stories must be true because you cannot make up the things he says. Kirby tried helping him one day with his anchor, and the minute they got to his boat, he dropped his pants and climbed aboard his boat, leaving Kirby with a Junk-In-The-Face moment that I’m sure he won’t soon forget….
You’ve gotta be a little crazy to live this life. I’m leaving out the rest of the “normal” people here because in comparison, they/we are all just incredibly boring…
I know we are supposed to seek wind since we are on a sailboat, but the weather plays such a huge role in where we can travel, how fast, how safely and how comfortably. Luckily, there have been no signs of hurricanes yet – they are just on the “E”s (Erick) and “F”s (Flossie), and they are still far south and west of us. August and September ups the risk, so we are trying to stay close to hurricane holes and/or places we are get to in a day in case of the worst news.
Aside from hurricanes, there are other wind/weather conditions we have to be mindful of:
Coromuels – SW wind that usually howls during the night (making for a very unpleasant sleep and rocky, swelly anchorage)
Elifantes – Big winds that sweep off the land and last 6+hours making it dangerous for passage making and anchoring.
Chubascos – A fast tornodo/hurricane like storm that lasts minutes but can pounce unannounced with winds that could rip the boat apart or toss it onto rocks.
All of these things make us cautious where we go and where we sleep at night, obsessively checking the weather while trying not to let it interrupt our fun – we try to follow the 7 Ps: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance 🙂
I have a business trip mid August and mid September, so I will hopefully be able to leave Kirby and Lodos safely in one of the hurricane holes on the west side of the Sea. That current place is Puerto Escondido (click on link for more info and a video of the area). A reinforced natural bay that is protected from mountains on nearly every side and curves inward to a protected anchorage on mooring balls with a small marina. Every year in May, they have a huge fishing tournament which brings people here from all over the world.
Puerto Escondido boasts the most expensive marina in the Sea – reinforcing why they call it the Gringo Coast. The marina fees here are higher than marinas in southern California. When we were here last time, the daily fees for our boat were 4x what we paid in San Diego, so we stay out on the mooring ball.
They have decent internet, a little restaurant that makes amazing pizzas in an outdoor oven, the best air conditioned luxury bathrooms and showers, a little store (tienda) and easy access into Loreto that has an international airport with direct flights to San Diego/Tijuana. They also have a cruisers net on VHF Channel 22 at 8am daily to keep people informed of weather and other happenings – always ending with a silly sailing joke (the one today was about a pirate). Cheesy, yes, but with a dash of earnestness that even the most cynical person can embrace.
I love the familiarity with the sea, the anchorages, the wildlife and impending challenges we will no doubt encounter while sailing. The big difference for this 2 weeks, is that we don’t have internet, and I feel that I need it for work, which has created a new set of problems or anxiety – needing to be in a specific place for a phone call or meeting isn’t exactly the safest way to sail/travel, as it forces you to make potentially compromised decisions on weather that you might not have otherwise.
We started this trip with a few days in Caleta Partida – an anchorage that divides two islands, and which has a narrow channel that we can take our dinghy through to get from one side of the island to the other. It’s one of our favorite places because it’s sheltered and protected but also because it’s the home to dozens of turtles.
On our way to our next anchorage at San Francisco Island, we made a quick stop at a couple small islands that are home to hundreds of sea lions. The pup season ends in July. Kirby anchored the boat in a deep rocky islet while I jumped off and swam with them. They warned me to not get too close by barking at me – they were adorable and fun to see up close, and of course swimming with sea lions is pretty special.
Heading north to Isla San Francisco, we happened upon a group of 5-7 giant manta rays feeding at the surface. We stopped the boat to watch them eat, and then saw them soar under the boat with wingspans of more than 10 feet, mouths open, breathtaking….
After arriving in Isla SF, we stayed at two separate anchorages – we found some fantastic dive/snorkeling sites and appreciated the rich variety and diversity of the fish – so many we’d never seen before and that are indigenous to the Sea: Golden phase puffer fish, Cortez round ray, Cortez angel fish, and dozens of others – including 4 types of parrot fish.
Our next stop was one of our favorites – at Bahia Agua Verde – but we had to scoot up to Puerto Escondido (where we are now on a mooring ball) as our refrigeration is on the fritz, we need to do laundry and dump our trash 🙂 We’ll be here for a bit while we catch up on work and projects, and I plan for my next trip to the USA for work.
And, it’s hot. So hot. ~100 degrees and nearly the same in humidity. We are having trouble keeping the fridge and freezer working properly it’s so hot….but, we are swimming and relaxing and doing our best to breath our way through it as the benefits outweigh the annoyances.
After being “on the hard” (out of the water) for nearly 6 months, we have decided that we are never ever leaving the boat again. <LOL> Well, probably not, but that’s how we feel right now.
We got stuck in San Carlos for so much longer than we’d hoped – there were only a few days in the month of January and February that we could even get our boat back in the water; the marinas are fairly shallow, and our boat has a deep draft, so with mere inches to spare, we needed to get the boat into the water right at the peak of high tide. We missed one date in January but managed to successfully launch her on 1/21/19. Taking the boat in and out of the water is one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever watched.
We spent 2-3 weeks doing nothing but cleaning and organizing and rebuilding the boat so she was ready to set sail in March. But, then we discovered that when the workers covered our solar panels last winter with a tarp – seeking shade – it drained our batteries to the point that they were destroyed and wouldn’t hold a charge. They don’t carry our batteries in Mexico, so it meant driving back to the USA again for us…..a very expensive lesson (many thousands of dollars later), we realized we have to be more vigilant if we ever leave the boat alone again.
After our final repairs, we finally set sail at midnight on March 18th, which is a national holiday in Mexico. It took us 17+ hours to cross the Sea, and we were happy to see our dolphin friends around 3am to keep us alert and engaged. You generally hear them before you see them at night – it sounds like someone blowing water out of a snorkel.
Our abbreviated itinerary in between tight weather windows:
Midnight on the 18th left San Carlos/Marina Real
Arrived Caleta San Juanico at 4pm 18th
Left San Juanico for Puerto Escondido at 8am on 19th
Arrived PE at 3pm & waited out the bad weather Wed-Thurs
Arrived Island of San Francisco at 5:30pm on 3/23 – very rolly anchorage due to strong NW wind that kicked up from 7pm-3am
Left Isla SF 8:45am on 3/23 for La Paz – arrived La Paz at 4pm
We saw whales and dolphins everyday – sometimes multiple times/day – keeping our pristine daily record in tact!
We get a lot of questions about Turkey – I’ll use this post to answer some of them. Better yet, come visit sometime and experience it for yourself!
How did you decide on Turkey? Answered in an earlier, separate post here 🙂
Are you allowed to buy property in Turkey? Yes, we can and we have. It’s not very common to finance property purchases. Most people buy their homes with cash. We hired a Turkish lawyer, named Cihat (pronounced Jihad – same meaning!) who helped us navigate the legalities and questions of property ownership. Unfortunately, we can only stay for 90 days at a time on a tourist visa for a total of 180 days/year (90 days in, at least 90 days out). So far, this works great for us as we dodge the hurricane season in Mexico. It’s quite onerous to get a residence permit to live in Turkey full-time. Like in the US, if you are foreign-born, there are many hurdles and requirements for us to stay longer. Also, similarly to the US, you can buy property, but it doesn’t qualify you to stay longer. Also, like in the US, we could come and stay “illegally” (beyond our 90 days), but when we left and tried to return, we would likely get hassled and maybe not allowed back in the country (not a chance we want to take). Although we can buy a house here, you are not allowed to buy a car unless you have a residence permit, so we rent a car (for about $8/day) while we are here.
How does the current economy and Lira free fall impact you? The currency here is called the Lira. Currently, the lira falling is a good thing for us. We have a local, Turkish bank account, but mostly we transact in dollars, so it’s actually better for us. When we arrived, the lira was about 3.5 lira: 1 dollar and now it’s almost 7. We try to keep dollars as long as possible and exchange when we need them. Interestingly, even though Turkey takes MasterCard and Visa, many businesses reject our US cards as their chip readers won’t accept our cards. It’s extremely frustrating, and it prevents us from leveraging the exchange rate but also requires us to use our Turkish account or liras. Also, most places, unless you’re in a posh hotel, won’t take American Express, and many stores don’t even know what it is. In the long run, a stable Turkish economy will be better for us as we own a home here and want to see the community thrive and appreciate in value. We use TransferWise to move money from our US account to our Turkish account. The transfer fees are reasonable, and it’s fast and easy with an app on our phones.
What about the politics and president of Turkey? It’s best not to discuss them.
What’s the language and are you learning it? The language is Turkish – it’s a beautiful language that has more in common with romance languages, like French, and none of the harsh or guttural sounds of Arabic. My Turkish is very rusty; I understand a lot of it, and I can shop and get along pretty well at a high level, but I still can’t speak conversationally. I can follow along, but I lack the ability to say too much in response, which is frustrating! It’s definitely improved with time here. Many people here don’t speak English, so we blunder along, try as we can, and use Google Translate when we get stuck! I think for our trip next year, we’ll spend time using Babbel or taking an intensive language course to jumpstart our learning. There is nothing more humbling and makes you more empathetic to people living or traveling in the USA, trying to speak English, than when the shoe is on the other foot!
What’s your neighborhood like? Our total community is ~30 buildings with ~70 separate homes built as townhouses. Most people own 1 building, but we split ours with our friend who lives next door. The busiest we have ever seen it was during a national holiday a couple of weeks ago, but even still, our neighborhood was only about 30% full. We are in a separate little area with only 7 homes, and we call it the G7 as we are a fairly international group. All but one house was full during the holiday – it was great fun hanging out with everyone, sharing meals, and working together to make improvements.
Who are your neighbors? Most everyone is Turkish, but they either live abroad or work abroad. Two of our neighbors are Americans (living in Turkey & in the UK), one family lives in Brussels (an engineer & an anesthesiologist), one family lives in Ankara (retired ministry of tourism & a librarian), one family lives in Istanbul (a gynecologist & an engineer), one family lives in Istanbul (professor & Turkish think tank)…all professionals, and all of them speak *some* English. (They are very patient with us!) There are quite few kids here, too, which is really fun to see the energy and diversity of our community; watching them grow up year after year will be really fun. We have a beautiful swimming pool, and the beach is about a 2 minute walk away – complete with electricity (when it works), lounge chairs, a fresh water shower and palapas.
Who takes care of everything there? There is a guy, Mustafa, who lives here full-time, in a little house with a bunch of chickens. He is our on site guardian, does odd jobs, keeps the pool clean and does general maintenance. We also have a building site manager, who is accountable to a board of directors and who is supposed to run the bigger systems like solar and water (which don’t work great….). But, we are really on our own for repairs and landscaping. Part of this is because we are still a new development that hasn’t received all the rights of a city property – this will likely come in time.
Can you find everything in Turkey, like in the US? Yes and no. Generally, there are specific stores for each category of goods. If you need electric, you have to visit the electric store. If you need plumbing, you have to visit the plumbing store….and so on. There are big chain stores ala Home Depot and IKEA in larger cities but not near where we live. There are two grocery chains here (Migros & Carrefour) that are starting to carry more than just food, but in general, when running errands, we have to plan all day for a minimum of 6 stops!
Pharmacies – are prescriptions hard to refill? Pharmacies are plentiful here, but limited to generic drugs or alternatives. For example, we can’t find Benadryl here, but they have an antihistamine equivalent, and my branded contact lens solution is readily available. I take a migraine pill that costs me about $20/pill in the USA with insurance, but here, I pay the equivalent of $1/pill – no prescription required! Natural treatments like Arnica are easy to find, and tampons are nearly impossible to find. It is related to a holdover custom from the muslim culture of revering virgins (seriously). I remember this being the case when I lived here 30 years ago, but I expected it would have changed by now (it hasn’t).
Are you in a safe area? Despite what you read on the news, which is largely sensational and focused on small areas, most of Turkey is very safe, and yes, we are also in a safe area. There is and has been violence in Turkey, but we stay vigilant and try to blend in and not put ourselves in uber-tourist places with a lot of people. We have a full-time caretaker who lives here year round, and he watches the place. There are also a few dogs that live here, and they are quite protective of the neighborhood and people roaming around at night. The only thing we have to watch out for are scorpions and wild boar! 🙂 There are immigration patrols that we meet on the highway from time to time, and recently, we have seen military helicopters flying over our beach, presumably looking for refugees since we are so close to Greece (the closest entry point to the EU). The immigration road blockades generally wave us through once they see we are foreigners or Americans. For this reason, you must always carry your passport when traveling around the country.
What’s your 3-6 month plan? We will be in Turkey for just under 90 days until the first of October when our visa expires, and then we will island hop around the Greek islands for a few weeks, landing back in the states in time for the midterm elections in early November. We plan to be back in Mexico at the end of November, visiting the Copper Canyon with friends. We’ll spend December seeing family and friends (Arizona, Sun Valley, Portland) and then back to Mexico where our sailing season will start again in earnest. We’re tentatively planning to sail south to La Paz or Puerto Vallarta from January thru early March to avoid the heavy “Northers” before sailing back up into the Sea of Cortez for a few months before the next hurricane season. We both are likely to travel back and forth to the US during this time for work, and Jodi may come back to Turkey for a month in Spring to check on the house and do some weeding and spring planting.
When will you be back in the US? Sometime in late October/early November, 2018. We hope to come back to Turkey for another extended visit in 2019 – again, during hurricane season in Mexico.
What’s the food like in Turkey? In a word, amazing. Some of the best cuisine in the world. Not heavy like Greek food but fresh, whole foods grown in volcanic soil and rich in color and nutrients. Lots of fresh fruit (melons, peaches, nectarines, plums, figs, apricots) and vegetables (tomatoes – okay, a fruit, squash, beans, cucumbers, lettuces), 100s of varieties of olives and cheese (I counted more than 40 types of “white cheese” at the grocery store the other day), legumes (chickpeas, lentils, white beans) meat and fish/seafood (although we don’t really eat these anymore), and the government subsidized recipe for white bread is divine (and costs no more than about 50 cents). My favorite is breakfast, which is generally cheese, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, honey, bread, and jam. Alcohol is easier to buy than it used to be (albeit very expensive for out of country brands – a small bottle of Absolut Vodka is $20), and Turkey’s wine industry is growing fast (high-end bottles costing between $5-15). Efes Beer is Turkey’s national pilsner; it’s cheap & delicious ($2/bottle).
Which do you prefer – the Aegean or Mediterranean? Turkey is one of only three countries in the world that straddles more than one continent (Russia and Azerbaijan are the others). Turkey is on the European and Asian continents. We live on the Aegean, but both seas are beautiful. If you look on Google Earth, you can see that the Aegean is a bit more green and mountainous than the Med, but both have crystal clear blue waters, and most of the beaches are small pebbles vs. sand. We are closer to a few Greek islands than we are to mainland Turkey.
What’s your typical day like? See next post – Part 2! 🙂