February 23-24, 2018
After five days at sea, BERTIE is now tied up to a dock in the Marina Chahué in Huatulco, Mexico. It’s 6:30 pm on Friday night, I’ve had my first shower in almost two weeks, am wearing clean clothes, and sitting on my bunk with the little fan blowing on me. For the first time since joining BERTIE, we aren’t rocking in the waves. It feels calm, and safe, and… a bit boring.
Heidi has been on the phone all afternoon, busy making arrangements for Peter. I guess he will go tomorrow to get a needle biopsy. I’m not putting too much energy into worrying about how things might turn out. It’s simply too terrifying to imagine that it might be cancer. If it is, their lives will change dramatically, with a return to the U.S. and an end to their cruising liveaboard lifestyle, at least temporarily. But I can’t think of two people better equipped to handle adversity than Heidi and Peter. They’re strong, they’re adaptable, and they’re used to improvising, fixing things, and tinkering with what they’ve got until it’s right.
Heidi and I go out for an evening walk after dinner. There seem to be a lot of fast-driving cars on the Benito Juarez Boulevard, and not much to do or see nearby, except for hotels. We’re hoping to buy some ice, but strike out after several attempts asking at hotel front desks. I’m wearing my new flipflops and don’t want to go too far, in case they end up giving me blisters. We turn around after a couple of blocks and end up back at the marina, which has five different restaurants right here. Two guys from Bésame Mucho (“kiss me a lot”) restaurant on the second floor come down the steps while we’re looking at the menu and start chatting us up. Well, mostly it’s Gregory Garcia, the owner, and Heidi who are chatting. Damien the water and I just stand by. Gregory and Heidi hit it off, talking about food, cooking, herbs, and gardening. The restaurant is actually closed, but Gregory invites us up and shows us a little garden they’re constructing adjacent to the dining area. He will grow herbs, mint, and a few pepper plants. The mint makes us think of mojitos, so Gregory asks Damien to make us each a drink. Both of them sit down with us at a table and we visit for a couple of hours. Heidi tells Gregory the situation with Peter, and he gets on his phone immediately, texting a doctor he knows.
By 2:00 pm on Saturday, Peter is in surgery, having the lump removed by Gregory’s doctor friend. I’m anxious for him, but enjoy a bit of alone time on BERTIE. This is soon interrupted by the arrival of an immigration officer, asking to speak to the captain. I have practically no Spanish at all, and he doesn’t have any English. By a twist of fate, I’ve been studying French for the last six months, not knowing I’d be taking an unexpected trip to Latin America this winter. At least they are both Romance languages, but this doesn’t keep my Spanglish from being further garbled with Frenchisms. “El Capitán… está en l’hopital… para una operation. Il y a… una emergencia.” I’m finally rescued by one of the regular Marina Chahué security guys, who helps explain (I hope) why BERTIE is here after having just checked out of the country a week ago. Coming back into Mexico too soon, and without papers, is a big no-no, and we’re under some fairly close scrutiny until we can prove there’s a serious problem.
By 3:30 pm, Peter is out of surgery and all three of us are sitting in the air-conditioned immigration office. We have only been in Huatulco for about 24 hours; it’s astounding how fast everything has happened. A very stern immigration official sits behind the desk, and a security officer stands by. Peter has a bandage around his chest, and while he and the immigration lady work on Google translate to make sure everything is clear, Heidi shows me her phone, with a photo of the lump he’d had removed. “Gah! Don’t show me that!” I whisper. Then we get the giggles. “It’s a little nugget of non-love,” I say to Heidi. Peter glares at us and says (or maybe just thinks) “Knock it off! This is serious!” Heidi was smart to photograph the lump, though, as this is pretty convincing evidence – along with Peter’s bandages – that we are here for legitimate reasons. We have to pay about $30 each, but walk out with brand new six-month visas.
The nugget was sent off to the pathology lab in Oaxaca, and we won’t know for a week what its status is. And Peter has to stay here for three weeks at least, for follow up, and to make sure the incision doesn’t get infected. What this means for me is that I WILL NOT BE GOING TO THE GALÁPAGOS WITH BERTIE. They’ve invited me to stay here on the boat as long as I want, but with this medical delay I won’t have time to sail the crossing and still catch my plane back to Alaska. If Peter is ok, he and Heidi will have to make the crossing to the Galápagos on their own, if they decide to go at all.
I have some decisions to make: should I fly from Mexico to the Galápagos, and meet up with Heidi and Peter’s friend Suzanne, whom I’ve never met? We could do a land-based tour of the islands anyway, sharing some of the expenses for lodging, food, and tours. Would we get along? What would it be like to travel with a complete stranger? I have my return flights from Galápagos to Anchorage all set, so… it’d be crazy to waste them. But, I could cut my losses, just skip it, and fly home from here. That would probably be the fiscally responsible, though outrageously lame, thing to do. I know I would regret it. Or, I could do something else entirely, like an overland journey from Mexico back to Alaska. I have to get home eventually, somehow.
I am pretty sure I still intend to go to the Galápagos, but I won’t have BERTIE as my floating free hotel, or Peter and Heidi’s company, or Heidi’s great meal planning and cooking skills. This makes me very sad, as we’ve been getting along so well, and I was just starting to feel more confident about steering (at least while motoring), and handling some of the other boaty tasks as well. I’m disappointed that my carbon-neutral trip will most likely now be more conventional, by airplane. And I’ll miss the absolutely one-of-a-kind opportunity of sailing to the Galápagos on a junk rigged, Joshua Slocum-style SPRAY replica with my friends.
Something will work out. In the meantime, Heidi and Peter are exhausted, emotionally and physically. The last five days have been crazy intense: beginning with our fifty-five-hour passage from Acapulco to Puerto Angel, then barnacle-scraping, hauling anchor, motoring here, arranging for doctors, surgery, and medication, and dealing with immigration officials. And through it all, the fear. Peter has been experiencing that for a bit longer than Heidi and I, but for all of us the fear has been forefront in our minds for the last two days.
Peter feels really bad for “screwing up the trip,” worried that Suzanne and Heidi and I are bummed out and mad at him over this unexpected change of plans. I’ve tried to reassure him that it’s ok, and obviously not his fault, and that he should focus on healing. I hope I can be of some help here over the next week or two, literally helping Heidi with the heavy lifting.
And I’m only 85 miles (as the crow flies) from Oaxaca, where my friend Deborah’s dad, David, lives. Deborah invited me to visit there anytime, even though I’ve never met David before. Taking a trip there would give Heidi and Peter some time on their own.
Meanwhile, there are birds here. And the shower, and beer, and ice, and places to walk, and did I say birds? I’m gonna make the most of it.