The Big Leap– Leaving the US

Thursday, September 17, 2015, we left Midland behind, once again, pulling our cargo trailer stuffed to the roof with stuff we may or may not need and mementos of days past.  We couldn’t help but wonder if we would be purging our belongings once again in a year, finding we love sailing, or returning to land and unpacking our old life.  We will leave those things to the future and embrace the present.20150920_182611

Our drive to Houston was long and uneventful, as most drives should be.  We stayed in Kemah a night to store our trailer at a facility near where we plan on taking the boat back to.  Our trip to West Marine had one purpose, to buy inflatable lifejackets (or inflatable PFD’s) for John and I and a harness for Zoey.

We couldn’t get standard lifejackets as they can be hot in the tropics for long passages and we also needed harnesses built in to connect to a Jack-line (a safety line you tether to on the boat when leaving the cockpit underway, alone, and in rough weather).  The lifejackets fit very differently and we both found the brand which filled our needs and felt comfortable, happy we had tried them on before buying.  This was no small investment at $200.00 a piece, but safety is not a place we skimp.

The inflatable PFD’s are not approved for child wear, so she still has a standard lifejacket.  We bought a child’s size harness so she too can be tied to the boat  for safety.

Our final bigish purchase was a pair of waterproof binoculars with built in compass.  When at sea, knowing which direction  the land or a signal light is in relation to you and knowing the direction of other vessels is a necessity.  We found a decent waterproof and floatable pair of Celestron Oceana 7X50 for a great price.

While in Kemah we decided to eat at a little place called Hubcap Grill.  The burgers were handmade and the topping options for burgers and fries are amazing.  They even have some of their own beverage labels and Zoey said she loved their rootbeer. This is a place we will  be back to.

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In Houston we rented a car at the airport and drove our truck back to storage in Kemah.  We spent the rest of the day “killing time”.  We walked the Kemah Boardwalk and Zoey played in the fountain to cool down from the heat.  We had snow cones at Kahuna Joe’s and finally had a few appetizers at Outback to complete our American snacking.

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We chose to fly on a one-star budget carrier, Spirit, from Houston to San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  People complain of the lack of leg room and lack of amenities such as snacks, drinks, pillows and blankets. The carrier can also nickel and dime you to death, charging for carry-ons and strict 40 pound checked baggage weight limits or your price goes up quickly by the Benjamins.  But, we found with their fare club, carefully packing our bags to just under 40 pounds, and expecting nothing more than transportation there were no problems.  We saved hundreds of dollars flying with them.

We were concerned of being stopped and forced to buy a return ticket, since Honduras requires a person to have proof that they will exit within 90 days.  Online it’s suggested to buy an expensive, refundable flight to anywhere else, and get the refund, which can take months.  We decided to provide proof of our boat ownership and slip lease agreement with the Roatán Yacht Club, and it worked out great.

Going through security we got stopped by, as expected, for our PDF’s since they have CO2 canisters.  Per TSA regulations, they are permitted when presented with a lifejacket, so after a quick swab of the lifejackets and our butyl tape, used to seal our windows of leaks, we were sent on our way. Oddly our 400 ft of line didn’t raise any eyebrows.  Everyone was super nice throughout the process.20150920_181504

Our flight arrived in San Pedro Sula, Honduras just after midnight.  Our next flight on Avianica wasn’t for another 9 hours, so we found a corner of the airport lobby and Zoey and I curled up as best we could on the metal benches to get a bit of shut-eye before our next flight.  John couldn’t sleep, so stood guard of us and our luggage for the night, though we felt pretty safe with an armed guard posted right near us and several armed guards just outside the doors.  Nobody’s messing with these guys or us.20150921_063726

Getting on the Avianica plane, we had to walk across the tar-mat and climb the steps.  I think this was a first for Zoey and she was all smiles.  The short 30 minute flight was nearly empty, had legroom for John, cookies, water bottles, and even pillows. (Just a little more frill than Spirit.)  Our low flight provided us with some amazing views, and before we knew it we were on the Isla de Roatán, exactly twelve hours after we left the United States.20150921_084144

Immediately we were offered a $20 taxi ride, which we may have been able to negotiate, but in my sleep deprived state I overrode John, who wanted to dicker, and told him it was fine.  We sped through the streets to the Roatán Yacht Club.IMGP8427IMGP8416IMGP8415IMGP8410IMG_2238

Next, the boat.

Tip: Flying budget is worth the inconveniences.  Spirit tips: 1) Join the $9 fare club, with the discounts it pays for itself. 2) Pay for your luggage (including carry-ons) ahead of time, it’s more expensive at the gate. 3) Remember that you are permitted ONE personal item with a few exceptions such as jackets, binoculars, umbrellas and the like.  4) Keep your bags at least a half pound underweight.  Overweight baggage is $100 or more. 5)Put your heavy stuff in your carryon since there is no weight limits on it.  6) Print your boarding passes or they will charge $10 per person to print them.  If it is an international flight and as with ours, print proof of inability to print them.

Leaving the Road Life–Midland, Texas

Arriving back in Midland, we were a little sad to be going back to our home.  It hadn’t yet sold or rented due to the fact the economy of the area has dropped and many banks aren’t financing on single-wide manufactured homes.  Lots of interest has not produced a qualified buyer….yet.

On a positive note our empty house was a perfect staging area for unpacking the trailer and sorting everything once again.Snapshot(0)1

It was amazing how much we packed and didn’t use!  We had much less free-time than we had expected and many things we had packed never moved from their initial location.  This was a good lesson for us when thinking what to take to the boat.Snapshot(1)

Zoey got a few precious days with her friend Khortlyn, with goodbyes ending in tears once again.

We cleaned out the trailer and took it for consignment or to sell to a local dealership.  They weren’t interested in our hybrid and their consignment program would have cost us more than storage, so we stored it for now. Snapshot(0)

We were flying two different airlines, so carefully packed our bags to meet both airline requirements.  One checked bag, one carryon, and one personal item (backpack) for each of us and we were on our way.  Hopefully we had packed enough to fix our boat, learn to sail, and generally live cheaply in Roatán, Honduras.

Tip: You don’t need as much as you think to live and enjoy life.

One Traveler Ends His Journeys-Tucson, Arizona

When we first decided to live on the boat, we researched taking our Sunny cat.  Perhaps he too could adjust to boat life.  As we looked into it we found it would be a hard adjustment for a 12yr old cat, plus many countries had strict restrictions as far as shots.  Some required a rabies within 10 days prior to entry and others before 90 days of entry, which could be hard on his system.IMGP9433

We decided to try travel with him and see how he did.  As we traveled we found he adjusted well to most environments, but the more busy the campground, the more he stayed inside. In parking lots, big cities, and national forest such as Yellowstone we had to keep him inside. He truly loved the mountains, and often stayed outside most of the night, always asking to be let in in the morning with a soft mew.20150706_19355920150807_133448IMGP9406

He traveled nine states and adjusted to each move.  He caught many mice and at least one chipmunk; had a  brush with a bear that sent him running and another animal that sent him ten feet up a tree.

The trailer life was not so bad for him, but the truck was another story. Each time we started driving he would meow incessantly and jump from window to window anxiously.  Often within the first few minutes he would have to use the litter box (a plastic container we had lined with puppy pads) to calm his nerves.  We appreciated he knew where to go, but didn’t enjoy having to pull over immediately after getting on the road to clean up.20150712_10442220150809_130214

After a few minutes he would settle in either on the console between John and I or under Zoey’s feet, IF he had been able to leave the trailer the night before; if not, it took a long time if at all for him to calm down.  Twice, on curvy roads, he got so sick from the motion and actually threw-up, poor guy.

After considering his needs, we decided that boat life would be a challenge for Sunny, so we took up an offer for a home for him.  John’s sister, Joan, had recently lost a cat, leaving her other older cat sad and clingy.  Sunny would have to also learn to get along with their dog, but we felt he would be happier on stable land.

We dropped him off, and we all choked back tears, knowing we were doing what was best for him.  He immediately ran and hid under a couch in the small room they had reserved for his transition. 20150909_172027

The next day we visited he had made small explorations into the house and by the third day had started to establish his dominance with the dog and come to an understanding with their cat, Boo, that they were okay with each other at a short distance.  I was happy to see the adjustments, and he was purringly happy in his new home.20150909_160903

After we left, we got updates that he found the dog/cat door and was happily adjusted to his new home.  We are so happy that Joan and her husband Ryan are taking in our old boy cat and he is happy with them.  We couldn’t have wanted a better home for him.  Thanks again to Joan and Ryan.

Tip: Try not to be too emotional about pet separation, it’s easier for them than you and it may be best for them.

Gilbert Ray Campground–Tucson, Arizona

On our way from the Grand Canyon to Tucson, Arizona, we stopped by Montezuma Castle.  A misnomer, having nothing to do with Montezuma or his people, the ruin is a 600 year old pueblo of the Sinagua people.IMGP1646

The site is just off of the highway,(so easy to visit), but the entrance is $10 per person.  This could add up quickly and is high comparing to other small National Parks we had visited, but with our America the Beautiful National Parks Pass, we once again gained free access.  The 45-50 room structure perched high on the cliff was a beautiful find of historical significance in the early 1930’s .  By the 50’s they realized that allowing tourist to enter the structure was damaging and closed it.  It can now be seen from a distance and a small display of the interior is provided.  It was a nice side trip,  taking less than 30 minutes, but after seeing the more expansive Bandelier National Monument, we would have been disappointed had we paid for the visit.IMGP1625

Next we searched out a free campsite near Tucson, but the free area seemed a bit of a teen party spot, so we decided to pay to camp since we would be away from our trailer most of the time. We stayed at the Gilbert Ray Campground in the heart of the Tucson Mountain Park, on the outskirts of the Saguaro National Park.  There were few other campers and the scenery was beautiful.  Nights with clear skies are so dark we could see the Milky Way in all it’s glory. IMGP1650

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One early morning walk up the Brown Mountain Loop didn’t disappoint with so many cacti in bloom and a storm looming on the horizon, it was perfect.IMGP167420150908_07355620150908_07063820150908_07351920150908_06375620150908_064733

Tucson is John’s childhood home and still the home to his grandmother, mom and sister, with another brother and sister live nearby, so it was a small family reunion.

John’s mom, Donna, decided to have Zoey spend the night along with her cousin Haidyn. Although there is a few years age difference, they had a great time. The two of them played baseball, made little plastic art, and later swam/snorkeled in Aunt Joan’s (John’s sister) pool.IMG95146520150907_14434320150907_144328

Staying overnight at Grandma Donna’s house became a standard as Zoey wore herself out by 7:00 and we were still talking.  This worked out to give mom and dad a little kid-fee time and Grandma and Zoey could continue on her quilt, now two years in the making.  This was Zoey’s first time at the sewing machine and she took to it quickly, making the most of her time there.IMG951507IMG95148620150910_121436

We caught up with all the family and used Tucson as a receiving place for a few last items to be shipped for the boat including line, converters, a new Travelon purse (with travel safety and made of proper boating materials), and some polarized sunglasses for Zoey.  As soon as our packages arrived we said our goodbyes and were back on the road.

Although we had a few short stops until we flew out, we consider this the end of our road trip.  A great adventure to start an even greater one.20150909_161343

Location: Tucson, Arizona

Campground: Gilbert Ray Campground

Campground Cost: $20/night

Activity: Montezuma Castle

Activity Cost: $10/person (Free with the National Parks Pass)

Tip: There are few trailer suitable spots at Gilbert Ray Campground, so be sure to consult the map before parking.

Dogtown Rd. – Williams, Arizona

A short drive south of Route 66 (I-40) is lots more free camping.  We were back in the pine trees and it felt good to be in some cooler air.  Sunny was happy to be free of the trailer and off again.

We had Zoey immediately fill in the gaps on our fire pit were she found something she had learned of back in New Mexico at Bandelier, an arrowhead.  Admittedly, it was dropped by a native American, John, only a few minutes earlier, but she felt like she had hit the jackpot.  She said finding it was better than Disneyland.  We actually feel a little bad that she loved it so much, and didn’t’ have the heart to tell her it was our gift to her.  I guess she’ll find out when she’s old enough to read this.

The next day we visited the Grand Canyon National Park.  I had flown over it before, but a view from the air didn’t do it justice.  The colors were amazing and I felt as if I were looking at a beautiful painting instead of something real.IMGP152420150903_145531IMGP159920150903_154407IMGP1598

The visitor center had educational exhibits, and we watched two films that explained how the canyon formed and the human history. One film was in a traditional small theater, and one was projected onto a large sphere suspended from the ceiling in the visitor center. Zoey loved both of them, but I think she got a bit tired of me drilling her to make sure she was learning. IMGP157320150903_122454

We ate lunch at the Bright Angel Restaurant, which had good food, but the oddest service ever.  The host didn’t acknowledge us for the first minute, then the man who sat us only took one drink order at a time and our waiter barely spoke up enough to hear him.  The food was good and the service not particularly bad, but it was weird.  Probably the first of many as we prepare for our travels.

The old rail cars were in station, but are not used for tours, we rode the free shuttle around the park and enjoyed the canyon from many different viewpoints.IMGP1574

Back at our camp for the night, we let Sunny out for his nightly hunt.  John heard him hiss and growl in the dark.  He walked out into the forest calling for him and found he lost whatever fight he got in and was safely up a tree.  We brought him in, but whatever scared him was not enough to keep him in and he was out within an hour and spent the night in the great outdoors.

Our next stop would be John’s childhood home, and where most of his family still lives, Tucson, AZ.

Locaiton: Williams, Arizona

Campsite: Dogtown Rd. – Kaibab National Forest 35.196259, -112.150827

Campsite Cost: Free

Activity: Grand Canyon National Park

Activity Cost: $30/1-7 day permit (Free with the National Parks Pass)

Tip: You can drive in or park in Tusayan, Arizona to ride the shuttles into the park.  All park shuttles are free.