Monday, February 28, 2005

Journal Entry – Monday February 28 – Puddle Jump Meeting I

Author: Scott and Pam

With excitement we headed into shore today to attend our first Puddle Jumpers meeting which was held at Rich’s bar. We showed up not knowing what or who to expect, it was our first organized cruisers meeting. We found out 13 other boats are in the process of preparing to leave for the South Pacific from Zihautaanejo and we were also thrilled to find out that there are two other 32 foot boats. We have met few boats smaller than 40 feet that are making the crossing, so we are very excited that there will be boats that we can keep a pace with. The group had already had one meeting so the preparation wheels are well under way. The goals of the group are to update and reprint a book published by the puddle jump group last year about cruising to and around the South Pacific, we are looking forward to this first hand information. There is also a plan afoot to compile the list of paper charts respectively owned by each boat and have copies made at a local architecture firm. We are very excited to take advantage of this opportunity. It looks like the group will end up with a full set of charts for the South Pacific for a very affordable price. We found out the earliest boats are planning to leave March 14th and at least one boat will leave as late as the beginning of April. Gary on Pegasus has made the trip before and had a wealth of tips to share, such as an easy to make cockroach killing recipe that can also be used in an ear fungus solution for treating swimmer’s ear. The next meeting is scheduled for next Monday and will focus on comparing electronic information and provisioning. We were so uncertain about where we would jump from once our plans changed and we were no longer going to Panama. Being part of the Zihuatanejo group feels like the right place to be, the energy of the group is wonderful and infectious.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Journal Entry –Friday February 25, 2005 – Around the Bend to Zihuatanejo

Author: Scott and Pam

After spending time in Ixtapa we were ready to head around the corner to the infamous Z-town. We took full advantage of our time at the marina to get some projects done and clean the boat. The dinghy had sustained two minor tears in the bottom on our first river trip, easy repair and a bit less water in the bottom will be nice. Scott also spent a half a day pouring a two part epoxy mixture into the stanchion bedding to hopefully abate the sneakey leaks we and all sailboats seem to have, at least eventually. The expoxy is very thin and creeps into cracks, presumably filling them and not allowing water to invade. We have tested it with the hose, we’ll see what happens in during the many squalls we will encounter on the way and in the South Pacific. Marina Ixtapa is very nice and well maintained. However, it is not the place to do any work on the bottom of your boat. There are actually signs around the marina that say no swimming and why would that be (see website photo)? Well you don’t want to be lunch for the crocodiles that prowl the waters. Abe and Amy saw a ten foot croc off of the stern of their boat the other night just meandering by, yikes! When we headed out of the marina in broad daylight I was a bit surprised to see just how narrow the entrance was and how many islands we had gone around. It is one thing to see them on the radar, it is quite another to look at them in the face. I was even more grateful for Abe and Amy’s assistance a few nights ago. Just for the record, if we had not had a guide we would have heaved to outside and come in in the morning. The five mile drive over to Zihuatanejo was uneventful, however it did require maneuvering through a .75 mile gap between a reef and the point. This morning the local net controller was our friend Sparky on Independence, we met him on our dock in La Paz. It was nice to hear a familiar voice and to know we had someone we could call as we came into the anchorage. I called him on channel 22 and got the scoop on where there was room to drop the hook. Once it was all said and done we were anchored off of the cliff with the big pink hotel in the municipal anchorage. After getting the boat settled we headed over to say hello to Sparky and met his friend and crewmember Jim. We had been hearing all about Rick’s Bar since PV, the local cruisers hangout, so we all decided to head into town for dinner. Road tested our newly patched dighny, the bottom stayed dry as a bone. We hung out with Sparky, Jim, Abe, Amy, Candi and her son Ben. Candi and Ben were in town on vacation and had found their way to Rick’s. We ate dinner at Rick’s steakhouse where you can cook your own steaks. We are not sure if it is our heightened appreciation for any time we have a meal off of the boat or if they really were just about the best steaks we have ever had, but they were off the map delicious. It could have been Scott’s expert BBQ skills too. It was a very fun evening with live music and a chance to meet a few new cruisers. We definitely got the flavor of how and why Rick’s is the hub in Z-town for cruisers. We are looking forward to exploring the rest of town.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Journal Entry – Monday February 21, 2005 – Arrival to Ixtapa, Mexico

Author: Scott and Pam

We made tracks yesterday and arrived in Ixtapa/Zihuartanejo twelve hours earlier than we thought we might, of course it ended up being dark by the time we reached the area. It was our intention to go directly to the anchorage in Zihuatanejo, but this was not an option after dark, at least not without a guide. From the beginning we have said when needed we will request and accept assistance into complicated and busy ports, we consider this to be a necessary precaution for everyone’s safety. Once we were in range we radioed Abe and Amy to ask them if they would assist us into the anchorage, we thought they had moved from the marina to anchor. They had not left the marina yet and offered to meet us at the entrance of the channel and guide us into the marina. We eagerly accepted their offer and decided a day or two at the marina to fill the water tanks and wash the boat before going to the anchorage would be a good thing. As it turned out the entrance to Ixtapa Marina is probably one of the trickiest marinas we have gone into whether it was day or night. There are five islands just outside of the entrance and then a very narrow entrance with breaking waves on both sides into the marina. Once we were in the channel all was calm, it became all about finding a slip. We had attempted to radio ahead to the marina to get a slip assignment, but were not able to reach them. Upon arriving Abe directed us to the slip next to Eleytheria which had been unoccupied since their arrival. Two minutes after pulling into the slip we were greeted by the marina security guard who informed us that was a private slip and we would have to move. Off to D dock we went to reside among the giant power boats, we looked like a peanut in our slip made for a 60 plus foot boat. After securing the boat and taking care of the arrival details we headed out for dinner. Dinner on land after a passage is a wonderful thing. Abe and Amy’s friends were visiting from CA and for their last night they had planned to go to see the live entertainment at the top of the Lighthouse (El Farro) at the marina. They had been hearing the performer as they walked around the marina in the evenings and were intrigued to find out if it was a man or a woman, this had been the mystery of the week. We ordered very yummy steaks that were prepared tableside and made the discovery the singer was a woman with a very deep voice at times. It is great to be reunited with Abe and Amy, we are very happy to see our favorite cruising friends.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Journal Entry – February 19, 2005 – On the Road Again

Author: Scott and Pam

We got up early to get the boat ready to leave Tenacatita. Lynn Marie and her thirteen year old daughter Sophie came by around 11:30 in their dinghy, we were heading up the river again to Maria’s Mobile Tienda (another creative way to provision). Maria apparently drives the ten hour round trip to Guadalajara to go to Costco and brings back groceries for the cruisers to purchase. She arrives in Revelcita around 1:00 each Saturday and sets out coolers and boxes full of produce, meats, cheese and old favorites (for some people) Mac & Cheese. Once again we were hoping for some fresh food for the first couple of days of the rest of journey to Ziuatenejo. Almost everyone goes up the river on Saturday for lunch and to visit Maria. This was Lynn Marie’s and Sophie’s first trip, Sophie drove, she did an excellent job navigating the river foliage and the much heavier Saturday dinghy and panga traffic. She was a speed demon on the way back, it was tons of fun. We bought some chicken breast and veggies for salad, yum. When we got back to the anchorage we headed over to Reba, the boat that was bringing pastries from Barra de Navidad from the French Baker. We ordered some croissants and a baguette, what a treat. Know wonder it seems there are cruisers who have moved in to Tenacatita. We pulled anchor at 5:30 pm, again meeting our criteria to be under way before dark. It was a special departure, there were several people who wished us bon voyage and even came out to take pictures as we headed out into the sunset. Ahhhh…. Our first night under way again has gone well. Our watch schedule got a bit goofy, a big boat decided to grace us with its presence just as Scott was going to bed. There has not been tons of wind tonight, we have been motoring sailing most of the night.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Journal Entry – February 18, 2005 – Mayor’s Raft-up

Author: Pam

Scott’s day began at 8:00 am when Jerry picked him in his dinghy for a fishing lesson. Scott does not have a license to fish in Mexico, but he had asked Jerry if he could go along to learn more about catching, identifying and cleaning fish. As some of you may recall, it is the cleaning part that worries me. They were gone for two hours and did not come back with any fish tales. Jerry is very knowledgeable on the subject so Scott got a verbal lesson at least. While he was gone I got a call from Lynn Marie on Nanoo, they just arrived last night. We met Lynn Marie, Bernard and Sophie at Phillo’s in La Cruz almost two weeks ago during a presentation we gave to the cruising community. Lynn Marie came over to Tournesol and we chatted the morning away. She then returned with tortellini soup and biscuits for lunch, she is a gourmet vegetarian cook, the homemade soup was a treat. The three of us swam to shore, went for a walk and swam back. We had a really nice day and I am sure we have made a friend for life. So, what does the Mayor do? Well, he hosts the Friday night pot luck raft-up. He anchors his dinghy by Good Dog Beach and those who attend come and tie up in a circle, which really ended up to be more like a blob. We are still learning how to be prepared for pot lucks for forty plus people, but we were pleased with our contribution. Scott baked corn bread muffins, we cut them in half and served them with butter. When the dish came back there was one half remaining for Scott, so I think they were a hit. It was another chance for us to get the word out about who we are and why we have taken on this challenge. The response has been nothing but unbelievably positive and supportive.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Journal Entry – February 16, 2005 – Politics in Paradise

Author: Pam

Finally an anchorage in Mexico without jelly fish stinging you every five minutes. We opted to swim ashore today, it was great exercise and we got a break from landing the dinghy. Last night we had dinner with our friends John and Joanne on Western Grace, they arrived in Tenacatita a few days ago. It was very nice to see them and to finally see their beautiful 55 foot steel hull boat. You may recall we met them in Turtle Bay and John was extremely helpful with our steering and engine trials and tribulations. Joanne made a delicious dinner, sautéed shrimp, rice, carrots and cole slaw, we thought we had died and gone to heaven.

We found out this week that you can not escape politics, even in a quiet anchorage in Southern Mexico. There apparently has been a mayor of Tenacatita within the cruising community for an unknown period of time and it seems he may have been self appointed. Well, the teenagers of the cruising community established the Rebel Alliance this week and challenged the Mayor and his position. They called for an election and distributed ballots to each cruising boat (individually hand written). The ballot question: should there be a Mayor of Tenacatita? Being from Canada, John volunteered to be the neutral party to count the votes. This activity happened while we on board Western Grace, the Mayor and the members of the Rebel Alliance were also in attendance for the counting. There were 51 yes votes and 42 no votes, so Robert on Harmony will reign as Mayor for an undetermined amount of time. What makes this noteworthy was how impressed we were with the kids and the lesson in civics they created for themselves. These kids had recently met one another, are all being home schooled on their boats, demonstrated one of the best examples of democracy and team work I have ever witnessed with a tremendous balance of humor and sincerity. It was certainly a new twist to a stay in an anchorage. Speaking of kids, we have met more kids this week than our entire time cruising so far, they range in age from one to seventeen, and they have been a lot of fun. I am fascinated with whether the kids are enjoying their experience and with the challenges and successes of home schooling on a boat that must come from my ancient background in education. So far I am finding interesting diversity in all of the above. John offered to come over tomorrow to look around the boat and offer any suggestions on problem areas if he sees any.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Journal Entry – February 15, 2005 – Rio de Iguana (Iguana River)

Author: Scott

Today was one of the high points of the journey thus far. In Tenacatita there is a river that runs about two miles through jungle and mangroves and winds back to a cove just up the coast from the main bay. At the end of the river there is a small town with a number of beach front restaurants (Revelcita). The river ebbs and flows with the tide and makes for a challenging, interesting, and fun adventure. We loaded up the dinghy with drinking water, a handheld VHF radio, first aid kit, sunscreen and other essentials and we were off. The first order of business was to brave the rocky dinghy landing which we did without incident and then drag the dinghy over a sand bar into the river. There is one right way and many wrong ways to navigate the first part of the river (changing daily with the tide) and we made our share of mistakes that caused us to gently run aground in the sand, but a quick jump out of the dinghy in knee high water and we were off again. Now our Mexico cruising guide bills the river trip as impossible to get lost, well I am here to tell you that although temporarily, we did manage to get a little lost. A few hundred yards up the river there is a sharp turn to the right and a gentle turn to the left. We opted to turn right and found ourselves in a narrowing channel that eventually got too small for even our little dinghy. Somehow we managed to turn around and head back onto the river, but as we continued on we started to get suspicious when our surroundings looked familiar and the bay came into view, oops we zigged when we should have zagged and we ended up at the start of the river that no one can get lost on, technically I guess we weren’t lost, just confused. We spun the dinghy around and zipped back up the river. About half a mile up the river the banks narrowed into a thin channel and the jungle closed in around us. There were mangroves and a cover of trees above, all kinds of birds, termite hives, and fish breaking the surface of the water. You would not be at all surprised to find an alligator here, but we learned that the crocodiles had been captured and moved to La Manzanilla and that is why they have the crocodiles for the tourists, but who knows for sure that they didn’t miss a few. With the cover of trees it became much more difficult for either of us to see and navigate so we had to slow the dinghy to a crawl. Pam sat at the front of the dinghy calling out “left, right, left I said left…” It truly was the blind leading the blind, but we had a marvelous time. The funniest part of the trip (for me not Pam) was when we came close to the trees and a thick muddy vine hanging down drug across Pam’s back, head, and finally my legs leaving a trail of stinky swamp mud. Pam’s look of complete revulsion was priceless, and we both had a good laugh after the initial shock wore off. Pay back came quickly however, because we got in a spot where the only way to push off was for me to stick my hand elbow deep into the mud all the while thinking of the leaches that could be finding a meal. Thank goodness there were no leaches but I had one grody arm. We meandered our way at a snails pace to an intersection and made the left hand turn that would bring us to the dinghy dock. We stowed our gear and headed on shore for a bite to eat.

We walked through the small town and chose a restaurant that sounded like other cruisers were inside and who should we happen to see but our friends Larry and Julie from Komara, they were having lunch with four other cruises and we settled in for our own lunch. I had a fish roll which is boneless fish rolled around shrimp, bacon, almond cream sauce and herbs, and then fried to a golden brown, and Pam had a huge plate of breaded shrimp.

Our friends from Komara were ready to leave and offered to head back with us. The return journey was completely different because I had a large dinghy to follow back as we thread our way through the jungle. Larry sped down the river just slowing enough so that we could keep up, this was a true E Ticket jungle ride. We had a ball flying through the winding river and jungle. Our return trip only took half the time as our outbound leg.

Once back at the beach we stopped in at the palapa for a drink and to wait out the large breaking waves before attempting to return to our boats. No luck, the waves just continued to grow and we were all faced with fighting the sea. Our first attempt was a little sketchy because we were immediately blown towards the rocks and I had to jump out and pull us back to the beach. On attempt two Larry helped us out and we managed to fight our way to calmer water after climbing some really high waves and bumping our prop a few time on submerged rocks. The dinghy was no worse for wear and we were a little more seasoned in our dinghy launches.

Back on Tournesol we reflected on our day while hanging out in the cockpit. Today was quite an adventure and we stood up to the challenges. We learned from Larry that the river was used to film parts of the movie Rambo, and so I guess if Rambo could beat the river so could Scott and Pam.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Journal Entry – February 14, 20005 – La Manzanilla & Crocodiles

Author: Pam

It is unlikely Scott would ever pass up an opportunity to see crocodiles, given they are one of his favorite animals, second only to alligators. We were invited to head across the bay to La Manzanilla for an opportunity to get a few provisions and to see the famous crocodiles. At 8:30 am we boarded Pangea, a Swan 38 with 14 other adults and children for the 20 minute boat ride. After anchoring it took several dinghies and trips to get everyone ashore. It was decided we would meet under the palapa at 1:30 to head back, that worked for us I could still make my hearts commitment at three. La Manzanilla has one main dirt road with several small tiendas for groceries. Food was not the first order of business, we turned left on the main road and headed for the end where the crocodiles live. Behind a fence (thank goodness) there was a pond where at least ten crocodiles spend their days wallowing and entertaining the on-lookers. Unfortunately, they did not grace us with their presence on the bank and they were too far away for us to see. Our friend Larry took some pictures (see scrapbook) that we were able to see on the computer. We are still unclear why the crocodiles are there, it appears to be for the purpose of a tourist attraction. We headed back into town in search of some fresh meat or fish, this has now become a luxury. On our way we ran into John from Pangea and he told us most everyone was making a pit stop at the restaurant that serves waffles. Waffles being another item on Scott’s favorite’s list we decided to join the group. The waffles were good and it gave us a nice chance to get to know some of the new people we met on this field trip. Ok, back to looking for something fresh to eat for dinner. We found the fish market on the beach, but it was closed. The carneceria was also now closed, that was ok with me it looked a bit scary. Doug from Kanaloa suggested we go to Yolanda’s restaurant and internet café and ask her if she has any meat or fish she could sell. Sure enough she had chicken breast and would be happy to sell us some. Going to a restaurant that serves good food to buy meat is a brilliant idea and one we will probably use again. We found some ingredients to make a salad and felt very satisfied with the prospect of dinner. By the time it was time to leave the breaking waves had gotten big and frequent, making getting the dinghies out to the boat a bit challenging. Everyone made it without flipping (a definite possibility), but there wasn’t a dry body or grocery bag once we got to the boat. In fact a wave came over the front of the dinghy we were in and over my head.

Once we were back on Tournesol and got our groceries put away it was off to the beach for round two of the hearts tournament. The surf was much bigger today which made the prospect of our second beach landing a little scary for me. We decided not to land in the spot with the rocks, one less variable to deal with. We had a pretty smooth landing, but when it was time to go the waves were huge. For the second time today a wave came over the front of the dinghy and over my head. I came in last in round two, these are some serious players. We barbecued the chicken and we were in heaven. It was the best chicken breast we both have ever had. It is our understanding the chicken in Mexico is considered very good, we would have to agree.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Journal Entry – February 13, 2005

Author: Scott and Pam

During the Gold Coast Cruiser’s Net this morning they announced a hearts tournament happening later today on the beach. While Scott was in the hospital I passed the time by playing hearts on the computer. It doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in me, let’s just say I am convinced the computer cheats. Anyway, playing hearts while looking at palm trees and beautiful blue water sounded like fun, so I signed both Scott and I up. Going to shore meant landing the dinghy on the beach, a feat we have not had much practice with. We found out yesterday where to land and it doesn’t come without its challenges, i.e. rocks and some pretty good sized waves. In comparison to most cruisers we have a much smaller dinghy, smaller motor and no wheels to help with a beach landing, but you can only fit so much on a Valiant 32’ and so we had to opt for a small dinghy. We were lucky on the way in and out, all went quite smoothly. Phew, I am not totally comfortable with this mode of arriving and the amount of timing you have to have. We will get a lot more practice, especially in the South Pacific. We ended up playing hearts with our friends Kathy and Jerry on Po’ oino Roa, they arrived back in Tenacatita earlier today. It was fun to see them and they made great hearts opponents. Kathy and I had the two lowest scores so we will advance to round two tomorrow. We are in awe of the community that is established here in Tenacatita, it seems to be a transition spot for cruisers going north and south. We have never been to an anchorage with so many boats and so many organized activities. We found out today there is a swim to the beach and then a walk to the resort at the end of the beach, a daily volleyball game and a myriad of card games and Mexican Train Dominos being played under the palapa. Some of the cruisers call Tenacatita the cruisers Club Med, this is especially appropriate since many of the beach scenes from the Blue Lagoon were filmed here. Everyone heads back to their boat around 5:00 pm when the no-see-ums come out to feast. The afternoon passed quickly and we started to meet some of the cruisers. Our friends Julie and Larry from Komara are also anchored here, it feels like old home week. They were our neighbor for much of the time we were in Marina Vallarta. We were very grateful to them for visiting Scott in the hospital, it truly made us feel a part of this wonderful community.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Journal Entry – Saturday, February 12, 2005 – Tenacatita 19° 18N 104° 50 W

Author: Scott and Pam

We had originally planned to stop in Careyes, but we passed by at night. Since we don’t go into anchorages or marinas at night, we went to plan B and headed for Tenacatita. We dropped the hook at 12:30 pm on the south edge of the anchorage; we generally like to make up the fringe when we first arrive at a new anchorage. The number of boats in the anchorage that came into view during our approach amazed us, I started out by seeing ten and by the time we were in the anchorage I counted 40, we had heard it was a popular spot. Just after arriving we heard our friends on Stargazer call on the radio as they approached the anchorage. We gave them a call and they came by to say hello once they were settled. They had been hanging out in the area for the past month, they were full of scoop. We went to shore with them, found a cold cervaza at that palapa and watched the lively game of volleyball in progress. Back on the boat we settled into the anchorage life with a shower in the cockpit and spaghetti with red sauce and clams for dinner.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Journal Entry –Thursday, February 10, 2005 – Goodbye Puerto Vallarta – It’s about time!

Author: Scott and Pam

No matter how hard we try on the day we plan to leave there are always tons of last minute things to do. Today we accomplished all of our errands and finally pulled away from our slip for the past seven weeks and headed out of the marina at 5:00 pm (thank goodness sunset is getting later every day). Barry from Minerva came by in the morning and finished the solar panel installation (we are very excited about this addition to the boat). He also hopefully fixed a small leak in the head and wired a 12 volt plug. We went grocery shopping at the Gigante with the hopes of having fresh food on board for the first couple of days of our voyage. We had planned on buying a steak to BBQ and some fresh veggies, but it was one of those days where the meat selection was not the parts we are used to and the veggies were all quite pathetic looking. We did buy a rotisserie chicken, excellent for tacos. Our last chore was to get fuel on the way out, the fuel dock is located conveniently as you leave the marina. It was not one of our best parking jobs, no damage but we did decorate the hull with a tad of orange paint. Once we were fueled we headed west for the long ride out of Banderas Bay. It feels great to be back on the move and heading to places unknown. We are planning on stopping once maybe twice as we make our way the 385 miles to Zihuatanejo. Tonight has been uneventful, including not much wind.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Journal Entry – February 2, 2005 - Guadalajara Schools for the Blind

Author: Scott and Pam

One of the primary goals when conceptualizing the Blind Circumnavigation was to visit schools and agencies for the blind throughout the world whenever possible. This would give us an opportunity to share ideas and learn from other blindness professionals around the world. Often these schools and agencies are not located in port cities and so inland excursions are often necessary, this is the case of the two schools for the blind in Guadalajara Mexico. We were berthed in Puerto Vallarta Mexico and so we took a road trip with two sighted friends (Abe and Amy) with the plan to visit both schools.

Prior to leaving Puerto Vallarta we called each school with the assistance of Abe acting as our translator. Instituto De Capacitacion Para El Nino Ciega y Sordo, A.C. is located in a middle class mostly residential neighborhood. As we waited for Abe to park the car we saw a number of children and parents enter the school, some of the students were clearly visually impaired and all walked with sighted guide assistance, we knew we were in the right place. We were quickly met by the Director of the blind school. We agreed it would be best to sit down, meet, answer questions, and then take a tour. It was clear they did not know quite what to make of our little group. We were led to a multi-purpose room with walls covered in Braille volumes, a piano sat in the corner and in the center of the room where tables pushed together to make a larger conference table. This room reminded me of so many rooms I have personally seen in agencies for the blind back in the states. The only thing that stood out to me was the palette of boxed milk sitting off to the side of the room. In Mexico milk is often sold in vacuum sealed boxes so it can be stored without refrigeration, this has turned out to be very handy way to keep milk when provisioning our sailboat. Another administrator joined us and with Abe providing the translation we introduced ourselves and explained the Blind Circumnavigation and our personal experience working in the vision loss field. Upon hearing these details and then becoming comfortable with work history we could feel the apprehension evaporate in the room.

During our meeting we learned many things about the school: has been teaching children for sixty-five years. The school accommodates 150 students made up of sixty-five deaf children, forty blind children, and forty-five non-academic multiply disabled children. Although the school was originally a completely residential facility, they now house only fifteen resident students from areas where daily transportation to the school is not feasible, these students do travel home for weekends. The students range in age from five to fifteen, but some exceptions are made for special circumstances. The school provides academic instruction from kindergarten through sixth grade and multiply disabled students are served up to fifteen years of age. The school is privately funded through donations, and very little of the revenue is generated from parents as most families with students attending the school are financially impoverished. The school receives no funding from the Mexican government. We learned the school generally only serves families with financial difficulties because most wealthy Mexican families privately tutor blind children. Once students graduate from the school they are often integrated into private secondary schools, however many students do not advance further because in Mexico only elementary education is provided by the government and secondary and prep schools are all private schools. Sometimes even convincing parents to allow their children to attend the blind school is a challenge because families can raise more money be sending their children into the streets to beg. We were told a story about a bright young girl who was often absent from school for this reason and how school administrators have to work with her mother on an on-going basis to keep her in school.

We learned the one dog guide school that operated in Mexico was closed for two main reasons. First, many families who lived at or below the poverty lever were faced with the choice of feeding their family members or caring for the dog guides, the other obstacle was a misunderstanding of the dog’s role and many businesses were unwilling to allow entrance to service animals. There is currently no legislation in Mexico protecting the rights of dog guide users.

Another shocking revelation was more than a few of the children attending the blind school had correctable vision problems, but their families could not afford the medical treatment necessary to improve their vision. These students would most likely live out their lives as visually impaired people with financial resources being the only factor preventing them from improving their visual disability.

Next our discussion turned to employment, and we learned unemployment of disabled people was just as big a problem in Mexico as it is in the United States. However, we learned there is more of a push towards teaching skills that can lead to self-employment in Mexico. The philosophy for this employment direction comes from the belief it is far more difficult to change the views and open the minds of the non disabled employers than it is to train disabled people to be independent of relying on others to employ them. While this attitude frustrates me as a disabled person, there is a harsh pragmatic reality to this practice.

Before we knew it we had spent two hours just talking and we decided we should start the tour and see the school. The overall facility is very well maintained. Administrative offices occupied most of the front building facing the street, this building also houses the girl’s dormitory and the technology center, our first stop. Recently Hewlett Packard donated computers and funds for assistive technology. We entered a classroom with approximately ten computers, each loaded with Dolphin Supernova speech output and large print software and Freedom Scientific’s OpenBook scanning software. One workstation was equipped with a PowerBraille 40 electronic Braille display, also manufactured by Freedom Scientific. Overall, the technology classroom was better equipped than many I have seen in the United States. Apparently, prior to the donation of the new computers, the school had almost no technology resources. We did notice the school neither taught skills in nor had access to notetaking technology. We were introduced to a deaf-blind student who was in her last year at the school prior to going on to prep school. We used the Braille display to translate a conversation. We learned she wanted to study computers and become a computer technician. She also said she was a musician even though she could not hear the music, and that she played music through what little residual hearing she had and the vibrations from the piano. She asked if we would like a demonstration and of course we were delighted. We headed back to our initial meeting room. We listened to two well played songs (see our video clip) on the piano and thanked her for sharing her talent.

We were headed to the classrooms, but on our way down the hallway we were greeted by the Directora General Guadalupe Sobario de Inglesias. Senora Sobario de Inglesias is the daughter of the school’s founder and was responsible for bringing the deaf component to the school. She explained her mother’s passion was for the blind students and hers was for the deaf. She believes in the oral method of teaching deaf students and did not advocate the use of sign language for primary communication. She also wanted us to know she had made large strides in educating deaf-blind students both academically and through enhancing verbal communication. This she demonstrated to us by having a deaf-blind student feel her vocal cords and then replying back verbally. The Directora then excused herself to make a phone call, but said she would see us after the tour.

We were off again to visit the classrooms and meet the students. The classrooms were sparse with little more than the student’s desks, and all the rooms had class work decorating the walls. Our first stop was at the kindergarten class and the students were busy eating their morning snack. There were about six students in kindergarten. We were introduced to the class and we asked students for questions. We repeated this for each of the other grades, although we missed fifth grade because they were in the middle of a lesson, unfortunately this was also the class with the only blind teacher on staff. Overall we were impressed with the high quality of curriculum and the extremely polite student body. We found the students to be confident and inquisitive. All of the students had exceptional posture; none of the students demonstrated any stereotypical behaviors such as rocking their bodies. We found out Braille instruction started in the first grade and every student had a slate and styles on their desk regardless of their level of vision loss. There were very few Braille writers because of the cost and the difficulty of maintaining them. The sixth grade class was by far the most curious about us, and the students asked many questions including; what are schools for the blind like in the United States, and weren’t we scared out on the ocean sailing?

As we toured the classrooms we noticed a line of students traveling in a train holding onto each others shoulders for sighted guide. This prompted me to ask if students were taught to use a white cane or were taught orientation and mobility skills. We were told students were taught mobility skills and to use a white cane, but use of the cane in school was not encouraged, white canes were for use at home and outside of school. This was not our experience as we saw students arriving at school without the use of a white cane. We were also told sighted guide from the shoulder was preferred to the technique of guiding above the elbow taught in the states, because the elbow technique was seen as feminine and dependent, and more like being pulled around rather than guided. In short, sighted guide from the elbow conflicted with the male machismo.

We were then taken to visit the fifth grade deaf classroom. The teacher instructs the students using a wireless FM system and each student has a receiver. We witnessed no sign language being used. We were introduced and the students each introduced themselves and asked a question. The teacher then continued the geography lesson, and we were amazed at the high level of material being covered. Once outside, I asked our guides if they could answer the questions posed to the students, and we all confessed we had forgotten or did not know the answers. They explained the curriculum was accelerated since not all students could progress past sixth grade, and the school wanted to squeeze as much education in as possible.

Next we were taken to the playground which consisted of asphalt slab surrounded by a chain link fence, it reminded me of playgrounds in San Francisco where space is greatly limited. Students most often played Mexican football (soccer) despite their level of vision loss. In the center of the play area was a little girl running around at full speed. She would run without hesitation for about thirty feet, stop, and run back the other direction. Our guides called to her and she ran over to meet us. This student was only five years old and had lost her vision and eyes from glaucoma when she was three, her mobility and confidence in her environment were excellent. She was given a ball and she was off again. We were then introduced to the physical education teacher. We asked a number of questions and then the topic turned to goal ball. Goal ball is a game played throughout the world by visually impaired people and it is a competitive sport played at the international Paralympics. Well, apparently the school was given a grant to participate in goal ball at the world Paralympic games. So, the school traveled to the games and spent one night in an emergency training session learning how to play goal ball, they had not even heard of the game before. In the end the school came away with a gold medal and goal ball has been part of the schools physical education program ever since.

We stuck out heads into the boy’s dormitory long enough to see the room was decorated in Spiderman and the boys kept things neat as a pin. Our next stop was the cafeteria and kitchen. We met the cook who is also the mother of the deaf-blind girl we saw play the piano earlier in the day (her deaf-blind brother also attends the school). We were told the children ate lunch at 2:00 PM and the children helped set the tables and cleaned their own dishes after the meal. We asked what their favorite food was and after a few minutes of thought and a smile from the cook we were told that chocolate cake was the students’ favorite.

We headed back to the main administration building and on our way we poked our heads into the girl’s dormitory and it was decorated in Winnie the Pooh and kept just as neatly as the boy’s dormitory. As we waited to gather for our final meeting back in the multi-purpose room we heard music coming from the front atrium. There were four students working with the physical education teacher on a small stage. We were told they were practicing for the school’s exhibition, an annual event where schools get together and the senior class of each makes a presentation. This year’s presentation was going to be a dance routine. The very mismatched sixth grade students were quite a sight as they awkwardly attempted dancing with the opposite sex for the first time (see video clip).

We all gathered in the multipurpose room and it was our turn to share with the school administrators. We had brought many of the technology devices we use on the boat and in our daily lives. We demonstrated the VoiceNote notetaker with GPS used for navigation, the PocketViewer video magnifier we use for reading charts, our laptop computer with speech and large print, a Parrot digital recorder. We also had an array of magnifiers, telescopes and white canes. Many of the devices we demonstrated had never been seen before and there was a definite sense of mixed emotion in the room. On one hand the staff found the technology very exciting and on the other there was the frustration of futility because of the cost of the technology. As we made our demonstration we were joined again by the Directora General and when we were done our discussion turned back to funding. The Directora expressed her frustration with her constant battle for funding explaining the school had so much potential and yet they had such extreme financial limitations. I asked what the school’s annual budget was and was very surprised to learn they ran the entire operation for 150 students on less than a quarter of a million American dollars annually (excluding facility maintenance and building improvements). We expressed our complements on the fine job the school was doing even with their financial constraints and the school’s value for the money donated was extremely high. In all of my travels throughout the United States I do not believe I have seen so much high quality service provided at such a low cost, it just shows what can be accomplished when your resources are strictly finite and there are few prospects for additional funding. We said our goodbyes and exchanged contact information and thanked everyone for the wonderful tour. When we looked at our watches we realized that five hours had flown by and this was a delightful surprise after the awkward start to our meeting. We arrived as an unknown visitor to the school and left as friends and colleagues with much to share and learn from each other. As we were escorted to the front of the school we learned the school was originally started when the founder was seated at an outdoor café and witnessed a blind child digging in the trash, this fueled the inspiration that has led to the education of thousands of children in Mexico over the past sixty-five years, and it was obvious to us this passion is alive and well at the school today.

Our second visit of the day to the Escuela Para Ninas Ciegos de Guadalajara was not nearly as fruitful. Although we had made an appointment in advance with the school’s Director, when we arrived at the front gate we were met by Lupita the Director of the Boarding School. We were told the Directora General had a conflict and could not join us. We were not allowed to enter the school grounds but Lupita was happy to answer any of our questions. It was obvious to us we needed to be checked out before we would be allowed to tour the facility. We stood in front of the school introduced ourselves and asked some of our questions and we learned the school has twenty-one residential students, all girls. The students ranged from seven to seventeen years of age. Lupita who is also blind and a graduate student from the school explained the school is also privately funded and employment is the biggest hurdle the students face after graduation. We shared some stories of living with a vision loss and this seemed to warm Lupita, she then offered to reschedule the appointment for a tour of the school but we were unable to return because of our schedule. We thanked Lupita for her time and left without getting to visit the school beyond the front gates.

As we drove back to our hotel we all felt as though we had spent a very productive and insightful day visiting the two schools. Our goal to visit agencies and school throughout the world will no doubt be the most rewarding aspect of our voyage and we look forward to each new experience. There is so much to learn and share with our colleagues abroad and each new visit fuels the creativity of both the visitor and the host.