Boats, Planes, and Electric Cars: A Visit to the US

If you read our last blog post you’ll know we got some bad news about our 27-year-old oil-leaking diesel, Michael P. Engine. (Yes, that’s Kirk with all that hair, 27-years ago when we first installed the engine!) So we were hoping the engine fairy would help us out… Well, we’re here to tell you that there really IS an engine fairy! Or at least an engine mechanic who can actually FIX rather than replace old oil-leaking diesel engines.

In early July we were headed to the States for a family reunion. A week before we left, Kirk had a premonition that we were going to get some good engine news… Then just two days before we were leaving as we were scurrying around to get out of town, organizing cat sitting, etc., we randomly (or not so randomly?) met some new-to-PV sailboat cruisers from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, walking down the dock. In our brief chat, we found out that Ben was a mechanic who works on diesel boat and car engines around Lake Coeur d’Alene, and he offered to take a look at our engine.

We didn’t hold high hopes since we’d already had two other highly recommended engine mechanics look at our trusty steed Michael P Engine, and pronounce him unrepairable. But when Ben took a look he said: “I can fix this!” It turns out there was one big difference between Ben and the two other mechanics. Ben doesn’t sell new engines, he just fixes old ones, if he can. The other two mechanics both sell new engines in addition to working on old ones… but are possibly more motivated to sell new than fix old. Ca-ching, ca-ching!

Where the other two mechanics saw extreme pitting of the crankshaft that wasn’t repairable, Ben saw very slight pitting, which he was easily able to smooth out with some emery-cloth. He then installed a brand new oil seal in the oil pump, put the engine back together, and Michael P Engine fired right up!

WAHOO!! Kirk ran the engine for 4 hours and not one single drop of oil leaked out. Not ONE! A far cry from a quart every 24 hours that it had been leaking. And all for pennies on the dollar, much less than the cost and hassle of installing a new engine…not to mention the sustainability aspect of keeping our old engine going. We are SO grateful to Ben and his wife Andrea for their help and friendship. Be sure to check out Quality Auto & Marine Repair in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, if you are in need of any marine or automotive engine repairs. They ROCK!

With Michael P Engine fully operable again, we flew off to the States with happy hearts to visit family. We left Tosh & Tikka in the great hands of the Shanafelt family from m/v Noeta, who graciously moved into the condo to care for our gatos in our absence. They were happy to give Tosh his meds, play with Tosh & Tikka, and hang out in the pools, beach, and ocean. We are grateful to Alexa, Pat, Hailey, and Jack for their help. And a HUGE thanks to Gilligan-the-cat for letting his family come cat-sit ours, while other friends cat-sat for him aboard m/v Noeta.

Our trip to the US was a multi-destination family-oriented event. First stop Denver, where we Ubered to our appointment at the Apple store to drop off Heidi’s computer for a repair. Some of the things you take for granted in the US you just can’t get done in Mexico. After dropping off the computer, we grabbed two Greek salads at the mall food court, and almost choked on the $40 price tag!?! One of the perks of living in Mexico is that two can eat dinner out with excellent food for well under $15. Pros and cons to each country…it’s all a trade-off.

The next day we flew on to Idaho Falls to pick up our rental car to drive to Jackson Hole. When Hertz offered us an upgrade from a mid-size to a Prius for an extra $5/day, we jumped on it knowing we would more than make up the price difference by not buying as much fuel. And we only bought 20 gallons in 1,000 miles of driving! Plus driving a Prius is like driving a video game… When it appeared that we’d miss seeing Heidi’s best friend from high school, Nancy, by only one day, Nancy made arrangements to meet up with us in Idaho Falls for a quick lunch just after we arrived. So much fun to catch up with her and her son Connor.

Howdy Stranger, Yonder lies Jackson Hole!

We hadn’t been back to Jackson in over 4 years (the longest Heidi had ever been away) and boy has it changed! Heidi’s Ecuadorian brother Esteban was visiting Jackson with his wife Gioconda for Esteban’s high school reunion, so that motived all of Heidi’s immediate family to get together. Brother Arne and his wife Teresa still live in Jackson and hosted a big family gathering. Sister Kari and her son Tate flew in from Oregon, and brother Paul drove down from Bozeman. So much fun to see Esteban and hang out with all of Heidi’s siblings, nieces, nephew, and extended family too.

Big thanks to Pete and Mom-Jean for hosting us in Jackson and all the fun times together.
More thanks to Arne and Teresa for hosting us all in their newly remodeled kitchen and dining room too. The Boyz Table: Pete, Arne, Tate, Steve, Andy, Kirk, and Berg.
The Women’s Club: (front row) Matriarchs Nancy and Mom-Jean; (back row) Lori, Lily, Sarah-Jane, Caroline, Teresa, Annika, Heidi, and Kari.
The impetus for this family gathering… great fun to be with Ecuadorian-brother Estéban and his wife Gioconda again! Capitán Kirk, Heidi, Estéban, Paul, and Gioconda. Maybe we’ll be headed to Ecuador soon…

We all went on several family hikes including a couple of medicinal plant walks with Heidi’s Herbalist-mom Jean, and Grandpa Andy. We were even joined by our long-time friend Jared from Seattle, who also has a house in the Jackson Hole area. So fun to see him and catch up. Jared and his wife Karen sailed with us in the Sea of Cortez a few years ago.

Family hike… Naturalist Grandpa Andy and Mom-Jean talking about the green gentian plant and its uses.
After driving the Prius, Kirk was excited to drive his father-in-law Pete’s new Tesla. Pete is keen on getting everyone in the world to drive electric cars, and most of Heidi’s family either have electric or hybrid cars. We both drove the Tesla and found it to be very Space-X! Definitely a big step-up from the Prius we rented.
Spectacular view of the sunset over the Grand Tetons from the middle of the Snake River. THIS is why we prefer the evening float…
Esteban, Arne, Eric, Teresa, and Heidi evening float down the Snake River. It can get cold on the river in the evening with the wind blowing across the water… Heidi wasn’t the only one bundled up, but she probably had the most layers on!

The whole family took an evening float trip in Grand Teton National Park with Barker-Ewing Scenic Float Trips. The Barkers are life-long family friends. Heidi’s dad Verne was their first boatman back in the late 1960s, and Heidi grew up playing with their kids Leith and Eric around the rafts. It was wonderful to see Leith again… thanks so much for spoiling Tosh & Tikka rotten with FUN cat toys, they love them! Leith’s mom Barb joined us on the float trip as well. And we were honored to have Eric as our naturalist river guide, taking after Heidi’s dad with Eric’s excellent rafting skills along with his bad puns. Eric pointed out 9 bald eagles including two fledgling juveniles who were attempting to fly out of the nest! This was a highlight of the float, as we’ve seen zero bald eagles since leaving Seattle four years ago. Plus we saw lots of evidence of beaver and one beaver in the water, but sadly no moose or other big mammals.

We also got in Kirk’s favorite hike to Phelps Lake, the former Lawrence Rockefeller family vacation compound that they have since donated to Grand Teton National Park. Due to a very wet spring, the normal June wildflowers were out in full-color a whole month late, in July. They were SO beautiful, everything from pink sticky geranium and wild rose, and blue lupine and flax, to yellow daisies, red Indian paintbrush, and purple fireweed, it was a virtual rainbow of native wildflowers.

Kirk surveying the majesty and listening to Lake Creek babbling along, Grand Teton National Park.
The view looking across Phelps Lake toward the Tetons is usually the grand prize for making the 3-mile round-trip trek. However, this year the wildflowers were the best part of the hike.

We packed a lot into a brief week in Jackson, including a quick visit with Heidi’s childhood friend Janet, who lives in Boulder and runs a kids camp in Jackson each summer. Heidi also met up with a few of her Neal’s Yard Remedies customers and sales team in Jackson. And we visited dad Verne’s little house in the woods to check in on it. Plus we had a lovely evening at the Jackson Buddhist Songha Meditation with Nancy. To see as many friends as possible we organized a group dinner at Picas, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Jackson. Big thanks to Don and David for coming to dinner. Apologies if we didn’t see you on this trip… hopefully next time!

Janet and Heidi had been best friends for the one year (7th grade) that Janet had lived in Jackson. Somehow through letter writing, emails, texts, and phone calls, they’ve managed to stay in constant touch across the country and throughout the 40+ years.
We also checked on Heidi’s Dad’s little cabin in the woods. He built this house when Heidi and Paul were tiny kids…before Tiny Homes were a thing!
Our friend Don ‘Cush’ drove over an hour to meet up with us for dinner. Don is a long-time family friend and had been on our Grand Canyon River Expedition in 2005. He’s also one of our most ardent and appreciative blog readers. Thanks for making the trek to have dinner with us, Don. Great to see you!

From Jackson, we took the Prius on a beautiful road trip up through southeast Idaho, and the western edge of Yellowstone for a quick visit to Bozeman. We stopped to check out a few waterfall vistas along the way. And when we realized we’d be driving through Ennis, Montana, where Heidi’s old Aldus friend Audrey lived, we gave a phone call and found she was home! It was a fun, short visit with Audrey & Ken.

Panoramic view of the Cave Falls cascades on the Fall River, southwest Yellowstone. The Fall River flows into the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River downstream. This little-known entrance to Yellowstone is in the southwest corner of the Park. Enter in from the Idaho side before the road turns back into Wyoming. If you’ve never been here, it’s totally worth the 15-mile drive in from the highway. Interestingly the Idaho part of the road is gravel, once you hit the Wyoming state line it becomes paved again!? Such beautiful country!
You can see why Montana is called Big Sky Country… Wide-open spaces… the sunlight through the clouds highlighting the yellow mustard fields behind the horses. Lucky shot out the window as we flew by on the highway outside of Bozeman.
Heidi’s brother Paul and his fiancé Darcy. Welcome to the family Darcy!

So why drive to Bozeman besides the beautiful scenery? To visit Heidi’s brother Paul and meet his fiance Darcy, and Darcy’s daughter Maggie. We were the last of the family to finally meet them, and it was so much fun! One evening we had a fire in their firepit and Darcy got giant marshmallows… it has been years since we roasted marshmallows and we thoroughly enjoyed the entire sweet-and-sticky-mess. Thanks, Darcy, we might have to try that on the beach in Mexico when you come to visit! We also had a great visit over lunch with long-time family friends Jan and Joe, only sorry we forgot to get a photo of them!

Grateful to these crazy cousins, Eric & Nan, for meeting us at the SLC airport for a quick 20-minute visit. We love you guys to the moon and back and miss you so much… Come down and visit!

All too soon it was time to head back to Idaho Falls and fly to Albuquerque to visit Heidi’s Dad Verne and his wife Willa. Some of Heidi’s most favorite cousins live in Salt Lake City, and although we only had a 90-minute layover in Salt Lake, they were game to come to the airport for a quick visit. Kirk graciously stayed inside security with our bags while Heidi made a mad-dash out through security to meet up with cousins Eric & Nan. We hadn’t seen them in about five years, and it was so much fun to catch up, even if briefly. Heidi had to get back through security in time for the flight, and just as she got back inside… they delayed our flight by 90-minutes! Damn… we could have both gone out through security and out to dinner with Eric & Nan if we’d known a few minutes earlier.

Lunch with Willa and Dad-Verne… always a PUN time! 🙂

On to ABQ arriving late at night… grateful for our fantastic AirBnB Hosts Carl & Sharon who we’ve stayed with many times now. They are Super-Hosts and super convenient to Heidi’s Dad’s. Plus Carl is also a Lyft driver who will pick you up at the airport, and take you back at ungodly hours of the morning or night. If you’re ever in Albuquerque, we highly recommend staying with Carl & Sharon.

Can’t go anywhere without juice and Verne and Willa were grateful to their son-in-law Kirk for all of his help around their house and property, not to mention with the cars!
Speaking of cars… Look out NASCAR here comes Kirk Unser… he had such a fun time at the Unser Race Car Museum… the only downside was the race car simulator was broken. Next time…

Our visit with Heidi’s Dad Verne and his wife Willa was short but packed full of helping them out with things like jumping a dead car, household and yard chores, and filling bird feeders. Verne loves watching all the songbirds that come to his window. Plus we had some fun meals out, all-in-all a good time spent together. Since Verne & Willa retire early, we also had a couple of delicious dinners with our friend Luba, but forgot to take any photos! And Kirk finally got to visit the Unser Race Car Museum. He loved it!

Next stop Denver/Boulder. This was our third time passing through the DEN airport on this trip, and we’ve gotta say, as much as we’ve traveled around the globe, it is the WORST airport we have EVER been through. Avoid it like the plague if you can. So cumbersome, up and down escalators, you get dropped off at one floor, have to go up two floors to check-in, then back down a floor to go through security, no stairs that we could find… and all in all, a major run-around-hassle every way you look at it. Even getting the rental car shuttle was a hike with your bags. No bueno! For a relatively “new’ international airport, they totally missed the mark in so many ways, including lack of signage.

On the plus side, we arrived DEN at 6:30am (after Carl kindly took us to the airport at 3am!), so we got our rental car by 7:30am and were off to downtown Denver to pick up Heidi’s computer. Oh wait, Apple doesn’t open until 10am… Luckily, we found a great breakfast spot near-by, called Syrup. Excellent food and very gluten-free friendly (GF pancakes and waffles!) and a ton of different syrups to try. Finally, with computer in hand, we headed for Boulder to check out that cool college town and walk through the colorful Pearl Street pedestrian mall.

Walking into Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary & Supplies was like a throwback to walking into Heidi’s mom Jean’s Herb Store in Jackson, Wyoming 30+ years ago. It smelled exactly the same! Contrary to what you might be thinking, being in Boulder, Colorado, a 420-state… that’s not the type of herbs we were after! We needed to stock up on some of the traditional Western medicinal herbs that we can’t find in Mexico, like elderflower and yarrow.

One of the places on our Boulder Bucket list was to check out Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary & Supplies. The reason we sought out Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary is that we’d just finished watching the extremely educational docuseries Remedy: Ancient Medicine for Modern Illness. Rebecca had been one of the herbalists interviewed. We were quite impressed with all the knowledge she imparted in this documentary, and when we realized she was in Boulder, and we were going there… we had to stop in. Such a great gal in person too, we really enjoyed chatting with her. If you’re ever in Boulder her shop is well worth a stop.

So much fun to spend time with Andy and Janet. Thanks for your wonderful hospitality and for being our mail-stop. Next time we’ll stay longer and hike more!

That night we stayed with our friends Janet and Andy. Janet (who we’d seen briefly in Jackson) was just back home from running her kids’ summer camp, and it was so great to have a good visit with them. Janet & Andy’s wedding 20-some years ago is still one of the most memorable we’ve ever been to… and not because of the Macarena dance! Even though we only see them once every 5-10 years in person, we pick right back up where we left off… the sign of true friends. They also graciously acted as our “mail stop” to have some Amazon orders and our mail sent from Seattle. That night was like Christmas as we opened boxes and re-packed everything into duffle bags for our checked luggage. New shoes, vitamins and supplements, organic protein powder, and other food items that we can’t easily get in Mexico. Thankfully we flew Southwest which allows for two free checked bags per person!

Another early morning Denver airport run, this time Heidi dropping Kirk off for his flight back home to Mexico, and to relieve the Shanafelts of Tosh & Tikka duty. Many thank again Alexa et al! Heidi stayed on in the Denver-area through the weekend for her Neal’s Yard Remedies annual conference, where she was asked to speak on Creating Effective Newsletters. It was great fun to hang out with old friends like Cathy, Anne, and Jonna from Missoula (who visited us in PV last year), and learn about Neal’s Yard Remedies latest products.

Heidi was honored to be asked to speak about Creating Effective Newsletters at NYR Organic’s annual conference for sales consultants. She was also pleasantly surprised to receive a Top Team Sales award for her Team’s sales of over $100,000!

After almost five-years with Neal’s Yard Remedies, an amazing ethical, sustainable UK-based company, Heidi is still as passionate as ever about helping people remove toxins from their health and beauty products. Shockingly, the average woman is exposed to 150+ toxic chemicals a day in her health and beauty products. Yikes!! Please message Heidi if you’d like free samples of truly organic, toxin-free products including the new Frankincense Intense Hand Treatment Serum, which is clinically proven to repair sun-damaged hands.

The lighter side of Neal’s Yard Remedies conference, photo-ops with roomies Anne and Jonna. Always a good time, doing good for the planet and the people!

One last trip to the Denver airport and it was time for Heidi to fly home. While it was fantastic to visit so many family and friends in our two-week whirl-wind trip to the US, not to mention stocking up on our Trader Joe’s favs and a few other things we can’t get south of the border, overall the US seems like a ZOO to us, and we much prefer the slower-paced, peaceful life in Mexico. If you’re tired of the rat-race, come down and visit on the FUN side of the wall!

Heidi had great seat-mates on the flight back to PV, our new friends Lisa & Tim from Nashville, Tenessee area. When they started picking Heidi’s brain about things to do in Puerto Vallarta and mentioned where they were staying, it turned out they were staying at the same condo complex where we’re currently condo sitting! So we shared a taxi from the airport to the condo, then met up a few times at the pool.

Playa Colomitas is a lush blue-green tropical paradise. You can only reach it by hiking along the Guacamaya trail or by boat. It’s a favorite spot for Mexicans to enjoy the weekend.
Lisa and Heidi cooling off in this refreshing waterfall at Playa Colomitas, the one-quarter-way reward on this hot jungle hike. Three quarters still to go and no more waterfalls…but lots of beaches.
Ahhhh… the reward near the end of the hike. Fueling up with agua maracuya (Passion Fruit water) and lunch at Maraikas Beach Club with Tim & Lisa, before we finish the last half-mile of this hike to Las Animas.

Lisa and Tim asked about the jungle-beach hike from Boca de Tomatlan to Las Animas, along the south coast of Banderas Bay, which is only accessible by hiking trail or boat. It takes some local knowledge to get there, so we invited ourselves along to be their trail guides. This time of year (rainy season) the jungle is so lush and green and the waterfalls were a welcome relief from the heat. Be sure to check out some of the other jungle photos in our photo gallery below. Someone had also walked the trail ahead of us, dropping tropical flower petals along the way: fragrant jasmine and plumeria, and beautiful pink, then yellow, then purple flower petals for the whole 3-mile+ hike. What fun!

Now that Michael P. Engine is raring to go again, we plan to sail south at the end of Hurricane Season (mid- to late November) to Tenicatita, Bara de Navidad, and Manzanillo area, and possibly as far south as Zihuatanejo by February… then likely making our way back north into the Sea of Cortez in April and May, before returning to Banderas Bay for next Hurricane season. Of all the cruising grounds in Pacific-coast Mexico, we feel that Banderas Bay (and particularly Marina Vallarta) is the safest place to be during hurricane season. Just remember, our plans are always written in sand at low tide…

If you want to see the real Mexico, come on down and visit us in one of these locales next winter or spring. Smooth sailing for the rest of your summer. Big thanks again to all of the friends and family who hosted us in the US. It was so wonderful to see all of you!

Tikka & Tosh send their love, as do we! xo

More Photos…

Click images to enlarge and see captions.

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