Monday, December 29, 2008

Last note on Zehuatanejo

Last note on Zehuatanejo – Check the pictures of the live wild animals in Webshots.
We set out walking to find a large supermarket we were told about – a Costco type of store, which do seem to exist in most of the big towns we have been in. We like to walk, by doing so we see more of what it is like to live here in Mexico, plus it takes us away from being seen as the gringos who get off the massive cruise ships/marks to sell to.
So off we went with a vague idea where it was. We do ask for directions – i.e. quando es commercial/mexicana supermercado?, the question is easy - understanding the answer is not. After forty five minutes of walking in brain boiling heat and asking directions twice from very helpful locals we hadn’t got there yet. By this time we had refused about 10 invitations to ride buses from the boys who jump out of the bus in front of you to tell you where they are going, and about 20 invitations from cabs which only cost 20 pesos ($2). Oh no, we want the true Mexican experience (don’t see too many of them walking).
I started this last note on Zehuatanejo just to tell you what we saw on the way. We passed a site where a circus tent was being erected and were very surprised to see that they had real lions and tigers and camels and monkeys in cages. Plus some very tiny horses, one so small it stood under the trailer it was tied to, smarter that us out in the sun. I don’t think circuses in Canada and US are allowed to have those wild animal acts anymore – are they? Anyway we were surprised to see them. We liked Zehuatanejo very much; we felt welcome there, liked the anchorage, found it easy to take our dinghy ashore, and were very pleased to have the dinghy taken care of by a lovely Mexican called Nathanial, who referred to me as La Reigna (the Queen), as he helped Tony to pull the dinghy ashore, while I was allowed to sit tight until on dry sand. Luxury.
We stayed 4 days in Z – Town, as some people call it, leaving on December 19th heading for Huatulco. At this point we were talking about where we would want to be at Christmas – underway heading across the Tehuantepec? Or tucked into a marina in Huatulco with new friends Margarita and Ventura who were to be there with their friends Chris and Jerry on Misty Michael.
We opted for Huatulco which is where we have spent Christmas and will stay here until after Tony’s birthday on January 1st.

From Zehuatanejo to Huatulco
This trip was fairly uneventful, and did seem very long. We do 2 hour watches during the night, which we will consider changing to 3 hour watches, the 2 hours sleep doesn’t seem to work too well, but the 2 hours on watch does. We were motoring or motor sailing most of the way, and we did have a couple of days of perfect on the beam 10 – 15 kn winds where we could put up all of our sails including the stay sail and truck along on a fairly flat sea at 6 knot and more. Those times make up for the monotony of motoring.
Though – on the plus side of motoring, it seems we have far more dolphin company when we are motoring. In fact every night watch, every night we were surrounded by dolphins.
Imagine looking out in to dark water all around you, and imagine that under that water are hundreds of dophins with high powered flash lights strapped on their backs which come on and off intermittently, and then they light up their entire body as they charge the boat broadside and swim alongside the bow wave – not one dophin – lots of dolphins. That sure breaks up the monotony of motoring. They just seem to love to play with the boat – race with it.
During the day we also saw manta rays leaping and flipping out of the water, turtles mating – now that’s a clumsy affair, especially when the female notices the boat going by, and struggles like crazy to dive underwater. There are lots of turtles here in the water thanks to countries like Canada boycotting the use of turtle products.
This coastline around Huatulco is quite spectacular – in the background are the very tall Sierra Madre mountains, in front of those lower forested hills (deciduous trees and tall cacti) and in front of those at the water’s edge, high sand dunes which have broken away to form low cliffs. Then the cliffs are eroded away at intervals into deeply set-in bays with clean sandy beaches, coral forever and lovely clear water teaming with beautiful tropical fish.
When we came to a bay called Chachacual we pulled in – very carefully as the entrance is marked by pretty craggy rocks and reefs, further in was another little bay called Indio Bay – gorgeous. We stayed 2 nights because we liked it so much, occasionally small Mexican party boats came in, but they only added to mood, we were also joined by 3 other sailboats, who were all friends and had come there to celebrate Christmas.
We snorkeled, sunbathed and got lots of sleep.
We came into Chahue Marina, which is only a few years old, on the 23rd and were welcomed by our friends Margarita and Ventura, Chris and Jerry and Delphin and Fernando, who are docked next to us.
This is a very nice small marina with a few live-aboards; Doug and Suzie, who pulled in here 3 years ago for a couple of hours and never left. They are from Alaska, and Doug is now La Crucecita’s resident Santa – he’s got the right looks. Chuck and Diane who have lived here almost 2 years, and a couple of transient Canadian boats.
We spent Christmas Day evening at a fabulous dock party arranged by Doug and Suzie. They brought in a really good band who covered a lot of music we know, but the lead singer really excelled when she sang a couple of Mexican folk songs. We were all spell-bound. It was a great party, we all contributed to the meal and had tons to eat.
Now we’ve been here 4 days and we are almost locals. We’ll be here a few more and then head out to Costa Rica.
We’re intending to by-pass Nicaragua, El Salvadore and Guatemala, just as a time consideration. Its 9.45am and we’re heading off to town to do some shopping before the mid-day sun. Remember the song – Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun. Well this sun’s heat will turn Englishmen into mad dogs.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Las Hadas

Tenacatita – Here we met other cruisers – Ultima, a steel hull who are back from world cruising where they had become friends with Hans and Roos from The Wind Cries, a boat we met in Sausalito earlier this year. There were a couple of other seasoned cruisers aswell – a couple of men cruising on a power boat, Mike and Tom . Tom had a pretty gruff manner, but a lot of useful information to impart, whether you wanted to hear it or not. Plus a couple of other boats who had also cruised Mexico quite extensively.
When we tell people where we are going, we usually get odd looks and the question, why would you want to leave Mexico? I must admit that the question crosses my mind quite often too – and I suppose if we happen across a place that we love as much as the home we have in Canada and it happens to be in Mexico then maybe we’ll become one of the many gringos who stay. It hasn’t happened yet.
Tenacatita Bay has a lot to offer a cruiser who wants to stay a week or two – we had a couple of days so we narrowed it down to swimming off the boat and the ‘jungle river tour’. Actually it was quite exciting really. We had the small 2 hp Honda engine on the dinghy which meant we went slow. The write-up on the trip told us to estimate about 3 hours, so that we could stop and row sometimes so as not to disturb the wildlife. We did do this at the beginning of the ride. That was before we almost got mowed down by the 3 pangas giving ‘extreme river rides’ to hotel guests from somewhere. There really isn’t any room for passing in the river – unless one boat (guess which one?) gets squashed into the mangroves. The first 2 boat drivers were quite nice to us and gently passed us with apologies for our discomfort. The 3rd driver revved his motor as he passed us deliberately creating enough wave to swamp us. Well there’s always some ---hole isn’t there.
The mangrove swamp reportedly houses crocodiles – which thankfully we didn’t meet, millions of red crabs running up and down the roots of mangrove tree trunks and quite a few beautiful birds. I’m sure if you did this tour very early in the morning before the pangas start coming through you would see a lot more – well maybe next time.
At the end of the one and a half hour toodle up the river we arrived at Tenacatita beach – quite a bustling place, many palapa restaurants on the beach – quite a few people but certainly not crowded. We did go into one of the restaurants and had a pretty good lunch. We were told by other cruisers to try the fish role – Rollo de Mar. It’s a decent size fillet of fish wrapped around some pretty big shrimp, dipped in batter, deep fried and covered with a wonderful coarse almond sauce. I can’t wait to have that again, it was truly worth risking the river trip to get to.
This was the only time since we have been in Mexico this time that we were ‘bothered’ by beach vendors. We know everyone has to make a living, and we are sorry that they had nothing we wanted, but one does get a bit sick of saying no, gracias every couple of minutes – quite often to the same person who won’t leave your table while you are trying to relax on their beautiful beach.
Something we had never seen before was a cradle holding a very young sleeping baby in the tienda/store we went into. The cradle was a big wooden cage completely enclosing the baby in screening material. What a good idea to ensure the baby is not wakened by biting flies etc.
Speaking of biting flies – another first. At Tenacatita Anne and I both sustained many, many, many bites on the legs and arms – not mosquitos, but some small fly, which unfortunately we still have quite a few of in the boat – a week later.
So from Tenacatita we headed to Las Hadas, which is in Bahia Santiago, better known for the town called Manzanillo.
Las Hadas is a huge hotel/condominium complex built in the 60’s. The outside design looks so much like the Mediterranean, all white stucco walls which morph into towers, domes and spinarettes, integral staircases with bougainvillas everywhere.
We anchored in a very calm spot right outside the marina breakwater alongside 3 other boats – The Wind Cries from Holland, Paisan from Nanaimo and a couple of other boats we do not remember the names of. We met a chap called John who seems to have set up residence in the anchorage. John is very grateful to the locals who helped him when he was ill recently. So he encourages new yatistas arriving to frequent their businesses. The couple who are cruising on Paisan are Canadians who came from Uruguay originally, a lovely couple we hope to meet up with again in Huatulco, which is where we may be for Christmas.
The Las Hadas resort also owns the marina, and for 150 pesos we were able to use the hotel facilities, ie. Tie up our dinghy in the marina, use the pool, and hang out in the amazing lobby of the hotel. This lobby looked like a set from Casablanca, absolutely gorgeous furniture – very comfortable couches etc. But no Bo. (Bo Derek from 10)
The town of Manzanillo is quite similar to Mazatlan, or I’m sure many other towns in Mexico, with narrow cobble streets, crumbling stucco buildings with tiny shop fronts selling anything from leather goods to clothes pegs. We got to the municipal market a bit late but it was still pretty good – these are definitely the places to buy fresh produce though the meat counters are quite intimidating. As we got on the bus to come back to the anchorage some musicians also got on. They played a couple of pan pipe – bongo type songs for about 10 minutes, then one of them walked around the bus with his hand out and everyone gave him some money. Dick gave him something from us. They then immediately stopped playing and got off at the next stop.
About 15 minutes later a clown got on the bus – he was a really horrible clown and kept screeching propaganda against the Americanos. He was so annoying and his voice sounded like fingernails scraping down a blackboard. Thank God our stop came up and we were able to get off the bus. You sure do get your money’s worth on those suicide busses. Not only the thrill of a lifetime, but a bit of education too. All for 5 pesos.
So it was time for Anne and Dick to go home – we spent the afternoon around the pool like any other guest, swimming, sunbathing and drinking pina coladas, then we went to Dinner at an Italian restaurant in the Marina. It just opened a couple of days ago and has very few customers yet. The food was pretty good – great pizza. The best thing that restaurant has in their bread. They make great bread. I spoke to the owner and suggested that they sell the bread in the marina to the yatistas. There is very little good bread to be had in Mexico because its not in their normal diet. He thought it was a good idea and I bought a loaf from him. Actually it was half a loaf because they make very big loaves.
When we got back to the boat we had a little goodbye ceremony. In particular we promoted Dick from Swab to Mate and gave him a commemorative t-shirt, which had a pretty laid back bloke in deck chair at the beach and a bunch of Spanish we didn’t understand, but liked the picture. I wrote Mate underneath the picture. We gave Anne a little ankle bracelet so that she would look a little more like a cruiser (sort of hippyish), and then we all went to bed.
Tony took Anne and Dick to the hotel lobby at 6.45 next morning and they bussed back to Puerto Vallarta to catch their plane home. We were glad to be able to give them a little of the experience of cruising in Mexico as a preview of what they will be doing next year.
And they gave us their friendship and help along the way. I’m sorry that they have to go back to the cold, but also a little envious that they will be with their families during Christmas – and we won’t.
On our way to Zihuatanejo - at time of writing we have left Las Hadas and are sailing – yes I said sailing, we’ve got little wavelets – between 5 – 10 kn wind and we’re sailing at about 4 kn and the boat is pretty stable, enough for me to be below and typing. More later

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Punta Ipala to Manzanillo

It took us about 5 hours to motor around from Yelapa to Punta Ipala - this being the start of many very craggy rocky premontories. We anchored in about 40 feet in rock and were quite dismayed to see that the water was literally filled with small jelly fish. There were actually 3 distinct species - a round clear jelly fish about 1 1/2" diameter which look pretty benign, then a long very thin stringy one with little dots all along it, these sting - I've met them before, and then a tiny little dot/prism thing which reflected all colors. Well we had been roasting all day on the boat and needed to cool off. I have a thin suit which I wear under my dive suit which I call a luge suit so I was pretty well covered, Dick borrowed one of Tony's suits and Tony went in shorts and t-shirt - we didn't swim for long.
This tiny little bay had a few large palapas on the shore with hundreds of empty chairs - in fact nobody around, but once they saw a boat in the bay - the only boat - they cranked the music up to entice us in. We didn't want to launch the dinghy here so we stayed put, intending to leave early next morning to get to Chemala.
Chemala is a bigger bay, lots of room to anchor, no rocks, no other boats - looked like it would be easy to go ashore through the small surf and swimmable. Being able to jump off the boat when we arrive at an anchorage is important - we get pretty hot on the way and we need to move around -swimming is a great way to do these things. We liked Chemala, even though we didn't do very well coming ashore; coordinating the wave series and getting 3 people out of the dinghy is a challenge. So I went right under, camera and all, but as you can see from webshots the camera is still working. We walked into 'town', a street which runs parallel to the shore, found a store owned by a very nice woman who spent the time to educate us on a few things in Spanish while her son picked miniature limes off their tree for us.
Another little store further down the road - mostly dirt track - had the diesel oil we needed and could not find in Walmart or the fuel station in Puerto Vallarta. We also sat under a palapa here and enjoyed a cold one while watching very little happen.
In this bay we were again surrounded by small fish - about 6 inches long - thousands of them hiding from the birds in the shelter of our boat. The water birds were diving very close to our boat. As the birds dived into the water we started to see much bigger fish - about 3 feet long swimming towards the birds. These fish looked like yellow fin tuna, but we think they are probably jack fish or something less desirable - otherwise why would the ever present pangas bother to go out of the bay to fish.
Chemala to Tenacatita - a bigger bay with some other boats in it. And a 'jungle' river cruise.
(more to come on that)
We are leaving Las Hadas now and I will post again - probably at Zihuatanejo, 200 miles south of here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Puerto Vallarta to Las Hadas, Manzanillo

And no Bo Derek. From the time we picked up Anne and Dick in Puerto Vallarta to the time we dropped anchor outside Las Hadas Hotel where the movie '10' was filmed we heard quite alot about Bo Derek from Tony, who was looking forward to seeing her run down the beach towards him beaded braids and her most natural assets akimbo - not to be. But more about that later.
We left PV on Tuesday 2nd December heading for Yelapa, a small, rolly and very quiet - while we were there - bay just before rounding Cabo Corrientes. We had hoped, having spent 2 very hot days in a marina cleaning the boat, that we would be able to swim at Yelapa, but the water was quite murky and very rolly - not very inviting. We were greeted by a panga at the bay opening and invited to use the only moorage buoy available for 200 pesos. We said that our anchor worked well enough thankyou - so he put the price down to 100 pesos, and we thought that would it would be worth paying that much not to put out the anchor.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A day in Puerto Vallarta

And quite a day it has been. We started out eating breakfast at a version of De Dutch Pancaoke House - fortunately they also did a pretty good Mexican style breakfast, found the Marina Office and also fortunately found out that the moorage fee was actually quite reasonable.

Then a trip into old Puerto Vallarta on one of those suicide busses. As we rattled along we were serenaded by a septegenarian guitar player who somehow managed to hold himself upright as we hurtled along at what appeared to be about 80mph. Tony made friends with a really gregarious little boy with a miniature motorbiclette that he wanted Tony to guess which hand it was hidden in - over and over and over.
We walked around one of the artisan markets and watched Mexican Indians doing incredible beadwork. Sometimes the beads are worked into necklaces and bracelets which we have all seen before, but others carve masks or animals shapes and then coat them in a very sticky substance then painstakingly stick tiny colored beads all over them.
We also visited a beautiful Cathedral which was kept up in perfect condition and was filled with hundreds of vases of flowers.
You know the saying that good news travels fast, but bad news travels alot faster. Beware visitors of Senor Frog - the one near the Cathedral. $100 pesos for a margarita. The going rate for a margarita anywhere so far has been maximum $40 pesos. When we complained to the server he said "I only work here". So in protest I will just bad mouth them for ripping us off.
Then back on the bus - this one actually quite sedate - to Walmart and more craziness.
We were all armed with our provisioning list but it still took what seemed like a couple of hours to get all that we needed. And now its done and stowed and we'll leave Puerto Vallarta tomorrow to head further south.
At time of writing Tony is initiating Dick and Anne to life aboard Moondancer, which basically means watching Captain Ron - the Simpsons will come later. Dick is swab and Anne is galley wench.

Mazatlan to Puerto Vallarta via Isla Isabela

November 30th – Left Mazatlan – went to Puerto Vallarta via Isla Isabela

The last thing we did in Mazatlan was to climb to the top of the hill which houses the second highest lighthouse in the world – that’s what the guide book said, and that’s how I felt when we got to the top. Of course my much younger and fitter husband politely waited for me a few times which gave him a little rest too. It was worth the climb, the view over the whole of Mazatlan was incredible, plus we marveled at the effort that had been put into building the path and stairs back in the early 1900’s aswell as the building at the top which looks like a bomb shelter but is in fact a place to buy much needed water at the summit.

Then on to Isla Isabela, 1 1/2miles long x 1/2mile wide - a bird sanctuary known to be the home of only 5 species of bird, in the thousands and iguanas. The guide books say that anchoring is risky because it’s a very rocky place, but it will be worth the effort once you go ashore.
It was – on both counts - the anchoring was tricky, out first drop put us so close to a submerged rock that we could have used it as a table at low tide. We were trying to make sense of the description of the rock – ‘identify the oily slick covering a submerged rock….’, when all of a sudden this large window appeared in the water just behind our boat. That’s exactly what it looked like – a window to the bottom of the water and the rock. We moved closer to the sharp rocky cave with crashing waves which looked so much more attractive than the table top rock. The wind did what it was supposed to after an hour or so and held us off both hazards all night and while we went ashore to see the Boobies.

Imagine Tony’s disappointment when the thousands of blue and yellow footed boobies turned out to be birds. We took our dinghy ashore and tied up next to a group of pangas belonging to fishermen who probably live in San Blas about 30 miles away, but stay in large corrugated tin sheds while fishing on Isla Isabela.
Even though we knew that the island was home to thousands of birds it was a bit of a surprise to walk around them at such close quarters. All species are large birds - especially the frigate birds and they nest in very small trees. So – as we walked around we were mostly head height to very large birds sitting in the trees on nests or just on the branches. They quite often seem to fall off these branches or the branches just break under the weight of the huge bird. The majority of birds that we saw were the Frigates who look like giant bats in flight. The blue footed booby colony was on the ground and seem to just nest on the edges of rocks. The babies are lovely white fluffy things with – of course – blue feet and funny little black faces. While we were snorkeling later in the day under an outcropping of rocks we saw a mother and baby just standing on the edge of the rock – just standing there all of the time waiting for the baby to grow up – and hoping it doesn’t fall off after all of that standing.
We walked into the island a little ways – actually just where the long grass had been cut into a path – not wanting to get bitten by anything dangerous. We came to a concrete building which had a couple of tents up inside the building. The concrete walls were about 18” thick and it looked like it had been built to withstand hurricanes – which hardly hever happen here. The building was another of those mysteries – nobody in it except a couple of hundred iguanas walking around as casual as you please – some parts of it falling apart – electrical wires pulled out and left bare, the tents which we think housed research students and one whole side of the building had undergone some renovations – offices with new sliding glass doors leading out onto – rough land with blue footed boobies nesting in the long grass. So we joined the iguanas for a casual look around, found nobody to ask questions of, and left.
Back through the birds, down to the fishermen who didn’t seem to be interested in us at all, so Tony gave the things we had brought to trade to the first fisherman we close enough to talk to, and back to the boat.
Pulling up the anchor was not as horrible as we thought it would be, we had to drive around a few rocks that we had surrounded with our chain, but as the anchor was not actually imbedded in anything it followed up the chain without too much trouble.And we were off to Puerto Vallarta to pick up Anne and Dick who had flown down to spend some time sailing with us away from the cold of Vancouver. It took them 5 hours to fly here and 3 months for us to sail here.