The title of this entry is perhaps a bit mis-leading. We've not made it to Puerto Vallarta proper. We're still on the outskirts, holed up in a town named La Cruz de Huantacaxtle which thankfully, everyone calls La Cruz for short. My reaction to how the last part of the name is said goes something like "you wanna what?"
The overnight from Mazatlan (Good Lord, I almost spelled that wrong...) was a calm, pleasant motor. Melody and I took turns at the helm, alternating naps on the bench alongside. Arriving just outside San Blas as morning light broke, we went a few miles beyond the formal entrance to San Blas and onto Mantachen Bay, where we anchored out among several boats from the Baja Ha-Ha, including one of the new Lagoon catamarans we saw on the Ha-Ha named L' Obsession.
We took an hour or two nap first thing but were awoken by the VHF radio on which the morning channel 22 net had begun. The San Blas net is hosted by a local who goes by the radio moniker of Jama, but who's real name is Norm. I can't say we'd been warned about Jama, but we did hear about him in Mazatlan. His reputation certainly precedes him as the saying goes. He and his wife have lived in San Blas for over 40 years. I guess you can either view Norm as a pest or as a resource, but we're of the resource bent and checked in with him that morning as did several other boats around us. The vast majority of boats seemed to prefer radio silence.
Jama queried all of us about where were from, details about our boats etc., which seemed a bit intrusive, but then he backed off and let us all know about dinghy thefts that had occurred in the past and a boat break-in that had happened only 10 days earlier, warning us about leaving our boats at anchor in the bay unattended. He gave us his suggestions about where to leave dinghies safely on the beach should we be planning to come ashore. All good stuff really.
After the net, a number of us tried to check in via radio with the Port Captain (Capitania de Puerto) as is required in San Blas. This is something of an anachronistic practice required at many ports and anchorages in Mexico. Why this is required, I'm not sure, but it certainly gives Mexico a feeling of being something of a throwback to an earlier time. I guess the other part of the whole check-in process that also gives it that throwback feeling is that while checking in is said to be "required" it feels more like "do so if you can, but if you can't - oh well. You tried."
So on this morning we tried. So did L'Obsession. Only the boat Healing Touch seemed to actually raise anyone official. We were unsuccessful. We called over to L 'Obsession and asked them about their shore-side plans, as we wished to go into town, but didn't have anyone we could leave onboard for security as suggested by Jama. It turned out they had 6 people on board, two of whom did not wish to go to town and who volunteered to watch both our boats while we were all gone. They also had too many people for the their dinghy to make the trip to shore in one leg, so we went over and picked up a couple of their crew, I guess trading a ride ashore for security services.
Meeting up with the crew of L 'Obsession was a great stroke of luck for us, as they had several fluent Spanish speakers in their group. They all wanted to take the famous San Blas "jungle tour" as did we, so we hitched our wagon to their itinerary and tagged along. San Blas is NOT a tourist town and tagging along with a group of excellent Spanish speakers really paved the way for us that day. It also drove home our need to continue working on our Spanish.
The jungle tour was a kick, spending the morning riding aboard an outboard driven 20' Panga deep into mangrove that eventually opened up into jungle. We saw amazing wildlife, the highlight of which was American Crocodiles. Big ones. At the very end of the waterway was a small facility where they bred Crocs (no, not the shoes) and had more than a dozen large ones in various pens. Ever touched a crocodile? They're soft! I guess I should have guessed that considering how often they seem to get converted into shoes and handbags. They also have really big teeth - and I mean really BIG teeth.
The surprise for me was their Jaguar. They had one in a pen and when I walked over to look at her, she walked over to me and started rubbing her body against the bars of the pen door like she wanted a good rub behind the ears. Kinda like a cat, huh? I could not help but accommodate her, reaching through the bars (ignoring the sign that warned you not to do so...) and scratched her behind the ears, around her neck, under her chin. Good kitty! Then a group walked up to see what I was doing and my one-on-one with her was suddenly over. Like a typical cat, she didn't care for a crowd and walked away. I won't call myself a cat whisperer, but I certainly do like them (Helix - I miss you!) and this is one encounter I will never forget.
That day ended with an evening aboard L' Obsession. Besides enjoying the good company, L' Obsession is a new Lagoon 450 catamaran and our boat Double Diamond is the now discontinued Lagoon 440, which the 450 replaced in the Lagoon model line-up. The evening allowed us an opportunity to do a deep one-on-one comparison. The upshot? We would love to live aboard the new 450, but would prefer to sail our "old" 440.
In our ever-so-humble opinion... Lagoon has done a fabulous job of expanding the interior volume of the 450 over the 440, re-arranging the layout in a thoughtful and compelling manner. It's much more comfortable for a large group and even more Euro-contemporary in design than our 440. The trade-off is less exterior deck space mid-ship. This tight squeeze on the exterior deck rather crowds movement fore and aft (where would our kayaks go?). It also has a spread-out helm arrangement that puts more space between the winches and the steering wheel, making it seem a bit less viable for single-handing under sail.
We'll keep our 440 awhile longer, but hey Lagoon, if you're listening... We hope that the new 500 is a downsized version of the 560, not an upsize of the 450. That would be a really cool cruising cat that might turn our heads. And empty our savings account, but whatever. We can talk about that.
The next day, we sailed about 20 miles south to the next anchor-able bay, Chacala. Jama had warned everyone that this was a very crowded anchorage and that the next anchorage south of it would be a better bet. Sorry Jama, Chacala was empty. We were the only boat there.
Chacala is small bay with a crescent beach similar to Tribune Bay on Hornby Island in BC. Unlike the beach at Tribune, which is pretty empty of structures, the beach of Chacala is backed by a small traditional village and lined with Palapa style restaurants serving their trademarked (well, not really) style of flat-filleted grilled fish. Walking the beach, we asked an American which place she might recommend and in addition to getting a tip on which place to try, we found out, no, she's Canadian and has lived the last 20 years on Hornby Island - when she's not in Chacala. Crazy. To stand on the beach in Chacala and look out at Double Diamond anchored in the bay and reflect on Tribune Bay, over 2,300 miles away, where we had been anchored back in July with Rachel, Britton, Lief an Io... Crazy. And wonderful.
There, the similarities with Hornby end. Of real significance are the hillsides backing Chalaca. This is not BC. This is the tropics and the backdrop on the hills is jungle, real tropical jungle, the likes of which I had only seen on National Geographic. Yes, seeing jungle from a Panga in San Blas (oh... and did I mention the Jaguar?) certainly told us then that we were in the tropics, but it's not until I saw the jungle backdrop of Chacala that it really hit home. We're waaaay not in Seattle now.
We're also not in Chacala anymore. After checking out with the Chacala Port Captain - this time it worked and I actually talked on the radio with someone who responded to our call - we made our way towards Banderas Bay, home of Puerto Vallarta. But we haven't made it to PV quite yet. We've spent the last few days in La Cruz, staying on shore in a small Casita on the beach.
The why involves a small spot of damage I found on Double Diamonds starboard hull while snorkeling under the boat a few weeks ago. I noticed a 50-cent sized chip out of the gelcoat below the waterline and although there was no through-hull puncture, it seemed important to get the damage addressed. I was at least able to adhere a temporary underwater epoxy patch to the spot, hoping to insure no leakage into the hull or the fiberglass.
The La Cruz shipyard has a travel lift wide enough to haul a catamaran out - a very rare commodity actually. There are probably only 3 or 4 of them on the whole coast of Mexico and only a couple in all of the Pacific Northwest for the that matter, so we checked in there via phone and made arrangements to haul the boat, inspect it and do any needed repairs. This whole process has gone amazingly well. The crew at La Cruz has done a great job fixing the hull, painting it and doing a few other repairs in addition to a few maintenance items that were on the list and have done so in real journeyman fashion. We expect to go back into the water on Monday and be on our way.
Where we will be on our way to is Nuevo Vallarta where we will keep the boat while we're home for the holidays. We fly home the 15th and plan to return on the 5th of January, continuing our journey down the Pacific Coast of Mexico.
While here in La Cruz, we've made several day trips to towns just to the east and west of us. We don't have a car, so we take the local busses, which cost all of 50 cents to a dollar to ride. Very economical, if not exactly plush wheels. These are well-used small busses that can hold about 25 people and which have the destinations of each bus scrawled by hand on the windshield. You might ask whether or not we feel safe aboard these things and if you are wondering about safety on the road, I will tell you that these busses haul ass and yeah, I have wondered more than once how it was that we were staying on the road. However, if you are asking this from a do-we-feel-threatened-by-the-Mexican-Mafia or gang perspective, I have to say absolutely not. Not only do we not sense anything like this on the street, we have also had several in-depth conversations on this subject with local English speaking Mexicans. While they all see it in the papers as we do, none of them have ever run into anything personally. Frankly I've gotten way more stink eye from local Mexicans in Yakima than I have ever seen here in Mexico.
Regardless, there always seems to be an American or Canadian aboard the bus or at the bus stop who knows the stops (or the price) if we have any questions. But I also have to say that even if we are a bit confused from time-to-time about how something works or where a certain bus is going or we just look lost, local Mexican people always jump in to help. The local people are always friendly and we are constantly struck by this.
The one town we visited that was a pleasant surprise was Sayurita. Great little
surfing town full of Americanos. Lots of kids (ie: young adults, um, maybe even surf bums?) and while we're not much on jewelry personally, this place had tons of great artisan jewelry shops that backed up its laid-back west coast vibe. With Mexico thrown in for color. Go there.