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.
It's great how traveling helps one grow. Take pronunciation for instance. I've been calling this place Mots-a-lon forever. Wrong. It's pronounced Maz-ott-lon. Is it the double consonant of an "L" following a "T" that threw the old Anglo me? Did I just not slow down and read the word close enough? And what's my excuse for calling it eXpresso for how many years, instead of eSpresso? Hmmm. Personals to ponder. If you too have been inflicted with the same affliction, please repeat after me: Mazatlan, Mazatlan, Mazatlan.
Although I'm now on the verge of pronouncing the place correctly, it's time to leave. We're moving on, continuing with our southerly itinerary down the coast. Our next goal is Puerto Vallarta. The name of which I've always pronounced correctly, believe it or not. Even given the Spanish double "L" thing. Puerto Vallarta is where we will moor the boat during our trip home to Kirkland for the holidays, returning to Mexico the first week of January.
Reflecting on our arrival in Mazatlan (was it only a few days ago?), that arrival had something of a different twist to it, one that I've heard and read about occurring to sailors, but never experienced ourselves. We arrived at the entrance to the marina a few hours after dark and were told over the radio by the marina that the entrance was closed due to heavy, dangerous surf and that we had to wait until morning light - and a higher tide - before coming in. All the books I'd read on long distance sailing mentioned things like this occurring and coached their readers to be prepared for these kinds of circumstances. Several even suggested that the prudent sailor who arrives at an unfamiliar entrance in the middle of the night should always stand out and wait for morning light before proceeding in and to do so as standard procedure.
Fortunately, Mazatlan has a great ocean anchorage, protected by several islands which minimize the effects of ocean swell. Regardless, we had been sailing for 2 days and were ready to tie up to a dock for some calm shut-eye. Disappointed as we were of not being able to enter Marina El Cid, the anchorage was a very pleasant surprise. I wrote at the time:
Good Morning Mazatlan. Thank you for the quiet anchorage last night in the glow of your sparkling lights. After that long, boisterous ride from Baja, the calm night of sleep was welcomed by all.
Oddly enough, it took us a while to finally get down to sleeping that night. With the lights of Mazatlan's promenade arrayed in a semi circle around us and a huge empty anchorage all to ourselves, we cranked the stereo up and broke out into spontaneous party mode with dancing in the cockpit. Where that came from after 36 hours of non-stop sailing I'll never know. The next morning we proceeded into Marina El Cid, got our slip assignment and tied up to the dock.
I'm not sure if you can really divide sailors into "marina sailors" or "anchor-out sailors", but I guess we still tend to be anchor-out sailors. Marina El Cid is a place that could turn us into "marina sailors". Mazatlan itself could turn us into sailors that never go anywhere else. Both the marina and the city were pleasant surprises.
Marina El Cid is essentially a mid-size timeshare condo complex that happens to have a set of docks connected to it. The marina is small and can probably only accommodate 50 or so boats. The timeshare condos are not super fancy on the scale of a Four Seasons or anything like that and unlike Costa Baja in La Paz, the marina cannot handle anything larger than a 65' boat and probably only one of those at a time. Double Diamond was one of the larger boats there. But don't get the wrong idea: it may not be ritzy, but this place is very contemporary, well designed and well maintained. Melody rates the pool in her top ten. And although we were on a boat, we had full privileges like any timeshare owner.
Mazatlan was a pleasant surprise also. After all the hype over the 2 tourists who were killed in drug-gang related violence a year or two ago, we were a little cautious at first about getting out and about into town. It did not take long for us to feel totally safe. We rode our bikes from one end of the city to the other. We took taxis back to our boat in the middle of the night. We even went into the old historical district for an artwalk on a Friday night, walking empty dark streets and alleys looking for the art galleries and cannot tell you how much more safe it felt than doing Seattle's 1st Thursday in Pioneer Square.
Mazatlan is a city of 500,000 people. Sh*t happens in cities with 500,000 people regardless of what country it's in. For a city this size, Mazatlan felt very safe to us. And I must say, like everywhere else we've been so far in Mexico, the local people were very friendly and very welcoming. We've been reading Steinbeck's book from the late 30's in which he details a boat trip to Baja. In it he observes that the Mexican people are a happy people. It seems they still are.
Our only regret at this point is our lack of Spanish. So far it's not been a serious problem as English is spoken all over the place - at least in those places where we've been. Heck, Mazatlan had a Walmart and a Home Depot. But I suspect as we get farther south and into places where tourism is less prevalent, our lack of Spanish may begin to present a problem, so we're doing our best to learn and use Spanish phrases at every opportunity. It's actually quite fun.
The other great help in this regard, both in La Paz and in Mazatlan has been the local cruising community. Like La Paz, long-term Mazatlan cruisers are awesome and organized. There is a morning radio net for questions and answers. Our question this morning: What location has the best produce? We had lots of answers. Someone (that would be Captain George) prints a local information guide as a fund-raiser for a local orphanage. His little guide is a wealth of information and George was at our boat within a half an hour of us tying up to welcome us and provide us with one. I should mention that George has to be 80 if he's a day. He and his girlfriend are leaving for PV in a week or two in their powerboat.
But for now... Adios Mazatlan. We are leaving for Puerto Vallarta, with a stop in San Blas. As much as we would like another day or two of exploring Mazatlan, we need to keep moving south, as we have that date with an Alaska Airlines flight home on the 15th. I have also discovered that a marina in the area of PV has a travel lift wide enough to haul catamarans and would love to haul the boat out before we leave. Snorkeling around the boat a few weeks ago, I discovered a 50-cent sized chip out of the bottom of the hull, where we must have hit something floating in the water. I did a quick underwater epoxy repair, but we ought to have this looked at and professionally repaired before leaving the boat in the water for any further extended amounts of time.
I should mention that this leg to San Blas and Puerto Vallarta will be the first time Melody and I will have ever done an overnight by ourselves. Up until now we have always had crew to help with the late night shifts. We're excited! So... until that next internet connection... Adios mi Amigos.
We did it. We escaped La Paz. (And... we even made it back. And then... we successfully left. Again.)
Not that La Paz is a bad place or anything like that. It's not. It's great. But it does seem that the old adage about cruising, which says something about the hardest part of cruising being casting off from the dock is true. I would add that it seems to repeat itself in miniature at every major port along the way with personal examples in almost every previous post.
Regardless of what we now see is a common sailors lament, it is truly necessary to avail yourself of a place when your boat or its equipment is in need of repair or you are out of supplies. In doing so, it's pretty easy to get caught up in the cycle of one thing leading to another (and another) when working the boat to-do list and then having that list somehow start growing rather than shrinking.
On Thursday we said enough is enough and cast off into the Sea of Cortez for a little island hopping, buddy boating with Ned and Carole aboard their boat Frannie B. We were not able to go very far away (nor sail with Ned and Carole for very long, who were intent on continuing to head north - yes!) because we needed to be able to return to La Paz on Monday the 21st to pick up Dennis and Cindy Peterson who were coming to sail with us for 10 days. Our goal during their visit is (was) to sail a bit more up into the Sea of Cortez (weather permitting) and then head across to Mazatlan, from where they will fly back home to Seattle (Woodinville, to be more precise) and we will continue sailing on to Puerto Vallarta. It will be very nice to have crew for the overnight passage to the mainland side of the sea.
While we didn't venture far from La Paz on our first escape, it did not take long to enter a new world. First stop was at Bahia San Gabriel on Isla Espritu Santos. San Gabriel is a huge bay with a long beach and many sea treasures washed up on it, some of which may make it home for Christmas to a couple of grandchildren we know.
Second stop, Isla San Francisco. What a place. I'm not sure if this is the quintessential Sea of Cortez island or not, since we haven't seen much of the Sea of Cortez, but this island is a real gem. A picturesque, semi circle beach with a fabulous desert hill-hike full of glorious views.
Third stop, Bahia Amortajada. Here we were able to paddle the kayaks up into a mangrove lagoon, something we've never done. From time-to-time we wonder if carrying the kayaks around on our boat is worthwhile, as we haven't found that many opportunities to break them out. We're no longer wondering about that. The kayaks were perfect for the lagoon outing and standup paddleboards (which we keep eyeing...) would not have been the right tool. We need both you say? Yeah right. And then a bigger boat to carry it all. Ha!
Bahia Amortajada has one other attraction that none of the guide books talked much about and that genuinely blew us away. It adjoins a forest of cactus, specifically, a forest of Cardon Cactus. Perhaps describing cactus as being set in a forest seems odd, but it really is a forest and there is no more apt description as these cacti are huge, the size of trees and there are several square miles of them growing up a slope from the beach. Being from the Pacific Northwest where we have TREES (capitalized on purpose - our trees are generally LARGE) and having hugged my share of them, I assure you that when I describe what we saw as a forest, it was a forest, although I must note: not a single tree in it was even remotely huggable. I have images of the place permanently burned into my minds eye, as it was so unexpectedly beautiful. I'm not even sure we got a decent picture of it. Couldn't see the forest for the trees, perhaps?
Last stop was San Evaristo, where we made it to just before dark, anchored and then left early the next morning to dash back to La Paz. Sorry San Evaristo, we barely knew thee. (Yeah, I know. I'm full of clichés today. Maybe it just happens when you're digging deep in the bottom of the writing barrel. Oops. Did it again. Sorry.)
For our last hurrah in La Paz, we actually went into a marina this time and rented a slip for few nights at Marina Costa Baja (or Marina Costa Lotta, as Boomer, one of our neighbors and new-found friends in the Marina dubbed it). Nice place and contrary to Boomers name for it, we found it rather inexpensive by North American "nice marina" standards. Maybe it was that Ha-Ha discount.
We splurged for the slip since we had company coming to help get the boat to Mazatlan and taking on crew is much easier at a dock as opposed to ferrying everyone and their baggage out to a boat at anchor with the dinghy. We also needed to do some intensive re-supply if we were going to feed five of us for ten days, sailing out into the middle of no-where in the Sea of Cortez and then doing a 2 or 3-day crossing over to Mazatlan. Additionally, we had a day visit from Dave and Diana Richardson from back home, along with their kids (well... grown-up kids in their 30's) who spent the night in the hotel adjoining the marina. That day we took the boat out with 10 of us aboard to a small bay close-by, swam off the boat and proceeded to have a couple too many Margaritas. Except for the Skipper, of course, who only went swimming. No, seriously. Ask any of them about that expert spin-and-back-in docking maneuver I executed upon our return. Sober as a judge.
Re-supplied and with 5 of us aboard (Jeff, Melody, Dennis and Cindy Peterson with their daughter Jade) we exited La Paz. (No, really!) This time leaving was easy with nothing hanging on the boat to-do list. Time to go!
We spent a nice evening anchored in Ensenada Grande, where some Ha-ha friends from Tacoma, aboard their sailboat Murar's Dream, brought over fresh caught tuna they made up into sashimi, complete with wasabi and soy. Yum. Spent the morning snorkeling in the bay and then made our way back to Isla San Francisco for that great hike. Us misplaced Americans feasted on Game Hen that night for our Thanksgiving dinner. Even though turkeys were available at the stores in La Paz, there's no way our little propane-fired oven could bake one. The Game Hens were a good, thoughtful compromise. Melody did successfully bake up a pumpkin pie though. Yum!
We left Isla San Francisco early the next morning with the intent of going about 60 miles north to Bahia Agua Verde, but unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans. She can be kind of a Honey Badger at times. The north winds totally kicked up about 3 hours into our sail north and we just motored into it until bashing into the oncoming waves became just a little too much. We were about 2 hours short of Agua Verde when we decided to cut the day short and duck into a very small bay that afforded some north wind protection, a bay named Los Gatos. An appropriate place for a cat, no?
And then it finally happened. We've been boating for quite a few years, but I cannot say we've ever been totally pinned down by weather - at an anchorage. Yes, we've had to hole up in a marina or two (which happened just a few weeks ago in Cabo San Jose), but this time we got pinned down in a small bay, on anchor and we couldn't leave. Heck, it was blowing so hard inside the anchorage on the second day that we couldn't even safely launch the dinghy for a walk on the beach.
Cabin fever seemed to be lurking just below the surface on day 2, but not quite like it might strike back home in Seattle. At least it was warm and sunny outside, even if the wind was blowing in the high 20's and low 30's, inside the anchorage no less. We were in shorts and could get sun out on the decks, wind and all. We read books. Jade and Dennis even swam a little off the back of the boat, but we had a line floating in the water for them to grab onto just in case they got swamped or started to drift off in some uncontrollable fashion.
We were anchored in just a small bite of shoreline, barely protected from the wind that was raging just 200 yards off our starboard bow. We got lots of swell that curved around the point, but we were tucked up close enough to a small crescent of land to escape the really big stuff. In truth, the boat can handle wind speeds and wave heights that we were seeing beyond the spit, if we wanted to sail out into it. The ride would certainly be uncomfortable, but it would be doable. As the boat anchored next to us commented, the waves outside the anchorage looked like migrating herds of buffalo running by. (As an aside, imagine this: we talked on the radio every day with the folks in the big power boat beside us, anchored not 75 yards away, discussing the weather, the anchorage, how our boats were handling it all and the like, but we never actually met each other until the 3rd day of this ordeal. None of us wanted to get out in our dinghies and go over for a visit. We just chatted on the radio about twice a day.)
Our goal had been to make our way a bit further north in the Sea of Cortez to see more of it and to also position the boat for a steeper downwind angle to Mazatlan. In the weather we had, getting further north would be a real upwind bash and perhaps even impossible. We could just hightail it out of there and head downwind back to La Paz, but, uh, been there, done that. So we sat out the wind, waiting it out and keeping our fingers crossed that the weather would lay down and let us get on our way.
Except for having to hole up in Los Gatos, we've had some fun on this outing. Even being stuck in the bay was not all that bad. It certainly imparted a heightened sense of adventure. We caught a large Dorado (Mahi-Mahi) and a small tuna in the days before Los Gatos. Dennis had a heck of a good fight with the Dorado, which turned out to be a 41 inch male. It really fought and made for a very tasty dinner the first night, tacos the next afternoon and with another dinner still left. We really needed to eat the tuna, especially as it appeared to be high quality blue fin. But we didn't have any wasabi. How can one have sashimi without wasabi? No way. Instead, we grilled the tuna for dinner and decided it was Bonita, not Blue Fin. We definitely need a better tropical fish identification book on board.
On the fourth morning, the winds had eased to the high teens and the weather files I downloaded over the satphone showed decreasing wind speeds over the Sea of Cortez for the next several days. We pulled up the anchor (a device we now have greater respect for, maybe even feelings of affection) and headed out, intending to go directly south where several other anchorages exist that would give us options in case the weather was still too severe.
After about an hour of sailing, it was pretty clear that the winds were perfect in terms of speed and angle for a downwind run to Mazatlan. I asked the crew if they were ready for 30 or 40 hours of non-stop sailing and everyone said "yes". So a little deviation in the plan: off to Mazatlan - now! Whoo Hoo!
We've been in La Paz for 5 days and we need to leave. Now. Unfortunately we can probably come up with a million reasons to stay right here. Forever. The scary thing is that it looks like staying here forever is what happens to many cruisers, once they get here. Seriously.
There are 3 large marinas here and they are 95% filled with American (and Canadian!) boats, many of which have been here for a long time and many of which appear to be live-aboards. Most of the boats are all in great shape, mind you. We're not talking about derelict squatters. These cruisers all intend to go somewhere else again, someday, but for now they are here in La Paz and seem content to stay. The anchorage next to town (which is where we are anchored out) is filled with boats and from what we can see, they are almost 100% U.S. and Canadian.
The community of Americans here (and if I may digress... I really wish there was a better term for people from the United States. Isn't Mexico and Canada geographically part of the America's too?) Anyway... The number of Americans here is huge. We go ashore everyday and everyday we see cars with license plates from Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Nevada, British Columbia - you name it. There is a local, largely American, club for Cruisers http://www.clubcruceros.org/ and every morning at 8:00 AM, they have a VHF radio net for weather, questions and answers, community announcements, you-name-it. Go to VHF channel 65 and it's "talk radio", where you can talk about current events with whoever is listening. There is a real boating community here and it is very (North) American.
Yet, at the same time, this is not a tourist town. Downtown has a good mile of waterfront promenade and never once have we been approached by anyone to buy jewelry or timeshares or boat excursions or... anything. This is not Cabo. That alone is awesome. There are several huge, well-stocked grocery stores (heh, one is named MEGA) within walking distance. Several decent marine supply stores are within walking distance. The restaurants are plentiful, tasty and reasonably priced. Riding our bikes deeper into downtown where it's really Mexican has been completely fascinating. The locals, even if they cannot speak English (or us Spanish) are friendly, warm and inviting.
One tourist thing we did do was to go along one morning with another couple to snorkel with the whale sharks. It cost $50 a person for the outing, but it was completely awesome. The shark our guide found was at least 30 feet long. Check out this video of one from Thailand.
Although we were snorkeling in shallow water rather than diving in deep water as in this video, the shark with which we swam was this size, this gentle and this beautiful. Now that we know where they hang out, I suppose we could just run the dinghy over to the beach where they are and find them for a free swim, as it's not more than a mile from where we are anchored. And again, have another reason to never leave La Paz.
Regardless, there have been other reasons to be here. We have excellent cell service and have been able to talk with everyone easily. We have a fast (and free) WiFi connection to shore. There have been several almost day-long boat chores to complete and we've gotten most of them done, yet I still ought to change the oil in the engines which, of course, means another day in La Paz. There is a big welcome party tonight being put on by Club Cruceros for this years Baja Ha Ha participants, many of whom we are now becoming good friends with - another reason to not leave La Paz. However...
One of the reasons for coming to Mexico is our desire to see the Sea of Cortez. The weather window for doing so comfortably is rapidly closing for the season. Already we have noticed a change in the temperatures and things are cooling, much as predicted by our guide books. Morning temperatures are now in the mid-60's and the sea temp has already fallen by several degrees.
A few nights ago it rained hard all night, which according to some local cruisers is the first rain that's fallen here in at least a year. We loved it, Seattle-ites that we are. It felt like home for a night - kind of. Yes, it rained and it rained hard, but it was not cold and we never had to turn on the heat. Regardless, the wind and the rain totally freaked out some of the other folks here in the anchorage. Winter (at least the Mexican version of it) is coming to the Sea of Cortez and we would like to see a little bit more of the area beyond La Paz before going east across the sea to the mainland and then south to seek out the warmer weather as is our plan.
But can we ever, ever get out of La Paz?
Made it out of San Jose Los Cabos - finally. Motored upwind for the better part of a day and beat the living daylights out of Double Diamond doing it, but we've moved on.
First stop: Ensenada de Los Muertos, the Bay of the Dead. Which is actually quite alive, regardless of its past history of having been the place where 18 Chinese sailors died of Yellow Fever in 1885 after having been denied landing rights in La Paz. The bay is a long crescent of south facing sand, bracketed by tall headlands, providing excellent protection from northerly winds, which is what pinned us down in San Jose and beat us up going north to this bay. We are trying to make it north to La Paz and this bay is a logical stopping place for doing so, as it is a little more than halfway there.
We arrived late in the day at Los Muertos, setting the anchor as the sun set on us. We thought about leaving the next morning to make our way to La Paz, but after waking in the morning to such a quiet, peaceful bay, we decided to stay. Snorkeling and swimming around the boat was our first order of business, next order of business was to walk the beach and somewhere in there we contemplated a walk up to what looked like an interesting resort complex.
About that resort complex... It is brand new, with a magnificent multi-layered perch on a bluff overlooking the ocean and the bay, done in a Spanish Revival style and looking like a renovated Spanish mission complex. Seeing it from a distance, Melody was enchanted by the architecture and although it looked like quite a hike from the beach to its location on the overlooking bluff, I spotted a shortcut along the shore that cutoff the entrance road, even though it was a bit of a scramble through the cactus and the rocky side-shore of the bay.
The entrance gate to the grounds is made of heavy, dark wood doors placed in a surrounding 20 foot wall, Castle-like doors that are tall and wide enough to drive a semi truck through. They were swung wide open, with gardeners working the inner grounds, so of course in we went, looking for the reception desk to enquire about room rates, etc.
We looked around the inner courtyard, trying to figure out where reception might be. With nothing obvious, we followed the main open hallway/entrance, opening a couple of side doors as we went along, which seemed like logical places for the main desk to be located, yet we kept coming up empty handed in our search. The doors just led to hallways that had the delicate aroma of spa. We walked down to the pool overlooking the ocean with its infinity edge and sunken, well-stocked bar and passed by sliding glass doors of several suites that opened up to the pool with unbelievable views of the ocean beyond and which were impeccably furnished. I resisted taking one of the elevators I saw, thinking all the while that we really needed to find the front desk before wandering any further.
About this time, a gentleman walked up to Melody and in Spanish, asked her if he could help her. She answered him with "Hotel"? and "Resort"? He said "No, Private". In an instant we realized that we were not supposed to be there. This was not a resort hotel we were wandering around in. This was a private residence! The woman on the couch next to the pool, talking on her cell phone was not a guest. She was the owner and this was her house. We apologized as sincerely as we could muster in our embarrassment and made our way back to the front entrance and out, accompanied graciously by one of the house staff. (Yes, staff.)
We later learned from some locals that the house was owned by a Texas oil exec, that they were very nice people (which is confirmed by the lack of weapons that confronted us...) and that our mistake in thinking that the place was a boutique vacation hotel was an honest one. After all, this "house" is 26,000 square feet. Should I say that again? A house (a vacation house, no less) with 26,000 square feet of interior space. And grounds to match.
So back down to the beach we went, shaking our head in wonder at that magnificent place, its architecture and the economics behind it, all the while giggling at how we could just saunter in so oblivious and nonchalantly. We concluded that there was one essential thing missing for such a well-appointed villa: a sign out front that in some tasteful, discrete way gave notice to the architecturally curious that this was a private residence. The scale of the place just didn't convey that.
Anchored in the bay with us were several boats that participated in the Ha-Ha, some of whom we've met and many whom we've not. With 150 boats involved, it's hard to meet everyone in just 2 weeks. Over the VHF radio, we heard one the boats that had been in the Ha-Ha mentioning to another boat that they ripped a sail in the strong winds they experienced coming here. On the way back from the beach, we motored our dinghy by their boat, introduced ourselves, told them of us hearing their radio conversation and offered the services of our sewing machine, should they want to attempt a repair. This is a sewing machine made specifically for sail repair that Melody bought in Bellingham, used, off of Craig's List.
They were delighted with the prospect of repairing their sail and brought it over to our boat later in the afternoon. Melody hadn't used the machine yet, so setting it up and getting it to work was as much of a challenge as wrestling their big mainsail into our back cockpit (the former greenhouse that is now sans windows) and actually sewing on it. But sewing on it we did, with several of us guys wrestling the sail around while Melody operated the machine.
In the end, the machine worked great and hopefully, we earned major boat karma points for helping a fellow sailor in need. This interlude also reconfirmed for us the usefulness and maybe even wisdom of having joined into a rally like the Ha-Ha. We are constantly coming across boats we know of from those 2 weeks of sailing and with whom we feel some sense of kinship, even though we may have yet to meet the sailors aboard them.
11/09/2011, Puerto Los Cabos
It's finally happened. We're stuck - pinned down in a marina because the weather is too bad to leave.
Bad weather is relative, right? It's not raining or snowing or any of those other "northern" style weather calamities. Far from it. The weather is still warm, dry and toasty here in Baja. Our problem is wind, or more to the point, too much wind. Just around the corner, about 10 miles from the marina where we are moored the wind is blowing 25 to 30 knots, which wouldn't be an unmanageable problem if it was blowing that speed from behind us. However, for the first time since we left Seattle (2 months ago!) the wind is now blowing right at us, right on our nose. We would like to go about 10 more miles east, turn the corner on the tip of Baja and head north towards La Paz, but the winds are blowing hard from the north, down the Sea of Cortez. Making that turn would result in a very slow, lumpy and uncomfortable ride.
All is not lost. We are moored in Puerto Los Cabos, just outside the town of San Jose del Cabo, which is not Cabo San Lucas, the "Cabo" most of us are familiar with. In fact San Jose is the polar opposite of the"Vegas Mexico" found in the more well-known Cabo. San Jose is a quiet, local art town and much to our surprise, has a number of very good fine art galleries. For the most part, the downtown is clean, tidy and to my eye, authentic. A very enjoyable place to wander and explore. We plan to return today (via a $5 taxi ride or perhaps the circus bikes) and go shopping at a grocery store several cruisers have recommended.
We are also not the only boat pinned down here. There is a large contingent of Ha Ha'ers moored here as they, like us, are waiting out the weather. Last night a couple of boats organized a pot-luck dinner on one of the docks, to which they contributed a giant amount of grilled fish that they caught on the way here and were needing to cook up before it went bad. Melody fixed a huge green salad (like Melody is so good at). The fish was amazing and the company quite entertaining.
One of the boats moored here is a very traditional, canoe stern Valiant 32 named Saltbreaker. We crossed paths with them once out in the middle of the ocean during leg 2 of the Ha-Ha, which was kind of whacky given we were all at least 30 miles offshore at the time, out in the middle of nowhere with no other boats in site and here we were on a collision course with them. By rules of the road, we had the right-of-way, but gave way since it was actually easier at that point for us to maneuver than for them. Over the radio, they thanked us and vowed to buy us a beer at some point for the favor.
As the rally progressed, we never had a chance to meet them, but learned the crew was composed of 3 guys - 2 twenty-somethings from San Francisco and one of their dads, dad being crew and his son being the owner of the boat. Upon meeting them for the first time at last night's pot-luck (and providing THEM with beer, as we had a growler of Rogue Dead Guy with us, a real change from the Pacifico or Tecate found everywhere here) our first question was "So Saltbreaker... are you guys familiar with Laura Veirs and her album "Saltbreaker"?" Their jaws dropped, saying "yes" and then told us we were the first cruisers they'd met that made that connection. They not only knew of Ms. Veirs, but actually wrote her and asked her permission to name their boat Saltbreaker, to which she said yes. Cool.
So... off to town we go. Sailing teaches you to take what you get and work with it. In this instance, we're opting to go shopping.