02/17/2010, La Cruz Marina
It's raining in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a steady rain in warm, slightly humid air. Our boat has to be completely closed up in the rain, every porthole and hatch leaks if cracked even a fraction of an inch. So we're holed up inside, having canceled our bus ride to Marina Vallarta for the Wednesday seminar and the Mega grocery store in favor of a rain day, a chance to quietly organize our thoughts and finish taxes and so forth while Beethoven's Symphony #7, Op 92 in A Major wafts about the steamy interior of the cabin.
I've just returned from a trip back to California for a very bittersweet experience, the deep sadness and privilege of seeing an old friend into Heaven after being diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years ago. I have known Carol since I was 5 and it was hard to go through, but I was so blessed to be with her at home, sharing the last few days with her and her husband Brian, who I've know since I was 15. It was like being with my dearest family at a time of great importance, and that's what it was. Carol, incidentally, is the originator of the term "blurb" and in honor of her I changed the name a few months back from "blog" to "blurb." But Carol is through the pearly gates and strolling with Jesus, and for that I am very happy. Allan and Greg held down the wife-less fort here in La Cruz, doing manly things like climbing the mast and maintaining our social connections.
For the rest of us, life goes on, I am sort of numb all over now that I'm back on the boat and back in the routine of passage preparations and provisioning. The time for our departure to the Marquesas nears, we leave in just over a month. We've ramped up our inventory process. Funny -- we just provisioned this boat 6 months ago, but already it's time to take a second look and fill in the gaps. So, more drugs and food for the emergency ditch bag, more canned foods, and I'm having a great time developing simple, healthy menus that a mostly vegetarian crew will enjoy for the extended cruise. (For lunch today we're having Raw French Fries -- sliced jicama tossed with olive oil and Lawry's Seasoning Salt, dipped in ketchup. Quite convincing!)
I had a chance in California to spend some time with my mom, and Carol and John, Max kitty's foster parents, brought him up to Oxnard for the weekend so I could get some cat time. My friend Michelle and I zoomed around Ventura County buying everything I could think of that I can't get in Mexico, or that costs a premium here, mainly boat parts and accessories. I stuffed a giant suitcase with things like Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar and Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Butter (yum!) as well as a clampy thing for the jib furling line and stuff like that.
Tonight we're getting together with Rod and Elisabeth to discuss the topic of Buddy Boating, and share our "What Buddy Boating Means to Me" essays so we will be more or less in line with each other as we cross the Pacific as a loosely formed team of 2. Tiffany arrives from Florida tomorrow, and she and Greg will have a little time together before we team up and start our final preps for the trip.
Not much to pass along in this blurb, but I thought it was time to check in, share the details of my week with Carol and Brian, and let you know we're still plugging away and still happy. Also, this is the trial run for submitting the blog via email rather than the Internet, which we will be doing while underway when we're out of range. Hence, no photo.
One of my friends requested a blurb on the local area, a little missive on what life is like not just in the immediate cruiser community, but also of our life here in Mexico, so that will come soon.
02/01/2010, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, MX
Maybe we need counseling, psychoanalyzing, tranquilizers -- or, maybe we're just hopeless. Despite the promises and in some cases, warnings that "Cruiseheimers" would set in within a few months, it seems to be eluding us. That relaxed state of mind and manana attitude were supposed to envelop us and guide us to ever-slowing days as we ventured deeper into the cruising life. Perhaps we're not quite ready, or tragically, too Type A to be in a semi-retired state of mind, because we seem intent on continually stirring things up in order to have a challenge, or as Allan puts it, some meaning. Whatever the diagnosis, the proof of our hopelessness is in the the decision we've recently made -- a drastic change in our plans: we've chosen to go right instead of left.
Simply put, right instead of left means that we're sailing to the South Pacific instead of going through the canal and into the Caribbean. This right turn to the Marquesas puts us in the company of over 100 other boats (that we know of) who have chosen to "puddle jump" and sail 500 miles farther than from Los Angeles to New York in 3 to 4 weeks, over the huge expanse of water called the Pacific Ocean -- yes, the one I usually fly over in a 747 in 14 hours. My cousin Frank, in wry commentary on both the insanity of the idea and the time it will take to get there, says "Isn't this be like me riding my skateboard to work on the freeway?"
Now, if you take a close look at the photo above, you will notice that there are no islands between the West coast of the Americas and the Marquesas. No gas stations, no marine chandelrys, no Wal Marts, no little tiendas, and no Starbucks. This means a completely different approach to provisioning, since we can't run to the corner market for eggs. It means an even deeper and clearer understanding of our little floating planet than if we were to be within a day's sail of land at any given time. What are our electrical needs, and how many little PacMen will we make each day with our solar panels and generators to supply them? How much water will we need, and what would we do if our miraculous water maker got the Cruiseheimers intended for us and took a little siesta? Where, and how do I store 100 apples, that many carrots, 20 heads of cabbage, 10 fresh beets, gobs of onions, 30 cans of chili, 20 lbs of brown rice and 1,000 bags of M & Ms? What, really, are our fuel needs? And what will it be like to be in constant motion, without stopping, for weeks? It's daunting, exciting, and once again, a lot of work.
But, as Allan points out, it's FUN work! We're working toward a really cool goal, a climbing-Mount-Everest sort of challenge. And, we have tons of support around us, other people who are also puddle jumping. We all leave in loosely formed groups of 2 or more boats in late March to early April. Everyone has their own schedule in mind, but overall it's all about the weather, and when the pressure systems and the tradewinds say "Go!" we will go.
So here we are in Marina Riviera Nayarit, in the lovely little town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, doing research on the seasonal tradewinds, procuring paper and electronic charts of the region, reading about long range cruising from the couples who have been doing it for years, taking inventory of our food stores, beefing up our safety gear (seems there's never too much you can buy to prevent the many possible "what-ifs" from getting the best of you in the middle of the ocean) and learning more about the ITCZ.
The ITCZ - Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone - is a zone of confusion; a place where the top and the bottom of the world come together, wrapping around the Earth like a belt worn just above the waist, like grandpa wears his. The ITCZ is where we will encounter the Dreaded Doldrums, stifling heat, lightening and rain, and where our patience is likely to be tested, from all that I have heard. Yippee!
Meanstwhile, as we prepare for this new and improved version of our adventure, we're enjoying La Cruz and it's cobblestone streets. Like many towns in Mexico, the streets are made up of miles of hand-laid stones, the kind you can't walk on steadily even in tennis shoes, let alone flip-flops or, God forbid, high heels; the kind you have difficulty dragging wheelie suitcases or carts over. The kind of streets that lead, in some cases, to opportunity: our friend Orlando, after a long night of roaming the lumpy streets in the dark in search of BBQ ribs, has decided on his retirement job: setting up an ankle-wrapping business in La Cruz.
The marina here is new, and it's a classic story of development swallowing culture and history. The marina is great, from a nautical standpoint, with new docks, reliable electricity and Internet, a beautiful modern palapa-style clubhouse and yacht club, and new clean showers. But it's creation 2 years ago swallowed up the entire waterfront of this small town. And while the old argument that development creates jobs, brings money to the area, and stimulates the local economy certainly holds true, it is nonetheless sad to see the Gringo touch on everything. As I write, the bulldozers and digger things are busily building a peninsula where none existed before, on which they plan to build a big condominium complex. Word has it the President of Mexico is coming for the big boat show in March, and the town is busy getting a fresh coat of paint for the occasion. Almost every little store and many of the homes have been repainted just in the last week, in a flurry of chromatic activity.
Our social life here in La Cruz is healthy, we have a great collection of friends we've made in the short 3 months since we left California. Rod and Elisabeth on Proximity are next door to us again, and have been terrific support in our recent decision, sharing charts, plans, books, and ideas. John and Mary-Ann on Old Moon have just arrived from Mazatlan, as have Mike and Lisa on Blue Aweigh, another Catalina Morgan 440. Numerous other friends are also here, and many are puddle-jumping, so the info exchange is amazing. There are weekly seminars on related subjects, and we are learning, as always, lots. Greg and Tiffany Norte will be joining us on the journey, and Greg is here in La Cruz being tremendously helpful and endlessly cheerful. Tiffany will join us in a few weeks.
And so we'll head for the Grand Marquesas, then Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, and eventually Australia, where maybe I'll have a cold Stella at the Piermont Bridge Hotel with my old crew mates at United. From there we will see what comes next, since we won't have enough time to sail home for our return to work in mid-2011, unless we win the lottery in the meantime. And since we're not buying lottery tickets, I guess that's unlikely. Meanwhile, it's "French for Cruisers" instead of "Spanish for Cruisers" and I'm in search of a Fijian dictionary.
By the way, for those of you who have been curious -- the perplexing zinc problem seems to be remedied. Rick from Marine Services Mazatlan called the problem "a head scratcher" and indeed, a lot of heads were scratched and put together in somber ponderance over the matter. Ultimately, Allan and Rick re-worked the grounding system. Then, with a borrowed torch, some hard-won capacitors, and a few long sweaty hours in tight places while suffering from a mild feverish ailment, Allan feels the battle has been won. He went down yesterday and checked the zinc wear, and was happy to discover that there is very little erosion since we left Mazatlan. Many thanks to everyone who helped in the matter.
01/19/2010, Isla Isabela and La Cruz, MX
Greetings from beautiful Banderas Bay, home to the up-and-coming high-end Punta de Mita, the charming cobblestone town of La Cruz, sprawling Puerto Vallarta, Mismaloya, where "Night of the Iguana" with Elizabeth Taylor was filmed, and Yelapa, where the t-shirts say "A palapa in Yelapa is better than a condo in Redondo."
We arrived in La Cruz last night at sundown and dropped anchor outside the marina in the anchorage alongside about 25 other boats. Friends we've met in the last few months have preceded us to La Cruz, so we dropped the dingy from it's davit (we still giggle at some of these nautical terms) and headed for the marina to see if we could find anyone we know. Unsure of the new marina's layout, we pulled into an empty slip and asked the security guard if we could tie up there for a little while and have a look around. As we passed through the gate from the dock, there was Rod from Proximity, enjoying the last of a Cuban cigar in the tropical breeze. As luck would have it, he was with the rest of the friends we were hoping to find, so off we all went for dinner - Mike and Diane from Sagittaire, Greg Norte, and Rod and Elisabeth, and we spent the evening catching up on each other's latest adventures.
After dinner they gave us a quick lay of the land as we walked back to the marina ("here's the best bakery, and here's the best organic coffee, oh, and there's a Spanish for Cruiser's class at 10am at Philo's") and instructed us on the complex time zone situation here in Banderas Bay, which will take some getting used to: La Cruz is on Mountain time, Puerto Vallarta, just a few miles down the street, is on Central time. But everyone in La Cruz uses PV time, so if you make an appointment with someone in La Cruz, they will expect you to show up at PV time. Although, it is Mexico, so there's no guarantee they will even be there when you show up promptly at PV time, and afterall, we are cruisers -- many of us don't even wear our watches anymore, so whatever. So why is there La Cruz time? It would appear the locals can't answer that question and have chosen to dismiss it altogether. What we aren't sure of is what time the Spanish lesson is today ... is that 10am La Cruz time or PV time?
Anyhow, we came to La Cruz via spectacular Isla Isabela, which is really what this blurb is all about.
I believe we all have a Bucket List, whether we acknowledge it or not, whether it's actually written on a scrappy piece of paper, or just randomly floating in wishful places in our minds. My Bucket List has had something on it since I was young, inspired by Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic, the primary television shows of my youth, something I hoped to see someday but wasn't sure it really existed. Something mystical, like a unicorn. And now, I can happily tell you, I've seen it. I've laid eyes on it and it does exist. The mythical Blue-Footed Boobie lives, it's feet really are blue, and it lives on Isla Isabela, off the coast of Mexico and south of Mazatlan.
Isla Isabela is a National Wildlife Preserve, a tiny island about a mile across, and the nesting ground for the frigate bird and two (I think) species of boobies. It was an exciting 17-hour sail from Mazatlan, which started in the late afternoon on Thursday with good wind and a mild sea. But as night fell we began to see lightening in the distance, first off to our left, and then building until we had storms in 3 quadrants around us, with bolts of lightening shooting cloud-to-surface. This was all unforecast, which of course enhances the challenge. On my watch, I found myself counting the seconds between flashes, to see if a particular storm was building or dissipating. We learned more about our marine radar, which is much different from the aviation radar systems we are accustomed to. By the time Allan got up for his watch, it appeared that if the storms drew much closer, our only escape would have been toward the forbidden prison islands of Las Islas Marias, which have a 20-mile no-transgression zone around them. It could have been bleak, but thankfully the storms kept a polite distance from our boat. Still, we took all the precautions we knew of to protect the electronics, which included putting hand held GPS and VHF in the oven and having a "what-if" briefing.
We had planned to stay 2 nights with one full day between to explore the island, which is about a mile across, and marked by trails that can be easily covered in a day, but, moments from pulling the anchor on Sunday we changed our minds and decided to stay another day. When would we ever be back? we reasoned, and I was in serious need of more lack-of-city time after busy Mazatlan and the activities of El Cid marina. The other two boats in the anchorage had left, and it was just us and the island, plus the few fisherman in the panguero village, who quietly go about their business, untangling nets and unloading ice and fish on the rocky beach.
The morning of the first day we were anxious to set foot on solid ground after an uncomfortable, rolly night in the anchorage due to a strong south swell that rocked the boat and threw the last remaining unstowed items cheerfully across the galley, leaving me in a less-than-cheerful mood and ready to be free of the motion for awhile. So nuts and raisins, granola bars, apples and water joined the sunscreen and Kleenex, cameras and binoculars in the pack and off we went. Finding the narrow trails was initially a challenge until we learned that they were thoughtfully marked with colored plastic tape tied to tree branches at eye level.
We chose the blue trail on the first day, which led us through a scrappy forest of trees packed with frigates. Frigates everywhere, soaring overhead, sitting in the grass, nesting in the trees in such density it was a wonder the tree could hold the weight of these large birds. They looked like frigate condos, with both the males and females taking turns on the nests, sometimes sitting on eggs, other times trying to contain the fuzzy white babies. When they get tired they tuck a beak under a wing, a common napping position for birds, or more surprisingly, just hang their neck down over the edge of the nest like a limp rag, eyes closed. These birds are big, with long curved beaks and a buzzard-like hunch. Several times we had to duck beneath a nest as we followed the narrow trail under the dense trees. We wore our hats, and one cruiser we met purposely wore a white shirt, convinced that on an island full of birds, he was sure to get bombed by white bird poop at some point.
We were able to get very close to some of the nests, and although they were wary of our presence they seemed tolerant and patient as we gawked at the hatchlings and took copious photos. A little farther along we began to see the brown boobies, beautiful birds with fine, graceful faces, crisp white and brown markings, and pale green duck-like feet. But no blue feet, yet.
Finally, after clambering through the dense trees on the narrow path, we heard a sound that drew us near: two sounds, actually: a goose-like honking followed by a soft wheezing whistle. We tracked the sound and found, at last, our first blue-footed boobies, a mated pair standing on a rock having an odd but animated conversation. I don't know which honked and which wheezed, but they were very dear, and I got them on a short movie with sound since it was so unreal. Despite it's ridiculous name, the boobie is a beautiful creature, a delicate bird with fine, graceful lines and a delightfully charming demeanor. Blue feet, crazy sounds, 2 feet away, bobbing their heads and shyly looking at us, it was completely amazing. It was my Bucket Moment.
When we reached the high cliffs at the edge of the eastern shore, we saw our neighbors Gloria and Mike from Paikea Mist, as well as Kirk, the guy with the white t-shirt. They advised us to continue along the beach, where we'd eventually come in contact with tons of blue-footed boobies. We followed their advice and along the way, I had a great time chasing crabs, startling them from their nooks and crannies and sending them racing like clanking little cattle, sideways toward the sea. We picked our way past blue and green-footed boobies perched on the edge of the cliff, sometimes taking flight as we approached but more often just scooching a few inches out of our way and looking rather annoyed as we passed.
The second day we spent up on the top of the island near the lighthouse, with a 360 degree view of breaching whales and the endless blue Pacific. Many cruisers have discovered, in the darkness of night, that the lighthouse is not operational. It's important to note here that both the paper and electronic charts are apparently based on information compiled by Captain Cooke and other Early Mariners, and have had no update in centuries.* Hence, Isla Isabela, as well as the aforementioned forbidden prison islands are depicted 1 1/2 miles away from where they actually are. Combine bad chart info with no operational lighthouse, and it could lead to some unexpected boat/island impacts. But I digress. On top of the world, as it seemed, surrounded by nesting blue and green-footed boobies, fuzzy white chicks and molting teenagers, we were thrilled to be able to get amazingly close to these unique birds, who seem to have no overt fear of humans. One boobie in particular seemed intent on a friendship with us, and let us almost touch him.
After our time on the top of the island we changed into snorkeling gear and kayaked out to the tide pools near the beach for a quick swim in the fading afternoon light. Our last glimpse of the island before bed was after nightfall, with the crescent moon setting in the western sky with the brilliant planet (is it Venus?) just to its' lower left. We could have been 1000 years in the past at this beautiful island in the Pacific, all by ourselves, only the modern boat we float on belied the timelessness of the moment.
So, one really big thing crossed off my Bucket List, with so many more to do and see -- Allan wants to swim with a whale. The immediate tasks before us now are far less interesting, such as repairing or replacing the busted freezer, reprogramming the erroneous MMSI number on our AIS (whatever, don't ask) and exploring La Cruz, Bucerias, and Puerto Vallarta. Check out the photo gallery -- we got some great pictures. Cheers for now, more later when the next cool thing happens.
* In case you don't know by now, I tend to exaggerate for effect. My facts are not 100% accurate, either.
Real Life. That's what this blurb is about, some of the details of our Real Life here on Fly Aweigh, just so those who think it's all sunsets, chardonnay and squids out here can get a better feel of laundry, Band Aids, broken boats and smelly bilges.
Take for example the other night: After a lovely evening with Ed and Annette on Wind Song, our friends from Oxnard who recently arrived in Mazatlan, I smashed my finger. Those of you who know me are now either cringing or laughing at the knowledge that I am one finger closer to my apparent goal of systematically slicing, mashing, or clipping each of my 10 (still, despite myself) fingertips. This makes the 4th in as many years, each time a different finger. This time, it's my right hand that has to suffer the injury, since the past 3 incidents it has been the one to inflict pain on the left.
Now, I've been around boats and hanging out at marinas since I was about 11, and I know about the many ways to smash, trap, cut and otherwise mangle a finger. I generally know how to avoid these events, but last night, chatting with our neighbor Rod on Proximity while sitting in the dingy holding onto the dock, I regrettably forgot all that I have learned and was soon manually, as it were, trapped between the cement pillar that holds the floating dock in place, and the heavy cement dock itself. Unable to utter any words that might be of use to someone trying to help, specifically Allan, I could only howl the word "Ow!" repeatedly as he desperately tried to discern the cause of my distress in the dark. Finally, after an eternity, the dock moved enough for me to free the digit (middle finger, right hand) and assess the damage as the rest of my body tried to wring itself into a tight coil in an effort to squeeze out the pain. Luckily, numbness set in rather quickly, and within minutes I was talking with Rod and Allan about the weather while my finger turned white. 12 hours of ice pack and a rather sleepless night later, it's really okay -- I'll lose the nail and the finger is a bit sore, but I was lucky. 4 down, 6 to go, and then I can start on my toes ...
Meanwhile, the boat has had a rather difficult week, as well. It appears to be ravenously craving the expensive and hard-to-get zincs that are strategically placed on the propeller and the rudder to prevent Galvanic Thingies (which are, for those of you not up to speed on such matters, electrical PacMen that escape out of the boat into the water) from eating said prop and rudder. (I intend to write a textbook on the matter, because as you can see, my terminology and understanding of the topic are stellar.)
The zincs are sacrificial in nature, giving their lives to save the more important component -- in our case the propeller (the thing that moves the boat through the water) and the rudder post (the thing that keeps the rudder attached to the boat, which is generally considered a good thing.) Our boat, or rather, it's PacMen, seem to eat these expensive zincs in an amount that is, so far, equaling almost 10 times the normal consumption. So Allan, who is now mostly through the equivalent of a Ph.D in Galvanic Thingies, is delving into every resource, making calls and talking to anyone who can spell the word "electricity," and generally trying to derive the source of our imbalance to prevent the boat from dissolving around us.
On a more exciting note, we both had a chance to go up the mast the other day in an effort to replace the mast light at the very top (65 feet above the water level) with a more energy-efficient LED light. Now I must say, going up the mast is a daunting challenge to me. I'm a little paranoid about the possibility of something going wrong and falling to my death, or worse, into a crumpled heap at the bottom with more than a smooshed finger, so we go up with double redundancy: a rock climbing harness secured to the main halyard (the line that pulls things up and down the mast) and the more common mast-climbing-device, a Bosun's Chair attached to the spinnaker halyard. This makes it a little more difficult for the person working the lines, but it's much safer and makes my heart pound a bit less.
Once at the top, I discovered the light bulb was the wrong size, but I got a good look at the view, and brought the bulbs and the housing back down with me, where we photographed the right and wrong lights and then Allan went up to put it all back together and gasp at the view himself.
A nice distraction this week came from the arrival of our friend and former crewman Greg Norte (pictured above with Allan) who, as you may recall, helped us, along with his wife Tiffany, on the Baja Ha Ha for a few days. Greg is newly arrived in town, solo while Tiffany tends to business matters in St. Thomas, VI, and we're hoping to have him as a guest and crew for the next leg of our journey to Puerto Vallarta. He is great to have around, very helpful, and nice company. Zinc and galvanic issues notwithstanding, we hope to be on our way toward PV in a few days, so efforts are underway to get us ready again to be, well, underway.
In between these dramas and events, our lives consist of emailing, blurbing, cleaning, scrubbing, folding, organizing, losing, finding, cooking, cleaning, shopping, meeting other cruisers for various meals, and some sleeping. Tuesdays and Thursdays the El Cid Resort folks show a movie on the big white sheet they string up between palm trees on the lawn, and we nestle into pool loungers with blankets and pillows and plates of popcorn, trying to read the Spanish subtitles. Some nights we read, others we watch a "Next Generation" DVD or something from our on board movie collection.
So that's a less-than-complete version of our daily life. But I have to say, we are having a wonderful time. Even with the complexities, the injuries and minor illnesses, the PacMen and the -- oh, I forgot to mention -- broken freezer and smelly cooler, life is good. It's more relaxing. There's less to worry about, and when we do have an issue, we can focus our minds on it with fewer distractions. Or maybe we don't care as much about the details that seemed to consume us before -- we're virtually Not Sweating the Small Stuff. And neat things happen: the water taxi guy delivers freshly caught shrimp right to our boat. The produce and home-made tamale guy comes right to Marina Mazatlan on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, a short dingy-ride away. The hot tub is close, and the pool is delightful. The people all smile. Friends are prevalent, in a transient sort of way. I don't iron. The sun is shining, and I can even type a little with this smooshed finger, so really, it's all good.
01/01/2010, Mazatlan, MX
2009 was a fantastic year for us -- busy, expensive, challenging, scary, exciting, and overall pretty amazing. We want to thank everyone for their support and friendship and helping us get this far.
Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy 2010!
Cheers, Allan & Alison
12/28/2009, Barrancas del Cobre, MX
We're presently on the 14th of 15 modes of transportation in 5 days, nearing the end of our delightful Christmas excursion to Barrancas del Cobre, Mexico's Copper Canyon, in the state of Chihuahua. The 14th mode is a TAP bus, gliding along from Los Mochis to Mazatlan. It's been a colorful trip, from the colorful clothing of the Raramuri Indians to the colorful collection of people on this bus, which includes 3 adorable girls with matching bows in their hair, little plaid coats and polite smiles, to the tall, gangly, tattood guy at the back with the bouncy personality and the generous smile, to the 3 young women mid-cabin, with their ill-fitting wigs, heavy makeup, tight clothes, high heels, 4 o'clock shadow and alarmingly deep voices. It's been quite a departure from the boating world we've been enmeshed in for months, which is largely comprised of sensible shoes, Columbia and Eddie Bauer fashions and, at least so far, no wigs or bows.
Along with our new friends John and Mary-Ann of Old Moon, we left the marina on December 23rd by taxi to the bus station in Mazatlan (20 minutes.) Thence, a bus to Los Mochis (6 hours.) Taxi to hotel (10 minutes.) Short sleepover, then bus to train station (10 minutes.) Train to Barrancas (8 hours.) Bus to hotel (4 minutes.) Tour bus along rim (2 hours.) Horseback ride (2 painful hours, I'm still limping.) Bus to train station, train to El Fuerte, taxi to hotel, taxi next morning to bus station, bus to Los Mochis, taxi to TAP station, bus to Mazatlan, taxi to marina, walk to boat.
In between being moved from one place to another, we had a great time. We had fun while being moved, too. Lots of varied scenery from the buses and trains, views that reminded us of California's farm and wine countries (although I don't know where in California we have agave farms) to Utah's Zion, to New Mexico's Gila wilderness. We spent a breathtaking 2 days at a hotel right on the rim of the canyon, ate lots of great meals, took some gorgeous short hikes, rode the sweet, non-bilingual horses, sat in front of the fire in big, overstuffed leather chairs, and had a delightful Christmas. In fact, this year, we hardly felt the agony of the American Buy Useless Stuff and Go Crazy Holiday Season. Although Mexican towns do decorate, it's simple and understated. Merchandising is not the massive in-your-face variety we've become accustomed to in the States from the second the Halloween candy hits the shelves in September until after New Years. Since we're not watching TV, we didn't see any commercials, and since we can't read Spanish newspapers, we didn't get blasted with sale and print ads. It was nice. Being in the cold mountains and the rustic but lovely hotel with it's huge, irregular, real Christmas tree and manzanita fires in the lobby made it just right.
The hotel in Barrancas was largely occupied by Mexican tourists, and we got a kick out of the Happy Hour in front of the huge fireplace, literally, a well-attended happy hour, with popcorn, drinks, and entertainment in the form of a cheerful guitar singer who led the entire group in such classics as the Mexican Hat Dance, La Bamba, Guantanamera, and rousing renditions of Feliz Navidad. We were surprised at how willing the guests were to join in on what I thought were worn-out stereotypical Mexican songs. We sort of thought most of this stuff was just found in old Bugs Bunny cartoons, but apparently not.
The Raramuri Indians were especially wonderful, with shy, serious faces illuminated by occasional smiles, wearing brightly colored clothing and full, tiered skirts on the women and girls. They largely subsist by selling tourist items such as handwoven baskets, wooden hand carved earrings, cloth, and crystals dug out of the ground, among other trinkets. They know when every walking tour, bus tour, horseback ride and train arrival is, and strategically set up their wares on cloths on the ground, meticulously arranged, and then settle nearby, weaving baskets while babies sleep bundled in sarapes. Often, young children help in the family business, wandering among the throng with little baskets full of items for sale, sometimes carrying a younger sibling not much smaller than they, posing for pictures and hoping for a dulce (candy) or a coin.
Their homes are dotted about the canyons, mesas, and ledges, sometimes in small groups and many times alone with miles between them. They are quick and capable on the narrow trails, and are known for being swift runners, covering huge distances. Even their cows are as agile as mountain goats. We felt fortunate to meet them, and were sad to learn that there are plans to pave the long road from El Fuerte, build an airport, finish the tram across the canyon, and build more hotels, in an effort to bring lots more tourists to the area. The theory, of course, is that this will invigorate the local economy, make getting supplies to the locals faster, bring in better schools and medical care, etc. but we all know the side effects will include the ultimate loss of this beautiful, quiet culture. Progress. No comment.
El Fuerte was fun, a classic small colonial Mexican town along the Rio Fuerte that claims to be the birthplace of El Zorro. Not sure how substantiated this claim is, but they have a fun statue in the courtyard and we got a picture with it, so there you go.
So now, back to the Pacific ocean, to busy Mazatlan and our floating home, back to the errands that seem to always linger at the edges of life, and back to some good old fashioned home cooking, which in our case means lots of salads, brown rice, and green smoothies. We enjoyed our trip-within-a-trip, but to steal from Dick Drechsler's web page, "Home is Where the Hull Is." We're looking forward to getting back to our cozy hull.
Ps. Photos in the Photo Gallery. More will be added when we get John's pictures, which include the life-sized statue of Zorro, which really, is a highlight and I know you're dying to see it.