03/01/2011, Bahia del Sol, El Salvador
March 1, 2011
S/V Precious Metal punches thru a wave crossing the bar at Bahia del Sol, El Salvador
El Salvador...Here We Come! Or Adrift at Sea?
Yeah! We finally feel like we're getting somewhere in our journey! We feel this way only because Mexico was so easy...well, most of the time anyway! And nothing brings that point more to the forefront than "crossing the bar" into Bahia del Sol, our home for the next eight weeks.
It was a forty two hour trip from Puerto Chiapas, Mexico to our first stop in El Salvador. We should have known it was an ominous sign when leaving, when our supposed re-built windlass (remember the saga in December?) decided not to work AGAIN when we needed to raise the anchor. THIS time Larry and I did it together, protecting his STILL injured arm from the December windlass debacle. Poor Ben lay downstairs in our cabin with a 103* fever. We wrestled with whether or not we should be traveling, but we thought we would have a better chance of medical care for him in San Salvador than Puerto Chiapas. Although we will never forget the ladies in the kitchen of the beach palapa restaurant who had taken a particular fondness of Ben, and when they heard he was ill, brewed a special concoction of an anti-parasitic drink from herbs that they insisted I give him every few hours. Needless to say, he took one sip and spit it out. It is the thought that counts though. What sweet, sweet women, who live in severe poverty, yet they gave us this medicine out of the kindness of their hearts.
So, after being tied up to a big, oily, shrimp boat (or as Larry says, "It was covered with permanent strength liquid goo!") for three hours (because the fuel dock decided to take their siesta, for two hours, after we had been waiting for our turn for thirty minutes!) priorities ya know, we finally officially pull out of the stinkiest, most foul port. Ben is still feverish, but resting comfortably, we are having a nice smooth ride out of Mexico, no wind, passing through Guatemala, nightfall comes, and...the engine dies.
Well, at this point I kind of need to back up here and catch you up on a little incident we had back in December when we pulled into Barra de Navidad, Mexico, in December. We stopped at the fuel dock to fill up, and at the same time filled our water tanks. So, we had all of our caps on deck off our various tanks to be filled, and no sooner had Larry just reminded Ben and I to be really careful about what we put in the tanks, and...Larry accidentally puts water in one of our fuel tanks! Only about eighteen gallons but still...this is a problem. Luckily Santosha, our buddy boat at that time, had a small fuel polisher on their vessel and were kind enough to loan it to us. Poor Larry worked for the next three days straight, sucking fuel out, running it through the little filter machine thingy to remove the water (supposedly). He thought he got it all. As we traveled further south, he had switched us on to our other fuel tank and life was good. In January, as we headed out of Ixtapa towards Acapulco, Larry had switched us back to the fuel tank we had put the water in and...lo and behold the engine dies after two hours. He had to change out the two fuel filters, clean out the water separator, and switch back to the tank that we knew was still good. No problem, other than being depressed because he had spent all of that time trying to get the water out and obviously that didn't work. And, it was still daylight, so as we sat out in the water drifting, we weren't concerned. Now, you're probably wondering why, since we have a sailboat, we aren't sailing everywhere. Well, we only travel when the weather looks good, meaning calm seas and not too much wind. But, if there isn't at least twelve knots of wind, we don't typically put our sails up because our boat is so heavy they just sort of flop around and it's just really annoying and it's hard on the sails. Also, the direction in which the wind is coming from is a factor, and if it is straight on the nose, that doesn't work either. So, there are many factors in sailing and if you want to get somewhere, within a certain amount of time, staying on course, you just go.
So, when we pulled into Acapulco we hired a professional to come out and "polish" both of our fuel tanks for a mere $500. We felt really good about this and really thought we had put this problem behind us. However, we were still switched over to the original, good fuel tank. Now let me explain where the inspection plate is for the water fouled fuel tank (that is the cut out piece, about the size of a large dinner plate, that is bolted on so you can remove it and have access to the inside of your tank as well as a visual). Well, this is under our kitchen sink, need I say more. Now I had cleaned out everything under the kitchen sink with the exception of the items on this very handy shelf that is set deep inside to the right, because God forbid you don't let any space go unused on a boat. We usually keep extra drinks under here including my emergency stash of wine! (If you are wondering why I am telling you this, just remember it and it will all make sense soon!) Being on a mooring ball in Acapulco can be very exciting, because there are a lot of boats that race through the mooring field with no care, "waking" all the other boats (meaning; their wake they create from their prop makes all the other boats roll from side to side). Really meaning they are thoughtless, careless jerks.
So, now we can catch up to where I left off when the engine dies at night in Guatemalan waters. Larry had now switched back to our original "problem" tank, so when the engine died he pretty much knew the problem. Again, he put new fuel filters in because they were all contaminated with guck, switched us back to our other tank, and after several tries, got the engine started. It was scary though because it is pitch black out and we're just drifting, again no wind to sail with. I stay up on deck keeping a very serious watch , making sure no other vessel gets close to us. Larry works down in the boiling engine room feverishly. I don't have any steerage on the boat and we just roll with the waves, which is not a very comfortable thing to do. Forty five minutes can seem like an eternity in this situation, and your mind wanders into many different scenarios. With a ten year old on board it is very important we all maintain our composure as not to freak him out! But, I was worried, because our next port of call, Bahia del Sol in El Salvador, was going to be the trickiest entry as of yet into the estuary where the marina is. This is the dreaded sand bar that you can only cross at high tide with the aid of a jet ski that the marina sends out to guide you in, one boat at a time. If the conditions are too extreme they simply won't bring you in, meaning you have to wait outside the entrance for up to 24 hours. Bahia del Sol is where the El Salvador Rally (an organized flotilla of vessels that we had signed up to participate in) is taking place. So, needless to say, we needed our engine to be working the best it could to make it across this bar.
02/17/2011, Puerto Madero, Chiapas, Mexico
Temple of the Inscriptions, at the Mayan ruins in Palenque, Mexico
Last stop in Mexico
Chiapas...hmmm...what can I say? Well, it's about 20 miles from the border of Guatemala, brown, DIRTY, barren, hot, and VERY poor. This is when I come to realize that being in Mexico has been like being in Disneyland, and we ain't there anymore as we near the border. This port is home to a very large shrimping and tuna fleet, including a tuna processing plant turning this port into the most gooey, foul smelling, disgusting water port we have ever been. The largest tuna fishing vessel actually has a helicopter on it, I guess to fly out ahead looking for signs of the fish, then they deploy these small tender boats off of it so they can round them up by surrounding them with nets. I still have visions of video I had seen a long time ago with dolphins being trapped in the nets and dying. (I think I've said this before, but seeing this makes it practically impossible for me to eat fish of any kind.)
What the people lack in "things", they more than make up for in niceness. This is where we do our official "check out" of Mexico. Meaning we are boarded by the Navy, inspected, complete all the necessary paperwork, and have a drug dog on board to wander around, (I always have this lingering fearful thought...What if the last owners of this boat hid some drugs somewhere and forgot to take them with them?...). Everyone was very polite and professional, thank God, because Larry wasn't there (that's a whole 'nother story), and it was just Ben and I when they came on board. The Navy and the dog went away with treats, homemade chocolate chip cookies for the boys and dog treats for the canine. Cool! Larry eventually shows up with a story of walking to the port captains office to check out, then taking a collectivo to town,( a pick-up truck/taxi that everyone just piles in the back of the bed, that a cage has sort of been built around with two benches on either side but it's sort of more comfortable to just stand and hang on for dear life to the metal frame), then a cab to the airport to immigration, then...no cab back? Hmmmm...where'd they go?...so he starts walking...and walks for fifteen minutes, then starts hitchhiking (this IS part of the adventure isn't it?!) A car stops, whom the driver turns out to be the helicopter mechanic for the huge tuna fishing vessel in the harbor near us. He is a blessing for Larry, who speaks very poor Spanish and this man doesn't speak English either, but he gets him back to where our dinghy is tied up so Larry can make it back to our anchored boat. Yes folks, this is another one of those "only in Mexico moments". We would never think of hitchhiking where we came from in California.
The great thing about Chiapas was that it was close enough for us to be able to take a really fantastic road trip to the Palenque ruins. Mayan ruins and culture we were in the mood for and Palenque was supposed to be the best. I never would have dreamt this but I am becoming quite good at looking at maps, researching areas, reading the Lonely Planet guides, figuring out bus schedules, and taking our family on some really cool adventurous trips! However, we always travel with the mindset that we're not really sure what we're getting ourselves into, but we'll just make the best of it. This one was a hit. An eight hour luxury bus ride to the colonial town of San Cristobal de Las Casas, staying in a beautiful old hacienda, a tour of Sumidero Canyon in a speed boat (totally cool) was like traveling through Yosemite Valley on a river including monkeys and crocodiles, a spectacular 5 hour drive in another luxury bus to Palenque where we stayed in an eco-lodge (howler monkeys and all), and a tour of the Palenque ruins and museum. We really felt ready to move on after this road trip and bid farewell to Mexico. Thank you Mexico for a wonderful fourteen months!
See Palenque and Waterfall picture gallery!
02/07/2011, Off Shore from Huatulco
A Sea Turtle, lets just say "Ben found it"
The Engine Saga Continues...
We made it to Huatulco in 35 hours. The passage was uneventful (meaning no major boat problems!) but seemed to take forever and the seas were confused which makes for confused tummies! We of course saw the usual joyful dolphins, surfacing whales, and turtles, turtles galore! There are turtles EVERYWHERE! And they just like space out or sleep on the surface of the water and you don't see them until you are pretty close, and we start screaming at them to move or Ben shoots at them with his water gun. They will usually lazily lift their head up to look at you and then suddenly realize they had better skid daddle and for some unknown reason they almost always turn directly into the path of the boat! Thank goodness they have hard shells! So, our fishing possessed child had out his usual paraphernalia and lo and behold what did he hook? Nope, not a fish...but a turtle! It took us 45 minutes to pull in this poor, fighting, heavy turtle so we could either pull the hook out or at least cut the line so the hook could just rust out. We even put the boat in reverse because it had pulled so much of Ben's fishing line out and it was really hard trying to reel it in. In the end, we cut the line and the turtle swam off, relieved I'm sure. Ben has fished very little while we are under way since then, still recovering from PTST (post traumatic swimming turtle!).
All of these great little anchorages we had heard about that we had hoped to stop at along the way and snorkel in crystal clear water did not happen. Confused seas also make for confused anchorages unless they are well protected and the beautiful blue Pacific turns into a sort of brown/green color. Plus, we are very prudent in our choice of places to anchor and if it looks like if the winds or waves might pick up and we might drag, we just simply don't do it. That can be a real good way to lose your boat fast if you're not careful.
It was great to be in the Huatulco Marina though because not only were our old friends there, but we made lots of new friends too! Huatulco is the place where cruiser's heading south often stage at, waiting for a weather window before crossing the Tehuanepec. The Tehuanepec can be a very dangerous stretch of water due to the potential of strong winds and waves whipping up quickly so that is why you wait...patiently. Fortunately our wait was only a week but unfortunately we really could have stayed in this neat little town a little longer. Who knew? I was shocked to see this cute town with resorts and restaurants, and many snowbirds from the States and Canada that have been coming here for years. Renting a car gave us the opportunity to not only have a few nights off the boat (which always feels so great) but also to see the beautiful countryside of southern Mexico. On our way to the world famous surfing town of Puerto Escondido we stopped at a turtle sanctuary and breeding facility which gave us the opportunity to see all the different sea turtles and learn of their plight. Over the past summer we had participated in several baby turtle releases, holding the less than one day old babies with our sandy hands so as to supposedly imprint the beach on these babies so they knew where to return to years later to lay their eggs. We would walk them near the water at dusk, and then release them, letting them go through their necessary struggle to the water. Like pretty much everything else in the ocean, man has not been kind to these critters. The more Larry and I live on the ocean, the more we respect the life that struggles in it, and the more difficult we find to eat it. Not that we would ever eat turtle, but to eat some other fish or shrimp and not really know for sure if it was sustainably caught or what else was carelessly killed in the catching/netting/long line process, or if it is fish farmed, is it full of hormones and antibiotics? And so the dilemma goes...and if Ben catches a fish and we see it swimming so beautifully in the ocean you just hate to kill it. We're not that hungry...yet.
Puerto Escondido was adorable. It has several very nice hotels to stay at, little boutiques, and restaurants and bars that line the famous yet treacherous surfing beach. We arranged for a surfing lesson for Ben and ended up hooking up with a super cool instructor, Raul, who took us around for two days allowing Ben to safely surf with the "big" boys. He also took us for the best lunch we've ever had in Mexico at a local place, and then to their amazing market where these little, old Mexican women sit, selling everything from herbs that cure a case of intestinal parasites to small limbs off trees that if you steep in boiling water and then drink and you will be cured of many things, including arthritis etc...Very cool!
So, back on the boat, nine of us all pull out together to begin our big Tehuanepec crossing. Everyone had studied the upcoming weather extensively. We also took it one step further and hired a very handy weather routing company named Commanders Weather (see "Favorites" right side of this page). For a small price, in terms of your life (!), they will study all of the weather patterns, taking into consideration your boat speed, and calculate the weather along your route based on your boat speed. This is the second time we have used them. (As a side note, when the tsunami warning was released after the Japan earthquake, they immediately e-mailed us remembering that we may be in an area of danger, providing us with estimated arrival times of the expectant tsunami. I thought that was pretty nice.) At 6:45 AM and 43 hours later we all patiently waited outside Puerto Chiapas harbor, our last port in Mexico before crossing into Guatemala, radioing the port captain, asking permission to enter. Once again the camaraderie felt great. The crossing had been uneventful, actually quite calm and relaxing with the exception of the last night for us. Out of the blue, just as the sun was setting we were suddenly swarmed with fishing vessels, actually forming a horseshoe around our boat on the radar. Now some of the boats we were traveling with were 3 miles off shore, two were 60, we were about 10 miles off, and the rest fell somewhere in between. The concern with the fishing vessels is the long lines they put out, and of course wrapping it around our prop. The shrimp boats are large and well lit up. The pangas are small, unlit, and they don't always show on our radar. Dad steered, Ben and I stood up on the bow with a flashlight and weaved Larry and the Lisa Kay through the maze of flags that the pangas put out marking either the beginning or the end of a long line. Scary. Can I just say...I don't like to use the word "hate" ...but I HATE LONGLINES! (I implore you to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website and pull up their list of sustainable seafood to eat.)
02/04/2011, Acapulco, Mexico
Our good friends Alex & Hugo with the crew of the S/V Lisa Kay
February 4, 2011
Still In Acapulco
The best part about sending out our updates is hearing back from all of you! It keeps us connected and it helps us not feel so alone. We also love hearing everyone else's updates when they write back. Thank you, thank you family and friends! However, many say," I'm glad you're having so much fun". But, it really isn't fun...I mean sometimes it is...some days I feel like the luckiest person in the world, but it's not like we just walk around ha-ha'ing all the time. Much of our time/challenge of living on a boat is trying to keep our selves happy, and having a purpose in life. No... let me re-phrase that...by keeping ourselves from falling into the deep, dark, hole of depression because we feel like we have NO control over our lives. Because let me tell you, being stuck somewhere (sometimes a less than desirable place) due to mechanical issues or weather, is a tough thing psychologically. Now, we each deal with this hopeless feeling in our own special way. Ben, well just let him fish with some guys, or jump in the water and swim, or scrub the side of the boat a little, and well he's happy. For me, let me walk to the grocery store (Ooh, I feel so independent!), maybe stopping along the way and give the homeless man 100 pesos for him and the kitties he's feeding, and I'm happy. Larry, I'm not sure...he's pretty much happy as long as we are. And for all of us, to feed a hungry, homeless animal brings us great joy. After living a year in Mexico, we have probably only been asked for money by a homeless person maybe 2 or 3 times, and one of those being an American tourist. In Fremont, Ca I would be asked probably 2 or 3 times a day if I was out running around doing errands. Go figure. So, we trod on, each one of us trying to find purpose in our day. Larry is still nursing his badly injured arm. Thank God we are still in Acapulco. Thank God we have Hugo and Alex, the gentlemen who oversee the mooring ball we are attached to, who will see us from a quarter of a mile away carrying groceries and will run to help. Who check in with us daily to see if we are okay. Who try to teach me Spanish. Who will take us or pick up for us anything we might need. Who love to take Ben out fishing. We have shared many meals together with them, including them bringing their wives on our boat for dinner. Neither of us spoke each other's language, but we became fast friends. Thank God we came to Acapulco. Finding a competent, honest mechanic (through Hugo and Alex), which are few and far between, has saved us what would have been an inevitable disaster down the road. So, yes, even though we are getting antsy to leave again because we feel stuck with our engine problems not being solved, we also feel very blessed.
From the notes of Larry:
We have an 8,000 watt generator powered by a three cylinder diesel engine. It began overheating and would automatically shut down. It circulates sea water through a heat exchanger which cools the fresh water that is circulated through the engine by a water pump. The sea water output seems to be diminished so I thought the raw water impeller was bad. Should be a simple fix. After pulling the impeller (from a spot smaller than the head of a needle) it looked fine. Still we are overheating. Hmmm, can't use that 110v water maker I just spent 10 days installing. Oh, and we can't fill up at the dock... cause we're not at one! Belt is new, water pump looks good, but still heating up. Time for the mechanic because I can't turn a wrench now with my left hand, and did I tell you I'm left handed? Mechanic pulls the thermostat out and tries it, because you really don't need one here, it's always warm, so no need for the thermostat to stay closed to heat up the engine. No change. Must be the heat exchanger. So he pulls it and takes it to the heat exchanger spa for an acid bath. Back the next day, put it all together, refill with coolant, and it overheats again. Come to find out after looking at the manual, there is a second part of the heat exchanger. Pull that out and take it to the heat exchanger spa for another treatment. Meanwhile, we are having to the use main engine (glad I installed that engine driven compressor) to run our 110v refrigerator/freezer. Did I mention Lisa just stocked us up with food for the next leg of our trip? After our second part returns from the spa our generator now runs flawlessly.
Now in the back of my mind I'm wondering when, if ever, the main engine heat exchanger was ever flushed, cleaned, or even checked, for that matter. After a quick conference with Lisa we discuss the fact that we have a knowledgeable mechanic, he speaks fluent English, we are in a city of 1.5million people (some of whom may own a parts store), and are sailing into Central America. We will be crossing into a very dangerous gale prone area with few marinas until we reach Panama, a few thousand nautical miles down the coast. OK, let's have some preventative maintenance done on our main engine. Having it shut down due to dirty fuel 5 miles off shore on our last leg was let's say... a little exciting. That kind of excitement I don't need again. So, our Belizian mechanic goes to work pulling the air cooling unit that feeds the fuel injectors (didn't know we had that), the oil cooling unit which cools our engine oil (didn't know we had that) and leaves the heat exchanger on. He looked in the hole and thought it look pretty clean. Go figure! After pulling all these parts you can now see our turbo charger. He calls me over to it and invites me to spin the fans blades with a screw driver. The unit is totally frozen. This explains our lack of top end speed and our inability to get more than about 2,100 rpms out of the engine. Prior to learning this, several "experts" told us our feathering propeller was taking to big a bite out of the water, therefore restricting the rpm's we could get out of the engine. Thought we needed to adjust it next time we have the boat pulled out of the water. Well, at least we know the cause and we are glad we decided to go ahead with the work. So the air and oil coolers go to the parts spa for their treatments and the turbo charger gets rebuilt. All the parts are back the next day and the mechanic, along with Alex and Hugo, spend the day reinstalling them. The mechanic insisted on a test cruise so off we go. And go we do, really fast, our 64,000lb boat has more speed than ever! But, now whenever we go above 2,100 rpm's the engine overheats. Arrrggghhh!!!!
Back to the drawing board. He pulls the fuel injectors and they look like the inside of a chimney, full of soot, really dirty. He sends those to the "laboratory" for a cleaning. They return the next day and reinstall them. He also brings a 5 gallon jug of "special cleaning stuff" to run through the fuel pump. So he takes the fuel lines off and puts them in the jug and out to sea we go. Unfortunately we get really good mileage so it takes hours of running off the coast to burn all this cleaner, which makes the boat belch black smoke out the exhaust. Lisa is great, she is making lunch for us all. We see our first whale jump totally out of the water, time after time until I grab the camera of course! Meanwhile the engine is still overheating. Arrrgghh again!!!!!! He now has us shut down the engine about 2 miles off shore, let's it cool down a little and pulls the thermostat out. We start it up and it proceeds to overheat again.
Okay, back to our mooring ball. Out comes the heat exchanger, off comes the water pump, and off comes the exhaust elbow which is full of exhaust stuff. The exhaust elbow goes to the acid spa with the heat exchanger. Mechanic shows up the next day with the water pump that checks out great, the now clean heat exchanger, and bad news about the exhaust elbow. After the stuff was taken out a hole was found in the liner. This was allowing salt water into the turbocharger, now we know why it seized up, and the blockage was so severe not enough sea water was being discharged to cool the engine.
Mind you, with each one of these steps (thinking the problem will be fixed), we are mentally preparing for a 35 hour trip to Huatulco, leaving very early in the morning as to arrive during daylight the next day. I'm starting to feel a little bipolar. Arrrgghh again!!!! So, the exhaust elbow repair man was supposed to have it repaired the next night at 6pm. That didn't happen. Maybe tomorrow????? But then of course we couldn't leave tomorrow even if they do fix it because our launch window will be closed. Our best chance for escape now is SuperBowl Sunday. Good thing that satellite TV dish works off shore!!!!
Well, elbow makes it back to the boat Saturday afternoon, is installed, and test drive goes beautifully! Huatulco here we come!
From the notes of Lisa:
Now you feel our pain!
01/26/2011, Acapulco, Mexico & Ghost Ships!!!
Ben's 73lb BIG fish!!!
January 26, 2011
On to Acapulco
With the water maker installed we bid farewell to Ixtapa and made an 18 hour passage to Acapulco. We always feel sad saying goodbye to the people and places that we've stayed for more than a few weeks, however it does feel good arriving in a new area to be explored. We've been warned fervently about Acapulco. Drug cartel, mafia, dirty, crowded. Yeah...I'm sure it's all that. But, it's also cool, old, and bustling. Floating on our mooring ball in the evenings is like sitting in a bowl of diamonds, with all of the twinkling lights. This is the first place since I can remember that we have not been eaten alive by mosquitoes and no-seeums, and actually can sit out at night. We have become very close with two gentlemen that over see some of the mooring balls in this anchorage, Hugo and Alex. They have taken a particular liking to Ben and his passion for fishing. On a deep sea fishing trip he took with them today he got to help pull in his first sailfish! Alex and Hugo have also been helpful in...yes folks...more repairs on our boat. I know...you're shocked! We just had a little engine problem several hours out of Ixtapa, well okay...the engine actually stopped...and we just drifted for awhile (no wind), but my amazing husband fixed it, at least enough for us to move on safely. Oh yeah, and when the generator also decides to stop working, well then you have problems with such things as power, refrigeration, not being able to run the new water maker etc... and so the saga continues!
A very wise woman recently told me how she thought that this new journey in Larry's life, meaning water, was the perfect compliment to his career in fire. Hmmm...thank you for that Margalit. I think you are right. I'm glad I get to come along for the ride!
Now the Ghost Ship part: If you look on Google Earth you at the Lat/Long shown above you can see the "Ghost Ships" on the bottom of the harbor.
01/14/2011, Ixtapa, Mexico
Night shot of Ixatapa Marina with S/V Stolen Kiss nosed into her slip!
January 14, 2011
Ixtapa and Morelia
How time ticks by. Happy New Year everyone! As much as we missed our families and friends for the holidays, we had a very nice Christmas here in Ixtapa and have really enjoyed the company of some of the other cruisers and crew that are here. We truly are like a little family and I cannot even express how good the camaraderie feels. Thank you Pax Nautica, Royal Albatross, Yat Ta Hey, and Adam and Zuzanna!
We have been busy though! The windless is fixed for the anchor. Also, one of the cars that run the main sail up and down the mast that came off on the way to Ixtapa is fixed, and the autopilot that stopped working on the way down here as well has been fixed by my amazing husband. You do know the definition of cruising don't you? Fixing your boat in exotic locations! And that is what we do best! Our new water maker (yes folks...45 gallons an hour this puppy makes!) arrived several weeks ago and Larry has been installing it for ten days. It is a huge job. There is a lot to be said for all of these mishaps, he is learning about this boat from the inside out, literally. But he is so crippled from tendon damage in his arm from having to hand raise the anchor so many times that the work is going painfully slow. Once again our buddy boat Santosha has moved on. We do however hope to catch up in the near future.
A highlight for Larry, Ben, and I was a three night inland trip we took just after Christmas. We took a luxury bus (big reclining cushy seats with foot rests, TV's for each passenger with a large selection of movies, documentaries, and internet, a beautiful bus attendant in high heels and all serving sodas, waters, chips and candy and...get this folks...cocktails!) The bathrooms were immaculate. It was amazing! So our five hour trip to the beautiful colonial city of Morelia cost us a whopping $37.50 each. Now, this was a rather adventurous thing for us to do, seeing as we really weren't sure where we were going, with no reservations, we just had one thing in mind...Monarch butterflies. Morelia had also just been the scene of a huge battle between drug cartels where they were literally turning over trucks and vehicles and setting them on fire to close off access for the police and the federali's to the city. There is so much fear brought on by the media that I have to say it is somewhat infectious. But we try to not let that influence us so we ask everyone, friends, tourists, taxi drivers, waiters, I mean everyone, "Would you go?" All but one said yes! So we went, and it turned out to be one the best trips we have ever taken. We stayed in the downtown historic section that reminded us of being in Europe. Morelia was founded in 1541 and its' historic area is a Unesco World Heritage site. The Hotel Virrey de Mondoza where we stayed was a spectacular old home renovated into a hotel with original walls dating back to the 1500's. We loved it and Ben was convinced it was haunted! After a lovely dinner at an outdoor restaurant on the town square with a view of the magnificent lit up church, the waiter helped set us up with a tour for the next day to the El Rosario Sanctuary of the monarch butterflies. Score! We did it! There are just a few things in life, such as Laguna San Ignacio where the mother gray whales give birth to their young that we stopped at on our way down the Baja, and now the butterflies here that we know if we don't stop and see them now, chances are we would never come back.
So, let me tell you why this "super generation" of butterflies is so special. This generation lives up to eight months, where the others only for one to two months. They have been coming to this area in Mexico for thousands of years, from Dec. - March, swarming and living in the pine trees, eventually mating in February. The males then die off and the females begin their migration north to Canada in March, depositing their eggs along the way and then they too die off. The new generation is born, depositing their eggs as they continue north and the cycle continues until the fourth generation which again will be the "super generation"! First of all, it is just fascinating that through some kind of genetic memory the subsequent generations know to return here year after year. Secondly, it is just incredibly beautiful and surreal to see these clusters of colorful butterflies in the trees and flying all around you, often landing on you. The pictures that you see just don't do them justice. We are so glad we went. The added benefit of this was that being on a small group tour, we got to meet people that were from other parts of the world and we had very interesting conversations. The ride was about 2 ½ hours each way, which went by surprisingly fast as we climbed from about 6ooo to 9000 feet. Some of the small villages we drove through reminded me of driving through the Alps. When our driver/tour guide made a stop along the way and insisted we buy chocolate for energy I knew this was the trip for me! Once we arrived at the sanctuary, having been at sea level just the day before, it is a bit of a shock on the system. And, it is cold! But, we managed just fine to hike the next 1000 and something feet to the butterflies. We returned back to Morelia tired but happy that evening with a lifetime memory. Ben was thrilled because he was able to get his dinner from Burger King (a rarity in Mexico), and then soak in a real bathtub in our hotel room! Dad and I were thrilled because we had a dinner date (alone!) at the elegant restaurant down stairs. Let me tell you, this trip has been good in so many ways!
Through some convincing by other tourists, we decided to stay an extra night and do a different tour the next day to Patzcuaro and Isla Janitzio. Once again we were with a great group of people where we even toasted in the new year (with tequila of course!) at 5 o'clock because one family was from the Netherlands so it was really midnight their time. (Perfect for us because we seldom make midnight!) Our first stop on this day was at the property of the artist, Juan Torres, who is well known for his Dia de los Muertos figurines. The Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico around Nov. 2. It is a day of true celebration, giving families a reason to go visit their loved ones in cemetaries, often eating and drinking and listening to the favorite music of their deceased. The grounds of this artists haven were very unique in an artsy, funky sort of way. The gallery being in an old chapel.
Another interesting stop we made was in the village of Tzintzuntzan, meaning place of the hummingbird, in the indigenous language of the Purepecha Indians. We mostly stopped there to tour a beautiful religious complex called the Ex-Convento de San Francisco. As we toured these grounds, learning how this is where the Franciscan monks began the Spanish missionary effort in the state of Michoacan, we couldn't help but feel a little bit sad as we could look up the hill at ancient Tarascan ruins (from 600 BC) that had been blown up by the Spaniards because they thought there was gold inside. Somehow to us, the supposed love of Christ that they so wanted to force and the subsequent atrocities they committed on these people just don't seem to jive. As we walked around the property you can see stones with carvings from the ancient Purepecha that the Catholic Church "allowed" to be built into the buildings to gain the trust of the Indians and encourage them to turn their life towards Jesus. There are also ancient olive trees said to be the oldest in the America's, one for each year of Jesus's life, planted within the compound.
Lake Patzcuaro and Isla Janitzio were the highlight of the day. All around the lake are traditional Purepecha villages, each with its' own craft specialty which has maintained self sufficiency for the indigenous people. In the middle of the lake is Isla Janitzio, which reminded me of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, France. We traveled to the island in this funky sort of barge boat, learning that 6000 people lived on it, no cars, and that everything is either carried up and down this island by hand or on their backs. Of course the thing to do was to hike up to the statue at the top, and so we did. Phew! And then once we reached the statue we wound our way up the stairs on the inside - stepping out at the top for an amazing view of the surrounding country. The statue is 40 meters high, representing independence hero Morelio. The murals inside depict his life. This colorful island really was something you have to see to believe.
We returned to Ixtapa the next day, tired but happy, mindful that we need to not only pay attention to the ocean that we are traveling on but the land that we pass by.