02/01/2013, Puesta del Sol
We have found a hidden gem-Marina Puesto del Sol. About 50 nm southeast of the Bay of Fonseco where El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua come together lies an isolated lagoon amongst the mangroves where there is a hotel/marina nicely tucked in. Because it was after hours when we arrived at 5:30, we were greeted by the security guard, Mario, along with Richard from the neighboring sailboat out of Canada, who arrived with his wife from Panama following a long stay in the Caribbean. While we are heading south, they are working their way north to Mexico for an extended stay.
After last night and today when we were confronted with large, wind-driven waves on the nose for hours on end, we found this marina through one of the various cruiser books aboard Murar's Dream. We all agreed that, based upon the fact that the wind and waves had impeded our progress enough to deprive us of a daylight entrance into the first stopping point in Costa Rica, we needed a well-deserved break from the weather, as the high winds and big seas continue to be in the immediate weather forecast. Getting into the marina which is set back into the lagoon involves several twists and turns, as there are numerous shallows that need to be avoided. However, there were also numerous channel buoys which made the trip into the lagoon fairy safe. Rich stood at the bow looking for the shallows while we navigated our way in from the open ocean. As we rounded the final bend, we saw the small marina (with less than 40 slips) before our eyes and were amazed to see the quality of the facility even from afar, and Richard was quick to fill us in on all the details. Therefore, our first stop was at the palapa which houses a bar and restaurant, and it was time for Rich and Andy to taste Nicaraguan beer which was quite pleasant to the palate. We decided that it was time to have dinner, and we were not disappointed. We all agreed that this was one of the best meals that any of us has had since leaving the U.S. Debra's whole Red Snapper was outstanding, Andy had a snapper filet covered in a tropical salsa, and Rich enjoyed a chicken breast covered in another tasty sauce. It was then time to hit the showers to wash off all of the salt which had coated our bodies (and Murar's Dream which will have a bath tomorrow, as well) since we were constantly pummeled with large amounts of ocean water as we bashed our way from El Salvador to Nicaragua.
As a bit of a sidelight, the trip from Chiapas through Guatemala was quite pleasant. Before encountering the bad weather, we continued to troll for eating fish and to hook those not-so-pleasant Skipjacks, so Rich would reel them in and Andy would use pliers to remove the hooks and release the fish. The one exception was a fairly good-sized Jack Crevalle (also not good eating)just about the time that we snagged one of those fishing long lines used by the ponga fishermen. After freeing ourselves with a few jibes, we attempted to get around the outside of this series of soda bottles, only to get caught once again. At this point, we were so frustrated that Rich simply took a knife out and cut the line to free us. Shortly thereafter, we were joined by several sea birds which enjoyed landing on our mast and spreaders. Andy would go forward and use the spinnaker halyard to knock them off, and they finally gave up but not before one left a large present on our foredeck, so it was time to get out the scrub brush and wash off the deck. Later that day, we were again confronted with one of these sea birds, but this time it was trying to eat one of the fishing lures. After several tries, it managed to catch the lure in its wing such that Rich had to reel him in, and Andy was able to eventually free the bird but not until it managed to bite his hand several times. So much for a stupid bird. Could this have been the same bird which left us that present?
Our original plan was to simply spend the night here in Puesta del Sol and push on first thing in the morning, but the facilities and atmosphere here are potentially affecting that decision. We will make that call tomorrow, the biggest factor being a need to check in and out of Nicaragua as a result of this one stop. It will take us about a day to reach our first destination in Costa Rica-Bahia Santa Elena which everyone says is a wonderful bay with nice snorkeling in this Costa Rican national park. We are still working against our time line for getting to and departing from the Galapagos, so both time and the weather will continue to affect out decision-making. Nevertheless, for now we intend to enjoy this true gem of a spot as we sit aboard Murar's Dream in a secure dock with a nice tropical breeze blowing through.
01/29/2013, Puerto Chiapas
Well, we survived the Tehuantepec! We left Hautulco at noon and enjoyed a pleasant sail along the coast, staying near the shoreline-a longer but safer route if the winds began to blow. The forecast was for winds in the high teens with reasonable seas (not the 10-12 foot swells during the blow). As the sun set, however, the winds died down as well, so it was time to motor. As soon as we passed the point at the western edge of the bay for the port of Salinas Cruz, the winds began to build. Soon, we were pleasantly sailing along at 7+ knots when we began to study the AIS images of no less than 6 large ships in the anchorage. Four were anchored and two were under way. We were forced with a decision-Turn east and go outside the anchored ships or squeeze between the shore and the ship closest to shore. Rich and Andy made the choice to head east. It did not take long for the winds to build into the high teens and lows twenties, so it was definitely time to reef (make smaller) the sails. The seas built slightly so that, on occasion, we were taking some spray over the bow, so when we cleared the ships, we turned northeast, furled the jib and headed back to shore to continue our journey to Chiapas, our final stop in Mexico. Once close to shore, the seas calmed, and we were able to turn enough downwind to really take advantage of the strong breeze which lasted pretty much through the night.
The following morning, the winds decided to go away, and we understood that we were basically past the gap in the mountains through which the winds blow. It was motoring and motor sailing for the remainder of the trip. By nightfall, it was like a lake, and the seas continued to be flat all the way to Chiapas where we arrived after daybreak. After obtaining permission to enter the port from the Port Captain (a requirement for this port), we were directed to Marina Chiapas where some of the cruisers already docked there helped us dock Murar's Dream for the day. The process here is threefold: (1) The navy and Port Captain come to the boat to inspect it (with a drug sniffing dog) and do a lot of paperwork; (2) We all go to immigration andthe Port Captain to process the Zarpe (exit paper which we will need to go into Costa Rica); and (3) The navy and Port Captain return for a final inspection (why we don't really know.-taking drugs south OUT of Mexico????). The navy and port captain were very friendly and appreciated the Pepsis that we offered them as they sat aboard handling their responsibilities. They spoke no English to us, but Rich was convinced that at least one of them spoke fluent English so that he could tell the others what we might be saying about them in English. The marina here is extremely helpful with check-in and out. They drove us around to the three locations necessary for accomplishing this, and even they are having some trouble now that the new government has been replacing personnel in these key locations with their own people. We are now officially ready for the final boat inspection which is now scheduled for tomorrow AM.
After handling all the paperwork, the marina drove us to a nearby hotel (if you can call it that-very minimalistic) on the beach for a nice lunch. We are back onboard and trying to cool off as the heat has not eased off since we left Cabo. After showers and a light dinner of fish tacos (with the Sierra that we caught yesterday while underway), it is off to a good night's sleep. What we thought would be a four day trip to Costa Rica will only be 3 days if the winds cooperate, so we are happy about that. We hope to be in Costa Rica for about a week before the jump to the Galapagos where we plan to arrive in the third or fourth week of February.
That's all for now.
Unfortunately, the latest weather report shows the Tehuantepec window not opening until Monday, so here we remain in Marina Chahue as we continue to check daily for the latest updates. Due to this additional delay, we have taken the opportunity to explore some of the bays adjacent to Bahia de Hualtulco. Yesterday, we motored to Jicamal, a small cove about 7 nm from the marina where we anchored next to a large coral reef marked off by buoys. We arrived at mid-morning and donned our snorkeling gear for our exploration. It did not take long for us to realize that this was the best snorkeling that we have experienced anywhere in Mexico. The water was clear, and there was live coral which attracted a large number and variety of reef fishes. The water ranged from only a few feet deep to about 10, so it was as easy snorkeling as one could ask for. We only got out because we began to feel a bit of a chill due to the length of our stay in the water. In fact, Andy managed to clean the hull and change one of the zincs before we all headed over to the reef. We spent the afternoon just enjoying the breeze, awaiting the sunset and a night with almost a full moon. We had been told that any tourists that came to visit this cove would be gone by 4PM but, lo and behold, a group arrived just before sunset and set up tents for an overnight camping. In addition to the lack of total solitude in this small cove, the campers were a minor nuisance. A swell began to enter the cove, so we decided to set a stern anchor to keep the boat pointed into the swell. One should expect the winds to shift from onshore to offshore during the night which could push Murar's Dream into a position where it could be very uncomfortable as the boat would rock from side-to side. The decision proved to be well-reasoned, as the wind did shift and the swell grew throughout the night. By mid-morning, we knew that it was time to move on, either returning to the marina or checking out another, more protected bay. We decided to check out one of the daytime bays and then return to the calm of the marina before nightfall. This time, we anchored on the lee side of an island which sat at the entrance to the bay and checked out the reef at that site. We were out of the swell and it was an easy swim over to the reef where we enjoyed seeing more corals and reef fishes. If nothing else, it was a break from the continued daily heat to which we have been exposed here in Hualtulco. After returning to the boat, it was an afternoon of just enjoying the breeze as Andy taught Rich the game of Cribbage. The winds actually built for the afternoon, so we were able to sail most of the way back to the marina where we proceeded to give Murar's Dream a thorough bath. It has cooled off a bit here for now, so we are sitting in the cockpit after sunset as we watch the full moon rising.
We will spend the next two days getting the boat ready for our journey south. If all goes as planned, we will cross the Tehuantepec and check out of Mexico at Puerto Chiapas on the Mexican border. It will then be a 4 day journey to Costa Rica.
Debra and Andy have returned from Oaxaca, and they want to share their experience with all of you. The overnight bus ride was quite comfortable with reclining seats and clean restrooms at the rear of the bus. Debra managed to sleep most of the 9 hour trip while Andy experienced the winding roads and the two stops along the way conducted by the Federales (apparently looking for drugs as they also searched the luggage compartment) and the immigration office (apparently looking for illegals). They arrived at the bus terminal in Oaxaca and quickly took a taxi to the bed and breakfast that Debra had booked online. They were not disappointed as they were quickly seated at the dining table in the beautiful kitchen where they were treated to a delightful breakfast. The presentation and the table setting were first class, something that continued throughout their stay. Because their room was occupied until later that day, they were off to Monte Alban (a World Heritage site), the ruins of a Zapatec city that was used from 1000 BC until 800 AD when it was abandoned for unknown reasons. They hired a guide to show them the site and explain, in broken English, much of the history and features of the site. What was most interesting was the fact that these natives were scientists, primarily in the area of medicine and astronomy. The stone carvings depicted internal organs of humans, especially those associated with fertility. They had also constructed a sundial which enabled them to determine the seasons (the longest shadow being on December 21st and the shortest on June 21st, although they used their own calendar for farming purposes). The site lay on top of a mountain overlooking the city and, at one point was the home to a population estimated to be 50,000. The reconstruction of the site began in the 1950s, and many of the buildings and areas have been restored as close to their actual structure as is possible. One of the most interesting stones appears to show two players participating in what looks like a game of tennis, and the area where it is located could easily be a tennis type court with bleachers on either side for spectators.
Upon returning to the B&B, it was time for an afternoon siesta to recover from the overnight bus trip before venturing off to dinner at what is considered the finest restaurant in Oaxaca, Casa Oaxaca. This is significant because this region of Mexico is noted for its culinary arts, and there are numerous cooking schools where visitors can spend one day learning about this cuisine. Debra and Andy sat on the rooftop under a beautiful night sky enjoying the cool night air.
Debra and Andy hired our host, Rene, as a tourguide for the following day, and the first stop was a local market in an outlying pueblo. It was, to say the least, overwhelming. In addition to the daily, indoor booths of meats, fruits, vegetables, and baked goods, the streets were filled with vendors of all types. They walked through about 5 of these blocks and had only scratched the surface before going indoors. The first stop was the carniceria (butchers) where they had small charcoal grills to cook one's purchase, if so desired, so they took advantage by trying some homemade chorizo served in a fresh, corn tortilla. It was then off to the restaurant section where they were exposed to barbequed goat and lamb, once again wrapped in fresh tortillas. The final stop was at the baked goods where they were treated to the specialty of the area-bread filled with chocolate. None of these items disappointed. The visit culminated with the purchase of some local, organic garlic which is said to be even stronger than the typical Mexican garlic which, itself, is much stronger than what is grown in the U.S. They also purchased some dried chilis which are said to go well with seafood, so they will be stored in anticipation of the fishing that we intend to do as a part of our journey across the Pacific.
After leaving the market, the next stop was to a local weaving family, the most famous being Fidel Cruz Lazo whose work is shown in museums due to its quality-fine woolen yarns, hand-dyed using only natural dyes. They were treated to a demonstration of the making of the dyes by his wife, Maria, the most interesting being the red created by crushing the cocoons of insects which grow on the local cactus. After seeing the dying and the works underway on the looms, it did not take long to decide to acquire one of these beautiful pieces which has now become the throw rug for the aft cabin on Murar's Dream. Then, after a short drive, it was time to visit a Mezcal "factory." Factory is a true euphemism, as the agave pineapples (the same as used in the making of Tequila but of a different species) are first "baked" in a pit similar to how one roasts a suckling pig, followed by their crushing used a stone wheel driven by a horse in a circle before they are placed into a large, wooden tank for fermenting and then distilling, all of which are done by hand. It was then back to the B&B for another rest before venturing out to explore the historical region of the city, ending with an early dinner at another restaurant recommended by the B&B, LA Olla (actually owned and operated by a sister who also teaches a cooking school).
Although the intent was originally to return to the marina on Monday, it was obvious that there was more to see and do, so the decision was made to spend an extra day in Oaxaca. The first stop was the textile museum where one could see some of the finest weaving anywhere, including several pieces from Fidel Cruz. There was also a display of numerous pieces done by young people, mostly in their young teens, who had learned and mastered the art. It appears as though most of these young people begin to learn the weaving process at around the age of 7 and are quite proficient by the time that they are pre-teens. It was at this point that Debra began to feel the effects of the food and drink, developing a queasy stomach which has lasted upon her return to Murar's Dream. A quick stop at the local pharmacy has provided some relief, but her appetite has yet to return.
Today was again a day of travel. The bus to Hualtulco left at 9:30 AM and took a little over 8 hours to make the return trip. This time it was daylight, so it was easy to see the winding roads as they traversed the various mountain ranges. They had heard and read about how many tourists would become frightened or car sick as the bus traveled on the winding roads, but after having experienced the dirt road and huge drop offs of the road to Batopilas in the Copper Canyon, the paved roads and guard rails of the current roads were enough to eliminate any uneasiness. Everyone reunited on Murar's Dream by 6PM, and it was time to exchange experiences. Rich had remained behind and used his alone time to return to the beach clubs and enjoy some alone time on Murar's Dream. Everyone is retiring for the night, and it looks like it will now be Saturday night before the weather window will open for the trip south. The forecast is for continued, high winds and waves through Saturday (We just spoke with a catamaran which just made the crossing and reported that they were pounded by waves in 35 knot winds) but a substantial subsidence beginning on Saturday night. Currently, it looks like there may be a four day window which would make things easy for the trip south, but time is now becoming a factor. In order to make it to the Galapagos as scheduled, it looks like we won't have time to visit both Nicaragua and Costa Rica, so it is likely that we will bypass Nicaragua. This means that it is likely that we will make one final stop in Mexico in Chiapas (Puerto Madero) for re-fueling and continue on to Costa Rica, non-stop. The weather forecasts over the next few days will help us finalize our plans, but if we cannot cross the Tehuantepec before February 1st, we may have to re-think our entire journey, returning to Puerto Vallarta for the Puddle Jump without visiting Central America or the Galapagos. Please keep your fingers crossed for us.
Debra and Andy have booked their trip to Oaxaca taking an overnight bus on Friday. Rich will remain onboard to keep an eye on things while they are away. Yesterday was our first chance to explore the town of Crucecita. Debra and Andy went into town to find the bus terminal where they purchased their tickets for tonight while Rich did a bit of his own exploring. Debra and Andy found the central market and the town square while Rich was off checking out the side streets. Everyone returned to the boat by early afternoon and then decided to check out the beach clubs adjacent to the marina. The first stop was a private beach club where they had a very nice seating area under a palapa, sipping limonadas while they watched the high surf (the Tehuantepec gale has started, and, although it is not blowing hard here, the swell and waves reflect the turbulence offshore). Afterwards, we all checked out the neighboring hotel/club where we all took advantage of the swimming pools for a quick dip to cool off as it remains quite warm here in the high 80s and low 90s during the day. After returning to the boat, we had a nice meal onboard at the cockpit table in the cooler night breeze where we were soon joined by our neighbor who was a wealth of information about the local area. Eventually it was time to call it a night, so we all hit the sack for a good night's sleep.
Today was a free-for-all day. Rich and Andy walked into town to check out the local French bakery where they enjoyed some wonderful pastries. They then walked over to Santa Cruz, the portion of Bahia de Hualtulco which is adjacent to the marina. They located the port captain's office where they will obtain our Zarpe when we depart for Central America. They also came across the local church which is an open air facility. They arrived just as there was a celebration taking place to recognize the 50th wedding anniversary of some locals. All of the family was decked out in beautiful, off white attire and were escorted into the church by the priest who then conducted the ceremony. In the meantime, Debra took advantage of the day spa adjacent to the marina where she enjoyed a massage, together with the use of all the spa's facilities including a lap pool.
Tonight we headed into town for a late supper before boarding the Oaxaca bus which departs at 10:00PM and will arrive in Oaxaca at 6AM tomorrow. We hear that the trip can be quite interesting as you cross 4 separate mountain ranges, ending up at an altitude of 6,000 feet, which brings the forecast of cooler temperatures-a welcome relief from the coastal heat. Debra and Andy have booked a stay at a highly rated bed and breakfast which will serve as their base in Oaxaca. Our next blog should come upon their return from Oaxaca, probably Monday or Tuesday of next week. We have checked the weather forecast, and the current Tehuantepec gale is scheduled to subside starting on Thursday, so it looks like a Thursday night departure for the crossing.
We are now safely docked in Hualtulco (This is actually a misstatement. The actual town at Bahia de Hualtulco is called Santa Cruz. We are in a marina in a different part of the bay.) awaiting a weather window to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec. There are gale force winds predicted for the next few days, so we are looking into a land trip to Oaxaca. Now to fill in the details of the trip from Acapulco:
The weather forecast was for virtually no wind for the two days that it would take to travel here. However, we quickly discovered favorable winds for the first afternoon, so it was smooth sailing. In fact, they were so good, both in intensity and direction, that it was unnecessary to fly the gennaker, and we were going so fast (at times over 7 knots) that we could arrive at Hualtulco in the darkness of early morning-not a good idea to enter an unfamiliar port in darkness even with all the electronics (chart plotter and radar). However, by the middle of the night, the winds calmed down and changed direction to make sailing impractical, so it was time to crank up the engine. By daylight, there was virtually no wind, and the forecast came true-no wind for the rest of the second day and night. However, we were entertained with the 4 Bonitos that bit into our lures, all of which we released back to the sea-They are not the best eating. We did hook into two much larger fish of unidentified species, one of which managed to break off the leader (goodbye lure #1) and the other bit through it (goodbye lure #2). Thus, we hope to find more here in Hualtulco or Central America before our Pacific crossing.
Things did get a bit more interesting the second night when we were being overtaken by an oil tanker while we were both traveling in the same direction. Andy was on watch, and the pilot of the tanker was nice enough to radio when he got close to indicate his intentions-He would pass on our starboard, so Andy adjusted course slightly to port, and the tanker passed about a mile off our starboard beam. At that point, Andy happened to look at our SOG (speed over ground) and we were doing almost 8 knots despite the fact that we were running the engine at low RPMs. Andy looked at the speed through the water and quickly realized that we were in a 2+ knot current pushing us forward. At this speed, we were guaranteed to arrive in Hualtulco in darkness, so it was time to slow the boat down. There was just enough wind to fill the sails, so he set sail and killed the engine which managed to slow the boat down sufficiently. However, after one hour, those winds shifted too much astern to keep the sails filled, so it was back to motoring but just running the engine barely above idle speed to keep our speed down. Fortunately, this all worked out, and we arrived in Hualtulco after daybreak. After a trip to the fuel dock, we entered the marina where we were directed to a berth and have checked in for at least a 5 day stay since the high winds are predicted to last for at least that many days.
Now for another "cruising" moment. Today, we heard our bilge pump running, which indicates that water is getting into the bilge. Our first thought was that the generator leak had started again, so after unpacking the lazarette to get to the genset, Andy was relieved to find that it was not leaking. He then checked other possibilities and, again, no leak. Our thought was that this was just ordinary seepage that occurs over a period of time. However, we learned of the actual cause when Andy showered after sweating up a storm while trying to find the leak (It is really hot and humid here). We had the bilge open and watched the water running through as soon as he finished showering. Through a process of elimination, Andy discovered that a plastic clamp that sealed a gasket in the pumpout had cracked so that the water was leaking out the pump as it tried to pump the water overboard. Luckily, we had purchased a spare pump which had the broken part, so it was replaced, and we are back to good.
Tonight we joined some fellow cruisers in the marina for dinner at a local restaurant. We also began the process of finalizing our trip to Oaxaca. The marina is fairly minimal, but it does have power and potable water. We located the showers, but they are outdoors without any screening, so we will probably use the showers aboard. We are fairly sure that this will be our last stop in Mexico, so we will need to obtain a Zarpe (exit papers) from the Port Captain, which will allow us to enter the next country which should be Nicaragua if all goes as planned.