21 January 2013 | Mexican Riviera
Maren and Connor are flying into Puerto Vallarta on Feb. 5th. We can't wait to see them! It will be our first reunion of all four of us in over two years. We don't know when or where we'll be able to get together next so we are really excited about this opportunity to meet in Mexico. It should be fun as there are lots of opportunities for sailing, surfing, Stand Up Paddle (SUP), dining out, music, and maybe even a beer can race. After the kids leave, we'll stay in Banderas Bay until we "puddle jump" to French Polynesia in March. This gives us about three weeks to explore the Mexican coastline before the kids arrive and we plan to continue south, primarily in search of places where we can swim and snorkel.
We are always amazed by the amount of sea life in this area. We see whales and dolphins on a daily basis. The fish we see when snorkeling look like first cousins of the fish we see in the Caribbean - same shapes, different colors. Puffer fish are everywhere and instead of hiding like their shy, Carib cousins, they are out in the open and prefer sandy bottoms to rocks or reef. One variety is bright banana-yellow, another is midnight blue with tiny iridescent white spots. There are trigger fish and angel fish, again with different markings than we've seen before. There is a gray, drab looking trigger fish that is used for ceviche. His more colorful Caribbean cousin was also delicious, known locally as "Ole Wife", but fished out years ago. It's nice to see the fish here thriving.
But, in all honesty, nothing compares to the Virgin Islands in terms of water color and clarity. That's because the Virgin Islands are so small and dry that there is little run-off to cloud the water or turn it green with algae. Our charter guests were surprised to see so much cacti in the islands, expecting the tropical lushness associated with islands like Hawaii. But small land masses do not create large clouds. Rainfall in the VI averages about 20 inches a year. Hard on the flora and fauna but perfect for maintaining crystal clear water. Here in Mexico there are lots of rivers and estuaries emptying into the ocean. The water is not clear but it is nutrient-rich supporting large populations of fish. We are looking forward to French Polynesia and snorkeling their legendary waters that (hopefully) will surpass anything we've seen before.
Snorkeling aside, we've enjoyed the bays that we've visited and are surprised by the number of long sand beaches that break up an otherwise rocky coast. Most coastal towns have a long, sand beach lined with thatch 'palapas' selling food and drinks to the beach-going crowd. There is usually a small fleet of 'pangas'(open skiffs) that fish the local waters and their entourage of pelicans. Often there is live music ashore and the instrument that carries farthest over the water is the tuba! It seems that Mexican music was heavily influenced by German immigrants and what we often hear sounds like a fusion of Mariachi and Polka!
Our favorite anchorage so far is Tenacatita. This is large anchorage with an undeveloped beach and access to a mangrove lined estuary that you can explore by dinghy. At the estuary entrance is a small campground frequented by vacationing Mexicans and a palapa serving drinks and their signature dish, rolle de mar - a shrimp wrapped in fish wrapped in bacon, cooked and served in an almond creme sauce.
But what makes Tenacatita really special is the community of cruisers who base there and especially the self-appointed 'mayor'. The Mayor, Robert, and his wife, Ms. Virginia, are classic tie-dyed-in-the-wool California hippies who, in the early '70's, were founding members of the commune, The Farm. The commune began with about 250 like minded hippies in a caravan of about 60 buses traveling cross country in search of a home and settling south of Nashville, TN. The commune was dedicated to subsistence living in harmony with nature and in its hay-day grew to a population of around 3,000. Robert and Virginia returned to California in the early '90's with their six children (the commune did not believe in birth control!). After their youngest left for college, they decided to become sea gypsies, spending winters in Mexico and summers back in California. Virginia has written a book about their lifestyle, "Harmony on the High Seas, When Your Mate Becomes Your Matey".
Robert is tall and lanky with a snowy pony tail and a twinkle in his eye. Virginia is petite with a braid that hangs to her waist. They are both warm, thoughtful, and generous with their knowledge and their time. Each Friday they host the 'Mayor's Raft-Up' as a meet and greet for cruisers passing through the area. Robert anchors his dinghy off a small, secluded beach known as "Good Dog Beach" and we tie alongside forming a circle of dinghies. Everyone brings their own happy hour libations and an appetizer to share with the group. Robert welcomes everyone, introduces himself, and throws out a theme. This weeks theme was "following your bliss". Everyone in turn introduces themselves, tying into the theme, while platters of food are passed around.
When my turn came I told one of my favorite stories - how I had learned to sail in New York Harbor in 1977 and sailed to Antigua in 1978. I camped on the beach at Cinnamon Bay, St. John and fantasized about meeting a handsome charter boat captain and living on a boat in the Virgin Islands. Six years later Bruce sailed into New York Harbor on a schooner and my dream came true - I "followed my bliss".
In addition to the weekly Mayor's Raft-Up, there are daily activities which the Mayor announces every morning on VHF radio. At 1:00 anyone can join Ms. Virginia's swim to the beach - really a swim and chat - accompanied by Robert in their dinghy who guarantees our safety from any pangas that might cross our path. On the beach we have game of boccie ball. While playing boccie, a volleyball net is set up for a not-too-competitive/anyone-from-8-to-80-can-play game. This is followed by yoga under the palms led by a young mother whose children play on the beach while dogs nap under the beached dinghies and everyone else enjoys a cold beer and maybe Mexican Train dominoes at the palapa. By 5:00, when the no--see-ums start to come out, everyone heads for their respective boats.
When we left Tenacatita we said our farewell on the morning radio net, thanking everyone for making 'Camp Tenacatita' so much fun and giving credence to the adage, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."