Acapulco to Huatulco
13 May 2011
Virginia and Dennis Johns
Sunday May 1, it's May Day and there is an International Worker's Union parade in the old town, zocalo, district of Acapulco near us -union workers in their white shirts and pants (uniforms?) went on for blocks. While the long, sandy beaches of downtown Acapulco are world-renown, the water is getting a bit of a reputation for pollution and we were longing to cool off with a dip in the 80 degree water. So we decided to take a bus all the way to the opposite end of Acapulco Bay to Bahia Puerto Marquez. We mentioned earlier that we had originally thought we'd anchor here while in Acapulco, but changed our minds when we saw how exposed it was. We were imagining a quiet, quaint little town with a long stretch of beach where we could do our first swimming. Boy were we surprised to see about 50 tour buses on the very narrow, dirt, roads of Puerto Marquez! The long beach was lined with Palapa restaurants and the entire beach and these restaurants were packed. It took us a while to find an open table in the shade, but then we enjoyed people-watching and pulled out our deck of cards for a few rounds of gin-rummy while we sipped our cold beverages and ate shrimp cocktails. There was no room in the water to swim. One interesting thing was that the restaurants seemed to provide PFDs and inflatable rings for their customers to use. Then when the tide came in, the folks down on the beach scrambled backwards and things got even more crowded, but everyone was having a grand time. When we took the bus back to the zocala area, we went to the central plaza again and enjoyed all that activity, along with an ice cream, while sitting in the shade. The plaza is huge but completely shaded with giant trees.
Monday May 2 we left Acapulco, saying our goodbye's and thank you's to Roberto and Luis (mentioned in previous blog). Roberto is looking forward to doing some cruising some day on his Hunter 40, a boat that he salvaged off the beach and is repairing and equipping. We plan to make a couple stops before we reach the marina near Huatulco, but the first opportunity to anchor requires an overnighter -our first in a while. We saw no sealife during the day, which was unusual. But just after sunset, when the sky wasn't completely dark yet, we saw a turtle with a bird hitchhiker on its back and some dolphins. The exciting part of our night passage was sheet lightning. It was so strange to see bright flashes of light across the sky when there were stars overhead in a nearly cloudless sky and no thunder.
Tuesday, May 3 it got into the 90's out on the water. But it wasn't as humid as when we were in Acapulco. We had seen several lighted boats (cruise ship, fishing boats) during the night passage, but otherwise uneventful after the lightning stopped. We arrived at Puerto Escondido (this one on mainland Mexico) in the early evening. The anchorage was full of pangas and one other sailboat. We anchored next to it, a ketch from Canada. We had a quick conversation across the water about anchoring spots, but didn't join up with them for a visit -they were headed north.
Wednesday, May 4 we planned for a day trip to Puerto Angel and that indeed worked out. We saw some rays jump high out of the water and do a triple flip. The seas were a bit confused that day with swell from the west but wind from the SE, but Virginia took her pills and felt fine. Again, the anchorage was full with pangas, but this time we were the only sailboat there, and thank goodness no one else arrived later as it appeared that we had found the only open place to anchor.
Thursday, May 5 Cinco de Mayo. We were awakened at sunrise by the sound of the fishing fleet of Puerto Angel setting off to sea all at once -imagine over two hundred outboard motors buzzing nearby at full throttle. As we were awake anyway and we wanted to arrive at the next port at high tide to clear the shoal, we soon got underway. We had just a short trip to Huatulco. We had no wind, but some swells that got Virginia a bit queasy; she quickly recovered. They had room for us in the marina which is great, as we hoped to do a land trip to Oaxaca from there to see some ruins. We'll feel better with the boat in a slip vs. at anchor while we are away, even if it ends up being just a day trip. The marina facilities are quite minimal...for instance, unheated, outdoor showers (like you see at the beaches in California). But we have showers on the boat, so no problem. Actually we've started taking showers on the boat with unheated water as the cooler water is quite refreshing. The rate is very reasonable and the docks are in relatively good shape. One thing we noticed is some of the vegetation around here is brown and dry, like we saw in the Sea of Cortez and northern Mexico. Previously, during the last few weeks we had been experiencing spots that were more stereotypical tropical with lush greenery (jungle river cruises, etc.). Check in was easy as the marina staff takes care of the paperwork but as we will be leaving the country after this port, check out will be a bit more complicated.
There are other cruisers here and some are headed south; finally someone going our direction, but unfortunately they are going earlier than us. We have met Bill and Dorene aboard Lanikai from The Dalles, Oregon. They are headed north. They have been cruising south of here in El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru for 9 ½ years. We will have them over to the boat soon to get some tips from them. On the other side of us are Ken and Sylvia Kondo aboard Ann Lucia from Japan. They started their journey with a 50 day passage from Japan to British Columbia Canada. They are one of the boats headed south, but will diverge from our planned route when they go through the Panama Canal. We have seen their boat in two other anchorages, but never got to visit with them. We had a quick discussion today, but need to invite them over as well. Another couple headed south are Julie and Andrew. They had their boat in Ventura West Marina, like we did, before heading down here in January. That is the 4th boat we have met on this trip that was in our Ventura marina. They are a young couple hitting all the good surf spots in their 27', 'no frills' sailboat -they have no refrigeration, so they get pretty excited about luxuries like ice and ice cream. Then we spoke with two couples whose boats "have grown roots" (their words) as they have been here for 3 years. They cruised the west coast of Mexico and found that they liked this spot best -"it reminds them of Santa Barbara 50 years ago"...hmmm I don't remember SB ever being 95+ degrees for weeks at a time.
Friday, May 6. Unexpectedly, we stayed up last night into the early hours of the morning because it was too hot to sleep and we were fussing with the dock lines. We noticed when we arrived that some of the boats were taking up a double slip as they had 3 or 4 lines off each side of their boats, half of which had to extend over the 'other' half of the double slip to reach a cleat. Around midnight, Libertad had adopted the same spiderweb of crossed lines, 4 on a side to keep us in position. There wasn't a hint of wind, yet the boats were all straining on their lines ad moving around vigorously from the tidal action. But Dennis got us secured in a way that minimized the motion and squeaking of the lines; we finally got some sleep. A provisioning and boat project day.
Saturday, May 7 Dennis went to town with the 'guys'. Chris of Misty Michael (one of the permanent residents on a big power boat) a few slips over, owns a car and drove. Dennis picked up a few small items he needed and had most of the hot spots of the town pointed out to him, but most importantly, he rented a car for our trip to Oaxaca. It was a hot day, 94 degrees at 1700. More project work today.
Sunday, May 8 - Mothers' Day (in USA). We locked up the boat and headed off in our rented car to Oaxaca. It was a beautiful drive through several mountain passes. It was lush green with lots of trees, including banana trees. Bunches of bananas were being sold along the roadside, but you had to buy the whole 'bunch' which was way too many for us, even if we shared with some other cruisers. Although it was only about 100 miles, it took us 6.5 hours. About 4 hours of that was winding mountain roads. The rest of the 'highway' that wasn't winding had speed bumps at every small village, comador (restaurant), or tienda along the way or was under construction. It was impossible to get up to the speed limit for long as you had to always be on the lookout for the "topas" as several of them were unmarked. Dennis got a lot of exercise clutching and shifting, as our rental was a standard transmission! We must have encountered more than 200 of them -no exaggeration. But despite that, we did really enjoy the ride. We arrived about 1730. Oaxaca is at about 5,000 feet, so the temperature was quite pleasant. We had reserved a room at Ollin, bed and breakfast. We hadn't stayed in a B&B before. It was a very pleasant experience. That night we walked the few blocks to the zocalo, center of town, for dinner. We listened to a traditional Mexican group playing on the cathedral steps and bought one of their CDs. We watched colorful dancers there as well; young men were dressed in matching pants, long capes, masks, and headdresses. The dance had a lot of stomping to it and they had jingle bells on their ankles. We walked over to another church and listened to a solo performer outside in the patio area who sang and played beautiful classical Spanish guitar. There were lots of people in the zocalo plaza; we have never seen so many balloons in one place.
Monday, May 9 at breakfast in our hotel we met Amy and Lauren, both from the Chicago area. Lauren, a lawyer, just changed jobs to be a full time administrator for a non-profit for Korean orphans that she and Amy founded a couple years ago. Amy is working for the US State Department and is now at the consulate in Monterey, Mexico. Her next assignment is in Vancouver. We were all headed to the Monte Alban ruins that morning and they hitched a ride with us. We hired a bilingual guide, Mario, and had a very informative tour. We learned about the various civilizations (starting with the Zapotec who are native to this area) that inhabited the site and built or re-built right on top of the original structures. His description of the botany of the area included the various uses of the plants and trees for curing both the body and the soul. He was very knowledgeable about the ruins, the various civilizations that lived there, and the architectural influences of the cosmos, seasons, and the jaguar. They had a hospital or medical training facility where they performed brain surgery and autopsies, which we found fascinating. There are several temples with altars and hidden tunnels so the priests could magically appear, personal residences for the royalty in power, saunas for healing, and a ball court in which the game was played with a rubber ball over 2500 years ago. It was a ceremonial game, watched only by the priests, so no throngs of cheering fans -ho hum, how dull. The site was huge and amazing. Excavations continue on part of that site. Later in the evening, the clouds filled in and brought rain and thunder.
Tuesday, May 10 Mothers' Day in Mexico. We drove up to the Northern Sierras to the "Joint Towns" which are in the pines at about 8,000 feet. We took a mountain bike tour (just the two of us) with a Zapotec guide. It was absolutely beautiful. At times we would leave the bikes and hike into a special site, such as a cave or great view of the valley. Virginia had to walk a few of the hills near the end of the 3 hour trip; we were both exhausted, but loved it. Just as our bike trip ended it started to sprinkle. Then we had lunch at a comador (small restaurant) where a woman was cooking over an open fire. That was a native Oaxacan meal for sure. We had squash soup in a very light tomato broth, chicken and rice with mole, and the typical huge Oaxacan tortillas that are grilled over an open fire (versus frying). In this completely out of the way place that had only two other patrons, we met a woman from Switzerland who spoke very good English and described how she came to live in and/or visit the Zapotec village. At the end of the meal, we became aware that the village was gathering for a celebration of music and dance for the mothers. By the time we started our drive back to town we had thunder and lightning again. The rain stopped in time for us to enjoy the Mothers' Day festivities in the Oaxacan zocalo, including a concert by an orchestra that was playing from the elevated gazebo in the middle of the zocalo plaza. The restaurant gave all mothers two red roses.
Wednesday, May 11 we walked into central Oaxaca in the morning to do a tour of some of the cathedrals and museums. The largest and most spectacular cathedral is Santa Domingo. The whole interior of the church is 3-D gold relief. It is really over the top. By contrast, the cathedral that is off of the zocalo plaza (there has always been a cathedral off the zocalo plaza in the towns we have visited) is very simple. The beautiful monastery buildings adjoining Santa Domingo house an extensive cultural museum. We visited the Governor's Palace which has been made into a museum. There are two lovely murals on the walls. The museum is geared for children and very high tech. We checked out of the B&B around noon. We would recommend the Ollin B&B. They have about 8 rooms surrounding a small swimming pool. Each room has a little patio area outside the front door. The breakfasts are different each day, always starts with fruit. We were introduced to a dark purple fruit from a cactus that we really enjoyed so we bought a few from a woman in the zocalo plaza to take back with us. It was so much cooler in Oaxaca than down where the boat is in Huatulco, so we really enjoyed the break from the heat. On the return trip Virginia decided to count the speed bumps. There were exactly 200 of them between our B&B and marina! Along the way we stopped for lunch at a roadside comador. At a comador restaurant there isn't a menu, you just eat what they have prepared that day. Sometimes there are a couple choices. This time they asked if we wanted the beef or chicken. We chose chicken and got bowls of Pozole - chicken and hominy with other grated vegetables offered on the side to sprinkle in the soup (radishes, cucumbers, onions, cabbage). It was delicious. That night, when we got back to the marina, we provisioned, as it was convenient to do with the rental car.
Thursday, May 12 - happy birthday to the twins Charlene and Colleen (Virginia's sisters). Today we devoted to checking out of Mexico. Our marina handled some of it, but we needed to take a taxi over to the Port Captain and Immigration to fill out some paperwork and pay some fees. We had fortunately taken our binder, where we store all our paperwork and receipts related to the boat, rather than just the list of items we understood were needed for checking out, because they asked us not only for our temporary visa, but the receipt that showed that we paid for that visa. It took a bit of searching, but we did have it in the binder, fortunately. It seemed strange that none of the cruising guides warn you about the requirement of this document. We were just glad we had it. Now we are on the boat waiting for the customs agent to do an inspection of our boat, supposed to arrive before 1900 tonight. Tomorrow at 0930 immigration comes for their inspection. We hope to leave around noon at high tide. A couple tips for those of you who may be in this position of checking out of Mexico in the future: keep your bank receipt as proof that you paid for your temporary visa, be prepared to be aboard all day the day prior to your departure as they can't give you a specific time for the customs visit. Also, regarding money changing - we went into a bank to exchange pesos for dollars, as the USD is the monetary unit in El Salvador. They won't make exchanges to dollars in the banks, but some of the ATMs provide an option to get your withdrawal either in local currency or in US dollars . The ATM is very convenient, but not all ATMs offer this option so it takes a bit of searching sometimes. We now have an abundance of pesos left over that we were going to exchange, but we are expecting that El Salvador will make the exchange to dollars for us.
Doreen and Bill came over in the evening to give us hints about cruising Central America. They brought us a big bag full of travel and cruising guides for the area - what a nice surprise. They will certainly come in handy. We had to interrupt our session when the customs agent came to do our departure inspection (about 1900). It was quick and simple. The Immigration inspection is tomorrow morning just before we head out.
Dennis' brother is joining us in Costa Rica. Now is the time to start firming up those plans. It will be fun to have company.