Sunday, May 29 we left Bahia del Sol around noon at high tide. The pilots for guiding you across the bar ride on a ski jet ahead of you. The one sitting on the back takes pictures and talks you through it on the VHF radio, giving instructions such as "slow down, we're gonna let a few of these pass under you" or "Ok full speed ahead now" or the favorite "anybody get wet on that one?" Of course everyone in the anchorage knows you are leaving as there has been several "good byes" and "good lucks" leading up to the departure and they are all listening to their radios being thoroughly entertained. Our trip out was certainly more exciting than our entrance had been, but it wasn't bad, judging from other stories. Bill of Metakulu (the pilot in the rear seat) sent us some good pictures which we'll post. But our adventure had only begun.
Just an hour or two out of port we caught a mackerel. We had purchased a long handled net and it worked great; it was so easy to bring the fish aboard (and keep it aboard). We had a wonderful fresh fish dinner. After sunset we realized something that will undoubtedly get us an "award" in our boating squadron - we hadn't taken on fuel as planned in Bahia del Sol. Whether it was the distraction of all the land travel - who knows, but we messed up. We checked our charts for the nearest fuel - Barillas in El Salvador. We were only a few miles away, but it also has a bar and you can't go over it after 3:00pm. We weren't sure if we had enough fuel to putter around all night waiting for the opportunity to cross the bar so we headed a few more miles off shore to get away from nighttime encounters with fishing pangas and turned off the engine (where's the wind when you need it!). Then the typical evening rain storm came. We bobbed around in the storm throughout the night, closely watching our position which didn't change much as the storm didn't bring any wind with it. Neither of us got much sleep that night.
Monday, May 30 we turned on the engine in the early morning and headed toward the anchorage, calling the Barillas port authority to make arrangements for a pilot. At that point our friends Rose and Jani on Lovely Lady radioed us that they were waiting to cross the bar as well and had arranged for their pilot to take us across together, given we are about the same size. We had been told that a swell was coming into this area which would certainly close the entrance (which is one reason we had left Bahia del Sol when we did). Well it had already arrived and the pilot was now advising us to go east to La Union (no bar there) which is in the Gulf of Fonseca. Lovely Lady had just come from there and wasn't looking forward to a return trip and we notified Barillas that we did not have enough fuel. No problem - they would send a panga out with 15 gallons for us. Lovely Lady decided to wait for us so we could buddy boat to La union (great friends - as it was going to be a wait of about 2 hours to get the panga to us with the fuel). We loaded the diesel without any hitch other than fuel all over us and the deck as the boat pitched in the swell. The panga reported conditions back to the port and now they were telling us that they might be able to take us across the bar. Neither boat liked the sound of the 'might', so we decided to go to La Union. We arrived after dark, but Lovely Lady took the lead and took us to their previous anchorage spot just off the navy base. It was so easy for us with their local knowledge. Lights out - sleep!
Tuesday, May 31 we had to clear back into El Salvador (as we had cleared out and gotten our international Zarpe when we left Bahia del Sol). Rose had made friends with the local authorities on her previous visit and they made it so easy for us. We met them at a restaurant (Resturante Amanecer Marino) on the beach near our anchorage. We learned that morning that Lovely Lady had their share of dramas (traumas) recently including the pilot grounding them on the bar upon their first entry to Barillas (they had planned to haul out there and store for the winter). After the grounding they needed to haul out to check for damage but the lift in Barillas was occupied so they had come to La Union only to find the lift at the navy yard had broken when trying to haul a large navy boat (that was somewhat good fortune as that could have been them). That navy boat was still sitting askew in the hoist. So they were heading back to Barillas to wait for the lift there (the night we were bobbing out there) when they hit a panga boat in the pitch blackness of the storm. We were even more amazed at their generosity to wait to buddy boat with us - great friends. Things began to look up for them when we departed as they had had an inspection which revealed no critical damage. Two other boats that had been with us in Bahia del Sol were in a nearby anchorage and radioed that they would come into town and join us for lunch. There is no fuel dock in La Union (which we found amazing given they have a fishing fleet) so we had to jerry jug the fuel from the gas station in town. It took us awhile to get the arrangements set up (find a spot where we could land the dinghy and load fuel cans in and out, where it would be safe, and where it was close to a street with taxis, and then move Libertad closer to that spot) but we found a great spot where the staff at the small tienda located there was very nice and one even spoke some English. Dennis really cranked and made each run in about 30 minutes. We figured we needed about 4 runs to have plenty of fuel to get us to Costa Rica. Virginia stayed aboard and watched the tides and anchor. On his way back to Libertad on the last run, the daily rainstorm hit and this one had some wind with it. We were both soaked by the time he was aboard. We learned our lesson - don't think we'll forget about fuel again.
Wednesday, June 1 - Thursday June 2. Wednesday morning we cleared out of El Salvador for Costa Rica (again). We used the Resturante Amanecer Marino again. The proprietor is so nice to allow this. He even asked us if we wanted to go into a private air conditioned room. We headed for Isla Meanguera - a nearby island at the mouth of the Gulf. Our friends on Jeorgia (Chris and Paul) and Rapscullion (Henry and Pam) were going to be there that night. It was a beautiful spot - so peaceful. From there you could see the three countries that bound the Gulf of Fonseca (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua). There is a hotel in the anchorage run by a family. The father is American (raised in Los Angeles) and the mother is El Salvadorean (but also spent time part of her childhood in LA). They have a daughter, about 10 yr old, that is so sweet. We pampered ourselves, staying in that anchorage 2 nights and having dinner at the hotel out on their veranda overlooking the Gulf both nights. We were the only people there. We would highly recommend that any boats passing this way, visit this island and the patio of Hotel la Joya del Golfo (www.hotellajoyadelgolfo.com), the father is very sociable, tending to every need and the wife is a marvelous cook.
Friday, June 3 - Saturday June 4. Friday morning we headed out with Jeorgia at about 0530 bound for Santa Elena, Costa Rica. We saw lots of floating sea turtles and two dolphins were swimming around the boat at night leaving a phosphorescent trail. Two boobies perched on our masts overnight. We motor sailed all except a couple hours and had another rainstorm with lightning. It was nice to have company. We set up a check-in schedule at 2000, 2400, 0400 and when the storm was nearby we checked in more frequently to share information and ideas on where to run and how to avoid it. We saw a few pangas as we left the Gulf of Fonseca and one large container ship near a Nicaraguan commercial port - otherwise we appeared to be the only two boats out there. They left a bit earlier than us, but once we caught up we stayed within sight and VHF range of each other the entire passage. We had selected an SSB channel to use for our check-ins in case we got out of VHF range. If we had each been able to sail more, we might have diverged. We arrived at the Santa Elena anchorage on Saturday at about 1830 just as the sun was setting. It was gorgeous and calm. We got the daily rainstorm, but it was light.
Sunday, June 5 - Monday, June 6. We noted some irregularity with the condition of our batteries. With the help of Paul from Jeorgia we got a better understanding of the state of our batteries and got ourselves fully charged and the monitor reset. While recharging the batteries Dennis & Paul diagnosed and fixed our GPS-to-laptop connection and now we have GPS data on our laptop plotting software. Dennis also had to do some maintenance on the propane system as the solenoid switch failed. Five months of wear and tear and some of the systems are now asking for attention. But we also had some play time, kayaking the estuary and snorkeling in the bay. There is coral near the islands at the mouth of the bay and we saw a variety of beautiful fish there. This was our first snorkeling of the trip. Virginia still needs to get more comfortable with it and so she floated around using the boogie board as an aid. We saw some beautiful birds - bright green with long tail feathers (motmots). We saw pairs of parrots fly overhead numerous times (you can hear them chattering away). In the early mornings and evenings it sounded like the animals were having a party ashore. We would have liked to do a hike at those times to get some good pictures, but rain and boat projects got in the way. It was a beautiful and very calm anchorage.
Tuesday, June 7 we left Santa Elena at first light, 0500, and headed to Playas del Coco. We needed to check into the country and get prepared for meeting Dennis' brother Greg who would be joining us for 10 days. We arrived around 1230. We had lunch aboard and Dennis headed to shore to start the check-in process, which we were told would be lengthy and take a full day. We had also heard that the swell here made it hard to land the dinghy so he took one of the kayaks. But there was very little swell that day and he had an easy landing. He met with the port captain and immigration and made an appointment for the agricultural inspection for 0830 the next morning. Immigration wanted to see Virginia in person but gave Dennis what he needed for the port captain and trusted him to bring Virginia back the next day. That night the anchorage became very rolly and so we experienced interrupted sleep even with the flopper-stoppers deployed.
Wednesday, June 8 we both went ashore in the dinghy to finish the check-in process. In keeping with the rolly night we had, there was a bit more swell, but Dennis carefully eased us in. We locked the dinghy to a metal stand. Virginia stayed at the port captain's office while Dennis took the agricultural inspector in the dinghy out to the boat. This is the first country where we had such an inspection. Because we had heard about the rolly anchorage, difficult dinghy landing, and petty thievery in Playas del Coco we had originally planned on anchoring around the corner in Playas Panama and bussing here to clear-in. But some other boats that had been in El Salvador with us and had recently cleared in here warned that the port captain was not happy with folks that did that, and we can now see why given the agricultural inspection requirement. Virginia made her visit to Immigration. Our last step was to go to customs, near the airport in Liberia. We took a bus. It cost us 500 colones apiece ($1US). It was an easy trip out there and we had all our paperwork in order so the process was quick. But....then we tried to get a bus back. There was no official busstop at the Aduano (customs) but we were told the buses would stop there if you waved them down. This was a busy highway so it was hard to see the signs on the buses as they approached, so we had to try to flag down all of them and then wave them off if not our bus. Few of them would slow down or stop. We decided to walk down the road to an official bus stop. Finally we saw the Coco bus, but despite both of us waving to flag him down, he just kept on going. That had been about an hour wait. We decided to take the next bus headed in that direction and then transfer to a Coco bus. 45 minutes later and we had seen nothing but local route buses. We walked back to the Aduano office to ask them to call us a taxi. Just as we got to the Aduano driveway another Coco bus passed and again ignored our waving. So we took a $50 taxi ride back to Coco. Clearing in here does take time as reported, but only that final leg of the trip was frustrating - the rest went smoothly and the officials were patient with our very limited Spanish. This is the first port where the officials didn't speak English. We moved the boat around the corner to Playas Panama. It is much more scenic and calm here. We contacted the nearby Marina Papagayo and they have room for us. We plan to take a slip for one night to charge our batteries, take on water (which is potable everywhere in Costa Rica), and pick up Dennis' brother.
Friday, May 13 the immigration agent came in the morning and cleared us so we left around 1130 with lots of hands on the dock to help with our lines and get us safely out of the slip (we had a nasty cross wind and a very tight fairway). It was high tide and we got over the bar at the marina entrance with no problem. Out of the harbor we found 15-20 knots of wind and so put up our sails right away. We were able to sail until about 0400 the next morning, averaging 7 knots. It was great. We saw several pods of dolphins. Virginia was a bit anxious about the crossing of the Gulf of Tehuantepec as there are times of the year that it can blow at gale force and above. But May is historically one of the calmer months and the weather forecasts we got were for a very mild crossing - and that is how it turned out. We went from point to point, straight across the bay, not taking the often-recommended longer route that hugs the coast, and it worked out just fine. We passed one boat headed north and were hailed on the radio by Robin who was crewing aboard the northern bound boat, Inspiration at Sea, and we visited with him a bit. His boat was down in Bahia del Sol, where we were headed, and he would be returning there in a couple months, but was helping a friend get her boat further north. We heard later that he got off at Huatulco where she had her car so he could drive that north for her. She later had an emergency at sea, losing her engine, getting caught in a storm, and was eventually towed into Acapulco by the Mexican navy. We don't have any more details yet. That night we saw some heat/sheet lightning in the distance.
Saturday, May 14 we motor-sailed all day and night. The seas were calm. About dinner time we saw a pod of dolphins that were the most active and athletic we have seen yet. They were jumping high out of the water and twirling around. What a show. We saw a water spout in the distance. That night we again saw rain and lightning in the distance. This time some of it was bolt lightning so we deviated a bit from course to keep our distance. We got in one short rain shower, about 10 minutes. Around midnight we crossed into Guatemala waters.
Sunday, May 15 we had very flat seas in the morning. We got a bit of wind by noon, but still had to motor-sail. We saw sea turtles and more of the acrobatic dolphins. That night we got near a big lightning storm. We delayed our arrival at Bahia del Sol by about 5 hours doing a dance with the storm, basically motoring around in circles as it would change direction and form new cells. We got into some rain and put on our foul weather gear, but we managed to stay away from the lightning. Again, around midnight we crossed into El Salvador waters.
Monday, May 16 we were approaching the sand bar at the estuary entrance for Bahia del Sol and radioed in to arrange for a pilot. We were initially advised that the high tide window of opportunity to enter was likely going to be closed by the time we arrived and we would have to anchor outside and wait for the next opportunity. This seemed a little odd because although we had lost some time dodging lightning storms the night before, we thought we'd still be arriving only about 90 minutes after high tide and that should have provided plenty of water over the bar. Another cruiser (Tom on Dragon's Toy) got on the radio and helped relay our conversation with the pilot as the pilot was onshore on a hand held radio that didn't have good reception; Tom suggested if we had the ability to push it a bit, we should do that as we would likely end up anchoring for two days as there wouldn't be any pilot on duty on Tuesday. We pushed our engine the highest we have so far and it performed great. Arriving earlier than expected, the pilot was willing to come out to meet us and the calm we experienced all day provided a very uneventful crossing. Unbeknownst to us, a number of cruisers had gathered at a palapa restaurant right at the bar entrance to welcome us, but started booing as our entrance was so mild and not very entertaining. Fine with us! We did have a bit of a challenge getting lined up at the dock to clear customs given the strong tidal action and wind in the estuary. But we just kept bearing away and trying again until all the opposing forces were accounted for. There were lots of hands on the dock waiting to grab the lines and help us. After arriving, we discovered El Salvador does not switch to daylight savings time so our tide table times were an hour off which made the hesitation by the pilot understandable. We were planning to anchor out, but the marina said they had one slip left (the end tie where we were directed for clearing customs) and we could have it for $23 a night...the least expensive marina yet. What a great group of cruisers there are here. Some are headed north, some are staying here, and some are south bound along with us. The Hotel Bahia del Sol that runs the marina is wonderful. Clearing into the country was made so easy - immigration and customs authorities have an office right here at the hotel. There is an outdoor restaurant, which we have used on a number of nights when it was just too hot to cook in the boat. Next to it is a beautiful swimming pool and shower facilities (no hot water, but the water is ambient temperature which is mid-to-upper 80's -so refreshing, we haven't missed hot water!) They have a laundry service and are very helpful with making travel arrangements.
Docked right across from us is Pam on Precious Metal. She came right over to greet us. Karen, Steve, and Don who did the 2008 Baja HaHa with us will remember her as the one that loaned us a generator to recharge our batteries when our starter motor failed. She is here for an extended stay, making repairs to her boat from a lightning strike. It is rare to be struck, but even rarer to get 'hit' by what they told her was called a "bolt out of the blue", which was not a direct strike. The lightning hit the water several miles away and traveled through the water and into her engine room via her engine exhaust port, causing a fire in her engine room. Her engine was fine, but it fried all her electronics. She has a metal hull, not sure if that factored into the situation. She immediately introduced us to several of the "daily cruiser activities" including a dip in the ocean at the nearby beach every morning around 0900 (Dennis got in his first boogie boarding and body surfing); walking the beach collecting shells; shared trips to town for provisioning; then around 1600 we'd meet at the pool for happy hour. The drinks are so inexpensive, $1.00 for a soda or beer. Worked for us...by 1600 were very ready for a cool dip after an afternoon of boat projects. All the charges (marina, drinks, food, laundry, pilot service) go on your hotel bill and every Sunday you go in and pay your bill, and then wander the facility giving a weekly tip to the staff that helped you that week. El Salvador uses US dollars as its monetary unit so that is convenient for us. It was easy to understand how for many of the cruisers, days turned into weeks, weeks to months, and months to years, extending their stay here.
Tuesday, May 17 after the morning beach routine we walked to a nearby palapa to have Pupusas for lunch. These are a unique El Salvador dish. They are puffy tortillas stuffed with various ingredients, fish, meat, vegetables, beans, cheese. Delicious. We pulled the last of our yellowtail from the freezer and bbq'd it that night, mmm still great after all these days in the freezer.
Wednesday, May 18 after the morning beach routine we took the bus into Zacatecoluca (the nearest major town) where we would be doing provisioning as needed. It was about a 90 minute bus ride on the direct line. We went in shortly after lunch and planned on having dinner in town, but after visiting the town plaza, the church, the street market, and the two grocery stores, we decided to head back to the boat 'early'. This was around 1700. We went to the bus station and were told that we had missed the last direct bus of the day to our area, our next bus would be 'manana'. The look on Virginia's face instigated a flurry of activity. There suddenly was a lot of activity with men whistling and yelling, passing the message down the street that we needed to catch the bus that had just left. They held it up and it waited for us. This bus would take us to a town "Arcos" where we would need to transfer to another one by walking along a path to another highway -fortunately several other riders were making the same connection, otherwise we certainly would have been lost. After a short wait, we caught a bus to Bahia del Sol taking us out to the estuary entrance which is at the end of the bus line. We were definitely the last ones on the bus and it was dark when we got back to the boat. But everyone had taken good care of us! Like in Mexico, the El Salvador buses have a driver and a 'hustler'. The hustlers are great. They amazingly keep track of folks as they get on the bus and then come down later to collect the fares. They ask where you are going and remember to warn the driver to stop at that spot. In this case, the hustler kept coming back to reassure us (Virginia) that he remembered where we were headed and it was 'coming up'.
Thursday, May 19 as we headed to the beach in the morning we realized that the hotel has a pair of macaws in a tree at the reception area and a fenced in area with a family of deer. There was a new fawn, so cute. A lazy day, met more of the cruisers in the area at happy hour.
Friday, May 20 we went to the beach in the morning as usual. The current pulls you down the beach so we always have a walk back to our towels. This morning Virginia and another cruiser, Henry, spotted a bright yellow object in the lapping surf and went over to investigate. They were the keys to Libertad (fortunately on a keychain with a yellow float) which Dennis had forgotten to remove from his pocket before he went body surfing. Lucky find! We do have backups, so it wouldn't have been devastating. That night the hotel had a special Italian dinner and a group of 11 cruisers reserved a table in their large meeting hall. There was a heavy downpour while we were at the dinner. The thatch repair job we had seen them doing earlier in the week held up for the most part, but Virginia had a few drips in her spot and had to inch closer to Dennis. Then we lost power for a short time, but there were candles on the tables only adding to the romantic atmosphere. It was a nice time to visit with that particular group as three of the boats were leaving the next morning, headed south. It stopped raining by the time we had finished dinner, but it did rain more that night. None of our hatches leaked. We were quite cozy.
Saturday, May 21 we got up early to bid our friends farewell. Dennis walked down to the estuary entrance to watch them cross the bar and get an idea of what we would have in store when we made that trip. Virginia said her goodbyes at the dock. All three seemed to get away without a hitch. We met a couple who was staying at the hotel, having done a swap with their timeshare ownership -not cruisers. They are interested in doing an overnight tour to Antigua, Guatemala so today we arranged to go with the "Tourin" company run by Jorge Martinez. He is mentioned in our cruising guide. Quite a few of the cruisers here have taken trips with him and all been very happy with the arrangements. We were so happy to meet this couple as they seem like very nice folks and we needed at least four for the tour. Barbara and Lamar are from Atlanta Georgia. They are retired too; Barbara was the director of the department of international and cultural affairs for the city of Atlanta and Lamar was the director of the cultural presentations at the airport. He is also a jazz musician and has a radio show.
Sunday, May 22 Happy Birthday to Virginia's mother! We are preparing to close up the boat while we are away because when we get back from the 2-day 1-night tour to Antigua, we will be taking off in a rented car for a few more days to do some touring on our own in El Salvador. We were interested also in going to the famed Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, but we don't want to cross the border on our own and the cruisers that might accompany us on one of Jorge's tours, are currently away visiting family and friends in the USA and other countries and aren't scheduled to return until after we will have headed south. The hotel had 'pizza' night so no cooking again.
Monday, May 23 We left with Jorge, Barbara, and Lamar for our trip to Antigua at 0730. Bill and Jean joined us for the first leg of the trip to San Salvador as they had business in town. They are the organizers of the El Salvador cruiser's rally and live here a big part of the year. Bill also works with the pilots who assist with the bar crossings. Jorge talked nonstop (in English) giving us a lot of background on El Salvador, its people and political history. He had a dentist appointment in San Salvador so he handed us off to Jose who drove us the rest of the way and was our English translator and facilitator. He handled everything at the border for instance, and it was an easy process. We arrived in Antigua at about 1500 and an English speaking tour guide, native Guatemalan, (Sergio) was waiting for us. After we grabbed a quick lunch, he took us on a walking tour of the city. He had studied archeology, anthropology, and history at the university and of course had lived there so he was a wealth of information. We toured churches (many in ruins from earthquakes in the 1800's and one as recent as 1976), residences, the artisan market, the central plaza, and a jade factory. A new color of jade, lavender, was discovered recently in Guatemala. We had dinner at a restaurant that served traditional Guatemalan food (including plantains) and included a show demonstrating one of the traditional dances - with elaborate costumes.
Tuesday, May 24 we hired Sergio again to take us to a nearby village that had a museum with ancient costumes and musical instruments. It was located on a coffee plantation and thus part of the museum included the equipment and an explanation of the coffee making process - both traditional and modern. Evidently Guatemala produces high quality coffee, but since none of us on the tour drank coffee we were poor judges. We had found mention of this museum in our Travel Guide book and didn't realize that in fact it was where Sergio lived. So he knew everyone we saw and introduced us to the owner of the coffee plantation/museum who is his friend. It was so interesting to talk to that gentleman, who is probably in his forties. He had worked for Motorola making good money but then decided to manage the family business when his mother was ready to retire and does not regret it as he says his quality of life is greatly improved. Much less stress...however he was quite anxious that day because the heavy rain of the wet season was already 10 days later than usual and he was worried that if they didn't get rain soon the coffee plants wouldn't bloom sufficiently. He talked about how it was necessary to diversify the business as other countries like Vietnam have entered the coffee market producing large volumes of coffee; hence he started the museum on the property and is expanding into other areas as well. He has developed the property to be a lovely park. Since coffee needs to grow in the shade of trees it was a natural progression. Sergio then took us back to Antigua and we visited the fanciest ($490/night during high season) hotel in town. It was built in an old colonial home, much of which was in ruins from the earthquakes we mentioned earlier. But they have done a marvelous job of maintaining the ruins as they were, but developing around them. So for instance, the patio for the restaurant has a low wall along one side that is the remains of a stone wall of the original house. There are Mayan and other local artifacts displayed throughout. Very tastefully done.
We headed back to El Salvador around 1300 and got back to our hotel around 1830. We had thoroughly enjoyed the company of Barbara and Lamar - kept finding similarities in the things that Lamar and Dennis enjoy and do. It was a constant source of entertainment. We had to say our goodbyes that evening as we were headed out on our El Salvador road trip the following morning and they would leave before we returned. Jose was a very pleasant guide, we really enjoyed him too.
Wednesday, May 25 We took off early in the morning for our road trip. This first day we headed northwest, following the path we took to Guatemala, skirting the fringe of San Salvador and going onto Santa Tecla, Armenia, and Sonsonate -Dennis paid close attention to those initial miles two days ago on the tour to avoid getting lost. Heading more north, we stopped at Juayua to see a cascade/waterfall. There were two police guards at the top of the dirt road heading down to the site who told us that there wasn't any 'agua' (water) at this time of year. But we asked if we could do the hike anyway and they said OK. We parked the car and headed down the trail; moments later we realized they were following us, keeping watch over us and keeping us safe we presumed -apparently that was their assignment for the day. The hike was through dense growth/jungle area but had a good trail. When we got to the bottom we saw that there was indeed water flowing over the rocks (perhaps the police were a little reluctant to make the trip to the waterfall in their full uniforms?) and locals who doing maintenance on the site were taking a dip. It was beautiful. There were also 4 gringos there. We approached them and to our utter amazement they said they were all from Santa Barbara, had gone to UCSB and graduated in 2005. They had delivered a car to Panama and were now headed back, slowly, on a vacation of their own. They had come with a hired guide and had done a bit more hiking to other falls in the area. We walked back up the hill, with our police escort. We stopped a bit further north in Apaneca and had lunch at the Hotel Las Cabanos de Apaneca. We had found them on www.tripadvisor.com and had considered staying in their cabins for the night. The restaurant was wonderful and the grounds, hidden from the street, very green and relaxing - like a little oasis. But it was too early in the day to stop so we continued on to Ahuachapan and stayed at the Hotel Casa Blanca. This was an old colonial home converted into a hotel. It appeared that we were the only guests that night. Hopefully the pictures can give an idea of the ambience. It was very quaint and enjoyable. The staff were so pleasant. We just relaxed in the room and wandered in the hotel common areas -too tired to even venture out for dinner -signage in most towns is poor to non-existent, so it can be quite a challenge and frustrating to follow the main highway through town and to find a given address.
Thursday, May 26 we got up early and briefly explored the town, then having breakfast. Then we headed east to the Tazumal ruins. It was a pyramid structure - actually several layers of pyramids built on top of each other. It was interesting to see this huge structure in the middle of the jungle. They had a lot of clearing to do to make way for it. There was also a museum there with some of the artifacts found on the site. It is the most significant Mayan ruins in El Salvador (according to the guide book). A lesser ruins, Casa Blanca, was nearby but the park it was in was closed that day. We headed further east through Santa Ana to Suchitoto. We had made reservations (again for a place we found on www.tripadvisor.com) at the Hotel El Tejada. It was a great find. We had a big room with a view over the lake, Lago Suchitlan. We then walked the town, visiting the central plaza and church of course. We then went looking for a local mentioned in the guidebook: El Gringo - Robert Brozmoran. Robert is a Californian whose mother is Salvadoran. He moved here in 1995 to manage the nonprofit educational programs his mother started and is now a permanent resident with a young family. The guide book said that he had a small tienda and restaurant and was happy to provide information about the area. Turns out he actually does tours and agreed to do one for us the next day. We headed back to the hotel for a nice swim in their beautiful pool to cool off from our long day of hiking and driving. The hotel restaurant was fabulous; we ordered the brochette for dinner and shared it - two large skewers and delicious. Then we checked up on our email via the Internet available on the patio. The rooms are being remodeled and they are beautiful. We highly recommend this spot. While on the map it is at the 'edge' of town, it took us 5 min. at most to walk to the central plaza.
Friday, May 27 had breakfast (included in room rate of $75/night for the room with the view; $60 without the view). Robert picked us up at our hotel and first took us to the lake for a boat ride. The lake is manmade, dammed up the Rio Lempa filling the valleys between several volcanoes and providing hydroelectric power to the area. The level of the lake changes by 60 feet depending on the season and since we were visiting at the end of the dry season it was at its lowest level. There are numerous islands in the lake, but one, Bird Island, is curiously the only island that has birds nesting on it - a lot of birds. It has been named a preserve so we didn't land on the island, just circled it as best we could maneuvering through the water hyacinth with the low lake level. Robert was a wealth of information as he has been very involved in the community since settling there, volunteering and in elected positions that work with education as well as community development that improves the quality of life there and encourages tourism. We learned so much about how the formation of the lake changed the local communities (not all for the good - as a couple of them are now very isolated being hours away from Suchitoto by car when they used to have a short road right across the valley which is now underwater). We learned about the civil war (much of which was waged in and around Suchitoto) and following redevelopment efforts. The area near the lake where we took the boat ride is a good example of the efforts they have made that were targeted at supporting tourism, but had positive ripple effects in the community, creating more jobs for instance. They got grant money and loans to finance a building that houses 5 small restaurants (which formerly operated off of a fold-up table under a palapa roof), trained the restaurant staff on issues related to food preparation and healthy cooking conditions, added restrooms, decorated it with work from local artisans, added shade awnings to the pangas that do the tours, built a launching ramp. The restaurant owners and panga fisherman pay a small tax for maintenance and it is enough money for them to also fund 10 full time street cleaners for the city. It is a very clean town. He took us to another cascade. This one has hexagonal rock formations like those at Devil's Post Pile in the US. There wasn't any water flowing over this one, but that allowed us to see the rock formations more clearly. He toured us through a couple of the old hotels that were renovated old colonial homes - very nice. But he had to agree that the hotel we were at was the best deal in town. We also visited the Peace Institute and learned about the community development programs going on there. It was a fascinating day and provided so much information about the country and the people.
We then headed back to the marina via a scenic drive that took us even further east and then south through San Vincente and Usulutan. We finally headed west again towards Zacatecoluca for provisioning. After we left the first grocery store and headed a bit further into town to the second one and the outdoor mercado - to get the remaining things on our list, we got a flat tire. Dennis had to change the tire in the heat, but other than having to empty the trunk of the car to get to the spare, that went relatively smoothly. On the last leg of the trip we were reminded of our exciting bus trip to Zacatecoluca when we first arrived - this time the trip was quicker and much less stressful. The sun had set by the time we arrived at Bahia del Sol and we found a few new boats in the marina. We opened up the boat and the interior temperature was still in the 90's from being closed up all day, so we turned on the fans, and went up to the restaurant for dinner while the boat cooled down. We had an interesting discussion with a solo sailor who is Finnish, but lived in California just before making this trip. He is a surfer. He was asking us our plans and every time we would talk about skipping some country along the route (such as our plan to go to Costa Rica from here, not stopping in Nicaragua) he would try and talk us into stopping everywhere, not skipping anything. That appears to be his plan and he has no timeline. Very nice guy.
Saturday May 28 we met our new neighbors, Michael and Suzanne aboard Namaste. They are originally out of San Francisco. They headed out on a planned 4-5 year circumnavigation, but when they got to Ecuador, they fell in love, bought some property, and are now working on getting permanent resident status. Some new laws went into effect in March regarding how long a boat can stay in Ecuador which did not specify cruisers as a separate category and so cruisers are being cautioned that the interpretation may be that we can't keep our boat more than 3 months in Ecuador. That would change our plans. But Tripp Martin who is mentioned in the guidebook at Puerto Armistead in Ecuador and who lobbies for cruisers is trying to get some clarification. We had already been in touch with him to let him know we wanted to stay with him when we first arrived. We'll have to get in touch again and see what's happening with these new laws. Michael and Suzanne are in a different position because they have property there and so they feel they are more likely to fall into the category covered by the law and might be assessed a tax not only for future years, which might be reasonable, but also for past years - and they have been there awhile. So they have moved their boat up here and will fly back to sort things out before bringing the boat back down. They gave us their contact info in Ecuador and graciously agreed to help us arrange our stay.
Tonight is another of the special Italian dinners. We are going with Michael and Suzanne. We told the bar pilot that we plan to leave tomorrow at noon high tide, presuming the surf level is manageable. It looks somewhat lower today so that is a good sign.
Dennis' brother, Greg, has made his arrangements to join us in Costa Rica - near Playa de Coco where we will check into the country. The plan is to sail down to Golfito, where we will leave the boat while we do some land trips with him. That way he can get in some cruising time and touring time. We are looking forward to his visit.
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.
Friday, April 22 we decided to calculate how many miles we've traveled thus far (if our Hercules system computer had been operational when we left, it would have accumulated the miles for us but the 20+ year old gear decided to act up rest just prior to departure). So after manually adding up all the legs between anchorages and marinas we discovered we passed the 2000 mile mark on our leg on the way to Manzanillo.
In Ixtapa we met the crew of HappyNow: Dudley, Phillipa, and her sister Gill. They started their circumnavigation 11 ½ years ago and will be completing the route when they hit Cabo later this month. They are from San Francisco. Their cruising days are drawing to a close as they will take their Island Packet back to the Bay area with plans to sell it. Gill lives in Australia and over the years has joined them on the boat for several weeks at a time. We had dinner with them and they shared their very recent information on cruising and touring Central America as well as some of their experiences in other parts of the world.
Saturday, April 23 we took the bus into Zihuatanejo and did our touring. We went to the anthropological history museum (fortunately they provided a guide book in English for us) and walked the malecon with its lovely bronze statues and artisans selling their wares. We ate lunch in a palapa in the sand on the beach and watched the families playing in the water. Our waiter advised us that many of the families were camping on the beach for their spring break vacation -no frills camping as there was no vehicle access to the beach and most just had an umbrella, ice chest, and BBQ. The beach had a palapa set up with books, games, and art activities for the children. Our waiter spoke English quite well and explained that he had worked in San Pedro and lived in Long Beach for a few years, but then moved to Georgia where rent was lower. He said he was now making much less money, but glad to be back home with his "town, people, weather". It was very hot that day, 92 degrees in the late afternoon when we got back to the boat so likely warmer than that when we were doing our touring.
Sunday, April 24 - Happy Easter. Went aboard HappyNow to see their nightscope -very cool, gotta get us one of those (one more piece of 'safety' equipment). Treated ourselves to both lunch and dinner off the boat. For dinner we bicycled into Ixtapa central and had dinner in a restaurant playing Spanish MTV music videos - fun to listen to their popular music.
Monday, April 25 we took three round trip bus trips into Zihuatanejo. We thought we'd get an early start at 0730 to do some errands before the heat set in, but the shops weren't open at 0800 as we expected - not until 1000. So we walked to a nearby grocery and lugged several provisions back to the boat. Went back into Zihua at 1000 to the machine shop to have some brass fittings braised (for the bbq propane project we've mentioned), but had no luck at the plumbing store (still looking for final parts to set up our watermaker differently) so we did part two of our provisioning. After lunch on the boat, the marina suggested yet another plumbing store so we headed out again and had success. We decided on this trip to try and find "Rick's Bar", reportedly a cruisers' hangout. We circled the block it where it was supposed to be but could not find it. There was an empty spot for lease on that block, so perhaps places turn over pretty fast here as well.
We actually enjoyed riding the buses Ixtapa to Zihua. Although they were referred to as 'city' buses, they must be individually owned by the drivers. We suspected this in other parts of Mexico, but it was even more apparent here. The drivers decorate the inside of the buses with their personal things: religious items, items made by their children, radios or stereo systems. We included a photo of one in Zihua who actually gave his bus a name and the decorations inside carried on the theme. Also, they use young boys as facilitators. They stand at the door and keep an eye out for possible passengers and yell out to those on the street to ask if they want a ride, as they are willing to stop anywhere for a passenger. Sometimes to hurry things along they don't collect fares at the door, the boys come down the aisles later and collect. They were all so helpful and friendly. There was never much traffic so the transit time was short, the fare is ridiculously low, always less than US$1, and they had so many buses that we never had to wait more than a few minutes.
Tuesday, April 26 we took an early morning bike ride along the Cyclopista, a very well maintained and wide bike path. We made a loop where the first part had some challenging sections with some hills. When we got to Playa Linda and the cocodrilario (crocodile preserve) in the estuary, we hit an easier section with families with young children on bikes and many joggers. The path wound through the expansive estuary and it was like a jungle river tour on bikes. It was very fun. Later that morning we said goodbye to HappyNow as they headed north. That afternoon, Dennis took the bus into town to attend a Rotary meeting only to find that they had cancelled it 'for the holidays'. We biked into Ixtapa for dinner again. This time we hit a restaurant advertising a lobster special and 2 for 1 beers. It was a 'sports bar' and had several large screens showing the Stanley Cup playoffs -quite a contingent of Canadian fans were present wearing jerseys of their team. The lobster was very fresh and delicious -one and a half tails apiece and 4 beers for a total of $30. Our hostess had lived in Florida for 10 years - must have been as a child as she was in her early 20's. Virginia deftly rode her bike back to the boat after downing 2 beers -just a sailor on shore leave these days.
Wednesday, April 27 we fueled up and left at high tide (1030) to go over the bar. We liked this Ixtapa Nautica Marina. The staff were very friendly. They had dock help walking around with bright yellow shirts and caps all day long to assist as needed. Their showers/restrooms were cleaned several times each day. They had potable water. The only down side was that we had to be located quite a distance from the facilities given that it was Spring Break and the marina was busy with lots of large power boats on which families were staying for their vacation. As we motor-sailed along we passed nearby Brainstorm, a Catalina 40 headed north. It has been unusual for us to see many other boats when we are on a passage. A big ocean out there!
We caught two large yellowtail tuna! Again, they came on the lines at the same time so we had quite a challenge to manage it all, and we didn't - lost one off the swim step. They were both so large that we probably wouldn't have had room in the freezer. But that's the second time we've lost one so we'll design some mechanism (probably a net) for helping us maneuver the boat and deal with them individually. And we caught them while we were motoring this time, so that blows the theory about the noisy engine. We saw lots of turtles and a pod of dolphins. Since it was calm we were able to stop at Papanoa and avoid an overnight trip. We anchored behind a breakwater in front of the naval base. The marines (young boys) were doing on the water maneuvers, such as circling a buoy as close as they could in a large panga-type boat. We ate fresh bbq'd tuna while we watched children playing on the beach at water's edge at sunset.
Thursday, April 28 got underway at 0645 for the last leg to Acapulco. At early light there were quite a few pangas out fishing already so we had to dodge them. This was a record day for wildlife viewing. We saw many sea turtles and hit one -bumped him off to the side and he swam away. We saw several pods of dolphins and two whales. We had planned on anchoring in Bahia de Puerto Marques just southeast of Acapulco, but the swell was headed directly into it and we saw no other boats anchored there so we went on into Acapulco. We anchored behind the mooring field in the west corner near the marinas. Roberto from the nearby dive shop came out to see if we wanted to rent their mooring ball near us. We were already anchored, but thanked him and said we might move there later in the evening if a problem developed -the anchorage was quite deep, 50-70 ft. Indeed we did move to the mooring ball but not because we dragged. The local tour/party boat, Bonanza, liked to use the spot where we were anchored as his thoroughfare and asked if we could move over slightly. So the mooring came in handy. As we ate dinner in the cockpit we listened to music from the various clubs and party boats.
Friday, April 29 - Happy Birthday Kathleen (the 'other' grandma). Roberto came by to collect for his mooring and to offer us a spot on their shop's private dock for $.60US/foot/day. We had checked with the marina earlier in the morning to find that they would charge $3.15US/foot /day so his was a good deal. He didn't have showers and restrooms, but could provide electricity and water. We decided to go for it as he was being so helpful. It was our first attempt at med-mooring. It was exciting and required us to change the lines several times with the tide changes. Roberto and his cousin, Luis, stayed at shore late into the night, standing by to help us. Roberto, Luis, and Dennis took a car into town to refill our propane tank. We walked to the Port Captain to check in but they were closed until Tuesday and we'll be gone by then most likely. Dennis asked Roberto where we could go dancing and he directed us to Paradise - a bus ride away in Acapulco centro. But later that night Roberto said he had second thoughts about sending us into town late at night as the dancing doesn't start until 2100 or 2200. He recommended we stay 'around here' and just go on the party boat, Bonanza, for their 2200-0100 tour of the bay as they had two floors of dance music, with different music on each floor and it would be 'very safe'.
Saturday, April 30 was spent the morning on boat projects. In the afternoon we walked into the zocalo (old town area near us). We toured the fort (Fuerte de San Diego). It is a huge structure - a classic pentagonal fortification with 5 corners and lots of cannons overlooking the harbor. We spent a lot of time in the central plaza - touring the large Byzantine style blue-domed Nuestra Senora de la Soledad cathedral, shopping in the artisan market booths, sitting in the shade in the very crowded plaza people-watching. We ate dinner in a restaurant overlooking the plaza where we could feel the ocean breeze and listened to the live bands playing on the stage that is set up every weekend.
We plan to be here one more day, leaving on Monday headed for Huatulco, where we will check out of Mexico. We'll stop at Puerto Escondido along the way to break up the long trip.
Thursday, April 7 Still in Nuevo Vallarta - we needed to connect with Kay and Steve Van Slyke, who are the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) station hosts in Puerto Vallarta. We had ordered some charts in San Diego and had them mailed to PV c/o Kay and Steve. They also have a library of charts and we intended to copy of few of theirs -some of the first services we've taken advantage of as members of SSCA. They live in a condo overlooking the Marina Puerto Vallarta. We took the bus into town but ended up doing a lot of walking and it was a hot day. We picked up our charts and some from their library, walked to and back from a copy shop. We gave them a copy of one of our charts that they did not have in their library and bottle of wine, Gallo of course given our nephew works there. We walked and bused to a chandlery and Wal-Mart for provisioning and some more summer clothes. I think we have seen and/or used a Wal-Mart and Home Depot in every major city we have visited. Office Depot and Dominoes also seem to be everywhere. It was 2130 when we got back to the boat so we decided to eat out at a restaurant near the harbor. We went to Eddie's Place (had to try it in honor of our brother-in-law). They had live music and it was quite enjoyable sitting out under the stars.
The boat next to us, I'O with Robert and Bobby, included two large German Shepherds. They were very sweet and friendly and of course seeing that they had brought them all the way to PV with minimal problems, we immediately wondered if it would have worked out to bring Coco and Kiwi. Unfortunately we later learned that one of them had contracted cancer some time ago and had stopped eating the day we arrived. They had to put it to sleep the next day which put quite a grey cloud over us all.
Friday, April 8 in the morning, Dennis rode along with Robert and John of Molly J (another neighbor in the marina) on a mission to repair Molly J's heat exchanger. In addition, they planned to drop by a chandlery and Home Depot which gave Dennis a chance to look for fittings that would allow him to hook our BBQ up to or main propane tanks instead of using the small Coleman camping canisters. No luck on any of it that morning but Robert and John made another go at it after lunch while we decided to do our sight-seeing and provisioning. We took a bus back into PV and from the window on the bus, saw Robert and John at the next repair shop they tried. Arriving in PV, we realized we forgot our camera again -too focused on the tasks and not the fun! And we saw some wonderful things that we would have liked to share via photos: two cathedrals; a vast municipal plaza Mercado spanning the river that flows through the middle of town; intricate sand sculptures in progress; a man balancing stones into tall tower-like sculptures; the malecon with its many restaurants, bronze sculptures, and nightclubs; the naval history museum; cobblestone streets; and another plaza full of at least a hundred exercise enthusiasts doing aerobics in the hot afternoon sun. Although we muffed the photo ops, it was a very successful day. We found the propane fittings Dennis needed for the BBQ, a post office, and later learned that John had his heat exchanger fixed. We did some more provisioning at Costco and Wal-Mart. When we provisioned in La Paz with our bikes and trailer cart we could do it all in one big trip, but using the bus it takes several trips. We didn't get back to the boat until 2200 that night. We had ridden 5 buses and carried many pounds of provisions. We went to an Italian restaurant in the marina plaza and ordered pizza, we were just grateful the kitchen was still open. We hadn't had any pizza in months and it tasted pretty good. It was our first non-Mexican food ordered at a restaurant.
Saturday, April 9. In the morning we kayaked the estuary. We saw lots of birds and iguanas sunning themselves high in the tops of the mangrove trees. We saw warning signs about crocodiles, but we didn't see any. For an afternoon of sight-seeing in La Cruz Huanacaxtle (mostly called just La Cruz), after lunch we took a bus out of Nuevo Vallarta to the main highway where we got off and ran across the 4-lane freeway (following all others doing the same) to catch a bus heading in the opposite direction of PV -we had become the figures in those caution signs of crossing pedestrians on the 405 freeway in Camp Pendleton! We had anchored in La Cruz on our first night in Banderas Bay, but we didn't go ashore to visit the town. It was a long, hot ride, but quite interesting. A couple of times the driver stopped while someone came aboard and sold items to the passengers: chips sprinkled with hot sauce, incense, cold drinks, candy. It was 90+ degrees with no breeze and so we tried to keep to shady paths where possible. We walked the small town and it has a very cute and well-shaded central park where fishermen were ending their day repairing their nets. We walked through the new Marina Riviera Nayarit with its malecon and amphitheater and witnessed the end of what looked like an ocean swim competition. La Cruz also has cobblestone streets and it makes you wonder how long shock-absorbers on cars here last. We had expected to spend quite a few hours in La Cruz but we found ourselves finished with sight-seeing quite early and facing a hot afternoon bus ride back to the boat. So we decided on an early dinner that we would somehow stretch into the evening. We checked out 'Philos' which we'd read is a big cruiser hang-out and the 'Tacos in the Street' restaurant which was highly recommended by some cruiser friends. But both of these spots were fully enclosed and we sought an open-air place in hopes of an occasional breeze which we desperately needed. We found a restaurant (think it was called Glorietta's) on a corner of the intersection that has an island in the middle with a large cross made of Huanacaxtle wood, the tree of interest in the town (see full name of town above). It was a good choice, it was shaded, cool, and breezy -we had a great time there. The staff was very pleasant and kept telling us "think of this as your home". When we learned they did not take credit cards, they heard us talking about finding an ATM and they offered to drive Dennis to one while our food was being prepared. The meal was wonderful, a shrimp salad served in an avocado. We had to take a picture of it. It was huge and really hit the spot on that hot day. A couple from Canada walked in and sat next to us. We struck up a conversation and ended up visiting with them for a couple hours while we sipped our cold beverages -no problem stretching that dinner out till evening. After vacationing here, they had decided to buy a condo for retirement and would be finalizing the sale on Monday. They had driven down from Vancouver and had many stories to tell about their trip. They brought only what would fit into their Jeep Cherokee and gave the rest to their children who are still in Vancouver. They thought we were off on a big adventure, but we felt they were on a grand adventure themselves, moving into an empty condo in a foreign country which they really didn't know very well. We got back to the boat at 2000 and intended to invite our neighbors over for banana bread (bananas ripen so fast here!), but we were exhausted and needed to plan our passage for the next day. They are planning on heading south too (one of the few others we have met) so maybe we'll cross paths again.
Sunday, April 10 we cleaned off the boat, packed away our shade structure (which we had used for the first time in Nuevo Vallarta - it covers the back deck and really worked out well), brought the dinghy aboard, and left the marina about 1300. We had 17 knot winds from the southwest so we sailed across the bay - the famous Banderas Bay! We then headed into the wind and motored in the lee of the point for some protection towards Yelapa. Small towns and resorts dotted the coast along the south end of the bay. As the guide book warns, Yelapa experiences swell, so when we arrived we hooked up to a mooring ball being offered by one of the local fishermen. Dennis tried several configurations of our flopper stoppers but the problem was more one of yawing (bow to stern rocking) than rolling (side to side rocking) and so he didn't have much success. By 2330 we felt like we were in a washing machine - being bounced every which way, a leftover of that wonderful day of sailing. (Yes, Virginia had popped a double dose of her nausea pills and was feeling OK in that regard.) We had planned to leave early morning at 0300 to go around Cabo Corrientes. It is compared to Point Conception in California - where you need to find a time when the conditions are calm which is usually in the middle of the night/early morning. We decided to head out early as we figured it couldn't be any worse out there and we weren't going to get any sleep anyway.
Monday, April 11, it was definitely nicer 'out there' as we could choose the direction and speed we wanted to hit the swells. Making it comfortable took us off course and somewhat out to sea, but as you've read here before, we prefer to make it more comfortable even if it is a longer passage. The swells finally got to Virginia and nausea set in - but she didn't lose her dinner. We sailed all night with each of us sleeping briefly. We had intended to stop at Ipala, but our early departure would put us in there while it was still dark, so we continued on to Chamela. As we arrived, there was one boat leaving and two boats anchored. The anchorage was very calm and protected. The departing boat returned shortly - they were headed north and into the conditions we just escaped. As we waited for our dinner to cook we could hear music from one of the beach palapas.
Tuesday, April 12 five dolphins were playing around our boat in the morning. Another boat had joined us so now there were five in the Chamela anchorage. We went ashore for lunch, stopping by Aquadesiac - out of San Francisco - to visit. Linda and Doug decided to come ashore with us. We had lunch at a palapa on the beach and then walked the main street (small dirt road) visiting the three small tiendas and picking up a few things we needed. Linda and Doug are headed north with the three other boats in the anchorage to put their boat up and go home to Napa for the summer. They spent the summer in the Sea of Cortez last year and said the heat was unbearable in the north where they needed to be for insurance purposes. Doug mentioned the business he had retired from and it sounded a lot like what our son Darren does. It turns out that sometime back, Doug had indeed worked at the San Jose branch of the same company (Veeco). Ultimately he retired from a competing company making "atomic measuring devices" that he was sure Darren would recognize (we can't remember the name). He retired the same day as Dennis - March 31, 2009. Their friends Mel and Larry from Marina del Rey joined us for lunch. They were the boat we had seen leave the anchorage to return shortly thereafter. They were leaving to try and get a guest they had aboard to PV for a plane flight. But he was just as happy to take a bus from Chamela to PV, given the swell they were experiencing when they left the protection of the bay, so that is what they did. In the evening the four boats headed north together and we had the anchorage to ourselves. Four dolphins played around the boat that night. Two local boys came out in kayaks to chase them around the bay. Then the dolphins decided to play with our anchor chain and Virginia didn't think they were so cute anymore.
Wednesday, April 13 we made a short run to Paraiso - an anchorage behind some outcroppings of rocks that looked like it would be a good kayaking area. There are two small coves, each with a very small hotel on the beach. When we arrived, another Amel was in one cove and we anchored in the other. We were the only two boats there that night. We had lunch and read and napped all afternoon hoping the wind would calm a bit for an early-evening kayak adventure.
Thursday, April 14 we ended up kayaking early this morning and explored blow holes and sea caves. We paddled by the other Amel, but their dinghy was ashore and we guessed that they may have taken a room for the night as it had been a bit rolly and they looked more exposed than we had been to the swell. We considered it mild compared to Yelapa! We left later that morning and sailed all the way to Tenacatita - it was wonderful. There was a nice evening breeze in that anchorage, keeping away bugs and keeping us pleasantly cool. There were about ten boats there. Tenacatita is a 3 mi x 3 mi bay backed by jungle. There are several things we wanted to do there, one being a self-guided "jungle cruise" up the estuary, so we planned to spend at least two nights.
Friday, April 15 we took our jungle cruise in our dinghy. We got over the sand bar at the estuary entrance with minimal problems - very small surf. Dennis rowed a ways where it was shallowest, but then we slowly motored our way through the mangroves. We saw lots of beautiful birds and two small crocodiles but no iguanas in the mangroves like we'd seen in Mazatlan. The day was overcast (making it comfortably cool) so we figured that may be the reason we didn't see any sunning iguanas. We took our bug spray but had no problem with bugs. At the end of the estuary (about 1 ½ hours trip) there is a lagoon with a narrow berm to the beach. A government official met us there and asked where we came from. He dutifully wrote "California" is his spiral notebook and then asked Dennis to put our names next to that. He radioed the information to someone and with a smile let us pass, asking that if we had a camera we could take pictures of the sea only, not back toward the land. There wasn't a military installation there, so we figured the private residences on the beach likely made that request. We had hoped to have lunch at one of the beach-side palapa restaurants there mentioned in the guide book but with tourist season waning, they were all closed. We walked along the beach and then headed back knowing we hadn't spent enough time for the tide to come in, which would have made our trip across the estuary delta easier. As expected, the tide was very low and this time the shoal was completely exposed at the entrance and we would have to haul our dinghy quite a ways, so we ate a late lunch at the palapa restaurant on the beach there to allow the tide to come in some. We ordered the "rollo de mar" which we were told was "the thing" to order in this area and it was indeed delicious. It's a piece of fish wrapped around celery and shrimp, covered with an almond sauce. There was a campground next to the restaurant and we enjoyed watching the Mexican family there and listening to the beautiful music they had playing. There were two men in the group who fished the whole time; with lines, then with a net. We figured they must have been put in charge of dinner. There were foot-high waves breaking at the entrance of the estuary when we decided to leave so Dennis did his best to row over that shallow area but Virginia got a refreshing shower from one or two of the waves. A dinghy from a nearby powerboat had been cruising the area trying to find an opening to go ashore; they eventually decided not to go, but hung close by in case we needed assistance, or maybe they were just enjoying the free entertainment of our 'shore launch". It was a very fun day. The anchorage was very calm that night and we got a good night's sleep. We played dominoes in the cockpit watching the sunset.
Saturday, April 16 we headed for Manzanillo. There were several anchorages within a day's sail from Tenacatita that were recommended to us by other cruisers - too many choices. We saw sea turtles along the way, floating in the water. As we approached Manzanillo Bay, we saw blue whales - a mother and her calf - just behind the boat. They surfaced within view twice, gliding along so gracefully. We could see the large resorts along the oceanfront in both Santiago and Manzanillo bays. Only four boats were in the anchorage - we made five. We listened to music from the Las Hadas Resort all night long, and well into the wee hours of the morning (the Las Hadas Resort is in the northern section of the bay, several miles from Manzanillo which is a commercial marina prohibiting cruise boats and the anchorage is not protected. Las Hadas Resort is the location where the movie '10' with Bo Derek was filmed). The music was so loud; we first thought it was live when they were playing Spanish tunes, but then when the song "YMCA" came on, followed by a number of other popular American hits from past years we realized it must be a DJ.
Sunday, April 17 we rode the buses into Manzanillo Centro (yes, it's always 'buses'. The bus system is great in that there is a bus for where you want to go about every ten minutes BUT you have to learn all the connections). The bus stop at Las Hadas is up a steep hill at the top of the resort, so we got some exercise. The road from the resort to the main highway is cobblestone, narrow, and hugs the side of the cliff. The speed at which the bus driver drives it was a bit harrowing and we survived the trip out and back twice. In Manzanillo, we walked along the malecon and saw the various sculptures, including the HUGE swordfish. We went to the outdoor Mercado and bought some produce. We walked the cobblestone streets and kept hearing the church bells, but never found the church. We wandered through a bazaar along the waterfront. We saw the commercial harbor with numerous large freighters unloading and loading. When we got back to the boat, we barbequed the yellowtail we had in the freezer and ate it in the cockpit with a cool breeze keeping us comfortable as the moon rose over Manzanillo. A different resort had music playing that night, much softer as they were a bit further away. Las Hadas was quiet that night. So we got to sleep before 0200.
Monday, April 18 was another one of our errand days where we took the bus to an Auto Zone in Manzanillo to get some oil filters (no luck, out of our particular size), then over to Santiago (the neighboring bay) to a Chandlery/Hardware store that our harbormaster recommended for some particular plumbing parts we wanted (they didn't have them but they thought they knew who would but they were back in Manzanillo - the far side of town). Another bus ride in the opposite direction to that hardware store that also did not have the plumbing parts but did happen to have our oil filter size so the trip was worth it. Along the way we saw more of the area, including an outdoor church in Santiago. It had a roof, but no walls - quite practical for this weather actually. This day we paid $100 pesos (about $10.00 US) to use the marina and resort facilities which included showers, trash cans, the pool (including resort towels!) and the dinghy dock while we were out running errands. After we got back from our bus trips we had a refreshing swim in the beautiful pool, then ate dinner at one of the restaurants on the waterfront that had wifi. We enjoyed another "extended" dinner while we both logged onto the Internet to check email and our financial condition and download some tide tables for our next marina stop. Eventually our laptop batteries ran low and the mosquitoes came out and so we headed for the shelter of the boat where we haven't yet been bothered by bugs. We needed to get back to start our passage preparation anyway - checking on weather via grib files and such. One of the other boats in the anchorage was Lykke. We met the captain John Christopherson (spelling?) and had a nice visit with him ashore. He had been in that anchorage since November. He is part owner of a little bar in Manzanillo and lives on his boat. He takes the boat north during certain times of the year while his partner manages the business. We noticed that he seemed to be watching out for a smaller sailboat in the anchorage and asked him about it. He said that it actually is a boat that had been donated to a Sea Scout squadron down here. It needed some engine work and he volunteered to tackle that. He had been very involved with USPS when he lived in the states. He gave us a contact of a friend who lives in Huatalco (our last stop in Mexico).
Tuesday, April 19 we left at 0800 to allow for a potential 30-35 hour overnight trip to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. If the weather and sea conditions were calm, we planned to stop at a few intermediate anchorages and avoid the long passage. But the cruising guide warned that they were only fair weather anchorages so we wanted to be prepared. We saw several sea turtles this day, one with a sea bird hitching a ride atop its back. We had mild conditions and a minor northwest swell most of the day so we first checked the south side of Punta Cabreza Negra (about 50 miles south of Manzanillo) for anchoring. A south swell with the north swell rapping around the point there made for a very confused sea, so we decided to check out the north side of the point. Finding it much calmer, we anchored on the north side of with no other boats there. There was some swell and a current that kept us broadside to it, so as the sun was going down Dennis spent some time setting a stern anchor to point us into the swell. Somewhat successful, we settled into a gentle seesaw motion for the night. The beach was lined with expensive private homes.
Wednesday, April 20 we left at 0800 and motor-sailed all day. We saw sea turtles, whales, and several freighters that day. We anchored at Caleta de Campos, another 70 miles southeast. There were huge waves breaking on the beach - quite dramatic. There were several palapa restaurants on the beach but we weren't tempted to take the dinghy ashore not only because of the breakers, but also because the beach was packed. Knowing that Easter was the upcoming Sunday we figured it must be Spring Break in Mexico....a fact that was confirmed later. Again we listened to loud DJ-conducted music late into the night, coincidentally including a version of "Time of My Life", the theme of the movie Dirty Dancing which we had watched that evening.
Thursday, April 21 we pulled up the anchor at 0730 as we were expecting about an 11 hour trip to Ixtapa Marina which has a shoal at the entrance that deep draft vessels should only traverse at high tide -which explains the tide tables we downloaded in Manzanillo. We checked the tides and knew we wanted to go across around 1800-2000. We passed the commercial port at Lazaro Cardenas about noon and thus saw quite a few freighters either underway or anchored near the harbor. We had to keep careful watch as we crossed the shipping lane which was unusual for us as we could go a whole day now without seeing another cruiser heading north or south. We arrived at Ixtapa at 1830 and made it across the bar into a slip in the marina. As we walked our documentation over to the Harbormaster's office for check-in, we saw a six-foot crocodile swimming in the marina waters between the boats. We had been warned that the marina was built in an estuary which crocodiles called home. Signs warn you to keep your dogs on the boat (they've been dragged right off the dock) and keep small children in hand, away from the edge of the dock! It's quite warm and humid here, so things really slow down and activities (other than swimming) are reserved for the early morning and late evening. We will be staying here at least 4 days as tomorrow is Good Friday and most commercial places will be closed, so any errands other than provisioning will need to wait until Monday.
From here we plan to go to Acapulco. It will be about a 120 mile trip, so an overnighter for sure. But there doesn't appear to be any reasonable anchorages along the way, even in light conditions. We haven't done an overnighter in awhile and we will have had 4 or so days here to rest, so we should be up for that.
Thursday, March 31st Happy Birthday Dennis! We left Mazatlan's Stone Harbor at 0300 as planned. About 1030 we had a couple of humpback whale sightings; the first was just about 50 yards ahead and crossing our bow. It looked like a mother and its calf (one was a lot smaller than the other and they were going very slowly). We were motoring at the time and had to slow down to avoid hitting them. The second sighting was another one doing the tail-slapping routine that we'd seen before. At about 1330 a northwesterly filled in and we sailed with the spinnaker up all afternoon. Dennis got his birthday wish. We anchored on the east side of Isla Isabella and there were already four boats in a pretty small anchorage. This anchorage on Isla Isabella is a little open with only a large rock separating it from the island for protection from the north. In addition, the bottom is mostly rocks with only an occasional sandy spot. We broke out the anchor marker buoy/trip line for the first time in case we hooked a rock. It was blowing about 20 knots by the time we dropped the anchor but the swell was knocked down by the rock outcropping. By the time the sun set, two more boats had arrived and seven of us shared the little anchorage. We enjoyed barbequed fish for dinner.
Friday, April 1st we dinghied to the south end of the island and hiked. Isla Isabella is known as the Mexican Galapagos because of all the exotic wildlife. We saw green, brown, and blue-footed boobies, nesting frigates, iguanas, lizards, and a crater lake. We took both cameras with us so we have lots of photos to sort through for posting on the web. Some of the booby chicks looked larger than the guarding parent. There were so many of them that they would roost on or near the trail and as you got close squawking parents would send out a warning. The colored feet were so brilliant, especially the blue ones. The frigates were everywhere - hundreds in the sky, hundreds in tree-top nests - they were there in great numbers. It was quite a sight. We only saw one pair of iguanas sunning themselves. When we got back to Libertad, Christian from s/v Altair offered us some of the yellowtail that he had speared and already fileted. We readily accepted and gave him a chunk of our watermelon in return. Virginia baked banana bread and Dennis rigged screens for the hatches and installed two fans as we head to San Blas tomorrow and we are told that mosquitoes and no-see-ums are common around sunset/sunrise. We went over to visit Joyce and Scott on Life is Good for happy hour and had a nice chat about how we each got started in boating, how we chose our boats, the training we had, and our experiences with the "Captain Ron" that we each hired at one point. Although we had docked next to them in Ventura for months, we hadn't had a chance to really visit (remember that house remodel we were doing....).
Saturday, April 2nd Mexico switches to daylight savings time tonight/early tomorrow morning. A few days later we will be moving into the Central Time zone when we get to Puerto Vallarta so we will be changing our clocks a lot this week. We left Isla Isabella just after the pangas cleared the fishing nets they had set around our boat the previous night. We are right behind Life is Good as we head to Matanchen Bay just outside San Blas. It's very calm and we are motoring so Dennis took advantage of this time to pull everything out of the cockpit storage areas in search of our Velcro that he wanted to use for screens over the larger hatches. No matter how detailed we think we have made our inventory we keep identifying things that are missing from the list and require an extensive search. Bummer.
Sunday, April 3rd we went with Joyce and Scott on the La Tovara Springs jungle tour up a river just behind our anchorage. A panga takes you up the river/estuary and stops whenever you see something you want to look at further or photo. The guide also spotted a few things for us that we wouldn't have noticed. Hopefully the pictures can capture the beauty of all the various birds we saw. We also saw turtles and American crocodiles. It was quite a pleasant cruise through the mangroves in the early morning and we didn't have a problem with bugs. At the furthest point, is Tovara Spring where you can swim (in an area fenced off from the crocodiles) and enjoy a lunch or early dinner at the restaurant located there. We had worn our swim suits in anticipation of a dip, but the morning was cool and the restaurant wasn't open yet, so we just headed back. We were now more trained observers and had even more sightings of wildlife on the return trip.
We wanted to explore the town of San Blas. Joyce and Scott took a taxi. Dennis really wanted to dinghy the four miles. The trip over was relatively calm but four miles is a long way by dinghy; the wind had increased in the afternoon for our return trip and Virginia had a few white-knuckle moments as we surfed the downwind swells. But Dennis was quick to learn how to make the most of the following seas and we had a quick trip back. While in town we walked up to the fort (La Contaduria) and the charred remains of their original church/mission (Templo de la Virgin del Rosario). Amazingly the floor of red Mexican tiles was completely intact and looked beautiful amidst the ruins. We also toured the open market; we can never pass those up. It is so interesting to see the types of food and methods of preparation and presentation and we often need fresh produce. Since it was Sunday the post office, auto parts, and hardware stores were closed so those errands had to wait. We toured the central plaza to see the intricate bead work for which the Huichol women in San Blas are famous. We had lunch in town. It was the first time that we had so much trouble communicating our order. They didn't have langosta (lobster) items on the menu, however they had some on display and were really pushing them that day. Dennis was going to order an omelet with shrimp (camarone) but since they were offering lobster, he asked them to make it a langosta omelet instead. They looked at him like he must be very confused. They pulled him out of his seat and took him over to see what a langosta was, held one up for me to see, and appeared to be asking us how the heck they could fit a BBQ'd lobster in an omelet. We resorted to two items that were on the menu and graciously declined the lobster. That afternoon Joyce and Scott came over to Libertad for a visit and we enjoyed cold drinks and snacks out in the cockpit, listening to music from one of the beach restaurants. As the sun began to set, the mosquitoes and no-see-ums started to come out so they headed back to Life is Good; we closed up Libertad and watched a movie down below with the fans and screened hatches keeping us quite comfortable. We later discovered that while we were safe from the bugs on the boat, during the tour of the fort and the church, we had picked up quite a few bites -should have applied some repellent!
Monday April 4th Happy Birthday to Virginia's brother Danny! We did some chores in the early morning, changing engine oil and making an adapter for filters we found at the Home Depot in Mazatlan, to fit our watermaker. We've discovered that as the sea becomes warmer, the filters need to be changed and cleaned more regularly as they fill up with rapidly growing organisms. So we needed to increase our inventory of filters to rotate them more frequently. Our next stop, Chacala, is only a 24 mile trip so we delayed our departure hoping to get some afternoon wind (you are probably tired of hearing that from us). We left around noon and sailed the whole way. We also caught two yellowtail! Both rods went off at the same time so we had a flurry of activity as we eased the sails to slow the boat and reeled in both fish. We had both fish sitting on the back swim step, where Dennis installed the fileting board, as we reset the sails and got back on course. During that time one fish slipped away. But the remaining one was plenty for us. The anchorage in Chacala, is exposed to the swell and the wind is variable, so it can be quite rolly. Everyone was using bow and stern anchors to keep their boats pointed into the swell, so we did likewise. We have Channel Islands experience at placing two anchors, but that included an event of dragging the stern anchor in heavy swell, so our stern anchor is now a bit of a monster along with about 30 feet of chain making it always an adventure to deploy. Using the dinghy to drop the stern anchor we ran out about two hundred feet of rode -after hauling down on the stern rode, we were locked in good and tight. We then took the dinghy ashore and walked along the beach to the palapa restaurants to have a cold drink. We looked over at the table next to us and recognized Ed and Annette from Windsong. We had contacted them via email about 9 months before we left to ask about the tools the used for their website, as we were impressed with the gps track snippets and such. They mentioned that they were in Mexico but headed home for a few months and home happened to be in Oxnard; we agreed to try and get together for dinner. We were having a hard time finding a date with the busy schedules we both had. It turned out they were planning their wedding and they invited us to attend! It was such a pleasant surprise, but we did indeed attend it at one of the yacht clubs in Channel Islands Harbor and finally got to meet them. We approached their table at the restaurant on the beach in Chacala and reintroduced ourselves. They invited us to sit at their table with Jim and Lucy from Passage II (a Hunter) who are also from Ventura/Channel Islands. Ed and Annette have a new boat - Songbird (an Island Packet). We talked until sunset and then dinghied back to our boats as the bugs began to come out again.
Tuesday, April 5th we were the very last of 7 boats to leave the Chacala anchorage. That gave us lots of room to pick up our stern anchor using the windless. Much better than Dennis having to haul it in manually, albeit a bit more complicated. Headed for Banderas Bay, around lunchtime we saw a turtle floating in the water. Banderas Bay is the largest bay in mainland Mexico and very famous for its good sailing conditions -lots of wind and minimal swell -sort of like SF bay. So as we rounded the northern point, Punta Mita, and headed into the bay, we got about 17 knots of wind. Although Punta Mita and the Tres Mariettas islands at the northern end of the bay were enticing, we decided to go straight to La Cruz. We anchored in 17-20 knots in the La Cruz anchorage. There was some chop but no swell so it was comfortable; wind died down later in the evening and we had a gorgeous sunset. We ate the yellowtail we had caught the previous day - delicious. There were about 20 other boats with us in the anchorage - one power, the rest sail boats.
Wednesday, April 6th Happy Birthday to Virginia's sister Susan! We moved on to a marina in Nueva Vallarta as it would be centrally located between La Cruz and Puerta Vallarta with convenient buses between them. We are at the Marina Nueva Vallarta. It evidently was in disrepair for a number of years and they are now fixing it up and offering great rates as an enticement. So far we like it. We have some great neighbors and one has a car and already offered to take us anywhere we need to go. We dinghied over to Paradise Village Resort and Marina, which is right next door, to check out the market, laundry facilities, etc. and have lunch. We plan to stay here about three days to get caught up on our internet work, do some laundry, and reprovision...along with sight-seeing of course.