The main square in Centro.
I know, I know, it's been a couple months since I've updated the old blog. This is not because of writer's block, a lack of inspiration, or an OCD induced lack of focus. It is due to my inability to adequately pinpoint and characterize the essence of this town. Merida is an unusual amalgamation of old and new, colonial and modern, traditional and cosmopolitan. Writing about it is like trying to catch fish with your bare hands.
I wound up in the colonial city of Merida by mere chance. Sailing my boat down Mexico's pacific coast, no schedule, no agenda, no particular destination in mind, I found myself well within the hurricane zone right at the beginning of the season. There would be no more sailing, unless I was willing to make new friends in Mexico's search and rescue outfit, June through November. I found a safe marina, put the boat away, and hopped on a bus for Merida, the capitol of the Mexican State of Yucatan.
Merida was an easy choice. It is off the beaten tourist tract, (no "Girls Gone Wild," or hanging-by-your-feet-tequila-shots at Senior Frogs), and offers a glimpse into the unique culture and history of both the Maya and their Spanish conquerors. The city was founded by the Spanish in 1542 on the site of the Mayan city of T'ho. In true conquistador fashion, the Spanish converted, killed, and enslaved the indigenous people, knocked down their temples and pyramids (purportedly there were five such pyramids on par with the size and grandeur of that found in nearby Chichen Itza), and used the rubble to build Merida. Despite the city's buzz kill beginnings, today it is a vibrant cosmopolis of about a million people steeped in history, tradition, and culture.
At the city's historical center stands the imposing Cathedral de San Ildefonso. Completed in 1598, it is the oldest cathedral in the continental Americas and one can still see the ancient Mayan stones used to build it. Beautiful colonial architecture abounds. Walking the streets among the throngs of pedestrians, a third of which still speak Mayan, I take in the sweeping arches, hand carved columns, and vibrant colors - burnt orange, lemon yellow, sea foam green, Mykonos blue and white.
The city is an unending flurry of activity. There isn't one town square, but several and each is anchored by a historical cathedral. It is here you will find street vendors preparing the unique cuisine of the Yucatan - an amalgamation of traditional Mayan, Caribbean, and European influences. Panuchos, a sort of turkey tostada with black beans and pickled onions, Conchita Pibil, marinated pork wrapped in a banana leaf with spices and cooked in the ground, and Poc Chuc, meat marinated in sour orange with achiote spices are a few of my favorites.
The kaleidoscope of sight, sound, color, and design, combined with the aroma of cooking food, the green earthy smell of tropical jungle, vehicle exhaust, and distant burning trash, serve to create an exotic tableau for the senses. Toto, we are definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Having been here for nearly three months, I am really starting to get a feel for the place. The colonial house I am renting is nothing short of amazing. The original 120 year-old hand painted tile floors look as though they were installed yesterday and the two foot thick earthen walls serve to keep the place cool despite the 95 degree temperature outside. If I start schvitzing excessively I merely step out the backdoor and hop in the pool. The streets around town are completely safe, day or night, (Merida is Mexico's safest city), and the numbered grid system (even numbered streets North/South, odd East/West) makes it easy to find my way around. Taxis are plentiful and cheap.
The city is very different from any other place I have been in Mexico thus far. The population is predominantly Mayan and due to the Yucatan's somewhat isolated geography, they have been able to retain many of their customs and traditions. The people are reserved, quiet, respectful, and exceedingly kind. The unique peaceful vibe of the people, combined with the magnificence of the city, easily make this my favorite Mexican destination. Hell, I could live here.
Temple of the Seven Dolls.
Naturally, I have been raving about the place on social media since I arrived. My sister, never one to pass up a potential vacation, suggested we all have a sort of impromptu family reunion at my place. A more splendid idea I had never heard, and within a few short weeks I was hosting the whole dysfunctional clan. We took a day trip to the nearby beach in Progresso where we feasted on tacos, swam in the Caribbean Sea, and polished off the town's supply of Coronas. Another day we found ourselves at the Mayan archeological site of Dzibilchaltun where we toured the ruins and swam in a Cenote (sinkhole). We feasted on Lieutenant Dave's homemade chile rellenos, spent hours chatting by the pool, and explored the historic city center on foot. Everyone seemed to have a really good time and, as usual, I was amazed at how quickly the time went by.
Sis making out with a lizard.
I've got about another six weeks before it will be time to head back to the boat in Huatulco. I need to figure out what I want to do. The original plan was to continue South, go through the Panama Canal, and into the Caribbean. However, with the continuing destabilization taking place in Central America, and its resultant increase in poverty and crime, I am starting to rethink this idea. If you know anything about Latin families, for a mother to send her kids off, unaccompanied, on the exceedingly dangerous journey through Mexico and on to the States, there must be pretty dire conditions at hand.
Niece at the cenote.
The way I see it, I have four options: (1) Say screw it and head South anyway. (2) Sail back North and explore the Sea of Cortez (not crazy about this one as the Northern part of Mexico doesn't interest me and is probably not much safer than Central America). (3) Cross the Pacific to French Polynesia (doubtful as I don't like sailing enough to be spending a month underway, nor do I want to spend eight dollars for a beer in Papeete. Besides, I've already been there). (4) Leave the boat where it is for another year and head on down to South America, by plane, and do some knocking around down there.
Hmm, lots to think about. I will keep you posted.
Beach selfie with Lieutenant Dave.
Dave and I had been hanging out in Huatulco awaiting a favorable weather window to cross the dreadful Gulf of Tehuantepec. Tehuantepec is a narrow, flat, isthmus separating the Pacific and Caribbean oceans and it is notorious for hurricane force winds and high seas. Our original plan was to get across Tehuantepec and to the marina in Chiapas before May 15, the official beginning of hurricane season, but it just didn't happen. Weather patterns are becoming very strange and less predictable. I don't know if it's global climate change, El Nino, or what, but abnormal seems to be the new normal. We waited more than three weeks for a favorable three-day window to cross the gulf and it just didn't materialize. With each forecast I received there were either high winds or tropical storm events predicted. We were now well into hurricane season and I decided to say screw it and just leave the boat at the marina in Huatulco. I was a little disappointed as Tehuantepec scares the shit out of me and I would have liked to have it behind me, but I simply waited too late in the season. Oh well, it's not like I have anywhere I have to be. We'll address it again in November.
With that decision made, Dave and I had to decide what we wanted to do, and where we wanted to go, for the following five or so months. I dig the Yucatan and felt it would be a good place to establish a home base for additional travel in Mexico, Central, and South America. I decided on the colonial town of Merida. It's a big town with an international airport, tons of facilities, and good shopping. Furthermore, it's not a tourist zoo like some other places which makes it more tranquil and less expensive. I used airbnb.com (cool website) and found a centrally located old colonial with a pool that had been totally renovated. Hope it's as nice as the pictures - I'll let you know.
We were set to check-in to the house on June second which gave us about a week to kill. I was getting tired of Huatulco. I had been there so long, eaten at every restaurant, hit all the beach clubs, bars, and palapas. I was afraid they would name the town after me if I stayed much longer. Besides, hanging out at the beach keeping cool by hydrating with and endless stream of Coronas, I was starting to get a bit chubby. I know beer has a bunch of calories, so I try and compensate by not eating anything. It doesn't work.
Anyway, I wanted to get out of town and decided Cancun would be a fun diversion. I was there before in '96, but had long since killed those brain cells. Additionally, my first time there I failed to go visit Tulum and always regretted it. Dave suggested an all-inclusive resort as my drinking habits would likely leave us broke within a couple days - he's a smart one that Lieutenant Dave. We found one with pretty high marks on Tripadviser, booked it, and were off to the bus station.
Busses are awesome in Mexico. Most folks can't afford to travel by plane and, consequently, you can find a bus to take you just about anywhere at a fraction of the cost of flying. They even have different levels of bus luxury if you are willing to pay for it: standard, upgraded, and platinum. I like platinum! In addition to being spoiled, arrogant, and somewhat ostentatious, I am also tall and in varying degrees of constant pain due to a body that is rapidly falling apart. I love the platinum busses as they offer scads of leg room, wide seats to accommodate my ever expanding ass, and personal seat back TVs. And because the busses are more expensive, it tends to price families with screaming kids, (who like to kick the back of your seat and play Candy Crush with the volume on max), out of the market.
Unfortunately, there were no platinum busses offered for transportation from Huatulco to Cancun. I got stuck in a standard bus. The drive took 24 hours, took us through six Mexican states, and was pure unmitigated hell. The bus was jam packed with scores of undisciplined, snotty nosed, wailing, rug-rats who seemed to be on a constant rotation of ear shattering meltdowns. The seats were apparently designed for Hobbits, the AC was cold enough to freeze the balls off an iron dog, and worst of all, no cocktail service. By the time we got to Cancun I was fit for Bellevue.
Upon checking-in to the hotel, and immediately wiping out the mini-bar, Dave and I decided on a couple tours. As I mentioned before, I had to do the Tulum tour and, though I had been there before, take Dave to see Chichen Itza. For crying out loud, it's one of the seven man-made wonders of the world. Everyone should see it.
With our itinerary all squared away, we spent the next couple days hanging out at the pool watching Americans behave badly. Since I was budget conscious, (for a change), I booked a fairly inexpensive hotel and was continually reminded why, dollar for dollar, the more expensive resorts are more desirable: less dickheads! The Girls-Gone-Wild college crowd, the always drunk, always loud, always grazing redneck bubbas, and ill-mannered kids who like to sneeze and physically touch every single item in the buffet line typically don't stay at the Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons. Sure, there are moneyed assholes at the fancy places, but they generally know how to use a knife and fork and are not vomiting in the hallways.
Despite the colorful clientele of the resort, we ended up having a great time. Cancun, while not quite my cup of tea, is a beautiful place with lots to do. They even have a Ruths Chris Steakhouse. Sadly, my vote to go for dinner was thoroughly rejected by David who reminded me we can never get out of Ruths Chris for less than 200 bucks, we are suppose to be saving money, and we had already paid for an all-inclusive hotel. Blah, blah, blah, party pooper. Guess my wedge salad and ribeye will have to wait.
Next stop Merida.
Las Cascadas Magicas.
We were having so much fun in Acapulco I didn't much want to leave. If not for the marina sucking donkey balls we might, in fact, still be there. Dave and I really liked the town which had some of the best food I have had in Mexico. Alas, we decided to toss off the dock lines and head south 250 or so miles to our next destination, Huatulco.
The three day sail was pretty unmemorable except for the last few hours approaching Marina Chahue where we had wind gusts up to 30 knots. I had a single reef in the main, but apparently it wasn't enough. The weather helm was such that the autopilot decided to stop working. The sailorly thing to do would have been to reef the sail down some more, but I could see the marina entrance and elected to just hand steer us in.
Worries are plentiful at sea: being run down in the middle of the night, bad weather, things breaking, Kraken, etc. Consequently, it felt good to be tied up at the dock following three days underway. As an ignorant novice, I aways envisioned sailing to be this relaxing, at-one-with-nature, stress relieving activity. For many people I'm sure it is, but certainly not for me. It is a rewarding way to travel to be sure; however, I far more enjoy the destination over the journey.
Having cheated death and successfully arrived in Huatulco, Dave and I were ready to get the hell off the boat. We got the boat cleaned up and, as is becoming our post-passage routine, went in search of a hotel. I like to use Tripadviser to find hotels and restaurants as the user reviews are usually spot on. We found a highly rated hotel with a monster room, ocean view, balcony with hammock, pool, spa services, and a gym (not like I ever set foot in it), right on the water for 50 bucks a night. Ha, try and find a deal like that in the States! I booked it for a week.
Settled into our new digs, Dave and I set out to explore the town, La Crucecita (the little cross). Man, what a cool place! La Crucecita is an archetypical Mexican town. There is a town square right in the center and it's flanked on all sides by restaurants, shops, and bars - a great place to hangout, eat, drink, and people watch. Huatulco is famous for its many beautiful bays. The idea on sailing down was to stop and anchor in all of the bays on our way to the marina in Bahia Chahue, but we had an unfavorable weather forecast, hence the 30 knot winds there at the tail end, and decided to bypass it all and make a run for the marina. I was disappointed and felt as though I missed out on the best part of Huatulco. Well, in walking around town we found a tour company who, for a measly 20 dollars per person, would load you up on their 70 foot catamaran, feed you lunch, and take you to all seven bays. What a deal! It was great fun.
Looking for Dory.
Hotels, restaurants, and tour agencies in tourist areas tend to hire people with some English speaking abilities, so communicating isn't a huge deal. All of the large towns significant to tourism, Ensenada, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Acapulco, Huatulco (yes, it's a cruse ship stop), I meet Mexicans who speak some English. They inevitably ask me where I am from, and I ask them where they learned English. In every town I mentioned above, I have met Mexicans who have lived in the United States - that is where they learned English. I love this culture and I love these people. I am curious. I ask questions. I want to know their story. The stories are heartbreaking.
Mara at the Hotel Coral returned to Mexico from Los Angeles after her husband was deported and she could no longer support her family. Yes, she entered the country illegally. Carlos crossed the border looking for a better life. He landed a job at Tyson Foods working at a chicken farm in Arkansas making $13.00 an hour (a huge sum by Mexican standards). He got married and had two beautiful little girls. Immigration did a sting at the Tyson plant, arrested him, and deported him back to Mexico. His family remained in the US. He paid a coyote $8000 dollars to take him back across the border so he could be with his family. The guy took the money, but never took Carlos across the border. Carlos hasn't seen his daughters in four years.
Each town I visit I hear stories like these. It makes me sick. I spent my entire life in the service of our country protecting the people, freedom, and values for which we stand. Yet I come to find we have an immigration policy of separating families. What is that about? It smacks of the jackbooted policies of hateful regimes of the past. These people come to America seeking a better life. Is that any different from what your immigrant forefathers did? Last I checked the Statue of Liberty states, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Does that not apply anymore? We are the wealthiest nation in the world. Can we not continue to be accepting of those in search of a better life?
This blog is not a political blog, nor do I want it to be, but it's my blog and I will say what the fuck I want. Irrespective of your position on illegal immigration, I would hope that you would agree that separating families is wrong, un-American, and not who we are.
Our next stop will be Chiapas, the furthest south Mexican town where we can keep the boat for hurricane season. I have rented a villa in the Yucatan city of Merida where Dave and I will host family and use as a base for further travel to South and Central America (Machu Picchu is on the bucket list... gotta check that box).
We have been in Huatulco for two weeks, but it looks like we will be here for at least another. Our next passage is across the formidable Gulf of Tehuantepec, 260 miles, a narrow isthmus separating the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico, notorious for hurricane force winds. There is a predicted wind event next week and we don't need none of that. We'll wait it out for a good weather window. I'm nervous about this one, wish us luck.
|Acapulco to Huatulco||
After spending a little over a week in Ixtapa we motored four miles next door to neighboring Zihuatanejo. Despite its proximity to Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo has a completely different feel. Where Ixtapa has a artificial tourist sort of vibe, Zihuatanejo is authentically Mexican. One of the things I like about traveling is experiencing the culture and interacting with the local people. I find this far more interesting than hanging around tourist towns where it's predictable, antiseptic, and contrived.
Because it was such a short distance I didn't even bother with the sails. We motored along at around 5 knots and were there within an hour. It was a beautiful warm sunny day and upon getting the anchor set, Dave and I jumped into the warm water of the bay and started swimming to shore. Whenever I get somewhere new, I can't wait to get to shore and start exploring. As I'm swimming along, huffing and puffing, I begin to think that perhaps my current level of fitness does not support this activity. I make it to the beach, wheezing like a lumbering ass, and I think, "note to self: chill out on the cigarettes and start doing cardio again."
I know what you're thinking: why didn't they just take the dinghy. Well, I elected to not blow up the dinghy as I didn't intend to spend more than a couple days in Z-Town and, as I've said before, the dinghy is a pain in the ass. I wasn't much worried about getting to/from shore as there were a slew of panga fishermen happy to make a few bucks giving a gringo a ride to the beach.
Dave and I walk down the beach checking out the various palapas looking for some lunch (lunch is code for beer and tequila shots). As we lumber along we come upon a sign that says swimming in the water can be hazardous to your health. Well ain't that just dandy! Apparently the city of Zihuatanejo dumps its sewage into the bay. Sure enough, by the time the sun went down Dave and I both felt like death warmed over and had sore throats. I keep a supply of antibiotics on the boat and we each loaded up with a healthy dose in the hope of a preemptive strike against whatever bug we may have picked up. The next morning I felt fine (well, you know me, I never feel fine in the morning, but relatively speaking I felt fine). Dave on the other hand spent the next four days sick as a dog. He said I didn't get sick because no self-respecting bacterium would tolerate my 80 proof blood. I disagreed and explained that I am like a walking no-host bar to these critters. Mosquitos certainly love me.
Swimming no bueno.
We ended up staying in Zihuatanejo longer than I intended. I didn't want to get underway for the trip to Acapulco with Dave anything less than one hundred percent, so we hung out and took it easy for a week. We had a great time. Zihuatanejo has a sort of town square where every night they host a big party. There are live bands, street entertainers, and all kinds of food venders. I truly enjoy watching the Mexican families interact. This is a cultural aspect I love about Mexico and something that seems to be missing, or certainly deteriorating, in the United States. My observations are likely clouded by my own family experiences, and I don't mean to over-generalize, but it seems to me the propinquity of family is far more prevalent here in Latin America and I believe the people are better because of it. This is a very loving and courteous society. People are kind and respectful to one another on a level far above what I see in the United States. Perhaps I'm getting sentimental with age, but I find myself envious of the closeness these families share. For me it speaks to what is truly important in life; something I never quite got to experience in my own life.
La Playa Ropa
With Dave back up to speed, we completed our preparations and set sail for the 300 mile or so journey to Acapulco. I initially had some trepidation about going to Acapulco due to safety issues regarding drug violence. Purportedly, Acapulco is the worlds second most dangerous city with 143 murders per 100,000 residents (more than Bagdad). I'm not a fool when it comes to safety and I like to err on the side of caution; however, I refuse to allow my life to be governed by fear. Acapulco is a famous town steeped in history and I wanted to see it. Besides, I would rather take a chance at being machine gunned than to have to spend a couple weeks dicking around out in the middle of the ocean in an effort to bypass it. Dave and I decided to give it a go with the agreement we would leave post haste should there be any hint of trouble.
Kids have all the fun.
The sail to Acapulco started off great. We actually had some wind and were able to sail for the first 16 hours. It all went away after that and we were once again a motor boat and remained one until our arrival three days later. As with most passages, this one was not without drama. At around 10:30 PM (I just love how bad shit always seems to happen at night), I take a look at the chart plotter and see an enormous, 900 foot, tanker about six miles behind me. He is doing 20 knots, I'm doing 5, and he appears to be on a direct course straight for me. I have AIS, he has AIS, surely he must see me. He does not deviate course and when he gets to about a mile away I call him on the radio.
Me: "Captain, I'm the little sailboat directly off your bow. I just want to make sure you see me."
Tanker (in a heavy Indian accent): "Oh hello, I see you now. I will change course."
(Fucker wasn't even on the bridge. I guarantee it. The entire crew was probably in the galley watching some Bollywood movie.)
No sooner does this conversation conclude when I hear a huge bang. I grab a flashlight and come to find a block had given way on my traveler (traveler is the thingy that allows you to move the boom left and right). This caused the sail to go all screwy, which caused some violent motion on the boat, which caused the autopilot to stop functioning. The Gods were now sailing my boat. And guess what, they are sending me directly toward the tanker. As I'm trying to get things squared away and avoid an early death, I hear a very freaked out Indian voice frantically trying to hail me on the radio.
Tanker: "Sweet Melissa, what are you doooooing!?!?!?"
Of course I didn't answer the radio as I was a little preoccupied. I was able to get a handle on this nightmare in pretty short order, but good Christ, what a stress bomb that was. I had a spare block, but sure as hell wasn't going to try and fix it in the dark of night in a lumpy ocean. Instead, I got us back on course and reefed the sail all the way down to relieve the stress and pressure on the remaining blocks. We left the boat in that configuration until our arrival in Acapulco where I replaced the block from the safety and comfort of the dock.
After three days and two nights at sea we arrived at La Marina, Acapulco. There are but two marinas to choose from in Acapulco and one of them is a private yacht club. So I guess that means there is only one marina in Acapulco. La Marina was hideous - the worst marina I have stayed at to date. They side-tied me to the dock where I could be abused by the surge in the bay and the continuous onslaught of speeding powerboats and jet skis. The Halliburton porta-potties in Iraq were cleaner and more pleasant than the restroom facilities, and there was a constant parade of rough looking boat boys walking the dock. I hired the biggest, toughest, looking one to keep an eye on my boat. I had no problems.
The marina aside, Acapulco turned out to be an absolutely amazing town. Dave and I loved it! Very cosmopolitan with great restaurants, gorgeous hotels, swanky nightclubs, and nary a gringo to be found. The people were fabulous and if there was any trouble in town, we sure didn't see it. It was quite obvious that the Mexican government was not ignoring the souring reputation of this beautiful gem of a city. You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a clad in black, machine gun toting, cop or soldier. We never once felt unsafe.
After three days out on the ocean we were ready for some air-conditioning and the stability of tarra firma. I booked us a four night stay at the Fiesta Americana situated on the beautiful and famous Playa Condesa. We had a great time hanging at the pool by day and sampling the city's gastronomical offerings by night. The place was absolutely packed. It was Easter week and Dave informed me that it coincided with Mexico's spring break. I was the only white boy in the whole joint. It would seem the drug cartels have unwittingly returned Acapulco to the Mexican people. The Western media hypes Mexican drug violence to the extent that people think they will be immediately beheaded upon their arrival at the airport. It's bullshit. Tourism is Mexico's second largest source of revenue and it's a shame that a country populated by such kind and generous people must suffer from the actions of a few knuckleheads and a media philosophy of, "If it bleeds, it leads."
Kid on the beach, Acapulco.
The next stop on our little ship of fools will be Huatulco in the beautiful State of Oaxaca. It is about 250 miles which means another couple nights at sea. I'm looking forward to Huatulco. It is said to be stunningly gorgeous. I am finding the farther south I travel in Mexico, the more and more I like it.
|Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo to Acapulco||
You wanna iguana?
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
Dave and I left Manzanillo for Ixtapa in the late afternoon on Monday, April 31st. Ixtapa is about 200 miles from Manzanillo and we anticipated it would take about 48 hours to get there. The wind was blowing pretty good as we motored out of Manzanillo Bay and I decided to go ahead and put a single reef in the mainsail just to be on the safe side. Truth be told, I'm a pretty conservative sailor and I will frequently have a reef in the main just for good measure. Sure, you don't go as fast, but when conditions change quickly, as they frequently do along this coast, you are already prepared and don't find yourself freaking out to get some sail down.
Log entry enroute to Ixtapa.
Going out with the reef in turned out to be a smart move. As we exited the bay we were hit with 25 knot winds and a very angry and confused sea (confused meaning the swells were not consistent, but were instead coming from multiple directions). As the day wore on, the conditions deteriorated further. Due mostly to the crazy sea, the auto pilot was unable to maintain course and the breaking waves were giving me a saltwater bath in the cockpit. Just before the sun went down I put a second reef in the main, which seemed to help a bit, but the ride was very uncomfortable.
By the afternoon on day two the wind stopped blowing and the sea settled down. We were finally able to cook something (Zatarain's "Dirty Rice" never tasted so good). With no wind and a flat sea we were able to motor along comfortably at five knots.
Lieutenant Dave on the approach into Ixtapa.
When I know I am going to be at sea for anything more than a day sail I plan my route to be well offshore. As I have said before, land is no friend to a boat. For this voyage I had us about forty miles off the Mexican coast, well away from the coastal traffic, fish nets, and fisherman. It's crazy the stuff you see out in the middle of the ocean. There are birds, sea turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks, flying fish, and all manner of sea life. As Dave and I were sailing along, minding our own business, this goofy looking bird with blue feet (I later learned this was a Blue Footed Booby) lands on our stern rail. The bird was not graceful at all, fell off and into the ocean twice before managing a successful landing, and appeared to be exhausted. It makes sense when you think about it: a bird forty miles offshore doesn't have many options in terms of finding a rest stop.
Anyway, this silly bird had absolutely no fear of humans and just hung out and made himself at home in my cockpit. He wasn't bothering anything and I thought he was kind of cool in a dorky way, so I decided to let him hang out. The little bastard showed his appreciation for my hospitality by shitting all over my cockpit cushions. I have never seen a bird shit as much as this one, and oh the smell. Dirty bird, indeed. Still, I didn't have the heart to kick him off, but I wasn't going to have any of this. I shuttled him up to the bow where he found a home atop my forward hatch where he promptly shat on my solar vent. Gee, thanks.
Thanks you nasty thing.
About an hour later another idiot Booby (I'm starting to understand how these birds got their name) comes fumbling onboard. This knucklehead took four attempts, each time falling into the sea, before joining his buddy up on the bow. He shit all over the place too. And just before nightfall a third bird, not a Booby, but some other flavor of bird, came to roost as well. What am I? A floating rookery? Well, the Boobies did not seem to approve of this new fellow. Every time he attempted to join them on deck, they promptly chased him off. Fortunately, he did not have webbed feet like the Boobies and was able to find a perch atop the lifelines.
The birds stayed with us all through the night and into the next morning. At around 10:00 AM they packed up and left leaving my entire bow covered in bird shit. I wasn't all that concerned about the mess as I had booked a slip at Marina Ixtapa where I would have access to running water on the dock.
We made it to the marina at around three in the afternoon, got checked in, and squared away the boat. Ixtapa is a beautiful place and it felt good to be in a marina with all the amenities. Lots of cruisers elect to anchor out as opposed to spending the bucks to rent a slip in a marina. However, to me it's worth the money. I'm homeless and therefore have no mortgage or rent payment, no car payment, no insurance, no cell phone contract, no cable, basically no bills at all. It feels good. I don't use credit cards and I don't owe anybody anything. I can do whatever I want with my money and I choose to blow it on frivolous shit, decadent meals, booze, and fancy hotels.
After being on the ocean for a couple days I was in the mood to treat myself to a few nights in a resort to relax, do some writing, and just basically recharge my batteries. I looked around on Tripadvisor and learned that Ixtapa's number one rated hotel was the Capella Resort and Spa. Further investigation revealed that the suites of this fine establishment come with their own personal pool. Ha, I have never stayed in a hotel room where I had my very own private pool. Of course the room wasn't cheap, but what the hell. New experiences - isn't that what money is for?
My very own pool... sweet!
I went ahead and booked the room and I must tell you dear reader, this is one of the the nicest places I have ever stayed. I have been all over the world and stayed in some great hotels, both The Plaza and The Palace in NYC for example, but this resort is absolutely stunning. The service and attention to detail is unmatched by anywhere I have been before. I sit typing this blog entry from my lanai overlooking the Pacific next to my very own private pool. It is stunningly beautiful. If you ever decide to visit Ixtapa, please, please, please, do yourself a favor and look into Capella Resort and Spa. You will not be disappointed.
Dave checking out the view.
I am stupid and stupid can be very expensive. Last night Dave and I decided to invite a couple of sailing friends to dinner at the resort. We had a real hoot of a time starting off with drinks in the hotel bar, then heading over to the dining room for dinner. I like these types of events as I can rock my Burberry gear as opposed to wearing my standard sailing outfit of bathing suit and flip flops. Anyway, I summon the wine list. It's a special night and I want to get a special wine. I look over the list and am amazed at how inexpensive the wines are. I find a Spanish red, the second most expensive on the menu at 475.00 pesos (around $30 US dollars), and have the waiter bring it. It's quite delicious. We burn through it and I order another bottle. Following desert and another round of after-dinner drinks, I ask for the bill: 1489.00 pesos (like $130 bucks). Easy peasy. No problem. What a deal. Well, David, who is the responsible one of the group, takes a closer look at the bill. He informs me the bill is not in pesos, but in US dollars.
"Huh? Seriously? What the fuck, we are in Mexico! Why the hell is the menu in US dollars?"
Well, it turns out this resort operates in US dollars. As my friend Paul from New Zealand likes to say, "Well fuck me days!" Guess I should pay a bit more attention. Looks like I will be eating gruel on my little plastic ship for the remainder of the month.
I'm not to sure how long I'm going to stay in Ixtapa. It's nice and I like it, but it's a fake town, built specifically for tourism, and sort of feels like Irvine with its sculpted landscaping, pedestrian walkways, and strip malls. Gringos are everywhere and it doesn't much feel like Mexico. Right next door is Zihuatanejo, a more authentic Mexican fishing village. They reportedly have a decent bay where many boats like to anchor. I will likely stay in Ixtapa for a couple more days, just long enough to effect a couple repairs on the boat, then do a short hop over to Z-town. One of my maintenance projects is to clean the bottom of the boat, but I'm reluctant to to it at the Ixtapa marina due to all the alligators swimming around. I think the bay in Zihuatanejo would be much safer.
Alligator in the marina.
I need to get moving as hurricane season is a mere two months away and this part of Mexico is bad juju. I would like to be at least as far south as Chiapas, Mexico's southern most port, by June 1st. Chiapas is a fairly safe place to be in that it is in the region where hurricanes typically form, but don't yet posses the strength to do much damage. Additionally, Chiapas has a fairly well protected marina where you can have your boat pulled out of the water and stored on land. If I elect to go that route, I will likely rent a house somewhere to sit out hurricane season, June through October, and do some inland travel. I want to go down to South America to see some of the sights, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, perhaps the Patagonia, and having a base camp somewhere in southern Mexico might provide a good opportunity to check that box. I don't know, we'll see how it goes.
|Manzanillo to Ixtapa||
Las Hadas Resort, Manzanillo
Dave and I left PV at sun up on Tuesday, March 11, to a beautiful, but windless morning. Our first stop, Punta Ipala, was less than 50 miles away and we looked forward to an easy day sail as opposed to the drudgery of an overnighter. As is typically the case in this region, there was no wind in the morning and we were forced to motor sail. As morning turned to afternoon the wind came on in earnest. Apparently this is due to some sort of phenomena called thermal convection, or something like that. Dave tried to explain it to me, but it was more than my alcohol marinated pea brain could handle.
Making a log entry enroute to Punta Ipala.
Dave is really one sharp cookie. The more I get to know him the more I'm impressed and the more I wonder why the hell he wants to hang out with a joker like me. Lieutenant Dave graduated number one in his class at the Air Force Academy and was awarded his diploma personally by the President of Mexico. He walked away from a promising military career to go sailing with me. Dave either has very big balls or is crazy... or both. He's a good man and I'm glad to have him. Traveling along seeing the beauty and wonder of this world is great, but it's even better when you have someone to share it with.
As the wind piped up in the afternoon I was beginning to think that perhaps I should put a reef in the sail (reefing is a method of reducing sail area in order to slow the boat down and make her more controllable). I looked at the chart plotter and saw we only had about six miles between us and our destination and, being the lazy sailor I am, said to myself, "Screw that, you'll be taking the sail down in a little while anyway. Why go up to the mast twice?"
Well, Mother soon punished me for my lack of seamanship with 30 knot winds and forced the issue. The autopilot could not steer the boat and I was reduced to hand steering. In addition to being lazy, I am also stubborn. I fought the boat, the wind, and the sea for a couple hours before relenting and going forward to reef the sail. By this time the wind and sea were absolutely nuts and I was summarily tenderized by the mast and rigging. To ensure I was fully cleansed of my sins, Mother sent a nice sized wave over the bow and soaked my designer Sperry ensemble. I, dear reader, am an idiot. My new mantra: reef early and reef often.
Exhausted, we made it to Punta Ipala without further incident. It's a cute, but rolly, little anchorage home to a small fishing village, a restaurant, and a few palapas on a nice little beach. Of course at the time I could have cared less about any of that. All I wanted was an Advil, a beer, and to go to bed. I was smoked.
We spent two days at Punta Ipala and then embarked on our next day sail to Bahia Chamela, about 60 miles further south. We left at sun up to a light easterly wind that soon dissipated to no wind. The sea was as flat as a lake. Scores of sea turtles were sunning themselves on the surface and I had to adjust my course several times to avoid hitting one. Dave had never seen a sea turtle before and it was cool to see him light up every time he spotted one. I too am awe struck when I get a glimpse of the wildlife out here. These are the experiences that are untenable to most of the population and part of the reason why I threw everything away to go sailing. Each time I see some ocean critter doing its thing in its natural habitat, I feel very fortunate and lucky to be doing what I am doing.
Bird hitching a ride on the back of a sea turtle.
Just after noon the wind decided to blow. The predominant wind pattern in this region are winds from the northwest; however, on this day the wind elected to blow from the south - directly from the direction I was heading. Sailboats cannot sail directly into the wind, so once again I was motor sailing. Sure, I could have cranked off and done a series of tacks, but that would have added miles to the voyage and I wanted to get to the anchorage before dark. Hell, as it was, with wind and sea on the nose, I was barely getting 4 knots under full power.
The conditions persisted throughout the afternoon with the boat slowly bashing its way along. Again, I found myself questioning why the hell I bought a sailboat. As I have mentioned before, I am not a sailing purest. I could care less about sailing and am indifferent about the process. What I like is traveling and the feeling of self-reliance by going from point A to point B using my own knowledge and wits. True, sailing takes more skill than power boating, but thus far I have done far more motoring than sailing. I look at some of these nautical wheelers in their big trawlers complete with real kitchens, (not the Susie Homemaker joke with an Easy Bake oven like sailboats have), real bathrooms you can actually stand up in, and an actual shower as opposed to the retractable sink faucet I have. Oh well, it's not like I could afford one of those anyway. Shit, I couldn't even afford to fill one up with fuel (3000 gallons at five bucks a gallon - there goes Ben's college fund). I made my choice and it is what it is. No wind, too much wind, or wind on the nose, I have a sail boat and I shall make the best of it. Buda said, "want what you have." I like that.
We arrived at Bahia Chamela and set the anchor just as the last light was fading to darkness. Dave and I had a celebratory bottle of a lovely French Bordeaux in self-congratulations of another safe, mishap free, passage. After three days on the road we were both in need of a shower. My boat has a retractable hose in the cockpit with hot and cold running water. It's a great way of taking a shower out on deck without messing up the interior of the boat with the head sink shower which gets water everywhere. It's dark and we are pretty much alone in this remote anchorage, so we grab our toiletries, strip down, and head up to the cockpit to take turns using the shower. Standing there naked, I turn the nozzle and press the button - no water comes out. I press it repeatedly - no water. I press it furiously like one of those rats in a psychological experiment on drug addiction - no water. The damn thing is broken. Naked, outside on my little plastic boat, I thinking to myself, want what you have, want what you have.
Bahia Chamela is a great anchorage and a beautiful unspoiled place. It is primarily a little fishing village, but there are a couple small hotels that seem to cater mostly to Mexican clientele. The bay is gorgeous with a long crescent shaped beach with sand reminiscent of sugar. Along the beach are palm trees and an assortment of palapas serving food and drink. This is postcard material and I am happy to see it now, as I'm sure it's just a matter of time before developers get in here and ruin it.
Unspoiled beach, Bahia Chamela.
While anchored in Chamela Dave and I decided to blow up the dinghy so we could explore the bay and motor ashore. My outboard motor had been sitting on my stern rail unused for over two months and I was surprised when it fired up on the second pull of the cord. Remember, this is the same outboard that spent three hours submerged in sea water off the coast of San Quintin. I got to hand it to Honda; they make good stuff.
With the dink ready, I threw our cameras, towels, wallets, and other junk into a waterproof backpack I had purchased before leaving the world (Australian company called Overboard makes waterproof bags of amazing quality), tossed a couple flotation cushions into the dink (mainly for something to sit on as opposed to safety), we got in the boat and were off.
Dave has never been in one of these stupid little rubber boats with a ridiculously noisy outboard where you get to get wet and breath exhaust fumes all at the same time. His face was lit up like a candle with a huge ear-to-ear toothy smile. This was old hat to me and I'd just as soon sink the little fucker than have to deal with its space requirements, maintenance, and outboard motor. However, a dink is mandatory if you want to get from your boat to shore. It's a nautical equivalent to a mini-van, ferrying people, groceries, and whatnot to and fro.
After tooling around the bay for a bit we decided to go ashore to explore the beach and town (mainly I wanted to camp out at one of the beach palapas and rehydrate with a couple Coronas, but it's always good to mask one's alcoholism in other, seemingly innocent, suggestions). Beach landings can be tricky, particularly when there is surf. From out in the bay the waves don't look so big, but as you near the beach, see the big swells, and hear the crashing waves in all of their white foamy glory, you start to think, "Oh shit, do I really want to do this?"
I'm a former Marine and I have hit the beach in little rubber boats for over two decades. This is nothing. I got this. You time the swells and go for it. No problem. I'm a professional. As we near the beach I pick my spot and gun the engine... here we go. As the boat enters the surf zone I ease up on the throttle (dumb, as the boat loses steerage without the motor's prop turning), we get a little sideways just as a breaking wave lifts up the boat... up ... up... and over! I am now swimming.
As I clammer around in the surf zone scrambling to right the boat and retrieve our gear, I see Dave standing waist deep in water laughing his ass off. I look to shore and see a group of Mexican fishermen also laughing their asses off. Some dude riding a horse on the beach was cracking up and it appeared the horse was amused as well. Perhaps I should consider a career in physical comedy. Okay, so maybe I'm a little rusty at the old beach landing. Fortunately, no one got hurt, nothing got destroyed (thank God for that waterproof backpack), and, to my absolute surprise, the outboard fired right up despite another dunking.
Dave drying off after I flipped the dink.
Since we were already wet, we sorted out our gear, secured the boat on the beach, and went swimming. The water was nice and the waves were fun to body surf. Once we had a belly full, we hiked down the beach to a palapa for some lunch. Nothing like a table on a beautiful tropical beach, toes in the sand, and an ice cold beer.
Kids on the beach, Bahia Chamela.
After two nights at Chamela we decided to venture on to our next destination, Tenacatita. Bahia Tenacatita was purportedly a very popular and very beautiful anchorage with a jungle estuary one could take the dinghy for some amazing scenery. There was also suppose to be restaurants, hotels, and a little town. Best of all, it was only twenty miles away which meant it would be an easy day sail to get there.
Sleepy Dave enroute to Tenacatita.
We left Chamela at 9:30 in the morning on Sunday, March 16, to, you guessed it, no wind. We motored two thirds of the way when the wind finally decided to pipe up and we were able to sail. We reached our destination and set the anchor just as the sun was starting to set. All of the positive reports we had heard of Tenacatita appeared accurate - the place was beautiful.
Our first full day in Tenacatita we walked the beach and did a little exploring. This was a unique place as there was an estuary and mangrove that went about a mile or two inland from the beach. If you can visualize the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland you will have an accurate picture of what the place looked like. I wanted to take the dinghy up the estuary to give it a good look, but the current can run 4 to 5 knots which is more than my little motor can handle. Additionally, the numerous signs warning of alligators also gave me pause. Instead, we found a beachfront palapa and had lunch.
Estuary and mangroves, Tenacatita.
The following day we checked out the other side of the bay. On this end there is located an all-inclusive hotel, Los Angeles Locos - sounds like the name of a street gang. Turns out for 500 pesos (about 40 bucks) you can get a day pass that includes full use of the facilities, breakfast and lunch, plus all the booze you can drink. Well hell ya, count me in! Dave and I had a great time swimming in the pool and I recouped my 40 bucks in liquor within the first hour of our stay.
Fun at the hotel, Tenacatita.
After the hotel and a rather challenging dinghy ride, we stopped off at a friends boat for some wine and good conversation. We were able to get pretty good internet service in the bay and had caught up on all the current events in the world. We spoke of Putin and Obama, the missing Malaysian jetliner, politics, the US economy, and how the little guy continues to get fucked while multi-national corporations operate with impunity. We are contemplative on our current situation and acknowledge how lucky we are to be doing what we are doing. In the dark as we talk on deck, fish swimming around the boat disturb the phosphorescence. They look like green radioactive rockets shooting through the water.
Hiking the beach, Tenacatita.
The following morning we were on our way to Manzanillo. The distance was about 32 miles and the trip was uneventful. There was absolutely no wind, so we motored the entire way. The sea was flat and we made pretty good time arriving in Manzanillo around 4:00 PM. I had never been to Manzanillo before and it seemed a pretty cool place. Hotels and fancy homes are built along the bluffs surrounding the bay giving it a South of France European type of feel.
Entering Manzanillo Bay.
We anchored just outside the marina at the Las Hadas Resort. Las Hadas is a rather famous grand old hotel. This is where the 1979 Bo Derek movie "10" was filmed. The hotel use to be a playground for the rich and the who's who of Hollywood, but it has since lost much of its allure and seems rather empty and neglected. Nonetheless, I intend to book a room for a week or two. I like hotels with a history, with soul, and am looking forward to relaxing by the enormous pool and doing a bit of writing. I think it's important to periodically get off your boat to go smell the roses ashore. Besides, I need a physical address to have my mail forwarded to. I ordered some much needed tools unavailable here in Mexico and I am anxious to have them in hand to effect a couple high priority repairs.
The pool at Las Hadas.
If I am here for a week or more, I will likely post another update chronicling my exploits. Lieutenant Dave is heading back to Ensenada to retrieve his dog, Dr. Oppenheimer (a dog with a PhD???), and then fly the little devil to his parent's house in Mexico City. Dave intends to come back to continue our sailing odyssey. Clearly, his mother must have dropped him as a child.
Feel free to checkout my travel photography here:
|Puarto Vallarta to Manzanillo||