Zephyra finally made it to Panama City last week after day-hopping with a few overnighters thrown in down the Costa Rican and Panamanian coast. We are anchored in the La Playita anchorage getting the boat ready and provisioned for the big crossing. Next stop will be the Galapagos (about 9 days) and then the big jump to the Marquesis Islands (28 to 35 days). Panama City is a large diverse city with quaint buildings and plazas in the Casco Viejo (old city) and giant modern shopping malls in the new parts of the city, where American and European products are available in abundance. They use US dollars as their currency in Panama, so it takes all the figuring out of every transaction and, we once again know at a glance what we are paying for things. Costa Rica's currency, the Colonas, was about 550 to 1 when we were there. A loaf of bread would cost 2,854 Colonas and we would have to figure in our heads if that was cheap or expensive. Prices for food, fuel and clothes are much more reasonable in Panama than in Costa Rica and much more is available than in the poorer Central American countries.
After leaving Nicaragua, the sailing got better and the winds more moderate. We enjoyed many days under sail (some with spinnaker) and found beautiful anchorages to rest and see the sights. We hiked with the monkeys in Manual Antonio National Park in Costa Rica, enjoyed the hospitality of Land & Sea in Golfito, which is set up to make life easy for cruisers and spent a few days in the Perlas Islands before making the trip to Panama City. Our friends, Suzanne and Mike on Namaste, have been in the anchorage for awhile and emailed us the instructions for the approach and general information cruisers need to know. It is always great to meet up with folks from home who we haven't seen in a long time. The anchorage here is rolly and the dingy dock chaotic, but watching the big ships passing a few hundred meters from the anchorage day and night is fascinating.
On Friday, Zephyra stayed parked in the anchorage while Debbie and Russ got to go through the Panama Canal on a 72 ft (canal measurement) 3 masted aluminum schooner. We had been traveling down the coast with the schooner, Arctic Vixen, and when we found out they were planning a quick canal transit, we volunteered to be line handlers. Since they used an agent, they arrived with us Sunday afternoon and were able to arrange a transit for Friday. Because of the size of the boat, they were required to have a pilot (not just an advisor) aboard. They also hired one "professional line handler" since none of us had ever done the canal before. We all had a wonderful, but long, birthday dinner for our friend Joel in a restaurant in the old town where there is no menu and they keep bringing out different small dishes to the table. The food (most seafood) was delicious with interesting combinations of flavors, but the meal took 3 ½ hours, and by the end the owners of Arctic Vixen were getting anxious about the canal transit. Russ and I and the other line handlers spent the night aboard their boat since we were told to be ready for a 6:30 am departure. After we left the anchorage, we went to a staging area where a vessel brings the pilots out. Once the pilot is aboard, he radios the control center and finds out we will go through the locks tied to a tug. This is supposed to be the most desirable way to transit, since once you are secured to the tug, there is no line handling involved. If you are centered, with or without a raft up, the boat must be kept centered in the locks manually using lines from the side walls.
In our first set of lock, Mira Flores, we tie up to our tug on starboard. In front of us center tied in the lock is a tour boat, Princespa Panama, then us, and then a tug with no vessel tied alongside. The water came in and raised us and then the gates opened. Our pilot told our skipper Ron to back down, because the tug was going to pull out first and then we follow. Ron starts backing down and Russ is told to release the bowline from the tug, so they can slip out, but pilot was not used to sailboats and didn't understand how they respond to current, so the bow swung out to the cement wall. Penny, Debbie and Lee ran around with fenders trying to keep them between the wall and the schooner, as Ron and the pilot worked feverously to keep the boat from landing up backwards and being sucked into the rear gate. After a long swing the bobstay of the schooner did make contact with concrete wall. A couple of canal workers had run down and Russ threw them a line to keep the boat from swinging further thus aligning the boat properly with the lock. Then with enough forward momentum, Ron was able to regain steerage to straighten the boat and drive forward. Spinning donuts in a schooner can be hair-raising. We then motored the short distance to the Pedro Miguel locks, and once again tied to the tug. After some discussion, it was decided that when we were ready to untie the sailboat should go first and then tug could motor around us. This worked very well and the next 2 chambers were transited without incident. We then motored through the cut and into Gatun Lake, the man-made fresh water lake 85 feet above sea level. After motoring for several hours, we come close to a shortcut called The Banana channel, but our pilot says it is unsafe to transit this alone and can only be done in the company of another vessel. Then from behind a smaller sailboat (a Hunter about 40 ft) approached and our pilot and their advisor decide to use Banana to save time (we are trying to make it through in one day and cutting it close). They are lighter and faster under power, so they reached the lock first and were brought to the chamber. Our pilot then got a radio call that they are holding a lock for us and we should motor ahead of all the big ships and go right in and tie to a tug. This time the setup is for us to tie on port to a tug and the small sailboat to then tie to us in the front part of the lock and then a large tanker pulled in behind us. This lock, the Gatun has 3 chambers, and the tying and untying goes well until the third chamber. This time it is the little sailboat that loses control and starts dancing about the chamber and into the davits of Arctic Vixen. After it was all sorted out, we are finally lowered into the Caribbean sea. We then motored out to the flats in the fading light, unloaded our pilot and line handler, and had a great onboard dinner celebrating a successful transit. Ron was a great skipper and kept his cool through the whole thing and Penny took great care of crew. It was something I always wanted to do and am thankful to have the opportunity without having to take our own boat through.
It is Sunday morning and we are sitting on anchor in port waiting for a Papagayo to blow itself out since Tuesday afternoon. The winds have been gale force and higher since Wednesday, but we cannot tell actual wind speeds, since on Wednesday morning the paddlewheel for our anemometer blew off the instrument from its mounting on the mast. Our friend on his boat said he was seeing steady 50's and gusts in excess of 80 knots. This is in the harbor. The spray has been lifting off the waves and we have had hits over the top of the dodger. The boat is covered with a thick layer of sand, since Papagayos are gap winds and blow from the land.
We finally left Bahia del Sol on Wednesday, January 28th on the afternoon high tide with a pilot boat leading us and our buddy boat, Paradise Bound, over the bar. We motorsailed all night to the Gulf of Fonseca where we landed the next day at the El Salvadorian island named Conghaguita. We almost immediately were visited by some local boys who paddled out in dugouts. We got to practice our Spanish (it is easier with kids) and gave them some packs of chewing gum. Over the next 2 days, we had many other kids visiting to say hello, see the boat (they are fascinated by all the things on the yachts) and receive handouts of gum and candy. The Gulf of Fonseca is a large bay which borders on 3 countries, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. We decided to weekend in Honduras at Isla El Tigre and visit the little town on Amapala where we had a good lunch and took a 3 wheeled taxi back to the beach. Since we were not checked into Honduras, both boats decided to weigh anchor early on Monday morning and head south.
After a few hours of motoring, Zephyra had a pleasant spinnaker run until sunset when we took it down and had to motorsail again. At the 1am shift change, the wind had picked up enough to set sail again and Debbie had a good watch close reaching at 5 to 6 knots boat speed. At sunrise the wind died, but picked up quickly as the morning progressed to 20 plus knots and the seas became very sloppy. This was the start of the Papagayo. We motored for a couple of miles to get closer to shore, and then sailed down the coast under main and staysail with water pouring over our bow. Our buddy boat who was now many miles behind us, called and said they were hearing noises from their engine and wanted to stop at San Juan del Sur. We looked at our cruising guide and decided why not, let's see a little of Nicaragua. We anchored at 3:30pm and the Port Captain was on our boat before we even got the engine turned off. We told them there was another boat coming and he said we all need to check in with immigration the next day. The other boat arrived about 9pm and Russ talked them into the harbor and they set anchor.
The next morning, six of us took a wet panga ride in sloppy seas to have our passports stamped and see the town of San Juan del Sur. This is the last port in Nicaragua (about 15 miles to the Costa Rica border) and was a pleasant surprise to visit. There is a large community of ex-pats and the town is a nice mix of gringos and Nicaraguans. Surfing and diving are a big attraction here, also a couple of Spanish schools and a funky little beach town with many bars and restaurants and hostels. The cost of food and beer is reasonable and the only place we feel we are being ripped off is by the panga driver who has been shuttling us back and forth at US$5 per boat per trip. It has been so windy that we haven't daring launch a dingy, maybe today as it seems to be easing. On Thursday morning, our friends on the buddy boat thought they were dragging to the rocks and decided to abandon ship and stay on shore. This was in the worse part of the Papagayo and after a long time hailing, they got the panga to go pick them up in the 50-60 knot winds.
It turned out their boat was not dragging and is fine and Russ in currently looking at their engine issues. Joel, the captain, had just paid to have a lot of work done at the boatyard at Bahia del Sol and Russ is very unhappy with the quality to their work. We wouldn't know until later or tomorrow how bad the problem is. Anyway, we are not going anywhere until there is a weather windo
We are back on the boat at Bahia del Sol after a weeklong trip to Guatemala and Honduras by bus. Our main project right now is to repair or replace our dingy. A couple of days before we had planned to leave on our trip, we noticed than the starboard tube had deflated. Russ pumped it up and we looked for a leak and could not find one. We went to the dock, bringing the pump with us, and enjoyed the pool and internet at the bar. A few hours later when we returned to the dingy all three chambers had deflated and the engine (transom) was starting to sink. We lifted the engine with another cruiser's davits and our friend, Joel from Paradise Bound, said he could lend us a dingy until we could deal with the situation. Cruisers really do take care of each other. We have been on the internet checking options to replace the dingy but have not come up with an affordable way, so now we are trying to repair it. The problem with such a major failure of the adhesive is whether we can trust it again.
Anyway, we left Zephyra safely at anchor, and Joel's spare dingy with our oversized engine at the dock, and took off on Wednesday for San Salvador. After a busy day, sightseeing in the centro part of the city, looking for a dive store in the malls, doing errands and eating Chinese food, Joel dropped us at the bus station so we could buy our ticket for the 6am bus to Guatemala City. When you enter a shopping mall in San Salvador, you would think you were in Mission Valley or any other upscale mall in the US. The contrast from the downtown market, filled with crowed stalls selling anything from used tools, electronic s and chickens, is vast. The spread between urban and rural and rich and poor seem to be more pronounced in Central America, than even in Mexico. The laborers who work on the boats, get paid about $8 a day, while a hamburger special at the resort restaurant is on the menu for $10. I am putting prices of some things in this log to let fellow travelers know some the things we found cheap and others expensive. We did find traveling in Central America fairly reasonable overall.
The first night, since we had a 6am bus, we stayed at a hotel next door to the bus station. ($32 for a double room with private bath and cable TV). We took the TICA bus to Guatemala City which was direct except for a stop at the border. The El Salvadorian officials came on the bus and checked everyone's passports, then we drove to the border and debarked to visit the Guatemala immigration. Of, course, all the announcements are only in Spanish, so we just followed the crowd. From Guatemala City we took a taxi ($30) to Antigua Guatemala.
Antigua was one of the most interesting places I have ever seen. Just walking down the street, most of the city looks like square, squat buildings without any style, but you go behind the walls of almost every building and there are beautiful courtyards, gardens and accommodations built around ancient ruins. There is art and pottery displaced anywhere. We took a walking tour, given by an ex-pat named Elizabeth Bell, who has studied Antigua for decades and written several books on the area. She took us through several buildings, a home, churches and museums. We also spent a couple of days exploring the churches and ruins on our own. Antigua is a very international city with visitors from all over the world. There is every type of cuisine available and a central plaza where people sit and relax and watch the "goingson" of the town. The artisan market is a kaleidoscope of colors and fabrics. I only bought a few things since we were traveling by bus with a small backpack each, but I know I will someday be sorry that I didn't purchase things for our home. The first night in Antigua, after consulting our Lonely Planet guide, we stayed in a $14 hotel room. It was a little too basic and much too noise for us, so for the next 2 nights we moved up to a more luxurious $34 a night room.
Through the travel agency in front of our hotel, we arranged a shuttle to Copan, Honduras. The shuttles all leave a 4am so that people who desire to can make a one day turnaround. We had been warned, by our friends who had done the trip the week before, that the Plus Bus company was not reliable and their vans were not very good so we signed on with a more expensive company. The shuttle picks up each passenger at their hotel in the morning. He showed up at our hotel 20 minutes early (3:40 am) since we were his first stop. Then he proceeded to cross and re-cross the town several times looking for addresses before filling up every seat in the van. The van was in poor shape and every time the driver turned it off, he needed to screw with the battery to get it to restart. The trip was about 4 hours after we finally got out of town along winding mountain roads. When the driver took his jacket off, Russ noticed that the emblem on his sleeve was Plus Bus, so much for spending more to take a nicer van. This time at the border we had to get out of the van (gladly) and go to one window to check out of Guatemala ($2 per person) and then to another window to check into Honduras($3 per person). About 9:30 am we finally got to the town of Copan Ruinas. We wandered around to find the Via Via hostel, which had been recommended to us by both our friends and Lonely Planet and booked a room ($16) and had a typical Honduran breakfast (eggs, beans, salty cheese, fried platanos and homemade bread). We were now using our 3rd currency in 5 days.
After breakfast, we walked to the Copan Archaeological Site, a Unesco World Heritage site. During the Classic period (AD 250-900), the city at Copan Ruinas culturally dominated the region for centuries. Its culture was so developed, it is often labeled the 'Paris of the Maya world'. The ruins at Copan are not as grand as at some other sites, but more Mayan sculpture has been found there, than anywhere else. Some of the sculptures can be seen in their original position on the site, but many have been moved to the onsite museum where they can be better preserved. We spent the rest of the day, wandering around the ruins and museum and burning up all the batteries we had for our camera.
In Honduras, the women are known for carrying everything on their heads. For dinner, we went to a restaurant which is upstairs and the waitresses carry the drinks and food up the stairs on their heads. Don't know how they do it. The next morning, we took a three-wheeled motor taxi (Russ calls them Jitneys), to Macaw Mountain a private bird sanctuary which looks after rescued abandoned and endangered birds. It is a lush jungle park with spacious aviaries for many species of birds including parrots, macaws, toucans, pigmy owls and red tailed hawks. Our guide told us about the birds and Honduran life and we had lunch in their lovely restaurant set in the park. There is one section, where the birds are not in their cages and can be handled by visitors. Unfortunately, our camera batteries were dead by then, but we each had 3 macaws climbing on our arms.
The next day was a bus day. It took 3 buses to make our way back to the boat. First we caught a 6am bus to La Entrada, Honduras. We had breakfast the only nice hotel in La Entrada, which also happened to be the terminal for the King Quality bus. This was far the nicest (and most expensive, $41 per person) bus of our trip. There were roomy reclining seats, on-board movies and a hostess who brought us pillows and blankets and served cookies and coffee. At the border between Honduras and El Salvador, officials of both countries boarded the bus and checked our passports. There was no charge and they did not stamp anything or give us anything. Since we already had a 90 visa that we purchased when we landed in El Salvador, we weren't concerned, but the American lady sitting behind us was worried that she had nothing showing her entering the country. Don't know how that worked out for her. The King Quality bus dropped us in downtown San Salvador and after finding an ATM to get US dollars, we took a cab to the terminal for the chicken bus back to the boat. The chicken buses (which are retired American school buses) wasn't as bad as we expected, since we had taken it the week before during the holiday period and were dreading the ride. The first time we had taken it, we sat on the bus for 25 minutes while they loaded up as many bodies as we thought they could fit on the bus. The seats are sized for school children, not for adults with backpacks and packages and there is no air conditioning. The seating capacity is 77 passengers and Russ counted 108 at one point. The music is left to the discretion of the driver both in type and volume, so loud Techno music tends to prevail. As you sit there, the bus vendors keep coming through trying to sell you everything from food, cold drinks to toys and bibles. They enter at the front door, manage to work their way through the crowd carrying their ware (some on their heads), and go out the back door. This continued for entire wait and when the bus finally pulls out, the vendors all jump out the back. The bus was packed as we finally left the terminal, and like the Mexicans, the El Salvadorians do not move back and let other in so they just squeeze past one and other or keep piling closer together in the front of the bus. The bus kept stopping and picking up more passengers. Russ, who was sitting on the outside, got a boob in the eye as one young lady turned around. You do not pay when you board the bus, but each bus has a young man who wanders up and down the aisle to collect and keeps track of who has paid and who hasn't. The trip to San Salvador from Bahia del Sol is a little bit over an hour by car, but takes 2 ½ hours on the bus since the bus goes off the highway and into every village along the way. There doesn't seem to be any official bus stops and people wait all along the road for the bus to pick them up. We reached one village and the driver got out of the bus for his break and the vendor s once again invaded, selling pupusas, candy and drinks. On Tuesday the bus was not nearly as crowded and we each had our own seat for the first hour and ½ of the ride, so it wasn't nearly as bad as anticipated after our first experience.
We sat in Huatulco for 9 days waiting for a good weather window for crossing the Tehauntepec . A gale had been blowing with winds of 40 to 45 knots all week, but all forecasts looked good for the weekend. Along with 6 other boats, we began the checkout process on Friday morning with a visit to the Port Captain and Immigration. On Saturday morning, Enrique, the marina manager in Chahue took all our paperwork back to the Port Captain and an inspector from Immigration and one from Customs visited all departing yachts. They asked a few questions, stamped a few forms and issued our International Zarpe Some of the boats left Saturday night, but we didn't go until midday Sunday, because we were waiting to catch up with Enrique and settle our marina bill.
While in Huatulco, we met up with Steve Ott and his crew Dave and Tony, who had just brought their boat north from Nicaragua . We shared a few beers and meals in town, visited the villa where they were staying (they happened to met up with a friend from Tahoe who offered them a fabulous villa) and shared stories of their and our voyaging. It is always great to meet up with people from home and we enjoyed hanging out with Solmate crew. They left their boat at the marina and flew back to the states on Friday.
We finally cut the dock lines Sunday afternoon and spent 2 days, motorsailing in the Tehauntepec. The winds were so light that we needed the engine the whole time. We kept in radio contact during the passage with the other boats, who were all ahead of us but one who had also waited until Sunday afternoon so they could pick up crew. Being the larger boat, we passed them on Sunday night, but were still in VHF range during most of the trip. Steve, who Russ's take on things is "eats a bowl of Lucky Smucks every morning", told us he stopped in Puerto Madero for fuel, came in, fueled up and was gone within 35 minutes. He also told us that diesel in Puerto Madero was $2.10 a gallon and was over $4 in El Salvador. We passed this information on to all the other boats, but because of the time they left, they passed Puerto Madero in the night. We thought our timing was perfect, it was 9am when we arrived in Puerto Madero and turned in to get the fuel. Our cruising guide also said that you could pull into Puerto Madero to sleep a night if necessary after the Tehauntepec crossing.
As soon as we were about mid-channel, we got a call on the VHF from the Port Captain. Russ told him we just want to buy diesel and we have already checked out of Mexico. The Port Captain informed us that "this is the last port in Mexico and you must check in and check out again". Russ reiterated that we just wanted fuel and we did not want to stay. He told us that we must come see him first and started giving directions where to anchor to get to his office. His English was definitely much better that our Spanish but we were having a hard time understanding where he wanted us to go. We turned the boat around to go where we think he is telling us, and thump, "what the hell" the depth sounder is reading 18.6 feet but we are on the ground. What happened is our depth sounder reads from under the galley stove (Russ was always meaning to relocate that depth sensor forward where it belongs), but the forward part of the keel was in the mud and we had an ebbing current of about 2 knots pushing us onto the shelf. It was like a 14 foot mud wall under water. The Port Captain is still shouting directions on the VHF where to go until we finally get through to him that we a stuck and not going anywhere until the tide changes. It was still about 1 ½ hours to low slack. He says he will send out the Navy to pull us off and do our inspection.
As we waited for the Navy, the boat continues to heel more and more. By the time they got to us, there was no way they could pull us off, so they just did the inspection. In the Navy's boat, there are 7 guys with M16's, a drug dog and an officer. The Officer boarded Zephyra to fill out the paperwork for the inspection. Nobody speaks any English, but we give him out paperwork from Huatulco and he uses it to fill out his forms. By now the boat is at a 30 degree heel and the lower port lights are just above water. They ask if they can bring the drug dog aboard, who was not a happy puppy having to walk on fiberglass at a 30 degree heel. They finished their inspection and left and we continued waiting for the tide to float us off. Then the Navy boat came back with another officer who spoke a drop of English and filled out some more things on his form. After the Navy left the second time, we started to float, so we fired up the engine and called the Port Captain to ask if we could get fuel and then come see him. He informed us that the fuel dock was open to 6pm, but his office was closing in 45 minutes. We had deflated the dingy for our travels, so we had to inflate the "dink", close up the boat and row to shore with all possible paperwork he might want. At the Port Captain's office, we signed their papers, paid our fee and were told that after we get our fuel, we needed to go to the API office which was a short cab ride from the fuel dock. Then before we leave, we would need to be reinspected by the Navy and return to the Port Captain's office (we weren't sure about the PC office). We purchased out fuel, reanchored the boat by the fuel dock, rowed to shore, found someone to exchange dollars for pesos (we had spent our last peso the day before we left Huatulco), and waited for a cab so long that a local businessman felt sorry for us and took us to API . At API we paid another fee and were given some paperwork for the Port Captain. We started walking since again there were no cabs (in Huatulco every other car is a cab) and realized it was getting dark and we didn't know the way back to the fuel dock. Finally found a cab and in our terrible Spanish explained where we wanted to go and got back to Zephyra right before dark. At that point there was nothing to do, but relax and sleep the night at anchor.
We tried to call the other boat that was still behind us and warn him not to stop, but they needed to drop a crew member off so they came in after dark and anchored next to us. The Navy came by their boat at about 9:30 at night to do an inspection. They landed up having to hire an agent the next day to straighten out their crew list problem.
The next morning, we called the Port Captain who arranged for the Navy to inspect us. Again 8 men carrying weapons and a drug dog were in their boat. Two officers came aboard to do paperwork and then the dog and his handler to sniff for drugs. The dog, named Rex, was a lot happier this time around since the boat was flat. After completing the inspection they told us to go to the Port Captain's office, so we reanchored (uneventfully) in front of the Port Captain's office, rowed to shore, talked with the crew of the other boat, Gypsy, and paid the Port Captain another visit. He told us we were free to leave. We raised the dingy and secured it to the deck and motored out of Puerto Maderas at about noon on Wednesday. This little episode cost us approximately $30 and 26 hours so we are trying to warn other boats heading south against stopping if already checked out of Mexico.
The rest of the afternoon we were rewarded by a nice spinnaker run and crossed in Guatemala mid-afternoon. We continued on using the land and sea breezes whenever we could and arrived at our destination in El Salvador at sunrise Friday morning. We radioed the hotel at 6:30am and another cruiser picked up the call and said she would advise them that we were outside and needed a pilot. All the information we had about the place said "do not attempt to cross the bar on your own", so we waited and at about 7:30 the pilot in a panga came out to lead us in. There was some swell, but nothing too bad, and we safely crossed and tied up to the hotel's dock behind one of the other boats we know from Huatulco, Manana. Fairly quickly, a representative from the Navy and Immigration came to the boat to check our Zarpe and passports. We then followed the lady from Immigration up to the hotel office to pay for our visas ($10 USA each) and we were checked into El Salvador. The whole thing took less than 30 minutes.
The place we are staying is called Bahia del Sol (N13 18, W88 53) and is lovely. The landscape is lush jungle with lots of flowers and birds. We are anchored in the lagoon and by paying the hotel $14 per week, we can use their dock for our dingy, their 2 pools and showers and get 30% off food and drinks at the bar. The other night we had pupusas which is the national food of El Salvador. They start with a maza ball, fill it with beans, cheese, chicken, pork or fish and shape it like a tortilla. Then they grill them and serve with cabbage and a red sauce. They cost us 40 cents each and I ate 3 and was stuffed. The best $1.20 dinner I have had in a long time. So far we really like El Salvador and are planning make some bus trips for provisioning and sightseeing. We were only on the dock for a few minutes when a Canadian ex-pat invited us for Christmas dinner. We are enjoying nearly perfect weather with temps being 80's during the day and low 70's at night. Cannot say we miss the snow that we have heard Tahoe is getting.
Zephyra is back in La Paz and we are happy to be here. We really enjoyed our quick trip to California and were glad to spend time with our friends and family in San Diego, Tahoe and the Bay. Unfortunately, the trip was too short and there were many people we really wanted to see, but didn't get a chance. I hope everyone we didn't get to spend any or much time with will write us and let us know what is going on with them. We really love to get e-mails as they are our only real contact with people back home.
After spending time in Tahoe, we stopped in Alameda and bought boat stuff at Svendsens where Russ used to work. Then we drove back to San Diego, returned the rental car and bought more stuff. Russ's dad drove us to the border on Tuesday. We were stressed out about the amount of stuff we were bringing back across the border. We had a guy with a dolly help us carry the our luggage which consisted of 3 duffle bags full of boat stuff (including a 20 gallon fuel tank), 2 bags of clothes, a backpack and computer case. Our helper pushed the button at the border and our light came up red and we went over to the customs officer. He looks at all the stuff and says "That's just clothes RIGHT". We said "yes, clothes" and he let us pass without inspecting the bags. I guess we don't look like smugglers. The bus was long and grueling but uneventful.
Zephyra was fine when we returned to her except for the bird poop which covered her decks. We spent a little time in Santa Rosalia putting her back together and doing boat projects and then started to head south. We could find no wind at all and landed up motoring all the way back to La Paz. It is still hot here, but not as bad as it was further north in the Sea. The boat is going to be hauled out on the 13th for bottom paint and possible top-side paint (still negotiating). We hope to have all our projects done and start to head south on the 1st of November and make El Salvador by Christmas.
We spent about 7 weeks in La Paz, enjoying what the city has to offer. During this time, Zephyra got new interior upholstery, a sunshade and a four-way wind-scope. Russ was busy. We also took bike rides, walked the Malecon (with an occasional stop at the best ice cream store in Mexico), saw movies (in English), shopped and spent time eating and drinking with cruising friends. We finally finished provisioning the boat for summer, filled her with water and fuel and had no more excuses not to leave. We met many people who came to La Paz for a week, five, ten, fifteen years ago and still haven't left.
The only problem with staying in one spot for that long, is the bottom of the boat grows its own life forms. As we were motoring out of the La Paz channel, there were so many barnacles on the prop that we could only make 3.5 knots. We stopped at a cove in the outer part of La Paz bay and Russ spent two days under the boat with the hooka, cleaning the bottom. Now we can motor at 6-7 knots again. Clean fresh water is one of the many reasons we miss Lake Tahoe. We sure were spoiled up there.
We traveled north into the Sea of Cortez and visited several islands and anchorages on the Baja side. The further north we go, the warmer both the air and warm becomes. The last place we swam, the water temperature was 86 degrees, even Debbie doesn't need a wetsuit for that. We found some really good snorkeling at Puerta Ballandra on Isla Carmen and spent several days playing in an aquarium.
On July 1st, we rounded the point to Bahia Concepcion, which is a large landlocked bay on the Baja side. In El Burro cove, there is an ex-pat who owns a palapa on the beach and throws a big 4th of July party. He sets up tables and chairs and cooks about 300 hotdogs. The cruisers all bring a dish for potluck and there is beer for sale. About 35 cruising boats showed up, plus some people from town and there was a big all day party. At night there were some fireworks. Of course, nothing compared to the show in Tahoe. More like the stuff the tourist get arrested for before the "lights on the lake". It was a fun 4th, but we missed Tahoe.
We are now in Santa Rosalia, which is an interesting little town. In 1866, copper ore was discovered, and a French mining syndicate developed the mines and the town grew into a busy port. One historical landmark is Iglesia Santa Barbara which was designed and built by Carl Eiffel for the Paris Exposition of 1889 and later shipped and reassembled in Santa Rosalia. On the way here yesterday, we had a whale within 25 feet of the boat, so far our closest encounter. The sea life in the Sea of Cortez has been amazing. We see dolphins, pilot whales and rays constantly. We are only in town for a couple of days to clean the boat and get some provisions before we continue further north to Bahia Los Angeles for the summer. In August, we will come back to Santa Rosalia and leave the boat here while we travel to California. We plan on being in San Diego on the 22nd of August and up to Tahoe by the Labor Day Weekend. We plan spend the first week or so of September in Tahoe.