27 January 2010
Isla Mujeres - 1/8-
Marina Paraiso ("Paraiso Club de Yates" in the cruising guide) is a 30-or-so slip marina of average quality. It has modern dock pedestals with water and power. The fixed docks of wood are noteworthy for there rough-hewn tree trunks for pilings - not attached to the dock itself. The four trunk piles at each slip allow a four-point tie up, but the absence of finger piers make dock access from the boat a bit tricky. Diva's double-ender stern and all the gear there makes going stern-to unfeasible, so we went bow in and cautiously timed the heaving of the bowsprit to "leap" backwards onto the dock. This can be a bit dangerous in windy and rainy (slippery docks) weather. Keeps one young, but can also get you wet if you end up in the harbor or send you to the clinic if you fall and land on something hard.
The dock master, Jose Pacheco, was most helpful in tying up the boat and helping us with all the Mexican check in paper work. Our four boats (Diva, Rachel, Pioneer and Eyrie) and one of two others gathered in the austere-but-sturdy concrete and stucco office where the customs and immigration officials sat at the desk and Jose, in his good, but highly accented English directed traffic. Carl just kept nodding "yes", but understood about 50% of the information. The officials were very pleasant and helpful in our attempts to correctly fill in all the blanks on all the forms. They were very good with their stamps. The ability to properly and quickly stamp each and every sheet appears to be the main trait of C&I officials throughout the world. The nice, plump, young male official asked Carl who the "Diva" was - the wife or the boat. We gave our standard answer: the boat, of course. Then he talked about boats and his uncle's telling him why they are like women - needing lots of attention and money. Pleasant, friendly fellow.
This hour-long process moved fairly quickly considering there were five or six boats being processed. But still there was unfinished business as Jose had to make a trip to Cancun with our papers for check in with the port captain and to get our actual visas. Since we were checking in on Friday, the visas would not be available until Monday, though we were immediately free "to roam about the island" - and spend those gringo dollars. Speaking of dollars, the check in fees were $160 without pets, plus $50 for keeping your boat in the country for more than seven days (called an "importada"). As our "agent" Jose asked for a gratuity of a value we considered appropriate to be given at the end of our stay. The custom we learned from other cruisers is $25 to 50. Slip rental for the week, electricity and water included, was $200 ("high" season). So, the money was all starting to add up. We were anxious to get some value for our money and to get out and see the country.
First, there was this monster cold front coming in early the next morning. This is the reason we hurried to get in on Friday. At least we were now snugly tied to some dead Mexican trees. As luck would have it our Friday arrival included the weekly cruisers' happy hour at 5 pm. Except for the low-slung clouds it would have been our first Central American sunset. Oh well, our eyelids were so heavy after three days and nights of sailing, we wouldn't have enjoyed it anyway. On top of that, while Carl grabbed an hour's nap, his oh-so-"steward-ly" crew did a fresh water wash down of the decks and bright work, removing the top layer of flaky salt deposits and minimizing the corrosion of all that "stainless steel" in the stanchions, winches and standing rigging.
The cruisers' happy hour was attended by about a dozen boats from our marina and the marinas on either side and an anchored boat or two. We met a bunch of new folks and renewed a couple of previous acquaintances. We got a lot of good information and advice on the countries we hope to visit. Our impression was that this crowd of Central American cruisers was somehow different than the Bahamas crowd. We're not sure yet how they are different, but first impressions would indicate they are a bit younger and more adventurous - more individualistic than "groupie" . In the Bahamas it seems to be as much about partying with your friends as touring the islands. In Central America touring and self-confidence seem to take higher priority. We didn't stay late, but thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie and information.
Debbie and I retired to Diva's cockpit and another glass of wine to reflect on the start of this adventure: our concerns about our ability to make the crossing and our strong sense of accomplishment, and luck, at having done it successfully and fairly comfortably. We have a feeling that this is the right thing for us at this time: stretching our comfort zone and broadening our horizons. It is a special "once-in-a-senior-lifetime" opportunity to have a true adventure beyond the comforts of our safer cruising grounds.
Next morning, Saturday January 9th, the cold front came through with low clouds, rain and 25-knot winds with higher gusts. The marina has no protection from the typical winter foul weather coming from the NW. Although we felt relatively safely moored the sea chop at the docks was significant and uncomfortable at times. We doubled up lines on the bow and had great difficulty getting on and off the plunging bow from the slippery dock, a long leg stretch, or short "hop" away. With our buddies on Pioneer, Rachel and Eyrie we went into the town about a mile and a half north. Crew of Diva and Doug from Eyrie got a ride from Jose (on his day off), but the others decided to walk to avoid a $1.50 cap ride and enjoy being splashed by passing motorists. We all got pesos at the HSCB bank vestibule ATM. The conversion rate was not revealed, but reference to our transaction online revealed it to be about 12.7 pesos to the dollar. We had to read the Spanish (with smaller English translations) carefully. At the end of the process was a screen asking something about 5 pesos, "Acceptar" or "No Acceptar". First impression was that the machine was asking us if we would accept the machine processing fee, but then Carl remembered that that had already been asked, so he read more carefully. Turns out it was asking if we wanted to make a donation to some charity and the beautiful children pictured on the screen.
Then we all walked down the pedestrian-tourist mall into the blowing rain and were just about the only ones there. Later we saw a caravan of golf carts on the streets with tourists in black garbage bags with neat holes cut out for their heads. Wonder what they paid for the bags? The seven of us enjoyed a brunch at "Bucaneros" including a sampling of local beers and tacos. Prices were not cheap, but less than equivalent US restaurants. Food was good. We made a short tour of the mall in the rain and then walked back down-wind-and-rain to the marina where we hunkered down for the afternoon as the storm continued unabated.