Reflections by Kirk
24 May 2015
Once again, I apologize. I started this Reflection in early April, having pecked away at it a little at a time. Then we had visitors from the Seattle area over the course of a month and I forgot to keep working on this. No promises that similar lapses will not occur again.
The last place of discussion was Banderas Bay. We have now spent at least a month in La Cruz, which I think we have described, and about a week in Nuevo Vallarta at the Paradise Village Marina. Paradise Village does an outstanding job of promotion and we always had hopes of being able to stay there. They really do have some excellent claims; best place to have your boat on the whole west coast of Mexico during hurricane season, one of the top one hundred mega yacht marinas in the world, and one on the cleanest marinas in all of Mexico. It sounded great, but it was not. The marina is located in a relatively narrow estuary, which is kind of like a river in that it stretches inland for a ways, but really not very far and there is no elevation change. There are no river currents, but enhanced tidal currents as a significant volume of water moves through the narrow passage. Parking the boat was a real challenge when the current was running strong. The physical limitations of the narrow waterway mean that all of the slips must be side by side on only one side of the waterway. In most marinas, a series of main piers go out into the water, perpendicular to the shoreline and slips will be arranged on both sides of these main piers, so all of the boats are contained within a rectangular area. At Paradise Village the slips are all in one very long line along the shore. We were at the wrong end of this long line and it took us about 15 minutes to get back to where all of the resort facilities were located. There should have been reduced rates for being stuck so far away, but no. Nuevo Vallarta appears to have been created solely for the construction of resort and condo facilities catering to the North American trade. There was nothing Mexican about the area. There was only one store to shop for food and it was terribly overpriced and lacked fresh produce. All-inclusive resorts dominate the area. We took a very long walk on the beach, but were not able to get a cold beverage anywhere as we did not have the wristbands that identify one as being attached to an all-inclusive package. We were astounded that we were not able to trade money for beverages anywhere except at Paradise Village and even then we had to “charge” food and beverage to our slip number. We have spent a reasonable amount of money in Mexico and people understand quite well what it is, how to add up a bill and how to make change. It seems as though these resort facilities in Nuevo Vallarta do not trust the local people to handle money. The resort facilities at Paradise Village were quite nice, great swimming pools and a fine beach, but we did not care for the whole atmosphere very much. Sorry for the rant, but this was our biggest disappointment so far in four months of travel down here. Would probably not go back to Paradise Village.
We did wait to go into Old Puerto Vallarta until we got to Paradise Village as it was much closer to Old Town than La Cruz and the bus ride would be a little shorter. It still took about an hour on the bus due to heavy traffic. The bright side is that Old Town PV is nice. There is a very wide malecon, a designated walking area that must have been as wide as a six-lane road. One side is the beach and the other is a mix of bars, restaurants and shops. It’s a great place for a walk with lots of local color. The malecon ends when it gets to the river that marks what is called the Romantic District. This is another fine area to just wander around with lots of colorful vender places under the shade of tall trees along paths that wander with the rivers edge. Away from the river are several blocks of nicely kept buildings, many containing a variety of fine eating establishments. Kris and I had been to Old Town PV many years before on a family vacation. During the ensuing years, a hurricane did serious damage along the waterfront. It seems to us that the rebuilding effort allowed a more tourist oriented character and does not have quite the same charm as we remembered, but still very nice and well worth the trip.
One day we took an early morning bus to the village of Sayulita. This has been described as a cross between a surfer dude and hippy town. This may have once been the case, but again success seems to have drawn a more moneyed population, and real estate offices seem almost as numerous as bars. It is a very pretty place with nice beaches. If we wanted to just go somewhere for a nice vacation, Sayulita would be on the list of places to consider.
It was finally time to move on as we have a schedule. There are people coming to visit in La Paz starting in late April. Just the concept of a schedule is a little daunting. It has been awhile since we have had to be in a particular place at a particular time. Schedules can actually be considered dangerous, as you may be forced to try and move from one place to another under conditions not favorable to sailing. Be that as it may, we moved on to the lovely village of Chacala that was mentioned in the previous issue of these reflections. We met a wonderful family there and observed the beginning of the frenzy that is the annual migration of hordes of native peoples to the beaches in the weeks on both sides of the Easter holiday. There were other things about our stay there worth mentioning. We experienced the biggest ocean swell by far of any anchorage that we have been in to date. We were aware that there was little protection from the swell and remedies to combat the relentless rolling of the boat were recommended. The remedies include the setting of a stern anchor so as to keep the bow of the boat pointed into the direction from whence the swell was coming and the setting out of flopper stoppers, devices hanging out from the side of the boat into the water that are purported to diminish the roll. We had survived swell-induced rolliness in nearly all of the anchorages on the mainland coast thus far and figured we were tough enough to endure one more. As long as the prevailing wind kept either the bow or the stern of the boat pointed into the swell, we bounced around a bit but it was OK. When the wind did not cooperate and allowed the boat to ride parallel to the swell, we had to hold onto things to move about the boat and make sure that we left nothing out which could become airborne with the next violent roll. The swell was quite big. It is no exaggeration to say that the swell height was six to eight feet from trough to crest. Our new friends who were staying in a beachfront hotel said that the resultant waves crashing on the beach shook the hotel at night. We had originally anchored in a spot that was suggested in the guidebooks as the place in the bay that offered the best protection from swells. Due to an unusual direction from which the swells were entering the bay, this turned out to be a bit of a bad spot. Watching waves from the beach has always mesmerized me. Watching the swells approaching and then passing under the boat before continuing onward to crash on the beach was at least as much fun and during our second day there I was actively engaged in these observations. One of the really big ones started to curl and broke about fifty yards from our boat. The thought of another one a little bit bigger caused visions of disaster to float about my brain. We pulled up the anchor and moved out quite a bit further away from the beach.
The trip out to see the petroglyphs was an awesome experience. I think that we adequately described much of that trip in the last Reflections. The ride out there was also worthy of mention. I began to get a glimpse of why so much of the produce consumed in the United States comes from Mexico. The ride from Chacalla to the spot where we parked the car to begin our walk was maybe ten miles. It was no more than one-half mile from Chacalla that we started driving through the orchards. For the whole drive, both sides of the road had a variety of carefully planted and reasonably well-tended trees. There were piles of pruned branches, amongst the trees and spaces between were kept free of emerging shrubby plants. I doubt if the spaces were mowed, but nothing grew higher than twelve inches. The trees were lush, some with fruits, some flowering, and some with just foliage. The greater Seattle area could have been kept with adequate fruits for at least a year in just the small area that we traversed. Multiply that by over a thousand times and we maybe touch the surface of the amount of produce that can be produced in the county of Mexico.
We liked Chacalla quite well; but once again, it was time to move on. Our next stop was the island bird sanctuary of Isla Isabel and this was a special place as well. I guess animal sanctuaries are different in Mexico than what I had expected as there was a fishing camp located here as well as a few isolated homes. In my mind sanctuaries are for the sole use of whatever plant or animal is being sanctified. But there were birds galore. When we first anchored next to a couple of off-lying islands, really just huge rocks, but they had names so I guess that makes them islands, we saw clouds of frigate birds circling about. Frigate birds are attractive and a joy to watch in flight. Soaring in the thermals seems to be a specialty. The tails are a deep V-shape. There were thousands of these large birds flying around during daylight hours as well as quite a few Boobies of the blue foot, yellow foot and brown foot varieties. Of course seagulls were also well represented. Pelicans were reported to be nesting here as well, but we did not see any nests. The water was the clearest that we have seen yet. From the bow of our boat we could follow the anchor chain as it lay on the sandy seafloor almost all of the way to the anchor, some one hundred plus feet away. The water was around 80 degrees, the gentle breeze was constant, the air was crystal clear. And the livin’ was easy.
The real thrill about Isla Isabel is going ashore and hiking around. We landed the dinghy on the sandy beach in front of the fishermen’s shacks. Many pangas had already returned from a morning of fishing and many were still out working. As far as we can discern, the fisherman live out in these crude shacks seasonally and probably go back to their real homes and families for some time during the various fishing seasons. Anyway, we walked along the beach in front of the shacks to the short trail leading to an abandoned research station. What a surprise! Each tree had multiple frigate nests, about half with little furry white babies waiting patiently for mom or dad to come back with some food. In the space of maybe 200 yards, we walked under or next to at least 50 nests on the way to the research station, all the while subject to a particular nesting bird smell. It continues to amaze us how many buildings in the areas we have visited have been abandoned, but left standing. We have wandered around many such buildings that are neither locked nor fenced. This research station was no exception. We had free run of the building and observed that the fisherman use it for a place to hang out, do some cooking, and share cold beverages. They keep it nicely cleaned up, but we could see electrical cords, barbecues and some piles of their equipment. The building sat atop a small rise and from the floor level we had a really fine view of the trees (I do not know what kind) for a long way. As far as we could see the trees, all had multiple nests, many with Frigate birds sitting in them and hundreds of birds flying about. We felt fortunate to see up close and personal the mating postures of the male Frigate bird. He has a mottled red sac under his chin that expands like a balloon as he makes a kind of grunting noise. The one we were watching must have been doing something right because he and a female underneath were both shaking vigorously and there were two more females waiting on the same branch. We hiked up to the top of a hill, providing wonderful views of both sides of the island, where seagulls and booby birds of several different foot colors were nesting. Both the gulls and boobies nested on the ground. The gulls were a bit territorial, but the boobies seemed indifferent to our presence. Iguanas and small lizards scurried all over the place.
I now count Isla Isabel as a must do place to visit and we will likely go there again. We left at about five o’clock in the evening so as to arrive in Mazatlan the following morning. During overnight passages, Kris and I work a watch system where one of us is on watch while the other tries to get some sleep. I was on the six to ten watch in the morning and still in awe of yet another spectacular sunrise when I heard a big splash. There was a disturbance on the water surface but I could not tell what made it. Soon thereafter another splash; and again, I could not tell what made it, but thought about rigging up the fishing pole. Kris has rules about when I can fish; and fishing while she is sleeping is a violation, so I only had visions about hooking a big one. On the third splash, I happened to be looking in the right direction and saw a ray jump at least three feet out of the water, do a complete somersault and land flat on its belly. I’ve never seen that before and was awestruck for the second time before breakfast. And then it happened again. And then a school of rays jumped and somersaulted in unison. I could tell that Kris was stirring down below and called for her to come up on deck. In the meantime, they started jumping all over the place. By the time Kris got dressed and on deck I must have seen fifty such feats of aerial exuberance. It took us about another three hours to reach the entrance of the Mazatlan marinas breakwater and this show continued for the entire time. Some would fly into the air with “wings” still flapping and land in a perfect, loud, big splash belly flop. Others would flip end over end. Still others would do a sideways spin. Sometimes a single ray would jump five or six times in a row. Sometimes a bunch of maybe ten would all jump together. I do not believe that I am exaggerating when guessing that we saw at least 1,000 rays jump out of the water. We started giving style points with the highest scores going to the end-over-end flip ending in a perfect belly flop. There are apparently many different types of rays. The only differentiation I ever made was stingrays and manta rays. We have since been told that these were Mobula Rays. They seemed to be about three feet, plus or minus, from wingtip to wingtip, dark on top and very lightly colored on the bottom. We do not know why this behavior occurs, but are extremely happy that they were doing this while we were passing by.
Mazatlan was nice and we stayed in the El Cid Marina and Resort complex. The swimming pools setup was by far the best we have seen yet including grottos to swim through to get from pool to pool. The marinas are a bus ride away from old town, so we only made it there one time and it was worth it. It seems that for every place we have been down here, there are at least a few cruisers who believe that their place is by far the best. Mazatlan was no exception with many people choosing to leave boats there and travel north for the hot summer and hurricane season.
Again, I am sorry for taking so long between Reflections. We left Mazatlan over a month ago and have been in La Paz since. Several people from Seattle have been down to visit and we have had way too much fun with them. We need to renew our six-month tourist visas and must leave, then reenter Mexico to do this. We are headed to Seattle for about three weeks. Upon return to La Paz, we will take a few days to reprovision and get the boat ready before heading north up into the Sea of Cortez for the summer. Will try to write about the challenges of spending the summer up in the Sea and thoughts about dealing with the potential for hurricanes.