Adios Mexico

Today I fly back to San Francisco. Capt is flying back with me for a few days but will return to Puerto Vallarta and Camanoe and sail single handed to Hawaii around the middle of May.

While a big reason for my return to the states is for work (Mexico is cheap, but eventually I have to make some money), the other big reason is because I committed to traveling and sailing till May. Until the hurricane season. There was always the possibility that I would go home sooner if I hated being away, but when we first started talking about sailing, I was pretty resolute that sailing wouldn’t be something that I’d be able to do forever.

To be honest, I don’t like sailing that much. I appreciate it very much. The idea of being powered by the wind. Skimming through and over the waves of a clear, blue ocean and beautiful sky that goes on forever. It all sounds very romantic. And sometimes it is. But for me, the part of this adventure that appealed and ultimately convinced me to throw caution to the wind and sail with the man I love, was the travel and adventure part. I’m the girl that works too hard. Has every minute and every weekend planned with social events and commitments. I love those events and commitments, but it’s wearing and they’ve tied me down for a long time. Until I got the job eight years ago that I sadly, but also excitedly, left last summer, I really hadn’t travelled at all. I got a small taste of travel on the couple of weeks I’d get off a year where I’d sit on a beach somewhere or go visit friends in other states or even once where I went to Rome and Spain. Those trips made me realize the utter joy I get from stepping foot into a new place. Some place completely foreign to me that I get to explore and figure out.

Or course, the people that know me best are reading this and thinking, “but she has no sense of direction…?” Yes, this is true. But, I think that’s why I have so much fun figuring it out. I am perpetually lost as far as knowing the best way to get from point A to point B, but I do usually end up getting where I need to go. And in the process, I’ve found two or three places that I wouldn’t have discovered if I’d gone the “correct” route. Also, I don’t worry about being lost. I just assume I’m already lost from the get go and keep going until I figure it out.

Mexico was great for this passion of mine. We’d pull into an anchorage and I’d be on the binoculars checking out the businesses on the beach. I’d listen into the morning nets to hear about any cool things going on. I’d read and re-read the guidebooks – what did they recommend?? This difference between all those little, short vacations I took back when I was employed and this eight month long adventure is obviously the time I had to really explore and enjoy. There was not a lot of rushing on our trip, and I really enjoyed feeling like I soaked up all that I needed from each place.

While traveling was great, the sailing, at least for me, was just a way of getting around. A slow way. I am not known for my patience. Poor Capt. I once commented to my mom about some place we were planning to sail to all the next day; I told her it was going to be like going out to Angel Island back home in the SF bay, which takes about a 20 minute ferry ride to get to from Pier 39. “But, that’s not very far,” she said. And I told her, “yeah, but when you sail it still takes like four hours.” And that depends on if the wind is with you.

Camanoe was not built for speed. Dave told me this from the get go. What she lacks in speed she definitely makes up for in comfort and storage and living space. (My mother also once commented on how small Camanoe is. But I forgave her for this comment since she’d never come to look at San Francisco apartments with me). But this doesn’t mean that I enjoyed our all day slow sails. I just accepted it (Dave might object to that statement, but he can write his own darn post).

I don’t think I ever really got the hang of the boat motion. I wasn’t sick often, but I had to think “mind over matter” a lot. I don’t like getting banged from side to side. I never really liked being out of the cockpit while underway so that left Dave to handle sail changes and reefing and anything that required us to leave the cockpit. I can maneuver the boat quite well (if I do say so myself). I feel very confident in being able to “feel the wind” and get us on a point of sail that makes us go the fastest. When the wind vane or the auto tiller pilot weren’t staying on the course Dave set, I would much rather just unhook the contraptions and hand steer than have to get out of the cockpit and mess with them. Dave is a very patient man. Also, because I wasn’t great at being down bellow while underway (due to the motion sickness), I would stay up in the cockpit in the same position behind the wheel for hours on end during all day sails. Sometimes I could read a book as long as I looked up every now and again and made sure there weren’t any pongas ahead. But mostly, I just sat. While some people can’t get over the amazing sea or the beautiful sky, I started to find those things monotonous. Especially on overnight crossings, which brings me to why I’m not going to Hawaii with Dave.

First of all, this is Dave’s dream to do a big crossing and he prefers to do it single-handed. He had the option of doing the puddle jump to the south pacific like some of our other cruising friends have done (Charisma, Convivia, Estrellita), but, then he’d be stuck south waiting for the next season to come back home. We’re hoping, by going to Hawaii he’ll be able to hit the trade winds heading back North towards British Columbia, and then eventually work his way back down the coast to the bay area and me.

Although I’ve had my reservations about his solo trip, I am completely supportive and behind him a 100%. I’ve watched him basically handle Camanoe solo these entire eight months. I may have been there, sitting in the cockpit, looking cute of course, but I wasn’t doing anything beyond semi-helpful. When in large seas and heavy gusts, the man just somehow spouts extra arms. I have no other way of explaining how he can run up and reef the main sail while also sheeting in the jib and steering. Of course I will worry, and of course I will miss him terribly, but I’m excited for him.

It was not even a question if I would go with Dave on the crossing to Hawaii. I do not do well with overnighters. People that have done these crossing have tried to persuade me by explaining that I don’t know how it will be because a two or three-day passage (the longest passages I’ve been on) is much more difficult than getting into the groove of a two or three week passage. They think I’ll get a few days in and just relax and enjoy it. I know I won’t. Dave knows I won’t. I will be miserable. Dave will be miserable because I will be miserable. Do we see where I’m going with this? Dave is excited about this trip. It’s a trip of a lifetime. I am not going, because honestly, I think I’d ruin it for him. And because I don’t want to do it. Very simple.

Where am I going with all of this jibber jabber? I’m going home! 🙂 Oh, but I’m going home 😦 (you really need to say that in a voice ala Phoebe from Friends).

In some ways, I’ve been ready for a long time. I miss my family. I miss my girlfriends. I miss San Francisco. I miss eating at my favorite places and shopping at my favorite stores. I miss having a place to wear a cute dress and some kickass heels. My little niece turned two while I’ve been away and I can’t wait to pick her up and give her a big hug (I’ll just have to ignore her crying as I’m sure she won’t remember me and she’ll feel like I’m a strange woman who is attacking her).

On the other hand, Mexico is fabulous. The food is cheap and yummy. I have loved meandering the small markets and picking up beautiful jewelry or handmade items that speak to me. I will miss the colorful buildings and golden sunsets. I will miss being able to wear flip flops and shorts every day (What? I have to wear pants in the office???) I will miss the friendly people. I have never met so many friendly people. Although most of our cruising friends have left us for other shores or to go back to their own homes, I will miss our camaraderie of knowing how lucky we all are that we got to do this.

I think I will miss the cheap fruit and veggies most of all. But all the food has been awesome and cheap. As Dave told me a couple months ago, he’s never eaten so well. Too bad for my goal of dropping weight on this trip.

I am not looking forward to jumping back into a 90 minute (each way) commute back home. But, in some ways I am. I feel like I’ve been avoiding real life. While nice, it doesn’t sit so well with me. I’d like to think I’m a very grounded person. I like the finer things in life, but my responsible side doesn’t allow me to be frivolous without a means to pay for those things (not to get all astrological, but I am through and through a Taurus. How I’ve been living on the water is beyond me. Must be my stubborn side. Anyway….). We were very cautious of our spending while we’ve been unemployed, but there’s a part of my brain that’s been screaming at me to get back to work and be a participating member of society. In some ways, I feel like I’m overdue for my return to “normal life.” I am sad. I am going to miss this. I am going to try to never forget how special this whole time away has been. But…it’s time.

Adios Mexico. Hasta Luego, Camanoe.

-SME

P.S. By the way, Dave will be able to update the blog via our SSB radio while he’s crossing the Pacific – so don’t think this blog is going silent! He won’t be able to post photos or videos, but he’ll be relaying how his trip is going and his position. I will check in here and there and update you on life ashore. This is the Capt and SME adventures blog – that doesn’t mean I have to quit writing just because I’m no longer on the water! I’m sure I’ll find some sort of adventures to blog about and I’ve still got little nuggets about our time in Mexico that I haven’t gotten to yet that I’d like to share with everyone. 🙂

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Ipala, Chamela and Careyes Stops

It’s only been a few days, but the first couple of stops we’ve made after Banderas Bay have been a bit of a blur.  We hadn’t sailed in two months, so I’ve felt a bit rusty getting used to the boat heeling and the rolling swells of the Pacific.

We didn’t want to have to do an overnight sail if we didn’t have to, so we decided we’d make a stop at Punta Ipala (40 miles south) instead of making the trek to Chamela about 90 miles south.

We had a lovely, easy sail into Ipala.  Not a ton of wind, but enough to keep us moving with the jib up.  Ipala is a very small anchorage with ponga moorings and fish pens that make it even smaller.  For the first time in our travels we had a ponga driver come by and request that we donate money to his children’s school.  We felt like we couldn’t say no, but we are also are on a tight budget, so we gave a small donation and we could tell the local wasn’t too impressed with what we gave him.  Maybe it was just all in our heads, but we didn’t get a very welcoming feeling from Ipala and we were eager to take off early the next morning and head to Chamela.

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The town of Ipala with colorful fish pen buoys covering a good majority of the anchorage.

Of course, there was no easy sail for day number two.  The swells were bigger, the wind was much stronger and I was not feeling too hot from the rolling.  We got a large gust while we were talking about taking some sail down and it was too much for our windvane to take and we started to round up very fast.  Dave is quick on the sheets so we were fine, but that ended my watch up top. I went down below to nap and try to keep my breakfast down.  Dave always says he enjoys solo sailing and has a lot of fun messing with the sails and the windvane, so I try not to feel too bad about abandoning the cockpit. 

A few hours later we pulled into Bahia Chamela and anchored outside the town of Perula.  The next morning we lowered the dinghy and made a nice beach landing despite the breaking waves.  We met our neighbor from the only other boat in the anchorage, Jerry from s/v Northern Sky, on the beach and he helped us lug the dinghy up to dry sand as we had forgotten to attach our dinghy wheels.  Oops.

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We walked the beach and part of town for a little while to stretch our legs.  Dave wanted to find a pineapple, so we meandered from tienda to tienda until one of the shopkeepers opened up a box of freshly delivered pinas.  We also grabbed some jicama (my fav!) and some other odds and ends and headed back to the boat to prepare for the next morning’s sail.

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Chamela’s beachside sites.

We set off by 8am the next morning hoping to get to Tenacatita by mid-afternoon.  The wind, unfortunately had other plans.  We motored out of the Chamela anchorage and then immediately started sailing.  The wind was lighter than the morning before so I felt pretty good about hanging out in the cockpit.  But come 11am, we were in gusty winds and bigger swells than I like.  We realized we were right outside of a small anchorage called Bahia Careyes, which we had planned to bypass, but since it was right there and the weather was turning crappy, we decided to hole up there for the rest of the day.

The anchorage was even smaller than Ipala’s, but with more ponga moorings and a very rocky shoreline.  Once we finally got settled between a boat with only rope rode (boooo, they swing too much) and a good-sized power/fishing boat tied up to a mooring ball, I went downstairs to work on my taxes (yay for e-filing!) while Dave pulled out his snorkel gear. 

The first thing you notice about Careyes (besides the waves breaking over all the rocky reefs), are the colorful buildings all along the beach.  Blues, pinks, greens, oranges…so beautiful.  Pretty nice place to hide away in from the weather…

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…more stop recaps to come…

-SME

Yelapa Fun

After almost two months anchored in La Cruz, we FINALLY weighed anchor and headed to our next port.  It was only just across the Bay (Banderas Bay) to the small town of Yelapa, but at least it was SOMEWHERE.

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Goodbye La Cruz! We’ll see you in a couple weeks!

Yelapa is unique in that you can only get to the town by boat or an animal along the horse or donkey variety.  It’s also known for it’s great hikes ending at waterfalls.  We convinced s/vs Charisma and Dos Leos to come along for the hiking fun.  This would be our last hurrah with both boats as Charisma plans to start their puddle jump journey to the Marquesas before we return to La Cruz and Dos Leos will be heading back north to La Paz before heading back to California.  We know we’ll eventually see these wonderful people again back in Cali, but this was our last port in Mexico with people we’ve been cruising with since the HaHa last fall.

Our little trio left La Cruz mid-morning and made good time motoring across the bay and made it into Yelapa’s little alcove by early afternoon.  While you can anchor at Yelapa, it’s quite difficult to find a spot that’s shallow enough and not in the way of all the panga rental moorings, so it’s just easier to pay the 200 pesos a night and tie up to one of the moorings.  The panga drivers come out as soon as they spot you (we couldn’t even see the moorings yet when a ponga came out to greet us) and lead you to their mooring, help you tie up and then give you a ride to shore. 

We had a quick lunch and then decided that since it was only 3pm or so that we’d attempt to do the longer hike up to the bigger waterfall.  Our waiter said it was about an hour and a half hike, pointed us in the right direction and we went off on a pretty clear path through town, over a bridge and up through more town before we hit the real hiking up the mountains.  Early on we were taking photos left and right of the houses, roaming animals, rocky landscape and even broken gates (ahem…Bob on Dos Leos).  But after a good hour and a half of walking, we started getting serious about just getting to the darn waterfall and making it back before the sun started to set.

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Crossing the bridge (top left); One of the hundreds of dogs we saw along our way, just chillin’ (top right); River bed (bottom left) with one of the palapa houses along the shore (bottom right).

We got to our first river crossing probably a little over an hour into the hike and we ran into a couple coming back from the waterfall.  The man said to keep going up and we’d come to a gate.  He said we could go left and the trail would bring us down and then up to the big waterfall. Or he said we could go right and continue to smaller waterfalls that culminate in a lagoon area.  We asked how much farther and he said, maybe 15 more minutes.  Sounded correct to us, so we kept going, crossed another river and then hiked, and hiked, and hiked.  Up and up we went, and no gate.  We had passed locals with mules that you can rent to take you up to the waterfall (which, we thought we didn’t need) and so we followed the hoof prints through a third river crossing and up to where there were a couple of very small waterfalls (really just cascades) and a lot of flat rocks that looked like a nice place for a picnic.  Dave ran ahead to see if he could find this infamous gate, but it had been at least another half hour since we’d seen the couple back at the first river and getting close to 5pm.  If we had two hours of hiking back down to the town, then we needed to get going.  Dave came back and said he thought he found the gate, but couldn’t figure out where the waterfall would be from there, so we headed back, a bit disappointed that we’d gone so far and not found what we had set out for.

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Bob from s/v Dos Leos makes the leap over the first river crossing…no problems here!

On our way back down the mountain, paying more attention the trail and less on our picture taking, we came across a gate that was parallel to the trail.  It had a small green arrow on the bottom board and etched, very small, into the top board was the word “waterfall.” 

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Um, I’m sorry, the broken gate was our turnoff point???  Yeah, can’t believe we missed that! 

Feeling even more disappointed that we missed our turnoff and now didn’t have time to explore this new trail before dark, we kept heading down towards town and back to the boats.

The original plan had been to stay for one day and night in Yelapa and then in the morning take the shorter trail through the other side of town to the small waterfall (only a 20 minute walk), and then Charisma and Dos Leos would head back to La Cruz in the afternoon while Dave and I prepared for our sail around Cabo Corrientes and out of Banderas Bay.

Since we only had the mooring until noon the next day, we all decided that maybe we should spend another full day checking out Yelapa and stay another night.  We walked through more of the town and up to the small waterfall, which really was only about 20 minutes of walking, and then all of us agreed that we’d gone too far yesterday to not go back and find the darn waterfall.

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Dave at the smaller waterfall in town (left); The whole group at the smaller waterfall (courtesy of Charisma) (right).

So off we set again.  Passing through town, passing all the same dogs and horses and cattle that were there the day before, passing all the pretty stones and gates and homes and just passing everything as we marched straight ahead to that darn gate.

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This time going THROUGH the gate.

Good thing we hadn’t tried to find the waterfall after we found the gate the day before because we still had a good 45 minute hike in front of us after we went through the gate.  My feet and legs and rear end muscles were all screaming at me to stop and rest, but we just HAD to get there.  Finally (after a small detour down a trail that ended up not being a trail), we heard rushing water and after we cleared some rocks and brush we found ourselves in front of a lagoon with a very powerful waterfall coming down in the corner.  We had the place to ourselves and wasted no time jumping in and enjoying the cool water. 

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Bigger waterfall and cool lagoon (left) with Dave claiming the waterfall for Camanoe (courtesy of Charisma) (right).

So, two days, probably about 16 miles of hiking (eight miles the first day and maybe a little more than eight the second day), and two waterfalls.  Yelapa – we came, we saw, and I feel like we conquered.

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Safe travels to our buddies from Charisma and Dos Leos – we miss you already!

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Some fav shots: Bob from s/v Charisma with Deanne and Bob from s/v Dos Leos at the bonfire in Muertos back in November (top left); Bob with us on the dock in La Paz after Thanksgiving dinner (bottom left); the whole crew (minus Bob) on Charisma for a potluck and a mean game of CatchPhrase in La Cruz (bottom right).  [This trio of photos courtesy of Charisma]

-SME

Cha Cha Chacala

We heard good things about Chacala. A lot of good things.  But we couldn’t help but wonder, could it be as good as everyone says it is??  Well, small town, perfect beach, good food, cheap beers and nice people…We couldn’t ask for anything better!

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Palm-lined trail from the anchorage to the beach (L); Stone-paved roads and colorfully painted homes throughout the town add to Chacala’s charm.

Chacala is a bit of a rolly anchorage, so everyone puts out a bow and stern anchor (for non-sailors this means one anchor pulling from the front and another anchor pulling from the back in order to keep the boat in one direction, with bow into the swells/waves, instead of spinning around).  This was the first time I’d been on board for putting out the stern anchor.  Basically, we dropped the bow anchor like normal and then we quickly put our dinghy into the water and Dave pulled our stern anchor out by rowing the dinghy backwards from Camanoe.  It was a little more complicated than this, but it’s hard to explain.  It’s hard enough figuring out a good place for just the one normal anchor, but to figure out where to put a second anchor is like a puzzle.  You don’t want either anchor to be on top of some one else’s or in a place where another boat is going to have to cross one of your anchor lines in order to pull theirs up.  Basically, you talk/shout to/radio the boats around you and get a consensus of how much chain/rode people have put out and where they have dropped their anchors…which is always a guestimate, since it’s not like you can see EXACTLY where your anchor is once it’s down.  And it’s hard to remember exactly where you may have dropped your anchor if it’s been a few days.  Everything ended up working well for us, but there was someone in the anchorage that dragged while we were there, which can be very scary.  And for some reason, always seems to happen in the middle of the night.  Silly anchors.

OK, back to the town of Chacala. There’s not much there.  In fact, the first time we went ashore we ran into Patrick and Dawn from s/v Deep Playa (HaHa-ers) and they suggested one of the small tiendas (spanish for store) for some fruits/veggies and possibly some cough medicine for poor Dave.  It didn’t take us long to find the shop since there’s only one main road and it’s only a few blocks long.  Deep Playa had warned us that the produce might not be fresh and that the trick is to come back each day until they get something fresh in…or take the bus to the next town over, Las Veras.  We went into the store and quickly realized that it wasn’t a particularly fresh produce day, but they did have tortilla chips, which we desperately needed (you have no idea how fast we go through tortilla chips).  So we walked around hoping to figure out where the Las Veras bus picks up.  We asked a local and he said it was back down near the tienda we had just come from.  As we were walking back, we saw a blue van and we hailed the driver; he said HE was the Las Veras bus and that he could take us now and it would be 12 pesos (less than a $1 USD).  We piled in and then he proceeded to go up and down a couple of Chacala streets honking randomly.  We guess he was letting people know he was leaving for Las Veras because after honking a couple of times, a couple of people came out of their houses and hopped in.  Nice system.  I wish MUNI in SF would honk and wait outside my door for me when it’s time for the bus to go.  LOL

Anyway, it was about a ten minute ride into the next town and the van/bus driver gave us info on how to find the produce market.  We wandered around, found Dave some cough syrup, which was pretty easy, since you only have to cough to get your point across to the pharmacist/shopkeeper. What was harder was trying to explain that we also wanted cough drops.  Finally I saw some Halls lozenges and asked the cashier, “Come se dice?”, thinking she’d tell me how to say ‘cough drops’ in Spanish, but instead she just smiled and said, “Halls.”  I felt kind of stupid and just shut up.

Anyway, more wandering and eventually we found the produce market.  The only clue was that there were boxes of fresh produce lining the sidewalk outside this little hole in the wall. Looks are deceiving, because this was some of the freshest stuff we’d seen in a while. Especially the oranges, which, by the way people in California, do you realize how lucky we are to have Naval Oranges??  It’s a pain to peel and de-seed the oranges from Mexico.  Seeds???  Totally ruins the oranges.

Sorry, fruit tangent.

I picked up some fresh avocados, apples, tomatoes and finally got up the nerve to try some of the Mexican squash we keep seeing.  It made a lovely addition to the veggie curry I made that night for dinner and there was still plenty leftover to add to spaghetti the following night.  I think I’m addicted to Mexican squash now.

Heading back to Chacala was a bit of an adventure.  The driver had told us to wait at the OXXO (their version of 7-11) store. So Dave and I hung outside until we saw the blue van and flagged it down.  He stopped, but sort of laughingly said, “No, you have to wait on the bench over there.” while pointing to a bench on a side street NEXT to the OXXO.  We saw a couple of the people that had ridden into Las Veras with us sitting on the bench.  Oops. Totally missed that clue.

We headed to the bench and about 10 minutes later the driver came around.  This time, completely packed with kids just getting out of school.  The van is large, but really only meant for about 10 passengers and the driver.  Dave and I had to squeeze into the last row of seats along with a rather large, elderly lady and a teenager carrying a tray of BBQed coconut treats.  In all there were 19 people in the van.  All the kids were yelling and laughing and teasing each other while Dave and I tried not to fall onto the tray of coconut.

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Bussing back from La Veras; 19  people in a van!

Chacala was also the first place, if you can believe it, that Dave and I had an official beach day.  Nothing to do but just relax in the sand, soak up some sun and play a little frisbee.  Navigo joined us after awhile and we all bought some hammocks from beach vendors.  The guy came around earlier in the day when Dave and I got to the beach and we ended up buying one for 500 pesos after the vendor originally wanted 950 pesos.  We felt pretty good about that deal until Bob on Navigo talked one of the guys down to 400 pesos for a hammock!  Good dealing Bob!  The hammocks are SUPER nice and are made in Acapulco.  Large enough for two and fits on our bow when we have the dinghy in the water, making for a great place to relax and enjoy the sunshine from Camanoe.

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Bob from Navigo relaxing in his new hammock (L), Dave shuffling up the Uno cards on our beach day (R).

We thought we’d relax longer in Chacala, but we’re suddenly realizing that we’re running out of time on this Mexican adventure.  Hurricane seasons starts in May, but if Dave is going to jump somewhere, he’ll need to do it before April.  If we keep going south, what do we do with the boat after May??  Too many options and too many things to still see and dwindling bank accounts.  It’s quite a conundrum.

Anyway, we’re pushing south into Bandares Bay and seeing what happens from there…more to come!

Welcome to the Jungle!

San Blas was an interesting stop.  We’d heard some warnings about dinghies being stolen right off of people boats!  Plus, everyone warns about the Jejenes (no-see-um bugs) that eat you alive.  The theft warnings…hooey.  Jejenes…TRUE! They eat you alive!!  But, although I’m still itching almost two weeks later, I was very glad we spent a couple days in San Blas.

Actually…we were in the Bay of Matanchen, which is the anchorage near San Blas without having to cross into the San Blas estuary.  It’s a very large, very beautiful bay surrounded by beaches and beautiful, green mountainsides.  The sun sets each evening over a sliver of beach lined with picturesque palm trees – pretty much every picture looks like a postcard.

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Pretty, golden sunset (top) and a foggy sunrise (bottom) in the Bay of Matanchen/San Blas.

We decided to not travel into the actual town of San Blas [Dave was getting over the cold he caught from me 😦 ], but we did take the jungle cruise tour from nearby La Tovara with friends on s/vs Navigo and August Moon.

We were the first boat out in the morning (7am) and got to see many birds that only come out first thing in the morning.  Really cool to see some of them drying their wings from the tops of the trees.  We also caught glimpses of iguanas and some limar-like monkey things (still not quite sure exactly what they were…but they were cool to see).  However, by the time the cruise was half over and we were visiting the local Cocodrilaio (croc refuge), we hadn’t seen a single croc in the wild!  The bigs crocs at the refuge were cool to see, but it was a little sad that they were in such small pens.  It looked like they were in the process of fixing and/or building new pens while we were there, so they may have just been in temporary spots.

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Welcome the the Jungle…literally (top); bird drying its wings in the early morning sunlight (middle); and Crocs in the cocodrilario in La Tovara (bottom).

Anyway, I was starting to get a little worried that we’d leave the tour without seeing a single croc that wasn’t in a cage.  But, on our way back from Tovera Springs, as we were racing back along the jungle path, I spotted one sunning himself on a big rock.  I shouted to the tour guide, “Crocodile!!” and pointed back behind us.  He put the ponga in reverse and we all got a close-up view of Mr. Crocodillio.  After that, we kept spotting more crocs sunning themselves along the shoreline.  It was very cool and made the trip to San Blas complete.

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Crocs in the wild!

Isla Isabel is for the Birds

We were able to successfully sail the entire 93 NM crossing from Mazatlan to Isla Isabel.  However, it was a rolly overnight passage, which made for a not happy and sleep-deprived first mate.  By the time we finally got sight of the small island around 3am (thanks to the super large, bright, full moon), I would have given anything to speed up the sunlight so we could anchor safely.  We actually only got up to the anchorage about an hour before sun up and I was able to lag a bit offshore before finally getting Dave up at 6am so we could shift the sails around and head straight towards the island.  By 7am, the sun was providing plenty of light and we checked out both south and eastern anchorages before settling on the eastern one and dropping the hook.  By 7:30am, I was tucked into the aft cabin and sound asleep.

We awoke about 2pm and Dave radioed with friends on s/v Deep Playa who had been in the eastern anchorage when we arrived but were now gone.  They had pulled anchor shortly after we arrived and headed towards their next stop, but they gave us some tips on the anchorage and how to get ashore and recommended that we switch to the southern anchorage if there was still room there (it’s quite small).  We pulled our anchor, which was a bit difficult because of the rocky bottom, but luckily we’d put a trip line on the other end of the anchor so Dave could pull and finagle the anchor out of any rocky crevices. 

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View of the rocky southern anchorage at Isla Isabel.

We circled around the southern anchorage for almost two hours trying to find a spot that was both a safe distance from the three boats that were already in there and within the “safe” anchoring spots marked in our guidebook.  Isla Isabel is a tricky spot, with many reefs, extended rocky points and one large pinnacle rock that you don’t want to accidentally wrap your anchor chain around.  I was still exhausted from our crossing and it was a chilly afternoon and all I wanted to do was curl back up into the warmth of my bed, so we headed BACK to the eastern side of the island and re-anchored in the same area we’d been in before.  The other boats around us must have enjoyed watching us circle for two hours only to come right back to the spot we’d been in before.

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Isleo Mona Menor that we anchored in front of in the eastern anchorage of Isla Isabel

Anyway, so after a good, solid day of rest, we headed ashore the next afternoon in the dinghy.  Isla Isabel is a National Park and is quite interesting in that it’s a volcanic island and a sanctuary to many different seabirds.  The isolated island provides the birds with protection from natural predators and so the birds are completely comfortable with humans walking right next to them and admiring their habitat.  You have never in your life seen so many birds soaring overhead at all hours of the day and night.  It is a quite a sight to be anchored here with birds overhead, fish jumping all about the boat and whales breeching less than a football field’s length away from the anchorage. 

Our mission that first day was to see the infamous Blue-Footed Booby birds.  We arrived on shore near the island’s active fish camp and a couple of local women that are a part of the research facility on the island met us on the beach and asked us to sign their guest book.  We met Christian from s/v Altair on the beach and the three of us decided to head up the path towards the lighthouse (Cerro del Faro) to see the booby nests.  Christian said he’d been to the island before, so it was nice to have someone that knew where to go and had some background information about the birds.

All along the lower part of the path are frigate birds. Large, black birds, some with vibrant, red necks that they puff out.  Like the guidebooks promised, these birds did not seem to mind us at all walking right amid their nests.  Sometimes they’d fly away as we came close, but most of the time they’d stay right on the branches extending into the pathway, almost as entertained by watching us as we were by watching them.  A couple of times though, as a frigate would go to take off, you’d have to duck so you wouldn’t get hit by their massive wingspan.

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The higher up we got on the ridge the more booby birds we could see.  There are the blue-footed boobies, but there are also green-footed boobies, red-footed boobies and yellow-footed boobies.  Apparently, their foot color depends on their diet and the more saturated the color, the more appealing they are to a potential mate.  We were also told that mating happens only between two boobies of the same foot color. So you won’t see blue-footeds and green footeds mating with each other.  

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Green-footed booby with her eggs (L) and Steph getting close to some blue-footed boobies.

What’s really interesting about these birds, is that when they mate, the males do a little dance. They lift up one foot, and then the other showing off their color.  The female goes for the guy booby with the best colored feet.

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A blue-footed booby doing his best dance.

Besides the crazy bird population on this island, Isla Isabel also has a leftover crater from when it was an active volcano and some pretty spectacular cliffside views of the ocean and each of the rocky beaches surrounding the island.

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Views from the lighthouse on Isla Isabel.  The top photo is looking east over the island; you can see the research building in the bottom right and the colorful fish camp shacks along the beach.  The bottom photo is the northern side of the island with some booby birds handing out in the foreground.

Our second day ashore we went hiking with s/v Navigo as well as Russ and Barry from s/v August Moon to find the crater and explore some of the other areas of the island.  The crater is now filled with water, so it just looks like a normal lake and the other hiking trails sort of wander into nothing, so eventually we headed up the same lighthouse trail we’d been on the day before so Navigo and August Moon could also check it out. 

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View of Lago Crater that’s now filled with water (L), and a “dead end” on part of the blue trail (R). At least the short trail gave us a good view.

In all we stayed anchored at Isabella for five days.  We probably could have fit all the hiking, exploring, fishing, etc into a couple of days, but it was nice to be leisurely and enjoy the surroundings for awhile.  It’s actually a little hard to explain how much we are in awe of this place.  It’s kind of an amazing spot and we know that not very many people have the opportunity to get all the way out here and really experience all that the island has to show.

-SME

Captain’s Adventures in Isla Isabel

Steph is continually pestering me to write up a post from my perspective.  But she just doesn’t understand the hectic life and just what it means to be El Jefe on Camanoe.  The amount of work to keep Camanoe going rarely leaves me with enough time and energy to post a blog.  But, alas, I’ve had a fun couple of days and I thought it would be worthy of sharing.

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Working hard atop Camanoe.

Isla Isabel is consider the Galapagos of Pacific Mexico.  Along with a large variety of bird species, there’s an abundance of sea life.  Having paid a large sum of money for our Mexican fishing licenses, I felt it was time to stock up the freezer. 

I decided to go spear fishing in the morning because we had heard that there were Amarillo Pargo (Snapper) in the reefs.  I set out with my spear gun to tackle the reef and its immensity of sea life.  I anchored the dinghy in 20 feet of water and right before I dove in I realized that I’d lost the strap to one of my flippers.  But, a bowline and two half hitches with a small piece of line I had in the dinghy, worked just fine in a pinch.

Around the reef I found several large parrotfish (at the time I didn’t know what the hell they were; we thought it was a grouper till we pulled out our fish book and Bob from s/v Navigo figured out that it was a Parrotfish).  The largest one I saw was about 15 pounds and I was able to get a direct shot through it’s head.  After that, the water got really murky and I couldn’t see anything so I headed back to the boat. 

As I came back to the dinghy, I saw Bob from Navigo in his dinghy with a fishing pole out and it looked like it may break from the strain of him pulling in a large fish.  Apparently there was a school of yellowfin tuna boiling around the anchorage.  So I raised the dinghy anchor and rowed over towards the school.  I got right in the middle and jumped in with my spear gun.  I confused them so much when I jumped in that they actually swam straight for me.  Once they realized what I was, they quickly turned in the opposite direction and I was only able to take a pot shot with the spear gun.  No luck. Then they were gone.

Quickly went back to the dinghy, took my parrotfish catch back to Camanoe and grabbed my fishing pole and quickly got the motor onto the dinghy and headed back out towards where the school was before.  Who cares if I was in a blue lycra spandex suit. 

Unfortunately, my fishing pole only had 20lb test on it, so I figured I’d have to tire out any fish I caught before being able to get them reeled in.  After a combination of trolling and casting the line for about 20 minutes, I had a large hit.  I was using my favorite diamond jig lure.  After about 20 minutes of fighting him I finally got him up to the surface.  I was afraid of the hook falling out, so I immediately reached in and grabbed his tail and threw it into the bow of the dinghy.  He was about 30lbs and three feet long and had a shocking, golden tail.  I figured I would head back to Camanoe and fillet him before I tried to catch any other fish. 

On the way back I ran into a whale with her calf.  Not sure what kind they were but they were pretty large.  Because I’m a genius, I wanted to see how close I could get to them in the dinghy.  I got within five to 10 feet of the mother and calf while they were on the surface.  They didn’t seem to pay any attention to me.  Then I circled around them until I was directly in front of them.  At that point, the mother stuck her head up out of the water, blew out of her blowhole and dived straight under the dinghy.  Once I saw the tail go under, I realized that she could possibly surface right under me and pick me and the dinghy up.  I gunned the engine and just barely avoided getting knocked over.  Good times!

Bob joined us back on Camanoe when I got back with the yellowfin and he showed me how to properly gut a fish.  In the past, we had only filleted caught fish, but we always feared accidentally slicing into the innards/liver and contaminating the meat.  Gutting the fish was actually pretty simple.  We sliced down the belly from the gills back to the anal fin.  Then I reached in and pulled out all of the innards, including the stomach.  And this was the coolest part!  I squeezed the stomach and three, small, undigested herring fish slid out.  Next time I’ll have to use them for bait!

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Dave with his catch (top) and Bob from s/v Navigo giving a tutorial on how to properly gut our catch (bottom).

I was going to go out and try to catch more yellowfin, but the Admiral vetoed that in favor of heading over to Navigo for happy hour with the rest of the Isla Isabel fleet.

I tried to go out again this morning, but it appears as though the fish have all relocated.  I was able to catch a slightly smaller yellowfin tuna – but just barely!  I tired him out for a good 15 minutes and just as I got him up to the side of the boat, he spit the hook out and tried to make his escape.  I said, HECK NO, and reached in and was able to grab his tail as he began swimming downward.  If I had squeezed any harder I bet his tail would have sheared off.

Now we have a freezer stocked with yummy tuna steaks.  Now, if only we could catch some more snapper…we like the ceviche.

-Capt’

Mazatlan Sights

Mazatlan is beautiful.  It’s what I guess we envisioned Mexico to be like.  The vibrant colors, the rugged landscape, the friendly locals and palm trees….lots of palm trees.

For the holidays, the Plaza de la Republica, the town square in the middle of old town was all decked out for the season. Complete with nativity scene and live barn animals like goats and donkeys and chickens.

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North pole and Nativity fun in the Plaza de la Republica.  Brought to you by Coca-Cola…we think that’s why the donkey wanted Dave’s coke.

In the center of town is the Catedral Basilica Cathedral.  It’s beautiful, golden towers act as a great landmark when roaming around the mercado. 

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Just a few blocks away is a peaceful square called the Machado. It’s a park surrounded on all sides by sidewalk cafes.  It was so colorful and peaceful that I could have imagined myself sitting in that square every day with a book or a newspaper and just people watching and enjoying the serenity.

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A few blocks more from the Machado towards the ocean is the long Malacon called Olas Altas, lined with unique sculptures and beautiful views of the ocean.

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Everything is fairly close together in Mazatlan, although you can easily hop on a bus or hail a taxi to take you to and from various sights.  Dave and I had quite a trek one day, starting with a hike up to the lighthouse  (El Faro on Cerro del Creston), which has about 300 stairs…

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…which leads up to a panoramic view of Mazatlan.

From the lighthouse we hiked back down and started along the Olas Altas walk, then into the Merchado and THEN to the Mercado in the middle of old town.  Basically, we put ourselves on a forced march through Mazatlan to make sure we saw all the sights.  It was totally worth it.  I feel like we can leave here knowing we saw and did it all.

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Marley

This is Marley:

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Marley resides at the little beach where Pizza Benji’s is located.  He roams around all day, greeting the cruisers who land their dinghies on the calm beach, hikes up Isla los Chivos to bark at the infamous Mazatlan goats, chases the field chickens and rooster that surround Benji’s (never catches, just chases) and basically acts as mayor of this small cove.  Marley has a good life.

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View from Pizzas Benji’s.  The small beach is where all the cruisers leave their dinghies and Nic from Benji’s “watches” them.

The first time we met Marley, we thought it was pretty cool that he went on a walk with us.  He didn’t follow us, he just sort of led the way, like “here’s the water taxi stop….and up here is the other beach…oh and here’s a truck that shouldn’t be on my road…BARK BARK BARK!”

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Walking on Marley’s road.

We asked Nic from Benji’s what Marley’s story was.  From what we could make out in our Spanglish, Marley was a pup of an American dog that came to Mazatlan. Marley was left behind.  He stayed on his little beach until one day when a cruising couple fell for Marley and brought him back to their boat. After one day of Marley, they returned him to Benji’s.  Marley is a free spirit. We can’t imagine anyone being able to own him.

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Sunset with Marley in the lead.

We noticed on our walks with Marley that he would bark a lot at the locals.  Friends on s/v Deep Playa told us that they asked Nic and he said that Marley only likes Gringos.

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It’s probably because we give him coconuts.

Good dog Marley, good dog.

Mazatlan – Life on the Hook

After our fun New Years Eve anchored out at Deer Island, we pulled anchor and headed over to the old harbor and anchored at Stone Island (Isla de la Piedra).

This anchorage is much closer to Old Mazatlan, so it’s easier to get to the heart of Mazatlan and be around the locals than from the marina area we were docked in.  Leaving the boat, however, is always a process.  First we have to pack the backpacks with whatever we may need during the day, then load up into the dinghy and row to shore.  We land the dinghy at Pizzas Benji’s in a small, calm cove and then haul the dinghy a good twenty yards up the beach to be sure it won’t get swept away if the tide comes up.  For frequenting Benji’s, the waiter there will take our trash and “watch” our dinghy all day (I say “watch” because we’re not sure there’s much worry of anyone taking the dinghy, especially since we don’t put the engine on it if we can help it.  But it’s still nice to know someone knows who the dinghy belongs to). Benji’s will even arrange for you to get fresh water or ice if you need it.  It’s a great stop for cruisers.

From the beach landing we walk about a kilometer to the water taxi that will take you for 25 pesos each way from Stone Island across the shipping channel to the main side of Mazatlan. Poncho the ponga driver would help us practice our Spanish.  I’ve been working on my Rosetta Stone, so I was having fun saying thinks like, “We walk a lot today!” and “We walked to the lighthouse!” And Poncho would tell us things like his name and his age and that the water taxi stops running at 6pm (“Seis! No Mas!”).  (Cruiser Tip: Pay for the taxi at the yellow embarcadero building – not directly to the ponga driver)

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Water taxi stop from the playa side.

From the water taxi we walk about a mile into downtown to the Municipal Market (Mercado Central) or the Machado Plaza or wherever else we feel like going for the day.

Although it’s a long walk and a long day to go to the market and stock up on whatever we need, we felt like it was worth it to be able to see the sights and be around the locals.  We ate at a counter in the market one day and then happened upon one of the freshest and cheapest fruit stands.  We frequented this fruit stand every time we went into town and the proprietor (we never got his name) was always so happy to see us.  I’d ask “Que es esto??” and point to fruits and veggies I didn’t recognize and he’d tell me how to serve them.  He even threw in a bunch of peppers and tomatillos and instructions on how to prepare them the last time we came by and told me they were free for us.  In all, we usually came away from this stand with two backpacks full of fresh produce for the low price of $10 USD.

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The produce man in Mercado Central (L), our fresh loot (center) and our produce bill – $132 pesos, or about $10 USD (R). The most expensive item? Apples.  Because they’re shipped down from the U.S.!  The cheapest item – a head of of garlic (Ajo) for 5 pesos, or $0.38 USD.

After walking all day, we’ll head back to the water taxi, walk down the road and stop at Benji’s for a large pizza or a coconut.  They won’t except money for watching the dinghy, so we always felt like we needed to have at least a drink there before rowing home.

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Benji’s shrimper pizza (garlic, shrimp and ham) and Dave with a grande coco.

Once we’re back on the boat, we unload all the fresh produce or anything else we’ve got that day and take it out of any packaging and give a bleach/water dunk to kill off any possible roach eggs. Better safe than sorry!  We make sure any bags or cardboard boxes stay in the dinghy until we go ashore the next day and give to Nic to put in Benji’s dumpster. 

It’s always a long day, but also very satisfying.  It’s an adventure every day.