Hard Decisions

It is Sunday March 22. We are back in La Paz, where we intended to start exploring the Sea of Cortez. But life as we know it has shifted dramatically in the last few weeks because of COVID 19. We have had a lot of difficult discussions here on Miss Miranda as we worked to a mutual decision on what to do.

The bottom line is that we have decided the best course of action for us is to shut up the boat for the season here in La Paz on the Baha Peninsula and return home. This was our original plan, it’s just being put into action earlier than we hoped and planned. We plan to return next season to fully explore the Sea of Cortez.

We made a whirlwind trip to San Diego in the last few days prior to making this decision. Fuel system parts had been shipped to us there to replace the Racor dual filter system, and we had time sensitive bureaucratic details to address. The night we arrived, California was placed under a stay at home order. We were lucky that mail seems to be an essential service, so we were able to take care of our business while trying to stay 6 feet away from other people. We flew back to Cabo San Lucas airport on an Alaskan flight that had one passenger other than us. Flight attendants reported that flights are about half full at the moment with people returning to the US.

One of many sites we plan to return to next year.

You may be saying to yourself – “why would you go back to a hotbed of the virus?”.

Here’s why:

1. Our 20 year old college sophomore daughter is there, currently alone without any family support. I cannot imagine isolating ourselves here in Mexico for potentially months and not be able to reach her. She already went through the mess in France and we had to fly her out on a moment’s notice when Trump declared travel from Europe was closing (which had to be clarified later, after many people, including us, had panicked). Flights do continue to and from Mexico for now, and we understand that Alaska Airlines is unlikely to completely shut down flights. But, we have observed Canadians having a difficult time getting flights home and they’ve told us there are no flights in April from our region to Canada. Who knows what is going to happen.

2. Mexico is a wonderful country, currently with a low number of cases. This will change. No country is exempt from this virus. The healthcare system here will have even more challenges than we are already seeing with the US healthcare system. I am immunosuppressed because of medication I take for rheumatoid arthritis, therefore at higher risk of getting severely ill if I do get sick. I prefer to have access to the system I am familiar with, even though it is far from the best in the world.

3. I am a doctor, currently on a year sabbatical. I can’t stand by and not do anything to help.

We have talked to many boaters here, both from the US and from Canada and heard many second hand reports of more, all of whom have struggled with the same decision. My observation is that the majority are taking the government advice/demand (for Canadians) that they return home. This has been particularly hard for those who planned to take longer voyages, such as to the South Pacific. Many countries are now closed to all foreigners including boaters, and many are also not allowing boats to check out of the country if they are already there. There have been reports here of boaters not being allowed to check out of Mexico on their boat. The situation is very dynamic and difficult to predict where things will be in the coming weeks and months.

Something that makes me happy to think about seeing again.

Some are making the choice to hunker down in this beautiful place with 2-3 months of food and supplies and stay away from people. I trust they are going to have a wonderful solitary time in nature. There is no right or wrong answer, everyone has to do what fits with their situation. Only time will tell how things will turn out for all of us.

I hope you all are staying home and practicing excellent hand hygiene. If you have masks or other personal protective equipment at home, please donate them to your local hospital. I have many colleagues working without adequate masks to protect them and the US is in dire need of these supplies.

Social isolation saketini while in our hotel during whirlwind trip to San Diego to pick up parts.

We look forward to virtual happy hours and phone conversations with many of you when we return home.

Return to La Cruz and Yelapa

I’d rather have a palapa in Yelapa than a condo in Redondo – quote from a Mexico boating guidebook.

View back to the other side of the bay.

After doing some work on our chronic fuel delivery problems we decided to run across Banderas Bay to the pueblo of Yelapa, located on the South side of the bay, a bit East of Cabo Corrientes.  The only way to visit is by boat – there are no road connections from Puerto Vallarta.  It is 15 NM across the Bay, so a couple of hours each way.  A great way to spend a sunny day and a good check on the repairs we made on the fuel system. 

No dock to tie up at at this yacht club.
View of the jungle like hills above the town, and a waterfall just about 1/3 the way up.

We headed off around 9 AM and saw several different groups of whales along the way.  We slowed and watched a couple, but after a while, we decided to keep going, wanting to get over to Yelapa before lunch.  Approaching the entrance to the bay, we were greeted by Philipe in a panga from Fanny’s restaurant, a beachside palapa.  He offered to guide us in to a mooring buoy, necessary here because the bay is very deep with only a small shelf suitable for anchoring.  Yelapa is absolutely gorgeous, with steep cliffs covered in vegetation rising from the bay and sandy beach.  It is, however, very rolly… open to the NW Pacific swell.  Friends reported spending the night moored between two buoys, but also reported that their guests got seasick.  If we stayed, we certainly would have had to deploy both flopper stoppers.

On the path back from the waterfall I realized the church steeple was above the mural.

After tying up, Philipe took us over to the village dock, where we walked through the hillside town up a paved path to the waterfall.  Along the way, we met Charlie the burrow and his owner, Manuel, a lifetime Yelapa resident.  Here along the path, families set up open air shops featuring their handmade wares.  We wound up buying two light blankets made by a son and daughter of Manuel. 

Charlie the burrow. He did not like it when the church bells rang – lots of loud braying.

The waterfall was beautiful and served as the fresh water supply for Yelapa.  Returning to the town dock, we hailed Philipe again and went across to his family’s restaurant on the beach.  There we had an outstanding lunch.  I had the whole red snapper, grilled with garlic and butter, while Gwen had some gigantic, and tasty shrimp. 

Seemed like it would be refreshingly cool to get in, but we didn’t.

After a couple of pleasant hours enjoying the scene, we returned to Miss Miranda and started back to La Cruz.  The highlight of our return trip was a breaching, dancing, playing whale that was right in front of us, seemingly unwilling to let us pass without putting on a show.  Gwen got some outstanding pictures.  We also saw a school of rays swimming just under the surface, but they swam off before we could get photos.

Two sedate whales and an exuberant one.

We got back to La Cruz without incident and with enough confidence in the fuel system to take on the next leg, 171 NM North to Mazatlan.

Guests, Manzanillo, and Heading North

Our friends Park and Carol arrived in Barra for a week of cruising with us in late February.  We would be celebrating Gwen’s birthday and Park and Carol’s wedding anniversary.  We spent a couple of easy days and nights in Barra getting ready to go, including a wonderful dinner at a place called Galería de Arte, a fantastic restaurant run out of the home of a local family.  The maitre’d /owner is a photographer, and his works are all around the place, which is arranged in a courtyard garden for open air dining.  Robert is a very gracious host, his kids are the waitstaff, and his wife Ruby runs the kitchen.  The menu is limited to two traditional Mexican main courses, and there is always a surprise appetizer.  Also, Robert is a bit of a Tequila aficionado, so there is a huge list available for tasting.  It was a wonderful meal, and without doubt the best restaurant in Barra. 

Seen in the bay outside Barra.

The next day we headed north to Tenacatita.  We spent a couple of nights at anchor in a relatively uncrowded bay (many of the sailors were down in Barra for the sail festival).  We did some beach landings with the micro tender, getting good practice in very mild conditions, walked the beach, and swam off the back of the boat in 80 degree water.  We celebrated Gwen’s birthday with fish tacos, and Carol delivered Gwen’s number one birthday wish…. Not doing any dishes!

A sobering site just south of Barra. A tanker that wrecked a few years ago in a Hurricane, allowed to break up over time. Not sure if they ever got the fuel tanks emptied.

The forecast was calling for higher winds associated with a frontal system, so we left early the next morning to head down to Manzanillo, about 35 miles south of Tenacatita.  The forecast was wrong in the best possible way… a beautiful sunny day with light winds and nearly flat calm… maybe the mildest conditions we have encountered to date.  Entering Manzanillo bay we passed between the off lying rocks of Los Frailes and large cargo ships in the anchorage.  Our destination was the marina at Las Hadas, well protected by rock breakwaters all around and adjacent to the Brisas Las Hadas resort.  This area gained notoriety way back when by the movie “10”, starring a nubile, hair beaded Bo Derek.  I am not sure if Bo has aged gracefully, but Las Hadas has not. 

We had to med moor in the marina, which requires dropping the anchor in front of the dock and then backing in, tying stern lines and getting on and off via the back of the boat.  They had us in a spot between two other boats with an odd angle between them, and tied to bow mooring lines that made it difficult for us to maneuver.  And of course, the afternoon wind was starting to come up and push us to one side.  It took two attempts –on the first one I didn’t drop the anchor far enough out, so it did not set well enough to hold the bow.  The second time I went right out to the middle of the basin and dropped the anchor with plenty of room to set.  All was good, save for the substantial surge, which caused us to put out all of the ball fenders we had on the back of the boat, and actually flattened one of the smaller ones. 

Med-moored to the dock. What you can’t see is the surging and rocking and the crushing of our fenders!

One surprising thing in the marina was the crystal clear water – clearest we have seen on this coast. The shoreside of the marina actually had a very healthy ecosystem with various anemones, sea cucumbers and lots of different tropical fish. After spending quite a bit of time watching them, you could clearly see there are neighborhoods in there – with fish staking out their little bits of space, patrolling it and pushing out other fish and generally looking like little busy bodies.

Hard to get a good picture but there are fish hiding in the rocks along with some beautiful blue urchins (I think).

The marina had adequate power, non-potable water, and very few transient boats.  There were a couple of long term yachts and some sportfishing/charter boats.  It took a while to find the restroom/shower facilities… and we wished that we hadn’t.  They were borderline disgusting.  I could see in a pinch, using the toilets, but there was no way I was going to take a shower in there.  Why am I even talking about this?  Two reasons.  When we are in a place with no potable water, and can’t/won’t run the watermaker (i.e. in a marina without pumpout facilities) we tend to shower ashore.  Second, the macerator pump in our master head chose this moment to go belly up.  Yes, you read correctly.  This was the second macerator pump failure in two months… with two couples on the boat!  More on this later.

Not a tourist town, but they do have the largest sailfish statue we have seen yet!

Having settled in at the Marina, we made an expedition into the town of Manzanillo.  We took the bus in from the resort after climbing straight up an incredibly steep hill to the road.  The first bus was ancient, bouncing perilously over the cobbled roads hugging the steep hills between the beautiful Cliffside residences in the area.  The second bus was driven by a young driver who thought he was qualifying for the grand prix, running the old heap as fast as it would go and scaring the cab drivers that dared to get near us.  Relieved to be alive, we got off at the main square and made our way to the municipal market, which was filled with produce stands, carnicerias, etc.  We were sorely disappointed that we were unable to find a fresh pig head to show our pesca/vegetarian friends… had to settle for a beef shank on the hoof. 

The view from upstairs in the market.

After the market we found the Iguana refuge which provides shelter for Iguanas and an odd assortment of other animals (including raccoons).  Inside, it was feeding time and dozens of Iguanas came around to eat various vegetable leaves.  Then they would climb over the fence.  When we left the refuge, we realized that they were climbing into trees on the refuge property over a small stream/drainage ditch.  There were well over 100 sunning themselves in the trees.  We had a big lunch in a small restaurant, did a little shopping and then took a cab back to the marina. 

Two of the biggest guys talking big at each other.

The next day we decided to pony up the stiff fees ($60 US p/p) for a day pass to the resort, which entitled us to towel service, the pool, the restaurants, and open bar.  I will note that they must control alcohol consumption by making some of the worst margaritas I’ve ever had.  The food was good and plentiful, however, and the pool was great.  Given the situation with our head on the boat, access to bathrooms alone may well have been worth the price of admission.  We really had a great day, and towards the end of the day Park and Carol told us that they had decided to book a room at the resort, in deference to our head problem.  This was really very thoughtful of them, but as fellow owners of a Nordhavn 50, they really knew the score.  We had a last wonderful dinner outside at the high end restaurant, which was nearly empty.  Again, this was a story of faded glory… a huge place festooned with AAA four diamond awards from times past, with maybe 4-6 parties dining that evening.  Nevertheless, the food was good and the company outstanding.

The following day Park and Carol departed for the airport and their return to Washington, and we set off to visit the port captain to change our crew list and then to do some shopping at La Comer, a big Mexican supermarket chain.  We got to the Port Captain thanks to our taxi driver, as we never would have found on our own, it was so tucked away from the street.  We were met by a helpful official asking what we needed. Gwen explained (her Spanish is getting really good) that we needed to check out and change the crew list.  The officer listened and, realizing that we were a pleasure yacht over at Las Hadas, told us there was no need to check out… just call on the radio.  Manzanillo is a huge commercial port, and clearly seems to have no interest in making pleasure boats submit to the normal paperwork that other port captains thrive on.  So, off we went to La Comer.  On the way, Gwen struck up a conversation with the cab driver, talking about family, etc.  We learned that he was from Guadalajara, so we (she) talked a bit about that.  He also talked a bit about how much tourism was down in the area, referring to fear of Narcos.  It certainly did seem that occupancy at the resort was even lower than we had seen at Barra and other towns down here, though there appeared to be plenty of Gringos at the marina-side restaurants.

Very cool rock formation on the way.

It was finally time to bid the Coastalegre good bye and make the trip back to La Cruz in Banderas Bay.  We decided to do the entire 150+NM in one shot, and set a departure time for noon, in order to arrive in La Cruz after sunrise the next day.  The forecast was for light winds, but 5-7 foot seas.  However, things were predicted to freshen up in subsequent days, so this window was as good as we would get.  The winds were light for the entire passage, and the seas didn’t really pick up until about 20 miles South of Cabo Corrientes, where we started bashing into the NW swell.  We rounded the cape in the wee hours of the morning with no drama and found ourselves in La Cruz with 20 minutes to wait before it was light enough to enter the marina.  We were very glad to be back on the move, headed North for the Sea of Cortez, and thankful that my jury rigged fuel filter system worked without the slightest hiccup.  I spent some worried hours thinking about what it would be like running on the wing engine around Cabo Corrientes, and glad that it didn’t happen! 

Gwen loves these birds – they love to fly to the boat when we are coming into port and sit on the anchor.

Finally, the same day we arrived, Lance’s crew showed up, replaced the head pump, and started helping me rebuild the fuel lines and filter system.  More on this later.

Guadalajara

The morning after our spur of the moment decision to book a trip to Guadalajara we loaded a duffle bag and our backpacks and trudged through town to the bus station by the big marlin.  By the time we got there we were sweat soaked, so it was a wonderful surprise to discover the luxury of the ETN bus!  It was a double decker with very comfortable reclining seats, foot rests and personal video screens in case you wanted to watch movies in Spanish.  And it was air conditioned… almost too much.  We were dressed for the hot Barra weather in lightweight shorts and short sleeved shirt, ready for 85 plus degrees… not 68.  I got my hoody sweatshirt out of my duffel at a stop where I tipped the porter to dig it out for me.  Larry didn’t think to prepare for cooler weather, so spent some time actually feeling chilly.  The ride was about six hours over mostly toll roads, with stops in Manzanillo, Colima, and the airport before ending at the Guadalajara bus terminal.  The roads were initially lined with short banana trees with bunches of bananas waiting to ripen and tall palm trees interspersed.   As we continued we had some spectacular views of the 12,000+ foot Colima Volcano and went through an area of deep gorges where the road went across viaducts over the canyons below.  

The Colima volcano. It’s still active and periodically belches smoke.
Banana trees with bunches of bananas protected by blue bags.

Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico with about 1.5 million people.  It’s actually made up of three separate cities – Zapopan, Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara proper.    It has recently become a tech hub and also a city for foodies.  Lots of Mexico’s history happened here. 

After arriving we made our way by taxi to Tlaquepaque, which is an artsy district in the old town area where a century ago very wealthy Guadalajarans had country homes.  Kind of like the upper part of Manhattan was in the 1800s.  Our bed and breakfast was a charming small old building with rooms off of a small narrow courtyard.   The key to our room was the largest brass key I have ever seen – we had to leave it at the front desk as it was too big to carry, and probably irreplaceable! 

The path to our room for 3 nights.
One of the main shopping and art gallery streets near our B and B in the early morning.

On our first morning we walked most of the Tlaquepaque neighborhood, scoping out galleries and trying to get into the historical sites.  We visited the Centro Cultural El Refugio, a former free public hospital funded by wealthy citizens in the 1800s until the last century – there are still people in the neighborhood who were born there. In recent past it has gone through cycles of disrepair, but now has been partially restored and turned into a cultural center and museum.  Most of it was closed for refurbishment and repairs from a hail storm a year ago, but when we stayed to look at the small open area, the museum staff decided to give us a personal tour of some of the closed wings. 

Unfortunately, another recommended historical site, the Casa Historia, was closed indefinitely after the collapse of the ceiling.  It is clear that money for the arts and restoration can be a challenge in Mexico.

The courtyard of the old hospital turned museum. Each of the doorways was to a patient room.

In the afternoon we headed to the new Acuario Michin (Aquarium) in the center of the city.  It was very well done. Excellent exhibits with detailed signs in Spanish and English.  They also had a small set of animals in the back – some of the happiest and healthiest looking goats and sheep with lots of babies that I have ever seen, along with crocodiles and otters.  There were quite a good number of people there for a weekday, and they clearly have taken a lesson from American versions – I saw brochures advertising birthday sleepovers in the Aquarium. 

That evening we had the good fortune to meet up with some boating friends from Washington, Jim and Sandy, who happened to be in Guadalajara for a few days as well!  They are long time Mexico aficionados, so we met at a fantastic restaurant of their suggestion and had a wonderful meal and catch up. 

The Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento. On the hour the 12 apostles come out of the clock tower and parade around.
The 12 apostles.
Gorgeous stained glass inside.

The following day we took advantage of tour company to get a whirlwind tour and education about the downtown historical sites surrounding the Plaza de la Liberacion  and Plaza de Armas and to visit the neighborhood of Tonala, where much of the furniture and crafts sold in local markets is actually made. 

Our tour guide Ronny picked us up at our hotel in the morning, and gave us the wonderful news that we were fortunate to be the only people on the group tour for the day!  This was fantastic, as he was a font of historical knowledge and we had a terrific time visiting beautiful plazas surrounded by a number of the cathedrals and historical government sites and getting an excellent history lesson on the Mexican war for independence and other skirmishes in Mexican history, many of which played out in Guadalajara.  I wish I had taken some notes as I forgot a lot of it soon after. 

Palacio de Gobierno, finished in 1774, which has played an outsized role in Mexican history. It is still an active government building.
You can see the bullet hole in the clock from fighting in 1858 against Benito Juárez (President at the time) who was holed up inside.

After lots of touring, we returned to our neighborhood for a late afternoon lunch and mariachi concert at El Patio.    Guadalajara is the home of mariachi. An excellent all female mariachi band performs at El Patio most days.  This was simply not done in Mexico until the last 10 or 20 years.  They were excellent.  Ronny said he thinks they are better than any of the male mariachi bands. 

Part of the band. The brass section was huge and spectacular. The singing roles were rotated among the group.

We ended the day with visit to several art galleries and to the Museo Regional de la Cerámica, which had some beautiful ceramic displays in a former mansion that has become quite decrepit. 

We really just touched the surface of Guadalajara.  There is so much art, food, culture and history here.   Definitely a city to return to! 

Manuel Hidalgo in 1810 abolishing slavery.
View across the Plaza. They were busy setting up for another festival.

Coffee Tour

We took a day trip from Barra up into the mountains to tour a local coffee cooperative.  Larry is a bit of a coffee nut, roasting our own back home, but we’ve have never actually seen a coffee bush in person.  This tour was to Cuzalapa up in the hills in Jalisco and the El Grupo de Mujeres Color de la Tierra cooperative, run by the women of the village. The day we went was their annual coffee festival.  The tour was run by a company called Mex-ECO tours, which we highly recommend for their focus on culturally sensitive and environmentally sound tourism. Our excellent tour guide was a young woman named Eugenia, and she was amazed when I told her my mother has the same name! Apparently not common in Mexico either.

In front of the cooperative announcing the festival.

After an hour and a half drive in a comfortable Mercedes van, we arrived at the village, which was little more than the cooperative buildings and residences along the side of a single cobblestone and brick road. 

The main road in town.

We went to a morning meal of outstanding tamales and coffee at an open air restaurant.  People were very welcoming and lovely!

Our group eating breakfast. We were the only Americans in a group of Canadians.
Wild growing coffee bush.

The coffee cooperative was formed in 2001 by the village women to keep more of the value generated by their coffee plants that grow freely on their properties in the village.  One of the women of the co-op spoke to us through an interpreter to tell us their history. Before the co-op was formed, they were paid a peso per kilo of coffee fruit from their coffee plants.  They banded together to learn how to harvest, process, roast and sell the coffee for about 200 pesos per kilo.  Most of the women in the village participate and it has been a good source of income for them, but they told us about having some challenges with machismo, and at least one woman in the village is still not able to be a part of the cooperative because of that.

One of the two roasters they invested in.

Another cooperative member, Maria, led us around her property to see her coffee plants and some prehispanic petroglyphs on a large rock. An unplanned but happy occurrence was the presence of an anthropology professor from the University of Guadalajara who was there to discuss the importance of this petroglyph for an ancient indigenous game with some university students.  We were lucky to listen, and that one of the students translated the lecture for us.

Maria is standing behind the professor on the rock. You can barely see the petroglyph in the rock to the right of the professor.
The game board for the prehispanic game called Patolli. It was amazing to think that this has been there for thousands of years.
Beautiful river running through Maria’s property. In Hurricane Patricia a few years ago it flooded many feet above the banks.
A General with a complicated history.

On our way back we made a brief stop in the town of Cuatitlán de García Barragán for ice cream and a walk around the square. Eugenia discussed the town namesake General García Barragán’s conflicted history. He was appreciated by the town for the investment he made in local schools while Governor of Jalisco, but he is also known for ordering the military to fire on the University students demonstrating in Mexico City in 1968 when he was Secretary of Defense. Of course, we have some similar history in the US.

Overall a great day trip, and when we got home we booked a bus the next day for Guadalajara!