San Juan Islands Exploration – Vendovi Island

While I see patients during the week and Larry teaches people how to drive boats and navigate for Freedom Boat Club, we are focused on getting stuff done.  On the weekends, we have time to explore our region around Anacortes and the San Juan Islands, especially when we have the good fortune to use one of the Freedom Boat Club boats, an employee benefit for Larry – and for me, since it saves me from fighting off “we need to buy another boat!”. 

Over Father’s Day weekend we were able to take a boat out and cruise, or zoom, over to Vendovi Island.  On the little Jenneau NC 895, [Editor’s note: The boat pictured below is actually a Defiance San Juan 220, also from Freedom Boat Club, but from a later weekend when we went back with Miranda]. we flew there at 25 knots and zipped into the little dock as the only other boat when we arrived. On our Nordhavn this would have taken a couple of hours at 8 knots, and we would not have been able to tie up or anchor in the tiny little harbor because of our size.   

The boat we were on for the day is the smaller one at the foot of the ramp.

Vendovi Island is part of the San Juan Preservation Trust, an organization focused on preserving land as nature preserves in the San Juan Islands.  This island was originally used by the Coast Salish peoples for many many years as a summer home.  They harvested camas bulbs from the hillside, which they maintained as fields through strategic use of controlled burns. 

In 1841, Charles Wilkes’ Navy exploring ship passed by and named the island after a captive on their ship whom they apparently had decided they liked – Fijian chief Ro Veidovi Logavatu. In a classic white man error, his name is misspelled in the island name.  You can read a bit more about the original exploration and the chief here.  Over the years in the 1800s and early 1900s the island was used for a fur farm, for sheep farming, as a homestead and even a religious compound for followers of Father Divine.  In the 1960s the Fluke family, of  Fluke Electronics, bought the island for a private retreat and held it until 2010 when they put it up for auction and the Trust bought it.

The path leading up into the woods.

Now the island has several miles of trails crossing the island from the harbor through deep woods to a high bluff overlooking the water and a panoramic view of some of the islands. There is a picnic table near the dock where you can picnic and look out over the water. There is a public restroom, but it is closed now during the pandemic for sanitation reasons.

One of the two types of slugs we saw LOTS of on the walk.
A very cool fungi.

Lots of scenic nature to explore close to home! If you are boating in the San Juans and anchored nearby, this is a great dingy spot for exercise, perhaps a bit of solitude and communing with nature.

The little houses on the pilings are for purple martins, trying to repopulate the region. The dark purple bird on the left is the male and the lighter colored on is the female.
I continue to be amazed by the ferns – huge, deep green and lush.

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.

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!

Barra de Navidad

Barra de Navidad is a large bay just 12 NM south of Tenacatita.  The town of Melaque in on the north side of the bay and town of Barra de Navidad is on the south side, where the bay enters a large lagoon.  The Grand Isla Resort and Marina Puerto de Navidad, where we stayed, is on the South side of the entrance to the lagoon.  The wide entrance channel between rock jetties is well marked and has adequate depth, but it shoals up very quickly outside the marked channel.  Barra is mainly a tourist town with sport fishing, and reportedly at this time of year the population is 85% Canadian.

Welcoming visitors to town on the main road.

We had no difficulty coming in and finding our slip in the marina, where we soon met Pancho, the nearly famous “Boat Guy” of Barra.  Everyone we spoke with had nothing but the highest praise for him.  We had Pancho and his crew do a complete wash and wax, bottom cleaning and interior cleaning, and soon understood why he is so highly regarded.  The boat looked great, inside and out, and the price was right at a fraction of what it would have cost back home. 

Looking back at the entrance to the marina and lagoon area.

The marina is attached to the Grand Isla Navidad resort, which has a laundry service, basic showers, a small fitness center, and most importantly, a pool to escape the afternoon heat and humidity.  We utilized their showers to preserve our water supply, as the water is not potable there (we don’t have an ultrasonic purifier), and making water in the marina is not wise. We follow the rule of – if the locals don’t drink the water, we don’t either.

There is a regular water taxi service from the resort and marina across to the town of Barra, where there are plenty of restaurants and a regular Thursday market for produce and other provisions.

The water taxi dock.

The resort is not very occupied most of the time, so at times it was a bit eerie until a group of cruisers showed up from Tenacatita. We walked the property and found an entire additional section that appears completely abandoned, although with a small pool still filled and cleaned, and a security guard often on site. We walked very nice brick roads up steep hills to dead ends where further parts of the resort were never developed. As you enter the marina, there is a large structure that was built expecting it would be a casino, but when that was denied (we are not sure by whom), it was abandoned as is. This type of abandoned structure is a common site in the resort areas of Mexico.

One of our regular water taxi drivers.

A true luxury of the area is the French baker. He comes to the marina in his little boat with fresh croissants and other treats 5 mornings a week. We splurged and also bought a supply of frozen croissants with his careful instructions for preparation and some almond paste to make some even more delicious!

Passing the relic for the casino at sunset.

Since we were in Barra for about 3 weeks arranging for parts to diagnose and fix our fuel delivery issues, we took some trips, one to a coffee cooperative in the mountains and several days to Guadalajara. More on those soon. We really enjoyed getting away from the heat, and to some degree, the gringo orientation of the coastal/boating communities.

While in Barra we spent time with several cruisers that we met along the way.  There is a pretty well defined circuit down here along the mainland coast, with the main stops being Chamela, Tenacatita, Barra, and for some, Manzanillo, and for fewer, Zihuatanejo.  You basically run into the same people wherever you go.  We had some nice dinners in town and enjoyed a concert on the Malecon for the annual Sail Fest, which was happening while we were there.  The weather was pretty consistent, mostly sunny every day, becoming pretty hot and humid in the afternoon.  We fell into a bit of a routine of taking care of tasks in morning, perhaps going into town, then coming back to cool off by the pool and nap in the afternoon, and then maybe back into town for dinner.  Honestly, it was not a bad way to pass the time waiting for parts and waiting for the arrival of our friends Park and Carol, who would join us for the last week in February.

Looking into the Pacific from the edge of the resort.

Bahía Chamela

At 5:30 AM on January 25th we finally left Marina La Cruz for the 96 NM run around Cabo Corrientes and down the coast to Bahía Chamela.  Weather was pretty mild, but we had some rain going around Cabo Corrientes.  It felt great to be underway again, and all systems were back to working well.  

Just swimming….
Checking out the floating fish attractor.

On the way we saw a half dozen sea turtles at various points, bobbing along sometimes lifting their heads to look at us.  As we were arriving at Chamela a pod of humpback whales was nearby, but I could only get a few pictures because we had to focus on avoiding the fishing nets that were placed in about 400 feet of water a mile or so offshore.  We had spent most of the trip about 5 miles offshore and avoided any nets,  but coming in closer was a different story.  Fortunately, they were well-marked and we were able to work around them towards the shore and shallower water.

One of the pod close to shore.
Tending their fishing lines.

There were about 22 boats anchored in Chamela, so we wound up dropping the anchor a bit further out than we’d prefer.  It was moderately rolly, enough so that we put out both flopper stoppers.  We read in the guidebooks that a beach landing on the dinghy was required to get ashore here, but it turns out that they had recently built a pair of jetties and an entrance channel into the estuary.  So, no beach landing necessary, but we needed the small dinghy anyway, as the estuary mouth got too shallow on the ebb tide for our larger dinghy.

View of the anchorage coming in.
Dingy and panga landing, crane and floats that seem intended to make a more substantial landing.

The guidebooks also said that there were anchorages and snorkeling spots near the large islands across the bay from the anchorage.  After making a choppy crossing on the big dinghy, it seemed pretty clear that these anchorages were not very well protected.  There were a couple of small sailboats in one of them, and both were bouncing around quite a bit.  We then went around to a cove with a beach and reportedly good snorkeling, but it was incredibly crowded with pangas and groups from the local area.  We decided to wait for another day, hoping for the crowds to thin out.

The snorkeling beach – the pangas use a moored buoy to hold their boats in place.
Interesting topography with cacti mixed with deciduous foliage.



The next afternoon, we went back.  This time there were only 2-3 pangas and groups, but it was evident when we went into the cove that there was no way that we would be able to land the big dinghy on the beach.  In fact, there was so much swell we couldn’t anchor the dinghy, and we actually lost our stern mushroom anchor.  We went back to a beach near the anchorage in the lee of the other island and were able to anchor the dinghy and snorkel around a bit.  However, with all the swell the visibility wasn’t good, and there wasn’t much to see.  We had a very choppy ride back across the bay to the main anchorage.

Obviously a bit challenging for snorkeling, but beautiful!

One day we walked into the town of Punta Perula on the one dusty main paved road.  Small town with a few restaurants and some small hotels, but not a big tourist focus, yet.  Another day we did a long beach walk, and on both days finished up with a palapa lunch and beer before making our way back. 

Downtown, the town square.

A great 4 day stay at anchor. Next stop, Tenacatita anchorage. 

Feeding the pelicans at sunrise.

A Magical Town – Mascota

Town square and church steeple in the town of Mascota.

In 2001, the Mexican Secretary of Tourism (SECTUR) created an initiative called “Pueblo Mágico/Magical Town.” This program seeks to highlight towns around the country that offer a unique and “magical experience – by reason of their natural beauty, cultural richness, traditions, folklore, historical relevance, cuisine, arts & crafts, and hospitality.”

This past weekend we had the good fortune to be invited, by Ron the radio expert on the Cruisers net in Banderas Bay, to visit the official magical mountain town of Mascota and his ranch up in the hills. It was good timing because we were itching to see more of Mexico and get some relief from some unusually hot weather here in the Bay.

We started out on Saturday morning on the bus from Puerto Vallarta up to Mascota. It is how the locals travel. $8 equivalent a person for a 3 hour trip. While the bus was definitely a 1960s or 70s vintage, it had plenty of legroom so it was comfortable, and the windows opened so there was a cool breeze once we got up into the mountains.

You can tell this is a classic!
The bus dropping us off in the center of town.

The bus was challenged by the mountain grades, often much steeper than anything that would be allowed in the US – as much as 15% Larry estimated. Lots of grinding of gears, very slow progress up hill and brakes burning on the way down. As we got higher we could see wide open vistas of hills, the valley with scattered corn fields, and small towns as we passed through them.

One of the many captivating vistas we saw.

We checked into our bed and breakfast the Santa Lucia Inn and were greeted by the friendly owners as well as a menagerie of dogs and cats, and later, the resident pig. Our room was on the upper level, cool and airy overlooking a lovely courtyard.

Looking into the courtyard from the yard.
Our room had wide opening casement windows that let in plenty of air, very comfortable.
I forgot to ask if he is pet or food.

In the afternoon we walked the town, luxuriating in the temperate air, and visited the Museo de Arqueológico for a fascinating and extremely well done exhibit on the prehispanic excavations done by Dr. Joseph Mountjoy and team early in the 2000s and supported by National Geographic. The ceramics have been dated to 3,000 years old and clearly there was a very organized society with cultural and detailed burial practices living here. There was an English translation booklet that guided us through the whole exhibit. The photographs of the archeologists actually doing the work really added to the experience – clearly I would never have had the patience!

A sample of the petroglyphs found in the region.

We had a second educational experience with a stop at a Raicillería to taste raicilla, which is an agave based liquor similar to tequila. We sampled a number of styles. Very enjoyable, but in the end decided that we like the more mild taste of tequila. This of course led to the need for a siesta, which it appeared everyone else was doing too as the streets were quite empty when we walked back to the inn.

A view down the street toward the church and outskirts of town.

In the evening we enjoyed strolling around town and sitting in the town square watching families socialize and lots of little kids run around and laugh. The whole time we were in town we only saw one other gringo couple, and we studiously ignored each other, guessing we each wanted to remain in this immersive experience.

The next morning we were awakened first by roosters well before sunrise, then by church bells at 6am, and then the gradual sounds of town stirring around 7am. The sun rises late here, really close to 8am. At 9am we found a taxi to take us the 45 minute slow ride up the narrow road to Ron’s place up at 7,300 feet. Along the way we passed through charming towns, waited for a herd of cows and felt the air get even cooler.

Cows passing around the taxi, you can see one of the ranchers in the back.

Ron, a long time expat, and his wife Maly, from one of the southern Mexican states, hosted us to a wonderful day in the hills. We walked parts of their property which are a mix of almost pine barren type landscape with various types of cacti thrown in, hidden waterfalls, lemon and many other fruit trees. I got to take home a bunch of lemons.

This reminds me of home.
This is several feet tall.
I think this is a nopal cactus.
A natural swimming hole, if it wasn’t so cool.

They toured us around both on their 4 wheeler and in Maly’s old VW bug which she was expert at driving on steep grades. We visited two other tiny towns and were introduced to some of their friends. Navidad is a quiet town, and another Magical town, of not more than 250 people normally, but swells to many times that once a year for a week or so of festival.

Obviously Larry loved this part!
The church in Navidad.
The church doors were closed and I would never have entered on my own, but Maly didn’t hesitate to take me inside.
One of the buildings for the former grist mill where they made flour before it became commercially available.

There is so much more I could say about this experience, but I will stop here. We look forward to more like it, and can’t thank Ron and Maly enough for their hospitality!

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

After more than two weeks at Paradise Village in December, we were ready for a change of pace for Christmas week. We headed over to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a few miles across the bay and worlds apart from Nuevo Vallarta.  La Cruz has a well-deserved reputation as a cruiser’s haven and more authentic town in Banderas Bay, and after being there for a week, we could understand why. We are back there now in mid-January after two weeks in Puerto Vallarta at Marina Vallarta (a separate review forthcoming) as we wait for a part for the head (we know our visitors will appreciate that!) and continue to think it is a fabulous town.

Entering into the harbor for the marina on the left, town on the right.

Marina Riveria Nayarit is a large, relatively new marina located right in the center of town.  The approach is easy and they seemed to have plenty of space available for all sizes of boats.  The docks are in good shape, with good power, but non-potable water.  Wifi was available at no charge, but as usual, was pretty spotty.  There are shower facilities and an air conditioned clubhouse right at the top of the dock (with air conditioning and better wifi).  There are also a couple of restaurants, a small tienda and a tiny pool, which we did use a couple of times.  We have not eaten at the restaurants… too many good options in town.

Looking at the fish market (Mercado Del Mar) from our boat on the way out.

One of our favorite areas is the fish market right at the marina featuring the local catch, and shrimp brought in from Mazatlan.  It was impressive to see the large Tuna, Dorado, Snapper and other fish being brought up from the fishing fleet moored right in front of the market.  The market itself seems more frequented by Mexicans than gringos when we’ve shopped there. I learned from watching and asking what some of the more interesting appearing items were. Some very large egg sacs, and various fish parts. Didn’t want to buy them, but interesting.

We have gorged on both dorado and shrimp which are uniformly fresh and excellent and at a very low price. I even managed to communicate my request for them to fillet up and trim a large piece of dorado and saved Larry some work.

The landmark at the head of the main street in town.

Dining out is tasty and inexpensive here so we have not been doing much cooking other than the fish and shrimp. The street tacos near the head of the main street are fabulous, and you can buy beer to have with them at the shop on the opposite corner. Our favorite dessert guy is a few blocks up the main street, you just can’t beat a bag of fresh churros for 10 pesos!

Love this guy and his Churros!
We had a terrific lunch here in the interior courtyard for 140 pesos (about $7) for two full platters of food, a pitcher of guava water and a beer for Larry.

The town square houses the nativity scene. One thing I appreciated is the attention to the timeline of the story. Before December 25, there was no Jesus in the manger. He appeared appropriately on the day.

Jesus appeared on December 25. I was pleased.

The beach is steps away from the marina. Over the week of Christmas and on the day of there were many families who set up lots of sun cover, tables for snacks and chairs to relax in the shade. We were happy we have a beach umbrella ourselves, but it isn’t quite enough shade for all 3 of us, and the sun is hot! Recently it’s been in the high 80s up to 90, and the humidity is climbing too, so water relief is welcome.

We got in a bit of last-minute Christmas shopping and some excellent produce at the Sunday market. It is a huge farmers and craft market, wrapping around half of the marina, and is obviously the big happening of the week.  It was similar to, but much more extensive than, the markets at Nuevo and Puerto Vallarta.  Lots of good ethnic foods and drink (we got Indian and Thai food at various times) live music, and a huge variety of clothing, jewelry and crafts. 

There is an active live music scene here too. We’ve been to a few places with names like The Green Tomato and Ana’s Bananas (where we thoroughly embarrassed Miranda) – it was definitely an old gringo crowd and she studiously ignored our dancing. We hear there are more original Latin groups that come through than those playing covers of American bands, but they are probably playing past our bedtime!

One day we decided to anchor in the bay along with the dozens of sailboats that make the anchorage home. We joined former Seattle Shilshole marina neighbors Kevin and Alison (and their family) on Red Rover at anchor off La Cruz, at the east end of the anchorage.  The water was warm, but the anchorage, at least on this day, was incredibly rolly.  We wound up deploying both flopper stoppers for the first time, and were glad we did, as things got a bit choppy in the evening.  We had a big “surf and turf” dinner aboard Red Rover, featuring Mahi Mahi tacos from Miss Miranda, and Arracheta (marinated steak), potatoes and salad from Red Rover.  A fun evening.  It was sloppy and choppy overnight and started to drizzle a bit the next morning, so we pulled up the anchor and headed back to the marina. 

Looking into the spa from the street entrance. The shade tree is out of the photo to the left side.

Larry started complaining about his back from all the boat yoga he has been doing, so we found the Oasis spa on the main drag and had massages. The spa is in what might be the interior shell of a partly demolished building, has a gigantic tree growing that provides shade so that it was MUCH cooler than the street, and has a few selected structures for private areas. Extremely well done.

We’ve been in Banderas Bay now for over 6 weeks, quite a bit longer than planned, because of waiting for parts. But as they say, plans are only worth the paper they are written on, so we are finding other ways to explore. This weekend we are going to leave the boat and take an inland trip to the mountains to the town of Mascota. It will be a welcome cool break and a different look at Mexico!

Paradise Village and Nuevo Vallarta

The first part of our visit to Puerto Vallarta was actually to Nuevo Vallarta and Paradise Village Resort and Marina.  Miranda joined us for three weeks, and Larry’s mom and sister came for the week before Christmas and stayed in the resort, so this was easy all the way around.

Downtown view from one of the hillside restaurants overlooking Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay.

The Puerto Vallarta area is a pretty huge metropolis, with developments
stretching a long way up Banderas Bay. Nuevo Vallarta itself is a fully self
contained tourist resort cocoon, which is fairly far removed from the city of
Puerto Vallarta to the south.  It is actually in a different state –
Nayarit – than Puerto Vallarta, which is in Jalisco. It is a two-bus ride or
expensive cab ride to the Central district and/or the Zona Romantica in Puerto
Vallarta. 

There is a shopping center just outside the resort with a pretty large
grocery store, pharmacy, bank, retail stores and restaurants.  There are
also plenty of other restaurants in Nuevo Vallarta.   The tradeoff is
that everything in NV is more expensive… but it is expensive or time-consuming to get in and out of NV. We did figure out taking the local buses into Puerto Vallarta and had some fun despite the long haul.

Miranda and Gwen headed downtown for some Christmas shopping, and didn’t realize it was December 12, the last day of the Virgin of Guadalupe Feast Days, so the place was mobbed! This is the street leading to the church.

Paradise Village Marina is huge and very well-run.  The entrance is well- marked, wide, and easy.  No problems with depths and a dredge operates regularly in the channel on the Paradise Village side.  There are a bunch of large (100 ft plus) yachts here.  The slips line the Estuary to the North of the channel entrance.  We were first placed in Slip E-20, which was well up almost to the bridge.  The water got pretty shallow as we worked our way to the slip but was never a problem.  One thing we learned that confirmed what we read in a guidebook was that these slips further away from the entrance were much less affected by surge than the ones closer to the entrance.  The tradeoff is that you are farther away from the resort and in an area where most of the boats are unoccupied, faithfully waiting for the return of their owners, so it could feel a bit eerie at night.

The marina had regularly scheduled dockside pumpout (and they would also come and pump out on call); good, potable water with good pressure, and would come to the slip to care of any oils, fluids or other waste products.  Moorage in the marina also got us access to the resort’s faculties, namely the beach, fabulous pools, fitness club and “VIP lounge”.  The only negative for the marina was that Wifi was more or less non-existent.  The marina doesn’t even claim to offer it.  Vallarta Yacht Club, which has a clubhouse restaurant and pool right next to the marina, claims to offer Wifi on the docks, but we never got it to work.  Later, when we moved to a slip closer to the resort, we were able to get on the resort Wifi, but speed was highly variable, from slow to nothing. 

Paradise Village, like many places in Mexico, was a good place to get boat cleaning done.  The sun and heavy salt is much tougher on the boat here than in the Pacific NW, so we needed it. We had the boat washed, had all of the stainless steel cleaned and polished, and had some wax touch up done.  There are no crocodiles in this marina area, so it’s not hard to get someone to dive the boat so we had the bottom cleaned, including the keel cooler, and replaced a zinc on the wing engine shaft.  All of this service was of high quality, at a fraction of PNW prices.

There were an enormous number of pelicans who roosted in the trees of the estuary across from us. We had a sad experience our first night with Miranda – as we were heading down the dock to dinner in the setting sun we came upon a pelican acting strangely, not flying away and flapping awkwardly right next to the dock. We soon realized he was entrapped in fishing line that someone had left actually attached to the dock.

 

At first the pelican drifted back and forth between the boats and the float, flapping one wing uselessly.

 

Larry worked hard to get at the line, which was all over the place while avoiding his fast moving beak.

While trying to stay away from his beak we managed to cut away a lot of the line, and thought we were successful in freeing him, but as he got away we saw there was still line around one wing preventing him from flying. Miranda reached someone at the resort and they said they would “send someone” but the bird swam over to the mangroves and disappeared in them in the dark. It was a terrible feeling that despite our best efforts he likely would not survive.

After a few days on E dock, the marina wanted to move us to C dock. We got ready to move the boat at high tide one morning, and as Larry wrote in another post, found that one of our ABT TRAC stabilizer actuator cylinders had failed, emptying the hydraulic reservoir into the bilge.   We moved the boat the next day, found an excellent service company to repair the stabilizers, but began a month long ongoing exchange with TRAC to try and get them to honor their warranty…. but that is a different story. (And no, we didn’t need the stabilizers to move within the marina, but having them have no fluid is a problem even if not used).

We did enjoy liberal use of the pools and happy hour 2 for 1 drinks with Helen and Heather, and now have great tans. We also ran into some fellow Cubar participants and other folks on the much more active C dock. But, after two weeks at the resort of our originally planned month, we made a decision to move to La Cruz for the week of Christmas. More to come on that great place!

San Blas

This is top of our list for destinations in Mexico so far. We spent three nights and two days exploring this little town in early December and absolutely loved it.

There are two options for parking your boat here – a small marina a mile or so up the river or a very nice anchorage off the beach in Mantanchen Bay just a few miles South. We decided to try the little marina. Marina Fonatur was a nice facility, but very difficult to get in touch with.  We wound up calling the Mazatlan Fonatur to get their phone number.  The staff were very nice and helpful, and it is necessary to know some Spanish to manage here!

The big challenge is that the marina is well up the estuary and the last section has lots of shoals right around the entrance.  We were advised to stay close to the fuel dock on the starboard side on the way in, but there was a trimaran tied up to it, so couldn’t get very close and saw less than 6 feet going by.  Buoys about a boat length behind the docks marked shallow water, and after we arrived a boat neighbor told us that they almost dry at low tide.  We had no problem getting in or out, just slow and careful. There were only about 20 slips in the marina and it was packed full with sailboats.  We were the only cruising powerboat in there, and were by far the largest boat in the marina.  The 50 foot slip we were in was actually 40 feet in length.  Moorage was very cheap, and they had free wifi, with pretty good speed.  The water was not potable, but they had 30 and 50 amp power on the docks. 

On our first day of exploring we made the short but hot and dusty walk into town during the height of the afternoon sun. It was quite quiet, and we walked around the square and found the road out to the edge of town and the historic fort.

Old and new churches across from the town square at sunset.

The fort itself is set high up on the hill – it was formally established on my birthday (February 22) in 1768 and soon became the most important shipyard on the Pacific Coast. Ships left here to explore California and Alaska. In the early 1800s the move for independence from the Spanish also started from here. Its importance receded over time and now it is a sleepy town known for bird migrations and some music festivals.

The fort and the requisite bust of one of the founders (I can’t remember who).
View out from the fort – clearly a strategic location – can see all the way out to the ocean.
The very first church in town was this one, on the grounds of the fort.
Stone walls of the church still standing over 300 years later.

We walked back to town, now quite thirsty and sweaty, and headed for the square to see what we could find. It was still early at 5pm although the sun was about to set, so we settled into a sidewalk table at the only open bar and restaurant on the square. As we relaxed and cooled off the town came to life – lots of people zooming by on motorbikes and bicycles, kids with backpacks who seemed like they were just getting out of school, and noisy birds that I’ve been told are grackles came home to roost in the trees around the square by the thousands and made quite the ruckus. An hour or so after sunset, a parade went round the square to the church – it was one of the first nights of the 12 nights of the Feast of Our Virgin of Guadalupe.

Parade literally right next to our table!

The next day we got up a bit early and called a taxi to take us to the up La Tovara estuary tour.  It was outstanding – we had a panga and guide to ourselves.  He did a great job of pointing out birds and other wildlife and helped with English and Spanish terms.  The animals were fascinating and posed well in the early morning cool air for me.

One of the reputations that San Blas has is bugs – particularly tiny “Jejenes” – no see-ums that make very itchy bites. So we were prepared with our screens and lots of bug spray. We lucked out though – a few locals told us that they hatch on a cycle with the full moon and we were there mid moon cycle so we completely missed them! Very lucky for us. The other secret we were told is to brush them off your skin and not scratch when they do get you, and the bites won’t be as bad (have no idea if this is really true but worth a try!)

Entering the mangroves.
One of the many types of herons here.
This is the original wild chicken the indigenous peoples ate before the Spanish arrived.
It was a little unsettling to see this right in front of our panga.
As if we needed to be told not to go swimming! (Nadar is to swim).
Yes he is real!

After the tour we walked further down the road to Matachen Bay beach.  We hung out in a beachside palapa restaurant, eating, drinking and enjoying the warm waters of the bay.  We had an excellent and very inexpensive meal of spiny lobster prepared with lots and lots of garlic, discovered the Pacifico “Ballena”, or very large beer, there.  The palapa had a huge barrel filled with rain water and some dipping vessels so we were able to rinse off the salt water at the end of the day.

Relaxing under the shade of the palapa.

On the way home we stopped at one of the roadside shops near the bay to buy the local specialty of pan de platano (banana bread) and other loaf like breads. 

The banana bread stand.

We left Marina Fonatur at high tide the next day, and had no problems getting past the shoal spots. Staying near the red buoys in the channel gave us 12-15 ft depths, but the entrance/exit bar was really shallow. It is quite wide, there are no channel markers past the breakwater, and the charts are not at all accurate for depths in this area. We saw as little as 3 feet under the transducer at one point, and under 10 feet for at least a quarter of a mile. It was a relief to get into deeper water. All things considered, we would definitely choose to anchor in the bay next time.