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.

Feliz Navidad!

We are in La Cruz, in the state of Nayarit, on the north end of Banderas Bay celebrating Christmas in a low key town. Our tree, packed all the way from Anacortes, is decorated with ornaments and decorations all acquired here in Mexico.

Today we will cook a traditional holiday dinner, with a small chicken substituting for turkey in our tiny oven. Miranda requested traditional stuffing which we will do our best to recreate – she brought the stuffing mix down in her suitcase to ensure we didn’t back out!

Will have to turn on the air conditioning for all the cooking – it’s 82 in the salon already before the afternoon sun hits and the oven gets fired up.

It was a lot of fun to explore markets and artisan shops to acquire our ornaments. Here are some examples of Mexican craftsmanship.

Bead work by Huichol artists on egg shells. We just loved these so we bought a number in both large and small sizes. The Huichol are one of the few remaining indigenous peoples in Mexico.
Ceramic art from the Ibarra Pottery Factory in La Paz – a family run business with beautiful unique designs.
Embroidered letter M for Miranda- we got one for each of us. And a gorgeous star for a tree topper.

We wish all of you a wonderful holiday and hope you are spending it with family and friends, enjoying good food and good fortune of the season. Don’t worry, we are catching up on blog posts and will have more about where we have visited coming in the next few days!

Mazatlan

The city of Mazatlan had a much bigger city feel than any of our previous stops.  Very interesting contrast between rapid growth and decay.  In recent years they have worked on restoring the old city in the center of town and we enjoyed exploring there in between rain storms and significant heat.

A view of the Malecon and downtown homes.
This view towers over downtown. You think you have an ugly cell tower in your neighborhood!

We loved our setup at Marina El Cid with the “quiet” pool only steps away from our dock.  We also had access to the beach club across the channel via the water taxi, but we never went over to check it out.  The pool was too inviting.

The main square – lined with shops and restaurants on the edges.

On the day before the deluge and foot of water, we spent the day in town.  We lounged at a square-side cafe where I tried Aguachile – a very spicy shrimp regional dish.  The waiter questioned whether I really wanted to have that, but I was determined to try it.   I sweated my way through it and downed a ton of water and some beer.   It was delicious, although my mouth was on fire for long afterward.    I have a recipe for it, which will allow me to dial down the spice level.  

The main church on another square.

We were looking for high-quality crafts and lucked into a wonderful shop where we conversed quite a bit with the owner all in Spanish – he was very patient and had such a clear accent he was easy to understand.  After we made some purchases (all beautiful and extremely well-priced and all from Mexican or Central American artisans), he brought out some agave tequila to share. 

An excellent stop was the Museum of Anthropology and History.  Small but very interesting exhibits from pre-hispanic times – very well-preserved beautiful pottery, and informative texts in both Spanish and English.  We were the only visitors that day from the guestbook. 

The contents of a pottery funeral urn.

We walked the Malecon, slowly because it was SO hot, and happened to pass some young guys who were cliff-diving.  Not in the usual place which is at the other end of the Malecon and much more open, and I was horrified by this tight rocky location.  But the kid came up in one piece. 

What the photo doesn’t show is how close the other side is.
View of the municipal pool from the Malecon before the storm.

On Thanksgiving, the day of the huge deluge, we were able to go a couple of miles from the marina and meet up with our friend Patrick from Seattle (who we coincidentally discovered was in town) and have a turkey dinner at a local spot.  It was fun to see him and Diana, as well as the Mexican families who were out, and get to sing happy birthday in Spanish to a young girl having a family dinner.  The family then sent cake around to everyone. 

Even several days after the storm we saw water bubbling up in town.
An abandoned building project near occupied new condos.

One impact of obvious boom and bust cycles in Mazatlan are the number of abandoned hulks of hotel buildings.  In the back of our marina resort, a huge resort relic lined both the street and the beach, while across the street there is new construction.    Definitely weird.   

One of many hallways in the market.

On another day we food shopped in the huge covered market.  The public market in old town was an almost overwhelming experience.  From street food taco stands (excellent) to meat vendors with pig heads inside, it seemed that you could find anything you needed in that place if you looked hard enough.

I did not want a pig’s head.

The shrimp we got from the “shrimp ladies” down the road were yummy.   It was interesting that there were many shrimp ladies but it appears the prices are set – it must be a collective of some sort. 

The shrimp lady we purchased from. All the posted signs had the same prices, so we judged based on amount of ice in the buckets. They were delicious!!

On another stormy day we did a dinghy cruise around the rest of the marina area and estuary, which has been developed with many nice houses on canals.  Lots of high end homes lined the banks of the canals, much like Florida.  There is money here.  Not sure if it is expats or Mexican nationals.

We were walking around during a very hot afternoon. We hadn’t yet figured out that siesta is a real thing when it is hot as hell.

On our last night we went into town for dinner and afterward walked the square, which was hopping with locals.  We were fortunate to see an impressive performance from the dance troupe that we had seen practicing a few days earlier at the Arts facility.  The kids were extremely talented and put on a very tight and exciting performance.  

This colorful doorway to an abandoned property exemplifies Mazatlan.

La Paz Part 2

El Nopal – “The Cactus” was the name of our spanish school. Here is the school mascot on the sidewalk outside.

After finishing up with CUBAR at Marina Costa Baja outside of town, we moved into town to Marina Cortez after the tropical storm rain blew through.  Marina Cortez is right at the end of the Malecon, and at the beginning of the street for the Spanish school where we took lessons for a week.  We wanted to be able to easily experience La Paz right outside our door rather than be beholden to taxis. 

There is a large basin surrounded by a floating breakwater/dock at Marina Cortez. They only have one set of conventional finger piers installed so far, but there is room for at least one more.
Beach bar right next to the Marina and the start of the Malecon.

The marina itself had a lot of sport fishing boats as well as sailboats from the Baja Haha, nice wide cement docks and potable water, which we know we will not often find in Mexico at marinas.  It was rolly though, which confirmed our decision to choose Costa Baja as the place to put the boat during hurricane season when we won’t be here.  Construction is under way on a large condominium building overlooking the marina, so we did have that contend with during the day, but they always wrapped up by sunset at 6.  It did freak me out a bit to watch the guys up on the structure with little to no safety gear. 

On the weekdays our routine settled into me leaving for Spanish class around 7:30, meeting up with Larry in the courtyard of the Spanish school El Nopal when he arrived for his classes at 11am and then  walking back to the boat by way of local shops like the tortilleria and panaderia (bread and pastry shop).  It was about a half hour walk through local streets.  After Larry finished class at 2pm we ran errands around town – a way of sightseeing – visited yet another dentist for my ongoing dental odyssey,  or enjoyed tacos at a taqueria and relaxed. 

The fried grasshopper, or chapuline, we tried in my class. Tasty once I got over the resistance.

We loved our Spanish classes and highly recommend El Nopal.  The school is in a set of small buildings around a large courtyard.  Our fellow students were a mix of expats and a few other boaters, and there was also a group of home-schooled Mexican children who were there for various subjects and had recess around us in the courtyard.    We rotated through several teachers who concentrated on conversation mixed with grammar.  It was a lot of fun to immediately be able to practice in our life outside of the school. 

I love the bright colors on many of the buildings.
One of the loveliest homes I saw.
This home was clearly abandoned although I loved the doors.

In our walks, and from friends, we learned that the sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner – not just cleaning and repair, but creating them in the first place.  We searched out streets to walk on where the sidewalks were more consistent and we didn’t have to do as much climbing up and down steps or wading out into the street.    The streets themselves also vary from paved (not that many) to dirt roads.   There is no apparent zoning, so homes of various levels of sophistication are interspersed with businesses and even vacant lots. 

Peppers and limes at the Supermercado…. the one with the Cow on the roof.
Ed note: I told Gwen that she should not take pictures of men armed with automatic weapons….
View inside a shop for party dresses.

While we were at Marina Cortez, we finally got around to assembling and testing our “surf landing” dinghy. This is one that is much smaller and lighter than our 12 ft Apex tender and it’s 30 HP outboard. The idea is that you can land your small dinghy on the beach and quickly drag it up out of the surf. On the way back, the theory is that you push through the surf, hop on board, start the engine and away you go. We have yet to test the theory…. Anyway, this is a 9 ft Zodiac air floor dinghy with a 3.5 HP Tohatsu outboard. We are still working out the best way to stow and deploy it. We will report on success (or lack of) in future posts.

The new beach landing dinghy.

There is always something interesting happening on the Malecon. One evening we were going back to visit at CostaBaja, and we encountered a Classic Car show crusing down the Malecon. It was cool, though it did slow things down a bit.

Classic pickups on the Malecon.

On our last night splurged at the restaurant Les Tres Virgenes, reputedly the best restaurant in town.  The rain had disappeared so the courtyard was open where we could watch the grill chef at work, enjoy the perfect temperature and an amazing meal with an excellent bottle of Mexican wine and 3 courses for an extremely reasonable price. 

We will back in the spring to sample more of local La Paz culture.

La Paz – Costa Baja

The CUBAR Rally wrapped up at Marina Costa Baja in La Paz. We arrived there on November 15 and stayed until the 19th because of weather. This marina is about 5 miles out of town on a more newly developed piece of land with a related resort. They have potable water and the inner basin where we stayed is very well-protected from swell and storms. We made a reservation to keep our boat here over the summer hurricane season. We’ll be in the very same slip.

The Inner Basin of Marina Costa Baja. We are on the first pier, about 3/4 of the way out on the far side.

Our first night there we wanted to celebrate reaching the La Paz milestone, so we splurged and headed to the Sunset Bar up on the hill at the resort. We got a ride in a golf cart, but soon found ourselves on the side of the road because the golf cart battery was a bit low, and it couldn’t make it up the hill. Our scooter escort tried to help us, but no bueno. It was quite humorous all the way around, and we eventually hitched a ride up in the golf course van.

Racing to help give us a push up the hill. Didn’t work.
Us on the side of the road – still got to see the sunset!

The next morning we headed into La Paz early to attend a cooking class. Unfortunately there was a misunderstanding about scheduling and the class did not occur, but we had a great half-hour conversation with Christina the restaurant owner at Nim while we waited, and we returned that night for a very nice dinner. I am lucky because later Penny gave me the recipes from the year they did the cooking class at Nim, and I am looking forward to making tortilla soup, ceviche and other dishes.

We walked the malecon under threatening clouds, had a second breakfast and then headed back to the boat to do boat chores.

The malecon – still early on a Saturday morning!
One of the many statues welcoming us to the harbor.
From the far end of the malecon, near Marina Cortez where we stayed later.

CUBAR wrapped up on that Sunday night in the midst of some bursts of torrential rain at the final party. You can see from our photo how windy it was!

Courtesy Justin at NoblemanProductions and CUBAR.

Overall, CUBAR was a fantastic experience and one we recommend. We have made some great new friends and could not have asked for better weather for our transits. What a great introduction to boating in Mexico.

East Coast of Baja California Sur

We left San Jose Del Cabo at a civilized time for a day’s journey to our intermediate stop before La Paz, on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula and our last stop with CUBAR. Bahía de los Muertos (muertos means dead) is also known as Bahía de Los Sueños (Bay of Dreams), which sounds better. It is a moderately protected anchorage and good stopping point for the day for travelers on the way to or from La Paz, or waiting to cross the Sea of Cortez to the mainland side of Mexico. 

Stunning vista on our port side for hours!
I imagine this is an old mission.

On the way, we watched the change in the coastline from desert browns and sands to lush greens.  Clearly there is more rain on this side of Baja.  Most of the coastline was empty, but at times villages were apparent.  We were several miles offshore so it was a bit challenging to get good photos and things were more visible through our binoculars.

We also listened to weather discussions on the radio of an incoming tropical storm – Tropical Storm Raymond. It was apparent that it would have some impact once we were in La Paz, but as the storm was a day or more away from us on the other side of Baja in the Pacific, we were fine to finish our transit over the next 48 hours.

Abandoned pier in the cove. Apparently much of the land surrounding this bay has become privately owned very recently.
A private hacienda overlooking the bay. It was unoccupied while we were there.

We got in to Muertos with just enough time to spare to take our first swim of the trip before the sun set and after we put out the flopper stopper.

The water temp was a luxurious 80 degrees.  I had no hesitation at jumping right in to cool off.  It is amazing how much saltier the water is than in the Pacific Northwest.  This makes us very buoyant.  Normally I have to work to stay afloat, but here I am perfectly neutral.   We have a faucet with freshwater on the back of the boat that pulls out to be a shower head, so getting the salt off is incredibly easy too.  We know how lucky we are!

The next morning it was up and out to La Paz!

A rainy, stormy welcome to La Paz.