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.

A stressful "puzzler"…

I remember the NPR radio show “Car Talk”, and how each week Tom and Ray would have a segment called “the puzzler” in which they tried to diagnose some weird car problem.  Well, I have a boat version of the puzzler. As I mentioned in a previous post, when preparing to depart from Tenacatita the engine suddenly shut down after idling along for a few minutes.  This was not good.  At all.  Diesel engines are simple and reliable… and almost all issues are related to fuel delivery.  We have been battling fuel delivery demons on and off since departing in October, and believe me, you do not want to have a fuel delivery issue when traveling offshore.

My immediate suspect was the Racor 900 duplex filter assembly.  This fancy setup has two fuel filters connected by a selector valve.  You can run the fuel through one filter or the other, or both.  The value of this setup is redundancy.  If, for some reason, your fuel filter gets clogged (say by some bad fuel), you can simply select the other filter, keep the engine running, and then change the clogged filter.  Sounds good right?  Yes, if it actually works.

You may recall that we actually bought a brand new filter assembly back in Sidney before we started on the journey down the coast.  This was part of solving the air bubbles in fuel line problem that was causing very disturbing RPM variation (post).  We determined that the old filter assembly was leaking air, and as a matter of expediency, we simply had Philbrooks install a new one.  We were dismayed to observe that the new filter assembly also leaked, so the guys tightened up the bolts on the fuel selector valve, and all (seemed) good.  In retrospect I believe that was a mistake.  Anyway, we took off, ran 2700 NM down the Pacific Coast of North America, and had no problems…. Until I changed the fuel filter.  I did what I always do in this situation – I turned the selector to the unused filter and replaced the used filter.  The next time we started the boat, the engine died.  It was clear that there was something wrong with the selector valve, at least in the position of the forward, or looking at the assembly, the left filter.  I also noted that the selector lever was extremely tight, and it was very difficult to feel the “detent” indicating the selection of that filter.  Long story short(er), we had the selector valve rebuilt, did a sea trial, tested all positions, seemingly successfully, and thought we were good to go. 

We left from La Cruz down to Bahia Chamela, and later to Bahia Tenacatita, a total of about 130 NM underway.  All good.  Until the morning in Tenacatita.  When the engine shut down, I checked the filter assembly.  The level of fuel in the active filter was quite low.  I refilled the filter with fresh fuel and then went through the process of priming the fuel system and bleeding the injectors.  It seemed obvious when working the manual priming pump that there was air getting into the fuel line regardless which filter was selected.  My experience has been that when you are working the manual pump, it becomes stiffer as the air is replaced with fuel when bleeding at the secondary, or engine, filter.  This was not happening.  I could not get the engine primed with fuel.  Also, I noticed that the selector valve was very tight, like before, even after it was rebuilt.

The Racor dual filter assembly drained of fuel and ready to be disassembled. The troublesome selector valve has a yellow handle. Below the fuel filter assembly is the fuel supply manifold, to it’s right is the return manifold. This allows me to select which tank to draw fuel from (we have four).

Because I was very suspicious of the selector valve, I decided to disassemble the manifold and plumb together a single filter module.  I got it done and went through the priming routine again, and this felt a bit better – the pump was offering some resistance.  But, bleeding the injectors was not successful.  I managed to get engine started, but it shut down again, and again, it seemed clear that there was air coming in somehow.  And again, the fuel level in the filter module was low, even though I refilled it completely when I reassembled it.  Listening carefully, I could actually hear the sound of some air leaks around the body of the filter module.  The supply line from the tank via the manifold had some old black electrical tape at the joint between the hose and fitting.  I wondered if it had been suspected as a leak previously, so I replaced the electrical tape with a good wrap of rescue tape.  That wasn’t it.  There was a black plastic nut beside the fuel input port, and I was able to tighten that a little bit.  Also, it seemed that there may have been a leak between the upper and lower parts of the filter assembly, so I tried tightening the four retaining bolts and was able to get a bit of a turn on three of them.  Repeating the priming process again, still no start. 

In desperation I made another call to my man Lance at Diesel Premier (he had been taking my calls and offering advice all day – even though it was Super Bowl Sunday).  His suspicion was the supply from the tank.  We had been drawing and returning to the starboard tank, but have regularly alternated between port and starboard.  It didn’t make much sense to me… but it was an easy thing to try.  I though there must be something else, so I put a wrench on all of the fittings on the Racor filter and on the engine side.  I was able to get a bit of a turn on each of them, including those to and from the fuel pump assembly on the engine.  After one last round of priming and injector bleeding, I was finally able to get the engine started and running.  We ran it up to 1700 RPM for a few minutes and left it to idle for at least 30 minutes.  No problems.  I put an old filter top vacuum gauge on and it was recording good, low, but non-zero vacuum.  After running, I checked the fuel level in the housing, and disturbingly, it was low.  I estimated that I needed to add about 24 oz of diesel to bring it back up to the top.  I did see a little bit of fuel between the bowl and housing when I checked the level, but it is hard to tell whether that is a real leak or the result of small drips when topping off with diesel.  I suspect a leak in the filter housing itself. 

I refilled it and we decided to take the chance the next day on the 12 NM run to Barra de Navidad where we could be at a marina to make repairs. We made it with the wing engine idling the whole time, just in case.  We were nervous the whole time, not confident that my single filter jury-rig was reliable. There weren’t any detectable RPM variations the whole time.

The simplified setup with a single Racor fuel filter. This seems to be working…

So, here we are in Barra trying to figure this thing out.  I have some clear hose and fittings on the way so that I should be able to see any obvious air bubbles or leaks in the system.  There have been many suggestions for potential causes including a bad fitting, a bad piece of hose, tiny holes in the tube that draws fuel out of the tank, etc.  In the meantime, I replaced the Racor filter housing that I suspected of leaking with the other one, that seems not to leak.  We actually ran the boat for a couple of hours on this setup without any problems.  While I will systematically address all the possible sources of leaks, I remain very suspicious of the filter and assembly.  I have spare parts on order to completely rebuild that.

So that’s our puzzler for this week.

Bahía Tenacatita

After 4 nights at Chamela, the weather looked good for our 30 NM run down to Bahía Tenacatita.  It was another nice, easy passage.  We talked to our friends from CUBAR on Mahalo, who were headed North from Tenacatita to Puerto Vallarta to watch the Super Bowl.  Apparently, there was a mass exodus from the anchorage to places with TVs to watch the big game.  Being Seahawks fans, we had no such need. 

Saw another turtle on the way. Love these guys!

Tenacatita is a much larger bay than Chamela, and has better protection from the Northwest swell.  The head of the bay is a long sand beach that extends to a resort in the NE corner and over to an estuary entrance at the NW corner. Of course, over the days that we were here, the swell was more from the SW.  This time we went deep into the anchorage, almost closest to the beach.  It was much less rolly than Chamela, but we still wound up putting out the second flopper stopper after the first night at anchor.   

We learned that there is a free-for all on this coast of Mexico as far as developers go. Apparently in the last 10 years, this stretch of beach on either side of Tenacatita has been hotly contested in a land dispute that seems to have been resolved, but did result in the razing of all the palapas that were on the beach below about 10 years ago. Only one has returned.

The other side of Tenacatita. Bigger swell.
Picking our way in the mini-tender through the mangroves.

One of the highlights of Tenacatita is a tour of the estuary, through mangroves that close into a bit of a natural tunnel in places, just wide enough for a dinghy to make it through.  It is also quite shallow in places, meaning that we needed to use the small dinghy again.  It was challenging to pick our way through the narrow estuary, but after about 2.5 NM, we eventually emerged into a lagoon that was behind the beach at the next bay to the west of the main anchorage. 

Here a group of us had arranged for a tour of a Racilla distillery just up the road from the beach.  We were picked up in a van, and had a very nice tasting and lunch, learning quite a bit about how this local, indigenous cooperative produces Mezcal.  Their showcase offering is a 17 year old “Anejo” Racilla, which is the smoothest liquor of this type that I have tasted to date.  It was outstanding.  

The entry to the Cooperative that supports the indigenous makers of raicilla.
Our wonderful host – he spoke such clear Spanish at an even pace that we could understand nearly everything he told us.

Across the bay from the anchorage is the little town of La Manzanilla. On one of our days we headed into the beach and to town via a long and windy taxi ride to hit the weekly farmers market for some fresh produce. We stopped for lunch at one of the local lunch places that our cruiser compatriots liked. Great food, but Gwen had the disturbing experience of finding a huge 2 inch dead beetle in the bottom of her limonada glass after all the ice had melted. Definitely put a damper on her warm and fuzzy feelings for the place. The manager did the right thing and our lunch was free, so not naming the place.

Surf landings and dinghy wheels

Most of the anchorages in this part of Mexico are bays with at least some exposure to the Pacific Ocean and thus the beautiful sandy beaches have some amount of surf.  That is why we bought the small dinghy, but up until now we had not actually attempted a surf landing. When we went into La Manzanilla we did our first surf landing, under the tutelage of some experienced cruisers that we were going into town with.  The idea is to wait for a lull in the waves and then gun it at the beach before the next wave catches you, gracefully jumping out of the dinghy, keeping it from getting sideways, turning off the engine, and dragging it up onto the beach.  That is the theory anyway.  I’ll say that our first landing was not completely dry, but we didn’t tip the dinghy over… as we saw many others do.  And on the way back we learned that the “surf takeoff” is the hard part.  You drag the dinghy down to the water’s edge, push it into the surf deep enough so that it floats and the outboard can be tilted down into place, keep it straight, keep the waves from tipping it over, start the engine, and take off.  Easy as that.  Sometimes. 

Gwen soaking wet after taking a big wave from the bow of the dingy. She often looks like this after micro dingy adventures. We also stopped wearing our inflatable life vests since they were bound to keep exploding.

We quickly realized that we needed to install the fold up wheels that we had purchased to make surf landings and takeoffs a safer and drier affair.  The wheels make it much easier both on landing and takeoff.  Coming in to the beach with the wheels folded down keeps the outboard prop from digging into the sand, and when the wheels make contact, it’s time to hop out.  They make it easy to guide the dinghy into the surf and start the motor before boarding.  We didn’t have room to install them on the boat, so we packed up the necessary equipment and headed over to the beach to do the installation.  Gwen got drenched and rolled in the sand again on arrival.

Thank goodness for portable power tools.

Installing the wheels was really easy to do, just a matter of mounting a couple of brackets on the transom.  We took some measurements so the wheels would not interfere with the outboard or inflatable tubes, drilled four holes through the transom, slathered the brackets with silicone sealant and bolted them on.  The wheels are on steel legs that attach to the brackets with removable pins, and they simply flip up or down and lock into place. It was one of those satisfying boat jobs that only took about twice as long as it should have.  After letting the silicone dry for a bit, we had a stress-free surf takeoff!

Wheels up.
Wheels down.

After being in Tenacatita for several days, we decided to head further South to explore Manzanillo before heading back to Barra de Navidad, where we are meeting friends at the end of the month.  As we started our departure preparations, we started the engine, as usual, only to have it stall out after running for a few minutes.  This was not good… not good at all.  I immediately suspected our fuel filter system which has given us trouble off and on for the entire journey, most recently in Puerto Vallarta.  Anyway, we wound up spending the day making repairs, which will be the subject of another blog post.

The next morning I woke up early and saw the anchor alarm had gone off. A squall had come through in the night and it was still fairly windy, but we were so exhausted from dealing with the fuel system issue we slept right through it. Also, unlike the northwest where you hear every minor movement of the anchor against the bottom, there is no sound of an anchor dragging on sand.   It was well before daylight, so I checked our position against other nearby boats.  Sure enough, we were closer, but still a safe distance away.  As soon as the sun came up we prepared to raise the anchor.  All went smoothly, and this time the engine kept running (thank goodness).  We started up the wing engine just in case.  As we raised the anchor, we saw that it was completely wrapped up in it’s own chain… no wonder we dragged! 

We carefully moved away from all the other boats in the anchorage and tried to figure out how we would get the anchor loose.  At 137 lbs, we were not just going to pick it up and unwrap the chain.  Eventually we managed to get a line through the bar across the back end of the anchor to take some strain off the chain.  We then got another line through the chain near the shank of the anchor and were eventually able to get it all free.  Thanks to Hugo from another Nordhavn for providing moral and physical support from his dingy!

Halfway through the detangling. At first there were 3 wraps of chain around the whole anchor.

What a couple of days!  We had decided to head to Barra de Navidad and a marina 12 miles away to further evaluate the fuel delivery problem. We made it without difficulty, but not without anxiety.

Authored by Larry with editing and colorful additions from Gwen.

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!

Boat Stamp

One thing we’ve learned during our travels in Mexico is that officials love their paperwork. Entering the country, we needed to complete a Temporary Import Permit for the boat, obtain Tourist Visas for all crew and formally check in to the country. This was not too much of a problem, and one of the aspects of cruising to Mexico that the CUBAR Rally made easier.

Once in Mexico, you actually need to check into and out of each port with the Port Captain, reporting your boat information, crew list, where you are coming from and where you are going next. So you have two pieces of paper for every port you visit. Often the marina will complete the paperwork and you go over to the port to get your paperwork stamped.

Well, after going through this a couple of times we decided that we wanted our own stamp. If every port captain is gonna make us fill out paperwork and stamp it, then we are too!!

A picture of the boat stamp on a piece of paper

Here it is. We were able to make it online (of course) and the biggest issue was getting the line art for the boat. With a little bit of searching I was able to find a method for converting a photo to something resembling a drawing (https://smallbusiness.chron.com/convert-photographs-line-drawings-gimp-46192.html) . I outlined the shape of the boat to eliminate the background and using a combination of effects, filters and conversion to black and white, I was able to get the image you see above.

The original image.

If you ever come aboard Miss Miranda, make sure you have your paperwork, and we’ll be sure to stamp it!!

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!