Puerto Vallarta to
Yes, it’s a Mexican tongue twister. Can
you say ‘Zee-wha-ten-AY-ho’?
just to keep Jan happy, the statistics: We have reached the farthest south
and east we’ll go this winter. Raven has traveled over 3,100 nautical
miles (3,500 land miles) from Tacoma, and we’ve reached a latitude well
south of Hawaii. Since leaving Puerto Vallarta, we’ve been sailing more
east than south, and are now almost as far east as Wichita! As the raven
flies, we’re over 2,000 miles from home, and actually a hundred miles
closer to Philadelphia than to Tacoma. In 1999, we got as far north as
Glacier Bay, Alaska, which is 3,000 miles north of Zihuatanejo, and quite
a few degrees cooler! Kind of neat to realize how far we’ve come in six
months, step by step. Jan and I periodically have one of those “How the
heck did a couple of kids from West Chester, PA get here?” moments, and
you can understand why.
Now that we have that base covered,
I’ll relate the tale of the last two weeks. We decided to leave Puerto
Vallarta a bit earlier than planned, mostly because of the arrival of good
friend and willing crewmember from Tacoma, Bill Bergsten. Bill was kind
enough to do some overnight passages with us to Zihuatanejo. In no time at
all, we had him converted to the cruising life and standing watches at
night with the best of them.
We left PV in the afternoon of January 2nd,
calculating that it would
a 17-hour trip, 120-mile to Tenacatita. We were trying to avoid ports with
Port Captains, where we would have to go through the time-consuming
check-in and check-out process. Tenacatita also was reported as being a
lovely anchorage. Bill and I were on watch from 3 to 6 a.m. when we began
to enter Tenacatita Bay on a misty and dark morning. I am still not
comfortable navigating 100% by radar and electronic chart, so we crawled
slowly into the anchorage.
There were about ten other boats in the
Bay including a huge motor yacht with a helicopter on board. The Rule of
Boats says that there is always someone with a bigger boat than yours.
treat of the day was to dinghy ashore to the French restaurant for a meal.
We felt like we had landed somewhere in Polynesia, with a winding river
lazing up to a lagoon, a wood framed house with colorfully painted chairs
and tables, chess and other games set out for play, books to trade, crafts
to purchase, etc. Very charming in a decadent sort of way. Turns out the
place was the set for ‘McHale’s Navy,’ but we still expected Paul
Gauguin to show up for lunch. Spent several happy hours ensconced on the
porch eating assiettes du pacifique — shrimp, lobster, and fish aux
trois epices, with plenty of Corona and lime to wash it down. Bill was
well and truly into tropical cruising.
We have been navigating a series of capes
all the way down the west coast. They usually signify a bit more violent,
or at least unsettled weather, and then a warmer climate beyond. From Cape
Mendocino above San Francisco, which was violent, to Cape Caution above
Santa Barbara, which was the definite start of our warm weather, to Cabo
San Lucas and Mexican warmth. This time we rounded Cabo Corrientes south
of Puerto Vallarta’s Banderas Bay and definitely met The Tropics. It is
HOT — in the 90’s — and humid — 75-80%. In Raven terms, this means
that not much work gets done except early in the morning, and meals mean
eating out if at all possible. I gave Jan a lot of flack for scouring PV
for a big electric fan and two small ones, but now I have to get down on
my knees and salaam. We would be miserable without his fans, and now we
look for fan stores wherever we go, just in case.
next hop was only 90 miles to a small bay called Punta de Cabeza Negra —
‘Blackhead Point’ — not an enticing name, but it did mean one less
overnight. The guidebook said it was a beautiful, palm-lined, half-mile
beach owned by a private club, with a shark fence, and uniformed security
guards to chase you away, so don’t even think about landing or swimming.
But the location was right, and we didn’t need to go ashore anyway. We
did need to swim though, since the sweat was pouring off. I let Bill and
Jan jump in as sacrificial bait for the sharks. Since nothing happened to
them as much bigger, juicier morsels, I figured I was safe. The swim, in
80-degree water, was wonderfully refreshing, and as we were sitting on
deck drying off, two charming young women in a kayak came by, so we
invited them aboard.
(‘Dove’) and Marisol (“Sunflower’) Alvarez told us all about the
beach and the families in the “club.” About 25 years ago, their
grandfather bought a coconut and fruit rancho along the beach, and divided
it among his nine children, who all built houses there. They are all from
Guadalajara and now come down at every opportunity to enjoy the quiet
beauty of the most lovely beach and houses we have seen yet. These were
very well educated young women, each having spent a high school year
studying in Boston and a college year studying in Paris. Later their
French friend, visiting from Paris, kayaked out to join us, so we had a
great multi-lingual conversation in broken Spanish, English and French.
They invited us to come up to the beach and offered to provide anything we
needed including lunch. Yes there were security guards at the entrance
gate, but not on the beach, and the shark nets were a myth their older
brothers scared them with when they were little. So much for cruising
guides. The guides even
got the name of the place wrong; it’s called San
Juan de Lima. The next day Janet and Daniella from another family visited
us, and they were equally as charming. The whole experience was typical of
experiences with the hospitable Mexican people.
We left in the afternoon so that we’d
arrive at Marina Ixtapa after dawn. The night was sultry, but with enough
breeze to start out with the mainsail up for stability as we motorsailed
at eight to nine knots. During Jan’s 12 to 3 a.m. watch, he dodged
around and between a big line of squalls on the radar screen, and we took
down the main because squalls often contain big winds. On Bill’s and my
watch, the squalls all combined into one line that we couldn’t dodge. It
is scary to be sailing near something that looks like solid land on the
radar, even though you know you’re ten miles from shore. But there were
only a few drops of rain and a few knots of wind, a non-event altogether.
One event of the passage was,
unfortunately, only discovered a couple days after our arrival. You may
remember a photo from a past web page of mucho squids on the deck in the
morning. This time there was only one, but when he has turned into smelly
‘squid jerky’ and he is inside your very own cabin, next to the berth,
it is not too pleasant. I at first suspected Jan’s Tevas, which were
next to his side of the berth, but finally discovered the culprit. The
squid had flown through the open hatch during the night. Did it bounce off
a pillow? Who was off-watch and sleeping there at that moment? Eeeww!
At the moment we are in Marina Ixtapa (Icks-STAH-pah),
which is a newish resort complex, all high-rise hotels along a fantastic
beach, but very little “real Mexico.” For that we go to ‘Zihua’,
as the locals call it, about 15 minutes away.
The marina is one of several in prime
locations that were lavishly planned on the Pacific Coast, but due to the
devaluation of the peso six years ago, the developer has been in
bankruptcy ever since and the marinas remain unfinished. Marina Ixtapa has
some power and water, but many unfinished docks and none of the shoreside
amenities advertised. And there are the traditional piles rusting rebar
and rough concrete that signify uncompleted buildings in Mexico, most of
them artifacts of the ‘94 peso devaluation that devastated the middle
class. There is so much unfulfilled potential here, it’s sad to see the
problems! Everyone has high hopes that the new president of Mexico,
Vincente Fox, will be able to turn things
around. The one ‘amenity’ the marina here does have is
crocodiles, which tend to discourage swimming or having the bottom of the
hull cleaned. I even saw one cruising the next slip. The scuttlebutt is
that you should never let your dog or cat wander along the docks!
trusty crewmember, Bill, decided that we should spend his last day here in
style: at the cushiest beach hotel he could find. He cased the whole beach
during his early-morning walk and found the Krystal, with cushy chairs on
the beach, individual palapas (palm-thatched roofs), swimming pool, and
our own waiter, Francisco, to bring us whatever our little hearts desire.
Now every day Francisco asks whether we will be back mañana. Jan is
pretty sure we’ve been over-tipping!
go into Zihuatanejo almost every day, either for a meal, or to shop or
just to hang out with friends at the cruisers headquarters, Rick’s Bar.
Rick is a former cruiser himself, so he knows what people want — clean
showers, beer, clean toilets, music, laundry service, Spanish, art and
culture courses, etc. Last night they had a Mexican Train dominoes
tournament and a potluck hors d’oeuvres party. Of course, we were there!
Afterward, we had dinner with five other cruisers at a wonderfully
authentic Mexican restaurant (our check was $13, including a big tip).
is full of life and charm. It is an old fishing village and only seems to
fill up with gringos when there is a cruise ship in town once a week.
There are huge trees lining the beach with restaurants among them.
Fishermen still pull their pangas up on the beach and sell their fish
early in the morning. There are plenty of taquerias (taco shops),
panaderias (bakeries), and little holes in the wall that sell every kind
of thing you can imagine. The outside speaker for our VHF radio corroded
out, so Jan needed a replacement. We wandered the streets until we found
“Stereo Central”, three little shops all next to each other that sold
everything from the ground-thumping huge car speakers to the minis that we
needed. They had a speaker that was good enough, and Jan checked off
another job on the list.
Yesterday I ventured into the big
Mercado, the food market that sells everything from flower petals (for a
delicious tea called ‘Jamaica’) to fresh-killed pigs with blood
dripping. Some things you wouldn’t touch with a barge pole since they
are covered in flies. Other things are fantastic, like the strawberries I
found. It is a total assault on all the senses, and totally fascinating.
get to Zihua from the marina, we take the bus, a 4 peso (43 cents), 15
minute ride. The more we travel, the more we learn. Each bus seems to be
individually owned, so they have their own style of decoration from
fringed curtains to glittering decals. Each driver has his own method of
attracting potential customers: a horn with a wolf whistle or a moose
call, or calling out “Zihua-Zihua.” And they never pull away
leaving passengers on the curb. At some times of the day they drive at
about three miles an hour waiting for clients to accumulate at each stop.
Other times, they bustle into town to get as many runs in as possible. We
think we may have figured out the system, but then they always surprise us
with another wrinkle. In fact that could just about sum up the whole trip!
A few days later: We have
now moved over to the Playa la Ropa anchorage near Zihuatanejo. The beach
near us is lined with tempting palapa restaurants and, best of all, it’s
much cooler here. The midday breezes get up to 10 knots, which cools off
the boat’s interior nicely. The only downside is having to dinghy across
the bay into town and land at a fairly polluted beach; all the cruisers
carefully wash their hands, legs and feet after wading ashore. The upside
is that a Mexican naval base guards the dinghies on the beach. To keep
cool, we swim off the stern several times a day, and dinghy ashore
sometimes to have lunch at one of the palapas. Then into town most
evenings for dinner with friends.
Paul and Michelle are coming to visit us
in Puerto Vallarta for Presidents’ Weekend, so we know we must
eventually turn around and start heading north, but it is really hard to
get motivated. It is so idyllic here. We think this must be the place
Jimmy Buffet had in mind.