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Puerto Vallarta to Zihuatanejo

Yes, it’s a Mexican tongue twister. Can you say ‘Zee-wha-ten-AY-ho’?

Zihuatenejo map (55K)First, 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 Sunrise at sea off Tenacatita (61K)be 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.

Tenacatita French restaurant (62K)The 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.

Bill & Signe swimming (63K)Bill Bergsten on the beach at San Juan de Lima (64K)Our 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.

Alvarez kids and cottage at San Juan de Lima (61K)Paloma (‘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 Janet Daniella Bill & Signe at San Juan de Lima (60K) 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 Cocodrilos in Marina Ixtapa (56K)resident 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!

Francisco & Signe (60K)Bill & Jan on the beach at Ixtapa (61K)Our 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!

Ken Rick & Signe @ Rick's Bar (36K)We 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).

Zihuatenejo beach (62K)Zihua 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.

Zihuatenejo bus (62K)To 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.

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