CHAPTER 16: January 18th- March 27th, 2003: Return to Final Port in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta, and Preparations for "Puddle Jump"
At Rest at Sunset in Careyes
As I last wrote we were, and still are located at the beautiful resort and marina in Barra de Navidad (close to Manzanillo) called Grand Bay resort. Our days have gotten fairly lazy, laid back, hassle free — and what a wonderful break that is. There aren’t many projects on the list to be done, and what little there are, Joe and Jake (our adopted crew person — see previous chapter) finish up quickly in the morning. Then Jake usually goes off "exploring" hiking in the beautiful area around us, or near the lagoon or in one of the nearby towns, while Joe enjoys the afternoons by the wonderful 3 level pool at the resort here. Joe finds a shady spot, takes his book and a jug of ice water to drink (as the “mixed” drinks at the pool bar start at 6-7$ and go up from there!), and reads or falls asleep... mixed in with an occasional dip in the pool with a plunge down a super slide they have here that propels you from one pool down into the next pool one level down. I sometimes join him, or lately, have just been staying in the boat enjoying the air conditioning (yes, it’s still BLAZING hot!) and having the boat to myself to read or nap. I've already walked the town's streets for "bargains"... and I guess I'm shopped out as I bought so much stuff in Z-what.
This week at the resort has been really busy as they not only have had a convention of Jacuzzi employees from the US here, but also over the weekend is their big annual billfish (as well as dorado and tuna) tournament. Yesterday on the lawn-park near the hotel grounds they had hundreds and hundreds of fish all lying on the ground waiting with their "catcher's" (mostly mahi-mahi and marlin) to be weighed and measured. It was quite a site. Hopefully the crowd will be gone though by tomorrow and we'll have our peace and quiet back.
We go into the town of Barra (via water taxi) several nights a week to have a drink at sunset at one of the bars. They have about the most gorgeous views of sunset anywhere here... partially because at sunset all the surfers go out also, and from the angle that we watch it from, you have a clear view of the sunset with the big waves and surfers in front. After sunset, we walk around (all the shops are open and lit up and the evenings are cool here) and find a place for dinner. Today we are going to one of the palapa restaurants in the lagoon for a fish lunch and to find some fresh produce, hopefully. So life is wonderful.
Well last night we had quite a surprise. I was standing at the top of a dock at the marina in an outdoor pay phone mounted on a wall at the edge of a rock wall trying to call my son. All of a sudden, an earthquake hit: it got dark (all lights went out), then the phone disconnected, and by then I realized the ground was rocking (actually jolting) HARD under my feet. I dropped the phone, finally and figured where I was, was not in the safest place, and ran out in the open... but when I looked up I realized there were about 50 palm trees around me... all with huge coconuts which at any minute I was sure were going to become bombs, so I kept walking until I could only see sky over me. It seemed to last for a long time. Of course everyone on the boats came running out of their boats; the docks and posts that hold the docks up were swaying all around. We later heard that a few of the boats in the anchorage nearby quickly pulled anchor, as they were worried about the after affect-- i.e. a tsunami. We finally heard on CNN that the epicenter of the quake was only 50 miles away from us in a small town called Colima... and measured 7.8!! That's bigger than any of the LA ones I think, and certainly bigger than anything I've ever felt in California! We lost power and of course, I never could get back through to Scott... but no damage and all is well. Although about 2 hours ago we had another 5-8 second roller -- too late to be an after shock, so I guess they will call it "continued seismic activity." Just another day in paradise... first the only hurricane (and Category V at that) to ever hit Puerto Vallarta caught us in October, and now a 7.8 earthquake!
Avalon, another boat with a couple that we like (that we did a lot of dinners, drinks, shopping with in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo) arrived here yesterday, so now I have someone to "do things" with. She and I are going to a small tienda (typical neighborhood grocery store that is usually about ¼ the size of a 7/11 in the US) in a nearby village that has fresh fruit, vegetables, and other staples to get some things for the boat. Even that though is a major effort. The village is right next to the resort, but there is a high barbed wire fence around the resort (I assume to keep villagers/locals OUT of the resort property. But it also keeps us OUT of the village.) Joe and I explored around trying to find a way to get around or through the fence and found about a half a mile away, there is a place where the fence goes down into the water and at low tide, we can, without totally submerging ourselves in water, get around the fence and into the village. ... That involves walking down a steep rocky cliff, then holding onto the fence at the bottom and swinging ourselves around to the other side of the fence... to more rocks... walking another few yards, to finally a beach where the village is. Now that is hard enough, but picture the RETURN trip doing this balancing act WHILE holding onto 4-5 bags of groceries! Always an adventure... just to do the simplest of things (such as shopping for food) that we take for granted in the US... But the area we are in is so small it doesn't have a grocery store, and although my freezer is filled and we have lots of “dry” goods, its been several weeks since we left Ixtapa and stocked up on fruits, vegetables, and bread.
Yes we even get the Super Bowl in Paradise! While staying in the luxury of a marina, here on the dock we get quite a few channels via Satellite, which is great! Another couple is coming over and we will have food and drinks and have our own little party. I could care less about it, but Joe enjoys it and it will be nice looking at scenes from San Diego. Plus I DO like the clever advertisements in it and like the company of the other couple, Eileen and Randy from Avalon. So today I am going through my cookbooks and finding recipes of some goodies I can make -- the challenge is finding something I can make with ingredients I have already on board... as shopping supplies in this little town are about nil (as explained above).
After a wonderful relaxing 3 weeks, tonight is our last night in Barra de Navidad before we continue our voyage north back to Puerto Vallarta. In about an hour we are going to take a taxi (actually a water taxi--then a regular taxi) to the town of Melaque, which is about 15 minutes away. There they have a great restaurant on the water with 2 Canadian women that run it (one manager and one chef). It had been recommended to us and the other day, my friend Eileen (from Avalon) and myself went there for lunch to check it out. Has a great setting and wonderful food. We had focaccia bread sandwiches with grilled mahi-mahi in soy/ginger sauce and a wasabi mayonnaise dressing (all for only $3.00, on top of being great)... plus a basket of wonderful cheese/olive bread on the side. They appear to have quite an eclectic California/Pacific Rim... type dinner menu (with most entrees in the 8-9$ range) so thought it would be a great last night dinner place to share with our other couple-friends. It's also a great place to see the sunset from.
Plus to make it even better, another couple on a boat called Sirrah II (also cruisers we met in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo) just arrived today and will be joining us tonight. All 3 of us are planning on "buddy" boating back to Puerto Vallarta, so we'll have some company in out in the 3 anchorages we have left before arriving back in Paradise Village (Both other boats are going there for a while also before heading up into the Sea of Cortez).
We will probably have some rough weather ahead of us in the next couple of weeks as it's "that time of the year" for the northerners (as they call the winds that whip down the Sea of Cortez and then get in a battle with the Pacific Ocean!)... and we will be beating up wind all of the legs of our trip. The next 2 legs are fairly short though (only 12-18 miles each) so about half day trips. But the last 2 will involve some nighttime sailing and longer distances. I have gotten out a new seasick pill for Jake to try tomorrow... since he had such a rough time of the trip to Barra — so we’ll see how that works.
February 2nd: Underway
Well, we all (Avalon, Sirrah II and Mi Gitana) left for our short 3 hour trip to Tenacatita, but instead Sirrah discovered a little uncharted (at least not in any of our Cruising Guides) cove about an hour out of port, pulled in, found a beautiful beach and a small resort hotel, radioed us and asked if we (Avalon and us) were willing to make a diversion and stay there for the night. We went on in and although small, there was plenty of room for the 3 of us. We launched the dinghies and headed to shore for a shrimp and fish lunch ashore and some ice cold beers for the guys. So we didn’t make it very far, but discovered a beautiful UN-rolly (important for me) nice anchorage. We will leave tomorrow and continue on to Tenacatita.
February 4th: Tenacatita Bay
We arrived here yesterday after a short motor ride (still no sailable wind) from our “un-named” anchorage and will be here for a couple of days. We stopped here enroute south and this is the location with the long jungle river ride that we went down in our dinghy. We made the trip again today (this time taking Jake with us) in a 3 dinghy caravan with the crew from Avalon and Sirrah II... and at the end of the river had another great lunch on the beach. The other 2 boats (plus Jake) headed back after lunch while Joe and I stayed for a while longer to read our books on the beach and for me to take a dip in the ocean. Tonight we will all get together aboard Mi Gitana for a game of Baja Rummy.
When we came down south and hit this anchorage previously there were only a handful of boats here... now there are about 40. Some boats come here and stay weeks and even months, which we haven't figured out why. There are no restaurants or bars on the beach, let alone anything that resembles "supplies", food, or the like. The closest town is about 45-60 minutes away by bus. But for some reason, this has become a "haven," and the boats gather here... and socialize by dinghy to boats and talk as if it were a telephone on the radio... They also have a bocce (sp?) ball game with "the men" on the beach every afternoon and Mexican Train (dominos) under a grass hut with the "women" daily.
February 7th: Careyes
Yesterday, we traveled only another 15 miles (3 hours) away (still continuing our trip north), to a new anchorage for us (one we skipped on the way south).As we approached the anchorage the hillside were painted with popsickle colored (bright blues, pinks, purples, etc.) houses, condos, and mansions. The anchorage itself is very picturesque anchorage off of the BelAire (sp?) resort in a small place... called Careyes. It is another ritzy place where the rooms start at mid $300's for the night (for those of you who still picture Mexico as “cheap and seedy” — not so anymore as it seems we’ve ended up in a lot of gorgeous 5 star places along this coastline!) Right next to it (stones throw) is a defunct Club Med that closed down its doors a year ago. Both have beautiful beaches and the former a pretty "infinity" pool, which we sat by for a while yesterday. They are also filming some big movie here (called “Kill Bill”) on the grounds so although we haven’t seen any big stars, the film and set crew are all around the resort.
Last night we had the most gorgeous sunset we've had in our entire travels (and we've seen a lot!) and I took about 30 photos... problem is narrowing them down to chose which ones to put on the website. Each couple of minutes after the sun went down, the sky kept getting more and more spectacular. (One sample is at the top of this page… others are here are in a series of 4 as the evening colors progressed: )
After one day and night here our friends on the other 2 boats had had enough of this anchorage (it’s quite rocky) so they took off today continuing to head towards Puerto Vallarta. We like it here, set a stern anchor (which in combination with a bow anchor holds our nose into the waves) so we don’t rock so much at night, and plan to stay another couple of days.
Today Joe and I went for a dinghy ride to the Club Med grounds, walked around, and then went snorkeling off their beach and saw some interesting colorful fish. One looked like about a 4 ft barracuda, so I instantly held onto my gold chains (as they are attracted to shiny objects) and quickly swam away. A few minutes later I saw him again and assessed it was not a barracuda but still don't know what he was. He seemed aggressive enough though that I kept my distance.
Then after an hour or so, we headed back to the boat (about noon), leaving the little cove we were snorkeling in, and found that a huge wind storm had appeared from out of no where ... from the wrong direction, i.e., almost due south, and had our boat all wacky-jawed...and twisted (we had a bow and stern anchor out to hold our boat into the wind and the waves... but now the wind had shifted drastically and we were getting hit broadside by huge waves.) We took wind measurements and found that our idyllic anchorage now had whitecaps and wind steady between 22-25 knots. We had to release the stern anchor from the boat so that we could swing safely around so our nose was into the wind instead of our beam. Thank god we had a float on the other end showing us where the anchor was set (otherwise it probably would have been gone forever) and then Joe and Jake set out in the dinghy to go and try and retrieve it. An hour later and with the help of another boat in the anchorage, they were able to finally loosen it's powerful grip and get it up in the dinghy and back to our boat. So now we are all aboard again and watching carefully to be sure we don't drag. As although this is a beautiful spot, it is quite a tiny anchorage area and not only are there several other boats here, we are also surrounded by big island-type rocks and surrounding reefs. When we arrived here 2 days ago, it did not seem like a menacing situation, but now, we will have to watch it carefully until we leave early tomorrow morning (especially since we only have one anchor out).
February 9th: Careyes to Chamela
Today we traveled up (still heading North) to Chamela — a stop we made enroute south, that I didn’t particularly like. The first time it was really rolly plus this is where we got drenched and about drowned the dinghy attempting to land and leave the beach!) Chamela was a LOT better this time around, calm at anchorage, and we even got to shore -- in and out-- without getting wet (either the waves were lower — or perhaps Joe and I are getting better at these surf landings!!)... and had a great Palapa fish and shrimp dinner. Now the boys are taking off the motor, bringing the dinghy on deck and securing everything tight as tomorrow we have a long trip with possibly some higher winds and seas. We will leave at 6AM enroute for Ipala (a scheduled 9-10 hour trip).
February 10th: Chamela to Ipala
We are underway now for a 12-13 hour day at sea going from Chamela to Ipala. Then we will rest for a day and hopefully take off at about midnight on for PV (Puerto Vallarta), getting in there mid day. The reason for a midnight departure is the most dangerous and hair raising part of the trip historically is going around a big point (Cabo) known for high winds and seas... it is also the southern entrance into Banderas Bay, where Puerto Vallarta is located. We hope to stop in the Ipala anchorage on the south side of there and wait for a good weather window to go around the point at nighttime when the winds SHOULD (with a lot of hope and a prayer) be less than 25 knots...
Shortly after we began our trip today, we started off thinking what a great day–we were actually sailing with-OUT the engine. Well that lasted for about 30 minutes… then the wind shifted and Joe and Jake have been making sail changes all day… out with one sail, then down again, up with the main, then reef the main, then double reef the main, then reef the mizzen… etc. all of this because the winds kept increasing and increasing. The last 6 hours of our trip were quite "boisterous" with winds between 25-35 and seas at 10 ft and very choppy besides the swells, making for a very rough and uncomfortable journey. AND we haven't even gotten to the "famous" cape above-mentioned that is supposed to be the worse part of the trip. It was a relief to pull into this anchorage a little before sunset last night. We collapsed into bed (me at around 8:30!) as the strain of holding on at all times trying not to get knocked around the boat, as well as the stress, wore us all out. Today is a day of rest before we tackle what is supposed to be the "bad" section of this trip tonight. We are planning to leave sometime after midnight with hopes that perhaps the winds and seas will be lessened by then... with any luck we won't have to turn around and we'll be back in Puerto Vallarta tomorrow before noon, safe and tied up to a dock with ground to walk on.
We will be glad to be back to Paradise Village Resort and Marina, as since we spent several months there (from May — November last year), it is almost like returning to home base... although a lot of the people we met before are out cruising or have left -- there will be new people to meet. Our main priority (besides getting the boat ready) will be to meet other people who are taking their boats and heading to the South Pacific in the next few months, and hopefully a boat or two that has the same departure and cruising destination/plans as us.
February 12th: Paradise Village
We arrived back to Paradise Village resort and marina at about 1PM today after a 12-hour overnight sail. It was supposed to be the roughest most dangerous part of our trip, however it was actually very smooth with only very light winds. Of course the winds were right on the nose so we had to motor the whole way–but what’s new? And to make it a far from perfect trip, about an hour after we departed (at 1 AM!), our auto pilot broke again (2nd time) so we had to hand steer the boat for about 8 hours until Joe could fix it. At least the last time it broke he had taken the whole thing apart so he knew how to do the second time a little quicker. But this time it was something different so it still took a long time to fix as he had to check item by item electrically put it back together, try it out, then when that didn't work, try something else (un-assemble, try something else, put it back together and try it again.) So we kept trying this process for several hours -- him sitting in a dark passage of the boat working in the pitch black with just a flashlight, me at the wheel hand steering by compass. Finally we decided to wait until daybreak and try again, so he took over the hand steering and I took a 2-hour nap until daylight. Then he started on it again and finally found the problem and at least for now temporarily fixed it. So for him, he was up for 36 hours straight before finally crashing in bed tonight.
We had fun on our last 2 weeks of "roughing" it in anchorages, but it sure is nice to be back here.
For those of you unfamiliar with cruising, there is only a very short weather window in which boats can leave Mexico, Central America or California to cross the Pacific Ocean (March and April) that is based on experiences of hundreds of years of boats crossing with the trade winds. For the last several years, there has been a very loose “organization” formed annually of these boats that are planning to cross the Pacific Ocean for the South Pacific Islands, that has been named “The Puddle Jump” (and hence we are Puddle Jumpers). .In the last few days we have been attending the Puddle Jump meetings that are being held here at Paradise Village. The first topic was on Provisioning (the term for stocking the boat of food and supplies) for our long passage. Once we leave here, it will be over 2 months before we get to any grocery stores... so planning is important. Another lecture on Medical emergencies and treatments at sea, tropical illnesses/prevention, etc. Future ones are on Engine Readiness, South Pacific Weather, Radio Communications, etc. So far there are 48 boats signed up to participate in this year's "Puddle Jump" -- the smallest boat being 30' and the largest 74' long. Most boats only have a crew of 2, although some are single -handlers with only a crew of one. So now that our travels are done in Mexico, we will be spending most of our waking time concentrating on getting ready to Cross the Puddle.
I also started right away working out for 1-2 hours at the gym each day -- in the exercise classes. These last few months have been full of eating out a lot… and of course Mexican cuisine is not known for producing shapely bodies! Speaking of calories, Joe DID at least take me out for a nice Valentines dinner (see I had an ulterior motif for getting back to Puerto Vallarta before the 14th!!). We ate at a very upscale restaurant right on the beach, with me getting to have rack of lamb — something rare in Mexico restaurants!
It is a lot cooler here now than when we left here in November with daytime temperatures now only in mid-high 80's (still high, but the humidity is only in 60's versus 80's%-wise) and evenings even in the low 60's... so a lot more pleasant than where we were down south! We can even pull a sheet over us now at night, and get out of the shower and not still be drenching w/ sweat 10 minutes later! So if you’re ever going to take a vacation in this part of Mexico — February is a wonderful month!
We are beginning to tackle a new "to do before we Jump Off" list which went from being only 1-2 items about a month ago to an overwhelming 2 page list now! You know Joe... every "t" will be crossed and every "i" dotted maintenance-wise before we leave here. One of the scary things is 2 times now our auto pilot has broke... and both times he has fixed it, but I am really ancey that perhaps it's trying to tell us something, like maybe it is too old and tired. It would be a looonnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggg trip across the "Puddle" hand steering with just the 2 of us. We do have our wind vane (another type of self steering device) but since we will mostly be going down wind, not sure how well that will work.
Since I mentioned "just the 2 of us"... Jake is going to leave us as our crewmember. He will be flying back to the United States in a few days. He did the best that he could, but with his seasickness (plus the inability to stay awake on night watches), it was not going to work out taking him on our crossing to the South Pacific. Hopefully the parting will be friendly, and he will at least appreciate the experiences he got for the last 2 months traveling along the coastline of Mexico. But unfortunately, it looks like we will be doing it alone. Unless someone pops up on the screen here wanting to work for a passage to the South Pacific. There have been several girls (women my age and older) looking to "crew." But we need someone young or at least with strength who can help Joe with sail changes, reefing in heavy weather, etc... as with me on the helm, that leaves Joe to do most of the heavy work. So if there are any of you out there who’s dreamed of sailing a tall ship (well we’re at least 55’ tall!) to the South Pacific… here’s your chance to speak up!!
FLASH — another fly in the soup to deal with:
The French have thrown a huge Piece of crap into all of the boaters who plan to do the “Puddle Jump” (crossing the Pacific Ocean for the South Pacific) this year. First some back ground: The first body of land we will land on when we leave Mexico is about 3,000 miles away… on the group of Islands called the Marquesas, which is part of French Polynesia. (That will take us about 25-30 days to reach there.) After spending some time there, recuperating from the long passage, and exploring several of the islands, the next Island group another few days away, is the Tuomotos, actually a series of 86 atolls, and is also owned by the French, and then finally another few days away, is the Tahitian island group. There are over 100 islands in all to French Polynesia, all supposedly beautiful and most well worth visiting. The French have always given cruisers an “automatic” 3 month cruising visa upon arrival into the islands and, for those who asked for it, it was easy to get a 3 month extension…So without much paperwork, expense or hassle, it was easy to cruise 6 months in that part of the South Pacific. (And if you wanted even MORE time, as we did, you can fly out of the country — back to the US, and when you re-enter you got another 3-6 months).
Most of the boats doing what we are doing that are on a more limited time schedule go through all of the islands groups of the South Pacific very rapidly, going all the way to New Zealand the first year. The boats that do this, cannot easily back track to these island groups. So logistically, Joe and I some time ago decided we would rather spend 2 cruising seasons in the South Pacific Islands instead of one. But we still needed to have our boat somewhere safe (and insurable) during hurricane (or cyclones, as they call them in that part of the world) season, November through March, their “summers.” Without going to New Zealand, there are only 2 hurricane “semi”-safe (nothing is entirely safe in this region) places to keep our boat in the area we are traveling — one being Tahiti, part of French Polynesia, or Fiji, which is several island groups and quite a distance further. So as above, our plan was to take our time traveling in French Polynesia for 6 months and have our boat “hauled” and stored in one of the Tahitian islands… then fly home during the cyclone season, returning to Tahiti when it was safe, re-launching our boat and continuing on throughout the remainder of the South Pacific Island groups for the following cruising season.
However LAST YEAR's boats that made the crossing, had a big surprise when NO 3 month extensions (onto their automatic initial 3 month visa) at all were granted so the boats had to hustle to make it through the islands (which the Visa time starts at the Marquesas when you make first landfall) in only 3 months. When Joe and I first got word from of this problem we were still at home (this past September) and tried to contact the French Consulate in Los Angeles for their assistance in getting an extension. Long story there, but bottom line was we were told it would take 6-9 months to get a “possible” approval for an extension that would allow us to stay in the Island group for 6 months.
So Joe and I, out of necessity, came up with a contingency plan to try and make it through the French Islands in 3 months, pretty much speeding through those island groups! BUT then just a few days ago, we found out it is even worse for us than for those who went last year as THIS year the French are only allowing a 1 month visa with NO extensions. From what we are hearing, there seems to be no exceptions. I have no idea what in the world we will do with that problem, as remember in above, even if we were to limit the visits to just a few islands in each group of islands, these island groups are quite spread apart and the clock starts ticking on the visa as soon as you hit land in the Marquesas. After a month at sea, it would be hard to spend only a day or two before heading to the Tuomotos, racing through them, and again another long passage to Tahiti… and then TIMES UP -- no Morea, no Bora Bora, or any of the exotic ports of call there before being kicked out to another long passage to the next set of islands. We have come up with no alternatives yet; as to bypass the French Polynesian Islands would be almost impossible lest we have a 2-month voyage when we leave here! Damn those French!
February 28th: Trip to Guadalajara
We just got back a couple of days ago from our first "inland" adventure. I was feeling like we had missed a lot (especially after hearing about other cruiser's adventures on land) as we had only been to the coastal towns with our boat. Anyway, we went by 1st class bus to Guadalajara for 6 days and really enjoyed ourselves. The tourist buses in Mexico sure put Greyhound (and even 1st class airlines) to shame. They have taken out over ½ of the seats and widened the aisles so that you are in a wide cushioned recliner- like chairs that can totally recline — with foot rests, and if the person in front of you reclines they are not in your way. They also serve you a lunch, drinks, and show first run movies (English with Spanish subtitles). So it was really a great way to travel. The trip non-stop is about 5 hours away from Puerto Vallarta. .” On the trip we went over several mountain passes, passing through acres and acres of blue agave fields, for the making of Tequila plus the town of Tequila, several extinct volcanoes, and beautiful green valleys — quite a change from the jungle-like palm-fronded beach towns we’ve been in now for 15 months.
Guadalajara’s is the 2nd largest city in Mexico (2nd to Mexico City) with a population approaching 3 million and is located over a mile high up in the “high plains. We fell in love with the old historic part of town, which looks like a scene out of Europe or perhaps Madrid... very classic old world plus very Spanish. There were walking streets (no vehicles) all around the historic district, and it seemed like all day and way late into the evening, there were always crowds (mostly Mexicans–very few Gringos–) of whole families just strolling. We had a great time playing sightseers, so I’ve included a lot of pictures in the photo journey if you’re interested of the 16-18th Century built Beautiful Cathedral, Governor’s Palace, the town squares, and the Theatre. (Few Samples here:
The first 3 nights we stayed at the St. Frances Hotel right in the middle of the old part right across from the Government Palace and the old cathedral and all the squares, so we were walking distance to everything. The St. Frances is the oldest hotel in Guadalajara, founded in 1610. It had a beautiful antique type lobby with an old-fashioned wrought Iron gated elevator, which worked only when it felt like it! Guadalajara is considered the “origin” of Mariachis… and so they could be heard everywhere around the city. The first night we arrived at our hotel, the lobby had “Mariachi night.” Having never been a fan of Mariachis in the past, I had to admit, these groups playing were of certainly a higher caliber than I ever thought possible as we sat and listened to 9-10 musicians (in each group) blend their string instruments (some with and some without “horn” sections) creating spectacular sounds. Every hour another group rotated through. Eventually we called it a night, but unfortunately, we soon found out that staying in an “OLD” hotel has it’s problems… no acoustical insulation in the rooms, so we heard the Mariachis play (our floors and walls were VIBRATING) until 2:30 in the morning. By then, my opinion of the spectacular-ness of the music was no longer positive! We moved rooms the next morning!!!
One of the highlights of the trip was getting tickets for the grand performance for the Folkloric Ballet that was staged in the beautiful Teatro (Theater) Degallado. The theater itself was built in the mid 1800’s and was magnificent on the outside, but the interior took your breath away-- opulent red with all gold balconies and a huge dome with a mural depicting Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Historic folk dances in extraordinary costumes from all different “states” were performed by a very professional troupe of dancers.
They also had a “central market,” Mercado Libertad, which was only a couple of blocks from our hotel. I’ve been in a lot of “central markets” in my life long travels, but none as huge and diverse as this one. It was 3 floors of shops, covering an area equal to 4 city blocks. Examples, there must have been 80-90 stalls all side by side, that JUST sold watches (knock-offs, inexpensive), then past that- 20-25 stalls that JUST sold watch bands; another area that just sold electronics and another 10-20 stalls that had parts to blenders. [Why is it in the USA if you break the blade for the blender or the beaker itself, which you end up having to just buy another one, as there are NEVER any parts available? Answer: because Mexico must have all the spare parts in the world for the blenders!!!] Anyway, they also had, of course, the usual fruits, vegetables, whole cows being carved up, rows of tripe (intestines) for menudo, as well as food stands selling goat stews, menudo, roasted chickens, etc. I was so overwhelmed in this market, that I literally ended up buying nothing!!! But I had a great time trying to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells!
In mentioning above how all the like item stalls were together, that was also prevalent walking down the streets in Guadalajara… We walked down 3 adjoining streets that had nothing but shoe stores, followed by 3 more streets where on both sides they ONLY had wedding dress shops. Must be tough having competition like that, but on the other hand, if you’re looking for a wedding dress, it’s one-stop-shopping!!
We also took a detour and visited the French Consulate while we were in Guadalajara and think we may have found a solution for our visa problem mentioned above. Since we are "residents" of Mexico and not the US, it looks like we can get a visa extension there. However it requires more than just our passport (boat documentation papers, applications, photos, 5 MONTHS worth of bank statements... etc) so we couldn't do it on the spot. We now are discussing renting a car on Monday and driving ourselves back there, dropping off the documents and then returning the same day. What a hassle as it is a 5 hour trip each way.
After 3 days and nights staying right in the center of Guadalajara, we then changed locations and spent our last 2 nights just out of town in Tlaquepaque and Tonola, the arts and crafts center of Mexico... at a very nice bed and breakfast inn. (One of the owner’s of the place used to be a chef at Chez Panise … one of my favorite restaurants in Berkeley). For the next 3 days,
I was in shopper’s paradise! On Sundays they have what must be the largest Arts and Crafts Street Festival in the World! Besides all the normal artesian shops of sculptures, woodworking, ceramics, leather, glass, etc. that line the streets of Tonola, the sidewalks, alleys, parking lots, and streets were full of stall after stall of first rate (not the usual Mexican “junk”) beautiful crafts, many unlike any I’ve seen anywhere in Mexico. Again, the consummate shopper that I am, I was like in a daze… and ended up buying very little. (Of course part of my shopping problem is I’ve about run out of room on the boat to put ANYTHING more without getting rid of things… and I don’t think Joe will let me start throwing spare parts overboard!!! Anyway…VERY UNFORTUNATE for my love of shopping!)
Anyway… It was great to be off the boat for a few days, not thinking about boat projects! So now we're back in Puerto Vallarta to the grind of tackling our “to do” list again.
Nothing much exciting to report… as we have mainly just been working long hours on projects... making up for all the time off we took to go to Guadalajara. We did end up going BACK a second time to Guadalajara a couple of days ago to try and work on our visa problem with the French consulate located there. We rented a car on Sunday, made the 5 hour drive, stayed in a hotel overnight, hit the consulate with our papers when they opened Monday morning, and then hit Costco (Only place we’ve seen in Mexico that has one!) taking advantage of having the car, for me to get some of my big supply needs for our 3 months of provisioning... and then drove the 5 hour return trip. Doing all this, we still won't know for a couple of weeks whether the visas will be approved... and then the visas will need to be picked up at the consulate. (We are hoping to get a Mexican "agent" to pick them up and deliver them to us so we don't have to make that long and expensive trip again.) So that's been a big headache... which we are praying is resolved. At least for a couple of weeks, we won't worry about it.
FYI: Assuming now that we WILL be approved for the visas, we have revised our entire cruising plans planning only a 3 month stay in the French Islands and then moving onto the Cook Islands, Nui, Tonga, and Fiji... ending there in October for the season, and then flying back to San Diego in early November.
Although we are in fast motion now, as our departure date is now less than 2 weeks away, we haven't really begun to panic in our rush to get things done -- but it does seem like things keep getting added to the list of MUST DO things before we "jump." Daily, Joe finds some new contortion-like way to fold his body to tackle working on the engine or generator in the very small compartment they are located. Some days, all is well, but on others Joe gets in one of his “I hate this fu_ _king boat” moods, or “Forget it, we’re just going HOME!!” moods and I usually just try and find some way to get out of his way, as I know they are just signs of the ever-increasing tension and stress as the reality of our departure gets closer.
I don't think I'm particularly nervous or frightened about the crossing, but sub-consciously, I also must be burying some stress, tension and fearful thoughts, as I have not been sleeping well for the last week. (Usually when that happens in my experience, something IS on my mind -- either too many things or worrisome things). I don’t think I am afraid safety wise of the trip as Mi Gitana is a tank on the water, and, in general, I think I feel pretty comfortable on knowing what to expect -- i.e. we WILL have very little long periods of sleep, we WILL eventually be bored, and things WILL break... But the latter is a BIG unknown, i.e. WHAT will break, and how we will cope with it at sea. So although I'm not looking forward to the crossing at all, it is a necessary evil to get to where we want to go. Another thing on my mind is 15 months ago when we started this crazy cruising life and left San Diego, we knew we could always after Mexico, “give up” and return to California quite easily. However, once we leave here for the South Pacific, it is hard to turn back — as we’d be going against the trade winds INTO the winds and seas–so it is a commitment that we will continue around the world. That in itself is enough to lose a lot of sleep!
One week to go--THE LIST is finally getting smaller… thank goodness!! I've mostly completed "my list" -- "dry" provisioning (everything except last minute items) for 3 months worth of goodies and necessities (There will be no real grocery stores until we hit Tahiti, 3 months after we leave here) ... ordering, labeling, and organizing several hundred charts for the area we are going to this year... ordering courtesy flags... plotting out our "general" route... Although ongoing, I continue to read (actually study) everything I can on the areas we are going to for the next several months. The amount of information in not only the cruising guides, but also articles I’ve cut out and saved from 10 years of sailing magazine articles is overwhelming. I've spent about a month organizing the "loose" info (articles, bulletins) into notebooks and now I'm reading them again and again. There are also so many islands out there that part of what I'm doing is trying to narrow down where we are going to go... as for sure we cannot hit all of them-- and for the most part, we like to spend a bit of time in each area versus staying only a day or two before moving on. Although we hope to hit some more "remote" places, mostly we will be doing what is referred to as the Milk Run, only a little more slowly as the Milk Run usually refers to cruising from Mexico to New Zealand all in one cruising season (6-7 months) and we intend to do it in 2 seasons skipping the escape to NZ and going to Australia instead at end of 2nd season. We plan on having our boat hauled and placed in an in-the-ground cement "cradles" in Fiji for cyclone season this year... if all goes as expected. Anyway, reading about all the places is not only exciting, but a bit terrifying as cruising in and about reefs, tropical storms, cyclones, etc. is totally different and a lot more difficult than our cruising experiences in Mexico and California.
Several people have asked if we will be going “with” anyone as we cross the ocean? We do have one other boat that we've met here that plans to leave on or about the same day as us. BUT in reality, no one, once they leave here (even if they leave at the exact same time) usually ever sees any other boats the entire way across-- as each boat travels the wind lines specifically to their sail pattern, boat style etc, so not only going at different speeds, but also at different angles. But we will be in radio contact 2 times daily (like a radio "check-in"/roll-call process) with the other boats (30-40) crossing at about the same time as us. Several boats have already left, and more are leaving this week ahead of us. We were actually hoping more would leave ahead of us as those boats are the ones who will tell those of us behind them what weather (winds and seas) are like where THEY are so we that are behind can benefit and plan accordingly for what we will soon be running into. That’s the advantage of boats being staggered. On our intended departure (around 1-3April), we should still be in about the middle of the “pack.” All the boats daily report in their positions, the weather conditions, and of course whether they are experiencing any problems. Also we will be “officially” reporting in daily our position to a service which will PLOT our position on a web page via internet and you can see on a map where we are day by day on our slow journey across nearly 3,000 miles. For those of you who might find that interesting-- plotting our progress-- we will give you that link once we are signed on with them and have left port
We are not doing many "fun" things now in our lives here in Puerto Vallarta, but we do still manage to go out to eat a few times a week and one night last weekend we went to a dinner theater that is having a Cole Porter musical review, and another night an Art and Wine show... so we DO occasionally take a break from the chores. Hopefully we can fit an afternoon or two of beach time in also before we leave, but if not we have years of beaches ahead of us on the horizon.
March 27th: 1 week to go!!!
My last big project has been to do this website update before we leave the land of Internet cafes (as it may be a long time until we see one again!) I apologize that this has been a long chapter, with seemingly very little exciting cruising adventures, as most of the last 6 weeks of our time has been dedicated to preparing to begin one of our biggest adventures yet, crossing a large body of water in a small boat… so the next time you hear from us, we should be in French Polynesia! Send some good wishes and prayers for a safe trip our way!