Friday, February 24, 2006

Dispatch 9 Puerto Vallarta and Bahia de Banderas

Feb 2-Feb 28

Puerto Vallarta is the main cosmopolitan area within Banderas Bay. The Bay, much like Monterey Bay is huge, 20 by 20 miles or so, and stunningly beautiful. Most of it is surrounded by mountains. We entered the Bay in the early morning after leaving Isla Isabella and motored in on a glassy morning to Marina Vallarta, just north of the main city. We arrived in Puerto Vallarta on Feb 2, a few days before Betsy’s parents arrived from Cleveland, Ohio for a one week visit. Many of our old buddy boats were there so the first few days were spent mainly socializing and catching up. We also wanted to do some exploring, but never got around to it before the folks arrived. Marina Vallarta is part of the tourist trap area of PV—many very high end hotels surround the marina and the walkway around the marina is full of tourist type stores and numerous restaurants as well as hawkers for fishing, time shares, sailing, time shares, snorkeling, time shares, and time shares. The Spanish classes quickly went to waste as English seems to be the first language in this area, Spanish the second. Sad.

The folks arrived and stayed at a stunning Westin hotel complete with numerous pools, its own beach and a couple very good restaurants. It was nearby the marina so very convenient for us. They had been to PV for many years with friends and stayed in a house on a hill south of town so they knew the place much better than we did and assumed the role of tour guides. We went into town by cab and explored the many shops selling artisan wares as well as some very good galleries. We bought another mask for our collection and it is now installed in our boat with our Pacific NW collection. Over the course of the first couple weeks, we have come to enjoy much about Puerto Vallarta. First, it is physically stunning. High mountains ring the Bay and the city climbs into scenic hills almost immediately after the first few blocks on the waterfront. Although the marina area is new, much of the city of Puerto Vallarta is quite old and beautiful. The “Zona Romantica” district and Old Town are gorgeous with beautiful colonial buildings.

Of course, some of the best parts of the visit had to do with food as we all enjoy great meals and the folks were very generous with us. One night we ate at the Vista Grill, a restaurant perched on a hill high over Banderas Bay with a breathtakingly stunning view. The road to the restaurant was a steep cobblestone drive that seems like it would be impossible in the rain. Luckily, it doesn’t rain here this time of year. The food was quite good but the view stole the show. Another night we ate at one of the best restaurants in town: Café Des Artistes which stimulated both the eye and the palate with truly artistic setting and food presentations. That was definitely the high point in a culinarily excellent week.

Around mid-week, we finally had the folks down to the boat. They were curious of course about our “home” so they came aboard to look around. We had casually discussed taking them out sailing, but, since my Dad is notorious for getting seasick even at the mention of sailing and starting to turn green just driving to a boat, we thought that adventure was out of the question. Well, my Dad was aboard and we had a little light snack and asked casually, “Well, what do you think, want to go out sailing?” And somewhat to our surprise he said yes.

We quickly readied the boat for the sail and dropped the dock lines and motored out. Strike while the iron’s hot as they say. It was the usual beautiful afternoon on Banderas Bay—literally every afternoon here is sunny, hot, and the wind blows 10-20 knots starting around midday. We put up sail just outside the breakwater and began reaching across the bay with a sharp eye out for marine wildlife to point out to the folks. Well, in that we were not disappointed. First we saw a turtle floating a bit off the boat and then, whoa, a whale blow. We tacked around to follow the direction the whale was traveling and proceeded to be thrilled by whale sightings for the next 30-45 minutes. He blew, he sounded (dove and showed his tail flukes) and eventually he breeched (jumped clear of the water) all within a quarter mile from us, the breeching as close as 100 yards! We were all thrilled and excited. The crew of Qayaq could not have ordered up a better show if they planned it. Everyone was delighted with the afternoon! By the time we headed in about 2 hours later the water had become choppy from the consistent 15 knot breeze, but, through it all my Dad felt well. Hallelujah!!

The visit was delightful and we were very sad to see my parents go home. It was fun to share our lives with them. They even attended a cruisers meeting where I gave a medical talk and met some of our cruiser friends.

The next week was spent with our friends socializing some more, doing some exploring and trading some medical expertise for help in setting up a real website. Yup, that’s the big news this dispatch—check it out and see the early website development. The logbook will send you to the blogsite for the dispatches and, eventually, soon, we’ll post a lot of our pictures.

We are now anchored off another village on Banderas Bay, La Cruz, a darling small “real Mexican” town that welcomes cruisers and provides a nice “home” for a bunch of boats as well as some Americans who have settled here in Mexico. Happily, we are speaking Spanish again. We enjoyed live music with one of our friends playing and will go to a Mexican Fiesta this weekend. In this small town, we are able to get free wireless internet from our boat anchored off the breakwater—ironically, it’s been easier to get free internet in smaller towns than in PV where we could have it for a fee. The water is warm-ish and we spent a couple hours cleaning the bottom of our boat the other day. In these tropical waters, the marine life tends to grow on the hull of the boat so scraping and wiping it needs to happen every few weeks. We still got a little cold doing it, but we can look forward to warmer water still as we head south again in a while.

Our next stops will be on the Mexican Riviera including Tenicatita and Bahia de Navidad before we turn back north to head for the Sea of Cortez for the spring. We hope to see Copper Canyon on the way back north (an inland trip from Mazatlan). Take care all.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Dispatch #8 Hell and Heaven

January 28 – February 3, 2006
Sometimes the first day of a passage can really suck. We remembered that in the past few days when we finally left La Paz. Thankfully, usually there are rewards at the end of a passage to make up for that first day. It had been five weeks in town other than our blissful 1 week island getaway and 3 weeks at a marina and we were soft, we admit it.

We left La Paz on a beautiful day and motored up the entrance channel and out to the Sea of Cortez over the first 3-4 hours. Betsy had taken her seasickness medicine first thing to ward off any problems in that arena and we had the boat stowed (as best we remembered how) and lots of food including at least 3 pre-cooked dinners to warm up as we expected 3 nights at sea in the Sea, crossing the 400 or so miles between La Paz and Puerto Vallarta. The day was gorgeous and we picked up a headwind on the way up to the corner which became a broad reach as we expected when we turned the corner—life was good. We had all our sails up, the sun was shining and we gloried to be alive and on a sailboat.

As the winds rose from 10-15, then 15-20, and eventually higher, the water heaped up in a commensurate way and our misery increased, also in a commensurate way. For some reason the seasickness medicine took 24 hours to really take hold (note carefully for future reference). Our anti-gravitational muscles were slack having had little to do over the previous month besides hold us upright, nothing like the marathon of trying to stay upright on a pitching sailboat. Muscles we never knew we had became stiff. Climbing up and down the companionway was like rock climbing. The noise was incredible—rushing water, creaking woodwork down below, clanging deck hardware, wailing wind all leading to some pretty fractured sleep that first night. We take 3 hour shifts, not exactly in military precision, but, more or less (mas o menos per the recent Spanish class). We realized we were irritable—was it the constant motion (absolutely anything you put down may slide to disaster at a moments notice, doing anything even going to the bathroom—nay especially that—is at least twice the work—you fall against furniture on the boat regularly as you try to fill a water glass and hang on or look at a chart and hang on)? Was it the sleep deprivation? Was it the seasickness medicine? We assume all of the above played a part. Finally there are the long hours of “doing nothing”. That is, it’s too hard to read and hang on, writing in the journal or log book is done but it’s not pretty, making meals is either an exercise in fighting nausea (if you’re Betsy) or an exercise of just hanging on. Did we mention that hanging on becomes the main activity? We look at each other and ask, “How did we ever think we could cross an ocean doing this for up to a month?!?!”

Then, as always happens, somewhere toward the end of day 2, the adjustment has taken place and, even though the winds are now in the mid-20’s, all is well on the good ship Qayaq, thank heavens. The stars at night are glorious—we have seen the Southern Cross for the first time this passage! We are traveling by sail and the motor is now a distant memory. Dolphins play around the boat at night leaving phosphorescent trails in their wake. One night we enjoyed their company for over a half hour and were amazed by the bright trail they make. They seem to have so much fun and they make our night a lot more fun too. The air felt finally somewhat warm even at night and we sailed barefoot for the first time all night. For those of you in the know, we hit 7.8 knots surfing off a wave—a real high water mark for this old gal (boat). Whales blow regularly and breech and flip their tails high as they dive or tail slap. This is the romance of it all. Sign us up.

We had hoped to visit Isla Isabela toward the end of the passage. For better or worse, no matter how we calculated our travel time, it always seemed that we would arrive at the island at night and that is not usually a safe arrival time. As “luck” would have it, the wind died on our 3rd night out so we ghosted along slowly, choosing not to start the engine and pick up the pace since dallying would get us to the island at dawn. Just before first light we started the engine and motored the last 10 miles to the island.

We were greeted by a stunning place—the island is an old volcano caldera at one end. On the east side where we anchored are 2 stunning rock pinnacles a hundred feet high. Thousands of birds wheel in the air around the island. We saw whales blow and dive as we approached and had our own dolphin greeting party with a dozen or so frolicking around the boat for at least 20 minutes on our final approach to the island. Wow. Apparently this island caught the attention of Jacques Cousteau who did a show about it many years ago. We understand why.

The side we were on had beautiful reef around it teeming with tropical fish. Betsy basically went from anchoring to snorkeling in a straight line. Later in the day we went to shore and walked in awe along the shore where blue footed boobies are nesting every 10 feet almost. Richard was in heaven spending the day surrounded by boobies. Actually, it’s kind of amusing because the researchers have the nests numbered on wooden stakes and the birds dutifully go to their appropriate nests. We imagined the returning booby couple from last year as she inquires, “So what number are we this year dear?” He replies, “351, just like last year.” She pouts, “I thought we had talked about moving a bit further from the center of town. You know those researchers are by at all hours in that central location.” He grunts*, “Well, it was kind of a last minute deal you know and we were lucky to get that place…” and so on. Up above in the trees are frigate birds occasionally showing their big red throat sacks to impress the girls. The pelicans provide the shore side amusement. Richard almost walked onto an iguana type lizard on the rocks. The shore was littered with broken off coral and some nice shells. As Betsy stooped to examine the best shell specimens, they would suddenly “hunker down” and she realized that virtually every beautiful shell contained a hermit crab. Those crabs had the best taste in “real estate” we’ve run into, but they put a definite crimp in our shell collecting style as we don’t steal their homes for our pleasure.

*(oops, marine biologist correction here, he whistles and she grunts and that’s one of the ways you can tell the sex or so we were told by one of the researchers)

The only sad part of the day was that Richard’s picture card or some aspect of the digital picture process didn’t work so all the meticulously taken photos were not there when we returned to the boat, not the one with the booby chicks (why does that sound so nasty somehow?) peeking out from under their mother in the nest, not the blue feet against gray rock, the iguana looking like the dinosaurs of old, not the stunning pinnacle rocks, nada as we say in Mexico. Well, you get the picture (or not).

So we are well and happy and heading to Puerto Vallarta (PV as it’s often called) to rendezvous with Betsy’s parents. We might write more often now that we are bloggers. Then again, we might not.