Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dispatch 22 Whale Shark and Other Stories

January to February, 2007

What in the world is a whale shark? Well, it’s not a whale and it’s not a shark. It is the largest fish in the world growing to as much as 60 feet in length. It is a gentle giant, feeding on vegetable matter and often feeding right near the surface. We were privileged to see a whale shark outside of San Blas, a place they are known to congregate. This fish was “only” 15 or 20 feet long and swam alongside our boat for about 10 minutes while we turned the engine off and admired it. It dove beneath the boat at one point having swum too close. I suppose its name originates from the fact that it is huge (whale) and, while swimming, its tail breaks the water much like the dorsal fin on a shark. We have the usual marine wildlife pictures of the creature consisting of murky blobs in the water so we’ll spare you the pics and you’ll just have to trust us that we saw it.

San Blas is a cute little town, settled in the 1700’s and is also known for its estuary lagoon trip in which one can see numerous birds and crocodiles. We went to the fort and old ruins of the cathedral on the hill of the original settlement and were rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of the area. Having a fresh water outlet through town, San Blas is also known for another extremely obnoxious bit of wildlife: no-see-ums. Ugh. One reads that these critters come out at dusk and early morning, but, we would swear we got bit all day. The bugs truly are almost invisible and, for the first 24 hours after a bite, nothing happens. Then the bites get so itchy they drive us mad. We belatedly started applying insect repellant, but not until we already had enough bites to look like we had measles. We enjoyed the town of San Blas very much, but the bugs will ensure we will never go back.

The next stop for us was Chacala, a Mexican resort town. The anchorage is not completely protected from the prevailing swells, so all the boats in the anchorage anchored bow and stern to keep facing into the swell. At times, the anchorage was pretty wild with seas to 3 feet or so, but we rode it out fairly comfortably with both ends secured. We had wild rain storms one night and more gentle rain at other times there. From there, we took a bus into Tepic, a medium sized city where the Huichol Indians come into town to sell their wares. There we were able to buy some Huichol art for somewhat less than it sells for in Puerto Vallarta and enjoyed the town which was picturesque in its main square.

We left from there and decided to go to Banderas Bay directly. We had a partial day of nice sailing and rounded into our familiar anchorage of La Cruz in the late afternoon. La Cruz was a sleepy fishing village about 8 miles by sea and 20 by land from Puerto Vallarta, but it is being developed at a rapid rate due to its proximity to the tourist mecca of PV. A new marina is about 2/3 built and development is evident in town. We have such mixed feelings about these changes—on the one hand, the marina will bring much more money into the town, but, on the other, the locals probably will have a harder time affording their home as prices go up with the gringo invasion.

Finally, we spent a week in PV, in the marina, while Betsy went back to Seattle for a quick trip for the Boat Show (and 2 presentations). Seattle was beautiful at first—sunny and cold (below freezing at night). For the 2 days before returning to Mexico, though, it turned to 30’s and raining and I was quickly reminded of how happy I am living in Mexico at this time of year. We went back to La Cruz, nursed a viral infection each and then headed south again.

First we had a fabulous stop at Las Tres Marietas, a set of islands in the outer part of Banderas Bay. One of the islands is a wildlife preserve and we anchored there with another boat, enjoyed some murky snorkeling in some pretty interesting surge and then stumbled ashore to explore some fantastic caves. There were nesting boobies on the island who gave us their google eyed (kind of idiotic) look as we passed within a foot or two of them, standing their ground out of what seemed mostly to be confusion. On the way out to the islands we were treated to seeing turtles and whales—Banderas Bay is such a wildlife rich area! After our day of adventure, our friends took their boat back to La Cruz and we spent a night at anchor at this wild island. The conditions were settled enough for a nice night, but, even more amazing, we were the only boat there—it’s been a long time since we could claim that experience!

We left the next day as planned and sailed in great winds down to Tenacatita. We had a downwind run with winds up to 27 knots, saw whales and turtles again and arrived in Tenacatita after 24 hours as planned. There we were confronted with an anchorage full of 40 boats (!) We arrived at a confluence of boats—those going south like us and those coming North from Zihuatenajo and the Zihua fest (which we chose to miss). Tenacatita was a place I referred to last year as “cruiser summer camp” and things have not changed a bit. In fact, last year we arrived after the self-proclaimed “mayor” had left so organization was loose at best. This year, the mayor is “in” and activities are in full swing. Richard referred to it as a retirement home experience but I’ll stick to my summer camp story to make it sound more fun. The morning net includes announcements like, “Today’s activities include the swim to the beach at 1:30, followed by a walk to the hotel and back. At 2:00 there will be bocce ball on the beach and at the same time, those of you who wish can play Mexican Train dominoes at the palapa.” The mayor stays for around 2 months I gather and this kind of activity goes on with a rotating cast of boats coming and going. In addition, folks are kayaking, snorkeling, one very athletic older cruiser is taking various victims on 2 hour jogs around the area, and others are taking the jungle river trip to the town of Tenacatita, etc., etc. OK, I’ll admit it, it’s a blast.

Today we took a side trip on another boat to La Manzanilla on the other side of the bay. 17 of us piled on our friends’ catamaran, drove half hour to the other side and anchored off the town. We tried to pick a spot with low surf for the landing. There were so many people that we had to dinghy ashore in 3 loads. The guys left on the beach from the previous load read the waves and guided the dinghy in for the other two loads. We separated and shopped and explored and ended at a fabulous restaurant (Martin’s) for a late (and slow) lunch. In Manzanilla there is a mangrove swamp with BIG crocodiles. The townspeople feed them so they grow big and don’t eat people or small animal pets (at least that we know of). We watched them being fed fascinated and repelled—they are very prehistoric looking. Lunch in Mexico seems to be a pretty relaxed affair. Much like our experience in Europe, lunch is the big meal and is not to be rushed. Service is always slow no matter how many or how few people are in the restaurant, so, one is expected to linger and enjoy the company which we certainly did. The food was quite good and nobody had anywhere they had to go so it was a lovely day.

We did the reverse dinghy trip with a bit more wet consequences. The wind built in the afternoon as usual so there were more waves breaking on the beach. Most of us had planned for this with bathing suits under our clothes. We would get the dinghy part way out, just before the wave break, people would pile in, the remaining folks would hold the dinghy until a lull between waves, then shove it out and start the engine and hope for the best. With the wind, even a dry take off was followed by a few waves over the bow as we drove windward back to the big boat.

We continue to meet the most amazing people. Along on our outing to La Manzanilla was a woman who is 80 this year and is on her 10th year cruising with this, husband number 2, having cruised 5 years in Europe with the previous one. She is energetic and young looking and had lots of advice for us about cruising to Central America where she has spent much time. Also along was a mom and 2 daughters, ages 10 and 11, who are terrific fun. A cruiser outing is usually done with a diverse group which is a lot of the appeal of this lifestyle.

We will not have much internet over this stretch of coast, but will respond when we can, most likely next in Zihuatenejo in ??? days/weeks. Plans are drawn in the sand at low tide…

Dispatch 21 Baja Beauty

Dec 15-January 10, 2007
Baja is unbelievably beautiful in a mountainous desert sort of way. We haven’t raved about it because so much of Pacific coastal Mexico is beautiful, but, as we prepare to leave the Baja, we think a few pictures to commemorate its beauty are in order.

Outer Coast

Baja outer coast Bahia Santa Maria

Cabo San Lucas

Islands off of La Paz

Isla San Francisco

Los Gatos

Puerto Escondito

San Juanico

San Carlos
San Juanico (The End)