Wednesday, January 21, 2015

January 21, 2015 - BF - USA vs Mexico

There is a vast difference between the cities and towns of Mexico and the United States of America, but they are also very similar. It is very interesting to see how much they vary.

The U.S. is very different from Mexico in many ways. The buildings here are constructed to accommodate the types of weather and heat they have here. When you walk around here you see trees growing out of the sidewalk and dirt roads and sometimes no sidewalk at all, but when you are in the U.S., you see paved roads and maintained sidewalks. Also the buildings here are very different. You will see barred windows or doors and light-colored houses but when at La Conner you see mostly dark-colored houses and no bars on any windows or doors. Also here I have seen that most of the time they use wood that is just parts of trees and they also use palm tree leaves on palapalas (a roof that is an open air building, no walls, and is used to block the sun). We use wood that has been milled and our walls are usually closed in.

The U.S. is also very similar to Mexico. We both have trees, mountains, plains, and beaches. We have wildlife, and so does Mexico. Mexico also has plenty of hotels, especially on the beaches. Also there are plenty of cars, bikes, motorcycles, and buses. There is also plenty of wildlife, just like the U.S. There are also many cruisers that you see around here, roaming the beautiful clear ocean waters. There are also some cruisers in the United States, but not as many. Also if you were to swim in Mexico, you would notice that the water is VERY salty.

                Mexico has towns and cities that are VERY different from the U.S. in many ways. I have been able to see many towns, from small to pretty sizable. They all seem to have dirt streets off the main roads and bars across windows and doors. A major thing that I’ve noticed is that there are so many motorcycles here.  Have you ever been to Mexico?

By Cindy Elston

Monday, January 19, 2015

January 19, 2015 - La Cruz de Huanacaxtle Anchorage

First of all, I am happy to report that my knee is almost back to normal.  I’m still on antibiotics for a few more days, but all is good.  My knee infection took me out of commission for several days where all I could do was lay on my back with my leg elevated.  Fortunately, this was a good time for this to happen as we had no immediate travel plans so laying around fit well into our schedule.  Kathy and the kids went into town many times while I stayed behind to rest.  We are now exploring La Cruz together.

We are enjoying our stay in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, which everyone simply refers to as La Cruz.  This is a very cruiser friendly town, with a beautiful new marina, and a large anchorage just outside the marina.   We have been able to catch up with two vessels from the Umbrella Dumpers group, from Tappan Zee and The Red Thread.  Both couples are so much fun to socialize with.  Everyone is on their own agenda so each time we say hello and another goodbye when someone leaves.  We are anchored out (along with about 60 other American and Canadian cruising boats).  Anchoring out is free of charge, and there is no time limit for your stay.  The marina has a dinghy dock for the anchored boats, but they do charge a few dollars every day you use it.  But it is worth the money because we can dump our trash at the dinghy dock for free, use the marina facilities, and participate in the marina activities.  They have a very nice cruiser’s lounge, a small mini-mart, and a seriously awesome Sunday market with about 180 vendors selling everything imaginable including flavor infused honey, fresh produce, breads of all kinds, fresh fish, handmade rugs, artwork, and much more.  One of the major criteria for being allowed to sell your goods in the market is that it must be grown, caught, or made by the people selling it.  So, no junky mass produced touristy items to be found here.  It is very popular with shoppers so it is packed with people and can be a bit tough to walk through the crowds.  We can only describe it as “most excellent!”
Steve, with ice pack and knee up. Kevin playing and lego's all around!

The cruising community here is phenomenal with everyone monitoring and participating in the 8:30AM daily morning net on VHF 22A.  Back in the states that channel is reserved for US Coast Guard use, but down here it is THE channel to find other cruisers.  The net starts out with any emergencies to report, then everyone checks in by simply saying their boat name.   This is a large cruisers net so they have three locations they call out and you check in from the area you are in.  After that there are several regular topics including “mail call”, “lost and found”, “crew needed”, “services needed of offered”, “items for sale”, “misc”, and “trivia of the day”.  Sometimes vessels are looking for recommendations for service or even trading or parts needed for their vessels.  Even local businesses are involved in the morning net with a few restaurants giving their “special of the day”, or info about the band that will be playing that evening.   It is a wealth of information and an easy way to resolve problems, and meet other boaters.   Everyone leaves their VHF on 22A all day, and most also carry their portables with them whenever they venture to shore.  There are also many organized activities from tours of local attractions, jewelry making classes, and even a weekly technical class on topics interesting to long distance cruisers.  All of these are announced and organized on the morning net.

I (Steve) have bumped into a few old friends down here.  Terry and Diane both worked in Anacortes (marine electronics) and retired a few years ago to go cruising.  I had a few beers with Terry on his boat one evening a few weeks before they left Anacortes.  I haven’t seen them since.  Well, they are now here in the La Cruz anchorage!  Boy was Diane surprised when I pulled up in the dinghy a few days ago :-)  I also bumped into Jake, who was in a marine refrigeration class with me about 3-4 years ago in Anacortes.  He and his wife and two daughters (similar in age to our kids) are on a multi-year adventure headed to the Caribbean and plan to summer-over this year in El Salvador.  We met Jake and family back in the El Cid marina (Mazatlan) the day before they left, but it wasn’t until here in La Cruz that Jake figured out our past connection from the Anacortes class we took together.  Small world!  There are a lot of Seattle (and Vancouver/Victoria) boats here and it is fun to meet them and find out where they lived and what their plans are.

The cruiser kid’s community here is also great.  They have “Science Friday” where a retired chemistry teacher hosts a kid’s science class on her boat for about 3 hours every Friday morning.   This weekend there will be a kid’s campout on the beach organized by the La Cruz Marina staff.  They have been doing this event for several years and have it pretty dialed in.  The marina also has a kid’s movie night on Wednesdays.  There is a grown-up movie night every week too.  The kids went and hung out on a dock with the kids from Kenta Anae (Matero and Shandro) yesterday afternoon and had fun.  Trading Legos with them is in the works!  There is a new kid’s net every morning just after the regular net so the kids can get used to radio etiquette and become comfortable talking on the radio.  It’s also a great way to meet new kids.  Cindy and Kevin just met Matthew (age ten, just like Kevin) and Morgan (age 12, same as Cindy) on the radio today when Kevin asked if anyone wanted to play or trade Legos.  Matthew and Morgan are brother and sister on a boat in a different marina.  We are going to be headed to the other marina perhaps later this week (or maybe next week) as it is a resort facility like the one back in Mazatlan.  They have pools with slides, etc.  I’m sure the kids will play together quite a bit while we are there.

Kevin talking on the kids morning net.

The kids on the "flubber" or amorphous liquid.  Science Friday.

Making Crystals, here are many waiting to cool down.  It is sugar water mixed
at a specific ratio.  In about a week they will have grown crystals on the pipe cleaners
that are suspended in the mixture.

Amorphous liquid pouring into jars, with food coloring to boot!

Everyone in La Cruz is extremely helpful and friendly.  We were struggling with the translation for flour one afternoon in a little store (Kiosko) and a local stepped in to help us with the Spanish word.  The store we were in did not have flour (they ran out) but he told us another store to try, and what to ask for.  With his help we found flour.  Yesterday we were walking up to catch a bus to the Mega Store (huge place, like Walmart) and he stopped us on the street to see if he could help us.  He offered some helpful advice, and he seemed genuinely interested in helping us.  We have gotten to know a couple from Victoria that has been here since 2008.  They have been working here since 2008 and stayed much longer than expected because they love it here.  They are now getting ready to resume cruising and cross the pacific on their sailboat with their two boys, also about our kid’s age.  Cindy and Kevin spent yesterday afternoon playing Legos with their boys.  They have told us a lot about La Cruz and that it is a very safe place to visit, and live.  There is virtually no crime here, it is relaxed, and it is quite inexpensive, and there are some really excellent restaurants with cheap prices.  There is live music every night at one place or another.  No wonder there are SO many cruisers here.

The town of La Cruz is typical Mexico with dirt roads, rough cobblestone streets, run-down abandoned buildings next to nice ones, dogs running around, loud music, lots of small motorcycles, junky cars and nice cars, palm trees, small restaurants and bars every few hundred feet, tiny shops selling all sorts of goods, a few butcher shops, and more.   It is an easy town to get familiar with.  Transportation from La Cruz to the neighboring towns of Bucerias, Nuevo Vallarta, and Puerto Vallarta is quite easy with taxis, big busses, and mini-vans.  The Nissan minivans are the cheapest way to go (only about $1 each way) and are quite an experience.  A minivan passes by every few minutes so they are super convenient and well utilized by the locals.  You can get on or off just about anywhere, no need to wait at a designated stop.  There are some good sized stores for provisioning in the nearby towns where you can find Sam’s Club, Costco, Walmart, Mega, Home Depot, and more.   Puerto Vallarta is a large town with a population of around 350,000.  We have not been there yet, but plan to catch a minivan in the next few days to go exploring.
Walking in town.  There are many colorful buildings in Mexico.
Dinghy Dock
The weather has been great so far, as it typically at this time of year.  Temps are in the low 80’s every days, with lows in the low 70’s, perhaps even dipping into the upper 60’s at night.  The humidity is very high though, making it seem much hotter than it actually is.   The winds have been calm for the week we have been here, and the swell from the ocean low, making the anchorage a very smooth place to be.   The wind does seem calm in the mornings, gusts and wind from 10-20 in the afternoons and calms down in the early evening.  The water temp is about 76-77 so swimming and playing on the nearby beach is awesome.  It is quiet here too, with no airports or noisy roads nearby.  There are no jet skis running around, or crazy booze cruise boats blasting music.  Parasails are nowhere to be found.  Cruise ships can occasionally be seen in the distance headed to Puerto Vallarta.  Instead there is only dinghy traffic as boaters head to shore or return to their floating homes.  It is simple, relaxing, easy living here without the big tourist town distractions, or problems.  It is nothing like the crazy Cabo San Lucas scene of a month ago.  Whales are very common in the bay and I just saw a huge whale breach maybe a ¼ mile away while I was sitting in the pilothouse writing this blog entry.  Frigate birds and Pelicans are the most common bird.  Many colorful tropical fish can be seen swimming around as well.  What a wonderful experience we are having here in La Cruz!  We currently have no departure date in mind. 
Marina entrance.  We venture over that way several times per day on our dinghy.
Several dolphins are swimming by. left side.

Steve on one of his first ventures out.  Too much for the bad knee.....  anchorage behind

Sunset in the anchorage.

We made cookies for a charity here for the marine swap meet at the marina.  The kids made some sugar cookies that for donation helped the local orphanage in Bucerias. The orphanage's name is "Manos de Amor" or Hands of Love.  Cindy and Kevin insisted on some mega cookies for themselves which they ate on the way in to the swap meet as shown below!
Cindy's mega cookie

Kevin's mega cookie

Cindy, on our way into the market, behind her.........

Sunday Market (it is bigger than it looks here)

Kids watching performers at the Sunday Market

Friday, January 16, 2015

January 15, 2015 - BF - Mexican Restaurants

Mexican Beach Restaurants
I think Mexican beach restaurants are very different than American restaurants. Even though food is served slower, being so close to the ocean helps entertain people. I usually play in the ocean waters (boogie boarding, body surfing, and surfing) or play in the sand until the food comes. We constantly see that the restaurants look almost the same, they are all slower at serving food, and giving us the bill takes longer.

They all have buildings that look cheaper than American restaurants. The roofs are made of palm tree leaves, almost all restaurants have sand floors, and have no walls. Usually palm trees are really close to the restaurant. Tables and chairs are made of plastic, there are tablecloths on tables, and there are umbrellas that give you shade.

I think that Mexican food is pretty good. The food does take a while and same with the bill. I think Mexican and American restaurants are still pretty different so I can’t say ones better than the other.

By Kevin Elston

Monday, January 12, 2015

January 11, 2015 - Punta De Mita

The first stop in Banderas Bay mostly known for Puerto Vallarta was Punta de Mita.  Just around the corner and a short 5 hour run from  La Pena for us.  Very calm seas led to a nice leg with no system issues.  We had read to anchor toward the west side of the breakwater basin that panga's and other boats use.  Well, we ended up right in the path between Tres Marietas Islands and the Panga basin so there was quite a bit of panga and sportfisher traffic.  At home, boats at speed would never venture as close to anchored boats as we see down here in Mexico.  Mornings were always calm with no wind and the afternoon brought 15knots with gusts to 20knots.  Makes for not as pleasant dinghy rides but other than the winds, wakes from speeding boats, and some minimal swell, we had a very nice stop.

As we rounded the corner to head into Banderas Bay we had the pleasure of seeing a pod of whales heading out.
A whale pod
This Mom and baby came right by us
A whale tale!

We were able to venture to a restaurant on the beach and check out the town.  Cute town that has grown from a small fishing village to include restaurants and other tourist attractions, like fishing and trips to the Marietas islands.

a night's catch.  The fish are getting bigger!  They were too active so could not stay long.

Kevin's night for dishes...........

Cindy and Kevin, Adagio in the background

A panga coming in with their catch.  The birds know!

We rowed to shore here.  

a view out from the bay

Is this a "Booby" bird?  Not quite the Blue Footed but we are thinking so.  Anyone?

At a restaurant.......

These little birds spent hours flying around and landing on our anchor stabilizer pole lines.  Cute and musical.
Next stop is La Cruz.  We have one concern so we are staying near people.  Steve seems to have come down with Cellulitis again.  His knee is hot to the touch and getting more sore.  We brought antibiotics so started him on Azithromycin.  La Cruz has some doctors, walk-in clinics etc and on Monday we will contact the doctor back in Anacortes at home for their thoughts.  It can potentially be really dangerous if not treated.  He got a minor cut on his knee the other day in the engine room so we will see.

(Note: as of this posting, we called Steve's doctor in Anacortes and they told us that the antibiotic we are using will do nothing, get Cephalaxin.  I called on the VHF channel here for anyone with thoughts on doctor, walk-in clinics, etc and that we know what we need but do not have a prescription for it.  Everyone gringo (American) seems to monitor one VHF channel here to call one another and for a morning "net" with activities, things going on, etc.  Two boats came back right away with a pharmacy location with a doctor and then another told us that here, you probably do not even need the prescription.  Of course we got there at 3pm and they are closed from 2:30-4:30pm.  We went and had a bite to eat and walked around and then went back in and thank goodness they had the drug for us for only $120 pesos( less than $10us).  He did ask if we had prescription, we said no but he sold it to us with no further questions.  So Steve is hopefully on the mend.  If it's not better in three days we go to the walk-in clinic or hospital.  We think we may have caught it early since Steve remembers this exact feeling from the last time he had it.  He is laying down, leg elevated with ice on it.  Hoping for a quick recovery here.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

January 10, 2015 - La Pena

La Pena was a short stop.  We went into the Jaltemba/Guayabitos area and took a look at the three anchoring areas.  The ones on the mainland coast had ocean swell coming in so we decided to anchor off the island of La Pena, which would likely provide a little relief from the swell.  The island did indeed block the main swell so only a small bit of rocking was happening.  Steve put out the stern anchor so that no matter which way the wind tried to point us we would remain heading into the swell so we would rock like a hobby horse rather than a ...............

The beautiful island of La Pena  Palm trees, grasses, trees, and lots and
lots of birds.
Getting ready to snorkel.   Mainland coast and Adagio in background
The small and lovely beach
Large school of fish.
We call this fish the "needle nose fish".  We catch them at night in nets from the boat.
We need to find a book on Mexico marine life at the next major town.
Kevin touching this friendly fish
Sea snake
Kevin going deep, perhaps 10 feet to the bottom.
Cindy and Kevin on the beach.  Adagio in background as is the mainland

Every night we turn on the underwater lights and find something new.  We turned them on here and found very large schools of small fish darting here and there and being eaten by bigger fish.  This video shows a clip of them.  Really interesting to watch in person.

Thunder cloud building over the mainland. 

Lightning in the above cloud at night.  Steve tried to capture it on
video, but never managed to get a big flash on video, despite
taking about thirty 5 second videos.

 Since the island has no human inhabitants, there are thousands of birds calling it home.   There are other species as well, but the pelicans seemed to be the most abundant.  They had flight paths that took them by our boat away from the island and then back a bit later.  I saw and photographed one bird (with a leg that did not quite tuck in) fly past our boat and return an hour later flying back toward the island.
Pelicans flying by at sunset
This little bird spent the night on our railing.  A bit of a mess to clean up in the morning!
We pulled the anchor right after sunrise and motored for 5 easy hours (smooth water, no wind) to Banderas Bay, home of Puerto Vallerta.  We will spend several nights anchored out at a few intriguing places other than P.V. first though.

Friday, January 9, 2015

January 9, 2015 - Chacala

Chacala has been an excellent stop which we have thoroughly enjoyed.  But it has had some memorable moments, starting before we even arrived.  A short leg for us, not more than 4 hours transit, with a forecast of good sea conditions that we anticipated to be "smooth sailing."  I know you sail boaters probably do not like to hear that from us motor yachts!  Well, all started well on our voyage to Chacala with winds of less than 5 knots.  But we found that the winds once again hit us off our port side and were in the 20-25 knot range with gusts all the way to 32 knots.  Not in the forecast!  Seems we had a funnel of sorts from the land sweeping right at us, we are sure a local condition usually referred to as a "gap wind".  The stabilizers overheated once again (every time has been with strong winds from the port side) so there was some foul language, several trips to the engine room, and quite a bit of frustration about that.  Good thing is we knew it would end soon with only a few miles to go!  I had started dough and planned to make soft pretzels with the kids so that made it all a bit more difficult.  We often do some baking under way to pass the time whether it be bread or cookies or such.  We made it without issues but the stabilizer cooling system is an item that is on the TO-DO list.  A fellow Hatteras 48 owner that Steve met has emailed a suggestion based on his boats stabilizer installation.  It will require a little welding which we hope to have done in Puerto Vallarta.  Once passing the funnel zone and turning in to this bay, it was beautiful.  There were no other vessels, other than a small local sailboat, in this picturesque bay.  For such a location, well spoken from all the books, we thought it odd.   We did have quite a few whale sightings on the short voyage but none close enough for photos.  Despite the eventful transit to get here, and some less than ideal overnight conditions (more details shortly), we have to say that we LOVE Chacala.  It is a small and quaint little spot with a relaxed feeling.  There are no buses or road noise here and the beach and town are superb.

We spent the first afternoon on the beach and as we came back aboard, things changed.  We had set a stern anchor when we first arrived to point the bow southwest so we could take any swell right on the bow, which would be the smoothest ride.  The waves ended up coming from the west or even a bit northwest overnight, not quite what we had planned for, and not what was forecast.  A sail vessel came in and anchored nearby just before dark.  It was a mostly sleepless night for us even with the stern anchor, which was now holding us in the wrong position for a smooth ride.  We rocked and rolled all night.  The sailboat ended up sideways to the waves and overnight we watched the anchor light on top the mast swing heavily from side to side.  I think we could see their keel in the moonlight at times.  Looking at what they endured, we felt fortunate.  We were awakened by creaking and different sounds and had to tighten several bolts that secure the anchor stabilizers to the mast.  This was the biggest workout that they have had in more than 4 months of cruising.  But, they are fine, just needed to tighten half a dozen bolts.  These nights with weather always seem long and agonizing.  Much more so than an overnight passage because at anchor you spend the time trying to sleep and frustrated when you are awakened all the time.

The next day we did home school in the morning and played at the beach all afternoon.  The surf was still high from the swell that had increased dramatically during the past night.  This made for better boogie boarding.  The second evening was still a bit of the hobby-horsey feeling but we slept better (because we were tired).  The kids always seem to sleep through everything so Steve and I are the ones to try get our energy up to match that of our children.

Yesterday we had a great day, walking around the town a bit and playing in the water once again.  We were able to walk through a tortelleria and purchase some hot off the press/oven tortillas.  We walked around a few of the blocks and headed back to the beach for some play time.  Oh, I have to mention that getting our dinghy to shore today was quite eventful whereas yesterday we looked like pros!  Today we came in and as the kids and I tried to jump off and another wave came in the dinghy almost flipped.  We are just using the walker bay row boat so no worries if it does flip but it does make us want to practice riding the waves onto the beach.  We had items in a waterproof bag so no worries about our towels, cameras, money, or anything else.  We had dinner at Choc Mool right on the beach and then Cindy and I swam while Kevin and Steve rowed the dinghy back to the boat.  Kevin did swim back the day before with Cindy and I.  We made it back last night just as it was getting dark.  The seas are much calmer now too so we are hoping for a good night's sleep.

Sand beach of Chacala on the left, Adagio on the right

Sand Mountain

Steve with the toys. Palapas in background

We are headed to the port captain (in this building) to check in

boogie boarding.  The water is almost 80 degrees.

Cindy, Kevin and Steve.  Kevin does a body surfing style here in the middle

boogie boarding
Kevin and Cindy out until the sun goes down
Chacala and Adagio in background

This fellow made us some bracelets

Kevin, Steve and Cindy swimming.  Panga towing banana ride (popular here)

Sharing a Pina Colada - new favorite drink (w/o alcohol of course)

Steve took this. Cindy fits in with the Mexicans, quite brown!

Steve washing the boat deck.  pretty dirty up there!

Zappa trying to keep cool.  Kevin too, but also trying to take a break from home school

Another Sunset

The main street behind the beach
Tortilla factory.  Hot in there, I actually walked out and thought the
outside was cool after being inside where tortillas are being cooked on a
conveyor belt automated machine.  

Tortilla making machine.  We got them hot off the press here from the lady above!

Chacala, one of the streets away from the main waterfront area
I, Steve, guess they need a sign for this??????   It apparently worked, because I saw
nobody disobeying it  :-)