Little Tehuantepecker

Crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec is one of the most dreaded pieces of sailing in Mexico.  The gulf is a narrow isthmus separating the Pacific from the Gulf of Mexico.  When northerly winds are blowing in the Gulf of Mexico they cross the isthmus into the Tehuantepec and a narrow gap in the mountains funnels and accelerates the wind.  What may be a pleasant 15 knot breeze on the eastern side can become a 40 knot gale on the western.  This is an example of a prediction of the Tehuantepec winds (thankfully, not for our crossing of it).

Tehuantepec grib

Tehuantepec grib

These are GRIB files – raw government weather forecast data displayed graphically.  This one shows 40-45 knots of wind in the middle of the Tehuantepec.  (I keep writing Tehuantepec because I like the way it sounds, although not as much as Topalabampo in the north).   That’s enough to create 15 – 20 foot seas at very short periods – ie, boat breaking stuff.

We download these images, along with other weather resources to see what we will get whenever we go anywhere.  We looked intensely at weather predictions before leaving on the 250 mile (2 day) trip across the Tehuantepec.  We were hoping to leave Monday morning and our predictions varied but some showed very light winds for the entire trip and some showed a short period of heavier winds Tuesday morning.  We decided to brave it and left with one other boat, Wanuskewin with Mike and Holly aboard.  Sure enough Tuesday morning, well more like Monday night, just as we were approaching a shallow sandy bar clogged with large fishing boats, the wind piped up.  We saw a max of about 35 knots, which is a lot of wind, but we reefed (reduced the size of our sails) and carried on.  It only lasted a few hours and for the rest of the trip we had little to no wind.

25lbs. yellow fin tuna

25lbs. yellow fin tuna

Calm enough catch and filet this crevalle jack on the back of the boat.  So those weather forecasters were pretty close to spot on.

By Tuesday morning (and by that I mean about 3 am – we sail the boat 24 hours a day, taking 3 hour shifts) we were ready to get into port.  It was only about 2 miles away and we were motoring right for it in calm weather.  Arrivals after a few days at sea are really rewarding.  However, our trials were not quite complete.  Suddenly, the boat lumbered to a halt and the engine stalled.  Looking over the side, I could see that we were snagged in a large and long fishing net.  What was this thing doing strung right across the main channel into a large port?  Who knows but the fishermen were soon on the scene and, characteristic of most Mexicans we’ve met, they were not angry and took their loss in stride.  They helped me cut the net away and left to salvage what they could of their catch.  This left a large chunk of net tangled around our propeller, daggerboard and rudders like a fly in a giant spider web.  Mary and I anchored the boat in the calm ocean to figure out what to do. Mike and Holly from Wanuskewin witnessed the whole thing from a mile behind us and were super kind to anchor near us and help.

Pete and Mike dive to free the prop from the fishing net

Pete and Mike dive to free the prop from the fishing net

Mike and I dove with snorkels and knives to saw away the remainder of the net that was so tightly twisted around stuff under the boat, being careful not to let it tangle us.  After about an hour we had every last bit of it off.  We saved what we could to throw out so it would not catch any more sea creatures and mourned the fish who were caught in the discarded net.  I kept some of the floats from the net as a reminder of this little battle.

The culprit

The culprit

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The Road to Oaxaca

Huatulco Beach

Huatulco Beach

We arrived in Hualtuco to find long stretches of  empty beaches, a nice marina, but a sterile town.

This is one of Mexico’s planned tourist areas, trying to make up for the sins of Cancun and Ixtapa by thinking things out before slapping up high rises on every square inch of land.

La Crucecita, Hualtuco

La Crucecita, Hualtuco

They succeeded in avoiding the spring break blight, but forgot about history and culture, resulting in a charmless town with quaint neighborhood names like IMG_0479sector A & sector C and, oh yes, everyone’s favorite sector T.   Most boaters hole up here waiting for a favorable weather window to cross the infamous Gulf of Tehuantepec (Click here for that post).   Amazingly when we arrived there was such a window and several other boats we knew were going.   So what to do: do a quick turnaround and take the opening or stay for an inland adventure?  After our fun stop in Acapulco, we were itching to see more sides of Mexico, not just beach towns, and Oaxaca (wa-ha-ka) was at the top of our list.   Many warned against the long journey and torturous roads, but after researching and hearing that our NY pal George and his wife Laura had just had a fantastic trip there, so we couldn’t resist.  Besides Lucy had already rented a car 😉

Oaxaca please

Oaxaca please

So we drove about 250 miles from Huatulco to Oaxaca.  We will do a longer posts about the trip, but first we had to get there.  Many folks warned us that the drive would be a horrible one on a bad road in very mountainous terrain.  We had a lot of experience driving in mountain switchbacks from our time in Northern California and thought, “how bad could it be?”  Well, the road was VERY windy and long (6.5 hours), but it is pretty well maintained.

Road to Oaxaca

Road to Oaxaca

The countryside is absolutely stunning – very hilly and largely unpopulated, with many agave fields and roadside mezcal factory.

Agave field

Agave field

Roadside Mezcal factory

Roadside Mezcal factory

Whenever you’d approach a small town, sometimes just a couple of buildings clustered near the highway, there would be a speed bump, or several, spanning the highway, called a “tope”.  Now, mind you, this was a highway that several seconds

Catus

Catus

IMG_6955earlier you were traversing at 70 mph.  We only failed to see and slow down for about two of them and those we bounced over Dukes of Hazzard style, thinking we’d have to buy the rental car company a new exhaust system.

But, apart from those instances, the trip was fine.  We arrived in one piece and can report that it’s not the road that makes the trip tough but the crazy drivers down here.  There seemed to be a memorial at ever other turn.

Road side memorial

Road side memorial

This is a truck chassis being dragged 500ft back up this hill from where it went over the edge.  May whomever was in that vehicle rest in peace.

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Oaxaca accident

Oaxaca accident

Click on photos to enlarge or click here for photo gallery

A Fabulous Trip to Sunny Acapulco

Image 1I first learned of Acapulco, in the 1970s, home sick from school, the overzealous Price is Right announcer declared the final showcase prize as “A Fabulous Trip to Sunny Acapulco!”.  The Love Boat pulled into port more times than I could count and I’m pretty sure the Flintstones took a trip to Rocapulco.  Sadly, in recent years the media’s main focus has been on the city’s episodes of drug gang violence, thus the demise of Acapulco’s tourist industry.   Because of the latter, many boaters don’t stop here, but damn it, I’ve been waiting to see cliff divers since the 2nd grade.  DSCN1850So cliff divers we saw.

We decided to go to the night show, which is great for the drama, but not great for our camera, so sorry for the grainy photos.

FYI, there are many ways to watch the clavadistas (divers); free from the road, pay $4 for the viewing platform or pay a $15 cover fee for a table (fee includes two drinks) at La Perla bar at the El Mirador hotel.  Guess which option we picked?DSCN1779 DSCN1783

DSCN1824 DSCN1840 DCIM100GOPRO DSCN1865Peter and I had the place to ourselves and watched the divers from the best seat in the house.   From our vantage point you could see the whole spectacle; the divers parading down the stairs, jumping into the narrow cove and swimming across to scale the steep jagged cliff wall (which in hindsight seemed like the most dangerous part), praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe, to the big dives from as high as 130 feet.   Pretty spectacular, but there were only 4 divers and 2 of them dove in tandem.  Don’t get me wrong, it was impressive, but for some reason I thought the show would last longer.  Luckily there was another dive at 9:30pm, so we decided to move down to the viewing platform for round two.  Here you are right where the divers hop over the wall to enter the water, making you feel part of the action.  The one thing we noticed was that after 80+ years of this tradition, how simple and old school of an event it is.  The divers walk down by themselves, no handlers, no cheesy music, no corporate sponsors, no “senor y señoras please direct your attention” kind of announcement.  It is just the divers and their bravado.

This time there were six divers and with each one the height of the dive and difficulty increased, culminating in the final diver landing into a ring of fire in the waters below.  “ooohhh, awwww”    We loved it.

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VW Bugs, official Acapulco taxi

Since it was late we jumped in a cab back to the boat.  No yellow cabs here, another charming part of Acapulco is that almost all the cabs are VW Bugs.  No, not the brand new, plenty of leg room Beetles, but the old ones that they thankfully refuse to let die.  Since our family had a 1964 Bug in my youth, they are near and dear to my heart and it was great to ride in one again.   The city is much like San Francisco with its many hilly, curvy streets, so the driver’s stick shift ability was almost as impressive as the cliff divers.

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With over 1.5 million people Acapulco is a real city and a much needed contrast from the many small beach towns we’ve experienced.  We need that balance or it all starts to seem the same and god forbid we become jaded 😉   On the approach to the harbor you have a great view of how large of a place it is, sprawling up the hillsides and around the enormous bay.   This is a house divided as the mega rich live and vacation on the North side in areas like Diamante.   We stayed in a rather nice newly

Pool at Acapulco Marina

Pool at Acapulco Marina

renovated marina on the South side and decided to stick to this area and explore the older historic part of town.   As we walked around you could definitely feel the character of a city that once was and glimpses of it trying to come back.

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Zócalo

The traditional main square, the Zócalo, is lined with banyan trees, cafés and pedestrian only streets.

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Nuestra Señora de la Soledad cathedral

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Nuestra Señora de la Soledad cathedral

At one end of the square is the Nuestra Señora de la Soledad cathedral, with a surprisingly non-Mexican architectural style of blue onion-shaped domes and Byzantine towers.

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We stopped for a bite to eat and people watch in the square.  Although I have never been somehow I feel like this is what parts of Cuba look like.

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A little lunch and people watching

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Shoe shine stations all over the Zócalo

DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO  Then with map in hand we set out on a walking tour of the city and to hunt for the “La Casa de los Vientos” (House of the Winds).   So up and down and around the streets we went seeing one beautiful view of the city after next.   The hilly streets really reminded us and our leg muscles of San Francisco.

DCIM100GOPRO We couldn’t get over the stunning grand old stone homes that have been abandoned, but our itch to buy up investment property was left unscratched.  I’m sure we will be kicking ourselves in a few years when this place is booming again.

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Exterior of empty house

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Interior, shot through the broken stain glass window

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Empty house

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For sale

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Another abandoned grand home

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65′ snake tile mosaic depicts the Aztec god of rain Tlaloc

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Dog detail in mural

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Frog detail. The frog was Diego’s nickname

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42′ feathered Aztec god Quetzalcoatl

Finally, we arrived at the “La Casa de los Vientos”, where the famed artist Diego Rivera lived out his final years and although the home is now a private residence, you can see his tile mosaic mural depicting Aztec gods on the wall outside.    DCIM100GOPRO

This was a terrific payoff to a strenuous, hot hike up and down  this residential neighborhood.IMG_6615

                                                      

click here for more photos

About a 6 ½

We anchored in Manzanillo in front of the “Las Hadas” resort where they filmed portions of the movie 10.

Las Hadas anchorage

Las Hadas anchorage

Nice enough place, but it is getting a little long in the tooth and far from our perfect stop.  It was a combination of things; being stuck for a week in a place in which we would rather have spent only a few days, lots of loud BAD music playing until the wee hours of the night and the only real way to shore and into town was to go through the resort.  Although they do have a marina at the resort, they were not overwhelmingly welcoming to the riff raff coming from the anchorage.

Las Hadas poolside

Las Hadas poolside

They charge 200 pesos a day to park at the dinghy dock – about $18US a day.  Most dinghy docks are free or only a few bucks, so this seemed a tad pricey.  However, that fee did allow us to use the resort’s decaying pool and a dip in fresh water is always a plus, so who were we not to take advantage?  And, no, I didn’t get Bo Derek cornrows 😉

Lucy was perra non grata here.  Now, I completely understand her not being allowed in the resort proper, but you’d think you could take her up the service road.  One time after we walked out the guard would not let Peter back in with Lucy, even though it was the only way back to the boat. Unfortunately, this service road was the only way to get the local bus, which was the only way to town, so we cajoled and demanded and played dumb to get her in and out.

Another one rides the bus

Another one rides the bus

Once outside Las Hadas, we were back in action and Lucy boarded buses and walk the streets without anyone batting an eye.

The reason we were “stuck” in Manzanillo was we were waiting for our infamous package of boat parts to arrive from the US.   Shipping anything to Mexico has the distinct possibility of being hung up in customs, misplaced by incompetent shipping companies and a whole host of other issues too ridiculous to bore you with, but the frustration definitely hung over us like a black cloud.

Manzanillo ship yards

Manzanillo ship yards

We had been trying to get this package shipped to us in several different cities, but with each new and devious snag, we moved on and had it shipped to the next city.

After many days of this craziness, we were hoping to celebrate Peter’s birthday with the arrival of our new watermaker pump (yay! He says), but it was not meant to be.

Bar Social

Bar Social

Apparently Peter’s day of birth is cause for rejoicing not only in our family but also in the shipping company’s office, as they decided to take the day off for no apparent reason, except of course to fiesta por Pedro.   So we turned our attention to historic downtown Manzanillo to try and salvage this blessed day.

Manzanillo is Mexico’s largest cargo port city so it is a real working town. It was interesting to see a place where tourism isn’t #1.  The city is a little rough around the edges, but that is what actually gave it some charm.  We met some real characters and had a ball at Bar Social, a famous cantina in downtown Manzanillo.

Bar Social regular

Bar Social regular

It has been there since the 1950s and hasn’t changed much, including some of the clientele and tradition of free botaneras (appetizers) with your drinks.  The bartender brought plate after plate of delicious nibbles from guacamole to ceviche to my favorite -fresh jicama with lime and chili powder.  Let’s just say we sat there drinking long enough not to need dinner 😉

IMG_6471A few days later, the package finally arrived, the black cloud lifted and we sailed off to Zihuatanejo.  Since we didn’t find our perfect 10 in Manzanillo we hope Zihuatanejo delivers all that Andy Dufresne dreamed it would be behind the bars of Shawshank.  (click here for more photos)