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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oh, Oaxaca! (PART I)

The Zocolo in Oaxaca is festive day and night!
"But I really, really, really want to go," I told Jim for the umpteenth time. "It's on my bucket list."
"Your bucket list seems to expand everywhere we go," he told me.
"No, this one was on my original bucket list and I have always wanted to go there. I want to take a cooking class and buy a rug."

Activity in the early evening

A lovely small store front
Here I go with my bucket list again, but Oaxaca really was on it. I have always wanted to visit. I love the hand painted animals, hand woven rugs and black pottery.

Beautiful baked goods

We pulled into Marina Chahue in Huatulco on Wednesday, 2/22. We opted to tie up in the canal instead of the marina because it is quite a bit cheaper and less surgy. A week costs $110 for our size boat. There is no water or electricity in the "cheap seats", but our solar panels are keeping up better than we thought.

Street scene
Right away we ran into other cruisers who had been inland to Oaxaca. Stories of the Monte Alban ruins, museums, tours to the chocolate makers, mole sauces... Jim agreed that we probably should go to Oaxaca. Yea for me! We set out several bowls of water and food for Bad Kitty, fixed it so she could go in or out, and told her not to be too bad while we were gone.

Churros - a sugary fried bread

Yummy baby!

Lots of Mexican products for sale 

LOVE these big brooms!
Bus tickets ran 370 pesos per person one way. We opted to go with more cheap seats... the van transportation that cost 150 pesos per person one way and took only 6 hours instead of the 8 hours on the bus. It wasn't as comfortable as the luxurious, movie playing, air conditioned Mexican buses, but budget is best. The winding roads through the mountains were beautiful, but we slept most of the way which was probably better since the driver was racing through every hairpin turn and the oncoming traffic was doing the same.

He is very pretty!
We had no hotel reservations and so when we arrived we spent the first two hours walking around with our Lonely Planet Guide (thank you, Ceilydh!) trying to find a hotel with vacancy. We were finally directed to Hotel Vizari that cost 650 pesos for 4 people. Not a bargain, but clean, spacious, hot water, friendly staff, and walking distance to the Zocolo.

Chocolate milk for 85 cents made with freshly mixed chocolate straight from the cacao bean


It's very fresh... very.

An old woman begging in the market can be a heart-wrenching site

The city is bustling, colorful, clean and happy. The Zocolo is a platform for entertainment, food, reunions and neighborly chit-chat - it is hopping!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chacahua, Mexico

Surfer getting some primo action as Hotspur rests calmly at anchor.

I had it on my personal agenda to anchor in Bahia Angel. It was late afternoon and Jim mentioned some little anchorage that wasn't in the guidebooks. There was only a brief mention of Bahia de Chacahua (pronounced CHA-CAW-WA) in Charlie’s Charts that read:

The first anchorage beyond Acapulco is 140 miles distant at Bahia de Chacahua. Breakers are evident, though rolly anchorage may be taken between the rocks east of Punta Galera and the sandy beach to the north. No facilities are available on shore.

Goody. ROLLY anchorage and Jim wants to stop. Imagine my sarcastic excitement, eyeball rolling and suppressed growls.

Tim outside a palapa restaurant that served us a delicious breakfast.

Clear incoming tide in estuary.

I would have caught crow and eaten pie if there had been any crows about. But I was too entranced by the Spoonbills, Peregrine falcons, assortment of herons, and so on. Chacahua turned out to be a hidden gem!

Long ago, escaped slaves took up residence in Chacahua. I don’t know how much is truth and how much is conjecture, but one writer posted about the derivation of the residents: 
African slaves came to Chacahua through a shipwreck and some say others came by being thrown overboard from the slave ships to meet tax quotas before entering the states.  Other Africans joined the freed slaves and their descendants now populate the area of Chacahua, which is the first national park, Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua, in Mexico.

Is she darling or what?? I just want to kiss those little ham hocks!!
It feels very Caribbean when you sit among the villagers. The Mexican-African mix is completely different from what we have seen in other Mexican pueblos. The peaceful estuary is teeming with wildlife and local fishermen using hand lines made of coke bottles and weighted fishing line.

Coconut lawn and appealing bungalow

We anchored about 300 meters from where the surfers were surfing. Surfers from all over the world come to learn the art of catching the perfect wave. Even though we were just outside, we weren’t rolly at all. The water was clear blue and there were tons of little fish swimming about. And we swam for the first time this year – 85 degree water!

Hotspur anchored behind the surf and Tim and Carolyne swimming in it.

Heads up, Tim!

It is a bit tricky getting into the estuary because of the surf – we did beautifully – just like pros. Crocodiles, turtles and numerous birds live beneath the foliage of the mangroves. A little shrimp leapt out of the water as Carolyne tried to catch him. His feisty determination not to be caught saved him from our daughter’s greedy clutches.

The estuary dumps into a large lake. There were numerous palapa restaurants and some small stores to buy provisions. The beach was gorgeous white sand stretched long and wide with a few international tourists. There is a crocodilario, which was closed but boasts a gigantic old croc.

The town is divided by the estuary itself – pangas and canoes bring items back and forth from either side. There are many cabins available to rent, showers and WCs for rent. The anchorage is very tranquil. We were the only boat and a local woman told me they have only seen 3 or so sailboats in the past month. We saw 15 surfers at a time hang out in the surf and try their turns at cutting, shredding and wiping out.

Local boy fishing with hand line.

We stopped by the local tortillaria and bought homemade tortillas. In this place, they grind their own corn.

We have visited San Blas and its estuary. The Tovara Jungle Tour is a must. But, Chacahua is cleaner, smaller, friendlier – and less traveled. We found a hidden paradise!

And as for Bahia Angel, cruising friends that stayed there instead had to leave early because it was too rolly, they said. I am still thanking my husband for his decision!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Whales and More Whales

If anyone has a great whale internet site that specifically helps identify types of whales, Hotspur would love to know! Anything with lots of pictures and arrows pointing to anatomical things or very specific descriptions that a 2nd grader might understand? I’m all ears and eyes. Yes, I have Googled – it just makes me more googley.

One site I found suggested that the anus of one whale is positioned slightly behind the something or another – like I’m ever going to get close enough to inspect that! All we see most of the time is the hole on the top of their bodies and sometimes a dorsal fin. Rarely do we get to see a face or fluke.
Dorsal fin gliding past
In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen numerous (and I do mean oodles of!) whales while sailing south from Guaymas to Huatulco. But whale watching while underway is more of a “rules of the road” issue for us than it is a site seeing pleasure cruise. And although it is absolutely thrilling to see the massive bulks rise above the waterline and spray cumulus clouds of sea water from their blowholes, it scares the doodle out of us to see one of these enormous beasts so close to the boat.

Two whales rolling past
Last year, fellow cruisers lost their boat due to a collision with a whale. The humpback tried to breach while under their boat – right between the prop and rudder. The distressed animal began shaking their boat vigorously like a giant wild mustang shaking off its unwanted rider. Though their boat didn’t sink, it was a disaster.
Thar she blows!

Therefore, we are not very apt at identifying our whale friends. But we keep trying. In the last 4 years, we have seen the faces of pilot whales, sperm whales, gray whales and humpback whales. But as I said before, it is rare that we have seen more than the tops of their backs.

One behavior that we have seen is tail lobbing. The mammal “spanks” the water with its huge fluke. A video I took just north of La Paz, Mexico shows an adult whale demonstrating to her calf the art of tail lobbing. The video is just a snippet because by the time I got my camera up on deck they were almost finished, of course. And I can't load it without super internet capabilities - which I don't have right now, of course. We have seen the dolphins tail lobbing, too.

Two whales (perhaps a mother and tween) came dangerously close to Hotspur, but we stayed our course and they disappeared behind us. Later, we saw them spyhopping – they torpedo out of the sea with their face to the sun and then they crash back into the water, usually on their sides or on their backs. It was fabulous to see – we have only witnessed this behavior a couple of times. I was fortunate enough to catch them on camera from a distance.

It is magnificent when you get to witness this…
and this...

and this...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Guaymas to Huatulco in 20 Days – (a quick synopsis)

From Guaymas on 2/1 to La Cruz 2/5 it was wing-and-wing in a gentle downwind breeze much of the time. We kept our whisker pole out at night - no biggie to take it down if the wind fell off - not so much of a piece of cake if the wind kicks up, but it wasn't an issue for us. We have jack lines installed and are harnessed in from dusk to dawn - no exceptions. I would say we motor-sailed half the time. Sailing the rest of the time was a delightful, quiet sail - 4 days and nights until La Cruz... with one 2 hour quick stop at Isla Isabela because I have been trying to get there for over 3 years! Isla Isabella is a must and I wish we could have stayed longer because there are lots of trails to hike. We love La Cruz – cruiser friendly, great provisioning, fresh produce and nice little restaurants at a good price.

From Cabo Corrientes 2/8 to Santiago Bay 2/9 it was flat calm... no wind. I took great video of dolphins running with us at the bow, which I will post as soon as I get a better internet connection. Lots of longlines though - the fishermen hook coke bottles or bleach bottles daisy chained for miles. Hotspur didn't catch a single one and we must have seen 10 of them. No telling how many we ran over and didn't see. Other boats have gotten their props caught up in them. With our 5’ draft and cut away keel (sort of) with a skeg hung rudder, we slipped right over them. If we did happen to see them, we put the boat in neutral until safely past. No point in tempting fate. We didn’t stay long in Santiago Bay – it was pretty, but Tim and Jim went for dinner and said it was mediocre and very expensive. It looked very resort-ish from the boat. In fairness, we didn’t stay long enough to give a chance, but we wouldn't go rushing back unless someone told us we missed something marvelous.

We stopped for a few hours in Santiago Bay to sleep and head out early morn so that we could arrive in Zijuatanejo in daylight. We had a fabulous, rainy sail from Santiago 2/10 all the way to Zihuatanejo  2/11 - we saw 8.5 knots for at least 3 hours on a beam reach – just incredible! 15-18 knots of wind and we must have had current with us. We discovered our bimini leaks - wish we had some Thompson’s water repellent, Nigel Calder’s recommendation. The drip, drip, drip on top of the head was too much – Jim propped up the middle of the bimini with our telescoping boat hooks – a true Mexican fix that worked! Salt water flying everywhere - so fun! Sea state was lumpy, but we didn't care.

One note - lots of container ships, big cruise ships, etc… - at least 15 between Santiago and Zihua. One cruise ship 1 mile off knocked us down at midnight one night with a wave. Yes, rail in the water! No damage or injuries.

Zijuatanejo was on my bucket list and we spent 6 glorious days there. We adored the town. It was well worth the stop and not a one of us regrets it. We would go back in a heartbeat. A true gem.

2/17 left Zihua and headed south, anchoring in Papanoa on the evening of the 17th. The north side wasn’t very exciting, so we went around the corner to check out the south side. The surf is very strong there and so we were very rolly, although the beach looked beautiful and I would have liked to have checked it out in calmer conditions. So back to the north side we went. Horrible holding – we re-anchored 4 times until it was dark. We tried the 80 lb. Manson and when that didn’t work, the 55 Delta, which didn’t work either. We were too tired to mess with it and jumped up several times during the night to check. Loud music until 3am from a palapa right behind us made sure we didn’t sleep too heavily. We would never go back to Papanoa.

Arrived 2/19 in Chacahua (CHA-KAW-WAH), just north of Puerto Escondido. What a fabulous, hidden pueblo! Very cool spot – our first time in the water for a very long time. Great beginner surfing, beautiful beaches, and a very wide estuary that empties into a lake. Will write more on that later with photos and waypoints. Only disappointment was that we had to motor the entire way here – no wind. We spotted hundreds of sea turtles – I’m not exaggerating! We saw a blue marlin squirt out of the ocean ten times. Even motoring in the flat calm has its benefits. Chacahua isn’t in any of the guide books except a short sentence mentioning that it has no restaurants or stores in Charlie’s Charts – not true anymore. Chacahua is a must!!

2/20 we departed Chacahua and headed to La India, a small, reefy bay in Huatulco. What a beautiful little paradise! Snorkeled some more and found 2 Jenneria pustulata shells – my favorite! Stayed one night and then motored to the marina on the 21st.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Zihua - last photos

I must say we LOVED Zihuatanejo - just adored it!

The archaeological museum was interesting. I am just very unhappy I didn't get pictures of the circumcised phallic symbols - circumcised! With what??  Jagged onyx blades??? But to think - circumcision in the olden days before stainless steel surgical cutting knife or scalpel - YIKES! But proof is found here in the artifacts that the deed was performed long ago - without sharp and sterile instruments.

The people of Zihua are beautiful. Deep coffee colored pigments. Indian derivation. Shy. I noticed the politeness of the culture when I entered a transportation van in the town and all the locals greeted one another with a "Buenes Tardes" (good afternoon)...; even the young children.

The colors, the scent, the flavors, the music...
definitely a favorite - Zihuatanejo.

Got to experience this fabulous time with really good friends, too.