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TimeMachine - Slowly exploring the future » 2006 » April

Archive for April, 2006

Bahias de Huatulco

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

A beautiful isolated beach in the Bahias de Huatulco national park, Oaxaca, Mexico

We planned on anchoring in Bahia Sacrificios, the northernmost bay of the Bahias de Hualtulco, and headed in under sail. Wind was out of the west and there was a fair bit of wind chop and swell built up from a sprightly week of strong steady wind; we used the binoculars to try to see if the anchorage was going to be protected. Unfortunately, our view of the water condition inside was obstructed by the startling profusion of pangas zipping around for no apparent reason, banana boats being pulled around loaded with shrieking vacationers, party boats tied up at all the mooring balls, swimmers, snorkelers, pumping disco music, etc. Whoa. In an attempt to give the place the fair side of doubt, we navigated the supposed underwater rocks and the many out-of-water rocky reefy areas and went in to see it in person. Our engine decided that now would be a prime opportunity to not start but there was really so much chop it probably would have driven us crazy with the cavitation anyway (sour grapes). Velella were also on their way into the bays but had wisely chosen a less popular location to set anchor; they reported being amused and not particularly surprised to see us sail right back out the opening not five minutes after entering. We followed them into the next anchorage, thinking that whichever anchorage Velella chose, we would take the other fork of the inlet since according to the chart/drawing/blobby excuse for a map/“not for navigational purposes” and watch out for the underwater reefs, there were twin bays separated by a “knife edge rock structure.” As we approached the second anchorage, we couldn’t see any twin bay inlets, nor did we see any rocky landscaping that could be described as “knife edge.” Perhaps it was high tide? We could see Velella anchored in a bay that had a long lovely and deserted beach and since they were way over on the left, we figured we’d just head in there and anchor on the right. To make a boring episode at the very least one fantastic run-on sentence, half the anchorage or more was coral reef and the wind died on us, making it difficult to maneuver, not to mention the sun was going down, and we just basically dropped anchor on Velella’s stern and still our ass was dangling over a crackling coral bed and so Joshua snorkeled around in the dwindling light scouting the bottom situation while I swam over to chat with Cameron and Jenny, who informed me of their recent sea snake sighting just off Sacrificios (deadly poisonous and, my god, a SNAKE! that swims in the water with you! there are few things more terrifying) with a prelude of “should we tell her?” but of course they then had to tell me because who leads up to something like that and doesn’t tell you, but Joshua was back at the boat and ready to re-anchor so I bravely swam the treacherous 50 meters back to help but remember that the motor was on a not-starting-jag so we decided that Joshua would swim out with the other anchor (I neglected to mention the snake thing until later), drop it, hoist it in and repeat with the second anchor thereby clawing our way over to a more desirable location, which seemed to work fine and the sun went down and it was calm calm calm. And quiet.

We never really figured out which bay we were in after all; possibly Jicaral. We even kayaked a couple of bays over and still couldn’t reconcile what we were seeing with any of the maps we possessed. And neither could Velella; the moment we entered the bay and were in shouting distance, they called over, “Where the hell are we?” Oh well, wherever we were, it was amazingly quiet and the first calm deserted anchorage we’d seen since the Sea of Cortez. We stayed there three nights hanging out in the quiet and working on various boat projects. During the day, pangas loaded with lifejacket-wearing passengers would buzz the place, we’d get videotaped by no less than half the tourists aboard, videos that would surely be enjoyed for years to come by the entire family, and they would take off for the next exotic local (Sacrificios! Banana boats and pumping music!!). Saturday, however, saw the arrival of two double-decker party boats who anchored startlingly near us and ferried hundreds of passengers to shore. When they busted out “Pump Up the Jam” (I kid you not) and blasted it at top volume, we decided we’d overstayed our welcome and headed down the coast to the next little bay, Chachacual or La India (or both?), another very lovely deserted beach that saw only daytime tourist activity in the form of snorkeling party boaters. This anchorage was bumpier but the visibility was good in some areas; we spent quite a bit of time snorkeling. No sea snakes sighted, although one striped eel had me close to leaping straight out of the water and doing some kind of fantastic dry flipper sprint to the nearest rocky outcropping until it was calmly identified by Jenny, who after all is a biologist and should know. After another couple of days, the scouter bees pegged our boat as a free water source and we had to leave before the masses were alerted and a full-scale invasion of our galley and takeover of the dish sponge was attempted. We took no less than five hours to go the five miles to Huatulco/Santa Cruz anchorage (where we are now). At one point while changing the jib, we started going backwards in the current. A highlight of the trip, surely, far outweighing even the turtle sex.

Sea Turtles Having Sex

Yes folks, that is turtle sex. We almost hit them.

We arrived with crabby dispositions and dripping in sweat to anchor in dead coral/sandy weirdness while being circled by the navy in their gray power panga.

I think they entertained the idea that they could maybe come alongside before we actually had the hook down but one look at the madness in our eyes was enough to convince them to idle around until we were stopped. If that wasn’t fun enough, I managed to snap the throttle control off the remote control box for the motor, making the motor race loudly and my nerves singe. The moment we got the anchor set, or mostly set, the navy boat full of heavily armed navy boys and one panting black lab tied alongside and boarded. Despite their alarming appearances, they were very polite and the three or four left in the boat spent the majority of their time fending off the panga from the side of our boat. One talkative one was less formally attired (the rest of them wore black navy outfits) and he wandered around in bare feet asking all sorts of questions about where we were from and how long we’d been married and when we planned to have kids. They spent some time filling out detailed paperwork and then asked if we minded if they brought the dog aboard to search for drugs. (As if we had a choice) We said no problem and they called the dog to hop onto our boat. Dog was not having a bit of it and had to be lifted onto deck where he tottered unstably with his toenails clicking and sort of stood quaking until the operator told him to go below and sniff out the drugs. Clearly fearing the companionway entry, the dog had to be carried below where he presumably spent his time searching for scraps of cheese under the floorboards. Dog declared our boat a hopeless void of interesting smells and the navy handler carried him back to the panga where he promptly crawled into a dark corner to lie down. “Bon Voyage!” they shouted and charged back to their dock at top throttle.

Anyway, so now we’re anchored in Hualtulco, just off the canned city of perfect weirdness. Cruise ship number four is on its way in as we speak. We talked to a guy from one of the ships the other day and he said the trip was fourteen days; they started in Florida, went through the canal, and they usually had around six hours per stop. The next stop would be Puerto Vallarta, then onto Cabo San Lucas, finally to San Diego. What a strange impression one would have of Mexico if these were the only stops. After the cruise ships dock, there is a period of announcements, then the fearless explorer types emerge in twos or threes and take off down the dock. A period of relative inactivity follows, perhaps a few more stragglers wandering about, and we start to wonder if there really could be so few people aboard.Then it all happens at once. Crowds of hundreds move off in thick pastel packs fronted by prudently attired women holding neon orange or yellow flags aloft. The mescal factory tour, the Crucecita tour, the party boat/esnorkling expedition; after about seven of these groups leave, the rest trickle out in threes or fives, presumably to spend their precious time under a palapa drinking mescal concoctions before heading off to do a little souvenir shopping.

Evidently there used to be an actual fishing village where Hualtulco/Santa Cruz (never did get it straight which name was correct) is now. They razed the village to make space for “Paradise Found!”—a conglomeration of hotels and restaurants and shopping malls–and moved all inhabitants over to Crucecita, a small town built from scratch to provide housing for the workers who supported the resort industry. Crucecita is pretty posh for a small Mexican village really; the sort of place where the central Mercado has perhaps two or three fruit stands and the rest is full of huipils and shot glasses with “Huatalco!” on them. There is, however, a really excellent church here that was only built in 2000 and which has a ginormous Virgin of Guadalupe painted on the ceiling. (I’ll post images later.) We did figure out where the vegetables could be purchased and did our veggie/dry goods/coconugs restocking. Then we did the paperwork to check out of the country and here we are, officially exited from Mexico yet still anchored in Huatulco with a week yet before we’ll get to El Salvador.

Irritatingly, Don the Weather Guy has abandoned the gulf of Tehuantepec and stopped forecasting windows altogether. I don’t know why but we’ve heard nothing for months except lengthy descriptions of how nasty the gulf weather is and how tricky it is to forecast a window (it takes a couple of days to get across) and now here we are wanting to know what the weather will be like and he’s no help. So we’ll just have to listen to the weather in Spanish on the VHF and hope for the best. We’re going to town now to try to make sense of the NOAA charts. The weather is typically mild this time of the year so at least we have that in favor.

Fresh fruit at the Juice Bar, Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

The courtyard at the Juice Bar, Huatulco, Mexico

This is a café/juice bar we found in Crucecita that had very good ‘horchata de coco,’ a drink that appears to be coconut milk, cow milk, maybe some sugar and I’m not sure what else if anything.

Marine Iguana at the Juice bar, Oaxaca, Mexico

There was a large iguana running around getting into things.

Bahias de Hualtulco

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

We arrived a couple of days ago to the manufactured “Paradise” of Huatulco; so far three enormous cruise ships have docked at the pier. We´re starting the process for checking out of the country and will be heading for El Salvador within the week (presuming weather is favorable).

It is blazing hot, by the way.

Puerto Escondido

Sunday, April 16th, 2006

We arrived late afternoon to Galera to find that the anchorage was choppy and bouncy and the swell was impressive enough to dissuade a shore landing. Cameron and Jenny had already been here a day and managed to get to shore and reported that the town was cool and the Semana Santa crowd was surprisingly hip. There were a number of surfers at the edge of the jetty.

The next morning we woke to find ourselves between where the waves were breaking and the shore. The swell had increased during the night. Luckily they broke at a diagonal and by the time the break was parallel with where we were, it was inside of us. Still, not pretty and we decided to just take off for Escondido; landing today was even less possible than the day before.

The trip between Galera was most irritating due to a major chop (out of where?!) and vague if any wind. Then our motor crapped out. So we bobbed uncomfortably along in a less than seven-knot wind (our windspeed meter doesn’t register below seven knots). Also it was very hot and the sails were on the wrong side of the boat to provide any shade. Bleargh. Joshua started to remove parts of the motor and finally discovered that the spark plug was fouled, cleaned it, and got the motor started again. (We did not want a night arrival in Escondido.) Velella had left Galera shortly after us and went motorsailing by midway, they said they would radio us when they arrived at Escondido to let us know how the situation was, night landingwise.

Once we got the motor started, the wind picked up to sailable levels, but we were too paranoid to kill the motor. We set it low enough to not die and let it rumble in the background. Also, the wind was coming out of the direction we were headed so we had to tack back and forth the whole way. We made it to Escondido right at sunset and motored around and around the anchorage snarling at the depthsounder trying to find a decent spot to drop our hook. There is a deep canyon cutting into the anchoring area but a bump randomly placed in the middle where one might anchor on an “anchorable pinnacle,” whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. On the very bright side, Velella had dinner waiting for us when we arrived and it was just awesome; we could smell yummy smells wafting out the back of their boat as we puttered in circles.

The peak weekend of Semana Santa in Puerto Escondido is a thing to behold: there are no less than four banana boats (these are long yellow inflated things that people sit on top of and they are pulled around in circles by pangas) running at any given time, not to mention jet skis, “eco” tour boats (we didn’t figure out what part of the boat ride was the eco; they appeared to chase down pods of dolphins or just bob around looking at the sunset), regular panga fishermen, and then planes dumping out masses of skydivers. The beach is jam packed with people sunbathing and children screeching in the water. You can’t walk two steps on the beach without someone trying to sell you a banana boat ride or a fishing excursion. The majority of tourists are from Mexico City, although there is a sizable expat gringo population here. Once you make it through the throngs of beach goers, the town is mellow and quaint. And steep. You have to walk up a bloody mountain to get to the market. Luckily the market is well worth the hike.

Market stall, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico

Vegtable Market, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico

Carniceria Cortez, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico

Smoked Maguey

The above is smoked maguey (what they make mescal from) and the guy would cut it into strips to snack on. It is very fibrous and has a caramelized sweet smokey flavor. It’s not alcoholic at this point, by the way.

Fresh Habanero peppers

That is a large pile of habanera peppers.

Exotic Fruit

We bought some random fruits: the smaller green one has a very nice sweet flavor sort of like cherry and plum and yogurt. There is also a very large pit inside so there isn’t a lot to them. The scaly thing needs to be eaten when it is well ripe (soft) and has a flavor and texture like firm applesauce, with a bit of spice (clove? nutmeg?). Very interesting. We forgot the names already unfortunately. The market also had sweet basil and a great vegetable and fruit selection.

The Birds

Sunday, April 16th, 2006

Birds on a wire, Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico

Birds on Power lines. Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico

One thing I forgot to mention about Manzanillo was the resident army of little birds that populated the power lines at nightfall. They swarmed en masse into the downtown area, squabbled over preferred real estate, and within fifteen minutes, were more or less settled in for the night. I have no idea where they went during the day. The streets underneath the power lines were whitewashed with tweetybird poop. We trod carefully beneath.


Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

Fishing Pangas on the beach at Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico

As Joshua mentioned in the previous post, we arrived braced for turistic mayhem and prepared to pretty much hate the place. We entered the bay just after sunrise and could see in the morning smog a fringe of high-rise hotels lining the entire coast of the bay. We came up around to the northwest nook of the bay and proceeded to circle the anchorage for at least 45 minutes in a vain attempt to find a spot where 1) we weren’t in danger of being run down by enthusiastic banana-boaters or overzealous yachties; 2) where there wasn’t a 200-foot derelict rubbing up against a haphazard concrete mooring disc with ear-splitting abandon whenever a wake disturbed its rustful slumber; 3) where there wasn’t freakish bottom anomalies (65-65-40-35-65-34-23-35-65…wtf. I shudder to imagine what might litter the Acapulco harbor bottom); or 4) where we were vaguely out of earshot of the party barges (they will give that karaoke mike to anyone). Heady criteria indeed. We managed a spot in a somewhat alarming depth of 65 feet, a satisfying distance off of the derelict, and a neat paddle amongst the shining plastic megayachts to the elaborate Club de Yah-tays, where rumor had it that the dinghy landing fee wasn’t being enforced.

We immediately docked illegally at the Club de Yates dinghy dock and made a beeline for the flush toilets (oh heaven) and then tracked down every boating supply store in town. We were on the lookout for toilet tank chemical, a porta-potty repair kit, or a whole new toilet in general; have I mentioned that we have been having head issues lately? A complicated myriad of problems include a five-day max holding tank capacity (that 750ml issue is a killer), difficulty of finding tank chemical worth half a damn, a broken flush pump, general Cheyennian irritation at the whole situation, and let us not forget the most unfortunate phenomenon of pressure build-up. (“We’re going to have to rebuild the whole head. I said, well, do what you gotta do.”) Adding to the problem is the hair-tearing irritation that the very head we want to buy was in Puerto Vallarta at the fantastic Zaragoza (a good Mexican marine supply) at an excellent price and WE DIDN’T BUY IT WHEN WE HAD THE CHANCE. Woe. Woe and Frustration. Add a dash of Irritation and at least three cups of Foul Language. Long story short, there is no head to be had in Acapulco for less than $450 but there is toilet chemical that is strong (says ‘poison’ all over the bottle in more than one language and gives an alarming description of what must be done in case of ingestion), comes in a gallon jug, and ought to take care of at least one of our problems until we either get a proper marine head or go insane. Maybe in August. Head, not insanity. So we hope.

Business taken care of, we shifted into explorer/obtain-delicious-snack mode and laid a course for the zocalo. The road between the Club de Yates and downtown is a busy street with 12 inches of sidewalk where you are constantly honked and shouted at by taxis and busses (because nobody in their right mind walks from Caleta—suburb where the marinas are—and Acapulco proper). This would have been more annoying if the busses were not so elaborately decorated on the outside (inside too) with airbrushed masterpieces of Ren and Stimpy, or Dracula and his Seven Sexy Nymphos, or Extreme Sports Bettys (imagine Lara Croft, blond, ollying up a handrail), or Death Rocker Metal Screamer, or Stuart Little (Stuart Little??!!). Weirdness, to be sure. Not to mention that most busses have the first (top) half of the front windshield obscured by a ruffly curtain, the bottom quarter obscured by prismatic stickers with slogans like “DIOS ES MI COPILOTO” and the muddy in between taken up with dingle-balls (from the bottom of the curtain), dangling virgin statuary, woven palm frond Semana Santa crosses, firecrackers, etc.

Along the malecon, there are vendors hawking all sorts of weird beach outfits and sticky coconuty treats as well as a gang of old dudes who approach you with fishing/diving/esnorkling/beach excursions and who sport the Dress Whites as if they are the Captain Himself of some fine yacht moored just over yonder and they are inviting you personally, perhaps as a favor to the king to spice up the boring tropical days.

Once you hit the zocalo, a shady treed place with a built-in shoeshine stall ever 30 feet (we’re in flip-flop territory so the majority of the stalls were occupied only by ornery looking old ladies), you have but half a block to go to escape where any and all tourists seem to ever go. Surprising, but honestly, we did not see any western tourists outside the confines of the Club de Yates–only a few walking the malecon near downtown and a couple in near the zocalo–and then none anywhere within downtown. This is not to say we didn’t see any tourists, oh no: there were droves, mostly from Mexico City (Semana Santa is just around the corner), but they kept primarily to the malecon and beaches. Downtown is a snaggle of shoe stores, cheap clothing stores of vast selection and questionable quality, wedding announcement printing shops (yes, they deserve their own category; how such a dingy greasy black hole manages to produce cards of such whiteness and laciness is a miracle rivaling the resurrection), weird shit stores (plastic buckets, screwdriver sets, thong underwear, cake decorations), and paletas/helados/aquas shops (we promptly outfitted ourselves with a plastic bagful of pina colada agua). The streets were filled with shocking potholes, varying qualities and vintages of paving, obscure traffic signage, and berjillions of pedestrians, taxis, and painted busses, who clearly have a deeper understanding of the way Things Are Run. We ran into Cameron and Jenny from Velella en route (we have been bumping into each other as we work down the coast; they use kayaks as dinghies and have been pronounced “cool”) and spent the day wandering with them through town. Like us, they are used to spending a day in a new town traipsing aimlessly about with no particular destination and certainly no map or direction. We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking about in the sweltering heat, ducking into bookshops or anything that might be air conditioned, then headed back to the Club de Yates to scope out the shower situation.

I had to actually ask the doorman of Club de Yates where the showers were (they were well hidden) and we were ushered to a tastefully lit stairwell leading off in either direction (dames, and horse-riders). The stair was stone and cool and let up to a sparkling bathroom with toilets to one side, showers to another, and a massage parlor and towel rack splendid with fluffy navy-blue towels in between. I already felt acutely that I didn’t belong here (not having paid for the dinghy dock and all) and so I stuck with my REI space-age chamois towel; however, this did not stop me from taking advantage of the liquid soap dispenser located within the shower stall and working my bathing suit into a frothy ball, not to mention my Tevas and shorts, which I proposed to wear the following day. Water pressure was firm and fast and I was enjoying myself immensely until a crowd of several hundred children entered for their daily washing. Ayyy. Two or three at a time entered the unoccupied stalls and commenced to absorb all the tepid temperatures. I believe they were yacht club pool urchins and they possessed the strange power to control the shower temperature with voice alone; within moments my shower bliss was shattered, I was enduring icy hot sputtering blasts and my once-every-six-months-deep-conditioning moment was getting all fucked up. Their controller was a sole harried women who periodically barked commands like, “Let Jose use the water temperature controls,” “Lupita! Stop squirting soap on your sisters,” or “Only one towel per person!” Like a summer squall, they were gone within minutes and I was left alone with one hand testily on the temperature control, my heart pounding, and St. Ives facial scrub all over the place.

Clean as two whistles, we kayaked back and forth to the boat a few times, then headed into shore to check out the night cliff divers, who chuck their very bodies from a height of 75-100 feet or so nightly in hopes of earning a living. Impressive stuff.

The next day we found out that somebody had been taking advantage of the dinghy dock and not paying and the Club de Yates did not approve; a guard had been positioned on the quay to escort any newcomers to the office where they were expected to cough up ~38 dollars for use of dock and “services.” Good god. So everyone who had been mooching off the supposed generosity of Club de Yates went down the way to Marina Acapulco, a quasi-derelict boat dock with strangely shabby/schmancy yacht clubhouse (pool on roof, palm cabanas and swim-up bar; no running water in the bathrooms, docks broken into many pieces and roped together using various bits of multi-colored and sized ropes). They were very friendly and helped us tie up to one of the floating dock pieces and did not charge anything.

We spent the rest of our time in Acapulco on restocking missions: grocery store, market, Home Depot (whoa), etc. The bus ride to Home Depot was very fascinating; there is a dizzying array of commercial activity afoot in Acapulco. We left the harbor in the late afternoon and anchored for the night at the south edge of the bay, a mini-cove that is rapidly being developed into one big massive multi-level hotelmania. Ayy. The next morning we started out for the overnighter to Galeta, the next possible anchorage to the south.

Booby riding a sea turtle

We saw a lot of turtles, many of them with avian passengers.

Food Report

Mexican style bbq chicken, Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico

We didn’t eat out too terribly much while in Acapulco—we ate at a couple Comida Corrida places and had mole chicken, fried fish, that sort of thing. The road between the cliff divers around the outer edge cutting back towards the bay between Caleta and downtown Acapulco had a lot of popular restaurants and guys at tables working cutting open shellfish (like, shellfish out of pretty seashells, as well as oysters, clams, conch-like things). We did eat at a couple of roasted chicken places that were very good; the photo above is of a great place called La Fogata that is right up the side street by the Comercial Mexicana supermarket. A massive plate of barbecued chicken is 22 pesos. They have Negro Modelo.

Downtown, a group of ladies on the street had plastic buckets of a light-brown thick liquid drink (I forgot the name!) that was made of rice flour, chocolate, cinnamon, and sugar. They would dip a dipperful and pour it from a height in order to keep things well-churned (no settling) and charged 5 pesos for a cupful. One lady’s five-gallon bucket had the faded words “industrial soil plasticizer” or some such on it. Hmm.

Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell