Cookin’ Up The Coast

We could have easily spent six months exploring the Pacific coast of Mexico from Acapulco to Puerto Vallarta, despite our State Department’s new security warnings equating it with Syria or North Korea. Time was not on our side, however, so we raced northwards, stopping only in Zihuatanejo and Barra de Navidad.

Early morning entrance to Barra

Early morning entrance to Barra

DSC_0005It was in Zihua that we finally caught our stowaway. After evading our conventional mousetrap and somehow floating over the glue trap, we procured a live trap from the ferrateria and, within a half-hour of setting it, had a new pet. I think if it’d been a destructive rat, it’s life would have been forfeit; but cuteness can be a lifesaver, and we ferried it to the palapa restaurants lining the beach. A quick refill on the water tanks—50 gallons delivered to the boat via panga for only $12.50—and we pushed on to Barra.

Bonjour, mon ami de pan!

Bonjour, mon ami de pan!

Originally, we’d hoped to be in Barra de Navidad by Christmas, but better late than never—especially with this guy showing up every morning. The French Baker is a Barra institution, visiting both the marina and the lagoon anchorage with butter-filled deliciousness. He rings his bell, and you throw all your money at him, finally enjoying baguettes with a crust and slacking off on the nutritious-breakfast front. So good.

How do you resist this deliciousness?

How can you resist this deliciousness?

Barra was also a slowish reintroduction to the idea that, yes, other people travel on sailboats as well. There was a morning net, and we had to remember how to anchor with more than one boat around. We actually felt too close to our nearest neighbor, briefly; but as the anchorage filled up, we realized that we were just out of practice. F was invited to jam with some neighboring boats, but popped a D string tuning up—one more thing to add to the sherpa list for our incoming family.

Leaving the anchorage at Barra, on our way to the grim slog up Cabo Corrientes

Leaving the anchorage at Barra, on our way to the grim slog up Cabo Corrientes

Our last leg was an upwind schlep around Cabo Corrientes. We delayed one day, waiting for the north wind to die down, but it was still in our face all night, with the wind blowing against the current and producing sharp, steep waves. Loud, uncomfortable, annoying—not dangerous, but not ideal. It was a relief to round the corner into Banderas Bay, knowing that we had at least a month to enjoy the area. We were all so sick of moving; the longer we live aboard, the slower we want to travel. Time to suss out the best tacos in the target-rich environment of Puerto Vallarta.

Waterslide! We did spend one afternoon hanging out at the resort in Barra; the tiered pools had waterslides connecting them. Research for our upcoming resort time with family.

Waterslide! We did spend one afternoon hanging out at the resort in Barra; the tiered pools had waterslides connecting them. Research for our upcoming resort time with family.

Cost to Cruise: December 2017

Boilerplate disclaimer: this is not what it will cost you to go cruising.

Visual representation of financial plummet.

Visual representation of financial plummet.

People’s constant advice, discussing cruising finances, always seems to be: It’ll cost what you have. We did not find this helpful in our planning, however true it may be. What we’re trying to show is the cost to us, more or less, for one month to go cruising. We’re going for monthly expenses, because they’re easier for us to track; so you won’t see the boat insurance amortized, you’ll just see that expense when we pay it. It won’t be what you’ll spend, but it was the kind of information that helped us out when we were trying to wrap our heads around that magical number for our cruising kitty.

Well, we knew it was going to be grim. At a certain point, we stopped worrying too much about the costs for this month, and just committed to making the most of the realities of engine repair. Our expenses include the bulk of the costs for repairs, our marina bill for almost two months at Chiapas, and travel expenses to Palenque. Yikes.

The stats, in black and white:

Marinas: $1273.32
Grocery: $543.76
Restaurant: $363.90
Supplies: $85.30
Booze: $65.05
Laundry: $48.32
Communications: $125
Education: $152.23
Hotel: $117.78
Ice Cream: $24.88
Transportation: $242.06
Entertainment: $17.39
Boat Parts: $480.95
Boat Work: $1231.26
Fuel: stove, $57.62; diesel, $334.54
Customs/Immigration: $190.48
Grand Total: $5353.84

A few notes:

  • Keep in mind that we do not include expenses for gifts. We didn’t spend hugely in this category, but money was spent…secret, hidden money. Shhhh!
  • I think this was our highest month for booze. There’s been a lot of hanging out at bars, and a fair number of parties and get-togethers. Marina living can be expensive that way.
  • We’re so happy to have kept up our IridiumGO satellite phone plan! We were constantly updating while crossing the T-pec, and most of the Mexican coast so far has been too isolated for good cell reception, especially as we’ve been keeping well offshore to try and avoid the longlines.
  • “Education” includes some homeschooling supplies. After a year and a half, some of our workbooks have run out, and we have family available to sherpa for us in January.
  • Customs and Immigration includes our visa-renewal trip to Guatemala, as well as an extra $83 to customs to get our tappets out of hock.
  • Big month for diesel. We’ve been encountering really light winds, and have been in a hurry—especially across the Tehuantepec–so our fuel efficiency has gone way down. The fuel leak at the injectors didn’t help, either, and diesel is not cheap in Mexico.

Overstaying in Acapulco

Acapulco has a bit of a bad rep in the cruising world as unfriendly, expensive, dirty, and crime-ridden. Once again, we’re finding the conventional wisdom to be a bit misguided.DSC_0047

Always with the good food...

Always with the good food…

We pulled in to the anchorage at Bahia Puerto Marques after an uneventful two-night passage, to try and sleep a bit before entering the city itself. Christmas week means beach vacation to many Mexicans, and the bay was packed with jet skiers, wakeboarders, and folks being towed on giant inflatable bananas.

Pool time at the Club de Yates

Pool time at the Club de Yates

The next day, we took a slip at the lovely Club de Yates Acapulco. This marina is right in the old part of the city, and it’s so easy to imagine the glamour days of old Acapulco—fancy drinks at the Flamingo and Elvis sashaying by. We’d planned for one night, two at the most, before trucking ahead to Zihuatanejo, but New Year’s Eve and the company of friends proved to be too strong a draw.

We’ve seen the famous cliff divers, flashing back to our youth in the 70’s and ABC’s Wide World of Sports; we’ve strolled through town and checked out the beaches; we’ve indulged in fancy groceries, in the name of “passage food”; we’ve hung out at the pool and sipped tropical drinks. We’ve found ourselves a little too relaxed, in fact.Version 2

Acapulco taxi

Acapulco taxi

DSCF3497On New Year’s Eve, we hung out with our friends on Scooby II, watching the lights and sipping Prosecco. Our friends treated us to a delicious meal, and we set off some fireworks of our own–a tricky procedure involving an old wine bottle taped to the end of a long pole–before watching the fireworks surrounding the bay that went off at midnight. We’ve surely made our lives more difficult for the rest of the week, needing to run up the coast in time to meet family in Puerto Vallerta, but Acapulco was worth it.DSCF3501

Crossing the T-Pecker: a Series of Unfortunate Events

We set out from Marina Chiapas with a real, verifiable weather window: three whole days, give or take, of reasonably low winds to get across the Gulf of Tehuantepec. That’s pretty amazing for December, and we were thrilled. Two other boats left with us; Carabao decided to head straight across the Gulf, while Mirage and Milou stuck to the more conservative plan of “one foot on the beach.”

Last morning in Chiapas

Last morning in Chiapas

Hours of uneventful motoring found me at 9:00 at night, staring into the phosphorescence-flecked water. Oh, look, what’s that bright streak in the water over there? Must be some kind of underwater current, churning up the phosphorescence in a swoopy line! It almost looks like it’s flowing right out from our boat! Oh, wait a second….

Yeah, we’d run right into a fishing line. Locals set floating polypro line over a mile long, buoyed with milk jugs or small buoys, perpendicular to shore. Even during the day, they’re hard to spot; if you’re lucky, you’ll see a black flag marking an end. At night they’re completely invisible, and we had one hung up on our keel, illuminated by the bioluminescence. I woke up Michu.

Enter our first mistake: we tried to back down off the line. Instead, we got hopelessly tangled. Hindsight has led us to believe that the better choice would have been to lift the line up with a boat hook and cut through it while drifting; instead, the motor cut out as the line wrapped itself tightly around our drive shaft. Time for a swim.

Small piece of the massive tangle cut away from our prop.

Small piece of the massive tangle cut away from our prop.

So here’s a little-known fact: swimming under a boat that is being knocked around in the waves, while focusing on a fine-motor skill, can make you pretty seasick. Michu had to keep taking breaks, not just to catch his breath, but to try and settle his stomach. One hour later, he’d freed us from a huge, evil ball of fish hooks and polypro line, but he was certainly not feeling his best. On went the motor—hazzah! Forward went the throttle—nothing happened! Well, the engine revved up, but failed to go into gear. Clearly something bad had happened with the transmission.

There was some aimless drifting, while Michu tried to regain enough strength to crawl into the engine room and mess with the gearbox. His diagnosis: transmission damaged beyond repair. We could try to sail across the Gulf, or we could return to Chiapas.

Remember, we’d chosen this window because of the lack of wind. In the Gulf, winds don’t gradually build over the course of a few days; they go from 0 to literally 60 in the course of a couple of hours. If we didn’t get across by the end of our window, we’d be stuck in a very dangerous position. We opted to head back.

At least we weren't hurting for food; passage poke bowls, with some fresh-caught bonito

At least we weren’t hurting for food; passage poke bowls, with some fresh-caught bonito

Again, with the lack of wind: what little breeze we did have was coming directly from Chiapas. We spent 12 hours beating against zephyrs and a knot and a half of current to travel 10 miles back towards our point of origin. At that rate, it’d take us six days to get back. In an inspired moment (and with a much clearer head than the previous night), Michu decided to try and shift the transmission by hand. And hey! The transmission was fine!! The cable from the shift throttle had just jumped its track. Some quick adjustments, and we were back in business.

Our friends long gone and 12 hours poorer on our weather window, we decided to head straight across the Gulf. Happy to report that the new engine works great—we certainly tested it. A little diesel leaking from around two of the injectors, and a tiny leak in the coolant, but otherwise the engine did great, and we arrived in Bahia Organo by three in the afternoon, three days after leaving Chiapas. Time for some sleep, and a little beach Christmas, Mexican style.

The beach at Bahia Organo

The beach at Bahia Organo

A little holiday activity

A little holiday activity

Blowhole outside of Huatulco

Blowhole outside of Huatulco

Lunch date in Guatemala

Right now, we are super-close to the Mexican border. In May, we won’t be; it’ll be a 24-hour bus ride north from LaPaz if we want to renew our visas. Solid chance we won’t quite be ready to leave by then, so we decided to field-trip it over to Guatemala for lunch. $100 to the Mexican government means we won’t have to exit the country until mid-June.

Not everyone follows procedure for crossing the boarder. These ferries shuttle people and goods across the river all day, on either side of the official bridge.

Not everyone follows procedure for crossing the border. These ferries shuttle people and goods across the river all day, on either side of the official bridge.

DSCF3480

Need some fireworks?

Need some fireworks?

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Bicitaxi through a boarder town.

Bicitaxi through a border town.

I wouldn’t agree that familiarity breeds contempt—I think it’s often the opposite—but it certainly means not seeing the quotidian with fresh eyes, so I made an effort on our trip across the border to note some stuff that would have seemed remarkable a year ago, but is now just part of our landscape:

  • Endless banana fields. You can tell which ones are Chiquita; they have irrigation, and the banana stems are all individually wrapped in plastic bags.
  • Motorcycle with a baby of about nine months, on the hip of a mama perched on the back. On a highway.
  • Oranges piled up in a mountain along a fence in the corner of a store, reaching over my head.
  • Shrines on the streets to the Virgin of Guadeloupe, decorated with tinsel, candles and fresh flowers.
  • Extra van seating that is just a bucket.
  • Beverages for sale in plastic bags with a straw.
  • Speed bumps the size of Cadillacs, in the middle of the highway.
  • Restaurants with pools. You want a burger, some enchiladas, a beer? Sure! You want to go swimming while you wait for your food? Also fine!
  • Mango plantations with trees bigger than our house.
  • Pickup trucks with the beds full of standing dudes, barreling down the highway at top speed.
  • Evangelical churches with palapa roofs and open-air seating on benches and mismatched plastic chairs.
  • Tamales for sale, brought right to the window of your car.
  • Traditional Mexican ballads that everyone knows. One of our collectivo drivers was in his late 20’s, but instead of playing reggaeton or pop music, he was blasting some ballad that had everyone in the van singing along.
  • Central American fast-food chicken. Pollo Loco, Pollo Campero, Pico Pollo, Pollo Rico—we’ve been seeing so many of these chains since Panama, and in our quest to pay with a credit card instead of exchanging Pesos for Quetzales, we finally ate in one. Not bad!
  • Girl of about 10 making huge pancakes on a burner in a crowded street.
  • Hundreds of three-wheeled vehicles: tuktuks, bicitaxis, moped taxis where the people ride in front like human cow-catchers…
  • An old guy crossing the bridge from Mexico to Guatemala with a live chicken.
Extra van seating

Extra van seating

These are some of the daily sights at which we no longer blink an eye. Well…except maybe for the guy with the live chicken.

The weather is settling down for us, and we plan on leaving the marina Thursday, in company with two other boats. The wind should be barreling back in with a vengeance by nightfall on Christmas, so we’ll be popping back out again quickly and heading for Acapulco. We are so excited to be a traveling boat once again.

Yeah, we'll be traveling on this guy's birthday. We pretended it was this morning, instead. Happy 11, buddy!

Yeah, we’ll be traveling on this guy’s birthday. We pretended it was this morning, instead. Happy 11, buddy!