Posted on December 8, 2017
Boilerplate disclaimer: this is not what it will cost you to go cruising.
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, thank goodness we managed to keep it under $4600! Obviously, this is a big jump up from what we’ve been spending, but nothing here is a surprise to us. The trip to language school has been in our plan for a long time, and the money associated with the engine repair is being spent after pretty careful consideration. Not that we love to see this kind of outlay, but we’re ok with it.
Numbers for November:
Ice Cream: $49.17
Bank fees: $20.75
Boat Parts: $910
Boat Work: $434.69
Boat Insurance: $232.90
Grand Total: $4599.68
Oh, so much to say about these numbers.
- The bill for the marina at Chiapas is still outstanding, and now officially runs past the one-month mark. That’ll be an exciting part of the December budget.
- We ate at restaurants 17 times, and still came in under $400! Sweet!
- We’d like to knock back our sat phone data plan to $50/month, turning it into an emergency service instead of a weather info source. Cell service has been pretty good for us, and it’d be cheaper for us to just buy data. The problem is that we’re still very paranoid about crossing the Tahuantepec, and we want to keep up the killer weather service until we’re across—so that big $125 to Iridium is going to keep appearing for at least another month.
- Ice cream available at the tienda at the end of the dock. Why do you ask?
- “Education” here includes the fees for the family stay in Guatemala, as it was paid through the school.
- I know the transportation costs seem high, but that includes a huge number of cab rides, plus the trip to Guatemala and busses to San Cristobal and Palenque.
- Mexico requires liability specific liability insurance for traveling yachts; that amount should cover us for our stay.
- Finally, a word about the immigration fees. We should have only paid about $100 to reenter Mexico, following out trip to Guatemala. Instead, we found that when we got to the boarder, we had been improperly cleared from Puerto Quetzal, and Guatemala felt we had never left. Despite the huge amount of money we paid for our tropical storm avoidance plan, our agent skipped a step, and we had to put down another $100 in fines to properly clear the country.
Posted on December 6, 2017
We could have spent the week at the marina, waiting for our engine parts to arrive. We could have gotten more and more upset, sweltering in the heat, cursing all things mechanical and hexing FedEx. We could have descended into petty sniping and anger, until the family collapsed. Instead, we went to the mountains. We figured that even if all we managed to do was eat really well, we’d still come out ahead.
Fortunately, we managed to do more than that. San Cristobal de las Casas is an old Spanish town, and one of the big tourism draws in Chiapas. Filled with pedestrian-friendly streets and good restaurants, it seemed like a good place to head for a break.
Being water-based, and considering the area we’ve been traveling, our kids have mostly escaped the requisite Gazing At Churches required in so many countries. Time to fix that deficit!
The effects of the September 7 earthquake are still being felt in San Cristobal; most of the churches we visited were not open to the public as they were being repaired. Many of the buildings we did enter had posted signs assuring us that the damage we saw was superficial, and the structure had been declared safe. Still, even being able to see the exterior of some of these buildings was impressive—the ornate facades are nothing like the Catholic churches and cathedrals of Europe.
The area surrounding San Cristobal is filled with things to do, but we found enough going on in the city to occupy us. The Textile Museum had amazing example of traditional Mayan textile art—weaving and embroidery—in a tradition that has continued for thousands of years. F was fascinated. T was more interested in the Amber Museum; the pine forests that have surrounded the San Cristobal area for millennia have yielded huge amounts of amber, and both kids took home a piece as a souvenir. (Side note: we’ve studiously avoided most souvenirs on this trip, as we have not much money and even less space. As we come to the end of our trip, though, we seem to be loosening up some of those restrictions…)
We’d been excited to find an affordable and well-reviewed hostel in the center of the city that had yoga classes twice a day. Yoga and good food fitted in perfectly with our idea of a relaxing getaway. What we hadn’t counted on was the cold weather! Even more chilly than Xela, San Cristobal required all of our warm gear, and the hostel had no heat. We found ourselves unable to pry back the warm covers in favor of some Hatha yoga.
After a couple of days in San Cristobal, and a few emails back and forth with our friends at Trans Atlantic Diesel, we realized our parts were going to take longer to ship than originally anticipated. Things were out of stock, people were out of the office; we had more time than we thought. So why go back? We debated finding a hotel with heat in San Cristobal and sticking around for a few more days, but in the end, we decided to head even further inland and explore the Mayan ruins of Palenque.
On the advice of some fellow hostel-dwellers, we found a room at Margarita and Ed’s in Panchan, right on the edge of the park containing the ruins. Isolated from the main town of Palenque, this was a serious hippy backpacker spot, with different cabanas and hostels surrounding the social hub and main food source of Don Mucho’s restaurant. Despite the low-budget vibe, we were much more comfortable than in San Cristobal, with a private bathroom and the heat of the jungle to keep us from shivering. From there, it was an easy walk to the ruins.
I’d been scheming to get to these ruins for months, ever since we’d picked up a Lonely Planet Mexico guide from the bookshelves in Shelter Bay, but logistically, I didn’t think we could make it up there. From the coast, it was about a 16-hour bus ride, and I wouldn’t call the whole expedition cheap; but with so much time on our hands, there was no reason not to make the effort. And our effort was absolutely rewarded!
Guides to the ruins were a little variable in quality—there didn’t seem to be a system for official, trained guides, and we overheard some pretty idiosyncratic theories from tours as we explored the ruins. (Viking visitors? Hindu religious influences? Really?) Fortunately, things were very well-marked, and most signs explained things in English as well as Spanish. The excavated part of the ruins at Palenque comprise only about five percent of the total site, but that five percent is enough.
Waterfalls are a big draw in Chiapas, and the most common tourist plan is a van trip between San Cristobal and Palenque, with a stop at the Agua Azul waterfalls. The ride is much faster than taking the bus, but it takes you through an area of civil unrest where motorists are stopped and asked to pay a fee to pass through Ocosingo. Normally, the driver pays and the car or bus goes on it’s way; but occasionally, there’s a massive delay or even violence. Friends from San Cristobal had run into trouble on that road, so we decided to take the long way around and do a waterfall expedition to Roberto Barrios instead.
The waterfalls at Roberto Barrios are a little less dramatic than some of the other falls; there is no one massive 500-foot cascade. Instead, there are five separate groups of falls, and visitors can climb up any of them. The pools are all open for swimming, and there are plenty of great spots for jumping; Michu even found the cave at the bottom that you have to swim underwater to access.
We split up the bus ride back, declining the 16-hour return trip in favor of a quick overnight in Tuxtla. By the time we got back to the marina, our parts were waiting at Memo’s house, and the project on the motor could finally move forward again.
Posted on November 24, 2017
It is a great marina, although they’re still recovering from the effects of the September earthquake and subsequent mini-tsunami. Friendly boats, great staff, and the facilities are like new. We’d planned to haul out here and repaint the bottom of our boat, but the slow repair schedule on the travel lift has us instead planning to haul in Banderas Bay. Why are we still here, then? Oh, glad you asked…
Before we left for language school, we contracted with a mechanic to have our engine head removed and a new head gasket installed. We’ve avoided writing about our engine lately, as it has been running perfectly but peeing oil for the last, uhm, year and a half—and it’s just boring to read about cleaning oil out of the bilge. We really hoped that a new head gasket would finally solve the problems that we’ve been endeavoring to repair for so very long. Of course, this did not go as planned.
Both the mechanic and the machinist working on the engine head agreed: our engine was due for a total rebuild. Weirdly, this did not flip us out. We’ve been feeling pretty good about our finances lately; we had three whole weeks to make the repairs before the start of December and the narrowing of the weather windows in the Gulf of Tahuantepec; we trusted the mechanic; we were eager to solve the messy oil issues; we figured this would help us sell the boat when we were ready. Most of these things are still true.
Unfortunately, we got word this morning that we have an additional problem—pitting in the cam shaft and tappets. We need to order more parts from the excellent folks at Trans Atlantic Diesel, but it’s a holiday weekend. So now, we need to order parts; wait for FedEx; wait for the parts to clear customs; have the engine put back together; reinstall it to the boat; run the engine for 10 hours (you know, just tooling around the marina…); change the oil; and then wait for good weather to cross the Gulf.
This is really not a bad place to be, but the Christmas Winds are coming. As we move towards the New Year, the windows to cross the Gulf of Tahuantepec get narrower and farther apart. The southern coast of Mexico is beautiful, but we’re going to have to bomb past much of it. And, I swear, we have seen enough of Tapachula. There’s nothing to be done, of course—the engine is in pieces, it’ll be fixed when it’s fixed—but the tick-tock, tick-tock in my head is getting louder.
It doesn’t help that we are nearing the end of our journey on this boat. Yes, that’s right, we’re rebuilding the engine and painting the bottom right before we sell it—someone’s going to get a great boat, no question. We’ll probably put her on the market in April, looking to keep sailing until early May; but that’s just not very many months, and I’d rather not be spending them at the marina.
Posted on November 17, 2017
First off, a tour of the historic downtown. I’m sure you will be astonished to learn that our children did not enjoy this particular experience, especially as the entire commentary was in Spanish. Much whining was exhibited.
More to their taste was a trip up one of the ten mountains surrounding Xela. Really, it was a large hill; we took a collectivo to the path at the base, and still made it to the top in under two hours. Expanding on the theme at orientation, we were met by two members of the “tourist police,” armed guards who accompanied us the whole way.
They were nice enough guys, and gave us a chance to work on our Spanish a bit more, but it was still disconcerting to understand that we might not be safe taking a hike in a park.
The kids were even more enthusiastic about a trip to a cafe where chocolate was taken from bean to beverage. The owner demonstrated both ancient and modern ways of processing chocolate, from roasting and shelling the dried seeds to grinding them up. There was a lot of sampling. Making chocolate from scratch is still an everyday occupation for many people in Guatemala; there are communal mills, and you can buy the beans at the market. My teacher, Veronica, used the phrase, “When I make my chocolate…” in the same way I might say, “When I make bread…” as if it’s a routine part of the week.
Not all of the cultural info was outside of school. On Wednesday and Friday, we got a half-hour break to learn about local culture, including the beautiful Mayan clothing worn daily by at least 30% of the women in Xela.
Our final field trip was to an ancient archeological site that straddled the Olmec and Mayan cultures. It was a bit of a bus trip to get there, so we paid upfront to help arrange transportation; but when Saturday rolled around, F’s sniffles had advanced to Not Getting Out of Bed status, so T and I went on a mom-and-son adventure.
We’d hoped to visit some of the more spectacular examples of Mayan architecture, maybe at Tikal or Palenque, but as our trip advanced, that became less of a possibility. We were too anxious to get back to the boat after a week away, and many of those sites are pretty challenging to access. Takalik Abaj was a good compromise—not too far away, but giving a good idea of how Mayan cities were built and a way to better understand their culture. Our guide was excellent, explaining the different structures and carvings. I wouldn’t say T found the whole thing fascinating, but at least he appreciated the aspects of mythology presented by the steles of various jaguars, toads and crocodiles.
By Sunday, we were all ready to head back. The boat needed attention, F’s cold was advancing through the whole family, and we were completely topped up with Spanish language and Guatemalan culture. We said our good-byes to Maria, and took the long, winding bus back to our comfortable home.
Posted on November 15, 2017
Since before we left on this epic trip, Michu and I had been planning a week of language school for the whole family. A lot of different places offer high-quality language instruction, but when we arrived at Chiapas and heard from a fellow cruiser about the great experience his wife was having in Guatemala, we decided the time was ripe for a field trip. Leaving the boat well cared-for at the marina, we hopped a bus to the mountain city of Quetzaltenango—aka Xela (“Shay-la”).
Guatemala does not enjoy a particularly great reputation for safety, so we were cautious about our planning. The bus we took was not a classic chicken bus, but a direct, private, air-conditioned coach with about a zero-percent chance of being hijacked (as has been known to happen to the chicken busses). We were met at the bus station by one of the teachers of the school, and ferried directly to the home of a trusted host near the center of town.
We arrived mid-day Sunday, and had a few hours to walk around the city. Xela is pretty big, but our house was only a few blocks from the central park area, and the first Sunday of the month is market day.
Our teachers later explained that it was the 100th anniversary of a religious service group, and they had invited all of the other surrounding groups within the Catholic church to participate in a parade.
The climax of the procession involved carrying a huge, heavy litter from the cathedral around the main square. Every hundred yards or so, the people carrying the float would support the structure with dozens of metal crutches, and a different group would take up the burden. The outfits distinguished the different groups—some all in black, some all in purple, with different shaped hats and fantastic banners declaring their names and when they were founded. And lest you think it was all men: the first group out of the gate were women, garbed in traditional Mayan skirts.
We had requested a home-stay, and were happy to be placed with a woman who ran a hotel out of the front of her house and a series of rooms in the back in her home. She cooked for us three times a day, and gave us a better understanding of the food of Central America—bigger breakfasts than a typical weekday for us (although she cut back when she saw we couldn’t eat it all), main meal of the day around 1:30, and a lighter supper around 7, with lots of beans and tortillas at all times. On our last night, she made tamales for us out of chicken and rice, wrapped in a leaf instead of a corn husk. Home cooking, Mayan style.
The school itself was pretty intense. We were each assigned our own teacher—kids, too!—and worked five hours straight with our instructor, with only a half-hour break at 10:30 to take advantage of local vendors in the courtyard selling tostadas, empanadas and other snacks. The classes were a mix of grammar instruction, review, and conversation. So, just imagine: here is a person you have never met in your life. Please talk to them for five hours. Go! Immersion school is not for the shy—or, at least, it’s much more tiring for introverts, as T and I quickly found out.
The kids needed a bit more flexibility, so we sent them off to the zoo or for ice cream with their instructors for the second half of the morning; we also got a rest during mini-lectures after break twice during the week, learning about Guatemalan music and the specific Maya-influenced culture of Xela. Still, it was pretty exhausting for the whole family, and there were times when I felt like my grammar was worse than it had been on arrival. Do I use the predicate or the imperfect here? Is that verb irregular in the third person plural? I don’t remember! And this is the 5,000th error I’ve made today!! So the school was occasionally dispiriting in a break-you-down-to-build-you-up kind of way, but the staff were extremely nice and professional, and we all came out speaking better Spanish.
Xela itself was a great antidote to our experience in Puerto Quetzal. The town is a real, functioning city, with ancient stone streets in the center and a regular commercial perimeter. Tucked into the mountains, the cool air was a huge contrast to the tropical humidity we’ve become accustomed to, and we busted out our fleece and jeans for the first time in almost a year.