Thursday, January 10, 2013

Palm Tree Christmas

Or maybe it's the golden sunsets...

We are in want of nothing and wish we could send each of you some sun in your face, wind in your sails, and sand between your toes. We have spent the last three weeks out of cell-phone range (but by no means alone) exploring the coast south of the Bay of Banderas.  This is known as Costalegre or “happy coast”.  We’ve also heard it called the “Gold Coast” and there are some uber-villas and resorts dotting the shore that have earned it that name.   

One of the Parties sailing by us in the anchorage off La Cruz
After a couple of overnight passages to get to this stretch, there are easy day hops and big calm bays with quiet beaches and resort towns, which are enjoyed by many middle-class Mexicans.  We appreciated the quietness of the towns, muy tranquilo after the 24-hr parties along the Bay of Banderas.

Beaches full of families -- the fiesta season!
Divebombing pelicans -- endless entertainment

This warm-not-hot, and rain free season is travel time for Mexican families. Schools are out for 4 weeks and many people take beach vacations around the Christmas holidays. Some of the beaches have a single hotel that looks like an all-inclusive place, but many also have campgrounds where extended families set up for several weeks.  Little kids spend hours, dawn to dusk in the 80-degree water and adults of all ages walk out to play in the sand and stand in the water with their kids and grandkids.  Most of the grandparents wear their hats, T-shirts and shorts into the water.  All the while, fishermen throw hand-held lines in the surf among the swimmers and huge pelicans dive for fish among the crowd.

Grandpa was happy to pose with his sandcastle

Before leaving La Cruz, we did a little Christmas giving. The marina there decorates a Christmas tree and organizes a way for cruisers to become “angels” by picking a child’s name from the tree and buying and wrapping gifts for them. The kids live at an orphanage in Bucerias, the next town over. Some are orphans and others are living there temporarily while their families are in crisis. We took a day and went to the Mega (like Fred Meyer) and picked out toys for 5-year-old Carlos and 7-year-old Ariana. Fun to pick things out and have something to wrap.
Also, before leaving La Cruz, we got that exhaust pipe replaced. All in working order, we watched the weather for favorable wind. But it would not be boat travel without one more unexpected repair. 200 yards out, the old transmission cable gave way again (same one that we had welded and re-installed in Ensenada two months before). It was a good place to have it happen, we just sailed back to our familiar spot in the anchorage at La Cruz and after some research with the boatyard there we took an efficient hour bus ride into Puerto Vallarta, went to the large chandlery called Zaragosa, where they had it in stock. (A pleasant surprise after the unavailability in Ensenada) We came back and had it installed within two days. Lanham had learned from the earlier episode and rather than fight another infuriating battle to run the cable up through the steering column, he cut an opening and fabricated a stainless cover to allow reasonable access. We are even ready with a spare transmission or throttle cable should it try to foil us again.

While we are talking mechanicals, I’ll throw in another picture, lest anyone think that a well-maintained boat is the whole answer. At another stop, Lanham did his usual pre-flight check as we were getting ready to weigh anchor and noticed that the large (as in 4” by 3/8”) bolt that usually holds the alternator in place was just kind of hanging limply. Turns out it was snapped off at the threads (yes, a little vibration underway). This lead to a later than planned departure and another successful dig into the hardware store in the bilge. We had a bolt, it just needed to have more threads cut and be trimmed to length. A few hours later we had it replaced, and I had learned more than I imagined about making things (like bolts). I only shutter when I think about not having discovered the broken bolt… or when I think about what other pieces of metal in the engine compartment might be under stress and waiting for the opportune time to give it up!

The fighter...
So we finally got south to Cabo Corrientes – the Mexican Horn, and just to make it exciting, we caught a large fish as we rounded the point. This fish took the lure and went straight to the bottom, fought like crazy for 20 minutes, then gave up and was relatively easy to net. We estimated it at 30 pounds – but we didn’t know the variety. We did our usual bleeding and cutting it up (on the swim step while underway, which is an interesting feat in itself). It was very tough to fillet – full of thick strong bone, more muscle than meat, and very red (think fish flavored liver – it’s an acquired taste). 
Mmmm, let's cook up some Toro steaks
We opted out of making sushi or ceviche, but put fillets in the fridge. At our next anchorage, a neighboring boat recognized it as a “Jack Crevalle” or a “toro” here in Mexico. They warned us that it wasn’t their favorite. We grilled most of it, found it rich in a “ahh, I don’t think I can eat any more” kind of way. We made good use of the leftovers in fish tacos, stir-fry, and best of all disguised as ground beef in a hearty spaghetti sauce. We don’t want to be finicky eaters, but we think if we catch another we will release him to swim again.

Looking in
Our first stop along the happy coast was Ipala – really just considered a roadside anchorage for boats to stage their rounding of the point. But we went into the palapa restaurant in kayaks and gave a couple of little kids some Frisbees and watched them play soccer on the beach. Here are a few photos of the beach side of the town.
Looking out

Soccer kids -- happy to have a photo taken

Next stop was the large and beautiful bay of Chamala. We anchored off the town of Perula and ended up shopping for groceries, finding a restaurant we really liked, snorkeling, and staying for Christmas. The anchorage was beautiful – rolling hills, up to the Sierra Madre mountains, an 8 mile white sand beach for walking, and just the right number of colorful palapa restaurants with the idea that 10 pm was late enough for the recorded oompa band to be broadcast across the bay. The most exciting thing about going to town was the surf landing. We got pretty good at landing the kayaks… but often the surf was up when you had groceries or clean laundry and it was (often after dark) time to go back to the boat. It is a big topic of conversation among the cruisers in the anchorage, and I think many spend time in the cockpit with binoculars watching the wet landings for entertainment.
Scuba Jazz dog

and the shop where we had our tanks filled over breakfast

Main street in Chamela
Lanham dressing for dinner after our wet ride ashore
 Whether in kayak or dinghy, the solution is to wear your swimsuit, take clothes in a dry bag, and plan to dress on the beach. This is what we did for our Christmas Eve dinner at the “Scuba Jazz CafĂ©”. It was a place we discovered where you could get your tanks filled while you had breakfast or dinner. The owner lead dive trips, his wife cooked wonderful meals, his French heritage impacted the wine list, his wife’s sister ran the laundry service across the street, and most evenings he was joined by friends to play New Orleans Jazz oldies after the dinner crowd had been served.

We were ready for such a novel locale for a Christmas celebration. We joined another couple – he Danish, she Canadian – who had stories from a life-time of sailing adventures, and ended up back at Erik and Nancy’s beautiful boat for Spanish coffee. A memorable evening out!

The impromptu "jazz" group after Christmas Eve dinner
On Christmas day we had an extra memorable beach landing in the dinghy – flipping, having the boat run up the beach, Melinda dumped beneath the propeller, and Lanham killing it before it killed anybody! No one badly hurt, just some bruises, a lost pair of glasses and a large shot of adrenaline! We took a looong beach walk on Christmas day, including time to contemplate and strategize our successful return in the dinghy!
Snorkeling to Isla Pasavera -- Chamela Bay

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