Cruising Mexico’s Sweet Costalegre (“Happy Coast”) – in Sailing Magazine!

The June 2016 issue of Sailing Magazine is featuring our article about cruising Mexico’s sweet Costalgre coast. This 50 mile long stretch of Pacific coast shoreline has 10 or so anchorages that vary in size from tiny to enormous and that vary in spirit from an immersion in nature to fancy and elegant resorts.

It is a favorite cruising ground for sailors heading to Mexico — they call it the “Gold Coast” — and some cruisers return year after year.

Sailboat anchored in Chamela Bay Gold Coast Mexico Costalegre

Mexico’s Costalegre has some beautiful anchorages

The seeds for publishing this article in Sailing Magazine were planted over two years ago, but the opportune moment didn’t strike until this month. We are very proud to be contributors to this outstanding magazine and to have our story and photos appear in its pages.

Porta-bote on the beach in Paraiso on the Costalegre Mexico

The tiny cove at Paraiso has a sweet beach and jade colored water.

Many of our readers know us only as RVers, so I thought this would be a nice time to reflect back a bit on the life altering years we spent on our sailboat Groovy in Mexico between 2010 and 2013 and to share some of our photos from Mexico’s Costalegre in a larger format than is available on our older blog pages that were written while we were there.

Boats at the Las Hadas Resort Marina Manzanillo Mexico Pacific Coast Costalegre (2)

The Las Hadas Resort in Manzanillo looks like the Mediterranean!

The Costalegre (a concatenation of the words “Costa” (coast) and “Alegre” (cheerful or happy)) is situated south of and around the corner from Puerto Vallarta.

Map of Mexico Costalegre Pacific Coast

The Costalegre is a small bit of coast that is one of Mexico’s major cruising destinations.

Interactive Link: Location of the Costalegre and its anchorages on Google Maps

Most of western Mexico’s cruising grounds are very spread out between Ensenada, just below San Diego, and Puerto Chiapas down by the Guatemala border some 2,000 miles away. However, in the Costalegre region it is possible to daysail from one anchorage to the next, rather than sailing overnight as most destinations require, which is part of what makes it so popular.

Manzanillo Bay lies at the far southern end of the Costalegre, and it is home to several anchorages that are within an hour or two of each other by sailboat. Manzanillo Bay has incredible sunsets and sunrises — or it did when we were there — due in part to the power plant at the south end of the bay that spews soot particulates into the air!

Sailboat at Sunset Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico on the Costalegre

The sunrises and sunsets in Manzanillo Bay are stunning.

Construction was underway to convert the power plant to natural gas when we were there. Once it’s up and running, the sometimes polluted air will improve, but it may be the end of these reliably gorgeous skies!

Next door is the Las Hadas Resort where the movie 10 with Bo Derek was filmed. This is a charming resort full of crazy architecture decorated with funny gargoyles. It has a decidedly Mediterranean feeling to it.

Las Hadas Resort beach Manzanillo Mexico Costalegre Gold Coast (1)

Las Hadas Resort anchorage in Mexico – Beautiful!

The bay is big enough for about 15 or 20 boats and is a great place to stay a while.

Sailboat anchored at Las Hadas

Our boat Groovy anchored at Las Hadas

In our cruise we passed through the Costalegre four times all together on our way to and from the Sea of Cortez up north and Zihuatanejo and Huatulco in the far south of Mexico.

Las Hadas Resort sailing anchorage Manzanillo Mexico Costalegre

Las Hadas is great stop between Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo, and we spent a lot of happy weeks there.

One of the most unexpected pleasures of cruising Mexico’s Pacific coast was that so many of the anchorages are in front of resorts. We hopped in and out of lots of resort swimming pools — what a life!

Las Hadas Resort Beach with sailboats on the bay Manzanillo Mexico Costalegre (1)

Sometimes resorts will let cruisers use the amenities like this glorious swimming pool at Las Hadas.

Occasionally the resorts ask cruisers to pay a day use fee to enjoy their resort facilities. Other times, buying a beer and snacks at the pool bar will suffice.

Las Hadas Resort Manzanillo Mexico Pacific Coast Costalegre

Not a bad spot to spend a day!

Manzanillo Bay is anchored by the city of Manzanillo at its south end. We met an adventurous RVing couple from Cuba (he) and Mexico (she), and at one point we jumped in their truck together to go get propane for our sailboat and for their rig. This took us into downtown Manzanillo, which is quite colorful but very urban.

Manzanillo downtown Mexico Costalegre (1)

Downtown Manzanillo gives a more realistic picture of life in Mexico than the resorts.

One of the things that took some getting used to, but that we found very fun, was the open air markets. There is lots of street food available as well as fresh veggies and sometimes deliciously fresh orange juice that enterprising people sell from carts in the street. And there’s nothing like grabbing lunch from a taco stand — the trick is always to buy this kind of food where there is a long line of locals. That means it’s good!

Fresh produce was available at many small markets.

Fresh produce was available at many small markets.

Another thing that taught us a lot about Mexico, about our own ability to be resourceful, and about how to speak Spanish, was going to the hardware stores in search of parts to fix broken things on the boat. RVs often need repairs and maintenance, but boats need a whole lot more because they are more complex vehicles and the salt air and salt water is extremely corrosive.

Once we learned how to say the word for hardware store (“ferretería”), we were off and running.

Carrying the broken boat part with us, we’d hunt down a hardware shop and throw around some beginner Spanish and some slowly spoken English.

Invariably, we’d get a lot of sympathy as well as directions to another ferretería that might actually have what we were looking for!

Usually the directions were off by a few blocks one way or the other, so after a bunch more walking (and a bit of sightseeing, of course) we’d arrive at the next place and do it all over again!

It was a hoot and we met a lot of really wonderful people that way.

America is very efficient, but keeping a boat maintained and in tip-top working order in Mexico gave us endless heartwarming experiences and chances to get to know a little about our neighbors to the south.

Hardware store on Pacific Coast of Mexico

Does this place have the little gizmo we need for the boat?

And whether or not we got the part we needed to finish our repair, there was usually a fabulous sunset at the end of the day that would light the sky on fire.

Sunrise on Costalegre Mexico Pacific Coast Gold Coast

Ahhhh…

We found that in the wintertime much of Mexico’s Pacific coast has murky water that is often plagued by red tide. However, one spring we stopped in the tiny bay of Paraiso on the Costalegre and found ourselves surrounded by crystal clear jade colored water. What a delight! Let’s jump in!

Well, jumping off the boat to play in the water always included 15 or 20 minutes of scraping the barnacles off the bottom of the boat! That was a chore we did frequently, but how wonderful to be able to do it in such beautiful water!

Snorkeling at Paraiso Bay in Costalegre Mexico

Cleaning the hull of the boat was fun in this kind of water!

In the Las Hadas anchorage in Manzanillo, we needed to fuel up. There is diesel available at a boat dock, but it was very challenging to get a big boat up to that dock easily. We managed that tricky maneuver in our third year when we were seasoned sailors, but in our first year we hauled diesel in jerry jugs from the fuel dock out to our boat in the dinghy, and we used a Super Siphon to get the diesel from the can into the boat’s fuel tank.

Filling the diesel tank with jerry jugs cruising Mexico

There is diesel available in Las Hadas, but it’s not so easy to tie the boat up to the dock.
Using jerry jugs and a Super Siphon was a simple alternative!

Another jewel of an anchorage on the Costalegre is Careyes. This is a tiny cove tucked behind an island, and all the homes have been painted vibrant primary colors. What a backdrop!!

Sailboat at Costa Careyes Mexico

Groovy anchored at Careyes

It is rumored that Heidi Klum has a home here. Unfortunately, we didn’t see her!

Careyes is a very difficult place to anchor because there are contrary currents and tides and winds that all join forces to set every boat off on a wild dance. So, very few boats go there. We were the only cruising boat in the anchorage the whole time we were there.

A stern anchor is an absolute necessity to keep the boat pointing in the right direction. We chose a Manson because it had no moving parts to bite our shins and had a nice handle to hold onto!

Stern anchor is necessary for sailboat in Careyes Bay Mexico Costalegre Gold Coast

Careyes is a beautiful anchorage, but a stern anchor is necessary to counteract the enormous current and swell.

But it is worth the effort to get the boat anchored in Careyes. What a lovely view of the palm tree lined beach!

Beach and houses at Careyes Mexico Costalegre

Pretty view at Careyes

Swell is part of the everyday picture when cruising Mexico, and for boaters whose experience is cruising the protected anchorages of the Pacific Northwest or Maine (like me), it is a real surprise to discover just how much a boat can roll. I wrote a blog post about the joys of swell here and it shows the action of the swell on a huge tanker near the Las Hadas anchorage in Manzanillo— yikes!

The waves are wild because Mexico’s Pacific coast is wide open to the Pacific, and there is nothing stopping the waves or slowing them down as they come in from the open ocean!

Perula Beach Chamela Bay in Mexico Riviera

Swell is significant on Mexico’s Pacific coast. It can be a challenge to land the dink on the beach!

So, landing a dinghy can be a challenge. And getting the dinghy launched from the beach to go back to the big boat is an even greater challenge!! But the beaches themselves are wonderful. The beach at Pérula in Chamela Bay is filled with fishing “pangas” (the open boats the locals use…all made in Mazatlan).

Fishing pangas on the beach at Perula

Fishing pangas on the beach at Perula

We wandered into Pérula (known to cruisers as Chamela) a little ways, and found a delightful little restaurant with a tiny kitchen and two or three tables.

Restaurant at Punta Perula in Chamela Bay Mexico

This little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Pérula is typical of the fun and informal eateries on the coast.

Of course, almost every beach has plastic chairs and tables set out, and you can always plop down and dig your toes in the sand and enjoy the view with a Corona.

Perula Chamela Bay Beer on the Beach Costalegre Mexico Pacific Coast (1)

Now THIS is cruising!

Since Mexico’s Pacific coast is filled with high end resorts, there are plenty of places to find more elegant beachfront dining. In the tiny Costa Cuastecomates (once known as the “Secret Anchorage” because the entrance is hard to see from the open ocean — until the GPS coordinates were published in a guidebook (and a great book it is)), we found a beautiful resort at one end of the beach.

Cuastecomate bay resort Costalegre Mexico Gold Coast

We found an upscale waterfront dining option in the “secret anchorage” of Cuastecomate.

In front of Las Hadas Resort there are tables set up to enjoy the beach and a view of the sailboats anchored in the cove.

Las Hadas Resort beach dining

Beach dining at Las Hadas Resort

With its Mediterranean flair, Las Hadas (which means “the fairies”) also has very cute pairs of beach chairs lined up facing the bay.

Beach chairs Las Hadas Resort Manzanillo Costalegre Mexico

Fun little beach chairs at Las Hadas in Manzanillo

One of the all-time favorite destinations for cruiser’s on the Gold Coast is Barra de Navidad. Unlike all the other anchorages which are merely indentations in the land that are not protected from the open ocean, Barra de Navidad is in an estuary that is entirely enclosed.

Lots of cruisers settle in here for a few weeks or months, not only because the boat is unaffected by swell and sits flat on the water, but because the entire bay is lined with fun little eateries, beach bars and watering holes.

The only downside to anchoring here long term is that the water is too silty and dirty to make water with a watermaker and you can’t discharge the holding tanks unless you hoist the anchor and weave down the shallow and narrow channel to go out for a day sail on the open ocean.

There is a water taxi service in Barra de Navidad that can take you from your boat to anywhere on the shore for a few pesos. There is even a baker who hails from France and who sells his fresh croissants and quiches from boat to boat every morning!!

French Baker in Barra de Navidad anchorage in Mexico Costalegre

Every morning in Barra de Navidad, the French Baker delivers croissants and quiche to cruisers that are eagerly waiting in their cockpits, coffee cup in hand!

Gosh, will it be a chocolate croissant or an almond croissant this morning??

Barra de Navidad boat-in bar Costalegre Pacific Coast Mexico

Barra de Navidad has water taxis throughout the estuary to take you to waterfront dining of all kinds.

I just have to show another sunrise shot from Manzanillo Bay. It is so amazing to peek out the window and find yourself on a sea of pink!!

Sunrise Manzanillo Bay Mexico

Sunrise in Manzanillo Bay

Some spots on the Costalegre are busy and full of people, like the estuary of Barra de Navidad, the beach at Santiago Bay, and Las Hadas Resort in Manzanillo.

Dinghies lined up on the beach Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico Costalegre

Dinghies lined up on the beach at Santiago Bay in Manzanillo

But others are supremely quiet, like the little islands off of Chamela bay. Here, we pulled our dinghy up on the beach and had the island to ourselves.

Sailboat anchored in Chamela Bay near Perula Mexico Costalgre Gold Coast

Our dink on its own at the offshore islands of Chamela Bay.

And in a lot of places we found there were RV parks that backed right up to the beach.

RV on the beach in Mexico

There are RV parks on many beaches. This is at Pérula on Chamela Bay.

In the years we were there, the biggest ongoing story in the media was about all the violence in Mexico. We never saw any violence in all the years we were in Mexico.

The rumor among the many travelers who love Mexico and the one million ex-pats who live there was that the media smear was a ploy to keep Americans in the US spending their vacation dollars on American soil rather than in Mexico. After all, we were at the height of the financial woes that followed on the heels of the the banking meltdown of 2008.

Full-time RV childhood in a Motorhome in the 1980's

Imagine growing up in an RV traveling the Americas!

The few RVers that we met were enjoying their RV parks all by themselves all winter long. Many had taken their RV to Mexico each winter for a decade or more, and they told us those same RV parks had been booked to overflowing by mid-November in prior years.

At the end of our cruise, the owner of a pretty villa in the Costalegre village of La Manzanilla invited us to stay at his place for a week.

It turned out that he was German and his parents had raised him living in a motorhome full-time as they traveled throughout North and South America from Alaska to Cape Horn.

His unique tales and photos of growing up in a motorhome and boondocking on the beach in the 1980’s are told in these two blog posts:

RVers in Mexico saw a lot more of the country than we did, since our travels were restricted to the coast. We did take some phenomenal trips inland on long distances buses, though, visiting the colonial cities of Oaxaca, Guanajuato and San Cristobal de las Casas and visiting the Mayan ruins of Palenque and Monte Alban.

Cuastecomate view of the beach Mexico Costalegre

Beach bars galore in the “secret anchorage” of Cuastecomate

However, there are sights to be seen in Mexico that RVers can’t easily reach because they require the use of a privately owned boat. One of these is Isla Isabel (Isabella Island). This tiny island is a bit north of the Costalegre but is a definite “must see” for any cruiser sailing Mexico’s west coast.

There’s nothing there but a few fishermen and lots of nature. And blue footed boobies!

Blue footed boobie Pacific Mexico Coast

Blue footed boobies! In Mexico!!!

We were there in the spring, and a mixed flock of brown boobies, masked boobies and blue footed boobies were all nesting on the island. The chicks were full sized but still covered with down. The parents let us get close, but they made a point to stand in front of their babies as we walked up.

Blue footed boogie guards its chick in Mexico (1)

A blue footed booby guards its baby.

There is lots of other unusual wildlife to be spotted along the Costalegre, and we watched a group of frigate birds hanging around a partially submerged shipwreck in Santiago Bay.

A frigate bird takes a close look at us.

A frigate bird takes a close look at us.

Around the bend in the Las Hadas Resort anchorage we were greeted by a flock of adorable little birds that perched on our lifelines. These guys know cruisers and boats quite well, and each time we went through that area we found them chirping and flying on and off our lifelines!!

Birds on the lifelines of our boat (1)

These little guys greeted us and landed on our lifelines every time we came into Manzanillo

Out in the open ocean along the Costalegre we also saw lots and lots of sea turtles. Mexico has done a great job of protecting these guys, making sure their nesting sites are not disturbed and that the little babies can get down to the ocean without human interference. Of course, after their dangerous scramble down the beach to the crashing waves, they are met with the eager beaks of waiting birds that circle and fly low over the water to snatch them up as yummy snacks.

A sea turtle on Mexico's Pacific Coast

The waters along the Costalegre are filled with sea turtles.

Birds like to land on the sea turtles, and the turtles don’t seem to mind. So we often saw “turtle-birds” when we went out sailing. On more than one occasion we saw a particular turtle-bird on our way out on a daysail, and the same turtle-bird was floating there when we came back three hours later!

Sea turtle and Boobie on Mexico Pacific Coast

Sometimes sea birds catch a ride on a turtle’s back – and stay there for hours!

Perhaps the most exotic animal we saw on the Costalegre (and in the Sea of Cortez) was the flying mobula rays. These guys fly out of the water and flap their wings like mad and then land on the water with a big smack. It was loud enough that if you were down below in the cabin, you’d come running up on deck to see what made the noise.

The funny thing was that these guys seem to do this jumping thing out of sheer joy. They don’t just jump up and down. They do somersaults and back flips!!

Flying mobula ray manta ray Mexico Pacific Coast

The mobula rays fly into the air and do all kinds of acrobatics!

One day while we were out day sailing in Manzanillo Bay, we saw a whale breaching. We saw whales in quite a few places in Mexico, and sometimes they breached near us, but this was really unusual because the heavily populated shoreline was right there!

On another occasion, while dinghying between the small town of La Manzanilla (a favorite ex-pat hangout for Canadians) and the anchorage that cruisers call Tenacatita (and is actually known to the locals as Blue Bay or Crazy Angels Bay), we saw a mother whale and her baby playing in the water. It was early morning and the water was as still and clear as glass. The mom flopped around on her back and waved her fins around, and the baby did the same thing right next to her. Sweet!

Breaching whale Santiago Bay Manzanillo Costalegre Mexico

A breaching whale in Manzanillo Bay

Mexico’s Pacific Coast is a tourist destination, and there are tourist oriented activities of all kinds. One afternoon we looked out from the cockpit of Groovy in Santiago Bay and saw horseback riders walking along the sand.

Horseback riding on Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico Pacific Coast

Riders on horseback on the beach at Santiago

But perhaps the best thing about cruising Mexico and taking it slow in the Costalegre was getting to know a little about the Mexican culture. Young girls celebrate their 15th birthday with a huge party called the Quniceañera, and we often saw beautiful 15 year olds in photo shoots dressed in very pretty and flouncy dresses.

The Belle of the Ball preps for her 15th birthday.

Sweet 15!

In the final weeks of our Mexico cruise when we were staying in a marina in Ensenada, a thousand miles north of the Costalegre, we ended up hosting a Quinceanera photo shoot aboard Groovy. What fun!

For more detailed info about each of the anchorages on the Costalegre as well as Puerto Vallarta and Ensenada, we have created a video that makes it easy to get the lay of the land with a bowl of popcorn!

This video (the first in a series of three videos) shows what there is to see and do in each anchorage and also gives insights into Mexico’s weather patterns and climate and suggests an overall itinerary for getting the most out of your Mexico sailing cruise.

For more stories from our Mexico cruise, we have loads of blog posts here.

We also have a two page series chock full of tips for cruisers heading to Mexico:

If you are an avid sailor or are curious about the cruising lifestyle, I highly recommend checking out Sailing Magazine. It has been inspiring sailors for decades and was on my family’s coffee table in the 1960’s as I was growing up, fueling my dad’s secret cruising dreams. Even if, like my dad, you never have a chance to fulfill those dreams, Sailing Magazine has endless stories from folks who have had the good fortune to sail off over the horizon, and it makes for fantastic escapist adventure reading.

The June issue is on newsstands now and has lots more of our photos and info from the Costalegre. You can buy a subscription here:

Sailing Magazine Subscription

More info for cruisers sailing to Mexico can be found on these pages:

  • Planning Your Cruise – Tips plus Cruising Guides, Field Guides and Travel Guides
  • What To Expect On Your Cruise – Living on a boat in Mexico is crazy and fun, but there’s an adjustment period!
  • Maps of Mexico – Lots of maps that show what’s where on Mexico’s Pacific Coast and in the Sea of Cortez
  • More links and info below…

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Map, geography and cruising info for the Costalegre and Isla Isabel:

Other blog posts, links and webpages from our Mexico sailing blog:

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Flashback – Meeting Toller Cranston in Mexico

Our sailing cruise in Mexico introduced us to many wonderful people, and while we were traveling inland to visit the colorful city of Guanajuato, I had a chance to spend some time with my lifelong idol and mentor-in-spirit, figure skater Toller Cranston, at his amazing home in San Miguel de Allende.

This post is a departure from the normal fare found on this blog. However, it is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I just couldn’t find the words. The shock of Toller Cranston’s death over this past weekend opened a floodgate of emotions for me when I learned about it yesterday, and suddenly the words were there. So here it is.

San Miguel de Allende Mexico Street Scenes

A street in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Toller Cranston’s home for two decades

San Miguel de Allende Mexico street musician

A street musician in San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende Mexico Cathedral La Parroquia

San Miguel de Allende Cathedral — La Parroquia

Mexico window flower box

Flowers and window boxes on a house in San Miguel de Allende

Emily skating

I spent my childhood and youth on the ice.

As a child and young teenager, figure skating dominated my life, and I competed at a high level. At the time, spending six to seven hours a day on the ice seemed perfectly normal, because all my skating friends and rivals were doing the same thing. You couldn’t stay competitive with anything less.

It was only decades later that I realized that from age 13 to 16 I had put in over 40 hours a week learning to master the ice, to skate with abandon and grace, and to perform. It was a huge effort, but I loved it. I treasured every minute of being a skater, especially when an unusual Canadian skater, Toller Cranston, showed up in the world class competitions and opened my eyes to the vast potential of the sport.

Competitive skating is very conservative and is largely made up of cute little girls in pink dresses and the dour middle aged judges in heavy coats and sweaters who rank them.

Skaters pay their coaches big bucks to help them determine exactly what the judges want to see and then learn how to do it. The judges are not paid for their time but are reimbursed their expenses, and the skating we see on TV is a perfect reflection of what they have rewarded throughout skating’s ranks with good marks on their score sheets.

Little girl competes in Sun Valley Figure Skating Championships

A little skater shows me her medals.
I was like this nearly 50 years ago too!

If the judges want jumps with tight rotations, the skaters deliver. If it’s dizzying spins with many changes of position, they’ve got it. Fancy footwork — done.

Skaters learn very young not to let a single hair be out of place, and by age 12 the most elite among them are seasoned “professionals” that are well accustomed to being stars, signing autographs, dealing with fans, and receiving ovations.

Figure skating as an institution is slow to change, and it’s a world that is highly averse to rebellion. The judges can squelch any renegade with the flick of a pen. And they do.

So it was with total shock that this insular community witnessed Toller Cranston coming into his own in the mid-1970’s. He took on the Establishment in ways that the Hippies, who talked of such things, couldn’t possibly imagine. Brash, bold, outspoken and charismatic, Toller introduced drama and passion into skating to a degree that had never been seen before.

Figure skating judges at a competition

The judges call all the shots in skating. I was a judge at one time!

I was mesmerized. On the cusp of adulthood myself, I watched this man in awe as he battled for all he was worth to show the world his vision of what skating could be. He did moves no man had ever done, and no man would dream of doing at the time. Prancing on his toes, swooping his body into wildly rounded and angular shapes, and leaping into the air with total glee and nary a rotation, he was exotic, exciting, thrilling.

I don’t have any pics of Toller skating, but there are two wonderful pics here and here.

Competitive skating is a tiny world too, one where skaters know and “know of” each other even if they haven’t met. When my own skating career came to a screeching halt after I developed spondylolisthesis (probably from too many double axel attempts), Toller wrote me a letter of encouragement and sympathy.

Toller Cranston's House Front Gate

We arrive at Toller Cranston’s imposing front gate.

At the time, he had started “The Ice Show,” a fabulous new style of skating entertainment, and in his unique hand-written scrawl, he said he wished I could have been part of the group. I was blown away, unbelievably touched and absolutely crushed at the same time. I was 17 by now, and living away from home in a new life at a unique high school trying to come to grips with giving up skating. If I could have, I would have run away to be a part of anything he was doing in a heartbeat.

That thoughtful letter and those few words have stayed with me throughout my life.

Toller Cranston leads us through his garden

We follow Toller through his garden

Toller went on to take on far bigger worlds beyond skating, and I lost track of his many projects.

But the essence of what he did on the ice — his fearless pursuit of his passion, his daring moves that flew in the face of everything the skating world held dear, his steadfast commitment to doing what he believed in, and his utter whimsy and charm — continue stay with me to this day.

I’ve always wanted to live my life with a fervor and soul that is just as deep and just as free.

While our sailboat Groovy was anchored in Zihuatanejo, I became friends with Pamela Bendall who, at 57, was completing a 5-year solo voyage from Vancouver to Peru and back aboard her 47′ steel yacht, Precious Metal.

I discovered she was an Olympic alternate gymnast for Canada in the early 1970’s. We had a rare connection with each other as two women who had spent their girlhoods training to become top athletes, dreaming of perfectly executed tricks and polished performances under pressure.

As we sat on the bow of her boat eating potato chips together (an absolute no-no in our past lives), I casually mentioned that her countryman Toller Cranston had been my idol. What a surprise it was to find out that she grew up in the same town as he did.

“You know, he lives in San Miguel de Allende here in Mexico now,” she suddenly said.

Where? I’d never heard of the place. I made a mental note, but thought nothing of it since it was nowhere near the coast. A year later, however, Mark and I found ourselves exploring Guanajuato, just an hour away.

Pamela Bendall aboard Precious Metal

Former gymnast Pamela Bendall aboard her cruising sailboat Precious Metal

I checked the internet to see if Toller’s address might be somewhere online and discovered he had his house for sale. When we rang the doorbell at his estate’s imposing gate a few days later, a maid gave me a slip of paper to write my name on so she could give it to him before letting me in.

Then, suddenly, there he was at the gate, his hair slightly disheveled and his pants spattered with paint. We exchanged greetings, and he gestured for us to follow him. I asked if he remembered me. He turned back, with a theatrical swoosh, and looked at me pointedly. “I know all about you!” he said.

Mark was totally impressed, but I know drama when I see it, and this was obviously mostly for effect — and the effect was awesome.

Toller Cranston's House Outside-2

Wonderful outdoor seating by the garden.

We followed him through a lush garden that was utterly overgrown and stuffed to the gills with outdoor art pieces. Once inside his home, we discovered we had arrived right in time for a big Sunday brunch he was hosting, and his guests began arriving. He invited us to stay and have brunch too, and in no time a large circular table was packed with about 10 guests.

We found ourselves in impressive company, including Nat King Cole’s daughter and the parents of a halfpipe snowboarding Olympian. Mark and I were speechless listening to a fast repartee between everyone about art, art collections, art collectors, art history, and other highbrow things we know little about.

Paintings everywhere

There were paintings and artwork everywhere.

Suddenly, Toller announced to the table in a loud voice, “You know, Emily and I have a past…”

I froze as everyone turned to look at me.

“A skating past,” he went on with a sly smile.

I loved his sense of timing and flare — it was impeccable, even here at the breakfast table.

The conversation turned to skating, and more lightning quick conversation sailed over my head as they discussed skating champions of the last two decades that I don’t really know.

I stopped watching TV regularly in 1994, and have managed to catch only a rare glimpse of one skater or another since then, if I happened to be in a place with a TV when a skating event was on.

But when they turned back to discussing the skating greats of the 1970’s, I was right there with them, reminiscing about Janet Lynn‘s charm and John Misha Petkevich‘s soaring jumps.

Eventually, the brunch guests left, but Toller invited us to tour his estate and stick around a while.

He has made his living as an artist since his early teenage years when he attended art school, and every corner of his mansion was crammed with artwork, both his own and others’.

Our conversation turned to skating again, in bits and spurts of questions and answers, and slowly the quest I had been after when I first decided to knock on his door in San Miguel de Allende began to be answered.

Who was this unusual artist? How did he dare to be so free? What made him tick? What did he think about all day? And where had life taken him since he stood on the podium at the Olympics?

Toller Cranston's House Inside-4

Every seat in the house was surrounded by art.

In a few short hours that day and the next, a heavy cloak of sadness slowly wrapped itself around my heart as I listened — between the words — to what it took for this man to change the direction of the institution of men’s figure skating.

Toller came into skating at a time when all the flamboyant beauty of free skating counted for only 40% of the overall score. The other 60% of the score came from circular etchings on the ice called “figures” (and which took 75% of my practice time and every one else’s).

Toller Cranston's House Inside-5

Toller collected the pottery work of local artisans in Mexico

Wild passion and figures don’t mix well. Even worse, figures can’t be seen by anyone but the judges who walk around on them in rubber boots after the skater is done, as they study each tracing and take notes on a clipboard.

Toller developed a reputation for being “bad at figures,” although no one but he and his coach and the judges who saw them will ever know for sure. At the same time, he was up against a rival from England, John Curry, who, like him, sought to do more with free skating than merely jump and spin.

Rivalries drive us all to exceed our highest expectations, and the rivalry between these two men was a thrill to watch. John Curry was the ultimate technician, completing each trick with textbook precision, dead-pan expression, and exquisite grace. Toller Cranston was pure emotion in action, effortlessly grabbing the hearts of those who watched him. With every move in his many performances, he held a gasping audience in the palm of his hand.

Toller Cranston's House Inside-6

Artwork, artwork everywhere!

In the end, John Curry took all the big trophies and Toller was lucky to get third spot on any major podium, something I didn’t remember at all until he shared his memories with me. To my surprise, regret hung heavy in the air around us as he talked about his past.

He recalled with horror how the first figure in the Olympics was a right forward outside rocker, a beautiful figure that involves two very cool twisting turns that tie three circles together. Bad luck struck as he pushed off on the first half circle. His eyes filled with tears and he couldn’t see a thing.

That’s like totaling your car on the first half lap of the Indy 500.

Toller Cranston's House Inside-7

Every wall and surface held artwork

He had other tales of torment at the hands of ruthless, narrow minded judges, some of whom had judged me too. He wore a wry smile as he talked of a former skating star from the 1950’s who had visited him in San Miguel and had become openly emotional as he apologized for zealously and publicly slamming Toller’s skating vision and style when he was at his peak.

But did Toller know how much he was loved by his fans? I wondered.

Our conversation, which was really just stutters of comments thrown to the wind towards each other, turned to his art. We were flying through his mansion on this crazy whirlwind tour as we talked, seeing room after room after room. Huge canvasses and sculptures and unique decorations were everywhere.

Mark and I chat with Toller

Mark and I pause our tour of the art-filled estate to chat with Toller a bit.

We sat down in his living room to talk a little more in depth, and vignettes of his past gradually took shape before us as he talked.

“I paid for all my skating myself with my art.” He suddenly blurted.

My jaw dropped. That is unheard of. Not only is it nearly impossible to make a living from fine art, but Toller had done so as a young art school student, and he had funded an extraordinarily expensive skating career in the process.

What’s even more amazing is that, generally, every elite figure skater is sponsored. Even I had a sponsor, I told him, or I would have had to quit at age 12. His expression was haunted as he said, “No one ever sponsored me. I paid for it all myself.”

My respect for this man shot up a thousandfold.

Crazy art and toy horse in the bedroom

As the hours passed, we resumed wandering through his many bedrooms, through the corners of his home where he liked to read and watch TV, and into his brilliantly lit studio that was lined from floor to ceiling with windows. My emotions became a blur of confusion as I listened to him and took in his life experiences and overlaid them on my own.

“The world only remembers the winners,” he said grimly at one point. “They only remember the names of the champions.”

I was completely taken aback. Didn’t he realize that he had single-handedly changed men’s figure skating forever, regardless of whether his name was etched on an Olympic trophy? Didn’t he know that the people who change the course of history are the ones that are remembered?

Sculpture of a head with wild hair

A sculpture he was working on.

We were walking through his past, and my past with it, and there was so much I wanted to say and to share, but the words just weren’t there, and I’m not sure he would have listened anyway. I was elated to have a chance to be with him at last, but so frustrated for not having more time and more peace.

The household was abuzz all day long. Maids and neighbors wandered in and out at will, art students and art assistants zoomed by us repeatedly, intent on their missions in and around the estate. I marveled that Toller could think straight in all this chaos. Perhaps he thrived on it, but I wasn’t sure.

He was intrigued by our travels and asked us a lot of questions about the places we’d been and where we were going next. At the time, Mark and I were wrapping up our sailing cruise, a nearly four year voyage that had opened our lives up in ways we never dreamed of.

Toller Cranston's House Inside-3

We see room after room of fantasy artwork and even some elaborately decorated eggs.

We were just months from moving off our boat permanently and putting it up for sale. As we filed away precious memories of our voyage, we knew we were embarking on an exhilarating new phase of life as bigger, stronger and more experienced people.

Why had we started traveling full-time six years prior? Toller wanted to know. To change our lives and have an adventure was my quick reply.

“I need to change my life too,” he said wistfully. “I want to have an adventure.” He sounded eager. He talked of wanting to sell his estate and buy land nearby to build a new home.

00 651 Toller Cranston Studio

Works in progress in the studio

Eventually he bade us goodbye from somewhere in the middle of the mansion, and we left his home on our own, wandering through the maze of gardens in a stunned stupor, and making several wrong turns in the process. The encounter stayed with me for weeks as we prepared our boat for its final 1,000 mile journey, the Baja Bash from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego.

I couldn’t help but feel that the cost of being a maverick, of striking out against tradition to do something bigger and better and more exotic than the norm, had been very high for him. Because of the sport’s rules in place at the time, and his fierce determination to pursue his own vision, Toller was never rewarded with the most important gold medals that are the badge of success and acceptance in sport.

Nevermind that many of the moves we see skaters doing today were his inventions. That doesn’t doesn’t put your name on the roster of history’s World Champions.

Doors from the studio into the garden

Glass doors to the garden from the studio

Yet, at the same time, I was bemused that a free spirit who turned his back on convention would have the slightest interest in being rewarded conventionally. Would the accolades of the Establishment, of judges who couldn’t see or accept his brilliance, really have meant something to him? Sadly, the pain of his losses in the highest levels of competition seemed as raw and as fresh to him now, in 2013, as they had been in the mid-1970’s.

It was agonizing to see that a man who had so bravely followed his own heart didn’t find the fulfillment of his vision to be satisfaction enough in itself, without the approval of the very people he scorned. I realized later that I had wanted my hero to have believed in his dream at all costs, no matter what, because heroes are larger than life and they don’t fall prey to the mortal foibles of things like wanting to be accepted and approved.

Glasswork in Toller Cranston's Garden in San Miguel de Allende Mexico

Elaborate glasswork decorated many charming corners of the garden.

Two days ago, we got the news that Toller died unexpectedly of a heart attack, at age 65, in his home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I was devastated. Of course, his timing was spot on once again. He died on the day of the men’s competition at the Canadian National Championships, which was also the rest day between two riveting performances by Jason Brown (who seems, for all the world, to be channeling Toller’s essence) at the men’s competition at the US National Championships.

Glass ornaments in an arch over Toller Cranston's garden in Mexico

Glass ornaments form an arch over the garden.

In pondering Toller’s life and death, I kept thinking of Steve Jobs’ quote about how we all have nothing to fear because we are already naked. I looked it up, and found it comes from the commencement speech he gave at Stanford in June, 2005, shortly after he learned he had pancreatic cancer:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Paints and paint brushes and decorated eggs

Paints and paint brushes ready for use on an egg decorating project.

I don’t think that when Toller opened his day planner for the week of January 18th, 2015, he skipped down to Saturday, January 24th, and penciled in “Exit This World.” But that is what happened. And I couldn’t help but think:

If you are nurturing a dream — to break whatever bonds hold you, to get a boat and go sailing, or to run off in an RV and explore for a while — go for it. You have nothing to lose, except time. Your dream is yours, and yours alone, no matter who applauds or condemns the idea. Give it wings with your own faith.

Toller Cranston and me - we share a past

We share a past…

After we got the sad news about Toller’s death, we went out to do some errands. As I climbed into the truck and turned on the radio, my thoughts couldn’t leave Toller’s lively breakfast table in his home, his crazy art-filled estate, and his darkness as bits and pieces of the stories from his past escaped his lips, soaked in bitterness.

Suddenly the radio erupted with the bright, energetic sounds of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture, the music I had skated to when Toller had had his greatest influence on me. It was the music that had carried me to Nationals forty years ago.

I sat back in shock. What a coincidence! I rarely hear that music on the radio. As my soul followed the high spirits of the piece, I felt chills running up and down my spine. I was covered in goose bumps. Without warning, tears suddenly began to stream down my face and I dropped my head in my hands.

I didn’t have a coherent thought in my mind, and I was overcome as I cried openly and the tears flowed freely down my cheeks. This music, thoughts of my mentor-in-sprit, Toller, and memories of that visit to his home that I been so fortunate to share with Mark all swirled around me in an overwhelming vortex.

In that moment, I have no doubt that Toller was reaching out to touch me — as he swung by on his way out.

 

Some clips from YouTube —

“Totally Toller” —

“I Pagliacci” (No one skated to Opera back then… good heavens!) —

Related Posts:

 
Although I wrote this post in January, 2015, it fits into our June 2013 travels right between our visit to Guanajuato, Mexico, and our stay at Casa Maguey on Mexico’s Costalegre.

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Ensenada – A Triumphant Homecoming!

Late July, 2013 – We were overjoyed to have completed the Baja Bash. Fear and nail-biting moments aside, it had been as smooth a ride on that challenging coast as we could have hoped for — far less traumatic than many of the stories we had heard before we left — and it had been super fast, taking just 8+ days of nearly non-stop motoring to cover 1,000 miles.

We were exultant!

Cruiseport Village Marina

Cruiseport Village Marina in Ensenada — with a cruise ship in port!

Ensenada Flag

A huge Mexican flag dominates
Ensenada’s skyline.

We walked around the docks and washed the boat with puffed out chests and smug grins. Neither of us had wanted to admit to the other just how frightened we had been of that voyage before we left, but now that it was over, a tumult of chaotic emotions washed over us as we acknowledged the fear and worry we had felt and the certainty we’d both had, at times, that we were facing certain doom.

We had done it!! We had snuck past the worst obstacles on the coast with a smile and a wave, and we had outfoxed Mother Nature to slip unnoticed up the coast between hurricanes. But who could we brag to?? Old friends!

Docks on Ensenada's Malecon

Looking out over the boats from Ensenada’s Malecón.

We had lived in Ensenada for six months as we outfitted our boat for cruising in the spring of 2010, and this fun city had become our home.

Ever since we left, our mouths had been watering for Mexico’s best beef tacos which are served at a special restaurant in Ensenada.

Las Brisas Restaurant Ensenada

The best beef tacos in all of Mexico are at Las Brisas!

Within hours of our arrival, we made a beeline for Las Brisas Taquería, two blocks south of the Cruiseport Village Marina entrance on the main drag.

The owner, Norma, has lured patrons to her little restaurant with her divinely marinated grilled beef tacos for twenty years. As we plopped down on two stools in front of her, she recognized us immediately and gave us a warm welcome.

In between savoring bites of her to-die-for tacos, we bent her ear with tales of all our travels: the Mayan ruins in Palenque, the colonial cathedrals of Oaxaca and Morelia, the colorful hillsides of Guanajuato, the underwater world of Huatulco, and of course the white knuckle ride up the coast to Ensenada.

Norma and Melissa Las Brisas

Norma (with daughter Melissa) has served awesome
carne asada tacos for 20 years.

She smiled and nodded enthusiastically and made us feel like long lost friends who had gone adventuring and come home to tell stories of the big wide world we’d found.

Even though she had a restaurant full of customers, she took time for us and made us feel special for having braved the ocean and made it back alive. Sitting on our stools at her counter, we suddenly felt like we had come home.

Cruise Ship in Ensenada

Cruise ships come twice a week.

 

Ensenada is a lively city, and there is always something going on.

Cruise ships come to town twice a week, bringing a boatload of tourists to the streets, and there are festivals, celebrations, gatherings and events of all kinds in the center of town all year long.

Cheerleaders Practicing with Mexican Flag

You never know what you’ll see
on the main plaza in Ensenada.

The main plaza is anchored by an enormous Mexican flag that towers over everything and is situated near three huge gold colored sculpted heads.

As we took our first steps into town past these familiar landmarks, a new and strange emotion swept over.

Everything here was exactly as we had left it — but we had changed in profound ways.

I remembered staring at those heads when we first got to Ensenada, three years prior, and wondering who in the world those people were. Now I recognized Benito Juarez and Miguel Hidalgo.

Ensenada Plaza three heads

Mexican heroes Juarez and Hidalgo (left and center)
changed Mexico’s history.

Back in Guanajuato, we had walked through a centuries old mine shaft where enslaved indigenous people endured short, harsh lives wrestling silver out of the mountains to make their Spanish owners rich.

What a searing glimpse we were given, in the cold depths of that mine, of the agony and anger that prompted Hidalgo’s “grito” (“scream”) for freedom and sparked Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain in 1810.

Streets of Ensenada

The red brick sidewalks guide tourists past gift shops in town.

However, more than just picking up a little Mexican history in our travels, we had grown in intangible ways ourselves too.

Ensenada was still the bustling city that it always had been, with a big town plaza that might be filled with performing clowns one day and a chess tournament the next.

And the red brick sidewalks still gave hesitant tourists a clearly defined path through the gift shops and bars.

However, we kept remembering our first impressions when we had arrived in Ensenada.

 

Newly minted Mexico Cruisers

Is this Groovy boat really ours?
Are we really going to cruise Mexico on a sailboat?

We had been newly minted Mexico cruisers, not really aware that we were embarking on a life abroad as ex-pats.

The pungent smells, vibrant colors, and hurly burly of exuberant vendors hailing us down on the streets were all overwhelming.

Chess tournament in Ensenada

Ensenada’s plaza hosts events of all kinds,
even chess tournaments!

We were shocked by the grubbiness and shocked to see Starbucks and McDonalds sitting proudly in the middle of it all.

I tried to speak Spanish but could never find the words, and I got all fouled up in the grammar every time. It had seemed so easy in my Spanish classes back home, but my Spanish had failed me completely on the streets here.

Mexican Flag and cart in Ensenada

The chaos and action in the streets were overwhelming at first.

And how I remember being humbled when an old, bent, toothless man had kindly told us in perfect and very polite English that we were driving our enormous truck the wrong way down a one-way street.

We were bewildered and charmed by the steady stream of horse-drawn buggies and crazy train rides tourists could take around town.

So this was Mexico, we had thought back then. Or was it? More seasoned cruisers told us this wasn’t really Mexico. It was too close to San Diego. It was a gringo town. But was that really true?

Vendor carts in Ensenada

Red brick sidewalks and vendor carts.

Now, as we walked around, we saw this vivacious town with eyes that had taken in many of the best sights in Mexico. We now knew that this fine city really was “Mexico.”

It didn’t matter how close it was to San Diego. Ensenada was a fabulous Mexican city, like many of the others that had captured our hearts elsewhere, and it was as real and authentic as any.

And now our conversations with locals dropped into comfortable Spanish at every opportunity we could find.

Horse and Buggy in Ensenada

Horses and buggies trot everywhere.

I remembered standing at the parts counter at an outboard motor store those years ago, trying to explain that we wanted to buy a two-stroke six-horsepower Yamaha outboard.

The man at the counter didn’t speak English. And I obviously didn’t speak Spanish, because our conversation went absolutely nowhere but was fringed with laughter and helpless arm waving and body language on both sides.

As we wandered past his store now, I mumbled the conversation I might have with him today… How satisfying to realize I could get the job done in Spanish now.

 

Tourist train in Ensenada

If you’d rather not take a buggy, try the tourist train!

More subtle, though, were the changes within our own souls. We had arrived in Ensenada fresh off of two and half years of traipsing around the US in a fifth wheel trailer.

We had been immersed in American landscapes and history and culture, living on public lands and perching on street corners, boondocking (dry camping without hookups to water and electricity) for free at every opportunity.

Suddenly, with our arrival in Ensenada, we were sailors living on a big beautiful sailboat in a foreign land with a different culture and different language.

Line of Volkswagons

Home to the Baja 500 and 1000 desert races, vehicle rallies of all kinds take place here.

Neither of us had ever lived abroad. Neither of us had cruised for more than a few weeks at a stretch.

Only one of us (me) had ever lived on or owned a big sailboat, and that was in a marina in Boston while working. Not quite the same thing!

The shock, thrill and awe we felt then permeated every moment of our lives.

 

VW bug woody

Classic!

Walking around Ensenada always brought us repeated “Wow!” moments as we encountered the delightful but extraordinarily different patterns of day-to-day life in Mexico.

However, the whole time we were there, our upcoming southern voyage loomed large and intimidating in front of us.

Learning to navigate foreign waters, learning weather prediction, finding safe anchorage, and learning to live on the hook rather than at marinas all lay ahead of us. We had no idea how it would work out.

 

 

Horse and buggy

Riding around Ensenada
~ in style ~

Would we like it? What gear and supplies should we take with us from the US?

How hard would it be to find things we needed down south, both for the boat and for ourselves?

Would we end up in harm’s way, either on the high seas or on shore? There were a million things to be concerned about.

Now, as we strolled the same streets and waved at the same people that had been here the whole time we were gone, our voyage was behind us. All those nerve-wracking questions were answered.

Tenancious

Sometimes in the boating life you need a little tenacity!

We knew now that we could take our boat anywhere. If we had been inclined, we could have crossed the Pacific or continued along the coast to the Caribbean.

We were confident in our sailing skills, confident in our boat, and confident in our people skills.

We knew what the cruising life entailed and how we were happiest doing it.

There were no worries at the fringes of our consciousness or unmentionable fears lurking on the edges of our days any more.

Instead, there was a growing sense of accomplishment.

 

Joachim cigar seller

Joachim chatted up a storm with us between cigar sales.

We stopped to chat with our friend Joachim, who I quickly discovered was more widely read in English literature than I was. After he told me my name reminded him of Emily Bronte, we proceeded to discuss nineteenth century English literature for half an hour!

A voracious reader as a boy, he found that cast-off English language paperbacks from tourists and ex-pats were far cheaper than new Spanish language books, so he learned English by reading with a Spanish-English dictionary in hand. His vocabulary was enormous.

One great lesson we had learned on our voyage was the joy of talking to the locals, whether dock workers or timeshare salesmen or vendors on the street, and this cigar salesman on the streets of Ensenada was teaching us this lesson once again.

 

Life Saver on the docks

A life saving ring at Cruiseport.

Back at our sailboat Groovy, we were given a priceless peek at one of the most special Mexican family traditions: the “Quinceañera” (keen-say-an-YAIR-ah) or girl’s 15th birthday party.

A well-dressed man walking the docks asked if he could get some photos of his daughter on our boat, as she was celebrating her fifteenth birthday that evening.

An entourage of teenagers, a professional photographer and a professional videographer proceeded to file onto the docks, and we unexpectedly became witnesses to this beautiful celebration that is a cross between a prom and a wedding.

Quniceanera on Groovy

Groovy helps celebrate a Quinceañera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ensenada’s citizenry is a fantastic mixture of Mexicans and Americans, and lots of folks from north of the border have homes here.

Our good friends Beth and Gary had arrived here in their sailboat Fun in the Sun prior to our first arrival in 2010. While we were sailing south, they had put down roots here on shore. They graciously invited us to spend a few days off the boat at their home, enjoying Ensenada’s inland scenery.

Estero Beach RV park

The resort RV park at Estero Beach.

Hopping in their truck, we sped past Estero Beach which lies at the south end of Ensenada Bay, and then we drove past the upscale RV park that overlooks the estuary.

Umbrellas line Estero Beach

Umbrellas lined up at Estero Beach.

Our minds started turning, as we will soon be boatless and living in our trailer. Hmmm… this might be an option!

This part of Baja is ranching country, and a truck ahead of us on the highway was decked out with a cowboy hat and horse saddle.

Cowboy hat and saddle

Heading off the coast, we saw
Baja’s ranching and wine country.

So different than the tropical sights we had been seeing for the last 9 months!!

It felt peculiar to be sitting in a truck and seeing the world fly by us out our windows. The rural and mountainous landscapes were beautiful and remote feeling.

The next day, on a morning walk, Mark spotted a colorful vermillion flycatcher and some lovely flowers.

Vermillion Flycatcher

A vermillion flycatcher peeks at Mark

Perhaps what was most special about these days at home with our friends, though, was our long heartfelt conversations about cruising.

Cruising, for us, was both thrilling and extraordinarily hard work. Like so many cruisers, we had jumped into the lifestyle and lived it to its fullest, but also like so many, we found it proved to have its challenges.

Golf course landscape

Morning reflections

Many folks, like us, end their cruise somewhat sooner than expected. For some, all it takes to end their cruise is a few exhausting all-nighters at sea where all hell breaks loose and they are scared out of their wits.

For others, cruising ends after a few bank account draining boat system failures where the meager savings account is assaulted by foreign import taxes, overseas shipping costs and local mechanics with great intentions but dubious skills.

Tres Mujeres Vineyards

Grape vines at Tres Mujeres Vineyard.

Our friends understood these things intimately, and we talked endlessly and long into the night.

We will be forever grateful to them for sharing our intense emotions that were still so fresh and so vivid in our hearts and for making us feel truly triumphant during those days at their house.

“You did it! You lived the dream!” Beth kept saying. “Lots of people talk, but you went!”

Many cruisers voyage much further than we did, crossing oceans, sailing between icebergs in high latitudes, surviving terrifying perils at sea, and mingling among exotic cultures on distant continents.

 

Beth and Gary

Our sweet friends Beth and Gary made us feel like returning heroes.

Our journey was modest by comparison. But we felt a gratifying sense of achievement, which was something we had never anticipated.

Flowers

Mark found pretty flowers on our walks.

Our focus had always been on the going: getting to the next port, seeing what was there, and then seeing if we could find what lurked behind that!!

We had never realized how rewarding we would find the coming home. There are few times in life when you can measure your personal growth and feel it as deeply as we did during our stay in Ensenada, the point where our voyage had begun and the point where it was now ending.

Baja Landscape

A misty morning on Baja

Clay pots

The Freshman Cruisers we had once been seemed to be wandering the streets just ahead of us, shadows of ourselves but with such a sweet aura of naiveté about them.

Now as seasoned, salty, Senior Cruisers, we felt like the big men on campus.

We looked all over the place for someone handing out diplomas. But none were to be found! Ah well… We settled for patting each other on the back and reminiscing…a lot!

 

 

Brick arches

Besides wine tasting, one of the joys of winery visits
is the pretty estates themselves.

Ensenada’s Guadelupe Valley is the heart of Mexico’s wine country, and Beth and Gary took us to see two of their favorite boutique wineries.

Tres Mujeres (Three Women) Vineyard has some beautiful views around their property and a lovely stone wine cellar for tastings.

Wooden wheel chair

A bench made using old wooden wheels.

Cactus flower

We love these huge cactus flowers.

The cactus were in bloom and sported huge while flowers.

JC Bravo is another small vineyard whose main building is adorned with beautiful brick arches and decorated with unique furniture made of wine casks and wooden wheels. What great photo ops these things made!

We ended the day at the charming outdoor restaurant La Hacienda. The tables at this pretty restaurant are all nestled into the embrace of several sweeping shade trees, and one part of this gorgeous property houses a flower and plant nursery.

La Hacienda Restaurant

La Hacienda is a wonderful restaurant tucked into a flower nursery!

 

 

 

Orchids

La Hacienda has beautiful orchids.

Girl on a car ride

Almost ready to take the family car for a spin.

We were smitten by the beauty of their orchid collection, and we enjoyed a very leisurely lunch under the beautiful trees.

When we left our friends’ company to return to Ensenada, a big summer carnival was in full swing. There was no doubt that Ensenada was just as fun and exciting as we remembered.

 

Kiddie Train on the Malecon

A big fair came to town, complete with a kiddie train ride on the Malecón.

A cute little train for kids wove all along the Malecón (boardwalk) and circled around the plaza, shuttling excited kids all around.

There were motorized rides of all kinds and dozens of ways for a kid to get tossed around and jostled about.

We watched the littlest kids driving around in circles and the bigger kids shrieking as the roller coasters climbed skyward and plunged around corners at breakneck speeds.

This was just too fun a place to leave right away, and Groovy had an appointment at the Baja Naval boatyard, so we settled in to spend a few more weeks in Ensenada.

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For more from Ensenada, please check out these links:

Quniceañera!         Ensenada Wineries         Life in Ensenada

 

Baja Bash (2) – Chased by a Hurricane!

This is the second part of our story of doing the Baja Bash. The first part is here: Baja Bash (1).

Early July, 2013 – I slowly became aware of my surroundings aboard our sailboat Groovy as I woke up after just two hours of sleep. For the past two days we had been sailing non-stop from Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas, and it felt luxurious to be lying in bed at anchor in Cabo without having to worry if we were still on course or if we were about to hit something in the dark.

I was thinking dreamily of how beautiful and crystal clear the water had been in Cabo San Lucas when we had first arrived here in November 2010. It had been the clearest water we ever saw during our cruise of Mexico.

Cabo San Lucas

View from the Cabo San Lucas anchorage. Dozens of resorts line the bay.

The water had been a brisk 70 degrees then, however. In contrast, a few hours ago when we arrived in Cabo in the predawn light, the temperature gauge had said the water was 80 degrees. This wasn’t quite the 89 degrees we had left behind us in Puerto Vallarta, but I sure looked forward to relaxing for a few days and enjoying some swimming and snorkeling, not to mention catching up on much needed sleep.

I rolled over and thought about how well the precursor to the Baja Bash had gone for us. I really liked this business of taking advantage of the hurricanes. Today was Friday, July 5th, and if we waited for the hurricane coming up behind us, we could catch it on Monday, and then ride its outer southerly winds right up the outside of Baja. How perfect!

Groovy in Cabo

Groovy in Cabo when we first arrived three years prior.

Hang on… Say that again?? If we waited in an exposed anchorage until a hurricane arrived, we would do what??!! My eyes flew open. Was I nuts??

The image of the hurricane rolling off Mexico’s mainland coast that I’d seen on the weather charts the night before suddenly filled my mind. How close was it going to come to Cabo?

In one motion, I was out of bed and onto the computer, bringing up the latest weather data.

Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I stared in horror. It didn’t look anything like it did three hours ago. I thought the hurricane was supposed to approach Cabo and then veer off to the west like all the others before it had done. Now they were predicting it would head up into the Sea of Cortez. What??

Suddenly my heart was in my throat. I flipped back and forth between the weather charts, frantically trying to make sense of what was going on. The anchorage we were in was going to be blasted by high winds on Sunday if we stuck around, and even though it didn’t look like a great time to go up the coast, we had to get out of here. Now!!

Hurricane Erick goes West

The forecast for Sun Jul 7 at 12 Greenwich Mean Time (UTC),
downloaded when we first arrived in Cabo at 7:00 a.m.
Hurricane Erick will head west and bring a southerly flow to Baja on Monday and Tuesday.

Hurricane Erick goes into the Sea

3 hours later I downloaded a drastically different forecast for
that same time. Now Erick is predicted to head to Baja
and up the Sea of Cortez. Time to get out of Cabo!!
Who knows WHAT will happen there Monday and Tuesday!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabo Falso Cabo San Lucas Map

Cabo Falso is just an hour from the
Cabo San Lucas anchorage, but it is worlds away
in terms sea state and wind.

Problem was, the bottom west end of Baja California, called Cabo Falso, is a little cape with a big and terribly mean temper. It is one of the two most treacherous points in the whole 800 mile trip north from Cabo to San Diego. It was only an hour (6 miles) from where we were sitting right now, but for the next 30 miles after that (five to eight hours), we could face howling winds and snarling seas. Cabo Falso was a place where sailors were regularly crushed and sent packing back to Cabo San Lucas to lick their wounds.

The wise author of our guide book, Baja Bash II, said to try to reach Cabo Falso when the conditions were calmest, right at dawn, and never to attempt to get around it later in the day or if you could see white caps on the open ocean while still in the anchorage. Arghh. It was already nearly 10:00 in the morning. The sun had been up for hours. There were no whitecaps in the distance right now, but the wind was building.

Cabo San Lucas Inner Harbor

Cabo San Lucas Inner Harbor

Mark appeared in the doorway, bleary eyed and squinting.

“We have to leave right now.” I said, my voice shaking.

“Now?” He said, scratching his head slowly. “I thought you wanted to stay…”

“I was wrong. We’ve gotta go. Right this minute.” I was already flipping on the instruments in the cabin and flying up into the cockpit and turning the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life.

As Mark climbed around me and out on deck to the anchor locker, I heard him mutter: “I was wondering why you wanted to stay. We should have tied up at the fuel dock when we came in…”

He was right. We needed fuel, and the prudent thing would have been to be at the fuel dock when it opened at 8:00 in the morning. At least then we could have been at Cabo Falso by 9:00. But we didn’t have time for regrets now! I shoved the throttle to its max and we charged over to the fuel dock, weaving between the traffic jam of boats at 7.5 knots.

The guy at the fuel dock confirmed that Hurricane Erick seemed to be headed towards Baja, and he got us fueled up in record time. He glanced at his watch and then shoved us off, saying, “It’s only 9:15, you have time…”

Cabo San Lucas Arches

We bid goodbye to the arches at Cabo San Lucas

I did a double take and ducked my head into the cabin to look at our big clock on the wall. It said 10:15. Oh, that’s right, we had changed time zones! Our clocks were still on Puerto Vallarta time!

I heaved a huge sigh of relief. The witching hour of noon when the wind really begins to pick up was still three hours off.

The wind was already beginning to build in the bay, however, and we both stood anxiously in the cockpit as the boat barreled around the famous Los Arcos rock formations. We strained through the binoculars to see if there were white caps on the open water. It didn’t seem so. At least not yet.

Cabo Falso Lighthouse

The Cabo Falso Lighthouse is waaaay up there!

Watching the magic of Cabo slip away behind us, my only consolation was that the entire bay was filled with red tide. We weren’t missing any snorkeling or swimming this time!

Ahead of us, the apparent wind, that is, the wind we felt on our faces, which was a combination of the wind in the air and the wind generated by our own forward motion, quickly increased to 15 knots, then 18, then 20. The water rippled and began peaking in little wavelets. Soon whitecaps surrounded us. But the waves were blessedly small.

Cabo Falso Lighthouse

Cabo Falso smiles on us!!

Suddenly the Cabo Falso lighthouse came into view, high up on a hillside.

We stared at each other in disbelief. “This is it? We’re rounding Cabo Falso and we’re not fighting for our lives?!”

So it seemed. It wasn’t like there was a sharp corner. It was an almost imperceptible turn. The lighthouse slipped by, and as we continued, the conditions remained the same. What a relief!! Could any two people be so lucky?

As a lark, I checked the laptop to see if we could get on the internet. We could!! I quickly jotted off a note on Facebook. How fabulous and bizarre to be rounding the dreaded Cabo Falso and reporting about it on Facebook in real time. What would the sailors of old think of that??

Laundry flaps in the breeze aboard Groovy

We settle down and do some ordinary things like laundry!

We settled down and began to relax into some routine activities. We did some laundry and hung it out to dry.

Brushing past the table in the cabin, I noticed Mark’s to do list intended for our time in Cabo. He had wanted to dive under the boat and check the prop, and also check the engine and transmission oil and the fuel filters, among other things. Oh well.  Hopefully it was all okay!

To Do List for Cabo

Mark had a list of things he wanted to do in Cabo…

 

 

 

 

At least we’d gotten two hours of sleep at anchor! Now we were in for another overnight 180 mile run before we would stop again, this time in Bahía Santa Maria. Hopefully we’d get a day of rest there.

 

Baja Bash - main stops

The plan for our major stops. There are
lots of hiding places in between¡

In the meantime, I studied our situation on the computer. I had written up all the possible scenarios for this coast, the distances between all the major and minor anchorages and notorious “bad spots” we’d encounter, how long it might take us to get between each one, and what times of the day were best for arriving at each location.

Our overall plan was to make two stops — one in Bahia Santa Maria and one in Turtle Bay — before ending in Ensenada, with each of the three legs taking 30-40+ hours. But who knew what the weather gods and boat gods might have in store for us.

Before we lost the internet for good, I downloaded the weather charts one last time and reviewed them yet again. Now that we were past Cabo Falso, everything looked good for getting to our first stop, Bahía Santa Maria in about 24 more hours.

Atomic clock with wrong date

Our atomic clock suddenly resets
itself to 5 days ago!

I glanced up at the atomic clock on the wall and did another double take. It said the date was July 1st. Huh? I looked at the computer. It said July 6th. What the heck? Goofy electronics. A satellite must have given out bad data when the clock beamed up. Good grief.

I went into the head and discovered the liquid hand soap had fallen over in the medicine chest and made a big mess. Oh well, those little shelves had needed to be cleaned and tidied up anyway. At least nothing big had gone wrong.

Yanmar 4JH4E echotech watermaker

A fitting on the high pressure hose attached
to the watermaker pump suddenly started
spraying water everywhere.

Casting about for things to do to keep busy, Mark decided to make water for a while. He flipped the switch on our engine-driven watermaker, and suddenly we heard a horrible noise in the engine compartment. He instantly turned it off, pulled the stairs off the engine to see what was going on, and tried again. Yikes! Fountains of water were spraying everywhere all over our clean and sparkling engine. My heart stopped at the sight.

We had never had engine problems in 8,000 miles or so of cruising. And now we had 750 miles of motoring ahead of us! It is impossible to sail north on this coast because of the huge headwinds. And a hurricane was getting in position to block our passage to the south.

Mark flew through the cabin grabbing tools and a flashlight while I ran through scenarios in my head. If we turned around right now, we could sail downwind to Cabo in a few hours. Puerto Los Cabos Marina was 20 miles further downwind from there, and we could hide from Hurricane Erick there…

Suddenly the noise stopped, and Mark was grinning at me. I looked at him hopefully.

“No problem!” He said easily. “The fitting on the high pressure hose had worked its way loose from the vibration…”

Wow. My hero. Mark can fix anything. He is the ultimate troubleshooter. He knows how everything works. We moved the stairs back over the engine and I took a deep breath. One crisis averted!

We settled down again and took in our surroundings. The wind was a steady 15-18 knots on the nose as we barreled along at 6.5 knots, but the seas were flat. The water temperature had dropped to 75 degrees and it had become a vivid, rich green. What a startling contrast to the bright blue color of the water yesterday in the Sea of Cortez.

Vivid blue water in the Sea of Cortez

The water in the Sea of Cortez was brilliant blue

Cold water on Pacific Baja is rich green

The much colder water outside Baja is suddenly a rich green

 

Swirling clouds, haze and towering mountains greet us as we approach Bahia Santa Maria.

Swirling clouds, haze and towering mountains greet us
as we approach Bahía Santa Maria.

The afternoon slipped into evening. There was no sunset, but at 9:00 p.m. the wind suddenly picked up. The seas became steep and choppy and the wind blew a steady 20+ knots on the nose.

The boat began flying off the wave crests and crashing into the troughs, bringing the boat to an abrupt halt each time and threatening to shatter everything on board. We slowed the boat to 4 knots, climbing up and over each wave rather then leaping between them. Ahhh… much better.

 

Emily at the wheel of Groovy in jacket and long pants

No more bathing suit sailing. Now it’s jackets and pants!

When dawn finally came, it snuck in the back door surrounded by mist instead of announcing itself with a brilliant sunrise. The stark hills of Bahía Santa Maria appeared, and we saw fishermen out on their daily rounds.

Sea lion in Baja California

Sea lions bark and play around us.

 

 

 

 

 

If the cooler water temps and changed color of the ocean weren’t enough to let us know we had left the tropics in our wake, the arrival of a group of sea lions confirmed it. They played and jumped around each other, barking non-stop.

The dozens of anchorages in the Sea of Cortez are filled with cruisers trying to stay cool while we shiver sailing up the Pacific side.

The dozens of anchorages in the Sea of Cortez are filled with cruisers trying to stay cool while we shiver on the Pacific side.

As we shivered in the damp, grey morning air in our jackets and pants, it was strange to know that on the opposite side of Baja California, in the Sea of Cortez, dozens of cruisers were sweltering in 100 degree heat. They were all swimming morning, noon and night to stay cool, and sailing between the crush of red waypoints we saw on our chartplotter.

Fishermen in Baja California

Fishermen work outside Magdalena Bay and Santa Maria Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we pulled into wide and sweeping Santa Maria Bay, it was noon on Saturday, and we got a fabulous internet signal on the laptop for a few minutes while we motored around.

We downloaded a weather update to get the whereabouts of Hurricane Erick and figure out our next move. A quick glance showed that Erick was weakening and still heading into the Sea of Cortez and that our best option for our next 40 hour jaunt to Turtle Bay would be to hang out here on Sunday and wait until Monday morning to leave.

Anchored in Bahia Santa Maria Baja California

The soft curves of the hills fill our view in Bahia Santa Maria.

We picked out a well protected spot in the corner behind the mountains, away from the half-dozen anchored shrimpers, and when we discovered we couldn’t get an internet signal from there, we didn’t care.

It was a heavenly place to rest our weary bones for a few days. Mark poured our 20 spare gallons of diesel into the fuel tanks, and all seemed right with the world until he came down below with a big frown on his face.

“The fuel didn’t look right.” He said. “It was grey. Normally the diesel we get in Mexico is pink or yellow.” I looked at him quizzically. He went on, “I think maybe there was stuff growing on the inside of our jerry jugs and it mixed into the fuel we got in La Cruz and turned it grey.”

He looked truly despondent. Diesel becomes contaminated with bacteria in the tropics so easily. “I didn’t check the insides of the jugs before we filled them.” He continued glumly. “Man, I always check things like that. Why didn’t I do it in La Cruz?”

He slumped on the settee, completely frustrated. How could I console him? It was an easy oversight. We wouldn’t know if we had bad fuel until the filters clogged and the engine quit running. And that could happen at any time.

I sighed heavily. We had two spare fuel filters. But if bad fuel clogged one, it would probably clog the second fairly soon too. Oh, if only we could have found another spare fuel filter or two in Puerto Vallarta!

Sand dunes in Bahia Santa Maria near Magdalena Bay in Baja California

In the morning, we moved across the bay and anchored next to these beautiful sand dunes.

We tried to think happier thoughts and put this new wrinkle out of our minds while we enjoyed our time off in this wonderful bay. Bahia Santa Maria is like a huge lake. It is extremely well protected from the swell, and we slept like babies on a quiet boat. Ahhh… imagine if all of Mexico’s anchorages were like this!! The wind sang in the rigging, but it was a lullaby for our tired souls. We slept clear through from Saturday afternoon until Sunday morning.

When we finally awoke, we were both eager to get another weather forecast. We motored across the bay closer to town and dropped the hook near some gorgeous sand dunes. After lazily taking some photos and watching the huge rollers breaking onto the beach, I eventually downloaded the weather. What I saw struck terror in my heart! No longer weakening and moving up the Sea of Cortez, Hurricane Erick was now predicted not only to remain strong but to hightail it straight up the outside of Baja, from Cabo to this very bay!

When we first arrive in Santa Maria:  Erick will head into the Sea of Cortez

The first forecast we downloaded in Santa Maria showed
Erick going into the Sea on Mon Jul 8 at 3 GMT (UTC)

Hurricane Erick heads to Cabo

Downloaded 24 hours later: Now Erick heads to Baja
at that time and then up the outside!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh NO!! Would my heart ever stop pounding on this voyage? That panicky knot of fear seemed permanently lodged in my stomach. We had been at this for five days now and still had six hundred miles of uphill battles to go.

We grimaced at each other. Our sweet plans to hang out by these sand dunes, play on the internet and relax for another 24 hours crashed on the beach along with the rolling waves. Under misty skies, we hauled the anchor and shot out of Bahia Santa Maria with our bow aimed at Turtle Bay 230 miles away. The forecast ahead was grim, with 6-9 foot seas predicted at 9 second intervals — meaning that we would be driving into walls of water stacked in front of us — but it beat the heck out of meeting up with Erick here.

Mark naps in the cabin

Mark catches a snooze while I make a meal. Note the rubber mat that keeps everything from sliding off the countertop!

As we were leaving, we saw another sailboat on the distant horizon. This was the first boat we had seen since leaving Cabo, and it was headed south! What the heck?

We hailed it on the radio. It was a 30 foot sailboat with a 13 hp outboard engine, and the couple on board had been beating their heads against a brick wall for two days trying to get to Turtle Bay.

They had made it only halfway across. The steep seas and high winds had finally defeated them and they were returning to protection at Magdalena bay around the corner from Bahia Santa Maria. “It was horrible out there,” the man said.

 

Young seagull flying

A young seagull flies alongside Groovy.

On this portion of the coast, the land pulls back from the sea. Cutting straight across the huge bay gets it over quicker, but you end up 50 miles from shore at one point.

We aimed straight for Turtle Bay and gritted our teeth, watching the winds and seas build all day long. Just as predicted, the walls of water were waiting for us. And just like all the other nights, at sunset the wind and waves picked up even more and remained elevated until 4:00 in the morning. Our ride eased until 2:00 pm the second afternoon, but then the gods of the sea put us back on the bucking bronco and left us there for another fourteen hours.

In the worst of it on the second day, we could travel at only 2.5 to 3 knots, or we would get launched off the top of each wave only to fall onto the next one with a resounding crash. By inching along, we were able to stop the violent slamming, but traveling at the pace of a window shopper was painfully slow.  Here is a little video clip of what it was like in the late afternoon.

Sunset at sea off Baja California

A beautiful sunset at sea between Bahia Santa Maria and Turtle Bay.

As darkness fell the second night, our fuel gauge was getting perilously close to empty. Whether or not the fuel was bad, we might not have enough anyway! I was way too wound up from all this to sleep, so I took a long night watch while Mark rested.

When I finally bedded down around 3:00 a.m., I had been asleep for just an hour when I felt his hand shaking my shoulder, “Sweety, I need you to look at something.” I sat up. “It looks like there’s land on our port side… It may be boats, but it looks like a row of houses…” I flew into the cockpit. Land? There should be nothing but open ocean on our port side!

 

23 Approaching Turtle Bay - Lights 281

I didn’t have my camera when Mark brought me on deck, but this sprinkling of shrimpers gives an idea…

Sure enough there was a scary looking string of lights off the port bow. I checked the chartplotter. We were on course, but there was a row of dots to our left. After studying the dots, we agreed it had to be a fleet of shrimpers. For all the world, though, through the binoculars it looked like a neighborhood of twinkling house lights.

You can never be too cautious in the strange world of the sea at night, and we were both glad to check out these lights together. I crawled back under the covers and fell into a restless slumber only to be woken again an hour later. “Sweety, I hate to get you up again…” I groaned and then heard him say, “The fuel gauge is now on E…”

Oh no. I tried to shut out the images that suddenly filled my mind of trying to get a tow in this forlorn, misty, cold, damp, remote place. What a horrible scenario. Maybe we should have spent that $50 to buy a spare 5 gallon plastic jug in Puerto Vallarta…

“We’re only 15 miles from Turtle Bay,” Mark went on, “I think there’s enough wind, and it’s at a good angle to sail.”

Really??!! I stepped into the cockpit and felt a light breeze coming over the beam. What luck! This was the first time we’d had a favorable wind since leaving Puerto Vallarta six days ago. What perfect timing. We put up the sails, and as we did, the breeze picked up even more. For the next two hours we sailed at 7 to 8 knots until we arrived in the heart of Turtle Bay. It was drizzling, but we didn’t care. We had just enough fumes in the tank to turn on the engine and putter the last few hundred yards to drop the hook.

Shrimper at Turtle Bay

A shrimper anchored in Turtle Bay.

Oh my. Another leg completed, Bahia Santa Maria to Turtle Bay. 236 miles in 43.5 hours. We’d had a few scares and some discomfort, but everything was ticking along like clockwork.  With any luck, the weather gods would let us stay in Turtle Bay for two nights to recover a bit and regain our sanity.

But what was Erick up to? In no time we had our answer: it was blasting Bahia Santa Maria, the bay we had just left. We wondered how the 30′ sailboat we had talked to on the radio was faring.

For us, rest was still a few chores away. Turtle Bay is not particularly yacht friendly, and the method for obtaining fuel there is always changing. On our trip south three years prior, a fuel boat had come out to Groovy and pumped fuel directly into our tanks.

Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay.

After trying to hail the old fuel provider Enrique a few times on the radio, one of the handful of sailboats that was anchored in Turtle Bay hailed us to explain that the method now was to take your boat to the fuel dock.

What a crazy setup this turned out to be! This ultra rickety “dock” was seemingly made of castoff wooden pallets that were strung together and stuffed with styrofoam. The surge was massive, and Groovy’s weight kept yanking the dock this way and that.

Keeping busy on passage during the Baja Bash

Playing on the computer and keeping busy on the Baja Bash.

After filling Groovy’s fuel tank, Mark lined up our fuel jugs on this makeshift dock to fill them too. A man handed him the fuel pump and went up the ramp to flip the switch.

Mark had just gotten one jug filled when the whole dock tipped, nearly throwing us both into the drink. He caught his balance just in time to save the four jerry jugs from sliding off into the water too. Good lord, what an absurd place.

Back on the boat, we studied the weather charts once again. Our last 290 mile (45 hour) leg to Ensenada would begin with a major hurdle: rounding Cedros Island. The north end of Cedros Island and Cabo Falso down south are the two places on Baja that give sailors the most trouble.

Cedros Island Map

The northeast end of Cedros Island can
be very treacherous. Giving it a wide berth
sometimes helps!

The north end of Cedros is 40 miles from Turtle Bay, and it is best to pass it well before the afternoon winds kick up. Our guide book recommended going outside the island, rather than taking the more popular route inside. Doing this avoids the worst of the nasty winds and waves that Cedros likes to whip sailors with at its northeast corner.

The forecast looked perfect for leaving twelve hours from now, that is, Tuesday night at midnight. The whole week after that looked truly miserable with big winds and big seas! So much for staying here and resting up for a few days!! When the weather gods offer to let you pass Cedros Island toll-free, you go for it!!

The boats anchored around us all filed out within the next hour, but we waited another twelve hours until midnight, and when we pulled out in the pitch black after a few hours of sleep, it seemed the predictions were right on target.

A brisk wind came directly over our starboard beam, and we flew along, motorsailing at 8 knots, listening to seals barking on the invisible pitch black shore nearby. The faster we got past the top of Cedros 40 miles away, the better.

Sunset at sea

Our last night at sea we are given a brief but beautiful sunset.

 

As the sky lightened and we rounded the south end of Cedros, the winds died down. A few hours later, we passed the feared north end of Cedros Island without a hitch.

Unbelievably, the weather gods continued to give us their blessing, and for the next twenty-four hours the wind was virtually non-existent and the ocean swell was slow and languid. The motion of the boat was like being in a big old rocking chair.

 

 

Final calm for the Baja Bash

We sail on an undulating sea that mirrors the grey skies.

As a parting gift, our final sunset at sea on this voyage was a stunner. After a peaceful night of long, easy, good-sleeping watches, the next morning we found ourselves living in a world of misty gray.

The water was like an undulating glass mirror, and the horizon was obscured where the water melted into the hazy sky.

A few storms formed ahead of us, and they appeared on the radar as massive, ever-changing pink blobs. We sailed into them and found ourselves being spritzed with rain.

 

 

Chartplotter image on Baja Bash shows storms at sea

Rain squalls show up as big, constantly shifting pink blobs.

Checking the water temp gauge, it said the water was now 65 degrees. Ouch!

As we made our final turn into Ensenada Bay, a huge whale surfaced just meters from the boat.

Wow!! Minutes later, he surfaced a second time and then dove deep, showing us his tail before disappearing into the depths.

It was now Thursday afternoon, July 11th, and when we tied up at Cruiseport Village Marina, we were astonished to find that this last 291 mile passage from Turtle Bay had been our fastest ever at an average of 7 knots.

 

Calm conditions for the Baja Bash

We aren’t bashing now!

We had made the 1,000 mile journey from Puerto Vallarta to Ensenada in just 8 days and 7 hours, stopping for a total of just over 41 hours and averaging our usual passage-making speed under power of 6.4 knots.

Never mind those statistics, though, what we really wanted was a happy walk on dry land, our first steps on terra firma (besides two fuel docks) in over a week.

Walking around the docks arm in arm, we were elated.  We had actually done the Baja Bash! What a total thrill!

 

 

Sunset in Cruiseport Village Marina

Mission accomplished! The sun sets off Groovy’s bow in Ensenada.

We had chased Hurricane Dalila across the Sea of Cortez and been chased by Hurricane Erick up Baja’s Pacific coast. Yowza!

We had dreaded and feared the Baja Bash for over a year. We had heard so many terrible tales about this frightening voyage, and now it was finally behind us. Phew!!!!

We were dizzy with excitement and with lack of sleep.

As the sun set in beautiful shades off our bow, we hugged each other. We felt a million emotions coursing through our souls, from total exhilaration to incredible relief. But more than anything else, we felt utterly triumphant. What a voyage!!

 

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Our beloved Groovy is For Sale

Baja Bash (1) – Sailing on the Coattails of a Hurricane!

SailFlow Hurricane Cosme

Hurricane Cosme — YIKES!!! — Time to get back to the boat!

Early July, 2013 – Our wonderful week off the boat in the pretty beachside bungalows at Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla finally drew to a close.

Our gracious hosts invited us to stay longer, but we needed to begin getting ourselves and our boat Groovy ready for the long 1,100 mile voyage from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego.

Hurricane season had officially started, and the hurricanes had begun their steady march up Mexico’s southern coast.

A doozy storm was on its way towards Puerto Vallarta, and the skies were already darkening when we took the bus from La Manzanilla back to Puerto Vallarta. As our bus wound along the edge of Banderas Bay, the cliffs were filled with dramatic waterfalls from the recent rains.

 

Paradise Village Lush Vegetation

Lush vegetation at Paradise Village Marina in Puerto Vallarta.

This was Hurricane “Cosme” and it looked truly frightening on the weather prediction charts. Fortunately, Paradise Village Marina is tucked into an estuary, and we weren’t threatened.

Eventually, Cosme passed on, and the skies cleared to give us some spectacular days. The iguanas had been busy laying eggs, and suddenly a huge crop of vibrant green baby iguanas showed up everywhere.

The heat was intense, and the best way to beat the heat was to get in the water. We played in the waves, relishing our last days in the tropics.

Baby iguana

Baby iguanas sprouted everywhere!

Splashing around, it was impossible to imagine that once we started up the outside of Baja California, we would have to start wearing long sleeves, long pants and jackets.

Playing in the waves

Goofing off in the waves on the beach,
we were loving our last days in the tropics.

Mark in the waves

Watch out behind you!

The voyage from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego is known as the “Baja Bash,” and it is a passage most sailors dread. The wind howls out of the north non-stop, and the waves build to a frenzy, leaving the struggling sailor pounding relentlessly into fierce headwinds and steep seas for 800 miles. Traveling at four to seven mph, the suffering goes on for days!

We both read and re-read the bible on the subject, The The Baja Bash II, written by a captain who has made the trip dozens of times in all kinds of boats. It is a fabulous book that explains exactly how to tackle the trip.

Like many sailors, after reading it the first time three years ago, I vowed never to do The Bash! The vivid descriptions of misery and woe that sailors experience are enough to make any sensible person ditch the boat and fly home instead.

Buying warm clothes at Walmart

We found sweat pants and other warm clothes at Walmart.

Besides ferocious winds and nasty seas, the real kicker is that as soon as you begin the Baja Bash in Cabo, you leave the tropics in your wake.

Rather than easing through a transition from warmth to coolness as you sail north, you begin to shiver in the face of a cold, mean wind as soon as you turn the corner at the bottom of Baja.

Looking around Groovy, we realized that we had off-loaded almost every scrap of warm clothing we owned. So we dashed to Walmart to get some sweats and other goodies. What luck that they had some!

The Baja Bash II also advises doing The Bash in either July or November. Unfortunately, most people make the trip between March and June, because it gets them out of Mexico’s blistering summer heat and back to California in time for the summer sailing season.

Hurricanes on Mexico's Pacific coast

The hurricanes rolled off the coast like bowling balls

However, that is the very worst time to go. The horror stories we’d heard from friends doing these springtime voyages were truly hair-raising!

In July, on the other hand, the outside of Baja actually calms down once in a while, because the south winds blowing up from the frequent tropical storms temporarily negate the prevailing north winds.

Sailing with hurricanes brewing nearby doesn’t sound like a great idea, but in July the tropical storms tend not to make landfall on the Baja peninsula as they do later in the season. Instead, most move west, passing well south of Baja and dissipating out at sea.

We watched in amazement as the hurricanes rolled up the coast like bowling balls and then tumbled out to sea, all with precision regularity. For a few days after each storm, periods of tranquility swept up the Baja. It was like watching a train go by and the dust settle afterwards. Our trick was to find an opening, jump aboard, and ride the train.

What the forecast map looked like for our noontime sail out of Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta).  Ride that train!!

What the weather map looked like for our departure from
Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta). Ride that train!!

The hurricane we chose to ride was Dalila, and we wanted to time our departure for about 48 hours after it left our coast.

By then the seas would be back to their normal easy roll, and the winds would be quiet. All we would need to do is stay ahead of the next hurricane coming up behind Dalila.

Sounds easy. But hurricanes aren’t all that predictable! What’s worse, Cabo is an awkward place to hang around.

At $175 USD/night for a slip, most folks anchor in the bay that is wide open to the south instead — fine in November’s north wind but dicey when it sometimes turns south in July.

So our hope was to find an opening in the weather long enough to travel 290 miles across the Sea of Cortez to Cabo and then go another 180 miles up the Baja coast to Bahia Santa Maria, stopping in Cabo just long enough to get fuel. To do that we needed a 72 hour window. Good luck!! Weather windows were more like 24-36 hours, if they existed at all.

I had a nail-biting few days while I looked at Passage Weather and Sail Flow morning, noon and night. Each site offers about 30 weather charts covering a week’s worth of forecasts that are updated every three hours. That is a TON of constantly changing data!!

To make things really tricky, the two sites didn’t always agree on their predictions!

Adding to the confusion, Sail Flow’s charts are given in local time, but Passage Weather uses Greenwich Mean Time, which was six hours ahead of our local time. So on their charts, 00 hours Tuesday was really 18 hours (6pm) Monday. Good grief!

Paradise Village Marina Sunset

Paradise Village Marina treated us to some gorgeous sunsets.

While I got bleary eyed staring at the computer, my palms sweating and brain frying, Mark got the engine ready.

Due to the constant headwinds, this voyage is almost always done exclusively under power, and the engine needed to be in tip top shape.

Oil changes, filter changes, etc., were on his “to do” list, and he meticulously worked his way down his list.

Because the fuel in the tanks gets a really good sloshing underway on this trip, as the boat bashes through the waves, whatever debris may be lurking in the corners of the tanks gets mixed into the fuel.

Many boats end up replacing their fuel filters several times before they get to California. We know of one that went through 10 fuel filters before the engine died one final time outside Ensenada where they got a tow.

Changing fuel filters on a Yanmar engine

Mark changes the engine’s fuel filter.

We had only two spare fuel filters and wanted a third. But there were none to be found anywhere in Puerto Vallarta. The big “chandlery” Zaragoza had fuel filters for huge sport fishing boat engines, but none for smaller cruising boats.

The little boating goods store at our marina had some filters, but not our model. The chandlery in La Cruz was an expensive cab ride or long bus ride away, with no guarantee they had one either. Egads! We hoped two would do.

We also wanted more plastic jerry jugs for fuel. We carry 86 gallons: 66 gallons in the tank and another 20 in plastic jerry jugs. Under normal conditions, this is enough to travel about 600 miles. On this trip, our longest run without an easy fuel stop would be 400 miles between Cabo and Turtle Bay. However, it would not be under normal conditions!

We expected to travel much more slowly and to consume much more fuel as we fought the wind and waves. However, when we saw the $50 USD price tag for each 5 gallon plastic jerry jug, our jaws dropped. I gave Mark a shaky grimace, “We should to be able to go 400 miles with what we have, shouldn’t we????” He made a face. “Sure…” he drawled.

Emily on s/v Groovy

Life in Paradise!

These are the crazy decisions boaters face with difficult passages. In an ideal world we would tow a barge carrying all the spares and tools we could ever possibly need. We might even tow an identical boat as a “hanger queen” we could rob for parts. But this was reality.

As the tension about these technical aspects of our departure built, I wrote a blog post explaining our decision to end our cruise so we could pursue other tropical travel lifestyles.

To my utter astonishment, the post took off like wildfire, and we received the most unexpected outpouring of support and affection from our readers.

This rocked our little world. Sharing our pics and stories has become a passion for us, but suddenly feeling so much heartfelt warmth from our friends and followers made our decision to take a new path for our travel adventures that much more poignant.

Puerto Vallarta yachts in dark clouds

Every afternoon, Puerto Vallarta erupted in a blast of thunder and lightning.

Heightening our emotional roller coaster ride, every afternoon the skies became black, the lightning show started and the torrential summer rains fell.

Surrounded by rolling thunder, flashing lightning and pouring rain that pummeled our little boat in its slip, the Baja Bash loomed huge and intimidating before us. During those dockside storms the upcoming voyage felt truly life threatening.

As I examined the hurricane-filled weather charts and wrote about why we were leaving this lifestyle, Mark massaged the engine and lubed everything in sight, and we told each other with bug eyes and pounding hearts, “It’s going to be a great trip.”

Emily at the helm of Groovy

Our morning for departure finally came, and we snuck out of the marina before we were fully awake. The knot in the pit of my stomach only grew larger as we said goodbye to our dock mates and rounded the bend towards the open ocean.

By the time we reached the channel to the bay, I was beginning to choke up. Standing at the helm in a bathing suit, I suddenly realized just how much I loved this boat and this life, difficult as it was at times. Tears slid down my face.

Cruising is a beautiful way to live and travel, and it is worth every effort to pursue. But it is not easy.

This bittersweet moment as we were leaving Paradise Village Marina channel said it all: surrounded by tropical beauty, the warm, soft air brushing my tears dry, and the rolling blue waves soothing my soul, my stomach churned in sheer terror at the prospect of our upcoming voyage.

Three years earlier in Cabo, Katrina and husband Rob dived off their boat.

Three years earlier in Cabo, Katrina and her husband Rob
(the splash!) dived off their boat to celebrate their arrival.

This was it. We were leaving Mexico. We were leaving the sultry tropics and would soon be leaving our boat. Mark gave me a long, loving hug, and I realized that I was actually okay with it all, gut-wrenching as it was.

Before we could really get going, though, we needed to stop for fuel at La Cruz, 8 miles away. When we pulled in, we were greeted at the fuel dock by Katrina Liana, a phenomenal professional captain and friend to all cruisers. Three years earlier, her boat had been anchored next to ours for several weeks in San Diego Bay as we both prepared to sail south.

Katrina Liana Cabo

Katrina grins after arriving in Cabo 3 years ago.

We had sailed down the Baja coast at the same time that fall. The last time we had seen her, she and her husband Rob were diving off the bow of their boat in Cabo, happy to have completed the voyage.

As we caught up on three years of news with her now, she told us she had sailed up and down the outside of Baja at least 20 times over the years. She reassured us that we were making the trek at the very best time of year and that all would be okay.

Dolphins swim to Groovy

Dolphins swim over to say “hello”

Her cheery smile, warm spirit and calm confidence made us feel much better, and our fears began to subside.

We left La Cruz under blazing, hot sunny skies, and our hearts suddenly felt free and full of anticipation. We were going to have a beautiful sail to Cabo, and we settled in to enjoy it.

As if to confirm our good feelings, a pair of dolphins suddenly bounded over the waves towards the boat.

Mysterious clouds leaving Puerto Vallarta

A mysterious orange cloud floats overhead.

As the mainland slipped away in our wake, puffy clouds formed in the sky. Oddly, we suddenly noticed that one cloud was orange.

It was early afternoon, many hours before sunset. How could one cloud be orange? We decided it had to be a good omen.

Then the clouds got darker and darker, and the water began to take on fascinating patterns of ripples and mirrors, as if slicks of oil were spreading out in ribbons across a gravel surface.

 

Dark clouds over Groovy

Dark clouds loom over Groovy.

The clouds turned black above us. Growing heavy and thick, they spritzed us for a while and then moved off behind us.

Mysterious water leaving Puerto Vallarta

The water separates into wonderful inky patterns.

A lightning show started off our transom. It was far in the distance over the land behind us, and we knew it was the gods’ nightly high voltage power display we had been witnessing back in Puerto Vallarta.

Storm clouds overhead

The clouds turn black above us.

Groovy at Sunset

The sun sets around us.

In no time the sun began to set, and we got ourselves ready to swap watches overnight.

The wind stayed below 10 knots apparent, on the nose, and we continued to motor peacefully all night under the Milky Way.

Sunset first night

Sunset on our first night at sea.

In the morning — the 4th of July — the mist was thick and it obscured the sunrise, but as the day progressed the sun came out and the water became bluer than blue.

The sea was silky smooth all around us, undulating in a continuous, voluptuous motion. We were on our own magic carpet that stretched in a perfect circle all around us, clear to the horizon.

 

Calm sea from cockpit

In the morning all is still calm.

Blue blue water

The water all around is vivid blue.

Calm Sea of Cortez & Mark

Could this preliminary part of the Baja Bash be any more tranquil???

The ocean had been 89 degrees F when we left Puerto Vallarta, and when we looked now it had slipped to 85.

A big pod of dolphins approached us. They were headed somewhere in a bobbing, lumpy group.

They stopped for a few minutes by Groovy to leap out of the water and check out our deck layout and our choice of gear in the cockpit.

A group of them swam to the bow and played just in front of us. They zig-zagged back and forth for a while, seeming to love zooming along while the bow of a big sailboat plunged up and down in the waves just behind them. Then they were off.

Dolphin Leaping

Dolphins leap around Groovy.

Dolphin Nose In

It is so heartwarming when dolphins come to visit the boat
in the middle of the ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking photos of dolphins off the bow

I loved photographing these guys
at our bow.

The hours began to run into each other as we made our way across this widest part of the Sea of Cortez, and eventually we found ourselves 150 miles from shore.

Dolphins play off Groovy's bow

They played just in front of our bow, never touching each other
or getting hit by the huge boat behind them.

The conditions were so totally calm, it was impossible to imagine that a hurricane was raging a few hundred miles south of us. We traded napping for reading and playing on the computer, and we took turns keeping watch and sleeping.

Sitting on the Groovy Boat

The Baja Bash was off to a great start – knock on wood!

The thread connecting all our activities was simply, “Are we there yet?” With every passing hour we were another 6.5 nautical miles closer to our goal. It was a great vast nothingness out there and there was absolutely nothing going on in it.

Calm sea off the bow

Ahhh… the calm before the storm.

As the sun began to fall from the sky our second night, the wind picked up. Within an hour we went from a sleepy 8 knots of apparent headwind to 22 knots and spray. The seas kicked up and they frothed and foamed around us.

The sun set, but we were suddenly too busy trying to keep our balance to mess with taking photos. The boat flew off a few waves and landed with a resounding crash, shaking everything on board to its core.

Chartplotter Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas Mexico

Are we there yet?

Yikes! This wind had been predicted for the last 6-9 hours of this leg of our trip, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept its arrival. We battened everything down and got ready for a long night.

A few more flying leaps off the crests of waves persuaded us to slow the boat speed to 4-5 knots. Climbing up and over each wave, alternately pointing at the sky and then at Davy Jones’ Locker was far preferable to those brutal crash landings!

We each tried our best to sleep while off watch, but it’s hard to fall asleep when your body is being thrown around like a volleyball and the boat is creaking and complaining loudly about the circumstances.

Finally, around 5:00 a.m. Puerto Vallarta time, the boat stopped mimicking a bucking bronco. Two hours later, we dropped the hook in the pitch dark in Cabo San Lucas, feeling our way around the anchorage by memory and radar. Whew! Leg One of our trip was done. 291 miles in 44 hours, from Wednesday July 3rd to Friday July 5th, averaging 6.6 knots. Just 800 miles to go. Woo hoo!!!

Expected arrival in Cabo

The forecast for our arrival that we had gotten 2 days earlier.

Actual Arrival in Cabo

The way things stood when we actually arrived 48 hours later.

After two days of no weather forecasts, we quickly got online for a sleepy one-eyed look at what was going on. Things had changed! Hurricane Dalila had died down more than expected to the southwest, but another hurricane was forming behind her. It looked like we could ride this next hurricane up the coast of Baja if we waited around until Monday. We would have a nice strong southerly wind to push us north!

Hurricane Erick off Cabo San Lucas Mexico

How cool! We’ll wait 3 days and catch a southerly from this next hurricane!!
(but wait, isn’t that playing with fire??)

Fabulous!! How easy is this Baja Bash stuff?! We could catch a few winks, go to the fuel dock when it opened in the morning, and then enjoy three days of rest anchored in Cabo San Lucas. We’d be protected from the predicted north winds while we waited to hitch a ride on the next hurricane’s south wind. Very nice. Easy peasy.

I announced these plans to Mark and he raised an eyebrow. “Really?” He said, looking more astonished than seemed reasonable. “You want to stay here?”

“Absolutely!” I said yawning and closing my laptop with certainty. “We’ll relax here and then catch that next hurricane.”

He said nothing. But something about his doubtful expression lurked uneasily around the edges of my mind as I fell asleep…   Continued…

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Costalegre: La Manzanilla – Exotic animals & RVing Copper Canyon!

Casa Maguey La Manzanilla

Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla – Our beautiful home for a week!

Late June, 2013 – We were loving our stay at pretty Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla.

With a bird’s eye view of the bay from “El Mar,” our casita, we enjoyed the ocean’s ever-changing colors and moods.

This is a place where tranquility reins.

Mystery red flower

The flowers were truly unique

Yellow Flower

Love it when the building behind the flower is a vivid color!

After a few days of oceanfront living, we moved to the garden unit called “El Sol.” We thought we would miss the ocean views, but instead found ourselves enchanted by the bird songs that filled the air.

Casa Maguey - El Sol casita

“El Sol” Casita – surrounded by tropical birds and flowers.

Some of the calls were new to us, and sounded truly jungly.  One bird had a deeply melodious voice and he or she preferred to sing in the wee hours of the morning.

Casa Maguey gate La Manzanilla

The village of La Manzanilla was
just steps away from Casa Maguey.

Casa Maguey Garden La Manzanilla

Stairs through the garden.

The song was so haunting and mysterious that we didn’t mind being woken up to listen. We laid in bed entranced.

Just outside our bungalow door, flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors were in bloom.  A few were so fragile that they blossomed for just a day.

Venturing off the Casa Maguey property into the village of La Manzanilla, we discovered the town is so tiny and rustic that its main street was just paved in the last two years.

We enjoyed watching this very peaceful village wake up in the mornings, and quite a few townspeople joined us in the gourmet coffee shop Cafe del Mar every morning.

El Mar Coffee Shop La Manzanilla

Hector made great lattes, and we enjoyed them with
homemade muffins every morning!

Gourmet coffee shop?  Yes!  Cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, you name it, they were all there.  We became regulars.  If we got there early, the yummy muffins brought to the shop by a young gal from Arkansas were still warm.

Squirrel on my back

Hector, our latte man, brought in his pet squirrel one morning.

One morning, we noticed the owner Hector was playing with a baby squirrel.  He cupped his hands, and the squirrel ran round and round between his fingers like he was on an exercise wheel.

“He fell out of a tree when I was cutting down coconuts,” he explained as he put the bundle of fuzzy energy into my hands.  The little squirrel promptly zipped right up my arm onto my shoulder, tickling me and making me giggle.  He was a cute little guy, bright orange-red on the belly and speckled grey and black on his back.

Coatimundi

What a surprise to find exotic creatures were the norm around here!

It turned out that unusual animals were just part of the scene in La Manzanilla.

Later in the day when we stopped at Palapa Joe’s to get a slice of pizza, I caught sight of a long skinny tail out of the corner of my eye.  I turned and found myself staring right at a coatimundi, masked face, ringed tail and all.

“Look!” I gasped.  Mark grabbed his camera and we were both in shock as this unusual animal snuck up to a dog dish and started eating the kibble.  Our cameras couldn’t snap fast enough.

We’ve seen coatimundi in Arizona, but only fleetingly. This guy was as calm as could be. And he was really enjoying that dog food!

View in La Manzanilla

We climbed up the hill to take in the ocean view.

Just then the owner of the restaurant appeared.
“You wouldn’t believe…” I started to say, pointing.
“Oh yes!”  He laughed easily, “He’s my pet!”

A pet coatimundi?!  Geez, what other kind of tamed wild animals would we find at the NEXT eating establishment?!!

Pangas on the beach

Pangas ready for fishing and touring.

Mangos on sticks

My favorite way to eat mango — when it’s cut like a flower and served on a stick!

We left there in high spirits and wandered the dirt streets to the back side of town where we walked up the steep hills to see the view.

The blue bay stretched in front of us with palm trees framing the views over the tops of the homes.

It was a Sunday, and back down on the beach it seemed that everyone for miles around had come to play.  Crowds kicked back in the beach bars alongside us and vendors walked up and down the beach selling all kinds of things,.

One fellow came by selling mangos on a stick.  Cut like flowers, this is truly the most ingenious and clever way we’ve seen to eat a mango on the go, as you can enjoy all the juicy sweetness without getting all sticky!

Playing in the waves

A big wave takes everyone for a ride.

Sun in sand dollar

Mark finds a sand dollar on the shore.

Families played in the water, and occasionally a big wave would come in and send everyone flying, launching the boogie boarders onto the beach.

We strolled along the beach back towards Casa Maguey, splashing as we walked along the edge where the waves meet the sand and the sand-pipers dance in and out of the water.

Suddenly Mark reached down and picked up a sand dollar.  Although we have lived on a sailboat in Mexico for a few years, this was the first sand dollar we had seen on a beach.

 

 

Cabana on the beach

We bumped into a fascinating little cabana on the beach.

As we turned to head back onto the streets of town, we looked up and saw the most unusual structure.

It was a small thatch roofed hut tucked under a palm tree.  A man was standing out front and we soon struck up a conversation.

“I built this place,” he said.  “It’s kind of unique.  I’m an artist.”

Cabana on the beach La Manzanilla

A tiny cabana on the beach

Intrigued, we stepped up onto his tiny deck.  He had fashioned the deck and railing out of logs tied together with stringy vines.  “It’s very strong,” he said when he saw Mark testing whether the posts wiggled.  “Come on inside!”

We squeezed inside and found ourselves standing in the coziest and tiniest little two rooms.  Everything had been made by hand, even the wooden windows and shutters whose handles were made of stout twigs.

Most surprising was that he had installed electricity throughout.  Besides a blender and coffee maker, he had a big flat screen TV, and internet access on his computer!  What a great mix of Rustic and Modern!!

Cabana Windows

Everything was handmade, including these cool windows
with stout twigs for handles!

 

“I built it under this big palm tree so I’d always have shade.”  He explained.  He gestured towards a group of chairs in the sand.  “That’s my beach bar – in winter,” he went on. “It was destroyed in Hurricane Jova two years ago, so I built this cabana to be much stronger!!”

We looked around in wonder.  There are so many ways to live a life, and what a fun way he had found!

This is a friendly little town, and we found it easy to chat with anyone and everyone in the streets.  Two little girls were playing outside their house, and Mark entertained them (and himself!) for a while with the camera.

Girls check out pic on camera

Mark entertains a pair of sisters and himself with the camera.

Further on, we passed a young boy carrying a crate.  “Do you want some bread?” He asked.  I said “No” automatically, but when Mark saw the perfect loaves of homemade banana bread wrapped in plastic in the crate he instantly said, “Sure!!”

Boy sells banana bread

Banana bread!! Sweet!!!

At the far northwest end of town there is an estuary and crocodile sanctuary.  There were a few stuffed crocs near the entrance to entice people to spend a few pesos to check it out.

We wandered out onto the sanctuary trail, and soon caught sight of a roseate spoonbill, a very odd looking pink bird.

Taking photos of a crocodile mouth

Mark’s lucky this guy is stuffed!!

Roseate Spoonbill

A roseate spoonbill pauses to look at me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crocodile with mouth open

The crocodiles don’t move much, but when they do, watch out!

Not much further on we started to see the crocs. Not just one, but dozens!!

They lounged on the mud banks, half submerged in the water, lying totally motionless like logs, some with their mouths agape.

Once in a while, one would move, lumbering awkwardly, slowly crawling across all his buddies to slip beneath the murky water.

A few times a croc got startled and ran.  Yikes, those guys can move fast!!

 

Airstream camping on the beach

What a fantastic camping spot!!

Wandering just a bit further on to the very edge of town, we discovered a row of beach-side RV parks.  This was the off-season, so most of the parks were completely empty.

But we could imagine that this is a really fun place in the winter when snowbirds come down from the cold country to spend a few months living on the beach.

Rosie at water's edge

Our hostess Rocio at Playa Tenacatita

One morning our hostess Rocio took us on a drive to see some more of the Costalegre.  This coast is lined with beaches of all kinds, and the first one she took us to is Playa Tenacatita.

We had been hoping to do some swimming and snorkeling, but the weather gods had other plans.

Rosie walks on the beach Tenacatita

Rocio didn’t know why we we were taking photos of her — until afterwards!”

Instead, as we watched Rocio walking towards the waves, we both suddenly saw the same image.

Her pretty pink beach dress was flowing in the wind, and she looked beautiful against the overcast day and frothy white waves.

“Wait, stand right there!” We yelled in unison.

Anchored in Careyes

Anchored in Careyes

Rocio had no idea what we were up to until she saw the photos on our laptop later — and she loved them.  What fun!

Once we were done playing high fashion photographer, she drove us to the little bay of Careyes, a gorgeous spot where we had anchored a few months earlier. We wanted to get a glimpse of it from a shore-side perspective.

Careyes View

The only public shore-side view of stunning Careyes.

However, when we drove down the road leading to the public beach, we were stopped by two security guards at a gate.  The entire bay is now in private hands, and the public is not allowed on the beach.

What a shock! In the past, Mexico’s property laws allowed public access to all beaches, but this is changing under the new president.  A law is being passed that will allow both Mexicans and foreigners not only to own oceanfront property but to close public access to the shore if they so choose. Fortunately, Careyes will become accessible to restaurant-goers as soon as the old restaurant on the beach is renovated and is once again open for business.

Playa Los Angeles Locos

Playa Los Angeles Locos.

On our way back to Casa Maguey, we stopped at Playa Los Angeles Locos (“Crazy Angels Beach”) to take in the dramatic view of the bay. What a spot! It was incredible to think that our host John had grown up camping on many of these beaches in his family’s motorhome.

Champion motorhome towed away

The Lehmens’ Champion motorhome gets towed away for repair.

Back at Casa Maguey, John brought over his family’s photo albums from their RV travels in North and South America one morning.  As he began to flip through the pages, we were fascinated by the stories each photo provoked.

Any family that ventures off in an RV or a sailboat to see what lies over the horizon is eminently brave, but I can’t imagine the intrepid determination John’s parents Helga and Josef had when they took their 26′ motorhome all over the American continents in the 1980’s.

Their first motorhome, a Champion, gave them a bit of grief mechanically, and it got towed off to a garage on more than one occasion.  Having dealt with boat repair projects in Mexico, we can only imagine what it was like to have a motorhome break down in Central or South America in the 1980’s!!  But that was just part of the adventure.

Josef digs a well

Josef digs a well for fresh water
for dishes and showers.

Unlike the privatized beaches of today, the Mexican coast was completely open for boondocking back in those days.  After setting up camp, John’s dad would sometimes dig a well near the motorhome and use a motorized pump connected to a hose to get fresh water into the rig for dishes and showers.

RV on flatbed train car Copper Canyon

Young John checks out a train while the motorhome waits
on its flat bed rail car behind him.

Perhaps the most riveting story John told was of the family’s trip through Copper Canyon.  In Chihuahua, John’s dad Josef noticed that a lot of the trains had flat bed rail cars, and he got the idea that perhaps his motorhome could be loaded onto one.

 

Motorhome on flat bed train in Copper Canyon

The first RV to venture into Copper Canyon on a flat bed rail car.

He asked around, and was able to persuade a train operator to put the motorhome on the train to Los Mochis.

As they were rolling through the countryside, Josef was intrigued by the small town of Creel.  He asked the train operator if the flat bed car they were on could be unhooked and left in Creel until the next train came through three days later.

No problem!!  The car was unhooked in Creel, and the family suddenly found themselves swept up in the unbelievably welcoming embrace of the local Tarahumara Indians.

Many of the Indians had never seen white people before, and they were as fascinated by this traveling family as the family was by them.

Copper Canyon flat bed train for RV

Little did they know they would be forgotten —
only to be remembered at 3 a.m. !!!

Three days later, the train came by Creel — but it didn’t stop!

For most people, this would have been cause for alarm, but John and his family were enjoying the generous hospitality of the Indians so much that they thought nothing of it and patiently waited for the next train.

Then one night at 3 a.m. they were jolted out of bed by a huge crash just outside the motorhome.  The train company had suddenly remembered them and had sent a 30,000 horsepower locomotive to retrieve the flat bed rail car. Unannounced, it hooked them up!

 

Casa Maguey La Manzanilla

We will always treasure our memories of Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla
and its lovely — and fascinating — hosts, John and Rocio.

Flying down the tracks at warp speed, with diesel soot spewing everywhere, the huge locomotive pulled their little home aboard the flat bed car on the sleigh ride of its life.

Josef was a freelance writer, and many of the family’s stories graced the pages of AAA Magazine.  Surely, that tale of their flat bed rail car adventure was a huge hit. Not long after their escapade, tourism companies began leading RV tours aboard flat bed rail cars into Copper Canyon.

I could have listened to John’s stories and gone through his photo albums with him for hours.  What a fabulous and adventurous childhood he had.  But now he is enjoying a more tranquil life hosting lucky guests like us at his family’s villas in La Manzanilla at the beautiful Casa Maguey.

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Costalegre: Casa Maguey – Kindred spirits in a beachfront villa

Casa Maguey from beach

Casa Maguey overlooks the beach in La Manzanilla

Late June, 2013 – We returned from our exhilarating inland trip to Guanajuato to find Puerto Vallarta simmering away in the early summer heat.

The rains hadn’t started yet, but the skies threatened every afternoon, while the temperatures inched ever higher.

Our daily migration path went between the ocean, the swimming pools and the ice cream shop at the air conditioned mall!

When we had first arrived in Paradise Village two months earlier, I received an intriguing and unexpected email from a man named John Lehmen inviting us to stay for a week in a beachfront villa at his property, Casa Maguey.

Casa Maguey Oar

Wow!! Were the gods ever smiling on us now!! We emailed back and forth a few times, and Mark and I studied his website, www.casamaguey.com. It turned out that his beautiful trio of oceanfront casitas were situated in the little coastal town of La Manzanilla in the heart of Mexico’s Costalegre.

Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla

Casa Maguey

We had visited La Manzanilla two years prior when we had anchored our sailboat Groovy across the bay in a cove cruisers know as “Tenacatita.”

 

Stairs to the beach

Stairs leading from the house to the beach.

La Manzanilla is a tiny little village that is beloved by all who know it, but it is not a “hot spot” on the tourist trail. We had taken our dinghy ashore and walked around for a few hours in a very brief visit.

What great fortune to be invited to see the town once again, but this time from a lovely vacation home overlooking the beach!

We kept marveling that this special door had opened for us. We wondered who our host John was, and where this unique opportunity would lead.

Cat on the brick stairs

Clay pots and cactus at El Mar

Casa Maguey has wonderful decorations.

La Manzanilla is a favorite among retired ex-pat North Americans, so we knew John must be an older guy.

We were sure he’d created a nice little retirement business for himself renting out his beachfront villas. Scouring the Casa Maguey website, we read one glowing testimonial after another from people who spoke of the tranquility, peace, and beauty they found during their vacations there.

These quotes were taken from guest books left in each villa, and many were decorated with drawings that guests had lovingly made of flowers, hummingbirds, kayaks in the water and other special memories of their time at Casa Maguey.

Almost all of the comments were addressed to a woman named Helga, who was obviously John’s wife. We could tell she kept a lovely home and was a very gracious hostess.

Casa Maguey Entrance

The unique front entrance to Casa Maguey

So we were very surprised when John mentioned that he would be out of town when we arrived and that his wife Rocio would let us in. Rocio? What about Helga? Hmmm. Our curiosity was perked, but even without Helga, we knew we would have a wonderful time.

Rocio

Rocio

When we arrived, after we admired Casa Maguey’s unique flower covered front gate for a few minutes, the door swung open and we were greeted by a very beautiful young woman. “I’m Rocio.” She said.

Our eyebrows shot up and we exchanged a quick glance. Huh? We didn’t say a word to each other, but we were both thinking the same thing: whatever happened to Helga, this guy John sure scored well on his second marriage!!

El Mar Sitting Room

The sitting room in the casita “El Mar” is filled with
refreshing ocean breezes…

Rosie showed us our room, and we were absolutely charmed. Besides a pretty bedroom and kitchen, there was a sitting room with a terrace that overlooked the beach and bay.

El Mar Sitting Room View

…and it has a great view!

The windows and door were flung wide, and the ocean breezes felt delightfully refreshing after the oppressive heat and humidity that been smothering us day and night in Puerto Vallarta.

El Mar Bedroom

We had a full-sized apartment to spread out!

We quickly made ourselves at home and settled right in, spreading out in this full-sized apartment and luxuriating in having not just the airy sitting room and bedroom but a lovely patio too.

El Mar Bedroom

How had this good fortune come our way? I don’t know, but it seemed to be the miraculous modern mixture of internet socializing and sharing our travels online. Suddenly we were living in a beautifully decorated and spacious one-bedroom apartment on the beach.

El Mar Terrace

We loved this terrace and its exquisite view of the beach

We stood on the deck and admired the spectacular, flower-framed view.

The beach stretches out for miles, stopping first at some thatch-roofed palapa beach bars in town and then wrapping around past stands of palm trees and occasional oceanfront mansions.

The sun was falling low in the sky, casting everything in a beautiful, warm, late afternoon light.

El Mar Terrace View

It’s a busy beach with pangas going in and out for tours and fishing all the time.

What a thrill it was to have a chance to enjoy this beach and town at leisure from the comfort of our own beach bungalow! We snuggled on the couch and enjoyed the view, counting our blessings.

Casa Maguey Stairs

The essence of this pretty property is
peace and tranquility.

Fountain at Casa Maguey

The lush gardens are filled with exotic flowers and bird songs.

 

 

 

 

Suddenly we heard a knock on the door, and a handsome young man with blonde hair and bright blue eyes appeared. “I’m John,” he said., holding out his hand.

Our jaws dropped — was this John, our host? He was far from a retiree! We laughed as we shook hands and told him about our goof and how we’d assumed he was a spry old silver fox that robbed the cradle. He was actually the perfect match for his stunning bride!! He laughed too. “I can’t wait to tell Rosie, she’ll think that’s really funny!”

John and Rocio of Casa Maguey

Our wonderful hosts – and kindred spirits –  John and Rocio

So if this wasn’t a retirement gig, we wondered, how had John come to own such a pretty property on the coast?

“My parents built this place 20 years ago,” he explained. “It was one of the first guest houses on the bay. All the buildings you see around the bay have filled in since then. My mom ran things for a long time, but she retired recently and passed the responsibilities on to me.”

“Oh… so Helga is your mother!” I said, slowly piecing it all together.

El Mar Garden at Casa Maguey

“Yes!” he said. Then he went on to tell us the tale of the most intriguing childhood and upbringing I can imagine.

Born in Germany to German parents, John was raised traveling throughout the Americas full-time in a 26′ RV, first a Champion motorhome and then a Winnebago.

For 12 years, he and his mom and dad took their motorhome between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego at the bottom of South America.

They drove up and down the two American continents seven times, first going along the coasts and then zig-zagging through the middle.

Champion Motorhome

John traveled across the Americas in a motorhome with his parents

They traveled through El Salvador during the war — with a military escort — and they camped on the Caribbean and Pacific beaches in Mexico.

From Macchu Picchu to the Grand Canyon, they saw it all, speaking German among themselves and learning Spanish and English on the road. Whenever they stayed in a place for two weeks or more, John was enrolled in the local school.

John was a seasoned world traveler before he entered first grade!

John was a seasoned world traveler before he entered first grade!

Fitting in wasn’t so hard where blue eyed blondes were common, he said, but he had to learn to adapt quickly in schools where he stood out from the crowd.

Mark and I were blown away. What a fabulous family adventure!

“My family was 7th generation wine makers in Germany.” He went on. “The wine industry was changing in the eighties and small boutique wineries were facing a lot of competition from the industrial giants. So my dad sold the vineyard and decided to take the family on the road…”

John and the motorhome

What a great way to grow up!

Mark and I listened to his story in wonder. We feel like adventurers ourselves, but every so often we meet someone whose travels and experiences completely dwarf what we’ve done. We love that!

It turned out that John’s parents, Josef and Helga, had passed through this corner of Mexico several times in their travels, camping right on the beach. It was one of their favorite places to visit. One year, they noticed a small “Se Vende” (For Sale) sign hidden in the bushes on property at the end of the beach.

hummingbird

The hummingbirds happily buzzed all the red flowers.

At the time, after all those years of traveling, the family was at a crossroads: sell the motorhome and buy another one overseas to travel the African continent, or settle down for a while?

cat tail flower

There are lots of very unusual flowers

purple flower

 

In the end, the village of La Manzanilla and the beachfront property captured their hearts, and they decided to make Casa Maguey their permanent home.

 

Red bell flower

How beautiful!

“I’ve got some stories to tell!” John said. “I’ll show you some pictures later!” Then he was off.

Sun lashes

We watched many magnificent sunsets
from our terrace.

Running a guest home takes a lot of work, and over the next few days we watched him and his crew working hard on all kinds of projects around the property.

But we were on vacation! We got out our cameras and began exploring.

 

Just outside our door, between the three cottages at Casa Maguey, there is a lush tropical garden that is absolutely brimming with flowers and singing birds. Mark was in seventh heaven photographing all the exotic flowers, and I happily listened to the trilling bird songs.

Sunset on a silken sea

The colors were ever-changing at sunset.

 

In the late afternoons, we were treated to some magnificent sunsets right off our balcony. Each sunset was unique and special.

One night the rays of the setting sun played with the palms of the palapa roof over our deck. Mark caught them just right and called his image “sun lashes.”

Another night we looked out on a silken sea. The water was like an undulating blue scarf, and the halo of the setting sun made a peach backdrop for the rocky cliffs on the horizon.

 

 

Golden sunset with bougainvillea

The sky and sea are cast in gold

On yet another night the whole sky and sea were cast in gold.

A few nights we had overcast and dark skies, preventing any colors from showing.

Sometimes, however, just for a moment, the sun would suddenly peak through, turning the sky a vibrant orange and yellow, and reflecting these bright shades in the water.

This was an engaging place, and we felt blessed to have been welcomed in by such warm hosts.

Orange sunset from El Mar balcony

A vivid orange sunset takes our breath away.

Macaws in heart

Casa Maguey is a romantic spot!

 

 

The heart of a small guest house like Casa Maguey is in the spirit of its hosts, and John and Roscio were fun to be with and were quickly becoming good friends.

Rocio showed up at our door one night with a delicious desert made of bananas and honey for us to try, and she told us some of her favorite spots to go in town. Once we began exploring La Manzanilla and beyond, it was easy to see why John’s parents had decided to end their travels and make a life for themselves in this quiet village on the Costalegre.

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Guanajuato – Full of Song and Spirit!

Guanjuato has colorful streets

We were captivated by Guanajuato’s beautiful streets.

Early June, 2013 – Guanajuato continued to enchant us. The beautiful cobbled streets wound in and out and up and down, and all were lined with colorful buildings.

There was a cheerfulness about the place that was infectious.

As we were walking down a crowded street one afternoon, it seemed everyone we passed either gave us a nod, or a smile, or was laughing in conversation with a friend.

Incredulous, I said to Mark, “It’s just a happy city!” Behind me I heard a man’s voice say, “Si” I turned around and he grinned at me.

 

A colorful hillside in Guanajuato Mexico

Every time we looked across at Guanajuato’s hills,
we were amazed — again — by the colors.

We couldn’t walk ten steps without stopping to photograph something, and we both kept wandering off, attracted by some fantastic image that took us down an alleyway or up a staircase.

Guanajuato is truly photogenic, and we had beautiful sunny days to enjoy it.

Street photography in Guanajuato

Guanajuato is really fun for photography!

 

 

 

 

 

I think it is the colors of Guanajuato that will stay in our memories forever. Primary colors and pastel colors — they’re all there, making the hillsides look like they’ve been spattered from a rainbow paint can.

Plaza de la Paz Guanajuato

Even plaza de La Paz is colorful.

Everywhere we turned, the buildings were done up in vivid shades.

University of Guanajuato

Spiky roofline of the University of Guanajuato

 

 

 

But one building stood out against the crowd: the enormous and rather grand University of Guanajuato in the very heart of town. Imposing, yet ornate, it is bright white and has a series of spiky decorations around the top.

Nuestra Senora de Guanjuato

Inside the Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato basilica.

The city’s most impressive architecture dates back to the 18th century when the region was the world’s leading silver producer.

Since the indigenous silver miners were slaves, there was plenty of profit for the mine owners to spend in whatever way they liked, and the ornamentation in the churches, mansions and former government buildings reflect that immense wealth.

Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato

Teatro Juarez – a lavish theater at the center of it all.

Silver production continued to support sumptuous lifestyles in Guanajuato into the 20th century, and the stunning Teatro Juarez theater is a central landmark dating from that time. It was a thrill fto watch it light up in the early evening.

In front of the theater, the Jardín de la Union is the local hangout. Most Mexican cities have a town square, or “Zócalo,” where everyone can kick back with a beverage and a book or enjoy a conversation with a friend or just sit and people watch.

Jardin de la Union Guanajuato

Shade trees and shiny tiles surround the Jardín de la Union
— thetown square (or triangle!).

But this square is unique. For one thing, it’s not a square. It’s a triangle! Also, rather than cobblestone or paved paths, the wide walkways that encircle it are made of shiny, decorative tile laid in pretty patterns.

A stand of trees arches over this waking path. The trees are planted so close together and their foliage is so thick that they make an incredible shade cover for the whole place.

They looked like ficus trees to us. We’ve kept ficus trees as houseplants, but for us they haven’t done very well in a pot. Their leaves always seem to begin to yellow and then slowly drop off, one by one, until the tree is nearly bare.

Vegetable sellers in the street

Selling vegetables street-side.

Not these trees! Their vibrant green leaves are so tightly packed that in mid-day the whole area is dark under their shade, and it makes a great place to escape from the heat of the sun. We kept coming back and back and back again — as did everyone else in town!

But daily life is always humming in the streets beyond the Jardín. And in this town, you just never know what you’ll see.

Scooter carrying lilies

Delivering flowers…

 

Wandering around, we came across the many scenes we’ve become accustomed to: juice vendors selling fruit juices from rollable carts and people offering veggies for sale on makeshift tables and chairs they’ve assembled from shipping pallets and plastic buckets, or whatever is handy.

But it was the unexpected and whimsical sightings that kept us on our toes and laughing. We just never knew when we might glance up and see something unique, like a scooter rolling past. loaded with bouquets of yellow lilies. What a fun way to deliver flowers!

Horses and donkey in the street

We look up and see these guys coming down the street!

Traffic on the streets can be quite heavy, especially at rush hour, so we were astonished when we were out looking for a bite to eat and suddenly saw a pair of horseback riders and a donkey clip-clopping towards us on the cobbled streets. Was this for real? Yes!

We followed them back towards the town square but quickly lost track of them in the throng of activity. The crowds in the square had grown so jam-packed that when we stood on tip-toe and looked down the street, all we saw was a sea of heads, hats and the occasional waving hand.

Ballerina on Teatro Juarez railing

There’s a ballerina dancing on the theater railing!

Looking past all that, Mark’s jaw suddenly dropped and he pointed, “There’s a ballet dancer on the railing up there!’ I followed his gaze, and sure enough, a dancer in a leotard and toe shoes was posing on the stone railing in front of the majestic columns of Teatro Juarez.

Balloons released above Teatro Juarez

A group of people release a bunch of white balloons from the theater steps.

We made our way through the crowd and discovered she was in the middle of a photo shoot of some kind.

A photographer was nearby, and she assumed one graceful pose after another on the railing while he took a stream of photos.

As this gal was dancing on the side rail of the theater, a gathering of people holding white balloons had assembled on the front steps. What could this be? Who knows!

All of a sudden, they all let go of their balloons at the same time, and we tipped our heads back to watch the little white bubbles disappear into the sky. Then the group of people on the stairs broke up and everyone vanished into the river of humanity flowing around us.

Mariachi band walking

Mariachis doing the Abbey Road walk.

Guanajuato is not just a visual delight. It’s soul is steeped in music too. Everywhere we went around town we heard music.

Mariachi trumpet player

Music is the heart and soul of Guanajuato.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Jardín, in the center of town, a myriad of outdoor cafes lines the square, and each boasts a mariachi band. These weren’t the little wandering three-piece bands we were used to seeing on the beach. These were full-on 8-member orchestras, complete with trumpets and violins in addition to the usual guitars.

The town square’s cafes are crammed together side by side, with no space in between. Music springs up from one cafe and then another, and frequently from a few of them at once. Periodically, a band takes a break, and the musicians take a load off and chat together under the shade of the trees.

Jardin de la Union bandstand

A band does a lively rendition of ?Stars and Stripes Forever.”

There is a bandstand at the center of the square, and one afternoon we noticed the crisp white shirts of a band sitting up there as they tuned their instruments to a clarinet’s A-note. Oooh – fun!!!

We found seats on a park bench and were amazed when the conductor tapped his baton on his music stand and the cacophony from the mariachi bands around the square suddenly stopped.

 

Kid running at the bandstand

Weeeee – two kids zoomed round and round the bandstand.

The band began to play a string of familiar pop tunes, and I found myself transported to my childhood when our town band would play in the bandstand on balmy summer nights. I started telling Mark about how all of us kids would get so wound up at these things, running round and round the bandstand, skipping and leaping and doing cart-wheels.

Suddenly, just as the band started a rousing rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” a little brother and sister began to tear around the band stand at top speed. They ran in opposite directions, and each time they met, they’d stop and high-five each other and then take off again, laughing giddily as they ran.

Street musician in Guanajuato

People make music in every corner of Guanajuato.

Out on the streets of Guanajuato the music continued to fill the air, day and night.

Street musician in Guanajuato

There were street musicians everywhere.

Street musicians of every variety strolled up and down, playing for themselves and playing for tips. It is hard to find a street corner in this city where you don’t hear music.

guitar player on the bus

We were even serenaded on the bus!

Even when we clamored onto a city bus, a guy suddenly broke into song behind us. We turned around to see him standing in the middle of the bus strumming his guitar.

Musician statue at Jardín de la Union

A sculpture depicting the famous Callejoneadas.

But the most famous musicians in Guanajuato aren’t the mariachi bands or the bandstand band or the street musicians. It is the Callejoneadas.

The what? When I first heard this word I had to have the person repeat it three times. “Cah-yay-hone-ay-ah-das.”

An alley is a “callejón” (cah-yay-hone), and although most cities in the world have lots of alleys, they are often kind of dark and scary places sandwiched between the good stuff. In Guanajuato, the alleys are celebrated, and they harbor the lively soul of the central neighborhoods.

We watched in amazement our first night Guanajuato as a collection of men in renaissance garb gathered in front of the Juarez Theater. Carrying lutes and mandolins and stringed instruments of all kinds, the men mingled with the crowd, urging them to sit on the stairs and watch them perform.

 

Callejoneadas de Guanajuato

A wandering minstrel.

Suddenly they began to engage the crowd with crazy antics and songs. We couldn’t really understand what stories were being told, but when they persuaded two couples to come in front of the crowd to dance, we laughed with all the rest.

As the couples swung about, everyone around ua began to sing along. Everyone knew all the words to all the songs! Sadly, we didn’t know any, but we sure wished we did.

The callejoneadas start their nightly song-walk through the alleys.

The callejoneadas start their nightly song-walk through the alleys.

After a few songs and stunts, the medieval men in black began to walk out of the town square, strumming their instruments and singing as they went. The crowd of people on the stairs got up and began to follow behind, singing heartily in their wake. Then they disappeared into the alleys.

Donkey carrying wine for Callejoneadas

A donkey carries bottles of wine.

After a short while, the space that this throng had cleared was taken up by another group of musicians and the whole thing began again. The groups of singers gathered in several different areas around the town square, and it seemed there were dozens of these groups.

As they all made there way out into the streets in the early evening, we could hear their songs faintly wafting back to us from various corners of the city.

Donkey with wine on his back

His load will be completely empty in a few hours!

Now we understood why we had been seeing so many men in tights around town. These guys were the Callejoneadas!

We also discovered what all the donkeys we had been seeing in the streets were for.

Wandering through the alleyways on our way back to our B&B, we came across a group of minstrels and followers in front of a neighborhood church.

Callejoneadas de Guanajuato at night

The callejoneadas entertain a group in front of a church.

The minstrels were performing a skit, and every so often a roar of laughter would go up. A donkey stood off to one side, and the pack on his back was quickly becoming lighter as the singers grabbed bottles from the pack and poured wine into special little flasks that the followers were carrying with them!

What a hoot!! We found out later that this whole thing started back in the 1970’s, when a group of people from the university occasionally gathered in the alleys and wandered up and down the streets in the evenings singing songs. Someone would bring along drinks to share, and the participants would contribute a few pesos to whoever did the buying.

Juarez Theater Guanajuato

The Juarez Theater looks very grand at night.

Nowadays, this once impromptu event is a regular nightly party, hosted by university students and faculty.

The whole thing is very well organized, so it is not as spontaneous (and unruly) as it probably was when it first started forty years ago.

A ticket to participate in the festivities is 100 pesos ($8 USD), and along with great memories, you get a very cool souvenir wine flask.

What we loved about all this, though, was that the little B&B where we stayed was right on one of the most popular Callejoneadas routes.

Don Quijote statue

There are statues of Don Quijote
all over the place.

Every evening, if we were back in our room, we’d hear the troupes come by. I don’t know who was singing with more gusto, the wandering minstrels or their followers!

Fortunately, there must be some kind of agreement between the singers and the neighborhood residents, because all the noise and mayhem stopped before 10:00 each night!

Don Quijote statue

Don Quijote, like Mr. Magoo, stumbled in and out of trouble, quite oblivious to it all.

We soon discovered that Guanajuato has an affection for medieval things that goes beyond (or was inspired by?) this nightly music event.

All around town we kept running into statues and references to the Spanish medieval author Cervantes and his famous hero, the rather misguided — and Mr. Magoo-like — Don Quijote (or as my little kid’s ears always heard it: Donkey Hotey).

 

Don Quijote impersonator

This Don Quijote impersonator mingled with the callejoneadas in the town square

Why Cervantes and Don Quijote? Well, around the time that the wandering minstrels started serenading folks in the alleys of Guanajuato in the 1970’s, another group of university students began doing spontaneous performances of Cervantes’ works in the same neighborhood squares and church steps.

This blossomed into an annual event, and now Guanajuato’s Festival Cervantino is known internationally and includes operas, drama productions, film showings and live music with invited guest luminaries from all over the world.

The festival wasn’t going on while we were there, but we did see a fellow dressed up as Don Quijjote who mixed it up every night with the callejoneadas singers.

We were loving the free spirit of Guanajuato, and our curiosity about its origins soon led us to the edge of town and down into the mines where the silver was — and still is — mined in abundance.

 

 

 

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Guanajuato – Colors, stairs, tunnels and characters!

Guanajuato Mexico Artits's pallet

Guanajuato is a true artist’s pallet of colors.

Early June, 2013 – We had been in Puerto Vallarta for over two months, loving the fancy shore-side resort life, but the beautiful colonial cities in the interior of Mexico beckoned. Back in Zihuatnanejo, our friend Francisco (1/3 down the page), who sells pretty painted plates from a folding table on the street, had told us he had lived all over Mexico. When we asked him which place was his favorite, he instantly said, “Guanajuato.”

Colorful houses of Guanajuato

No one is bashful here about using bright colors on their homes!

Where? He repeated the name and then spelled it for us (a rough pronunciation is “Whanna-Whatto” ).

Even though Francisco is usually quite a jokester, he went on very seriously to say this was a place we absolutely should not miss. He explained that the city was built on several hillsides and there were lots of colorful houses, old cobblestone streets and alleyways, and that there was a community of artists and musicians that gave the place a special spirit. It sounded wonderful. Even though we had never heard of it, Guanajuato zoomed to the top of our bucket list.

Guanajuato Pipila Overlook

The bright colors of Guanajajuato make an awesome backdrop at the Pípila Overlook.

Guanajuato Cathedral Domes

The domes of Guanajuato

The bus from Puerto Vallarta to Guanajuato is a very easy and comfortable 10 hour ride (it goes direct with just one stop), and we arrived in the late afternoon just in time to see the breathtaking views from the Pípila overlook. Wow! Francisco was right. This place was incredible.

Every house was a different color, and no one was shy about painting their home lavender or turquoise or pink or emerald green. Several yellow and red church domes rose above the houses, and the grand University of Guanajuato building was a dazzling white in the center of it all.

We quickly discovered that Guanajuata is all about climbing up and down stairways. The heart of the city is in a valley on the ground floor, but the buildings rise up along the sides of hills, and the fantastic Carretera Panorámica (or Panoramic Road) encircles the entire city up above.

Funcular Cable Car Guanajuato

The funicular cable car makes it easy to get up and down.

 

 

 

 

After soaking in the magical view of the city from this overlook, we took the Funicular cable car ride down into the city center. How cool it was to creep down the mountain in this window-lined car and watch the buildings grow tall around us until we arrived in the throbbing heart of Guanajuato’s Centro.

Teatro Juarez Guanajuato Mexico

Artists’ paintings for sale outside the
stately Teatro Juarez

 

The main part of Guanajuato’s Centro is the Jardin de la Unión, a triangular city square that is lined with dense shade trees and park benches and has a bandstand at its center. A cacophony of music rises up from every corner of this park as costumed mariachi bands, sax players, classical guitar players and wandering minstrels serenade anyone and everyone within earshot.

One end of this park is anchored by the ornate Teatro Juarez, a stunning theater whose facade is defined by a row of elegant columns and a collection of sculptures on the roof. As we wandered closer to the theater, we noticed a street performer with a big clown nose entertaining a crowd on the steps.

Our cameras instantly sprang into action to capture his act and his audience, but this guy was even faster than we were. Suddenly turning his back to his audience, he wheeled around to face us and began to pose for us like a swimsuit model, contorting himself into all kinds of provocative poses. Everyone was laughing, but we suddenly noticed all eyes were now turned towards us!

 

Street performer mime at Teatro Juarez

A street performing mime with a clown nose plays games with us.

We played right along with him, encouraging him and shooting away, pretending to be high fashion photographers. The audience laughed and clapped — and then he rushed over to us with his hat out looking for a tip! The audience roared.

He’d pulled one over on us! Mark turned his pockets inside out in jest, but soon found a few pesos to reward his funny act.

The next day we saw him again. He instantly started miming and pretending to take photos of us! We responded by doing goofy poses for him. Suddenly, he rushed over to us, his wallet open as he fingered a dollar bill inside, as if to tip us.

Callejoneadas de Guanajuato

A Renaissance Man!

This was the spirit we found in Guanajuato. Fun-loving, free-wheeling and happy.

For the rest of our stay, all of our forays into town began and ended with Teatro Juarez as our main landmark, and the next day, just a few steps from the theater, we bumped into a man dressed in complete Medieval garb. What the heck? Out came the cameras!

Plaza de La Paz Basilica Guanjuato

Plaza de La Paz and the Basilica de Nuestro Senora de Guanajuato

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We quickly learned that dressing up and wearing costumes is an integral part of Guanajuato street life. Wandering away from the city park a few paces, we came to Plaza de La Paz and the beautiful brilliant yellow Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato. Talk about stunning! Not only did the vibrant yellow of this enormous building light up the whole plaza, but someone had decided to trim it in scarlet. What a combo – especially for a church!

Renaissance Man

Another man in tights!

I was just tipping my head back to admire this gorgeous cathedral when Mark nudged me and pointed. Right in front of me was another man in tights. What next? This guy was dressed a bit like Robin Hood. I whispered to Mark, “I bet he’s a drama student at the University.” Well, my whisper must have been just a little bit too loud, because the guy suddenly gave me a huge grin and a nod. “Yes!” he said in English. “We’re performing tonight at Teatro Principal. Come and watch!”

Plaza de La Paz Guanjuato

Plaza de La Paz

There’s nothing like a university town for action, energy, crazy stunts and the arts!

 

Mime in a fountain

A mime stays cool in a fountain.

Guanajuato has a whimsical soul, from performing clowns to men in Renaissance costumes to Crayola colored churches. So it was no surprise at all when we saw a man painted head to toe like a green copper statue rushing past us with a briefcase in hand. Whatever he was up to, we didn’t want to miss it! We quickly hustled along behind him to see where he was headed.

Bronze Mime

A bronze mime has a skull face under his sombrero

In no time at all, he had set himself up as a permanent looking water fountain statue. It was exceedingly hot in the sun, but he had a clever water pump setup where he perpetually poured a glass of water that dribbled into a pool at his feet.

The bronze statue a few doors down didn’t have it quite so good. He had baked in the sunshine so long that under his sombrero was a skeleton’s face with dark, sunken eyes. A little kid came over to him and giggled as he rolled his eyes at him.

Guanajuato's colorful streets

Beautiful colors on the streets of Guanajuato.

 

 

 

 

Guanajuato was rapidly capturing out hearts. There was an excitement in the air here that was palpable, and everywhere we looked people were smiling. Our trip to Oaxaca last year had been our favorite inland tour to date, but just like Francisco-the-plate-painter in Zihuatanejo had told us, Guanajuato was special.

 

Street of Guanajuato

There are no straight roads here.

The city is made up of a zillion little curvy streets and alleyways, and we soon got lost as one beautiful street after another drew us in. There are no straight roads in the entire town, and nothing runs in parallel either.

We just poked our heads around corners and were invariably smitten by what we saw. Then we’d head off down the alleyways to see what might lie around the next corner.

We passed many happy hours this way each day, zig-zagging from one end of the city to the other, and we fell into bed utterly exhausted with aching feet each night. It was so much fun!

 

Doorways of Guanajuato

Many doorways.

The thing was, we just never knew what we might find. Turning one corner, we both stopped short when we looked up and saw a donkey, burdened with heavy sacks, standing in front of an Oxxo store.

Donkey at Oxxo

A donkey at Oxxo?

These convenience stores are similar to Circle K or 7-Eleven — not the kind of place you’d expect to see a donkey tied up with a huge load of sacks on his back!

Colorful hillside of Guanajuato

Whatever your favorite color is, put it on your house!

But what really got us was the color. There are no inhibitions in this town. If your favorite color is purple, then paint your house purple!

We joked that the town council meetings where these colors get approved must be quite lively. But we later learned from a cab driver that this isn’t far from the truth. Building owners must get city approval for their color choices.

 

 

Casa de Pita Square

Our B&B was right off this square.

On the flip side, the municipality pays for all exterior painting and repairs. This is apparently true for all of Mexico’s “Magic Cities” (Pueblos Mágicos). And the type of paint is carefully specified — no gauche glossy finishes allowed!

One afternoon we looked between two buildings and saw a stairway that went straight up to heaven. This wasn’t just a one story or two story staircase. This was a set of stairs that went up and up and up.

Callejones de Guanajuato

The narrow alleys are called “Callejones”

 

 

 

 

We started up the stairs, just to see what was beyond the highest stairs we could see. When we got up that point, the staircase continued, with as many stairs above us as there had been below.

Guanajuato Callejones

We zig-zagged all over town on these fun little streets.

We walked up these stairs in the company of a few other people for a ways. But they stopped at various doorways, took out their keys, and disappeared inside. Their lives are lived entirely up and down, carrying groceries and everything else up six or eight flights of stairs to get home.

We continued trudging upwards, turning every so often to compare our height against the mountain on the far side of the city. A quarter of the way up, then halfway… it continued on and on.

Stairways up Guanajuato hillsides

The stairs head upwards with no end in sight on either side.

Looking down the unending staircase, we saw a man climbing towards us carrying a huge propane tank on his shoulder. He climbed slowly up towards us, balancing the tank on his shoulder no-handed.

Escalera de Guanajuato

A strong and well balanced man carries a huge propane tank up the stairs on his shoulder, no-handed.

As he neared us, Mark said something to him about the tank being heavy and the stairs being long and the work of carrying the tank being hard. He huffed and puffed once or twice, rebalanced the tank on his shoulder, smiled, and said, “Pan comido” (“piece of cake”). Then he climbed on past us and disappeared around a bend.

Wow. I wonder how many deliveries he has to make in a day?!

Living with your home on a staircase rather than a regular street is one very different way of living!! As we continued on, the view behind us became ever more sensational, but we wondered where the heck we would come out.

Dog on Guanajuato rooftop

Woof! Instead of living in the backyard, the dogs here have rooftop terraces.

We stopped to ask a group of older men that were chatting among themselves if we were actually going to come out somewhere or if we were wearing ourselves out for nothing and would find a dead end at the top. “Oh yes!” they said, “There’s a great view at the top. Keep going.” We took a deep breath and carried on, secretly wondering if the joke was going to be on us or if those men had been sincere.

Suddenly we heard a dog bark and we whipped around to see a cute little face peering at us from a roof terrace. Because the homes on this steep hill don’t have yards, all the dogs live on the roofs!

Finally, we came out at the top and were rewarded with an easy stroll along the Panoramic Road looking out over the entire city below. What a sight!

Colorful buildings of Guanajuato

We emerge at the top to see a spectacular view.

 

 

 

 

A few days earlier, when we were prowling along a different staircase, Mark had discovered a wonderful mural that depicted the story of heroism that put Guanajuato in the history books. Guanajuato was a town that was built by the immensely wealthy Spanish mine owners who set up shop in the mid-1500’s to extract silver, gold and other precious metals from the mountains.

Pipila Wall mural

Protected from musket fire by a stone on his back, Pípila torches
the front door of the stone granary, making way for the
first big defeat of the Spanish.

The Spanish enslaved the local indigenous people for over 200 years to do the miserably hard mining labor for them (mining slaves lived an average of just 5 to 10 years after they were put to work in the mines). When the miners and other indigenous people rose up against the Spanish in the Mexican War of Independence, the Spanish citizens and soldiers of Guanajuato barricaded themselves in the local granary that served very well as a fort because it had extremely thick stone walls.

A young indigenous miner, who’s nickname was El Pípila, strapped a flat stone onto his back for protection and took a torch to the wooden door of the stone granary, leading the way for a brutal indigenous attack on the Spanish inside. This was one of the first major defeats of the Spanish in the War of Independence, and Pípila became a hero.

Pipila Statue Guanajuato

A monument to the brave miner Pípila.

Universidad de Guanajuato - University of Guanajuato

The ladder of success at the University of Guanajuato.

Up on a hill in Guanajuato, there is a huge statue to honor this brave man, and as we emerged from our very long walk upstairs from the bottom of the town, we found ourselves face-to-face with this statue.

 Tunnels of Guanajuato

Upstairs – Downstairs… Guanajuato has an underworld too.

Stone arches in Guanajuato

Stone arches over the roadway leading out of one of the tunnels.

Guanajuato has stairways everywhere, and the University is no exception. Rather than the usual ten or twelve stairs that lead up to most university buildings, this staircase seemed to be a true ladder of success with many many stairs to get there!!

Ironically, Guanajuato is not just a town of hills and stairs and steep alleyways. We soon discovered that there is an entire maze of tunnels that wanders below the streets of Guanajuato. This underworld of tunnels makes a wonderful diversion for car traffic and also offers walkers a way to get from place to place in total shade.

Whether going up to the sky or down into the “subterreneo” below the city, we were loving our stay in Guanajuato, and we hung around for quite some time.

Where is Guanajuato? Here is a map showing some landmarks:

Map of Central Mexico

For sailors, Guanajuato is most easily reached from PV but is accessible from other ports too.

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PV: Paradise Village Estuary – Birds, Iguanas, Crocs…and Dolphins?

Bougainvillea Pretty Litter

Pretty Litter

April, 2013 – Paradise Village is not only a beautiful resort with a beach, pools and hot tubs, but it is a lovely community with a fantastic row of sumptuous neighboring resorts. Mark went running every morning (I was lazy!), and he always came home talking about all the wonderful things he’d seen on his run.

Flowers on sidewalk

Flowers on the sidewalk in Paradise Village

One spot in particular was strewn with flower petals, and we went back with our cameras to take photos. He called it “pretty litter.” I like that!!

White Flower

These little flowers have thick petals and are very fragrant!

Cactus Flower

A lovely cactus flower bloomed for just a few days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mirror reflections in water

Mirror reflections in the estuary

Spring was happening, and all sorts of lovely flowers were in bloom. For a few days, we watched a tiny red cactus flower open up for its brief dance on this earth. It bloomed for just two or three days and then it was done. Such fleeting beauty!

Paradise Village Marina at sunrise

Paradise Village Marina at sunrise.

The marina sits on the mouth of an estuary, and one morning we took the dinghy upriver. The sun cast a soft glow on everything.

Mirror reflections

The water was like glass.

We especially liked the mirrored reflections in the water.

Estuary palm reflections

Peace in the Estuary

This is a narrow estuary that parallels the main Paradise Village road for a ways. At first we were on the back side of all the little shops, and then the buildings thinned out and the creatures began to appear.

Lots of iguanas were sitting in the trees sunning themselves.

Yellow crowned night herons were in abundance. Like so many birds, they change their appearance completely as they mature. We thought we were seeing two different species of birds, but we were actually looking at teenagers and full grown adults.

 

Iguana in a tree

An iguana stares down at us.

Yellow crowned night heron juvenile

A young yellow-crowned night heron.

Yellow crowned high heron adult

This is what they look like when they grow up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before we started cruising Mexico’s west coast, we had no idea there were crocodiles. But there are! The signs aren’t kidding.

Mark is good at spotting wildlife, and while I was busy staring up into the trees, he noticed a croc hiding among the roots. He pointed the dinghy’s bow into the dark undergrowth and we quietly slipped in.

Zona de Cocodrilos

The sign doesn’t lie…

Crocodile in Paradise Village estuary

And there he is, tucked away behind branches in the shadows…

Crocodile teeth

Crocodile smile!

Yikes. This guy was a big one!! Unfortunately some branches obscured his face a bit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-faced cormorant

A mystery bird gives us the once over.

 

 

 

 

There was no mistaking that this was a croc! I got a close-up of his teeth. I don’t think I’d want those things clamped around my leg!!

Fortunately, he wasn’t in the mood to swim. He just sat there watching us float by.

As we pulled away, Mark noticed another bird was checking us out from the trees. Again, we had no idea what it was, and later thought it was a red-faced cormorant, but it doesn’t have webbed feet. So this guy is a mystery bird for now.

6 Yellow crowned night heron adult

Some of these guys were making nests in the trees.

Iguana face

Just lazin’ around…

The estuary winds on and on through thick stands of trees. We took a right turn here and a left turn there and wandered all over the place.

Paradise Village Home on estuary

There are some beautiful homes back in the estuary.

Paradise Village Home with yacht

Some of the homes even have yachts out front.

 

 

Finally we turned around and headed back, emerging among some absolutely beautiful estates. Such gracious living. Lots of the homes here have a dock out front where the family yacht is parked. What a life!!

Palm and flowers

We passed little collections of boats, some very salty looking. It was one of those lazy mornings where we just drifted along on glassy water and let the pretty images on shore come into focus and then fade away behind us.

Bridge gatekeepers hom

This bridge had a little gate-keepers house underneath!

 

 

 

We came to a little bridge that crossed over the estuary and noticed there was a small room at its base with a door and window on either side. Tollbooth? Bridge keeper’s house? I have no idea, but it was a fun hobbit-hole kind of place.

Finally the estuary returned back towards the sea where the two big marinas are situated (Nuevo Vallarta Marina and Paradise Village Marina). Here we saw the boat Flying Dragon safely tied up and resting peacefully after its grounding escapade on the beach in front of Paradise Village Resort.

Paradise Village Marina entrance

Looking out towards the marina channel entrance.

Flying Dragon at the dock

After her mishap, Flying Dragon is safe at the dock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dolphin Adventures dolphin pose

A dolphin gets a little practice behind the scenes.

This corner of the estuary is home to Dolphin Adventures where tourists can swim with the dolphins. These guys are very well trained, and as we drifted by we could see them leaping and playing in their pool.

Suddenly, a group of trainers assisted a dolphin up onto the dock! What the heck! The dolphin posed for a moment, tail in the air!

 

 

Dolphin Adventures feeding dolphin

“Say ahhh” … “Yum!”

Then one of the trainers began tossing fish into the dolphin’s mouth. The dolphin seemed to love this game and a bunch of fish quickly disappeared as he gave us all a toothy grin.

We later found out that the trainers feed the dolphins this way to keep their skills up. It also prevents their pool from becoming a fishy mess that attracts seabirds. This way every fish finds a home in the dolphins’ stomachs!!

We wandered around for a bit behind our slip in the marina, admiring the homes and yachts. This is a very beautiful place to hang around in a boat, and we felt no urge to take Groovy anywhere else for a while.

Paradise Village estate on the estuary

This beautiful estate and its resident yachts are right behind our dock.

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