Huatulco’s Las Palmas Resort – 24 Hours in Heaven!

Mid-December, 2012 – Life aboard our sailboat Groovy, anchored in Bahía de Santa Cruz in Huatulco, had become deliciously languid and slow, with one day flowing seamlessly into the next.  Huatulco was gradually filling with tourists, and every day we saw more and more people going out on the tour boats and sunning themselves on the beaches.

Santa Cruz Bay Anchorage Huatulco Mexico

Groovy is anchored peacefully in Santa Cruz Bay

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Anchorage sail blog Banana Boat

Lots of boats circled Groovy to wave “Hola!”

Sitting on Groovy, we had front row seats to whatever action cropped up in the bay, and it was pleasant entertainment just watching whatever was going on around us. Many of the tour boats would take a little detour on their way in or out of the bay to circle Groovy and give us an enthusiastic wave and a chorus of greetings from happy guests.

 

Playa de Entrega, Santa Cruz Bay, Huatulco sail blog

View of Playa de Entrega on our walk to Las Palmas

One morning two couples in kayaks and a paddle board floated over to our boat.  We exchanged hellos and “where are you from” queries and “what a beautiful day this is!” comments.  We discovered that they were from Lake Tahoe and were boating enthusiasts too.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco - visited on our Mexico cruise

Las Palmas Resort

We had met so few Americans in Huatulco that it was suddenly really heartwarming to share a few memories of home with them over our transom.  One paddler, Ron, mentioned he had sailed quite a bit in the past, and when I asked where they were staying, he said, “I own a resort up there on the hill.  It’s called Las Palmas.”

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico (sail blog)

Lush landscaping everywhere

View of Playa Violin from Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico

Playa Violin has wonderful cliffs

Wow!  Most folks we meet say they are staying at a resort.  This was the first time we met someone who owned one.  And he looked so relaxed and happy sitting there in his kayak. Gosh…and I had thought that we were living the dream!!

“Come on up sometime!  You can see the resort and have a beer with us.”  My jaw dropped as he continued on, explaining how to walk to the resort.  “It overlooks Playa Violin,” he said.  Then his little group paddled away and Mark and I turned to look at each other, wide eyed, and grinning.  That just wouldn’t have happened in our old workaday life in our old neighborhood.  Never!  What a fun encounter.  What a neat opportunity!

From our Mexico cruise: Las Palmas Resort on Playa Violin in Huatulco

Looking down at Playa Violin from Las Palmas

 

Over breakfast the next morning we debated:  Go to the beach, do errands in town, or check out that resort?  That was a short debate!  We quickly dinghied ashore and began hoofing it up and over the hills to try to find Las Palmas.

views from our sailing cruise: Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco Mexico

Las Palmas Resort

It’s easy to find, but we got lost anyway and went well beyond it.  On our way back we looked across the little beach of Playa Violin, and there it was, an ethereal group of buildings and terraces perched on the edge of the cliffs.  “That must be it,” Mark said, picking up the pace down the hill.

From our sailboat cruise of Mexico: Las Palmas Resort, Huatulco

Pools, palms, views, and more…

Then we glanced up and saw a pickup truck coming towards us with Ron driving and his friend, Craig, who had been the one on the paddle board, in the passenger’s seat.

Las Palmas Resort Terraces Huatulco Mexico (sail blog)

Las Palmas Resort

They picked us up, and suddenly we were passing through the tall entrance gates of Las Palmas Resort, driving into a gorgeous luxury property.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico from our sail blog

The rooms and terraces soar above the views

Ron’s wife Jackie and Craig’s wife Terri were there welcoming us, but everything was a blur around us.  All we could see was the lovingly nurtured landscaping, lush with flowers and tropical plants, that hugged the myriad of balconies and lookouts and infinity pools all around us.

Las Palmas resort Huatulco on our Mexican sailing cruise

The property was built high on a hill, and the buildings and palm trees soared even higher, offering stunning views of the beach, little Violin bay, the open Pacific ocean, and the bay of Santa Cruz, depending on where you stood and which way you turned your head.

Las Palmas Resort a day away on our Mexico cruise

Some suites have kitchens too!

 

We have seen a lot of resorts in this cruising lifestyle.  In many ways, cruising Mexico’s Pacific Coast can be an ongoing tour of oceanside resorts, as most anchorages are located in spots that lend themselves to resort development.  And quite often we’ve had a chance to wander through to see how the other half lives.

View of Chahue Bay from Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco Mexico from our sail blog

View of Chahue Bay from that suite’s kitchen

But this resort was head and shoulders beyond anything we’ve seen.  It was intimate, each room was unique, and everything about it quietly blended into the surroundings, giving guests a true retreat while pampering them with the finest of everything.

Las Palmas Resort Palapa Restaurant

A nice gathering place for guests

 

 

A little restaurant/bar under a thatched palapa roof seemed the ideal spot for all the guests to gather and mingle.  However, we were lucky enough to have met these new friends before peak season hit.  For the moment, we had the place to ourselves.

On our sailing cruise of Mexico, we visited Las Palmas Resort, Huatulco Mexico

Palms of “Las Palmas”

“A lot of people come here for a few weeks,” Ron was telling us.  “They get to know each other, and now there’s a community of people who come back year after year.”  What a way to spend the coldest part of winter!  Gourmet meals are prepared in a beautifully appointed kitchen, and the colorful parrot Lucy greets everyone.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico from our sail blog

Lucy checks me out

Building this resort was an act of enormous faith, propelled by Ron’s brilliant vision of bringing charm and luxury to paradise.  Running several tourist businesses in Lake Tahoe, he had never developed a luxury resort before.

Las Palmas Resort Playa Violin Huatulco Mexic (sail blog)

Views from Las Palmas Resort

 

 

What an accomplishment!  There are lots of laws, rules, regs and hurdles to leap to create a property like this on the Mexican coast.

Gourmet kitchen Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico

Margarita prepares gourmet meals in this airy kitchen

Too many resorts in Mexico remain unfinished, with rebar, bare concrete and gaping holes staring forlornly out to sea from exquisite perches on land.  To complete a project of this scale is an incredible achievement.  And right down to the unusual decorative tiles and lovely fittings adorning each room, every possible detail has been thought of and completed to perfection.

Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco Mexico

The spacious rooms open onto the pools and views

What I loved most, though, was that all the windows and doors in all the rooms can be thrown open to bring in the ocean breezes along with the view.  Every room Ron showed us was unique in the way it took advantage of its particular position on the hill, and all the rooms eagerly welcomed the outdoors in.

We quickly lost track of how many rooms there were, and how many buildings made up the property, and where all the infinity pools were located.  But there was a main house that was often rented for big family gatherings, weddings, or corporate retreats, and standing in that space made us feel like we’d stepped into the lives of the rich and famous.

A room at Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco Mexico (sail blog)

What a delightful room…

Suddenly, Ron asked if we’d like to spend the night.  “I know how it can be on a boat.  Sometimes it’s really nice to get off the boat for a night and get a long hot shower.”  Holy cow.  Getting off the boat to a stationary bed would be nice.  But staying here at Las Palmas would top anything we’d imagined by a long shot!

View from a room at Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico (sail blog)

…with an awe-inspiring view

He showed us the room where we’d be staying.  It was in an incredible spot with the doors thrown wide to a spectacular view of the beach and cliffs.

Las Palmas Resort even the shower has a view (sail blog)

You can enjoy the view even in the shower!

 

 

Rather than a mere window onto the view, the opening to the deck was almost the full width of the room, bringing the outdoors rushing in, and flooding the room with the bay’s soft light of late afternoon.  Even the shower had a view.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico dolphin pool

One pool has an image of a dolphin on the bottom!

Somehow, effortlessly, the logistics for our stay sorted themselves out.  We dashed back to Groovy for an overnight bag, and then found ourselves enjoying the golden hour in the big house’s picturesque infinity pool as the sun slipped behind the cliffs.

Terri put a delicious Margarita in my hand, and I watched Mark swim over to the edge of the pool to soak in the view with Craig.  “I feel like I died and went to heaven,” I said happily as I slid into the silky warm water to join them.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco a groovy sunset during our sailboat cruise

Mark and Craig enjoy the sunset from the infinity pool

 

How, exactly, had we been granted 24 hours in heaven?  Who knows!  It was the best and most vivid dream, yet we were wide awake in the midst of it.

More margaritas on the deck overlooking the pool, dinner out at Huatulco’s finest restaurant, a pink sunrise reflecting off the water, and an amazing American/Oaxacan brunch poolside once again in the morning, all made us feel like Santa had come early and invited us to spend a day in someone else’s life.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico romance on our Mexico sailing cruise

When we returned to Groovy after our day away, we found conversation impossible.  All we could say to each other was, “Can you believe that just happened?”  “What an amazing experience!”  “How fortunate we are…”

And then, what a joy it was to be able to take our new friends out sailing a few days later.  The gods of the wind and the sea cooperated beautifully and gave us ideal conditions for a daysail.  Modest breezes, flat seas, and bright sunny skies followed us along the coast.

Sailing Groovy in Huatulco Mexico

Mark and Ron enjoying our wonderful daysail aboard Groovy

 

As we chatted, the boat took flight in the light wind, and we discovered that  “boating enthusiast” was an understatement in Ron’s case.  He had crewed on the TransPac ocean sailing race from California to Hawaii as a youngster, and had become a licensed Coast Guard captain to boot.  As if welcoming the sailor back to the sea, Groovy came alive and took us all on a speedy, carefree ride, and the world fell away in our wake.

One of the most exciting things in our traveling lifestyle is that we never know what is going to happen next.  We are continually blessed with surprises we couldn’t plan if we tried.  We just never know who’s going to paddle over in a kayak to say “hello.”

We continued to stay in the Bays of Huatulco and enjoy its delights, including a visit to its wild side at Playa La Bocana.

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Huatulco’s Santa Cruz Bay – great beaches & a cute harbor village – Paradise!

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Santa Cruz Beach and anchorage in Huatulco set against the backdrop of Oaxaca’s mountains

Early December, 2012 – After our beautiful day in the tropical orchard of Hagia Sofia, we left Marina Chahué to anchor out once again.  There are a dozen or so anchorages to choose from in the Bays of Huatulco, and we decided to spend a while in Santa Cruz Bay where we found three beautiful beaches, a snug little harbor-side village, and easy access to the town of La Crucecita.

Santa Cruz Bay and Chahue Bay Huatulco Mexico

View across Santa Cruz Bay to Chahué Bay

s/v Groovy in Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Groovy finds its groove in Santa Cruz Bay

The roads along the bay are hilly, and we got a great feeling for the lay of the land on our many walks along the road that hugs the bay.

Various viewpoints give an awesome look down into the bay and across the little harbor and village. Groovy settled into a quiet spot right off a small beach.  The anchorage can hold about three or four cruising boats, but we were the only ones there for a long time.

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

We had a great view of a tiny beach and two tempting beach bars

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Looking out at the anchorage from the beach bars

The ospreys, pelicans and frigate birds circled in the air above us all day long, and the two beach bars on the little beach came alive at night.

After staring at those beach bars from the boat for a while, we just had to check out the view out into the bay from where they sat.  Not surprisingly, their view of us was just as appealing as our view of them!

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco

We had our own nearly private beach

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco

Pretty views everywhere

 

These were quiet days filled with simple pleasures.  Having easy access to activities on shore gave us the amusements of both surf and turf.  We could wander around on dry land whenever the mood struck us, but we could still take advantage of having a waterborne home.

The ocean was over 80 degrees, and the cabin temperatures were still frequently hitting 90 degrees in the late afternoons, so swimming became a natural part of every day.  Swimming off the boat is without doubt one of the greatest joys of living at anchor.  But being able to wade in from the beach and feel sand between our toes was just as nice.

Santa Cruz Harbor Huatulco sailing blog

Santa Cruz Harbor and Beach

The village of Santa Cruz surrounds a small harbor, and on the backside of town is Santa Cruz Beach, a slightly larger but wonderfully intimate little beach that soon became a frequent hangout for us.

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco dinghy ride and groovy

Our dinghy got us everywhere in minutes

It was a five minute dinghy ride to get over there, and as soon as our feet hit the sand we instantly turned into beach bums.

 

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco

Palm trees and a beach – perfection!

There are sweeping palm trees that reach for the sky alongside a small row of very inviting beachside restaurants and bars.  All you have to do is grab a table and stake a claim to your own piece of paradise.  Stay until you’ve had your fill.

Santa Cruz Beach Al Frente del Mar Restaurant

Have a seat…!

We kept pinching ourselves day after day, absolutely thrilled with life and amazed we could be living this way.  This was our third season of cruising Mexico, but it had never been anywhere near this good.

Like so many other hopeful cruisers, we had cast off the dock lines long ago to head to distant shores and “live the dream” of cruising.

Living the dream sailing blog in Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico

Living the dream!

But the challenges of that dream had too often made it far from dreamy.  Rolly anchorages and sleepless nights, red tide and cold water, exhausting 200 miles passages and frightening overnights at sea had all joined forces each season to make us question our sanity in wanting to live on a sailboat.

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Santa Cruz Beach

However, this year, during these weeks, in this place, it all came together and we were in heaven. The bay stayed calm, the water was intoxicatingly clear and warm, and the gods smiled down on us day after day.

On Santa Cruz Beach happy vacationers and locals alike would just wade out into the water a bit, have a seat, and stay seated with the water up to their necks, until they were totally water logged.  Families, couples, groups of teenage friends and toddlers all immersed themselves in the lapping waves, swishing their hands around, chatting and laughing for hours.  We did too!

Underwater at Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco

A fish checks out our new camera

Under water the fish milled around the rocks, nibbling here and there, and watching the snorkelers with curiosity.  We’d never played around with an underwater camera before, and we soon learned that getting Jacques Cousteau shots is not so easy.  Nothing stays still!  Just as we’d get the shot lined up, the fish would wriggle away or a wave would pick us up and move us — and the camera — a few feet.  But it was so much fun trying.

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco sailing blog

This is a wonderfully intimate little beach

 

 

 

On the beach the best entertainment was the little kids.  The small waves were just the right size for toddlers — big enough to lure them into the water but small enough not to be scary.  In and out they’d go, running, running, running.

Toddler on Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco sailing blog

The waves were just right for toddlers

 

 

Toddlers on Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

It’s so fun to watch the waves break in your lap!

A brother and sister sat mesmerized by the waves for a long time, letting the waves break right in their laps, wave after wave after wave.

Everyone wanted to get pics of each other to send home.  This is the kind of fun you just have to share, and we all knew we could make everyone back home incredibly jealous.

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Friends posed for each other, getting the sand and water and blue sky lined up just right. Pairs of young girls did endless sexy poses for each other, each one showing off her assets while her friend clicked away.  After they’d do a few bikini model shots showing off the bathing suit from both the front and back, they’d suddenly lie down in the water to go for a curvaceous, alluring water shot. I suspect there are some lucky boyfriends out there!

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

We all took pics of each other

Mark was only too happy to help out with these mini photo shoots, but the show always instantly became very G-rated!  The nice return was that we got some shots of ourselves to make our friends envious too.

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco sailing blog

Happy!

 

Up among the beach umbrellas where the margaritas and beers flowed with enthusiasm at every table, vendors wandered through selling their wares.  The usual stream of women passed through selling commercially made bead jewelry.

Japanese vendors on Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Cruising Mexico in a VW Microbus selling jewelry!

Far more intriguing was the young Japanese couple who stopped by.  Hailing from Kyoto, Japan, they were traveling across Mexico in a VW Microbus, funding their adventure with their own hand-made jewelry.

Vendor sells corn bread on the beach Huatulco

Corn bread for sale!

Another women sold bread that had the exact taste and texture of corn muffins — quite yummy.  And several women braided and beaded girls’ hair like Bo Derek.  One woman was very eager to do Mark’s hair. It is getting a little long, but I don’t think a head full of braids would be that becoming on him.

Lots of hair braiding on Santa Cruz Beach in Huatulco Mexico

A little girl gets her hair braided

Some guitarists meandered by strumming melodies and then an old man showed up pushing an ice cream cart through the sand.

Ice cream vendor Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco

An ice cream vendor rolls his cart through the sand

This beach was a great place to kick back and watch the world go by.

The little harbor village of Santa Cruz is filled with pangas, open outboard-driven skiffs.  Some offer tours of the bays to tourists and many others are fishing boats.  As we wandered back to get our dinghy one afternoon a pair of young fellows on a scooter showed off the fish they had just caught.

FIsh on a scooter - Santa Cruz Harbor Huatulco sailing blog

Catch of the day!

A few minutes later, on our way out to the boat, we spotted two fishermen in a panga at the dock carving up some fish they had just caught.

Santa Cruz Bay anchorage sailing blog Huatulco Mexico

Late afternoon view from our cockpit

 

 

 

 

 

 

A quick conversation and negotiation, and we were suddenly waving goodbye and motoring away with a fillet for dinner.

Fishing near Groovy in Santa Cruz Bay anchorage Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Fishermen suddenly cast nets all around Groovy

Back at Groovy a bunch of fishermen had surrounded our boat and were casting nets into the water.  I don’t know what kind of fish had arrived, but the fishermen knew they were there.  We had always had peaceful sunsets to ourselves, but for three nights in a row we got caught up in a flurry of fishing activity.  The fish were so thick around our boat we could see them from the cockpit.  Then one day the fish were gone and the fishermen were gone too.

Santa Cruz Bay anchorage Huatulco Mexico full moon and frigate bird

These were beautiful days of seaside living that blended into each other in a blur of wonder.

Tuesday rolled into Saturday and then it was suddenly Wednesday, or was it Friday? Who knew, and who really cared?  Mid-December caught us by surprise.  Time disappeared in a delicious, unhurried way.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful if life were always like this?  It is a dream so many of us share… For a precious time, our lives were suspended in tropical perfection.

And then, to top it off completely, we were gifted with 24 hours in heaven at the exquisite Las Palmas Resort!

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Huatulco’s Marina Chahué – Landlubbing with parrots!

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Marina Chahue at the golden hour

Mid-November, 2012 – The great thing about this beautiful little cruising ground among the Bays of Huatulco is that when it gets gnarly out in the bays, you can run for cover in the shelter of the marina.  We left Tangolunda Bay after two days of swinging back and forth like a church bell gone wild, and instantly relaxed as the boat steadied and then went into a wonderful, motionless torpor in the marina.

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

We were gifted with some pretty sunsets

We were treated to lovely afternoon sunsets that lit the sky in shades of gold and pink and orange, and we walked and walked and walked, thrilled to be back on terra firma.  We had been loving swimming off the back of the boat, but the newfound pleasure of stepping off the boat onto dry land was equally thrilling.

Unfortunately, Huatulco’s Marina Chahué (pronounce Cha-WAY) is a poorly appointed little marina that is hopelessly overpriced.  Run by the government, our jaws dropped when we were told the fee would $30 USD a night without hookups to electricity and water!! (those luxuries would have been $5 more).

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Cold water outdoor showers – without privacy!!

The one amenity on offer for visiting boaters is a cold water outdoor shower that doesn’t even have a curtain or door!  Needless to say, there is never a line for the shower!!

By comparison, for the same price, Paradise Village Marina, a resort marina in Puerto Vallarta, offers swimming pools, hot tubs (including a an indoor candle-lit hot tub for the gals), a spa, a beautifully appointed gym with all the latest equipment, a pretty and meticulously groomed beach that goes for miles, and walking access to all the restaurants and boutiques a tourist could ever hope for.  It is no wonder that Marina Chahué is nearly vacant while Paradise Village has lots of boats, especially given the hundreds of miles and several overnights at sea required to get here.

Legacy Westport 164 at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Our new neighbor “Legacy” arrives

What could be a fabulous cruising destination is just a brief stopover point for the handful of boats that pass through.

One such transient boat pulled in during our stay.  The neat thing about megayachts is that you can often look them up online and get a tantalizing peek at what lurks behind the tinted windows.  This one, “Legacy,” is 164′ long and is listed on Charter World as having been launched in December, 2011.  It’s basically brand new!

Cruising friends Colleen and Mark

Young cruisers Colleen and Mark from s/v Mer-Sea

The photos of the interior are lovely, but we had to satisfy ourselves with taking photos of the outside and dreaming.  Other than seeing the scurrying hands while the boat was docking, we never saw a soul on deck!

Even more fun than the exotic super yachts, though, are some of the unusual cruisers we meet along the way.  As we pulled in, we were greeted by Colleen and Marc of the Catalina 27 Mer-Sea.  They had recently sold their boat to our friend Arturo of Macaw Tours Tapachula to be used for daysailing tours around Puerto Chiapas.  We had known only that “a young couple sailed the boat down from California and then sold it to Arturo over the summer.”

Mer-Sea at Marina Chiapas Mexico

After an exciting cruise south, Colleen and Marc’s boat is ready to take visitors daysailing in Chiapas.

 

What fun it was to meet them and their dog Torch as they got ready to pile into their pickup-conversion-camper and drive home to Texas after an adventurous cruise down the Mexican coast.

Donzi at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

A true chick-magnet

 

 

 

 

It is common for retirees to set sail on a boat after years of dreaming and planning.  Their boats are solid and decked out in the latest gear to make living aboard as comfortable and as safe as possible.  Their boats are ready for all that the sea might dish out.  Old folks have the money and the time to do these things, and 95% of cruisers in Pacific Mexico are over 50.

Pura Vida at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

All boats need regular scrub downs

How refreshing and inspiring it is, then, to meet a couple in their twenties who threw caution to the wind, bought a small 1970’s vintage boat, and took off down the scary coast, latest fancy gear be damned.  The boat sailed well, what more could you want?  Now, with one big cruise in their back pockets, they are off to make a little money in Texas and then do it all again — in the Caribbean.

anchor chain and Ultra anchor

The anchor chain is laid out on the dock. The more frequently used end near the anchor is rusted.

Old or new, big or small, if you want your boat to be a chick magnet — or at least to look its best — you gotta work at it.  When the 100 footer Pura Vida pulled in, within moments of tying up, the crew went to work cleaning, polishing and waxing.  At least a few hours of work on a boat each day is just part of the boating life, whether you are paid crew or a grubby cruiser living the Life of Riley.

Mark had a long list of things to do on the boat and we jumped right in.  Most were mundane, like fixing a leak in the kayak (again! but darn, we love that little boat anyway…), and polishing away the various rust stains that had appeared on parts of the hull.  But most interesting was swapping the anchor chain end-for-end.

end for end anchor chain on the dock

Mark puts new tie-wraps at 30′ intervals

After 550 days of anchoring out, the link holding the anchor had been startlingly eaten away by rust, while the opposite end of the chain was still bright silver.

A few of the tie-wraps marking the distances had come off too, so Mark had a chance to put new ones on at 30′ intervals.  That way he has some idea of how much chain he has let out in the water — the deeper the water (or more stormy the situation), the more chain you want to let out.

Marinas are always lively places that are full of action, even little-used ones like Marina Chahué.  One afternoon a TV crew showed up at the mansion on the end of the point.  We discovered the Mexican TV mass media company “Televisa” was doing a segment on Huatulco for a show that highlights cool spots around Mexico.

Sailboat regatta Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

A little sailboat race makes a perfect backdrop for the TV cameras

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Palm at sunset

Very conveniently, the local kids’ racing fleet had a small regatta that day, right out front.  They zig-zagged back and forth as the TV cameras rolled.  They were very cute.

During our brief stay, Marina Chahué was loaded with birdlife.  We were woken in the mornings with the calls of great kiskadees, which sound just like their name, “kis-ka-dee.”  Grackles made themselves at home in our cockpit at times, squeaking at each other and peering at us to see just how much intrusion they could get away with before we shooed them off.

A grackle sits on our outboard in Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A cheeky grackle makes himself at home on our outboard

One morning Mark popped his head out the companionway and saw a row of birds sitting on the dock line of the boat next to us.  There is quite a bit of surge in this marina, and the boats move around a lot.  As the neighboring boat swung around in its slip, the dock line rose up and down.  The birds didn’t seem to mind one bit as their perch soared and then fell.

Swallows on the dock lines in Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A flock of small birds rides the dock lines

Great egret Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A great egret stares us down in the kayak

 

Taking the kayak out to explore the estuary in the back of the marina, we came across a rather stern looking great egret.  He kept a close eye on us and our bright yellow boat as we drifted past him.  But other than annoying him enough for him to lower one foot for a moment, just in case, he seemed okay with us coming quite close.

The prize bird sighting came on land about a quarter mile from the marina, though.  Just outside the busy supermarket, we heard the unmistakeable squeals of a flock of parrots.  They were perched on every available branch of a tree, almost within arm’s reach.  Unfortunately, the wide angle lens I’d brought with me couldn’t quite capture them… And why hadn’t I brought my telephoto lens to the supermarket??  I’m beginning to learn:  take all the camera stuff everywhere!

 

half moon conures in Huatulco Mexico

Half moon conures flirt at sunset

half moon conures bahias de huatulco mexico

A little kiss

We hurried home, teased most of the way by this exuberant flock as it zoomed every which way in the sky, buzzing us repeatedly and landing in trees and chattering at us all along our route home.  Why, oh, why didn’t I have that long lens?  I looked them up online later and found out they were half-moon conures.

We had planned to leave the marina the next morning, but Mark gave me a smirk when I said something about staying one more day — we both knew why.  The next afternoon I ran over to the supermarket, this time with the long lens and fully charged battery, all ready to roll.  I could hear the parrots in the distance.  Suddenly, there they were, landing in the tree right above me at a hopelessly busy street corner.

Half moon conures La Crucecita Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

“Pssst — I think you’re really cute”

I snapped some shots.  Wrong settings — all dark.  I snapped some more — better, but blurry.  Oh gosh, Don’t fly away!!!  I kept thinking.  Then I remembered the settings Mark had recommended as I leapt off the boat a few minutes ago, and I punched the buttons as the buses and taxis whipped around the corner at rush hour speeds.

half moon conures La Crucecita Huatulco Mexico

“Aaaah — that feels so good!!”

Half moon conures Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

“Can we snuggle just a little closer?”

Camera finally set, the birds began to settle down too.  Little pairs sidled up to each other at the ends of each of the branches.  They all flirted with each other shamelessly, clucking, preening, smooching and all.

One pair just above me put on a wonderful show, nuzzling together like the happiest of lovers, all beneath a single heart shaped leaf.

When they finally finished snuggling with each other and got down to serious preening, two birds were back-to-back.  They craned their necks towards each other, forming a perfect heart shape.

half moon conures La Crucecita Huatulco Mexico

“Mmmm…”

What a beautiful few moments.  Eventually the parrot noises in the tree quieted down to a low murmur as the sun stole out of the sky.  I left the birds to their romantic starlit night and wandered home to my own love, totally happy inside.

The incredible charms of the Huatulco area continued to enchant us when we visited the tropical fruit and flower orchard of Hagia Sofia.

half moon conures Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Huatulco’s Tangolunda Bay – Anchored inside a ring of luxurious tropical resorts!

Sunrise in Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco, Mexico

Sunrise in Tangolunda Bay

Early November, 2012 – After the thrill of crossing the dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec, it was a relief to wake up to a stunning sunrise in calm, picturesque Tangolunda Bay.  As we watched that sunrise, it felt like our cruising season had begun at last.

 Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco, Mexico

Resorts line the bay.

Las Bahías de Huatulco is made up of seven bays tucked into a ten mile stretch of coast, an ideal little cruising ground.  Tangolunda Bay is at the southern end, and it’s the “party bay,” rimmed by ten or so high-end resorts.  They all slowly came to life as the day progressed.

Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco, Mexico

A great scene to wake up to…

The air temperature here was just a little bit cooler and drier than Puerto Chiapas, but the water was still warm and clear.  In no time we had donned masks, snorkels and fins and begun paddling around the boat.

Of course, in the cruising life you are never far from boat maintenance work, and before we could check out the colorful fish swimming around the rocks nearby, we had to clean the bottom of the boat!

Terry cloth towels in hand, we swished and swiped the bottom of the hull, creating great swirling clouds in the water as the resident algae was brushed away.

Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco, Mexico, relaxing on a sailboat

Just chillin’

Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco, Mexico, relaxing on a sailboat

Savoring these precious days.

 

 

 

An hour later, with that chore finally out of the way (phew!), we swam off to visit the angel fish and other critters hiding underwater in the rocks near the shore.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco Mexico Barcelo Resort jet skis

Huatulco is a favorite weekend getaway for people from Oaxaca City

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico, Barcelo Resort

Banana boats zoomed past us.

Large blue angel fish, each sporting a yellow vertical stripe and yellow tail, were the prize sightings, but there were lots of smaller, plainer fish too.  What I liked, though, were the waves of warm and cool water that caressed our bodies as we swam.  The cooler waters of the approaching winter were starting to sweep in, but bathwater warm pools of summer still enveloped us here and there.

Bahias de Huatulco Tangolunda Bay relaxing on a sailboat

Mark unwinds with some tunes in the cockpit.

Above water, the vacationers at the resorts zoomed past on jet skis, in sailing catamarans and on banana boats.  All were Mexican, and all seemed to hail from Oaxaca City.  This is the perfect weekend getaway place for them, as it is just an hour’s flight.

Bahias de Huatulco Tangolunda Bay tern

A tern checks us out.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco jet ski

Mark practiced getting action photos on the water.

The long 8-hour drive over the speed-bump ridden mountain roads from Oaxaca will soon be replaced by a freeway that will get the tourists here in just three hours by car.  The jet skis will be swarming in droves then!!

Several dads with kids sitting in their laps paddled and drifted by us in kayaks and sailboats.  Each was curious about where we were from and what life afloat was like.  “Do you have a kitchen on your boat?” One kayaker asked.  Another guy on a catamaran called out, “I’m going to be doing what you’re doing in a few years!”

Bahias de Huatulco Tangolunda Bay jet ski rental

We got lots of waves — both kinds!

For us, this was the ideal place to relax for a while and regroup.  We took the kayak out and paddled around the bay one afternoon.  As we passed the resorts on shore, it seemed each one had its own flavor.

Tangolunda Bay, Bahias de Huatulco, kayaking

We took the kayak out exploring…

There’s the romantic getaway, Camino Real Zaashila, tucked into the far corner of the beach.  At the opposite end of the beach, swank Quinta Real dominates the scene with its two big exotic looking domes.  I suspect vacationers there enjoy the beach “sand free,” from a distance, with room service on their balconies!  In the middle there’s the party hardy resorts, Barceló and Dreams, where loud music plays at the water’s edge, kids splash in the waves, and undoubtedly Margaritas flow freely.

Huatulco Tangolunda Bay Dreams Resort with Sailboat

Groovy poses against the fantastic backdrop of Quinta Real

It seems that vacationers of every kind can find their tropical paradise here.  When we got back to the boat, the afternoon entertainment had begun poolside at the Las Brisas resort next to us.  A woman on a loudspeaker was conducting a contest among the kids to see who could recognize the most Disney movie and cartoon theme songs.

Bahias de Huatulco Tangolunda Bay

Snippets of Mary Poppins and The Little Mermaid wafted past us while we imagined a very lively scene at the resort’s swimming pool which was hidden from us by a row of bushes.

Tangolunda Bay Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Tangolunda’s main beach is a long sweeping crescent

How funny it was to hear this very American contest all afternoon after they had played hours of Mexican music over their sound system all morning. Needless to say, we knew all the answers, but not all the kids did!!

Huatulco Mexico Tangolunda Bay wedding fireworks

Wedding fireworks!

One evening a lucky couple got married on the beach right in front of our boat.  Suddenly the black night sky was split by a huge colorful explosion above us.  After yelling, “No no, not on our boat!” as we panicked that falling embers would land on us, we ran for our cameras to catch the fireworks show.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco great place for relaxing

Ahhhh….

It didn’t last long — the couple had ordered only three fireworks — but Mark got a terrific shot of one of them.

Our days and nights melted into the sweet oblivion of doing nothing but basking in this beautiful setting.  This was the life!!  I think most cruisers take off on their voyages with something like this in mind.  But boatloads of boat work, endless challenging passages, and the frequent cranky moods of Mother Nature all stand like steep hurdles blocking the way between cruisers and the heavenly, bucolic days they seek.  We savored each hour of each day as the happy blessing that it was.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco Camino Real Zaashila Resort

Romantic Camino Real Zaashila is tucked into a quiet corner of Tangolunda bay

This season, unlike the previous two, we don’t plan to travel a long distance, so there is nothing prodding us to move on or do anything in particular.  Perhaps we have finally “slowed down” in our cruising lifestyle the way we did in our RVing lifestyle.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco catamaran sailing

Catamarans sailed around us in Tangolunda

Our “to-do” list of chores for the boat got pushed aside to the far corner of the nav station desk (I think I even flipped it over for a few days so I didn’t have to look at it!).  “Having fun” became the top priority for a while.  Mark’s guitar came out, our cameras went into overdrive as we tried to capture happy vacationers having a ball all around us, and we spent many hours in the cockpit scanning the scene saying to each other, “What a totally cool life!”

Bahias de Huatulco Tangolunda Bay sailboat

Groovy sits happily by the beach

But Mother Nature’s mood swings finally caught up with us and forced us to raise the anchor.  Tangolunda Bay is wide open to the swell coming in from the Pacific, and after a few very calm nights, the Pacific began to roll and Groovy rolled right along with it.

Huatulco sunrise at Tangolunda Bay

Sunrise in Huatulco

A few rolls overnight isn’t bad, but when the boat starts swinging and jerking like a bucking bronco, tossing its occupants and their stuff around like ping-pong balls all night long while the hull creaks and groans in noisy agony, it’s time to seek new shelter!

After a beautiful sunrise one morning, we headed out on a daysail.  What fun it was to sail whichever way the wind was best, not trying to reach a particular destination.  After a few hours, we ultimately pointed the bow towards Marina Chahué in the next bay over from Tangolunda, where sweet nights of flat calm awaited us.

 

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Gulf of Tehuantepec, Mexico – Squeezing in a crossing between blows

Halloween, 2012 – We had enjoyed Marina Chiapas, but now it was time to leave.  However, because this marina borders a fabled body of water — one known for its bad attitude not its beauty — leaving was not such an easy thing to do!

The staccato way Mexicans pronounce “Tehuantepec” (Te-wan-te-PECK) makes it sound almost distasteful — they spit out the ending “Pec” with force.  Among cruisers, the Gulf of Tehuantepec is one of the few places in Pacific Mexico that can strike terror in our hearts.  I’ve heard it pooh-poohed only one time, by a married pair of 20-year veteran single-handers in Zihuatanejo (¼ down page) who were completing their third circumnavigation (aboard separate boats).  They brushed it off, saying, “The Tehuantepec is way overrated!” and promptly set off to sail 500 miles out to sea around it en route to the Panama Canal.  But for most ordinary cruisers, including us, it is a place to be respected and planned for, as it is known for its nasty temper and very big teeth.

Crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec Mexico between Marina Chiapas and Marina Chahue

From red dot (Marina Chiapas) to blue (Huatulco), this is not a great time to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec! Wind in light blue is 4-7 mph, wind in dark orange is 39-46 mph.

The Tehuantepec blows and calms down in cycles that depend on the winds in the Gulf of Mexico.  When the wind blows out of the north on the Caribbean side of Mexico, it picks up speed when it hits the Gulf of Tehuantepec and often reaches gale force.  Then it settles down for a few days before doing it all over again.

The goal for sailors is to look for a 3-day or longer period of calm to dash from one side of the Tehuantepec to the other.  There are marinas on either side, Marina Chahué in Huatulco on the west and now the new Marina Chiapas in Puerto Chiapas on the east, but there is nowhere to hide in-between other than the big, smelly industrial port of Salina Cruz that is loaded with freighters and requires the Port Captain’s permission to enter.

Going straight across this gulf is about 210 miles, but that’s a dangerous route because if the Tehuantepec suddenly gets ugly, you are stuck in a storm with hours of miserable sailing to get to safety near shore.  So the recommended course is to hug the coastline the whole way, sailing ¼ mile to ½ mile offshore, where the winds are slightly less and the waves are significantly smaller.  Going this way is 260 miles.  Crossing takes anywhere from 30 to 50 hours, on average.

Golfo de Tehuantepec crossing from Puerto Chiapas to Huatulco during calm

This calm period looks much better, doesn’t it?! Wind in light blue and lavender is 4-12 mph.

Compounding the problem of finding a good weather window to cross, when leaving from Marina Chiapas on a westbound trip, there is the additional hassle of checking out of the port.  Because Puerto Chiapas is on the border of Guatemala, every boat leaving Marina Chiapas for another destination in Mexico is required to pay a personal visit to the Port Captain’s office on the far side of town to purchase the official exit document (about $7 USD).

Also, 2 hours prior to the boat’s departure, you must invite both the Navy and their drug sniffing dog aboard for a final inspection of the boat as well as the Port Captain who comes to the boat for a final review of the paperwork.  You can’t just sneak out when the forecast looks good and the timing feels right!

The Tehuantepec had been blowing full force non-stop since our arrival a week earlier, but we studied Magic Seaweed and Passage Weather (North Pacific->California to Mexico) to determine the best time to cross, and we spotted a slim opening of about 12 hours of calm between two modest blows that would peak about 40 hours apart.  These websites, updated every three hours, seem to be very accurate in their prediction of the weather, but the resolution is small.  A one inch portion of the chart represents the entire 260 mile passage, and the time is given in GMT which was 5 hours earlier than local time in Marina Chiapas.

Some sailors don't like the Gulf of Tehuantepec

Anticipating crossing the Tehuantepec can make you a little crazy.

Studying these websites, I wrote out two pages of notes listing GMT, local time, forecasted wind states and sea states.  As of Monday, it seemed that Wednesday morning at 3:00 a.m. would be the best time to leave.  If we missed that window by 3 hours we would need to stay in port another week.

Marina management instructed Mark to visit the Port Captain right away to complete our exit paperwork.  They told us the exit document had no expiration date — it would be good indefinitely.

This meant that if the weather forecast changed, we could opt not to leave, and we’d still have a good exit document for when we were finally ready to go.  We also planned to hail the Port Captain on the radio about 8:00 Tuesday night to make arrangements for him, the Navy, and their dog to visit our boat around midnight.  We would be required to leave within two hours of that visit — or we’d have to invite them back to repeat the process.

Marina Chiapas slips and docks at sunset

It was hard to leave the safety of pretty Marina Chiapas but the windows for crossing the Tehuantepec were infrequent.

In the backs of our minds we were thinking that if the weather forecast changed on Tuesday and no longer looked good for a crossing, we would stick around the area another week or so and take advantage of the downtime to spend a few days at the coffee plantation Finca Hamburgo which has lovely cabins in the mountains.  They also have an exotic flower nursery, oodles of tropical birds and hiking trails throughout their property.  It sounded delightful.

We awoke Tuesday morning to find the marina’s internet was no longer working, so we couldn’t get a weather forecast.  On top of that, we discovered that marina management at this new marina had not understood all nuances of the rules related to boats leaving Puerto Chiapas.  It turns out that once a boat that is remaining in Mexico obtains its exit document, it must leave within 48 hours of the “leave by” date stated on the document — or return to the Port Captain’s office to obtain new exit paperwork.  So much for our option of easily sticking around for a week and hitting the coffee plantation if the weather forecast turned ugly.  We had to leave by Thursday afternoon, or spend another three hours going to the Port Captain’s office a second time to get a new exit document.

Marina Chiapas Porto Bello Restaurant Mexican Flags

Mexican flags fly at the marina’s new restaurant.

The last weather forecast we’d seen had been 10 hours earlier on Monday night.  So I hustled to nearby Puerto Madero to renew our Telcel USB modem (which provides internet access via the Mexican cell phone system).  When I was finally able to get online and see the forecast, I was horrified.  Everything had changed.  We needed to leave in 90 minutes — at 3:00 p.m. today, Tuesday, 12 hours ahead of our original planned departure time — or not leave for at least a week.

This would have us chasing a receding Tehuantepec blow for the first 18 hours, put us at the apex of the Tehuantepec at 3:00 p.m. Wednesday when it would be calm, and then have us chased by a newly growing Tehuantepec blow for the last 6 hours of our trip, delivering us to Huatulco at 3:00 a.m. Thursday, after 36 hours of sailing.  It would be a tight squeeze with little margin for error.

There was one other window a few days later that might work for very fast boats with very brave crew — but we weren’t in that category.

As Mark and I studied the weather charts, I felt a fear so palpable that my heart raced, palms sweated and mouth went dry.  “Stay or go?” I asked him.  I wanted to stay.  I wanted to run away to the coffee plantation high on that mountain and never come back.  He gave me a big happy smile.  “I have total confidence in you, Sweetie.  If you think this window will work, we’ll be fine.  You’re a great navigator and a great researcher and planner too!  I think we should go.”

Birds at Marina Chiapas

One of the best things about this marina is the constant sound of unusual bird calls.

My eyes were saucers.  He had that kind of faith in me?  What if I were wrong?  What if I’d miscalculated GMT and local time?  What if the weather changed in the next 24 hours before we got to the most vulnerable part of the voyage?  What if he got injured out there because of my decision?  What if the boat were damaged?  What if we had a horrible trip and then found out if we’d waited three days it would have been easy?  What if?  What if?  What if???  I was a mess.

Mark began organizing the boat, and after much consternation I picked up the VHF mic to invite the Port Captain and the Navy to our boat for our exit inspection.  I was intercepted by the marina manager who kindly said all the right things to the Port Captain in Spanish to convince them to come in 20 minutes.  45 minutes later, the Port Captain arrived by car.  But he wouldn’t come down to the boat until the Navy showed up in their launch boat, so he just waved from the parking lot.  Another 20 minutes went by before the launch arrived, complete with pooch.  They tied up at the dock.  The four men ambled onto our boat and took out clip boards, papers and pens while the dog sniffed everything.

Marina Chiapas at Puerto Madero - evening on the docks

At first we thught we’d leave at 3 a.m. but changed our minds to leave 12 hours earlier.

Mark watched the minutes tick by as they first had me run up to the marina office to make yet another a copy of our passports for them.  Then they struggled to understand what state had the abbreviation “SD” (our domicile) and where it was located.  “What are the border states?” they asked with great, unhurried curiosity.  North Dakota wasn’t a helpful answer, as they didn’t know that one either.  Montana got a nod.  Egads — we needed to leave, and now!!  At last they stood up to go.  Our engine was running almost before the last man stepped off the boat, and we were gone.  It was 40 minutes later than we wanted to leave, but still within the 3 hour window we’d set as our outer limit.

The Tehuantepec was blowing hard ahead of us, but we anticipated 18 hours of smooth sailing before we would get near the bad stuff, and it would be calming down in the meantime.  After an anemic sunset, the full moon we had looked forward to hid behind clouds, leaving us in the dark and making the lights on the row of 16 shrimpers off our port beam look even brighter.  Suddenly an intense white light appeared behind us.  The light grew brighter, and then we could see the red and green running lights of a boat’s bow and blasts of bow spray as it bore down on us at 30 knots or so.

Through the binoculars Mark could see it was a Mexican Navy ship.  “Maybe we’ll get boarded,” he said, shrugging.  The boat was coming straight for us.  Suddenly it swerved to our starboard side and stopped.  After a long pause (verifying our boat name with headquarters at Puerto Chiapas, perhaps?), it pulled around ahead of us and zoomed off into the middle of the shrimping fleet.  Minutes later we heard the Navy captain hailing one of the shrimpers on the radio, informing them that they were going to perform a routine inspection of their boat.  Twenty minutes after that the Navy captain hailed another shrimper for a routine inspection of his boat.  And so it went, the line of shrimpers stopped at a standstill, mid-ocean, awaiting inspections, while we slipped by on their right.

Neither of us likes night sailing at all, and since we are both light sleepers, we have found it very difficult to get good sleep while at sea.  The motion of the boat, slapping of waves on the hull and noise of the wind in the rigging are unsettling.  I tried my best to sleep, but after two hours something got me out of bed.

I found Mark in the cockpit staring into the darkness saying, “What do you make of this?  Watch.  He’s been doing this for 15 minutes…”  As he pointed, suddenly a powerful spotlight — by far the brightest I have ever seen on a boat — lit up our cockpit.  I felt naked.  When the light shifted for a moment we could see the source was a small panga, or outboard-driven open fishing boat, with two men in it.  The light flooded our cockpit again, this time strobing on and off, as the launch approached Groovy at top speed.  Then it swerved away.  The light turned off.  Then on again with another rush at our boat.  Then it was off, and the boat wheeled away from us.  All the blood drained from my face and my throat went dry.

Mark kept studying the boat.  It traveled at our speed for about 20 minutes, staying about half a mile or so behind us, and then made another rush towards us, spotlight strobing.  Finally it swerved away.  Were they trying to tell us something, to warn us about a fishing net?  Did they think we were somebody else?  Were they meeting a boat out there somewhere and we fit the description?  We’ll never know.  A few hours later another similar boat did the same thing, but with less intensity.  Who knows what it was all about.

I laid on my back in the cockpit and studied the sky to calm down.  The full moon now backlit the clouds whenever it was able to penetrate their depths.  For hours a flock of four frigate birds took turns trying to land on the top of our mast.  The mast swung wildly and it was impossible for those big wings and big webbed feet even to think about landing successfully, but they sure had a good time trying.  They easily went 30 miles with us, playing like that.

Gulf of Tehuantepec when it is calm

The Tehuantepec was calm at first

Overnight the conditions were so calm we let the distance grow between us and the shore until we were 15 miles out.  In the morning there was no dawn, just clouds.  But the good news was that a following current pushed us along as we motor-sailed at nearly 8 knots the whole time.  We had more than made up the time we had lost checking out with the officials.  The sooner we could scoot across the gulf the better — unless we went too fast and caught up to the big winds ahead of us before they died down.

The wind began to build, and with it the seas.  We started seeing 22 knots of true wind (30 apparent) and the boat began to slam into the waves.  It would rise into the air, the front half airborne, and then drop onto the water with a loud crash.

Gulf of Tehuantepec storm clouds on the ocean

Weird storms appeared and disappeared around us.

“Wow, check this out — storm cells on the radar!”  Mark called out excitedly.  Sure enough, two huge 8 mile wide pink blobs blocked our way forward, and up ahead we could see weird clouds with rain streaking out of them.  We dodged one by going towards shore, and then it disappeared, as if laughing at us for changing course to avoid it.  We tried going out to sea to avoid the next one, but it got bigger and bigger and we made no progress against it.  Then the one we had defeated reformed and suddenly we were boxed in by the two systems.  At the time I thought “who needs to see a photo of a chart plotter with two huge pink blobs boxing Groovy in?” but now I wish I could show it to you.

With rain starting and seas growing, the two storm cells suddenly began to flash with lightning.  Thunder rumbled ominously.  According to the forecast, we were supposed to be cruising along in 8 knots of light breeze with no storms, but that’s not what was here.  So it was time to seek shelter and hug the coast.  We made a beeline for shore, and after two long hours of pounding over the waves, we got to the safety zone by the beach — the recommended travel lane — where the depth is a sandy 40′ and the distance to shore is 0.2 miles.  The true wind dropped below 20 knots and the seas went flat.  Amazing!  We zipped along at over 8.5 knots for many hours on end.  It would have been a thrilling ride.  It would have been our best sailing in Mexico to date — after all, how often do you get lively wind on a close reach with flat seas? — but the fear in our hearts dissolved all sense of fun.

Gulf of Tehuantepec salt spray covers our dodger

Groovy got whip-lashed by a few big waves that smacked our dodger and soaked it.

How easy it is to walk on a 6×8 plank sitting on the ground.  Put it 30′ in the air and it’s terrifying, because all you can think of is falling off.  So it is with great daysailing in the Gulf of Tehuantepec.  Even when you get ideal sailing conditions, you keep waiting for the grisly sea monster to rise up and swallow you.

It had been 22 hours since we had last seen a weather forecast on the internet, and the one we’d just heard on the VHF radio rattled off the wind speeds and wave heights for all the regions of Pacific Mexico in Spanish — and in metric — way too fast.

Suddenly a panga with 6 guys in it appeared alongside us.  They circled us, yelling in Spanish.

“You’ve got to get out of here!  There’s going to be a lot of wind.”
“When? When?” I yelled back.  “We’re going to Huatulco!”
They all grinned heartily and gave us the thumbs up: “Mañana!”

We guessed that meant we were okay — we’d be long gone from here by then.  How incredibly kind of them, though, to make a detour to our boat to warn us of the coming weather.  We are always impressed by the thoughtfulness of the Mexicans.

As we approached the apex of the Tehuantepec’s danger zone, the true wind climbed to 25 knots, apparent was into the 30’s, and we were soaring on flat water at 9 knots, watching people flying kites an arm’s length away on the beach.  I held the laptop high overhead and was able to pick up a very faint internet signal from somewhere on shore.  After twenty minutes of standing with the laptop overhead (a great shoulder workout!), I had downloaded a tiny 599KB zip file containing a complete weather forecast from Passage Weather’s low-bandwidth site.  Nothing had changed.  Phew!!!  We were on perfect schedule.  All we had to do was let another 12 or so hours march by.  The only weird thing was we were supposed to be in 8-12 knots of wind at this point, not 25.

As darkness fell, we threaded a path between all the freighters anchored off Salina Cruz.  The coast turned more southward and we now had the wind off our starboard quarter.  The noise and mayhem settled way down as the wind from our own forward motion canceled out some of the wind blowing behind us.  We scooted along, continuing to slice through the water at almost 8 knots.

Tangolunda Bay Bahias de Huatulco

The morning after we relax in Huatulco’s beautiful Tangolunda Bay

It was Halloween, and we celebrated this eerie night of goblins and ghouls by watching the nearly full moon rise blood red in the black sky.  We’ve never seen the moon such a rich shade of red.  As it climbed higher, it slowly faded from ruby red to orange, passing through wisps of grey clouds.  What a classic Halloween image.  We tried to capture it with the camera, but the boat was rolling and all we got was blurry red blobs.

In our final hours we felt the winds and seas building again, and knew we had successfully scooted ahead and avoided the rising maelstrom behind us.  At long last, around 2:30 a.m. on Thursday morning after 35 hours and 260 miles (a whopping average (for us) of 7.4 knots, or 8.5mph), we pulled into Tangolunda Bay, a big bay at Huatulco’s south end.  We knew this bay from last year, and it was a relief to retrace our track on the chartplotter and drop the hook right where we had pulled it up eight months earlier.

We sat in the cockpit, securely anchored to the sand beneath us, and stared at the twinkling lights of the many resorts lining the bay.  All the fear and worry of the past two days suddenly fell from our shoulders, and an incredible sense of accomplishment began to take its place.  Our first Tehuantepec crossing last spring had been a breeze, a no-brainer, “pan comida” (a piece of cake), as we’d had a six day window of minimal wind.  We had crossed near the middle, covering 228 miles in 36 hours.

Tangolunda Bay in the Bays of Huatulco

It’s party time in Huatulco’s Tangolunda Bay

Our crossing now had gone equally well, but had been a tactical challenge like none we have ever faced on the water before.  Everything had gone like clockwork: we had arrived at each landmark on schedule or slightly ahead, thanks to a 1 knot favorable current, and the Tehuantepec had cooperated by sticking to its forecasted plan (except for the unexpectedly blustery conditions near the apex).  If we hadn’t been so spooked by the potential for disaster, we might have even enjoyed the ride!

But for now we were excited at the prospect of swimming and snorkeling off the boat the next morning, and waving at the jet skis that would soon circle us from the fancy resorts that surround Tangolunda Bay.  All the resorts were quiet now in these wee hours of the morning, however, and we slept like babies as soon as our heads hit our pillows.

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Marina Chiapas in Puerto Madero (Puerto Chiapas) Mexico – Sailing near Guatemala

If you are taking your boat to Marina Chiapas, please visit our Marina Chiapas Cruising Guide for waypoints and travel ideas!

October, 2012 – As we watched New Mexico’s unique Bisti Badlands disappearing in our rearview mirror, we began to focus all our energy on exchanging our US land travels by RV for our Mexico travels by sailboat.

Phoenix Hermosillo Mexico City Flights - Mexico Map

Our route: Phoenix – Hermosillo – Mexico City – Tapachula (Marina Chiapas)

standin on a corner in winslowe arizona

There’s a girl, my Lord, in a flat bed Ford…

We breezed through Winslow, Arizona, just 24 hours after the conclusion of their big “Standin’ on a Corner in Winslow Arizona” festival, but we stopped long enough to stand on that special corner ourselves.

Javalina in Fountain Hills Arizona

Mark spots a javalina near a friend’s house in Arizona

Several weeks vanished in a flurry of visits with friends and family along with shopping for goodies we knew we’d need in Mexico but couldn’t buy there.

Phoenix Hermosillo Mexico City Tapachula airplaine flights

Three flights and 12 hours from RV to sailboat

We put the buggy away in storage and finally flew out to Tapachula near the end of October. It took twelve hours of travel to get from our trailer’s door to our boat’s door, including three different planes and extraordinarily thorough baggage inspections before boarding each one.  When we stepped off the last plane in Tapachula at 1:30 a.m., we felt like we were stepping into a sauna, and we were suddenly immersed in the thick, dense, pungent air of the tropics.

 

Sailboat in Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero) Mexico

Groovy was happy to see us.

Groovy was waiting patiently at the dock, and even in the dark the boat sparkled, inside and out.  Our friend Andrés Reyes Prudente, the captain of a neighboring sport fishing boat, had taken good care of her during our absence.

Palms at sunset in Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero) Mexico

The moody skies were enchanting

It was still the end of the rainy season in the tropics, and every day we were treated to fantastic clouds, a few showers, and even one doozy of a thunder and lightning storm that pelted everything with sheets of water and made us jump out of bed when a bolt hit somewhere very nearby.

Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero Puerto Chiapas) sunset and empty slips

Sunset at Marina Chiapas

 

 

 

 

Of course, having just completed a long to-do list for the trailer in Arizona, we now faced another long to-do list for the boat.

Mark leapt into action on the engine, and we ran off to super markets several times for provisions.  Taking the “combi” van to Walmart, we found ourselves packed in like sardines as 23 people squashed into each other and sat on each other’s laps to fit into a van built to seat just 15 people.  Ah, Mexico!

Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero Puerto Chiapas) sunset on palm treet

Yanmar 55hp engine Hunter 44DS sailboat

Mark says “Hello” to his good friend, our Yanmar 54hp engine

As each person climbed into the “combi” van, they greeted everyone already aboard with a friendly “buenos días,” a practice we have seen over and over here.  In my younger days I rode very crowded subway trains all over Boston, but I sure don’t recall anyone ever greeting anyone else with a big smile and friendly “good morning” as they got on.

Sailing in Puerto Chiapas (Marina Chiapas and Puerto Madero)

What fun to be sailing on Groovy once again

The intense heat zapped our energy every day.  We don’t have air conditioning on the boat (probably a “must” both here and in the deepest of the tropics).  The temps inside the cabin got up to 94 every afternoon.  There wasn’t a breath of air.  Sweat covered our bodies, head to barefoot toe, even if we sat motionless in front of a fan.

Fishing at Puerto Chiapas (Marina Chiapas and Puerto Madero)

Andres brought his fishing poles

We hadn’t been on the boat 48 hours when we excitedly untied the lines and took it out into the bay to cool off in the ocean breezes and see if all the systems still worked.

Andrés joined us, and he brought two fishing poles in hopes of catching dinner.  The fish weren’t biting, but the ocean water felt great, even at 91 degrees.

Sunset on the docks at Marina Chiapas in Puerto Chiapas Mexico

The sunsets were exquisite

The Chachalacas (birds!) sat in the trees and made their funny bird calls at each other morning and night, and exotic flowers grew on their own among the weeds on the roadsides.

Passion flower growing at Marina Chiapas in Puerto Chiapas Mexico

Mark found a Passion flower in the weeds

Every afternoon the sunsets transformed the marina and inspired us.

Sunset at the docks in Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero) Puerto Chiapas Mexico

The fun thing about being in a marina like this is that everyone has a long to-do list for their boat, and sometimes you can abandon your own list to help a friend with theirs instead.

sportfishing Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero Puerto Chiapas)

We hitch a ride to the fuel dock

One afternoon Andrés needed to take his boat over to the fuel dock to fill up, so we came along for the ride to help with the dock lines.

The fuel dock is tucked into a back corner of the estuary and it has grubby black rubber tires that put marks all over your white fiberglass when you tie up, so having some extra hands to help with the maneuver makes it easier.

We needed to test some more systems on Groovy too, so off we went for another daysail in the bay once again.  This port is a border port (just a few miles from Guatemala), so it is tightly controlled by the Port Captain and the Navy.

Marina Chiapas Porto Bello Restaurant Puerto Chiapas (Puerto Madero) Mexico

The restaurant “Porto Bello” under the newly completed palapa at Marina Chiapas

Every time we went out for a daysail, and every time we returned, we had to call the Port Captain on the VHF radio to let him know what we were doing.

Sport fishing at Puerto Chiapas in Marina Chiapas Mexico (Puerto Madero)

Success!!

We are capable of doing this in rudimentary Spanish ourselves, but it was fun to turn the task over to Andrés and watch him rattle away on the radio on our behalf, giving the Port Captain all the detailed information he needed about our bay voyages.

He also had success fishing that day, and happily reeled in a Sierra.  This pretty Spanish Mackerel is covered with yellow polka dots, and it made a yummy dinner.  A small fish doesn’t go too far for three people, but a pile of tortillas and refried beans with hot sauce stretched it nicely.

Sierra (Spanish Mackerel) has yellow polka dots Puerto Chiapas Mexico

Sierra (Spanish Mackerel)

By the way, neither of us would have ever even considered eating those things with fish before living in Mexico, but when Andrés said, “no frijoles??” when he saw his plate, I quickly remembered what a great combo that is and warmed up some refried beans.  We were slowly getting our Mexican vibe back.

Groovy gradually came together, and the to-do list got whittled down to just a few items.

Sailboat at Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero) in Puerto Chiapas Mexico

Getting used to the Life Aquatic

We had been watching the weather to see if a window would open up for us to dart across the difficult Gulf of Tehuantepec — at the same time that Frankenstorm Sandy swirled up the east coast — and eventually it looked like there might be a 12 hour window of total calm between the endless march of gales.

This is hardly long enough to be called a real “window,” and our cruising guide warned that windows for crossing the Tehuantepec can “slam shut in an instant.”

Sailboat at Marina Chiapas Puerto Chiapas (Puerto Madero) at sunset

Catch a ride on this pretty sailboat with local tour operator Macaw Tours Tapachula

 

But “Tehuantepeckers” had been blowing for a full week since our arrival, and they were forecast to continue to blow for the entire following week too.  Good grief, what kind of crazy place is this gulf?

So, while we had hoped to take an inland trip to the local coffee plantation Finca Hamburgo for a few days, when the chance came to leap back into cruising and cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec, we grabbed it.

For waypoints and cruising notes for Marina Chiapas as well as an inland travel guide for what you can see OFF the boat in southern Mexico, please visit our Marina Chiapas Cruising Guide.

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Huatulco – Pacific Mexico’s Best Cruising

Catamarans at Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Resort rides on Tangolunda Bay.

Fish in the clear waters of Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Fish swim around our legs.

Craggy rock outcroppings at Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Wonderful photo ops abound, but the little alcoves

aren't 100% private!

Beautiful Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico Resort living at Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico Kids play in the water at Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico Coast Guard visits the cruise ship dock at Santa Cruz, Huatulco, Mexico

Coast Guard cutter at Huatulco's cruise ship dock.

Cute harbor town of Santa Cruz, Huatulco, Mexico

Cute harbor town of Santa Cruz.

Boats lined up at Santa Cruz, Huatulco, Mexico Great dorado fishing at Santa Cruz, Huatulco, Mexico

Dorado! ("mahi-mahi").

Zapotec weaver displays his techniques at Santa Cruz, Huatulco, Mexico

Zapotec weaver Martín

Zapotecs were early settlers in the Huatulco area, Oaxaca, Mexico

Ledí says a few

Zapotec words to us.

La India cove, Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

La India cove is tucked behind some rocks.

Tourist boats offer a day on the water at Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

Tourists enjoy a day on the water.

Sea turtle tracks on the beach of Playa Chachacual in the Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

Turtle tracks in the sand.

Beach treasure at the Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

Beach treasure.

Jewel like waves at Playa Chachacual in Bays of Huatulco, Mexico Wide grass-lined sidewalks lead to the town of La Crucecita, Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

Wonderful walking path to town.

Picture perfect town square in La Crucecita, Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

La Crucecita was built to

resemble a classic Mexican

town.

Brightly painted quaint buildings of La Crucecita in the Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

The buildings are brightly painted.

The town church in La Crucecita Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

Town church.

The vibe in La Crucecita is not as

welcoming as we expected.

Jungle vegetation in the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Thick green vegetation abounds.

Jungle trees in the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico Huanacaxtle hardwood was used in the construction of the Copalita Eco-Archaeological park headquarters.

Hardwood from the Huanacaxtle tree.

Zapotec artifact found in the Copalita ruins, the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Zapotec artifact found in the

Copalita ruins.

Artifact found in the Copalita ruins in Las Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Museum piece.

Small Zapotec pyramid temple in Copalita, las Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

A small Zapotec pyramid temple in Copalita.

Vines & trees in the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Mark loves these trees.

Viny trees in the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Could be Treebeard's buddy.

Stone path leads through the jungle to an ocean overlook in the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Beautiful stone walking path climbs

through the jungle to an overlook.

Vast ocean vista at the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Looking down at the shore outside Tangolunda Bay.

Lily pads fill a pond at the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico Wide green leaves like doilies at the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico Exotic wildflower at the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico A brightly colored moth at the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

A moth poses on a window at the

park's headquarters.

Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Early February - There are 7 main bays in Las Bahías de Huatulco and

an assortment of coves, making the total number of bays and coves

anywhere from 9 to 12, depending on what guide you read and who you

talk to.  Each one is unique and has a charm of its own.  Some are

protected as part of a national park, some are lined with a row of palapa

beach bars, and some have been developed for tourism.

Tangolunda Bay was set aside by Mexico's tourism

agency Fonatur for resort development, and we anchored

first at the west end of the bay and then moved down to

the east end where we found a little less swell and a lot

less noise from the resorts.  There was lots of color and action on the beach, and even the fish made themselves readily

available for easy viewing if you stood in the water up to your knees.

This is a rocky and craggy coast, and we climbed over several rock

outcroppings to get from one part of Tangolunda's main beach to the next.

These rocks made perfect photo-ops for all of us tourists.  One afternoon

we climbed around a corner to find a simmering scene: an amorous young

fellow was taking photos of his girlfriend nude in the sand.  It wasn't quite as

private a spot as they'd thought!

These were quiet days that

rolled from one into the next

until we weren't quite sure

what day it was and couldn't

exactly recall what we had

done just two days prior.

Wandering the resort grounds

and watching the jet-skis and

catamarans zoom around while kids

played in the water were the simple

pleasures of our resort-side living.

One day we heard a very amusing

exchange on the radio between an

arriving US Coast Guard ship and

the Port Captain on shore.  In

Spanish, the Coast Guard

announced their arrival and asked

permission to dock.  The Port

Captain asked for

the name of the Coast Guard ship and the name of the captain.

The American speaker seemed to be confused by these questions

but when the Port Captain switched to perfect English he got no

response.  Apparently the Coast Guard had gone in search of a

more fluent Spanish speaker on board and had left the mic

unattended.  Finally a new Coast Guard voice began speaking in

rapid Spanish, and their business was completed.   The Coast

Guard cutter made quite a sight at the cruise ship dock.

The charming waterfront harbor town at the heart of the Bays of

Huatulco is called Santa Cruz, or "Holy Cross."  This cute

harbor is unlike any other we've seen on the Pacific Mexican

coast.  Filled with small boats and surrounded by a tight ring of

condos, villas and restaurants, it is a great place to take a stroll.

This is a popular sport

fishing area, and a

guide had just finished

yet another successful

trip with a boatload of guests.

He was making quick work of

carving up three huge dorados to

send home with them.

Around the corner we met Martín, a Mexican of

Zapotec descent who is carrying on the weaving

tradition of his family.  His parents, siblings,

cousins, aunts and uncles are all weavers in the

mountain town of Teotitlan del Valle 150 miles

inland.  It is a place known for the colorful woolen

rugs the local families weave by hand.  Bringing

his craft and his loom to the coast, he set up shop

in the artisan's area in Santa Cruz.  We hadn't heard of these weavers and knew little

about Zapotecs, and were amazed to discover that not only was Zapotec a vibrant, living

language, but he could speak it.  I asked if he'd been raised speaking Zapotec, and he

said that he'd learned it in school -- after he learned English!

As I struggle daily to converse in Spanish, speaking with less

fluency than a six-year-old, I am always impressed by anyone that

speaks a language other than their mother tongue.  A young

Zapotec woman named Ledí whom we had met a few days earlier

agreed.  Her parents and grandparents all spoke Zapotec, but had

never spoken it to her when she was growing up.  She taught us

the few words that she did know.  We later learned that Zapotec is

similar to Chinese in that it is a tonal language

where word meanings and tenses change with

inflection.

After a few days of anchoring next to the little

harbor town of Santa Cruz and enjoying some

in-town activity, we went out to one of the more

remote bays in the National Park.  La India cove

is a tiny nook tucked behind some rocks that

offers a calm refuge for two or three boats.

Every day the party boats would arrive from

town, bringing tourists out to walk on the golden sand beach and

snorkel the coral reefs.

They would disappear as the sun lowered in the sky and we would

have the cove to ourselves.  Walking along the neighboring beach

Playa Chachacual one morning, we saw what looked like 4-wheeler

tracks running up and down the sand to the water's edge.  On closer

inspection they were sea turtle tracks.  At night the mother turtles

would paddle up through the sand to lay their eggs.  One morning

some rangers with big sacks came to the beach to collect the eggs to

take them to a nearby turtle sanctuary.

The quiet and solitude of this pretty cove

made simple things seem very special.

Even the waves had a jewel like quality.

Before the string of bays was converted into

a tourism destination, the tiny harbor town of

Santa Cruz was just a fishing village and there was nothing else around.  When the Mexican government

started their development project in the mid-80's, they relocated the villagers inland about a mile to a new town

they built called La Crucecita.  This made way for resorts, condos and upscale living for tourists on the waterfront.

They also developed an estuary into a marina and built wide roads between the two towns and the marina.  Along

the center of the roads there is a big grassy median with a

wonderful sidewalk that is shaded by rustling palms.  We

moved Groovy into the marina for a few days and enjoyed

many walks into the two towns.

La Crucecita has been hailed by some tourists as "the

cleanest town in Mexico."  It was built to look like a

traditional Mexican town, complete with a pretty town

square, band stand and park benches.

The buildings are cute and brightly painted, and every

restaurant has hamburgers and pizza on the menu.

Of course Mexicans love those foods too, although they

like them with a special flair.  We had to laugh when we

read the ingredients for the "Kansas" pizza offered at one

shop: tuna, mushroom and onion.  The "Arizona" pizza was

hardly better: ham, mushrooms & jalapeños.  But it was the

"Texas" pizza that really

got our stomachs

rolling:  bacon, beans,

mushrooms and

jalapeños.  On pizza?

The odd thing we

noticed in this self-

consciously picture

perfect little town was

that the people didn't

seem very happy or friendly.  We have

grown used to the big smiles, warm

greetings and general contentment of the

Mexicans we meet on the street.  It is a happy culture.  But the towns in Huatulco didn't

seem so.  Eyes were averted as we passed and greetings were non-existent.  Too often

the mood was downright sullen.  Fonatur built a town that has the right look, but a tourism

agency can't give a community soul.

However, although this

manufactured fantasy town is just a

few years old, it sits in a region whose roots go much further back.  A few

miles out of town we found the Copalita Eco-Archaeolocal Park, a gem of

a park that features ancient Zapotec ruins and artifacts along with a terrific

jungle hike to some vast ocean views.

The vegetation here is

exotic and thick, and while

we waited for a taxi we

stared in wonder across

the street at the blanket of

green that lay in a thick

carpet over lumpy shapes.

The park's buildings and some walkways were

built using a local hardwood from the

Huanacaxtle tree -- the same tree for which the

very popular town among cruisers, "La Cruz de

Huanacaxtle" near Puerto Vallarta, is named.

The main building houses a small museum with

Zapotec artifacts that were dug up at the temple ruins

onsite as well as artifacts from Mixtec ruins nearby.

Outside we followed the walking path to the ruins of a

small pyramid-shaped temple.

Following the path further, it took us

through all kinds of crazy vegetation.  Mark

is a born tree-hugger and a true man of the

woods, so he was in his element as he

stepped among the vines.  Some of the

trees seemed worthy of J.R.R. Tolkien's

curious tree people, the ents.

Exotic bird calls accompanied us as we followed the elegant

stone path up and up and up until we came to a vast overlook

where the ocean crashed on the rocks below.

The path then took us back down into wetlands where we saw

huge, strange leaves, and tiny, colorful flowers.

Of all those beautiful wonders of nature,

my favorite sighting for the day was the

moth on the window back at the main park building.

Unlike all the gorgeous birds we had seen who refused to

stand still for the camera, this guy was totally relaxed on

his bit of window, and he stayed put for us.

After all of this low-key coastal activity, we tucked Groovy into her slip for a few days and

hopped on a bus to visit the dynamic inland city of Oaxaca.

Find Huatulco on Mexico Maps.

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast

to see more cruising posts from this area!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acapulco to Huatulco – A Disturbing Passage

Acapulco - kids chanting on a Corona boat in Puerto Marques

Happy vacationers break into a chant for us as they pass Groovy.

The Sea Sweepers, Barrido Marino, pick up used motor oil and household trash from boats.

The "Barrido Marino" sea sweepers take used

motor oil and household trash too!

Acapulco is Nahuatl for

Acapulco is Nahuatl for "Place of Reeds"

Sea horse on Groovy's anchor chain.

Sea horse on our anchor chain.

We leave Acapulco before sunrise.

Sunrise.

The ominous sunrise at sea heralds the most disturbing day of our lives.

Eerie silhouette on the rising sun.

We check our position on the paper nautical charts.

Mark checks our position on the

paper charts.

Overnight sailing on Groovy between Acapulco and Huatulco

The sun sets into a moonless night at sea.

Leaping dolphins say hello

Dolphins greet us with great

enthusiasm.

Dolphins greet us outside Puerto Angel Dolphins welcome us to Puerto Angel Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, Mexico

Puerto Angel is cute but too crowded.

Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, Mexico

Puerto Angel lighthouse.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Our two boats in Jicaral Cove, Bahías

de Huatulco.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Jicaral Cove.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

We share Jicaral cove with Osprey and Turkey Vultures.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

This place is teeming with coral.

Curving beach at San Agustin (Puerto Sacrificios), Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Neighboring Playa de San Agustín

Clear water and palapas at San Agustin (Puerto Sacrificios), Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Clear water and fun palapas at San

Agustín

Snorkeling at San Agustin (Puerto Sacrificios), Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Snorkelers at San Agustín

Exotic rock formations at San Agustin (Puerto Sacrificios), Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Bahía de San Agustín has unusual rock

formations.

Emily & Mark at Playa San Agustin (Puerto Sacrificios), Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Life's a Beach.

Cruise Ship Statandem at Huatulco harbor, Mexico

Cruise ship "Statendam" takes up most of Santa Cruz Harbor.

Palapa beach bar in Santa Cruz near the Cruise Ship dock in Huatulco

View of Santa Cruz from the water.

Views looking towards Huatulco.

Low buildings hug the shore against a mountainous backdrop.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

This resort goes for $1,000 USD per night.  Yikes!

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Catamarans take advantage of the

afternoon breezes in Tangolunda.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

We watch the "I Do's" of a young couple on shore.

Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Late January, 2012 - Our pretty little spot in Puerto

Marques on the outskirts of Acapulco Bay came to life

one evening when a boatload of young Mexicans

zoomed past in a boat labeled "Corona La #1".  We

waved, as usual, becoming one of the sights for their

tour, and suddenly they started waving and chanting

what sounded like a team cheer.

Languid sunny days made us lazy and we kept putting off our departure

for our next 215 mile jaunt to Huatulco.  Mark changed the oil in the

engine and transmission one day and at just the right moment the Sea

Sweeper boat ("Barrido Marino") showed up and asked if we had any

trash for them.  What luck!  They took the used oil off our hands along

with our trash, and then hit up the megayacht parked nearby to take

their trash too.  How cool is that: a beautiful free anchorage with free at-

your-boat trash service.  No wonder it was hard to leave.

The word Acapulco comes from the indigenous Nahuatl language and means "Place

of Reeds" or "Place where reeds were destroyed."  to this day, floating beds of

reeds drift throughout the bay and coastline for miles.  Judging by the pile on their

foredeck, the Sea Sweepers picked up more reeds than trash, it seemed.

One day when Mark hauled up the anchor before we went on a daysail he saw the

strangest thing on the chain.  It kept swaying and moving around and suddenly he

realized it was a sea horse.  "Look at this!" he yelled back to me.  I ran up with the

camera just as the little guy unhooked his tail and fell off.  But a few chain links

further on, up came another one.  He had his tail tightly wrapped around one link of

the chain and he kept moving his body around, looking us over, until he finally

unhitched and fell back into the depths.

One night we were woken by loud, mysterious sounds resounding on the

hull.  Going on deck we heard nothing.  Back down below we realized it

was the haunting tones of whales singing in the bay.  Mornings and

evenings we heard the creaking and scraping noises of equipment being

moved onshore or of a boat's engine or something.  Finally on our last

morning we discovered it was the noisy calls of wild green parrots in the

trees next to us.  They were flying and climbing all over the branches,

cackling at each other with grating noises.  We were amazed there was so

much nature this close to a major city.

When we were finally ready to

leave Acapulco, we left in the pitch

dark before dawn to ensure a daytime arrival in Huatulco some 30+ hours later.  The

sun rose as a pink ball in the lightening sky.  A few minutes later it became an intense

bright orange orb which made the camera pick up the surrounding sky as black.  Some

clouds obscured the ball of fire, and from a distance it looked a bit like a witch on a

broomstick flying across the sun.

This slightly ominous sunrise brought us a day that ultimately held one of the most

disturbing events of our lives.  Around two in the afternoon, while motoring along about

10 miles off the coast, some 60 miles south of Acapulco, we were enjoying being

pushed by a two knot current that pegged the speedometer at a thrilling high-8 to 9+

knots.  Suddenly Mark spotted something unusual in the water.  We stared hard through the binoculars to get a better look.

With gut wrenching knots in our stomachs, we realized we were looking at a dead body.

We turned the boat to approach the body, feeling totally alarmed and freaked out.  We were

both shaking as we neared the body.  It was a heavyset middle aged or older balding white

man, lying face down in the water.  He was wearing a mask and snorkel, fins and booties,

and a shorty type of wetsuit with swim trunks over it.  He had on diving gloves and had

clearly been in the water for at least a few days, and probably a week or more.  He looked

for all the world like he was peacefully snorkeling along in the middle of the ocean, except

his skin was decomposing and one arm lay limp and twisted at an odd angle by his side.

This is the last thing either of us ever expected to see while cruising.  We were edgy,

terrified, and flummoxed about what was the right thing to do.  The stench was significant.

We noted the GPS coordinates of the body and instantly began hailing the Mexican Navy.

We tried in English and we tried in Spanish, but there was no response.  This is a remote section of the coast and we realized

we hadn't seen a boat or heard a peep on the VHF radio in 8 hours since we first pulled away from Acapulco Bay.  There was

no safe anchorage that we could reach before nightfall; the next was 140 miles (21 hours) away.

We continued on our way, hailing the Mexican Navy periodically, to no avail.  The sun set into the moonless void of a new moon,

and we moved along in pitch darkness, unable to discern the horizon.  All was black in every direction.  The canopy of bright

stars overhead faded into a misty, funereal veil all around us.  For the first time it really hit us just how alone all cruisers are on

the ocean.  If you can't take care of yourself, help will be a long time coming.  I kept thinking about the man's family, his loved

ones who knew he was missing but had no idea exactly where he was or perhaps even how he had disappeared.  He might

have been on a snorkeling tour, or snorkeling on his own, or perhaps he was in a boat that was sinking and he donned his

snorkeling gear as it went down, knowing he would be spending time in the water once it sank.  It was impossible for us to know

those things, but the burden of knowing we were the only ones in the world who knew his whereabouts was enormous.

It was a long long overnight sail.  Every time I tried to sleep, images of this

unfortunate man facedown in the water filled my mind.  "Don't think about it," we

told each other.  But how can you not?  We talked about how unutterably tragic it

would be if either of us lost the other.  Of course, we have friends who have died

riding their bikes, friends stricken with terminal diseases, and friends who have

died in car wrecks.  But somehow being alone out on the ocean suddenly

seemed so much more fraught with peril than house-based everyday living.

We had heard a news report before leaving

Acapulco that the world was going to be

bombarded by extraneous solar radiation from a

large solar storm, and that it could potentially

affect GPS satellites.  That got us busy with the

paper charts, parallel rulers and dividers, making

sure we knew exactly where we were at all times

throughout the night, just in case the satellite

giving us our GPS position quit working.  Another

day dawned and we were very relieved to see the sky lighten around us.

Suddenly a pod of several hundred dolphins came leaping and bounding towards us.  They

were truly exuberant, thrilled to be alive, and seemed to be jumping for joy.  That was more like

it!!  We snapped a gazillion photos of them as they cavorted around Groovy.  They must have

come to cheer us up.

Near 11:00 in the morning we spotted a Mexican

Navy ship on the horizon.  We leapt back on the

radio and hailed them in English and Spanish again.

No sooner had we reported what we had seen, than

the ship was at our side.  Those Navy boats can

really move.

They tied alongside us and their young captain came

aboard Groovy.  Stepping between the boats was not

easy: both boats were pitching wildly in the swell and all hands on the Navy

ship were attending fenders and lines to keep the two boats from mashing

each other.  He had a look at our photos of the corpse, took down our coordinates for its position, and relayed the information

back to the Navy base in Acapulco.  The encounter was quick, efficient, polite, and the captain seemed very grateful for the

report.  He noted our names and our boat's name.  When he was back aboard his ship and described the photos to his crew,

they all winced and shuddered.  It was not a comfortable image for those tough young men either.

We pulled into Puerto Angel, the first good anchorage south of

Acapulco and found it pretty but overcrowded with moored pangas.

We anchored twice but couldn't find a spot where we had enough

swing room without being in the ocean swell, so we left and carried

on to the Bays of Huatulco 15 miles further south.  Here we were

rewarded with stunning natural beauty and peace.  Gradually the

disturbing emotions from our overnight sail began to fade away.

Last year while researching  Huatulco I had come across an

earlier cruiser's online description of a bay here that he fell

in love with and nicknamed "Osprey Cove" because he

couldn't find an official name for it on the nautical charts.

After a few emails back and forth with him, I realized it was

now known and charted as Jicaral Cove, and we spent our

first night there.

This tiny cove, just big enough for a single cruising boat or maybe two at a pinch, is one

of several bays that make up the National Park of Huatulco.  A line of buoys protects the

vibrant coral reef in the cove and small boats filled with tourists come in to snorkel the

reef every few hours.

The Bays of Huatulco sit

next to the infamous Golfo

de Tehuantepec, a vicious

200 mile stretch of water

whose mood swings make

the Sea of Cortez look

positively unflappable.

Every week or so in the

winter north winds from the

Gulf of Mexico between

Texas and Mexico

accelerate south across the

narrowest portion of the

Mexican mainland, and

race off into the ocean at

60+ mph, often creating 20' seas.  In between these multi-day temper

tantrums the Gulf of the Tehuantepec lies down to take a breather, during

which time all the coastal cruising boats make a run for it.

When the gales are blowing in the Tehuantepec, the Bays of Huatulco can

get a little frisky too.  But we arrived during a quiet spell and had several

glorious, peaceful days exploring Jicaral cove.

The ospreys for whom the

earlier cruisers named this

place "Osprey Cove" were still

here, along with a group of

turkey vultures.

Coral litters the sand all along the beach, a sight we

had seen only once before in Los Muertos on the

southeastern tip of the Baja peninsula.

We kayaked around the corner into Bahía de San

Agustín (also known as Puerto Sacrificios) and

discovered a long curving beach backed by unusual

boulders at one end and a cluster of lively beach

palapa bars and boutique shops at the other.

We wandered along the beach and

marveled at the calm beauty.  This is a

magical place.

Friends of ours were anchored in the main bay by the town of

Santa Cruz, so we sailed over to meet up with them.

We got so caught up in our breathtaking downwind sail in the

strong afternoon winds that we nearly missed the entrance to

Huatulco's main bay.  It was the sight of the enormous cruise

ship Statendam parked there that got us back on course.

Like all cruise ships this far south, they were on a several month

trip between the east and west coasts of the US with a Panama

Canal transit as the centerfold stop.

Continuing our Reader's Digest quickie tour of some of the

Huatulco bays, we stopped in at Tangolunda, a large bay with

several anchoring options.

Huatulco is an official tourist

development created in 1986

by Fonatur, Mexico's

government tourism agency

that brought the world Cancun

and Ixtapa in 1974 and Los Cabos in 1976 and more recently Loreto/Puerto Escondido in the

Sea of Cortez and Nayarit near Puerto Vallarta.

Learning from their prior beach tourism projects, Fonatur is developing Huatulco with an eye

towards maintaining the area's natural beauty.  In the bays where building development is

allowed, like Tangolunda, the buildings are low.  Other bays are set aside as part of a national

park with boat-in access only.

Bahía Tangolunda

hosts the requisite

tourist banana boats

and jet-skis, but

several catamarans

dominated the

breezy bay most

afternoons.

One afternoon we

watched a wedding

in progress just off

the end of our boat.

What a spot to get

married.

This first week in

Huatulco was just

the briefest overview of some of the lovely bays.  This area is so

pretty, so relaxed, and so charming that we won't be running off

and leaving Huatulco any time soon, especially since the

intimidating Gulf of the Tehuantepec lies just around the corner.

Find Huatulco on Mexico Maps.

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast

to see more cruising posts from this area!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acapulco – A Faded Lady

Sail blog post - Acapulco is a faded lady in many ways, but we found a delightful oasis at Puerto Marques and were thrilled by the cliff divers and yacht races.

Orcas play near Groovy.

A shrimper outside Papanoa, Mexico.

Shrimper or bird taxi?

Papanoa, a shrimping village in Mexico.

Papanoa.

Sunrise over Groovy's bow.

Sunrise begins over our bow.

Sunrise over the water near Acapulco. Groovy arrives in Acapulco.

Acapulco's mountains in the distance.

Villas and hotels line Boca Chica Channel.

Villas perch atop cliffs on Boca Chica Channel.

Racing yachts barrel down Boca Chica Channel.

Sailboats race towards us.

Highrises on Acapulco's main beach.

Acapulco's main beach.

Two boats almost crash in a race in Acapulco.

Tight maneuvering.

Downwind spinnaker run towards Acapulco's highrises on the beach.

Downwind spinnaker run.

The

The "fake" lighthouse at La Marina.

The pretty grounds of Acapulco Yacht Club (Club de Yates de Acapulco).

The Yacht Club grounds.

Insignia and knots on display at Acapulco Yacht Club (Club de Yates de Acapulco).

Club de Yates de Acapulco.

Racing yachts at Acapulco Yacht Club (Club de Yates de Acapulco).

Racing yachts waiting for the next race.

Waterfront near Acapulco Yacht Club (Club de Yates de Acapulco).

Waterfront near the yacht club.

Looking across Acapulco's inner harbor.

Looking across Acapulco's inner harbor.

Puffer and angel fish at the Acapulco marina docks.

Puffer and angel fish at the docks.

Puffer and angel fish at the Acapulco marina docks.

I took these from above water.

Wonderful daysailing in Acapulco Bay.

Wonderful daysailing in Acapulco Bay.

Acapulco highrises on the beach.

A few of the many highrises on the beach.

Navy warships and a tall ship in Acapulco Bay.

Navy warships and a tall ship.

Acapulco has several picturesque anchorages.

Acapulco has several picturesque

anchorages.

Vacation homes overlooking Puerto Marques outside Acapulco Bay.

Vacation homes overlooking Puerto Marques.

A little bronze mermaid in Puerto Marques.

A little mermaid near our

anchorage.

Camino Real, Puerto Marques, Acapulco Mexico

The lightly visited resort where we anchored in Puerto Marques.

Barrido Marino - the Sea Sweepers - in Puerto Marques, Acapulco, Mexico

"Barrido Marino" - the "Sea Sweepers"

Blue and white VW bug taxis in Acapulco

These cheap little taxis are everywhere.

The rock cliffs of La Quebrada home of Los Clavadistas, the cliff divers.

The rock cliffs of La Quebrada.

Cliff Diver Alejandro scales the rocks in La Quebrada.

Cliff Diver Alejandro scales the rocks.

Cliff diver soars off the rocks at La Quebrada. Cliff diver plunges into the water at La Quebrada. Cliff diver soars off the rocks at La Quebrada. Los clavadistas, the cliff divers of La Quebrada.

Alejandro (left) and Aurelio (right)

Acapulco's cathedral.

Acapulco's cathedral.

Acapulco's cathedral.

A peek inside...

The Zócalo has amazing trees.

Acapulco's town beach.

Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico

Mid-January, 2012 - We finally pulled ourselves away from Zihuatanejo/

Ixtapa and resumed our travels south.  Papanoa is a 35-mile daysail

away, and as we motor-sailed we were very surprised to see some

Shamu-shaped fins ahead of us.  It turned out to be several small orcas

playing in the water.

Papanoa is a small shrimping village, and we passed a few

shrimpers trolling the depths as we approached the harbor.

Countless birds were catching a ride on the booms of one boat.

The frigate birds took most of one boom and the seagulls

spread out on the others.

We arrived in mid-afternoon and watched the activities of this quiet port

town.  Several shoreside cantinas had the music going, and a group of

kids were laughing loudly and burning up energy as only kids can, diving

off a pier and cannonballing each other out of a small dinghy that was

tied to a piling.

Acapulco is another 75 miles

south of Papanoa, which

required us to get a pre-

dawn start.  We were now

traveling more east than

south and we watched the

sky lighten ahead of us until

the sun rose over our bow.

Acapulco has a mixed reputation these days,

and we weren't sure what to expect when we

arrived.  Our first glimpse of this legendary port

had us grinning excitedly, however, and set the

tone for a fantastic stay.  We decided to enter

Acapulco's expansive bay through its narrow

westerly channel "Boca Chica" ("Small Mouth")

rather than through the main entrance further

east called "Boca Grande."  We slowed way

down as the rock walls rose to wonderful

heights on either side of us in the channel.

"This is just like Cabo!" we said to each other.

The towering cliffs were

covered with fancy homes,

hotels and highrises.

As we emerged on the other side of the channel, Acapulco's

vast beach suddenly came into view.  Our eyes widened in

amazement.  The beach was backed by an endless stretch

of highrise buildings, and the hillsides were littered with

homes and communities that rose in waves towards the

horizon.  There was more humanity in front of us than we had seen in months.  Forget Cabo.  This was like Miami.  Or like

sailing into Las Vegas.  It was a huge, massive city built for tourism.  We puttered around the bay taking way too many photos

that all looked the same -- highrises on the water -- and then backtracked to a lovely little anchorage in Boca Chica next to a

small beach on Isla de la Roqueta.

Gazing across the bay at the mammoth city in the distance, we were

anchored in our own small paradise next to a busy little beach where

the Sunday crowd was swimming, snorkeling and imbibing at the

beach bar.  Suddenly on the horizon we saw some incredibly sleek

sailing yachts headed our way in a race.  Within moments Groovy

was perched in a front row seat of a spectacular sailing race.

The streamlined boats flew towards us at top speed.  Ladened with

both skilled crew at the helm and winches and "rail meat" crew that

sat on the high side facing out, feet dangling over the side, the boats

bore down on us until I was sure we'd be broadsided.  Just at the

last second each boat would tack, within arm's reach of our cockpit.

All hell would break loose as ten people scurried over the deck,

furiously turning winch

handles and wrestling the boat into submission on its new tack.  A few commands

would be yelled here and there, but the most prominent sound was the creaking of

lines and groaning of each boat as it was tensioned and tuned for max velocity on its

new tack.

These guys are really good at this stuff

and they do it all the time, so when

one boat looked like it was about to T-

bone another and Mark said, "They're

gonna hit!" I said, "Nahhh…"  Then we

both heard a loud CRUNCH and the

sound of very expensive boat parts

grating against each other.  Seconds

later the lead boat dropped its sails

and turned around to head home.  I'm

not sure if they were disqualified or

had sustained too much damage to

continue, but none of the other boats

paused for one second!

In no time the race began its downwind leg, and one yacht after

another breezed past Groovy in the opposite direction, their

colorful spinnakers flying.  As each boat slowly vanished

into the horizon of skyscrapers our hearts gradually

stopped pounding.  What excitement, and what a

surprise.

By sunset our little anchorage had whittled down to just

us and the noisy birds in the trees.  Like Isla Ixtapa and

Las Gatas Beach in Zihuatanejo, this place is heavily

visited by water taxis, banana boats, jet-skis and

snorkelers during the afternoons, but by dusk it is

deserted and is an ideal, remote tropical anchorage with

no swell.  We slept like babies that night.

The heart of the Acapulco yachting scene is the "Club

de Yates de Acapulco," or the Acapulco Yacht Club.

This beautiful marina and yacht club would be ideal for visiting cruisers, but

it is so popular with local boaters that there is seldom room for anyone from

out of town.  Next door "La Marina" is being renovated and will soon

accommodate visitors, but it isn't yet finished.

We wandered into the Club de Yates and found all

the beautiful racing boats we had watched sailing

the day before already lifted out of the water and

put up in dry storage to wait for the next race.  We

found out that hauling our boat would cost nearly

$600 US.  Imagine having to fork that over every

time you wanted to race your yacht?!  But this is a

place where money is no object.  The captain of a

megayacht parked at an end-tie told us his owner

likes to zip from place to place burning a cool 180

gallons per hour at top speed.  He laughed out loud

when we told him we needed to top off our 66

gallon fuel tank sometime during our stay here.

Getting fuel is not as simple as you might think in Acapulco.  The fuel dock

is fairly short and has little turnaround room, and many megayachts come

calling, so you have to sign up to get fuel a day or two in advance.  This

requires a trip to the Harbor Master's office where, to our surprise, he made

a copy of our US Coast Guard documentation papers as part of our fuel

registration process.  The up-side of this minor inconvenience was that he

also issued us a temporary Yacht Club card which would allow us to come

and go from the pretty marina at will and use the dinghy dock and

swimming pool too.

The Acapulco Yacht Club exudes that noble air that wafts over

exclusive yacht clubs worldwide, and the whole place is dripping

with wonderfully elegant nautical decor.  Trophies fill the trophy

cases, portraits of past captains and commodores line the walls,

names of local champions and legendery yachts are engraved

on beautiful plaques, and ancient bronze binnacles and helms

stand like museum pieces in the corners.

The little chandlery has goodies for boats, but the prices for

ordinary items are truly extraordinary ($100 US for four plastic drinking glasses!), but

the souvenir shop sold high quality ball caps with the yacht club logo embroidered on

the front for less that $10 US.

Acapulco is not a clean city, and we had watched the Pacific ocean transform from a

rich inviting deep blue to a sickly grey-green as we had entered Acapulco Bay.  But

here at the dock the water was so clear that I could see angel fish and puffer fish

swimming just below the surface.

When we travel from place to place we always hope

to sail but usually end up motoring most of the way

because the winds are so light along Mexico's

mainland coast.  However, Acapulco Bay is a terrific

spot for day sailing, and after watching the races the

day before, we got inspired to go out for a joy ride

ourselves.  There were no other boats on the three-mile-wide bay, and we had just enough

wind, 10-13 knots, to put Groovy over on her side for a little romp in the breeze.

Exploring the outer reaches of the bay we saw more highrises (they are endless), and a Navy

dock that had two modern warships and a lovely old tall ship.

Other cruisers had found pretty anchorages

along the outskirts of this big bay, and as the

days of our stay wore on we

noticed that they weren't in a

hurry to leave Acapulco either,

obviously enjoying their time

here as well.

We left the inner harbor for

Puerto Marques, a small outer

bay, where we spent five

delightful nights.  Billed in the

cruising guide as being open to

ocean swell, we got lucky and

enjoyed peaceful quiet nights

ancchored alongside a row of

nearly empty resorts.  There couldn't have been more than ten

occupied rooms in the four resort hotels we were facing, but

new construction inexplicably seemed to be continuing.

Every day the bartender would arrive at the cute

dockside bar and serve perhaps one or two guests.

Every night the restaurant tables would be set and the

kitchen staff would get busy, all to serve just three or

four couples.

Acapulco has a reputation for being past its prime, but there are

clear signs that its citizens don't want to let that prime slip away

too fast.  Besides all the new construction, there is a fleet of

bright yellow boats bearing the words "Barrido Marino" ("Sea

Sweep") in large letters on their sides.  These boats scour

the entire bay every day with nets to retrieve floating trash

and debris.  At the far end of Puerto Marques a huge

project is underway with barges and cranes to install what

looks like a new pier or perhaps a marina.

Over in La Quebrada the famous dare-devil cliff divers began

flying headfirst off the cliffs into the sea back in 1934, and within a

decade or two were the superstars of Acapulco tourism.  Eager to

see these guys, we took one of the little blue-and-white VW bug taxis and

zipped off to the cove of jagged cliffs where the diving action takes place.  Both

Mark and I remember watching these divers on TV as kids, and we couldn't

wait to see them in action.

The cove is a spectacular craggy

coast of rugged peaks and

crashing surf, and the entire area

has been built up to show off the

divers.  Elvis Presley's 1963 movie

Fun in Acapulco was filmed here

(this is a fun link too).

Restaurants overlook the diving gorge and trinket shops offer free

coke or beer for shoppers.  El Mirador Hotel stands above it all,

having played host to many of the world's celebrities over the

years.  There's a ticket sales booth at the top of a long set of

winding stairs that go down towards the water.  Viewers can choose

any level for watching the divers.  Five or so divers take the plunge

once a day in daylight and they dive again three more times after

dark (with torches).  We opted for a daytime show and were thrilled.

To our surprise the divers start the show by walking through the crowd,

hopping over the fence to the rock face below, and then hot-footing it

down a ways and jumping into the water.  After a quick wave to the

crowd above, they then free

climb the enormous cliffs on

the far side all the way to the

top.  One young diver,

Alejandro, impressed us immensely

with his catlike agility as he zipped up

the cliff like Spiderman.

Once at the top, the divers each

offered a quick prayer to the Virgin of

Guadalupe, touched the shrine, or

even kissed the statue inside, and then

turned and waved to the crowd.  One

by one they then took a position

somewhere near the top of the cliff

and, when the waves were right 125

feet below, launched themselves into

spectacular dives.

Alejandro warmed up for quite some

time, stretching, doing mock flip turns, and obviously preparing for some fancy twists and somersaults in the air.  When

he finally soared off the rocks he rolled and turned and swiveled in the air like a shimmering fish, and gracefully slipped

into the frothing water below.

Another pair of divers leapt off the cliff together, one launching himself into a back

layout somersault before twisting and piking his way to the water.  The last diver

climbed to the highest peak and flew over the rocks in a glorious swan dive.

Afterwards the divers mingled

with the crowd, happily posing

for photos with fans.

We were on such a high after

this that we nearly skipped

down the hill towards the

cathedral in the old town

square, El Zócalo.  Acapulco is a grungy, busy,

crowded city, but there was something in the

earthy smells, the crush of people and the

sweat dripping down our temples and backs

that made it all very exciting.

A group of nuns emerged from the 1930's era

cathedral just as we approached, and the doors

were thrown wide for a peek inside.

Opposite the cathedral was a large, darkly

shaded city park filled with enormous trees

that have odd twisted trunks and roots.

Crabby old ladies sitting next to flowers

they were selling waved us off with nasty

frowns when we took photos of their

flowers.  People sat on park benches

eating snacks or reading the paper.

Tourists and shoppers mingled in between.

Vendors sold everything everywhere and music pumped so loudly

from some speakers on the ground that an old lady put her fingers

in her ears as she walked by.  Official tourism hosts wearing blue

shirts and numbered badges darted out from the crowd to help

bewildered tourists, and more than one suddenly turned up at our

sides asking if we needed assistance.  It is not a warm, friendly

place, nor is it a place I'd want to hang around for more than a

brief visit, but we were glad to have taken a walk through that part of town, and equally glad to emerge back on the waterfront

malecón, or boardwalk, where the fresh sea breeze hit our faces once again, and the beach and boats filled our view.

Such is the faded lady of Acapulco.  A previous cruiser's blog last

year described gunmen firing shots in a building near the marina at

night, and as we dropped our anchor in the city anchorage at ten in

the morning we heard a series of gun shots near the supermarket

where we had bought provisions the day before.  But I've heard

gunshots in every city I've called home, and I've even watched a

well armed SWAT team take positions outside a house in a tony

Scottsdale, Arizona neighborhood.  The anchorages on the fringes

of Acapulco Bay are all lovely, and we are glad to have experienced

the sweeter side of town.  After a little more relaxing at Puerto

Marques we headed down the coast to Huatulco.

Find Acapulco on Mexico Maps

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast to see more cruising posts from this area!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zihuatanejo’s “Parthenon” – He Did What?!

Sail blog post - we toured the mysterious Zihuatanejo Parthenon built by the evil Negro del Negro Durazo, Mexico City's infamous Chief of Police, Arturo Durazo Moreno

Santa rides a Hammerhead Shark.

Las Gatas Beach Christmas.

Christmas tables set out on Las Gatas Beach.

Mexican Santa in Zihuatanejo.

Santa in a Mexican

Poncho.

Alvin and the Chipmunks movie poster in Z-town.

Alvin and the Chipmunks

movie poster.

Las Gatas Beach, Christmas Day.

Las Gatas Beach on Christmas Day.

Christmas music on Las Gatas Beach.

A Christmas serenade on Las Gatas Beach.

Bongo players on Las Gatas Beach, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Cool bongo players.

View of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Zihuatanejo's "Parthenon."

Road to Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Overgrown

streetlight.

Decaying driveway at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Driveway leading to the Parthenon's gate.

Massive gate at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The center of this mammoth gate housed vicious guard dogs.

Parking area outside Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Elegant parking area outside the gate.

Romanesque architecture at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Durazo loved ancient ornamentation.

Overgrowth at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The columned facade pokes out between the weeds.

Entering Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Wow - we get to go in!

Guard dog cage at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The cage for the guard dogs...

Tiger cage at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The cage for the tigers.

Approaching Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Approaching the Parthenon.

Roman and Greek sculptures outside Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Statues fill the yard.

Approaching the front door of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The Parthenon's entrance.

Looking through the front door of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Looking through the front door.

Roman and Greek style sculptures inside Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Lifesize sculptures line the foyer.

The view from the foyer in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The view from the foyer.

Elaborate staircase leading to the second floor of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Staircase to the second floor.

The

Looking down at the open-air party room from the balcony.

View from the balcony of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Views of Zihuatanejo Bay.

Bedroom mirrors in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Mirrors on the walls and ceiling of an upstairs bedroom.

jacuzzi tub in the master suite of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Bat guano covers the jacuzzi tub in the master suite.

Marble topped bar in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Marble-topped bar outside the library downstairs.

Marble dining table in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Marble dining table, murals and columns outside the kitchen.

View from the top steps of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

View from the top steps of the Parthenon.

Looking up at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Looking back up at the mansion.

The pool bar in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The pool bar.

Inside the poolbar in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Would you like a cerveza or a Margarita?

Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Arturo Durazo's Parthenon.

Arturo Durazo's "Parthenon" of Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Christmas, 2011 - After an easy overnight passage from Manzanillo Bay we

arrived at Isla de Ixtapa (Isla Grande) outside Zihuatanejo where we were quickly

swept up in the wild pre-Christmas beach scene.  The island's three tiny beaches

were packed to overflowing with vacationers whooping it up.

A few days later, around the

corner in Zihuatanejo, we

found Christmas festivities

were revving up with just as

much enthusiasm.  All the

waterfront restaurants were

decked out for the holidays,

and Christmas movies were

playing at the little cinema.

Zihuatanejo Bay is a mile-

wide bay surrounded by four beaches with lots

of options for anchoring.  Last year we stayed

right next to the town, but Groovy's hull got

such a thick layer of barnacles in just 10 days' time that this year

we decided to anchor on the far side of the bay by Playa Las

Gatas where the water is cleaner.

In past years we've dreamed of a having white Christmas,

but this year our Christmas came in lovely shades of blue

water, blue sky and green palm trees.  We

kayaked through throngs of people playing in

the ocean, and as we swam it felt much more

like July than December.

We hung out on Las Gatas beach all day

long on Christmas day and watched families

playing on the beach.  Musicians wandered

by to offer entertainment for a "propina" (tip).

These guys hike over a challenging rock path

from the larger La Ropa beach half a mile

away.  They carry whatever it is they play,

from guitars to drums to huge double

basses, as they walk on the precarious

rocks.  Two of the most intriguing musicians

were a couple banging on bongos and

singing Caribbean sounding tunes.  They

were from the nearest major inland city, Morelia.

Back on Groovy the following day we kept staring at a very strange

building that was perched high above the condos on the point that

juts out between two of the bay's beaches, Playa La Ropa and

Playa Madera.  The building looks like a miniature Lincoln Memorial,

and last year we found out it was called "The Parthenon" and was

cloaked in a dark, mysterious history.

Built in the early 1980's by Mexico City's infamous Chief of Police,

Arturo Durazo Moreno, it stands today as a striking monument to

his excesses and wickedness.  We had heard rumors that he had

ordered it built with hidden doors leading to secret tunnels that

snaked down to the sea, just in case he ever needed to escape.

Totally tantalized, we decided to go check it out.

There's no sign saying "This way to the Parthenon," but we knew

we were on the right path when we trudged up a very steep winding

road of crumbling concrete lined with ornate streetlights buried in

overgrown weeds.  It was obvious the road had once been carefully landscaped and very

imposing.

Suddenly the heavy canopy of trees above us opened up and

the road approached an enormous gate.  I was dwarfed by the

gate when I stood next to it, and I mused on the rumor that the

gate had been stolen from the Chapultepec castle in Mexico

City.  That would have been quite a theft, but Durazo was an

impressive man fully capable of such things.

When his boyhood friend José López Portillo became

president of Mexico in 1976, Durazo's fortunes soared.

Portillo was one of Mexico's most corrupt presidents, and he

turned to loyal Durazo for his own personal security.  He

appointed Durazo to be Chief of Police in Mexico City, despite

knowing that he had been under investigation in the US for

almost a year for drug trafficking.  Portillo set him up to report

directly to himself rather than to the Mayor of Mexico City.

During his six year tenure Durazo turned the police force into

a racketeering empire.

What remains of the empire was buried in weeds all around us.  Ornate

greco-roman architecture surrounded us, but the overgrowth was so thick

and the beauty so faded that it seemed like some cursed castle in a

children's fairytale.

We peered around the

edge of the huge gate and

could just glimpse part of

the mansion's columned

facade.  Until recently, this

property was owned by the

city of Zihuatanejo.  Unlike

the city leaders of El

Ajusco, home to Durazo's

other outrageous mansion

that was built at the same

time outside Mexico City--a country estate complete with artificial

lakes, a dog racing track, a clone of New York's Studio 54 club, and a

23-car garage--the city of Zihuatanejo did not turn the Parthenon into

a museum.  Instead, they recently donated it to the Universidad

Autonóma de Guerrero.  It was private property, but we thought it

would be so cool if we could somehow get inside to take a peek…

Suddenly the guy who had been sweeping the stone flooring

outside the gate invited us in to have a look inside -- for a

fee.  We negotiated the fee to something reasonable, and lo

and behold he opened the door and let us in.  I doubt he

has any kind of official relationship with the abandoned

property, but he seems to have appointed himself the

gatekeeper, for profit, and he does have a key to the

padlock.  He gave us a lively tour -- in Spanish.  Fortunately

a large Mexican family arrived shortly after us, and their

visiting cousin from San Diego provided us with

translations when we couldn't grasp the nuances of what

our guide said.

Just inside the gate we had a close-up

look at the cage that housed Durazo's

ferocious guard dogs.  Durazo built his

empire on intimidation, and large

growling dogs were just the first stage of

welcome he offered to his arriving guests.

Next to the dog cage was the tiger cage.

We stepped inside.  In its now decrepit

state fantastic roots have crept under the

walls to cover the floor, looking like a

snarled tangle of snakes.  On the far side

of the yard was the crocodile pit.

A driveway leads up to the mansion, passing

several Romanesque stone sculptures on the

way.  When the statues were set in beautifully

landscaped grounds, this must have been a

dramatic entrance, but now the brown

vegetation and decaying sculptures give the

place an eerie air.

Much of Durazo's fortune was made from

bribes paid by the rank-and-file police officers

under his command.  He also used them as

his personal construction labor force to build

both the Parthenon and his country estate

outside of Mexico City.

He was admired worldwide for lowering

the crime rate in Mexico City and was

even honored with a prestigious award

in the Soviet Union for doing so.  But his

methods were discovered to be beyond

brutal when the tortured bodies of 12

twelve Columbians suspected of bank

robbery turned up in a river.

An investigation into his practices began which ultimately

revealed his elaborate pyramid scheme of bribes and payoffs.

Entering this palatial building is like stepping into another world.

As I passed through the foyer I was so drawn to the view in front

of me that I almost missed the six recessed marble sculptures

lining the walls on either side of us.

The architecture is fantastic for a cliff-top seaside palace in a

temperate climate.  Two rows of massive columns soar upwards

to a height of two tall stories to support the ceiling above,

creating a vast breezy Italian marble "patio" with stunning views

of Zihuatanejo Bay beyond.

The view is spectacular

from the ground floor,

but we knew it would be

even better from the

balcony upstairs.

Looking down at this wide marble "porch" it was

easy to imagine sumptuous parties filling the

immense, breezy, open-air room.  A huge marble

dining table stands to one side, backed by yet

more columns and an expansive mural.

All the bedrooms are upstairs, and each one has

windows onto this porch that could be left open to

the fresh air or closed during bad weather.  At

one time the bedroom ceilings were lined with

ornate mirrors, and the walls were covered with

painted murals and more mirrors.

This design gives each bedroom either privacy or

an open window to the lovely columned sea-

breeze room below.  Now, however, groups of

bats hang from the ceilings in the corners of every

bedroom, bathroom

and closet in the

house.  As we

entered each room

we heard a flurry of

bat wings as they

woke up and flew

off.  Bat guano

covered every floor

and smelled terrible.  At first all of Durazo's furnishing were

sold, but now it seems the building was eventually stripped

by looters.  Toilets are gone, leaving gaping holes in the

floors.  Electrical outlets are missing, chandeliers have

disappeared, and all that remains in the kitchen is some

broken wooden lower cabinets.  Anything that could be pried

off, detached, unscrewed or removed has been taken.

Back downstairs a large marble topped bar is tucked up against the shelf-

lined, once elegant library.

You have to use your imagination a bit to picture what

life might have been like here during Durazo's reign.

From 1976 to 1982 Durazo held his police chief post

and built his empire of corruption.  He extorted money

at every turn and lived a lavish lifestyle.  However, upon

the arrival of a new presidential administration whose

campaign theme was Moral Renewal, Durazo fled.

An international manhunt ensued, and after charging him

in absentia with racketeering, Mexican and US authorities

tracked him down to Costa Rica in 1984 and brought him

back to trial in Mexico.  Long referred to as "El Negro" or

"The Black One," Durazo was sentenced to a long prison

term (I've seen it reported as 11, 16 and 25 years) on

charges ranging from corruption to extortion, tax evasion,

smuggling, drug kickbacks and possession of illegal

weapons.  He was released after less than eight years in

1992 due to ill health and good conduct.  He lived out his

final days in Acapulco, redeeming himself a bit by working

with recovering alcoholics.  He died of cancer in 2000.

In the mid-1980's

Durazo's chief

bodyguard José González wrote a

runaway bestseller about his evil

boss entitled "Lo Negro del 'Negro'

Durazo" or "The Black of 'the Black

One,' Durazo."  A movie quickly

followed.  Never allowing himself to

be out maneuvered, Durazo won a

defamation lawsuit against his

former aide from behind prison

bars.

Stepping out from the vast patio I

stood at the top of a grand stone

staircase that leads down to a

swimming pool and spacious pool bar.

The stagnant brown water in the pool

had been there for years, but it was

easy to imagine delicious days of

relaxing poolside next to the

ornately columned rotunda bar as

all of Zihuatanejo Bay stretched

towards the horizon in the

distance.

Returning to the main building our

guide led us down into the

basement where he thumped on a

large section of the floor to show

that it was hollow.  He pointed to

irregularities in the flooring where it

had been sealed and explained that this was the entrance to the secret

tunnels that go down to the sea.  Durazo had indeed built himself an

escape route, but he had been caught while abroad and had never

used it.

We left the Parthenon with our heads spinning.  We had had no idea that the intriguing looking building on

the hill harbored such secrets.  The enthusiasm of the Mexican family who toured with us also made us

realize that the legacy of Arturo Durazo is well known here.  "Haven't you read the book or seen the

movie?" they asked.  We had never even heard of the book or the movie, but within a few days we had the

movie in our possession from one of the bootleg DVD sellers at the Mercado Publico.  The book may be

harder to find at a reasonable price because it is out of print.

Besides this cool, mysterious palace, Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa has many other charms that kept us in town

until mid-January.

Find Zihuatanejo on Mexico Maps

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast to see more cruising posts from this area!