Bougainvillea and coconut palms in
A panga on the beach in Chamela Bay .
The teapot was our only casualty on
our rocky ride.
A flying fish met his demise in our cockpit.
A sea turtle passes by.
Strange insects remind us
we're nearing the tropics.
Chamela Bay is lined with beach villas tucked behind the palms.
Lots of palapa restaurants hug the north end of the bay.
The beach was littered with pangas.
Chamela Bay offers a very long beach for strolling.
Punta Perula Trailer Park
Beachfront sites stand vacant.
No one bothered this fellow boondocking next to the park.
Romping in the waves.
Groovy waits patiently for our return.
A sand piper takes wing.
Restaurant Las Gueras on the beach.
Fishermen unload their catch...
...then tow their panga high up on the beach.
A boatload of kids calls out "Good Morning" to us visiting boaters.
A Christmas crèche is set up under a tree
in the town center.
The town's band stand.
Fresh produce was available at many small markets.
A girl hitches a ride from Mom.
We grab a bite at La
Chamela Bay, Jalisco, Mexico
Late November, 2010 - We left Cabo San Lucas on a Sunday, knowing we wouldn't
get to our destination until at least Tuesday morning, sailing straight through two
nights and possibly a third. Our destination was the Costa Alegre on mainland
Mexico, 330 miles away, across the bottom of the Sea of Cortez. To date, the
furthest we had been from the coast at night was 50 miles. On this passage we
would be spending the middle 24 hours more than 100 miles from shore.
Ours was not the common route. After traveling down the Baja peninsula, most
cruisers go around the corner to La Paz or cross the Sea of Cortez to the mainland in
a single overnight passage to Mazatlán before harbor hopping south along the
mainland. We wanted to get to the warm, tropical climate right away, however, so we
decided to cut to the chase and sail directly there. The forecast was for mild winds
and mild seas.
When Cabo was 30 miles
behind us, the radio crackled
with the voices of two boats
we knew deciding to turn
around because the winds
were so high as they sailed
towards Mazatlan. We didn't have much wind, but the swell was
increasing dramatically. I went below to triple-check the weather
forecasts I had downloaded on the computer. At that moment a large
wave gave the boat a big shove, confusing the autopilot so much that
the boat did a spontaneous 360 degree turn. Suddenly the radio came
to life again, this time with two boats discussing a weather forecast they
had heard on their single side-band radios. "This is no time to be
crossing the Sea of Cortez," one boat said. "I did it once in conditions
like this but it was a nightmare." "Yeah, the next good weather window
won't be until Friday."
Unnerved, we decided to forge ahead anyways. Turning around would have put us in back in Cabo well after dark, and
nothing I had seen in the forecast seemed all that foreboding. As it turned out, the wind never did pick up much over the next
55 hours, but the swell threw the boat all over the ocean. It was as though the sea gods were playing volleyball, and a
thousand hands were reaching up and tossing us back and forth. The boat lurched and heaved, rising up and falling over as
one wave after another rolled under it, each coming from a slightly different direction. During the daytime it wasn't frightening,
but the two nights were very long and disturbing. I have never been so grateful to see the moon. It was like a great white
round friend in the sky, shining a bright path towards us throughout each entire night.
For all the pitching and rolling, the only casualty besides our own bruised bodies
and strained emotions was the stainless steel teapot. I had just filled it and put it
on the stove to make some coffee when a particularly large wave lifted the boat
and hurled it several boat lengths to one side, sending the teapot into a swan dive.
It landed on the stairs, denting the side.
Two flying fish sustained worse injuries. These little guys have fins that they use
like wings, and they jump out of the water and flap their fins like mad, flying 50
yards at a time just above the surface of the water. In the dead of night two of
them did their flying stunt only to find themselves unexpectedly lying in our cockpit.
In the morning we found a little trail of blood droplets showing their sad path as
they ricocheted to their deaths at the base of the wheel.
But the heart-stopping
moments of the long
nights were soon forgotten as we finally approached the mainland.
Not having seen a single boat since leaving Cabo, our big "Land Ho!"
moment was obscured by a thick layer of fog. We noticed the air was
much warmer and thicker as we sailed into the tropics. We passed
quite a few sea turtles and noticed there were unfamiliar bugs landing
on the boat.
The Costa Alegre is a quiet 100 mile
stretch of the mainland coast that is
filled with pretty anchorages, bays and
palm fringed beaches. We were aiming
for Manzanillo, the city at the
southernmost end of this region, but
our pace would have put us there in the
dark, so we stopped at Chamela at the
northern end instead. Scanning the
horizon, we saw lots of little beach
bungalows peaking out from behind the
cover of coconut palm trees.
A few homes were lovely villas and estates, and at the north end of
the bay was a cluster of beachfront restaurants.
We quickly launched the kayak and took a walk along the
beach. A large fleet of pangas sat high on the beach,
but no one was around.
The restaurants had tables and seating
for a huge crowd, but we saw only one
pair of Gringos and one Mexican couple
at any of them. This gave the bay a
wonderfully remote air, but it was eerie to
see a party set up with no one attending.
We came across the Punta Perula Trailer Park, and wandered in, taking photos of
the fantastic vacant RV sites that overlook the ocean. "Can I help you?" a woman
asked, coming out of a motorhome. As we chatted we discovered that this was
her fourth winter at the park, and that it is always full by this time of year.
However, only two sites were taken. She had been emailing all of her RVing
friends -- friends who had been coming to Mexico with her for the past ten winters
-- and they had all been scared off by the bad press about Mexico. Apparently
Arizona was bursting at the seams with RVers who decided not to go south of the
border this year.
What a shame. Smearing Mexico in the media may be helping
the US and Canadian economies by keeping tourist dollars at
home, but travelers are losing out on some really good times
and good deals further south. This beachfront park, one of
several on this bay, is lovely and costs just $350 a month.
Of course, that is more than some RVers wish to pay, and
we had to admire a young fellow in a van boondocking on his
own private stretch of beach next to the park. He said he
had never been bothered in all his boondocking travels along
the Baja peninsula and mainland Mexican coast. But a
quarter mile further on we met couple in a beautiful Class A
motorhome who had gotten a knock on their door from the
police in the wee hours when they boondocked overlooking
this beach. Fortunately, friends they had made in town had
room in their backyard for a motorhome where they could
stay. Ulltimately, these friends installed full hookups, paid for
by the RVers, so they could stay all winter and return in the future.
Having been among sailors for the past ten months, I
was happily reminded what amazing travelers RVers
are. While we were proud of sailing down the coast
to get to this beach, hearing the RVers compare
notes with each other about driving through Mazatlán
versus Guadalajara to get here, we realized how
much more of Mexico they have seen. They all said
they felt safer this year than any year prior on their
drive south because of the increased police
presence. We will seek out coastal RV parks in the
future to get the lay of the land, and to get a quick fix
sitting around in camp chairs.
Back on the beach, the little bars at the north end were
beckoning. For the first time in months we could feel
ourselves beginning to unwind. Boat preparations and
projects behind us, and the bulk of our big sail south
completed, we could return to being our natural selves,
exploring the world around us.
As we sat staring out at the water a group of
fishermen landed their panga. They
unloaded the day's catch into a rusty old
truck without headlights. Then they hooked
the boat up to the truck and towed it up to
higher ground. After the boat dug into the
sand and refused to budge, they filled two
plastic liter bottles with water, put them
under the boat, and tow-rolled it the rest of
the way in.
We continued to relax, not ready to sail again
right away, letting the days tumble seamlessly
into each other. One morning we sat in the
dinghy chatting with other boaters in the
anchorage when a boat loaded with children flew
past. As they went by the kids suddenly all
called out in unison, "Good Morning!" Their
smiles were infectious, and we waved back
enthusiastically, "Buenos Dias!"
Another day we wandered
into the little town of
Perula, following the
narrow paved road that
runs parallel to the beach.
were already underway,
and a nativity crêche was
set up under a tree in the
A bandstand looked ready
for an outdoor concert,
surrounded by attractive
plantings, green grass and park
We passed several small grocery stores with fresh produce for sale.
Other stores were selling all kinds of things, from tire repair to
hardware. The pace was slow and nourishing.
We found ourselves at another outdoor eatery -- who can
resist dollar beers and quesadillas? Even for Thanksgiving
dinner! It was such a pleasant atmosphere in this bay, we
could have stayed longer.
But we eventually pried ourselves away, heading to the
southern end of the Costa Alegre and our planned
turnaround point, Manzanillo. Once there, we could begin
our official "cruise," harbor hopping north for eight months
at a snail's pace.
Find Chamela on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on the "Mexican Riviera" (northern Pacific coast) to see more cruising posts from this area!