Late December, 2012 – Our days at Playa La Bocana gave us a taste of nature’s dramatic side, but a drama of a different kind began to unfold in Huatulco. The holidays were coming, and tourists from all over were descending on the harbor village of Santa Cruz and the nearby town of La Crucecita. Christmas decorations began appearing everywhere.
Santa Claus showed up in all kinds of crazy places, on doorsteps and rooftops. But we didn’t see Rudolph or Donner or Blitzen anywhere. Perhaps in this neck of the woods Santa travels by boat or makes his way around town on a scooter.
One of the best things for adults celebrating Christmas in Mexico is that the Noche Buena dark beer suddenly becomes available. Mexican brewers haven’t explored crafting dark beers much yet, and for northerners missing their favorite microbrews from home, the supermarket’s stack of cases of Noche Buena is a sight for sore eyes. And the cases disappeared quickly!
A huge Christmas tree went up in La Crucecita’s town square, and it became the backdrop for hundreds of tourists’ photos for a few weeks. We were no exception, and we got a shot of ourselves with the tree too.
And we probably weren’t the only ones to ask one of the taxi drivers hanging out at the taxi stand next to the tree to click the shutter on our camera for us!
Santa Cruz has a big stage just off the beach, and many evenings there was something going on there. One afternoon we watched a group of adorable little boys in red outfits practicing a dance. They really got into the rhythms and the moves.
A few days later another group of kids was dressed up for that night’s performance. Three charming girls in colorful skirts hopped up off a bench to pose for me when they saw me trying to sneak a photo without them noticing.
Not to be outdone, another group of girls just behind them suddenly lined up and wanted me to get their photo too. Proud moms and happy dads milled around in the background, their cell phone cameras clicking away just as eagerly.
There is a pretty open-air church on the edge of the bay, and sometimes we heard the reverent tones of the congregation singing or the priest giving a sermon as we walked past.
One day when the church was empty, a fellow came out to greet us and told us to walk to the back of the church and touch the cross. “Whatever you wish will come true,” he said, and he told of a relative of his who was cured of a disease when he did that. We walked around to the back of the altar and made our quiet wishes while touching the cross.
The town squares of Santa Cruz and La Crucecita weren’t the only places that began to come alive with the Christmas spirit. The hotels and resorts around town began hosting special holiday events too. The resort that had framed our view for a few weeks at the east end of Tangolunda Bay, Camino Real Zaashila, hosted a wonderful recorder concert by Horacio Franco one evening. This was part of a series of concerts that are held on their pretty outdoor lawns next to the swimming pool.
A full evening of Telemann’s twelve flute fantasies was on the roster, and we watched in awe as Horacio’s fingers flew across his many recorders — of all shapes and sizes — that were lined up on a table next to him. It was really fun to get a little dressed up (in the only dress-up clothes we have on the boat) and go out for the evening to a concert. Boating life at anchor is a bit on the grubby side, but for this one evening we felt very sophisticated! It was quite amusing to get in the dinghy for a pitch dark ride across the bay in a sparkly dress!
Not all cruising sailboats are grubby, however. Life is a totally civilized affair on the 170′ long sailing yacht “Tamsen” which tied up at the cruise ship dock opposite us for a few days. This stunning boat was way too big to go into the marina (the entrance is quite shallow), so it was granted permission to tie up on the very long cruise ship pier. We enjoyed hours of oohing and aaahing as we watched life lived on a scale way above the rest of us by the families on board.
From what we read online, Tamsen was built for ~$40 million at one of the world’s finest mega-yacht shipyards in Italy. We found a fun story from the NY Times that explains that this mega-yacht is owned by the extended family and friends of the Firestones of California.
This is the second yacht the group has owned, and the idea behind the boats has been to create a bonding experience between parents and kids in the Firestone family. There was a boatload of young kids on board playing on the decks, and one day they appeared to put on a dance performance for the adults.
What impressed us most was that everybody seemed to have a role to play in operating the boat. We just happened to leave the bay at the same time Tamsen did, and Mark yelled over to them, “Hey, wanna race?” “Sure!” came the answer! Mark asked for a head start, but they dusted us in short order just the same.
We heard rumors that when Tamsen was anchored in nearby Tangolunda Bay — and was the object of endless curious folks gawking at them through binoculars from the beach — they responded to all the attention by mooning the crowd. Now that’s a spirited boat! Not too many mega-yacht crews are quite that sassy.
Of course Tamsen wasn’t the only boat that used the cruise ship dock. The day after Christmas two cruise ships came in at the same time and tied up on opposite sides of the pier. Watching these behemoths dock is always a thrill, as it’s a hard hat job for both the guys on the ship and the guys who greet them on the dock.
For us sitting on Groovy’s deck, having a cruise ship arrive was like having a tall apartment building suddenly appear out of nowhere next door.
But what amused us most was that when the passengers all got off the ships to walk around town, the crew aboard the ship closest to us went through a complete rescue drill. Sirens wailed, the crew donned life jackets and lined up along the rail, and then they lowered the lifeboats.
We couldn’t help but flash back to the images of the Costa Condordia on its side off of the Italian coast last year. Once the meat of the exercise was finished, a few of the crew zoomed around the bay in the tenders and blew off a little steam.
Cruise ships weren’t the only boats to arrive in little Santa Cruz Bay in the weeks around the holidays. A few cruising sailboats joined us in the anchorage well. All were single handers: three men and one woman, each on their own boats. Two were coming up from Central America and two were headed down that way. As single-handers often do, they were traveling more-or-less in pairs.
For anyone that has put off their travel dreams for fear of all the bad things that might happen, Pamela Bendall aboard her 46′ steel sailboat Precious Metal sets a rare and wonderful example. Over a four year period, she has sailed solo between Vancouver Island, Canada, and Peru, coastal cruising the entire Pacific coast of the US, Mexico and Central America. And she’s a fifty-something grandma! Her enthusiasm and can-do attitude are truly inspiring.
On New Year’s Eve we were amazed to see little Santa Cruz get decked out for one heck of a party. The beach-side restaurants filled the beach with tables set with linens and candles.
The tables were so thick on the beach there was barely room to walk among them, and every single table had a “reserved” sign on it with a family’s name.
It was a hot and sultry night, and even in the pitch darkness we were up for some cool refreshment. We got popsicles (“paletas”) from one of the little carts in the square and set off to our favorite little spot for a hamburger, La Casa de las Tilapias, where a lively two-man band we like, Sangre Latina, was playing.
There is something in the rhythms and tunes Miguel and Hazael play that is infectious.
There was music all over town that night. Two huge areas were set up with mammoth speakers where a DJ and a live band were getting ready. New Year’s hats and goodies were laid out on tables for guests, and we knew 2012 would be ceremoniously marched out the door.
2013 was ushered in with a bang — right off our bow. We aren’t night owls, so we had faded before midnight. But right at the stroke of 12:00 we were blasted out of bed with a POW so we could ring in the new year with the revelers on the beach. Mark had planned ahead, of course, and had his camera right next to his pillow, completely set up for the fireworks shots we knew we’d be getting.
I wasn’t quite so prepared, and found myself running around stark naked between the cockpit and the cabin (hey, it’s hot here!), yelling, “Where’s my camera?” Then, “Why doesn’t it have an SD card in it?” Then, “What the heck settings do I need — it won’t focus!!”
And so 2013 arrived, with the two of us laughing uncontrollably as I ran up and down the companionway stairs in a panic while fireworks exploded all around us. Meanwhile, Mark quietly captured lots of great fireworks shots.