Marina Nayarit at La Cruz de
Cobbled streets of La Cruz.
Mark buys some Sierra at the local fish market.
The Vancouver Sailing Academy was in residence for a week of training.
The March 11 tsunami destroyed a dock at Marina Narayit.
The whale attack resulted in a bent
strut and missing propellor.
Huichol Galeria at the Octopus's Garden.
Huichol yarn art. Yarn is pressed into a wax backing.
Like their yarn art, Huichol bead art involves
pressing beads into a wax backing, sometimes
on a sculpture as with this jaguar.
Alvaro Ortiz works on a sun and moon.
The finished product a few hours later.
Bead bracelets and necklaces come off
of small looms like this one.
Huanacaxtle pods, or "ears" in
God one-upped the devil and
shaped the Cuastecomate tree's
leaves like crosses.
Sayulita's campground was teeming with surfer dudes and dudettes.
Sayulita's surf beach.
The tsunami nearly sent the public bathrooms into
Hot bikini babes everywhere.
Surf and surfing are the heart of Sayulita.
Like father like son.
Leaf art on exhibit at
The pros show us how to get a big heavy
panga off the beach into the surf.
An iguana poses at Marina Vallarta.
...all done posing.
A pile of dough sits at the top of
a tortilla machine.
We join a group of Mexicans in a dusty yard for beers and
Gilberto shares his beer with a bull.
Marciela is the perfect young hostess.
Baby Juliana is at the center of it all.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nayarit, Mexico
Late March, 2011 - Cruisers gathered in Bahía Chamela for days, waiting for the
right weather to make the overnight passage north around Cabo Corrientes ("Cape
of Currents") to the Puerto Vallarta area. This cape is known for being treacherous
at times, willfully dishing out strong currents, powerful winds and contrary wave
patterns and offering nowhere to hide. We got lucky. The wind was perfect, and we
had a delightful sail all afternoon and all night long. It was the best sailing we've had
in Mexico yet. We arrived in Banderas Bay ("Flag Bay") in utter pitch dark with no
moon and no horizon to be seen anywhere, flying along at 7.5 knots into black
oblivion, relying on our radar to show us all obstacles.
Suddenly the radar screen was filled with green dots. Bogies everywhere! Looking
around, a huge fleet of commercial fishing boats surrounded us, their lights filling the
inky night air like bright pin pricks. One large boat was bearing down on us with
such speed we could clearly see the fishing booms lit up on either side. We threw
on every light on our boat to make sure they saw us and tacked outta there in a
hurry. Just then a cruise ship appeared, blazing across the radar screen at full
speed. It loomed on the water as it passed us, a christmas tree of party lights and
good times steaming by. Back on the radar screen, a line of fellow cruising sailboats
that had crept around the cape under power made a ragged line of dots. They
hailed each other repeatedly on the radio, keeping tabs on who was where in line
and how things were going on each others' boats. This bay was a busy place.
As the sun rose the wind
died and the boats disappeared, but a multitude of voices filled the
radio waves. Banderas Bay is 20 miles wide with 60 miles of
shoreline, and as we motored across the glassy water we listened
to two different cruisers' nets on the radio, each originating in
separate marinas on the bay. We heard well over 100 boat names
checking in, along with another 30 or so vendors pitching their
services. Despite the suddenly still air and sunny waters around us,
I felt like we were arriving at JFK.
Puerto Vallarta was the original heart of the bay, but the area has
grown so much that there are now several hearts. None of them
has an anchorage, however, just pricey marinas, so we stayed on
the outskirts of it all at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (pronounced
As we dropped the hook among 35 other boats and
dinghied ashore into the pin cushion of sailboat
masts at the new Marina Nayarit at La Cruz, my
impression changed from JFK airport to San Diego
South. Swank amenities for boaters abound,
accompanied by equally swank prices.
The daily schedule of organized entertainment is long, and the pace
of life is fast, with yoga classes, art classes, sailing academies for kids
during the days, followed by marina hosted movie nights, restaurant
hosted meat loaf nights, and live music at many venues. And this is
just one of the four major marinas in the area.
We finally found a tiny hint of Mexico across from the marina
at a small upscale fish market, and we enjoyed watching an
expert fillet three Sierras. These are beautiful silver mackerel
covered with golden polka dots.
Over in the boatyard
we found the final
chapter of Luffin' It,
the boat that had been
struck by a whale back in Tenacatita (bottom of page). The propellor strut was bent,
the prop was gone, and the starboard side of the hull suffered huge cracks in the
fiberglass. The boat was considered a total loss by the insurance company. Watch out
for those whales!
The town of La Cruz
itself is just a
stretch of charmless
However, the tight-knit
sailing community and plethora of gringo bars makes it a
favorite for many cruisers. We enjoyed an afternoon at The
Octopus's Garden where a courtyard is shaded by an
enormous huanacaxtle tree and an ex-pat Frenchman roasts
and grinds his own French roast coffee while overseeing a
small gallery of Huichol art.
The Huichol (who call themselves the Wixaritari, or "the
people") are one of the few indigenous groups that
survived the Spanish conquests. 16,000 of them retain
their language, religion and culture to this day.
One of their beliefs is that their father, the sun, created all the creatures of
the earth, including people, from his saliva which is red sea foam. We feel
like experts on sea foam now, since we have seen a lot of it over the past
few months, especially when the red tide blooms begin to wane. Little
foamy blobs and all kinds of flotsam float around in the foam, and as it
ages it coagulates and gets stringy and sticky, like phlegm. Red tides have
happened for eons, but it is refreshing to know that at least one culture has
been able to find not only a kind of beauty in it but a purpose for it too.
We stopped to chat with Alvaro Ortiz one morning, a Huichol artist who sits quietly
creating beautiful beaded works by a coffee shop many days. Like so many indigenous
people who set up shop on folding tables to sell their wares to tourists, it was easy to
dismiss him, and most people brushed by him with hardly a glance in his direction.
As we chatted in simple Spanish, he
opened a notebook showing newspaper
clippings of his amazing work. He was one
of eight Huichol artists who decorated a
VW bug with their bead art a few years
ago. The photos featured him at the wheel,
and the car is now on a traveling exhibit
He has recently been commissioned by the
Mexican government to decorate a piano
with Huichol bead art too. Besides
traditional craftwork, he is an accomplished
musician as well. In April he will be giving a
concert of classical piano, traditional Huichol
flute and operatic songs, and he is currently
composing an opera.
This kind of renaissance skill is hard to find in these days of ultra-specialization, and we
talked a bit about that. "In my culture, to be an artist and musician and composer is not
unusual," he explained. "But in the modern world most people are very limited." It is
also easy to shrug off street hawkers as one step above beggars. We bumped into him
later at a market. Dressed in conventional western clothes, he looked like any other well
Back in the Octopus's Garden, the French owner of the Galería Huichol explained to us
that the huanacaxtle tree shading his courtyard is named for its ear-shaped pod:
"huanacaxtle" means "ear" in the indigenous language Nahuatl. It is one of the few
specimens of this enormous tree remaining in this town that bears its name, La Cruz de
Huanacaxtle. A cross ("La Cruz") made of its wood stands in the center of town. He
went on to explain that the Cuastecomate tree, for which the Bahía Cuastecomate
between Barra de Navidad and Tenacatita is named, also has a unique story.
Apparently the devil and God both contributed to
the creation of the Cuastecomate tree. The devil
created a spider's web of ugly criss-crossing
branches with weird hard tennis ball sized fruit
growing right out of the branches. God threw his
blessing on the tree by gracing it with cross-shaped
We found a bit
more of the
devil's and God's
work nearby at
Sayulita. This is
a hippie surfing town that is the opposite of La Cruz.
Rather than grey haired retired cruisers enjoying
sedate organized activities, this place was humming
with the buzz of twenty-something surfers. A
campground in the middle of town was home for a lot
of them, and a stroll through it revealed the gritty life
of young backpackers out on a surfing safari. Tents
were jammed together cheek-by-jowel, and as noon
neared the kids were still walking around in sandy pj's
with slitted sleepy eyes.
The tsunami had left a set of public bathrooms in the lurch,
but brought in a surf break that still seemed to be pounding.
Hot babes in bikinis were all over town, and everyone had
wet hair and sandy feet from playing in the waves.
Non-surfers can learn the
moves from an array of surf
shops, surf instructors and
surf rental places all over
the beach, and one dad was giving his young
son a quickie lesson on a roller board.
In town we found another Huichol art gallery
that was featuring a new art form: carved
leaves. Leaves of all kinds had been
surgically cut along the veins to create
silhouettes of people and animals.
After struggling with dinghy launches and
landings on this crazy surf-pounded Pacific
coast, it was fun to watch the professionals
do it. A couple had hired a panga for a
tour, and it took no less than a five people
to get the boat into the water after a pickup
truck pushed it down from the high water
mark. Timing the waves carefully, they got
off with just one little hop over a wave. The
panga before that -- and before I had my
camera in hand -- had gone completely
airborne three times as it flew over the
crashing surf to deeper water.
La Cruz is a 30
minute bus ride from
Vallarta, and we
took the wild city bus
one day. There are
buses, and being
new to the area we
did not realize that
some are express and others go through the back barrios. What a
surprise to get into the outer parts of urban Puerto Vallarta and see
the dusty shacks that house many local residents. A man herded
twenty pigs across the bus's path at one point, and there were
cows and chickens in many yards. Once we got to Marina Vallarta,
however, the world of high end luxury engulfed us once again.
What fun to see an iguana perched along the rocks overlooking the
boats. He posed for a while, looking like a sculpture planted there
for effect. He drew a chuckle from everyone when he crawled
away across the sidewalk towards the row of shops.
Back in La Cruz we were missing
the simplicity of the little Mexican
towns that have hosted us for the
past few months. Joining the
cruisers for tacos at a featureless
gringo hangout called "Tacos on
the Street" and bar-hopping at
cruiser bars where I found bathrooms labeled "Ladies" because no Mexican women ever uses
them, we had a good time but could have easily been in Austin, Texas where Americans enjoy
a nightly live music scene that is every bit as active as in La Cruz/Puerto Vallarta.
We finally found the homeyness we were looking for when we wandered into the streets at the
farther end of town. We watched a man loading dough into a tortilla machine and sampled his
delicious "totopos." These are deep fried corn tortilla chips that make a yummy snack.
A little further on we bought a
"pollo asado," which is chicken
grilled street-side. These delicious
chickens are opened
up and cooked flat,
looking like roadkill
spread across the grill.
We were asked if we
wanted to take it with
us or eat it there in the
dusty yard behind the
grill. We peered out
back and looked at the
group of Mexican men
drinking beer at a folding table. Roosters and chickens squawked and scratched
at their feet while a large bull chewed its cud in the corner. "We'll eat here!" we
both grinned. A rip-roaring Spanglish conversation ensued as we sat down with
Hugo, Joel and Gilberto and shared a few beers at their table. We toasted each other and
life, and watched in amusement as Gilberto wandered over to the bull and held out his
beer for it to drink. Between the bull's slurps, Gilberto took a swig now and then, while a
toddler bounced and cooed in a swing between us all. We knew enough of each other's
languages to talk in simple terms about the joys of grandkids, the perils of sailing, the heat
of living in Phoenix and the contentedness of their life in La Cruz.
This strange town, Banderas Bay, and the
Puerto Vallarta area in general hadn't really
appealed to us until that moment.
Suddenly, sitting in tottering plastic chairs
under the shade of a big tree at a rickety
table while our sandals scuffled the soft dirt
at our feet, we felt La Cruz had reached our hearts. Listening to the hearty
laughter of these rugged, burly men as they teased each other and us in
whatever mixture of language we could share, we felt welcomed. All the while
the mom worked her grill and sold chickens to passersby, and her sweet seven-
year-old daughter played perfect hostess to us all, giggling shyly as we asked
her basic questions with a poor Spanish accent and iffy grammar.
Before long it was time to move on, and we soon made our way north towards Mazatlan via San Blas and Isla Isabel.
Find La Cruz (Puerto Vallarta) on Mexico Maps