Marina Chiapas – Waypoints, Cruising Guide & Inland Travel

Marina Chiapas is a new and attractive marina located next to the tiny seaside town of Puerto Madero and the new cruise ship terminal at Puerto Chiapas.  They are all situated around the same estuary about 18 miles (30 min.) from the city of Tapachula (pop 500,000).

This is a very handy marina for cruisers in many ways.  It is an excellent beginning or end point for crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec.  It is also 10 minutes from Tapachula’s modern international airport.  Supermarket provisioning is a short cab ride away, and the big city of Tapachula has luxury bus service that will take you anywhere in Mexico or Central America.

The concrete docks are in good condition, there is no surge whatsoever, it is below the hurricane belt, and the huge lightning rods on the nearby coffee factory likely protect the boats from lightning strikes during the rainy season (summer).  However, there is little tidal exchange of water in and out of the marina, so when cruising boats discharge their toilets or holding tanks overboard, the water can get pretty scummy.

Because this port sits next to Mexico’s border with Guatemala, it is a very tightly controlled port.  When arriving in the estuary you must hail the Port Captain to let him know you are coming in.  If you are staying at the marina and wish to go out for a daysail, you must hail the Port Captain both on the way out and again on the way in.  If you don’t hail him, he will likely hail you, calling, “Velero velero” (“sailboat sailboat”).

To see what the marina looks like, we have blog posts about our spring visit and our return fall visit, both in 2012.

Marina Chiapas Waypoints Chart for Puerto Chiapas and Puerto Madero Mexico

Chartplotter image of the entrance to Marina Chiapa

WAYPOINTS

We have now been in and out of the marina a bunch of times, so I have noted some waypoints that may be of use to other cruisers.  These are from our Raymarine E80 chartplotter and are just offered as a guideline — we are not legally liable for their accuracy or inaccuracy.

I originally posted a set of four waypoints on this website when we first arrived at Marina Chiapas, and those have circulated among cruisers and turned up in the marina’s brochure literature (minus one waypoint that must have been overlooked).  However, there was a dredge blocking the marina channel at the time, so one waypoint was closer to shore than is necessary any more.

The five waypoints given here are more accurate and follow the contours of the channel better.  I don’t recommend entering anywhere new at night, but if you arrive in the dark and feel you just can’t wait outside the marina until dawn, I believe these waypoints will get you into the marina just fine.  As of June, 2013, there were still no buoys to mark the channel.  Those are likely in place by now, but just in case they aren’t yet, I hope these waypoints will help you out.

The marina was built by digging an enormous ditch and then allowing it to fill with water.  That is why the Marina waypoint is sitting on land in the image.  The dredged channel to the marina is fairly narrow.  There is plenty of depth, but stick to the middle of the channel.  The bottom is soft mud if you do happen to touch.

CHS01
CHS02
CHS03
CHS04
CHS05

Entrance to Puerto Chiapas
First turn (RIGHT) towards Marina
Second turn (RIGHT) towards Marina
Third turn (RIGHT) towards Marina
Fourth turn (LEFT) into Marina Chiapas

Marina Slips

14° 41.819 N,  92° 24.685 W
14° 42.173 N,  92° 24.327 W
14° 42.240 N,  92° 24.170 W
14° 42.195 N,  92° 23.781 W
14° 41.990 N,  92° 23.665 W

14° 41.930 N,  92° 23.525 W

 

  • The initial entrance to the channel is straight forward and the red and green buoys are easily visible.
  • As you go down the channel you will see two large “Aztec” looking thatch roofed palapas.  These palapas are used by the cruise ships at the cruise ship dock.  You turn right before passing these palapas.
  • Next you will see lots of large shrimpers on your left.  After passing most of the shrimpers you turn right into the marina channel.
  • You will not see the marina ahead of you when you take that right turn.  Simply stay in the middle of the channel and keep moving towards the final waypoint where you make a slight left turn following the contour of the channel.
  • The slips are oriented east and west and are set up with two boats to a slip.

CHECKING IN

After tying up at the dock your boat will be visited by the Port Captain and the Navy and their drug sniffing dog.  If you arrive in the middle of the night they will probably not visit your boat until morning, but it might be right at dawn.  The visit takes only 10 minutes or so, and in some cases the pooch wears booties to avoid scuffing up your boat!

GETTING AROUND

The cheapest way to get around is by “combi” van or by a shared taxi (the shared taxis are orange).  The cost to get to the city of Tapachula is 13 pesos per person (½ hour ride) in either the “combi” or orange taxi.  The cost to get to the small nearby village of Puerto Madero is 10 pesos in a shared taxi.  If you are in a hurry or have lots of bags, you can take an orange taxi to or from Puerto Madero by yourself (or with spouse/group) for 40 pesos.

To catch the “combis” and shared orange taxis, stand on the far side of the road right outside the marina’s entrance gate.

There is a Walmart and an air conditioned mall with a big cinema about halfway to Tapachula.  The “combi” or shared taxi is 13 pesos to go there.  The return trip is more complicated.  You can take a taxi directly to the marina for 150 pesos.  The taxis that go direct are the white and yellow radio-dispatched taxis.

Tell the driver you want to go to the “Marina Turistica” at the “Zona Naval.”  We found that simply saying “Marina Chiapas” was not specific enough because the marina was new and the locals referred to it as the Marina Turistica.

Unlike the radio-dispatched white and yellow taxis, the orange taxis are on a route like a bus system, so if you take an orange taxi from Walmart back towards the marina you will likely need to change taxis at a triangular intersection where a line of taxis waits.  Then the trip becomes 13 pesos per person per leg (52 pesos total for two legs for a couple).

You can also catch a “combi” van back to the marina from Walmart.  Stand on the opposite side of the road from Walmart and look for one labeled “Playa Linda” or “Zona Naval.”  They are not that frequent.

If you are going to the big “luxury” bus station in Tapachula to take a bus to Guatemala or San Cristóbal de las Casas, tell the driver you are going to “ADO” (the name of the bus line).  When you return from your trip, take a local cab from the ADO bus station to the “combi” station (a large terminal for “combi” vans going all over the place).  Find the van marked “Zona Naval.”

Marina managers Enrique and Guillermo also sometimes offer rides to cruisers when they return home for their lunch break (2:00 to 4:00 pm) or when they go into Tapachula for errands.  They will drop you off at Walmart, just make sure you are ready to be picked up on time when they are headed back to the marina.

PROVISIONING

There is a small market in Puerto Madero that sells canned and boxed goods and a limited selection of fresh food.  For a larger provisioning run, go to Walmart or continue another 2-3 miles towards Tapachula to Chedraui (which is also located in a large shopping mall area).  We found Walmart had a slightly better selection.

If this is your last stop before leaving Mexico, stock up!  From what we understand, it is much more complicated to provision in Bahía del Sol, El Salvador, than it is at Marina Chiapas.  If you are reading this before arriving in Marina Chiapas, do your biggest provisioning run at Chedraui in Huatulco where the cab ride is cheap and short.

LAUNDRY

When we were at Marina Chiapas there were no laundry facilities.  You can take your laundry to Puerto Madero (we saw a cruiser do this but did not find out exactly where the service was located) or to Tapachula.  You can also have your laundry picked up by marina worker Ronnie to be washed by his wife.  She has a washing machine but no dryer, so if the dust is flying when your clothes are on the line, they will come back dusty.

SHOWERS

The bathrooms and shower facilities are very nice.  The three shower stalls in each bathroom are spacious and have wonderfully gushing hot water.  There were no hooks on the walls for hanging clothes or shower bags when we were there, but there was a large bench.

WIFI

The wifi is improving.  In the fall of 2012 it was possible to get wifi from the boat but it was not always working.  You can take your laptop up to the air conditioned office and work there where the signal is often stronger.  TelCel Banda Ancha USB modems work fine.

FUEL DOCK

The fuel dock is located in a corner of the estuary just east of waypoint CHS-04.  There is deep water right up to the shoreline, so there is room to turn your boat in front of the dock.  No need to wait for high tide.  There are grubby black rubber tires lining the dock, so get your fenders out to avoid marking up your boat.  We ended up helping other boats get fuel and then we received help when it was out turn.  Marina manager Guillermo may also take you and your jerry jugs in the back of his pickup over to the fuel dock.

THINGS TO DO – PLACES TO GO

Marina Chiapas Puerto Madero Pedicabs

Puerto Madero Pedicab

Playa Linda – Leaving the marina entrance gate on foot, go right and then at the intersection about ½ mile away turn left.  This takes you to a small tree-lined street of homes and a handful of small shop stands.  There are several narrow paths between the homes on the right that take you down to the beach.  The beach is blustery and blowy.  We enjoyed running this route every morning from the marina.

Puerto Madero – Catch an orange shared taxi into Puerto Madero.  This is a fun and funky little seaside tourist town that has always been enjoyed exclusively by Mexicans.  We were the only gringos in town every time we went.  We were such a curiosity that a little girl took Mark’s picture when she thought he wasn’t looking.  The streets are filled with pedal cabs.  Hop in one and ask for a ride around town.  It is a hoot.  Some are driven by pedals on half-bicycles and others by a small half-motorbike.

You can also walk to Puerto Madero by walking around the marina’s docks to the far side (north side) and following the dirt road.  It will deliver you to a paved road not far from the fuel dock.  Take a left on the paved road and keep walking until you come into town.  This is a fairly long walk.

Guadelupe Cathedral San Cristobal

Guadelupe Cathedral in San Cristobal

Tapachula – Tapachula is a big city but we never took the time to explore it in depth.  There is a large, colorful central market along the “combi” route into town that looks like it could be a fun place to spend a few hours.

Chiapas & San Cristóbal de las Casas – The state of Chiapas is considered by many to be Mexico’s most beautiful.  San Cristóbal de las Casas is a wonderful colonial city full of pretty architecture.  Catch the ADO luxury bus from Tapachula to Tuxtla Gutierrez (5-7 hours) and then from there to San Cristóbal (2-4 hours).  This route uses big highways and the bus can drive at highway speeds.  As an alternative, you can take a long and interesting bus trip through the mountains instead.  If you wish to do this, catch the bus from Tapachula directly to San Cristóbal.  This route is a grueling 10 hour ride that averages less than 30 mph because of the many speedbumps, but it is dramatic and scenic and goes through endless small towns.  Once in San Cristóbal you’ll see oodles of vendors selling tours to Palenque from San Cristóbal.  In our opinion they cram way too much into too short a time, and the distances are significant.  If you have time, a better option is to go to Palenque on your own on an ADO bus and then see the sights of that area using Palenque as your base rather than San Cristóbal.  Here are pics and stories from our experiences on our scenic bus adventure through Chiapas and in San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Palenque Mayan Ruins

Mayan ruins at Palenque – breathtaking!

Palenque – Some of Mexico’s finest Mayan ruins are in the neighborhood of Palenque, which is a 5 hour bus ride via ADO bus lines from San Cristóbal.  The town of Palenque is charming and vibrant.  The ruins are a 10 minute “combi” ride from town.  For more Mayan ruins, take an organized day tour from Palenque to Yaxchilán and Bonampak.  Yaxchilán was an ancient city located on the river that separates Guatemala and Mexico, and getting there involves an hour-long boat ride upriver in an open launch.  We felt like we had walked into the pages of National Geographic.  Bonampak features some incredible, colorful frescoes on the inside walls of a few of the ruined buildings.  These are astonishing sights to behold.  If you have the time, do it.  Another side trip you can do from Palenque is to visit the waterfalls of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul (most easily done with an organized tour van from Palenque — many vendors sell these tours on the streets of Palenque).  Here are our pics and stories from our trip to Palenque, our tour of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul and our tour of Yaxhilán and Bonampak.  This was among the most exotic and exciting travel we experienced in three years of cruising Mexico.

Agua Azul Waterfalls

Agua Azul – the cascades of water go on forever

Boat ride to Yaxchilan

The ruins at Yaxhilán include a cool riverboat ride along the Guatemala border.

Mayan wall frescos at Bonampak

Vivid Mayan wall frescoes at Bonampak

Mayan glyph carvings at Yaxchilan

Mayan glyph carvings at Yaxchilán

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lakes and Canyons – From San Cristóbal you can also visit Lagos Montebellos and Sumidero Canyon, two trips full of natural beauty that sound utterly delightful but that we did not have time to do.  Sumidero Canyon can be viewed from an open launch boat on a 2-3 hour tour.

Guatemala – Guatemala City is a 9 hour bus ride (on TICA bus which leaves from the ADO terminal in Tapachula).  From there catch a cab to Antigua (our cab fare was $45 for this 45 minute trip).  Many people love the colonial city of Antigua and many also visit Lake Atitlán which is said to be very beautiful.  For us Antigua was a disappointment, but everyone has different travel experiences.

Spanish Immersion School – We attended a one-week Spanish immersion school in San Cristóbal de las Casas: Instituto Jovel.  It was very professionally run, and it cost $100 per person for five days of tutorial instruction 3 hours a day.  A tiny bit of material may provided on xeroxed pages, but most is given on the white board while you take notes.  Bring a notebook and pen and/or use a camera to capture everything before your instructor erases it!!  Three hours a day was about all we could absorb — more than that and our brains would have been mush.  We also asked for homework, which is optional.  There is a Spanish school on every street corner in Antigua, Guatemala with similar prices.  You can also arrange to live with a local family while attending school in either location.  The living conditions will be spartan but you will be speaking Spanish all the time.  Our pics and stories of our Spanish Immersion experience are part of our page on San Cristóbal.

Coffee Plantation ToursFinca Hamburgo is a coffee plantation high in the mountains north of Tapachula where you can cool off after sweltering in the marina for a while.  We did not do go there but got lots of info about it.  They have pretty cabins, hiking trails and tours of the plantation and processing plant, tours of the exotic flower gardens and bird watching tours (extra fees of ~$100 pesos per person for each 2-3 hour tour).  The restaurant is said to prepare awesome meals.  We were offered a 3-day stay including shuttle pickup at the Tapachula bus station for $2800 pesos in spring of 2012.  In the fall of 2012 we were offered a 3-day stay including shuttle pickup at Marina Chiapas for $3400 pesos.  Finca Argovia is another very popular coffee plantation a little closer to Marina Chiapas and slightly lower in the mountains.  They also have rooms but do not offer shuttle service to and from the marina.

Macaw Tours Tapachula

Awesome personalized tours!!

Macaw Tours Tapachula – Arturo of Macaw Tours Tapachula arranges wonderful, informative and personalized tours of everything in the area.  He will take you to Palenque, into Guatemala, or to the coffee plantations and you won’t have to arrange anything other than the pickup and delivery time at the marina.  He is a charming man and everyone who takes his tours raves about what fun they are.  If you want to simply enjoy the ride and don’t feel like dealing with the hassle of buses and hotel reservations and figuring out where and what to eat, go see the sights with Arturo.  He’s the best.  He gets the finest guides, arranges yummy and authentic food, and handles all the hard stuff for you. Cruisers often team up in groups of up to 8 or 10 to take a tour with him.

YACHT SERVICES

Marina Chiapas (Puerto Chiapas) is a new tourist port that until two years ago was strictly a shrimping port.  The smelly fish processing discharge has been cleaned up, a fancy new cruise ship dock has been erected, and this marina will one day be a true delight to visit.

At the moment, however, the port is still in a growth phase.  There are virtually no yacht services.  This marina has close ties with Huatulco, and they have tried to persuade marine service experts to make the 260 mile 9 hour bus ride to Marina Chiapas to service the cruising boats there.  However, some people have waited months and never seen the service experts come.  If you have major problems with your boat, you will find better services in Huatulco.

SUMMER RATES

In many ways Marina Chiapas is an ideal place to leave your boat for the summer.  We left Groovy for 7 months and found her in fine shape when we returned.  We asked local sport fishing captain Andres Reyes Prudente to oversee the cleaning and airing out of our boat and he did a great job.

During the marina’s first few summers (2012-2014), the marina offered a phenomenal introductory rate of $200 per month for the hurricane season (May-Nov).  I’m not sure if such a competitive rate will be offered again, but if it were, surely every boat within several hundred miles that needed a home for the hurricane season would stay there.

ANCHORING IN THE ESTUARY

You can anchor in the estuary off the beach on the west side (opposite the cruise ship terminal), rather than staying in the marina.  The fee is 80 pesos per day, payable to API upon departure (this “port fee” is built into the slip rates at the marina).

LEAVING MARINA CHIAPAS

Leaving Marina Chiapas is a chore, whether going north to Huatulco or south to El Salvador or beyond.  Boats headed north must get exit paperwork for leaving Puerto Chiapas, even though they are staying in Mexican waters.  You must visit the Port Captain’s office on the other side of town to get your exit paperwork ($76 peso fee for the documentation in fall of 2012).  Marina manager Guillermo may drive you there.  He will also check your documents and work up some preliminary paperwork before taking you there.  Allow 2-3 hours for this process.  There are two dates on the exit paperwork: the date the document is signed and your planned date of departure.  You have 48 hours to leave Puerto Chiapas from your planned date of departure listed on the document.  Otherwise you need to repeat the process and get new exit paperwork.

Misol-Ha Waterfall

Misol-Ha waterfall – you can creep in behind it!

For boats headed out of Mexico there is not just the visit to the Port Captain’s office but also a visit to Immigration.  Again, Guillermo may drive you there.  Allow 3-5 hours for the whole Port Captain / Immigration process, and more if there are several boats going through this process at once.  You have 48 hours from the departure date listed on your exit Zarpe to leave Puerto Chiapas.

Two hours prior to actual departure, both the Navy and Port Captain must visit your boat in person to do the final drug sniff with the dog and to fill out some final papers.  You can hail the Port Captain on VHF 16 to initiate this visit, or the marina managers may do it for you.  You need a copy of your Coast Guard documentation and passports for this visit.  Once the visit is completed you must leave within 2 hours.  If you are making a midnight or 3 a.m. departure, they will come at night and the same rules still apply for timing your departure.

The officials have been known to be as much as 3 hours late in making their visit to departing boats.  Most boats leaving Marina Chiapas are on a tight schedule due to either the blows in the Gulf of Tehuantepec or the timing of high tide at the entrance to Bahía del Sol in El Salvador (you can enter only during the daytime high tide each day).  Puerto Chiapas has never had many cruising boats visiting in the past, so all the paperwork processing for cruisers is relatively new to everyone involved.  Hopefully in the future the system will become easier, especially the timing of final inspections prior to departures.

Here’s our crazy story of our departure from Marina Chiapas…!!

The following is a summary of what we saw on our 3-week inland trip from Marina Chiapas:

To see more goodies about Mexico on this website, click here:

More Tips for Cruising Mexico

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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Blog posts from our wonderful stay in Huatulco, Mexico:

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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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Chiapas by Bus – A Day of Adventure

This page describes our exhilarating bus ride through the mountains of the state of Chiapas in Mexico.  Vivid color, vibrant people, beautiful scenery.  Read on!

¡Vive México!

Marina Chiapas, Puerto Chiapas / Puerto Madero, Chiapas, Mexico

Quiet Marina Chiapas -- just Groovy and two sport fishing boats.

Marina Chiapas, Puerto Chiapas / Puerto Madero, Chiapas, Mexico

New thatch roofed palapa

restaurant under construction.

Combi / Colectivo van in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

"Combi" or "Colectivo" van.

Puerto Chiapas train tracks

New train tracks will take cargo inland.

Shrimping industry in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

Shrimping fleet.

Puerto Madero market, Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

Puerto Madero market

Puerto Madero / Puerto Chiapas tricycles, Mexico

Backwards tricycles take people around town.

Puerto Madero / Puerto Chiapas tricycles, Mexico

They're everywhere.

Puerto Madero / Puerto Chiapas tricycles, Mexico

We get a ride.

Combi van, Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

This little girl thought Mark's face was

worthy of a photo.

Marimba players, Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

Marimba players

Sunrise in Marina Chiapas, Mexico

Sunrise in Marina Chiapas

Fishing in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

Andrés catches a Sierra (Spanish Mackerel)

OCC bus to San Cristobal

"Greyhound" type buses for inland travel.

Twisty mountain roads from Tapachula to San Cristobal

Twisting mountain roads

Little towns crowd the road from Tapachula to San Cristobal

We drove through countless busy little towns.

Plenty of military checkpoints between Tapachula and San Cristobal

There were lots of military

checkpoints.

Chiapas, Mexico

In town, the streets are for strolling.

Chiapas, Mexico

We had to get through this!

Chiapas, Mexico

Swinging footbridges connected the towns on

both sides of the river.

Mountain roads, Chiapas, Mexico

Our road clings to the mountainsides.

Watermellon, Chiapas, Mexico

Watermelon stalls fill one mountain peak.

Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico

Scenic views on our route.

Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico

A landscaped sidewalk connects many towns.

Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico

We share the road with

travelers of all kinds.

Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico

We pull alongside a horse and cart.

High school kids try to flag down the bus.

Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico

We stop dead in our tracks while a

transformer is replaced.

Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

We discover San Cristóbal is full of life…and nightlife.

Puerto Chiapas to San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico

March, 2012 - We were very happy to return to Mexico after

visiting Antigua, GuatemalaGroovy was waiting patiently for us

in the brand new Marina Chiapas, and the construction around

the marina was still on-going.

A new palapa building that will soon house a marina bar and

restaurant was getting its final rafters, and Groovy was one of just

three boats that had taken up residence at the still-not-officially-

open marina.

One day we took a crowded combi van to the big

nearby city of Tapachula and made the half-hour

trip scrunched up against a young family with a

toddler.  The husband excitedly told us all about

the improvements coming to this small seaside

community of Puerto Chiapas.  Besides the new

tourist marina, which is the pet project of ten of

Tapachula's captains of industry, the waterfront

is rapidly metamorphosing.

Once home only to a large shrimping fleet,

Puerto Chiapas has cleaned up the filthy shrimping process and now

has a cruise ship dock, a growing malecón, and plans to become a

major cargo shipping port with new train tracks that head to the inland

industrial hubs.  This young dad was so thrilled by the prospects for his

small town that he nearly jumped out of the seat of the van as he

described the growth and what it would mean to his community.  He

was most excited that the endless construction all around us was

supported by Mexico's President Calderón and the political power base

in Mexico City.  His feelings of hope and anticipation for his hometown

and his young family were palpable.

That same joy filled the air in Puerto Madero, the small

town that fronts the harbor of Puerto Chiapas around

the corner from the new marina.  This is a gritty small

town that bustles with color and noise, pungent smells

and spontaneous street music.  It isn't a pretty town --

dust fills the air and, at first glance, it is dirty, decrepit

and run down -- but it hums with an inner vitality.

Smiles were abundant and all the streets were filled with crazy three-

wheeled backward tricycles that shuttled people from place to place.

Some of these trikes are made from the back half of a bicycle and

others are made from the back half of a motorbike, but all have a

skinny seat up front that is shaded by a flopping awning.

Passengers hop into the front seat and get a bumpy ride.

Mark couldn't resist trying one of these carnival

rides, and all of a sudden I was squeezing in next

to him and asking the driver to take us around

town.  "Where?" he asked.  "Oh, just up and down

the streets so we can look around!"

He was more than happy to oblige, and for 15 minutes or so he drove us up and

down all the narrow streets, waving to his friends while we giggled like little kids in

the front street.  What fun!

Whole families would pile into these things, mom, dad and three kids hanging on;

old ladies would settle their shopping bags on the seat next to them; and

businessmen would spread out, relax, and fill the whole seat.  In back, the driver

would pedal or roll on the throttle, and the little jalopy would jiggle and rattle

through town.

This is a tourist town for locals from Tapachula, the big city of half a million people

about 15 miles away, but it is far from an international destination.  All the tourists

are weekenders and day-trippers looking for a few hours on the waterfront in a

small seaside village.  Gringos are a rarity.  So we got a great laugh when a little

girl pointed her camera at Mark -- from the safety of her seat next to her mom in

a combi van -- and took Mark's picture.  We definitely stood out in this crowd.

Music played everywhere, mostly from

stereo speakers, but we rounded one

corner to see three men playing a

xylophone.  They were totally in sync with

each other as each took one section of the

xylophone, and the music was lighthearted and fun.  I later discovered that this long

legged xylophone was called a Marimba, an instrument that is prized and beloved

throughout the state of Chiapas.  This one on the streets of Puerto Madero turned out to

be one of the first of many that we would see both here and further inland in the state in

the coming weeks.

Meanwhile the

Tehuantepeckers continued

to blow hard out in the gulf,

preventing other cruising

boats from crossing to

Marina Chiapas from

Huatulco, although many

boats were waiting on the

other side to make the jump.  This meant life was very quiet for us

at night, as the two of us and Andrés, the captain on the sport

fishing boat parked a few slips away from us, were the only three

people actually living in the marina.

There was still no power or water at the marina, and soon we had

to make water to refill Groovy's water tanks.  We invited Andrés to

accompany us on our excursion into the bay, and he grabbed his fishing pole and happily came along.  There's no equivalent

Spanish expression for "A bad day spent fishing is better than a good day at work," but he knew exactly what we meant.  He had

already finished his boat work for the day, so off we went.

It turned out to be a fantastic day fishing.  After tooling around in the bay for just

a little while, Andrés caught a beautiful dinner-sized Sierra (Spanish Mackerel).

Back at the dock he cleaned it expertly and I made us all a dinner from it.  We

had lots of fun chatting away in broken Spanish and broken English over a

gringo style meal, comparing notes on some of the crazy expressions that fill

both languages.  Where we'll call a nice person a peach, Mexicans call a loved

one a mango, and where we sing "Happy birthday to you" they'll use the same

music and sing "You're a green toad."  Seems funny, but it fits the music

perfectly, far better than the long words for "happy birthday:" "feliz cumpleaños."

In the afternoons of these

pleasant days at the

marina, the cabin of the

boat was hitting 90

degrees, no matter how

we shaded the deck or

cockpit.  So we decided it

was time to head inland

into the cool mountains

once again.

We caught a combi van to Tapachula, and from

there took a large Greyhound style bus 200

miles inland to San Cristóbal de las Casas, a

quaint colonial town perched high up in the

mountains.

What a ride that turned out to be.  We had

front row seats to an incredible show.

If an interstate existed, the trip would be just

a few hours.  But not so on this route.  The

tiny, twisting, single lane mountain road

crosses two mountain ranges.  "Topes," or

speed bumps, are planted along these roads

every few miles and traffic slows to a crawl as

each vehicle spares its shocks and creeps

over the steep bump.  Every ten miles or so a

town crowds the road into a chaotic traffic jam.

And in between all this mayhem, the military bring the whole road to a

halt at strategically placed military checkpoints.  At several of these

checkpoints we were all herded off the bus to oversee the inspection of

our luggage in the baggage compartment.

I counted seven bus

stops, seven military

checkpoints, and an

infinite number of

"topes."  All this

would have made us absolutely crazy with

impatience, but the spectacular scenery

and lively towns we passed through made

it all worthwhile, despite averaging 22

mph for the entire trip.

For many miles we paralleled a river that

had communities living on both banks.

Little swinging footbridges connected the

towns on either side.

At the summit of one mountain we saw endless watermelon stalls, and for many miles

every town was connected by a bright red brick sidewalk trimmed with large, brightly

colored flowering bushes that flanked the highway.

This highway is traveled by vehicles of all kinds, from our huge bus to

cars and trucks to horseback riders to walkers pushing carts.  Uniformed

high school kids stood in the middle of the road trying to raise funds by

waving cars down.  The bus driver hung out the window and bantered

with them as we drove by.

When we pulled into one

town the bus had to

negotiate some very tight

turns.  We were just

commenting to each about

how hard it must be to drive

a huge bus on these tiny city

streets when the bus turned

a corner and suddenly faced

a complete roadblock.  Some electrical workers were replacing a transformer

on a power pole, and their truck blocked the entire road.  Oh well!  Our bus

parked in the middle of the road, and we all piled out onto the street yet again.

This time rather than watching men with machine guns rummage through our

luggage, we all descended on the local convenience store to get snacks and

drinks.  What a hoot!  We hung around in the street munching chips and

getting to know each other while we waited for the workers to complete the

transformer installation.  At long last they came down off the power pole,

moved their truck out of the way, and we continued on.

We enjoyed this drive a lot.  The last two

towns, Comitán and Teopisca, looked so

appealing we were tempted to hop out

and stay a while.  But San Cristóbal was

our destination, and at last, after nine

hours of climbing and descending, we

finally pulled into the charming city set at

7,500' altitude.

Dropping our

bags off at the

hotel and

dashing out into

the night we

found little kids

and parents, teens, tourists,

lovers and old folks all filling

the streets.  The air was brisk

and everyone was in jackets.

A chocolatier lured us into his

shop with the most delicious

fresh chocolate treats, and a

few doors down the mellow

tones of saxophone blues drew

us into the middle of a photographer's opening exhibition at an art gallery.

The wine flowed, the hot tamales were passed around, and the crowd spilled out of the gallery

and down the block.  We shivered in the bitter mountain air, but the spirit of this town was warm

and inviting.  It was easy to settle into San Cristóbal, and we ended up staying for 10 days.

Find Puerto Chiapas and San Cristóbal on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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