Costalegre: Paraiso – An Unexpected Tropical Oasis!

Careyes oceanfront resort

Looks like some pretty good digs!!

Late March, 2013 – The wind and waves at Cuastecomate were making life a bit uncomfortable. That bay is known for good snorkeling, which we had wanted to try, but in the current conditions it just wasn’t possible.

Up the road 25 miles there was another anchorage, Paraiso, that we had heard was very beautiful. We had never stopped in because it, too, could get rolly. However, we decided to chance it this time and hope for the best.

We stuck close to the coast, and suddenly some out-of-this-world properties appeared on shore. We leaped for our binoculars.

One mega-million dollar vacation property was bright orange and featured not only the usual thatched palapa roofs covering its ramadas, but also a large rotunda at its center. Wow!

Carayes Mexico waterfront resort

Look – Another one, and this one’s blue!

Shortly after that sighting we came across a bright blue mansion with two large cylindrical towers. Wow again!

Who built these properties? Were they private homes or resorts? Whoever and whatever, we really liked the bright colors they used. No blending into the landscape here. If you’ve got it, flaunt it wildly!!

Each of these estates had unusual architectural novelties placed away from the main building — in matching colors.


The orange estate had a cascading series of walled enclosures.  We couldn’t tell what was inside the enclosures other than some trees, but it seemed this was some kind of elaborate staircase with arched doorways leading from one set of stairs to the next. The blue property had a wonderful little wall with a donut hole cut into it. A ladder led from the donut hole down to a path to the sea.

Careyes Mexico oceanfront mansion

Terraced and walled enclosures with arched doorways leading to the beach…??!!

Careyes waterfront villa donut hole

A donut hole in a wall (or bridge?).

Was that donut hole wall a bridge? Decoration? Who knows, but it sure was cool!

If those things weren’t enough, then we came across an enormous bowl perched on the edge of a cliff. What the heck??!!

Who built that and why?!


Carayes Mexico bowl on a cliff

Holy cow – a huge bowl on a cliff, with a staircase!

Paraiso anchorage in Mexico

“Paraiso” is the right word for this place!

It must have been someone very rich and very eccentric!

As we passed the bay of Careyes, we debated stopping there instead. We had heard it was exquisite too.

We had also heard that it is very difficult to anchor there. The swell turns the bay into a washing machine, sloshing the boats about mercilessly.

Despite being very tempted to turn in, for the moment, our sights were set on Paraiso just four miles further on.


Paraiso Mexico cover with boat

Tranquil, turquoise waters.

Tropical beach play in Paraiso Mexico cove with boat

A family enjoys a day on the beach in paradise.

Palm trees and white sand beach

Palm trees, almost-white sand and thatch roofed palapas…















Turning the last corner into the little cove of Paraiso, a gradual feeling of stunned amazement crept over us. The deep blue, churning water outside the cove miraculously smoothed out and became the most vivid turquoise.

Playa Paraiso Mexico

A tour boat swings through the bay.

Swaying palms trees, light colored sand, jade water and a small thatch roofed building filled our view. Adding pure charm to this scene, a family was having a picnic on the beach. The parents relaxed under a colorful umbrella while the kids frolicked on the sand and in the water.

Were we still in Pacific Mexico? This felt like the Sea of Cortez (way north) or Huatulco (way south). We had never seen an anchorage anything like this anywhere else on the mainland coast of Mexico!

Snorkeling at Paraiso anchorage

We couldn’t get in the water fast enough!


Groovy in the Paraiso anchorage

What fun!!

This coast is rugged. Huge splashy waves crash on brown beaches. And it is often plagued by algae blooms where dinghy beach landings become terror-inducing adventures. Boats at anchor look like bucking broncos.


Porta-bote floats on turquoise water

In suspension.

But this place was a gem. Paradise! Whoever named the cove “Paraiso” (“Paradise”) got it 100% right!

Our dinghy floated off the back of Groovy as if sitting on glass, as its shadow followed its gentle movements on the sand below.

Groovy anchored Paraiso cove

What’s that dark patch? Rocks? Sea grass? Guess again…








Fish off the back of Groovy

Fish off the back of Groovy

We couldn’t wait to jump in that water. We hadn’t seen inviting water like this since we left Huatulco six weeks earlier.

When we anchored, we noticed a large brown patch of something, so we avoided that spot and put the anchor down in the sand. The anchor winked at us from its resting place, as if saying, “I like clear turquoise water too!” But what the heck was that brown patch? We thought it was probably sea grass of some kind.

Wrong! It was fish. Millions and millions of little fish. Looking off our swim step we could see them swirling about when the dark patch engulfed Groovy.


Fish school in formation

Organized fish on a mission.

We jumped in, and as we swam among them we were astonished that none of the fish ever touched us. We were surrounded by fish so thick that they nearly blotted out the sand below. Yet, even if we thrashed around or deliberately reached out to touch them, not one fish made a false move and bumped into us.

The patterns they made as they swam were beautiful. Sometimes they would stream by, all lined up in parallel like flying soldiers. Then suddenly they’d stop dead in their tracks and all turn 45 degrees, some facing one way and some the other. Then they’d reorganize and soar off in parallel again.


Fish school out of formation 405

Stopped dead in their tracks at funny angles…

Diving pelican

A flying knife!

I swam along the edge of one of these fish patches.  It was a true edge. On one side there were millions of fish in formation. On the other there were none. Just clear water. I swam back and forth across the edge several times, totally floored by this phenomenon of organized fish.

Playa Paraiso palm trees



Who’s the leader our there? Who’s shouting the orders to swim or turn or stop? Do they do it by telepathy? I could believe that, because they seemed to have a kind of group consciousness.

I know that in cycling pace lines the conversation and chatter is non-stop (unless the guys in front pick up the pace, and then all conversation stops because no one can breathe!). Hand signals are used to pass information down the line like, “danger ahead.”

Playa Paraiso Mexico

What a place!

I suspect honking geese are doing somewhat the same thing, chatting about who did what last week while the guy in front chooses the altitude for the best air currents. But fish?

Whatever method the fish used to plan their movements, the birds didn’t miss a trick. The pelicans rained down on the fish patches like javelins falling from the sky.

Anchored in Paraiso Mexico

A dreamy place to drop the hook!


We took the dinghy ashore the next day and strolled along the beach. Such serenity and beauty!!

Although there are a few buildings set back from the beach, nature rules here.

I had read the wonderful adventure that sailors Tom and Lori of the sailboat Camelot had had here two years prior to our visit.

They had met the owner of the property on shore and had shared some really good times with him and his family, both ashore and on their boat.

I was secretly hoping for a fun encounter like that.

But we weren’t so lucky this time. As we approached the inviting but seemingly vacant building, a man greeted us and informed us that this was private property.

Palm trees

Palms with branches swept back in the wind.

“You can stay on the beach, though,” he said, gesturing back towards the pretty crescent beach with a smile.

Palm trees and thatched palapa

Paraiso beach palapas.

Bahia Paraiso Mexico

The waves play with the sand.










Anchored in Paraiso Mexico

Such a pretty place.










Well, who could possibly complain about being told they had to stay on this beach?  The setting was true perfection. We lolled around on the sand and in the lapping waves, soaking in this delightful tropical oasis.

Sunset in Paraiso Mexico

Paraiso at sunset

Back on the boat, however, the anchorage became rougher and rougher. The tranquility we saw at our arrival was replaced with the more familiar rolling seas of this coast. Our stern hook kept us pointed into the swell, but Groovy began to lurch.

As we bounced around for another day, we kept thinking about those majestic properties we’d passed on the outskirts of Careyes on our way here. They were like a siren call begging us to backtrack a few miles.

We had heard Careyes was beautiful and that we shouldn’t miss it. Besides, we might get lucky and find a patch of calm water over there…!

Costalegre Map (partial)

The central portion of the Costalegre (“Cheerful Coast”). Barra and Tenacatita are the more popular anchorages in this region.
The distance between Paraiso and Barra is ~30 miles.

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Costalegre: Cuastecomate – Exploring a “Secret Anchorage”

Cuastecomate Anchorage  Costalegre Mexico

Groovy rests at anchor in “secret” Playa Cuastecomates

Mid-March, 2013 – We left Manzanillo’s Santiago Bay and its daily morning show of brilliant sunrises, and made the short 25 mile hop north to the tiny anchorage, Cuastecomate, between Barra de Navidad, Melaque and Tenacatita.

Cuastecomates beach Costalegre Mexico

The surf was up during our stay.







Playa Cuastecomate Costalegre Mexico

Royal blue skies and jade seas at Cuastecomate.

Groovy had gotten quite dirty in Manzanillo, and our passage north was on a day with little wind, so we gave the boat a nice bath. It was a great way to pass the time, and splashing around in cool water on the hot deck was lots of fun!

Mexico’s coast between Manzanillo and the outer edge of Puerto Vallarta’s Banderas Bay is known to cruisers as the “Gold Coast.” I’m not sure how it got this name — perhaps from the popular Mexico Boating Guide by Pat Rains — but that term does not seem to be well known outside cruising circles.
Wondering where this is? See Mexico Maps!

Cuastecomates Costalegre Mexico

There are lots of beach palapa bars at Cuastecomate

To most Mexican vacation travelers this is the “Costa Alegre” (sometimes shortened to “Costalegre”), which literally means “the cheerful coast.”

The Costalegre is a 100-mile stretch that includes ten or so anchorages for boats. A few of these anchorages are very popular and frequently visited. A few, however, are quite small and not very well protected from the wind and swell coming in from the Pacific.

Cuastecomate pangas on the beach mexico 405

Pangas on the beach at Cuastecomate

Playa Cuastecomates Costalegre palm trees

The village is tiny with lots of palms.

Always happiest getting off the beaten path, we decided our trek north this year would hit each of these smaller spots.

Before we left San Diego for Mexico three years ago, a cruiser told us to be sure we visited the “Secret Anchorage” on this coast.

Cuastecomate Costalegre beach view

Looking down towards the beach.




He gave us the waypoints to find it. “When I was there, I kept emailing my friends in neighboring anchorages and they had no idea where I was,” he said. “They kept writing me back saying, “where the heck ARE you??…”

bougainvillea flowers cuastecomate mexico

Bougainvillea flowers.

Cuastecomate beach hotel costalegre mexico

We had gotten a good chuckle out of that, and we had looked forward to getting in on his secret.











Playa Cuastecomate beach surf costalegre mexico

View of the bay.

However, the publication of Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer’s” Pacific Mexico: A Cruiser’s Guidebook not only made the waypoints to this hideaway public, but revealed its true name: Cuastecomate.

Cuastecomates Costalegre Jalisco anchorage costalegre mexico

We stopped here two years ago, but hadn’t gone ashore because the big surf made it too difficult to land the dinghy.

Unfortunately, the surf was scary this time too.  After a dramatic splash dinghy landing on the beach, we wandered around the tiny community of dirt streets and were charmed with what we saw.

Cuastecomate shrine mexico

A little shrine was on a corner…

Shrine at Playa Cuastecomate beach costalegre mexico

Inside the shrine








We noticed a tiny shrine at a crossroads with a man working on a light fixture inside. We asked him if the shrine belonged to a family nearby, and he said it was for everyone in the community. What an intriguing idea.

Cuastecomate Jalisco beach hotel costalegre mexico 550

There’s a pretty hotel at one end of the beach

When we stopped in this bay two years ago, I posted some pics and notes about our stay, explaining the sudden emergence of this tiny anchorage in Mexico cruising circles because of the new cruising guide.

Cuastecomate Flowers

…great shot!!!

A few weeks later I received an email from a Cuastecomates resident who had read my post.  She said she now understood why there were suddenly so many sailboats decorating the view from her living room window.

Flower Photography

Mark gets pics of the flowers…








flowers Cuastecomate Jalisco Costalegre

I remember growing up on Sandy Bay, north of Boston, and how the arrival of a sailboat in the bay was happy cause for me to dash out in a rowboat to say hello (and secretly hope to be invited aboard…which sometimes happened!).

Cuastecomate Jalisco anchorage costalgre mexico

A little frame around Groovy.

Fruits for sale Cuastecomate beach palapas costalgre mexico










regina flower

Cuastecomate Jalisco hotel costalgre mexico

So I completely understood our Cuastecomate email pal’s eagerness to connect with the boats anchored just beyond her living room window. When we arrived in Cuastecomate this year, we wanted to hook up with her, but unfortunately she was in Guadalajara at the time.

Playa Cuastecomate beach palapas costalgre mexico

Cuastecomate Jalisco Costalegre Mexico

Oh well, at least we saw her village, including the very pretty hotel at the end of the beach. And all those colorful flowers – they were everywhere!

The wind was blowing pretty hard, and the seas were building steadily all afternoon. Suddenly the sun disappeared from the sky, and we hurried back to Groovy, as the sky began to turn black.

Just as we clambered into the cockpit, the heavens opened up in a torrential rainstorm.

fishing kayak

A fisherman gets caught in the downpour.




Now, doesn’t that figure? We had just washed the entire boat, and now it was pouring pitchforks. Lordy me. It doesn’t seem to matter if we wash our trailer or wash the boat, the mere act of filling a bucket with soapy water is the opening steps to a Rain Dance wherever we are!!

This was only the second time we had seen rain this season, and it came down so hard it bounced back up off the water around us. A fisherman in a kayak wasn’t quite as lucky as we were, and he got stuck in the worst of it, paddling as fast as he could to shore.

Cuastecomate Tree Devil Branches

The devil cursed the Cuastecomate tree with an ugly web of branches & hard fruit…

Once the rain cleared, we watched a gorgeous sunset.



Cuastecomate Leaf like a cross

…so God blessed the tree with cross-shaped leaves.

It is oddly fitting for God and the devil to bicker over this cove with conflicting weather patterns. Afterall, long ago, they had a big argument over its namesake, the Cuastecomate tree.

Legend says the devil designed this tree with a nasty tangle of branches and big hard ugly fruit. Unhappy with the devil’s creation, God gave the tree a divinely inspired flourish, and blessed it with leaves that are shaped like crosses!

Sunset at Cuastecomate Costalegre

After the downpour, we were given a glorious sunset at the mouth of the bay.

After several days in this pretty cove, we decided to move a few more miles up the coast where, to our complete surprise, we discovered a mini tropical paradise with gorgeous, calm, turquoise water in a cove that was aptly name “Paraiso.”

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Costalegre: Santiago – Brilliant sunrises every day!

Manzanillo Sunrise in Santiago Bay

Awe-inspiring colors at dawn.

Mid-March, 2013 – We left the little cove of Las Hadas in Manzanillo and went around the corner to lovely Santiago Bay where we anchored of Playa La Boquita. Almost every morning we stayed in this bay we were treated to a divine art exhibition in the sky as the gods painted the heavens in brilliant shades.

Sunrise in Santiago Bay Manzanillo

Every day the patterns were different.

Sunrise Manzanillo Bay (Santiago)

Some days we just got a hint of color…

Sunrise Santiago Bay Manzanillo

Other days the colors filled the sky.




Sometimes the morning mural covered the entire sky, and sometimes it was just a pinpoint of color with reflections in the water.

Eager to watch the celestial drama, we bounded out of bed each morning absolutely thrilled to see the sky awash with yellows and oranges and pinks and reds.

Sunrise Santiago Bay Mexico

Even with blurry, sleepy vision, sunrise was worth getting out of bed for…!

Sunrise Santiago Bay Manzanillo

These were heavenly moments.



Each day’s heavenly artwork was completely different than that of the previous day, and seeing the wildly varying patterns of color was a wonderful reminder that each day we live is utterly unique, starting with the texture and color of morning’s earliest moments.



In Santiago Bay, Playa La Boquita is at one end of a very long and wide beach, and there is always lots of activity on this beach.

kid flies a kite on Santiago Beach

Afternoons on Playa La Boquita are perfect for flying kites.

Playa La Boquita Santiago Bay Manzanillo

Playa La Boquita is a beautiful, big, wide beach.










Little kids played by the water’s edge and a variety of vendors wandered past with carts full of all kinds of goodies.

Santiago Bay beach vendor cart

This girl sure was cute, but I don’t think she could get the cart to go anywhere!

Playa la Boquita beach vendor cart

What a cool thatched roof!

Mark liked the thatched roof on this one vendor’s cart, and I liked the little girl riding it in the back!









beach toy cart Santiago Bay

Skip shopping ahead of time and get your beach toys right at the beach!

Another vendor had every imaginable blow-up beach and water toy for sale, plus enough pails and shovels to dig to China and build lots of sand castles too. No need to go to the toy store before hitting this beach!

La Boquita Beach Santiago Manzanillo

Shifting sands…

La Boquita Beach Santiago Manzanillo

Between the waves…











Mark enjoyed getting some artsy images of the sand and the water while I was drawn to a little bird standing up to his knees in the water and fishing between the rocks.

Sandpiper Playa La Boquita

This little guy blended right into the rocks.

Bridge La Boquita Beach Santiago Manzanillo

There’s a wonderful foot bridge that leads to some pretty resorts at the far west end of the beach.

One of the hallmarks of this beach for cruising sailors is the tuba player. From late morning until late evening the deep tones of a tuba can be heard throughout the anchorage.

tuba player playa la boquita santiago

A tuba player waits his turn.

Groovy at anchor Santiago Bay

The swell at Santiago isn’t too bad…


When we walked the beach we found the tuba player – and then discovered there was more than one of them!

Several small bands with tubas wandered up and down the beach performing for the vacationers.

They would politely wait for each other so each tuba band got a chance to perform without intruding on the others.



Waves at La Boquita Manzanillo

…some of the waves are quite sizeable!!

This is a beach that gets some nice surf. The waves come in sets. Each wave grows slightly larger than the last until there are one or two really big crashers. Then they grow smaller until the beach actually seems quite calm.

Invariably, as we walked this beach, I would suddenly see a huge green wave out of the corner of my eye followed by a beautiful band of white frothy spray and the sound of thunder as it smashed on the beach. I’d grab my camera excitedly, but, of course, that would have been the big wave of the set.  I’d have to wait another five or ten minutes for the next photo-worthy one.

Club Santiago Homes La Boquita Beach Manzanillo

The beach villas in Club Santiago are lovely

Club Santiago Homes La Boquita Beach Manzanillo

I love the stone walls, the flowers and the palms.

But then I’d forget all about the waves and become intrigued by something else. The camera would be turned off and dangling on my hip. And then, suddenly, there it would be again: the bright green underbelly of a huge wave looming up and rolling over so beautifully. I’d grab my camera again, but it would be too late. I would have missed it once again!

Dinghy parking La Boquita Beach

Dinghy parking on the beach.

Club Santiago Walking Paths Manzanillo

The walking paths in Club Santiago inviting too.








bottlebrush flower

Mark discovers a bottlebrush tree in bloom.

Getting a dinghy safely on the beach requires watching these wave sets too, but it’s not too bad a dinghy landing here.

tropical flower

Not sure what this flower is…

There’s a kind of designated parking area on the beach for the dinghies, complete with a rope you can tie your dinghy to so it doesn’t float off if the tide comes in while you’re away!!

Oasis bar club santiago mexico

The Oasis, a cruiser hangout.

The homes along this beach are beautiful. We wandered into the neighborhood of Club Santiago which fills this end of the beach.

The palm tree-lined paths and backs of all the homes were just as lovely as the fronts of them along the beach.

Life is Groovy

Life is groovy.

Some of the landscaping is very pretty, and Mark found some bottle-brush flowers and another exotic tropical flower that we weren’t sure what it was.

Back on the beach, we stopped at the Oasis Bar, a favorite cruiser hangout where you can enjoy a brewski in a lounge chair under an umbrella while watching your boat bobbing in the bay.

beach chairs club santiago manzanillo

Welcome to Santiago Bay!!

This was pretty good living here in the Manzanillo area. The days slipped by quickly, and before we knew it almost a week had passed.

We probably would have stayed even longer, but the crazy thing in Manzanillo is that the air quality suffers from the soot produced by the nearby coal-fired power plant.  After a few days, poor old Groovy was grey. Fortunately, the plant is in the process of being converted to natural gas, so the air in all of the Manzanillo area will be much cleaner in the future.

But we needed to give the decks a bath, so we hauled up the anchor and moved up the coast about 25 miles, setting our sights on the tiny cove at Cuastecomate.

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Costalegre: Manzanillo’s Las Hadas Resort – The Med in Mexico

sailing blog Zihuatanejo pangas on the beach

Pangas on the beach in Zihuatanejo.

Early March, 2013 – We were loving Zihuatanejo‘s wonderful, relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, and we took many leisurely strolls along the waterfront. It was impossible to walk anywhere without snapping a few pics.

One afternoon a couple on inflatable kayaks paddled out to Groovy and we discovered they were future cruisers who were outfitting their Catalina 34 Aussie Rules for a voyage from Vancouver Island through Mexico to Australia two years from now.

sailing blog Zihuatanejo palm trees and pangas

Palm trees lean out over the beach.

We remember being in their shoes in San Diego and the Caribbean a few years back, longing to meet active cruisers who could tell us what the lifestyle was like.  We welcomed Rose and Dave aboard, gave them a quick tour and had a lively conversation about cruising.

sail blog sailing groovy with friends

“Aussie Rules” captain Dave steers Groovy on a windy romp.

Dave is an Aussie who grew up sailing Down Under, and he and Rose fell in love when the two of them were fierce rivals in the sailboat racing circuit on Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. We could tell they were both itching to get out for a sail to cap off their Zihuatanejo vacation, so we invited them back to Groovy for a daysail with us a few days later.

sailing blog Crepuscular rays outside Zihuatanejo

Sunrays spray the sea from the clouds.

The wind gods showed up on cue and gave us a wonderful, brisk ride. Dave was completely in his element as Groovy leaned into the waves, and he was ear-to-ear smiles at the helm. We are looking forward to following their voyage in a few years!!

It was time for our own voyage to continue, however, so after seeing them off, we pointed the bow north from Isla Ixtapa and made our way to Manzanillo 29 hours (190 miles) away. On the morning of our departure we sailed under beautiful, brooding clouds and sun rays.

sailing blog Lazaro Cardenas see from the sea

Lazaro Cardenas is one big industrial port!

mexico cruising blog sunset at sea

The sun sets off the bow of Groovy on our way to Manzanillo.

The huge oil refinery at Lázaro Cardenas made quite an impressive sight as we slipped past a mile offshore.

Happy to put all that industry behind us, we watched a colorful sunset off our bow and settled in for one of our last overnight sails for the season.

A recent armed robbery aboard an anchored cruising catamaran in Caleta de Campos (halfway between Zihuatanejo and Manzanillo) made us cautious as we snuck past in the night.  We detoured slightly further out to sea and passed without mishap.

mexico sailing blog sunset at sea

The sun goes down in a burst of color.

This had been the first incident of its kind that we know of in Mexico, and it is being taken very seriously by the authorities. The catamaran’s owners were seasoned Mexico cruisers and were known for their fun Playboy antics at the Baja Ha-Ha cruisers rally in 2010 (near top of page). In contrast, armed attacks on cruisers are quite common in many Caribbean countries.

mexico cruising blog sunrise at sea

The sun sneaks above the horizon behind us and Mark pops up to say “hi”

Next morning we caught the sunrise at about the same position on the horizon as the previous night’s sunset, but this time at the other end of the boat! As you can see, along this stretch of coast the direction of travel is predominantly east-west.

When we finally pulled into the sweet anchorage in front of the Las Hadas resort, it was like being given a second sunrise for the day.

Las Hadas is unique and utterly charming. Filled with fairy-tale turrets and gargoyles, arches and palm trees, it was a pleasure to sit in the cockpit and take in the view while Groovy gently swung this way and that.

sailing blog Las Hadas Resort manzanillo mexico

Las Hadas (“The Fairies”) Resort – right out of a fairy tale.


The cove is very small, and condos and villas cover the hillsides, hugging the anchored boats in a close embrace.

The white-washed architecture, bright green palm trees and true blue sky combine to make a beautiful backdrop.  What’s best is that all the properties that flank one side of the anchorage are filled with vibrant magenta bougainvillea flowers.

sailing blog Las Hadas anchorage manzanillo mexico

Our boats seem to be anchored in a flower garden.



Standing out on the breakwater on the opposite side and looking back across the tiny cove, it seemed as though all our boats were anchored in a brilliant garden of palm trees and pink flowers.

Even though we have been here several times before, each time we arrive we are enchanted once again.  The colors are so vivid, the buildings are so fanciful and the whole area is so lovingly maintained.

sail blog las hadas resort anchorage manzanillo mexico

This tiny cove is such a picturesque spot to drop the hook for a while.

sail blog Las Hadas Resort manzanillo mexico

Curvy palms.

sail blog Las Hadas Resort rope bridge manzanillo mexico

A wonderful rope bridge crosses between the pools.

sail blog Las Hadas Resort pools manzanillo mexico

What a spot!

sail blog las hadas resort arches manzanillo mexico

Double arches and cobblestones – such fanciful architecture.



















We wandered happily all over the resort, as excited to be walking its little cobbled paths today as we were the first time three years earlier.

sail blog las hadas arches manzanillo mexico

Arches everywhere…

Las Hadas palms manzanillo mexico

The pretty archways, royal blue swimming pools and soaring palm trees inspire the imagination.

sail blog sailboat wreck las hadas manzanillo

A fallen comarade – we never got the full story behind this odd sight.

sail blog Las Hadas Resort architecture manzanillo mexico

Private pools and cabanas and courtyards everywhere…








Out on the pier we found a toppled over sailboat with broken rigging that was in dire need of a bottom job. It was unclear how it came to be lying there. It looked very forlorn, with tall grasses growing around it.

A mystical air envelops this whole resort, and there is an element of fantasy to it all. The architecture is truly whimsical, with towers, sculptures, curving stone paths, and rotundas at every turn.

We needed to get through the resort to the main road to do some errands, but it was hard not to get sidetracked and wander off down all the inviting little pathways.

sail blog Las Hadas anchorage

First light in Las Hadas…


One morning we hustled ashore before the sun had risen to try to capture the Mediterranean looking cascade of villas in the morning light. We climbed high on the hill on the opposite side and found a tiny peek-a-boo lookout through some chainlink construction fencing where we could catch the view.

cruising blog Stone stairway las hadas

An intriguing stone stairway.

While we were in Manzanillo we began experimenting with various post-processing photo techniques. Mark downloaded PhotoMatix which creates intriguing effects. First you take three identical photos at different exposure settings and then you feed them through this software which takes the most vivid colors from each image and creates a composite merged “painting.”

cruising blog las hadas docks HDR

Down on the docks – PhotoMatix software.

Another technique is Nikon’s “color sketch,” a menu option within the camera that takes a photo and creates a colored sketch from it.

cruising blog Las Hadas docks color sketch

Down on the docks
Nikon’s “color sketch” button.

cruising blog Colorful clay bowls mexico

Mark found a vendor selling colorful clay bowls.







cruising blog Bronze sculpture Las Hadas

Las Hadas has some interesting art work and sculptures.

This was all great artsy fun, and we were loving our walks around this stunning little oasis. Every way we turned there was another beautiful image that begged for attention.

cruising blog sailboat at anchor las hadas manzanillo mexico

Groovy turns heads – ours at least!!

Unusual sculptures and accent pieces caught Mark’s eye, and then he was drawn to the colorful clay bowls sold by a pottery vendor on a folding table.

Meanwhile I wandered down to the beach and took portraits of the Groovy boat framed by palm fronds.

It was hard to call an end to all this, but we finally hauled up the anchor and made our way around the corner to Santiago Bay where every morning was kick-started with a spectacular sunrise.

Note: to see the location of Zihuatanejo and Manzanillo on a map, check the first image on Mexico Maps and another halfway down that page.



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Acapulco to Huatulco – A Disturbing Passage

Acapulco - kids chanting on a Corona boat in Puerto Marques

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

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

The "Barrido Marino" sea sweepers take used

motor oil and household trash too!

Acapulco is Nahuatl for

Acapulco is Nahuatl for "Place of Reeds"

Sea horse on Groovy's anchor chain.

Sea horse on our anchor chain.

We leave Acapulco before sunrise.


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

Eerie silhouette on the rising sun.

We check our position on the paper nautical charts.

Mark checks our position on the

paper charts.

Overnight sailing on Groovy between Acapulco and Huatulco

The sun sets into a moonless night at sea.

Leaping dolphins say hello

Dolphins greet us with great


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

Puerto Angel is cute but too crowded.

Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, Mexico

Puerto Angel lighthouse.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Our two boats in Jicaral Cove, Bahías

de Huatulco.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Jicaral Cove.

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

We share Jicaral cove with Osprey and Turkey Vultures.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

This place is teeming with coral.

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

Neighboring Playa de San Agustín

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

Clear water and fun palapas at San


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

Snorkelers at San Agustín

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

Bahía de San Agustín has unusual rock


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

Life's a Beach.

Cruise Ship Statandem at Huatulco harbor, Mexico

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

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

View of Santa Cruz from the water.

Views looking towards Huatulco.

Low buildings hug the shore against a mountainous backdrop.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco.

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

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

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

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Catamarans take advantage of the

afternoon breezes in Tangolunda.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

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

Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Late January, 2012 - Our pretty little spot in Puerto

Marques on the outskirts of Acapulco Bay came to life

one evening when a boatload of young Mexicans

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

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

tour, and suddenly they started waving and chanting

what sounded like a team cheer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

unhitched and fell back into the depths.

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

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

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

evenings we heard the creaking and scraping noises of equipment being

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

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

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

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

much nature this close to a major city.

When we were finally ready to

leave Acapulco, we left in the pitch

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

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

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

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

broomstick flying across the sun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We had heard a news report before leaving

Acapulco that the world was going to be

bombarded by extraneous solar radiation from a

large solar storm, and that it could potentially

affect GPS satellites.  That got us busy with the

paper charts, parallel rulers and dividers, making

sure we knew exactly where we were at all times

throughout the night, just in case the satellite

giving us our GPS position quit working.  Another

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

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

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

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

come to cheer us up.

Near 11:00 in the morning we spotted a Mexican

Navy ship on the horizon.  We leapt back on the

radio and hailed them in English and Spanish again.

No sooner had we reported what we had seen, than

the ship was at our side.  Those Navy boats can

really move.

They tied alongside us and their young captain came

aboard Groovy.  Stepping between the boats was not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acapulco and found it pretty but overcrowded with moored pangas.

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

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

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

rewarded with stunning natural beauty and peace.  Gradually the

disturbing emotions from our overnight sail began to fade away.

Last year while researching  Huatulco I had come across an

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

in love with and nicknamed "Osprey Cove" because he

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

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

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

first night there.

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

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

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

reef every few hours.

The Bays of Huatulco sit

next to the infamous Golfo

de Tehuantepec, a vicious

200 mile stretch of water

whose mood swings make

the Sea of Cortez look

positively unflappable.

Every week or so in the

winter north winds from the

Gulf of Mexico between

Texas and Mexico

accelerate south across the

narrowest portion of the

Mexican mainland, and

race off into the ocean at

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

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

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

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

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

glorious, peaceful days exploring Jicaral cove.

The ospreys for whom the

earlier cruisers named this

place "Osprey Cove" were still

here, along with a group of

turkey vultures.

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

had seen only once before in Los Muertos on the

southeastern tip of the Baja peninsula.

We kayaked around the corner into Bahía de San

Agustín (also known as Puerto Sacrificios) and

discovered a long curving beach backed by unusual

boulders at one end and a cluster of lively beach

palapa bars and boutique shops at the other.

We wandered along the beach and

marveled at the calm beauty.  This is a

magical place.

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

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

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

strong afternoon winds that we nearly missed the entrance to

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

ship Statendam parked there that got us back on course.

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

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

Canal transit as the centerfold stop.

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

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

several anchoring options.

Huatulco is an official tourist

development created in 1986

by Fonatur, Mexico's

government tourism agency

that brought the world Cancun

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

Sea of Cortez and Nayarit near Puerto Vallarta.

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

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

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

park with boat-in access only.

Bahía Tangolunda

hosts the requisite

tourist banana boats

and jet-skis, but

several catamarans

dominated the

breezy bay most


One afternoon we

watched a wedding

in progress just off

the end of our boat.

What a spot to get


This first week in

Huatulco was just

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

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

and leaving Huatulco any time soon, especially since the

intimidating Gulf of the Tehuantepec lies just around the corner.

Find Huatulco on Mexico Maps.

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast

to see more cruising posts from this area!






















































































































Acapulco – A Faded Lady

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

Orcas play near Groovy.

A shrimper outside Papanoa, Mexico.

Shrimper or bird taxi?

Papanoa, a shrimping village in Mexico.


Sunrise over Groovy's bow.

Sunrise begins over our bow.

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

Acapulco's mountains in the distance.

Villas and hotels line Boca Chica Channel.

Villas perch atop cliffs on Boca Chica Channel.

Racing yachts barrel down Boca Chica Channel.

Sailboats race towards us.

Highrises on Acapulco's main beach.

Acapulco's main beach.

Two boats almost crash in a race in Acapulco.

Tight maneuvering.

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

Downwind spinnaker run.


The "fake" lighthouse at La Marina.

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

The Yacht Club grounds.

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

Club de Yates de Acapulco.

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

Racing yachts waiting for the next race.

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

Waterfront near the yacht club.

Looking across Acapulco's inner harbor.

Looking across Acapulco's inner harbor.

Puffer and angel fish at the Acapulco marina docks.

Puffer and angel fish at the docks.

Puffer and angel fish at the Acapulco marina docks.

I took these from above water.

Wonderful daysailing in Acapulco Bay.

Wonderful daysailing in Acapulco Bay.

Acapulco highrises on the beach.

A few of the many highrises on the beach.

Navy warships and a tall ship in Acapulco Bay.

Navy warships and a tall ship.

Acapulco has several picturesque anchorages.

Acapulco has several picturesque


Vacation homes overlooking Puerto Marques outside Acapulco Bay.

Vacation homes overlooking Puerto Marques.

A little bronze mermaid in Puerto Marques.

A little mermaid near our


Camino Real, Puerto Marques, Acapulco Mexico

The lightly visited resort where we anchored in Puerto Marques.

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

"Barrido Marino" - the "Sea Sweepers"

Blue and white VW bug taxis in Acapulco

These cheap little taxis are everywhere.

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

The rock cliffs of La Quebrada.

Cliff Diver Alejandro scales the rocks in La Quebrada.

Cliff Diver Alejandro scales the rocks.

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

Alejandro (left) and Aurelio (right)

Acapulco's cathedral.

Acapulco's cathedral.

Acapulco's cathedral.

A peek inside...

The Zócalo has amazing trees.

Acapulco's town beach.

Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico

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

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

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

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

playing in the water.

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

shrimpers trolling the depths as we approached the harbor.

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

The frigate birds took most of one boom and the seagulls

spread out on the others.

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

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

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

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

tied to a piling.

Acapulco is another 75 miles

south of Papanoa, which

required us to get a pre-

dawn start.  We were now

traveling more east than

south and we watched the

sky lighten ahead of us until

the sun rose over our bow.

Acapulco has a mixed reputation these days,

and we weren't sure what to expect when we

arrived.  Our first glimpse of this legendary port

had us grinning excitedly, however, and set the

tone for a fantastic stay.  We decided to enter

Acapulco's expansive bay through its narrow

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

rather than through the main entrance further

east called "Boca Grande."  We slowed way

down as the rock walls rose to wonderful

heights on either side of us in the channel.

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

The towering cliffs were

covered with fancy homes,

hotels and highrises.

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

vast beach suddenly came into view.  Our eyes widened in

amazement.  The beach was backed by an endless stretch

of highrise buildings, and the hillsides were littered with

homes and communities that rose in waves towards the

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

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

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

small beach on Isla de la Roqueta.

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

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

the Sunday crowd was swimming, snorkeling and imbibing at the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

furiously turning winch

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

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

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

new tack.

These guys are really good at this stuff

and they do it all the time, so when

one boat looked like it was about to T-

bone another and Mark said, "They're

gonna hit!" I said, "Nahhh…"  Then we

both heard a loud CRUNCH and the

sound of very expensive boat parts

grating against each other.  Seconds

later the lead boat dropped its sails

and turned around to head home.  I'm

not sure if they were disqualified or

had sustained too much damage to

continue, but none of the other boats

paused for one second!

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

another breezed past Groovy in the opposite direction, their

colorful spinnakers flying.  As each boat slowly vanished

into the horizon of skyscrapers our hearts gradually

stopped pounding.  What excitement, and what a


By sunset our little anchorage had whittled down to just

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

Las Gatas Beach in Zihuatanejo, this place is heavily

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

snorkelers during the afternoons, but by dusk it is

deserted and is an ideal, remote tropical anchorage with

no swell.  We slept like babies that night.

The heart of the Acapulco yachting scene is the "Club

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

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

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

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

accommodate visitors, but it isn't yet finished.

We wandered into the Club de Yates and found all

the beautiful racing boats we had watched sailing

the day before already lifted out of the water and

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

found out that hauling our boat would cost nearly

$600 US.  Imagine having to fork that over every

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

place where money is no object.  The captain of a

megayacht parked at an end-tie told us his owner

likes to zip from place to place burning a cool 180

gallons per hour at top speed.  He laughed out loud

when we told him we needed to top off our 66

gallon fuel tank sometime during our stay here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

swimming pool too.

The Acapulco Yacht Club exudes that noble air that wafts over

exclusive yacht clubs worldwide, and the whole place is dripping

with wonderfully elegant nautical decor.  Trophies fill the trophy

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

names of local champions and legendery yachts are engraved

on beautiful plaques, and ancient bronze binnacles and helms

stand like museum pieces in the corners.

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

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

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

the front for less that $10 US.

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

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

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

swimming just below the surface.

When we travel from place to place we always hope

to sail but usually end up motoring most of the way

because the winds are so light along Mexico's

mainland coast.  However, Acapulco Bay is a terrific

spot for day sailing, and after watching the races the

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

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

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

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

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

Other cruisers had found pretty anchorages

along the outskirts of this big bay, and as the

days of our stay wore on we

noticed that they weren't in a

hurry to leave Acapulco either,

obviously enjoying their time

here as well.

We left the inner harbor for

Puerto Marques, a small outer

bay, where we spent five

delightful nights.  Billed in the

cruising guide as being open to

ocean swell, we got lucky and

enjoyed peaceful quiet nights

ancchored alongside a row of

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

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

new construction inexplicably seemed to be continuing.

Every day the bartender would arrive at the cute

dockside bar and serve perhaps one or two guests.

Every night the restaurant tables would be set and the

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

four couples.

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

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

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

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

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

the entire bay every day with nets to retrieve floating trash

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

project is underway with barges and cranes to install what

looks like a new pier or perhaps a marina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

wait to see them in action.

The cove is a spectacular craggy

coast of rugged peaks and

crashing surf, and the entire area

has been built up to show off the

divers.  Elvis Presley's 1963 movie

Fun in Acapulco was filmed here

(this is a fun link too).

Restaurants overlook the diving gorge and trinket shops offer free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crowd above, they then free

climb the enormous cliffs on

the far side all the way to the

top.  One young diver,

Alejandro, impressed us immensely

with his catlike agility as he zipped up

the cliff like Spiderman.

Once at the top, the divers each

offered a quick prayer to the Virgin of

Guadalupe, touched the shrine, or

even kissed the statue inside, and then

turned and waved to the crowd.  One

by one they then took a position

somewhere near the top of the cliff

and, when the waves were right 125

feet below, launched themselves into

spectacular dives.

Alejandro warmed up for quite some

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

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

into the frothing water below.

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

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

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

Afterwards the divers mingled

with the crowd, happily posing

for photos with fans.

We were on such a high after

this that we nearly skipped

down the hill towards the

cathedral in the old town

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

crowded city, but there was something in the

earthy smells, the crush of people and the

sweat dripping down our temples and backs

that made it all very exciting.

A group of nuns emerged from the 1930's era

cathedral just as we approached, and the doors

were thrown wide for a peek inside.

Opposite the cathedral was a large, darkly

shaded city park filled with enormous trees

that have odd twisted trunks and roots.

Crabby old ladies sitting next to flowers

they were selling waved us off with nasty

frowns when we took photos of their

flowers.  People sat on park benches

eating snacks or reading the paper.

Tourists and shoppers mingled in between.

Vendors sold everything everywhere and music pumped so loudly

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

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

shirts and numbered badges darted out from the crowd to help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scottsdale, Arizona neighborhood.  The anchorages on the fringes

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

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

Marques we headed down the coast to Huatulco.

Find Acapulco on Mexico Maps

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

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

Santa rides a Hammerhead Shark.

Las Gatas Beach Christmas.

Christmas tables set out on Las Gatas Beach.

Mexican Santa in Zihuatanejo.

Santa in a Mexican


Alvin and the Chipmunks movie poster in Z-town.

Alvin and the Chipmunks

movie poster.

Las Gatas Beach, Christmas Day.

Las Gatas Beach on Christmas Day.

Christmas music on Las Gatas Beach.

A Christmas serenade on Las Gatas Beach.

Bongo players on Las Gatas Beach, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Cool bongo players.

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

Zihuatanejo's "Parthenon."

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



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

Driveway leading to the Parthenon's gate.

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

The center of this mammoth gate housed vicious guard dogs.

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

Elegant parking area outside the gate.

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

Durazo loved ancient ornamentation.

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

The columned facade pokes out between the weeds.

Entering Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Wow - we get to go in!

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

The cage for the guard dogs...

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

The cage for the tigers.

Approaching Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Approaching the Parthenon.

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

Statues fill the yard.

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

The Parthenon's entrance.

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

Looking through the front door.

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

Lifesize sculptures line the foyer.

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

The view from the foyer.

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

Staircase to the second floor.


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

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

Views of Zihuatanejo Bay.

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

Mirrors on the walls and ceiling of an upstairs bedroom.

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

Bat guano covers the jacuzzi tub in the master suite.

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

Marble-topped bar outside the library downstairs.

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

Marble dining table, murals and columns outside the kitchen.

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

View from the top steps of the Parthenon.

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

Looking back up at the mansion.

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

The pool bar.

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

Would you like a cerveza or a Margarita?

Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Arturo Durazo's Parthenon.

Arturo Durazo's "Parthenon" of Zihuatanejo, Mexico

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

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

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

were packed to overflowing with vacationers whooping it up.

A few days later, around the

corner in Zihuatanejo, we

found Christmas festivities

were revving up with just as

much enthusiasm.  All the

waterfront restaurants were

decked out for the holidays,

and Christmas movies were

playing at the little cinema.

Zihuatanejo Bay is a mile-

wide bay surrounded by four beaches with lots

of options for anchoring.  Last year we stayed

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

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

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

Gatas where the water is cleaner.

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

but this year our Christmas came in lovely shades of blue

water, blue sky and green palm trees.  We

kayaked through throngs of people playing in

the ocean, and as we swam it felt much more

like July than December.

We hung out on Las Gatas beach all day

long on Christmas day and watched families

playing on the beach.  Musicians wandered

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

These guys hike over a challenging rock path

from the larger La Ropa beach half a mile

away.  They carry whatever it is they play,

from guitars to drums to huge double

basses, as they walk on the precarious

rocks.  Two of the most intriguing musicians

were a couple banging on bongos and

singing Caribbean sounding tunes.  They

were from the nearest major inland city, Morelia.

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

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

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

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

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

cloaked in a dark, mysterious history.

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

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

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

ordered it built with hidden doors leading to secret tunnels that

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

Totally tantalized, we decided to go check it out.

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

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

road of crumbling concrete lined with ornate streetlights buried in

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


Suddenly the heavy canopy of trees above us opened up and

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

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

gate had been stolen from the Chapultepec castle in Mexico

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

impressive man fully capable of such things.

When his boyhood friend José López Portillo became

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

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

turned to loyal Durazo for his own personal security.  He

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

knowing that he had been under investigation in the US for

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

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

During his six year tenure Durazo turned the police force into

a racketeering empire.

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

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

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

children's fairytale.

We peered around the

edge of the huge gate and

could just glimpse part of

the mansion's columned

facade.  Until recently, this

property was owned by the

city of Zihuatanejo.  Unlike

the city leaders of El

Ajusco, home to Durazo's

other outrageous mansion

that was built at the same

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly the guy who had been sweeping the stone flooring

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

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

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

has any kind of official relationship with the abandoned

property, but he seems to have appointed himself the

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

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

a large Mexican family arrived shortly after us, and their

visiting cousin from San Diego provided us with

translations when we couldn't grasp the nuances of what

our guide said.

Just inside the gate we had a close-up

look at the cage that housed Durazo's

ferocious guard dogs.  Durazo built his

empire on intimidation, and large

growling dogs were just the first stage of

welcome he offered to his arriving guests.

Next to the dog cage was the tiger cage.

We stepped inside.  In its now decrepit

state fantastic roots have crept under the

walls to cover the floor, looking like a

snarled tangle of snakes.  On the far side

of the yard was the crocodile pit.

A driveway leads up to the mansion, passing

several Romanesque stone sculptures on the

way.  When the statues were set in beautifully

landscaped grounds, this must have been a

dramatic entrance, but now the brown

vegetation and decaying sculptures give the

place an eerie air.

Much of Durazo's fortune was made from

bribes paid by the rank-and-file police officers

under his command.  He also used them as

his personal construction labor force to build

both the Parthenon and his country estate

outside of Mexico City.

He was admired worldwide for lowering

the crime rate in Mexico City and was

even honored with a prestigious award

in the Soviet Union for doing so.  But his

methods were discovered to be beyond

brutal when the tortured bodies of 12

twelve Columbians suspected of bank

robbery turned up in a river.

An investigation into his practices began which ultimately

revealed his elaborate pyramid scheme of bribes and payoffs.

Entering this palatial building is like stepping into another world.

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

of me that I almost missed the six recessed marble sculptures

lining the walls on either side of us.

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

temperate climate.  Two rows of massive columns soar upwards

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

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

of Zihuatanejo Bay beyond.

The view is spectacular

from the ground floor,

but we knew it would be

even better from the

balcony upstairs.

Looking down at this wide marble "porch" it was

easy to imagine sumptuous parties filling the

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

dining table stands to one side, backed by yet

more columns and an expansive mural.

All the bedrooms are upstairs, and each one has

windows onto this porch that could be left open to

the fresh air or closed during bad weather.  At

one time the bedroom ceilings were lined with

ornate mirrors, and the walls were covered with

painted murals and more mirrors.

This design gives each bedroom either privacy or

an open window to the lovely columned sea-

breeze room below.  Now, however, groups of

bats hang from the ceilings in the corners of every

bedroom, bathroom

and closet in the

house.  As we

entered each room

we heard a flurry of

bat wings as they

woke up and flew

off.  Bat guano

covered every floor

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

sold, but now it seems the building was eventually stripped

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

floors.  Electrical outlets are missing, chandeliers have

disappeared, and all that remains in the kitchen is some

broken wooden lower cabinets.  Anything that could be pried

off, detached, unscrewed or removed has been taken.

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

lined, once elegant library.

You have to use your imagination a bit to picture what

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

From 1976 to 1982 Durazo held his police chief post

and built his empire of corruption.  He extorted money

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

the arrival of a new presidential administration whose

campaign theme was Moral Renewal, Durazo fled.

An international manhunt ensued, and after charging him

in absentia with racketeering, Mexican and US authorities

tracked him down to Costa Rica in 1984 and brought him

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

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

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

charges ranging from corruption to extortion, tax evasion,

smuggling, drug kickbacks and possession of illegal

weapons.  He was released after less than eight years in

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

final days in Acapulco, redeeming himself a bit by working

with recovering alcoholics.  He died of cancer in 2000.

In the mid-1980's

Durazo's chief

bodyguard José González wrote a

runaway bestseller about his evil

boss entitled "Lo Negro del 'Negro'

Durazo" or "The Black of 'the Black

One,' Durazo."  A movie quickly

followed.  Never allowing himself to

be out maneuvered, Durazo won a

defamation lawsuit against his

former aide from behind prison


Stepping out from the vast patio I

stood at the top of a grand stone

staircase that leads down to a

swimming pool and spacious pool bar.

The stagnant brown water in the pool

had been there for years, but it was

easy to imagine delicious days of

relaxing poolside next to the

ornately columned rotunda bar as

all of Zihuatanejo Bay stretched

towards the horizon in the


Returning to the main building our

guide led us down into the

basement where he thumped on a

large section of the floor to show

that it was hollow.  He pointed to

irregularities in the flooring where it

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

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

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

used it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

until mid-January.

Find Zihuatanejo on Mexico Maps

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PV: Paradise Village – The Lap of Luxury

Two of Carlos Slim's three megayachts, "Tulley" and "Ostar," at Marina de La Paz.

Mariachis cap a perfect evening.

Waiting out a Norther in Bahía Falsa.

Clipped in while crossing the Sea of Cortez.

Coconut palms!

Banana trees!

Wendy grinds his yummy

French Roast.

Welcome to Paradise.

One of the swimming pools.

Eggs Benedict or Huevos Rancheros?

Grady the Cockatoo says "¡Hola!"

Tiger mom.

The Welcome Event was a colorful spectacle.

Future Flamenco dancers.

Baja Ha-Ha mothership Profligate

Crocodile Zone!

Iguana sunning himself.

Wild coatimundi in the grass near a bus stop.

Beach chairs at Paradise Village.

Paradise Village.

Playing in the surf.

Cartwheels: the essence of

little girlhood on the beach.

A snowy egret high-steps it out of

the waves.

Vallarta Yacht Club.

Bougainvillea on the docks.

This place gets a grip on you.

Paradise Village

Late November/Early December, 2011 - We returned to La Paz from

the nearby anchorages to find ourselves suddenly caught up in the

lives of the rich and famous.  Two megayachts were parked at Marina

de La Paz: the 140' Tulley and the 182' Ostar. Both belong to the

world's richest man, Carlos Slim (his other 200+ foot megayacht is in

the Caribbean!).  Excitement filled the air the day Carlos arrived.

"Which one is he?" I asked as the entourage appeared.  "The one with

the sunglasses." "But they all have sunglasses!"

A friend of ours is the captain of a neighboring megayacht, and he

invited us to his birthday party along with his buddy, the captain of

Ostar and his wife (who is also a captain but is currently enjoying the

high life on Ostar instead).  Wow.  How often do you get to peak in the

door of the world of the ultra rich?  The stories these captains could

tell -- but can't due to contracts they've signed!  The wine flowed, the

food was divine and above it all the music of the mariachi singers soared.

Out in Bahía Falsa a few days later, Mark played mellower tunes on his

guitar as we waited out a series of Northers that were blasting down the

Sea of Cortez.  This was the ideal location to sit out these vicious storms.

We had tolerable winds and flat seas in our safe little nook, but the radio

crackled with chatter as one unattended boat dragged into another back in

the main La Paz anchorage.  Helpful cruisers around the anchorage

located the owner of one of the boats in the US and relayed messages

from him to get the combination to the padlock, the location of the ignition

key, and the location of the battery switch for the anchor windlass.

It pays to wait for

a good weather

window when

crossing the Sea

of Cortez, and

we got the perfect slot.  We romped along close-hauled for 15 hours

at a blistering 7.5 knots and we motor-sailed the rest of the way,

zipping from Los Frailes to La Cruz five hours faster than we'd

planned.  The seas were calm and the wind was warm on our faces,

and when we weren't on watch we each slept well.  What an

incredible contrast to last year's roller coaster ride from hell on these

same waters where the teapot took a nosedive right off the stove and

the waves bore down on us like frothing beasts hissing at us from

above.  Now we realize we crossed during a Norther last year.

The downside to our lickety-split speed was that it put us in port in the

wee hours of the morning in the pitch black.  Fortunately, we knew the

La Cruz anchorage from last spring, but the twelve mile approach was

littered with small fishing pangas.  Mark kept his eyes glued to what he

could see of the horizon through the binoculars while mine were glued to

the radar.  The pangas kept materializing out of nowhere.  They would

flash their flashlights at us frantically as we drew near and we'd flash

ours back to let them know we'd seen them.

We got the anchor down without a hitch,

43 hours after leaving Los Frailes, and

fell asleep almost before our heads hit

the pillow.  Next morning as we

wandered around La Cruz it slowly sank

in that we were no longer in desert of

Baja California any more.  We were in the lush, verdant, moist

tropics.  The palm trees sported coconuts and the bananas

were thick on the trees.

The most important stop for us in La Cruz was at Garleria

Huichol in Octopus's Garden where a Frenchman named

Wendy roasts the most delicious French Roast coffee.  We

stocked up and enjoyed a cup under the shade of a

cuastecomate tree.

The real reason we crossed the Sea to Banderas Bay (home of Puerto Vallarta) was to treat

ourselves to an early Christmas present with a stay at the incomparable Paradise Village

Marina.  It is just a few miles from La Cruz, and we waited until we were fully rested from our

crossing before we headed over so we could make the most of every minute of our stay.  As we

tied up at the dock a neighbor came over to greet us.  "Are you here for good?"  He asked.  I

hesitated, puzzled.  "Um, no, just five days… Are you here for good?"  "Oh yeah!"  Then we

discovered another neighbor had just signed up for his fifth year.  As soon as we started walking

around the resort we began to understand why these guys weren't leaving.  It's that nice.

Paradise Village is a huge complex of hotels, shops, villas, condos,

marina, golf course, beach, pools, spa and hot tubs located in Nuevo

Vallarta some 10 miles from downtown Puerto Vallarta.

The grounds are lavish, and lush, the dining areas are elegant, the

pools have a view of the expansive beach, and the spa can deliver

every possible body treatment you could dream of.

To keep the kids happy there is a building where vacationing

parents can drop them off for a day of supervised activities, and to

keep everyone happy there is a mall with all the favorite fast food

eateries from McDonalds to Starbucks.

After two months of living on the hook in a salty,

rolling home, I was dumbstruck when I went into the

women's showers in the spa and discovered a

candle-lit hot tub waiting for me.  And boy, was I

ever clean when I finally emerged!

In the mornings the eager joggers ran around the

extensive grounds and up and down the miles long

beach.  In the evenings couples strolled the paths hand in hand under the

stars.  A small flock of macaws and a cockatoo added a tropical note to the air

with their raucous cries, and a pair of tigers in the middle of it all nursed a pair

of month-old cubs, the latest two of 76 that have been raised at the resort.

When we checked into the marina we were told

there was a "Welcome Event" that night with free

food and drinks at the amphitheater.  What a

surprise to find rows of margaritas, piña coladas

and rum punches next to endless platters of finger

food and a huge crowd of vacationers taking seats

in front of an outdoor stage!

An emcee appeared and the colorful

show burst into action with all kinds

of dancing, audience participation

games and laughter.

We were treated to a special show

right in front of our seats as a little

girl and boy did their own dance


The marina has a cool layout

where all the boats are lined up

against the shoreline as it curves

along an estuary.

We took the kayak out one day

to explore the estuary a little

further, and were shocked to find

that our friends on Ostar had

followed us from La Paz and

parked at the end of the dock.

They must have liked our Groovy

travel plans.

Another boat in residence was

Profligate, the catamaran

mothership of the Baja Ha-Ha

cruising rally that takes boaters from

San Diego to Cabo San Lucas each fall.

Unfortunately its owners had returned

to the US and it was closed up tight.

Paddling down the estuary we passed many beautiful boats sitting out

in front of equally beautiful homes.  Eventually we passed under a

bridge and turned away from civilization into the crocodile zone.

We didn't see any crocodiles but there were lots of exotic birds in the

trees and quite a few iguanas sunning themselves.

Unusual animals seemed to be the theme at

Paradise Village.  Even when we took the city bus

to go provision at the supermarket we passed a

group of coatimundi scavenging in the grass.

So far we had explored only the

back side of the resort where the

boats and the estuary are.  Out

front is an enormous beach that

stretches to the horizon and

seems to go on forever.  Resorts

line the beach as far as the eye

can see, and each resort has a

collection of beach chairs and

thatch shade ramadas out front.

We took some wonderful, quiet

early morning walks along the sand.  Later each day the beach would

be hopping with vacationers catching rays and playing in the surf.

Canadians and

Americans weren't the

only snowbirds enjoying

the warm air and warm

water.  Several snowy

egrets were fishing along

the water's edge too.

The Vallarta Yacht Club

is an active social club

for all kinds of winter

residents, both boaters

and non-boaters alike.  Visitors to the marina can enjoy the

yacht club's amenities too, and one afternoon we strolled down

for a beer and some free wifi.  After an hour or so we noticed

the place was getting very busy.  A woman came over and

asked, "Are you new members?"

We explained we were

"temporary" members through the

marina.  She welcomed us warmly

and headed over to a large table

of delicious looking hors

d'oeuvres that had magically

appeared.  We followed her

example and loaded up a plate

full of delicious goodies.

The crowd kept getting bigger,

and then another woman

asked us if we were new

members.  "We must really

stand out!"  Mark chuckled.

Just then a fellow with a microphone stood up right next to our table and said to the crowd,

"I want to welcome all our new members to New Member Night!"  Suddenly we were in the

middle of a round of introductions and a microphone was thrust in my hand so I could

introduce Mark and myself to the group.  "Gosh,"  I said to all the grinning faces, "We just

came down here for a beer and to get our email -- and then the party showed up!"

Another day we ended up on a timeshare tour of the nearby

Villa del Palmar resort.  The freebies on offer were 1,300

pesos in cash ($100), a certificate for a week's stay at one

of their resorts for $249 when redeemed, and a one-week

pass to enjoy all the amenities of the resort here.   It's not

that we couldn't find enough to do at the resort we were

already staying at, but we'd seen the

sister resort of Villa del Palmar in

Ensenada Blanca in the Sea of Cortez and

we were intrigued.  A delicious gourmet

breakfast with a salesman, a resort tour

and an hour on the hot seat was all it took

to pocket our cool cash.  This cruising life

is paying off.

It was really hard to tear ourselves away from Paradise Village, and we

envied the cruisers who had tied their boats up there semi-permanently.

But the warm air that had blown us across the Sea of Cortez had turned

cool in the evenings and the water that had been 80 degrees at the

beginning of the week had suddenly dropped to 69.  It was time to go

south to Manzanillo Bay.

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Mazatlan Area: San Blas & Isla Isabel – Urban Agitation and Booby Joy

The ruined church on the hill that held

Longfellow's Bells of San Blas.

The "new" church that replaced the

church on the hill.

This newest church that replaced the "new" church

next door.

Every wife deserves a ride like this from

her hubby.

It was a crazy busy day in the

town square and we saw all

kinds of folks...

A mural depicts the town of San Blas.

The guys liked the cannons at the fort.

The Belle of the Ball preps for her

15th birthday.

A path over a ridge on Isla Isabel

led to a frigate bird rookery.

A frigate bird keeps an eye on me, his red pouch


A frigate bird chick huddles on its nest.

Two frigate bird eggs resemble

chicken eggs.

A pale headed & dark faced

brown booby on a cliff.

A dark headed brown booby

Booby chicks.

A blue footed booby!

Yep, those are blue feet.

The blue footed booby blocks the path

and tells me to go home.

A colorful snake winds around a

tree trunk.

The flock waits for handouts from the fishermen.

How we look after an overnight passage.

San Blas & Isla Isabel, Mexico

Early April, 2011 - We left the crowd of cruisers in La Cruz and eagerly looked forward to more quiet anchorages on our way

north to Mazatlán.  The winds were in our favor and we had two glorious days of sailing, stopping for an overnight at Isla Peña.

The second morning was sunny and warm with a light breeze, and the boat danced easily on its course.  We were both

somewhere out there in daydream land when suddenly we heard an enormous splash.  Leaping to our feet we watched a

humpback whale shoot straight up out of the water, turn, and fall crashing back down on its side.

When a much smaller whale tail flapped nearby, we realized this was a mother

with a baby.  A few moments later the whale surged out of the sea again, this

time doing a full twist before falling back into the depths.  A little ways away the

smaller tail waved again.

Our second night we stopped at Ensenada

Mantachén, a large bay that looked at first like an

ideal spot to spend a few days.

It is a short

bus ride from

the little community of Mantachén into the town

of San Blas, which is famous for inspiring

Longfellow's poem The Bells of San Blas.

Reading that wistful poem made us curious

about the ruined church on the hill whose once

clanging bells are now muted and "green with

mould and rust."  At one time they symbolized a

dark era of conquest, when Spain ruled and "the

world with faith was filled."  But now the bells

stand silent, reminding us of "an age that is

fading fast" while "the world rolls into light."

We walked through the ruins of the church on

the hill, and then explored the ruins of the "new"

church down in the town.  The new church has

been replaced by another even newer church

next door.  This newest church is where today's

faithful go to worship.

San Blas was very busy on the day of our visit.

Citizens, government officials and armed

soldiers filled the town square.  I asked several

people what was going on but didn't fully understand the

explanations.  I think it was some kind of survey of the local people to

determine their standard of living.  As tourists, we simply enjoyed

watching the scene.

Up on the hill by the old church

stands an old fort that we explored

with friends.  The cannons were fun

for the guys.  More fun for us gals

was seeing a young girl getting

photos taken for her "quinceañera,"

or 15th birthday.  This is a very

important milestone birthday for

Mexican girls, a kind of "coming

out," and it is celebrated with a

huge party and a fantastic prom


Many small towns exude charm and make visitors feel welcome and

safe, but San Blas is not that way.  As one fellow cruiser put it, "I wouldn't go out after dark

here."  At the beach palapa restaurant in Mantachén the owner even wore a sidearm.  We

had been put on guard immediately upon arrival at the Matanchén anchorage when a group

of cruisers pulled alongside our boat in their dinghy and said, "Make sure you lock your

outboard at night.  There have been some outboard and dinghy thefts in the last few

weeks."  We put cable locks on everything on deck but slept fitfully.  Mark bolted out of bed

at 2:30 a.m. when he heard people on a panga nearby tapping on the panga's hull.  They

appeared to be fishing, so he went back to sleep.  Next morning our friends discovered their

Mercury 9.9 hp outboard had been stolen.  They had raised their dinghy in its davits so it

was 6 feet off the water, but they hadn't locked the outboard.  It seemed to us that this theft

had been carefully orchestrated and must have involved more than one person.

We had planned the next day to go on an estuary tour that many other visitors to the area

have raved about, but we had a sour taste in our mouths after that episode and we left right


Isla Isabel waited peacefully on the horizon for us, just 50 or so miles away to the north.  No

sooner had we dropped the hook than the couple on the neighboring sailboat swung by and

invited us to go ashore with them.  Stepping out of the dink onto the beach we found

ourselves in the middle of a fish camp.  A row of pangas sat on the beach in front of a row

of shacks, and piles of fishing nets filled the space in between.

A friendly fisherman guided us to a

path that goes to the interior of the

island, and after climbing up and

over a ridge we found ourselves in

the heart of a frigate bird rookery.

A canopy of short trees formed a

roof above us, and on every

branch a frigate bird hunched over

an impossibly rickety little nest.

The chicks were nearly full-sized,

but their feathers weren't fully

grown in yet, and they had that

goofy look of pre-adolescents


The ground was thick with guano, and we danced around

looking up at the undersides of the birds while ducking in fear

that we might become targets for droppings.  I found the

remains of a few chicks that must have fallen out of their nests

a while ago, and we found two unhatched eggs.  They were

the size of chicken eggs, but they were heavy.  No doubt each

one held a well formed chick that didn't make it out in time.

We followed the path up another hill and emerged onto the

cliffs that line the edge of the island.  In front of us, blocking the

way, were legions of boobies.  They stared at us with quiet

curiosity, watching our every move, but showed no particular

signs of fear or of getting out of the way.

We had seen our first boobies several months earlier when

we sailed into Manzanillo Bay.  It had been late afternoon and

lines of them were commuting back home to roost.  We

weren't sure what kind of bird they were, but we started

calling them "tuxedo birds" because of the way they dressed.

Seeing them so close

now I realized there are

several variations.  Some

have light colored heads

with a dark face and

some have dark colored

heads with a light face.

But all the chicks were

fluffy and cute.

We pressed on through

the crowd along the edge

of the cliff, and each

parent/chick pair backed away a little as we went by.  Then

we turned a corner, and faced an unusually obstinate

booby.  This one had blue feet!

Apparently the

Galápagos islands are

not the only habitat in

the world where blue

footed boobies live, and this little mom was doing her

darndest to make sure her species thrived here on Isla


She stood her ground as we

approached, effectively blocking her

chick and the path with a very

impressive display.  She fluffed up her

feathers, made all kinds of noises and

generally told us to back off.

A few quick photos and we did as we were told, tromping back down the hill into the frigate

bird colony and back to the beach.

Mark is a woodsman at heart, and he spotted an unusual snake in a tree.  We tried to

remember the rhyme about the color patterns on coral colored snakes, "Red touch yellow,

kill a fellow," or something like that, but we couldn't quite remember how it went.  We later

found the coral snake rhyme online and discovered our little guy was a milk snake.

After all this exotica it

seemed rather pedestrian to

watch the congregation of

seagulls and pelicans lining

up for scraps from the

fishermen.  But I still love

these guys too.  These gulls

make a cry that sounds like,

"Ow ow ow," as if someone

is pinching them mercilessly.

While at San Blas we visited the cultural center which has a gallery with

a handful of paintings in it.  One in particular caught my eye because it

shows the exact expression we have on our faces whenever we do an

overnight passage on the boat.  The trip from Isla Isabel to Mazatlan is

90 miles, just long enough to require an overnight.  Fortunately we were

able to sail almost the entire way rather than run the engine.  However,

the wind was right on the nose, so we had to tack back and forth in a

zig-zag pattern for 20 hours.  The wind also changed strength every

hour, which required us to reef and unreef the sails repeatedly so the

boat could take advantage of the wind rather than the other way around.

By the end of the night we actually looked a bit worse than the guy in

this painting.

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Mazatlan – A Little Strange

Rock formation at Isla Isabel.

Sunset at sea after leaving Isla Isabel.

A scum line of foam stretches

between Groovy and our neighbor.

Dinks line up on the beach as the owners stop for

shrimp & garlic pizza.

A perfect beach for toddlers and dinghy landings.

A water taxi arrives to take us to

downtown Mazatlan.

Mazatlan's malecon.

Unusual monuments along the


Exotic modern architecture.

Stately antique architecture.

Mazatlan's town square has an odd excess of

shoe shiners.

Renovated buildings brighten some spots.

Elaborate antique wrought iron gates remind us that

Mazatlan has battled crime for eons.

Renovations on one side of the street distract your

gaze away from...

...unrenovated buildings across the street.

Groovy's window dips face down into the

turquoise Sea of Cortez.

The kayak begs to go for a ride...

...and what a great ride it is.

Bleached coral twigs lie in the sand.

Mansions sprout along this quiet and remote bay.

We've arrived.

Matazatlan, Mexico

Early April, 2011 - It is a 90 mile run from Isla Isabel to Mazatlan, but with the wind

directly on our nose the whole way, we knew we could easily cover as much as 140

miles tacking back and forth by the time we got there.  So we left shortly after dawn,

anticipating 24 hours in transit.  Sure enough, we sailed all but the last ten miles,

witnessing both a stunning sunset and a pretty sunrise before we arrived at the Stone

Island anchorage just outside of the entrance to Mazatlan harbor.

We had been warned about

fishing long-line nets ages

ago, but in our 2,200 miles of

sailing along the Mexican

coast for the past four

months we hadn't seen any

until we had approached Isla

Isabel a few days earlier.

They are poorly marked, usually with a small black buoy flying a black

triangular pennant a foot or two off the water.  Generally, about 100

feet from the pennant buoy there will be a soda pop bottle or other

small buoy that marks the end of the long-line net.  Somewhere out in

the distance, 1/4 mile or more away, there will be another pennant

buoy.  If there is a plastic bottle bobbing near that one, then that

marks the other end of the long-line, and you need to go around the whole thing or get caught in the net.  Sometimes the long-

lines can extend for several miles, with small black buoys placed every 200 feet or so along the entire length of the net.

As we approached Mazatlan we found ourselves in totally flat calm water in mid-

morning.  Rather drowsy from sailing all night, we were shocked awake when a

pennant buoy slipped right by the boat.  We barely missed the end of the long-line net.

Suddenly wide awake, we were astonished to find one long-line net after another

blocking our way for the entire 10 mile approach to the harbor.  We had been tacking

all night long as we sailed, and now we found ourselves zig-zagging all over the sea

while under power to avoid these crazy nets.

We settled into the scenic Stone Island anchorage just outside the mouth of Mazatlan

harbor but were discouraged to find ourselves in a scum line that connected Groovy to

the next boat in the anchorage with a ragged film of foam.  To keep our spirits up, we

reminded ourselves that the Huichol people believe all animal life springs from this

foam, as the foam is the Sun God's very fertile saliva.

There is a small beach

around the corner from the

anchorage where we

discovered the most delicious

shrimp and garlic pizza in a

casual beach palapa.  This

pretty beach has the

sweetest and gentlest waves and is ideal for toddlers and dinghy

landings.  Our kayak took its place on the shore alongside the other

dinghies from our neighboring cruisers.

The beach was serene and peaceful most days, seeming a

world apart from the very busy city that lay just beyond.

From Stone Island we

took a water taxi across

Mazatlan Harbor to the

edge of Old Town.  This

made getting to and from

the city of Mazatlan a kayak-walk-water taxi affair, but it also placed us in a pretty

setting far from the urban challenges that make up Mazatlan.

A walk along the city's

malecon, or boardwalk,

revealed a waterfront that

could be very attractive.

There is a long beach,

some unusual homes

perched on impossible

cliffs, and some unique statues

and monuments.

However, Mazatlan is not a

friendly place.  For the first

time in Mexico a bus driver

tried to cheat us when he made change,

giving us 25 pesos in change rather than the

40 he owed us.  It took three refusals of his

token offers of small coins to get the total we

were due, and he offered no apology.

Similarly, where other Mexicans in other

places happily smile and wave when they

pass, here we found downcast eyes and

solemn expressions.  It is not a happy city.

We had heard mixed reviews of Mazatlan

before we arrived, with most people saying

they hadn't liked it.  However a few were very

enthusiastic about the Old Town architecture.

The cathedral was impressive.

More impressive to us, however, was that the

town square was filled with shoe-shiners.  On

each of the four sidewalks surrounding

the square we found two or three shoe-

shine people, for a total of 10 or 12

around the square.  They laughed when

we pointed at our Keene sandals -- no

sales there -- but we had never seen

such a high density of people shining

shoes for a living.

At one time Mazatlan was prosperous,

and quite a few ornate buildings have

been renovated.  There is a tiny half-

block sized park that is surrounded by

brightly painted renovated buildings.  A

few three- and four-table restaurants

catering to gringo tourists spill out onto

the sidewalk.  Another

cobbled street sports a brief row of antique buildings whose imposing

wrought iron gates over the doors and windows are reminders that

even in wealthier times this city was gripped by crime.  Unfortunately,

renovation is only skin deep.  Across the street from one architectural

make-over was another building begging for repair.

We heard rumors that an American tourist in Mazatlan had

recently been caught in the cross-fire of drug-related gang

violence and killed, leading the cruise ships to reroute their

cruises away from this city.

The many busted up buildings, the endless graffiti all over town and the

truckload of soldiers patrolling the supermarket parking lot where we

went shopping all seemed to support the sad story that there is a very

dark side to this city.

It didn't help when a taxi driver told us to be sure never to walk through

the neighborhood next to where he dropped us off, as it was the worst of

the drug and gang infested neighborhoods.

Waking up to dense pea soup fog three days in a row did nothing to

lighten our mood, and on the fourth morning we left well before dawn to

make our trek across the Sea of Cortez to the southeastern tip of the

Baja peninsua.

Mazatlan to Bahia Los Muertos is a 190 mile journey, and for us it was

largely upwind.  We motored along overnight.  Just like four months

earlier, we listened to the nutty fishermen calling each other all night long on the VHF radio.  Paying no attention to the

international regulations regarding the strict use of Channel 16 as a hailing channel only, these guys held long conversations

with each other, broadcast favorite songs, whistled at each other, yelled, and teased each other all night long.  It makes for a

strange moonless night at sea when invisible waves noisily lick the hull while crazy Mexican fishermen cat-call each other on

the radio at the top of their lungs between playing snippets of Tina Turner and Mexican mariachi music.

All night long we impatiently watched the wind gauge, waiting for the wind to slide off our nose just enough so we could sail.

The moment finally came on our second morning as the sun was rising, and we got in 7 hours of sprightly sailing.

What a joy it was, as the boat heeled over in the brilliant sparkling

morning seas, suddenly to see bright turquoise water.  Due to all

the red tide and estuary run-off this year, the ocean along the

Mexican Pacific coast had ranged from grey-green to brown to

burgundy.  I was so thrilled by the color of the water streaming by

our hull as we approached the Los Muertos anchorage that I

quickly got some photos of our cabin window submerged in the

beautiful water, even though having the window face down in the

water meant it was well past the time to reef the sails and stop

heeling so much!

Not only was the water at Los Muertos a spectacular color, but the

anchorage was calm.  We jumped in the kayak as soon as the

anchor was down.  Calm, clear, pretty water surrounded us, and

we were like two happy kids paddling around.

There were lots of dark patches in the water, and we soon

discovered these were coral heads.  What a surprise.  On the

beach there were lots of little branches of bleached coral resting in

the sand.

Los Muertos is a large bay with little development, but the waterfront

mansions are on their way.  A growing development at one end has

beautiful condos and a few fantastic homes.  The guidebook's

mention of an RV park is long outdated, as not one of the people we

met on shore had ever known of RVs coming this way.

A little more research on our part and we discovered that at

one time this area was a boondocker's paradise.  RVs would

line up right along the shore where the golf course now


Times change, but after leaving Mazatlan and making our

second Sea of Cortez crossing, Mark had no doubt about

where we were standing: Paradise.

After a few days of resting in this relaxing bay, we sailed

around the corner of the Baja peninsula into the bustling

town of La Paz.

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