Marina Nayarit at La Cruz de
Cobbled streets of La Cruz.
Mark buys some Sierra at the local fish market.
The Vancouver Sailing Academy was in residence for a week of training.
The March 11 tsunami destroyed a dock at Marina Narayit.
The whale attack resulted in a bent
strut and missing propellor.
Huichol Galeria at the Octopus's Garden.
Huichol yarn art. Yarn is pressed into a wax backing.
Like their yarn art, Huichol bead art involves
pressing beads into a wax backing, sometimes
on a sculpture as with this jaguar.
Alvaro Ortiz works on a sun and moon.
The finished product a few hours later.
Bead bracelets and necklaces come off
of small looms like this one.
Huanacaxtle pods, or "ears" in
God one-upped the devil and
shaped the Cuastecomate tree's
leaves like crosses.
Sayulita's campground was teeming with surfer dudes and dudettes.
Sayulita's surf beach.
The tsunami nearly sent the public bathrooms into
Hot bikini babes everywhere.
Surf and surfing are the heart of Sayulita.
Like father like son.
Leaf art on exhibit at
The pros show us how to get a big heavy
panga off the beach into the surf.
An iguana poses at Marina Vallarta.
...all done posing.
A pile of dough sits at the top of
a tortilla machine.
We join a group of Mexicans in a dusty yard for beers and
Gilberto shares his beer with a bull.
Marciela is the perfect young hostess.
Baby Juliana is at the center of it all.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nayarit, Mexico
Late March, 2011 - Cruisers gathered in Bahía Chamela for days, waiting for the
right weather to make the overnight passage north around Cabo Corrientes ("Cape
of Currents") to the Puerto Vallarta area. This cape is known for being treacherous
at times, willfully dishing out strong currents, powerful winds and contrary wave
patterns and offering nowhere to hide. We got lucky. The wind was perfect, and we
had a delightful sail all afternoon and all night long. It was the best sailing we've had
in Mexico yet. We arrived in Banderas Bay ("Flag Bay") in utter pitch dark with no
moon and no horizon to be seen anywhere, flying along at 7.5 knots into black
oblivion, relying on our radar to show us all obstacles.
Suddenly the radar screen was filled with green dots. Bogies everywhere! Looking
around, a huge fleet of commercial fishing boats surrounded us, their lights filling the
inky night air like bright pin pricks. One large boat was bearing down on us with
such speed we could clearly see the fishing booms lit up on either side. We threw
on every light on our boat to make sure they saw us and tacked outta there in a
hurry. Just then a cruise ship appeared, blazing across the radar screen at full
speed. It loomed on the water as it passed us, a christmas tree of party lights and
good times steaming by. Back on the radar screen, a line of fellow cruising sailboats
that had crept around the cape under power made a ragged line of dots. They
hailed each other repeatedly on the radio, keeping tabs on who was where in line
and how things were going on each others' boats. This bay was a busy place.
As the sun rose the wind
died and the boats disappeared, but a multitude of voices filled the
radio waves. Banderas Bay is 20 miles wide with 60 miles of
shoreline, and as we motored across the glassy water we listened
to two different cruisers' nets on the radio, each originating in
separate marinas on the bay. We heard well over 100 boat names
checking in, along with another 30 or so vendors pitching their
services. Despite the suddenly still air and sunny waters around us,
I felt like we were arriving at JFK.
Puerto Vallarta was the original heart of the bay, but the area has
grown so much that there are now several hearts. None of them
has an anchorage, however, just pricey marinas, so we stayed on
the outskirts of it all at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (pronounced
As we dropped the hook among 35 other boats and
dinghied ashore into the pin cushion of sailboat
masts at the new Marina Nayarit at La Cruz, my
impression changed from JFK airport to San Diego
South. Swank amenities for boaters abound,
accompanied by equally swank prices.
The daily schedule of organized entertainment is long, and the pace
of life is fast, with yoga classes, art classes, sailing academies for kids
during the days, followed by marina hosted movie nights, restaurant
hosted meat loaf nights, and live music at many venues. And this is
just one of the four major marinas in the area.
We finally found a tiny hint of Mexico across from the marina
at a small upscale fish market, and we enjoyed watching an
expert fillet three Sierras. These are beautiful silver mackerel
covered with golden polka dots.
Over in the boatyard
we found the final
chapter of Luffin' It,
the boat that had been
struck by a whale back in Tenacatita (bottom of page). The propellor strut was bent,
the prop was gone, and the starboard side of the hull suffered huge cracks in the
fiberglass. The boat was considered a total loss by the insurance company. Watch out
for those whales!
The town of La Cruz
itself is just a
stretch of charmless
However, the tight-knit
sailing community and plethora of gringo bars makes it a
favorite for many cruisers. We enjoyed an afternoon at The
Octopus's Garden where a courtyard is shaded by an
enormous huanacaxtle tree and an ex-pat Frenchman roasts
and grinds his own French roast coffee while overseeing a
small gallery of Huichol art.
The Huichol (who call themselves the Wixaritari, or "the
people") are one of the few indigenous groups that
survived the Spanish conquests. 16,000 of them retain
their language, religion and culture to this day.
One of their beliefs is that their father, the sun, created all the creatures of
the earth, including people, from his saliva which is red sea foam. We feel
like experts on sea foam now, since we have seen a lot of it over the past
few months, especially when the red tide blooms begin to wane. Little
foamy blobs and all kinds of flotsam float around in the foam, and as it
ages it coagulates and gets stringy and sticky, like phlegm. Red tides have
happened for eons, but it is refreshing to know that at least one culture has
been able to find not only a kind of beauty in it but a purpose for it too.
We stopped to chat with Alvaro Ortiz one morning, a Huichol artist who sits quietly
creating beautiful beaded works by a coffee shop many days. Like so many indigenous
people who set up shop on folding tables to sell their wares to tourists, it was easy to
dismiss him, and most people brushed by him with hardly a glance in his direction.
As we chatted in simple Spanish, he
opened a notebook showing newspaper
clippings of his amazing work. He was one
of eight Huichol artists who decorated a
VW bug with their bead art a few years
ago. The photos featured him at the wheel,
and the car is now on a traveling exhibit
He has recently been commissioned by the
Mexican government to decorate a piano
with Huichol bead art too. Besides
traditional craftwork, he is an accomplished
musician as well. In April he will be giving a
concert of classical piano, traditional Huichol
flute and operatic songs, and he is currently
composing an opera.
This kind of renaissance skill is hard to find in these days of ultra-specialization, and we
talked a bit about that. "In my culture, to be an artist and musician and composer is not
unusual," he explained. "But in the modern world most people are very limited." It is
also easy to shrug off street hawkers as one step above beggars. We bumped into him
later at a market. Dressed in conventional western clothes, he looked like any other well
Back in the Octopus's Garden, the French owner of the Galería Huichol explained to us
that the huanacaxtle tree shading his courtyard is named for its ear-shaped pod:
"huanacaxtle" means "ear" in the indigenous language Nahuatl. It is one of the few
specimens of this enormous tree remaining in this town that bears its name, La Cruz de
Huanacaxtle. A cross ("La Cruz") made of its wood stands in the center of town. He
went on to explain that the Cuastecomate tree, for which the Bahía Cuastecomate
between Barra de Navidad and Tenacatita is named, also has a unique story.
Apparently the devil and God both contributed to
the creation of the Cuastecomate tree. The devil
created a spider's web of ugly criss-crossing
branches with weird hard tennis ball sized fruit
growing right out of the branches. God threw his
blessing on the tree by gracing it with cross-shaped
We found a bit
more of the
devil's and God's
work nearby at
Sayulita. This is
a hippie surfing town that is the opposite of La Cruz.
Rather than grey haired retired cruisers enjoying
sedate organized activities, this place was humming
with the buzz of twenty-something surfers. A
campground in the middle of town was home for a lot
of them, and a stroll through it revealed the gritty life
of young backpackers out on a surfing safari. Tents
were jammed together cheek-by-jowel, and as noon
neared the kids were still walking around in sandy pj's
with slitted sleepy eyes.
The tsunami had left a set of public bathrooms in the lurch,
but brought in a surf break that still seemed to be pounding.
Hot babes in bikinis were all over town, and everyone had
wet hair and sandy feet from playing in the waves.
Non-surfers can learn the
moves from an array of surf
shops, surf instructors and
surf rental places all over
the beach, and one dad was giving his young
son a quickie lesson on a roller board.
In town we found another Huichol art gallery
that was featuring a new art form: carved
leaves. Leaves of all kinds had been
surgically cut along the veins to create
silhouettes of people and animals.
After struggling with dinghy launches and
landings on this crazy surf-pounded Pacific
coast, it was fun to watch the professionals
do it. A couple had hired a panga for a
tour, and it took no less than a five people
to get the boat into the water after a pickup
truck pushed it down from the high water
mark. Timing the waves carefully, they got
off with just one little hop over a wave. The
panga before that -- and before I had my
camera in hand -- had gone completely
airborne three times as it flew over the
crashing surf to deeper water.
La Cruz is a 30
minute bus ride from
Vallarta, and we
took the wild city bus
one day. There are
buses, and being
new to the area we
did not realize that
some are express and others go through the back barrios. What a
surprise to get into the outer parts of urban Puerto Vallarta and see
the dusty shacks that house many local residents. A man herded
twenty pigs across the bus's path at one point, and there were
cows and chickens in many yards. Once we got to Marina Vallarta,
however, the world of high end luxury engulfed us once again.
What fun to see an iguana perched along the rocks overlooking the
boats. He posed for a while, looking like a sculpture planted there
for effect. He drew a chuckle from everyone when he crawled
away across the sidewalk towards the row of shops.
Back in La Cruz we were missing
the simplicity of the little Mexican
towns that have hosted us for the
past few months. Joining the
cruisers for tacos at a featureless
gringo hangout called "Tacos on
the Street" and bar-hopping at
cruiser bars where I found bathrooms labeled "Ladies" because no Mexican women ever uses
them, we had a good time but could have easily been in Austin, Texas where Americans enjoy
a nightly live music scene that is every bit as active as in La Cruz/Puerto Vallarta.
We finally found the homeyness we were looking for when we wandered into the streets at the
farther end of town. We watched a man loading dough into a tortilla machine and sampled his
delicious "totopos." These are deep fried corn tortilla chips that make a yummy snack.
A little further on we bought a
"pollo asado," which is chicken
grilled street-side. These delicious
chickens are opened
up and cooked flat,
looking like roadkill
spread across the grill.
We were asked if we
wanted to take it with
us or eat it there in the
dusty yard behind the
grill. We peered out
back and looked at the
group of Mexican men
drinking beer at a folding table. Roosters and chickens squawked and scratched
at their feet while a large bull chewed its cud in the corner. "We'll eat here!" we
both grinned. A rip-roaring Spanglish conversation ensued as we sat down with
Hugo, Joel and Gilberto and shared a few beers at their table. We toasted each other and
life, and watched in amusement as Gilberto wandered over to the bull and held out his
beer for it to drink. Between the bull's slurps, Gilberto took a swig now and then, while a
toddler bounced and cooed in a swing between us all. We knew enough of each other's
languages to talk in simple terms about the joys of grandkids, the perils of sailing, the heat
of living in Phoenix and the contentedness of their life in La Cruz.
This strange town, Banderas Bay, and the
Puerto Vallarta area in general hadn't really
appealed to us until that moment.
Suddenly, sitting in tottering plastic chairs
under the shade of a big tree at a rickety
table while our sandals scuffled the soft dirt
at our feet, we felt La Cruz had reached our hearts. Listening to the hearty
laughter of these rugged, burly men as they teased each other and us in
whatever mixture of language we could share, we felt welcomed. All the while
the mom worked her grill and sold chickens to passersby, and her sweet seven-
year-old daughter played perfect hostess to us all, giggling shyly as we asked
her basic questions with a poor Spanish accent and iffy grammar.
Before long it was time to move on, and we soon made our way north towards Mazatlan via San Blas and Isla Isabel.
Find La Cruz (Puerto Vallarta) on Mexico Maps
The rookies take the game!!
Dinghy group lands on the beach in La Manzanilla.
A steaming cauldron keeps a
Concrete is mixed by hand.
Post-red tide scum creates patterns on the water.
Pelicans dive for supper.
Mark gets a good look at his catch.
Thick fog greets us in the morning.
A river of water isolates a favorite cruiser restaurant.
Chamela's three little islands are a great hideaway.
There's nothing like an uninhabited tropical island.
Hermit crabs dashed urgently
all over the sand.
Lots of cactus lined the shore.
Craggy rocks and tidepools grabbed our attention.
The water seems clear enough to
clean the bottom of the hull.
See you down under!
Chamela Bay & Islands, Jalisco, Mexico
Mid-March, 2011 - Despite the drawbacks of red tide, jelly fish blooms and land disputes,
the anchorage at Tenacatita held us in its grasp for ten happy days. Old time cruisers
who had been coming to Tenacatita for years initiated games of Bocce ball on the beach,
they encouraged cruisers to gather for beers at the beachfront palapa restaurant La
Vena, and they organized group dinghy provisioning
trips across the bay to the village of La Manzanilla.
Beginners luck prevailed for us in Bocce ball, and we
nailed a few throws to win the first game.
Dinghy landings in this bay are quite a challenge,
because of the pounding waves and surf on the beach.
We hitched rides with friends several times to learn the
technique for landing the dink and launching it again
later without getting too wet. We learned that waves
come in sets, often 6 or 7 at a time, and the trick is to
wait until a set has passed to make your move. You get a total of about 15 seconds to ride
behind the last wave to shore or to jump in the dink and start the outboard during a launch
off the beach. One false move by a passenger, or an unexpectedly stalled engine, or a
miscalculation of when the last wave has actually passed can spell the difference between
being wet up to your shorts or flipping the dinghy entirely and getting drenched head to toe.
We watched in amazement from the beach as one
seasoned pro accidentally flipped his dinghy during a
launch when his inexperienced passenger took too long to
climb into the boat. The dinghy hit a huge oncoming wave
and flew straight up in the air like a rocket, landing upside
down in the surf. Workers from the restaurant dashed
down to the beach carrying a five gallon jug of fresh water
to flush the outboard engine while cruisers searched the
waves for lost cargo. Fortunately the outboard responded
to the treatment, most items were found, and the dinghy
was soon re-launched without mishap.
La Manzanilla on the far side of the bay is a small
seaside village, and we enjoyed watching the locals
going about their daily activities. Two men stirred a
cauldron filled with ham hocks (hooves included),
while a dog waited patiently.
There was plenty of construction going on, all done
by hand. We watched one worker shovel gravel into
a bucket on the street and then hoist it to the roof of
a building using a rope and pulley system. Water
was then hoisted in another bucket, and the worker
on the roof mixed and poured the concrete by hand.
In another area we watched a worker mix his
concrete in a little pile of gravel right on the street.
This may not produce the highest grade concrete,
but there is a quiet calm and pride in the way these
men go about their work.
Out in the bay the red tide began to go through its lifecycle phases.
First the water turned from beet red to murky brown to grey green.
Then a huge blanket of foam formed in the middle of the bay.
Several hundred feet across, the foam began as a solid sheet of tiny
white bubbles and then began to dissipate into elaborate patterns as
the current ebbed and flowed beneath it.
The pelicans had no qualms about
the water quality, and they dove for
fish each afternoon. They looked like
flying knives being hurled into the
water. I tried in desperation to get a
picture of one just at the moment of
impact when their wings are pressed
tightly against their bodies, but I
never quite caught it.
One morning we awoke to a pan-pan call on the
radio. This is an emergency alert for anyone within
earshot, and as I laid in bed with my eyes closed
debating how we'd spend our day I heard, "Japan has had a massive earthquake
and a tsunami is headed this way. It will arrive here in two hours." That got me out
of bed in a hurry! Pre-coffee and still half-dressed in pj's, we hauled the anchor and
dashed out of the anchorage. A fishing panga was nearby and we waved them over
to pass on the warning. I hated the thought that they might fish by the rocks all
morning and never know what hit them.
Out on the open water we were able to connect to the internet, sort of. If I stood in
the cockpit holding the laptop over my head with the USB antenna pointed towards
shore, I could download a page in about 3 to 5 minutes. This was just enough to get some Google News reports detailing the
unfolding disaster. Meanwhile the radio was abuzz with cruiser chatter. People were sharing information they were receiving
from single side band radio broadcasts, from cell phone calls to friends and family on the west coast and from the internet.
We soon realized the predicted time for the arrival of the wave was 1:45 pm, not 10:45 a.m. as we were first told, and the
effects could last up to nine hours after the intial wave hit.
This meant a long day of sailing. We had planned to stay in Tenacatita for a few more days, but once we were out in the
ocean it made more sense to travel up the coast a bit to Chamela Bay.
Almost the entire cruising fleet joined us in the open water, and a huge game of musical chairs ensued. Just about everyone
changed anchorages and moved north or south to the next spot on their itinerary along the coast.
Out on the water the regular ocean swell was running about five
feet, so the five foot tsunami waves were undetectable. Our
biggest challenge was trying to determine whether the waves
had arrived on shore or not, and whether or not it was safe to go
in to anchor. Once the initial waves had hit California and then
Cabo San Lucas, all new internet reporting ceased. The
Mexican news stories were only about warnings, not about
actual wave arrivals in the various ports nor about damage, so
we had no idea what the status was along our coast.
However, the air was warm and the breeze too light to sail
much, so Mark lazily dropped a handline over the side of the
boat as we motored along. Within an hour the line suddenly
went taut and then limp. He brought it in to find that a huge fish
had struck and broken the clasp holding the leader line to the
handline. Somewhere out there a fish was swimming around
with a six inch blue feather lure hanging out of its mouth while
fifty feet of nylon leader trailed behind him. Darn!
He quickly found another lure with a stronger clasp and thicker leader line, and threw it over the side. Wham! Another fish
was on the hook. Holy cow. Mark has trailed handlines up and down this entire coast with only one catch so far. And now
within minutes he had two, with the one that got away being (undoubtedly) one of the biggest fish in the ocean. Was the
tsunami herding the fish somehow? Whatever the cause, he hauled the fish in and we had a good look at it. It was beautiful:
big and silver with bright yellow fins and tail. Unfortunately, it was the inedible Jack Crevalle, or "toro" in Spanish, a fish that
has meat so red and bloody that it is considered inedible. Toros have big puppy dog eyes, though, and this guy was staring
up at Mark in stark terror. He quickly unhooked the lure from its mouth and we could feel his utter relief as he swam off into
We pulled into Chamela Bay around 5:00 p.m., thinking the worst of the waves must have passed. As we lowered the anchor
over the flat sand bottom, I watched the depth gauge read a steady 22 to 23 feet and then suddenly dip to 14 feet and then
rise again to 22 feet. Within seconds I heard an enormous crash of a mammoth wave pounding the shore, and I turned to see
its foaming mass sweep well past the highest tide mark on the beach.
Our radio instantly crackled to life as a friend of ours used her hand-held radio to describe the utter pandemonium she was
seeing on the beach. Mark had to calm me down a bit, as I started to rant, but no waves quite that big rolled through after
that. However, all was not right in the water. Every boat in the anchorage did steady 360 degree turns around its anchor,
completing a full turn every minute or two. After a few clockwise turns the boats would all begin to turn counterclockwise as
their hulls followed the pull of the ocean surge washing in and out of the bay.
The next morning we woke to thick fog, the first we had
seen since we were in Chamela Bay four months earlier.
The scene around us had an eerie glow.
We walked along the shore later in the day. The ghost town
feeling that Chamela Bay had had in November still
persisted, especially now that the fleet of fishing pangas had
been dragged high onto the beach out of reach of the
A little restaurant at one end of the beach was stranded
by the tsunami. Usually a path through soft sand leads
to this building, but the tsunami swell was continuing to
disturb the peace a day or two after the first waves
arrived. A steady river of water washed to and fro in an
estuary, making access to the restaurant a dicey affair
that included wading in water up to your shorts.
Elsewhere around Chamela Bay little had changed. More flowers
seemed to be in bloom, but the pretty little waterfront RV park was
totally empty now.
We decided to take Groovy out into the bay for a few days where three
small uninhabited islands huddle together. There are several
anchoring spots out there, and we found it to be a cozy, hidden
As we dropped the hook we heard the loud and rather
urgent cries of hundreds of pelicans roosting in the trees
on the shore. These islands are an ecological preserve
zone, and pelicans rule.
We took the dinghy ashore and stood in awe watching two different
species of pelicans engaging in what can only be described as a
springtime orgy. Throaty groans, flapping wings, and awkward
physical postures gave the rugged shore an emotional vibe that
made us feel we were intruding on the most intimate of erotic
Averting our eyes from these
impassioned birds, we found
a host of hermit crabs
scurrying across the sand.
They crawled over each
other and tapped on each
other's shells. These little
guys were inhabiting a huge
variety of shells, and one or
two were running around
naked looking for a new home.
The water was a
gorgeous shade of
blue, a welcome
change from the post-
red tide grey-green
that filled Chamela's
Around the beach there were cactus and palm trees, and stubby little deciduous trees
too. But it was the tide pools that really got our attention. The waves sloshed in and out
with a vengeance, but a few were out of reach of the surf, and life in those pools was
calm and serene.
Back on the boat it
seemed we were in the
perfect place to have a look at the underside of our
hull. We had been cleaning it every week or so
down in Zihuatanejo where the water was warm
and the barnacles grew quickly. Since we had
been up north of Manzanillo, however, we hadn't
had a chance to give it a good look or a good scrub
because of the murky water.
Mark tackled the lowest parts of the hull and keel
with his scuba gear while I held my breath with a
snorkel and popped the offending barnacles off the
higher parts of the hull. The water wasn't exactly
clear, and while we were in it a new wave of post-
red tide scum floated by. Suddenly the water was
full of white puffy stringy stuff, and we quickly
wrapped up our work. Unfortunately, the waves
were surging so vigorously that at one point each
of us accidentally gulped a huge mouthful of water.
Over the following days we both
went through a series of weird symptoms, starting with sore shoulders
followed by swollen glands in our necks and nasty head aches. Mine
ended with a round of vomiting, while Mark was nauseous for two days.
After a week the symptoms passed. My advice to anyone following in
our path: don't drink water tainted by red tide.
Chamela Bay is the last good anchorage along the coast heading north
before the much feared Cabo Corrientes where high winds and
conflicting swell can make for a miserable passage. The bright lights of
Puerto Vallarta lie beyond that point, but it is a 100 mile trip to get there,
so boats gather in Chamela Bay and watch the weather forecasts like
hawks, waiting for the best 24 hours to make the trip. Before long we
got our chance, and we dashed out of the bay towards the Puerto
Vallarta suburb of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.
Find Chamela on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on the "Mexican Riviera" (northern Pacific coast) to see more cruising posts from this area!
Cuastecomate, the "Secret Anchorage."
A Mexican Navy ship approaches.
A tender of Mexican Navy men circles Groovy.
The Mexican Navy boards Groovy.
It was a routine and courteous inspection.
Red tide surrounds us as we motor into Tenacatita.
Red tide fills the anchorage.
A carpet of jelly fish surrounds us.
The Blue Bay Resort is the only resort at this end of the bay.
Chippy the dolphin.
Beginning of the "Jungle Tour."
The mangroves quickly close in.
Thick jungle brush reflects in the
Our friends are the only other river tourists.
The old dinghy landing at the end of the jungle tour.
"Luffin It" is pushed into the anchorage
after a whale strike.
La Manzanilla is a cute small town.
Lots of little grocery stores have all the
provisions you need.
Loaded down with
Ahh... so much easier to have a local panga run your errands for you.
A dinghy raft-up offers hints of Tenacatita's former glory.
Tenacatita Bay, Jalisco, Mexico
Early March, 2011 - After a week of laid back
decadence at Barra de Navidad, complete with
French baked goods, flat calm nights and civilized
water taxi rides to shore, we moved a few miles north
to Cuastecomate. This small anchorage lies between
the two large and very popular anchorages of Barra de
Navidad and Tenacatita, and in the past was
apparently neither well documented nor well-known, so
it was nicknamed the "Secret Anchorage." With the
publication this year of Pacific Mexico, a new cruising
guide for this area, the cat is out of the bag, as the
GPS coordinates for the anchorage are given along
with an enticing description..
There was just one other sailboat in the anchorage when we arrived, along with a
Mexican Navy ship sitting quietly in the middle of the bay. As we began to anchor we
noticed the Navy ship drawing closer. Once we got the anchor down and began to get
settled, the Navy ship launched five men in a tender that soon circled our boat. They
asked permission to board Groovy. Just a week earlier four Americans had been killed
on their sailboat off of Somalia. This was geographically very far from Mexico but, as
fellow cruisers, the event felt close enough in spirit to make me suddenly feel quite
vulnerable as a camouflage suited soldier climbed up our swimstep carrying a machine
He walked forward to our bow and stood watch, while two other Navy men in bullet-
proof vests climbed aboard and settled into our cockpit. Intimidating as it was for a few
moments, this visit was both friendly and routine.
With the taste of almond croissants still on our lips and the sun
sparkling on the water all around the boat, I thought we made an
odd assortment on board Groovy. Mark was dressed for another
day of vacation in running shorts, bare feet and no shirt, while the
Navy men were dressed for an armed conflict, complete with heavy
boots. The tender with the two remaining men moved away from
our boat and hovered nearby, one of the men resting his machine
gun across his lap.
They were extremely gracious, speaking to us in simple Spanish once I
revealed I was willing to practice my language skills with them. They
merely wanted to see our boat papers and passports and to verify that
we didn't have any drugs on board or any extra passengers who were
not documented on our crew list.
I asked them a little about their work and learned we were the second
boat they had boarded that day, the first being the other sailboat in this
little anchorage. The day before they had inspected four boats. They
regularly patrol the 150 miles between Puerto Vallarta and Barra de
Navidad, rotating shifts of days or weeks spent aboard the ship followed
by time at home with their families. "It's hard on family life and hard on
your marriage," we all agreed. In the ensuing days we found many
other boats had been similarly boarded this year, although in prior years
it was not a common occurrance in this area.
Their inspection was more thorough and detailed than
any of the many US border patrol checkpoints we have
driven through towing our fifth wheel on the US
interstates. There we have always been waved
through without even having to slow down below 10
mph, despite towing an enormous trailer.
We were given two forms to sign, one written in English
and one in Spanish. The English language form was a
waiver absolving the Mexican Navy of any responsibility
if we ever asked them for a tow and they damaged our
boat. Fair enough. To my utter surprise, the Spanish
language form was an evaluation of the boarding process. I looked at them with a lopsided grin: "This form evaluates your
performance today?!" They nodded, smiling. "It is for your boss?!" More nods and grins. Polite young men all of them, they
deserved the highest rating in every category.
Before leaving, the Mexican Navy men reassured us that if we ever had any trouble or needed them in any way, we should call
them on the radio on VHF Channel 16. What a contrast to the way I was so rudely dressed down by the San Diego Harbor
Police for screwing up the sign-in procedures at San Diego's transient cruiser's dock, or the way the US Coast Guard yelled at
us through a megaphone because we had not written "T/T Groovy" on the bow of our dinghy.
Cuastecomate is known for its beautiful snorkeling spots, but
remnants of a recent red tide removed any thoughts of swimming.
Two days later when we motored into Tenacatita Bay we saw the
most expansive red tide to date. The entire bay, several miles
across, was filled with tea colored water. The stunning shade was
toned down a bit from the ruby red wine color that fellow cruisers
reported seeing the day before.
How sad. Blue Bay -- Tenacatita's other name -- often has water
that is gin clear and bright turquoise. The snorkeling off of one
point is so stunning that the cove is nicknamed "The Aquarium." In
the past cruisers have moved in here for a month or more at a time
for a spell of life in Paradise, going so far as to have weekly
scheduled events and an elected "mayor" of the anchorage.
Not so this year. At no time during our stay did we have the least
desire to put even a toe in the water. After red tide algae dies off,
thick rivers of brown foam begin to form. Zig-zagging scum lines lie
along the boundaries between current flows, and in places the foam
gathers into potato sized balls that punctuate the scum lines with little
brown puffs. Leaving the bay for a daysail one day, we returned to
the anchorage through line after line of brown scum.
Not only was the red tide a
shock, but a jellyfish bloom
stunned us as well. We had
sailed through miles of baby
jellyfish a week or so earlier,
hanging over the rails in amazement as the boat parted waves that were thick with two
inch long baby jellies that lay in layers below the surface. All babies grow up, and one
morning in Tenacatita we awoke to find the boat sitting in a carpet of adult jellyfish.
They surrounded the boat so densely that it seemed you could walk across them.
After the hundred foot diameter carpet of jellies floated through the anchorage,
engulfing each boat in its path, it finally landed on the beach in front of the Blue Bay
Resort. Thousands of jelly fish blanketed the sand for an afternoon. As the tide went
out, the jellies were left high and dry, and they died.
Tenacatita was suffering this year in other ways
besides the red tide and the jellyfish. During a
land dispute along one of the bay's beaches last
August, 150 Jalisco State Police evicted 800
people who lived and worked there. All their
homes, restaurants and a hotel were bulldozed in preparation for the construction of a huge beachfront resort. During our
stay the construction had not yet begun, but the land was actively patrolled by armed security guards. Cruisers who had
arrived earlier in the season had been shooed off the beach and out of that anchorage.
One Tenacatita resident rose above all these depressing changes, however,
putting up with the strange water and turning a blind eye to the land dispute
around the corner. Famed resident Chippy the dolphin has been loved by
cruisers for years, and we found him lolling around the anchorage, showing his
notched dorsal fin every time he surfaced through the water. He happily
scratched his back on the boats' anchor chains as he always has.
Tenacatita features a "Jungle River Dinghy
Tour" that meanders up a lush estuary, and this
self-guided tour has actually benefitted from the
land dispute, as it is rarely traveled now. You
have to brave some crashing surf and shallows
to get the dink into the estuary, but once inside you are in
a world apart.
The estuary tour begins as a calm river between thick
mangrove sides that twists and turns as it takes you
upriver. Snowy egrets and other leggy fowl peer out at
you as you pass, and they don't flinch, even at the sound
of the dinghy's outboard.
In places the water
was so calm that
the foliage formed
a perfect reflection
in its depths.
Before the land dispute,
this estuary led to the
backside of the community
of homes, restaurants and
stores that has since been
bulldozed out of existence.
In those days it was heavily
traveled, and apparently
the animals were not quite
as easy to see.
We passed an iguana sunning himself on
the branches of a mangrove and we saw
several raccoon-like coatimundi
scampering overhead. One coatimundi
stopped and stared at us long enough to
get some photos, but darned if all the pics
of him didn't turn out completely blurry.
Only one other
boat shared the
estuary with us
that day, friends of
ours from another
The estuary narrows
dramatically, to the
point where you can
pull yourself along
by grabbing the branches overhead. In places the dink can barely
squeeze through, as the mangroves close in on either side and
you have to duck the overhead jungle canopy.
At the far end, the estuary opened to a very small and shallow
lagoon, and we found the dock where cruisers used to land their
dinghies. The silhouette of an armed guard in the distance kept
us from attempting to land, and we returned through the thick
mangroves to the bay.
This all added up to plenty of excitement for a few days' stay in Tenacatita, but a Mayday call
on the radio late one afternoon pumped our adrenaline up another notch. A whale had
attacked the 36' sailboat "Luffin' It" just outside the anchorage. Mark and four other cruisers
responded to the call, zipping out to the terrified couple in three dinghies. They had been sailing along quietly when a whale
appeared out of nowhere and bashed the port side of the boat, knocking it over 45 degrees. He repeated this bashing on the
starboard side and then got beneath the boat and began thrashing his tail, damaging the rudder and bending the propellor
shaft in the process. The boat began taking on water, which prompted their Mayday call.
The rescuers used the most powerful dinghy to push the boat into the
anchorage, as the sailboat's engine could barely run due to the bent
prop shaft. After saying a round of "thank yous" to the rescuers before
settling in for the night to a humming bilge pump, the couple shocked
us all when they motored out of the anchorage the next morning,
putting up the sails as they rounded the point en route to Puerto
Vallarta for repairs 130 miles away.
The main anchorage at Tenacatita is near
a small beach palapa restaurant, but there
are no stores nearby. All provisioning must
be done far across the bay in the town of
La Manzanilla. One morning a group of
cruisers took their dinghies to the town
across the bay, and we walked around the
cute village. Loading up on fruits and
veggies in several of the many small
markets, I soon looked like a pack mule.
How funny to return to the anchorage later in the day, covered with salt spray from the lively dinghy ride and happily worn out
from a day of shopping, to find the megayacht anchored behind us had called a panga to run their errands and bring them all
the provisions they needed. We watched the uniformed crew serving the two couples aboard and marveled at the many ways
you can live a life.
Our low brow boating life is a pretty good one, though, and one
afternoon the cruisers all gathered for a dinghy raft up.
Everyone brought an appetizer to share and the dishes
circulated from boat to boat. Our friend Bill was elected Mayor
of the Anchorage, and he gave a rousing speech in praise of
the folks who had helped with the rescue of the whale struck
boat a few days earlier. In the odd way of Tenacatita this year,
however, the anchorage that had harbored 22 boats for one
busy night was down to just 6 by the next afternoon, as there is
little to hold people here this season. However, because we
are rarely ones to move quickly, we stayed a full week before
venturing on to Bahía Chamela and its beautiful islands.
Find Tenacatita on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on Mexico's North Pacific Coast to see more posts from this area!
Barra de Navidad has a narrow and shallow entrance channel.
Fishermen cast nets in the lagoon.
The serenity in Barra's lagoon is a big contrast to most Pacific coast anchorages.
The French Baker makes his rounds.
Emeric delivers croissants, quiches and
baguettes right to your boat!
The Grand Bay Resort overlooks the lagoon.
"Las Sirenas" ("The Mermaids").
View across the water taxi piers.
Barra is loaded with cute little eateries.
Unlike other Mexican towns we've visited, almost all
tourists here during our stay were gringos.
How about a meal looking through the branches of an
enomous piñata decorated tree?
A 1921 sloop in the lagoon.
A restaurant's mascot macaw
blushes as I snap his photo.
Mark finds the Beatles in Mexico once again.
Many of Barra's front
doors are very ornate.
The lagoon has many
species of long legged
One of many boat-in palapa restaurants on the lagoon.
Water taxis ferry visitors all over the lagoon.
Happy Valentine's Day.
The Grand Bay Resort proudly overlooks the gritty,
quirky town of Barra.
Approaching the Grand Bay you suddenly feel a little out
of place in a bathing suit and flip flops.
Hammocks by the lagoon shore.
Overlooking the marina to the cruising boats in the
lagoon anchorage beyond.
A yacht traverses the narrow channel.
A McGregor 26 (without its mast) slides past us at a fast clip.
Dinghies scramble to save a sailboat from an unattended Offshore
48' power yacht that's suddenly on the loose.
A frustrated couple spends the day off-kilter on a
Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, Mexico
Mid-February, 2011 - After the gentility of the Las Hadas
Resort in Manzanillo and the sweeping waves and beach
scene of Playa La Boquita in Santiago Bay, we were
surprised to find yet another totally contrasting lifestyle just
25 miles up the coast in the eclectic hideaway of Barra de
Navidad. Pulling into the anchorage, we felt like we were
landing on another planet. For starters, the anchorage is
an almost fully enclosed lagoon, and to enter it requires
motoring down a very narrow and very shallow channel.
Fortunately the GPS waypoints given in the guidebook are
accurate, as the channel is marked with buoys for only half its
length, and the chartplotter is off by about a mile. In these waters,
being off by 100 feet will put you hard aground.
But the real surprise lay inside the anchorage: 50 cruising boats
were crammed into the lagoon. Until now, every anchorage we
had been in had hosted fewer than twenty boats. What a crazy
zoo scene this was! To top that off, being low tide, everywhere we looked for a spot to drop the anchor we had just inches of
water under the keel. The lagoon's water is extremely silty, and you can barely see your toes when your legs are in water up
to your knees, so there was no way to tell the depth other than trust the boat's depth sounder. In such a shallow and tightly
packed anchorage it made sense to let out just 50' or so of anchor chain. A neighbor quickly set us straight however,
informing us that boats drag regularly through the soft mud and that everyone around us had 100' of chain out, despite being
in less than 10' of water.
Once the anchor was down, the sun began to drop low in the sky. We kicked back in the cockpit and watched flocks of long
legged birds commuting home to roost while fishermen cast their nets behind the boat. A chorus of lagoon bird songs filled
the air as they settled into the surrounding mangroves.
The next morning I poked my head out of the companionway to see a picture that for
all the world looked like one of the many beautiful anchorages in Maine where I grew
up cruising years ago. Most Pacific coast anchorages are defined by mountains and
waves, making for dramatic scenery and often dramatic rolly nights. In contrast, this
anchorage was as flat calm as could be and was rimmed by low lying trees. The boats
were all well behaved, lined up with military precision, facing the gently rising tide with
dignity. This is nothing like most Pacific coast anchorages where the boats tend to
pitch and roll, swinging in different directions, often quite wildly, challenging each other
to see which one can be the buckingest bronco of them all.
Suddenly the radio came alive with chatter; it was Barra's morning VHF cruiser's net.
For a full twenty minutes cruisers ran through the roll call of all the boats arriving,
departing or staying put in one of several anchorages in the area. As soon as the net
ended, all fifty boats in Barra began hailing each other at once, making plans for
daytrips ashore, plans to meet in future harbors or plans for cocktails and dinners
together later in the day. In the midst of all this conversation a heavily accented voice broke into the fray, announcing, "This is
ze French Baker and I am entering ze lagoon now." A child's voice called out,
"French Baker, French Baker, we would like two chocolate pies." The accented
voice answered, "I have only one." "We'll take it!" came the happy reply.
Emeric Fiegen, a Frenchman who now hails from Canada, came to Barra years
ago and in 2003 created a unique niche for himself in this ex-pat community.
Opening "El Horno Frances" (The French Bakery), he sells French baked goods
out of a shop onshore and also out of a panga that he personally drives around
the lagoon each morning. Offering quiches, croissants, baguettes and other
delicacies, he does a brisk business and is always sold out by the time he gets
to the far side of the anchorage. This, unfortunately, was where we were
located, so we quickly learned we needed to email him our order the night
before. After months of tacos, burritos and hot sauces it sure was a treat to sink
our teeth into chocolate croissants and miniature bacon and cheese quiches.
Barra de Navidad is a unique gringo hangout. The town
hovers along one side of the lagoon, its small streets teeming
with cute tourist shops, charming outdoor restaurants, cheap
hotels and North American retirees escaping the cold winters
back home. The mood is laid back and slightly gritty, with flip
flops and beachwear being the accepted attire.
A pretty pier extends along
one side of the lagoon's
entrance channel, leading
strollers out to views of the
bay and beach on the
ocean side of town. On the
opposite side of the lagoon's channel the imposing Grand Bay Resort rises out of the
mangroves, offering high class and high dollar vacations to the younger still-employed (and
Cruisers stay in Barra for weeks
and even months each winter,
charmed by the convenient and
pleasing town, the picturesque
anchorage, and calm nights. Some
sneak swims at the Grand Bay
Resort's beautiful pool (after a fine luncheon), and everyone winds up
at the Sands Hotel's pool or pool bar at some time, as that
establishment openly welcomes cruisers.
The social scene
in the lagoon is
intense. It is an
easy dinghy ride
to visit your
and there are
of places to
on the radio are
everyone's business is quickly well known. The kids on two boats were the cutest to
listen to. As they made plans to visit each other, the parents were consulted in the
background: which boat, at what time, and with whose dinghy would they would get
together to play?
Sometimes this public forum
can get a little awkward.
Two women discussed the
dishes each would bring to a
dinner party and wondered
aloud whether or not to invite a third
boat that neither one was convinced
had arrived in Barra yet: "I think I
saw them in the lagoon but they
aren't due for another week..." "I
have enough salad for all of us..."
"Okay, but I'm sure they would have
called us by now if they were here..."
Two men troubleshot a plumbing problem in detail: "You gotta turn that pipe 180 degrees."
"Yeah, but that sucker won't turn..." They had forgotten to take their conversation to a
separate channel, away from the channel where boats hail each other, so they were soon
interrupted by a voice saying: "Attention Fleet: Which restaurant has the best burger in
town?" "La Oficina" came the reply. "La Casina?" "No, La Oficina..."
Three boats were awaiting a mutual friend arriving from the airport. A
comedy of errors ensued as the guest arrived with a hand-held VHF radio,
but because he was standing in the Grand Bay's lobby behind the massive
concrete structures of the resort, he was unable to hear any of the boats
responding to his calls from the lagoon. For twenty minutes he hailed
three boats in the lagoon and they hailed back, to no avail. Finally one
boat took a dinghy ashore and met the poor fellow in person in the lobby.
We took the kayak out on Valentine's Day for a quiet morning ride but found
so much to see that we didn't get back to the boat until almost dark. First the
various long legged birds of the lagoon caught our eye. The mangroves are
thick and the water is loaded with fish, making it an ideal location for birds to
quietly stalk their prey.
Along one edge of the lagoon there are a series of boat-in eateries
you can get to either by water taxi or with your own dinghy. Several
restaurants seemed immensely popular and patrons filled every waterfront
Being our anniversary as well as Valentine's Day, we wanted to find
a quieter more romantic spot. Fortina's fit the bill perfectly. We
pulled the kayak onto their little beach and followed the sand right
to a table overlooking the water. What an ideal spot to while away
the afternoon and reflect on the happy years we have spent in each
On another day we took the kayak over to the dinghy dock at the
Grand Bay Resort and wandered through the beautiful grounds.
Manicured landscaping, even the jungle kind on the edges of the
golf course, define the fringes of this resort. A row of hammocks
on a beach fronting the lagoon look out on a private island, and
everything about the resort oozes elegance.
We found a balcony overlooking the marina and the lagoon anchorage
in the distance beyond, and we watched a megayacht navigate the
skinny lagoon entrance channel past one of the resort's pretty outdoor
restaurants. From simple beer and tacos on plastic chairs along the
lagoon's edge to haute cuisine in a stunning setting at the Grand Bay,
Barra de Navidad has everything a gringo escaping reality in Mexico
But living there in
the lagoon on a
boat can bring
reality back to you
in a heartbeat.
from the French Baker and pondering the unusual wind shift we were
seeing, panicky voices on the radio abruptly brought us to our senses.
"Attention Fleet: a McGregor 26 is dragging through the anchorage on the
north side of the lagoon." We turned our heads and there it was, moving
at a fast clip right past us.
In an instant five dinghies rushed over to the wayward boat.
No one was on board, but the fast acting men in the dinks
quickly brought the boat to heel, deploying a second anchor
they found stored in one of the boat's lockers. We hadn't yet
assembled our dink and put it in the water, so we watched all
the action feeling rather useless.
No sooner had the McGregor 26 settled down than another
call went out on the radio. "Attention Barra Fleet: I've gone
aground." The wind shift had caught one sailor by surprise
and moved his boat onto a sandbar that had been a safe 50
feet away from him for the past few days.
Unfortunately, being a full moon, the tide was going to be the lowest of
the month that afternoon, and for six hours the boat laid further and
further over on its side while the owners crawled around on the high side
making the best of a bad situation. Luckily, the soft mud bottom insured
that no damage was done to the boat. At the tide's lowest point we
dropped a line over the side of our boat and measured 6' 8" of water --
and we draw 6' 6".
A friend stopped by in his dinghy, and we began discussing the morning's
crazy events when we noticed the 48' Offshore motor yacht anchored
behind us was suddenly much further away than it had been for the past
few days. It was dragging too, with no one on board! A large sailboat
was directly in its path, and the sailboat's crew were all on deck, madly
putting fenders out to save their boat from the impending collision.
Again the radio burst to life and dinghies zoomed to the scene from all corners of the lagoon. In 15 quick minutes the dinghies
pushed the boat to a safe spot and redeployed the anchor. There was a lesson in that escapade for everyone in the lagoon,
as the wheelhouse on the boat was locked, so there was no way to start the engine and move the boat under its own power.
Fortunately, the dinghies had strong enough outboards to keep the boat from crashing into the sailboat and to push it to a new
location despite the high wind. A call soon went out to the fleet reminding us all to leave the keys in the ignition when we went
ashore so that others trying to save our boats could do so easily. This, of course, was quite a contrast to the instructions we
had also all received to raise our dinghies and lock our
outboards each night since several outboard motors had
been stolen in this anchorage over the past two seasons.
Hmmm... lock the car but leave the house key in the front
door of your home... Such are the funny contrasts of this
We could have easily stayed in Barra de Navidad for a
month, along with many other boats in the fleet who kept
delaying their departure day after day, but we felt an urge
to see some new things. So after a week we made our
way a few miles north towards Tenacatita.
Find Barra de Navidad on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on the Mexican Riviera (northern Pacific coast) to see more posts from this area!
Las Hadas Resort.
"The Fairies" ("Las Hadas").
Las Hadas Resort and the marina basin.
Manzanillo's main port is on the horizon.
Barceló Resort and Playa Salahua.
Las Hadas Resort.
Playa La Audiencia.
Las Hadas Anchorage.
Groovy hangs out by the 18th hole.
Iguana sunning on the rocks.
Monkeys at the back of a restaurant.
Whimsically pruned bushes line the waterfront.
A tribute to a bygone era of
Corn tortilla "factory."
Pineapples are tossed and loaded onto a handcart.
A wheelbarrow load of body parts goes to market.
Xilonen V, a 162' megayacht fills the marina.
The megayacht dwarfs the boats
on either side.
Fellow Hobie riders.
Ready for the brochure.
Hobies lined up on Playa La Escondida ("Hidden Beach")
A slot canyon in the ocean.
Las Hadas Anchorage, Manzanillo, Colima Mexico
Early February, 2011 - Las Hadas Resort at the northwest end of Manzanillo Bay is so
picture perfect that anyone with even the simplest camera in hand will find it easy to
take perfect pictures. We enjoyed this spot so much we couldn't stay away. For
several weeks we alternated between this breathtaking cove, embraced by the
enchanting Las Hadas resort, and the soaring openness of the expansive anchorage
over at Playa La Boquita a few miles away in Bahía Santiago. Motoring from one
anchorage to the other, we would take advantage of having the engine running both to
make fresh water and to heat the water in our hot water tank. On a few occasions we
had a blistering sail when the afternoon winds kicked up. Groovy heeled nicely while
the knot meter park itself in the mid-8's.
Las Hadas begs to be explored on foot,
and with each foray onto the cobbled
paths that climb the steep hillsides, we
found more discoveries. "Las Hadas"
means "The Fairies" (the origins of the
resort's name are explained here), and
we found two rather stern looking fairies
just beyond an underpass leading to the
resort's front door. I'm not sure if these
two gals were knighting
some obedient resort
workers or granting
three wishes to
Hiking further up the hill, the views grow ever larger, until you can
see clear across the resort, it's anchorage and the marina to the
smoke stacks of Manzanillo far across the bay. The road twists
and turns in exhilarating switchbacks that leave walkers panting
and some bus riders wishing they had worn seasickness bracelets.
Next door to Las Hadas is the Barceló Karmina Palace resort. It is
much more modern and swank, offering visitors a truly high end lap
of luxury. But its mammoth marble and glass-filled foyers and grand
open spaces lack the otherworldly prettiness, coziness and charm of
Las Hadas. As we trudged higher and higher over the hilly peaks we
paused to catch our breath and marvel at the beauty spread out
The Las Hadas
anchorage is rimmed with restaurants overlooking the
cove. One has a huge sign offering discounts to
boaters (along with their wifi password), and we
treated ourselves to an afternoon of gazing out at the
anchorage and Manzanillo's busy port across the bay.
Banana boats, water skiers and jet skis zig-zagged
among the boats, throwing white wake patterns
We discovered the source of all this action on the water was
Mexico's Constitution Day weekend. It seemed that half of the
huge inland city of Guadalajara had come to vacation on this bay.
This national holiday celebrates the signing and approval of
Mexico's constitution on February 5th, 1917 and, like the Fourth
of July, is clearly fully worthy of an afternoon of being towed at full
speed across the water followed by a raucous evening of happy
partying to loud music.
While walking the beach we
came across an iguana
sunning himself on the rocks.
Just a few weeks later we
discovered these guys can
swim, and we watched one
make its way across a
stretch of calm water, its
head bobbing up every so
often to get some air and
This is an easy climate for keeping
an exotic pet caged outdoors, and
we have seen loads of parrots,
parakeets, canaries and doves
caged outside all kinds of stores from flower shops to small groceries
to beachwear boutiques. The squawk of a macaw drew us to the back
of a restaurant we were passing, and to our surprise, in addition to the
huge colorful birds, we found three large cages filled with monkeys.
They nimbly and silently climbed up and down the cage bars and
nibbled on fruits while staring us down.
The resorts and villas around Las
Hadas and Sanitago are the most
scenic parts of Manzanillo, but we took
the bus into the more gritty downtown area for a change of pace. Manzanillo is a bustling port
with an urban heart, however whimsy and history can still be found. The road leading into
town is lined with creatively pruned bushes, and we passed bushes shaped as hearts and
anchors and dogs. A ficus tree pruned to look like a small boat caught my eye, as did the
bronze sculpture of a seaman at the helm of ship from another era. Four hundred years ago
the Spanish used ports along this southern Pacific coast of Mexico as a link for trading goods
with the orient via Manila in the Phillipines.
I have gradually come to realize that
Mexico is a true blend of indigenous
Indian and foreign Spanish heritage,
beautifully expressed by the rich dark
complexions and lively Spanish
language of the people we encounter.
At one street corner in Manzanillo I said
something to a street vendor-beggar in
my passable American accented
Spanish, and she shook her head at me with that blank look of "No hablo
español" that is so familiar on gringo faces here. There are pockets of
people throughout Mexico, especially in the southern areas, who speak
only their indigenous language, not Spanish.
Music is a universal language, however, and we found street musicians playing
wonderful tunes and rhythms on xylophone and drums.
Growing up and living in
the sanitized world of
that have been delivered
by tractor trailers on the
interstates, it is always
surprising to encounter
other methods of food
distribution. Here on the
streets of Manzanillo we
watched three people
unload a pickup truck full
of pineapples into crates on
a handcart to roll into the central
market. They tossed the
pineapples to each other with
ease. Does our food really get
thrown around like that? A little
further on, another wheelbarrow
full of what appeared to be
lambs' heads, shanks and
backbones was ready to be
rolled into the market as well.
At the far opposite end of the reality scale, a megayacht pulled into the
Las Hadas marina, dwarfing all the boats around it. Xilonen V is 162 feet
long, and when it was med-moored to its spot (tied to the docks at the
stern with a bow anchor thrown into the middle of the marina basin), the
bow of the ship was plunk in the center of the marina.
We had seen a couple float by the back of our boat on matching yellow
inflatable Hobie kayaks, just like ours, and we joined them to get a closer
look at this megayacht. Xilonen V is staffed by a captain and crew of
11 people, and three of them were busy polishing the decks when we
floated by. Of course all we could really see up close from our vantage
point was the waterline!
Lots of cruisers carry a hard-shell kayak or two on their
deck, but we haven't seen any other inflatable Hobies.
These new friends of ours have a condo in the area, and
when they bought their Hobies their neighbors all
thought they were so cool that they bought Hobies too. Now the
building's kayak rack is filled with seven bright yellow inflatable
Hobie kayaks. It looks like the final inspection and shipping
department at the Hobie factory.
We landed the kayaks on a private little beach, Playa La Escondida
("Hidden Beach") around the corner from the resort and took some
photos we thought worthy of a Hobie ad.
At one end of the little beach there is a kind of slot canyon that fills with
swishing waves as the tide rises and falls. When the water swept back to
reveal the soft sand bottom, I walked in a little ways. Suddenly a wave
roared in behind me and rushed around my legs and out the other side,
nearly knocking me off my feet.
It was finally time to venture to some new grounds, so at long last we left
Manzanillo Bay and putted 25 miles north to Barra de Navidad. More and
more cruisers had started reaching this part of the coast during their winter's
cruising in Mexico, and on that brief trip we saw five other sailboats, a record.
Find Manzanillo on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on the "Mexican Riviera" (northern Pacific coast) to see more cruising posts from this area!
Beach villas on Playa La Boquita, Santiago.
Beach palapas on Playa La Boquita, Santiago.
Casa Los Pelicanos.
Gold and black sand swirl together.
View from the Oasis.
Humback whale breaching.
Las Hadas Resort comes into view.
Cobbled waterfront paths, Las Hadas.
Soccer stars from Chivas.
Polka-dotted puffer fish.
Evening on the Las Hadas marina docks.
Agutsín and son León of Frida's
León dressed for work.
Inside Auto Zone.
Ready for Christmas.
Mark & Chebio check out the
Ismael translates for us all.
New copper stator and old burnt one.
Mark watches Chebio's quick, skilled hands.
Chebio has the worst looking but best
running car in town.
Mark and our helper/guide Ismael.
Manzanillo Bay - Santiago & Las Hadas
Mid-December, 2011 - We finally tore ourselves away from the beautiful gringo-filled
vacationland of Paradise Village in Puerto Vallarta and sailed and motored for 27 hours
around Cabo Corrientes to Manzanillo Bay on the famed Gold Coast or Costalegre. We
pulled into Santiago Bay at dawn and were greeted with the familiar thick, moisture-filled air.
Hurricane Jova had
hit this coast very
hard two months
before our arrival and
it seemed that many of the umbrellas along the beach
were new with vibrant colors.
It was a neat feeling to return to a familiar place, and memories of
our time spent here last year came flooding back over the next few
days. The tuba player that strolls this beach was still here, and my
favorite beach villa, Casa Pelicanos, was still decked out with
The sand still had its lovely gold and back swirl patterns, and the Oasis
restaurant overlooking the beach where we celebrated my birthday last
February was still pumping out the tunes and burgers like something out of
a beach vacation magazine.
The only huge difference was that we were the only boat in
the entire bay. Last year we were one of two dozen boats.
This year we could drop the hook anywhere we wanted.
We left Santiago for the quick jaunt across the bay to Las Hadas resort.
It was a quiet morning and we were puttering along under power making
water and kind of half day-dreaming when an enormous splash jolted us
both to our feet. "Did you see that?" We said in unison, wide-eyed. We
both grabbed binoculars and scanned the sea when a humpback whale
suddenly burst out of the water and fell back with a crash.
He was right between us
and the shore, and he was
having a whale of a time,
shooting up in the air like a
rocket and then falling onto
After a series of breaches he started doing
headstands, waving his tail and slapping it on the
water ferociously. These guys are huge
creatures, and that tail has some power. We
wondered if he was just having a little fun playing
in the morning hours or if he was communicating
something to a buddy or perhaps to us.
I have no idea, but after a
while he disappeared and the
gorgeous Las Hadas Resort came into view around the corner. Again
the memories from last year came flooding back and we anchored and
took the kayak ashore feeling like we were coming home.
You can't go home again, though, and both the port captain
Adrien and the fuel dock operator Polo that we had
befriended last year had moved on to other jobs. Las Hadas
Resort is in transition, searching for new management, and it
was very quiet. Just six boats were in the beautiful little
anchorage, and two of those were unoccupied.
Wandering the brick paths up and down
and around Las Hadas is a joy, and we
spent a few hours strolling around the
grounds and enjoying the lovely pool.
We were treated to the presence of two major soccer teams in
residence during our stay. The boys from the Guadalajara based
Atlas and Chivas teams jogged the paths, did exercises on the
beach, and performed soccer drills on a field at the edge of the
golf course. Best of all was when they ambled around shirtless
after their workouts. Fox Sports was hanging around too, setting
up their portable cameras to catch glimpses of these celebrities
during their pre-season training.
We never saw the boys swimming, but down by the dinghy dock
the water was so clear that we watched a polka-dotted puffer fish
swimming around. It was amazing to get a clear photo of him
from above the water without even needing an underwater
The dock along the Las Hadas marina has several pretty outdoor eateries, ranging from a
simple table and chairs outside a convenience store where the locals enjoy a cheap beer
after work to the more elaborate fine dining offered by a high end Italian restaurant. At
either end of the spectrum, this is a gorgeous place to while away the late afternoon and
early evening hours.
One of the highlights for us here
last year was meeting the new
owner of Frida's Restaurant whose
family makes the best hot sauce
we have ever tasted. Frida Kahlo
was a surrealist Mexican artist of
German descent whose self-
imposted solitude spawned
endless self-portraits. This
restaurant was named for her
before new owner Agustín took
over last year. One of her famous
quotes is on the wall: "I intended
to drown my sorrows but the
bastards learned to swim."
On lucky days patrons of Frida's are treated to the unmatched
service offered by Agustín's six-year-old son León. This little boy
takes his work extremely seriously. Although dad Agustín prefers
more casual attire, son León likes to come to work in a freshly
pressed white shirt, a jacket and tie. Much to his dad's surprise,
he even sports a little cologne. School was out for the holidays, so we were
fortunate to see this unique youngster once again.
Little León is extremely professional and takes his patrons' orders and delivers their
food with pride and care. Last year one of the waiters started chatting with us in a
very familiar way while we were eating, and little León wasn't happy with this casual
closeness and even said so to his dad. In his mind guests are guests and servers
are servers. We all got a huge (muffled) laugh about this. León is a rare, sweet
and special boy.
Agustín's aunt and uncle make La Tía hot sauce, a delicious hot sauce that is made
without vinegar, giving it a special flare. It can be found at the mercado in neighboring
Santiago, but Agustín was kind enough to bring a few extra bottles with him one night so
we could buy them.
We spent a few more days at Las Hadas, soaking up its unusual and creative air. Finally
we were ready to leave, and at 5:00 a.m. one morning we pulled out in the dark to head to Zihuatanejo Bay 185
miles to the southeast. Four miles out the low battery light came on and we smelled a horrific smell of
something burning in the engine compartment. We stopped dead in our tracks and began troubleshooting.
Flashlights, ammeter and noses on full alert, we realized this was a bigger problem than could be solved while
bobbing out in the bay between the freighters, and we turned around.
We have never had a boat problem that crippled our ability to travel, and we didn't dare think
about how this crisis would unfold. Mark quickly removed the alternator and we took off with it in
the kayak to the dinghy dock and grabbed a cab to the nearest Auto Zone to have it tested.
Unfortunately the computers at Auto Zone were down and it took a long time for the store
manager to rifle through all the alternators on the shelf to find one with the same connections as
ours so he could enter the right codes on the testing machine to test it.
While we were waiting a fellow in line at the register introduced himself as Ismael and said he
knew an alternator guru in Cihuatlán, about an hour away by car. Ismael told us he knew of this
guy because he owned a bus line with Mercedes diesel buses and he always had this guy fix his
alternators and work on his bus engines. Once our alternator test was finally completed and the
screen showed large red letters saying "Falló" ("Failed") we hopped in Ismael's truck and drove
off to Cihuatlán with him.
On our way there we drove along a
five mile section of highway that had
been underwater when the rivers flooded during
Hurricane Jova. Ismael had gone fishing the day
after the storm and the ocean was filled with cattle
and farm animals that had been swept away out of
the grazing fields. Over 1,000 cattle were lost. The
locals are working hard to recover. The banana
trees were trimmed back right after the storm and
now were in full leaf and very healthy. The vast
stands of palm trees were also fine. But there were
marks on the buildings in downtown Cihuatlán of
where the water had risen to about 7'.
Now, however, Cihuatlán was getting ready for
Christmas, and the decorations gave it a festive air.
At last we arrived at the master's shop. Chebio has been rebuilding alternators
and working on car electrical systems for his entire life, initially under the
tutelage of his very skilled father who opened the shop over fifty years ago.
The shop is largely outdoors and strewn with dusty parts like a junk yard. Along
with the busy hum of machinery and hard working mechanics, a rooster
punctuated the air with his cock-a-doodle-doos from the roof
of a car and in a nearby tree.
As soon as we met Chebio we knew were in the presence of a
highly skilled mechanic. He moved with the confidence and
ease of a master, despite near constant interruptions from
customers and mechanics looking for his expertise.
Throughout all this seeming chaos
his elderly father sat back and
watched the scene, collecting
money from clients and enjoying
the hubbub of his very successful
shop. The young mechanics called
Chebio "Maestro" meaning
"Master" or "Teacher."
I did my best to explain our
problems to Chebio in Spanish, but
our guide Ismael jumped in to act
as official translator to make sure nothing was lost in the translation.
Chebio explained to us that he needed to take the alternator apart
and then see if he had or could acquire the replacement parts to
make it work. "Give me 30 minutes," he said, so we took off for lunch
at nearby "Tacos Johny," a wonderful little restaurant. Between bites of awesome 8 peso ($0.60)
carne asada tacos, we listened to the crooning of a young boy standing on a chair and then heard
our guide Ismael's amazing life story.
He became the man of his family at age 3 when his
father left. Determined to make a better life, he
ventured to Nogales at age 14, knowing no English,
and worked in a restaurant without pay until the
owners saw what a great job he did and put him on
the payroll. Continuing this method of making
himself invaluable before trying to reap any
rewards, he ultimately became the owner of a very
profitable framing company, opened three
successful Mexican restaurants and owned homes
in Montana and Colorado Springs. A century ago
his tale would have been hailed as the ultimate
American immigrant success story, and he would
have been revered as a mentor by younger
Instead, after over 20 years in the US, rather than try to jump the high hurdles
blocking his path to remain there--where in all likelihood he would have continued
building companies and creating American jobs--he returned to Mexico with a fortune in cash with which he
bought a slew of rental properties in the towns around his family homestead and built a local bus line from
His story was inspiring and sad at the same time. Somewhere along the line America has decided it doesn't
need the immigrants that have always made up the very foundation, heart and soul of its society. From north
of the border it is too easy to assume all Mexicans want to flee Mexico, but as we sat in this classic Mexican
semi-outdoor eatery that exudes the most wonderful homeyness, friendliness and familiarity, I asked him if he
had ever been homesick while living in the US. "All my life," he said quietly. Caught between two countries,
he still owns houses in the US, and his American wife, who was afraid of life in Mexico, lives in Montana.
We returned to Chebio's shop to find that by some miracle he had the stator we needed in stock. It was a
perfect fit and was his only one. However, the alternator needed a new regulator too, and that required a trip elsewhere.
Chebio took off in his trusty car that appears to be falling apart but has the best running engine in town. He returned half an
hour later with the necessary regulator. Another hour or two of work, during which time he had to explain to quite a few
customers that their projects would be delayed because of ours, and he got the alternator back together again and fully tested.
It was a great scene. The rooster crowed, Chebio's dad sat back with a
satisfied smile watching his son at work, and a cluster of younger men gathered
around to soak up whatever bits of wisdom they could from the master. The
outdoor shop and tools were rudimentary at best, but the job was very well
done. Chebio used a kitchen knife and a light bulb, among other things, to
complete his alternator tests.
When all was said and done, he charged us 750
pesos ($53) for the project, of which 550 pesos
($42) was for parts. We were stunned. This
meant he valued four hours of his time on a Saturday at just $11 total. We paid him a lot more
than he asked, and he was as thrilled with our payment as we were with his work. It took two
cab rides and a bus ride to get back to Las Hadas. Topping off our colorful day, the bus stalled
on a hill and, to cheers from its occupants, the driver finally got it started again by popping the
clutch while sliding backwards downhill. Mark installed the alternator in no time, and it worked
perfectly. Next morning at 5:00 a.m. we were off on our 27 hour motorboat ride to Zihuatanejo.
Often in this strange life of cruising and
full-time travel we place ourselves in the
hands of fate without any idea how
things will turn out. We had woken up
this morning prepared for an overnight
sail to Z-town and instead were rewarded with one of the most amazing
experiences we have had to date. The seeming disaster of a dead
alternator put us shoulder to shoulder with two of the finest and most
generous men we have met: our guide Ismael and guru-mechanic
Chebio of Cihuatlán.
A sea turtle drifts by.
Mom enjoys a brilliant sail.
Villas on Playa La Boquita in Santiago Bay.
Playa La Boquita.
Black and brown patterned sand yields gold in bright sunlight.
Looking out at the anchorage.
A tuba player could be heard
every afternoon throughout
Umbrellas line the shores of the estuary.
A footbridge crossed to Las Palmas resort.
Manicured lawns bring a special kind of serenity.
Canoes wait for passengers.
A panga in the mangroves.
81 is the new 18.
Mark talks "bike shop" with the locals.
The Santiago Flea Market offers tourist souvenirs.
Horseback riding on the beach.
A frigate bird takes a close
look at us.
The Oasis gave me a perfect birthday moment.
La Boquita Anchorage in Santiago, Colima, Mexico
Late January, 2011 - We left Zihuatanejo and took our time returning north to Manzanillo.
This 200 mile stretch of coastline is very remote, and for four days of motoring and three
nights at anchor we saw only a handful of boats: tankers on the horizon by day and fellow
cruisers tucked in beside us by night. As the guidebooks warn, the three anchorages along
here are very rolly, as they are open to the full brunt of the Pacific Ocean's waves coming to
shore from thousands of miles out. Despite our best efforts to keep the bow of the boat into
the waves by setting a stern anchor in addition to our bow anchor, we found that the
crosswinds on the beam of the boat were so powerful overnight that our anchoring gear
strained and groaned in too much discomfort to make it worthwhile.
Heaving a big sigh, we let the boat swing freely each
night and, as expected, it chose to angle itself
beam-to against the swell, setting up a terrific side-
to-side roll that kept us rolling in our bunk all night.
One by one we found the various round and
cylindrical items throughout the boat that rolled back
and forth with a thud or clank on each side. A
canister in a locker here, a beer can in the fridge
there, a broom handle over there. Quieting
these relentless noises made for a lot of
detective work in the wee hours of the night.
The up-side of all this sleeplessness,
however, was that we were awake before
dawn each day, and we saw some stunning
Mexico's wind gods like to play with cruising
sailors, and they offer little but whispering
zephyrs each day along this coast. At night
they howl ferociously, however. Hour after hour
they shake the rigging like prisoners rattling their cell bars. But at the first hint of sunlight
everything stops. Just like that. Acting like guilty children, as if nothing happened, they offer
the merest exhales once again, laughing silently as we curse yet another day of motoring.
Preferring to travel in daylight, we motored pretty much the entire way. We were frustrated to
be cruising in a built-to-sail motorboat. Again, however, there was a silver lining. This coast
is loaded with turtles, and the calm seas gave us a chance to get a really good look at a few
as they drifted past our hull.
Ever the adventurer, my mom had been eagerly awaiting a chance escape the steady
procession of New England blizzards to try the cruising lifestyle on her daughter's boat. We
swept her up in Manzanillo and took a sail to neighboring Santiago bay. To our amazement,
the capricious winds blew perfectly that afternoon, and we had a glorious romp across the
wide bay. Manzanillo's expansive bay is perfect for daysailing, and we took full advantage.
Once the anchor was down around the corner off Playa La Boquita in
Santiago Bay, we took the dinghy ashore to check out the beach. The
beach is almost four miles long, and is quite wide, fairly flat and stroked
endlessly by large, fluffy waves. About a third of the beach is lined by
beautiful villas that belong to the huge gated community Club Santiago.
Each home is more lovely than the last, and the cruisers gaze at
the large flower filled balconies and picture windows with as
much admiration (and possibly envy) as the vacationers do
looking out at the yachts swinging in the bay.
The beach is filled with a
mixture of brown and black
sand that makes fantastic
patterns as the waves wash
in and out. From certain
angles the sand glittered
brilliant gold too, making it
seem as though a little bit of
panning might help out the
cruising kitty. Our eyes
were cast down at the
patterns at our feet as
much as they scanned the
colorful views around us.
From the boat we had
heard the oom-pah of a
tuba, and once ashore
we had to go find the
source. It didn't take
long. A tuba player and
his little band were
walking up and down
the line of umbrellas at
the public access end of
the beach, offering
songs to anyone willing to part with
a few pesos.
At the furthest west end of the
beach we discovered a little estuary,
and we followed it slightly inland. A
small bridge took us
over the water, where
a beautiful resort, Las
Palmas, was waiting
on the other side.
lawns and shrubbery
offered a feeling of
utter peace and
tranquility. We could
coming here to escape
the responsibilities of a
stressed life. The only
sounds were birds
chirping in the trees;
the rustle of the palm
leaves were like a
chorus of librarians whispering "shhh."
Even the pound of the surf and
excitement of the rugged sandy beach
just over the little footbridge seemed a
Canoes were ready for guests by the
shore, and a panga that could host a
guided tour was hidden in the
Spirits sky high, we returned to the boat
where we found, to our utter shock, the
water was crystal clear. Our
guidebooks have lauded the crystalline waters of many anchorages throughout our stay on
the Pacific coast of Mexico, but this year those waters have eluded us. Wave after wave of
burgundy, yellow and forest green colored "red tide" has filled every bay, cove and even
the open ocean, making it impossible to see more than a few feet into the water. Suddenly
being able to see clearly 20 feet below the boat had us all jumping into our swimsuits in
one motion. Mark was over the side with a woosh, and mom was right behind. What a role
model she is, announcing "81 is the new 18" and taking to the water like a 10-
year-old. The aqua-cize classes have paid off in spades, and she demonstrated
her moves, making light of the very strong current that threatened to whisk us all
away from the boat if we weren't careful.
On another day we wandered into Santiago itself where a large enclosed public
market offers everything from fresh produce to sweet smelling straw baskets to
freshly filleted fish. The streets around the market are filled with little shops, and
Mark found friends at the local bike shop, trying in his best Spanish to explain that
he used to have a bike shop in his garage too.
Every Saturday the town hosts a large flea market. This turned out
to be more of a tourist-oriented enterprise than we expected, but it
was fun to wander among all the brightly painted ceramics and
beautifully carved wood pieces. Pale sunburned gringos lined up on
one side of the flea market to find souvenirs for loved ones at home
while a few locals roamed on the other side, sifting through the
bargain clothing offerings to find more practical fare.
Taking the dinghy along La
Boquita beach, we saw groups
of horseback riders along the
water's edge. Following their
tracks in the sand later it
seemed they paralleled the
weaving water line perfectly,
never getting their hooves wet.
At one end of the anchorage lies San Luciano a 300'
long steel cargo ship that sank in a 1959 hurricane.
What remains is just a skeleton, but the birds love the
remnants of the masts that stick up above the waves.
We have watched frigate birds soaring high over our
boat, masters of the sky, and at times of the smaller
birds nearby. Now we had a chance to see the face of
one up close.
Back on the beach on my birthday, we asked both fellow
cruisers and land dwellers where a good spot would be to
celebrate turning 51. Everyone pointed to The Oasis, and
we spent a lovely afternoon perched on their balcony looking
out over the pounding surf.
To one side of the view, the boats in the anchorage stood
out in brilliant white relief against the towering dark mountain
behind them. On the other side we could see the little white
villas on the backside of Las Hadas resort. It was a perfect
birthday moment, and I couldn't help myself as I said to
Mark, "It's like we're living in the pages of some glossy
magazine called Perfect Vacation Hideaways." With that in
mind, we decided we would stay in the Manzanillo area a
Find Santiago (Manzanillo) on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on the "Mexican Riviera" (northern Pacific coast) to see more cruising posts from this area!
Beautiful villas line Zihuatanejo's shore.
Pangas on Playa Principal (Principal Beach)
Dinghy valet service.
Z-town has a waterfront walking district.
There are hundreds of outdoor eateries.
Palms sway in the sand on Playa Principal.
The waterfront park got a bandstand...
...and in no time it was finished.
Plants and brick pavers were ready to go....
...and suddenly a garden sprouted.
Fishermen sell their fish from coolers.
Fresh caught fish ready for the skillet.
Hundreds of waste bins are lined up to be assembled
and distributed around town.
Looking down on Las Gatas from a beautiful
restaurant on the hilltop.
Toddlers love the beach.
Walking onto Playa La Ropa,
The views are beautiful at every turn.
Each resort and villa is unique.
Looking down at the Zihuatanejo anchorage.
New sculptures have been placed
all around town.
Zihua has its touristy side
on the waterfront...
Local kids have a happy hour all their own.
What a toilet!
Fresh fruits and veggies at the large central market.
Fresh chicken presented differently than we are used to.
Christmas piñatas were a hot selling item, and this
gal made them right there.
Rafa's Bar, before the rowdy cruisers showed up on
Mike paddles his dinghy, a bright red canoe, past his
trimaran "Spirit of Adventure."
Zihuatanejo, Mexico (1)
Late December, 2010 - Finally saturated with playing on the beach
and in the water at Isla Ixtapa, we motored ten short miles to
Zihuatanejo. This once sleepy fishing village is now a tourist town
with a charming waterfront walking district. A hippy hangout some
years back, Zihua still retains its laid back pace.
Despite being right next door to the very sophisticated and built up
town of Ixtapa, and despite playing host to the occasional cruise
ship, Zihuatanejo is enchanting.
Arriving in the harbor during the late afternoon, we anchored in
front of a string of beautiful villas. A fleet of pangas lined the
shore, and as we landed the dinghy a man came running towards
us shouting "I help you I help you!" It turned out that a group of
enterprising young men have created an informal dinghy valet
service here in Z-town. Working for tips, they help the cruisers
drag their dinks high enough onto the beach to avoid floating away
at high tide. They keep an eye on the boats while the owners go
off into town and then help drag the dink back into the water when
the owners return, even if they don't return until well after dark.
This service is not entirely needed, as all the cruisers can
handle their dinghies on this short beach without assistance.
But it does make for a friendly welcome into town, and it is
nice to know that someone is keeping an eye on your dinghy
while you go about your business on shore.
What a surprise greeted us when we took our first walk in this
town. We had read a lot about Zihuatanejo in years past, and
knew it was a favorite cruiser hangout. But other than its
frequent descriptions as "friendly," "charming" and "a little
quirky," we didn't know what to expect.
What we discovered is that this town is an eclectic cross
between San Diego's upscale Seaport Village and a classic,
bustling, dusty Mexican town. It has a wonderful air of cute
trendiness but has managed not to lose its authentic feeling of
The brick sidewalks, open store fronts and countless
sidewalk eateries stretched lazily before us while we strolled
The town is currently undergoing an extensive renovation, and all the streets along the waterfront have been converted to a
walking area where cars are not allowed. Meticulous attention to detail has been lavished on every storefront and building.
Posts and pillars supporting western style storefront walkways were wrapped with decorative rope, and all the walking areas
were covered with patterns of brick pavers.
A small park along the middle of the beach features a basketball court and bandstand, both of which came to life while we
were there. The workers sweated steadily from before dawn until many hours after sundown, working under floodlights in the
dark, to make sure the park renovation was finished and ready for the holidays. During our stay a garden of hibiscus flowers
and palms sprouted up, fully formed and blooming, at one end of the park. The garden featured wonderful sculptures of
crocodiles, cormorants and iguanas, each standing in very realistic poses.
Along the beachfront there is an open air fish market where fresh
caught fish is sold out of coolers that have just been unloaded from
the fishing pangas. Fish of all shapes and sizes are laid out on
display or kept on ice in the coolers.
One afternoon the park was suddenly filled with rows and rows
of not-yet-assembled trash cans. To one side were three brand
new garbage trucks. The money that the government had
given Zihuatanejo for their facelift was being well spent, and we
heard a rumor that on New Year's Day the governor of the state
of Guerrero was going to come to town to check it all out.
Tourism is the lifeblood of this little town, and in this neck of the
woods that means there are lots of timeshares and timeshare
presentations. Walking up the very steep hill between Madera
Beach and La Ropa Beach, a van stopped next to us and a kid
hopped out and asked if we wanted a ride to the top. Sure! It
was a steep hill, and we and our friends were all sweating
bullets. The air conditioned van ride to the top was great, but
we discovered what they were really after was for us to tour a
new condo timeshare development in exchange for breakfast at
a posh hilltop restaurant. We took a few photos from this
breathtaking spot, but after much discussion with the
saleswoman and the sales manager, we decided against the tour.
Back down on Playa La Ropa ("Clothes Beach," so
named because a long ago shipwreck deposited lots of
clothes on the beach), we joined the vacationers playing
in the sun.
The beach was filled with parasailors, catamarans, kids making sand castles and couples
strolling hand-in-hand. Everyone was enjoying Christmas vacation.
We wandered up and over the steep hill separating Playa
La Ropa from Playa Madera and got a glimpse of the
anchorage from high up.
Zihuatanejo has a large ex-
pat community, and one of
the favorite hangouts is
Zorro's, a bar run by a
Canadian couple. The table
next to ours was filled with
local kids playing at being
Mexico is known for
ceramics, but Mark
and I were both
very surprised when
we ducked into the restrooms
at one establishment. We
passed the camera back and
forth between the mens room
and ladies room to get pictures
of the fancy toilets!
Behind all the bright and
colorful tourist come-ons in the
waterfront walking district,
Zihuatanejo reveals its true
Mexican soul in the central
public market just a few streets
back from the
up a full city block, this crowded and cramped series of indoor
walkways and shops offers everything imaginable for sale.
Fruit stalls, poultry stalls, meat sellers and spice sellers are all lined up
in impossibly tight spacing, along with straw hat sellers, dime store junk
sellers and bootleg DVD vendors. Turning sideways to pass other
shoppers, we gaped as we passed a display of whole chickens splayed
on their backs, heads lolling off the edge of the table and feet sticking
up in the air.
It seemed we were in the "real" Mexico. Women stood
patiently in line at each stall, waiting to fill their sacks with the
makings of a large family Christmas dinner.
Christmas piñatas were on display
too, and we passed a woman
making them from scratch. Each
one was built around a ceramic
pot that would later be cracked
open by blindfolded kids wielding
Besides the lively, touristy waterfront and the gritty, rich-smelling public market, what
made Zihuatanejo special for us was the spontaneous friendships we formed. New
friends we met on the beach invited us to spend Christmas at their condo overlooking
Ixtapa's fabulous beach. What a delight to spend such an intimate holiday with new-
A whole community of friendships sprang up between the boats anchored in the bay
during the days leading up to Christmas. We had heard that there was usually a
cruisers net on the VHF radio every morning in the wintertime. After not hearing
anything on the radio for a few mornings, I jumped in and got it started.
This gave everyone a forum to meet each other, and in no time we had
organized a Christmas Eve gathering at Rafa's Bar, a restaurant
traditionally patronized by the cruisers back when it was owned by a
guy named Rick. Rafa was thrilled when the entire cruising community
showed up in his bar in the early afternoon of Christmas Eve and
stayed until dark. It was no surprise that they did, as Mark had talked
him into offering 10 peso beers (80 cents) to the cruisers all afternoon.
Most of the cruisers are folks like ourselves, graying a bit around the
edges and living a life they have dreamed of and planned on for years.
The boats have been carefully chosen and are well equipped, with an
emphasis on comfort -- at least as much comfort as can be had in a
small space wobbling around on the ocean.
Our cruising friend Mike, however, is different. Just 25 years old, he
lives on an older trimaran that doesn't have a working engine. "I'm
living on a loaf of bread and a huge hunk of cheese," he told me. We
first met him when he was drifting down the coast about 50 miles north
of Manzanillo. Arriving two days after us ("No wind, man!"), he was
triumphant to have broken away from the grind and gone sailing,
despite parents who wanted him to come home and get a real job.
Referring to his fellow cruisers (many of whom are older than his
parents) as "bro" and "dude," and wearing his baseball cap backwards
over his long locks, he is living a life many of us dreamed of at 25 but
didn't quite have the guts to try.
Zihuatanejo welcomed 2011 with fireworks on both beaches, and a
few days later the group of cruisers began to disperse. About half
were headed south towards Central America, but our course would
keep us in Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa for another few weeks.
Find Zihuatanejo on Mexico Maps
to see more cruising posts from this area!
Lovely resorts line Ixtapa Beach.
Baby sea turtle treks to the ocean.
Baby sea turtle's new home.
Head on a telescoping arm.
Kitten at the Playa Linda market.
Yacht so big it has a garage.
Munchies on their way to the megayacht.
Here you go!
Little girl enjoys our kayak.
Ixtapa Island workers commute home.
Madera Beach in Zihautanejo.
Parasailors fill La Ropa Beach.
A parrot says "hello" on La Ropa beach.
Vendors hike to Playa Las Gatas.
Mariachi musicians walk towards Las Gatas Beach.
Shelled peanuts are a big seller on
Playa Las Gatas.
Pepe's music store in
Mark finds the perfect guitar case.
Pepe sings while Estéban looks on.
Bi-Zihuanas bike shop.
Alejandro, owner of Bi-Zihuanas.
Signed US Nationals
We share some Groovy fun with special new friends.
Carmen, the jewelry store owner,
chats with us every morning.
Beautifully decorated plates from a fine artist.
Lorenzo checks me out.
Socorro whistles and sings.
Dr. Soberanis takes great care of my teeth.
Adding some touches to Groovy's signature on Noemi's wall.
German M/V Albatros stops for a day before heading across the south Pacific to the
Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Early January, 2012 - The Ixtapa/
Zihuatanejo area is the ideal place to
relax, with lots to do, including
relax we did, for several weeks. It is a
place where people seem to be just a little
bit warmer and a little bit friendlier than in
other parts of world, a place where
everyone has the time to get to know
each other and let friendships grow.
From gringos escaping the cold north
winds for breezy beach houses to locals
living normal workaday lives, we have met
some very special people on shore here.
Ixtapa is the more sophisticated and glitzy big sister to small-town Zihuatanejo. High rises line
the beautifully groomed beach, and each resort has inviting pools and views. What a treat it was
to spend the night at a friend's condo, waking up to sunrise on shore.
While walking Ixtapa beach that morning we came
across a young couple staring intently at the sand. We looked down and there was a
baby sea turtle making its way across the beach to the sea. Soon a small crowd
gathered and we all rooted this little guy on as he took his first steps into the big world.
He knew exactly where he was going, and he was hell bent on getting there, trekking
down the beach with awkward paddle-steps. In no time he was at the frothing water's
At first the only waves that reached him were the
gentle wave-ends away from the crashing surf. The
water swept lazily across the sand, and as each
wave washed over him he would get jostled a little and dragged down the beach a few steps.
But when the wave receded he would right himself and continue his march down the beach.
Finally he got into the surf zone and in an instant a huge wave crashed on the shore and he
was sucked into its swirling depths. We all searched for him when the wave pulled back, but
that was it. He was gone.
One of the coolest things in Ixtapa is the miles long bike path
and extensive jungle sanctuary. We walked a little ways back
into the jungle where crocodiles rest with mouths wide open and
long legged birds stand like statues in the estuary waiting to
strike passing fish. I love the snaky necks on these guys. It's as
if their heads are on a long retractable arm. Imagine
being able to move your head so freely up and down
and round about without moving your body or feet.
A family of little kittens caught our eyes too as
they played around the beachside
For vacationers water play is the name of the game in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo.
Back out at Ixtapa Island we found ourselves surrounded by 75' to 100'
charter power yachts every afternoon. These luxury yachts are so big that
they even have garages in the back. The crew simply slides open the door
and roll out the jet-skis for a little fast-paced fun.
The restaurants on shore take good care of these visiting day-charters
without anyone on the charter boat having to go ashore. We watched
platter after platter of food being shuttled out to them. What a way to go:
pull in, drop the hook, and call room service for some munchies.
We live a little more simply than that and pedaled ourselves to
shore in the kayak for a toes-in-the-sand brewski some
afternoons. One day we returned to find a little girl sitting on the
edge of our kayak with the biggest grin on her face. Her dad
moved to get her off when he saw us coming, but she looked so
happy sitting there we encouraged her to stay. She sat there for
a full hour, smiling away, while we wandered around the beach one more time.
At the end of the day the workers return home from this island. Vacationers
visit the island in covered water taxis where they can escape the sun and
listen to Mexican music blaring on the water taxis' large speakers. There are
so many water taxis that the boats are never overcrowded. The workers' ride
is another story, however. The boats were so loaded down with passengers
we wondered if they would make it all the way back to the mainland without
Back on the mainland ourselves, we strolled all the
beaches around Zihua bay and soaked up the sun.
Mexicans enjoy the holidays to the fullest, continuing
to celebrate right through Epiphany on January 6th
when there is a final burst of fiestas to mark the
arrival of the three kings in Bethlehem. This is the
day when Mexican children receive their holiday gifts,
not Christmas day. I had been surprised when I
asked around on Christmas day to find out that the
kids weren't getting any gifts that morning. I
wondered if they just skipped the gift-giving and
commercialism of the holidays all together. But a
Mexican friend set me straight when he explained that
January 5th is the biggest shopping day in Mexico and
that the spirit of giving gifts to children coincides with the
gifts brought to Jesus by the Magi. That made a lot of
sense to me, as I remember when I was little trying to
figure out how that jolly old elf in the bright red suit fit
into all the other Christmastime traditions. He certainly
never seemed to show up in the nativity scenes around town…
Las Gatas Beach is separated from the other beaches
by a quarter mile trek across rocks and boulders.
Most tourists take the easier route and visit by water
taxi, but the vendors all save their pesos and do the
free hike over the rocks. I was amazed to watch an
older woman deftly managing a basket of wares on her
head as she negotiated the tricky trail.
Mariachi musicians carry their large instruments, and
from our perch on Groovy just a few hundred yards
from the trail we watched groups of musicians traipsing
to and from Las Gatas beach all day, their large
instruments strapped to their backs.
One of the most popular items sold by these vendors
is shelled peanuts. Generally about 20 pesos ($1.50)
a bag, the "cacahuate" ("peanut") vendors do a brisk
business on the beach.
One day while wandering around the back streets
of Zihuatanejo we came across a music shop. Mark always
likes to check out the guitar selection in music stores, and
suddenly he turned to me with the hugest grin ever. "Look at
this!" he said, holding up a Beatles decorated guitar bag. He
didn't have a guitar bag for his guitar on the boat, and this
one was absolutely perfect for this 45-year-long Beatles fan.
The shop owner, Pepe, was happily strumming away behind
the counter. He had an older friend and a young friend back
there with him, and they spontaneously jumped into a series
of lovely Mexican ballads on their guitars. How I wish my
Spanish were good enough to understand the song lyrics as
they were sung. Each song had a beautiful bittersweet tone
of love lost. Weak Spanish was no problem, however, when
the young boy Estéban grabbed Pepe's guitar and launched
into a 12-song set of Beatles hits. His spoken English was as
shaky as my Spanish, but he knew every word to every Beatles
song perfectly. We sang what we could with him and hummed
the verses we didn't know by heart. Just 22 years old, Estéban
sang with an affection for the songs that would make any grey-
haired Beatles lover from the sixties proud.
Another day we bumped into a bike
shop. Never one to pass up an
opportunity to talk bikes with fellow
enthusiasts, Mark walked in and found
an instant friend in owner Alejandro. It
turned out that Alejandro has had the
great fortune to ride the Alps and the
Pyrenees in France and is going to Italy
to ride this summer (but frustratingly
can't get a visa to ride the beautiful roads
of the western US). What fun to discover that his ultimate cycling idol was the
same as Mark's: the great Italian climber nicknamed "Il Pirato" ("The Pirate"),
The name of Alejandro's
shop is a wonderful play on
words. The Spanish word for "bike" is "bici,"
pronounced "bee see." The town's nickname is
"Zihua," pronounced "see wha." And the common
local dinosaur-looking critter is an "iguana,"
pronounced "iwhana." Combining all those words
together he came up with "Bi-Zihuanas" or "bee see
Offering mountain biking tours in the hinterlands
around Zihua, Alejandro is so friendly and outgoing
that his shop is always abuzz with customers and
activity. Another longtime gringo friend of his was
visiting at the time, and he had brought down a fantastic cycling jersey
signed by US National Master's men's cyclocross champ Dan Norton
to be displayed on the wall. This is one cool bike shop.
But besides all the wonderful talk of favorite Tour de France moments,
towering French mountain climbs and shared lust for various cutting
edge racing bikes and components, the best part of this shop is
Alejandro and his family. We enjoyed several visits with them, and
especially got a kick out of bringing the kids out to spend some time on
Zihuatanejo is a small community and everyone knows each
other. Every day on our way into town we would pass all the
vendors and chit-chat with many of them. Tourism is drastically
down these days, but these guys always have
smiles on their faces.
The two parrots Socorro and Lorenzo who live
at the restaurant Lilly's seem to smile a lot too.
Rarely confined to their cages, we discovered
they both talk very well, mostly in Spanish.
Socorro has lived with her owner for twenty
years, and she entertained us with her very dramatic singing
voice. She would warble and whistle and sing with intense
vibrato from up near the ceiling every time we came by.
Somewhere along the line I discovered a large filling had fallen
out of a molar in the back of my mouth, and I was really glad to
have met so many locals to get a good recommendation for a
dentist. Dr. Oliverio Soberanis came with several excellent
recommendations, and I was floored when he put a tiny
camera in my mouth to show me before and after photos of
my tooth. Here in Mexico the dentists perform the cleanings
rather than the hygienists, and both Mark and I hit the chair for
a thorough cleaning.
After the dentist replaced my
filing with one that is truly invisible, I asked him how he managed
to give it such a smooth and slippery finish. He explained that he
polished it, something, we learned later from a retired dentist
friend, that is too time consuming for many American dentists to
bother with. He also fixed some careless work I'd had done in
the States years ago. So I left with a bright and happy smile!
The cleaning was 600 pesos ($46), the large filling replacement
was 1300 pesos ($100), and a medium sized filling was 800
pesos ($61), all a bargain considering he spent three hours
working on Mark and me and he took us right when we walked in
the door, no appointment necessary. This was our third
experience with Mexican dentistry and we have been happy
customers every time.
Retracing our steps from last year, we stopped in at Noemi's
restaurant and added a few touches to our cruiser signature on
her wall. The wall is becoming quite crowded with boat names,
logos and signatures, and hopefully when we return someday it
will be filled with even more.
On our last day in town a cruise ship pulled in. Zihuatanejo
used to get dozens of cruise ships, but this one was one of only
five visiting in 2012. Like all cruise ships that drop in on Zihua,
this one had an unusual itinerary. Having left Hamburg,
Germany a week before Christmas, it was on its way to Aukland
New Zealand, a 50 day journey. Wow, and we thought we had
sailed a long ways!!
On January 14th we finally stowed everything away and
waved our last goodbyes to wonderful Bahía Zihuatanejo,
and turned Groovy's bow south towards Acapulco.
Find Zihuatanejo on Mexico Maps and explore our visit
to see more cruising posts from this area!
Playa Las Gatas
Zihuatanejo Bay's lighthouse,
Cruisers enjoy a pool party...
...charterboaters enjoy a pool party too.
"Picante" hosts spinnaker rides.
Suzanne and Tony share the cruising life as a happily married couple
sailing separate boats, both painted the same bright blue.
A parasailor enjoys the sunset,
towed by a boat that still has
plenty of gas.
Cheeseburger in paradise.
Beatlemania in Ixtapa.
Dance festival rehearsal, Ixtapa.
View from our cockpit.
Looking out to the anchorage from Playa Principal.
Table for two at La Palmera.
Cruise ship leaves for an overnight sail to Acapulco.
Mexican Navy ship stands guard just behind
the cruise ship.
Stunning sunsets were common.
Oops - look what's in the dinghy.
When the water was clear, we can see hundreds
of fish by the side of the boat.
A little school surfaces as one.
A four toed candlestick
Zihua's first people
came over Alaska's
Bearing Strait from Asia.
Noemi's cruiser wall.
We enjoy an afternoon of snacking while painting
on the wall.
Isla Ixtapa is all about fun in the sun. Babes get tans...
...while boys jump off...
...and do flips in the air.
Watertoys of all kinds are available for rent at Isla Ixtapa.
Zihuatanejo, Mexico (2)
January, 2011 - Zihuatanejo enchanted us, and we stayed firmly
planted in the anchorage with no thoughts of going elsewhere. The
bay is several miles across and is encircled by four beaches ("playas").
Playa Principal, the main beach, runs alongside the pretty little walking
streets of the town. From there, a boardwalk wanders in and out along
the curvy shoreline to a small beach, Playa Madera. Then you hike up
and over a steep hill to get to the long, wide, serious vacation beach,
Playa La Ropa. The same long ago shipwreck that deposited clothes
("la ropa") on this long beach deposited wood from the ship ("madera")
on the smaller beach, giving them each their names.
Across the bay, accessible only
by boat, is Playa Las Gatas,
beach of the whiskered sharks.
We didn't see any sharks, but could definitely see the remains of the stone breakwater
believed to have been built by a Tarascan emperor to create a calm bathing area. We
had heard you could walk to the lighthouse on the other side of the hill from the beach,
and we stopped in at Amado's beachside bar to ask where the path started. Sadly,
Amado told us the land has been purchased for commercial development and he
advised us that it was dangerous to go there because it was heavily guarded.
Well, lighthouses are visible from the sea, by definition, so even if we couldn't see it up
close on land, we were able to take the dinghy to get a glimpse of it from the water.
Back on Las Gatas beach,
the cruisers had several
in-water happy hour
afternoons. For these
events you pack your
dinghy with assorted
beverages and snacks and a swimming noodle or tube or other
toy that will help you float even as the world gets buzzy around
you. A few dinghies throw out an anchor, and the rest raft up
alongside, and everyone jumps overboard, drink in hand, and
parties away the afternoon half-submerged.
It turned out that we weren't the only folks that enjoyed this kind of thing.
Every afternoon the huge charter catamaran Picante would boogie through
the anchorage, blasting a really fun Mexican Mariachi tune. They would
drop the hook, and many of the folks -- beer in hand -- would leap over the
side. We loved the tune so much we ended up singing it for a friend in town
and asking him what it was. He made us a wonderful CD with that tune (El
Mariachi Loco - the Crazy Mariachi) and many other Mariachi tunes.
If the wind was up when Picante dropped their
anchor, they would hoist the spinnaker and give
people rides off the bow.
Hanging out in our cockpit watching all the happy and crazy
vacationers was great fun. There were so many hot babes in bikinis,
Mark's head kept whipping around, and he always seemed to have the
camera with the long lens in hand.
One afternoon a para-sailor was making the rounds when we noticed
the girl in the air was dipping lower and lower. As they passed our
boat, the line barely missed the top of our mast. Suddenly, the tow
boat stopped dead in its tracks and the girl crashed down into the
water. A neighboring cruiser roared over to her in his dinghy and
quickly untangled her from the para-sail and hauled her out of the
The community of cruisers is tight-
knit and there was always chatter on the radio as pairs and trios of boats arranged
gatherings ashore and on each other's boats for happy hour. Most are from the US western
coastal states and Canadian provinces, so there is a uniformity among us all. One pair
stood out as being very special, however. Tony from England and Suzanne from Germany
had each set out to sail solo around the world from their respective countries nearly two
decades ago. They met each other for the first time halfway around the world in New
Zealand where they soon fell in love. They were married in Samoa and they have sailed in
tandem for fifteen years since then.
For two years they sailed together aboard
her boat and for two years they sailed
together aboard his boat. But two captains
on one boat will tend to run into conflicts. So they settled on continuing their singlehanding lifestyle in tandem. She sails "So
Long," a 1950's era wooden Rhodes 41, and he is aboard "Galaneia," a similarly aged 27' plywood boat. Both are painted a
bright shade of blue. Her boat is faster, so they don't really sail together. She likes to leave port after him but is still able
to get to their destinations first. She can check out the shoreside situation and give him tips on where to anchor when he
finally arrives. "Port captains are used to seeing married couples with two last names on one boat, but they are always
surprised to see a married couple with one name on two boats," she laughed. They are now mid-way through their second
circumnavigation together, headed towards the Mediterranean.
They are such seasoned sailors that they shrugged when I
commented that their plan to sail all the way from Z-town to Panama
non-stop seemed like quite long a passage, especially for his 27
footer. What about the nasty weather in the Tehuantepec a few
hundred miles south of here, I asked, where the so-called
"Tehuantepecker" winds can howl at 60 knots or more and the
waves can reach 50 feet? Wouldn't they want to stop and wait for a
weather window of light breezes and gentle waves to glide across
that treacherous area? "Awww... the Tehuantepec is overrated,"
she said with a serene smile. "We'll just go when we're ready and
deal with the weather as it comes, and we certainly won't sneak
along the coast half a mile offshore as all the guidebooks suggest."
I was amazed. There was nothing about her quiet demeanor that
suggested she possessed such a fearless and brave heart.
A new friend of ours who has also sailed around the world with her children and now singlehands her 46' steel sloop had been
telling us how there are four types of cruising couples: the "A" group where both husband and wife are totally into the cruising
lifestyle and love it, the "B" group where one spouse is into it and the other is being dragged along against his or her will, the
"C" group of families with children aboard, and the "D" of the singlehanders. I guess Tony and Suzanne fit into an "E" group of
married couples who sail on separate boats.
Back on shore, we got a cheeseburger in paradise at a little cart that sets up
shop every evening at 6 pm and serves burgers stacked with ham slices, two
types of cheese, onions, avocado, and tomato on grilled buns until the town
shuts down at two in the morning. Run by an uncle and nephew team who do
a bang-up business for Gringos who are in need of a quickie American food
Over in Ixtapa, Mark got another
kind of fix. Yet again we happened
upon a bar where the Beatles rein
supreme. We had found
Beatlemania alive and well in Cabo
and here it was again in Ixtapa.
Before leaving Z-town we would
bump into it in one more time at a
tiny bar called "Fast Beer" that was
unfortunately closed each time we stopped by.
We were in Ixtapa to sort out our problems with our Telcel USB modem account for
our laptop. Telcel's founder Carlos Slim was the richest man in the world in 2010,
beating out all the Saudi princes and middle eastern oil barrons. Yet a simple
account that would take five minutes to set up in at a kiosk in an American mall had
taken us twelve hours of standing in lines in TelCel offices. These offices resemble
the Department of Motor Vehicles, complete with numbered booths, numbered
tickets, long lines, challenging paperwork, hassles and frustration. The difference is that (being Gringos) business is
conducted in broken English and even more broken Spanish. Understanding the
plans available, the prices, the promotions, the hardware and software installations
and methods of payment are extremely difficult, especially since there are no
brochures or written documentation. The employees are extremely well meaning,
and they try very hard, but you can feel the stress they are under. If they make a
mistake and a customer is due a refund because of their negligence, the money
comes out directly of their salary. What's worse, despite being a national company,
the nine regional divisions are totally independent and accounts established in one
region can barely be serviced in another. Not only could the supervisor in Cabo not
reach the supervisor in Ensenada, but the General Manager in Ixtapa had been given
a list of phone numbers for the General Managers in other regions that was so
erroneous that we watched
in amazement as he dialed
first a kindergarten, then a
restaurant and finally a hotel
rather than the fellow TelCel
managers he was trying to
reach on our behalf.
So it was a delight to step outside (after slowly crumpling into a
shivering ball of misery in the overly air-conditioned TelCel office) to
see a group of young Mexican dancers rehearsing on a stage next
door. An international dance festival was getting under way, and
these kids were a bundle of energy, gyrating to the pulsing music with
In the anchorage, just off our stern, a cluster of lovely villas hung
out over the water, their thatched roofs giving them a decidedly
tropical air. Set above them, looking very regal and totally out of
place, was a building Mark dubbed the Lincoln Memorial but is
locally known as The Parthenon. Built years ago by Z-town's chief
of police, it became something of a monument to his corrupt ways.
Legend has it that he constructed the building with a secret
passageway that led down to the beach. He must have known that
his ill-gotten prosperity wouldn't last and he might need an escape
route. The getaway passage came in very handy when troops
arrived to arrest him for corruption, and he slipped away into the
nighttime waves never to be seen again.
Zihuatanejo is a scenic town, and we took many long walks
along the beaches and up and over the steep hillsides.
Banana trees grow in front yards, roosters strut about, and
dusty dogs sleep soundly in the middle of the back streets.
During our month-long stay three cruise ships
came to town. Each had an unique itinerary.
One started in Los Angeles and was headed
along the Central American coast to pass
through the Panama Canal and then through the
Caribbean to Ft. Lauderdale. Another had
started in the Bahamas and was en route to
Acapulco (their last night aboard was celebrated
in Z-town, complete with a huge party with a live
band on the back deck). The third was doing a
loop through the major Mexican Pacific port
towns, originating and ending in California.
Each time a cruise ship came to town, there was
a Mexican Navy ship posted nearby.
They would come in and anchor just off the stern of the cruise ship,
and while one or two sailors stood watch the others whiled away the
hours fishing. There was a Navy presence in town at these times too,
along with the usual State Police and Municipal Police presence.
Zihuatanejo is a precious tourist destination for Mexico that is an
important source of
revenue. I suspect
all hell would break
loose if anything
happened to a
Not as well protected,
a little fish almost met his demise in our
dinghy. A series of large waves swept
under the dink, and this little guy must have jumped at
the wrong moment and wound up in the boat. You
could almost feel his panic and relief as he scurried
away when Mark tossed him back in the water.
Late every afternoon we would watch huge boiling
schools of fish moving about the bay. These guys
would dapple the surface of the water and then
suddenly jump as a group, creating a noisy woosh of white spray.
Sadly, the water was murky 90% of the
time, as one red tide (or "algal bloom")
swept through the bay after another. We
had seen these blooms on the way into Isla
Ixtapa from Manzanillo, and we watched
them engulf the boat time and again while
en route between the island and Z-town,
and again once we anchored in Z-town's
bay. Algal blooms have happened since
the dawn of recorded
human history, but it
is possible they are
more prevalent now,
caused by an over-
richness of nutrients in the water created by rainwater runoff from
land. Nitrogen used to fertilize farmland winds up in the water and
the algae suddenly thrives. We saw pale yellow-brown blooms, rich
burgundy blooms and one that was a dark forest green. At these
times there would be foam on the water, and the tiny bubbles would
be encircled in the color of the bloom. Visibility in the water would
diminish to the point where you could barely see the hull of the boat
through your mask when floating alongside and touching it with your
On the rare clear day, visibility in the water was easily 15 to 20 feet, and suddenly the huge school of fish that took up
residence under our boat was in plain view. There were two different types of fish living there, and each morning two or three
pangas would motor alongside our boat and throw hand-lines over the side to try to catch these guys to use as bait for bigger
fish further out. Our boat bottom grew barnacles at an alarming rate, and after just 10 days our propellor looked like it was
made of three pieces of concrete. A little reef system of tiny one-inch striped fish and crabs had taken up residence on the top
of our rudder as well. So we had something to keep us occupied as we dove over the side to cool off, as now we dove in
holding scrapers and scotch brite pads.
Back ashore we paid a visit to the Museo Arquaeologico de la Costa
Grande. There is evidence that indigenous people were active around
Zihuatanejo at the same time the Ancient Greeks were putting Athens on
the map in the Mediterranean. Charming tiny ceramic relics of all kinds
were on display at the museum, but the explanations of each artifact were
given only in Spanish. The four toed candlestick holder caught my
attention, reminding me of the four fingered petroglyphs we had seen in
Utah. Why did the ancients drop a digit when creating their artwork?
Surely anyone capable of such delicate handiwork could count.
For truly local Mexican food, we were told
to visit Noemi's, just one street in from the
beach. Here we were served three
burritos and two cokes for 35 pesos, about
$3 US. No wonder the place is always
loaded with locals. Not quite as yummy as
our favorite tacos in Ensenada at Las
Brisas, we were drawn to Noemi's not just
for her good cheap food but also because of her cruiser's wall. She
makes available a set of paints for all cruisers that would like to
decorate her wall with the name of their boat. We happily munched
away on our lunch and painted away on her wall, leaving a groovy
It was hard to tear ourselves away from Zihuatanejo, especially as all
departing boats were headed south towards Acapulco, and the recent chill
in the air and water made us want to go south too. But we were meeting
my mom in Manzanillo, so we began the 200 mile trek back north. A few
overnights in Isla Ixtapa gave us a last round of waterplay.
We snugged the
boat up to the rocks
on the western end
of the more popular
watched in delight as
the cove came alive
everyday at noon.
Ten or twelve 50' to 90' charter power yachts would
arrive from Ixtapa Marina, families and friends on board
sipping umbrella drinks and jumping over the sides. The
captains and their crew would work hard all day, keeping
their guests as pampered as possible. Meanwhile, as the
crew passed out drinks and took on specially ordered
meals from the restaurants ashore, the bikini clad girls
took in as much sun as possible and the energetic boys
dove into the water.
By 6 pm the boats would all be gone, and we would be left alone
in the anchorage. The waves would explode on the rocks while
the pelicans materialized out of nowhere and spent the last hour
of twilight fishing. The boiling schools of fish would move about
the water, swooshing this way and that, while the pelicans
coasted just above the water, lowering their beaks an inch for a
shallow dive, occasionally tipping their heads back with a big
gulp. Meanwhile the trees would begin to sing a racous jungle
song, birds of every kind filling their branches in the gathering
dark, singing their hearts out -- or maybe bickering among
themselves about favored night perches and discussing who
could sleep next to whom for the night.
Tiptoeing out of the anchorage at oh-dark-thirty, we left
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo for a new destination, Bahía Santiago.
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