Huatulco Holidays – Delightful Seaside Christmas & New Year’s Celebrations in the Tropics

Sailing Blog: La Crucecita Church Huatulco Mexico readies for the holiday

La Crucecita’s church gets ready for the holidays

Late December, 2012 – Our days at Playa La Bocana gave us a taste of nature’s dramatic side, but a drama of a different kind began to unfold in Huatulco.  The holidays were coming, and tourists from all over were descending on the harbor village of Santa Cruz and the nearby town of La Crucecita.  Christmas decorations began appearing everywhere.

Santa Claus in Huatulco Mexico (cruising blog)

Santa Claus showed up all over town

Santa Claus and Noche Buena Beer in Huatulco Mexico from our sail blog

Santa poses with the yummy holiday-only brew: Noche Buena

 

 

 

 

 

Huatulco Mexico Christmas tree (from our cruising blog)

All of us tourists got pics of ourselves by this tree!

Santa Claus showed up in all kinds of crazy places, on doorsteps and rooftops.  But we didn’t see Rudolph or Donner or Blitzen anywhere.  Perhaps in this neck of the woods Santa travels by boat or makes his way around town on a scooter.

One of the best things for adults celebrating Christmas in Mexico is that the Noche Buena dark beer suddenly becomes available.  Mexican brewers haven’t explored crafting dark beers much yet, and for northerners missing their favorite microbrews from home, the supermarket’s stack of cases of Noche Buena is a sight for sore eyes.  And the cases disappeared quickly!

A huge Christmas tree went up in La Crucecita’s town square, and it became the backdrop for hundreds of tourists’ photos for a few weeks.  We were no exception, and we got a shot of ourselves with the tree too.

Santa Cruz Huatulco Mexico Christmas stage from our sailing blog

There was lots of action on the stage in Santa Cruz

And we probably weren’t the only ones to ask one of the taxi drivers hanging out at the taxi stand next to the tree to click the shutter on our camera for us!

Santa Cruz has a big stage just off the beach, and many evenings there was something going on there.  One afternoon we watched a group of adorable little boys in red outfits practicing a dance.  They really got into the rhythms and the moves.

Huatulco Christmas celebrations (from our cruising blog)

A group of boys gets into the spirit with a line dance

 

 

 

A few days later another group of kids was dressed up for that night’s performance.  Three charming girls in colorful skirts hopped up off a bench to pose for me when they saw me trying to sneak a photo without them noticing.

On our Mexico cruise: 3 girls pose for me in pretty skirts

Three adorable girls show off their pretty skirts and blouses.

 

Not to be outdone, another group of girls just behind them suddenly lined up and wanted me to get their photo too.  Proud moms and happy dads milled around in the background, their cell phone cameras clicking away just as eagerly.

Christmas celebrations in Huatulco - dancers pose for us - from our sail blog

Another group of performers wants their pictures taken too!

There is a pretty open-air church on the edge of the bay, and sometimes we heard the reverent tones of the congregation singing or the priest giving a sermon as we walked past.

From our cruising blog - we visited the delightful Santa Cruz Huatulco church

Santa Cruz’s beautiful open-air seaside church

 

 

One day when the church was empty, a fellow came out to greet us and told us to walk to the back of the church and touch the cross.  “Whatever you wish will come true,” he said, and he told of a relative of his who was cured of a disease when he did that.  We walked around to the back of the altar and made our quiet wishes while touching the cross.

We heard an evening classical music concert at Camino Real Zaashila in Huatulco Mexico (from our sail blog)

Night lights on Camino Real Zaashila’s pretty pool.

The town squares of Santa Cruz and La Crucecita weren’t the only places that began to come alive with the Christmas spirit.  The hotels and resorts around town began hosting special holiday events too.  The resort that had framed our view for a few weeks at the east end of Tangolunda Bay, Camino Real Zaashila, hosted a wonderful recorder concert by Horacio Franco one evening.  This was part of a series of concerts that are held on their pretty outdoor lawns next to the swimming pool.

From our sailing blog: we attended a lovely evening recorder concert by Horacio Fanco

Horacio Franco plays recorder

A full evening of Telemann’s twelve flute fantasies was on the roster, and we watched in awe as Horacio’s fingers flew across his many recorders — of all shapes and sizes — that were lined up on a table next to him.  It was really fun to get a little dressed up (in the only dress-up clothes we have on the boat) and go out for the evening to a concert.  Boating life at anchor is a bit on the grubby side, but for this one evening we felt very sophisticated!  It was quite amusing to get in the dinghy for a pitch dark ride across the bay in a sparkly dress!

While sailing Mexico's Pacific Coast we saw sailing mega-yacht Tamsen

Sailing Yacht “Tamsen “tied up to the cruise ship dock opposite Groovy

Not all cruising sailboats are grubby, however.  Life is a totally civilized affair on the 170′ long sailing yacht “Tamsen” which tied up at the cruise ship dock opposite us for a few days.  This stunning boat was way too big to go into the marina (the entrance is quite shallow), so it was granted permission to tie up on the very long cruise ship pier.  We enjoyed hours of oohing and aaahing as we watched life lived on a scale way above the rest of us by the families on board.

From what we read online, Tamsen was built for ~$40 million at one of the world’s finest mega-yacht shipyards in Italy.  We found a fun story from the NY Times that explains that this mega-yacht is owned by the extended family and friends of the Firestones of California.

Tamsen superyacht huatulco mexico sail blog

“Wanna race?!”

This is the second yacht the group has owned, and the idea behind the boats has been to create a bonding experience between parents and kids in the Firestone family.  There was a boatload of young kids on board playing on the decks, and one day they appeared to put on a dance performance for the adults.

Saiilng Yacht Tamsen was very beautiful tied up near us in Huatulco Mexico

“Tamsen” is 170′ of sheer nautical beauty!

What impressed us most was that everybody seemed to have a role to play in operating the boat.  We just happened to leave the bay at the same time Tamsen did, and Mark yelled over to them, “Hey, wanna race?”  “Sure!” came the answer!  Mark asked for a head start, but they dusted us in short order just the same.

We heard rumors that when Tamsen was anchored in nearby Tangolunda Bay — and was the object of endless curious folks gawking at them through binoculars from the beach — they responded to all the attention by mooning the crowd.  Now that’s a spirited boat!  Not too many mega-yacht crews are quite that sassy.

Cruise ships Regatta and Amsterdam dwarf surrounding Santa Cruz Bay in Huatulco (from our sailing blog)

Two cruise ships arrived the day after Christmas

Of course Tamsen wasn’t the only boat that used the cruise ship dock.  The day after Christmas two cruise ships came in at the same time and tied up on opposite sides of the pier.  Watching these behemoths dock is always a thrill, as it’s a hard hat job for both the guys on the ship and the guys who greet them on the dock.

Cruise Ship Regatta fills our view in Huatulco Mexico (from our sail blog)

When a cruise ship pulls in it’s like having an apartment building arrive!

For us sitting on Groovy’s deck, having a cruise ship arrive was like having a tall apartment building suddenly appear out of nowhere next door.

Cruise ship Regatta in Huatulco lowers liferaft (from our sail blog)

The cruise ship crew practices safety maneuvers

But what amused us most was that when the passengers all got off the ships to walk around town, the crew aboard the ship closest to us went through a complete rescue drill.  Sirens wailed, the crew donned life jackets and lined up along the rail, and then they lowered the lifeboats.

Cruise ship and beach scene from our sailing blog

Christmas on Santa Cruz Beach in Huatulco!

We couldn’t help but flash back to the images of the Costa Condordia on its side off of the Italian coast last year.  Once the meat of the exercise was finished, a few of the crew zoomed around the bay in the tenders and blew off a little steam.

Cruise ships weren’t the only boats to arrive in little Santa Cruz Bay in the weeks around the holidays.  A few cruising sailboats joined us in the anchorage well.  All were single handers: three men and one woman, each on their own boats.  Two were coming up from Central America and two were headed down that way.  As single-handers often do, they were traveling more-or-less in pairs.

Santa Cruz Bay anchorage in Huatulco (from ouor sail blog)

Cruising sailboats arrived in the anchorage

For anyone that has put off their travel dreams for fear of all the bad things that might happen, Pamela Bendall aboard her 46′ steel sailboat Precious Metal sets a rare and wonderful example.  Over a four year period, she has sailed solo between Vancouver Island, Canada, and Peru, coastal cruising the entire Pacific coast of the US, Mexico and Central America.  And she’s a fifty-something grandma!  Her enthusiasm and can-do attitude are truly inspiring.

Touring catamarans in Huatulco Mexico (from our cruising blog)

The big touring catamarans all went out daily

 

 

 

 

 

On New Year’s Eve we were amazed to see little Santa Cruz get decked out for one heck of a party.  The beach-side restaurants filled the beach with tables set with linens and candles.

Enjoying popsicles (paletas) from a cart in Huatulco Mexico (sailing blog)

We get “paletas” from a cart

The tables were so thick on the beach there was barely room to walk among them, and every single table had a “reserved” sign on it with a family’s name.

Huatulco celebrates New Year's (from our sail blog)

New Year’s dinner tables filled the beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Live bands in Huatulco Mexico (from our cruising blog)

Bands were playing everywhere…we especially enjoy Sangre Latina!

It was a hot and sultry night, and even in the pitch darkness we were up for some cool refreshment.  We got popsicles (“paletas”) from one of the little carts in the square and set off to our favorite little spot for a hamburger, La Casa de las Tilapias, where a lively two-man band we like, Sangre Latina, was playing.

There is something in the rhythms and tunes Miguel and Hazael play that is infectious.

Beach bands in Huatulco Mexico (sailing blog)

A DJ on one side and a live band on the other battled it out on the beach all night long!

There was music all over town that night.  Two huge areas were set up with mammoth speakers where a DJ and a live band were getting ready.  New Year’s hats and goodies were laid out on tables for guests, and we knew 2012 would be ceremoniously marched out the door.

New Year's celebration in Huatulco Mexico (cruising blog)

Hats and honkers for the big moment

 

 

 

fireworks on the beach in Huatulco Mexico (sailing blog)

Fireworks!! Where’s the camera???!!

2013 was ushered in with a bang — right off our bow.  We aren’t night owls, so we had faded before midnight.  But right at the stroke of 12:00 we were blasted out of bed with a POW so we could ring in the new year with the revelers on the beach.  Mark had planned ahead, of course, and had his camera right next to his pillow, completely set up for the fireworks shots we knew we’d be getting.

I wasn’t quite so prepared, and found myself running around stark naked between the cockpit and the cabin (hey, it’s hot here!), yelling, “Where’s my camera?”  Then, “Why doesn’t it have an SD card in it?”  Then, “What the heck settings do I need — it won’t focus!!”

And so 2013 arrived, with the two of us laughing uncontrollably as I ran up and down the companionway stairs in a panic while fireworks exploded all around us.  Meanwhile, Mark quietly captured lots of great fireworks shots.

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Huatulco’s Playa La Bocana – A visit to Huatulco’s Wild Side

Rocks and crashing surf at Playa La Bocana Huatulco as seen while sailing Mexico

Rocks and surf at Playa La Bocana

Late December, 2012 – In the middle of our unbelievable 24-hour visit with Ron and Jackie and their friends at Las Palmas Resort, we took a quick, late afternoon drive out to La Bocana, a rugged and wild beach at the mouth of a river a few miles south of the Bays of Huatulco, Mexico.

from our sailing blog - a boat at Playa La Bocana Huatulco Mexico

A panga on the beach at La Bocana

From our cruising blog - a palm tree shades Playa La Bocana

A palm tree frames La Bocana Beach

This beach is nothing like the beaches in the more northern bays where the ocean politely laps the sand with small, harmless waves while the palapa beach bars bring margaritas, chips and salsa right down to the water’s edge.  La Bocana is a primal place of craggy rocks and exploding surf.

Beach bar at La Bocana Beach Huatulco we visited while sailing Mexico

One of the beach bars

There is a beach bar or two, but they are placed safely away from the breakers that mercilessly pound this beach.  Their structures are built soundly to survive the crazy hammering the ocean delivers here whenever the Tehauntepec is blowing.

Beach palapa at La Bocana Beach Huatulco from our sailing blog

The sight of the huge white waves got us running across the beach, and the blazing hot sand kept us moving at a sprint until we reached the cool tidal sand on the edge of the water.  Back on the boat in our anchorage in Santa Cruz Bay, we hadn’t noticed much ocean swell or many ominous waves, but here the waves were rolling in relentlessly, erupting against the rocks with awe-inspiring force.

From our sail blog - surf at Playa La Bocana Huatulco Mexico

Surf at Playa La Bocana

A cormorant in the spray at Playa La Bocana Huatulco, from our sail blog

A cormorant in the spray

Playa La Bocana shows off Huatulco’s wild side, and we got a full display both that afternoon and on another day a few weeks later when we returned.  There is something alluring about seeing Mother Nature unleashing her fury.  But here it happened in incongruously warm and friendly sunshine.

Rocks at Playa La Bocana Huatulco - from our sailing blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the tide went out, the water receded and left the most beautiful mirror images of the sawtooth rocks in the sand.

While sailing Mexico - mirrored rocks at Playa La Bocana Huatulco Mexico

Receding waves create a mirror in the sand

Mark and I dashed around trying to line up the rocks and their reflections while a group of snowy egrets on winter break from Canada walked along the edge of the water.  They snatched up whatever they could find to eat in the sand each time a wave drew back into the sea.

Snowy egret at Playa La Bocana Huatulco from our sailing blog

Looking for dinner – in yellow shoes!!

 

 

 

Glassy sand and rocks at Playa La Bocana Huatulco Mexico from our sail blog

Sand and rocks polished to a glassy finish

In places the water had an almost silky look, giving the rough rocks a smooth, glassy sheen.  We were mesmerized by the steady roll of the waves in and out, and the way they left a glistening luster on everything as they withdrew.

mirrored rocks at Playa La Bocana Huatulco

Watery reflections

 

We loved the contrast of the polished, shiny surfaces and the tranquility in this one part of the beach and the savage, chaotic froth and foam in the other.

Since we’ve started cruising we’ve learned that ocean swells come in sets of five to seven waves at a time.  Each wave grows larger than the last until you get a few real crashers, and then each one shrinks a little smaller until a few roll in that have no personality at all.

Surf boards at Playa La Bocana Huatulco Mexico sailing Mexico

Surf boards ready to hit the waves

Mirrored rocks at Playa La Bocana Huatulco Mexico seen while sailing Mexico

The Aussie owner of one of the beach bars told us that even though he loved surfing in his homeland, he sure liked catching the waves here.  He had surfboards of all kinds and was raising his young son to love the wildness of the ocean too.

Summertime waves are the biggest and the best around here, he told us, but even now in December the waves seemed plenty big enough to us.

Snowy egret at Playa La Bocana Huatulco, from our sailing blog

Snowy egret in the waves

Besides jagged rocks and surf, the wildlife is abundant at Playa La Bocana as well.  Frigate birds, terns and herons all took their place along the water’s edge according to their particular tastes.

Frigate bird at Playa La Bocana Huatulco, while sailing Mexico

A frigate bird soars overhead

Frigate birds go fishing by swooping down and grabbing unsuspecting fish near the surface of the water in their beaks, while terns take death defying dives straight down into the water, beak first.

A heron walks Playa Playa La Bocana Huatulco from our sailing blog

 

A tern goes fishing in Playa La Bocana Huatulco Mexico, sailing Mexico

A tern scans the water

The herons and egrets walk daintily on their stilt-like legs, bravely stalking the sea as the waves fall back and then scurrying to the safety of high ground when the next wave strikes.  A few cormorants did long dives below the surface and then hung out on the rocks to dry off and ponder their next move.

At the far end of the beach a huge flock of gulls and terns stood just out of reach of the crashing waves, all facing the late afternoon sun.  Their reflections in the watery sand beneath them made them seem double in number.

Gulls at Playa La Bocana Huatulco Mexico while sailing Mexico

Gulls face the setting sun

Floating down River Copalita at Playa La Bocana Huatulco from our sail blog

Our friend Craig catches a ride down the river

La Bocana (“The River Mouth” in Spanish) is the mouth of the Copalita River where it rushes down to meet the sea.  The current is very fast, and our friend Craig jumped in the chilly water upstream a bit and went for a very fast ride.

We learned that the river changes course every so often.  Some years it carves a path to the ocean one way, and other years it carves a path another way.  Ron remembered seeing the river flow at least 50 yards north of where it was flowing now.

A couple and their dog at Playa La Bocana Huatulco, seen while saiing Mexico

Watching the surf

No matter which way it decides to go, this is a fast moving body of water, and lots of folks take rafting trips down the river from points way upstream.

 

As we walked back along the beach, we came across a young couple enjoying the view and the beauty of the afternoon with their golden retriever.

Dog running on the beach at Playa La Bocana in Huatulco

They leaned in close and shared a quick kiss in the golden sunlight, and then their dog took off on a playful romp, running at full speed all around them. This dog was as happy as any dog can be, playing in the waves with his mistress and master.

Girl playing with her dog at Playa La Bocana Beach in Huatulco

Does life get any better than this?

 

They ran and threw a ball for him and splashed and ran some more.  We ran after them and got caught up in the fun of the moment, watching this young couple in love as they played and laughed with their dog on the beach.

Talking with them later, we discovered they were down here from Mexico City, enjoying some beach time away from the cold winter in the mountains.

Body surfing at Playa La Bocana Huatulco Mexico from our sailing blog

A body surfer’s fin is all we see after he dives headfirst into a huge wave

 

 

A few other families showed up as the sun began to fall towards the sea.  This is a wonderful beach for strolling, communing with nature and letting your thoughts fly free.

Unlike some of the other beaches in Huatulco where the pleasures are a little slower paced and more peaceful — snorkeling, swimming and basking in the sun — this is a beach that begs for action and play.  Body surfers struggled to conquer the waves, getting 10 second thrill rides in return for many minutes of plowing headfirst into the breaking waves.  What a rush!

Toddler with a ball at Playa La Bocana Huatulco

A mom and her two daughters all dressed to match at Playa La Bocana Huatulco

A dad played soccer with his toddler son, gently kicking a ball across the sand until the little boy finally plopped down and hugged the ball, his short legs tuckered out from all that running.

We settled in for a cold drink at one of the beach bars.  Slowly, as the sun sank out of sight, all the beach-goers came came up to to get a snack or dinner.  The only drama left was Mother Nature at her finest.

The huge, incessant waves didn’t care that the sun was gone.  They just kept on coming and coming in a rhythmic show of force that faded from view as darkness fell.  How eerie it was to hear the breakers thundering so close, bombarding the beach in front of us in endless roars of invisible spray.

We returned to our little anchorage in Santa Cruz Bay to find that the whole village was quickly being caught up in the festive spirit of the holidays.

 

 

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Huatulco’s Las Palmas Resort – 24 Hours in Heaven!

Mid-December, 2012 – Life aboard our sailboat Groovy, anchored in Bahía de Santa Cruz in Huatulco, had become deliciously languid and slow, with one day flowing seamlessly into the next.  Huatulco was gradually filling with tourists, and every day we saw more and more people going out on the tour boats and sunning themselves on the beaches.

Santa Cruz Bay Anchorage Huatulco Mexico

Groovy is anchored peacefully in Santa Cruz Bay

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Anchorage sail blog Banana Boat

Lots of boats circled Groovy to wave “Hola!”

Sitting on Groovy, we had front row seats to whatever action cropped up in the bay, and it was pleasant entertainment just watching whatever was going on around us. Many of the tour boats would take a little detour on their way in or out of the bay to circle Groovy and give us an enthusiastic wave and a chorus of greetings from happy guests.

 

Playa de Entrega, Santa Cruz Bay, Huatulco sail blog

View of Playa de Entrega on our walk to Las Palmas

One morning two couples in kayaks and a paddle board floated over to our boat.  We exchanged hellos and “where are you from” queries and “what a beautiful day this is!” comments.  We discovered that they were from Lake Tahoe and were boating enthusiasts too.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco - visited on our Mexico cruise

Las Palmas Resort

We had met so few Americans in Huatulco that it was suddenly really heartwarming to share a few memories of home with them over our transom.  One paddler, Ron, mentioned he had sailed quite a bit in the past, and when I asked where they were staying, he said, “I own a resort up there on the hill.  It’s called Las Palmas.”

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico (sail blog)

Lush landscaping everywhere

View of Playa Violin from Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico

Playa Violin has wonderful cliffs

Wow!  Most folks we meet say they are staying at a resort.  This was the first time we met someone who owned one.  And he looked so relaxed and happy sitting there in his kayak. Gosh…and I had thought that we were living the dream!!

“Come on up sometime!  You can see the resort and have a beer with us.”  My jaw dropped as he continued on, explaining how to walk to the resort.  “It overlooks Playa Violin,” he said.  Then his little group paddled away and Mark and I turned to look at each other, wide eyed, and grinning.  That just wouldn’t have happened in our old workaday life in our old neighborhood.  Never!  What a fun encounter.  What a neat opportunity!

From our Mexico cruise: Las Palmas Resort on Playa Violin in Huatulco

Looking down at Playa Violin from Las Palmas

 

Over breakfast the next morning we debated:  Go to the beach, do errands in town, or check out that resort?  That was a short debate!  We quickly dinghied ashore and began hoofing it up and over the hills to try to find Las Palmas.

views from our sailing cruise: Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco Mexico

Las Palmas Resort

It’s easy to find, but we got lost anyway and went well beyond it.  On our way back we looked across the little beach of Playa Violin, and there it was, an ethereal group of buildings and terraces perched on the edge of the cliffs.  “That must be it,” Mark said, picking up the pace down the hill.

From our sailboat cruise of Mexico: Las Palmas Resort, Huatulco

Pools, palms, views, and more…

Then we glanced up and saw a pickup truck coming towards us with Ron driving and his friend, Craig, who had been the one on the paddle board, in the passenger’s seat.

Las Palmas Resort Terraces Huatulco Mexico (sail blog)

Las Palmas Resort

They picked us up, and suddenly we were passing through the tall entrance gates of Las Palmas Resort, driving into a gorgeous luxury property.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico from our sail blog

The rooms and terraces soar above the views

Ron’s wife Jackie and Craig’s wife Terri were there welcoming us, but everything was a blur around us.  All we could see was the lovingly nurtured landscaping, lush with flowers and tropical plants, that hugged the myriad of balconies and lookouts and infinity pools all around us.

Las Palmas resort Huatulco on our Mexican sailing cruise

The property was built high on a hill, and the buildings and palm trees soared even higher, offering stunning views of the beach, little Violin bay, the open Pacific ocean, and the bay of Santa Cruz, depending on where you stood and which way you turned your head.

Las Palmas Resort a day away on our Mexico cruise

Some suites have kitchens too!

 

We have seen a lot of resorts in this cruising lifestyle.  In many ways, cruising Mexico’s Pacific Coast can be an ongoing tour of oceanside resorts, as most anchorages are located in spots that lend themselves to resort development.  And quite often we’ve had a chance to wander through to see how the other half lives.

View of Chahue Bay from Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco Mexico from our sail blog

View of Chahue Bay from that suite’s kitchen

But this resort was head and shoulders beyond anything we’ve seen.  It was intimate, each room was unique, and everything about it quietly blended into the surroundings, giving guests a true retreat while pampering them with the finest of everything.

Las Palmas Resort Palapa Restaurant

A nice gathering place for guests

 

 

A little restaurant/bar under a thatched palapa roof seemed the ideal spot for all the guests to gather and mingle.  However, we were lucky enough to have met these new friends before peak season hit.  For the moment, we had the place to ourselves.

On our sailing cruise of Mexico, we visited Las Palmas Resort, Huatulco Mexico

Palms of “Las Palmas”

“A lot of people come here for a few weeks,” Ron was telling us.  “They get to know each other, and now there’s a community of people who come back year after year.”  What a way to spend the coldest part of winter!  Gourmet meals are prepared in a beautifully appointed kitchen, and the colorful parrot Lucy greets everyone.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico from our sail blog

Lucy checks me out

Building this resort was an act of enormous faith, propelled by Ron’s brilliant vision of bringing charm and luxury to paradise.  Running several tourist businesses in Lake Tahoe, he had never developed a luxury resort before.

Las Palmas Resort Playa Violin Huatulco Mexic (sail blog)

Views from Las Palmas Resort

 

 

What an accomplishment!  There are lots of laws, rules, regs and hurdles to leap to create a property like this on the Mexican coast.

Gourmet kitchen Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico

Margarita prepares gourmet meals in this airy kitchen

Too many resorts in Mexico remain unfinished, with rebar, bare concrete and gaping holes staring forlornly out to sea from exquisite perches on land.  To complete a project of this scale is an incredible achievement.  And right down to the unusual decorative tiles and lovely fittings adorning each room, every possible detail has been thought of and completed to perfection.

Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco Mexico

The spacious rooms open onto the pools and views

What I loved most, though, was that all the windows and doors in all the rooms can be thrown open to bring in the ocean breezes along with the view.  Every room Ron showed us was unique in the way it took advantage of its particular position on the hill, and all the rooms eagerly welcomed the outdoors in.

We quickly lost track of how many rooms there were, and how many buildings made up the property, and where all the infinity pools were located.  But there was a main house that was often rented for big family gatherings, weddings, or corporate retreats, and standing in that space made us feel like we’d stepped into the lives of the rich and famous.

A room at Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco Mexico (sail blog)

What a delightful room…

Suddenly, Ron asked if we’d like to spend the night.  “I know how it can be on a boat.  Sometimes it’s really nice to get off the boat for a night and get a long hot shower.”  Holy cow.  Getting off the boat to a stationary bed would be nice.  But staying here at Las Palmas would top anything we’d imagined by a long shot!

View from a room at Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico (sail blog)

…with an awe-inspiring view

He showed us the room where we’d be staying.  It was in an incredible spot with the doors thrown wide to a spectacular view of the beach and cliffs.

Las Palmas Resort even the shower has a view (sail blog)

You can enjoy the view even in the shower!

 

 

Rather than a mere window onto the view, the opening to the deck was almost the full width of the room, bringing the outdoors rushing in, and flooding the room with the bay’s soft light of late afternoon.  Even the shower had a view.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico dolphin pool

One pool has an image of a dolphin on the bottom!

Somehow, effortlessly, the logistics for our stay sorted themselves out.  We dashed back to Groovy for an overnight bag, and then found ourselves enjoying the golden hour in the big house’s picturesque infinity pool as the sun slipped behind the cliffs.

Terri put a delicious Margarita in my hand, and I watched Mark swim over to the edge of the pool to soak in the view with Craig.  “I feel like I died and went to heaven,” I said happily as I slid into the silky warm water to join them.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco a groovy sunset during our sailboat cruise

Mark and Craig enjoy the sunset from the infinity pool

 

How, exactly, had we been granted 24 hours in heaven?  Who knows!  It was the best and most vivid dream, yet we were wide awake in the midst of it.

More margaritas on the deck overlooking the pool, dinner out at Huatulco’s finest restaurant, a pink sunrise reflecting off the water, and an amazing American/Oaxacan brunch poolside once again in the morning, all made us feel like Santa had come early and invited us to spend a day in someone else’s life.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico romance on our Mexico sailing cruise

When we returned to Groovy after our day away, we found conversation impossible.  All we could say to each other was, “Can you believe that just happened?”  “What an amazing experience!”  “How fortunate we are…”

And then, what a joy it was to be able to take our new friends out sailing a few days later.  The gods of the wind and the sea cooperated beautifully and gave us ideal conditions for a daysail.  Modest breezes, flat seas, and bright sunny skies followed us along the coast.

Sailing Groovy in Huatulco Mexico

Mark and Ron enjoying our wonderful daysail aboard Groovy

 

As we chatted, the boat took flight in the light wind, and we discovered that  “boating enthusiast” was an understatement in Ron’s case.  He had crewed on the TransPac ocean sailing race from California to Hawaii as a youngster, and had become a licensed Coast Guard captain to boot.  As if welcoming the sailor back to the sea, Groovy came alive and took us all on a speedy, carefree ride, and the world fell away in our wake.

One of the most exciting things in our traveling lifestyle is that we never know what is going to happen next.  We are continually blessed with surprises we couldn’t plan if we tried.  We just never know who’s going to paddle over in a kayak to say “hello.”

We continued to stay in the Bays of Huatulco and enjoy its delights, including a visit to its wild side at Playa La Bocana.

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Huatulco’s Santa Cruz Bay – great beaches & a cute harbor village – Paradise!

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Santa Cruz Beach and anchorage in Huatulco set against the backdrop of Oaxaca’s mountains

Early December, 2012 – After our beautiful day in the tropical orchard of Hagia Sofia, we left Marina Chahué to anchor out once again.  There are a dozen or so anchorages to choose from in the Bays of Huatulco, and we decided to spend a while in Santa Cruz Bay where we found three beautiful beaches, a snug little harbor-side village, and easy access to the town of La Crucecita.

Santa Cruz Bay and Chahue Bay Huatulco Mexico

View across Santa Cruz Bay to Chahué Bay

s/v Groovy in Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Groovy finds its groove in Santa Cruz Bay

The roads along the bay are hilly, and we got a great feeling for the lay of the land on our many walks along the road that hugs the bay.

Various viewpoints give an awesome look down into the bay and across the little harbor and village. Groovy settled into a quiet spot right off a small beach.  The anchorage can hold about three or four cruising boats, but we were the only ones there for a long time.

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

We had a great view of a tiny beach and two tempting beach bars

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Looking out at the anchorage from the beach bars

The ospreys, pelicans and frigate birds circled in the air above us all day long, and the two beach bars on the little beach came alive at night.

After staring at those beach bars from the boat for a while, we just had to check out the view out into the bay from where they sat.  Not surprisingly, their view of us was just as appealing as our view of them!

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco

We had our own nearly private beach

Santa Cruz Bay Huatulco

Pretty views everywhere

 

These were quiet days filled with simple pleasures.  Having easy access to activities on shore gave us the amusements of both surf and turf.  We could wander around on dry land whenever the mood struck us, but we could still take advantage of having a waterborne home.

The ocean was over 80 degrees, and the cabin temperatures were still frequently hitting 90 degrees in the late afternoons, so swimming became a natural part of every day.  Swimming off the boat is without doubt one of the greatest joys of living at anchor.  But being able to wade in from the beach and feel sand between our toes was just as nice.

Santa Cruz Harbor Huatulco sailing blog

Santa Cruz Harbor and Beach

The village of Santa Cruz surrounds a small harbor, and on the backside of town is Santa Cruz Beach, a slightly larger but wonderfully intimate little beach that soon became a frequent hangout for us.

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco dinghy ride and groovy

Our dinghy got us everywhere in minutes

It was a five minute dinghy ride to get over there, and as soon as our feet hit the sand we instantly turned into beach bums.

 

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco

Palm trees and a beach – perfection!

There are sweeping palm trees that reach for the sky alongside a small row of very inviting beachside restaurants and bars.  All you have to do is grab a table and stake a claim to your own piece of paradise.  Stay until you’ve had your fill.

Santa Cruz Beach Al Frente del Mar Restaurant

Have a seat…!

We kept pinching ourselves day after day, absolutely thrilled with life and amazed we could be living this way.  This was our third season of cruising Mexico, but it had never been anywhere near this good.

Like so many other hopeful cruisers, we had cast off the dock lines long ago to head to distant shores and “live the dream” of cruising.

Living the dream sailing blog in Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico

Living the dream!

But the challenges of that dream had too often made it far from dreamy.  Rolly anchorages and sleepless nights, red tide and cold water, exhausting 200 miles passages and frightening overnights at sea had all joined forces each season to make us question our sanity in wanting to live on a sailboat.

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Santa Cruz Beach

However, this year, during these weeks, in this place, it all came together and we were in heaven. The bay stayed calm, the water was intoxicatingly clear and warm, and the gods smiled down on us day after day.

On Santa Cruz Beach happy vacationers and locals alike would just wade out into the water a bit, have a seat, and stay seated with the water up to their necks, until they were totally water logged.  Families, couples, groups of teenage friends and toddlers all immersed themselves in the lapping waves, swishing their hands around, chatting and laughing for hours.  We did too!

Underwater at Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco

A fish checks out our new camera

Under water the fish milled around the rocks, nibbling here and there, and watching the snorkelers with curiosity.  We’d never played around with an underwater camera before, and we soon learned that getting Jacques Cousteau shots is not so easy.  Nothing stays still!  Just as we’d get the shot lined up, the fish would wriggle away or a wave would pick us up and move us — and the camera — a few feet.  But it was so much fun trying.

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco sailing blog

This is a wonderfully intimate little beach

 

 

 

On the beach the best entertainment was the little kids.  The small waves were just the right size for toddlers — big enough to lure them into the water but small enough not to be scary.  In and out they’d go, running, running, running.

Toddler on Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco sailing blog

The waves were just right for toddlers

 

 

Toddlers on Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

It’s so fun to watch the waves break in your lap!

A brother and sister sat mesmerized by the waves for a long time, letting the waves break right in their laps, wave after wave after wave.

Everyone wanted to get pics of each other to send home.  This is the kind of fun you just have to share, and we all knew we could make everyone back home incredibly jealous.

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Friends posed for each other, getting the sand and water and blue sky lined up just right. Pairs of young girls did endless sexy poses for each other, each one showing off her assets while her friend clicked away.  After they’d do a few bikini model shots showing off the bathing suit from both the front and back, they’d suddenly lie down in the water to go for a curvaceous, alluring water shot. I suspect there are some lucky boyfriends out there!

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

We all took pics of each other

Mark was only too happy to help out with these mini photo shoots, but the show always instantly became very G-rated!  The nice return was that we got some shots of ourselves to make our friends envious too.

Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco sailing blog

Happy!

 

Up among the beach umbrellas where the margaritas and beers flowed with enthusiasm at every table, vendors wandered through selling their wares.  The usual stream of women passed through selling commercially made bead jewelry.

Japanese vendors on Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Cruising Mexico in a VW Microbus selling jewelry!

Far more intriguing was the young Japanese couple who stopped by.  Hailing from Kyoto, Japan, they were traveling across Mexico in a VW Microbus, funding their adventure with their own hand-made jewelry.

Vendor sells corn bread on the beach Huatulco

Corn bread for sale!

Another women sold bread that had the exact taste and texture of corn muffins — quite yummy.  And several women braided and beaded girls’ hair like Bo Derek.  One woman was very eager to do Mark’s hair. It is getting a little long, but I don’t think a head full of braids would be that becoming on him.

Lots of hair braiding on Santa Cruz Beach in Huatulco Mexico

A little girl gets her hair braided

Some guitarists meandered by strumming melodies and then an old man showed up pushing an ice cream cart through the sand.

Ice cream vendor Santa Cruz Beach Huatulco

An ice cream vendor rolls his cart through the sand

This beach was a great place to kick back and watch the world go by.

The little harbor village of Santa Cruz is filled with pangas, open outboard-driven skiffs.  Some offer tours of the bays to tourists and many others are fishing boats.  As we wandered back to get our dinghy one afternoon a pair of young fellows on a scooter showed off the fish they had just caught.

FIsh on a scooter - Santa Cruz Harbor Huatulco sailing blog

Catch of the day!

A few minutes later, on our way out to the boat, we spotted two fishermen in a panga at the dock carving up some fish they had just caught.

Santa Cruz Bay anchorage sailing blog Huatulco Mexico

Late afternoon view from our cockpit

 

 

 

 

 

 

A quick conversation and negotiation, and we were suddenly waving goodbye and motoring away with a fillet for dinner.

Fishing near Groovy in Santa Cruz Bay anchorage Huatulco Mexico sailing blog

Fishermen suddenly cast nets all around Groovy

Back at Groovy a bunch of fishermen had surrounded our boat and were casting nets into the water.  I don’t know what kind of fish had arrived, but the fishermen knew they were there.  We had always had peaceful sunsets to ourselves, but for three nights in a row we got caught up in a flurry of fishing activity.  The fish were so thick around our boat we could see them from the cockpit.  Then one day the fish were gone and the fishermen were gone too.

Santa Cruz Bay anchorage Huatulco Mexico full moon and frigate bird

These were beautiful days of seaside living that blended into each other in a blur of wonder.

Tuesday rolled into Saturday and then it was suddenly Wednesday, or was it Friday? Who knew, and who really cared?  Mid-December caught us by surprise.  Time disappeared in a delicious, unhurried way.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful if life were always like this?  It is a dream so many of us share… For a precious time, our lives were suspended in tropical perfection.

And then, to top it off completely, we were gifted with 24 hours in heaven at the exquisite Las Palmas Resort!

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Huatulco’s Marina Chahué – Landlubbing with parrots!

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Marina Chahue at the golden hour

Mid-November, 2012 – The great thing about this beautiful little cruising ground among the Bays of Huatulco is that when it gets gnarly out in the bays, you can run for cover in the shelter of the marina.  We left Tangolunda Bay after two days of swinging back and forth like a church bell gone wild, and instantly relaxed as the boat steadied and then went into a wonderful, motionless torpor in the marina.

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

We were gifted with some pretty sunsets

We were treated to lovely afternoon sunsets that lit the sky in shades of gold and pink and orange, and we walked and walked and walked, thrilled to be back on terra firma.  We had been loving swimming off the back of the boat, but the newfound pleasure of stepping off the boat onto dry land was equally thrilling.

Unfortunately, Huatulco’s Marina Chahué (pronounce Cha-WAY) is a poorly appointed little marina that is hopelessly overpriced.  Run by the government, our jaws dropped when we were told the fee would $30 USD a night without hookups to electricity and water!! (those luxuries would have been $5 more).

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Cold water outdoor showers – without privacy!!

The one amenity on offer for visiting boaters is a cold water outdoor shower that doesn’t even have a curtain or door!  Needless to say, there is never a line for the shower!!

By comparison, for the same price, Paradise Village Marina, a resort marina in Puerto Vallarta, offers swimming pools, hot tubs (including a an indoor candle-lit hot tub for the gals), a spa, a beautifully appointed gym with all the latest equipment, a pretty and meticulously groomed beach that goes for miles, and walking access to all the restaurants and boutiques a tourist could ever hope for.  It is no wonder that Marina Chahué is nearly vacant while Paradise Village has lots of boats, especially given the hundreds of miles and several overnights at sea required to get here.

Legacy Westport 164 at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Our new neighbor “Legacy” arrives

What could be a fabulous cruising destination is just a brief stopover point for the handful of boats that pass through.

One such transient boat pulled in during our stay.  The neat thing about megayachts is that you can often look them up online and get a tantalizing peek at what lurks behind the tinted windows.  This one, “Legacy,” is 164′ long and is listed on Charter World as having been launched in December, 2011.  It’s basically brand new!

Cruising friends Colleen and Mark

Young cruisers Colleen and Mark from s/v Mer-Sea

The photos of the interior are lovely, but we had to satisfy ourselves with taking photos of the outside and dreaming.  Other than seeing the scurrying hands while the boat was docking, we never saw a soul on deck!

Even more fun than the exotic super yachts, though, are some of the unusual cruisers we meet along the way.  As we pulled in, we were greeted by Colleen and Marc of the Catalina 27 Mer-Sea.  They had recently sold their boat to our friend Arturo of Macaw Tours Tapachula to be used for daysailing tours around Puerto Chiapas.  We had known only that “a young couple sailed the boat down from California and then sold it to Arturo over the summer.”

Mer-Sea at Marina Chiapas Mexico

After an exciting cruise south, Colleen and Marc’s boat is ready to take visitors daysailing in Chiapas.

 

What fun it was to meet them and their dog Torch as they got ready to pile into their pickup-conversion-camper and drive home to Texas after an adventurous cruise down the Mexican coast.

Donzi at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

A true chick-magnet

 

 

 

 

It is common for retirees to set sail on a boat after years of dreaming and planning.  Their boats are solid and decked out in the latest gear to make living aboard as comfortable and as safe as possible.  Their boats are ready for all that the sea might dish out.  Old folks have the money and the time to do these things, and 95% of cruisers in Pacific Mexico are over 50.

Pura Vida at Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

All boats need regular scrub downs

How refreshing and inspiring it is, then, to meet a couple in their twenties who threw caution to the wind, bought a small 1970’s vintage boat, and took off down the scary coast, latest fancy gear be damned.  The boat sailed well, what more could you want?  Now, with one big cruise in their back pockets, they are off to make a little money in Texas and then do it all again — in the Caribbean.

anchor chain and Ultra anchor

The anchor chain is laid out on the dock. The more frequently used end near the anchor is rusted.

Old or new, big or small, if you want your boat to be a chick magnet — or at least to look its best — you gotta work at it.  When the 100 footer Pura Vida pulled in, within moments of tying up, the crew went to work cleaning, polishing and waxing.  At least a few hours of work on a boat each day is just part of the boating life, whether you are paid crew or a grubby cruiser living the Life of Riley.

Mark had a long list of things to do on the boat and we jumped right in.  Most were mundane, like fixing a leak in the kayak (again! but darn, we love that little boat anyway…), and polishing away the various rust stains that had appeared on parts of the hull.  But most interesting was swapping the anchor chain end-for-end.

end for end anchor chain on the dock

Mark puts new tie-wraps at 30′ intervals

After 550 days of anchoring out, the link holding the anchor had been startlingly eaten away by rust, while the opposite end of the chain was still bright silver.

A few of the tie-wraps marking the distances had come off too, so Mark had a chance to put new ones on at 30′ intervals.  That way he has some idea of how much chain he has let out in the water — the deeper the water (or more stormy the situation), the more chain you want to let out.

Marinas are always lively places that are full of action, even little-used ones like Marina Chahué.  One afternoon a TV crew showed up at the mansion on the end of the point.  We discovered the Mexican TV mass media company “Televisa” was doing a segment on Huatulco for a show that highlights cool spots around Mexico.

Sailboat regatta Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

A little sailboat race makes a perfect backdrop for the TV cameras

Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Palm at sunset

Very conveniently, the local kids’ racing fleet had a small regatta that day, right out front.  They zig-zagged back and forth as the TV cameras rolled.  They were very cute.

During our brief stay, Marina Chahué was loaded with birdlife.  We were woken in the mornings with the calls of great kiskadees, which sound just like their name, “kis-ka-dee.”  Grackles made themselves at home in our cockpit at times, squeaking at each other and peering at us to see just how much intrusion they could get away with before we shooed them off.

A grackle sits on our outboard in Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A cheeky grackle makes himself at home on our outboard

One morning Mark popped his head out the companionway and saw a row of birds sitting on the dock line of the boat next to us.  There is quite a bit of surge in this marina, and the boats move around a lot.  As the neighboring boat swung around in its slip, the dock line rose up and down.  The birds didn’t seem to mind one bit as their perch soared and then fell.

Swallows on the dock lines in Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A flock of small birds rides the dock lines

Great egret Marina Chahue Huatulco Mexico

A great egret stares us down in the kayak

 

Taking the kayak out to explore the estuary in the back of the marina, we came across a rather stern looking great egret.  He kept a close eye on us and our bright yellow boat as we drifted past him.  But other than annoying him enough for him to lower one foot for a moment, just in case, he seemed okay with us coming quite close.

The prize bird sighting came on land about a quarter mile from the marina, though.  Just outside the busy supermarket, we heard the unmistakeable squeals of a flock of parrots.  They were perched on every available branch of a tree, almost within arm’s reach.  Unfortunately, the wide angle lens I’d brought with me couldn’t quite capture them… And why hadn’t I brought my telephoto lens to the supermarket??  I’m beginning to learn:  take all the camera stuff everywhere!

 

half moon conures in Huatulco Mexico

Half moon conures flirt at sunset

half moon conures bahias de huatulco mexico

A little kiss

We hurried home, teased most of the way by this exuberant flock as it zoomed every which way in the sky, buzzing us repeatedly and landing in trees and chattering at us all along our route home.  Why, oh, why didn’t I have that long lens?  I looked them up online later and found out they were half-moon conures.

We had planned to leave the marina the next morning, but Mark gave me a smirk when I said something about staying one more day — we both knew why.  The next afternoon I ran over to the supermarket, this time with the long lens and fully charged battery, all ready to roll.  I could hear the parrots in the distance.  Suddenly, there they were, landing in the tree right above me at a hopelessly busy street corner.

Half moon conures La Crucecita Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

“Pssst — I think you’re really cute”

I snapped some shots.  Wrong settings — all dark.  I snapped some more — better, but blurry.  Oh gosh, Don’t fly away!!!  I kept thinking.  Then I remembered the settings Mark had recommended as I leapt off the boat a few minutes ago, and I punched the buttons as the buses and taxis whipped around the corner at rush hour speeds.

half moon conures La Crucecita Huatulco Mexico

“Aaaah — that feels so good!!”

Half moon conures Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

“Can we snuggle just a little closer?”

Camera finally set, the birds began to settle down too.  Little pairs sidled up to each other at the ends of each of the branches.  They all flirted with each other shamelessly, clucking, preening, smooching and all.

One pair just above me put on a wonderful show, nuzzling together like the happiest of lovers, all beneath a single heart shaped leaf.

When they finally finished snuggling with each other and got down to serious preening, two birds were back-to-back.  They craned their necks towards each other, forming a perfect heart shape.

half moon conures La Crucecita Huatulco Mexico

“Mmmm…”

What a beautiful few moments.  Eventually the parrot noises in the tree quieted down to a low murmur as the sun stole out of the sky.  I left the birds to their romantic starlit night and wandered home to my own love, totally happy inside.

The incredible charms of the Huatulco area continued to enchant us when we visited the tropical fruit and flower orchard of Hagia Sofia.

half moon conures Marina Chahue Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Huatulco’s Tangolunda Bay – Anchored inside a ring of luxurious tropical resorts!

Sunrise in Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco, Mexico

Sunrise in Tangolunda Bay

Early November, 2012 – After the thrill of crossing the dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec, it was a relief to wake up to a stunning sunrise in calm, picturesque Tangolunda Bay.  As we watched that sunrise, it felt like our cruising season had begun at last.

 Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco, Mexico

Resorts line the bay.

Las Bahías de Huatulco is made up of seven bays tucked into a ten mile stretch of coast, an ideal little cruising ground.  Tangolunda Bay is at the southern end, and it’s the “party bay,” rimmed by ten or so high-end resorts.  They all slowly came to life as the day progressed.

Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco, Mexico

A great scene to wake up to…

The air temperature here was just a little bit cooler and drier than Puerto Chiapas, but the water was still warm and clear.  In no time we had donned masks, snorkels and fins and begun paddling around the boat.

Of course, in the cruising life you are never far from boat maintenance work, and before we could check out the colorful fish swimming around the rocks nearby, we had to clean the bottom of the boat!

Terry cloth towels in hand, we swished and swiped the bottom of the hull, creating great swirling clouds in the water as the resident algae was brushed away.

Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco, Mexico, relaxing on a sailboat

Just chillin’

Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco, Mexico, relaxing on a sailboat

Savoring these precious days.

 

 

 

An hour later, with that chore finally out of the way (phew!), we swam off to visit the angel fish and other critters hiding underwater in the rocks near the shore.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco Mexico Barcelo Resort jet skis

Huatulco is a favorite weekend getaway for people from Oaxaca City

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico, Barcelo Resort

Banana boats zoomed past us.

Large blue angel fish, each sporting a yellow vertical stripe and yellow tail, were the prize sightings, but there were lots of smaller, plainer fish too.  What I liked, though, were the waves of warm and cool water that caressed our bodies as we swam.  The cooler waters of the approaching winter were starting to sweep in, but bathwater warm pools of summer still enveloped us here and there.

Bahias de Huatulco Tangolunda Bay relaxing on a sailboat

Mark unwinds with some tunes in the cockpit.

Above water, the vacationers at the resorts zoomed past on jet skis, in sailing catamarans and on banana boats.  All were Mexican, and all seemed to hail from Oaxaca City.  This is the perfect weekend getaway place for them, as it is just an hour’s flight.

Bahias de Huatulco Tangolunda Bay tern

A tern checks us out.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco jet ski

Mark practiced getting action photos on the water.

The long 8-hour drive over the speed-bump ridden mountain roads from Oaxaca will soon be replaced by a freeway that will get the tourists here in just three hours by car.  The jet skis will be swarming in droves then!!

Several dads with kids sitting in their laps paddled and drifted by us in kayaks and sailboats.  Each was curious about where we were from and what life afloat was like.  “Do you have a kitchen on your boat?” One kayaker asked.  Another guy on a catamaran called out, “I’m going to be doing what you’re doing in a few years!”

Bahias de Huatulco Tangolunda Bay jet ski rental

We got lots of waves — both kinds!

For us, this was the ideal place to relax for a while and regroup.  We took the kayak out and paddled around the bay one afternoon.  As we passed the resorts on shore, it seemed each one had its own flavor.

Tangolunda Bay, Bahias de Huatulco, kayaking

We took the kayak out exploring…

There’s the romantic getaway, Camino Real Zaashila, tucked into the far corner of the beach.  At the opposite end of the beach, swank Quinta Real dominates the scene with its two big exotic looking domes.  I suspect vacationers there enjoy the beach “sand free,” from a distance, with room service on their balconies!  In the middle there’s the party hardy resorts, Barceló and Dreams, where loud music plays at the water’s edge, kids splash in the waves, and undoubtedly Margaritas flow freely.

Huatulco Tangolunda Bay Dreams Resort with Sailboat

Groovy poses against the fantastic backdrop of Quinta Real

It seems that vacationers of every kind can find their tropical paradise here.  When we got back to the boat, the afternoon entertainment had begun poolside at the Las Brisas resort next to us.  A woman on a loudspeaker was conducting a contest among the kids to see who could recognize the most Disney movie and cartoon theme songs.

Bahias de Huatulco Tangolunda Bay

Snippets of Mary Poppins and The Little Mermaid wafted past us while we imagined a very lively scene at the resort’s swimming pool which was hidden from us by a row of bushes.

Tangolunda Bay Bahias de Huatulco Mexico

Tangolunda’s main beach is a long sweeping crescent

How funny it was to hear this very American contest all afternoon after they had played hours of Mexican music over their sound system all morning. Needless to say, we knew all the answers, but not all the kids did!!

Huatulco Mexico Tangolunda Bay wedding fireworks

Wedding fireworks!

One evening a lucky couple got married on the beach right in front of our boat.  Suddenly the black night sky was split by a huge colorful explosion above us.  After yelling, “No no, not on our boat!” as we panicked that falling embers would land on us, we ran for our cameras to catch the fireworks show.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco great place for relaxing

Ahhhh….

It didn’t last long — the couple had ordered only three fireworks — but Mark got a terrific shot of one of them.

Our days and nights melted into the sweet oblivion of doing nothing but basking in this beautiful setting.  This was the life!!  I think most cruisers take off on their voyages with something like this in mind.  But boatloads of boat work, endless challenging passages, and the frequent cranky moods of Mother Nature all stand like steep hurdles blocking the way between cruisers and the heavenly, bucolic days they seek.  We savored each hour of each day as the happy blessing that it was.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco Camino Real Zaashila Resort

Romantic Camino Real Zaashila is tucked into a quiet corner of Tangolunda bay

This season, unlike the previous two, we don’t plan to travel a long distance, so there is nothing prodding us to move on or do anything in particular.  Perhaps we have finally “slowed down” in our cruising lifestyle the way we did in our RVing lifestyle.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco catamaran sailing

Catamarans sailed around us in Tangolunda

Our “to-do” list of chores for the boat got pushed aside to the far corner of the nav station desk (I think I even flipped it over for a few days so I didn’t have to look at it!).  “Having fun” became the top priority for a while.  Mark’s guitar came out, our cameras went into overdrive as we tried to capture happy vacationers having a ball all around us, and we spent many hours in the cockpit scanning the scene saying to each other, “What a totally cool life!”

Bahias de Huatulco Tangolunda Bay sailboat

Groovy sits happily by the beach

But Mother Nature’s mood swings finally caught up with us and forced us to raise the anchor.  Tangolunda Bay is wide open to the swell coming in from the Pacific, and after a few very calm nights, the Pacific began to roll and Groovy rolled right along with it.

Huatulco sunrise at Tangolunda Bay

Sunrise in Huatulco

A few rolls overnight isn’t bad, but when the boat starts swinging and jerking like a bucking bronco, tossing its occupants and their stuff around like ping-pong balls all night long while the hull creaks and groans in noisy agony, it’s time to seek new shelter!

After a beautiful sunrise one morning, we headed out on a daysail.  What fun it was to sail whichever way the wind was best, not trying to reach a particular destination.  After a few hours, we ultimately pointed the bow towards Marina Chahué in the next bay over from Tangolunda, where sweet nights of flat calm awaited us.

 

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Gulf of Tehuantepec, Mexico – Squeezing in a crossing between blows

Halloween, 2012 – We had enjoyed Marina Chiapas, but now it was time to leave.  However, because this marina borders a fabled body of water — one known for its bad attitude not its beauty — leaving was not such an easy thing to do!

The staccato way Mexicans pronounce “Tehuantepec” (Te-wan-te-PECK) makes it sound almost distasteful — they spit out the ending “Pec” with force.  Among cruisers, the Gulf of Tehuantepec is one of the few places in Pacific Mexico that can strike terror in our hearts.  I’ve heard it pooh-poohed only one time, by a married pair of 20-year veteran single-handers in Zihuatanejo (¼ down page) who were completing their third circumnavigation (aboard separate boats).  They brushed it off, saying, “The Tehuantepec is way overrated!” and promptly set off to sail 500 miles out to sea around it en route to the Panama Canal.  But for most ordinary cruisers, including us, it is a place to be respected and planned for, as it is known for its nasty temper and very big teeth.

Crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec Mexico between Marina Chiapas and Marina Chahue

From red dot (Marina Chiapas) to blue (Huatulco), this is not a great time to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec! Wind in light blue is 4-7 mph, wind in dark orange is 39-46 mph.

The Tehuantepec blows and calms down in cycles that depend on the winds in the Gulf of Mexico.  When the wind blows out of the north on the Caribbean side of Mexico, it picks up speed when it hits the Gulf of Tehuantepec and often reaches gale force.  Then it settles down for a few days before doing it all over again.

The goal for sailors is to look for a 3-day or longer period of calm to dash from one side of the Tehuantepec to the other.  There are marinas on either side, Marina Chahué in Huatulco on the west and now the new Marina Chiapas in Puerto Chiapas on the east, but there is nowhere to hide in-between other than the big, smelly industrial port of Salina Cruz that is loaded with freighters and requires the Port Captain’s permission to enter.

Going straight across this gulf is about 210 miles, but that’s a dangerous route because if the Tehuantepec suddenly gets ugly, you are stuck in a storm with hours of miserable sailing to get to safety near shore.  So the recommended course is to hug the coastline the whole way, sailing ¼ mile to ½ mile offshore, where the winds are slightly less and the waves are significantly smaller.  Going this way is 260 miles.  Crossing takes anywhere from 30 to 50 hours, on average.

Golfo de Tehuantepec crossing from Puerto Chiapas to Huatulco during calm

This calm period looks much better, doesn’t it?! Wind in light blue and lavender is 4-12 mph.

Compounding the problem of finding a good weather window to cross, when leaving from Marina Chiapas on a westbound trip, there is the additional hassle of checking out of the port.  Because Puerto Chiapas is on the border of Guatemala, every boat leaving Marina Chiapas for another destination in Mexico is required to pay a personal visit to the Port Captain’s office on the far side of town to purchase the official exit document (about $7 USD).

Also, 2 hours prior to the boat’s departure, you must invite both the Navy and their drug sniffing dog aboard for a final inspection of the boat as well as the Port Captain who comes to the boat for a final review of the paperwork.  You can’t just sneak out when the forecast looks good and the timing feels right!

The Tehuantepec had been blowing full force non-stop since our arrival a week earlier, but we studied Magic Seaweed and Passage Weather (North Pacific->California to Mexico) to determine the best time to cross, and we spotted a slim opening of about 12 hours of calm between two modest blows that would peak about 40 hours apart.  These websites, updated every three hours, seem to be very accurate in their prediction of the weather, but the resolution is small.  A one inch portion of the chart represents the entire 260 mile passage, and the time is given in GMT which was 5 hours earlier than local time in Marina Chiapas.

Some sailors don't like the Gulf of Tehuantepec

Anticipating crossing the Tehuantepec can make you a little crazy.

Studying these websites, I wrote out two pages of notes listing GMT, local time, forecasted wind states and sea states.  As of Monday, it seemed that Wednesday morning at 3:00 a.m. would be the best time to leave.  If we missed that window by 3 hours we would need to stay in port another week.

Marina management instructed Mark to visit the Port Captain right away to complete our exit paperwork.  They told us the exit document had no expiration date — it would be good indefinitely.

This meant that if the weather forecast changed, we could opt not to leave, and we’d still have a good exit document for when we were finally ready to go.  We also planned to hail the Port Captain on the radio about 8:00 Tuesday night to make arrangements for him, the Navy, and their dog to visit our boat around midnight.  We would be required to leave within two hours of that visit — or we’d have to invite them back to repeat the process.

Marina Chiapas slips and docks at sunset

It was hard to leave the safety of pretty Marina Chiapas but the windows for crossing the Tehuantepec were infrequent.

In the backs of our minds we were thinking that if the weather forecast changed on Tuesday and no longer looked good for a crossing, we would stick around the area another week or so and take advantage of the downtime to spend a few days at the coffee plantation Finca Hamburgo which has lovely cabins in the mountains.  They also have an exotic flower nursery, oodles of tropical birds and hiking trails throughout their property.  It sounded delightful.

We awoke Tuesday morning to find the marina’s internet was no longer working, so we couldn’t get a weather forecast.  On top of that, we discovered that marina management at this new marina had not understood all nuances of the rules related to boats leaving Puerto Chiapas.  It turns out that once a boat that is remaining in Mexico obtains its exit document, it must leave within 48 hours of the “leave by” date stated on the document — or return to the Port Captain’s office to obtain new exit paperwork.  So much for our option of easily sticking around for a week and hitting the coffee plantation if the weather forecast turned ugly.  We had to leave by Thursday afternoon, or spend another three hours going to the Port Captain’s office a second time to get a new exit document.

Marina Chiapas Porto Bello Restaurant Mexican Flags

Mexican flags fly at the marina’s new restaurant.

The last weather forecast we’d seen had been 10 hours earlier on Monday night.  So I hustled to nearby Puerto Madero to renew our Telcel USB modem (which provides internet access via the Mexican cell phone system).  When I was finally able to get online and see the forecast, I was horrified.  Everything had changed.  We needed to leave in 90 minutes — at 3:00 p.m. today, Tuesday, 12 hours ahead of our original planned departure time — or not leave for at least a week.

This would have us chasing a receding Tehuantepec blow for the first 18 hours, put us at the apex of the Tehuantepec at 3:00 p.m. Wednesday when it would be calm, and then have us chased by a newly growing Tehuantepec blow for the last 6 hours of our trip, delivering us to Huatulco at 3:00 a.m. Thursday, after 36 hours of sailing.  It would be a tight squeeze with little margin for error.

There was one other window a few days later that might work for very fast boats with very brave crew — but we weren’t in that category.

As Mark and I studied the weather charts, I felt a fear so palpable that my heart raced, palms sweated and mouth went dry.  “Stay or go?” I asked him.  I wanted to stay.  I wanted to run away to the coffee plantation high on that mountain and never come back.  He gave me a big happy smile.  “I have total confidence in you, Sweetie.  If you think this window will work, we’ll be fine.  You’re a great navigator and a great researcher and planner too!  I think we should go.”

Birds at Marina Chiapas

One of the best things about this marina is the constant sound of unusual bird calls.

My eyes were saucers.  He had that kind of faith in me?  What if I were wrong?  What if I’d miscalculated GMT and local time?  What if the weather changed in the next 24 hours before we got to the most vulnerable part of the voyage?  What if he got injured out there because of my decision?  What if the boat were damaged?  What if we had a horrible trip and then found out if we’d waited three days it would have been easy?  What if?  What if?  What if???  I was a mess.

Mark began organizing the boat, and after much consternation I picked up the VHF mic to invite the Port Captain and the Navy to our boat for our exit inspection.  I was intercepted by the marina manager who kindly said all the right things to the Port Captain in Spanish to convince them to come in 20 minutes.  45 minutes later, the Port Captain arrived by car.  But he wouldn’t come down to the boat until the Navy showed up in their launch boat, so he just waved from the parking lot.  Another 20 minutes went by before the launch arrived, complete with pooch.  They tied up at the dock.  The four men ambled onto our boat and took out clip boards, papers and pens while the dog sniffed everything.

Marina Chiapas at Puerto Madero - evening on the docks

At first we thught we’d leave at 3 a.m. but changed our minds to leave 12 hours earlier.

Mark watched the minutes tick by as they first had me run up to the marina office to make yet another a copy of our passports for them.  Then they struggled to understand what state had the abbreviation “SD” (our domicile) and where it was located.  “What are the border states?” they asked with great, unhurried curiosity.  North Dakota wasn’t a helpful answer, as they didn’t know that one either.  Montana got a nod.  Egads — we needed to leave, and now!!  At last they stood up to go.  Our engine was running almost before the last man stepped off the boat, and we were gone.  It was 40 minutes later than we wanted to leave, but still within the 3 hour window we’d set as our outer limit.

The Tehuantepec was blowing hard ahead of us, but we anticipated 18 hours of smooth sailing before we would get near the bad stuff, and it would be calming down in the meantime.  After an anemic sunset, the full moon we had looked forward to hid behind clouds, leaving us in the dark and making the lights on the row of 16 shrimpers off our port beam look even brighter.  Suddenly an intense white light appeared behind us.  The light grew brighter, and then we could see the red and green running lights of a boat’s bow and blasts of bow spray as it bore down on us at 30 knots or so.

Through the binoculars Mark could see it was a Mexican Navy ship.  “Maybe we’ll get boarded,” he said, shrugging.  The boat was coming straight for us.  Suddenly it swerved to our starboard side and stopped.  After a long pause (verifying our boat name with headquarters at Puerto Chiapas, perhaps?), it pulled around ahead of us and zoomed off into the middle of the shrimping fleet.  Minutes later we heard the Navy captain hailing one of the shrimpers on the radio, informing them that they were going to perform a routine inspection of their boat.  Twenty minutes after that the Navy captain hailed another shrimper for a routine inspection of his boat.  And so it went, the line of shrimpers stopped at a standstill, mid-ocean, awaiting inspections, while we slipped by on their right.

Neither of us likes night sailing at all, and since we are both light sleepers, we have found it very difficult to get good sleep while at sea.  The motion of the boat, slapping of waves on the hull and noise of the wind in the rigging are unsettling.  I tried my best to sleep, but after two hours something got me out of bed.

I found Mark in the cockpit staring into the darkness saying, “What do you make of this?  Watch.  He’s been doing this for 15 minutes…”  As he pointed, suddenly a powerful spotlight — by far the brightest I have ever seen on a boat — lit up our cockpit.  I felt naked.  When the light shifted for a moment we could see the source was a small panga, or outboard-driven open fishing boat, with two men in it.  The light flooded our cockpit again, this time strobing on and off, as the launch approached Groovy at top speed.  Then it swerved away.  The light turned off.  Then on again with another rush at our boat.  Then it was off, and the boat wheeled away from us.  All the blood drained from my face and my throat went dry.

Mark kept studying the boat.  It traveled at our speed for about 20 minutes, staying about half a mile or so behind us, and then made another rush towards us, spotlight strobing.  Finally it swerved away.  Were they trying to tell us something, to warn us about a fishing net?  Did they think we were somebody else?  Were they meeting a boat out there somewhere and we fit the description?  We’ll never know.  A few hours later another similar boat did the same thing, but with less intensity.  Who knows what it was all about.

I laid on my back in the cockpit and studied the sky to calm down.  The full moon now backlit the clouds whenever it was able to penetrate their depths.  For hours a flock of four frigate birds took turns trying to land on the top of our mast.  The mast swung wildly and it was impossible for those big wings and big webbed feet even to think about landing successfully, but they sure had a good time trying.  They easily went 30 miles with us, playing like that.

Gulf of Tehuantepec when it is calm

The Tehuantepec was calm at first

Overnight the conditions were so calm we let the distance grow between us and the shore until we were 15 miles out.  In the morning there was no dawn, just clouds.  But the good news was that a following current pushed us along as we motor-sailed at nearly 8 knots the whole time.  We had more than made up the time we had lost checking out with the officials.  The sooner we could scoot across the gulf the better — unless we went too fast and caught up to the big winds ahead of us before they died down.

The wind began to build, and with it the seas.  We started seeing 22 knots of true wind (30 apparent) and the boat began to slam into the waves.  It would rise into the air, the front half airborne, and then drop onto the water with a loud crash.

Gulf of Tehuantepec storm clouds on the ocean

Weird storms appeared and disappeared around us.

“Wow, check this out — storm cells on the radar!”  Mark called out excitedly.  Sure enough, two huge 8 mile wide pink blobs blocked our way forward, and up ahead we could see weird clouds with rain streaking out of them.  We dodged one by going towards shore, and then it disappeared, as if laughing at us for changing course to avoid it.  We tried going out to sea to avoid the next one, but it got bigger and bigger and we made no progress against it.  Then the one we had defeated reformed and suddenly we were boxed in by the two systems.  At the time I thought “who needs to see a photo of a chart plotter with two huge pink blobs boxing Groovy in?” but now I wish I could show it to you.

With rain starting and seas growing, the two storm cells suddenly began to flash with lightning.  Thunder rumbled ominously.  According to the forecast, we were supposed to be cruising along in 8 knots of light breeze with no storms, but that’s not what was here.  So it was time to seek shelter and hug the coast.  We made a beeline for shore, and after two long hours of pounding over the waves, we got to the safety zone by the beach — the recommended travel lane — where the depth is a sandy 40′ and the distance to shore is 0.2 miles.  The true wind dropped below 20 knots and the seas went flat.  Amazing!  We zipped along at over 8.5 knots for many hours on end.  It would have been a thrilling ride.  It would have been our best sailing in Mexico to date — after all, how often do you get lively wind on a close reach with flat seas? — but the fear in our hearts dissolved all sense of fun.

Gulf of Tehuantepec salt spray covers our dodger

Groovy got whip-lashed by a few big waves that smacked our dodger and soaked it.

How easy it is to walk on a 6×8 plank sitting on the ground.  Put it 30′ in the air and it’s terrifying, because all you can think of is falling off.  So it is with great daysailing in the Gulf of Tehuantepec.  Even when you get ideal sailing conditions, you keep waiting for the grisly sea monster to rise up and swallow you.

It had been 22 hours since we had last seen a weather forecast on the internet, and the one we’d just heard on the VHF radio rattled off the wind speeds and wave heights for all the regions of Pacific Mexico in Spanish — and in metric — way too fast.

Suddenly a panga with 6 guys in it appeared alongside us.  They circled us, yelling in Spanish.

“You’ve got to get out of here!  There’s going to be a lot of wind.”
“When? When?” I yelled back.  “We’re going to Huatulco!”
They all grinned heartily and gave us the thumbs up: “Mañana!”

We guessed that meant we were okay — we’d be long gone from here by then.  How incredibly kind of them, though, to make a detour to our boat to warn us of the coming weather.  We are always impressed by the thoughtfulness of the Mexicans.

As we approached the apex of the Tehuantepec’s danger zone, the true wind climbed to 25 knots, apparent was into the 30’s, and we were soaring on flat water at 9 knots, watching people flying kites an arm’s length away on the beach.  I held the laptop high overhead and was able to pick up a very faint internet signal from somewhere on shore.  After twenty minutes of standing with the laptop overhead (a great shoulder workout!), I had downloaded a tiny 599KB zip file containing a complete weather forecast from Passage Weather’s low-bandwidth site.  Nothing had changed.  Phew!!!  We were on perfect schedule.  All we had to do was let another 12 or so hours march by.  The only weird thing was we were supposed to be in 8-12 knots of wind at this point, not 25.

As darkness fell, we threaded a path between all the freighters anchored off Salina Cruz.  The coast turned more southward and we now had the wind off our starboard quarter.  The noise and mayhem settled way down as the wind from our own forward motion canceled out some of the wind blowing behind us.  We scooted along, continuing to slice through the water at almost 8 knots.

Tangolunda Bay Bahias de Huatulco

The morning after we relax in Huatulco’s beautiful Tangolunda Bay

It was Halloween, and we celebrated this eerie night of goblins and ghouls by watching the nearly full moon rise blood red in the black sky.  We’ve never seen the moon such a rich shade of red.  As it climbed higher, it slowly faded from ruby red to orange, passing through wisps of grey clouds.  What a classic Halloween image.  We tried to capture it with the camera, but the boat was rolling and all we got was blurry red blobs.

In our final hours we felt the winds and seas building again, and knew we had successfully scooted ahead and avoided the rising maelstrom behind us.  At long last, around 2:30 a.m. on Thursday morning after 35 hours and 260 miles (a whopping average (for us) of 7.4 knots, or 8.5mph), we pulled into Tangolunda Bay, a big bay at Huatulco’s south end.  We knew this bay from last year, and it was a relief to retrace our track on the chartplotter and drop the hook right where we had pulled it up eight months earlier.

We sat in the cockpit, securely anchored to the sand beneath us, and stared at the twinkling lights of the many resorts lining the bay.  All the fear and worry of the past two days suddenly fell from our shoulders, and an incredible sense of accomplishment began to take its place.  Our first Tehuantepec crossing last spring had been a breeze, a no-brainer, “pan comida” (a piece of cake), as we’d had a six day window of minimal wind.  We had crossed near the middle, covering 228 miles in 36 hours.

Tangolunda Bay in the Bays of Huatulco

It’s party time in Huatulco’s Tangolunda Bay

Our crossing now had gone equally well, but had been a tactical challenge like none we have ever faced on the water before.  Everything had gone like clockwork: we had arrived at each landmark on schedule or slightly ahead, thanks to a 1 knot favorable current, and the Tehuantepec had cooperated by sticking to its forecasted plan (except for the unexpectedly blustery conditions near the apex).  If we hadn’t been so spooked by the potential for disaster, we might have even enjoyed the ride!

But for now we were excited at the prospect of swimming and snorkeling off the boat the next morning, and waving at the jet skis that would soon circle us from the fancy resorts that surround Tangolunda Bay.  All the resorts were quiet now in these wee hours of the morning, however, and we slept like babies as soon as our heads hit our pillows.

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Marina Chiapas in Puerto Madero (Puerto Chiapas) Mexico – Sailing near Guatemala

If you are taking your boat to Marina Chiapas, please visit our Marina Chiapas Cruising Guide for waypoints and travel ideas!

October, 2012 – As we watched New Mexico’s unique Bisti Badlands disappearing in our rearview mirror, we began to focus all our energy on exchanging our US land travels by RV for our Mexico travels by sailboat.

Phoenix Hermosillo Mexico City Flights - Mexico Map

Our route: Phoenix – Hermosillo – Mexico City – Tapachula (Marina Chiapas)

standin on a corner in winslowe arizona

There’s a girl, my Lord, in a flat bed Ford…

We breezed through Winslow, Arizona, just 24 hours after the conclusion of their big “Standin’ on a Corner in Winslow Arizona” festival, but we stopped long enough to stand on that special corner ourselves.

Javalina in Fountain Hills Arizona

Mark spots a javalina near a friend’s house in Arizona

Several weeks vanished in a flurry of visits with friends and family along with shopping for goodies we knew we’d need in Mexico but couldn’t buy there.

Phoenix Hermosillo Mexico City Tapachula airplaine flights

Three flights and 12 hours from RV to sailboat

We put the buggy away in storage and finally flew out to Tapachula near the end of October. It took twelve hours of travel to get from our trailer’s door to our boat’s door, including three different planes and extraordinarily thorough baggage inspections before boarding each one.  When we stepped off the last plane in Tapachula at 1:30 a.m., we felt like we were stepping into a sauna, and we were suddenly immersed in the thick, dense, pungent air of the tropics.

 

Sailboat in Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero) Mexico

Groovy was happy to see us.

Groovy was waiting patiently at the dock, and even in the dark the boat sparkled, inside and out.  Our friend Andrés Reyes Prudente, the captain of a neighboring sport fishing boat, had taken good care of her during our absence.

Palms at sunset in Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero) Mexico

The moody skies were enchanting

It was still the end of the rainy season in the tropics, and every day we were treated to fantastic clouds, a few showers, and even one doozy of a thunder and lightning storm that pelted everything with sheets of water and made us jump out of bed when a bolt hit somewhere very nearby.

Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero Puerto Chiapas) sunset and empty slips

Sunset at Marina Chiapas

 

 

 

 

Of course, having just completed a long to-do list for the trailer in Arizona, we now faced another long to-do list for the boat.

Mark leapt into action on the engine, and we ran off to super markets several times for provisions.  Taking the “combi” van to Walmart, we found ourselves packed in like sardines as 23 people squashed into each other and sat on each other’s laps to fit into a van built to seat just 15 people.  Ah, Mexico!

Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero Puerto Chiapas) sunset on palm treet

Yanmar 55hp engine Hunter 44DS sailboat

Mark says “Hello” to his good friend, our Yanmar 54hp engine

As each person climbed into the “combi” van, they greeted everyone already aboard with a friendly “buenos días,” a practice we have seen over and over here.  In my younger days I rode very crowded subway trains all over Boston, but I sure don’t recall anyone ever greeting anyone else with a big smile and friendly “good morning” as they got on.

Sailing in Puerto Chiapas (Marina Chiapas and Puerto Madero)

What fun to be sailing on Groovy once again

The intense heat zapped our energy every day.  We don’t have air conditioning on the boat (probably a “must” both here and in the deepest of the tropics).  The temps inside the cabin got up to 94 every afternoon.  There wasn’t a breath of air.  Sweat covered our bodies, head to barefoot toe, even if we sat motionless in front of a fan.

Fishing at Puerto Chiapas (Marina Chiapas and Puerto Madero)

Andres brought his fishing poles

We hadn’t been on the boat 48 hours when we excitedly untied the lines and took it out into the bay to cool off in the ocean breezes and see if all the systems still worked.

Andrés joined us, and he brought two fishing poles in hopes of catching dinner.  The fish weren’t biting, but the ocean water felt great, even at 91 degrees.

Sunset on the docks at Marina Chiapas in Puerto Chiapas Mexico

The sunsets were exquisite

The Chachalacas (birds!) sat in the trees and made their funny bird calls at each other morning and night, and exotic flowers grew on their own among the weeds on the roadsides.

Passion flower growing at Marina Chiapas in Puerto Chiapas Mexico

Mark found a Passion flower in the weeds

Every afternoon the sunsets transformed the marina and inspired us.

Sunset at the docks in Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero) Puerto Chiapas Mexico

The fun thing about being in a marina like this is that everyone has a long to-do list for their boat, and sometimes you can abandon your own list to help a friend with theirs instead.

sportfishing Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero Puerto Chiapas)

We hitch a ride to the fuel dock

One afternoon Andrés needed to take his boat over to the fuel dock to fill up, so we came along for the ride to help with the dock lines.

The fuel dock is tucked into a back corner of the estuary and it has grubby black rubber tires that put marks all over your white fiberglass when you tie up, so having some extra hands to help with the maneuver makes it easier.

We needed to test some more systems on Groovy too, so off we went for another daysail in the bay once again.  This port is a border port (just a few miles from Guatemala), so it is tightly controlled by the Port Captain and the Navy.

Marina Chiapas Porto Bello Restaurant Puerto Chiapas (Puerto Madero) Mexico

The restaurant “Porto Bello” under the newly completed palapa at Marina Chiapas

Every time we went out for a daysail, and every time we returned, we had to call the Port Captain on the VHF radio to let him know what we were doing.

Sport fishing at Puerto Chiapas in Marina Chiapas Mexico (Puerto Madero)

Success!!

We are capable of doing this in rudimentary Spanish ourselves, but it was fun to turn the task over to Andrés and watch him rattle away on the radio on our behalf, giving the Port Captain all the detailed information he needed about our bay voyages.

He also had success fishing that day, and happily reeled in a Sierra.  This pretty Spanish Mackerel is covered with yellow polka dots, and it made a yummy dinner.  A small fish doesn’t go too far for three people, but a pile of tortillas and refried beans with hot sauce stretched it nicely.

Sierra (Spanish Mackerel) has yellow polka dots Puerto Chiapas Mexico

Sierra (Spanish Mackerel)

By the way, neither of us would have ever even considered eating those things with fish before living in Mexico, but when Andrés said, “no frijoles??” when he saw his plate, I quickly remembered what a great combo that is and warmed up some refried beans.  We were slowly getting our Mexican vibe back.

Groovy gradually came together, and the to-do list got whittled down to just a few items.

Sailboat at Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero) in Puerto Chiapas Mexico

Getting used to the Life Aquatic

We had been watching the weather to see if a window would open up for us to dart across the difficult Gulf of Tehuantepec — at the same time that Frankenstorm Sandy swirled up the east coast — and eventually it looked like there might be a 12 hour window of total calm between the endless march of gales.

This is hardly long enough to be called a real “window,” and our cruising guide warned that windows for crossing the Tehuantepec can “slam shut in an instant.”

Sailboat at Marina Chiapas Puerto Chiapas (Puerto Madero) at sunset

Catch a ride on this pretty sailboat with local tour operator Macaw Tours Tapachula

 

But “Tehuantepeckers” had been blowing for a full week since our arrival, and they were forecast to continue to blow for the entire following week too.  Good grief, what kind of crazy place is this gulf?

So, while we had hoped to take an inland trip to the local coffee plantation Finca Hamburgo for a few days, when the chance came to leap back into cruising and cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec, we grabbed it.

For waypoints and cruising notes for Marina Chiapas as well as an inland travel guide for what you can see OFF the boat in southern Mexico, please visit our Marina Chiapas Cruising Guide.

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Huatulco – Pacific Mexico’s Best Cruising

Catamarans at Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Resort rides on Tangolunda Bay.

Fish in the clear waters of Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Fish swim around our legs.

Craggy rock outcroppings at Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Wonderful photo ops abound, but the little alcoves

aren't 100% private!

Beautiful Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico Resort living at Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico Kids play in the water at Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico Coast Guard visits the cruise ship dock at Santa Cruz, Huatulco, Mexico

Coast Guard cutter at Huatulco's cruise ship dock.

Cute harbor town of Santa Cruz, Huatulco, Mexico

Cute harbor town of Santa Cruz.

Boats lined up at Santa Cruz, Huatulco, Mexico Great dorado fishing at Santa Cruz, Huatulco, Mexico

Dorado! ("mahi-mahi").

Zapotec weaver displays his techniques at Santa Cruz, Huatulco, Mexico

Zapotec weaver Martín

Zapotecs were early settlers in the Huatulco area, Oaxaca, Mexico

Ledí says a few

Zapotec words to us.

La India cove, Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

La India cove is tucked behind some rocks.

Tourist boats offer a day on the water at Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

Tourists enjoy a day on the water.

Sea turtle tracks on the beach of Playa Chachacual in the Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

Turtle tracks in the sand.

Beach treasure at the Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

Beach treasure.

Jewel like waves at Playa Chachacual in Bays of Huatulco, Mexico Wide grass-lined sidewalks lead to the town of La Crucecita, Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

Wonderful walking path to town.

Picture perfect town square in La Crucecita, Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

La Crucecita was built to

resemble a classic Mexican

town.

Brightly painted quaint buildings of La Crucecita in the Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

The buildings are brightly painted.

The town church in La Crucecita Bays of Huatulco, Mexico

Town church.

The vibe in La Crucecita is not as

welcoming as we expected.

Jungle vegetation in the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Thick green vegetation abounds.

Jungle trees in the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico Huanacaxtle hardwood was used in the construction of the Copalita Eco-Archaeological park headquarters.

Hardwood from the Huanacaxtle tree.

Zapotec artifact found in the Copalita ruins, the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Zapotec artifact found in the

Copalita ruins.

Artifact found in the Copalita ruins in Las Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Museum piece.

Small Zapotec pyramid temple in Copalita, las Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

A small Zapotec pyramid temple in Copalita.

Vines & trees in the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Mark loves these trees.

Viny trees in the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Could be Treebeard's buddy.

Stone path leads through the jungle to an ocean overlook in the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Beautiful stone walking path climbs

through the jungle to an overlook.

Vast ocean vista at the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

Looking down at the shore outside Tangolunda Bay.

Lily pads fill a pond at the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico Wide green leaves like doilies at the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico Exotic wildflower at the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico A brightly colored moth at the Copalita Eco-Archaeology park the Bahías de Huatulco, Mexico

A moth poses on a window at the

park's headquarters.

Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Early February - There are 7 main bays in Las Bahías de Huatulco and

an assortment of coves, making the total number of bays and coves

anywhere from 9 to 12, depending on what guide you read and who you

talk to.  Each one is unique and has a charm of its own.  Some are

protected as part of a national park, some are lined with a row of palapa

beach bars, and some have been developed for tourism.

Tangolunda Bay was set aside by Mexico's tourism

agency Fonatur for resort development, and we anchored

first at the west end of the bay and then moved down to

the east end where we found a little less swell and a lot

less noise from the resorts.  There was lots of color and action on the beach, and even the fish made themselves readily

available for easy viewing if you stood in the water up to your knees.

This is a rocky and craggy coast, and we climbed over several rock

outcroppings to get from one part of Tangolunda's main beach to the next.

These rocks made perfect photo-ops for all of us tourists.  One afternoon

we climbed around a corner to find a simmering scene: an amorous young

fellow was taking photos of his girlfriend nude in the sand.  It wasn't quite as

private a spot as they'd thought!

These were quiet days that

rolled from one into the next

until we weren't quite sure

what day it was and couldn't

exactly recall what we had

done just two days prior.

Wandering the resort grounds

and watching the jet-skis and

catamarans zoom around while kids

played in the water were the simple

pleasures of our resort-side living.

One day we heard a very amusing

exchange on the radio between an

arriving US Coast Guard ship and

the Port Captain on shore.  In

Spanish, the Coast Guard

announced their arrival and asked

permission to dock.  The Port

Captain asked for

the name of the Coast Guard ship and the name of the captain.

The American speaker seemed to be confused by these questions

but when the Port Captain switched to perfect English he got no

response.  Apparently the Coast Guard had gone in search of a

more fluent Spanish speaker on board and had left the mic

unattended.  Finally a new Coast Guard voice began speaking in

rapid Spanish, and their business was completed.   The Coast

Guard cutter made quite a sight at the cruise ship dock.

The charming waterfront harbor town at the heart of the Bays of

Huatulco is called Santa Cruz, or "Holy Cross."  This cute

harbor is unlike any other we've seen on the Pacific Mexican

coast.  Filled with small boats and surrounded by a tight ring of

condos, villas and restaurants, it is a great place to take a stroll.

This is a popular sport

fishing area, and a

guide had just finished

yet another successful

trip with a boatload of guests.

He was making quick work of

carving up three huge dorados to

send home with them.

Around the corner we met Martín, a Mexican of

Zapotec descent who is carrying on the weaving

tradition of his family.  His parents, siblings,

cousins, aunts and uncles are all weavers in the

mountain town of Teotitlan del Valle 150 miles

inland.  It is a place known for the colorful woolen

rugs the local families weave by hand.  Bringing

his craft and his loom to the coast, he set up shop

in the artisan's area in Santa Cruz.  We hadn't heard of these weavers and knew little

about Zapotecs, and were amazed to discover that not only was Zapotec a vibrant, living

language, but he could speak it.  I asked if he'd been raised speaking Zapotec, and he

said that he'd learned it in school -- after he learned English!

As I struggle daily to converse in Spanish, speaking with less

fluency than a six-year-old, I am always impressed by anyone that

speaks a language other than their mother tongue.  A young

Zapotec woman named Ledí whom we had met a few days earlier

agreed.  Her parents and grandparents all spoke Zapotec, but had

never spoken it to her when she was growing up.  She taught us

the few words that she did know.  We later learned that Zapotec is

similar to Chinese in that it is a tonal language

where word meanings and tenses change with

inflection.

After a few days of anchoring next to the little

harbor town of Santa Cruz and enjoying some

in-town activity, we went out to one of the more

remote bays in the National Park.  La India cove

is a tiny nook tucked behind some rocks that

offers a calm refuge for two or three boats.

Every day the party boats would arrive from

town, bringing tourists out to walk on the golden sand beach and

snorkel the coral reefs.

They would disappear as the sun lowered in the sky and we would

have the cove to ourselves.  Walking along the neighboring beach

Playa Chachacual one morning, we saw what looked like 4-wheeler

tracks running up and down the sand to the water's edge.  On closer

inspection they were sea turtle tracks.  At night the mother turtles

would paddle up through the sand to lay their eggs.  One morning

some rangers with big sacks came to the beach to collect the eggs to

take them to a nearby turtle sanctuary.

The quiet and solitude of this pretty cove

made simple things seem very special.

Even the waves had a jewel like quality.

Before the string of bays was converted into

a tourism destination, the tiny harbor town of

Santa Cruz was just a fishing village and there was nothing else around.  When the Mexican government

started their development project in the mid-80's, they relocated the villagers inland about a mile to a new town

they built called La Crucecita.  This made way for resorts, condos and upscale living for tourists on the waterfront.

They also developed an estuary into a marina and built wide roads between the two towns and the marina.  Along

the center of the roads there is a big grassy median with a

wonderful sidewalk that is shaded by rustling palms.  We

moved Groovy into the marina for a few days and enjoyed

many walks into the two towns.

La Crucecita has been hailed by some tourists as "the

cleanest town in Mexico."  It was built to look like a

traditional Mexican town, complete with a pretty town

square, band stand and park benches.

The buildings are cute and brightly painted, and every

restaurant has hamburgers and pizza on the menu.

Of course Mexicans love those foods too, although they

like them with a special flair.  We had to laugh when we

read the ingredients for the "Kansas" pizza offered at one

shop: tuna, mushroom and onion.  The "Arizona" pizza was

hardly better: ham, mushrooms & jalapeños.  But it was the

"Texas" pizza that really

got our stomachs

rolling:  bacon, beans,

mushrooms and

jalapeños.  On pizza?

The odd thing we

noticed in this self-

consciously picture

perfect little town was

that the people didn't

seem very happy or friendly.  We have

grown used to the big smiles, warm

greetings and general contentment of the

Mexicans we meet on the street.  It is a happy culture.  But the towns in Huatulco didn't

seem so.  Eyes were averted as we passed and greetings were non-existent.  Too often

the mood was downright sullen.  Fonatur built a town that has the right look, but a tourism

agency can't give a community soul.

However, although this

manufactured fantasy town is just a

few years old, it sits in a region whose roots go much further back.  A few

miles out of town we found the Copalita Eco-Archaeolocal Park, a gem of

a park that features ancient Zapotec ruins and artifacts along with a terrific

jungle hike to some vast ocean views.

The vegetation here is

exotic and thick, and while

we waited for a taxi we

stared in wonder across

the street at the blanket of

green that lay in a thick

carpet over lumpy shapes.

The park's buildings and some walkways were

built using a local hardwood from the

Huanacaxtle tree -- the same tree for which the

very popular town among cruisers, "La Cruz de

Huanacaxtle" near Puerto Vallarta, is named.

The main building houses a small museum with

Zapotec artifacts that were dug up at the temple ruins

onsite as well as artifacts from Mixtec ruins nearby.

Outside we followed the walking path to the ruins of a

small pyramid-shaped temple.

Following the path further, it took us

through all kinds of crazy vegetation.  Mark

is a born tree-hugger and a true man of the

woods, so he was in his element as he

stepped among the vines.  Some of the

trees seemed worthy of J.R.R. Tolkien's

curious tree people, the ents.

Exotic bird calls accompanied us as we followed the elegant

stone path up and up and up until we came to a vast overlook

where the ocean crashed on the rocks below.

The path then took us back down into wetlands where we saw

huge, strange leaves, and tiny, colorful flowers.

Of all those beautiful wonders of nature,

my favorite sighting for the day was the

moth on the window back at the main park building.

Unlike all the gorgeous birds we had seen who refused to

stand still for the camera, this guy was totally relaxed on

his bit of window, and he stayed put for us.

After all of this low-key coastal activity, we tucked Groovy into her slip for a few days and

hopped on a bus to visit the dynamic inland city of Oaxaca.

Find Huatulco on Mexico Maps.

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast

to see more cruising posts from this area!