Chiapas by Bus – A Day of Adventure

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

¡Vive México!

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

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

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

New thatch roofed palapa

restaurant under construction.

Combi / Colectivo van in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

"Combi" or "Colectivo" van.

Puerto Chiapas train tracks

New train tracks will take cargo inland.

Shrimping industry in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

Shrimping fleet.

Puerto Madero market, Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

Puerto Madero market

Puerto Madero / Puerto Chiapas tricycles, Mexico

Backwards tricycles take people around town.

Puerto Madero / Puerto Chiapas tricycles, Mexico

They're everywhere.

Puerto Madero / Puerto Chiapas tricycles, Mexico

We get a ride.

Combi van, Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

This little girl thought Mark's face was

worthy of a photo.

Marimba players, Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

Marimba players

Sunrise in Marina Chiapas, Mexico

Sunrise in Marina Chiapas

Fishing in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

Andrés catches a Sierra (Spanish Mackerel)

OCC bus to San Cristobal

"Greyhound" type buses for inland travel.

Twisty mountain roads from Tapachula to San Cristobal

Twisting mountain roads

Little towns crowd the road from Tapachula to San Cristobal

We drove through countless busy little towns.

Plenty of military checkpoints between Tapachula and San Cristobal

There were lots of military

checkpoints.

Chiapas, Mexico

In town, the streets are for strolling.

Chiapas, Mexico

We had to get through this!

Chiapas, Mexico

Swinging footbridges connected the towns on

both sides of the river.

Mountain roads, Chiapas, Mexico

Our road clings to the mountainsides.

Watermellon, Chiapas, Mexico

Watermelon stalls fill one mountain peak.

Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico

Scenic views on our route.

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

A landscaped sidewalk connects many towns.

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

We share the road with

travelers of all kinds.

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

We pull alongside a horse and cart.

High school kids try to flag down the bus.

Mountain towns in Chiapas, Mexico

We stop dead in our tracks while a

transformer is replaced.

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

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

Puerto Chiapas to San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico

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

visiting Antigua, GuatemalaGroovy was waiting patiently for us

in the brand new Marina Chiapas, and the construction around

the marina was still on-going.

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

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

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

open marina.

One day we took a crowded combi van to the big

nearby city of Tapachula and made the half-hour

trip scrunched up against a young family with a

toddler.  The husband excitedly told us all about

the improvements coming to this small seaside

community of Puerto Chiapas.  Besides the new

tourist marina, which is the pet project of ten of

Tapachula's captains of industry, the waterfront

is rapidly metamorphosing.

Once home only to a large shrimping fleet,

Puerto Chiapas has cleaned up the filthy shrimping process and now

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

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

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

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

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

was most excited that the endless construction all around us was

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

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

and his young family were palpable.

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

town that fronts the harbor of Puerto Chiapas around

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

town that bustles with color and noise, pungent smells

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

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

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

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

wheeled backward tricycles that shuttled people from place to place.

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

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

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

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

Mark couldn't resist trying one of these carnival

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

to him and asking the driver to take us around

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

the streets so we can look around!"

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

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

the front street.  What fun!

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

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

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

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

through town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music played everywhere, mostly from

stereo speakers, but we rounded one

corner to see three men playing a

xylophone.  They were totally in sync with

each other as each took one section of the

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

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

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

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

the coming weeks.

Meanwhile the

Tehuantepeckers continued

to blow hard out in the gulf,

preventing other cruising

boats from crossing to

Marina Chiapas from

Huatulco, although many

boats were waiting on the

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

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

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

people actually living in the marina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the afternoons of these

pleasant days at the

marina, the cabin of the

boat was hitting 90

degrees, no matter how

we shaded the deck or

cockpit.  So we decided it

was time to head inland

into the cool mountains

once again.

We caught a combi van to Tapachula, and from

there took a large Greyhound style bus 200

miles inland to San Cristóbal de las Casas, a

quaint colonial town perched high up in the

mountains.

What a ride that turned out to be.  We had

front row seats to an incredible show.

If an interstate existed, the trip would be just

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

tiny, twisting, single lane mountain road

crosses two mountain ranges.  "Topes," or

speed bumps, are planted along these roads

every few miles and traffic slows to a crawl as

each vehicle spares its shocks and creeps

over the steep bump.  Every ten miles or so a

town crowds the road into a chaotic traffic jam.

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

halt at strategically placed military checkpoints.  At several of these

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

our luggage in the baggage compartment.

I counted seven bus

stops, seven military

checkpoints, and an

infinite number of

"topes."  All this

would have made us absolutely crazy with

impatience, but the spectacular scenery

and lively towns we passed through made

it all worthwhile, despite averaging 22

mph for the entire trip.

For many miles we paralleled a river that

had communities living on both banks.

Little swinging footbridges connected the

towns on either side.

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

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

colored flowering bushes that flanked the highway.

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

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

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

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

with them as we drove by.

When we pulled into one

town the bus had to

negotiate some very tight

turns.  We were just

commenting to each about

how hard it must be to drive

a huge bus on these tiny city

streets when the bus turned

a corner and suddenly faced

a complete roadblock.  Some electrical workers were replacing a transformer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We enjoyed this drive a lot.  The last two

towns, Comitán and Teopisca, looked so

appealing we were tempted to hop out

and stay a while.  But San Cristóbal was

our destination, and at last, after nine

hours of climbing and descending, we

finally pulled into the charming city set at

7,500' altitude.

Dropping our

bags off at the

hotel and

dashing out into

the night we

found little kids

and parents, teens, tourists,

lovers and old folks all filling

the streets.  The air was brisk

and everyone was in jackets.

A chocolatier lured us into his

shop with the most delicious

fresh chocolate treats, and a

few doors down the mellow

tones of saxophone blues drew

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

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

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

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

Find Puerto Chiapas and San Cristóbal on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Antigua, Guatemala – Trying Hard for Tourist Dollars

Gulf of Tehuantepec, Mexico, blows a

A "Tehuantepecker" blows at 50 knots.

Gulf of Tehuantepec, Mexico, is calm

On another day and in a better mood.

Crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec, Mexico

We make our crossing in dead calm.

Navy check-in at Puerto Chiapas, Mexico.

A cute pooch waits to sniff the next boat.

Antigua, Guatemala Antigua, Guatemala Antigua, Guatemala Cathedral at Antigua, Guatemala

Colonial architecture and ornamentation is Antigua's

hallmark.

Cobblestone streets in Antigua, Guatemala Cobblestone Streets in Antigua, Guatemala

Pretty cobblestone streets get much needed repair.

Arch in Antigua, Guatemala Bell tower in Antigua, Guatemala Cobblestone streets in Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua is nestled in the mountains.

Mayans sell colorful weavings in Antigua, Guatemala

Mayans sell colorful weavings in front of a

church ruin.

Motorbikes are the best form of transportation in Antigua, Guatemala

The most popular form of transportation is small

motorcycles.

McDonalds in Antigua, Guatemala

"McDonalds is my kind of place..."

McDonalds in Antigua, Guatemala

"...my kind of happy place."

Cathedral ruins in Antigua, Guatemala Cathedral in Antigua, Guatemala Porsche parked in front of cathedral in Antigua, Guatemala

A sleek Porsche sets up the view of the cathedral.

Church grounds in Antigua, Guatemala Tuk-tuk driving in Antigua, Guatemala Horse drawn buggy in Antigua, Guatemala

The town lives for tourists.

Cathedral in Antigua, Guatemala Horse drawn carriage in Antigua, Guatemala Pan flute street performer in Antigua, Guatemala Antigua, Guatemala Hand made chocolates in Antigua, Guatemala

Handmade chocolate bars.

Steel door barricades a building in Antigua, Guatemala

Steel doors with viewing windows

protect the inhabitants inside.

Open air market in Antigua, Guatemala

The open air market.

Street musicians in Antigua, Guatemala

Musicians set up street-side.

Mayans in Antigua, Guatemala Bike shop in Antigua, Guatemala

A bike shop where we picked up a pair of

awesome Guatemala jerseys.

Antique bike display in Antigua, Guatemala

A display of antique bikes.

Mayan woman displays weavings in Antigua, Guatemala Painted schoolbus in Antigua, Guatemala

Painted schoolbus that tourists are advised to avoid.

Bike race in Antigua, Guatemala

Our bus back to Mexico weaves through a bicycle race.

Antigua, Guatemala

Late February, 2012 - We returned to Huatulco from our inspiring days in Oaxaca, and focused our thoughts on crossing the

dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec, a 250 mile stretch of coast between Huatulco and Puerto Chiapas that is prone to horrific storms

affectionately nicknamed "Tehuantepeckers."  During these vicious blows the wind howls from the north in the Gulf of Mexico,

then crosses Mexico's narrow isthmus and finally accelerates to gale force once it hits the Pacific on the south side.

The trick to crossing this gulf is timing, as the Tehuantepec blows and calms down at regular intervals all winter long.  Armed

with today's sophisticated weather forecasting and a bit of patience, it is not too hard to find a good time to make the jump.  The

conventional wisdom is to wait for a three-day window of calm weather.  We were lucky and got six.

Since the crossing takes a typical cruising boat anywhere from 32 to 48

hours, this allowed us plenty of time.  Cruisers are advised to follow the

coastline with "one foot on the beach" (very close to shore) in case all

hell breaks loose unexpectedly, but we shot nearly straight across the

gulf in 36 hours of flat calm water and still air.  We arrived at the brand

new Marina Chiapas rested and smiling.

We were now just 16 miles from the Guatemalan border, and the

check-in process included a boarding by four members of the Navy

and a cabin check by a drug-sniffing dog.  The dog arrived with booties

on his feet so he wouldn't scratch up the boat.  Very polite.

This marina is a great place to leave the boat for inland

explorations, and after a few days we packed our

backpacks and took an 8 hour bus ride to Antigua,

Guatemala.  The distance isn't that far, but the bus

probably averaged 30 mph at best, as the roads were

twisty and there were lots of "topes," or speed bumps,

plus we made lots of stops.

The most important

stop was at the

Guatemalan border

where we all shuffled

off the bus, checked

out of Mexico,

walked across the border, and then checked into Guatemala.  In the distance we saw people

crossing the river that defines the border, wading waist deep in water from one side to the

other, perhaps in an effort to avoid all the official border crossing paperwork.  The border

area was chaotic with vendors filing the streets and money changers approaching us

constantly with wads of Mexican pesos and Guatemalan Quetzales clutched in their fists.

Our bus conductor shuttled us through the mayhem and we re-boarded our bus on the other

side, suddenly conscious that we were no longer in the familiar land of Mexico.

As the bus climbed and descended the mountainous terrain, we

crossed endless streams and rivers where women were

washing their families' clothes on the rocks.  As the day wore

on and the washing was finished, each river we crossed was

strewn with clothes lying on the rocks to dry.  We passed men walking alongside oxen and horses

carrying heavy loads, and we saw vast fields of sugar cane stretching into the distance.

Well after dark the road widened and the lights grew thick as we

approached Guatemala City.  Suddenly our world was transformed

from extreme rural poverty to the glittering glitz and glam of new

wealth.  Our fast, wide, multi-lane highway carried us at top speed

between flashy new buildings, and we watched in awe as all the

chain stores we have ever known flew past our window.  The bus

station was deep downtown, however, and our driver had to slow to

a crawl and creep around sharp turns on narrow colonial streets

between crumbling antique buildings.  We got stuck at one turn

where a parked car made it impossible for the bus to get around the corner without damaging

something.  The driver hopped out, enlisted the help of a nearby cop and, to cheers from the

passengers, bent a large metal street sign back to allow the bus to pass without getting too

scraped up.

Once at the terminal, our bus conductor helped us negotiate a taxi ride

to Antigua, and soon we were being whisked along those same decrepit

inner city streets in a cab.  At a red light the driver reached over and

manually locked each of the four doors of the cab.  Mark and I

exchanged a look of surprise as we both us silently acknowledged that

we were truly in a new country.

Quetzales are currently about 7.7 to the US dollar, and I began

thinking about quick ways to handle this new exchange rate in

my head.  I calculated and recalculated the gas prices I saw

posted at the gas stations, stunned by the prices.  Gas was

nearly $5 per gallon, a far cry from the $3.30 or so that was

typical in Mexico.  After about 45 minutes we arrived in Antigua.

It was around 7:30 pm, and we were surprised to find the

streets nearly empty.  We had to ring the doorbell next to the

sturdy steel front door of our hotel to be let in.  After dropping

off our bags in our room, we asked for suggestions of where to

get a bite to eat.

The hotel manager shrugged noncommittally and suggested we'd find something

within a few blocks.  We took off into the night and walked a star pattern around our

hotel.  The only people we saw on the streets were a handful of loud gringo tourists.  It

took a good bit of walking before we found a restaurant that was open.  A single gringo

patron was at the bar drinking a beer.  The waitress was sullen.  We ate in silence in a

room full of empty tables.  Where the heck was everybody?  The tab for two beers and

a small plate of french fries came to over $10.  This was definitely not Mexico.

By day the mood

improved slightly.

Brilliant sunshine

filled the streets

and we found them

peopled with tall

gringos speaking

English in various

accents and tiny

Mayans selling woven textiles.  The

architecture was wonderfully decorative

and old, and the narrow streets were all

cobbled, many in need of repair.

Antigua is known for its immersion

Spanish schools, and we had come hoping to take a week or two of classes

while living with a Guatemalan family during our stay.  Apparently that was

why most other people were in town as well.  There is a Spanish school on

every corner and several more on every street in between.  There must be a

hundred Spanish language schools in this small town.

The teaching method is tutorial, and the price is generally $100 per week for

4 hours a day of tutorial work and $90 per week for a home stay that includes

meals with the family.  All over town we saw pairs of people walking, sitting,

pointing and talking.  Each pair was made up of one Guatemalan teacher and

one gringo student actively engaged in Spanish tutorials.  Many solitary

gringos carried books around town, and students could be spotted

everywhere crouched over homework, their dictionaries, textbooks and

notebooks spread out on bistro tables next to their cups of coffee.

We took photos freely, trying to get the warm

and fuzzies for this odd place.  After an hour

or so, however, Mark commented that he felt

really uncomfortable wearing his camera and wouldn't bring it out

again on our explorations around town.  He found it attracted way

too much attention -- people were staring at it.

One of the best things we found in Antigua was its amazing

McDonald's, definitely the prettiest one we have ever seen anywhere.

It has a beautiful outdoor seating area with cushioned seats and sofas

(very popular for tutorial Spanish lessons).  Its delightful shaded patio

looks out onto a lush garden filled with flowers.  Ronald McDonald sits

on the park bench in the middle of the garden, his arms outstretched

on the back of the bench, inviting folks to take a seat and get a photo

with his iconic figure.

We stopped in and filled our

gringo tummies to the brim.

How awesome it was after

months of tacos to savor

one of the new Angus

burgers!  We sat back and

relaxed for a moment, until

Mark noticed that a little kid

had made his way into the

bushes next to us to within

arm's reach of our table and

was eyeing up my camera

in front of me.  "That kid is really interested in your

camera…" Mark commented.  I grabbed it and

put it in my backpack.  There was a creepiness

to this town that we were not accustomed to

feeling in Mexico.

The church ruins around town were lovely in a

way, but most had an air of abandonment.

Antigua is situated in a zone rich with

earthquakes, and each glorious cathedral and

church has been gutted repeatedly by

centuries of tremors and shakes.

The tourist map shows numbered streets that

are laid out with avenues in one direction and

streets in another.  The street signs, however,

harken back to an earlier era when the streets had names that weren't numbers.  So we felt our

way around town by becoming familiar with landmarks.  However, because all the streets look

somewhat alike, the best landmarks turned out to be the people that inhabited the streets.  Take

a left at the guy in the white shirt with no legs who lies on his back and holds out a tin cup (he's

on that corner everyday).  Take a right at the man in the dark blue jacket who's missing both a

foot and an arm and reaches his good hand towards you clutching a shiny Quetzal coin in hopes

that you'll give him another.

In stark contrast, parked a few feet from the old woman in the tattered shawl who was hunched

over her begging basket was a brand new Porsche with Guatemalan plates.  A few cars

down was a glistening BMW.  Big shiny Range Rovers were common.  Between these fancy

cars, over at one of the town's large public fountains, a line of women washed their families'

clothes in the outdoor pools under the

ancient church's stone arches.  Tiny

tuk-tuks zipped all over the place,

ferrying people on bumpy rides up

and down the matrix of streets.

On our third day, in an effort to get

comfortable in this rather inhospitable

town, we moved from one hotel to

another a few streets away.  We tried

to take one of these tuk-tuks so we

wouldn't have to carry our bags.

The hotel matron had told us not

to pay more than $1.50 for

the ride, but none of the

drivers would go that low,

and all drove off in disgust at

the idea of taking us a few

streets for less than $3.  We

walked instead and were

glad for the exercise.  In

Mexico, five mile taxi rides in

real cars were routinely just

$2 or so.  Our sticker shock

in Antigua just didn't stop.

We had narrowed down our

school choice to either the highly rated (and new)

Antigua Plaza or to tutorials and a home-stay with a woman who taught

independently and had been recommended by a fellow cruiser.  Both seemed

like they could be wonderful situations for improving our Spanish.  But in

discussing life in Antigua with the school director we were strongly advised not to

go out at night, not to carry more than a few dollars in our pockets at any time,

and never to show our cameras in public.  We were assured the school was safe

behind it's solid locked gate (and the outdoor setting for class tutorials in the

colorful garden was absolutely lovely), but the director confessed that she

preferred not to go out much herself.

An older woman walking her dog in a stroller caught our eye that afternoon and

we struck up a conversation.  She had lived in Antigua for as an ex-pat for 12

years.  "Don't go out at night," she suddenly said.  "Don't carry more than $10 in

your pocket.  And don't let anyone see your camera!"  Here was the same

unsolicited advice again!!  She explained that tourists and business people have

been targeted by "express-kidnappers" who zip up on a scooter

and either run the victim around town to ATMs to empty their bank

account, or strip them of their belongings at gun point.  A woman

who refused to give up her bag in a recent robbery in

Antigua had been shot in broad daylight.  "Things have

gotten really bad in the last six months," she told us.

Both of our hotels were barricaded by large doors that

were locked at all times.  Guests were not given keys to

these front doors but instead had to ring a doorbell to be let

in.  At night each hotel had a second steel door that

provided extra protection.  When you rang the bell the

manager slid open a small window and peered out at you

before letting you in.

Antigua seemed to wear a superficial veil of prettiness over

a dark inner core of of fear.

We looked for signs of normalcy around town, for people who lived and worked in

Antigua outside of the tourist trade.  We found few.  There were none of the typical

Mexican tienda convenience stores or fruit stands or grocery stores or hardware

stores or clothing stores or pharmacies that make a community livable.  A handful of tiny closet-sized stores sold

Budweiser-equivalent beer for $2 a can ($12 a six-pack) and expensive packaged snacks.  Spontaneous smiles from the

locals were almost nonexistent.

The only place that offered a feeling of

congeniality was the large open air market at one

end of town.  Here we saw imported fruits

(Washington apples) and local fruits and

vegetables of all kinds.  Heading into the large

tents at the back of the market we discovered

where American designer clothes end up once

they've been marked all the way down.  Racks

and racks of brand new clothes filled the back of

the tent.

Unsorted,

occasionally dirty,

and a few still

showing their original

store tags, these brand new

designer label clothes were strung

up alongside used duds.  We were

amazed to be able to buy a brand

new pair of Levi jeans, tags and all,

for $4 and several pairs of new

name-brand shorts for even less.

The economics in Antigua baffled

us.  If the folks on the street had

seemed happy it would have been a

lot less unsettling.

We left Antigua after four days never having

gotten comfortable enough anywhere in town

to stay for a whole week of Spanish classes.

Other cruisers who had been to Antigua in

years past thought we were crazy not to have

fallen in love with the city, and other travelers

will surely have different experiences.  But for

us it was a place we were very glad to leave

behind.  Upon crossing the border back into

Mexico we both looked at each other and

laughed, saying, "Thank goodness we're back

in Mexico!"

The homes seemed better kept, there was a lot less trash on the roads, and

in no time we saw the happy grins and heard the exuberant laughter of the

locals that make Mexico so much fun.

Upon our return to Groovy in the marina at Puerto Chiapas, I researched the

travel advisories from the UK, Canada and the US to Guatemala, El Salvador

and Honduras to try to find out whether the scary vibe we felt in Antigua was justified.  I discovered the warnings to each of

those countries are not only severe but are expressed in a totally different tone than those to Mexico.  Even with the terrible

drug wars, the murder rate in Mexico in 2011 was 18 per 100,000, about the same as Atlanta.  In Guatemala it is 41, a little

higher than Detroit (34) but less than St. Louis (45) which is the highest in the US.  El Salvador's murder rate is 71 per 100,000

(the second highest in the world) while the rate in Honduras tops it, for first place, at a whopping 86.

Unlike Mexico where tourists have not historically been targeted by violent criminals (until

the recent bus robbery in Puerto Vallarta), tourists in these other countries have been

targeted along with business people because of their perceived wealth.  Although each

advisory was quick to point out that the vast majority of travelers never have any trouble,

they also helped us come to grips with the unnerving sense of danger that we felt while we

were there.  An El Salvadorian on the bus with us back to Mexico told us there had been 20

murders in his small village in the last two months.  Not mincing words for a moment he

said quite plainly, "El Salvador is a beautiful country, but I wouldn't recommend that you

travel inland there now."

We settled back into life in the brand new Marina Chiapas for a few days.  We were one of

just three boats staying there, as construction around the marina was still in full swing and a

dredge blocked the entrance to the marina.  Not sure which direction to head with Groovy,

we decided instead to take another inland tour, this time on the Mexican side of the border

through the intriguing Chiapas countryside  to the charming colonial city of San Cristobal

de las Casas.

Find Antigua on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oaxaca’s “Mitla Tour” – Ancient Zapotec Ruins & More!

Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Santa María del Tule

Town center Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Home of the "Tule Tree"

Church in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico The Tule Tree in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

The "Tule Tree," 190' around!

Baby Tule tree in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

The baby Tule Tree, just 1,000 years old.

Gnarled trunk of the Tule tree in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

What fantastic creatures lurk here?.

Tuk-tuk taxis in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

"Tuk-tuk" taxis zipped everywhere.

Zapotec weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Zapotec weavings in Teotitlan

del Valle.

Natural wools are dyed with flower or bug based dyes in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

All these colors were obtained from flowers or bugs.

Sea turtle rug made by Zapotec weaver in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Our sea turtle rug.

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico is a unique, mystical place.

Hierve el Agua is a unique,

mystical place.

Manmade pool in Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

A manmade pool to control the water flow a bit.

Swimming pools in Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Kids play in the water.

Up close shot of mineral deposits, Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

A thin film of water leaves a

microscopic layer of minerals behind.

Waterfall frozen in time, Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Waterfall frozen in time.

Petrified waterfall, Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Petrified waterfall at Hierve el Agua.

Petrified waterfall, Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico Pools in Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Reminded us of Yellowstone but the water was cool..

Travel companions on our Mitla tour in Oaxaca, Mexico

Our charming tour companions.

Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

Mitla is square and ornate, very different than Monte Alban.

Intricate stonework, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

Intricate patterns like this adorn every wall inside and out.

Perfect stone joinery, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

Precise mortarless stonework from 2,000 years ago.

Huge lintel over short doorway, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

Massive lintel over a short doorway.

Interior room, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

One of the interior rooms.

Stone dovetail corner wall joinery in Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

Impressive dovetail corner joinery made

of precisely cut decorative stone.

Fine stonework, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

No two patterns on the buildings are alike.

Underground tomb, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

One of the underground tombs.

Mezcal makers!

Mezcal makers!!  The king of Matatlan.

There are hundreds of varieties of Mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico.

There are hundreds of varieties of mezcal.

Young blue agave plants at mezcal distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

Young blue agave plants.

Blue agave plants ready for processing, mezcal distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

Pineapple-like core used to make mezcal.

Agave is burnt over a fire, mezcal distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

First they are cooked over a fire.

Grinding up burnt agave plants to make mezcal in a distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

Then they are crushed under a rotating wheel.

Mezcal fermentation barrels, mezcal distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

The duration of the fermentation makes all the

difference in the taste.

Sampling mezcal, mezcal distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

Here, try this one!!

Mitla Tour, Oaxaca, Mexico

Mid-February, 2012 - We enjoyed the Monte Alban ruins and history so

much we decided to take another trek out to the other side of Oaxaca to

see the ruins at Mitla.  The easiest way to do this was with a van-based

tour, and our day-trip included several colorful stops in addition to the

tour of the Mitla ruins.

The first stop was in the cute town of Santa María del Tule, home

of the famous "Tule Tree."  The funny thing about an organized

tour like this is that you follow the pace of the leader.  Our

designated stop here was just a half hour or so.  But it was such an

appealing little town that I'm sure if we had been on our own we

would have probably stuck around for a day or two!

The Tule plant is a grassy reed related to cat tails that was used by the

indigenous peoples to make mats, shelters and boats.  It grows in

abundance in and around Santa María del Tule.  The "Tule Tree" is

actually a Sabino (Montezuma Cypress) tree, totally unrelated to the

Tule plant, but it is affectionately known as the "Tule Tree" because it

was once surrounded by tule reeds.

According to the sign in front of the tree, this monster is

over 2,000 years old, 190' in girth around the trunk, 138'

tall, 28,846 cubic feet in volume and 636,107 tons in

weight.  It is considered to be the widest tree (the one with

the largest girth) in the world.  Our tour guide suggested

that if we couldn't fit the whole tree in our cameras we

could always buy a souvenir postcard instead!

Just around the corner stands the offspring of this famous tree.  It is a

mere 1,000 years old and not quite as large -- and it was all by itself

without a crowd around it elbowing each other to get a photo!  Of course

neither of these trees is quite as humongous overall as the giant

sequoia named General Sherman that stands 275' tall and has a

volume of 52,000 cubic feet.  Nor is either quite as old as the bristlecone

pine called Methuselah which has had its rings painstakingly counted to

total 4,841 years of age.

The trunk is

very gnarled

and people

see all kinds

of shapes

and creatures

in its depths.

Scooting around the streets of town we saw these funny looking three-

wheeled vehicles.  These tiny taxis, called "tuk-tuks," buzzed all over the

place, not just in Santa María del Tule but in other towns we passed along

the way.

Our next stop was at Teotitlan del

Valle, home of about forty families of Zapotec weavers.  We had met the son of one of

these families in the harbor town of Santa Cruz in las Bahías de Huatulco where he had set

up a loom and quietly turned out one brilliant woolen rug after another.  Here we were

given a demonstration of the traditional methods used by the Zapotecs to spin and dye

their wool.

The demonstration started with the

original Zapotec method of spinning

wool which involved a balancing a

spool precariously on one knee.

What luck the Spaniards showed up

way back when and brought the

familiar spinning wheel with them.

Even so, two daring members of our

group tried to spin a little wool using

this more conventional old fashioned

spinning wheel, and neither met with

much success as the wool kept

separating in their fingers.

It was amazing to learn what the Zapotecs used for dyes to create the vibrant colors of

their wool.  Starting with either white, grey or brown wool right off the sheep, they get

bright blue from the indigo plant, using ash to fix the color.  Green comes from moss,

using salt to fix the dye.  Yellow is from marigolds.  Most intriguing, however, was that

they squash an insect that makes a cocoon on prickly pear cactus leaves, and the

squished bug produces a vibrant blood red dye.  How much trial and error did it take

over the years to perfect these methods?

Again, we could have lingered for a long time in this shop and in the town in general.  I

love wools and yarns and weaving, and the intricate designs, both modern and

traditional, were fantastic.  We did end up holding up the tour van for a few minutes

while we negotiated to buy a lovely small rug featuring sea turtles.  It had been woven

from undyed sheep wool by Rafaela, whom I met (but didn't think to photograph--darn!).

In all the thousands of miles we have sailed our boat in Mexico, the most common

wildlife sighting we have had everywhere has been sea turtles.  In places

there are literally hundreds of them.  So this seemed a perfect souvenir.

Jumping into the tour van for more adventures, we drove a long way out to

Hierve el Agua ("boiling water"), a phenomenal oasis of pools and petrified

waterfalls out in the mountainous hinterlands.

Apparently

"undiscovered"

until the mid-1980's, this grouping of shallow pools and

calcified deposits is reminiscent of parts of Yellowstone

National Park, except the water is cool.

In the distance three large waterfalls stand frozen in time,

suspended forever mid-fall.  A thin trickle of water drips over the

edge, leaving behind a microscopic layer of mineral deposits to form

the next cascade.  There is a mystical, ethereal quality to this place.

Kids played in the pools and

everyone crawled all over the site, testing the

water with their hands and taking endless

pictures.

Just as the sun

started to come out,

giving the whole place

a wonderful glow, it

was time to jump back

into the van with our

tour buddies to make

the trek to the

Zapotec ruins of Mitla.

One of the highlights of this tour was meeting the other folks that

were along for the ride with us.  Three charming young women

from England filled the back seat and an older Danish couple was

up front, giving our van a decidedly European flair.  The English

gals were in their first week of a three month trans-Central America

tour, and we all bubbled with excitement as we talked about the

places we'd been and where we wanted to go.

Mitla's construction was begun by the Zapotecs in more or less

the same era as Monte Alban, a few hundred years BC,

although Mitla's first inhabitants settled there much earlier.  And

like Monte Alban, Mitla was built by the Zapotecs but ended up

under Mixtec control.  However,  in the years between 750 AD

and the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500's, Mitla was thriving

whereas Monte Alban was already in decline.

Monte Alban is built

on a hilltop while

Mitla is built in a

valley, and Monte

Alban was a city

made up of pyramids

whereas Mitla has

long and narrow

rectangular rooms

and appears possibly

to have been palatial

housing for the most

noble families as well

as a religious center.  Mitla was still functioning when the Spanish arrived (the Zapotec

population in all the outlying areas was some 500,000 people by then), and after

determining that the high priest at Mitla was similar to the pope back home, the

conquistadors promptly took up residence, dismantled and sacked as many of the buildings

as they could, and used the stones to build a church on top of one end of the ruins.

Just as stunning as the massive

pyramids at Monte Alban is the

incredibly fine stonework of the

frescoes at Mitla.  Each wall is

trimmed in intricately detailed

stonework patterns, all of which

were made by cutting perfectly

sized stones that fit onto one

another like jigsaw puzzle pieces,

held together without mortar.

Huge lintels lie across very low doorways,

and the corners of each room are made

with a dovetail style stone joinery, again

without mortar.

This construction is so finely and so tightly fitted, and

the walls are so massive, that a 1931 8.0 earthquake 50

miles away that damaged 70% of the buildings in the

city of Oaxaca didn't even make these buildings  flinch.

"Mitla" means "Place of the dead" in the Aztec's Nahuatl

language, and the Zapotec name for the area has the

same meaning.  The early Spanish conquistadors

interpreted the name as "Hell," and there are several underground tombs -- all

highly decorated with the intricately interwoven stone patterns -- where nobles and

high priests were buried and sent off to the afterlife, wether it was up to the

heavens or down.

I could have easily roamed

these ruins for quite a bit

longer, but the van was on a

mission, and this time it was

headed to a Mezcal tasting.

Actually, in hindsight, giving

up a few more moments with

the ancients for a quick

education in the art of

Mescal making

wasn't such a

bad trade-off

after all.

Like France's Champagne which is made only in Champagne,

Mexico's Tequila is made only in Tequila, about 40 miles outside of

Guadalajara, and a few other areas designated by Mexican law.  All

other identical libations made from the blue agave plant in other parts

of Mexico are called Mezcal instead.  And there are hundreds!

We stopped at a little place that still

makes Mezcal the old fashioned way.

After about 7 or 8 years the agave plant

has a pineapple looking core that is

removed, trimmed and cooked over a

fire.

It is then crushed using a heavy wheel

going round and round, driven by a

horse who has the fun job of walking in

circles.  This creates a stringy material

that looks like hay that gets boiled in a

kiln.  Eventually it is strained and placed

in casks to ferment.

The effect of the length of fermentation

was the amazing part to me.  Blanco

("white") mezcal -- the common, cheap

transparent stuff -- is aged less than two

months and burns a fiery path down your

throat and tastes terrible.  Reposado

("rested") mezcal is aged 2 months to two

years in an oak barrel and is barely

tolerable.  Añejo ("aged") mezcal is aged

for one to three years, barely tickles your

throat and has a pleasant flavor.

Extra Añejo ("extra aged") is aged for three

years or more, goes down waaaay too

easy, and tastes terrific.  It's a good thing

they were serving this stuff in thimble sized cups.

We tried some "crema" mezcals too, that is, flavored mezcals

made with cream.  The mango one was good enough that the

Danes purchased a bottle to take home with them, while we

and the English gals sampled the pineapple and some others I

forget now (we were having fun!).  The folks at the counter

would happily have kept on serving, but we needed to be able

to find our way back to the van, so we eventually said

"Enough!" and staggered off.

It was a great day on the outskirts of Oaxaca and the perfect

conclusion to our inland travels.  But Groovy was waiting for us back in Huatulco and it

was time for us to face the much feared crossing of the Gulf of Tehuantepec and head

to Puerto Chiapas and then inland to Antigua, Guatemala.

Find Oaxaca (Mitla) on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oaxaca’s Monte Alban – Mysterious Ancient Zapotec Ruins

Sail blog post - Heading inland to Oaxaca, Mexico, from the marina in Huatulco, we were awe-struck by the evocative Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban

Carved stone figures at Monte Alban's museum.

Museum at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

A local school group is on a field trip.

Museum at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

The teacher asks which god he is pointing to.

Elaborate clay urn at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Elaborate clay urn.

Clay figure at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico Hillsides at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Monte Alban sits high on a hill overlooking the

Oaxaca Valley.

Clay figurine vendor at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

A vendor shows us his

artifacts.

Vendor at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

The vendors are everywhere.

Ballcourt at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Zapotec ball court.

Pyramid at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Monte Alban pyramid.

Stone pyramid buildings at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Looking across the central plaza.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico Archaeological site at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico Layout of Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

"You are here" in Zapotec.

Pyramid at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico Pyramid at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico Pyramid at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico Pyramid at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico Archaeological site at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico Central plaza at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico Los Danzantes, Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

"Los Danzantes" - Captured

rival leaders castrated &

ready for sacrifice.

Tall stairs at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

School kids burn off energy out on the stairs.

Schoolkids at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Now they can sit still for a class picture.

Restored pyramid at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Restored pyramid building.

Original

Pyramid building unchanged since "discovery" in the early 1800's.

Painstaking restoration at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Painstaking work numbering all the stones and resetting

them in the walls.

Courtyard of the Oaxaca Cultural Center in Santo Domingo Cathedral

Courtyard of the Oaxaca Cultural Center in the Santo

Domingo Cathedral.

Ceiling decoration at Oaxaca Cultural Center in Santo Domingo Cathedral

Ceiling art in the Cultural Center.

Gold leaf decoration at Oaxaca Cultural Center in Santo Domingo Cathedral

Grand double staircase in the Cultural Center.

Gold Mixtec artwork from Tomb #7 at Monte Alban on display at Oaxaca Cultural Center in Santo Domingo Cathedral

Fine gold Mixtec handiwork.

Crystal urn from Tomb #7 at Monte Alban on display at Oaxaca Cultural Center in Santo Domingo Cathedral

Crystal urn.

Ornate necklace from Tomb #7 at Monte Alban on display at Oaxaca Cultural Center in Santo Domingo Cathedral

Mixtec jewelry from Tomb #7

Sculpted clay urn from Tomb #7 at Monte Alban on display at Oaxaca Cultural Center in Santo Domingo Cathedral

Clay sculpted urn.

Clay figurine from Tomb #7 at Monte Alban on display at Oaxaca Cultural Center in Santo Domingo Cathedral Sculpture from Tomb #7 at Monte Alban on display at Oaxaca Cultural Center in Santo Domingo Cathedral

God of old age and wisdom (note

the wrinkled skin).

Bear sculpture from Tomb #7 at Monte Alban on display at Oaxaca Cultural Center in Santo Domingo Cathedral

Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Mid-February, 2012 - Just six miles outside of Oaxaca are the

outstanding and thought provoking ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte

Alban.  We took a public bus to get there and found the first museum

room filled with carved stones.  The carvings featured crazy looking

animals and people.

We came in right behind a

school group, and I was as

intrigued by this group as

by the carved stones.  It

was a Saturday and this

was obviously an exciting

field trip for them.  A

museum guide gave them a rousing talk about the Zapotecs, the original builders

of Monte Alban (around 500 BC) and their gods who were depicted in the stone

carvings.  All the kids were extremely attentive, taking notes and answering his

questions.

He explained what a lot of the carvings represented.  Most were gods

of various things, recognizable by certain characteristics like a beaked

nose, a particular arrangement of feathers on the head or wrinkled

eyes.  To my amazement, when the guide asked the group which god

a particular image represented, their hands shot up.  They knew.

There were lots of little clay sculptures that to

us simply looked other-wordly.  But most were

images of Zapotec gods which, like those in

other ancient pantheons, represented war,

old age, wisdom, fertility and other things.

We headed outside and found the Monte

Alban site is about the size of six football

fields and is situated within an overall archaeological zone of about 8

square miles.  It sits on a hill at 6,400' elevation, and the Zapotecs

partially leveled the hilltop for its construction.  It was the capital city of

the Zapotecs, built away from three other major valley communities of

the time (500 BC).  Its population was 17,000 people between 100 BC

and 200 AD, and continued to grow until it reached its zenith between

200 and 500 AD, some 800 or so years after its construction.

Taking the path less traveled, we entered the ruins from a track that went around the back side.

While we were blocked from the sight of other tourists by the back of a large monument, a fellow

stopped us to show us some things he carried in his backpack:  little clay copies of some of the

items that have been excavated here

and a few original chips from larger

artifacts.  We looked at his stuff

quizzically and he explained that not only had he made the little clay

figures himself, but it was legal for local people to sell any artifacts

they found in their fields while farming.  The artifacts in his backpack

were things that had turned up under his hoe in his fields, and he

pointed in the general direction of his

house in the valley.

It all sounded pretty good, until we

rounded a corner into the main plaza of

ruins and discovered that there were

guys like him at every turn.  They all

had little clay replicas they had made

themselves, and presumably their

backpacks all held original artifacts they

had dug up in their farm fields.  Hmmm.

We asked later at the museum and they

assured us it was definitely not legal to

sell anything original, no matter how

small, and that nothing those guys had

was a real artifact.  Oh well, it had made

for an interesting conversation on the

back side of the ruins!!

The first ruin we came across was the

ball court, built in 100 BC.  Monte Alban

was the first true Meso-American State

with a government run by the priestly

class.  Its economy

was based on tributes

(taxes) paid by the

outlying communities in

the Valley of Oaxaca.

It is thought that the

ball game helped

resolve legal conflicts

and land and tax

disputes and that the

ball was hit with the

elbows, hands and knees.

We were intrigued by the difference between this ball court and

that of Wupatki outside Flagstaff, Arizona, built some 600 years

after Monte Alban.  Wupatki's ball court is the northernmost

known ancient ball court, and it is elliptical rather than

rectangular.  It is thought that the game there was played with a

curved stick.  So it seems the southerners played a soccer-like

game which the northerners transformed, years later, into

hockey!

The ruins are dramatic.

They squat in quiet

splendor around a central

suite of buildings, all

spaced apart by a large

flat open area.

Some of the

buildings are

thought to have

been either

religious or

administrative

buildings and

others may

have been

residences.

Visitors from all over the world ran up and down the stairs of each

building, taking photographs and saying "Wow!" to each other.

Meanwhile the school

group got quite an

education that day.  I

asked the teacher if the

kids were of Zaptotec

descent or were from a

Zapotec community

nearby.  He said no, they

were just from a local

school and the kids

probably had mixed

Mexican heritage,

although of course

some might be

Zapotec.  But these ruins are part of the rich legacy of all Oaxacan kids,

whether they trace their routes to the Zapotecs or the Mixtecs who moved into

Monte Alban once the city went into decline, or even the Spanish who came in

later and crushed all things indigenous.

Interestingly, the signs were all in Spanish,

English and Zapotec, including the little

phrase "you are here."

In one area we found the carved stone replicas of the

stones we first saw inside the museum.  Created between

350 and 200 BC and now called "Los Danzantes," these

once formed a wall.  Today the replicas stand side by side

out in the harsh elements while the originals are inside the

museum.  Oddly, the characters are mostly heavyset men

who appear to have been castrated.  It is thought that

perhaps they were the leaders of outlying communities who

were captured and then offered up to the gods in sacrifice,

perhaps using the stunning Meso-American method of

carving their still-beating hearts out of their chests and

holding them up to the sky.

Wonderfully gruesome imagery like that will get any kid excited, and the school children were

suddenly let loose and told to run around and get the wiggles out.  They ran up and down the

stairs of one of the buildings, shrieking excitedly until they were all tuckered out.  Then they

sat obediently for a class picture with their teacher.

Having walked up and down the

very tall stairs of these buildings all

day, we wondered why the small

indigenous people had made

buildings with such tall steps.

Watching the kids line up with their

teacher one possibility became

apparent:  they make perfect stadium

seats.  The stairs of all the buildings

face the main plaza, so perhaps it was

a good place to watch an event -- or

just eat lunch like the tourists do

today.

As we left Monte Alban we passed one of the buildings that is still in the state in which it was first discovered, before the

archaeological digging and reconstruction began in the 1930's.  It made a dramatic contrast to the fully restored buildings that fill

the site today.  This suddenly made me realize that what we see at Monte Alban now, like Wupatki and all other restored

archaeological sites, is at best a recreation of its once former glory and is subject to the interpretation and knowledge of its

rebuilders.

The center buildings were in the process of being restored, and it was amazing to see the

scaffolding, the pile of carefully numbered stones, and the newly restored wall filled with

numbered stones.  It is a painstaking process to bring the site back to its original

magnificence, but you have to wonder at the same time if what we see today is really how it

looked in its heyday.  Archaeologists claim the walls were covered with stucco at the time and

were smooth, unlike the raw rock facing we see now.  But what else?  Was there

landscaping, was the open plaza filled with market stalls and people?  The silent stones are

coy with their secrets.

Back in Oaxaca we checked out the

Cultural Center that is located in a

former monastery in back of the

Santo Domingo Cathedral.  The

building alone is worth the price of

admission.

It not only has a grand courtyard

but has an even grander double

staircase that, together with the

walls and ceiling, is ornamented

with gold leaf.

If you walk through the rooms of

this museum in the correct order,

you are taken through all of

Mexico's history -- from the

Oaxacan perspective --

beginning with the first

indigenous peoples and going

right through to the new

millennium.  It is a terrific visual

presentation of the very

convoluted and confusing

history of Mexico, from its

indigenous states, to the

Spanish conquest, to the

revolution, the war of

independence and the world wars.  Of course all of this happened

right alongside the technological advances that have brought

humanity to where we are today, and the domestic tools and weaponry of

the last 500 years are all finely displayed.

We managed to go through the

museum in zig-zag order, passing

through most rooms backwards, from

later years to earlier years, thus picking

up tid-bits of history in a rather jumbled

chronology.  Oops.  It really didn't

matter, though, as the museum is

absolutely fascinating no matter what

order you go through it.

Over at Monte Alban archaeologists

discovered several tombs that were filled with fantastic

Mixtec artwork.  The word "Mixtec" comes from the

Nahuatl word for "Cloud People," which gives a

wonderful image of the people that moved into Monte Alban after the

Zapotecs.  They remodeled some of the buildings and created lots of

delicate sculptures and jewelry.   One tomb in particular, Tomb #7, was the

richest discovery of artifacts in Meso-America to date.  The Zapotecs had

used the tomb in their time too, but the Mixtecs buried one of their most

prominent leaders in that tomb and sent him off to the afterlife accompanied

by a boatload of treasure.

From fine filigree gold jewelry to cut crystal glass to endless sculpted clay

urns, this leader met his maker surrounded by worldly wealth.  What great

fortune that this one tomb was not robbed and emptied by the conquering

Spanish like so many other tombs in other places.

It was a dizzying day of culture and history and relics from an era and from

peoples we had known nothing about.  I came away shaking my head, trying

to get it straight in my mind.  "Okay," I said to Mark, "So first it was built by

the Zapotecs.  Then they were later replaced by the Mixtecs.  And those

guys eventually succumbed to the Aztecs…"

"Yup," he added.  "And then came the Discotecs and

last of all the Village People."

So goes our anthropological education in Oaxaca,

which we continued with a trip to the ancient Zapotec

palace ruin, Mitla.

Find Oaxaca (Monte Alban) on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oaxaca – A City of Vibrance, Color & Soul

Colonial walking streets of Oaxaca.

Cobblestone colonial walking streets of Oaxaca.

A band plays pops tunes in the Zocalo bandstand.

A band plays pops tunes.

Balloon vendor outside the Santo Domingo Cathedral.

Balloon vendor outside the

Cathedral.

Instituto Eulogio Gillow 50th anniversary marching band.

A marching band shows up out of nowhere.

Oaxaca, Mexico Bright costumes on the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

Kids proudly show off brilliant

Mexican costumes.

Bright costumes on the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

Not a hair out of place.

Bright costumes on the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico Street vendor sells fruit at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

A street vendor strikes a deal on her fruit.

Pretty girl in a pretty dress at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico Instituto Eulogio Gillow schoolkids play

Schoolkids play McCartney's "Yesterday."

Schoolkids in the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

Happy teenagers.

Street vendor sells roses at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico. Chiclet kid at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico.

9-year-old Chiclet vendor

8-year-old Chiclet vendor Julia at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Julia has a priceless grin...

Little street vending kid at the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico.

…but she has been taught it's

worth 50 pesos.

Etno-Bontanical Garden entrance, Santo Domingo Cathedral, Oaxaca., Mexico.

Etno-Bontanical Garden entrance.

Bird of Paradise flower, Etno-Bontanical Garden

Bird of Paradise.

Etno-Bontanical Garden, Oaxaca, Mexico Etno-Bontanical Garden, Oaxaca, Mexico

"Sunburned Tourist" tree.

"Monkey's Desperation"

tree.

"Air cactus."

Organ Pipe Cactus, Etno-Botanical Garden, Oaxaca, Mexico

Organ Pipe Cactus.

"Marriage Tree"

"Marriage" has nasty thorns and poisonous fruit.

Valentine's hearts in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Valentine's hearts show up all

over town.

Santo Domingo Cathedral wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico.

A wedding at the Santo Domingo

Cathedral!"

Santo Domingo Cathedral wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico. Santo Domingo Cathedral wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico. Santo Domingo Cathedral wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico.

The gracious bride invited the

onlookers into the church.

Young Chiclet seller gazes longingly at the wedding in the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico.

This little Chiclet-selling girl was transfixed.

Valentine's Day, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Oaxaca, Mexico (2)

Mid-February, 2012 - Oaxaca enchanted us.  We were visiting during the

week that includes my birthday, Valentine's Day and our anniversary, and

it was a special treat to be staying in a delightful little hotel in such a

spirited and radiant city.

The Zócalo is where it's at in this town, and every time we wandered over

there we found something -- or many things -- going on, especially in the

evenings.  A little orchestra was playing in the bandstand one night to an

appreciative audience.  They weren't the Berlin Philharmonic, and they

sounded much like any small town band, but they played with enthusiasm

and did all the old standard pops favorites that get the little kids around

the bandstand jigging and jumping and running.

A few steps away, the balloon

vendors were lined up, and behind

them the juggling clowns had their

audience in stitches.

Suddenly we heard the loud music of

a marching band in the distance.

They paraded right past, sweeping

us and everyone else up in their

wake.  The band in the bandstand

seemed to try to raise their volume a

little, but it was aural pandemonium

as the two bands played their

hearts out just 100 yards

apart.

Behind the marching band

came a dizzying array of

young kids in brilliant Mexican

costumes.  The girls had

primped for hours, getting

every hair and ribbon in

place, and even the teenage

boys got into it, with brilliant

satin shirts and classic

sombreros on their heads.

Meanwhile the band in the

bandstand kept on going, and the jugglers did their

thing, and the street vendors bumped through the

crowd selling their wares.  Fresh fruit snacks are a

popular item to sell, and across from us an old man

bought some munchies for himself and his wife.

A stunning young girl wandered towards us on the arm of her very

proud boyfriend.  I couldn't resist snapping a few photos of her,

which she enjoyed, and then I asked her what the parade was all

about.  She explained that it was the 50th anniversary of the

founding of her school, Instituto Eulogio Gillow.  There was a

stage set up and proud parents filled all the folding chairs and

stood in rows behind and around them.

Suddenly some kids got up on the

stage, the girls with recorders and the

boys with guitars.  The announcer said

they would play "Yesterday" by "John

Lennon" (apologies to Paul

McCartney).  Mark's ears perked right

up, since he is a Beatles fan from way

back, and we were treated to a

charming rendition of the song.

Just beyond the

circle of school

anniversary

celebrations the

madness of the Zócalo continued.  The

juggling clowns had lost some of their

audience when the parade went by, but they

had won it back with their crazy antics.  The

outdoor sidewalk cafes surrounding the

square were filled with happy folks imbibing

and eating, and the band in the bandstand

forged ever onwards, slightly out of tune but

so very charming to watch.

The kids from the school milled around in

animated groups, waiting their turns on stage.  Once up there they danced, sang songs and made music, while the parents'

video cameras took it all in.  It was amazing to me that a group of young teenagers would be so excited to wear traditional

costumes, strut around, and follow the instructions of their teachers who hustled them into groups and lines and got them up on

stage at the appropriate moments.

The vendors seemed well used to all this action.  The Zócalo has stuff like this happening every night.  Sure, it was a

Saturday night, but the press of people, the cacophony of music and noise, and the sight of couples ambling hand in

hand, kids smooching under the trees and prim and proper waiters serving patrons at the more elegant restaurants

around the square were all just part of the scene.

Many of the street vendors had their kids in tow -- kind of.  The babies were strapped to

the moms' backs, alternately sleeping and looking around.  The older kids were on their

own -- but with a job to do selling items out of their baskets.  These ultra slick saleskids

are really well trained.  They sell boxes of Chiclets, candies, bobble toys and cigarettes.

More than one patron at a restaurant bought a cigarette from an eight-year-old kid, getting

a light from the kid as well.  Cigarettes are 10 pesos apiece (about 80 cents), and earlier

we had seen the moms buying the cigarette packs at the little convenience stores around

town.  No wholesale pricing there, but they mark up their product pretty darn well.

Money is what its all about with these kids.  A little brother

and sister stopped by our table as we sipped on a beer.

They were very cheeky and lots of fun.  The boy was 9 (I

couldn't quite catch his name) and his little sister Julia was

7.  They were absolutely insistent that we buy some of their

very grubby looking candy.  How long it had been dragged

around town in their basket and handled by their dirty

fingers I have no idea.  We snapped a few photos of them

and they instantly had their hands out.  "50

pesos!" ($4).  We laughed.  I put my camera up to

take another shot and Julia covered here face with

her hands.  I clicked anyways and she shoved her

hand at me again.  "50 pesos!"

I teased her and said that she had to pay me 100

pesos for talking to me.  Her little lopsided missing-toothed grin got even bigger and she

rolled her eyes in exasperation, laughing.  I don't know if any other gringo tourist ever had

ever challenged her like that before, and she was stumped to find a response.  "50 pesos!"

she said again, seriously, hand out.  We went back and forth like that for a while, giggling.  I

asked her when she was going to finish working in the Zócalo and go home to bed.  She

shrugged.  Things wind down around 9 pm, but she was a street urchin and was probably

used to staying out however long mom needed her to be selling Chiclets.

They hung at the edge of our table for a while, refusing to let go of a potential sale.  Mark

finally came up with the perfect compromise on the 50 peso issue.  He pushed the remains of our little dish of peanuts in Julia's

direction.  "Have some peanuts!" he said.  Like greased lightning, she leapt into action.  She grabbed a napkin, spread it out on

the table, scooped up every last peanut with her sticky fingers, snatched a wedge of lime off another dish and plopped it on the

peanuts, wrapped up the napkin, and shoved it in her basket.  In a flash she and her brother vanished into the night.

The Zócalo is the heart of the action at night, but all of Oaxaca's

historic district is wonderful by day too.  We wandered through the

Zócalo the next morning and it was perfectly neat and tidy without a

single trace of the mayhem that had gone on the night before.  The

stage was gone, the chairs for the audience had disappeared, the

entire square was completely swept, and just a few people milled

around with coffee cups in their hands.  But by nightfall the whole

thing came to life once again.  The stage was set up for a different

performance by a different group, chairs were set out for the

audience, and street vendors wandered through it all.

The Santo Domingo Cathedral has a beautiful botanical garden

behind it, and we decided to take a tour.  Mark loves photographing

flowers, and he got some wonderful shots.

English tours are two hours long and happen just a few

times a week while Spanish tours are an hour long every

hour every day.  We opted for a Spanish tour, but

because there was just one other gringo couple and an

Austrian who spoke fluent English (and Spanish and

French), the guide spoke to us all in English.  What a

lucky break for us.  When our tour finished there were 50

gringos waiting for the next tour which would be officially

in English.  I wondered how this huge group would

manage on the tiny garden paths.

The Oaxaca region is very dry, so most of the

gardens were desert types of plants.  The

botanists at the garden work hard to propagate the species, and

many of the plants they have are endangered.  Those plants have

their flowers and seed pods wrapped in gauze so they don't

accidentally get cross-pollinated and hybridize with something else.

The best part of the tour for us was the funny nicknames of some of

the plants.  The "Sunburned Gringo" tree has an outer layer of bark

that peels incessantly.

The "Monkey's Desperation" tree

looks like it would be a wonderful

tree for a monkey to climb.  It is tall with long limbs

spreading wide.  But the base is covered with hard

little thorns that would prevent even the hardiest

monkey from shimmying up.

The "Air cactus" is a "guest plant" (not a parasite or a

symbiotic plant).  It arrives in the air and settles on a

tree, getting all its nutrients from the air without ever

bothering its host except for sitting in its lap.

The "Organ Pipe Cactus" is familiar

to us from Arizona, and in this

garden it had been planted as

fencing along two paths.

The "Marriage Tree" is a nasty

looking thorny thing.  The needles

are razor sharp and plentiful, and it

produces poisonous fruit.

Everyone in our group got a good

chuckle out of that tree...

Speaking of love and marriage, we were in Oaxaca for

Valentine's Day, which is also our anniversary.  Heart decorations

were everywhere, and love was definitely in the air.

As we came around the side of the cathedral we noticed a group

had gathered in front of the church.  They were very well dressed

-- and there was a bride in the middle.  "Wow!"  I yelled, running

to get a good angle with my camera.  A wedding in the cathedral!!

OMG.  What a place to get married.  For all you future brides and

past brides, this was the wedding many of us dreamed of at one

time or another, complete with a frothy, frilly white dress and the

grandest, most gold-filled, most magnificent cathedral imaginable as a backdrop.

I ran around like a madwoman taking photos.  All the tourists on the plaza started

closing in on the church too.  Most of us were enthralled little girls, seeing our princess

dreams unfold in front of us.  Chiclet-selling girls, white haired heavyset women visiting

from foreign countries, and young girls on the eve of such an event themselves all

pressed towards the cathedral.

This was clearly a very wealthy family, and the father was the

image of pride as he shook hands with his guests around him.

The bride welcomed everyone warmly.  Her friends, all of them

hot babes in stiletto heels and tight, short, brightly colored

dresses, emerged from fancy cars and exchanged kisses with

her.  More than one was a young mom, walking up pushing a

stroller just to hand it off to an older lady waiting outside the

church, giving her instructions for how to keep the baby

entertained during the coming hours of celebration.

The music began and the group dwindled to just the wedding

party as the guests entered the cathedral.  The throng of

enchanted women tourists and vendors hung back just enough

to give them a little space.  All of a sudden the bride glanced

over her shoulder at all of us and waved us in.  She looked

straight at me and motioned for me to come into the cathedral.

"Me?" I pointed to myself incredulously.  She nodded

vigorously.  I stepped over the threshold and received a strong

handshake from her dad.  Holy Mackerel, I was in the middle of

a wedding at this cathedral, wearing shorts and a tourist hat.

The other tourists all filed in, many genuflecting as they entered,

and we filled the back half of the church.  How totally cool.  The

bride and her father made their way down this most splendid of

aisles and the service began.  I didn't feel right about staying too

long, so I snuck back out once the priest got going in earnest.

As I left I noticed one of the Chiclet-selling girls outside the

entrance of the cathedral looking in.  The invitation had been for

all of us to enter, but she had stayed back.  The longing in her

face was touching -- and heartbreaking.

I found Mark at the

far end of the plaza

sitting on a wall.  I

started talking a

mile a minute,

thrilled and amazed

by the whole scene.

He smiled and

listened patiently.

He just didn't get

into weddings like I

did.  The princess

thing is a little beyond him, although I tried my best to explain it.  He hadn't

really known how when you're a little girl wearing a full skirt you have to

spin around and watch it flare out.  He hadn't ever dreamed of being

Cinderella, parading across a grand room in an elegant dress, nor of being

Prince Charming for that matter.  But then, I've seen him ooh and aah over

muscle cars from the 1960's like they were the sexiest of pinup models.

How many old cars can you look at and get excited about?  Apparently, all

of them.  How many princess weddings can make a girl's heart soar?

Definitely all of them.

Oaxaca held us tightly in its clutches and we still had more to see, espeically the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban.

Find Oaxaca on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oaxaca – Quirky, Fun, and lots of Gold Leaf

Sail blog post - We left the boat in Huatulco and took a bus inland to the magical city of Oaxaca, a community that is vibrant, quirky, lively and fun.

Our bus to Oaxaca.

Street vendor sells snacks to bus passengers in Salina Cruz.

Snacks for sale at a bus stop.

Mountains on the way to Oaxaca, Mexico

Mountains on the way to Oaxaca.

Poinsettias and trees in the Zocalo in Oaxaca, Mexico

Poinsettias and tall trees in

Oaxaca's Zócalo.

Outdoor eateries on the Zocalo in Oaxaca, Mexico

Outdoor eateries surround the Zócalo.

The Santo Domingo Cathedral lights up the night sky in Oaxaca, Mexico

Santo Domingo Cathedral.

We hoof it down to the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico

We walk down towards the historic district.

Ornate cornices in Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca is loaded with charm.

Cute window balconies in Oaxaca, Mexico Cobble stone pedestrial street in Oaxaca, Mexico

One long cobbled street is set aside for pedestrians only.

Charming historic buildings on the cobbled pedestrian street in Oaxaca, Mexico Flowers grace many windows in Oaxaca, Mexico

Flowers adorn many

windows.

Unusual door knockers are the norm in Oaxaca, Mexico

Door knocker.

A window balcony offers a bistro table with a private view.

There are great places for a snack and a view

all over town.

Door-within-a-door is a major theme in the architecture of Oaxaca, Mexico

Many buildings have a door-within-a-door out front.

This church has two doors-within-a-door at their front gate.

This church has two doors in its

gate.

City library, Oaxaca, Mexico

The front of the public library.

City library courtyard in Oaxaca, Mexico

The courtyard inside the public library.

Grand staircase inside the Benito Juarez University courtyard in Oaxaca, Mexico

Fancy stairs from the courtyard to

the second story balcony in the

university courtyard.

No words needed to explain this bathroom sign.

Self-explanatory in every

language.

Odd sculptures fill the sidewalks around the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico

Clusters of strange sculptures of

people spill all over the sidewalks.

Odd sculptures in front of the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico

Sculptures of "migratorios" congregate by the cathedral.

Migrant sculptures. Inside the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico

Inside the cathedral - gold, gold and more gold!!

Fantastic gold decorations inside the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico

The overriding theme is gold.

Ornate gold trimmed pulpit inside the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico

Pulpit.

Gold decorated altar in the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico Fanciful gold decorations on the ceiling of the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico

A portion of the ceiling.

Baroque gold designs in the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico Street performers in Oaxaca, Mexico

Street performers abound.

Kids hang around the Oaxaca, Mexico cathedral after school

Uniformed schoolkids hang out by the cathedral after school.

Schoolkids, Oaxaca, Mexico. Paintings in the artisan district of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Paintings for sale on the sidewalks of the art district.

Home of former Mexican president Benito Juarez in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Home of former president Benito Juarez.

Protesters in Oaxaca Mexico.

Protesters cruise past us carrying signs.

Red clad protesters in Oaxaca, Mexico

Triqui protesters.

Tourists make a home video in front of the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oaxaca Mexico.

Two tourists make a video of

themselves in front of the

cathedral.

Oaxaca, Mexico (1)

Mid-February, 2012 - We left the seaside life of Huatulco behind for a

few days to get a glimpse of the colonial mountain city of Oaxaca

(pronounced "Wahaka").  There are two ranges of mountains to cross,

and there are several ways to make the trek.  A $12 ride in a small van

will take you on sickness-inducing switchbacks up treacherous single lane

mountain roads, but gets you there in six hours.  A daytime $23 bus goes

around the worst mountain passes but makes a lot of stops, getting you

there in 10 hours.  A $28 overnight bus makes the trip in 8 hours with just

one stop.  Or you can fly for $100.

Preferring comfortable budget travel and

sleeping in a bed, we opted for the day

bus.  This was a fun way to go with lots of

action.  At one stop a lady with a basket of snacks on her head showed up at the bus and

started calling out her wares in a shrill voice.  At another stop a security guard boarded the bus

and video-taped everyone's faces.  At a military checkpoint the men were all herded off the bus

while the womenfolk were left on board.  This seemed a little odd until we found out it was just

so the brawny guys could lift the heavy luggage out of the baggage compartment for inspection.

In the end they all re-boarded the bus carrying chips and drinks they'd gotten at a little roadside

stand.  The womenfolk were happy about that!  But the bus company didn't leave us hungry for

long.  At lunch time the bus stopped for half an hour at a cute little roadside restaurant.

It was a long drive, but the views in

the mountains approaching Oaxaca

were quite nice.  These mountains

are a major Mescal manufacturing

region, and many mountainsides

were a patchwork of agave cactus

fields.

We arrived in the early evening and,

after dropping off our bags at the

hotel, we dashed out to the Zócalo,

the main town square which is the

heart of the city.  Huge trees

dominate this city park, and

poinsettias were planted thickly

around them.

The square is actually made up of two

squares adjoined at the corners, and all

the edges of these squares are lined with

outdoor eateries.  As darkness fell the

place came alive.

Hundreds of

people were

everywhere,

walking, sitting,

eating, selling stuff,

buying stuff, talking

on the phone and necking.

You name it, it was

happening at the Zócalo.

Towering above it all, the

Santo Domingo Cathedral

lit up the night.

We stayed at the Hotel Casa del Sótano, a

charming little hotel built around a courtyard with a

pretty outdoor breakfast terrace.  We drank our

morning coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice

looking out over the city as it woke up, and we

were utterly enchanted.  This is a walking town if

there ever was one, and right after breakfast we

hoofed it straight down to the old town district.

Oaxaca oozes charm from every ornate balcony, wrought iron

gate and rooftop terrace.  It is a city with a past and a soul.

Built in 1521 by the Spanish on an Aztec miitary site, the flavor

is both historic and hip at the same time.

We couldn't stop the cameras from clicking.  Everywhere

we turned there was something begging to be framed

and remembered.

The streets are cobbled (one main artery is pedestrian

only) and the buildings are heavily embellished with

elaborate trim.

Flowers hung from the

balconies, and Mark was

fascinated by the crazy door

knockers on many of the

doors.

And there are a zillion places to get a bite to eat

with a view onto the city streets.

Many buildings have a very

large front door with a

smaller utility door cut into it.

The little door is the one you

use to get inside.

One of the churches has two utility doors cut

into its main front gate.

All kinds of things can reside behind these

imposing doors.  Usually it is a courtyard.  In

the public buildings we found the doors were

often open, and we wandered in and out of

quite a few.  The city library has a lovely

courtyard inside.

One of the universities -- Universidad

Autónomo "Benito Juárez" de Oaxaca --

has a plain courtyard but a grand, curvy

staircase going to the second floor.

There are several universities in this city, so there are young people everywhere.  It

is also a favorite international tourist destination, and we met folks from Austria,

Denmark and England during our stay.  To satisfy these groups of people there are

enchanting little restaurants, coffee shops and bars everywhere.  Just in case the

tourists visiting Cafe Brújulu don't speak Spanish, their bathroom signs need no

translation!

As we made our way over to the Santo Domingo Cathedral, we found little groups

of odd statues standing around in front of many of the shops.  Hundreds of them

filled a huge area in front of the church and spilled over into the sidewalks all

around.

We later learned that Oaxacan artist Alejandro Santiago

created these sculptures called "2501 Migrants" to

represent the 2500 people (plus himself) from his

hometown of Teoculcuilco that have left town to seek a

better fortune elsewhere.  He first placed the sculptures in

his hometown as a spiritual replacement of the people who

had left.  Then he lined them up in the desert between

Mexico and the USA along the most common migration route.

Now they stand around the Oaxaca's beautiful cathedral plaza.

After wandering

among these

intriguing statues for

a while we went

inside the cathedral.

Wow!  Every inch of

the interior is

trimmed in fancy

gold leaf designs.

Some 60,000 sheets

of 23.5 carat gold

leaf were used in its

construction, and the

walls and ceilings

sparkle with gold.

I couldn't help but wonder, as the sunlight

glinted off the baroque patterns, whether this

gold had once been the artwork of the

Zapotecs or Aztecs or other indigenous people,

melted down by the Spanish to

decorate the church.  Or had it

been mined by the Spanish

nearby?

I asked several guides and the

consensus was that it came from

the local gold mines that had

originally perked Spain's interest

in Oaxaca and wasn't the result

of melted ancient treasures.

As it turns out, the Oaxaca area mountains are still rich with

gold, and the Canadian-owned mine Natividad is

busy extracting it today.

But the real treasure in Oaxaca is not the gold or

even the architecture but the funky spirit that

makes this city a fun place to be.  Street

performers and artists strut their stuff on the

streets, and school kids hang out under the trees

by the cathedral.

There is an artisans district

where art of all kinds is for sale

on the sidewalks, along with

literary books in many languages

and hard-to-find music CD's.

These aren't the usual cheap

bootleg hawkers found in other

towns, but university types

selling off parts of their

collections for pocket change.

Wandering down a side street we bumped into the

boyhood home of Benito Juárez, Mexico's only

indigenous president (1858-1864).  A pure Zapotec, he

is revered for education reforms that are still in effect

today and for spearheading the separation of church

and state in Mexico.

Being the capital of the state of Oaxaca

as well as a university town, politics play

an important role here.  Strolling down

the street we suddenly saw a parade of

scarlet clad women marching towards us

carrying signs.

They were the Triqui indigenous people, and they were staging a sit-in in front

of the governor's building in an effort to gain support from the recently elected

governor for their cause, which, from what we could gather, involved land

disputes and violence in their hometown.

There was a vibrance and an energy

here in Oaxaca that made the Triqui

protests, the migrant statues and the

brutal history of the Spanish conquests all blend together as brilliant facets of humanity's

unstoppable ambition and its dramatic quest for happiness and prosperity.

This town is so photogenic that we saw tourists everywhere whipping out cameras to

capture snapshots to take home.  One couple got particularly creative and set up a tripod

with a video camera in front of the cathedral.  They pointed the camera at themselves with

the church in the background and talked for quite some time about how much their travels

meant to them and what great experiences they had had so far in Mexico, ending their

conversation with a "hello" to friends and family back home.

We sure were loving Oaxaca's action and color, and there was no need for us to leave

just yet.

Find Oaxaca on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico Maps

This page is a collection of Mexico Maps showing the cruising grounds, anchorages and ports the Pacific Coast of Mexico, useful for cruising Mexico in a sailboat. Map of the most popular anchorages on the Pacific Coast of the Baja Peninsula (Pacific Baja Anchorages).

Pacific Baja

Highway to Mexico's cruising grounds

Map of the most popular anchorages and ports on the North Pacific Coast of Mexico.

North Pacific mainland coast.

The bridge between the Sea of Cortez and the southern Pacific coast.

Map of the most popular Banderas Bay anchorages and ports (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico area).

Banderas Bay

Map of the most popular Gold Coast anchorages in Mexico (also known as the Costa Alegre or Costalegre or Mexican Riviera).

"Costa Alegre" - the "Cheerful Coast" - Chamela to Manzanillo.

The northern part of a popular Mexico cruising ground.

Map of the most popular anchorages  on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast (the Costa Grande / Zihuatanejo / Ixtapa area).

Costa Grande - the "Big Coast" - Manzanillo to Zihuatanejo.

The southern part of the premier cruising grounds on Mexico's Pacific coast.

Map of the most popular Sea of Cortez anchorages.

Sea of Cortez.

Called "the world's aquarium" by Jacques Cousteau.

Map of the best Southern Sea of Cortez anchorages and ports.

Southern Sea of Cortez.

Map of the most popular La Paz anchorages  (Sea of Cortez Mexico).

La Paz Anchorages, Sea of Cortez.

Map of the best anchorages to the south of Loreto (Sea of Cortez Mexico).

Loreto - South Anchorage, Sea of Cortez.

Map of the best anchorages to the north of Loreto (Sea of Cortez Mexico).

Loreto - North Anchorages, Sea of Cortez.

Map of the Conception Bay anchorages (Bahia Concepcion) in the Sea of Cortez.

Bahía Concepcion, Sea of Cortez.

Map of key tourist destinations in southern Mexico (states of Chiapas and Oaxaca) and in northern Central America.

S. Mexico / Guatemala / El Salvador / Belize

Maps of Mexico for Cruisers: Pacific Coast & Sea of Cortez Anchorages

This page contains detailed maps of the west coast (Pacific coast) of Mexico, including the most popular cruising anchorages

and destinationa.  If you are planning a cruise to Mexico on your own boat, be sure to check out Mexico Cruising Tips (1) and

Mexico Cruising Tips (2) too.

Coastal Mexico can be thought of as having four different primary cruising regions.  As we traveled along the coast we

encountered them in this order (links go to our pics and stories):

● The Pacific coast of the Baja peninsula that runs down the western side of Baja from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas.

● The northern Pacific mainland coast between Mazatlan and Manzanillo, including the Costa Alegre (or "Gold Coast")

which extends along the Pacific mainland's southern coast below Puerto Vallarta

● The Southern Pacific mainland coast which runs from Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa to the Guatemala border.

● The Sea of Cortez where the majority of the beauty lies along the eastern shore of the Baja peninsula.

PACIFIC COAST OF BAJA

For cruisers, the 750 miles long Pacific side of the Baja coast is like a

highway to the prime Mexican cruising grounds.  It is predominantly a

downwind passage, as the prevailing winds come out of the northwest.

However, these are not consistent winds, and we found ourselves on all

points of sail and frequently motoring because the wind was too light to

sail.  The current and swell also move down the coast, so we were

swept along whether under power or sail.  The trip back up this highway

is called the "Baja Bash" because it is against the winds and currents

and folks usually make the journey in the spring when the winds are

strongest, resulting in a very uncomfortable trip.

NORTH PACIFIC COAST

Mazatlan - Manzanillo

Mexico's best cruising grounds lie in the Sea of

Cortez to the north and along the Pacific mainland

south of Puerto Vallarta.  Most of the northern

portion of Mexico's Pacific coast is like a bridge

between these two areas, bounded by a triangle

between the major cities of La Paz, Mazatlan and

Puerto Vallarta, each home to good marinas.  The

scenery, layout and quality of the anchorages

relegate this region (in my mind) to being less of a

cruising destination and more of a cruising transit

zone to get between the Sea of Cortez and the

southern Pacific coast cruising grounds, or a "live-

aboard" zone where many cruisers spend months

at one marina or another rather than cruising

between anchorages.  Unlike the Sea of Cortez

and the southern mainland Pacific coast, the

distances between the more charming anchorages

of this region are quite long, often requiring an overnight trip.

Most Sea of Cortez crossings take place in this region.  The shortest distance is 165 miles between Los Frailes on the eastern

tip of Baja and Mazatlan.  The longest passage is 330 miles between Cabo San Lucas and Chamela Bay on the mainland.  The

seas in this region can be confused, steep and choppy, as it is the meeting place for the Pacific Ocean (sweeping around Cabo

and up from the southwest) and the Sea of Cortez (rushing down from the northwest).  This is particularly true when you travel

the line between Cabo and Chamela, as we found out during 55 hours of being tossed about.  In addition, there is a strong

"cape effect" of powerful winds and seas off the cape that juts out between Puerto Vallarta and Chamela, called "Cabo

Corrientes."  Passage around this point is best done overnight or in the early morning and at least 5 miles offshore.

Banderas Bay / Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is at the eastern end of the 60 mile coastline

of Banderas Bay that cuts into the mainland here.  Four major

marinas dot this bay and there are a few anchorages on the

bay's north and south coasts.  Further north, Mazatlan also

hosts several marinas and some anchorages nearby.

Costalegre / Gold Coast

An attractive cruising ground on the mainland Pacific coast of

Mexico starts in Chamela and continues southeast to Manzanillo. This

area is known to cruisers (especially readers of Pat Rains' Mexico

Boating Guide) as the "Gold Coast."  The Costa Alegre includes about

ten anchorages in the fifty mile stretch between Chamela Bay and

Manzanillo Bay.  Some anchorages are along beaches that have

little development.  Some are on or near busy little tourist towns

full of boutique shops and restaurants.  Some front posh resorts,

a few of which welcome cruisers.

In the wintertime the water can hover as low as the low 70's and

the air in the low 80's.  Water clarity varies from year to year, with

some years having enough visibility to snorkel and others being

so murky with red tide that you can't swim or make water in the

anchorages.  Many anchorages are near fresh water estuaries

that empty into the ocean, further muddying the water.  However,

the exuberance and warmth of the local people and the wide

variety of sights to see make for a wonderful stay in this area.

* * * HUATULCO IS THE BEST CRUISING GROUND * * *

* * * IN ALL OF MEXICO!!!!. * * *

SOUTH PACIFIC COAST - Costa Grande & Costa Sur

The Costa Grande runs south of Manzanillo with the major stops being at Zihuatanejo and its little vacation paradise island, Isla

Ixtapa (labeled "Isla Grande" on some nautical charts).  The 200 mile distance between the wonderful anchorages in Manzanillo

Bay and Zihuatanejo Bay is broken up with three anchorages that most sailors skip because they are so rolly that sleep is nearly

impossible.  Their logic: if you aren't going to sleep at anchor, you might as well be making miles on your way to your

destination.  Although there are really only a few locations to drop the hook, the town of Zihuatanejo and its sophisticated big

sister city of Ixtapa offer enough to keep cruisers busy for weeks.  Winter water temps hover in the mid- to high-70's and the air

in the mid-80's.

The Pacific Ocean crashes into the Pacific coast of Mexico (both Baja and the mainland) after traveling thousands of miles,

rendering all Pacific coast anchorages in Mexico (except Barra de Navidad) somewhere between "rather rolly" and "very rolly."

Ordinary walking and moving about the boat becomes a crazy duck wobble.  The prevailing winds blow from the northwest,

parallel to the Pacific coast, and most anchorages are wide open bays with wonderful surf-filled beaches.  In each one, a small

point juts out into the Pacific at the northwest end of the bay or beach.  Tucking in behind this point gives some wind protection,

but the swell usually sneaks in, hitting the boat on the beam.  Setting a stern anchor so the boat faces the swell can help, but the

easiest way to avoid the rolly anchorages is to stay in marinas.  Many cruisers spend much of their winter cruising season

sampling the lovely Pacific coast marinas.

SEA OF CORTEZ

In this modern era of cruising, an easy way to find the finest

"vacation quality" cruising grounds worldwide is to see where

the Moorings has their charter boat bases.  The Moorings

base in La Paz is at Costa Baja Resort Marina, officially

granting this cruising area the status of "excellent."  The Sea

of Cortez offers clear turquoise water, abundant wildlife,

exotic desert scenery, and remote anchorages, but it is a

seasonal destination.

The Sea is most popular in

October/November and April-

June, when air temps are in the

80's to low 90's and water temps

are in the low-70's (spring) to

low-80's (fall).  Winter is cold:

overnight low temps dip into the

high-40's and low-50's and water

temps fall to the mid-60's.

Summer is hot: air temps rise to

the low-100's and water temps

can reach the low-90's.  It is

because of these extreme hots and colds of

summer and winter that most cruisers visit

the Sea of Cortez in the spring and fall.  The

favored cruising area is from La Paz north to

Santa Rosalia.

Although the Sea of Cortez is very beautiful

in a rugged and wild kind of way, it is also

subject to severe weather.  The saying goes

that for two days of paradise you pay with

one day of hell.  The hellish conditions are

brought on by sudden winds and steep

waves that can overpower an anchorage,

either pushing the boat

towards a terrifying "lee

shore" or subjecting it to a

violent beam sea.

The La Paz area offers a lot

of beautiful anchorages within

a 1-4 hour sail of the city.

Most of these are open to the

west and southwest which makes them very vulnerable to the nighttime 25-knot

southwest Coromuel winds and steep waves that blow from dusk til noon in the spring

and summer.  They are also subject to Westerlies that blow in during the night like

Coromuels.  Light Westerlies combined with a north swell puts the swell on the beam,

creating a rolly night.  Many anchorages are also subject to swell during Northers, as

the swell wraps into the anchorages from the west while the boat is held facing north,

making it hit the boat on the beam.

Northers are 3-day 25-35 knot winds that

occur between November and April.  In La

Paz harbor a chop develops and boats do

the "La Paz Waltz" where they tend to

swing in different directions and

sometimes bump each other due to their

different responses to wind and current as the tide sweeps in and out of the long

channel.  The best protection in a Norther is Bahia Falsa, as the swell tends not to

wrap into the anchorage.

The Loreto area is many cruisers' favorite part of the Sea of Cortez.  The sailing

within the bay between Loreto and Isla Carmen can be truly delightful with good wind

and flat seas.  The anchorages are scenic and they are close enough together and

varied enough in orientation that if the conditions are bad in one anchorage they are

bound to be better in another.  In addition, it is easy to anchor off Loreto in light

conditions, walk into town, and do extensive provisioning for the boat.

Bahía Concepción is a very large enclosed bay that offers pretty and lightly

populated anchorages and flat seas.  The ex-pat community is enormous.  All of the

beach bungalows on El Burro Cove and Playa Coyote are owned by non-Mexicans.

It is still a remote area, however, where land dwellers get their electrciity from solar

power and wifi internet is hard to find.  The bay can be very hot in the summer, as

there is much less breeze within the bay than in other anchorages elsewhere that

are open to the Sea of Cortez.

INLAND:  S. MEXICO and N. CENTRAL AMERICA

For cruisers, southern Pacific Mexico is defined by the Gulf of Tehuantepec, a 200 mile wide bay between Huatulco (Marina

Chahué) and Puerto Chiapas (Marina Chiapas).  Both marinas are ideal places to leave the boat to explore inland.

From Huatulco, the colonial city of Oaxaca and the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban and Mitla are an 8 hour bus ride away.

From Puerto Chiapas, the colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas is a 9 hour bus ride away.  From San Cristóbal, Mexico's

crown jewel of Mayan ruins, Palenque, is a 5 hour bus ride away (don't miss Yaxchilan and the Agua Azul waterfalls when you

are there!).

From Puerto Chiapas a tour of Guatemala

can also be undertaken, starting with an 8

hour bus ride to Guatemala City followed by

a 45 minute taxi ride to the colonial city of

Antigua, Guatemala.

All of these travels go through extremely

mountainous terrain which is why the bus

trips take so long.  The distances are not

that far.  For instance, it is just 200 miles

from Puerto Chiapas to San Cristóbal, but

the roads are tiny, full of hairpin turns and

speed bumps.  Lots little towns crowd the

mountain roads at frequent intervals, most

buses make a lot of stops, and there are

many military checkpoints.

The colonial cities are in the mountains and

the temperature quickly drops from hot,

tropical coastal climes to cool days and

chilly nights in the mountains.  The Mayan

region of Palenque and Yaxchilan is in the

jungle where it is very hot and humid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this page, you may also like the following pages:

More Tips for Cruising Mexico         Outfitting for Cruising

 

To help you plan your cruise and get you inspired, we created the video series, "Cruising Mexico Off the Beaten Path - Volumes 1-3," shown below. This is a fun-to-watch and easy-to-digest introduction to Mexico from a cruiser's perspective, giving you lots of valuable information that isn't covered by the cruising guides. Each video is available individually at Amazon, either as a DVD or as a download. For discount package pricing on the whole series, visit our page Cruising Mexico Video Series.

Volume 1 (left) reviews the geography, weather and seasons in Mexico and shows you what the best anchorages between Ensenada and Manzanillo are like.

Volume 2 (middle) gives detailed info that can't be found in any of the guidebooks about the glorious cruising ground between Manzanillo and the Guatemala border.

Volume 3 (right) provides all the info you need to get off the boat for an adventure-filled trip to Oaxaca.

Our Gear Store also has a boatload of ideas for your cruise!

 

Acapulco to Huatulco – A Disturbing Passage

Acapulco - kids chanting on a Corona boat in Puerto Marques

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

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

The "Barrido Marino" sea sweepers take used

motor oil and household trash too!

Acapulco is Nahuatl for

Acapulco is Nahuatl for "Place of Reeds"

Sea horse on Groovy's anchor chain.

Sea horse on our anchor chain.

We leave Acapulco before sunrise.

Sunrise.

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

Eerie silhouette on the rising sun.

We check our position on the paper nautical charts.

Mark checks our position on the

paper charts.

Overnight sailing on Groovy between Acapulco and Huatulco

The sun sets into a moonless night at sea.

Leaping dolphins say hello

Dolphins greet us with great

enthusiasm.

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

Puerto Angel is cute but too crowded.

Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, Mexico

Puerto Angel lighthouse.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Our two boats in Jicaral Cove, Bahías

de Huatulco.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Jicaral Cove.

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

We share Jicaral cove with Osprey and Turkey Vultures.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

This place is teeming with coral.

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

Neighboring Playa de San Agustín

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

Clear water and fun palapas at San

Agustín

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

Snorkelers at San Agustín

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

Bahía de San Agustín has unusual rock

formations.

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

Life's a Beach.

Cruise Ship Statandem at Huatulco harbor, Mexico

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

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

View of Santa Cruz from the water.

Views looking towards Huatulco.

Low buildings hug the shore against a mountainous backdrop.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco.

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

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

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

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Catamarans take advantage of the

afternoon breezes in Tangolunda.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

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

Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Late January, 2012 - Our pretty little spot in Puerto

Marques on the outskirts of Acapulco Bay came to life

one evening when a boatload of young Mexicans

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

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

tour, and suddenly they started waving and chanting

what sounded like a team cheer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

unhitched and fell back into the depths.

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

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

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

evenings we heard the creaking and scraping noises of equipment being

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

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

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

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

much nature this close to a major city.

When we were finally ready to

leave Acapulco, we left in the pitch

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

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

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

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

broomstick flying across the sun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We had heard a news report before leaving

Acapulco that the world was going to be

bombarded by extraneous solar radiation from a

large solar storm, and that it could potentially

affect GPS satellites.  That got us busy with the

paper charts, parallel rulers and dividers, making

sure we knew exactly where we were at all times

throughout the night, just in case the satellite

giving us our GPS position quit working.  Another

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

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

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

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

come to cheer us up.

Near 11:00 in the morning we spotted a Mexican

Navy ship on the horizon.  We leapt back on the

radio and hailed them in English and Spanish again.

No sooner had we reported what we had seen, than

the ship was at our side.  Those Navy boats can

really move.

They tied alongside us and their young captain came

aboard Groovy.  Stepping between the boats was not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acapulco and found it pretty but overcrowded with moored pangas.

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

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

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

rewarded with stunning natural beauty and peace.  Gradually the

disturbing emotions from our overnight sail began to fade away.

Last year while researching  Huatulco I had come across an

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

in love with and nicknamed "Osprey Cove" because he

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

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

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

first night there.

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

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

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

reef every few hours.

The Bays of Huatulco sit

next to the infamous Golfo

de Tehuantepec, a vicious

200 mile stretch of water

whose mood swings make

the Sea of Cortez look

positively unflappable.

Every week or so in the

winter north winds from the

Gulf of Mexico between

Texas and Mexico

accelerate south across the

narrowest portion of the

Mexican mainland, and

race off into the ocean at

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

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

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

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

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

glorious, peaceful days exploring Jicaral cove.

The ospreys for whom the

earlier cruisers named this

place "Osprey Cove" were still

here, along with a group of

turkey vultures.

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

had seen only once before in Los Muertos on the

southeastern tip of the Baja peninsula.

We kayaked around the corner into Bahía de San

Agustín (also known as Puerto Sacrificios) and

discovered a long curving beach backed by unusual

boulders at one end and a cluster of lively beach

palapa bars and boutique shops at the other.

We wandered along the beach and

marveled at the calm beauty.  This is a

magical place.

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

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

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

strong afternoon winds that we nearly missed the entrance to

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

ship Statendam parked there that got us back on course.

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

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

Canal transit as the centerfold stop.

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

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

several anchoring options.

Huatulco is an official tourist

development created in 1986

by Fonatur, Mexico's

government tourism agency

that brought the world Cancun

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

Sea of Cortez and Nayarit near Puerto Vallarta.

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

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

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

park with boat-in access only.

Bahía Tangolunda

hosts the requisite

tourist banana boats

and jet-skis, but

several catamarans

dominated the

breezy bay most

afternoons.

One afternoon we

watched a wedding

in progress just off

the end of our boat.

What a spot to get

married.

This first week in

Huatulco was just

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

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

and leaving Huatulco any time soon, especially since the

intimidating Gulf of the Tehuantepec lies just around the corner.

Find Huatulco on Mexico Maps.

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast

to see more cruising posts from this area!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acapulco – A Faded Lady

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

Orcas play near Groovy.

A shrimper outside Papanoa, Mexico.

Shrimper or bird taxi?

Papanoa, a shrimping village in Mexico.

Papanoa.

Sunrise over Groovy's bow.

Sunrise begins over our bow.

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

Acapulco's mountains in the distance.

Villas and hotels line Boca Chica Channel.

Villas perch atop cliffs on Boca Chica Channel.

Racing yachts barrel down Boca Chica Channel.

Sailboats race towards us.

Highrises on Acapulco's main beach.

Acapulco's main beach.

Two boats almost crash in a race in Acapulco.

Tight maneuvering.

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

Downwind spinnaker run.

The

The "fake" lighthouse at La Marina.

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

The Yacht Club grounds.

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

Club de Yates de Acapulco.

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

Racing yachts waiting for the next race.

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

Waterfront near the yacht club.

Looking across Acapulco's inner harbor.

Looking across Acapulco's inner harbor.

Puffer and angel fish at the Acapulco marina docks.

Puffer and angel fish at the docks.

Puffer and angel fish at the Acapulco marina docks.

I took these from above water.

Wonderful daysailing in Acapulco Bay.

Wonderful daysailing in Acapulco Bay.

Acapulco highrises on the beach.

A few of the many highrises on the beach.

Navy warships and a tall ship in Acapulco Bay.

Navy warships and a tall ship.

Acapulco has several picturesque anchorages.

Acapulco has several picturesque

anchorages.

Vacation homes overlooking Puerto Marques outside Acapulco Bay.

Vacation homes overlooking Puerto Marques.

A little bronze mermaid in Puerto Marques.

A little mermaid near our

anchorage.

Camino Real, Puerto Marques, Acapulco Mexico

The lightly visited resort where we anchored in Puerto Marques.

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

"Barrido Marino" - the "Sea Sweepers"

Blue and white VW bug taxis in Acapulco

These cheap little taxis are everywhere.

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

The rock cliffs of La Quebrada.

Cliff Diver Alejandro scales the rocks in La Quebrada.

Cliff Diver Alejandro scales the rocks.

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

Alejandro (left) and Aurelio (right)

Acapulco's cathedral.

Acapulco's cathedral.

Acapulco's cathedral.

A peek inside...

The Zócalo has amazing trees.

Acapulco's town beach.

Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico

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

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

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

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

playing in the water.

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

shrimpers trolling the depths as we approached the harbor.

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

The frigate birds took most of one boom and the seagulls

spread out on the others.

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

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

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

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

tied to a piling.

Acapulco is another 75 miles

south of Papanoa, which

required us to get a pre-

dawn start.  We were now

traveling more east than

south and we watched the

sky lighten ahead of us until

the sun rose over our bow.

Acapulco has a mixed reputation these days,

and we weren't sure what to expect when we

arrived.  Our first glimpse of this legendary port

had us grinning excitedly, however, and set the

tone for a fantastic stay.  We decided to enter

Acapulco's expansive bay through its narrow

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

rather than through the main entrance further

east called "Boca Grande."  We slowed way

down as the rock walls rose to wonderful

heights on either side of us in the channel.

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

The towering cliffs were

covered with fancy homes,

hotels and highrises.

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

vast beach suddenly came into view.  Our eyes widened in

amazement.  The beach was backed by an endless stretch

of highrise buildings, and the hillsides were littered with

homes and communities that rose in waves towards the

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

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

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

small beach on Isla de la Roqueta.

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

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

the Sunday crowd was swimming, snorkeling and imbibing at the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

furiously turning winch

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

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

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

new tack.

These guys are really good at this stuff

and they do it all the time, so when

one boat looked like it was about to T-

bone another and Mark said, "They're

gonna hit!" I said, "Nahhh…"  Then we

both heard a loud CRUNCH and the

sound of very expensive boat parts

grating against each other.  Seconds

later the lead boat dropped its sails

and turned around to head home.  I'm

not sure if they were disqualified or

had sustained too much damage to

continue, but none of the other boats

paused for one second!

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

another breezed past Groovy in the opposite direction, their

colorful spinnakers flying.  As each boat slowly vanished

into the horizon of skyscrapers our hearts gradually

stopped pounding.  What excitement, and what a

surprise.

By sunset our little anchorage had whittled down to just

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

Las Gatas Beach in Zihuatanejo, this place is heavily

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

snorkelers during the afternoons, but by dusk it is

deserted and is an ideal, remote tropical anchorage with

no swell.  We slept like babies that night.

The heart of the Acapulco yachting scene is the "Club

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

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

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

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

accommodate visitors, but it isn't yet finished.

We wandered into the Club de Yates and found all

the beautiful racing boats we had watched sailing

the day before already lifted out of the water and

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

found out that hauling our boat would cost nearly

$600 US.  Imagine having to fork that over every

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

place where money is no object.  The captain of a

megayacht parked at an end-tie told us his owner

likes to zip from place to place burning a cool 180

gallons per hour at top speed.  He laughed out loud

when we told him we needed to top off our 66

gallon fuel tank sometime during our stay here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

swimming pool too.

The Acapulco Yacht Club exudes that noble air that wafts over

exclusive yacht clubs worldwide, and the whole place is dripping

with wonderfully elegant nautical decor.  Trophies fill the trophy

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

names of local champions and legendery yachts are engraved

on beautiful plaques, and ancient bronze binnacles and helms

stand like museum pieces in the corners.

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

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

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

the front for less that $10 US.

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

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

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

swimming just below the surface.

When we travel from place to place we always hope

to sail but usually end up motoring most of the way

because the winds are so light along Mexico's

mainland coast.  However, Acapulco Bay is a terrific

spot for day sailing, and after watching the races the

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

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

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

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

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

Other cruisers had found pretty anchorages

along the outskirts of this big bay, and as the

days of our stay wore on we

noticed that they weren't in a

hurry to leave Acapulco either,

obviously enjoying their time

here as well.

We left the inner harbor for

Puerto Marques, a small outer

bay, where we spent five

delightful nights.  Billed in the

cruising guide as being open to

ocean swell, we got lucky and

enjoyed peaceful quiet nights

ancchored alongside a row of

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

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

new construction inexplicably seemed to be continuing.

Every day the bartender would arrive at the cute

dockside bar and serve perhaps one or two guests.

Every night the restaurant tables would be set and the

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

four couples.

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

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

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

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

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

the entire bay every day with nets to retrieve floating trash

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

project is underway with barges and cranes to install what

looks like a new pier or perhaps a marina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

wait to see them in action.

The cove is a spectacular craggy

coast of rugged peaks and

crashing surf, and the entire area

has been built up to show off the

divers.  Elvis Presley's 1963 movie

Fun in Acapulco was filmed here

(this is a fun link too).

Restaurants overlook the diving gorge and trinket shops offer free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crowd above, they then free

climb the enormous cliffs on

the far side all the way to the

top.  One young diver,

Alejandro, impressed us immensely

with his catlike agility as he zipped up

the cliff like Spiderman.

Once at the top, the divers each

offered a quick prayer to the Virgin of

Guadalupe, touched the shrine, or

even kissed the statue inside, and then

turned and waved to the crowd.  One

by one they then took a position

somewhere near the top of the cliff

and, when the waves were right 125

feet below, launched themselves into

spectacular dives.

Alejandro warmed up for quite some

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

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

into the frothing water below.

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

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

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

Afterwards the divers mingled

with the crowd, happily posing

for photos with fans.

We were on such a high after

this that we nearly skipped

down the hill towards the

cathedral in the old town

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

crowded city, but there was something in the

earthy smells, the crush of people and the

sweat dripping down our temples and backs

that made it all very exciting.

A group of nuns emerged from the 1930's era

cathedral just as we approached, and the doors

were thrown wide for a peek inside.

Opposite the cathedral was a large, darkly

shaded city park filled with enormous trees

that have odd twisted trunks and roots.

Crabby old ladies sitting next to flowers

they were selling waved us off with nasty

frowns when we took photos of their

flowers.  People sat on park benches

eating snacks or reading the paper.

Tourists and shoppers mingled in between.

Vendors sold everything everywhere and music pumped so loudly

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

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

shirts and numbered badges darted out from the crowd to help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scottsdale, Arizona neighborhood.  The anchorages on the fringes

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

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

Marques we headed down the coast to Huatulco.

Find Acapulco on Mexico Maps

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast to see more cruising posts from this area!