Monday, March 26, 2012

The Road to Mazatlan – March 9 – 18

La Cruz to Jaltemba (March 9/10)

At 10.30 we departed Muelle 4, B8 at the Marina Nayarit in La Cruz fully provisioned and with able crew imported from Spokane especially for the passage (our friend Bob Romano).  Molly nattered on about how we would return next year so she wouldn’t cry at the idea of leaving what, so far, has been her favorite place.  Winds were light so we motored and took advantage of the motor-generated electricity to make water.  And then we motored some more . . . this is what’s referred to in Mexico as “motor sailing” (motoring with sail up to give some stability to the boat; read: boring but necessary).  We had only one hour of true sailing all day. 
At about 18.00, after an uneventful and noisy voyage, we arrived at Bahia Jaltemba, prepared to be enchanted.  We were not.  Jaltemba is a big, open bay with much more development on shore than we were expecting.  The apparent lack of protection from the winds prompted us to tuck in behind Isla la Pena in the company of a smelly fishing boat and (apparently) abandoned panga, surrounded by scummy water. 

We took a vote and decided our stay in Jaltemba would be a one-night event.
Then, as if to apologize for the day of motoring and the less than charming anchorage, the fishing boat departed and the scummy water cleared up immediately.  To say the skies parted and the sun shown is to go a bit far – but it was a noticeable improvement in fortune and our spirits were greatly improved.  Dinner and a beer helped, too. 

Chacala – The Best Place?  (March 10 – 14)
The next morning, we were entertained by signs of life on Isla la Pena.  We watched as they prepared the island restaurant for weekend tourists by dragging out tables and umbrellas, waiving hands, shouting, etc..  Life in Bahia Jaltemba began to appear more promising than it had originally, but not enough for us to rescind our unanimous agreement to press on to Ensenada Chacala.  Chacala is only eight nautical miles from Jaltemba, so we agreed that if it did not pan out we could consider returning for the night. 

We arrived in Chacala after a three hour tour, most of it under sail, ready to enjoy the bay, and this time were not disappointed.  We set a stern anchor as recommended by neighbors and the cruising guide, and surveyed the area.  We were enchanted.
And perhaps one of the nicest features of Chacala is a very sheltered dinghy landing beach, so we didn’t have to frighten Bob with our sophomore dinghy landing skills right off the bat.

The next morning, we were greeted by our neighbor Mike from Dejala.  He told us that he and his mate Marie had arranged for a tour of some nearby petroglyphs the next day, and we agreed to join them.  This trip was one of the highlights of our time in this lovely place. 

Our guide Armando was obviously interested in the petroglyphs, and avoided what for us is the ultimate kiss of tourist-guide-death: pretending to know more than he knew.  He would show a petroglyph, ans say “it could mean this; a local curandero (Mexican Spanish for shaman) that I talked to says it means that; I like the idea that it means [whichever]”.   


Most touching of all were the signs that the location is still a spiritual place for many.

Chacala has the palapa (a thatched roof structure without walls) restaurants that one sees all over the Mexican coast.

But in addition, there were two retreat centers at the far end of the beach.  One is a yoga retreat, which we have on our list as a place for a “vacation” from sailing in the future.  The other has a tapas bar that consists of some chairs and tables set in the middle of a clearing where food heated on a grate over a wood fire.  We spent a lovely afternoon there one day, after Molly had done a very sandy swim to shore (beach waves stronger than she) and Bob did a more graceful swim back to the boat.
We extended our stay in Chacala by several days because it was so pleasant, but eventually had to decide to either (a) stay there forever (which when we found the guy that made homemade ice cream became a distinct possibility for el Capitan) or (b) go on to Ensenada de Matanchen.   

Matanchen Redux (March 14 – 17)
We left Chacala with regret at 11.00, but our spirits immediately picked up -- this was the sail we had come to Mexico for!  We made between 4.8 and 6 knots all day with winds on our beam permitting us to fetch our destination (i.e., sail on course).  None of this “do we motor to our destination or sail 45 degrees to one side of it then turn and sail 45 degrees to the other side of it?” stuff for us – we were on the direct bus.  Why were we so fortunate?  Because the sea gods love us, we presume.   

We arrived in Matanchen and set anchor at 15.30.  The bay was full of boats we knew from other marinas or anchorages so we anticipated a fun party.  Not so, as they were all planning on leaving the next morning early, purportedly to catch good weather (was it something we said?).  Left on our own, we relaxed on board and talked about what a great sail we’d just had.  And then we began to slap at the jejenes (in Canadian, “no seeums”) and took refuge below.    
The next day we travelled into town after running the banana bread gauntlet (Matanchen and San Blas are famous for their banana bread and there are dozens of little stands between the boat and the taxi stand).  We bought a few pieces on that trip.  San Blas had not inspired us the last time we were there, and this time it also appeared tattered and dusty.  But, as during our previous visit, our check-in with the port captain was efficient and we had a good lunch.  This visit we also took time to tour the local tourist spots – an 18th century Spanish fort and accounting house on a hill top overlooking the ocean,

and the ruins of an 18th/19thcentury cathedral (the inspiration for, as every tells you, Longfellow’s The Bells of San Blas). 

The excitement at the fort was the assault on the place by a group of recently graduated nurses on a trip to celebrate their accomplishment.  They were charming in their enthusiasm and startlingly young (or perhaps we are startlingly old?). 
On our way back to the boat we succumbed to the banana bread gauntlet and bought a loaf from one of the many little panaderias (bread stores) along the highway.  After devouring the banana bread for breakfast the next day we performed the other requisite act of tourism required of visitors to Matanchen – a “La Tovara Jungle Tour”.  Bryce and I had dismissed the trip during our last visit thinking that we had “been there done that” a couple of times before in various places in Mexico.  But since then we had heard several times that this was a worthwhile trip, so we gave it a try.  So the intrepid threesome: Bryce, Molly and "Jungle Bob" . . .

went into the estuary of La Tovara with our guide, Jesus . . .

who, despite having a fairly alarming cough, perservered in pointing out the local wildlife . . .

and was a master at getting us In close to our photo subjects.

And who should come roaring up behind us but the graduate nurses we had met the day before in San Blas?

We got a good laugh out of the fact that we had spent the day sedately putting along the estuary taking pictures of birds, and these kids were screaming like they were on a Disneyland Ride.  Yes – life is better with every year.

The mid-point of the "jungle tour" was a stop at a swimming hole, carefully screened off from the local cocodrilo (crocodile) population.  We took a refreshing dip

and chatted with some sailors from Canada.  We have begun to wonder if anyone is at home in Canada during the winter? 
After returning from our tour, on the walk along banana-bread row, we bought so much food (banana muffins, sweet cornbread, empanadas, etc.) at the little panaderia we had visited the day before that Bryce felt compelled to try and explain that we were not gluttons, but were provisioning for the next couple days’ sailing trip.  The little lady in charge of the shop was much more interested in showing us her calculations, because of the huge price she was asking (something like $8 . . . ). 
St. Paddy’s Day Sail (March 17 – 18)

We left Matanchen on St. Paddy’s Day with very un-holiday like efficiency.  Anchor up at 06.35.  Ugh.  No winds, so we motored northward until the winds picked up and we were able to sail around 12.30.
El Capitan celebrated St. Paddy’s Day with the Wearin’ o the Green and the drinkin’ o a beer (with the squeezin' o the lime). 

The crew, too frightened of the tyrant captain to be caught sleeping on watch, were abstemious. 

The sea gods were with us for most of the day, and we sailed until 18.00 when the winds dropped.   Night watch with three people on two-hour watches was much nicer than with two people and three-hour watches, so we enjoyed the evening, though most of it was spent motoring.  We had a lot of company – several sailboats were heading into Mazatlan – so there was a lot to watch and a lot of radio chatter to keep us awake.  We arrived a bit too early for the marina to assign us a slip, but finally tied up around 09.15 with a gorgeous view of the channel dredging equipment and a chilly wind coming right into our cabin.  Welcome to sunny Mexico.  Bryce exerted his Canadian charm and got us a nicer berth a few days later! 

We’ll post about our time in Mazatlan soon! 

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