Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gunboats and rifles and choppers -- Oh My!

Yesterday morning, the 30 or so sailboats gently bobbing in the peaceful La Cruz anchorage were awakened by the buzzing of a Mexican military chopper flying overhead.

He flew low over us one more time. And again. OK -- something's up.

We turned on the VHF radio, started the coffee and popped up on deck into the cockpit.

What's this? A Mexican military frigate had planted itself on the edge of the anchorage.

And on the other side of the small anchorage, a second gunboat had silently entered the picture. With several armed military men aboard. This boat was slowly driving right through the anchorage, within a few feet of the sailboats.

The same chopper continued to circle aggressively over the anchorage for another several cycles.

Chris and I uttered a couple of "Hmmmm...what's this?" type mutterings under our breath,  but basically we were silent. And observing.

The morning VHF channel 22 radio net, which at this time of the morning would normally be cheerfully buzzing with cruiser hailings from one boat to another, making New Years Eve plans, asking if anyone has a spare fuel pump, etc. -- was curiously silent as well.

Every sailor in the anchorage sat silently and vulnerably in their little sailboats, which suddenly felt as small and vulnerable as toys bobbing in a bathtub.

One sailboat next to us had clearly seen enough. They pulled up their dinghy and anchor and quickly headed to sea. I wondered if this was such a good idea...

A peek through our binoculars showed these hapless sailors were promptly boarded by a gunboat about a mile out to sea. Like I said: not such a good idea.

This was unlike anything we had seen in Mexico so far during our travels.

This is a good time to point out that each time we have met Mexican police or Navy during our travels, they have been friendly, helpful and completely non-aggressive. We have felt absolutely safe in their care.

Now a third, fourth and fifth gunboat entered the picture. From all sides.

"I think I'll get dressed." I said matter of factly. Who knew what would happen next? Being in pajamas just seemed so...vulnerable. And ridiculous.

Yes. I would get dressed. That is the next indicated step.

We were looking forward with intense curiosity to the 8:30 morning cruisers net on the radio. This is where all of the daily comings and goings of the marina and anchorage are discussed. What, if anything, would they say about this interesting situation in which we found ourselves?

At 8:30 they started the radio net as usual. They made announcements as usual. They discussed the weather, tides, upcoming New Years Eve plans, as usual.

Another chopper flew low and hard overhead in the middle of an announcement, which needed to be repeated due to the interruption.

After several minutes it became clear that noone was going to acknowledge this flack-jacketed elephant in the middle of our floating living room.


I turned to Chris and whispered slowly, and with intensity:

"If you don't discuss doesn't exist."

We shared a hearty laugh over this inside joke, which helped cut the tension that hung over the boats and the anchorage like a cold fog bank.

We had heard this line a couple of days earlier from our friend Kat, who had shared it during a discussion of the mindset some people have in keeping long-held deep, dark family secrets:

(whispered slowly, and with intention) "If you don't discuss doesn't exist."

After 20 minutes the cruisers net ended, and the "social net" started, which is a more casual VHF net to discuss events, maintenance issues, etc.

Finally, finally, FINALLY, at the very end of the cruisers net, someone got the guts to acknowledge the obvious and asked:

"Uh, well, does anyone have any idea why there are military choppers flying over and we are completely surrounded by the Mexican navy?"

I can guarantee you that every crew member on every boat within radio range dropped what they were doing and literally leaned 2 feet forward and planted their face and ear next to the radio to hear the response.

We found out that there was a perfectly good explanation for the military armada.

No, they were not a gang of corrupt militias about to board, rape and pillage every boat in the harbor.

It turns out that the governors of both Nayarit and neighboring Jalisco were arriving in La Cruz for a presentation at the marina to fisherman who had performed heroically during a recent mishap at sea. And this was simply a completely normal military/police presence to preserve the peace during this political visit.



Well. Just goes to show you.   :-)

We promptly took the bus into downtown Puerta Vallarta immediately afterwards with Talaria and had a wonderful day, chattering on about our morning adventure.

Happy to be alive and having the adventure of our lives!     :-)   XOXOXO Liz and Chris

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

                     We've been anchored outside of the marina La Cruz since before Christmas.

Marina La Cruz with anchorage in the distance

We had been hearing for months from other sailors all about La Cruz -- "La Cruz this, La Cruz that..."

Sailors and cruisers tend to sail here and stay here -- some for months and years. So naturally we have been curious to drop anchor and finally check the place out.

When we first arrived, honestly in the first day or two we were sort of shrugging our shoulders, wondering what all of the fuss was about.

The casual La Cruz hangout "Tacos on the Street"

But after being here a few days, we're starting to understand the attraction of this humble little seaside hamlet.

Overlooking La Cruz

First of all, the weather is just about perfect -- if your idea of perfect is the low '80's, low to moderate humidity, sunny skies, gorgeous sunsets and a gentle breeze tying it all up in a pretty holiday bow.

La Cruz beach


There are a couple of beaches here which are mostly frequented by locals on the weekends after a long work week.

On thursday evenings, the marina sponsors an outdoor movie night, where they show a film under the stars for the sailors anchored here.

The tempo here is slow, comfortable and easy going.  When they aren't working, the Mexican families whose homes line the streets of town are always sitting outside with the doors and windows wide open, chatting and gossiping well into the evening, with the children running and playing up and down the street.

One really neat thing about Mexico is this: since the weather is so warm and comfortable (and certainly quite hot in the summertime), nearly all homes and businesses are open onto the street at all times. Open doors, open windows -- even complete walls are missing!

Open air kitchen and dining area

Of course, there are some expensive homes with pricey items inside (and air conditioning!) which are locked up tight at all times, just like in the states.

But in most of Mexico, people live humbly without many expensive material items.  Theft does not appear to be an issue or concern. People ride their bikes everywhere and simply prop them up unlocked against a wall without worry.

 One other attraction of La Cruz is the music. Every evening live music streams out onto the streets from every corner. Tonight Chris and I are going to bring our instruments to an open jam session at Philo's, which is sort of a local institution here in La Cruz.

We were told that Philo was a band member in Country Joe and the Fish, but when I met him and asked him about it, I found out the rumor is untrue. He was friends with the band, though, and jammed with them back in the day, as well as the Grateful Dead and other legendary musicians of that time. Which is good enough for me! :-)

Anyway, maybe I'll finally get to play "Margaritaville," which I've been practicing for months. I assumed I would hear it everywhere but I have yet to hear it once! Jimmy Buffett, where ARE you? LOL...

One last thing -- looks like Chris and I have taken a big right turn and decided that we will be going through the Panama Canal and sailing the Caribbean after all. It's a long story, but basically the Pacific Ocean is just Too. Damn. Big.

In short, we were advised by people who have sailed the South Pacific is that it is great if you don't have a time limit as Chris and I do. Once they heard we only had 2 years, however, eyebrows raised and we were advised that maybe the Caribbean would be a better fit for us.

So -- our tenative plan is to sail south and explore Central America this spring (El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama) and head through the canal sometime this summer. Aye carumba!

Monday, December 26, 2011

New photo round-up

On this relaxed day after Christmas, I thought I would post some photos from our trip so far that hadn't made the cut until now. Enjoy!

                               My sisters JoAnna and Kirsten sent us off from San Pedro on
                                                  11/2/11, with my Mom on the right

                  Chris doing a big safety no-no by wielding a knife and whiddling down the flagpole
                                            while underway. But he's cute so all is forgiven. :-)

                          Captain Chris smiles bravely in cold, rough conditions between
                                         Ensenada and Turtle Bay coming down Baja...

                                                             First mate Liz...not so much...  :-/

                                             Chris relaxes at Turtle Bay after a rough passage

                                      With a giant turtle shell on Santa Maria beach at Mag Bay

                                              Beautiful Santa Maria beach in southern Baja

                              Tiny fish carcasses dance amongst tire tracks in dusty, wild Baja.
                                             Believe it or not, we did not set up this photo --
                                                  we found the scene exactly as it appears.

                   We were so happy to motor by the famous Cabo San Lucas arch at daybreak
                                 after a very rough night at sea. We made it to the tip of Baja! :-)

                                             The crystal blue waters of Cabo are so inviting!

                Overlooking the peaceful and warm Las Frailes anchorage in the Sea of Cortez

                                      Whenever there is a mountain around, if we can, we'll climb it!
                             Captain Chris atop Las Frailes Rock with the tiny boats in the distance...

One more of the lovely Las Frailes, one of our favorite anchorages so far

The meat market in Mazatlan, complete with flies buzzing around having a little taste

A Mazatlan boy let me gently hold his baby chihuahua, who was shaking like a leaf the whole time

Charming, bustling Mazatlan

Chris in the very European Mazatlan town square

On the thousand steps to the top of the Mazatlan lighthouse

Coming down the other side

Espiritu all alone at muggy, tropical Mantanchen Bay

                                            Espiritu all alone at muggy, tropical Mantanchen Bay

Hiking past an expensive estate at Chacala

With Rick and Deena of Talaria at the Mantanchen Jungle Cruise swimming hole 

We passed this tree hiking in Chacala. Well...that clears up the confusion (NOT!)

Looking down at Chacala from the top of the dormant volcano we climbed

Captain Chris at Chacala on the edge of the volcano

I dunno, call me crazy, but IMHO if you put this sign on your property you will draw
MORE human fertilizer to your yard, not less (on a Chacala estate)

Busiamos, south of La Cruz

Busiamos children

The kids graciously tolerated me for a photo

That's it for now. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Feliz Navidad from Mexico!

Feliz Navidad from Mexico!

We pulled anchor from Punta de Mita and motored south 10 miles to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in Banderas Bay.

We've been told that this little seaside town is the sailors/cruisers mecca, and bit by bit, we're discovering why. There is a lively marina here, but we are quite happy out in the comfortable anchorage with a couple of dozen other sailboats.

It's Christmas Eve, and we're fully immersed in Christmas in Mexico.  A group of us went caroling a couple of evenings ago, and evidence of the season is all around us.  Chris and I have been playing carols together on the boat.

A colorful and happily tacky Mexican Christmas display

Those who complain about the political correctness of the states and the fact that "Happy Holidays" has replaced "Merry Christmas" stateside would be quite happy, I think, experiencing a Mexican Christmas.

Christmas is everywhere in Mexico

Who needs noble firs when we have palms to decorate?

Mexico is a very Catholic country, and nativity scenes decorate every town square. One interesting thing about nativity scenes in Mexico: if you look for baby Jesus in the display in the days before Christmas, you will find that He is not there. The Mexican tradition is to not place the baby Jesus into the manger until Christmas day.

Nativity scene in a small La Cruz market, minus the baby Jesus

We attended a Catholic service in San Blas one Sunday morning, and were surprised to see that 80% of the worshipers in the packed church were children under the age of 12. The other 15% were their mothers, gently shushing the children who wiggled, whispered and giggled in the wooden pews as the priest read the liturgy.

There were only a handful of men, standing in the back of the church.

It appears that women are the driving force of the Catholic church here in Mexico, which helps explain why the Virgin Mary is loved with such devotion here.

A Mexican home with Christmas decorations surrounding an image of Mary

The Mexican Christmas tradition is to decorate the home with a tree, lights, manger scene, and most importantly, an image of the Virgin Mary.

Holiday display with Mother Mary overlooking all

It appears Mary is even more important than Jesus here in Mexico. Life for Mexican women is not an easy one. With many children and hard work filling each day, I think these women can relate to Mary.

A home Christmas display with Mary front and center

As Mexican women see it, I think, Mary fulfilled her difficult mission humbly and without fanfare. She never complained. She simply followed God's direction to her, quietly, with a gentle loving faith that all would be well. In short, I think Mexican women "get" Mary. They relate to her, and they feel that she is in their corner.

A home Christmas display, with Mary front and center, and Jesus off to the side

And since women do most of the decorating, Mary, the patron saint of women, gets top billing.

We are planning on going to a Catholic Christmas Eve service tonight. Although it will be in Spanish, I'm sure the emotion and beauty of this night will come through.

Another charming Mexican home display

Nationalism doesn't just happen in the U.S. This "Viva Mexico" Christmas banner is the equivalent of a "God Bless America" Christmas display in the U.S.:

Christmas in nearby Bustiamos

The distinctive feel of a Mexican Christmas

                          Some sailors have decorated their boats with Christmas cheer.
                                    I'm ashamed to say that Espiritu is not one of them.

Christmas display aboard Island Bound

                                  Our excuse for not decorating the boat is we don't have adequate
                           storage space for decorations. That's our story, and we're sticking to it.  ;-P

Solar powered Christmas lights

                  Tomorrow, there is a sailor's gathering at Philos for Christmas Dinner here in La Cruz.
                                  All of our new friends (and temporary family) will be there.

Humble La Cruz Christmas tree

We will miss our stateside friends and family in the next 48 hours, but if you think of us, know that we are having an amazing experience here amongst kindred spirits.

                              So, Feliz Navidad, with love, from Chris and Liz in Mexico.