Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in La Cruz, Mexico

It never really felt like Christmas here in Mexico and I think it’s mainly because of the lack of street decorations, tv commercials, mall decorations and the like.  It’s probably not a bad thing seeing as that’s one of the ways Christmas gets out of control.  But you add 85 degree weather and no family to it…well, it feels like any other day.

But we made the best of it and it turned out pretty good.  We intended on a nice quiet Christmas eve with just us, much like we did Thanksgiving.  But when I found out there was to be a cookie decorating activity on our dock, I decided to ask if Jake could go.  When the older kids came to get him (“I’m fine mommy, you don’t need to go”), Andy and I decided to check out the dock party…just for an hour or so.  We had a nice pot of chili and presents for Jake waiting for us.

Well, the hour tuned into hours before we knew it.  We had a great time hanging out on the dock (albeit with people we barely knew) watching Jake run back and forth with the older kids from boat to boat, just happy to be playing with someone under 30 years old.  One of the dad’s pulled out a reindeer piƱata and the kids got to wack at it for a while.  It didn’t take Jake long to figure out he needed to be speedy to get any candy (especially since he was the smallest).  The kids even got on the internet and tried to track Santa.  After a very late night, we finally went to bed so Santa could come to us.
Jake's first experience with a Pinata.
Jake crawled in bed with us Christmas morning like he always does and just laid there for about 15 minutes.  Finally, he whispered in my ear “Mommy, when do you think we can get up and open presents?”.  Who could resist that?  So we got up and sure enough Santa found the hatch we left open and left Jake a full stocking and his #1 toy on his list…Star Wars Legos!

We put legos together all morning and in the afternoon we went to a local restaurant where they provided the turkey and ham and everyone else brought a side dish (we took our chili).  It made for the largest potluck I’ve ever seen.  For $50 pesos we ate like kings.  They had live music and after dinner Santa handed out presents to about 500 local children.  They were lined up down the street.  It wasn’t dinner at mom’s but we were with good friends and got to see the meaning of Christmas first hand with all of the generosity of the folks at Philo’s.

Philo on the guitar with one of the local kids playing along.
This guy was great!
Even Bosun from Ulalena dressed up for the occasion.

It was hard to capture but kids were lined up around the corner to see Santa.
Does he look ready to go to you?

Today, it’s back to our normal routines and trying to clean up everything.  We don’t have piles and piles of wrapping paper and boxes like normal as it was a very modest Christmas here on Savannah but I did manage to put off doing dishes and putting up laundry for a few days.  And I’m stepping on legos everywhere I go.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas! ...and apologies.

Last year was the first year since we’ve been married that we didn’t send out Christmas cards.  I thought we had a pretty good excuse as our photographer (aka Andy) had a broken foot and I had spent a month selling our stuff and moving the leftovers to a storage unit or the boat, pretty much by myself (It's hard to believe that was a year ago).

This year, with no jobs, no outside obligations and $20K worth of camera equipment on board…we still couldn’t pull it off.  I’m not quite sure why.  Not the right lighting?  Not dressed up enough?  Not the right camera?  Yo no se.

So, apologies from the crew of Savannah...and a Merry Christmas to everyone from our family to yours.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

12/23/2010 - Not much going on here

We’ve spent the last few days piddling around doing nothing and doing everything.  It’s been a few days where you feel like you’re getting nothing done and just going through the motions.

We took Jake to the beach one day.  There’s a local beach within walking distance so we took the sand toys and blankets and spent the morning playing.  Andy and Jake built the finest sand castle I’ve seen since we started this gig.

Hard at work with a 5 gallon bucket and lots of sand.
Looks like something out of Harry Potter??
Andy’s spent a lot of time cleaning the boat, organizing and attempting to downsize.  I’ve made numerous trips to the laundry and grocery stores and started on the inventory of our “stuff” (to prepare for provisioning later).  I finished Christmas shopping and now need to wrap everything.  I have attempted to start jogging again, but no one’s holding their breath yet.
Jake has been playing…and playing…and playing.  He picked out some stuffed animals to donate to some local children’s hospital here and he’s spent some time making presents for some of the cruisers (well, just one..lucky Ms. Teri).
Last night the marina put on movie night for the cruisers.  They played Santa Claus on the big screen outdoors.  They sold coffee, hot chocolate, popcorn, the works!  It was a really nice night.  It looks like they’re going to be doing this every week.  They’re really going out of their way here to appeal to the cruisers.  In addition to the movie night, they’re going to start a potluck every weekend, cooking classes, and they’re even trying to get some of the cruising seminars here (in addition to Puerto Vallarta) so we won’t have to hop the bus every time we want to hear one.  The staff has been great…I wish we had the money to stay here the whole time we’re in La Cruz!

Enjoying $1 margaritas at a local restaurant on the beach.
Tomorrow morning starts the pie making (Andy can’t live without his pecan pie) and cooking making (for Santa of course) so I’m off to get some rest!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Getting ready for the "Big" Sail

People ask me if I miss work.  I know, silly question.  But I think they mean, am I satisfied not working, does my brain get enough stimulation, etc.  I’ve decided that I’m actually planning the biggest, most expensive project of my life.  So in essence, I never quit, I just changed industries and took a pay cut.  I’m in the travel and boating industry now and get paid in sunshine and good vibes!  You might find a bit of project lingo in this post…just ignore it if you want.  I thought it might entertain some of my former co-workers.

We’re starting to really gear up for our trip to the Galapagos.  We’ll check out of Mexico around the 1st of March as that’s when our visas expire.  It will take two to three weeks to get to the Galapagos from Puerto Vallarta and then we’ll stay there for one month.  After that, we’ll sail west to the Marquesas Islands and then the French Polynesian Islands.  It will take us another two to four weeks to get to the Marquesas (depending on winds and weather).  Our timeline is pretty much dictated by visas, wind and weather so there are a lot of variables to consider which makes the planning a bit sketchy.
What we do know for certain is that before we leave here we need to do a lot of preparations.  Probably more than we did before we left San Diego.  To give you an idea of what it takes…here’s our current list (that we just started making…not even halfway done I’m guessing).

1)   Get the boat hauled out and bottom repainted – I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t you do that in San Diego?”  Yes, yes we did.  They did a crappy job.  Really crappy job.  We not only see the original paint, but in some places we see bare metal.  It should have lasted us 2 years.  Instead it barely lasted 6 months.  And no, we haven’t been scrubbing it and knocking the paint off ourselves.  So we found a yard here that will haul us out and let us do the work ourselves which will save a lot of money and make Andy feel a lot better knowing exactly what’s being done.

2)   Finish painting the topside.  Not a huge deal, but kind of a nice to have.  It turns out the paint that Andy did in San Blas is not sticking so we really have to redo the whole thing.  Need to do research to figure out what went wrong.

3)   Make a list of spare parts needed and buy said parts.  Once you’re out there in the ocean and something breaks (and something will break), you have to be able to fix it yourself.  Now everyone who knows us knows I’m married to MacGyver, but even he gets in a jam sometimes and runs out of chewing gum and wire so it’s very important to plan this part well so as not to throw the timeline off too much, overrun the budget or have to cancel the whole project.

4)   Begin inventory of all the food and drink we have onboard to begin making our provisioning list.  We have stuff stuffed everywhere.  Literally, everywhere.  And sometimes we forget what we have and where we stuffed it.  For example, we got home from the store one day with 3 boxes of sushi rice and 3 bottles of cooking oil.  Want to know where I stored them?  Next to the 2 large bags of sushi rice and 4 bottles of cooking oil we already had.

5)   Provision.  After making the list, I need to scout out the area and figure out the best place to buy everything.  I’m guessing I’ll go to Costco, the Mega, local meat market and probably the local stores for veggies and other Mexican specific things we’ve come to love.  The act of buying all of these groceries takes 3 times a long as you think it does as we have no car and usually don’t have any clue where we’re going.

6)   Figure out where to put everything we buy.

7)   Come up with a few menu items that I can cook ahead of time for the first few days out as I tend to get queasy and won’t feel like cooking.

8)   Figure out visa requirements and route after the Marquesas.  Everything before that seems pretty solid, but we’re not really that far in the planning past “lets go to the French Polynesians!”

We have about 2 months to finish everything up, which sounds like a lot of time, but remember what I said about everything taking three times as long as you think. 

So now that I’ve laid out the tentative scope of the project and the tentative timeline, lets cover our very firm budget.  We are on a fixed income with some stashed in the bank for the days we overrun our budget (so I guess, even that is not really firm).  But reality is, there is a finite amount of money and the theory is that we won’t need it (because we’re so good at managing our monthly budget) and will come home with a good chunk to help us acclimate ourselves back into civilization.  With that said, here are the expenses so far that we’re supposed to cover on this “fixed income.”  All numbers are approximate as I’m too lazy to go looking for all of the exact numbers in our various emails.

Haul out - $1200

Additional bottom paint - $1000 (I know, why so expensive?  We have to have special paint since we’re aluminium…it can’t have any copper in it.  I guess it takes an extra 2-300 bucks to remove the copper?  Kind of like fat free food costing more than the good stuff)

Additional tools to do the work on the bottom - $200 (this is Andy’s cushion.  I know from experience he’ll find something he needs that we don’t have)

Additional paint for the topside – who knows…I’m guessing $250

Spare Partsunknown , no idea, probably lots

Food/drinks - $1500 (knowing us, I’m probably underestimating here.  Remember this will need to get us across the ocean…twice.  We want to stock up as things get more expensive the more remote you get).

Galapagos - $1000 give or take
            $300 agent fee
            $300 park fees ($100 pp)
            $250 – various fees and taxes
            That’s what we know of so far….

We’re still in the initial pre-planning stages so I do expect a significant amount of scope increase as well as numerous timeline changes and probably a few calls to the financial advisor when our budget is overrun.  But the plus here is that I only have to get management approval from one person for any of these changes, so the bureaucracy is considerably less.  So anyone worried about me losing my touch, keep the faith…I think we can do it!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Exploring La Cruz

We've been here a week now and I know I owe a post or two but I haven't really been in the mood...but I can think of at least two people waiting on me to do this, so here goes...

Scott, Teri and Jake at a local restaurant.
Our friends from Ulalena arrived a few days after us and we've had a very happy reunion as we haven't seen them since early fall.  We've gone out to eat with them a few times and are finding the food here very good.  Jake has really enjoyed meeting back up with Mr. Scott and Mrs. Teri and is looking forward to spending our Christmas with them as well.

We attempted to go to the Wild Animal reserve at one of the really swanky marinas here but that proved to be an unsuccessful trip for a number of reasons I won't go into.  We're going to try again after Christmas.

Yesterday we went sailing with Scott and Teri on another friend's catamaran (Catana 40), Puddytat.  Sylvie and David were wonderful hosts and we actually saw a few humpbacks out in the bay.  It was a beautiful day for sailing.

Andy and David.
Scott trying to convince himself he doesn't want a catamaran :)
Teri and Sylvie
One of many humpbacks we saw on our trip.
Sylvie is a wonderful artist that does various different things (fabric design, jewelry, painting) but one of the things she does that I enjoy the most is painting on fabric.  She dyes the fabric herself and then she creates stencils that she paints onto the fabric.  It's a very intensive process and take a lot of her time. She sells these pieces to others to use as they like.  I took a picture of one of the pillows she made with her seahorse square.  If anyone is interested she has both a blog where she talks about her work (Sylvies Designs) as well as an etsy site where she sells it (SylviesDesigns - Etsy).

Veggie stand at Wednesday's market in La Cruz.
There are a few markets around here.  We stumbled upon a more traditional market here on Wednesday...fruit and veggies, clothes, dollar store type toys, flip flops.  Today, there was a very different type of market on the local plaza.  It was more of the California style farmers markets that we used to go to in San Diego...small vendors with various types of art, bread, cheeses, premade food (humus, dips, etc) and an extraordinary vegetable stand (at least I thought so).  Unfortunately, I didn't need any vegetables.  But we did buy some fresh mint, squash blossoms and some sort of green heirloom tomatoes.  All of which I've never seen here in Mexico.
Jake jumping in the trampoline they had available for the kids at Sunday's market.
Lady weaving a basket at the market.
Tomorrow we move into the marina to begin our "Christmas vacation."  Instead of buying each other gifts, we decided to treat ourselves to the marina for two weeks.  This is a huge place for cruisers so there are more than enough activities going on to keep us busy.  It doesn't really feel like Christmas, but we're trying.  We put up our tree and lights, we've written our letter to Santa and practiced making cookies for him.  We even saw a Christmas parade in town the other night.  I'm making my last trip to Walmart tomorrow to finish up the shopping for Jake.  We'll be attending a huge potluck at the local restaurant here for Christmas day, but doing the traditional (at least for our families) Christmas Eve dinner on the boat with just us and a few gifts.  We hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate)!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

Sunset over La Cruz anchorage (tired of sunsets yet?)
We woke up Monday and decided since we were only 9 miles from La Cruz, why not just go ahead and go instead of chancing the dicey landing on the beach at Punta Mita.  So here we are in the largest anchorage we’ve been to with the exception of La Paz.  There are tons of boats here…I counted over 30 last night.

La Cruz is short for La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.  La Cruz means the Cross and Huanacaxtle is actually a tree.  Legend has it the town was named that because a woman was buried beneath one of the giant, shady trees and they carved a cross into the trunk of the tree to honor the woman.  Through the years, the tree became a gathering place and the name “La Cruz de Huanacaxtle” stuck.

There is a new marina here right inside the harbor (of which we’re treating ourselves over Christmas) and it is very fancy.  You get a preconceived notion of the town just by docking your dinghy.  Then you walk outside the gate and all of your notions are shot to pieces.  It’s a small town with broken cobblestone streets and small tiendas and restaurants just like the rest of the towns we’ve been to.  We were pleasantly surprised.  Yesterday we decided to go out around lunch time and found most everything to be closed.  I think Siestas are a huge part of this culture!  Nothing seemed to open until 4:00. 

Today we headed out around 4:00 to find Philo’s, a local cruisers favorite.  We picked this destination for two reasons.  One, they are supposed to have good pizza and be a cool place to hang out.  Two, they are having a huge Christmas potluck and we think we might need to make reservations so we were going to check that out as well.  The pizza turned out to be great, atmosphere great and we got all of the details we needed for Christmas.

This also seems to be a place where people use the bus system to go to the various other towns.  Puerto Vallarta is only 10-15 miles south of here and there are several stops in between.  We’re going to have plenty of time to check them all out as we’re going to be here for quite a while. 
Puerto Vallarta is the jumping off point for us for the Galapagos so we won’t be venturing too far away.  There are some places further south we would like to go but we’ll just have to see how it goes.  We’re planning on leaving for the Galapagos in March as that’s supposed to be in the weather window of the best time to go.

Today we start our exploring in Nuevo Vallarta.  There is supposed to be a mega resort there with a wild animal reserve!  Jake’s looking forward to the Tigers.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

12/11/2010 - Continuing South

That's a Limonada in Jake's hand that is NOT his beer :)

After leaving the estuary at San Blas, we only went around the corner to Ensenada de Matanchen, a little bay right outside San Blas.  There, we had the best fish either of us has ever eaten.  It was smoked with salt, pepper, lime, hot sauce and worcestershire sauce and of course, butter.  We ate so much we made ourselves sick.

From there we went about 8 miles south to a place called Chacala.  This was a very pretty cove with palapas up and down the beach and lots of restaurants.  As we were pulling up the anchor to leave, we saw a whale right by our boat.  Incredible.  Little did we know, we would spend the next few days watching whales!
The Beach at Chacala

Downtown Chacala
Whale right by the boat!
Another close encounter with a Shrimp boat.  This was underway.

We found this little guy attached to our anchor.

Bahia de Jaltemba
Our next stop was Bahia de Jaltemba.  Here we started to get the feeling we were getting close to Puerto Vallarta.  More hotels, more restaurants and more vendors.  We anchored one night off of a little island in the bay.  The next day we moved closer to the beach so we could explore there a little.  While eating dinner we met a very nice couple from Arizona, Earl and Marge, and enjoyed their conversation very much.  It’s people like this that make cruising fun.  They were down here on vacation for four months, just relaxing and having fun.

Today we dropped our anchor at Punta Mita, the first stop in Banderas Bay.  On our way here we saw many whales and even saw a few breech!  We tried to go ashore for dinner but the swell was too much and Jake had forgotten his life jacket so we didn’t want to chance it.  So tonight we’ll eat a few steaks (our last in the freezer) and shrimp while watching the sun set over a very large golf course belonging to a very expensive Four Seasons hotel.  It looks like we have arrived in the Mexican Rivera for sure.

Jake playing more Star Wars on the front of the boat.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

San Blas in review

With the boat projects done, inside clean, laundry done and groceries bought, it’s time to move on.  We’ve really enjoyed it in San Blas and have had a very pleasant, albeit unexpected stay in the marina.  So I thought I would take the time to do a little review on San Blas and the marina in case anyone was considering by passing this quaint little town.

Bugs:  The number one reason I’ve heard of people not stopping here is the bugs.  I don’t know if we just haven’t hit the season or what, but we had a lot more bugs on some of the islands we visited this summer.  There’s a few here and there, enough to put on bug spray, but not enough to skip the place altogether.

Marina:  The marina is a small marina but there aren’t many boats here so as of the writing of this post, there’s plenty of room.  For an entire week with showers, electricity, water (not potable) and the slip itself, our bill was less than $110.  We paid more than that to sit on a mooring ball in Puerto Escondido.  This is by far the cheapest marina in Mexico.  It also has the nicest staff we have come into contact with (well, right up there with San Carlos).  They do have a small tienda, though they open it on a whim (and close just as randomly) that sells sodas, beer, wine, liquor and a very small selection of condiment type items.  There is a restaurant that also opens randomly, but when they’re open, the food is reasonably priced and very good (at least the ceviche is).   It’s quiet here as it’s located in the estuary.  There are pangas passing by but I think we’re the only ones here who feel the effects of it since we’re on the end tie.  The only negative I can think of is most boats will need to enter and exit at high tide as we had only 6 feet below our rudder at mid tide when we came in and we only draw 3 feet.

Town: The town itself is small enough to be called a town (as opposed to a city), but big enough to have most everything you need.  There’s a market with a good selection of produce (something besides tomatoes and zuchinni) and a few good meat markets.  They also have plenty of fresh fish and shrimp.  There is no large “supermercado” so for dry goods, the selection is limited but it does exist at the local Zane store.  It’s typical of many small places here where you just have to go to several stores to get what you need.

There is plenty to do here as you can tell by our past posts; crocodile tour, hike to fort, beach, and there’s even a bar scene/night life if you’re into that.  The nice thing is that is hasn't been overtaken by tourists to the point that it's lost it's mexican feel.

I think so far, this is probably our favorite place we’ve visited in Mexico.  The recession has hit this town hard so we tried to do our part.  If you’re a fellow cruiser on the fence, hopefully this will push you over and you can enjoy it too.

12/7/2010 - Boat Work

Andy, with the very tedious task of taping off the parts not to be painted.

We’ve been carrying around 4 gallons of deck paint for seven months now.  San Blas Marina seemed to be the perfect place to get started on this little project.  Andy’s spent the last 3 days sanding, washing, painting the front of the boat with new non skid.  He finished it yesterday, pulling the tape off this morning and stringing the nets back up this afternoon.  I think it looks like a new boat (well, ½ a new boat).  I think he’s a little disappointed being the perfectionist he is, but no one but him will see the flaws. When we get to La Cruz, we, oops I me he, will start on the back of the boat.  
After - shiny white.

After - new nonskid

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Visiting the Crocodiles

Crocodile warming up in the sun.
We've done a good bit more exploring and are really enjoying this small town.  Yesterday we took a panga tour through the estuary to see the crocodiles.  It was quite a long tour for a very reasonable price.  There's not really an equivalent in the US that I can think of.  There would be too many safety rules!  We saw all kinds of wildlife on the boat ride and once at the end of the estuary, we were let off to see the crocodile reserve where they're trying to breed more crocodiles.  We were able to see several male crocodiles trying to attract the females for mating.  That was quite interesting.  The slowly circle the females (and I do mean slow).  Then they slap the water with their jaws a couple of times and go under the water making all sorts of bubbles...kind of looked like a hot tub.  As funny as it was to watch, I have to say it didn't appear very productive.  Crocodiles definitely have the slowest mating dance I've ever seen.  We learned another thing about crocodiles I didn't know...they sit around with their mouths open all day and I asked the guide why they do that.  He said since they're cold blooded animals, they need to warm up and that's how they do it.  Evidently, the heat is absorbed quicker through the mouth.  Cool, huh?

They had other animals from the area too. The biggest surprise to me was the jaguar.  I had no idea they were wild around here.  We saw some deer and some pig like animal as well.
Iguanas sunning in the trees
Piggy sniffing at Andy's camera through the fence.

Fishermen out early on the estuary.
The keep Talapia at the reserve as well.
Some new friends of ours, Josh and Emily, went with us on the tour.

Another San Blas delight is the smoked fish.  Right around the area where you catch the panga tour is a street lined with restaurants smoking fish on their outdoor grills.  It's impossible to go by and not get something to eat.  Andy and I shared a plate of smoked mullet.  Yep.  Mullet.  We ate it.  We've been making fun of mullet the whole time we've been in the sea.  It was right up there with carp on my list of fish I would never be hungry enough to eat.  But I'll tell you, this fish was delicious.  They filleted it open and then put butter, garlic, and some sort of tomato mayonaise on top.  I think we'll go back in a few days and try the dorado.
Fish stands in front of the local market.  They sell anything from Talapia to Shark...whatever is fresh that day.

We're just going to be lazy today.  Jake has walked a marathon this week and he says his legs need to rest. :)