Arrival in Barra de Navidad
After an all nighter from Puerto Vallarta, we were a little tired. But, after tending to boat issues, we noticed that there were eight Nordhavns of various sizes in the marina. We introduced ourselves and one of our neighbors (Glen and Carol from Calgary on a 64) showed us were the Port Capitan was located. We checked in, reconnoitered the beautiful hotel complex, condo, and marina complex. The Grand Bay Hotel is located on Isla Navidad. The setting is absolutely eye popping. The hotel is built on the side of a hill and is surrounded by the large Bahia Navidad and two lagoons. Water taxis take people back and forth to the town, which is very small and colorful. There is an ex-pat population who live here at least during the winter. We saw one car from New York parked in the driveway of a modest condo. By 4 PM we began making plans for Margaritas, and we decided to familiarize ourselves with the hotel’s cocktail lounge. It’s an outdoor affair located high on the hill and provides a spectacular view of the whole area. From that vantage point one can see at least twenty miles: high mountains covered with verdant tropical vegetation, with valleys visible and accentuated by a moist haze that clung to the hillsides. Ocean swells rolled ashore along the crescent beach that was about five miles long. Mangroves surrounded the lagoons, and the blue water was dotted with sailboats at anchor. In the middle of the view was Barra de Navidad, this little village with its buildings painted the vibrant colors of Mexico…pink, bright blue, orange, yellow and white. As the sun set, it cast a rose hue over the whole magnificent setting.
Barra de Navidad
Usually the day after an overnight cruise is a slow day. What with the temperature around 80 degrees and the sunshine abundant, time seems to slip by. Come to think of it, I rarely wear a watch and don’t really know what day of the week it is most of the time. I do know that it is March, however. Rebecca and I occasionally use the computer or her cell phone to confirm our estimate of what day it is. But it really doesn’t make much difference as we plan to stay here for a while. We did, however, manage to get the boat washed and introduce our traveling companions Peter and Mary-Rose to the beautiful view we had found the previous day. They loved it.
Barra de Navidad
Another sleepy day, punctuated by the Olympic Hockey Championship. Peter and Mary-Rose hosted a group of eight on their boat and we watched the game on satellite TV. One Canadian couple and one person who was born in Canada but immigrated to the U.S. were among the guests. When Canada won, the Canadians went wild. We had a lot of fun and wondered to ourselves whether this was a sign of U.S. decline.
Barra de Navidad
Time in Barra seems to sort of slip away. First of all, it is very warm and lovely in Barra and this seems to cultivate a relaxed state of mind. Life around the marina is very casual and punctuated by interesting conversations about places to travel and boating issues. These conversations can take an hour or two. Then there is the compulsion to exercise, followed by lunch, some boat work (our boat takes about an hour per day to maintain), perhaps some time at the pool, then cocktails, dinner, a little reading or a movie, them off to dreamland. Some nights we make dinner for friends, or they invite us. Usually one day is spent on internet correspondence or bill paying. The hotel here (Grand Bay Hotel) is excellent and is only about 20% occupied. It has a beautiful golf course, several pools and restaurants, and is architecturally very lovely. I would recommend it to anyone. After about a week here, however, we felt the need to do something. We felt as though we should see something of Mexico, so Thursday afternoon we planned and booked a trip to Guadalajara.
Off to Guadalajara
On Friday morning the Budget Rent-A-Car people delivered our Ford Expedition to the driveway of the marina. I noticed it had no fuel, but it did have several bumps and scrapes that we carefully noted on the contract. Here in Mexico, every little imperfection is noted because you will be charged for any additions to the nick inventory. Glass is particularly subject to damage and this car had two cracks in the windshield. In Mexico, we always buy full insurance, so renting a car can get a little expensive. After signing all the paperwork, we set off on our adventure; Peter, Mary-Rose, Rebecca and I. After a few miles we found a PMEX station and pulled in and ask for a fill-up. The Spanish-speaking attendant filled the car and presented the bill. I handed him the card, but he refused: pesos only- that would be about 750 pesos. Rebecca and I had $150 (the $ sign is used for pesos also), and P/MR had $500. We were short about 100 pesos. How about U.S. dollars? OK, but at a 25% discount. Sorry, company policy, I was told. The guy behind me was blowing his horn. He looked American so I walked over and explained my problem. His wife offered to change some American money to pesos. She was around age 60, heavy with evidence of excessive tanning, and she had a butterfly tattooed on her right breast in plain view. While I was sizing things up and negotiating the conversion rate, I looked at her husband and thought, ”you lucky dog!” As she counted out the money she offered a tutorial on how I should carry more pesos with me, after all I was in Mexico!
Now we were really off to Guadalajara. The road wound around the hills and dales, and through villages for about 50 miles until it reached Manzanello, where it follows the Pacific coast for about 20 miles; there it turned inland and became a limited access toll road. The toll road climbed the coastal mountains for about 20 miles and then dropped into the fertile Colima Valley, which is much like the Sacramento Valley. After driving about 75 miles across the valley we climbed out of the valley and over the low mountains to reach Guadalajara.
Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city with 5MM people, and claims to be not only its artistic capital, but also the Silicon Valley of the country. Many Mexicans compare it to San Francisco in terms of its a vaunt guard, cool, upscale night life. Since I do not speak Spanish, it is hard for me to comment on how sheik the city was from a nightlife perspective, however I found several things very interesting. First it seemed more livable than Mexico City (which I haven’t been to in 20 years): it didn’t have the smog, the slums, or the crime of the capital. The city has some interesting buildings from an architectural viewpoint, and the central square with its historic government buildings, the University, and Cathedral were very worthwhile and interesting places to visit. We particularly enjoyed the murals of Jose Clemente Orozco, who portrayed so emotionally Hidalgo y Costilla’s cry for freedom during the Mexican revolution of 1810. Hildalgo is to Mexico what Washington is to America. At any rate, the murals are fantastic and the fact that Orozco was partially colorblind and could use only his left hand compounds the remarkable brilliance of his talent. Many of the buildings around Freedom Square are from the Spanish-Catholic Church dominated era of the 1600’s. The scene conjures up a picture in the mind’s eye of the Church with its monks, nuns, convents, bishops and the Cardinal on the one hand, and the elite aristocracy with their ranches and haciendas on the other, ruling a society that lived in poverty and was suppressed by the fear of the Inquisition. At any rate, it is a rich and interesting history.
We traveled through several of the city’s neighborhoods to see how people lived, which seemed to me to be a very acceptable standard of living. Some of the neighborhoods were very lovely indeed. One of the most interesting is an area called Tlaquepaque. This is an historic residential area that has been largely converted to upscale shops, restaurants, boutiques, and small European style hotels. It’s a place you could wander through for more than a day.
After leaving Guadalajara we traveled south to Laguna de Chapala, a fresh water mountain lake about 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. It is the main water supply for Guadalajara. We stopped at the towns of Chapala and Ajiijic. If you cannot pronounce the latter, don’t worry; neither can the Mexicans. Both towns are beautiful artist and craft areas, and they also are residential colonies for Canadian and Americans. It was Sunday morning and church was just ending. Families – grandparents, parents, and kids – were walking about enjoying a moment together under the brilliant morning sunshine. The experience that these people enjoy isn’t really something we have anymore in our society, i.e., quiet family walks around the town square with several generations enjoying each other in just casual, free atmosphere.
After a couple of hours we turned west and headed back to Barra. The trip through the Colima Valley was breath taking. The valley is a rich, fertile area and one of the most important agricultural areas in Mexico. The valley is dominated by the 10,000 ft Nevado de Colima, which is an active volcano. The mountain has three peaks, almost like three mountains. Two of them are snow capped, and the main mountain is a perfect volcanic cone. It is truly breath taking. The sides of the mountain flow down and create the valley. The floor has many mountainous uprising and faults that sculpture the landscape in a most beautiful way. All sorts of crops are grown, from agaves for tequila to strawberries for export. Prosperous ranches and haciendas dotted the landscape, and the ranchers drove big Detroit built Dodge, Chevy, and Ford luxury trucks. But the mountain dominates the scene and is splendid!
As we passed from the valley we passed over the mountains and back to the coast. For thousands of square miles the area is cultivated in coconut palms, under which is grown corn, papaya, cattle, sugar cane, and other crops. One of the farms was for sale: it was 950 acres with 6,500 palm trees on it according to the sign.
Driving in Mexico is a real trip. Almost all the roads are two lane, and every time the road passes through an area with even a few people living near it, speed bumps are in place. Usually there is at least one bump coming into an area, one or two in the center, and one or two on the way out. There are also speed bumps placed randomly, just to keep things interesting. The bumps are large, so that if you hit one about 20 mph, the rear set passengers are going to hit the roof. As one travels on the road, trucks, busses, vans creep to a virtual halt as they tiptoe over the bumps, and then try to regain highway speed. It is a slow and tedious process. One thing we noticed, like Italy, drivers think of road signs as decorations: double yellow lines mean very little to Mexican drivers! After about 5 hours of driving, we arrived back in Barra de Navidad safe and sound.
Barra de Navidad
This was a maintenance day on the boat. Although we went to the next town for groceries in our rented Expedition, we spent about half the day changing oil and filters on our main engines. There is a great picture of my beautiful wife crawling over the engines to reach a difficult spot that I would have trouble accessing. After being an eye surgeon, this is quite a change of pace for her, and she is an invaluable helpmate and good sport. She is an enthusiastic student of everything from navigation to electronics to diesel engine mechanics.
3/9 -10 –11 /2010 Tuesday
Barra de Navidad
Don Ferris and Heidi Salter-Ferris, friends from Ann Arbor, accepted out invitation to spend some time with us onboard Odyssey. After a five-hour bus ride from Puerto Vallarta where their plane landed, they arrived about 9 PM in Barra. We spent the next two days lounging around the hotel and taking a water taxi to town for shopping in the Thursday craft market. One of the highlights of the day was when Heidi insisted that we come to the deep part of the pool to watch her and Don perform the “double dolphin”. Don floated on his back with Heidi’s feet cupped to his ears. Heidi initiated a complex swimming maneuver intended to bring them both underwater in a backwards ballet. It was hilarious!
3/12/2010 Friday Off to Tenacatita
Barra de Navidad
Friday the four of us left for beautiful Tenacatita Bay just north of Barra. This is one of the most famous anchorages in Mexico. Boaters flock here to enjoy the beautiful views and safe conditions. We launched the tender and drove across the bay about 3 miles to a very famous resort, El Tamarindo, which is reputed the have the #1 golf course in Mexico. There didn’t seem to be a central hotel building, rather it was a complex of individual villas hidden from view. Each villa is a thatched hut affair with its own private pool. We put several pictures on the web. This would certainly be a great place to vacation. That evening at 5 PM we started out for Puerto Vallarta after checking the weather on the internet and asking the opinion of other boaters. Things looked great for our 18-hour overnight passage.
Things started out as expected, with seas a little rough. We found a current going north and running about 1-1.5 knots. Winds were from the north and grew over the next few hours to about 20 knots. The result was big box waves about 10 feet high, and Odyssey was pounding up and down over the waves. Rebecca said she felt a little quizzie and took a pill, but Don and Heidi said they never got sea sick, so, no problemo. The sunset was beautiful, but with no moon, it was pitch black outside. The ship was moving up and down. About a half hour later I started feeling ill, and before you knew I was barfing over the side. Don started to look green, and Heidi said that if she got sick she would also faint. That was enough for me, so in heavy seas, we turned around and headed back for the 3 hour run to Tenacatita. As soon as we turned (stabilizes made the turn very easy), things smoothed out and everyone started feeling better. I had taken a pill for motion sickness, so I cruelled up in the captain’s cabin, and Rebecca ran the show until we anchored. When we got back to Tenacatita, we accomplished our first night anchorage. Everyone was fine, but a little tired and quizzie from the ordeal. The next day I checked the weather again, and things looked as good as they were likely to for awhile, and since Heidi and Don had a plane to catch in PV and Heidi wanted some shopping time, we upped anchor at noon and started north again. This time things were acceptable, although still a little rough. Heidi and Don took turns keeping night watch with us, which was fun. They were great sports and their attitude made things a lot of fun. We hit a very favorable current and were able to cruise at over 8 knots while burning about 6 gallons of fuel per hour. That is very economical for a boat of this size.
We made Puerto Vallarta about 4 AM and anchored outside the marina until 10am, when we moved to our slip. It was a beautiful day with brilliant sunshine and a pleasant temperature. As soon as we tied up, Heidi appeared at the door with pedal pushers and a wide brimmed hat ready for shopping. Her tourist book told her that the shops closed at 2 pm on Sunday, so, she didn’t want to waste a minute. Off she and Rebecca went, while Don and I finished boat duties. We rented a car and met them later on the Malecon, the historic area and beachfront.
The Malecon is a lively, beautiful area full of restaurants, shops, and sea side sculptures. There are many local artists, musicians, and sculptures making sand or stone art. It is the best place for people watching. We met Rebecca and Heidi near the central church with its unique lattice crowned steeple, and shopped for a while. About 3 o’clock the ladies gave in and we tested one of the two margaritas for 70 pesos places. They were real margaritas and the food was great. After a couple of drinks, we were all a sleepy, but Heidi had made reservations at the #1 PV restaurant in PV, Trios. It was a fine spot with great food, but we were all tired out and we needed a good night’s sleep.
La Cruz, near Puerto Vallarta
Heidi and Don left about 10 am for the airport and their trip home. We prepared the boat for our trip to Cabo San Lucas, which is a 35-hour passage across the Sea of Cortez. This would be our longest and most adventurous undertaking. We planned to meet Kathryn in Cabo on March 17th. We checked and double-checked the weather and things looked great. Very good conditions were expected. We left La Cruz at 7 pm. It takes about 3 hours to get out of Banderies Bay. Things were fine for a while, then the winds began to build and the sea began to rise. By midnight Rebecca was having a hard time sleeping because of the boat’s motion. By the time she relieved me on watch, the sea had gotten worse and I was actually levitating off the bed every few minutes as the ship rose and fell off the waves. Neither of us got very much sleep, and we had another 24 hours to go.
3/16-17/2010 Tuesday At Sea
Conditions were poor, and we hadn’t managed much sleep. We were tired. The boat was perfect as far as it’s abilities were concerned, but sea conditions were very bumpy, with water blowing on our pilothouse windows. We suffered through the day and counted the hours until we reached port. About 2 am, the sea calmed and for the last 5 hours, we had beautiful conditions. The sunrise was fantastic, with clear brilliant golden light shinning on the beautiful blue water and the mountains of the Baja and Cabo. We tied up at 10 am, right on schedule. Kathryn was visiting Cabo on Spring break with about 50 fellow students from HBS. She came onboard for the first time and, after a tearful reunion, we embarked on a brief walk about the town. Kathryn asked if she could invite her housemates for a tour of the boat, which we planned for the next day. That evening we dressed up and went to Frieda’s Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, for a fabulous meal and celebration.
The next morning 13 HBS friends showed up for a daylong cruise aboard Odyssey. They are great young adults, and we really enjoyed having them as guests. We took them up the coast about 20 miles, stopped for an offshore swim, and then came back to Cabo. Rebecca catered lunch, and everyone had a great time.
3/19/2010 Check Out
Today we checked ourselves out of Mexico. This requires an encounter with two different government agencies: immigration and the Capitania de Puerto. There are several problems here: first, the offices are located in different parts of the town, and what with siestas and other factors unknown to us regarding hours of operation, getting back and forth between to complete sequential paper work is iffy. Anyway, we went to Capitania de Puerto first. English was in short supply, but everyone was congenial. The bottom line was that we needed to pay a 306 peso fee to leave, and that had to be paid at a bank 15 blocks and we had to exit immigration and get back to the port office by 2:30. It was then1 pm. It all seemed doable, but not a moment to waist. Off we went bank to pay the fee, and they only took pesos and we had 300 pesos, not 306. They broke the rules and accepted $1 U.S. and called it even. Next to immigration: they closed the service we needed at 1 pm, and it was now 1:20 pm. Would we have to wait until Monday to depart Cabo and pay another $550 in port fees and miss our weather window? The helped us out and we made it back to the Capitania de Puerto in time to finish our paperwork and legally leave Mexico.
3/20/2010 Saturday Bound for Californi
Devin Zwick, our captian, joins us today to help us with the trip up to Dana Point. We plan to shove off around 2 pm and reach Dana Point in five days, which is next Thursday.