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Mexico - Mainland

Written by Cathy Siegismund
December 2000 - January 2001

We arrived in Puerto Vallarta on the 4th day out of La Paz on December 12. We entered Banderas Bay early that morning. Banderas Bay is a large bay that is 26 miles wide at the mouth includes a state line between Nayarit and Jalisco. PV sits back in the middle of the bay.

Banderas Bay with the Sierra Madres mountains

Puerto Vallarta and the Sierra Madres

We had tried to get a reservation at Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta (about 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta and actually in another state) a very nice marina attached to a resort, but were unable to do so for our short 2-day stay. We decided to try our luck at Marina Vallarta a large marina actually in PV.

We got to Marina Vallarta at about 1500, during seista, but the large marina looked to be about 1/3 empty so we pulled into a slip and went exploring. The marina is older, but quite nice and is surrounded by restaurants and hotels. When we returned to the boat, the marina office was open and we checked in for two days. We were lucky to catch the marina office open, as we had forgotten December 12 is a very important holiday in Mexico. It is the festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. This is a week long festival which culminates on December 12 with fireworks and a parade.

We were tired from our 4-day passage, but grabbed a cab to town at about 1900 to see the festival and have dinner. The Malecon (the street along the water) was decorated with Christmas lights and crowded with people.

Puerto Vallarta dressed up for Christmas

Local children playing on one of the many sculptures that line the Malecon

All of the stores, restaurants and bars are open quite late and were packed. We walked along the Malecon and made our way to the main crowded square a block from the church. The square was packed with booths run by families serving up homemade dinners, deserts and drinks.

Main square with booths run by families serving up homemade dinners, deserts and drinks. 

We roamed the stalls and had an excellent dinner. We then walked up to the church where a large mass was being held and then explored the stores and galleries along the two main streets. We then stumbled on the parade. There were floats, some fairly elaborate and others perched in the back of pick up trucks. Most were religious themes around the Virgin of Guadalupe. There were also high school marching bands and groups of dancers in Aztec costumes. 

Aztec Dancers in the Virgin of Guadalupe Festival Parade

The festival culminates with a fireworks show at 2330. 

Hundreds of people gather waiting for the beginning of the fireworks

A 2-3 story tower was erected in the town square made of wood and twine. It was covered with fireworks in various shapes; doves, sea horses, flowers and a large depiction of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Fireworks tower

The smaller shapes were all lit and would then spin in circles by small attached rockets. 

Floral fireworks ignited on the tower

Rockets ignited to spin the decorative fireworks

It was an impressive display but not exactly up to OSHA standards. When the rockets were lit, they would shower the packed surrounding crowds with sparks. Some braved this with cardboard over their heads, and others would run.

Other fireworks were shot into the air 

Fireworks displaying the Virgin of Guadalupe

We finally returned to the boat after midnight, exhausted as we'd just come off a passage, but we were glad we got the chance to see the festival.

The next day we checked in and out with the Port Captain and Immigration with our destination of Zihuatanejo. We then took a cab up to Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta to see about reservations when we return in March and to visit Jan and Signe on Raven who had been there for several weeks.

The marina is new and beautiful. It is part of a 5-star mega resort and marina guests have access to all the hotel facilities, including spa, gym, beach, pools, etc. The marina also caters much more to cruisers than Marina Vallarta. They have a book swap, mail room and propane tank fills much like they did in La Paz. We made reservations to stay from mid-February to mid-March, spending a month in PV before we head across the Pacific. Paradise Village is also the location of the various 'Puddle Jump' parties and meetings. These are activities for those of us getting ready to head to the South Pacific. It isn't really 'authentic' Mexico, but before 30 days at sea, it will be nice to enjoy some luxury.

The next day, December 14, we left PV for Zihuatanejo.

Leaving Marina Vallarta takes you past the cruise ship terminal

We planned to do a few overnight passages as well as stop at a few bays as long as no check-in/out was required. This is a lovely part of the west coast of Mexico, but we decided to go quickly South, and take more time exploring on our way back North to PV in February.

We didn't leave PV until about noon, and with the light wind in the bay we decided to do an overnighter around Cabo Corrientes. This is a large point which forms the Southern end of Banderas Bay. The cape has the same effect as Point Conception in California. Whenever a land mass juts that far out into the ocean it causes higher winds and bigger seas. We ended up rounding the point that night with 25 knot winds and a few higher gusts on the stern, but with fairly short, steep, confused seas. Our first stop after the 75 mile or so trip from PV was Bahia de Chamela. We arrived mid-morning on December 15. As soon as we rounded Cabo Corrientes we really felt like we had entered the tropics - it was HOT! It was a pretty bay but a rolly anchorage. We dropped the hook and caught up on sleep after the overnight passage.

We left mid-morning the next day, December 16 for a day sail to Bahia Tenacatita. We sailed a few miles off the coast and enjoyed the rocky coastal cliffs interspersed with palm lined beaches. There were also a number of hotel- sized mansions built on cliffs overlooking the pacific.

Bahia Tenacatita is a large and popular anchorage. There were about 15 other boats in the bay when we arrived and dropped anchor just as the sun set. There is a beautiful long sand beach with a large hotel at one end. We'll definitely stop here again on our way back north. We enjoyed a quiet evening and a good night's sleep.

December 17, we left Tenacatita for an overnight passage past Manzanillo. Manzanillo is large port city, but has a Port Captain and therefore was not on our schedule. We had a quiet passage although we did have to contend with some hazy weather and busier shipping traffic as we passed Manzanillo. On my watch that night it was very dark as there was little moon - always a little creepier than when you are dazzled with a full moon. I was sitting in the cockpit when I heard splashes and what looked like submerged lights darting around the boat caught my eye. These are telltale signs of dolphins. It was very dark and hard to see them swim and play with the boat, but you could hear their puffs of breath and see their underwater phosphorescence trails like comets zoom past the boat. I happened to be looking forward when one of the dolphin leapt straight out of the air next to the bow, higher than the lifelines. He was vertically spinning - it was like Sea World!

I was rejuvenated for the rest of my watch, nothing is better at night than a visit by a pod of dolphin, all cruisers seem to agree it feels like a good luck omen.

We arrived the next morning, December 18, at Bahia de Maruata, a very small and picturesque bay. 

Entering Bahia de Maruata

Maruata is fairly open to the ocean but it's narrow, only 1/2-mile across, and its head is somewhat protected by several large rocks.

Cath - hot, tired and tanned after our overnight sail to Bahia de Maruata

It has a lovely long white sand beach with heavy surf. Tall coconut palms fill the flat land North of the bay and is home to small village.

The beach lined with small thatched shelters shading tents and hammocks of campers visiting the bay

Sunset over the head of the Bahia de Maruata and the inland mountains 

Large rocks that form Bahia de Maruata

Cactus growing to water's edge

The morning of December 19, we left Maruata for what was planned to be a short day trip to another bay, that would have been followed by one last overnighter to Zihuatanejo. As we left the bay however, the winds had shifted from the NW to the SE - the direction we were headed. The winds were somewhat shifty and although we tried to tack into the winds, we were making little progress. We decided to press on for an overnighter, rather than stop in a bay that would not provide any shelter in the shifting winds.

The timing worked out just right, as we were motoring past Ixtapa on the way to Zihuatanejo as the sun was rising on the morning of December 20. We motored into large Zihuatanejo bay just as the morning cruiser's VHF net was starting. 

Entering Zihuatanejo Bay

There is no mooring in Zihuatanejo, but there are two large anchorages in the bay. We chose to initially anchor closer to town, as we had to check in, do laundry and grocery shop. 

The bay is split into three main areas. The first anchorage, where we initially stayed, is off the municipal pier and beach and is closer to town. 

Rocky outcropping in the middle of Zihuat bay on which sits an exclusive hotel and beyond which is Playa de La Ropa

View from the Municipal anchorage looking towards town

However, the water is murky and really too dirty to swim or run the watermaker in. The other anchorage is at the other end of the bay and is off a beach called La Ropa. The beach is lined with hotels and the water is clean and delightful for swimming, although you have to contend with jet skis and parasailers. It is also closer to another beach called Las Gatas that has an ancient man-made reef for snorkeling, swimming and generally lounging on the beach.  

As we were dropping the hook, we were hailed by Sammy and Don who bought the boat my parents had built in Port Townsend and I had grown up sailing. Sammy keeps in touch with my Mom via email and I had hoped we would run into them here in Mexico. They have been cruising in Mexico for 3 years, and this year are heading further South into Central and South America, and ultimately to Panama. 

Sammy and Don's Dawn's Belle, Skookum 53, Cath's family had built and sailed

We met on the dinghy landing, and they gave us the lay of the land. They told us about Rick of Rick's Bar, an American who has a boat, but lives in Zihuat and runs a bar, and is the local 'den mother' to cruisers. He has local events, will fill propane tanks, has a book swap, mail forwarding and collection, and other assorted services. They also pointed out the best laundry, bank, place to have breakfast, etc. 

Ken and I checked in, and had pizza with Don and Sammy of Dawn's Belle, and Kris and Bill of Pacific Adventurer. Kris and Bill spend winters cruising in Mexico (this year they're taking the boat to the Caribbean) and spend summers running their Bed & Breakfast in Friday Harbor.

The next day, I joined Sammy and a few of the other cruising ladies for a Christmas shopping day. One of the ladies I really hit if off with was Grace from Eagle, a Crealock 37. Grace and Larry returned from the South Pacific last summer and have a been a great resource about cruising in the South Pacific.

Grace and Larry's Eagle, Crealock 37, at anchor in Zihuatanejo

On December 23, Wendy and Garth on Velella arrived in Zihuatanejo. 

Wendy & Garth's Velella, Wylie 31, at anchor in Zihuatanejo

We enjoyed further exploring Zihuat with Wendy & Garth. We went to Mexican folk dancing night at Rick's Bar, baked Christmas sugar cookies on Felicity -- a rather warm undertaking in 90 degree heat.

Ken and I got in the Christmas spirit by decorating our tree below and stringing Christmas lights on Felicity. We were even visited by a group of carolers in dinghies on night!

Christmas 2000 in Zihuatanejo - Feliz Navidad!

Felicity dressed up for Christmas in Zihuatanejo

Cruising Christmas Carolers in their dinghies

Ken and I joined Wendy and Garth for a cruiser's Christmas dinner Rick put together at his bar. Over 60 people attended for turkey and all the trimmings. The week between Christmas and New Years we enjoyed the town of Zihuat, went snorkeling and relaxed. We went to Rick's house, a lovely home with a pool, for New Year's Eve. We swam and barbequed and then returned to the town. We wandered by the central area on the Malecon, a basketball court by day, that had been transformed into a stage with live music, food stalls and dancing for New Year's. We then returned to Felicity, where we welcomed the new Millennium sitting on the bow watching fireworks being shot off from both sides of the bay.

Last week we decided to do something different. We heard about a tour offered by a local archeology student up into the mountains around Zihuat. Wendy and Garth joined us, and about 6 other people for the tour. We met at the dinghy landing at 0800 and were then led to the bus stop. We were then driven up into the mountains outside of town.

Birds startled by our bus in the countryside outside Zihuatanejo

After a 30 or so minute bus ride, we stopped and Rafael led us up a trail to an Aztec site where human sacrifices had occurred. Hiking up the trail you could still find partially buried shards of ancient pottery. 

Halfway up the trail was a group of stones where the virgins were sacrificed and in the upright stone was carved directions to the sea and the cliff where the bodies were subsequently thrown into a cave.

Rafael and the carved stone

Further along the trail we came across an enormous cactus, which was over 500 years old.

Ken and the 500 year old cactus

Further along the trail we reached a large stone outcropping from which they tossed the bodies of those sacrificed into a cave, and from which had a sweeping view of the coconut plantations which stretched for miles to the sea.

Cave where hundreds of human remains were found, victims of the Aztec sacrifices

View from rocky outcropping

Miles of coconut plantations stretch all the way to the ocean

We had to skip a usual part of the tour to the ruins of a temple, as that particular ridge had been infested with African Killer Bees. We thought that was OK to skip! The bus picked us up again, and drove us to a village that had claim on the land where the ruins were found. 

Welcome to Soleada de Maciel

Soledad de Maciel is also Rafael's home town, also known as Lachole. It was a small village devoid of gringos - except us. The town's main industry is working the coconut plantations. The copra (meat of the coconut) is sent to Mexico City for processing for coconut oil, whole coconuts are sold to hotels for drinks, etc, and the husks are dried and sold to bakeries for fuel for the ovens. 

Separating the copra from the coconut husk

The town was quiet and the people friendly. We were however, immediately swarmed by all the village children. Tony, a cruiser from the UK, had a digital video camera. He taped the children and then would show them the tape. This was fascinating for them, probably the first time they had ever seen themselves on tape. Tony became the pied piper for the rest of the trip.

The town of Lachole and Tony with his following of admirers

All the women in the tour were also followed by the village children. We were all given flowers which we put in our hair.

Wendy was the recipient of some rather large flowers

Most of the finds from the archeological dig are now in museums in Mexico City, but a few artifacts remain in the village.

An Aztec carving holds a prominent place outside the village's church/school

A group of Aztec carvings and ancient tools on display in the village.

A beautiful river runs through Lachole where the villagers fish and wash their laundry

River in Lachole

Laundry day in Lachole

We also visited the town's cemetery still decorated from the Day of the Dead, an important festival in Mexico in November which honors the dead.

Lachole Cemetery

As we neared the end of our tour, two of our local followers posed for me.

Two girls from Lachole pose for me atop an enormous volcanic rock

We continue to make Zihuat our adopted home for another month, enjoying the town and growing community of cruisers. The bay now has about 60 boats in it, many of boats making their way South heading for the Panama Canal. We alternate between the Municipal anchorage when we want to be close to town and the La Ropa anchorage when we run the watermaker or want to swim off the boat.

Over the last week we have worked on the boat, scrubbing the bottom, waxing the topsides and polishing stainless. The tropical salty environment is murderous on boats, and it is an endless chore to keep the boat looking and performing her best. Maintenance that would be done annually in Seattle now needs to be done monthly. 

However, we still have plenty of time to enjoy the cruising lifestyle.

Sunset from our current La Ropa beach anchorage in Zihuatanejo

I will be making a week-long trip to Seattle, January 10-17. I no doubt will be shell-shocked by the cold weather, but will enjoy seeing friends. 

We plan to stay in Zihuatanejo for the rest of January. We will be hosting some visiting friends and look forward to showing them this wonderful place. In February, we will start making our way back North to Puerto Vallarta where we will have visits from both of our mothers and where we will spend over a month preparing for our biggest adventure so far, the crossing of the Pacific to the Marquesas in French Polynesia.

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