Thursday, March 15, 2012

Last stop in Mexico and inland travel

0800, Thursday, 1 March 2012 At Sea from Huatulco to Puerto Madero (Chiapas)
We have been at sea for almost 22 hours since leaving the marina at Huatulco. We are now passing through the infamous Tehuantapec, renowned for its sudden and very high wind conditions, often gale to storm force. They are predictable and sailors transiting the area are always watching the weather sources for calm periods. This calm began yesterday and is supposed to last till Sunday. The land mass is the narrowest point between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is also very flat so the hazard is the spill-over wind from the Caribbean. Within a 6-hour period on Sunday afternoon the winds are expected to go from near zero to over 45 kts. The seas created by these winds have short periods and are very steep so it is not a pleasant experience to be caught unawares.
We left the marina yesterday at mid-day and went to anchor in a small bay just to the east of Huatulco where we cleaned the bottom of the boat and made sure that the propeller had no growth on it. We expect that this will be more of a motorboat crossing so we want the prop at max efficiency. There were several resorts on the beach and we had several swimmers come out to say hi and tell us that they were from Canada too. Seems to be a very popular area for Canadian tourists and our Canadian ensign is a dead give-away.
It looks like we are in the lead group of a dozen or more boats headed for Chiapas. We are in company with Nuati Moments, Warren Peace, and Hotspur. Not too far behind are Serendipity and Taking Flight. Several other boats left this morning.
It has been an enjoyable trip so far. As predicted we are motor-sailing most of the time. We departed the bay in mid-afternoon into a rough sea, the residual seas from the previous gale but by sunset it had calmed down and stayed calm for most of the night. Just before sunrise a northerly wind came up and we were able to turn off the engines and sail for a few hours. We expect it to die soon and we have to make good 5-Kts to arrive at Chiapas during daylight hours. There is a 1.5 kt current against us at the moment so pure sailing in these light conditions will soon be out of the question.
This area has a remarkable diversity of marine life. Yesterday we saw numerous turtles, a whale and many rays doing the flip flop dance that we thought was unique to the Sea of Cortez. We’ve caught several Mexican Bonitas and threw them back. Hope we get a decent catch soon; a nice yellow tail would be perfect for a dock party when we get in.
0600, Friday, 2 March 2011 25 miles to Pto Madero (Chiapas)
Another quiet night of motor-sailing down the coast. The winds have remained light and right on our stern all night. Over the past 18 hours we have made good time and have recovered for time lost due to the counter-current which, now seems to have dissipated. At this speed we should be tied up and secured to the dock by noon. It is going to be another hot day. Yesterday it got well above 80 in the cabin. The max side of our min-max thermometer is steadily being pushed to new highs. We have been told that it should ease soon and even drop a bit as we head further south.
We are still in company with Nauti Moments and Hotspur. Warren Peace is within 5 miles and there are 5 other boats within VHF range who checked in yesterday at 1800. The remainder are farther back and will probably not arrive until tomorrow.
0800, 5 March 2012, Puerto Chiapas
We are settled in to the marina at Chiapas, or Puerto Madero as it was known until a few years ago. J-G was here 28 years ago with Oriole for fuel on its way to Quebec City. Little has changed in the outer harbour but now there is a lot of work going on improving the facilities to accommodate cruise ships and larger shipping traffic. Marina Chiapas has been built from scratch over the past 2 years. It is not officially open yet but Enrique, the manager wants as many boats as he can get to test the services and provide feedback so he can make improvements. The government hasn’t given its final approval yet so power is still not connected and until that happens there are no fees to be paid, except for port usage fees of approx 75 pesos/day. Cruisers like anything that is a bargain! On Friday Enrique is heading for Texas to buy an 80 ton travel lift for the marina. Apparently it is in a field well inland and owned by a former boat owner who decided to buy his own to handle his yacht but he has sold the yacht and has no longer any use for it. What a find and he is getting it at a bargain price.
Our numbers here have grown. Most of the group that was at Huatulco are here now and it is like being with a large family. We have been joined by a couple of North-bound vessels waiting out their turn to cross the Tehuantepec . Yesterday Lion’s Paw arrived from a year in Central America and, a Canadian boat, Feel Free is northbound towards BC on the last leg of their circumnavigation. Starfish, a Swiss flagged Nordhaven 55 cruiser owned by the former European PADI diving training representative for all of Europe is also here.
The marina is truly a marvel. Enrique was the project manager for the Singlar marinas at La Paz and Huatulco . After working for Fonatur/Singlar for many years he became frustrated at the level of bureaucracy and incompetence he had to deal with and quit. Sometime later he was approached by a representative of a consortium of wealthy businessmen from Tapachula (the closest big town, pop >800K) and asked if he could build them a marina in Puerto Madero. He promised them a completed project within 2 years but with many conditions, all of which were accepted, including an open source of ready cash for the project, work for his wife, a truck, schooling for his children, etc. From a field to a working marina in 2 years is quite a feat and he is very near accomplishing his plan. At one point he was employing 33 loaders and a fleet of 300 trucks to excavate and move 500,000 cubic meters of earth to make the basin and approach channel. The owners wanted tennis courts, a restaurant, a large storage yard, administration buildings and all the supporting facilities and staff required of a marina and Enrique has come through on time. He has been exceptionally cooperative and friendly and has offered us whatever we needed to make our stay comfortable, including assistance with our Mexican check out procedures, fuel pickup, rides to town and advice. Remember that all of this has been free!!!!
He also fixed us up with a tour company that a group of us took to a coffee plantation and some early Mayan ruins. The coffee plantation was a fascinating place. Owned by 4th generation Germans (who purchased it from a Swiss family at the turn of the last century) it covers about 500 hectares of mountain slopes. As far as the eye can see there are coffee plants growing under the canopies formed by other species of trees. We were a few months past the picking and processing season (Sept to Dec) but we had a very detailed tour by a young Austrian lad who had arrived a few weeks ago to do this as a stage of his tourism degree.
Coffee bush and beans
At the end of the tour the owner joined us and filled the some gaps left by the guide. He explained the regulations they were following to have their coffee meet the strict “organic” guidelines “shade grown” and a number of other qualifications they meet to make their product more attractive in this very competitive world market. With Mexico as the 10th largest producer of coffee in the world this company is enjoying a very healthy business. They are also a leading producer of organic flowers a product that fills in the gaps between coffee production.
Enjoying a cup with the owner of Finca Agovia
Our next stop was Izapa the site of one of the oldest Mayan ruins and reputed to be the bridge between the Olmec and Mayan people. It is located on privately owned land and the owner does not charge for admission but does accept “tips”. Apparently the government has been trying to get these sites under their wing for decades but have been unable to expropriate the land.
Unlike the other sites we had seen this one was made with river stones that had been held together by a clay “cement”. The crude stone carvings on the site were characterized by a shallow relief style. The site is one of the earliest dedicated to the study of the heavens and the original site based on the Mayan calendar that is shows the end of the 4th (or 5th) “era” at approx 6 AM on the 21st of December 2012. The rumours are that sunrise will occur several degrees further east on that day (polar shift??). People have been buying up hotel rooms in all of the nearby cities and towns in order to be on-site witnesses to this phenomenon; however, the owner is steadfast that he will not open the site until 8AM, his normal opening time. Had it fallen on a Monday he would not have opened, period!
Temple at Izapa
Another interesting thing at this site was the presence of many fruit trees around the site. Many of us finally saw our first, cacao, mabe, avocado, star-fruit and tangerine trees. This area is one of the major cacao producing areas in the world and the big cities have outlets for the product but the Mexican preference is for a mixture of chocolate, cinnamon and sugar. You won’t find milk or dark chocolate here.
Cocoa pod and unripe bean
1500, 6 March 2012, Marina Chiapas
We are hoping to get away to tour San Cristobal and Palenque tomorrow. Our search for a kennel for Rosie has come up empty. All we could find were cage hotels and we couldn’t leave our Rosie in a cage for 3 days. We are looking at renting a car with Carole and Ken and taking Rosie with us, however, finding a vehicle has proven to be difficult. The local airport here is quite small and the vehicle supply must be quite limited. There were none available today but we are first on the list for the next one available. In the meantime we are filling in time as best we can, doing chores, minor projects (unplugged a drain and fixed a power outlet, blog) and trying to stay out of the blistering sun. Thankfully there is a nice breeze blowing today providing some air movement other than what is being done by the fans.

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