Thursday, March 15, 2012

More inland travel and to El salvador: Final desination for 2012

Tuesday, 13 March, 2012, At sea, on route to Bahia Del Sol
We have departed Marina Chiapas and are on our last leg to Puerto Del Sol. We expect to arrive at the entrance to the bar at high tide at about 08:00 on Thursday. The winds are light and we don’t expect to make much headway under sail but we have factored in some extra time in case the wind does come up. We are in company with Tension Reliever, Warren Peace, Quon Yin 1, and Nauti Moments. Several boats left yesterday and more will leave over the next few days.
It has been a busy week. We were able to get away for a 4-day trip inland after all. Many thanks to Carole and Ken for insisting that we all go together and working hard to find a solution. We finally found a car to rent, a small Chevy rattletrap, the only choice available with good air-conditioning. It was relatively cheap and there was space for Rosie but she insisted on the door side of the rear seat forcing Fran to the “hump”.
The drive up to Palenque convinced us that we would never attempt such a thing again. The road up was very long and wound through 2 of the coastal mountain ranges. The worst aspect was the “topes” or “sleeping policemen”, those humps in the road designed to slow down traffic. Well, they certainly work! We had to slow down to a near crawl to go over most of them. The afternoon sun and shadows made it difficult to see some of them but after bouncing off the roof a few times we became extra vigilant. Another feature of the topes worth mentioning is the “opportunity commerce” common in many of the villages we passed through. As cars slow down to negotiate the bumps, people, mostly children approach them selling anything from fruit, tortillas to trinkets. At two places on our return trip there was a string barrier erected as we approached a tope and several adults and children came out of nowhere. At another a young girl jumped in front of the car as we were negotiating some very rough spots and took a lot of convincing to move out of the way; we weren’t stopping.
Road barriers by roadside sellers. Note the string.
Other road hazards - landslide damages
A common sight along these back roads are the “collectivos”, small privately owned vans that pick up passengers along and drop them off at their destinations for a small fee. This is a valuable service for the outlying areas where native people subsist on farming small holdings of coffee and/or corn. Most live close to the poverty line and do not own vehicles so this is their only way of transportation.
By nightfall we were still driving along the serpentine roads, crawling over topes and slowing for areas where previous washouts and landslides had been roughly repaired. The area we went through is also where the Zapatista uprising occurred in the late 90’s. Our copy of the Lonely Planet (2002) still warned of civil unrest and hold-ups along these roads. Today there are numerous military checkpoints that are another cause for delays.
We finally arrived in Palenque at 2130, after almost 12 hours on the road. We found Margarita and Ed’s hotel, highly recommended by Janet and Bill, at the entrance to the park gates.
Margarita and Ed's hotel
For 400 pesos / night we had an air-conditioned room in a 6 room building located in serene jungle like setting. Rosie wasn’t welcome so she slept in the car. There are several other hostels and small hotels close by but the jungle affords privacy. There were many people staying among the various accommodations, a very international and diverse gathering. Many were young adults, modern bohemian/ hippy types with their dreadlocks, baggy pants, bongo drums and huge back packs. Our son Mike had passed through here 12 years ago and this would, indeed have been a comfort zone for him.
The following morning we headed to the Mayan ruins of Palenque. These 500 (plus) buildings are spread over a 15 sq km area and date back to 250 BC to 900 AD. They are located in a jungle setting where the people carved out lush fields out of the bottom land fed by several watercourses. Only a small percentage of the buildings have been excavated. Unlike the Aztec and Zapotec sites Palenque had no gold and silver treasure so it was ignored by the Spanish conquistadors. It was rediscovered in the late 1700’s and in the following century it was claimed to be the lost Atlantis and by others, an extension of ancient Egypt. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that the real discoveries occurred with the unearthing of several crypts with semi-precious stone offerings. Jade appears to have been an important commodity and many of the skeletons were adorned with jade death masks. Our guide through the ruins was very informative and pointed out many features that would have been missed had we been on our own. Several buildings still have original murals and inscriptions. The Palace (El Palacio) featured many rooms with murals and a small courtyard where frescos of captives were still in good condition after 2 centuries. The tomb of the Red Queen with its cinnabar red stains is still visible in its original location. Pakal, one of the more notable royal had his tomb built during his 90 year reign. The story of the discovery of his tomb in 1952, deep in the foundations of the temple, could have been the subject for an Indiana Jones sequel.
Temple of the skull- Palenque

Temple of the inscriptions - Palenque
Unexplored building - Palenque

Frescoe still in good condition after centuries of exposure

We were told that howler monkeys are quite common on the site but during our visit they were off duty. Our guide explained that when Jurassic Park was being conceptualized the creators were at a loss for a sound effect for the dinosaurs in the movie. When they heard the call of the howler monkey they immediately decided that the sound was what they wanted. We were able to confirm that the next morning when we heard some calling near the hotel just before dawn. Fran also got to see a Toucan spotted by some bird watchers.
We had hoped to also see the ruins at Yaxchilan but that would have been another full-day adventure using a guide service. Part of that trip involves a river boat ride up into the jungle on the Mexico/Guatemala border. The ruins at Bonampak are also close to that site. We had also intended on seeing the waterfall at Misla-ho but that would have involved driving the rattletrap over 10 kms of dirt roads.
We left Palenque early on our third day and headed back into the Sierras to San Cristobal de Las Cruces. On our way back we stopped at Agua Azul, a beautiful set of falls with a river the colour of turquoise due to the sediment it carries. We endured another 5 hour bone jarring drive over a multitude of topes but in daylight this time.
Agua Azul

We arrived in San Cristobal (alt 2100m) in early afternoon. This is a beautiful colonial town that was founded by the Spanish in 1528. It is now an artsy and bohemian community where hordes of tourists, many of them European, flock to experience the modern culture of Mexico. The many bars and restaurants are alive with people from early afternoon to late at night and the indigenous people are everywhere plying their souvenirs. Many of these are people expelled from their villages for turning protestant under the influence of foreign evangelical missionaries and live in makeshift colonies on the outskirts of town. We found a very nice little hotel that allowed Rosie to stay (as long as she didn’t go onto the bed). We dined in a Lebanese/Indian/Thai restaurant owned by “Liz” a displaced New Yorker, who we met just outside our hotel. We later discovered that she is the daughter of Ben Gazzara and Ann Rule. The climate at this altitude was quite different from what we have been used to and, thankfully, we had been pre-warned to bring warm clothes.
Young native souvenier seller carrying brother

The next morning we boarded our beater and drove back to Puerto Madero along the main highways and toll roads. It took us 5 hours but we had only a few topes to deal with and there was very little traffic. It was a very pleasant drive compared to the drive up on day one.
Before departing Mexico the formal exit paperwork must be completed. The final product is the “Zarpe” which must be presented at the next port of entry. In Ensenada, where we did our entry procedure in 2008, it only took a few hours. Everything was done in a single location: immigration, Port Captain and bank payment services. Puerto Chiapas is not organised like that yet so we were in for a long day. The Port Captain is close by, but Immigration is at the airport, 12 km away and the bank they use is in Tapachula 25 km away. The marina is expected to simplify this procedure but for our group of 9 Enrique’s right hand man, Memo, was tasked to drive us and walk us through the procedure. Even with Memo’s help it took us most of the day but finally we had our Zarpe in hand and it was time for another round of cocktails on the dock, a farewell to Mexico occasion (as if we needed a reason!)
The following morning the final boat inspection was carried out by the Port Captain’s staff and the navy (dog included) and we were cleared to go. Just after 8 AM we slipped our lines from Mexico and headed out on our final passage of this season and to a new country.
1300 Wednesday, 14 March 2012, At Sea
We are sailing in a beautiful 12 knot breeze on a broad reach about 15 miles from the Guatemalan coastline doing 6.5 kts. We have had a great day of sailing, one of the best this season. This morning we attained 7.5 kts on a close reach, the best we have ever done on that point of sail. We do have a problem though. It is ironic but we are going too fast to make our ETA at the bar tomorrow morning. We will have to shorten sail soon and adjust our sped to arrive by daybreak, a difference of About 4 hours at this speed. Within the next few minutes we will be entering the territorial waters of El Salvador. Guatemala is the first country we have bypassed without stopping. We’ve seen a few turtles and dolphins and a new bird for Fran, a Cook’s Petrel who tried repeatedly to land on our solar panels but kept sliding off; cute little guys. She has been keeping count of all her new sightings.
Sunrise over the mainland

0510, Thursday, 15 March 2012. Approaching Bahia Del Sol
It has been a good night with some sailing earlier but the wind has died and we are back to powering. We are an hour away from the entrance to the bay. There are 5 of us congregating at the mouth of the bay for an entry sometime between 6:00 and 8:00. We are expecting some kind of watercraft to come out and guide us through the surf line. This has been a source of trepidation for the past few weeks. We have seen photos of other boats surfing in with the swell as it builds over the bar entrance. We have had the experience already, albeit not a pleasant one (see: Knockdown at San Blas – You Tube). Lots of boats have been through this so it shouldn’t be all that difficult and, unlike San Blas, this will be a straight, down sea approach. There should be some good photos.
I will try to get these 2 blog entries away soon after our arrival. Hopefully the bandwidth will be suitable for the photos I want to include.
Note,2130 same day: good connection at the marina/hotel bar. Here for a few days before moving to the anchorage.


  1. Finally was able to catch up on your great BLOG, guys! Loved the trip pics and travel adventures.
    Now slow down and enjoy the local sights a bit. Miss you! hugs, Linda and Bill

  2. Well done John & Fran, did you have a scary ride over the bar? Is that when the outboard slid over?

    Good luck on your inland travels.

    Alan & Lisa

  3. When are you bound for the northen climes this year?

    Ray & Gerry