Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chamela to Barra de Navidad

The bay at Chamela was another lovely and interesting spot and we shared the anchorage with several other cruising boats. The nearly perfect weather that we’ve been experiencing gave in to a short spell of fog and overcast skies. Temperatures though remained pleasant, perfect for taking our dinghy to the beach and exploring the small town. After lunch at a seaside, palapa restaurant, we took a walk along the sand dunes that separated the ocean from a small mangrove surrounded lagoon. As we approached the lagoon we spotted a warning sign with the word crocodilio and a painted picture of one of the fearsome animals. Nearing the sign Anne remarked, “do you see the crocodile?” figuring that she meant the painted picture on the sign Mark responded “yes” and proceeded to walk even closer to the water’s edge. Anne then remarked with a greater sense of urgency “no, the real crocodile behind the sign”. We stood in amazement at our close proximity to the animal while laughing at the miscommunication between us. We took a number of pictures while keeping a close eye on the lazy crocodile, thinking that we certainly would not be seeing this in the United States where personal injury lawsuits and worries of liability have succeeded in limiting our ability to get up close and personal with most wild critters.

After another night at the Chamela anchorage, we were eager to continue to another cruiser favorite, Tenacatita. The bay there is very picturesque and a hangout for a number of curious dolphins, including one regular known as either Chippy or Notch due to a missing section of his dorsal fin. During our 3 day stay in Tenacatita, Chippy paid us several visits and, at one point, entertained us for nearly an hour as he swam around our boat and scratched himself on our anchor chain. While Mark snapped pictures, Anne quickly dawned her bathing suit and swim goggles and entered the water in hopes of swimming with the friendly mammal. Alas, Chippy stayed just beyond her range of sight. One morning we took our dinghy through the small surf and into a river estuary that empties into the bay. The meandering river through the dense vegetation can be followed for several miles and has become a classic cruiser experience known as” The Jungle Tour”. We carefully guided our inflatable boat through the narrow waterway as it zigzagged through the mangroves. For most of the tour, tree branches completely covered the sky above our heads and tree limbs nearly blocked our path. We kept a sharp eye out for the various animal inhabitants and were rewarded with close encounters with beautiful birds, bright orange colored crabs, and a raccoon that hung in the trees as we passed underneath. Others have sighted crocodiles and iguana's along the way but on our tour, they were too wary to be seen. We paddled our SUP surfboards several times while visiting neighboring boats and the nearby beach. One morning we made a quick two mile run across the bay to the town of La Manzanilla where we explored the local shops and markets. Like many of the beautiful little seaside towns that we have visited, La Manzanilla is frequented by many Canadians who escape the long and cold winter up north. Overall, tourism in Mexico appears rather quiet, due no doubt to the poor state of the U.S. economy and the media sensationalized reports of drug related violence. We have spoken with many Canadians and a few Americans that winter in Mexico on a regular basis, some who have driven all the way down from British Columbia. The many small coastal towns that we have found so charming are increasingly dependent on income from tourism and we feel badly for the many restaurants and shop owners whose businesses appear nearly empty at what is the height of the tourist season. While we benefit from the lack of crowds, we wonder how long many of them can stay in business if the situation does not soon improve.

Our next stop along the coast was a small rocky bay with a beautiful sandy beach and numerous underwater reefs called Cuastecomate. While we had only planned one night there, we happily changed plans to stay longer after rendezvousing with several other cruising friends and swimming and snorkeling in the clear water. When we arrived, Dave and Marissa of “Pacifico” and Mike from “So Inclined” were already anchored. Later that afternoon, their good friends from Oceanside, Lee and Cathy, arrived aboard their beautiful J-130 “Sirocco”. After sharing drinks at a beach front palapa restaurant that afternoon, plans were made to gather aboard “Sirocco” for a group dinner. Marissa came to our boat ahead of time to give Anne a quick lesson in making authentic Margaritas and delicious “Pico de Gallo” salsa. While sipping margaritas, the chefs chopped and combined the salsa ingredients. As they finished, Mark readied our dinghy for the short row over to “Sirocco”. While attempting to board the dinghy, it was clear that the margaritas had already had a profound effect on Anne’s balance. While Mark struggled to steady the dinghy and hold it close to Blue Rodeo’s swim step, Anne leapt, in a somewhat less than graceful manner, into the boat with such gusto that Mark could not hold on and did a forward somersault into the water. Marissa stood on the swim step watching in disbelief at the clutsy, comical mishap. At least the water was warm though and Mark was quickly showering off the salt water and changing into dry clothes. Dinner aboard “Sirocco” was a treat for all with Dave providing a delicious chicken and sun dried tomato pasta main course. Chocolate pudding and home made cookies courtesy of Marissa and Mike rounded out the meal. After several enjoyable hours and another margarita for Anne we climbed aboard our dinghy and rowed back to “Blue Rodeo”. While climbing aboard, the potent margaritas took their toll one more time as Anne lost her balance while washing her feet. In a split second, she found herself sliding down “Blue Rodeo’s” sloped transom as if it were a hotel pool water slide and splashing into the water. With a shocked and unhappy look on her face, much like a cat thrown into a bathtub, she scrambled back aboard and took her second fresh water shower for the day. Though we would laugh about it later, we were both very aware of how serious a simple accident like that can be aboard a boat.

While at Cuastecomate, Mark spent the better part of an hour beneath “Blue Rodeo” cleaning the propeller and shaft and replacing zinc anodes. The last time he did it was 4 months prior at Catalina Island and while wearing a short wetsuit, he nearly became hypothermic. This time, he accomplished the task without a wetsuit although he did get a bit chilled.

Our next destination was the town of Barre de Navidad only 5 miles away and we were eager to return after visiting cruising friends there 3 years ago. The entrance to the anchorage lagoon at Barre de Navidad is narrow with numerous shallow sand bars and boats frequently go aground there. While the average cruising sailboat draws 5-6 feet of water from the surface to the bottom of its keel, “Blue Rodeo’s” draft is closer to 7.5 feet. Once in the anchorage, we would be limited by the water depth and might have just 6 inches below our keel at low tide. So, before the short trip, we carefully studied Google Earth photos of the area, paper charts and diagrams in various guide books. We also entered a route in our navigation display with GPS defined waypoints that was obtained from other cruisers who had done their own survey of the area. Even with all of the information to help, we were sure that the entrance would rather tricky and stressful.

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