Tuesday, March 25, 2008

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

We have lengthened our stay in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, here in Banderas Bay, up the bend, so to speak, from Puerto Vallarta. We have found that our repairing, trouble-shooting and provisioning needs can be met quite well where we are. Puerto Vallarta is an easy bus ride away when we're in need of particular items, or a social night out. But La Cruz is more quaint and friendly, and a good place to settle in.

Cruisers abound here, some also preparing for the Pacific Puddle Jump (as it's called) to the Marquesas. We spent a good deal of the first week here visiting with Wayne Mertesky of Moonduster, whom we had met in Ensenada. The cruising scene in Puerto Vallarta is old hat for Wayne so he offered a great wealth of advice on where and how to get things accomplished around town to prepare for the passage. We explored just about every little taco stand in La Cruz together, and hunted down some perfectly delectable flan for dessert most nights. We took a Sunday evening stroll down the malecon in Puerto Vallarta, watching and weaving through throngs of couples and families, there to see and be seen. We went out for dinner and some great live music on Good Friday, our send-off for Wayne who is now en route in the Pacific. Bound for paradise....

Easter is a pretty big deal down here and, the week preceding, Semana Santa, is part of the holiday. In celebration, La Cruz hosted a carnival for the whole week, featuring rickety rides, balloon darts, sweets and a little road-side gambling. On the last night, everyone and their uncle were out on the street, enjoying the carnival games and a festive 12-piece mariachi band. Ben and I had a blast on the pirate ship - just the two of us gringos and a bunch of boys, who thought it pretty hilarious to hear me screaming behind them. It was FUN!
For the last few days I've been treating three dogs belonging to the owners of a local convenience store. One of them, "Talia," is pretty sick. I'm cautiously optimistic because she's feeling better, but I have a feeling that whatever lies lurking is unresolved. The other two, "Coyote" and "Sorio" have wounds that are well within my ability. In exchange we've been receiving free refrescos. Our conversations are interesting as the family doesn't speak English, and vice versa. I make up words as I go and they seem to be able to figure me out.

I've been experimenting with video lately and have put together a couple clips. One of the birds on Isla Isabella, the other from the La Cruz carnival. Bear with me, as they're pretty amateur. But, you can check them out. Click on Pangaea's Photo Album link on the upper right side of the blog's front page.

And, for the timebeing, we'll continue bumming in Banderas Bay.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Birds, birds, birds!

Green flash? It is rumored that a green flash may grace the sky, if you're lucky, just as the sun dips below the watery horizon. Critics do exist. I've been looking for it for years, without yet abandoning hope. Is it a myth? A mariner's equivalent of the Sasquatch? Or a veritable atmospheric phenomenon, rarer but no less spectacular than the aurora borealis? Well, it's hard to be convincing if I can't state anything with more certainty than: I saw a flash! The trouble is, while wearing my rosy-colored, polarized glasses it looked, well, rosy-colored. I guess it remains elusive. Maybe it's best viewed from the shifting shores of Atlantis.

Another quasi-experience: auditory evidence of a whale breaching behind us (audio without the visual). We were approaching Isla Isabella a few days ago, actually dawdling a bit, waiting for daylight before making our approach. It was my watch, around 5:30 am; my senses were heightened, as they always are when approaching shore. Down below, looking at the chart, I heard a loud slap. I climbed the steps to the cockpit and heard the tell-tale "Whhhooooophhh!" of a whale's blowspout, and then another loud splat. We were minutes from that pre-dawn rosy haze, just as the stars are beginning to fade before the sun's grand entrance. Looking in the direction of the splat, I saw an indeterminate shadow move, and another loud splat....then another. I guess it was far enough, at least, that there was no tactile experience to go along with the auditory one (no spray on my face or rocky loss of balance). Anyway, I was SO excited, and a bit nervous, not wishing to have a blind, closer encounter than this. I made Ben get up, of course, but the whale gave no further proof of its existence.

So, I experienced half a green flash, and bore partial witness to a breaching whale. These incomplete experiences paled in comparison to the delight of Isla Isabella itself. The island is a bird sanctuary, and one of Jacques Cousteau's favorite places. National Geographic filmed a documentary here, and there is a permanent ornithological research station on site. The stars of the show? Nesting magnificent frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies, brown boobies, in the thousands I would hazard to guess, in addition to nesting Heermann's gulls, red-billed tropic birds and the usual suspects, brown pelicans and eared grebes. And would we be so lucky to have arrived smack in the middle of breeding season? We hiked along marked trails, often within arm's reach of ground-nesting boobies and gulls, or tree-nesting frigatebirds. I wouldn't say they were equally delighted by OUR presence, but they remained undisturbed, voicing an occasional honk (or in the male boobies' case, a low, plaintive whistle), but remaining in place. I can't imagine access wouldn't be restricted to such a place as this in the US, but Isla Isabella is established as a park that welcomes visitors. Regardless, I felt a twinge of guilt to intrude, and tried to make myself as small as possible as we tip-toed by.

These boobies, especially the blue-footed ones, are only less goofy-looking than a pelican. I mean, blue feet? Are you kidding? The brown boobies are no less precious, and seem a little more gregarious. The booby babies are, of course, adorable in their utter awkward ugliness. The frigatebirds, on the other hand, are striking in their silhouette against the sky. They have the longest wings relative to their weight of any bird, and long-forked tails, so they make a dramatic statement as they soar endlessly overhead. They are described as aerial pirates, often attacking other sea birds in flight to get them to disgorge their fishy catch. So, they steal meals from others, leaving the hard-work of hunting to their "inferiors." They build paltry little nests in low-slung branches, oten at just our height. They could care less as we walked by. I don't know how the frigatebird nestlings manage to maintain their balance in these little nests, though with the number of dead frigates on the ground here and there, I imagine they don't all manage to balance in the tree-tops.

So, MORE birds: back in La Paz I was excited to find white ibises mingling with snowy egrets, tricolored herons, little blue herons, reddish egrets and yellow-crowned night herons in the mangroves across from our anchorage. I know, boring detail to some, exciting to me.

The anchorage itself is stunning, with surf crashing on rocks only yards from where we were anchored. But, there we were with a couple other boats and did just fine. Tucked into the head of the small bay is a fishing village. The island, despite its status as a sanctuary, still offers a harvest to local fishermen, who have an established fish camp used to mend nets and sort the catch. The fishermen are very friendly, and offered me a ride to shore, sitting next to a heap of red snapper, shortly after our arrival. Several speak fluent English and talk of their time living in the US. They all sound happy to be back home. Not to be outdone, we caught our own dinner (en route from La Paz), a skipjack tuna. We made sushi tuna rolls and ate the rest seared. This time we tried what would seem to be a more humane way to kill a fish, based on some advice. We squirted vodka in its gills and, well, that seemed to do the trick! Who really wants to bludgeon his dinner?

Well, after an overnight sail, here we are in Banderas Bay, currently anchored off the quaint town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (still haven't figured out how to pronounce this). In the next couple days we'll move to a marina in Puerto Vallarta proper to work on a few boat projects in preparation for the big crossing to come....

Oh, I've finally gotten my feet wet with some veterinary work, during our prolonged stay in La Paz. I did exams and consultations for Zeus the Doberman and Henry the Lab, both belonging to fellow expatriate cruisers, and a behavioral consultation for Pixie, a local Scotty. We also made a donation of medical supplies to a Baja Dogs Rescue group. I didn't manage to organize a spay/neuter day with them, but maybe more opportunities will be encountered in PV.... I've also been making bead jewelry for future trades (I hope) on some of the South Pacific islands. That's been fun.

Anyone up for an impromptu trip to Puerto Vallarta is more than welcome!


Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Change in Plans: Galapa-no-gos

We arrived in La Paz on February 20th, prepared to stay a couple days. We stayed at Marina de La Paz, surrounded by a multitude of other American cruisers – a fleet, shall we say. Many have made La Paz their permanent home, some purposefully, some accidentally. Everyone we met warned us that some magnetic force tends to draw one in, foiling any intentions to leave this happy town. I’m currently reading Steinbeck’s Log of the Sea of Cortez and he alludes to this force much more eloquently:

"And we wondered why so much of the Gulf was familiar to us, why this town had a 'home' feeling. We had never seen a town which even looked like La Paz, and yet coming to it was like returning rather than visiting. Some quality there is in the whole Gulf that trips a trigger of recognition so that in fantastic and exotic scenery one finds oneself nodding and saying inwardly, 'yes, I know.'"

And, what d’ya know, our “2-3 days” in La Paz turned into 5. We told ourselves it had to do with the internet access. Who knows?

Finally we set sail for the islands opposite La Paz harbor, for a few days of exploring. And, oops! We broke our backstay purchase. (Maybe, the force?) So, we took down our sails and motored on, but now had cause to return to La Paz (after visiting the islands) before heading further south.

The islands (Espiritu Santu and Partida) are stark, rocky veins on the southwestern fringe of the Sea of Cortez. They are designated sanctuaries so there is no human habitation, save for the occasional fisherman’s hut nestled in coves here and about.

Beachcombing has become my favorite pastime. We found little cowry snails having a convention of some kind, before digging themselves down into the sand at the water’s edge. The hermit crabs were characteristically unsociable, downright reclusive. We found “mummified” puffers littering one beach, and enjoyed watching a few of the live specimens trundle their way along the water’s surface. They’re poisonous so what they lack in maneuverability and grace of movement, they make up for in unpalatability. In other words, they’re not much of a target, so why bother getting out of the way? They do, however, make a good bath toy. We watched a seal use one as a rubber ducky, flipping him about in the waves.

The vegetation is of the tough, spiny and hardy sort, in this dry environment. But I’m often surprised to find stunning and ususual, dainty little gems clinging to the rocks or nestled into crevices. Pelicans continue to dominate the skies. But they share the catch with plenty of gulls, magnificent frigate birds and, finally, some brown boobies. Turkey vultures feast on whatever remains wash up on shore, including pelicans (though puffers remain untouched). I did find a couple goofy looking pelican beaks, bleached and picked clean. The water isn’t what you’d call warm, but it was perfectly comfortable at 63 degrees for my first snorkeling adventure. This particular site was a little murky, but I could still see flashes of color as tropical fish darted by, and some rounded coral heads attached to rocks along the shore.

In total we spent 3 nights visiting the islands, each morning moving to a new cove and dropping anchor. On the last day I rode the dinghy out to a couple islets (Los Islotes) just north of Isla Partida, to get a close-up of a known sea lion colony. Oh, the raucous ruckus. They certainly have something to say most of the time. In calmer weather some brave souls actually swim with these sea lions. I can blame the wind and the waves instead of my own cowardice for my failure to do so on this occasion. Who’d be the wiser?

On the 28th we motored back to La Paz, to repair our backstay purchase, with plans to learn how to splice. The splicing was a cinch, really, and kind of fun. So, mechanical problem solved. But, of course, we just had to check our email…. And there was, waiting for Ben, an urgent request to return to San Diego for some design work and trouble-shooting. So, here I am, spending our 17th anniversary (17!?) alone. Really I’m just being dramatic, as he’s due back this afternoon. In the meantime, I’ve finally utilized some of my veterinary skills, having just completed physical exams on Zeus the Doberman, and Henry the Lab. I also just made a donation of medical supplies to Baja Dogs Helpline of La Paz.

Anyway, assuming all’s well, we’ll be leaving La Paz again, tomorrow morning. This time we’re heading back south (once more across the Tropic of Cancer), bound ultimately for Puerto Vallarta. If weather allows, we’ll be making a stop at Isla Isabella en route. (More on this later….)

Oh, yes, and finally to our change of plans. The Ecuadorian government has been fickle of late, seemingly unable to decide whether it likes cruisers or not. Regulations for visiting yachts (to the Galapagos or to mainland Ecuador) seem to change on a dime and, unfortunately, the most recent trend has been a more hostile stance. We’d been waiting anxiously to hear reports of the first of this season’s yachts to visit the Galapagos, and the reports we have gotten have been quite unfavorable – increasingly expensive, increasing restrictive and open to any official’s interpretation. So, boaters are being charged whatever it is deemed they might be able to afford, and can no longer visit any other than their original port of entry. Well, long story short, we felt the additional 1200 miles we were prepared to sail to get there wasn’t worth the hassle. I was looking forward to this destination as a highlight of the trip so you can imagine the disappointment is real. But, perhaps in the future, by different means, we’ll get there one day… Instead we’ll be sailing to the Marquesas in French Polynesia directly from the Mexican coast. A lot less distance than our Galapagos detour, and more reliable winds…

Stay tuned!