We ended up spending a week in Barra de Navidad, but it’s hard to say exactly where the time went. We learned of a new place to spend the afternoon, around the swimming pool of the Cabo Blanco resort. It’s just up a short flight of stairs from a decent dock at the end of a half mile long canal where we can leave the dinghy. The pool has a two large sections connected by a slightly narrower portion which has a volleyball net strung across it. We spent a couple of lazy afternoons here, visiting with friends, munching nachos, and playing around in the fresh water. A very pleasant way to while away an afternoon.
When we visit Barra, we have to be careful to time our entrance for a high(-ish) tide. The anchorage is located in a huge lagoon, but most of it is *very* shallow. The channel that comes in from the entrance is deep enough for our boat, but not generously so, and the walls to the channel are quite steep. This means that we have to be very careful to stay within the channel. At the end of the channel, the lagoon widens out dramatically, but is shallower. There’s lots of space for plenty of smaller boats to anchor out in the lagoon area, but we have to stay within the channel. So our trick is to anchor at the very end of the channel. Even then, as the water goes out at lower tides, we end up sitting on the soft mud bottom for a few hours most days. It’s funny to see all the boats turning as the wind’s direction changes – with only Lungta staying put. We are not the only ones who go aground here: every year there are one or two examples which are the talk of the fleet for a few days. This year one boat turned left instead of right when they were coming in through the channel, intending to go into the marina. They hit the side of the channel and stayed there for a full cycle of the tides, listing dramatically to one side. It’s also pretty frequent for boats to drag on their anchor, sometimes quite a ways through the anchorage. Because of the shallow depths people often don’t put out a lot of anchor chain, but the muddy bottom is quite slippery and there’s not much for the anchor to catch hold of. The winds often pick up in the afternoons, and sometimes this additional force is enough to overcome an anchor’s tenuous grasp. It’s a little disconcerting to return to your boat after a day in town and find it somewhere different than where you remembered leaving it!
The last day we were in Barra, we took a day’s excursion with some friends from another boat. We took the bus to the nearby town of Santiago, which butts up against Manzanillo. We wandered around the two towns, did a little shopping, and had lunch at a fun pizza joint called Godzilla’s, which is run by an American ex-pat who retired early and moved down here to sunnier climes. We hopped a local bus for the loop around the hotel zone of Santiago Bay, which is quite hilly and built up with spectacular homes and small resorts. The views were incredible!
Shortly after we returned to Tenacatita we made a quick decision to leave again. A few of our friends on other boats were heading south to Zihuatanejo for the annual Guitar Fest, and we decided to join them. We’d been talking on and off about going down, but had settled into Tenacatita life and it was looking like we might stay put. But then the switch flipped again, and we were OFF! Coincidentally, we spent the first night at anchor in Santiago Bay, within view of the beautiful cliff-side tour we’d taken just days earlier. But we weren’t there to stay. It’s a 200 mile journey, and we had a schedule to keep. Oftentimes we regret setting a schedule like this, but not always. We told ourselves that we could dawdle on the way back north. So we sailed through the first night and stopped one night in Maruata.
Maruata is a tiny little cove about halfway between Tenacatita and Zihuatanejo. We were very impressed with the scenery and the tiny town when we stopped there last year, and really wanted to see it again. It’s situated right beside a chain of large rocks called Los Dedos de Dios, or God’s Toes. There are lots of fissures through these rocks, and the waves thunder around in the internal caverns and roar back out the other side. So there are several places where, although the rocks completely obstruct your view of the ocean, big waves erupt from the side of a cliff and crash on shore. I’m not sure words are adequate – it’s quite impressive, and we were not disappionted! This area attracts surfers, and the waves coming ashore are quite large. Last year we were a bit intimidated and we didn’t bring the dinghy ashore. We anchored it outside the break and swam the last 50 feet or so. This year we watched the pangas coming in to find the route that was most protected, and timed a perfect beach landing. It’s a good feeling to see one’s competence growing over time! In the late afternoon there were hundreds or perhaps thousands of birds of many sorts swirling around, not well organized into a feeding frenzy, but striking up quite a chorus and putting on a lovely show.
The night before we stopped in Maruata, Kathy came down with a fever. It came on so suddenly that she got the shakes and decided to wake Dan 30 minutes early for our shift-change. The battery on our thermometer was dead, so we never did get an accurate read on how high it went. We sailed on to Zihuatanejo with her still battling this fever. Ibuprofen did a good job of keeping it contained, but whenever she was late in taking the next dose or pushed her energy limits the fever spiked again and took up to a couple of hours to get back under control. We consulted with a friend on another boat who is a doctor and she brainstormed with us. Although there are certainly other possibilities, we ended up concluding that dengue fever was among the most likely. When we get back to Banderas Bay, we’ll find a clinic to get tested for exposure. Dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitos, directly from one infected person to another. Kathy has always been a tasty target for mosquitos, and both Barra de Navidad and Tenacatita had their share. The good news is that once one goes through dengue fever you get a lifetime resistance to that strain. The bad news is that there are 4 or 5 different strains and exposure to one strain often makes you more susceptible to a bad reaction if/when later exposed to a different strain. There are no vaccines or cures available for dengue fever, but at 50 million cases annually it’s the disease most commonly transmitted worldwide via mosquitos or ticks. (Isn’t the internet wonderful?!) A few days after arriving in Zihuatanejo her fever broke and she began to return to her normal energy level.
The reason for our schedule to Zihuatanejo was the annual international music festival called Guitar Fest, and it did not disappoint. They had 14 performers, mostly individuals but a few duos. There was a dinner concert and another on the beach every night of the week-long festival. Each concert had a cover charge of $10-$20, though, so that kept a lid on our attendance. All of the performers were at the opening and closing concerts, which were held on the beach. We sat in the dinghy for the opening concert, rafted up with our friends from Moments. Although we had fun, it turned out to not be the best choice, because the surf made it difficult to really hear the music, and it was a bit disappointing not to see the performers up close. We could hear the beach concerts from our boat, but even less than from the dinghy. Later in the week we attended one of the two free concerts, and were amazed at the energy we felt by being up close and part of the crowd. We brought some lawn chairs and set them up near the 5th row. It was *wonderful*! So we paid for seats at the closing ceremony, and also enjoyed that a lot! We’ve heard that “the place to be” is actually the after-concert jam that regularly gathered at a particular bar on the other side of town. Some of the performers played until the wee hours of the morning, but we were generally fading by 10 or 11 when the concerts ended anyhow.
Zihuatanejo is in a beautiful bay with half a dozen small beaches scattered around the perimeter. The town is geared for tourists, but is still small enough to not be overwhelming. A cruise ship came in early one morning, catching all of us cruisers by surprise. It anchored out in the bay along with the rest of us, and there was a continuous stream of small boats ferrying guests to and from town. Then they were gone before the music began. We wondered if they even knew of the festival! The town is nestled in amongst a number of low hills, and the architecture is attractive and nicely landscaped. There are even sidewalks throughout town, so we know it’s a town of a certain size (and/or with a certain amount of money)! There’s a small but nice stretch of beach set aside for the dinghies to land, and there are 2 or 3 young men who have set up a business “helping” that process. Although most of the time the landings are quite easy and no help is needed, there are times when it is quite helpful to have an extra person who doesn’t mind getting wet to push you off in between sets of larger waves. They seem to have someone there round the clock, although we haven’t really tested *all* 24 hours of the day. It’s also nice to know that there’s someone there watching that none of your stuff wanders off while you’re away.
After the music festival, we went on a road trip together with three other boats. We rented a couple of cars and drove about 4 hours into the hills to a town called Paracho. Paracho is a small town of about 30,000 residents. They have a nice town square with a beautiful and apparently well-utilized church along one side. There’s a nice market just next to the church where one can find all kinds of produce and some housewares, and which also has a number of food stands where one can get a steaming bowl of soup, fresh-made tacos or an enchilada dinner. It’s a vibrant corner of town!
There’s quite a presence of the local indigenous people, who are called the Tarrasco. The women wear fancy colorful skirts with aprons often trimmed in lace. They wear a sarape around their shoulders in the chilly mornings and fold it atop their heads for shade in the hot afternoons. They also use it to swaddle a small child on their backs, or occasionally to tote other loads. Many of these women are visible in the town’s streets going about their business or crocheting tortilla warming cloths while displaying produce or flowers for sale. We saw few young women, perhaps because they were occupied at home or maybe because their hard life aged them prematurely. We also didn’t see many of the men, and surmised they were busy working in the fields or shops. While we were in town there was a celebration of the 6th anniversary of the elementary school. There was a sweet little parade with lots of children riding bicycles, tricycles or even strollers. Later there was a presentation in the town square where each class of children performed a dance to recorded music. One class was dressed as monarch butterflies, one as train conductors. These were very young children who were easily distracted from their simple dance in a ring by the presence of their parents and the others in the crowd. The whole event was quite charming!
Paracho is widely recognized as a world-class center of excellence for luthiers, or guitar-makers. There is another smaller town nearby named Anguihuan (?) that specializes in making violins, many of which are sold in Paracho. There was also another nearby town called Capacuan along the road that specialized in carved wooden furniture. We spent two days strolling from one guitar shop to another, and were invited a few times to visit the workshops where the work was done. Most of these workshops were behind the craftsman’s home. Some of them were tiny places where only a few instruments were made at a time, and others were housed in tall-ceilinged buildings that housed dozens of employees and hundreds of instruments. The prices range from $30 for a mass produced guitar to $10,000 for the best handmade guitar of the most exotic woods. Some woods are local, while others are imported from all around the world. Walking around town we saw lots of piles of wood stacked or laid out in the sun to dry for up to 8 months. The guitars also vary in the detail of the trim-work, some including fancy inlays of abalone or other woods. We were looking for a second guitar for our household, so that we could enjoy playing together, and also a nice case to protect both from the rough life that a boat seems to offer. One of our friends also purchased a “starter” guitar, and another bought both a mandolin and a violin. It turned out to be quite a successful excursion!
We quickly figured out that the guitar we were looking for was somewhat unusual here; we wanted one with steel strings, rather than the nylon strings that are the norm in Mexico. We learned a lot about guitar construction, including the different requirements of the types of strings. Steel strings exert much more force on the guitar at both ends, so the tuning pins, neck and insertion pegs need to be beefier than a guitar with nylon strings. We ended up purchasing a guitar from a shop that had a few dozen, slightly unfinished guitars. The owner told us that there was roughly 8 months worth of work in the instruments we were looking at, and that he could custom-finish one for us in a day. All that remained to be done was to add the bridge and nut, and the strings and connecting parts: the tuning pins at the top and the plate and pegs at the bottom. We also asked him to add some markers on the top of the neck to help find the correct frets and a pick-guard to keep the face from getting scratched up over time. The one we bought has a Canadian cedar face, and German spruce back and sides, and a graphite support down the center of the neck to strengthen it for steel strings. When he was working on the bridge and nut, he started with a small piece of bone, held it in his hand, braced up against a wooden table, and quickly whisked a hand-planer back and forth, whittling the piece down to size. When we commented about how close the sharp edges were coming to his fingers, he told us that on his driver’s license that it said he had no fingerprints. Yikes! We were thrilled to be doing business with the luthier who actually built our guitar, and we feel that we got a good guitar at a very good price. We are now both practicing several times a day, Kathy learning basic chords, Dan learning more complex picking and strumming, and both of us strengthening our hands, wrists, fingers – and fingertips!
It turned out that finding a case was also non-trivial, because for reasons that we don’t completely understand, steel string guitars seem to come in a slightly larger size (locally called “country” or “texano”). We ended up deciding that what we wanted was a rigid foam case, rather than a soft-sided one or one made of cardboard or wood. After some adventurous running around town, we found the perfect case, except that it was just a bit too small. The factory could modify it for us, but it would take 3 days. At first we discussed having them ship it to us in Puerto Vallarta, but then Dan came up with the brilliant idea of just purchasing the parts, so that we could make the modifications ourselves and finish putting them together. The business owner was open to the idea, and we had a lively and interesting conversation as they pulled together all the parts and showed us the various steps involved in assembling them. We think we have what we need, but we’ll find out when we actually sit down to the task!
The region that we were traveling in has apparently had some recent problems with drug cartel activity. We saw a LOT of federales and state police along the roads, often setting up roadblocks to inspect vehicles or passengers. Although they were heavily armed, they were all polite and friendly to us. We noticed that some of the vehicles that were stopped for more extensive searches included expensive cars driven by young men. Even with all of this activity, it turns out that some of the local towns have been dissatisfied at the success of the government to keep the drug activity away, and have formed local militias to “take back” their towns. Although we saw no trouble, we did hear that it was a good idea to avoid travel through this area at night, and we had no problem following that advice! On our drive back to the coast, our two cars got separated. There are two roads that traverse this countryside, one is a newer toll road, and the other is an older “free” road. One of our cars missed the entrance to the first section of toll road (of four) and ended up on the free road. They later told us that instead of the federales posted along the roadside there were lots of people in white T-shirts marked “Libre Lombardia” (Free Lombardia) carrying archaic weapons. They came to a roadblock marked with rocks and smoky fires, and were questioned about what they were carrying with them (“guitars and beer”). They also had some difficulty getting back on the toll road, because the entrance was blocked off, but they were able to go around the obstruction and get back on their way. This is the first we’ve seen in our travels of the challenges that Mexico is having with the social unrest brought about because of the drug trade. It certainly gives one pause for thought, and appreciation for the safe and comfortable environment that we’ve grown up with!
Now we’re back in Zihuatanejo, our bags are unpacked, and we’re preparing to head back north towards Banderas Bay. We’re watching for a weather window, showing winds heading north instead of south. Should be just a few days until we’re on our way… Until the next time, we wish you all the wonders that Spring has to offer!