Monday, December 23, 2013


Water Taxi Landing in Barra
We arrived in Barra de Navidad on Monday evening.  We almost immediately met Pancho, a fellow who maintains boats here.  He was concerned that he would wake us when he arrived the next morning to wash the boat next door and offered to take our five gallon jugs to town to get them refilled at a reasonable price. 

Tuesday, I went for a long run around the hotel property and Scott spent the morning removing the broken water maker pump.  Pancho returned with our water as promised.  

Port Captain's Office
After lunch, we took a water taxi across the estuary into the town to check in with the Port Captain. The water taxi costs 20 pesos for a round trip.  Barra de Navidad is very much a beach town.  There are low end hotels and restaurants scattered along a couple of sandy streets parallel to the beach.  The water taxi lands you at a rickety pier at the very edge of town.  Of course, the Port Captain was located on the other end of the town.  It was blazing hot and there was very little shade as Scott and I walked through town and wandered around the neighborhood where the Port Captain was located.  There is a housing development with three canals.  The houses on those canals have side ties and some people rent those slips.  Unfortunately, it was kind of a rat warren in there and it took us some time to recover from our attempted shortcut and get back to the main road where we could finally orient ourselves and find our destination.  Checking in actually took less than five minutes.

Barra's Plaza Dressed for Christmas
Walking back was somewhat quicker.  We stopped in a couple of tiendas looking for fresh fruit and vegetables.  I bought some bananas, but the rest of the produce had that limp, sitting in the heat without refrigeration, look about it, so I passed.  I did manage to find some seltzer in the second store.  Scott was on a mission, so I didn’t get to explore the town.  We did stop at the local water purification plant to ask who services their pumps.  They said it was someone in Chihuatlan (the next town over), but couldn’t give us a name or phone number.  They offered to tell a taxi driver how to take us there, but we didn’t have the pump with us.

It is very hot and humid here in Barra and there are mosquitoes.  According to the Weather Channel, it has been in the mid-eighties, but feels like 102.  I believe it.  We rested through the heat of the day and then I barbequed some skirt steak and Cole and I made latkes and salad.  It would have been a more pleasant temperature for eating in the cockpit, but I had to douse myself in insect repellent just to cook the meat, so we ate in the main salon.

Our mission for Wednesday, was to find someone to fix the pump.  I got up early and ran into Pancho on the dock.  He asked if we needed anything from Manzanillo because he was going to go there to take someone’s water maker pump to be repaired.  What were the odds of that?  I told him that our water maker pump also needed repair and he agreed to take it for us.  That gave us a free day.  Even Scott relaxed a little.  Cole and I spent the afternoon reading by the pool and throwing ourselves in the water when it got too hot.  Scott eventually came down and hung out at the pool bar.  I heard him talking to someone and wandered over to join him.  I hadn’t wanted to charge anything on his hotel tab, but he bought me a vast margarita.  I shared it with both Scott and Cole and was still so smashed by the time I finished it that I was useless for the rest of the evening.  Sixty pesos (about $4.75) seemed like a lot to pay for a drink in Mexico, but wasn’t bad since one was more than enough.

Landscaping in the Colimilla Area
While we were sitting at the bar, we talked to the owners of a large power boat who employ Pancho regularly.  They vouched for his honesty and resourcefulness.  The net had also recommended asking him for help.  He seems to be THE guy in the marina here.

I got up before dawn on Thursday and went for another long run.  Running is a great way to explore on shore, although I have to be wary of uneven pavement and loose dogs.  I ran through Colimilla and along the edge of the lagoon where many cruisers are anchored.  I ran completely around the golf course, which was beautifully landscaped with palm trees everywhere, and didn’t see a soul except guards and gardeners.  All the roads I have seen on this side of the estuary are surfaced with beautiful pavers and edged with nice gutters, street lights and sidewalks.  The street signs are all Mexican ceramic.  It looks like someone built the infrastructure for a luxury community and then never built the houses.  Aside from the fact that there are some very long, steep hills to climb, it’s a nice to run through the jungle and hear all the exotic bird calls.

It is amazingly hot here and very humid.  I have never had to live in humidity like this without air conditioning before.  Nothing ever gets really dry.  The dew is heavy enough to leave puddles.  We sweat constantly, so keeping up our electrolytes is a major problem.  Scott and I both suffer from leg cramps.  My wardrobe has evolved as the trip has progressed.  We started out wearing every layer we possessed.  Gradually, we shed our foulies and then progressed from long pants to capris to shorts.  The skort that I bought, and feared I would never wear because it seemed too short, is now my favorite piece of clothing.  T-shirts have given way to tank tops and, on really hot days, bikini tops.  At anchor, I have spent entire days in my bikini.  I am starting to understand how many boats become clothing optional.  I have white stripes across my feet from my flip flops and a strange tan on my back from the day I missed a spot with the sunscreen.   I spent the early afternoon hanging out in the hotel lobby, using the internet and luxuriating in the air conditioning.

Thursday afternoon, we all took the water taxi into Barra to explore a little and pick up a couple of things for dinner.  Scott left us to go get a haircut and Cole and I checked out the flea market.  Cole had gotten battery acid on his shorts and needed a new pair.  He found a perfect pair for 50 pesos.  I picked up a bra (When you lose a lot of weight, you need new underwear.) for 50 pesos.  The best deal of the day, however, was the haircut that I got for 25 pesos (about $2.)  The last haircut that I got in the U.S. was truly awful.  This woman straightened out the mess and even gave me a bag of rubber bands for my tail.  I gave her a 15 peso tip and I still feel like I cheated her.  It was worth the 25 pesos just to converse in Spanish with her for half an hour.  She was selling Christmas eggs filled with confetti for kids to smash on New Year’s Eve.  Scott paid 45 pesos for his haircut, but his salon was in the high rent district.

Bar in the Ruins of a Hotel

Eventually, we all met up in a beach bar that was operating in the ruins of a hurricane damaged building.  Barra was a hot spot in the 90’s and 2000’s, but was heavily damaged by a hurricane in 2009.  Since the economy has been lousy and tourism down, very little has been rebuilt.  I suspect that the reason the marina area has wonderful infrastructure, but very little development, is that the infrastructure was completed just before the hurricane and everything just halted at that point.  It was a beautiful afternoon and there was a breeze on the ocean side of town.  Scott and I enjoyed beers and Cole had a Michelada that tasted like it was pure beer and Worchestershire sauce over ice.  It was refreshing, though, and Cole doctored it up with hot sauce to keep himself from chugging it too quickly.  There wasn’t much in the way of decent produce in Barra, but we picked up some bananas, tortillas and seltzer and then took the water taxi back to the marina.

The French Baker
Mornings, here in Barra, start with the arrival of the French Baker.  He comes around every morning with decadent pastries to tempt even a Paleo eater like me.  Unfortunately (fortunately?) his prices are on a par with a U.S. Starbucks.  Scott succumbed the first morning, but quickly learned that spending $10 a day on pastries wasn’t reasonable.  Fortunately, I am usually running or in the shower when he comes.  Friday morning, I took a shortish run up the hill and around the hotel for a couple of miles.  I stopped at the top of the hill to admire the view and was admonished by a flock of chacalacas for disturbing their peace.  A chacalaca is a tropical forest bird that is secretive, but highly vocal.  The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America says that, “The sound of a flock in full chorus is memorable.”  I can concur.  They were not at all pleased with my presence near the tree where they were dining on leaf buds.

We took a bus into Manzanillo on Friday afternoon.  We went several places for Scott to look for a smart phone, stopped into a shoe store for him to replace his disreputable athletic shoes, and finally did our grocery shopping.  Manzanillo is stretched out in a crescent shape along the shore of the bay.  Every American chain store seems to be represented there.  We had arrived by first class bus, but got off before we reached the bus station.  To return, we were told that we needed to take a local bus to the Santiago bus station and catch the intercity bus there.  We got the local bus without incident, but ended up with an hour to kill in Santiago.  A gringo chatted us up on the sidewalk and told us that the guy to ask about sailing problems owned a restaurant across the street.  Since it was dinner time and we had an hour to kill, we went over there.  Manny runs a restaurant called “Schooners.”  Manny is a Mexican American who has lived in Manzanillo for a few years, but is getting ready to move on.  He is very involved with the Sea Scouts there.  He did give us the number of someone in Barra who could help us with our pump if the current guy fails us.  We also had a very good dinner, although we had to rush through it in order to catch our bus.

The bus was crowded, so we all had to take single seats.  First class busses have video screens.  They were playing a very old black and white Mexican movie from about the era of Laurel and Hardy.  It was a slapstick comedy about an incompetent fire fighter.  I found it very amusing and almost missed my stop.  I sat next to a fellow who had lived in the United States for many years.  He had a child in the United States with a Puerto Rican woman who was afraid to come to Mexico.  He hadn’t seen his son for two years.  I hate hearing stories of families separated by the border.  Our crew member, Carlos, still has not succeeded in obtaining a passport.  We would really like him to come with us to Panama, but he may just end up going back to Cabo to work for a few months if he can’t get his passport difficulties resolved.  Apparently, getting out of Mexico can be almost as difficult for a Mexican as getting into the United States.

Cole Doing the Cruiser Carry
I intended Saturday to be another lazy pool day, but Cole and I schlepped the laundry into Colimilla and bought a case of beer.  I also attacked the stains on the deck and cabin top with the Mexican equivalent of Soft Scrub for an hour or so before I finally made it to the pool.  For 20 pesos, this cleaner is a real deal.  It removed all the black caulking that was smeared around the windows we had rebedded and took the stains out of the fiberglass.  It even removed rust from the stanchions, cleaned the aluminum toe rail and brightened the lifelines.  I’ll get this boat ship shape eventually.  I did get in a few hours at the pool, but hurried home to meet the laundry lady when she delivered the laundry and start cooking enchiladas.  I spent another hour scrubbing the exterior of the boat while Cole went for a run (There was a breeze and it was cooler than usual.) and then we all ate a nice dinner together.  Theoretically, the pump should be back on Sunday.

Restaurant in Melaque

I went for another long run through the golf course on Sunday morning and then scraped varnish off the boat that I had been unable to see until I scrubbed off the dirt covering it.  We spent kind of a lazy morning and then I set off to explore Melaque.  Scott gave me a ride across the estuary in the dinghy and then I took a seven peso bus ride over there, got off at the central plaza and then walked down to the beach.  I ate barbecued ribs at a restaurant on the beach and then walked up and down the streets of the central area, looking for a Banamex branch that was rumored to be there.  I never did find it, but I got a good sense of Melaque. 

Hurricane Damage in Melaque
There are no big, fancy hotels in Melaque, but there are lots of medium and low end beach hotels and RV parks.  It’s a mellow place with a nice beach and an anchorage at the far end of town.  Melaque suffered its share of damage from the hurricane that ravaged Barra.  If you like to anchor out and ride your dinghy in to drink in a palapa bar, this is the place for you.  Melaque is actually bigger than Barra de Navidad.  The two places would probably have merged by now if there were not a lake between them.  I walked all the way back to Barra along the beach.  It’s a steep beach with fairly big surf and I kept getting wet, which kept me from overheating.
Anchorage in Melaque

Scott had taken the dinghy over to Barra to get our 5 gallon water bottles filled.  The Sands Hotel lets cruisers tie up to their sea wall for free.  On his second trip over there, he hit a rock with the outboard and broke the shear pin.  By the time he got the oars arranged, he had drifted onto a shoal and he broke one of the oars trying to shove the dinghy off the sand.  He rowed back with one and a half oars and was very grumpy when I met up with him in the marina.  My only mishap was that the ATM in Barra couldn’t read my card.  I hope this in just because I don’t have an RF chip in my card because it would be a pain to have to replace it.

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