Monday, January 6, 2014


About to Run My First Race
Cole and I got up well before dawn on December 31st to run in the Carrera San Silvestre.  I ran the 5k and he ran the 10k.  It was a very informal race.  Each contestant had a wrist band that determined the length of the race he or she was running, but we didn’t have numbers.  There were no age groups or anything.  I was slow, as usual, but was far from last and beat most of the people in my age group.  Cole achieved his goal of running the 10k in under an hour.  I tried to take a picture of him crossing the finish line, but only succeeded in spilling the plastic bag of water they had provided at the finish line all over my cell phone, which has been spastic ever since.

Scott and I headed back to Zihuat on Tuesday to look for refrigerant and diodes with which to build the bridge rectifier that had eluded us the day before.  We went back to Peregrino because Scott was pretty sure they had the diodes.  They did, but they were very puzzled as to what we wanted with so many (Scott had asked for 8.)  Eventually, the guy said, “I want to show you something.”  He rummaged around in the back and came up with a … bridge rectifier.  We bought two.  My faith that one can find anything, anywhere, in Mexico was restored.

We were not so lucky with the refrigerant, however.  The air conditioners on Fool’s Castle use R22, which has been outlawed in the U.S. for many years.  The refrigerant is still available in Mexico, but the hoses and gauges used to recharge the system and no longer available.  The current ones are a different size.  They are also quite expensive.  A set of hoses and gauges runs about 1,000 pesos.  The refrigerant is less than 250 pesos.  Eventually, we decided it would be easier and probably cheaper to just pay someone to recharge the system.  We tried to go back to an air conditioning repair shop we had seen on the way into town, but couldn’t find it from the opposite direction and just ended up coming back to Ixtapa.  We pulled the rear air conditioner pump out at the expense of gallons of sweat, only to determine that it was not the problem and had to be reinstalled.  Neither of us could bear to be in that tiny cabin for more than a few minutes, so we took turns working on it.  Scott eventually determined that the problem was some wires that had corroded and shorted out, destroying a capacitor.  Fortunately, we had seen just such capacitors at Peregrinos earlier in the day.

It was New Year’s Eve, so I made a nice dinner of steak with chimichurri sauce, baked yams and salad.  We learned that the tradition in Mexico is to eat twelve grapes in the last twelve seconds of the year.  This is made tougher by the fact that the grapes all have seeds.  We played cards for a bit after dinner and then packed up some fireworks that Cole had bought in the market in Barra de Navidad and a bottle of champagne and headed for the beach.  We didn’t know what to expect, but we figured it was the safest place to shoot off our bottle rockets.

Many years ago, I spent a New Year’s in Vera Cruz.  At 4:00 pm, the square was packed with revelers, but the city was deserted at midnight and we were never able to determine where everyone had gone.  I had always suspected that they were all at the beach.  There were certainly a lot of people at the beach in Ixtapa.  Everyone was launching floating lanterns and the sky was filled with drifting lights.  They looked like fireflies or colored stars.  There were hundreds of them.  The lanterns are made of lightweight materials like tissue or silk.  They are shaped like hot air balloons and an accelerant soaked cake is suspended from the bottom.  The fuel is lit and, once the air inside the balloon heats up, the lantern starts to rise.  It was fun watching people launch the lanterns.  We held our breaths when they failed to get lift right away and headed for the waves and cheered when they cleared the breakers and took off for the sky.  Lots of people had fireworks and the hotels put on quite a show at midnight.  The fireworks were shot low over the water and they reflected in the surf.  It was all pretty magical, even though our bottle rockets were underpowered and half of them were duds.  We drank our champagne, launched our silly fireworks and gawked at the floating lanterns and fireworks.  Our neighbors started a bonfire.  It was probably the best New Year’s Eve I have ever spent.
I made corn cakes for breakfast on New Year’s Day, did some laundry and scrubbed a section of the cockpit before it got too hot.  Scott planned to spend the day working on our electrical problems, which would pretty much render the boat impassable.  Cole and I decided to take an outing to Isla Grande for the day.  We took the bus from the marina to the center of Ixtapa (6 pesos) and then caught another bus to Playa Linda (another 9 pesos.)  There is a crocodile viewing platform next to the parking lot at Playa Linda.  We spent a few minutes there watching the crocodiles and turtles.  The turtles showed no fear of the crocodiles and even climbed right over their toothy snouts.

Lancha Pier at Playa Linda
Isla Grande
There is a Club Med and a few other hotels at Playa Linda.  There is also a touristy market and a few restaurants on the beach.  There is a long pier where we caught a launch for Isla Grande.  The boat ride cost 40 pesos (about $3) for a round trip.  It’s a short trip, but very scenic.  Both Playa Linda and Isla Grande are beautiful.  Isla Grande actually isn’t very big.  Some of the restaurants actually reach from one side of the island to the other.  The cove where the water taxis land was filled with anchored boats (day anchorage only) and the beach was lined with palapa restaurants.  The cove on other side of the island is filled with coral reef.  We brought our own snorkel gear, but the restaurants there rent it inexpensively.  Everyone there was Mexican.  We could have been the only North Americans there.  We have seen very few Americans or Canadians in Ixtapa at all.  There are more in Zihuatanejo.  Most of the people visiting Ixtapa seem to come from Morelia or Mexico City.

Snorkeling Beach at Isla Grande
The snorkeling was very good.  The water wasn’t as clear as in the Bahamas, but it was clearer once we swam out a ways from shore.  There were tropical fish everywhere.  The reef reached all the way to shore and the fish came all the way in, also.  Much of the reef was exposed after the tide went out.  We settled at a table at one of the restaurants and then went snorkeling for a while.  There were small, brilliantly colored fish that liked Cole and followed him, nibbling at his arms.  The corals weren’t as varied as I’ve seen in the Caribbean, but the fish were varied and plentiful.  There were also urchins with very long spines.  The water was warm enough that getting cold was not a worry.  The water was filled with people snorkeling.  I sometimes wonder if the fish aren’t so plentiful because they come to look at all the people in their colorful bathing gear.  It was very hot and the sun was so intense that I could feel it burning my arm after about five minutes.  We lay in the sun long enough to dry off and then retreated to our shady table where we had something to eat and drink and read in the shade for a couple of hours.

The last boats leave the island at 5:00, so everyone started heading for the dock about 4:30.  There was a long line to board a boat and then, once we arrived at the mainland, there was a long line of boats waiting to unload at the dock.  When it was our turn, the boat surged away from the dock just as I was about to step ashore, leaving me balanced on the gunwhale for an interminable moment until the helmsman could steer back into the dock and I could leap ashore.  Men here always seem to think I need help getting in and out of boats.  I know I’m mature, but I live on a boat with a big step up that I make a dozen times a day.  The bus back to Ixtapa was equally packed.  There wasn’t room for one more person to stand in the aisle.  The last couple of people to board were hanging out the open door.

We had bought a ham for Christmas before we realized that we would be in Barra for the cruisers’ Christmas potluck.  We baked it for New Year’s and served it with mashed potatoes, pineapple and salad.  It was a satisfying and very American meal.  It was the first time I had ever cooked a ham, but it turned out OK.  We had lots of leftovers for sandwiches.

Ciclopista in Ixtapa
Scott had spent the day reinstalling the alternator, but didn’t work on the generator because the heavy main air conditioner was out of the cabinet and sitting on the floor panel over the generator.
An alarm on the neighboring boat woke me up at 6:30 am on Thursday, so I got up and went running.  I decided to run the 10k course just to see if I could.  The path started out in the direction of the center of Ixtapa and then curved around towards Playa Linda.  At about the 2km point, I heard a pitiful meowing and turned around to see a black and white spotted kitten racing after me.  He was very cute and desperate for affection.  It would have been hard to leave him there if he hadn’t had a collar on.  He continued to follow me after I put him down until a bus came along and frightened him.  I’ve never been chased by a cat before.  At the 4.5km point, I saw two anteaters cross the path in front of me.  Their tails are bigger than their heads.  They look like cartoon animals.  At the 9km point, I ran into Cole coming the other way.  I made it back to the marina without trouble, although I felt it in my right calf later in the day.
Main Air Conditioner out of Its Cabinet

Scott and I went back to Zihuat after breakfast to buy a capacitor for the air conditioner from our new best friends at Peregrino’s and then look for someone to recharge our air conditioners.  This time, we had determined landmarks on the return side of the street, so we managed to get off the bus at the right place to get to Friotec.  A nice young man there agreed to come and look at our air conditioner later in the afternoon.

I spent the late afternoon in the office, working on my blog while Andres came to look at the main air conditioner.  It had an internal leak, so he took it back to his shop to repair it.  It is amazing how, after enduring weeks of sweltering heat, we are now desperate for air conditioning and reluctant to embark on any other projects until it is fixed.  Despite the heavy air conditioner being off the access hatch to the generator, Scott was not moved to work on it until the air was fixed.
Rear Air Conditioner in Its Hole Under a Bunk
Friday morning, I got up early and walked into Ixtapa to get money to pay the air conditioner guy.  When I came back, Scott worked a bit on the generator and I removed the rear air conditioner.  Scott determined that the problem with the generator had not been the bridge rectifier, after all, but he found a wire that was disconnected and decided to postpone inquiry into where it belonged, which involves running the generator with the floor open, until after the air is fixed.  He closed up the floor and we grabbed a taxi and took the second air conditioner into the repair shop.  Andres wasn’t there, but his assistant said he would call us later.

Cole, meanwhile, hitchhiked to Barra de Potosi, where he borrowed a machete and bushwhacked his way to the top of the mountain.  He inched his way up between two neighboring coconut trees and picked a big coconut, which he brought home and used to make a lime, avocado and coconut pie (paleo, of course.)

I walked into Ixtapa, again, on Saturday morning to go to the farmacia and refill my cholesterol prescription.  It was easy enough.  Despite the fact that the package said they required a prescription, the pharmacist handed the drugs over with nothing more than my pill bottle for a reference.  They were much more expensive than in the U.S., though.  While I had paid about $10 for 60 days’ worth (admittedly with insurance) of 40 mg tablets, it cost me about $20 for 30 days worth of 10 mg tablets.  I don’t know if this was just because Ixtapa is a tourist place or not.  I will have to try again in a week or so and see.

Our Dock in Ixtapa
Scott was depressed and frustrated because the new insurance company that we thought was going to be the answer to our troubles had rejected our survey as insufficiently rigorous.  Our friend and former crewmember, Ingemar, was our surveyor.  He had been hoping to work as a ski instructor over the Christmas holidays to make some money and then return to the boat after the New Year.  Because there was no snow over Christmas, he was unable to work and so is now planning to delay his return until after Presidents’ Day.  We may have to go back to La Cruz, the southern limit of our current coverage, until we can resolve our insurance problems.  We are still hoping that maybe we can provide them with enough documentation to satisfy their demands.  It would be a shame to lose Cole, but he might have to leave us in order to get to Panama by February when his friend is meeting him there.  If we have to go back, I will have to decide what I am going to do.  I could hang out in La Cruz, go to visit my cousin in Mexico City, travel in Central America, or just go home and deal with mundane responsibilities like selling my boat and extra car, hiring a contractor to build my house, and pruning my fruit trees.

We never heard from Andres on Friday, so I called him on Saturday morning.  He said he would be over in a couple of hours.  I killed several hours scrubbing stains off the hull and he eventually appeared with our small air conditioner in tow.  He and Scott reinstalled it in the boat, only to determine that a valve was blocked and it needed to be taken back to the shop.  Andres believed the main air conditioner probably had the same problem.  He left and said he’d be back later with both of them.

Typical Fonatur Tower
Andres returned just as I was cooking dinner and it was hellishly hot in the boat.  He and Scott worked to connect and test both of the air conditioners while Cole and I tried to stay out of the way.  It was 9:00 or so before he left, but both units were blowing air at that point, although the main one seemed to be producing more heat from the compressor than it made cold air.  The rear unit seemed to be working pretty well.  The temperature in the rear of the boat got down to 79 degrees.  We ate a nice dinner of carnitas tostadas and Cole’s yummy avocado pie, which tasted like lime pie, only creamier.  Unfortunately, the compressor on the main air conditioner seized after about an hour.  Scott and I went to bed, feeling grateful that it was reasonably cool in our cabin, at least.

Teak Rub Rail
I woke up about 1:00 am because it was stifling in our cabin.  I looked at the air conditioner control and the temperature was up to 86 degrees.  It was still blowing air, but was only making heat.  I turned it off and opened the hatches, since it was cool outside.  I took a walk up to the restrooms, just to cool off.

Sunday was a wasted day.  We didn’t want to bother Andres on his day off and I didn’t want to provision until I knew what was happening with our insurance and whether or not Cole was leaving us.  I spent the day reading and bleaching and oiling the teak on the rub rail.  There are a lot of bees around the Ixtapa Marina.  Dead bees litter the ground under the light by the restroom door each morning.  One night, someone left the light on in the women’s room and there was a big swarm of bees in there by morning, even though all the windows are screened.  We have had trouble keeping them out of the boat.  Once they fly in through the rear hatch, they only seem to want to exit through the non-opening windows in the main salon.  We usually end up killing them while trying to encourage them to leave.  I finally started keeping mosquito netting over the hatch, but we still got a bee in the boat on Sunday.  I value bees and hate to kill them, so I left him alone in the hope that he would find his way out.  Unfortunately, he landed on my arm while I was walking through the dark passage between the salon and the rear cabin.  Not realizing he was there, I brushed at whatever was on my arm and he stung me on the back of the arm.  Ixtapa is a crummy place to be stuck.  There is nothing here but tourist stuff – no laundry, no butcher, no real grocery store, and no cruiser community.  I can’t wait to get out of here.

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