Saturday, January 14, 2017


January 1, 2017

Popocatepetl Steaming
Scott and I started the new year by boarding a plane from Los Angeles to Mexico City.  We were walking down the jet way at midnight.  Despite having arrived before 6 AM, the line for immigration was long and we were afraid we were going to miss our connection to Tapachula.  Finally, all the Mexican nationals were processed and additional windows were opened for foreigners.  We found our luggage and made it through customs in time to catch our flight, but not in time for our luggage to make it to the plane.  We arrived in Tapachula hot and sweaty and without our luggage.  We did, however, get a cool view of Popocatepetl, the volcano near Mexico City that has been erupting recently.  It was glowing and steaming as we flew by.

The airline promised to call us when our luggage arrived, as there were to be two more planes from Mexico City that day.  Since we had no luggage to carry, we walked out to the highway and caught a collectivo into town for a whopping 20 pesos ($1.)  We settled into the Hotel Cervantino, where we have stayed  whenever we needed a hotel in Tapachula.  The hotel is basic, but reasonable and friendly.  I double room with air conditioning ran us $14 per night.

The Hotel Cervantino

We were tired from flying all night, so rested for the remainder of the day, only rousing ourselves to get dinner at El Pastorcito, our usual haunt on the corner near the square.  As it was New Year’s, many places were closed and El Pastorcito was jammed.  Fortunately, we got there before the worst of the rush and managed to get a table.  We got plates of the local specialty, which is a mixture of pork and chicken with cheese and vegetables, served with a pile of tortillas.  We were hungry, not having eaten all day, so managed to polish off large plates of food.  Then we went back to the hotel and slept some more.

January 2, 2017

Our Luggage Made It to the Boat
We never heard from Aeromexico on New Year’s so, rather than try to talk to them on the telephone in Spanish (speaking Spanish on the telephone is my idea of a nightmare), we stopped off at the airport on the way to the marina.  Fortunately, our bags were waiting for us and we were able to collect them without delay.  Then we took a taxi the rest of the way to the marina, where we were finally able to change into shorts, sandals, and clean shirts.  We also unloaded all the heavy boat parts and sailing gear, which reduced our baggage by at least half.

Enrique and Memo in the marina office, were happy to see us.  We soon conferred with our mechanic, Marvin, and agreed that he would come to work on the boat at noon on Wednesday.  Theoretically, that would give us time for a carpenter to repair the rotten floor.  We also agreed to hire someone to help clean the boat.  Then we headed out to the boat to survey the situation. 

The Rotten Floor
The exterior of the boat didn’t look too bad, but the rot in the floor had spread from the floor behind the doors covering the engine to the bottom step of the companionway, one of the doors covering the engine, and part of the floor under the settee in the main salon.  A young man named Miguel arrived and, for some reason, we thought he was the carpenter.  He set to work removing the rotten parts, but we were surprised that he didn’t have any tools.  When later the actual carpenter, Santiago, arrived, we were somewhat relieved because he was much more competent.  He conferred with Miguel about what needed doing and we assumed that Miguel was Santiago’s assistant.  It wasn’t until the next day that we realized Miguel was supposed to be our boat cleaner.  It didn’t matter, anyway, since we didn’t have any water to wash the boat.

Our day at the marina passed quickly and Memo gave us a ride back to the hotel about 4:45.   We bought some beer and Scott took a nap.  Then we had hamburgers for dinner at La Dulcinea, a café next door to the hotel, and took a short walk to find ice cream for dessert.

January 3, 2017

I had told Miguel that we would be back at 10:00, so I got up at 7:30.  We had breakfast at La Dulcinea.  Breakfast was much more satisfactory than the previous night’s dinner.  It wasn’t that the food had been bad.  There just wasn’t much of a selection and we had been hungry.  For breakfast, we had eggs scrambled with ham, accompanied by black beans, yogurt, and toast, and washed down with coffee and juice.  I got to speak a little Italian with the proprietor, but trying to speak Italian while thinking in Spanish just about made my brain explode.

Marina Chiapas
We took a collectivo to Home Depot to buy cleaning supplies and ran across the highway to Auto Zone for a couple of rolls of shop towels.  It was 11:15 by the time a second collectivo dropped up at the marina.  Poor Miguel had been waiting for us “for hours” according to Memo.  I did feel bad about it, but at least I was able to make some headway in cleaning, despite the fact that we still didn’t have any water.

There Was Mildew Everywhere
Miguel spent all afternoon chiseling rotten wood out of the companionway and settee floor, while I cleaned the ports and woodwork in the aft cabin.  First, I rigged the four wind scoops I had brought with us.  They made the interior of the boat a lot more pleasant temperature than the previous day.  I also washed the mattress cover.  Scott thought we had washed it three years before in Ixtapa.  I didn’t recall the last time it was washed, but after putting a wet water bottle down on it created mud, I knew it was time to wash it.  I took the cover, some detergent, and a bucket up to the marina showers and set to work.  Ten buckets of water later, it was much cleaner, although the water still wasn’t rinsing clean.  The first six or seven buckets had turned completely black.

Our batteries were completely flat and refused to take a charge, so Scott hauled one of them out of the boat and took a taxi back to the Auto Zone to trade it in for a new one.  Once that was installed, we were able to get lights and water pressure.  Unfortunately, our vacuum cleaner motor had seized up in our absence.  Scott soaked it in penetrating oil and we hoped for the best.

Five o’clock came around very quickly and Scott wanted to leave before we missed the last collectivo.  He had worked up blisters on the bottoms of both feet from his sandals and was pretty miserable.  I made the mistake of telling the conductor that we were going to the plaza, not realizing there was a larger plaza further north.  Despite the fact that we tried to get off two blocks from our hotel, they insisted on taking us to the large plaza, which turned out to be about 9 blocks away.  Poor Scott had to limp all the way home.  It was an interesting walk, though.  There was a massive tent erected in the plaza and people were ice skating under it.  It was very odd to see people ice skating when it was 80 degrees at night.  We walked down 6th Avenue North and that was definitely the happening place in the evening.  Scott was too miserable to want to linger, so we bought beer, ice, and sandwich makings on the way home and settled into our room for the evening.  We watched a movie and then Scott went to sleep while I caught up on my writing.

January 4, 2017

Cruiser Air Conditioning
We didn’t want to keep Miguel waiting again, so we skipped breakfast and just stopped into a bakery on the way to the corner where we catch collectivos to the marina.  The large bakery, which is usually full of a variety of bread and pastries, was filled wall to wall with roscas de reyes, a type of ring cake traditionally served on Three Kings Day.  The best we could do for breakfast were plain bolillos.  We grabbed a couple and ate them while we waited for a collectivo.

We arrived at the marina just before Miguel.  He chiseled away at the rotten wood while I re-rigged the wind scoops.  They were doing a good job of keeping the temperature in the boat down around 90, instead of the 100 degrees it can be without ventilation.  It was still a hot place to work.  

After I removed all the tarps and window coverings, I set Miguel to scrubbing the topsides of the boat because our mechanic was supposed to come at noon.  The exterior of the boat was fairly filthy.  Miguel worked on it all day and didn’t quite finish the aft deck. The boat looked much less abandoned for his efforts.  I spent the day cleaning the woodwork in the aft cabin, center cabin, and aft passageway.  Then I started on the aft head.  It was especially unpleasant in the center cabin, which has no hatch.  I had to keep coming up for air.  Scott’s feet were bothering him, so he couldn’t do much except try to repair the seized vacuum.  He got it to run, but it made such a racket that we couldn’t actually use it.  We waited all day, but the mechanic never came.

Scott Getting a Haircut
I had asked the collectivo driver how late they ran and he had told me 6:00, so we were able to work until 5:00 before heading home.  We stopped at the Walmart shopping center so that Scott could get a haircut.  Then we bought some Gatorade and paper towels and took a city bus (6 pesos= about 30 cents) back to the hotel.  We tried to get dinner at Taco Tino’s, but they wouldn’t serve us because it was 7:30 and they closed at 8:00.  They still had food left and it looked good, but they must have been saving it for themselves.  We walked another block to La Fonda Inn, a fancy place with white tablecloths where we were the only customers.  I had delightful liver and onions and Scott had chicken mole.  The Victoria cervezas were icy cold and we each downed two.  Despite the fancy surroundings, the total came to about $16.  Tapachula may be dull, but it’s not expensive.

I had only slept about 3.5 hours the night before, so I collapsed when we got back to the hotel.  Unfortunately, I was up every two hours all night with severe muscle cramps.  I downed a glass of Gatorade every time I got up, but it didn’t help that much.  Working in the heat all day took it’s toll.

January 5, 2017

We got up early enough to eat a nice breakfast at La Dulcinea and still arrive at the marina by 9:00.  I
La Dulcinea Under the Arch
replaced all the window coverings and rigged the wind scoops before it got hot.  Then I finished cleaning the head.

Santiago, the carpenter, and his assistant, Alberto, arrived a bit before noon.  They set to work removing the remainder of the rotten wood.  They had the proper tools and things went pretty quickly until they got to the floor joists, which were glued and screwed in place and had to be chiseled out.  It took them all afternoon to remove them and I felt sorry for them.  They had good attitudes, though, and joked about having to be there for a week.  Once again, Scott couldn’t do much, so he decided to go to Home Depot and buy a new vacuum.  I spent the entire afternoon cleaning the galley, which seemed to go as slowly as the wood removal.  I had to scrub out every cabinet and drawer and the stove was a disaster.  By the time I completed that chore, I was wiped out.  Fortunately, it was nearly 5:00.

Tapachula has a Pollo Campero on the main drag.  I had become addicted to Pollo Campero in Guatemala and Nicaragua and drooled every time we passed it.  I insisted that my reward for slaving away in a hot boat be fried chicken for dinner.  Scott went along with me.  Apparently, table service ends at 6:30 and we arrived at 6:32.  We got our dinner to go.  Poor Scott has hobbling, so we tried to get a taxi, but every one that passed was completely full.  We stood on the side of the road, munching fries and waiting for a taxi, until we finally gave up and took a passing collectivo.  This time, we knew to get off just two blocks from the hotel.  We ate our chicken at a table in the courtyard and then went upstairs to watch a movie and write.

January 6, 2017

Roscas de Reyes at La Dulcinea
It turned out that the reason Pollo Campero wouldn’t serve us, last night, and there were so many people on the street and we couldn’t find a taxi was because there was a large protest against the 3 peso per liter hike in gas prices.  Gas apparently went from 13 pesos per liter to 16 pesos per liter overnight. This hit people hard in a country where the minimum wage is 65 pesos per DAY.  In Chiapas, people were also angry that Guatemalans were coming across the border and taking their jobs.  I had noticed that things looked noticeably more prosperous than they did when I was in Chiapas in December of 2014.  Attracting immigrants was the downside of this prosperity.
We got home without incident, but the protest apparently turned ugly later and, by the time we got up, all the major stores (Walmart, Chedraui, Coppel, and even most of the OXXOs) had been looted.  There was nowhere to buy bread.  La Dulcinea had to serve us cookies for breakfast because the stores were all looted and the bakeries were only making roscas de reyes for Three Kings Day.  Our hotel was keeping the iron gates closed and most businesses were tightly closed in expectation of more trouble.

Broken Windows at an OXXO
We ate breakfast and then checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to the marina.  It was quiet out there, but the convenience store was cleaned out and closed by midday.  Even the stores in Puerto Madero had been looted.
I set to work cleaning the dinette in the boat until our mechanic, Marvin, arrived about 1:00.  He didn’t get far before discovering that we lacked the correct hose to replace the one that had caused our engine to blow in the first place.  The hose that ran from the water pump to the exhaust manifold needed to make a 180 degree turn.  This caused most hoses to kink and deform and ours had consequently expanded into the path of the alternator belt, which cut a hole in it and let the cooling water out.  The space for the 180 degree bend was very limited and we could not relocate the pump, manifold, or belt.  We had to get creative.
Mainaval, Machine Shop in Puerto Chiapas

Machinist Welding Our Fitting
Knowing that the Home Depot was likely to be closed and having been advised not to go back into Tapachula until the situation quieted, we elected to take a taxi over to the fishing boat docks where we had heard there was a machine shop.  Our taxi driver was a most helpful young man.  He knew right where to go and helped up explain what we needed to the machinists.  The shop, Mainaval, offers industrial marine maintenance.  It is located on Uno Norte between the cruise ship terminal and the Herdez cannery.  Despite the fact that it was 3:00 in the afternoon on Three Kings Day, they were willing to help us.  They had a good supply of plumbing fittings, but nothing that would make a 180 degree turn in the space our engine allowed.  They had to make us something.  First, they tried to bend a stainless steel pipe, but it deformed just like the hose had.  They ended up cutting three pieces of pipe at 45 degree angles and welding them back together to form a square “u.”  It was slightly larger than we had hoped, but better than anything else we had available.  Several of them worked until after 5:00 and, for 600 pesos (about $30), we left with something we hoped would work.  Our helpful driver, who had waited the whole time, delivered us back to the marina for a total of 100 pesos.  We gave him all of our change as a tip because he had really been too generous with his time.
Relaxing in the Cockpit

It was too late to get anything else done for the day, so we sat in the cockpit an enjoyed a cold beer.  I arranged for the carpenter to come the next morning via text.  It was nice to be out of the hotel and listen to the squawking chacalacas and the navy trumpeter at sunset.  Scott was exhausted and could barely stay awake long enough for me to clean off the table and serve cold beans and chilorio on tostadas.  He was snoring by 7:30.

January 7, 2017

Our boat was a hive of activity on Saturday.  Our carpenters, Santiago and Alberto, arrived by 9:30 and Miguel showed up shortly after that.  I felt somewhat guilty, but I had saved the worst of the cleaning for Miguel.  He cleaned the v-berth and the forward head, where the mold had been an inch deep in places.  I felt guilty enough that I tackled the center cabin, which was not too moldy, but was hot, airless (no hatch) and cluttered with tools, parts, and sailing gear.  It took me almost all day to sort the clutter and return it to its proper places.  Miguel also had time to wash all the canvas covers.  It became apparent that I could spend the rest of my time in Chiapas restitching the canvas, but at least it wasn’t in tatters.

New Floor Joists
The carpenters worked from 9:30 until after 6:00, but still didn’t finish.  They managed to remove the last of the bad wood and fashion the replacement pieces for the supports, settee floor, and step.  Unfortunately, they took the floor with them to stain it and the support pieces were not firmly attached, so we still had no easy path from the aft cabin to the galley and no way to clean in the main salon.

We were having trouble getting our one functional battery to charge on our little, portable charger.  The solar controller had failed.  Scott turned off the DC system by late afternoon.  This made it impossible to cook dinner.  We had tostadas with cold beans, chilorio and tuna for dinner.  With all the grocery stores looted and closed, our food choices were limited.  All our juice boxes had gone bad, but I did have some pina colada flavored Tang to mix with rum.  Scott settled for lemon lime Gatorade.  While the timer on our ice maker had died, it still got cold enough to make ice in trays.  We might starve, but at least we had cold drinks.

Scott had spent all day resting his badly blistered feet, but still was ready for bed by 8:00.  Unfortunately for him, every trip to the bathroom required a quarter mile walk.  At least the heat kept bathroom trips to a minimum.  I managed to read and stay awake until almost 10:00 before I started passing out.  A second rum and I would have been asleep by 8:30.

I made one last trip to the restrooms before bed.  The guard dogs, Mastile (mast) and Amura (hull wall), ignored me.  The security guards were fast asleep and sprawled near the top of the steps leading to the restrooms, where I nearly stepped on one of them in the dark.  I had to retreat and use the other set of steps.  They slept soundly through my entire visit.  I hoped the dogs would alert them if there was any trouble.


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