Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Club Nautico and Stone Island

We all take turns dropping the dinghy. (It seems to be Bryan’s turn an awful lot of the time.) The trick is to swing it up and then out. You win if it stays dry inside.


The next day, we were excited to go to the central market, but it was Sunday and we didn’t want to walk all the way there only to find out that it was closed.
We poked around in the morning, on the boat and on the internet,

and then walked the mile into the main plaza. We found an ATM and wandered around the periphery of the fancy restaurants looking for something affordable. We spotted a wood oven in a back parking lot (controlled fire at a restaurant is a good sign) and walked around the block to find the front of the restaurant it was serving. It turned out to be another branch of La Mona, the pizza place we’d eaten at in New Mazatlan. We try to find unique places to eat along the way, but the price was right and the food was good, so we stopped in again. I was glad I’d learned how to order a 1/2 and 1/2 pizza!
On our way back, we stopped at a small store and picked up a few groceries and some pastries for breakfast. We grabbed a few for dessert too, and a quart of cold milk to drink with them.

Without refrigeration on the boat, cold milk is a special treat, but we have to drink it all right away. In fact, we have to finish most foods right away. Some leftovers keep OK (fried macaroni and cheese for breakfast is a new favorite), but other things don’t. Even crackers and cookies often go stale right away in the damp air. More than ever now, eating is a family occasion. If we open a package of oreos (here they come in small sleeves, like Ritz crackers) we just dole them out and eat them all. There are never any complaints. I’ve gotten good at judging how much to cook and Meira, who is still growing, is good at eating the last of the food from anybody’s plate. If you come to visit us, you might want to hold onto your plate while you eat:-)
Monday morning, we set off for the market. We rowed in, secured the dinghy, and walked the mile into Oldtown. We walked past the tour boat docks, through the industrial port and turned left into a residential area. We peeked through wrought iron fences into beautiful courtyards. Christmas decorations hung incongruously near tropical flowers. We scurried across a busy highway, across the median to the sidewalk on the other side. Each side of the highway was one-way only, but more than once, I saw a taxi reversing against the flow of traffic. Safely into the slender streets of Oldtown, we walked on north past the main plaza, across toward the cathedral, and into the market itself. The blocks around the market were a blaze of color and noise. Traffic fought street vendors for space on the roads and pedestrians zipped through the spaces between. The market itself, a city block of stalls and booths, was just as raucous.

Who needs automatic sprayers to keep your produce fresh when you’ve got a squirt bottle and an industrious little girl?

Clearly, bottle-cap checkers is serious business

We soon figured out the system—souvenirs in the stalls to the west; meat in the center; fruit, tortillas, and cheese to the east. Scattered here and there were lunch counters with tacos, hamburgers, and fresh drinks.

We wandered for a while and then found a place to eat. The tacos were amazing and the licuados (fresh fruit smoothies) even better.

We had to laugh when we saw the sign proclaiming careful cleanliness of ice and water displayed next to the live parakeet hanging over the blender.

We found a few things we’d been wanting—Hannah and I bought traditional dresses, Meira picked up a leather bracelet, and Bryan got a new belt.

I picked out some produce, cheese, and tortillas (we decided against buying one of the many whole pigs’ heads sitting out on ice.)


I braved the public restrooms, paid for a handful of toilet paper, and walked confidently…toward the men’s room. The attendant gestured frantically and I got the point.
On our way back, we stopped at a fabric store for some cloth to make a cockpit sunshade.

We’d poked our heads in on the way, but hadn’t wanted to carry several meters of stiff fabric around the crowded market. We found what we wanted, found someone to cut it for us and made it through the complicated process of checking out—pay here, but take your receipt around to the back of the counter to pick up your bagged fabric. Though we were never out of sight of the workers or our fabric, our receipts were double checked at each stop, first the cut slip, then the actual receipt. Someone stamped one of them with a big blue stamp and we were free to go.
In the US, I’m not much of a mall shopper. But I spend a lot of time at grocery stores and farmers markets to get the food and household goods my family needs, navigating the stores and aisles with others who are doing the same. Here, I really enjoy the challenge of shopping. Sometimes, I work to find what I want, other times I make do with what I can find. It takes extra math to figure out if we’re getting a good deal, and I’m getting a little better at haggling if it’s necessary (not as often as you might think). Though much about the process is different, the goal is the same, and a similar sort of community forms as I interact with the women at the cheese counter or bump elbows with the women at the produce stall. (Maybe, after months of navigating the male-heavy world of sailors, I’m just happy to relax in a primarily female circle again.) Back on the boat, we put away our finds, made a simple dinner of beans and rice (with cheese! What a treat!) and pulled out the laptop for family movie night.
The next morning, we loaded up the backpacks for a trip to the grocery store. The market had been nice, but we hadn’t done a real provisioning trip since San Diego and the shelves were getting a little bare. We tried to find the bus to Mega, a huge grocery superstore. A couple of taxi drivers overheard me asking for directions to the bus and when their price came down enough, we hopped aboard. We rode along the water, past a line of tiny, colorful stalls and beachside restaurants to the enormous Mega. We stood around in the entryway for a minute until we realized the store was upstairs. We grabbed a cart and wheeled it onto the flat escalator—no stairs, just a moving sidewalk at an angle. The wheels locked onto the surface (maybe a magnet? Maybe a belt brake or tip brake? Meira and Bryan investigated quickly but the ride wasn’t long enough to figure out the mechanism.)
We wandered the store until we were all tired and cranky, bought some food at the deli counter, and found some tables outside for a picnic. Just before we hopped into a taxi for the ride back, our friends from Valus Valeo came rushing up. They’d spotted us on their way up the escalator and came down to say hi. We made tentative plans to meet in the plaza after dinner for a New Years Eve dessert celebration.
We balanced our groceries in a golf cart taxi and rode back to the boat. The security guard opened the gate for us and the driver pulled through and backed up (very, very close!) to the steps at the top of the dinghy dock. We transferred the groceries to the dinghy, paid the driver, and rowed back to the boat, That night, we walked back into town. We were a little late getting started; a rain shower came through and we opted to wait it out. But we knew where we wanted to eat. On our walks, we kept passing a busy taqueria and we had plans to get some cheap food there before meeting our friends. We headed straight there and…it was closed for the holiday. As we walked around town, it seemed the same was true all over. Any cheap little restaurant was closed, the spendy ones on the plaza hadn’t opened yet—the  waiters were bustling about trying to protect the fancy table settings from the damp—and it was starting to rain again. We walked increasingly larger circles around the plaza, ducking under an overhang when the warm rain grew heavy. Every so often, we popped back into the plaza to see if our friends were waiting for us. We finally gave up on meeting them, but I didn’t feel quite ready to give up on the evening altogether and head back to the boat. It just felt like something else was about to happen.
All of a sudden, Bryan and I had the same idea—“What if we went..?” “How far is it to walk to…?”—we turned and headed for the waterfront development. Surely something there would be open. We walked the 7 blocks down to the water, amazed at the girls’ good attitudes despite the rain, their hunger, and the uncertainty. We emerged onto the main road near the beach toward the south end of all the development. We started to head north, but spotted some tables out on the sidewalk just a block or so to the south. We headed that way to check it out and were walking through, trying to see what was on the other side when—“LiLo!” Our friends from Valus Valeo had followed the same itinerary of wandering the plaza and finally heading for the beach. They’d found the restaurant a few minutes before and were just waiting for their food. We shoved another table up, shifted the already giggling girls to the spots at the end, and settled in for a effervescent evening. 

The long-suffering proprietor kicked us out a few minutes before 10. “It’s a special night for me too,” he said. Our friends caught a taxi to their end of town and we walked the sparkling streets back through the plaza (no longer dripping wet but full of lively energy) to the dinghy and rowed out to our quiet home. We rang in the new year by the ship’s clock but it was a few minutes fast, and as we were all brushing our teeth and getting ready for bed, we heard the city erupt with noise. We poked our heads out to see the fireworks and then cuddled up for “the best sleep all year.”
Our plan for the next day was a very short hop out the breakwater and around the other side to Stone Island. Bryan declared that Hannah would serve as captain for the 30 minute trip. She willingly accepted the challenge (and gratefully accepted a navigation briefing from me, the “navigation officer.”) We started the engine and Hannah started hauling in our rode. About 90 feet before the anchor broke the surface, the rode pulled up taut, caught on something on the bottom about 25 feet down. We tried winching. We tried slacking the rode and pulling it in again. We thought about calling a friend who dives. We tried motoring in circles, first this way, then that way. Every few minutes something would work its way loose and we could pull in a little more rode. For more than an hour, we hauled and motored and spun, like a kid twisting on a swing set, and finally…the rode was free. We spotted some grease marks where the line had been stuck and Bryan theorized that we’d been caught on an old engine block someone had tossed out to serve as a makeshift mooring. When we finally got to the actual anchor, it was set very firmly too. After all my concern about our anchor here, this was one place we weren’t going anywhere!
Hannah directed me (also the “communications officer”) to call traffic control and as soon as we received permission to leave, she guided LiLo safely out, past several unmarked rocks, into the anchorage on the other side. She worked with Bryan to get our anchor set well and gladly relinquished command of the vessel.
We’d planned to go to shore right away, but our fouled anchor had taken most of our time and all our energy. In the heat of the afternoon, Bryan and Meira jumped in over the side and snorkeled around the boat for a few minutes.


Hannah and I were happy to just sit aboard and take in the sights and sounds—swimmers and kayakers frolicking in the waves, pangas towing inflatable “banana boats” through the surf, horses cantering across the sand, and mariachi music floating out from the palapas on the shore.

The next morning, the view was completely changed. We couldn’t see anybody out on the beach and the tide was in so high, the waves were lapping at the beach-front restaurants. We tried to get a weather report from the cruisers’ radio net in the morning, but were too far away to pick up the weak signal. After breakfast, a trio from a neighboring boat came by on their swimming tour of the bay. They climbed up our swim ladder and sat in our cockpit for a short visit before heading off to another boat. They too had been hoping to get a weather forecast before heading out to Isla Isabel. We promised to relay across any info we got.
At low tide the day before, there had been a little slip of beach on the island in the bay, Isla Cardones. We planned to land Rover there on the sand for some snorkeling around the rocks.

Today, at high tide, we couldn’t see any sand, just sharp points of rock in the surf. We took our time getting ourselves together and by the time we were ready, Bryan could see a little sand through the binoculars. We dropped the dinghy and rowed over. The surf landing was easy and the snorkeling fun.

Vacationers in rented kayaks came and went on the tiny beach. Just as we were getting ready to head back, a couple in a tandem kayak had a rough surf landing. The woman pulled the kayak out of the water while the man waded in for some shoes trying to make their escape. When he got back to shore, he was missing his wedding ring. He didn’t know if he’d lost it wading or in the initial crash landing. We quickly offered our snorkel equipment for the search, but the sand was deep and the surf turbulent. Everyone knew the chances were slim to none. He waded out into the swell and Meira jumped in closer to shore while the rest of us waited on the beach for them to give up the nearly-hopeless endeavor. Just a couple of minutes later, Meira called out, “I think I found it!” Instead of sinking into the sand, the ring had settled into a crevice in the rock where her quick eyes spotted the sparkle. We rowed back out through the surf, energized by our part in making someone’s day.

We’d planned to leave that afternoon for Isla Isabel, an easy overnight run. The island is a world heritage site, protected for it’s abundant bird population, and nicknamed “The Galapagos of Mexico.” But the anchorages there aren’t very well protected and, because of the rocky bottom, are known for their iffy holding and tendency to snag anchors. We debated about staying another day to explore Isla de los Chivos (the island of the goats) and the palapas on the main beach. We’d just decided to head out anyway, when our swimming friends from the neighboring boat motored by on their way out to Isla Isabel too. We called over, “Did you ever hear the weather?” And they responded, “It’s blowing 8 knots right now.” With that good reminder that a weather forecast is not the same thing as the actual weather, we took off too, hoping to get a couple of calm days to explore the unique island we’d heard so much about.

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