Sunday, April 27, 2014

Leg 1, part 1—Yelapa to Chacala

I have so many stories to tell about our time in La Cruz and so many memories of people we met and places we went during our month in Banderas Bay. But I was too busy having fun and working on other writing projects to do much blogging while we were there and just as I was getting back to it, our computer died. It took several days to get my notes off the failing hard drive, and weeks to get a system up and running again. So instead of playing catch-up all the way up the coast and feeling a month behind the whole time, I'm going to write about La Cruz as I get around to it and intersperse some flashbacks into my current events. I'll be sure to make it obvious what's what. Here's a post about the first few days of our journey north.

March 11-March 14
We started the journey back home by heading south. No, I'm not a terrible navigator. We wanted to cross Banderas Bay to the town of Yelapa before we turned around for the homeward journey. Friends took pictures of us by our boat before we left La Cruz, in a pose quite reminiscent of one from our first Bon Voyage party. 

We motored around to the fuel dock, waving at friends on every dock along the way and, as we finally pulled out through the breakwater, we glanced back to see more friends up on the high rock wall, waving and taking pictures.

We had a nice sail in the afternoon breeze most of the way across to Yelapa, and picked up a mooring in the deep bay just after sunset. We'd heard it was possible to anchor there, but that the best anchoring space had been taken over by mooring buoys run by the local restaurants.
The next morning, a panga came racing over to us. The paint on the side identified the driver as being from “Domingo's Restaurant—London, Paris, Yelapa.” He called across, “I have a reservation for someone who is coming in to use this mooring, but you can move to another one, over here!” We obediently loosed our lines and followed him to the indicated mooring. He tied us up and said to call him on the radio when we were ready for a ride to shore. We never found out if he really owned both moorings or if he had just poached us from another restaurant's buoy. The “reservation” never arrived. I think they might be as real as the Domingo's in London or Paris.
We'd heard there were two waterfalls in the area, one a little closer and the other a little farther away. We set off to shore in search of the farther away one. Everyone we asked for directions seemed to be in cahoots with the horse-rental place. There is no road access for cars to get to Yelapa so all tranportation there is on ATV or horseback. We were told it was much to far away to walk. We set off anyway, determined. 

It took a couple of tries to find the right set of stairs to get from the beach up to the main road. By the time we did, my legs had started shaking, as if I'd just climbed down a skyscraper. I sat to rest and get some water in case I was dealing with dehydration, and then we went on, a little less determinedly. (I've since wondered if we run short on electrolytes, especially during the times we drink desalinated water. Who knows?) We wandered through the small streets of the town and into the local church. 

The cupola over the dais was only half there, the upper half, a gaping round opening to the sky. As we stood, gaping a bit ourselves, a local man came over and filled us in. The town was rebuilding the dome but, as all the the supplies have to be brought by boat or on horseback, it was taking a long time. When asked, he too suggested taking a horse to the far away waterfall. We followed his directions though to the nearer one, around the back of the church and down the path along the riverbank. 

Homes and other structures clung to the hillside and the evidence of creativity stood out in the mosaic retaining walls.
The refreshing mist of the waterfall drifted around a bend in the path to meet us. We walked through an arch, past shelves of chintzy souvenirs, and emerged into a sunlit clearing. The girls climbed up on a good pondering rock and enjoyed a snack in the sun. 

I sat on the edge of the pool, dipping a tentative toe in now and again. 

Bryan took an exploratory meander up the path past the waterfall. By the time he came back, we'd been joined by other visitors. We left them to enjoy the waterfall alone and walked back through town and up a different river to find some lunch. 
Here the girls are planning a coded encouragement system for the trip home

We'd seen flyers for Manguito's Restaurant and sings pointing us 15 minutes up river. We walked the slender dirt path, several times shifting over to let a horse pass by. The signs pointed us across a pedestrian overpass to the other side of the river. As we crossed, I looked back through the metal supports at 2 boys playing video games on laptops. Near their open patio stood a patient donkey tied to a tree. The wide riverbed gave proof of the power of the rainy season to change the landscape. But today, the river was a trickle, a stream winding down the path of least resistance to the sea. Local kids made good use of the dry portion of the riverbed and jumped enthusiastically on a rusty trampoline set on the flat dirt.

Our family's natural eating schedule doesn't follow the locals' typical routine. We've stopped trying to follow the traveler's adage about only eating at places with lots of locals. Often, and today this was the case, we are the only diners in a restaurant. 
The food was good and the service attentive. Bryan found a map of the area on the wall and took a photo for later reference. 

As we pushed back from the table to go, Bryan stopped us. “This is the farthest south you will be in Mexico on this trip.” My thoughts and emotions swirled. Pride, reluctance, eagerness, gratefulness. Gratefulness won.

We walked back on the east bank of the river stopping to chat with an acquaintance we'd met in La Cruz. Should I stop to tell the story here? Why not?!

One of our first evenings in La Cruz, we went with a bunch of friends to listen to some jazz at a local restaurant. The evening was utterly pleasant and the music understated and excellent. I especially appreciated the pianist, Jerome. Apparently Hannah did too, because she went up to him afterward and chatted a bit, a fact I didn't find out until later.
Perhaps a week or so after that evening, the girls decided to take Rover out for a row in the anchorage. Bryan and I thought it was a great plan and we made sure they had their life jackets and the handheld VHF and sent them off for a little adventure. We hadn't considered how much the afternoon wind affects the anchorage. As they left the breakwater, there was a mild beam wind and they decided it was safe to row on out. Unfortunately, while they were out, the wind shifted and freshened and started blowing them away from the marina, out to open water. They turned to head back in, but couldn't make way toward the breakwater. Meira grabbed the handheld and called some friends in the anchorage until one of them answered. Jerome, anchored out in his beautiful Kind of Blue spotted them struggling and invited them alongside, then aboard to use his more powerful radio to call us. By the time we heard from them, they'd already arranged a tow back to LiLo and were starting to come down from the rush of the mini-crisis. They'd felt a little overwhelmed, but Jerome reported back later how impressed he was at their calm competence in the face of adversity. Once again, we were thankful for the community of cruisers.

I wish we had video of one of the moments from the walk back from Manguito's. A couple of young boys, maybe 4 and 7, came walking along from a side path. The younger one held out his hand like a miniature traffic cop. “Alto!” he said. “Stop! The cow is coming.” Sure enough, an older man was stepping across from the same side-path, leading an angular bull with a frayed rope. Our protector stood between us and the bull until the Yelapa traffic jam had cleared and then he ran off with his friend, done with his work, back at play.
We found our way back to the beach and waited a few minutes for the water taxi.We'd been warned that they stop running when the restaurants shut down, but we caught them just in time.

The next day, Bryan headed back in for one more try at the faraway waterfall. 

He made it all the way there (yes, even without a horse:-) 

and back to the boat in time for us to leave for Las Tres Marietas, bringing with him some amazing grilled chicken for a CrazyLove-inspired meal. (David and Carolyn always try to pick up an easy dinner for their first evening out on passage. We think that's a fabulous tradition and have decided to adopt it ourselves!) We came in just before sunset and I was happy to see one of my theories about our trip back prove correct. The winds and the currents will be against us on the way back, yes. But I think many other things will be less stressful, especially for me. Besides provisioning, cooking, homeschooling, and writing, (Bryan would like to add “eye candy” to my list of assigned roles) my main jobs aboard are navigating, weather forecasting, passage planning, and communications. Since we left Astoria on the way down, we've been sailing in completely unfamiliar waters. And since we left San Diego, weather reports have been hard to come by, charts re unreliable, and communications in a foreign language. On the way back, we will ease our way back to accurate charts, more predictable weather, and easier communications. And we will be returning to many familiar ports along the way. Our first day at Las Tres Marietas, I worried about running aground or hitting a rock. Our guide books warned of rocks and reefs around the islands and detailed the safe approach, but our charts showed rocks in that exact part of the bay. I made the (correct, as it turns out) educated guess to trust the guide books rather than our chart. The guide books all agreed with each other and the chart had proven unreliable in this area in the past. But it was still a tense approach. This time, I sat without a worry as Bryan steered us in a dropped the anchor,
The next morning, I looked to him for our plans for the day. He'd considered staying at the island for a day of snorkeling. But the visibility was poor and the tour boats had already started to arrive. We hauled up the anchor and headed off for Chacala. The weather was perfect and the seas quite calm. We spotted a sea turtle and caught 2 skipjack tuna, one right after the other. 

I did the dishes, soaked some beans and experimented with cold-brewed coffee, finally getting the hang of relaxing while at sea. The girls are pitching in on watches more and I'm less concerned about doing my “fair share.” Especially on shorter day hops, Bryan doesn't mind taking more of the actual sailing duties and it leaves me free to rest, write, or get stuff done like dishes or cooking that improve morale all around. Around mid-afternoon, we dropped anchor in “our” corner of Chacala's little bay. Several friends' boats were in the bay already and we were looking forward to a few last days here in one of our favorite Mexican destinations.

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