Wednesday, January 08, 2014

More from Mazatlan

Christmas was a little different this year. Some family traditions travel well, though. We still slept in as usual (yay for a family of 4 night-owls!) We always have to wait for something before we can open our stockings. Some years, we have to wait for Bryan’s coffee or my tea. Other years, we parents feel compelled to brush our teeth and put in contacts first. This year, we were all ready…and the camera battery died. We plugged it in and twiddled our thumbs for a few minutes but we just couldn’t wait! We finally agreed we could re-stuff the “stockings” later, stage another picture and fool our memories into thinking we had it all together on Christmas morning.

I was just a little apprehensive about Christmas this year. The girls aren’t greedy about holidays, but we’ve always celebrated with multiple family members and, especially after losing Splitpea earlier in the month, I was a little concerned that this Christmas wouldn’t feel like enough. Not enough family, not enough parties. Not enough candles and music, cookies and cocoa, and yes…not enough gifts. I can respect those who chose to forgo gifts at Christmastime to keep the focus on the gift of the Christ child. But we still find meaning in the practice of giving and receiving gifts. It’s nice to be thought of, nice to think of others, a good practice in receiving grace. But—you probably could have told me this—I shouldn’t have worried.

The girls were overjoyed with the few gifts we’d managed to tuck away (I’d been sleeping with several for weeks) and those they bought for each other. Meira calligraphied special notes for each of us and somehow in all the bustle, Bryan even managed to pick up a few things for our stockings (new dishtowels for me and candy for everyone, including himself, since he knew I hadn’t made it to the store.) and a couple of lovely pieces of traditional silver jewelry for me.

In the afternoon, we pulled away from the dock and motored a couple of miles to nearby Isla Venados.


We anchored a little ways down the beach from a couple of day-tour catamarans and dinghied in for some snorkeling.

We’d heard the snorkeling here wasn’t the greatest,but it was plenty good enough for us.





Bryan and Meira even swam back to the boat while Hannah and I rowed Rover alongside them to warn off any nearby vessels.

There is a reef just off the point near the entrance to the marina. Our first day into Mazatlan, I’d spotted a buoy marking the end of the reef and guided Bryan safely past it. But on Christmas, as we drove out to the island, and again on the way back, I searched the sea for the marker. I would have sworn I saw a buoy that first day, but if it had ever been there, it wasn’t there anymore. I was so confused, but figured I must have mistaken a splashing wave for a marker. That night, on a late night stroll, we spotted the buoy sitting on the wharf. We asked a nearby security guard what had happened and initially, I thought he was saying they brought it in because big seas were predicted. That seemed like a bad time to pull in an important marker. But Bryan was pretty sure he said it broke loose in big seas and they found it floating and hauled it in. That made way more sense. I was glad we didn’t need it to find our way back in safely.
We drove back into our slip with just enough time to get a pie in the oven and cook some potatoes, our promised contribution to Christmas dinner with our friend, Will.
Will had cooked up some Mexican mystery meat sausages and traditional German green cabbage. We brought salt potatoes and apple pie. We slid in around his festive table and enjoyed celebrating the evening together. Apparently our travels were a bit confusing to Santa, as he had left some gifts for the girls on Will’s boat by mistake:-)
The next few days are a bit fuzzy. Wandering down to the pools in between boat chores is a lovely way to relax but doesn’t make for riveting narrative. We all agreed we needed a little vacation from our adventure. We’d considered leaving on the 26th, but ended up staying a couple of extra days.
We've had several visits from these enormous moths

We didn’t relax the whole time though. Some repairs are easier at a dock, especially at a dock with nearby toilets. The day after Christmas, the whole family pitched in to help clean and repair the holding tank vent.
Here's Meira wedged into the hanging locker

The next morning we did several loads of laundry before breaking for the afternoon. We’d watched the water ferry whiz back and forth from the fuel dock to the beach dock on the other side of the estuary, but the 27th, our last day in Marina El Cid, we finally rode across.



The beach was glorious, with gentle seashell-to-the-ear surf sounds. Bryan and Meira went body surfing in their clothes and Hannah and I laid on the beach chairs and let the warm breeze float away the last of our stress.


Just before sunset, we ferried back, piled into Rover and rowed up inside the bay.


A friend had sent us an e-mail introduction to a specific boat in one of the inner marinas and we thought we’d ask around to see if we could meet them. We wandered around the marina, and just about the time it got too dark to see, a helpful boater put out a call on the radio and heard back that the boat had left just the morning before. We’ll keep our eyes out. If they’re headed south, we’ll probably see them along the way somewhere.

We settled for a pizza dinner at La Mona, a wood-fired pizza joint. Our waiter was helpful, teaching me how to order 1/2 and 1/2 in Spanish, and the pizza—prosciutto, pineapple, shrimp, and coconut—was unusual, but fabulous. As we were walking back to the dinghy, Bryan pointed out the shopping center he’d biked to a few days before. We needed a few things to tide us over until we could get to a market in Oldtown Mazatlan and it wasn’t very far away as the crow flies. We decided we were all up for the walk. We picked our way through a brambly lot, across a parking lot and a 4 lane-highway to the cobblestone sidewalk on the other side. We ducked under the strange trees along the edge of the road and walked in rhythm to some cricket-y bugs in the fields to our left, chirping even louder than the noisy traffic on our right.
We finally made it to the store, a Walmart, of all places. We shopped mostly based on weight (Only Bryan had a backpack for heavy food. The rest of us had to carry back the lighter stuff in plastic bags.) but we also took some time to find rashguard shirts for the crew. A couple days of snorkeling (and a little bit of Christmas money) had encouraged us to splurge on long sleeved swim shirts and shorts. We haven’t tried them yet, but look forward to the added protection from rocks and reefs (and jellyfish!) and the little bit of extra warmth they will offer. Even here where the water is warm, it’s nice to have a little help retaining body heat over a long day in the ocean.
The bakery area was a little confusing, but thanks to the multiple Mexican-style groceries in our area in Oregon, we figured it out right away. All the baked goods sit out in the open and customers take a tray and some tongs from a central stash and wander around selecting way more pastries than they can eat. Hmmm, maybe that’s just us.
We finished our shopping and found a place on a curb to sit and eat some fortification for the walk (and the row) back.

We walked quickly past the tempting row of taxi cabs and made it back to the boat before anyone started to have a meltdown.
The row back in the dark was peaceful and easy, with an ebbing current helping us along. Pleasant chatter accompanied us for a while and then faded into the stillness of the evening, night birds and dipping oars the only sounds. We dropped the girls and the groceries off at the boat and rowed back across to the main wharf for our laundry. It was quicker and easier to row across than to walk around and walk it back. A boating neighbor met us back on our dock. He’d seen us rowing in the estuary, but when he spotted some strange lights on shore and our dinghy missing from the boat, he wanted to make sure we’d made it back OK. We’re used to the independent attitude necessary for this kind of travel, but it’s nice to have someone keeping an eye out for us.
The next morning, we finished up the last of our at-the-dock chores and checked out. On our way out, we stopped by the fuel dock for gas. Getting into the dock was easy, but before we could leave, a fishing boat came in behind us and another one tucked into the impossibly small space in front of us, avoiding the rock wall at the inner end of the dock, but banging his bow-hung anchor into ours several times in the process. Meira jumped down to fend off like the experienced sailor she’s become. Just feet in front of that boat, some officials pulled up to the rocks at the base of the seawall and someone lowered the wayward buoy down into their panga. In the meantime, the water taxi continued its regular runs back and forth across the water, pulling up to the end of the fuel dock to take on and let off passengers and another fishing boat pulled up close on our port quarter to stake their claim on our spot. We tried to organize a do-si-do with the boat behind us, to give us a better shot at a clear exit, but finally decided just head out sideways and hope we could turn around before running aground or hitting another boat in the busy harbor. Bryan got some help pushing the bow off the dock and Meira retrieved the boat hook from the volunteer dockhand as I drove us away, trusting the impatient boat waiting for our spot at the dock to back out of our way.
After all that excitement, we were glad we only had a few miles to motor. The ocean was calm and beautiful and we all wanted to be out enjoying the sun. It was a good thing we had several people out on watch. Partway to our new anchorage, we spotted what looked like a swimmer in the middle of the channel. We slowed down and eased closer in case someone needed help. Sure enough, there was someone in the water, no dive marker or float to make him more visible, just a swimmer all in black wearing a cowboy hat and floating around in the ocean. We hollered to him in English and Spanish and he hollered back, “Estoy bien!” “I’m fine!”
We planned to anchor near Club Nautico, just inside the commercial harbor’s breakwater. It’s not really a marina, but they have a dinghy dock (with a security guard), wireless internet, and basic bathroom facilities (Rumor has it the showers are cold. We opted not to find out for ourselves.) The opening in the harbor jetties is just big enough for the big cargo ships and cruise ships, so even the smallest vessels are required to call traffic control to obtain permission to enter or leave the port to make sure they don’t try to move through at the same time as one of the big guys. Though I try to at least start in-person conversations in Spanish, only switching to English if it seems necessary (in person, it’s pretty obvious I’m not a native Spanish speaker), on the radio, I’ve gotten myself in trouble when my initial Spanish fooled someone into thinking I understand more than I do. So I tried to hail traffic control several times in English, and only then switched to Spanish. They responded, but didn’t seem to be either allowing us in or prohibiting us. I called again, repeating my request and adding the now-traditional, “Lo siento, no hablo mucho espanol.” Finally, I heard what I needed to hear, “Yes, you may enter.” We slipped through the breakwater without any trouble and into the sizable anchorage on the other side. It took a while to get our anchor set. We’d heard the muddy bottom here has a way of turning to jello if the wind picks up, so we let our anchor sink for a few minutes before setting it hard with the engine.

While we’d moved the boat to Club Nautico, Bryan’s family had gathered for their Christmas celebration. So as soon as our anchor was set, Bryan and I hopped in the dinghy and rowed to shore to see if we could find some internet access to call them.

The night watchman gave us the info we needed to use the dinghy dock, but we couldn’t get internet until the next day. We rowed by a neighbor boat on our way back to LiLo and accepted their offer to come aboard and chat for a while. We called the girls on the VHF and they gave us permission to stay out past curfew:-) They had all the cabin lights on and even remembered to flip on our LED mast-head anchor light. We rowed back in the dark to the warm glow of home.

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