Monday, October 26, 2009

Island bound

Well a week has gone by since we arrived in La Paz. We spent much of the time wandering along the malecon (boardwalk) back and forth between our marina and the old town. We met some great folks on boats located in various marinas and learned a little about cruising in Hawaii and El Salvador from them. Our long term plans to cruise to Hawaii in the spring seem more and more like a good idea and we may spend as much as 3 months there. We have not been completely idle on the boat and completed a few projects including replacing the ceiling board over the quarter berth (missing for some reason since we bought the boat), getting a foam overlay for our v-berth mattress to make it comfortable, and picking up curtain material to provide (visual) privacy in the heads.

We are off now to cruise the islands and coves north of here and will probably be out of email contact until around Nov 10th. A number of people we met last season are up north of us and we hope to cross paths as they head south.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hiding from Rick

My birthday at sea will be memorable; we motored on a calm sea from Los Muertos, pilot whales and flying fish crossed our bow, lemon drop butterflies fluttered by as we passed through the Ceralvo Channel and we wondered how far they had flown and whether they would return safely to their valleys of desert flowers. The Ceralvo Channel is only a few miles wide but to them it must be like an ocean crossing.

Mid-channel we were boarded by a squadron of wasps which bit us both – final score Chris 7 Wasps 2. We finally had a nice 4-5 knot wind from the north and put up our sail. Then a squall hit us just past the the San Lorenzo Channel making it difficult to take down the mainsail in 30+ knot winds and we had to beat our way with the engine running into El Merito Cove to put down our anchor. The bay was nice and peaceful, so Chris cooked us a delicious fritata followed by Ferrero Rocher for dessert. He had also hand-drawn a cute birthday card showing Ladybug being chased by Hurricane Rick!!

To backtrack, we left Mazatlan on Thursday afternoon to cruise in the Sea of Cortez, spend a little time snorkeling and swimming in Los Muertos, the islands near La Paz and in some of the gorgeous bays to it's north. We were beating into a west and then a northwest wind and the boat healed at 15-20 degrees for the next 2 days. I had lost my sea legs after 5 months on terra firma and lost my lunch on the first day and did not feel like eating on the second either.

The Southbound Net radio weather forecast by Don on Thursday night gave us cause for concern as a tropical depression lying off Acapulco was being upgraded to a hurricane named Rick and it was heading to the Baja. Rick grew up super fast, it's intensity up to Category 5 ( winds of 180 mph ) by Sunday morning, my birthday. We had lots of time to get to La Paz as Rick was not due to make landfall at Cabo San Lucas unti Tues night/Wed morning this week. But, was it wise to come to La Paz rather than keep going north?

After 4 days at sea, we were tired and decided to hunker down at one of the marinas after all, arriving this morning. We are expecting hurricane winds on Wednesday morning but people who have been at this marina for years have assured us that it is well protected by the breakwater and the docks are secure.

For the last 3 days, all we saw was a haze of clouds stretching hundreds of miles to the south, then the feathery cirrus clouds ( mares' tails ) passed over us 2 days ago followed by a lower layer of puffy cumulus clouds yesterday and the blackish thunderheads which brought the squall. They all portend a very bad weather system coming this way. We took off our roller furling sail and stowed it inside, tied the boat with as much line as we had, put out all the fenders and battened down the hatches.

However, much to our relief, Rick has weakened and turned east and all we should get here in La Paz is heavy rains and some gale force winds at the most.

Rick at his best - the most powerful hurricane recorded here in over a decade!

Thunder head approaching. We were struck by a sudden squall a few minutes later.

Calm seas of Los Muertos where we made landfall after a 54 hour crossing, beating much of the way.

Our little family at Singlar marina in Mazatlan - Eunice, Rani, Alma, and Myriam.

Old town Mazatlan

One of many lovely old crumbling buildings in Mazatlan. Many have no interior, with trees and plants sprouting from the 'floors'. American and Canadian buyers are renovating these older homes as retirement properties.

Acapulco on a smaller scale. The fellow below declined to dive but his younger and crazier partner did so a few minutes later. There is only about 6 feet of water below so they wait for a good swell and dive into the wave.

Lori and Ken, our cruising friends from last year in Magdalena Bay have settled in Mazatlan and bought a small but cozy home in the old town. They will live here, make music, and keep their boat to cruise the Sea of Cortez.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some videos from the copper canyon trip

Here are a few videos from the copper canyon trip (see next blog entry for details).

Chepe train outside El Fuerte.

Canyons and rivers.

Deep in the canyons.

On a rancho near Cerocahui.

Huicochi Falls near Cerocahui

Gallegos view point above Urique Canyon

More Gallegos view point above Urique Canyon

Mission church in Cerocahui

Look off near Posada Barrancas

Copper Canyon

We are back in Mazatlan after 6 days exploring the Copper Canyon area riding the famous Chepe train. This train runs from the Pacific coast inland through some incredible canyon scenery to the city of Chihuahua. We rode the rails for only a small portion of the length, stopping for three nights at Cerocahui (a village near the Bahuichivo stop), one night in Posada Barrancas, and one in the historic town of El Fuerte. We took an overnight bus from Mazatlan (TAP - 320 pesos each) to Los Mochis and another bus to El Fuerte, boarding the train at that station.

Map of the entire route. Note the elevation profile - Posada Barrancas, our final stop is close to the highest point at Divisdero but not even half way to Chihuahua.

Boarding at El Fuerte. Note the security guard with automatic weapon. Rani whose photo I took in the spring with a similarly armed soldier wanted her picture taken with the man in black. He declined. This is the first class train.

We took the economico (2nd class) train, which stops more often but has reclining seats (some of them, anyway) and air conditioning (some of the time). It costs less than half of the first class train and is used by middle class Mexicans and budget travellers.

The land between El Fuerte and the beginnings of the canyons is quite flat and fertile. We are now entering the canyons.

There are frequent views of rivers and this stunning stretch of water that I think is a lake or maybe just a widening of the river.

The train crosses many bridges and passes through dozens of tunnels.

We are now up in the canyons. Rani took these pictures while hanging out of the door way. A helpful Mexican businessman pointed out the sights to her on the route.

The train does a loop at this point to gain elevation within a single valley. There is a huge waterfall at the end of the valley. We have just passed over the bridge you see far below and will pass under the mountain to our left.

Alberto and Francia met us at the station. We had considered staying at their hotel as well as at one of two other budget inns in the town of Cerocahui. Alberto was persuasive and gave us a fair rate for our stay in his very comfortable and new inn (300 pesos per night or about 30 Canadian dollars). Here is a brief video of their establishment:

This is Cerocahui, a small agricultural town with a mission (ex-Jesuit) and school. It is located in a lovely valley, surrounded by mountains and rivers.

The mission in the morning light, photographed from the town square.

The town was full of wildlife - dogs, roosters, chickens, horses, and the occassional burro. At night, the dogs would start a chorus, sometimes keeping it up for an hour or so. Our rooster alarms would usually go off a couple of times in the night when a car's lights interrupted their sleep and start in in earnest well before dawn.

The next morning, Alberto and Francia invited us to join them on a trip to their rancho, a cattle ranching operation down a long 4 wheel drive road and into another valley. The fields are full of yellow wild flowers after the rains of the summer have passed. Here is a small video of our ramble at the ranch:

Cows and a bull or two.

Clothesline used by the Raramuri indian family that works the rancho.

We came across some other wildlife on our walk. This little guy is about 10 cms long (see next pic).

Centipede with hand for scale. The farmhand who accompanied us got a good shriek out of Rani when he flicked this critter at her using a stick.

We also came across a hefty spider, about 7-8 cms across. We think this is a type of tarantula:  Brachypelma vagans is commonly called the "Mexican redrump" or "Mexican black velvet". It is a burrowing species found in Mexico and other parts of Central America.

Rani recovering from centipede shock. Actually she is enjoying a quiet moment at the waterfall we hiked to that afternoon. We went for a refreshing swim although the water was ice cream headache cold.

Later that evening we took a van tour from Alberto to the rim of the Urique canyon. People who have seen the grand canyon, told us this was even more impressive.

On the road to Urique (a town in the bottom of the canyon).

Perched on a rock outcrop at the Gallegos lookoff. The road winds down 1000's of feet below us and the drop off at our back is at least 500 feet.

We hiked the next day in the valley of the lions. The so called lions are a stunning ridge of red rock with a layer of white on top. The pinnacles do look like animals or birds from different angles. The village of Cerocahui is below.

Red and white lions.

Hiking in the valley below - note the wild flowers. The fields are deceptive here because they are covered in small rocks making stumbling easier than walking.

We had to ford this stream to get back to the village.

The next day we took the train to Posada Barrancas. At each stop, Raramuri women and children approached the train selling baskets and apples.

We also learned what the third class trains look like.

At Posada Barrancas we stayed at Cabanas Diaz with Sr. Diaz and his family. We slept in a small cabana with its own stone hearth and enjoyed a blazing fire that took the chill off the night.

A group of four Finnish exchange students also stayed in these cabanas and took a horse tour of the valley the next morning. We were allowed to tag along, but soon got frustrated with the horses' slow pace.

The views from this hike were incredible. The canyon rim is a short walk from where we stayed and there is even a hotel (Mirador) on the rim itself if you don't care to work for your view.

Raramuri family heading to the hotel on the rim to sell baskets.

We bought a half dozen baskets made of fragant pine needles and pine wood from this woman. Most Raramuri are shy and turned away from us if they saw our camera. They rarely looked at us even when discussing prices for their wares.

Rani watches two young Raramuri weaving with pine needles.

We left the rim and returned to the train station that day, arriving in El Fuerte late at night.

We wandered around El Fuerte the next morning then took the bus to Los Mochis and the TAP bus to Mazatlan.
We hope to leave Mazatlan this week and sail across toward La Paz or Los Muertos assuming Tropical Storm Patricia leaves the area before then.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Back in Mazatlan

It has already been a week since we arrived in Mazatlan last Saturday but it feels like a lot longer.

The 90+F temperature combined with 70% humidity was quite a shock to the system as we stepped outside the airport. Would I ever feel fresh and cool again? Streams of sweat coursed down my face and into my blouse as we waited for a collectivo taxi to gather some more passengers.

We arrived at the Marina Singlar to be greeted with hugs and kisses from the staff who were having a BBQ. It felt as if we had come home.

My luggage had not arrived with me and I figured that it was probably due to a close connection between my flights at L.A. Airport. I was worried that the expensive sheets, winch handle and other items for the boat may never make it despite the airline agent's reassurance that the bags would be delivered within a day or two.

Miraculously, we received both pieces the next evening with a note explaining that the lock on my duffel bag had been cut by the U.S. Transport Security people to examine suspicious looking objects. It was all Chris's fault, of course, as he had packed a conical zinc for our propeller and it looked suspiciously like a missile tip! Combined with the saw blades, safety harnesses and my ethnic name on the bag, I can understand why they thought I might be a terrorist - if only they had seen my photo and my 5 foot frame!

As for our Ladybug, after 5 months at the slip, it was in remarkably good shape, thanks to our friend Tony, who came over each month to air it out and check the engine etc.There were only a few telltale stains from water leakage on the galley counter beneath the main hatch, amazing considering the nightly showers in the summer.

On our first night we had a simple supper of huevos rancheros cooked on Ladybug II as we had to rely on a little shop near the marina for supplies. Chris filled our water tanks from the dock and I realised that we would be drinking tepid water for months to come - yuk!

The next morning, we took the air-conditioned bus to the Mega for our staple foods and fresh produce. The A/C cooled store was a welcome relief from the humidity and heat outside. In fact, when we entered the store, it felt as if we had stepped into a freezer. It was a challenge figuring out which veggies and fruit would survive in the not so cool lockers on board ( we do not use ice as the lockers are poorly insulated ). Since we do not have a working fridge either, we keep a few necessary items like cheese in the staff fridge at the marina.

It took several mornings to rig the boat again in readiness for cruising and Chris has now stripped and applied Cetol to both the cap and rub rails giving the boat a lovely varnished look. We were sapped of energy most afternoons due to the heat , so we sat close to the little fans inside the cabin and occupied ourselves by reading. In the evenings we generally take a short walk around the marinas for some badly needed exercise.

Our only excursions have been to a swimming pool at a nearby resort and a nice beach for a swim. The usual 20 minute walk to the beach probably took longer under the scorching sun but it was well worth it. I needed some encouragement to get beyond the breaking surf as it looked quite turbulent out there. On the walk back, I picked up a coconut from a bunch left by workmen trimming a palm tree outside a house and we asked a gardener to use his machete to cut it open for us. The coconut milk was sweet and delicious!

It's been great getting in touch with some of our old buddies out here, although most of them are up in the Sea of Cortez and we probably will not see them for a while. A great surprise was finding some long lost friends through Tony. We had lost contact wit musician friends Lori and Ken after spending a very special Christmas 2008 with them in Magdalena Bay and found them right here in Mazatlan.

This coming week we shall be heading to the amazing Copper Canyon which is 4 times larger than the Grand Canyon. We plan to take the El Chepe train to Creel from Los Mochis, stopping at some small villages en route to hike the fantastic trails to waterfalls and cave dwellings used by the Raramuri Indians.