February 25, 2008

Electricity comes to Admiralty Beach - and Mario

TENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico - We take many things for granted in the U.S., some big, some small.

But in Mexico, when things big and small go well, it's almost always worth a quick fiesta to celebrate. Not according to plan, mind you, just well.

Sunday we drove out to Arroyo Seco, did our usual 'Americanos-Come-To-Town' drive around to check our three lots and show the beaches to son Dustin. Then, (sans Dustin who headed back to Puerto Vallarta) we ended up out at our friend Mario's house, a quarter-mile down the beach from our beachfront lot. Mario and his wife Sharon borrowed the Grey Goose Express in late December to live in while the finishing touches were put on their beachside casa.

In this case, those finishing touches are still being, well, touched, and it's two months later.

But we had a fiesta anyway, because after numerous fits and starts taking several months, Mario's house finally has electricity and running water.

Viva electricad! Viva agua!

I say viva because I have heard stories about people who built houses several years ago and who are still waiting for the electric company to show up.


Mario has to leave to go back to the states March 6 (que lastima) but hopes to spend at least a few nights in he and Sharon's finished house before he departs for a couple of months. But he has offered the house to us to stay in while he is away - kind of a test run to see if we like living at the beach.

We are definitely going to give it a try.

February 20, 2008

A climbing tour of the new lot(s) in Arroyo Seco

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - After siestas Tuesday, we took Ruth and Jen Bills (who returned from their Manzanillo resort earlier in the day) out to Arroyo Seco to look over two adjoining lots we are in the process of acquiring.

Last week I hired a local fellow named Gustavo (Tavo for short) to clear the land (largely with a machete) and mark it with stakes so we could see what the heck we were getting.

Quite impressive.

View from Arroyo Seco hill
View from the Arroyo Seco hill

Arroyo Seco - as I have said before - is a real-deal Mexican rancho, with about 300 people and only one gringo in residence, a 60ish surfer dude whose sobriquet is Spiderman. Should we take up residence there - and we are considering it for next winter - we would increase the gringo population dramatically.

At least so far, that seems to be a cool idea for the residents we've talked with. I can't get through town without people asking me what our plans are for the lot downtown and now with the hillside lots cleared, I think the local chatter will turn to be about whether we are going to build a house on the hill.

One thing I realized - midway through the expedition - is that I need to buy some long pants to wear when I hike around in the brush. And I need a stout walking stick to keep me from falling ass-over-tea-kettle. The hillside isn't too steep, but the cut brush kept snagging my shoelaces and the sharp brambles had me cursing in Spanish - which amused Gustavo.

Gustavo gives us thumbs up
Gustavo gives us a thumbs up

The one troubling aspect to the hillside lots is that a yet-to-be-built access road - a defined calle on the town map - runs right through where a few houses essentially have created their backyards. Backyard is not exactly the way to describe what they have created, but the area is being utilized. Lots of kids at play, lots of dogs, and lots of tiny garden areas.

Tavo has assured me that it's no problema.

For today, I'll be focusing on the great view of the valley - and how cool the air was. The ocean breezes come in from the beach (about 3/4 of a mile as the crow flies) and wrap around the hill quite nicely.

Sylvia on Arroyo Seco lot
The Admiral surveys the bottom of the lot

February 19, 2008

Life in the tropics: Living with iguanas & geckos & scorpions

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - We frequently see small green critters darting about the house, usually up on a wall or scooting across the ceiling. They move very quickly, but sometimes just hang in one place, quite still for an hour.

Those guys are the geckos and very good guests to have. Hmm... perhaps they are more like roommates.

Geckos seem to eat all manner of other life - at least life small enough to fit in their mouths. And they are fast - very fast - faster than any insect, I've seen.

A nice house guest to have

Also around the neighborhood are iguanas, big lizardy guys that can be several feet long and look very fierce. In reality, they are very tame and, like their relatively tiny gecko cousins, eat bugs and all manner of things you would prefer not to have around.

Good for them. We would like a few living in the yard (and the trees), but the cats seem to keep them away.

Iguana on wall, La Manzanilla
Iguanas on the wall near Palapa Joe's

No one talks much about either iguanas or geckos, but there is a lot of chatter about scorpions, which are definitely not nice critters, though they are quite shy, too. Scorpions want nothing to do with humans, but, if they feel threatened, they will defend themselves.

And it realllllly hurts, I'm told.

A pissed-off scorpion
One very pissed-off scorpion

Most stings come from people putting their hands into bags or lifting rocks without being careful that something might be lurking within or underneath. The grassy palapa rooftops that are so picturesque on houses here can actually be scorpion condos, if not sprayed or treated properly.

Every night, when our shoes come off, they immediately go up on tables and bags are never left down on the floor. And we have had Casa Lupita sprayed once this season (inside and out) for all manner of insects. Between the cats and the chickens (who come in the yard right after the cats get done eating), we seem to be quite scorpion free.

And we would like to keep it that way, thank you very much.

February 18, 2008

Captain's Gig gets a coat of paint for sailing trip

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - The Captain's Gig - my 10-foot Navigator rowboat & sailing dinghy - got a coat of paint today in anticipation of a mid-week launching.

The Gig was damaged when Sabbatical went north several years ago (it broke loose in big seas and earned some life-threatening cracks and holes). But thanks to the good work of Sabbatical's Chief Engineer, Scott Noble, the boat is repaired and almost ready for sailing.

I say almost because my La Manzanilla amigo Tom is still searching for the right piece of plywood to make me another centerboard. The one that came with the boat is safely in storage in Sacramento, where I left it...

Que lastima!

Painted Captain's Gig ready for action
Painted Captain's Gig

Closeup of Captain's Gig repair
Closeup of the largest repair

The trick in all this was to make the boat seaworthy - and more presentable - but not so presentable that someone would want to steal it off the beach where I will be leaving it.

That philosophy saved me hours of sanding, as I left many of the fiberglass patches fairly rough and visible, even under the marine paint.

Now, if I can just remember what I did with the oars?

February 17, 2008

Sting rays and sunburns and cerverzas, oh my!

TENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico - While Admiral Fox toiled in the real estate bizz Saturday, I played tour guide back out to Tencatita Bay for a snorkeling expedition to an area at the west end of the beach called The Aquarium, because there are sooooo many brightly colored fish swimming around the rocks and small reef.

Ruth and Jen Bills and I got there early enough to see some beautiful sea life, and stayed long enough to watch the influx of tourists from Melaque and Barra de Navidad who come up for the day. I heard people speaking English, Spanish (Really? What a surprise.), French, German and some Canadian, too, eh?

We stayed a little too long for me - I am sporting a rosy-looking lobster color today and I managed to step on a sharp sea shell which required some Neosporin and a band-aid.

For Jen Bills, her last foray in the water walking through a shallow tide pool resulted in a glancing sting from a half-asleep sting ray.

She said it was like standing on a large shiitake mushroom - at least until its tailed whipped around to her foot. It's healing already.

Ready to snorkel - Ruth & Jen
Ruth & Jen get ready to snorkel

There was plenty of activity on the beach and in the anchorage the sun got hot, the wind cranked up to about 25 knots and our lunches - though delicious - had a slight gritty taste in spots from the blowing sand.

And not everyone was there just for pleasure. A number of fisherman were working on their boats, ensuring that they will be ready for the water when Monday (lunes) rolls around.

Fiberglass repairs on panga
Fishermen repair the keel on their panga

Westsail 32 at anchor in Tenacatita Bay
Westsail 32 at anchor off Tenacatita Beach

Trio returning from snorkeling
Returning from snorkeling - sans stingray encounters

Tying up loose ends on bikini
Tying up loose ends

Today we all will venture one-hour south to Manzanillo where Ruth and Jen will spend a few days at a 4-star resort timeshare arranged by Karen Schamel of Hector who was too busy to come to Mexico and use it.

Que lastima, Karen, but thank you!

February 15, 2008

Back on the beaches of La Manzanilla & Tenacatita

TENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico - The best part of having company, especially company that is new to the area, is getting to show off the place.

And so for the past two days, I have been driving around and about with Jen Bills and her mom Ruth. Ruth, of course, is a Mexico veteran now, having been here for two weeks tomorrow. She can say margarita and Cuba Libre like a native.

The dynamic duo spent the morning at a temporary mercado set up in the town square shopping for clothes, souvenirs and trinkets while I aided Admiral Fox in her real estate endeavors by driving some potential buyers around. We went up hills and down hills and around hills.

I wish the Admiral would find some properties to show where the terrain is flat.

Jen Bills at the ocean
Jen Bills takes a picture on Admiralty Beach

We stopped at Admiralty Beach to visit briefly with Mario - Mario of Mario & Sharon and the current occupant of the Grey Goose Express parked under a ramada next to his property. He was napping when we drove up but we took a minute to take gaze at the ocean from his nearly completed homesite. And we scouted for whales.

The afternoon before we sighted several whales right off the beach in La Manzanilla. They were no-shows out in front of Admiralty Beach today.

Grey Goose at Mario's
Grey Goose Express at Mario's

As soon as Mario's house is finished - soon we hope - we are considering moving the GGE (Grey Goose Express) down to our lot, provided we can get the road finished, a concrete pad poured and a ramada built to shade it.

Sounds like a lot of work doesn't it?

But work was not the top priority today as we headed over to Fiesta Mexicana, ready to eat, drink and go boogie boarding. Unfortunately, the wild Pacific surf - so evident at Mario's lot - was none existent around the corner in front of the restaurant.

But I settled for some nice swimming in the ocean and checking out the natives as they enjoyed the warm day at the beach.

Shaking sand out of chair
Shaking out the sand

February 11, 2008

Back home in La Manzanilla - with a repaired Trooper

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - At 1 p.m. Monday I got the call I had been waiting for: the hydraulic line on the power steering on the Trooper was repaired and we were good to go.

In case you missed the earlier drama, we popped the line a few days before leaving for Puerto Vallarta and, becoming quite ingenious in how to fix things in very unusual ways, I wrapped the line with electrical tape, topped off the hydraulic steering fluid and off we went last Thursday.

The fix got us to Dustin & Cami's house quite nicely, but the more permanent repairs were, well, muy complicado.

In the U.S., I am sure the mechanic (or dealer) would have dug into a parts bin and found a $200 hose (Who am I kidding? Make that $400), then slapped it on.

At Lobo del Mar, American mechanic Taylor pulled off the old hose and sent it to a hose shop where they manufactured a new piece.

Manufactured a new piece?


And that held us up an extra day, which worked out fine because we all (Admiral Fox, Cousin Ruth and myself) got to help Cami's Full Sail Canvas shop with some projects. My arms are still sore.

Oh, and the cost for the repair to the Trooper? Well, it was a total of 1820 pesos, or $169 in U.S. dollars.

Twenty-nine dollars of that was the remanufactured hydraulic hose, the balance Taylor's labor.

And yes, it held up fine the whole way back to La Manzanilla, not spilling (or spewing) a drop the whole trip.

But I am keeping the electrical tape and tools in the car for the next emergency.

Trooper home safe
Home safe

February 9, 2008

In Puerto Vallarta with friends and waiting for repairs

NUEVO VALLARTA, Jalisco, Mexico - We zoomed up the highway from La Manzanilla Thursday to visit Dustin and Cami, our power steering hose doing a fine job spraying the engine from a pinhole leak I discovered right before we left.

A little electrical tape and we were on our way.

We used about a half a quart of fluid coming up and as I write this, the auto mechanic is hoping that he can finish the repairs today.

We hope so, too.

In the meantime, we had two visits with amigos Jim & Myrna Keitges, formerly of the sailboats MaKai and also Blue Moon, who now hang their cruising togs in Sioux City, Iowa. They came to PV to escape the freezing temperatures. And next year, we expect to see them in La Manzanilla, they said.

We cruised Mexico with them for two seasons and spent a few weeks in France aboard their French canal boat, Cruzy.

Mon Dieu!

Four amigos
The Four Amigos

While we waited today for a call from Lobo del Mar - the mechanic - Sylvia, Cousin Ruth and I pitched in helping Cami's business with a boat she has taken on to redo cushions and the ceiling.

February 6, 2008

A close encounter with new friends from Canada at Palapa Joe's

PALAPA JOE'S RESTAURANT, La Manzanilla, Jalisco, Mexico - Shortly after we arrived in La Manzanilla, I had a comment posted on Captain's Blog from someone named Kelly who was coming to La Manzanilla and wondered about life here.

So today, having breakfast at El Girasol (chilaquiles, eggs, potatoes and refried beans,) I was startled but not totally surprised to hear a voice say, "Are you the Captain from the Captain's Blog?"

The captain indeed.

And so this morning I met Kelly and his lovely wife Diane, on vacation from their frosty digs in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada, down for a month and already adjusting quite well to the scene.

Kelly looks totally relaxed and if Diane tan gets any deeper, she will be able to go to work here, sans working papers.

The breakfast encounter was very brief; it was this evening at Palapa Joe's - as we had Cuba Libres and ate fish tacos (Thanks Cousin Ruth for picking up the tab!) - that we got to know Kelly and Diane better. Before we came in, we gave bar owner Willy's Yamaha ATV a quick test spin.

How quickly can we have one of those things delivered?

But here are Kelly and Diane - who will no doubt be making more appearances in the next few weeks.

Another day, another fiesta, and yes, another parade

BARRA DE NAVIDAD, Jalisco, Mexico - We went to Barra de Navidad Tuesday afternoon to bid bon voyage to cruisers Dan & Lorraine Olsen, soon to depart for ports of call to the south, perhaps venturing as far as Ecuador.

But before we could get through the downtown to the pangas to take us out to their vessel, anchored snugly in the Barra lagoon, we found outselves in the middle of a Constitution Day parade that had as many gringos in it as local folks.

Carnival queens in Barra de Navidad
Carnival queens in Barra de Navidad

Burros on parade in Barra de Navidad
Even the burros got to parade

The wind was howling on our way out to the lagoon - a reminder of many of Sabbatical's forays in the same waterway. The last time I was in Barra aboard a sailboat (on Sabbatical with Captain Sanders Lamont aboard) we had consistent 40-knot winds for several days, driving many cruisers to put out extra anchors and forcing them to hunker down on their boats in case their anchors let go.

We hung out in the marina, tied safely to a dock, sipping margaritas, pina coladas and a variety of other fruit-based beverages until the wind dropped to an acceptable level.

I'm not sure what caused it, exactly, but on our way in, we saw on 35-40 foot sailboat that might have misjudged the narrow (and unmarked) channel that morning and run aground. And because of the wind and falling tide, he was living a sailor's nightmare, his only hope a good high tide the next day.

Barra Lagoon - high and dry
Sailboat high and dry in Barra Lagoon

But there was a good-news boating story out of the whole enterprise. Dan Olsen was able to get a part fabricated for his engine, using a spare bit of plumbing obtained here in La Manzanilla from my amigo Tom. He was as proud as a new parent of the piece which he will be keeping in reserve for his exhaust system.

Captain Dan & new boat part
Captain Dan and his new boat part

February 5, 2008

No need for baby sitters - or dog sitters, either

PALAPA JOE'S, La Manzanilla, Jalisco, Mexico - One of the delightful things - provided you like kids and dogs - is that in most restaurants in Mexico, both kids and dogs are welcome.

Yup, kids and dogs.

Tia and Toby's dog in Palapa Joe's
Tia and Toby's dog, hoping for a stray French fry

Unruly pets (or children I suppose) would not be welcomed, of course, but neither seems very much in evidence in any of the places we frequent in La Manzanilla, Melaque or Barra de Navidad, where we will be heading tonight for a farewell dinner with Dan & Lorraine Olsen, heading out Wednesday for ports of call to the south.

When I was commodore at the Oakland Yacht Club (located in Alameda, California, but that's another story), one of the biggest blowups I had to deal with that year was when I said it was quite acceptable for a club member to bring her in-training Guide Dog into the dining room while we had dinner.

Guide Dog, as in Guide Dogs for the blind, or in this case, in training for a person with disabilities.

Many of the members objected vehemently to me directly (usually on their way to or from the bar) and said no dogs were allowed in the clubhouse. Club rules, etc...

What I told most of them is unrepeatable here, but I held firm and the dog (and her trainers) remained and enjoyed a lovely evening (even if they had to endure a few glares).

The dog, by the way, was far better behaved that evening than many of the club members.

February 4, 2008

At the La Manzanilla rodeo & a day at the beach

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - The fiesta/holiday was wild here in La Manzanilla all weekend with more parades, more dancing, more loud music and too much fun.

Sunday, the parade was delayed until the moment the Super Bowl was over so the gringos could swarm out of Palapa Joe's (where there were two TVs set up to watch the game). And swarm many of them did, running up the street to jump in with about a hundred hardcore revelers who were headed to the Casino for a second night of dancing.

One really happy person at Palapa Joe's was Macy Richardson (7-years-old) who put down her own bet on the NY Giants and won.

Macy wins $200 in Super Bowl pool
Macy shows her 200-peso win

Macy and her parents barreled out on their quad right afterwards and were already at the Casino by the time we arrived after doing shuffling variation of the Samba accompanying the dancers.

Getting ahead of the parade in La Manzanilla
Richardson clan quadulating from Palapa Joe's

Earlier in the day, we did the Arroyo Seco tour with Cousin Ruth and Tia Richardson, checking out the downtown lot, the hillside lots and the two fabulous beaches. The beaches were full of surfers and suddenly the idea of the Arroyo Seco Surf Club didn't seem quite as looney.

At Tenacatita, Tia and I and Mario took to the much smaller surf aboard our boogie boards, managing a dozen or more good rides, ending with a wild ass-over-tea kettle crash for me that sent me ashore, sinuses thoroughly rinsed.

Tia on the wave at Tenacatita beach
Tia heads for the beach

Below is a short video of the Super Bowl party at Palapa Joe's, shot by Tia and more parade shots by Adm. Fox & Ruth, and a parade video by the Admiral, who at one point looked like she was leading the parade.

On parade
Admiral and revelers parading to the Rodeo

Galloping horse, La Manzanilla rodeo
Galloping horse leading

February 3, 2008

Yamaha quad gets final nod & Cousin Ruth arrives

MANZANILLO, Colima, Mexico - We toured two ATV shops yesterday while idling away a few hours waiting for Cousin Ruth Bills to arrive from Hector, New York.

The Honda shop had a couple of units - and prices that were about $1,000 higher than comparable Yamaha units. We arrived about 2:30 - which is closing time Saturdays for almost all businesses in Mexico, particularly places like car and motorcycle shops.

The prices for such things are higher here than in the states (import fees, maybe), but bringing in a motor vehicle is somewhat complicated and so if we go ahead and decide to buy a zoom-around quad, it will likely be in Manzanillo, a city about one-hour south of our pueblo.

Yamaha quad

Around La Manzanilla, people use quads for everything - exploring the higher elevations (or going up and down the long beaches). They are just pretty useful for everything.

The real reason for our sojourn to Manzanillo was to pick up Cousin Ruth who came in for a few weeks to get out of the freezing temperatures of upstate New York. Her daughter Jennifer (from Boston) will be showing in about a week or so, too, another refugee from the frostbite belt.

When we got Ruth back to La Manzanilla, we celebrated with a nice dinner at Palapa Joe's where Willy poured Ruth a generous Cuba Libre which helped her sleep through the five hours of music that pounded from the Casino (until 3 a.m.) as the Gringo Day festivities ended.

Even the roosters slept late this morning.

February 2, 2008

Watching - and joining the La Manzanilla 'parade'

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - We went to the town square to watch the first event in a several days long annual town fiesta - an event that everyone told us was a parade.

We stood in the square with several hundred people - Mexican and gringos, all mingling and talking and laughing.

After an hour or so (during which a number of people found it necessary to tell us their most horrific scorpion stories), the live music suddenly cranked up and people started dancing in the middle of the square to some lively Mexican music. And, of course, there was a tuba in the band.

But then, just as suddenly, this mass of people started moving and we realized that the parade was in fact, all of us, not exactly a Macy's department story Thanksgiving Day with floats, but a throng of people dancing down the streets to the music.

It was a riot.

Adults, children, people on horses, dogs (and maybe a few cats, but they kept very low profiles) all wound their way from the square through one neighborhood and then down the main street to a large open area called the Casino where today we will be celebrating Gringo Day with food, drinks and dancing. And I'm sure the festivities will go well into the night, tonight.

More on that tonight or tomorrow, but here's some photos from last night's parade.

Street parade one
Kids take the lead

adult dancers
Adults get find their parade rhythm

Blondie smiles
Lots of big smiles

A horse, dad and child
Dad and son in the parade