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Hopping around Mexico

18 Mar

Funny, feel like I haven’t really been travelling much…but the stories have started to pile up. So here are some memories from the last six months of hopping around Mexico.

At the end of September Mark, Pancha and I met our new friend Mar in La Paz and helped drive “El Luchador,” her husband’s beast of a Ford Explorer, 1,000 miles up to San Diego. It was ten days of sunshine, desert, surfing, snorkeling and diving. And lots and lots of long discussions over the many miles.

Pancha with El Luchador

First, an introduction to Mar. That’s a whole story in itself. Mar (short for Marina) is an Argentinian economist who was living and working in the US until a year ago, when Mark met her in the hot tub in Rosarito.

Usually the people where we live are slightly less cerebral: part-Jimmy Buffett, part-Spicoli, these surfers can barely focus on a conversation because they are constantly checking the waves. So when he came running back from the hot tub, saying “Honey, get dressed! We are going out to dinner with people I met in the hot tub!” I was not expecting to meet three super smart business executives. In fact, it was already surprising because Mark is usually not the “social” one arranging dinner outings—that’s my department. I sigh, thinking, “Ok, I’ll go and be the social butterfly, make sure everyone is comfortable, and entertain these visitors….”

Ha! The whole night at dinner no one asked me a single question! It was mainly back and forth between Mark and Mar and Álvaro, discussing economics, statistics, high level math, computer analysis theory, and all these other things that I couldn’t keep up with. Mar barraged Mark with questions about his programming for poker, stock trading, etcetera. Mark volleyed back with questions for Mar about economic theory. So much for me thinking they needed me along to keep the conversation going! So, I just ordered myself another margarita and sat back to watch the show!

Well, needless to say it was (plutonic) love at first sight for those two. Turned out Mar and her husband were living in Rosarito for the next three months while she was editing her book about to be published. And Mark happened to be in a bit of a transitional period for his work, which was finally calming down after the Covid chaos. So, every day the two of them would go down to the beach to surf and then have never-ending discussions about everything under the sun. (Not just economics, mind you, they were deep into the heavy stuff like what makes people happy and satisfied, what are our flaws, how do you find purpose in your life, what drives you, how our mind and body and genetics and behavior affect the way we see the world, the problem of climate change…you name it, they discussed it.) They began swapping books and articles and podcasts, and when the reading list got too long, they assigned each other half and half so they could divide and conquer, briefing each other with the notes they took.

We began calling her the Esposa Buena (the good wife) because she relieved me from a little bit of the burden of listening to all of Mark’s ideas—ha! I love listening to Mark, and still spend many hours of the day doing just that, but sometimes his ideas wear me out and I just want to zone out and drink my coffee!

So after we all left Rosarito, we kept in touch. Mark visited her in Todos Santos, Baja Sur a few months later to surf with her and Brad.

Brad, Mar and Mark at the East Cape

And then at the end of September she picked up Mark, Pancha and me in La Paz for the road trip in el Luchador all the way to the border.We let Mar drive for about five minutes until we realized that wasn’t a good idea (too aggressive and she often wouldn’t notice a tope until it was too late!), so Mark drove the entire trip. First stop was Loreto. After four hours driving in the desert we were stunned by a gorgeous green valley crowned by a seemingly permanent rainbow!

Mar found us a lovely Airbnb in Loreto Bay Villas—the whole place was designed to look like an old-style Mexican pueblo, painted in bright colors with cobblestone paths, fountains and bougainvillea everywhere.

On our first day there we enjoyed fabulous snorkeling along the rock at the south of the tiny bay, made breakfast with Mar’s giant box of food that we carried in and out of every lodging accommodation we stayed in, then drove into town and arranged a sunset panga ride to Isla Coronado to swim with the sea lions.

Wow! It was just the three of us, and the sea lions were massive, jumping in and all around us. We all had VERY close encounters! For some reason, one of the males did not like me at all, and kept lunging at me, so for the first time I actually was afraid of something in the water and climbed quickly back into the boat!

We got back at dusk, shared a garden hose with a bunch of kids on the street to rinse off, and had dinner in the main plaza of Loreto, built around a lovely old mission lit up at night—so utterly Baja.

But that’s not it! Somehow we had enough energy when we got home to put back on our snorkel gear and do a night snorkel around the point. We left a flashlight on the grass so we could find our way back and Mar and I followed Mark around like guppies (he was the one with the light). We found tons of sea hares, lots of sea urchins, and a few other interesting creatures, but we were hurried out by the guards who were not used to tourists swimming around at night.

Next day it was on to Scorpion Bay in San Juanico, a mecca for surfers that travel the Pacific coast of Baja. This south facing peninsula has seven very good point breaks—plenty of room for Mar and Mark to surf on their own waves all day. The water was chilly but they came back pumped every time. We also had some lovely relaxing evenings that included Mar strumming her guitar and singing beautifully in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and even graciously encouraging me sing along. But after a few days me and Pancha were pretty bored (I don’t surf and Pancha was unimpressed), so we were happy to be back in El Luchador headed east again to the Sea of Cortez side.

After that we arrived in Múlege, delighting in the beauty of Bahia de Concepción. A highlight was wading across the channel at Playa Requesón at sunset with a beer.

We found a cute little Airbnb near the river, but then talk about contrast: suddenly Mar was all hands-on deck for an emergency zoom call for one of the boards she sits on. We laughed as she hunkered down, discussing bankruptcy options with the board, who had no idea she was in the tiny town of Mulege having spent the entire day in a bathing suit. The next day we rallied to see the cave paintings, which I was reluctant to do, not looking forward to an extra bumpy ride and annoying guide. As luck would have it, when we arrived, all the guides were “out sick” that day because they had just had their vaccination shots and didn’t feel well, but I talked the guard into giving me the key to the gate and very vague trail directions. It was a bit of a miracle and definitely a blessing to be all by ourselves in a cave that had been painted by our ancestors 7,000 ago….pretty surreal.

And to top it off, we tiptoed through swarms of butterflies just waking up from their morning nap!

Next was Bahía de los Ángeles. Mark and I have already spent some time here, but it is a hard-to-get to spot, at least 12 hours from the nearest city, so we were excited to finally be back. We got the last room at Los Vientos, had dinner at the palapa bar, and enjoyed the desert views.

I was delighted by the visiting children who approached us, asking Pancha’s name and then telling us jokes: “Que dijo un iguana a otra iguana? Somo iguanitos!” But Mar just sort of growled at the children until they moved away!

The next day Ricardo, our old diving guide, arranged a panga to take us diving and whale shark snorkeling. The best part of Bahía de los Ángeles is that it is so remote you don’t see many tourists or pangas out on the bay—I think we saw maybe four boats all day! So when we spotted the first whale shark (our captain Tony had an amazing eye), it was just the three of us in the water with this massive 25 foot creature!  

Now, we had lots of encounters over the next two days with whale sharks. Let me tell you what NOT to do. Mainly, the rule is, don’t touch the whale shark. Simple, right? Well, strike one was when I was watching Mark swim stroke for stroke with a whale shark, until Mark did something crazy—he reached out and gently grabbed onto the dorsal fin. The whale didn’t flinch, but did start diving slowly downward. I watched in horror as Mark held on and disappeared into the green. I waited at the surface for five long seconds before he surfaced. He was grinning ear to ear with the magical experience of swimming effortlessly into the deep with a whale shark.

So later, Mar wanted to try. Mark said, “Just gently hold onto the fin and see if it will let you hold on, like it did for me.” Mar, who ironically is quite elegant above water, grabbed onto the fin at just the wrong time. We were lucky to have the go-pro capture the whale shark bitch slap her back.

What about me? Well, Santa Michaela didn’t want to break the rules. However, as I was swimming, a second whale shark swam right under me and, to my horror, I noticed it had a bright pink buoy clipped to its fin. My immediate instinct was to free it from that annoying man-made buoy that was obviously placed by obnoxious tourists so they could find her in the bay, right? I reached, unclipped, and in two seconds the entire buoy and line was in my hand and the whale shark was free. But wait—don’t celebrate. Immediately I heard the captain on the other boat yelling. “I told you to tell your guests not to touch that buoy! It’s the researcher’s GPS buoy—they are studying the whale sharks!” Oops. I looked at the buoy and sure enough in big writing was printed CECYTE University.

I apologized and we sheepishly had to bring the buoy back to the dive shop, where the CECYTE scientists were waiting for us (they had followed the GPS!). No one was too upset luckily. Another good lesson for me to ask questions (or just think!) before doing something like that!

During this entire trip Mark was getting up early for his long desert marathon training runs, while Mar, Pancha and I fell into a nice routine of slow mornings. This overachiever woman has a soft side to her, and while she doesn’t leave much unsaid, almost everything she says is interesting, fascinating, and meaningful. She loves psychoanalyzing you, so much that sometimes I had to say, “Ya! No más, Mar.” But she does it in such an endearing way I always end up going back for more.

Another highlight was me leaving those two (they probably spent the evening discussing astrophysics) while I drove up the hill with a bottle of wine to pop in on my old friend Mauro. What a lovely night we spent, reminiscing about 23 years ago when I first visited Bahía with my friend Paola, the very trip when her daughter Isabella became a possibility. There was something comforting and peaceful hanging out with Mauro, an old hippie who somehow managed to find a place locked in time, safe from growth and development. His fully sustainable posada hosts guests who trade work for lodging—no money is exchanged. And his view from the top of the hill hasn’t changed. Bahia is still the tiny remove natural wonder it was when I first visited it. Same with Mauro–his face is weathered but his heart is still young and his smile is deep.

As I drove back down the hill, I realized that these moments, when I get to reconnect with someone I met a long time ago, are still sort of novel to me. At 47, I’m just now beginning to be in a place where I can meet someone again twenty years later who I knew well when I was fully an adult. For awhile, what I thought of as “long term” relationships were friends and family I knew as a child. But now, as I age, the relationships from twenty years ago are ones I formed as an adult, and because of that, they have a more intense, rich texture. Hard to describe, but maybe you know what I mean.

We spent our last night in San Felipe. We were not expecting much in that town, but we were still disappointed when we arrived. However, the afternoon served as a glimpse into Mar’s own interesting psyche. So, Mar can be psychotically frugal at odd moments. From almost any perspective, one would say that Mar is wealthy—or at least very comfortable. But she also came from Argentina, growing up watching her national currency constantly devalue. Thus, the cognitive dissonance. So we watched in horror/amusement on that afternoon as two things unfurled: 1) the stock market dipped that morning and her portfolio was just slightly down, and 2) we didn’t have an accommodation and agreed to let her choose where we would stay. These two events caused us to be driving around San Felipe with a mad woman who was determined to find us accommodations as close to free as possible. She climbed the fence of an abandoned property and suggested we stay there. She flagged down a gardener at another house and asked if we could rent a room from him. He was mystified at her request. Finally, it grew dark and we grew hungry, so we had to force her to agree to stay at a medium priced hotel. But after we paid for our double room, she tried to convince the manager to let her stay in an adjacent room of the hotel for free. It was like she had turned into someone else! And honestly, I’m not sure she put two and two together that perhaps her behavior was slightly driven by the direction of her portfolio that morning.

Luckily, after a night’s rest, the next morning Mar had transformed back into a normal human being. Almost home, just hours away from Rosarito, back to the Pacific Ocean, we had our first flat tire. Mark was a hero and changed it himself, although a friendly truck driver stopped to lend us his jack. I’m not sure if Mar standing on the side of the road helped us or hurt us—the truck driver did stop, but about 20 other cars just slowed down and stared at her, nearly running Mark over several times!

We spent the last few days of the trip back at our place in Rosarito where Mar’s husband was waiting for us, and had three days of surfing, wine tasting, and horseback riding at the ranch for me!

Reflecting, I was really surprised how well we all got along, especially two alphas like me and Mar cooped up in a truck for 10 days. I’ve never quite met anyone like her….she’s so smart and competent that it was easier for me to sit back and let her have the reins (Mark will laugh here because he doesn’t believe I ever let go of control, but hey, for me it was progress!), but she is also very emotionally intelligent and sensitive in order to anticipate the needs of others around her. Plus, she and Mark share this passion for discussion, and I truly enjoyed watching Mark run all his ideas by her (and vice versa). So, who would have guessed I would have liked this Esposa Buena so much!?

El Cuyo

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies…well, it sort of is. A few months later I was back on the other side of Mexico, this time on the Gulf of Mexico north of Cancun, visiting Heather and Marco in their El Cuyo tropical oasis. They had recently “escaped” from Tulum and built Casa Mia, a lovely boutique hotel with four rooms and a rooftop apartment with 360-degree view overlooking the gulf on one side and the lagoon on the other. Spending time with Heather is always good for me. Of all my hippie friends, she cracks me up because deep down there is a capitalistic businesswoman inside of her. Thus, she is constantly battling her conflicting drives: be in nature! But wait, build a business! But wait, save the world from plastic! Most of the time this means she is running around like a chicken with her head cut off (in a good way!). She’s a little bit nuts, but I always enjoy the desmadre of Heather! This time she asked if I could help her with something while I was there. Sure, anything. “Me and Marco need marriage counseling.” Well, my answer should have been a firm no, but you know me. How could I resist?

Well, the marriage counseling went surprisingly well. In many ways I could see things from both their perspectives: because I’m half Italian I can relate to Marco’s personality and motivations, but as Heather’s very good friend, I completely empathize with her, and see a lot of, shall we say “issues,” that Marco needs to work on.

A couple anecdotes to illustrate. Even though he’s in love with an American girl, he also has a strong aversion toward American life. Example: one morning he wanted us to ride around town on bikes with the dogs trailing us. This drives Heather nuts because the dogs wake up every sleeping dog in town as we pass by, so it’s a cacophony of barking, along with the occasional almost-fight, as well as dogs darting in front of cars. But Marco loves the show, sort of like a parade led by Prince Marco and followed by his harem of girls and dogs. As he rides his bike, he just contributes to the noise by yelling out to neighbors and friends as we pass by. Meanwhile, Heather and I are trailing him, corralling the dogs and doing damage control. When Marco wants to stop by to say hello to a friend, he doesn’t get off his bike and knock on the door. He just yells from the street, and beckons them to come to him. We soon realized that HIS bike was functioning perfectly, while the bikes he gave us were super low on air. I asked him multiple times to find a pump for the bikes, but he just scoffed, as if we were lazy. “It’s just 500 meters, you can do it.” Of course the plan changed, and we ended up riding 3 miles on tires with no air. Finally, as we stopped and chatted with one of Marco’s friends (Marco called to him from the street and he obligingly came outside to talk), I asked if he had a bike bump, which he did. So as Marco chatted, I pumped up the first three tires. The last tire was near Marco’s leg, so I handed him the pump and said, “You do that one.” He made a big show and said, “You Americans! You don’t even know how to pump up a bike tire! You don’t like to work and use your muscles!” I was about to lose my shit, but then saw the humor in it as he struggled with the bike pump and couldn’t figure out how to attach it to the tire! I grabbed it from him and did the last tire. He’s so frustrating, but at the same time, he cracks me up!

Another story: we were returning from the kayak tour with two Americans, a German and Marco in the car. We started discussing the merits of each country. Cue Marco: “Watch out everyone, just you wait. Italy is taking over the world, someday soon everyone will be speaking Italian. You know, Italy WON the Olympics last year!” We all shouted, “WHAT are you talking about? The US and China demolished Italy in the Olympics.” He said, “We won the 100 meters–that’s the main event!” We all shook our heads, laughing and seething at the same time.

So as a “fairly” neutral mediator, I didn’t actually take sides, and tried to just facilitate communication. Ha! That’s not easy between those two, and we ventured into treacherous waters, but made it out fairly unscathed. Of course these sessions took place in the casual environment of long, slow dinners (both of them are great cooks), plenty of wine and lots of dogs under our feet, so it was quite pleasant! When I left, no resolutions for the big decisions had been made, but both of them told me they feel surprisingly better about their relationship. Who knows….they may kill each other someday, or they may outlast us all. Hard to say!

Between “therapy” sessions they showed me around el Cuyo, including the highlight, a sunset kayak through the lagoon nature reserve. Our naturalist guide Jesus was a fellow birder, and I was amazed as he pointed out at least half a dozen new birds to me, including awesome sightings of Snail Kites (perched just above our kayaks in the mangrove), a Purple Gallinule, an adorable Least Grebe, and so many herons and ibises! Just being out on the lagoon at sunset by ourselves was so beautiful. Since then I’ve stayed in touch with Jesus and sometimes I send him recordings of birds to ask help identifying. He always knows what bird it is—amazing! 

Chaturangas

In between these trips I snuck off twice for weekends with my Chaturangas, my bestie yoga friends from Rosarito: once in Guanajuato for a lovely weekend of catching up, and later in Sayulita, a beach town on the west coast of Mexico.

This was the first time we had been together since Gaby’s husband Salbador passed away, so the mood was somber and we all were mourning Sal’s palpable absence. It’s still so hard to believe he’s gone, but it was nice to remember wonderful times we all had together. In fact, being in San Miguel de Allende reminded Gaby of a story: they had made a day trip there a few years ago, and while Gaby hustled around seeing the sights, Sal relaxed on a bench and started chatting with a priest. The priest told him about a lovely hotel, so when Gaby came back he had arranged a romantic evening with flowers and dinner in a fancy suite (and she said Sal pretended he was the cousin of the priest so they could get a good deal!).

It was so good to spend time with Gaby and distract her from it all for a little while. We spent most of the time just hanging out and admiring the gorgeous views of San Miguel de Allende from the lovely terrace of Doug and Ceci’s rental house.

I told them I was planning to be a carnivore for the weekend, in their honor, and they took that very seriously. Some of the tacos they made me eat were from animal body parts I had never heard of, and by the end of the trip, I literally had a meat hangover. But, oh, so delicious! We also drank plenty of chelas (we were constantly back and forth to the corner store, dropping off and picking up caguama bottles), wine and tequila. We laughed about how we used to yoga and work out together, and just poured more wine.

About six months later we met again in Sayulita, a surf town 20 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, where Ceci and her husband just bought a condo. This trip was more celebratory and joyous, as Gaby is healing (slowly) and Ceci and Doug are feeling more settled and comfortable in their new home. Gaby insisted on stocking the kitchen and cooking nonstop, but we enjoyed all the delicious food and Ceci did an excellent job just letting Gaby fuss over us. We went hiking in the jungle of MalPaso and spent an afternoon in San Pancho, shopping and eating.

When we got back, Ceci and Doug settled in to watch the Superbowl while Gaby and I walked the beach at sunset looking for her Muslim Man (which is what I thought she meant when I heard “musulmán,” which means Muslim in Spanish). So I was very confused until her Muscle Man walked by! The language barrier is still very real between me and my girls, and it’s hilarious!

Gaby surreptitiously took this photo–it wasn’t obvious at all, ha! (Apparently she’s a bit of a stalker. She also showed me a photo of him from three months ago, the last time she had visited Ceci!)

We also found a very casual mariachi who we convinced to let us sing (if we paid him) and he handed over the microphone. As we sang, beach goers oddly started picking up their towels and moving away—probably in awe of our magnificent voices.

I’m going to show mercy on your ears and not share the videos.

Mexico City

Because getting back and forth to Cozumel requires a stop-over, in between each of these adventures I got to spend a night in Mexico City. Oh my goodness–I fell headfirst into a cloud of nostalgia, reminiscing about my wild days as a nineteen year old living abroad for the first time. I visited Colónia Coyoacan where I used to hang out, hunted down the bar where I worked, took the metro again for old time’s sake, wandered through museums in Chapultepec Park, and overall, I just inhaled the familiar smells.

A tip from a taxi driver helped me find my way to the Frida Khalo immersion exhibit.

And here I am under a bridge, re-living my death metal days. I’m sure I totally blended in with my pink overalls and my Hello Kitty face mask!

Sailing with Maggie

And then last month I got an opportunity for another incredible adventure. I was invited as “crew” to help a captain and my good friend Maggie sail the “Costa Alegre” from Puerto Vallarta all the way to Barra de Navidad, just outside of Manzanillo.

Let me tell you about Maggie. It was only a year ago I met her at the horse ranch in Rosarito. I was headed down the road on Levi, riding solo for the first time, pretty nervous, and she popped her head out of her cabin and waved at me. She looked surprised, but smiley, as I wandered off all alone on Levi, a horse that she knew quite well. Turns out she had been living in that little cabin at the ranch all during Covid, and a few weeks later I properly met her as we set off together for a two-hour ride with the ranch hands. We talked the whole time and were sort of insta-friends (this is how people became friends in the old days, before Instagram). It was pretty funny, all the things we had in common. She and I both ran track, we had both lived on the same street in Pacific Beach, we both spent a lot of time in Oahu, we both loved horses, sailing, and…..rollerblading! Well, once I saw her rollerblade, I realized I was a bit out of my league, but still!

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There is not really one word that defines Maggie, but she definitely loves adventure. She lives part-time on her sailboat in La Paz and moves around a lot from one adventure to the next. We spent the next few months riding together (our horses Levi and Luna are a perfect match) and it was a such a dream to saddle up and take off up in the hills, just the two of us, knowing we could count on each other and our horses. So much freedom!

The one thing she hadn’t tried yet was scuba diving, but we fixed that a few months later when she visited us in Cozumel and got certified. Turns out she is a natural—on her first dive she was comfortably swimming with turtles and conserving her air like a pro!

Next it was time to visit her in La Paz, which Mark and I did on our Baja road trip with Mar. The night before we drove off, she paddled us all out to the Om, her little sailboat, and we had a lovely evening motoring around the bay, floating on paddleboards, drinking mezcal and eating peanuts and jalapeno chips.

So when she told me about her opportunity to sail on a catamaran for 10 days, I was like, “Ask if I can come!” We got the green light, I packed my bags, and a few days later I had provisioned the boat and was waiting for Maggie and Captain Jeff to come aboard. And whoa, what a boat it was!

Captain Jeff and Sea Larks

We navigated for 10 days, stopping along the way every night in beautiful anchorages. But the best moment occurred just one hour into the trip. We were sailing through the Bay of Banderas, and almost as soon as we left the marina we started spotting whales. It was humpback season and every five minutes we spotted another mother/calf pair. These guys were huge, up to 50 feet long, and Maggie and I were squealing as they spouted air, flapped their tails, or occasionally jump up and breached.

Right away I was trying to figure out how I could swim with them, but they didn’t stay on the surface very long. Finally, we spotted a mother and calf from a long distance, and it appeared they were just floating on the surface, not swimming or moving too much. This was my chance. I asked the captain, who I had just met, how he felt about me jumping in and snorkeling with the whales. He was caught off-guard. “What? You want to swim with them?” Truth be told, this wasn’t my first time chasing whales, but I have never successfully reached them in the water. Every time I’ve jumped off a boat, the whale dives down. But this mother/calf pair seemed super chill. Perhaps this was my moment?

I was also a little concerned about how well the captain could retrieve me after my swim….we were still in the bay but WAY out, and there were waves and open ocean all around us. While he was thinking about it, I ran below and got my rash guard, mask and fins. Then I just kept asking him, “Now? Can I jump in now?” And eventually he said, “Ok.” That was all I needed. Splash! I swam my little heart out, assuming the whales would swim away, but they didn’t! The visibility was terrible, so it wasn’t until I was a few feet away that I could see her. Suddenly, I was eye to eye with the baby, who was HUGE. She lifted her pectoral fin up towards me and almost touched my fin. Then she moved a bit and I lost her in the green water. But we had a moment! My first moment eye to eye with a whale! It was thrilling. And also, so fleeting! Instantly I wished I could have had the presence to be more calm so I could absorb the moment better. Nevertheless, I was PUMPED as I swam back to the boat, and the captain retrieved me like a pro, thank goodness.

After that, Maggie had a chance to do the same thing, this time as we were at anchor. Another whale pair happened to pop up right near our boat! Just like me, she was screaming with delight. The next morning the Captain said, “You know, I was thinking about that, and I don’t think we should do that again.” I smiled, grateful for my moment, knowing how rare it was!

Going to sleep that night, with ten days still ahead of us, I was grinning ear to ear. And this trip confirmed what I already know: being on a boat is simply the best! For one, you are busy all day from morning to night, but nothing feels like work. It’s all very useful, productive little tasks and most of them are simple ones like putting food on the table, a drink in your hand, and good music in your ears.

We played hard every day, from paddleboarding to snorkeling to sailing to swimming to diving to surfing to running to yoga to wakeboarding. The captain was a good teacher, and I learned more about driving the boat, navigating with the electronic charts, and anchoring. Docking, not so much. Each time we brought the 50 foot vessel to dock was STRESSFUL and we only hit the dock once! (Oops. The captain kept his cool though. He gave us headsets to wear, which were wonderful! No more yelling—headsets are definitely a must!).

You never know when something incredible is going to happen. Like one afternoon, after a six hour navigation, we were just rounding the corner to enter Ipala Bay. The Captain had me out on the bow to keep an eye out for shallow reef. Suddenly there were rocks everywhere–but they were moving! I screamed out: “Mobulas!” Not quite, but close. The Captain went into neutral and we all watched in amazement as a school of one thousand Golden Cow-Nosed Rays swam under us. In thirty seconds they were gone and we all blinked, wondering if it really happened.

Some Highlights

On the third day we arrived in Punta Pérula, the north end of Chamela Bay, and the three of us paddled/kayaked onto shore to grab a drink at sunset. The bar was closing but they kindly left us a bucket of beer, and we sat by ourselves on the beach until another couple wandered up the beach. They also got a bucket of beer and sat a few tables down. We asked where they were from, and the man said, “Guadalajara.” Then, slowly, he stood up, and sang in the most beautiful tenor voice ever the song called Guadalajara. Wow. We were blown away. Then he shifted into an Italian song Costa Bella, and we were mesmerized. What a treat to have a personal impromptu concert when we were least expecting it.

We spent two nights in Tenacatita, a little bay just north of Manzanillo, where we got to study the local native species: cruisers. The bay had more than 30 vessels anchored when we arrived, many on the deck, waving warmly as we pulled in and dropped anchor. A lot of them spent a good part of the winter season there, as it had good holding, a lovely long beach to walk or run your dogs, and one perfect palapa beach bar where all your problems can be solved. As I paddled by a ketch from Oregon, the friendly captain (who later offered to fill up our scuba tanks with his onboard compressor) told me to come to the beach in the afternoon for bocce ball. I said, “Oh, is that every Wednesday?” He said, “It’s every day. Welcome to Camp Tenacatita!” Sure enough, by noon the beach was lined with dozens of dinghies, and the bocce ball/picnic/party was in full swing by the time we got to shore.

I met lots of interesting people there, like Greg, the captain of Scout. He’s an ASA sailing instructor in Santa Monica in the summer, and has spent every winter down here in Mexico for twenty years. Another charming sailor I met was Honeybee, a Brit who has been crew for various vessels (including Greg’s) for over a decade. She hops on different boats when they need crew, and it’s clear that she truly, truly loves being on a boat. She regaled me with her story of crossing to the South Pacific: 24 days from Puerto Vallarta to Marquesas on a 38 foot mono hull. She loved it, and said that at the moment they saw the island after 24 days at sea, while admitting the giant green mountains were beautiful, there was a part of her that felt so bittersweet and sad to be back to land. She said those days on the crossing were “timeless” and time sort of stops during a sea crossing, which she loved. It definitely inspired me and I may have got the bug….is there a chance that someday I’ll do that?! It’s scary to even think about, but just maybe!

Another memorable afternoon in Tenacatita was taking the dinghy up the river estuary. We loaded it up with ice, wine and Painkillas, then cruised around the anchorage for a few laps, asking tips. Everyone said the higher the tide, the easier, so we stalled for a bit, and around 5:30pm we made it into the dicey cut with a breaking wave just at our stern. Ah! Exciting! But then we were in, and it was like a magical jungle cruise. Maggie compared it to the Amazon (I don’t think she’s been there yet, ha!) but it was very cool to cruise down the river, in a tunnel of trees that completely covered us at times. We spotted lots of birds including night herons, snowy egrets and kingfishers. No caiman spottings, but a lovely evening nonetheless. We got back to the cut just before dark, narrowly making it out through a pause in the waves.

Careyes

An unexpected lovely anchorage was at Careyes, a little town built into the cliffs, adorned with three tiny bays. I loved looking up at the bright colorful little cottages built into the cliffs, and the three bays were perfect for snorkeling (lots of green hard coral) and paddleboarding. As a bonus, there was a gorgeous beach club that offered day use for $20, and we had the most heavenly Sunday afternoon there. We stayed on shore til sunset, and as we paddled back in the dark we realized the sea was full of bioluminescence under our paddles! Then we watched the dramatic full moon rise over the cliffs. Wow.

Maggie and I got along so well. It helps that she is super easy going, a nice complement to my “alpha”-style. But I also appreciate her optimism, energy and sense of adventure—she’s basically up for anything and nothing is too hard to figure out. For example, when we got a messenger line mixed up on the halyard, the captain asked Maggie if she would be comfortable getting hoisted up a 70 foot mast, while underway in 20 knot winds, to undo it. She said, “Sure.” And she did it like a pro, up there for almost 20 minutes!

That tiny black dot at the top is Maggie!

We went diving a couple times, but the highlight was our “solo” dive–just me and Maggie on a remote reef. In the outer anchorage of Tenacatita, we noticed a dive site on the chart. So we put on our tanks and did a surface swim from the big boat (that was dumb….we had to swim for 30 minutes, next time we’ll take the dinghy!). When we reached the rocky outcropping we dropped down, with no idea what we’d find! We tried to navigate through the cut to the exposed side, but the surge was too strong, so we hugged the bottom and crawled our way back around. We found some cool stuff including a couple Tiger Snake Eels and sparkly juvenile damselfish. And Maggie spotted her first Nudi!

Sedna Nudibranch

As we approached the other exposed side of the rock, there was a lot more life, including larger schools of fish, and it was SOOO tempting to swim around and see what the current might bring, but I controlled myself and led us back to the protected reef. On the way back we enjoyed the lovely green and pink hard coral, along with some wispy black soft coral, plus adorable blennies, and lots of interesting types of urchins. When we were ready to surface, I navigated across the sand in hopes of getting us closer to the big boat, and when we popped up we were right where I thought we were! Yay for underwater navigation–my instructor from 12 years ago can finally feel good about signing off on that skill for me, ha ha!

Maggie was PUMPED when we surfaced, and we both did a bit of screaming and giggling for awhile. She reminded me that it felt a lot like when we rode horses together up in the hills, just the two of us. Having each other to count on has allowed us to roam wherever we want in nature–either in an underwater universe with scuba tanks on our back, or up and down dusty hills on horseback. This is the ultimate freedom, and I honestly never imagined I would have this. That night as I lay in my cabin, I could feel my little heart glowing with gratitude.


As always, I sure am grateful for new friends and old ones, and lots of adventures with all of them. What a happy girl I’ve been lately!

Then again, it doesn’t take much to make me happy!
 
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Posted by on March 18, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

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