Travels from Jan. 26 - Feb. 3, 2000
Banderas Bay - the largest bay in all of Mexico is a paradox for me. Why was this bay never developed into a major port the days of Spanish domination? Part of the answer must lie in the navigational realities of that day. Possibly it was that the winds were more effective (easterly) from Acapulco, making the crossing to the Philippines direct. Cabo Corrientes was a formidable obstacle to navigate, with its winds and currents, in ships made to sail with wind pushing them, not beating. It was easier to keep away from that cabo as well as Cabo Falso (Cabo San Lucas). Yet the very small river-delta bay of San Blas, just north of Puerto Vallarta, was a major Spanish center used for the domination of the west coast of the Americas. But then its layout of the land facilitated protection for the port by a fort on a summit overlooking San Blas. So in those days, protection from pirates or other enemies must have been more critical than protection from hurricanes.
It wasn't until 1918 that the town of Puerto Vallarta was established. Still no serious development, toward the tourist Mecca it is today, began until Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made the movie Night of the Iguana nearby and returned to PV frequently as it was one of their favorite vacation spots. Their fans followed to be where their idols went; the entrepreneurs capitalizing on the attraction.
The paradox continues for me, after having been there for 10 days. What's all the hype about? Ah, but let me not taint your opinion. Let's just let our stopover playout first.
After rounding Corrientas around 0800, we could see the islands of Tres Marietas (three rock-islands) off our port side, several miles away protecting the north entrance to Banderas Bay. As the morning shadows from the bordering mountains shortened, we found our view of the land on the far side of the bay being blocked by haze. This haze limited visibility all day to about 7 miles. But as we proceeded along our GPS-generated rhumb line toward our destination (La Cruz), we did begin seeing pairs of whales cavorting in the waters. They jumped and splashed with impressive displays. The "lazy fins" of manta rays appeared here and there, dolphins and smaller fish also in evidence. A US Coast Guard cutter passed by, having departed from PV, heading south. Pacific Adventure had caught up with us and passed, since there was no wind for us to speed along with.
After lunch, we had crossed to far enough to see where we were heading but could no longer see Corrientas. This haze was most unfortunate because on the one clear day we had, the geological layout of the mountains and hills surrounding Banderas Bay is absolutely awesome! We never got to see the entire panorama. But on the good-news side, the wind began to build and Nanjo shook the wrinkles out of her sails. Nancy sailed us right to our anchoring spot in amongst the other boats. Actually, I furled in the jib before she navigated through the outer boats and she powered in under main sail only. However, we still weren't ready to try our first true non-motor anchoring. The wind was fresh, at 18 kts. and we had boats anchored on all sides. Yet she now has the experience of successfully entering an anchorage at fairly high speed and stalling the boat at the desired spot. My Firstmate is a pretty darned good helmsperson! It was at that point that I would have dropped Max. But instead she held position as I dropped the main sail and tied it down.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is the main anchorage for PV. There is a small med-tie anchorage in the main PV harbor, but it is small. This area is a big resort with all the luxuries and conveniences expected in such a place. Hence, most cruisers go to one of the marinas. Marina Vallarta (Club de Yates) in PV, and Paradise and Nuevo Vallarta Marinas in Nuevo Vallarta, five miles away from PV. However, the marinas are expensive and we weren't looking for a "resort" scenario. La Cruz is very popular for cruisers like us, a large, roadstead anchorage able to handle many boats. "Roadstead" means natural or manmade barriers do not protect it, boats just rely on generally calm waters. La Cruz isn't necessarily calm. There the swell is usually between 2 and 3' and the afternoon wind can get up to 20 knots - from just about any direction - so it can be bouncy. Dink rides from the shore leave the riders wet. Of course, the afternoon is when we always returned from PV. But the town has many cruiser hangouts and events. Many "marina people" sail over and hang on the hook for a night or more to partake in the fun. Boats don't have to officially check in here either.
When we had finished our anchoring, we scanned the other boats. I noticed Pacific Adventure was a few boats downwind of us. As I squinted through the binoculars to verify their name, they swung on a wind shift and exposed another boat previously hidden from us. "Hon, you'll never guess who I am looking at!" It was Departure. An Oregonian sailboat painted in orange, yellow and red - one of a kind. This boat had been anchored in Monterey when we anchored there after leaving Santa Cruz two years ago and was in Oxnard when we pulled in there. In Oxnard, we met them and got to know them. Later that summer, we shared the anchorage in Dana Point several times. They had gone on to Mexico in the fall, we followed a year later. Nancy found their boat name registered in the Port Cop's office in Mag Bay and heard them mentioned once by another cruiser recently, so we knew they were close. Virgil was the first diabetic I knew after becoming one. Only he has been Type One for 20 years. Chris was the first wife-of-a-diabetic Nancy had ever met. You could say we have a lot in common to talk about.
The next afternoon, we used the wind and waves to aid our dink run to their boat, hoping for the wind to stay true to its habit of stopping at sunset for a dry return trip. We weren't let down. We caught up on each other's travels. They gave us pointers for Banderas Bay and we gave them ours for the places we had just left. We sat around with sugar free drinks, eating sugar free candy I had saved and had Ritz-cracker-and-garlic-slice nibbles: it was a diabetic's party.
The town of La Cruz (by the way, there is a huge Huanacaxtle tree in the center of town) is a small fishing village which has grown into a cruiser's hangout as well as a choice for American/Canadian retirees building/rebuilding homes for winter or year round use. Like the rest of the greater PV area, it is growing. Yet it remains a quaint Mexican fishing town. The locals are friendly to "yates", going further than we ever seen to make cruisers frequent their restaurants. Free dinghy docking, water, garbage and satelite-TV. The waterfront street has a laundry and two restaurants, Dos Filipes and Cruise Quarters. The first provides the free stuff listed above. The Cruiser Quarters has a free shower for patrons, as well as a swim pool on the second floor, beside their restaurant. One the first floor is a lounge to watch TV, read or exchange books and hang out with whoever is there. The restaurant's walls are decorated by cruisers who have drawn pictures, placed a message or just recorded their boat names to record their attendance. This art has been written up in Latitude 38. A few other cruiser-restaurants are several blocks away, some actually run by cruisers who came by never left.
The bus trip from La Cruz transitions between sections of old paved or dirt road and new highway and freeway. The cost of the bus ride increased 20% while we were there. While not a real big deal for us, the new fare of 12 pesos has to be a major problem for the majority of the local population. Most of the bus rides we were on had one or two passengers come aboard and begin playing instruments and/or singing, later "passing the hat". I believe they were recovering as much of the bus fare as they could.
We only traveled to PV to look for sources of glucometer strips and food. The center of the "hotel zone" part of town could double as an affluent southern Orange County town, having a Costco-like store (Sam's Club), shopping malls and non-traditional architecture. However, this was good news for me. I found 100 strips at the first supermarket, just staring at me through the glass counter, just like in Longs. A few days later, at another supermarket, I found another 100. My needs were covered until Mazatlan.
So our lack of appreciation of the luxury was softened by the availability of hard-to-find items. Yes, we weren't very impressed with PV. While some people need their shot of home, malls and such, it also came with the haze/smog, the traffic and crowds. We saw the prices of homes and condos - they could have been San Francisco or a private golf club - unbelievably 700,000 to 1.5 million USD! Obviously some people will pay the price.
As one cruise guide put it, echoing my feelings, "... it doesn't have much out of the ordinary to account for all the tourists who flock there each year. There are no ancient ruins, nor other historically significant places to visit. There is only the sun and the sea and even that is not as good as it is in a lot of other places."
My suggestion is if people want to have a nice hotel to stay at, try Barra's Grand Bay and be treated like a king, in a place Wayne Gretski brings his family for New Years. If you want sand and sea, go to a small, inexpensive hotel or bungalow at a bay south or north of PV. These give you an almost private beach. Remember that when we vacationed to Hawaii in our previous life, we had always returned to Kauai and had shunned Oahu and Maui.
There were two different Internet Cafés that we used and probably more were spread over town. The smallest had 8 terminals, the other had 20. We got out a few more editions of this "log" and picked up news and entertainment from all of you.
We stocked up on foodstuffs and found a wonderful source of bolillos, where we bought a dozen at a time. However, Nancy felt the chicken purchased in the supermarkets was tasteless. Granted it looked nice and sanitary, all wrapped and packaged like we used to demand. The flavor was missing. We have been converted to open-market meat! We purchased our tortillas back in La Cruz, from the local Tortilleria. But we did purchase the final item in our fishing kit - a bottle of cheap liquor. So now we can catch a fish!
We had planned to reserve a slip in Marina Vallarta in March and April to leave Nanjo during our return to California. However, the local news was of a dock fire at that marina and that the dock fire suppression equipment didn't work. Boaters had to put it out with shipboard extinguishers. Second, several radios had been stolen. This later item smacks of other cruisers being the thieves, not Mexicans. So we decided that Mazatlan would be our marina selection. We had wanted to cruise up the coast as far as San Blas in February anyway. This way we could just go another few days further north. A dividend existed as well - Mazatlan's Carnival was the first week of March. This celebration is reported to be the third largest in the world. How could we pass that up.
So we had a farewell dinner in La Cruz with Departure on Tuesday night. Made one last trip to PV the next day. Listened to the weather report on the Net the Thursday morning. Hearing of nothing preventing us, we prepared to get underway. We raised anchor in the late morning and sailed to Punta Mita, at the far, northwest edge of Banderas Bay.
Crew of Nanjo