Doug and I are sitting in Cuidad Obregon’s very civilized (small, modern) airport waiting for Interjet to whish us away to the Big City of Mexico, aka Mexico, or the DF, Distrito Federal. We decided to do a little land travel this year while we still have the oomph to lift our backpacks.
We are aiming for Patagonia Chile and maybe Argentina too. I’d also like to see the geysers in the Atacama desert which is all the way at the other end of a really long -2670 miles- country. So we’re starting in the middle, Santiago, where all the planes fly.
We’ll stay in hostels, which we find good for meeting other travellers and getting useful information. We usually ride the buses (South American long-distance buses can make Greyhound look very long in the tooth) but as I said, here we are in an airport having balked at the prospect of a 25-hour ride through Mexico.
Given that the trip plan is to have no plan beyond movement and serendipity, the most befuddling part so far has been the packing. We started with carry-on sized convertible backpacks with a capacity of ~42 liters and put our hiking shoes (they are not even boots, but they weigh five pounds each pair). The bag is full.
Well, actually not. I got 20 more pounds of stuff in mine, and Doug in his, but it was packed, unpacked, repacked, reconfigured, substituted, sat upon and reshuffled so many times that I’m not sure what actually made the team. Less is better, it is said, but how many summer clothes make a layer of glacier-proof winter wear?
The entire pre-travel process actually makes me a little anxious. Nobody like to pay too much or make the wrong decisions, but I eventually reach a stage where I’ll push the next button that appears rather than parse the possibilities any longer. Then for weeks I worry that I’ve made a mistake on the booking, or have the connection on a different day than the origination, or mis-marked my calendar, forgot to set the alarm clock or the day of the week. But none that happened this time despite the energy I wasted wondering if I had gone wrong.
So here we are, waiting to board. If you get this you’ll know none of what I feared came to pass (as usual). The trip is underway, and taking on a life of its own.
While the crew of Galivant was in Maryland doing our summer job (home maintenance, as opposed to boat maintenance), the big event in Guaymas was Hurricane Newton on September 7. Newton lost some of its oomph crossing the Baja peninsula, but still packed significant punch as it made landfall near Guaymas in the dark of night.
There are roofs peeled off in town, trees remarkable for their absence, missing signs, etc. The crumbling dome on the classic old bank building downtown that we hoped someone would rescue (http://galivantstravels.com/2015/01/26/guaymas-sonora-mexico-2/) – well, we don’t have to worry about that any more. It’s gone. Electric power went out but as happens in these cases the country pulls together to get the utilities running again, pronto, mostly. Everybody has a story but in short, Guaymas doesn’t look all that different from its usual self.
Most of the boating community weathered the storm well. We had heard from staff and from friends at Gabriel’s Marina Guaymas that Galivant was fine. When we arrived after a cross country drive two months later, we got details of what must have been a long and frightening night for Andrés, Roberto, Alejandro, Gabriel and the rest of the staff. It wasn’t so much rain as wind, they said, lots of it. The men circulated constantly, checking and tightening the boat stands, and in the end only a handful of boats got into trouble.
Up at the dry storage yard at Marina San Carlos, they weren’t so lucky. That yard hauls boats out on trailers rather than on a travelift; as a result they can be, and are, blocked up closer together. When one boat goes down, it’s more likely to take others with it.
In nearby San Carlos, Newton toppled a row of sailboats as if they were dominos. Photo courtesy Latitude 38.
The Fonatur Marina in Guaymas also took a hit. The docks were lightly built to begin with, and there were some large, and unattended, vessels, beyond the ability of the folks on hand to deal with. In the end I believe seven boats in the water were sunk. Finger piers ripped off and the docks will need major attention.
The biggest surprise, in a ‘what’s wrong with this picture’ kind of way, was the storage tanks in the shipyard across the lane from Galivant. They have formed the view from our cockpit while we’re out of the water – well, they blew over, all together. And it took me a hour to notice!
A note about the dogs. It would be hard to tell if these are exactly the same dogs as in previous years – there are so many, and they have a lot of genetic material in common – but life for them appears to be poor, nasty, brutish and short (although not solitary). We’ve tried feeding the mother dog anonymously (by taking food to a location not near our boat) but she’s got my number and looks yearningly at me each time she sees me. I wish I could add some form of birth control to the tortillas and chicken bits I usually offer.
DÍA DA LA REVOLUCIÓN
The third Monday of November is set aside to celebrate the start of the revolution in 1910 which overthrew the aging dictator-like President Porfirio Diaz. Here’s a very abbreviated (I promise!) version of what happened next to bring this about.
There was much anger after Diaz promised an election, then rigged the results. After examining the forces arrayed against him, in 1911 Diaz accepted exile in Paris. The new president was Francisco Madero. Among Madero’s supporters were Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa in the north, and Emiliano Zapata in the south. “(Theirs) was a locally based revolt, intent on restoring village rights to lands, forests and waters, (favoring) a self-ruling, communitarian democracy, inspired by shared traditions. It was, in many ways, a conservative revolution.”*
It turned out that Madero was less interested in these social and agrarian improvements, and more interested in political changes. So Zapata rose up against Madero in 1913; then a General Victoriano Huerta turned against him too, with the upshot that Madero and his vice president were executed.
Huerta was overthrown in 1914 by Venustiano Carranza, but the Villistas, Zapatistas and Carrancistas were still divided. This is when the US, in support of Carranza, sent troops to Mexico to capture Pancho Villa, but failed. Zapata divvied up land for the campesinos in the south but was eventually forced to retreat to the mountains. (There’s lots more to both these stories; see http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/thehistoryofmexico/a/08panchovilla_3.htm)
And Carranza in 1917 was able to form a new constitution and hold onto power until he was succeeded by Alvaro Obregón in 1920, at which point it seems the revolution was considered over. Emiliano Zapata was assassinated in 1919. Francisco Villa was pardoned in 1920, but was killed on his ranch in 1923.
As revolutions go, this one, according to Fidel Castro’s recent obituary in the New York Times, was the most transformative and longest lasting in its impact of any Latin American 20th century revolution, other than Cuba’s.
I was impressed by what a gentle, respectful parade this was, no duelling sound trucks or carnival-raunchy behavior. And I was impressed too by the women who made it all the way down the parade route in these shoes!
And now for a few more photos.
Even as I get ready to post, a crane arrives to stand the tanks back up, and a dog arrives to be fed.
The little girl ran back to momma for money when she saw something she wanted.
University class commemorates their participation.
Good day for this vendor
Every block or two this group formed up
It makes my feet hurt just to imagine walking the length of the parade route in these shoes.
Parade over, let’s hang out.
She was relaxing with her family in the shade after the parade and was happy to be photographed.
*http://www.nytimes.com/1988/03/13/books/history-out-of-chaos.html?pagewanted=all This is from a long and educational review from the NY Times about a book called Revolutionary Mexico, by John Mason Hart. Sounds interesting, even if it was published in 1987 and reviewed in 1988.
We arrived back in Guaymas on the weekend of the vernal equinox, taking advantage of a break in the winter’s persistent northwesterly winds to make a jump north. Now, instead of a peaceful life in the isolated anchorages of Baja California, we’re in the throes of the 21st century. Excited to use the internet, but not about some of the news it brings. Excited to see our car, at least in its role as bodega/storage shed, but we can’t get the doors open because the battery is dead. It makes me think back to a line from a book I’m reading about the 1930s adventures of a young couple who traveled from California to Panama in a kayak.
"Machineless men, dwelling outside the currents of time and change, the faces of the villagers of Punta Duro reflected the peace and contentment that came from being presented with no problems beyond their capacity to solve." From Enchanted Vagabonds, by Dana Lamb. 1938, Harper and Brothers
We were raring to go out and see if we had the capacity to solve our problems and thereby reacquire peace and contentment on Monday , but whoa! Slow down! It’s a holiday! Honoring Benito Juárez, on March 21, this year is a holiday that segues neatly into Semana Santa, the Holy Week bookended by Palm Sunday and Easter, probably the biggest vacation week of the year in Mexico.
Overheard on the radio: “The beaches are already filling up and they’ll be so packed by Thursday that you’ll think there’s no more space. Then everybody else will come.”
Back to Benito Juárez:
I’d venture to say that there is not a town in Mexico that does not have a street named after Benito Juárez. And there he is on the twenty-peso note. He was president during tumultuous times in the 1860s. But why else would he be called Mexico’s Abraham Lincoln?
The most used piece of currency in Mexico is the 20-peso note featuring Benito Juárez. It’s a durable kind of plastic, not paper, with secret codes embedded. Each bill in Mexico is a different color, and some are different sizes too, making them easy to tell apart.
So I read about him on Wikipedia. I’m trying to keep my summary short and sweet, but these were very confused times in Mexico and some hard-to-imagine things occurred. Kind of like current events.
Importantly, Benito Juárez was a indigenous Mexican, not Spanish, but Zapotec, born in 1806. His parents were peasants who died when he was young; he was a shepherd and farmer until he was 12, when he walked to the city of Oaxaca to go to school (and learn Spanish). An acquaintance who was impressed by his intelligence arranged for his education.
Eventually he became a lawyer, and in his 30s, a judge, and in his early 40s governor of Oaxaca and the husband of a 20-years-younger white woman, which was notable considering the prevailing racism and social stratification of the era.
Meantime, the Mexican War with the Americans was taking place; Juarez was exiled for several years and worked in a cigar factory in New Orleans. But he returned as the Liberal party regained power. In this Reform Period, an effort was made “to create a modern civil society and capitalist economy based on the model of the United States. The Ley Juárez (Juárez Law) of 1855 declared all citizens equal before the law and severely restricted the privileges of the Catholic Church.” (Wikipedia)
Juarez, as interim president of the country, headed the liberal side in the turbulent Mexican civil war known as the Reform Wars through the late 1850s.
He was eventually elected president in his own right in 1861 but the country’s infrastructure and economy had been badly damaged by the wars; Mexico defaulted on debts owed to England, Spain and France.
So France, with the support of the Conservatives from the Reform Wars, invaded, and Napoleon III installed the Hapsburg duke Maximillian as Emperor of Mexico. Juárez ran a government in exile in Chihuahua until 1867 when the French were finally defeated and Maximillian executed.
Juárez won election twice after that, once ‘clean’ and later ‘widespread controversy and fraud’. He died of a heart attack at the age of 66 while reading the newspaper at his desk.
The period of his leadership is known in Mexican history as La Reforma del Norte (The Reform of the North), and constituted a liberal political and social revolution with major institutional consequences: the expropriation of church lands, the subordination of the army to civilian control, liquidation of peasant communal land holdings, the separation of church and state in public affairs, and also the almost-complete disenfranchisement of bishops, priests, nuns and lay brothers, codified in the “Juarez Law” or “Ley Juárez”. Wikipedia, Benito Juárez.
His life did overlap Lincoln’s, and parts of their life stories and political agendas have substantial similarity, and reforms worth fighting for, so I guess it’s a viable comparison. But in one way they were quite different, Lincoln being notably tall and lanky, and Juárez ‘peaking’ at only four feet, six inches tall.
UPDATE: I’ve found a way better write-up here: http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/274-mexico-s-lincoln-the-ecstasy-and-agony-of-benito-juarez
The author commented that Lincoln in one sense was lucky to have been ‘martyred’ at the height of his success and thus spared the frustrations and disillusionment of Juárez’s last five years.
I can’t help but try to imagine how the wild and wooly events of Mexico in the 1860s would be described by today’s journalists and commentators. And wonder where the likes of today’s politicians and plutocrats would have found themselves in the 1860 landscape. There’s a bit more analysis of Juárez’s legacy from Wikipedia as a footnote.
While banks are closed today, I don’t think Diá Benito Juárez is a retail shopping extravaganza, at least not here in Guaymas and not at the battery store. I do hope that everyone is making the best of the day!
Sailboat sinks after hitting a whale
Because, on a more somber note, we are also thinking about a friend whose sailboat sank beneath him this week, after he hit a whale in the pre-dawn darkness. In twenty minutes, from his dinghy, he watched his very well-tended pride and joy sink in thousands of feet of water, thirty-odd miles short of Guaymas.
The good news is that the safety net we don’t want to count on but secretly do, consisting of an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and the person or institution it notifies (in this case Canadian authorities and through them the Mexican Navy) – that system worked exactly as it should.
Our friend was safe ashore very quickly. He did have insurance, and had prepared himself well for the voyage by having his ditch bags and liferaft ready in the cockpit. So although he needed to borrow shoes and clothes, he had his paperwork and electronics, etc. And his life. But his floating home is gone forever.
We had plenty of time to contemplate all the above as we came the same way the following night, scanning the darkness for debris, and for a concussed, angry, or dead whale, seeing nothing.
It’s a reminder just how fast a situation can change. With that in mind, let the Mexicans enjoy their holiday, and let us enjoy it too.
Footnote…a bit more about Mexican political history and Juárez’s legacy, from Wikipedia
“*La Reforma represented the triumph of Mexico’s liberal, federalist, anti-clerical, and pro-capitalist forces over the conservative, centralist, corporatist, and theocratic elements that sought to reconstitute a locally-run version of the old colonial system. It replaced a semi-feudal social system with a more market-driven one, but following Juárez’s death, the lack of adequate democratic and institutional stability soon led to a return to centralized autocracy and economic exploitation under the regime of Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato(Porfirist era), in turn, collapsed at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.”
So much, from more than a hundred years ago, sounds so familiar in this description.
Every so often there’s an adrenaline-rush day for the small craft operators in Bahia Tenacatita, as illustrated in this photo taken by Aimee aboard sv Terrapin. Is the “Featured Image” missing above? Visit this post on GalivantsTravels.com.
West Coast accessories?
The first time we saw a dinghy with wheels, on a shiny new boat from California, we thought it was another example of what some of us from the little states in the eastern US think of as West Coast, over-the top, accessorizing.
However we’re finding that a lot of the anchorages in the Pacific are open to the swell of half the Pacific ocean, and have marginal headlands to hide behind, or bays to enclose us. Our present dinghy is a ten-foot AB Alumina inflatable, more like an SUV than a kayak, as is appropriate for its duties as our one and only ‘do anything everywhere’ transportation interface. Doug has always wanted a strong dinghy, but it also has its disadvantages.
At nearly 200 pounds when loaded with a 15 hp outboard and a full tank, it’s not easy to drag up the beach. Being inflatable, it’s not a good rowing boat. Despite its aluminum floor, we wouldn’t want to drag it over rocks, or even sand. And on some beaches you have to pull the boat up pronto, before the next wave, and pull it a long way. Once we understood what the wheels were for, we wanted some.
One basic theory is to put down your wheels and wait just beyond the line where the waves reveal themselves. When you see a potential big one, rev up and try to stay just on its back side. That way you get carried as far in as possible up. Then, hop out of the boat (you’re dressed for wetting, I hope) and haul it up before the next wave breaks. The steeper the beach, the more important this becomes. In some places, with careful timing, and a lot of luck, one might feasibly hop out in dry pants, maybe even dry shoes!
A second theory, which works pretty well on the flat beach of Tenacatita, is to not deploy the wheels. Sometimes the wheels hitting the ground can brake you before you’re clear of the surf break. But then you have the full weight of the dinghy to deal with; the trouble is getting it far enough up the beach to avoid it washing away on the incoming tide on a long day away.
The local pangueros are expert at landing on the beach – that’s what their boats are designed for. But they have 20′ high-bowed boats*, bigger engines, and a transom deeper in the water, so the prop keeps a better bite. They often back in, with the propellor a bit lifted and the bow lifting nicely to the breakers. Sometimes someone (the junior crew member!) jumps in the water to keep everything lined up. Usually when a panga delivers you to a beach, you can step right off onto sand.
Most important lesson so far
Don’t get in front of the breaking wave if at all possible, and especially, don’t get sideways to it. Also, the kill switch, which turns the engine off when the clip is pulled: you want its lanyard on your wrist and the switch in good working order. You could dump the dinghy, douse your outboard in salt water, lose whatever you were carrying, etc. Better not to chop up the remains while you’re at it. Who needs that kind of excitement?
Two families with four young children between them, headed ashore in kayaks last year, and got in too far to turn back. They got dumped on the way in, and as conditions worsened with the tide, they decided to stay at the hotel down at the end of the beach, rather than take on the waves they photographed above.
It’s an interesting story, since the hotel isn’t set up for that kind of guest, and they weren’t set up to be there. But it reinforces one of our rules, which is: when you go ashore, no matter where you think you are going, always take shoes and always take money.
Feel the surge!
The other day we had some surge-y conditions, and I don’t think anyone went ashore. According to surf sites like magicseaweed.com, there was a 2.3 meter swell train from the northwest, trending down some violent-looking weather systems battering northern California. And there was a 1.4 meter southwesterly swell, can’t say what is generating that without looking south of the equator. These were long period swells, up and down every 15 or 20 seconds. Listening, particularly in the wee hours, you can hear the boom of surf on the other side of the bay.
We are well-anchored, but it is disconcerting to watch our neighbors zooming forward, as if they’re getting underway, and to know that we’re doing the same ourselves. We just can’t feel the conveyor belt we’re riding.
Feel the Roll too
But we can certainly feel the side-to-side rolling that comes when the swell and the wind are perpendicular. There’s an accessory for that too. The flopper-stopper is rigged to hang from a pole stuck out the side of the boat. In the water is something that resists being lifted, but sinks readily, like a weighted platform, bucket, basket/check valve, or a big flat hinge. Even if it doesn’t stop the roll completely, it breaks the harmonic cycle. That’s one accessory we haven’t yet acquired.
And no one is going ashore today, at least not in their dinghies. Surfing in would be one problem, getting back out would be another kind, and maybe more difficult.
We’re learning that the wheels aren’t always the answer to getting out either. The problem is that they leave the bow of the dinghy down, easy for the waves to break into while you’re trying to get into the dinghy, get the engine started, get the passenger aboard, stay steered straight out, etc.
As for ourselves, well, we sometimes come home wet, and glad of a dry bag for storing things. It does help to decide early who is calling the shots, or you’ll both get doused in the space between go, go, go and wait, wait, wait!
Footnote about the panga
*from Wikipedia, I learned this about the ubiquitous panga.
The original panga design was developed by Yamaha as part of a World Bank project circa 1970.
Key features of the panga design are a high bow, narrow waterline beam, and a flotation bulge along the gunwale, or top edge of the hull. The high bow provides buoyancy for retrieving heavy nets, and minimizes spray coming over the bow. The narrow beam allows the hull to be propelled by a modest-sized outboard motor. The flotation bulge along the gunwale provides increased stability at high angles of roll.
The original Yamaha panga design had a length of 22 feet (6.7 m), and a waterline beam of approximately 5 feet 6 inches (1.7 m).
Pangas are usually between 19 and 28 feet (5.8 and 8.5 m) in length, with capacities ranging from 1 to 5 short tons (0.89 to 4.46 long tons; 0.91 to 4.54 t) and powered by outboard motors of between 45 and 200 hp (34 and 149 kW). Their planing hulls are capable of speeds in excess of 35 knots (40 mph; 65 km/h)
We arrived here on Christmas Day, after a nice sail around Cabo Corrientes, under the light of a gloriously full moon. Full moon brings with it a whole different set of thoughts than a dark and windy night, especially when it’s Christmas Eve and you can imagine a world full of people looking for Santa’s sleigh silhouetted on the very moon we’re watching.
They like to call this the Costa Alegre, alegre meaning cheerful. Happy, joyful, maybe a little drunk, says one dictionary.
When we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, there were a handful of Big Mexican Motor Yachts, who left within hours. And there were just two other cruising boats in this capacious bay. Everyone else had gone to the next bay for a Christmas pot-luck dinner. Out came the swim ladder and into the warm salty pool we slid. The water really was 84 degrees. I don’t even remember the dinner, but I’m sure it was pot-luck too. And alegre.
Since then a cruising community has slowly been evolving, to the point that there were 40 other boats here last week, although now half have moved on.
There’s a half-mile of beach, punctuated by all-inclusive resort, Los Angeles Locos, (formerly Blue Bay) at the far end. The hotel suffered damage during Hurricane Patricia, but is up and running. The vegetation is recovering and the sand has been pushed back down onto the beach. Behind the road was a shrimp farm owned by the hotel, but that’s still being rebuilt.
At the near end there’s a palapa-roofed restaurant called La Vena, a tent campground, and the barred mouth of a small river which wanders back into the mangroves for a couple miles. There are herons and chacalacas (turkey-like birds) and terns and no doubt much else upstream, even some small crocodiles. Don’t molest them, say the signs. Don’t worry!
Supplies, groceries and the like, are available not too far away, but not too close either. The small town of La Manzanilla is three miles across the bay by water, when it’s not too rough, or half an hour by taxi. The bigger towns of Barra de Navidad and Melaque are in the next bay, about 14 miles southeast. And a cell phone tower twinkles, although it sometimes seems that’s all it does.
The Mayor and his constituency
Tenacatita is the kind of place some people stay for months, and come to year after year. So perhaps it’s fitting that there be a Mayor; Robert aboard Harmony of Alameda is the latest, and maybe the longest serving too, although I suspect that the First Lady, aka “The Lovely Miss Virginia” is the real Mayor. Being a background Empress myself, I recognize the signs.
They keep the morning radio net going, and the social calendar up-to-date, and generally know what’s going on. The Mayor also hosts a Friday afternoon raft-up.
The hotel ‘rescues’ sea turtle eggs, holds them until they hatch, and then involves the hotel guests, particularly the children, in the ‘launch.’
Boys at play
“Bocce on the beach at 2 PM” is the main item on the social calendar. It’s usually followed by drinks in the palapa. It’s not always all men playing – anyone is welcome. But the women tend to walk the beach or sit in the shade and chat while the men knock bocce balls around.
Several years ago I read a book called Beautiful Minds, which compared intelligent animals, particularly primates and cetaceans. I was struck by the authors’ observation that, because of the environment in which they lived, their anatomy, and the tools not available to them, dolphins and whales have few options and many limitations when compared to the great apes. Backscratchers would just be the start of the list.