Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Day 318 to 394 of the Third Voyage: In which we wonder, “Good Lord! Where did the last 76 days, 9 hours, and 18 minutes go?”

We’ve been in Barra de Navidad for a little over three months now, which means I’m about two months late updating the blog. But believe me when I say that we’ve been keeping busy. Rather than bore you with the minutia of how we’ve been spending our time, here are the highlights:

Week 1: Got settled into the marina; explored Barra and the surrounding towns; scoped out local tiendas for everyday needs; had 32 10-gallon water bottles delivered to replenish the fresh-water tanks; and ordered a UV-light water filter to convert the non-potable water at the dock into something drinkable because there’s nothing suckier than having to pour water from 32 10-gallon bottles into your tanks when the fill hole is only 1” in diameter.

Week 2: Took stock of the boat including everything that malfunctioned and everything that needs/will need maintenance; moped for four days after completing list of everything that malfunctioned and everything that needs/will need maintenance; pulled the transmission and sent it to JonCo (Barra’s only gringo mechanic) for a complete rebuild.

Week 3: Took possession of aforementioned UV-light water filter and refilled the tanks (general consensus: awesome water!); coordinated the shipping of parts for the transmission; and attended fiesta at JonCo’s house to visit with transmission and commiserate with fellow cruisers, after which we decided that the transmission was lonely and sent our outboard over there to keep it company.

Week 4: Invited for drinks and dinner on Carinthia where we learn too late that Dietmar pours the strongest margarita in all of Christendom—as in how-is-this-even-legal?-proof tequila with a splash of lime and salt. Upon stumbling back to the boat, the Deck Boss falls into the water. After fishing her out—and to avoid an encore—the Captain and Dietmar attach her to a halyard and hoist her safely onboard. I get her bandaged up and put to bed and wander out to check on the Captain who is now passed out on the dock. I promptly fall in the water.

Week 5: Don’t remember week 5 due to a severe hangover from aforementioned week 4.

Week 6: Semana Santa i.e. Holy Week i.e. National All Of Mexico Goes To The Beach Week. Barra is packed. The resort is packed. Music is blaring. It’s a blast. Given the sheer humanity on the Malecon and at the beaches, pools and restaurants, I’d say about three thousand people have descended upon the town—so given the size of the average Mexican clan…about eight families.

Week 7: Semana Pascua i.e. Week after Easter i.e. National Everyone In Mexico That Didn’t Have Semana Santa Off Are Now At The Beach Week. Not as crowded as Semana Santa but still busy—I estimate only six families are in town or roughly two thousand people.

Week 8: The latest round of brightwork—begun in week 6—is completed; the transmission rebuild is finished and it is brought back to the boat for reinstallation; and the engine room blower picks this week to conk out, meaning the engine room is fast approaching sun-surface temperatures.

Week 9: The transmission—despite having been pulled out and reinstalled at least a half a dozen times—decided that it would not go gently into that good engine room. What should have been a four-hour process turned into four days. It didn’t want to swing into place, it refused to align with the bolts, it resented having its screws tightened, and it wouldn’t deign to attach to the propeller without bringing the shaft so far forward that water started to pour into the engine room. On a good note, the bilge pump still works.

Week 10: The Panama Posse is officially formed. Spearheaded by Dietmar on Carinthia (he of the is-this-even-legal?-proof tequila margaritas), the posse is now an official rally open to all boats heading south. The starting point will be in Barra in November of this year. The end rendezvous point will be Panama in June 2018. Check out the website for more details: www.panamaposse.com

Week 11: The Deck Boss and I make our six-month visa trip out of the country. We head to Corpus Christi, Texas which is so hot, humid, and wind-blown that it makes tropical Mexico feels like a temperate zone. Using this opportunity to stock up on boat parts and gringo items, we have had half of an Amazon warehouse delivered to a friend of hers for transport back to Mexico.

Week 12: We spend all week trying to figure out how to squeeze half an Amazon warehouse onto a 52’ boat.

Week 13: The Captain makes his six-month visa trip out of the country and heads to Denver to visit with his family. The other half of that Amazon warehouse is waiting for him for transport back to Mexico.

Week 14: Week 12, The Sequel.

Casa Dulce Casa (or thereabouts)

Pictured: A large family having their picture taken in front of the Barra letters on the Malecon during Semana Santa. The police wanted them to a) remove their children from atop the sign and b) move along. The family responded by a) not removing their children from atop the sign, b) not moving along, c) inviting more people to join in the photo, and d) shouting “POLICIA” instead of “cheese” as each picture was snapped. We were highly amused. The policia? Not so much.

Backtrack:  A little bit about Barra.

Barra de Navidad is a small town of about 7,000 people nestled along the Costalegre (Coast of Joy) that runs between Puerto Vallarta (about 135 nm to the north) and Manzanillo (about 25 nm to the south.)  With the horseshoe-shaped Bahia de Navidad in front, a large lagoon in back, and mountains on either side, it’s the only hurricane hole in Mexico aside from PV. Traditionally it’s a fishing village, but in the last twenty or so years it’s been promoted as a tourist destination. However, it’s more akin to what Puerto Vallarta was probably like forty years ago…before the cruise ships, spring breaks, expats, and Starbucks turned it into “Mexico Lite”. Here in Barra, there are restaurants that cater to holidaymakers and stalls that sell beach stuff, t-shirts, and souvenirs, but the rest is a true coastal working town. There are no supermarkets, no fancy stores, and few paved roads; there’s not even a bank, just an ATM that frequently runs out of cash. But you can generally find everything you need if you look hard enough and if you can’t, the slightly larger town of Melaque is a short bus ride away. If you get desperate, many of the big box stores can be found in Manzanillo and Santiago about 90 minutes away.

So now we shop like the locals do:  we go to one carniceria (butcher) for bacon and pork, another for beef, one tienda for fresh items, and another for packaged goods. All the tiendas sell freshly-made bread. For pastry, most expats patronize the French Baker, but we prefer the little shop up one of the side streets. There’s no sign and no counter—just a makeshift display case that they wheel out when the pastries come out of the oven. Beer is available everywhere although the OXXO (arguably the nicest store in town) carries Indio and you can reload your cell phone while you’re there. On Thursday mornings we go to the weekly market where you can find anything from household items to clothes to fresh fruits and vegetables. In the middle of the market, spread out over a couple tables, the latest DVD releases are available for about $1.50 each. And by new releases I mean a lot of these movies are still in the theatres. The packaging is in Spanish, but the DVDs are in English and the sound and picture quality is pretty decent. I mean…so I’ve been told. 

Although the variety of goods is not as great as in PV, we’ve found the prices to be a little lower to the point where we still do a doubletake every time they tell us the total. Case in point…just yesterday we went to one of our local markets and purchased bananas, apples, limes, bread, cranberry juice, yogurt, cheese, and made-fresh-that-day tortillas and frijoles, and the total came to 130 pesos—that’s roughly $7 dollars. Looking for fast food? There are at least three places in Barra where they grill up chicken on the sidewalks in big, steel drums. A whole chicken with rice, salad, tortillas, salsa, and taquitos runs around 120 pesos. Which is also what we spent on a kilo of thick-cut tocino (i.e. 2.2 pounds of bacon) at the carniceria. The last time I bought bacon in the States for $3.50 a pound it was that already-cooked crap that the Captain immediately dubbed “fakin” and asked that I never buy again.

English is not widely spoken in Barra, but everyone we’ve encountered is patient, happy to repeat things and/or correct our Spanish as needed, and seem to genuinely appreciate our attempts at communication. And where words fail, pantomime fills in the gaps.

We are currently staying in the marina at the Grand Isla Navidad Hotel & Resort. If you want to be impressed, Google it. Because it is pretty damn impressive. It’s considered one of the finest resorts in all of Mexico and it is breathtaking. Spanish-colonial architecture, first-class service, fine dining, 200 rooms, 27-hole golf course, three swimming pools, private beach lagoon, landscaped grounds, etc. etc. etc. Oh…and no guests. It was full over Semana Santa and there have been a few weekends where they’ve hosted large functions, but for the most part it’s empty. I guess this is nothing new. Someone from PV told me that one day last summer they had an occupancy of 15. Not fifteen percent. Fifteen people. Rumors abound as to how they can keep the doors open in which things like, “tax write off”, “money laundering”, and the “C” word are bandied about. But in the end, the one that makes sense is that the marina fees keep the resort going during the slow times.

The moorage rates are preposterously high from November through May. The monthly rate was quoted at $32.80/foot, but if you actually stay for the whole 30 days, you qualify for a discount of 30% off—which is actually only 15% once taxes are added back in; daily rates are so high that if you stay for 10 days, you should just go ahead and stay another 20 at the monthly rate plus discount because it’s the same price. I’d be more specific, but I only got a C in algebra back in high school so I don’t think I fully comprehend it myself. Low season (i.e. now) is much easier as the rate is $0.33/foot/night regardless of length of stay. But the real boon is the option to pay a flat rate for electricity. Given that we held the record for most electricity consumed in Paradise Village last August and September and that our electric was more than moorage both those months, we stand to save some money this year which is very handy given our high “Shit Going Wrong” factor.

Which leads nicely into a new section we’d like to call, “Now What?” in which we bitch about something else that has gone belly up on this barge. This time around it’s the stove! Not the stove per se—more specifically it’s the solenoid which is a metal gizmo-like thing that gets the propane from your tank to the burners on your stove.  A new one has been ordered, but to avoid customs delays and duties we’re having it shipped to Texas where the Deck Boss and I will be headed end of May for our bi-yearly visa trip. So until then…no stove. Just some grilling, a lot of microwaving, frequent sandwich making, and much dining out i.e. things normally reserved for height-of-summer-heat eating. Now the solenoid should be plug and play, but of course it isn’t. Because manufacturers can’t just leave well enough alone, they have to “new and improve” everything until it renders the whole system obsolete at which point they’d be happy to sell you the “new and improved” version of whatever it is you’re trying to fix. So the solenoid is shipping with a bevy of additional items to get the new to fit with the old. We went ahead and ordered a new regulator as well because we may as well “new and improve” it all at the same time.

Editor’s Update: Upon arriving back in Mexico with all the parts, the Captain successfully fixed the stove and the galley is once again open for business…just in time for it to be too hot to cook.

Dispatches from World War C.  Though conventional warfare—sprays, gels, borax, and myriad natural remedies—has been effective in population control, total eradication has eluded us. Dare I say that our roach foes have proven to be more cunning than originally thought. It’s not uncommon to have nary a sighting two nights in a row only to walk in on a free-for-all on the third. I believe they also might be building up a tolerance to the copious amounts of RAID sprayed liberally throughout the galley. Either that or there’s a brisk trade in gasmasks on the black market. I’ve taken to putting pantry items (tortillas, crackers, bread) into sealed plastic bins and fresh fruit into vegetable tubs in an attempt to starve out the enemy. We’ve even resorted to removing Edgrrr’s food at night which has just served to piss him off more than usual (and that’s saying something) but just like a bad game of whack-a-mole, once we clear them out of one part of the boat, they pop up in another (as evidenced by the fact that I recently found two in Edgrrr’s litter box which only reinforces my opinion that just when you think a cockroach can’t get any nastier, they think of ways to up the ante.)

I have ordered some Advion Cockroach Gel Bait which is supposed to be the be-all-end-all of roach eradicators (and with a name like “Gel Bait” it sounds like if they don’t get snuffed out, they’ll at least get hauled away in handcuffs.) Barring its success, it may be time to drop the bomb on them…literally. You may be wondering why we haven’t already and the answer is twofold. Firstly, there are the animals to consider and the pain-in-the-butt factor of keeping them off the boat for the however many hours/days this will take. Secondly—and most surprisingly—I haven’t found any in Mexico.

Now if you’ve ever walked down an average street, been on a bus or ridden in a taxi, eaten from a street vendor, or otherwise spent more than five minutes in this country, you’ll quickly realize that there is little oversight when it comes to public safety. The infrastructure and retail establishments of just one four-block stretch of Paseo de Mazatl├ín here in Barra would give OSHA, FDA, USDA, EPA, CPSC, and a hassle of other acronyms headaches for weeks. Between the steep curbs, uneven and/or missing paving stones, potholes the size of kiddie pools, no discernable traffic laws, dozens of unleashed/unfixed dogs roaming around, exposed electrical wires, rusty rebar sticking out of everything, unregulated pharmacias, and at least a dozen food stands that are probably not licensed let alone inspected, they’d be writing out violations so fast they’d have to establish National Carpal Tunnel Day just to recuperate. You pretty much live in Mexico at your own risk. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you read the fine print on the back of the immigration form, you’ll find that it’s actually a liability waiver. So the fact that a good roach bomb can’t be found is pretty indicative of how hardcore they are.

Editor’s Update: So far, the Advion Gel Bait just might be living up to its hype. In the mornings, we are finding juvenile carcasses littered about the countertops. At night, there is little activity when on roach patrol—perhaps the occasional adult stumbling around like it’s on a bender. Overall, it’s quiet. Almost too quiet. Like they’re plotting something…

Aerial view of Barra with the Grand Isla Resort in the background.

Gutter view of Barra with an entree in the foreground.

Pictured: A typical street in Barra.
Not Pictured: The two-foot-deep pothole. If you fall in and get hungry waiting for a rescue, don’t worry. There’s a stray dog down there selling tacos.
Meanwhile back at the boat...

Edgrrr is the only crew member who has yet to “go swimming”. This is as close to the water as he likes to get.