Editor’s Note: Okay, confession time. Not that much really happened. I just went off on so many tangents that I figured I should post something before the whole thing went into War and Peace territory. That, and the two weeks in question was about six weeks ago so technically I owe you one (well, maybe two.)
Week 15: Summer has officially come to Barra and it’s everything we could have imagined. Hot? Check. Humid? Double check. High UV? Checkmark can’t see its shadow so it’s got to be over 10. But I must give us snaps for handling it with a bit more grace than last summer. The bitching has been minimal and I think we’ve finally come to terms with the fact that life in the tropics will consist of four seasons: hot, hotter, Good God, and That Wasn’t So Bad. With one summer in Mexico already under our belts, we are better equipped to handle the heat. Now we just quietly sweat like wildebeests as we go about our daily business. We figure as long as we’re staying hydrated, avoiding sunstroke, and bringing towels to mop up the puddles we leave behind, there’s no reason why we can’t be outside enjoying ourselves. I mean, lots of people change their clothes four times a day, right?
Of course, the upside of summer (and the thunderstorms that barrel through, dump 600 clouds worth of rain in about 20 minutes, and leave a steam bath in their wake) is that all of Barra has exploded in color. The hillsides that were once dry, brown, and brittle are now resplendent in varying shades of green, all manners of flowers are blooming, and the air is alive with hummingbirds and butterflies. Unfortunately, the mosquitos are also abundant and OFF! is a prerequisite whenever going outside. I’ve taken to carrying a can with me everywhere because you never know where they may be lurking. Alas, the OFF! doesn’t seem to work as well on the flies which have also hitched a ride with the sun and the rain. Most restaurants are outdoors and any not on the beach or lagoon (and thus getting a little moving air), are susceptible to a sizeable invasion. We spent one uncomfortable evening at a café down a side street from the church. There was no breeze and the tables were surrounded by planters (i.e. insect summer homes) and we spent the entire meal eating with one hand and swatting away flies with the other. (Of course, it was arguably the worst food we’ve had since coming to Mexico so it’s entirely possible that the infestation of flies was less environmental and more a commentary on the food.)
Week 16: Now just because we’re handling the heat better, it does not mean we’re giving up the quest for coolth. We have, however, given up on the central air. Having to flush out hoses and clean strainers of sea life once a week was just too much work for what we were getting out of it. Let’s just say that when the unit can only cool the raw water intake a good five degrees and the water is easily 90°, it’s not a good return on your labor investment. Last summer, we got two of those large, floor-unit ACs (the ones that weigh about a ton and exhaust out through the window via a gargantuan hose) for each of the sleeping cabins. They take up a lot of real estate, but they do work. And if you can sleep at night, it makes it easier to survive the day. So, the cabins are bearable, but the pilothouse and galley are still sweatboxes. We placed a huge fan on the companionway steps to move the air around, but then we thought, “This is silly. We’re on flat-rate electric. As long as we’re already using enough watts to power a small city, we may as well get a small AC window unit to place in the companionway opening and get rid of this big, noisy fan!” Cut to a couple of days later…we bring home a small AC window unit (the only one that will fit in the opening) and find that it does a nice job of keeping the 18 inches in front of it nice and cool but not so much the rest of the area. So, we have now put the fan in front of it. In fact, pretty much right back where it was. It’s just as big and as noisy, but now it’s moving cooler air around the boat--enough where we can use the galley and get a couple more hours use out of the pilothouse before it gets too warm.
So why bring up something as boring as AC? Because to get said AC, we had to go to Manzanillo. And to do that, we rented a car! So why bring up something as boring as renting a car? Because this was our first time driving in Mexico! (And by “our” I mean the Captain. Much like grilling, tinkering, and hauling up the garbage, driving rental cars is a “man task”. My job is to act as navigator a.k.a. provide fodder for the marriage counseling sessions.) Had we still been in PV, I don’t think we would have done it. The taxis move through traffic like an angry swarm of killer beers; there’s a reason the buses are dented, cracked, and held together with duct tape; and the “collectivos” should just plain come with crash helmets (seriously, we were in one where the driver cut through parking lots and up and on the sidewalks to make up time because apparently he had to be at his next stop the previous Tuesday) and if it was just those vehicles on the road, it’d be terrifying enough. But add in all the cars, trucks, motorcycles, and scooters—each driven by an individual who is either blind, oblivious, or late for an appointment—put them on roads that haven’t been repaved since Ricardo Montalban was hawking the Chrysler Cordoba, and it’s utter chaos. I was talking to a guy in PV who was originally from Mexico City (the land of 20 million cars and one traffic light and a perennial top three finisher on Forbes’ list of Worst Traffic in the World) and he said the first thing he did when he moved to PV was get rid of his car because, as he put it, “These people are crazy.”
But here it is a little different. For one thing, the Costalegre area is not as populous as Banderas Bay so already you have 5,000 less nut jobs on the road. Plus, Colima is one of the wealthier states so they can afford nicer roads. Editor’s Note: Barra is in the state of Jalisco which doesn’t have as much money for infrastructure as Colima. The Grand Bay Resort & Marina, which is situated on a peninsula across the lagoon from Barra, is in Colima. That was by choice because the resort wanted to be associated with the “classier” state as did some of the beachfront communities along the Pacific Coast. As a result, the state line wiggle waggles all throughout the area as Jalisco tries desperately to hold on to as much real estate as they can. Consequently, the road conditions can go from good to extremely dodgy in any given stretch depending on which state you’re currently in. All this pettiness culminates in “the bridge”. This single-lane bridge, which spans a shallow ravine that acts as part of a natural boundary between the two states, sustained some damage during Hurricane Patricia back in 2015. The Colima side is a beautiful, red-brick paved road. The Jalisco side is pot-holes and dirt track with a little paving material thrown in to keep up appearances. The bridge, on the other hand, has become the proverbial hot potato. Neither state wants to pay to have it fixed, so each tries to foist it off on the other. In the meantime, the bridge continues to fall into a state of disrepair. Who will win? (Or lose, as the case may be?) Like many similar situations in Mexico, I doubt if it will be resolved in my lifetime.
The Bridge. Only one car may cross at a time. God forbid a Colima official should arrive at the same time as an official from Jalisco. It’d be an endless game of "Oh, no, I insist. After you." aka "You smelt it, you dealt it."
The Jalisco side of the bridge. You may choose between the crumbling original road or the soft dirt track that people appropriated out of the shoulder. One will rattle your spleen out through your belly button; the other may swallow your car whole. What about oncoming traffic? I’m pretty sure you have bigger things to worry about.
Once off the peninsula, we took the detour through the fruit plantations to avoid the bustling center of Cihuatlan and then—with the exception of the military checkpoint—it was nonstop all the way to Manzanillo. The interstate is a two-lane highway, but given the vast number of slower-moving vehicles that drive way over on the right-hand side to let the faster cars pass, I guess technically it could be called a four-lane highway. We’re still not sure what the speed limit was. We saw lots of signs admonishing drivers not to drive on the shoulder, but aside from the “Reduce Speed” signs coming into every village, there was no indication as to how fast you could or couldn’t go and absolutely no guidance as to how much you should reduce said speed. But if you don’t heed the speed reduction signs, don’t worry. The speed bumps at the entrances to the villages will tear out the entire undercarriage of your vehicle bringing you to an abrupt halt so you won’t have to worry about taking out someone’s taco stand. Editor’s Note: We thought the speed bumps in Jalisco were bad, but they’ve got nothing on Colima. Colima likes to group their speed bumps into sets of six with just enough space in between that your tires will get stuck if you go too slow or rip off the axel if taken too fast (“just right” is somewhere between bumping your head on the ceiling and losing a filling.) Once again, whatever Jalisco can do, Colima can do better. Except that bridge. Screw the bridge. That’s the other state’s problem.
As we got closer to Manzanillo, we saw the first of the “No Tell Motels”. They’re easy to spot because they’re surrounded by high walls and look to be the nicest structures in any given town. If you haven’t already guessed by the name, these are establishments that rent rooms by the hour. But unlike the questionable “hourlies” in the States (such as the awesomely-named Bugs Bunny Motel in Denver), these are a bit different. For one thing, there are no witnesses to whatever you are or aren’t up to. You drive up to a machine, select a room and pay for a block of time (in cash of course), then drive your car into an assigned garage and shut the door. The room is accessed through the garage. Any room service is ordered over the phone and delivered via a Lazy-Susan contraption in the wall. It sounds skeezy, but from what I understand, they’re a favorite choice amongst expats who are travelling and just need a place to crash overnight. Evidently, if you don’t mind lots of strategically-placed mirrors and a few pieces of interesting-looking furniture, they’re not only inexpensive, but also extremely clean and incredibly secure (more so than most motels.) Just don’t turn on the tv.
But back to Manzanillo. Regrettably, we didn’t get to spend any time exploring the city this time around as we needed to hit Home Depot, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and a boat chandlery and be back before the late afternoon thunderstorms hit. We weren’t so concerned about driving in the rain in Colima; we just weren’t thrilled with the prospect of getting stuck somewhere around “the bridge” and having the local authorities quibble over who was responsible for pulling us out.
Now I must admit that after four months of shopping at our little local tiendas, it was weird being back in a big box store. Apart from fresh foods, there’s not a whole lot of variety of your basic pantry staples at the local markets. But in a way, it’s kind of nice to only have to choose between the small or large jar of mayonnaise as opposed to facing down an entire wall of different brands, flavors, textures, styles, sizes, and container compositions. I mean, dude, it’s mayonnaise. I’d just assume not have to put more thought into my condiment than when I bought my first car.
But there was one small milestone in Manzanillo. With the Captain lost amongst the aisles of the Home Depot desperately looking for the nuts, bolts, drill bits, weather stripping, two by fours, and other bits and bobs that keep the boat together, I managed to successfully procure an AC unit entirely in Spanish. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like it should be too hard. You find the unit, put it in a cart, and take it to the checkout stand. But this is Mexico. And it ain’t the land of the hat dance for nothing. We learned this early on…Mexicans are not into stocking. It doesn’t matter how big, small, cheap, expensive, or popular an item is, it will never be reordered and/or restocked until enough people have complained about its availability. And when the delivery DOES show up, it will be dumped on the floor with a bunch of other stuff and take up to a week to be sorted on the shelves (seriously, I thought one of our tiendas was on a fault line because the packaged goods were always scattered about in huge piles. It was two weeks before I realized they had a floor...and shelves.) In this instance, there was a big empty space under the AC unit floor model where inventory should have been. In Spanish, I asked, “Do you have this one in stock?” (He checks the computer and gives me the affirmative nod.) “You do? Great!” (He just looks at me but doesn’t move.) “Um, could you get one for me? I’d like to buy it.” (He goes back to the computer, then starts looking toward the ceiling.) “You have one, correct? Because I’d like to buy it.” (He says something and points upwards.) “Oh, it’s up there on the top shelf? High up there?” (He continues to look and then asks me if I only want one.) “Yes, please, only one.” (He calls in a manager and they look at the computer, then look upwards.) “Yes, I realize it is high up there. What’s that? No. I only want one.” (They go to get another guy. He returns and they all look up.) “Yes, it is very high. No. I only want one.” (They then proceed to rope off half the store while they go get the cherry picker. Twenty minutes later and they have completely blocked half of the home and garden section with a pallet the size of a small semi.) “What’s that? Yes, that was high up there. No. I only want one.” (They pull apart the pallet to procure my AC unit and then prepare to lift the pallet back into place.) At this point I feel like I should suggest that maybe they leave some out as it’s obviously a very popular unit but then decide against it. I wouldn’t want to mess up their system. Editor’s Note: If you ever need to purchase an AC unit in Mexico, just memorize the following and you’ll be golden... “Me gustaría comprar un aire acondicionado. Si, es muy alto. No, gracias, solo uno.”
The next day, we decided to do a little sightseeing and headed out to the coastal town of La Manzanilla. Begin tangent: Flights out of the Manzanillo airport are generally much more expensive than Puerto Vallarta (and longer as 99% of the time you must change planes in Mexico City), so much so that all our recent visa trips have included a four- to five-hour bus ride from Barra to PV. The buses (Primera Plus – accept NO substitutes unless you like stopping every six blocks and sitting next to livestock) are very comfortable, have all modern conveniences (including WiFi), and are well maintained. Unfortunately, they still must drive on the Jalisco highways and this one in particular winds up, down, around and around as it makes its way through the mountains along roads that are okay at best, nonexistent at worst (Seriously. We went through a “construction zone” in which nothing had yet been constructed. The bus trundled along in the tire tracks made by a bulldozer along a dirt road with a cliff face on one side and a ravine on the other.) Long story short: if you suffer from motion sickness, it will be the longest ride of your life. End tangent.
So as I was saying, the next day, we decided to do a little sightseeing and headed out to the coastal town of La Manzanillo which is only a marginally better drive than when on the Primera Plus bus because at least you’re lower to the pavement and can’t see just how steep of a drop off it is. But it’s worth the trip. Why? Cocodrilos! La Manzanilla is situated next to a large estuary that empties out into the Bay of Tenacatita and is home to hundreds of crocodiles. They’ve built a nature sanctuary that doesn’t keep the crocs in (they’re free to come and go as they please) but for less than a dollar admission you can walk around it on a raised platform—about a mile around—and see the animals from above. The walkway also includes two suspension bridges that sound fun on paper but not so much when the Deck Boss is behind you making it bounce violently up and down while giggling maniacally. We ended our crocodile encounter with lunch by the beach where we ran into “squirrel guy”. “Squirrel guy” frequents all the Costalegre beach towns and is hard to miss as he’s generally the only person carrying a large boom box and wearing two squirrels. He sells baked goods and candy bars from a large basket and for a few pesos you can wear his squirrels for a while.
They’ll all be wearing squirrels in Paris next fall.
These are American Crocodiles—not American Alligators. They didn’t spend eight years in croc school to be called an alligator, thank you very much.
It was squishy, sweaty, and extremely awkward. I think the feeling was mutual. Please note, however, that the proper way to hold a baby crocodile is with the pinky finger extended.
One side note about our experience with Mexican car rentals. We arranged the car rental via the concierge at the resort. Thrifty brought us a car—a new model Nissan Versa—from their lot at the Manzanillo airport. The rate was 900 pesos a day or roughly $50 US (putting the total with tax at around $120 US.) The guy had all the usual forms and took all the usual information. He also had one of those old-fashioned cachunker machines for our credit card (if you’re under the age of 30, have an old person explain it to you) and duly made an impression of our Visa card using an old Amex form. He then took phone-camera photos of the front and back of our Visa card as well as the Captain’s driver’s license. Good to go. Two days later he comes to pick up the car and explains that the photos didn’t come out so he once again takes front and back photos of the Captain’s Visa and license. Are we done here? Apparently not. Four hours later and he comes by the boat and asks if he can retake the photos as they still didn’t come out. Are we done now? Guess so, because four hours later I get an alert from Capital One saying a charge from Thrifty came through for $500 US and is this correct? I hit the “No” button and the Captain’s Capital One card spontaneously combusted in his wallet. One month later and we’re still trying to sort it all out.
Next time they want to take photos of our license and credit card, we’ll tell them they’re down there.
Updates from World War C: The conflict has entered the next stage. The Advion seems to have worked as prescribed, but given our past experiences we are hesitant to proclaim total cockroach eradication in case the enemy is merely lying low--hiding their numbers and their intentions. To preserve this tentative peace, we have begun stockpiling weapons and deploying periodic doses of Advion as a show of force. The cold war has begun.
Now what? What broke and/or failed and/or totally let us down now? This time it was the electrical socket in the cockpit. We had it installed specifically so that we wouldn’t have to run extension cords through the pilothouse when using power tools and other electrical stuff out on deck. It was not the easiest of installs due to all the wires that had to be snaked and squeezed amongst the thousands of other wires currently running through the walls on their way to the main control panel. And now it’s gone kaput. Unfortunately, we found this out while filling the water tanks. About half-way through we realized the UV-light filter wasn’t getting any power which meant we were basically putting unpotable water into the tanks. This necessitated emptying said tanks of the tainted water by running every tap on the boat for about half an hour till we got an acceptable reading on the particle counter at which point we had to run an extension cord from the pilothouse to the UV-light filter outside in order to start the whole tank-filling process over. Luckily, we have extra wire on board and the Captain found some new switches at Home Depot. Now he just has to trace through about 4,000 feet of wire to figure out where/why/and how much of the wiring needs to be replaced. Yes, now he “just" has to…