Upon our arrival in Puerto Chiapas, it was time to bid ABS Brian an “au revoir” which is apropos for someone born in Quebec as well as a classier way of saying, “See ya later, alligator!” We will see him again because he is now officially part of the Raven crew (he’s on the Meet the Crew Page and everything!) and will join us on the next leg of the adventure when we leave El Salvador for points further south. This is, of course, contingent on us reaching El Salvador. But we are hopeful. Because truth be told, had it not been him, there’s a good possibility that we would have turned around and gone back to Barra. His sound guidance and staunch optimism during the typical Raven parade of problems, gave us the boost of confidence we needed to get this voyage back on track.
After a while, crocodile!
The day before he left, we thought it might be nice to find a beach front restaurant where we could dip our toes in the surf, imbibe in some local seafood and cold libations, and give Brian a proper send off. Unfortunately, it was Semana Santa (aka the week before Easter and a major holiday when EVERYONE in Mexico heads to the beaches, and those who don’t, go the week after) and the whole area was wall-to-wall with humanity. The marina manager got us a day pass into one of the oceanside hotels that, despite being a lovely ocean-front property with a very nice palapa restaurant, was unfortunately suffering from a bad case of “Too many guests and none of our waitstaff showed up” as evidenced by one lone server trying to juggle ten tables and failing miserably. Given that he was wearing what looked awfully like a bellhop uniform, we surmised that he was recruited out of the lobby when they found themselves short staffed. Luckily for us and the 40 or so other thirsty/starving patrons, he was eventually joined by a woman who was most likely making beds and cleaning bathrooms about thirty minutes prior and a random teenager who probably got bored and wanted to ditch the folks for a while. The beer was warm, the food was “meh”, and the whole ordeal lasted way longer than it should have. By the time lunch was over and we headed out to the beach, it was late afternoon which meant the sand was about 280 degrees, the surf was breaking higher than a small semi, and the riptide was strong enough to drag said semi out to sea. Not quite the send-off we were hoping for, but we did rectify the situation by going to Baos later that evening. Baos is a high-end restaurant on the marina property that serves fancy food such as grilled fish propped up to make it look like it’s still swimming, prawns (with heads still attached) arranged in a little stack like they’re playing rugby, and in a strange case of “seriously?” the first (and only) time we’ve seen New England clam chowder on a menu in Mexico (although it was quite good.) Unfortunately, it all comes at near-gringo prices, but we’ve been scabbing their Internet the whole time we’ve been here, so I guess that makes us about even.
The next day, ABS Brian left for Puerto Vallarta and the Captain went with him because in return for six weeks of his time to help us get this three-ring circus south, the Captain offered to help him paint his deck and do a few projects on his boat. So naturally, once the Captain was on the other side of the country, everything went haywire. It started quite suddenly when a very loud, very insistent, beeping-type sound erupted from the control panel accompanied by a flashing red, “I mean business” light right above the toggle that says, “Bilge Pump 1” on it. As the shot glass was still in place over the switch, I knew this was not Edgrrr’s doing (see Day 566-596 of the Third Voyage)—this was the real deal. The bilge had filled up enough to trigger the second lever. Editor’s Note: When you look into the infinite blackness that is our bilge, you can see three levers that look kind of like foot pedals (well…hopefully you can see three levers.) When water in the bilge hits the bottom lever, it activates Bilge Pump 2 and releases everything via a through-hole on the port side—standard stuff. If the water rises high enough to active the second lever—Bilge Pump 2—it spews out of a hole about half-way up the freeboard on the starboard side—not so standard. Now if the water rises enough to reach the top lever, I’m not sure but I think the boat shoves a bucket at you and tells you to start bailing.
Now here’s the thing about our bilge. If you’ve kept up on the blog, you’ll know that we we’ve been having some “mechanical challenges” of late (and no, these are different from the “mechanical challenges” we had last year albeit similar to the ones the year before that and in any case should not be confused with our electrical, plumbing, and standard equipment “challenges”… unless you think this is about the transmission in which case, yes, these are the same “challenges”.) But back to the bilge: the transmission had leaked/ejected/vomited a lot of oil in the past couple of months and it had nowhere to go but into the bilge. And as we’ve been at anchor for most of that time, we have not been able to address it (i.e. get down in there to pump it out into large buckets for disposal) so it’s pretty mucky. So when Bilge Pump 1 went off, it blurted all that inky, yucky mess out the starboard hole all down the side of the boat and all over the dock. And still the alarm was going off, so I called the Captain who instructed me to go into the engine room, find the wires that attach to the bilge pump, and jiggle them around. Now what he failed to mention was that jiggling the wires would cause the bilge pump to go off which is quite disconcerting when you’re precariously balanced over engines, transmissions, water pumps, hoses, and all manner of scary looking things and suddenly this hunk of metal jumps up, rumbles, and makes the loudest racket you’ve ever heard. Heart attack number one, but the incessant beeping did stop. Next order of business was to clean up the oil before it stained everything and/or became an environmental hazard. So I got out the scrub brushes, the dishwashing liquid, the bilge cleaner, and everything else I could think of and went to get the hose, which was currently attached to our deck-wash system. What anyone failed to mention was that the deck-wash system had not been turned off so when I went to remove the hose, the pressure caused it to pop out and I took the full force of the water right in the kisser. Wasn’t expecting that, thus heart attack number two. I called the Captain to find out how to turn it off and consequently ended up on my belly on the wet deck reaching far into the anchor locker to access the world’s worst-placed faucet. I finally got the hose, threw it onto the dock, and went to attach it to the dock-side water. That’s when I turned around and found that Otter had followed me down, trekked through the sludge, and was now running all over the boat leaving inky paw prints in his wake. Heart attack number three. Two hours later and the mess was gone. An hour after that and so were two White Russians and an entire bag of Snickers. I continued to have problems with the bilge the entire time the Captain was gone. And then of course—OF COURSE!—as soon as he got back, the bilge fell silent. I suspect he thinks I may have made the whole thing up. I’m also beginning to suspect the boat is gaslighting me.
At any rate, while the Captain was gone, the Deck Boss and I got the lay of the land. Marina Chiapas is very nice—only a few years old—and, despite having sustained some damage from the tsunamis caused by last year’s earthquakes, is in excellent condition. Easily one of the nicer marinas we’ve been in. It’s also kind of an anomaly in that the rest of the area is very rural. The primary industry is agriculture as opposed to tourism so there aren’t a lot of gringos around and the tourists that do flock to the beaches and the handful of ocean-side hotels are locals and Guatemalans. The marina was obviously built to not only attract the pleasure boat traffic entering/leaving the country, but also to complement the new cruise ship dock they have built in an effort to bring in more tourism dollars. Until then, the area is very much working Mexico—a nice change from the ports up north.
There’s also a pronounced navy presence here—both marine and aviation. It’s to be expected given that we’re only 15 miles from the Guatemalan border and that Mexico has a (cough) slight problem with the trafficking of illegal drugs and weapons. Therefore, all boats that enter the port are subject to a search before you’re even allowed to get off your vessel—regardless if you’re coming from the north or the south. They arrive in the marina—mostly by panga, but sometimes by bad-ass 4x4 truck—and descend upon your boat en masse. One guy guards the Navy vessel, two guys with automatic rifles take point around your boat, two guys search your boat with a sniffer dog, and one guy handles the paperwork. They’re quick, efficient, and they’re deadly serious. But they’re also quite genial and will smile warmly, even as their fingers remain on their triggers at all time. We will get to go through this again when we leave. But we don’t mind. They’re fighting a losing battle—the majority of military-grade weapons are smuggled in via the Guatemalan border, but most of the resources to fight the cartels are sent up north—so whatever we can do to make their job a little easier is really the only way to show them a little appreciation for what has to be one of the more suckier jobs on the planet.
If there was a drawback to Marina Chiapas, it’s that it’s quite a hike to civilization. The nearest town is Puerto Madero, over 5 miles away; the nearest city is Tapachula, about 20 miles away. There are local taxis, but they won’t go further than Puerto Madero (necessitating a change of taxi to continue further), the drivers are very “business-like” (a more diplomatic way of saying “abrupt”), and some will try to take advantage of the tourists. We made the colossal mistake of not verifying the price with one driver before taking a taxi to Puerto Madero and he tried to charge us 300 pesos for what is normally an 80-peso trip. To add insult to injury, he stopped for gas on the way there. The Tapachula taxi drivers are a little more accommodating and much more personable, although the ones going into the city don’t like to make the trip until their car is full. The Deck Boss and I had to wait a good 20 minutes in the afternoon heat until our driver could wrangle a third passenger. And even then, we stopped to pick up a fourth person along the way.
Pictured: One of the “nicer” local taxis. He didn’t have to stop for gas. That sweet, sweet spoiler gives him at least an extra one to two miles per gallon.
The best way to get around—as in most places in Mexico—is via collectivo. We used them all the time in Nayarit, but nothing prepared us for the Chiapas drivers. They weave and bob and pass through traffic at 110 mph (or maybe it was only 95—it’s hard to tell when the speedometer is broken. And they’re ALL broken. Needle fatigue I’m guessing.) Up north, we were in one that cut through parking lots, the collectivos here simply cut through oncoming traffic. It’s not for the faint of heart. Nor for someone who doesn’t like “togetherness” because the vans may be designed to hold 12, but we counted no less than 18 people on two separate occasions. One collectivo posted a sign admonishing people not to stand on the seats. Apparently, this guy realized that he could fit more people by stacking them in like firewood and therefore save the upholstery. On slower days, drivers will employ a wrangler who hangs out the side window, calls out destinations, and tries to cajole/cram more people in. The good ones have eagle vision as evidenced by the day we pulled off the highway and travelled a quarter mile up a dirt road to pick up two people who by that time had no choice but to get on. On our last trip into Tapachula, the Captain and I found ourselves in the unenviable position of being in the last row in the back corner. When we finally got to our stop, half the van had to be unloaded so we could get off. But I guess it’s nice that there are so many people on board, in the event one of these things crashes, we’re all packed in so tight we’d either act as one collective airbag or we’d just bounce. Editor’s Note: I would have taken a photo but it’s hard to do when your arms are pinned to your sides and you’re preparing for lightspeed.
The Captain spent about a week in PV and when he returned we did some provisioning, brought on someone to check out the transmission, and found a refrigeration guy because—horror of all first-world horrors—the ice maker quit working. But I think we’re ready to go. We spent our requisite day checking out of the country which was the reverse of checking in to the country except everything was spread out. In Ensenada, everything is under one roof. Here, the marina office helps you assemble your paperwork then it’s off to Customs, then a drive to Immigration, then to the APIS to pay a Port Captain fee (cash only, no credit cards accepted), and finally to the Port Captain’s office where we had to pay our Zarpe fee (credit cards only, no cash accepted.) Editor’s Note: Big shout out to Memo at Marina Chiapas who drove us everywhere and took us through all the procedures. It turned what can be an all-day affair into a half day.
And that brings us to right now. With all our paperwork in order, the only thing left is for our final inspection by the navy and the sniffer dog. After that, we have 15 minutes to get out. The navy will be keeping an eye on us—making sure we turn south toward the border instead of north back to Barra. I guess we have no choice now. But this is what we signed up for and, let’s face it, there’s a whole new world of shit breaking down out there! El Salvador, here we come!
Pictured: Chicken Consommé. I ordered this in a restaurant once expecting broth, but this is what I got. I think it sums up Mexico…it’s much more than I expected, but in a good way.
RIP to David Moore—an old friend of the Deck Boss, an enthusiastic sailor, and an original Ravennaire. Before we took off, he gave us some books on engine repair. It’s like he knew what would happen or something.