Jun 2, 2013

Sea Monkeys and Lost Pearl – Aurevoir Barra

I always wonder why birds stay in the same place 
When they can fly anywhere on the earth.
Then I ask myself the same question.
Harun Yahya 

Aerial view entrance to Barra de Navidad
Instead of the accustomed “Once Upon a Time” at the beginning of many stories; ours often start with “While Waiting for Winds”.

This is another one of these…
Blue doorway and pottery
Bright orange diner
While waiting for winds to take us north, we visited Melaque once more; and discovered La Manzanilla a few miles further.  La Manzanilla is another beach town where anchorage is unprotected, so why not visit via a cheap bus ride directly from our safe lagoon?  The road is sinuous and bordered by beautiful jungle, it’s easy and non-stressful.

The small beach town of Melaque offers many of the things ‘Norte-Americanos’ like to eat but can hardly find in Mexico (unless visiting one of its major cities): pretzels, brown rice, dates, polenta, Tillamook aged cheeses, real crunchy unsweetened peanut butter, salty butter, etc.  However, it has become so touristic and influenced by the ‘gringos’ that even they look further out to escape the touristic pressures they unfortunately brought here in the first place.  We stayed long enough to get cash at an ATM and the groceries we enjoy having if and when we find them.

La Manzanilla offers a somewhat less touristic feel although it comes with ‘Norte-Americanos’ amenities such as first grade meats, tahini, fresh parmesan, etc.   There are enough NA visitors each year for these two small towns to keep a supply of foods to their liking.  The tienda in La Manzanilla that offers such good quality meats also caters to cruisers by packaging frozen meats in very small sizes, a great bonus when there are only 1 or 2 people aboard and freezer space is a premium.  He also makes potpies and other frozen goods easy to heat up and serve while sailing.  The owner is a Canadian who, like many others, fell in love with this place, came here for his ‘retirement’ and saw the need to carry exotic (to Mexicans anyway) food items.  For other cruisers interested the tienda is called Marisco Deli.  Enjoy!
Crocs lazing around
A crocodile sanctuary borders the town.  From a safe fenced off distance you can see specimens up to 700 pounds – their head alone measuring up to three feet.  Although a little difficult to make out in the lagoon’s murky water, these massive animals are not to be messed with.  Some rest their heads on their neighbors’ backs; others touch tail to tail or head to head, creating a domino effect each time one moves.  The motion of one carries to all others nearby.  Ripples in the water and grunts from the crocodiles accompany each new musical-chair-like development.  It’s already late afternoon and all crocodiles but one are in the water; this loner lounges under the shade of trees, seemingly asleep and content. 

I can picture the staggering amount of food needed to satisfy these beasts.  We saw one of the largest crocodile with a piece of raw fish from the morning’s breakfast, still on its back.  Neither it nor the other crocodiles nearby seem to be aware it was there and that made the flies happy.

It is with mixed emotions that we leave the safety and welcoming of the Barra lagoon; but with hurricane season closely upon us we must move N or S in the hurricane (nearly) free zone and we chose north for another season.  We are looking forward to clear skies and waters again.  With the high humidity and sugarcane field fires, the air here is never that clear.  Getting out of the lagoon will offer better than 6” of visibility in the water. 

We will miss the lagoon’s protection where the worst we encountered in 5 weeks were:
1.     A drunken sailor landing on our boat by mistake at 3:30am!  It was quite something to wake up to a thump on the hull, some muttering, a motor sputtering and finally a bulky hairy pair of legs showing by our galley window, not knowing if it was foe or friend.  We can joke about it now but it was a little unnerving at the time and I bet the fellow who did this doesn’t even remember it happened.

2.      A morning later, as we were enjoying our morning coffee in the cockpit, we watched a head bobbing near a sailboat to our port side.  We thought maybe someone aboard got up really early to clean up their hull.  When the man saw us, he swam over and asked for help in Spanish.  He explained there had been a death in the family.  We offered to get him a water-taxi, not particularly wanting a wet, slimy, stranger aboard; but mostly because his story did not seem to jive with his demeanor and we thought it safer not to be too involved.  Each time a fishing panga would pass by; he would duck for better cover.  We had the feeling he was escaping from people.  Other people finally took care of bringing him to the beach.  As it turns out, a drug deal had gone wrong, the guy spoke perfect English for he had lived in the US for 9 years – yet he pretended to only speak Spanish!  Not sure what happened to him in the end but we are glad we followed our instinct – it was spot on.

3.      Watching the killing of a beautiful ray caught in a fishnet.  The fishermen had neither the right tools nor the knowledge on how to kill it quickly and effectively.  It took forever for the ray to die and that was hard to witness.  It’s difficult to feel so helpless.

Our nesting friends
4.     A pair of swallows desperately trying to build their nest inside our new mainsail.  Daily, they would bring twigs, grass, strings, and feathers for their future nest.  It was a race to find the way they would come into the sail cover and then plug that hole after throwing away their nest-making materials.  They were not easily defeated as they would find another space and try again.  We felt bad doing so but didn’t want a nest with eggs spilling out of our mainsail on our way out of the lagoon.  They eventually checked out other boats and I know two of them are staying there the whole summer so maybe they’ll luck out…

5.     On the weekends, pangas full of Mexican tourists come by led by tour guides who love to show the sailboats at anchor.  Mexicans do not understand how and why some of us live that way.  We are an oddity and a peculiarity to them.  Many take pictures and off they go visiting other parts of the lagoon area.  To most of them, the water is for swimming or fishing.

6.      Sea Monkeys and minuscule crabs.  We had been warned that when diving or swimming around the lagoon one had to beware of such tiny creatures.  The sea monkeys (small shrimps) wiggle all over your body and the crabs find ways to enter your ears.  Mike donned his wet suit, earplugs, head and face gear to clean the bottom of the boat, hoping to make it out unscathed.  He came back entirely brown from the color of the shrimp instead of the jet black of his dive suit.  Each time he would swipe away at the thousands of shrimp, they would disappear for a few seconds and as quickly come crawling back on him.  It was and interesting race to get them off him before getting up the ladder into the boat.  While helping him clean the shrimp from his hair, I found a crab trying to enter his ear, thankfully blocked by the earplug.  I was able to get it out and we closely inspected for any other crabs before removing both earplugs.  I’m sure glad Mike is much braver than me about such things…  I’m just too much of a chicken.

On a calm day, we finally make a kayak trip to the very end of this large lagoon. We enter the narrow passage where the river comes into the lagoon. There we see a small colony of white pelicans, a couple of pink spoonbills (very rare – in the past, they were sought after for their beautiful pink feathers), and many of the very common water birds seen in all other lagoons: cormorant, brown pelican, frigate, ibis, heron, crane, etc.  We hit bottom often as it is not high tide and it is quite shallow – hence the amount of birds feeding around.  It is beautiful and although rumored to be around, we didn’t see any crocodiles…

We are told a story about the beginnings of the very large hotel that flanks the right of the entrance to the lagoon as you enter.   It was built about 15-18 years ago and in its heyday, the private owner would often visit, arriving by helicopter, his bodyguards flying closely behind in another one.  During that period, only paying guests could visit the grounds and use the facilities (internet, golf, pools, showers, etc).  Locked gates were everywhere and guards were posted to ensure compliance.  Today, it is part of the Wyndham Hotel chain and there are very few guards, no locks on any of the doors to common areas and people at anchor like us can easily visit and use whatever facility they need.  It could be a sign of a slowing economy or a laissez-faire attitude, we don’t know, but it’s a bonus to us as we love walking the golf course with Nikki.  First rate golf courses would not let you do the same in the US…

The Redneck Island filming is over and we were finally able to find and explore ‘Secret Beach’.  Left standing before the beach’s end are the temporary buildings that probably housed the contestants of this reality show.  Past these buildings is a promontory dividing the main beach and a much smaller hidden one.  Work was done to erect concrete rock walls and stairs to get around that point and enjoy this small gem.  The day we went, the waves were just too big to take a safe swim but on the right day this is a very nice ‘remote’ beach.
Tamarind in the shell
Tamarind season is here and we see fresh ones for sale everywhere.  People rake the fallen brown fuzzy seedpods as they fall; others are busy shelling the pods to expose the sweet and sour gooey brownish sticky substance beneath.  It has the consistency of mashed cooked date but not its sweetness.  It is a lot of work and then you still have to get the seeds out of the edible portion.  Many eat it raw by sucking on the shelled pods until only the seeds remain.  They spit the seeds out.  Others cook with it.  Shrimp and tamarind sauce is an excellent combination.  Many candies are made with it as well, adding sugar, spices, etc.  We have used it in our banana muffins instead of the evasive dates (very difficult to find them here) and the sweet and tart accent of the tamarind in some bites gave them a very interesting taste.  Interestingly the name means the “date of India” and it is found in Worcestershire sauce and HP sauce.

Walking around the small village of Colimilla, we see coconut flesh and corn on the cob drying on the hood of cars or on home roofs – supposedly away from critters who like to munch on that type of food…  It is the season to finish drying food before the rains start in June and for approximately 3-4 months.  San Blas Jays are perched in ciruela (plum) trees, not sure if they are eating them but that’s where we keep finding them it seems.  The almond trees are teaming with squirrels eating the nuts.  It is a type of almonds not fit for human consumption that offers a great shade canopy.

Just before we head out we met two sailing couples expecting babies to be born in Mexico…  The first one had sailed their boat from Texas, through the Panama Canal and up the Pacific Coast to get married in Sayulita (near Puerto Vallarta).  Early pregnancy made her unable to sail the last leg of the trip so she would follow in parallel via bus while he would sail alone to the next destination where they could enjoy some time together again.  The other couple came from Europe, had also crossed the Panama Canal.  They hoped to have the baby in Guadalajara so they would have their boat in the Puerto Vallarta area until he/she would be born.  They then planned to spend some time in the Sea of Cortez before heading, next spring, to the South Pacific.  It’s amazing to see people make this type of dream happen at such an early age.  Way to go.  Thankfully, Mexico is a very safe place to welcome babies into this world. 
Construction Workers Day - a cross is placed at the highest point of any building in progress
Mexico is known for having many holidays but I believe May might be the busiest with the following:
·         May 1 – Kids Day as well as Labor Day
·         May 3 – Construction Workers Day
·         May 5 – Battle with France Day aka Battle of Puebla or Cinco de Mayo (the Mexicans won!)
·         May 9 – Ascension Day
·         May 10 – Mothers Day
·         May 19 – Whit Sunday
·         May 24 – Teachers Day
·         May 30 – Corpus Christi Day
As for the lost pearl?  When I visited my father last fall, he gave me my deceased mother’s pearl necklace and earrings she wore for as long as I can remember.  I wore the earrings just one time and the pearl fell out - - - I guess they were meant only for my mother – I did get to enjoy them for a day. 


Old vs. New Xolo dogs
Corn-dog - - - fattened up for next meal
Before I leave you I wanted to introduce the sculpture of XOLO – hairless Mexican dog – the oldest breed of dog known to the Americas (introduced 3000 years ago).  They were fattened to eat and used for protection and in many rituals.  A very large sculpture adorns a roundabout near the entrance of Comala.  This sculpture of old (lined dog) and young (smooth dog) is thought of meaning experience vs. energy – the old one whispering knowledge to the young one or that they are dancing together, balancing each other, or that they are fighting one another – take your pick.


Snow capped volcano - not our picture obviously
Also another tidbit I picked up about the Colima volcano is that for the past 500 years it has exhaled approximately 30 times a year and has erupted 40 times over the past 435 years – quite an active one!

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