Friday, September 18, 2015

Road Trip − Zion & Bryce Canyon

We planned a road trip through Colorado on our way back to La Paz. We were especially looking forward to the drive through Utah. To whet our appetite, we listened to an audiobook of Edward Abby's Desert Solitaire. As we approached Zion National Park, the views from the car got better and better around every turn. 

Road views in Utah

The last time I drove through Utah was when I was in high school. My dad thought it would be a good idea to drive across country after my brother's college graduation − I remember it being a long, but great trip. Neither Zion nor Bryce Canyon have been spoiled by development and both are stunningly beautiful.

Zion National Park

We had no expectations for wildlife sightings, but as we rounded a bend, this bighorn sheep was standing in the middle of the road. It was well trained − it moved just off the pavement and posed for this photo.

Bighorn sheep

We only scheduled one day for exploring, so we hired a local guide to take us to some remote spots. We wanted to learn the about the geology, see petroglyphs and hike in slot canyons.

Kathryn and our guide, Bret

Although the slot canyons and rock spires are formed by water erosion, it was surprising to learn that many of the interesting rock patterns in Zion and Bryce Canyon were formed by wind erosion.

Teepee formations formed by wind erosion

We hiked along stream beds in remote areas, so the sand was firm, with no footprints or ATV tracks to soften the sand or mar the view. We saw lots of wildlife tracks.

Rattlesnake tracks

We hiked to one location to see "hoodoo's", which are formed when softer rock is topped by harder, less easily eroded stone. 

Twin hoodoos

Our guide took us to the Moccasin Mountain Dinosaur Tracksite to see dinosaur footprints. Thousands of tracks were found near a water source. The tracks were made as the dinosaurs walked through mud, then blowing sand covered and preserved the tracks.

Four equally spaced footprints in a row

From the Moccasin Mountain Dinosaur website: Paleontologists recently documented thousands of 185 million-year-old tracks from at least six different types of animals. They are well preserved in slick rock outcrops in an area about the size of a football field. Twenty five foot-long prosauropod dinosaurs, fifteen foot-long carnivorous dinosaurs, six foot-long carnivorous dinosaurs, a six foot land-dwelling crocodile, and other tracks can be seen here.

One of the larger dino prints

Petroglyphs were also high on our list. Not much is known about the meaning of the petroglyphs, so it was interesting to wonder what motivated the artists. 


Bighorn sheep

The slot canyons were amazing with their colors, curves and layers of geology. Being in such a narrow space carved by flash floods was impressive. 

Slot canyon

We saw recent high water marks that were 20' above the canyon floor so we asked about flash floods. Our guide said both the park service and local guide companies provide warnings whenever flooding is possible. In fact, rains caused serious flash floods in the local area a few days after these pictures were taken.

Slot canyon

Kathryn was really impressed with our day exploring Zion and thought it couldn't get any better. She had no idea what was in store at Bryce though, and she was blown away by the intense colors and beautiful spires and hoodoos.

Bryce Canyon

Natural bridge

Our visit to Utah was impressive, but too short. We will definitely come back to spend more time camping and exploring the canyonlands.

Thousands of spires at Bryce Canyon Amphitheater

Monday, September 7, 2015

Zihuatanejo Guitar Fest - March 2015

In the spring of our first season in Mexico, we met Bob & Sherry on s/v Nirvana and Kenny & Betsy on s/v Alcyone. They talked about how much they enjoyed the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival. It's a 10 day music festival with top artists from around the world, so we decided to attend the following year. Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo share a major airport, so my daughter, Carrie, flew down to join us on Agave Azul for the festival.

Carrie & Kathryn on the beach in Zihuatanejo

The name Zihuatanejo comes from an Aztec word meaning "place of women". Throughout the town there were statues of women representing each of the seven regions in the state of Guerrero.

Costa Chica - Little Coast, coastal town south of Acapulco

La Montaña - The Mountain

Guitar Fest has 10 days of activities, starting with a Meet the Artists lunch. The anchorage in Bahia Zihuatanejo is in the background.

Nancy & Rob - Shindig, Katie & Mike - Pangaea, Kathryn & Carrie

Two of the artists I wanted to meet were from Cuba and they sat at the table right next to us. They played flamenco and classical guitar, and I was really looking forward to their performances.

Josue Otero & Magela Romera from Havana

Concerts happened every night, at small restaurant venues and at a large stage on the beach. Josue & Magela played together early in the week at Coconuts restaurant. As you can see, the food was excellent … obviously the margaritas were pretty good, too.

Carrie at Coconuts restaurant

Josue & Magela were my favorite artists at the festival. Both were very technical, but they played with lots of passion and joy. 

Magela & Josue

They performed together, then separately. To add some fun to their performance they played together on Magela's guitar … it was amazing.

Josue & Magela

Another group we met at the Meet the Artists lunch was Tres Hombres. Their music was an invigorating mix of flamenco, pop, rock & lite jazz. 

Tres Hombres from Dallas

Two very happy cruisers at the end of the evening's performances

We really enjoyed Zihuatanejo, but we wanted to give Carrie a taste of what it's like cruising in Mexico. We heard good comments about an anchorage just 10 miles up the coast, Isla Grande, across from Ixtapa. The weather was good for a short sail and when we arrived, there were only 2 other boats in the anchorage - perfect. The anchorage was beautiful and well protected from the ocean swell.

Isla Grande anchorage from restaurant Paraiso Escondido

Behind the palapa was the wood fired grill where they cooked fish. You pick out the fish you want, and about a half hour later the whole fish arrives at your table. 

Our chef

I'm missing Mexico and Mexican food as I look at this photo

As you can see, we picked the bones clean

Isla Grande was a great place to swim and kayak, too.

Robin & Carrie

A spectacular sunset to end our stay at Isla Grande

The alternative to the small restaurant venues were the concerts on the Playa la Madera beach. Like a regular concert, but with your feet in the sand and beverage and food stalls … a relaxing way to enjoy some great music. Four different artists performed each night at the Playa.

Diego Garcia, "El Twangero" Latin-Twang from Madrid, Spain

One night after the small venue concert, we all got in our dinghies and rafted up about 100 yards offshore from the concert on the Playa. The weather was calm so we could hear the music just fine. The added bonus was that Rob from Shindig brought his tequila tasting kit with him. What a fun night!

Tequila tasting courtesy of Shindig

Although the event lasted 10 days, there were different artists performing at different venues and lots to do during the day in Zihuatanejo.

Carrie, Kathryn & Katie at Loot restaurant

One night Kathryn and Katie were having fun and were maybe just a bit too spirited. As you can see they promised to be good.

"Katie" & Katie in Ixtapa

We asked the locals their recommendation for the best Mexican food in Zihuatanejo and Tamales y Atoles Any was it. We enjoyed it so much we returned several times. Here Mike from Pangaea, is enjoying Pizole, a delicious soup that comes with either a red or green sauce. Yum!

Mike enjoying Pizole at Any's

I didn't want to start our Zihuatanejo blog with a fish story, but it did start with one. The morning after our overnight sail from Manzanillo, we sailed into one of the most spectacular sights we have seen while cruising - a large school of feeding dolphin. They were having their own festival - thousands of dolphins jumping, diving and feeding on whatever school of fish was below. I went to get our video camera and just as I was ready to press go, our fishing rod bent over. Usually a fish will jerk the rod tip, letting you know it's there. This time the rod just stayed bent as the fish took about 200 yards of line off the reel. I tightened the drag on the reel, the fish stopped for a few seconds then took off again. When it slowed we began the long process of bringing the 100# tuna back to the boat. Two days later all our cruising friends came aboard for Yellowfin sashimi.

Robin's birthday Yellow Fin tuna

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Mexico Season Summary - Spring 2015 Highlights

Here are a few highlights from last season's cruising in Mexico. Below is one of our favorite spots, Yelapa, on the south shore of Banderas Bay. You can only visit Yelapa when the weather is right. In normal wind conditions, the bay is a lee shore and last year one sailboat dragged up onto the beach. This year the weather was right and we were here for 3 days.

Yelapa has one of the nicest beaches in Mexico

The bay is very deep, in fact it's too deep to anchor. As you near the bay two pangas approach at full speed. It's a bit disconcerting, but they are competing to arrive first to rent you a mooring ball. "Buly" took good care of us last year, so we waited until he arrived. 

El Buly

We met a nice couple on the beach who recommended we try parasailing. It didn't look too scary and after I learned that the pilot had multiple certifications I decided to try it. The photo below shows the takeoff. A speedboat pulls you off the beach with a line that pays out as you get higher and higher. That was the scary part. The boat kept getting smaller and the pounding of the waves hitting the boat transmitted up the line. Uh, how high are we going?


As soon as line was released, the ride was amazing. We turned south over the mountains, riding the updrafts. The feeling was what I imagine flying must be like. I'll do it again if we stop in Yelapa next year.

Yelapa Parasailing

We see sea turtles constantly when we're sailing. In Banderas Bay, local environmentalists and marine biologists work with volunteers to assist the baby turtles to insure they make it safely into the water. Kathryn and Nelda from sv Diamond Girl, volunteered and here they're ready to release two of the hatchlings.

Kathryn, Nelda & friends

On it's way ...

We wanted to visit Tequila … again. So we rented a car with some cruising friends and drove from La Cruz to Tequila. This is the main square in town, so it's a good place to get tourists to act goofy. The Jimador uses a tool called a Coa to harvest the Agave plant. 

Robin doing his best Jimador imitation

Our road trip partners were Rob & Nancy from sv Shindig, also from the San Francisco bay area. We met them when we raced in the Banderas Bay Regatta, and we travelled to many of the same places on the west coast of Mexico and in the Sea of Cortez. We've shared many great times and great margaritas over the last 2 cruising seasons!

With Rob & Nancy at the Don Valente distillery, El Arenal, Jalisco

One of our best finds last year was the Miravalle distillery. When Kathryn and I toured the Herradura hacienda (3rd largest tequila producer) we asked our guide if there were any small distilleries nearby that make great tequila. She gave us a general idea of where it was located, and although there was no sign on the main road, we just kept making right turns down dirt roads until we found the place. 

Tequila   Miravalle

Miravalle tequila is excellent and reasonably priced. It's our favorite tequila for making margaritas and their añejo sipping tequila is frequently the taste test winner when we do a blind tasting onboard.

The modest tasting room at Miravalle distillery, Amatitán, Jalisco

Jose Cuervo is the largest tequila distillery, located right in Tequila. We had just enough free time, so we took their tour. Here is part of a mural depicting the tequila making process.

Piña steaming ovens & Jimador

Another favorite stop is a tiny anchorage with room for only 2 or 3 boats, called Paraiso - "Paradise". We met Richelle and Brian, sv Woodwind II, in Banderas Bay last year. They were great crew when we did the Banderas Bay Regatta and we visited them in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island on the way back from our Alaska trip. They sailed down the coast with us this year to Barra de Navidad.  

Richelle & Brian

Tenacatita is a large protected bay with room for lots of boats. It has just one palapa on the beach that serves food & drinks, so the cruising community has developed its own Tenacatita cruiser culture; group swims, bocce ball on the beach, dominos at the palapa, dinghy raft ups on Friday afternoons, etc. Just landing on the beach is sport in itself, both for those on their dinghies and for the spectators. There is also a long estuary that flows inland and it provides quite an adventure for a few hours.

Melody & Pat, sv Starshine, leading the way up the estuary

Kathryn enjoying a Tenacatita sunset

During our first season in Mexico we weren't too successful catching fish. This year was different; we learned a few tricks and caught Dorado, Sierra, Yellowfin Tuna and Marlin. About an hour outside of Chamela we caught a large Dorado (Mahi-Mahi), but I lost it at the stern of the boat while trying to get it onboard. Kathryn and I were both very disappointed, because Dorado is delicious and it was a really nice fish. Fortunately we hooked another smaller Dorado about a half hour later. We learned our lesson about landing the fish and the photo below is the happy result. 

Dorado for dinner

So what do you do when you catch a large Dorado? … Invite your cruising friends over for fish dinner, of course. We cooked the fish on the BBQ. Below are (clockwise from top) Bob & Sherry - Nirvana, Pat & Melody - Starshine, Nancy & Rob - Shindig, Betsy & Kenny - Alcyone, and Lynda & Mike - Trinity Rose. In the photo below we have finished dinner and are enjoying our tequila tasting. Nirvana & Alcyone continued south to El Salvador this year.

Great time with our cruising friends

SUPer Club. Almost every morning the girls would get together for a paddle on their Stand Up Paddleboards. Kathryn either borrowed one from another boat or joined them with our inflatable kayak. There is an inflatable SUP in our future for next season.

Kathryn, Nancy & Katie

One of our favorite marinas is in Barra de Navidad. There is usually a nice breeze to keep us cool, it's protected from rough weather and the adjacent hotel's pools are the nicest we've seen. But the bonus in staying in Barra is The French Baker, who delivers fresh bread and pastries right to your boat. Yum!

The French Baker

One day we were disappointed to see a large yacht dock right next to us, blocking our view. The next day dozens of people showed up to clean the boat and set up sound, lighting and camera equipment. We were amazed to see a very popular Mexican soap opera Hasta El Fin Del Mundo - translation Until The End of the World. They were filming just a few feet from Agave Azul. The story line involves a wealthy heiress, her race car driver / mechanic lover and the unscrupulous businessman who wants to steal her money! How lucky can we get?

Filming Hasta El Fin Del Mundo

Dozens of film crew & the starlet

One more brief fish story. On our return trip from Mazatlan to the Sea of Cortez, we hooked into several Striped Marlin. Same time of year and same place as the one we caught last year.

Striped Marlin

As we reeled in the marlin, he decided it was time to do a tail walk right next to the boat. I jumped back to avoid the bill and when he fell back into the water, I noticed that my rod was in 3 pieces. We released the fish … Fish 1 / Fisherman 0.

Three piece rod

We did experience some real Mexican culture this year. Below we are visiting Mission San Javier, founded in 1699. The mission is near Puerto Escondido, a popular anchorage and hurricane hole in the Sea of Cortez.

Mission San Javier

When we completed our week of decommissioning & hurricane preparation on Agave Azul, we decided to find out if the fishing in the La Paz area lived up to its reputation. We contacted the owner of Tailhunter restaurant and he set us up with one of his fishing guides. We only had to wait for a half hour for our first fish and the fish kept coming the rest of the day. Nothing big, but lots of action, many different kinds of fish and we learned a lot about fishing that we will use next season.

Rob with a nice dorado

We brought our fish to Tailhunter Restaurant in La Paz and the owner prepared a wonderful meal for us with our dorado and grouper.

Happy fishermen Robin, Mike & Rob

Owner Jonathan Roldan serving our ceviche - delicious!

What a nice way to end the cruising season

Adios Mexico until next year … we're looking forward to new adventures.

Sunset at Caleta Partida anchorage