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March was fun and action packed! The first of the month found us gathering at the boat for a coconut-banana pancake breakfast, before the two grandmas and the four of us went driving back into the mountains behind Huatulco in search of an organic coffee plantation and some waterfalls O. We had rented a small jeep like vehicle with no top for this excursion and we were very glad that it did not rain. We were on narrow dirt mountain roads and both kids were standing up looking over the top. Pretty fun adventure trip. After a couple of hours and a couple of wrong turns we made it to our destination. We first hiked to the waterfall with a guide who was wonderful O. He took the kids on some rope swings and was very fun and nice. He only spoke Spanish, but somehow we all understood each other just fine. He was very patient, spoke slowly and always had a big smile. After our hike to the waterfall and back, we were hungry and ready for lunch. The plantation had a wonderful lunch spread of local Oaxacanean food that they just bring out to you. There were several platters of different foods, a refreshing local fruit drink, dessert and of course, fresh ground coffee! (You would think that with all of the coffee grown in the area that all of the coffee would be good local coffee, but most often in restaurants you will be served Nescafe!) After lunch we had a great tour of the plantation grounds O and were shown and we got to taste many fruits that we had never seen before or heard of. The best one was one that tasted like roses smell. On the way back we took a different route and drove to the river mouth to check the waves. We then went to a cliff-side bar to watch the sunset for Carole's last night with us. After returning everyone to the hotel, Mike and Nancy took advantage of having a vehicle and loaded up several diesel jugs to take up to the station for filling. What a long day. The next morning before meeting everyone for breakfast, we did another fuel run for propane. It sure was nice to have wheels. Nancy and Evelyn ran around town gathering provisions for the next couple of days. Nancy had managed to "catch" another yellow fin tuna from the dock that morning by asking a fishing boat that came in if she could have one. Everyone moved back to the boat after saying goodbye to Carole. We had a nice fish dinner on board and had fun watching a movie. The next day we were up early and set sail for another of the nine bays of Huatulco accompanied by dolphins O. We anchored in a spot called La India and another kid boat was anchored very close. We took the kids to the beach and then took Evelyn snorkeling. The water is cooler that we would expect for being this far south, so we did not stay in too long. We explored another part of the beach before returning to the boat for sushi dinner and a beautiful night at anchor. The next morning we had a quick sail back to the marina to get Evelyn to the airport in time. It was pretty funny that afternoon, once the visitors were gone, we all just passed out! Even the kids slept hard for a couple of hours. Having fun is exhausting! The next day we got back to normal life, doing school, laundry, shopping and began to prepare for our trip to Oaxaca. We found folks to watch the animals, finished some school, packed up and ate the fridge clean in preparation for being gone for a week.
The next morning we boarded the bus for a more than eight hour bus ride to the city of Oaxaca. The bus on the way played Zorro for the movie, so that was fun and appropriate for all of us, unlike some other bus rides we have been on! We had packed lots of food to nibble on for the trip. We finally arrived in Oaxaca and looked for a good place to stay, Dana and Nancy left the boys sitting while they took off to look at small hotels, hostels and pensions. For the first night we decided to stay in one place but then moved the next day to a better spot after further investigation. We found a cute bed and breakfast for less than the place that we stayed at the first night. We were the only ones there, and the place was just opened or under new management, everything was brand new, the sheets and towels included. This was kind of funny as the towels were these big, thick, puffy, dark blue wonderful towels, but when you went to use them, you and everything in the room around you was covered with blue lint! We spent the rest of the week there having a lovely breakfast served to us everyday on the patio. We explored Oaxaca seeing the sights, hanging out in the main square that always has some kind of music playing and found some great places to eat. Our favorite was $2 for a complete lunch... soup, rice, beans and a choice from four very yummy entrees, drink and dessert. Anytime that we were in town at lunch time we ate there and were always very pleased with the yummy food and sauces. One of the attractions of Oaxaca are the nearby archeological sights and the nearly 10,000 years of uninterrupted history and civilization. We signed up for a tour and spent a day visiting Monte Alban, a remote cathedral, and some villages where different crafts were created. Monte Alban is an ancient Zapotec cultural center which had a civilization that flourished from 500 BC to 1500 AD O. It is on top of a mountain overlooking three valleys and is quite impressive in its size and scope. Most everything they did had religious purposes, even the ball games that they played. They were accomplished astronomers and physicians, with stone carvings documenting their understanding of the human body and its ailments. They even were performing brain surgery way back then! They were very advanced in many ways for such an ancient civilization. After Monte Alban we stopped at a gothic cathedral and learned about the history of how the Spaniards converted the people over to their religion. One of the things that they did, was in the main chapel, they built the traditional Gothic arches, but they left the ceiling off because the people were superstitious about being enclosed! Next stop was a village where they carve and paint these amazing and fanciful creations out of wood, we even bought one. We also went to the village where the black pottery is made and saw a demonstration of how they make the pots O. They do not have a wheel for throwing the pots like we are used to. A little old woman sat on the ground with two inverted plates in front of her. First she grabbed a slab of clay and shaped it. She got the general shape the way she wanted just using her hands and hollowing it out. Then she put it on the inverted plates and sort of spun it around in an unbalanced way, but the result was a perfect amphora vase in about 3 minutes! We found an egg shaped piece that we bought for Easter. This is cut out and you put a candle inside. It is very pretty with the light shining out. After a late afternoon, huge lunch we made it back to town. We wandered around the square, seeing the sights and listening to music. At one point we wandered away from the square, up a road and right into the middle of a big celebration that was just beginning. There was a grand procession of elaborately costumed dancers and many dances were performed O. The colorful costumes and the afternoon light made a feast for the eyes. Since we had such a late lunch, we just munched on food from street vendors instead of dinner. The next day was wholly devoted to the Santa Domingo Church and Cultural Center O, an amazing center full of the history of the area, including gold artifacts from Monte Alban. We spent hours wandering the many rooms and learning more about the history of the area and admiring the intricate gold work of the Zapotecs and the Cathedral. That evening we got a couple of pizzas, spread the blankets on the floor and had a pizza party in our room. The following day we were off to another archeological site and some other villages in the area that were known for their crafts. Each village specializes in a different art form and you can watch them work on every step of their art. Very interesting and informative. On the way, we stopped at an amazing tree, called El Tule. This is an enormous cypress tree that is thought to be more than 2000 years old. The most amazing thing about it is that the trunk is supposedly the widest of any tree in the world with a diameter of 138 feet. So it is not the tallest or oldest tree, but the widest. The next site was called Mitla O. This was the next development after Monte Alban. It is believed that the Zapotecs began it and the Mixtecs finished it. This site is very different in that it has abstract mosaics on the walls. These are not carved out as you would first think, but rather individual stones that are all fit together without mortar to make the patterns. Very impressive to actually see! We also visited a weaving village in the area O. They showed us how they make their dyes using only natural products. The most amazing was the dyes made out of a small bug sort of like a mealy bug. This one made 35 different colors depending on how you mixed it. Very cool. We then saw how they carded and spun the raw wool and then how they used the looms and some of the beautiful finished products. At the end of the day we stopped at a Mescal tasting room. They make this out of the same plant as Tequilla, but we do not think that it tastes that same at all. They flavor it with all sorts of different things (an indication of how the raw product tastes that they have to cover it up?). It is not too bad flavored, we liked the coffee flavor the best. When we got back to town, we ran around getting the last things that we wanted as we were leaving the next day.
After a long bus ride back to Huatulco, Nancy quickly stocked up on fresh food before we headed back to the boat to be reunited with the animals. We were very happy to get back home and to see the animals safe and sound. It turned out that the animals had been a hit on the dock. Several boats were taking Hopper for long walks every day and everyone was playing with Sia and having her for sleepovers on their boats. People were competing for our animals affections. Now that we were back it was time to crack down and get ready for our next adventure. We had lots of work to do around the boat, and the kids worked on school, including a report for social studies on their Oaxaca activities. One of the projects that Nancy had was to make the flags for the next several countries that we will be visiting O. When you are in foreign waters, you are supposed to fly a courtesy flag of that country. These flags are a) unavailable down here and b) very expensive when you are buying several in the states. Anyway, Nancy made El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador. It took a couple of days, but they came out o.k. Hopefully they will last through our stays in each country. At the end of the week, we were ready to check out of Mexico. This was a momentous event for us after so long in Mexico where we feel so comfortable. Nancy was busy precooking some meals for being underway and Mike was checking the last minute weather reports and securing things on deck. We left in the afternoon with the hope of catching some afternoon breezes. We actually left a day before we had planned, much to Mike's delight and Nancy's chagrin. There is so much anxiety built up over this crossing, which can be very rough, but we had very calm seas and a smooth passage. Nancy was still woozy, but not as bad as usual. We had a fairly normal life underway since it was so smooth O The kids kept up on school, we had normal meals three times a day and made it across the notorious Gulf of Tehuantepec in two days with no trouble at all. The next couple of days we spent sailing down the coast of Guatemala and El Salvador, dodging small fishing boats and shrimpers. These mostly come out at night and then you can't see them and their nets since they rarely had lights. It would take both Mike and Nancy up on deck to navigate through these obstacles. Luckily we had an almost full moon, so we could see a bit better than without. The radar was invaluable for this task, although we still could not know if we should go left or right around the boats even when we did spot them in order to avoid the nets or lines that they had set. We reached the mouth of the bay that we were headed to at about two in the morning. We anchored outside the wave line, seemingly in the middle of the ocean, but these were the coordinates given to us to anchor. Even though there was white water all around us, and it felt sort of weird to anchor here, this was indeed a safe place to anchor, so after observing for about an hour, we finally went to sleep. In the morning we raised the flag for the new country that we had entered O, a memorable event for us after having been in Mexico for so long. We had to wait for high tide to cross the sometimes dangerous sandbar into this anchorage. There is another cruiser inside the lagoon that has been there for several years that will tell you if it is do-able or not and guide you in. We had plenty of anxiety built up about this entrance, but we really wanted to stay in this spot, the nearest alternatives just did not suit our needs as well. We had everything on deck secured, life jackets on, everyone had two hands holding on when the guide boat said go.... we thought that we were still approaching the danger zone when over the radio came the word that we were already across the bar and safe and sound and to proceed into the lagoon! Sort of anticlimactic, but a very welcome piece of information.
Once we entered the lagoon, we could not believe how beautiful it was. There is a hotel built on the beach side of the lagoon that is welcoming cruisers, they will keep a tab set up for you and they give cruisers a 30% discount. There is a nice pool and showers for us to use too. A very nice place to hang out. We anchored closer to the other side of the lagoon in front of one of the many islands. This one has some homes set up on it and a couple of beaches to walk Hopper. There is a path just above the high tide line that goes the whole way along the island coast. Very nice to go for walks and say "Buenas" to all of our new neighbors. This place is so great, there are several boats that have been here for years! The people are very friendly and warm, and big smiles are quick to be shown. One of the things that was attractive to us about this spot is that you can walk to the beach. The other spot to anchor in El Salvador is several miles up an estuary and pretty isolated. Here at Bahia del Sol, there is the beach that you can walk for miles with waves for boogie-boarding, there is a bus that passes right outside the hotel that will take you to the nearest town for shopping or to San Salvador for more extensive shopping or to connect to inland trips to Guatemala and Nicaragua. One of the other boats that we had met in Huatulco took us out to the beach and down the way a bit to a pupusaria. Pupusas are the national food. They are a thick tortilla of corn or rice and are filled with all or some of these choices: cheese, beans and chicharron. This is served with a big jar of lightly pickled cabbage, carrots and beets that you generously apply on top. These delicacies come at the whopping price of 35 cents each and two fill the kids and Nancy. Pretty good fare. Did I mention that we love El Salvador? The next day, a few of the other cruisers were doing an outing along the estuary to another beach and another island where we would have lunch. We were invited along and we had a convoy of three dingies filled with the occupants of 5 different boats including 2 dogs. Off we went up the river for a full day of exploration O. We went along canals with people in canoes fishing O the way they have been doing for hundreds of years. We saw small villages along the shore that you just cannot get any more authentic than O, everyone waves and smiles at you. We finally arrived at a beach at the place where the Rio Lempa comes to the sea. It was wild and beautiful. We were not the only ones there, however. It was currently Semana Santa. This is a huge holiday in Mexico and Central America, Easter is not so big, but the week before is huge. Everyone is on holiday, the prices in destination places will go up by 400%. So, the hotel and lagoon were much fuller than usual, but it still was not too bad. After spending a bit of time on the beach, everyone was quite hungry so we worked our way back until we came to a stick structure built out over the water O. This was the lunch restaurant. There was a floor of sticks that took some getting used to to walk on and a roof of sticks and a narrow walkway of sticks down to the water and also back towards the island over the mangrove roots. There was a slab of concrete at counter level in one corner which was the kitchen, with more sticks burning to cook over. The family was all smiles. The father was there catching fish, shrimp and crabs for our lunch, there were two women who prepped and cooked everything and there were three children O. Dana instantly bonded with the two older girls and they sat down at a table and began a Spanish/ English language exchange along with a book that one of the other cruisers had brought along O. The other child was a baby girl who was having her first birthday on this day. This family was so nice and the ambiance just so great. After our yummy lunch we went back to the boat to rest up and prep for Easter the next day. We dyed and painted Easter eggs and made sure that we had everything ready to go for the Easter bunny O. Well, sure enough, the Easter bunny found us, with chocolate eggs and bunnies and toys. It took about an hour to find all of the eggs, you would never think that there would be so many places to find eggs in the main salon of one small boat! After the morning festivities, we spent Easter on the beach before returning to the boat for a proper Easter dinner of ham, candied yams and green bean casserole. Amazing the stuff that is still stashed away on the boat for special occasions! We explored the lagoon some more, you could probably explore it everyday for a month and still not see the whole thing, it is that extensive. Dana and Nancy went with another boater to San Salvador and to the nearest town for shopping named Zacatecoluca. Here Nancy was also able to check the land line email, go to the bank and to re-provision the fresh food.
So, for those of you who want to try to locate us on a map, here is where we are approximately. We are south-east of the capital city of San Salvador, along the Pacific Coast. On our map, the area is called the Estero de Jaltepeque. It is actually pretty close to the international airport. The water system that we are living in connects to both the Rio Lempa and the Rio Jiboa. If you see the airport on the map, we are just south and a smidge east of that along the coast. There are no good maps of this area, I do not mean that there are not any available, I mean that there are none. They do not exist, no one has mapped this section of the coast! We are currently trying to plan some inland trips to Guatemala and Honduras. We are waiting to find someone to watch the animals and to figure out where to go first. There is so much to see in this area, we had no idea. The people are warm and wonderful and the prices are very low and so far we are very impressed. If anyone wants a good, up and coming destination spot, these oft neglected countries are it!
Please click to enlarge!
Scenes from our Waterfall and Coffee Plantation Excursion
Dolphins come to play as we sail along the coast with Evelyn
The amazing Monte Alban archeological site near Oaxaca
The making of black pottery demonstration
Oaxaca street scenes
One of the Baroque cathedrals that we visited A beautiful mural in the government building
We visited the "Tule Tree", the tree with the largest diameter trunk in the world
Some of the stonework at Mitla, what looks carved out, is really many small blocks that fit together without mortar. Exploring a tomb
We visited a weaving center and had a demonstration of how they naturally made all of the dyes, the kids were very impressed
Back at the boat, Nancy stitched together the many flags that we will need for the coming year
The journey south from Mexico begins, Hopper spends time with his friends
Entering El Salvadorian waters, Mike raises the new flag for the first time
The kids had fun playing while we were underway for 4 1/2 days A sunset shower while underway
Crossing the bar at Bahia del Sol
A local fisherwoman A typical shoreside village scene on one of the islands in the estuary
The "Stick" Restaurant The kitchen corner of the restaurant
The cruisers waiting for lunch Dana makes a new friend and they exchange language skills
Lunch arrives, fresh caught fish and shrimp
Dying of the Easter eggs The finished product Exploring the contents of the Easter baskets
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