Thursday, April 26, 2012

San Cristobal, Mexico

By Nicole

Situated at more than 7,000’ in the Central Highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, the mountain town of San Cristobal was first founded by the Spanish in 1528.  The mix of old colonial charm and local Mayan traditions gives the city a unique vibe that I found fascinating.  I only wish I’d packed warmer clothes!  After acclimating to daily temperatures around 85 degrees, 40 degrees felt absolutely frigid.

Our hotel, El Buen Samaritano.  Nice and cheap, but so unbelievably cold!  No heaters and no hot water the first night we were there.

Being a Spanish colonial town, San Cristobal has more than its fair share of churches.  It seemed liked we found another photo-worthy church around every corner.






One of my favorite parts about checking out a new city is finding the central market.  I love being bombarded by the vibrant colors, the mix of pungent smells and the loud din of people buying and selling.

Colorful produce piled up in buckets and strung from the eaves (look at the size of those grapes!)

Mayan women selling produce in their typical style of dress—long, black, fuzzy woolen skirts with wide belts and embroidered wraps

Perfect pyramids of tomatoes and freshwater snails by the bowlful

Mangoes!  See the small peachy colored ones?
They’re my favorite—juicy, sweet and delicious.

DSC_2755 Chicken, anyone?

If you’re looking for more than produce, snails, whole chickens, flip flops, black-market DVDs and blender parts, head a few blocks down to the artisans market.  Hundreds of stalls are stocked with beautifully embroidered fabrics, delicately woven scarves, plush woolen sweaters and handmade jewelry.

Overlooking the artisans market with, yep, a church in the background

DSC_2774Shuffling through the stacks of embroidered mats for just the right one.  You can’t see them, but I’m wearing a new scarf and turquoise bracelet from the artisans market too.

Outside of the market district, we strolled down pedestrian-friendly streets lined with sidewalk cafes, chocolatiers and quaint shops.  We enjoyed cup after cup of delicious local coffee and savored some of the best food and chocolate (oh, the chocolate!) we’ve had in ages.

DSC_2811  Sitting in one of the sidewalk cafes (brrrr!).  I’m so glad I bought a scarf! 

Like elsewhere in Mexico, roving salespeople make the rounds.  As Aaron likes to say, if you stand in one place long enough, anything you want to buy (and lots of stuff you don’t) will walk by…

DSC_2829 The view of San Cristobal from the steps of (wait for it) another church

Just a few miles out of San Cristobal are a number of Maya villages where local people have maintained many of their traditional practices.  As part of our tour, we got to take a peek into daily life in the communities of Zinacantan and San Juan Chamula.

DSC_2265 It poured while we were here, but the sun finally broke through the clouds and bathed the Zinacantan Catholic church in beautiful afternoon light.

DSC_2250  A Mayan woman making corn tortillas.  I could probably eat my weight in fresh tortillas—no joke.

DSC_2239 Weaving demonstration using a backstrap loom

From Zinacantan, we drove a few miles through pine forests and farmlands to the conservative Tzotzil Maya village of San Juan Chamula. People here are unique among the Maya in the way they blend traditional (and non-traditional) Mayan religious practices with Catholicism. From what our driver said, there’s also quite a bit of violence within the community. In fact, a gun battle in town earlier in the day almost prevented us from going.  Almost…

DSC_2272  The Catolico Tradicionalista church in the conservative Maya community of San Jan Chamula.

From the outside, the church in the (now peaceful) town square looked like any other. But inside, pews were removed and a carpet of fragrant pine needles covered the bare floor. The only light came from hundreds of small candles burning at the feet of full-sized Catholic saint effigies. Imagine 50 or so elaborately dressed mannequins, each representing a different saint, displayed in life-sized glass boxes lining the walls of the church. I’d never seen anything like it.  And unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures.

Small groups of people knelt in the pine before particular saints, offering candles and prayers for health or wealth or any number of things. A shaman woman sat with one family, performing a healing ceremony. She broke the neck of a live chicken, waved sage leaves over the floor and drank Coke—all to rid the ill person of his sickness.

I felt a little uncomfortable getting a tour of the church—how would a Catholic in the U.S. feel about a foreign tour group crashing Sunday mass? But watching the shaman practice by candlelight and being surrounded by the strong scents of pine, smoke and incense was quite an experience to say the least.

After our tour, we were all ready for some dinner and drinks.  We stumbled on a great bar with draft beer at happy hour prices (it wasn’t anything like the Huanacaxtle CafĂ©’s 10 peso deal, but it was still a treat).  With lots of 2-for-1 specials warming our bellies, we grabbed some dinner, headed back to the hotel and burrowed under layers and layers of blankets (emblazoned with wolves and other critters).  The plus side to being so cold?  I learned the Spanish word for blanket!  It’s cobija.

DSC_2275 And you thought I was kidding

Despite the cold, we had an awesome time with the crews of Bravo and Nanna in San Cristobal.  In fact the entire inland tour of Chiapas – the waterfalls, the ruins of Palenque and the colonial town of San Cristobal – was amazing.  We almost decided to skip the trip (to save money and get to El Salvador faster), but I’m so glad we reconsidered.  I mean, it’s not every night that you get to sleep under a howling wolf blanket, right?

Monday, April 23, 2012

New wind record

By Aaron, photos courtesy of Zachary SO Lough (s/v Panache)
For the last few weeks we’ve been tied up at Hotel Bahia Del Sol.  For $14 a week you get use of the pool, Wi-Fi, $1 beers, and 30% off all your food.  So you can imagine what our daily routine has been like.  Saturday started out pretty well.  Relaxing in the pool was interrupted by a dinghy raft-up out in the estuary with free beer, so we made sure to attend.
01We drifted with the current until the beers were gone
It was just another lovely evening, and none of us had any idea how quickly that was going to change.  Nicole was making potato burritos for dinner and since Zack lives off Top Ramen we had him over.  As we began to eat, the breeze picked up a bit.  About half way through the meal it was blowing over 20 knots.  As we were finishing our burritos, the wind began building and building.  In just a few minutes it went from a breeze to hurricane-force winds over 70 knots with torrential rain.  (Highest recorded wind was 73 knots, about 84mph.)  Definitely a new record high for our anemometer.  All hell broke loose for about 15 minutes.  Then, as quickly as it arrived, it was gone.  We surmised this was our first encounter with a microburst.  The amount of rain and wind was incredible.  And as it tore through here it made a sound that I’ll never forget. 
Zack was anchored about 100 yards up the estuary.  At the time there was about a 3 knot tidal current running with the wind.  His anchor dragged and Panache was bearing down on the marina at an alarming speed.  Zack is one lucky dude.  The boat missed the corner piling and SV Swift Current by about 30 feet.  Zack, Nicole and I followed her, running down the bucking  linear dock with waves crashing over our legs as she flew past.
DSC_2839Here’s the piling that Panache barely dodged
Then, more luck – as the boat is hurtling past the marina she suddenly fetched up on her anchor and held about 20 feet off the linear dock.  We later determined that the anchor had caught one of the cables that are anchored to the bottom to try and hold the docks in place.  We had to leave her there for the time being as the waves were too big to risk getting in the dinghy and you could barely stand in the wind and rain.
04Panache, lucking out on the anchor grab
Other boats dragged anchor as well.  Several boats tied to moorings also broke free. 
06Talaria makes it over to the dock from the mooring field.  Hats off to the hotel staff who jumped in to help all the boats in trouble.
10What was left of Talaria’s mooring.  Several of the links in the chain were rusted down pretty thin.
SV Swift Current, the boat tied up next to us on the outside of the dock, broke two cleats right off the dock.  Her stern went out into the current causing the bow to try and ride up on the dock while nails chewed into the fiberglass.  We fought to get her stern pulled in while Bella Star was trying to launch herself onto the finger pier.
02Trying to get the stern back to the dock.  We couldn’t keep our fenders down because waves were washing over the docks and the boat would buck up so high that the fenders pulled out, then the side of the hull would crash down on the dock.
P4220265Where Swift Current’s bow was digging into the night before
DSC_2844SV Nauti Moments has a Kevlar reinforced bow that got to chew up a bit of dock
The docks here are cleverly built by using two logs to nail the planks onto, then sticking 55 gallon drums underneath to get them to float higher.  Well those drums were popping out all over the place.  Bella Star had one of the barnacle encrusted drums wedged in and by the current and being crushed between her stern and the dock. 
05Got some nice barnacle cuts on my hands from this damn thing, and Nicole got her feet cut up as well.  But she sure looked nice fighting beside me in her little black dress.
09Cleats pulled out all over the place. 
All in all we were pretty lucky and only suffered some scratches in the gelcoat.  The docks themselves could have broken loose, as one did about a mile up the estuary.  SV Tolerance was not so lucky.  Her anchor dragged and she went up on one of the hotel pier’s cement pilings at a high speed.
07Wind and current conspired to do major damage
08The piling from inside
14Once the wind died we used a couple dinghies to power Tolerance off the pier and got her over to a slip.
15The hole is only about an inch above the waterline.  Just a tiny bit bigger and it probably would have sunk right there.
11Talaria collided with Hotspur, bending in several stanchions and one of the dinghy davits. 
12They’re also out a solar panel.  Kudos to SV Knee Deep for dishing out some brewskies!
13Zack and I were unsuccessful at getting the anchor unhooked from the mooring cable.  And as luck would have it, there was open dock space that we could reach by letting out more chain.  I fed it out of the windlass while Zack piloted her over to the dock.  He was relieved to have his baby still floating.  A diver freed the anchor the next day.
P4220269Hotspur took some collision damage and lost quite a bit of her caprail along with sustaining damage to her foam cored hull.  The duct tape is there to keep water from getting into the foam core.
P4220264Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt.  The next day everybody was talking about the storm and exchanging their stories.
DSC_2849The marina staff put in freshly made cleats and restored power to the docks the very next day
DSC_2847The barrels that could be recovered were also reinstalled the next day
DSC_2841Tolerance is uninsured and a total loss.  Mick, the skipper, decided to part it out.  The next day it was crawling with cruisers.  All the winches, deck hardware, electronics, spare parts, lines, you name it, the boat was pretty much stripped down.  It was hard to stomach acquiring gear like this, but Mick insisted that he needed the money in order to make his next move.
We got new mainsheet blocks, a whisker pole with mounts and mast fittings, dive mask, various sealants, PFD with integrated harness and a spare rearming kit. 
Mick gave us some good deals.  He really did Zack a favor, and sold him a brand new 4 person liferaft and an EPIRB for $200.
Tolerance won’t sail again, but she’s still floating.  Mick sold the remains to a local marine mechanic for $400.  He’s got a dock on the estuary and plans to live aboard once the hole is somewhat patched up.  It’s still got a working propane stove, a head, and a couple decent size berths with good cushions.  It’ll make a good little house for him.
We’re glad that nobody was seriously hurt.  Throughout the ordeal everyone was helping each other and making sure everybody was okay.  A typical example of why we’re happy to be a part of the cruising community.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Even more waterfalls

By Aaron

Agua Azul wasn’t the only waterfall we visited on our way to San Cristobal.  We also stopped at Misol-Ha.


DSC_2427There’s a trail that winds around behind the waterfalls….

DSC_2428Nothing like waterfall mist to cool you down in the tropical heat

DSC_2429The side of the cliff has lots of small holes and caves with water pouring out.  Kind of felt like standing in front of a dam ready to burst.

DSC_2433View from the other side of the trail

DSC_2435One of the caves is large enough to walk in

DSC_2436Turns out my bravery in cave exploring decreases proportionally with the amount of ambient light.

DSC_2419We loved the hot jungle of Misol-Ha

Next stop, San Cristobal – where we were reminded what it’s like to be really, really cold.