Friday, March 27, 2009

Oaxaca

Oaxaca was well worth the eight hour overnight bus ride from Huatulco. The journey launched us out of our seafaring life and into the colors, smells and tastes of the dynamic city. We stayed at a little hotel near the main square and spent four days exploring. Here are some of the highlights:

Food. That was Tim's favorite. We ate chocolate, chocolate moles, chocolate bars, hot chocolate, cold chocolate... you name it chocolate. This is the chocolate capital of the world. The cacao beans come from nearby Chiapas and Tabasco and look similar to coffee, but ultimately taste better once they've been doctored up. We saw barrels of the beans sold at the markets:



We frequented the Mayordomo store (kind of like going to Ghirdelli with the same sweet smell), and watched the workers churn the beans into goopy thick sauce, adding vanilla, cinnamon, sugar and for the moles, various chilis. Do you know that during the pre-Hispanic times, chocolate was a currency?



At the market, you could buy everything, including bags of chapulines or fried grasshoppers and my favorite, mangos. We fulfilled our promise to each other and actually sampled these creatures. A little crunchy, pretty salty, but full of protein.





Art. This was Maya's favorite. We ventured 20 miles south of the city to San Martin Tilcajete where almost every home carved and painted animals. Maya befriended an artist named Laura who had been painting wood for the past 20 years. She gave us some small wooden carvings of a dog, armadillo and a flying horse and taught us how to paint them.



While Maya and I were busy painting flowers and little dots on our figures, Tim and Kai learned how to carve the copal wood. We found the famous home of Jacobo and Maria Angeles who had 30 of their family members working on intricate pieces. Their successful method and attention to detail made their pieces famous, not to mention extremely expensive. Many are in art museums world wide. One of the painters showed us how they used natural dyes for their paints and gave Maya a chemistry lesson mixing all sorts of ingredients on the palm of her hand.



Here's a close up Jacobo's wooden rabbit. All the detail is done with a small paint brush.



The following day, we went to Teotitlan and learned about the world of the weavers. Here's Kai spinning wool.



And here Nelson is teaching Kai how to weave. Nelson learned how to weave from his grandfather and he told us that his six year old son is eager to learn, but he wants him to wait a few more years. "Once he starts weaving, he'll be weaving his whole life." Kai seemed excited about that future.



Nelson taught us about the natural dyes he using for his yarn. Pecan leaves and shells make brown, yellow comes from tumeric, pomegranite seeds make green, black originates from witch hazel, indigo makes 45 different tones of blue and cochineal, the insect nibbling on a nopal cactus gets dried and squished to become red. Add a little lime to vary the intensity of the color.



Then for our final day, we went to Monte Alban where between 800 and 500 BC, the Zapotec Indians built temples and played a ball game to settle disputes. In other Meso American cultures, like the Mayans, the loser of the game dies, but that apparently wasn’t the case with the Zapotecs.





At night, the kids took unicycled along the zacolo (main square) aweing all the onlookers. There was a stage set up and it seemed like 50 or so people gathered to watch:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Life in the Bays of Huatulco

Here are some random photographs of our recent days in Huatulco. In Puerto Angel where we were protected from the rough seas, Maya, Tim and Kai had fun converting our dinghy into a swim platform.




I saw this confident dog sitting on the steps in Puerto Angel and I felt he represented a part of Mexico. Straggly, but strong. In the story, Panga Boy, the boy from Los Barilles goes to the United States and compares the life of dogs. He says something to the effect that in the states, dogs don't have skin problems and they have owners.

Have you ever seen one of these animals? This was our first time. Usually it lives in the mountains, but this man who resides next to the Port Captain decided to keep it as a pet.



First person to guess the above animal gets to eat what Tim is sampling. Hint it's full of protein:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Turtles in Barra La Cruz

We walked out of the marina to get to Barra La Cruz lugging three back packs filled with clothes, food, swim suits, a hammock. and two surf boards. We found a taxi close to Marina Chahue. It drove, and drove, and drove. First to the palapa that a friend Enrique let us borrow. Then we went to the turtle camp but the biologists weren’t there. After that we went to the beach to swim. When we were about to swim in the ocean we saw there were HUGE breaking waves. But luckily there was a lagoon.

Ruth said to swim out to the stick with the bird on top. About three quarters of the way there Mommy said fearfully “There might be crocodiles in here. Get out.”

I said “Mommy, there are no crocodiles in here.”

But all the same Mommy made me get out.

We walked down the beach to the turtle camp. A patrol was out and picked us up in their military jeep and took us to the turtle camp. The biologists were there. We signed in and that sort of thing: Some people eat turtle eggs and they want to prevent it so that's why the military was there.

We didn't know that we were supposed to bring warm clothes, so we had to borrow them from the biologists. We had to put on really big adult clothes and they looked so funny on us everyone around us laughed. Then we had to get in some hammocks to sleep until 10:00 pm, the time we would start looking for turtles. Here's where we slept:



But Ariane the biologist wanted us to help her. We got out of the hammocks in the turtle camp inside Barra La Cruz to free four leatherbacks and lots of black turtles. We also checked the temperature of the sand where the eggs were. Here's Ariane and me looking at the nest:



Then we went to the beach and dumped out a bucket to let the turtles out. The leatherbacks and black turtles scrambled into the sea.

After that we went back to the hammocks. In a few hours we woke up. We went on an ATV and drove to this pit to let more baby turtles free. There was one leatherback and a lot of Olive Ridleys. Then we walked back to the ATV and drove to look for grown turtles nesting. Here is the ATV we patrolled with:



This is me holding a baby leatherback:



These are baby Olive Ridleys departing to the sea:



We zoomed around in the ATV looking for turtles. Taking naps along the way. After the third nap we found an Olive Ridley trying to nest! We watched it for about 20 minutes. But it couldn’t make a nest because the sand was too dry. So it went back to the sea.

Than we zoomed a little more. But we didn’t find any more turtles so at 4:00 in the morning we went back to the turtle camp. We went back to sleep.

We all got up at about 8:00, had breakfast and freed some more baby turtles. Here's Maya carrying a crate full of baby turtles.



We said good bye to everyone.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sailing south from Acapulco to Puerto Angel

It was hard to leave Acapulco where we watched the brave cliff divers plunge 130 feet or more off the limestone cliffs and enjoyed the comforts of the yacht club -- its swimming pool, fresh showers, and good company, but on Mach 1st, we pulled anchor and headed south. According to the weather forecast, a gale was blowing in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, but winds were calm up north. What we didn’t anticipate, was that even though the winds were calm, the gale had upset the seas, bringing huge confused waves to the Bays of Huatulco where we were heading.

Our sail out of Acapulco was a comfortable spinnaker ride and the first 24 hours went smoothly. However, on our second night at sea, the waves became choppy coming from both south and east and west. In the morning, after 175 miles of sailing, we pulled into Puerto Escondido to take a break from the confused seas caused by a convergence of the waves from the Pacific Ocean with the Gulf of Tehuantepec. After a short rest, we chose to continue 26 miles southeast to Puerto Angel. Jenny Lin, a sailing trawler, also anchored there, wanted to join us.

At first the rolling waves were bearable and with the light wind we opted to motor sail to keep our momentum forward and arrive before dark. To pass the time, we counted turtles along the way. They were all heading up the turtle channel to Playa Escobilla for the turtle arribada. That’s when the female Olive Ridley turtles arrive on the beach at the same time to lay their eggs. They come in the hundreds and thousands.

Soon the waves grew to about 10 feet and some of the waves bounced our 40,000 pound Kamaya up into the air and back down. My heart pounded and I watched the knot meter tick slowly by, like a kid in a classroom looking at the clock and waiting for the bell to ring. When is this going to stop?

This was one of the few times in our journey when I couldn’t wait to drop anchor and stop our movement. But not everyone on the boat felt that way. Maya was happily on the bow with her father jumping high into the air as the waves lifted us up and then down. She held onto the forestay and the jib and jumped into the air. At least they were wearing life jackets.

One wave broke on the bow and water flowed into the forepeak. I kept planning on going below to dog the hatches (what a funny expression!) but didn’t until it was too late -- water rushed down into the cabin and onto both the bed in the forepeak and the bunks in the kids’ cabin. Tim finally decided it was a little rough and lured Maya back into the cockpit. We slowly motored broadside into the waves to get into the tight anchorage of Puerto Angel. “Mom, we don’t have to stop sailing, I want to continue on … this is fun,” protested bold and fearless Maya.

“That was one of the roughest seas I’ve been in,” an old South African sea salt tells us. We later learn that the port captain had closed the harbor, prohibiting his fishermen from venturing out into the rough and uncomfortable seas.

P.S. For anyone heading to Acapulco, Eusebio Almanza, a sailor who takes care of a number of boats, including Andromeda, the 72-foot Swan docked at the north end of the yacht club, has a mooring. The Yacht Club lets you stay only one night gratis on their mooring if you come from a yacht club with reciprocal privileges, but they charge $120/day if you want to stay longer. Eusebio’s mooring is much more affordable. He didn’t charge us, but he wanted us to pass the word on about his mooring.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Is Mexico Safe?

We received an email from Bob and Moni, my in laws, advising us to get out of Mexico as soon as possible. Apparently, our state department has issued a travel alert, advising Americans to stay out of Mexico, especially the border towns.

“It sounds like the wild west,” my own father tells me.

Tim responded to his parents a bit flippantly reminding them that when he was young they lived in India at a time when the country was not deemed safe but they were there anyway.

Our travels in Mexico this past six months have been peaceful, exquisite and removed from the drug wars. We’ve for the most part avoided the big cities (even though I’m writing this from Acapulco), not because of the drug terrorism, but because we like the smaller towns. We’ve enjoyed the hospitality, the people and the laid back pace of this flavorful country. Moreover, the dollar is at an all time high - 15 pesos to the dollar - so living is relatively inexpensive.

Just after receiving Bob’s email, we befriended a family of five that lives in Mexico City, but was vacationing at the Acapulco Yacht Club for the weekend. Mexico City has been dangerous forever, but I wanted to know whether life for them was more dangerous than before? “How is it in Mexico City?” I asked the parents.
They responded that “It’s bad, both with the economy and the drug wars. You don’t have to worry when you’re in the small towns, but it’s in the big cities that you have to be careful.”

And what do they do differently?

“Don’t give too much information to people about yourselves,” they advised. “Here, at the yacht club you don’t have to worry, but when you’re outside stay on guard.” One of their family members was kidnapped, but fortunately returned. Their perspective of the drug wars was two-fold: the drug lords want to keep the country feeling insecure so the government will change its current policy of trying to capture and contain the drug traffickers. They, the drug cartels, want the police to turn a blind eye and let them continue with their business. Secondly, the drug lords argue that the Mexicans aren’t consuming the drugs, so it doesn’t hurt them. It’s really the problem of the consumer and most of that comes from users in the United States.

And since, the Mexican father explains, the government isn’t changing its crackdown policies, the drug leaders want to terrorize the population with fear, especially through kidnappings and killings. Today, the situation has evolved into a war between the police and the drug cartels.

So, fortunately, we’ve avoided all of the above and have had an exceptional time meandering our way down the coast of Mexico. If anyone is planning on coming down, and we highly encourage you, just stick to the wonderful beach towns. As Tim told his parents, “It’s much more dangerous in New York City than the places we’ve been in Mexico.”

Looking Back

It took me more than six years to turn our blog into a hard covered bound book. At first, I was leery of wrapping up our adventure because i...