Log #27—Puerto Vallarta

Sunday March 12 through Tuesday March 14, 2000—Preparing to Depart Mazatlan

Recuperating and recovering from our exhausting bus and train rides consumed most of the next several days. Because all three of us picked up some nasty local bugs of various forms, it was serious time for rest & 'siest.'

Wednesday we gained full consciousness and decided to depart Mazatlan. We even washed all of the arid desert dust off Andanté and installed a new anemometer at the top of the mast. (Todd and Chris: the new anemometer fixed the wind speed problem.)

Wednesday March 15—Whales and Gill Nets

Several hours south of Mazatlan, about half an hour before sunset, Dan and I enjoyed the evening from the cockpit when suddenly we heard what sounded like an explosion. We turned our heads to see a humpback whale had breached completely out of the water a mere 70 feet off the port stern. The huge whale shot 20-30 feet into the air, spraying foam and water out in all directions. Neither of us had ever seen a whale breach that close to the boat. We sat speechless as the whale crash back into the sea.

Dan turned the boat around while we both grabbed our cameras and waited. The whale breached a second time, only now over 100 feet from the boat. Even so, I captured a quick snippet on video.

Another unexpected event interrupted our overnight passage to San Blas. Around 20:30, 20-miles offshore, a ponga approached in the dark with a single flashlight beam aimed at the cockpit. Debi had seen several fisherman nets during the first part of her watch, and suspected that the ponga approached to warn her away from an unlit, unmarked net. The ponga pulled directly in front of the bow and stopped. Interpreting that a net floated in the water directly ahead, she turned the boat 90 degrees.

From my stateroom below I heard the engine jump into reverse, followed by a staccato of odd and previously unheard bumping and grinding noises, followed by an abrupt silence. Dan and I both emerged onto the deck. In an effort to avoid the ponga across our bow, Debi's turn propelled us through an unmarked gill net that hung from the surface with floats. The gill net tangled in our prop, and wrapped so tightly around the propeller and shaft that the engine seized.

We floated in the darkness trying to grasp our situation. There was nothing that could be done from the deck, so I arduously climbed into my dive gear and jumped into the black water and dove to the shaft with my underwater light to assess damages. The net wrapped so tightly around the shaft that it looked like a huge 18-inch wasp nest. Rope, net, and float corks all twisted into a tight knot. I pulled my dive knife and started cutting.

After several minutes I surfaced and asked Dan to dive it with me, because I had difficulty holding onto the shaft with one hand, cutting with the second hand, and holding light between my armpits. No matter how I tried to juggle everything, the halogen dive light insisted in shining directly into my eyes at point blank range. I went back down and kept slashing and cutting and cutting. Dan joined me with his light, and finally we cut the remaining strands away. The entire process required about an hour. Fortunately the net left the propeller unbent and intact. We started the engine and motored off with dive gear strewn across the deck and throughout the cabin.

Thursday March 16 through Saturday March 18, 2000—San Blas and Chacala

We arrived in San Blas at 13:45 Thursday afternoon and anchored in Mantanchen Bay. Small and unassuming, the town of San Blas has recorded many distinctions. According to Norm, a New Yorker who operates the San Blas morning and afternoon radio net for cruisers anchored in the bay and estuary, San Blas is one of the world's most highly ranked and well-known birding sites, with over 400 species. According to Debi, San Blas is the site of the longest recorded surfing run (ride?). Spanish conquistadors used San Blas as a principal administrative and military center, and built sailing ships for exploring North America here. We celebrated the evening in our distinctive locale with a candlelit dinner in the cockpit.

Friday morning we rode the dinghy to town (almost six miles round-trip) where we found ourselves serenaded by a choir of tropical birds; each bird sang his or her own song, synchronously with the others. You wouldn't think such discordance could sound so soothing and pleasant.

Table Manners in San Blas


A small tackle and outboard motor tienda enabled us to restock depleted fishing lures. Debate ensued about the more potent lure: orange, green, and yellow; or green and yellow (sans orange). The winner … TBD.

Saturday morning we departed Mantanchen Bay rather early, and sailed 20-miles south along the coastline. Palm trees, mountains, and sandy beaches would enable this section to pass for the South Pacific.

Framed by 7550 foot San Juan Mountain in the distance, we anchored off the small village of Chacala as dusk enveloped the shoreline. After a short dinghy ride to shore, we helped a group of young adults pull their fully-loaded boat trailer up a steep ramp, and narrowly avoided being run over by the trailer as the driver accidentally slipped the clutch. Afterwards, they offered us a ride up the street in the back of the truck. There, we encouraged an open-air beach-side restaurant to fire the stove up for dinner, which consisted of shrimp and Spanish Mackerel.

Sunday March 19th through Friday March 31st—Arrival in Puerto Vallarta: Bullfights, Beef Fights, and Boat Work

Sunday morning we set sail for Puerto Vallarta, just over 50 miles to the south. Just outside of PV in Bahia De Banderas, we anchored at Las Tres Marietas for a quick diving excursion that proved to be a bust: visibility was less than 10 feet. It was like diving in mud, or at least my view of what I think diving in mud must be like.

As we laid the dive gear out to dry and prepared to point the bow towards Puerto Vallarta, Debi started the engine only to snag an aberrant line that one of us had left hanging over the starboard quarter. Like the gill net before, the prop grabbed the line and everything came to a stop. This time, however, Dan was able to free the line without too much difficulty. Within minutes we pointed the bow toward PV and started off across Bahía de las Banderas (Bay of Flags). With a 161-km shoreline, about 385 miles, Banderas Bay is the seventh-largest bay in the world.

The Sánchez family first settled this area in 1851 near the mouth of the Río Cuale, now the center of the city. Mexicana Airlines started flying to PV in 1954, but it wasn't until John Huston shot The Night of the Iguana, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, that Puerto Vallarta became world-famous.

Monday and Tuesday we worked on boat. Rodrigo, a local craftsman, started applying new coats of varnish to our brightwork, including six new coats on the cap rail—this in anticipation of the oncoming heat in Central America. We're hoping the new coats of varnish will last until Florida. We know that it won't.

Tuesday evening we walked through old town, up on the hill, and found a fabulous restaurant called La Hacendia. The open-air restaurant served fresh seafood and excellent steaks under the stars. Trees intertwined with miniature white lights dotted the courtyard, while freestanding terra cotta fireplaces provided additional ambiance. Service was friendly and prompt, and roving musicians who entered from the street added the final touch. You can find it on the southwest corner of Aguacate and Lazaro Cardenas streets. For reservations call (3) 2-22-05-90.

Wednesday night March 22nd we purchased tickets for the weekly bullfight. None of us had ever seen a bullfight, but we did want to sample this traditionally Mexican and Spanish spectator sport at least once. The event was intense, and for the uninitiated (like us) bordered on, well, gruesome.

Four matadors appeared: Abraham Ruiz, 24-years old, is ranked among the top 50 novilleros in Mexico. 23-year old Pac Muñoz, ranked #12 in 1999. Leopoldo Casaola was ranked 8th in 1999, at the tender age of 20. Jorge Benavides, also 20, was ranked #2 last year. Jorge was hospitalized with a serious injury to his right thigh on September 18, 1999—a reminder that bulls can often find their mark. Four novilleros. Four bulls.

The bullfight flows through an organized sequence. [Caution—the following contains graphically descriptive material, and may be unsuitable for children or animal-rights activists:]

  • Paseo—the bullfighter's procession of matadors and other bullfighters enter the arena before the bullfight begins.

  • The bull is released into the ring. Most of the bulls charge aggressively into the arena looking for a target.

  • Secondary matadors gauge the bull's temperament with capes and dexterity. (About five minutes.)

  • Enter the picadors--matadors on heavily padded and blindfolded horses. Sorry to say, but the picadors induce bleeding by piercing the bull's back with a long spear. (About five minutes.)

  • Primary matador demonstrates grace, agility, skill, dexterity, and total insanity as he floats in and out of his cape while the bull charges inches from his torso. Using a popular maneuver called the veronica3, the bullfighter stands in place and slowly swings the cape away from the bull as it charges. This term is derived from the mid-19th century Spanish verónica, named for Saint Veronica which refers to the gesture involved in wiping Jesus Christ's face.

  • Toreros (bullfighters on foot) charge the bull (while the bull simultaneously charges them) with banderillas—long, colorfully decorated barbed darts thrust into the bull's neck or the shoulder.

  • Primary matador performs again and, at his discretion, begins the faena—the final stages leading up to the kill. He begins the faena by drawing his long sword and signaling the dignitaries or judges. At this point the matador has 13-minutes to make the kill.

    Matadors attempt the kill in two ways: First with a long sword inserted through the neck of the bull up to the sword's hilt. Ideally this fells the bull. Often, it does not. In that case, a second sword is used with a T-shaped crosspiece about six inches from the tip of the blade. This short sword is designed to sever the spinal cord behind the bull's neck. Based on watching four fights that afternoon, the kill is not a science.

    Depending on the matador's skill, judges may award him a tail (highest honor), two ears, one ear, or nothing at all. If awarded an ear, for example, the prize is extracted immediately, and the matador circles the arena holding his prize aloft, while seeking praise from the adoring masses. During one such procession the matador threw the ear to a gringo in the crowd. The recipient was a spring break 2000 dude.

Bullfight in Puerto Vallarta's La Paloma Arena

Jorge, the last matador of the day kneeled in the center of the arena before they released the bull. The bull charged directly at him as he gracefully swept his cape and stood aside. As gory as all of this sounds, that maneuver was impressive, and demonstrated the raw courage required to face the bulls.

Interested in learning more about bullfighting? Take a look at Bullfights.org for more information. Click on the Links button for schedules in Spain, Mexico, and even the U.S.

Should you find yourself attending a bullfight in the near future, here are some important tips to remember: When the young matador raises his sword it is critical to remain silent in the plaza as the novillero is prepared to leap over the deadly horn of the animal. A loud noise may cause the animal to raise up and seriously injur the young man. Additionally, in Mexico loud whistling is not considered to be a cheering but rather to be booing. Clap and cheer instead.

Thursday: I tried to get rid of a computer virus all morning. Wasn't that exciting?

Friday: Spent a day at a local hotel, soaking sun and mostly people watching. A pool-side competition provided an interesting respite during this arduous day. The MC selected four women and gave them 60-seconds to kiss as many men as possible. (Sorry, no kissing of women allowed.) The winner, from Los Angeles, trounced her competitors 2:1, with 47 kisses. Her green Day-Glo thong may have been an advantage, but the judges didn't rule the garment as unfair.

Later, in the same competition, Debi won a baseball cap and two beers because she correctly identified the number of times the digit '1' pops up in the range from 1-100. (Correct answer: 21. Don't forget the two '1's in the number eleven.) Then, when the MC offered a T-shirt and four beers to any man who sang a song for at least 30-seconds, I volunteered my services with a Jay and the Americans tune titled Come a Little Bit Closer. The lyrics seemed appropriate:

Serenading for Valuable Prizes


In a little café just the other side of the border.

She was sitting there giving me looks that made my mouth water.

So I started walking her way. She belonged to bad-man Jose.

And I knew, yes I knew I should run, but then I heard her say,

Come a little bit closer, you're my kind of man So big and so strong.

Come a little bit closer, I'm all alone and the night is so long.


Although not a Grammy performance, it was enough to win the prizes. (I donated my beers to four severely parched college kids on spring break.)

Friday March 31st I returned to San Diego to work on taxes.

Up next ...

Log #28—Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, and Taxco

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