One of the joys I’ve discovered of the cruising lifestyle is the amazing complexity of accomplishing tasks you take for granted back home. Take filling your propane tank, for example. Back in Seattle I knew of at least 4 places within 10-15 minutes drive of home to fill the tank I used on the houseboat. Granted, if I got lazy about taking in the empty tank when I switched over to the full one and realized they were both empty around 6:00 pm when I couldn’t cook dinner and knew my shower the next morning was going to be cold, it got a little more complex. But assuming a lack of laziness on my part, it was usually pretty simple to get the tank filled.
Forward to Manzanillo, Mexico. We carry only one smallish propane tank as I kind of ran short on time and funds for adding a second one to run the BBQ and be a back up. So after several weeks of coastal cruising with very few meals at taco stands, we ran out of propane. At first I wasn’t too concerned about it, Manzanillo is a big town with a major shipping terminal, and propane seems to be a pretty common source of cooking fuel down here. Of course, we were in the midst of our last few days with our friends, so I drank cold instant coffee in the morning and we ate out once or twice. We even managed an uncooked meal or two, and when the four guys returned to Walmart to clean the shelf of the Red Dog beer on sale for $2 a six pack, I grabbed a Coleman propane cylinder that we can run the stove off on an emergency basis (or a few months back home where propane cylinders were cheap and it took awhile to get the exterior tank mounted and a line run to the stove). Finally on Monday we found ourselves alone and armed with some directions from a fellow cruiser who has sent us an email detailing his bus rides to confirm propane could be purchased at a Global Gas facility.
I was going to tackle this trip alone as it was not going to be to the heart of the Manzanillo tourist zone. But Jenn was ready to get off the boat which was rolling around a bit and decided to accompany me. On the way out of the Las Hadas resort I tried to play my ace in the hole. I approached the que of taxis waiting to pick up resort guests, and showed the cylinder I carrying in my back pack (it just doesn’t seem like something you should be carrying on a bus in plain site). Pulling the cylinder out I explained “Propano” (yes, that is the word, I’m not just adding an O to the word). After some chatter among the taxi drivers, one explained in some English and Spanish that for 50 Pesos they could take us to a scuba place that could tell us where to get the tank filled. We continued to the bus stop.
It did take a bit of a wait for our first bus, something we aren’t accustomed to with Mexican buses. Say what you will about them, and someday I’ll write a whole post about them, but so far Mexican buses have picked us up with outstanding regularity. I think we were on a bit of less traveled route so it isn’t run so frequently, so I’m not complaining. Once we reached the main road, we grabbed some rather tasty chicken wings to fortify us for our journey, then followed the directions by getting on the R1 bus. Our directions were to follow this bus to the end of the route and get off in a small town square behind a white building where the graffiti read “For good health, wash your hands.” The ride was actually pretty interesting, taking us by Manzanillo’s shipping terminals, then along the waterfront before veering into town. For once, I was the only Gringo on the bus. I should say only other, but Jenn doesn’t stand out quite as much as I do. Between craning our necks to take in the views, and starting to try and figure out where the route terminated, we caught the eye of an English speaking local who dropped into the seat behind us and asked where we were going. We explained out mission, and he told us to get out and catch our next bus on the street we were about to reach. A little torn between local knowledge and having directions we were told worked, we went ahead and hopped off. Something had caused a bit of a hold up at the intersection, and while we were waiting our impromptu guide also got off the now at a standstill bus and informed us we needed to catch the bus on the other side of the street. Oops. We waited awhile, began to grow nervous we had made the wrong choice but did manage to use the time to buy some fresh tortillas. We walked a couple blocks, and I was going to continue but Jenn wanted to hold up in case the bus turned. Good call, it arrived, we got on, and it immediately turned left. It went by our landmark “For good health..” graffiti which is whre our directions said to catch it, a good sign.
So now all we had to do was get off at the main gate to the power plant and walk a couple hundred feet to Global Gas. No problem, until we went by a gate that really didn’t look like it led to the power plant, but it was a pretty big gate. We had a hurried discussion, and got the bus to stop and walked back to the gate. Oops again. But they guards at the gate told us we were only about a kilometer away, and after this much time on the bus the walk sounded nice. Sure enough, not far down the road we saw what was pretty obviously a gate to the power plant, and just beyond it, the Global Gas. I had read some warnings in blogs about not just walking in, so we kind of hovered around the gate trying to locate an office, when an employee came out, took our tank and 23 pesos and headed back in. I had done some math and showed him my note with 2.7 kilos written down, but he said “Dos kilos” when he took our pesos. When he brought the tank back out, he told us held four kilos. It didn’t feel full so Jenn used her superior Spanish skills to ask if it was full and thought he said it was. We started walking away, but after all this travel we decided we needed to make sure the tank was full so I went back with Jenn’s instructions and asked if was full. This time the response was negative, so 23 more pesos and another short wait and we had what we believe is a full tank. I’ll have to go back and check my math on propane tank volumes when converting from pounds to kilos – or just tell them 4 kilos next time.
We had another bit of a wait for the return bus, which we used to grab some water from the Oxxo and sit and rest a bit. We packed into probably the most crowded bus we’ve been on in Mexico and returned to the square were we needed to change buses. However, we spotted a landmark sculpture a few blocks away and were in no hurry to return since we were aiming for arriving after the marina office closed to try to avoid the exorbitant 200 peso daily dinghy fee. It is was one thing if you are splitting it up with 4 people and using the pool at the resort, but for parking the dinghy for the day while we were at the other end of town, it seemed a bit steep. So we wondered down the street, which I had failed to realized was bordered by numerous clothing stores. Well – at least that burned some time while Jenn examined their textile offerings. Finally we reached the sculpture, at which point I was pretty sure a 10 minute walk along the waterfront would reconnect us with our bus route. Finally – I got one right and we were soon on our way back towards the end of the bay our boat was anchored in. We had to change buses on more time, near some major stores so we ducked in for a few extra provisions, stopped for some tasty tacos, and considered a movie before we realized it was in 3D which neither of us are big fans of, and it raised the ticket price to 70 pesos. So we took one last bus to the resort, where we found our dinghy had been moved right to the bottom of one of the ramps because of some painting on the dock. Perfect, we were down the ramp and motoring away before anyone could ask us if we had paid the dingy fee today. For once we were quicker than the guard who seems to materialize on the dock as you land your dinghy.
So now back on the boat, with propane and provisions. We’ll probably move anchorages tomorrow, most likely to Santiago for a day or two and then we’ll begin heading back north. Having finally broken free of the resort near the anchorage I’m eager to get back to seeing more of the towns in the area. I really enjoyed seeing some areas of Manzanillo that weren’t on the tourist track.
So, for anyone who has Googled how to get propane in Manzanillo and stuck with this whole story, here is our directions:
If you are coming from Las Hadas, take the R8 bus out to the main road to the major shopping area (Soriana, Wal-Mart, Commercial Mexicana) Take the R1 bus heading southeast to the end of the line. We caught it near the Wal-Mart store. It will follow the water, and a mile or so after turning away from the water will reach a small square with many food stands. There is a white building that as of this writing has “For good health, wash your hands” on the wall – in Spanish. Get off here, and catch the R9 bus at the same stop. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the gate, and it not the first gate you see. When you see the power plant, watch for an Oxxo on your right, it is almost across road from the gate. The Global Gas is about 300 feet beyond the Oxxo and the gate, on the Oxxo side of the road. Return by reversing the directions. If you don’t goof around, it is probably a 2-3 hour trip.