Tigers are awesome!

It seems I’m always running an event or two behind on the blog – and this isn’t even counting the fact I’m still meaning to write up the second half of the Baja Haha from November 2011. Manana… But, not that long ago we went to the Vallarta Zoo. It was a bit of an undertaking, as it took three buses to get there, along with some directions from a stranger on the the street (which weren’t quite accurate, but we worked it out). And the last leg was about half a mile of walking up a dirt road. Honestly, if you weren’t looking for this zoo it would be pretty hard to stumble across. But it can be reached using public buses from La Cruz with a bit of determination and a pocket full of pesos.

While most of the zoo isn’t up to the standards of the zoos back home, and one row of exhibits bordered on downright sad, there is one huge difference at this zoo. When you buy your ticket, you can also buy a bag of food to feed the animals. It included carrots, bread, peanuts, pellets and corn, and a list of what food to feed to which animals, as well as how to feed it. Probably best not to try to hand feed an animal that should be tossed food to.

Jenn with our bag of zoo food.

Overall the fun of feeding the animals made up for the conditions of the zoo. The roughest exhibit for me was a few Manx cats in a roughly 5’x10′ enclosure fronted with a dirty glass panel. Even though Manx cats don’t have tails, that just didn’t seem to justify removing them from the human contact most cats seem to enjoy. Although we now have something to threaten Minion with when he misbehaves: having seen cats at a zoo. So despite the animals not being housed in large exhibits with topography similar to their natural habitat, they were often shockingly close, and because they knew you might feed them, rather intent on interacting with you. At times they downright begged for food.

A burro begs for carrots.

A little tough to see a housecat at a zoo.

How many zoos back home let you do this?

We were able to hand feed monkeys, birds, a giraffe, zebras, dromedaries, rabbits, guinea pigs, as well as toss food to wolves and hippos. The interaction with the animals was exciting, if not a tad scary at times. But we managed to keep all our fingers and weren’t even nipped by any of the animals we were feeding.

I've fed a black swan. Now I just need to see Black Swan.

Jenn claims the giraffe slobbered on her. How many people have that problem?

You haven't seen pictures of Minion in awhile because he got a bit big so we donated him to the zoo. Who knew he was really a baby panther?

I've been closer to bigger crocs. I just need to get around to posting a blog with pictures about it.

Another animal behind less than clean glass, at least the color shines through.

I guess monkeys really do love peanuts.

And trying to reach into your purse with their tale.

I sure hope dromedaries don't spit.

There were some animals you don't really expect to see at a zoo.

A moment later this tiger jumped against the cage and startled me into taking an out of focus picture. And almost soiling myself.

Never trust a smiling Zebra.

One of the animals you are supposed to throw food to.

And no, this is not what we were given to toss to the wolves.

Good thing there isn't room for a pony on the boat.

Oh, and one other thing you can do at this zoo? Pay an extra 100 pesos to pet one of four animals, which included two baby tigers and two monkeys. I’m man enough to admit, the monkeys actually kinda freaked me out a bit, even if they were tiny. And the tiger just had a way higher coolness factor. So it was pretty much a no brainier. A 3 and a half month old tiger is surprisingly big, and in Mexico you can’t assume something is safe just because they let you do it. So while I appreciate their take on personal responsibility (sorry to any personal injury attorneys reading this) I didn’t approach this experience without a tad bit of apprehension. One tiger was asleep, and one was pacing around, so we figured since one was already awake we would both take turns petting that one. It was, however, a little frisky. Jenn went first and all was well, but when I took my turn the tiger of undetermined gender and therefore hard to describe with personal pronouns, somehow found the phone in my pocket and latched on to it. I was suddenly very glad I had something in my pocket. I was able to free the phone and pet it a bit, but this was a playful tiger that wanted to put its mouth on things such as my arm, and its claws in things such as my shirt. Jenn and I each took another turn petting it and despite some faint scratch marks on her arm, and a tiny puncture on mine, we played with a freaking tiger! Immensely cool. Oh and did I mention baby tigers have huge paws, and we got to pet one!

We are so petting this bundle of cuteness. And teeth and huge paws...

We could have chosen the monkey but this poor guy didn't stand a chance.

Maybe this one would have been a bit mellower. But isn't there some saying about letting sleeping tigers lie?

Jenn has some doubts.

But it worked out.

My turn. Apparently I have tasty biceps.

Kitties love to play - even if this is just a bad idea.

Nothing makes your day like some tiger scratches.

With both of us riding an emotional high, we worked our way back to La Cruz, substituting a long walk for one of the bus rides. We missed happy hour, and were both pretty wiped out from the all the walking and the excrement, but happy to have an experience we both won’t soon forget.


I’ve got six more months in paradise

I’ve been running out of time, tough I know when pretty much all I have is time. But my six month Mexican tourist visa was about to expire. Granted, the way things are handled here this might not be a big deal, but… one does want to try to obey the laws of the country one is in. Especially a country with Napoleonic law, which decrees guilty until proven innocent. While I see some merit to this system, I also see a substantial amount of merit to not having to try to prove yourself innocent.

To complicate matters, there is a tremendous amount of conflicting information about renewing your tourist visa. Conventional wisdom, and the internet, generally state the only way to renew your tourist visa is to leave and re-enter the country. While I am missing home, plane tickets aren’t cheap, and even taking the bus from a La Paz to Tijuana, walking across the border, and turning around and completing the trip doesn’t really sound like an adventure I want to have right now.

We did have someone tell us that you could go to the airport in Puerto Vallarta and renew it, and since we really wanted this to be true we decided to put his advice to the test.

The short answer for all you people that have found my blog via Google trying to answer this question for yourself – Yes, it worked. It was embarrassingly easy. The most painful part was separating ourselves from 582 Pesos per person. However, compared to the 2,000-3,000 Pesos for a year long FM3 visa, and the hassle of obtaining one, this seems to be a bargain.

The slightly longer more detailed response – We took the public bus from La Cruz to the Puerto Vallarta airport, walked in, wandered around for about twenty minutes before finding the immigration desk. It is on the opposite wall from the all of the check in counters, next to the Interjet booth. I told the man at the desk “Necesitamos un nuevo visa de tourista” and was relieved he answered in English. Answering a few quick questions, producing our passports, filling out a new tourist visa, surrendering our old one and paying the above mentioned Pesos was all that was required to send us on our way. I doubt we were at the counter longer than five minutes. A substantial amount of stress on my part for nothing.

My disclaimer: This worked for us at the Puerto Vallarta airport today. It may not work for you at the same location tomorrow, or for us at a different airport in six more months. But it is possible to renew your tourist visa without leaving the country at the right place and time. Possibly with a little luck, or maybe this is just routine. My humble opinion: After seeing a huge party thrown for a group of travel agents last night (more on this in a later post) paid for by the government, it seems Mexico is really pushing to restore it’s tourism industry. If I want to stay in the country for another six months and spend pesos, it seems they should be lining up to issue me (or any other cruiser, I don’t really have delusions of grandeur) a visa. And they should make it free! But I’ll settle for 582 Pesos, even if that could have been 58 draft beers at the Huanacaxtle Cafe happy hour. I guess you have to spend a little to spend so little.

St Patrick’s day in two parts

To set the groundwork for St Patrick’s day, we have to go back a bit. While still down in the gold coast area, we heard about a regatta up in Banderas Bay, and I wanted to be back in La Cruz in time to see about jumping on a boat for some racing. Then, in some casual conversation we found out there were actually two regattas, one for some serious race boats, and the one we were aiming to get back for, which is more of a for fun regatta with cruising boats. I was told by a fellow cruiser that I wouldn’t get on a boat in the serious regatta unless I was a “rockstar.” Well, moot point, we weren’t going to make it back up in time for that regatta anyway, he added. So, I resigned myself for some cruising boat racing, better than nothing after all.

Flash forward to our arrival in La Cruz. We got the hook down around 3:00 pm, cleaned up a bit while waiting to make sure the anchor was holding us in place, and headed in for a reunion with the Huanacaxtle Bar & Cafe happy hour. As we dinghied in, we went past some jaw-droopingly, pretty race boats, but they were all at the dock, not out racing. Once ashore, we saw tents and plazas set up with banners fluttering, but no activity in them. Once seated with a 10 peso draft beer in hand, I turned to Google. It turns out we had arrived on a lay day for the MEXORC regatta, and there were three more days of racing. The Banderas Bay regatta, for the cruising boats, wouldn’t start until a few days after this regatta ended.

The next morning found me on the dock with all the race boats, transformed from cruiser Erlin to racer Erlin. Hat from previous regatta, high tech shirt, Camet sailing shorts and Sperry sport shoes replacing my tradional t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops wardrobe. I began approaching boats looking for a ride. One of the prettier boats didn’t need me today, but had an opening on Saturday. When I told them I could come back and check then, they offered to just make a commitment now. Done and done – if nothing else I at least had a ride for Saturday. I kept asking around, and ended up on a Farr 40 named Far Out for the day. I will say – it was fun but maybe I should have asked around a bit more… It was a bit of a beat up boat and while a couple of people spoke English, the boat raced in Spanish. Not much of a problem when all was going smoothly, but when the spinnaker pole jaws failed on the first hoist and everyone started scrambling it got a bit interesting. We fixed it by the end of the race, ready to start the next one and we were over early. Still, it was fun to be out on the water for day on a race boat, and I had some interesting chats with the crew that did speak English.

Knowing I had a ride lined up for Saturday, and with part of our reason for stopping in La Cruz to catch up on boat projects, I skipped Friday and worked on the boat. I’m slowing crossing items off the list, but sometimes it feels like I’m adding additional items faster than I cross off completed items.

So finally, to St Patrick’s day. I showed up at Blue Blazes, and hooray, they did still need me. I was assigned to the main trimmer, and would be helping with the main (ie, grinding on a winch a lot at the appropriate times). The crew filled in, I was introduced to more people than I could remember, and finally we tossed off the dock lines and headed out. Because the entrance to the marina was a tad shallow, several of us had to sit on the boom which was then let out over the water so our weight would heel the boat over, reducing the draft by swinging the keel of the boat so it doesn’t point straight down. Wanting to help, and thinking it looked fun, I hopped on the boom. Once we were out over the water, I realized it was trickier than it looked to balance on the boom, and a mistake by any one of us would probably knock everyone in the water. Thankfully we managed it with out anyone falling in, and once were all back safely on the deck we headed out for the race course.

Heeling the boat over some thin water.

My best friend for the next few hours.

After a bit of waiting, where I found out I was racing on a well maintained 20 year old boat formerly owned by Dennis Conner (and of course named Stars and Stripes at the time), our start arrived. It looked like we did pretty well once it was over, but I confess I was so busy leading up to it I didn’t have that much of a handle on our fleet. The primary competition was a 1D 48 sailed by the Mexican Marines that we needed to beat to win the division. We proceeded to round every mark in first place, putting about 30 seconds a leg on them. I was having a blast, this was a fast boat, and very well sailed. They had just won the San Diego to Puerto Vallarta race, putting in 500 miles in two days while there was good wind. The finish came too soon, and were first across the line. However… the wind had filled behind us and 1D 48 had caught made up about 30 seconds, enough to put them ahead in corrected time. Too bad, but it didn’t ruin my fun.

The brain trust at the back of the boat.

Hauling ass downwind. Whee!

I've always wanted to man one of these for a race but now I'm not quite so sure.

The competition finishing behind us, yet ahead...

As we headed back towards the marina under just the mainsail, the owner offered the helm to one of the crew who basically said he would take it if he had to. When the offer for anyone else wanting to drive came, I jumped at it. Of course after opening my mouth I realized it was a bit intimidating to drive someones 50′ race boat in front of a bunch of experienced crew I just met. But I didn’t change my mind. Blue Blazes handled like a dream, and I was hitting 8-9 knots of speed with the single sail up. Pretty much faster than my boat will ever go with every scrap of sail I could put up flying. At least Ventured has a nice teak interior, unlike the spartan fiberglass interior of the race boat. And they weren’t carrying 50 lbs of cat food and litter. I’m sure that makes the difference…

Flying the battle flag.

Okay, this was after the race, but still... I'm driving a 50' race boat!

All too soon we were back at the marina, and I was back out on the boom for the return through the shallow entrance. Here the worst part of the day occurred, my racing hat got knocked off and we were not in a position to go back for it. At least it wasn’t my favorite one, but I was sad to lose it. Once back at the slip we folded sails prepped the boat for the delivery back to San Diego. Then some post race drinks while I waited for Jenn to come pick me up. I was thanked for my help and got a “good job.” Take that cruiser guy who said I would have to be a rockstar to sail on one of these boats!

Thanks for a great day on the water, Blue Blazes!

With my racing high still coursing through my veins, we set out on part two of St Patrick’s day. Jenn is a big fan of the holiday fostered from her years living in Boston where it is a major holiday. There is an Irish bar in Bucerias, just a short bus ride away, called The Shamrock. It sounded like a good place to celebrate. We cleaned up, found green shirts, and headed out hoping for a big party.

As we walked to The Shamrock, the street was blocked off, a large stage was set up with a band playing, and a four trampoline with slide down from the top trampoline in a double decker setup was erected for the kids. We headed to the bar to start out the evening with a couple Guinness beers, and received a rather large shock when the bill for two beers was 180 pesos (about 14 dollars). Pretty steep for two cans of beers (no, it wasn’t even on tap). We drank our beer while recovering from our shock. Compared to the 10 peso drafts back out our favorite bar, this was pretty steep. The party didn’t seem to be in full swing so we went to find some food and returned to normal Mexican prices at a local street side taco stand. Feeling a bit better with a Torta and the the best Adobada tacos Jenn has had in Mexico, we stopped at a tienda and picked up a six pack of Pacifico. Two in Jenn’s purse, two in the handy cruiser Erlin cargo shorts pocket, and two in the plastic glasses the tienda provided that happened to be the exact same ones the Shamrock was serving in. We walked right back in just as the guy out front selling the 50 peso entrance bracelets turned his head the other way. They didn’t seem to be enforcing the bracelets anyway, but we weren’t going to voluntarily fork out for them.

Getting our green on.

We settled in near the stage, and waited for things to really get going. Sadly, they just didn’t pick up. A kind of hippie jam band came on, and seemed to open with their best stuff, causing us to lose interest a few songs in. The crowd, while not sparse, wasn’t really filling in. We didn’t see anyone we knew, and weren’t making any new friends. Finally, after another band started up, we decided we are just in for a swing and a miss on a good St Patrick’s day celebration. Sorry Jenn! I had hoped for a bit more too, but at least I had already managed a beyond amazing experience for the day. Maybe next year we’ll manage something more exciting. On the plus side, we did manage to get a bus back home, rather than paying for a taxi which we expected so late in the evening. Between saving taxi fare, not paying for the bracelet, eating street tacos and bringing in our own beer we broke even on price we paid for the Guinness.

Nothing says St Patrick's day like a hippie jam band.

Except maybe a Corona Girl.

That's the spirit!

Arriving back in La Cruz, we did the only thing we could do to salvage St Patrick’s day. We stopped off at a local place and picked up a pizza to go, took it back to the boat and pigged out (and it wasn’t purchased at Philos, for the record).

How to salvage St Patrick's day.

Coming up next post, we visit a zoo where you get to feed the animals.

Welcome Back

This will be short post – I swear. Maybe only six or seven paragraphs.

The Burning Man event has a greeting for everyone as they arrive on the Playa – “Welcome Home.” Arriving back in La Cruz feels like that to us, a feeling not at all hurt by making it to the anchorage in time for Happy Hour at the Huanacaxtle Bar and Cafe. Nothing to make you feel welcome like a hug from the owner when you walk in after a 5 week absence. After some 10 peso draft beer we wandered the familiar streets, at some street tacos (although not at our favorite taco stand because we were a bit too early for them) and headed back to the boat to call it an early night. After a 30 hour passage to reach La Cruz and no nap after dropping the hook (which we positioned just about perfectly on our first try, no mean feat with 60 boats in the anchorage by my count) we were ready for some sleep.

Part of our reason for heading back to Mexico was to see if I could jump on a boat for some racing in the Banderas Bay Regatta. Of course, I didn’t realize that there were two regattas, and first one, MEXORC being the serious race boats. I thought it would be over by the time we got here, but it turns we arrived on a lay day and there are three more days of racing. I’m about to go walk the dock and see if anyone needs some crew. If not, I’m sure I’ll be able to some crewing in the Banderas Bay Regatta, which is much less serious but more of a for fun type racing.

Please need crew, please need crew!

After all the fun, it will be time to get to work. Jenn is working up a list of boat projects, and I’ll spend a few days trying to cross items off the list. Once we get some work done, we’ll start the trek north we some new and old stops planned along the way. Banderas Bay has quite a bit supplies available so hopefully we can find the bits and pieces we need for the projects, and any other random items we need.

Time to dig out my racing gear and hope one of these very fast looking sailboats needs an extra hand, even if it just to sit on the rail and be heavy. Everyone has to have a talent.

Viva Mexico

Recently a tour bus in Puerto Vallarta was robbed by masked gunmen. No one was hurt, just relieved of their valuables. A friend forwarded me a link to the news with the admonishment to be careful while I’m down here. My response was to thank her for the heads up, as I needed the reminder to not be complacent. We’ve been in Mexico for four months now, and so far our biggest crime prevention measure is to hoist our dinghy out of the water and lock it to the boat at night. Which I might be tempted to do just about anywhere now, considering how easily mobile a dinghy can be. Yes, we lock the boat when we are off of it, but often the companionway door is locked while a hatch big enough to climb through sits open so the breeze can blow in. We wander around small towns after dark to visit our favorite taco stands, take buses into non tourist areas, and wonder up and down local streets looking at shops or searching out some particular business.

I suppose we could be robbed at some point, but so far I’ve been no less worried about it here than back home. I pay attention to my bags, keep a good grip on the camera when I have it out, and be careful to not flash too much cash (pretty easy in my case…) Just as there are places not to go in most cities in the US, there are areas to avoid here. The problem is just not being as aware of them, but with common sense I don’t think they are hard to avoid. I spoke with one boat that hailed a harbor master in a port not in any of the guide books about entering the harbor. The harbor master asked them why then wanted to come there, and told them there was nothing there. They, as I would do, chose to sail to the next port.

Despite the recent robbery, we are having a wonderful time in Mexico, and have never felt unsafe. The people have been friendly and helpful, even when my broken attempts to speak Spanish don’t convey the correct message. But I still try, and I’m getting a bit better at it although I still have a long way to go. I can sometimes communicate more than an order of beer and tacos. The places we’ve frequented multiple times have seemed to enjoy having us return to their businesses.

And speaking of returning, we are entering a new phase of our cruise. Retracing our steps. I had to think about it, and realized this won’t be the first time we’ve anchored in the same place twice. When we sailed from La Paz to Mazatlan we stopped at an anchorage we had used on our way from Cabo to La Paz. But this is the first time we are stopping in towns we have visited, and will be seeking out places we shopped or ate. While everyone raves about the French baker in Barra (except for Ben on Jace) with good reason, we found a local bakery with croissants almost as good at a quarter of the price we’ll be swinging by. I’m looking forward to a walk on the empty beaches at Chamela. We’ll stop by a place that let use their internet all afternoon for a couple cheap beers and some nachos – in fact that is probably where I’ll upload this.

And of course we can hardly wait to get back “home” to La Cruz where we have many favorites, none more so than the Huanacaxtle Bar and Cafe and their 10 peso happy hour draft beer, free plates of Jicama, friendly service and Karaoke parties. As mentioned before it will be a bit bittersweet without our close friends that have sailed south, but we’ll toast them, renew old acquaintances and make new friends. And after that, back to La Paz where we will have the mouthwatering Shack Burger we have been craving since we left.

Mixed in with the familiar will be some new stops, a couple anchorages on our way north that we skipped on the way down, and hopefully a visit to San Blas on our way up to La Paz before we cross the Sea of Cortez back to the Baja side. And finally, up into the Sea of Cortez for the summer with countless bays and anchorages to explore. We’ve heard tell of clear waters, that you almost live in to help with the heat. Even with some hardships we are hoping for a summer of of new experiences, sights and locations. We thought long and hard about the Sea for the summer and in the end decided that after we had sailed such a long ways from Seattle to a renowned cruising ground we shouldn’t pass it by. Plus I’m cheap and we had only made it two chapters into our guide book for the sea and I don’t feel like I’ve gotten my monies worth out of it just yet.