Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Guatemala and Honduras Road Trip

Guatemala & Honduras Road Trip

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

We have left Kanilela in Marina Puerto Chiapas, in Mexico, and ventured out into Guatemala, with a short side trip to Honduras. Think volcanos, verdant green vegetation, Mayan ruins, colonial Spanish buildings, mountain roads and, hopefully not while we are here, major earthquakes. We are travelling with Paul and Judy of s/v Grace. They are northbound after five years away from Seattle. Their voyage has taken them down to Ecuador and an extended Panama visit.

The route thus far, the green star is Kanilela in Pto. Chiapas

I have included a map with straight lines from stop to stop that belie the circuitous routes the roads generally take.

An active Volcano

We left the marina at 10:00 and rode with Josh ( to Quetxaltenango, Xela (shaylah) in Mayan, arriving at the Posada Antigua, we highly recommend, in the early afternoon. After climbing high in the mountains, surrounded by volcanos, the setting is amazing.

It is a town with many language schools that friends have attended but really has no large amount of tourism. Although the construction dates to the early colonial period and the streets and buildings are much as they were several hundred years ago, it is a working city, home to friendly helpful people.
Mags in Plaza Enrique in Xela
The surrounding mountains are intensely cultivated on nearly vertical slopes. All the work is by hand, as no equipment could work the slopes which are not terraced as they would be in Asia.

Josh provided transport for a day trip up to the pre-classical Mayan ruins at Takalik Abaj and a visit to a finca (farm) producing coffee, rubber, macademia nuts, rambutan and chocolate. Fabulous trip!

Coffee beans
Chocolate pods

Latex Rubber
And flowers everywhere

See our bungalow in the trees

After 3 nights in Xela we rode with Josh to the town of Panajachel on Lago Atitlan. The lake has several villages on the shore line but, because the volcanic mountains are so steep, there is no coastal road so publico pangas are the transport.

Boardwalk from Santa Cruz pier to
Isla Verde
Family climbing hill in Santa Cruz village

We stayed at the Isla Verde Hotel at the village of Santa Cruz de la Laguna.  It is an 8 minute walk on the boardwalk from the village pier. The village is a steep 15 minutes up from the pier and is populated by Kaqchikel Mayans. Proud, somewhat shy, but easy to smile people. We took another publico trip around the lake with close-up view of several villages and an afternoon stop in San Pedro.

View from Santa Cruz, Isla Verde
in small bay
Mags with Antigua behind
 From Lago Atitlan we travelled by collectivo van to Antigua the original Spanish government center for this entire area. Antigua is a World Heritage Site famous for its colonial period churches and architecture and tourism, particularly from Europe is very big. We were fortunate at Lago Atitlan to meet Tim who’s son Riley owns the hotel we were at. Tim told us about an inexpensive, modest hotel, Hotel Burkhard that was close to the center.

English project - Interview some tourists
Love this entry
Antigua speaks for itself, a great time.

Colonial columns

A Seismic event

Another earthquake victim
Andrew and the boys
After three days in Antigua we travelled east to the border and crossed into Honduras. We went from 7.5 Guatemalan quetzales to the US$ to the 21.5 Honduran Lempiras to the US$ and who knows how the Canadian dollar is doing against the US. I miss the Mexican Pesos!

Second from left - 18 Rabbits ---...
look for it

Eighteen Rabbit - a good guy
although pretty narcissistic!

The Ball Court and 64 step stairs
with glyphs
We stayed at The Posada Copan Hotel where Luis and Jose did a great job looking after us.

And I thought buildings dating to the 1540's were impressive, how about buildings from 500 AD with a heritage in the area dating to 1500 BC? The thirteenth ruler of Copan, 18 Rabbit, (love that name) did a huge amount of construction that included the use of a very high relief detail that has lasted much better than the usual surface carving. They used a base 5 counting system – for 5, . for zeros, so in the glyphs, look for ---… put together somewhere and you have found 18 Rabbit's handiwork. Archeology is so easy!

The scale of the site is immense, so again, Copan can speak for itself.

After three days in Copan we returned to Guatemala and then to the Caribbean coast to Puerto Barrios, a large dusty freighter port that also has pangas that run 40 min. to Livingstone. Livingstone is a small coastal town with no roads into it, at the mouth of the Rio Dulce River. We are staying in the Hotel Rios Tropical enjoying a distinct Caribbean feel. We have had our first day of heavy tropical rain, ideal for working on the blog.
Livingston Today, or Why I Have Time To Blog

Monday, June 1, 2015

Puerto Chiapas

Wednesday, 27 May, 2015

Puerto Chiapas – Another Change of Plans

Well, all of the lightning we have been seeing has convinced us, we will wait out the rainy season here on the Mexico Guatemala border.

We have made it to the most southerly area of the hurricane zone and this Marina is a well secured location. A little further south would possibly be better for the remote chance of a hurricane but every mile south increases the chance of a lightning strike taking out all of our navigation equipment, electronics and electrical systems. This is a nice place.

When Lexi joined us back in La Cruz, Bahia Banderas, about 960 miles ago, we did not know how far south she would accompany us. With our decision to stop here for 4 months, she decided she would continue down to Guatemala by road tomorrow. As luck would have it, Mags and Lexi were out on the foredeck this morning when a friendly couple with their 2 teenage children were walking past on the dock. From the ensuing conversation about our trip south and Lexi’s future plans, they learned that the couple were from Guatemala City and if Lexi could be ready, they were returning today at 3:00pm and Lexi could join them! A hitchhikers dream come true – caught the next ride from the bow of the last ride!

We will miss her, she was a great cook, keen to learn everything about sailing and it was a real pleasure having the 0400 to 0800 watch looked after so we could sleep. She is a driven traveller who has experienced much in her young, relative to us, years. We know we will undoubtedly see her in another port some time and look forward to hearing of her adventures. Good luck and fair winds Lexi.

on left, Paul and Judy from s/v Grace, Seattle between Paul and Mary from s/v Genisis III, Edmonton, on right Wayne and Judy from s/v Curiositas, Victoria between Mags and me, s/v Kanilela - Happy Hour Puerto Chiapas Marina
There were four boats here with their US and Canadian crews when we arrived and they all concurred with the recommendations we were given by the group of cruisers back in Huatulco, “don’t go into Costa Rica and Panama during the tropical lightning storms” Three of the couples have since left for Guatemala where they have registered for a week or two of Spanish lessons. Some have already done some local land travel and have been to other Central American destinations inland. The idea is so enticing that Mags and I have decided to do some land travelling in Guatemala and here in Chiapas.

A Ray Fly By
Plans are made to be improved……

Huatulco to Puerto Chiapas Marina

Sunday, 24 May to Tuesday 26 May, 2015

Huatulco to Puerto Chiapas

This is the leg of the southbound voyage that everyone approaches with trepidation. We are crossing the Golfo de Tehuantepec. During a Tehuantepec, as the winds are called, wind speeds of 40 knots, 75 kph, are common and often well exceeded. These winds can extend several hundreds of miles off shore, creating enormous seas. Many ships and boats are damaged every year in the Gulf. The phenomenon is created by a high pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico on Mexico’s east coast, occurring while a low pressure system is over the Gulf of Tehuantepec. The isthmus is Mexico’s narrowest point and there are low valleys that funnel the winds across, creating an amazing acceleration of the wind. Fortunately, our weather predictions are now quite accurate at determining when they will occur, but they can still arrive with only one to two days notice. The difficulty for sailors is that it takes 2 days to cross the Gulf.

The Gulf is a large inverted U shape and the temptation is always to try to save time by cutting across the U. The distance saved could represent up to 30 miles or about 6 hours. The danger is that once you are away from shore the winds have the distance, or fetch, to create larger waves, dangerously larger waves that do not permit a landfall on the other side, but blow you out to sea, if you are even able to handle the high winds and steep seas. So it is, that conventional wisdom is to follow the coastline closely, keeping one foot on the beach.

We departed Marina Chahue about noon to ensure a daylight arrival at Puerto Chiapas. Our weather window was good on both Passage Weather and Solemate Weather, plus May is a good month for fewer Tehuantepecs. Mags, Lexi and I quickly settled into our crossing routine with enough wind that the engine was shut down. Several turtles, 2 pairs appeared to be mating, and dolphins were sighted.
How about a little privacy?
Unfortunately the winds died and we motor sailed through the late afternoon and evening.

We passed the industrial port of Salinas Cruz, with 5 freighters berthed, at nightfall, but fortunately only one freighter was departing, passing well to our stern. All was calm as we approached the area of typically strong winds and we ghosted through the night with lightning flashing on the hills.

Sun setting into clouds on horizon
Dawn and throughout the second day continued calm until about 4:00pm when a localized thermal permitted us to sail for about 4 hours. The second night was calm until about 1:00 am when a light onshore breeze permitted another 5 hours of sailing. With all the motoring we had done our arrival appeared to be an 8:00 am landfall until, as the wind died, we tried to start the motor.

The starting motor was not engaging to turn the main engine. I removed the starting motor solenoid hoping the problem could be resolved. After reassembling, still no luck. Fortunately the light breeze had returned sufficiently to get us to within 8.9 NMiles of the breakwater entry.

No, I will not smile for the camera!
We put the dinghy in the water and mounted the outboard. The swells were 2 to 3 meters but because the wind had been so low they were far apart and the sea surface was quite calm. Mags and Lexi handled Kanilela while I sat in the dinghy tied to the side, running at about 2/3 throttle generating 3 to 4 knots. From the dinghy, the swells felt very large and as the shoreline became more visible the waves crashing on the rocks looked ominous. The fears of the Tehuantepec had given way to anxiety about a dinghy assisted landfall.

Lexi in the dinghy
When we were a few hundred meters out from the breakwater entry, I radioed the Port. A very calm sounding Guillermo (Memo) assured me that once in the entry, the conditions flattened right out and after a series of turns into the east harbour and up the Marina canal he would have staff ready to stop us at an easily entered slip. Sounded easy….

Lexi and I changed positions, I took the helm, she tended the outboard in the dinghy. Mags studied all the information we had on Puerto Chiapas and relayed the way points to the helm, then prep’d dock lines and bumpers.

The breakwater with no swell breaking
1600 hrs, 4:00 pm, we were happily tied to the dock drinking our first cold drinks, breathing a collective sigh of relief and realizing that we were only a few miles from the Guatemala Mexico border.