Archive for July, 2008

Claire, Ben and the Girls

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Thursday, July 3, Claire, Ben, Kara and Abbi arrived in Cancun. Nancy and I met them at the airport and then took a bus to the ferry terminal, ferry to Isla Mujeres, and two taxis (6 people plus luggage for 4 people) to the hotel Claire and Ben had reserved, the Hotel Cristalmar. We ate dinner at the hotel, then Nancy and I went back to the boat as it was getting late and the travelers were tired.

First thing in the morning, Nancy and I hopped in the dinghy and met Claire and crew at the Cristalmar for breakfast. After breakfast we put Kara and Abbi in the dinghy and took them back to the boat for some snorkeling. Claire and Ben came to the boat later in the day. This was the first time the girls had ever snorkeled, so I wanted them to get used to the mask and fins right around the boat and in the marina pool before I took them out to the reef. They both did pretty well for the first time.

I took them snorkeling right around the boat three or four times over about 3 days and they practiced with the mask and fins in the pool quite a few times. Finally I felt they were ready to venture out to the reef. There is reef all up and down the coast of Isla Mujeres and beyond, but there is a pretty good section right outside the cut into the harbor. There is a pretty strong current in most places, but this particular spot lies in an eddy and the current is much less. There is a mooring ball you can tie the dinghy to and if you get out there before 9:30 or so in the morning you beat the tour boats and have the mooring ball and the reef all to yourself. I had taken the boys to this spot with Tom in his panga and they had really enjoyed it. When we got out there in the dinghy, I could tell the girls were a little nervous, but they were still willing to give it a try. They were truly amazed at the number and variety of reef fish swimming all around them. I don’t know the names of all the different fish we saw, but there were some really large, brightly colored parrot fish, several different varieties of angel fish, groupers, hog fish, and tons of small brightly-colored fish of various descriptions.

There is a “dolphin discovery” in Isla Mujeres where you can swim with dolphins and Claire, Ben, Kara, Abbi and Nancy all went to it on Tuesday. I sat that one out and relaxed on the boat. Nancy took them to Tulum one day and the girls really enjoyed the ruins and the beach. Ben is an avid photographer and he had a good time shooting pictures of the ruins.

One logistical problem we had during their visit was that the Cristalmar is located south of the marina and on the other side of the lagoon. The marina is a pretty good hike from downtown Isla Mujeres so the Cristalmar is well out of hiking distance. The original plan was for Claire and Ben to rent a golf cart for the week. I was amazed when Ben found out that a golf cart rental is around $50 a day. You can rent a car in Cancun with unlimited mileage for $15 a day. Tom, the marina manager, graciously let Claire and Ben use his golf cart several times and that, along with a couple of judicious one-day rentals, worked out pretty well. In order to repay Tom for his kindness, Ben offered to fix a meal one evening at the marina, to which everyone at the marina readily agreed. Ben fixed jerk chicken with a really awesome grilled fruit sauce and grilled potatoes. I whipped up some guacamole. Susan (S/V Genesis) fixed some really good crab meat cheese balls. Tiffany (S/V Daydream) made some flan and a boat pie (I’ll explain boat pie in another post). It was a very good meal and a great time was had by all.

Tom, his fiance Elizabeth, her son Francisco, LA, Susan and I had all gone up to Isla Contoy the previous week in Tom’s panga and had a great time. Tom suggested we go again while Claire, Ben and the girls were here and so we did. The boat ride up to Contoy was uneventful and it only takes about an hour by panga. When we arrived at Contoy, Susan and Ben went off to take pictures, Tom and LA went off in the panga to do some fishing around Isla Blanca (a few miles from Contoy) and the rest of us hit the beach. Claire had never been snorkeling before, so she borrowed Nancy’s gear and I took her out from the beach to where there are some coral heads and interesting fish to see. We saw a rather large spotted eagle ray that was really neat and a large, bright orange star fish, along with various reef fish. After I took Claire back, the girls wanted to go, so I took first Kara and then Abbi out, figuring that one at a time would be easier to keep track of than both at once. When I got back from taking Abbi out, Nancy was ready to go, so I went out with her. Kara and Abbi had a great time playing on the beach with Francisco for the rest of the time we were there. The trip back was a little more eventful. An isolated thunderstorm had blown through south of Contoy so the water was a little more choppy, and since we were now heading into the chop, we caught a lot
of spray and everyone stayed pretty wet and salty on the trip back. We also caught the tail end of the rain associated with the thunderstorm, but it was hard to tell the difference between rain from above and spray from over the side. It will make for good, adventuresome story-telling back in Kansas for the girls, though.

The trip to Contoy was the last full day of their visit, so Nancy and I met them all at the ferry dock at 7:30 the next morning and saw them off on the journey back to Kansas. It was a good visit and I think a fine time was had by all. Now to get the boat cleaned up.

P.S. Susan has some good info and pictures of this trip on her website, Look on the Travel Log page.

Cenotes and Ruins

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Kevin and Renee were supposed to come for a visit after Lori and the boys, but work got in the way and Nancy and I found ourselves with some free time. I’m sure we could have found plenty of work to do on the boat that would have occupied our time, but we are retired and have to be very careful not to work too much. We decided we would see a little more of the Yucatan. LA and Susan Wyatt are a couple on another boat here at the marina, who also happen to be from Mississippi. Their boat is a Shannon 38 named Genesis and their web site is (you can check out Susan’s version of this adventure on the Travel Log page). We had told them about the cenotes at Cuzama and they were interested in seeing them so Saturday, June 21, all four of us got on a bus to Merida. Naturally, we checked into the Luz en Yucatan hotel (we are now their favorite customers).

We kicked around town a little that night and the next morning after breakfast we began the trek to Cuzama. When Nancy and I had gone before, it was with the Spanish language school and one of the instructors drove us there in his van. This time we were on our own, so we had to find the correct bus station. There are several bus stations in Merida and where you are going and what kind of style you want to travel in determines which bus station you need. This particular bus station was not too hard to find, and we also found the open market on the way, which I had wanted to see. The open market is where the locals buy fresh produce, as well as many other things. Anyway, we made it to the bus station and got our tickets for the trip to Cuzama. We had a little time to kill, so we got some ice cream and watched a group of boy scouts and girl scouts play a game that looked kind of like a cross between basketball and soccer, except it is played with a flexible hoop about the size of a steering wheel. You can toss the hoop to your team members, but you can’t move your feet while the hoop is in your hands. The object is to toss the hoop to your “goalie” at one end of the field of play and if the goalie can catch it by putting his or her arm through the hoop, without moving their feet, your team scores a point.

The bus took us into Cuzama proper, not to the railhead for the carts to the cenotes. We had to hire bicycle taxis pedaled by young boys to pedal us the couple of miles to the railhead. If you remember from my post on our previous trip to the cenotes, you get to the cenotes by way of a horse-drawn cart that rides on a very narrow-gage railroad, left over from the hacienda days.

Even though I knew what to expect, this being my second time to the cenotes, I have to say that I was just as impressed as I was the first time we went. I think LA and Susan had a good time as well. Note to self: next time you go to the cenotes, take a cooler of beer to drink on the buggy ride.

We had originally planned to leave the next day for whatever our next destination turned out to be, and Susan and LA were going to go back to Isla Mujeres. We were having such a good time in Merida, though, we all decided to stay another day. LA and I wanted to visit a cigar bar we had heard of and Nancy and Susan wanted to shop for some shirts. LA and I hailed a cab and found our way to Mercer Cigars ( Drew, the owner, led us into the walk-in humidor and he and LA began discussing the finer points of cigars. I like the occasional good cigar, but am not knowledgeable enough to join in a discussion that goes beyond “what does it cost?” My ears perked up though, when I heard Drew mention something about taking a couple of cigars to the bar and having some “imported beers.” I asked if “imported beers” would include Guinness Stout and he assured me that it did. I was quite excited by now and told LA “we might be here a while.” Not only did they have Guinness, they also had a nice selection of single-malt scotches, and yes, Glenlivet was among the selection, as well as Balvenie (my two favorites). Three cigars, six Guinness, and two single-malts later (much later) we decided to call it a day and try to scrounge up some food. Somewhere about the third Guinness and the second cigar, we had the wisdom to call the ladies up and ask them to join us. They were finished shopping and though Nancy doesn’t care for cigars, she likes Guinness as much as I do.

Drew suggested we go to a restaurant called Casa Catherwood (Frederick Catherwood was an English artist whose drawings of ancient Mayan ruins in the 1840’s introduced the western world to the Mayan civilization). When we arrived at the restaurant we were met at the door by Luca, the chef and owner, who is from Italy. We had not had good Italian food for months, so this was quite a treat. To say that it was good is a dismal understatement, it was fantastic. Check out the menu at I had the Lasagna alla Bolognese and it was the best I’ve ever tasted. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

The next day, Susan and LA went back to Isla Mujeres and Nancy and alt="" border="0" />I boarded a bus to check out more Mayan ruins. There are a string of ruins south of Merida on what is called the Puuc Route. “Puuc” is a word derived from the Mayan word for “hills” and is applied to an area of the Yucatan which is rather hilly, in contrast to most of the Yucatan which is quite flat. Anyway, you can catch a bus that travels the Puuc Route and stops in Xlapak (pronounced ish-la-pak), Labna, Sayil, Kabah and Uxmal (pronounced oosh-mal), and then returns to Merida. It is kind of a whirlwind tour of the ruins, but a very easy and cheap way to see lots of ruins. All of the ruins are quite impressive and except for Uxmal they can be briefly toured in about 30 minutes. The ruins at Uxmal are more extensive and spread over a larger area and you need at least a couple of hours to see them. The bus stops for 30 minutes at each of the sites except for Uxmal, where it stops for 3 hours, so there was just barely enough time to see most everything. The countryside along this route is very pretty as well.

The next day Nancy and I decided to go to Campeche, which is a coastal city on the Gulf side of the Yucatan peninsula, in the state of Campeche. The city of Campeche was founded in 1540 by the Spanish and was built on top of an existing Mayan city (as were many of the cities founded by the Spaniards). Campeche is a very beautiful city and has quite an interesting history. It was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the beauty and quality of its architecture. It seems the city was under frequent attack from pirates, including Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Jean Lafitte, Henry Morgan, and various others. In 1686 the government decided to fortify the city by building a wall around the city with eight defensive bastions on the corners. Most of the wall is gone now, as the city expanded beyond its limits, but some sections remain and most of the bastions are still standing and now house museums. The hotel we stayed at cost $23 per night. It was not swanky, but it was clean, the rooms were well-lit and it was in the middle of downtown.

After a day touring Campeche, Nancy and I were kind of tired of sight-seeing, so the next day we caught a bus back to Cancun and returned to the boat to rest up before Claire, Ben and the girls’ visit.

Lori and the Boys

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Lori, Tre and Will arrived on June 7 for a visit. I think it was quite an experience for the boys. Tre is 9 and Will is 6 and it was their first trip out of the U.S. Everything they saw was a thrill for them. They saw their first coconuts growing from a palm tree, their first iguanas, first land crabs, first time snorkeling in the ocean. The weather was threatening thunderstorms for a few of the days they were here, so we spent several days hanging around the boat, but there was plenty to occupy them here. We still have the boat in Marina Paraiso and there is a pool they could swim in. Tom, who runs the marina, has a fiance named Elizabeth who has a 5 year old son named Francisco and Tre and Will had fun playing with Francisco. Even though Francisco only speaks Spanish they managed to communicate pretty well. There is a second-floor deck at one end of the pool and Tre and Will were jumping from it into the pool and having a blast.

There is reef all up and down the coast of Isla Mujeres and beyond, but there is a pretty good section right outside the cut into the harbor. There is a pretty strong current in most places, but this particular spot lies in an eddy and the current is much less. There is a mooring ball you can tie the dinghy to and if you get out there before 9:30 or so in the morning you beat the tour boats and have the mooring ball and the reef all to yourself. Tom took us out to the reef in his panga (a motor boat). They were truly amazed at the number and variety of reef fish swimming all around them. I don’t know the names of all the different fish we saw, but there were some really large, brightly colored parrot fish, several different varieties of angel fish, groupers, hog fish, and tons of small brightly-colored fish of various descriptions.

We wanted the boys to see some Mayan ruins and a cenote, so one day we took them to Tulum, which is south of Cancun. The ruins at Tulum are right on the ocean and there is a beach at the ruins where you can swim in the ocean, so the boys had a good time touring the ruins and swimming on the beach. There are several cenotes around Tulum and I had heard the ones called “Dos Ojos” (two eyes in Spanish) were pretty good, so after touring the ruins we had lunch and caught a bus to the cenotes. The boys were so tired after the ruins and swimming on the beach that they really didn’t want to go to the cenotes. Nancy and I knew, though, that once they saw the cenote, they would completely forget how tired they were. The bus let us off at the entrance to the dirt road leading to the cenotes. It is about a mile from this point to the actual cenotes and instead of walking, we hired a Mayan man and his son to drive us to the cenotes on their 4-wheelers. We bounced along this dirt path, 4 people on one 4-wheeler and 3 on the other, trying our best not to bounce off. Once we got to the first of the two cenotes and walked down the path to the entrance of the cavern, sure enough, the boys forgot about being tired. We spent about 15 minutes swimming in each of the two cenotes and by that time Nancy, Lori and I were worn out.

We really enjoyed Lori and the boys’ visit and think they enjoyed it as well. We missed seeing Tim, but hopefully he’ll be able to come for a visit next year.

Learning Spanish

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

I am long overdue for an update to the Ship’s Log. We have been very busy having fun, and when we weren’t busy having fun, we were busy being lazy. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. I’m going to try to get the log up to date in about 3 entries and will try to get them all posted this week. I have Internet access right now, so I will also try to embed pictures in the log entries and also upload some slide shows in the picture galleries page.

After Heddy and Jamie flew back to KC, Nancy and I returned to Merida for a week-long Spanish language class the week of May 26 through 30. There is a school in Merida that I learned of on the Internet named Central Idiomas Sureste, CIS for short, that offers immersion-style lessons in Spanish. You sign up for one or more weeks of 5-hour daily classes, and they will also put you up with a local Mexican family, where you can practice your Spanish outside of class. They put us up with a very nice Mexican lady named Senora Quintal. She lives just off the central square of the Santiago district of Merida, which put us about 10 blocks from the school and made for a nice walk to and from school each day. We needed the walk, because Senora Quintal is an excellent cook and kept us very well-fed while we were in her care.

The school itself was very interesting and very beneficial, but it was incredibly exhausting. By the end of the week Nancy and I were both worn out mentally. There was a group of college kids attending at the same time who were from Millsaps College in Mississippi. Nancy and I wound up in two different classes because I had been studying a little Spanish and Nancy was starting at the very beginning. There was one other person in Nancy’s class and 4 other people in my class. We would meet for 3 hours in the morning for language instruction, break for 30 minutes for lunch, and then meet for 2 hours in the afternoon for cultural instruction, which was basically a discussion group (in Spanish of course) on subjects of local significance. I cannot recommend this school highly enough, but I would recommend against taking it for only a week if you are beginners as we were. After one week, you have more new knowledge than can be assimilated. I think an additional week or two would have been much better, but we didn’t have the time to spare with more company on the way.

We enjoyed staying with Senora Quintal as much as we enjoyed the school. She is retired and has three grown children, so there was plenty of room in her house for us. She put us in a bedroom at the back of the house that has windows on 3 walls, so there is always a cross-breeze, which was very much appreciated since she doesn’t have air conditioning. We also slept in hammocks, which are much cooler than regular beds. Nancy and I both became quite fond of sleeping in hammocks. These are traditional Mayan-style hammocks made of string and look very much like a large net. For breakfast she would serve us a heaping plate of fresh fruit and a breakfast sandwich, usually a croissant with ham and cheese inside. The fruit plate would have pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, mango, mamey, papaya, and whatever else she had fresh. She would fix us a box lunch to take to school, and then a rather large dinner of traditional Yucatan dishes in the early evening.

On Thursday the school took a group of four of us on a field trip to the cenotes at Cuzama. The Yucatan peninsula is basically a limestone shelf and is relatively flat with no major rivers or streams above ground. There is, however, an extensive system of underground rivers flowing through the limestone. There are places where the ceiling of a cavern through which the underground river flows has collapsed and this underground pool is known as a cenote (pronounced say-no-tay, with accent on the second syllable). There are cenotes scattered all around the Yucatan and they were the main source of fresh water for the ancient Mayans. Because the water filters through all the limestone, it is incredibly clean and clear. The cenotes at Cuzama are very beautiful and very remote. In the old days before Mexican independence, wealthy landowners built huge haciendas in this area, and they installed a very light-gage rail system for moving workers, materials and produce around the hacienda. The rail system uses horse-drawn carts that ride on the rails. The Mayans provided all the slave labor to build the haciendas and the rail system, but now the landowners are gone and the local Mayans are left with the land and the rail system, which they use to haul tourists to and from the cenotes. After a two or three-mile ride on the rail buggy, you arrive at one of the cenotes and find a hole in the ground with a ladder sticking out of it. You climb down the ladder into an underground cave. After your eyes adjust to the dark, you see a pool of the clearest water you can imagine. The water is anywhere from 8 to 20 feet deep in the cenotes at Cuzama, but even in the dim light you can see the bottom in incredible detail. These cenotes are so spectacular they almost literally took my breath away when I first saw them.

We were so exhausted after class on Friday that we checked into a room at the Luz en Yucatan hotel for the weekend to rest up before returning to the boat.