Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Archive for the ‘Bird Watching Nayarit, Mexico’ Category

Just a Note Before We Go

Nikk and I are back on Balance in the Marina Riviera Nayarit, after living in a house here in La Cruz for four months, and taking care of two cats and too many plants in pots. We do miss the air conditioning, here in La Cruz in October the sun is still high in the sky, and the temperatures in the afternoon, when the sun beats down most mercilessly, are in the low nineties but feel like one hundred degrees. I’m writing this in the air conditioned marina lounge, where all the cruisers without air conditioning, like us, hang out in the afternoon to read, work, chat, and sleep. Yesterday at five I tried another way to cool off and met a friend to take a dip in the bay at the little beach right here by the marina. We waded into 95-degree water, with two or three foot swells that lifted us right off the sandy/rocky bottom. The wave action stirred up the sand so much that we couldn’t see our feet on the bottom, but when we swam around with our masks and snorkels we were immersed in swirling gold mica flecks from the sand.

It seems like the monsoonal weather is now over, the last big storm was about two weeks ago. While we walked to dinner the air was sizzling, right before the simultaneous crack and boom of the lightning and thunder, then the skies cut loose with a downpour. The open-air restaurant was soon flooded, luckily the palapa roof of thatch kept the water off our heads, so we ate with our feet propped up away from the inch of water on the floor, and watched the beauty of the storm.
Here are some pictures of the monsoon in September.


For nine months of the year this is a dry riverbed that we walk up to go birdwatching.

Even though La Cruz didn’t get any huge thunderstorms like they had three years ago when it rained 30 inches in five days, all that water picked up a lot of debris; trees, branches, fence posts with barbed wire, and a lot of plastic and styrofoam, which then flowed out into the bay and washed up on the beaches. Some of us here at the marina picked up bags of plastic litter on the beach one morning, to prevent it from going back into the water. The pool at the house would overflow all over the deck from all the rain, and unfortunately, even though the house was only five years old, the ceiling would leak. The worst leak was right over the stove.

Here I am trying to cook while holding a tupperware bowl to catch the leaks.

One day at the house I kept hearing a strange sound, almost like a tap tap tapping. No, it wasn’t a raven (think Edgar Allen Poe here), finally I found the source, a Yellow Warbler attacking its reflection in the kitchen window. The strange thing was that it was a female, the males have orange streaks on their breasts, and it had no streaks. She persisted for several hours, and a Golden-Cheeked Woodpecker came by to watch her for a while, maybe it was thinking she was pecking at a meal of tasty grubs?


For birdwatching news, besides the Yellow Warbler, we’ve seen a Blue-black Grassquit, immature Grey Hawk, Golden Vireo, and a flock of Black-throated Magpie Jays. Even though we’ve seen these jays many times, it’s hard to believe that they can fly with their two-foot long tails.

Now that the clouds have given way to sunny days, we have taken two sailing trips out to the Tres Mariettas, islands at the mouth of the Bay of Banderas near Punta de Mita. On the first trip we were joined by a fabulous group of Estonian women, one woman, Crystal, lives here, and the others came on vacation. At one spot where we anchored, it’s possible to snorkel over to the rocky shore, watch the wildly-colored fish in the rocks, then swim underneath a rocky opening and into a hidden beach. Nikk took Sophie, who was six years old, in through the opening in our kayak, she laid prone in the kayak, and Nikk pushed her through. She was really brave! The Estonian women were such delightful companions.



Every week for the past five weeks I’ve been meeting with two boys, ages 11 and 8, and their mother, and doing chemistry. They live on a boat and are home-schooled, and are so excited to do chemistry. We’ve done bottle rockets, made indicators and tested acids and bases, dissolved pennies in hydrochloric acid, made hydrogen gas and exploded it, dipped a dollar bill in rubbing alcohol, lit it, and saw it survive, cleaned tarnished silver with a hot solution of baking soda in a pan with aluminum foil, and much more. Alison has been trading Reiki treatments for my back and shoulders, so I’ve been getting tuned up and unloosened.

Here they’re mixing corn starch and water, it feels solid, and then it turns into goop, and back again.

Getting ready to ignite a bill dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Now we’re getting the boat ready for another journey. Next week will be time for a trip to Costco and some local stores, storing provisions and water, then celebrating Halloween here at the marina, and two Days of the Dead Nov. 1 and 2, the first day for departed children, the second for departed adults. Many of the restaurants here will have altars for displaying pictures of departed loved ones. One restaurant here, Anna Banana’s, has bags of cremated ashes of the former patrons hanging from the ceiling. A bit of a shock when we were first here and found out what the bags were. We are going to do two or three short trips to locations here in the Bay of Banderas, then head south for a couple of months. We’ll be anchoring at some remote beaches, exploring, and winding up at Barra de Navidad where we’ll be joined by Rob and Stephi on Red Witch II. They have been up in the Sea of Cortez all summer and I am really looking forward to seeing them again. And at the end of December I fly to Portland to spend January helping Deva with the boys and the new baby girl, who is due Dec. 14. For now, we’re enjoying the music and food of La Cruz, and hanging out with our friends here until we again sail away.

The News from La Cruz

Took a month-long break from writing the rainbowspinnaker blog, and made the mistake during that time of updating many of the apps on the iPad, including WordPress. They changed the format for the screen, so now it only works while the iPad is turned on its side while entering text. Unfortunately, they didn’t think about the people like me who have a Belkin keyboard attached to a folder which holds the iPad horizontal while typing. So now I’m up here in the Sky Bar, with the iPad balanced against my pack and the Belkin keyboard sitting on the table. The wind is blowing about 15-20 knots from the north, and I’m trying to sit where the iPad won’t get blown off the table. That said, it’s a beautifully brilliant day of sun and wind. Across the bay there’s marine haze hovering over the water, but here the air is clear, the water is sparkling, and the only haze is coming from one of the constant fires down by the beach, where they’re burning piles of vegetation slashed from the too abundant growth of trees, bushes and creepers.
Here in La Cruz the vegetation is getting extremely dry in the last few months before the summer rains. A couple of times it was cloudy and sprinkled, but that’s it for any precipitation since Jan 1.

Mostly days here in La Cruz begin with rising at a little after 7am, heating water to make green tea, and grabbing the yoga mat, clock, and hair tie to head up to the VIP Lounge at the marina to teach yoga for an hour. I’m substituting again for the regular yoga teacher who needed to go back to the States for a few weeks. Monday and Wednesday is Spanish class after yoga, and then it’s reading, shopping, taking a walk, planning for dinner, cooking dinner (unless we go out to eat), and more reading. My mobility has been a little compromised for the past ten days because I tripped on the edge of a platform and twisted the top of my left foot AFTER a salsa dancing class. Been gimping around ever since. Probably walking three miles down the beach two days after the accident didn’t help. Ni modo (“oh well” en espanol).

Before heading to Portland February 20 Nikk and I and our friend Jane from Midnight Blue finally took the bus over to the Mezcales estuary to bird watch. Following the directions gleaned from the internet we walked to the main plaza, and then headed down the road away from the plaza that Nikk was sure led to the estuary. Luckily Jane speaks Spanish pretty well, and after asking directions to the estuary we were sent to a path down into the mud and mangroves. Soon it was time to spray on lots of insecticide, and we continued to follow the trail, seeing and hearing very few birds, but unfortunately finally hearing the highway nearby, which was totally wrong for the map I’d found on the internet. During that time I managed to slip while trying to see if the lagoon was nearby, and impaled two big thorns from a palm branch into my shin. I still have a little lump under the skin a month later, but no infection luckily.


Mud and Mangroves


Sighting a Groove-Billed Ani

At that point retracing our path seemed like a pretty good idea, and after again asking directions we found out that it was the road away from the plaza that Jan wanted to take in the first place. Crowing about being right just didn’t seem like a productive thing to do, so I kept my mouth shut and we walked a mile or so down a dusty road and found the estuary, complete with lots of birds, little crocodiles, and one rather large about ten foot long crocodile sunning itself on the bank by a pond. Jane and I were stalking some snowy egrets in the trees by the pond, and walked right by Mr. Way Too Large Crocodile. Nikk yelled at us, scared the croc, and he launched himself into the pond. Jane and I gasped and agreed it was a close call.

The crocodile whose name we later found out was Pancho


Wood Stork perched on a mangrove tree


Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Black-necked Stilts and Coots

Spending ten days in Portland wasn’t as much of a shock to my body as I thought it might be. I’d stashed a whole big suitcase of clothing and boots at my daughter’s house, every day involved putting on a whole lot more layers than I wear here in Mexico, and going out to take care of numerous appointments, spend time with family and friends, and get used to driving in Portland traffic. I rented a little Mazda2, it was a great little car, in ten days of driving all over the place it used just a little over ten gallons of fuel, about a gallon a day. There were four birthdays to celebrate, my friend Matt’s (the 20th), Serena’s 1st (the 24th), Bridger’s 7th (the 26th) and Jesse’s (I won’t tell his age because I have a hard time believing I have a son that old) on the 28th.
Here is a picture of the four grandchildren at Serena’s birthday party.


Nikk had to go to Portland right after I returned, so we didn’t see much of each other for three weeks. While I was gone Nikk was visited by his godson Matt and wife Laurie, and a surprise visit from his daughter Tobie and family. So here’s a picture of Nikk’s grandchildren out sailing on Balance.


We’re getting ready to sail off tomorrow or Thursday for Mazatlan and then across the Sea of Cortez to explore the desert islands off the coast of Baja Caifornia Sur. We’ll be gone for over a month and we’ll miss La Cruz, so I’ll end with a scene captured by Nikk while he was out walking on the cobblestone streets.


The Byways and Birds of San Blas

Nikk’s dream for this two week sailing trip was “One Particular Harbor”, my dream was birdwatching in San Blas.

San Blas is a town of about 12,000 people located two hours north of Puerto Vallarta by car, and about 75 miles by sailboat, which in our case took us from La Cruz to Punta de Mita, Sayulita, La Laguna de las Cuevas, Matenchen Bay, and then the little marina on the river in San Blas.

The view of San Blas from the hill above town

The first morning in San Blas found us hiking all the way across town and up the hill to the ruins of the cathedral and fort built by the Spanish while they occupied San Blas, building ships to take away the loot the conquistadores and others plundered from Mexico. In 1768 ships also left from San Blas to take Fr. Junipero Serra to Baja California and then California itself to establish missions. After this the beaches receded, the trees were gone from the hills, and the cathedral and its bells fell into ruin. The poet Longfellow, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, read an article about the ruins and wrote his poem, “The Bells of San Blas” right before his death in 1872.

The cathedral as it was

The chapel that once looked down/On the little seaport town/Has crumbled into the dust

As you can see, the chapel has not quite “crumbled into the dust”

The major reason that San Blas is not now another Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta rests on the tiny shoulders of the miniscule sand fly, the jejene (hay HAY nay). The jejene has saved San Blas from hordes of tourists, by inflicting its blood-sucking bites. Especially at the full and new moon (we arrived on the day of the full moon), at sunrise and right before sunset, the jejenes come out in force. One internet article said research indicates that only about one in four people produce a reaction to the protein injected by the jejene to keep blood from coagulating. Nikk and I are definitely in the one in four category, and we itched for days at the sites of red welts left by jejenes. I think insect repellent was somewhat helpful, as was wearing long sleeves and pants, or we might have been even more miserable. However, the Mexican government is now supposedly injecting about 10 million dollars (125 million pesos) to improve San Blas, including dredging the river to allow small cruise ships access. In other words, go to San Blas now, if you want to experience it before the hordes arrive.

Street improvements

Oh yes, birdwatching. When we returned to town we went to Wala Wala for a delicious lunch (and later a wonderful breakfast, and then a dinner too). A man who had moved to San Blas the previous fall, after visiting for about eighteen years, sat next to us. We visited, then he introduced us to Francisco, a birdwatching guide (SafarisSanBlas), and we engaged Francisco to guide us on a trip on the river and mangrove estuary to Tovara Springs that afternoon and evening, and then to go up to Tecuitata, in the hills above San Blas, to a coffee plantation, lunch at a local house, then on to tour Capulin Coffee, birdwatching all the while. Francisco is one of those extremely knowledgable guides who can instantly recognize, call, and point out hundreds of birds. There are about 500 species of birds in San Blas during the year, we saw way over 100. Anyone who is interested in a list of the birds we saw can send a reply to this post asking for that information and giving an email address. (I will not publish the reply so no email address will show up on the blog)

Our guide Francisco calling a bird, and the panga driver, Jose

Great Blue Heron with fish, jealous Yellow-Crowned Night Heron in the background

Tropical Kingbird

Golden-Cheeked Woodpecker

Coffee Beans

Drying Coffee Beans (yes, that’s a yin/yang symbol in the center)

Daniel, the owner of Capulin Coffee,, who has a philosophy of growing,
processing, and marketing which results in healthful, locally-produced coffee.

And speaking of healthful, I’ll leave you with a picture from San Blas, which shows how the people of San Blas get around town and market their produce.


Now we’re back in the La Cruz marina, with enough sailing and birdwatching to last us for a few days while we catch up on tasks here. I’m flying to Portland Feb. 20, for ten days with family and friends, and many, many appointments and shopping ventures before I return to Mexico for at least six months.

The Mountains, the Forest, and the Musical Life of La Cruz

Over two weeks have flown by since the last post, the sunshine is back after a rainy beginning to 2013 here in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, followed by alternating sunny and overcast days, and much cooler temperatures, sometimes only into the low 70’s.


The plaza in La Cruz during the rain, with a large, spreading Huanacaxtle tree.

The Mexican state of Nayarit includes beaches fronted by mangroves, estuaries, and palms, tropical deciduous forests spreading mostly lush and green up the mountains, except at the end of the dry season in the spring, when brown becomes a more common color, and then the mountains, rising up to 7000 feet above sea level inland, with deep gorges. Jan’s birthday week found us exploring all these ecological areas in Nayarit, getting away from the marina, and more in tune with the world of rocks and plants and animals. Since childhood a connection with the natural world on a regular basis is a necessity for me, like being on the water sailing, or in the water swimming is a necessity for Nikk. John Muir and many others extoll the healing, rejuvenating aspects of the natural world, especially wilderness. Even though we were seldom in true wilderness during these two weeks, we were off “the beaten path” on many occasions. We traveled by tour bus up to San Sebastian del Oeste, a 400-year-old silver-mining town at 4600′ in the mountains above Puerto Vallarta. The cobblestoned streets led to little hotels, restaurants, stores, schools, and many residences marching up the hillsides in this town of about 800 people, with the church and town square at the center.



Walking along the terrace of the hotel in the square early one morning.

San Sebastian’s elevation is high enough for pines which resemble Ponderosa Pines to grow and flourish. We were surprised to see colorful Western Tanagers in the trees, with their red heads, yellow breasts, and black and white wings. We’re used to seeing them all throughout the west in summer. After a walk up into the piney woods, we headed down a barely visible path along a stream, finding fenced plantations of banana and papaya trees. At the end of the path about 2 miles from town we found the Hacienda Jalisco, on the site of a silver mine. A brilliant red male summer tanager with his dull yellow female perched high in a tree, giving us birdwatching excitement and stiff necks. A friendly large dog followed us back up the airstrip while we spotted many Social Flycatchers (that’s really their name) and other birds perching in trees and bushes.
That night the seventy plus people gathered in a hotel courtyard for dinner followed by rock and blues music from ten musicians gathered for the occasion by Philo (see the previous blog). Even after hiking for several hours we still didn’t have much appetite for dinner because we found the Paraise Restaurant next to our hotel earlier in the day. The proprietor, Isaac Cueto Pena, not only provided us with two absolutely delicious meals, but gave us gratis an avocado/shrimp appetizer, two shots of tequila, and one shot of ricea, the local drink made from agave, which is about 180 proof. I think I was too inebriated to take a picture of the meal, so here is a picture of a trimmed agave root (?) from the ricea factory near San Sebastian


Birdwatching at San Sebastian was surprisingly sparse, but two days later we went on a tour with April of Wave House to the Pureto Vallarta Botanical Gardens, 20 acres and 3000 plants species, including many orchids, bromeliads and gigantic strangler fig trees. Here are some of the birds we viewed while there: Varied Bunting, Grayish Saltator, San Blas Jay, Yellow-Winged Cacique, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Russet-crowned Motmot, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Cinnamon Hummingbird, and a Jalisco Hermit Hummingbird. The latter bird was nowhere to be found in any bird book until I went to and saw a picture and name of the hummingbird we saw. Our friend Jane from Midnight Blue went along, and couldn’t find the hummer in her book either. These particular Hermits live only in the neighboring states of Jalisco, Nayarit and Colima.


Yellow-winged Cacique and San Blas Jay at the fruit feeder


Altar with orchids in the greenhouse

The exploring continued after our return We decided to see what we could see from the hill above “downtown” La Cruz, and walked up and up to the top, passing many large homes in various states of interrupted construction. I think perhaps many Americans and Canadians began their construction projects and then did not have the funds to continue, since many houses looked like the construction ended several years ago. Because of the rainy season here in the summer, concrete construction that is unprotected starts to rapidly deteriorate. At the end of the road a trail plunged down a hillside with just enough trees to hold onto as we skied down the trail in our sandals back to a dirt road that led to a few Mexican casas with families sitting in the yards. I think they were surprised to see us as we walked by. Back on a paved road we found three generations of women selling pastries from a roadside cart. So we bought two slices of a flan/cheesecake dessert to replenish all the calories we’d burned on the hike, and give us enough energy to make it back another mile or more to the boat in the marina. There are many roads to explore here that go way back up into the hills, with waterfalls and hidden pools, according to locals.

La Cruz has an amazing music scene. Nikk won a dinner at the Black Forest Restaurant when he was in a paddle race with his kayak. Here is a picture of Nikk goofing off after paddling hard:


The Black Forest Restaurant serves delicious German food, and the Friday night we were there it was packed, because Latcho and Andrea were playing their samba/flamenco music, music which “comes from the soul, goes to the heart”. Check them out at Every other Saturday we go to The Octopus’s Garden restaurant and gallery of Huichol Art to hear our friends Alfredo and Zoe, the Mango Duo. You can find them at They play flamenco music that makes you want to get up and dance, plus samba and even original, dreamy tunes like “Blue Star”. On You Tube you can type in Alfredo and Zoe, and find a video of them playing with Bryan Savage, a local flute and sax player who is a favorite here and for miles around.

Last Saturday Bryan put together a band to play at The Taste of La Cruz, held up on the malecon of the marina. Art, crafts, food, music, and some very entertaining folks. Of course I have to include a picture taken that night of Nikk and some new friends, who perform at La Lunes, in Bucerias on Wednesday nights.


We said goodbye to a good cruising friend, Greg on Foreign Affair, a 1975 Valiant 40, down from B.C. He and another friend Chuck from Vancouver Island are headed south to El Salvador. Greg had been in the marina for about a month, just two boats down from our slip, so we had many dinners together up in town at the curbside restaurant, Los Sillas Rojas (The Red Chairs), named for the red plastic tables and chairs out on the cobblestones. They have some of the best quesadillas we’ve ever eaten. When you meet fellow cruisers you can bond very quickly, finding common ground from the specialized rigors, tests, and repairs necessary for cruising, and sharing the knowledge of boats, ports, dangers and places that have to be experienced.

I’ve been helping lead a yoga class here at the marina which meets six days a week at 8am. After nine sessions I’m ready to turn the class back over to Lee and take off on a two week sailing trip with Nikk. Even with all the traveling and hiking, restaurants and visiting with friends, we have sailed on at least four occasions the past two weeks. When we took people out sailing last week we’d just said “I hope we get to see some whales….” when 20 feet off our port side a mature humpback whale appeared, and seemed to be diving right under the boat. “Hang on, everyone” I yelled, but it turned 90 degrees and swam by right beside the boat. A very exciting close call.
We’ve seen dolphins several times as well as lots of boobies, frigatebirds, pelicans and numerous fish of all sizes.

We’re going to sail north up the coast if the weather and winds cooperate, so the next blog might be from San Blas or Chacala depending on internet connection. The new TELCEL chip in the iPad is working wonderfully, so my internet connection gives me pleasure instead of headaches. Thanks for reading this long blog!

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