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March/April Update from Mexico

2nd May 2015 - Fiesta time in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle!

To San Sebastian (28th February - 2nd March)....

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is a friendly place and the marina has many helpful cruisers so it's been a good place to get work done.   Some boats were being prepared to sail to Polynesia when the weather was right for that (not until well into April, as it turned out) but it was great to take a break from boatwork and take advantage of a brief trip to San Sebastian organised by Philo of Philo's Bar in company.

It was my first time inland in Mexico since a trip to the Mayan remains at Chichenitza from the east coast (the Yucatan) in 2004  and I was impressed by the mountainous terrain we passed over, with its impenetrable jungle in many places.  San Sebastian is a small village high up in the mountains of the Mexican Sierra Madre.with his own band and a lively Latin group - Luna Rumba.                     We stopped off at a Tequileria and had a good time tasting a variety of tequilas, liqueurs and mezcal.  Tequila is made from the roasted crowns of blue agave in the state of Jalisco and the mezcal is made from yellow agave - to my mind, even the best was not as good as the 'anejo' (aged) tequila.

San Sebastian has an amazing variety of fruit and vegetables with lots of citrus trees, many of which were used to give shade in an interesting coffee plantation.    The low-tech coffee production was very interesting to see!   In addition, there were the tropical fruits and vegetables one expects here, along with a  colourful collection of flowers.  Being so high up, it has no lack of water.
The pleasant church had a museum nearby with an organ from England among its few exhibits...

My friends, Stuart and Karen, and I were in an old house just outside the village which originally had a silver mine close by and we had a lovely walk into the village, which grew up here because of the silver mining around.

The evening was spent as a group in the courtyard of an old hotel off the town square.  
     We had a barbecue and enjoyed plenty of good music, some by the light of a camp-fire... It was good to get dancing - something I've been missing!

 There was a working silversmith in the village with three men busily making silver jewellery, often using the many semi-precious stones found in the area.  The workmanship was good and the prices low.

Mid-March ... to London for Hanson Lecture ....

- to give the annual Cruising Association's Hanson Lecture in Limehouse Basin, just off the Thames in East London's docklands area.  That was a very enjoyable evening in company with a friendly group of fellow-sailors.

England was basking in warm air, with blue skies a lot of the time I was there, and spring flowers were out in force.  It was a lovely time to be driving around the countryside and a trip down to Devon, with its steep-sided twisting country lanes with banks full of wild primroses and occasional cowslips and violets, was a real pleasure.

Mid-April - To Visalia, in  California...

... for the annual International 'DX' (long-range radio) Convention, where I spoke about my circumnavigations and my use of radio to over 550 diners after the final Saturday evening Banquet.  I had met up with several 'hams' at the Convention who had contacted me via HF radio on my way around - always a pleasure to meet up with the person behind the voice!   It was also good to renew acquaintance with people I already knew and very interesting to look at the many exhibits and chat to the people  making the equipment.

I'd spotted that the venue was close to Yosemite, a National Park I had often heard talked about in glowing terms, so I made a big effort to get there.  It was sad to see so many road-side mature trees dead or dying on my way there - the result of the present drought in California.  I spent an exhilirating day, first driving to Glacier Point for an overview of Yosemite Valley 
m IMG 0272   m IMG 0295    Dramatic high peaks and waterfalls ...

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I eventually went hiking high up in the Valley itself to well beyond Mirror Pool - a big loop trail.  What an amazing area!

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A well worthwhile visit, despite the resulting long next day's drive down to Phoenix to catch a flight early the following morning to Mexico.  I came eye-to-eye with a coyote early in the morning and then with a small woodpecker I crept up on later that afternoon - it was making good use of one of the many dead but still standing trees in the forest above Mirror Pool.

24/25 April 2015 - To a Mariachi Festival...

No sooner had I landed in Mexico than I was leaving heavy luggage with friends and then taking the overnight bus to Queretaro where I was met by friend Kyle ....  The annual Mariachi Festival in his lovely village of Mineral de Pozos had been (unfortunately for me!) moved from May to late April.... but it sounded too enjoyable to miss. 

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His village is surrounded by many, often dangerously-unfenced, mineshafts and related buildings, mostly dating from the 1800s, with some earlier.

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A mine-owner's grand house close to the mine workings - reminded me of a Victorian 'folly'!  

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 Mining was mainly for silver but several other metals were also brought up.   We spent a fascinating few hours driving around and walking in the area - keeping an eye out for edges of open-cast mines and mineshafts hidden by undergrowth.  (A 5-yr-old boy was killed recently falling down one - they are amazingly deep and a rescue team had trouble getting his body out)

On my first morning, I was delighted to come across a young Mariachi group practising in a beautiful old house for the evening Show.m IMG 0378 1

It turned out they were all around 19-20 yrs old and had come in from Chula Vista.   They played impressively well, and were coached by Mark, originally from a farming village near Seattle!!   His father's work had taken him to Guadalajara (where Mariachi music was born) at 13 yrs old and he had fallen in love with Mariachi music and effectively dedicated his life to it.

The Mariachi groups all played extremely well and with typical lively enthusiasm but a cold wind, that we were certainly not  dressed for, got up during the evening to test our stamina.... We were better prepared the following night!   The parents of one of the young group, who were sitting in front of us, were bursting with pride at their son's performance... with good reason!

They were thrilled to hear I'd video-ed their son's group practising and I promised to let them have a copy of both that and the evening performance, although the evening recordings were nothing like as good as the daytime one.  I was interested to see that all the groups generally comprised half violinists, with 2-3 guitar players (the bass guitar was always prominent, with a resonant beat), often a small harp, 2-3 trumpet players and at least 1-3 very good solo singers, with the whole group often joining in the singing....   with occasional group movements to the beat, of course - typically Mexican!

A two-hour drive was followed by a tour around the lovely old city of San Miguel de Allende (the birth-place of Mexican Independence from Spain!):

A tasty Mexican meal prepared especially by Kyle's friend, was followed by the overnight bus-ride back to the coast.   The buses are so well used in Mexico that the long-distance ones are very comfortable with good facilities, so I had a reasonable sleep both ways, helped by an empty seat beside me each time.   The route looked very convoluted on the map as a consequence of the rugged mountains of the Sierra Madre inland, nudging right up to the coast.   The two-lane, often bumpy, road certainly had frequent steep drop-offs at its edge outside towns and villages - best not to look too often as we swung around the bends at speed!

Last week, I took a bus around Puerto Vallarta -  I'd not explored that town since 2005!  The main church, with its distinctive 'crown' atop it, was beautifully light and airy inside, with a quite different exterior to another older church on the edge of town:

Work goes on.....

As I write this on board 'Nereida', I can clearly hear the music from the town square of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle - in fiesta all week long with crackers going off every day at dawn and dusk to annouce the festivities and a man carying a bull's head on his shoulders adorned with fire crackers and Catherine wheels he let off at frequent intervals charging around the town square, making people scatter, during a pause in the events.

Yesterday, the 2015 Queen was crowned and the music and dancing afterwards lasted until around 4am...    I joined in the dancing for a bit and got to bed rather late, well before they finished.   A 'Mexicubana' band, it was very popular (half Cubans, half Mexicans) and it was amazing to see how some couples moved and turned energetically at speed together to what was basically a 'pasa doble' rythm.

The good news after today's work was getting my VHF working properly again (repaired unit was brought back from UK with me), after a slight problem with connecting it all up correctly.  I think I've finished (for now!) with the instrumentation side of things - generator control panel has also been replaced, satphone GPS input located, after a search, and connected to system - which is now working (although not being made use of just now) - and plotter has been put back into position after being removed for access.

My windsteering system now has all new bushings and bearings - all the plastic parts had got very worn and there was a lot of play in the system.  Many thanks to Robert of 'Tillicum' for a lot of help in dealing with that for me and also to Sarah Curry for prompt mailing of certain parts, with others being well fabricated locally.

Plan is to leave here late next week for Mazatlan before heading further north, so my next big job is to check over the sailing side of things - sheets, running rigging all need sorting out  and deck gear (blocks, winches etc) need to be cleaned and lubricated before I sail away.

I'll post this text shortly but the many photos I'd have liked to post with it might take a time - Internet here is, to put it politely, very slow and unreliable!  (Photos finally posted over a week later - a lot of effort with an equally unreliable Internet wifi connection in Isla Mazatlan marina)

Written by : Jeanne Socrates