To Chiapas, and Beyond!

****This is an old post, but a necessary one. Sorry for the late update****

Chiapas represented two things for Panache; the last stop in Mexico before crossing into El Salvador (I decided to skip Guatemala), and a well-needed oasis after tackling the feared Golfo de Tehuantepec. The Tehuantepec has a certain mythology about it for being vulnerable to hazardous winds that have been recorded in the 100 mph range. Mexico becomes a narrow landmass that separates the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, and this creates a wind funnel for weather crossing over from the Caribbean. It can get pretty ugly, so sailors crossing the Tehuantepec pick their weather window carefully. A bunch of El Salvador Rally boats and I were waiting in Huatulco, the northern edge of the Tehuantepec, for the perfect window to open. The window everyone ended up choosing turned out to be a little too big, because I ended up motoring the majority of the 225 nautical miles. Woof. It was a little anticlimactic. I wasn't hoping for 100 mph winds, but I was ready for them. I decided that if I got caught in some serious offshore weather, I would say “screw it” and head right for the Marquesas. Panache doesn't motor fast, and sometimes I don't motor at all on the principle that Panache is a sailboat. But sometimes you just need to get there, and I would hate to have this huge weather window close on me. So I motored. I was one of the last to arrive in Chiapas, and I arrived in the middle of the night.

Marina Chiapas

I DSC called Bella Star, ignoring that it was 4 in the morning, and a groggy Nicole answered to help me navigate the curving manmade estuary where Chiapas Marina was located. The combination of sleep deprivation, shallow banks aplenty and no moon made for one confused skipper. After going every direction but the appropriate one, the power of deduction kicked in and I concluded the marina was through a small dredged canal slightly larger than my boat. It was low tide, but really? “Yeah, it looks ridiculous, I know,” Nicole reinforced with a yawn. I held my breath and kept an eye on the depth that never went below 17 feet. I was now in a larger canal that was lined with pretty rocks. Ok, this looks a little more legit.

Chiapas Marina is a moderately sized facility that is very much in the works. It has a Travelift (in production), a restaurant (in production), a tienda (in pre-production) and showers (very much in working order). Because the marina was still being built, the owners hadn't bothered to charge anyone. I guess they were going for the positive word of mouth advertising strategy. Naturally, out of all the free slips, I chose one next to Bella Star. I’m like that neighbor that you can’t get rid of. This time I had a dock finger separate our boats, because in Huatulco someone re-tied my stern line and Panache got hot and heavy with Bella Star’s varnish. No harm done, but I still liked the divider. Close, but not too close.

Shrimp Boats, Chiapas MEX

And so it was the El Salvador Rally Chiapas crew, a total of 8 boats: Espiritu, Bella Star, Stray Cat, Bravo, Knee Deep, Blythe Spirit, Talaria and Panache. Everyone had a similar agenda – spend your remaining pesos and squeeze the last bit of Mexico out of Mexico. It didn't really matter how long we stayed because the marina was free! The place even had shore power, water and shoddy internet – a Mexican staple. For all the included amenities, it was pretty hard to complain when the power went out or when illegal downloads were taking too long. Despite the mild inconvenience, the management always went out of their way to apologize. Pretty cool group of guys. In talking with them, you could really see the whole place all laid out, even with the current cruiser grunge classing up the place. I am excited to see the Chiapas Marina when it’s all finished.

A local tour guide visited the marina to tell us a little bit about the tours he offered. The state of Chiapas boasts that it produces huge amounts of coffee. So for the Seattle boats (Bravo, Bella Star, and Panache) a tour to a coffee plantation (or finca) was a necessity. I considered the tour too expensive, but like any drug, my addiction to coffee overshadowed my budget, so I decided to go.

The fact that I was going to be drinking coffee all day didn't stop me from creating the coffee concoction that helps me hang on – instant coffee, non-dairy creamer and a spoonful of sugar. Because it was my last stop in Mexico, I added a dash of cinnamon. Can you say cultured? The bus ride was standard issue until we reached the real road to the plantation. I use the word “road” lightly because it was more like an obstacle course for cars. After 30 minutes of this my butt was numb. It was an interesting sensation that was “just part of the tour,” our guide told me. When we arrived, cool, crisp air greeted us. I couldn't help smiling. It felt sooooooo good to escape the sticky, hot air without using a dry air conditioner. This air was thick with moisture. The tour included a beautiful breakfast with, you guessed it, free refills on the coffee. Being from Seattle I assumed I was born with a natural immunity to caffeine. My previous coffee drinking experiences have reinforced this idea, so during breakfast I slugged back 5 cups of coffee. After breakfast I was seeing colors I had never seen before. The greens were greener, and the blues bluer. I was beyond alert. All the better for the tour.

Our breakfast perch before the tour. Coffee flowing like water!

The history and process of this particular finca was quite interesting. It was pioneered by a German family who loved products with high mark-ups, and coffee certainly fit the bill. Generations and generations of the Hamburgo family honed the process of growing, harvesting, getting the beans to the processors, stripping off the fruit, drying, sorting and shipping, and today they provide beans to well-known coffee companies such as Peet’s. We were inducted through all these steps and were then provided a hearty lunch as a topper. I was a little pissed when coffee wasn't served, but I guess that was just the withdrawals talking. A light rain started to drizzle as we were collecting ourselves to return to the hot, sticky lowlands, and I suddenly had a sensation of envy for all the people who were back in the Pacific Northwest enjoying a similar mild, cool climate. Then I got wet which was a terrible experience, so I waited in the car impatiently for everyone else.

Pre-cup coffee!

Preach the coffee sermon!

Coffee Snake - not poisonous.

The longer we stayed at Chiapas Marina, the more we complained about it. I know it was free and all, but hey, if someone can find a flaw, it’s a cruiser. People complained about the power being intermittent and how the Marina was impossibly isolated next to nothing, but I personally had a problem with the texture of the newfangled ramps leading to the docks. Call me old fashioned, but I like a solid wood plank. The seclusion, however, was an actual issue, especially because El Salvador Rally participants were told that supermarkets in El Salvador don’t stock the wide variety of foods Mexico supermarkets do. Allegedly El Salvador don’t have hot sauce!? This being a travesty, we cabbed it (twice) to the Wal-Mart for provisioning runs. I bought all the ramen I could find, some handy solar yard lights to use as anchor lights, some hot sauce, and a new stereo for the one that decided this cruel world wasn't worth it.

Cable car building to bring the raw fruit to the processing plant.

After beans are sorted by size and weight they are bagged and shipped to roasters.

With no pesos in my pocket it was time to leave Mexico behind. You would think that a country like Mexico would have a very simple check-out process. This is untrue. Dogs are involved. You have to go to four different places. You have to pay lots of money. How ridiculous is it that you have to pay more money to leave Mexico than you do to enter!? Genius. The process took all day and was literally the human version of the board game Mouse Trap. Oh, sorry, you don't have form 1097URNOTFUKD, well that will be another $20. Thank fucking gosh I had form 1097URNOTFUKD, but Aaron wasn't so lucky.

These bags of coffee are going to Peet's. Gotta love Peet's!

Opening a bag of coffee is like Christmas!

The last step before shipping the coffee.

Man > Machine. Fact; we get our cheap labor from Mexico, and Mexico gets its cheap labor from Guatemala.

Old Machine, Cool Colors.

Jungle - Village - Coffee

When the sour taste in my mouth from checking out faded, I headed back to Panache for my last night in Mexico. It wasn't crazy, or exceptionally Mexican, but it was relaxing and gave plenty of time to reflect on what a great county Mexico is to cruise in. With so many good spots to stop, I can see why some people never leave. The next morning, I was that person who decided not to leave. I kept finding just one more thing to get situated. Sleeping in also didn’t help. I waved goodbye to Bella Star and Bravo as they left and looked around the deserted Chiapas Marina. I ended up being only an hour behind, and when I got on the water what proceeded was one of the best sails in the history of the Earth. Why? I was last to leave Chiapas but the first to arrive at the sand bar entrance in El Salvador. Bravo and Bella Star will be the first to point out that they had to “slow down” so they wouldn't arrive there too early (you can only enter the estuary at slack high tide). Bull. Panache is a speed demon that crushed the competition. It wasn't a race, but rule one of sailing states: Sailing is always a race. Seriously though, some crazy current was adding 2, sometimes 3, knots on top of a downwind sprint. I was making a consistent 7 knots, would occasionally dip to 6.5 and hit 8.3 knots several times. I was loving it and wasn't about to give up any speed. I ended up waiting at the entrance with a smirk on my face as I watched Bravo and Bella Star come join the party. Arrival order apparently means nothing, because when it came time to cross the bar I was last. More bull.

After riding two waves into the estuary, I was finally in El Salvador. I pulled up to the dock at Bahia del Sol, checked into the country right at the hotel in less than 30 minutes (way to show up Mexico, El Salvador!) and was ready for my complimentary drink. It was El Salvador Rally time, where every day is like every other day, and relaxation is your job. Unless there is a microburst.

I'm glad the swell was small this day.

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