Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Manzanilla, Tenacatita Estuary Adventure, Barra de Navidad

The first order of business on Monday morning was to re-provision Intermezzo with fresh food and more beer. Marc and I set out on a high speed dinghy run across Bahia Tenacatita to the small town of Manzanilla.

The swell in the bay was big enough that we had to plan and time our beach landing at Manzanilla through the surf very carefully. We found a promising spot where the breakers were a bit smaller and there was a good spot to leave the dinghy and then hovered just beyond where the waves were breaking to get a sense of their timing. When a lull in the swell occurred, we gassed the engine and ran the dinghy up on the beach, making a landing of quite respectable quality. We left the dinghy under the watchful eyes of the nearby restaurant owner and set off to find the best places to buy our provisions.

Manzanilla is a nice little one street town, with the ubiquitous plaza, church and kiosk. Even though the town and its stores are very small, we found a nice selection of produce, yoghurt, granola, fish, meat and beer to bring back to the boat.

We lugged all our purchases back to the restaurant that watched the dinghy for us and bought breakfast and beers as a way to say “thanks”. As we ate our breakfast, we watched the breakers and figured out their timing so that we could make a surf entry at least as good as our landing. We finished our breakfast, loaded up the dinghy and, at just the right moment, dragged it into the surf, fired up the engine, clambered in and we were off. Another respectable performance for the onlookers on the beach.

With Intermezzo now laden with fresh delicacies and cold beer, we could have fun and relax for the rest of the day.

Dinners have been excellent on Intermezzo recently. We have enjoyed braised chicken with vegetables, garlic shrimp with pasta, marinated steak fajitas, and a fresh fish stew in a Louisiana court boullion. It’s like eating in a fine restaurant while swinging at anchor.

Tuesday morning we set out on a dinghy adventure through a small estuary that leads to a beach with a snorkeling area called The Aquarium, a journey of about three miles.  We timed our trip for favorable tides and started off gently rowing up the estuary with the incoming tide. The channel started off comfortably wide for rowing, but about halfway along, narrowed so much that there wasn’t enough room for the oars between the dinghy and the mangroves on either side. So we fired up the outboard and progressed slowly, avoiding tangles of branches above and below the water.

As we drew nearer to our destination, we heard the noise of chainsaws up ahead. Sure enough, men in two pangas were working hard to clear the channel of logs and branches. It occurred to me that it has been less than three months since the powerful hurricane Sandra made a direct hit on this part of the coast, which was obviously the cause of the channel being so narrow and chocked up. The guys on the pangas were clearing it so that they could start their boat tours again. If they hadn’t been clearing the area where we encountered them, we wouldn’t have been able to proceed any further and would need to turn back. Which, logically but not confirmed, makes us the first dinghy to have made it completely through the estuary and back this season! Tah-dah!

Based on our cruising guides, we expected to find beach restaurants in addition to great snorkeling at the end of the estuary. We found the great snorkeling, but the restaurants were gone.  Apparently, the beachfront landowner cleared all the business off the beach, leaving it a rather funky scene of decrepit buildings, beach day trippers and campers, and a heavily armed policeman.

We were hungry, so after a few conversations with various individuals on the beach, we learned that there might be a restaurant somewhere between a half and two kilometers up the road. We set out under a strong sun and over hot pavement to find out. Sure enough we came across “Chito’s” about two clicks from the beach. We had fantastic fresh seafood meals, including the local special “rollo de mar” which is a fish filet stuffed with shrimp, rolled up in a strip of bacon and served with a light almond cream sauce. Muy, my bueno!

As we were walking to Chito’s, eight new state police pickup trucks drove by us, each with five heavily armed policemen inside. Heavily outnumbered and outgunned, we waved and smile like dumb gringos. The police smile and waved back, a good sign for us. However, we wondered, what could possible justify an army of forty men heading to the beach. We asked a couple of locals and concluded that the landowner had connections to the police and they were making a show of force to keep businesses from reoccupying his beachfront property. It all seemed very strange to us.

We bought four cold beers to give to the guys on the pangas clearing the channel and one of the señoras from Chitos gave us a lift back to the dinghy. It was great timing, as the men had called it a day and were returning in their boats just as we arrived. We were rewarded with four ear-to-ear smiles as we handed them their ice cold Coronas and thanked them for making our trip possible.

We motored back to Intermezzo having felt like we had enjoyed a real adventure, with hostile jungle, suspicious paramilitary operations, just enough uncertainty to make it exciting, and having met friendly local people along the way.

Back at Intermezzo, I worked on configuring the inverter/charger to work with the tiny portable Yamaha gas generator that I bought in Puerto Vallarta. I had to set it to limit the input current it would draw so as not to overload the little engine. I got it figured out and we now have a backup means of making water on cloudy days. With four people on board, this is important.  Even with only two people, if we had more than a few days of clouds, we would have to start conserving water, i.e. no showers, which gets "old" after a few days in the tropics. The little Yamaha chugs along pretty quietly, making 50 gallons of water in a few hours and using less than a quart of gasoline. That's way more efficient and “green” than running one of our diesel engines and burning 1.5 gallons of fuel to do the same job. I think we are going to be very grateful for the little Yamaha when we get further south during rainy season.

This morning we set sail for Barra de Navidad, where Intermezzo is now anchored in the lagoon inland from the town. It will be a fun place to explore with good restaurants and, get this, a French baker that delivers fresh bread and pastries to your boat each morning!

The main street in the little town of Manzanilla, in Bahia Tenacatita

The marine-themed kiosk in the Manzanilla plaza

Close up of kiosk column and wire fish net railing

Fresh tortillas in Manzanilla, still warm when we got back to Intermezzo
The beginning of our estuary dinghy adventure
Intrepid dinghy explorers

Estuary wildlife

Bird in the mangrove roots along the estuary 

The guys who cleared our passage through the chocked up estuary channel

Two guys who enjoy a cold beer after a hot day's work in the jungle 

Beach with "The Aquarium" snorkeling spot among the rocks beyond
Hurricane damage to gates of what was once an estate home

Chito's, source of great food, a ride back to our dinghy and cold beers for our jungle-clearing amigos