Thursday, February 28, 2013

Indigo's Isla Isabel

Most of the logs (or blogs) of boats that travel along the Pacific Coast of Mexico will include an account of a stop at Isla Isabel. This remote island, about twenty miles off the coast, makes an easy stop on the passage between the Baja Peninsula or Mazatlan, and the area around Bandaras Bay and Puerta Vallarta to the south.  This was our fourth trip along this stretch of the coast, but the first time we had visited Isla Isabel.

We arrived at Isla Isabel after leaving San Blas, a distance of forty miles. Most of the fishermen who work from the fish camp here are also based in San Blas. This is a serious fish camp, bringing in lots of fish in challenging conditions, and moving their catch across forty miles of ocean in open boats.

Isla Isabel is known for it's birds, especially its Frigatebirds and its Blue Footed Boobies. Hiking around the island is an exercise in avoiding the nesting birds. Creeping along the edge of a cliff, fifty feet above the surf, the hiker has to decide between a solid footfall and an aggressive nesting Boobie. If the hiker is old enough, the iconic images from Hitchcock's 'The Birds' might come to mind.
We arrived at Isla Isabel when there was only one other boat in the anchorage, and found a good spot to drop the hook in the area known to be a favorable anchoring ground. Our boat is at the left in this photo. This bay is known to be riddled with large rocks which can snag an anchor, so we attached a second line with a float to our anchor, to enable rescue operations if the anchor were to get stuck.
After several days of exploration, we decided to depart Isla Isabel in the afternoon, so that we would have plenty of daylight to troubleshoot problems with a stuck anchor. We were so pleased when we were able to lift the anchor without difficulty. But in the midst of our enthusiasm, we forgot the second line attached to the anchor, and - for the first time in eight years of sailing - managed to wrap that second line around the propeller. We quickly dropped anchor again, noting that we were just far enough off the breaking waves and rocks off our stern.

We were incredible lucky that the captain of a boat recently anchored nearly, had been snorkeling and saw our problem. He came over immediately, and proceeded to cut the offending rope off of our propeller shaft, far more quickly than we would have been able.

So we were able to leave Isla Isabel in the late afternoon light, feeling doubly blessed that we had been able to visit the island, and also able to get away from it safely!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

More Birds from San Blas

We have traveled north from Bandaras Bay and returned to the small coastal city of San Blas. We quickly arranged a boat trip through the spring-fed Rio Tovaras, so that we could see more of the wonderful birds that reside near San Blas. This Green Kingfisher was one of several making great loops across the river at 7 am this morning.

We saw seven species of herons this morning. This handsome bird is a Tiger Heron. This view, through a telephoto lens, edited to correct exposure, is the best view we have had of this bird's wonderful markings.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Oaxaca on Horseback

After a week in the city, we spent three days and nights at the Rancho Pitaya, about twelve miles east of Oaxaca. We did some day rides in the area surrounding the ranch. But the highlight was a longer trip we took by trailering the horses to an area deeper in the valley, and then riding through farmland and up into the hills.

We gained enough elevation to have great views across the valley, and encountered all sorts of semi-wild critters, including a herd of horses. We saw all kinds of farm work being done, and various clusters of livestock.

This was a great chance to see something of rural Mexico never visable from the boat! Thanks to Sara Giles-Madden, a fellow rider who shared her photos with us.

This long ride began and ended at an old hacienda, mostly in ruins, but with a small, recently restored chapel. The owner, the older man in the photo below, was sitting in the courtyard, shucking the recently harvested corn so it could be sun dried and ground into masa. Clearly someone who loves the old ways.

Prehispanic Oaxaca

Surrounding Oaxaca, there are dozens of archeological sites, reinforcing the idea that people have lived in this valley for thousands of years. Monte Alban sits directly south of the city, it's summit covered by the ruins of a large settlement. A bit of the ruins show up in the photo above, alongside a flowering Jacaranda tree.

 These buildings are thought to be more than 2000 years old. The large structures are thought to be ceremonial. The site includes this ball court, a feature common to many prehispanic archeological sites.

The ruins are awe inspiring, as is the site on this mountain. Many of the surrounding hills show signs of having been terraced for farming. Monte Alban was abandoned many centuries before the Spanish invasion. We also visited Yagul, a site about twenty miles to the east, which is thought to have been contemporary to Monte Alban. It is also set on a high hill, with long views across the valley. The photo below shows the ruins at Yagul.

We also visited Mitla, a site still further east in the Valley of Oaxaca, and much more recent. In fact, when the Spanish arrived, they just constructed a church and administrative center right on top of the buildings previously constructed by the Zapotec people.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Lovely Oaxaca

We are back on Indigo in Bandaras Bay after a two week trip (by air,  least you get confused about sailors skipping over mountains) to lovely Oaxaca. Looking over the photos we brought back, I can see how charmed we were by the gracious and unique appearance of the place. Oaxaca is a busy city, with lots of noise and crazy traffic. But it is also knee deep in history, art, and charm.

Prehispanic ruins underlie the city and the surrounding valley, and the images, crafts, and patterns inherited from the many layers of history are everywhere. Including the murals in the City Hall.

We stayed at Casa Colonial, a small bed and breakfast inn and longtime favorite with tourists. The courtyards, verandas, and gardens were charming and full of unexpected details.

The city is full of very old buildings, most of them originally churches or monestaries, now repurposed as museums and cultural centers. The norm seems to leave the buildings as unchanged as possible, with raw masonry or old stone exposed, and only the simplest and most authentic ornamentation restored. The result is restful and majestic.

Lovely Oaxaca, with a wonderful vista anyway you turn.