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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September 23, 2014-Coffee Country

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Coffee Beans

The State of Chiapas is mountainous and from our berth in Marina Chiapas we can see some of those mountains and even two volcanoes, weather permitting. One volcano we can usually see is in nearby Guatemala, and the other one, closer, visible even more often, towers over the town of Tapachula where we go to do our shopping. That volcano, Tacana, is only about 75 kilometers from us, and closer by far to the town of Tapachula than Mount St Helens is to Seattle, if that means anything to you (so maybe if we don’t have to worry about hurricanes, at least we should pay attention to seismic activity).

We thought that a nice Sunday drive would be to head up into the mountains and see if we could get some shots of the volcano, take a little hike or two in the cool mountain forests, and maybe buy some local coffee beans from one of the fincas for which Chiapas is well known.

It didn’t seem too hard; the roads are reported to be good, the Chrysler had a full tank of gas and seemed to be straining at the bit, and we had all day. Off we went. We took the bypass around Tapachula, stopped at the Izapa ruins to see what is left of one of the most important pre-Olmec, pre-Mayan and pre-Aztec cities in Mexico, dating from a few centuries before Christ, and found it interesting but steaming in the humid lowlands, then hopped back in the car and headed up hill towards the cool mountains.

Getting to the mountains from Marina Chiapas is pretty easy: it’s about a 50 mile drive from our dock up the slopes of Tacana, to the town of Union Juarez, where the hiking trails start, the coffee fincas abound, and a nice restaurant lies waiting to serve us lunch. Easy, as long as you stay on the main drag. We made the mistake of turning off the highway to visit a small town, Tuxtla Chica, on the way, which was nice, but at that point our Google Maps navigation program decided we wanted to take the local route and pretty soon we were on a one lane road paved with loose boulders. Five miles per hour was way too fast, we were bottoming out the car, and the locals were giving us funny looks. This can’t be right, we thought, let’s get back on the main highway, but the main highway seemed to have disappeared from the database. It wasn’t on the map anywhere. According to Google, this was THE ONLY route. Boy, was that fun. But anyway, we followed the donkey track, or river bed, whichever it was, and finally made it to the next town, Cacahoatan, where the highway mysteriously reappeared, and continued to Union Jaurez.

Tuxtla Chica Market

Problem number two, which wasn’t a problem really, but it did change our plans a little, is that Tacana was completely socked in on that day, and in fact the whole mountainside was drenched in steady rain. We never saw the mountain. Never took a hike. But the restaurant was nice, we had a great lunch and the damp mountain air was cool, chilly actually. While there we also enjoyed the work of a wonderful Mexican photographer, Dasha Hornita, which is on display in her mother’s restaurant, Donde Morayma, where we had lunch. Later, on the way back down, while we knew there must be a better route, Google again insisted that we take to the back roads. That we refused to do, instead followed some nice Mexican road signs, (who would have thunk?) and found our own way to the main road, which was smoother and faster. If you ever go to this place, for God’s sake don’t get off the road at Tuxtla Chico, or if you do, turn off Google Maps and ask a local for directions.

Oh, the coffee beans? It turns out you have to get them at the Walmart store in Tapachula.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Chiapas

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September 23, 2014-Hurricane Hell, Hurricane Safe

Latitude 38 images-2014 Shelly Ward
Hurricane hits La Paz

The community of cruising sailors is surprisingly small and when a storm hits somewhere and devastates a fleet, as they too often do, not only do we hear about it though friends on the scene, but sometimes, too often really, someone we know is touched, not usually in a good way.

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Our friend Venus, Safe in Chiapas

So last week when Hurricane Odile tracked Baja like a sidewinder missile and made direct hits on Cabo San Lucas and La Paz we heard the terrible news immediately; neighbors of ours here in Marina Chiapas were in touch with cruisers from La Paz. Venus on SeaRenity gave us the first report: Twenty or more boats were on the rocks or sunk. People were missing including her friend Guenter Trebbow from the yacht Princess and his dog Fritz. His boat was sunk and Guenter had not been seen. His body was later found in the sunken boat. Venus recounted how they had walked their dogs together and how she will miss Guenter, as will many in the cruising community. Paul and Simone of the ketch Tabasco also went missing after their yacht went down too. They have not been seen. Another friend of Venus’, Tim Nobbs, lost his boat, Rock Bottom, (what a name!) on the rocks of the Mogote which bounds the anchorage of La Paz. It is holed and filled with water. Venus told us Tim had just finished paying the boat off. Now he will have to start over but at least he is alive. The likelihood of recovering Tim's boat and others is not strong. We heard that the Mexican Navy, which has been on the scene helping and even pulling boats off the rocks, will now focus on missing people and boat owners will need to organize further salvage efforts themselves. It will be a long haul for many. Boats were also lost in Puerto Escondito and across the Sea in San Carlos. All in all the news was not good. But in general, boats in the marinas were OK. Boats which had to ride out the storm on anchor got the worst of it.

Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Hurricane tracks

But we’re lucky: we are in Chiapas Marina in the far south of Mexico and hurricanes don’t generally hit here. In fact, there has been no recorded strike of a hurricane here since records have been kept. Look in the lower right corner for the red "X" in the image above (that’s where we are and that's why we have stayed here during hurricane season). So, while Baja has been through hurricane hell, we have been safe. We are thankful. Next year, when we have moved north, we might be closer to the hurricane areas. We hope our luck holds.

Click here for a couple more photos.

Click here , here and here for the 'Lectronic Latitude stories.

Click here and here for our 1997 hurricane reports when we were in the Sea of Cortez.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Chiapas

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Friday, September 05, 2014

September 5, 2014-One lap of North America

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Somewhere East of Bakersfield

Somewhere East of Bakersfield in the Mojave Desert lies China Lake Naval Air Station and there we slid our Chrysler to a stop in front of a red stucco apartment where our granddaughter Candace answered the door and offered us an orange flavored craft beer. More importantly she gave us each a big hug and as we sat down to chat we were delighted to find that in the previous four years she has turned from a sharp navy boot to a confident and composed 29-year old woman.

Family in Twin Peaks

This has been the story of our 7500 mile loop in America; at each stop we have found that our family and friends have grown up, matured, and changed from the wonderful people we remembered into delightful people even more wonderful than we could have ever imagined. And our timing was good, for family events and tourism too. We got to Seattle just in time for the birth of our newest granddaughter, Helena Anne, we made it to Oregon for Jenny and Gabe’s wedding, we were in San Diego in time to be with the Waldrups as they celebrated the life of Aunt Levis. We even hit Sturgis South Dakota for the great motorcycle rally.

Gabe & Jenny's Wedding

So, so far, the trip it has been a success; we’ve spent quality time with my brother and sister, son and daughter, and all of their families. We’ve been together with most of Judy’s family, and we’ve reconnected with many of our friends, particularly ones we missed last time we were in the US. The car is running well, and we completed all of our shopping and bought everything on the boat list. Even the weather has been great. From Oregon south we’ve barely had a cloud in the sky, but it’s been hot; in San Diego it was over 100, and in Indio, California we had temperatures over 112. Never mind that, in the low humidity of the southwest desert, it didn’t seem too bad.

Now we’re back in Mexico. We drove through the Sonora Desert and it was stunning. We visited Mazatlan and boy has it changed; the marina area has been totally built up and then been run down. Now there is a tacky air about the marina which might cause us to reconsider whether we will bring the boat there. We’ll see.

We stopped in small towns like Tecuala, and in old cities like Cuidad Obregon, Morelia, which was historic and gorgeous, and Oaxaca. We had great meals in outdoor restaurants on centuries-old plazas. We dropped into the Valley of Mexico and struggled through Mexico City traffic for hours. We had been in Mexico City before and could have by-passed it but we wanted to experience the size of hemisphere’s largest city by driving through it and we did. Whew! Big!

Yesterday was the toughest drive. After the hours of Mexico City we finally broke free of the gridlock and climbed from the city’s 7500 ft altitude up into higher Sierra Nevada on a four lane freeway with sweeping curves and traffic moving faster than we were comfortable with, but you have to go with the flow, right? Then down the other side into Puebla with more curves and even higher speeds. The driving was tense and definitely tended to focus the mind. But too, it was exciting.


Because of the traffic jams in the Valley of Mexico we were behind schedule and to get to Cordoba where we had reserved a room we had to drive into the night. In the last set of mountains we had fog, rain, road construction everywhere, poorly marked lanes, and darkness. It was exhausting, but we arrived safely in Codoba. Today we had another exciting day in the mountains with more stunning scenery and arrived in Oaxaca this afternoon.


Tomorrow we hope to be back at Marina Chiapas and back onboard Wings.

We have been driving long days and stopping rarely so there are few photos of the trip, but we have some of the people we stopped to see.

Click here to see photos from our lap of North America

Click here to see Gabe & Jenny's Wedding

Click here for photos from Sturgis.

Fred & Judy, Oaxaca, Mexico

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