On our way from Mexico City to Mazatlan, we spent three days in Guadalajara with Jake’s distant relatives. They live in an upscale barrio in a large house that’s built around a central courtyard. They treated us well, showing us the city and surrounding sites by day and cooking up great meals followed by cigars and brandy by night. The central market in Guadalajara is a shopping mecca, with hundreds of stalls manned by sleazy-looking, gold chain-wearing dudes selling electronics, sunglasses, clothes, etc… Everyone knows that most of this merchandise is stolen but hey, it’s Mexico and corruption rules.

We’ve been in Mazatlan for the last few days where we found an adequate hotel room in the old town centro for a whopping $3 per night. It was dingy, with only a small window, bare concrete walls, and a single steel-bladed ceiling fan with a bare light bulb. The one bed was a bit small for Jake and I in the sweltering heat, but we’ve become pretty good about keeping to our own side to avoid the nasty, sweaty-dude skin contact in the middle of the night. It wasn’t too bad, because it was only about a 10-minute walk to the beach where we had been surfing. Unfortunately, there was virtually no ocean swell, but the surf spot was a decent left point that broke over a bottom of white sand and sharp rocks. The rocks were a bit scary looking because the water was so clear that they felt like they were just inches below the surface.

The free stay in Guadalajara freed up a little of our budget to splurge in Mazatlan, so we headed to the wharf for a little sport fishing. Our plan was to find a boat that was leaving that morning, but not quite full, and thus score a cheap ride with a captain who’d rather make a small fee from us than go out with a half full boat. We found just that boat and had a bit of time to kill before departure so we headed to the local Mercado to pick up a little beer and some snacks for the day. Jake grabbed a six-pack of Corona and we boarded and headed out to sea.

We spent 7 hours trolling for sailfish about 20 miles off the coast on a 35-foot boat. It was actually really boring just driving a boat aimlessly around the ocean so we figured we might as well crack open a beer. Jake grabbed one of the Coronas and it turned out he accidentally bought the little, girlie, mini Coronas. Great! Now we were the laughing stock of the captain and mate – two idiot Gringos with little girlie beers. They of course were drinking Ballenas – one liter-sized bottles of Pacifico. Anyway, it didn’t matter because the rolling of the small boat on the open ocean swells was making me feel pretty sick while we were driving aimlessly around the ocean, so I wasn’t going to drink any beer. Once I fed the fish with the entire contents of my guts, I felt better and could focus on the fishing – aka driving aimlessly around the ocean with the fishing pole stuck in a holder on the stern.

I wish I could say that the moment the fish took the line was something really dramatic, but the fiberglass fishing pole was so stiff that it hardly moved. Jakes hopped into the fighting seat and strapped the pole in and started wrestling that fish in bit by bit. One of the other guys on the boat gave it a shot as well. It took about 15 minutes to bring in, weighed around 115 lbs and was about 6’6″ long. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any exciting fish acrobatics so it was mostly just hard work. Once alongside the boat, the mate impaled the fish with a gaffing hook and then clubbed it to death with a well-used hunk of wood. It was actually kind of sad.

At the second bite, it was my turn to hop in the seat first and this one was a real fighter. It weighed in at about 175 lbs and was a good foot longer than the first fish. My arms got pretty tired working on that one and we traded off reeling duties with the other two guys (Mexican tourists) on our boat. This fish was a true trophy fighter. Once we had him about 40 yards off the port side, he started leaping into the air, furiously trying to rid himself of the giant hook in his mouth. It was spectacular as the sun glistened off his turquoise iridescent skin, so hopefully my pictures come out. The day was a steal at $40 each, though it had taken an hour of negotiating to bring that price down from $160, and we were quite proud of the fact that we, the Gringos, joined the trip for less than the two Mexicans. All I can think about is that if my money is going to last a year, I need to really watch the budget.

Besides surfing for a bit in the morning when the tide is right, we’ve been taking the bus to the Zona Dorado, where all the mega-resorts are. None of the guards ever stop us so we’ve been using the hotel amenities at will, lounging by the pool all day and reading Tom Clancy – not a bad life. Last night’s sunset was spectacular from the beach at one of our “borrowed” resorts and the weather was perfect for lounging and dipping in the pool. The dramatic thunderheads on the horizon made their way ashore just after dark, and for the past two nights we’ve experienced fierce thunderstorms from about 2-4am. The lightning flashes so frequently, and is so bright, that you can literally read a book from its light.

My Spanish is improving, and I’m at that beginner stage where I understand quite a bit but can’t express myself beyond simple statements. Every night we’ve been hanging out on the front steps of our dingy hotel with the night watchman and he’s been entertaining us with stories of the regular customers of the hotel – clandestine meetings with mistresses, young kids secretly getting away from home, etc. He says in broken English that he “steals” one or two rooms a night which turns out to mean that he pockets the cash himself rather than putting it in the books. It’s a mutually beneficial deal as the secret meetings go unrecorded as long as they are gone before the owner shows up in the morning and the night watchman supplements his meager wage. You can’t blame him for being an opportunist. He works the night shift at the hotel and hawks para-sailing rides all day on the beach just to make ends meet for his family.

Upon leaving Mazatlan, we headed into the land of no email access. We arrived in the village of San Blas, Nayarit, way south of Mazatlan on the Pacific coast. There, we were mostly cut off from communications, so now you’re finally hearing from me in Ixtapa. We spent a week in San Blas waiting for Kyle to arrive from Mexico City and searching for the fabled longest surfable wave in the world – Matanchen Bay. We hitched a ride there with a couple from California, Jarred and Sherrel, who had driven down in their VW Vanagon but the Jejenes (No-See-Ums) were swarming so intensely that it was impossible to get out of the van. I could see the potential of the wave though, as the little six-inch tall waves peeled perfectly from the point nearly a mile long to the bay. Apparently it takes a monster swell to make the long wave break, but we had placid seas the whole time. Therefore, in search of better surf, we headed south the day after Kyle arrived.

We hopped on a bus for a painfully long journey that took 30 straight hours, including layovers between bus transfers, and brought us to Lazaro Cardenas, where legends speak of Mexico’s best wave. It turns out the fishing industry built a harbor and breakwater that killed the wave, so we chased another mythical wave an hour north (backtracking) and ended up in a one street town called Coletta. No wave here. We had to grab a taxi and go a bit further north – and the result? Victory. The setting was straight out of a surfer magazine: a mile-long stretch of beach, thatched roof cabanas with hammocks stretched out front under the shade of an awning, no mosquitoes (thanks to a recent dousing of DDT), and a peeling left river mouth wave called Nexpa. Only problem: During the 30 hours we had traveled, a behemoth swell hit and we went from no surf to ridiculously huge surf. This beach faces unimpeded open ocean with no peninsulas or islands to absorb swell energy so the break was thundering. There were a dozen or so surfers staying along this beach and all of us sat there and watched in amazement as one dude tackled these monsters that we all agreed were somewhere between 25 and 30-feet huge. At that size they break hundreds of yards out in the ocean and the guy was just a small speck on the face of the wave before he was completely engulfed in the tube and disappeared from view before shooting out at the end. This was by far the biggest wave I’d ever seen.

By the next morning the swell had mellowed out a bit and the waves were in the 15-foot range so Kyle and I decided to paddle out. That was the most challenging paddle of my life as I got pummeled by a constant stream of rolling white washes six feet high. Even though we had some momentum from the river current flowing out, the lateral shore current made staying on track a real chore. After at least half an hour of paddling we made it out beyond the break and with jello arms burning painfully, we stopped to catch our breath.

After sitting out beyond the break for 45 minutes, bobbing hugely up and down under the rolling swell, I mustered up enough cojones and decided to paddle into one. The drop-in down the huge face was exhilarating as I stayed way out on the shoulder to avoid getting swallowed by the tube. With such a huge open face, the feeling was like snowboarding, but it was so fast and intense that I barely remember it at all. The adrenaline rush was amazing and all I know is that I pulled out sooner than was necessary just to ensure that I wouldn’t get crunched, and then paddled back out to the safe zone.

It took me another hour and a half to go for another one because I was avoiding the ordeal to get back on shore. The fast side current threatened to force me toward the sandy beach next to the river mouth where the steep bottom profile was causing the rolling white wash to rebuild into eight-foot tall waves that peaked and crushed directly onto dry sand. Definitely not something I wanted to get caught in with a fragile surfboard. I made it in to shore, nervous but unharmed, and did what travelers do best – drank a beer while lounging in a hammock on the beach. The next day the swell was about 5 to 11 feet. It was super fun and between the morning and afternoon sessions we all caught a lot of great waves.

Our friends Jared and Sherrel with the VW van, whom we had met in San Blas, showed up coincidentally at Nexpa so we decided to spend a few more days in this paradise before heading south. We all piled into the Vanagon and drove toward Ixtapa last night. Woke up this morning, no waves here, so we’re heading further south this afternoon.


We finally made it to Cancun…

Since the last time I wrote you, we traveled for a while with Jarred and Sherrel in their Vanagon. I can’t remember what had happened since I wrote last, so if I’m repeating myself, sorry.

We rode with Jarred and Sherrel south from Nexpa in search of another rumored wave, turning off the highway on a 30-km mud track and driving through deep puddles in which we got stuck several times. With Sherrel at the wheel and the three of us pushing we managed to free the Vanagon from the mire only to get stuck in the next puddle. Our goal was the tiny fishing village of Chacahua which was so remote they didn’t even have running water. Once there, Jake wandered around asking a few locals where to find the wave. He reported back, “Damned local fisherman dammed the lagoon to make it easier to catch their damned fish.” Frustrated, I replied, “Damn it, why’d they have to dam it?” At least the dam story was one explanation, but it’s Mexico and you get three different answers if you ask three different people – it can be damn obnoxious. Since we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere without even a wave to surf, we dubbed Cacahua “ChacaWhere?” which somehow was really funny to us.

It was too late in the evening to try to drive back out before dark, and with the constant threat of rain, we decided to spend the night. There were just a few buildings in ChacaWhere? and only one “hotel” which only had one of its four rooms available. Jared and Sherrel slept in their Vanagon and Jake, Kyle and I took the one hotel room. It was totally bare with a concrete floor and plaster walls and a single bare light bulb attached to a useless ceiling fan. This was definitely the smallest room we had stayed in – it was less than 10 by 10 feet with a single large opening (no glass, no screen) which functioned as the window. Jake and Kyle slept on the small bed, trying desperately to avoid the SDC (Sweaty Dude Contact) and I slept on the floor using an empty surfboard bag as padding. It was so small that our boards in there plus backpacks along the wall under the window and me on the floor left no room to open the door or even stand anywhere. Even though we don’t like having a big opening into our room, shuttering the large window wasn’t an option because of the heat. Plus, we figured this was a small town so no one would mess with us.

For no reason at all, I awoke in the middle of the night and opened my eyes. I stared in disbelief as I saw a person silhouetted by the moonlight, bent over the window opening and lifting my pack. Huh? It was that kind of dim light that plays tricks on your mind and I figured I must have been dreaming so I squinted my sleepy eyes and tried to clear the cobwebs from my mind. The thief looked up and we stared at each other for what seemed like forever, him trying to figure out if I was awake and he was caught, and me trying to figure out if this was really happening. Suddenly he dropped the pack and disappeared. The sound of the pack thumping the floor jolted my mind and I knew that it was all real. I woke up the other guys and we decided it was too hot to close the window so we moved the packs under the bed and went back to sleep. Footprints in the sand outside of our window the next morning confirmed that I hadn’t been dreaming and I followed the tracks. They led into our same little hotel complex so clearly the suspect was among us. I decided to buy some chain and a padlock at the next hardware store so I could prevent this from happening again.

After we made it out of ChacaWhere?, we went to Puerto Escondido. This place is known as the Mexican Pipeline for its huge, tubing beach break akin to its famous namesake in Hawaii. Guys break their surfboards here everyday because the wave pounds into water that’s only 3 feet deep. Needless to say, I didn’t waste my time by paddling out. Instead, Jared (the guy with the Vanagon) and I went to the hardware store and I spent a few bucks buying supplies to make a fishing spear. Guess what? It really works. It’s a simple design: a 7-foot length of 3/4-inch pipe with long nails lashed to the front and a 16-inch length of surgical tubing attached to the tail. The thing works pretty well, though I need to revise the spear head to make it sturdier.

I borrowed Jared’s fins and snorkel gear and went hunting. Water visibility was about 25 feet, but I learned the hard way that the fish look a lot bigger under water than they do on the surface. The first fish I saw that looked big enough to eat was black with white spots (or is it white with black spots?) so I released the spear and nailed him on the first try. He immediately puffed up into a round ball. Oops, I didn’t know he was a puffer fish. I brought my prize to the surface in victory only to be disappointed when I saw that he was less than a foot long. Poor little fishy. I released him from the spear tip but he stayed inflated and thus just floated, dead, like a ball on the surface of the water. For some reason, I thought he deserved a proper burial at the bottom of the ocean so I tried to pop him with the spear tip but he stubbornly stayed inflated. I felt kind of guilty and there weren’t really any good eatin’ fish around, so our plan to spear dinner ended in failure.

We hadn’t planned to spend more than a day in Puerto Escondido, but the buses out of there were sold out for several days. We rented a beachfront cabaña for about $6 each and just hung out. 2 days later we were on an 8am bus to the Mayan ruins of Palenque. The bus ride lasted that whole day and through the next night for a total of 23 hours. We got to the town of Palenque in the morning, dropped our stuff at luggage storage and headed for the ruins. This Mayan city was at its peak 1600 years ago and it’s amazing how intact everything still is. Magnificent temples were nestled in dense jungle as if the whole place was created to be in an Indiana Jones movie – or should I say that Indiana Jones movies are inspired by places like this? We explored for a while, and I even saw a monkey. Unfortunately, archeologists know very little about the city and its ancient inhabitants, so I was unable to learn some of the history that I was hoping for.

After checking out the ruins, we headed back to town and hung out in the Zocolo (central plaza) until our 10 pm night bus for Cancun departed. This bus, unbeknownst to us, was a dumpy 2nd classer with questionable suspension, ultra-narrow seats, negative leg room, and no bathroom. Fortunately it was only 15 hours long. The whole bus swayed from side to side constantly, as if we were on a boat. In fact, the swaying was so severe that it was impossible to relax in the microseat at all because we had to keep our core muscles tight to stay upright. We finally made it with sore stomach muscles and knees bruised from the seat in front of us.

Cancun, we quickly learned, is not exactly a budget traveler’s paradise. After much searching we managed to find a room for $9 each, the most we’ve had to pay so far. We’re only spending one night here though, since we’re flying to Havana at noon tomorrow. We found a round trip flight for $195, including our 30-day Cuban visa. That’s over $100 cheaper than what we expected to pay. Our return from Havana is scheduled for 8/23. After that I’ll email again and let you know how it was. There are no ATM machines on Cuba and we can’t use traveler’s checks, so we have to bring all our money in US cash. I’m not too excited about hitchhiking around Cuba with $600 cash in my pocket, but it’s the only way. There is virtually no public transportation, so the only way around is hitching. We’re hoping to go pheasant hunting, play golf, watch a baseball game, and who knows what else. In case you had any unwarranted prejudices against Cuba, it’s supposedly the safest country in Latin America.