A Month in Mexico, September 2014
 
Our first month back in Mexico after a summer in San Francisco was quite a varied time, including a luxury hotel stay, major boat work, travel and tourism, brushes with hurricanes, and oysters.

 

We flew into Puerto Vallarta (PV) on Saturday, September 13th. It was too late to make the 3-4 hour bus trip to Barra de Navidad, where Akka was in a marina.  So we found a hotel room near the airport and bus terminal, and taxied into town to stroll the famous malecon (boardwalk). It was predictably tacky, lined with bars, restaurants and Señor Frog souvenir shops.  Rob enjoyed some fresh oysters, and we enjoyed people-watching.  It was a nice blend of local Mexican families and tourists.

We had been checking the weather on the internet and knew Hurrican Odile was headed our way, but the Pacific hurricanes tend to veer west of the mainland coast of Mexico, and it looked like that was the case with Odile. 

It was an overcast Sunday morning in PV when we caught the bus for Barra.  As we headed south, the overcast lowered and showers became more frequent.  Fortunately, we were between showers when we arrived and took a launch across the bay to the marina and hotel. 

We found Akka in great shape – all dry and unmildewed below. The transition back to the boat after an absence is always difficult, what with travel fatigue, half-unpacked bags all around, no air conditioning and projects demanding immediate attention.  Additionally, this homecoming was going to be especially strange, because the first on-board task was some major engine work.  To get at the engine, we have to remove the sink and counter top and the sides of the engine compartment, stowing them vertically in the salon, creating a less-than-ideal living space. 

Fortunately, this time we had another option. Last summer, when we watched the World Cup at the hotel bar, Rob had won a free two-night hotel stay by predicting the correct score of Germany’s win over   Mexico.  (Not surprisingly, all of the Mexican fans predicted a Mexican win; only we went against the grain.)  So, after we checked out the boat we packed an overnight bag and checked into the hotel! 

Our second floor room was all beige marble.  (We’re guessing that all 200 rooms are, as well.) The balcony overlooked the Jacuzzi and second-level pool (of three).  There was a luxurious king-sized bed, a glass-top-table sitting area and a couch-coffee-table area, as well as a mini-bar/coffee area.  We moved around from time to time,

just to experience it all.  We brought a bottle of scotch from the boat and ordered ice from room service – nothing so crass a thing as an ice machine here!  The hotel sprawls along and climbs up a hillside, with varied facades and architectural styles so that from a distance it resembles a small Mediterranean town.  There’s a huge amount of waste space, with mini-lobbies and seating areas between wings. Hallways are almost all open-air, like cloisters, with arched views out over the bay, or inward to gardens.  There are innumerable courtyard gardens, most with fountains (and two with small swimming pools!)  Getting around is quite complex, since not all floors connect, but getting lost is quite lovely! 

 

 

 

We ate at the hotel during our stay and for a few days more, while our on-board galley was a workshop.  The main hotel dining room is a huge circular room on the 6th floor with balcony seating outdoors all around it, easily accommodating 250 people.  Generally, when we ate there, there were one or two other tables occupied, but we sometimes ate alone, with a waiter and maître d' hovering in the background.  We took to asking how many guests there were; 11 or 13, most days.  The hotel doesn't seem to close off wings, and the support staff is there full-time, including, in addition to the afore-mentioned waiter and maître d', reception staff and bartenders, tennis pro, pool cleaner, towel girl, two spa ladies, and the laundry, gift shop and convenience store clerks.  Not to mention the army of gardeners!  It’s hard to see how the place keeps going. 

But eventually our air-conditioned stay came to an end, and it was back to the workshop.  The original problem was that an engine part called a “damper plate” which links the engine’s drive shaft to the transmission and dampens the engine vibrations, had disintegrated.  From that simple problem the mighty project grew.

First, John the mechanic removed the transmission.

Wait! The left rear engine mount is broken! That must be what caused the damper plate to break. Better replace the mounts.

Wait! The bolts holding the motor to the feet are ¾” diameter but the holes on the motor are 5/8”.  Over time (since they were installed 2 years ago by another mechanic who failed to note this problem), the motor had moved enough to cause a mis-alignment, breaking the mount. So, we needed new mounts with 5/8” bolts. That turned out to be a special order – a friend of John's knew a company in the US that makes the mounts and was willing to make four for us.

But wait! When the damper plate broke apart, pieces of it wound up inside the flywheel housing.  We thought at first that we had probably fished them all out, but then decided that was foolish, so we took off the housing to look for more pieces. 

Wait! The destruction of the damper plate had caused wear in the gear teeth at the end of the transmission shaft. Not a lot, but... What to do?  We could have a machine shop grind them, maybe even braze on more metal?  That seemed like a huge effort for the little wear.  Then Oscar, John’s Mexican assistant, noted that the depth of the teeth was much longer than what was used, so if we made a plate to go on the back of the flywheel, it would position the teeth at an unworn place.  Great idea! 

But wait! This will require longer bolts, but since we had to replace one anyway (see above), we could get all five.  So we had a machine shop make a ring to go onto the back of the flywheel, and brought the bolts back from the US.

One of the 5 bolts connecting the damper plate to the flywheel broke off.  Now what?  Drill out and replace the bolt?  Or would the remaining 4 be OK? Decision: drill it out, buy new bolts in the US and bring them back, drill out the bolt hole, etc…But now, with the flywheel cover removed it was a simple thing to also remove the flywheel, and that made it easy to extract the broken bolt. So, one issue solved.

But wait!  Isn't that oil coming out of the main rear oil seal?  Not enough to worry about, but while we're at it …

When we went back to the States, we had not only picked up a damper plate ($700 for two pieces of sheet metal and some springs) but new oil seals and gaskets, new bolts, and new engine mounts.

The engine mounts are bolted through stringers running fore and aft on either side of the engine.  Access to the nuts inside the stringers was very difficult, so John fabricated “nut-plates” with handles on them to hold while he screwed the mounting bolts into them. 

Wait! The new mounts aren’t quite in the same place as the old ones (probably due to the old ¾” bolts in 5/8” holes), so we had to drill new holes in the stringer.  Surprise!  The stringer is reinforced with a stainless steel plate, inside the layers of fiberglass.  Several drill bits later, we had new holes.  Of course, we could have simply tapped the stainless plates and skipped John's nut-plates, but we already had the nut-plates so we used them.

We lifted the engine using a chain pulley slung from a square iron bar over the top of the open engine compartment.  On the final day, the gear on the chain pulley failed.  How to lift the engine for final placement?  Finally, a solution we know – sailboats have lots of pulleys, and the block and tackle we use for lifting our outboard motor worked like a champ!

 

More about John and Oscar.  John is an ex-pat American, married to a woman from Barra de Navidad.  He used to work for John Deere and is a perfectionist.  Oscar is 26, from Barra.  John speaks to him in English and Oscar answers mainly in Spanish with an occasional English word.  Sometimes John throws in a Spanish word too.  It’s fascinating to listen to.  Oscar actually can and does speak in entirely English sentences, but for the most part it’s English from John and Spanish from Oscar.  They make a very good team, and Oscar is clearly also a very good mechanic on his own.  He’s also younger, stronger and smaller than John, all of which qualities are useful!

In a week, the engine was re-assembled, all lubricants topped up, and we started the motor and put it in gear – forward and reverse – and all was well.  (We were still in the slip, so we didn’t actually move very far!)

 

Back on with the sink! Away with the tools! A liveable boat at last! Now we can enjoy life (and oysters) aboard, again.

Meanwhile, while we worked on the motor, Hurricane Odile passed us, almost without notice, except by the surfers.  Unfortunately the Cabo area of Baja California took a direct hit.  Odile was followed by Tropical Storm Polo, which actually passed closer to us and produced 30-35 knot winds, but hardly any rain.  Polo was followed in short order by Rachael, Simon and Vance.  They all took more or less the same track past Barra, about 400 NM offshore. Of the lot, only Vance really affected our weather, with 30+ knot gusts and torrential rain. But none was a real threat.

On September 16th, Mexico celebrated Independence Day. It commemorates “El Grito,” the cry for independence made by the priest Miguel Hidalgo in 1810.  He did this at 11:15 p.m on the 15th.

We went to the town square of Barra de Navidad that evening to see the festivities.  The entertainment consisted of a local women’s dance troupe (think exercise routines) and a singer.  Pretty lame.  But the square was full of the town folk, so people-watching was fun.  At 11 p.m., the PA guy introduced a bunch of dignitaries, who waved from the town hall balcony.  At 11:15, one of them recited “El Grito,” which is interesting because it was never written down, so no-one really knows what Hidalgo said.  But it ends with a rousing call and repeat (three times) of “Vive Mexico!” which was echoed sporadically by some in the crowd.  Then they shot off 5, count ‘em 5, fireworks and everyone went home. 

 

Now that the boat was all put together it was time for Rob to fly to Marblehead MA for the Hinman.  His flights were from and to Guadalajara, so we both went a day early to do some sightseeing. 

We took a luxury-class bus for the 6 hour trip. These buses have far more legroom than any airline, with reclining seats with footrests, individual TV sets, and restrooms.  Quite comfy, but a long trip, nonetheless.

 

We stayed at a small hotel-guesthouse owned by an ex-pat American and retired master gardener named Robert.  The hotel was charming, as was Robert. Our "cupola room" featured a bed under the cupola, a balcony overlooking the gardens and pool, and an unneeded fireplace.

With just one day to "do" Guadalajara, we only hit the highlights of the historic area, concentrating on seeing works by the Guadalajara muralist Orozco.

Orozco is not as well-known as his contemporary Diego Rivera, except perhaps by Dartmouth College students.  In the 1930's, the College commissioned Orozco to paint murals in the basement reading room of the library. 

He rendered the theme of The History of America in bold bright colors, with images of indigenous myths, conquest, revolution, slavery, communism and fascism. Both Rob and Lisa spent many hours studying there, under the ferocious gaze of Quetzalcoatl.

Three sites in Guadalajara feature Orozco’s masterworks: a beautifully restored 19th century orphanage that has been converted into a museum and school for the arts; the state capital building; and a Guadalajara University lecture hall.

In the museum, the walls and ceiling of the former chapel are almost entirely covered by Orozco murals, making a startling contrast between the classical church architecture and Orozco’s 20th century political art.  Most of the murals are in monochrome blacks and grays, but the cupola is afire with color. Without a guide we couldn't decipher most of it, but there were clear warnings against tyranny, industrialization and militarism.  

The most amazing Orozco mural is a few blocks down a walking mall, at the Palacio de Gobierno (state government building). The building dates from 1741 and is typically classic, with offices and meeting rooms surrounding a central courtyard lined with two stories of arches. As you approach the wide marble stairwell leading to the second floor, it's all very classic until the landing comes into view. Suddenly, you are confronted with Orozco’s portrait of a rather ferocious Hidalgo (remember him?) brandishing a torch.  He's surrounded by masses of peasants and indigenous people struggling against various forms of tyranny.  The picture is enormous, and the contrast between the setting and the artwork is breathtaking. 

Our Lonely Planet Guide, which had been of little use in the museum, pointed out an image of Mussolini (arm upraised, below right). Other signs of evil being subjugated by Hidalgo included swastikas, hammers and sickles, and dollar signs!

 

The same government building has another Orozco mural in the legislative chamber. It is equally as monumental, but much less inflammatory, depicting and paying tribute to many of Mexico’s founders and heroes.

The university is about a half-mile outside of the historic district, but we were on a tear, so off we went to find our final Orozco. Once again, we found the startling contrast of modern slashing colors and turbulence against the sedate setting of a lecture hall. The university had made a helpful video pointing out the various themes, which could be summed up as “look at the progress in various fields, but be careful not to lose your humanity.”

We wish we could have spent several more days enjoying Guadalajara, but we were pleased with how much we’d seen and done in just a short day. And what we hadn’t done – Guadalajara is the home of mariachi music, but we heard not a single note!

Early Thursday morning, Rob left for Boston but Andi lingered a while, chatting with our host Robert then strolling around the historic area before taking the long bus ride back to Barra de Navidad and Akka.  When Rob returned, we finished a few minor projects, watched some baseball playoffs, bought some provisions, and finally went sailing!

It wasn't a long sail, just to Manzanillo, 25 miles away. We anchored off of Las Hadas, another luxury hotel and marina.  From there, we easily used public transit to get provisions and boat parts.  And we enjoyed the hospitality of the hotel, its pools and its TV, where we watched the Giants win the NL pennant and make it to the World Series! 

We left Las Hadas and returned to the Barra marina for one more boat project and the World Series (Congratulations, Giants!) before working our way north (meaning northwest) toward Puerto Vallarta, some 150 NM away. 

Now, for one final dish of fresh oysters from the Barra lagoon ...