Saturday, January 10, 2004

Log 17 - Inland trip to Mexico City

This log covers January 2nd to January 9th, 2004 where we spend a week in Mexico City and surrounding area....what an absolutely amazing trip to one of the largest cities in the world. 

11:37am Friday, January 2nd, 2004 - View of Mexico City's main square , the Centro Zocalo, from the Cathedral Metropolitana bell towers.

With our boat anchored safely in Zihuatanejo, we and our friends from s/v Atalanta catch the eight-hour overnight deluxe coach to Mexico City arriving around 6 am.   While the bus depot is bustling, it is still early and we set off walking in the pitch dark through the deserted garbage-strewn streets heading for the subway (El Metro). We catch the train to the Zocalo, officicially known here as the Plaza de la Constitucion, and emerge just at dawn onto the principal square in Mexico City. A huge Mexican flag gently flaps and the Cathedral Metropolitana looms behind. We are all feeling very excited to be here and slowly walk through the massive (but completely empty) square in awe as the sun creeps up.  Bags in hand, we begin the search for our hotel.

Mexico City's central square, the Zocalo

After locating our hotel, we head back to spend most of the day around the Zocalo, which was once the nucleus of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec island-capital and later the center of the entire Aztec empire.  When Cortéz's Spaniards conquered the Aztecs in 1521, he immediately set about to establish a cathedral and a base for Christianity in  "New Spain." Atop a steep spiralling staircase, we explore the bell towers. There are numerous bells of varying sizes and configurations rung skillfully by the bell ringers.   As for the view from up here, the pollution is very bad today and visibility is poor, so we can barely see across the main square, as you can see in the previous photo!

Cathedral bell tower

From the bell tower atop the catherdral in the background, we head off to the nearby Templo Mayor (major temple), which according to legend, is the first place the Aztecs called home after wandering for hundreds of years. Apparently, their war god Huitzilopochtli told them to keep moving until they saw an eagle perched on a cactus, eating a snake. When they arrived on this spot, they saw the predicted sign and the area became the center of Aztec religious, political and cultural living. Templo Mayor is now a huge excavated archaeological site that has revealed five layers of pyramids, each one built on top of the others as the Aztec empire grew. And at the peak of the structure is an altar, where endless human sacrifices were made to appease Huitzilopochtli.  When Cortez conquered the Aztecs, he also destroyed Tenochtitlán and built Mexico City right on top of its ruins.  In fact the Zocalo is built with Aztec-hewn stones.

Aztec's Major Temple with the Cathedral in the background.

We have some fun as Michael pretends to try to make a call...but the phone is missing.


Saturday, January 3rd - 9:09 am - The day starts with fresh made OJ

After breakfast we are on our way to a famous park but we don't get too far...this orange juice is speaking to us and we oblige.  

OJ doesn't get any fresher.

Parque Ecologico de Xochimilco (Sho-She-MEEL-Co)  (Ecological Park)

We make it to the park and have fun checking it out on bikes and a covered carrier of some sort.  We are concerned at one point the wheels may fall off our carrier.  Too funny.

Fun at the park. 

Will the carrier make it back to the start?

Canals of Xochimilco (Sho-She-MEEL-Co

When the Aztecs established Tenochtitlán in the 12th century it was actually in the middle of a huge lake (Texcoco) in a big highland valley, the location where they saw the eagle perched on a cactus, eating a snake.  So, over time, they built up the land by creating a grid of stakes driven into the shallow water and planting willows and fast growing crops on floating rafts attached to the grid.  As the crops took root, they formed extremely fertile islands (chinampas) separated by an immense canal system for commerce and thus created the city of Tenochtitlán. Today, the remaining canals are popular with locals and tourists alike.

Canal travel

3:40 pm - We hire a gondola and pilot for a tour of the canals.   We are pleasantly surprised to be able to drink a few beers, have a full meal, all while listening to floating Mariachis.  The gondola is propelled through the canals by a single long pole.  It's a great time with lots of good laughs.  Pablo, a local who offered to show us around, is on the right.

Pilot tour of the canals.

All the kids enjoy the ride in the sun.

11:44 am, Sunday, January 4th - Chapultepec Park

The biggest urban-situated park in all the Americas, this 1000-acre green expanse is loaded with world-class museums, hiking paths, a zoo, lakes, amusement parks, sports facilities and it also includes the Presidential residence seen in the background of this photo.   Today, our plan is to visit Mexico's most famous museum, the Museum of Anthropology.

Presidential Palace

11:59am - Crossing Abbey Road (a.k.a Reforma) on our way to the Museum of Anthropology

The museum we are heading for is considered by many to be the best of its kind in the world.  It houses Mexico's most exquisite archaelological treasures within its 23 exhibition halls.  These trace the histories of many central American groups from first migrations to the Spanish Conquest.

Abbey Road

2:16pm: Model of the amazing Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City

This picture gives a good impression of how present day Mexico City ended up in its current location, atop a huge lake in a big highland valley (see the wall mural in the photo).  This was the scene - the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan - that the Spaniards found when they arrived in the 16th century.   This centerpiece of the Aztec empire was so prominent that after Hernán Cortéz conquered the Aztecs, he founded present day Mexico City in its midst and upon its ruins.  Unfortunately, the city has sunk over 10m since Cortez's day to the detriment of many buildings.  The largest Aztec temple in the model, the Templo Mayor, represents the same location from which the 3rd picture in this log was taken, that of Cortéz's Cathedral Metropolitana.

Tenochtitlan, centre of the Aztec Empire. Now it's Mexico City.

Monday, January 5th -  View from atop the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán

Just north of Mexico City is the famous archeologicl site of Teotihuacán (teh-oh-tee- wah-KAN), discovered by the Aztecs (!) in 1325.   The site had already been abandoned for over 500 years when they found it, overgrown and in ruins. Believing it to have been built by gods who sacrificied themselves here so that the sun would shine on the Aztec world, they adopted it as a ceremonial grounds.  The pyramids of the Moon and of the Sun rival those in Egypt.  Little is known of the society that once lived here for over 1000 years, disappearing as mysteriously as it had arisen.  It is probably of Olmec origin and has Mayan influences.

Teotihuacan from atop the Pyramid of the Moon
Pyramid of the Moon from the bottom

In some of the offset ruins at the Teotihuacan site, well preserved frescoes have been unearthed with a full range of colors.   Interesting to note is that all the stone structures in the entire complex were once covered in 1"-2" plaster and painted in this fashion. The paintings tell the story of the deities and the lives of the people and are essential in understanding these ancient civilisations. The red paint is from squashed burrowing bugs from nopal leaves.

Unearthed frescoes Frescoes tell the story...

Late in the day at the south end of the site, we find these enourmous stone carvings at a smaller temple, up until very recently thought to have existed in honor of the god Quetzalcoatl, also know as the Feathered Serpent.  Note the serpent heads interdisperesed with the square-headed carvings, which were mistakenly thought to have been Tlaloc, the rain god.  The square-headed figures are now thought to represent the crocodilian diety (found in a number of ancient cultures in the area) that gave birth to time and the universe and who carries the world on its back.  So unlike what our guide book says, the latest archaelogical interpretation now suggests the entire temple site has nothing to do with Quetzalcoatl, but rather served to pay homage to the measurement and accounting of time.

The pyramid found under the pyramid

1:44pm Tuesday, January 6th - Mexico Through the Centuries, by Diego Rivera

Stretching the entire length of the Zocalo the government's Palacio Nacional is now the chief excutive center of the Republic of Mexico.  It also houses monumental murals painted by Diego Rivera.  This one, atop the grand staircase, is one of his most famous works, depicting the social history of Mexico.   It's facsinating to study in the context of such history: from the fight for independence from Spain in 1810 to the start of the Mexican revolution in 1910 (land ownership reform).  The murals tackle themes like the slave trade, class struggle, and the industrial revolution.

Diegos Frescos

4:07pm Tuesday, January 6th - Basilica de Guadalupe

Later in the day, we catch El Metro out to the famous pilgrimage site of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron of Mexico and an icon of the nation's religious culture.  In the background is the old basilica, built at the end of the 17th century.   Note the tilt of the structure due to the ongoing settling (sinking) of Mexico City.  Inside, all sorts of scafolding and bracing keep it from collapsing.  A new modern-design basilica,  built in the 1970s, sits off the picture to the left.

Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

...Juan Diego's Holy Cloak

Behind the basilica, up the side of a small hill surrounded by lush gardens sits a small chapel built on the Virgin Mary's request.  It goes like this...Mary first appeared as a vision on the hill to the indigenous peasant Juan Diego in December 1531.  Juan Diego was to inform the bishop in Mexico City of his vision and Her desire to have a chapel built, but when he did he was doubted.  So Juan returned 25 miles on foot to his home whereupon the Virgin appeared once again and instructed him to try the bishop again.  The bishop, somewhat annoyed, asked that Juan Diego not return again without proof of the apiration he spoke of.  And again the tired Juan returned to the hill.  This time, Mary instructed Juan to an area where he was to gather a great variety of roses (in December) and to bring them to the bishop as proof.  Juan gathered the roses in his cloak, and when he let them fall at the feet of the bishop, an image of the Virgin remained emblazoned on Diego's cloak.  When the bishop saw this he fell to his knees believing, and a shrine was soon built.  The monument in the picture depicts the bishop in front of Juan's cloak.

The Bishop before Juan Diego

Inside the new basilica, the orginal cloak of Juan Diego is on display for all to see.  Scientists from all walks (including most recently NASA) have failed to explain how a fiber garment with a 20-year maximum lifespan, pigments available in that era, and  non-existant preservation and protection until recent years, has managed to survive in such dramatic condition after almost 500 years.

Cloak of Juan Diego

From in front of the original chapel on the hill where the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego, we sit and reverently ponder the significance of this place and event.   Center-right one can see the roof of the new basilica; center-left the yellow roof of the old.  And a statue of an Angel looks down on all and out southward to Mexico City in the distant haze and the dying light of the day.

View from the hill where Juan Diego saw the Virgin

9:01 pm Tuesday, January 6th - Feast of the Kings

After a very busy day, we return to our hotel from the Basilica carrying a Rosco de Reye, a traditional round sweet bread eaten in celebration of the Kings' visit to the Christ child in Bethlehem.  Inside the bread are hidden little kings and any person who gets one has to cook and host a traditional Mexican meal including tomales on February 15th.

Feast of the Kings cake - Roscoe to Rey

3:27pm Thursday, January 8th - Kids' Museum

Mexico City has a neat children's museum with lots of hands-on activities for the boys.  Joel was ill yesterday, so we're making today as easy going as we can.  Later today, we'll catch the overnight express back to the boat in Zihuatanejo.

Kids' Museum

5:02pm - Taking the Metro Back to the Bus Station

Well, that's our tour of Mexico City.  We have been really impressed with the sites and the hospitality.  We haven't perceived any threats to our personal security and all-in-all leave with a high level of satisfaction.

Last decent into the underground to catch the metro

Once we get back on the boat, Log 18 will have us moving south again, to tackle the infamous Gulf of Tehuantapec with potentially dangerous winds and seas en route out of Mexcio and into El Salvador, Central America.

Thursday, January 1, 2004

Log 16 - Southbound Again (quickly) for Christmas in Zihuatanejo, Mexico

This log covers November 30th to December 31, 2003 as we head south with Christmas in Zihuatanejo in mind.  We revisit some places and also discover new spots to explore.  That's the beauty of the cruising never know what will happen next. 

Southbound route to Z-town In this log, we're back on the boat and ready to begin our second cruising season aboard TIOGA.  Our plan is to get our sea legs back after 4 months ashore with a short 120 nm crossing from San Carlos on the mainland to Isla Carmen on the Baja Peninsula side of the Sea of Cortez.  From there, we'll spend the next few days stopping in the various anchorages on our way south towards Los Frailes, where we'll jump offshore again for a 3-day passage back to the Mexican mainland, with Tenacatita as our destination.   From there, it's only a couple more days to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, where we plan to enjoy Christmas and New Years.  Simple as that ... but a healthy 875 nm away!

Monday, December 1st, 2003 - "Wing on Wing", San Carlos to Isla Carmen

With the boat ready to go and finally a reasonable weather report we set sail for the Baja Peninsula side of the Sea of Cortez on the tail end of a "norther".  Here we're sailing only with our two headsails, both poled out on either side of the boat, like two wings.   It's a very comfortable way to sail when the wind is directly behind you.  Gerrit has also found a comfortable place to read in the shade.

Sailing Wing on Wing

When our passage is done and the sails are down as we motor into a new anchorage, it has become a ritual for the boys to head to the bow of Tioga and be our look outs.

Motoring into the anchorage. 

Wednesday, December 3rd - San Evaristo to Los Frailes

With 250nm down and 625nm to go, passage making is going well and we're settled into a routine.  For the big 3-day jump coming up, we need to listen to the weather and time that passage carefully.  So we push on to our intermediate destination, Los Frailes, on the southern end of the Baja, ready to make the jump when the weather window presents itself.   It's not high winds were concerned about ... it's lack of wind!

Relaxing in the cockpit

Sheila watching the sails in the finicky winds.

Friday, December 5th - Los Frailes - Waiting for weather

Los Frailes is a nice spot and we end up staying here for a few days.  There is very little wind, except for the late afternoon land thermals.  Good for kite flying, but only a local phenomena.  Out on the "crossing", its dead flat calm.

Flying kite at Los Frailes

Monday, December 8th - Afternoon tea in the cockpit, enroute to Tenacatita

On Sunday, we finally head out on a forecast that contains some wind and with a good dose of wishful thinking.   This next leg is 350 nm and should take about 3 days.   Once again, we're back in the Pacific Ocean and are greeted by the long ocean swells originating from some big storm systems way far away in the Pacific Northwest.   The winds are fickle and we end up motoring on and off  for long stretches.  Joel and Gerrit busy themselves in the galley and prepare this awesome afternoon snack.

Joel & Gerrit make a great snack! ;-)

12:09 am Wednesday, December 10th - Now we're travelling fast

On our third day out and as we begin to approach the Mexican mainland, the winds finally pipe up to a good reef-your-sails blow in the order of 25kts.  It's hard to give you an impression of the ride, but with the wind right behind us and a single headsail, it's like a fast but smooth sleigh ride and in the moonlight, too!

Flying down wind

Thursday, December 11th - Beautiful Tenacatita Bay

Mid-morning Wednesday, we arrive at Tenacatita Bay and are quite rested.  Last season, we visited Tenacatita and spent 3 weeks here.  It is also the furthest south we have been in our boat, last year turning north again and heading to the Sea of Cortez.  This time it will only be a few days here before moving south into new cruising territory.

Tenacatita Bay - just as beautiful 2nd time around :)

In Tenacatita, we met up with 6 other cruising families.  Sailing vessels Peregrinata and Atalanta were friends from last year while Dagmar, Quetzal, Mariposa and m/v Williwa were new to us.  All had kids of varying ages.  In addition, a number are continuing south towards Panama, so it was great to spend time together and get (re)aquatinted.  A bunch of us went up the "jungle lagoon ride" through the mangroves for an excursion.

Second trip up the mangroves for us - so fun.

 I don't think the Mexican's at the other end have seen so many gringo kids.  Here a grandmother prepares coconuts for some of our thirsty kids.

Coconut Lady Fresh coconut milk, anyone?

Friday, December 12th - Dinghy Raft Up

Often in Tenacatita Bay the cruisers get together and raft up with their dingy's for an evening social.  Everyone brings an appetizer and we hang out for some good food, conversation and sometimes music,  Glad we are around to experience this wonderful event.

The crew from s/v Peregrinata enjoy the raft up.

Saturday, December 13th - En route to Zihuatanejo

We leave Tenacatita with a light wind forecast so we ready our gennaker. The winds materialize and we have a beautiful sail with 10-15kts of wind over our starboard quarter.   But as the wind dies late at night we realize that we have forgotten to refuel and don't have enough diesel to motor the entire remaining trip if  wind doesn't materialize again ... oops.  The wind returns at 5am, but its right on the nose. We try to tack but progress is so limited that by 10am Sunday the motor is back on and we are powering into the wind at low RPM.  We motor through the day and evening and make plans to stop in a place where we can get fuel by jerry-can. But to our extreme delight, around 9 pm, the wind returns from the NE at 10kts and gives as a beautiful close-reach into Zihuatanejo for Monday morning.

Cruising fast with our "gennaker"

Monday, December 22nd - Hangin' out in Zihua

It's quite hard to give you a photographic impression of Zihuatanejo; it's a large bay with plenty of room to anchor, including room for large cruise ships.  Since Christmas is near and all sorts of activities are happening in town, we anchor off the municipal pier and beach.  The water is quite murky, so we don't swim here, but rather a short dinghy ride away at Ropa Beach.  Here the boys are goofing around on our flopper-stopper, a device to dampen any rolling motion of the boat while at anchor.

Hanging from the "flopper-stopper" in Zihua

Wednesday, December 24th - Christmas Eve in Zihuatanejo

On Christmas Eve, we attend an English caroling service in nearby Ixtapa.  (Ixtapa is where all the hotels are:  Zihuatanejo is where all the locals live and is more of a typical Mexican town.)  The singing is fun and on the bus ride home, our group continues to sing in beautiful harmonies much to the surprise of the locals getting on and off the bus.   We even took requests!

Christmas Service in Ixtapa

Thursday, December 25th - MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

The kids are happy to find that Santa has found us again.  Apparently, some kind sole told Santa to check our latest position report to track us down.  See our little tree tucked up against the mast?

Christmas gift opening

On Christmas Day, all sorts of things were going on in the bay and Zihuatanejo.   We were invited to join a number of other families for a potluck meal on two boats that rafted together.  It was a great time.  Everyone made their own Christmas specialties

Christmas Day dinner raft-up on Atalanta and Western Grace

8:45 am Wednesday, December 31st - Kids' Net

Every morning in "destination" anchorages, like Zihuatanejo, there is usually a morning "net" on the 2-way VHF radio.  New boats introduce themselves, departing vessels say good-bye, and those staying put check-in.  Also, there is an opportunity to exchange all sorts of information and get your questions answered.  With so many kids in the anchorage area, every morning they too had their own net, for kids only.   Here, Gerrit is net controller for the last day in 2003.

Gerrit does the kids' net

12:01 am Thursday, January 1st, 2004 - HAPPY NEW YEAR from Zihuatanejo!

Here's the view from our boat anchored off the town. Later today, we and the crew of s/v Atalanta head for Mexico City for a week's worth of discovery and adventure.  Stay tuned.

Happy New Year fireworks

Log 17 finds us in Mexico City - what a treat.