Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mangrove Morning

Up with the sun to ready for the mission of the day - a trip into the mangrove jungle by dinghy here in Bahia Tenacatita. After a few yawns, the daily coffee (tea for Rachel), and a quick bit of Mexico's finest supermercado breakfast cereal during the (relatively hilarious) VHF (very high frequency radio) local cruiser's net featuring rare hosts - a Mexican cruising couple - we loaded the dink (dinghy slang) and buzzed off.

The mangrove jungle tour is one of the highlighted features of this anchorage on the inside of Tenacatita Bay. How do we find these places?! Well, some people are familiar with the Lonely Planet series of guidebooks for travelers. There is a similar guidebook series for sailboat cruisers called Charlie's Charts, which we've been using all the way since Seattle. It feeds us tidbits of local highlights in addition to hints on entering the various bays along the coastline. Though sometimes out of date - actually frequently here in Mexico - it is a good addition to the hear-say we get from other cruisers along the way. We were not sure what to expect here in Tenacatita, as there has been rumors of closed anchorages and beaches laden with armed guards protecting failed resort developments. Well, we managed to anchor, and have not been approached by any brandishing forces, so it's all good so far!

While we have these hints and advice, there is usually a good bit of hunting to find exact locations and outcomes. As we buzzed off in our tender for some point on shore, we casted our trusty fishing rod into the rocky shoreline in hopes of a lucky catch. We haven't been so lucky lately, after a good stretch coming down the Baja Peninsula catching fish. Sigh...another slow morning as we approached. Bagging the fish pole for a while, we beached the dink on a tiny, calm beach with only the sight of a young Mexican couple in a Panga flirting among their new shellfish collection and an older cruising gringo clearly performing the daily ritual of escorting his two Portuguese Water Dogs to shore to take care of their business. We had a nice chat about our "plans" and his experience crossing through the Panama Canal and sailing into the Caribbean. As usual, this more than friendly cruiser directed us to our jungle tour destination, a ways down the beach.

Hidden behind a rocky patch of shore, the beach gave shallow way into an estuarial stream at first lined with fisherman tossing hand made nets, then panga (small fishing boat) parking for the local fisherman and tour guides, and finally, a very peaceful mangrove waterway at times barely wide enough for our dinghy then suddenly opening up to larger lagoons. Steering slowly at first and then accelerating after gaining a bit more confidence, we launched into the mangrove jungle with high aspirations of wildlife sightings and maybe a couple fish for lunch.

Herons, egrets, blood red mangrove crabs, and healthy schools of bait fish surrounded us as we worked our way further in. We had woken early in attempt to glimpse the rising wildlife and beat any crowd (relative term down here), which paid off it seemed. Adam steering and Rachel handling the fishing rod, we trolled a small spoon behind our craft just for the heck of it. Without much hope for any luck, we laid the pole in the bottom of the dinghy, and not five minutes later, we both jumped in fright as the pole crashed backward into Adam and the outboard engine. Rachel grabbed the pole and exclaimed, "Fish On!", and we threw the engine into neutral to fight the beast. A beast it was not, compared to some of our salmon, tuna, and dorado battles, but Rachel hauled in our first snapper of the trip, a welcome surprise as it would make a delicious treat for the day's lunch. Not ten minutes later, we had hooked into our second snapper, even bigger this time, and our lunch was secure. Not a bad start to the day!

The mangrove jungle seemed to wind on forever, but curious to see what lied beyond (we had heard of a small fishing village, some palapa restaurants, and a guarded entrance to the failed beach resort a ways back) we kept motoring against the falling tide and increasingly shallow waterway. It wasn't long until we came upon another dinghy like ours, surprisingly piloted by a young cruising couple from, you guessed it, Seattle! Lots of folks from Seattle and the Pacific Northwest down here, but a bit more rare finding those folks closer to Rachel and my age. We had a nice chat about plans and went our separate ways, but actually running into each other with chuckles several more times in the mangrove maze, until finally our boat reached the end of the road where the stream turned to beach and the fenced, exclusive resort. Without a ticket, we reversed and after a bit more unlucky trolling of the fishing lure, Rachel spotted a small (five foot long) crocodile, making the wildlife portion of the trip complete. It was the first we'd seen in the wild down here, and likely ever for me - though many alligators in Florida on family trips.

Having learned the way, we buzzed out of the mangroves back to Bahia Tenacatita, our two snapper in tow, gunning to get them on the grill before they spoiled. Actually, they ended up in the frying pan in a delicious fish taco concoction by sailing vessel Moments premier chef, the lovely Ms. Rachel Harper. Beer, tacos, and some smooth music by Santana on the jukebox (Moments newest upgrade) made for an excellent afternoon on the boat in the sun. Lounging and planning (delaying) our escape to Barra Navidad, our next destination further south. We're gradually picking the pace back up after a great month in Banderas Bay. However, the clock is ticking on our travels and we're both getting excited to get into Central America!