We arrived in Mexico on October 3rd having had an uneventful 2 day motor-sail from El Salvador. The only thing of note was that about 2 miles from the entrance to Puerto Madero several fishing pangas had nets spread wide across our route. As I have reported before, they are often difficult to see with just a black flag or two denoting their position. Fortunately we spotted one in the early dawn light and managed to avoid it. The panga with the fishermen in was, to my mind, within hailing distance and could certainly have attracted our attention – but didn’t. I wonder if they would have been quite happy for us to motor through their line and then pay for any damage. Us pay them that is.
Anyway, that didn’t happen and we approached the breakwater at 6.40am. Prior to entering the breakwater it is important to call the Port Captain and ask for permission to enter his harbour even if you don’t want to anchor there [which apparently you can] but want to just pass through it to get to Marina Chiapas – as we did.
The marina is only two years old and is not shown on current electronic charts. Below is a screenshot from our chart plotter which might help anyone reading this and planning to use Marina Chiapas. [Not quite sure what the chart plotter was plotting once we got to the marina but, believe me, we did not make all those squiggles and obscure lines going nowhere whilst sailing!]
Breakwater  – 14 41.82N, 92 24.68W – Red and Green buoys easily visible
Junction [2+3] – 14 42.17N, 92 24.33W and 14 42.24N, 92 24.17W – turn right before the palapas
Junction  – 14 42.20N, 92 23.78 – turn right after passing most shrimp boats on your port side
Turn  – 14 41.99N, 92 23.66 – having stayed mid channel from  turn slightly left
Marina – 14 41.93N, 92 23.53W
Currently managed by Enrique, with Memo as dock-master, the marina is very clean and well run.
I don’t think we have ever been in a marina before where staff clean floating debris from between the berths every morning. Despite this the water is often a murky brown colour due to effluent from the nearby coffee processing plant and, depending on wind direction, there is sometimes a lingering smell of seafood from the shrimp dock. But it did not detract from our stay.
Several boats are hauled here and spend hurricane season on the hard. Unfortunately, crew are not able to stay on board in the yard and have to find a local hotel to stay in. Options around the marina are very limited so either the hire of a car or being prepared to use taxis daily to travel in order to carry out any work needs to be taken into consideration of cost. Enrique has plans to build accommodation on site but that is only in the very early stages of development – i.e. under consideration by the owners.
Another “first” with regard to Marina Chiapas is that, free of charge, Memo takes you to Immigration, the Port Authority and the Port Captain [both on arrival and departure]. This is the easy part of clearance! More complicated is the temporary importation of your boat into Mexico which everyone has to do. Importation is done through “Customs” and the nearest office to Marina Chiapas is at the road border between Mexico and Guatemala approximately 30km away. We were driven there by a guy called “Arturo” who seems to be available most days. He charged M$700 [approx £28/US$41] for the round trip. It was well worth it – especially as we were able to share the cost with “Nauti Nauti” – because despite [or maybe because] Memo and the Immigration official both completed the necessary paperwork on our behalf, there were mistakes on both sets and Arturo was able to interpret for us when customs did not want to process the TIP [Temporary Importation Permit]. Mike’s name was spelt wrongly and Allen’s middle name was missed out. We had to buy a new version of the wrongly spelt document. This sounds like it is another example of Latin American scams to get the “gringos” to pay but it isn’t. In actual fact their attention to detail is as a result of a big clampdown by the government to try to stop underhand practices. So – we have learnt to pay more attention to every document we are given before signing it.
At least the TIP is good for ten years regardless of how many times we leave/re-enter Mexico and in itself it cost less than £40 [$60].
So, what did we do whilst at Marina Chiapas?
Well, to provision it is necessary to go to Tapachula – the nearest big town. The centre of town itself doesn’t really have a lot going for it but we enjoyed the couple of times we visited. However, there is a small mall just outside the town – on the bus route in from the marina – where there is a large Walmart, an Autozone and several other small shops – including a Telcel [phone/internet] outlet. Buses pass the marina entrance about every 15 minutes and cost 20peso [80p/$1.20] per person each way. Returning – it is important to catch a bus which says “Zona Naval” as the “Puerto Chiapas” bus does not go past the marina.
We learnt that there are very few chandlers in Mexico and those that there are – maybe other than in Puerto Vallarta – cater mainly to sports fishing boats. We spent a lot of time researching dinghies – and finally ordered an Inmar which looks like an AB but comes from the US [meaning China?].
I started doing more yoga – thanks to Patricia’s influence. We did all the usual poses like “half pigeon”, “warrior”, “gorilla” “cat and cow” and “downward dog”. Of course the only time when Mike got the camera out we had finished our practice and were chatting – so we quickly developed this pose which we call “lame dog”!
We bought a new computer and Mike got very frustrated trying to make it work as immediately he had installed Gmail and Google the Windows programme decided it wanted to update – but couldn’t as the internet connection was rubbish – so Mike had to reset it back to the factory settings and start all over again.
We watched the progress of Hurricane Patricia – which thankfully, as it turned out, did not cause the havoc it was predicted to do.
We socialised, played a new card game called “Golf” [taught to us by Allen and Patricia] and had a couple of evenings playing “Mexican Train” – which, in Mexico, is called “Cuban” Dominoes!
The four of us also went on an inland trip to San Cristóbal de las Casas.
We had heard really good things about San Cristóbal – particularly two years previously when our friends Stuart and Steph visited it on their “visa run” from Guatemala. As luck would have it [for us, if not for them] “Matador” is still in Guatemala, it was time for this year’s visa run for them and so we were able to meet up again. Twice in 4 months. Who says it’s not a small world!
Nestling in the highlands, the climate – during the day – is pleasantly warm all year round, though it can get cold at nights during the winter months. It is perfect for walking round and exploring the cobbled streets which ramble up and down the gentle hills of the town.
The Lonely Planet suggests that the best views of the town can be attained by climbing the steps to two churches at the east and west sides of the centre. We chose the “Cerro de Guadalupe” steps….
……. but I have to say that the view from the top didn’t, unfortunately, inspire us sufficiently to go to the other one. To my mind it was so poor that I am not even going to bore you with the photograph.
We visited the “Museo de Ámbar de Chiapas” which is housed in an old convent….
The 30 million year old fossilized pine resin is mined just north of San Cristóbal and is particularly noted for a piece, on display, showing a small scorpion captured in the amber. Whilst flies and other insects are not uncommon, the scorpion seems to have achieved worldwide fame.
In the markets we saw lots of evidence of local crafts such as woven carpets and clothing, pottery and basket weaving and also saw women selling heavy skirts made from combed wool which we haven’t seen before.
We went on an organised trip to visit two “Tzotzil” mountain villages called San Lorenzo Zinacantán and San Juan Chamula.
The first village of Zinacantán is renowned for growing flowers and the church was absolutely full of blossoms of all kinds. The women are also famous for their weaving and their love of all things floral is evidenced in the shawls and “huipiles” that they make.
In San Juan Chamula we witnessed the most unique religious practices we have seen so far on our journey around the world. There are no seats or pews inside the church and most of the floor is covered in pine branches – which brings their outside world into their church. Whole families visit the church and find a space on the floor where they lay out candles to pray to saints to heal one of the family members. The pattern is the bigger [taller and broader] candles at the back of their “shrine” and smaller ones at the front. The more ill the person, the more – and bigger – the candles. If the sick person can be brought to the church then a “Curando” [curer] may be paid to rub the patient’s bodies with eggs or, in more severe cases, a chicken which is then sacrificed by having its neck wrung. If the person can’t come to church then the chicken is waved over the candles to various chants and then killed. The idea is that chickens [and eggs] “absorb” the illness and once killed or broken the illness dies with it. There are incense burners everywhere so there is a continual fog like atmosphere and small bands of musicians tour the church playing the same tune over and over at different shrines. The families bring copious fizzy drinks with them which they consume continuously to help them to burp – which expels evil spirits. Loud “banger” type fireworks are being let off at the door of the church all the time to scare out the evil spirits “released” by the burpers and to prevent any new evil spirits entering from outside. San Juan Bautista [St John the Baptist] is revered above Christ and there are statues of him and all the other saints on plinths around the walls of the church surrounded by mirrors and dressed in holy garments. Candles are also placed on the plinths – which represent thanks from families when one of their members has been cured.
The church was almost full when we visited and apparently at weekend there are even more people. Several men are also employed to constantly clear away burnt out candles when a family has left to make space for others. We did see two chicken sacrifices.
Given that I have not included any photographs of the interior of either church you will probably have realised that photography is strictly forbidden and anyone seen with a camera out of its case, a phone, i.pad or any other device which might record the ceremonies is evicted and, at best, fined. Confiscation of cameras is not unusual, nor – we understand- is violence against the errant photographer. So, you will just have to be content with the photographs of the exterior of these churches – who would ever guess what goes on inside!
Just on the outskirts of San Cristóbal is a small garden which has been created by an ex-pat American who wants to preserve indigenous Orchids and “Tillandsia” [airplants]. The gardens are nicely landscaped…
Now, you might be thinking that this post has gone on for quite a long time without any mention of alcohol. So, I will put that right as San Cristóbal is a veritable haven of cafés, bars and restaurants. There were great beer options at a small bar just up the road from our hotel….
A local delicacy which Mike tried was “Chapulines”. He told me they tasted like chilli nuts. I believe him, thousands wouldn’t, and I didn’t want to test his verdict myself.
Apparently the grasshoppers are normally toasted with garlic, lime juice and salt containing the extract of agave worms. When they are stale chilli is added to the toast mix – guess his were stale then!
From San Cristóbal we headed back over the mountains stopping for a one night break in Comitán. This is much less of a tourist town but has a very nice plaza full of mature flat top trees.
There is a bus to rent – if you wanted to I am sure someone could be found who would drive it…
A charity event was taking place for Brest Cancer Research – and even the town fountain was decorated ….
So, as introductions to Mexico go, we haven’t been disappointed at all. We are really looking forward to seeing more of the country as we journey north and west up the Pacific coast and hope that you will join us – in person if possible or, if not, by continuing to read my regular diatribes!