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Monday, November 28, 2011

Mills Birthday Week

What has Nakia been up to, you may be asking? Well, it's been a busy November, but it's time to get the blog caught up.

On November 12 we left Chacala for the mostly motoring, 44 nautical mile, nine hour trip to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in Banderas Bay (near Puerto Vallarta). At the same time, Mills College friends, Amy and Carole, were winging their way from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta for a week's vacation at the Melia resort in Marina Vallarta. It was a special trip to celebrate Carole's 49th birthday and Amy's 50th this month.

Almost a year ago they sent me a message telling me about their plans and asking us if we could be there to help celebrate their milestone birthdays. We were in Hawaii and had already been thinking long and hard about returning to Mexico to visit Stan and MJ and to see if we still felt as strongly about Mexico as we did when we left there in 2008 (we loved it). Amy and her daughter flew to Mazatlan to surprise me for my 50th birthday in 2007 (wow, was it really that long ago?!), so this news clinched our decision to sail to Mexico from Hawaii.

34 days of sailing across the Pacific and almost nine months later Nakia was in Puerto Vallarta. And the next day Wendy arrived from SF to make it even more of an event. I hadn't seen Carole or Wendy since before John and I left California in 2004, and we all had to keep pinching ourselves to believe that we had managed to regroup in PV of all places.

In between the important activities of shopping, eating, and relaxing in the warm air, we spent the next week catching up on news of each other's families, work, and life aboard Nakia. We also shared some really memorable events, the first of which was Carole's birthday dinner at La Palapa on the 13th. What a beautiful setting in which to enjoy a gourmet meal.

On Monday we were off to Punta de Mita where Jose, aka "Picudo," took us out to Las Marietas in his panga for snorkeling and a view of the blue-footed boobies nesting on the islands (we even saw a couple of fluffy white babies). After our morning boat trip we were hungry for the pescado especial at El Dorado beach restaurant at Punta de Mita. Well, only I ordered that heart attack, but it was muy delicioso. After lunch Amy decided to go for one last little dip. As she was picking her way through the rocky shallow water she stepped on a stingray which leaped clear out of the water. Wendy was the only one of us on shore to witness the ray jumping. The rest of us were relieved to hear squeals of shock and not pain, as Amy had dodged a huge bullet and not been stung. John can attest to the fact that a ray sting is incredibly painful and we're glad Amy was spared that vacation souvenir.

We then took a local bus back to La Cruz where John made two dinghy trips to load everyone on board Nakia for a sail to Marina Vallarta. Amy had warned us that she can get deathly seasick (but not on power boats), and I was almost sick worrying about her on slow poke Nakia! But everyone enjoyed the first couple of hours of fast (for us) sailing. When the late afternoon breeze began to die, and Amy was looking a little pensive, John fired up the motor to smooth out the motion and she bounced right back. We entered the marina just after sunset and tied up in our reserved slip for the next four nights.

The next morning was filled with massages and pool lounging for the vacationers while I got some much needed boat chores done. Later we all got together (minus John) for some girl shopping on the newly renovated Malecon which is now a beautiful pedestrian mall. On Wednesday they took a Los Arcos boat tour while John and I got to work on a boat project. He spent a few hours at the top of the mast and I fetched tools and pulled and released lines as needed.

Wendy had an afternoon return flight home on Thursday, and we all went shopping on Isla Cuale. John gave advice for price negotiating and helped fend off over eager vendors. Carole and Wendy returned to the condo for lunch before her flight, but Amy stayed with us to find an authentic Mexican restaurant. On the advice of a friendly dulceria (sweets) shop keeper, John found a comida corrida right in front of the Our Lady of Guadalupe church. This is a little place with a set lunch menu from which you choose a main course. It's pretty basic, but is what the locals eat. Amy even had the authentic experience of a waiter spilling soup on her leg as he tried to impress her with how many bowls and plates he could carry!

Friday was our last day together and we three remaining girls had a reservation with Vallarta Adventures for their "Outdoor Adventure." But first we had to say goodbye to John and Ziggy as he was moving Nakia from Marina Vallarta out to Punta de Mita that morning. I had my overnight things and would be spending that night in luxury at the Melia.

We joined our afternoon tour at La Maritima, the cruise ship pier. We boarded a huge zodiac boat with about two dozen passengers for the fast smooth ride across the bay to Boca de Tomatlan. Before we boarded the huge Mercedes Benz expedition trucks for the climb into the jungle, we were surprised to see a 30ish foot sailboat with its port side buried in the sand on the beach. It didn't look like it had been there long and we wondered if it could be salvaged. Always a sobering sight, especially for anyone who's boat is their home.

The truck ride was bumpy but we were never airborne off our seats so it wasn't that bad. When we arrived at the base camp we were fitted out with the zip line gear and led to mules for a 20 minute ride up a steep dirt road into the jungle. At the top of this road we met our guides and were given a briefing for how to ride the zip lines. After hearing all about how not to do it, I was getting pretty nervous. Carole and Amy had both done zip lines before, but not like these where you had the option of braking with one heavily gloved hand. The problem was in knowing how much to brake. Too much and you would stop yourself midway across. Too little and you would go flying into the landing platform. (As it turned out you never really needed to brake at all because the guide on the platform controlled a rope to help stop you.)

This was truly an adventure and we three had a phenomenal time on each and every leg of the course. There were long flying rides over small canyons, a vertical rappel alongside a waterfall, a full dunking drop into a fresh water pool, a free fall vertical rappel, and a couple of fun "bridges" where we could mug for the professional photographer. Back at base camp we bought the photo CDs and ate and drank before loading up into the trucks for the descent. But wait - there was one last surprise stop at a tequila distillery where we learned how to drink small shots of silver, gold, anejo, kahlua, and almond tequila (yes, one of each!). Carole liked it so much that she bought three bottles as souvenirs.

It was late when we finally returned to the Melia for showers and a one-week-early 50th birthday dinner for Amy. I hadn't brought suitable attire for the reservations only restaurant so the girls dressed me like a doll in a fuchsia dress with matching sandals of Carole's and a pretty sweater of Amy's for our last evening together.

The next morning we said goodbye before breakfast as I had to take a bus to return to Nakia early. It was the end of a memorable week spent with my best friends from college, and one I will always treasure. I'm so happy we were able to be in the right place at the right time - not always an easy feat for a cruising sailboat!

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