Close, but miles apart

Rather than go through the rigmarole of taking off the outboard, we lifted the dinghy complete with outboard onto the side of the boat and headed the few miles across Banderas Bay to the anchorage at La Cruz.

There, we picked up Aloha’s AIS signal and parked up near the back of them. And we didn’t move the boat again until it was time to leave Mexico.

Anchorage and pelicam launch platform

Anchorage and pelican launch platform

A night out with the Alohas - Steve and Liz

A night out with the Alohas – Steve and Liz

La Cruz might only be a few miles from Punta de Mita, but the vibe is different. There are no gated hotels and only a few places to stay. But there is a thriving ex-pat community of primarily American and Canadian people who have made this their home.

The ex-pat population possibly explains the disproportionate number of restaurants in town and the entertainment. Live bands play almost every day of the week. There was a dancing horse show outside one of the restaurants one evening. And on Sundays, La Cruz transforms into a thriving marketplace when stallholders arrive early in the morning to set up shop along the waterfront and the main town square, selling everything from food to fashion accessories.

We visited the market a couple of times, spent an eye-watering amount of money on local cheeses, and bought stay-fresh wraps (never heard of them, but they work very well). And, encouraged by Maria, I got my head examined.

Market day near the marina

Market day near the marina

Wraps to keep your food fresh

Wraps to keep your food fresh

Body alignment specialist trying to find ,y brain

Body alignment specialist trying to find my brain

Clearing In – Clearing Off

Before fully relaxing into La Cruz and enjoying any of the above stuff, we needed to get formalities out of the way. That meant finding the port captain’s office so that we could clear in. After parting with 80 pesos for the dinghy landing fee at La Cruz Marina, we asked the security guard for directions to the Capitania. He said, “It’s near the fish market. Follow your nose.” He didn’t really say that, but that is precisely where the port captain’s office is.

Clearing in is a straightforward affair: Present boat papers and passports, fill out a single page form, had it back, get it stamped and get a copy back. It took just 5 minutes.

Joy’s flight back to England was on 12th February, so we went with her in a taxi to the airport in Puerto Vallarta. It was great to have her with us for the last three weeks, and I hope she decides to do it again in another location.

Joy clearing off

Joy clearing off

Emergency

Maria developed stomach pains that were so severe we had to go to an emergency clinic. Unfortunately, the local doctor said that she needed some diagnostic tests for which they didn’t have the equipment, so we grabbed a taxi to get us to a hospital in Nuevo Vallarta.

Some might be under the impression that a hospital here may be a bit’ backwater.’ Not so. This place was as slick as a private hospital in the UK. We quickly saw a doctor after checking Maria in. He probed around for signs of appendicitis (no sign of that) then ordered a blood panel and CT scan to see what was going on. We asked if that would be within the next few days. He looked at us like we were daft. Three hours later, we left the hospital with sheets of x-rays, a diagnosis and some drugs. Fortunately, the diagnosis was for something not too severe, and the patient has been doing well ever since.

Goodness knows how much that would have cost in the US, but an informed estimate from our excellent friend Liz, who used to be an emergency room nurse, was around $20,000. But, this cost no more than $1,000, and our insurance company agreed to pay most of it. So, we’ll take that as a good result.

Holiday before the long haul

We know from previous experience that the last couple of weeks leading up to a long passage would be hard work. The formalities alone are hard enough. But the planning and provisioning is a real pain in the arse. It isn’t an enjoyable stroll around Waitrose looking for fine things to try for dinner. It’s a no-fun version of the TV programme Supermarket Sweep, but at Costco.

So, we thought we’d kick back a bit and relax before rolling up our sleeves and seeing more of the town.

We spent a day on the beach, walked around looking at the sights, listened to some music, celebrated Valentine’s Dinner at one of the marina restaurants – and enjoyed a delightful evening out at a pizza restaurant with Rick and Judy.

I think we tried out most of the other eateries in town.In one of them, I left my sunglasses at the table from where we moved because of the heat. By the time I remembered leaving them there, I think someone else – a visiting sailor – was sitting at that table. My glasses were gone. He asked me if I was looking for sunglasses, I replied affirmatively. He pulled them out of his bag. I didn’t know what to say.

Beach and a man with many hats

Beach and a man with many hats

Tribute to Philo

Tribute to Philo

Music at the market

Music at the market

Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day

Yes, they can climb

Yes, they can climb

New doggy friend

New doggy friend

Despite its slightly shabby appearance, we liked La Cruz very much. Like all the places we have been to in Mexico, the local people have been warm and friendly, keen to help and honest.

But we also felt that much of what Mexico has to offer is to be seen inland, so we decided to park it for now and head off to French Polynesia a little earlier.

And that created more stress than all the other pre-departure activities combined.

The Three P’s: Provisioning, Preparation, Panic

Provisioning

The provisioning went well. Our friends Jim and Debs and Rick and Judy had used the services of a reliable driver to ferry them around. So, after getting his contact details, we got in touch and arranged for him to take us to the supermarket and then to Costco. I don’t think we could have asked for a better person to drive us around than Rueben. He is an ex-policeman, seems to know everyone, speaks fluent English, and now works as a bodyguard with this driving gig as a second job.

Reuben

Reuben

We didn’t need his bodyguarding services, although it was good to have him around keeping an eye out (we’ve watched the Narcos series on Netflix and Ozark.)

The thing about Rueben is that he is so reliable. Each time we asked him to arrive, he would be there waiting for us, probably a half-hour before – to be on the safe side. And when we went somewhere, he was always ready when we came out. Or, he came in with us, like at Costco when he gladly helped out with the whole process. You don’t get that from Uber.

Aftermath of shopping at Costco

Aftermath of shopping at Costco

Unlike Rueben, the fuel dock folks are not always around

Unlike Rueben, the fuel dock folks are not always around

Preparation

The process of clearing out of Banderas Bay is shrouded in mystery. Initially, we believed we could go to Puerto Vallarta to clear out, but then read on Noonsite that yachts need to go to Nuevo Vallarta instead.

To clear up the confusion, we got in touch with the port captain at Nuevo Vallarta. What he told us on the phone was clear enough, and it mirrored the commentary on Noonsite. He said we needed to come to the office with papers; then, he would make an appointment for us to bring the boat to Nuevo Vallarta to finish the clearance process two days afterwards.

Fine. So, Rueben drove us down to the port captain’s office at Nuevo Vallarta. Maria and I walked in with the papers, then the official behind the desk told us that they were not processing international clearance anymore and that we had to go to Puerto Vallarta.

You really could not make this stuff up.

At our insistence, the official phoned the office in Puerto Vallarta to make sure we could clear out from there. We could.

So, here it is, folks, International clearance from anywhere in Banderas Bay can be done by visiting the Puerto Vallarta captain’s office. There is no need to take your boat, take a taxi.

What was even more frustrating was that, if we hadn’t received the duff information from whoever it was in Nuevo Vallarta, we could have completed the clearance process in one day. But because we hadn’t cleared out locally from La Cruz, we had to go back a second time. That said, at least that split up all the waiting. The process is the slowest we have encountered in any country.

On day one, after Rueben dropped us off at the port captain’s office near the cruise ship dock at Puerto Vallarta, we started the clearance process. With the help of one of the staff behind the counter using Google Translate, we completed the first part of the process: getting all the papers validated and the clearance papers ready. That took about 3 hours. The output of that was the first of the next day’s activities: going to the immigration office. We arrived back at La Cruz just in time to get to the local port captain’s office before it closed to get the exit papers.

Rueben’s son, Angel, picked me up the next day. Maria stayed behind to do some more shopping for fresh vegetables from the local market. After Angel dropped me off at the cruise ship terminal, I went across the road to the Immigration building and secured my place in the queue. Number four. Not bad, I thought, until other people started arriving who had booked a slot online. Bugger.

Two and a half hours later, I walked out with the stamped version of the paper I walked in with.

Back at the captain’s office, the official I saw the day before spotted me and waved me forward. I gave him our local clearance papers and the stamped immigration form. About a half-hour later, he gave me a form to take to the bank so that I could pay the exit fees. Angel and I then set about finding a bank without a queue, looking like a currency collapse were imminent. We did, and just one hour later, we arrived back at the captain’s office.

That’s it, I thought.

No, it was not.

Again I was beckoned forward by my increasingly familiar friend, handed in my receipt for the payment. I asked if that was it. He said yes and then told me to come back at 2.30 pm after he had checked everything with his supervisor. Shit.

I treated Angel for lunch, went back just before 2.30 pm and waited for my friendly official to arrive back from wherever he had gone. When he came back, he again called me forward, got me to sign a few more pieces of paper, and that really was that. Done. I gave him a fist bump through the glass and got out of there with our Zarpe with permission to leave on Thursday, 3rd March.

Panic

The last thing I had to do was to send a copy of our Zarpe to Tahiti Crew so that they could forward it to the officials. No problem with that. It was the response back from Tahiti Crew that was the problem.

To enter French Polynesia, you need to get permission from their Department of Maritime Affairs (DPAM). Obtaining that is also a bit of a drawn-out process, but Tahiti Crew managed that for us, and we got our permission from DPAM a few weeks ago.

Unfortunately (and how on earth this could make sense to anyone I have no idea), we were told by Tahiti Crew that we would need to make a new application for entry because we were arriving earlier than expected.

What?

The problem is that new applications need to prove they have been double vaccinated for COVID, which is fine because we have. But they also need to prove that they have had a booster vaccine, which is not OK because we haven’t been able to get them in either the US or Mexico. So, here’s the thing(s):

  • vaccines are not available to non-residents in Mexico, so we couldn’t get a Covid booster shot
  • Immigration had taken our visas, so we couldn’t fly out of the country to get boosters from anywhere
  • the Zarpe had our next destination as Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia, so we couldn’t go anywhere else
  • we were not allowed to arrive in French Polynesia before 15th April because (in some hidden memo somewhere) you can only arrive 14 days on either side of the estimated date of arrival started in the DPAM application
  • we couldn’t make a new application to come into French Polynesia because of the requirement for a booster vaccine

So, unless we wanted to spend the next six weeks at sea, it seemed we were stuffed.

However, this didn’t pass the logic test to me. So I got in touch with Kevin Ellis at Nuku Hiva Yacht Services. He was unequivocal that it isn’t necessary to start a new application process because permission has already been granted. They just need to give a new date.

Kevin took this up with Tahiti crew and, to cut a long story short, sorted it out. So, thank you, Nuku Hiva Yacht Services. Tahiti Crew folks, that was a bit disappointing. I expected better.

Departure

Our boat was full of diesel, water, food and drinks, especially beer, given its price in French Polynesia.

So, we paid a final visit to the pharmacy to stock up on anxiety medication (antibiotics, really), went to the Balena Blanca for a last internet fix, and uploaded our blog posts (failed again). After that, we went back to Jamala and started the process of securing everything away before leaving later that afternoon.

The forecast for light winds turned out to be true. We motored for a little while before a helpful early evening breeze arrived, and we were able to set sail for the Marquesas.

And one last thing: Here’s a tip for anyone wanting to clear out of Puerto Vallarta: get an agent. I didn’t, and that’s two days of my life, and significant taxi fees, I’ll never get back.

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