We’ve been at Puerto Escondido for a week so it must be time to move on. We stopped in mainly to see some old friends, do some laundry and reprovision. If you remember, we were getting dangerously low on beer when we got here. Matter of fact, we were out!
Last Saturday, there was a cruisers’ potluck brunch at the Hidden Port Yacht Club clubhouse which is now located in the API building instead of on Fonature property. You may remember me doing some bitching about Fonatur back in the fall of 2011 when they raised all their prices and, after ousting the well-loved manager, installing a new no-fun management team. The club used to sponser Sunday cenas which were Sunday afternoon potlucks but Fonatur decided that was too much fun so they outlawed the potlucks on their property. They have continued to make things more and more uncomfortable since then and the yacht club finally decided to move over to the API building where things are more welcoming and laid back.
If you’re not familiar with Mexican yachting, this all may sound like so much gobbledygook to you. Let me try to make it clearer. I’m not going to go to the internet to get all my facts exactly right so, if something I say isn’t 100%, please feel free to politely correct me in the comments section. But this is basically how I understand it.
Back in the late 90s or maybe the early 2000s, the Mexican government decided to take advantage of all the norteamericano yachts visiting Mexico by establishing a string of marinas up and down the Sea of Cortez. They may have extended further than that but I’m not sure. Basically they planned to establish marinas a day’s sail apart: La Paz, Puerto Escondido, Santa Rosalia, San Felipe, Puerto Peñasco, Guaymas, and Mazatlán. Granted, these are a little further than a day’s sail apart unless you’re running a big fancy sportfishing boat which maybe was the idea. The marinas were built and they are easily recognized by the buildings. All the marinas are very much alike, except maybe Puerto Peñasco, and have the same light green monolithic buildings. They also almost all have a Pemex fuel dock. They are, or were, generally pretty nice marinas. In Puerto Escondido, they didn’t actually build much of a marina. They built the same buildings with space for a restaurant and some stores as well as bathrooms and shower facilities. But the marina consists of a long dock that you have to Med-moor to. Med-mooring is when you either drop an anchor or pick up a mooring just off the dock, and then back up to the dock where you tie off. The anchor or mooring ball keeps you from slamming into the dock. You then get on and off the boat by climbing over the transom. Much easier on some boats than others. The rest of Puerto Escondido is a mooring field. The moorings are, or were, maintained by the marina. The charge for a mooring was less than tying up to the dock which was good because there is only enough space at the dock for maybe 10 or 12 boats and those spaces are pretty much permanently filled by large, expensive sportfishing boats.
Back in the late summer of 2011, Fonatur (which is a government agency) decided to raise their rates systemwide. This was largely attributed to the idea that, since they weren’t getting enough customers, they’d have to charge the customers they were getting more money. This is not an unusual approach in Mexico. So, the yahoos in Mexico City raised the rates 60-70% which, of course, drove off business. At Puerto Escondido it was even worse. There was some local strife between certain loud boaters and the woman who managed the marina. The way it was explained to me is that Mexico City does not like conflict. Their way of dealing with it is to get rid of everyone involved, guilty or not, and start over, which they did. The new management regime whether because they felt they had to flex their muscles or were operating on orders from headquarters, became basically very unfriendly to yachties. As mentioned above, they outlawed any activities that they didn’t condone which included the potlucks and the various “circles of knowledge”.
Fewer and fewer people used the moorings. Many of the moorings were unsafe. They had been being inspected by a local businessman but, when Fonatur refused to pay his bill, they ceased to be checked out. I know of at least one that came loose and caused a large power boat to plow in to a smaller sailboat, causing extensive damage to both but especially to the sailboat.
OK, that was almost 2 years ago. How are things going now? Have they changed? Are they better? Are they worse? Here’s what we found.
First off, we no longer anchor or moor in the main harbor. If you moor, it’s a long, long dinghy ride from the smaller boat moorings to the dock. And, if you anchor, they charge you the same price as if you moored. We just don’t feel like what they offer for the price is worth it. So, what do they offer? Well, you can get drinking water at no extra charge when the water is running. I don’t know if it was this time as we didn’t use it. You get access to the bathrooms but must bring your own toilet paper (not unusual in Mexico but this is supposed to be a first class operation), and, frankly, you can use the bathrooms whether you’re moored in the harbor or not, at least during the day. You can get showers but there’s no hot water. If you’re not on a mooring and want a cold shower, they’ll happily sell you one. I think a shower was 11 pesos back when, Don’t know what it is now. You can dump your garbage for free (or pay 10 pesos per bag if not on a mooring). They’ve apparently discontinued the wifi that they used to offer although there is now cell service so you could use your banda ancha card if you get a good signal. There’s also a coin-operated laundromat, open to anyone, but the hot water is turned off there, too. So, you don’t get much for the $20.00 (US) or so that they charge you per day.
So, what’s the alternative? (This is just for visiting yachts, not the ones that are here more or less permanently and have installed their own mooring balls.) You can anchor in the Ellipse.
We’ve anchored there before but it’s a fishbowl as it’s surrounded by really bright lights and walkways. Not much privacy in the Ellipse. The boats are pretty darn close together, too. The Ellipse is either owned or administered by API and so, costs 11.83 pesos a day as well as a 76.88 peso port entry fee (payable just once per visit).
You can also anchor in the Waiting Room if you can find a decent spot. Much of the Waiting Room is taken up by permanently moored boats and it gets very deep in the center making anchoring problematic. But, there are a few spots along the outside that make decent anchorages.
The Waiting Room is also administered by API so our week’s stay cost us, including tax, $177.25 MX or about $14.29 US, less than a single day on one of Fonatur’s mooring balls. But, what do you get for your money? Well, there are at least three different faucets where you can fill your jugs with potable water. There are also bathrooms. They’re a little bit funky but, at least on the day I visited, they had toilet paper. They also have showers although I’ve never actually checked them out. That’s about it but, at that price, that’s about all one should expect. Oh they also have wifi available from a separate vendor for $20 (US) per month.
So why do people keep coming back and/or just staying put? Can’t speak for anyone else but us, but we come back mainly because it’s a decent spot to reprovision, get water if needed, get on the internet, get fuel (although they had been out of fuel for quite awhile just before we arrived – fortunately, they have it now), and visit old friends.
So what about provisioning? It’s a 15 mile or so trip into Loreto from Puerto Escondido. Sometimes you can get hooked up with a ride from one of the yachties that have cars here. Barring that you can hitchhike into town and either hitchhike back or catch a bus (we’ve done that). Unfortunately, that kind of limits how much stuff you can get. You can rent a car for $49 (US) per day. Alternately you could take a cab for about the same price as renting a car but with much less flexibility. We were lucky in getting 2 rides into town and back with local friends. But, even with that, it’s hard to stock up on heavy items like multiple cases of beer, soda and mineral water. And this is where our friend Pedro comes in.
Nice thing about Pedro is he’s not just our friend. He can be your friend, too. Pedro owns and opetates the Porto Bello restaurants at the marina and at the Loreto airport. he also runs a small tienda at the marina carrying an amazing line of meats and cheeses, beer, wine, and liquors, cleaning supplies, soft drinks, etc, etc, etc.
This time, we told him ahead of time that we would be wanting so many cases of beer and so many cases of agua mineral before we headed out a few days hence. No problem. He just went ahead and ordered our stuff and, when it came in a few days later, had one of his employees load it onto one of his handtrucks so we could take it down to the dinghy dock.
Pedro also offers wifi to the Ellipse as well as those areas of the Waiting Room that are line-of-site to the Fonatur building. He does charge for this service but you can get free wifi up at his restaurant for the price of a drink. Apparently, Pedro is just now starting to provide wifi to the anchorages again and only to select boaters. From what I’m told by several sources, one or more cheapskate, unscrupulous yachties had used the MAC address of their router rather than their computer to register for an account with Pedro. They (or he or she) than started allowing other cheapskate, unscrupulous yachties to tie in to the signal, essentially stealing bandwidth from Pedro. He found out about it and shut the whole thing down. He’s just now beginning to make it available again but you have to bring your computer in. He can no longer trust us to give him the correct MAC address. Too bad and shame on the yachties who did this.
BTW, you can also get provisions and wifi at the Modelorama (Fernando’s) down the road from the marina about a mile. Fernando and his wife stock an amazing variety of items and are always friendly to deal with. Before Pedro expanded his store, this was the place to go. Fernando charges 10 pesos per hour to use his wifi and I’m told that there is a faction here that either don’t pay at all or pay for an hour and sit there all day. I’m not sure why but there seems to be a faction of cruisers who somehow feel that they are supposed to try to get away with anything they possibly can and pay for as little as possible. They seem to take pride in it. I think they think they’re some kind of pirates. I have another name for them. Stars with an “A” and everybody has one but fortunately not everybody is one.