Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Panama Canal Cruise — September 29, 2010 – Day Six

Day six began with our arrival in Huatulco (pronounced wah-tool-co by the natives) in the Mexican state of Oaxaca (pronounced wah hah ka). Why they don’t spell these names like they are pronounced is a mystery to me.

Here is what the guide book says; ”Once a haven for pirates and weary sailors traveling from the Far East, today Huatulco is a relatively undiscovered port of call. Located on the Pacific Coast in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, it's one of the first destinations in the western hemisphere to focus on eco-tourism and the protection of natural resources. And with 22 miles of jagged coastline, pristine beaches and spectacular crystal-clear waters – it's easy to see why.”

Most of this is true. Huatulco was begun about twenty years ago when the Mexican government invested money to build a transportation infrastructure and a marina. The tourism is mainly from the interior of Mexico, mainly Mexico City. Only about 40 cruise ships stop here each year. There used to be over 60 when Princes Cruises would stop her on a regular basis, but they reduced their stops to six per year last year.

We awoke around 0630 to get ready for our big adventure of the Copalita River Float. We wanted to get some breakfast this morning so we would have some energy to paddle the rafts. What we did not want was the rain that was pouring down. It would come in bursts, first a drizzle and then a downpour. This did not look good.

By the time we boarded our vans to go to the river it was really raining hard and we were getting very depressed. We had been told to wear a bathing suit and sport shoes as we would get wet from the river, not from the rain. By the time we reached the river the rain had stopped, what good luck.

The Copalita River Float is supposed to be a gentle float of about a hour down the Copalita River. Here is what the brochure had to say about this trip. “Experience the class 1 and 2 waters of the Copalita River surrounded by tropical flora and fauna. Your tour beings at the pier as you board an all terrain vehicle for a 30-minute drive to the river. On arrival you'll receive a safety briefing and paddle demonstration by your guide, issued safety gear and receive an overview of what you are about to experience. As you float leisurely downstream for approximately 60-90 minutes, you'll experience the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape before arriving at a sandbank near the rivers estuary. It’s time to reboard your all terrain vehicle for the drive back to the ship. Safety helmets, life jackets and bottled water are provided. It is recommend that guests wear swim attire, shorts, t-shirt, sport shoes and if so desired a change of clothes and shoes. It is also recommended that guests wear sunscreen and bring insect repellant.”

Here is what really happened. We boarded our Chevy van at the pier and after a 25 minute drive we reached the staging area for the river float. One look at the river told us we were in for a bit of a problem. Due to unusually heavy rains the river was running high and fast. The river float was going to turn into a white water rafting experience.

After being fitted with life vests and given paddling and safety instructions we boarded our rubber rafts. There were six people plus the guide in each raft and we all had to paddle per instructions from the guide — “forward” “back” and “stop” were the main commands.

The first thing I experienced was that due to a leaky floor in the raft my new, special walking shoes were soaking wet and so was my t-shirt from the splashing. This was not going to that much fun. Also, I had to leave my camera in the van so there would be no bird photos on this adventure. Actually I saw only a few birds along the way so there was no real loss here.

Gwen and I were seated in the front with Lisa and Kathy behind us and two ladies behind them. Arturo was the steersman at the rear. We were experiencing some bouncing and spinning and Arturo was yelling “forward”, “stop” and “back” when we head a thump and a scream. Kathy and the lady behind her had fallen overboard into the swift running river. Kathy managed to hang on to the boat, but the other lady was drifting away pretty quickly. Fortunately she was doing as instructed and laying on her back with her feet up and floating along with the current.

Within seconds the guides from the other rafts were in the water recovering the drifting lady while Gwen and I hung on to Kathy. With help from Arturo and another guide we were able to pull her safely into the boat and resume our white water river float. All we needed was Meryl Strep and Kevin Bacon to complete the scene. Kathy was fine, albeit a bit embarrassed. The guides were a bit shaken and concerned that she and the other lady were okay. It is fortunate that the river was not too deep and the guides were able to stand on the bottom while they were assisting us.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful, just more forward, stop and back. In took about 45 minutes to reach the sand bar at the mouth of the river where the Pacific Ocean’s surf was pounding up the mouth of the river. We beached the rafts on the sand and jumped out. Of course I slipped and fell out into the black sand. This is what I hate going to the beach.

What they didn’t tell us in the brochure was that we would have to trek through the jungle to get back to the vans. When I say jungle, I mean jungle like Guadalcanal. They call this a deciduous jungle, which means it loses its leaves in the winter. Obviously winter was not here yet as there were plenty of leaves. They should have furnished us with machetes so we could hack our way back. Finally we reached a paved path and walked another mile to the awaiting vans.

We were soaked, dirty, sweaty and tired, but it will be an adventure we will talk about for years. Everyone Kathy relates the story of river float to everyone she meets now. It’s; “Oh, we went on the river float and, by the way I fell into the river.”

We returned to the ship and went straight to our cabin where we showered, changed and went to lunch. We put our clothes in a laundry bag and gave them to the cabin steward for the laundry. They were filthy and soaking wet.

On our way back to the ship I heard about 30 seconds of automatic gunfire in he hills behind Huatulco. I think it was a military exercise, but I could be wrong.The gunfire was quite intense for the time it went on and consisted of M-16 and automatic shotgun fire. There were armed army and navy personal all over the pier and dock area. Someone on the ship told me they had seen this area included in a map of the drug cartel regions. Glad to be leaving Mexico.

We got underway again at 1630 hours on our way to Costa Rica and an adventure at a coffee plantation. I don't think thsi will be too dangerous.

Click here to view an updated version of my Panama Canal Gallery.

No comments:

Post a Comment