We are now in Bahía Jiquilisco (hee-kee-LEE-skoh) which is the larger of El Salvador's 2 navigable estuaries, and are tied up to a mooring ball at Barillas Marina Club Next door is a shipyard for the old shrimper port and miles of mangrove channels - part of a wildlife preserve. Jiquilisco Bay lies 26 miles SE of Estero de Jaltepeque, 138 miles SE of Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, 32 miles west of Punta Ampala in the Gulf of Fonseca and about 70 miles NW of Marina Puesta del Sol in Nicaragua. The marina's heliport is busy during the regular season apparently because Salvadoran club members would rather zoom over the mountains than risk the narrow, twisty highways. Barillas Marina Club's heliport handles VIPs, and security is good. A level grass airstrip (5,576' long, 164' wide) handles fixed wing aircraft. You can bring your own, or the club has 2 for charter. Local members keep their boats in covered sheds near the launch ramp, and 2-story bungalows are for rent. Bahia Jiquilisco is one of the best cruising grounds on the West Coast of El Salvador. A mangrove sanctuary of ecology and wildlife twist and turn in a kaleidoscope of directions. The occasional remote-fishing village charms the shores and palm fringe beaches. There is plenty to explore. Best of all, for us at least, Bahia Jiquilisco is away from population areas and is far from the hurricane zone. Though a hurricane has never hit the West Coast of El Salvador, should such a phenomena ever occur, the 12 miles of winding estuary that separate the marina from the sea makes Barillas the perfect hurricane hide-out. So here we are!
Marina Barillas (pronounced "bah-REEahz")
is a private club, but visiting boaters such as ourselves automatically become members when we rent moorings which are very inexpensive at $11 per day. Unlike most marinas, Barillas does not have has docks or piers where you tie up, except for the fuel pier, and instead has about 80 mooring balls which are chained to the bottom to an anchor consisting of tractor engine blocks embedded in 2.5-ton concrete blocks. It is great because you have complete peace of mind as opposed to an anchor about any chance of drifting or coming loose and you are nicely on your own.
The pilot boat that guided us all the way in through the surf and up the river (you can see him ahead of us in the photo here) also helped us tie up to our mooring ball and then brought the custom, immigration and port officials out to us. Check in could not have been any easier; after a short exchange of documents aboard Learnativity they took me ashore to complete the paperwork with Immigration, get our passport stamped and check in with the Marina officials. All this for a grand total of $10 by the way and so a VERY nice change from what we became accustomed to in Mexico which took a day or more to complete and typically a hundred or more dollars. Like I said, I'm liking this place more and more!
Behind the fountain gardens and pools, you'll see the marina office on the right side of the street. General manager Heriberto Pineda is a former cruiser, and he has a very significant staff, I'd say at least 20+ at any one time from what I've seen so far and they are all super pleasant and helpful. Heriberto also spent 13 years living in Victoria and Vancouver so we had lots to talk about and he just loved the area and his time there. Obviously his English is outstanding which is a great asset as my Spanish is still in the pitiful category!
Marina Barillas has more amenities within the huge gated compound than are found in most US marinas. Security guards and a shore boat constantly patrol the moorings; security is excellent in a comforting sort of way. You just know that people are always around any time of the day or night looking out for your well being and there to be of any assistance you might need. At night the security guards take a slow and quiet run through all the boats that are moored and checking all along the mangrove banks to make sure all is well. As a result of both this great boat baby sitting service and the excellent protection from the sea and weather, a lot of people leave their boats here for months at a time while they either go on extended tours inland or return home, which for most is either the USA or Canada. It is the "off season" here now and also rainy season so we are among only 12 other boats and of these less than half have their owners aboard which is great for us too in that we only have about 8 other people to share all these great facilities and staff.
The fuel dock dispenses clean US refined Texaco fuel. I have not filled up yet but looks like prices here may be considerably higher than the low ones we were spoiled with in Mexico. I'll find out soon enough but I'm not burning much now, just a gallon or two a day for the generator to keep our batteries charged up and supply all our electrical needs. An unlimited amount of pure fresh drinking water is supplied from a deep artesian well apparently so I can give the water maker a bit of a rest and fill up the tanks (we hold about 420 gallons of fresh water) quite easily.
It is incredibly peaceful here, partly because it is so remote, the marina is about all there is and the fishing fleet is not active right now for some reason (contract dispute I've heard) and partly because we are on a river so there are no waves or hardly any water movement at all. Being on a mooring ball means we don't have any squeaky docks or dock lines either and about the only noise we get, other than the sounds of all the birds and crickets, is the sound of the mooring ball bumping into the hull as we lazily turn 180 degrees each time the tidal swing changes the direction of the flow of this river estuary. Learnativity is therefore floating peacefully in this river sanctuary, doing lazy about turns four times a day as the river rises and falls and changes directions with ocean tides that are otherwise another world away. If you are not up on deck or watching out the window to see it you never even know this lazy swinging around is happening and you can see it is pretty ideal conditions for boating or anything else for that matter, at least in my opinion.
Basically, everything this region has to offer is supplied through the marina and its transportation services. The club's beautifully manicured grounds are on a former coconut plantation and family farm enclosed in a high concrete wall, so all visitors must pass through a security gate with armed guards. Barillas Marina Club is remote, 15 miles from the nearest big town and an hour's drive from the international airport at San Salvador, the capital. But the marina's air-conditioned van shuttles up to 8 guests to the colorful market town of Usulutan for every Tuesday and Friday for provisioning and I went in for the first time yesterday to stock up on perishables such as lettuce, tomatoes, bread and the like. It was a great adventure and I'll tell you more about it in a future posting.
The clubhouse overlooking the moorings has showers, laundry, patio restaurant, satellite TV and free videos after dark. Nearby are a small air conditioned gym and a convenience store with refrigerated groceries (ice cream). There is wireless throughout the grounds, though it doesn't quite reach out to Learnativity as we seem to be a bit too far away. You can see the "palapas" which are thatch covered tables surrounding the swimming pools and each one has it's own power outlet for laptops and other gadgets, a light for night time and are raised up on concrete with comfy chairs and lounges all around. If you look closely in the photo (click to enlarge) you can see my backpack and laptop all setup in my new "office" where I get to work several hours every day now. There are about 50 of these palapas all together, spread out all around the pools and bar/BBQ area complete with hammocks strung out between some of the palm trees and all spread out such that you can never see more than about 10 other tables as it is a very large, lush and beautifully maintained area. Ruby loves out time here as she gets to race around the grassy grounds, her favorite exercise, as well as meeting and greeting everyone who comes by, be it staff or other guests.
The weather is very tropical with temperatures running about 90-100ºF/32-38ºC and humidity about 60%. It is rainy season so there are clouds overhead most of the time and they range from scattered billowy white across blue skies to stormy grey and black and a good tropical shower once or twice a day or night seems typical. We get very good lightning shows many evenings but mostly at a good distance as we don't hear much thunder. As you can see there is a very inviting set of swimming pools with the upper one being a heated whirlpool. Ruby and I are there each day for a few hours, me getting some work done with a good (and free!) Internet connection, comfy chairs and surroundings, pool at my side to cool off and Ruby racing about, getting attention from staff and other cruisers who come by and digging away in the dirt. (taking after her namesake Rugby our first family dog who was an identical colored cockapoo and loved to dig as well). Mostly though we seem to have this and the pools pretty much to ourselves or sharing it with a few other cruisers and getting to chat with them.
What's not to like?? Now you can see why this my kind of place and I'm thinking we may stay here for the rest of the month at least to rest up, get some more boat chores done, some regular Autodesk work looked after, have a mailing address to send in some of the accumulating mail and other supplies from back in the USA and perhaps hosting a few of you who have asked about coming for a visit. It really is a fascinating area historically as well as just a wonderful spot to relax, listen to the birds, swim, read enjoy living in these moments.
Blissed out in Barillas,
Ruby & Wayne