Friday, February 18, 2011

San Blas - Part 2 - February 3 - 8

As if a jungle tour were not enough – San Blas held other pleasures for us. After we said our goodbyes to Ricardo, we headed back into town, but were stopped by a large gathering of people around some kind of commotion. We had stumbled upon the beginning of the Saint’s Day Procession getting organized to make its way to the cathedral. This was a much larger procession than the night before and we enjoyed watching the whole production.

Commotion - trying to herd cats

We followed alongside this joyous group, listening to the rhythmic clacking of their clogs and various wooden objects and rattles they held in their hands.

Procession wends its way into town

Their bright clothes and head dresses made quite a spectacle. Most of the dancers wore masks, but seemed to vary in ages from the very young helped along by their mothers, to adults.

Clown has the shaggy head in the middle

Mom gives a helping hand - notice the wooden soles on their feet

Clowns threaded their way through the procession, mimicking the dancers and teasing the crowd. The ubiquitous brass band played the same tune over and over creating a mesmerizing background noise.

The band warms up
The priest worked hard to organize everyone

The saint passed by in the back of a pick-up (a different one than the night before) and following him were the priests and attendants, then townspeople carrying gladioli.

Saint Blais

I watched their faces and expressions and saw a range of happiness and celebration to solemnity and worship. It was a privilege to be able to witness this event.

Let's get this show on the road!

This fruit peddler followed the procession - he knew where his market would be!

Later, at the town square, we could see preparations were being made for the night’s celebration. A squad of agile men were building the most incredible fireworks display I have ever seen. Unlike the ones we ignite in Canada – usually one at a time, building to a grand finale and safely shot from a barge, or isolated site, far from the crowd – this was a tower of explosives! And it was built in the centre of the square, right in front of the church.

Building the tower

Still building, but you can see the height

An example of a fireworks tower ready to go at another site

Close by the tower, a stage was being assembled and banners hung.

This banner became the background for the performances on stage - it shows the prominent features of San Blas - notice the counting house/fort on the hill to the left, the customs house in the centre, the fishermen in pangas and shrimpers on the estuary and the cathedral at the far right.  Outside the estuary - on the upper left side you can see an island with a figure on the top - this is a statue of the Virgin,  guiding and protecting the fishermen.

Peddlers were selling their wares at the periphery, food stalls were doing a great business and the local people were rushing around trying to get their shopping done at the mercado nearby.

Weaving baskets

A common mode of transportation for locals

We stopped at a little taco stand and ate carne asada tacos, which were an absolute delight, before returning to Ka’sala for a siesta.

We weren't to rest for long, because the fishermen began part two of their celebration of Saint Blais Day.  Their tradition was to go en masse to the cathedral and take the statue of the Virgin Mary to the waterside in the estuary.  She would be placed on a boat, suitably chosen and decorated for the occasion and in a stately manner, be transported to the rock pinnacle that lies just outside the estuary entrance.

Statue arrives at the water's edge and is placed on a special boat

 She would be followed by all the fishermen in their boats and some kind of ritual would happen around the rock before coming back to the estuary and returning the Virgin to the church. 

                                                    The statue is on the bridge of the tall boat

The priest would be waiting and a special mass would be said to bless and guard the fishermen for another year.  However, there is a permanent statue that has been placed on the pinnacle and she serves as a guardian for the harbour.

The fishermen can barely contain themselves in the spiritual aspect of this day, for in reality, it is an excuse for them to pull their extended family together in their pangas.

Pescadore family

Even the littlest one - notice the baby on the man's lap in the last seat

 Some definite partying takes place and from the way the boats were maneuvered many were well on their way before the maritime procession took place.  After the parade, the pangas broke off and sped around the estuary. 

Water fights broke out between some boats and it was evident that friendly rivalries were the order of the day.

Later that evening we made our way back into the village plaza. We had a coffee in the square and watched the crowds gather. Families, young people, workers, children, clutches of teenagers, gringos, cabilleros and even dogs gathered around. They were dressed in their individual definition of finery – suits, high heels and jewelry, cowboy hats and polished boots, baseball caps with hip-hop paraphernalia, cut off shorts and long dresses. You could see the black threads of the elderly, the colourful clothes of the kids and the metallic gleams of lacquered teenagers. Everyone seemed to be eating or drinking something and venders made their way through the crowd selling popcorn, cotton candy, and soft drinks. Kids had florescent toys, young men drank beer and some families even had picnics spread out. It was quite a kaleidoscope and I felt a little dazed watching it all. (- so dazed I didn’t take many pictures and the ones I did take were blurry and unusable.)

Eventually, the plaza became packed and Doug and I found a quiet spot behind a palm tree to watch the proceedings. There was a great deal of speechmaking and thank-you’s coming from the stage in very loud Spanish that was difficult to follow because of the microphone distortion - even if I was fluent.. There was a Master of Ceremonies (a stout and jovial man) and after each little speech and introduction a singer would take the stage to sing at least 3 traditional Mexican songs. From the response of the crowd, these songs were well known favourites. There were about 10 singers, male and female, in total, and they ranged from very melodic to brash braying. Some songs were funny, some romantic, and some were ballads. All songs were incredibly loud and before too long my ears were ringing and my mind was dull from overstimulation. We decided to leave our little corner and move farther back, partially because of the noise, and partially because we realized we were standing right under the fireworks tower – a little too close for comfort.

Finally, after what seemed like several hours, people started to mill about and we could feel a heightened excitement in the air. A match was struck. A line of flame ran to the fireworks tower and a wheel began to spin. One cracker would spark another very quickly and soon a whole section would be wooshing around, creating colourful spumes of light and loud bangs. After a few seconds a symbol would burn itself through – like a heart, or a moon, or the outline of an animal – and sparks and smoke would fly all over the heads of the spectators.

An example from a different celebration

The wheels were torched from the bottom of the tower and each one had its own special message. When I had first seen the tower, I had expected the whole thing to alight at once and had envisioned some kind of towering inferno, but in reality the whole thing was very manageable. As the fireworks progressed to the top, they became grander and grander – more light, colour, and sound. Now large fireworks were canoned off from near the church so, in addition to the tower, great crescendos of chandelier lights, roman candles and rockets accompanied the cacophony of the tower wheels. Finally, the topmost wheel was lit and it was the most spectacular of them all. The background fireworks reached a frenzy of explosions and all we could do was throw back our heads and stare at this amazing show - mouths wide open in awe and wonderment. My eyes burned from refusing to blink.


When the display was over, it was like the plug had been pulled out of a sink. People packed up and milled out of the plaza – all, that is, except the young people. Now we could feel their excitement and we could see that the celebrations would continue long into the night. We wandered home through the dark cobbled streets, listening to the band tune up, hearing the occasional firecracker set off and the sounds of a great street party in the making. We were exhausted after this red letter day and were almost asleep before we hit our bunks.

We were four days in San Blas – two days of experiencing this fine town and two days to recover! We did the regular boat work of cleaning, laundry and odd jobs and caught up on our reading. Laura, on Chirpy, had lent me her copy of Lin Pardey’s Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew, and I was so impressed with it that Doug downloaded it on to his Kindle for me.

What a resource this book is! Pardey wrote the original after her passage from Japan to Victoria aboard their 27foot Serrafyn in the late 70’s. She has updated it several times since, with the newest version dating from 2006. It is jam packed with her more than 30 years of sailing experience and is fascinating to read as a way of life, as well as to get tips for provisioning and comfort on long passages. (If you’re a sailor and you haven’t checked out the Pardey’s website it is very worthwhile: )

I also began re-reading Hal Roth’s Always a Distant Anchorage - about his circumnavigation in the 1980’s, with his wife Margaret, aboard their Spencer35 Whisper.

The story is well worth reading, but what I found interesting is how blog-like it is – even though it doesn’t have as many pictures. When I think of some of the wonderful sailing blogs I have been following over the last couple years I think we are truly blessed with the medium of the Internet – both as readers and writers.

Now, why am I reading books such as these, instead of relaxing with a thriller? Because we have already begun to think about the trip home. Rather than leave Ka’sala in Mexico, or ship her home by boat or truck, we have decided to sail her back to Comox via Hawaii. In a nutshell, the passage to Hawaii is 2500 – 3000 nautical miles, depending on if we leave from the tip of the Baja or the Mexican Riviera. From Hawaii to Vancouver Island it is another 2500 nm. These are far different passages than our trip down the coast of North America (which consisted primarily of coastal cruising with a maximum of 4 days at sea). We expect it will take us 21 to 30 days to Hawaii and the same again home. We hope to spend about a month in the Hawaiian Islands between passages, so that means we have to leave late April or early May in order to be back in Comox by the first of August. I would be foolish to say I don’t find the whole idea daunting.

We believe Ka’sala is pretty much ready for the trip, though there are a number of things that will need to be done – the least of which is to check over all our systems. Doug believes he is ready for the challenge. I am determined to do it and, when I put my mind to something I can be fairly resilient. We have the boat and the psychological determination covered. Now we have to prepare.

Once again, we had enjoyed a special place and were reluctant to leave San Blas and its comfortable marina. We had provisioned well at the local market – lots of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as some luscious local cheese. It was time to save money and spend some time on the anchor, so we headed out of the channel in the morning with a high tide and little swell, and so, no problems with the shallow bar. There was no wind either, but we were only heading to Matanchen Bay, 4 miles to the south.

Before noon, we dropped our hook in 5 meters of cloudy water with 30 meters of chain. Matanchen is a huge bay and very shallow – almost as big as San Quentin on the Baja.

Matanchen Bay near San Blas

Large palapa restaurants lined the shore, but we were more than a mile out – too far to launch the dinghy and enjoy them – so we stayed a couple days on the hook reading, making Ziploc bread, catching up with the blog and enjoying the sunshine.

Time to think - contemplation in Matanchen Bay

We had been warned of the dreaded biting jejenes and were armed with our screens, citronella candles and bug dope, but saw very few. Each evening we enjoyed a fine sunset as we gently rocked in the cockpit. Life continues to be good.

Spectacular sunset at Metanchen Bay

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