Sunday, January 31, 2016

Matanchen Bay near San Blas

We left Mazatlan on a high tide about 9am on Saturday, January 23.  Even though all the stars were aligned to have a straightforward and easy breakaway, we still encountered breaking waves in the entrance.  We can’t help but wonder if someday soon it will be impassable.  We hobby horsed up and down through the shallow water and close-to swells until we were past the islands where conditions calmed down considerably.  Mazatlan just did not want to let us go!

Goodbye Mazatlan (photo by Sue)
The night before we left we had had a wonderful evening with three other cruising couples.  We joined Sue and John (S/V Valkyrie), Don and Bobbie, as well as Dean and Cathy (S/V Harmony) and hired a ½ ton truck taxi – remarkably like the “tuk-tuk”’s we used to take to get around in Thailand – to take us into old Mazatlan. 

Not us - this photo was taken from the Net - but you get the idea
We disembarked at the Freeman Hotel right on the Olas Altas waterfront and rode a tiny rickety elevator to the 9th floor, then climbed three sets of stairs to arrive at the rooftop bar and pool.  OMG!

Freeman Hotel is the tallest building
What an incredible place with a phenomenal view. 

Roof top bar and pool at the Freeman Hotel

View from the rooftop looking north - the third island in the distance is where we anchored on our first day
The point of being here was to enjoy a cocktail as we watched the sun drop into the sea, the full moon rise in the east and the gradual change of light over the city of Mazatlan. 

Sunset from the Freeman Hotel (photo by Sue)
The 360 degree view was stunning as the pictures cannot possibly illuminate. 

Afterwards, we popped around the corner to a little bistro called Angelina’s.  

This establishment is lovely:  creamy stucco walls, tropical plants placed strategically, traditional furniture, gorgeous artwork and golden lighting made all of us look at least a decade younger than we are! We were entertained by a quartet of young people played lovely traditional music on some interesting instruments. We delighted in an elegant and delicious dinner at a very reasonable price.  There was even Negro Medelo on tap! 

Our meal was over way too quickly and we spilled out onto the old malecon to stroll back toward the marina.  There were many young Mexicans gathered along the way, courting couples, guys on bikes and skateboards, giggling girls and older folks keeping a watchful eye.  There were numerous street venders selling popcorn, cotton candy, iced liquados, fruit, hot dogs – you name it – many items to appeal to young and old. The waves rolled in against the rocks of the point and we could see fiery torchlight in the hands of a young man drawing attention to himself as he prepared to dive off a pinnacle into the darkness below.  

by day
by night
 Before long our eventful evening caught up to us and we headed back to the marina.  What a wonderful way to end our visit to Mazatlan – a special thank you to Cathy for organizing this memorable evening.

Cathy and Dean
Our 24 hour passage to Matanchen Bay was benign.  The seas were calm and the winds were light.  We managed to sail for a few hours in the late afternoon and morning, but that was it.  The moon was full and so bright we could almost read by it.  We passed many fishing boats trolling the waters but no other boats.

On the way to Matanchen Bay under the full moon
However, we did see our first sea turtles on this trip – three, to be exact – huge beasts looking like gigantic coconuts, floating along, lazily lifting their heads to stare at us as we passed.  We also saw the most whales in one passage.  We had recorded five individual sightings when we were amazed to see an entire pod of humpbacks leaping completely out of the water and slapping their tails, seeming to be chasing each other around in circles.  There were enormous splashes of water and we could clearly see their breath rocketing out of their blowholes.  Thank goodness they were ½ a mile away!  A school of dun coloured porpoises came to play in our wake and on our bow.  They were a variety of sizes, some not much larger than a large cat, others 5 feet long.  We assume it was a multigenerational family.  Cool.  Of course the seabirds were everywhere – frigates, pelicans and a variety of red beaked seagulls entertaining us with their aerial displays.

When we arrived at Matanchen, for a change, I handled the boat while Doug anchored.  The bay is very large, relatively shallow and well protected from prevailing winds, so it was easy to do. We spent the rest of the day catching up on our sleep and enjoying the sensation of being on the hook again. 

Hills behind the anchorage
Next morning we launched the kayaks and headed over to visit one of the other two sailboats in the anchorage.  Imagine my pleasure at meeting up with Lindy and Al aboard Enchante.  Lindy was one of the Zumba girls in La Paz, a fellow Canadian and a mutual friend of Joanneke.  Al is a gifted artisan carpenter originally from New York City.  The two have spent their last three winters here in Mexico and home to Lummi Island in Washington for the summers.  We have been able to spend many delightful hours in their company while we have been here.

Al and Lindy
Matanchen Bay is lined by beach and outdoor seafood restaurants.  One of them, a little way inside the point, is called Playa Hermosa.  A very amiable man nicknamed “Barra” will watch over dinghies or kayaks while you explore or go into the town of San Blas.  He will also allow you to drop off your trash.  Though he doesn’t charge for these services, having a delicious lunch in his establishment seems only fair. 

Dinghy parking at  Playa Hermosa - boats at anchor in the distance
But before we indulged, we had some fun in what Al describes as the “bunny hill” of surfing.  We discovered fairly soon that our kayaks were not made for surfing!  Doug figures there are 131 pumps to draw the water out of a swamped kayak!  Nevertheless, the bay is large enough that we got a good workout from paddling around.

Kayaking at the point on Matanchen Bay - surf hasn't come up yet
We had been to San Blas on our previous trip five years before and had taken Ka’sala through the very shallow breakwater to stay at the Fonatur marina on the outskirts of the town.  We spent about a week in this handy location where we were able to explore, experience the local culture and take the jungle tour.  Although not as convenient, it is possible to land the dinghy at Barra’s, walk a kilometre to the crossroads and pick up either an inexpensive taxi or bus for the 7 kilometer ride into town.  We felt no need to do this, but other cruisers at the anchorage have and have not found it a burden.

The insert map shows the San Blas/Matanchen area - the larger map shows the coastline we would sail  down to Punta de Mita and Puerto Vallarta.  El Cora is also shown on the larger map.  Our friends, Phil and Jan, are staying at Playa San Francisco just north of Sayulita
Unfortunately, this area is also famous for its jejenes (the Mexican version of no-see-ums).  On our previous visit here we didn’t seem to have any problem with them.  However, they have been a real plague this time - perhaps because it seems to be so much warmer than it was five years ago.  Anyway, we had lunch at Playa Hermosa’s on our first day and Doug was devoured by them - despite bug dope and smoking coconut husks. 

Lunch was great, the jenenes were not!
The bites, combined with a little too much sun, seemed to set off a terrible allergic reaction and the poor man has been plagued with itching and hives that have just about driven him crazy.  The tiny beasts find us on the boat as well.  We have screens on all our port lights and hatches, have been burning citronella and spraying, but nothing seems to deter them.  Although I have also been bitten, they don’t seem to have caused the same reaction.  Guess I am not as sweet!

Hermosa was surrounded by gardens such as this - the large leaved plant is a papaya
One day, Al and Lindy suggested we join them to find and explore the waterfalls they had read could be found nearby.  Unfortunately, Doug was so under the weather with the dratted insect bites he was unable to come.  Instead, Mary Alice, Rick and Harley, their dog, from S/V Notre Isle, joined us.  We dinghied ashore and a passing half ton truck gave us a lift to the crossroads.  What a thrilling ride standing up in the back, wind in my hair and clutching the rails above the cab!  We encountered several taxis and settled our destination and the price on Elias of Red Line Cabs.  Al had written out the name of the waterfalls and the directions and the cabbie seemed to know where to go.  Unfortunately, as we got further along in our trip, we realized he did not!  He asked along the way and, after about an hour, brought us to a place Al knew was wrong.  Thankfully, Lindy and Al speak enough Spanish to sort it out and we were eventually taken to where we wished to go. 

We followed the main road out of San Blas to Tepic, then turned off and followed a winding road into the hills and along a ridge draped with mango and jack orchards to a small village called El Cora. 
Along the ridge to El Cora - Mango orchards in the background, ocean in the far distance

 There the pavement ended, the cobbles started, and then, they too, ended in a dirt track. 

End of the cobbles - notice the cement sidewalk - it ran for several kilometers through the village of El Cora to here.
By this time we had re-negotiated with the cab driver to stay with us and take us home afterwards.  He was happy to do so as this was a place he also had never been.  The six of us followed along the track until we came to a pointed crest from which we could look across a chasm to the waterfall cascading over a cliff in the forest.  

We descended about 400 meters down a switch-backed rock and cement path to a gorgeous emerald pool filled by the shimmering cascade. 

Lindy descending the path
 It didn’t take us long to don our bathing suits and dive in.  (Well, the dog just jumped in!) I could have spent hours there as I found it a serene and inspiring place. 

 I longed to just sit and breathe – to let the place unfold around me - to watch the butterflies flitting around - to see the light change as it dappled through the leaves and branches - to really hear the song the water was singing.  But time was up, our clothes were back on and before I knew it we were back at the taxi. 

Elias looking over the pools - we could not entice him to swim
On our way back, Elias suggested a small restaurant in the village of Aticama called Cenaduria Lucy to stop for lunch.  Inexpensive and delicious, I enjoyed shrimp tacos with a cold Pacifico.

Time flash forwarded again and we were back at the dinghies, then back on the boat.  Someday I will return to that magical place and bring Doug with me.

Originally we had expected to stay at Matanchen Bay for a night or two, but remained for five days.  We have seen a steady procession of sailboats come and go while we have been here.  Some stay to check the place out and others use it as a convenient and easy anchorage as they make their way north and south.  If the jejenes were not so bad, this quiet anchorage and its surrounding area would be a wonderful place to spend a lot of time.  

Enchante at sunset in Matanchen Bay

Friday, January 22, 2016


Our time in Marina Mazatlan simply melted away - not surprising.  Goethe would hate it here.  Day after day of blue skies and sunshine with temperatures reaching the high 20s and cooling down enough at night to make snuggling in a duvet very pleasant.  Each morning is still and birdsong can be heard all around as the mullet’s splash about in the marina fairways.  The breeze picks up in the afternoon and dies off again in the evening.  A vegetable truck and a fish monger come three times a week to offer us fresh produce and tasty shrimp at reasonable prices.  We ride our bicycles about 2 miles to a Walmart grocery store which sells wine and beer at reasonable prices, not to mention many North American products we are used to having.  A couple miles in the other direction is an enormous white sand beach that runs several miles.  The waves roll along and the sunshine sparkles on the water.  At the far end is a delectable seafood restaurant and a block farther a coffee shop that roasts its own beans.   Back home our family and friends are enduring snow, rain, sleet, freezing temperatures and expensive produce.  The living is so easy here, why would anyone leave?  It is, after all, “an endless succession of sunny days”.   Was Goethe right when he said that it “vexes the soul”?  Perhaps.

At the southern end of Mazatlan looking toward the  "Gold Zone".  The island where we initially anchored is to the right.
Although I had a bad cold for several days and was more or less confined to the cockpit, we have had the opportunity to explore by bicycle and by kayak.  Even though the roads are very busy in Mazatlan, often made of bricks or cobblestones and not in the greatest of repair, we have found the Mexican drivers very courteous and patient with cyclists.  

Fantastic papier mache sculptures on the malecon in preparation for Carnivale - note funky pulmonia taxi

Sharks being unloaded from a fishing panga in front of the malecon - hammerhead to the right
We have ridden from one end of this city to the other on streets which wind through the old town as well as the extensive malecon which runs for miles along the beachfront of the city.   We’ve kayaked in the massive lagoon system surrounding the marina area where we are docked.  Exercise has not been a problem.

Looking toward the  beach in the  old part of Mazatlan
One day we rode our bikes up to Cerritos at the southern end of Mazatlan where we had a wonderful lunch in a lovely palapa. 

Aztec bowl - wow!
On another day,  we stopped at a BBQ fish shack right on the downtown beach and devoured a mesquite smoked red snapper while mariache bands serenaded the customers. 

Slow smoked snapper over mesquite charcoal

The musicians wander the beaches
It hasn’t been all play.  Doug has taken the opportunity at Marina Mazatlan's quiet docks to paint the forepeak deck – the beginning of a project to paint the entire deck as our gelcoat has become very thin.  He’s dived on the boat to change the zinc on the prop.  Both of us clean the boat to keep it looking good and comfortable to live on.

Under the shade of the boat cover

There are vexations.  We are in a gringo enclave here and miss the local vibe of a Mexican town like La Paz.  It's difficult to practise  Spanish here.  One can feel excluded from the Mexican culture – even the old town of Mazatlan seems “gringo-Ized”.  It is not until you ride through the twisted streets around the central market that you get the sense of a Mexican neighbourhood.  In La Paz I felt like I was absorbed by the community, here I feel like an affluent appendage.  It is safe, bland and boring – a place where one could live out their days without any bother at all.  (That's good, right?)

Immaculate Conception Cathedral in downtown Mazatlan

 We stayed at Marina Mazatlan for a little over a week and then moved over to the El Cid marina nearby.  

Marina Mazatlan - Ka'sala is hidden between the yachts to the right
Although less expensive, Marina Mazatlan does not have drinkable water and we needed to fill our tanks before continuing on.  El Cid is more expensive, but the cost becomes negligible if we fill up with water and stay for a few nights, enjoying the resort facilities included in the price.

At El Cid - Ka'sala just behind me
Marina complex at Mazatlan - El Cid just inside the entrance, Marina Mazatlan further along - lagoon area surrounds
The marina at El Cid also has a different vibe.  There seem to be more transient cruisers here and we have found our social life ramping up again. We have met a couple named John and Sue from Seattle aboard Valkyrie and spent some time with them enjoying their company.

John and Sue (photo from their blog)
We have also been reconnected with Anne and Dick aboard Full and By – a couple we originally met on our first cruise down here.  There are boats coming and going and each one has a story to tell of where they have been, where they will go, their experiences, hopes and plans.  We are gathering a great deal of information and finding it all very interesting.

The resort itself is gorgeous with lovely facilities.  

Ka'sala in front of activity pool

Cool pool with caves and water slide
Hot tub

Not only people like the hot tub at El Cid - the place is crawling with friendly and colourful  iguanas


Activity pool
Most importantly, however, we have had the chance to visit with our good family friends, Sid and Angie.  They have been staying at another of the El Cid resorts and took us out to a lovely steak dinner in an enormous palapa restaurant. 

Angie and I also had the chance to explore the market together and find out what exactly is in the bottom of a jug of tequila!

Can you make out what is on the bottom?  It is NOT a worm!
Tomorrow we will cross the narrow entrance and leave for points south. 

Narrow entrance into the marinas
We aren’t exactly sure where we will drop our anchor next – it is dependent on weather conditions – but we will go no farther than Punta de Mita, the southern point of Banderas Bay.  We have friends coming down to this area from Comox the first week in February, so we will be in the area for a little while.