Mexico – Part 2 of 9: Mainland Pacific Coast (Mazatlan to Manzanillo; Dec 30, 2016 to Jan 14, 2017)

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After 25 days in Baja California and Baja California Sur (see previous post), we took an overnight ferry across the Gulfo de California to mainland Mexico and continued our road trip, spending the next 15 days along the Pacific coast in the states of Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, and Colima.

After getting off the ferry in Mazatlan (Sinaloa), we spent a few hours exploring the city (population ~658,400). It’d visited Mazatlan as a 17-year old with my friends on our high school senior trip but all I remembered from that trip was the beach, the bars, and the boys. Ha!! So it was nice to revisit this touristy but charming city. We walked along the malecon (boardwalk) and wandered around the historic center, appreciating the lovely plazas, the ornate Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (1899) and the lively markets filled with a variety of foods and merchandise. After a lack of variety of produce in Baja, I was in heaven seeing the variety of colorful vegetables and tropical fruits at the markets.

From Mazatlan we continued south along Ruta 15. After being in Baja, which is largely arid, it was great to be in the lush tropical forest. It was warm and humid but comfortable. Just before sunset, we arrived to the small coastal town of San Blas (Nayarit; population ~37,000), getting to the beach in time to enjoy the setting sun while playing in the small waves. The beach was nice but since it was south of a river mouth, the ocean water was brown with suspended sediment. Oh well, at least it washed the day’s sweat away. Since the sand flies were out in force (our first encounter with the tiny biting insects), we decided to explore the town for a few hours before bedtime. We walked around the main plaza which was still festive with Christmas decorations and bustling with locals who were eating foods from the many street stalls and shopping for trinkets from various street vendors. Mathieu bought a handmade Panama hat from an ancient man with a great smile. After, we ate street tacos made by two sisters, also with great smiles and hearty laughs. Back on the beach, we quickly set up the tent and jumped in, trying to outrun the swarming sand flies. Despite the annoying insects, it was a great first day in mainland Mexico.

The next day was New Year’s Eve so we continued south on Ruta 200 to small fishing village of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (Nayarit; population ~1,600) on the coast of Bahia de Banderas (Banderas Bay) to meet my friends Jody and Randy. They’d set sail from San Diego (California) in October 2016 on their 38-ft catamaran, Free Luff, for a longterm sailing trip in Mexico and beyond. Joining them on the adventure were Thad and Kristin, saling on She’s No Lady, a 41-ft catamaran. Once in La Cruz, we joined Jody, Randy, Thad, Kristin, Tom and Barb (who also sailed from San Diego), and new cruising friends, Jason and Jenn (who sailed from Seattle on their 36-ft monohull, Danika). We had drinks and did some pre-NYE dancing at a local bar. Then,  before the clock struck midnight, we jumped in the dinghies and gathered on She’s No Lady to watch the fireworks exploding from various beaches along the large bay. Happy New Year!!!

We spent the next 10 days with Jody and Randy on Free Luff. After about a month of tent camping, it was luxurious to have a comfy berth (aka bedroom), a head (aka bathroom) and enjoy Randy’s delicious cooking, including his famous chilaquiles (thanks Captain Randy!) in the galley/salon (aka kitchen/dining room). And it was great to hang out with friends, play in the water, whale-watch, visit the quaint town of La Cruz, and just chill.

Along with fun on the boat and in the water, we also crammed Jody and Randy into Genevieve (our gear-crammed 4Runner) for a day-trip to Puerto Vallarta, about 40 minutes south of La Cruz. Puerto Vallarta (Jalisco; population ~255,700) is a major tourist destination, known for its lovely beaches, nice malecon, many restaurants, bars and shops, all in a tropical climate. While filled with tourists (domestic and foreign), the colorful city has retained its character and charm. We had a fun day walking around, discovering the artwork along the malecon, visiting the ornate La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (1942) and wandering through the various markets and backstreets. We also enjoyed lunch at a vegetarian Mexican restaurant that Jody and Randy had visited nearly 10 years prior. We piled our plates high with veggie delights from the buffet. Even Mathieu enjoyed the soy birria (a spicy stew common in Jalisco, traditionally made with goat meat). It was a nice change from greasy (but delicious) street tacos and tortas we’d been eating.

The next day, the crews of Free Luff and She’s No Lady, including Jason and Jenn, left the anchorage at La Cruz and sailed to Yelapa, a small town on the south side of Bahia de Banderas. Given its location on the coast of the rocky peninsula, the town is only accessible by boat. After a 4-hour sail, we arrived to the town’s small bay. Once anchored, we went ashore and took a short walk up the narrow, winding paths of the town, through the lush tropical forest to a small waterfall. It felt great to swim in the cool, clear water. After beers at a beach-side restaurant, we returned to our boats and spent a relaxing evening enjoying the sunset and stargazing. The next day, we went ashore again and took a longer walk from town through the tropical forest to a larger waterfall where we again enjoyed swimming in the cool, clear water. After the hike, we had lunch at a beachfront restaurant then sailed for about 4 hours to Punta de Mita, a resort town on the north end of the Bahia de Banderas peninsula. The trips to/from Yelapa and Punta de Mita ended up also being whale watching trips. We saw the spouts of many whales (likely humpbacks) and also got close enough to see their dorsal fins and tail flukes as they dove. We were also treated to a spectacular show of a few whales doing full breeches. Their massive bodies appeared to be suspended in midair. Amazing! We anchored offshore of Punta de Mita, where the ocean was calm, and again enjoyed the sunset and the stars. The next day, we inflated the stand-up paddle boards and Duckie and played in the water. On the way back to La Cruz, we were treated to more whales. Awesome.

Anchored back at La Cruz, we spent more time relaxing on Free Luff, playing in the water, eating delicious food, including Mathieu’s crepes, and hanging out in town. We also hung out with the gang, joining Jenn and Jason on She’s No Lady to enjoy a delicious dinner cooked by Thad and Kristin and drink some delicious whiskey. One night, we went ashore and found the plaza full of people, most of whom were gathered around a long table holding a ring of sweet bread sprinkled with dried fruit. It was Dia de Los Reyes (Three Kings Day). Per Wikipedia, the holiday represents the day the Three Wise Men gave gifts to Jesus Christ. The day closes the Christmas festivities and is the day the people of Mexico exchange gifts. During Día de Los Reyes, Mexicans serve Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake. The Rosca de Reyes has an oval shape to symbolize a crown and has a small doll inside which represents baby Jesus. The doll figure symbolizes the hiding of the infant Jesus from King Herod’s troops. The person who gets the slice with the doll must host a party on Día de la Candelaria in February. Children in Latin America and Spain receive the majority of their gifts from the Three Kings rather than from Santa Claus at Christmas. Before going to bed, the children place their old shoes with a wish list on top for the Three Kings. In the morning, the shoes are filled with toys and gifts from the Three Kings. While the piece of bread we shared didn’t contain the sought-after doll, it was tasty. Besides the eating of the Rosca de Reyes, people were dancing in the plaza to the music of a live band consisting of a male singer, a guitarist, a keyboardist, an accordion player, and a drummer. They played what I would call Tejano-style music, bringing back fun memories from my years living in Texas. While the crew went to the bar, Mathieu and I danced with the locals in the plaza. It was a fun night of dancing and people watching.

On another day, Jason and Jenn invited the crews of Free Luff and She’s No Lady to join them on Danika for a day trip. Since it was the first time Mathieu and I had been on a monohull sailboat we were a bit nervous about seasickness (monohulls can sway more than catamarans). However, we had a great day sailing in the bay on their beautiful sailboat. And again, the sail was also a whale watching trip and we were treated to numerous whales. Amazing.

The next day, we crammed Jody and Randy into Genevieve again and the four of us drove to San Sebastian del Oeste, a tiny village in the mountains about 2 hours east of La Cruz. The town is a “Pueblo Magico” which per Wikipedia, is a designation by federal and state agencies given to towns that offer visitors a “magical” experience by reason of their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance. Currently, there are 111 Pueblos Magicos around Mexico. We had a great day exploring the lovely colonial town, including taking a short hike to an abandoned silver mine and stopping at a mirador to enjoy a nice mountain-top view of the quaint pueblo.

On the morning of our last day on Free Luff, Mathieu organized the filming of a drone video of the three boats. In the light of the rising sun, he drove the drone over Kristin and Thad on She’s No Lady, then over Jenn and Jason on Danika, and ended by flying over us on Free Luff. In preparation for the video, Jody, Randy, Mathieu and I had choreographed a little dance. Our costumes for the dance included bathing suits and blue masking tape. That’s all I’ll say; watch the video ; ) (see link below).

It was difficult to say farewell to my wonderful friends, but after a fabulous 10 days with them it was time to continue the road trip. We continued south on Ruta 200 then took a secondary road back to the coast where we wild camped on a secluded beach south of the tiny village of Ipala (Jalisco). We spent three days on the wide, white-sand beach that stretched as far as the eye could see. Other than a half dozen local fishermen fishing in the surf, we had the beach entirely to ourselves. Wow. While relaxing one afternoon, we were approached by Geraldo (or Ricky for foreigners unable to pronounce Geraldo), a super friendly local fisherman selling fresh fish. He opened his backpack to show us the catches of the day, including two sizeable pargo (a species of snapper common on the Pacific coast) and offered to cook one for us on the beach for 150 pesos or about $7. Yes please! It was too much fish for two people so we had him cook half of the fish and we put the other half in the cooler for the next night. When he returned later than afternoon to cook the fish for us, he brought us two beautiful papayas he’d picked from a local tree. We had fun chatting with him as he cooked the half fish (which he’d cut dorso-laterally and cooked with the half head on). He cooked it with onions, tomatoes, salt and pepper. It was delicious! He stopped by to say hello and chat at the start and end of his fishing day. It was great to make a new friend. We especially appreciated having met him when, as we tried to start the truck to leave of the third day, we discovered the battery was dead. Thankfully Geraldo stopped by to say hello as he’d done the previous day, and was able to find a friend with a 4×4 (necessary for driving in the deep sand) who could give us a jump. In coming to help us, his friend brought us three beautiful papayas. That morning, we’d eaten one of the two papaya’s Geraldo had brought us the day before so now we had four giant beautiful papayas remaining. We will always remember the generosity of Geraldo and his friends.

From there, we continued south on Ruta 200 to Melaque (Jalisco), a small coastal village Geraldo recommended we visit. Upon arrival, we went directly to the mirador to enjoy the setting sun. Once the sun set, the few other admirers left and we set up camp in the parking area. Yup, we wild camped in a dirt parking lot but it was free and the view of the rising sun the next morning was gorgeous. Apparently it was a popular designation; during breakfast, we exchanged greetings “hola, buenos dias” with numerous runners and bikers as they stopped at the mirador to enjoy the view before heading back down the steep road to town. While talking to one biker (a Canadian who lived in Melaque half the year), I gave him a papaya which he gladly accepted, especially since he was on the way back down the hill. (Now three left. Ha!).

After coffee and wifi at a beachfront restaurant in Melaque, we continued south on Ruta 200 to Manzanillo (Colima). It was a large city (population ~184,500) without much charm but it was good place to resupply. After briefly exploring the malecon, we drove to a beach just south of the city. We entered via a gated entrance guarded by a ancient, shrunken man who was noticeably fit. He was super friendly, giving us the OK to access the private beach. In return, we gave him one of our three beautiful, ripe papayas. (Now two left; I felt like a papaya fairy. Ha!) The area looked as though someone had planned to develop it with beachfront houses but then abandoned the plans. There were street signs but no streets. There were a few houses but most appeared to be abandoned. Despite the somewhat strange area and the sight of the nearby stacks from the power plant, the beach was awesome. It was a wide, black-sand beach which we shared only with a few locals. We played in the waves and threw disk (aka frisbee) for a few hours. We’d planned to continue inland to spend the night on a volcano. However, after realizing this could be our last time on the Pacific coast for awhile, we decided to spend the night on the lovely beach. We spent the evening sipped tequila and listened to music while stargazing. The next morning, we played in the waves for a bit, said farewell to the Oceano Pacifico, and headed east to continue exploring Mexico.

We had a great time traveling along the coast of mainland Mexico, hanging out with friends, making new friends, and exploring new places. We drove ~1,000 miles (~1,600 kilometers), traveling mostly on the free roads, preferring to drive the smaller (often curvy) roads through the small towns versus taking the larger (often straighter) toll roads that circumvented the small towns. And, preferring to avoid paying the expensive tolls. We felt safe the entire way. And the road trip with my wonderful road trip partner, Mathieu, continues…stay tuned for upcoming posts.

Here are a few pictures. Click the link to see the full album (pics and videos):  https://goo.gl/photos/uo2UWpLjNpGFjuzj9

And click this link to see Mathieu’s done video of the Free Luff crew’s deck-top dance in Bahia de Banderas:  https://youtu.be/BkuGWy4-rFU

Enjoy!

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Mazatlan.

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Happy New Year! With Thad, Kristin, Randy, Jody, Jason, and Jen.

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Free Luff.

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Puerto Vallarta.

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Yelapa.

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With the gang on Danika.

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Water play!

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San Sebastian de Oeste.

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Going ashore on the dinghy.

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Beach south of Ipala.

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Sunset from the mirador in Melaque.

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Black-sand beach south of Manzanillo.

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