Ensenada de Matanchen & San Blas

We finally found the Mexico we’ve been looking for.  While the places we’ve been since crossing the border over two months ago have been dazzling and distinctive, it has been the authentic culture and people of Mexico that we’ve been hoping to find.  But I’m getting ahead of myself; first a little bit about this last passage.

We have been anchored in Ensenada de Matanchen for a week now; enjoying some very settled weather after another unsettled night passage!  We left Mazatlan, after a bumpy start (literally).  We needed to fuel up before leaving, which meant being at the fuel dock on an outgoing tide.  As Marty was up paying for our diesel I was onboard watching the depth sounder.  When we started fueling it had read 8 feet give or take an inch.  By the time Marty got back to the boat, it was reading 7.2 and I was getting a bit nervous (we draw 6.5)!  Marty hopped on; tossed the lines and we started away from the dock – for about 30 feet, then the dreaded clunk!  We hadn’t even cleared the dock yet, so I tossed the attendant our stern line to help guide us back in, and put us hard in reverse to maneuver out of the mud.  Okay, free again, no time to chat, tides going out, hard to port away from the dock to the center of the dredged channel, 7 feet, 8 feet, 9 feet, phew..we’re out and on our way.

The next fun was the narrow channel leading out of Estero Sabalo, the entrance to Marina Mazatlan.  You may remember that we entered this channel in the dark a week earlier.  Now, having a good look at it in the light, I was retroactively terrified!  The swell coming in over a shallow entrance that turns 90 degrees into the “protected” breakwater channel is narrow, shallow, and challenging.  Or as “the book” describes in 5 detailed paragraphs on how to enter the channel; “During periods of moderate to large swell conditions the breakwater can form breaking waves across the entrance, and can occasionally be closed to traffic…care should be taken”.  There’s an understatement!  As we left, the swell was building, and the depth was too shallow for comfort.  We’ll plan a bit better on our return!

Now that the first hour of fun was over, it was time to hoist the sails and enjoy a 10-knot breeze on our beam.  Engine off, sails full, seas calm, perfect!  There were some bands of clouds rolling in from the ocean so we zigged and zagged a bit through some rainsqualls, interspersed with bright blue skies.  Eventually the rain caught us a few times, but it was nice to have a fresh water rinse on our salty decks.  Sunset was stunning with rain showers in the distance lit up in orange and yellow.

Along the way we picked up a couple of hitchhikers who had been circling us for quite sometime.  Two brown boobies (with green feet) decided that Happy Dance was a happening place and came to check us out.  One landed pretty easily on the dinghy, while the other one kept trying to land on the lines leading off the headsail.  It took many ungraceful attempts and a few near crashes before he was settled.  They stayed most of the night with us, even putting up with our New Year’s Eve celebration!

Since it was New Year’s Eve, we shared the midnight watch so that we could pop some champagne and share a kiss under the stars.  At the stroke of midnight, a la the dropping ball clock on the VHF, Marty popped the cork and poured us some bubbly.  We toasted to love, adventure, and brown boobies (with green feet) and danced a Happy Dance under a dazzling sky of storm clouds and stars.  Then I left Marty on watch and I went to grab some zzzzzzs!

It wasn’t long before the stars were blocked by a large squall that showed on the radar was too big to try to avoid.  We headed through it and soon it was a very dark and stormy night – again!  Winds built to about 25 right on our nose, the seas got messy, and the rain arrived in buckets!  Happy Dance enjoyed a nice bath, and our boobies (with green feet) left for dryer rides.  Around sunrise the winds and seas both calmed down and we motored into Ensenada de Matanchen with a full rainbow behind us and a pair of humpback whales breaching in the distance.

The bay of Matanchen is about a mile and a half wide, open to the south out to the Pacific, but with only a light north wind and a long low swell from the south, it’s been a very comfortable anchorage.  We are anchored in 18 feet of water, half a mile from shore.  The beach is filled with colorful palapa restaurants that have their sandy floors cleaned each night by the tide.  During the day the tide goes way out, leaving a huge sandy beach that all the kids play on.  We can hear the music from shore, along with the sound of the ice cream truck, and every now and then a panga will make a big circle towing an inflatable banana ridden by lots of screaming kids.   At night the fishing fleet comes out, and one night there were over 30 pangas zipping around in the bay, with bright white lights on a pole in the bow of each.

We’ve been ashore a few times, and each time we’ve enjoyed the people immensely.  Our first trip we just sat under a palapa roof with a cerveza and some camarones (fresh shrimp), soaking up the sights and sounds of Mexican people enjoying their country.  Matanchen is a breath of fresh air after the noise and clutter of places like Cabo San Lucas.  In the larger cities that we’ve visited in Mexico the money to be made from catering to gringos has overwhelmed the culture and beauty of Mexico.  We neither like nor want to hang out in that type of gringo environment, but unfortunately we seem to be somewhat alone on that.  It’s really refreshing to see locals on vacation, enjoying the same things we enjoy in Mexico!  Sounds crazy, but it’s nice to be in the minority here.

On our next trip to shore we picked up our neighbors in the anchorage, Larry and Deb, from m/v Tropical Blend.  Even though they live on the dark side (in a power boat), we enjoyed their company for a couple days while we all explored Matanchen and San Blas together.  Our first excursion was a jungle tour through Rio Tavara.  It was wild to be motoring under a canopy of mangroves through murky brown water, wondering what creature would pop out next!  Alfredo, our driver, had the most amazing eyesight and could spot camouflaged birds and animals all over the place.  At one point he was pointing out a nighthawk to us, and even got us within about 6 feet of it, but not one of us could see it – until it flew off the branch practically right in front of our face!  We saw crocodiles of all sizes, including baby crocs in a nest, iguanas, owls, hawks, herons, ibis, egrets, and turtles.  On our walk back to the boat we bought the local specialty, some pan de platano (banana bread) and some smoked marlin.

Another day we went into San Blas to visit a couple of historic sites and to see what the town looked like.  We first went to La Contaduria, the original fort that was built in 1770 and was used as protection and as a counting house for goods transferred from ships and routed to Mexico City or Asia.  The view out over San Blas to the Pacific is gorgeous from the top of the bluff, and we could even hear the metal bats on the baseball field below.  It’s easy to see how the cannons in the fort could easily have protected the town.  The road up to the fort is steep and made up of hand laid river rock.  Behind the fort there is a church that was built in 1769 and that was active until 1872 when the aging bells were removed, inspiring the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write “The Bells of San Blas”.

After completing our history lesson, it was time to meander into town for a cerveza and to see if we could find McDonalds.  Now before you remind me that I don’t want gringo-ized Mexico, this is not your typical McDonald’s!  This one is a long time staple in San Blas where we were told, and we can now attest to, they have excellent food!  Verde chilequiles con pollo for me, and rojas chilequiles con camarones for Marty.  Yum!

Now back to my original statement that we’d found the Mexico we’d hoped to see.  It’s the tranquillo, slow pace, the friendly people, and a real town that’s mostly avoided the tourist invasion.  Shops are full of necessities rather than t-shirts with silly sayings.  People are washing their motorcycles, doing errands, watering the garden, or visiting with their neighbors.  The market is full of fresh produce and other staples and the restaurants are full of locals.  Granted, there is still the garbage problem around, and too many stray dogs, but we are greeted with plenty of smiles and hellos, and when we ask in our limited Spanish for information or inquire if a vendor has an item, we are consistently responded to with genuine friendliness.  When we passed a tortilleria (tortilla factory) we went in and I was proud of myself for ordering “un media kilo” (half a kilo) of fresh hot tortillas, paying 7.25 pesos or about $0.50 and enjoying the lady’s big smile as I thanked her.

We had dinner one night in a palapa on the beach, where we were seated next to a family with four generations present.  There was one man, named Vincente, who was very interested in us and he finally came over to share the rusty bucket of smoldering, smoking coconut husks that are kept between the tables to ward off the jejenes (pronounced hay-hay-nays), the no-see-um bugs that are found around here.  He wanted to know where we were from and we started up a conversation with him.  Before long the two tables were laughing together and having great fun.  Grandma and Grampa started up the juke box and we all danced barefoot to some lively Mexican music.  Those are the moments that never cease to make us smile.

Today we’re in town again, and as we were walking down the road to get here, a local family in a pickup stopped and offered us a ride.  So we hopped in their back seat and enjoyed playing with their 2 year old son Dominique who was too cute, and they were eager to try to converse with us.  They had lived in San Blas all their lives except for 10 years spent in Tijuana.  When comparing Tijuana to San Blas, they were very glad to be here, in this tranquillo spot, with the playa (beach) and the bonita countryside.  It was just another example of how open and giving these people are.

We’ll stay in Matanchen for another day or two, then we’ll make a couple of short hops south until we get to Banderes Bay.  We’ll probably stay awhile in La Cruz, and take buses into the big city of Puerto Vallarta.  That’s the plan at the moment, but as we are constantly reminded, we’ll keep the plans fluid!