Travels from Feb. 9 to Feb. 17:
Our stay in San Blas lasted two weeks. Rather than do a day-by-day, I will cover some of the highlights. By now, you, "our crew", recognize our days are filled with many tasks; these tasks take up more time than you would guess.
The first thing I just had to do was fix the engine-battery problem. Apparently I accomplished this by removing the electronic module, which manages the shared charging of the "house bank" and the engine battery, disassembling it, and cleaning and waterproofing the connections. Of course I didn't believe the indications of my success until it was proven when we left, two weeks later.
Thursday, the 10th, Loup de Mer and we took the Jungle River trip. The attraction to do this was the opportunity to see up to 400 species of birds and a variety of other creatures, including crocodiles. We started at 0800, on a 4-hour roundtrip. Our guide began pointing out the birds immediately. Some were obvious, large and contrasting with the surroundings. Others were so identical to the colors and patterns of the vegetation where they perched, we frustrated the guide with our inability to locate them . . . eventually we did, though. Just as an example, we saw 5 varieties of herons. This included the boat-bill heron. Some of the most difficult to see were the owls, even when we were just a few feet away. Since it was so early, many of the birds were out in the sun getting warm. It was easier to see those with their wings spread, providing a large "target". Others just sat in the sun. But those in the shade were a trick to find. The guide knew where the birds roosted though. He would stop the boat, peer at a few locations and finally call out the name and point. While we were close to many of these birds, my binoculars provided a view of the fine details and feathers. I'm not a "birder", but really got into the details. However, those of you who are "birders", please forgive me for not remembering the names of all we saw. I estimate that we saw only 50 species of the 400 reported.
In addition to the fauna, we saw plants in their natural, wild habitat. Plants that we used to buy and try to keep alive in Pleasanton, such as bromides. They were hanging from mangrove trees everywhere. But we felt like we were in a jungle movie set, with all the dense foliage, various ferns, trees, flowers, vines, birds and noises. It was almost too natural (if that's possible)!
Rounding a corner of the river, we came upon some small huts on stilts. The guide told us these were part of the movie set for the film, "Cabeza de Vaca", Cow's Head. This was a local film, popular internationally and our dinghy watcher's Step-dad was an actor in it. Ele, played the part of an Indian Shaman.
At the end of one of the channels, we came to the crocodile farm. A young boy was the guide there. He took us, along with a few Mexican tourists, around together. He gave a general talk, first in English, then in Spanish. Then he would answer questions. He would jump from English to Spanish so easily. He was very knowledgeable; we were very impressed. Later, back on the river, we saw baby crocodiles on the riverbanks but never an adult.
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One day we packed our lunch, got into our cross trainers (tennies), brought our bug repellent, our books and water, and headed for the ruins of the original fort and church on the high ground above the town. Much of the ruins are untouched and as is, with the vegetation burned to expose the ruins as well as control the mosquitoes and gnats. The church's stone walls are in excellent condition, but all the timbers are gone, so there's no roof or other details . . . except for the belfry. The short beams, which used to hold the bells, still were evident. It was under these, we sat that afternoon and read H. W. Longfellow's poem. It was so apropos, since The Bells of San Blas decries the forward march of time and progress. Beginning with the question:
What say the bells of San Blas
To the ships that southward pass
From the harbor of Mazatlan?
To them it is nothing more
Than the sound of surf on the shore,
Nothing more to master or man.
Oh bells of San Blas, in vain
Ye call back the past again!
The past is deaf to your prayer;
Out of the shadows of night
The world rolls into light;
It is daybreak everywhere.
After walking the tourist area of the ruins, we followed the edge of the cliff away from the city, toward Mantanchen Bay, which used to be the main anchorage in the days of the Conquistador. This was serious jungle trekking, with vines and shoulder-high brush. It was fun but we found nothing of interest. Granted the piles of rock we would occasionally found might have been emplacements for cannon, but that could have also been our desire to find such places. At least our romantic influence left us with a feeling that we had walked the same ground as those history-makers.
My daydreaming was cut short by a swarm of mosquitoes attacking my legs! The way I was slappin' and scratchin', you would have thought I was practicing for a Blue Grass band.
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On another day, we joined two other couples, Mildred V and Puffins, for a Coffee Plantation trip. This trip was an opportunity to see some of the rural country. This area is focused on orchard-crops. Mangos appeared to be the main crop, next bananas, and then coffee, some citrus and avocados. The mangoes were in the flowering stage with just a beginning of "set". The banana plants were occasionally adorned with a bunch. The coffee bushes had beans in various stages. While we didn't find "Juan Valdez" (the advertising icon), we did pluck some red berries and peal off the skin. Between the "bean" and the skin, there was a very thin coating of slippery pulp which tastes a little bit like an onion.
At one stop, we met an orchard tender who pointed us toward a bunch of ripe plantains, a bunch of green bananas and a pile of avocados. These we took back to our boats with us.
When we reached the town of Jalcocotan, we searched for a place to buy coffee. The entire crop from this region is sold to one of the major US coffee companies. So it's not like a California winery, with a tasting room and retail outlet. We had to find a tienda that roasted and sold beans. Finally we found it, although it was closed. We eventually got someone to open the shop. It was worth their effort, because the group bought a grand total of 25# of beans and ground coffee. Nanjo bought 3 kilos of beans ourselves. I sampled the flavor by eating several beans. I grind our coffee beans, a ˝ # at a time, to keep the flavor trapped. Our Jalcocotan beans have a wonderful roasted flavor! That is not said loosely, as many of you know coffee is My Drink of choice.
Our return trip brought us to Mantanchen Bay around lunch. We stopped at a popular palapa restaurant on the beach, specializing in smoked, bar-b-q'ed fish. The group selected two fresh-caught gems out of an ice filled cooler and waited until they were done. All I can say is, it was so good that I threw caution to the winds and consumed more than my diabetes allows. Although it took 24 hours to get my glucose count back down, I would do it again. That was a fabulous feast! Think of it: a white sand beach, waves lapping at the edge, sailboats anchored a ˝ mile out, a topless sunbather, eating smoked fish, drinking cool drinks. WHAT! A topless sunbather! Hey, I said it was a fabulous feast.
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Another day Nancy and I walked to the seaward beach, just north of San Blas. This required us to walk past the shooting range the Mexican Army, Navy and Federales use daily. The range is only a few hundred yards away from the anchorage. Nanjo was continuously passed by pangas full of male and female soldiers and sailors. Gunfire, single rounds and automatic action, titillating our eardrums throughout the day time. Some of the passing warriors would look sternly at Nanjo. We would wave back. Some would respond, while others sat in sullen immobility.
Our outbound trip found no one at the range, which butts up to the hill, atop which the lighthouse sits. Two centuries ago, this was another defensive cannon location for the port. Past that we encountered some toros (bulls). They were very curious and watched us ease by, their horns being our focus. Thinking that Nancy's bright fuchsia swimsuit might be Their focus, I positioned myself to block their line-of-sight. Finally we arrived at the "endless" beach. In the distance, groups of locals collected clams.
We searched for the Venus Spine clam shell, very delicate and sought after. Nancy soon found an imperfect shell, while I found none. Not long after that, she was a ˝ mile down the beach, while I slowly inspected my area. We had a very relaxing beach-combing afternoon. Eventually, Nancy returned with a small handful of shells including some in good condition. Their thin spines fanned out at the crest. As we returned, I found three sets of perfect, connected halves.
We again passed the toros with no alarms. But were halted outside the firing range. The Navy was making confetti out of their targets. The rest of our group of detainees were clam couriers on bicycles. Finally, we were allowed through, actually escorted through. A panga taxi collected the bicyclists for the ride across the estuary channel. We untied the dink from a mangrove and traveled the 100 feet back to Nanjo, with the beasty, bucktoothed, biting bugs doing their gnatty thing of gnipping on the gringos.
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Our last big excursion was to Tepic, the capitol for the State of Nayarit. This required getting up early to catch the 0700 bus. We bought our $3.60 tickets for the 1-hour trip a day in advance, reserving the front seats. The bus picked up people along the way and was soon filled, people standing in the isles as well as sitting on the boarding steps. We passed many, very tiny villages and beautiful countryside. About 10 miles outside Tepic, we came to a freeway-like toll road for a speedy finale to the ride.
We made the trip to see a large, non-tourist city, to find some museums, to check out Hoichol Indian art and use an Internet café. As a large city, Tepic is similar to any other important city - crowds of people hustling around, intent on getting to their destination. The sidewalks are too small for the quantity of pedestrians, so they are off the sidewalks as well. But unlike the small towns, where everyone uses the streets as sidewalks, here the cars and trucks were ever present and equally dashing about, squeezing past parked cars making the roadway a single lane. As a first impression, Tepic brought back my memories of Japan with narrow streets, smallish two and three story buildings on each side. The second level sometimes being a home, sometimes a different business. Shops signs hanging above the entrances. Yet through all this madness, several people stopped to aid us when we obviously looked confused.
Another "big-city" feature, the Good Samaritan organizations helping the homeless and poor were everywhere, asking for donations. An honest beggar, obviously drunk, asked us for some money . . . to buy another drink! Refreshing in honesty, but no more successful.
The city plaza was still the center of town. As always, the church took up all of one side. Only this was a cathredral: Huge, ornate and very impressive. A massive hotel took up half of another side, the State social services offices took up another side. Shopping stores and vendors filled in the perimeter. The center of the plaza was a very nice park with trees, grass, shade and benches. Here and there were fountains and statues. Just a block away, several huge department stores took up an entire block, each. Rush, rush - people scurrying about.
I found many Internet cafés, but only one was open. We bought an hour of time for 25 pesos, including printing. The best bargain yet. However, when I went to copy the files I had downloaded, they had another virus. McAfee cleaned them up.
We went to the State Capitol to see the murals on the ceiling. One building depicted a history of the "common man", the other depicted "evils". I interpreted it as Death and Pestilence. The art was bright and colorful.
To locate the bus terminal, I asked a random bus driver. He gave me instructions in Spanish, which I understood. But returning to the sidewalk, a passerby asked us in English where we wanted to go. He said I had done well in my questioning the driver, but he would make sure we got there. He walked with us and talked. When we got where we needed to go, he said goodbye and reversed his direction. He had gone out of his way to help us.
The bus to San Blas was filling up, but we didn't want to stand for an hour. So we bought a ticket for the next bus departing in an hour. With an hour to blow, we checked out shops and stores. At a rather large grocery mercado, the store manager met Nancy. He just wanted to talk to an English-speaking person. As he put it, "We don't see many tourists here." The prices were just too good to pass up, so I bought a case of Parmalat milk and a few other things. We had one of the store's customer assistance kids carry the box to the bus station. The boys and girls had been hanging around us, trying out their English. Our little guy, Rubin, was very proud to be chosen to help us.
We slept on the bus. Once back at Nanjo, we forgot about going to San Blas' plaza that night. The Big City had tired these Yates out.
Crew of Nanjo