San Blas is a Gas!

We left Isla Isabel on Friday, Jan. 25, bound for San Blas, a coastal town on the mainland. Not far from Isabel we saw whales spouting and diving, and one surfaced about 30 yards off our stern! They looked like small humpbacks.

We arrived outside the entrance to the San Blas estuary that afternoon. We noticed that waves were breaking across the channel- not a good sign! We watched and waited a bit, and it seemed that there were periods of flat water, so we slowly made our way in. The depth sounder read 14 ft, then 12, and then as we neared the channel entrance, we saw 8 feet! Capn TurnTail yelled, “I’m bailing!” and took us back out to deeper water.

We tried again… and this time, we saw 7 feet! San Blas would just have to wait; instead, we anchored in nearby Mantanchen Bay, which is famous for two things: the lovely coconut trees surrounding it, and the biting no-see-ums at dusk. Luckily the bugs weren’t too bad, and it was so relaxing there that we decided to stay for a day. We took the dinghy to the beach, which was full of Mexican families enjoying the sun, water, and restaurants.

The following morning, we headed back to the San Blas estuary, and as it was high tide, we had no problem at all going in. After putting up our no-see-um netting on the hatches and ports, we headed into town for lunch, and to buy fresh fruits and veggies.

We met an American named Bill who has a van down here. He was headed to a nearby town called Mexcaltitan, and invited us to join him. We were happy to get to do some inland exploration, so we gladly piled in for the hour-long ride through small villages, towns and open countryside. We had to slow down for cattle crossing the roads, and horse-drawn carts. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera ready when we passed a sleepy donkey harnessed to a little wooden cart; who would have guessed those existed outside of nostalgic paintings?

Mexcaltitan is a fascinating place, because it is on a small island surrounded by winding mangrove lagoons. The only way to get there is by boat, so we hired a lancha to take us there. On the short ride we were excited to see a roseate spoonbill, wood storks, and white pelicans (much bigger than the brown pelicans we’re used to seeing). The town itself is quaint, with brightly painted houses trimmed by flowering plants. There are no cars- only narrow streets that, during rare floods, turn into canals. Legend has it that Mexcaltitan was the orignal home of the Aztecs, before they set out on a two hundred year migration and founded Tenoctitlan (now Mexico City).

On the way back to San Blas we stopped in Santiago Ixcuintla to see some murals, which are made of tiles and depict the history of the town.

We also did some hat shopping. The hat salesman quickly picked up on two things: that I was the only one who really spoke Spanish, and Todd’s got a head like an elephant’s. He nodded at Todd and said to me, “Cabezon!”. I translated for Todd: “There ain’t enough straw in Mexico to cover your gringo head!”

The next day in San Blas, we toured the ruins of the old Spanish fort, and the cathedral that was the inspiration for Longfellow’s The Bells of San Blas. It’s amazing to think that this small town was once a major Spanish port and the jumping-off point for Father Junipero Serra, the “father” of the California missions.

We were all excited to go on the jungle boat trip up to La Tovara, a fresh water spring. (The plentiful fresh water was what drew the Spaniards here). Along the way we saw herons (great blue, green, golden crowned, Mexican tiger and spoonbilled), ibis, black eagles, osprey, darters and kingfishers, as well as crocodiles!

We visited the Cocodrilario, where crocodiles are raised for later release into the wild. Todd and Koiya got a big surprise when one cranky croc lunged, snapped and hissed at them! Luckily the chain link cage was strong, and Todd’s swimsuit was absorbent.

The spring has lovely, clear water and a fence to keep the crocs out. We had a great time on the rope swing. And the boat ride back was very pleasant, cruising along from the warm sun into the cool shade of the jungle. As Todd said, “I could just ride around all day!” I was thinking to myself that riding around on boats is all he does every day, but he was in such a good mood, I decided not to bring him down.

San Blas is also known for its beaches, and Koiya and I walked from town to the closest one. She had fun because I let her go on a horseback ride; I found it unpleasant because the sand was so fine and the wind was blowing, so it felt like we were covered in dust. As our friend Dave Roy observed after our trip to the BVI, being on a boat ruins you for the beach, because you suddenly realize that sand is a huge nuisance!

We were ready to move further south, but decided to stay a couple more days because Feb. 3 is the town’s patron saint’s day. On the night of the 2nd, we joined the town’s fisherman in their candlelight procession through the town to the church. We felt a little guilty not going in for the sermon, until we were told that a lot of the fisherman go up the steps into the church, then duck out the side door!

On the afternoon of the 3rd, the town square was buzzing with anticipation, as young dancers waited to lead the main procession. Their costumes were wonderfully representative of the festival itself: devoutly Catholic, undeniably Indian, and entirely Mexican. We watched the men take the statue of San Blas out of the church, then raced back to our dinghy to get to our boat before the estuary became too crowded. The saint was carried down to the dock, where he was loaded onto a shrimp boat to make the trip out to Piedra Blanca, a large rock not far from the entrance to the channel.

We were glad we made it back to our boat when we did, as there were soon pangas zipping everywhere! We shuttered to think of the three of us in our little inflatable dinghy, trying to row through all of that! But soon enough, the saint headed out to sea, and all the pangas zoomed off in his wake, to be blessed by the priest.

All was quiet for a while, but the whole procession soon returned. Once the saint and priest were back on terra firma, the remaining pangas commenced the traditional post-processional water fight! Armed with bailers, they turned on each other, and briefly had a go at us too. Koiya ran to grab her Super Soaker, but Todd wisely intervened. He knew we were no match for a fleet of recently blessed pangas!

Instead we hid out below, until it was safe to row back into town. We watched the last half of the Super Bowl at the local McDonald’s; not the Golden Arches, but a family-owned bar and restaurant.

Koiya was sleepy and cranky waiting for the fireworks in the square, but once they began, she was wide awake and bubbly again. One by one, spinning discs on the tower lit up and threw sparks over the crowd, finally burning down to reveal figures like a duck, pegasus, sea horse, etc. At random times fireworks also shot up into the sky, and the crowd oohed and aahed on cue.

Todd caught the grand finale on video: a cross lit up, spun around, and then launched into the sky, bursting out with more fireworks before plunging back into the crowd, still aflame! At one point we thought it would land right on our heads! Completely unsafe, this would never be allowed in the States; we all agreed that this element of danger made the whole event way more fun than the 4th of July!

So we very much enjoyed San Blas! The night before we left, we had dinner with Norm and Jan Goldie. They’re ex-New Yorkers who’ve lived in San Blas for 42 years. They help out cruisers and locals, and are full of interesting stories about the town and it’s people.

Two little tidbits of note: Koiya has been practicing rowing the dinghy, and Todd has now declared her “Boat-to-Boat Certified”. This means she can’t take the dinghy to the beach by herself, but she can take it alone if there will be someone to supervise her landings… like when she has to pick Todd up from shore. Now he has her working on being “Quesadilla Certified” so she can bring him lunch when she picks him up.

And, the nickname “Toro” for Todd is a real winner amongst the Mexican men. They always remember his name and yell, “Hola, Toro!” when they see him. Fabian, who owns the dock where we land our dinghy here, has totally bought into the name, saying it’s good I have a guy who is “young” and “strong”. Todd hopes that they all think his nickname was earned by some daring, masculine feat, so he’s instructed me not to tell them that we just call him that because “Todd” is impossible for Mexicans to pronounce. For some reason Toro seems to have a complex about his masculinity; I can’t imagine why.

See all of our photos here:


2 Responses to “San Blas is a Gas!”

  1. Olof neighbor says:

    lo siento mucho….
    I completely forgot about your request about this sustainable community on Cal baja:
    its called Loreto Bay..
    Loreto Bay
    8767 E. Via de Ventura, Suite 201
    Scottsdale, AZ 85258 USA
    Toll Free: 1.866.956.7386
    and email is

    since you are sailing further south, already, I have another suggestion for you.
    Check out Sayulita in Nayarit, about 30 km north of PV.
    Very lovely little village, with great beach and phantastic surfing,
    good seafood restaurants right next to the fishing boats in the sand on the beach.
    I have been going to this place for over 8 years now. Say HI to Ties who runs the trailer park there. He is from Hamburg, Germany and Mexico City.
    Ciao, Olof

  2. fruits are fun- south park…

    How do you come up with so much material to blog with?…