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April 17, 2008

Jacaranda Passage Note #21: Mazatlan


This season the furthest south we traveled on the west coast of Mexico was Barra de Navidad. So early March found us still on the Mexican Gold Coast, turning around, going north again to Puerto Vallarta. Linda planned to go to Spanish language classes there for a week, we had annual medical exams scheduled, and we also wanted to do some inland travel before we started northbound to the Sea of Cortez. We stopped in the islands of Chamela Bay for a couple of days before receiving an excellent weather forecast for rounding Cabo Corrientes (which can be very rough).  We left early in the morning and had an easy, fast trip with light winds and calm seas, arriving in Banderas Bay at sunset and anchoring in La Cruz at about 9:30 p.m.  The next day we moved to our favorite place to stay here - the affordable pile moorings in Nuevo Vallarta Marina. While Linda was attending classes everyday at the Spanish Experience Center I got some projects crossed off the work list. 


The following week we traveled by bus to explore Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city of 4 million people, which claims to be the birthplace of tequila, mariachi music, the sombrero, and charreadas (Mexican rodeos).  It was Semana Santa (Easter), a major Mexican holiday when residents of the interior of the country move to the beaches for two weeks.  Mexican families arrive in the truck-and bus-loads and camp, cook, and sleep on the beaches all along the coast.  It can be quite a zoo!! After consulting with a few of our Mexican friends, we decided that it was a good week to leave Vallarta and visit a quieter and less crowded than normal Guadalajara.


The five hour bus ride past hills and agave plantations (for tequila production) also had us excited to see the great numbers of jacaranda trees in full purple bloom both in the countryside and the city.  We stayed in an old hacienda hotel in a wonderful location in the Historical Center, near the cathedral and its surrounding green plazas.  We enjoyed days of exploring the city’s colonial architecture and being out in the cool evenings listening to mariachi music in the public squares while watching the friendly tapatio (Guadalajara-born) families socializing, playing around the fountains with their children, and riding in the quaint horse carriages around town. Sights included the Jose Clemente Orozco murals in the Government Palace, the Instituto Cultural de Cabanas (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the regional museum, and the impressive Teatro Degollado (we saw a light and sound show about the history of the city projected on its façade one evening). We love local markets and the huge 3-story Guadalajara market is one of the largest we’ve seen.   The Sunday charreada (Mexican rodeo) was a highlight with the elegantly dressed charros (cowboys) showing their skill at riding and roping.  Sunday is also the day that the suburb of Tonala is transformed into an overwhelming warren of market booths for crafts, arts, and food that covers more than 30 blocks. This is a center for glassware and ceramics and many designers come here to also have custom work fabricated by the skilled craftspeople.  Tlaquepaque, its upscale neighbor, is full of galleries and renovated mansions filled with expensive handmade furniture, glass chandeliers to rival Dale Chihuly’s, and other expensive but high quality arts and crafts. The public square called El Parian, main pedestrian shopping street, and zocalo are charming spaces.   


Once back in Puerto Vallarta, after recovery from a case of the flu for both of us and our reluctance to visit with land-bound friends for fear of passing it on, we made an overnight trip without stopping to Mazatlan to do a few more projects (never a shortage) and provision for food before heading “across” from mainland Mexico to the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez. Linda organized a great “Dock 6” dock party at Marina Mazatlan on Sunday with over 50 friends showing up, tons of good pot-luck dishes, and music provided by a few of our fellow cruiser musicians.  


We had been communicating with friends Mai and Dave on DOLCE VITA, a 53-foot catamaran, about helping them bring the boat north from PV to Mazatlan if they needed crew (their two friends had a medical emergency and couldn’t go with them).  So last Tuesday we jumped on a bus for the 8-hour trip to PV, slept at Mai’s house at Marina Vallarta that night, and then the four of us departed the next morning on DOLCE VITA. The trip back to Mazatlan was even faster than our quick trip north on JACARANDA the week before. We kept Mai resting and off-watch since she had bronchitis; even with Mai feeling poorly we had a wonderful time with excellent company, gourmet food (Mai’s Vietnamese spring rolls and Dave’s chicken curry) and wished we could have taken longer and stopped along the way to play (they had a haul-out date at the yard scheduled for the following day).  We stopped for a couple of hours outside the entrance to the Old Mazatlan Harbor while we waited for the fog to burn off early in the morning. After anchoring and spending the day with Mai and Dave, we said our goodbyes, got a dinghy ride to shore, and took a bus back to Marina Mazatlan at the opposite end of the city.


One interesting item from the trip north (besides the hundreds of sea turtles with birds resting on them):  I came on watch at 6am and both Linda and Dave mentioned they had been tracking a boat on radar headed north about 4 miles inshore of us during their watches.  But neither Linda nor Dave could see any running lights on the vessel.  I didn’t think much of it saying that probably the running lights were only visible for a couple of miles although it did seem a bit strange that we wouldn’t be able to spot them visually.  But once we got back to JACARANDA we heard that a sailboat heading north on a similar path at the same time found 3 large bales floating on the surface.  They stopped and dragged one onboard to discover it was a cargo of marijuana.  Instead of prudently tossing it back into the sea, they carried it to Mazatlan and called the Mexican Navy!  So maybe the running lights on the radar target were really turned off since they were carrying contraband!  Can you imagine the hassle they created for themselves?  Paperwork galore and countless authorities (Police, Navy, Federales)  getting involved probably had them wishing they had just sailed by without stopping. 


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