Isla Isabel – 23/3/2020

Isla Isabel.

We motor sailed the 42 nm (78 km) from Bahia Matanchen, San Balas on the Pacific Coast of Mexico to Isla Isabel, a small rocky volcanic island. We visited the island last year in May and it was definitely one of my favorite spots we visited last year, so I was eager to share the experience with our son, Tristan who is visiting with us. How many places in the world can you freely wander among thousands of nesting birds?

P1150867 (800x563)

The island often described as Mexico’s Galapagos has an abundance of nesting frigatebirds and blue, red and brown footed boobies, as well as a variety of iguanas and lizards.  The frigatebird’s nest in Crataeva Tapia trees which stand around 2 meters high and are in the lower part of the island, while the boobies and seagulls’ nest on the ground at the top of the island.  As the island has no natural predators the nesting birds are unworried, and this allows you to view their babies fairly close.   Should you venture too close you will find the booby will warn you with a honking sound, similar to geese.

P1150844 (800x600)

Nesting blue-footed boobies

With the increasing number of deaths due to the Coronavirus, we have been quarantined on the boat for 7 days, so far and thought Isabel would be a spot we could go and not be in contact with other people.  Andrew’s anxiety level increased as we approached the landing spot near the fisherman’s village and he rather hesitantly went ashore.  I may have done a bit of convincing after coming all the way here.

We began our hike in the lower part of the island walking among the nesting frigatebirds.  The species found on Isabel are called the Magnificent Frigatebirds, the largest in the frigatebird family.  We came to Isabel last year at the end of May and it was the end of the breeding season, so we didn’t get to see the male’s spectacular throat.  The male’s black feathers contrast to their scarlet-colored throat or gular sac which they inflate during the breeding season to attract a mate, it looks like an inflated balloon below their beak.

Veins in the frigatebird’s throat when inflated are highly visible and the sides are patterned with black spots.

At any point in time while on the island or on your boat you can look up to the sky and there are hundreds of frigates soaring in the thermals.  I still think there is something a little creepy about frigatebirds they have this death feel about them.  Last time we visited there were numerous frigatebirds who had either recently died or in the process of it and there are always skeletons and bones of the deceased adding to the morbidity feel of the bird.

As we hiked up the hill to see the boobies, we could see some fishermen approaching and quickly retraced our steps to maintain social distancing.  The whole social distancing is awkward when you are in your own country, but when you are a tourist in another country it is incredibly uncomfortable.  Normally you use your limited language skills to talk to the locals, but now the risk of the virus puts us and them in a position where you mumble a quick greeting and retreat as fast as possible.  Not really a great touristy feel and it definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

We ascended the hill, leaving behind the last of the nesting frigatebirds and their trees to reach the grassy top, home to the ground-nesting boobies.  Last year during our visit the birds already had their fluffy babies, some of which were the same size as their parents, this time there were only eggs.  I think the boobies were possibly a bit more protective of the babies at this stage of development than when we saw them later last year and they had hatched.

P1150853 (800x654)

You can’t help but love these beautiful birds.

P1150840 (800x657)

We wandered around the top and spotted lots of the blue-footed boobies and a few brown-footed too.  Eventually, everyone was boobied out and we made our way back to the dinghy, stopping to look at a few iguanas on the way down.  I’m pretty sure Tristan enjoyed the trip.

P1150858 (800x579)

View from the top of Isla Isabel

P1150878 (800x561)

The steep hike back down

P1150869 (800x567)

An Iguana enjoying the last rays of sunshine

We spent 6 days at Isabel and while we didn’t go and visit the birds again as we decided it was too risky with the Coronavirus, we did snorkel around the rocks, in the chilly water.

Ciudad Murals/ Mural City – 20/2/2020

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle started as a small fishing town located in Banderas Bay and was named after a cross, overlooking the town, made from the Huanacaxtle Tree.  Over the year’s development ensued and it has become a tourist town and home to a marina catering to yachts cruising the Mexican coast and those preparing to cross the Pacific.  The town has a multitude of small restaurants and nearly every night at least one will feature live music.  One of the town’s major drawcards is its popular Sunday market with fresh produce, food stands and local crafts for local and international tourists.  During January to March boats take tourists whale watching to see the humpback whales and their babies, the local area also offers fishing and diving.

I will admit La Cruz has disappointed me somewhat as it is filled with Gringos and isn’t really the place to see and experience real Mexican culture.  However, during February while doing my required 20-minute walks for physio I started wandering off the main streets and exploring La Cruz and it was here that I encountered women, men and even a few kids painting murals. I was even invited to join in.  I started photographing them as I went past to show how quickly they progressed. I thought I would start with my favorite mural/murals.  Please note I have translated, with the help of my friend google,  the signs explaining the murals to the best of my ability.

P1150783 (800x567)

                                           Los Recuerdos Viven Por Siempre/Memories Last Forever by Ramón Escobedo                     The mural tells the story of two humans united by love who have shared thousands of moments together that have become memories that they keep as a treasure and nobody can steal.

This is by far my favorite building, on one side you have scenes of the sea and farm where the couple have worked and on the other is the older couple.  I love the story the mural tells.

P1150779 (800x591)
                                                            La Brisa en el Cultivo/ The Breeze of the Crop by Bp Vinalay                                            In this mural the different stations through which Don Luis and Doña Lupita went through, life partners to forge the future of their children.  They have traveled their way in pangas and tractors, from the sea to the countryside, from fishing to the sowing, to collecting fruits of the ocean and land.  They are the best company.

I’m amazed at how the artists have incorporated what is done in the local area like whale watching, fishing, and boating, with what was once grown in the area like maize and beef and local faces.  Most of the murals were completed in two or three days, some in a day.  The tired and sometimes crumbling walls of restaurants, toilets, shops (tiendas), houses, toilet blocks and even a statue of a bull have colorfully transformed the local area.  

The slideshow below shows how the restaurant Green Tomato’s walls were given a facelift with rendering and murals.  Even the bull received a new color treatment.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So who did the murals you may ask?  Well, the project, ‘Ciudad Mural’ or ‘Mural City’ was overseen by the Municipal Government of Bahia de Banderas and was done jointly by the Company Comex and a group called the Colectivo Tomate (Tomato Collective).  The Collectivo Tomate and Comex Paints have spent the last 11 years working with artists from around the country, to create murals in 23 cities across 17 states to give town inhabitants a sense of identity.

Quauh Nacastl by Yorckh

In 1937 the Ejidal Commissariat was founded by Vincente Chavez Gonzalez and a group of natives, dedicated to fishing, agriculture and fruit cultivation of mango and Guanabana. These elements are fused in the composition of this mural, along with the town’s name sake the Huanacaxtle tree (also known by the Nahuatl language as Guanacaste or Oregon) which is alluded to through it’s colors and shapes in the mural.

Corazon del Mar/ Heart of the Sea by Isela Becerra

In the middle of the light blue life grows. It blooms with a ray of sun that illuminates, warms and turns this place into a safe space filled with love, ideal for caring, raising, growing and loving.

The slideshow below shows the school walls transformed over a week by a team of artists.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mural Cacarea/We Parade Together

This mural is on the elementary school fence and its theme is celebrating being whoever we want to be whether it is a cloud, sun or a dinosaur.  Let our imagination take us where we want to go.

Frutos del Fruto / The Fruits of the Fruit by Eduardo Cruz

Healthy growth process along with the cultivation of the soul, we are sowers of seed and harvesters of respect for life.

The project was brought to Banderas Bay by the Director of Economic and Rural Development, Claudia Vidal back in October 2019.  La Cruz de Huanacastle was the chosen town to give it an identity and create a tourist attraction.  The project began in La Cruz in November with the artists talking to schools, children, families and other organizations to listen to people tell their stories, talk about their jobs and their community.  The artists were able to use those stories to inspire their ideas for murals unique to the town.  Approximately 300 applications were received from residents and businesses who wanted to have murals on their buildings and from those applications 40 murals were created covering 1344 square meters.

P2200199 (800x552) (2)
Montando Entre las Olas/Riding Among the Waves by Isela Beccera
The charreria and the horses have been a legacy and a tradition for this family and are a reason for pride.

Over 300 artists from Mexico and abroad applied to work on the La Cruz project and 25 were selected, among them were 3 locals and 4 from abroad; United States, Argentina, Russia, and Chile.

P2200223 (632x800)
                                                                   Amor Amarillo/Yellow Love by Cristina Durán                               This mural tells the story of two lives that unite in the sea between waving waves and multicolored life.

If you find yourself in the area, immerse yourself in the murals and wander the cobblestone streets off the main tourist drag to experience this wonderful Mexican culture in La Cruz.  I’m looking forward to taking my son to see them when he arrives in a few weeks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

San Blas

During our stay in the San Blas, we anchored off Playa Las Islitas Nayarit, which is a beach located on Bahia de Matanchen in the San Blas region.  The bay is surrounded by jungled mountains that tumble down into the sea and a wetland area nestled at the bottom.  The area itself is home to over 500 species of birds, some native and others migratory, as well as protected crocodiles.

The beach is relatively quiet during the week, but come to the weekend, residents, Mexican tourists and the odd gringo come out to play and enjoy the water, the thatched-roofed huts serving a variety of seafood and for some, surfing. For our kids and my husband, what they enjoyed was the opportunity to surf. Our friends on Love and Luck brought their surfboards to shore and proceeded to teach Max and Ava how to surf. They loved it and I think Max is hooked. Andrew too had a go after 23 years of not surfing and came back happy and invigorated.

Surfing photos courtesy of Mark Vannini from Love and Luck

On a return trip from the town of San Blas, we stopped so Andrew could enjoy a dozen oysters for 100 pesos at one of the beachside restaurants with a large cold beer (almost a liter).  The oysters were good, but not quite the same as at Puerto Penasco.  The Mexican population some with jeans and cowboy hats were also enjoying their seafood meals while traditional Mexican bands serenaded the diners and kids played on the beach.  The only downside was by 5.30 the no-see-ums were out in force, which caused us to retreat to our boats shortly after.

San Blas – 4/1/2020

Love and Luck, Andrew and I went for a trip to San Blas.  A short walk from Playa Las Islitas past the Tiendas/shops selling banana bread is where you catch the local transport.  On our walk down the sandy path, a local showed us a very small crocodile nestled in the mangrove, I don’t want to meet his mother.  We also passed a trio playing their instruments on their way to entertain the diners at the beachside restaurants. 

P1150403 (800x637)P1150404 (800x609)

It is a short trip to San Blas. Visiting San Blas is like stepping back in time to a place long since forgotten, yet steeped in history dating back to the Spanish Conquistadors. This once important port was the epicenter of the Spanish colonization of Mexico’s Pacific. San Blas was named a port on the 22nd of February 1768 during the reign of King Carlos III of Spain. The Pacific’s first custom house was constructed on San Basilio Hill along with its protective fort in the San Blas and was used to store the gold and other treasures captured.  The Port was used as a base for exploration of North America and for incoming ships from the Philippines. The ports usage declined in the late 1700s due to the diminishing Spanish held territories and terminated expeditions and was eventually closed in 1873.

P1150446 (800x531)

Today the sleepy laid-back town is a far cry from its bustling past and is home to quiet streets with a small market area selling fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and prawns/shrimp. 

The main plaza was still complete with its Christmas decorations and tree during our visit. It’s amazing how close we are to La Cruz and yet how different San Blas is. We did not see any other gringos during our visit, the souvenir markets seemed directed at domestic travelers and it had a more authentic feel to it.

We decided to explore the history of the town and walk to Contaduria San Blas (fort) which sits upon San Basilio Hill and was constructed in 1770. The walk takes you up a cobbled street through a residential area before you enter the gate and pay your 10-peso entrance fee. We explored the site with just a few other locals.

P1150418 (600x800)

Walking towards the fort you pass the ruined church, Nuestra Senora del Rosario Temple, constructed in 1769. While the roof no longer exists the walls and arches remain strong and set an eye-catching scene and photo opportunity. Interestingly, while the church may not have had human residents for a long time, nature has taken over with plants growing within the walls, a hummingbird fluttering around, and I could hear a buzzing noise for quite a while before I noticed one of the holes high in a wall a hive of bees.

P1150442 (800x694) (2)

We continued uphill to the fort. The best thing about the fort is the views over the bay, the town, rivers, and surroundings. A few canons are remaining among the fort walls and a large gold statue of priest don Jose Maria Mercado, who led his towns to fight for freedom presides over the fort.

Something I have observed is the different way the Mexican culture has with dealing with loved ones they have lost. While this is seen prominently through the Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration it can also be seen daily. Walking back from the fort we passed a cemetery with its walls decorated with a large brightly colored mural of characters from the film Coco and peering inside through the adorned gate, I could glimpse color and tributes left to the dead, so different from the white, austere and somber tombs and graves in western society.

If you want a more authentic and less touristy Mexican experience head to San Blas for a couple of days.