It was lovely to get away from the dock for six days last week with friends Tom & Maggie who had joined me the week before on board “Nereida”. Outstanding jobs to be done on board – none of them critical – would have to wait, although the dinghy was inflated, the outboard was run to check it and the diesel was topped up. I’d stocked up with plenty of fruit juices, fresh fruit, eggs, cheese and vegetables so we would eat well while at anchor..
We had hoped to sail but with light winds from astern, we motored most of the 42 miles from La Cruz, around Punta de Mita and on to Chacala – a lovely anchorage with good holding, although open to SW swell which, sure enough, made itself felt but not so badly that it became a problem – we were rocked gently to sleep. Surfers enjoy the waves along the beach just south of there.
We were keen to get to historic San Blas so, instead of dinghying ashore, we left soon after a leisurely breakfast of fresh papaya.
I overlaid the radar over the chart on the plotter – the old Mexican charts are renowned for being unreliable and the radar image showed the land to be generally over one and a half miles further east than the chart placed it. Our track several times passed over ‘land’! Passing Punta Los Custodios, with rocks awash shown as well offshore, we kept our eyes glued to the depth display but we were in plenty of water all the way.
Our final destination was Bahía Matanchén – a wide open anchorage with a long curving beach fringed by palms and lines of ‘palapas’ – beach restaurants roofed with palm fronds to shade the many (empty) chairs and tables set out on the fine sand. The long beach to our east, running south, was scattered with small houses and behind it, the jungle-covered mountains rose high.
The old town and river-port of San Blas lay a short distance around a point to the NW with the coast highway passing an easy walking distance from the beach. Ishmael runs a palapa conveniently close to a good landing spot for the dinghy and kept an eye on it while we were away in exchange for a drink and a tip on our return. The swell was minimal into the bay and made for a fairly easy landing – getting wet feet and legs is all part of the normal dinghy-beaching routine!
We had been advised to anchor well out in the shallow bay so we were ¾ mile out and several other boats came in and anchored even further out. The reason? No-see-ums, or ‘jejenas’ to the Mexicans …. These minute, pin-head-sized insects are difficult to see and have a disproportionately painful bite and, so the Mexicans will tell you, laugh “he-he” as they do so…. usually around sunset and sunrise.
I’d asked my friends to bring a big double mosquito net with them, thinking it might be needed over their bunk, but they rigged it up over half the cockpit so we could sit out and enjoy the sunset and fresh air without being bitten – it worked well after a few attempts to drape it high up enough while still reaching the cockpit floor.
We spent a very lazy Sunday at anchor in the peaceful, sunny bay. Every now and then, we’d hear a splash as the pelican that seemed to have adopted the boat dived after the many fish that sheltered underneath us and a small group of chirping swallows were busily exploring various perches on the boat.
We finally went ashore just in time to meet up on the beach with some other boaters – one of whom I knew. They were able to advise us on getting in to town and making the river trip we’d heard about, as well as pointing out Ishmael’s palapa to us.
The main road into San Blas was an easy walk from the beach and, at the point where we reached it, was lined on both sides with small tiendas. Most of these claimed to be selling the only ‘autentico, unico’ assorted local breads, cakes and pastries! We tried the banana bread (excellent) and a few pastries – all sold with a big friendly smi
Monday we took a taxi into town – the local bus we would have preferred seemed to be rather infrequent and we had made a late start again. San Blas is an old town "San Blas was founded in 1531, but the official date of founding is 1768, when Don Manuel Rivera and 116 families arrived . It was the port from which the Spanish priest Junípero Serra, Father President of the California Missions, departed for California. He left on March 12, 1768 from the nearby Las Islitas beach on Matanchen Bay, in the locally built barque Purísima Concepción. In May 1768, San Blas was designated as a new naval base for the Spanish Navy. A
fort was built high up on a rocky
scarpment overlooking the town with excellent views far over the surrounding area – three sides have steep rocky faces. The fort has recently been renovated and the church close by is impressive despite its lack of roof.
The US poet Longfellow is well-known in the town for his poem ‘The Bells of San Blas’, some or all of which we found inscribed on walls in several places, including, of course, the old church it referred to. (This was Longfellow's last poem, finished days before his death but he never visited the town.) Apart from a beautiful old hotel near the riverside harbour area, with a lovely courtyard at its centre, and other occasional well-kept buildings, most of the town was looking rather dilapidated and the roads were mainly of big, old cobbles.
Amusingly, the town square has an enormous Christmas Tree construction which seems to be a permanent feature. The town market building stood opposite one corner of the square and Huichol Indian women were selling their many traditional bead items under the shady trees along one side of the square – I was very tempted, they are so colourful and delicate.
I liked the feel of the town, despite its rundown character – full of history and very Mexican – few ‘gringos’ here…
Tuesday we took the Tobara River trip in a typical open Mexican ‘panga’, our guide Juanito driving us through the winding river between thick mangroves near the beach, the greenery slowly getting less dense finally to become reed beds with occasional trees as the view opened up to the distant mountains.
Being around midday, with the sun beating down out of a clear sky, it wasn’t the best time for bird activity, but in or below trees at the river’s edge we saw a variety of birds, crocodiles, a turtle and some big termite mounds high up.
It was all very enjoyable but the best was yet to come – at the end of the trip, we stopped at a restaurant where a large pool of water was crystal clear and refreshingly cool – I’ve not enjoyed a swim so much for a long time – it was delicious! Jaguars are said to roam around here...
We returned at speed, with Juanito swinging us around the many bends in great style – good fun!
A fresh fish ceviche was prepared for us by Ishmael before we dinghied back to the boat for a relaxing sundowner.
We all agreed we’d like to return to Matanchén Bay and San Blas sometime but now it was time to make an early morning start back down to Punta de Mita where we anchored peacefully overnight before returning to the marina in La Cruz –Tom and Maggie had a flight to catch to Vancouver.
Memorable moments included whales spouting in the distance, two fishermen frantically waving us inshore of their unseen fishing net, a large turtle swimming past the boat and lots of small brown rays swimming with upturned wingtips in Matanchén Bay.
The Bells of San BlasBY HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
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.
But to me, a dreamer of dreams,
To whom what is and what seems
Are often one and the same,—
The Bells of San Blas to me
Have a strange, wild melody,
And are something more than a name.
For bells are the voice of the church;
They have tones that touch and search
The hearts of young and old;
One sound to all, yet each
Lends a meaning to their speech,
And the meaning is manifold.
They are a voice of the Past,
Of an age that is fading fast,
Of a power austere and grand;
When the flag of Spain unfurled
Its folds o'er this western world,
And the Priest was lord of the land.
The chapel that once looked down
On the little seaport town
Has crumbled into the dust;
And on oaken beams below
The bells swing to and fro,
And are green with mould and rust.
"Is, then, the old faith dead,"
They say, "and in its stead
Is some new faith proclaimed,
That we are forced to remain
Naked to sun and rain,
Unsheltered and ashamed?
"Once in our tower aloof
We rang over wall and roof
Our warnings and our complaints;
And round about us there
The white doves filled the air,
Like the white souls of the saints.
"The saints! Ah, have they grown
Forgetful of their own?
Are they asleep, or dead,
That open to the sky
Their ruined Missions lie,
No longer tenanted?
"Oh, bring us back once more
The vanished days of yore,
When the world with faith was filled;
Bring back the fervid zeal,
The hearts of fire and steel,
The hands that believe and build.
"Then from our tower again
We will send over land and main
Our voices of command,
Like exiled kings who return
To their thrones, and the people learn
That the Priest is lord of the land!"
O 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.