Before we left San Diego, We thought Mexico would just be on the way to where we were going, an unnecessary stop before the real cruising grounds of the South Pacific. We were surprised how much we enjoyed Mexico, and now understand why tourism is its number one industry. The variety of experiences in Mexico is striking, from dusty little traditional villages, throwbacks of the nineteenth century, to modern sprawling metropolises of avant ganrd architecture. There is art in practically every activity, from the subtle patterns of cobblestone streets still being built by hand today to the ultra-modern buildings that seem to defy gravity and the laws of nature. There will be a window in an exterior wing wall high up, looking from nowhere to nowhere, but it’s right and belongs. And of course, Mexico is people – friendly, willing, and helpful. Customs are very different and not always easy for the Gringo to understand or accept. People crowd close together, which Norte Americanos abhor. It is common for people to barge right in front of you in lines, if you leave too much room and let them. In the stores, your sales clerk may be distracted away from you by aggressive shoppers who speak the language better than you, if you permit it. But that is all part of Mexico, along with siesta for two hours, or maybe three, every day. Things are never done the same way twice, and yes means maybe, or maybe not. Mexico is dust, people spreading water on the walks to keep it down, sweepers everywhere attempting to keep the walks and streets clean. Not that you can ever walk on the sidewalk in many places. Sidewalks are for tables outside a restaurant, for a huge display of brooms outside the bazaar, or to hang tee shirts or curios from the awnings to double the size of the shops behind. And sidewalks are irregular; open holes, huge steps, metal rings and bars sticking up, cracked and broken concrete, each section built at a different time and unrelated to the last. It is hard to look around while walking in Mexico. The minute you take your eyes off your feet, a tripper sends you sprawling. It is best to stop, loiter, and look… then walk on. Most buildings are unfinished with rebar sticking up from the roofs and side walls, because taxes are not assessed until a building is fisnished… so why finish it? Mexico is a land of extremes, a land of contrast: lonely remote anchorages and teeming big cities, narrow unpaved roads and superhighways, chilly highlands and scorching desserts, rich and poor, large and small, wet and dry, reds and blues. And Mexico is family. Everywhere families are seen enjoying their offowrk time together. Parks and Promenades are crowded all hours of the day and night. Nowhere did we feel unsafe at any time.
From Magdalena Bay where we wrote the last letter, we sailed on to Cabo San Lucas, “Marina del Rey South,” a place more American than Mexican, a U.S. style marina surrounded by condominiums, restaurants, and shops. The most Mexican thing about Cabo is the street hawkers everywhere, and the dusty back streets where Gringos never venture. At every step on the street is someone selling hats, belts, silver jewelry, wood carvings, pottery, ice cream, fresh fruit cups, tacos, or two foot long live iquanas. We quickly got our fill of fish tacos, ice cream and shopping for groceries and repair parts, and headed up into the Gulf of California, or Sea of Cortez as it is now called. After two single day sails to the protected anchorages of Los Frailles and Los Muertos, we sailed up through the Cerolvo Channel and shallow Lorenzo Channel to La Paz Bay. In the middle of a virtual desert, surrounded by sparse cactus covered hills, along a picturesque tidal estuary where hundreds of boats are anchored, lies La Paz, it’s cobblestone streets rising up the hills from the water. La Paz is a thoroughly Mexican town with a huge component of American ex-patrriots. It has the charm of a village, many unpaved or cobbled streets, and at 200,000 residents or more now, and the vitality of a city. It is mostly a one or two story town, and mostly old buildings of colonial Mexico. The tourist trade here is geared mainly to Mexicans, which allows La Paz to retain its charm.
As always there was a long list of boat chores and repairs. We ordered a variety of spare parts and forgotten items from San Diego, and waited for them to be delivered via the cruisers “underground railway.” Although it is difficult in Mexico to order gear from the U.S., it is impossible from most Pacific Islands, where we will be the next year and a half. Cruisers and travellers carry supplies with them for others, as regular mail might take two or three months. If a package is not lost in the mail, it is “lost” at customs in Mexico City, or perhaps sent to some U.S. city by mistake, as Mexico has duplicated the U.S. zip code numbers so that mail directed to La Paz ends up in Connecticut instead. You quickly learn not to use the mail, or if you must, not to use zip codes! We ordered lots of parts and received them via one of the courier services or other cruisers.
After too short a time in the Sea of Cortez, we crossed to Isla Isabella on the mainland side, a remote island bird rookery where the giant Frigate birds nest, 90 miles south of Mazatlan. They were completely unafraid of us but irritated as we passed close to the nests photographing them and the chicks. When sailing , we always troll for fish, and in Mexico fish were plentiful, mainly Dorado, Yellowfin and other varieties of Tuna. The day we left Isabella, we causght six fish, although only two were keepers. Making our way south along the Mexican mainland, we caught fish every few days. We stopped at a number of picturesque bays, some remote and some with sizeable towns or resorts. Except for a few times when our destination was further than a daylight sail, we anchored each night and stayed a few days. Each stop was totally unique, so we were compelled to stay, look and enjoy! Mostly we had to bring the dinghy through the surf to get ashore, but occasionally there were marina faciliities. Beautiful Bahia Chocala was a Mexican day resort, with local style beach palm roofed open air Palapa restaurants and fruit and vengetable vendors. Maybe the word restaurant is misleading – sand floor, open sided, lean-to structures of rough native materials hacked out of the bush, including palm thatched roof- that serve basic fish or shrimp meals. On weekends and holidays, families drive from mules around to play here on the beach. Another stop was moorish Las Hadas Resort (of the movie “Ten” fame). We usually went ashore and hiked or explored, trying resort and palapa restaurants, and roaming around the towns. If we suffer a lack of aerobic activity at sea, we make up for it with expended shoe leather ashore.
In our next episode, we head down the mainland to the lovely fishing village of Zijuatanejo and across the Pacific to the southwest.