Dispatch 10: La Paz to Mazatlan and beyond

Dispatch 10 sent 5/19/09 (La Paz to Mazatlan):

After hearing from others about buying fish from local fishermen, we finally experienced buying directly from a fisherman, who approached us in a remote bay in the Sea of Cortez.

Fishing village, Sea of Cortez

Fishing village, Sea of Cortez

Paul tried to talk to him, but other than the word “fish” (and, as it turned out, thank you), he understood and spoke no English. He had several beautiful fish, clearly very recently caught, but they were too large for us. He did have langostinos, small lobsters/large crayfish, which I told him we wanted to buy.

The fisherman first said “dos cincuenta pesos,” 250 pesos, which I thought was too much. It looked to me like he had 3 langostinos, and Paul though he had only 2. I countered with 100, which was clearly too little, so I said, 200 pesos, to which he agreed. Well, it turned out that he didn’t have 3 langostinos in the bag, but 8, all of which were alive and moving! After the transaction, he wanted tequila, which we didn’t have on the boat, but we did have “una cerveza fria,” a cold beer, which I offered him and he was happy to have. Paul cooked and cleaned the langostinos, which were delicious. (If you put them into boiling water, they are killed instantly.)

Approach to Mazatlan

Approach to Mazatlan

We made the crossing from La Paz directly to Mazatlan a few days ago. The shared main entrance to the various marinas is very narrow, but quite dramatic, and for a city of half a million, there are surprising natural places along the channel. We saw herons, egrets, scads of other waterfowl, and some very different-looking crows. The southern entrance, which we didn’t see, is the one cruise ships use. That entrance has a lighthouse that is second in height only to the light at Gibraltar. Depending on when we leave and what currents are like (not insignificant!), we may sail down there to see the light when we get ready to return to La Paz in a few days.

Although the marina at Mazatlan is a long way from most services, it is near several bus lines. We’ve taken the air conditioned bus to either the historic center of “Old Mazatlan,” or to shops along the way, including the large Fred Meyer/Safeway type supermercado “MegaFoods,” though MegaFoods is much larger than either of those supermarkets.

Square in Old Mazatlan

Square in Old Mazatlan

The air conditioned buses cost $8, about 75 cents, to ride anywhere along the route. The bus travels much of the way along the beaches, which are just gorgeous. We both like Mazatlan a great deal, though we have been having a hard time getting used to the heat and humidity. Is the rain and grey of the Pacific NW worse than the heat and humidity of the Pacific coast of Mexico? Most cruisers down here would say they prefer the heat …..

We rented a car and drove to Durango, which is about 250 mi inland from Mazatlan and on the other side of “the Devil’s Backbone,” some very rugged mountains Paul remembers crossing with his family when his sister got married some 40 years ago.

The Devil's Background/espina del diablo

The Devil's Background/espina del diablo

Oh, the drive was amazing! The terrain reminded me of eastern WA near Spokane or maybe parts of southern CA, but the vegetation was like nothing either of us had ever seen before:  a different variety of pine tree with very long needles, a type of cactus related to the saguaro, but clearly not a saguaro, as well as agave and others.

The drive was very challenging due to curves and free-range livestock close to or actually on the road:  long-horned cattle with beautiful faces, a herd of Nubian goats, horses, a few burros, not to mention occasional people peddling pushcarts or bicycles. People and guidebooks have said do not under any circumstances drive those roads at night, and we were happy to take their advice. There were also large trucks which took up part of the oncoming lane on curves.

free-range cattle

free-range cattle

Just another reason to take it a little more slowly. Did I mention guardrails were often missing, and, when present, not enough to stop a car?

Everyone has seen those “Watch for Falling Rock” signs. On the road to Durango, we learned what that can really mean. We’d seen a few rocks and even a boulder or two near the side of the road, as well as heavy wire mesh covering some of the hillsides. Going around one of the curves, however, we saw a big semi on the far side of the road with the hood crushed by rock, and road equipment clearing the slide away. Luckily, no one was hurt. Watch for falling rock, indeed!

roadside shrine

roadside shrines

In Durango, after being told in La Paz that it wouldn’t be a problem finding lodging that would allow dogs, we had a hard time finding a place to stay. We stopped at the preferred lodging, and the manager, after going out onto the street to look at Oksana, who was waiting patiently with Paul, said that she was too large.

He had the desk clerk make some calls for us, and another place was finally found.  It was pretty seedy, but very safe: a whole battalion of federales were billeted there. I talked to one, who said that they’d been there for 3 months. Durango does have a drug and crime problem, but not at that hotel! The following morning, we were very grateful for their help, though it was when their captain was preoccupied with other things.

Paul took some of our luggage out to the car and managed to lock the only car key in the trunk. I talked to the desk clerk in my execrable Spanish, which in this case wasn’t up to the task, then found someone in the restaurant who spoke enough English to tell the clerk in Spanish what I needed.

Turnout and view

Turnout and view

There was a locksmith in Durango, but it would have been a day or two later before the locksmith would be available. However, the desk clerk had a friend who supposedly knew about getting into cars, and he came out to help. I talked to the police captain, who said that they couldn’t help. A few minutes later after he left, several of the troopers came to see what they could do. By the time they were all done, there were probably 7 or 8 people involved, the car was unlocked and the key retrieved by their dismantling the rear seat!

I talked to the friend of the desk clerk, who said, “No, do not tip the federales.”  We thanked them all – I wish I’d brought food or gifts from WA to give to them – and they seemed pleased to have been able to help. Of course we tipped the desk clerk and his friend, and everyone seemed happy and we were able to return to Mazatlan.

Market day in Los Angeles

Market day in Los Angeles

The rental car, by the way, sustained no damage:  Paul was able to put the rear seat back together as good as new.

On the way back to Mazatlan, we drove by a town holding a market day. I wish we could have stopped, but there was no place to pull off the narrow road (though there were scores of cars parked, nearly touching the sheer rock walls on the side).  We both really enjoyed the road trip. The curves that were so intimidating on the way up were much easier to negotiate on the way back down, both because our poor underpowered rental car didn’t have to struggle with the slope, and because there didn’t seem to be so many trucks on the road.

Dispatch 10 sent 5/19/09 (La Paz to Mazatlan):

Buenas noches, mi familia y mis amigos!

After hearing from others about buying fish from local fishermen, we finally experienced buying directly from a fisherman, who approached us in a remote bay in the Sea of Cortez. Paul tried to talk to him, but other than the word “fish” (and, as it turned out, thank you), he understood and spoke no English. He had several beautiful fish, clearly very recently caught, but they were too large for us. He did have langostinos, small lobsters/large crayfish, which I told him we wanted to buy. He first said “dos cincuenta pesos,” 250 pesos, which I thought was too much. It looked to me like he had 3 langostinos, and Paul though he had only 2. I countered with 100, which was clearly too little, so I said, 200 pesos, to which he agreed. Well, it turned out that he didn’t have 3 langostinos in the bag, but 8, all of which were alive and moving! After the transaction, he wanted tequila, which we didn’t have on the boat, but we did have “una cerveza fria,” a cold beer, which I offered him and he was happy to have. Paul cooked and cleaned the langostinos, which were delicious. (If you put them into boiling water, they are killed instantly.)

We made the crossing from La Paz directly to Mazatlan a few days ago. The shared main entrance to the various marinas is very narrow, but quite dramatic, and for a city of half a million, there are surprising natural places along the channel. We saw herons, egrets, scads of other waterfowl, and some very different-looking crows. The southern entrance, which we didn’t see, is the one cruise ships use. That entrance has a lighthouse that is second in height only to the light at Gibraltar. Depending on when we leave and what currents are like (not insignificant!), we may sail down there to see the light when we get ready to return to La Paz in a few days.

Although the marina at Mazatlan is a long way from most services, it is near several bus lines. We’ve taken the *air conditioned* bus to either the historic center of “Old Mazatlan,” or to shops along the way, including the large Fred Meyer/Safeway type supermercado “MegaFoods,” though MegaFoods is much larger than either of those supermarkets. The air conditioned buses cost $8, about 75 cents, to ride anywhere along the route. The bus travels much of the way along the beaches, which are just gorgeous. We both like Mazatlan a great deal, though we have been having a hard time getting used to the heat and humidity. Is the rain and grey of the Pacific NW worse than the heat and humidity of the Pacific coast of Mexico? Most cruisers down here would say they prefer the heat …

We rented a car and drove to Durango, which is about 250 mi inland from Mazatlan and on the other side of “the Devil’s Backbone,” some very rugged mountains Paul remembers crossing with his family when his sister got married some 40 years ago. Oh, the drive was amazing! The terrain reminded me of eastern WA near Spokane or maybe parts of southern CA, but the vegetation was like nothing either of us had ever seen before: a different variety of pine tree with very long needles, a type of cactus related to the saguaro, but clearly not a saguaro, as well as agave and others. The drive was very challenging due to curves and free-range livestock close to or actually on the road: long-horned cattle with beautiful faces, a herd of Nubian goats, horses, a few burros, not to mention occasional people peddling pushcarts or bicycles. People and guidebooks have said do not under any circumstances drive those roads at night, and we were happy to take their advice. There were also large trucks which took up part of the oncoming lane on curves. Just another reason to take it a little more slowly. Did I mention guardrails were uncommon and quite flimsy?

In Durango, after being told in La Paz that it wouldn’t be a problem finding lodging that would allow dogs, we had a hard time finding a place to stay. We stopped at the preferred lodging, and the manager, after going out onto the street to look at Oksana, who was waiting patiently with Paul, said that she was too large. He had the desk clerk make some calls for us, and another place was finally found. It was pretty seedy, but very safe: a whole battalion of federales were billeted there. I talked to one, who said that they’d been there for 3 months. Durango does have a drug and crime problem, but not at that hotel! The following morning, we were very grateful for their help, though it was when their captain was preoccupied with other things. Paul took some of our luggage out to the car and managed to lock the only car key in the trunk. I talked to the desk clerk in my execrable Spanish, which in this case wasn’t up to the task, then found someone in the restaurant who spoke enough English to tell the clerk in Spanish what I needed. There was a locksmith in Durango, but it would have been a day or two later before the locksmith would be available. However, the desk clerk had a friend who supposedly knew about getting into cars, and he came out to help. I talked to the police captain, who said that they couldn’t help. A few minutes later after he left, several of the troopers came to see what they could do. By the time they were all done, there were probably 7 or 8 people involved, the car was unlocked and the key retrieved by their dismantling the rear seat! I talked to the friend of the desk clerk, who said, no do not tip the federales. We thanked them all – I wish I’d brought food or gifts from WA to give to them – and they seemed pleased to have been able to help. Of course we tipped the desk clerk and his friend, and everyone seemed happy and we were able to return to Mazatlan. The rental car, by the way, sustained no damage: Paul was able to put the rear seat back together as good as new.