I returned to the boat in Mazatlán not knowing if I would sail north, west, south, or leave it at El Cid. The circumstances of the wind and other elements made clear over the next days that I would go south to Bahía Chacala, one of my favorite spots in Mexico, a place I always seem to get pushed out of before I’m ready to leave.
I motored out of Marina El Cid on Saturday morning, turned left once clear of Isla Venado, hoisted the sails and shut off the motor. It was a beautiful day, pleasantly warm, just enough breeze to push me south at a comfortable speed. Just before sunset dolphins appeared and played around the boat. The sun set behind low clouds on the horizon and wasn’t visible. The show after sunset was spectacular, a technicolor panorama constantly changing, yellow, red, orange, violet. As the sky darkened Jupiter and Venus became visible just above the horizon to the west, shining more and more brightly as the darkness intensified.
Late at night with no moon the stars lit up the sky as they blazed, seeming close enough to reach up and touch. As I watched the water flow past the boat I noticed it light up with phosphorescence, a green glow in the boat’s wake. Then the dolphins were back, swimming alongside and ahead of the boat, and as they broke through the surface of the sea the phosphorescence would flow off of their backs, and it was as if I was sailing through the heavens, guided by dolphins with stars streaming off their backs as they led me to nirvana.
Sunday evening I was off San Blas and decided, since I was tired and it was still several hours sail to Chacala, to stop at the marina for the night. I’ve been in and out of San Blas several times and am familiar enough with the route up the river to be comfortable doing it in the dark. I docked at the marina late in the evening, there were several messages on my phone, I knew I would not be sailing farther south and would leave the boat in San Blas once again.
San Blas is perhaps the most miserable village I’ve been to during the past year in Mexico, and yet there is this beauty to it. It sits in the middle of World Heritage mangrove swamps that are teaming with life, and much of that life consists of things that want to eat you – crocodiles, mosquitoes, jejenes. The streets are either bone jarringly rough cobblestone or car swallowing mud pits. Half of the buildings are abandoned decaying relics. The best hotel in town sits next to a gutted shell of a hotel with trees growing through the roof. It’s so hot and humid in the summer that after the slightest exertion you have to jump in the pool to cool off.
Yet in a country known for friendly and helpful people, San Blas stands out for its hospitality. For some reason despite the terrible streets more people ride bikes than anywhere else I’ve been in North America. There is beauty in the dilapidation, the crumbling church with the leaning bell tower, the magnificent trees growing through the buildings and lifting the sidewalks, the constant growth and renewal. In Mexico practically every building has rebar sticking out the top because there is this optimism that someday another floor will be added. That optimism epitomizes the beauty of San Blas.
Wednesday morning I went to breakfast at Wala Wala. Pedro, the owner, who was sitting with an older gentleman, got up to take my order and then went into the kitchen. The gentleman he’d been sitting with came over and introduced himself as the local doctor and said, “Estoy triste, quiero tocar y cantar.” He picked up a guitar and started playing and singing, Besame Mucho and similar songs, and it was amazing, like something out of Buena Vista Social Club. He played and sang for about 30 minutes, and as he left I told him “La musica era mas hermosa, muchas gracias” and he replied “De nada, estoy feliz.” That is San Blas.