Mazatlan Area: San Blas & Isla Isabel – Urban Agitation and Booby Joy

The ruined church on the hill that held

Longfellow's Bells of San Blas.

The "new" church that replaced the

church on the hill.

This newest church that replaced the "new" church

next door.

Every wife deserves a ride like this from

her hubby.

It was a crazy busy day in the

town square and we saw all

kinds of folks...

A mural depicts the town of San Blas.

The guys liked the cannons at the fort.

The Belle of the Ball preps for her

15th birthday.

A path over a ridge on Isla Isabel

led to a frigate bird rookery.

A frigate bird keeps an eye on me, his red pouch


A frigate bird chick huddles on its nest.

Two frigate bird eggs resemble

chicken eggs.

A pale headed & dark faced

brown booby on a cliff.

A dark headed brown booby

Booby chicks.

A blue footed booby!

Yep, those are blue feet.

The blue footed booby blocks the path

and tells me to go home.

A colorful snake winds around a

tree trunk.

The flock waits for handouts from the fishermen.

How we look after an overnight passage.

San Blas & Isla Isabel, Mexico

Early April, 2011 - We left the crowd of cruisers in La Cruz and eagerly looked forward to more quiet anchorages on our way

north to Mazatlán.  The winds were in our favor and we had two glorious days of sailing, stopping for an overnight at Isla Peña.

The second morning was sunny and warm with a light breeze, and the boat danced easily on its course.  We were both

somewhere out there in daydream land when suddenly we heard an enormous splash.  Leaping to our feet we watched a

humpback whale shoot straight up out of the water, turn, and fall crashing back down on its side.

When a much smaller whale tail flapped nearby, we realized this was a mother

with a baby.  A few moments later the whale surged out of the sea again, this

time doing a full twist before falling back into the depths.  A little ways away the

smaller tail waved again.

Our second night we stopped at Ensenada

Mantachén, a large bay that looked at first like an

ideal spot to spend a few days.

It is a short

bus ride from

the little community of Mantachén into the town

of San Blas, which is famous for inspiring

Longfellow's poem The Bells of San Blas.

Reading that wistful poem made us curious

about the ruined church on the hill whose once

clanging bells are now muted and "green with

mould and rust."  At one time they symbolized a

dark era of conquest, when Spain ruled and "the

world with faith was filled."  But now the bells

stand silent, reminding us of "an age that is

fading fast" while "the world rolls into light."

We walked through the ruins of the church on

the hill, and then explored the ruins of the "new"

church down in the town.  The new church has

been replaced by another even newer church

next door.  This newest church is where today's

faithful go to worship.

San Blas was very busy on the day of our visit.

Citizens, government officials and armed

soldiers filled the town square.  I asked several

people what was going on but didn't fully understand the

explanations.  I think it was some kind of survey of the local people to

determine their standard of living.  As tourists, we simply enjoyed

watching the scene.

Up on the hill by the old church

stands an old fort that we explored

with friends.  The cannons were fun

for the guys.  More fun for us gals

was seeing a young girl getting

photos taken for her "quinceañera,"

or 15th birthday.  This is a very

important milestone birthday for

Mexican girls, a kind of "coming

out," and it is celebrated with a

huge party and a fantastic prom


Many small towns exude charm and make visitors feel welcome and

safe, but San Blas is not that way.  As one fellow cruiser put it, "I wouldn't go out after dark

here."  At the beach palapa restaurant in Mantachén the owner even wore a sidearm.  We

had been put on guard immediately upon arrival at the Matanchén anchorage when a group

of cruisers pulled alongside our boat in their dinghy and said, "Make sure you lock your

outboard at night.  There have been some outboard and dinghy thefts in the last few

weeks."  We put cable locks on everything on deck but slept fitfully.  Mark bolted out of bed

at 2:30 a.m. when he heard people on a panga nearby tapping on the panga's hull.  They

appeared to be fishing, so he went back to sleep.  Next morning our friends discovered their

Mercury 9.9 hp outboard had been stolen.  They had raised their dinghy in its davits so it

was 6 feet off the water, but they hadn't locked the outboard.  It seemed to us that this theft

had been carefully orchestrated and must have involved more than one person.

We had planned the next day to go on an estuary tour that many other visitors to the area

have raved about, but we had a sour taste in our mouths after that episode and we left right


Isla Isabel waited peacefully on the horizon for us, just 50 or so miles away to the north.  No

sooner had we dropped the hook than the couple on the neighboring sailboat swung by and

invited us to go ashore with them.  Stepping out of the dink onto the beach we found

ourselves in the middle of a fish camp.  A row of pangas sat on the beach in front of a row

of shacks, and piles of fishing nets filled the space in between.

A friendly fisherman guided us to a

path that goes to the interior of the

island, and after climbing up and

over a ridge we found ourselves in

the heart of a frigate bird rookery.

A canopy of short trees formed a

roof above us, and on every

branch a frigate bird hunched over

an impossibly rickety little nest.

The chicks were nearly full-sized,

but their feathers weren't fully

grown in yet, and they had that

goofy look of pre-adolescents


The ground was thick with guano, and we danced around

looking up at the undersides of the birds while ducking in fear

that we might become targets for droppings.  I found the

remains of a few chicks that must have fallen out of their nests

a while ago, and we found two unhatched eggs.  They were

the size of chicken eggs, but they were heavy.  No doubt each

one held a well formed chick that didn't make it out in time.

We followed the path up another hill and emerged onto the

cliffs that line the edge of the island.  In front of us, blocking the

way, were legions of boobies.  They stared at us with quiet

curiosity, watching our every move, but showed no particular

signs of fear or of getting out of the way.

We had seen our first boobies several months earlier when

we sailed into Manzanillo Bay.  It had been late afternoon and

lines of them were commuting back home to roost.  We

weren't sure what kind of bird they were, but we started

calling them "tuxedo birds" because of the way they dressed.

Seeing them so close

now I realized there are

several variations.  Some

have light colored heads

with a dark face and

some have dark colored

heads with a light face.

But all the chicks were

fluffy and cute.

We pressed on through

the crowd along the edge

of the cliff, and each

parent/chick pair backed away a little as we went by.  Then

we turned a corner, and faced an unusually obstinate

booby.  This one had blue feet!

Apparently the

Galápagos islands are

not the only habitat in

the world where blue

footed boobies live, and this little mom was doing her

darndest to make sure her species thrived here on Isla


She stood her ground as we

approached, effectively blocking her

chick and the path with a very

impressive display.  She fluffed up her

feathers, made all kinds of noises and

generally told us to back off.

A few quick photos and we did as we were told, tromping back down the hill into the frigate

bird colony and back to the beach.

Mark is a woodsman at heart, and he spotted an unusual snake in a tree.  We tried to

remember the rhyme about the color patterns on coral colored snakes, "Red touch yellow,

kill a fellow," or something like that, but we couldn't quite remember how it went.  We later

found the coral snake rhyme online and discovered our little guy was a milk snake.

After all this exotica it

seemed rather pedestrian to

watch the congregation of

seagulls and pelicans lining

up for scraps from the

fishermen.  But I still love

these guys too.  These gulls

make a cry that sounds like,

"Ow ow ow," as if someone

is pinching them mercilessly.

While at San Blas we visited the cultural center which has a gallery with

a handful of paintings in it.  One in particular caught my eye because it

shows the exact expression we have on our faces whenever we do an

overnight passage on the boat.  The trip from Isla Isabel to Mazatlan is

90 miles, just long enough to require an overnight.  Fortunately we were

able to sail almost the entire way rather than run the engine.  However,

the wind was right on the nose, so we had to tack back and forth in a

zig-zag pattern for 20 hours.  The wind also changed strength every

hour, which required us to reef and unreef the sails repeatedly so the

boat could take advantage of the wind rather than the other way around.

By the end of the night we actually looked a bit worse than the guy in

this painting.

Find San Blas and Isla Isabel on Mexico Maps