Scenes from San Blas

We arrived in San Blas on April 4th- just for a few days, you know. Well, it looks like “a few days” means “about two weeks” when interpreted through our low-key, low-risk approach to cruising!

At one point we did actually decide the tides and weather looked right for a dash to Isabel Island. However, our weather analysis did not look locally enough, as it turns out. It went something like this:

We pulled out and headed up the estuary…
…we saw the 8′ breaking waves clear across the mouth of the estuary…
…we made a U-turn.

Meanwhile, we can see how a fellow cruising family also arrived here “for a few days” late last year, and ended up staying for months. It’s a nice town: small enough to be easy to get around, but large enough to readily meet needs for the life essentials- chief among them, fresh tortillas and ice cream. It’s also pretty much devoid of gringo tourism, so we’re progressing with our Spanish again.

Our first week here coincided with Semana Santa, the holy week leading up to Easter. Thousands of Mexican families descend upon San Blas for vacation. We sat at lunch one day and watched truck after truck roll by, the beds filled with extended families and everything they would need for days (beach umbrellas. lawn furniture. coolers. children).
mom, dad, kids, furniture...
Most evenings, we’d walk up to the zocalo- the town square (alternate sides having city hall, the church, the public market, etc.). It would start off quietly, with a few dozen people milling about… by nightfall, you couldn’t find a seat. Musicians began to play banda music, in 10-20 person bands dominated by brass. By 10pm, we were petering out but the fiesta was just getting underway- and we could no longer hear each other if we yelled at close range. These parties lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Jamie heard music from the boat at 5am!
Zocalo: after dark
We played tourist, visiting 18th century ruins outside of town- a Spanish customs office, and the church from Longfellow’s “The Bells of San Blas” (which he never visited, apparently).
Exploring 18th century ruins

Our big spender day was going on “The Jungle Tour”, hiring a panga with driver/guide to take us up the estuary and a freshwater inlet filled with spectacular birds and more than a few crocodiles- Niall’s got a great blog post with more pictures about this. Our well-informed guide made the trip: we saw dozens of birds with his help. I am impressed by this guy who knew the species and names in Spanish and English, recognized adults and juveniles, imitated calls and identified different kinds of nests- Joel was fantastic.
Jungle tour return

I polled the children for their favorite things about San Blas.
Niall: the ice cream in the zocalo, Norm & Jan (wonderful couple from NY/NJ who have lived here since the late 60s), the sandwich shop (great big shredded pork tortas- mmmm). the pool in the marina. all the birds- herons, ibis’, all that.
Siobhan: the jungle tour and crocodiles! and the birds, and the three little houses (stilt houses built for a movie set, partway into the estuary tour). and cotton candy (this unbelievably nasty pink fluff that dyed their pee for 2 days- let me tell you, that is a color which strikes fear in a mom’s heart at first glance)
Mairen: the fort! the church, the view, the horse! (there is always a horse tied to Mairen’s favorites: we saw one in a field below the fort) the dogs (two little puppies at a store nearby). and Norm & Jan’s dog Brandon.

Jamie and I have really loved hanging in the zocalo with Norm & Jan in the evenings, hearing their stories about life in San Blas and learning about this marvelous place.

I’ll never forget an early morning walk out to the end of the jetty- climbing to the top of the light and meeting a Huichol man, Lorian, who patiently tried to explain to me the importance of a nearby island in our view. The best I could understand was it was a sacred place, a place connected to the Sun god (the principal deity of several in the Huichol’s beliefs), the source of the waters (oceans?)- then it all fell apart. Something about the moon, something about the entire world together… oh, I wish I could have understood better! I have resolved to work harder on my Spanish.

Street vendor fish
We’re moving slowly as usual… follow us on SPOT.

7 Responses

  1. Behan: San Blas looks alot different than when we cruised there over 20 years ago. Is the water at the end of the estuary still a wonderful swimming hole?


  2. We loved San Blas too – the ice cream, jungle cruise, stilt houses and view from the fort were our favorites too. Unfortunately they were working on the pool the last time we were there… glad it was ready for Niall!

  3. Behan,
    I think the sacred spot he was telling you about was a small stone temple on the other side of the estuary on the path that takes you to the ocean. There’s a small cave next to the temple where the Huichol Indians give gifts to their Gods. I saw gifts of Gods Eyes in the cave. I was told that the area is used when the Huichol girls become women. We enjoyed San Blas as well – great Spanish schools in Guatemala if you’re going that way.
    Sounds like all is well with the Totem crew. We’re in WINDY San Juan del Sur Nicaragua. -Kamaya

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