Small town livin’ in San Blas

Small town livin’ in San Blas

Sigh. We hit a sandbar. Again. Luckily, we knew we were in shallow territory and Philippe quickly backed us off of it. The estuary leading up to Marina Fonatur in San Blas is fairly long and wide, but even at high tide Untangled (with her 7.5 foot draft) is too deep for the edges of the channel. A friendly fishing panga approached us to ask (in nearly perfect English) if we wanted help. We gratefully accepted their assistance, and they sped ahead to lead the way for us. Sergio and Chris (a father/son team), took us all the way to our dock, refused a tip, and gave us their phone numbers with strict instructions to call them if we needed any help at all. As Sergio drove their panga back into the channel with a big wave he yelled, “Welcome to Mexico!”

San Blas, where we docked from February 4-10, is the exact opposite of Mazatlán, but I love it just as much. It’s a tiny town (about 8,000 people) that packs a lot of punch. The main square and almost all of the streets are full of motorcycles and scooters, small tiendas selling ice cream and freshly-caught-and-cooked fish, and scores of street pups. Police presence is minimal, but everywhere we went felt very safe. Everything is noisy, but not like in a city. It’s the sound of children yelling, dogs barking, motorcycles grinding along, cars and bars blaring loud music, thousands of chirping birds, and wind through palm trees. The town comes alive in the early morning before the heat presses down – wrinkly women sweep the dusty streets, kids in uniforms escort each other to school, and men and women alike open their shops and display their wares. We saw one incredible woman, who we called “Super Mom”, riding a bicycle with a backpack on each shoulder, one girl sitting on her handlebars, and another girl standing on the bike pegs. I joked that someday, when I am frustrated that my kids are taking too long to eat their Cheerios and the minivan needs an oil change, I will force myself to remember watching Super Mom pedal her girls to school on a rickety bike. For real, though, the people of San Blas are amazing.

Keith and I were a little concerned about Wi-Fi availability, but it turned out to not be much of a problem. The marina has Wi-Fi, but we could only access it from the “cruiser’s office”. We’ve really gotten a kick out of the Marina Fonatur footprint. Marina Fonatur is a government-owned marina system that operates throughout Mexico with the goal of increasing tourism. The marinas we’ve seen are all constructed in exactly the same way, from the greenish-grey color of the two building towers to the tile in the bathrooms to the single, unmarked, and seemingly abandoned doctor’s office that’s just a little bit creepy. We really enjoy showing up at a new Fonatur and trying to find the differences (in San Blas: the material used on the bathroom doors, the layout of the lockers in the women’s bathroom, the orientation of the furniture in the main office, and the actual furniture in the cruiser’s office). The cruiser’s office in San Blas is sparse, but the internet is fast enough. We also found good internet at several local restaurants.

Keith and I working from the Cruiser’s Office at Marina Fonatur.
Paco, the friendly marina pup, loved to snuggle while I worked.

On our first day in town, the three of us hiked up to the Contaduria Fort and Old Church ruins. The fort is actually in pretty good shape, and the open-sky church is stunning. The views from the top of the hill were beautiful.

Hiking to the old fort.
Contaduria Fort
Cannon overlooking San Blas
One of the windows in the old church

A few days later, Philippe and I woke up early to take the jungle tour on the San Blas river. We’d read that we should arrive early to see the most birds, but I think we still arrived earlier than many people. We got to the pangas around 8:15 am and climbed into one with a guide about our age. We started at the bridge just east of town. For about an hour we wound our way down the river and through the mangroves, stopping to take photos of birds, crocodiles, and turtles when we saw them. We made two stops, one at a crocodile refuge and one at the natural spring. Because we were so early, we had the whole spring to ourselves. We took some time to swim in the crystal clear water before heading home.

Riding through the mangroves was amazing! First, we started in a wide river lined with thick, green brush. Then the mangroves closed in.
As they closed in more, things got darker.
Selfie with our panga captain and guide in the back!
After a while, the river opened back up, this time with wildlife! There were lots of Duck-Billed Herons.
Several regal Great Egrets
One of whom caught a fish!
Most of the turtles jumped in the water too quickly for us to capture them in a photo…
But we got this guy!
Crocodile sunning himself
Crocodile eye
The mangroves served as the set for “Cabeza de Vaca”, a Mexican movie.
This pretty butterfly was hanging out with the shrimp shells.

We spent the rest of our week in San Blas enjoying the food, the people, and the small town atmosphere. Philippe and I got back into a morning workout routine, which is really nice. Philippe got eaten alive by the jejenes. These tiny biting sand flies are too small to see (hence their nickname “no-see-ums”) and their bites only bother a fraction of people. I could tell when I got bit, but the feeling quickly faded and I had no ongoing itchiness. Philippe, on the other hand, was covered in little itchy dots all week long.


San Blas Details

Cell phone connectivity – Cell connectivity was mostly fine. There were a few places where it was spotty, but for the most part I could get a clear call without issue.

Wi-Fi – The Wi-Fi at Marina Fonatur didn’t reach to our slip (we were on the end tie furthest from the office), but we had good luck in the “cruiser’s office”. In town, we liked the San Blas Social Club best. They don’t serve food until afternoon, but for the price of a few beers there is ample space to set up your laptop and work inside or on the back patio. Unfortunately, outlets are hard to come by. We also found Wi-Fi at Mcdonald’s (not the golden arches) and Wala Wala, though not quite as fast.

Restaurants – We really enjoyed our pulpos con mazana, mango, y mayonesa de cilantro con alcaravea (octopus, apple, mango, and correander/caraway mayo) appetizer at El Delfin. It’s a bit out of the way and on the fancier side, but the dishes are unique for Mexico. Our favorite meals, however, were at Taquería El Güinas. The menu is simple: tacos, tortas, or quesadillas with one of six meats or panela cheese. The tacos come loaded with meat and veggies and the salsa bar was full of great sauces and toppings. You can place your order, walk a couple doors down to buy your beer, and by the time you get back the food is on the table. Our server, Tulani, is an Australian woman who was raised in the US but has a Mexican step father and has lived in Mexico for years. You can tell we loved this place because despite our limited time in San Blas, we ate there twice. Everything we tried was delicious.

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