Mazatlan (Land of the Deer)

Following our unexpected non-stop passage from Topolobampo we settled into Marina El Cid for a relaxing few days stay at the marina. We weren’t sure exactly how long we’d stay when we arrived, but fortunately there was plenty of available space at the marina so we could play it by ear.

The marinas are about 6 miles north of the old town district and we were concerned that barring a cab or bus ride we’d be limited to the businesses and activities at the resort which wasn’t all that appealing to us.

We set out on foot to see what we could find within walking distance and even at the resort end of town there was plenty to see and do. The Malecon starts a short walk from the marina and extends all the way into old town at the far end. In between are an assortment of shops and restaurants and long stretches of sandy beaches.

Mazatlan sign on the Malecon
Mazatlan beaches with tall hotels in background

We stopped and watched as a group of men worked mightily to get a panga full of sightseers off the beach.

We had walked the Malecon and beach for 4 miles before acknowledging to each other that we were getting hot and tired and wouldn’t make it all the way to old town. We grabbed some water at an Oxxo store and turned back for the marina.

During our walk I noticed scores of golf-cart looking taxis with the distinctive sound (and smell) of a Volkswagen bug as they whizzed by.

“Have you noticed all of these open-air taxis?” I asked Kristin. “I think they are all converted VW bugs.”

“Yeah, they’re cute,” she agreed.

“I’d feel comfortable taking those into old town versus an enclosed car. What do you think?” I asked.

Up to this point we had been very strict in our personal COVID protocols which at times severely limited our land-based activities which meant no public transit, taxis, or Ubers. All of our shoreside excursions were together on foot or solo via bicycle (we only have one bicycle onboard).

“Yeah, I think that would be OK,” Kristin agreed.

We later discovered these taxis are somewhat known as Pulmonia Taxis. The legend is that when these were introduced in the 60’s the traditional taxi drivers were so jealous of the attraction to the open air VW’s that they warned their customers not to take them because they will catch pneumonia (pulmonia) and the name stuck. How ironic that we’re literally climbing into a taxi that has “pneumonia” emblazoned on its side during a pandemic.

The next day after breakfast onboard we set out to find a Pulmonia to take us to the lighthouse “El Faro” at the end of the peninsula beyond old-town.

“I think we’ll need to go out to the main street to hail an open-air taxi,” I said to Kristin as we exited the marina gate. “I’ve only ever seen regular taxis at the marina resort taxi stand.”

“Do you think we’ll be able to hail one from the road? It’s pretty busy,” Kristin worried.

“Oh, that won’t be a problem. I almost accidentally hailed at least three of them yesterday by just making eye contact with the driver while checking out his taxi.”

We exited the parking lot and started walking on the sidewalk next to the divided road leading to the marina. Within seconds I spotted a Pulmonia coming the other way.

“Here we go,” I said, giving the slightest wave to the driver.

“But he’s going the other way!” Kristin worried.

“Won’t be a problem.” I replied as we watched him make an instant u-turn in the middle of the road and come to a stop directly in front of us.

“Cuanto El Faro Lighthouse,” I said, trying out my rudimentary Spanish. The guide books said to always negotiate the fare in advance. I would later learn that at least in Mazatlan there are really only two fares – $200 (pesos) to go from the resorts to the old town area or $100 for anywhere in-between.

“Lighthouse! Doscientos,” the cab driver replied.

“Si,” I agreed, hoping to impress Kristin with my fluency as we climbed up onto the bench seat. With the familiar sound of the fluttering VW exhaust in our ears we were off and soon speeding our way down the Malecon.

It was an amazing feeling to be whisked along at an impossibly fast 30 miles per hour. We had not been in a four-wheeled vehicle in over two months!

This ride also introduced us to what is apparently the ex-pat theme song for Mexico, Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain. It seems to be the theme song because ever since Mazatlan we keep hearing this song over and over again at the most random times wherever we go. We’ve heard it performed live multiple times by both male and female vocalists, heard recorded versions played many times, and even once heard a Spanish language cover of it. It seems to be following us.

Our driver took us along the Malecon we had walked the day before and up the winding portion that clings to the rocky cliffside with spectacular views of the bay, ending up at the foot of the steep trail that leads up to El Faro Lighthouse, one of the highest lighthouses in the world.

panoramic view above Mazatlan
People standing on glass bridge overlook at El Faro

Following our hike to the lighthouse, we took another Pulmonia down the hill to old town ($100) where we visited the Basilica Cathedral of Mazatlán. We were lucky to get in and take a look around as they closed for the rest of the afternoon shortly after we arrived. Lucky timing! One interesting thing we learned about the cathedral is the prominent display of the Star of David in the stained glass. Legend has it that this was in honor of the Jewish community in Mazatlan that helped finance the construction of the cathedral.

Our next mission was to find the public market to stock up on some fresh fruit and vegetables for the next leg of our journey. We had to circle the block once to find the entrance to the market. The outer booths at the market were all clothing vendors which obscured the meat and produce vendors at the inner booths. We packed our bags full of produce for the next week or so and I practiced my Spanish numbers once again in figuring out the prices and change. No credit cards used here!

Our next mission for the day was to walk around old town and check out some of the European influenced architecture and find an outdoor restaurant for dinner.

We found a cute little Sinaloa restaurant with an open-air courtyard. We’ve worked out a strategy of arriving for dinner early – around 5:00 – when the restaurants first open. This way we get a table without a reservation and practically have the place to ourselves for at least an hour before the actual dinner crowd arrives. So far it has worked out for us. As expected we practically had the place to ourselves. We treated ourselves to cocktails and I had the most amazing Sinaloa-style steak.

Greg enjoying a cocktail in a courtyard surrounded by exotic wood tables and a banyan tree
Kristin laughing with glass of sangria in the foreground

Our final mission before departing Mazatlan was to get a guava pie at Panama. Somehow Kristin had discovered that this popular bakery and restaurant in Mazatlan is known for their guava pie and we simply had to try it. It was a wonderful treat to have when we returned to Sonrisa that evening. The fresh and tart guava contrasted so nicely with the sticky sweet caramel sauce and cream filling. Yum!

half of a guava pie with two servings in glass bowls

The following morning we woke up with the intention of departing Mazatlan mid-day and head over to the Stone Island anchorage just south of old town for a nighttime departure for our next destination south. Unfortunately a red flag flying on the marina flagpole said otherwise. The port was completely closed due to the weather.

red flag on flagstaff

In all of the wind events in La Paz that closed the harbor, we had never seen a red flag which means that not even large ships can leave the harbor. Frankly the winds and seas didn’t seem quite THAT bad, but then again I’m sure the authorities on these matters know more than we do about it. Then again if there are going to be strong winds overnight we wouldn’t want to depart anyway and we’d rather be in the marina for a stormy night than in the anchorage.

So with another change in our plans we had a bonus day to explore more of Mazatlan. The evening before as we were walking back to the Malecon to catch our Pulmonia I noticed a very fancy-looking restaurant in the open-air courtyard of the historic Garcia building in Mazatlan. That evening we had a long luxurious dinner at Presidio followed by a windy and chilly stroll down the Malecon to see some of the sculptures we had only seen in passing the day before.

courtyard of the historic Garcia building with restaurant tables and patio umbrellas
Nightime scene with Kristin wearing facemask overlooking Malecon and windswept beach
large statue of nude man and woman standing on a conch shell reaching out
sculpture of row of leaping dolphins

Finally on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve we moved from El Cid marina to the Stone Island anchorage where we enjoyed some of our newly refreshed provisions for dinner and rested before departing for Isla Isabel moments after ringing in the New Year.

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