Dec 012011

Our night on the TMC ferry was uneventful to say the least.  It’s more a cargo ferry than a passenger ferry, so with the exception of a few other small vehicles, we spent the night surrounded by 18 wheelers and dozens of truck drivers.  We hung out for a couple hours on deck, watching the sunset over the La Paz harbor, reading and attempting to converse with some Mexican teenagers.  When it was too cold to sit outside, we were able to sneak back to the van to settle in for the night.  The main reason we chose this company (besides the fact that the fare was cheaper, though not by much) was because they allow you to return to your vehicle during the ride.  Fortunately for us that meant we didn’t have to spend 16 hours in the tiny cramped seats of the passenger cabin.  Once back in the van, we were immediately happy we had made the last minute stop at the farmacia in La Paz for some Dramamine.  We awoke the next morning at sunrise and filed out onto the deck to watch our entry into Mazatlan.

Mazatlan has a few nice central plazas so we decided to spend the morning in the city.  By accident, we happened upon the mercado and spent at least an hour browsing around.  The markets in Mexico are quite a production – you can find anything you possibly need and then some, at cheap prices.  We love them.  We stocked up on fresh produce, said farewell to Mazatlan and headed south.  Our plan was to drive along the coast until Puerto Vallarta, hitting up a few small villages along the way and then start our journey inland.

Our first stop on our way south was the small island village of Mexcaltitán.  We were intrigued by this village for two reasons.  It has been called the “Venice of Mexico” because by the end of rainy season the streets of the island are temporarily flooded, forcing the locals to get around on canoes.  The other reason is that many historians believe it to be the mythical Atzlan, or birthplace of the Aztecs.  The legend goes that the God Huitzitl ordered the Aztecs to depart from Atzlan to settle the Valley of Mexico and found the city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.

On account of it being surrounded on all sides by water, the only way to get to and from the village is by boat.  The boat ride was a pleasant 10 minutes through a maze of lagoons teeming with lush vegetation and various bird species.  The village itself is very small, and within half an hour we had walked all five of its streets.  Decorated with colorful homes and double-tiled roofs, it had that appealing small town charm, where every “Buenas Tardes”  uttered was returned with a large, toothless grin and a greeting of the same.  Kids play freely in the streets (there are no cars to worry about here) as elders relish in the shade of the sidewalks and watch the commotion.  The door to nearly every home is left wide open, allowing our curious eyes to view the simple homes while communicating a strong sense of trusted community.  The locals rely on fishing for their livelihood, which is never more apparent than when strolling the streets: thousands of newly caught shrimp lay drying on each sidewalk.  Which reminds me – if you visit the only restaurant in town, you’d better like shrimp.

Though there was not much to do in this small town, we found ourselves fulfilled by simply observing daily life here.  The relaxed and friendly attitude of the locals is welcoming and quickly contagious. Up until this point, we had yet to visit a place so completely isolated from tourists.  We felt as if we’d finally had a glimpse of authentic Mexico.

To get there:

Take Route 15 from Tepic in the south or Mazatlan in the north.  About 63 km northwest of Tepic, turn off highway 15 and follow signs toward Santiago Ixcuintla.  The Lonely Planet description is a little confusing because it gives off the impression that La Batanga, the boat landing from where you will catch a boat to Mexcaltitán, is located in Santiago Ixcuintla.  This is not the case.  If you do not have your own vehicle, you’ll want to take a bus or taxi from Santiago, otherwise follow signs towards La Batanga/Mexcaltitán which you will see before heading into the center of Santiago Ixcuintla.  The boat landing is actually about 25 km north of the town of Santiago.  The road is in good condition but will take you through the center of a few small towns.  Continue to follow signs towards Mexcaltitán/La Baranga (if you are confused, asked for directions.  We had some very friendly and helpful locals point us in the right direction).  Eventually the road will come to an end at a small boat landing where you can negotiate a price with locals to Mexcaltitán.  We paid 50 pesos each way for both of us.