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Bugs and a Jungle Cruise

Updated: Mar 5, 2022

Next stop after Isla Isabel was Ensenada de Matanchén and San Blas. The trip on Valentine’s Day was virtually wind free, so we motored 7 of the 8 hours across to the mainland. When we are motoring, it is easy to set the autopilot and get things done while the sea is very calm. We ran the water maker which purifies sea water into drinkable water, Mike calibrated our binnacle compass (after fixing an outright bodge on the adjusters), and Shelby scraped the unnecessarily thick varnish from the wood toe rail so we can figure out what refinishing them will entail (looks like a lot of repairs). The glorious spectacle of whales was constant: spouts that linger in the air for minutes, distant white flashes of whale fins and large explosions of white spray on the horizon where one has breached.

San Blas has a marina and anchorage in town but to get to them you have to navigate a nasty sandbar at the estuary entrance and somehow the bugs are even worse there than a few miles to the east at Matanchén Bay. Matanchén is a big beautiful bay well-protected from the prevailing north winds and swell. And from the sand fleas AKA jejenes or no-see-ums, or so we thought. One would think it that a mile is too far for sand fleas to travel. It’s not. Turns out, about 25% of people are allergic to their proteins (Mike) and 75% aren’t and don’t notice them (Shelby). The effects take a while to manifest, so Mike didn’t notice he had been chewed up until the next morning. Imagine mosquito bites, only 10 times as itchy, persistent, and painful. We were both very thankful that only one of us is in the 25%. It took about 4 days for the symptoms to subside.

Rather than beaching the dinghy in the surf in Matanchén Bay and then having to drag her back to water after the tide went out, we zipped along the 3-mile coast, up the estuary and tied on at the marina. San Blas is a charming old town that was a center for the Spanish ship building industry during their colonial period. Unfortunately for us, the entire central plaza area was under construction so we missed out on some cultural must-dos. Happy for a big day of walking we went to the fort just out of town on a hill and took in the view. The next day’s dinghy ride in and out was very sporty and we threaded our way through the 6-foot breaking waves at the entrance. (See the video here on our Instagram.)

Imagine if Disney’s Jungle Cruise ride were plucked out of the magic kingdom and placed in an estuary in tropical Mexico. Now, you get to walk down a dusty road off the palapa lined beach, past rows of street side banana bread sellers to a place called La Tovara. We got there early and had our own private panga and guide. The trip starts in a dense red and white mangrove forest and we had to duck to get under drapes of roots and canopy. Over the winding 3 miles to the source it opens to a river-way cutting through far-reaching flats of reeds and cattails. The thrill was spotting crocodiles in various states of repose, many and magnificent exotic birds, and even a turtle. Our guide was super awesome, helped us locate, and then stopped every time we saw something interesting. At one turn, we sat engine off, for 5 minutes next to a nesting tree of Boatbills watching and listening to their songs and clacks. The magical trip ends at the spring that is the source of the river. There we found a cafe/patio and a swimming hole complete with a swing and fishes (safely fenced to keep the crocodiles out). We enjoyed a lingering dip in the cool, soft water before heading back down to the meeting point where the estuary crosses the road.

On the way back to the dinghy, we stopped and bought some of that local specialty, pan de plátano (banana bread) and it was pretty awesome. Except for the jejenes (for half of us) we had a great time in Matanchén. Next stop, Ensenada Chacala.

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Randy Sysol
Randy Sysol
27 feb 2022

Sorry we are going to miss this spot as we push north. So much fun meeting you both this week. Stay in touch!


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