Matenchen Bay, San Blas – Jungle Tour

Dear F&F;,

26 April 2008
San Blas & Matenchen Bay, Mexico – 2 days, 2 nights

The 23 mile run to our destination of Matenchen Bay was fairly uneventful. No dolphins, no whales. Just cruised up the coast to the tunes on Sirius radio.

Matenchen Bay is a very large bay – about 1 mile across & mile deep, providing nearly 5 miles of beach. There were no other boats when we arrived. After making sure the anchor was holding, we took the 10 minute dinghy ride to shore. It is a \”wet landing\” onto a sandy beach. Scott gets his exercise pulling the 250 lb dinghy up out of the surf zone. There are many palapa restaurants (thatched roofs on top of corner support poles).

Friends Emmy & Erik from sailboat Nataraja had told us not to miss the jungle cruise here. We have done this in Magdelena Bay & Tenacatita Bay in our own dinghy. Here, you must go by hired panga because there is no easy access to the river from the bay.

We met Antonio who helped Scott pull the dinghy right up to his palapa restaurant & assured us its security while we walked to the office to reserve the jungle cruise for today. We ask him how far it is to the office. \”About 1 kilometer\”. We proceed on a \”death march\”. This is the term author Suzanne Knecht uses in her book \”Night Watch\” to describe walks in foreign lands that are hot, dusty, seemingly endless & with unknown endpoint. After 15 minutes, we ask another person along the way how far
it is to the jungle cruise office. It is one of the main tourist attractions so they all know what we are talking about. Again we are told, \”One kilometer\”. Discouraged that we do not seem to be making headway, we trudge on. Feeling stupido because Antonio had offered us a ride in his truck. Note to self: when a local offers you a ride – take it.

We finally reach the brightly painted office & make a reservation for the first tour of the day: 7 a.m. Emmy & Erik said it was important to go first in order to see the most birds & animals out in the cool of the morning. The price of the trip was for the boat, no matter how many people. No problem, it was reasonable, including a tour of a crocodile reservation, and an opportunity to swim in the river. We hoped that these were completely separate events

We took a taxi from that office into town about 6 kilometers. As we get in we ask the driver, \”How much is the cost to take us into town?\” He answered, \”10 pesos\”. This is about $1 US dollar. Such a deal. When he stops to let us out & Scott hands him 15 pesos, to include a tip, he says \”10 pesos per person\”. If it sounds like too good of a deal it probably is. No problem, well worth not having had to continue the death march.

We walk by the Navy base & can’t help but wonder what sort of enemy would dare sneak up on the helmeted young men in fatigues with automatic weapons hiding behind a pile of sandbags. I know that our military bases have the same exact posturing. But in this sleepy surfing town with palm trees and warm breezes it seemed especially out of place.

Downtown is under reconstruction. As usual, the cathedral is in the center of town with an adjacent \”zocolo\” (plaza square, place to meet & hang out). I am captivated by the smoky fragrance of a grilled chicken stand. This inspires a search for the tortilleria – 30 steaming hot tortillas for 80 cents. Voila! Dinner to go. We stop at a pharmacia to buy bug repellent. Besides the jungle tour & surfing, San Blas is famous for its \”jejenes\”, known elsewhere as no-see-ums. They are biting flies that
leave an itchy red bump. We walk by several \”flea bag\” motels. The main land visitors are young surfers on a budget, so nothing fancy has been built here.

The taxi driver that drove us back to our dinghy agreed to meet us in the same place at 630 a.m. We sat & had a limonade con agua minerale at Antonio’s restaurant.

Back on Beach House, we immensely enjoyed our dinner of chicken & tortillas. A jet skier zoomed around our boat twice before sunset. He was probably just admiring our pretty boat, but we read in the cruising guides that there is a history of theft problems here. We have locks for all our hatches. It is a bit of an ordeal to put on the 12 stainless locks (some with bars), & secure them with 12 separate padlocks. This secures both engine rooms, the sail locker, 2 compartments of dive gear, the scuba
compressor, safety gear, and the large starboard forward compartment that stows lots & lots of other stuff that we would be upset if stolen. In addition, we lock our 5 large hatches from the inside of the boat and our sliding door with a key. As someone once said \”We don’t want to give an honest man the opportunity to go astray.\”

We have an early to bed night. We spray the mostly citronella smelling bug repellent on us because it was impossible to keep out all the flying critters going in & out of the salon during the evening. A beautiful 130 foot power boat, m/v Antares joined us overnight at the anchorage.

The alarm rings at 5:15 a.m. After coffee, cereal & double checking all the locks, we get in the dinghy & ride to shore. The dawn just begins so we can remove our head lamps as we jump in the shallow water & pull the dinghy to safety. We switch from \”wet landing\” attire (shorts, water shoes) to long pants, socks & shoes. More bug spray.
A taxi pulls up right on time at 6:30 a.m. It is not the same driver as yesterday so we are reluctant to get in & wonder if we should wait for our guy. In our fumbling Spanish we determine that Gustavo had sent Vicente for us. We are always so happy & somewhat surprised when things work out just right.

Only 2 wandering dogs greeted us at the Jungle Cruise Tour office. But we were nearly 20 minutes early for the 7 a.m. tour. A man across the street wandered over & told us \”a la siete\”. Esta bien. We knew we were early & didn’t mind waiting. Exactly at 7, the man walked back across the street, another man arrived by car & a teenager arrived on motorcycle. We were in the panga with the teenager & on our way by 7:10 a.m. I was cold so wrapped myself in a towel, but kept telling myself to just soak
in that cold feeling, knowing I would appreciate it later in the day.

This was definitely the king of the jungle cruises. Our driver knew exactly where to stop & point out birds, turtles and crocodiles. It was about 45 minutes of beautiful mangroves. More wide & open than the covered canopy at Tenacatita. The flora changed from mangroves to what I can only describe as bulrushes. And in another area dense thickets of ferns. Very tranquil & lovely. Even the easily missed eyes of the crocodiles lurking just below the surface gave a deceptive sense of calm. When we approached
they scurried back to hide with surprising speed & agility.

Our driver stayed in the panga & had us get out for our own tour of the crocodile farm. There were 10 pairs, each in a separate pen. Scott got some great photos through the chain link fence. They would hold absolutely still, some with their mouth wide open, a tourist thrilling pose. Without any warning some lunged at the fence, reminding us how dangerous these prehistoric creatures are. The workers told us they feed the crocodiles live chickens or fish on Thursday. Only once a week. We were glad
it was only Saturday. They must really be cranky & vicious by Wednesday. Even the enclosure full of juveniles conjured images of being gnawed on at the ankles

There were a few other pens: parrots, an owl, some type of wild boar, coatamundis and deer. We spent about half an hour at this reserve & noticed as we exited a 10 foot free-ranging croc across the river. We eagerly stepped into the safety of the panga. We declined the opportunity to swim in a fenced off portion of the river. Somehow the murky green water & thought of crocs on the other side of the fence reduced the appeal of a morning swim in the river.
Even more animals were visible on the return trip. River Turtles on the rocks, birds on branches, crocs on logs – all sunning themselves.

As it was only 9:30 a.m. the walk back to the dinghy was not a death march. Although when Antonio stopped in his truck we did not decline & hopped in the back. We were entertained on the short ride by 2 adorable teething puppies.

We picked a beach side table at Antonio’s restaurant & ordered huevos rancheros. Yum! We learned from him about the area, and as Scott suspected, learned it is a surfers paradise in the summer. There is a very shallow bay with uniformly nice sandy bottom that contributes to some amazing waves. According to Antonio (who is a surfer), waves are from 3-12 feet and ride able for over a 1000 yards. Where waves are breaking is not a good place to anchor your boat. But surf season is also hurricane season
so there would not be many boats coming through then. Scott is itching to ride some waves, but we are happy to have the flat water at the anchorage now.

My sensation of feeling cold had switched to hot by noon, so I jumped off the back of the boat to cool off. Scott hangs the shark shield off the dive ladder & I stay near its protection as I exercise wearing my aqua jogger. It is not pleasant to swim because you can’t see a darn thing in the pea soup ocean, but I still enjoy being in the 80 degree water. It will be very depressing if the Sea of Cortez has this poor of visibility. But hope springs eternal for decent, if not great, diving opportunities
there this summer.

With our early arisal, it was easy to join in the siesta tradition. I’ve been since then writing this description. It is nearly time for happy hour. The \”jejenes\” are happy to see me sitting outside, so I will soon move in & zip up the screen door. Scott is listening to one of the ham radio nets, with headphones, thank you.

Tomorrow we will get an early start to our next stop – Isla Isabella, a Mexican bird and underwater sanctuary visited by Jacques Cousteau over 30 years ago.