Excellent Getaway!

I don’t know about you, but Greg and I have been really feeling Mazatlán’s growing pains lately. The traffic has gotten horrendous, especially on the weekends. Remember when we used to say you could go anywhere in town in 20 minutes? Not anymore. Yes, if you live downtown and just walk around there, you’re ok. But there is much more to Mazatlán than those dozen blocks. The noise has also gotten nearly untenable. I LOVE parties, music, and people having fun. It’s one of the best things about this beautiful town: the joy of its people. But when a motorcycle, RAZR or auriga blaring awakens you from deep slumber at 3 or 4 am every night of the week, and your dinner guests can’t have a decent conversation on your terrace, well, not so much.

So, for our anniversary, I was looking around for a quiet, romantic place the two of us could celebrate and enjoy some peace and quiet—something close to home. Boy did I ever find it! We have fallen in love with Toninas Ecological Boutique Hotel.

Toninas is on the beach in Celestino Gasca, just over an hour north of Mazatlán on the toll road (just north of Las Labradas and south of Cruz de Elota). What attracted me to make the reservation were its proximity, apparent serenity, the modernity of its finishes (I’ve stayed in eco-lodges that were glorified campsites), and the beauty of its architecture and environment. Each of these surpassed our expectations. And, a big bonus, we feel we have found new and extremely interesting friends in Camila and Enrique, the owner/managers. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Arriving at the resort, we unpacked our luggage into Bungalow Cardenal and of course headed straight to the beach. Yes, we live on the beach, but we couldn’t wait to see this one. To our delight, even though it was 3:00 in the afternoon, there were two oyster divers just leaving the water and packing up to go home. Sell us some oysters? Sure! Saul was happy to shuck us a dozen. OMG! They were HUGE and oh so sweet!!!! I paid him 100 pesos for the pleasure and enjoyed them raw that evening and again the next day in an omelet.

Heading back into our home for the next three days and two nights, we took our time to check it out. What first jumped out at me were the wonderful lamps made my local artist Luis Valenzuela. These absolutely gorgeous light fixtures are made with recycled materials—driftwood and rope! I also very much enjoyed the international artwork on the walls. I learned that Enrique and Camilla both worked in the foreign service and were stationed in such places as Paris, Beirut, Beijing,Bogotá, London and Hanoi. They met and fell in love in Rabat, Morocco. No wonder the artwork in the cabañas is so eclectic!

The architecture of the cabañas and the main communal palapa that I had admired online did not disappoint. Our one-bedroom rock and stucco bungalow with terrace had a direct view of the ocean and sunset from the sliding doors in the living room and the window in the bedroom. It was very well built by local contractor, Manuel Valenzuela. Comfy couches lined the natural wood walls. The kitchen is part of the great room with the living and dining area; our dining table was bar-height with stools. Our bedroom had two double beds and plenty of room to put luggage and our things. The best part of the cabaña, however, is the bathroom! Unlike so many eco-hotels, this one has running water (hot and cold – both with great pressure) and a flush toilet right there, in your unit. Best of all? You open the glass shower door to step outside into your own private rear patio garden, where you can shower amongst the flowers and under the sun or stars! Your excess shower water irrigates the plants.

While our cabaña had an awesome dining area, we ate both our breakfasts out in the palapa. The large central palapa has quite a few seating areas, including easy chairs and cocktail tables, dining tables and chairs, hammocks and hammock chairs. It overlooks the pool and jacuzzi as well as the beach. There is a walkway leading down from the pool and palapa area to another couple of smaller palapas also overlooking the beach (where we enjoyed sunset drinks), and a short staircase from them down to the beach itself. From the property it is an easy walk to restaurants, to the fishing boats or into town. Restaurants are also more than happy to deliver.

Below is a video of our interview with Enrique and Camila, the two terrifically talented and interesting young people who run Toninas. If you’re wondering if they enjoy what they do, just look at their smiles!

AMENITIES
Toninas is an ecological resort. The toiletries are all high quality, eco-friendly products from Däki Natural. There is a huge garrafón of drinking water in every cabaña, so no need to use those horribly polluting plastic water bottles. Each cabaña has a compost box, which delighted my soul. The three-part swimming pool is absolutely gorgeous, with a jacuzzi, wading pool and lap pool. The two of us put it to very good use! Water for the saltwater swimming pool is taken from the ocean, filtered to purify it, and eventually returned back to the ocean cleaner than it left; a win-win for everyone! Before construction of the pool began, Enrique and Camilla met with the local fishermen and received their blessings. In a nod to creature comforts, there is wifi throughout the property, mini-split air conditioners in the living and bedrooms, a Smart TV in the bedroom, a generous refrigerator and terrific induction stove in the kitchen, and as mentioned above, very hot running water. 

MEALS
Toninas supplies pool towels as well as a stocked kitchen: coffee, the coffee maker, a blender, dishes, cutlery, glasses and cups, pots and pans, bowls, knives. Greg and I took ingredients for our breakfasts that we prepared there and very much enjoyed leisurely mornings. While Enrique has plans to have a restaurant on site, currently you need to order in, go out or cook. Thus, be sure to take the food, snacks and drinks that you want. Celestino has quite a few markets and of course sells beer, but if, like us, you want some special wine, champagne or whiskey, best to bring it with. 

Our bungalow did not have wine glasses or a bottle opener; I’m confident that Enrique and Camila will happily supply both if you need them. They have scoped out the good restaurants in town and are happy to share their recommendations with you; be sure to ask. Greg and I do not recommend La Esmeralda, which, sadly, is right on the beach north of the property. Pescado zarandeado is popular here, as are ceviche, shrimp, aguachile, and oysters. Just a note, though: here they make zarandeado with mayonnaise and mustard, quite different than what we are used to in Mazatlán.

The couple is intent on promoting local talent and ecologically sustainable development. They told us all about the wonderful couple who have formed a marine turtle sanctuary, and the awesome group of empowered, joyous women who run the restaurant Celestina. 

ACTIVITIES
We spent three days and two nights just chilling: beach walks, morning and evening swims, leisurely conversations, reading, sunset cocktails, and some wildlife and astrophotography, of course. The beaches here are very nice. Toninas is on a bay, but a very open one, so the surf is strong. I took some photos of the cool dunes and rock formations on the beach, as we don’t see that here in Mazatlán. If we had stayed longer, I would have hired a panga to take us down to Las Labradas. I’ve always disliked that bumpy road leading to this world heritage zone and arriving by boat would be quite enjoyable. If you like to mountain bike, I’d urge you take your bicycles as Enrique has mapped a few wonderful routes. Greg wished his knee was healed as there’s a lot of good place to run. I’m guessing you could also go horseback riding; we saw quite a few horses. In season the Celestino community releases baby turtles, thanks to the turtle sanctuary. You can also arrange to go fishing, there is incredible bird watching, and Toninas has a couple of stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) and kayaking.

The first night of our stay was the lunar eclipse, the so-called “Super Flower Blood Moon Eclipse” of 2021. We were very grateful to set our alarms to wake us up at 2:30 am, as it was a thrill to watch the moon gradually darken, until it turned red and the Milky Way splashed brightly and completely across the sky from west to east! As the morning dawned, the Milky Way dimmed, and the moon regained her sheen. What a night to remember! And of course, being as it is so quiet there, we had no problem sleeping a few hours after the celestial show was finished. A few days later I had the pleasure to see that the astronomers at NASA published my lunar eclipse with Milky Way shot! Bless you, Toninas!

DETAILS AND PRICING

One Bedroom Bungalow (4 people maximum)


Two double beds, wifi, smart tv, stocked kitchen, dining area, living room, terrace, garden bathroom, air conditioning. 

Prices:

• 2499 pesos/night during the week, 3094 weekends with 2 night minimum

• High season Jul 15-Aug 22 and holidays: 3094 pesos/night during the week, 3500 weekends

Two Bedroom Bungalow (8 people maximum)

Same as the above but each bedroom has two double beds and there are two private bathrooms.

Prices:

• 4700 pesos/night during the week, 5794 weekends with 2 night minimum

• High season Jul 15-Aug 22 and holidays: 5794 pesos/night during the week, 6700 weekends

Double Room (4 people maximum)

Toninas also has an option of a simple room for 4 people maximum with mini fridge, stovetop, coffee maker, bathroom, terrace and ocean view. You will be renting just one of the rooms of the two-bedroom bungalow.

Prices:

• 2200 pesos/night during the week, 2800 weekends with 2 night minimum

• High season Jul 15-Aug 22 and holidays: 2800 pesos/night during the week, 3200 weekends

CONTACT

Toninasmexico@gmail.com, +52-667-489-8883

Mon-Sun 9 am – 7 pm

Camila and Enrique both speak English very well (and French and a few other languages)

Travel through Outer Space on a Day Trip from Mazatlán

Culiacán, in general, is not my favorite getaway from Mazatlán. I’ve gone there for concerts, art exhibits, CostCo and an occasional weekend away. I do very much enjoy a long walk along Parque Las Riberas, 12 km along the rivers, especially in the evening when the bridges are lit up (cycling, pedal boats and kayaks are also popular). I love spending time in botanic gardens, and Culiacan’s is beautiful, including plants as well as modern architecture and art: well worth a visit and perhaps a picnic on the grounds. Other people gravitate to Jardines del Humaya, the world-famous narco cemetery with its lavish mausoleums (If you want to visit, I recommend you go with a local in the morning). Thus, I’ve always felt that if I needed to go to Culiacán for some reason or another, there are things to do and see, but not much to pull me there eagerly.

That opinion changed radically earlier this week when I accompanied a couple of friends there for the day. What was it that delighted my soul? The newly refurbished Sinaloa Science Center Museum, MATERIA. I would describe it as a hybrid of a science and an art museum, one in which all the interactive exhibits work and are truly astounding! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The building itself is a gorgeous piece of architecture, at least on the inside, with angular shapes and the light streaming in through windows on all sides. The main attraction is Sideral, a huge meteorite that fell in a small nearby pueblo in the early 1800s. The museum has the large meteorite front and center in the main gallery. Over it is a gorgeous moveable wooden pendulum that moves several times a day (we attended at 3:30 pm) and generates a song, resonating to the magnetic frequencies of the minerals in the meteorite and of the people nearby. It is magical and completely mesmerizing! HIGHLY recommended!

In several galleries surrounding Sideral are art installations that, we were told, change every six months. I very much enjoyed what was there now, with two standing out for me: an exhibition of hanging glass called “meteor shower,” and a hammock holding five or six irregularly shaped geometric pieces; the shadows of the light on the floor were hexagons for each, thus showing us the power of perspective.

Heading upstairs was another standout exhibition called “Blossoms,” a set of white ceramic-looking kinetic sculptures designed by a Stanford mathematician. They are beautiful, mostly natural forms. When you push the button, they start spinning and the human eye tells us they move in entrancing ways.

We had only been in the museum maybe thirty minutes, and I was enthralled. The docents were all young but incredibly knowledgeable; some of the most outstanding I’ve encountered in Latin America. Kudos! One of them invited us to enter the IMAX-like theater to watch the show at 4:00 pm: Cubo Negro 8K. 8K is an immersive projection of images unlike any I’ve experienced before, the only one of its kind on our continent, I was told. Again, HIGHLY recommended. This was actually my favorite part of what I saw at the museum. We experienced going into space, via projections on the large screen and the floor. We felt that we spent some time on the Space Station, and then travelled through several nebulae. Definitely not to be missed.

There was significantly more to see at MATERIA, but we needed to leave Culiacán to make it home before it got too dark. If you go, I’d recommend you plan to also spend some time in the Botanic Garden as it’s right next door. While I did not experience the James Turrell light exhibit, “Encounter,” the only one of its kind in Latin America, I have attended two other exhibits of his and can wholeheartedly recommend them. There is one show at dawn and another at dusk, Thursdays through Sundays, and you need reservations. The show lasts one hour and costs 150 pesos.

Where to Stay
Since Encounter is at dusk or dawn, it makes sense to spend the night. Culiacán offers hotels at all price ranges. One conveniently located, very nice hotel that I can recommend is the Wyndham Executive. It is very near the MASIN: the Sinaloa Art Museum and it’s GAALS (Galería Antonio López Sáenz). The MASIN is a gorgeous early 1800s building with an arched central courtyard. Permanent galleries are downstairs and temporary ones up top. GAALS usually has a main professional art exhibit downstairs, and a series of student or young professional exhibits upstairs. I thoroughly enjoyed both. While the websites say these museums are open Tuesday-Sunday, I believe that during the pandemic they are only open Thursday through Sunday. We got in, but we had special permission and a private tour.

Around the corner from the art museums is a darling little coffee shop well worth your visit—TantoGusto. They have a diverse collection of brewing devices from around the world, are very welcoming, and serve sandwiches and pastries.

If you do spend the night, don’t miss out on a visit to Mirador La Lomita, the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with its panoramic view of the city. Day and night the view is very good. The cathedral is also worth a visit, as is Tomateros stadium. I have never visited the MIA Museum, but it is the world’s only museum dedicated to addictions.

Where to Eat
Restaurant-wise, I enjoy Cayenna Cocina del Mundo from the Panama group, Brasa y Masa for breakfast (or any time of day), Presidio Cocina de México, and if you are a meat lover, do not miss eating at local favorite, Palomar del Rio.

Enjoy your flight through space! Please let me know how it goes! I’m curious if they rotate the movies or change them out regularly.

Street Art Tour in Concordia

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers, Feliz Día del Amor y la Amistad. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being part of this community, for helping do good work here in Mazatlán, for enjoying the beauty and the people of our adopted city, for encouraging my photography and my writing.

Today I am joined in wishing you happiness by Chema—José Manuel Velarde Chávez, of Concordia; his wife Claudia Belén; and their son Angel Adán. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Chema is a graphic designer. By day he works in Mesillas on CAD programs on a computer, designing furniture and sizing parts so that the carpenters can do their magic. In the early mornings and evenings, however, Chema loves to draw and paint. He wakes up before dawn, turns on some music, and paints in his patio while the rest of the family slumbers.

A couple of years ago he decided he wanted to spruce up the street where he lives. His wife’s family owns most of the two block street, so he asked his in-laws for permission to paint murals on the alley walls.

The first mural he painted was on a door that no one uses anymore. He painted a charro or Mexican cowboy kissing a pretty lady in 2018. “Aw, you painted it for your wife,” I asked. Chuckling, he quickly caught on and said, “yes, yes, that’s right!”

In 2019 Chema added a catrina for Day of the Dead: she happily dances with the all-too-true caption, “In Mexico death is living culture.” This is a link to him painting the catrina.

After those two wall murals, Chema painted a window with some flower pots, then the wings that every town now seems to have to have for Instagram photo ops, his version of Frida (faceless, as he reminds me “her eyebrows are her distinctive trait”), and my personal favorite, a gorgeously colorful xolo or xoloitzcuintli dog, the intelligent, hairless pets of the Aztecs.

The family lives on the now very picturesque Callejón Nana Chon— Encarnación Valdéz Avenue, in this beautiful historic mining town called Concordia.

Chema tells me that he and Claudia have been pleasantly surprised at the response to his artwork, and the fact that it appears to be contagious. Residents of another nearby street have now painted and installed benches, and he’s thinking they are planning to paint murals as well. He hopes that the street art might provide another attraction for the busloads of tourists who visit here to tour the church and enjoy a raspado (shaved ice) in the plaza.

The couple and their family decorated the callejón or alleyway at Christmastime. Chema tells me that neighbors and townspeople came over to donate decorations they had to add to the display, so it became a real community effort. When we visited last week the alley was all decked out in Valentine’s finery. They even light it up at night for lovers to enjoy—evidently the callejón is known as lover’s lane! Soon they will be putting up superheroes in preparation for Día del Niño or Children’s Day.

The most challenging aspect of his voluntary beautification project? Finding the time to paint. He works 8-6 every day, till 1 on Saturdays. When he comes home he’s tired. In the winter the sun sets early, and he can’t paint in the dark. But he loves painting the murals in any spare time he can find, and Angel Adán loves watching him do it.

When we visited Chema had a Quetzalcoatl plumed serpent (which he’d drawn to resemble a dragon) ready to begin painting on Sunday. After that he hopes to paint a totem of the busts of three Aztec warriors: a jaguar, an eagle and a woman. I know I can’t wait to see either of these newest paintings! He is also planning a homage to Concordian musicians, including Greg’s favorite, Roberto Junior (“El Coco No”).

On Sundays Chema and his family open a “bazaar” or art market in the alleyway, where they sell handicrafts including painted roof tiles. He has painted since he was 15 years old; he loves it. As a young child he drew. He remembers his father loved to draw, and when he entered elementary school, his Dad bought him a set of colored pencils. It was his favorite gift ever.

I met Chema because my ahijado, Carlos, shared with me photos of Chema’s very colorful Mexican-themed street art, and I then got in touch with him in hopes of watching him paint. I invited Greg to join me for a ride to the mountains for the afternoon, and we found our spirits soaring from meeting a lovely young family so committed to spreading good cheer in Concordia and beyond. I trust you might join us in heading up to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Nana Chon
Who is the alley named after? Quite an incredible woman, actually. You can see a statue of her in front of the town hall on the plaza. Incarnación (“Chon” for short) Valdez was the town midwife, a strong, wise woman who singlehandedly stood up to the French army. You see, the French had their eyes on the gold that came out of the mines in Concordia and Copala. The men and older boys of both towns banded together in an effort to defeat French colonization of this area. The women and children remained in town, unprotected. When the French army arrived, they herded the local population into the homes along this street and threatened to harm the women and children unless they told the army where the men and boys were. Nana Chon stood up to them, encouraging everyone to remain silent. Her bravado gave them hope. Fortunately, I am told, the women and children were not killed or harmed, the location where the men lay in wait for the army was kept secret, and the Sinaloans were able to defeat the French.

Concordia is an excellent day trip from Mazatlán, just one hour southeast. The church and plaza are gorgeous, El Granero restaurant is delicious and was very careful about observing sanitary protocols during the pandemic, and you’ll enjoy walking around the quaint streets and visiting with the friendly residents. Chema paints portraits and would welcome work for hire; you can contact him through his Facebook page.

Easy Social Distanced Day Trip

During the day on New Year’s Eve I was going stir crazy, an all-too-frequent condition during this pandemic, sadly. Just after noon I asked Greg if we might go for a drive. We headed south towards Villa Unión, past the old textile mill to Walamo, winding around and eventually getting to Caimanero. Once we got there we had a picnic on the malecón, then turned around to head home as the sun was already beginning to set. Why did it take us so long, you might ask? We had originally set out for Agua Verde, a town we never reached.

Well, as you probably well know, yours truly loves her camera. First of all I had to take photos of all the cool vehicles and riders we saw along the road, from a couple of guys carrying a propane tank, to others with a big piñata for that night’s fiesta, to pickups and dump trucks and bicycles with migrant workers commuting home from the fields. Click any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The landscape out that way is just magnificent. The ocean, of course, but the farm fields and palm plantations with the Sierras as a backdrop make for some incredible views. There are farm animals everywhere, particularly horses and cows, and I was fascinated with all the birds of prey we came across. There are huge, gorgeous haciendas and more humble homes, in addition to all that migrant labor housing. You’ll see fish and shrimp farms as well. It’s a great half- or full-day trip if, like me, you are needing a breath of fresh air and some safe social distancing. We didn’t get close to any other human all day. 

Most of the farm workers were being shuttled home by the time we got there—early quitting time on New Year’s Eve—but there were some people working in the fields. The most heartbreaking for me were the families out there with the children. I know very well that it’s best that migrant parents have their kids with them, as it’s dangerous leaving them alone in the absence of school or child care. But it wrenches my heart to see them working the fields, despite the huge smile on this little girl’s face (note the bag of produce she’s just picked on her back).

The other heartbreak for me was a pair of young men who were spraying in the fields while working barefoot! I am not sure if they were spraying fertilizer or pesticide, but I sure did wish they had eye gear, ventilator mask, long pants and footwear. Still a gringa at heart, after all these years.

I’ve saved my two favorite experiences of the day for last, of course. The first was my virginal visit to a pineapple farm! I grew up in the US Midwest, and am well familiar with the sweet, aphrodisiacal smell of a strawberry field. A pineapple field has much the same effect! The air was heavy with the honey-like smell of these delicious treasures. The fields were gorgeous, and I was amazed by the baskets that the workers put on their backs to harvest the pineapples. I can not imagine how heavy they are when filled! While the workers had already retired, a few full baskets remained in the fields, so heavy that I couldn’t even budge them.

My final delightful experience of the day was meeting two guys plowing a field—again barefoot—with horses. I was so happy to find them! Last spring when Danny and I visited Puebla state we met two young men doing this. The morning sun, however, backlit the guys and the photos did not show off their labor as I had hoped. This time I was lucky that the setting sun perfectly lit their hard work.

I know it’s a challenge during COVID-19 to socially distance, but a drive out into the country, and some walks around sparsely inhabited areas, can be a huge sanity infuser. Enjoy!

Awesome Opportunity for Nature Lovers!

Protecting Migratory Birds in Mazatlán: A Workshop for Birdwatchers is a new FREE OF CHARGE series of excursions for English-speaking residents of Mazatlán, designed to acquaint us with the incredible biodiversity of Monte Mojino and its upcoming designation as a National Protected Area, the largest by far in the state of Sinaloa at 200,000 hectares in area. It will increase Sinaloa’s protected nature areas by 300%!

Monte Mojino is located in the municipalities of Concordia and El Rosario and is home to an extraordinary range of flora and fauna, including 310 species of native and migratory birds—at least 79 of which are in danger of extinction. Many new species have actually been discovered in the area.

This project, conducted by Conselva, our local award-winning conservation agency, with help from the Packard Foundation and US Fish and Wildlife, will involve five sessions, every other week, January through April 2021:

  • Four excursions:
    • January 28th
    • February 11th
    • February 25th
    • March 11th
  • There will be a final, closing event in April which will include a photography exhibit, when participants will share with the community of Mazatlán what they have learned.

For the four excursions participants will carpool in their own vehicles into Monte Mojino, where they will be guided by local experts and residents of the areas we’ll visit. Sandra Guido, director of Conselva, assures me the trips will be safe. Conselva has worked with the local communities for over twelve years and know the area and its residents very well. 

The goal of all of this is to build awareness of and respect for the natural areas of Sinaloa, as well as enthusiasm for conservation and ecotourism. It sounds like a lot of fun to me and something I don’t want to miss! To register for this terrific free workshop, fill out this form. If you’d like more information please send an email to mazatlanmigratorybirds@conselva.org.

Conselva also has a volunteer opportunity for you:

They will also be conducting a series of birdwatching sessions for youth (15 and up years old). These will be held on Saturdays beginning January 16th. They are looking for people to help engage the kids and help them find birds and wildlife to watch—no need to be an expert birdwatcher. Ability to hike around natural areas within the city limits and ideally some basic Spanish will be helpful. Send an email to mazatlanmigratorybirds@conselva.org if you are willing to volunteer. If you know of young people who would be interested in this, please share with them this link: https://www.conselva.org/aves-2020