A Morning in the Botanic Garden

Yesterday morning a photographer friend and I went to the botanic garden on Stone Island to see if we could capture a few pictures. It was a clear pleasant day and so very enjoyable! We saw a LOT of birds, and while my friend knows the names of most of them, I do not. Here I’ll share a few photos though.

I also really enjoy bees and butterflies. Sometimes these photos turn out well, and sometimes they don’t, as I don’t have a macro lens per se. I just zoom in on them and do my best to get good focus.

Since I last went to the garden, Amaitlán has built a whole new section. It’s not yet finished, but it looks to have three new ponds. The colors of the flowers, accompanied by the green of the trees and the water, sure delights the soul. Reflections also fascinate me, so I’ve always got to take a few of those as well.

After our photo safari we stopped to get a drink and have a few snacks. I couldn’t resist a few pics of the dive-bombing pelicans and the island in the bay, which is the reason Stone Island got its name.

On the way back to Mazatlán in the water taxi, I had to get the requisite shot of the two cruise ships in port with the lighthouse in the background. And the brewery 😉

Thanks for the beautiful morning, John!

Shark Tank, Mazatlán Style

dsc_0865UPDATE 3 February, 2017:
The aquarium is open again! Today a video purporting to be created by employees of the Aquarium is circulating on social media. It says that the Aquarium’s new director ordered employees to enter the tank and remove a yellow covering from the window shown above. As you can see in the photo, no yellow covering seems apparent. According to the video, the Aquarium personnel are not qualified to make any repairs or changes to the tank. Sadly, one erroneous hit with a tool, just as the workers finished, caused a crack in the acrylic. The video includes photos. It is hard to know, of course, what actually happened. To me this is hopeful, as it would mean the basic structure of the tank may be sound and the acrylic just needs replacing. Hopefully all will be sorted out soon.

UPDATE 2 February 2017:
The curved acrylic wall of the new shark tank, pictured above, cracked open yesterday afternoon about 6pm, just one and a half months after its inauguration. It was what so many had feared, given the storied history of the building of the tank and the final heated push to get it open before the change in city and state administrations. The rupture caused nearly two million liters of salt water to flood the surrounding area. Fortunately the fissure occurred after closing time, so no visitors were in the facility and staff were quickly evacuated. The Aquarium will be closed while a safety assessment is conducted and repairs are done. It has been reported that the 20 sharks and other sea animals are unharmed and will today be transferred to another tank. Mayor Pucheta promises legal action against those responsible for the shoddy design, labor or materials. Such a sad new chapter in this lengthy and expensive saga, and just before Carnavál.

Mazatlán’s long-awaited 2.5 million liter (660.5 thousand gallon) shark tank, which opened on December 23, includes one of those cool acrylic tubes you walk through to be completely surrounded by fish. The light in the kids’ eyes as they realize they are in the middle of a tank with 23 sharks is most definitely delightful.

Acuario de Mazatlán’s new Tiburonario was built at a cost of 80 million pesos over six years, two governors, three mayors and four aquarium directors; construction was far from the height of efficiency (final costs were 5x more than originally forecast), but unlike other projects, in the end this one delivered to us a first-rate attraction that will generate revenue and jobs for the city for years to come. The aquarium had 435,000 visitors in 2016—a 41% increase since 2013, and in early January when I visited the lines to enter snaked around the block and seating for shows was completely full. Last year the facility took in 20 million more pesos than in any prior year, and I have no doubt the new shark tank will add to that popularity. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with the aquarium’s Director, Milay Quintero Beltrán, just days after she was sworn in to her new position. I was impressed with the knowledge she demonstrated with only four days on the job! Lic. Quintero is a public accountant and holds a master’s in human resources. Brenda García, the Director of Marketing, joined us on my visit. They both were charming, hospitable and extremely enthusiastic about the aquarium, and made sure I was hugged and kissed by a sea lion in a private show. I was guided through the rescue facility, including the veterinary clinic and the temperature-controlled building where the sea turtle eggs are hatched.

I had not visited the aquarium in a few years, remembering it as tired and outdated. Its recent major remodeling, which is nearly complete, is the first in 36 years and one well worth checking out. More modern architecture and new acrylic murals jazz up the space, and plans include a new restaurant beside the shark tank; more fish, additional decorations and finishing to the shark tank itself; overall remodeling and updating with a consistent tropical theme; and the addition of habitats for both penguins and dolphins! If, like me, you wonder why those tinacos/water tanks right in front are such an eyesore, Milay assured me they will be covered up shortly.

The Acuario de Mazatlán opened in September of 1980 as part of the Bosque de la Ciudad (city park) project. The one-hectare site includes 34 salt water and 17 fresh water exhibition tanks, a botanic garden with 75 kinds of trees from around the world, three aviaries, and Latin America’s only frog habitat. It has partnership agreements with both the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and the Acuario de Veracruz. Mazatlán’s aquarium is administered by DIF (Family Development Department), SEMARNAT (Secretary of the Environment) and PROFECA (Environmental Protection). Its goals include education and rehabilitation. The aquarium regularly hosts school groups and collaborates with the Mexican Academy of Sciences to host “Science Saturdays” for local youth interested in science and technology. The on-site clinic has four veterinary staff who most commonly aid pelicans and sea turtles, but have been known to treat tigers, raccoons and all sorts of birds as well.

mapa-acuario-mazatlan

The aquarium’s sea turtle rescue program has protected over 4,500 nests and released nearly 300,000 babies. The hatchery facility is made of paja, or straw and clay walls, to keep the eggs at a consistent temperature. The eggs are all in OXXO coolers, as the chain of supermarkets sponsors the turtle rescue program. Did you know the eggs must be gathered from the beach within four hours of being laid? They gestate for about 40 days, and then the babies are immediately released. Mazatlán’s aquarium will host turtle specialists from all over Mexico in a convention February 7-9.

While sea turtle rescue is well known, you might not have heard about the aquarium’s Pato Pichichin program. The Pichichin ducks, who are in danger of extinction, reproduce on Bird Island, the northernmost island directly offshore—an environmentally protected area. Young pichichines leave the nest to come to Mazatlán’s lagoons, and some become separated from the flock. The aquarium receives about 300 of these babies annually. Aquarium staff also aid about 72 pelicans every year, most of them injured by fishing nets. Any wildlife that recovers sufficiently and is able to fend for itself is returned to its natural habitat.

The Acuario de Mazatlán is open 9 am to 5 pm every day of the week. You may, like me, be spoiled by having visited some of the world’s best aquariums. Mazatlán’s is much quainter in comparison. I went not expecting to enjoy myself, honestly, more out of curiosity, but I had a hoot of time! If you haven’t been, it’s well worth a visit.

In addition to the fish tanks there are extensive displays of reptiles, birds and amphibians. Admission includes access to all the shows; the four half-hour espectáculos run back-to-back from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm and 3:40 to 5:00 pm, and include tropical birds, sea lions, animals of prey and divers feeding the fish. Most of the aquarium’s show performers are rescue animals who cannot be returned to the wild.

Entry costs 115 pesos for adults and 85 pesos for children 3-11. Swimming with sharks or sea lions is an extra charge (300 and 400 pesos, respectively). The swimming still takes place in the aquarium’s original 123,000 liter main tank.

Did you know that sea lions live in captivity up to 40 years, and eat up to 25 kg of food per day? Or that an owl can turn its neck 270 degrees, not 360? I know you’ll pick up some more fun facts on your next visit, and greatly enjoy yourself. If you’re lucky, you might just get a sea lion kiss, too. Below is the official video from the inauguration of the shark tank.

AC/DC in Mazatlán!?

ac-dc-1

AC/DC is easily one of the most recognized names in Rock & Roll. Their music can be heard all over the world, all over the radio and all over Mazatlán, streaming out of bars, nightclubs, pulmonías, aurígas and cars. To many they are Rock & Roll, with an appeal from today’s youth (like my 21-year-old son) to those who rocked to the band’s first album in 1975. After the original lead singer, Bon Scott, died in 1980, Brian Johnson stepped in and became the “voice” and “sound” of the band until his sudden retirement last year. Axl Rose stepped up to finish the tour, but the future of the band is now in doubt. One thing seems to be for sure: the days of hearing Brian Johnson belt out You Shook Me All Night Long are gone. But wait….

What if I told you that you could see a group called Highway to Hell, with a lead singer who can hit high notes like a young Brian Johnson? What if I told you that group will be playing in Mazatlán at the International Convention Center on Saturday, January 28? Would it help to know that this group not only sounds like AC/DC, but looks like them, right down to Angus Young’s schoolboy outfit and Brian’s hair? They have performed all over the world and are respected enough by the real AC/DC to have shared a stage with Brian Johnson and Cliff Williams (bass player, soon to be retired). They rocked Hermosillo in November (https://youtu.be/2fcxqdQeLNg) and recently played to over 10,000 in Mexico City. This is the closest you can get to seeing AC/DC and it is coming to you real soon.

How does something like this come to happen? The commitment and energy of a local expat and longtime music fan, Ray Wright of El Sol La Vida, is making this happen. He has partnered with Tecate, the Mazatlán International Center and TV Azteca. If it’s a success, and I’m sure it will be, he promises to bring more acts to Mazatlán. I had a chance to catch up with Ray recently, and here’s what he had to say. Pay special attention towards the middle for a special promise from the band if the event is a success:

To see AC/DC on their last tour was price prohibitive. Even back in the 80’s, I’m sure I paid over $20 US (plus parking) to see a concert. Call it flashback pricing or whatever you like, but Ray is able to bring us this amazing outdoor open-air event with multiple bands and a DJ, encompassing six hours of music, for only 200 pesos. If you are a VIP rocker these days, 600 pesos gets you a seat at a table. The tables are for eight people, so why not invite some friends to come along as well? Either way you can’t go wrong with affordable food and beverages easily available. Here are the quick facts:

maz-into-center-2

Saturday, January 28, 7:00 pm
Mazatlán International Center
Tickets 200 pesos (VIP 600) – available all over Mazatlán:

Gran Plaza (beginning Friday, January 13) – look for a special kiosk
Mazatlán International Center
Bikinis Bar in the Golden Zone (Thursday – Sunday 6 pm – 4 am)
Athina Spa – Calla Bellisario Dominguez 1600 in El Centro
Reason’s Hair Salon in the Marina
Surf’s Up Cafe
TBM Offices in Marina next to Dock 7
or by calling Ray Wright 669-146-1626

Schedule is more or less as follows:

Doors open at 6:00 with DJ Nhas starting at 6:30
Opening Act: Local band, Beggars Banquet 7:30 – 9:00
Highway to Hell takes the stage around 9:30 and plays until around 11:30 or midnight
DJ Nhas returns and will play music as long as people are buying beer!

Let’s face it, living in Mazatlán rocks (pun intended). But it means that to see an international performer or band, you have to travel to Monterrey, D.F., or even the United States. Tribute bands are a way to fill the void without traveling. And if you’re going to see a tribute band, you should see the best of breed, which Highway to Hell certainly is.

Mazatlán, Family Style!

285941_2345147912557_1365801431_32746097_1131240_o1.jpg

Kids love Mazatlán! There is so much to do that it is hard to choose. If you are hosting grandchildren over the holidays, are on holiday here with children, or if you live here and are looking for something new and exciting to do with the kids during school break, here is the list for you! Enjoy!

  • Aquarium: The aquarium in Mazatlán is a lot of fun. The most exciting thing at the aquarium is that with the new tiburonario scheduled to open this monthyou will be able to swim with the sharks! In addition to the indoor marine exhibits there are entertaining bird, sea lion and animal shows held on outdoor covered stages. Aquarium staff do most of the rescue of marine animals and birds here in town, so we all very much appreciate you supporting this venue. Tel 981-7815.
  • Baseball/Basketball Game: Los Venados, our local professional baseball team, runs October-February. Games often feel like a party with a baseball game going on in the background, but the stands are always full of fun-loving baseball fans ready to cheer at a moment’s notice. Seeing a game here is different from the U.S. or Canada – come check it out. Basketball fans will find that the Nauticos put on a good show.
  • Batting cages and driving range: Pacific Golf Center on Avenida de la Marina is a whole lot of fun for younger and older kids, as well as adults. They also have batting cages, a bar, and a full restaurant. Tel 180-0919.
  • Beach day: Boogie board, body surf, swim, fly a kite… You can get chair-side service and do all your souvenir and gift shopping with the vendors at a hotel beach. Enjoy some ceviche, fresh fruit or turnovers/empanadas from a strolling vendor, and maybe some live music from a passing band. You can dine on fresh, affordable seafood in a palapa/thatched hut on Playa Pinos. Make sand castles, pick up sea shells and sea glass, play soccer or football, volleyball or catch. You name it, you can’t go wrong with kids and a beach. Stone Island (it’s actually a peninsula) feels like going back in time to a simpler, more charming era. Pretend you’re shipwrecked, or that you own your own private piece of paradise. There are plenty of restaurants with lots of adult beverages; the beach is great for kids as the ocean is pretty calm. On Deer Island you can get a few things to eat or drink. You can get tours to either island that include banana boating, snorkeling or jet skiing; Stone Island tours often include horseback riding. If you go on your own, Stone Island has an affordable water ferry (about US$3 round trip per person). In the early morning, you can go down to Playa Norte and watch the swim club swimmers do their ocean swims. Many are grandmas and grandpas and boy can they swim! In November each year the club does a Travesía, during which swimmers swim out to Deer Island! You are most welcome to join them in the early mornings, starting about 6:00 am.
  • Bicycling: Biking along the malecón/oceanside promenade is gorgeous, easy and fun! From Valentino’s to the Pedro Infante Monument is about 4 miles one-way, it’s of course a very level ride, and safely out of the traffic. Baikas has two locations along the oceanside promenade, tel 110-0267. They also do Segway tours of Centro Histórico. Want something a little more adventurous, perhaps for the teenagers—something tougher, like mountain biking? Güero, Kelly, will take you on a tour, or take you around the mountain bike course he has set up. His shop, Kelly’s Bikes, is on Avenida de la Marina, tel 914-1187. He has bikes to loan out as well.
  • Boat ride or water sports: You can have one of the playeros take you and your family out for a cruise on a catamaran around the bay for very little cash. Cruise past Bird, Goat and Deer Islands, and view the city from the sea. There are also sailboats, or you can go out on a party boat and enjoy music, dinner or sunset, tel 918-2360. Or, rent a couple of kayaks on the beach in front of one of the hotels, and enjoy some terrific family time paddling in the bay. In the Golden Zone you can also go parasailing, ride jet skis or banana boats. Before I parasailed I never imagined I’d enjoy it as much as I did! It is amazingly fun and exciting! Book a trip on the beach in front of your hotel.
  • El Bosque/City Park: Located one block off the malecón, just south of Ave. Insurgentes, this park has a large pond with waterfowl, swing sets and climbing gyms, a small zoo, and a walking trail. There are play areas in small parks throughout the city, though I recommend you check their safety before letting your kids climb up and slide down.
  • Bowling, skee ball, video games, pool tables: Great for hot, humid days or during the rainy season. Inside the Gran Plaza, Recorcholis, tel 983-2127, also has an ice skating rink. Alboa Mazatlán in the Galerías shopping center, 688-0005, also has pool tables. They both also have video arcades.
  • Fishermen: Sitting near the pangas/boats at Playa Norte beach, watching the fishermen bring in their boats, unload and sell their fish, and the birds try to steal the entrails, can make for a very enjoyable morning for a family. There is excellent fishing in Mazatlán, and if your children enjoy it, you can fish from shore or rent a boat to take your family out deep-sea fishing.
  • Hiking, bird watching and picnicking: Climbing up the lighthouse is one of our very favorite family activities. The climb only takes about 20 minutes, and the view from the top is gorgeous! On the north side of town, Estero del Yugo is a gorgeous nature preserve with both a coastal lagoon (fresh water) and estuary (brackish water). Your family can walk or bike several trails. Nature walks and plant medicine tours are offered year-round. They are primarily in Spanish, but Sandra and staff speak English and will do their best to accommodate you. Just give them a call at 989-8700.
  • Horseback riding: There is nothing like a family horseback ride on the beach, or through a forest of palm trees on Stone Island, tel 941-9549. From Mr. Lionso’s in Cerritos you can take horses up into the mountains, tel 988-0425.
  • Las Labradas Petroglyphs: A 45 minute drive north of Mazatlán, over 600 ocean-side rock carvings in this national archeological zone. 667-996-8450
  • Movies: Movie theaters in Mazatlán are MUCH more affordable ventures than they are north of the border. If you don’t speak Spanish, be sure to see a subtitled (subtitulado) movie rather than one that’s dubbed (doblado). Some of the major movie theaters in town are  Cinépolis in the Gran Plaza, in Sendero Plaza or Santa RosaCinemex at Galerías Mazatlán advertises a “4D” viewing experience, while Cinemex El Toreo and Cinemex Mazatlán are both on Avenida Insurgentes in the main part of town; Cinemas Gaviotas is an older theater in the Golden Zone near Valentino’s.
  • Paint ball: For some weird reason, paint ball is called “Gotcha” in Mazatlecan Spanish. Gotcha Las Espuelas is located just outside of town, tel 124-3434. Gotcha Sport, tel 981-1151.
  • Port tour: Watch the workings of the port from the Mirador or the Old Observatory. Drive, walk or bike up Paseo del Centenario to either of these places, and you will be rewarded with incredible views of the city of Mazatlán and the workings of its port—second most important in Mexico. See the loading and unloading at the docks, the boats of the largest shrimping fleet in the Mexican Pacific, as well as the tuna fleet. You an also hire one of the panga-owners to take you on a cruise through the Parque Bonfil, to see all the shrimp and tuna boats up close and personal.
  • Sea Turtles laying their eggs or being released: Witness sea turtles laying eggs on the beach from June through November or later every year. It is an amazing process to watch, but please don’t bother the nesting Moms! You can read a blog post about the sea turtles. Groups can make arrangements via the Aquarium to do a private release of baby sea turtles, or you may call the Aquarium to see if there is a release scheduled while you are in town, tel 981-7815. Release season is August to December. On Stone Island (at Estrella del Mar) there is a sea turtle sanctuary, and the kids (and adults) may very much enjoy visiting it. Tel 01-800-727-4653. Also Santuario Verde Camacho north of town: 6691-18-0629.
  • Skating: Bring your skateboard, rip stick, BMX bike or inline skates, or just your eyes and good humor to watch the festivities. The main skate park is in the median on the boulevard that runs beside the City Park/Bosque de la Ciudad. You can in-line skate along the malecón—rent skates at Baikas locations—or ice skate in the Gran Plaza at Recorcholis, tel 983-2263.
  • Snorkeling: Playa Norte has a sheltered beach, just south of the swim club and the outdoor gym, which has pretty interesting snorkeling: lots of colorful fish and sea glass. Remember that the Pacific is not the Caribbean; water here is not nearly as clear. On Deer Island you can snorkel for octopus or scallops. The oyster divers are also a very friendly lot here, and they will be happy to have you pay them to dive with them—only recommended if your kids are expert swimmers, of course.
  • Spray fountain/waterpark: Right across the street from the Fisherman’s Monument, the spray fountain installation is a big hit with local and tourist kids alike!  If the kids want more slide action than the hotel pool or the spray fountain can provide, take them up to Mazagua, on the north end of town on the way to the Hotel Riu or Emerald Bay. Tel 988-0041.
  • Surfing: Many kids would love to learn how to surf! In Mazatlán here are two options: Javier’s Quicksilver Surf, 6691-20-9703,  or Aqua Sports Center, tell 913-0451.
  • Tide pools: One of the BEST activities ever, on the planet, for families with young children. Bring a book of tide pool life along with you, put on some water shoes, and take a walk when the tide is out along the beach south of Valentino’s. Starfish, crabs, tadpoles, sea urchins… Gotta love it!
  • Volleyball on the beach: Play or watch local and national championships at Barras al Mar in the Golden Zone, 6699-13-0748.
  • Whale, dolphin and sea lion watching: One of our favorite activities! DEFINITELY do this if you are traveling here! Contact Oscar or Saúl at Onca Explorations, tel 913-4050. Nothing like having a marine biologist, who knows these whales intimately, cataloging and tracking their movements, teach you about them. You can almost touch these gorgeous creatures, and the sound of their breathing will blow you away! Read another blog post about this, one of our absolute favorite things to do here. Also swim with dolphins in the wild.
  • Zip linesHuana Coa is located in La Noria, close to the Los Osuna mezcal distillery. It is a whole lot of fun! They use double-cables for added safety, and state-of-the-art equipment. Tel 990-1100. Veraneando has twelve zip lines, including one where two people can ride/race in parallel. They also offer a river tour, hot springs, sweat lodge (temazcal) and ATVs. Tel 988-0425. If you haven’t zip lined, we HIGHLY recommend it.
In addition to the above year-round activities, there are also terrific seasonal events that you should try not to miss. These include:
  • Carnaval/Mardis Gras (a very family-oriented five days before Ash Wednesday—in 2016 February 4-9)
  • Easter Week processions
  • MotoWeek, a huge gathering of motorcycles from around the continent. Includes concerts, an expo and a huge parade (early April each year)
  • Independence Day, especially “El Grito” the night before in the main Plaza downtown (September 15)
  • Day of the Dead, altars and callejoneada parade (November 1 and 2)
  • Revolution Day (November 20)
  • ExpoCar, usually held in December, this is a car show and, I guess, drag racing event. Exhibitions, concerts, and lots of burning rubber.
  • Look for signs for special events such as Monster Truck shows, Lucha Libre, circuses (one going on somewhere in town at least once/month), carnavals/fairs (5-7 every year), NBA exhibition games, etc….
  • There are cultural events such as bullfighting (held occasionally) and cock fighting (held all the time at various venues). Look for signs around town or ask around when you here if you are interested.
  • Finally, there are often child-friendly shows put on around town, frequently for free. Consult the CULTURA Mazatlán calendar.

In the lists above I’ve only included things right here in town. There are also loads of things to do outside the city—small pueblos to visit, the petroglyphs at Las Labradas

We know those grandkids will be back soon! Please let us know what adventures you and your kids or grandkids enjoy, and we’ll add them in!

Baby Sea Turtles

dsc_0012You know the sea turtles come to Mazatlán’s beaches to lay their eggs. It’s one of the joys of living here, observing these beautiful creatures coming to shore, then losing their last ounce of energy to return to the sea.

Sadly yet fortunately, most of the turtle eggs are rescued by the aquarium staff or the other turtle sanctuaries in town. Once they hatch, they are released into the wild, in hopes they’ll procreate and come back to our shores once again. It is estimated that only one in 1000 hatchlings will reach adulthood. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

During the Gran Maratón del Pacífico each year is a huge public release of baby sea turtles. It was not my first choice for photographing, since there are so many smaller, more private releases that might give better photo ops, or so I thought. But, my friend wanted to go, so I joined in. It was, indeed, a huge mess of people. And, it was so joyous to watch the faces of the kids as they released the baby turtles.

The mother turtles are often about a meter long. The babies look so very similar to their mothers, and it’s hard to tell the size in the photos, but they are maybe three inches long. The sunset colors in the sky sure improved the photogeneity of the event.

If you haven’t joined one of the turtle releases, you owe it to yourself to do so. And it is a definite must for the grandkids or family who visit during the holidays!