Our Beloved Favorite: Stone Island

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We all love Isla de la Piedra, Stone Island. We love the:

  • Serenity—the long stretches of gorgeous beach with, normally, very few people. In fact, our family describes it to our visitors as “Gilligan’s Island.”
  • Smiling, welcoming faces who greet us in this lovely little town.
  • Number of ambulatory musicians who come by.
  • Fishermen preparing their boats to take out in the evening, working tirelessly to repair their nets for their night’s work.
  • Vendors and, especially, those who have the thighs to bicycle along the beach.

And we love the fresh seafood, caught that day and served raw or barbecued over an open flame.

Our favorite place to spend the day is Pili’s. We met Rudy, Barbara and the family of Pili’s owners when Danny was just three or four. We were introduced by our compadre, Ruben. Danny fell in love with the pretty Alhondra, who was 11 or 12 at the time, and is now married with a toddler and living in Tijuana. Pill’s makes the BEST zarandeado. Barbara sells fresh oysters and clams, and the cold coconuts are always a hit. As is a bucket of beer, or a piña colada.

Stone Island is one of our favorites, and is always one of our visitors’ favorite places, too. No, it’s not an island. It’s a peninsula. We get there from Mazatlán by water taxi. It’s part of what all of us love about going to the Isla for the day.

We love how, despite Mother Nature’s havoc, the Islanders rebuild. August’s Hurricane Marie brought waist-high flooding to the places on the beach, and the water stayed for several days. It ruined over 27 of the restaurants on the beach, and despite promises from State Secretary of Tourism, Francisco Cordova, and Mayor Carlos Felton, the islanders never saw one centavo of assistance, from either the state or the municipio. At least that’s what our friends tell us, and the Noroeste reported. Since the islanders are no longer permitted to cut down trees, they had to rescue timber from the flood waters. But they did. They have rebuilt. The restaurants, at least most of them, are again open for business. Though you can still see bulldozers cleaning up debris.

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How much longer will we have the serene beauty that is Stone Island, this idyllic paradise that is only a five- or ten-minute water taxi away from our daily lives here in Mazatlán?

Soon they will widen and pave the road from the airport. It will be much easier for tourists, who arrive via the new highway or by air, to get to Stone Island without needing to come into Mazatlán. No doubt development will follow.

And the construction of Amaitlán continues. Planned to be an eco-friendly mega-resort with lots of green space, you can see the first parts of it in the “Botanic Garden” on Stone Island. The first few rental cabañas are currently being built.

Most of our friends on the Island, the ejidatarios, are excited about Amaitlán. They believe it will bring them jobs, income, sustainability for their families and the environment on the island. I am much more skeptical. But, I have my fingers crossed. I can hope. I do know that I would love to stay in one of these little cabañas, amidst all this lush, gorgeous greenery, assuming I could afford to do so.

I guess this post is really a homage to one of our absolute favorite places on earth these past 35 years. Nostalgic, because we don’t want it to change. Hopeful, as we pray things will change in sustainable ways that support the environment and local residents.

Let me close this post with a great story that Rudy told us during our last visit. He tells us that there was a rainstorm recently during which it rained fish—un aguacero de peces! And, even though they were drinking when this event occurred, he swears it really happened.

Furthermore, Rudy told us that it wasn’t the first time it’s rained fish here in Mazatlán! According to him, El Sol reported years ago about a rain of fishes in Playa Sur ( was unable to find such a story on the internet). Our interview took place during a perfect day on the beach, but somehow the ocean breeze caught my camera’s microphone. My apologies. I’ve done all I can to minimize that windy sound… The story is great though, so, heeere’s Rudy!

The Best Views in Mazatlán

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Looking back at downtown over Goat Island from the top of Deer Island

Where are the best views of Mazatlán? Atop the lighthouse? From up top of the Freeman? I believe that the views from atop Deer Island rival even those taken from the air in a helicopter. They are some of the most glorious vistas our fair city has to offer.

If you’ve taken a kayak, catamaran, or any other kind of lancha over to the islands, or if you’ve swum, you know that. The water around the islands is so crystal clear—the color of turquoise—and you can view Mazatlán in its entirety, from north to south, with the Sierras as a backdrop. Click on any photo to enlarge it, or to view a slideshow.

Then, as you climb up the island from the beach, each hill reveals new views and surprises. I have climbed up the first hill before, but I had not done a trek of three of the four hills, as we did this past Tuesday. I have not gone to the backside of the island, and looked out from different elevations. It is truly stunning!

Petroglyphs in Mazatlán. No, not Las Labradas. Here in Town.
And, on Deer Island, in a cave on the back side, there are petroglyphs. Not just those north of town, in Las Labradas. There are petroglyphs right here in Mazatlán!

When our friends saw the photos, they said the petroglyph of the footprint looks like proof that aliens were here. Right next to the foot is a petroglyph of an animal with a long tail.

Footprint petroglyph on Deer Island, Mazatlán on the right. Modern-day pedicured foot on the left. ;)
Footprint petroglyph on Deer Island, Mazatlán on the right.
Modern-day pedicured foot on the left. 😉

Our Photo Class
It’s a funny story how I discovered this. I’m taking a (wonderful!) photography class with Salvador Herrera, and loving it. Well, he invited us to Deer Island for photography practice. He advised us to wear tennis shoes, and to bring sunscreen, a lunch, and water. He also said we’d be home by 2:00 pm. Little did we know that we’d be hiking all day, in quite precarious conditions, seeing the most spectacular views imaginable, and then even rappelling down into the cave with the petroglyphs, to return home after 5:00 pm! You gotta love Mexican communication style and spontaneity! It was an incredible day!

One of the students in our class is a cheerleader. He had a friend visiting him from León, and she’s a cheerleader, too. They were kind enough to do some jumps and flips for us, so we could practice our photography skills. Take a look.

Where is the Cave?
The cave with the petroglyphs is on the back side of Deer Island, just below the crest of the third hill. You climb up from the south side of the island, on the southern end of the beach. From the top of that first hill, you’ll proceed along the crest of the island, down and up two more hills. Then, on the top of the third hill (not the fourth or northernmost, the second from the north), you turn west and hike down in altitude a bit.

The climb gets steep and is not for anyone without great balance as well as good strength and stamina. The final entrance to the cave involves a five-meter sheer drop. Agile climbers can find footholds and handholds, but we used a rappelling harness and rope for added safety.

The Three Islands/Las Tres Islas
Quick! Do you know their names? Starting from the south: Isla de Lobos/Wolf or Sea Lion Island, Isla de Venados/Deer Island, and Isla de Pájaros/Bird Island. Many people and websites erroneously call the southernmost of the three islands Isla de Chivos/Goat Island, but that is actually the island in front of the lighthouse.

The biodiversity of the islands in our bay is an incredible treasure. Four climactic zones are found within such a small area: semi-desert, tropical, coastal and mountains. Over 500 species of birds can be found here, including gorgeous waterfowl and my favorite, blue-footed boobies! 20% of the species found here are unique to this area—you can’t find them anywhere else! The islands are composed of volcanic rock, landslides and foothills. On the islands you can find cacti, agaves, lichen, and deciduous shrubs including lots of beautiful plumeria. Plus, of course, goats, lizards, a multitude of butterflies and other wildlife.

The middle island, Deer Island, is the most-visited of the three. Its attractions include its beach, with fine white sand and crystal clear water, rippling out from the beach in increasingly darker shades of turquoise. The north side is great for snorkeling, lobsters and scallops, and it makes for a terrific kayak trip. Deer Island is 2.3 kilometers off the coast, 1.8 km, long and between 250 and 700 meters wide. It’s highest point is 178 meters (and don’t my legs know it!), and it has an area of about 54 square hectares.

Bird Island, on the north, is 120 meters high and has an area of 48.5 hectares. Goat Island is pretty much inaccessible.

For Sale?!
While most anyone in town will tell you that these three islands are an ecological preserve, and I sincerely hope they are protected by legislation, there is currently an advertisement to sell these three natural treasures.I do hope it’s a joke!

Do You Know the Legend of the Three Islands?
It is said that the indigenous people of this area were suffering from a succession of horrible hurricanes and flooding. The Mazatl people were beside themselves with grief; they were exhausted and starving.

The village chief asked the curandero what he could do to put things right and bring prosperity back to his people. The curandero went into a trance, and told the chief that the only way to put things right would be to sacrifice one of his three daughters—one of the three beautiful princesses—in order to restore the welfare of the pueblo. The chief loved all his daughters dearly, and was distraught because he loved his pueblo, too. He just could not bear to sacrifice one of his daughters.

Unbeknownst to the chief, his daughters swore a secret pact. The three of them loved their home, their neighbors, and their father so much, that they would sacrifice themselves and thereby restore the prosperity of the area. One night, under a full moon, dressed in white and with the diamond their mother had given each of them when they were born, the three princesses held hands and walked into the ocean, drowning themselves for the sake of their people. One sister’s hand came free, and she was swept slightly away from her sisters, but the other two sisters hung onto each other tightly.

The morning after their sacrifice, the Mazatl people saw three gorgeous islands out in the Bay of Mazatlán! One island was located slightly to the north, on its own, while the two to the south were connected. That was when they discovered that the princesses were missing! Such an act of pure, selfless love!

Thereafter, the climate changed and the weather of Mazatlán became tranquil and pleasant. To this day the three princess islands continue to protect the people, sheltering them from winds, storms and hurricanes. It is said that in the heart of each of the three islands can be found a diamond.

Do you know the name of the annual swim out to Deer Island? Yes? The Travesía!

Even if you are not incredibly mobile, you can get out to Deer Island on a boat and enjoy the views from the beach. If you haven’t done so, I highly encourage it. Spend the day; you’ll feel like you’ve gone to a Greek Island. If you are fit, take a hike up, at least to the first hill. The views will astound you. If you want to go to the cave, I’d recommend you go with someone who knows the route; it’s pretty tricky, at least for my level of adventurism.

And, of course, we couldn’t have asked for a better day!

An update/adaptation of this post appeared in M! Magazine in October, 2015 under the title, “Three Time’s a Charm.”

Nos Fuimos de Pinta/Playing Hooky

This is for you, Irma and Jeanette!

We’ve been working wwaaaaaayyyy tooo hard the past few weeks. We definitely needed a day off. And, now that Danny’s out of school, we thought we’d go over to our own local “Gilligan’s Island” (Stone Island) and enjoy a relaxing day of swimming, eating, and lounging on the beach.

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them or see a slideshow. Mouseover a photo to read the caption.

Relaxing:

Village life:


The season:


Musicians:

Vendors:

 

High Tides/High Sands

 

The last 2-3 weeks have seen tides higher than we’ve seen in a long time here. Often this time of year the waves splash up over the seawall near Valentino’s, sometimes even onto Avenida del Mar. But this year, the waves have even been splashing onto the Avenida in Olas Altas.

Last Thursday we were taking our morning walk and we had to turn back because we were getting sand blasted. We’ve noticed the last week or so that there are 2-3 inches of sand all along the malecón in various places, as well as onto the street.

The surfers are of course happy with these waves, as are the body boarders. Though the waves are too high for some. The fishermen have not generally been pleased. The waves have overturned quite a few of the pangas, and the port as well as the beaches have been closed a few times due to the high seas. The fishermen have had to put their pangas up on the malecón several times for safe keeping. Shrimp season this year is predicted to be fantastic, thanks to all the high seas plus the rain.

Today we bicycled down to the Pedro Infante statue. We were, gratefully, splashed by waves a few times as we rode. What was most remarkable, however, is that the beach is AT LEAST ONE METER HIGHER than it normally is! There are places where you can now almost walk from the malecón onto the beach. There are numerous palapas into which the waves are now entering freely. The few palapas that have laid concrete flooring, that are normally a foot or two above sea level, they now have sand for flooring. La Corriente and other palapas near the Hotel De Cima have had to bring in bulldozers to dig their spaces and furniture out from under the sand.

In the photo at left, note that the round table is normally about one meter ABOVE the sand. The lower part of this palapa, normally, is well above head height. Not this week!

In this next photo, please note that the sign normally has a pole that keeps it a couple of feet/half meter or so ABOVE the sand.

And all this, with no hurricane, and with no real horrific storm. It’s eerie.

In addition to all the high seas, of course, we have had heavy rains. It is rainy season. Saturday a week ago we received in one day one-third of the rain we normally get in one year! Nine inches poured down in seven hours. Thousands if not tens of thousands of homes have been flooded repeatedly, and most of those families have lost all their furniture. It rained high in the Sierras as well, and as the rivers brought all that rain down to the sea, the rivers carried in them tree trunks, dead cows and pigs, silt, sediment, and trash of every sort. The tides were just right that the rivers washed it all out to sea, and then the waves came in and washed it all up to the beach. Everyone has spent the last two weeks cleaning up wood and other items from the beaches. It’s been a remarkable, community-wide effort.

 

Holy Week and Easter in Mazatlán/Semana Santa y Pascua en Mazatlán

If you say “Semana Santa” and “Mazatlán” in the same sentence, most people think of masses of national tourists crowding the beaches, partying in the clubs, and enjoying banda music.

We took a couple of videos of the banda Las Brisas on the beach at Inn at Mazatlán, if you’d like to see.

But this, the first Holy Week that we’ve actually stayed in Mazatlán, turned out to be quite a sacred event as well, thanks in large part to the young people of Pajuma, the Catholic youth group. This group of young people assembled behind us, in the stadium, from Thursday through Saturday to celebrate Holy Week and to pray for peace.

Most of the photos in this blog post are from the local newspaper, as I didn’t take any photos in church, and didn’t have my camera ready for many of the events.

PALM SUNDAY/DOMINGO DE RAMOS
Palm Sunday surprised me, as we showed up at church to find an entire marketplace of palm frond braiders selling their wares in the little plaza in front of the church. There was quite a variety of these beautiful folk art pieces, many of them very detailed, and very reasonably priced.

Most parishes in Mazatlán seem to conduct a reenactment of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem. Actors dress up as Jesus on a donkey, as well as as the Apostles. Observers carry their palm fronds and cheer as Jesus comes into Jerusalem. These are some photos from the procession downtown, conducted by the Pajuma kids. They left the Templo de San José to proceed to the Catedral, and then after mass to go on to the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe down at La Puntilla.








































MAUNDY THURSDAY/JUEVES SANTO
Masses on Thursday usually include the traditional washing of the feet. This is of course the night of Passover, Jesus’ last supper with his Apostles. At that Passover celebration, the Bible tells us Jesus washed the feet of his friends. The humility inherent in washing someone else’s feet makes Maundy Thursday one of my favorite religious celebrations. Here, however, they wash feet a bit differently than what I’m used to in the States (I’m used to us parishioners either getting our feet washed or being able to wash the feet of others). Here the priest washes the feet of 12 men from the parish, representing the 12 Apostles, who are seated in front of the altar.

At the end of mass the altar is stripped and communion is stored away until we can celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Parishioners exit Mass in silence, or stay in the church for the Easter Vigil (Adoración al Santísimo), accompanying Jesus during his night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemene.

This mass, for me, was quite awkward. We were all inside, meditating on the impending sacrifice of Our Lord. Outside, pulmonías (open-air taxis) were going by, music blaring on giant speakers, filled with drunken revelers hooting and hollering. While I felt happy for Mazatlán that people were filled with joy, and that much-needed money was flowing into the local economy, it poignantly captured the “life separate and apart” from larger society that Christians are exhorted to follow.

GOOD FRIDAY/VIERNES SANTO
One of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, today commemorates the day on which Christ died on the cross. Many parishes in Mazatlán conduct a Vía Crucis, or the way of the cross, reenacting Christ’s carrying of his cross to Calvary and, sometimes, his hanging and death. These reenactments can get painfully graphic.

The Vía Crucis usually culminates with a mass, during which parishioners kiss the feet of Jesus on the cross. Again, this is one of my favorite religious ceremonies of the year. Here in Mazatlán they stand and kiss the cross. In the US I was used to kneeling to kiss the feet of Jesus, on a larger cross than what is the custom here.













HOLY SATURDAY/SABADO DE GLORIA
Culminating Holy Week for many Catholics, Saturday evening is the lighting of the pascal fire, or the “fuego nuevo.” I always love this night, because the church is completely dark. Every parishioner brings a candle, which are, in Mexico, conveniently sold in front of the church on Holy Saturday. Fire is brought in from a bonfire outside, and used to light parishioners’ candles. The fire is passed from parishioner to parishioner, and the church is gradually filled with light and hope. It’s a gorgeous sight. A few Easter hymns are sung, during which the lights of the church are gradually turned on as well, and we can again sing “Aleluya,” because Christ is risen.

It is at this mass that we renew our baptismal covenant, renouncing evil and professing our faith. Holy water and sacred images are blessed. We can all go home and eat what we want, because the penance you’ve observed for the 40 days of Lent is complete. Unless, of course, you wait till Easter Sunday to attend mass 🙂