Get Your Pajaritos Now!

One of the most enjoyable local fishing traditions in Mazatlán is when the pajaritos run. In English these delicious fish, normally fried up whole here, are called ballyhoos, flying halfbeaks or spipefish, closely related to needlefish. They are called “flying fish” in our local parlance because they glide over the surface of the water at up to 60 kph/37 mph.

The fishing boats glowing on the bay and reflecting on the beach as they catch pajaritos

Last night the boats were all fortunately very close in fishing, and you could easily watch them come in to unload and sell. The energy was palpable and festive; the fishermen make good money for just a few hours’ work. It was a fun family scene, far tamer than in non-pandemic times but still a lot of excitement. You can maintain your social distance and get down to the boats to buy your fish. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

In May of 2019 I took my tripod and good camera down to Playa Norte to capture the joy and excitement of this event. You can see those photos and read an in-depth story here. This year of course we have a pandemic, and I was not comfortable to take more than a quick masked walk through the area and photos with my cell phone.

Pajarito season can last just a few days or, if we’re lucky, a few weeks. So, head down to your nearest fishing boat mooring and get yours! You can find them on Stone Island, at the embarcadero to Stone Island, and in Playa Norte. It’s best to take your own container—a big bucket or smaller bowl or Tupperware will do. They were again selling for 40 pesos per kg and cleaned ones for 100 pesos per kg. If you don’t want to cook your own, local seafood places have them on the menu now. They are delicious! If you haven’t tried this local tradition, don’t miss it. If you have, I’m sure you’re happy to know the pajaritos are back.

Lost Mazatlecan Tradition?

DSC_4630©Mazatlán has a tradition of fishing that dates back probably a thousand years: shrimping with hand nets. The gorgeous way the tarayas spread out and then splash onto the water has always fascinated me; it’s a very tranquil, rhythmic dance. Below are a couple sequences of the net throwing, to give you a better idea.

Riparian shrimp fishermen go out in small pangas in pairs. Reminiscent of the gondoliers of Venice, the non-fisherman sits in the back of the boat and holds a long stick (la palanca, made of mangrove wood) with which he pushes the boat through the shallow lagoon or estuary. The second person stands in the front of the panga and casts the net. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Watching shrimp fishermen work in the estuaries and lagoons of Mazatlán has brought me joy since I first arrived here on La Bala train in 1979. Back then much of the Golden Zone was still covered with waterways (Laguna Gaviotas and Estero El Sábalo), as was the whole of the marina area (Salvador Allende). El Venadillo, Laguna del Camarón and Estero del Yugo were much larger. And there were shrimpers everywhere! We were all in shrimp heaven!

Just as we can hail an oyster diver or a fishermen to buy his catch today, up to a few short years ago we could buy the catch direct from shrimpers easily here in Mazatlán. But now? It’s a gorgeous and delicious tradition awaiting the final nail in its coffin. I posted a couple of photos on Facebook a few days ago of buying shrimp from the shrimpers in Estero de Escopama, and I immediately had about 20 people asking me privately (they don’t want others to know!) the secret to where they could go to buy such shrimp. Now that we’ve cemented over our waterways, we have to travel that much farther to see the beauty of the tarayas.

If Mazatlán were Patzcuaro, we’d be promoting the beauty of our traditional fishing methods as tourist attractions. There, of course, the “butterfly net” fishermen catch tourist tips much more frequently than they catch fish. In Mazatlán, however, we seem to have purposefully worked the past 50 years to kill our centuries-old tradition. At the same time we seek UNESCO certification as a Creative City in Culinary Arts, we lose the tradition for harvesting the shrimp for our famous aguachiles.

I was very fortunate to be welcomed into the last hand net shrimping cooperative in our city, The Veterans of the Mexican Revolution. They most kindly agreed to take me out with them while they fished. The first day I joined them, they caught 135 kg of shrimp that they sold to the owner of a pescadería at the Stone Island Embarcadero. The second day I joined the group they sadly caught far less: maybe 35 kg. They told me that was because it’s the end of the season, and because it was a cloudy day. Cooperative members share equally in their catch. Some may choose to take their daily pay in shrimp, others prefer cash. Either way, it’s equal: you fish, you get paid.

85 year old José Ibarra Rodriguez is the only surviving founder of the cooperative. In the video below he tells me that they started the fishing cooperative in 1967, and their first day of fishing was August 16, 1968. At the time, they purchased a 50 year federal concession to fish. There are currently 24 members in the co-op.

However, due to the government losing documentation, and to the emphasis on tourism and development over the environment, over the years they have lost most of the estuaries that they used to fish, and are currently fighting over the rights to everything between Escopama and Pozole (Dimas).

The estuaries and lagoons of Mazatlán used to be lined with mangroves, filled with shrimp and fish, and home to endemic and migratory birds. Our gorgeous bay, dozens of miles of beaches and the wetlands, with our view of the Sierras to the east, is what attracted the Who’s Who of Hollywood as well as so many renowned writers and artists to our city.

The sad thing to me is that very soon we will have to go even farther to see the beauty of the tarayas. Other fishermen in the group tell me they have lost their concession to fish the Escopamas, and that the Salinitas concession has also expired. Mazatlán’s centuries-long culinary tradition continues to die out at the very time we seek UNESCO accreditation.

I leave you with a few happier shots of the pelicans that gladly clean up the smaller fish that the fishermen fail to throw back in, as well as some cormorants fighting over a fish.

Morning Boat Ride

It’s nice to have friends who love photography, and who are birders. I’ve lived in Mazatlán all these years, I’ve made how many trips out in our bay in a boat, but I’ve never seen one of our famous blue-footed boobies. I have been longing to see them as they look so incredibly geeky in the pictures I’ve seen.

As of this morning, and thanks to friends with good eyes and birders’ instincts, that is no longer true! Below are a few photos of the funny little guys, out on Dos Hermanos Islands. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

My friend John retold a legend I had heard several years ago and forgotten about. Do you know why the two white islands off the lighthouse are called “Dos Hermanos”? There were identical twin brothers, and both had girlfriends. They were both happy and healthy, and one day the brother proposed to his girlfriend. When she accepted and he told his brother, he also decided to get married, and they planned a joint wedding. On the wedding day they discovered—oh dear—that they were dating the same woman! She thought she was dating only one man, not realizing they were two brothers! The brothers became enraged with each other and challenged themselves to a duel, during which both died and fell into the sea. The woman then cursed them both to a life stuck in the sea, having birds defecate on them everyday. Poor guys. And that’s how we got our two white islands, lol.

This morning was rather foggy, which made for lots of changes in the light depending on whether the sun made its way through the fog or not. It seems to be sea fog, with plenty of blue sky above it, so when it clears it is nice and clear. I fell in love yet again with the rock formations out in our bay. The sedimentary layers, the colors, and the shapes are mesmerizing. In addition to Lion’s Head and Laughing Face, our guide today also showed us Trump Rock: complete with yellow cowlick above his face!

You will recall that for several years the sea lions abandoned Mazatlán. I fear they might do so again, as they get so harassed by fishermen and tourists. Today our boat pulled up pretty close to them, which scared me, but they didn’t seem in the least perturbed by us, fortunately. I do love these creatures, and I loved how the sky and the light kept changing as we went around Turtle Island.

Behind the lighthouse we found a whole bunch of fishermen catching baqueta, which is a fish new to me. Online it translates to “ramrod,” which I don’t know in English, either. When I asked a guy to hold up one of them, he held up a pargo, as you can see. So, I guess I’ll have to google the fish.

All in all, a great hour spent this morning with some good friends on the water, followed by a warm cup of cappuccino. Life does, indeed, get worse!

Disrespected Beauty

dsc_0107Mazatlán is blessed with estuaries, lagoons, the ocean, rivers, and all the water fowl and marine life that go with it. Everyday we see glistening fishing boats casting their reflections in the water, and we are blessed to eat the delicious product of their labors.

Perhaps because we are so spoiled by all the natural beauty surrounding us, Mazatlecos all too often seem to take it for granted. Without thinking, seemingly, people throw trash on the beach or the coastline, and that trash ends up in our waterways and all too often into the stomachs of our marine life, murdering them. Especially harmful are fishing nets, lines and plastics, as they entangle marine life and kill them.

One of the saddest of such beautiful places in Mazatlán for me is Estero del Infiernillo. It’s the body of water to the north of Avenida Gabriel Leyva as you go over the bridge, between Avenida Juan Pablo II and Avenida General Pesqueira. I love this place! It is gorgeous! Yet, it is horribly, heart-wrenchingly awful. The photos in this post were taken from where the star is on the map below.


I know the area fairly well, because our son was a Scout. The Scouts went out to Estero del Infiernillo about once a month for years and years to clean up the garbage. We, and mostly they, would pack dozens and dozens of trash bags full of garbage and remove them from the estuary. It would feel so good! Nature had a chance to shine again after our cleanups! Alas, the following month, you’d never known we had done a clean up, as the trash had somehow always reappeared. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

People in the neighborhood tell us that Mazatlecos come to the estuary specifically to dump their trash. The city has a big sign posted, warning that there should be no dumping of garbage here. The sign is obviously widely ignored. There are many fishing pangas that anchor here, making the area all the more scenic. It’s my guess that these fishermen, also, frequently throw entrails and other trash onto the shore, making the area stinky and unsightly.

Estero del Infiernillo is gorgeous! It has good views of the military school hill and the faro/lighthouse, and in the other direction great views to the cranes of Parque Bonfil/the port. Despite the trash strewn everywhere there are loads of water fowl, and on a sunny clear day the muddy, brackish water looks blue.

A couple of years ago the Municipio put in a nice park at the estero: a basketball court and soccer field combination, jungle gym and swings. Later, they added in one of the gyms we are fortunate to have all over town. At the time they built the park, there were plans for the city to clean up the area and to have kayak rentals in the estuary; plans that have never come true. Now it’s still usable but pretty run-down; the most remarkable thing are the many shoes hanging from the wires.

Kayaking in the area would be absolutely beautiful, even with the trash, but if we as community members could find a way to come together and re-educate ourselves, so that Estero del Infiernillo, and other waterways in town, stayed free of trash, how much better all our lives would be! I shudder to imagine anyone eating fish caught amidst all the garbage flung in that estuary, yet fish there they do.

Teacapan, Sinaloa

Teacapan, Sinaloa

We visited the peaceful fishing village of Teacapán this past weekend, a beautiful place for bird watching, kayaking, fishing or just relaxing that is located a couple of hours south of Mazatlán. The biodiversity of the mangrove forest and estuary were breathtaking.

The area between Escuinapa and Teacapán is scheduled by FONATUR for major development. In a few decades the Mexican government plans for this charming and pristine area, teeming with wildlife, to look a lot like Cancún.

This of course breaks our hearts, but it seemed to be excellently good news to most of the locals with whom we spoke. Development for them means jobs, income, food, and a better quality of life. To us, it means destruction of the incredible mangrove ecosystem, estuary and bird habitat, very similar, no doubt, to how Mazatlán’s Golden Zone looked in the 1950s, before the estuary here was filled in, the mangroves destroyed, and the hotels built. The estuary or lago as those in Teacapán called it, is filled with fish, oysters, crab, and shrimp.

Getting There
The drive from Mazatlán to Teacapán is very easy. You take Highway 15  (toll or free road) south through Villa Unión to Escuinapa (88 km from Mazatlán), then turn onto Highway 1 along the coast to Teacapán (another 40 km). The latter highway has its share of potholes. The vista on the journey is excellent. We made a very quick trip, arriving on Sunday afternoon and returning on Monday evening due to the holiday.

The Town
We were told Teacapán has 6000 inhabitants. It lies right on the border between the states of Sinaloa and Nayarit, though it is part of Sinaloa. It is built around a central plaza which has the traditional band stand and a quaint church.

It is right on the coast, but faces a long peninsula that the locals call “el otro lado.” Yes, that’s usually the term used to refer to the United States, “the other side,” but in Teacapán it refers to the “island” (it’s a peninsula but is called isla by the locals) offshore, covered in mangrove trees, the other side of which is supposedly an incredibly gorgeous beach. Trouble is, you need a lllloooooonnnngg drive to get to that beach! There is also a place on the island called “Texas.”

Looking from town, you can see what looks like an inlet/outlet to the ocean, but mostly you look at the calm lago (which is really a 30 mile long estuary) and beyond that the island. Thus, you don’t hear crashing waves as you would on a more usual bay.

The valley is rimmed with mountains, so it’s a very gorgeous view. One of the main mountaintops is said to look like a man’s face. The locals say it looks like George Washington.

Lodging and Food
Our hotel (María Fernanda) was clean, bright, affordable, had two pools and a restaurant, and the shower had hot water. It was located right on the water with beautiful views. There was wireless internet in the lobby but not in the room.

Teacapan, Sinaloa
The town seemed to have very few formal restaurants. We ate in the hotel; there was another restaurant run by a Canadian right next door (Wayne’s), and a family-owned palapa restaurant was just down the malecón. We saw was a cocina económica on the plaza, and various more informal eateries and botaneros on the main road into town.

We ate a wonderful pescado zarandeado for dinner the day we arrived, and there were crab, prawns, and scallops galore. We bought some fresh prawns and crab meat to bring home with us for dinner; yum!

Mangroves and Wildlife
The mangroves of Teacapán are a famous bird watching area, home to 250 species of birds. The Marismas Nacionales are the largest coastal mangrove area on Mexico’s Pacific coast. We saw great herons, and little blue herons, white herons, cranes, lots of osprey, roseated spoonbills, cormorants, a fairly unusual bird called a boot-billed heron (I believe), flycatchers, and a host of other birds big and small, including the usual gulls, pelicans and frigate birds.

(You bird lovers may like to read my “Crane Convention” blog post, which took place in Mazatlán last year.) 

We found a terrific guide, Victor Méndez Denis (tel 695-954-5386). He told us he is licensed by the federal Department of Tourism as an ecotour guide, the only one in town. He has a very nice, clean, covered boat with a very quiet motor that holds about 15 people. When he told us he could talk to the birds we thought he was joking; we laughed and called him Dr. Doolittle. But, indeed, Victor called quite a few birds, and seems quite adept at calling. I’m confident most birders would be thrilled.

He took us on a cruise out to “the other side,” Bird Island and a few other places, and we found him to be very knowledgeable. He explained to us that four out of the seven kinds of mangroves in the world can be found in Teacapan: black, white, red and button. The red mangroves are especially plentiful, extending their roots down into the water to form a “reef” in a very similar manner to the way in which coral grows. This reef teems with wildlife: birds in the tree branches, crabs and all sorts of aquatic animals among the tree roots. We were told there are cayman in the water, but we did see quite a few people snorkeling, either oystering or spearfishing.

In quite a few areas along the “other side,” the island, there are oyster shell mounds, said to be the remains of oysters harvested by native people over 4000 years ago. Some say they are burial grounds. The mounds are extensive.

Teacapan, Sinaloa

There are loads of oysters to be found in the fresh water here. They are easy to harvest, too; not like the rock oysters in the ocean off Mazatlán, which require the divers to hammer and chisel. The Teacapán oyster divers that we saw only used their hands. Our guide, Victor, bought 10 kilos of fresh oysters for 150 pesos. Quite a great deal, we thought. He tells us they are much sweeter and better than the rock oysters.

The fishing tours advertise fishing for snook, red snapper, grouper, sea bass, trigger fish, jack crevalle.

Next Time
Next time we go, we’d like to tour the estuary at low tide. Victor told us many of the islands in the estuary actually become connected at low tide, and the birds come out from the mangroves to eat on the sand bars. Would definitely like to see that!

Teacapan, Sinaloa
Would also like to rent a kayak and glide through the mangroves; it would be gorgeous. I’d like to get out to the beach. Seems to me you should be able to take a boat out around the peninsula and access the beach that way, rather than making the long drive. But, as we didn’t do that, I am not sure.

Isla Isabel is a couple of hours boat ride from Teacapán. We could also go from Mazatlán. I have long wanted to go to this national park to see the blue-footed boobies. People call it a miniature Galapagos, nearby here in the Islas Marias. It is one of the main seabird nesting areas in the Pacific, with 92 bird species recorded. There is also good snorkeling. Due to CONANP protection, a visit means you must be accompanied by a licensed guide, and I believe you have to camp if you want to stay overnight.