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)

CosPlayers Mazatlán

I’ve written you before about cosplay in our fair city. Dressing up as anime or movie characters, and even acting the part, has become a huge worldwide industry, from Japan, Korea and China to the Americas and Europe. We’ve had several conventions in town, and this past Sunday evening La Mona downtown hosted an event by Carlos Reyes and his Copa Cosplay Pacífico.

The event included participants walking the cat walk much like a fashion show, and the judges choosing the best characters. First we got the top seven, then the top two. In between there was singing and some awesomely cool movies of cosplayers (locally called “freakies”) doing their thing on the beach and around time.

I love events like this. It’s wonderful to see people enjoying themselves and acting silly. I fell in love with the tiniest cosplayer, whose Mom also dressed up, though Dad sat to take care of her. Poison Ivy was my personal favorite—so much energy and joy of life infused into that character! She definitely stole the show. She took second place, while the giant machine-cat guy (please tell me the character’s name) placed first. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Freakies, adelante con las fotos; son tuyas, pero guarden mi © por favor. Si quieran unas para imprimir mándame mensaje privado, pf. Tengo muchas más que no he subido.

Last night they announced the national event will take place at La Mona on July 11th. I probably won’t be here for it, so please plan to attend and take photos for me!

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.

House of Good Vibrations!

Today we handed over the keys to the “House of Good Vibrations,” as I now call it, thanks to the love and generosity of over 80 individuals, couples and families who built and furnished the small blue “Home for Juan Manuel!”

18 people attended an appreciation ceremony this morning, during which the new owners, Don Rodolfo and Juan Manuel, expressed their thanks to the VidaMaz community. Juan Manuel and Don Rodolfo both were completely overwhelmed with your generosity. They both cried several different times and were at a complete loss for words. You truly have changed their lives and filled them with hope! They plan to move in tomorrow. Many people arrived today bearing food and gifts to help the men settle into their new home.

One of the attendees recorded the “giving of the keys” ceremony on her cell phone. Sadly the wind was rather gusty at times, but I believe  you can hear most of it. The full video is below:

We first announced this project to build a small house on November 25, 2020. Initially it was to be a 3 x 4 meter home with an outdoor bathroom and kitchen. Since Juan Manuel is on crutches (he has only one leg) and blind, we felt the home needed indoor plumbing, and you agreed. We ended up building a home that is 4 x 6 meters, so still very small, but very livable and much better than anything they would have dreamed possible. You even helped us install hot water! You all donated kitchen sink, cupboards, refrigerator, microwave, utensils, bathroom sink, toilet, shower, mirror, a shelf, a trundle bed, two tables, four chairs, a ceiling fan, boiler, a tinaco, concrete, gravel, doors, windows, septic tank… you truly rocked this! You gave monetary donations of 20 to 32,000 pesos. Thank you!

Every step of the way, if we had difficulties, you came through to help. We had been searching for weeks for a trundle bed. Two men will live here, but there is not enough room in the house for two single beds and a user of crutches to move around. Last week we kindly received the donation of the donor’s grandson’s beloved, solid wood trundle bed with two mattresses AND handmade quilts! Juan Manuel and Don Rodolfo were over the moon when they saw it. Zata installed the front walkway this week, but, of course, most of Mazatlán has been without water this week. How to make concrete for the stairs? No worries; we figured it out.

In the end, we came in exactly with the money needed. Greg and I personally paid for a bonus to thank Zata, our albañil; without his honesty and dedication I can only imagine how difficult this project might have been.

Total Spent: 130,795 pesos or US$6507

Construction: 94,886
Refrigerator: 1225
Boiler, install and protection: 7784
Walkway and yard work: 14,300
Electrical from street: 12,600

The amount above is significantly higher than our original estimate for this project, but that estimate was for a basic structure only: no windows, doors, plumbing, electrical nor interior furnishings. Even with the ease with which it functioned—your generous donations, no theft, an honest and dependable builder—it was way more work than any of us imagined it would be. Feeling the joy and happiness of these two men today, however, made it more than worthwile. I trust you are happy to have participated.

The full story of the building of this house is right here. You can read it from the beginning if you are interested:

  1. Nov 25: My introduction of Juan Manuel and his father, plus asking you to help with the project
  2. Dec 1: An initial budget plus 22 donations
  3. Dec 8: Our first hiccups: re-examining the initial plans and having to find a new builder
  4. Dec 13: Architectural plans and a wonderful new builder
  5. Dec 16: Ground breaking!
  6. Dec 21: Foundation and plumbing during the second week of construction
  7. Dec 24: A Christmas Message from Juan Manuel plus thank you’s to the new neighbors
  8. Jan 2: Don Rodolfo’s first glimpse of his new home
  9. Jan 10: The roof is up!
  10. Jan 18: 87,000 pesos collected, but trouble paying our builder
  11. Jan 26: Exterior is plastered
  12. Feb 1: Interior plaster, delays on the windows and doors prevent us proceeding
  13. Feb 18: House is painted; videos of interior, exterior and the view from the roof
  14. Feb 25: Kitchen is in!
  15. Mar 8: Refrigerator, boiler and an invitation to donors

Bless you all! I trust your heart is bursting with joy! Pretty much everyone who attended the ceremony this morning remarked at how moved they felt, how honored they were to be able to make a difference in someone’s lives, and how wonderful it is to be in the company of people committed to making this world a bit sweeter.

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.