Nearly Secret Gem of an Overnight Trip

DSC_5157The December party season is exhausting. After the holiday, wouldn’t it feel wonderful to chill out for a couple of days in the middle of a spectacularly biodiverse rain forest, in a large, clean cabin with killer views, incredible stargazing, a full kitchen and all the modern amenities?

Every year tourists from over 25 countries are drawn to this very spot, home to a world-renowned breeding program for green macaws, aiming to rescue them from extinction. This gorgeous nature preserve has a semi-Olympic pool, tennis court, dozens of kilometers of hiking trails, waterfalls, petroglyphs, a museum, aviary and several climactic zones. You’ll witness breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and amazing stargazing both with your naked eyes as well as through an astronomical observatory telescope.

How far do you have to travel to get to this magical place? Costa Rica? Malaysia? Chiapas? No, the Reserva Ecológica de Nuestra Señora Mundo Natural is right here in Sinaloa, just three hours by car or bus from Mazatlán—twelve kilometers east of Cosalá. It’s home to the most important macaw rescue program in northwestern Mexico, a two kilometer long zip line that is the second highest in the country (500 meters), and an astronomic observatory that partners with observatories in Russia, Chile and New Mexico to monitor near-Earth asteroids and space junk.

Not only is the nature preserve nearby, it’s affordable—because it’s part of our state university, UAS: Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa. A three-bedroom cabin (for eight people) with loads of natural light, air conditioning and a full kitchen costs 3000 pesos/night; they also have hotel and hostel rooms for 800 pesos/night. You’ll want to be sure and spend the night: the reserve closes to the public at 5 pm and opens at 10 am, so sunrise, sunset, moon and star gazing are not available to day visitors but only to those smart enough to spend some time here. The wild macaws are also best seen at dawn and dusk, yet another reason to spend the night here.

The 60,000 annual visitors to the reserve come for the incredible biodiversity of the area. You may also meet some of the domestic and international scholars conducting research here from Guadalajara, UNAM in Mexico City, Brazil, Chile, Spain and the UK. Fauna you’ll probably see include the green macaws that the area is famous for, plus white-tailed deer, coati, ocelots, lilac-crowned parrots, iguanas, gray hawks, owls, and a few things you may want to avoid: rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Flora-wise there are loads of braziles, amapas, mautos, moras, higueras, apomos, flor de Santiago, sabinos, rosarillas y papelillos and mangos. Should you wish to hold a workshop, large meeting or party here, there is even a conference center with closed circuit TV, a restaurant and space for up to 200 people!

During my visit there were several groups of students visiting from UAS. They conducted research in nature during the day and enjoyed pizza parties at the pool in the afternoon. There was a large family reunion, with family members coming from different states to meet up here, just outside Cosalá. Quite a few area businesses conduct employee-training programs here, and the reserve plays host to religious retreats, as well.

The General Manager of the reserve, José Alfredo Leal Orduño, was kind enough to spend a few hours touring me around the property and facilities. He spends the work week in Culiacán, but is at the reserve on the weekends. Leal told me that when UAS was founded in 1968, Governor Sánchez Celis gave the fully functioning reserve property—including hot water, electricity, a huge freezer and about 85 cabins—the equivalent of 260 hotel rooms—to the university as a source of income. It seems the property owner, a mining company, was delinquent on taxes; their loss was the university’s gain. The university, however, proceeded to nearly completely neglect the facility for the next forty years. By the time Leal took over, looting had destroyed 75 of the original cabins. What remained were the two haciendas on the property, which had been used by the mine superintendents, and the service buildings. The original structures were remodeled to become the cabins, hotel and hostel we see today. The rooms are a pleasant mixture of historic, rustic beauty on the outside and modern convenience and aesthetics on the inside.


José Alfredo Leal Orduño, General Manager of the Reserva

All cabins have hot and cold running water, air conditioning, private bath, and a full kitchen with refrigerator/freezer, stove, microwave and coffee maker. While you have a kitchen and can cook when you wish, if you let staff know ahead of time they will arrange for a local woman to come in and cook meals for your party. There are large decks as well as lookouts and rest areas where you can read a book or watch the nature around you. The cabins are accessible by car, making this an enjoyable respite for the mobility impaired, and the reserve’s 18 employees stand ready to help.

If you are physically fit you can take an early morning hike with a biologist from the lower Habitas River Valley, with its mines, petroglyphs and waterfalls, all the way up to the top of the Sierras, through several climactic zones. The reserve is on the border between Sinaloa and the state of Durango.

When is the best time to visit? Leal says it’s winter, November to May, the dry season. Anytime between June and October is when the rain forest is in full regalia, the river is at its highest and the waterfalls their most powerful. He showed me videos of a thunderstorm taken from within a cabin and it was absolutely beautiful—the sound of fresh, wet summer air! Macaw courting season is in February and March, which should be quite the experience, though Semana Santa is always sold out months ahead of time.

60% of the reserve’s visitors are from Culiacán, with a very small percentage from Mazatlán. That is strange to me, since the two cities are equidistant from the nature preserve. What a loss that mazatlecos don’t take better advantage of this terrific public resource! I trust you’ll help me change that reality by visiting soon.

The Reserve is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, though I urge you to spend the night. To make your reservations call (696) 9650306 between 9 am and 1 pm or 4 – 7 pm (English spoken).

Update on the Olympic Pool

DSC_0023Back in January I reported to you about the opening of the Olympic pool. Well, I have sooooo enjoyed the past nine months swimming there! The people are great, and I can’t say enough wonderful things about Profe Rafael, who heads up the pool and teaches everyone willing to learn who shows up. He has an incredible work ethic, is an all around nice guy, and he really knows how to teach!

Rafa tells me that the pool now has over 1000 people registered to use it. That is terrific! Despite the lack of state or local funds to finish the project (I told you in January how the bathrooms, showers and bleachers weren’t yet finished), Rafa has managed to squirrel away enough money to get the bathrooms, showers and changing rooms for the women finished! Hooray! They are spacious and functional. There are ladders to get in and out more easily, and during kid swim times they put in platforms so the kids can rest without having to tread water.

Many of the Playa Norte Swim Club members come to the pool when they are not swimming in the ocean, as it’s easier to keep track of distance in the pool, time yourself, and they enjoy Rafa’s teaching. He doesn’t really tell you a whole lot about what to do, he just gives you a lot of different exercises using pull buoys, kick boards, swim paddles, and even flippers/swimfins. Using these items you really begin to feel (rather than think about) how you should be stroking or kicking; it’s quite amazing. There are also lots of swim teams that work out at the pool, primarily training here before major meets. The young energy is a hoot, and there are loads of older swimmers, too. It’s great to have a group of dedicated, fun-loving people to work out with.

The pool hours are pretty amazing, given the fact that there are only two instructors and they are out in the hot sun every day:

  • Mon-Fri, 5am-11am, 4pm-9pm
  • Sat, 5am-1pm

The price is still 500 pesos per month, and you can take classes if you don’t want to just free swim. The pool is on Ejército Mexicano just south of Avenida de los Deportes (the with University Autónoma de Sinaloa and the Aquarium), on the west side. Entrance is under the giant Tecate sign.

I usually swim in the morning, but last week I had early morning appointments a few days, so I ended up going at night. I was amazed at what a family hangout the pool has become! Parents sit around in the cool night air chatting and snacking as they watch their kids in swim classes. It was really wonderful. So, tonight when I went for a swim I took my camera. The donut man has found the location, so you can now easily eat three times the calories you burn swimming. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

If you haven’t checked out the new pool, be sure to do so. It rocks. And remember, come winter, it’s heated.

Mazatlán’s New Olympic Pool

The largest swimming pools in Mazatlán have been 25 meters long. And they are private: Rex, Montfort… Last month, before Mayor Felton left office, IMDEM (Instituto Municipal de Deporte Mazatlán) inaugurated a new, public, 50 meter Olympic-sized pool. This morning I went to check it out.

The pool is beautiful, heated, and clearly built for lap swimming. There is no zero entry, no lift for special needs, but as of 11 February (updated) there is a ladder, and a second one is due on February 18. The depth of the full length of the pool was very welcome; no shallows to worry about scraping your hands or feet on. Each side has a ledge for standing if you need a rest.

There were 20 or so swimmers at 7:30 this morning, everyone smiling and friendly. It was a very welcoming space, full of people caring for their health.

Rafael Garcia is in charge of the pool. An affable man, he told me he’s instructor, janitor, night watchman…everything right now. He is currently not giving classes, but was highly engaged walking around helping and coaching anyone who wanted advice.

The pool is located on the west side of Ejército Mexicano, just south of UAS (Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa) and Avenida de los Deportes. The entrance is just north of the giant Tecate sign. Initiation fee is 200 pesos, with a monthly 500 peso fee; much more affordable than private options. Bring two photos (infantil-sized) with you when you register. The pool has no shade. Locker rooms, showers, changing rooms and bathrooms should be open within two weeks. The pool opens at 5am Monday-Saturday. It closes from 11-4 Monday-Friday, reopening 4-8pm. On Saturdays it closes at 1pm. From March plans are for the pool to be open 6am to 10pm. Monday and Tuesday of Carnaval it will have morning hours only.

There is a very large diving pool also, with equipment for boards or platforms of three different heights. These are not yet finished.

Bleachers are on top of the very large pool house, with a huge central hall, offices, and at least two additional good-sized rooms.

The Olympic pool and installations are a terrific new addition to Mazatlán, and I look forward to making the most of its availability.

This is the first post I’m writing and publishing from my cell phone. Let’s hope it works!

UPDATE 15 February: Still no bathrooms or showers, but Rafael tells me that within the month. It seems in the hurry to inaugurate the pool in December, the workers who installed the interior walls perforated the plumbing in the concrete floor. Rather than repair it, Protección Civíl has ordered that all the pipes be drilled out and replaced. Obviously a lengthier job than it would have been to just complete the project… At least the pool itself is sound, and the filtration system works fine, I am told. I know I am very happy swimming here!

La Travesía Anual — Annual Community Swim from Playa Norte to Deer Island, Mazatlán

Club de Natación

Photo courtesy El Club de Natación Playa Norte

See those islands in the background of the photo above? Want to swim to the one in the middle, Isla de Venados/Deer Island? Think you can do it? It’s only 5.6 KILOMETERS of ocean swimming. Takes the average swimmer two to four hours. The best time in 2012 was ONE HOUR 20 MINUTES!

Every year on the first Sunday in November members of Mazatlán’s swim club (Club de Natación Playa Norte) do that very swim. This past November over 200 of them participated in this most wonderful Travesía Anual! Among the 200 swimmers who completed the event was an eight year old boy named José Luis Zazueta. I had the pleasure of interviewing Luisito this morning, along with his father (also Luis, a computer technician) and his swim teacher, Lourdes Ortega. Click on any of the photos below to view them larger and read the full captions.

Luis Senior enrolled Luisito in lessons at a pool run by Lourdes, out where they live in Via Galaxia, when the boy was five years old. Luisito took to the sport so naturally that he graduated from Lulu’s small pool to the larger swim program at Montfort. In only three years’ time Luisito was able to develop the technique, strength and endurance to complete the Travesía Anual. During the event Dad rode in a kayak beside Luisito, and had to stay at least 10 meters away from his son at all times.

The swim club people are very open and inviting. Knowing of my interest, they invited us to their Christmas posada, which we were unable to attend, and then again invited Greg and I to attend this month’s competencias, during which everyone who wants to swim and get timed can do so and track their progress from the month(s) before. We met people from 7 to 70+, all happy and fit as fiddles. We met triathletes, multi-generational families of swimmers, groups of friends, and people who’d been swimming in the bay for over 50 years! What a good-natured bunch of interesting people! Click on any of the below to see a slideshow or captions.

What is the Club de Natación Playa Norte?

The Club de Natación Playa Norte is one of Mazatlán’s oldest and most organized community groups. It will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2013! You see the clubhouse on the beach in Playa Norte, just north of the gymnastics equipment and the skateboard park. We have walked by the club nearly every morning for five years, and at that early hour of the day it’s always a hotbed of activity and excitement. We’ve noticed the man holding the keys on a board of hooks, the people milling around in wet swimsuits, someone eating ceviche for breakfast, some people showering… Click on any of the photos below if you’d like to see them bigger, see the captions or slideshow.

Amazingly and fortunately for Mazatlán, this “little club” puts on TEN monthly competitions, an Aquatic Marathon (in September), and two big travesías in addition to the Travesía Anual a la Isla de Venados.

The club is incredible. It is run by an elected Comité. The Presidente for the past three years has been Martín, the man with the stop watch in the photos. The club originally started as a cycling club at a location further south, and evolved into the swim club at its current location. Annual dues are only 200 pesos. For that amount you receive an identification card, and you are welcome to use the facilities (including toilets and showers) as often as you wish. Your backpack of things and your car keys are watched over by Pancho, who welcomes members’ tips. The deal is that you show up in the early morning, ready to swim. If you don’t show; no worries. If your teacher isn’t there, someone else will help you. If you’re an experienced ocean swimmer, you teach someone newer to the sport. The club seems to be quite the idyllic self-organizing system! We observed that young children are closely supervised by older swimmers, both teenagers and experienced adult teachers. Among the many local swimmers this morning we also met two extranjeros: Fran Ittner, from Minneapolis, who has been part of the Club de Natación since 2000 (and has wintered in Mazatlán for 26 years), and “Tío Sam,” a most interesting South Korean gentleman who has lived in Mazatlán for three years. Fran told us that if you want to learn more about the club or the Travesía, just drop him a note.

Each year members select one person to be honored for their assiduous participation in the club—and they name that year’s Travesía Anual after them. In 2010 it was named after Lulu, Luisito’s swim teacher.

So What Was the Event This Morning?

As I said, ten times a year the club conducts competencias, or trials, which we observed this morning. Since the Triathlon is next week, there were a few more participants than usual this morning, I was told. Club members who wanted to participate in the trials showed up just before 8:00 am. They registered and received a t-shirt. They had a number written onto their upper arms.

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Today’s participants lined up for an official photo. Then a new triathlon team from ETI had their photo opp. After everyone stripped out of their official t-shirts, the adults lined up for their trial. Three buoys had been set out in the ocean, and Martín gave instructions that swimmers were to make a loop around the outside of the three buoys. A couple of the guys interpreted for Fran, so he would know the route. One of the men we met went out in a kayak to supervise, ready to provide emergency assistance if needed. Participants swam only one lap around the buoys today; we were told this was because the water is still so cold. There were quite a few people standing around who didn’t swim today, and told us they only swim from April, when the water is warmer.

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After the adults, next up were the young children, 7-10 years old or so. There were only two buoys for the kids’ trial, and they were brought in closer to shore. Martín assigned a strong teenaged swimmer to each of the younger children, and instructed them to stay close by in case the younger ones needed help. What a way to build responsibility and community! Then the kids were off. There were some tears shed at the conclusion of this trial, because the youngest swimmer lost a tooth while he was out. He was heartbroken, because he was afraid the ratón wouldn’t bring him money since he didn’t have the tooth that had fallen out! It was just too cute.

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While the Club has well over 100 members, today there were far more observers than swimmers, I think. Grandparents, parents, cousins, friends—whole groups showed up to cheer on their friends and family members. There were some women selling food and drinks: fresh fruits and cut vegetables, sandwiches, bolillos, cake. The Club itself had a crate of bananas and a bunch of bottles of water for all the participants to snack on after their heat. It was a fun social event.

I urge you, if you’re at all interested in swimming, to give the Club a try. If you want to take lessons or get involved, the best way is to show up at the clubhouse, ideally in the morning around 6:00 or 7:00. At the least, visit them for their next competencias. The group has a Facebook page that is administered by Rogelio Fontes, but Rogelio tells me he only logs in to upload photos, as he’s not a big Facebook user. To get an email response you can contact, or Rogelio’s office telephone is (669) 913-4900 (he speaks perfect English, graduated from UC Berkeley).

An update and adaptation of this post was printed in M! Magazine in November, 2015, under the title, “Splish Splash.”

Mazatlán: Pulsating Center of Atleticísmo

malecón aerial view

You already know how much we love living in Mazatlán, and that one of our favorite delights is living in the center of the world’s largest and most beautiful gymnasium — the malecón.

For a couple of weeks now, during our morning walks, we have been accompanied by runners we don’t see the rest of the year. We know they are people who have come to acclimate and train for the marathon. They are also loads of locals, often accompanied by their children and friends, who decide to heighten their training this time of year in order to be prepared to participate in the shorter runs or the marathon itself.

42k marathon routeToday as Danny and I were out walking I was reminded how this, the day before El Gran Maratón del Pacífico, is so incredibly delightful. The space between the Bosque de la Ciudad/City Park and the baseball stadium pulsates with music, dancing and tents filled with running gear, as busloads of runners and their families and friends arrive from every corner of Mexico and beyond. They register, take a look around, and then fan out across the city. Nearly every restaurant, coffee house or juice stand we see is filled with healthy, excited, friendly people, eager to run and test their skills along Latin America’s largest bay. It is, truly, delightful.

marathon runners ocean viewTomorrow, non-runners that we are, we will awake to the sounds of that same music, plus the sounds of cheering, as the first runners glide by the front of our home. We will make coffee, get dressed, and go out to the street to join in the cheering. People compete in the 5k, 10k, 21k half-marathon, and 42k full marathon. Festivities will continue on the malecón until about 1:00 tomorrow afternoon.


Then, tomorrow (Saturday) night, our bay lights up with fireworks launched from FOURTEEN different, coordinated locations around our beautiful bay. And, poor us, we are, again, right in the center. Gotta love it! On our beach the fireworks have been set up and ready to go since this morning. That’s different than in prior years, when they set up on Saturday morning during the run itself.

So, athletically speaking, we’ve got:

And, of course we have the normal daily, weekly and monthly athletic events of our good city, such as

I often imagine how it feels to live in the city that hosts the Olympics. Obviously it’s not a fair comparison to these events, but I can imagine the energy, the buena vibra, the buena onda, is very similar. And here, we get to experience it at least several times each year, rather than once in a lifetime (hosting the Olympics).

Mazatlán, a working port, center of tuna and shrimp industries, famous for its beaches, banda music and sport fishing, is becoming quite the hotbed of healthy, athletic living! And we are loving every moment of it!