We were hesitant to go to San Blas. We’ve been warned about crazy Norm Goldie on s/v Jama. We’ve heard about dingy and surfboard thefts. We’ve heard about the terrible Jejenes (no see ums). Ultimately our decision to visit San Blas was made when we discovered that we needed a boat part and it was the closest port. We had an easy daysail from Isla Isabella and anchored before nightfall in Ensenada de Mantenchen (sometimes written as Matenchen). Our Mexico travel has been on the Baja and then in the city of Mazatlan, then a short trip out to a remote island, and this was the first place that really felt tropical. The bay is large and the land around it is low and surrounded by palm trees, the hills behind are amazingly green with a few obvious plantations, perhaps coffee, coconut and banana.
When the time came to explore we set up the dingy and headed for shore in search of a man named Ishmel with a restaurant on the waterfront who has a reputation for looking after cruiser’s dingies. Restaurant Mantanchen is a beach shack with more tables and chairs than I ever imagine they fill, a baby swinging in a cradle, a barefoot boy running around, cats, dogs, and a dirt floor with trays of burning coconut husks. We were welcomed and told our dingy would be safe and we could leave it all day.
We ventured down the dusty road and walked to the little village to find the bus stop. The only clue that we might be in the right spot was a young man waiting by the side of the road. When he decided we had waited long enough (“the bus must be late,” he communicated) he flagged down a delivery truck (a friend perhaps) and got us all a ride to town. Five of us squeezed into the front of the truck with its cigarette smoking driver Fidel and rode right into San Blas. Though it was only the hardware store and the bank that we needed in San Blas we had an easy time getting all of our errands done right near the plaza. We even got home in time to avoid the most of the jejenes.
The Tovara jungle tour is reason enough to visit San Blas. Miles had been scared for days because the highlight of the boat tour down the river is searching for crocodiles. But he went armed with his new plastic rake and Brian (from s/v Cat2Fold), who promised to fight all the big ones away if necessary. We got in our boat and our guide (Martin) motored skillfully down the amazing river through the mangroves. The tunnel of mangroves opened up to a marsh with sharp grasses and palm trees on the edges. We saw crocodiles, turtles, white pelicans, egrets, hawks, fish, iquanas, storks, and more plants than we’ll ever know the names of. We stopped for just 15 minutes at the zoo (I think if they left you there any longer you’d get too sad). A jaguar without proper papers (retired from the circus but not legal enough for a real zoo) would have eaten Ruby instead of his usual chicken for lunch if his bars has been down. She didn’t act as scared as the rest of us when he snarled and lunged at her but she did say he gave her a headache. We saw several crocs up close, resting in their cages with their giant mouths wide open, before we piled back into our boat to head for more.
As if we didn’t have enough to enjoy, at the top of the river there is a fenced off pool of clear fresh water to rope swing into and swim. Don’t ask us when we last took a shower; we were all grateful for a fresh water bath! We jumped off the rope swing, swam, sat in the sun, chatted with the local kids, and reluctantly headed back for our ride home.
The little village of Mantanchen is filled with sweets shops- banana breads, little pies, sugary coconut treats, fresh coconuts to drink from, banana trees, and coconut and citronella insect repellent and the after bite spray that we would need when it doesn’t work. Restaurant Mantanchen made us a delicious grilled horse fish for our early dinner, we bought a hammock and a coconut sweet, and we headed back to Convivia.
Yes, s/v Jama is crazy (he’s on the VHF radio ten times a day to let you know it- that guy needs some friends), the bugs are terrible (DEET works better than the natural stuff and a small dose of children’s Benedryl works much better than the coconut oil after bite spray), there is some theft from time to time, but it’s absolutely worth the trip.
It has been 5 nights since we left San Blas and we are still scratching from the bugs that showed up on our boat the second night in the anchorage. We had two sleepless nights from the bites and Tucker and I dosed ourselves with an entire package of benedryl (over the course of a few days) before the itches let up. Our boat was covered with black dots (jejenes) when we were leaving San Blas and the bugs only seemed to leave for good last night when we had thoroughly cleaned the inside of the boat and washed all of the sheets, towels, and clothes. Honestly, though I loved the jungle tour and felt so thrilled that that experience was part of my life. That said, I won’t be going back, and if I hear that another place has such a terrible reputation for biting bugs I may skip that too. (If anyone has any tricks to make me not so tasty I’d like those too.) So, is San Blas worth a visit. I will leave that up to you. If I knew someone who, like me hated bug bites, and seemed to attract the vile little things, but was interested in the jungle tour, I might suggest renting a car for the 2 hr drive from PV.