GLIDING THROUGH THE MANGROVES
© 2006 by John and Susy Pint
San Blas is a sleepy fishing town on Mexico's Pacific Coast. Centuries ago, it was one of the most important ports in the New World and in modern times it has become a favorite hang-out for nature lovers, especially bird watchers.
Over the years, the boatmen of San Blas have cut channels through the mangroves that fill the Estuary of San Cristobal. So tall are the mangroves and so thick is the vegetation, that parts of these channels have become tunnels, interconnected in an extensive labyrinth that only the boaters can navigate. In the early morning, the perfectly still water mirrors the jungle canopy overhead. Long, smooth roots reach down like ET fingers, from the branches above, where giant bromeliads are perched among exotic flowers. Such beauty would seem more than enough reason to visit this strange world, but the most exciting thing about a boat ride at San Blas is the amazing variety of birds that you can see as you silently glide through this tropical paradise. In fact, it is said that half the known birds of Mexico are lurking among the mangroves!
We had arrived at the estuary jetty at 7:00 AM, taking the advice of friends that if you really want to see birds, you should be in the very first boat out. To our surprise, besides being the first, we were also the only customers who climbed into the boat of a friendly and knowledgeable old-timer named Don Pancho. Apparently, those movie stars who supposedly frequent San Blas were all still in bed. As we headed toward the jungle, we passed several fishing boats. Each of them had a pelican tagging along behind, eager for tidbits.
SUNRISE AT THE JETTY
As soon as we approached the mangroves, we began to see birds everywhere. Don Pancho, it seemed, was better at naming them in English than in Spanish. We saw whimbrels, wood storks, roseate spoonbills, among others, and lots of anhingas which are also called anhingas in Spanish and doubly so in Latin (Anhinga anhinga). We saw many of these perched in strategic spots along the waterside, soaking up the rays of sunshine like Germans on holiday, their beautiful wings fully extended, completely ignoring our gawks and comments as we floated by. Several times, when we were under thick jungle cover, Don Pancho would point straight above us. “Look, there’s a boat-billed heron…we call it garza canela in Spanish.” These little birds were always hiding in shady spots and somehow managed to look cute even though they have a bill that is shaped more like a shoe than a boat.
BOAT-BILLED HERON OR GARZA CANELA
ANHINGA ANHINGA, ALSO KNOWN AS ANHINGA, TAKING THE SUN IN THE EARLY MORN
Besides birds galore, we saw several huge, toothy cocodrilos (fortunately lurking a good distance away from our boat), an iguana sunning itself while precariously balanced on a thin tree branch, and a few turtles. This was more than we had hoped for because we took the shortest tour, which is to a spring called La Tovara. Other tours go to a bird sanctuary and El Cocodrilario, a nursery that raises crocodiles and releases them in the wild. As we made our way back to the jetty, we met several tourist-carrying boats which were speeding along, making lots of noise and waves. Obviously, at San Blas, “the early boat gets the birds.”
A GARZA TIGRE LEAPS INTO THE AIR
San Blas is famous for other flying things, of course. “Watch
out for the jejenes, (gnats)” everyone told us, but we found them no
worse than the jejenes of Jalisco. Just be sure you don’t forget your
REFLECTIONS ON THE STILL WATER OF THE ESTUARY, EARLY IN
REFLECTIONS ON THE STILL WATER OF THE ESTUARY, EARLY IN THE MORNING
San Blas somehow manages to have several nice restaurants and hotels without appearing touristy and it’s so small you can’t get lost. Thanks to the Guadalajara-Tepic toll road, you can reach there in less than three hours, which go by very fast because the highway winds its way past the majestic volcanoes of Tequila, Ceboruco and Sanganguey, providing you with truly unique scenery. If you’d like to do some volcano-climbing along the way, see Outdoors in Western Mexico by John and Susy Pint, still available from Sandi bookstore.
How to Get There
Take Avenida Vallarta west toward Tepic and Nogales. Get on toll road 15-D just after La Venta del Astillero and stay on it. Apart from a bit of road maintenance, it should be clear sailing until you reach Tepic where signs say that the toll road ends. However, if you continue straight ahead, skirting Tepic, the good old toll road will reappear, now deceptively labeled “Cuota Tepic-San Blas.” In reality, this toll road is going to Mazatlan and after 31 kms you must get off and follow a two-way road which winds southwest through green hills down to San Blas on the coast. The jetty for tour boats is at the west end of the bridge over Estuario San Cristobal, which you must cross in order to get into San Blas. Total time from Guadalajara to San Blas: under three hours.
JOHN AND SUSY BARGAINING FOR BANANAS AT SAN BLAS