Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mazatlan & City and Colonial Tour

Hello, Jeff here. We’ve just returned from our tour of Puerto Vallarta and Tequila “factory”. We’ve got another 4 hours in port so I have time to add a description and photos to the Cabo entry for our dinner at Palo and to catch up on what we did yesterday in Mazatlan. First some history.

Mazatlan was first settled by Totorames and Xiximes, who are believed to have given the city its name, which means “place of the deer.” At one time, herds of deer wandered throughout the area. Today, in their memory, a large statue of a deer stands proudly on the waterfront and is also included on the city’s coat of arms. Founded in 1531, the city served as a port for Spanish galleons loading up on gold and silver from the Sierra Madre Oriental. Pirates who preyed on the treasure-rich ships, including the infamous Sir Francis Drake, also frequented the region, and rumors of gold and silver buried here endure to this day.

After incorporation in 1792, Mazatlan was officially established as a municipality in 1837. Shortly thereafter, the city enjoyed a surge of growth when a large group of German immigrants arrived. They established strong trade ties. The port has remained active and vital to the region, and today it is Mexico’s main commercial port on the west coast. One of Mazatlan’s largest exports is shrimp; approximately 40 million pounds are shipped abroad annually. The city also has an interesting military history. In 1847, the US Navy blockaded the port and the French bombarded it in 1864. After the American Civil War, a group of defeated Confederate loyalists attempted to establish a community in Mazatlan. Mazatlan was also the second city in the world to be aerially bombed, attacked in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution.

Mazatlan differs from other well known tourist resorts with its dual personality. Though tourism accounts for half of the city’s economic importance, the other half includes shrimp and tuna fishing, freezing and canning plants, commerce and port activities. These two aspects meld to form the city’s distinct personality.

Our tour of Mazatlan was with Mazatlan Frank, who I’d heard about on forums. Frank has been doing tours of Mazatlan, his home city, for many years and his attention to detail, demeanor, pride in his city and personality make him an excellent tour guide. We met Frank just outside the cruise terminal where we also met up with the rest of our tour group from the Magic – a couple from San Francisco and a family of 5 from Houston. We fit comfortably in a 12 passenger, air-conditioned van. The weather for the day was cloudy, with rain showers possible. We took our rain jackets just in case but we were fortunate as it only sprinkled a couple of times.

Our first stop was a brick “factory” which was basically a one-man operation. The man would shovel the clay soil into a wheel barrow, mix it with grass, straw and manure. He’d then shovel the mixture into a wood rack laying on the ground and smooth off the top. The ground was sanded so the wet bricks didn’t stick. After drying on the ground, the bricks would then be assembled into a kiln structure. A hardwood fire would be started inside and it burn for about two days before the bricks were fired properly. The man could make about 2000 bricks a day, which equated to about $20. This was better than minimum wage, which in Mazatlan is about $5 per 8 hour day.

Our next stop was Malpica, a quaint little town of about 1,400 people. Here we visited an old fashioned bakery that used a wood burning oven to make some of the best bread and pastries I’ve ever had. Just the smell was worth paying for. We bought two pastries for $1. Next we watched a man make colored tiles using a 100+ year old hand press. Very interesting and they were beautiful tiles.

A furniture “factory” was our next stop. Here about a half dozen men made custom furniture by hand with basic woodworking tools. The “factory” was actually an open air shed that provided protection from rain but still allowed the workers to have fresh air and a breeze in which to work. Adjacent to the factory was a ceramic “factory” where they made all types of figurines, plates, bowls, cups, wind chimes, tiles – you name it, and they made it. They also had some leather goods and jewelry. We browsed here before moving on to Concordia.

Concordia was a much bigger town than Malpica. There was a town square, a nice old church and plenty of open air arts and crafts shops. After spending about 20 minutes here we were on the road again back to Mazatlan. Frank had this touring thing down. As we were driving back into town, he passed out a menu for a restaurant called Tony’s on the Beach. Frank took our order and while we were shopping in the “Golden Zone” (read high priced tourist area) Frank called in our orders so they would be ready for us when we arrived. Is that service or what?

Tony’s turned out to be a nice, open-air restaurant right on the beach. Since Mazatlan is known for shrimp, I ordered the jumbo garlic shrimp and they were yummy! I also had a concoction whose name I’ve forgotten but basically you put lime juice and ice in a glass and then top it off with beer (Pacifico) and salt on the rim. Very refreshing. Susan and Katy had the Mexican plates which included lots of traditional food. We were also treated to complimentary tequila and Sprite shots after lunch.

We waddled out to the van and continued our tour by visiting an exclusive area called El Cid. Homes start at $250,000 and go up into the millions. It reminded me a lot of driving around on the Gulf Coast of Florida or down in the West Palm Beach area. We noticed quite a few license plates on the cars were from the United States. We also drove along the coastal road and were able to see a rock diver make a 45 foot dive into water only 5-6 feet deep. I was amazed how far out the guy had to jump – it had to be at least 20 feet! Tough way to make a living.

We finished the tour off by visiting the old part of Mazatlan. I really enjoy getting to see the areas away from the touristy parts of town and this fit the bill quite nicely. You can see from the photo that there was a lovely square here with nice sidewalk restaurants and gathering areas for the locals. Frank made one final stop at an overlook so we could photograph the Magic back at the port. All told, the tour was 7 hours long and we all came away quite pleased that we were able to see as much of Mazatlan and its people and culture as we did. I would highly recommend Mazatlan Frank to any tourist looking for a good tour guide.

Once back on the ship, the girls napped while I worked on the blog. After showering, we then caught the 6:15 showing of “Twice Charmed” an interesting twist on the Cinderella story. We then went to the 7:30 cabaret show of John Charles. John plays guitar and does comedy and he does both extremely well. Any guy that can play the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana one minute and Queen and Lynard Skynard the next has some talent. We also enjoyed some margaritas. After dinner, Susan and I went to the adult comedy show of Heath Hyche. From what I remember, he was pretty good. Unfortunately, I think I slept through most of it as I didn’t get a nap earlier like the girls.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff, Have you guys been to Senior Frogs yet? It might be a little roudy:) Danny

Jlspence said...

We went to a Senor Frog's store but didn't go to the restaurant/bar.

Anonymous said...

Hey Susan, Did Jeff take all these pictures? Danny

Jlspence said...

I took most of them - Katy and Susan took a few.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, the beer & lime drink that you had is called a "Michalada".

Kyria said...

This is great info to know.