In 2006, during our last rainy Seattle winter, I often read about San Blas in Latitude 38. Several articles discussed, in both a positive and negative way, the activities of some fellow down there assisting cruisers. At that time, San Blas might as well been on the back side of the moon, for all I knew about it. As we've said in other posts we left Seattle in January 2007, wintered in Sidney, BC and rounded Cape Scott, the tip of Vancouver Island, on my 52nd birthday in early July, 2007. We spent a month traveling down the US coast, enjoying time in Newport, Eureka, Monterey and Oxnard, then waited out the last of hurricane season in October 2007 in Ensenada, Mexico. I highly recommend this combination of overnight jumps, day sailing, and inshore sightseeing. Many fellow cruisers who bombed straight down the US coast 100 miles offshore with no stops were slammed by high winds, storms and seas in September, but traveling like we did in “Foggust“ 20-30 miles offshore, made for a relatively pleasant if light-wind trip. By the same token we took 21 days cruising south along the Pacific coast of Baja California toward Mazatlan on the Mexico mainland, seeing a lot of anchorages instead of hitting only the 2 or 3 more popular destinations.
Often, we were anchored alone off isolated fishing camps, brief indents in the coast, or dusty Baja towns - a trip not to be missed. We reached Mazatlan by Thanksgiving, enjoying the festivities at Marina Mazatlan while berthed at El Cid. Mazatlan is an enchanting town. We attended three events at the historic Angela Peralta Theatre, watched the Venados (the local baseball team) on TV, and hung around the old historical centro buying shrimp from the shrimp ladies. This town grabs you and will not let go - a great combination of a historical Mexican City and a “Gringo Gulch.”
February 2 found us - finally - in San Blas, about 130 miles south and east of Maz. We pulled into Matanchen Bay , and about 4:00 that afternoon we heard a voice on the radio - it was him - Norm Goldie - The Voice Of San Blas. “Are there any new boats here - lets have check-ins - I am here to help you.” Norm came on twice a day - 0800 and 1600, sometimes more often - offering his help and advice. We learned from Norm how to enter the San Blas estuary; how to keep our possessions safe; that he hung out with Lee Marvin in the 1970’s; that he’d had a heart operation; and which repairs we should get from whom in San Blas. He arranged tours to orphanages, waterfalls, and the jungle. Norm is a full service travel agent, taxi dispatcher, tour guide, fishing guru, and a veritable encyclopedia of local knowledge - he hangs out at the plaza every night - after which he says he is up all night coordinating search and rescue. In the morning, he gives out his map with cake and coffee to all cruisers who come by his house. Clearly, Norm thought he was the King of San Blas, controlling access to all who entered his domain.
Well - this was a revelation - I had heard so much about Norm from Latitude 38 and here he was - it was a bit overwhelming. He advised everybody that they had to go and check in with the Port Captain in person. MS is fluent in Spanish [eh - actually not so much, but I get by. - MS] - she called up the port captain on the radio and checked in and out with him - most convenient. We advised Norm about this and he said the regulations must have changed yesterday.
Anyway - we were sitting in Matanchen Bay and heard a radio hail - a cruiser was coming in with a finger half cut off and needed medical care. We advised him we would alert Ismael - he runs Ramada Matanchen, a beachside restaurant - for help to get him to a doctor. We had met Ismael the day before. He will watch your dinghy for you when you park it in front of his restaurant, arrange laundry, or let you use his shower facilities. Ismael was not there when we went ashore with the medical issue, but we talked to someone from his family and asked if she could arrange a taxi when the injured cruiser arrived - she said she would tell Ismael. Well, the cruiser came in and Ismael was waiting for him. Ismael took him to the hospital in San Blas in his own car, and waited until things were all sorted out to bring the cruiser back to Matanchen. We talked to Ismael the next day, and also met the cruiser to see how he was doing, and found all this out.
Norm acknowledged Ismael’s contribution to this rescue during his radio show the next day, but was not giving up his throne. He said he had heard of Ismael, but did not know him. By this time we had hung around long enough to find out who was the real King of San Blas - it was Ismael of Matanchen - the true cruiser’s friend.
Ismael is also a great cook . Here is the recipe for his specialty - wood grilled snapper. Parrotfish or grouper will also do.
First: Find a mangrove tree, cut it down, age the wood for one year.
Build a stone BBQ with a steel grate - burn a bunch of this hardwood down to coals.
Reverse butterfly a 2 kilogram snapper - this causes the fish to open like an accordion - bones on one side, two open filets side by side.
Score the filets with a cross hatch, then rub in a mixture of melted butter, Worchestershire sauce and salsa Huichol picante - no other hot sauce will do - since this one is made out of chile cascabel.
Smoke over the open coals for about 30 minutes - serve with shredded lettuce, rice and lots of tortillas.