Adventure meets elegance in Barra de Navidad October 30, 2013Posted by Tracy in : Adventure, Mexico, Nature tourism, Uncategorized , trackback
BARRA DE NAVIDAD, Jalisco, Mexico – The crashing waves and a gentle breeze serve as the backdrop for an Italian opera here at the expansive Bar de los Chicanos, atop the elegant Hotel Alondra. When we first arrived, it was a rousing salsa set, a hopeful bid to fill the ample dance floor overlooking the sea; but seeing that today’s Hora Feliz (Happy Hour) clients were writers and conversationalists and loungers rather than dancers, the accommodating bartender changed the tune.
It’s like that, here on the Costalegre, Mexico’s “Happy Coast.” Whatever your mood, you can find the circumstance, but more likely than not, it will be laid back – particularly at this time of year, when the heat obliges one to take a more contemplative pace.
I came here with my sister Toni in October, before the beginning of high season and just at the end of hurricane season. News of the Category 3 Hurricane Raymond closing in on the coast of poor sodden Acapulco, struggling to recover from last month’s Hurricane Manuel, definitely puts a damper on our plans to mosey up the stretch of coast from Barra on up to Puerto Vallarta, exploring the villages and beaches that make up the Costalegre.
Ni modo, as we say here in Mexico. We will make the most of it, and today dawned moist and fresh, a rosy sky over the Casa Holistica Sol, our accommodations here in Barra. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and some writing time before heading out for today’s big adventure: snorkeling with Hernán in Cuastecomates and a tour of the coast between here and there.
We found Hernán down by the boat dock our first evening here, and he offered us a ride over to Isla de Navidad, where he’d deliver us to the door of Lydia’s, one of a collection of palapa-covered open-air restaurants serving fish and seafood. We chose a plate of oysters so fresh their hearts were still beating, and a big plate of pescado zarandeado – that is, a local sea bass grilled in the Sinaloa style with chili and garlic and tomato sauce. It was, in a word, divine, and we savored every bite as the sun slowly dropped over the horizon.
Hernan was keen to offer us his services, and this being the off season, he was willing to do it for half price: 500 pesos for a morning trip snorkeling and seeing some of the fantastic rock formations along this dramatic shoreline. We thought about it as we walked down the sweet little malecón, where the pounding waves of the Pacific lap one side and the sparkling waters of the saltwater laguna gently sway on the other. I took Toni to see the two Barra landmarks along the seawall: first, the romantic mermaid standing high on a rock, gazing out to sea, and the gallant merman at her feet, reaching up toward her, forever in love. Then, the monument to Barra’s main claim to fame: 400 years ago, from this spot, the Spaniards commissioned the boats and launched the expedition that conquered the Phillippines.
We contemplated the snorkeling option a bit but it didn’t take long to say yes – what better way to get to know this beautiful coast? Besides, as Toni said, it was a good investment. We liked Hernan and didn’t like the thought of his two children going hungry. Summertime is truly dead here in Barra; in Heran’s words, “No hay turistas.”
Cuastecomates, home of the reefs where Hernán was taking us, is a tiny town about half an hour up the coast, and I clambered up on the bow of the boat to watch the pelicans and the seagulls and the dramatic cliffs and jagged rock formations go by. Hernan was also a fisherman, and he told us stories of the fish he had caught – massive sailfish and marlin, and something called “dorados” – better known to us as mahi mahi. We thought of the landmark at the town’s entrance, two colorful lifesize figures of fish, intertwined and reaching for the sky, their pointed swordfish-type noses reaching for the sky – one marlin and one sailfish, Hernán told us. Sportsfishing is a popular pastime here in Navidad Bay, we learned, and one of Hernan’s favorite things is to take anglers out to bag their big catch.
But he likes snorkeling, too, and as it was Toni’s first time, I asked him to join us in the water and give her a hand. He helped us both with our snorkels and flippers and quickly found a pocket of brilliantly colored fish swimming around – angelfish, Hernan said, but there were many kinds: big ones, with pale blue heads and dark blue bodies, and little bright blue ones with neon-blue and orange spots, and yellow ones with black stripes, and whole schools of flashing silvery ones. We put our heads down and entered their world, flowing with the currents, watching to our hearts’ content.
Finally I lifted my head and looked back at the boat to find Hernan gesturing toward me. Time to go, I told Toni, and we made our way back to the boat. Hernan had been getting messages about the hurricane and was concerned that the wind would pick up and we’d find ourselves among monster waves. We headed back in rougher waters than we’d come in, and he told us of trips when he’d had to ride 10-foot waves to safety – including one trip when he’d had a dozen UNAM students aboard.
This time, however, the waves were merciful. We were delivered to the dock pleased and happy, bid our farewells to Hernan and set off on foot to explore a bit of Barra. It didn’t take long to find what I’d been looking for since I arrived: a store with reasonably priced, beach-appropriate clothing, having for some inexplicable reason left all of mine behind. Up in fresh, cool Guadalajara when I packed, I was having a hard time imagining the sweltering conditions of the Jalisco coast in October. Think shorts and sundresses, not jeans and longish skirts.
I was wanting something cool yet elegant and at Tesoro de Ganesh Bazar I found it. Actually there were lots of choices but Toni and Ana, the in-house fashion consultant, helped me to select a fresh flowing blue strapless dress that doubles as a skirt. A coconut shell clasp across the front can be tightened or loosened as needed. Toni found a three-piece jewelry set from Indonesia that delighted her. We sallied forth in our new apparel, ready to face the day.
A little meandering took us to La Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua, a whitewashed church with stained glass windows, where a weathered-looking Jesus with downward-cast eyes hangs on a cross. This, however, is no ordinary Jesus. His arms hang brokenly from his shoulders, vestiges of a miracle that people say was performed here on Sept. 1, 1971. Hurricane Lily was raging in all her fury and the townspeople had taken refuge in the church as it was the sturdiest building around. Suddenly, to the amazement of the refugees, one of the statue’s arms fell off – and then the other. At that moment, as the story goes, the storm ceased.
We paid our respects to the gentle spirit of this little temple and continued on, admiring the wares of a little shop in front that was packed with handicrafts from Guerrero, Chiapas and Oaxaca in the south of Mexico. The town is nothing if not photogenic, perhaps more so in the low season, so I indulged my camera. Here are a few of the best.