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Cruise Diary: Mazatlan, Mexico

Today the sun and warmth blasted through after almost five days of inexplicable cloud cover and chill, which began during our time in San Diego. The Oosterdam was securely docked by 8 a.m. Our traveling party, well fueled by breakfast from the Lido, crossed the gang plank shortly after 9:30 a.m. The Mazatlan Cruise Port provided open metal benches on a flat bed trailer pulled by a small tractor to convey us and the other passengers to the small crowded but orderly cruise terminal.

The hawkers lay in wait. Van tours were predominant among the offerings. The four McConnell/Frinks didn’t want our time in Mazatlan to be as sanitized, organized or shielded from the gorgeous, sun-sparkling day before us that an air conditioned, Ford eight-passenger van would force upon us. We kept walking.

Small, open Volkswagen dune-buggy-like taxis lined the street as we walked out of the confines of the cruise terminal. I had already completed some bargaining by the time we reached the street. “I give you a deal: four hours for $60. That’s cheap.” That was more time than we needed to audit the sights of the mid-size Mexican city before us, best known for the shrimp, oysters, clams and fish its residents scoop from Olas Altas Bay, the Gulf of California and Pacific beyond. Ernesto drove up, as we stood rudderless on the curb. A deal of $15 an hour flat (no minimum) was struck. We were then swept away from the sea of hawkers, as if Houdini himself had performed the feat.

From left: My wife Jeanne, Mrs. McConnell, our driver Ernesto and me.

Ernesto did a swift U-turn as we were passing the point on the sea-side avenue where divers plunge from a shallow cliff into the bay below; a young man was preparing to make a leap. He made it! It was not nearly as thrilling or dangerous as the Acapulco La Perla divers that perform the same feat from a very high cliff; but, we weren’t in Acapulco and were not about to be. Immediately after the shallow splash, a middle aged man came through the small gathering of dive-witnesses hustling tips; Jim gave him a buck, with the usual tourist’s refrain: “Oh, what the hell.”

Into the narrow built-for-horse-and-carriage streets of Viejo (old) Mazatlan we next proceeded. We moseyed into the obligatory cathedral, as Ernesto gabbed with his dune-buggy-tourist-taxi colleagues at the curb. Inside, we were struck by the brilliant azure emanating from behind the alter. Completed during the last year of the 19th century, the cathedral’s twin blue and gold spires are a Mazatlan landmark. We strolled around the original town square, where construction crews are placing power lines beneath the tiled streets, detracting a bit from the quaintness of it all. The beach was our goal. We were pleased to ride around Mazatlan in Ernest’s dune buggy making the mandatory tourist stops, but when we reached our goal for the day it was all that lovers of sea, sand and sun could possibly envision.

Our lunch stop, the Palapa restaurant.

Our beach base for the hour and a half we spent at the closed end of the horse shoe bay was a wall-less, thatched roof, Palapa restaurant, a few steps down from the Avenue Del Mar multi-lane thoroughfare. The four of us walked immediately to the wave-less Pacific, shoes and sandals in hand. We were the only people on the vast beach as far as we could see, left to right, probably explained by the fact that it was the morning of a week day.

Jeanne and Jill began their long shell-seeking beach stroll to the right; Jim and I returned to shade and drinks under the palapa. As we made our way to our table, I noticed that two idle municipal lifeguards were doing extra duty peeling shrimp. Oysters and clams were heaped on the restaurant counter. As we drove by it, Ernesto had explained that restaurants purchase their seafood directly from the fishermen and oyster divers early each morning at an informal beach market. Sitting under the palapa, looking out to sea, sipping a beer on a crystalline Mazatlan morning was a rare, satisfying moment; it was prolonged when the women returned from their beach walk and we ordered a plate of shrimp and some oysters in the half shell and more drinks.

At the appointed moment Ernesto was to return for us, a man approached our table and asked if we spoke Spanish. Once assured, he told us that Ernesto was “occupado” and he, Julio, was his replacement. At the cruise terminal, I purchased a wide, leather belt from a Mexican whose English was almost native-speaker quality (“I worked in the states for 10 years”). In the Lido, I built a large, green salad to supplement the beach side oysters. That evening it was dinner for four in the Vista (main) dining room and an energetic (they are always energetic) show by the young Oosterdam resident singers and dancers in the two-story bow theatre.

HAL blogger Gary Frink is currently sailing on board Oosterdam’s Mexican West Coast Voyage and will be sending in cruise diaries throughout his time on board.

  • Ross Ariffin

    Hello there:-)

    Great to hear how wonderful your trip to Puerto Vallarta was. Ive been to that place several times onboard the ms Statendam some years back. I was recently on the ms Oosterdam just before the Mexican cruise started as I was the Band Leader of the Neptunes Trio in the Ocean Bar! I left on an emergency back to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Family matters. No doubt I would have loved to be still onboard if the situation were any different. I was originally scheduled to leave the ship on Dec 4th as per my contract but I guess things happen when we at least expect it. Hope you have a great cruise! Cheers – Ross

  • Denise P

    I love reading your blogs, keep’em coming. Please!!

  • Susan Rogers

    Please give a report about your day in Cabo San Lucas. I know it’s too early for whale watching, but did you hear any comments about the upcoming season?

  • Gary R. Frink

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment; I always appreciate it. In re Cabo: Jim and Jill went out on a boat searching for sea mammal sightings, but didn’t have much luck. Ross: Hope you have better luck when you are next aboard Holland America ship. Again, thanks for the comments. Gary

  • Shir

    Hi. Me and my wife also took cruise to the Mexican riviera for our honeymoon. I must say that among this 3 locations, Mazatlan is the only one that has so much to offer (in terms of sight seeing). so we figure it out, one port for sight seeing, 2 ports for beach and sun. we took the city tour with the red trolley that is parking when you exit the pier terminal… that was a great tour, covered all the interesting sight seeing, and we even have a time for shopping and beach… highly recommended!

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