Mazatlan: Earth and Diamonds

(Previous Post in This Cruise Report: An Hour or So in Cabo San Lucas.)

I thought I was going to divide our day in Mazatlan into several posts, but two things are in my way: not having taken any notes, and laziness. So, it's the Big Mazatlan Post!

(See all photos from our day in Mazatlan here.)

Carnival Splendor - Waking up in Mazatlan

We tended to sleep with our curtains open, the reassuring night sea a comfort blanket until the sun would tiptoe over and nudge us awake. With the photo above, I lifted my head, grabbed the camera, CLICK, then rolled back over and slept a little longer.

Mike was soon up and taking photos, but I was the lazy one this morning, or as lazy as one can be when one has to be sitting on a bus by 8:30 a.m. I think we had breakfast on the Lido deck, but I don't remember. Again, if only I'd taken notes... but now I'm forty(!), so I can't be expected to remember.

The Ship Goes On and On (Carnival Splendor)

And here is a photo from the bus window. We were on Eleazar's bus - a nice man who will show up in a photo below. The bus was extremely comfortable: air conditioned, plush seats, lots of cushioning - rather the opposite of the rattling ride in Ensenada.

Of course, there is a lot of snobbery directed toward those who tour places from the shielded comfort of their boxes, dipping into the scenery then retreating to the safe traveling armchair. I should know, I have been that snob more than once. Am I sold on bus tours instead of something less contrived and more immersive? No. Am I sold on micromini sojourns into the mainland from the cruise ship - a taste, a sample? Yes.

Then there is the subset of criticism which says you should book with a local tour instead of the sanitized cruise-approved experience. We did a local tour in Ensenada and it was great. We did a self-tour on Catalina and, again, great.

But in Mazatlan, we wanted to go into the Sierra Madres and see some colonial villages. It's about seven hours of sightseeing, all up. People cannot say enough good things about a local guide called "Mazatlan Frank" - font of information, gives you plenty of time, drives you right up to where you want to be, knows everyone, personable - and I would have loved to have taken his tour with such fervent testimonials across the forums.

BUT! Here's the thing: if something goes wrong, that cruise ship is not going to wait for you... unless you are on a tour you booked through the cruise line. We didn't stray far while in Ensenada or Catalina. But an hour's drive up in the mountains? We couldn't justify the risk.

Mazatlan - Tagged Up

If you want a potentially compelling photo essay topic, consider this title: "The Dogs of Mazatlan." Half of the photos would be of the many dogs seen in the streets. The other half would be of the endless, endless, endless graffiti/tagging on the buildings. Unless you are in the Golden Zone (and even then) or in the (far nicer, but underplayed?) historic beachfront area, prepare to be disgusted.

I know sometimes I come off like I have a problem with Mexicans (see last post). It's not true. Really, it's not. I have a problem with some of the anti-education activities from some of my Mexican students. I have a problem with some of my co-workers who play up their Mexican heritage beyond the point of reasonable pride and relevancy to students.

But overall? I'm still the girl who wanted to learn every language and visit every country and celebrate every world holiday and try every food, and so on. (See that kinda run-on thing I did there? It has a name - polysyndeton! Once just an obscure term in my lit handbook, now I seem to use it every freaking day. Teaching AP this year is making me smarter and happier, but also a little more self-aware than I usually like.)

I enjoyed our four visits to Mexico this summer very much, including the people, who were all friendly. (I don't care if it's just because they wanted our tourist money. There are plenty of people in customer service in this country who don't find that a good enough reason to be civil, let alone friendly.) I like to focus on the positive in a culture, even if it's not a culture that I personally want to adopt. So, again, I have nothing against Mexico. I like Mexico. I like Mexicans. Really-really.

And therefore, these tedious disclaimers aside, I want to say that the tagging in Mazatlan is super-shitty. It reflects poorly on the city, making me think that Mazatlan is dangerous and those who have pride in their community there are greatly outnumbered. "What a bunch of losers." Maybe these sentiments reflect poorly on me, fine, but I wasn't expecting to leave the ship and see so much evidence of so many worthless people. I hope they get it sorted out.

(That's how much I like Mexico, that I even care. It was bad. Yeah, I know this isn't a problem exclusive to Mazatlan, but this post is about Mazatlan, so there you go.)

Mazatlan - Tourists at the Adobe Brickyard

Our first stop was at the adobe brickyard. This is a roadside stop along the highway, where a small souvenir stand and one guy doing brickmaking demos await. (The souvenirs are not, alas, adobe-related, but are parasols and serapes.) By "demo" I mean we all stood in a semi-circle as pictured above and watched him do the grown-up version of mudpie engineering. It was interesting for about two minutes, then it was just too sunny and warm, but it was interesting. I could see myself watching a special about adobe bricks on the Discovery channel. Not a full hour episode, obviously, but perhaps as a special segment.

Malpica - Panaderia

Our next stop was in the tiny village of Malpica to visit a bakery and see a tilemaker at work.

Malpica - Tilemaker

Malpica - Tiles

Malpica has structures that go back to colonial times, just like the other two villages we visited after this stop, and if there is one complaint I had about the tour it's that it could have used more historical narration. Still, everything was very interesting, with plenty of satisfying sensory overload.

Malpica - Front Room in Bakery

One thing I didn't expect was to see so much beautiful furniture sitting in homes that were otherwise very simple and barely had window coverings. We drove past many furniture "factories" - roadside stands - with carved rocking chairs, sofas, headboards, that were nothing short of stunning. (Don't think about rainforest woods being depleted.) Mike and I started talking almost seriously about how we could probably get one of those rocking chairs, one of those majestic thrones, back on the ship.

Malpica - Looking in Doorway

Malpica - Two Gentlemen of

Malpica - Tractor and Alcatraz Home

After Malpica we drove a little further before stopping at one of those furniture places... well, in theory. In reality, we stopped at probably the only "showroom" that had nothing more than a few half-finished pieces in a shoddy work area, a whole lot of tourist-friendly figurines on tables, and some pretty neat pottery out front, where we hung out.

Mazatlan Pottery Stop - Woodcarver at Work

Mazatlan Pottery Stop - Wall Pieces

Mazatlan Pottery Stop - Ducks in a Row

Mazatlan Pottery Stop - Mike Handles the Trash

We also enjoyed our complimentary beverage.

Mazatlan Pottery Stop - Mike under the Mango Tree

Otherwise, Mike lingered under the mango trees, and the whole tour made way for passing herds of racing goats. (Who were too fast to be captured by a mere camera.)

Concordia - Mike in front of church

Our next stop was Concordia, home of an 18th century church. Above you see the obligatory "spouse stands in front of foreign church while you are oblivious to serious need for a wide-angle lens" shot.

Concordia - Church Entrance

Concordia - Church Belltower

Concordia - Paleteria

Concordia - Guns in the Square

Police officers with machine guns in the quiet public square. Is that every day, or just the days the tour buses come?

Concordia - Window Sheep

I don't know what's up with this sheep decal in the window of an empty store, but it made me happy.

Concordia - Tour Bus

The buildings to the side of the tour bus were also said to be colonial.

One criticism of this tour that I've seen online is that you don't get to spend a lot of time in Concordia. Maybe it was just an off-day, but I found Concordia to be the least interesting part of the tour. I like looking in churches, but Eleazar, nice as he was, didn't have anything to say about the place. So all we could do is walk in, nod, "Yep, that's pretty," then walk back to the bus.

Otherwise, this seemed like a mostly residential area with little interest in catering to tourists. Nobody greeted us. The souvenir stand was on the other side of the square, away from where we were. There were no purchasing opportunities or even suggestions - not even a "tips appreciated" sign. I definitely did not feel like Concordia was interested in our tourist dollars (and that's fine, if unusual), and - like I said - without a commentary on the church, there wasn't much point to actually getting off the bus. (Copala's church is much more interesting. That Mazatlan Frank guy probably has all kinds of stuff to say about Concordia, but again, what if...?)

Concordia - Church, Square, Schoolgirl (through Bus Window)

I didn't get a good photo of the square, so I took one from the bus window as we drove away. Which also proved to not be a good photo. So I overprocessed it in Photoshop. Which still doesn't make it a good photo, but I can pretend it's deliberately bad.

Mazatlan - 24-hour Roadside Funeral Service


Copola - Sierra Madres

Now we were clearly in the mountains, and it was beautiful.

Copola - Eleazar Leads the Way

Copala was the high point - in every sense of the word - of the tour. Malpica was a pleasant place and the brickyard had a certain charm, and even Concordia was something new to see, but Copala's seclusion, quiet, and beauty give it the top spot.

Copola - Gallery

The first place we walked was to the art museum. I don't remember anything about it. In one door and out the other, and nothing really to my taste, but it was too quick a stop to care.

Copola - Canadian with a Mission

Next we passed a Canadian missionary who was selling local crafts, trying to help Copola's residents develop a product they could make and sell. On the way back I did stop to look at the necklaces, hoping for a pretty souvenir, but nothing jumped out at me. Then the guy started giving us the hard sell about helping people out; we tried to politely move on, but he kept pushing, probably deciding that we were rich American jerks who could waddle off the luxury cruise ship but wouldn't drop a dime on Something That Really Matters. So we waddled on.

Copola - Church

The tour description mentions comfortable walking shoes. Copala is what they're talking about - lots of cobblestones. I was fine with my slip-on sandals (although always grateful for the runs of sidewalk), and the walk from tour bus to church and back again isn't very far. (I would show you on Google Maps, but I can't find it.)

Copola - Mike

The humidity was catching up with us, but we weren't suffering yet.

Copola - Church Detail

I'd love to know more about this little guy, hanging out the front of the San Jose church.

Copola - Scary Church Painting

I'm not sure I want to know more about this painting.

Copola - Looking out at the Sierra Madres

We were surrounded by lush greens, feeling very far from Nevada.

Copola - Building Foundation

Mike pointed out this foundation in ruins, just off the side of the church. Copala was an old Spanish gold mining town, and there is a mining museum in the town square, but we didn't get to see that. A little more time and/or independent wandering opportunities would have been good. Again, we saw more than enough, but I could have handled 30 more minutes here (and 30 less at Diamonds International, but that's another story).

Copola - Dog

A speckly dog taking in his leisure by the gazebo (shown in the photostream link at the top of this post).

Copola - Mickey Moment (Daniel's)

We walked back to the tour bus, where lunch awaited us at Daniel's. Lunch, and a little trademark violating.

Copola - World Famous Banana Cream Coconut Pie (Daniel's)

Daniel's signature attraction is the Banana Cream Coconut Pie. A couple of other places on the walk to the church advertised banana pie, but clearly these were imitators.

Not to make it sound like there was a bustling main street of commerce happening. Here is a list of everyone we saw on our walk through the town:

  • Eleazar and the rest of the tour group
  • The woman in charge of the art museum (who did not talk)
  • The Canadian missionary
  • A guy in a t-shirt? I think?
  • A little girl in pink running up the gazebo steps
  • A group of men outside the church selling wood carvings
  • A group of men outside the gazebo with their two dogs
  • A achoolboy selling wood carvings
  • The staff inside Daniel's
  • The woman who solicited Mike (to buy some wood carvings)

I don't know if everyone was hiding, at work, or what. It was very quiet. Maybe it's all a Hollywood set. Maybe we were visiting between zombie invasions and wouldn't want another 30 minutes to walk around. I just don't know.

Copola - View from Our Table at Daniel's

The view from our table at Daniel's was outstanding. As was getting a table almost to ourselves. Almost, because two women from the tour sat at the end of our table. They didn't say one word to each other throughout the entire meal. It was extraordinary. I think a few cold glances were shot down our way, but - as much as Mike and I can sometimes make an endless prattling loop between the two of us - we weren't loud, so I don't know what the problem was.

Copola - Coke, Chips, Salsa

More extraordinary than the noncompanionable silence of our tablemates were the (sigh of pleasure) sugary cold Cokes in glass bottles and the chips and salsa.

Copola - Mike's Meal at Daniel's

Above is Mike's plate. When the upcoming meal was described by Eleazar as we drove toward Copala, I was disappointed. It sure sounded like a meat-fest. But, I hadn't really expected anything different. Not only did unlimited food await us back on the ship, but I wasn't on this tour to try the food, and I didn't want to ask for special accommodations. It didn't seem like that kind of environment.

Copola - My Meal at Daniel's

However, once we arrived at Daniel's, Eleazar asked how many vegetarians were in the group. (There were two, or 5% for you math types.) The restaurant made us quesadillas that in some circumstances might be boring, but here in the mountains with the chips and salsa and (swoon) Cokes, were perfect - light and refreshing.

Copola - Sprite Bottle

For a couple of bucks on the side, we got a couple of tall-neck and just-as-sugary Sprites. Mmmm. Too much to finish, but so good to drink. Serene and full, sitting in cool breezes surrounded by green, we knew the definition of sated. What an unexpected highlight.

Copola - The Famous Banana Coconut Cream Pie at Daniel's

The legendary pie wasn't bad, either.

Copola - Mike Being Solicited

Here's that woman trying to put the woodcarving moves on my husband. She kept insisting the little carving of the houses was free. No thanks. A gift! No thanks. Then it became, "just pay what you want." She wouldn't take the carving back, and Mike practically shoved it back into the bag. Crazy Mexican gift-giving.

Copala - Giant Beer Can in the Mountains

We sat back and enjoyed the mountains (and giant beer cans along the road) for the 45 minute drive back to Mazatlan proper. Our next destination? "The Golden Zone."

Mazatlan - Tag Tag Tag Losers Losers LosersInfinity

(With lots of tagging on the way.)

I want to say that the Golden Zone was the bottom rung of the trip. Other than getting to see another side of Mazatlan, specifically beach resorts surrounded by chain stores meant to court tourists, we had no interest in the place and resented the 45 minutes we had to kill here before we returned to the ship. Forty-five minutes that we could have spent walking around mining museums, historic cemeteries, or just eating more chips and salsa.

However, there is a contingent for whom this is one of the best parts of the trip. I don't understand these people, but we've since met enough of them to accept that they exist.

They are the Diamonds International people.

Mazatlan - Mike at Diamonds International

And this is Mike inside of Diamonds International.

Mike Unimpressed at Diamonds International

And this is Mike still inside of Diamonds International, where we enjoyed our complimentary beverage, which DI can easily give away, because people spend tons of money at Diamonds International as well as the other jewelry stores along the way.

Now, I do believe that you can get good deals at these places, especially if the only source for bling in your hometown is, say, one of those stores in the mall near the food court. I'm not knocking that. What makes me make unattractive scoffing noises behind my hand is when people on the cruise boards post things like, "I showed the Shopping Expert what I bought and she was amazed at the deal!" Or, "I took the bracelet home and it was appraised at twice the value!"

1. The Shopping Expert (an actual job on the cruise ship) is paid to believe that you are getting great bargains at the cruise-approved shopping destinations.

2. When my mother used to buy jewelry, she would get it appraised. It always appraised for much higher than what she paid, no matter where she bought it. I think it's called "knowing how to shop." Or it may be called "a total racket perpetuated by the diamond/gold/precious gem people." Either or.

One thing these places like Diamonds International do is offer you free charms, free bracelets, etc. First, these things are crap. Don't make a special trip. Second, it's really fun - if you have an unfortunate amount of time to kill - to go in, politely get your free gift, then leave. Just keep smiling and saying thank you and cheerfully wave and walk out. Nope, don't want to look at whatever you're pulling out of that case, thanks again, SEE YA HA-HA!

Like I said, too much time to kill.

We looked in one little store of more traditional souvenirs for one of those beautiful chess sets, but we were still out of luck. Is that more of a northern Mexico/border thing? I did see some figurines I liked, but the guy kept standing over us, so we just left. I know I've brought this up in another post, but I really would like to see some Mexican tourist-oriented business just try low-key selling. I can't tell you how many times we walked away from items of interest because the shopping experience was too pushy and unpleasant. Yeah, I know, white people.

We re-boarded the bus early and waited, glad that others were just as mystified at the appeal of this stop. The mugginess had really caught up with us by now. My shirt was moist and my brain was almost as squishy.

The ride back was nice because we got to see some of the older (but well-kept) hotels along the beach, a bit further along than the Golden Zone. I'm sure the GZ properties are very nice, especially if you never leave them, but I would always be aware that Diamonds International was right outside the front gate. Shudder.

All of the photos from the bus were cruddy, as were the few I took inside the cruise ship terminal, where a surprisingly large number of people were guzzling drinks in groups at the bar as Michael Jackson memorial music blasted from all of the stalls. (Maybe the drinks are cheaper there? There was no view and it was hot - me, I wanted back on my pretty ship.)

(I did get a souvenir before we left the terminal, but I'll save the souvenir post for whenever I take some better photos of the stuff.)

Trams shuttled us back to the ship, and Mike promptly went down for his nap. I stood on the balcony and snapped the sailaway, waving at the tourists along the shore. Although I was glad we didn't do any tours on our other port days, Mazatlan was probably my favourite stop because of our gallivanting.

Cruising - is there any wrong way to do it?

Mazatlan - Pushboat

Mazatlan - Jetty

Mazatlan - Waves and Distance

Carnival Splendor - Mazatlan Sunset (Sinking)

Carnival Splendor - Mazatlan Sunset (Bow and Clouds)

30 September 2009 |