We had a great passage from La Paz across the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan; with a full suite of sails and a 15-20kt breeze we scooted along through the first day and night. There was not much swell but even so in the morning we found a flying fish and a small squid on the deck so we must have had some water across the bow. At dawn the wind dropped and we motorsailed the last day so we could arrive in Mazatlan before sunset.
As well as being the biggest Mexican port on the Pacific coast Mazatlan has also been developed for mass tourism and the Zona Dorada (as the tourist belt is known) lies to the north of the town. The anchorage at Club Nautico lies just inside the harbor breakwater and is very convenient for getting into the old town which is pretty much unspolit since colonial times. Most of the 19th century buildings have been preserved and the steep hills and narrow streets give the town a European feel.
We explored the town on our bikes, visiting the basilica and the market and later in the afternoon we rode along the Malecon to La Clavadista. For 300 pesos men (macho or crazy or both) dive from a 100’ rocky pinnacle into a small pool about 12’ deep between the rocks below. I wasn’t going to haggle over someone risking their life for my entertainment. Chapis, our champion, climbed up the steps to the top, crossed himself six time and stepped onto the platform. He waited until the swell was just right and did a beautiful swallow dive into the pool. It was breath-taking to watch.
We hired a car for a few days and took a road trip to Durango. The mountains of the Sierra Madre are split into two ranges and the Sierra Madre Occidental lies close to the coast in this part of Mexico. There are only a couple of passes from the west coast to the high plateau which lies between the two mountain chains. The old road from Mazatlan to Durango is known as the Devil’s Backbone, it hugs the contours like an instant noodle as it winds its way through the cols and canyons gradually gaining altitude until six hours later it crawls up onto the plateau.
Durango is an old mining town with millions of tons of iron, gold, silver and various other metals having been chipped out of its rocks by the Spanish and then the Mexicans. Most of the mines are closed now but the impressive buildings of the old town are testament to how important the town was a couple of centuries ago. We visited a mining museum (a geologist and a metallurgist – what do you expect?) which was housed in an old tunnel under the city. Our guide spoke excellent English and apart from providing information about the geology and mining operations, also told us tales of ghosts and myths and miners lore.
Being so remote Durango has been completely bypassed by tourism but throughout the 20th century the movie industry was drawn to the town by the clear light and the endless desert. Numerous Hollywood westerns have been made there and big stars such as John Wayne, Kevin Costner and, of course, Clint Eastwood have walked the streets. We drove out to a couple of the old film sets and it didn’t take much imagination to picture the shoot-outs as we walked down main street past the old saloon, the bank and the Sherriff’s office. We sat in the stagecoach, drove the covered wagon and visited the Indian village and didn’t get shot at or scalped – it would be a fabulous place for a party!
Before leaving Durango we visited a museum dedicated to Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary who led the Brigade del Norte in many successful battles during the revolution. He was feted by Hollywood through which he gained fame and guns but once the revolution segued into a messy civil war the weapon supply from the USA petered out. He became a fairly unsuccessful guerilla leader and was eventually assassinated near Durango in 1923. The museum had some of his guns, a lot of old photos and other memorabilia from the time.
We drove back to Mazatlan along the new toll road which was completed about three years ago and is supposed to cut the journey down to around three hours. Unfortunately a large part of the road was (already) closed for repair including the famous Baluarte suspension bridge, so we didn’t get to drive across the highest bridge in the Americas. We wiggled our way back along the old road, hoping that none of the hundreds of trucks using the road would be coming around a tight bend on the wrong side of the road at the same moment as us.
Better get going, ciao for now.