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Margaritas at El Dorado

The whale watching trips out of Punta Mita generally run about three hours, so if you go out in the morning, you get back around 1 and are starving. And thirsty.

Fortunately, there are several nearby solutions to this problem. While there are no great surfing beaches in Punta Mita, there are several close by. Like El Faro and Buros. And wherever you have surfing beaches, you have surfers. And surf shops. And tattoo stores. And places to get street food that is cheap and full of beans and rice and cheese. This is true of Punta Mita as well.

If you’re feeling like something a little more classy, then you walk down to Tino’s and you get his justly famous pescado zarandeado, which is a whole red snapper, marinated in chiles and lime and soy sauce and then grilled so that the skin is charred (and delicious) and the meat is sweet and juicy.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

I love this for dinner, when you can dress up a bit and take advantage of the sunset. But it always feels a bit extravagant for lunch (particularly when I’m in flip-flops and wet swim trunks). So I prefer to go next door to El Dorado, a typical Mexican beach restaurant where people sit on yellow sling chairs right on the sand and tend to spend two or three hours ordering pitchers of margaritas and bowls of thick guacamole while staring at the ocean and loosing track of time.

At least, that’s what I do.

And I don’t think I’m alone. When I went there earlier this week, there were three young hipsters zoned out in the sling chairs next to me and mid-way through my first margarita a young bearded dude who, no doubt, is the lead singer in one of those sensitivo male bands, like Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes, turned to me and said, “Señor”, (I love that–a gringo calling another gringo Señor), ¿Cuándo es?

When I told him it was a little after two, he sat up straight in his sling chair (sort of) and said, “Shit! We’ve been here for four hours? I think I was supposed to get together with Dog for lunch.”

And then his two female companions (one of whom, I think, was sound asleep, though it was hard to tell for sure because of the dark sunglasses), giggled.

“We should get our tab and head back,” said Mr. Sensitivo.

There was a pause. And then the prettier of the two yawned and said, “Screw Dog. I say we order another pitcher of margaritas.”

A girl of my own tastes. 

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Humpbacks: Part II

Ty and I weren’t the only ones on the Punta Mita Expedition’s panga. There was also Carlos, the captain, who had an uncanny sense of knowing where the big boys would be coming up to breech well before we even knew there were any whales around. And there was a family from Michigan, staying at the nearby Four Seasons Resort, that nearly drove me crazy. Actually, the two little girls—Jackie and Natalie—were fine. And Nancy, the mom was very cool as well. It was Dad I wanted to toss from the panga (and I don’t think I was the only one).

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

Okay, he said he was from Michigan but I’d be willing to bet a case of Coronas that he was originally from New Jersey. Just the accent alone screamed Jersey. And I heard a lot of it because the guy would not stop talking. I could probably tell you his whole life history if I hadn’t stopped listening shortly after Carlos lifted anchor and gunned the boat towards the Marieta Islands. And then he started asking me a million questions—where was I from, what did I do, where was I staying.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. What really drove me crazy is the way he kept yelling at his two girls. “Jackie…JACK-ie. Ovah heah. You’re missin’ it…one just jumped. Jackie, you’re missin’ it.”

Non-stop. As if it were even possible to miss seeing a 50-foot whale launch itself out of the water maybe 20 feet in front of you.

At one point we got into the middle of a giant school of acrobatic pantropical spotted dolphins. I mean like hundreds of them. There were dozens running in front of the panga. There were hundreds on either side of us. It was a friggin’ river of dolphins. They’d leap way out of the water. They’d do flips. I mean it was a circus show out in the Bay of Banderas.

There was nowhere to look where you wouldn’t see a dolphin, even if you tried. Yet here was Jersey Dad screaming, “Natalie…NAT-a-lie. Ovah heah! A dolphin just jumped. You’re missin’ it, Nat. Look! Look ovah heah!”

The guy was crazy. But Natalie and Jackie, who were like 7 and 8 years old, were very cool about things. They just totally ignored their dad. Like they never even heard him. Which, believe me, was impossible.

Finally, I think everyone—the humpbacks, the dolphins, even the frigate birds—got sick of Dad because they all cleared out. Leaving us with nothing but a calm sea. At which point Jersey Dad took a nap and Carlos headed us back towards Punta Mita.

And I swear, I have no idea how the rope to the anchor got twisted around Jersey Dad’s leg. I guess it’s just lucky one of the girls spotted it before Carlos threw it over. But don’t you think it’s odd his wife didn’t notice it? Especially since she was sitting right next to him on the panga?

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Humpbacks off Punta Mita

Crickey! That’s the word that comes to mind when a 50-foot humpback whale weighing something like 40 tons comes flying out of the water right in front of you. Actually, I think crickey is the word Ty used. I said something more along the lines of Holy Shit!

I’ve spotted whales all over the world, from Maui to New Zealand, but I’ve never seen anything like the performance put on yesterday morning by a pod of tail-slapping, spy-hopping, lob-tailing males off Punta Mita in the Bay of Banderas.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

According to Ty, who is both a naturalist working for Punta Mita Expeditions and a professional nature photographer (check out some of her amazing shots of breeching humpbacks, spinning dolphins, and flying manta rays at Drifting Seas), we were in the middle of what is known as a competitive group of males fighting for the attention of a single female (who, as far as I could tell, was unimpressed by the boy’s theatrics).

These big ol’ bulls charged each other and you’d swear you could hear their massive bodies slamming into one another just beneath the surface. Sometimes a pair of big ol’ boys would come up out of the water together, their bodies wrapped around each other like football lineman right after the snap.

And the sounds they made. Not beautiful lilting sounds but more of a belligerent sound of underwater horns preparing for some great battle. Like this:  whale1

It was fascinating but also a little scary. I mean it was like being in the middle of a rugby scrum. I could only hope that while they were slamming into each other all around us that they were at least somewhat aware of the presence of our panga.

Very brutal in some ways. But god what a show they put on. 

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Ana Bananas in La Cruz

From my condo it’s about a 45 minute walk along the beach to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. For years, La Cruz was little more than a place for the local fishermen to haul out their pangas. But then a couple of years ago the Mexican government built a big first-class marina here. It hasn’t really caught on yet. Most of the dock space is still empty. Yachties I know who have docked here say it’s not really worth it. You pay the same as you would for a slip space in the Puerto Vallarta marina but there are fewer services nearby. Still, several 4-star resorts have recently opened just up the coast (including the St. Regis) and maybe in 20 or 30 years it will become the Mexican Cannes.

Or not.

There are, however, a couple of interesting places to eat. One is called Tacos on the Street because…well, they put tables and chairs out on the street and that’s where you eat. It’s a family run place, owned by Jorge and his wife Raquel. Jorge cooks up the rib eye steaks that are chopped up for the tacos and Raquel is in charge of making the fresh corn tortillas and salsa.

This is their home and the restaurant side of the business is only open three nights a week—Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. They don’t have a liquor license but they don’t mind at all if you buy a beer or two at the market on the corner. Or even bring your own wine if you want.

The rib-eye tacos are amazing. The last time I ate there, I had six of them. And only stopped ordering because I thought I was making a pig of myself.

Then there’s Ana Bananas which you could say faces the marina if there was a view of the water, which there isn’t. There used to be. But when they built the marina they dumped earth in front of the outdoor patio and now it’s just a four-foot berm obliterating the view. Ana says they promised they would come back one day and remove the mound of earth and rocks but she isn’t holding her breath.

So, instead, she had some shade cloth painted with a scene of what the beach looked like before the marina was built. And this shade hangs on some PVC poles on the patio in front of the berm. So you can, you know, sort of imagine what the view would be like without the hideous mound of earth.

I’m not going to say the food is great at Ana Bananas because it’s not. It’s basically the sort of crap that yachties always seem to want—cheeseburgers, club sandwiches, nachos. But nobody comes here for the food (or the view). They come here on weekend evenings for the cheap beers and live music—the Banana Jam, as it’s called.

You never know who is going to be playing. As the white board in front of Ana’s says, the Rock of Ages band is made up of “friends and singers from far and near.” Which means whoever happens to be in the area and feels like jamming. Sometimes the music is awful. Sometimes it’s extraordinary. But it’s always interesting. 

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Make your own damn chips

Here’s an amazing thing: if you drink Manhattans when you’re in Mexico, as I do, you won’t be able to find bourbon—any bourbon—let alone maraschino cherries. Instead, you have to bring your own from the States.

However, the trade-off is that you can buy freshly-made, still-warm tortillas just about anywhere. And no matter where you get them, they will be better than anything you can buy in the States.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

When I’m in Sayulita, I get my tortillas, after a morning at the beach, at this little market called Alas Blancas (White Wings). It’s easy to find because it’s got a giant tequila bottle and a huge beer can on the roof.

It’s like a little 7-11 except where a 7-11 stocks 20 facings of 50 products, a Mexican market carries 10 facings of 300 products. They do it by not devoting a huge amount of space to the big-margin items like Coke and potato chips. Yes, you can buy Coke and chips at a Mexican market, but you won’t find a whole aisle devoted to that crap.

Instead, you get an end-aisle with 15 different types of hot sauce! Even though it’s hard to make much money selling hot sauce. And then there will be two or three plastic coolers, usually close to the cash register, filled with still-steaming corn tortillas. Three dozen will cost you less than a buck. So obviously they’re not making much money here either. But, hey, in Mexico, this is what the people want—hot sauce and tortillas. Not 20 different types of tortilla chips (in fact, in Mexico, people think you’re stupid to buy tortilla chips. They say, “My friend, why don’t you just make your own?” Because obviously if you buy three dozen fresh corn tortillas every day, which almost everyone does, you’re going to have some left over. So why not fry them in a little oil yourself? Not only do you save yourself $3.99 by not buying Doritos but they taste better.)

Do you know about Mexican dichos? They are like our proverbs. One of my favorite dichos goes like this: Sin dinero no baila el perro. Which means, Without money the dog doesn’t dance.

So if you want the dog to dance, make your own damn tortilla chips. That’s a Lansing dicho

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