It never rains in San Blas in December. That’s what the locals say. Or, rather, that’s what they said – until the day that we arrived.
After two days of sailing from the Baja Peninsula, Brian and I arrived in San Blas (a small town about 60 miles north of Puerto Vallarta) on a wet, soggy morning. We’d been sailing through squalls for the past 24 hours, but the biggest storm of all had settled over San Blas and had no intention of leaving.
We dropped our anchor in the middle of a three-mile wide bay, one of just six boats in the harbor. The mountains of San Blas reach high above the sandy beach, and flourish with dense greenery and tall palm trees. A dozen restaurants line the shore, each with its own thatched roof and open-air seating.
We were drenched by the time we set the anchor, so we hunkered down in the cockpit and waited for the storm to pass. The warm humid air smelled sweet as it wafted across the boat, and the raindrops felt cool on our skin. I’ve always loved the rain, and I was beginning to miss it. A good rainstorm can be quite cleansing. It cleans both land and sea, and in our case: boat. Our boat was accumulating salt crystals from deck to mast, so a fresh water bath was welcome.
After a few hours it was evident that the rain was not leaving, so we donned our raincoats and set out to explore the town of San Blas. We landed our dinghy on the beach in front of Ismael’s restaurant, and soon realized that we were Ismael’s only customers. In fact, we were the only customers on the entire beach. Every seat in every restaurant was empty. Later we learned that the tourist season begins in mid-December and continues through February. But during the rest of the year, the seats in all of these many restaurants remain bare.
We lingered for about an hour over guacamole and two Pacificos and told Ismael that we were going to take a taxi into town. When we’d walked just a few hundred yards, a blue Chevy Blazer pulled up next to us and offered us a ride. We accepted and were driven to town by Ismael’s sister. The day before, the crew of Capaz and Totem were also driven the five miles into town by Ismael’s relatives. They each refused payment for the ride – it was simply a good deed from good people.
The town of San Blas is very small. There’s a town square (zocalo) and market area, from which stretches a few miles of streets lined with homes and small restaurants. The shops along the zocalo are a mix of restaurants, jewelry shops, bread shops, fruit and vegetable markets, and local service providers, like electronic and appliance repair shops. All of the spaces have three interior walls and a retractable fourth exterior wall, making them completely open to the street. Each space is no more than 150 square feet.
By the time we arrived, the rainstorm had deluged the streets and stray dogs, cats and chickens waded through the puddles. Brian and I splashed our way toward a restaurant overlooking the zocalo. We sat at a table that looked out over the flooded streets and watched the town go by for a few hours. Over the din of the rain we listened to the local women speak with each other, and hummed along to their melodic lilt.
Later, when the sun had broken through the clouds, we walked to the fort that guarded the city of San Blas in the late 1700s and strolled through the church that inspired Longfellow’s last poem in 1882, called The Bells of San Blas. We walked past banana plants, tall palm trees heavy with coconuts, hibiscus trees, and the ubiquitous bougainvillea vine with its brilliant purple blooms. From the fort we looked out over the entire town of San Blas, including the estuary that winds its way through the jungle for seven miles.