We anchored in the bay in order to not have to deal with confusion in the San Blas harbor (tides, possible crowding, other unimaginables) but if we do it again, we’ll anchor up the river in town instead. The town of San Blas is a really long walk from Bahia Mantanchen. And Bahia Mantanchen is rife with no-see-ums (jejenes), which are evil, evil little bastards. I can’t imagine how the flimsy little shits make it all the way out a half-mile to your anchored boat in order to bite you on the ass but they manage. And in considerable numbers. I have no idea if they are less prevalent at the anchorage in San Blas harbor. One would hope. Other than that major irritation, the bay is pretty and shallow and it’s easy to land one’s dinghy. There are palapa bars (a lot of them) lining the bay on the west and north edges. We talked to an old woman who sold us gasoline in Mantanchen (the village up the road from the bay) and she said that all those palapas will be full of people come Semana Santa, and also Christmas.
Notable in Mantanchen is the large Ikea-blue beer warehouse; it’s visible from the Bay and I nearly fell off the boat when we pulled in. Ikea San Blas??! I can get some measuring cups! But no, it appears to be some sort of beer distribution center, and it has a mini storefront where you can buy their wares. Also, Mantanchen is full of banana bread bakers whose signs all say things like “The ORIGINAL Banana Bread” or “Accept no substitute!” or “Beware of PIRATE banana bread!” We of course bought banana bread from a couple of different places and it was fine; I’ve had better.
So we set out the first day to walk to San Blas. After a kilometer or two, a pickup stopped and asked us if we didn’t maybe want a ride there since San Blas was muy lejos. That was a scary ride; we haven’t gone much faster than 8 knots in a while and being in the back of a pickup going 80 k/h had me white knuckled. We spent the day wandering around and getting lunch. This generally takes a zillion years; we have to see every single eating establishment in town and scrutinize carefully the clientele (does it look like a popular place? Are they tourists or locals?) and try to figure out what they are serving. Obviously this is an exhausting task and generally ends up with both of us traumatized by the myriad of choices so that we finally pick at random the closest one to wherever we are at the moment because we’re so hungry that we don’t care anymore. We did this in San Blas and found ourselves at a tiny cocina casera (home cooking) place run by a woman named Patricia. She was serving a dish of dorado roe and that’s what we had for lunch. It was really good; she cooked it with garlic, bay, oregano, onion, chilis, and tomato. The roe is very tiny, smaller than tobiko, and a pale yellow color when cooked (when raw, they are more translucent and orangey). Patricia was very friendly: she gave us a tour of her kitchen—all 50 square feet of it—and explained at great length exactly how she prepared the roe dish. There were maybe four tables in the dining area and during our lunch, we got to practice our Spanish on everyone who came in; I guess Patricia doesn’t get too many foreigners and everyone seemed very interested in us and where we were from. There are a couple of sit-down restaurants in town (aside from hotel restaurants) that obviously catered to tourists and had folksy decorations on the walls, quaint matching tablecloths, and pizza on the menu, but we prefer to eat at places where you get to see the people preparing your food; at least where you can see the kitchen. One other place that looked interesting was a cocktail bar (we saw actual shaker inside behind the bar) that seemed to cater to ex-pats if not entirely run by an ex-pat. (We didn’t stop for drinks though.) It was randomly decorated with hand-me-down looking bar furniture, full of old men drinking beer (not Mexicans), and had a chalkboard that listed a few classic movies that they showed sometimes in the evenings.
We walked to the beach near the entry of the San Blas harbor and walked the entire length of the beach thinking we’d walk back around the point to where the boat was anchored. But no! Not possible because there is yet another river, one that is not mentioned at all in Charlie’s Charts or on his map, curiously. We had to turn around and walk all the way back to San Blas where we managed to catch the last bus going out Mantanchen way. The jejenes ambushed us when we arrived back at the dinghy and we got eaten alive before we could untie our kayak and paddle like fiends away from the shore. I have probably over a hundred angry red bites that itch excruciatingly. Each welt from each single bite looks like it could house 20 or 30 jejenes just fine. It’s hard to believe.