Making Our Way to Our Happy Place. Mazatlan to San Pancho

By Remy ( photos by Liz)

Like a couple of rubes freshly fallen off the turnip truck, we rolled off the ferry at Mazatlán and into the hustle and colour of “la República”, as the mainland is known in the hinterlands of Baja California. We were to land in the lap of luxury too, having been offered a place to park in front of John and Linda’s beautiful hacienda in the old part of town.

First we had to do some tourism and visit El Faro, the old lighthouse which at 400′ above sea level is one of the the highest in North America. It makes for a pretty hot hike! Since the last time we were here in 2009 they have added a glass floor walkway that extends out over the cliffs of the hill (not seen below us) and offers a panoramic view of the city (as seen behind us). Ever conscious of enhancing the tourist experience, the entrance to the lighthouse hike is right beside a working water treatment plant with the various stages (“Secondary Sedimentation Pond!”, “Bio-solids Collection Tank!”) proudly labelled. It certainly encouraged one to move along the pathway.
Inside the beautiful home of John and Linda, where there is naturally a pool just off the kitchen. Linda used to own the Village Cantina in Inglewood, but thirteen years ago they decided to stop pretending and start actually living in Mexico. They selected Mazatlán as their landing spot and renovated this incredible old hacienda in the old part of the city, creating a magnificent indoor/outdoor bit of tranquility.
Along the Calle de Flores (Street of Flowers) where the sidewalks rise while the street falls toward the ocean and they plant flowers along the resulting walls. I chose my top to match the neighbourhood colours.
A public pool built in the brutalist style. The ocean naturally fills the pool and also decomposes the concrete so the slide is no longer in operation and there is a little bit of exposed rebar to negotiate on the way to the water. Cool idea, though.

Following our departure from Mazatlán and our exposure to how the “other half” (those people not living in a vehicle) live, we were quickly brought back to reality with a night’s stay in a Pemex gas station parking lot. We had got a late start from the city and darkness caught us well short of our destination on the Riviera Nayarit, where our “happy place”, San Pancho, is located.

If you want it, chances are that someone in Mexico has it! This roadside shop specializes in Beetlejuice-style home decor.
Soon after leaving Mazatlán, one passes from the state of Sinaloa into that of Nayarit, which is one of the breadbaskets of Mexico. Here is a load of sugar cane on its way to being processed (and probably going nowhere near a scales), and we passed forests of mango trees that, unfortunately for us, weren’t yet in season.
We stopped at a hot spring on the way where they have developed these delightful pools. We missed out on free admission by four years – it was senior citizen day at the pools and 60+ was considered to be el tercer edad.
Giving the old ladies a thrill with my Burt Reynolds pose! You can probably tell how thrilled this particular lady was. This was the hottest of the pools where the water was piped in directly from the spring.
Liz was the “surprise” hiker on the Thursday morning jungle hike to the Buddha statue in San Pancho. Here she is surprising the organizer, and a good friend, Margot. We (and especially Liz) are now amongst a large group of friends in a place that we know well and love. It is still surprising how much things have changed in the past two years!
Catching sunset with Darla, who was a casita-neighbour of Liz during her last “Mommy Sabbatical” here two years ago. We had visited Darla and her man, Sheldon, at their home in Hamilton, ON, last summer, and Darla had returned to the area again this year to avoid some Canadian winter.
More old friends in the ‘hood! Caroline, a long-ago Inglewood neighbour and long-time friend, happened to be in Puerto Vallarta to photograph a wedding. She was travelling with Andrew, who happened to be MilCol graduate a couple of years behind me that was posted to Calgary with the PPCLI while I was still in the army. Small world!
It always helps to have a professional photographer with you at sunset!
We were invited to attend the Emma Olympics, the eponymously named series of beach-oriented half-sports celebrating the birthday of Emma (and coincidentally this year, that of Rosie). Amazing to think that we knew most of these people, and by the end of the day, knew them all! Liz displayed her athletic chops, being on the winning side of the tug-of-war, the three-legged race, and the balloon-between-the-knees race. I kept up Canada’s side in this group, in which the UK was over-represented, by winning the “Wellie Wang” (throwing a rubber boot for distance) and the Brits in the crowd graciously referred to me as “the biggest tosser on the beach” for the rest of the day.
A bit of trash talk went on between Beave and the Two Lizzes prior to the three-legged race, but with that much leg in the game, the conclusion was foregone! Initially we thought Beave was happy to see them together, but it turned out he just had a banana in his party pants.
A street-level still life from our seats at a restaurant.
Hosting a street-side warm-up party and van tour prior to heading off to catch sunset. This is where we live in San Pancho now, at the curb across from Calle Libia #7.
Trust Beave to invent the “counter shot”! Another warm-up prior to heading in to see a hotel lobby concert by Mike Stack in Lo de Marcos. Maybe if we had added some Triple Sec and lime we could have invented the “Gargle-ita”.
Swinging at the beach! Someone had hung this swing from a palm tree in front of our favourite beach bar and you really had to fight the kids to have a turn! When we returned to San Pancho a couple of weeks later, however, it was gone.
Kids play everywhere! These girls mind a couple of chicks in the planter they are playing around while their parents run the souvenir stand behind. The kids should probably be in school, but that can be a privilege for some Mexicans still.
“In place of love, some tacos al pastor”. Apparently this fellow hasn’t had any love in a while, but it makes it easy to read the slogan.
Floating in a sea of flags. A couple of blocks of the main drag are dappled with these Mexican banners which creates a cheery atmosphere.
One of our favourite dishes, the slightly de-constructed tuna tostada at Barracuda Restaurant.
Having so many friends in San Pancho allows us to see a side to the city that most tourists don’t get. Astrid and Shawn gave us a tour de maison of their place which Astrid, a design dynamo, has turned from a vacant lot into this beautiful garden in just a couple of years. I know how Shawn feels…

Our stay in San Pancho was made more amenable by the gracious offer by Karen to use the bathroom facilities of her guest casita, which allowed us to park away from where all the “common” van lifers gather at the town soccer pitch. We only stayed in San Pancho for a week as we wanted to visit our dear friends, Miguel (as we know him – actual name is Michael) and (the other) Liz in the jungle outside of Lo de Marcos for a few days before re-locating to Sayulita when Bowen comes to visit.

The last kilometre of dirt track into Miguel and Liz’ place is capped with a bit of a climb from the road up onto the driveway. We improvised with a few lumps of concrete and some other debris to ease the transition and ensure that we didn’t bash the propane tank. With a team effort the Radvan prevailed!
Taking in the ocean view from the balcony of the “mafia don” house that belong’s to Miguel’s family.
An impressive view of the front entrance of the house at dusk. You can see why (the other) Liz thinks it reminds her of a mafia don’s vacation retreat. No such actual mafia connections exist here.
Walking to the beach in Lo de Marcos. This town, a few kilometres up the coast from San Pancho, is still sleepy in the way that San Pancho was when we first got to know it, and Sayulita before that, but it is being discovered and the clock is ticking on the gringo bomb that will inevitably go off here as it has in those other locations.

With the whirlwind of re-acquaintances in San Pancho it was nice to settle into the relative obscurity of Playa Los Venados, where you have to walk up the road a ways just to get a cellular connection! We also get to have Miguel and Liz mostly to ourselves, and it is nice to see them together after (my) Liz introduced them two years ago in pre-Covid San Pancho. We are indeed in our happy place!


Published by tompkinsontheroad

Married mother of two awesome boys who is now living full time in a self converted Camper van and seeing more of the world. We gave up something super special to live our dream of living a free and simple life on the road exploring new places and taking joy in the discovery of the extraordinary

7 thoughts on “Making Our Way to Our Happy Place. Mazatlan to San Pancho

  1. Hey this is Richard. Can Remi remind me of the book he was reading when u all stopped in Lo de?Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


  2. So great to know you have made it safely home again. What a wonderful life! Give my best to the other Liz.


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