A week on the Sea of Cortez, ‘the world’s aquarium’.

The tiny island of San Francisquito.The tiny island of San Francisquito. CHRIS LLOYD

A week on the Sea of Cortez, ‘the world’s aquarium’

Myriad species of marine life, from sea lions to needlefish

Day 1, Los Islotes Island, Baja California Sur

We are anchored at the sea lion rookery of Los Islotes, 1,300 kilometers northwest of Mexico City. I am a guest of my friend Richard Gresham aboard his 51-foot sloop, the good ship God’s Way.

We set out from La Paz for this point early this morning, passing Steven Spielberg’s huge yacht, Seven Seas, along the way. The other two crew members are geologist Chris Lloyd and tarantula expert Rodrigo Orozco.

At the moment, I am the only person on board, as the other three are 29 meters away, hobnobbing with a bunch of very curious sea lion pups they found in a tiny inlet, a hopefully safe distance away from the enormous males sprawled over nearby rocks and creating a great stir with their loud, raucous calls.

“The babies kept nibbling at my fins . . . they nibble at everything, just to see what it is,” Rodrigo Orozco told me later. “They seemed to be having a lot of fun.”

Heading for shore in a kayak to explore the beach.
Heading for shore in a kayak to explore the beach.

Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez “the world’s aquarium,” and no wonder. During just a few hours we have spotted parrotfish, butterflyfish, triggerfish, billfish, surgeonfish, groupers, mackerel and sardines. As for birds, we have seen pelicans, cormorants, boobies, sandpipers, great blue herons, ravens and, of course, seagulls.

With reluctance we raise anchor and head for our next destination, La Partida.

“It’s a nice, quiet place with a high, sloping wall that blocks the wind,” says the captain. “You’ll enjoy walking along the shore: it’s just teeming with marine life.”

Although our destination is nice and quiet, getting there is something else because the sea is choppy today. As soon as the engine is turned on, the boat begins to crash over the waves: Bang! Bang! Bang!

Everything inside the cockpit begins first to swing, then to rise and fall. Anything that wasn’t properly stored then slides off whatever surface it was on and crashes to the floor, rolling, bouncing, shattering or splashing in every direction.

Bang! Bang! Bang! As the spray washes over the deck, every window in the boat begins to leak, including the one above my bed.

Pelican at Los Islotes.
Pelican at Los Islotes. CHRIS LLOYD

“Captain! The windows are leaking!”

The reply is barely audible over the commotion of a ship under way: “John, in a boat, everything leaks. Better get used to it.”

With the ship in motion, we crew members now have a choice: stay in the cockpit and get seasick or go on deck and get blasted by icy spray that hits you every time the boat crashes into a wave.

Well, on the deck it’s windy, wet and cold, guaranteeing that if you are up there during phase one you won’t be passing those four hours reading or writing, so I opt for the cockpit and, fortunately, my stomach quickly learns how to adjust to the wild thrashing of the boat.

Then the captain shouts, “Land ho!” The engine is shut off and there is a sudden hush as we glide into the sheltered bay. We have arrived.

God’s Way, my floating home for a week, is owned by “semi-retired” mining engineer Richard Gresham, who says he’s always dreamed of sailing and bought God’s Way from a very religious man living in the Bible Belt “who was no good at repairing anything, so I was able to buy the boat for a song because it was in a terrible state when I got it.

Pelicans and sea lion at Los Islotes rookery.
Pelicans and sea lion at Los Islotes rookery.

But then it cost me a fortune to get it up to where it is today. I bought this sloop with the intention of sailing it through the Panama Canal, up through the Caribbean and on to Boston . . . but projects got in the way and, in the meantime, I fell in love with the Sea of Cortez, which I have toured eight times so far and which I expect to tour several times more, as there is so much to see in this wonderful sea . . . life is good!”

Day 3, San Francisco Island

This island is notable for its high, barren, rocky walls “with a trail going up to the top.” Yesterday we had arrived here through a very choppy sea, but this morning the surface is as smooth as glass and I get what I hope will be a magnificent picture of sunrise — dawn, actually — through my porthole.

After breakfast we find our boat totally surrounded by sardines. The schools swirl like clouds of underwater starlings. Among them we can occasionally see needlefish which are truly long, thin and pointy, at least a foot long.

“They are only dangerous if you happen to get in their way,” I am told. Richard and Chris go snorkeling and once again see an astounding variety of exotic fish.

We raise anchor and glide across the mirror-smooth surface a couple of kilometers to Bahía Amortajada — ”Chopped-up Bay.” Now and again a manta ray leaps into the air alongside the boat.

Happy sailors relaxing.
Happy sailors relaxing. RODRIGO OROZCO

We anchor off a shore covered with a forest of giant cardon cacti, said to be the tallest in the world. Here there is a river filled with mangroves leading to a small lake. We spot a turkey vulture, kingfisher, white ibis, night heron, snowy egret and gulls.

Day 4

We are on our way to San José. This is part of the mainland connected by a long, rough road to La Paz. We drop anchor at a place called Nopaló, where there’s a very rocky beach and an isolated house — from which the wind wafts music to us over the waves. It’s Shakira singing! Binoculars reveal a little girl doing cartwheels to the music, on the porch.

To go ashore, we put on swimsuits, stuff clothing into a dry bag, carefully slide on to plastic “kayaks” that resemble no kayak I have ever seen, and paddle ashore.

We stroll down the beach to the home of Señora León, a jolly lady who immediately says, “Sí sí” when we ask whether she might be able to fry us some fish for which we would be happy to pay her.

While waiting for our dinner, we wander along a path paralleling a rough wall of volcanic rock dotted with shelter caves. The trail takes us to the local cemetery where we find only the graves of people named León, some with very large and impressive tombstones. It seems amazing that generations of the same family have lived in this isolated place.

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    Wandering tattler about to land at Los Islotes. (Photo: Chris Lloyd)
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Setting foot on land reveals that we are no longer landlubbers. The salt cedars along the trail all seem to be swaying — but there’s no wind! And later, when we sit down in Señora León’s kitchen we all remark how curiously the walls are dancing and how amazing it is that nothing is rolling across the table.

Our ebullient hostess serves us a delicious meal of rice, broccoli and truly exquisite fried dorado (mahi mahi). We return to the boat stuffed and happy and spend the night anchored in the same bay.

To be continued

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for more than 30 years and is the author of A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area and co-author of Outdoors in Western Mexico. More of his writing can be found on his website.

PUERTO VALLARTA SIGNS THE INTERNATIONAL COMPACT OF MAYORS CLIMATE CHANGE AGREEMENT

After Puerto Vallarta signed the “Global Compact of Mayors for Climate Change and Energy” with the state government, it is committed to reversing the effects caused by climate change with the international community.

The Ministry of Environment and Territorial Development (Semadet) serves as the state representative of the Global Covenant of Mayors and signs as an honorable witness, which also commits to facilitate accession processes.

This pact is an international alliance of local and regional authorities that share a long-term vision to promote and support voluntary actions to combat climate change based on reducing greenhouse gases. As well as promoting climate resilience and access to energy, harmonize the measurement and reporting approaches of the municipalities and provide a solutions approach, in which local governments are the key actors and the city and municipal networks are essential partners.

Sergio Graf Montero, head of the Semadet, said that you can not plan the use of the territory thinking of the past, “we can not think that we are going to establish a human settlement, a subdivision, a building, in a place where in history, there were floods.”

He added that one has to think about what is going to happen in the future from now on, otherwise, they will lose investment, money and the population will be put at risk.

“That is why it is fundamental that the municipality of Puerto Vallarta not act alone, but contextualize its action on climate change in their region,” he explained.

Work began between Semadet and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), through the global projects of “Vertically Integrated Climate Policies”. As well as for the “Adaptation to climate change based on ecosystems with the tourismsector (Adaptur), through the development of the Municipal Climate Change Program (PMCC) in Puerto Vallarta.

With these actions, the municipality is committed to join the global efforts that are made to face the challenges of climate change.

The work for the preparation of the PMCC began with a workshop that aimed to inform and add the participation of institutions from the public, private, academic and civil society sectors for participatory development.

The objective is to achieve a self-diagnosis of vulnerability in the municipality, which includes the relevance of its ecosystems and ecosystem services in a context of climate change, in addition to the capacity for adaptation that is available. These actions are a reflection of the fact that in Jalisco the importance of being coherent among all levels of government regarding the efforts towards the fulfillment of the climatic goals in the country is recognized.

Monarch butterfly numbers best in 12 years but they’re not out of the woods

Monarch butterflies in their Mexican winter habitat.Monarch butterflies in their Mexican winter habitat.

Monarch butterfly numbers best in 12 years but they’re not out of the woods

Scientists warn that favorable weather conditions played a role

A huge increase in the number of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexican forests this year is a welcome event but not likely to happen again next year, some scientists warn.

The Natural Protected Areas Commission announced today that the area occupied by the butterflies is up 144% to 6.05 hectares. Last year the area was just 2.48 hectares.

Commission head Andrew Rhodes told a press conference that it was the largest area since 2006-2007, when it measured 6.87 hectares. The smallest area recorded was 0.67 hectares in 2013-2014.

But scientists say that six hectares should be seen as the minimum necessary for the viability of the insect, which migrates annually to Mexico in the fall from the United States and Canada. A Canadian ecology professor said the butterflies are not out of the woods yet, according to a report by The Associated Press.

“It buys us time, but that’s the best it does,” said Ryan Norris of the University of Guelph in Ontario, who sees little connection between the increase and conservation efforts along the butterflies’ route.

It is more about weather, he said. “It was a Goldilocks year this year,” he said. “Not too hot, not too cold, it was perfect.”

An ecology professor at the University of Kansas agreed. Chip Taylor said it won’t happen again next year, “not even close,” because above-average temperatures in Texas next year will cause problems for monarch production.

He said cold temperatures in the north of Texas kept the insects there to lay their eggs last spring. When it is warmer they go farther north too soon and the population does not grow as well.

The butterflies in this season’s migration have been found in 14 colonies in the forests of Michoacán and México state. One is a new colony, located in the Nevado de Toluca.

The largest, at 2.46 hectares, is in the Sierra Campanario sanctuary in the ejido El Rosario in Michoacán.

Source: The Associated Press (en), Milenio (sp)

7 IDEAS FOR ECOTOURISM IN PUERTO VALLARTA AND RIVIERA NAYARIT

With sustainability being more important for travellers than ever and 2019 set to be the biggest year for ecotourism, you may be amongst those searching for the perfect eco-holiday! Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Jalisco, and Riviera Nayarit, in the state of Nayarit, have long been two beautiful destinations offering sustainable activities that explore the regions’ incredible eco-systems. Read on for 7 eco-friendly ways to discover the beauty of Mexico!

1. Help Baby Sea Turtles
Baby sea turtle releasing in Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit has become a major tourist attraction. Turtle protection programs with turtle farms dedicated to the harvesting, hatching and releasing of baby sea turtles have been created by the Mexican government with marine biologists. As well as getting to see the beautiful creatures and enjoying an interactive and educational experience, you can help increase the survival rate of new turtle hatchlings!

2. Pay the Crocs a Visit
Riviera Nayarit has some great ecotours where you can visit and learn all about it’s rich ecosystem. If you want to explore it alongside rustic towns and historic ruins, head to the river of La Tovara. For those wanting to combine crocodiles and sea turtle release programs, you can visit El Quelele, a marshy lagoon where American Crocodiles exist in a protected environment.

3. Explore Vallarta Botanical Garden
Vallarta Botanical Garden is a nature reserve with botanical collections of more than 3,000 species and has an orchid nursery of 100 different species. After exploring the beautiful gardens you can swim in the Horcones River, do some bird watching or take a trail through the jungle!

4. Have a Whale of a Time in Banderas Bay
Banderas Bay is a sanctuary with an abundance of marine life. From December to March the majestic humpback whales arrive at the bay to mate and birth their young. You can experience this for yourself with various whale watching tours that are controlled, respectful and adhere to strict environmental and safety standards. You can also swim with the dolphins there!

5. Experience Life Underwater
Many water activities that can be enjoyed all year round! Jalisco and Nayarit are home to natural protected areas, bird sanctuaries and marine parks with impressive hill and rock formations that are great for snorkelling, diving, paddle boarding and kayaking. South of Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find Los Arcos. Along the Riviera Nayarit coast are the Islas Marietas, home of the famous Hidden Beach, Isla del Coral and Isla Isabel.

6. Visit San Blas for Birdwatching
With over 300 bird species and over 80% of migratory birds flocking to San Blas during the winter months, the coastal village is home to some of the world’s best bird watching locations for vacationing birdwatchers, especially during the months of October through to March as the weather is very pleasant. True bird watching enthusiasts visit San Blas during Mexico’s Festival of Migratory Birds at the end of January or San Blas Christmas Bird Count in December.

7. Zoom Across Jungles and Coastal Views
Jungle canopy tours, or zip-line tours, are one of the most popular and eco-friendly options to explore Mexico’s emerald green Pacific Coast rainforests in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. You can book zip lining anywhere along the 200-mile stretch of the Riviera Nayarit in most major communities like Punta de Mita, Sayulita and Lo de Marcos. Puerto Vallarta also has many opportunities for zip-lining. Thrill-seekers can whizz along Mexico’s longest and fastest “Superman” zip line or get an aerial view of Los Arcos Natural Preserve.

Visit to Vallarta Botanical Garden turns out to be a day to remember

Mexico Life
Vallarta Botanical Garden is 24 kilometers south of Puerto Vallarta.Vallarta Botanical Garden is 24 kilometers south of Puerto Vallarta.

Visit to Vallarta Botanical Garden turns out to be a day to remember

Expat finds a way to make a living in the middle of a jungle

Well, “near here” took six hours to get to, plus six hours back, and I ended up reaching home at midnight, but I must admit the eminent botanist was right: the Vallarta Botanical Garden truly is a must-see, no matter where you find yourself in Mexico. The place is located 24 kilometers south of Puerto Vallarta, along Palms-to-Pines coastal highway 200.

Step out of your car and you’re in the jungle. We were visiting in July and everywhere we went, hundreds of “skippers” fluttered all around us. These, explained a sign in English and Spanish, are Hesperiidae butterflies, smaller than most and given to skipping, flitting, darting and zig-zagging, from which they get their popular name.

Clouds of them danced all around us as we began our tour of the Botanical Gardens, which cover an area of eight hectares, crisscrossed by pathways with exotic names like The Vanilla Trail, Jaguar Trail and Guacamaya Trail, leading to even more exotic-sounding places like The Jungle Overlook, The Swinging Bridge, Tree Fern Grotto, The Garden of Memories and The Giant Strangler Fig Tree.

And everywhere you go, every step of the way, there is lush vegetation: sensuous tropical flowers, bizarre, creeping vines and gargantuan trees which soar to amazing heights in this tropical climate. Here you will find orchids — an amazing multitude of orchids.

There are even orchids that resemble anything but orchids, plus a few that (to our great surprise) exude alluring perfumes. And, of course, there was the tastiest of all orchids, Vanilla planifolia, whose vines grow abundantly there (and you can buy the beans or extract in their store).

One of the 1,901 varieties of Anthurium flowers.
One of the 1,901 varieties of Anthurium flowers.

Here, too, are cocoa pods growing before your very eyes and attached directly to the tree trunk. Each pod holds 20 to 60 seeds, the main ingredient in chocolate. There are also rare cacti of every sort, exotic “Purple Island” waterlilies, red ginger, once exclusively reserved for Hawaiian royalty and such a huge collection of anthuriums that we wondered whether they had found all 1,901 types. Along that line, the gardens have so many thousands of species that no one has even tried to count them.

When you need to take a break in your exploration of the gardens, you can cool off with an exotic drink at the Hacienda de Oro Restaurant, which also houses a most impressive Natural History and Cultural Museum.

This amazing project came into being thanks to Robert Price, founder of the botanical gardens, who kindly took time to chat with me at the restaurant over frosty glasses of incredibly refreshing and delicious drinks. One of these contained chaya and chía, while the other was a combination of iced lemon-grass tea, tapioca and ginger, sweetened with agave nectar.

“Some of our visitors suspect we have spiked these two drinks with frog’s eggs,” quipped the curator of these gardens.

Robert Price, who was born in Savannah, Georgia, told me he came to Puerto Vallarta in 2004, planning to stay for only six months. Fortunately for us and for Mexico, someone knocked on Price’s door one day, selling orchids. “Those orchids were absolutely incredible: gorgeous,” says Price, “and I asked the man where he had found them. ‘In the mountains,’ he told me . . . and eventually he brought me to this very place. I took one look and said to myself, ‘This is where I want to stay!’”

Now all Price needed to do was figure out how to make a living in the middle of a jungle. “Well,” he says, “I noticed there were no botanical gardens along the coast and that seemed surprising to me. But I love nature and the idea of starting my own botanical garden came into my head. So, I researched the internet to find out how to do it. And this is the result. I think this is what I was sent here to do.”

Exotic “Purple Island” water lilies.
Exotic “Purple Island” water lilies.

By chance a friend of mine just returned from a visit to the garden. I asked Susan Street for her impressions.

“It took some doing,” she told me, “to convince my sons, their father and their girlfriends to abandon the beaches of Puerto Vallarta long enough to try something new: a visit to the Vallarta Botanical Garden, which turned out to be a 40-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta’s downtown area. We only spent a few hours there, but boy did we wish we could have gone back the following day!

“There are so many trails to follow, plants and trees to admire and delicious food to devour! Each of us wanted to spend quality time in specific parts of the garden, but instead we stuck together and took it all in as a group. The bougainvillea were gorgeous, the vanilla plants all budding, the variety of cacti mind-boggling!

“We topped everything off, of course, with lunch at the Hacienda de Oro restaurant. We devoured scrumptious fish and shrimp tacos while sipping on vanilla and raspberry mojitos.

Then, wonderful organic coffee topped everything off as we awarded ourselves with more wandering through the gift shop, purchasing bamboo straws, cacao products and vanilla extract, in addition to a free dark-chocolate bar given to us upon presenting a coupon clipped from the visitors’ guide. A day to remember, and a visit I can’t stop recommending to friends.”

Another visitor went on a tour of the place with Leonardo, their botanist, and claimed it was the highlight of her stay in Puerto Vallarta, “the best botanical gardens guided tour we experienced — ever!”

Vallarta Botanical Garden

So I hope by now you will agree with me that this amazing place is well worth a visit, even if it requires a 12-hour detour!

• Vallarta Botanical Garden is a non-profit, charitable organization “dedicated to those who work to preserve the beauty of the Earth, and who labor to teach others the value and wonder of their environment.” According to its website it’s open daily, 10:00 to 6:00, but closed on Mondays from April to October. The entrance fee is 200 pesos per person, kids four and under free. The telephone number is (322) 223-6182.

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    A visitor cools off: “This is where I want to stay!” Photo: Susan Street
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The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for more than 30 years and is the author of A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area and co-author of Outdoors in Western Mexico. More of his writing can be found on his website.

TOURISTS LOCATE A NEST OF SEA TURTLES IN PUERTO VALLARTA

TOURISTS LOCATE A NEST OF SEA TURTLES IN PUERTO VALLARTA

Environmental and Ecology authorities took charge of the offspring, of the olive ridley species, until they were released.

After a report from tourists who were vacationing at Las Glorias beach in Puerto Vallarta, staff from the State Civil Protection and Fire Unit located and secured a nest of sea turtles, which they sheltered, the agency reported.

“We were alerted, we proceeded to verify the report, and indeed we located baby turtles being born”

The area was secured and the Environment and Ecology authorities were called upon to take charge of them until they were released. According to estimated UEPCB personnel, there were about 110 turtles of the olive ridley species.

The authorities recommended to the tourists that when they notice the birth of turtles or locate a nest, they give notice to the authorities in order to ensure the safety of the specimens.

It’s a hard hike to Jalisco’s most beautiful cave, but worth the price

Inside La Cueva de los Monos after a tough hike.Inside La Cueva de los Monos after a tough hike.

It’s a hard hike to Jalisco’s most beautiful cave, but worth the price

A ‘killer climb’ through prickly burrs, nasty thorns and treacherous footing in the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve

The Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve, established by UNESCO in 1988, lies along the border of the Mexican states of Jalisco and Colima and includes cloud forests and deciduous, mesophytic and tropical forests within its boundaries.

It also includes hundreds of caves, almost all of them vertical pits.

Ninety-four of these caves are described in the book Las Cavernas de Cerro Grande by Carlos Lazcano, but only one of them was found to contain a notable number of formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. That cave, La Cueva de los Monos, is considered by some to be Jalisco’s most beautiful cave, but hard to reach.

This is the cave we had come to visit and below are a few notes on our expedition:

It’s 7:00am at Rancho El Zapote. The air is full of early-morning sounds. Loudest of all are the roosters that live only meters from my tent and have been trying to wake me up since 4:00am. Then come the chickens, a very large pig and dozens of loudly mooing cows, one of which wears a clanking bell, indicating that she is the leader of the herd. I guess it’s time to get out of my sleeping bag and into my caving pants.

On the trail to the cave.
On the trail to the cave.

Today we are going to visit La Cueva de los Monos (Cave of the Figurines), which can only be reached after a long, hard climb up a steep mountainside above the little town of Toxin, which is located 37 kilometers northwest of Colima city. The cave is so named, I understand, because local people claim they found artifacts inside.

Our group obviously considered a good breakfast the key to good caving, so it wasn’t until 10:20 that we finally headed up a north-trending trail which at first struck me as very friendly, after all the horror stories I had been told about the previous visit to this cave: “That climb was a killer,” said Mario Guerrero, leader of both our present trip and the preceding one, “because it was the hottest week of May, which is the hottest month of the year, and we hadn’t brought along nearly enough water.”

Now we were enjoying the relatively cool weather of November and we gained several hundred meters of altitude in a matter of minutes. The higher we rose, the more big, white, rocky outcrops we found along the way. “This is karst,” said a member of our expedition, Spanish geologist Isidoro Ortiz, pointing out the prickly surface, weathered by the rain, indicating that we were inside a calcite zone where beautiful caves were likely to be found.

“At this rate we’ll reach the cave in nothing flat,” I thought, but at that very moment our friendly trail came to an end at the edge of a cornfield. “¡Chin!” said Mario. “No sign of the trail anymore, but all we have to do is keep going north and we’re bound to find the cave.”

Well, the cornfield into which we plunged also happened to be home to billions of well-developed, ripe-for-traveling huizapoles (very prickly burrs) with which we were soon covered head to foot.

At last we got through the cursed cornfield and stopped under a huge ficus tree to pick the burrs off one another. After removing a million or so huizapoles from our clothing, we pushed our way into thick maleza(bush) higher than our heads. “¡Ay ay ay, uña de gato!” I heard someone yell up ahead. This is cat’s claw, just about the nastiest form of thorn you can find anywhere, as it is designed to grab you as you pass by and then tear your skin to shreds. We now had to proceed with great caution.

Lluvia Ramírez admires cave draperies.
Lluvia Ramírez admires cave draperies.

It was about this point that our guide, Noé, son of our host at Rancho el Zapote, was forced to start swinging a machete in order to advance, further reducing our forward speed to that of a procession of turtles.

At last, dripping with sweat, well scratched by cat’s claw and covered with a new set of burrs, we arrived at the cave entrance. A crawl of four meters took us into a room so thickly decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and draperies that several hours of photography went by in what seemed like minutes. By the time the last of us crawled out into the sunlight, everyone else in the party was either sleeping or eating.

Well, the route that we had followed to get to the cave had been so unpleasant that we all breathed a sigh of relief when our guide Noé suggested we take a more direct and hopefully easier route back down the mountain.

And easier it was, at the beginning, with very little vegetation between well-separated outcrops of limestone. However, as the hillside grew steeper and the bush grew thicker, our old friends the burrs and cat’s claw reappeared and once again the machete was absolutely necessary for making the slightest progress.

Following this route, however, we had a whole new problem to deal with: the limestone had turned into heaps of sharply pointed rocky rubble which, like chunks of lava, were delicately piled one atop the other, offering the most treacherous footing imaginable.

We soon reached the point where we had only two hours left to get back to our truck before nightfall and at least a kilometer of nearly impenetrable bush to hack our way through. To make things worse, one member of our group, Ivan the biologist, was under attack from some sort of bug and suffering from all those unspeakable intestinal terrors usually reserved only for foreigners in Mexico.

The Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve.
The Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve. ELIZABETH A. OLSON

At last we tore ourselves away from that enticing hole and once again resumed our grim assault on the unforgiving mountainside. Dripping with sweat, disentangling ourselves from thorn bushes and dreaded cat’s claw, scratching some new, mysterious red welts which had suddenly appeared on our skin, and teetering on unstable chunks of prickly rock, we inched our way downward.

Several times we were on the brink of mutiny: “It will take us a year to get down this way; we have to go back up to the cave and return the way we came,” cried some voices.

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    Can we see too?
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Noé, however, kept chopping away calmly and, lo and behold, one hour before sunset, we spotted the infamous huizapol cornfield! But now, oh how friendly and inviting it looked!

To make a long story short, we were soon back on our beloved trail and reached our truck with several minutes of daylight to spare. Was it worth it? Yes, indeed! In all my 33 years of exploring Jalisco’s caves, I haven’t seen another with so many beautiful decorations. So, wearing proper burr-and-thorn-proof clothes, I’d be ready to go back anytime!

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for more than 30 years and is the author of A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area and co-author of Outdoors in Western Mexico. More of his writing can be found on his website.

THE MUCH-ANTICIPATED VISIT OF THE HUMPBACK WHALES TO THE BAY OF BANDERAS

THE MUCH-ANTICIPATED VISIT OF THE HUMPBACK WHALES TO THE BAY OF BANDERAS

Nature offers up some surprising events much to the delight of us humans; among them is the humpback whale sightings, an experience every traveler should enjoy at least once in their life.

We’re very fortunate in the Riviera Nayarit. Every year like clockwork these magnificent creatures make their way from the frigid waters of the north for their rendezvous with Banderas Bay—one of their favorite haunts to spend the winter mating and calving—, though their presence has extended all along the coast of Nayarit.

Whale watching season generally begins in December, but this year the whales have come early, and they’ve been sighted frolicking in the waves since mid-November. They will remain here until March of the upcoming year when their calves are strong enough to make the trip back north.

Of note is the fact this isn’t the only species to visit the coast of Nayarit. At times there have been gray whale sightings and, more frequently, glimpses of the top predator of the humpbacks: the orca.

The presence of the humpbacks in the region has been recorded since the Colonization of the 16th and 17th centuries when Banderas Bay was known as the Humpback Bay thanks to the vast number of whales that visited during the wintertime.

According to Ecology and Conservation of Whales (ECOBAC), the population of humpbacks in the Northern Pacific includes approximately 20 thousand individuals. During an average year, anywhere between 300 and 500 of these mammals make their way to the Bay.

Whale watching tours in the region begin the first week of December when the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) presents permits to the service providers both in Nayarit and Jalisco. This accreditation is vital for operating these tours, as the whales are a protected species and operators must comply with Official Mexican Regulation NOM-131-SEMARNAT-2010. This regulation establishes the distances that must be maintained concerning the whales as well as other protective measures.

There are a large number of operators in the Riviera Nayarit that are certified to offer whale watching tours in Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerías, Punta de Mita, Sayulita, and Rincón de Guayabitos, and all along the coast to Santiago Ixcuintla via San Blas. The usual tour takes anywhere from two to four hours and is very popular with both locals and visitors.

The commitment of the service providers includes their yearly attendance at a training workshop offered by Semarnat; once completed they receive a permit and a flag that identifies them as trained in safety measures for both tourists and the whales.

These same tour operators recommend a lot of patience and vigilance on these tours, as well as, of course, the need for following all rules and regulations.

PLAYA ESCONDIDA MAKES THE LIST OF THE WORLD’S 50 BEST BEACHES

Playa Escondida, also known as Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach) and an icon of the Riviera Nayarit, has been included on Flight Network’s list of The World’s 50 Best Beaches©. Flight Network is one of North America’s top online travel agencies.

According to FlightNetwork.com, the list is “a diverse collection of off-the-beaten-path slices of paradise from every hidden corner of our planet.” To create it they consulted over 600 of the best journalists, editors, bloggers, and travel agencies from around the world to ask for their opinions and experiences.

With this effort, Flight Network pulled together the most accurate and trustworthy list available to inspire travelers and help them choose their next winter vacationdestination.

Playa Escondida—part of the Islas Marietas, located in Banderas Bay—is 9th on a list that includes 49 other gorgeous beaches in Europe, North America, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

About Playa Escondida-Playa del Amor
As its name indicates, Playa Escondida is a true secret paradise, hidden from view. It’s located on Isla Redonda within the Islas Marietas National Park, which is also a Biosphere Reserve and a Natural Protected Area (NPA).

This place is much more than just a beach: it’s filled with wildlife and offers adventures that are well worth experiencing. One of its unique inhabitants is the blue-footed Booby, and it’s also home to many other exotic species both on land and under the waves.

According to Flight Network’s blog article: “Imagine a beach completely tucked away inside a cave with a cavernous opening in the roof to let the perfect amount of sunlight enter. That is Mexico’s Hidden Beach, and it’s undeniably one of the most interesting beaches in the world.

…the fun comes in finding yourself hidden away on the beach. Visitors go on a short bus ride through crystal blue waters and find themselves having to dive in and swim to reach these golden sands.”

The article also extends recommendations on how to reach the destination, the airlines that connect cities in Canada and the United States with the Puerto Vallarta-Riviera Nayarit airport, and the safety measures in place to fully enjoy every second of the adventure.

The piece closes with the phrase: “The experience is worth every second of travel.”

No more plastic in Corona’s six-pack rings

Beach-friendly Corona coming soon to Tulum.Beach-friendly Corona coming soon to Tulum.

No more plastic in Corona’s six-pack rings

Pilot project in Quintana Roo employs a biodegradable product

Plastic six-pack rings in which Corona beer is sold will be replaced with a biodegradable product in a pilot program in Tulum, Quintana Roo.

In collaboration with the environmental organization Parley for the Oceans, Corona brewer Grupo Modelo will replace the plastic rings with a product made from vegetable waste left by food and beverage processing.

The pilot program is aimed at “addressing the necessity to reduce the environmental impact of plastic on the beaches . . . This project shows [Grupo Modelo’s] commitment with the environment, with sustainability and with responsible consumption,” said the company in a statement.

“Our oceans are at risk . . . We share the goal of eliminating plastic forever, because we cannot allow the toxic impact it is causing,” said Parley founder and CEO Cyrill Gutsch.

The brewer intends to eliminate the use of plastic in seven years.

Environmental concerns were first raised about the six-pack rings in the 1970s but since 1989 all have been manufactured to be 100% photo-degradable, meaning the plastic begins to disintegrate within a few weeks. They are now a relatively minor contributor to marine litter and wildlife fatalities, according to information on Wikipedia.

Source: Milenio (sp)