Day 7 of our Puerto Vallarta trip: Nov 19, 2007
As exaggerating as it may sound, finding Mexcaltitan felt like a journey to the end of the world. We drove and drove, and drove some more. We finally got to Mexcaltitan after 5 hours driving from Puerto Vallarta (made a few pit stops to at Bucherias and Puerto Vallarta Zoo; more on separate posting). Mexcaltitan is high on our list of places to visit while we’re in Mexico. Heard that this place is funky, as far as being a man-made island/city in the middle of a big swamp. I read here that it was the birthplace of the Aztecs. In 1091, some of them went out on a pilgrimage to find a new home. They should settle when they eyed an eagle devouring a snake, perched atop a cactus in the middle of a lake, says this site. And that place is Tenochtitlan, which is known today as Mexico City.
The other funky thing was -and I don’t remember where I got this info- the nothingness of motor vehicles on this island/city. There are no cars. People walk, or use their boats for transportation from and to Mexcaltitan. When it’s flooded, boats are used on the island, hence the name ‘Venice of Mexico’.
How does one reach Mexcaltitan? I posted this question at Lonely Planet’s forum before we left for Mexico, and got these replies. We did take the Hwy 200 from Puerto Vallarta, and the road condition was good. We were stuck in a traffic in a small town (almost to Tepic) for almost an hour. We didn’t realize that it was Mexico’s Independence Day and just like the Fourth of July in the USA, it was a huge deal. Schoolchildren were parading, and the Hwy 200 which goes through this little town seemed to be one-way and rather narrow. Nobody could turn around to find a detour. Cars were literally stopped and put on ‘Park’ for quite a while. We got out of the car and walked for about 4 blocks, to watch the parade. It was over an hour later, cleared the traffic, and we moved on.
When we saw the sign of Santiago Ixcuintla, I thought the journey was almost over. Because this is the ending point of driving. We should hop on a boat to the island of Mexcaltitan. Sound easy? Not really. We were lost in this little town. There were only one sign that says ‘Mexcaltitan’, but it was misguiding. We drove around and around, and asking direction was quite a challenge. Either we couldn’t find anybody, “no habla Ingles”, or they didn’t know how to get there. Our common sense and instinct were really challenged, tried to find the boat dock. Later on we realized, we’re not on a paved road anymore. In front of us, was a vaquero on his horse, herding the cattle. Slowly, but surely, the cows moved and opened an opening for us. The kids waved at the vaquero, he tipped his hat, and off we go to the end of the world.
After all hope was almost vanished, we finally see the entrance of the boat deck. No visitor cars in sight, only a pick up truck by a small building which appeared to be an office. It could be the worker’s truck. So we parked, stretched our legs, walked around under the hot sun, talked to the man in charge, paid for the boat, then hopped on a boat (fisherman’s boat, mind you… don’t expect anything fancy). If I’m not mistaken, it was US$ 20 per adult.
About 10-15 minutes boat ride on a brown swamp water, we approached a water gate (only one boat could pass through it) and quickly noticed the number of poles sticking out of the water. They’re actually electrical lights, built as an aide to guide boats. After the last light pole, you’d see an island in front of you (with smaller ones scattered around it). Instantly, I noticed the buildings, the church, and lots of white herons. We asked the boatman if he could take us on a little tour before we’re docking. Definitely not the usual tourist sightings, not very pretty. But hey… we’re not in Florida, we quickly adjusted our expectation to the swampy environment.
Right after we docked, the sign says ‘Bienvenidos a la Isla de Mexcaltitan’ and in front of us, an alley to go to the town square. The street’s not paved, it’s dirt, and about 3 feet below the sidewalk. On the left and right, were local houses. We walked passed them, tried not to be too snoopy. But with a window open or a door ajar, my curiosity made me look. While still trying to be casual, I peeked into their houses and caught a glimpse of what/how is life on this island. Mainly the houses have concrete floors, and a room serves multi purposes, judging by the presence of a bed, chairs, TV, and what seemed to be a dining table. Although one room’s stuffed with so many things, I don’t think they’re pack rats; just lack of storage, I guess.
The town square, which is located right in the middle of the island, has a plaza, some small stores, a church, and a museum. There were also a number of kiosks that sell knick-knacks and tourist items, such as Mexcaltitan posters/postcards. When we got there the museum was closed for siesta. We had to wait for a couple of hours for it to open. We opted to go to the only restaurant to hang out. On our way there, I saw some shrimps were drying in the sun on the sidewalk. This is also a common sight, so watch your step…
The restaurant was interesting. The appetizer was actually the dried shrimp we saw earlier on the ground. Of course, it’s been cooked and seasoned. Yet, I was the only one who could manage to eat it. The rest of the gang wasn’t so sure about it. The airy restaurant has an open view to the, er… swamp. The patrons didn’t really mind eating and looking at the brown swamp water. Not even us, the only foreigners; the key is not to look at it.
About 15 minutes for the museum to reopen, we started walking to the town square. Children were playing around the plaza. They were playing a similar game to marbles. Only, they used round chip-thingy instead of marbles. Some girls were playing firecrackers, laughing out loud and running around. The museum itself, Museo del Origen, was rather small but informative. My favorite was the murals explaining the origin of Aztecs and its pilgrimate.
The day was almost over, we should go back to the dock to meet our boatman and continue the long way back to Puerto Vallarta. Awkwardly walked through a mass that was held outside on the street, managed to snatch a picture of a man fixing his fish net. It was an okay experience. The ride was too long, we should’ve cut it in half. Maybe spend a night in Tepic or Mazatlan. It was worth it, though. Not too often you could visit an island with only 2000 population in the middle of a swamp, where some of its people never set foot to the outside world.