Friday, January 31, 2014

A Jungle Expedition!

Colin and Contessa’s friend, Hugh, is currently visiting the Isla for a few weeks and staying in a rental RV here at Tres Amigos RV Park.  Well, a few minor things have been going wrong with the rental unit, and the RV park owner David has felt bad that Hugh has been having to endure these inconveniences.  So to make amends, he arranged for Hugh and I to go on one of his tours!  Besides the RV park, David happens to run one of the most popular tour companies in town, King David Tours, that offers a wide variety of day-trip tours quite popular with cruise ship and other tourists visiting Mazatlan.

So a few days ago, at precisely 8:30am, David had 2 of his employees pick us up at the RV park and drive us over to their Isla boat dock for an all day “Jungle & Beach Tour”.   We were the only ones from the Isla, so we got to board the boat before everyone else and got to sit in the front row and chat a bit with the tour guide, Polo.  Quite the VIP treatment!

We motored across the harbor to their main city-side dock where a bus full of tourists were waiting to board the boat.  Polo got the boat secured and then greeted the new passengers.

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Polo was a wonderful tour guide, sharing some fun and educational facts (in both English and Spanish) about the place he has called “home” for all of his 57 years.

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The tour took us deep into the harbor past the fleet of shrimp boats that had just ended their winter shrimp-catching season.  Mazatlan is one of the largest fishing ports in Mexico and shrimp is their main catch.

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The other main fishing boats that call Mazatlan home are the tuna fishing fleet.  These boats are larger than the shrimp boats and some even have helicopter landing pads on them as the choppers help locate schools of tuna much faster and easier (see the chopper in the photo below?).  Polo explained why--  the choppers look for dolphins swimming on the surface.  When dolphins are found, there are usually yellow-finned tuna deeper below.

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All of the commercial fishing boats have special nets and devices to allow sea turtles to escape while preserving their catch.  Sea turtles are protected by the government and fishermen will pay stiff penalties if any sea turtles are found on their boats.

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The further we traveled into the harbor, the smaller the fishing boats became until we waved to this last humble fishing vessel!

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Now the harbor waters had turned brackish (a mix of salt and fresh waters) and shores were covered with mangroves.  We were now starting the “jungle” part of the tour.  Mazatlan is still a few hundred miles north of a true tropical jungle environment, so we had to use our imaginations a bit, but the boat certainly began navigating more narrow waterways, and we began seeing a lot more birds!

A double-crested cormorant--

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Three different kinds of herons (L to R, a Tricolored Heron, a Great Blue Heron, and a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron).  Remember to click any of these photos to view them larger!

IMG_3210 Tricolored HeronIMG_3212 Great Blue HeronIMG_3255 Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

And a few Great Egrets…

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When the mangroves became so close that we thought the boat could not travel any further…

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we came to a clearing where a few enterprising fishermen had built their shacks.  Now this is looking a bit more jungle-like!

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Our young boat captain carefully turned one more tight corner to bring us to a dock and large open-air palapa dining area.

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Here we met our lunch cook Lupita.  She started us out with delicious shrimp ceviche (a spicy mix of raw shrimp, lime, and chilies served on a flat crunchy tortilla).

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As Lupita and her husband Felipe started cooking up our lunch orders, Polo took us across the road to a small home and farm where this man makes brooms and broomsticks from dried palm trees.

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The road looked very familiar because it was —the Isla’s main dirt road!  I had no idea the mangrove swamp came so close to the road, but indeed it does.  Polo showed us around the farm as a few roosters cooled themselves in the noontime shade.

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As we were now in the middle of the Isla’s giant coconut plantation, Polo demonstrated how the locals remove the outer layer of the coconut to get to the “apple” core.  They basically just pound it against a sharp metal stake

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The outer layer then makes for a fun little party hat!

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Soon, we loaded up onto a long covered wagon pulled by a tractor to take a 5 minute drive to the beach where we spent the next hour lounging around while the tourists went swimming.  This spot was just a few miles down from the RV park, so quite familiar territory.  In fact, it’s where I usually turn when driving into town via the beach “highway”!  Polo chatted with Hugh and I for a while and then got out his pocket knife to peel off bits of the inside of the coconut to share with Hugh.

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When we arrived back to our dockside palapa, our lunch was served.  Grilled fish with salsa, rice, beans, and a nice cold cerveza to wash it down with.  Felipe used the outer coconut shells as fuel for his open-air BBQ grill, and the smoky taste was delicious!

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After lunch, we returned to the boat for our ride back.

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Soon, the birds began to re-appear.  This Great Blue Heron was flanked by two White Ibis.

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And then, this Pacific Brown Pelican landed right in front of me on the boat!

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He was soon joined by one of his friends, and we began to realize that this was no mere chance encounter.  These birds knew that their lunch was about to be served!  But Polo first had to play with them a bit and have them pose so us tourists could take some photos!

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There were so many pelicans now on board that some had to sit up in the “balcony” to await their lunch.  Finally, lunch was served!  Polo asked the young kids to come help him feed the pelicans.  What a thrill for us all to watch!

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As this young man was holding his fish out the side of the boat for this hungry pelican to come eat, we met our next bird species…the dreaded “pirate bird” (Female Magnificent Frigatebirds) who specialize in stealing food from other birds while in-flight!

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The Frigatebirds got to show off a bit more when Polo had a few volunteers sit at the front of the boat with a fish placed on top of their head.  Short crewcut-headed guy?  No problem!  Curly-haired lady?  A bit more difficult.  The birds flew above and studied her head carefully before the bravest one finally swooped in for the snatch!

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After their lunch, a few more pelicans continued to fly alongside the boat hoping that somewhere, somehow, there’d be a few more fish that had forgotten to be thrown their way.  Better luck tomorrow guys! 

What a thrill to see them flying this close.  I had no idea their colors were so vivid! 

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Now, why would these gray, yellow, and white birds be called “Brown” pelicans?  Because when they’re younger like this little guy, they start out almost entirely brown!

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Of course, with age also comes wisdom!  These older birds chose to continue sitting up on the roof so they could get a free ride back to the fishing boats in the main harbor (where they’d likely find some dinnertime snacks).  Smart birds!

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The jungle tour turned out to be much more fun and enjoyable than I ever expected it to be.  If you ever have a free day when you’re in Mazatlan, give it a try!

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