20150320_123156 (Large)We love San Blas, a sleepy town between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Some say there isn’t much to do and the bugs are terrible, but we enjoyed a blissful two weeks there. The bliss began after we found a place to stay away from the bugs. We made the mistake of anchoring in a river estuary one fateful night, and the bugs were epic. No-see-ums called “jejenes” came right through our insect screens and feasted on us all night. It was too hot for a blanket, but any exposed body part would quickly become covered in pink polka dots from all the bites.

IMG_3484 (Large)Lesson learned. We left the estuary and found a spot at sea. A wild beach with crashing waves, palm trees and jungle became our backdrop when we moved to an anchorage near our favorite surfing spot, Matenchen Bay. We settled into a routine of working, surfing, relaxing and fervently scratching our bug bites. During the week we usually had all the waves to ourselves in the bay. On weekends, Mexican families came to picnic and swim while vendors roamed the beaches selling loaves of banana bread and mangoes carved into the shapes of tropical flowers.

IMG_3629 (Large)I learned to surf in San Blas. Brian already loves surfing and we have several boards on Magic. This winter I’ve been learning new ocean sports. I already learned how challenging and intimidating kiteboarding could be and I wondered if surfing would be just as difficult.

The answer is no. Surfing was easier than kiteboarding, and much more relaxing. It felt meditative to float in the water and watch waves roll in endlessly across the Pacific. I kept my attention on the different sizes and shapes of the waves, watching them rise, build, and break as I waited in a wide, sandy bay. When the right sized wave would break near me, spilling its frothy top over onto itself, I would jump onto my board in front of the froth, paddle like mad with my hands, and then let the wave catch me and shoot me quickly across the surface of the sea.

IMG_3677 (Large)My own personal surf school consisted of relaxing and playing in the waves with Brian nearby to help or encourage. The time slipped by lazily day after day. No lessons, no pressure, no expectations. Brian taught me to ride the breaking waves on my belly and it felt exciting enough for awhile. Belly rides were great! Who needs to stand up on the board? This most basic version of belly surfing was all I did for the first ten days, as Brian skillfully surfed all sorts of big waves nearby. Then suddenly, one day, it happened! The belly rides were long and smooth that day. Without thinking much about it, I first knelt on the board and then stood up as the wave carried me to the beach.

IMG_3707 (Large)It was an exhilarating feeling to ride a wave standing up. My first dozen rides were stiff and awkward. There were some uncomfortable wipeouts. Then I started to practice different ways of standing on the board and riding the waves became easier.

Matenchen Bay was surfing heaven and maybe I was spoiled having my first surfing experiences there. It might be hard to top this experience, with so little competition for waves, a beautiful bay with a sandy bottom and a great selection of different sizes of waves. Plus, fresh banana bread to snack on between sessions! Does it get any better?

The small town of San Blas was incredible, too. People were very friendly, chain stores were nearly non-existent and we had some of the best shrimp I’ve ever had in my life. We met a great local couple on the street who quickly invited us to their home. We visited with them awhile and enjoyed some easy chatting since they spoke good English. We felt enveloped in their love and it was such a warm welcome to San Blas, which is the kind of place where a gringo can integrate easily into the community. I love places like this.

IMG_2974 (Large)We took a jungle tour near Matenchen Bay. We usually don’t enjoy tours, but this one was really worthwhile and not that costly. Wild crocodiles lounged by the side of the river as we enjoyed them from the comfort of a small powerboat. Some of them were so still, laying there with huge open mouths, they almost looked fake. We visited a crocodile sanctuary as well as seeing them in the wild.

IMG_2999 (Large)Mangroves formed a shaded tunnel through which the boat would sometimes barely fit. We eyed the trees warily for dangling snakes as the boat wormed its way through the narrow passage. We read Boa Constrictors hang from the trees here, but we didn’t see any that day.

IMG_2828 (Large)We did see too many turtles to count, many fascinating birds, beautiful lilies, and even a couple orange butterflies harassing turtles by landing on their noses over and over as the turtle tried to get away by withdrawing into its shell.

San Blas is a special place, and now that I’ve had the full experience maybe I can see the benefit of all those horrible jejenes. Otherwise, San Blas would be full of resorts, tourists, and KFCs. The authentic feeling would be lost. Our guidebook called the jenene “nature’s guardian”. Nature chose an effective guardian for San Blas, and that tiny creature has effectively repelled most tourists from its gorgeous beaches. Good job, jejenes!

Lisa Hackett

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, drive from Idaho to Alaska solo, live and work in a van in the wilderness and dodge encounters with wolves and bears. Seriously. More

One Response to San Blas: Surfing and Crocodiles

  1. Alan Zezini says:


    Great article! We want to visit San Blas this coming January or February 2017. I’m wondering if insect repellent works against the ‘Guardians’?


    — Alan —

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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