Chacala, Nayarit Mexico, by all accounts via the internet and the cruising guides is a sleepy little town of 300 residents. This quintessential beach town with a beautiful shoreline consisting of soft sand with a mild surf and palm trees swaying softly in the background is the anchorage of our dreams.
We arrived on Monday, March 21, 2016, the beginning of Semana Santa (Saints week), the week before Easter, which is one of the biggest holiday weeks in Mexico. With every arrival into a port or anchorage I searched the distance through my binoculars, assessing the situation. As we sailed toward Bahia de Chacala I noticed a wide variety of color splashed along the shoreline. Beautifully painted houses I thought? No. Umbrellas! Hundreds of umbrellas! This was not a quiet little anchorage at the moment. We had arrived just in time to spend what could be compared to spring break in the States. Families from inland towns and cities had converged on this little beach to spend the holiday and we would be one of the guests. What a treat, what a blessing!
Arriving around 4:30 pm, we had our first opportunity of setting a stern anchor which was needed to keep the boat from rolling in the swell and made our life aboard much more tolerable. Typically we only set our bow anchor, keeping us in place for the duration of our stay, leaving us to gently swing with the wind and current around the anchor. However this anchorage has a steady swell coming from the west and its best to keep your bow pointed into that swell for maximum comfort. Using a stern anchor keeps the boat pointed in the direction of choice, prohibiting the natural swing. It was great to put theory to the test and have it work so smoothly. We got to work getting Pablo squared away; we got Picasso (our dinghy) inflated and launched, the sun shade up and all travel gear stowed just as the sun was setting. We would go ashore the following day to check in with El Capitan de Puerto de Chacala and explore this little town.
Up early the following day we boarded Picasso ready to see the sights. On the north side of the bay is a Panga/Dinghy dock. Well, dock is kind of a stretch. There is a place were Pangas tie up to a concrete wall and there are two sets of steps going up the wall. Steve and I rode our dinghy back and forth, skirting the pangas tied to the wall on various posts or tree branches stuck into rocks or cracks in the wall. All the while being careful not to get ourselves caught in their stern lines secured to floating bouys behind them, some of which were not actually floating but submerged just below the surface of the water. We decided to wiggle our way between a few Pangas, inching toward one of the sets of steps. I reached forward as we approached and grabbed the wall pulling Picasso toward the step. I made the short leap to land and was able to manuver Picasso toward a post where I tied her securely in place and viola, we were tied to the dock just like we knew what we were doing. Feeling quite proud of ourselves, Steve and I stepped ashore, unloaded our packs, and headed toward the port Captains’ office. The locals on the dock paid us no mind as we wandered into town. To them this was an everyday occurrence to us this was a whoohoo moment. This was just more of what we had been longing for, another check mark on the list of things we had looked forward to experiencing when we left home. We were once again giggling, Teehee…. we were really doing it. Traveling in a foreign country, transversing the land and customs. Yay for us!
Arriving at the Port Captains’ office we discovered it was locked. Hmmm…. it is reported to be open daily 8-3. Oh well, we will check back later. We wondered further down the street taking our first turn to follow the road that parallels the beach. Lining the road on each side are shops selling beach goods, abborrotes selling grocery items, and stands selling fruits and vegetables some familiar and some not so much. We cross between two building to walk the sandy beach in front of the multiple Palapa resturants, each one the same except somehow offering a different vibe, a different experience. We chose one and sat down, ordering a cerveza and a sangria. There we sat watching the families around us, people on holiday, mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and cousins. All laughing and playing.
We spent a week going back and forth between our boat and the beach. While on the boat we could hear the various impromtu Mariachi bands that wondered the beach. Listen to the sounds of children squealing in the waves and watch as two Pangas with large banana shaped rafts in tow took people on often wild rides around the anchorage. We soon became a point of interest in the bay as they would circle us and wave. Several times we had swimmers or people on rafts come out to Pablo to visit with us. Through our little bit of Spanish and their little bit of English they told us where they lived, shared their love for Chacala and their hometown, and asked about us and where we came from. They were curious about Pablo and our journey. It was a friendly visit with strangers, a chance to learn a bit from each other. It was sweet!
Unlike the other beaches we had been on, we were in the minority. This was not a destination for foreign tourist. This was a tourist stop for Mexicans. There were vendors on the beach, but they were not selling necklaces and pareos. They were selling ice cream, yummy homemade roasted coconut treats, rice pudding in cups, umbrellas, and beach toys. Families set up large tents on the beach with tables and food. Little kids with giraffe and dolphin floaties played freely. There was not one drunk, hooligan or police officer. The only time we saw anyone that looked official was a guy in an orange vest directing traffic. As for that Port Captain, we finally got ahold of him by VHF radio. He said he was on the beach and if we needed anything to call him on channel 16. There was no need to check in.
We look forward to visiting this beautiful bay again. I do not expect it will be the same, unless we chose to come on a future holiday weekend. Who knows, maybe this will become our favorite place to spend Semana Santa. Its possible.