How best way to visit Mexico? For many Canadians, at this time of the year, it means flying to Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel or other locations. I admit to a bias. Since my days as a ship's surgeon I've loved being at sea. The smell of ocean air, time for relaxation and just watching the sea go by. So for me there's no better way to see and taste the pleasures of this colourful country than by sailing along the west coast of Mexico aboard the Ryndam, one of Holland America's fine ships. This allows a visit to many of Mexico's coastal towns and historic ports.
I joined the Ryndam, in San Diego, California. Two days of sailing is just time to unwind before docking at Puerto Vallarta. The city is at the center of Banderas Bay with the Sierra Madre mountains as a background. It's a former haven for pirates. A large hotel area provides lots of choice for warm hospitality and luxury. But my advice is to head for the old town, a short cab ride away. It's a colourful area with red-roofed white buildings and cobblestone streets. Nearby along the coast is where Richard Burton and Ava Gardner starred in the film, "Night of the Iguana". This transformed a once sleepy village into the most popular resort on the Mexican Riviera. Here you can shop to your heart's content, enjoy a beer or tequilla, and people watch.
Sailing slowly northward we reached the town of Mazatlan, Mexico's principal fishing and commercial port. I visited Copola, a gold mining town in the Sierra Madre mountains founded in 1565. This offers a chance to see the real Mexico beyond the tourist area. Besides, this is John Wayne territory where he made many of his movies. Others from the ship went sports fishing as 7,000 Marlin are tagged and released here every year.
The Ryndam then entered the Sea of Cortez for our next destination, Topolobampo, a beautiful, small, seaside resort noted for shrimping mostly for export. But I know that some shrimp that day were not exported! Here the highlight for many was the train trip to Copper Canyon, on one of the most scenic railways in the world. The train climbs 7,000 feet into the Sierra Madre mountains slipping through tunnels, crossing bridges and winding its way up to see the canyon, an awe inspiring sight.
A day later we were in Loreto an old establishment rich in history. I elected to see the San Javier mission, one of the best preserved missions in Mexico. It's a tedious drive over rough roads and not for the light-hearted. But it provides a glimpse of life high in the Sierra Madre mountains that few see.
Our ship then turned on a southerly course towards Bahia de la Paz. I found this to be one of the most pleasant ports we visited. Despite being the capital of Bahij, California, and the second largest city, La Paz maintains a tranquil feeling. The water is flat, days are sunny and sunsets spectacular. There is a large public beach here in a lovely cove were natives relax under thatched umbrellas. The city emblem is a silhouetted pair of facing doves, the symbol of La Paz (peace). The best compliment I can give to La Paz is, I'd like to return.
Our final Mexican port, Cabo San Lucas, situated at the southern tip of Bahij where the Gulf of California meets the Pacific. This city on a large protected bay provides a retreat from the busy life, time for horseback riding along the beach, scuba diving and an historic carriage ride through the town.
When sightseeing was over I did what I like best, relaxing in the multiple pleasures of shipboard life aboard the Ryndam, its gourmet food, interesting shipboard companions and wistfully watching the sea go by.
Today in this hectic life there is no better way to escape your troubles and get a glimpse of the varied scenes of Mexico than aboard the Ryndam.
Dr. W. Gifford Jones can be reached at [email protected]