You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and Barra de Navidad nailed it!
Barra is a small town just like La Cruz, but instead of fishing the primary industry is tourism. We arrived the Monday after Easter, which is the second (and less busy) week of Semana Santa (Holy Week). Less busy, but still a large number of Mexican families were here enjoying a week at the beach
We arrived from around the corner in Tenacatita, motoring over in the morning before there was any wind to speak of. Wings came over in the afternoon and were able to sail at least partway but we were too early. Once you spot the far side of the bay, one of the first things in your line of vision is a big ol’ shipwreck. A bulk carrier, Los Llanitos, was grounded during the 2015 Cat 5 Hurricane Patricia that hit this part of the coast. Apparently they were trying to run out to sea and didn’t make it, but at least there was no loss of life. A reminder not to mess around with Mother Ocean. Recovery efforts continue with a helicopter flying back and forth multiple times a day.
The marina is part of a resort hotel, the Grand Bay Hotel on Isla Navidad. There is also a large body of water called “The Lagoon” where a number of boats choose to anchor at no charge.
We like our creature comforts so we are in the marina. We can use the pool (free unless you buy food and drinks for which you will pay dearly), spa (prices are high – level with the US), the gym (for a $5 US daily fee), laundry service (30% higher than La Cruz prices) and hot showers (thankfully free but only six for the entire marina).
In the labelled photo at the top you can see the hotel and marina are separated from the mainland. The way to get from either the marina or the anchorage into town is by the 24-hour water taxi. You hail the taxi on VHF channel 23, tell them where you are and within minutes arrive to your location. The service is 30 pesos (~$1.50) for the round trip.
Our first week was spent just wandering around, getting to know the area and finding what we need to survive – in our case that’s tasty meals, cold beers, margaritas and (for John) live music at night.
Barra has a number of beachside restaurants – classic feet-in-sand-cold-beer-and-margarita-sipping-shrimp-peeling kind of places. There are also a large number of tables-in-the-street-no-cars-allowed-here restaurants with a
variety of menu options – 14 peso (about $0.75) tacos to fancy dinner fish with blackberry sauce kind of places – next door to each other. Shopping is typical Mexican souvenirs, but the blouse and dress styles are somewhat different than the Puerto Vallarta choices. I’m sure I’ll have a couple of new wardrobe items before we leave.
Shopping is small town – no Walmarts, Mega Comercials or Costcos here. For that we would have to bus or taxi into Manzanilla, about 24 miles away. But people everywhere eat, so we’ve found the markets for fish, meat, produce and other necessities like toilet paper. Oh, and wine. So we can do without “big shopping” for a few weeks.
Thursday is the street market. It sets up on Calle Guanajuato (Cahy-ay Gwan-a-huatto) starting at the town plaza and is open until about 3:30 pm. Like the La Cruz Wednesday street market, there are vendors for clothing, kitchen utensils, beauty products, hardware and a couple of produce stands. The produce stand is definitely worth a visit – they even had brussel sprouts!
One thing I’ve noticed is people speak less English to me than in La Cruz, for example in the tiendas and at the butcher shop. Definitely worth brushing up your Spanish skills or bringing Google translate along.
The beach on the ocean side has large Pacific-style waves breaking. The end closest to the harbor entrance features surfers daily. One day we were at a beach restaurant sipping a cold beverage and watching the surf break when I noticed a man playing in the waves. He body-surfed in with the waves, then rode them back out only to turn over and body-surf in again. I’m thinking “Hm must be a city dude, trying to body surf so close to those rocks”. Luckily Ramon, our waiter, recognized him as in distress and called the lifeguard over to help negotiate the waves and get to his feet. Ramon said (In Spanish of course) that it happens quite a bit on that stretch of beach where the beach narrows and waves sneak up on people who are just strolling. I repeat– just don’t mess with Mother Ocean.
(Ramon also said that the lifeguards come from the city for holiday weeks so they don’t really understand the ocean either, they’re pool guys! At least they are young, fit and strong – the opposite of our body-surfing dude.)
One of the best things about Barra? The French Baker. What makes him so special? Five days a week, he brings his little delivery boat to the marina and lagoon – you can buy fresh baguettes, croissants, quiche and Danish without getting out of your PJs! In the morning at about 8:30 am he announces on VHF channel 22 that “Your French Baker is in the marina”. He also has a little bell he rings to alert you to his proximity. Think “ice cream truck” – I hear the bell or the radio announcement and I start jingling the coins in my pocket while the choices roll through my mind. In town he has a small café, El Horno Frances if you need a fix in between deliveries. (I told him if he brought freshly brewed coffee too he would be the king of my life. I think his baguettes are made from clouds and the tequila-soaked-raisin Danish are made from rainbows. Diet be damned – try one of everything!)
We’ve had a couple weeks “off” now so John listed out the boat jobs we are going to do while we’re here – the big one being washing the sails. They’ll stay on the boat, we’ll wash a part, raise it up, wash the next section, raise it, and so on until they are all shiny clean. Just in case you think our life is all beaches, tacos and beer.
Down the road a couple miles is another small town, Melaque (May-lah-kay). Similar make-up – hotels, beach restaurants, small stores, souvenir shops and the one bank in the area. I’m sure we’ll be making a trip there at some point this week, in between boat jobs.
For those reading this who visit after us, I’ll put together a first-timer’s shopping guide to Barra for a future blog.