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The annual El Famoso Horseshoe Tournament for 2018 was moved to a different location at the last minute, but despite this adversity, was very successful, thanks to a myriad of volunteers, attendees and observers.  Here are the results:

A total of $22,650 pesos was raised and donated to the Community Cultural Center in La Peñita.

Horseshoe Tourney Results
A Division
1st >Merv Swanson & Ann Legros
2nd >Al Devon & Donna Percival
3rd> Bob Ridler & Val Schrowe
Dead Ass Last (DAL) >Bob Butler & Shirley John

B Division
1st> Paul Hince & Lynn Dahl
2nd> Roger Dusome & Kelly Roussy
3rd> Ivor Mawle & Terri Martinello
DAL > Pat McMillen & Christine Desautels

C Division
1st>  Skip Wright & Roger Evans
2nd> Clint Meays & Dan Bell
3rd> Don Voysey & Tim Evans
DAL> Al Claudra & Al Seriani

D Division
1st > Kay Vincent & Frank Martinello
2nd >Len Karran & Rob Cundy
3rd> Dale Williamson & Steven Dillinger
DAL> Patty Johnson & Byron Johnson

We look forward to the 2019 Event Saturday February 9th.

Dave Howell

The 19th Annual, 11th Memorial, El Famoso Horseshoe Tourney will be on Saturday February 10th, 2018.

This is a Fundraiser for the Centro Cultural de Capacitacion de Bahia Jaltemba

If you want to participate you will need to sign up at Mateja’s on Thursday February 8th at 3:30 p.m.

Please see the flier for more info.

Encouraged by the rising price of Tequila, and because I haven’t been there for a few years, my traveling partner and I decided to visit, (you guessed right) the pueblo of Tequila.

This time instead of the jeep we decided to go first class and in air conditioning. I loaded my little Nissan with an ice chest of goodies, a sample of the Tequila I wanted to buy and the usual things for a night on the road. I picked up Vicky at the hospital as she came off duty and we made a pit stop in Tepic (a little out of the way) and then hit the Autopista in the direction of Guadalajara. The road is first class. Lots of emergency call boxes and casas de cobres (toll booths). There are two ways to go by car from our starting point, which is Rincón de Guayabitos. Free road or libre to just the other side of Compostela (toll booth), free road into Tequila or cut over to the toll road.

01 - Ready_for_the_road
Vicky and I are ready to hit the road. Our vehicle is our 2002 Nissan Platina, made in Mexico. Photo taken in front of our Bed and Breakfast in Rincón de Guayabitos, Mexico. We have aboard a thermos of fresh roasted Mexican Arabica coffee and a thermos (of Bob’s favorite tequila?).

(above photo) In the patio of the Sauza plant. No photos were permitted in the plant itself. We took a guided tour and were shown how tequila was processed. The cost was $35 pesos each. We have taken other tours and there are many distilleries, but each one is unique.

We opted for the toll road, but after considering the cost of about $200 pesos each way, decided we would take the free road back. Anyway, sometime in the afternoon, and after a ride through beautiful green valleys, lava flows and mountains, we arrived in Tequila.

06 - Agave grows in high dry country
We pass by Compostela and start to climb into the high arid mountains were blue agave is found. World demand for Tequila is fast outstripping the supply of blue agave, the fermented, distilled juice of which is used in making true tequila.

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. We are sharing his stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. You can learn more below.

I will not go into many details about Tequila, because so much has been written. Only that the Spanish arrived about 1530 and either convinced or forced the natives to accept their way of life. The word Tequila, according to many, was the Spanish translation for Teo Chin Chan (the name of the present pueblo of Tequila) and a dialect of the Nahuatl language, a rough translation of which is “The place of a strong God.” Most tourist guide books lead one to believe that beyond a visit to the distilleries, the plaza and church, Tequila has little to offer. I read a recent account of Tequila in which the author said “you wouldn’t want to spend the night there.” Bad advice.

Of course Vicky and I like to go to places that don’t necessarily have a Hilton hotel, and for me after calling a foxhole home during a couple of wars, anything with a roof is o.k. But in Tequila, there are three places to stay that I know of, and I have tried them all. We planned on staying one night but enjoyed ourselves so much that we made it two.

19 - Narrow streets and adobe buildings
Narrow streets and adobe buildings. The first Spanish arrived in 1530. The name Tequila was derived from the words Teo Chin Chan, a dialect of the Nahuatl language. Meaning, “The place of the strong god.”

Arriving in town we first found a place to stay. Hotel Abasolo on the street by that name. Crosses the Avenida (which runs directly to the main plaza and church). Turn right a couple of blocks to No. 80. Tel. 374 201-95. Not the Ritz, but rooms are clean. A fan, cable TV, hot water and secure parking. Price $150 pesos! Because we arrived in late afternoon and the time difference of one hour, by the time we cleaned up and had a siesta, most restaurants were closed (and there are many real nice places to eat). So we wandered down to the main plaza and strolled about. A really neat little town with some winding streets and an adventure to see the old places.

17 - The church in Tequila
The church in Tequila is located on the one of the central plazas. This plaza is where the singles meet. There is a plaza across the street for couples.

I have been to so many great little places that I have trouble remembering all of them, but most have one thing in common. The plaza is not only a place for events, but where young folks meet and court. The norm is that they stroll about the plaza. Sometimes the boys or men in one direction and the girls or women in the other. After becoming a couple they walk together. Here we encountered something different. There are two plazas. One on the Avenida, and in which is located the church. The other is just across the street from the church. In the plaza where the church is located, the females would sit in groups, and across the street and in the arcade were the males. In the plaza across from the church, and on many benches or other places to sit were the couples. No singles! Anyway, I thought that was interesting. Somehow they must meet.

14 - DSCF0155
Plaza in Tequila

One thing I forgot to mention. We passed many shops selling both tequila in store-bought type bottles and offering it in unmarked plastic containers. I was previously warned that you had to be careful because the product they were selling was not necessarily what they said it was. You have to be careful of where and what you buy. Fortunately we had a couple of recommendations. Also, it is unclear to me what the Mexican law is on purchasing of Tequila without government seals, etc.

After walking around awhile, we dropped in to a little place that sold tacos. It had one of those barbecue like things with lots of layers of meat that was giving off juices and this wonderful smell. We both gorged and I paid the bill of only 20 pesos. We called it a nite and returned to the hotel.

Our primary mission the next morning was to buy enough quality tequila to provide us and our guests with margaritas for the next year. However, the smells of a passing vendor of tamales overcame us and we bought a couple. Our stomachs, after being primed with a delicious tamale de elote (corn tamale), demanded more. Vicky suggested our favorite place to eat. The native market. You know, it is interesting to note (why do I always say this in my stories?) that I rarely see gringos eating in a native market. Yet here is where the best and REAL Mexican food is served and at prices to fit every budget. We walked beyond the first market stalls and into the very center. Here stood one building by itself. After entering there was a group of large cloth covered tables. Completely surrounding us was stall after stall, all beautifully tiled, and each containing different dishes. There was even a stall with Japanese and Chinese food. All was very clean. We wandered around and decided what we wanted, sat at a table and all was delivered and from different stalls. We ate our fill and paid the bill of only 50 pesos.

15 - A great place to eat  in Tequila
A great place to eat is the central plaza in Tequila. There are pretty tiled stalls all around serving different foods. You can sit down in the center and give the waitress your order from any stall that you see. You can even order Chinese or Japanese food.

At this point we decided we were having such a good time that we would stay another night. Having noticed a hotel on the Avenida, we decided to check it out. A really cute little place on the main street and only a couple of blocks from the plaza. Newly redecorated in very Mexican colors. Two stories, very neat. Cable TV, hot water, ceiling fan and clean. Only minus was street parking but they have a night watchman to keep an eye out. Single bed 180 pesos. Double 250. Worth it. Hotel Posada del Agave. Sixto Gorjon (the main street) #83,  Tel. 374 74 20774.

Now, down to business (almost). We wandered through the next plaza and stopped at a kiosk that was advertising tours to the distilleries. We booked a tour (30 pesos each) for a little later, and continued onward. Walking down a couple of blocks and after a couple of false information leads we arrived at the right numbered house. We knocked three times, said “Joe sent us”, showed our secret pass and were allowed to enter. (do you really believe this). Well the entering part was o.k. There was a sign on the street that said tequila was for sale. We did introduce ourselves as being friends of a friend, who has been a patron for years. We tested various tequilas but my favorite was still the sample that I carried. The price was up somewhat, which was expected and we bought enough to last us (hopefully) for the next year. I also bought a 20 liter oak barrel to give some of it a little more “reposado” for our B&B guests. I returned with the car which, after being loaded up, groaned with the added weight.

After leaving our car and booty in front of the hotel we returned to the plaza in time to board the van, which was loaded with a lively, but older crowd, from Mexico City. Off we went, our goal being the Distilleria Cofradia. Out of town, down a number of unmarked and very marginal roads, we finally drive through a guarded portal and park in the Cofradia lot. The driver, also our guide started us with viewing the blue agave plant, then the ovens, the fermenting vats, the huge distillation containers (it was distilled up to 3 times, depending on the grade), and finally the store where we were allowed to sample, to our hearts content, all of their products. A lot of the crowd overindulged, but keeping to my normal high standards I limited myself to a dozen or so. Fortunately, Vicky was there to keep me in line.

We had a nice night walking around, more shopping and seeing the sights and a light dinner. We left early the next day for our other paradise, Rincón de Guayabitos after another great time on the BACK ROADS OF NAYARIT (& JALISCO TOO).

Note:  The other place to stay is on the free road on the edge of town. I stayed there several years ago. An o.k. motel at that time.

26 - Tequila from Tequila
Tequila from Tequila — We have just purchased 76,5 liters of quality tequila. 100% agave and anejo (aged for one year in an oak cask). It took me a long time to find out this source. Now we have enough to last us for our Bed and Breakfast for the coming season and some for our friends.

by Bob Howell
Originally published August 25, 2002 on La Peñita Folk

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. Sometimes her bodega is packed full of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and medicine; sometimes it is bare. If you enjoy reading these articles, please consider making a donation so the McKibben Foundation (Nurse Vicky’s Dispensary) can continue helping schools, seniors and needy families in the Jaltemba Bay area. And if you have copies of any of Bob’s old stories or photos, please contact us.

If you haven’t already done so, read Tom Plattenberger’s personal dedication entitled “In Memory of Bob Howell,” which serves as an introduction to this series.


More Photos Taken Along the Way

02 - Lava flow from Volcan Ceboruco
Lava flow from Volcán Ceboruco — The violent irruption in the late 1800’s killed many people and covered several villages. It is still steaming, waiting for another day.

03 - Helping the poor in La Noriega
After passing through the small coffee village of Mesillas, we come to the settlement of La Noriega. Only three families live there now. It is just off the highway but there is a dangerous pull over at the curve. We leave some rice, beans, sugar and candy for the children.

04 - La Noriega
Not much here in La Noriega. A small creek, real basic homes, a small garden, a few chickens and those struggling to live. The adults, including the older children, work in the coffee, which doesn’t pay much. The nearest school is a long ways away.

05 - Blue Agave
There are a number of different kinds of agave, but Tequila is made from blue agave. It takes 10 to 12 years for the plants to reach optimum growth but the demand is so great that some are harvest as early a six years.

11 - The country is very dry in most areas near Tequila
We passed through mountains and jungle earlier, but the country near Tequila is high and dry.

07 - Restaurant Vera Cruz  08 - The church at Iztlan del Rio
(left) Restaurant Vera Cruz is located on Calle Vera Cruz. A short distance north of the plaza. You can see it from the main street. It is located in an old home and has many photos of the old days, back to the revolution. Meals are good and you will like the prices. (right) The church at Ixtlán del Río was the first church was erected in 1626. The present decor appears to be of 1800’s vintage.

09 - The plaza at Iztlan del Rio
A pretty plaza at Ixtlán del Río. Nearby are government buildings, the church and the main street and highway. It has a couple of acceptable hotels and I have stayed in both. However, if you don’t bring earplugs the constant all night traffic, especially the trucks, will probably keep you awake.

10 - The government building at Iztlan del Rio
The government building at Ixtlán del Río. Located just off the main street, which is the highway also, and next to the plaza.

12 - The church at Magdalena
The church at Magdalena. An old village dating back to the days of the Spanish. The church architecture is neoclassic and dates back to the 1800’s. Magdelena is known for opals and has many mines. Vicky sees an opal shop nearby, which we visited and bought a couple of things.

13 - The central plaza at Magdalena
The central plaza at Magdalena is located just off the main highway, it is a little noisy at times.

20 - The tasting room
The tasting room in part of the old Sauza family mansion. They tried to serve me tequila with fresca but I declined. Then they produced the good stuff. Not as good as the tequila I buy, but quite drinkable. Here in this photo is Vicky and 3 French girls that were touring.

21 - The beautiful gardens in the old Sauza mansion
The beautiful gardens in the old Sauza mansion. After a few “copitas” we walk around the grounds.

22 - An interior patio in the mansion
An interior patio in the mansion. The Sauza family started making Tequila back in the 1800’s.

23 - The Sauza Mansion
The Sauza Mansion is very large. Sauza is one of the leading producers of Tequila. Tequila, by law, can only be made in one small area of Mexico.

24 - The grounds are very large
The grounds are very large. Many trees and flowers make this a paradise in the middle of a desert.

25 - Vicky relaxes
Vicky relaxes after experiencing a copita of tequila. Most folks do not know what good tequila is. Good is at a minimum reposado (aged in an oak cask for 6 months) and 100 percent agave. If it does not say this on the bottle then it is not pure tequila.

In Part One, we had just arrived in our jeep at the Pueblo of El Llano, where we were going to look for a guide to take us to the lower waterfalls at El Cora. We, consists of the author, Vicky Flores, my partner in our business adventures of a Bed and Breakfast and Back Road tours, and our guests, Jeff and Jane Hill.

We pull in to El Llano and it is 10 a.m. The odometer reads 0035 kilometers.

There is a pretty little church with a nice plaza and it is right on the main highway. The town is spread out. Not just built around the plaza, it just kind of stretches.

10 - Vicky and the Comisario of El Llano
Vicky and the Comisario of El Llano: Vicky asks the Comisaria, (mayor) where we can find a guide to the waterfalls.

We have never been to the lower waterfalls before, although Vicky has been to the upper falls. We have been told that a local guide would be needed. A visit to the Comisario (town mayor?) and the local cantina produced a guide. Beto Montez. Beto boards the jeep with his guitar and we are on the road again. We back track down the highway and take a side road.

11 - Vicky talks to our Guide
Vicky talks to our Guide: Beto Montez and Vicky talk in front of Beto’s home. He is a singing guide and brings his guitar.

The road is dirt and gravel, not bad at this point. Beto says we need to go about six kilometers to our jumping off place. We pass a little settlement and a neat little rancho. It is a small trailer park. Beto says it belongs to some gringos. Now we go down into a little valley. There is a jungle canopy overhead. The road divides and we go to the right. There is a banana field to our right. Now water is running down the center of the road. Beto tells us that many artifacts are to be found. Ceramics, some petroglyphs, etc. The road starts to get rough. I put it in 4 wheel drive. We are passing through a mango grove and planted areas.

Beto tells us an interesting story. Germans came to this area in 1906 and started a hacienda. It extended all the way into the mountains where they planted coffee and down to the coast. They built roads, a hacienda and settlements for their workers. Produce was shipped out by wagons and mules. Of course the revolution of 1910 to 1914 put an end to the haciendas. Soon we come to a tunnel that goes through the mountain. Beto says the Germans built it, but I found out different later. We pass through. It is very narrow and Vicky gets a little nervous. This is not helped by the darkness and the many bats flying around. I make mention that this place looks a little shaky and could collapse at any moment. I realize this mistake too late when a near panic starts in the jeep. Soon we come to the end and come out in another valley.

Note on the tunnel: There are two tunnels in the area. We did not locate the other. A railroad was planned from Tepic to San Blas but never completed. Limited records made note that two tunnels were completed in this area. I could not find dates or other data.

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. We are sharing his stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. You can learn more below.

We enter a small forest of what appears to be miniature bamboo but the guide has a different name for it, and I can’t remember what. Now we come to some red flowers which are called mala mujeres, or bad women (what did they do?). Now we see some red looking trees with what looks like paper hanging from them. The guide says if you make tea from them it will increase your appetite. I glance at my stomach and decide I don’t need to know more. It is 11:09 and we are at kilometer 0047. We are passing through a different kind of country here. The road is up and down, the soil is red and there is only a tree here and there. We go sharply down hill and come to a little creek and enter a real bamboo grove. Large, round and very tall. Just beyond we come to a second creek. There is an entry through the fence and we follow the creek up some distance. There is a near solid bamboo grove. The road narrows and we park. The guide insists that we take the ice chest and guitar. Who am I to argue. I like food and music. A note here. There is no way you can enter this road without a 4 wheel drive. The entrance is rough and steep. We follow along the stream and pass through a couple of cattle gates.

12 - A petroglyph on a rock
A petroglyph on a rock: After driving through mountains and jungle, we park the jeep and start hiking. We soon come across this petroglyph along the trail.

13 - The stream we are following
The stream we are following
: This stream empties into the river below the falls.

We continue along this bubbling stream, which has many pools quite big enough for swimming. It is forested on both sides. Soon we pass a small banana patch, then a field of corn, both are irrigated. There must be a spring above. We find a rock that has petroglyphs and I snap a picture. There are a lot of boulders above. I bet if we checked them out we would find more petroglyphs. This is interesting country. We are in the middle of a rainforest. The ground is fertile. Water abounds. There sure would be worse places in the world to settle. The trail is getting a little rough. We cross the creek several times. Jeff, the guide, and even Vicky (she insists and there is no arguing with this little lady) switch off carrying the ice chest. They won’t let me. They must think I am old or something. The stream is getting bigger as we go. Up through another bamboo grove. The water is getting louder. Vicky falls into the stream for a second time. Now we leave the river. We are up the mountain through many oak trees. The trail forks. We go left. Now descending on a trail that has been worn over centuries. The stream is down below. It looks like a swimming stream. The water is azure blue. There is the cascada! (waterfall). It is beautiful here. The water is falling down a rock face. There is a very large deep pool. Like a small lake. As I write this I am listening to the tape and the music of the falling water. I wish I was still there. It took us an hour and 8 minutes of hiking. Well worth the effort to be in this little Eden. We lounge around. Vicky goes for a swim.

14 - A waterfall at el Cora
A waterfall at El Cora: We soon come to the lower waterfall. There is a beautiful pool to swim in.

15 - One of three waterfalls
One of three waterfalls: The falls are located on an old hacienda that was settled by German immigrants in 1906. The revolution of 1910-1914 broke up the haciendas.

17 - Vicky paddles around
A great swimming hole: The water was icy cold but very refreshing. The pool was deep. We never did find out how deep. We pick a shady spot next to the pool and have a picnic lunch. Sandwiches, beer and goodies.

18 - A tropical paradise in the middle of the jungle
A tropical paradise in the middle of the jungle
: The first waterfall has easy access. The second involves a brisk climb up the rocks. The upper falls must be reached from another access from above, which is a dangerous climb.

19 - Steep rocky cliffs surround the pool
Steep rocky cliffs surround the pool
: The stream can be crossed a short distance below the pool and brief, but heavy, climb will take you to the middle pool and falls.

20 - Vicky kicks back
Vicky kicks back
: A tired hiker. Vicky, Jeff and the guide took turns carrying the ice chest. It was hard work.

21 - Beto sings and plays
Beto sings and plays: Beto has a nice voice and plays well. Although poor by northern standards, he is richer in life than most. He farms 2 hectares (4.4 acres) brings in a little money now and then as a guide, looks ten years younger than his 62 years and has the energy of a mountain goat. He will outlive most of us and he is a very happy man.

Jeff and the guide climb up to the middle fall and pool. That is as far as one can go safely. We break out the lunch – Turkey ham and cheese sandwiches, pickles, goodies, potato chips, beer, soda, coffee, etc. Beto picks up his guitar. He plays and sings. Here we are sitting in another beautiful world. It is hard to imagine the hardship and crisis now going on in war torn Iraq. This is a moment when you might weaken and just say goodbye real world and live here in paradise.

It is 1:30 and we pack up and leave paradise. The weather has warmed and we take a couple of breaks on the way back. We arrive an hour and nine minutes later at the jeep.

22 - Jeff crosses the stream with the ice chest
Jeff crosses the stream with the ice chest: We cross the stream many times. Vicky fell in twice.

23 - Jeff clowns on the bamboo
Jeff clowns on the bamboo: There is a small forest of bamboo along the stream.

24 - We are surrounded by mountains and tropical rain forest
We are surrounded by mountains and tropical rain forest: The tropical rain forest is fast disappearing throughout the world. It is estimated that in 50 years there will be no more in Mexico.

25 - We meet a vaquero along the road
We meet a vaquero along the road: This is cattle country. There are few fences. This is ejido land. The revolution divided the haciendas into ejidos, where all members share in the use of the land.

26 - The countryside changes along this road
The countryside changes along this road: This road served the old German settlement many years ago. They planted coffee up in the mountains, and varied crops down below. This was an old horse drawn wagon road at one time.

27 - Entering the village of El Cora
Entering the village of El Cora: A surprisingly large pueblo in the mountains. Now served by a good road, it was very hard to get to, especially during the rainy season.

28 - The church in El Cora
The church in El Cora: This village is rather poor and there is no plaza by the church.

29 - The new road down the mountain
The new road down the mountain: A new paved highway goes down the mountain to the village of Tecuitata and the main highway between Tepic and Santa Cruz on the coast.

30 - The village super market
The village super market: It is a long ways to a real super market. Shopping is limited and prices are high. A hardship for those who can least afford it.

31 - A basic home in tecuitata
A basic home in Tecuitata: Home is where the heart is. This one is pretty basic. The walls are naturally air conditioned but let in the critters.

We continue on toward the Pueblo of El Cora arriving about 15 minutes later. A larger village than I thought. We pause to take a couple of photos and pass through. The road is very good and soon changes from dirt to pavement. Although a little narrow, the pavement is good and there are many places to pull out. We pass through more tropical fruit groves and come to the village of Tecuitata, a neat place sitting on the hillside, and then the main road from Tepic to Santa Cruz on the coast. The kilometers are 059. We have beautiful views and a nice trip home.

We arrive home at 5:39 and the kilometers are 0133. For a total of 58 on this trip. We left at 8:20 so time was a little over 9 hours.

32 - The adventurers
The adventurers: Left to right we have Jeff and Jane Hill, Bob Howell (the author), Vicky Flores and guide, Beto Montez.

by Bob Howell
Originally published March 23, 2003 on La Peñita Folk

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. Sometimes her bodega is packed full of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and medicine; sometimes it is bare. If you enjoy reading these articles, please consider making a donation so the McKibben Foundation (Nurse Vicky’s Dispensary) can continue helping schools, seniors and needy families in the Jaltemba Bay area. And if you have copies of any of Bob’s old stories or photos, please contact us.

If you haven’t already done so, read Tom Plattenberger’s personal dedication entitled “In Memory of Bob Howell,” which serves as an introduction to this series.

For a long time we had been thinking of the trip to the waterfalls near El Cora. From the top near the village – a dangerous undertaking. From the bottom – unknown trails and roads. There are three falls. Vicky, my traveling companion and licensed tour guide, had been to the top pool and falls, but not the middle or the bottom. We heard that there was a guide in the village of El Llano. With that in mind, we decided, since we only had two guests at our bed and breakfast, and since they were willing to go on an adventure, this was the time. Here is our story.

It is 8:20 in the morning and another beautiful day in Paradise. We are heading out on another adventure into the unknown. Our vehicle is a 1985 CJ7. Our driver is the author of this story. Our tour guide is Vicky Flores. Our passengers are our B&B guests Jeff and Jane Hill from Juneau, Alaska. Our goal for today is the waterfalls at Cora. And away we go.

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. You can learn more below.

As we leave Mi Casa es Su Casa in Rincón de Guayabitos, Vicky announces the usual. Saying “I hope so we go back from this trip.”

We go out on the highway, which has more traffic than usual, and head North in the direction of Tepic. Our speedometer reads 975 kilometers.

We pass through the pretty green countryside. Many trees, tropical plants and small farms. There are mangoes, papayas, bananas, beans, fields of tobacco and many others. We pass by the village of Puerta de la Lima and make a stop at Balastre. The home of Peluda the burro. A previous story. This family needed some medicine, and Vicky, who is a nurse at the hospital at Las Varas, wants to drop some off. We make a pit stop and again we are off.

The kilometers are 992 and it is 8:38. The sky is beautiful and things are starting to grow back after the hurricane. Soon we are nearing the road leading to the beach community of Chacala, which was hard hit by the hurricane. We see lots of fruit stands. Here can be bought coconuts, coconut candy, bananas, pineapples, watermelons, sweet breads, honey, bananas, papayas and many other things, including yaca, the Mexican answer to viagra.

We enter the community of Las Varas and turn left at the traffic light and head in the direction of San Blas. Again we pass through planted fields, passing by the entrance to Boca de Chila, the pirate den where possibly lies buried treasure and where on a previous trip one of our guests actually found an old Spanish coin. An adventure for someone with a metal detector. On we go and soon enter the Pueblo of Zacualpan. We stop to top off the gas tank and decide that, while we are here, we will show them a small outdoor park that contains a lot of old stone artifacts.

It is 9:04 and we pull up in front of the park. A gardener is working and trimming the roses that abound within. We walk through and our guests snap a number of photos. These artifacts were found when the road was being built and other construction that required excavation. There are petroglyphs on some of the boulders, small flat round stones – how did they do such precision work with only obsidian tools. Metal was unknown to this generation. The first thing we see I better not discuss here, although I have a photo. We spend a while, give the gardener a small gratuity and are on the road again. You know, the thing about this outdoor museum is that very few people know about it and it is not easy to find. I have never met a gringo who has seen it. I guess you are going to have to just look at the photos or come with us on a trip to find out where it is.

01 - Petroglyphs on a rock at Zacualpan
Petroglyphs on a rock at Zacualpán: We stop at the outdoor museum on our way to the waterfalls at El Cora.

02 - More petroglyphs
More petroglyphs: Some of these date back over 4000 years. Most were found when the road was being constructed.

03 - A rock bowl used for grinding corn and nuts
A rock bowl used for grinding corn and nuts: This one is larger than most that we have found in the jungles.

04 - Are these ancient writings_
Are these ancient writings? We are reminded somewhat of the Aztec calender, which of course it is not. Actually the Aztec calendar was made in Yucatan by the Mayas.

05 - Of what use was this_
Of what use was this? Several of these perfectly rounded and curved rocks were present.

06 - Like a round ball cut in half.
Like a round ball cut in half: Like the writings and petroglyphs, we will never know of what use these were for. Historians have different opinions.

07 - What do you think this is_
What do you think this is? I cannot comment.

Again passing through more fields and small villages. We know where many of the roads go. Those to the right lead to the high mountains and coffee country – La Cumbre, the old German colony of El Malinal, El Italiano – where most men were killed during the revolution and where only three old ladies survive, and La Cofradia all of which have great Arabica coffee. Many others. We pass through San Ysidro, Ixtapa, a few ranches and continue on toward the coast. At kilometer 021 we pass the entrance to the turtle hatchery and Playa Custodio, a development and miles of pristine beaches, only a few kilometers distant. This is where turtle eggs are taken and permitted to hatch unmolested. Turtles nest during Jul-Oct and the hatchery releases Aug-Dec. A neat trip.

08 - The small fishing village of Platanitos
The small fishing village of Platanitos: A beautiful beach and estuary. There is a planned development here. An artist colony, marina and golf course. Better see it now.

Now we pass a large estuary and arrive at the intersection to Platanitos and we decide to swing down and stretch our legs. This is an age old fishing village and has remained almost unchanged except for the palapa restaurants with delicious fresh caught seafood. It is a cove with gentle waves. This place is being discovered. Hidden on the point, which is Punta El Custodio, is the new development of Costa Custodio. It is a must to see now because an artist colony, golf course and marina are planned for here. Progress that I could do without. While Vicky and our guests stroll the beach I break out coffee and cookies. This coffee is from the mountains near Mesillas and is Arabica Altura, which I shelled and cleaned with our hand grinder, roasted last night and ground fresh this morning. I will never tire of this aroma and full flavor. We have a leisure cup, a couple of cookies and reboard the jeep. The next stop will be El Llano, a small tropical village where we are going to find a guide.

Now we are traveling along jungle cliffs overlooking the sea. What a place to build a home. The road passes over mountains, jungle, streams, through villages. What scenery. At places we can see all along the coast to San Blas. Beautiful. Dotted with beaches, and small villages. Jungle forests, valleys, on the other side, coffee country. Wow! Sometimes I seriously ask myself what I ever did to deserve this life. One of my many regrets is that I didn’t decide to live like I do many years earlier. Somebody up there must like me. Although we are on a winding mountain road, it is well paved and maintained with pull outs here and there. There are several small beaches far below. Vicky and I are talking about exploring this entire area and soon. Now we are coming into the village of El Llano, where we will start looking for a guide.

09 - The church and plaza at El Llano
The church and plaza at El Llano: After leaving Platanitos we continue on through tropical forests and mountains to the town of El Llano, where we will find a guide to take us to the waterfalls of El Cora.

Watch for Part 2 in the next issue of our newsletter.

by Bob Howell
Originally published March 23, 2003 on La Peñita Folk

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. Sometimes her bodega is packed full of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and medicine; sometimes it is bare. If you enjoy reading these articles, please consider making a donation so the McKibben Foundation (Nurse Vicky’s Dispensary) can continue helping schools, seniors and needy families in the Jaltemba Bay area. And if you have copies of any of Bob’s old stories or photos, please contact us.

If you haven’t already done so, read Tom Plattenberger’s personal dedication entitled “In Memory of Bob Howell,” which serves as an introduction to this series.

Part 1 – We are dedicated, both as a hobby, and in an effort to find new places to show tourists, to explore all of the BACK ROADS OF NAYARIT that we can. Our vehicle is a 1985 Jeep CJ7. Modified with a jump seat in front, and with extra cushions in the back, we can carry 6 persons comfortably. Late models cannot. On this trip, in addition to myself, and my traveling companion, and licensed tour guide, Vicky Flores, we have along our good friends Terry and Lenor Coomber. We have packed the ice chests with sandwiches, soft drinks and snacks. We also have a thermos of freshly made coffee. The green beans from our nearby mountains were roasted and ground this morning.

Home is Rincón de Guayabitos, a small community about an hour North of Puerto Vallarta. It is about 8:30 A.M. and we are loaded up and heading North on highway 200. We pass through the green country side with bananas, tropical fruit and tobacco fields on either side. Very beautiful. About 20 minutes later, we are fueling up in Las Varas, a farm town, which also has a few fisherman and the only hospital for some distance in either direction. This is also the intersection for travel to the North coast and San Blas.

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. We are sharing his stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. You can learn more below.

A quick check to see if we have everything buttoned down and we are off and headed in the direction of Compostela. We pass by La Cuata, the road going to the hotsprings of Jamurca and then to coffee country. We are starting to climb into the mountains. The road is well paved, but as usual no shoulders. If you break down here, there is no place to go. Pull outs are few and far between. Soon we pass the road going to the Volcano El Molote and more hot springs (a great swimming hole near the village). The country is dry at first but then becomes green. We fly past Las Mesillas, then the shrine, where may be seen a lot of candles and where the local folks, and travelers stop to give a prayer. This road has many curves, and many accidents, which Vicky can attest to. She is a nurse at the hospital at Las Varas, where she works at night. She has seen the results of these accidents more than she would like to remember. Don’t travel this road at night.

Before we know it, we have dipped down into the beautiful valley, where lies the pueblo of Compostela. We come to a well marked intersection and go in the direction of Guadalajara. We soon stop at a “Casa de Cobre” (toll booth) and pay $28 pesos. This road is well paved and is wide enough to pull off if necessary. Emergency phones are located all along. I remember over a year ago when the car developed a problem. Vicky walked to the nearest phone, just a few minutes away. Before she returned to the car a tow truck arrived. They were very courteous and took us and our car back to a garage in Compostela. No charge and they refused a tip. Try that in the states. Big bucks.

It is 9:45 and we again charge ahead on this adventure. The road is easy and we have a great view of the valley and the mountains. We begin to see agave plants here and there. Agave needs 8 to 12 years to age. It is the main ingredient of Tequila, the demand for which is beginning to outpace the supply. Agave may be grown anywhere, but can only be distilled in the state of Jalisco. Good Tequila will state 100% agave on the bottle, and if it is aged it will say “reposado.”  If it does not so state, then it is only 51% tequila and could have been distilled yesterday. Enough of this lecture. However, there will be more later because I intend to check out the Tequila Train this summer.

Off to our right we see the Volcano San Pedro de Lagunillas. Then, to the left we see the lakes, or lagoons of Lagunillas. It is very scenic, and the Pueblo, which is larger than you would think, is a very typical Mexican town. The larger lake, of course, has a resident monster, according to the locals, and it is on the list for future investigation. Maybe we will overnight in a canoe and light candles, or something like that.

A bit further on we pull into a rest stop, which overlooks a very secret place for us. There is a small village that has a great swimming hole. I know you won’t believe this, but not only is the water crystal clear but it is cold in the summer and warm in the winter! And no, I haven’t been drinking. The name of this village is to be revealed at my wake. After a refreshing cup of our great Nayarit Arabica coffee, we are off again.

On down the road it is 10:40 A.M. and we pull into a PEMEX to top off the tank. One disadvantage of my jeep is that it is 6 cyl. and I never pass a gas station.  After refueling and a comfort stop, we proceed. We pass the Pueblo of El Torreon, where Vicky’s daughter Brenda used to teach school. It is a poor pueblo, which has seen better times. Most of the able bodied have gone to the cities or North of the border. There is not much work here.  Shortly we reach our first goal. Santa Isabel. It is a small Pueblo, which is mostly known for farming, honey and pottery. You can see and buy in the various stands alongside of the road.

Reaching the last stand, which today is empty, we turn to the right and head down through farms and sugar cane fields. After a couple of kilometros, we reach our point and stop. From the jeep we can only see fields and hills. We get out and walk a few steps and what do we see. A beautiful jungle canyon. There is a river flowing below. Before this we see clear pools surrounded by ferns. There are a number of waterfalls. No one is in sight. We have it all to ourselves. An untouristed spot. Down we go. The locals have built steps, and it is an easy descent. Dropping all but our bathing suits we climb in the lower pool. Wow! Cold. We paddle across and let the waterfall splash over us. This is dreamy. We chat, laugh, have a Caribe cooler and climb rocks. Vicky climbs down to a lower fall and pool near the river. Terry and Lenor paddle around and enjoy. It is hard to leave this wonderful place, but finally we must.

It is 11:30 and we reluctantly bid a fond farewell to the cascadas de Santa Isabel. Off we go, continuing down the free road and in the direction to Guadalajara. Soon we see a sign that says Tetitlan. We turn right and almost immediately enter that Pueblo. Here we are going to see a very old hacienda. Much of which is still standing. This hacienda stood off attacks by bandidos, Indians and for some time against the revolution. When last we visited, one of the village elders pointed to the towers and walls that defended until the last. Finally overwhelmed, many of the defenders were stood against the walls and executed. You can still see the bullet holes to this day.

In the second part we will tell of the ancient caves we found. These have to date far beyond the later civilizations of the Aztecs, Olmecs and Toltecs. These were cavemen (cavewomen also).

Then we will tell of the only intact old hacienda that we have ever found. And, it is for sale too!

Part 2 – In part 1, we told of our trip past Compostela, the lakes of Lagunillas and the great little Eden and swimming holes of Santa Isabel. Finally ending as we entered the Pueblo of Tetitlan.

The street we enter on is Avenida Independencia. This is a nice little place with narrow cobblestone streets. We follow the street past a little restaurant and a bull ring (actually, a place where the charros, or cowboys practice their roping and other skills with all classes of livestock as well as bulls).

We pull under a large shade tree in front of part of the old hacienda. There are a couple of saddlehorses tied in front and some locals deep in conversation. The hacienda is quite large and there are still small waterways serving their intended purposes. I prepare coffee and snacks while Vicky takes our friends on a tour. The buildings, corrals, storage sheds and various shops are in various stages of disrepair. Vicky shows them where they once lived, worshiped, worked, fought off Indians, bandidos and later revolutionarios, and where many died. A canal came from the river, far above, and entered by a circular flume from the high ceiling with force enough to drive the wheel, which in turn drove the equipment. Much of this hacienda was planted to cotton, which not only were used in looms of the ranch, but exported to Tepic, which had a number of textile mills. Mostly owned by Englishmen. Those ruins may be seen today. One of which is still intact. After the revolution and land redistribution, most of the surviving hacienda owners left.

After coffee and refreshments we hop aboard our jeep and continue on. A short distance down the road we come to the Pueblo of Valle Verde. A lively little place with several small cafes and tiendas (stores). At the railroad crossing there is a large train station, still intact. For the benefit of at least one of our readers, we take a full front photo. This was a passenger stop a few years ago. Now, trains only stop for cargo. There is still a station master. He tells us that passenger service may resume next year. I would really like to make the trip from Tepic to Guadalajara. I remember a number of Mexican train trips of years back. Of traveling 3rd class with the chickens. One of the cars usually had a plank bar. Beer was in buckets of ice. No window coverings. Usually someone had a guitar. I remember one time, we were in the middle of the Sonora desert, and I had boarded at a whistle stop by the name of El Coyote. I had been on board  long enough to be settled down with the chickens and a small pig or two, and sufficiently fortified with a few cervezas when all of a sudden… ah, but I am losing sight of the story at hand. Such is the plight of the aged.

We cross the tracks and continue on down a cobblestone road until we come to a balneario – another spring fed swimming spa. It soon appears that we are on the wrong road, so we return to the village, ask directions and off we go again. We are passing through rolling hills and we get glimpses of the railroad now and then. Soon we come to a sign that says Agua Tibia (warm water). This looks interesting, and the road is on our map. It says “Las Cuevas” (the caves). We end up in a few false roads, but finally come to a stream in a little valley and there are three caves on a cliff side. One is very large. They are elevated above the valley floor, and seem to have some kind of construction at the cave edges and made of small slate rock. Were these shelters, small living quarters, graves? It looks similar to that of the cave dwellings found in Arizona and New Mexico. The very high ceilings are blackened. Quite likely by fires over the centuries. The floor is almost powdered soil. I have the urge to dig down and see what is under here, but some things are better left alone. Vicky, who is almost pure Totonaka Indian, is suffering from bad vibes and says the spirits do not want us here. She refuses to enter the caves. We look around a bit and then continue on up the valley. There is a lake just beyond. We would like to picnic here, but the mosquitoes are attacking us.

We reverse our course and go on some distance away from the mosquitoes, stopping under a tree for a shady tailgate lunch. We break out our ham and cheese sandwiches, complete with home made bread and butter pickles and our local mountain grown coffee, roasted and ground fresh this morning. There is also beer, Caribe coolers and soft drinks.

Part 3 – After lunch, on to Amado Nervo, named  after a famous Mexican poet, who’s home is now a museum in the state capital of Tepic. A must to see. The cobblestone road is really rough here. You have to go very slow or fly over the top.  It is shaking us up. We are still in rolling hills and it is beautiful. There is a large valley over to the side. I don’t see anything in the valley except a couple of cows. A canopy of greenery, almost covering the road, soon appears. Vicky notices a tree bearing some kind of strange fruit and we stop and gather a few. Vicky says it is used to cure some disease. It is interesting to listen to Vicky when we are traveling or hiking. She misses nothing. Always pointing to plants and explaining the many natural remedies. She knows the names of nearly ever plant, tree and bird. A bus passes. It is loaded with people, so I assume it is the local transportation. It is difficult to see any paint under the corrosion and it is dented and battered beyond belief. Is this the final run before the wrecking yard?

1-terry_and_lenor_coomber_bob_howell_in_the_hacienda_courtyard
Terry and Lenor Coomber, Bob Howell in the courtyard of the hacienda in El Conte. / Top photo: Exploring the ruins of an old barn and stable at El Conte.

Continuing on we pass a small ranchita, the first sign of civilization in some time. I don’t know what they grow or what they do. We see a lake down in the valley to our left. It is fair size. I would like to visit it, but I don’t see any way to get down there. Soon we enter Amado Nervo. We stop at the main plaza. This town was formerly named El Conte (The Count), after the hacienda of that name, the remainder of which is located just the other side of the Plaza. The home itself is the only intact hacienda that we have seen. The out buildings are huge, but in disrepair. The more than 30 foot ceilings are giving away in spots. We enter the hacienda home itself. The many pillared patio in front is huge. As we enter through the large wooden front doors we notice an old crank telephone on the wall.

In the adjoining reception room there are pictures on the wall of the count and countess,who were of some European royalty. The pictures are of a handsome young man and a lovely young lady. For some reason I am drawn to them like a magnet. I must learn more about them and this hacienda. The room is very long and has a huge bath. Maybe this was where the Count and Countess slept. On the opposite side of the entry way there is another reception room still partially furnished with the old furniture. These ceilings must be 20 feet high. There is a large wall safe. The caretaker says there is no key. Who knows what secrets lie within! This enters into a bedroom. Many old things are on the walls and scattered around. A lot of old reading material. Entering the hacienda proper we see a very large courtyard. There is a swimming pool size fountain in the center. The courtyard is bordered by patios with many large pillars. Walking around to the right, we come to bedroom after bedroom. The last time we were here, most were locked up and no one lived here. We see all of the rooms are open and there is a new caretaker. Now it seems to have limited use. There are five bedrooms, most very large, some with living or sitting rooms. There is one very large bath. Next is a large bar room, complete with tables, leather chairs, pool table and bar. I think this could be my favorite room. There is a kitchen, a living room with old wood stoves, and then the dining room. More bedrooms, a library with very old typewriters, printed material and antiques. We see more bedrooms one of which has a small bath. I think we have seen about a dozen bedrooms and maybe 4 baths. Some changes would have to be made to meet modern times. Although, in those days, most homes had no toilet facilities, so this place was very modern by most standards.

The caretaker informs us that the owner (he called her La Contesa) would like to sell. He did not know the price, nor was he able to tell us how much land was included. A lot of work here. But what a masterpiece if you could do it. What could be done with it. A retreat? A weight reduction spa – once checked in there would be no escape except through the castle size front doors. Lots of room for the 10 most wanted. The IRS would never find you. Your ex! Vicky took a lot of nice photos, I only wish you could see them.

Anyway, the caretaker shows us through the outbuildings, interior shops, corrals, stalls for livestock and passage ways. Many are in almost hopeless disrepair. We climb to the top of the granary and it gives us a spectacular view of the area. We note a large group of buildings on the edge of town. The caretaker tells us that this was a winery. It is interesting to note that very old wineries are nonexistent. The Spanish, in order to prevent competition, prohibited the making of wine, with the exception of the churches, and that wine to be used only for religious purposes. I would have liked to visit the winery, but it is getting late and we have a long way to go.

As we are leaving, the caretaker points to his saddled horse and offers to trade straight across for my jeep. Maybe I passed up a good deal, but I felt four of us would have been a bit much for the horse. Anyway, all aboard the jeep and off we go.

We are going to try and find the old train station. It is listed on the map as Estacion Conde. It even shows a building. Going up to the track and taking a side road we locate the signs, one on each side of the track, and they both say Conde, however a foot search on either side fails to show any evidence of a station. On the opposite side, and some distance away  we see some old ruined buildings, but they don`t look like they would have been a  station.

We decide to try a different road, which seems to go straight across to Lagunillas. Passing through rolling hills, and through many areas planted to agave, we have an easy half hour trip and reach the highway near Lagunillas. We are about an hour and a half from home.

by Bob Howell
Originally published June 29, 2002 on La Peñita Folk

Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. Sometimes her bodega is packed full of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and medicine; sometimes it is bare. If you enjoy reading these articles, please consider making a donation so the McKibben Foundation (Nurse Vicky’s Dispensary) can continue helping schools, seniors and needy families in the Jaltemba Bay area. And if you have copies of any of Bob’s old stories or photos, please contact us.

Click here to read Tom Plattenberger’s personal dedication entitled “In Memory of Bob Howell” which serves as an introduction to this series.

It’s another beautiful day in paradise. That being Rincón de Guayabitos, in the state of Nayarit, Mexico. My traveling companion Vicky, and I, have decided to check out an area that is not all that far from Guayabitos. Although I have been there numerous times, I have never made a thorough exploration. This is also a place is known by only a few gringos. Vicky thinks that this is unfair because it is near and very beautiful. Sooo… here it is.

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. We are sharing his stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. You can learn more below.

It is about 12 a.m. and we set out in our trusty jeep, a 1985 CJ7. Slightly modified to suit our needs, it will take us just about anywhere. We enter the highway at Guayabitos and head south. Today our goal is to check out the long sandy beach and rocky outcroppings of Punta Raza, including an estuary and an inland valley. The area is uninhabited except for two small ranchitos in the valley. We travel south for a few minutes and turn into the pueblo of El Monteón. This is basically a farm town. We pass a school and a football field on the left and enter the town proper. There are a few small stores, a poor church and one motel on the main street. Not too much here. They have a cock fight arena on the edge of town, which is used now and then. There used to be a few cantinas until the women got together and had them closed because the men were spending too much time and money. Now the men may be seen in small groups here and there nursing their cervezas or ?. The main street is cobblestone and there are a few for sale signs. We stop at one of the larger stores, not much bigger than a bedroom, and buy a couple of extra batteries for the camera and tape recorder and also to chat with the owner. Then off we go. Almost at the far end of town we turn right. We are now on a dirt road and soon cross a creek bed. Dry now but what happens when it rains? Although last night we had a lot of rain. Figure that one out. Where did the water go?

Punta Raza 4

Going up the other side we are in a pretty countryside. A few cows, a couple of farms and everything is green, almost a canopy overhead. There is the mountain that we have to go over and the road becomes steep. Lots of palms. It is a jungle on the hillside. What a view off to our left. The wide green valley. It looks like we could reach out and touch it. All of the little farms, a couple of villages, many pineapple fields and several mango groves. Nice! There are a lot of those old tall palms with the little coconuts on our hillside. Years ago these palms covered both the valleys and hills. They created a large part of the rain forest. Today there are not too many and it is hard to find medium size trees, but not here. Maybe nature is returning a little. This used to be a big industry that was developed by the Spanish. These little nuts come in very large clusters. They were used as cooking oil. They are very high in cholesterol and with the development of vegetable oil the industry took a dive. For the most part being replaced by coffee, although a limited amount is still used for cosmetics and suntan oils. Now the road is rougher and steeper, I drop into 2nd gear. It is really a jungle now. We can only glimpse the valley now and then. The mountain top is finally reached and we pause a few minutes to enjoy this wonderful view of the valley. I feel that I can almost touch the little village below. We are starting down. It is very steep and I drop to 1st gear. The jungle almost closes in on us. Strangler figs, choking off the tall palms. It’s interesting to note that these strangler figs normally start from seeds far up in the tree, left by the wind or birds, who knows. They work their way to the ground as vines and then become trees themselves, finally strangling and killing the palm and then die themselves. Self destruction. This jungle canopy must be all of 80 feet high.

We finally reach the bottom where is located a neat little outpost in the middle of nowhere. Here we have a couple of miles of uninhabited sandy beach, some rocky outcroppings and the blue Pacific. Just above there is a small restaurant and a few rustic rooms that can be rented. The owner lives in a small castle like structure and has a little restaurant that serves vegetarian dishes, quesadillas and fish. Sodas and beer to drink. You can sit and relax outside under a long palapa (a palapa is a palm thatched building or house) which has the greatest view. Sometimes I come here and just meditate. Often thinking what if I had done this or that in my past life instead of whatever. Or just thinking how lucky I am that I can sit and enjoy this beautiful place. There is a spring above that provides cool clear water. There is no electric, no telephone, and no traffic. The beach is normally deserted, as is this little paradise, except on holidays. Now and then I see swimmers below and oyster divers, so I guess it is safe to swim. Sometimes I see a couple or two on the weekends. I think if it was for sale I would be a buyer.

Punta Raza 1

Part 2 – We have just gone over the mountain from El Monteón, dropped down almost to the sea and are in front of a pretty little oasis in the middle of the jungle. A small settlement including a restaurant and room rentals with one of the most beautiful views on the coast.

For some reason the gate is closed and no one is about, so we continue on. One of the things that I like about Mexico is that if the owner of a business decides to take the day off – no problem. Just close the doors and who cares. Now we see a couple of swimmers down the beach, but nothing else. It is just beautiful. The road takes off into the jungle like forest. We come to a pretty little area with a couple of old buildings. We park and break out some refreshments, which naturally include the fresh roasted, fresh ground arabica coffee from our Nayarit mountains. Wandering around we find a lot of interesting old structures and many different kinds of fruit trees. Mangoes, avocado, citrus, etc. Later I learn that this was a government field experimental station which planted many types of fruit trees and then was abandoned. The mountain rises just behind and there are huge shade trees and tall palms. The beach is about a hundred yards away through the jungle.

After our break, we hop aboard and continue on our way. We find a fellow cutting palms for a palapa and we stop and chat. We get a little history of the area and off we go. We notice that the low mountain drops back, allowing a large half valley. There is a mango grove. Just beyond we enter a coconut grove. These are older trees and all are very tall. Leaving the grove we note a small palapa some distance to our right. We follow a short road to a gated fence near the palapa but no one is about. We return to the main road (if you want to call it that) and continue. Soon we enter a real jungle. The overhead is a pure canopy. The small palms and foliage brush both sides of the jeep. It is closing in on us. We continue only because I have been here before. I know that it will eventually come out on the beach at Punta Raza, and so it does. Before reaching the beach we note a number of almost wild pigs. All sizes.

Finally breaking out into the open, we find ourselves on a long sandy beach. There is a fresh water lake, actually an estuary, that comes nearly to the ocean. Just beyond are old lava flows entering into the sea. Waves are crashing onto the flow with some following up the cracks and creating small water spouts. We walk beyond the first lava flow and there is another beach, ending in another lava flow. Many tide pools. This repeats itself for a couple of more beaches. There are small fish and crabs in the pools. Many, many small things on the beach, washed up from who knows where. A beach combers paradise. Few people ever come here. I see a 5 gallon plastic fuel can which has the initials USMC. United States Marine Corps. Once a Marine always a Marine, and I visualize myself back at Camp Pendleton and on a landing exercise. Maybe this has washed down from there. Vicky and I promise each other that we will come back someday and hike as far as we can.

We walk back to the jeep and retrace our way through the jungle. We couldn’t see how far the lake went back, so we take a side trail and make our way through a wide cleared area to northern edge of the valley and finally arrive at the estuary, or lagoon. There are a lot of large trees and half in and out of the water is a ponga (small boat). It has a lot of water in it and there are several poles for pushing through the shallows. It looks unused. We look around, hoping to glimpse a crocodile or two, which we understand abound here, but we see none. Returning to the jeep, we head back, deciding to check out a small almost hidden road not far from the old nursery. We enter the road and soon we see a small palapa. There is an older man and a lot of kids. We chat awhile and he tells us that he is 68 years old and works this ranch for a family that lives in Puerto Vallarta. They are very poor and are so far from everything. Vicky gives them a few kilos of rice, beans and sugar. The old gentlemen tells us that their water supply comes from a spring up the mountain and wants to show us. Not wanting to pass up another adventure we accept. We start up a jungle valley following the small black plastic hose that brings the life giving water to these folks. The going is steep but El Señor is running and jumping like a small boy. There are a number of spring fed pools and we finally arrive at the main supply. Here there are pretty rock formations, tropical plants, trees, wow! We rest awhile and then head back down.

We finally reach the jeep and it is 3:15 p.m. Well, we have visited another place on the back roads, we have made new friends and we make a mental note to return another day with more food and some clothing. The weather is turning for the worse. It is starting to thunder and lightning a bit and we decide we had better get over the mountain before it starts raining too hard. We soon arrive at the little Pueblo of El Monteón, then the paved highway and in minutes we are back at my little paradise, Rincón de Guayabitos, after another great day on THE BACK ROADS OF NAYARIT.

by Bob Howell
Originally published in 2001 on La Peñita Folk
Photos by Allyson Williams

Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. Sometimes her bodega is packed full of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and medicine; sometimes it is bare. If you enjoy reading these articles, please consider making a donation so the McKibben Foundation (Nurse Vicky’s Dispensary) can continue helping schools, seniors and needy families in the Jaltemba Bay area. And if you have copies of any of Bob’s old stories or photos, please contact us.

Click here to read Tom Plattenberger’s personal dedication entitled “In Memory of Bob Howell” which serves as an introduction to this series.

In Part 1, we departed from Rincón de Guayabitos with four of us in the jeep. We stopped at Zacualpán to help some poor Huicholes and then toured the outdoor museum. We then went to Turtle Beach and had a look around.

Reboarding the jeep, we leave Turtle Beach and return in the direction we had come. Noting a hand written sign that said “Crocodile 5 pesos,” we turn toward the estuary and finally come to a palapa and a few small pens containing crocodiles; or at least I thought they were. A man came out from the palapa and explained that they were caimans. For the life of me I cannot tell the difference. Although the difference between alligators, crocodiles and caimans has been explained to me many times I do not know the difference. I only know that where they swim I refuse.

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. We are sharing his stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. You can learn more below. 

25 - Looking for a friend in the pond
A crocodile or caiman: This and others were held in caged areas with small ponds. They were captured in the estuary. A small handwritten sign that said “Crocodiles, 5 pesos” was nailed to a palm and there was an arrow pointing toward the estuary. The roads were not good and the place was hard to find. There was a palapa and a few pens on the edge of the estuary. The caretaker said they were hungry and had no food. I think few visitors come here.

24 - More crocs or caiman
More crocs or caiman: There is a large crocodile farm not far from San Blas where they are raising hundreds for release back into the estuaries. The species was endangered in these parts and it is illegal to kill them.

He further explained that there was a shortage of food for them and they were very hungry. I noticed that no one in our group volunteered to go in and comfort them. There was a pile of coconuts on the ground and he cut the end off of one for each of us. The cool coconut juice hit the spot because it was getting hot and we were thirsty. I am afraid that if he is depending on pesos from the odd tourist that happens on this spot to feed these creatures, the crocs are in for a hard time.

26 - Opened coconuts
Opened coconuts: He cut off the ends of the coconuts and we each drank the sweet cool juice. Then, you can see what we did with the inside in the next photo.

27 - Suprise!!
Surprise!! I snapped this of Vicky as she was enjoying the creamy sauce that lined the enterior of each coconut. Delicious.

We hop aboard again. We make another stop on this long beautiful beach. No one lives here for miles and it ends at the mouth of Boca de Chila, the old pirate cove (another story). Here is the only road that I know of that will bring you to the beach. We get out and snap a few photos. There are also miles of coconut groves and, according to a couple of hard to get maps that we have, more estuaries, sand bars and other interesting things. If only I had balloon tires on my jeep I would like to check out this long isolated stretch, just to see what is there. Our next stop will be the beach at Platanitos. We return on the rough road to the highway and turn left. Soon we arrive at an intersection where a side road joins and where you can see a beautiful little cove with palapas. This is Platanitos. At that intersection on the right can be seen a few buildings and a defensive position that is manned by Mexican Marines, from time to time to provide cover for a check point on the road below. What are they checking for? Going left and down, we pass the beach and palapas. Note: Last October this whole stretch of beach was wiped clean by Hurricane Kenna. It is nice to see that is has been largely rebuilt. A few fishing pangas are scattered here and there. You can always eat fresh catch here.

29 - My kind of beach
My kind of beach: A light surf and shallow beach. Good swimming here. Looking back toward Turtle Beach and Punta Custudio. It goes for miles and nobody lives there. You could play Robinson Crusoe here.

30 - A palm lined beach
A palm lined beach: Miles of coconuts and a long wide beach. There are worse places to spend your time. This is ejido land. They and buyers are waiting for government approval to develop this end of the beach, even though that still leaves miles of natural beach, I can’t help but wish that it doesn’t happen.

Leaving the beach we go left around the small mountain and soon come to the estuary. We can see Turtle Beach right across the way. There is a clearing below and I see cars parked. We could easily swim across or maybe wade. Who is afraid of the caiman. Me?? Continuing on we come to another small home development at Punta Custodio. We pass a short distance, find a shady spot and have lunch. The usual, turkey ham and cheese sandwiches, potato chips, bread and butter pickles, pickled beets, small snacks, beer, soda and coffee.

32 - The mouth of the estuary
The mouth of the estuary: Between Punta Custodio and Platanitos. The developers want a bridge across here.

33 - More beautiful beach
More beautiful beach: Turtle Beach as seen from across the estuary at Punta Custodio.

After filling ourselves we drive on down the hill to Platanitos, park the jeep and have a look around.

I have heard that this place is scheduled for development as soon as the ecologists are dealt with. Hotels, a golf course, homes and of course a bridge across the estuary. Farewell to the little fishing village of Platanitos.

It is 2:04 in the afternoon and the kilometers are 361. Now we head home. Reaching Zacualpán, we stop at the old, semi roofless packing shed where the children of the workers are that we helped this morning and pass out all of the clothing we have aboard. The children tell us that the adults well be returning at about 6 p.m.

After exhausting our supply of candy and clothing (we handed out all of the food earlier) we tell them we will return in a couple of days with a little more help. Back to the jeep and we return home.

Note: We did a bit of shopping and returned when the adults were there with food and more clothes. It was after dark, so it was difficult to take photos. My digital does not do well unless the light is good.

by Bob Howell
Originally published April 2003 on La Peñita Folk

Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. Sometimes her bodega is packed full of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and medicine; sometimes it is bare. If you enjoy reading these articles, please consider making a donation so the McKibben Foundation (Nurse Vicky’s Dispensary) can continue helping schools, seniors and needy families in the Jaltemba Bay area. And if you have copies of any of Bob’s old stories or photos, please contact us.

Click here to read Tom Plattenberger’s personal dedication entitled “In Memory of Bob Howell” which serves as an introduction to this series.

We were sitting around the front room having happy hour with our Bed and Breakfast guests, Dave and Lenore Boroughs, and talking about having an adventure. It was decided that we would drop over and see Turtle Beach, since neither of us had been there for a few years. Turned out we found a couple of new things, like a very needy group of Huicholes and a crocodile farm we didn’t know about. Here it is.

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. We are sharing his stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. You can learn more below. 

It is another beautiful day in paradise. It is 8:45 a.m. The jeep is loaded with the four of us, lunches and food and clothing for the poor. We head out through La Peñita, where they are still working on the road; it has been two years now. This is supposed to go through to Tepic and I fully expect it to be finished during my grand children’s or maybe my great grandchildren’s life.

01 - The explorers in paradise
The explorers in paradise: Bob, Vicky, Lenore and Dave the adventurers on this trip. They encounter a remote beach community, a destroyed turtle hatchery, crocodiles, a needy group of Huichol Indians and more.

The countryside is green, the mangoes are getting larger, they should be starting to ripen in late May or early June. We see smoke back in the mountains. This means more rain forests going down the tube. If they keep this up, the day will be seen when there are no more in Nayarit. I read somewhere that at the current rate all will be gone in México within 50 years. During my 6 years here in Rincón de Guayabitos I keep seeing them going and going. Oh, well, civilization, I guess that is progress.

We pass Puerto de la Lima and I note the kilometers to read 295. The tobacco is starting to ripen and all the fields look good even though it is getting toward the dry season. We pass the cut off to Chacala and the many fruit stands. They sell so many nice things. A shame that few gringos stop. Mostly they don’t know what the little packages contain. Many types of fruit and coconut candies. Banana pastries. Honey, fruits and melons.

Arriving in Las Varas, we turn left at the traffic light and go in the direction of Zacualpán, our first stop where we will gas up and visit the outdoor museum. Kilometers are 306. We pass through many more pretty fields of sorgum, tobacco, beans, squash, watermelons, mangoes and other fruits.

We enter Zacualpán at 9:16 and the kilometers are 314.

As we enter we see a lot of very poor looking children under a shed so we pull over. There are about 18 young children, including several babies. There is one woman looking after them. There is a small wood fire and one small pot with some beans cooking. They are Huichol Indians. The older children and parents are out gathering chiles for a packing shed. They will not return until about dark. There is no food in sight except for the small pot of beans. The shed roof was partially blown off by the hurricane and they have tried to make small shelters with pieces of plastic. There is no water and they look hungry and dirty. It is obvious that this is day to day living for them. Vicky brings out the store of rice, beans and sugar that we have aboard. We pass out candy and promise to stop by on our return trip. We snap a few photos and we are on our way.

02 - A needy group of Huichol Indians
A needy group of Huichol Indians: We notice a group of young Huicholes with one woman in charge. They are living under an abandoned shed that had part of the roof missing.

03 - Vicky and her friends
Vicky and her friends: Little food was in sight and times are hard for these little one. Those nine and older were out picking chiles with the adults.

04 - This is home for 58 people
This is home for 58 people: 40 adults (all after age nine were considered adults and work in the field) and 18 children, including babies live here.

05 - Vicky gives a helping hand
Vicky gives a helping hand: Vicky packs something for everyone when we make these trips. Clothing, food, such as rice, beans and sugar, a few toys and candy. 

06 - Look at these smiling faces
Look at these smiling faces: The Huicholes are a proud people that live in remote mountain village, far from modern civilizations. They only come down now and then to sell their handicrafts and earn a little money before returning. These folks are contracted for 3 months to pick chiles.

07 - What is it, when she receives a piece of candy
What is it, when she receives a piece of candy: Basic needs are in short supply and luxuries, such as this, are rare.

Zacualpán is a busy little farm town and we pit stop for gas and make our way to the museum, passing by the large plaza and surrounding church and government buildings, which look neat and colonial. There are found a number of rocks and stones with symbols and carvings. Some elaborate some simple. Some date back over 4000 years ago. Dinosaurs were found in these parts and evidence of hunters. The Aztecs were fairly newcomers here. After looking through the little outdoor museum, made colorful by the many flowers and roses, we reboard the jeep and get on the road again.

08 - An outdoor petroglyph museum
An outdoor petroglyph museum: This museum is located in Zacualpán, Nayarit, México. A little hard to find. There are a number of writings and symbols. What do all of these symbols or drawings mean? Up to 4000 years old, many historians differ as to the use or meanings. We will never know.

10 - This looks similar to Aztec and Mayan work
This looks similar to Aztec and Mayan work: Yet the Mayans were far to the South and the Aztecs never did settle this part of the country. The nearest serious outpost being Aztlán del Río, a couple of hour’s drive from here.

11 - What were these used for.
What were these used for? There used to be a number of these here but people have hauled them off. They look like a round ball cut in half. They had no metal tools, only obsidian. How did they do this?

Entering in San Ysidro, we stop at a small fruit stand on the right. They have maps of the coast near Turtle Beach and the development which has been slowly going in during the past few years. On we go, passing through Ixtapa. It is kilometer 323. We see the high mountains off to our right, which is Le Cumbre and El Malinal. Places where our coffee comes from. As most of our readers know, we get a lot of our coffee directly from the plantations in the mountains. We roast the green beans and grind them fresh daily. Each of these little villages have topes (speed bumps) so watch out! The country is changing and it is dry scrub trees. Not very hospitable looking and the ground does not look fertile. This used to be beautiful rain forest.

Reaching the turnoff to Turtle Beach, we turn left. It is 10:18 and the kilometers are 329. There is a large sign here so you can’t miss this one.

We pass through many newly planted mango groves and planted fields. The road curves and there is a sign that says 6.5 kilometers to Playa Las Tortugas. It is kilometer 333 and the planted fields give way to scrub brush and coconut palms can be seen in the distance. We soon arrive in a coconut grove that stretches as far as the eye can see to the south and the point of Punta Custodio to the north.

12 - A long deserted beach
A long deserted beach: The beach runs for many miles between Punta Custodio and Boca de Chila, the old pirate lair.

13 - Coconut trees line much of the beach
Coconut trees line much of the beach: The beach is deserted for many miles. If I had balloon tires on my jeep I could drive all the way to the treasure cove at Boca de Chila. This is an area we hope to explore soon.

15 - An estuary behind the beach
An estuary behind the beach: This estuary separates the old turtle hatchery from Punta Custodio and the nearby highway. Ecologists have not permitted a bridge and easy access. Good for them.

We soon arrive at the development. About a half dozen very nice homes. Nicely landscaped, a couple very elaborate. Passing through the home area we come to the end of the road and park. The beach is in front of us and there is a large estuary on the right. The beach is long and beautiful. If I only had balloon tires on the jeep I think I could drive all of the way to Boca de Chila (I have a story about this place and the pirate treasure). There are a couple of wrecked buildings, downed power poles and much evidence of damage by Hurricane Kenna back in October of 2002. A turtle hatchery was here. Because the green turtle is, or was on the endangered list, eggs were gathered and brought here to escape poachers, who would gather and sell them, although illegal. Thousands were here and they, along with the buildings that housed them, were destroyed. Hopefully the program will be restarted before the summer season starts again.

16 - Beautiful homes at Turtle Beach
Beautiful homes at Turtle Beach: Six homes have been built during the last several years. The nearby turtle hatchery containing thousands of turtle eggs was destroyed by hurricane Kenna. It is a long hard drive over a rough road or a short boat ride from the fishing village at Platanitos, to get to Turtle Beach. This still leaves you a long way to the nearest town. Like solitud? This is it.

18 - Driving through the coconut groves
Driving through the coconut groves: Thousands of coconuts. Many lying on the ground. There is a popular drink called tuba. We used to make it out in the islands. Put a little fruit down the eyes and plug it. When the plug blows off instant booze.

19 - A nice pool almost on the beach
A nice pool almost on the beach: The home owners association pool. Complete with palapa and facilities. Watch the sunset while relaxing in the warm waters of this pool. Maybe have a margarita too.

We talk briefly with a home owner who tells us that a new phase of the development has started and more homes will be built. A nice place to get away from it all. It looks like something you would find in the south seas. An unspoiled paradise. Although just across the channel from Platanitos, and the highway, you must go all the way around because the ecologists will not permit the mouth of the estuary to be bridged. Hooray for them.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the next issue of our newsletter.

by Bob Howell
Originally published April 2003 on La Peñita Folk

Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. Sometimes her bodega is packed full of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and medicine; sometimes it is bare. If you enjoy reading these articles, please consider making a donation so the McKibben Foundation (Nurse Vicky’s Dispensary) can continue helping schools, seniors and needy families in the Jaltemba Bay area. And if you have copies of any of Bob’s old stories or photos, please contact us.

Click here to read Tom Plattenberger’s personal dedication entitled “In Memory of Bob Howell” which serves as an introduction to this series.

A couple of years ago I read about a small coffee pueblo, high in the mountains, that overcame the great coffee depression that is very existent today. A man named James Kosalos in the state of Washington imported an expert from Brazil, trained the growers and introduced modern processing equipment. This resulted in the production of quality coffee and the entire crop is being exported at fair market prices. Coffee was first started in this area by German immigrants over a century ago. For those interested, go to search and punch in El Malinal.

This morning we are using Las Varas as our departure point. My traveling companion, Vicky, and I are in our jeep CJ7 and we have another vehicle joining us occupied by our new found friends from Arizona, Lee and Colleen Hunt. Lee and Colleen are now living in San Pancho and are readers of La Peñita Folk. It’s nice for Vicky and I to have company.

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. You can learn more below.

It is 8:24 a.m. and we are just leaving Las Varas. Our goal today is to go to El Malinal the hard way. We plan to go through Zalcualpan and hit the back road at Ixtapan de la Concepción, which is in the direction of San Blas. Passing through Zalcualpan, we decide to stop at the little outdoor museum, which is located a few blocks from the main plaza. Hard to find if you don’t know where it is. The time is 8:37 and we park and enter the little park. There are no admission fees and the caretaker is not normally here. We are on our own. The place is filled with many large and small rocks with ancient drawings of some sort. Many experts have come up with many different interpretations and so we must say we are not sure of what they mean. I see many signs or drawings that are similar to those found near Alta Vista, one of the favorite trips of our Bed and Breakfast guests. Most of these were found during the construction of new roads, digging of wells and other excavations. It is interesting to note that many of the smaller stones and artifacts (most of these are in the museum in Las Varas or Tepic) were uncovered in tombs. These tombs were often dug to depths of 2 or more meters deep and consisted of two rooms. They were then covered so it was impossible to know the location.

A quick cup of mountain grown coffee, which was roasted this morning, and we are off. We are passing through fields of tobacco and corn. Everything is so green. Off to our right, and towering above all, are the high forbidding mountains that we will soon be entering. El Malinal is supposed to be about 4,000 feet and I see a peak that must be about that. Wow! We are really going to have to climb. They look so steep from here. Vicky talked to a gentlemen just outside the museum earlier and he said that the road to El Malinal was “muy fea” (very bad). I hope this is not the case. We pass through the little village of San Ysidro. There a few little palapa huts along the road selling bananas, honey, coconuts and that sort of thing. A couple of topes here. Passing through we encounter groves of mangos and guanabanas. Here comes a man riding on his horse and carrying a large bundle. It is really refreshing to see someone riding, not just for pleasure, but for transportation. Approaching the village of Ixtapan de la Concepción, we start looking for someone to tell us where the turnoff is to El Malinal. We stop and ask a couple of people who give us vague directions, and we turn right on a dirt road on the edge of town. Continuing on we encounter a gentlemen on a bicycle and he says yes, we are on the right road. The road is not really bad. We are poking along in 2nd gear. It is a beautiful little valley. There are a lot of different crops growing in the fields on either side and a few scattered palapas. We see a large field of corn with a stream running down the center. We see a fellow walking along the road and ask him if he would like a ride. He accepts and tells us he is going to a the small village of Los Guajalotes, which is not too far up the road. His name is Don Jose, he is 59 years old and has lived in Ixtapan for many years, but has never been to El Malinal, just a few kilometers ahead. A short distance further we see a fellow walking and offer him a ride, which he accepts. An interesting young man who is a teacher in the pueblito of Juan Escutia. He is 17 years old and is in the same program as Vicky’s daughter. Because there is a shortage of teachers in the small villages, bright young students, 15 years of age and above, can enter a teaching program and then be sent out to remote areas and teach in the lower grades. They are paid a small salary, boarded by the villagers and may serve one or more years. The salary continues after their period of service for a length of time that is determined by length of service. This helps them finish high school and even university if they wish.

We pass through the little village of Juan Escutia, drop off our passengers and stop on the edge of town for a coffee break. Of interest is that on one of our maps the town is named Los Guajalotes, but is now called Juan Escutia. I remember this name very well. The Marine Corps hymn starts “from the halls of Moctezuma…,” which describes the citadel that the marines assaulted in the Mexican war. The primary assault was made by the marines and were met by the most staunch defenders, the young officer cadets. Juan Escutia of Tepic was one of these young cadets, 15 or 16 years old (you can visit his former home in Tepic). The Mexicans refer to these young cadets as Los Niños Heroes. They were all killed as I understand. As a Marine, I can say that this is not one of the proudest moments in our history, but in defense it must be said that an armed young cadet can kill you just as easily as an older soldier.

We stop under some shade and break out coffee and sweet rolls. At this time we are approached by a gentlemen named Alfonso Anzaldo with his mule; he is 87 years old, appears to be in good health and vigorous. He is very talkative and we offer him refreshments, which he accepts. We talk of the pueblo and he tells us of some caves, which are located above the town, and in which gold is found. Another treasure story! Folks with metal detectors, where are you?

Leaving Juan Escutia, we start passing through an almost jungle area. We see lots of tall palms and many very large air plants with flowers that look like orchids. We are seeing more birds. Vicky just saw a Baltimore Oriole and a Mourning Dove. Now we come out of the jungle and enter open country with different kinds of palms. Now we pass a little settlement named El Palmar. Our next goal is San Antonio, a few kilometers more. We are entering a jungle area again and are climbing even more. Here we see coffee plants. We are in coffee country.

The road is narrow and we are overtaken by a truck. We pull over and he narrowly passes by. It is a vegetable truck with eggs and other things for sale to the villagers, and yes, he says we are not far from San Antonio. We soon arrive in said pueblo and the time is 11:01. We have been on the road for about 3 hours. It is a much larger village than I expected. The streets are cobblestone and we see several nice houses. We stop in front of the little church and talk to various townsfolk. As usual, we ask about things of interest, waterfalls, petroglyphs, etc.

One man tells us that about 3 kilometers back down the road we had just passed was an archaeology zone; that some months past a movie company came in and spent some time filming, and that the movie could be seen in Tepic. A good reason to return here someday? The day is moving on and we still have a long way to go, so we are off again. Next stop El Malinal, which we judge to be about 8 km. more and an expected arrival time of midday.

The cobblestones continue for some distance and we see a fork in the road. We bear to the right. We are really climbing now. We leave the coffee country, but just as the cobblestones end (about 3 km. down the road) we start the coffee country again. Now the cobblestones start again. The trees are very high. This is truly mountain, shade grown coffee. Vicky is happy and starts singing. This clear mountain air, the green tunnel of trees and coffee plants, I have a great traveling companion – what a way to spend a life! We start passing guanábano trees and Vicky sees smoke coming from across the valley. I think it is from a hot spring – there is no village near here. We soon pass a gentleman on a horse with a couple of dogs and he tells us we are about 10 minutes from El Malinal. We continue to climb under the shade and what a view we have. We encounter another man and he tells us we are only about 15 minutes from El Malinal. Would you believe that. We travel some distance and lose a few minutes, oh well. Soon we see a coffee processing plant. We must be arriving in El Malinal.

We have just arrived at a coffee processing plant on the edge of El Malinal. We are in the middle of Arabica coffee country. We see huge avocado trees with very large fruit. There are few of these on the American market. Don`t confuse them with the large almost tasteless ones from Florida. We picked up a couple and the oil content is high and they are delicious. Underneath, and well shaded are the coffee plants.

We walk over to the plant and notice a lot of new machinery with sheds and concrete outside drying areas. There are a couple of friendly workers who give us detailed descriptions of the equipment and processes. They bring in the beans, wash and dry them, remove the hard outer shells, and then the inside shell and membrane. We thank them and continue for a couple hundred yards into El Malinal.

A very unusual town. Cobblestone streets with houses on both sides but built completely around huge dark boulders. All is very rocky. We stop mid village. Not a plaza as such, but a huge paved area. There is a church and a tienda (store), and a group of men seated in front. I decide I will buy some coffee beans. I have been waiting a couple of years to try beans from here. We get out and chat with some of the village elders.

There are about 150 families in the pueblo. There are no green coffee beans for sale at this time. This years crop suffered insect damage and the marketable crop was reduced by two thirds (I got a lot more information on this later, but what makes it so sad is that it was preventable, and without chemicals). The marketable crop was bought up entirely by San Cristobal Importers, the Washington State based company.

Off again. After a couple of ‘s we come to a fork in the road and we stop for – you would never guess – a coffee break. After we take the road to the right. The road is now going through natural deposits of Cal (lime). Now the road is descending sharply. We are seeing lots of tropical plants, although we are still at a high elevation. Now we seem to be leaving coffee country. We come to a turn off in the road and note a few scattered buildings, corrals and cattle. Vicky walks over and says this is the pueblito of El Italiano. An interesting name and I have to see what the story is here.

We meet three elderly ladies and chat awhile. One is 98 and the youngest is in her 70s. They are all sisters and they are friendly and talkative. They invite us into the house, where they have been working in the kitchen. The stove is adobe and they are preparing the afternoon meal. Tortillas, chiles and beans are cooking. The older sister is working very hard. What energy at age 98! Two have never been married. We notice two men in the settlement. One is the husband of the younger sister. We now notice a lot of coffee plants and citrus trees. The rancho used to be a lot larger. It was settled by Italian immigrants over a century ago. My friend Lee talks to them in Italian, but they don’t understand. When the revolution of 1910 came, much of the settlement was destroyed and many people were lost. Now it is impossible to get help for the ranch. There is only themselves. They give us a tour of some of the ranch and fill our arms and caps with citrus along with some coffee beans. I would like to record the history here, but the day is getting late, I will just have to try and return some day.

This is really a pretty little ranch. Everything is here. We notice also chickens, pigs and goats. Nobody to bother you. We see water lines all over. It seems to be coming from springs higher in the mountain. I can see the Italian immigrants arriving at this mountain Eden. After the difficulties of land ownership and taxes in Italy at that time this must have really been something. Probably more land than they could walk around in a single day and free (maybe a small propina to the right place). They lived happily here until the revolution. How heartbreaking it must have been to lose loved ones and most of what they had worked so hard for.

On the road again. It is a little rough going, 1st and 2nd gear and a little dusty. Now a distance away from the little ranch, we are seeing signs of civilization. Vicky asks someone who tells us that this is La Cofradia. We continue on without stopping (we should have stopped because later I learned that this ejido produces fine coffee). We start to descend rapidly. The scenery is beautiful. We are overlooking a large valley. We meet a man on the road who tells us the main highway is only 15 minutes distant. Now we are starting to meet a few other vehicles. We pass over a lively little stream. We meet another man who says we have about a half hour to go to the main highway. Ah, yes. Situation normal. It is getting dusty now and we are getting into a lot of sugarcane fields. The map shows that the road is better. I think that is open for discussion. We come to a cobblestone road and then a fork; we go to the right. We come to another fork in the road. Walking along the road we see a young Indian woman with two children. They look so poor. Their clothing is in tatters. She is carrying a load of firewood and a little boy is carrying a baby which is almost as big as he is. She tells us which road to take. Stopping, we give her what food we have left, including all of the citrus she can carry from El Italiano.

We finally enter the highway and turn right toward Compostela. The dust is really flying as we pick up speed. I look closer at Vicky and she looks like a ghost.

This is almost the end of the tale – there is more. We continue and take the by-pass around Compostela and on the straight of way our traveling companions, Lee and Colleen Hunt, pass us and continue on. We pull over just after the intersection of the highway to Guadalajara and stretch our legs. I notice a plant across the highway and there is a sign that says something about coffee. If you read my recent article, “The Indians Won,” you know what happened. For those who didn’t, here goes. We entered and started talking to a fellow who turns out to be Jim Cosalos (of El Malinal fame). He is sorting coffee beans. I tell him of my interest and he shows me around and enlightens me on the grading and the making of good coffee. I have prided myself on making good coffee, but when I left I felt I didn’t know the first thing. Jim told me of the problems they had this year. That the beans had suffered a plague and a good crop was produced by only those growers that followed the correct guidelines, such as picking all of the fruit and cleaning up debris to prevent the insect nesting areas. He was not able to buy enough coffee from El Malinal. Much of the coffee he was processing came from La Cofradia, the village we bypassed. Jim said quality beans were hard to come by this year, but hopes the growers will do better in the future. He gave me a couple of kilos of great coffee beans. I then noticed that while all of this was going on Vicky was kicking back in a hammock and sipping – you guessed it, a cup of coffee. We thanked him and reboarded our jeep after another great day on the BACK ROADS OF NAYARIT.

by Bob Howell
Originally published April 2002 on La Peñita Folk

Editor’s Note: “Back Roads of Nayarit” is a series of essays written by Bob Howell, a long-time resident of Jaltemba Bay. The series details his day trips and adventures between 2001-2007. We are sharing these stories in an effort to preserve Bob’s memory – and to help Bob’s partner and traveling companion, Vicky Flores Ramirez, who still lives in La Peñita and quietly carries on the work that she and Bob so loved. Sometimes her bodega is packed full of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and medicine; sometimes it is bare. If you enjoy reading these articles, please consider making a donation so the McKibben Foundation (Nurse Vicky’s Dispensary) can continue helping schools, seniors and needy families in the Jaltemba Bay area. And if you have copies of any of Bob’s old stories or photos, please contact us.

Tom Plattenberger’s personal dedication entitled “In Memory of Bob Howell” serves as an introduction to this series.