Into the Mangroves

Jose Antonio Oregon, lifelong fishermen guided us into the pango, a wooden handmade pirogue covered with a coat of fiberglass and resin.

“A panga won’t work,” he said. “The lagoon is too shallow. This gets us around better.”

I was in the Laguna de Potosi, located just south of the Zihuatanejo airport on the Costa Grande of the Mexican state of Guerrero.

The 1,200-mangrove lagoon sits behind nesting beaches for endangered leatherback sea turtles. Humpback whales can be found in the sea outside the lagoon. During south swell season surfers visit Barra to surf lined up point lefts.

Jose Antonio gently pushed the pango out into the lagoon.

“There’s a kingfisher,” he said pointing to the small bird with a large oversize beak that was flitting and darting across a lagoon channel into the mangroves.

My companions, Sergio Flores and Natalia Parra, the WiLDCOAST Southern Mexico Coordinators, know this coast well. They have spent the last seven years working here in an effort to preserve sea turtle nesting beaches and to reduce the illegal trade in sea turtle meat and eggs.

I was in Barra de Potosi to support the village’s effort to halt the proposal by Mexico’s National Fund for Tourism (FONATUR) from placing a cruise ship terminal on top of the lagoon and the 900-person ramshackle pueblito.

Sergio, Natalia and I were also Barra to launch the first stop of the second year of Blue Ocean Film Festival tour of Mexco to screen ocean documentaries free of charge to Mexico’s fishing communities and coastal residents.

“I don’t see how they can build the project without destroying the lagoon and our village,” said Jose Antonio pointing to the colorful fishermen’s palapas that line the nearby surf beach and the lagoon entrance.

This small and friendly village of brightly colored fishermen’s home’s, sandy streets replete with handmade terrayas (throw nets) and numerous shrines to the Virgen de Guadalupe, is the latest casualty in FONATUR’s efforts to create new mega-resorts on top of some of the loveliest and most pristine coastal villages, coral reefs, and mangrove lagoons in Mexico.

Every weekend and especially during Semana Santa, Mexican families flock to the surfside palapas to pass the day eating sumptuous ceviche de abulon, empanadas de pescado, and grilled fish, freshly harvested from the nearby lagoon and sea.

Aracelia Oregon, the mayor of Barra and Sergio Flores of Wildcoast.

“Barra has some of the best seafood in Mexico,” said Sergio. “And it is a nostalgia trip for so many of Guerrero’s families who come her to relive the old ways, spend time with their families and reconnect with the fishing folk they have known for generations.”

The pango glided through a narrow channel lined with green mangroves that are home to more than 200 bird species. We spotted blue herons, flocks of cormorants, night herons, and scores of kingfishers.

“Those guys are fishing for corvina and lisa (mullet),” said Jose Antonio pointing to a pango manned by two fishermen in broad billed straw sombreros about a hundred yards out. The pescadores pushed their pango through the lagoon with a palanca or modified pole and paddle.

These are Mexico’s original stand-up-paddlers.

One of the fishermen balanced precariously in the pango and launched his terraya. Later we observed them silently perched next to the mangrove hand lining for snook and pargo.

At a break in the mangroves, Jose Antonio guided the pango on to a small mud bank. We disembarked to inspect the community’s salt making operations.

The salt makers use plastic sheets to hold lagoon water that is pumped into holding basins accelerates the process. Piles of artisanal salt lined the sides of the saltpans. “We collect the salt and then sell it,” said Jose Antonio.

Upon our return to the village, we greeted Jose Antonio’s sister, Areceli, the local mayor under the palapa restaurant her family owns. Her mother Linda, was already preparing thick pancake style tortillas de maiz, a pot of beans on the traditional adobe wood fire stove, and freshly caught snapper.

I walked into the kitchen to snap a photo of Linda’s kitchen. “Have another tortilla with beans,” she said while plopping beans into a freshly made tortilla.

“We already lost the right to have our palapa here,” said Areceli. “And now FONATUR says that it has the right to grant our fishermen access to the sea. If they build their project, we’ll lose everything.”

While we talk, Linda places a plate of grilled fish prepared butterfly style in front of me. I gingerly forkful of fish in my favor and close my eyes while savoring its sweet freshness.

Later that evening more than a hundred of the town’s residents gather for the film festival. Chairs line a sandy tree-lined street. We displayed the documentaries on the wall of an elementary school. Children squealed with delight and received prizes when they answered questions about sea turtles and other ocean trivia.

“It would be a shame to lose this,” said Areceli, who will soon travel to Mexico City to discuss the fate of her village and home with Mexico’s media, elected officials and government agencies.

I hope for the sake of the people of Barra and the wildlife they protect, that Araceli and her family and friends will be able to defend their mangrove lagoon, their community and their way of life.

Thanks to Eugen of Villas Tuparaiso, Adriana Luna Parra of Casa de la Luna, the Oregon family, Irwin and Pato of Azulita, Siren Surf Adventures, Lainie and Mike, and Lourdes for their hospitality.

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Surfing Guerrero

In between what were very long days in the Mexican state of Guerrero last week during my Wild Sea/Blue on Tour trip, Ben McCue and I managed to snag a few waves along what is a very undersurfed region of Mexico. Thanks to Pato, Cat, Lainie, Mike and Kristy for being such great surf hosts. And to Ben for being such a great conservation and surfing colleague.

 

We scored 3-5' fun waves at Playa Bonfil just south of Acapulco. This was our last morning and the only morning we surfed there (the day before was probably better but we had to leave our hotel very early for a TV interview). Acapulco is the largest coastal city in Mexico and allegedly has a large surfing population of surfers and only one other guy was out. Mainland beachbreaks have a special quality--hollow, crisp with lots of power--that you just don't find anywhere else. Photo: Ben McCue.

 

Ben and I pulled into the first available parking/beach access at Playa Bonfil. We parked in front a palapa that was also a sea turtle conservation camp and found these two WILDCOAST stickers pegged to their sign (the Santo sticker is ours).

Saladita. When it is bigger this is a fun wave for me. When it is smaller it is a Malibu style longboard wave or the perfect place for a fish or a mini-Simmons. This besides 1st point at Scorpion Bay and San Blas is about the best beginners wave on the Mexico coast

Pato, an activist from Michoacan now working in Saladita on agricultural and communty development ripping it up at a rivermouth we surfed one day. Pato is a super dedicated surfer/activist and a great guy to surf with. Photo: Cat Slatinskly

Pato gets another one. Pato and I surfed this spot with just a few people out. Reminded me of the Sloughs shorebreak when it is good. Photo: Cat Slatinskly

Me on my 6'6" Novak quad--this board worked great everywhere. Cobblestone rivermouth breaks are my favorite type of wave--they are so playful and versatile. Lefts and rights. My first mainland Mexico trip was back in 1982 at a rivermouth break further north up the coast. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Kristy Murphy of Siren Surf Adventures on a 5'10" Novak mini-Simmon's hybrid. Kristy is a former Women's Lonbboarding World Champion and she rips. She spends most of the winter in this area. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Here's Ben McCue working on his power snaps. Ben grew up in Santa Cruz and was like a little kid in a candy store on these left points. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Pato head a really nice power style, typical among Mexican surfers used to surfing good waves by themselves (his style reminded me of Ismael Arce of Punta Abreojos). The surf was about 3-5' with some 6' sets that came through later in the day. Photo: Cat Slatinskly.

Kristy setting up for a big cutback. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Ben going right. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

When we left, the surf was picking up and the lineup was almost empty. Classic mainland! Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

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