We had a great sail from the islands off Puerto Escondido, Baja, to Topolobampo, Mexico. This crossing was bittersweet as we bid goodbye to our dear friends Bruce and Gina on Dreamcatcher. Over twenty years ago we met when both sailboats circumnavigated. We had a wonderful month cruising north in the Sea of Cortes with Bruce and Gina. Now it was time to head to the mainland of Mexico.
Sailing into the entrance of Topolobampo was intimidating. Surf was on both sides. Fortunately, with very well marked waypoints and buoys it was fine.
Arriving in Topolobampo
The town of Topolobampo looks like the Easter Bunny came through and painted it. It sits on a hill overlooking the marina. The town’s fishing fleet is well-matched.
We had googled a recommended restaurant Don Gato so we set off to the town to find it. Google Maps took us to the left around and to the top of the town hill. When our destination appeared there was no restaurant. We checked our directions and we had followed them correctly. An hour and a half later we arrived at the waterfront Malecon and there was our restaurant. What we didn’t realize was had we gone right instead of left on our walk, the restaurant would have been 15 minutes away! Well we got a tour of the town and some exercise so all was good. The food at Don Gato was delicious.
We received a warm welcome to Topolobampo marina. The marina is located north of Mazatlan and makes a great stop for boats transiting the area. Nelson, the Marina Manager went out of his way to ensure we had everything we needed and even arranged our ride to pick up our rental car. Located next to the marina is a concrete fuel dock. It might be tenable at high tide. We chose to jerry jug the fuel. Laundry can also be sent out at a reasonable price. Water is non-potable.
Renting a Car
Once in the Topolobampo Marina, Dave arranged to pick up our rental car from the Los Mochis airport – a 15-minute drive from Topolobambo. The Topolobampo marina manager, Nelson, had one of his employees drive us there. At the airport rental car booth there was a flourish of Spanish which Dave and I desperately tried to understand. The rental agency person looked at our faces and realized we didn’t understand anything she said. She came out of her booth and took us outside to meet two other employees. We got into the car –I thought it was our rental. It was dirty, dented and old! Well, if it is mechanically sound I thought – that’s what matters. Turned out this wasn’t our rental (phew) it was how we were getting to our car! It soon became apparent we had to pick up the car from the heart of Los Mochis – a 40 min drive away (even though we booked it to pick up at the airport). Once at the other rental location we were motioned to sit down. Again, questioning faces. Preguntas? Questions? They wanted to wash our car before we took it.
Two hours after arriving at the airport we were on the road- in a beautiful Nissan red rental car! It was 3 hours to Álamos on a good highway. We went through 3 military check points. A little intimidating with the well-armed military folks. Each time we rolled down our window and Dave would start with “lo siento, no hablo espanol” (I’m sorry I don’t speak Spanish), and they waved us on. US has warnings in these areas about the cartel but we felt safe. People said travel during the day and all will be ok. Policia or military appeared to be searching only the semi-trucks pulled over at each stop. By the last checkpoint when Dave rolled down his window and the policia saw we were gringos, they just waved us past! The rest of the drive was uneventful. Along the way there were vendors hawking their wares as well as two toll booths. When we couldn’t understand how much to pay the toll booth woman held up a 100-peso bill with a smile.
Friends in a Magical Town
We stopped at a restaurant in the city of Navojoa for lunch and then drove onto the Magical Pueblo of Álamos- meaning magical town. It truly was magical, sitting in a valley with houses all adjoined, cobblestone narrow roads, and white concrete and brick Spanish style casas.
We met Kelley 24 years earlier in San Diego on our first sailing trip. I had just hung up from an emotional call with my Dad prior to leaving Mexico for the South pacific passage to the Marquesa Islands. It was going to be a big passage of 3000 miles and I truly thought we might die on the trip. Kelley was there and when I shared my fears, he hugged me and said, “Mary the ocean is safe. More people die every day on the highways.” Somehow this did comfort me and to this day I still remember his hug and words of assurance.
Approaching The Colonial, the hotel our friends owned, Kelley and Janet were standing outside. It seemed like no time had gone by as we embraced our friend Kelley and his wife Janet.
Entering their home, I felt like Cinderella. A large open courtyard filled with huge plants, flowers, antiques and paintings is surrounded by 10 hotel rooms, each with their own bathroom. Beautiful Mexican tiles lined the bathrooms. The rooms had fireplaces and sitting areas. Sadly, it was too hot for a fire!
At the one end of the courtyard a spiral staircase led up to a two-level terrace where you could look over all the town rooftops and hills. Kelley designed and built the spiral staircase – a true work of art.
We enjoyed a delightful rooftop dinner, with a gorgeous view of Álamos.
At the other end was a grand ballroom complete with an 1865 square grand piano. The ceilings were over 20’ high with matching arched windows along one side that opened to a huge coffee roaster – they sell their coffee. Kelley is an expert at making cappuccinos.
Our friends had their own separate suite next to an indoor pool and commercial kitchen. Everywhere I looked were beautiful artifacts and Spanish architecture. I learned that the hotel had 15 bathrooms, 10 rental rooms and 10 fireplaces (all wood burning but one). Janet had first bought the mansion when it was in ruins. With Kelley, extensive renovations were done to bring it to the magnificent place it is today.
We did a lot of reminiscing on this trip about our past sailing days. It was truly a special visit seeing Kelley after so many years and meeting Janet, who we instantly loved.
After a quick 2-day visit we drove back to Los Mochis Airport to return the car. Or so we thought! There was no one at the Alamo rental agency. We tried calling the number on the business card we were given, with no luck. We waited 3.5 hours. We noticed there were more staff than passengers at the airport. Finally, we talked to someone from another car agency who phoned Alamo. Thirty minutes later they arrived. The agent felt bad because she didn’t start until 15ooh but no one told us and the car had to be returned at 1000h. At least she drove us back to the boat. Mexican time.
Leaving Topolobampo we chose to anchor just inside the entrance up a side channel. This gave us a good jump off for an early start the next day for the long run down to Puerto Vallarta.