Rural, empty beach a boat ride from "civilization"

Isla de la Piedra is no longer just the "Stone Island" day trip from Mazatlan--it's become a primary destination for backpackers, hippies, skinny-dippers, and seekers of calm.


Rural, empty beach a boat ride from "civilization"

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by El Gallo on October 1, 2000

Best thing to do: nada
Or walk 15 miles of palm-lined, no-buildings beach. Sip a beer in a thatch beachfront bar with hammocks instead of chairs. Build a shack up the beach and hang loose. Go swimming. Eat seafood. ${QuickSuggestions} The thing is, it's a very rural place with chickens and pigs and horse-drawn taxis--but just a quick boat trip away from the fleshpots of Mazatlan.${BestWay} Arrive by motor launch, walk over to the beach. Or take a horse wagon, or pulmonia. Rent horses (if you are a total turista.) Hit the beach and WALK. If that's too boring, SWIM>

Stone Island Beach Cabins

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by El Gallo on March 1, 2004

These new cabins are an excellent compromise between the rougher accommodations on Isla and the luxuries of the real world. The owners, Trini and Isabelle, recently built them to augment the income of their home-built, igloo-like driftwood-fired pizza oven. They are just a few sandy steps away from the beach--turn right to the palapa restaurants and ferry to Land of Maz, turn left to walk 12 miles up tropical beach with no buildings, just coconut palms.

There is a kitchen, private toilets, even HOT WATER! A completely family atmosphere--the family speaks French, Spanish, and English. Excellent company and service, steps from restaurants, horseback riding, or major goofing off. Their website says it all best. To see it, just CLICK HERE.

Stone Island Beach Cabins

Isla de la Piedra, Mexico
none

Twin Towers

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by El Gallo on March 1, 2004

This is the closest Mazatlan has to a hostel. . . and it's as close as a five-minute ferry ride. People have called Twin Towers, a hand-built hotel, all sort of things: a posada, a hostel, a community, a happening. It’s a very cheap place to crash and eat while hanging out on a long stretch of empty tropical beach. You can take tourist rides and horseback and such right in front, or completely withdraw from any other society other than the backpackers and old friends who hang out in the hammocks and around the bonfires of the Towers. In fact, you can COMPLETELY withdraw. . . there's a Zen center next door. There is a communal kitchen, toilet, shower, even a steam lodge!! Nights feature chess (if you can beat Chris, the owner, do it. . . he's insufferable about his game) fire dancing, music, crafts, and the usual travel stuff. Steps from restaurants, miles from reality. For more info, including how to get to the island, check the Twin Towerswebsite.
Twin Towers

Isla de la Piedra, Mexico

Trini's Pizzas

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by El Gallo on October 2, 2000

Well, it's not really a restaurant, just a sort of jumble of palm thatch huts with a scraggly assortment of people milling around, living there. They have an outhouse and you can sit on something. Take out works, too. The oven is a big clay igloo on top of a big rock 'table.' Trini (who looks like a totally evil drug-dealing Columbian Indian shaman assasain, but is only some of those things and a decent guy) and his wife Isabel (French Canadian hippie trapped into the squaw life and raising her tri-lingual kiddos) make the pizzas from scratch and cook them carefully in the oven, which has a fire inside, off to the the side. They often use the oily dried husks of coconuts to fire it, or whatever wood falls by. I once found Trini cutting up a log of ebony to burn in the fire. They'll make whatever size you want, put on it whaterver they have. Which can include calamari, nopales, fresh tuna or marlin, or whatever.

This is a place you meet the real cream of the Island riff-raff. Alcoholic doper gringos on pension, entry-level narcotics producers and wholesalers, fishermen tired of fish, wide-eyed American college kids passing through, federal cops radiating bad karma, sweet kids picking up a pizza for mama. Big pizzas cost a couple of bucks. They scammed a frig somewhere, too, so now you can get a cold pop. Watch out that Ed, an old Brooklyn jazz freak on the lam from the law of averages and living in a seaside cottage for like $40 a month and smoking $100 of dope a month, doesn't scam you out of a slice. On the other hand, it's worth a slice to hear his rap. Once.

Thing is, they make a good pizza. And when you're old, you'll always remember this as the oddest pizzeria you ever ate at.

Trini's Pizzas
Where Village Road hits Beach
Isla de la Piedra, Mexico

Victor's

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by El Gallo on October 1, 2000

There are about 20 restaurants along the north end of the beach--and NOTHING south of them. Victor's is the last one as you walk south from the beach pier, the first you'll hit if you came over to the village pier. Walking south you'll have to break a few tackles from the obese but determined Lety and her minions--they'll drag you right in and start fattening you up. Keep on trucking, Victor's is worth it--he's got a sign out front saying "Victor's Viejo Viento".
Many of the other palapas have big sound systems playing rap and crap. If you want that, fine. And many are full of drunken gringos. Victor has a stereo, but tends to like sixties music, jazz, and non-obnoxious Mexican music. He doesn't serve alcohol--but you can always step next door and buy a beer.
Victor is probably the best cook on the beach, with a menu that tends to feature the best deals he got from the fishermen that morning. Most people get big plates of shrimp or fish, with fries or onion rings, slices of fruit, and salad. Pretty expensive by Island standards--maybe $3. And they'll make you a quesadilla if you want. For desert, just sit tight, somebody will come by selling you peanuts or coconut candy or, best of all, flan and cake sold by the most gorgeous little honey on the Island. Watch out though: she divorced the crazy cop, but he still feels proprietary.
There's just special about Victor's. It could be the hammocks, but other places have those. Or the friendly service from Victor (who speaks English), his terrific wife Alma (who's trying to learn) and their wild-ass, beautiful little kid Sirio (named after Sirius, the star). Or it could be that they've turned the place into a very charming garden, instead of just hacking the back up into rental rooms. Walking to the restrooms in Victor's (the painted lips on the wall means, "Ladies", the mustache means, "Caballeros") is an experience. Banana trees, bromeliads, pineapples, lilies and nameless tropical plants create a sort of mini-eden and the kiosk where Victor takes his nap is festooned with giant clams, dolphin skulls, whale bones, and such.
People just keep coming back to Victor's (notice the display of license plates from U.S. states and Canadian provinces) and you sometimes meet some very interesting folks there. Victor is the perfect guide: to the island, the sea, local politics, and philosophy of life ala Mexicana. Just show up, grab a table and hammock, head for the water. When you're thirsty, they'll brink you a soda (try the local Toni-col, by the way), when you're hungry they'll feed you. Use their bath and shower, pay some strolling musicians to play a song or two, kick back, unlax.
Victor's
Southernmost Palapa in the Row
Isla de la Piedra, Mexico

Osuna's

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by El Gallo on October 1, 2000

This is the only significant non-beach resaurant on the Island, located not on the shore but over in the village. You'll see it if you arrive from the embarcadero boats--and if you leave the island after about 5 PM, when the village dock is the only way off. It's just a thatch roof with tables a few hammocks, and a TV where everybody watches their favorite telenovela.
If you're overdosed on seafood, or just wnat to eat a little cheaper, slip into Osuna's, grab a pop out of the frig, and get tacos, quesadillas or whatever. But the best bet are the tortas, meaning a sandwich on a sourdough roll. I really recommend going all out here--the "especial" is the whole nine yards, pork, cheese, ham, mayo and whatever sort of hot sauce you slap on. Of course, it's also the most expensive torta, around a dollar.
There is no atmosphere here at all. It's not scenic or restful (though the waitresses are pretty cute). It's just a place to sit down, grab a great sandwich, maybe watch a little TV if you like soccer and Mexican soap opera hysteria.
Osuna's
North of the Village Pier
Isla de la Piedra, Mexico

Where to stay?

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by El Gallo on October 1, 2000

The isla has always been a day trip, not a destination--but with more and more Americans and Europeans seeing it as a destination, it's starting to accomodate. There are no hotels, and probably never will be thanks to ejido law, which is to complex to get into here. But there are getting to be more and more little rooms-out-back to rent, and camping is extremely doable.

The nicer places get grabbed up for the season, of course, but if you poke around you turn something up. Best bet is NOT to just show up on the island looking for a bed, like so many backpack types are doing. Best bet is get a cheap room in Mazatlan (where there are LOTS of cheap rooms) and come over for a day of swimming, beachfront sipping, and house-hunting. Ask a couple of people, not just one. Victor, at the eponymous restaurant, is a good source, because he knows everybody and is not renting anything himself.

The main places you hear about are Lety's and Marisela's. Overpriced, dingy shitholes where you use the bathroom of the restaurant, you want my opinion. But they generally let renters run a bar tab. You can sort of walk along the beach looking past the palapa places and see who has just added a sleeping room.

If you are down for the season and want something nice or big, check with Hilaria at the "Puesto del Sol" restaurant, in the middle of "Palapa Row". She has two new apartments--and a nice house that I lived in for a year. Or call her at 044-69-87-50-37, write to Hilaria Navarro, Domicilio Conocido, Isla de la Piedra, Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico. It's a simple one-bedroom (though I've seen a dozne hippies live there) with a shaded porch where the ducks chase the chickens around, view straight out at beach, across from a pizza parlor, and I put in on-demand hot water in the shower. She charges more every change of tenants, but we're probably talking around $120 a month.

At the north end of the beach are a few possiblities. The "Casa Zen" is a great little commune-style place with wonderful buildings--but you never know if they are in the mood to rent or not. Walk in and ask, it's worth it to see the place. Next door, at what everybody' calls "Mama's", the northernmost palapa restaurant, there are three or four very spartan brick units for rent--no kitchens, you eat at Mama's. Whose son goes fishing every morning, so she always has it fresh. A pretty good bet for a week on the Island, actually. You're paying maybe $3-4 U.S. a night.

Another good possibility that nobody ever finds out about is to walk across the spit that separates the Isla from it's own offshore island, Goat Island--the spire of rock seaward. There are a few little places there, most of them geared up to serve flash-crowds of day-trippers who arrive by catamaran, blitz out, and go back to Mazatlan. Obnoxious folks, but fun to watch playing volleyball. Anyway, the last of these places says, "Pizza" and they do make pizza, and is it ever awful. But their other food is good, and the owners, Carlos and Victoria are just the salt of the earth. They will rent you a third-world lean-to off the restaurant, or one of their new cement rooms out back. Cheap. Like living with a family. And there's the nice little hook beach right out front, fishing off the rocks, easy walk to the Isla beach, easy access to boats to town.

Or, you can usually work out something to camp at a restaurant. Lety or Victor will probably let you pitch a tent if you eat there and maybe help them put the chairs up at night. If you want more solitude, walk up the beach a mile or so and tent out. Best bet is to build a palapa over your tent for shade--no problem because there's a lot of driftwood, and palm fronds are pretty easy to find, considering the beach is lined with about a zillion trees grown for commerical coconuts. Bit thing--sand fleas. Have repellant, don't wear outside clothes into your bed or bag, etc. Buy water and food from the market near the pier in the village. Just you and the breakers, and your occassional passing tractor.


Getting there

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by El Gallo on October 1, 2000

Technically, Isla de la Piedra isn't an island. You can drive there if you don't mind a couple of hours of insanely terrible road. But practically speaking, you get there by motor launch, the typical local fishing boats called pangas. The trip across the river, which isn't technically a river, either, but an esturary, is nice, good view of the Pacifico brewery, and the waterfronts. Very pleasant in the evening and night. There are essentially two ways to get over: the ferry terminal, and the embarcadero. For most day trippers the ferry dock is much better, though it costs like 4 pesos instead of 2 (so 40 cents instead of 20). For one thing, the terminal is easier to get to from town. You can just walk over there, actually--if you walk the Paseo del Centenario from Olas Altas, you end up right there. AND it takes you to the beach, not the village, saving a mile of walking on the Island side. To get there take any bus that says "Ferry" (or some reasonable mis-spelling). Many of the Sabalo buses that run from the Golden Zone down the waterfront continue to the Ferry terminal. Or, you can catch one at the main Market downtown, on the east side. When you hit the ferry building, head to your left until you dead-end into the Navy compound and see a sign saying "Paseos de lancha" and "Isla de la Piedra". Walk in past the soccer field, bearing right--you want the ferry launches, not the fishermen. If you pay 8 pesos, keep your ticket for return. On the Island side, just walk up from the pier and you'll see the beach ahead of you.
The other way is to go to the embarcadero, more remote from downtown, over by the Navy barracks and in a somewhat tougher part of town. Tell a cab driver "embarcadero a la Isla de la Piedra". Or take a bus from the southeast corner of the market, across the street where you see people waiting. San Marillo goes there, but so do others. Just ask the driver. Get off two blocks after you pass the brewery and walk south a block to the embarcadero. If you're going over at night and there is nobody in the box office, reach in over the door and throw the switch that turns on the light up top--they'll come get you,but it'll cost more if you have less than 4 people. On the island side, you'll be in the village, right in front of the UNESCO school and Osuna's. You can walk either direction and end up at the beach, but most people go left and follow the concrete road. An interesting walk--through an agricultural village, past the basketball court and baseball field. Don't piss off the big pig by the black house or you'll regre it. You end up coming onto the beach to the south of the restaurants. Or you can catch a pulmonia at the pier, or take a horse-drawn cart. If you get caught on the island after the "last boat" has gone from the beach dock, don't panic. Watch the sunset, stick around for the dance, walk up the beach to see the blue herons stalling in out of the night--then just walk or cab over to the village pier, where the boats run all night. Once on the Mazatalan side, your best bet is a cab or pulmonia, but there will be one there waiting for you. If not, walk out to the road, go right to the filling station, and catch any bus going to your left and you'll end up downtown.

Beach Light, Pts. I, II, and III

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by El Gallo on October 2, 2000

The rising north wind is chilling the beach, and chasing the waves over the flats, piling up riffles high enough to catch and block the low pink rays of the sunset. The wind-piled ripples are sharper, more triangular in profile than the gentler shapes of the wave-created ripples, and they fan due south, parallel to the beach and across the grain of the foaming wave runs.
Whenever a depression in the flats forms a shallow pool, the surface dances with the windrows, each ridge a prism projecting slashes of pink light onto the bottom, only inches below. The parallax projects the pink slashes below the wavelets where I see them through the waves themselves. The instant impression is that leeward slope of each wave is pink, the color coming and going as the wave moves. The contrast against the grey-green bottom and the greenish water reflecting darkening sky works very well, pink waves dashing and dancing against green. If the water deepens to more than about three inches, the illusion falls apart and the pink light is clearly seen as a refractive projection of a wave, just like the pulsing webs on the bottom of a swimming pool.

As I walk along the flats, the rising tide sends sheets of water over the sand, wetting it for the time it takes to sink in and seep back to the sea. A flicker of light on the sand catches my eye, shining brightly, then fragmenting as water washes over the spot where I saw it. The light shatters, swarms, and re-figures as I walk and as the wetness ebbs and flows. I realize that it is the reflection of Orion, trying to resolve in front of me. Seeing that, I can start to pick out other stars and constellations shining up through dark water, shivering to flinders like quicksilver drops, sinking into the sand as it dries.

The bioluminesce only lasts two days, but that's enough for something so magical, such a biochemical circus coming to town for a light show. We're out fooling around with it all night, skipping stones across the flatter water, the impacts drawing dotted green lines out into the night, tracers back to some source where light, gravity, and friction join. We splash dishpans into the water, the insides lighting up like flashlights as the little animolecules give up their flash for out entertainment. We drench each other with the water, seeing ghostly green outlines of people in the moonless dark. Slime beings lurching and dancing, then fading out like dying instrment panel glow. Two of the girls strip off and jump in, slashing green glow around them, then swim into the dark water, their progress announced by green fire, like alien flames from a hyperspace exhaust. As they walk back in, they are formless shadows, but each wave that breaks over them momentarily borders them in green, which fades like a radar blip, then repaints with the next breaker. The waves aren't really big enough to surf, but Pablo tries it, aching for carving green neon lines.
But the best effect is later, when I walk home. The flats in front of the palapas are flooded, swampy to damp to firm. I kick through a puddle and Francesca gasps, pointing down at the green fire I'm kicking up in the wet sand. We stomp and roll in it, experimenting with different consistencies of sand. Francesca likes to kick up big gouts of blazing green mud, but I think the best lick of all is walking along the edge of the muck, where the water permeates the sand and is set off by the pressure of my feet. I place my foot down and it forms a green outline. I put more weight on it and the light spreads out around it like a shadow of light. For some reason I can see how the glow is going deep, creating a hemispheric bowl of light under my foot. I bob on the foot and the green glow pulses with it, like thin ice. I lift up my foot and watch an eerie green footprint fade down into the sand like an X-files ending. I find I can walk a circle about four feet around, reaching my previous footprints just as they fade, my second passing giving them a new lease on light. Phillipe says, "I wish we had some acid for this." Terry says, "Screw acid, I want some of that stuff." The funny thing is, you can buy it in little plastic tubes. But why?


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