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MEXCALTITAN, RIVIERA NAYARIT - SEAFOOD RESTAURANTS AND MEXICAN CULTURE

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What is our favorite place in Riviera Nayarit? Isla de Mexcaltitán, also called Mexcaltitan de Uribe. Located north of San Blas and 31 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of Santiago Ixcuintla, the man-made island is accessible by boat from La Batanga Embarcadero.

Mexcaltitan surrounded by water
Mexcaltitan surrounded by water
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

How long is the boat ride to Mexcaltitan? Our 15-passenger boat took 15 minutes to cross the lake. Along the way, we saw man-made wooden traps where fishermen collected shrimp for Mexcaltitan restaurants.

City of the Aztecs

Cormorants dried their wings in mangrove trees edging the lake. White herons and tiger herons perched like sentries on top of the mangroves.

Legends claim that Mexcaltitan Island was Aztlan, "the place of the herons" and the city where the Aztec people originated.

Calling themselves Mexica, these ancient Aztecs made a pilgrimage south in the 11th century and established Tenochtitlan, which is now called Mexico City.

Mother and child beside shrine
Mother and child beside shrine
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Friendly Mexican people

As we walked from the dock to La Alberca Restaurant, we met several of the village inhabitants. Mexcaltitan's population is only 800.

The pace of life is slow, so people have time to talk, smile and welcome visitors. There are no cars, so everyone walks.

Strolling along the brick streets, we admired shrines to the Virgin Mary, decorated with candles and silk flowers, beside entrances to individual homes.

Shrimp for sale

We passed seafood restaurants with handwritten signs for tamales de camaron (shrimp tamales). Pink shrimp dried on the concrete. Residents offered to sell us big bags of shrimp for less than $4.

Shrimp fishermen go out at 3 am during the months without an "r" in them. July is the peak month for shrimp fishing.

Camarones cucaracha, tortilla de camaron and salsa
Camarones cucaracha, tortilla de camaron and salsa
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The fishermen return at 2 pm. After sleeping, they eat, and then go to the pool hall to relax. We peeked inside the open doorway and saw them drinking cerveza (beer) and playing billiards.

Restaurant Alberca

By the time we arrived at the seafood restaurant, we were hungry for shrimp. We sat at a long tablecloth-covered table, ordered some Cerveza Corona Extra and began our multi-course feast.

The first course was camarones cucaracha, pink shrimp fried in their shells until dry and crispy and served with small green limes. A salsa, made with finely chopped cucumber, hot green peppers, fresh lime juice and sea salt, was the perfect accompaniment.

As we listened to Mexican music playing on a jukebox, and looked out over the water through the open sides of the restaurant, the waitress served another dish.

Shrimp appetizers

The mouth-watering shrimp paté was made with puréed cooked shrimp, chiles, onions and mayonnaise. It was even better when we spread it on a flat, golden tortilla de camaron, made from ground dried shrimp mixed with masa (a maize or field corn dough) and baked until crispy.

Shrimp paté at Restaurant Alberca
Shrimp paté at Restaurant Alberca
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Our seafood meal continued with shrimp tamales (masa flour dough cylinders, stuffed with shrimp and steamed in corn husks). They were especially delicious with a few dashes of Salsa Huichol hot sauce, from the bottle on our table.

No Riviera Nayarit lunch would be complete without aguachile. Similar to shrimp ceviche, this tasty, colorful dish consists of shrimp marinated in lime juice, with cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and hot peppers.

Nayarit dishes

After serving an avocado, cucumber, onion and tomato salad, the waitress brought us bowls of taxtihuil de camaron.

Aguachile made with shrimp
Aguachile made with shrimp
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

This traditional Nayarit soup is a shrimp and chile de arbol broth, with shrimp balls made from ground shrimp mixed with masa tortilla dough.

Although we were nearly full, our appetites were whetted by another Mexcaltitan food specialty, pescado zarandeado.

Two huge platters of grilled fish arrived at our table. One was a big snapper (called pargo in Nayarit) and the other was bass (robalo). Both barbecued fish, fresh from the estuary, were incredibly tasty.

Mangrove root barbecue

Behind the kitchen, we watched the chef butterfly-open the fish, sprinkle them with lime juice and sea salt and grill them, skin side down.

Pescado zarandeado (grilled fish)
Pescado zarandeado (grilled fish)
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Mangrove driftwood fueled the barbecue fire and added a smoky taste to the grilled fish. It was so good that we had second helpings.

What was the price of our seafood feast at Mexcaltitan's Alberca Restaurant? Including drinks, before tip, the cost was only $10 per person.

We waddled out of the restaurant to wear off the calories by walking around town.

The wooden and concrete sidewalks were elevated above the street because, during the rainy season, water fills the roads. Villagers use boats to travel along the flooded streets of "the Venice of Mexico."

Aerial view and map of La Isla de Mexcaltitan in El Origen Museum
Aerial view and map of La Isla de Mexcaltitan in El Origen Museum
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Museo el Origen

Inside the Museum of Origin, on the Plaza Central (town square), we saw aerial photos of La Isla de Mexcaltitán and a model of the town. From the central square, we could see streets radiating out like the spokes of a bicycle wheel, all joining the Venecia ring road surrounding the village.

What is the size of Mexcaltitan Island? The museum's records indicate that it is not very big.

Oval-shaped, Mexcaltitan's perimeter measures 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). Its north-to-south diameter is 40 meters (131 feet), while its east-to-west diameter is 350 meters (1,148 feet).

Although El Origen Museum displays all had Spanish descriptions, it was easy to understand them. Drawings on a copy of the Codice Boturini depicted the Mexica migration to form Tenochtitlan, near Mexico City. (The original Codice Boturini is in Paris.)

Nayarit circular pyramid

Other exhibits showed pre-Hispanic sculptures, found here, and photos of the biggest archeological site in Nayarit. The Sitio Arquelogica de Los Toriles in Ixtlan del Rio, located near Jala, is known for its rare circular pyramid.

Mother and daughter
Mother and daughter
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

In the streets, outside the museum, mothers proudly showed us their babies. Elderly men, resting on chairs dwarfed by red bougainvilleas, wished us Buenas tardes.

Mexican street life

The Iglesia San Pedro y San Pablo (the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul) dominated one side of the Plaza Central. Mexican music poured from open doors of nearby tile-roofed buildings.

A young girl bought a chocolate-topped guava ice cream cone from a vendor's cart. It looked delicious, but we were still too full from our seafood feast to buy dessert.

Another girl bought candies from a vendor, under a shaded walkway, and then sat in a doorway and shared them with three friends.

As dusk arrived, we reluctantly left one of the most charming towns in Mexico. A pelican flew pterodactyl-like into the pink sunset. Herons watched us from their perches on docked boats.

Four girls enjoy candy on doorstep
Four girls enjoy candy on doorstep
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

This island-village may be named Mexcaltitan, Riviera Nayarit, today, but for us its Mexican culture and birdlife transported us back to the Aztec's birthplace and their land of herons—ancient Aztlan.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Riviera Nayarit: www.rivieranayarit.com

Visit Mexico: www.visitmexico.com

More things to see & do in Riviera Nayarit:

Riviera Nayarit Mexico Ecotours

Mexican Breakfast - Almuerzo in Nuevo Vallarta

Sayulita - The Best Fish Tacos in Nayarit Mexico

Festival Gourmet Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit and Tepic