I recently had the good fortune to vacation in Mazatlan, Mexico. Not being much of a beach person, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy this town famous for its resorts and sport fishing. But Mazatlan is a jewel. The turquoise Pacific, long stretches of sandy beaches, and the buttery late-winter sun instantly dissolved my work and travel stress. A short distance from the beach I discovered what I came to like best about Mazatlan–its Old Town, or El Centro Histórico. I followed street after street of bright or pastel houses, courtyards with fountains, cafes, art boutiques, shops filled with folk art and textiles, and plazas shaded by palm trees.
I even found a literary connection. Several buildings in the historic district bore plaques noting that famous foreign writers had stayed within. Herman Melville came to Mazatlan in 1844, as a sailor aboard the frigate United States. In honor of his brief visit, Melville has a boutique hotel named after him.
Jack Kerouac was in Mazatlan in the 1950s. (Where wasn’t Jack in the 1950s?) A plaque naming him—with an extra final “k” on Kerouac whited out—and some his Beat cohorts hangs on an Old Town building. But there’s a second plaque dedicated only to him in the Hotel Belmar bar—someplace Kerouac apparently spent a great deal of time. He wrote about his time in Mazatlan in Lonesome Traveler.
Anaïs Nin also stayed at the Hotel Belmar when she visited Mazatlan in 1951. In her diary, Nin notes what I noticed, too, about Mazatlan—the colors. The “joyous greens and pinks” (even on tombstones), the turquoise houses, the painted shutters, and black and white window grilles.
Mazatlan still seems to attract foreign writers. On my way to a morning tour of the Teatra Angela Peralta, I noticed a blonde woman sitting on a bench in the Plazuela Machado. She was alternately people-watching and typing away on a laptop computer. She was still (or again) there late in the afternoon when we passed back through the plaza.