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No man is an island - but Mexcaltitan is. Well, for part of the year, anyway. Rising like a Phoenix out of the deluge amassed during the June to October rainy season, this is a Mexican take on France's Mont Saint Michel.

Tiny Mexcaltitan is less than a mile around and sits in the middle of a Nayarit coastal lagoon of the same name. It's said to be Aztlan, the cradle of Aztec civilization and the traditional birthplace of the Mexican people. We'd been hearing how funky the place is, so we decided to venture outside the bay and check it out for ourselves.

We drove the two hours north along good but winding road to Tepic, Nayarit's capital. About 38 miles later we made a pit stop at Santiago Ixcuintla, admiring the town's Municipal Plaza and grabbing a bite at a suitable street stand before continuing the last 21 miles to our destination. Pulling up near the Embarcadero La Batanga, "the Outriggers Wharf," we hopped onto a launch that left us on the fabled island 20 minutes later.

Geographically, Mexcaltitlan looks kind of like an egg. The four roads crisscrossing it have exceptionally high sidewalks, since the high waters of the rainy season turn the roads into canals traveled by launches and canoes. It's during this time of year that it's known as the "Venice of Mexico."

The population petitioned the government to declare the area an historical monument, which it did on December 8, 1986. In the Nahuatl language, Mexcaltitan means "Home of the Mexicans." Many homeowners here continue fighting modernization, living in traditional casas whose walls are mud stucco and roofs made with wooden beams and red clay tiles. Street surfaces are compacted earth.

The climate is sub-humid, with prevailing winds blowing to the northwest. Heavy summer rains causing the San Pedro River to swell its banks have, over time, created an estuary at the mouth of the river. Many smaller islands are completely submerged during this time of high water, as is Mexcaltitan. The region's soil is too salty to grow food, but we found traditional Nayarit cuisine in the town square's rustic restaurants, primarily seafood. Poultry, beef and pork are secondary, accompanied by rice, beans, carrots, tomatoes, avocados, chile peppers, cheeses and, naturally, tortillas. A variety of sauces are created by combining these ingredients with indigenous spices. Fruit and eggs are also staples.

A temple pyramid encompassed by six dwellings comprises the original village. Inside the courtyard, two statues - a seated man covered with a mantle, the Princess Chimalma kneeling at his side - have survived for centuries. To see more of the region's rich heritage, check out the museum's pre-Hispanic artifacts. It spurred us to return home bearing treasures we've seen nowhere else, crafted with heart by local artisans.

The trip was easy. True, our feet got wet, but we had no problem finding simple accommodations or places to eat. And the island is fascinating, with its ages-old way of life and wind-whispered memories. Visit before it, like all things, changes.

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