4 April – 31 May, 2016. I’m snoozing on and off in the big luxurious padded seat. I’ve been writing a little, photo editing a little, and gazing out the window a little as the bus moves along the highway towards La Manzanilla.
I snooze some more and then suddenly I wake up, pull back the curtain and look out the window. I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing. I stare and stare out the window. There’s a mountain, and there’s a huge mushroom cloud above it. But it can’t really be what I think it is can it? The longer I watch the more I become convinced. Finally I understand. It is not a cloud. It is a volcano erupting right before my eyes. I just happen to look out the window the moment that a volcano erupts in the setting sun!
We check online the next day and sure enough, right about the time we were driving past, Popocatépetl erupted. I think I’d have seen something even more spectacular if I’d looked out the window just a couple of minutes earlier, but still, what serendipitous timing. Two weeks later it erupts again, but by this time we are ensconced in our casita by the sea in La Manzanilla.
There are these fabulous long-distance buses in Mexico. The seats are bigger than airplane business-class, and you’re given a drink and a few snacks. Plus they don’t cost much. To get from San Miguel de Allende to La Manzanilla we travel first to Guadalajara, which takes about four hours. We wait at the bus station for a couple of hours then get another bus for the next leg to Barra de Navidad, arriving at about eleven at night. It’s been a long day but it’s not over yet. In Barra we are grateful to be met by Alejandro and his wife. Alejandro throws our cases in the back of his truck and we set off on the one-hour drive to La Manzanilla. When we arrive Alejandro helps us down the stairs with our bags and hands us the keys. We unlock the door, turn on the light and we are finally here – back in the sweet familiar casita that we’d rented for four months three years earlier. I feel like I’ve come home.
The casita is the ground level of a house that steps down a hill. Immediately in front of the casita is a patio, and in front of the patio is a private pool.
After the first month when the water has warmed up a bit we’re in the pool every day. I swim a little and dive a lot. I entertain myself in the pool by diving down to collect all the debris from the trees that is blown in by the wind. Don lolls around on the noodle enjoying the view.
Beyond the pool is a view of the tropical garden and the sea. I took this photo sitting inside on the couch,
and this one from the patio with the sunset reflected in the pool,
and this one on another evening from the patio.
It really is this glorious. All the time we were in San Miguel I’d longed to be in La Manzanilla. Sunsets like these definitely had something to do with it.
The birds come every day; the flycatchers,
the noisy chachalacas,
and the yellow-rumped caciques. The caciques have a mating dance. At least I think it’s a mating dance. And I think it’s the male. Suddenly he leans forward, spreads his wings and squawks. And then goes back to sitting on the branch like any normal bird. And then he does it again. And again. And again. Squawk squawk squawk.
Almost every day the green parrots, in twos or fours, fly fast and screeching high overhead. I finally get a shot of one sitting on a tree branch at the very limit of my lens.
Suddenly a woodpecker arrives, tap taps on the tree for a couple of hours and then takes off again.
There’s a great ruckus next door one day. I rush out onto the patio and look over into the garden there. The cat and the dog are chasing a poor terrified squirrel. I watch as it goes careening up a slender palm tree where it hangs on for its life.
Eventually it makes a flying leap to a sturdier tree and the cat and dog are thwarted again.
And one day, wandering along the lazy brick pathway that winds itself down between trees and shrubs and cacti, past the ubiquitous blooming bougainvillea and hibiscus and desert rose, right down to the bottom of the garden, to deposit the compost, I notice this: Alpinia Zerumbet! Isn’t it gorgeous!
We are surrounded by nature and beauty and even from the first day I start to feel better.
It’s hot in La Manzanilla. I’d been craving that too. It gives me energy to start exercising and every morning I copy Don’s core strengthening exercises, slowly and carefully at first and then gradually building up as my body allows. We go to a couple of yoga classes. I’m nothing like as good as I used to be, but I can do some of it.
There’s a road in La Manzanilla known as the goat trail, despite the absence of goats. It’s a gravel road that goes up the hill behind the town to service the houses owned by the wealthy, Mexicans and expats alike.
From our place we can walk a little way down the hill towards town, take a left, and then head up the goat trail. It’s a steep up-hill journey and then an even steeper slope down to the far end of town. The land is dry and brown at the end of winter, and the summer rains have not yet begun, but still we see all kinds of flowering trees, and lightening flashes of bright blue as the jays fly away at our approach. We pass colourful houses on big lots, chat with neighbours occasionally, often watch eagles and frigates flying high in the sky, and always always stop to admire the view from the top. There and back takes about an hour. I start hiking the goat trail. Just a little bit at first, and slowly slowly a bit more each day until after a month I’m able to hike the whole distance with very little pain.
La Manzanilla from the top of the goat trail.
We discover a Five Rhythms dance group and ride with a couple of friends to Barra de Navidad for several Sundays in a row where others join us. We dance for an hour or so, letting the music tell our bodies what to do. Then as more people leave to go back north for the summer the group moves to the gym in La Manzanilla. I’m not very energetic but at least I’m moving.
Walking to the gym on a sleepy Sunday morning: an oriole in a hibiscus tree.
One Sunday after Five Rhythms I stop to photograph this whimsical pink spray of a flower high in a tree near home.
When I look down he is there watching me. He’s off to work with his chainsaw no doubt. In rural Mexico it’s a common enough site. We frequently see men on horseback.
La Manzanilla is a sleepy dusty fishing village with a beautiful long sandy beach on the west coast of Mexico two hundred kilometres south of Puerto Vallarta.
It has a population of about 2000 Mexicans, and in the winter about 500 expats mainly from the USA and Canada. The beach at La Manzanilla is much used by the local population. Mexicans come for their vacation from all over the country, but mainly from the nearby city of Guadalajara. Also on the weekends great busloads of people come from Guadalajara for a day or two at the beach.
We also spend time at the beach of course, wandering along the sand most days. About once a week we go to Pedros to eat “the best tacos in the universe” right there on the shore. Shrimp tacos, Margaritas, and fresh coconuts as the waves lap close by at sunset. What could possibly be wrong?
We’re at Pedros one night having dinner with friends. I’m trying to be engaged in the conversation but in reality I’m distracted by the water. I keep watching it, and finally I get up and go photograph it. The water is like glass. I’d never seen it like this before, or since. Although they are so distorted as to be unrecognizable, the waves are so clear that they are actually reflecting the buildings and trees along the shore.
One last sunset from the patio.
Next post: More stories from La Manzanilla – fish, fishermen, fishing boats, fishing birds, the streets, more birds, a bonfire on the beach, and a few more sunsets, because . . . . . . sunsets.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.