4 April – 31 May 2016. On Mexico’s Pacific coast, eighty kilometres (50mi) north of Manzanillo is Tenacatita Bay. Where the bay meets the sea it is a wide gaping jaw of rugged cliffs and small isolated sandy beaches. The innermost part of the bay, eight kilometres (5mi) in from the open sea, is narrower, a perfectly curved new-moon-sliver of a beach approximately six kilometres long. At the southern end of this beach is the fishing village of La Manzanilla, and on the beach at the southern end of La Manzanilla the fishermen gather with their boats.
Every day one or two of them are there, tending to their boats and nets, working in the hot sun, immersed in their labor, inseparable from sand and sea and salt air.
When they put out to sea inevitably the frigates appear, stalking the boats like shadows, high-flying opportunists waiting for scraps,
and when the fishermen from the co-op throw the fish guts on the beach great flocks of these birds circle and battle overhead, abruptly rocketing down then soaring up again with a victory, fighting for every last morsel.
This is one of La Manzanilla’s two “downtown” streets:
If you walk a little way down it you will find the fishermen’s co-op on the right, a concrete building that is open to the street on one side and the beach on the other. If you walk through to the beach at the right time of day you will see the local airshow of dozens of frigates diving for scraps. All the local fishers bring their catch to the co-op, and on just about any day you can buy fresh fish here. Two or three times a week we pick out a red snapper, have it gutted, scaled and filleted on the spot, and take it home for an easy dinner.
Before you get to the co-op, on the same side of the street, you’ll come to the little heladeria. There’s no place to sit, so after buying our ice creams we walk a hundred yards down the street to an opening onto the beach and sit in a tiny patch of shade on the edge of the concrete platform of a beach restaurant. There is always plenty of seating under the umbrellas at the tables on the sand but we feel awkward sitting there when we aren’t planning to order anything. Sitting on the beach means sitting in the blazing sun. So the edge of the platform it is. Don and I always have our ice cream in cups rather than cones. One day I notice that the cups are Styrofoam. What better to keep ice cream frozen than Styrofoam? So we take to asking for a second cup each, placing it upside-down as a lid over the top of the ice cream cup and walking home with it. There we enjoy our treat in slow lazy shady comfort.
This is the other main street of “downtown”. The two downtown streets form the two arms of a Y and both end at the zocalo or town square.
A little way down on the left is Abarrotes Lidia. Abarrotes translates as groceries and there are several grocery stores in town – Abarrotes Perla, Abarrotes Gloria, Abarrotes Fanny, etc. We almost always go to Lidia’s. She has really developed her business over the years stocking all the usual things, but also things expats might be looking for such as balsamic and Dijon.
Walking to town down this street,
and then turning to go down this street,
we pass the local laundry where clothes are hung to dry right at the side of the road. Given the dust we are glad to have a washer and dryer at the casita. On any given day, walking anywhere, we’ll see exotic birds and flowers.
As soon as we get to the main streets we become aware of the swallows. They flit back and forth across the streets focused and purposeful. As time goes on they get busier and busier. Spring has come and we begin to notice their nests attached high up on the walls and in hidden corners of almost every building. One day I notice the noise, the insistent squeaky chirping everywhere we walk. I look up and sure enough there are chicks in all the nests. Every nest is busy with one parent or another arriving every few seconds to feed several yellow-ringed squealing mouths. Feed me too! Feed me too!
Sometimes we’re at the beach when the pelicans are fishing,
and we often see them as we walk along,
but this time there’s clearly there’s a huge school of fish close to shore. We watch as pelicans, seagulls, and cormorants crowd and squabble, but there is plenty for all. For twenty minutes or more they dive and splash and crash into each other and dive again, following the fish and filling their gullets as the school moves slowly along by the beach. Finally the birds have had their fill, or the fish are all gone or dispersed, and the show is over.
And then there was the day that Linda, a quirky American woman who lives year-round in La Manzanilla, decided we should all play at stick tossing on the beach, and she rounded up some willing participants.
It was the same evening that all the expats still in town at the end of the season gathered for dinner at Pedro’s and a bonfire on the beach at sunset before they departed for summer further north where there are no lashing torrential tropical rains.
Don and I stayed for another month, luxuriating in our perfect casita, eating great mounds of fresh fish and salads, and bringing our ice creams home to eat sitting in the shade on the patio with our legs dangling in the pool.
Sunset on the beach on a fine April evening:
After two wonderful soul-and-body-healing months in La Manzanilla the day came when we had to leave. On May 31st Alejandro drove us to Manzanillo where we boarded a plane for Mexico City and from there flew directly to Vancouver.
Next post: Five months as nomads in our hometown.
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.