We arrived in Mexico City at 5:35am after a 9 hour flight from Santiago, Chile. We were exhausted, but beyond excited as we were about see Abe’s parents for the first time in 7 months. We had a 3 ½ hour layover, but by the time we got money from an ATM, went through immigration, collected our bags, went through customs and re-checked our bags and surfboard, we barely had an hour wait.
It was a quick hour and half hour flight to Manzanillo and we were out of the airport in 15 minutes. We paid for a taxi at the stand (about $60 US) and ended up with a driver the size of a sumo wrestler. Fitting him, luggage, a surfboard and us in his little car was a tight squeeze and a bit humorous. It was a beautiful 45 minute drive through palm trees and banana plantations to the small town of La Manzanilla. The directions we received from Sandy were along the lines of turn left at Palapa Joes, 2nd left, next right, and another slight right up a steep hill, purple gate…. In other words it turns into a dirt road after Palapa Joes with no street signs or address. It was a bit tricky but we eventually found it. Our heavy loaded taxi barely made it up the hill, partially due to our luggage and partially due the size of our oversized friend, I mean driver. Luckily, he was a good sport after Jim handed him a friendly tip.
None of us wanted to let go once we got our first hugs! Now, if you don’t know, Abe and I both have the best parents in the world. So spending a 3-week vacation with them was a dream come true! They had rented a two unit Palapa and had already been there for 2 weeks. Their unit was a one bedroom with a huge open living room, open kitchen and wide deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Our unit was down a flight of stairs that were surrounded by Palms and Birds of Paradise. It was a 2 bedroom with a decent size living room and kitchen. We dropped our luggage and went back upstairs to crack our first Corona’s and catch up. We headed down to have lunch with our feet in the sand, gigantic Micheladas and sample our first Mexican food of the trip. My mouth still waters just thinking about it.
That night they had made reservations at a little restaurant in town. It was Canadian owned and the food was beyond delicious, as were the margaritas. The only thing missing were Mexicans. The restaurant was booked out and every customer, but our table was Canadian. Couldn’t help but giggle and ask where all the Mexicans were.
The next morning was the start of shedding some of that South American gluttony and lack of regular exercise. Jim is an avid runner, so I was excited to have a partner in crime. And since it gets hot in Mexico, even in January, you have to be out the door before 8:30am. That morning, Jim told me that we will run down to the beach and then to the ruins and back. I’m pretty sure I almost died. Running in sand is not one of my strong suits and doing it for almost an hour is just ridiculous. I was, what I felt to be drenched in sweat until I looked over at my father-n-law and saw that he didn’t have a dry spot on him. He just makes it too easy to tease. After that first hell-ish experience, I requested we run to the ruins on the dirt road and back on the sand. Twenty minutes of sand was more than enough for me! Oh, and of course passing the many semi-fenced-in crocodiles along the way kept you moving quickly.
Over that first week, Jim and I ran at least 3-4 mornings in a row, with one day off. Sandy made delicious poached eggs, veggies and fruit almost every morning after her hour and half mediation and our hour run. During the day, we would all read, write, nap, sit on the beach or Abe and I would go for a snorkel in the bay. One of our special treats was to watch Jim paint his unique portraits or sing and play the Ukulele. By sunset, we would grab a Pacifico, Negro Modelo, Cazadorez Margarita, or just sip on a Don Julio on the rocks to watch how the colors unfolded into the night sky. Sandy or Abe would cook up a tasty dinner and then the four of us would compete for the championship of Gin Rummy.
By day 4, I finally checked my bank account, which I was accustomed to checking almost daily while traveling and sure enough, it had been hacked. There were multiple charges adding up to over $700 US over the last 4 days. That trusty free-standing atm at the Mexico City International airport, wasn’t so trusty after all. I should have known better. Luckily, Wells Fargo Bank refunded all the charges.
Abe’s parents just snack for lunch, so we did the same for the first couple days until we decided to sample a few of Pedro’s Taco’s, cooked straight out of his taco truck. You could get fish or shrimp; grilled, Baja style (battered) or in a garlic sauce and each one was only $1.50 US. Not only were these tacos absolutely amazing, but Pedro’s perfect English and friendly service made this spot our favorite over the next 3 weeks. Not to mention the 30 different hot sauce options and chips and salsa you got while you waited. We had high hopes for great salsas in South America, but when you asked for hot, it was still mild and relatively flavorless. So we were in hog heaven.
La Manzanilla is like no town in Mexico I have ever visited. The people who live or vacation there are dominantly Canadians. Most of the shops carry the healthy comforts of home, especially Lydia’s. And if she doesn’t carry what you want, she will have it for you in a couple days. The sounds of La Manzanilla are also like nowhere we have been before. The Church down in town would blare the same non-church-like music almost everyday before and during service for at least an hour, but always early on Thursday morning. Also everyday, you would hear a blaring noise moving throughout the town. It took me about a week to figure out what the heck this sound was. It’s a man driving around selling propane out the back of his truck. And of course then there’s the man with another strange sound driving around selling vegetables. By the end of this first week, I was so annoyed with all these blaring sounds. I couldn’t believe people actually put up with it.
Also by the end of our first week, the La Manzanilla Festival began. The town was finally filled with the Mexicans we so love to see. The first event was of course bull riding. We got there early to make sure we got a good seat out of the sun. Luckily, it hadn’t filled up yet and local merchants circled through the crowd selling Coronas with lime and salt, churros, chicharon, and other fried delights. Soon you could see all the bull riders lining up for the big event. Each one with an outfit flashier and more colorful than the next. I wouldn’t call this the most impressive bull-riding rodeo we’ve seen, but it definitely provided some quality entertainment.
The next day, Abe’s cousin Shane and his girlfriend, Kate we’re set to arrive. Sandy had provided them with the same directions and a second option to just meet us down at a bar if they couldn’t find it. Once they hadn’t arrived at the time they were suppose to, I offered to run down the hill to see if they were there. Sure enough, I found them with beers in their hands, backpacks and big smiles. Their taxi driver couldn’t find it, so they settled for the bar. I led them back up the windy hill, with their heavy packs to welcoming and excited hugs from family.
Over the next week the 6 of us enjoyed the La Manzanilla Festival’s daily parties, Pedro’s Tacos, swimming and snorkeling in the bay, the Crocodile park, puzzles and each other. The main highlight was the day before the lovely Shane and Kate had to head home. We all got up early, took a taxi to a nearby town and spent the day deep-sea fishing. Within 20 minutes Abe reeled in a good size Mahi Mahi. It made for a promising day! It was a bit quiet after that, but being on the ocean was special in itself. Hours later, one of the rods got hit with something big! Shane grabbed it and worked harder than he ever had before to reel in this ocean giant. Eventually, the fishermen insisted Abe jump in to help out. Once to the boat they gaffed this gorgeous 93 kilo Marlin and chucked it in. We would have been happy to let it go free, but it was important to the locals. What a magnificent looking fish! We all thanked the ocean for this incredible experience. As we were heading back to the harbor, the fishermen saw a school of Spinner Dolphins. They quickly handed us a bag of snorkel gear and said to be ready to jump in. I was ecstatic. My dream has always been to swim with dolphins. I was the first to grab my Gopro, a mask, snorkel and fins and jump in. Since we dive a fair amount, I have gotten pretty good at diving deep, which is where most of the dolphins had gone to once we jumped in. There were hundreds of them. It was beyond epic! I did the best I could to hold the tears of joy back from filling my mask. It turned out there were only three sets of snorkel gear, so Abe, Jim and Sandy weren’t able to see all the Spinners. But that’s one of the many perks of surfing for Abe, he’s gotten to swim with hundreds throughout his life.
[Special Journal insert]:
‘Back in La Manzanilla, after deep-sea fishing, we hadn’t eaten in nearly 2 hours, so of course I was hungry. Abe was willing to try the local favorite tongue taco and since they don’t serve chicken tongue, I settled for pollo (chicken) itself. Mmm. While we munched, a Banda fired up and the street filled. The crowd was led by the favola, a box-kite like thing on a pole. The Banda kicks into double-time and appears to chase the dancing gente (people) down the calle (street). Even though, we call it quits after 1 ½ hours, the parade and dance goes on for hours. We eventually nod out, proving you can sleep through anything. At 6am, still the dark of night, the band strikes up again, more ferocious than the night before. It plays a tune similar to “Hold That Tiger,” on a tuba, clarinets, slide-trombone, and a snare drum that would frighten any real tiger. The people, once again gather to dance and drink tequila, in honor of the landowners, who in turn pay for the ‘band and tequila,’ quite the complimentary arrangement. This music-like cacophony is not even amusing at dawn and cannot be slept through. We will survey the village later for survivors and find out their plans for the evening. Meanwhile, we must find more food. ‘ By Jim Shelton
After Shane and Kate left, the 4 of us went back to our daily enjoyments as we had the first week. Lots more painting, writing, reading, napping, running, swimming, snorkeling, meditation, Pedro’s Taco’s, Gin Rummy and sunset drinks. On February 14th, we sadly said to goodbye to Jim & Sandy as it was time for our next adventure. It will be another 7 months until we get to see them again. We are so grateful for this quality time together and even miss those wild sounds of La Manzanilla.
Check out part 1 of the matching video for La Manzanilla here!