By Suzanne A. Marshall from the June 2017 Edition
It’s not that there isn’t much to do in Manzanillo, believe me;
but the freedom to get away for a weekend, any time, is such a luxury of retirement. Over a year ago, we liquidated our home and all of the accumulations of living our entire lives in Canada. Yes, I do confess to that typical small storage unit we left behind with precious memories and items we can’t quite figure out what to do with yet. On each visit back we remove a few more items, and so it goes. We have still found our- selves unexpectedly liberated.
I say unexpected because the process of liquidation itself is daunting and stressful. There were days when you could only ask yourself, why am I doing this again? But, of course, all you have to do is just look forward to the nest you’ve created in gorgeous Manzanillo, the people, the weather and the ocean and your heart soars again.
Though you love your country, age has a way of giving perspective to new adventures and the quality of life here for an aging retired couple is not easy to beat. In fact, this year, Mexico has become the number one retirement destination for its economy, weather and amenities. (International Living Magazine).
This is our first full spring season in Mexico because last year we were visiting our families in Canada about this time. Next, we will head into our second summer and the rainy season which we found we coped with rather well last year. Like the arctic blast of winter that sets upon us regularly in Canada, you do adapt and move your way through the seasons with acceptance and an increased awareness of Mother Nature’s presence on any part of the planet! And sometimes it’s pretty fascinating when a tropical storm hovers over the bay and the skies unleash a light show like none other. Those replenishing rains are what give the world those Mexican treasures such as bananas, limes, coconuts, mangoes, avocadoes, peppers, sugar cane, coffee, and so on.
However, with spring upon us, the time for insects has also arrived and much of Manzanillo is selectively treated with fumigation necessary to control the mosquitoes and other various species such as ants etc.. This includes our condominium complex, which will be carefully treated to fumigation both inside and out.
I’m one of those people that will sometimes feel badly about the way humans invade nature’s world with our own interests at heart. But when it comes to avoiding insect borne viruses such as Zika and Dengue, I truthfully want protection. Those charming palm palapas over the terraces where we live are wonderful and quaint but the insects love them, too. They make wonderful nesting sites. So we decided to escape for a three day weekend and have a new adventure.
There are numerous weekend getaway destinations within one to four hours by car (or bus) from Manzanillo. Choices for our retreat included Barra de Navidad, La Manzanilla, Cuyutlán, Comala, Colima City, Tequila, Guadalajara and so on. All of these locations harbor interesting tours and quaint hotels to enjoy. But we decided to return to the Lake Chapala and Ajijic areas which are about three hours down the road in the state of Jalisco. Admittedly, a trip to the Costco store in nearby Guadalajara was also beckoning in order to replenish our wine and other supplies.
The two cities/towns of Lake Chapala and Ajijic are well known for their attractive location to expatriates from both Canada and the United States. Many are attracted to the moderate, dry climate and the ease of access to and from the Guadalajara air- port. The elevations in this area top 5,000 feet, which eliminates the humidity that we coast lovers often seek. The combined population of these towns is around 40,000 with a retiree and residential tourism number of 6,000 and growing to 10,000 during peak winter season. Nestled in the hills about 45 minutes outside of Guadalajara, Lake Chapala itself is the single largest source of fresh drinking water in Mexico and services the city of Guadalajara (4-6 million people).
The drive on the toll highways was uneventful and fast, since recent upgrades are now largely completed and the four-to-six lane freeway is in excellent condition. There are service stations, restaurants and points of interest along the way. I am still awe- struck by the continuous landscapes of mountains, valleys and rivers. I recall my first trip years ago, and my expectations of dry plains and cactus. Naturally, I had not done my homework.
Depending on the time of year, fields of sugar cane pampas blooms can be seen as far as they eye can see. Many times, as the highway skirts the turnoff to Colima City, the world famous Colima Volcano (Volcán de Fuego), which has been very active over the past few years, can be seen puffing out billowing clouds of smoke. It is such a perfectly-formed mountain and meets my childhood imagination of what a true volcano must really look like. Getting closer to our destination there are also those glorious fields of blue agave plants which will provide the basic source ingredient for Mexico’s world class tequila distilleries.
Arriving at our Chapala lakeside destination, we quickly checked in and headed out for a ‘walk-about’ down the lake- side malecón. We had food on our minds and wanted to find some places to have dinner and mill around the numerous local vendor displays and central attractions located along the lakeshore.
Situated right in front of the lake is a long open park area with several fountains, picnic areas and vendor displays. There is also a lovely malecon that skirts the area and presents a perfect picture for photos and sauntering along the lake.
The following morning, we had a lovely breakfast and decided to drive over to the Ajijic area just a few miles/kilometers down the lake highway. There is a lovely central square there and we recalled having seen an artisan vendor on a previous trip who sold beautiful authentic carpets. I had my heart set on finding something to bring back to our condo in Manzanillo. Having parked nearby (an advantage to our low tourist season timing), we did indeed find our vendor and had an interesting discussion with her about the family crafters. It is her husband who weaves the assorted and colorful carpets and she is responsible for handling the display and sales of their beautiful work.
I was thrilled to find two lovely pieces which we purchased. She was very happy, too, as I am confident that sales are much slower at this time of the year. She was a lovely, animated per- son and was proud to show us a published book of the Ajijic area which featured photos of her and the family crafts.
One of the most wonderful things about living in Mexico is the
outgoing and friendly nature of the people. They are so warmhearted and engaging. We found ourselves a few steps down from our carpet vendor, having a deeply interesting conversation with a man named Mario and his wife. They were selling silver jewelry and various assortments of polished stones and pendants from the local area. We were invited to sit and chat with them as Mario worked a piece of silver and related a most fascinating tale. Needless to say, his English was excellent.
Many years ago, he was part of a group that was running an eight-month odyssey in Canada and Alaska as messengers of the earth. I never really did understand exactly what the mes- sage was about (though apparently non-religious) but his stories of the outdoor relay running and sleeping under the stars were spellbinding.
He mentioned, specifically, many areas that my husband and I are very familiar with including the names of towns, highways and areas in northern Alberta where we had both lived and travelled. We knew the stories were not fiction.
His experiences on the journey and his close encounters with wildlife, including a wolf and a bear, were captivating. I wish now that we could have spent more time with him because his memory and spirituality linger in my mind. I was very drawn to the goodness and depth of his soul. This lovely encounter will stay with me forever.
The central square in Ajijic is typical of most towns and cities in Mexico. These are places where people meet and socialize. There are always beautiful cathedrals, a central gazebo, gar- dens, benches and walkways. This square displayed some really unusual carvings made from the old trunks of trees. What a wonderful way to make something beautiful again for the enjoyment of artistic expression and the appreciation of viewers.
Having lingered in the park for hours, it was time to satisfy my craving for pasta at a recommended Italian restaurant along the main route back to our hotel. We did just that at La Taverna Dei Quatro Mori where we lapped up the excellent cuisine then headed back to relax and ready ourselves for our return to Manzanillo the next day.
We found our way through the Guadalajara traffic the next morning (yes it can be done!) and later, with our trunk loaded with wine and various foods requested by a few of our friends, we headed home to Manzanillo.
One of the additional observations I made as we enjoyed our beautiful vistas yet again, was that the views are somehow even more spectacular travelling in the western direction.
I have concluded that the difference in view is because the journey back is mostly a graduated downward sloping drive; giving the most perfect views of the hills and valleys from a higher perspective. When driving in the opposite direction, you are not aware of just how much climbing you are doing from sea level. That 5,000+ foot elevation makes a surprising difference, like the view from a mountain top. Another impromptu and enjoyable adventure is complete in wonderful Mexico; no agenda necessary, just a bit of planning and a sense of adventure.
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Suzanne A. Marshall hails from western Canada and has been living the good life in Manzanillo over the past 8 years. She is a wife, mom and grandma. She is retired from executive business management where her writing skills focused on bureaucratic policy, marketing and business newsletters. Now she shares the fun and joy of writing about everyday life experiences in beautiful Manzanillo, Mexico, the country, its people, the places and the events.