By David Fitzpatrick from the July 2011 Edition
In the last few years I have had to acknowledge that time was going by. I was one of those people who managed to stay 30 for about 25 years (or so I liked to think). But then, the unmistakable signs of flagging energies began to be apparent and I had to think about where I would retire. Long ago I swore to myself that I would find a place in the sun. Never again would I shovel the snow off the front stairs or dig my car out of a snow bank. Never again would I put on my super-heavy winter coat. It was getting so that I could scarcely lift it. Never again!!!
But where to go? For a while I considered ex-Yugoslavia where I had worked during the war in the 1990s. Or maybe North Africa; a region from which I have some wonderful memories.
I was mulling this over when an old friend in New York said “You should think about Mexico”. He had just built himself an enormous house in a place called Playa del Carmen – of which I had never heard. I went down to see what it was all about, took one look at Playa del
Carmen and decided it wasn’t for me. “This is not Mexico,” I told my friend. “This is transplanted Florida!!” I rented a car and drove up and down the coast from Cancun to Tulum. All very beautiful – but to me, not what I considered to be Mexico. Besides, I realized, if I was going to take advantage of lower prices in Mexico, I had probably missed the boat in Cancun.
My wanderings along the highway had had one clear and undeniable effect: I had fallen in love with the country. “This is the place for me,” I said to myself. “I’ll find a place by the sea in a part of the country which is still very Mexican and there I will spend my retirement.”
So on the very day the semester ended at my college in the frozen North, I was on the plane to Mexico. The Pacific Coast this time but in Puerto Vallarta, another disappointment awaited me: PV was definitely not the beautiful, unspoiled little village by the sea I remembered from the 1980s. I am no longer in a frame of mind to enjoy Permanent Spring Break.
I asked the locals about the region: “What will I find further down the coast?”. I queried. A guy in a bar in PV told me not to expect a lot. “There’s nothing much to see down there”, he said. “There’s only one major town in the region south of Vallarta and that is Manzanillo. But you can forget that. It’s a big industrial town choking with traffic and drowning in smog”.
What was he thinking??? Thanks to him, I almost skirted Manzanillo and continued my trip southwards. But then I said “What the Hell!! What have I got to lose?” And I headed into Manzanillo. As I rounded the curve on the road from Puerto Vallarta, all at once, the vast shimmering Pacific spread out before me; a huge expanse of shining silver and blue as far as the eye could see. “So where’s all the smog?” I said. All I could see was startling clarity all the way to the horizon. “This could take some checking out!”
I drove down the main boulevard – miles and miles along the beach. A dozen times I thought “This must be the end.” But no!! It continued forever! And for the whole distance, the ocean was visible just one street over.
I was met by a very sweet lady who had some houses for sale to show me. She and I spent the next few days going round and round the town looking at condos and apartments. She explained how the city was organized.
“For those on vacation who want to go to the beach, there is a full 10 kilometers of beach. For those who want to see old-time Mexico the way we remember it from the 70s and 80s, we have that too. In Manzanillo, you have the charm and exotica of Old Mexico, but you can also find all the convenience of home up north. We even have a Wal-Mart now! Need I say more?”
To make a long story short, my mind was made up by the second day. “This is where I will stay.”
Since then I have become more and more convinced that my first instinct was right. In the three years since then, I have never ceased to be charmed by the warm friendliness of the people of our town and their eager willingness – eagerness I might almost say – to accept newcomers as a part of the town. Not to mention a large, open, hospitable community of ex-pats.
I have now spent a couple of winters soaking up the sun and drinking Margaritas under the palm trees. I go back to the frozen North from time to time, but less and less frequently. On the return trip, when I get off the plane in Manzanillo it is a genuine home-coming.