By Suzanne A. Marshall the June 2019 Edition
When we started our winter sojourns to Manzanillo in 2007, we felt we’d hit the jackpot with a wonderful reprieve from Canadian winter and a good start at initiating our retirement ‘bucket list’. We were only partially retired but freedom and travel were at our fingertips. We selected Manzanillo, as described in past articles, because it had all the criteria we determined to be a necessity, including accessibility, healthcare services, beachside living, community, affordable cost and a placement of tourism in fourth place, after the port business, power production, fishing and agriculture. This made/makes Manzanillo a pleasant place to meet the people and live life at a moderate pace without the constant push that tourism seems to bring. Eleven years later, we have no regrets.
Looking back now, with this perspective, a tremendous amount of change has consistently crept up on the city and general area. Manzanillo has grown dramatically and, according to predictions and business plans, will continue to do so for a while yet.
Manzanillo dock area around 1938. New Lamposts!
A few years back, the local news announced a huge expansion of the port that would likely double the shipping activity and, with it, jobs and population. We viewed this news with some trepidation, already being possessive of Manzanillo the way it existed and worried about what would come with this type of growth. Thus far, our lifestyle has not been impacted and we continue to love every minute here with all the fabulous amigos we have come to know and enjoy on a regular basis. They are wonderful, friendly people.
Now, mindless pondering and curiosity find me thinking about just what has changed. When I began to list them all, I was quite surprised.
When we first viewed our beachside condo, the dirt street behind us was a terrible mess of potholes large enough to lose a gas tank in. But when we returned some months later, the entire street had been redone in smooth beautiful concrete. What a delight. It was also at this time that the ever present Walmart store, just a few blocks away, had put the final touches to it’s loading docks and was open for business.
Since then, it’s been a bustling stop for Mexicans and expats alike, looking for everything from clothing to groceries and auto supplies. But, for many of us expats, the greatest arrival of note was the Home Depot store, smack on the nearby boulevard. It was immediately crawling with home improvement junkies such as myself, who were already familiar with the store products and layouts. For many of us older folks, its an interesting transition to see ourselves just as interested in hardware stores as we are fashion shops!
The main boulevard of Miguel de la Madrid has also been improved, with new lanes and lovely paved stone sidewalks; new stainless steel public benches and public bus shelters, etc. It’s enjoyable to take a walk or ride a bike on these wide passages and they also look so much more attractive.
Across from the Home Depot store, a huge empty beach side lot is now boasting a grand commercial mall named Punto Bahia (Bay Point). The mall sports a flagship department store, La Marina, and 3 levels of various stores, complete with under-ground parking. For us, the greatest bonus has been the opening of a large Cineplex movie chain and a wonderful gymnasium. The theater is first class with luxury lounging seats, foot rests and 6 or 7 theatres. The third floor gym sports every kind of equipment we could ever hope to need and reasonable prices for seniors. We love to join during the summer months when walking the beach can be too hot and the rainy season is upon us.
The gym is air conditioned and welcomes the seniors who generally like to work out during the day, normally a slower time. Living nearby means we can walk to these amenities. This is not something we’re used to since in Canada, driving is a constant necessity with malls and box stores spread out in the suburbs and usually too far away to walk. It certainly adds to our fitness program! Very recently, we have been reading that another huge mall will be built towards the Valle de las Garza’s avenue with an-other cinema and a flagship department store named Liverpool to anchor the mall and, of course, attract the shop owners that seek a mall environment. This is but a rumour even though we have seen articles and drawings. These things don’t always come to fruition.
So, with the port expansion, Manzanillo becomes a more attractive place for other businesses. Of course, it also goes with-out saying that the job numbers have risen though I do not have those statistics. But, one can imagine, when noting that going back four years the container movement through the port topped 1,066,377 TEU’s (twenty foot equivalent containers) or 11,930,726 tons. At that time, this was a 15.8% increase over the previous year. Imagine the numbers now, four years later! I am also sticking my neck out and suggesting that Manzanillo is receiving approximately 1,000 vessels per year based on a growth rate of 9.1% back in 2014. Manzanillo is now Mexico’s busiest shipping port.
With port expansion comes various complementary improvements such as the completion of a large modern overpass to the port and the El Centro section of town. This, of course, is necessary to accommodate the movement of trains and container transport trucks. The volume of arrivals and departures coming in from the ships or being loaded on the cargo ships is mind boggling.
The scene in the port area is a sea of containers with vast rows of container cranes marking the skyline all along the interior bay area. Fortunately, these areas are a distance away from the local ‘suburbs’ or townships of Salagua and Santiago where most of us live. So, life goes on as usual without really noticing the daily port activities. The transport trucks skirt these main population areas and most of us take no note of it.
With such major expansion to the port, the population has expanded as well. I did my best to find some accurate statistics but could only find a census from 2015. Still, the numbers indicate a significant population growth. In 2007, the population was 110,728, from a 2005 census. In 2018, the population had grown to 184,541. Again, this is a 2015 census. Looking at these growth numbers, it isn’t difficult to assume that the prediction of a population doubling is well on its way. This is when one begins to really take a look around the area and see the vast new neighbourhoods spreading up the hills toward the ring road and is perhaps the reason behind the new mall slated to be opening closer to these areas.With port expansion also came the rebuilding and expansion of a new cruise ship dock; a big delight for the people working in the El Centro area who offer all kinds of tourist trinkets and souvenirs. In 2018, Manzanillo was slated to receive 24 cruise ships with various well-known cruise lines such as Princess and Holland America. We love to sit and watch these gigantic vessels crossing the bay morning and evening. We even received a couple of visits from friends who were on board. We picked them up and spent the day to together. Finally, we could share a little of our dream with them.
On the more controversial side, Manzanillo has a thermo electric power plant that has been converted to natural gas over the past few years. This is a welcome blessing since the smoke out-put from the stacks has been a bone of contention with residents for many years.
This plant functions continuously, supplying power to five Mexican states. There are many that observe and are not convinced that the plant has completed the transition to cleaner burning fuel. Apparently there is a large inventory of bunker oil that the owners are wanting to use in between, in order to deplete the fuel. So, some days we see very little smoke or trails of white plumes but, on others, we observe trails of dark brown smoke billowing into the air. For certain, I have noticed a much cleaner air quality in my own home and there has been a dramatic improvement over the years. Still, the sooner the plant is completely converted, the better for all of us. We understand that natural gas is a more expensive fuel and, since Mexico has chosen to open its doors to world gas markets, it follows that the cost of gas to all consumers has risen accordingly to world prices.
At most times, the price of gas in Manzanillo is near the average price in Canada with the exception of British Columbia who have layered on more taxes to consumers than any other part of the country. I suppose one could view higher pricing as a way to have consumers conserve and use less power and fuel, giving a spinoff benefit to the environment. Certainly, we watch our gas consumption and watch the use of air conditioners, ceiling fans and lights quite religiously. It makes a big difference to those of us on fixed income and we’re contributing is some small way to a better environment.
Returning to positive views, there are many new restaurants all over Manzanillo to enjoy. If you’re paying attention, you’ll find new establishments everywhere. Mexicans love to come to Manzanillo for vacations, particularly from Guadalajara where the higher elevation and cooler temperatures have them craving a little heat and sunshine by the seaside. So, on major holiday occasions and through the summers, the beaches are filled with sun bathers and children with pails and shovels having a wonderful time. There are also a number of big events that take place during Carnaval, such as parades and beach fiestas. Special concerts take place in El Centro that are free to the public and the odd beach concert attracts partiers by the thou-sands. I could not believe the number of tour buses along the Miramar beach this spring as well as those who even love to camp in open fields across from the beach roads. It seems most of us human beings are lured by the sea and its amazing power. I love to relate the successes of Friends of Mexican Animal Welfare, a voluntary group of residents who work religiously to counter the stray dog and cat populations with spay and neuter clinics. They have made a huge difference to the stray population sin order to reduce their suffering.Through spay and neutering clinics, these folks have steadily reduced the stray dog and cat populations by the thousands. By training volunteers, raising funds for clinics and educating veterinarians, they have made a huge difference in Manzanillo since we first moved here. I know the stray populations are down by many thousand over these past ten or so years. A wonderful effort.
I also note a budding environmental awareness taking in place in Manzanillo. The new boulevard sports trash cans all along the walkways, and every now and then, we see a band of clean up crews walking the beaches and picking up the trash left by beach picnickers and dog walkers. We have a long way to go here. As we all know, old habits die hard, but I know there is more education being taught in some of the schools about the environment and, as they say, if you educate the children, the rest will follow.In spite of the tremendous port and population growth, Manzanillo maintains its small city atmosphere and we continue to enjoy every moment of it. It’s possible that tourism is up, but it’s hasn’t brought the haggling and change of attitude to-wards expats thank goodness. The people continue to be warm and friendly and helpful. We certainly do appreciate them and I for one continue to be taken by their warmth and generosity of spirit. They are family people who truly care about each other and they are equally as kind to us.
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.