We first came to Manzanillo in 1996. After a long and very eventful journey by car, full of surprises and much laughter along the way, we arrived in town at about 3.30 p.m. Eventually we ended up in Las Brisas, a small community at the southern part of the Hotel district.
It was late in the afternoon; the sun was low but not yet set as we asked in Bungalows Angelica for the price of their rooms. A very pleasant gentleman greeted us and we were dismayed to learn that it was still too expensive for us to consider.
Next door was Suites New York so taking a deep breath I entered the office and was greeted by a lady called Ana. There we were lucky. They had one suite available over Christmas which would be 1200 pesos for the month. At that time the peso was 4.8 to the Canadian dollar which translated into $250 for the month. The room wasn’t bad, although very small, with a tiny kitchen. It would have to do as everywhere had been solidly booked en-route.
We should have realized there were going to be problems, and there were many: We found a dirty diaper in the bathroom, no clean towels, and dubiously clean bed linen. Ana had the maid come in to clean the bathroom and replace towels, but the bed was slept on top of that night as we decided it did not suit us.
Next day it was cleaned properly and linens replaced. We were then comfortable enough until Nigel was awakened the next two nights by cucarachas running over him. We were to find many such over the next four weeks. Naturally we were delighted to discover that next door, in Bungalows Angelica, there would be a completely refurbished suite available for the same price as we were now paying for the month, from January 1st.
Hotel pricing was quickly learned as we did not know previously that in Mexico there were daily, weekly and monthly rates which gave very definite price discounts. For longer stays the prices dropped even further. But now we were settled and happily so. As promised our suite was ready for us although we had to wait another day for a full gas oven. We had a range top on a table which would do admirably until the proprietors could get the correct one delivered. Our twin beds we pushed together which made a great king sized bed and all was right with our world.
Over the next few months we became fast friends with the family who owned the property and eventually those months stretched into eight years. The bungalows were old and in disrepair but Manolo and Coty, the owners, worked ceaselessly that first year to make the buildings more appealing. Nigel did his part in helping with what he could do and was absolutely in his element as he played the part of Mr. Knock-’em-down Builder. With precious few tools available he did what could and vowed to return next year with more tools of his own.
The years passed by at Angelica with the same group of people renting regularly. We added to our little band until after 3 years all bungalows were booked solid for the full winter season every year and the entire group became fast friends. It was fun to see people arrive each year like long lost cousins or family returning from an outing. It was not complete until we were all at home and nestled into our usual apartments and the greetings with the maids Ana, Rosa or Emma were made along with those of Pancho and old Miguel (the handy men around the place).
It took John Kerwin to note that we were a very special group of people. He was a bachelor and to his amusement he observed that the entire group was formed by people with long marriages. The ‘newlyweds’ were Frank & Barbara Stewart, who although the oldest, did not marry until their middle years (I believe he was 52 and she 43 at that time) and they had been married for only 25 years. The others were Ernie and Lorna, Frank and Margaret, Pat & Joy, Jack and Elizabeth, Wally and Doreen, Lewis and Rose, Ken and Lilian, Greg and Jan, Karol and Suzanna, Jim and Wendy, Bob and Louise plus ourselves — Nigel and Freda.
Those of us arriving before Christmas had a great time with our festivities on a patio overlooking the sea. Always we invited our hosts Manolo & Coty Cordera and other friends we had made, Art and Lydia, Wayne and his daughter and Bob and Ian to join us. We dressed up to the nines, had memorable food and played silly games but always remembered absent friends and family.
Occasionally we invited friends to join us for Pot Luck suppers or to coffee mornings. These we had around the pool and that was when we would discuss what we had each done during the past week. Always something had happened to cause much hilarity. If anything was going on the next week, we would make plans to go together or even just have an evening out at a local restaurant or Botanas bars. All in all it was very nice and comfortable, family- like relationships were building and friendships for life were forged.
Obviously it could not continue forever. In 2003 the big earthquake shook the buildings to their very foundations. Most of them had to be pulled down and the hard work that had been spent renovating over the years was lost. The pool which had been the centre of our ‘Koffee Klatch’ and pot luck suppers was badly damaged and people had to move away to find alternative accommodations.
Nevertheless the friendships, although now severely challenged, as we were all going in different directions, continued as the magic of Manzanillo pulled us back every year. Unfortunately many of our group have now passed on. Those remaining look back with the fondest memories of the years spent with great people, in a lovely atmosphere in a beautiful town.
Greatly missed but certainly not forgotten are Frank and Barbara, Elizabeth, Jan, Karol and Nigel. We still chuckle at the memory of Nigel calling “Swim time” every day as the six or so hardy swimmers headed for the ocean before the winds of 1 p.m. would churn the sea into a roller coaster; or the bellow of Frank as he yelled at Barbara for some minor infraction or other; or at the memory of Wally asking everyone for happy hour, serving Coronitas and then telling them it was time to leave he wanted his dinner!
Those indeed were the days.
Alex and Leona invited us out to dinner to any restaurant of my choosing. Racking my brains and running through the available choices I could remember, I chose
“AguaChile” on Friday, (yesterday) at 7 p.m.
With taste buds at the ready as I remembered my last meal there, we arrived at the restaurant at the appointed hour and stood in amazement. The whole thing was changed.
Bearing in mind that it was 18 months since we had been to Manzanillo that really wasn’t surprising but what was surprising was the extent of that change. Then came the biggest surprise of all! It was no longer a restaurant but a ‘Salon de Eventos”! (A place that people rent for private parties.) Disappointment abounded as the pictures of a beautiful fish platter fast disappeared from my mind.
“Never mind,” said Alex, “How about going to Freddie’s place in Las Brisas, the best food in town! It’s on the sidewalk, small but with excellent food.” Sounded fine to us, so off we all trundled to” Chef Para LlevArt” (play on the Spanish word, to go or take out, “llevar” and Art).
We managed to find a table for four which seemed a mite crowded but there was a large party with reservations at the table we would have preferred. Not really a big deal as a side walk is the same anywhere and it was a tad closer to the road, even though that was partially hidden by a tall hedge.
We were quickly asked for drink orders and then were left to chat for awhile. Our great conversation was cut short by a slender young man carrying an African drum, who rattled off a short speech in Spanish and then proceeded to bash away at the drum with a very loud but indeterminate beat which completely drowned us out. As with all things, eventually that extraordinary noise ended, was followed by yet another speech and then the
“musician” went around collecting his tips as we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Now we could talk again, the drinks arrived and dinner orders were taken. Following Alex’s recommendation I requested the San Francisco Linguine with prawns as did he, Leona the dorado and Kirby the prawns in mole. Some delicious crusty bread arrived at the table with a small mound of rapidly melting butter and we sat and waited. It seemed as though we waited forever although none of us really kept actual check on time.
The people at the next table finished their meal and left and their seats were quickly taken by another party. The large group of people finally arrived in dribs and drabs but at last all were there and their drink orders taken.
Eventually we caught the waiter’s eye and managed to get glasses of water and some more bread to keep the starvation at bay while we waited some more.
Dinner arrived at last. Four steaming plates of food arrived accompanied by a delicious aroma. Each dish is prepared individually upon request; this is most definitely not fast food. In fact a table of four finally got up and left, they were too hungry to wait.
All of us enjoyed our meal immensely although Kirby’s meal was a little lacking in substance. The San Francisco linguine was as good as promised and Alex and I savored every bit. Leona announced that the dorado was incredible, the prawn mole although delicious was pronounced as it looked– a little skimpy. The prawns were nestled on a green mound of something that although delicious was totally a mystery. I sampled it and was unable to put a name to it except “very nice.”
Fortunately the extra bread arrived and although bread is not advised on Kirby’s dietary list, that was enjoyed with the prawns.
Now came the piece de resistance. After a long wait with nothing in front of us, the very pleasant waiter was finally halted and asked for the desert menu. Many different exotic coffees were on it but only four deserts to choose from, cheesecake, a chocolate pudding (which Leona ascertained was like a brownie) a custard and ice cream. Brownie sounded nice to finish off the meal so I ordered that and Leona, chocolate ice cream. The brownie was still in the oven and would be about fifteen minutes, well, we could wait and our waiter recommended it. Leona’s ice cream arrived, two scoops of creamy chocolate ice cream garnished with frozen strawberries and blackberries. It looked delicious. Mine was long awaited but they had warned fifteen minutes after all.
chocolate lava cake but this was the first time I have ever had one. That is not what it was named on the menu, but folks, that is what it was; a hot chocolate cake with hot gooey chocolate oozing out, garnisheed with frozen strawberries and strawberry ice cream. It was total ambrosia for the eyes, the mind and the taste buds. Unfortunately I finally had the last bite although I foolishly allowed Alex a tiny sample. Chef Freddie was warned when we left that I will return again and again until I am sure he that has the recipe right.
The meal we had yesterday evening was memorable indeed. The service was terribly slow and the bill a long time in coming but we still had lot’s to chat about. We were told that everything our hosts had eaten at this tiny bistro were delicious and after our first sampling we will certainly put this on our “must go to in Manzanillo” list.
The numbers on the right hand side of the page were a little higher than most we have seen in town but the food? Oh!Ho!Ho!
Just don’t be in a rush. In the words of the islands way to the west of us, “hang loose.”
I forgot to mention our drummer did return for an encore but he was asked to leave by the people at the next table for which we are eternally grateful.
Manzanillo Sun’s eMagazine written by local authors about living in Manzanillo and Mexico, since 2009