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 enroute.
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.