Last Sunday walking Olas Altas Beach in Manzanillo I noticed several surfers taking advantage of the summer waves that give our beach its name. The fact that surfers were in the water is not unusual, it happens most days now, but I was surprised that six of the fifteen riders were female.
My first day back in Manzanillo a couple of years ago, after a thirty year absence, a friend suggested we meet at Juanito’s on the boulevard for breakfast. On the way to the restaurant the area reminded me of most Mexican cities I had visited over the last 50 or so years. Unfinished structures, laborers hauling cement in five gallon buckets up rickety ladders, Banda music and laughter everywhere. I had yet to realize the not so subtle revolution taking place in my adopted country.
Juanito’s parking area was filled with late model cars and SUV’s and my mind immediately concluded that the patrons must be mostly foreigners. The dress, demeanor and appearance of my fellow patrons reinforced my first impressions, but as I waited for my coffee and my amigo I noticed something, nobody was speaking English! Laughter filled the air, conversations were animated and lively and everyone was smiling. The Mexican people have always been very sociable, open and gregarious, but something had changed, something magical had happened.
I was still trying to put a name to what I was observing as my friend slid into the seat across from me, we exchanged greetings and immediately began to reminisce of days gone by and adventures past.
We remembered days in far off places. The tireless days of our youth as we flew charter groups all over the world. The dangerous days of delivering the “Stars and Stripes”, the U.S. military newspaper, by Boeing 727, into places all over Southeast Asia where somebody was always trying to kill somebody. The sad times of flying newly deployed U.S. Military personnel into Saigon. The nervous hour spent while our DC-8’s were converted to cargo. The outright panic when informed by the airport controllers that those “flashing lights “ at the end of the runway were the result of enemy fire, and that the “fire flies” raining down on them from the sky above were tracers fired in anger from our gun ships. We never forgot the gut wrenching nausea as we realized what our outbound cargo contained.
We finally settled on a wonderful time. While on furlough some thirty odd years ago, we spent six months with our families at Tres Islas motor home park which used to be located in what is now the “Golden Zone” of Mazatlan. There were daily deliveries by truck, bicycle and on foot of various staples, such as Tres Equis, Mescal, Prawns and of course Tequila. We made regular bus trips to the Central Mercado, with the obligatory stop at 33 Helados for Ice Cream (the contents best unknown). We chiseled oysters off the rocks in front of the Hilton, paddled out to the islands, and worked on our tans while sipping on ice cold cervezas.
At night we usually ended up at Tres Islas restaurant next door, for Turtle Steaks, Rum and telling of tall tales. My friend Pepe and I jointly owned a ponga, and many nights he and his family joined us, he spoke very little English and my Spanish was atrocious but it never prevented us from spending our evenings laughing and smiling till our faces hurt.
Tres Islas is gone, eating turtle meat is illegal, mescal is all but non-existent. You can no longer hire a taxi and driver for a week with a bag full of hard candy for his kids. The oysters have been picked clean from the rocks in front of the Hilton. The Golden Zone is filled with up scale restaurants, fast food joints and products from all over the world. A lot has changed. Then it hit me… the surfers, boys and girls, the huge smiles, the SUV’s, and the ever present dance music that rattles the windows of my beachside condo, ‘til 5 a.m. most weekends, music emanating from clubs filled with young Mexicano professionals on holiday, well dressed, well healed and prosperous !!!