February 5, 2015
West Coast Mexico: Redux: Manzanillo
In this zone of the west coast of Mexico, the cities look a little like American centers especially that there are Walmarts. There is a difference here, however, in the tropics: the parking lots are covered with tent-like roofs and there are bevies of older guys, in their white shirts, hang-tags, caps and blue pants that help you park, that unload the packages and then guide you as you back out once more. It is expected that you donate a peso or two and a kind,“muy gracias” will also suffice.
Also, roaming around the lots are young men who barrow along trolleys with buckets, spray bottles and rags who will clean your windshield or wash your car as you shop, also for pesos.
Walmart, for all its corporate crap, is a pretty good grocery store here in Mexico in that there is a much wider variety of local produce along with quite a lot of what may also be found in the US, especially Washington apples cold stored often more than a year before they make it here. It is easy to notice what is real food: the agri-farmed stuff has labels and none of it is organic.
The bakery sections are interesting: the muffins, Danish pastries, the pretzels, the ice cream wafers, the breads and rolls (all, all of it bleached white flour!) are laid out on rows of naturally varnished shelves. The lady at the counter gives you a wide aluminum tray and a tong. Then, I go to choose what it is I wish to have by placing my selections on the tray, which goodies she packages and prices. I could buy a muffin, an ice cream wafer and a chocolate donut (oh, fie) for about $1.80. And sometimes, there was Hagen Daaz ice cream that must be eaten right away sitting in the car in the parking lot smoothing and smacking it all away. Muy delicioso! Muy indulgence!
At the time of day that I arrived in Manzanillo, it was late in the afternoon, just the time when I am seeking a place for free parking over night. It is not wise ever to drive at night on these roads even though it does sometimes become necessary. I find myself talking to a charming, Hispanic woman about mid-forties who is manager of the store. You go, girl! She says she does not encourage people parking at Wal-Mart but if I go out of the lot north and make a left there is a beach area where I will find what I am looking for.
As I turn down the sandy parking area right next to the beach, there is a large RV obviously well stationed there under a series of wide leaved, tropical almond trees. As I pull near her space, she pops out of her rear window: “parcar aqui durante al noche?” I ask and she nods me to an area nearby. I slip into a space careful to angle the van so there is a flow of cooling air from the beach. I eat the avocadoes, tomatoes, the salsa and an ear of sweet Mexican corn for my dinner and soon, after writing a piece in the diary I am keeping, I am snoozing under the tropic moon.
I stay there for two nights watching the sights, the people and the police who seem to have somehow lost a criminal in the dark of the night. Next day, they keep coming back to see if he will grow himself out of the sand. Not happening. I saw him skip over the fence across the street, head toward the beach and disappear. Gone forever….at least until he makes another mistake!
I eye the beach and the surf: just thinking about swimming in the Pacific Ocean once again tempts me but I know very well that those waves bowl me over in the sand. For a just a little refreshment, there is a lot of sand everywhere. I take a walk but do not go near the water.
On the morning of the third day, I start off thinking that there is not much left to Manzanillo. How wrong I was! Instead, I discover, as I ride up and over an arching bridge a little way south on the highway, is an enormous, thriving, crowded, hustling sea port; the very large harbor lined with tankers, and container ships, the jetties filled with fishing boats, those very tall orange painted iron stanchions that hoist the loads and, just to make it all truly mad, a giant road construction happening.
Between the dust and the congested traffic only threading its way around and through the barriers, the whole place is simply crazy. Fascinating. It takes the best part of an hour to travel from the bridge to the edge of the mess and then came even more city! By the time I am threading my way through the very down town barrios, I become aware that it is the right time to find some directions to find my way out of the maze and onward south toward Lazaro Cardenas
As I am stopped at an ‘alto’ sign, a small, wiry young motorcycle cop rolls alongside me. I can tell right away that he is a romantic and that he has a favorite girl because slung across his handlebars is a packaged bouquet of flowers. I roll down my window, and show him my map. He takes off his helmet and takes the map in his hand. I can notice his mind which quite quickly is made up: “Follow me”he says, handing me back the map, replacing his helmet and firing up his nifty black and white machine. He smiles a totally charming smile and I know I am ready to find my way once again. Off he goes, up and down the streets, over the rail tracks, through the mercado of several more streets until we were to be found at a wide triangle turn in the road where above me is a sign proclaiming: Highway 200, the arrow pointing this way to Lazaro Cardenas. Fabulous.
I take out my camera as this young guy is really too cute to miss and as I aim it at him he does a little jig on the cycle to pose for me. I have to imagine that young woman has made a really good deal in this man. Grandmother enjoyed the pleasure of his service and was thankful to send him on his way to his girl.
And I am on my way to find a place to park after traveling southward down the highway across a couple mile long spit built across the southern harbor area through a deeply shabby, grey and obviously poor fishing village until I spotted a Pemex station with a wide truck yard in behind. I am waved through, with a wide smile as I ask my question: here is safe parking. Thank you very much.