Costalegre: Manzanillo Bay – Hot sauce & a great adventure

Tern flies over Santiago Bay Beach villas on Playa La Boquita, Santiago, Mexico

Beach villas on Playa La Boquita, Santiago.

Beach palapas on Playa La Boquita, Santiago, Mexico

Beach palapas on Playa La Boquita, Santiago.

Colorful beach umbrellas, Playa La Boquita, Santiago, Mexico Casa Los Pelicanos, Playa La Boquita, Santiago, Mexico

Casa Los Pelicanos.

Gold and black sand on Playa La Boquita, Santiago, Mexico

Gold and black sand swirl together.

The Oasis Restaurant, Playa La Boquita, Santiago, Mexico

View from the Oasis.

Humpback whale breaches in Santiago Bay Mexico

Humback whale breaching.

Breaching humpback whale in Santiago Bay Mexico Breaching humpback whale in Santiago Bay Mexico Breaching humpback whale in Santiago Bay Mexico Breaching humpback whale in Santiago Bay Mexico Breaching humpback whale in Santiago Bay Mexico

Whale headstand.

Las Hadas Resort, Manzanillo Bay, Mexico

Las Hadas Resort comes into view.

Cobbled paths at Las Hadas Resort, Mexico

Cobbled waterfront paths, Las Hadas.

Curved archways at Las Hadas Resort, Manzanillo, Mexico Bougainvillea and palm trees on the paths of Las Hadas Resort, Mexico. Chivas soccer stars at Las Hadas Resort, Mexico

Soccer stars from Chivas.

Polka-dotted puffer fish at the dock of Las Hadas Marina

Polka-dotted puffer fish.

Evening on the Las Hadas marina docks Mexico

Evening on the Las Hadas marina docks.

Augutsín and son León of Frida's restaurant, Las Hadas, Manzanillo Mexico

Agutsín and son León of Frida's

restaurant.

León dressed for work.

La Tia hot sauce from Frida's Restaurant in Las Hadas, Manzanillo, Mexico

La Tía Hot

Sauce.

Inside Auto Zone in Manzanillo Mexico

Inside Auto Zone.

Cihuatlan Cathedral Costa Alegre (Gold Coast) Mexico

Cihuatlán's Cathedral.

Cihuatlan Christmas decorations Costa Alegre (Gold Coast) Mexico

Ready for Christmas.

Chebio's shop in Cihuatlan, Mexico

Chebio's shop.

Shop music.

Mark & Chebio check out the alternator, Cihuatlan, Mexico

Mark & Chebio check out the

alternator.

Ismael and Chebio chat about the alternator, Cihuatlan, Mexico

Ismael translates for us all.

A young boy in Johnny's Taco Shop sings for us, Cihuatlan, Mexico

Little crooner.

New copper stator and old burnt one.

Mark watches Chebio's quick, skilled hands.

Chebio has the worst looking but best

running car in town.

Mark and our helper/guide Ismael.

Manzanillo Bay - Santiago & Las Hadas

Mid-December, 2011 - We finally tore ourselves away from the beautiful gringo-filled

vacationland of Paradise Village in Puerto Vallarta and sailed and motored for 27 hours

around Cabo Corrientes to Manzanillo Bay on the famed Gold Coast or Costalegre.  We

pulled into Santiago Bay at dawn and were greeted with the familiar thick, moisture-filled air.

Hurricane Jova had

hit this coast very

hard two months

before our arrival and

it seemed that many of the umbrellas along the beach

were new with vibrant colors.

It was a neat feeling to return to a familiar place, and memories of

our time spent here last year came flooding back over the next few

days.  The tuba player that strolls this beach was still here, and my

favorite beach villa, Casa Pelicanos, was still decked out with

beautiful flowers.

The sand still had its lovely gold and back swirl patterns, and the Oasis

restaurant overlooking the beach where we celebrated my birthday last

February was still pumping out the tunes and burgers like something out of

a beach vacation magazine.

The only huge difference was that we were the only boat in

the entire bay.  Last year we were one of two dozen boats.

This year we could drop the hook anywhere we wanted.

We left Santiago for the quick jaunt across the bay to Las Hadas resort.

It was a quiet morning and we were puttering along under power making

water and kind of half day-dreaming when an enormous splash jolted us

both to our feet.  "Did you see that?" We said in unison, wide-eyed.  We

both grabbed binoculars and scanned the sea when a humpback whale

suddenly burst out of the water and fell back with a crash.

He was right between us

and the shore, and he was

having a whale of a time,

shooting up in the air like a

rocket and then falling onto

his back.

After a series of breaches he started doing

headstands, waving his tail and slapping it on the

water ferociously.  These guys are huge

creatures, and that tail has some power.  We

wondered if he was just having a little fun playing

in the morning hours or if he was communicating

something to a buddy or perhaps to us.

I have no idea, but after a

while he disappeared and the

gorgeous Las Hadas Resort came into view around the corner.  Again

the memories from last year came flooding back and we anchored and

took the kayak ashore feeling like we were coming home.

You can't go home again, though, and both the port captain

Adrien and the fuel dock operator Polo that we had

befriended last year had moved on to other jobs.  Las Hadas

Resort is in transition, searching for new management, and it

was very quiet.  Just six boats were in the beautiful little

anchorage, and two of those were unoccupied.

Wandering the brick paths up and down

and around Las Hadas is a joy, and we

spent a few hours strolling around the

grounds and enjoying the lovely pool.

We were treated to the presence of two major soccer teams in

residence during our stay.  The boys from the Guadalajara based

Atlas and Chivas teams jogged the paths, did exercises on the

beach, and performed soccer drills on a field at the edge of the

golf course.  Best of all was when they ambled around shirtless

after their workouts.  Fox Sports was hanging around too, setting

up their portable cameras to catch glimpses of these celebrities

during their pre-season training.

We never saw the boys swimming, but down by the dinghy dock

the water was so clear that we watched a polka-dotted puffer fish

swimming around.  It was amazing to get a clear photo of him

from above the water without even needing an underwater

camera.

The dock along the Las Hadas marina has several pretty outdoor eateries, ranging from a

simple table and chairs outside a convenience store where the locals enjoy a cheap beer

after work to the more elaborate fine dining offered by a high end Italian restaurant.  At

either end of the spectrum, this is a gorgeous place to while away the late afternoon and

early evening hours.

One of the highlights for us here

last year was meeting the new

owner of Frida's Restaurant whose

family makes the best hot sauce

we have ever tasted.  Frida Kahlo

was a surrealist Mexican artist of

German descent whose self-

imposted solitude spawned

endless self-portraits.  This

restaurant was named for her

before new owner Agustín took

over last year.  One of her famous

quotes is on the wall:  "I intended

to drown my sorrows but the

bastards learned to swim."

On lucky days patrons of Frida's are treated to the unmatched

service offered by Agustín's six-year-old son León.  This little boy

takes his work extremely seriously.  Although dad Agustín prefers

more casual attire, son León likes to come to work in a freshly

pressed white shirt, a jacket and tie.  Much to his dad's surprise,

he even sports a little cologne.  School was out for the holidays, so we were

fortunate to see this unique youngster once again.

Little León is extremely professional and takes his patrons' orders and delivers their

food with pride and care.  Last year one of the waiters started chatting with us in a

very familiar way while we were eating, and little León wasn't happy with this casual

closeness and even said so to his dad.  In his mind guests are guests and servers

are servers.  We all got a huge (muffled) laugh about this.  León is a rare, sweet

and special boy.

Agustín's aunt and uncle make La Tía hot sauce, a delicious hot sauce that is made

without vinegar, giving it a special flare.  It can be found at the mercado in neighboring

Santiago, but Agustín was kind enough to bring a few extra bottles with him one night so

we could buy them.

We spent a few more days at Las Hadas, soaking up its unusual and creative air.  Finally

we were ready to leave, and at 5:00 a.m. one morning we pulled out in the dark to head to Zihuatanejo Bay 185

miles to the southeast.  Four miles out the low battery light came on and we smelled a horrific smell of

something burning in the engine compartment.  We stopped dead in our tracks and began troubleshooting.

Flashlights, ammeter and noses on full alert, we realized this was a bigger problem than could be solved while

bobbing out in the bay between the freighters, and we turned around.

We have never had a boat problem that crippled our ability to travel, and we didn't dare think

about how this crisis would unfold.  Mark quickly removed the alternator and we took off with it in

the kayak to the dinghy dock and grabbed a cab to the nearest Auto Zone to have it tested.

Unfortunately the computers at Auto Zone were down and it took a long time for the store

manager to rifle through all the alternators on the shelf to find one with the same connections as

ours so he could enter the right codes on the testing machine to test it.

While we were waiting a fellow in line at the register introduced himself as Ismael and said he

knew an alternator guru in Cihuatlán, about an hour away by car.  Ismael told us he knew of this

guy because he owned a bus line with Mercedes diesel buses and he always had this guy fix his

alternators and work on his bus engines.  Once our alternator test was finally completed and the

screen showed large red letters saying "Falló" ("Failed") we hopped in Ismael's truck and drove

off to Cihuatlán with him.

On our way there we drove along a

five mile section of highway that had

been underwater when the rivers flooded during

Hurricane Jova.  Ismael had gone fishing the day

after the storm and the ocean was filled with cattle

and farm animals that had been swept away out of

the grazing fields.  Over 1,000 cattle were lost.  The

locals are working hard to recover.  The banana

trees were trimmed back right after the storm and

now were in full leaf and very healthy.  The vast

stands of palm trees were also fine.  But there were

marks on the buildings in downtown Cihuatlán of

where the water had risen to about 7'.

Now, however, Cihuatlán was getting ready for

Christmas, and the decorations gave it a festive air.

At last we arrived at the master's shop.  Chebio has been rebuilding alternators

and working on car electrical systems for his entire life, initially under the

tutelage of his very skilled father who opened the shop over fifty years ago.

The shop is largely outdoors and strewn with dusty parts like a junk yard.  Along

with the busy hum of machinery and hard working mechanics, a rooster

punctuated the air with his cock-a-doodle-doos from the roof

of a car and in a nearby tree.

As soon as we met Chebio we knew were in the presence of a

highly skilled mechanic.  He moved with the confidence and

ease of a master, despite near constant interruptions from

customers and mechanics looking for his expertise.

Throughout all this seeming chaos

his elderly father sat back and

watched the scene, collecting

money from clients and enjoying

the hubbub of his very successful

shop.  The young mechanics called

Chebio "Maestro" meaning

"Master" or "Teacher."

I did my best to explain our

problems to Chebio in Spanish, but

our guide Ismael jumped in to act

as official translator to make sure nothing was lost in the translation.

Chebio explained to us that he needed to take the alternator apart

and then see if he had or could acquire the replacement parts to

make it work.  "Give me 30 minutes," he said, so we took off for lunch

at nearby "Tacos Johny," a wonderful little restaurant.  Between bites of awesome 8 peso ($0.60)

carne asada tacos, we listened to the crooning of a young boy standing on a chair and then heard

our guide Ismael's amazing life story.

He became the man of his family at age 3 when his

father left.  Determined to make a better life, he

ventured to Nogales at age 14, knowing no English,

and worked in a restaurant without pay until the

owners saw what a great job he did and put him on

the payroll.  Continuing this method of making

himself invaluable before trying to reap any

rewards, he ultimately became the owner of a very

profitable framing company, opened three

successful Mexican restaurants and owned homes

in Montana and Colorado Springs.   A century ago

his tale would have been hailed as the ultimate

American immigrant success story, and he would

have been revered as a mentor by younger

generations.

Instead, after over 20 years in the US, rather than try to jump the high hurdles

blocking his path to remain there--where in all likelihood he would have continued

building companies and creating American jobs--he returned to Mexico with a fortune in cash with which he

bought a slew of rental properties in the towns around his family homestead and built a local bus line from

scratch.

His story was inspiring and sad at the same time.  Somewhere along the line America has decided it doesn't

need the immigrants that have always made up the very foundation, heart and soul of its society.  From north

of the border it is too easy to assume all Mexicans want to flee Mexico, but as we sat in this classic Mexican

semi-outdoor eatery that exudes the most wonderful homeyness, friendliness and familiarity, I asked him if he

had ever been homesick while living in the US.  "All my life," he said quietly.  Caught between two countries,

he still owns houses in the US, and his American wife, who was afraid of life in Mexico, lives in Montana.

We returned to Chebio's shop to find that by some miracle he had the stator we needed in stock.  It was a

perfect fit and was his only one.  However, the alternator needed a new regulator too, and that required a trip elsewhere.

Chebio took off in his trusty car that appears to be falling apart but has the best running engine in town.  He returned half an

hour later with the necessary regulator.  Another hour or two of work, during which time he had to explain to quite a few

customers that their projects would be delayed because of ours, and he got the alternator back together again and fully tested.

It was a great scene.  The rooster crowed, Chebio's dad sat back with a

satisfied smile watching his son at work, and a cluster of younger men gathered

around to soak up whatever bits of wisdom they could from the master.  The

outdoor shop and tools were rudimentary at best, but the job was very well

done.  Chebio used a kitchen knife and a light bulb, among other things, to

complete his alternator tests.

When all was said and done, he charged us 750

pesos ($53) for the project, of which 550 pesos

($42) was for parts.  We were stunned.  This

meant he valued four hours of his time on a Saturday at just $11 total.  We paid him a lot more

than he asked, and he was as thrilled with our payment as we were with his work.  It took two

cab rides and a bus ride to get back to Las Hadas.  Topping off our colorful day, the bus stalled

on a hill and, to cheers from its occupants, the driver finally got it started again by popping the

clutch while sliding backwards downhill.  Mark installed the alternator in no time, and it worked

perfectly.  Next morning at 5:00 a.m. we were off on our 27 hour motorboat ride to Zihuatanejo.

Often in this strange life of cruising and

full-time travel we place ourselves in the

hands of fate without any idea how

things will turn out.  We had woken up

this morning prepared for an overnight

sail to Z-town and instead were rewarded with one of the most amazing

experiences we have had to date.  The seeming disaster of a dead

alternator put us shoulder to shoulder with two of the finest and most

generous men we have met: our guide Ismael and guru-mechanic

Chebio of Cihuatlán.