Late June, 2013 – We returned from our exhilarating inland trip to Guanajuato to find Puerto Vallarta simmering away in the early summer heat.
The rains hadn’t started yet, but the skies threatened every afternoon, while the temperatures inched ever higher.
Our daily migration path went between the ocean, the swimming pools and the ice cream shop at the air conditioned mall!
When we had first arrived in Paradise Village two months earlier, I received an intriguing and unexpected email from a man named John Lehmen inviting us to stay for a week in a beachfront villa at his property, Casa Maguey.
Wow!! Were the gods ever smiling on us now!! We emailed back and forth a few times, and Mark and I studied his website, www.casamaguey.com. It turned out that his beautiful trio of oceanfront casitas were situated in the little coastal town of La Manzanilla in the heart of Mexico’s Costalegre.
We had visited La Manzanilla two years prior when we had anchored our sailboat Groovy across the bay in a cove cruisers know as “Tenacatita.”
La Manzanilla is a tiny little village that is beloved by all who know it, but it is not a “hot spot” on the tourist trail. We had taken our dinghy ashore and walked around for a few hours in a very brief visit.
What great fortune to be invited to see the town once again, but this time from a lovely vacation home overlooking the beach!
We kept marveling that this special door had opened for us. We wondered who our host John was, and where this unique opportunity would lead.
La Manzanilla is a favorite among retired ex-pat North Americans, so we knew John must be an older guy.
We were sure he’d created a nice little retirement business for himself renting out his beachfront villas. Scouring the Casa Maguey website, we read one glowing testimonial after another from people who spoke of the tranquility, peace, and beauty they found during their vacations there.
These quotes were taken from guest books left in each villa, and many were decorated with drawings that guests had lovingly made of flowers, hummingbirds, kayaks in the water and other special memories of their time at Casa Maguey.
Almost all of the comments were addressed to a woman named Helga, who was obviously John’s wife. We could tell she kept a lovely home and was a very gracious hostess.
So we were very surprised when John mentioned that he would be out of town when we arrived and that his wife Rocio would let us in. Rocio? What about Helga? Hmmm. Our curiosity was perked, but even without Helga, we knew we would have a wonderful time.
When we arrived, after we admired Casa Maguey’s unique flower covered front gate for a few minutes, the door swung open and we were greeted by a very beautiful young woman. “I’m Rocio.” She said.
Our eyebrows shot up and we exchanged a quick glance. Huh? We didn’t say a word to each other, but we were both thinking the same thing: whatever happened to Helga, this guy John sure scored well on his second marriage!!
Rosie showed us our room, and we were absolutely charmed. Besides a pretty bedroom and kitchen, there was a sitting room with a terrace that overlooked the beach and bay.
The windows and door were flung wide, and the ocean breezes felt delightfully refreshing after the oppressive heat and humidity that been smothering us day and night in Puerto Vallarta.
We quickly made ourselves at home and settled right in, spreading out in this full-sized apartment and luxuriating in having not just the airy sitting room and bedroom but a lovely patio too.
How had this good fortune come our way? I don’t know, but it seemed to be the miraculous modern mixture of internet socializing and sharing our travels online. Suddenly we were living in a beautifully decorated and spacious one-bedroom apartment on the beach.
We stood on the deck and admired the spectacular, flower-framed view.
The beach stretches out for miles, stopping first at some thatch-roofed palapa beach bars in town and then wrapping around past stands of palm trees and occasional oceanfront mansions.
The sun was falling low in the sky, casting everything in a beautiful, warm, late afternoon light.
What a thrill it was to have a chance to enjoy this beach and town at leisure from the comfort of our own beach bungalow! We snuggled on the couch and enjoyed the view, counting our blessings.
Suddenly we heard a knock on the door, and a handsome young man with blonde hair and bright blue eyes appeared. “I’m John,” he said., holding out his hand.
Our jaws dropped — was this John, our host? He was far from a retiree! We laughed as we shook hands and told him about our goof and how we’d assumed he was a spry old silver fox that robbed the cradle. He was actually the perfect match for his stunning bride!! He laughed too. “I can’t wait to tell Rosie, she’ll think that’s really funny!”
So if this wasn’t a retirement gig, we wondered, how had John come to own such a pretty property on the coast?
“My parents built this place 20 years ago,” he explained. “It was one of the first guest houses on the bay. All the buildings you see around the bay have filled in since then. My mom ran things for a long time, but she retired recently and passed the responsibilities on to me.”
“Oh… so Helga is your mother!” I said, slowly piecing it all together.
“Yes!” he said. Then he went on to tell us the tale of the most intriguing childhood and upbringing I can imagine.
Born in Germany to German parents, John was raised traveling throughout the Americas full-time in a 26′ RV, first a Champion motorhome and then a Winnebago.
For 12 years, he and his mom and dad took their motorhome between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego at the bottom of South America.
They drove up and down the two American continents seven times, first going along the coasts and then zig-zagging through the middle.
They traveled through El Salvador during the war — with a military escort — and they camped on the Caribbean and Pacific beaches in Mexico.
From Macchu Picchu to the Grand Canyon, they saw it all, speaking German among themselves and learning Spanish and English on the road. Whenever they stayed in a place for two weeks or more, John was enrolled in the local school.
Fitting in wasn’t so hard where blue eyed blondes were common, he said, but he had to learn to adapt quickly in schools where he stood out from the crowd.
Mark and I were blown away. What a fabulous family adventure!
“My family was 7th generation wine makers in Germany.” He went on. “The wine industry was changing in the eighties and small boutique wineries were facing a lot of competition from the industrial giants. So my dad sold the vineyard and decided to take the family on the road…”
Mark and I listened to his story in wonder. We feel like adventurers ourselves, but every so often we meet someone whose travels and experiences completely dwarf what we’ve done. We love that!
It turned out that John’s parents, Josef and Helga, had passed through this corner of Mexico several times in their travels, camping right on the beach. It was one of their favorite places to visit. One year, they noticed a small “Se Vende” (For Sale) sign hidden in the bushes on property at the end of the beach.
At the time, after all those years of traveling, the family was at a crossroads: sell the motorhome and buy another one overseas to travel the African continent, or settle down for a while?
In the end, the village of La Manzanilla and the beachfront property captured their hearts, and they decided to make Casa Maguey their permanent home.
“I’ve got some stories to tell!” John said. “I’ll show you some pictures later!” Then he was off.
Running a guest home takes a lot of work, and over the next few days we watched him and his crew working hard on all kinds of projects around the property.
But we were on vacation! We got out our cameras and began exploring.
Just outside our door, between the three cottages at Casa Maguey, there is a lush tropical garden that is absolutely brimming with flowers and singing birds. Mark was in seventh heaven photographing all the exotic flowers, and I happily listened to the trilling bird songs.
In the late afternoons, we were treated to some magnificent sunsets right off our balcony. Each sunset was unique and special.
One night the rays of the setting sun played with the palms of the palapa roof over our deck. Mark caught them just right and called his image “sun lashes.”
Another night we looked out on a silken sea. The water was like an undulating blue scarf, and the halo of the setting sun made a peach backdrop for the rocky cliffs on the horizon.
On yet another night the whole sky and sea were cast in gold.
A few nights we had overcast and dark skies, preventing any colors from showing.
Sometimes, however, just for a moment, the sun would suddenly peak through, turning the sky a vibrant orange and yellow, and reflecting these bright shades in the water.
This was an engaging place, and we felt blessed to have been welcomed in by such warm hosts.
The heart of a small guest house like Casa Maguey is in the spirit of its hosts, and John and Roscio were fun to be with and were quickly becoming good friends.
Rocio showed up at our door one night with a delicious desert made of bananas and honey for us to try, and she told us some of her favorite spots to go in town. Once we began exploring La Manzanilla and beyond, it was easy to see why John’s parents had decided to end their travels and make a life for themselves in this quiet village on the Costalegre.