Costalegre: La Manzanilla – Exotic animals & RVing Copper Canyon!

Casa Maguey La Manzanilla

Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla – Our beautiful home for a week!

Late June, 2013 – We were loving our stay at pretty Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla.

With a bird’s eye view of the bay from “El Mar,” our casita, we enjoyed the ocean’s ever-changing colors and moods.

This is a place where tranquility reins.

Mystery red flower

The flowers were truly unique

Yellow Flower

Love it when the building behind the flower is a vivid color!

After a few days of oceanfront living, we moved to the garden unit called “El Sol.” We thought we would miss the ocean views, but instead found ourselves enchanted by the bird songs that filled the air.

Casa Maguey - El Sol casita

“El Sol” Casita – surrounded by tropical birds and flowers.

Some of the calls were new to us, and sounded truly jungly.  One bird had a deeply melodious voice and he or she preferred to sing in the wee hours of the morning.

Casa Maguey gate La Manzanilla

The village of La Manzanilla was
just steps away from Casa Maguey.

Casa Maguey Garden La Manzanilla

Stairs through the garden.

The song was so haunting and mysterious that we didn’t mind being woken up to listen. We laid in bed entranced.

Just outside our bungalow door, flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors were in bloom.  A few were so fragile that they blossomed for just a day.

Venturing off the Casa Maguey property into the village of La Manzanilla, we discovered the town is so tiny and rustic that its main street was just paved in the last two years.

We enjoyed watching this very peaceful village wake up in the mornings, and quite a few townspeople joined us in the gourmet coffee shop Cafe del Mar every morning.

El Mar Coffee Shop La Manzanilla

Hector made great lattes, and we enjoyed them with
homemade muffins every morning!

Gourmet coffee shop?  Yes!  Cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, you name it, they were all there.  We became regulars.  If we got there early, the yummy muffins brought to the shop by a young gal from Arkansas were still warm.

Squirrel on my back

Hector, our latte man, brought in his pet squirrel one morning.

One morning, we noticed the owner Hector was playing with a baby squirrel.  He cupped his hands, and the squirrel ran round and round between his fingers like he was on an exercise wheel.

“He fell out of a tree when I was cutting down coconuts,” he explained as he put the bundle of fuzzy energy into my hands.  The little squirrel promptly zipped right up my arm onto my shoulder, tickling me and making me giggle.  He was a cute little guy, bright orange-red on the belly and speckled grey and black on his back.


What a surprise to find exotic creatures were the norm around here!

It turned out that unusual animals were just part of the scene in La Manzanilla.

Later in the day when we stopped at Palapa Joe’s to get a slice of pizza, I caught sight of a long skinny tail out of the corner of my eye.  I turned and found myself staring right at a coatimundi, masked face, ringed tail and all.

“Look!” I gasped.  Mark grabbed his camera and we were both in shock as this unusual animal snuck up to a dog dish and started eating the kibble.  Our cameras couldn’t snap fast enough.

We’ve seen coatimundi in Arizona, but only fleetingly. This guy was as calm as could be. And he was really enjoying that dog food!

View in La Manzanilla

We climbed up the hill to take in the ocean view.

Just then the owner of the restaurant appeared.
“You wouldn’t believe…” I started to say, pointing.
“Oh yes!”  He laughed easily, “He’s my pet!”

A pet coatimundi?!  Geez, what other kind of tamed wild animals would we find at the NEXT eating establishment?!!

Pangas on the beach

Pangas ready for fishing and touring.

Mangos on sticks

My favorite way to eat mango — when it’s cut like a flower and served on a stick!

We left there in high spirits and wandered the dirt streets to the back side of town where we walked up the steep hills to see the view.

The blue bay stretched in front of us with palm trees framing the views over the tops of the homes.

It was a Sunday, and back down on the beach it seemed that everyone for miles around had come to play.  Crowds kicked back in the beach bars alongside us and vendors walked up and down the beach selling all kinds of things,.

One fellow came by selling mangos on a stick.  Cut like flowers, this is truly the most ingenious and clever way we’ve seen to eat a mango on the go, as you can enjoy all the juicy sweetness without getting all sticky!

Playing in the waves

A big wave takes everyone for a ride.

Sun in sand dollar

Mark finds a sand dollar on the shore.

Families played in the water, and occasionally a big wave would come in and send everyone flying, launching the boogie boarders onto the beach.

We strolled along the beach back towards Casa Maguey, splashing as we walked along the edge where the waves meet the sand and the sand-pipers dance in and out of the water.

Suddenly Mark reached down and picked up a sand dollar.  Although we have lived on a sailboat in Mexico for a few years, this was the first sand dollar we had seen on a beach.



Cabana on the beach

We bumped into a fascinating little cabana on the beach.

As we turned to head back onto the streets of town, we looked up and saw the most unusual structure.

It was a small thatch roofed hut tucked under a palm tree.  A man was standing out front and we soon struck up a conversation.

“I built this place,” he said.  “It’s kind of unique.  I’m an artist.”

Cabana on the beach La Manzanilla

A tiny cabana on the beach

Intrigued, we stepped up onto his tiny deck.  He had fashioned the deck and railing out of logs tied together with stringy vines.  “It’s very strong,” he said when he saw Mark testing whether the posts wiggled.  “Come on inside!”

We squeezed inside and found ourselves standing in the coziest and tiniest little two rooms.  Everything had been made by hand, even the wooden windows and shutters whose handles were made of stout twigs.

Most surprising was that he had installed electricity throughout.  Besides a blender and coffee maker, he had a big flat screen TV, and internet access on his computer!  What a great mix of Rustic and Modern!!

Cabana Windows

Everything was handmade, including these cool windows
with stout twigs for handles!


“I built it under this big palm tree so I’d always have shade.”  He explained.  He gestured towards a group of chairs in the sand.  “That’s my beach bar – in winter,” he went on. “It was destroyed in Hurricane Jova two years ago, so I built this cabana to be much stronger!!”

We looked around in wonder.  There are so many ways to live a life, and what a fun way he had found!

This is a friendly little town, and we found it easy to chat with anyone and everyone in the streets.  Two little girls were playing outside their house, and Mark entertained them (and himself!) for a while with the camera.

Girls check out pic on camera

Mark entertains a pair of sisters and himself with the camera.

Further on, we passed a young boy carrying a crate.  “Do you want some bread?” He asked.  I said “No” automatically, but when Mark saw the perfect loaves of homemade banana bread wrapped in plastic in the crate he instantly said, “Sure!!”

Boy sells banana bread

Banana bread!! Sweet!!!

At the far northwest end of town there is an estuary and crocodile sanctuary.  There were a few stuffed crocs near the entrance to entice people to spend a few pesos to check it out.

We wandered out onto the sanctuary trail, and soon caught sight of a roseate spoonbill, a very odd looking pink bird.

Taking photos of a crocodile mouth

Mark’s lucky this guy is stuffed!!

Roseate Spoonbill

A roseate spoonbill pauses to look at me.










Crocodile with mouth open

The crocodiles don’t move much, but when they do, watch out!

Not much further on we started to see the crocs. Not just one, but dozens!!

They lounged on the mud banks, half submerged in the water, lying totally motionless like logs, some with their mouths agape.

Once in a while, one would move, lumbering awkwardly, slowly crawling across all his buddies to slip beneath the murky water.

A few times a croc got startled and ran.  Yikes, those guys can move fast!!


Airstream camping on the beach

What a fantastic camping spot!!

Wandering just a bit further on to the very edge of town, we discovered a row of beach-side RV parks.  This was the off-season, so most of the parks were completely empty.

But we could imagine that this is a really fun place in the winter when snowbirds come down from the cold country to spend a few months living on the beach.

Rosie at water's edge

Our hostess Rocio at Playa Tenacatita

One morning our hostess Rocio took us on a drive to see some more of the Costalegre.  This coast is lined with beaches of all kinds, and the first one she took us to is Playa Tenacatita.

We had been hoping to do some swimming and snorkeling, but the weather gods had other plans.

Rosie walks on the beach Tenacatita

Rocio didn’t know why we we were taking photos of her — until afterwards!”

Instead, as we watched Rocio walking towards the waves, we both suddenly saw the same image.

Her pretty pink beach dress was flowing in the wind, and she looked beautiful against the overcast day and frothy white waves.

“Wait, stand right there!” We yelled in unison.

Anchored in Careyes

Anchored in Careyes

Rocio had no idea what we were up to until she saw the photos on our laptop later — and she loved them.  What fun!

Once we were done playing high fashion photographer, she drove us to the little bay of Careyes, a gorgeous spot where we had anchored a few months earlier. We wanted to get a glimpse of it from a shore-side perspective.

Careyes View

The only public shore-side view of stunning Careyes.

However, when we drove down the road leading to the public beach, we were stopped by two security guards at a gate.  The entire bay is now in private hands, and the public is not allowed on the beach.

What a shock! In the past, Mexico’s property laws allowed public access to all beaches, but this is changing under the new president.  A law is being passed that will allow both Mexicans and foreigners not only to own oceanfront property but to close public access to the shore if they so choose. Fortunately, Careyes will become accessible to restaurant-goers as soon as the old restaurant on the beach is renovated and is once again open for business.

Playa Los Angeles Locos

Playa Los Angeles Locos.

On our way back to Casa Maguey, we stopped at Playa Los Angeles Locos (“Crazy Angels Beach”) to take in the dramatic view of the bay. What a spot! It was incredible to think that our host John had grown up camping on many of these beaches in his family’s motorhome.

Champion motorhome towed away

The Lehmens’ Champion motorhome gets towed away for repair.

Back at Casa Maguey, John brought over his family’s photo albums from their RV travels in North and South America one morning.  As he began to flip through the pages, we were fascinated by the stories each photo provoked.

Any family that ventures off in an RV or a sailboat to see what lies over the horizon is eminently brave, but I can’t imagine the intrepid determination John’s parents Helga and Josef had when they took their 26′ motorhome all over the American continents in the 1980’s.

Their first motorhome, a Champion, gave them a bit of grief mechanically, and it got towed off to a garage on more than one occasion.  Having dealt with boat repair projects in Mexico, we can only imagine what it was like to have a motorhome break down in Central or South America in the 1980’s!!  But that was just part of the adventure.

Josef digs a well

Josef digs a well for fresh water
for dishes and showers.

Unlike the privatized beaches of today, the Mexican coast was completely open for boondocking back in those days.  After setting up camp, John’s dad would sometimes dig a well near the motorhome and use a motorized pump connected to a hose to get fresh water into the rig for dishes and showers.

RV on flatbed train car Copper Canyon

Young John checks out a train while the motorhome waits
on its flat bed rail car behind him.

Perhaps the most riveting story John told was of the family’s trip through Copper Canyon.  In Chihuahua, John’s dad Josef noticed that a lot of the trains had flat bed rail cars, and he got the idea that perhaps his motorhome could be loaded onto one.


Motorhome on flat bed train in Copper Canyon

The first RV to venture into Copper Canyon on a flat bed rail car.

He asked around, and was able to persuade a train operator to put the motorhome on the train to Los Mochis.

As they were rolling through the countryside, Josef was intrigued by the small town of Creel.  He asked the train operator if the flat bed car they were on could be unhooked and left in Creel until the next train came through three days later.

No problem!!  The car was unhooked in Creel, and the family suddenly found themselves swept up in the unbelievably welcoming embrace of the local Tarahumara Indians.

Many of the Indians had never seen white people before, and they were as fascinated by this traveling family as the family was by them.

Copper Canyon flat bed train for RV

Little did they know they would be forgotten —
only to be remembered at 3 a.m. !!!

Three days later, the train came by Creel — but it didn’t stop!

For most people, this would have been cause for alarm, but John and his family were enjoying the generous hospitality of the Indians so much that they thought nothing of it and patiently waited for the next train.

Then one night at 3 a.m. they were jolted out of bed by a huge crash just outside the motorhome.  The train company had suddenly remembered them and had sent a 30,000 horsepower locomotive to retrieve the flat bed rail car. Unannounced, it hooked them up!


Casa Maguey La Manzanilla

We will always treasure our memories of Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla
and its lovely — and fascinating — hosts, John and Rocio.

Flying down the tracks at warp speed, with diesel soot spewing everywhere, the huge locomotive pulled their little home aboard the flat bed car on the sleigh ride of its life.

Josef was a freelance writer, and many of the family’s stories graced the pages of AAA Magazine.  Surely, that tale of their flat bed rail car adventure was a huge hit. Not long after their escapade, tourism companies began leading RV tours aboard flat bed rail cars into Copper Canyon.

I could have listened to John’s stories and gone through his photo albums with him for hours.  What a fabulous and adventurous childhood he had.  But now he is enjoying a more tranquil life hosting lucky guests like us at his family’s villas in La Manzanilla at the beautiful Casa Maguey.

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