Beach villas on Playa La Boquita, Santiago.
Beach palapas on Playa La Boquita, Santiago.
Casa Los Pelicanos.
Gold and black sand swirl together.
View from the Oasis.
Humback whale breaching.
Las Hadas Resort comes into view.
Cobbled waterfront paths, Las Hadas.
Soccer stars from Chivas.
Polka-dotted puffer fish.
Evening on the Las Hadas marina docks.
Agutsín and son León of Frida's
León dressed for work.
Inside Auto Zone.
Ready for Christmas.
Mark & Chebio check out the
Ismael translates for us all.
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 - Two Mexican Entrepreneurs and One Hot Sauce!
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
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
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
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
Instead, after over 20 years in the US, rather than trying to jump the high hurdles
blocking his path to remain in America legally--and in all likelihood continue to build
companies and create jobs for people--he returned to Mexico with a fortune in cash.
He proceeded to buy a slew of rental properties in the towns around his family homestead. Then
he built a local bus line with a fleet of buses.
His story was truly inspiring but it was sad at the same time. 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 for Mexico while living and making his fortune in the US. "All the time," he said
quietly. Caught between two countries, he still owns houses in the US, and his American wife, who is afraid
of life in Mexico, lives in Montana while he remains in Mexico. That seems a sad outcome for an impressive
Horatio Alger type of story and dramatic rise from rags to riches.
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.