A look at the big picture. Manzanillo lies on Mexico's western coast a couple of hundred miles almost due south of Guadalajara. To reach it, one must cross the rugged coast range, then drop down into the narrow humid stretch of coast that separates the mountains from the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes these mountains plunge directly into the sea, creating dramatic jagged coastlines. Other times one finds miles of nearly empty white beach, fringed by deep green coconut plantations. Still other times, one happens upon beautiful crescent bays, bounded by rugged points of land extending into the ocean like the points of a half moon.
El Centro's malecon. The malecon (waterfront) area contains many lovely spots to stop and enjoy a sunny day. Here, a fountain burbles in the plaza next to the huge sailfish sculpture seen at the beginning of this post. We were very impressed at the clean and prosperous appearance of the malecon and El Centro area. The area underwent a major facelift in recent years, making it very attractive to passengers from the numerous cruise ships which dock here, as well as landlubbers like ourselves.
Putting a spin on it. A massive ship's propeller ship forms another kind of sculpture along the malecon. From blade tip to blade tip, it was at least twenty feet wide. The car sitting under one of the blades gives a sense of the dimensions. In the background, a container ship is docked, one of many that daily visit this busy port.
The Mexican Navy looks modern and efficient. Mexican Navy gunboats of the Fuerza Naval del Pacifica (Naval Force of the Pacific) ride gently at anchor along the malecon. A naval base sits directly across the street from La Posada, and truckloads of heavily armed and body-armored sailors rumble through the streets. Mexico is fighting a brutal war against the narcotrafficantes (drug dealers) and clearly the Mexican Navy is playing a role. However, for all the military display, we didn't feel threatened and the general atmosphere was pretty easy-going.
The Hotel Colonial dominates the El Centro area. Clean, white and bordered by lovely arched portales, the Hotel Colonial had been recommended as a good spot for lunch during our visit to El Centro. The food was good and moderately priced and we had the restaurant nearly to ourselves, except for a Gringo couple who puffed away on their cigarettes right underneath several "no smoking" signs. Mexico recently banned smoking in restaurants and other areas.
El Centro bustles with activity. Manzanillo, a city of 110,000, abounds with new cars and well-dressed people. In addition to the seaport trade, commercial and sport fishing, tourism, and agriculture (particularly coconuts) drive the local economy. The cab driver who took us from our hotel to El Centro was obviously very proud of his clean and beautiful city. We managed to converse with him fairly well, an indication that our Spanish is improving.
Cool white walkways under the portales give relief from the bright mid-day sun. The shops were full, and the whole community seemed alive and bustling. There are many plans for further renovations. Manzanillo officials even talk about the city sponsoring its own cruise ship. However, as the current international economic crisis deepens, it is hard to say how many of these plans will reach fruition.
A low-tech shop. In Mexico, any unoccupied stretch of sidewalk can become an instant commercial center. In this case, the impromptu shop showcases hammocks and sun hats, two items apparently in great demand among those seeking the laid-back beach lifestyle.
Step #1 in getting that seafood onto your plate. I photographed this fishing trawler from the beach in front of La Posada, with the Santiago Peninsula in the background. Seafood in most of the restaurants we tried was excellent and came in great variety, as you would expect in a seaport. The best restaurant we found was Toscana, on the Avenida de las Brisas, which parallels the beach along the Zona Hotelera. Great food, great service, a table right on the beach, strolling musicians, a beautiful sunset, it was everything we could ask for in a romantic dinner.
Brown pelicans crew an anchored fishing boat. Brown pelicans swarm around the local fishermen, looking for easy dinners. The fishermen come out every morning to drop their nets in the bay just in front of La Posada. The patio of the hotel gave us front-row seats as the fishermen hauled in their catch and the pelicans flapped, squawked, and fought for position next to this great bounty. When the fishermen were otherwise occupied, the pelicans took over their boats. In the background, one can see the El Centro area across the channel between the Zona Hotelera and the harbor. A large container ship is docked at the upper right.
The busiest seaport in Mexico, if not in all Latin America. Above, a large container ship enters the bay and begins a long slow turn toward the narrow harbor entrance. These ships are so massive that they must begin these turns very early. Our Mexican cab driver insisted that Manzanillo surpassed all of Latin America in cargo processed through the port. In 2007 alone, 18 million tons of cargo passed through the port. Apparently US ports have been (until recently) so overwhelmed by trade from Asia that much of the excess has been transshipped through Manzanillo, put on railcars, and shipped north of the border. This is in addition to that which is shipped throughout Mexico itself.
On the alert. Two harbor tug boats move in to guide the ship into port. These tug boats are about 90 percent engine and 10 percent boat. This gives them the immense power necessary to shove a huge container ship into position.
In position. The tugs have reached the ship and begun the delicate process of threading the needle: moving the huge, slow moving ship through a very narrow channel into the inner port docking area.
The eye of the needle. The container ship above is just entering the harbor channel, marked by the stone jetty just in front of the bow of the ship. This whole process was repeated, coming and going, several times a day. Thus, the La Posada provided us with ring-side seats to a very entertaining spectacle, an unanticipated benefit of our stay at La Posada.
A sense of scale. As the ship passed along the stone jetty, I took this shot to give a sense of perspective and scale. The containers, each essentially a railway boxcar without wheels, are stacked high on the deck. The white superstructure behind them rises from the deck to the height of an eight-story building up to the set of bay windows at the top, called the bridge, where the captain sits. This thing is BIG.