Miles of palm groves line the road both north and south of Manzanillo. The drooping green fronds of these groves seemed both exotic and somehow restful. The palms are cultivated, not wild. Coconuts were introduced into this area from the Solomon Islands by the Spanish in the 1500s.
Coconuts constitute a substantial part of the local economy. Huge piles of harvested coconuts rested in clearings between the groves. I saw one pile that looked about 100 yards square and about 6 feet tall. Now I understand the origin of the piles of coconuts that I see street vendors selling in Ajijic and in our markets in the Lake Chapala area.
A monument to a dramatic history. At the south end of the beach in Barra de Navidad, a pier guards the entrance to the lagoon behind the town. We found a large monument there, dedicated to the Spanish "Manila Galleons" that brought back vast treasure from the Phillipines and China starting in the 1500s. Barra de Navidad gained its name, Christmas Sandbar, when Spanish Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza landed there on Christmas Day, 1540. Unfortunately, the peaceful name didn't match the purpose. The Viceroy had come to crush a raging rebellion in Western Mexico. He did so ruthlessly, torturing and killing thousands of indians until the rebellion collapsed. Twenty-five years later, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Father Andre de Urdaneta sailed from the Bahia de Navidad for the Phillipines and established the route for the lucrative Manila Galleons which returned to the bay for many years until the main port was shifted to Acapulco. Barra de Navidad then slipped back into sleepy obscurity.
Palm trees and umbrellas provide shade on a warm day. Barra has a population of about 7000 and was primarily a fishing and farming community until the Mexican government decided to develop it as a tourist destination. The narrow streets are cobble-stoned and street vendor's booths line some of them. Just behind the narrow sandbar lies a lagoon where boats are available to tour the lagoon and its islands. While strolling the Malecon (waterfront) we met a friendly boatman who regularly visits his son who lives in Gold Beach in our home-state of Oregon. I am constantly amazed at the number of Mexicans we meet in obscure corners of Mexico who have visited or lived in Oregon.
An undeveloped paradise. At the far southern end of the Bahia de Navidad, the land is relatively undeveloped and the mountains drop off straight into the sea. However, given the push to develop the area, we expect that this peaceful point will sprout with condos and villas once the current economic downturn ends.
A monument to mermaids. We found this charming statue along the sandbar at the south end of town. Barra de Navidad has many little touches like this.
A vendor patiently awaits his first customers of the day. Things usually start fairly late in the morning in Mexico, we have discovered. This vendor had just finished setting up his small booth and was waiting to sell us various textile goods and other knick-knacks. We noticed that much of his wares closely resembled those we had seen in the open-air markets around Lake Chapala. I bought a beautiful, flowered "Hawaiian" shirt in one stall, just the thing for the thick, warm air of the coast.
A haven for hippies. Barra and Melaque have a reputations as havens for various free-spirits, probably because of the low costs as well as the beauty of the area. Someone set up what appears to be a sweatlodge at the extreme south end of the sandspit near the pier. Of the two, Melaque is probably more popular with this set because it is a little less "spic-and-span" as well as a little less expensive.
In Melaque, the vendors don't wait for you to come to them. Roaming vendors are common-place sights everywhere we have visited in Mexico. All along the beach in Melaque, rustic restaurants drowsed under palm-frond shaded palapas floored with beach sand. Periodically, one of these vendors would pass through, sometimes with a small child or two in tow. A gracious "no gracias, senor" was usually all that was necessary to send them on their way. We did make a few small purchases, however. These folks work very hard for their living. For information and maps of Melaque, click here.
San Patricio Melaque began as two side-by-side haciendas. San Patricio lay on the east and Melaque on the west and both were owned by foreigners. Today they have become one town but the old boundary line is still marked by one of Melaque's streets. Above, two brown pelicans flap their huge wings as they glide along just above the water looking for their lunch. We saw large flocks of these pelicans in the water just off the beach in Melaque. They seemed completely oblivious to the people swimming in the water and sometimes dived for fish almost on top of the bathers.
A pelican dive-bombs into a school of small fish. Unlike the fresh-water white pelicans around Lake Chapala, the brown pelicans dive from the air for their meal. The white pelicans float on the surface and scoop up their prey. The photo above was a difficult shot for me. The pelicans were so quick that by the time I had seen a dive begin and adjusted my camera, the action was over. Finally, I studied the pelicans for a while and discovered that they would glide along just above the surface until they spotted fish. Then they would swoop up, level off briefly and drop arrow-like into the water. By recognizing this pattern and setting up my shot early, I finally caught this fellow in the act.
A rugged spit of land forms the northern end of the Bahia de Navidad. Our little palapa restaurant on the beach lay near the north end of Melaque. I put my camera shutter on automatic as I followed a flock of brown pelicans in flight and managed to catch this one framed by the dramatic rock formation of "land's end". Both Barra and Melaque deserved more than the few hours we had to explore them. We are looking forward to returning next winter.