Monday, February 23, 2009

Manzanillo Part 4 - La Posada, people and pelicans

Early morning rays of sunshine streak the Playa las Brisas. Curving gently northward, Playa las Brisas (Beach of Breezes) forms the center of the arc of the Bahia de Manzanillo with the El Centro area on the south end and the Peninsula de Santiago on the north.  The Las Brisas beach is lined with older beach-front hotels and condos which form the Zona Hotelera.  The Peninsula de Santiago, a steep narrow outcrop into the ocean, is covered from water's edge to hilltop with expensive high rise hotels, condos and apartments. Although we visited during the height of the season, the beach in front of the Hotel La Posada was nearly always quiet and virtually empty.  Click on this map to see the Playa las Brisas area of the Bahia de Santiago. 

La Posada, the "Pink Hotel".  When we arrived, we immediately saw how La Posada Hotel gained its nickname. Even the flowering tree in front was adorned with pink blossoms.  We chose La Posada because of its reasonable rates and good reputation among expats who have visited.  As you can see from the map (see above), La Posada lies near the extreme south end of Playa las Brisas, near the stone jetty that forms the entrance to the inner harbor.  It is not a large hotel, offering only 23 rooms, and this creates a family feeling, only a step or two away from a B&B.  

La Posada sits right on the beach.  La Posada can be seen in the center left of the photo above, taken from the stone jetty south of the hotel. The pink hotel is surrounded by palm trees and faces the bay while the coastal mountains loom behind. In spite of its location in the center of a substantial city, the hotel exudes a feeling of quiet serenity. Things were not always so serene, however. In 1959 the hotel was virtually leveled by a Category 5 cyclone which may have killed as many as 1,800 people and destroyed 40% of Manzanillo's homes. The proprietors still have pictures of the ruined hotel in the lounge area. 

The definition of "laid back". The couple above are some of the hard-core La Posada patrons who return season after season, even generation after generation. Many of our fellow guests knew each other from previous seasons. While there was a steady stream of new and younger folks checking in periodically, the regulars appear to form the backbone of the hotel's clientele. They were friendly and open and seemed to enjoy meeting new people as well as old friends. 

La Posada's grounds were not ornate, but were immaculately kept. When I first saw pictures of the hotel, I thought the pink ambiance might prove cloying after a while, but it didn't turn out that way.  In the morning and evening, the color glows softly in the slanting sunlight. Everything necessary was only a few steps away.  The rooms were simple, but large and clean. Ours had a window air conditioner, which results in an extra charge if used. However, we found the over-head "Casablanca" fan more than adequate.  In the hot season, the air conditioner would probably be necessary, but not in January.

The pool and patio area formed the social center of the hotel.  The pool was not large, but was sufficient for enough laps to cool off from the afternoon heat. The hotel could probably use a few more lounge chairs, but we usually found one when we wanted.  The trick seems to be to stake out your spot early.  The view from the patio out over the bay and harbor was gorgeous, and the constant parade of huge ships in and out of the harbor entrance a short distance away was fascinating.
  
Always ready to serve. The hotel staff were friendly and attentive and most spoke at least some English.  The night staff person shown above is Monica Melchor. She spoke flawless English with an American accent. Chatting with her, I discovered that she grew up and attended high school in the US. The bar where she perches in this picture is also part of the restaurant and lounge area. This airy, barn-like structure opens onto the pool. One further comment: although we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at La Posada and would stay there again, there are many other nice hotels in town including some simpler and less expensive and others fancier and considerably more expensive. Manzanillo has a lot of accommodations for visitors.

Brown pelicans soar above Playa las Brisas.  The Brown Pelicans were ubiquitous and quite entertaining as we watched from the patio or strolled along  the stone jetty. In the back ground you see the hotels fronting the beach and the rugged coast range behind  them.

Early morning sun bathes local fishermen with golden rays as they set their nets. Every morning a couple of  boats of local fishermen tried their luck along the stone jetty. Behind the jetty is the ship channel and in the background is the El Centro marina.
  
Fisherman's luck.  This lucky fellow landed a shimmering green Dorado, known in other parts of the Pacific as Mahi-Mahi. He was not one of the men in the boats. Using a pole off the jetty, he landed this beauty. Despite the heavy industrial activity and shipping in the port, large fish like this can still be caught just off shore.

Net floats snake toward shore as the fishermen close in on their prey. After circling around each other in an intricate ballet, the boats drew the net together and the fishermen began pulling in their catch. Meanwhile, hungry pelicans swooped in, hoping to share in the feast. 

Retrieving the net was heavy work. The fishermen pulled their catch out of the net and tossed them into the bottom of the boats as they retrieved their net. His hunger overcoming his shyness, one pelican flapped up onto the gunwale of the boat and began eyeing the catch flopping in the bottom. He was obviously hoping the mens' distraction with the net would yield an opportunity to snatch a quick snack. The Brown Pelicans' boldness contrasts with my experience of While Pelicans, which tend to shy away and maintain a significant distance from humans.

Deep in thought. Pelicans tend to assume this posture when they are at rest. They look like an avian version of Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker". 
 
Keeping up appearances. Another typical behavior is grooming. This helps remove parasites and fluffs the feathers, and helps the pelican stay warm and dry in the cold Pacific water.

Enjoying the morning sun. Pelicans spread their wings to dry in the sun, another method of maintaining the integrity of their feathers. They also just seem to enjoy the sensation of the warm morning sun.

Good friends. I don't know if this was an opposite or same sex couple, but they really seemed to like each other. Pelicans do like to snuggle.

End of the day. At days end, the fishermen have gone to their homes, and pelicans have taken possession of  their boat. The craft provided a quiet, safe place to perch and consider the problems of the pelican universe as the swells of the Bahia de Manzanillo gently rocked them.

This completes my series on Manzanillo and the surrounding areas. I hope you enjoyed it and I welcome any comments. My next post will take us back to Ajijic to visit a street lined with wonderful restaurants, galleries, and covered with murals from end to end. 

Hasta luego! Jim

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Manzanillo Part 3 - A visit to Barra de Navidad & Melaque

An idyllic beach on a quiet bay.  Carole and I had heard quite a bit about Barra de Navidad and Melaque, two beach towns 67 kilometers (about 30 miles) north of Manzanillo.  We decided on a day-trip from Manzanillo to investigate the area for a possible future beach trip. The two towns lie on opposite ends of a crescent-shaped beach on the Bahia de Navidad, with Barra de Navidad on the south end and Melaque on the north.  The picture above, taken from the restaurant balcony of the Hotel Barra de Navidad, shows Melaque in the distance. Barra seems newer, smaller, and more "hip", but has few beach-front hotels.  Melaque is older and more down-at-the-heel, but is more populous and has more hotels and services. The hotels and B&Bs in both towns  are less expensive than Manzanillo or the other large beach cities. For information and maps, click here. Click twice on the maps in the link to enlarge them.

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.

My final post on the Manzanillo area will focus on the wonderful old beach hotel where we stayed and the constant show of people and animal life on "stage" in front of us on the beach and in the water as we lazed in our lounge chairs on the patio.

Hasta luego! Jim

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Manzanillo Part 2 - Wildlife

Surveying his realm. A Great Blue Heron scans the Cuyutlan Lagoon for lunch opportunities. Previous to visiting Manzanillo, Carole and I had heard about the wildlife around the down-at-the-heels but still charming old beach town of Cuyutlan. In addition to a turtle sanctuary, reports spoke of a "don't miss it" boat ride around the huge Cuyutlan Lagoon.

Cuyutlan lies on the coast about 14 miles (28 kilometres) southeast of Manzanillo, just after the cuota (toll road) from Guadalajara turns north west to follow the beach to Manzanillo (click to enlarge the map in the link above).  A tip to those who might visit by car: plan to make your visit either on your way to Manzanillo, or on the way back to Guadalajara/Lake Chapala. A toll booth charges 92 pesos (about $6.33 US) just after the exit to Cuyutlan while you are heading toward Manzanillo. If you wait until you've arrived in Manzanillo to plan your visit to Cuyutlan, you'll have to pay the toll both ways during your Cuyutlan visit, in addition to the toll you pay on the way in from Guadalajara and out from Manzanillo.

Mexican Green Sea Turtle.  This large turtle (about 4 feet from snout to tail) lives in a tank at the Santuario de las Tortugas operated by the non-profit Centro Desarrollo Productivo, Recreativo, y Ecologico (Center  for Development, Production, Recreation, and Ecology) also known as the CDPRE.  Although it acts in concert with the Mexican government to protect the turtles and green iguanas in its preserve, the CDPRE is entirely funded by private donations. We were glad to pay the modest fee to take the tour.  To find the Santuario de las Tortugas, follow the road into Cuyutlan until you find the street that parallels the beach.  Turn south on that street and follow it until it dead ends into the Santuario, just outside of town.  The facility is open  10:00 AM until 5:30 PM.

Up close and personal.  In this close-up, you can  see the beautiful intricate markings on the turtle. Instead of the legs and feet that freshwater turtles possess, saltwater turtles have large fins which they fold back over their shells when they rest while floating on the surface.  They are protected by the Sanctuario against the wholesale slaughter of female turtles for steaks and soup, and the theft of the eggs they bury in the sand.  This is a serious crime now in Mexico, and a restaurant owner in Guadalajara was recently arrested for listing turtle eggs on his menu. When the turtles return from the sea to lay eggs, they used to arrive in vast numbers--more than 50,000 in  some areas  of the coast. Now they are listed as endangered. 
 
"Slowpoke" hot foots (hot fins?) it for the water.  The eggs female turtles in the tanks produce are buried in the sand until they hatch. The hatchlings are then taken to the nearby beach and released.  The high point of the tour occurs when the staff brings a bucket of baby turtles and a gaggle of tourists near the water and hands each tourist a small wriggling creature.  They draw a line in the sand and everyone releases their turtles, cheering their dash to the surf. We all named our turtles, of course.  We dubbed our little guy "Slowpoke" for his somewhat timid start. He finally got the idea and made it to the water.  Only about 1% of turtles will survive to return as an adult to lay eggs in this same area. The experience of launching these creatures on their long journey gave us a special appreciation for the efforts of CDPRE. For information about tours of the Sactuario de las Tortugas, email susan@gomanzillo.com

A quiet and mysterious lagoon.  Cuyutlan Lagoon is adjacent to the Sanctuario, reached by a short walk down a cobblestone path to a dock shrouded by a jungly swamp.  A one-hour motor boat tour of the Lagoon costs 40 pesos/person ($2.75 US).  This was one of the best values of the whole Cuyutlan visit. There were seven of us in the roomy boat, including the English-speaking guide. The best time to take the tour is 10:00 AM when the first tour starts, because the animals have not yet tired of gawking tourists and withdrawn into the impenetrable gloom of the swamp. Another tip is to pick a spot at the prow of the boat if you want to take pictures. The prow is upturned and can block the forward view from further back, so I missed some really spectacular shots.

On the far left of the picture above, you can see the entrance of one of the channels (really a tunnel through the thick jungle) cut by the boatmen to pass from one part of Cuyutlan Lagoon to the next. The Lagoon is huge, following the coast behind the barrier of dunes for many miles to the north.

A ray of sunshine cuts through the gloom of the swamp.  You can see how thick the vegetation is on either side  of the channel as it winds through the jungle.  We could only see the animals on the edge of the channel, but you can be sure that life teems out of sight within that thick matting.

Arboreal termite mound.  These termite mounds can be seen at intervals in the thickest part of the swampy jungle. This mound, about twice the size of a large watermelon, was part way up a tree, and is called "arboreal" for that reason. The mounds  are made of soil, mud, chewed wood/cellulose, saliva, and faeces.  They are quite ingenious, having tunnels with openings which allow airflow to regulate the climate within the mound. Some mounds can contain thousands, even millions, of termites.

Freshwater turtle basks in the filtered sunlight of the Lagoon channel.  This fellow blended so nicely into his environment that I almost missed him until the guide called him to our attention.  There are 6 species of freshwater turtle on the coast, but I don't know which one this is.  Any zoologists out there who can give me a clue on this would be appreciated.

Green Iguana is another protected species.  In a leafier part of the swamp, this green iguana would have completely disappeared.  Against the gray-brown bark of the tree, he stood out.  He appeared to disapprove of our visit to his world.

Pelagic Cormorant was fearless.  A cormorant perched on a limb overhanging the channel and calmly observed us as we passed  underneath.  The word cormorant comes from Latin, meaning "black raven".  Until after the Middle Ages, people believed the cormorant was related to the raven. Cormorants were originally freshwater birds, but can be seen off Mexico's coasts, as well as in freshwater lagoons like the one at Cuyutlan.  Cormorants eat small fish, eels, and snakes. Given the profusion of life in the lagoon, this one must have been well fed.  My thanks goes to my friend Vince Gravel for identifying the cormorant and the next two birds. Vince takes wonderful photos of Mexico's birdlife.  

Black Hawk views our passage through burning red eyes.  Our boat guide originally told us this was an eagle, but it seemed too small.  After searching the internet for an eagle resembling this fellow, I consulted Vince who thinks it may be a Black Hawk, but may also be a snailkite or hook bill kite.

Anhinga stretches her neck for a nibble.  The formal name of this  animal is Anhinga Anhinga. Sounds like a the title for a 1950's rock 'n roll love song. The bird above is apparently a female, since the males have much more striking plumage. The long neck has been described as snake-like and uncoils while hunting like the neck of an egret.  Although it can swim, it much prefers to stand on logs or branches. The Anhinga spreads out its broad wings to dry them because it lacks oil glands to protect them from getting wet. Its long tail spreads out in flight like a turkey's. I thought this was the oddest looking bird of the lot.
 
Great Blue Heron flapping and honking its way across the lagoon. This shot captures the great size of the Blue Heron's wings.  The Blue Heron is a very impressive bird to suddenly come flapping by in front of your face. The bird has a huge range, from as far north as Alaska to Central  America and the Galapagos and even Europe.  When we lived in northern Oregon, a Blue Heron regularly took up residence in the creek behind our house.

The Thinker. Brown Pelicans often seem to be contemplating deep philosophical issues.  That is, at least when they are not comically flapping their huge wings and fighting over fish scraps. They are also the most prehistoric-appearing birds, resembling pterodactyles from the dinosaur age. They are equally at home off the shore of the ocean and in quiet freshwater lagoons.  Unfortunately, Brown Pelicans have been dying off in huge numbers for unknown reasons. 

Great White Egret.  I was pleased to encounter this old friend from the shores of Lake Chapala. The Great White Egret above was so intent on his prey that he ignored the close passage of our boat. That sharp beak, propelled by the long snake-like neck, can instantly snag a small fish, snake, or insect which are the diet of these strikingly beautiful and graceful white birds.

Northern Jacana.  Known in some places as the "Jesus Bird" because they appear to walk on water, these Northern Jacanas scour the lily pads of the Lagoon for a meal. The Jacana is somewhat unusual because the male tends the nest (which floats on the water) and incubates the eggs, while the female guards the nest.  In fact the female often has a harem of males and may guard as many as four nests at a time.  Vince came through with an i.d. on this one just before I published this post. Thanks again, Vince! 

Lagoon provides a livelihood for people too.  Local Mexicans harvest some of the reeds that grow in vast profusion  along the shores of the Cuyutlan Lagoon.  The reeds are often used to create colorful and beautifully woven baskets and other objects for sale. These friendly reed harvesters waved and called out "hola!" as we passed by.

This  completes the second of my series on our Manzanillo adventure. In the next posting, we will look at Barra de Navidad and Melaque, two small beach towns about an hour north of Manzanillo which have become a favorite of expats on a budget who are looking for some quiet away from the bustle of Manzanillo's busy seaport.

Hasta luego! Jim

Friday, February 6, 2009

Manzanillo Part 1 - Beautiful bay shelters Mexico's busiest seaport

Sailfish capital of the world...among other things.  In January, Carole and spent five days in Manzanillo, a busy seaport nestled in a gorgeous bay rimmed by long clean beaches and dramatic bluffs plunging steeply into the sea. Manzanillo has been known to sport fishermen for more than sixty years. They seek the huge sailfish lurking in deep water just off the coast. Actor John Wayne, among others, tried his luck back in the 1950s.  The huge blue metal sculpture on the malecon (waterfront) of Manzanillo's El Centro district celebrates this history.

In truth, I was skeptical about this trip. I had heard from others that, to enjoy the coast experience, one should skip Manzanillo.  It's "too busy", "too industrial", "not laid  back enough", I was told. When we first hit town, after a gorgeous 3.5 hour drive down the toll road from Lake Chapala, I feared the worst. We promptly got lost and wandered through a gritty industrial area searching for our hotel.  But once we were settled into La Posada, a modest but comfortable old-fashioned beachfront hotel near the harbor entrance, our attitude began to change. Manzanillo is defintely worth a visit.

This is the first of four posts on Manzanillo and the surrounding area. This post will focus on El Centro and the malecon area. I hope to provide you with a feeling for what a busy--but fascinating--seaport Manzanillo really is.  Future posts will show our lovely old hotel, wildlife along the coast, and some unspoiled small beach towns just north of Manzanillo where we intend to spend some time in the future.

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.  

The map above (click on map to enlarge) shows Manzanillo as one of those crescent bays, subdivided into the Bahia de Manzanillo and the Bahia de Santiago by the Peninsula de Santiago.  Most of the population lives around the Bahia de Manzanillo.  In the lower right area of the map you will see Downtown Manzanillo (El Centro). Just above it, across the narrow entrance to the harbor, you will find La Posada Hotel where we stayed. La Posada is located on the Zona Hotelera which follows the beach around the bay to the Santiago Peninsula.  The Zona Hotelera contains many old hotels and newer condominiums and some of the best restaurants in Manzanillo, all right on the beach. 

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.