When we arrive at the airport, we see Scott in a long line, his grin floating far above most of the other heads. Vince and I enter a shorter line of people – in this case, my husband - who’ve printed their boarding passes. As we surpass Scott in proximity to the counter, Vince remembers that our friend has Club Class, which means he has his own (very short, in fact, no one is there) check-in. He can’t hear me when I try to tell him, so I begin to use sign language. He gets the C and L, but I can’t remember U, ending up telling him it’s all bull shit or something. Finally, we get the message across and he sprints to priority boarding.
We had an issue with Air Transit regarding the Club Class for ourselves: I won’t bore you with the details, but I am still annoyed as we check in and ask if there are any empty seats. They tell us there is only one.
Scott plans on being – and is – the last person to board. Of course he doesn’t tell us of his plan and I am worried that he’s fallen asleep and will miss the flight. When he finally gets on and goes up to the “big seats”, he hurries back to rub it in that there are eight empty chairs. Vince jokes and tells him we’ll be there in a minute; we’ve purchased two club classes and wanted to surprise him. But I am not in a joking mood. I start mouthing off about the incompetence of Air Transat.
A lovely airline hostess overhears me and before you know it, we are buying club class seats. When we move forward, it turns out we are right beside Scott. I deliberately bump into his with my big ass and he gives me a very dirty look, until he bursts into laughter and asks, “What the hell are you guys doing here?”
It’s a lovely, luxurious flight, with a brief stop in Xtapa for security, then up and down to Manzanillo.
We hop into a cab and thoroughly enjoy the ride into Las Brisas. There is something both exciting and comforting about returning to the same place three years in a row. Especially when we’ve done so much exploring during our stays. We point out all the familiar spots: the Tesoro Hotel, where we stayed about eighteen years ago; Juanito’s where we watched Sidney Crosby score the final winning goal in the Olympics (although Scott had chickened out and left; he couldn’t stand the tension); the market area; the bright yellow Primavera trees; Miramar, El Tablao, where we swim at least once a week; La Sonrisa, where, to quote our brother-in-law Dave, “you can get a taco as big as your head for four bucks”. On and on it goes, most everything is the same, even the unfinished giant church, although some stained glass has been added. But Julio’s has been replaced by something else and the roads are all ripped apart. They are bricking and cementing all along San Miguel. It’s encouraging – seems to suggest the economy is alive and well – but we know there are many fewer tourists, so some of the population is suffering badly. We privately blame CNN and other American media for making it seem as though all of Mexico is a war zone, when in actual fact, the drug battles occur mainly along the border with the US. The rest of the country is like any other: there are tragedies, murders, robberies, and so on, but the large percentage of the people are law abiding, peaceful, and simply trying to make a decent life for themselves. This is particularly true of our Manzanillo and its little Las Brisas suburb: the people we have met are generous, friendly, and kind. The huge port in this area means lots of police, army and navy, and contrary to reports that the “law” is mostly corrupt, we have found no such evidence. Nacho, the condo manager, has confirmed on several occasions that, as a local businessman, he has good relationships with and support from the various forces.
When we arrive at the condo, we are greeted with hugs by Gracie. She asks if I am well and I shyly nod, Si. My Spanish has suddenly deserted me: I spent no time practicing this year and had only developed a few words at best last year. But I am so glad to see her lovely, welcoming face; she’s one of those people who radiates peace and kindness. I hug her daughter Marta, but wait to approach little Andres when he’s used to me once more. Last year, he was sitting on my knee watching Disney on the computer – maybe soon he’ll do that again. Helps to keep me from missing our grandchildren too much!
From the beach, Maire and John suddenly spy us. Maire squeals and starts to run, so I put down my bags and run to her for a huge hug, kisses, and our Mama Mia “dance of reunion” imitation. John hugs and kisses all of us, too.
Everything looks as beautiful as before: the deep blue of the pool, the waves curling over the beach gulping sand in its wake, the white serene clouds on the azure sky.
There are some oddities: Pete and Bonnie are not here, and we are in “their” place. We miss them straightaway. We also miss Helen and Sandy, though they were only here for a short time last year, but it just doesn’t seem right without both those couples. Not to mention that my sister Chris and brother-in-law Dave won’t be here this year (they’ve been here both other years), along with lots of other friends who visited previously.
However, we begin to unpack, and everything suddenly feels great. It’s so warm! The salty scent of the ocean wafts in with every breath of the ocean.
We left a large bin of things here last year and it’s like Christmas as we open it and discover items we’d forgotten. It’s fun putting up our own hangings and stuff we couldn’t live without (such as Vince’s spatulas and the green sheets Marilynn gave me). It reminds me of George Carlin’s bit on “stuff”. Transforms the unit from Pete and Bonnie’s to ours, though I still hear the echo of Bonnie’s laugh and Pete’s hilarious responses to his wife’s queries. The clock Pete bought us now sits on the table, atop the lovely yellow tablecloth they’ve thoughtfully left behind.
Also on the table: a gorgeous bottle of red wine, four glasses, two shot glasses, and a fresh pineapple – all from Maire and John. What a fantastic welcome!
Later we all walk over to El Caribe – just a few steps down the street or beach – to have dinner. Martine gives us a table facing the ocean, though the sun has now disappeared. The lights of Manzanillo Centro smile at us from the harbour; ships bob about on the waves. The cross above the city is alit – Vince swears he can see a little cement statue with “Vicente, Conquistador de la Cruz” written on it, with a date in January 2010.
Martine comes to visit and serve: he tells us that he’s leaving as El Caribe’s chef to become chef at a golf course restaurant. His last day will be March 5. Although the food is good here, it’s Martine’s touches that make it a favourite: his personality, laughter, and generosity. We wonder what it’ll be like when he’s gone.
Suddenly the little night bird (whose name I will have to find from last year's blog) appears on the sand, doing its nightly imitation of a tiny dinosaur.
The next morning, we awaken slowly, having been rocked to sleep by the waves all night. I am wondering how I will adjust to my new reality: trying to eat healthy, attempting to consume less alcohol, increase exercise, stay out of the sun and perhaps avoid the chlorined pool as well as the probably polluted ocean. We trot over to Bricio’s for breakfast, receiving a warm greeting and hugs from Bricio, Alex and Maria. They are genuinely happy to see us, and we feel the same. They are typical of the people here: there is no phoniness. Although they are business owners, our patronage certainly isn’t regular or lucrative enough for them to overstate the welcome. They are truly friendly, generous and interested in us. (Last year, I witnessed their feeding of a local beggar woman; because she was very old, Bricio said she deserved their kindness and the preservation of her dignity.)
After breakfast, we hop on the bus and go to the Soriana grocery store with our lists and our bags. I am a little disappointed at being unable to buy some of the food on my diet requirements: such as millet or quinoa. Almonds are few and hugely expensive, as are raspberries. I can only do my best and, over time, build up the exercise to offset the missteps in eating. This store is huge, bright, clean and has absolutely everything you can imagine: food, of course, and clothing, electronics, oil and tires, toys…you name it. There are some little kiosk stores as well, facing the cashiers. At the check-out, there is always someone to pack your groceries: you are expected to tip them, since that’s how they make their living.
We hop in a cab for the return with our myriad of bags. The driver starts a conversation with Vince in Spanish about the lack of “gringos” and we sympathize with him. I follow a good deal of it, if I relax and let the words just flow to get the overall nuances. He reiterates our contention that most of the problems exist in the border towns. Of course there is the odd violence here and there, but the daily tragedies occur in the struggle between the Mexican and US drug cartels. Not in Manzanillo. Yet tourism is down, down, he says, gesturing with his hands. Vince tells him our theory about the US media, mentioning that lots of people are afraid to come here. We all agree, as we gaze about the peaceful, industrious town passing by, that it is a terrible shame.
Once the groceries are put away and we are completely unpacked, we all take our books and sit by the ocean. Here is our Mexican television: unchanged yet different every minute, fairly calm today, the ever-present breeze cooling our faces, the waves pawing the shore. A flock of different types of birds fish nearby: pelicans and frigates skimming the top of the water, little pecker heads of cormorants floating on the surface ready to catch the ones who get away. We comment, admire, joke, and generally appreciate their beautiful wingspans, the way they all work differently for their food, the flash of white from an underbelly, the cackles and calls.
Bryan comes to say hello. He and his wife Judith are here every year, next door to Scott. Judith is at a painting class today. (She drops by to greet us later on.)
The curlew makes a brief appearance, but the willet (his partner from last year and the year before) has not shown up. I am very disappointed. I loved watching them work at catching and opening the chocalopas (sand shrimp) together. I’d planned to write a children’s book about them, accompanied by Vince’s photographs, but now that seems unlikely. Maybe I’ll write it anyway and pray my willet returns.
Just as the sun is touching the horizon in the afternoon, Bryan calls out to us: whales. And there they are, as though we have called them to us! They are close enough that we can see their every move and hear the echo of their antics across the bay. They lobtail, their magnificent ends straight up in the waning light, waving at us. They flipper: rolling over from side to side and slapping the water. The mother teaches the baby how to breach and we see his small (relatively) form leaping from the sea as a silhouette against the sky. The show lasts only a few minutes, but it’s enthralling. We are awed and grateful and infinitely impressed. Maire and John tell us this is the first time they’ve shown off like this; we take it as a huge compliment.
In between, I manage to write a blog and do some Crime Writers work. My Kindle makes a fuss, so I’m unable to read my mentees’ books, but Vince fixes it. Until I can read those, I am thoroughly enjoying the book that Merci gave me: the letters between Margaret Laurence and Al Purdy. My absolute favourite Canadian author and poet: they were friends! Who knew?
It gives me such pleasure to read about their writing processes, their agonies of self-doubt – especially Margaret. The author of those superbly crafted novels laments, “I wish I had more talent, more intelligence, more everything” and agonizes that she will never again write anything good. Her lack of self-assurance actually gives me hope and inspiration. Ultimately, they both agree that they simply have to get to it: sit down and write it and be damned with the consequences. I notice that they both make a living from their writing, mostly through Canadian grants at first. What a shame the level to which our cultural financial support has sunk! Al and Margaret would be appalled. (Though Al was probably very much aware – he died more recently than she.)
Thank god for Crime Writers of Canada and other organizations – and for media like The National Post, which is poised to be our media sponsor. If we could revive the cultural phenomena of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, we would all be better off, readers, writers, and booksellers alike.
So – my mission is to write, buoyed up and inspired by the sound of the waves in the warmth of the Mexican sun and the soothing breezes.