Walking the walk, talking the talk - Colima - sea to Sierra, by Wendy Devlin in Mexico Connect
Part 1 Colima - The Sea
Six years ago I briefly visited the small state of Colima. With my family, I drove straight through the state without stopping along Colima’s eighty-seven miles of coastline, heading for more remote beaches further south. December 1998 found me wanting to explore this fourth smallest state from sea to sierra.
The state of Colima is located 165 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco in the central western part of Mexico. From its mecca of beaches with 350 days of annual sunshine, Colima rises to 11,670 ft. in the Sierra Madre. Legends say that the God of Fire looked down from the volcano, Nevado de Colima, to advise and give solace to the people of this region. His hot-tempered younger brother, who resided in the Volcan de Colima, instilled fear in the hearts of his worshippers and would severely punish those who didn’t please him. The name of the state, ‘Colima” comes from ‘Coliman’ a term in the Nahuatl Indian language; “ Colli” (mountain, volcano or grandfather), and “ maitl”, (domain of), which means “place conquered by our grandfathers,” or “place dominated by the Old God or Fire God.”
Word on the internet in December before I left Canada for Mexico told of the younger volcano brother recently smoking and spewing a little lava. Was this the source of haze and humidity that obscured the two majestic volcanoes today? After a five-hour bus journey from Puerto Vallarta, the beautiful coastal beaches around Manzanillo swept into view. The bus driver conveniently deposited my two teens and myself at the turn-off to the Santiago Peninsula. There we hopped a local bus for two pesos to travel two miles further to Hotel Sierra Manzanillo on Playa Audiencia, (beach of the audience). Captain Sandoval, Cortes’ loyal soldier met with local native leaders here in 1523 in the tiny sparkling cove. Santiago Peninsula is also famous for the Las Hadas Resort, location for the movie “10”.
The visit to Manzanillo involved meeting ‘friends’ from the internet offering connection to the twin attractions of Manzanillo as important international port and vital tourist center. Valise Tudoran works as a shipping agent. He showed me an inside view of the role that Manzanillo plays as the most important port on the West Coast of Mexico. Susan Dearing, a gringa, has run a successful scuba-diving business here for the past nine years. Her scuba concession operates out of my hotel.
The next morning, I walked down to the luxurious pool and gazed at the ocean, quietly lapping the shore of little Playa Audiencia. Near my lounge chair at 9 a.m., a young Mexican began hauling out a small table with a large shade umbrella. He unloaded and displayed snorkeling equipment, pamphlets and tour information upon the table. Soon a tall guera (blond-haired woman) arrived and began talking with a gringo tourist. Listening to their conversation, I wondered, “Could this be my internet amiga?”
When they finished talking, I approached the pair. Bent like a tall wand of sugarcane to her information table, the woman glanced upwards, asking, “Are you the wife who wishes to go on the scuba tour?”
The gringos’s jaw gaped wide as I stretched out my hand, laughing, “No. I’m not his wife. But are you, Susan Dearing?”
Her well-tanned face crinkled with a smile, “I am.”
“Then I’m Wendy Devlin, your Canadian friend from the internet!”
This scene repeats itself every time I meet a new friend from the Internet. The introduction reminds me of those famed greeting words between explorers. “Dr. Livingston, I presume!”
Virtual friends are never fully imaginable until you meet them face-to-face!
Susan and I chatted about arrangements to visit Manzanillo and the surrounding area. Two days later when I prepared to leave the Hotel Sierra Manzanillo, Susan invited us to stay in her condo close by. This gave me more time to visit different places and do more research. In 1998 Susan published a tourist guidebook called: “ Manzanillo, and the state of Colima, Facts, Tips and Day Trips”. It includes extremely detailed maps of downtown Manzanillo and all fifteen beautiful beaches, the state and city of Colima, and Barra de Navidad/ Melaque. The maps showing restaurants, hotels and services of Las Brisas, Manzanillo Bay and Santiago Bay pinpoint location by street lights within a tenth of a mile. Sport fishing, hunting, photography, horseback riding, biking, health-clubs/spas and golf facilities are fully described. Scuba diving trips to reefs and wrecks are Susan’s special expertise. She is also very interested in promoting the region’s wealth of natural wonders like volcanoes, waterfalls and lakes.
The day trip section provides excellent directions to many off-of-the beaten path communities complete with each place's, unique history, cultural traditions and interesting sites. The ‘Tips’ section near the end of the book provides a wealth of information gained by years of her experience living and working in Mexico. I wanted to go everywhere and do everything in the book!
Susan invited my daughter Rose and myself out with a small group of divers on an exploratory dive. While they dived, Rose and I snorkeled off the rocky shore of L’Recif at the far north end of the Bahia de Santiago. A rare stiff breeze ruffled the ocean and disturbed the diving visibility. Flying above the sparkling ocean the outboard panga raced to a pristine coral reef in a more sheltered corner of the bay. Enormous heads of cauliflower-like coral held to the rocks while many species of brightly colored tropical fish darted in the underworld garden. A coral reef reflects an enchanting and exotic underwater world. Later that afternoon, the panga sped back towards the rocky headlands and a panoramic view of the many bays and beaches of Manzanillo. The sea-spray perfumed the breeze that whipped my hair into a salty tangle. The lush state of Colima rolled like a visual banquet ahead from shining sea to spectacular Sierra.
Later that week, arriving home late after work, Susan blurted out, “I’m so mad, I could just spit!”
While she poured us a glass of wine, I hazarded this question, “ Did something happen at work today?”
Her mane of long blond hair nodded, “You bet, it did! The ecological work of nine years is unraveling before my eyes. Guess what happened at the hotel today?”
“I haven’t a clue. Tell me.”
“As we’ve discussed before, when I arrived in Manzanillo, nine years ago, the Playa Audiencia was a dead bay. Over-fishing wiped out the resident fish populations. My business is scuba diving so I knew this bay needed help. After I got the scuba concession at this hotel, I talked with management about how we needed to work together to bring marine life back. It’s been an uphill battle.
But gradually people stopped fishing and diving in the bay. I’ve been feeding the fish out of my own pocket. My divers and I go down regularly and bring them fresh oysters. The fish now flock to any divers or snorkelers that we bring to the bay. The tropical fish stocks are thriving and a huge attraction for the tourists.”
Her blue eyes summoned feedback.
“I appreciate your efforts. Remember. I said my impression is that, many popular beaches in western Mexico are depleted of marine life. But tell me about today?”
Tears welled in her eyes.
“Today, the recreation director, Daniel, walked by my concession with nine tourists with fishing rods. I asked him where he was going with them.
Daniel replied, “ Susan. We had a meeting two months ago, saying we were going to increase our recreation activities for the tourists.
“Remember, Daniel, I said it was a really bad idea. It will completely set back the fish populations. I thought we had agreed about this.”
“But, Susan, there are only nine little fishing rods and it is only going to be once a week. Besides the tourists will love it.”
I reminded him, ”Yes, but I told you that I have worked patiently for years feeding those fish. It’s no sport to fish for creatures that come tamely to bait. Besides none are game fish. They are all colorful tropical fish whose populations have only begun to recover. Even if the fishing is minimal at the beginning, gradually the populations will disappear again.
Besides, what’s a tourist going to do with a dead tropical fish? He’s gonna throw it overboard! Or worse, cut the line and let the fish die a slow death tangled by a fishing line in the rocks or coral. Imagine what divers or snorkelers are going to think when they see tropical fish rotting on a fishing line in a coral reef. You know what the guy said to me? “
“Susan, they’re only fish!”
I asked Susan, “So what will you do now?”
“I’m meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. with the hotel management, AGAIN. I'm going to see if I can convince them that it’s still a bad idea. But if they don’t change their minds, I feel that ecological work here is hopeless. I think, maybe someone has figured out that they can bait the hooks of nine rods with fish scraps from the restaurant. They charge every tourist, an extra dollar for the bait. Nine extra bucks in their pocket! Remember the campaign that I worked on last year with the local city government and the federal tourism agencies?”
“The beach clean-up that hauled six million tons of garbage from the beaches of Manzanillo?”
“Yes, that’s the one. I was just starting to feel hopeful that the ecological message is getting through to people. It’s the first time all levels of industry, government and tourism have worked together to take care of the beautiful bays of Manzanillo. It’s taken nine years of building relationships. Today, this goes down!”
Struggling for words of encouragement I said, “Susan. This situation repeats itself everyday all over the world. We have it in Canada too. Don’t give up hope for Manzanillo! From what I’ve seen, this area is incredibly rich in natural assets. Mexicans are proud of their country. You’re doing important work, helping to take care of it.”
“Yes! But you don’t live here! This has been my home for nine years! It’s been a struggle just living and working here. You’ll go home next month and it won’t be a problem for you anymore!”
O.K. I’m going back to Canada but you know I’ll come again. I’ll try to do anything I can to promote appreciation and understanding of this country and its people. I came here on this trip so that I could write stories to inform and encourage people to visit Colima. I tell it like I find it: ‘The good, the bad and the ugly!’ If more visitors become aware of the reality here maybe they’ll assist the Mexicans any way they can. If someone offers to take them fishing for inedible tropical fish, they might just say no! Or make suggestions to recreation directors or hotel management for ecological aware programs. The fish might have a sporting chance!”
Susan’s chest heaved, “You’re a real dreamer!”
“But I’m not the only one!
People can choose better where and how they’ll spend their money. If they love Mexico and want positive changes to this country, they can help. If not make clear choices and reap the consequences. Near as I can see, everyone in this world is connected to everyone else. Personal decisions ultimately affect everyone. We’re all at each other’s mercy, no matter what country we live in!”
Susan grimaced, “I’m giving that meeting tomorrow my best shot! Afterwards, I might have some time to take you and the kids up to the volcano.”
“Great! Remember that legend you told me of the younger volcano brother? How he punishes people who fail to please him? I’m just trying to keep the guy happy! Who knows? Maybe he likes fish? And even if he doesn’t, I do! Colima’s natural assets are treasure for Mexicanos and the world.”
Related URLS and Travel Books
Ron Mader’s ‘Ecotravel in Mexico’
Tom Pennick’s ‘Pacific Coast at Oaxaca’
Bruce Whipperman’s ‘Pacific Mexico Handbook’ in the Moon travel series
Susan Dearing ‘Facts, Tips & Day Trips, Guide to Manzanillo and Colima’ A complete guide to make your vacation or retirement EASY and FUN, while SAVING MONEY, too! 1998