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Our Mexico hotel in Melaque

Wendy Devlin

One hour north of Manzanillo, Colima, the Primero Plus gave one final jolt in front of Melaque’s bus station. From air-conditioned comfort, we stepped down into the afternoon warmth. By arriving mid December at this small seaside resort, Josh, Rose and myself hoped to beat the vacation crowd due by Christmas. By that time, the small hotels would offer few available rooms. Hefting luggage over our shoulders, we headed down along Gómez Farías, Melaque’s main beach drag and around the corner. Opening onto a quieter side street, our modest hotel is sandwiched between a low row of cream-colored houses rising directly from the sidewalk. Glancing up from the reservation book atop the huge mahogany desk, Lupita Fallones smiled.

“Bienviendo, Señora Devlin!”

Her dark eyes sparkled as I exchanged Spanglish while booking our room. Rose, thirteen, pointed to the box for the key to room # 3. “Can we stay there again? That’s our home in Mexico.”

This was our fourth trip to Mexico and third visit to Melaque. Bring kids here when they’re small and they want to come back. But the same room? Go figure!

“How’s your father and step-mother?”

A fleeting frown creased Lupita’s smooth forehead. “Bien. But my stepmother and children live with her family in Colima City. She separated from Nestor last August.”

Surprised by this turn of events, I inquired, “So sorry. Is your father around?”

“He’ll return -- mañana.

Several hours later a short sixty-year old man with a trim mustache knocked on our door. Nestor! He shook my hand formally then embraced me in a warm abrazo. At five feet and four inches, our heights match. We chatted happily, catching up on a year of news, then, he disappeared for... three days!

When I asked twenty-three year old Lupita as to Nestor’s whereabouts, her eyebrows arched over a sweet smile. “My father? Mañanaaaa.”

That famous mañana. Mañana, tomorrow; en la Mañana, some morning of some Mañana or mañana; mañana, the day after tomorrow. Mañana… later Anytime…but now.

Requiring? Boundless patience, practice and persistence.

When Nestor resurfaced I joked, “Amigo. Three days -- gone? In Canada, our RCMP search for someone missing after 24 hours.”

Coughing quietly, he dropped his head as I translated his Spanish roughly. “Not missing. Sick three days. In bed… sore throat, coughing. No move a muscle til today. Still, very bad. My wife, kids move away. Maybe I sell hotel. Very bad time for me.”

“Lupita told me this when I first arrived. Did you say you own this hotel?”

“Sí. This hotel….. fifteen years. Why so surprised, amiga?”

“I’m an idiot! When I met you last year and you said you managed the hotel, I didn’t know you owned it. I even wrote about you managing this hotel on the Internet.”

“What’s Internet? No understand. I am the manager. Night and day… day and night… owner too but maybe not much longer. Too many problems.”

Seeing his crestfallen face and hunched shoulders, I wanted to squeeze him. But I hesitated because although I consider Nestor a friend, his situation perplexed me. Could I stay a friend but avoid getting caught in domestic crossfire? At the moment he saw little light at the end of his troubles. An old joke popped into my mind: ‘Cheer-up! Things could be worse.

So I cheered up and sure enough things got worse!’

Nestor chuckled and took me to dinner.

Over the following week I joked and gently teased him, hoping his gray cloud would lift. Nestor spent a lot of time talking urgently on the phone in the lobby. After my morning walk, I joined folks for a fresh cup of coffee at the Bananarama on Gómez Farias. Sipping slowly, I watched as Don and Marie dished out tasty plates of waffles and eggs or muffins. Enjoying breakfast, I listened to ex-pats, locals and visitors swapping news, gossip, philosophy and jokes. People jostled along the sidewalk, sometimes stopping to chat or slowly rumbling by in vehicles. With her bumpy streets scheduled for paving and a new military base constructed on the outskirts of town, Melaque is gradually changing.

My teens, Josh and Rose divided their time among the small mercado, the beach and the hotspots of Melaque’s sister village, Barra de Navidad four miles away. For breakfast and lunch they perched on the mercado stools, ordering the simple specials. Relaxing on the beach by day, they partied and danced until the wee hours at night. Rarely did they join my daily outings, hiking or riding local buses to outlying villages and their exquisite beaches. Sometimes, they dropped their independence, to join me for la cena (supper) with other friends or Nestor at favorite restaurants around the village.

Christmas slowly approached. With little of the hullabaloo of North American gift giving, Christmas in Mexico is grounded in family intimacy. Families often spend a velado (reunion) together Christmas eve and through the night. Women prepare special foods like "sweet tamales"; visit while men talk, drink beer and children play. Even the little ones go to Midnight Mass. Afterwards the family fiesta continues towards the dawn.

Early Christmas evening, Juanita, Nestor’s wife stood in the lobby. As Nestor generally attends to guests, I knew her less well. She is younger than my age of forty-six with long, lustrous wavy hair framing an attractive face. Nestor comes from the distant state of Tampaulipas on Mexico’s East Coast. Juanita comes from a family of thirteen children in nearby Colima. Today she met us with a frosty manner.

Reconciliation underway?

Later on I bumped into Nestor and asked what I hoped was a tactful question. “Do you have plans for Christmas Eve?”

His face dropped towards his shoes.

“I do nothing special. Juanita no want to go out. She prepares no special meal. I work like always.”

He looked like he wanted to cry. It triggered thoughts of my own husband and oldest son back in Canada at Christmas. My tact dropped into a bucket and started leaking.

“I’m not doing anything either. Let’s do nothing together! Last night I went dancing over in Barra. The kids are going back tonight. How about… a few beers? Sit together and talk.”

Nestor’s gold-capped teeth parted with comprehension. “Bueno!”

Returning minutes later from a tiny tienda, I spotted Juanita standing in the lobby. Dwarfed behind the huge desk, a man’s voice piped from somewhere. “My wife wish to have beer with us, too.”

“Sure! There’s enough for everyone.”

Nestor jumped up and pulled over a heavy chair for Juanita.

Is this a ‘delicate situation’ in Mexico? Heck it’s a situation anywhere! I could join gringos tonight. But I want to see how Mexicans spend Christmas. Gringos I know, Mexicanos, I’m learning!

Leaning forward, I reached into my small pack, for some photos of my kids and home. Since Nestor and Juanita speak only a smattering of English, the photos provided conversational help. I gave them copies taken last year in Melaque. A hint of a smile darted across Juanita’s face. An hour later the couple’s two teens appeared with hands wide open for dinero. While rapidly firing Spanish, Nestor dug in his slacks and forked over some paper pesos. A few minutes later, the teens returned, munching on snacks, handing back the change and exchanging another quick round of Spanish. Suddenly Nestor reached down, lifting a large painted sign and perched it on the desk against the wall.

“We go! Kids say restaurant having special dinner.”

The sign declared in big black letters on a white background.

NO HAY LOS CUARTOS VACANTES (There are no vacant rooms)

Grinning, Nestor pointed towards the wooden cubicles holding several hotel room keys. “Amiga. Six empty rooms! Now… they FULL!”

Nestor, Juanita and myself walked a block, seeking out the small restaurant. Tonight, the humble building and its outdoor patio metamorphosed under soft lighting. A candle glowed in a fish-shaped glass bowl gracing each outdoor table. Centerpieces of fresh crimson carnations and sprigs of red roses adorned each snowy tablecloth. Tall bottles of rose Champagne and crystal glasses caught quick gleams of light. Strings of clear Christmas lights twinkled, draped along plaster walls and encircling whitewashed bases of palm trees. Beating bongos in the corner, a man crooned soothing Latino melodies. When he switched to a more up-beat tempo, several dining couples sprang to dancing feet.

Nestor waved the young waiter over to order cervezas. When the musician returned to ballads, Juanita began singing. Softly she sang the lyrics for every tune.

“Ahhhhhh. My wife. Such a romantic.”

“Sí. But you….are Pancho Villa!” Juanita’s dark mass of hair flounced without missing a beat.

Did jealousy plague this marriage?

My friends rose to dance a few slow songs. A little later, four other women left their partners, to weave a lively chorus line.

Without a partner I might not get a chance to dance. This looks like it.

I shimmied up to the line. The ladies hooted approvingly while the men clapped wildly for the gringa joining their party. The next song, the chorus line formed a chain, picking up most of the men as it wove through the tables and chairs. My jaw ached from smiling and laughing as I flopped back into my seat.

Juanita fixed a glittering gaze on me.

Something said while I danced?

Nestor flourished his hand to order round three of cervezas as heaping plates of seafood steamed upon our table.

The musician stood up, announcing a short break. Loud taped music flirted with the night air. Abruptly the melody shifted to a galloping polka.

Never have I sat through a polka!

Throwing caution to the wind, I cocked my finger to our waiter who strode to the table.

“¿Un baile, por favor?

His white teeth parted in a wide smile and he opened his first finger slightly away from his thumb.

“Momentito. Señora.”

He dashed off to the kitchen counter, dropped his serving tray and hastened back.

Gonzalo was a live one! The next two polkas deposited me breathless in my chair.

Gracias, mi amigo.”

De nada. Señora.

At our table, her voice pitching higher, Juanita urged Nestor to open the bottle of Champagne.

Por Wendy!”

“¡No! Gracias. I protested. Estoy mucha borracha.” (I am very drunk)

Not exactly the truth but if I drank any Champagne, I would be!

Did a glint in Juanita’s eye suggest this was the general idea?”

Nestor’s hands rocked his head slightly, muttering words like ‘home’ and ‘bed’.

Saved by the bell.

Tonight I rolled as a third wheel. Unescorted women in Mexico walk a tightrope between fun and compromising situations. Gringas especially need to avoid getting pigeonholed as loose women. Also Mexicans think badly of a drunken woman at any time. I watched with relief as Nestor purchased the bottle of Champagne and handed it to his wife. Walking back in fine spirits, I teased Juanita.

“You carry that bottle like a baby.”

She tossed her head back, laughing and wagged her finger at me.

By two a.m. Josh and Rose returned by taxi from Barra just as Nestor removed the sign upon the front desk. The hotel bell rang incessantly until six a.m. as people continued to arrive looking for cuartos vacantes. The inns were full.

A firecracker exploded outside my ground floor window and my second Christmas day in Mexico began. Someone ending their night or beginning their day? Will Mexico ever fail to surprise or delight me?

Feliz Navidad.

Published or Updated on: December 1, 1999 by Wendy Devlin © 1999
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