Thursday, February 4, 2016

Manzanillo, Calima, Comala, Volcano and Coffee

This blog post catches up on the past several days during which we left Ensenada Carrizal, arrived in Manzanillo and took a short inland road trip to Colima.

On Sunday, Renee and I did some extensive snorkeling in Ensenada Carrizal. The coral along the steep rocky shores is among the healthiest I have seen in Mexico, supporting lots of colorful fish. Only about a half dozen boats visited the cove during the two days we anchored there. Some were careful about where they anchored, but others just dropped their anchors right on top of the coral. This healthy reef is worth protecting and it wouldn’t take much to put some buoys out to mark  “no anchoring” zones that I expect most boats would respect. If I can figure out who to contact, I’ll write to them and suggest this.

Monday we motored to Manzanillo and docked Intermezzo at the Las Hadas marina. The marina is connected to the Las Hadas Hotel, a resort built in the late 60’s with distinctive Moorish architecture. The movie "10" starring Bo Derek (remember her?)  was made here. The place is showing it’s age a bit, but it is a very pleasant place with a very laid back atmosphere.

We had to dock Intermezzo stern to the dock in “Med moor” fashion, which requires that you drop your bow anchor as you back the boat into the dock and secure the stern lines. The anchor holds the boat off the dock, the stern lines hold the boat in its space along the dock. I briefed and prepared the crew for this sometimes tricky maneuver and I am proud to say we aced it. I’ll admit that having twin screws on a catamaran eliminates much of the difficulty that monohulls sometimes have backing in, so my job at the helm was pretty easy. Still, Renee’s anchor drop was spot on and Marc and Marci each made their stern lines fast at precisely the right moment.  A very impressive performance for Intermezzo’s first Med moor. Now i’m wondering how Renee and I will do it with just the two of us. When it comes time to do so, it will require fast footwork to scamper from handling the anchor at the bow to handling the lines at the stern. I think Renee will be fast enough and I will raise my beer from my command seat at the helm in encouragement as she hurries past.

Tuesday, Renee and I explored the town of Manzanillo, which has a large major commercial port. It’s a nice enough town with not many tourists unless a cruise ship is in port, but nothing special to note.

Yesterday we rented a car and drove to the state capital city of Colima. It was a nice drive, a bit over an hour on the road. We stopped for cocos frios (cold fresh coconuts) at a roadside stand and discovered the delicious yaca fruit, which tastes like a combination of mango and rambutan (a tropical Asian fruit. similar to a lychee). After a light lunch at Colima’s Plaza Principal, we set out to find a hotel for the night guided by TripAdvisor. With only one review it seemed like a long shot, but the Casona de Don Jorge turned out to be a fantastic find. It is a new hotel, only open for three months. It has two nice courtyards with tables and a fountain. The rooms are small, but very nice and clean and with well-appointed bathrooms. The whole place exhibits quality construction and tasteful decoration and the staff is pleasant and professional. The hotel is centrally located just across the street from nice municipal garden in a good neighborhood. Our air conditioned room with a comfortable double bed sets us back only $29.82 per night. That’s less than the occupancy tax levied on an average hotel room in San Francisco!

Today we toured the area north of the city, driving towards the Volcan de Fuego, purportedly “Mexico’s most active volcano”. It entertained us by repeatedly burping out big clouds of steam and ash during the day. I kept hoping for something more, like blasting out boulders and lava to rain down from above, but I don’t think this wish was shared by my traveling companions.

The countryside at the foot of the volcano is beautiful, a combination of lush green forests, farms and ranches amongst steep hills.  There were very few people on the road and the weather was gorgeous; sunshine with a gentle breeze and comfortably cool at an elevation of about 1,000m.

We had a mediocre tapas lunch in the small town of Comala, constantly “serenaded" by loud mariachi music being played for a table at the restaurant next door. As Comala is located near to several coffee plantations, after lunch we went looking for a good cup of coffee.

Google maps led us to Cafe Nogueras, a small hole-in-the wall coffee roastary. We were warmly greeted upon arrival by Conchita de Norvazz, a friendly and exuberant woman who is, deservedly, very proud of her coffee. She walked us through the tiny establishment, showing us the coffee in its various steps between raw bean and roasted ground coffee. We tasted her coffee and it is really delicious- flavorful but very, very smooth. I think the secret to her good coffee is that the raw, organic beans are sorted by hand and all beans with imperfections, which is a significant proportion, are discarded. The “perfect" beans are then roasted with care in small 30 kilo batches.  We enjoyed a lively conversation in Spanish on a range of subjects with Conchita while enjoying our sample espressos.  By conversation, I mean that Conchita talked quickly, while the four of us listened intently. We collectively, but not simultaneously, understood what she was saying and would take turns struggling to reply to indicate as much. We really enjoyed our visit and Conchita’s warm hospitality. It was nice that she didn’t “dumb down” her Spanish for our benefit so that we could get the full flavor and feeling for what she was talking about, even if we didn’t understand every word. We bought a kilo of some of the best coffee I have ever tasted for less than $8 (about $3.50 per pound)! Take that, Starbucks!

Tomorrow we head back to Manzanillo where we will part company with Marc and Marci. It has been a great two weeks traveling with them down the coast and converting them from landlubbers anxious about seasickness to enthusiastic sailors, cured of the mal de mer. It can sometimes be tough being in such close quarters on boat for so long, but we all went out of our way to keep up good manners and good attitudes and it worked out really well. Intermezzo will feel a bit empty to Renee and I as we move on from Manzanillo. I expect that Marc and Marci will suffer from BSA (Boat Separation Anxiety) for a while, just like Jeanne did when she left Intermezzo after the Baja Ha Ha. The best therapy for BSA is to start planning to join up with Intermezzo again for another leg of the voyage.

Intermezzo by herself in Ensenada Carrizal

Resting in the dinghy after an extensive snorkeling exploration of Ensenada Carrizal

Approaching Manzanillo, a large port with lots of shipping traffic
Intermezzo Med-moored in Las Hadas Marina
The Las Hadas Resort
Moorish architecture of Las Hadas

The port of Manzanillo and a not-so-modern Mexican Navy warship

Hillside homes in downtown Manzanillo

Doesn't every guy dream of being El Platano Macho?
Volcán de Fuego, burping
River bed and country side at the foot of the volcano
Comala street with ever-present volcano
Un caballero de Comala
Conchita, Marc and me in the roasting room of Cafe Nogueras