Shortly after arriving in the small Western Mexican state of Colima I met a lovely young woman by the name of Lupita in the lobby of my hotel, the exquisite, Mayan-inspired Karmina Palace. She asked me what I would like to see, and do in the little-known Pacific Coast resort of Manzanillo.
I told her I always thought it would be very romantic to go horseback riding in the crashing surf.
The next morning she phoned my room and said she found a service that features customized horseback excursions, and they have an open slot for that afternoon at 2 PM. Although intrigued, I turned her down. As I was quite comfortable lounging in my frigidly crisp two-bedroom suite with its own swimming pool.
It was too hot to do something out in the open blazing sun. The typical morning sea mist had burnt off, and there was hardly a wisp of a cloud in the clear blue sky.
She was disappointed, but accepted my excuse gracefully.
To my surprise, Lupita called again at 4 PM. It’s cooled down considerably since this morning, she told me in her sweet voice. Won’t you at least come down to my desk and see the pictures I have of the equine trails in the jungle? It’s a very beautiful and refreshing site.
I didn’t need to see the pictures. I’ll take your word for it, I’m sold. But I won’t budge before sunset. Finally at 6 PM I left my spacious sixth floor accommodations for my rendezvous with destiny.
It was quite startling when I first saw my mount, the rustic saddle was hand carved from solid wood! I don’t know much about equine matters, but all the saddles I had ever seen were crafted from soft and supple leather.
My young guide told me about the many trails available to pick from. We could head up into the mountains where the horse would plunge into a whitewater river for a delicious mounted swim. Or adventurously explore the nearby jungle ending up at an isolated, crocodile infested lagoon. Lastly, we could go straight to the beach and follow the shore as the sun set.
I opted for a combination, including parts of the jungle, a glimpse of the placid lagoon before descending slightly to the adjacent coast.
It was a marvelous adventure, we saw burrowing armadillos along the route and hundreds of fluttering butterflies, especially large yellow Monarchs, and even larger snow-white Albino butterflies whose lack of pigment stood out in high resolution against the bright green of the jungle.
Dozens of baby, brilliant lime green iguanas were harder to spot since they blended in so well with the foliage.
Soon we emerged on the seashore, after the kind of ride I had always dreamed of. Everyone on the beach wishing they were on horseback as well.
Manzanillo is the perfect place to come to relax. This tropical oasis barely qualifies as a city. It’s really just one long street, broad and well-paved Miguel de la Madrid. All the restaurants, shops, bars and discos are lined up along this palm-shaded seaside boulevard.
The best time to visit Manzanillo is in January, February and March, when the weather is pleasantly warm but not wet. December and April are also good months, but November is still humid, and don’t even think of visiting during summer when you have to take a shower right after you take a shower.
Of course Manzanillo has the advantage of not being on the hurricane prone Caribbean coast where Cancun and Cozumel were recently beaten and battered.
Money matters are simple to handle. The peso currently trades at about ten to the dollar, and the greenback is almost universally accepted throughout Mexico.
Rates at the Karmina Palace are so low that I could hardly believe it. It would cost you up to ten times, or more for accommodations and meals at a comparable all-inclusive resort in the West Indies, Hawaii or Brazil. Karmina Palace offers three on site restaurants and five bars, as well as nightly live entertainment, all included in the bargain price of around $150 per person per night.
Of course ever-plentiful seafood reigns supreme in coastal Manzanillo. Shrimp, lobster, crab, scallops, oysters, shark fin soup, and especially the emblematic icon of Manzanillo, the Sword Fish.
But there are more exotic flavors to savor as well. This is iguana territory, although it is now illegal to hunt it in the wild. The only place in Colima where you can lawfully munch on the dazzling reptile is in the town of Tecoman, less than an hour from Manzanillo. Here you can dine on these farm raised prehistoric beasts.
How does one actually eat an iguana?
Many people enjoy a reptilian barbecue. Imagine a nice plump lizard turning on a spit, slow roasting to a golden broil.
Also popular is ‘jugo de iguana, literally iguana juice! However, in reality it is more like a lizard stew. Iguana eggs are a delicacy served hardboiled, and on occasion, in tamales. Soft tortilla iguana tacos are delicious topped with spicy picante sauce. But mostly iguana is enjoyed in chile rojo, or a chile verde with tomatillo sauce.
And yes, iguana tastes somewhat like the proverbial chicken, but has a stronger taste and rougher texture. Iguana meat is considered the Mexican Viagra! But even virile young men enjoy the other white meat.
Another unique item on the local menu is the tamal de cenizas, literally an ashen tamale. Rather than steamed like the traditional tamale, tamales de ceniza are dry roasted over the embers of wood fires. Perhaps, at one time, at the dawn of civilization in Colima tamales were roasted over the hot volcanic ash from the two still active volcanoes that grace the rugged landscape.
There are literally thousands of tamales in every size, shape and color, from every country in the Americas, from down in Tierra del Fuego, all the way up to the Yukon Territory. It is an adventure trying the various styles from country to country, and from region to region.
There are two basic types of tamale, the dinner tamale filled with meat, and vegetables such as peas and potatoes, small green olives, hard boiled eggs, cheese, spices and assorted condiments plus chile, and dessert tamales filled with sweets such as pineapple, cherries, strawberries, guava, raisins and other fruit.
Besides the types of tamales, there are two basic styles of tamales, wrapped in cornhusks, or in banana leaves. Each wrapping imparts its own distinct flavor and texture. Colima produces both banana leaf and cornhusk wrapped tamales, and virtually every tamale making society makes both dinner and dessert tamales.
99% of all tamales are made from the familiar cornmeal masa, but there are also tamales made from rice, as well as from potato meal or banana flour.
The Huastecs make an incredible three yard-long tamale encasing en entire suckling pig!
Your comments are always welcome: ErnieAlderete@charter.net
All-suite all-inclusive Karmina Palace
1-877-KARMINA (US Toll free)
TLALOC TOURS MANZANILLO DMC
KM. 14 BLVD. COSTERO MIGUEL DE LA MADRID
MANZANILLO, COL. MEXICO 28640
TELS: (314) 3341180 CON 10 LINEAS
Non-stop direct flights are available to Manzanillo several times a week aboard Alaska airlines and AeroCalifornia from LA, Continental via Houston, America West via Phoenix, Hobbit travel and NWT from Minnesota, and eight Canadian cities on Transat holidays charter flights.