As part of our language immersion program with the La Catalina Language School, we decided to partake in their homestay program. We were placed with a local family, Marta and her children, in the central part of La Manzanilla. Marta ran a restaurant called Mi Casita out of her kitchen, which offered breakfast and was hugely popular for lunch. It was great for us to experience her restaurant and to be so centrally located. And, we were well fed! She is known for her tortas, grilled Mexican-style sandwiches that are filled with lots of yummy things (meats, cheeses, veggies, and peppers). Meals in this part of Mexico, consist of a decent breakfast (eggs or chilaquiles), a big lunch, and a late dinner of cereal or pancakes. Despite the fact that La Manzanilla is a coastal fishing village, we learned that fish was not a popular food. There was always something happening at Marta's place, a continuous commotion of talking and kids dancing to the latest exitos (popular music). Her extended family lived nearby, so they were stopping in to visit her at all hours of the day.
Next door was a tortilleria, providing fresh tortillas daily. Being big fan of fresh corn tortillas, we were in heaven!
Our days were spent relaxing on the beach or exploring town. As much as possible, we tried to "immerse" ourselves, by speaking Spanish to people in town, as well as practicing with each other.
Streets of La Manzanilla, as seen from Marta's roof.
In the late afternoons, we attended La Catalina Language School.
Our school was a set of open-air rooms, located up on a hill which had a great view of the town and the ocean.
The December 12 is the Festival of the Virgin Guadalupe, one of the largest Catholic celebrations throughout Mexico. In La Manzanilla, they too celebrated this special day with a singing procession to the church, a mariachi band, and celebration in the central square . The evening ended with a huge fireworks display from a Castillo, a traditional wooden support tower with twirling wheels and topped with a rocket for the grand finale. We stuck around for the fireworks, knowing that it was going to be quite a sight to see. Take a look at the video of the Castillo — things like this would never happen in the U.S.! Once the fireworks were lit, the wheels often flew off into the crowds — the kids ran after them and the older folks ran away! We even saw one rocket fly through an open car window and out the other side. Hilarious!
We loved the beach of La Manzanilla. It was flat, allowing for a calm bay and easy lazing about in the water. One of the "dangers" of the beach however, was the lagoon. The lagoon was located towards the end of town and it had plenty of crocodiles. As you can see, there's little that keeps the crocodiles and the bathers from mixing, though we can't imagine either one wanting to join the other for a soak together in the afternoon sun. But there was a clarifying sign placed in order to help maintain a separation. Adding to the odd feeling of the place, was the bridge that used to cross the lagoon, with its middle missing. It was uncertain as to how long the bridge had been out for. It had provided the only direct road from the central part of town to the camping spots and areas of new development.
Being without a car, we explored our surrounding areas in a variety of other ways. One morning we rented some bikes and joined two of our classmates on an exploration to check out the next tiny town over, Boca de Iguanas. There, we climbed a small hill along the coast to see what was beyond. Like we had seen in Melaque, there was a large hotel here that had been destroyed in an earthquake several years back. It was amazing to see beautiful areas of still- undeveloped coastline.
One day, we rented sit-on-top kayaks and went out for a paddle and a snorkel. Marta had made us some of her special tortas to try, and we brought along some deliciously ripe pineapple, guayabas (guavas), and other fruit and snacks. It was gorgeous to be out for the day, to explore the coast line, and also to see the development of a growing fancy local resort in construction.
The diversity of fish that we saw was incredible, both from above the water as well as below.
During our stay in La Manzanilla, there was a weekend-long arts and crafts festival, celebrating local handicrafts and supporting the Cultural Center, where our classes were held. The kids of our homestay family were involved with some dance groups at the Cultural Center so they, along with many other children from the area, performed a variety of different dances. We were expecting to see some traditional dancing, or at least something based on the local culture, and this turned out to be the case for most of the performances. However, the kids of our homestay family performed numbers from the musical Grease and other 50's and 60's American pop tunes!
At some point, we snuck out and headed over to Lora Loca's restaurant, on a recommendation. Wow, what a trip she was! Our classmates and we were the only customers, so Lora Loca and her friend personally entertained us by telling stories, singing songs, and keeping us well fed. Wearing a Santa hat. A great way to end our week in La Manzanilla!
On our last morning, we had a few gifts for our homestay family. We had brought along a toy sling-shot monkey (which screams when released), but we were not certain as to where we might want to use it. We then decided it would be perfect for Marta's son Brian, since he loved getting into trouble and imitating funny sounds. And we were right! We all spent hours on the street in front of the house, shooting the screaming toy back and forth, playing "monkey in the middle", and generally laughing a lot. But it wasn't long before we had to pack up and head towards Melaque for the next part of our journey!