Colima and beyond

coffee
The coffee shop

WE DON’T travel much. If you live in Paris, what’s the point in going to Topeka?

And we do live in Paris, so to speak.

But we did head to Colima this week. I’d never been there.  It’s almost due west, down the mountain and near the Pacific coast. Colima is famous because there’s an active volcano nearby. We never saw the volcano because of cloud cover.

We broke the drive to Colima into two parts. We went most of the way, and spent the night in Mazamitla, a great mountain town with the tone of Twin Peaks. It was almost four hours to Mazamitla if you don’t count the time lost due to wrong turns because Mexico is lame on highway signs.

We slept in a small cabin provided by Best Western.

Two hours farther down the road took us to Colima the city, which is the capital of Colima the state, where we checked in for three nights at the Wyndham Garden Hotel.

That was the intended destination of the short vacation. However, my child bride began to whine and stomp her feet. I wanna go to Manzanillo! I wanna go to Manzanillo! That’s a beach city an hour even farther down the highway.

So the next morning we drove to Manzanillo, first getting lost in ugly port construction but finally finding our way to a better part of town where we spent a few hours under an umbrella on a beach named La Audiencia.

We returned to Colima in the afternoon where we swam in the pool and enjoyed the hotel’s steam room. The Wyndham Garden is a very nice hotel for a good price.

We breakfasted every morning at La Buena Vida, a superlative place that is wildly popular. If you find yourself overnight in Colima, have breakfast at La Buena Vida. It’s only open for breakfast and brunch, closing at 1 p.m.

On the second full day, we headed just north of Colima to the touristy town of Comala, a nice place but nothing to write home about. We decided to follow the advice of Clete, an occasional commenter here, and drove toward the volcano on winding back roads up toward Yerbabuena.

That was where we encountered the coffee shop in the photo, just three kilometers shy of Yerbabuena. We were the only customers for miles around, and we were served great coffee by the owner who also had grown the beans.

Those are beans drying on the white area of the photo, but they aren’t coffee beans. They are cacao. Mexicans have been in love with chocolate since before the Spaniards came calling.

We still couldn’t see the volcano even though we were close. The volcano exploded just last year, leaving ashes, the coffee shop owner told us, a foot thick on the ground.

Thinking of Pompeii, we decided to run, so we never quite made it to Yerbabuena. We had lunch on the square of Comala, returned to our hotel in Colima, swam in the pool, sat in the steam room and later ate supper at La Valentina restaurant-bar, another great spot that we happened upon by sheer luck.

The following morning we packed. We had intended to spend another night in the Mexican Twin Peaks of Mazamitla, but once we got on the road, we just kept going.

Now we’re back in Paris.

That time of year

RETURNING WEDNESDAY from three nights on the road, it dawned on me that it’s that time of year. It hadn’t seemed so obvious when we departed Sunday morning.

That time is the season shift, which is pretty stark here on the mountaintop. The rains have gone — we may still get a surprise, but it doesn’t matter — and I need to water yard plants, a chore.

I have no warm spot in my heart for chores.

And the hour changes next weekend in a good direction. I can never keep it straight which is correct, and which is man-made.

The end of Rains from On High comes almost always with the arrival of the Day of the Dead. Perhaps there is some celestial connection.

Candy-Skull-01b-1As some passers-by know, my mountaintop is one of Mexico’s hot spots for the Day of the Dead.

After so many years here, I’ve grown a bit weary of it, jaded, mostly due to the tons of tourists.

After 18 years in New Orleans, long ago, I had also grown weary of Mardi Gras, another massive tourist draw. But it’s good for the economy, and I love capitalism so very much.

It gives one the opportunity to be a One-Percenter, something communism does not do and socialism discourages. Even though I am not a One-Percenter, I want that path open for me, for everyone.

It’s only fair.

So get in your car and drive up here. Bring cash for hotels, tacos, sugar skulls and souvenirs. The enormous tree-lined plaza will be full of art, some quite stunning, lovely and affordable.

On the Big Night, head out to one of the cemeteries to marvel at the candles, the marigolds, the old women in rebozos, the men with tequila, lime and salt, the babies crawling about. The spirit guests.

Some of the cemeteries have surrendered to tourism. Others haven’t yet. Your task is the find the latter, avoid the former.

* * * *

Yes, we just returned from three nights away. We had planned for months to spend this week at Palenque, down in the Maya area of Chiapas. But at the last moment, we just did not want to.

So we got into the Honda and drove four hours to Mazamitla in the State of Jalisco, just south of Lake Chapala. Mazamitla is a mountain town that puts on airs of being Alpine. Lots of wood and A-frames.

A Mexican Twin Peaks without the weirdos.

We spent two nights in the Hotel Huerta Real, and decided Tuesday morning to drive the short distance north of Lake Chapala to spend a night in Ajijic, a place absolutely crawling with Gringos, mostly of the geriatric variety. We slept at the Hotel Casa Blanca.

There are two famous places in Mexico where Gringos love to gather. San Miguel de Allende is one, and Ajijic is another. I’ve spent many nights in San Miguel, but this was only my second in Ajijic.

The best reason to go to one of these Gringo havens is the abundance of good restaurants. In Ajijic we discovered the Meson Don Quijote, which is run by an actual Spanish gentleman.

I am a fan of paella, which is a Spanish dish, not Mexican as some less-swift people sometimes think. My second ex-wife and I ate superlative paella often at a Spanish restaurant in Houston.

Since moving over the Rio Bravo almost 16 years ago, I’ve encountered paella occasionally on menus. I have ordered it three or four times, and it’s always been disappointing. Mexicans cannot cook paella.

But there we were, standing in the lovely patio of the Meson Don Quijote talking to the Spaniard owner, when I saw paella on the menu. I decided to risk it once again. Call me crazy.

It was very good paella. Not quite what the Spanish joint in Houston served, but it easily merited four stars out of five.

While conversing of food, let us back up a bit, to Mazamitla where I had a culinary religious experience at a place called La Troje. The religious experience manifested itself in salmon. Yes, fish.

We had lunch at La Troje both days. The first day, by pure luck, I ordered that salmon and, Good Lord Almighty, that was some fine salmon.

If you ever find yourself at La Troje, know there are two styles of salmon on the menu. One is called Mediterranean, which is what I ordered. The other is called something else. I do not remember.

* * * *

And we’re home again. The salmon is gone, and so is Twin Peaks. Gringo-crowded Ajijic, which sounds like a spice, likely won’t be visited for another decade. And I may never eat paella again.

* * * *

A tip of the sombrero to Bonnie and Bill Garrison who pointed me toward Mazamitla, the Hotel Huerta Real and La Troje restaurant.