I had a nagging fear that plagued me as our trip to Barra de Navidad, a small Mexican town on the pacific coast, approached with 4G speed. I wasn’t afraid of the cartel, as many seem to be worried about the criminal element. Nor was I afraid of the bus ride that ran along a narrow highway, riding the Sierra Madre mountain range. I wasn’t even burdened by the thought of losing my passport.
My main fear, as the travel to our chosen spot was quite extensive, was that once we arrived, we would become sick of the town after a few days. I could almost envision my companion muttering under her breath, “we came all this way for this?”
My worries were misplaced-she loved the town. As an added bonus, we found some fun and interesting ways to pass the time. One day, we took a day trip to a quaint little beach community known as la Manzanilla. It was, after all, the Canadian seniors’ and the locals’ top suggestion.
As I step on the bus heading into la Manzanilla, I can’t help noticing its condition. A cracked windshield, paint rubbed from scrapes with buildings and cars along its body and a missing piece of the bumper all add to the charm of this lumbering vehicle. Locals and a few retirees are sitting next to me, as the one way price is twenty pesos per person -it’s packed. During the ride, a man sings over a Bluetooth device, topping the unique little trip off with some entertainment.
The bus drops us off right at La Manzanilla’s beach. I’m stunned as tables, marked with shade umbrellas, dot the beach for as far as the eye can see in both directions. The sun gradually warms our bodies as the waves gently roar along the beach. As we are enjoying the peaceful warmth, vendors, selling everything from necklaces to tattoos, approach us.
Among the many restaurants right on the beach, there is Pedro’s, offering the ‘Universe’s best fish tacos’. Instead of fish tacos, we choose the shrimp tacos, along with Corona’s complete with salt and lime, and are delighted with the flavors greeting our taste buds. The host is friendly and professional, and we dine right on the sands of the beach.
After tacos, we ask about the Crocodile Estuary, a sanctuary for over 300 American Crocodiles. The cost to enter the sanctuary is thirty pesos, fairly cheap, considering I spent over 200 pesos for lunch. The mangrove is a short walk, possibly only three minutes from the beach, not to worry there is a fence to keep the crocodiles from escaping.
As I walk on the elevated walk, held in place by wood poles anchored in the mud of the mangrove, I judge the condition of the walkway to be good, despite its rickety and weathered appearance. As I gape at large crocodiles, just basking in the sunlight, practically right under our path, I feel a delightful sense of awe overcome me. I’ve never been through a tropical mangrove before, definitely not one where crocodiles are so visible and plentiful.
The weathered wood path weaves its way through the brush of the mangrove, where the trees sometimes serve as an emerald canopy. Beneath us the murky water holds danger, as we know the Crocs lie in wait for their next meal. When we reach a rickety tower and climb, surveying the landscape of the saltwater growth, we watch the reptiles operate in their natural habitat.
Stealthily, they approach pelicans fishing along the shore. Sensing the danger, the white birds simply fly from their station, tauntingly flapping over the Croc’s head. It’s like the National Geographic channel in 3D.
We follow signs for the Museo (I can only assume that translates to Museum). In this small little venue, there are skeletons of crocodiles, eggs and other interesting tidbits. Unfortunately, one must be fluent in spanish to garner knowledge offered in this tiny Museum. I, myself, know enough to order food and haggle with vendors, that’s my limit.
As we venture across more of the mangrove, we find ourselves on a small, rickety suspension bridge. My sense of adventure is now at it’s peak as a boyhood fantasy is fulfilled. Crocodiles? Suspension bridges? Has anyone seen ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?’ No, I didn’t cut the bridge down at the midway point, nor was I chased by a crazed cult leader, but the excitement and pulse pounding was still present.
When we reach the end of the aged walk way and discover solid ground, we find crocodiles in captivity. I have to say, although I delight in holding a young croc, I feel rather let down to see these animals kept captive in such tight quarters. The sense of adventure is gone, so is the delight in seeing these creatures in their natural habitat. This portion doesn’t even feel like a zoo, more like an inhumane prison quarters.
We leave the mangrove and its inhabitants behind, although we return once more before the day is done. However, now we are headed to the beach and the relatively calm waters of Tenacatita Bay. Here, besides the great dining experience, there is typical fun on the beach. The only thing interrupting the relaxing feeling of lounging on a beach chair, casually soaking up the direct sunlight, listening to the rolling waves lap the sands and breathing in the salty moisture is the occasional vendor that you have to ward off.
We both swim in the water, as locals catch crabs and seashells. The atmosphere of the beach lends a festive feeling. The shrieks of thrilled children, the laughter of their parents and the taste of a Corona once I reach shore impact my senses with a positive vibe.
La Manzanilla was a home run. Sun, fun, a great dining experience, swimming in a peaceful bay of the Pacific, an adventurous excursion in a tropical habitat and walking the peaceful Oceanside town have incurred memories to sustain a lifetime.