Barra de Navidad (“Christmas Bar”) is one more small resort community on the Costa Alegre (“Happy Coast”), situated on the Pacific Coast of Central Mexico. It shares the Bahia de Navidad with the somewhat larger town of Melaque. The bay describes a graceful arc of gleaming golden sand pleasingly framing the brilliant turquoise waters. The sands slope precipitously to the sea creating a dangerous undertow that can surprise an unwary swimmer.
When first I visited this tiny tucked-away idyll, I wandered along the coastal highway and intrigued by the romance of its name, turned off to explore the area. It was a serendipitous enterprise. Along the beach, an old colonial hotel with a broad veranda at its bayside caught my eye. The heat having already produced a prodigious thirst, I stopped the car, mounted the old, wooden steps and sauntered onto the breezy portico.
The waiter approached languorously, with all the indolent body language inherent in those who work these jobs wherever one may go; I ordered a Cuba Libra (i.e. rum and coke). This was my usual in the tropics, that or a Tanqueray and tonic; my intention was to wash down the fine-grained dust of the road and to alleviate the stifling, midday heat. I leaned back in my chair and watched the deceptively placid surf roll ashore in long bracing swells of tranquil aquamarine.
After quenching my thirst, I resumed my tour of the area. I remember dense, emerald-green jungle, its canopy seemingly impregnable, swathing a littoral zone adorned with the golden expanses of several small beaches. These lay against the sapphire sea with the glint of knife blades in the sun. I vowed to return someday; it would take me some time to honor that vow.
Some years later, I found a small hotel on the internet called Casa Chips. I had fallen into a pattern: find one of these places, blindly send them my deposit and show up sight unseen; I had varying degrees of success. I had downloaded a map. After a long bus ride, I was glumly following this map with a sense of grim foreboding; maybe this time my luck had finally run out.
Arriving at the sun soaked and dust encrusted bus terminal, I alighted from the bus. Following my map, I traipsed down the beach. The sun beating down on my back was akin to having a blazing brazier strapped to my shoulders. Soon sweat drenched my shirt and my shoulder bag felt like it would overwhelm me if I did not divest myself of it soon. Just then, I spotted the object of my search. Casa Chips sat right on the beach, a two-story mini-tower of refuge.
With a mounting sense of relief, I approached a woman leaning languidly against the door only to learn the proprietor would not return until later that evening. Resignedly, I set about to find the old, colonial hotel of my prior visit. There had been an earthquake in the interim, badly damaging the hotel; sadly, the balmy, breeze-swept veranda was no more. On the site of that hospitable portico, noisy nondescript construction had displaced the tranquil conviviality.
Later, I would discover the damage had been endemic, devastating nearly the entire town. What survived, however, was more than enough to sate my craving for small town Mexico: a handful of beachfront cantinas, where I was able to satisfy my hankering for cervezas and fresh fishplates. Interspersed with these were a glut of small shops as well as a few other small hotels and bars, nothing overbearing, mind you, merely the usual for this type of town.
Out on the beach, small families splashed about in the breakers that pounded the shore with steady, resounding thuds. These combers rose in curls of white foam atop an achingly azure sea, only to come ashore with resonant booms before thinning to an effervescent sheen. The golden sand gently embraced the bay and ultimately eased into Melaque at the far end of the sound.
After dark, the town came alive. With the heat mercifully abated, people once again perambulated about the dirt-packed streets, filling the town with the murmur of quiet conversation that was so lacking under the brutally blistering sun. The coolness of the night air drew out the locals who gathered in tight-knit groups in tiny sidewalk cafes. In one of the upstairs bars, I engaged some locals in a friendly game of eight ball.
The cooler air had everyone in an affable mood and soon the tequila was flowing freely. The exchange rate allowed me to display considerable largesse and my newfound friends were more than happy to take advantage of the free shots. After several rounds, the bartender offered me a wooden devil mask. This mask was badly in need of a fresh coat of paint. It was a gift, however, a memento of my time in Navidad so I accepted it appreciatively.
Back at Casa Chips, I secured a top floor apartment with a sprawling view of the bay at an extremely reasonable rate so I was ecstatic. My stay turned out to be eminently enjoyable; once again, I rolled the dice on the internet and came up aces. Initially a seemingly dubious enterprise, Casa Chips instead turned out to be yet another extraordinary hideaway.
© Copyright Stephen Alexander 2008
A walk through a Pacific Coast Mexican resort community