September 4, 2020
Barra de Navidad, Mexico
We consider ourselves lucky.
As of today, our friends and family are all COVID-free and somewhat still employed. Most of them still have some semblance of sanity. Okay, okay, we admit, a few of them were already crazy going into the pandemic, but we still love them. Our “tribe” is hanging in there.
John and I are “stuck” in Mexico.
To many people, the idea of being quarantined in a foreign country can be unnerving. In fact, it’s so scary that many expats have fled back to their home countries. But, for us, we are living out what’s probably the most calamitous global crisis in recent history while barefoot and bikini clad. As I said, we are lucky. Our current isolation conditions here in Barra de Navidad, Mexico, are absolutamente perfecto! (downright perfect!)
From the moment we arrived in this sleepy village with a population of approximately 4000, we were enthralled by its alluring beaches, welcoming people, perfect weather, and magical sunsets. Heck, even the dogs don’t bark or even growl as you walk by. If it’s possible to be in love with a place, we are completely enamored with Barra de Navidad (Christmas Bar).
Barra is sandwiched midway down the Pacific coast of Mexico between Puerta Vallarta and Manzanillo. Part of its allure is that it’s close to several major cities, and yet far enough away to maintain its small town “village” charm. The primary industry of the area is fishing. In fact, there are several international fishing tournaments that are hosted here every year. Barra also caters to tourists with quaint shops and eateries scattered up and down the cozy, colorful streets of the downtown area.
Frankly, two years ago, I’d never heard of Barra de Navidad. When the house sit here at Villa Santa Barbara became available, I thought that it must be close to Christmas Island. (Remember the Andrews’ Sisters rendition of “Christmas Island”?)
Again, I’m sharp as a marble when it comes to geography. After I figured out exactly where Barra is, it made me wonder why on earth they named the place after a traditional winter holiday. I understand how North Pole, Alaska, and Christmas Cove, Maine, got their names. Cold…sleighs jingling over the snow…duh! But a beautiful tropical village? Hmmm. Researching Barra’s history told all.
It was a little over 460 years ago that Don Antonio de Mendoza, the first viceroy on New Spain landed on what is now Barra de Navidad. And, you’ve probably already guessed, it was on Christmas Day! Thus, the name.
17th-century Spanish galleon replica in Quebec City, Wiki Commons
The port was used as a shipyard where boats were repaired, and, restocked, and the town became a haven for sailors to rest up for major “discovery” voyages. In 1564, the Legazpi-Urdanenta expedition sailed from Barra to discover a sailing route to and from the Philippine Islands. Four ships left and made it to their destination safely. Piece of cake. But, only one, the San Pedro, returned. Despite the loss of vessels and men, but because of the success of the San Pedro’s round trip voyage, the trade routes between New Spain and Asia were established.
In 1587, Thomas Cavendish, a British sailor, wanted England to have a share of the Asian treasures that the Spanish were enjoying. Cavendish captured the Santa Anna, a 600-ton Spanish galleon that was loaded with precious stones, silk, iron, precious metals, tobacco, chocolate, jade, etc. He looted $122,000 in silver, which was the biggest haul the English had ever stolen from the Spaniards.
But Cavendish’s ship was too small to carry all of the loot back to England, and, he didn’t have enough men to sail the huge Spanish galleon. So, he did what any good pirate would, he burned the galleon and the entire Barra shipyard. The remainder of the treasure as well as the ashes of Santa Anna disappeared to the bottom of the harbor. According to the story, the only thing left after the fire was a wooden cross that overlooked the shipyard.
Yep, the area is definitely magical.
Here’s why Barra has been paradise for us during the pandemic lockdown.
Since we’ve been mainly confined to our Villa, we haven’t had the opportunity to eat out much. Plus, many of the area restaurants have closed, or are open on a very limited schedule. But believe me, we haven’t gone hungry. Actually, we’ve probably feasted as good, if not better than we ever have.
John rides his bike to the local mom and pop grocery stores, and we make a trip to Melaque to Super Hawaii Market (about 4 miles away) about every ten days to get some specialty items like our favorite coffee and creamer. (We are coffee snobs…and proud of it!) The produce is fresh, locally grown, and delicious.
John also frequents our local Barra meat shop where he and the butcher practice their Spanish and English with each other. The steaks are superb and the butcher cuts bacon for us into thick slices. It’s right up there with the bacon we got from Ed in Belize, (see Bringing Home the Bacon). In our house there is no such thing as leftover bacon! Mmmm…mmmmm…muy Bueno!
Remember, Barra is a fishing village. Villa Santa Barbara (where we are house sitting) is right on one of the ocean canals. We see (and wave to) fishermen that come and go several times daily.
Some are in motor powered sea crafts and others are in canoes or small rowboats. A smile and a wave mean a lot to anybody, in any country. These guys are great. They know we especially like shrimp, dorado, and tuna, so when they have hauled in one of our favorites, they always ring the Villa bell to see if we want some! We never even have to leave home! Eating fresh fish that slept in the Pacific the night before is pretty incredible.
As the old adage goes:
“When the going gets tough, the tough eat pizza!”
Okay, I just made that up, but it should be an old saying!
Honestly, if I had to pick a favorite food, it would probably be pizza. To me, it’s a food group. I don’t love it so much I’d sell my soul for it, but I’d have to think about it for a long time. You just can’t go wrong with pizza.
Unfortunately, throughout our years on the road, we’ve rarely gotten to eat much…until now. Pizza Internet of Barra de Navidad to the rescue! Carlos Limon, the owner, is a genius when it comes to satisfying pizza-philes like me, especially those, like me, who struggle with conversational Spanish.
At least once a week (after Jeopardy) I go online and, in English, build a perfect pizza pie that will be the evening’s dinner. Not only is the pizza delicious, but Carlos, and his adorable daughter Carley, come on his motorcycle to deliver it right to our door. Now folks, this 2-year-old girl, clad in her sunglasses and mask is way beyond adorable.
Having her at our door brightens not only the evening, but the whole week. So cute!
But there’s more…
We generally are not big bread eaters, but when you have a friend that owns a bakery and lives two houses down the street, it’s hard to pass up. Roland and Veronica of La Tanda Bakery are culinary masters!
When I run most mornings the aroma of their bakery beckons to me and I can’t resist. John places our weekly order via email and Roland delivers it on Friday. I’ve come to love Friday mornings because we get two jumbo cinnamon rolls (usually still warm) slathered in cinnamon, brown sugar and butter. Saturday mornings I usually do an extra mile to overcome my indulgent guilt, but it is so worth it!
On my birthday in August, Roland made me a pear, almond cream pie! Bada-boom!
Neither one of us owns a coat.
We are beach bums. Admittedly, when the beaches were closed because of the quarantine, it was tough. However, now that the beaches and Malecon are open again we have so enjoyed strolling them, catching our “collective” breath, and realizing that in that moment, even if it is a fleeting one, all is right with the world.
Last month, early one morning, John and I decided we needed a little beach time, and walked to the Malecon. Were we in for a treat.
There was a yoga class as well as a Zumba class in progress, right on the Malecon! I was planning to walk/run a mile or two, but this was even better. John had disappeared down the walkway to take photos, so I just jumped right in with the rest of the ladies and shook my booty the way it should be done…to a Latin beat.
Everyone kept their socially appropriate distance, and had a blast! Smiling while you exercise definitely burns more calories.
So, when our worrywart friends want to know how on earth we are surviving the COVID lockdown in a tiny town, in a foreign country, where very few speak our language, we sigh and respond:
“Well, we really have it rough.
The beaches are so beautiful we often have to close our eyes so as not to get giddy.
When we walk down the streets, we have to be careful not to soak up too much adventuresome spirit left there by ancient sailors, pirates and buccaneers that literally changed the world.
We have to be careful with what we eat, it might be too fresh and delicious.
And finally, when we are around the locals, we have to distance ourselves because we don’t want to get too healthy and happy.”
It’s tough, but every day we suck it up and take one for the team.
Welcome to our Barra-dise!