A place to visit or a place to live?
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Colima could be a great place to live. I’m just not sure I want to visit there.
The air in March was clear and fresh, parks (more like gardens) filled the city, the people were friendly, and the food tasty. Hard to imagine what could be wrong...until we tried to find a reasonable hotel.
As we walked yet another grid out from the center of town, I understood what Alice Steinbach, author of WITHOUT RESERVATIONS, meant when she said One of the most important decisions for me when planning a trip is to pick my hotel carefully.
Without a doubt, Steinbach had far more disposable income than Paul and I. No one stays within a block of the Spanish Steps in Rome without shelling out a packet of change.
Even with much lighter pockets, we still like a comfortable place to bed down for the night. The starting price for a room at the Hotel Ceballos in the center of town will set you back a hundred and ten bucks in March 2008. Lonely Planet even went so far to say that the inexpensive rooms are shockingly small and dark. We paid quite a bit less than that in Milan and Rome a couple years ago. I wanted to shout Com’on, folks. Get a grip. This is Colima for crying out loud. Yeah, it’s nice, but it sure ain’t Rome.
What can a traveler get for three hundred thirty pesos or thirty bucks? A charitable description would be tired. Seedy also comes to mind. If the place had a carpet, I would have cringed, but in sub-tropical Colima, carpets are not a big item. In the middle of the night when I have to get up to pee, I want to set my bare feet down on tile and not a grungy carpet. Even if I have to sit sideways on the toilet so my knees don’t get wedged between the toilet bowl and the wall.
The rooms in the front are motel-like, but in the old section out back, they are larger and face a lush garden equipped with equipal tables and chairs.
Two cheerful ladies kept the place spotless and balanced the grumpy day manager. We would have stayed in Room 16 the full week if it hadn’t been for the rock-hard bed. Mattresses in Mexico tend to run in the hard to harder category. At home, we’ve used foam pads and eggshell mats on top of the regular mattress until we splurged on a quality mattress. Its cushy expanse may have spoiled us forever.
Too bad some enterprising soul hasn’t invented the traveling miracle pad that folds to handkerchief size and then expands to provide a comfy sleep on the road.
After two sleepless nights at the Merced, we went to El Hotel San Lorenzo with a newly remodeled section across from the old hotel and four blocks from the central plaza. We thought we had hit pay dirt...huge rooms, a bathroom with lots of space, easy access to the parking lot for our Econoline van, super clean, and best of all, gloriously soft beds. The rooms were even fifty pesos less than the Merced. Too bad the street provided a tunnel effect so that it seemed all the noise from the relatively quiet city was channeled into our room at night.
Chalk up another sleepless night.
Instead of our projected stay of at least a week, we headed out on the next day, thinking a fourth sleepless night would have put us over the edge.
From what we saw, hotel guests in Colima either have the wherewithal to fork over a hundred to two hundred fifty bucks a night for a room or are those who expect little in the line of extras, other than what their companion for the evening can provide. It’s obvious there are more amorous couples than well-heeled visitors. Choices in between the extremes are limited, which explains why the night clerk told me the Merced fills up every night.
I couldn’t help wondering if we weren’t getting too persnickety as we tack on the extra years but decided Colima just isn’t a place geared for travelers. Most tourists pass through on their way to the beach at El Manzanillo (an hour or so away) or head to even closer Cuyutlan and primitive El Paraiso.
The hotel situation brought up an interesting conundrum. If more tourists came to town, would there be more of a selection of hotels? Or if there were more comfortable, reasonably-priced hotels, would there by more tourists? The chicken and the egg theory of hotel management.
The city itself does have great charm. I love a place where I can walk comfortably. Drivers of motorized vehicles (bus drivers included) do not seem hell bent on shortening the life span of pedestrians as is the case in other cities. Lush plazas abound with lots of benches for sitting. I had to wonder if the Municipality operated a more efficient vehicular inspection system as tailpipes did not spew forth the noxious fumes of other cities and towns. Drivers didn’t even honk their horns.
A great walking city lets someone like me focus on the smaller details, like doors and windows that have always given me great enjoyment in Mexico. The photos above and below were taken by Michael R. Swigart. You can see more of his work at
It's a great web page to go for Swigart's photos from around the world, including his trip to Colima.
Colima is the first city we’ve seen in Mexico minus ambulantes or street vendors. Bony, half-starved dogs, the staple of other cities surprised us by their absence. Noise was considerably less than other cities. It was a rare sensation not to have the cacophony of a half dozen radio stations tuned to six different programs or sound systems playing diverse songs at full blast within a block.
There were beggars...old people, people in wheelchairs, or those otherwise incapacitated. They certainly did not come out for the tourists. Foreigners are a rare sight. When people on the street did a double take seeing our white, güera faces, we knew tourists were in short supply. The next time we walked by the same people, many nodded and gave as an adios, the standard greeting in passing.
Not only is it a great place to walk, driving is easy as well. It’s perhaps the only city we’re visited that is easy to maneuver and where it’s hard to find oneself lost. We could even slip into the occasional parking space. But in a city like Colima, it was much more fun to walk.
So, I had to wonder what keeps people away.
It can't be Colima's active volcano which keeps anyone from visiting the city. It acts more as a tourist attraction than anything else. As we entered the town, it even gave us some attractive welcoming puffs.
It’s more apt to be the heat and humidity, something we did not encounter during our visit. In early March, locals complained of the cold and walked about shivering. The way they talked, I was surprised not to see everyone bundled up in Parkas, although I did see one person wearing gloves. As long-timers in Pátzcuaro, we considered Colima in its March ‘freeze’ to have a pleasantly warm climate. It that was the temperature all the time, the place would be paradise.
Of course, Paradise is difficult to find, and often it is all a matter of perspective – all in the eye of the beholder. So it comes down to what time of year a person visits a place, how the locals react, if the food is pleasing to the palate, even if the bed is too hard...all sorts of intangibles.
A few days ago, I read a post on a Yahoo group from a woman who said she and her husband had just come back from Colima, and it was awful. The couple got ripped off by a crooked realtor, found the place had too much trash, hazy sky, and biting bugs.
We left Colima with a better taste than the couple who had the ill-fated visit with the realtor. And we left with the idea to return. Maybe next time, we'll even go to the beach as well. It's hard to beat those Pacific Coast sunsets.
Now I have to wonder, what prompted these people to see a realtor seriously enough to get gypped. From the sound of the email, the two were there only a very short time. But they seem to illustrate a new phenomenon...Boomers or early retirees who visit, gasp in wonder at the initial impression, and head as fast as they can to the realtor’s office.
For us, it was back to our rental house in Pátzcuaro where both my husband and I are affected of late by the climate. Some persons suffer allergies in the dry season and others in the wet. My husband and I balance each other out...dry for him, wet for me. That takes care of the year.
A Morelia doctor said with a straight face, “Where did you say you live again? Pátzcuaro, right? There’s your problem. It’s endemic.”
That’s a refreshing diagnosis. But then, no place is perfect. We’ll continue to wheeze and whisper our way through life. And travel.