How Julie and Victor got to La Manzanilla

Serendipity? Luck? Fate? Maybe all of the above. I had always had a fascination with Mexico and other Hispanic countries, particularly after having spent 13 months in Santander, Spain and crossing the country on foot while walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. So my partner Victor and I planned a year's sabbatical, somewhere on the coast between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo. I had never been south of PV, but had an uncanny sense we would find just the right little town somewhere down yonder. I told Victor, "I want to spend the year in a small town, on the coast, with mountains sloping down to the ocean - not too different from what I have in Sausalito. Oh, I also want the house to be very private, with a beautiful ocean view and affordable." He looked at me and resisted rolling his eyes at what seemed like the impossible and said, "OK, we'll give it a try." After packing up two houses and leaving our humble abodes in the Bay Area, we drove and drove and drove until our eyes were spinning like the tires. After five days we hit Colima, then headed west to Manzanillo. From there we started our adventure of shopping for just the right town to spend the next 12 months in. We drove up the coast until a few days later our blue 1985 Volvo, loaded to the brim, rolled into La Manzanilla. It was a crystal clear sunny October day and the village was very quiet. Not a lot of foreign tourists yet as it was 2002, before La Manzanilla was the place to be. We parked. Walked down the empty, dusty streets and listened to the ocean roaring in the background from post hurricane Kenna. I said to Victor, "This might be the town I was imagining!"

The first person we met was Ruben (el jardinero) and Victor told him what we were looking for... "she wants a house, on the hill, with a beautiful ocean view - and," he hesitated trying not to be facetious, "very affordable." Ruben paused, thought for a moment, looking to the ground as if he might find the answer there, then to our delight announced, "I think I know just the house for you!" We followed him up the jungly hill and came upon a modest white house with a striking view of the sparkling ocean and surrounded by jungle. And yes, it was affordable for us to be able to spend a year without income. "Dreams do come true" I thought to myself.

One year turned to two years and now we are working on our 7th year here. On year 2, we started La Catalina Natural Language School (www.lacatalinaschool.com) where we have enjoyed providing authentic immersion experiences to adults, teenagers and families who come from the U.S., Canada and even Australia to take Spanish classes, stay with Mexican host families and participate in the community.

We also participated in forming La Catalina Educational Foundation (www.lacatalinafoundation.com), to give back to the community, as Victor, having received a full-ride scholarship at UNAM from the Mexican government for his graduate studies at UC Berkeley, felt this was a small way to pay back the gift of education that he received.

So that's our story. Serendipity? Luck? Fate? We say it must have been all of the above.

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