Manzanillo guidebook
celebrates15th Anniversary

by Susan Dearing

An earlier cover design of the Manzanillo guidebook

My two tourist guidebooks:
Manzanillo & the state of Colima
Barra de Navidad & Melaque

What was I doing 15 years ago? It was my third year as a scuba instructor working at the Hotel Sierra (now the Tesoro--the hotel has had 6 name changes since then), but during the summer months there was no scuba diving program, so I took the job of managing Hotel La Posada, then owned by Bart Varelmann. He and his wife, Inga would go to their summer home in Florida, and I was left with the every day management of their hacienda-style, 22-room  bed and breakfast. 

Rarely did people visit during the summer months since he only had two air-conditioned rooms. I use the term "air-conditioned" loosely, because neither unit functioned effectively. Bart didn't care--he made his money in the winter months. It was great for me, however, because I could teach scuba in the pool (we still do today), and get the occasional guest interested in scuba diving or snorkeling.

Today, with new owners, Juan and Lisa Martinez, the Posada has changed--for the better. At least half of the rooms have A/C, and everything has been upgraded, from new beds to refrigerators in the rooms. The food, fortunately, remains the same, so you can still enjoy delicious American-style breakfasts.

La Posada pool, with a 10 ft. depth on one side, made teaching scuba diving fun. There is also diving and snorkeling off the beach at the jetty, about 100 yards from the hotel.

One of the most enjoyable times was relaxing in the pool, waiting for guests to arrive. It was a wonderful time of my life that helped me meet many new friends and cemented my love of Manzanillo and its people.

Fortunately, I was blessed with some very interesting summer guests, such as Bruce Whipperman, who was in Mexico to write the first edition of his tourist guidebook, "Pacific Mexico Handbook." Not having much knowledge about Manzanillo and the state of Colima, Bruce asked me about things to do and places to see here. That was right up my alley, because every chance I had, I was off to explore some new place someone had told me about. Or, sometimes, I'd just take off and drive to see what was at the end of a road. Not speaking much Spanish in those days, sometimes finding a specific place was a real challenge.

Over the next year, I thought about Bruce's book, and was really excited to see that he'd put my scuba business in it, and had credited me in his first edition for the information about Manzanillo and Colima. It is the best book you can buy about the Pacific Coast, with extensive coverage, far more comprehensive than Fodor's, Frommer's or Lonely Planet. Although the aforementioned books are very good, and compliment Manzanillo and the state of Colima (for the most part), their principal weakness is that the authors don't have the time to spend really researching specific areas by going and doing.

In October of 1995 I opened Underworld Scuba in the Plaza Pacifico shopping center on Av. Audiencia on the Peninsula de Santiago. It was that year I met Carlos Cuellar, who is now my business partner, and has contributed to the book in many ways. He now manages Underworld Scuba - Scuba Shack, leaving me free to primarily work real estate, and in my spare time, update my two tourist guidebooks,  and write the web site,

While at La Posada, I started writing about Manzanillo and documenting all of the different places I went. This was before the age of computers (at least in Manzanillo), so I did all of my work on a Brother word processor, with a very small memory.  Once I had a perfect page completed, I would print it out and save it. The memory of the word processor was only about 8 pages, and I was constantly frustrated because you never knew when there would be a power outage. When that happened, anything I was currently working on went bye-bye. I cried a lot that first summer.

The first office of Underworld Scuba

Over the next couple of years I met many people through the Tesoro and La Posada, and I spent a lot of time telling them about Colima's many natural wonders. I averaged 2-4 hours a day as an unpaid lecturer and town promoter, touting where to go and what to do while on vacation. 

Everyone was grateful to find someone who spoke English to tell them about the area. Many said I should write a book. (I didn't want to tell them I was writing one in my spare time, thinking, "How many people claim to be writing a book and never actually finish one?")

Another thing I noticed is that no one could pronounce Manzanillo. Even with my lack of Spanish, I made sure I could at least say the name of the town where I lived. Many people got Manzanillo confused with La Manzanilla, an hour to the north, and I set about trying to figure out how Manzanillo got its name, and what the difference was between "Manzanillo" and "Manzanilla." There is a big difference! My research also showed that almost all tourist guidebooks that mentioned Manzanillo were wrong about the origin of the name. I decided that needed correcting, so I made sure it was included in my book.

Scuba class at the Hotel Sierra (now the Hotel Tesoro)

My writing and documentation of Colima continued, and one day when I was in the state capital I visited a book store on the town square. A glossy-covered book filled with beautiful color photos of various tourist attractions jumped right out at me. Unfortunately, it was all in Spanish, but I bought it anyway for the hefty price of $25 US, at the time a small fortune for me. I could look at the pictures, and Bart had a huge Spanish-English dictionary that helped to translate my new, travel tome. 

One by one, I visited all the places in the book, and if I couldn't find something, I showed the picture to any one of several dozen Mexicans, who each gave me their version of where the attraction was. Eventually, I was able to track down everything in the book, and, in my travels, I ran across a few things that the book didn't mention.

Colima Cathedral

The Colima central "Jardin"

Finally, I finished "Facts, Tips & Day Trips, Guide to Colima & Manzanillo," October 1, 1995. Everything was looking up until October 9. That morning, while we were having an employee breakfast meeting at Juanito's restaurant, the 8.0-magnitude earthquake, centered 3 miles off the coast of Manzanillo where the 3 tectonic plates meet, changed Manzanillo forever.

That wasn't the only thing that it changed. The book I had finally finished after two years of work was now worthless. Oh, perhaps the "Tips" section survived, as did the history and geography, but so much had changed all over the state, that I had to start again on the main section. I was now on my third word processor (the first one quit, the second was stolen--with newly written pages of the book that I didn't get a chance to print out). Around the end of the season (April), I was able to take stock of the demolition and rebuilding throughout the entire state, and start making revisions. I was still in the "print-out-a-page-at-a-time" mode.

Today's book with photos

Original pen & ink

I learned through my accountant how and where to apply for the copyright, and did so. 

As most people who try to do business here understand, the government doesn't always work with a high efficiency rating, so finally in November of 1997 I received my "cedula," from the Secretaria de Hacienda y Credito Publico.

I was in business and now no one could make an unauthorized copy of my book!

Original pen & ink

Today's book has photos

What I didn't know until about 4 years later is that once you have a federal taxi I.D. number (that's what a cedula is, though I didn't understand that at the time), you have to file federal tax forms. With my lack of Spanish, and an accountant that didn't speak English, nothing was said until an official-looking person with a badge and plastic I.D. showed up at my door and said I owed a whole bunch of money! I was panicked and frantic when she had me sign a piece of paper stating that she's done her job, and Carlos and I raced to the accountant. The accountant said that, yes, I did owe the money, but it wasn't for sales, it was a fine for not filing the quarterly form for 4 years, even if you claim zero income. (Dumb me, thinking that's what I pay an accountant for. Guess not.)

Mexico's Hacienda (like the U.S. IRS) is very good at accessing and compounding interest and penalties for failures to file. Also, if you don't or can't pay, they will take anything you own for collateral, and until you pay the fine, the interest and penalties continue to pile up. What I had in my name at the time was a 1993 Ford Escort that Hacienda determined wasn't worth the money I owed them (particularly so after one of my employees backed it into a hotel delivery truck), but they were ready to take it anyway. (Luckily I didn't have a first-born child, and they didn't want my dog.) Well, the fine was paid, but I'm four years ahead of my story, so let's go back to 1997.

Pen & ink sketches from the original edition of "Manzanillo & the State of Colima - Facts, Tips and Day Trips"

A scuba instructor friend of mine, who was working his second season at the Hotel Sierra, brought down a computer. We had internet in Manzanillo (dial-up) though I didn't have a clue what internet was. He told me it was better than a word processor, had more memory, and I could do a lot more with it. There was no such thing as a scanner back then, so I had to retype the pages (all 121 of them), and I was dependent on graphics from a program called Printmaster. I didn't have a clue how the internet worked and stayed away from it. I was excited when I could work and make changes to a page, and there was auto-save, so no sweat on the power outages that were so prevalent back then.

There was one day when I began to think I should have kept my old illustrations. A man came in the store to buy my book, then later returned to accuse me of "stealing" his photograph. It was a photo of a gull on a post with the sun setting in the background. (How unique!) I had gotten it from the Printmaster graphics disc. When I showed him where the picture came from, he decided he was going to sue Printmaster. I don't know what ever happened, but since then, every time I see a gull on a post, I think of that guy and take a picture.

After bringing the book into the computer age, all 140 pages of it, I have to update it several times a year because everything changes so quickly here. Restaurants go in and out of business, hotels change names, more activities for tourists are added. I've expanded the "Tips" section since there are a lot of new residents to Manzanillo and they need a reliable guide to car repairs, and other issues. 

I've thought of other formats, other ways to print it, but most people encourage me to keep the guide the way it is, spiral bound, printed on only one side. To save weight (the book weighs 2.2 lbs. or 1 kilo), I've gone from 10 pt. type to 9 pt., reducing the number of pages. I have considered gong to 8 pt. but my readers (many of whom are over 50) say, vehemently, "No!" 

Diving with the Mexican Navy "Fuerzas Especiales," (Special Forces, the equivalent of Navy Seals) on a beach clean-up

I have seen my readers' well-used books, the plastic covers gone, with dozens of sticky notes and annotations in the margins. I've thought about making a CD that could be downloaded; I've researched spiral binding and thermal binding. I've looked at saddle-stitching, side-stitching, perfect binding, and other types of book binding and finishing. 

The biggest problem with most of these methods is the fact that I'd have to print up many books, and when something changes here in Colima, I would not be able to add it to the book until the old ones are sold. So, it looks like, at least for now, my book will remain the same, the only changes being updates every few months or so.

Most people who know me are aware that I work and contribute to Manzanillo's children's funds, humane societies, and the campaign to clean the beaches that my scuba company organizes every September. 

I donate at least two dozen books a year to be auctioned off at the various charity events, as well as $3 from each book sale goes to all of the above causes. A recent realization of the drug and alcohol problem among Manzanillo's poor population has given me another cause cèlébre. I believe if you live in a community you need to give something back, and Manzanillo is certainly worth the effort.

Donations collected for the various children's foundations at Christmas

About 6 years ago, I wrote a book about Barra de Navidad and Melaque, Manzanillo's neighbors to the north. Through that book I met wonderful new friends, and in writing both books, I have learned a lot about the special place where I live. Of course, my Spanish is better today than when I first started, so it is easier to translate. I have also written more than 80 articles for my web site A few of those stories first appeared in the local newspapers--after editorials, politics, social events, sports, and police reports. I learned about the "Crock Caller of Tecoman," "The Iguana Guy," and "Los Amiales" from "El Noticiero" and El Correo," our local rags. However, the newspapers are famous for writing about something without giving you a clue as to where it is located. That, and my ability to ask for directions in Spanish is what keeps me in business. If you've ever seen a road, and have been curious about where it goes, follow it. Perhaps there's a book in you, too.

Do I have another book in the works? Perhaps one or three! If you'd like to order either of my guidebooks, or would like to ask a question about the area, please contact me. For all of you who have faithfully bought my book throughout the years, and repeatedly purchased the updated copies as they come out, thanks so much. If you have anything that you've seen in the area that you think is special and would like it included in the book or on the web site, please write. As always, I invite you to stop at Underworld Scuba - Scuba Shack and say "hola" when you're in town. Our location is across the street from the Santiago cemetery and El Gran Mueble furniture store, just 2 blocks north of Juanito's restaurant.

Scuba Shack pets show humans
how to get along

Waterfall adventure
Taking the plunge!

Diving at
Club de Yates
Peninsula de Santiago

Birthday dive
with octopus.
(He did not get eaten!)

Snorkeling with Sandy
Springtime at El Salto Waterfalls,
Minatitlan, Colima

Underwater trash collector
at San Pedrito