Colima, Mexico

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March 12th 2010
Published: March 18th 2010
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The city of Colima is in the small inland state of the same name. The state of Colima is home to two towering volcanoes, the active and constantly steaming Volcan de Fuego (3820m), and the extinct snowcapped Volcan Nevado de Colima (4240m). Three different tribes lived here: the Otomi, the Toltecs, and the Chichimecs, all of whom left behind exceptional pottery, mostly in tombs buried with their dead. The most famous of these are the plump hairless dogs called xoloitzcuintles. These dog statues were thought to accompany and help guide the dead to their final destination.

The city of Colima, even though inland, has subtropical weather like the coast: very warm and humid. Volcan de Fuego is just 30 km to the north, and the city has been hit by several major earthquakes - the most recent was in 2003. This is why there are few Spanish Colonial buildings remaining, despite being the first Spanish city in Western Mexico. The central square, or Plaza Principal, is typical of a large old Mexican city, with bandstand, fountains, garden areas and plenty of benches. It is very well maintained, and lively with families during the day, and diners and music in the evenings, even on weekdays. There are several churches and gardens within a radius of only a few blocks from the square, and our hotel was also right on the square, allowing us to look down from our balcony and take in all the action.

A note on the choice of hotel. This is the first time that the Lonely Planet guide steered us wrong. Their first choice was supposed to be a new hotel with large bright rooms, but turned out to be a dingy, cramped old place that smelled of disinfectant. The building certainly isn’t new - maybe the hotel is new to that building? Both rooms we looked at were small and dark with little windows looking into the stairwell and front desk instead of to the outside. The first had two lumpy small beds and the tiniest bathroom I have ever seen, and the second had a king bed that sagged in the middle and squeaked and groaned when I sat on it. It was located on a busy main street about 8 blocks from the plaza, with graffiti on the neighboring buildings. My first impression of the city was not a good one - I wanted to get right back on a bus and get the heck out of there! However, we thought we would see the cathedral and government buildings first, and once we walked to the plaza, we saw the beautiful Hotel Cebellos, a Best Western hotel in the middle of non-touristy Mexico (who would have thought?). It is old and stately, with lovely arches, marble floors, high ceilings with crown moldings, and iron balconies. A large, open central courtyard and comfy public sitting areas made this our best choice by far, and we moved right away. Even though it cost quite a bit more, in this case, it was sure worth it. Plus, the bellboy was so helpful, and glad to practice his English. We told him what we thought we wanted to see while we were there, and he gave us advice on how to go to the archaeological site just outside the city, and also called a tour guide that they deal with who put together a private tour for us for the next day including what we wanted to see, plus a few other places that we didn’t even know we wanted to see. It turns out that there are so many interesting places to see around Colima, that we couldn’t see them all in our 2 days there. Even so, the hotel staff and the tour guide they arranged for us made it a wonderful experience.

La Campana is an archaeological site about 5 km north of the city of Colima, that they think is from around 1500 BC. They are still excavating and restoring it, but the place is really big, and contains a ball court and a small tomb with bones and dog statues (unusual for Western Mexico). Our taxi driver had never been inside the grounds before, and he spoke English, so we asked him if he wanted to come in with us, and then take us back again afterwards. He agreed, and it turned out that the people at the site didn’t charge him admission - just us. Even though he didn’t know the history of the site, he was able to act as a translator for us since the people at the site were quite willing to explain everything to us and even move aside the heavy steel doors so that we could go down the stairs and look into the tomb. At first he said he wasn’t really interested in all this old history stuff, but once we got in there, he was like a kid, running up to the top of the structures, and wanting to look at everything. It was not as impressive as some of the other sites we visited last year like Tulum or Chitzen Itza, but I think it will rival these sites once it is fully excavated and restored. It was a fun trip, and even our taxi driver enjoyed it.

The next day we had our private tour to go closer to the volcanoes to take some pictures. We could have taken a bus to the neighboring town of Comala, which the Lonely Planet says is closer and provides a good view, but our tour guide Florenzio also took us there for lunch, and there was no good view of the volcanoes from there. He took us way into the mountains, up a winding road, past a little lake community called Laguna las Marias where there are nice cabins to rent, far enough to where the road turned into a dirt track. Then we got out and he opened a gate and we went through a barbed wire fence into a cow pasture, and walked down the dirt track. From there we had a perfect, unobstructed view of the active volcano, which obliged us by belching out several puffs of smoke while we were taking pictures. While on our trip that day, we saw a huge tree that was actually 2 trees that had grown together forming a bridge between them, which is quite an unusual site. We saw lots of colorful birds, and beautiful mountain scenery. Because of the humidity, the air is quite hazy so the pictures are not really clear, but I can tell you that in person it was quite beautiful. We also stopped at a place called villa de Alvarez to take a picture of a lovely yellow colored church in the square there. On the way back to the city, Florenzio took us to see a unique bull ring that is built entirely of wood and palm rushes. This bull ring is completely assembled and disassembled every year; the wood is stored, and then re-used the next year - with crumbling or rotten stuff replaced as needed. This has been done every year for the past 153 years to honor San Filipe de Jesus. We aren’t interested in bullfighting, but I must say that the history of this was interesting, and the construction of the place was quite amazing to see.

We lunched in the pretty plaza of the town of Comala, and afterwards Florenzio waited while we went shopping for replicas of the hairless dog statues that we had seen in the tomb. He said we could ship them home instead of having to carry them, and he helped us to find a place that would do that, and was a great help translating to the guy at the DHL office while we arranged packaging and shipping of these statues. At first they didn’t want to ship them because they thought they might be originals that we were trying to smuggle out of the country - like they haven’t seen hundreds of these replicas - they are sold in all the tourist shops - but anyway, he showed the guy our receipt and convinced him that they were just souvenirs, so we got it all done. We were rushing to catch the bus on to our next destination, so he drove us straight to the correct bus station (there are 2 and we didn’t know which one we should go to) and even parked and came in to the terminal with us to show us where to go to buy our tickets. What a wonderful guy! I have his business card, and will post that information once I get a chance. He deserves to get more business as he is polite, honest and helpful. And knowledgeable, and he speaks English! We were very lucky to have found him. So our 2-day whirlwind tour of Colima, even though it started out a bit rough, ended up to be a great experience.

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