Rider on a beach in Mazatlan (This and other photos by Michael Day)

(Published by The West Australian on 7 October, 2010)

“Amigo!” I called out.

I had been told that amigo (“friend” in Spanish) works like “mate” in Australian. Sure enough it worked.

The huge Mexican waiter turned around, gave me a big grin and came over to take my breakfast order (eggs).

I was in a top mood and why wouldn’t I be on a balcony restaurant of the Hotel Costa del Oro (“Gold Coast”)

The restaurant overlooked one the many perfect beaches in the historic port city of Mazatlan on Mexico’s west coast. It was ideal grandstand to watch squadrons of giant birds patrolling the glassy ocean, flying just a centimetre or two above the surface.

A few minutes later, my new-found amigo arrived with what seemed to be a kilogram of melted cheese decorated with the eggs I ordered.  My heart sank. It knew it under threat.

But with a giant amigo watching, there was no choice but to say adios to healthy eating and just tuck in.


A few minutes later another challenge to my health came from another hombre (a word I remembered from Westerns).

“Catch pneumonia,” said Poncho, who manned the travel desk in the hotel foyer

I was more confused than miffed because Poncho was an amigo who had taken to calling me “Miguelito”.

Double pulmonia

Poncho then explained that Pneumonia (“Pulominia” in Spanish) is an extra-large, golf-cart that takes tourists from the beachside hotels into the centre of Mazatlan.

The drivers of conventional taxis once gave the carts the nickname of “Pneumonia” to frighten tourists into thinking they could catch a cold or worse by travelling in the open-sided carts. But it had the opposite effect and the word is now a marketing tool.

The Pneumonia whizzed me along a boulevard runs next to the longest beachside boardwalk in Latin America. I spotted inline skaters, mums with strollers, kids dawdling to school, giant statues in a Stalinist-realism style and the elderly enjoying views.

The beaches looked like Cottesloe, Swanbourne, City Beach and Scarborough all joined up. Add Trigg as well. Plus there were a couple of islands just to make the sunsets cute. We passed a night club called “Bum Bum” but I couldn’t guess what it meant in English.Salubrious?

A ute of heavily armed police or soldiers was the only evidence of the drugs wars between various mafia gangs. Everything else looked extraordinarily peaceful.

Once off the bus, it was a short stroll to watch young men leap to their deaths. Well, it looked like that was sure to happen.

They climbed up a big rock and then did a swan dive towards lots of sharp baby rocks. Fortunately, a swell came in at the right moment, and they were saved. They came running up and asked for a dollar. Who could deny them? Not this amigo.

It was a far more serene experience to wander up the road into the centre of the Puebla Viejo (the old town). Think Fremantle in stone painted bright pastel.

House in the old town

There were houses and shops in the Spanish style that were mainly blue but with purple around the doors and windows, or lime green with green window sills, or yellow with some kind of orange-ochre trimmings. A light blue shop looked more like a cake than a building.

It was one big architectural art gallery, and all centred around a square where boys watched the girls promenade, where the well-off walked their pedigree hounds, where the music seemed to came out of the walls, and where a bandstand, palm trees and giant plants combined to form the centre.


Siesta time

My camera and my eyes sated, I decided that when in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do. That is, have a siesta. I went back to the hotel and lazed around the pool. I watched as refugees from the Canadian winter rode horses along the beach, swam in the surf, bought sombreros from vendors, or flew up into the blue sky attached to a parasail.


Back I went to the old town with an Aussie amigo. Our mission was a shoe shine from one of the men who line the Main Square (Plaza Principal), which is crowned by a magnificent yellow Cathedral built in the 19th century.

I perched on my wooden throne as Manuel applied polish with a series of brushes and then used a variety of cloths to turn the dull black leather into an ebony mirror.

Manuel takes a shine to another Aussie

As he completed the final polish, the lights of Cathedral came on, illuminating the statues that occupied exterior niches. The sound of a hymn being sung by a solo soprano drifted into the warm night.

Three young men passing the entrance of the Cathedral doffed their caps. One made the sign of the cross. The reverence was poignant.


We moved on to nearby Plaza Machado and plucked up courage to enter a mysterious narrow corridor that took us to El Tunel, a restaurant specialising in authentic Mexican food.

Three elderly senoras supervised the contents of three big pots. Mazatlan is famous for marlin so that’s what I ordered. Instead of the giant steak I expected, the waiter delivered a plate of mashed up fish and sliced lemon to bring out the taste.

Three amigos arrived, one carrying a battered old guitar. Their harmonies filled the place with the sounds of old Mexico.

Colour combinations in Mazatlan