Tom Hoffmann Melaque Workshop 2017 - Part 1 : The place and the people

It has been a week now since I returned from the workshop, but the glow hasn't faded yet. Admittedly, I had never been to Mexico before and never taken an on-location workshop before, this is my first such experience and nothing to compare it against ... but it is without doubt the most magical one week of painting for me since I started this journey three years ago (more on that a bit later).

In this post I will write about the wonderful place that is Melaque, and the people that make it so. Thanks to Laurie for most of the pictures in this post.

The place - Melaque, Mexico

Melaque is a combination of three beach front villages - San Patricio, Melaque and Villa Obregon, the entire area commonly referred to as Melaque. As far as I could tell tourism is the most important component of the economy of the area. Apparently Melaque is a popular beach vacation destination for Mexicans. The area has some ex-pat population (mainly from Canada surprisingly), some tourists from US and Canada but not too many. It is most definitely not a resort town like Cancun or Cabo. Here are a few pictures of what the town looked like. One thing you will notice in all the pictures are the wonderful shadows! This place is a painter's paradise.

The beach

The place is small enough that you can walk the entire stretch on foot. There is an unbroken stretch of walkable beach that goes all the way from Melaque, via San Patricio to Barra de Navidad. Along the way you will find the beach front dotted with shacks, restaurants and bars (that didn't seem to have walls on the front and back, except for the two walls on the sides to hold up the roof of the shack).

I am told that the water in most of the stretch is too rough for good swimming, but apparently great for surfing!

La Paloma

Most of us stayed at the lovely oceanfront boutique resort in San Patricio, La Paloma. It is located right on the beach with amazing views of the ocean from most rooms. The place really is as beautiful as in the pictures. 

View of the ocean from Room 10 of La Paloma. You can see the pool on the left and Albatros Bar on the right. Also, palm trees everywhere!

View of the beach from La Paloma. Man feeding his catch to the birds.

The resort is gated, and once you are inside it feels like a sanctuary (high-walled hacienda!). It is beautifully designed, lovely landscaping throughout and is always cool because of the breeze from the ocean. The guests are welcome to enjoy the entire property, and there are lots of little nooks everywhere for us to gather.

The food

There were tons of options to eat out, and every meal was absolutely delicious. There are restaurants and eateries all over the place, ranging from tiny pop-up shacks to restaurants catering to the ex-pat community featuring hamburgers and salsbury steaks. My favorite meals are the ones we ate in the tiny pop-up restaurants with street seating. 

As evening rolled-in it seemed like every other home turned into a pop-up restaurant, serving tacos, sopes, pazole etc.

You really didn't have to spend much money to eat a great meal in Melaque. At this place above, dinner for a group of 8 came to 235 pesos, which is equal to less than $15. The restaurants varied widely in pricing, and there were places where we spent as much as $10 per head for dinner and drinks but these were really lavish and luxurious restaurants. So yeah, things don't cost much here.

This is a small town and all they have is Food. They don't have vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, kosher etc. etc. If you have special dietary needs, best make your own arrangements.

The People

I spent a week in Melaque but still I couldn't quite get a pulse on the rhythm of the town. You could never been certain that the place you ate at the night before will be open the day after. Some places closed for a few days at once. "Maybe I will go visit uncle so-and-so today." and so they decided to close down the shop or the restaurant for the day? I just don't know :-) Children seem to be out in the streets playing at random times of the day, when do they go to school? (some said the school was in the late afternoon). There was a carnival in town and there'd be families out at night with their children on weekdays. Weekdays? On school-nights? Such a thing wouldn't be dreamt of in the bay area :-)

One thing for sure is that there is a certain sense of freeness that we have come to forget here in the US. Children play freely in the streets, stop and talk to strangers, watch us paint, all the while there is no parent helicoptering and monitoring the child. People stop and chat with you (if you speak the language anyway) in a leisurely manner with no sense of hurry. It is like when you are there you just forget to hurry. Everything is leisurely and laid-back. Everything closed down in the afternoon, the streets desolate, most storefronts shut and the town came back to life in the evening with music (music was everywhere!), children playing in the streets, pop-up restaurants outside every home it seemed like, people set their chairs out on the sidewalk and watched the passers-by and chatted with their neighbors.

Upon my return, when I was telling a colleague at work about this experience they said, "You didn't go to another place, you went to another time!". And that is absolutely true. It really was more like time travel. There were no smartphone-people walking on streets like zombies, there was little hurry about places to be and things to do. It was a therapeutic experience, a glimpse of enjoying life and finding happiness outside of "stuff" and "success".

I left my heart in Melaque

What a place! I almost do not want to post this, lest more people start going there and it ceases to be the hidden gem :-)