Barb, tell us a bit about the early years please.
I was born in Woodstock, a small town in New Brunswick, Canada, that makes me a “herring bone choker”, but now that I’ve lived in Nova Scotia for the past 6 years, I’m also a “blue noser”. I got married very young and we had three children. I divorced him. I didn’t meet Rex until the youngest child, my daughter Wendy, was 10.
So you brought up the children on your own?
Yes, and trying to educate myself at the same time. I went to night school where I studied administration, book keeping, accounting – it was a Government designed program for working adults to give them a broad spectrum. I did a variety of jobs to support us and to fit in with my schooling – baby sitter, waitress, cook, a threader in a fabric mill… At the end of the course I applied for a job as a material and labour coster for a large manufacturing company. This was before computers, all the maths, the calculations, had to be done mentally. They interviewed about 20 people, and I was so nervous. After a couple of days to my surprise, I was called back to meet the President of the company, and he said the reason he was hiring me was because I gave the wrong answer! I was the only one who had the method and knew how to do it, I’d just made a mistake in the last equation. I always laugh when I think of that… hired because I got the answer wrong.
How did you meet Rex?
Another one of the courses I’d taken was hairdressing & cosmetology. I set up my chair in a salon that had about 8 others. I had regular customers and one of them kept saying “Oh Barb my boyfriend has a friend you’d love.” I said I didn’t do blind dates, no thank you, but she went on at me for almost 2 years. One night I was escorted to the army mess dance, I was at a long table of 10, and at the far end was a man, with his partner – we looked at each other and smiled, but never spoke or danced. Upon leaving he said he couldn’t take me home that night but he would be in touch. This of course turned out to be the man my friend had wanted to set me up with for almost 2 years! And from our first date, Rex and I never went out with anyone else.
When was that?
That was 1971, and we were married in 1974.
Obviously Rex was in the Army – for how long?
For 25 years, he served in different units – he loved the dragoons, that was his favourite. He was also in the tank corps, he was commander of a tank. In the last few years of his career he was in charge of the recruits for officers training. He retired as a sergeant.
So they moved Rex around a lot – and you went with him?
Oh yes – all over the place, Canada, Europe, living on base. I didn’t have a home till we moved here to Bucerias.
We’ve heard of “army brats” – Did it make an impact on you and your children?
Not too much, maybe a slight problem in their social abilities. My elder son, William, was very timid in making friends, but my daughter Wendy is very outgoing. I had to make new friends every time we moved too, and it was hard as the women were all younger and talking babies and diapers, I was older and out working still. How much it affected my second son Wrae – I don’t know. He was injured when he was three, he had brain and spinal meningitis. At first they didn’t think he would live, he was very crippled. Then through therapy and hard work I got him through that, but he never socially developed. He became a street person. He couldn’t keep a job because he wouldn’t take orders. He used to keep in contact with me almost every day by internet but I haven’t heard from him in about 5 years.
Is he still alive?
Yes he is. I know this because the City police arrested him for getting on a bus without a ticket, that means he now has a police record! And for such a little thing. But they contacted me and now all his details are on file so if he dies they will get in touch. Otherwise I wouldn’t know.
How did you first come to Banderas Bay?
When we lived in Petawawa, Ontario, I had 2 ice cream bikes, and once Rex retired we moved back to New Brunswick, and we took on 3 ice cream bikes there. We were going to do a major reconstruction of our first ever home, but the owner of the bike franchises called us, would we move to Halifax and take over there? We did. We had 28 bicycles, and 50 employees. In only the second year of doing that, the company created a competition and as we had the most sales turnover, we won a free trip to Acapulco. The company ran another competition, we won it again, this time to Puerto Vallarta, the Buenaventura Hotel.
We kept on winning trips! South America, Acapulco again, Cancun, PV again, and we took advantage of promotions and stayed on for a 2nd week but we had to choose where to stay. In PV Rex had made good friends with the bell boy because he played cribbage, to Rex’s amazement, and when he got off work we would play cards with him and his friends where we learned a lot of our Spanish. Between them they knew of apartments available and that’s where we stayed when we added on extra weeks, and this happened for a few more years. We’d become great friends with one gentleman who showed us an apartment, with great embarrassment, because the outgoing tenants had taken everything – light bulbs, sockets, plumbing fixtures, it was a real mess. Rex said: “I just love it! We’ll take it!” It was a really safe area because the back wall adjoined the wall of the PV jail! Armed guards walking up and down on the wall day and night! We fixed it up, painted everything white and stayed for 6 months at a time for two years.
What did you do during that time?
I taught at a school in Vallarta but they rearranged my schedule, 3 kindergartens, and it was really inconvenient, so I started classes in my house, applying the principles of learning something relevant to the work of the students. I had a dentist, a CEO, a nurse, head waiter, bell boy, young teenage schoolboy, hairdresser… I designed each course separately for them so they would learn the terms and expressions for their business to speak the English most appropriate for them in their daily job. This was the time when I first met my Rat.
Please explain that!
He was a little boy who lived on the street, he wanted to learn English. He wanted to sit in on the classes, and the adults said OK and he picked up English really fast. He moved to Yelapa and one day we came across him there, collecting black coral on the beach which was illegal and selling to tourists. I got hold of him and he came back to PV. We didn’t adopt him but we took care of him. The young boy “Rat” in my novel is based upon him. When we moved to Bucerias we lost track of him. But most of the adults in the group have kept in touch. One day he came to Orcas to thank us.
When you decided to come down to stay were your children for or against your move to here?
A bit against, not because of it being dangerous or anything, but because they knew we wouldn’t be able to just fly back up and see them, and they didn’t have the money to come down, and really nobody had a phone in their home here, we had to go to a hotel to call Canada. It’s different now, especially with computers.
Have they been down to visit?
Yes, Wendy has been here lots of times and her kids, they love it. My eldest son Bill doesn’t like flying but he came down for our lovely 25th wedding anniversary in 1999 with family attending – we had to hold it at Capri Restaurant because Orcas was not big enough, we had 200 guests! Nancy Rains conducted the ceremony, on the beach, it was a marvellous anniversary. Bill came down one more time to say goodbye to Rex before he died, that was a sad visit.
So you decided to come down permanently – what about your thriving ice cream sales? And what was the plan for here?
We gave up the ice cream sales, and we finished building our home in New Brunswick to sell. We came down with the idea of opening a bar which we were going to call Tequila Pigs. I had designed a logo… pigs lined up kicking up their legs like the Rockettes, the logo would be on everything. We bought a hundred sets of the small plastic pink pigs in Canada, you rolled them like dice and you won depending on how the feet landed. I printed all the rules, and had everything packed. We had a handshake deal with a guy on the malecon to rent premises near Carlos O Brien’s – it was pretty much a ruin so we would have to do it all up. When we got here and unpacked, all my pigs had been stolen out of our bags! They’d left the rules. Then we met the owner and he had decided to increase the rent – almost double. Rex said no, he was disappointed the owner would not honour the handshake agreement. Then we were looking at another place but we found out the liquor licence had also doubled.
Rex said we should do what we know. I’d been helping my sister in New Brunswick who catered. We decided on fish and chips. Rex’s son, a chef, came down and taught us safety with oil, heat temperatures etc. We were the only food place in that area at the time, this was about 1990, located just over the Rio Cuale bridge – we called it “Old English Fish & Chips”. It was near where Jan Benton had her store. We also served shrimp and octopus – everything was deep fried! Then Mexican workers came for lunch so we put on Mexican food, and hired 2 local cooks – and after a while they wanted to do breakfasts, so we did. That was a full day of business which we did for almost 4 years.
When did you first visit Bucerias?
In the late 80s when we were first staying in PV. There was no main highway, just the old track, nothing between here and the airport. There were only two or three restaurants on the beach. We sat at one and saw from Dugarels to the point towards La Cruz that there were only 3 lights. It was beautiful and a paradise.
You continued to visit Bucerias?
Yes, on our day off from the fish and chips business we always came out to Bucerias to relax, get away from the city. One day on the beach here at Mar y Sol, that was our favourite place, we looked at each other – what were we doing? We had moved to Mexico to relax! Our lease was nearly up so we closed the restaurant and moved to Bucerias.
When was this?
This was about 1995. There was a lot for sale near where the soccer field is now and we were going to build there, but our “Mexican family” here said No because “ it was too isolated, too deserted, and nobody for miles around!”
They owned the parcel of land from the Chinese Palace down to Avenue Pacifico and said we could choose a plot in that. They were starting to make the second floor of their building on Ave Mexico , they had a couple of rooms completed and we climbed up to the roof and looked out – there was only one storey construction in front and a one storey on the corner, and the views were just absolutely fantastic. So we agreed to share the cost of the 2nd floor and then we paid and built the third floor, with the electrical, water and drainage to both, and have been there ever since.
How does that work out, you have built on top of somebody else?
It is ours until we die, and once we are both dead, it reverts back to the owner of the house.
And you have some kind of legal document confirming all this?
No, just a handshake.
Another handshake! But you trust in this man not to renege on the deal?
It’s worked for 20 years now.
During your early days here you took part in the annual pilgrimage to pay homage to commemorate the appearance of the Virgin Mary to the peasant Juan Diego on December 12, 1531.There is the local Bucerias event, but you did more than that
Yes, we did the Lady of Guadalupe “peregrinacion” walk from Bucerias into PV. Everyone went – there must have been 500 of us, all Mexicans. This was on the old road, people carrying flaming torches – there were no street lights. I was in my 50s in expensive trainers, and I started slowing down, and this elderly lady in old sandals and carrying a baby saw me , came over and put her hand on my elbow. “For the Lady” she said, “Keep walking”. So I did – and I could hardly walk for days afterwards! The walk is still done to this day, all the way through to the Cathedral. The last night has incredible flower arrangements from all the hotels and the floats are lovely.
You moved out to Bucerias to relax – and yet you couldn’t do that but had to open a beach bar! Did you just decide one day, ok let’s do it?
Actually – Yes!! We called it Orca’s, it’s now El Brujo. When we started renovations we found an opening at the beach wall, and I crawled in with a flashlight – the walls were fluorescent bright green and blue! The landlord explained that’s where the beach used to be – that’s how much sand has come in over the years! So they just built on top of the roof of that original bar! I think that may have been that restaurant we had first visited.
Why did you name your bar Orcas?
Because an orca was the first whale I’d seen in the Bay.
That’s unusual – we don’t get many orcas here.
We’d been to a party after a baptism, on a hill behind PV, and this beautiful black and white orca came up out of the water – it did this several times and the local fishermen formed a line in their boats because they thought it was in danger of beaching itself. It was spectacular and that stayed with me. I haven’t seen one since.
How hard was it opening up the bar?
The rent included the liquor permit which helped, but I did have a hard time getting the papers because we weren’t Mexican citizens, and then there was all the confusion between my maiden name on my birth certificate, McKinley, and my married name in my passport, Morrison. Everything had to be changed, translated and notarized.
When we opened our bar, Orcas in 1996, all the existing restaurants were there except for Mezogiorno. We were the first non Mexicans to have a bar on the beach – and we had linen tablecloths and napkins, candles, live music and flambé at the tables! By the second season most other beach bars had linen tablecloths, napkins…!
We know how hard it is to continue running a bar or restaurant during the summer, the low season, from other VIPs in the business, but you were very successful with Orcas.
Yes, we were open all summer and were almost as busy as in the winter, because we had a good Mexican trade. The only slump when we had to put money into the business was September, the Mexican vacationers had left as the kids had to go back to school.
From staying at the apartment we’d fixed up after the Buenaventura, that landlord who had become a good friend, came out here and became our doorman/head waiter. He could hear a bus coming when it was 5 miles away, I swear! And he’d be right up there on the corner and talk to the chauffeur and tell him if he wanted a free meal, drinks, just to bring his bus load down to my place – and so they did.
That was very enterprising!
And when they got here I had printed out colouring book pages for kids and I had crayons , also things for them to use in the water, so the families were all very happy, the kids weren’t pestering them all the time, they had something to do. I rented out tables to them for 200 pesos, so if they wanted to bring their own food and drink they could but they never brought enough, so they ended up buying from me and I deducted that 200 pesos fee. The summers were fun, I loved them.
Other restaurants didn’t get the summer trade you had – how did you maintain that?
I had a staff meeting every week. I stopped the waiters from all standing around talking or being next door having a beer! I taught them to watch the customers on the beach, learn body language so they would know who was ready for another drink – and to know who drank what. And I explained the difference between the Canadian and the American dollar, which was reflected in their tips. So many of our customers were Mexican and I told the staff that they were here on vacation from their jobs – they could have been waiters or cooks or in the service industry, but now it was their turn to be waited on and have good service. If it meant they did not order everything all at once but kept on ordering food and drinks over a period of time – which meant the waiters had to go up and down the stairs more times – so be it. It was business and it was good. The tips were shared out on a scale – I taught them everyone was important – the chef down to the cleaner because if someone didn’t do a good job they wouldn’t get much of a tip.
How many staff did you have?
14 during the winter, but I reduced that in the summer – I didn’t fire them, we arranged they worked fewer days, so at least they were still getting some money. During the high season we were open every day, in the summer we closed one day a week, and then before the start of high season again we’d close for a few days to clean and paint.
You paid the IMSS?
Oh yes, and the housing system, Infonavit, two of them had enough money to buy and build their own houses.
You had Orcas for how long?
We had it on a 5 years lease, to 2001, and in that last year I had three strokes. The first stroke – I was sitting down and got up and walked around the table counter clockwise and started laughing, real belly laughing and I just couldn’t stop. My friend Patti said: “What’s wrong with her?” Doug said: “She’s having a stroke” and made me sit down till Dr Mauro came. He sent me home to bed to lie down for a day and then I was fine. The 2nd stroke I was at the computer in the office and I just fell over sideways – fortunately my chair had arms so I didn’t fall onto the floor. I thought I was calling out for help but apparently I wasn’t. Dr Mauro sent me to a specialist in Tepic. The last stroke was the worst, I couldn’t write and limped for quite a while.
My daughter came down and helped me with my exercises while Rex ran the restaurant. We decided not to renew and also the landlord said he wanted it back as his son wanted it – he wanted to buy everything: inventory, name, my recipes – everything. The son was going into business with a friend, who kept delaying making the payment, promising it would be tomorrow, … next week, … until finally on the day the lease expired as I opened up at 7 a.m, the landlord came and said we had to be out that day, right then, and I said no, it’s not up until tonight.
What did you do?
I went to my friend, I always got my fish from him, and he asked: “What’s it today – 10 kilos of shrimp?” And I stood there & started crying, I told him the man who was going to buy us out was not going to do that and the landlord wanted us out immediately and he was just going to walk in and take everything. “Oh no he’s not” he said and he made some phone calls and by 11.30 that morning every single thing in our restaurant had been sold to other restaurant owners! Pescador, Chivero, Mar y Sol – it all went so fast I don’t remember who got what now. There wasn’t anything left except a vent on the wall.
So when did the new lessee come along?
1 o clock! His eyes were like saucers, he said: There’s nothing here for me to buy! I shrugged, I’d had another potential buyer who had come along subsequently but I honoured my agreement. I’d still thought he would pay me for something. I painted a wall when it was empty, to be friendly, but no, he didn’t even keep the name, I got nothing from him. He closed after his first season.
After Orcas, after the strokes, you still couldn’t sit around and do nothing!
A lot of the businesses in town didn’t know how to promote, they didn’t have the money, so I started websites for them, free, they paid for the server & domain of course. Then Rex got sick so I turned over all the websites, about 28 including hotels, car rentals, to a man, I can’t remember his name now, as well as my own site, buceriasmexico.com which contained information for Bucerias and I was number one on all the search engines, I changed it every day. He promised he would maintain them all but he didn’t do anything, he didn’t want to put the work in.
When did Rex die?
Rex died here, 9 March 2009, the hospital sent him home as there was nothing they could do for him, his body and his brain weren’t getting enough oxygen and he was too weak to survive a surgical procedure. He couldn’t do anything for himself and he suffered dementia. I had to get in help to turn him in bed and he hated it, the indignity. One day he just refused to take his tablet, did not want the oxygen mask back on, and started crying. I put one of his hands on his dog and held him in my arms and we watched the final sunset together. I was upset but actually relieved when he finally closed his eyes.
Apart from grieving, how complicated was it to have to deal with Rex’s passing?
We had pre paid a funeral company, Celis in Puerto Vallarta, so all I had to do, once Dr Mauro had officially pronounced him dead, was to call them and they handled everything, even all the copies of the death certificate, there was nothing extra to pay and it was only $500. My daughter Wendy came down and the Canadian Consulate at the time, Lynn Benoit, was marvellous, she went through everything with her. I wasn’t in any fit state to make any decisions – Rex’s hospital and medical bills had bankrupted us. We’d sold everything we owned but I was in debt. Unknown to me my neighbours and restaurants all made donations to finish paying off everything, Nancy of Mar y Sol was incredibly generous.
You moved back North
That was a mistake! I love my daughter but I could not stay away, especially I wanted to be back for March and I returned in January. Sylvia stayed with me that month, then my old time friend from the army days Donna came for the second month, but then I was on my own for March and I didn’t do so well. Wendy had to come down and take me back and I didn’t return here for a couple of years and even then I stayed next door. One day however I visited the apartment, and it was full of golden light and I asked Elvira if I could return and she said, yes, we’ve been waiting for you, and I moved back for a month before going North for the summer. Her mother is like a medicine woman so she is very superstitious and I said to her I’m coming back next year if that’s ok and she said “Oh yes, we know, all this month Rex hasn’t walked the floor once.” I asked what do you mean and she said “Every night I would hear footsteps but since you’ve been here we haven’t heard him once.”
And then you took on your most recent venture – writing a book. How did that come about?
Well – I had nothing to do! Dr Mauro had always told me to buy the correct drugs and supplements, from established pharmacies, not to cheapskate, he said you can’t trust the discount, imitation places. When a good friend died, who had been on so many supplements, I started doing research into counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs. Unbelievably, drug cartels are making three times the profit in pharmacy medicines than they are in heroin and cocaine together!
I thought most people will not take the time to get the facts but they would assimilate them, become aware, if they were incorporated into a storyline. I decided to base my book in Bucerias, and mixed up the personalities of several people I know to be the characters.
Since I finished the book I discovered clinics & hospitals are getting medical equipment from wholesalers who buy the equipment at the cheapest price, of course, so it seems we are not going to be able to trust the results from this cut rate equipment.
You have listed Resources at the end of your book Dangerous Beginnings – these give some incredible figures! Most certainly people should start questioning what is happening.
I keep in touch with RCMP and WHO, it is possible a report will be issued in 2016, but the doubts exist that if you are buying something online whether that site is truly legitimate.
I cannot imagine you sitting still, so what do you do in the way of hobbies?
I paint using the computer, they are then printed onto canvas, Buddy had them at The Bar Above, I’ve sold quite a few. It’s a lot neater and cleaner than using oil and acrylics! I crochet, knit, sew and read of course.
Any regrets about anything you’ve done?
My regret is not moving to Mexico sooner! You have to have the errors, do things wrong, in order to do things correctly, to see the contrast, like black and white. If I hadn’t have met my first husband I wouldn’t have my 3 wonderful children. If I hadn’t have re-educated myself I would not have met Rex. If I hadn’t have done the bicycle ice cream sales we wouldn’t have ended up in Mexico… No I wouldn’t change anything, it happens for a reason, even if you think it’s a mistake, it might be part of the plan.
Anything else to share with us?
I do tend to advise people before moving here permanently to come down for 6 months first, maybe for some years. It is harder to de-Canadianise than it is to Mexicanise. If you want the same Canadian lifestyle, stay home! If you move here you need to stop being who you were, you need to integrate – that’s the language, the culture, just everything. Your Spanish doesn’t need to be perfect, don’t worry about conjugating those verbs! – but you should try to speak it.
I do not particularly belong to any charity, I support them by attending their fundraisers, but I do help locally, quietly… somebody needed help with their injured dog, somebody needed a stove – I don’t give them money, I give them what they need, and I don’t do it looking for any kudos like some people. If you love a town as I do, and you want it to prosper you support it and do all you can, and you buy locally – it costs me a few pesos more than going to the big stores but so what – it’s keeping a couple, a family, in business. I can’t remember when I last went to Mega, maybe only twice this year.
As we’ve sat here on the beach at Mar y Sol, we have been approached by every single vendor – not to sell anything but just to greet ‘Barbarita’, by name – she is clearly highly thought of. Thank you Barbara!
You can buy Dangerous Beginnings online or go to Barbara’s website: www.barbaramckinleymorrison.com
Or write to her direct, she will be bringing a few copies with her : [email protected] or on Facebook