Saturday, February 28, 2009


As I write this, three lagartijas (small lizards) are playing tag across the ceiling and walls of our gorgeous villa. The steady pulse of the surf a couple of blocks away is interrupted by the occasional Saturday night joyride or a strain of mariachi music wafting up from one of the bigger resorts nearby.
Today was one of the few here in Zihua. when we really thought seriously about our safety. The other day, four local policemen were killed when gunmen attacked their car with rifle fire and grenades. The U.S. State Department (and Canada's too, I think) have advised great caution in traveling to Mexico, especially border towns crazy with narco-violence. Today, we'd planned to take a local second-class bus to La Barra de Potosí , about 15 miles south of here for our second visit. But we were thinking twice about going and decided to compromise and take a cab there again instead of the much cheaper and, we figured, less secure bus.
Barra today represented a breakthrough of sorts for me, my first attempt at surf fishing. As luck would have it, there was a very stiff wind off the Pacific. Between that and my less than practiced casting technique, I could barely get my lures past the crashing surf. Still, I did manage to get one strike -- some encouragement for the next time. For Sally, the highlight was her "adoption" of yet another beach dog. We've met several now, and each seems sweeter, gentler and more unassuming than the last.
The cab ride was again terrific practice for my Spanish conversation skills, with Alfredo and I covering every topic from his family to names of trees and plants, to why Mexico won't soon come even close to winning the World Cup.
When we got back to San Sebastian, we had a cooling, relaxing inner tube float on the pool. Then I ran to the Comercial to pick up some more groceries and liquor.
For dinner, we tried the nearby Catalina Beach Resort's restaurant. The Catalina, it turns out, is one of the "original" resorts in Zihua, dating from 1953, and lays claim to having accommodated an impressive list of celebrities from Ms. Guggenheim to Mick Jagger. We've walked by the resort scores of times, by both road and beach, and have barely noticed its very low profile. We enjoyed our dinner while watching the sailing of a huge cruise ship, in port for an afternoon of shopping. It steamed its way out of the bay and swung north for Manzanillo as the sun set on another wonderful (and safe) day.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Pretty low-key day today. Sally showed remarkable discipline getting up for yoga class (and going on her own without Jenny's company). I went down to see if I could get a photo of her and Paty, her instructor, but was firmly shooed away with a wagging finger.
While I waited, I noticed something worthy of inclusion in my coming book about observing nature. An air-conditioned car had just pulled into Paty's driveway. As it sat still in the hot humid sea air, water quickly condensed on its roof. I noticed a dragonfly flying apparently randomly around the car and wondered what the attraction was. As I watched and waited, it became clear that it was actually skimming across the car roof, dragging its feet through the water droplets on the fly, leaving tiny tracks and, I guessed, drinking the collected water. It must have been thirsty because he made at least 100 dips.
After breakfast at Elvira's, we headed out on an afternoon adventure, hiking to Playa Las Gatas half way around Zihua. Bay. Since there's no road access to Las Gatas, most people take a water taxi from the main town pier. But I'd learned that one can hike there along the rocky shoreline. It was a modest hike, made all the more interesting by Sally's usual choice of footwear: flip flops (which, no matter how rough the terrain, she prefers over anything more sensible because of her susceptibility to blisters). The trail was heavily littered with every type of refuse, and smelled of garbage (and worse) in some places.
At the beach, we ran a gauntlet of nearly identical beach restaurants, each with one or more aggressive hawkers trying to get us to settle in with them for the afternoon. But we held out for Otilia's, the one I'd heard the best comments about. As we settled in to our twin lounges with table between a few feet from the water, we quickly met a few of our neighbors, from Chicago and Milwaukee. As are the vast majority of people we meet around the world, these too were socially inept, not only not interested in knowing anything about us, but immediately squelching and one-upping anything we tried to say about ourselves. We did meet several dogs, including a sweet great Dane named Boris, who thought we were interesting enough.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Today was pretty much colored by Jenny and Joe's leaving. After a quick breakfast at Paty's Marimar -- owned by the same Paty who owns the yoga studio Sally and Jenny have been going to -- we got them in their cab, negotiated a reasonable fare, and waved good-bye. We'd heard there was lots of snow expected in the Twin Cities, and hoped their flight would be without delay.
Sally and I spent the rest of the day nursing her melancholy over this morning's parting. Of course, that meant shopping. I tried to keep up, but ended up taking a time-out to check out the day's action at the fishing pier. I caught Francisco and Capt. Mike just coming in aboard the Huntress, today flying five sailfish flags, indicating another pretty good day. I got to meet Mike's wife, Dee, who walked me to her car to pick up the Huntress t-shirts Mike had promised us. Turns out they live in La Casa Que Ve Al Mar, a high-end condo complex which Sally and I had checked out last year, with one of the most spectacular views in all of Zihua.
At the huge "gallows" (my name for the structure used to hang big fish that either didn't survive a fight to the death or were purposely killed for a more public triumph) a big black marlin was being hoisted. The scale reading converted to 253 lbs. Mike couldn't help but brag that Dee had caught one that size on 30 pound test line.
The two mile or so walk home from the town center seemed even more strenuous than usual today, with both of us a little blue, she in the heart and me around the gills. Perhaps our highlight of the day was flopping down on our backs next to our pool, dangling our parched feet in the cool water and watching the sprinkle of clouds coming off the sea evaporate as they met the dry updrafts from the mountains.
We opted for a simple, cheap and close dinner at Elvira's, where we met Abel, the parrot Sally's been hearing encouragement from every morning next door at yoga class. A wonderful strolling singer / guitar player did three songs for us at our table -- ¡que romantico!
With me still treading lightly with food and drink, we decided to keep it simple

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Zihua.- Wed.Feb. 25

This morning, after Sally and Jenny's yoga class on the beach, we parted company with Jenny and Joe for most of the day. They staked out a couple of lounges and an umbrella on Playa la Ropa while Sally and I walked along the beach into town. We had little on our agenda but to find an ATM where we could swipe our cards instead of relinquishing them into the machine (Lots of horror stories about people losing their cards!).
Our modest agenda escalated into a real challenge when we found that Sally's card was rejected by several ATMs. A long phone call and an hour later, Visa had fixed the problem and voila! -- almost instantaneously -- the same machines gladly took (and returned, with cash) her card.
We stopped along the Paseo de Pescadores for a light lunch. With my stomach feeling pretty shaky, I ordered a lemon soda and a bowl of fish soup, which, simple as it sounded, turned out to be spectacular, with a whole huachinango (red snapper) in the bowl.
About 5:30, Joe and Jenny joined us for the five mile jaunt to Ixtapa for dinner. What a disappointment! None of had ever been there before, so we had no idea even where to start. Between the stark barrier of high-rise beach hotels and a small area of uninteresting one-story shops and restaurants, and after being rejected by a couple of hotel restaurants for our lack of a reservation and long pants, we were finally able to find a nice little place for dinner. We hired some mariachis to seranade us, which was very nice. There's nothing quite like the blend of guitar, violin, bass, trumpets and voice, especially when they surround your table! We hoped it would be a nice memory for Jenny and Joe's last night with us in our little paradise.
Our cab driver for the trip back to Zihua, Ornelio, was very friendly. He and I chatted constantly in the front seat during the trip. As my Spanish improves, I'm beginning to experience more and more such moments in which I realize I'm talking without having to think "what's that word?" or "what's the right tense?"

Monday, February 23, 2009

Zihuatanejo Trip Reports


After some trouble figuring out how to access our wireless internet, I'm finally able to post something from beautiful Zihuatanejo.
We arrived after a smooth trip and met Jenny and Joe, who are staying with us in the same villas a couple of blocks up the hill from Zihua's prettiest beach, La Ropa. Playa La Ropa is so named, it's said, for the clothing (la ropa) that washed ashore from a shipwreck way back when.
After unpacking and a quick trip to La Comercial (supermarket), we walked the mile and a half or so into town and had dinner on the beachfront promenade called Paseo Los Pescadores. In honor of Jenny and Joe's engagement, we bought them a song (the very romantic Zihuatanejo) from a duo of aging troubadors.
After dinner, we'd expected the usual Sunday night basketball game (between two local amateur teams) on the court that serves as part of the small zocalo, or central square of the town. Instead, it was a sort of recital of music and dance by children and teenagers, sponsored by their various dance schools (or so I understood from the emcee's way-too-fast Spanish. The pieces ranged from pop to folkloric. As usual, it looked the whole town had turned out. As visitors, we were definitely in the minority, a feeling I really enjoy. Again, as I've observed in so many places in Mexico, a wholesomeness, a strong sense of family, a pride and of joy in just being together and sharing the simplest activities radiated from the people around us, infecting us. A seven-month-old baby girl in her mom's arms just in front of us fixated on me for some reason, and she and I played google eyes for some time. When she reached out to grab my finger and smiled, my enchantment was complete!

Sally and Jenny found their way down to Paty's on the beach, where they'd signed up for yoga classes. When they were done, we lapsed into a pretty unmotivated day with breakfast at Il Mare, a wonderful spot for a meal perched atop a spectacular cliff overlooking Zihuatanejo Bay. We hired Isaac, a taxi driver recommended by our hosts, to drive us about 15 miles south along the coast to La Barra de Potosí. I'd heard Barra was an even-more-laid-back beach than La Ropa, and we weren't disappointed. It was quiet, very clean (except for one little corner where the fisherman dock their small boats), and the most beautiful beach I've ever seen.
We staked our claim to a small patch of sand in front of one of the three very beachy-looking restaurants, where we set up a table, chairs and a beach umbrella to help block the intense sun.
We pretty much chilled for the rest of the afternoon, munching on quacamole, drinking beer, people watching and going for long walks along the 10-mile Playa Larga. Meanwhile, Isaac waited to take us back home.
I could see that my plans to try surf fishing at Barra some time during our visit hold some promise, as we noticed, just beyond the crashing surf, frequent little feeding frenzies on small bait fish by diving birds and, I assume. larger predator fish like jack crevalle and roosterfish.

Jeff (my son), if you're by any chance checking in on us, Happy Birthday!
Joe and I got up at 5:30 for our day of fishing. At the muelle (main pier), we stopped to buy sandwiches for lunch and walked out on the bustling pier to find our captains, Francisco and Mike, and their boat, the Huntress. It's a super-panga, a much smaller boat than the ones I've chartered in the past, but still provided enough room (barely) and shelter from the sun. Luckily, the "blue water" (the only place where sailfish and marlin like to hunt) was only about seven miles off shore, much faster and easier than the 15 or more miles where it sometimes resides.
As we headed out, a gorgeous sunrise over the mountains behind Zihua. made the trip pass even faster. By about 7:30, we had our first sailfish. While Joe was working it in, Francisco rushed to a second rod that was starting to bend. As he was coaxing that fish to stop batting the bait with its spike and actually bite, a third rod came to life. Wow! Those of you who fish know how rare and wonderful a "triple" is, but with Pacific sailfish? You've got to be kidding! Mine eventually managed to grind away at the heavy leader with its sandpaper-like spike and, suddenly, I was left holding just a limp line. Alas! But Joe successfully landed his fish, about a 40-pounder.
While nothing can ever compare with a sailfish triple, the action continued with at least one more near double. Joe and I each caught and boated three more, none of great size (maybe 50 or 60 pounds). But one of Joe's fish was easily our record for the day, a wondrous fish of over 100 pounds and at least 9 feet in length. After 25 minutes of fighting this monster, Joe's body showed more wear and tear than the fish's -- a very sore back, nearly numb forearms and a handful of blisters.
Turns out none of the other boats in the sportfishing fleet was reporting much success, so it was that much sweeter pulling back into port flying our SEVEN flags representing boated and released sailfish. As we climbed out of the Huntress, we were, as I'd predicted, pounced on by prospective fishing clients hoping to find a successful boat and crew for the rest of the week.
What a day!! Elated and exhausted, we stopped at a waterfront bar for a couple of those better-tasting- for-being-well- deserved beers, before hooking up with Sally and Jenny.
We took Jenny and Joe to Tamales y Atoles Any, one of Zihua's unanimous choices (by both locals and tourists) for dinner. Between Joe's woozy reaction to the wearing off of his motion sickness patch and a red mole sauce with ten times the amount of chocolate a mole should have, it wasn't a very satisfactory meal.