Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa, Troncones and Barra de Potosí on the Costa Grande of Guerrero, Mexico

Zihuatanejo Mexico

Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Helping Zihuatanejo’s Schools – La Escuela del Basurero

La Escuela del Basurero - click to enlarge

La Escuela del Basurero – click to enlarge

My wife, Lupita, and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary, but since we were both ill with colds we didn’t go out to celebrate. Nevertheless, my saint of a wife also had another commitment for the day of our anniversary that she wouldn’t allow herself to miss: delivering donations from generous visitors to needy students at one of our region’s many overlooked and forgotten schools, this time the school for the children of the families who inhabit Zihuatanejo’s garbage dump who essentially live off the recycled and salvaged refuse of our community.

Lupita and Sra. Sandoval - click to enlarge

Lupita and Sra. Sandoval – click to enlarge

Barrels for the school's water supply - click to enlarge

The school’s water supply – click to enlarge

The school's water supply - click to enlarge

The school’s water supply – click to enlarge

Homes at the basurero - click to enlarge

Homes at the basurero – click to enlarge

Thanks to the generosity of a lot of people this school is able to provide educational opportunities to children who otherwise might not be able to attend school since children and parents at other schools might not receive them with the respect they deserve. In particular a huge debt of gratitude goes to the teacher Sra. Olga Sandoval Blanquel and her assistants. The small school has 40 students in all including 2 children with autism and one child mother who is barely a teen.

A home at the basurero - click to enlarge

A home at the basurero – click to enlarge

Also, a huge debt of gratitude goes to Mr. Sidney Reimer who works at the hotel Azul Ixtapa and who donates 4 liters of bottled water a day per student to be sure they at least have proper drinking water. Such exemplary selfless generosity is quite moving when you see the conditions of this school, a place essentially forgotten by most of the rest of the Zihuatanejo community including the government at all levels.

My wife Lupita along with our daughter Valeria and our assistant Vero made up packages of school supplies along with toothbrushes and toothpaste to deliver to all of the students at this school. While some of the students seemed a little embarrassed and shy, others expressed their gratitude with their huge warm smiles. The supplies including the toothpaste and toothbrushes were all donated by readers of my Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa Message Board. We can’t thank them enough for their generosity.

Valeria and Vero distributes packages to the little kids - click to enlarge

Valeria and Vero distribute packages to the little kids – click to enlarge

We try to save up donated items until we have enough to make packages for an entire school so that no one feels left out. This year we didn’t receive as many donations as in past years, and the outbreak of Chikungunya earlier in the year made visiting rural areas risky, so it took us longer to get the packages together and then to get them to the school we wished to help. But it is an endeavor our family is committed to because we strongly believe that after family, a community is the most valuable component of society, and the members of a community should help one another in their time of need.

Middle grade kids - click to enlarge

Middle grade kids – click to enlarge

Middle grade kids – click to enlarge

Middle grade kids – click to enlarge

Middle grade kids – click to enlarge

Middle grade kids – click to enlarge

Upper grade kids - click to enlarge

Upper grade kids – click to enlarge

Road to the school - click to enlarge

Road to the school – click to enlarge

One of the classrooms - click to enlarge

One of the classrooms – click to enlarge

The school playground - click to enlarge

The school playground – click to enlarge

View from the school's playground - click to enlarge

View from the school’s playground – click to enlarge

Sra. Sandoval with her volunteer assistants and kindergarten students - click to enlarge

Sra. Sandoval with her volunteer assistants and kindergarten students – click to enlarge

If you would like to help us with your donations of school supplies for our region’s neediest children please leave a comment here or contact me via my Facebook page or simply stop by my wife’s boutique, Lupita’s Boutique, in downtown Zihuatanejo where my wife and our daughter will gladly receive them.

El Neptuno de Zihuatanejo

Oliverio Maciel Díaz, el Rey Neptuno de Zihuatanejo

Oliverio Maciel Díaz, el Rey Neptuno de Zihuatanejo

A real-life legend of Zihuatanejo, Oliverio Maciel Díaz was born Nov. 12, 1924 here in Zihuatanejo. By the age of 10 he was fishing and free diving,  spending most of his time on and in the water. Friends from that era say he was a true sireno (merman): half man and half fish. By the time the decade of the 50’s rolled around, thanks to the introduction of the “aqualung” to the area by don Carlos Barnard in 1949, Oliverio had become the most proficient local diver, earning the nickname “El Rey Neptuno”, and for the next 4 decades he was sought by the rich, the powerful and the famous to take them diving. He also collaborated with Jacques Yves Cousteau.

Oliverio Maciel Díaz

Oliverio Maciel Díaz

Oliverio eventually became the most sought-after expert who best knew the waters of the entire Costa Grande. He had roles in numerous movies including “La Tintorera”, “Ciclón”, “El Triángulo de las Bermudas”, “El Niño y el Tiburón”, “Beyond the Reef”, “Las Pirañas Aman en Cuaresma”, “Historias del Rey Neptuno”, and “El Día de los Asesinos”. There was even a character dedicated to him in the popular comic “Chanoc”.

During 1955 and 1956 after a lengthy investigation Oliverio searched for and found several cannons and anchors in Zihuatanejo Bay in the area known as El Eslabón, located between Playa La Ropa and Playa La Madera. One of the anchors was attributed to the 60-cannon ship “Centurion” that had been captained by the British corsair George Anson from when he spent time in Zihuatanejo Bay during 1741 and 1742 hunting Spanish ships including the “Nao de China” or the “Galeón de Manila”.

Oliverio Maciel Díaz with anchor

Oliverio Maciel Díaz with Anson’s  anchor

The cannons he recovered were attributed to the Spanish vessel “Nuestra Señora del Monte Carmelo”, known to have been intentionally sunk there by Anson on February 27, 1742. The name of Playa La Madera is allegedly attributed to the wood that washed up on the beach for several years later from this incident, and the name El Eslabón (the chain link) also derives from this incident.  Some of the cannons and artifacts he found can still be seen at the Museo Arqueológico de la Costa Grande on the waterfront of downtown Zihuatanejo, and one of the anchors can still be seen at Playa Las Gatas.

Oliverio founded a diving school and diving tours business as well as a restaurant at Playa Las Gatas, Oliverio’s. The restaurant is run today by his children and grandchildren. During the middle of the 1970’s when Oliverio’s diving business was thriving, my wife Lupita Bravo became not only his apprentice but was considered almost a part of the family.

Los Morros de Potosí

Los Morros de Potosí

One of Lupita’s most cherished memories of that time that I find remarkable is her description of diving near the islets known as Los Morros de Potosí in Bahía de Potosí, just south of Bahía de Zihuatanejo. She says she was diving in crystalline water near the guano-covered islets with Oliverio when all of a sudden she found herself literally eye to eye with one of the greatest hunters of the oceans: a sailfish. She recalls that she grabbed onto and hid behind Oliverio who never moved but who instead floated calmly in front of the great fish, and he urged her to come out from behind him in order to better appreciate the rare experience, an experience she recalls with the same awe now as the day it occurred.

Oliverio lived out his final years in a modest home at Playa Quieta where he died on July 10, 2002. QEPD

Día de Muertos altar for Oliverio

Día de Muertos altar for Oliverio

Día de Muertos altar for Oliverio

Día de Muertos altar for Oliverio

Testing the Waters of Zihuatanejo

Playa La Ropa
Playa La Ropa

Things appear to be improving and the responsible authorities seem to be taking their jobs a bit more seriously regarding the testing of the ocean water at our beaches for bacteriological content. The Secretario del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT) announced that it is stepping up its monitoring program of our local beaches.

For the past 10 days SEMARNAT has been taking water samples in order to have a more realistic picture of the bacteriological conditions of the water at our local beaches, and they are reporting their findings in a more timely manner. They used to only take one sample a month and publish the findings a month or more later. Now findings for the same month can be found on the website for the Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios (COFEPRIS) and findings are being released to the press even sooner.

Additionally, the Sistema Sanitario Federal has applied the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and lowered the unacceptable risk level from 500 to 200 enterococcos per 100 milliliters of water. I definitely see this as a step in the right direction. Now the question is if signs will actually be posted at any beaches that surpass this new level, because this has been a problem in the past.

Our local wastewater treatment plants are being repaired and upgraded by our municipal government and new ones are also being built in nearby communities to lower the risk of potential pollution to our area’s beaches. Hopefully before the end of 2010 all three of Zihuatanejo’s wastewater treatment plants will be operating as they should and Playa Principal will finally be considered a safe swimming beach by locals. The current test results still show this as the only beach that poses a potential health risk. Thankfully all our other beaches are looking good.

Playa El Palmar

Playa El Palmar

Ixtapa’s Playa El Palmar is on the verge of receiving the important distinction of becoming certified as a “Playa Limpia”. This requires strict monitoring not only of the water quality but also of other factors including even the cleanliness of the sand. This certification should help the promotion of Ixtapa by travel agents and tourism professionals. And if things go as planned then beaches such as Zihuatanejo’s Playa La Ropa should not be far behind in meeting the criteria to become certified as a “Playa Limpia”.

Seeing Zihuatanejo through the Eyes of Gene “Cri Cri” Lysaker

Attendees at the exhibition (click to enlarge)

Attendees at the exhibition (click to enlarge)

A magical rainbow arched over the Bay of Zihuatanejo as the exhibition of images by Gene “Cri Cri” Lysaker got underway around 7 p.m. at the Museo Arqueológico de la Costa Grande last Friday evening. The exhibition consisted mostly of photographs as well as watercolor scenes and 8mm movies. Hundreds of images were displayed on easels set around the courtyard of the museum, but the highlight of the evening was a video showing more photos, watercolor scenes and the 8mm movies. The images covered the history of Zihuatanejo during the decades of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. The great majority of portraits were of the children of Zihuatanejo, thus the title of the exhibition was “Los Niños de Zihuatanejo de Antaño” (Zihuatanejo’s Children of Yesteryear).

The turnout was excellent! Members of many of Zihuatanejo’s oldest families were present, representing several generations, including the now-grown subjects of many of the portraits.  They wandered through the galleries of photos set up on easels around the courtyard of the museum. Many of the photos had the names of the children written under them, making identification easier.

A very slight drizzle made for a perfect evening providing relief from the heat of the day while not actually getting anyone wet.

Lupita, Rob and Judith (click to enlarge)

Lupita, Rob and Judith (click to enlarge)

As I already mentioned, the highlight of the exhibition was a video made by Cri Cri of still photos accompanied by music of the era. At the end of the video was  some 8mm movie footage, also made by Cri Cri, showing scenes of Zihuatanejo and the Catalina Hotel from the early 1950’s.

The crowd at the exhibition awaits the video presentation (click to enlarge)

The crowd at the exhibition awaits the video presentation (click to enlarge)

The entire video was narrated by Doro Tellechéa, who knew the names of most of the people and children as well as the locations of the photos. He did an excellent job, and whenever he needed help with a name there were plenty of members in the audience who shouted them out.

My wife, Lupita Bravo, had been planning and working on this exhibition for months. She had intended to hold the event a few weeks ago at the Zócalo, but rain caused her to postpone the event. She used the time to prepare even more photos and to organize the event even better: having a carpenter friend build dozens of easels to display the photos, as well as having water, wine and snack foods available for the attendees.

Lupita, Doro and Irma (click to enlarge)

Lupita, Doro and Irma (click to enlarge)

Lupita also received invaluable assistance from Irma López Ibarra, the Coordinadora de Eventos Culturales y Especiales for the Casa de Cultura.


People were fascinated by the photos (click to enlarge)

People were fascinated by the photos (click to enlarge)


Awaiting the video at the museum (click to enlarge)

Awaiting the video at the museum (click to enlarge)


A full house at the museum (click to enlarge)

A full house at the museum (click to enlarge)

The exhibition not only served to remember bygone friends and family members, but also to remember the lifestyle of Zihuatanejo based on the closeness its inhabitants had with the gifts of nature. Residents from those times enjoyed a healthy ecosystem, a pristine bay, clean beaches, an abundance of fresh water,  and clean lagoons, especially the beautiful lagoon next to the school, now a problematic canal and source of pollution.

Photos by Gene Lysaker aka Cri Cri (click to enlarge)

Photos by Gene Lysaker aka Cri Cri (click to enlarge)

Folks also remembered the healthy lifestyle they enjoyed just a few decades ago. There was no television, and most families and friends met and walked and played on the beaches daily. One thing that several folks commented upon was that there were almost NO overweight people in Zihuatanejo back then.

Everyone who attended the exhibition expressed their gratitude to Cri Cri for the effort he put into his photos and especially for sharing them with us.

Gene -Cri Cri- Lysaker (click to enlarge)

Gene -Cri Cri- Lysaker (click to enlarge)

For those who have never heard of Gene Lysaker, Gene is  native of Twin Valley, Minnesota who visited Zihuatanejo frequently during the decades of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. He befriended many local families during his visits, and the children gave him his nickname of Cri Cri from the click-click sound of his camera. Many of the photos he took of locals and their children still hang in local family homes.

I was fortunate to meet Gene through my website. He last visited Zihuatanejo in 1998, but he still keeps up with local goings on through my Zihuatanejo Message Board.

A big thanks goes to my wife Lupita who worked harder than anyone will ever know to bring about this event in honor of her beloved Zihuatanejo and especially in honor of Cri Cri. Also to Irma López and the folks in charge of the museum for providing the venue and all the little details that helped make the event a success. And also to Doro who spent time with us trying to get all the names right and who provided the audio-visual equipment to allow everyone to view Cri Cri’s two-and-a-half hour video. Also to my ahijado Jaime and the two Julian’s from Tlamacazapa as well as to Ricardo for helping prepare all the photos as well as to our young ahijada Ana Karen for her assistance in labeling them.

But most of all thanks go to Cri Cri without whose photos, watercolors, home movies and videos none of this would have been possible.

We hope to have another exhibition in the near future in order to show the second video of photos that Cri Cri put together.

Weathering the Flu Psychosis in Zihuatanejo

A fisherman casts his net for baitfish in Zihuatanejo Bay

A fisherman casts his net for baitfish in Zihuatanejo Bay (click to enlarge)

Since the recent outbreak of  this new flu, known first in Mexico as gripe (or gripa) porcina (swine flu) before being renamed influenza A H1N1, became the focus of every news media in the world, a psychosis has begun to develop around the world that has unfortunately also affected us here in Zihuatanejo where we depend on tourism. Extreme measures were first implemented in Mexico State and in Mexico City to try to contain the virus and prevent its spread, though apparently it had already spread to other regions and countries.

In Zihuatanejo, where to date no cases have been reported, some of the rather extreme measures and the psychosis that all the media coverage has generated have had a profoundly negative impact on our local economy and our livelihoods as well as our local culture. One of the rather extreme measures was the postponement this year of the XXVI Torneo de Pez Vela, an annual sportfishing tournament for sailfish, marlin and dorado in which vehicles are awarded to the winners. The event usually takes place on the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday in May and attracts a good number of out-of-towners and foreigners as well as a high number of local participants, with usually between 150 to 200 entries each year. The new date for the tournament is tentatively set for May 29, 30 and 31, though the turnout is expected to be significantly lower.

Another rather extreme measure was the closure of our cinemas and enclosed restaurants and bars. While many of us don’t miss the drunks roaming the streets and scandalizing at all hours of the evenings, again, since there have been no cases reported locally, many of these local businesses are really taking a hit since this latest blow to our local economy comes on the heels of all the overblown reporting on narcoviolence in Mexico this year that had already cost us a significant amount of tourism. Local businesses have been hurting for months, and now this.

With all the bad news about one calamity after another, the 5.7 earthquake near San Marcos, Guerrero on April 27  almost went unnoticed and created an almost surreal apocolyptic atmosphere.

When the schools were closed nationwide last Tuesday until May 6 by federal order, almost immediately some tourists began arriving from the inland cities, including Mexico City. While the locals are somewhat concerned about the flu possibly arriving with the tourists, we are nevertheless grateful for their business. Which is why many of us believe the Secretario de Fomento Turístico del Estado de Guerrero (Sefotur), Ernesto Rodríguez Escalona, should renounce or be fired from his position for declaring publically the day before yesterday that people should not come to Guerrero. Apparently he was more concerned for his own hide than for anyone who lives and works here and depends on tourism. And it’s worth mentioning that when the discos and nightclubs in Acapulco were closed by their mayor earlier this week, two that remained open all night long anyway in an upscale area of Acapulco are owned by family members of Rodríguez Escalona. Personally I can’t think of  any positive impact that person has had on Guerrero’s tourism.

Nationally and locally celebrations were cancelled for Día de los Niños yesterday, and today there was no parade for Día de los Trabajadores. Even some churches are cancelling mass or else holding them outdoors. All other local sporting events such as soccer, baseball and basketball have been cancelled. National soccer teams are playing in empty stadiums closed to the public. National baseball teams have postponed their games until further notice. Even Presidente Felipe Calderón Hinojosa gave a nationwide address urging people to stay indoors and at home until May 6.

All of these measures have created a psychosis among people in Mexico as well as in other countries. People on vacation have been seen at the beach and in the water wearing surgical facemasks. People can even be seen driving alone in their vehicles wearing facemasks. The facemask phenomenon is one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. It’s one thing to use them in crowded and confined areas, but another altogether to wear them outdoors while away from people and crowds.

Some countries have cancelled flights to Mexico and have treated arriving Mexicans rather poorly. Nevertheless, Mexicans find it strange that those same countries have not cancelled flights to the USA or to other countries where the new flu has already spread.

But the most important thing to bear in mind is that this is only a new flu and it is completely curable, especially if treated within the first 48 hours. It really should be seen for what it is instead of what it isn’t. While it is important to raise awareness to the fact that it is a new strain of flu that may not be affected by current vaccines, and that people with flu symptoms should seek medical attention immediately, it is not a “killer plague” and there is no reason people should change their travel plans or treat Mexicans as pariahs. Thanks to the national awareness campaign, folks in Mexico with flu-like symptoms are now following the recommendations by public authorities to seek immediate medical attention, wear facemasks in public, wash their hands often, and stay at home until they are well. Hopefully the psychosis created in the news media will begin to wear off and people’s lives will return to normal and everyone will be able to open their businesses once again. The slow but steady arrival of tourists in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa this week is a positive sign for those of us who live and work here. And hopefully we will experience no new calamities this year and tourism will soon return to its normal levels.

Meanwhile, most of Zihuatanejo’s businesses are open and awaiting customers. There is virtually no waiting to be seated at restaurants.  There are plenty of places on the beach to spread your towel and there are no crowds to deal with. Wandering troubadors everywhere are awaiting to serenade you. Fishing boats are ready to take you fishing. Tour guides are available for some terrific excursions. And with the possible exception of a bit of smoke in the mornings from all the fires that are common at this time of year as farmers clear fields in anticipation of the upcoming rainy season, it’s an ideal time to visit Zihuatanejo and miss all the crowds. ¡Te esperamos!

Helping Young and Old in La Chole

Apart from the much appreciated donations by readers of my Message Board that my wife and I recently delivered to the children of the elementary school “Benito Juárez” in La Soledad de Maciel (La Chole), we also received cash gifts, baby clothing and knitting yarn to distribute at our discretion. It wasn’t hard locating needy and expectant mothers to deliver the baby clothes and yarn to.  Here they are as they received their gifts.

Happy Mother and Baby Receive Clothing

Happy Mother and Baby Receive Clothing

Expectant Mother Receives Clothing

An Expectant Mother Receives Clothing

Another Expectant Mother Receives Clothing

Another Receives Baby Clothes

Another Expectant Mother Receives Yarn

Another Expectant Mother Gets Yarn

We also sought out the neediest man and the neediest woman in the village to give them cash donations we had received from some very generous people. Our friend Adán had no trouble finding the two people who most needed this kind of help.

Elderly Woman Receives Donation

An Elderly Woman Receives Donation

Elderly Man Receives Donation

An Elderly Man Receives Donation

Every little bit helps, and all of these recipients of your generosity were genuinely grateful that folks like you took the time and made the effort to help them. Although most folks in La Chole have never seen a computer or the internet and have very little idea what the World Wide Web is, they understood your selfless gesture and took it in the right spirit. Lupita and I were truly humbled to be able to distribute such gifts to such needy yet noble people. The recipients of your donations in La Chole thank you, and so do Lupita and I. The folks who make things like this possible make this world a better place for all of us.

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