Era un Zihuatanejo tan pequeñito, que no le fue difícil ser un paraíso. Dormitando a la vera de la dulce bahía que le es tan propia, soñaba en los poco que le era necesario soñar.
Una playa de arenas grises, del color del basalto, se delineaba suavemente en una casi parábola, desde la barra de La Boquita, hasta otra, su hermana, la de Las Salinas. Era el descanso de la onda marina que entraba por La Bocana y delicadamente moría en la vieja playa haciendo sisear las arenas y tras el morro de las Escalerillas, tan modificado hoy, escondía sus magias aquel pueblecito recoleto de la vista de los tripulantes de los buques que navegaban frente al puerto.
Se reclinaba entre su playa y las dos casi únicas calles con las que contaba: la de Juan Álvarez y la entonces breve de Cuauhtémoc. La de Juan Álvarez limitaba a las casas de la playa por el Norte; la otra era la puerta del poblado, la que resolvía en aquel incipiente que iba a Acapulco, despidiéndose en La Curva, hoy también desparecida. Era la rúa comercial en donde despachaban sus cosas de vestir, trabajar y comer: doña María Landa, doña Beatriz Peña de Rodríguez, don Juan Ayvar, doña María Pineda, don Rodolfo Campos, las queridas Landitas y don Salvador Espino. La Fama, efímera casa de compra-venta de semillas. En otros sitios, algunas tiendas, como la Tienda Irma, de doña Griselda Nuñez que vendida por su propietaria, se convirtió en un restaurante que logró fama y que hoy parece ya tener una triste historia.
La playa, la Playa del Puerto, como me dijo don Darío Galeana llamaron los vecinos del lugar a “su playa” y la que parece ya no se denomina así, ofrecía en realidad sus límpidas aguas a los porteños. En ella había cosas y sitios inolvidables: los amates, el de junto al viejo y desaparecido Hotel Belmar de Pablito Resendiz que pregonaba su fresca umbría… el Palacio Federal, hoy un museo o intento satisfactorio de museo… las rocas de La Boquita, sitio en que todos nos tomamos fotografías… y la casa de don Fernando Bravo, aquella rústica y breve casita en donde se alojaba la oficina de Telégrafos Nacionales, cuyo titular fue por años el propio don Fernando.
Aquella casa se localizaba en donde hoy se encuentra el edificio que aloja las oficinas de la presidencia municipal (ahora el Restaurante Daniel), a la vera de la playa y, limitante con la calle de Juan Álvarez, era el excelente parque de juegos de los niños.
Allí residía don Fernando y doña Rosa, su esposa y en donde correteaban a su muy apropiada edad, las entonces tres hijas del matrimonio Rosita, Socorro y Lupita; Fernando llegó a este mundo un poco después, pero también en esta casa.
Doña Rosa era la preciosa compañera de don Fernando. Ella, una guapa señora con el aire norteño tan significativo, casó con el joven telegrafista Fernando Bravo, originario de Petatlán, en uno de esos viajes que hacían con tanta frecuencia los empleados de telégrafos en aquellos ya lejanos años del ya, “México de mis recuerdos”.
Conocí mucho tiempo a esa hermosa familia que siempre tenía su puerta abierta. La casa modesta, sí; pero la playa que extendía inmediatamente a las puertas que daban al sur, la más deseada ilusión y el mejor recreo de los niños. Al frente, hacia la calle, una explanada amplísima que, sin riesgo de paso de vehículos, también daba a los chicos una gran seguridad, ya que los automóviles que circulaban en el pueblo no llegaban a cinco, y cuando se aproximaban el ruido del motor se escuchaba conservadoramente a trescientos metros de distancia.
Doña Rosa fue siempre activa: aquella actividad fue proverbial y no había acción social en la que ella dejara de intervenir de manera determinante.
Recuerdo aquel Día de la Marina de 1953, fecha en la que ella y sus múltiples amistades organizaron la fiesta, con banquete y todo, en el Palacio Federal (no la casa de piedra como irreverentemente la llaman a ese edificio cuya historia es interesante en la vida de Zihuatanejo). El buque que visitó este puerto, en esa fecha, fue el SOTAVENTO, el Yate Presidencial y a cuyo bordo viajó el almirante, don Mario Rodríguez Malpica, quien invitado al banquete acompañado de capitanes y oficiales y quien agradeció a la gentileza de doña Rosa y sus amigas por aquel festejo inesperado en un lugar como lo era Zihuatanejo.
Los buenos gustos de doña Rosa brindaban las muy especiales cenas de la Navidad, los días 30 del mes de mayo, día de cumpleaños de don Fer, eran oportunidad de deleite culinario que se fabricaba en la cocina de la casa. Y los bailes y fiestas escolares tan frecuentes, siempre contaban con el auxilio de doña Rosa. Además, se animaba a dar auxilio a los graves señores de la política de aquellos días, en las entonces no tan importantes acciones.
Mujer de su casa, ordenada y organizada: educada en un ambiente distinto al del sur de México, pronto supo ser costeña, el hogar, siempre primero y el servicio a la comunidad casi paralelo. Así pensaba la entusiasta sonorense y así actuó siempre. Quiero pensar que ella fue otra sincera enamorada de Zihuatanejo.
Con el correr del tiempo, a las señoras les pareció que el poblado requería de un templo católico. Las damas se reunieron se formó un grupo homogéneo en el cual hacían centro las señoritas que habían tenido la oportunidad de estudiar en Chilapa. Doña Rosa, sin pensarlo mucho, tomó la responsabilidad y aceptó la carga de la construcción del templo.
Don Darío se encargó de conquistar el corazón de don Carlos Barnard y logró el terreno que hoy ocupa el templo de La Lupita.
El ingeniero Eduardo Moncebo Benfield diseño la nave, la cual suponía el menor costo posible. Se obtuvo la material. La cubierta y la madera, los pisos, ventanas y puertas… ¿cómo?, pues doña Rosa su tropilla de señoras y muchachas de aquellos años. Tendieron sus redes de entusiasmo por toda la región y lograron a base de bailes públicos, kermeses, tómbolas, etc., el reunir el dinero… y lo lograron.
Un día de aquellos solemnes de la costa, bajo el inclemente sol tropical, aún sin techo se celebró en Zihuatanejo, en el Templo dedicado a Santa María de Guadalupe, la primera boda: Felipe Torres y Minerva Campos. Inolvidables.
El templo se terminó de construir y el señor Clayton, a través de don Darío, obsequió el primer órgano. La familia Alatorre, los pisos del baptisterio y por fin, Zihuatanejo tuvo su lugar de reunión espiritual, gracias a doña Rosa.
Don Fernando se fue primero. Doña Rosa perdió mucho de su entusiasmo característico con aquella pérdida invaluable. Ahora, también doña Rosa se nos fue. Muchos años han pasado desde aquellos en que se registraron tantos sucedidos, tantas cosas hermosas en aquel Zihuatanejo, mágico y embelesador. El Zihuatanejo de don Salvador Espino, el de don Darío Galeana, el de don Fernando Bravo, de Felipe Palacios, de don Alfredo Gómez, de don Guillermo Leyva, de Máximo Merel, de doña María Ávila, de los hermanos Castro Villalpando, de don Germán Bracamontes, de don Rodolfo Campos, de don Amador Campos Ibarra. El Zihuatanejo de don Juan Ayvar, de Pablito Resendiz y de las aguerridas y alegres gentes de la hoy olvidada Noria… el Zihuatanejo que fue, de doña Rosa Farías de Bravo… doña Rosa.
Zihuatanejo, Guerrero in August of 1974 was a very different place than it is today. There were no paved roads, no street lights, no luxury hotels. Telephones were few and far between. The teacher-turned-armed-revolutionary Lucio Cabañas had kidnapped the cacique and then Senador Rubén Figueroa who was campaigning to become state gobernador. Roadblocks and military patrols were everywhere, and the army was mistreating everyone. Revolution and repression were in the air. It was inspiring.
Our flight arrived in Acapulco from Mexico City after the short hop over the lush Filo Mayor of the Sierra Madre del Sur. The only thing we’d lost in transit so far was my dart board and darts at the luggage storage office in the Mexico City airport. Since the airline wouldn’t allow our long-haired blonde Afghan hound on the small prop-plane flight from Acapulco to Zihuatanejo, we had to rent a car and drive. The sun was setting and it would be dark soon. In the chaos of transferring all our luggage to the rental car my 8-track stereo, 8-track tapes and Olympus Pen camera all disappeared.
Map in hand, the route looked easy enough. A two-lane blacktop was the only road heading up the coast from Acapulco, and the paved section ended at Zihuatanejo. I was 16 years old with my brand new unrestricted Florida Drivers License, and I was thrilled to be driving on our new adventure into the unknown.
Topes were a new experience for me since we didn’t have them in the U.S. Virgin Islands where I’d learned to drive or in Florida where I’d already driven much of the state including the Tamiami Trail from Miami to Tampa. I got fairly good at spotting them pretty quickly with a little help from my mother and younger brother. Everyone shouting together ¡TOPE! whenever we spotted one.
As we left Acapulco behind in the twilight and started to head down the twisting hillside road towards Pie de la Cuesta I had my first close call. Coming around a long curve at a nominal 60 or so MPH all of a sudden there was a herd of cattle across the road. There was no time to stop, and miraculously I was able to swerve between them. It was pitch black and there were no streetlights. Adrenaline rush over, I decided to drive a little slower. It made missing other cattle on the road a bit easier. There was almost no traffic, so I couldn’t follow anyone caravan-style like I would have preferred. But there were several military roadblocks that appeared out of nowhere, usually on s-curves in the middle of coconut plantations. They were looking for guns and drugs and a missing politician, but they were courteous enough to us, probably because we were foreigners.
Six hours of white-knuckle driving in pitch dark, the glows of small towns like Coyuca, Atoyác, Petatlán and Zihuatanejo the only distinguishing features besides a gazillion stars in the night sky, and we finally arrived at the Hotel Sotavento at La Ropa Beach in Zihuatanejo, right next door to the Hotel Catalina which remains open to this day. We checked in, got a room with running water, and noticed we’d lost our music and a camera in Acapulco. Oh well. We were alive and on an adventure in a strange land and it felt great to be here.
The next morning at first light we went to the Front Desk to make a phone call where by chance we met the ex-pat Gerald Shaw, a reclusive artist who had moved to Zihuatanejo years earlier to escape the racism and general madness of the USA. Gerald was also making a phone call, and he gave us a few useful tips, including the fact that there were only about 4 telephones in town.
My future wife’s family happened to have one of them because her father, don Fernando, had been a telegraph operator during and after the Revolución, and they had also been the first house with an electric light bulb where friends and neighbors would gather daily at dusk. Their original house had been on the downtown beach called Playa Principal next to the zócalo about where Daniel’s Restaurant currently sits. But I still hadn’t met her yet, so all this knowledge was still in my future.
As we went to the dining terrace for breakfast I got my first glimpse through the palm trees of Zihuatanejo Bay and La Ropa Beach. A view that has changed very little through the years and which instantly had me spellbound. It was love at first sight!
I had a feeling of being on an island, not unlike St. Croix where I’d lived a year earlier. The succulent fresh papaya with lemon juice I had for breakfast and the smell of the ocean were intoxicating. Zihuatanejo was reviving tropical senses dulled from a year of living in Florida, a place that seemed chaotic and pretentious by comparison.
After an invigorating breakfast it was time to go look for a place to live for the next several months. So off we set down towards the southern end of La Ropa beach where we’d heard about a new bungalow available from a man called don Chebo.
At the southern end of La Ropa where the long dirt road from town ended at the beach, the Alemán family had a small tienda with a small enramada and a couple of hammocks. We stopped for refrescos, Pepsi, no Coke. They were kind enough to point us in the direction of the home of don Chebo, a wizened elderly little man with a sparkle in his eye and the gentle handshake of a shy working man. He and his wife, doña Chella, had their modest home on a small rise about 50 meters back from the coast near where Restaurante La Gaviota now sits at the southern end of La Ropa Beach. They had just finished building a simple one-room brick structure with a teja roof another 50 meters or so back from the beach. There were a couple of cots and chairs and a table. No bathroom. No kitchen. There was a light bulb, but the electricity didn’t always work. There were a couple of oil drums for holding water that sometimes flowed briefly every few days or so from a black plastic hose that amazingly snaked all the way from town out to the La Ropa area to supply the Sotavento, Catalina and the Calpulli hotels. Patching leaks in the hose with shreds of rubber innertube was everyone’s shared responsibility if they wanted to have water.
There was only a handful of residents at La Ropa back then. A few foreigners and a few locals whom we would meet in the coming days.
I immediately got to work digging us a latrine and using leftover bricks to build us some sort of stove so we could at least boil water to make coffee in the morning. Don Chebo found us another cot, and we were amazed to find mosquito coils for sale at the little tienda so we could sleep soundly at night. It was rainy season and there was a wide shallow green scum-covered pond-like puddle across the road from our place that apparently connected with a small lagoon.
Our first night we were invited by Margot Chipman to visit her home a short distance away on another hill. Almost immediately I discovered a scorpion as I sat on the steps of her home with her 2 girls, one still an infant. I would discover 2 more before the evening was done, including one at our house.
The next morning was spent in town looking around and shopping for basic supplies, including a large machete for me and some white kerosene for the lamps and for mopping the floors. I met the son of a local tortillería, Paco Ayvar. He spoke English and was about my age, and he was eager to make a new friend. We hit it off well.
I also discovered that day that I loved licuados.
Later that afternoon back at our house my mother, brother and I were sitting on our porch watching macaws fly back and forth when our Afghan hound, Clete, spotted some cows on the other side the shallow green scum-covered pond. Before there was time to react he was flying off the porch, and in about 5 huge leaps he was halfway across the scum-covered pond before he lost his footing and rolled several times. Clete was totally unrecognizable when he stood up. That’s when we saw the “logs” move and realized they were crocs. We screamed and called frantically, and fortunately he came galloping back up to the porch, a stinking algae and mud-covered mess. After trying to rinse the mess out we decided that he would be more comfortable if we just cut all his hair off.
Don Chebo had another 3-room home that he was putting the finishing touches on, and within a few days after moving into the first house we moved into the larger house just past where La Gaviota restaurant now sits and within a stone’s throw of the bay. One room was a kitchen and bathroom with a shower, the large middle room became the bedroom for my brother and me, and the entrance room became my mother’s bedroom. My mother kept her cot but my brother and I decided we’d rather sleep in big hammocks. We also hung hammocks on the porch where we could enjoy the view of the bay.
Part 4 – First Meeting:
Love at First Sight
Shortly after my mother, younger brother, Clete and I settled into our new home for the next few months, my new friend Paco Ayvar came to visit me, and we decided to take a walk up La Ropa Beach to the Hotel Calpulli. Just as we were nearing the Calpulli we saw two Mexican girls in bikinis walking towards us. All the Mexican girls I had seen up until then had been wearing clothing at the beach, shorts and t-shirts or blouses, even dresses, but not swimsuits, and certainly not bikinis. Girls in this region were still rather old-fashioned and shy about exposing their bodies. Yet here were two attractive modern looking girls walking our way on one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere, and Paco says to me “I know these girls. I’ll introduce you. The one on the left is Carmelita Sotelo, and the one on the right is Lupita Bravo. The one on the right is also a 24-year old virgin from a good local family, almost like royalty.” I replied we didn’t have girls where I came from that looked like that and who were still virgins at that age. I was awestruck by her beauty and now intrigued by Paco’s somewhat odd comments. I was also reminded of earlier warnings not to mess with local girls because their family might seek revenge and make me disappear if I got one pregnant. So I was on my best behavior and working hard to suppress raging teenage hormones.
As we got closer Paco greeted them and introduced us. When Lupita looked into my eyes and smiled the world spun and I thought my knees were going to collapse. I realized I couldn’t speak and that she was still staring at me with the face of an angel, like no one I’d ever seen before. I managed to croak out “mucho gusto” and shook her hand. When we touched there was a spark like static electricity. And she continued staring at me, still smiling ever so sweetly.
Paco and Carmelita both saw what was happening and cracked into big grins. Paco asked me if I wanted to ask Lupita to go out dancing that night. I said I didn’t know if I should or how to ask in Spanish. He assured me it was okay and told me to say ¿gusta bailar? Okay, got it.
The world started spinning again and my throat started failing me. I couldn’t see anything else but Lupita’s angelic face with her magnificent smile.
Carmelita spoke English, and she suggested I meet her and Lupita at the Kau-Kan discotheque on La Madera Beach around sunset, one of the popular places where local young people went to socialize and dance.
Since Lupita’s father was the manager of the Hotel Calpulli where I also was allowed to run a tab, she and Carmelita went with him back to town for lunch and siesta while Paco and I enjoyed lunch under their huge teepee-like structure.
After running an errand with Paco to his huerta near El Coacoyul and back to La Ropa, I spiffed myself up and he dropped me off near the Hotel Irma where it was an easy downhill walk to La Madera Beach.
The Kau-Kan was located where the restaurant Bistro del Mar is currently located. It was almost like a cave inside with bare rock walls along the back and subdued lighting. The song “The Night Chicago Died” was playing as I sat down and looked around for Lupita and Carmelita. I didn’t see them so I ordered a rum and Coke and found a table by the wall to wait. Almost as soon as I sat down they showed up.
Because the place was kind of crowded and the music wasn’t that good we decided to walk a little farther down the beach to the Chololo disco, just above the beach and below where the Hotel Casa Sun & Moon now sits.
The Chololo was a big hit with the more sophisticated crowd. My friend Jorge Tortuga was the DJ and manager then. This was my first time there, but later on Jorge would ask me to bring my 2 cassettes of disco music someone from New York City had made so that he could copy them. The place always livened up when those cassettes were played.
This first night Lupita and I were interested in learning about each other. We danced a little and smiled at each other a lot. I did my best with my rudimentary Spanish that fortunately I had studied from the 2nd to the 9th grades. So we spent much of that evening talking, Carmelita helping whenever we got stuck on a word or expression. I was determined to speak Spanish with Lupita.
Lupita’s family is one of the most respected in Zihuatanejo. She is almost like royalty, even for all her humbleness. Her father, don Fernando, was at first the telegraph operator during and after the Revolución. Then he became the radio-telephone operator who made the first direct radio-phone communication with Mexico City from Zihuatanejo, and later on he was a civil judge. Their first home on the main downtown beach where Lupita was born, next to where the current Cancha Municipal is located, was the first home to have electricity, at first for the telegraph and later for the radio-telephone. Neighbors would visit after dusk and sit around the electric bulb catching up on the latest gossip for an hour or so after dark with don Fernando and his wife doña Rosa.
I walked the girls back to Lupita’s home so that I would know where she lived. We had to cross the vado to reach town, a dirt road that went through the shallow part of the lagoon and where you either tiptoed across the rocks and wooden planks placed there or you took your shoes off and waded through the shallow water, and then we walked the remaining block and a half to the Bravo family home on the corner of Juan N. Álvarez and Vicente Guerrero streets, which at that time was pretty much the edge of town. Their 2-story home was located across the street from a small park now called Plaza del Artista with its several shade trees. It’s where we’ve lived ever since doña Rosa passed away a little over 20 years ago
The next day after my usual morning licuado de papaya, plátano y chocolate I passed by Lupita’s home where I saw her brushing her hair in the upstairs window. I called up to her and told her I’d wait for her in the little park where there was a large fallen trunk perfect for sitting on. Of course her mother, doña Rosa, also saw me and gave me a hard look of disapproval that only a parent can give. I believe she said something about why didn’t I go play with kids my age. It was expected, but it also reminded me to be on my best behavior.
Lupita and I went and sat on some steps near the entrance to the lagoon called La Boquita at the end of the beach just past the Palacio Federal, now the Museo Arqueológico de la Costa Grande in front of the Vicente Guerrero primary school. She asked me what I did all day. Well, I wanted to be honest with her, so I didn’t hold back.
I told her that I got up from my hammock in the morning, smoked a joint with my coffee, took a hit or two off a bottle of some local homemade mezcal that had a dead fly floating in it, then I walked the mile and a half or so to town to have my licuado de chocolate, plátano y papaya, then I went and hung out at the beach and drank beer and played Frisbee with my friends. Her eyes had gotten wide while I was telling this, and I could tell I’d shocked her a bit. She was smiling when she said as sweetly as a ripe mango: “Oh, eres muy flojo.” Well, I didn’t know what she’d just said, but by the way she said it and the lovely innocent look on her face I assumed it was something wonderful and I nodded my head in agreement with a big dumb grin on my face, smitten.
What I thought was sweetness was Lupita holding back a good laugh.
Lupita told me she had to get back home, so I bid her farewell with a respectable kiss on the cheek, remembering to be on my best behavior but now acutely aware that we were strongly attracted to each other. It was indeed love at first sight.
The mile and a half walk back to the little house at the end of La Ropa Beach I kept thinking over and over to myself: “My sweetie just called me flojo. It must be something wonderful. I can’t wait to look it up in the dictionary.” And I kept repeating the word over and over so I wouldn’t forget it. Flojo. Flojo. Flojo.
Upon arriving to the house I almost ran to my Spanish-English dictionary, flipping quickly to the “F” section.
Flojo – lazy.
I thought no, that can’t be it. I must be missing the pronunciation a bit, and I looked all over for a similar sounding word.
Nope. That was the right translation all right. Lupita had a good laugh at my expense and the joke was on me, though she was absolutely right.
That was the last day I ever pretended to understand a word I didn’t know.
Part 1 – Second Coming:
Love at First Sight for the Second Time
I walked from my home at the southern end of Playa La Ropa into downtown Zihuatanejo during the late morning, a man on a mission. It was Sunday, May 7th, 1989. I’d been in Zihuatanejo since mid-April with my soon-to-be ex-wife and our 4-year old daughter on our last-chance-for-romance “vacation”. The romance had flamed out and we had decided to separate amicably. Zihuatanejo was recharging my batteries while my almost-ex was anxious to return to “civilization”. So I decided that today was the day to re-introduce myself to my childhood sweetheart from 15 years earlier when I had first lived here for 6 months but with whom I’d had no contact all that time. Actually, I had walked by her boutique a couple of times and glanced at her, but I couldn’t bring myself to take that next step… until today.
How did I end up in Zihuatanejo, Mexico? It all began with Margot Chipman who commented to a mutual friend about Zihuatanejo back in 1969, and that friend told my mother and her then boyfriend who came here that year for several weeks where they rented a bungalow on the hill between La Ropa and el Centro. A couple of years later when we were all living together in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands we met the charming and likeable Pepe Solórzano who owned the hotel “Casa Sun and Moon” in Playa La Madera. For the second time Zihuatanejo had touched our lives. The third time would be the charm.
In the late summer of 1974 we were living in Longboat Key, Florida, homesick for the Virgin Islands where we had fled after an outbreak of violence by some returning Vietnam vets. My mother decided it was a good time to take a break from civilization and go visit Zihuatanejo for a few months. We stayed for 6 months, and if the money hadn’t run out we could’ve stayed longer. It was a beautiful, peaceful, idyllic, warm and friendly place where rich and poor mingled and stars including John Wayne walked welcomed and unbothered among the locals. That was when I met the girl who would become my wife 15 years later, the daughter of one of Zihuatanejo’s most respected families, a saint of a woman who is practically royalty in my eyes. We were introduced by mutual friends while walking along Playa La Ropa. It was love at first sight, and in my then poor Spanish I asked her if she would like to go dancing that late summer evening.
Fifteen years later, it was the third and final day of the annual Torneo de Pez Vela, though I didn’t know that until I got to town from our home in La Ropa. I went to what is now called “Lupita’s Boutique,” then called “Nando’s”, and walked in with as much calm courage as I could muster after the long hot walk to town, ready for one of those blast-from-the-past moments. But as fate would have it, Lupita wasn’t in her boutique. The girl who was minding the store told me that Lupita had gone to the pier with some friends for the tournament celebration. Okay, minor inconvenience but no major setback. So off I strolled along the waterfront into the throng of hundreds, eyeballs rolling this way and that trying to recognize someone I hadn’t seen face-to-face for 15 years except at a distance a couple of times through her shop window during the previous week.
The pier was crowded all right, and I walked up it and down it and back up and down it again. No Lupita. I walked back along the waterfront until I came to Elvira’s Restaurant and decided I needed to boost my courage back up with a cold dark beer while practicing my introduction to her in my rudimentary Spanish. “¿Me recuerdas?” Two beers later I was pretty sure I saw Lupita stroll by towards the pier, though she seemed to be surrounded by a bunch of guys, one of whom I recognized as Lalo, the guy who sold my mother her pickup truck.
Reinvigorated and only slightly nervous I paid my tab and followed the group out to the pier. As casually as I could I let out a hearty greeting to my friend Lalo. The group stopped and turned to look my way. I saw Lupita smile and time stood still while everyone else and all the cacophony faded into the background. Lupita had my full attention, and apparently I had hers. Before anyone could break the spell I walked right up to her and in my poor Spanish said “¿recuérdame?”, immediately realizing I had goofed my line. But Lupita didn’t miss a beat. She flashed that angelic smile and said “sí, pero no, pero ayúdame para recordar”, all the time gazing into my eyes and showing that she recognized me. It was love at first sight for us for the second time in 15 years.
At about that point the hackles went up on the other guys, especially Noyo from Playa Las Gatas, who let out a string of insults, the gist being a rather protective “don’t mess with this girl” attitude. We bought beers and tequilas at the pier while Lalo introduced me around. While the guys were playing macho games with me a photographer strolled up and asked if he could take our photo, so we hammed it up for the camera.
Part 2 – Connection: Till Death Do We Part
We strolled back along the waterfront and had a large table set up for us at Banana’s, which was where Tata’s is now located on the beach side of Hotel Avila. The manager Doro took excellent care of us that day, joining in with the rest of the guys who kept trying to run me off since everyone could see that Lupita and I were having a love-at-first-sight moment. I took the abuse in good spirits, and my bilingual friend Lalo even helped Lupita and me to communicate with each other as we remembered our romance of 15 years earlier.
Of course I eventually became good friends with Noyo and Doro. Lupita and I enjoy visiting Noyo at his family’s restaurant at Playa Las Gatas.
Lupita and I will celebrate another year of marriage this fall, and we both still feel like we’re honeymooners. Fate, destiny, karma or whatever it is that brought two people from such different worlds together. Now we’re just a couple of mushy old romantics hopelessly in love.
Besides promoting Zihuatanejo and the region, we also try to help the needy and the less fortunate. From students to the elderly. Readers of my website have donated money, school supplies, clothing, glasses, computers, bedding, even furniture. My wife works tirelessly using her connections to match up donations to the folks who need them. Even though I’m an unrepentant atheist, I consider her a saintly and exemplary woman and I thank my lucky stars to have found her. Against all odds we met and married, from such different backgrounds and cultures, yet somehow we are two pieces of the same puzzle and we seem to fit together perfectly.
My future mother-in-law used to try to run me off when I came calling for Lupita, always telling me “está ocupada.” My future wife’s friends even told her I wouldn’t stay, that like all gringos I was only here for a little while. Even my own family thought I was mistaken to believe I could fit in here. I’ve now been here close to 30 years, most of my adult life and can’t imagine living anywhere else. This is my home. I have no other. And eventually my suegra and all our nay-saying friends had to admit they were wrong.
Zihuatanejo became popular with sport fishermen going back as far as Zane Grey. In pre-colonial times Purépecha royalty from the region of Lake Pátzcuaro used to migrate to Zihuatanejo every year as well as hide their women here during times of strife, and the reef-like rock breakwater at Playa Las Gatas was allegedly built by them. When Pedro Infante was here filming the movie “La Vida No Vale Nada” my wife was just a little girl still living in her family’s home on the beach next to what is now the Cancha Municipal, and he gave her a kiss on the cheek that makes her smile to this day.
I found my footing in Zihuatanejo first as an English teacher for 9 years, starting in one of the big hotels in Ixtapa and later switching to private schools and finally giving private classes out of my home. Then the internet arrived to Zihuatanejo and after doing a search for “Zihuatanejo” and finding listings for hotels that had been out of business for years I decided I could do better, and I taught myself how to make websites. That was about 20 years ago. I don’t know what I was thinking but I gave up teaching, a social life, money to spend and spare time to enjoy it to be an overworked underpaid webmaster and promoter of our region. But I wouldn’t change a thing!
A stroll to the pier and back with my wife, one of our favorite things to do, can take 20 minutes or it can take an hour, depending on how many friends we encounter along the way. Zihuatanejo is like a big family, especially in our case being part of one of the older respected families of Guerrero, and we casually greet and chat with friends and strangers on our strolls, as is customary among people of the region. The warmth of the locals along with the area’s natural beauty has long been part of Zihuatanejo’s principal attractions.
We also observe siesta time daily from 2:00 to 5:00 PM. Siesta is one of my favorite local customs, and frankly I could never again function in the 9-to-5 work environment. I’m ruined for life!
Every day that I wake up in this paradise, with all its shortcomings, a quick glance through the news from the rest of the world soon has me kissing the ground like the Pope and giving thanks that this is the place I call home. Zihuatanejo! Zihuatanejo! Zihuatanejo!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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”.
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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 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 also received invaluable assistance from Irma López Ibarra, the Coordinadora de Eventos Culturales y Especiales for the Casa de Cultura.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.