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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
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.
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.
I posted a couple of years ago on another blog of mine about helping the children in the schools of Cayacal, and I have also posted on my Message Board about where donations go that my wife, Lupita, and I receive from the many generous visitors who frequent my website. On January 7th of this year Lupita and I delivered school supplies, clothing and money that was again donated by many generous readers of my website to a small remote village in the neighboring municipio of Petatlán called La Soledad de Maciel, also known as La Chole.
Lupita and our daughter, Valeria, worked late into the previous night sorting donations and putting together bags of school supplies for the younger and older children of the escuela primaria “Benito Juárez” in La Chole.
Our friends Adán and José Guadalupe Veléz, who are also La Chole residents and attended this school in their youth, picked us up at 10:00 a.m. in their pick-up to carry all the supplies to the school. When we arrived at the school the children were all milling about, but word quickly spread as they saw us coming and the atmosphere changed dramatically as the children ran to their classrooms.
As we carried the boxes and bags of supplies from the truck, the teachers had all the children form lines in front of the classrooms. One of the teachers was shouting out marching-style orders that had the kids face this way and that like Gomer Pyle’s drill sargeant, apparently showing their parade marching skills, but which also meant that some were standing in the sun. While this was helpful as we distributed packages to the children in different grades, I could tell by the looks on the children’s faces that things were a little too formal for them to relax and enjoy the moment. After realizing that my little pep talk about the importance of education was about as helpful as tossing a handful of dust into the wind, to break the ice I whipped out my camera and had the kids break ranks so they could be in the shade while I walked around joking with them and snapping some photos.
The teachers, the children and the parents who were present were ecstatic that so many people whom they’ve never met had taken the time to think about them and send them much-needed school supplies. The appreciation was evident on every face and in every smile.
From the children of the Benito Juárez school in La Chole, Guerrero… a BIG THANK YOU to the folks who made this day possible!
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