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

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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

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.

20 Years Ago Today… or Last Sunday

May 7, 1989 - Jean Claude, Doro, Noyo, Lupita, Lalo, and me at the muelle on day 3 of the Torneo de Pez Vela (click to enlarge)

May 7, 1989 – from left: Mayte Tamayo, Jean Claude, Nelli, Doro, Noyo, Lupita, Lalo, and me at the muelle on day 3 of the Torneo de Pez Vela (click to enlarge)

I walked from my home at Playa La Ropa into downtown Zihuatanejo, 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 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.

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. I went to 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 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 in my rudimentary Spanish. 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. I should have said “¿me recuerdas?” 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, 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. Two or three of the guys there declined, but the rest of us hammed it up for the camera.

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.

Lupita and I will celebrate 19 years of marriage this fall (Sept. 2009), 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. Our romance is still in full bloom and we are both happier than ever, and very thankful to have found each other.

If only more folks could find the happiness and love that we have enjoyed for so many years, the world would be a much more peaceful and harmonious place, for sure. Maybe it’s something in the water… or the beer and tequila.

Lupita and I want to thank our good friend Doro for recovering the old photo and sending us a copy.

Lupita and me more recently (click to enlarge)

Lupita and me more recently (click to enlarge)

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