The Luckiest Gringo in Mexico – Parts 3 & 4

Rainbow over Zihuatanejo
Rainbow over Zihuatanejo

Part 3 – Prequel:
First Arrival

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.

Zihuatanejo Bay in the early 1970's
Zihuatanejo Bay in the early 1970’s

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 Mexico City, 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!

View from the Hotel Catalina of Playa La Ropa with Playa Las Gatas in the distance
View from the Hotel Catalina of Playa La Ropa with Playa Las Gatas in the distance

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.

My mother and Clete in St. Croix, U.S.V.I. 1971
My mother and Clete in Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S.V.I. 1971

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.

¿Gusta bailar?

¡Sí!

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.

Hotel Calpulli circa mid 1970's
Hotel Calpulli circa mid 1970’s

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.

Remains of Chololo above Playa La Madera without its palapa
Remains of Chololo above Playa La Madera without its palapa

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.

Palacio Federal and Vicente Guerrero school beside La Boquita lagoon
Palacio Federal and Vicente Guerrero school beside La Boquita lagoon

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.

Lupita and me celebrating at the former Kau-Kan restaurant
Lupita and me celebrating at the former Kau-Kan restaurant

The Luckiest Gringo in Mexico – Parts 1 & 2

Playa Principal, Zihuatanejo
Playa Principal, Zihuatanejo

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.

May 7, 1989 – Mayte, Jean Claude, Nellie, Doro, Noyo, Lupita, Lalo, and me at the muelle on day 3 of the Torneo de Pez Vela

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.

Wedding of Roberto & Lupita
Victor and Socorro with Lupita and me on our wedding day

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, me and Noyo
Lupita and me with Noyo at Chez Arnoldo, 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.

Lupita and me at Café Marina
Lupita and me at Café Marina

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!

Bahía de Zihuatanejo
Bahía de Zihuatanejo

God’s Own Bullets and The White Man’s Burden

from Aubrey Beardsley's "Salomé - The Stomach Dance"
from Aubrey Beardsley’s “Salomé – The Stomach Dance”

Just this past week a post on my Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa & Troncones  Mexico Message Board regarding the possible source of a local recent rumor turned into something quite different, quite argumentative and quite amusing to me, but  only because I’ve learned not to take most folks as seriously as they think they should be taken. Nevertheless, arguments on the internet are never pretty sights to most viewers, even less so to people looking for a relaxing getaway from inclement weather, their jobs and their daily lives. I have deleted it from my Message Board for obvious reasons, though I aready knew from the subject of the original post that it was not a message thread I intended on saving for very long.

The original post had a link to a news article about the arrest of an alleged criminal and speculated on the source of the rumor regarding child abuctions that had circulated in Zihuatanejo during late February and early March. The first inane reply came almost immediately and said “that’s why god invented bullets”. Meaning the alleged criminal accused of the child abductions for organ harvesting or whatever should be shot and not even have evidence against him presented at a trial. Since the person posting was one of my favorite “conservative types” (you know the type) I of course couldn’t resist a little jibe and a little personal entertainment (yes, I can be a bit of a mindfucker at times when things are dull). What’s amusing about an argument? Well, I’m pretty sure I’m not one of the brightest bulbs on the tree, but it amuses me to no end how much dimmer most people seem to be, but of course I could be wrong because as I said, I ain’t the sharpest knife in the kitchen drawer. Not even close.

So in reply to what I fondly referred to as the comment about GOD’S OWN BULLETS, I wrote something like: “Were those the same bullets used to massacre the indigenous folks in what is now the USA?” I could have just as easily written: “Were those the same bullets used to assassinate Lincoln, the  Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Jr. or the children at Sandy Hook Elementary?”

"Mango Man" by William T. Templeton
“Mango Man” by William T. Templeton

Immediately the outrage began! First someone claimed that the Native Americans were happy on their reservations. Someone else claimed that disease killed most of them.  Someone else even wrote that there were now over two and a half million Native Americans in the USA (which actually got a burst of laughter out loud from me). But not only did all these people miss the point, they ignored it glaringly. Dodge and change the subject, attack the messenger, argue about inanities. Almost immediately one person claimed I was an anti-American sexist and chauvinist, which of course got a couple of attaboys from the female peanut gallery, whom I suspect had been drinking wine.

Not one other person seemed to care about the larger question I actually touched upon by my original reply to GOD’S OWN BULLETS, to wit: injustice in the name of religion. No, they were so deep in denial and woe and caught up in the White Man’s Burden that a tirade was unleashed against me accusing me of everything from being anti-American to Communist (as if those would be labels that should cause me anguish) as well as a sexist and chauvinist.

"Mouse Trap" game
“Mouse Trap” game

I’ve lost count of the times in my life when some ill-mannered and disrespectful angry fool pretended to tell me what I am, and most times I simply shrug off the attempted chides because I don’t suffer fools lightly and there’s no sense in arguing with people’s prejudices. While I enjoy my freedom more than most people, I am not so foolish as to be so free with my inner self that I reveal myself to strangers or even to most people. My wife knows me. My mother knows me. My family knows me. My friends know me. But folks who have mostly never even met me and only read what I write on my Message Board don’t know anything about me of substance because I learned quite young, before I was even a teen, that you have to have different images to different sectors of people, you can’t just be yourself in front of everybody. Just like you probably don’t discuss much about your sex life with strangers, I keep most of myself private. But since I’m not exactly the cleverest ape in the tree, of course I could be wrong.

So when one particularly ill-mannered and disrespectful angry person on my Message Board pretended to pigeonhole me, I of course couldn’t resist the temptation to play the easy winning hand and publicly admonish her since the entire affair was simply just a silly game of mine to begin with and the angry players lost so rotundly.

dumb tattoo
stupid tattoo

But the icing on the cake came when the same ill-mannered and disrespectful angry person revealed her true hateful, mean-spirited and conservative self by calling another person who corrected her a “Robette”, a term originally coined and used on a website forum that has been gone for many years and that many of my readers who knew of it jokingly referred to as the “Blue Board”, because they were all such a sad and sorry lot of mostly angry, bitter, hateful, envious, and conservative blowhards. She might as well have just rolled up her sleeve and showed us her stupid tattoo. 😉

I’ll try to play nicer.

Z AmaZing Zihuatanejo

Acapulco Statue
Bronze statue of a sunbather in the morning light (click to enlarge)

The magic of Zihuatanejo is palpable and is something most residents and visitors can see and feel all around them, beginning with the first rays of dawn and the amazing spectacle of the morning light as it illuminates Zihuatanejo Bay and everything around it. The colors seem to vibrate and give life to inanimate objects, playing tricks with the mind and one’s vision, revealing new beauty and details in old and familiar things, whether it be a flock of birds, boats in the bay, buildings on the hillsides, fishermen, a market, a street, a beach, a walkway, or a statue. Even the colors of the ocean, the hills, the clouds and the sky seem fresh and new each day.

For those of us fortunate to experience this magic, it recharges our batteries and invigorates the soul, reminding us to appreciate what we can while we can, for it will be different tomorrow and we may not be here. Every day is indeed something new. The past and the future meaningless abstracts to the here and now demanding our attention. Reminding us to appreciate what we have and where we are at this moment. Reminding us there’s no time like the present.

Here are a few photos mostly from my morning walks with my wife along the waterfront of downtown Zihuatanejo.

Click on any photo to see it enlarged

Downtown Zihuatanejo
Downtown Zihuatanejo

Pelicans on Playa Principal
Pelicans on Playa Principal

Fishing boats arriving
A fishing boat zooms on to Playa Principal

Fishing at Dawn
Several shore fishermen try their luck at dawn on Zihuatanejo’s Playa Principal

Fishing at dawn
A lone fisherman at dawn on the Playa Principal

Fishing boats on the beach
Fishing boats line the beach at the fishermen’s market

El Faro and Los Morros de Potosí
The lighthouse and Los Morros de Potosí

Waterfront fishermen's market
The fishermen’s market

Mostly huachinango
Mostly red snapper

Fishing with pelicans
Fishing with pelicans

Fishermen arriving
Fishermen arrive with their overnight catch

Fisherman casts net
A fisherman casts his net in Zihuatanejo Bay

Here are a couple of wide-angle panoramas I took of Zihuatanejo Bay in the morning. You can move them right and left as well as zoom in. Once you open them I recommend clicking on the “expand” arrows in the upper right corner to see them full screen.

 
Long morning shadows on the downtown beach called Playa Principal


Fishermen following pelicans during a feeding frenzy that started at Playa Principal and ended at Playa La Madera


Summer Camp is OVER in Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa

A chaise lounge sits empty
A chaise lounge awaits a sunbather – click to enlarge

The summer vacation period in Mexico ended yesterday and today millions and millions of children returned to classes across the country. In Zihuatanejo that meant walking to school in a light drizzle for many students. It also means streets, hotels and beaches void of tourists. An unsettling occurrence for local business and lodging owners.

More and more I think it becomes apparent to lots of local businesses that opened up here in the past decade that not only is Zihuatanejo saturated with folks looking to live off tourism, but that the government’s efforts at promotion, what little they’ve done, has completely changed our tourism, especially during the summer vacation period.

Squatters atop hill at La Majahua
New squatter lodgings at La Majahua – click to enlarge

It used to be that we had a decent mix of day trippers who came by bus, car and truck and more affluent tourists who occupied local luxury homes and lodgings. But between the hotels in Ixtapa changing their marketing strategy to almost exclusively all-inclusive seeking a class of tourist with less purchasing power, effectively charging rates that the predominantly non-corporate owned Zihuatanejo lodgings simply can’t compete with, and the government’s almost exclusive promotion of “social tourism” (the folks who come in tour buses for a day at most) we now find that all of us who live and have businesses here can no longer make a sustainable living from the tourists we’re getting. In spite of this new reality, FONATUR, who for years hasn’t been able to find buyers for the lands they’ve developed for sale, continues allowing megaprojects to wipe out natural areas and privatize beaches on the one hand while FIBAZI does similarly with squatters on the other, selling Zihuatanejo’s ecological zones for political expediency if not also personal profit. The squatters of course can’t find work and the megaprojects of course can’t find buyers, but with developers that isn’t the point. They build, they get paid, they move on to repeat the process. Similarly, many squatters get their stolen land and sell it for a huge profit and move on to repeat the process.

Unfortunately with the change of political fortunes underway, no one is doing anything. It’s almost like, no it’s definitely like there is NO GOVERNMENT (except of course they still want to collect taxes).

Tourists at Las Gatas Beach
Tourists enjoy a lovely day at Las Gatas Beach – click to enlarge

Lots of folks from other places sure want to live off the Zihuatanejo cash cow, but it seems no one wants to do the real work of getting folks to come here, no one seems to want to engage with potential tourists, to answer their questions that help them make the decision to take their vacations here. Even the airlines seem to be conspiring against us. So I plug away here and there trying to keep Zihuatanejo in people’s thoughts, answering questions and hopefully projecting the image of a place folks will want to visit for their vacation. But man, do I ever feel like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike: alone in my efforts to try to salvage Zihuatanejo’s tourism and attract newcomers with the spending power needed to help at least some of us make ends meet.

Good-bye SECTUR!

The proposed disappearance of the Secretaría de Turismo (SECTUR) announced by Presidente Calderón this week has drawn criticism from several locals in the tourism sector, but personally I’ve always thought SECTUR to be a waste of public resources. It’s time for us to stop allowing others to do the work we should be doing.

The paternalistic approach of SECTUR has incapacitated us locally and made us dependent on their outside help, but no outsider or bureaucrat in Mexico City is going to promote us or look after our interests better than we can ourselves right here in Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa.

Among all the millionaire businesses such as luxury hotels, tour operators, developers, restaurants, time shares, and others (including FONATUR), it’s time they pay the tab for all the milk they have been suckling from our cash cow. As the popular Mexican song goes “toma chocolate, paga lo que debes”.

Personally, I have dedicated over 12 years promoting our tourist destination by means of my own personal website as a service for the community without selling any advertising space, paying the costs from my own pocket and with my own time. Now through my website I have “primary contact” daily with over two thousand people, and over a thousand of them visit my Message Board daily finding answers to their questions. I seek no rewards or public recognition from politicians or anyone. I do what I do out of love for my community. So, if I can do this without seeking personal gain then I believe others can do so whether it be for love of money or simply to promote their own interests or perhaps for other reasons. It’s time others raised the torch and assumed their responsibilities to promote our destination as an integral entity instead of only seeking benefits for their own businesses.

Unfortunately, in the last few decades almost all the promotion by the government has been principally for Ixtapa, and its businesses have benefitted from their proximity to Zihuatanejo without having to give anything in return except perhaps to pay the meager wages of some of their employees, many of whom aren’t even locals but were brought here or have come here from other places. Zihuatanejo, the original attraction, and I would say the main attraction, has practically been forgotten by them, but the time has arrived to work together if we want to survive this economic crisis and the changes to our reality.

The State of Guerrero’s Secretaría del Fomento Turístico (SEFOTUR) has not helped us either, and the governor should immediately fire its director, Ernesto Rodríguez Escalona, and appoint someone more capable and who has love for our state. Someone who will promote all the attractions of our state instead of just receiving a juicy paycheck and looking out for his own investments in Acapulco. Someone who won’t make such stupid declarations as Mr. Rodríguez did by telling tourists not to come to Guerrero when the A/H1N1 flu broke out. In that instant the governor should have fired him.

First, we need to get our house in order, a job that does indeed correspond to the government. Then we need to work to invest in our own future instead of leaving it to outsiders and “public servants” whose interests are very distinct from ours.

So let’s get to work friends and neighbors! Let’s see how brightly Guerrero truly shines!

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)

Responsible Economics for Zihuatanejo

Zihuatanejo circa 1971  (photo by Gene "Cri-Cri" Lysaker)
Zihuatanejo circa 1971 (photo by Gene "Cri-Cri" Lysaker)

The reason capitalism is slowly but surely falling apart at the seams is because there is no incentive to be ethical or even rational in the use of resources or the distribution of profits. There is no incentive to be a good neighbor or a positive asset to a community. You don’t even have to treat your workers well. The only incentive is to make a profit at any and all cost, which often involves deception not only of folks outside the corporation but also within. So now the big capitalist countries are bailing out their BANKS and LARGE CORPORATIONS that should have failed and disappeared and been replaced by banks and corporations that implemented better business practices, according to laissez faire economics. While millions of good citizens are losing their jobs and homes. This is the consequence of years of failed economic policies such as Reagan’s “trickle down economics”. It’s also the result of glorifying greed.

Rational planning that incorporates not only rational use of resources but just as importantly good ethics and respect for communities, meaning their environment AND their people, must be the next step in economic evolution. It will obviously take a more socialistic approach to reach that step since it is plain as day that the large corporations won’t do the right thing even when on the verge of collapse and bankruptcy. We need a new economic model that takes into account the rational use of resources (including mandatory recycling instead of disposability) as well as social and environmental responsibility. No more bailouts for “burn baby burn” corporate toadies!

So under an ethically and socially responsible economic system, for example, if a store like WalMart wishes to open in a small community like Zihuatanejo where they will put dozens if not hundreds of families out of work via economic displacement in a finite market, they should have to hire and train only locals. Same with the big hotels. But this hasn’t ever been the case here, and instead of prosperity with our region’s economic growth we’ve seen more marginalization and more impoverishment as more and more outsiders suck on the teats of Zihuatanejo’s cash cow.

Good-bye 2008!

The Sierra Madre del Sur from Ixtapa
The Sierra Madre del Sur seen from Ixtapa

With the end of 2008 Zihuatanejo will also see an end to six years of municipal administration by the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD). Zihuatanejo almost didn’t survive this past six years, and there is no doubt Zihuatanejo will never be the same.

We lost all our beautiful hillsides surrounding the Bahía de Zihuatanejo: on the one hand to tens of thousands of squatters stealing ecological zones that the city later re-zoned so they could continue to be stolen and settled by these land thieves (most from other towns and many with numerous properties), and on the other hand by developers of luxury homes and lodgings for people who will never really live here. From Playa Las Gatas all the way around the bay to Playa Contramar, roads now criss-cross our once pristine hillsides. The ecological zones that we thought would preserve the beauty of our town for generations to come were re-zoned by the PRD almost as soon as they took office, mostly in a political ploy to try to keep padding their electorate to win future elections. It worked for one succeeding election, but this year the voters of Zihuatanejo said ¡basta! and the PRD candidates were soundly and rather embarassingly defeated.

But the damage by their two successive administrations to our bay, our environment, our tourism and our community will be leaving a sour taste for years to come. Never have things been so bad due to neglect, ineptitude, incompetence, greed, and corruption.

Nevertheless, many of us in the community of Zihuatanejo are optimistic about our future. We believe we can reverse some of the damage to the environment, especially our bay. And hopefully by paying attention to the many details that were mismanaged, overlooked and ignored by the two previous municipal administrations we can salvage and restore our tourism industry and the tranquility of our community for our residents and visitors. Neighbors in downtown Zihuatanejo have formed a community organization in order to express our concerns and provide constructive proposals and feedback to the incoming municipal administration headed by Alejandro Bravo Abarca, who will become our new mayor at the stroke of midnight tonight.

So GOOD-BYE 2008 and HELLO 2009!

Playa La Madera sunrise
Playa La Madera sunrise

Responsible Progress in Zihuatanejo

Zihuatanejo Bay circa 1969 (photo by Gene Cri-Cri Lysaker)
Zihuatanejo circa 1969 (photo by Gene "Cri-Cri" Lysaker)

I don’t understand why some folks insist on viewing the related problems of growth and development from extreme and often unhelpful positions.

Am I the only one who sees clearly what Zihuatanejo could be instead of the growing problems it is becoming? Am I the only one who believes we are missing out on capitalizing on our greatest potential by not preserving what put us on the map in the first place?

I can’t help but shake my head and wonder where the idiots come from that believe we need to make Zihuatanejo like Puerto Vallarta or Acapulco or Cancún and add more artificial attractions, more condos, more megaprojects, more marinas, or whatever; raping the natural beauty and calling it progress. So let’s ruin the natural attractions we have and hope we can build new attractions to make up for the previous regular visitors we run off? Make way for the stampeding herds, right? Wrong!

Community planning is never a bad thing. Planned sustainable growth accompanied by proper development of infrastructure with an eye to improving community well-being is an admirable goal. However, we have seen nothing remotely resembling that here, either by government or private investors. Certainly some useful planning has gone into creating Ixtapa, though the purpose is becoming less clear as its natural beauty is also being wastefully and unnecessarily destroyed there, too. Nevertheless, the apparent guiding principle for years has been “every man for himself” with developers ignoring building and ecological regulations and no authority consistently enforcing them. So now the natural beauty and community charm that have always been our main attractions and that we thought would remain intact and sustain us for future generations are under serious threat from selfish and short-sighted interests seeking instant gratification.

Excuse me for thinking we could do better!

And despite all the pessimism, I still believe we can. I am encouraged by the organizing I see going on within our community among long-time mostly native locals, getting ready to work with the incoming municipal administration. I will continue to support their efforts to try to right the wrongs that have befallen our community and endeavor with them to make Zihuatanejo a better place, first for the locals and then for our visitors.

In case you haven’t noticed, that’s what this website has always been about! ;~)