Weathering the Flu Psychosis in Zihuatanejo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, 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!

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.

(Another) Zihuatanejo Earthquake

Just before 7:30 this morning I was awakened by my wife shouting frantically from downstairs “¡está temblando!” – it’s quaking! –

The sound of a freight train roaring in the distance quickly jolted me out of a perfect sleep because the closest train tracks are about 50 miles (80 km) away in Lázaro Cárdenas. I tripped into my shorts and sandals and hopped, skipped and jumped downstairs, all the time thinking “¡café! ¡café! ¿dónde está mi café?”

My wife and daughter were already on the ground floor with the front door open. I went into the street and looked up and down. Everything looked okay. Lampposts were still wobbling a bit. I was surprised that only a couple of other neighbors had bothered going outside. You’d think folks would at least try to save themselves. If it had been “the big one” we’d have had a lot of buried neighbors.

Fortunately this one appeared to have passed without any damage

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, and so far there haven’t been any replicas. But it sure set off a flurry of activity on my message board by other ex-pats in the region from Barra de Potosí to Troncones as well as by folks in other parts of Mexico, some who were surprised and/or concerned.

The official data from the Servicio Sismológico Nacional showed it to be a 5.3 on the Richter scale, occurring at 7:24:58 in the morning with an epicenter 44 kilometers west of Zihuatanejo at the coordinates (latitude) 17.54 and (longitude) -101.96 and at a depth of 25 km.

Shortly afterward I finally got that perfect cup of coffee I’d been hankering for, along with some fresh-squeezed orange juice with a delicious and still warm tamal de maiz as well as a tasty bolillo con requesón. Just another perfect day in Zihuatanejo, Mexico! ¡Ajuuuaaaa!

Zihuatanejo Earthquake 31 JAN 09

Helping Young and Old in La Chole

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

Happy Mother and Baby Receive Clothing
Happy Mother and Baby Receive Clothing

Expectant Mother Receives Clothing
An Expectant Mother Receives Clothing

Another Expectant Mother Receives Clothing
Another Receives Baby Clothes

Another Expectant Mother Receives Yarn
Another Expectant Mother Gets Yarn

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

Elderly Woman Receives Donation
An Elderly Woman Receives Donation

Elderly Man Receives Donation
An Elderly Man Receives Donation

Every little bit helps

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

Helping the Children of La Chole

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.

Escuela Benito Juárez
Escuela Benito Juárez

The School Grounds
The School Grounds

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.

Breaking the Ice
Breaking the Ice

Smiles to Fall in Love With
Heartwarming Smiles

Cute Little Guy
Cute Little Guy

Happy Students
Happy Students

More Happy Students
More Happy Students

More Happy Students
More Happy Students

The teachers

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, 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!

Thank You from the Benito Juárez Schoolchildren
Thank You from the Benito Juárez Schoolchildren

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

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, 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! ;~)

Holiday Season Begins in Zihuatanejo

Playa Linda, Ixtapa
Playa Linda, Ixtapa

Yesterday afternoon as the schoolbells chimed the end of the school day, they also rang in the official beginning of the Christmas  holiday vacation season. Christmas and Semana Santa represent our two peak seasons of the year. By yesterday evening roads quickly became crowded with vehicles full of mostly families from other states, especially from Mexico City and the central region known as El Bajío.

It is an almost instant change in the pace of life, from low gear to high without passing any gears in between. Streets and sidewalks are instantly full of people. Restaurants fill quickly

, the background noise level rises and the holiday high season gets underway in Zihuatanejo, Ixtapa, Troncones, and Barra de Potosí.

Last night the we cruised in a calm Pacific Ocean along the coast from Zihuatanejo’s bay to Ixtapa’s islands and back during sunset on the Orion sportfishing cruiser, we couldn’t help but notice the lights coming on at homes, condos and hotel rooms as twilight faded. Westin Las Brisas Ixtapa, by far one of the most beautiful hotels in Mexico, looked almost completely full as did the Barceló and the Presidente hotels. And once again Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa comes to life!

Merry Christmas from Zihuatanejo!

Christmas in Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa
2009 will mark two decades since I decided to move from Florida to work and live in Zihuatanejo. The election of a former spy chief as the 41st U.S. president helped make the decision easier.

This year I will celebrate my 20th Christmas in Zihuatanejo (counting my first Christmas here in 1974). In spite of this year’s economic hardships, I am happier than words can describe. The love of my family makes me one of the most fortunate people in the world. And Zihuatanejo is still one of the most beautiful places in the world to live. We have some of the most perfect weather and certainly some of the warmest people in the world. For all our problems

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, there is still so much good that far outweighs the bad. I feel privileged to be here.

So I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas from Zihuatanejo!

¡Feliz Navidad!