The day of April 10, 2012 started off like any other day of Zihuatanejo’s peak holiday season during Semana de Pascua (Easter week). Tourists were enjoying the beaches and frolicking in the sand and the surf, even though the ocean water temperature has been extremely cool along the coast for the past few weeks, around 24-25° C (75-77° F). Many people had just arrived for the beginning of the second week of the annual traditional Semana Santa-Semana de Pascua vacation period. The beaches were filling up at Playa La Ropa, Playa Las Gatas, Playa La Madera and Playa Principal all around Zihuatanejo’s bay.
Suddenly around 11:00 a.m. phone calls started arriving to the offices of the police and the fire department, reports of a fire, though no one could specify exactly where it was. Some folks thought it was a warning sign for a tsunami, and there were even a few calls by folks frightened that it was the arrival of a UFO.
Photos by Jorge Luis Tomás García
At first the reports of a strange white cloud only came from Ixtapa, where Playa El Palmar was suddenly enveloped in dense white cloud spilling in from the ocean and between the low hills from Playa Linda and Playa Quieta.
A maid at one condominium project in Ixtapa thought it was the end of the world, thanks to all the media hysteria over the Mayan calendar and so-called predictions by Nostradamus and the fictional movie “2012”, and she started to walk off the job to go home so she could spend her “final moments” with her children. Her co-workers eventually convinced her that it was only fog and she returned to her job.
While we have seen fog in Zihuatanejo on rare occasions over the years, no one could recall ever seeing such a dense and low fog bank like this roll in during the middle of the day. Like a white version of the smoke monster from LOST, the fog bank seemed to reach into the bay like a long finger and touch part of La Ropa Beach and the small hill between La Ropa and La Madera before dissipating upward. The eerie effect was enhanced because it looked like a low cloud rolling along the surface of the ocean reminiscent of a popular horror movie.
Photos by Judith Whitehead
Photos by Michael Hackett
All around the bay the folks on beaches were standing around watching the unusual fog bank and taking videos and photos as it blew in from the ocean and tumbled over the low parts of the hills along the coast.
Things appear to be improving and the responsible authorities seem to be taking their jobs a bit more seriously regarding the testing of the ocean water at our beaches for bacteriological content. The Secretario del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT) announced that it is stepping up its monitoring program of our local beaches.
For the past 10 days SEMARNAT has been taking water samples in order to have a more realistic picture of the bacteriological conditions of the water at our local beaches, and they are reporting their findings in a more timely manner. They used to only take one sample a month and publish the findings a month or more later. Now findings for the same month can be found on the website for the Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios (COFEPRIS) and findings are being released to the press even sooner.
Additionally, the Sistema Sanitario Federal has applied the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and lowered the unacceptable risk level from 500 to 200 enterococcos per 100 milliliters of water. I definitely see this as a step in the right direction. Now the question is if signs will actually be posted at any beaches that surpass this new level, because this has been a problem in the past.
Our local wastewater treatment plants are being repaired and upgraded by our municipal government and new ones are also being built in nearby communities to lower the risk of potential pollution to our area’s beaches. Hopefully before the end of 2010 all three of Zihuatanejo’s wastewater treatment plants will be operating as they should and Playa Principal will finally be considered a safe swimming beach by locals. The current test results still show this as the only beach that poses a potential health risk. Thankfully all our other beaches are looking good.
Ixtapa’s Playa El Palmar is on the verge of receiving the important distinction of becoming certified as a “Playa Limpia”. This requires strict monitoring not only of the water quality but also of other factors including even the cleanliness of the sand. This certification should help the promotion of Ixtapa by travel agents and tourism professionals. And if things go as planned then beaches such as Zihuatanejo’s Playa La Ropa should not be far behind in meeting the criteria to become certified as a “Playa Limpia”.
The waves in Zihuatanejo’s bay washed almost all the way into the streets of downtown Zihuatanejo last night. We could hear them thundering all night long as Tropical Storm Andres churned past Zihuatanejo just a few miles off our coast. In some places they actually reached the top of the walkway and started to spill over, such as into the park called Plaza del Artista where the sand piled up even with the walkway as seen in the photo above.
The wind kept gusting much of the night, blowing trees and plants around as well as bringing rain through windows. The rain finally tapered down to an off-and-on sprinkle, letting up this morning. The sun has finally come out and revealed the aftermath of last night’s storm in all its living color.
La Playa Principal lost a lot of sand last night, and the waves washed into seating areas of several beachfront restaurants. The beach-soccer area that was set up for an ongoing tournament got torn apart as the waves rolled right through it. In the fishermen’s area boats were battered around like toys with some stacked on top of others. Only the wind blowing towards the shore kept many from being washed out to sea.
Downtown Zihuatanejo also awoke to no water this morning. Even so, people could be seen in front of their homes and businesses sweeping and picking up debris. No real damage could be seen except to a few plants. The downtown streets seems to have drained pretty well.
During the rain last evening I caught 3 kids who had stolen a large canvas banner from my neighbor as they ran away towards the museum. The kids returned it without any fuss after saying they had only wanted it for the roof of their house. I almost felt bad for stopping them, but my neighbor paid good money for it and she thanked me for my good deed. Of course my wife was angry that I could’ve been stabbed by the 3 kids, since times are desperate and life is cheap. She tends to worry like that a lot.
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.