The Luckiest Gringo in Mexico – Part 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 with my mother 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 when 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

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)