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
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
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.
Taking a morning walk with my wife and one of the other regular morning walkers asks me if I knew if we were going to have a tsunami. Tsu what? Whatsup? First I heard about any possible tsunami. Why am I always the last one to know these things? Why did I not get the MEMO?
So there went the morning walk as Lupita and I rushed back home and turned on the news and the computer. Dang, unplug yourself from the world for a night and all hell breaks loose!
So the first thing I do is find is a graph estimating the arrival time. Then I told everyone it might start arriving around 11:00 or 12:00 because I forgot to notice the PST time indicator. Oops. Drink more coffee. Go back and fix error. Ahem!
On the radio a lady calls in to the morning talk show program asking if a wave and an earthquake were going to strike her home high on the hill at El Hujal. Looks like I’m not the only one having a morning brainfart…
So after finding out the estimated arrival time was actually shortly after 2:30 p.m. and getting my computer set up upstairs just in case, I grabbed my camera and walked down the waterfront towards the pier. A friend of mine said he thought the water was just starting to run out of the Las Salinas lagoon, so I hurried over to the bridge crossing the lagoon at El Almacén to get a good spot. Turns out I got there just in time as the show was getting started at 3:20 p.m.
There were three surges that I witnessed, but I heard there were more. Each cycle lasting about 10 minutes and each one just a little more intense than the last. Fishermen were out minding their boats, and lots of people came to the bridge and shores of the lagoon to watch and film the eerie event. Surprisingly, no real stench arose from the swirling waters of lagoon. It smelled mostly like old mud. Nevertheless, folks were almost cheering as they watched the black water run out of the lagoon, hoping it would get a much needed flushing out. Unfortunately, the water that ran back in seemed to be the very same water that ran out. Oh well. Guess it’ll take more than a tsunami…
The birds were squawking and chirping and flying about quite agitated, and fish in the lagoon weren’t sure which way they should be fleeing to. Since we don’t see too many of these, folks were excited and enjoying the entertainment. Yes, even a tsunami can be fun, as long as it’s just a little one.
As I headed back towards the pier and the Playa Del Puerto, folks were giddy and chattering with excitement. We’d just had a tsunami! Everyone was talking about it. Even tourists were enjoying the added attraction.
But what struck me as really odd was seeing tourists swimming at the beach. It was clear even to folks away from their TV sets and news sources that something was going on, even though the bay appeared calm and the waves were gently lapping the beach.
Fortunately it was an extremely low tide when the tsunami hit at about 3:20 p.m. The height looked like it was just a about a meter in sea level height between the high water mark and the low water that I saw. Thank goodness it appears there’s no damage to report. Surges were still being reported at 11:00 p.m. that night and we noticed them still happening for several days afterwards.
As the world awoke to the tragic news of an 8.8 earthquake in Chile on the morning of Saturday, February 27, 2010, here in Zihuatanejo we also awoke to a tsunami warning. It turned out that the best local source of information regarding the pending tsunami was my Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa Message Board where folks were finding and posting data from a variety of sources and keeping everyone else up to date. My family and I checked the radio and the television, but only CNN had any related news albeit not very specific to our region. No local or national media that we could find reported any helpful info until well past the event. Even the information we received by phoning the Capitanía del Puerto showed they didn’t have as much info as was available on my Message Board.
At various times between about 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM my wife and I both went to check the situation along the bayfront at the Playa Del Puerto (aka Playa Municipal aka Playa Principal) since the reports from NOAA had estimated that the tsunami could arrive as early as 10:45 AM. The cruise ship “Carnival Spirit” sat anchored in the bay offloading passengers like during any other visit. Water taxis appeared to be running passengers back and forth to Playa Las Gatas. Sport fishing boats were coming and going. Sightseeing boats full of tourists were cruising around the bay. The singer at a beachfront restaurant played without missing a beat, though he did mention something about the tsunami between songs. But most folks neither saw nor heard from any authorities until the event itself had long passed.
Apparently, around 10:30 AM local folks started hearing about a possible tsunami. The artists displaying their paintings in the Plaza del Artista began removing their works and more people seemed to show up on the beach to watch the bay. A news videographer filmed up and down the beach. Nothing unusual was to be seen, but the rumor mill was at work in town and neighbors gathered here and there to catch up on the latest info.
Around 12:15 PM I headed off to spend the day at my mother’s place in Ixtapa. Apparently right after I left reports started showing up on my Message Board describing what effects of the tsunami people had observed. Here’s what was posted:
We have a good view of the bay and have been watching the bay to see how it reacts so if you are interested: As of 1:15 p.m.
Muddy swirls on both sides of the Puerto Mio jetty and that side of the town bay.
A little while ago the shore line dropped considerably and you could see about one third of the Las Gatas bay bottom. Now the waters have risen again. But Las Gatas water inside and outside the reef water looks as if it contains quite a bit of sand and debris. And murky swirl to the south of Las Gatas jetty.
One small boat was too close to shore and was “beached” when the shore line dropped.
Still people walking and swimming and sunning and parasailing on La Ropa.
The water in the bay has lowered enough that the water in the lagoon is running into the bay. Looks and smells really bad. Other than that all seems the same as any other day.
Shortly afterward Dianne posted:
My husband was just at the beach in Ixtapa this morning. At about 2:00 the hotel he was sitting in front of asked all people on the beach to leave, as a safety precaution. He said people all over the beach were being asked to leave.
And a little later Marty wrote:
“Tsunami Surge at La Ropa”
We sat on Playa La Ropa and watched the ocean level slowly go out about 50 feet and then came back with a 5 to 6 foot high surge. Just pushed water up high on the beach.
No damage, but interesting to sit there and watch.
And TJ added:
“Kudos to the Pacifica Resort Re: Tsunami”
We were at the Pacifica Resort in Ixtapa yesterday had heard about the earthquake in Chile and were well informed about the potential tsunami that may affect the area. At about noon the lower pool area and beach were vacated of all furniture and chairs and people were advised to go up to the next level or higher. The next level up (20-25 feet above sea level) consists of the reception area, a bar, restaurant and an infinity pool. At about 12:30 they brought out small sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, salads deserts and began serving what ever you wanted to drink, all at no charge. Overall a excellent example of plan for the worst, hope for the best and make your customers feel appreciated and safe.
Reports in local newspapers mentioned that a few boats in the lagoon suffered minor damages as the water ran out of the lagoon, but nothing else. Someone who was in the Dorado Pacífico Hotel in Ixtapa mentioned that at around 2:00 PM the hotel manager called all the guests in from the beach, and that other hotels did the same thing.
It took a day or two for everyone’s nerves to calm down, and for a couple of days afterwards some folks would joke with their friends and neighbors saying “viene la OLA” (the WAVE is coming).
Here is what some of the local newspapers reported:
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.
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, 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 maíz as well as a tasty bolillo con requesón. Just another perfect day in Zihuatanejo, Mexico! ¡Ajuuuaaaa!