El Neptuno de Zihuatanejo

Oliverio Maciel Díaz, el Rey Neptuno de Zihuatanejo
Oliverio Maciel Díaz, el Rey Neptuno de Zihuatanejo

A real-life legend of Zihuatanejo, Oliverio Maciel Díaz was born Nov. 12, 1924 here in Zihuatanejo. By the age of 10 he was fishing and free diving,  spending most of his time on and in the water. Friends from that era say he was a true sireno (merman): half man and half fish. By the time the decade of the 50’s rolled around, thanks to the introduction of the “aqualung” to the area by don Carlos Barnard in 1949, Oliverio had become the most proficient local diver, earning the nickname “El Rey Neptuno”, and for the next 4 decades he was sought by the rich, the powerful and the famous to take them diving. He also collaborated with Jacques Yves Cousteau.

Oliverio Maciel Díaz
Oliverio Maciel Díaz

Oliverio eventually became the most sought-after expert who best knew the waters of the entire Costa Grande. He had roles in numerous movies including “La Tintorera”, “Ciclón”, “El Triángulo de las Bermudas”, “El Niño y el Tiburón”, “Beyond the Reef”, “Las Pirañas Aman en Cuaresma”, “Historias del Rey Neptuno”, and “El Día de los Asesinos”. There was even a character dedicated to him in the popular comic “Chanoc”.

During 1955 and 1956 after a lengthy investigation Oliverio searched for and found several cannons and anchors in Zihuatanejo Bay in the area known as El Eslabón, located between Playa La Ropa and Playa La Madera. One of the anchors was attributed to the 60-cannon ship “Centurion” that had been captained by the British corsair George Anson from when he spent time in Zihuatanejo Bay during 1741 and 1742 hunting Spanish ships including the “Nao de China” or the “Galeón de Manila”.

Oliverio Maciel Díaz with anchor
Oliverio Maciel Díaz with Anson’s  anchor

The cannons he recovered were attributed to the Spanish vessel “Nuestra Señora del Monte Carmelo”, known to have been intentionally sunk there by Anson on February 27, 1742. The name of Playa La Madera is allegedly attributed to the wood that washed up on the beach for several years later from this incident, and the name El Eslabón (the chain link) also derives from this incident.  Some of the cannons and artifacts he found can still be seen at the Museo Arqueológico de la Costa Grande on the waterfront of downtown Zihuatanejo, and one of the anchors can still be seen at Playa Las Gatas.

Oliverio founded a diving school and diving tours business as well as a restaurant at Playa Las Gatas, Oliverio’s. The restaurant is run today by his children and grandchildren. During the middle of the 1970’s when Oliverio’s diving business was thriving, my wife Lupita Bravo became not only his apprentice but was considered almost a part of the family.

Los Morros de Potosí
Los Morros de Potosí

One of Lupita’s most cherished memories of that time that I find remarkable is her description of diving near the islets known as Los Morros de Potosí in Bahía de Potosí, just south of Bahía de Zihuatanejo. She says she was diving in crystalline water near the guano-covered islets with Oliverio when all of a sudden she found herself literally eye to eye with one of the greatest hunters of the oceans: a sailfish. She recalls that she grabbed onto and hid behind Oliverio who never moved but who instead floated calmly in front of the great fish, and he urged her to come out from behind him in order to better appreciate the rare experience, an experience she recalls with the same awe now as the day it occurred.

Oliverio lived out his final years in a modest home at Playa Quieta where he died on July 10, 2002. QEPD

Día de Muertos altar for Oliverio
Día de Muertos altar for Oliverio

Día de Muertos altar for Oliverio
Día de Muertos altar for Oliverio

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 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 crisscross 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 embarrassingly 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