The Luckiest Gringo in Mexico – Parts 3 & 4

Rainbow over Zihuatanejo
Rainbow over Zihuatanejo

Part 3 – Prequel:
First Arrival

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero in August of 1974 was a very different place than it is today. There were no paved roads, no street lights, no luxury hotels. Telephones were few and far between. The teacher-turned-armed-revolutionary Lucio Cabañas had kidnapped the cacique and then Senador  Rubén Figueroa who was campaigning to become state gobernador. Roadblocks and military patrols were everywhere, and the army was mistreating everyone. Revolution and repression were in the air. It was inspiring.

Zihuatanejo Bay in the early 1970's
John Wayne’s yacht “Wild Goose” in Zihuatanejo Bay in the early 1970’s

Our flight arrived in Acapulco from Mexico City after the short hop over the lush Filo Mayor of the Sierra Madre del Sur. The only thing we’d lost in transit so far was my dart board and darts at the luggage storage office in the Mexico City airport. Since the airline wouldn’t allow our long-haired blonde Afghan hound on the small prop-plane flight from Acapulco to Zihuatanejo, we had to rent a car and drive. The sun was setting and it would be dark soon. In the chaos of transferring all our luggage to the rental car my 8-track stereo, 8-track tapes and Olympus Pen camera all disappeared.

Map in hand, the route looked easy enough. A two-lane blacktop was the only road heading up the coast from Acapulco, and the paved section ended at Zihuatanejo. I was 16 years old with my brand new unrestricted Florida Drivers License, and I was thrilled to be driving on our new adventure into the unknown.

Topes were a new experience for me since we didn’t have them in the U.S. Virgin Islands where I’d learned to drive or in Florida where I’d already driven much of the state including the Tamiami Trail from Miami to Tampa. I got fairly good at spotting them pretty quickly with a little help from my mother and younger brother. Everyone shouting together ¡TOPE! whenever we spotted one.

As we left Acapulco behind in the twilight and started to head down the twisting hillside road towards Pie de la Cuesta I had my first close call. Coming around a long curve at a nominal 60 or so MPH all of a sudden there was a herd of cattle across the road. There was no time to stop, and miraculously I was able to swerve between them. It was pitch black and there were no streetlights. Adrenaline rush over, I decided to drive a little slower. It made missing other cattle on the road a bit easier. There was almost no traffic, so I couldn’t follow anyone caravan-style like I would have preferred. But there were several military roadblocks that appeared out of nowhere, usually on s-curves in the middle of coconut plantations. They were looking for guns and drugs and a missing politician, but they were courteous enough to us, probably because we were foreigners.

Six hours of white-knuckle driving in pitch dark, the glows of small towns like Coyuca, Atoyác, Petatlán and Zihuatanejo the only distinguishing features besides a gazillion stars in the night sky, and we finally arrived at the Hotel Sotavento at La Ropa Beach in Zihuatanejo, right next door to the Hotel Catalina which remains open to this day. We checked in, got a room with running water, and noticed we’d lost our music and a camera in Acapulco. Oh well. We were alive and on an adventure in a strange land and it felt great to be here.

The next morning at first light we went to the Front Desk to make a phone call where by chance we met the ex-pat Gerald Shaw, a reclusive artist who had moved to Zihuatanejo years earlier to escape the racism and general madness of the USA. Gerald was also making a phone call, and he gave us a few useful tips, including the fact that there were only about 4 telephones in town.

My future wife’s family happened to have one of them because her father, don Fernando, had been a telegraph operator during and after the Revolución, and they had also been the first house with an electric light bulb where friends and neighbors would gather daily at dusk. Their original house had been on the downtown beach called Playa Principal next to the zócalo about where Daniel’s Restaurant currently sits. But I still hadn’t met her yet, so all this knowledge was still in my future.

As we went to the dining terrace for breakfast I got my first glimpse through the palm trees of Zihuatanejo Bay and La Ropa Beach. A view that has changed very little through the years and which instantly had me spellbound. It was love at first sight!

View from the Hotel Catalina of Playa La Ropa with Playa Las Gatas in the distance
View from the Hotel Catalina of Playa La Ropa with Playa Las Gatas in the distance

I had a feeling of being on an island, not unlike St. Croix where I’d lived a year earlier. The succulent fresh papaya with lemon juice I had for breakfast and the smell of the ocean were intoxicating. Zihuatanejo was reviving tropical senses dulled from a year of living in Florida, a place that seemed chaotic and pretentious by comparison.

After an invigorating breakfast it was time to go look for a place to live for the next several months. So off we set down towards the southern end of La Ropa beach where we’d heard about a new bungalow available from a man called don Chebo.

At the southern end of La Ropa where the long dirt road from town ended at the beach, the Alemán family had a small tienda with a small enramada and a couple of hammocks. We stopped for refrescos, Pepsi, no Coke. They were kind enough to point us in the direction of the home of don Chebo, a wizened elderly little man with a sparkle in his eye and the gentle handshake of a shy working man. He and his wife, doña Chella, had their modest home on a small rise about 50 meters back from the coast near where Restaurante La Gaviota now sits at the southern end of La Ropa Beach. They had just finished building a simple one-room brick structure with a teja roof another 50 meters or so back from the beach. There were a couple of cots and chairs and a table. No bathroom. No kitchen. There was a light bulb, but the electricity didn’t always work. There were a couple of oil drums for holding water that sometimes flowed briefly every few days or so from a black plastic hose that amazingly snaked all the way from town out to the La Ropa area to supply the Sotavento, Catalina and the Calpulli hotels. Patching leaks in the hose with shreds of rubber innertube was everyone’s shared responsibility if they wanted to have water.

There was only a handful of residents at La Ropa back then. A few foreigners and a few locals whom we would meet in the coming days.

I immediately got to work digging us a latrine and using leftover bricks to build us some sort of stove so we could at least boil water to make coffee in the morning. Don Chebo found us another cot, and we were amazed to find mosquito coils for sale at the little tienda so we could sleep soundly at night. It was rainy season and there was a wide shallow green scum-covered pond-like puddle across the road from our place that apparently connected with a small lagoon.

Our first night we were invited by Margot Chipman to visit her home a short distance away on another hill. Almost immediately I discovered a scorpion as I sat on the steps of her home with her 2 girls, one still an infant. I would discover 2 more before the evening was done, including one at our house.

The next morning was spent in town looking around and shopping for basic supplies, including a large machete for me and some white kerosene for the lamps and for mopping the floors. I met the son of a local tortillería, Paco Ayvar. He spoke English and was about my age, and he was eager to make a new friend. We hit it off well.

I also discovered that day that I loved licuados.

Later that afternoon back at our house my mother, brother and I were sitting on our porch watching macaws fly back and forth when our Afghan hound, Clete, spotted some cows on the other side the shallow green scum-covered pond. Before there was time to react he was flying off the porch, and in about 5 huge leaps he was halfway across the scum-covered pond before he lost his footing and rolled several times. Clete was totally unrecognizable when he stood up. That’s when we saw the “logs” move and realized they were crocs. We screamed and called frantically, and fortunately he came galloping back up to the porch, a stinking algae and mud-covered mess. After trying to rinse the mess out we decided that he would be more comfortable if we just cut all his hair off.

My mother and Clete in St. Croix, U.S.V.I. 1971
My mother and Clete in Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S.V.I. 1971

Don Chebo had another 3-room home that he was putting the finishing touches on, and within a few days after moving into the first house we moved into the larger house just past where La Gaviota restaurant now sits and within a stone’s throw of the bay. One room was a kitchen and bathroom with a shower, the large middle room became the bedroom for my brother and me,  and the entrance room became my mother’s bedroom. My mother kept her cot but my brother and I decided we’d rather sleep in big hammocks. We also hung hammocks on the porch where we could enjoy the view of the bay.

Part 4 – First Meeting:
Love at First Sight

Shortly after my mother, younger brother, Clete and I settled into our new home for the next few months, my new friend Paco Ayvar came to visit me, and we decided to take a walk up La Ropa Beach to the Hotel Calpulli. Just as we were nearing the Calpulli we saw two Mexican girls in bikinis walking towards us. All the Mexican girls I had seen up until then had been wearing clothing at the beach, shorts and t-shirts or blouses, even dresses, but not swimsuits, and certainly not bikinis. Girls in this region were still rather old-fashioned and shy about exposing their bodies. Yet here were two attractive modern looking girls walking our way on one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere, and Paco says to me “I know these girls. I’ll introduce you. The one on the left is Carmelita Sotelo, and the one on the right is Lupita Bravo. The one on the right is also a 24-year old virgin from a good local family, almost like royalty.” I replied we didn’t have girls where I came from that looked like that and who were still virgins at that age. I was awestruck by her beauty and now intrigued by Paco’s somewhat odd comments. I was also reminded of earlier warnings not to mess with local girls because their family might seek revenge and make me disappear if I got one pregnant. So I was on my best behavior and working hard to suppress raging teenage hormones.

As we got closer Paco greeted them and introduced us. When Lupita looked into my eyes and smiled the world spun and I thought my knees were going to collapse. I realized I couldn’t speak and that she was still staring at me with the face of an angel, like no one I’d ever seen before. I managed to croak out “mucho gusto” and shook her hand. When we touched there was a spark like static electricity. And she continued staring at me, still smiling ever so sweetly.

Paco and Carmelita both saw what was happening and cracked into big grins. Paco asked me if I wanted to ask Lupita to go out dancing that night. I said I didn’t know if I should or how to ask in Spanish. He assured me it was okay and told me to say ¿gusta bailar? Okay, got it.

¿Gusta bailar?


The world started spinning again and my throat started failing me. I couldn’t see anything else but Lupita’s angelic face with her magnificent smile.

Carmelita spoke English, and she suggested I meet her and Lupita at the Kau-Kan discotheque on La Madera Beach around sunset, one of the popular places where local young people went to socialize and dance.

Since Lupita’s father was the manager of the Hotel Calpulli where I also was allowed to run a tab, she and Carmelita went with him back to town for lunch and siesta while Paco and I enjoyed lunch under their huge teepee-like structure.

Hotel Calpulli circa mid 1970's
Hotel Calpulli circa mid 1970’s

After running an errand with Paco to his huerta near El Coacoyul and back to La Ropa, I spiffed myself up and he dropped me off near the Hotel Irma where it was an easy downhill walk to La Madera Beach.

The Kau-Kan was located where the restaurant Bistro del Mar is currently located. It was almost like a cave inside with bare rock walls along the back and subdued lighting. The song “The Night Chicago Died” was playing as I sat down and looked around for Lupita and Carmelita. I didn’t see them so I ordered a rum and Coke and found a table by the wall to wait. Almost as soon as I sat down they showed up.

Because the place was kind of crowded and the music wasn’t that good we decided to walk a little farther down the beach to the Chololo disco, just above the beach and below where the Hotel Casa Sun & Moon now sits.

Remains of Chololo above Playa La Madera without its palapa
Remains of Chololo above Playa La Madera without its palapa

The Chololo was a big hit with the more sophisticated crowd. My friend Jorge Tortuga was the DJ and manager then. This was my first time there, but later on Jorge would ask me to bring my 2 cassettes of disco music someone from New York City had made so that he could copy them. The place always livened up when those cassettes were played.

This first night Lupita and I were interested in learning about each other. We danced a little and smiled at each other a lot. I did my best with my rudimentary Spanish that fortunately I had studied from the 2nd to the 9th grades. So we spent much of that evening talking, Carmelita helping whenever we got stuck on a word or expression. I was determined to speak Spanish with Lupita.

Lupita’s family is one of the most respected in Zihuatanejo. She is almost like royalty, even for all her humbleness. Her father, don Fernando, was at first the telegraph operator during and after the Revolución. Then he became the radio-telephone operator who made the first direct radio-phone communication with Mexico City from Zihuatanejo, and later on he was a civil judge. Their first home on the main downtown beach where Lupita was born, next to where the current Cancha Municipal is located, was the first home to have electricity, at first for the telegraph and later for the radio-telephone. Neighbors would visit after dusk and sit around the electric bulb catching up on the latest gossip for an hour or so after dark with don Fernando and his wife doña Rosa.

I walked the girls back to Lupita’s home so that I would know where she lived. We had to cross the vado to reach town, a dirt road that went through the shallow part of the lagoon and where you either tiptoed across the rocks and wooden planks placed there or you took your shoes off and waded through the shallow water, and then we walked the remaining block and a half to the Bravo family home on the corner of Juan N. Álvarez and Vicente Guerrero streets, which at that time was pretty much the edge of town. Their 2-story home was located across the street from a small park now called Plaza del Artista with its several shade trees. It’s where we’ve lived ever since doña Rosa passed away a little over 20 years ago

The next day after my usual morning licuado de papaya, plátano y chocolate I passed by Lupita’s home where I saw her brushing her hair in the upstairs window. I called up to her and told her I’d wait for her in the little park where there was a large fallen trunk perfect for sitting on. Of course her mother, doña Rosa, also saw me and gave me a hard look of disapproval that only a parent can give. I believe she said something about why didn’t I go play with kids my age. It was expected, but it also reminded me to be on my best behavior. I just flashed her my most innocent smile and pretended not to understand.

Lupita and I went and sat on some steps near the entrance to the lagoon called La Boquita at the end of the beach just past the Palacio Federal, now the Museo Arqueológico de la Costa Grande in front of the Vicente Guerrero primary school. She asked me what I did all day. Well, I wanted to be honest with her, so I didn’t hold back.

Palacio Federal and Vicente Guerrero school beside La Boquita lagoon
Palacio Federal and Vicente Guerrero school beside La Boquita lagoon

I told her that I got up from my hammock in the morning, smoked a joint with my coffee, took a hit or two off a bottle of some local homemade mezcal that had a dead fly floating in it, then I walked the mile and a half or so to town to have my licuado de chocolate, plátano y papaya,  then I went and hung out at the beach and drank beer and played Frisbee with my friends. Her eyes had gotten wide while I was telling this, and I could tell I’d shocked her a bit. She was smiling when she said as sweetly as a ripe mango: “Oh, eres muy flojo.” Well, I didn’t know what she’d just said, but by the way she said it and the lovely innocent look on her face I assumed it was something wonderful and I nodded my head in agreement with a big dumb grin on my face, smitten.

What I thought was sweetness was Lupita holding back a good laugh.

Lupita told me she had to get back home, so I bid her farewell with a respectable kiss on the cheek, remembering to be on my best behavior but now acutely aware that we were strongly attracted to each other. It was indeed love at first sight.

The mile and a half walk back to the little house at the end of La Ropa Beach I kept thinking over and over to myself: “My sweetie just called me flojo. It must be something wonderful. I can’t wait to look it up in the dictionary.” And I kept repeating the word over and over so I wouldn’t forget it. Flojo. Flojo. Flojo.

Upon arriving to the house I almost ran to my Spanish-English dictionary, flipping quickly to the “F” section.

Flojo – lazy.

I thought no, that can’t be it. I must be missing the pronunciation a bit, and I looked all over for a similar sounding word.

Nope. That was the right translation all right. Lupita had a good laugh at my expense and the joke was on me, though she was absolutely right.

That was the last day I ever pretended to understand a word I didn’t know.

Lupita and me celebrating at the former Kau-Kan restaurant
Lupita and me celebrating at the former Kau-Kan restaurant

The Luckiest Gringo in Mexico – Parts 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 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 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

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

Z AmaZing Zihuatanejo

Acapulco Statue
Bronze statue of a sunbather in the morning light (click to enlarge)

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

Downtown Zihuatanejo
Downtown Zihuatanejo

Pelicans on Playa Principal
Pelicans on Playa Principal

Fishing boats arriving
A fishing boat zooms on to Playa Principal

Fishing at Dawn
Several shore fishermen try their luck at dawn on Zihuatanejo’s Playa Principal

Fishing at dawn
A lone fisherman at dawn on the Playa Principal

Fishing boats on the beach
Fishing boats line the beach at the fishermen’s market

El Faro and Los Morros de Potosí
The lighthouse and Los Morros de Potosí

Waterfront fishermen's market
The fishermen’s market

Mostly huachinango
Mostly red snapper

Fishing with pelicans
Fishing with pelicans

Fishermen arriving
Fishermen arrive with their overnight catch

Fisherman casts net
A fisherman casts his net in Zihuatanejo Bay

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

Day of the Strange Fog in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo

View of Playa La Ropa from Casa Leo - click to enlarge
View of Playa La Ropa from Casa Leo – click to enlarge

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.

Strange fog enters Zihuatanejo Bay - click to enlarge
Strange fog enters Zihuatanejo Bay – click to enlarge

Strange fog in front of Playa Las Gatas - click to enlarge
Strange fog in front of Playa Las Gatas – click to enlarge

Strange fog fills Zihuatanejo Bay - click to enlarge
Strange fog fills Zihuatanejo Bay – click to enlarge

Strange fog bank crashes into La Ropa - click to enlarge
Strange fog bank crashes into La Ropa – click to enlarge
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.

Strange fog blankets high-rise hotels of Ixtapa - click to enlarge
Strange fog blankets high-rise hotels of Ixtapa – click to enlarge

Strange fog covers hotels and condos in Ixtapa - click to enlarge
Strange fog covers hotels and condos in Ixtapa – click to enlarge

Strange fog engulfs hotels and condos in Ixtapa - click to enlarge
Strange fog engulfs hotels and condos in Ixtapa – click to enlarge
Photos by Judith Whitehead

Strange fog over Punta Esteban - click to enlarge
Strange fog over Punta Esteban – click to enlarge

Fog bank crashes into La Ropa - click to enlarge
Fog bank crashes into La Ropa – click to enlarge
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.

Strange fog seen from Playa Principal - click to enlarge
Strange fog seen from Playa Principal – click to enlarge

Photo by R. Whitehead

View of strange fog from the colonias - click to enlarge
View of strange fog from the colonias – click to enlarge

Photo by Dante Line


Hurricane Beatriz Visits Zihuatanejo

I guess it was around Thursday or so that the weather map first hinted that a tropical storm was forming in the Bahía de Tehuántepec off the coast of Oaxaca, and news reports showed that they were getting some rain. By Saturday things had shaped up and it became apparent our first real rain of the season was on its way.

We had only received 2 or three short showers and a few sprinkles beginning in late May, but no real groundsoaking rains. Our last real rain was in October, 2010. We had been having some extremely hot and humid weather, the kind where you break out sweating before even drying off after a shower, and where no fan at any speed was able to cool you down but only stir up the heavy hot and humid air. So rain in any way, shape or form was looking like the relief we needed and the answer to many prayers.

Monday morning storm track
Monday morning storm track

Sunday began damn hot and humid like we had been suffering for over a month, often without any city water to bathe or cool down with. But something different happened on Sunday: the clouds moved in and the skies became overcast. The shade was welcome, but it was still damn hot and humid. However, the weather forecast looked promising: we were definitely going to get a visit from the then Tropical Storm Beatriz. Whether a direct hit or a near miss, the promise of some real soaker rains was an added bonus to Father’s Day, and by Sunday evening a few sprinkles and brief showers blew through.

[click on images to enlarge them]

During the wee hours of Monday morning a few more rain showers passed through, so we awoke to wet streets and dripping trees. Just before 8 o’clock we noticed classes had been cancelled at neighboring Vicente Guerrero school and the well-dressed children were walking back home, most accompanied by their parents. Shortly after 8 o’clock the rain started, first as a drizzle, then a sprinkle, then a downpour. It rained steadily hour after hour at varying intensities, and by around 10 o’clock the wind began to gust a little, blowing over a large plant on our rooftop.

It rained and rained and rained, and around 5pm the weather services announced that Beatriz had become a hurricane. Oh boy! We’re having some fun now!

Satellite image Monday evening, June 20
Satellite image Monday evening, June 20

But apart from the rain, which had intensified by the evening, and the surf, which had steadily grown louder and higher, there still were no heavy winds in the downtown Zihuatanejo area, probably owing to the fact that the surrounding hills of our bay form a near perfect shelter. A friend of mine near Barra de Potosí, which faces open ocean, said they had been having some heavy winds and that they were getting pretty tired of them, but he said the beach was still okay even though the big waves were taking some of the sand. I imagine some of the beachfront restaurants out there had water in them, and probably some of those beachfront condo and home owners were thinking maybe they had built too close to the beach (which of course they had most certainly done).

Though Hurricane Beatriz was literally brushing our coast, it soon became obvious that it was continuing on a northwesterly track and that we appeared to have been spared any hurricane strength winds and the serious damage they can cause.

But there was still the ocean to worry about, and just after 10pm a quick walk over to the beach in front of downtown Zihuatanejo during a lull in the rain revealed the waves were washing completely up the beach to the walkway. Fishermen were nervously keeping an eye on their beached pangas, and all the beachfront restaurants were empty and closed. Muddy water was rushing out of Canal “La Boquita” next to the museum, but waves were also rushing about a hundred meters up into the canal. The beach was suffering some erosion and a few restaurants were in danger of losing the land they lease from the federal government (which they shouldn’t be able to lease in the first place).

Of course, the all night long rain and cool temperatures brought by the storm made for terrific sleeping weather!

As dawn broke it became obvious that the storm had passed us. The rain stopped and gave the cleaning crews a chance to clean the garbage off the beaches. Not nearly as bad as in past years.

Our downtown beach on Tuesday morning
Our downtown beach on Tuesday morning

Looking towards Playa La Madera
Looking towards Playa La Madera

La Boquita Canal and Zihuatanejo Bay
La Boquita Canal and Zihuatanejo Bay

Girl and fishermen on downtown beach
Girl and fishermen on downtown beach

Calle Juan N. Álvarez looking east
Calle Juan N. Álvarez looking east

Calle Juan N. Álvarez looking west
Calle Juan N. Álvarez looking west

As I write this late Tuesday morning it’s sprinkling again, and the weather forecast calls for more intermittent rains as the remains of Beatriz are dragged past us, but we finally got our long awaited ground soaking rain! The heat spell has been broken! And Life is Good!

Home sweet home!
Home sweet home!

Tsunami in Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa 2

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!

Japanese Tsunami Graph
Japanese Tsunami Graph

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.

Fishermen minding their boats
Fishermen minding their boats

People on El Almacén bridge
People on El Almacén bridge

People on El Almacén bridge
People on El Almacén bridge

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…

Las Salinas Lagoon
Las Salinas Lagoon

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.

Tsunami at Playa Del Puerto
Tsunami at Playa Del Puerto

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.

Tsunami at Playa Del Puerto
Tsunami at Playa Del Puerto

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.

Tsunami in Zihuatanejo

NOAA map of Chile tsunami 27 Feb 2010 (click to enlarge)
NOAA map of Chile tsunami 27 Feb 2010 (click to enlarge)

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:

Abigail wrote:


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.

Abigail’s Tsunami Photos

At 2:15 p.m. Carol commented:

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).

Water recedes at beach (click to enlarge)
Water recedes at beach (click to enlarge)

Water recedes from lagoon (click to enlarge)
Water recedes from lagoon (click to enlarge)

Low water at Playa Del Puerto (click to enlarge)
Low water at Playa Del Puerto (click to enlarge)

Low water at Playa La Madera (click to enlarge)
Low water at Playa La Madera (click to enlarge)



Here is what some of the local newspapers reported:

Despertar de la Costa
Provocó temor la alerta de tsunami, pero no hubo ni siquiera oleaje alto

Diario de Zihuatanejo
Solo alarma causaron las marejadas altas

El Sur de Acapulco
Evacuan playa Las Gatas y la isla de Ixtapa y cierran Zihuatanejo a la navegación menor

Testing the Waters of Zihuatanejo

Playa La Ropa
Playa La Ropa

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.

Playa El Palmar
Playa El Palmar

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”.

Tropical Storm Andres Aftermath

Playa Principal
Waves washed over entire beach up to the walkway

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.

Wave damage
Wave damage

La Playa Principal
La Playa Principal

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.

Fishing boats scattered along the beach after being tossed around by waves
Fishing boats scattered along the beach after being tossed around by waves

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.