ZIHUATANEJO TRIP REPORT
Oct. 31 - Nov. 15, 2001.
This was trip number four to Zihua for my partner Wynn & myself. The planning started as soon as we had returned home from our previous year. Thanks to all of those that contribute to Rob's board, we had once again had taken copious notes from a number of peoples contributions and even managed to get an outstanding fare out of Seattle to Zihua from a tip received on the message board.
Because we were leaving from Seattle, this afforded us an opportunity to meet with Candice who has contributed numerous excellent postings on Rob's board. We arranged to get together prior to our Seattle departure and enjoyed meeting with Candice and her husband Dick. It was regrettable that the visit was short because once one gets talking about Zihua, the time just flies by. Candice has written a book report for beach reading in the latest "Another Day in Paradise" publication and had asked me to take a book down to the publisher Catherine. I actually enjoyed reading a couple of the books too. If all goes well, we intend to hold a Zihua Nite in Abbotsford this summer and will be looking forward to gathering together all of our friends that have travelled to Zihua.
Morning came early for our 5:45 AM departure on America West. The security at SEA was an "eye opener" too. I may as well have been wearing a Taliban turban because when we approached the counter to check our bags through we were required to open both of them for inspection. As a pilot I have no problem with this but felt the inspection was slip shod. Wynn had packed her bag quite neatly with hangers etc. but my bag looked as though I had lobbed everything in like grenade practice. I was also informed that my backpack would also be searched and when we went through the scanner and x-ray portion no one indicated that they were even remotely interested in looking into my backpack. Once we got to the gate area, I noticed a number of Hispanics were having their carry one luggage searched. I approached two of the AW staff, presented my boarding pass, documents and asked them if I was required to have things searched. They said I didn't so we waited until our seat numbers were called during the boarding process. When I gave another staff member my boarding pass she informed me that I had to be searched. I was taken out of line and had to do the "scarecrow" while I was wanded searched, and the contents of my backpack spread all over the table. This was nothing compared to the goofy process that we went through in Zihua on departure, but more about that later.
The flight down to Zihua via Phoenix was fairly uneventful other than the fact that AW didn't have any food service on either of the flights. Perhaps they are saving money to pay the hefty fine to the FAA regarding their maintenance procedures that they have been tagged with. A stop at Starbucks and Burger King held us over until we reached Zihua. The flight from SEA to PHX was packed and the portion of the flight from PHX to ZIH was a little more than half full.
Once again the heat and humidity enveloped us at the Zihua airport as we walked down the aircraft steps and into the terminal building. The slight bit of air conditioning was somewhat of a relief while we went through immigration. There were only two booths staffed so the process dragged on until a third booth was opened. Clearing Customs was easy once one pushed the button and received the green light. We humped our bags up the stairs to the restaurant where we planned to grab a bite, drink and await Wynn's two sisters who were coming down via Alaska. When we got to the top of the stairs there was no restaurant. Not closed - gone! We trudged down the stairs and sat at the tables in the restaurant section where I started to inhale the cervezas. The ATM machine in the terminal building is located at the base of the stairs to the phantom restaurant. There is a 25 peso charge on each transaction, plus what your "friendly" bank charges you. We had brought down a sufficient amount of pesos to see us through the first couple of days. Rather than tangle with the taxi drivers or use the combi just off the airport, the Sotavento had transportation available for us to use.
We stayed at the Sotavento/Catalina for the duration of our vacation. This was our fourth year at the Sotavento/Catalina and other than the stairs giving you the daily work out, we have always enjoyed our stay there and found the staff to be kind, helpful, obliging and considerate. The mattresses in the Sotavento/Catalina are pretty firm and some pillows felt like you were sleeping with your head on racked pool balls and others had the consistency of a sack of flour, but eventually everything sorted itself out. One thing that did irritate me was a parrot or macaw over on the Sotavento side that would start shrieking "MAH" "MAH" first thing in the morning. I tried to get my friend Angus to go over and give the bird a blast or two from his bagpipe chanter to even up the score.
We stayed for a few days on the Sotavento side of the hotel until a room opened up in the Catalina and we had our favourite housemaid, Modesto, looking after our room. There was another advantage of being over on the Catalina side and that was having our own "Gretchen Tree" right outside our room. It was simply a matter of climbing over the railing and helping ourselves to the many limes growing wildly on the tree and using them in our drinks. I tried one of Gretchen's suggestions and squeezed some fresh lime juice onto a slight abrasion I had on the top of my foot. And let me tell you, Michael Jackson had nothing on me!
The new pool on the Catalina was a welcome addition and was a mandatory stop off on our way back to our room following a day on the beach. It was 53 (whew) vertical stairs from the beach to the pool deck then a further 57 (groan) stairs to our room. From the room it was another (huff, puff) 64 to the dining room and 49 more to the (geez I gotta loose some weight) lobby. Pant! A number of our meals were in the Sotavento dining room. We have found the food to be well-prepared generous portions, the service and selection excellent. One of the staff, Orilia, has been working in the dining room for 24 years now and gave us a big hug when we showed up again this year. The first few days the hotel was busy because of the All Saints Day Holiday but the following two weeks the hotel and La Ropa beach was much quieter than we have seen in previous years.
We also ate at a number of other locations. Elvira's on La Ropa beach for a couple of breakfasts and dinners. Curly had tipped me off on the bacon wrapped tuna steak for 80 pesos and it was a great feed. Wynn really enjoyed the fillet of snapper veracruz and another time I had their pork ribs which were enjoyable. If someone is looking for a neat place to have an evening dinner, Elvira's is definitely worth your consideration. There is something magical about sitting on the beach in the evening with the surf washing up on the shore, sand between your toes and the troubadours strumming on their guitars. One evening the owner sent us over a plate of appetizers and some glasses of mezcal then joined us in conversation during desert.
Other places we ate were Rossy's on La Ropa which continues to serve an excellent selection, moderately priced. We had our "hamburgesa" and "papas" fix at Ruben's in Ixtapa and a delicious pizza once again at Pizzas Locas. I had hoped to try their pork ribs but none were available that evening. We always stopped at Glob's Restaurant during the heat of the day to use their air conditioning system to cool down and enjoy the frosted mugs of draft Dos XXes. Another place that came highly recommended was El Mango on Nicholas Bravo. This was a great place for authentic Mexican food at extremely reasonable prices. The service was excellent, food well prepared and a good selection to choose from. On a couple of occasions we purchased a barbecued chicken from the street vendors and took it back to our room. Tamales y Atoles Any still serves a great meal and try as hard as I can, I am still unable to eat more than two of their delicious tamales. They are just too filling. We also had a drink or two in Rick's Bar and JJ's only opened the day before we headed home.
I recognized a restaurant owner and asked him why his restaurant was not open. He replied that business was so slow that he had to keep his restaurant closed in order to stay in business.
Side trips. This year I had planned to concentrate on taking a number of side trips including a few overnights in Troncones and Petatlan. However, the best laid plans.... one of group got sick for a week - more than likely from heat rather than anything that she ate, so that set back our plans. Nevertheless, we managed to walk to Las Gatas for a day trip. The walk from the south end of La Ropa was easy, providing one took their time and wore a decent pair of shoes. Thongs just won't cut it. It took us about 20 minutes to walk which included stops for picture taking. Once there, we selected Otila's which is the second last establishment from the pier. Franco was our host and looked after us well. The girls got into the Pina Coladas and were bashing them down fairly quickly until they learned the "pineapple person" (the drink comes in a hollowed out pineapple which looks like the head of a person with eyes of sliced limes, eyeballs of maraschino cherries, mouth of a sliced orange, nose, and ears of pineapple, and garnished with bougainvillaea) was setting them back around C$ 15. - plus they were getting a little loaded and noisy on the first one and it wasn't even 11 AM.
I settled in with an icy pail of 6 cervezas and we languished the day away swimming and lounging about. Franco showed me some cigars that were made near the airport in Zihua but as a non smoker I wasn't interested in purchasing any. We also had lunch there and I especially enjoyed the coconut/garlic abalone. When it was time to return, we decided to take a boat back to La Ropa. The best price Franco could come up with some of the locals was 100 pesos after we had done some haggling. We wandered down to the pier and I asked in my best Spanish how much to La Ropa? 50 pesos was the answer so we hopped on board and then jumped out into the surf off La Ropa a few minutes later. Las Gatas is always worth a look see, especially for those that want to do some snorkelling. The bottom can be a little rough from the coral in places so a pair of water shoes will help. The surf is gentle and we noticed a lot of children swimming or wading in the area without their parents pacing or standing on the shore watching them as they tended to do on other beaches.
Our second excursion was to Troncones. We took a local bus from the Sotavento to downtown Zihua and got off at the first stop. We backtracked to Calle Las Palmas and walked down to the bus station which is about half a block on the left hand side. You cannot see the bus depot from the main street because it is located in an area off the actual street. We asked which bus was going to Lazaro Cardenas and waited about 10 minutes before it filled up. While we were waiting I noted that all the busses had their own names. The one we were on was Misterio and other ones were Seductor, Cato, Aguila and one just had rampant panthers painted on the front windows. We had asked the driver to let us off at the Troncones turn off and as we boarded the bus a fellow asked me if I wanted to buy some Mezcal that he had in a 2 litre bottle. Curly had provided me with some and I wasn't going to stock up on more of that. The fare was 9 pesos each and this bus was a treat to be in. The seats were wedged in so tight that I thought that the owner must have bought them from Canada 3000 Airlines. We left around 10:20 AM and the trip took 51, sometimes bone jarring, minutes to the Troncones turn off. I had been having a slight backache that I couldn't shake and by the time I got out of the bus, it was better! I have a theory that the only reason those busses have shocks installed is to hold the body to the frame.
Once at the turn off we waited for either a ride by a local to Troncones or for the unscheduled shuttle craft (Volkswagen van) to pick us up. We didn't have to wait long. There were two local ladies that had got off the bus with us. A pick up truck with a stockade type of arrangement on the back stopped and offered the two ladies a ride. The passenger got out of the cab to make room, started to climb into the back then invited us to join him. We gladly piled in and the 3 sisters sat on cement bags as we rocked our way down the newly paved road into Troncones. We offered our hosts some money for the ride, but they wanted to decline it. I suggested that they might like a cold cerveza later so they accepted our offer.
Then we did the ultimate of dumb things - the walk. We had intended to visit The Inn at Manzanillo Bay, have lunch and go swimming in the area. We saw a sign telling us it was only a 3 km walk. After a meeting of the House of Parliament, it was decided we would walk rather than take a taxi, so off we trudged. It was an interesting walk seeing a lot of the bed & breakfast locations that one sees mentioned on the message board and we even visited a new one called Mi Casa Su Casa . We were taken around to see the accommodations by a very obliging Patrick Crosby. A pool was about to be built so that location should be worth some consideration in the near future.
After a brutal walk in the hot sun, we finally arrived at The Inn at Manzanillo Bay and renewed our friendship with the owner Mike Bensal. After a few drinks to slake our thirst we went into the ocean at Manzanillo Bay right in front of Eden. The surf was quite different than at La Ropa. The breakers were further out and the water was absolutely crystal clear. You could see your shadow on the sandy bottom as you walked into the water. A number of pelicans were active in the area and it was a treat watching them close up as they dove for fish. We were "Swimming with the Pelicans" however, occasionally you would have to duck into the water as they skimmed overhead because they weren't exactly dropping guided munitions into the area - if you catch my drift.
We returned to The Inn for a leisurely delicious lunch then took a taxi from the Inn to the highway. The local taxi driver took us for more than just a ride and wound up overcharging and short-changing us. We only had to wait a few minutes for a bus heading into Zihua to stop, pick us up and rattle us back to the bus depot. Troncones is definitely worth the trip. Use the local transportation because it is really a fun experience or a taxi as you see fit.
A lot of our shopping was done in the small stores and Mercado in Zihua. Once we went to the huge Comercial Mexicana to pick up some things. We found the prices in the smaller shops to be cheaper for the same things but the choice of product in the C. M. was a lot larger and better. Our souvenir shopping was done in the Artisan's Market and I felt sorry for a lot of the merchants because there were no cruise ships scheduled for quite some time and business was slow. We did some bargaining, but not with the same enthusiasm that we have done so in the past. I went to my favourite shop in the Mercado to pick up my coffee - brought more home with me that I am hoarding - and Wynn was always buying fresh fruits. What a difference in the way a banana tastes. I just had some at home and there is no comparison to the ones we bought in Zihua. We bought all of our liquor supplies at the Liquor Distribution Warehouse on Calle Catalina Gonzalez - Curly thinks I've made that place up 'cause he could never find it. We found the prices for the varieties of liquor they carried to be the most reasonable that we found anywhere in Zihua - even better, in some cases, than the Duty Free store.
As far as money was concerned, I used the ATM's exclusively and the rate of exchange was better than was posted at the Cambios, plus my bank does not lumber me a service charge. Some of our group exchanged Canadian $'s or Travellers Cheques without a problem. I made sure I came back with extra pesos because we plan to return again next year. I found by having the pesos it was less of a run around once we got to the hotel so we could get to the Sunset Bar quicker.
We spent a great deal of time down at La Ropa beach, especially when one of our group wasn't feeling well. It was enjoyable just bobbing in the surf, reading under the palapa and chatting to people that we have seen and met in the previous visits. We got to referring to the water as "the office" or "the chat room". If there was any information you wanted to know about a place, simply ask someone on the beach or in the water. I particularly enjoyed meeting with Curly and his charming wife Susie. We met for breakfast and there is something unique about having boiled eggs and beer for breakfast. We chatted for a good three hours and quaffed a few too. Their friends, Mary and Neil, were also a lot of fun to be with. On Conni's birthday a whole group of us - Carol & Gunner from Seattle included, all got together at Paty's for one or eight. I know it was well over eight when we tried to negotiate our way up those stairs that seemed to be a lot steeper by party's end.
It was hard to believe that two weeks could go so fast and before we knew it, it was time to leave.
We got to the airport 3 hours before our flight and had all of our belongings searched at separate little tables that continued to fall over at the least opportune time. I had a tiny sewing kit that had the smallest needle one could imagine taken and put into my checked luggage. Ditto for my safety razor. There was a big discussion about whether or not my Edge Shaving Gel could be taken in my carry on, however, I had a huge Honda car key that you could use to perform gall bladder surgery with, that I was allowed to keep. I also had 2 litres of Rum in my carry on which no one seemed to care about until the table tipped. Once we were through that maze, checked our luggage, got our boarding passes, we were allowed to roam around the airport at will and even go out to your car and bring in the crate of hand grenades if one was so inclined. I went over to the secure area about 2 hours before our flight to check the Duty Free prices but they would not let me into the area. There were a whole bunch of people standing around with arms folded and appeared to be waiting to check people through the security area. I asked when we could get in and was informed that we had to wait until an hour before our flight. Sure enough, with about an hour to go they announced our flight. And Aeromexico. And Mexicana. The next thing you know there is a line stretching right from the security check doorway, across the entire width of the terminal, along the shops along the north wall and then back across the terminal on the other side of the stairs almost back to the doorway. There were three planeloads of people all departing within minutes of each other. Chaos started to reign supreme. We were in line for 40 minutes slowly shuffling towards the door when they started pulling Aeromexico passengers out of line. There were a number of America West passengers stuck in a knot right by the door and instead of dealing with us, they were trying to get the other passengers around and through us. A number of locals were blistering the security people who were now feeding people from the ends of the line too and there were more and more security people rushing to the door and standing in the doorway which was only half opened anyway. The crush was getting intolerable, people were whistling (which is a show of disrespect), much shouting at the officials in many languages and we were finally able to squirt past the security people and into the examining room. By now security was completely coming apart. People weren't even waiting to be scanned or even putting their carry on luggage through the x ray machine and were being hustled through the process.
We finally got to the boarding area and they did another cursory inspection of our bags and then we were "wanded" again just at the bottom of the aeroplane stairs. The aeroplane was a welcome relief, but the officials in charge have to get their act together in the future.
As I alluded to in a couple of previous comments, we found Zihua to be quieter this year. There wasn't the usual number of tourists that we have seen in previous years. Even Ixtapa appeared quieter to us. During our entire stay we didn't see one Tristar cruise come in front of La Ropa beach as they usually do. Friends of ours that just returned, mentioned that they felt the same way. I certainly hope for all the people in the area that business picks up soon.
There have been a couple of posts on the board regarding La Ropa beach and the cleanliness there. We found that the area around Rossy's and La Gaviota has got some work to do in cleaning up around that location. There were a bunch of stray curs wandering around rooting into garbage containers and some of these dogs were big and hungry looking. It may be that the area around La Gaviota has a surf/dive shop location and that attracts a clientele that encourages the dogs to accompany them and they in turn allow the dogs to roam free. The beach had it's usual flotsam & jetsam and there was even the odd dead puffer fish for the curious to inspect, but adequate garbage containers were placed about plus they were well serviced. We saw on our early morning beach strolls that a number of the establishments had staff raking up the beach and taking away any refuse that was found.
We noted a couple of more new restaurants opening in Zihua. Right on the corner of calle Nicholas Bravo and Hermenegildo Galeana there is a beautiful new restaurant called Gondwana. It was scheduled to open just after we left. We spoke to the owners Michael & James and wish them well.
Next year we plan to stay down for at least a month. Planning for that is well underway. We look forward to reading everyone's posts and suggestions. Thanks to Rob for his hospitality and help while we were in Zihua. It doesn't matter that we have been down for 4 years now, we still continue to learn new and exciting things about Zihua from all of you folks.
I apologize for the length of this report and the time it took me to put it together. My computer decided to show me just who is in control and after fighting with it for a week, the threat of getting a new one seems to have worked magic and for now it is behaving.
Regards to all.
Roberto y Wynn.