Roberto! y Wynn's Zihuatanejo 2002 Trip Report.
October 30th November 28th 2002
The planning for this year's trip began on Playa La Ropa before we had returned home from our vacation last year. Once again, it was frequent visits to Rob's board and a lot of note taking as we prepared for our month's visit this year.
One thing we learned during this trip was how to be flexible and have backup plans in place in case things came off the rails which they tended to do far too frequently.
We had arranged through an intermediary to rent accommodation away from the beach and confirmed our intentions about a month before we left. Fortunately, as it turned out, we hadn't put any money down on the location because, upon arriving in Zihua, we found the accommodation was rented out from under us a few days before we arrived. Alternate accommodation offered was not up to standard so within a little more than an hour of arriving, we were into Plan C.
This year we flew out of Vancouver on Alaska our previous trips had been via America West, however, their schedules/prices were not conducive to our plans. The airfare was substantially more than we paid in previous years and probably contributed to the reason we did not see as many familiar faces we had seen from previous years in Zihua.
The flight down with Alaska was great. We arrived ahead of schedule in LAX, then were "selected" to remove our shoes and go through a fairly thorough security check before boarding our flight to ZIH. Once on the airplane, we were surprised to see Dick Clark. Wynn's opinion is that he looks better in real life than he does on television. We learned later he and his wife were traveling to Zihua to attend a friend's wedding at the Villa del Sol. The flight from LAX to ZIH was relatively smooth and the airplane was about ¾ full.
Arriving In Zihua
Upon landing in Zihua, it was amusing to see those that who traveled down wearing long pants, etc. were starting to break out in a sweat as the heat and humidity hit them as we waited in line to deplane. The lineups to the restrooms where people were changing were almost as long as the Immigration lineup. Customs and Immigration went extremely smoothly and shortly we were in a taxi to examine our new digs.
After giving it a "four thumbs down", it was off to the Catalina where we intended to stay for a few nights while we looked for alternate accommodation. Returning to the Catalina was like coming back home. We were warmly greeted by the staff who remembered us from our 4 previous stays and when we explained our intentions, Eva offered us a month's rental rate that we just could not refuse.
It wasn't long before Wynn and I were sitting at the Sunset Bar enjoying the sights, sounds, "dos por unos" and watching the spectacular sunset.
We were definitely back home!
In previous years, the Sotavento and Catalina were all under the same management and we have stayed in both locations. We have always preferred the Catalina and have stayed in both the bungalows and casitas. We would generally stay for a few days in the Sotavento until a room we wanted opened up in the Catalina. This year, unfortunately, they are separate entities and, as a result, the staff has been split between the two, and generally everything has doubled, i.e. two dining rooms, separate lobbies, the beach areas are divided (Catalina has the best) and perhaps the saddest indication of the severity of the split is the "Berlin Wall" separating the two hotels.
During our stay, we noted the Catalina is doing a lot of maintenance work to their location such as cutting back some of the underbrush, removal of trees, installing railings and improving lighting beside the stairs and there appears to be a general tidying up of the area in progress. The Sotavento has constructed 6 more rooms above the lobby where offices once were, plus they have a huge project which looks like a bar area being built underneath the dining room. There is also another big construction project just to the west of the Sotavento and rumor has it that 24/26 2-bedroom condominiums are going to be built in that area. A large new road has already been built to service the area and, to add to the rumors, it is an Intrawest project which, as more rumors suggest, has purchased the entire Sotavento. At the time, there was no construction going on in that particular area and beach scuttlebutt had it that not all of the correct permits were in place. I have checked the Intrawest web site and a subsidiary, Club Intrawest, is advertising the possibility of building in Zihuatanejo. I spoke to some of the people staying at the Sotavento especially the ones who had stayed there before and they indicated that not much has changed as far as the rooms were concerned. They too were disappointed about the split.
We had originally planned to do a fair amount of traveling throughout the area, however, with the accommodations not panning out and since we were located on La Ropa, a lot of our time was spent on the beach. A couple of other extenuating circumstances such as Wynn taking a tumble in a store and becoming sick for nine days curtailed some of our plans.
Gunner and Carol from Seattle, who posts on Rob's board, set up a meet at Paty's the first Saturday we were there. We got together with them and another couple, Rene and Bill, from Salem. It was a pleasant evening and we were treated to a huge firework display emanating from the wedding taking place at the Villa del Sol. We joined Carol and Gunner on a couple of other occasions such as the Sunday night celebrations at the basketball court and also at Dorado1's start to the Fintastic's Tag & Release Tournament.
While we were there, we also met other couples whose company we enjoyed Gary and Mary-Ellen (Mel) from New York and Norm and Nan from Portland. There were so many other people we met from Portland that I was starting to think that only Curly was left to manage the city.
Wynn and I planned a trip to Troncones using the local buses, however, we met Gary & Mel in the lobby signing a rental contract for a car. They too were going to Troncones and invited us along.
After Mel pasted a couple of the topes with the rental car, we quickly learned to ease our way slowly over them but didn't have quite the nerve the locals did by passing one another on the topes. There were no signs indicating the Troncones turn off. Apparently, "a storm" had washed them down - along with a jurisdictional dispute as to who actually owned the property where the many signs had previously been located, factored largely into the lack of signage.
We stopped off to visit with Cam and Beverly Gesy (fellow Canadians) who owned the beautiful Regalo del Mar (Gift from the Sea) in Troncones. Cam and Bev kindly hosted us all as they showed us around their stunning setting. Gary (who is a renovation contractor in NY) was very impressed with not only the quality of design but especially the functionality, construction techniques and superb workmanship. A visit to Cam and Beverly's web site on Rob's Troncones Directory is certainly worth a look along with one's consideration of staying at that location if contemplating a Troncones stay.
Regalo del Mar
We proceeded to The Inn at Manzanillo Bay to see Mike Bensal but he was away for the day. We spent time swimming and snorkeling in the Manzanillo Bay the water was extremely clear and clean plus the rollers were challenging. Following a delicious lunch at TIAMB, we drove back to Zihua via Ixtapa scraping our way over the topes.
On another occasion, Norm, Nan, Wynn and I took a bus to Petatlan, which was quite the adventure. We boarded the Petatlan bus on Calle Las Palmas (# 59 on Jared's Map) and paid 10 pesos each for the trip. Just as we exited the bus depot, another bus cut us off and our driver went ballistic! He ranted and raved at his helper, ground the gears as he fought to accelerate, squeezed through openings I didn't think a motor scooter could get through and finally shot past the other bus with much hand waving and finger gesturing. No trouble translating those gestures they are universal!
I recalled reading about other poster's descriptions of their ride to Petatlan and I figured this is going to be another one of those "rides from hell". For whatever reason, as soon as our driver passed the offending bus, a sense of normalcy returned and the hour's ride was actually quite pleasant.
Once off the bus, it was a 15-minute walk to the church/market area where we toured through the church and visited the many vendors selling gold.
Fusil y Crusifex
This area is completely different than we had experienced at the artisan's market in Zihua. The merchants were quiet, friendly and not at all "pushy" with their wares. They were extremely gracious in assisting you in your selections and tried their best to accommodate your requests for products or objects. All in all, we found the visit to Petatlan to be a low key, pleasant affair and would return. Wynn's opinion was that prices were more reasonable in Petatlan than in Zihua.
Our return trip was more of the "ride from hell" and for some reason the fare was 12 pesos per person. One wag suggested the reason it was more was because they knew you needed to get back to Zihua. Upon our return, it was time for a visit to Rick's Bar and a number of cervazas and margaritas were inhaled.
One of the absolute best things we did was to rent a boat from Captain Moses. We have met Captain Moses on all of our trips to Zihua whenever he was busy offering fishing trips to those of us languishing in the sun on the beach and we have found him to be a decent man. I have never been interested in fishing, but Norm suggested we contract him to provide us with a boat for two hours and take a floating tour of the Zihua harbor then over to Ixtapa. We planned it so we would be on the water when the sun set and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable ventures we have experienced in the Zihua area.
Captain Moses had his boat there at 4:30 PM and six of us boarded the boat laden with cervezas, Ron Blanco, soft drinks and snacks. We toured the entire west end of the harbor with Captain Moses answering our numerous questions and then it was out of the harbor and through all the bays and inlets to Ixtapa. We shortened our tour of the Ixtapa area and returned out to sea to watch a spectacular sunset then returned to Zihua as night was falling. We headed over to Elvira's for the "dos por unos" and another meal of the bacon wrapped tuna steak. We rented the boat for $60.and then tipped Captain Moses and Alex generously for the wonderful time. I would certainly recommend the trip to anyone visiting Zihua.
Alex & Captain Moses
The majority of our grocery shopping was done in the Mercado and a number of the smaller shops in the downtown area, augmented with trips to the Comercial Mexicana. We found the prices to be equal or better than the CM but the CM certainly has the selection. We also shopped at the Comercial Mexicana mainly because it was one of the places where one could purchase fresh milk rather than the UHT type.
On one of our trips we had purchased a large bag of potato chips and there was 2 pesos off a 2 L size of Pepsi coupon included in the bag. Wynn, being the "coupon clipping queen" saved it, and on one of our return trips attempted to cash it in on the 2 L. bottle of Pepsi we had purchased.
What a scene! Everything ground to a halt the cashier had a quizzical look on her face, she called over the manager, the manager didn't know what the coupon was all about, he rushed over to speak to someone else, and they all came back clutching the coupon and tried to explain something to us in Spanish that was over way over my limited ability to comprehend other than I knew we weren't getting that 2 pesos discount.
In the meantime, the lineup was getting longer and longer and I was trying to get Wynn to forget about the 2 pesos but she was insistent that they honor the coupon and even dug out another bag of chips with the same offer in our bagged groceries to show the manager where she had got it.
There was "mucho" muttering coming from the people behind us, so I finally managed to convince Wynn (by threatening her through clenched teeth) to forget about the crummy 2 pesos coupon and we beat a hasty retreat to the door. The "coupon clipping queen" had met her match at the CM but I heard about it all the way back to the hotel in the taxi.
There is a new store opened on Calle Altamirano (couple of blocks up and on left from the Mercado) called Merza Pack. It has a good selection of foodstuffs, beer, wine, liquor, along with a small deli, so we stopped in there from time to time.
There is also another grocery store, Issste located 3 or 4 blocks up and on the same side of the street as the Mercado.
The day after we arrived in Zihua, Wynn tripped over a corner of a pallet hidden on the floor, wiped out an entire cereal display and scattered bottled water to every point of the compass. It would have been funny except that she twisted her ankle and scraped her leg quite badly and hobbled around for the better part of a week.
The rest of our shopping for souvenirs, clothing, sandals, shirts etc. was either at the artisan's market or the number of shops located throughout downtown Zihua. There is no shortage of places to purchase things in Zihua.
If I may, a caveat please. I have found the most difficult thing to do is to recommend/not recommend a restaurant. Everyone's taste, likes/dislikes, menu selection, price points, service experiences and all the factors that go into the enjoyment of a meal are different. What may be enjoyable for one may be a completely different experience for others.
There is also no shortage of places to eat in Zihua. A couple of new places we tried were Puesta del Sol where we had a very reasonable, enjoyable and entertaining meal and for those who remember the "old" Ruben's, we stopped at Capricho's on Cinco de Mayo. It was excellent! Cheeseburger 35 pesos and a baked potato 25. The service was great and it brought back memories of the Ruben's in Zihuatanejo five years ago. It is definitely worth a visit or two.
We also ate a couple of meals at Daniel's on the waterfront near the basketball court prices reasonable along with good selection and service. We had a number of meals at the Catalina dining room and also at Elvira's and Paty's on the beach. I particularly liked the bacon wrapped tuna steak at Elvira's (Curly introduced it to me the year before) and we also enjoyed the filet of fish at Rossy's. Pizza Locos was closed on the couple of occasions we were going to eat there so we went to Pollos Locos and also Mangos. Both very economical. Another place we ate and were quite impressed with was Nuevo Zealander. The menu is fairly simple and standard but what really impressed us was the absolute cleanliness of the place. When the staff weren't waiting on customers, they were continually cleaning and polishing the area.
One day we were walking downtown for breakfast through the back streets of La Madera, when we were invited into La Casa Café. There we met the owner, Pedro, and his wife. Pedro also teaches Spanish next door. It was a pleasant, enjoyable breakfast along with excellent coffee and conversation. They had just opened for the season and, since we were only a couple of days away from departure, we never had the opportunity to return.
One evening we had a meal at La Bocana and, unfortunately, Wynn and Gunner both got sick within the next day or so. Wynn was laid up for close to 9 days and ended up going to el Dr. for treatment. Fortunately, we were there for a month because it would have been a "bummer" had we only scheduled a two week stay.
This was our 5th holiday in Zihua and it has always been at the same time every year. This year we were treated to a steady three day tropical storm and downpour that washed out portions of the beach, changed the blue color of the water to a muddy brown, and unfortunately, swept a lot of garbage into the Bay. There were a few times after the storm that we didn't go swimming because of the debris in the water.
On another occasion, after a cruise ship departed, there was oil floating in the water off La Ropa. We waited over an hour for the oil to dissipate but it was still present so we called it a day. I used my new digital camera to take pictures of the oil and then reported/showed it to the Port Captain at my first opportunity. Since we have returned, I have sent the Port Captain the pictures and he assured me that it would be dealt with.
There were definitely a lot fewer tourists from the US/Canada regions compared to previous years, however, with the new road opened to Morelia, the slack is slowly being taken up by the Mexican visitors. Friends of ours, who we have stayed in contact from previous years, tell us the prices of airfare and the less number of seats on the carriers were one of the major reasons they didn't return to Zihua this year. In our case, the airfare was C$250 each more than last year.
Prices in Zihua were generally up marginally over last year but that is probably true in all economies. There were still bargains to be had and sometimes a little negotiating skill was all that was needed.
The Liquor Distribution Center was closed but we were told they would be reopening it in 10 days. 4 weeks later, there was still work being done but wasn't completed by the time we left. Maybe it will open or maybe not. In the meantime, we found the best liquor (sometimes beer) prices to be at the Comercial Mexicana.
La Ropa beach is being well maintained despite people still leaving garbage around. Sometimes the early morning walks were interrupted by having to pick up plastic bottles, trash, etc. and depositing them into the refuse containers but generally all the establishments were out raking their areas clean. There is also a fellow on an ATV that rakes the tide line and empties the garbage containers on a daily basis. The area around La Gaviota still could use some improvement though.
We witnessed a beautiful wedding at La Perla on Playa La Ropa one evening. The bridal party was transported to the location in a yacht just as the sun was slowly sinking in the west, then transferred to a panga where they floated to the shoreline and were greeted by their guests. After hiking a short way through the gentle surf the party reassembled and the ceremony began. Later that evening we could hear the music from the reception wafting up from the beach. I'm of the opinion that anyone who has music from DEVO played at their wedding is bound to live a long and happy life together!
The Return Flight.
Last year, our departure from Zihua was a total nightmare. This time, the process was smooth, well organized and efficient. The flight to LAX was bumpy all the way and it wasn't the fault of the flight crew because they spent a lot of time hunting for the smooth air but it was not to be. Just one of those flights.
But the total nightmare was transferred up to LAX. We had returned on American Thanksgiving and Immigration in LAX was totally insufficiently manpowered. There were colossal lineups for both Visitors and Citizens. We had a little over an hour to transfer to our flight to Vancouver and when we joined the lineup there were people in transit from Manzanillo, PV, Mazatlan and other Mexican resort areas who were anxiously awaiting immigration clearance.
It was pretty obvious that we were not going to make it at the rate the Visitors were being cleared because there were also a number of flights from Asia that had unloaded hundreds of visitors to the US. Even the US Citizens who had to transfer to other flights were getting shunted about. I inquired as to where the "in transit" lineups were and was told gruffly just to stay in the line up we were in and wait our turn.
Not exactly the proper thing to tell me. My track record with "authority figures" is suspect at the best of times so when I had determined the entire process was lacking in leadership and process, I did my thing. I accosted an Immigration Authority and in no uncertain terms told him exactly what problems we were encountering and what I thought of their organizational ability, that I wasn't going to miss my flight because of their lack of foresight, planning, yak, yak, and yak.
To shut me up, he placed me in a shorter lineup with US Citizens. I immediately signaled to the entire group of people that were in the same predicament to join me. The lineup was still long so I snaked under the ropes and approached the first person in line that was due to go through Immigration. I showed the gentleman our boarding passes and explained our problem and asked if we could all get in front of him. I was loud enough so the people behind him all understood what was going on and they all kindly relented. When we approached the Immigration official and he learned we weren't US Citizens, he wasn't about to process us. I did my best Mt. St. Helen's impression and we were processed. After a mad dash to retrieve our luggage, transfer it to another location and then sprint to the other terminal, it was nice to be on the aircraft.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Zihua Rob for his guidance, hospitality and friendship during this visit and throughout the years we have been in Zihuatanejo. He is a busy individual and we tried to take up as little of his time as we could, nevertheless, it was always a pleasure to receive that friendly wave and the brief conversations on the sidewalks. Rob's Message Board has been an important resource for us during our trip planning and through the Board, we have personally met a number of fine people. We sincerely hope that some of our observations and opinions are of help to those planning their holidays to this wonderful location.
During our last evening meal in Zihua at Elvira's on Playa La Ropa, the staff notified us that a huge sea turtle had come ashore and was about to lay her eggs. We stood a fair distance away to watch this fascinating event. When it was over, some of the staff retrieved the eggs to incubate them in a hatchery they have because there was little chance the eggs would survive on such a busy beach.
As a result of watching this event, I have come up with a new "old Mexican saying".
"If one sees a turtle laying her eggs in the sand on their last evening in Zihuatanejo, they, like the turtle, are bound to return."
We will be back!
Thanks to all.
Roberto! y Wynn