Trip Report, Zihuatanejo

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Posted by Candice on December 29, 2000 at 14:46:21:

Amigos y amigas,
We returned on Dec. 23rd from 8 glorious days in Zihuatanejo. It will be difficult only to touch on the highlights, as there were so very many of those. Bear with me--I suspect this will not be short.

The Characters: My husband Dick, our 14-year-old son, and me
The Lodgings: Villa Mexicana (see report filed separately)
The Setting: Playa la Ropa, Zihuatanejo centro, La Barra de Potosi, Las Gatas, various taxis, busses, boats and golf courses

We have been to Manzanillo and its surrounds, to Puerto Vallarta, to several Hawaiian islands, and there is no question that Playa la Ropa is the best beach we've had the pleasure to meet. An absolutely friendly beach of white sand and soft surf, ringed with perfect little restaurants and bars and places to lounge in the sun. From Villa Mexicana, or the Sotavento/Catalina, or Villa del Sol, you can walk to La Gaviota on one end of the beach or Casa Que Canta (up a steep cobbled street) at the other. Twenty pesos (plus a tip of 2-5 pesos) will get you a taxi into Zihua centro--the markets, shops, restaurants and bars, and a meeting with our beleaguered but gallant host Rob and his gracious wife Lupita.

The RESTAURANTS, or So Many Places to Eat--So Little Time:
PATY'S and ELVIRA, between Villa Mexicana and Catalina--friendly, dependable cafes with tables in the sand or up the steps to solid floors. Lots of people chose Elvira's for morning coffee in giant mugs. I favored Paty's for a thermos pot of hot black tea--by my third morning, the waiters brought it (plus cream and sugars) as soon as I sat down. Lovely spots to start the morning and watch the beach wake up. They both have happy hours with 2 for 1 beers and margaritas.
LA PERLA, halfway down the beach toward Las Gatas--good food, yummy pina coladas, great selection of rums and tequilas. Francisco, the proprietor, is a fascinating character. We spent a lot of time with him, as he has an amazing humidor crammed to the ceiling with boxes of cigars. His humidor and his wine cellar are his pride and joy. He makes a great spinach salad, too. Dick bought a box of Montecristo #2's. Francisco put Dick's name on them, and they stayed in the humidor until the day we left. So there were many pleasant evening strolls to La Perla to have a drink and pick up a cigar or two. You cigar guys must not miss this--you aren't gonna believe your eyes. One of my favorite memories: one balmy night, sitting and sipping under the stars, a mariachi band (we called them Tres Hermanos--they are 3 brothers--one of them carries a huge round-bottomed instrument, the bass I guess) played for us. We requested "Zihuatanejo"--as Rob has said, it is a beautiful song, very romantic and a musical distillation of the Zihua experience.
LA GAVIOTA--Alas, didn't find it until the last day as it has no sign out front and I kept forgetting to look at my notes. It's the last place on the south end of Playa la Ropa. Cold Coronitas, love those little beers. I had the mahi mahi (dorado) al ajillo--this is a really good way to order fish. It varies a little from place to place, but usually includes some mild tasty chile dust and sundried tomato rings. It was perfectly cooked and delicious. I always ordered my fresh fish without rice or vegetables, preferring to use up the space with fresh tortillas and salsas. It was my favorite way to eat there. Here's an idea: if you want soft fish tacos, order the filete of fresh fish with tortillas and salsa and wrap your own: the fish will be fresher, and one order is usually enough for two people!
VILLA DEL SOL--is absolutely knockout gorgeous. We had a drink at Orlando's Bar. Dick and I will stay there someday to celebrate a special anniversary.
JJ's--A nice hangout, but don't order the Mexican food.
RICK'S BAR--near the Marina end of Cuauhtemoc (my favorite street), an English speaking hangout for, as Rick put it, "boaters, bikers and backpackers". We were none of the above, but Rick has some great tequilas and cold beer. Good meeting place in town. Only place I've ever come across sexist tequila.
SUNSET BAR at Sotavento/Catalina--Head up here when the sun's about 6" above the horizon and order mango margaritas, 2 for one. What a stunning view, just the spot to watch the sun turn the color of raspberry sherbet and melt into the sea.
CASA QUE CANTA--We didn't have dinner here, but twice we had drinks at the terrace bar. What a view! Good drinks, too. I wanted a guava margarita--the bartender explained it is "guayaba" (the g silent, I'm guessing at the spelling)in Mexico. However pronounced, it was divine. Ordered their tapas plate, butterfly-sized portions of delicious food. Dick's favorite place for an after-dinner cigar and tequila, followed by a stroll on the beach back to the hotel.
KAU KAN--gets my vote for the fancy place to eat. I noticed someone else mentioned their Stingray in Black Butter Sauce (with capers)--Dick ordered this to share 50/50 with our son's giant prawns. What a delectable dish! Huge portion, plenty to share plus offer tastes around the table. It's just so good, and it only cost 100 pesos so it's worth trying even if you have doubts! If you want ceviche on your trip, have it here--it was the very best, marinated marlin, I'm still dreaming about it. Our friends from the hotel had good luck with the tomato soup,the abalone, and the house white wine. The cesar salad (whole baby romaine leaves) was very good, too. Unfortunately we didn't leave room for dessert, because they had a chocolate-drizzled profiterole that looked awfully good...
CASA VIEJA--Without question one of our very favorite spots. It's on a side street off Playa Madera. Everyone we talked to who had eaten there had enjoyed it. I ordered the mixed seafood in foil. Now, this is no poached sole kind of thing--it's nicely spicy, fish, shrimp, veggies, I don't know what all but goooood. Dick had pork in red sauce. Yummy. I heard the pork chop was great too. Our teen had the breast of chicken with cheese. Although he's an adventurous eater, this might be a good dish for kids who aren't--you can always ask them to hold the broccoli. We had a nice visit with David Moffat, the American partner, who said they are happy to make special dishes for kids, and can do vegetarian dishes, too. David is the inventor of the game Pigmania, which became Pass the Pigs when bought by one of the big toy companies. Anyway, find Casa Vieja--it's a treat. You can walk there in five minutes after your before-dinner drink at Casa Que Canta! Just walk down the road thru Hotel's down a few blocks, then halfway down a street on the right. They have signs.
TAMALES Y ATOLES ANY--Wow! Tamales the size of your plate for 9 pesos! Dick ate 2--cost him two bucks. He got the pork in plantain leaves. I had the pozole which I found delightful and worth ordering just for the presentation. The best broth I've ever tasted. Others at the table ordered chicken tamales, chicken tacos & quesadillas (great kid/teen food). One tip: dress lightly and get a table near the fans. It was hotter than blazes in there, but I'd go back in a heartbeat.

The Bad News, or "But Montezuma, I swear it wasn't me!"
Okay, I was sick one day early in our stay. Really sick. From top to bottom. Pepto Bismol didn't work and I didn't want Immodium for reasons that shall remain unstated. Went to the mini-super at Elvira's where the beautiful Maria sold me some powder called Estomaquil and told me to mix it with Yoli, the lime soda pop. I did. I think it's powdered Milk of Magnesia--reminded me of my childhood. It worked, well enough so that I happily devoured a bowl of hot chicken rice soup at Elvira's that evening. Had soup for lunch again the next day and was back to 95% for the rest of the trip, eating and drinking anything I wanted. I also noticed a Mexican family with a bottle of Milk of Magnesia on their table one day. Seems to handle the nausea. I don't want to offend anyone, but I'm afraid I had a bad reaction to the fruit plate at Bananas. It was the only thing I ate that my husband and son didn't. I believe it was the watermelon, from subsequent...shall we say, evidence. No doubt an idiosycratic reaction, as I've read no other fruit-related complaints. Anyway, Estomaquil is available everywhere, I think. Wanted to mention it, just in case.

LAS GATAS beach, or "Is this a Where's Waldo picture?"
Rather than go all the way into Zihua to catch a boat, lazy bums that we are, we hired the parasailing guys from in front of the hotel to run us across in their speedboat. Not a bad deal if you don't mind wading back and forth from the boat. They zoomed us over in minutes, dropped us at the dock, and were back to pick us up on the dot at the predetermined time (we paid half up front, half at pick-up). Las Gatas was busy--the Mexican pre-Navidad holiday had begun. We camped at Arnoldo's like so many others on this board, in lounge chairs and then at a table for lunch. Delightful waiter, Chi (didn't meet Daniel). They didn't have any snapper, so we let the proprietor talk us into ordering Spanish mackerel, la plancha (split, fileted and grilled), one with garlic and one ajillo. Good decision. Fresh white fish, cooked perfectly, with hot tortillas and some of the best salsas of the trip. Try mixing the green one with the oily red one. Yowzer. Also had a plate of calamare which was good and very spicy. We walked to Owen's at the far end of the beach and took a look around--the big double bungalow Hotel California looks nifty. There are lots of enramadas all down the beach--seems like most of the people stop at the first few, and there are some beautiful spots further away from the dock, much less crowded and quieter as the day progressed. As nice as Arnoldo's was, I might choose one further from the dock next time. A family we'd met at the hotel was at one with really nice lounges and tables about 3/4 of the way down and had a huge mixed seafood platter that looked super. By 1 pm the place was one giant Where's Waldo picture, with snorkeling classes and inflatable sharks swimming by, children and adults whooping it up, lanchas hithering and thithering. We rented 2 snorkel set-ups--Dick and our son went out early, which was a good idea, because by the time I got out it was pretty murky, but I saw some cute fish anyway. I imagine Las Gatas is ever so different during off season, but in the week before Christmas it mostly resembled a giant Disney creation, but with real rocks and fish.

LA BARRA DE POTOSI, or "How to Get to Heaven in the Back of an Old Truck"
For me, this was the high point of our stay--our visit to lovely Laura Kelly and her charming husband Noyo at their B&B, Casa del Encanto. In an earlier post, Roberto gave a perfect account of the trip from Zihua to Potosi via bus and pasajera. Our experience was very much the same. The bus cost 6 pesos per person, the pasajera 7 pesos each. The bus left us at Las Achotes, the stop on the highway. There we boarded an old truck with fenced sides and wobbly wooden benches with a dozen other people (we were 5--a Seattle woman and her niece who we met at the hotel came along). The road was long, bumpy and dusty, but I managed a fun conversation in my rudimentary Spanish with two women who were going to the beach to sell their wares. Lots of laughter, facial expressions, hand signals--they spoke not a word of English, but they understood where I was going and why, and showed me the street where Laura y Noyo live! However, it was early, so we started at the enramadas. We settled at the 2nd to the end one, north end of the beach. The banos were spotless, there's a shower head for rinsing off sand and salt, good chairs and hammocks and beer. Waves stronger here than at la Ropa, and an old man told us to be careful of undertow (the dreaded Undertoad...), so the swimmers stayed near shore. We picked out a nice red snapper--huachinango--from the cooler and ordered it grilled (la plancha), then the two teens and I took the bags of goodies and headed to Laura's. We walked back the way we came, took a right at the mini-super onto a little dirt road. Each home and shop we passed was adorned with a shrine to Mary, and many of the houses were festooned with the perforated, colored flags that seem to be the equivalent of our Christmas lights. Near the end of the street (which is not long) I saw a handsome gentleman crossing to the house that had been described to us. I took a chance. "Noyo?" I said. "Si?" a friendly response. "Soy Candice." "Candice!" he said, and gave me a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek. Now, Noyo and I had communicated by email a few times while Laura wasn't feeling well. They knew we were coming, and he greeted me as an old amiga. Through the gates into Casa del Encanto, their warm and picturesque home, to meet Laura. Introductions all around--they had a German family staying at the B&B--a tour of the house, then into the kitchen (where I hear Noyo prepares miraculous meals) to unpack the paints and colored papers and markers and scissors and glue we had brought to their little library/school. Laura showed us the building they are fixing up for the children, which is well underway, and shared their plans--shelves along these walls, easels here, work tables there. An assortment of pottery painted by the children stood drying. This is a sort of after-school school, as the children get out of regular school at about 1 pm, then come to Laura's while their parents are still working. She is teaching them English and art and music. She has maybe 50 children who come by, 3 of whom we were so lucky to meet. They practiced their English on us. "Pleased to meet you." Laura and Noyo are trying to establish the school as a non-profit organization, but it is taking a lot of time and effort. When they succeed, we may be able to ship them supplies at a lower rate and without tariffs, but for now we can only carry things down. Laura won't tell you this, so I will: she is so kind that she hesitates to give anything to the children if there's not enough for each of them. Fortunately I had brought enough fancy pens and bright pencils to have one for every child--the other supplies will stay at the library. If anyone goes to visit and wants to provide supplies directly to the children, it would be good to take 50 of one item (notebooks, folders, pencil boxes, etc.) She is also hoping to start a scholarship fund to help with the school necessities that many of the parents simply can't afford. The village is very poor, and I think any help is welcome. She has had a few people come down and give workshops of various kinds to the children--I hope to do that myself in the next year or two, take the supplies for a specific art project and spend a couple of days in the village teaching. So we took some photos and said our farewells, but Casa del Encanto and its hosts remain a warm and bright spot in my heart.
We walked back to the enramada, ate our delicious fish, then walked to La Guera, another enramada on the lagoon, where we met Antonio Papa and Antonio Hijo and went for a boat ride around the lagoon. Antonio the son was our guide and speaks no English, but we managed and had a grand time. He was very sensitive, slowing the boat for photos of all the remarkable birds. He told us the lagoon is 50 kilometres long. Finished our voyage with cold beers and sodas ashore.
We returned to Zihua the same way we came, via pasajera and bus at the highway. The pasajera was packed and stopped several times along the way to pick up even more people. One man had a huge bag of oysters. There were no cabs to be found, so I suggest trying to pre-arrange a cab, or call Judy from Minnesota's favorite driver and have him come and get you if you don't want to take the slow and cheap way home. It's a lot of fun, though--one of those experiences that makes traveling so rewarding. The teens said it had stretched their comfort zones, in a good way. Indeed.

PARASAILING--Dick parasailed from the beach in front of Villa Mexicana, enjoyed it immensely on a sunny, breezy day. He spotted the bar at Casa Que Canta from the air, and told me as soon as he landed "We have to go there!" We watched many people go up during the week--the young men at the concession seem very good at what they do, getting you up and back down safely.
GOLF--Dick and our son played at both courses in Ixtapa. The Palma Real course was undergoing preparation for the busy season, apparently, and the greens were sanded very thickly. Difficult to putt in, I gather. Fairway grass very long, too. Dick supposes it got much better in the days after. They both liked the Marina course.
SHOPPING--I loved poking through the markets. Here's a phrase to know: "Solo mirando, gracias", I'm only looking, thanks. I used it often and it was usually respected. I scouted the stalls a few times before buying, then bought to my heart's content. Managed some cheery chats with the vendors, with many Feliz Navidads. One morning my son and I went in about 8:30 to the mercado (not the tourist market, this one's up near the banks and bus depot). This is a bustling market of mostly foods, with music blaring and people chatting, vivid sights, smells, and sounds. I bought some bright paper Christmas ornaments, two sets of gourd maracas for nephews; my son bought a carved wooden chess set very inexpensively. Delightful way to spend a morning. We also bought from the children on the beach at Playa la Ropa--they're a kick, and became good pals as the days went by.
MONEY--We had no problems with getting cash from the machines. As has been mentioned before, the Serfin bank on the corner has a swipe-thru slot which worked every time; if you need change, the lines at this bank are much shorter than at the others.
SPANISH--I studied before we left, listening to tapes in my car, concentrating on phrases and a few good verbs. "Quisiera" -- I would like (more polite than "quiero", I want). "Quiseramos"-- we would like. Puedar (Can I, can you?) plus some infinitives was very useful. I carried a small notebook with some useful phrases (and to take notes in), a pocket-sized Barrons verb book and a dictionary, and got by very well. That old high-school Spanish started trickling back after a day or two. I really enjoyed trying to use Spanish as much as possible--the people seem to appreciate it. On many occasions, waiters and vendors asked me how to say things in English, and I asked "Como se dice esto?" (How do you say this?) often. Much laughter, many good feelings from these exchanges.
IXTAPA--Oops, we forgot to go.

I left a stack of printouts--notes from this message board and Rob's site--with a family from Alaska. The input from all of you made the trip even more rewarding, and we thank you. Just got the pictures back from Costco, and I'm already day-dreaming about our next trip to that enchanted town. Hasta luego, Zihuatanejo, y muchas gracias.

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