Long trip report

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Trip Report- Zihuatanejo Jan 9-16, 2010

Jan 8th was birthday number 50 for me and it started with a ½ day of work. I finished up at around 11 am and made a bee line home to pick up my daughter and my skis. It was about 15 degrees with moderate snow, so it was a great way to begin our vacation.

We arrived at the slopes of a local ski area at around 2 pm and skied for a few hours. Home was calling for us, so we dumped the ski gear and packed the trip luggage for the five travelers.

We drove to the airport Holiday Inn in Rochester NY and had a nice dinner, followed by a good night sleep. Our flight was at 6:45 am, to Cleveland, Houston, Zihua, arriving just past 2 pm. Our party consisted of myself, my wife, daughter, son and friend of my children for many years.

Our arrival was uneventful, and we made our way through customs and to the ATM. We knew what to expect at the airport and did not feel at all intimidated or inundated by the ground transportation hawkers at the gate. Our ride was waiting for us making our first destination Comercial Mexicana for snacks, some beer and other supplies. We also hit the ATM here to be sure we had some pesos for our activities over the next few days.

Saturday saw us arrive at Club Intrawest around 4 pm, fast check-in, bathing suit under the pants quickly became the uniform of the week and the festivities began.

It was slightly overcast but pleasantly warm on arrival, but the sun would soon come out for the late afternoon and evening. As we strolled the beach, we saw a lovely seaside wedding taking place near Paty’s.

Sunset Saturday was a welcoming and beautiful sight, witnessed from la Perla on La Ropa with a cold cerveza, a cool palapa and my family around me. Life is good.

SUN JAN 10th
Sunday, Teresa’s (my wife) cold was worse, having progressed into full blown bronchitis, so she chose to relax, start some meds and read poolside.

The rest of us had plans to get to el Refugio and la Biblioteca de los Niños in Barra de Potosí. We took a cab to el Centro and caught the bus to Petatlán (PETA, PETA). The bus ride itself is an experience that is a window into day to day Z. We paid our 10 peso fare, exiting at Los Achotes. We boarded and rode a pasajero (essentially a light flat bed truck with benches on the periphery, covered with a tarp stretched over a metal frame) to el Refugio. The refuge is about 2/3 of the way to Barra de Potosi from Los Achotes on the same road and is worth the trip.

Miguel, a young man with excellent English and personal skills led our two-hour tour through the tanks, pens and cages of the animals, insects and plants inhabiting the area.

The trip includes a hike up the 20 meter tall observation towers, affording panoramic views of Barra, los Moros, the lagoon, and the mountains vistas. Simply spectacular!

The only criticism I can come up with was that Miguel informed us that the walk to Barra de Potosí was only 10 minutes. Well... it is a lot longer! The four of us (myself being more than double the age of any of the other three) set off to the beach, carrying our goods for the library in our packs. The walk was nice, temps in the low 80s and a pleasant breeze. Somewhere along the road, we cut through a hotel property to the beach, marveling at the open sand and bits of pyrite in the water lending a gem-like sparkle to each succeeding wave. Fishermen surf casting pulled jacks from among waders as we approached the thatched roofed restaurants of Barra de Potosí. We picked the first one, La Condesa, and sat at a table near the edge of the roof in the shade. We took turns swimming, eating and just watching until we decided it was time to head to la Biblioteca. Again, a pie was our chosen method, but as we left, I saw the person we sought seated a few tables from where we originally were! It was Laura Kelly, who graciously bowed out of her scrabble game (I’ll let her say what the score was) and accepted our donation of printer ink and other goods for the kids to use.

We took our leave after an hour or so and walked to the lagoon, the place being different than when we last saw it in May. The lagoon was open then and had remained closed for some time now. I wonder when that cycle will repeat itself and bring a new flushing of the lagoon with sea water from the ocean, or fresh water from the mountains?

Our return trip to Z was full of conversation with fellow travelers and locals and terminated a few blocks from the Cancha Municipal near sunset.

I set off my own now and walked down to the water's edge, past the shops and restaurants and through the basketball courts. I looked over the wares of the artisans in the stalls and called Teresa to join me if able for the evening. She did so, along with the three others. We dined at Daniels’s listening to the sounds of the live music as the night unwound around us. The sights and sounds of Sunday evening at el Cancha Municipal are not to be missed by anyone who spends a Sunday in Z.

We took a cab back to Club Intrawest (CI) and got our gear ready for the day on Monday.

MON JAN 11th
Fishing! Teresa, my son Chris and I had reserved today with Julio's Tours. Lisa and Brigid were set for a beach/pool day of chillaxin.

The fishermen amongst us awakened before the dawn, grabbing a cab to the pier for a 7 am meeting with Julio to try our luck at fishing for sailfish. The meet up was easy, with many offers of assistance and alternatives if our boat did not show up.

Julio met us at the appointed time and Ladislau, his mate pulled the boat up to the muelle. We powered out of the bay, being greeted by the sunrise over Zihua, el Faro and los Moros to the south.

A pod of dolphins soon joined us, with dozens, if not a hundred leaping, spinning dolphins entertaining and exciting us for nearly a half hour. I discovered that when in the presence of sea mammals, my wife is evidently able to speak dolphin, or was so excited by the show that all she could do was squeal, click and squeak.

We started to fish, and by shortly after nine had hooked a large sailfish. After a 15-20 minute fight punctuated by jumps, twists and splashes, the fish was brought along side of the Jocelyn. The tag had been made ready for catch and release and the majesty of the fish was now plain. I was disappointed now to see that the fish has expelled its stomach and that the gills had been torn. The captain opined that the fish was doomed and that it should not be released, so it was brought on board.

The remainder of the fishing day allowed us to see green marine turtles, more dolphins, scores of sea birds and one more sailfish. This pez vela did not bite, but put on a brilliant display with its neon blue sail breaking the surface as it foraged for food. It was a sight I shall never forget.

We continued our day by grounding at Las Gatas. Julio informed me that the fish was mine to do with as I pleased, so I elected to take a few photos and have it filleted.

I took a large piece down to Thierry at Carlo Scuba and had a large piece prepared for our party at Otilia’s. This is the restaurant of the captain’s mother and I gave the rest of the fish to them, allowing that we would return as the week progressed. Franco was our gracious host here and he was there at every turn assuring our comfort and satisfaction.

Julio dropped me off near CI, but the surf was too rough for the others to wade in, so they were deposited at the pier for the short cab ride back. I met them poolside and we reviewed a marvelous day.

Our plan was for T, Chris and me to meet Chilolo and Thierry of Carlo Scuba at the surf line off CI at 9 am. T remained too stuffed up to dive, so Chris and I were on our own. We had a leisurely breakfast and set off for the beach. Right on time, we were met by our friends from Carlo’s. We moved down the La Ropa coast and picked up another party, proceeding to Las Gatas to do the requisite paperwork. There were 8 divers and we had a spectacular dive at El Sacramento off Ixtapa. The water temp was 82 degrees, with visibility in the 60 foot range. The dive was almost an hour in duration with lots of tropical fish, various soft and hard corals and a fun surge to bring us in and out of large rock pillars and boulders.

The second dive of the day was at a coral reef off Ixtapa called Zacatoso. The dive was shallower and the colors therefore more vivid. The reef was busier as the Barber Fish were attacking the Sgt Major Fishes nests, raiding their eggs. Nature can be very cruel.

The dive day ended in the early afternoon back at Las Gatas and Arnoldo’s. Here we were joined by the non-divers and were treated to a ceviche prepared from the sailfish caught the previous day. I gotta get that recipe! Cervezas, sunshine, new friends and old make for a wonderful day. Add the view of the Bay and Z from Las Gatas and you have an idyllic setting that one can store away forever. We were dropped by Chilolo off CI and waded ashore to shower, relax and then dine at Paty’s. I really do not remember what I had, but can attest that there was not a bad meal had the entire time in Z.

WED JAN 13th
Another day of sun, relaxation, fishing, snorkeling and fun. We met Julio at 8 am at the pier and set off for a leisurely cruise toward the west. Once offshore a bit, we turned towards the south and headed to Los Moros de Potosí. We had hoped to hook into some nice sport along the way, but that was not to be. Still, the sights and sounds were more than ample entertainment on another lovely day. We trolled around Los Moros and then headed toward Playa Manzanillo. We arrived off Manzanillo and saw that there were two other boats there before us. No matter, there was plenty of water to swim, snorkel and relax. The other boats departed shortly after our arrival and we had the place all to ourselves. All this activity was packed into a short time, and we were back at Las Gatas with plenty of time to relax and enjoy a leisurely stroll along the beach and then took the stroll along the path back to La Ropa. We stopped at el Manglar (closed Wednesdays) and saw one of the resident crocs while a woman and her small child waded nearby, just outside the fence (yikes!)

We returned to CI for a change of clothes, hopped a cab, and went to el Centro to Tamales y Atoles Any. I ordered a sampler plate with way more food than one person could or should consume, but I got to sample a lot of the specialties of the house that way. We were entertained by one of the roving musical bands that seem to pop out of the street. They were GOOD!

All totaled, another fantastic day.

THURS Jan 14th
Another dive day. This time Teresa had recovered sufficiently to be able to fully partake in the diving. We were treated to a special trip, since Thierry had a big group, we dove with Matt, while Chilolo once again captained the boat. Our destination today was Piedra Solitaria. Here we saw so much of the marginal zone between the shelf and deep water beyond la Piedra. (fyi Piedra Solitaria is the large rock a few miles out from the bay. Beyond that the water drops off into the deep Pacific Ocean). The underwater area of the island is much like the shore, dropping off in near vertical fashion. We limited our dive to around 70 feet in order to maximize bottom time and see as much as possible while we circumnavigated the island.

On the ocean side of the island, visibility dropped to about 15 feet and the temperature dropped off, perhaps a sign of things to come. We came around to the more sheltered side and were treated to the sight of several Spotted Eagle Rays gliding about in what can only be described as a silent ballet. We were further treated to the sight of them leaving the water as they rushed upon prey that we could not see from our distance. Puffers, anemones, urchins, eels and countless small tropical fish populated our every sightline.

Dive two was a shallow dive in the cove just around from Las Gatas past el Faro called La Caleta del Chon. Since our dive was only around 25 feet, it exceeded one hour of bottom time and was so rich in sights and experience that I burned up the battery on my digital camera about 2/3 through. That was fine with me since the mental imagery will be forever etched.

Once again, all this took place over only a few hours so we had much time to continue our day. On our return to Las Gatas, we took the opportunity to swim out and see the statue of Jesus placed there for snorkelers to see. (Figured we had to see it.) We were again treated to a snack at Carlo Scuba with a beer or two sweetener and then ferried across to CI by our captain. If you are looking to dive, BTW, I highly recommend Thierry at Carlo Scuba at Las Gatas. Thierry is third generation diving there and he knows the area like the back of his hand.

We took a late lunch at el Manglar and then headed back to CI for a baby turtle release. There were approximately 100 turtles that had recently hatched out and a balloon line was placed for the crowd to stay behind. The turtles were released at around 6 pm. Allowing them to have the sun to guide them out to see and away from the night lights of Zihua and La Ropa. That was very cool!

A late dinner at Elvira’s, then to bed.

FRI JAN 15th
Last full day... sigh. We decided that we would hang out on the beach today and spend some time downtown in the afternoon and evening. The kids (all twenty-somethings) wanted to rent jet skis. I gave them the requisite talk about staying away from the shore, other boats etc, as if they needed to hear that. We then took off, 5 of us on three jet skis.

We rode around in the far part of the bay for a time, then headed out to sea. We took a ride toward Ixtapa and looked once again at the rugged coastline as the waves pummeled the rocks. Seabirds worked the surface, dolphins swam, turtles went lazily about their business and we intruders happily buzzed along.

On our return toward Z, we noted something that surprised me as a large commercial vessel was setting a purse seine net using four motorized skiffs, just outside the harbor. I knew then why so many folks had been complaining about the lack of good fishing recently and wondered how often these commercial vessels worked the area.

We returned the jet skis and grabbed our masks and snorkels, having eyed a large turtle just off CI. We watched the turtle working amongst the rocks, seemingly oblivious to the eyes upon it as it sought its harvest in the rocks. We left it alone after a few minutes, not wanting to add to the stress these animals already face. It is estimated that fewer than 1 in 100 of the eggs hatched survive to the size of the one we watched, so it was one of the lucky ones.

The afternoon was spent shopping in Z. There are so many places to visit and wares to see and purchase. We wanted to get presents for our friends as well as mementos for ourselves, so we headed to the shops near the pier, Mercado de Artesanías and several of the stores in el Centro.

I committed a faux paux that requires an apology to webmaster Rob, by poorly budgeting our time and missing Lupita’s by minutes of closing. I did go next door, buying several items from the corner store and an exquisite mask from the next tienda down the street.

From there, we walked on down to Bandidos. The schedule called for live music at around 8 with another salsa band coming in later. Instead of a music, we noted lots of lightning in the distance and soon a few sprinkles of rain. Since we all know it never rains in January in Z, we asked the simple question... WTF?

Suddenly high winds, heavy, horizontal rain and lightning added, lets call it ambiance, to our pre-dinner. When the lights went out, we thought maybe we would go hungry, but never underestimate the ingenuity of Zihuatanejo’s residents. Candles soon graced every table, sopping wet table cloths were removed and mops and squeegies made the floors slightly less wet and more suitable for pedestrians. We were among the few who actually got to eat surfside at Playa Bandidos as Calle Cinco de Mayo became Río Cinco de Mayo. The music never came, the food did and was excellent and the proprietors added a round of drinks on the house for those who stayed.

After a relaxing dinner, I was almost disappointed when the lights came back on... so we cabbed back to CI where the hum of generators signaled that the electricity had not been restored there. Emergency lighting was ample at CI, allowing us to finish our packing for the inevitable... the trip home.

SAT JAN 16th
I will spare you the reports of abuse at the hands of Continental Airlines, but suffice to say that travel was virtually unchanged from prior to the latest travel scares. Carry-on rules were the same, flight attendants were the same and service was the same. Fill in your travel experience in that blank to complete the picture I have tried to draw for you.

Weather was nice the whole time sans the storm which was impressive. Temps in the 80s daytime, low 70s at night. Some high clouds at times reduced the need for reapplication of sunscreen.

I am sure I left out much, but this is too long already. The people of Zihua, Ixtapa, Los Achotes, Barra de Potosí were gracious and accommodating. Thank you all for your hospitality and ojalá que regresemos pronto.

Pix here

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