Zihuatanejo


And so each day began the same: rise at dawn and re-pack the truck.  With 4 passengers instead of 2, the luggage rack came in very handy as the space inside the truck was scarce.  As I’d written in previous posts, driving at night isn’t the safest endeavour in Central America.  So, we would rise at dawn and get out to driving in sunny conditions.  As Jeff has some experience yachting, he could tie the most elaborate knots; in the case above, he took the daily responsibility of securing our luggage to the roof rack.

Since I had seen the movie Shawshank Redemption (my favorite movie by the way), I had always wondered about this beach town.  Andy Duphrene (played by actor Tim Robbins) tells fellow inmate Red (played by Morgan Freeman) that when he escapes, he will “go to Zihuatanejo, buy a hotel and an old boat, fix it up and take his guests sailing.”  There was no way I was going to drive past this town and not visit: I made a similar pilgrimage to Fort Hancock, Texas in November 1996; this was the town that Andy Duphrene crossed in Shawshank before he headed to Mexico.  If you’ll remember, he sends a post card to Red without any writing, only a Fort Hancock postmark.  I was sure to mail a post card so that I could add Fort Hancock to my post card collection.

If you recall, at the end of Shawshank Redemption, Red finally makes it to Zihuatanejo and finds Andy on the beach sanding his old boat.  In reality, the white sand beach of that scene in the movie was filmed in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  I guess the director didn’t find the real Zihuatanejo “sexy” enough for the movie.

Our travel from Las Brisas to Zihuatanejo was about 230km down coastal Hwy 200.  This stretch of the Pacific Ocean coast line runs diagonally northwest to southeast.  Las Brisas is just 40km southwest of inland Colima and Zihuatanejo is just 90km northwest of the famous beach resort of Acapulco.  We would pass through another beach resort, Ixtapa that lies just a few miles to the northwest of Zihuatanejo.

Just before the state border crossing of Colima and Michoacan, I shot the photo above.  The area had wide open farmland of corn and sugar cane.  The road occasionally came within view of the ocean but for a better part of the trip the beaches and Pacific were obscured by the thick jungle that ran alongside the road.

Unfortunately, much of Mexico considers conservation of the land as a secondary priority to advancement and development.  In many parts of the country we saw trash, ad hoc dumps off the side of the road, pollution in streams and lakes and factories that belched thick smoke into the sky.

 

When we finally neared the cove where Zihuatanejo rests, we came over some small hills and were presented with a beautiful horseshoe bay with lovely beaches and restaurants.  The town was full of backpack hotels, hostels and all sorts of budget travel accommodations.  It seemed that this town really caters to the tourist – of any budget.  We found a modest hotel, stashed our bags and made our way straight to the beach.

I pulled a satellite photo of the town and harbor so that you can see its layout.

The photos below are shot from the southern edge of the white beach that appears in the satellite photo at the right side of the bay.  From the views of the bay (below) shot from the beach looking towards the mouth of the harbor, the first shot is looking towards the middle of the bay and the second shot is looking up the beach northwest towards the right of the bay.

In no time, some nearby mariachis came over and began to serenade the girls.  For a modest tip, they played any song that we requested.  A young woman from the nearby restaurant took our drink orders and in no time we had beers and margaritas.  The beach was placid and tranquil; some families and their children played nearby and swimmers enjoyed the warm water.

As I was relaxing and enjoying the view, some Naval shore patrol soldiers, all armed with M-16 rifles made their patrol down the beach.  I thought, “Well, that’s something you don’t see in America, armed soldiers in a public place.”  And then I caught myself mid-sentence as I recalled seeing National Guard soldiers at the DFW airport just a month earlier.  Yes, we are in the post 9/11 world; everything is different now.

So I settled back into my beach chair, sipped my cold beer and watched the waves break outside of the harbor, enjoyed the warm breeze and occasionally took a dip into the ocean.  We enjoyed a never-ending menu of wonderful Mexican food and just soaked up the warm sun.  It is times like these when you wish you never had to go back home to face work, traffic and bills.  It would be nice to have a year off to bask in the sun, to swim and snorkel and just enjoy the tranquility of doing nothing.

We stayed as long as we could; the air was warm and despite the setting sun, there was no impetus to leave this beautiful place.  I captured some photos as the sun faded behind the hills that form the southeast corner of the horseshoe that is Zihuatanejo.

When we finally broke from the beach we all agreed to have a night out on the town.  This would be our last night together; tomorrow we would drive the girls to Mexico City for their flight back to Germany.  We all got “cleaned up” and then headed out to one of the recommended restaurants.  The food was wonderful and – with many restaurants in this part of Mexico – we enjoyed live music from a 5 member mariachi band.  We laughed and ate and drank and as the girls prepared themselves for the next chapter in their lives (post University life), Jeff and I thought of our travels as we would push further south into Central America.


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Las Brisas

We continued south through central Mexico on Hwy 54 passing through Guadalajara.  I had never realized how many mountains there were in Mexico as we drove from valley to plain across mountain ranges dotted with valances.  When I saw the first volcano I had thought that a cloud had formed over the mountain peak because of the wind but if you watch closely, you can see the steam and smoke coming from the cone at the top.  I shot the photo above of one of the many volcanos we passed and I came to realize why Mexico has so many earthquakes – the country is very active seismically.

We considered going to Acapulco for some beach time but decided that it would be more fun to go to a less “touristy” area and decided to try the beaches to the north.  We had been told by other travelers that Las Brisas had beautiful & unspoiled beaches that were usually uncrowded compared to the more popular Riviera beach stops.  I looked on the map and saw that Las Brisas was indeed off the beaten path; it sounded like just the kind of adventure that we wanted.

Heading out of Guadalajara, we took Hwy 80 southwest into the mountains; unlike the toll roads that we had been driving on, this road was one of the “old” roads that conformed to the hugs and curves of the mountains.  It was not easy driving but provided a chance for us to see parts of Mexico that most Anglos never see.  Just before we came to the Pacific, we hit a large mountain range that ran parallel with the coast.  After we cleared the summit, we had beautiful views of the Pacific as we drove south in Hwy 200 hugging the coast line on the mountain road.  Highway 200 ran fairly high up on the mountain side with thick jungle on the land side and sheer cliffs dropping down to the ocean were waves crashed on massive boulders.  When we finally came to the bluff that ends at the large natural harbor where Las Brisas sets, we got out to stretch our legs and to pose for a photo (below).

When we arrived in Las Brisas, there were only 2 or 3 hotels on the ocean side.  We selected the nicest of the three and checked on prices.  I approached the clerk and began talking with her but I could hardly understand her Spanish.  She seemed to have a heavy lisp.  Instead of saying,” Buenos Dias,” she would say, “Bwenthos dethis.”  After we talked for a bit, her sister came out and I found that she had the same lisp.  I thought, “Oh, it must run in the family.”  But later, I talked to the gardener, the bartender, & the locals in town and they all had this lisp and it was then that I realized that it was the local accent of their Spanish.  It was hard to get used to at first but after a while it sounded more understandable.  Everything souded like you had put a “th” in front of it.  When asking where the bathroom is, “Donde esta la bano,” sounded like, “Thonde thesta la banthyo.”  Once, I heard Ricky Iglesias talking and he had the same accent and I learned that he was from this part of Mexico.

We checked in as quickly as we could and headed straight for the beach.  It was nice to be in warm weather after the high altitudes of Creel and the cool winter desert winds of Zacatecas.  We were pleased to find out that, aside from the 4 of us, there were two other couples at the hotel – we pretty much had a kilometer long beach all to ourselves!  A quick dip in the chilly Pacific, some warm sun and an icy beer and it soon felt like we were really on holiday!

For a few days we slowed down the pace of life with long walks on the beach, sun bathing, swimming, long lunches by the ocean and great Mexican food dinners watching the sun set over the ocean.  It really was like paradise and I wished I could have stayed on that beach for a month.  In the photo below of Christiane  is peeking around the lawn chair; you can see just how deserted the beach was.  One of our “neighbor” couples from the hotel is about a hundred yards down the beach on the right side of the photograph.  If you ever go to southern Mexico to get some beach time in, you can’t go wrong during the winter season; it is still warm enough to enjoy the beaches and just enough out of season so that you avoid all of the crowds.

So day by day, we passed our time relaxing in the sun and enjoying the warm and tranquil Mexican climate.  It seemed that we didn’t have a care in the world other than deciding when we had enough sun and should turn over or whether to take a dip to cool off or to go and get some lunch.  And then, the biggest dilemma was what to have for lunch.

When Saturday came, a few hundred local Mexican families came down the hills from the nearby villages to enjoy some beach time and our once quiet beach was now more like you would expect a beach to be.  And then, we saw a short, plump little Mexican woman who appeared to be in her 50′s – she was screamed hysterically as she ran towards the breaking surf.  She was waving her arms and pointing out to the sea.  I put my hand to my forehead to block the glare and scanned the ocean; sure enough, a young man had been pulled out by the rip tide and was floundering in the ocean his head popping above and below the surface as he tried to keep afloat.

Jeff ran to the hotel to fetch a life ring and I sprinted out to the water and as soon as I could run no more I dove in and swam as hard and as fast as I could.  As I was swimming out past the surf I saw that another man was swimming parallel with me and working his way toward the distressed swimmer.  When we reached him I was almost out of breath and now I was worried that he would grab ahold and drown one of us.  The man who had swam out with me told this younger swimmer to relax that we would take him in.

We each put our arm through one of his armpits and began to swim him back to shore.  It was hard work and I was completely out of breath.  The Mexican man who swam out with me encouraged the young swimmer to kick and in doing so he made his weight lighter.  About half way back to shore we met Jeff who pushed the life ring out to the boy who grasped it desperately and we continued swimming him back to shore.  Now that we had the buoyant life ring, we all relaxed as the danger had passed.

Back on the shore, the boy’s mother was screaming at him and hugging and kissing him at the same time.  I did not envy her terror and wondered how I would fare should I ever have kids; I think I would be too paranoid to ever let them out of my sight.  Jeff and I walked back to our umbrella area and crashed on our beach chairs spent from the quick run and burst of adrenaline.  I do remember treating ourselves to a Tecate and lime and toasting to life.  It was good to be alive.

And so it went, day by day, lingering at the beach.  We dragged out our visit for as long as we could but eventually the girls had to get back to Mexico City for their flight back to Germany.  We still had a few more stops that we wanted to make on the way back and we knew that we couldn’t stay forever.  But I can say that it was a magical and fun time, in a special place with special friends.

Every evening we would have dinner at the hotel’s restaurant and watch the sun set and following that, there was always a welcome hammock to relax in and enjoy the cool ocean breeze (photo below).  On the day that the boy almost drowned, we saw him and his family at one of the restaurant tables.  As we took our seats, his mother looked at us, held her hand over her heart and mouthed “Gracias,” to us as she fought back new tears.  We must have reminded her of her boy’s close call earlier at the beach.  We nodded acknowledgement and then took our places at our table happy that we were able to help.


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