Beautiful villas line Zihuatanejo's shore.
Pangas on Playa Principal (Principal Beach)
Dinghy valet service.
Z-town has a waterfront walking district.
There are hundreds of outdoor eateries.
Palms sway in the sand on Playa Principal.
The waterfront park got a bandstand...
...and in no time it was finished.
Plants and brick pavers were ready to go....
...and suddenly a garden sprouted.
Fishermen sell their fish from coolers.
Fresh caught fish ready for the skillet.
Hundreds of waste bins are lined up to be assembled
and distributed around town.
Looking down on Las Gatas from a beautiful
restaurant on the hilltop.
Toddlers love the beach.
Walking onto Playa La Ropa,
The views are beautiful at every turn.
Each resort and villa is unique.
Looking down at the Zihuatanejo anchorage.
New sculptures have been placed
all around town.
Zihua has its touristy side
on the waterfront...
Local kids have a happy hour all their own.
What a toilet!
Fresh fruits and veggies at the large central market.
Fresh chicken presented differently than we are used to.
Christmas piñatas were a hot selling item, and this
gal made them right there.
Rafa's Bar, before the rowdy cruisers showed up on
Mike paddles his dinghy, a bright red canoe, past his
trimaran "Spirit of Adventure."
Zihuatanejo, Mexico (1)
Late December, 2010 - Finally saturated with playing on the beach
and in the water at Isla Ixtapa, we motored ten short miles to
Zihuatanejo. This once sleepy fishing village is now a tourist town
with a charming waterfront walking district. A hippy hangout some
years back, Zihua still retains its laid back pace.
Despite being right next door to the very sophisticated and built up
town of Ixtapa, and despite playing host to the occasional cruise
ship, Zihuatanejo is enchanting.
Arriving in the harbor during the late afternoon, we anchored in
front of a string of beautiful villas. A fleet of pangas lined the
shore, and as we landed the dinghy a man came running towards
us shouting "I help you I help you!" It turned out that a group of
enterprising young men have created an informal dinghy valet
service here in Z-town. Working for tips, they help the cruisers
drag their dinks high enough onto the beach to avoid floating away
at high tide. They keep an eye on the boats while the owners go
off into town and then help drag the dink back into the water when
the owners return, even if they don't return until well after dark.
This service is not entirely needed, as all the cruisers can
handle their dinghies on this short beach without assistance.
But it does make for a friendly welcome into town, and it is
nice to know that someone is keeping an eye on your dinghy
while you go about your business on shore.
What a surprise greeted us when we took our first walk in this
town. We had read a lot about Zihuatanejo in years past, and
knew it was a favorite cruiser hangout. But other than its
frequent descriptions as "friendly," "charming" and "a little
quirky," we didn't know what to expect.
What we discovered is that this town is an eclectic cross
between San Diego's upscale Seaport Village and a classic,
bustling, dusty Mexican town. It has a wonderful air of cute
trendiness but has managed not to lose its authentic feeling of
The brick sidewalks, open store fronts and countless
sidewalk eateries stretched lazily before us while we strolled
The town is currently undergoing an extensive renovation, and all the streets along the waterfront have been converted to a
walking area where cars are not allowed. Meticulous attention to detail has been lavished on every storefront and building.
Posts and pillars supporting western style storefront walkways were wrapped with decorative rope, and all the walking areas
were covered with patterns of brick pavers.
A small park along the middle of the beach features a basketball court and bandstand, both of which came to life while we
were there. The workers sweated steadily from before dawn until many hours after sundown, working under floodlights in the
dark, to make sure the park renovation was finished and ready for the holidays. During our stay a garden of hibiscus flowers
and palms sprouted up, fully formed and blooming, at one end of the park. The garden featured wonderful sculptures of
crocodiles, cormorants and iguanas, each standing in very realistic poses.
Along the beachfront there is an open air fish market where fresh
caught fish is sold out of coolers that have just been unloaded from
the fishing pangas. Fish of all shapes and sizes are laid out on
display or kept on ice in the coolers.
One afternoon the park was suddenly filled with rows and rows
of not-yet-assembled trash cans. To one side were three brand
new garbage trucks. The money that the government had
given Zihuatanejo for their facelift was being well spent, and we
heard a rumor that on New Year's Day the governor of the state
of Guerrero was going to come to town to check it all out.
Tourism is the lifeblood of this little town, and in this neck of the
woods that means there are lots of timeshares and timeshare
presentations. Walking up the very steep hill between Madera
Beach and La Ropa Beach, a van stopped next to us and a kid
hopped out and asked if we wanted a ride to the top. Sure! It
was a steep hill, and we and our friends were all sweating
bullets. The air conditioned van ride to the top was great, but
we discovered what they were really after was for us to tour a
new condo timeshare development in exchange for breakfast at
a posh hilltop restaurant. We took a few photos from this
breathtaking spot, but after much discussion with the
saleswoman and the sales manager, we decided against the tour.
Back down on Playa La Ropa ("Clothes Beach," so
named because a long ago shipwreck deposited lots of
clothes on the beach), we joined the vacationers playing
in the sun.
The beach was filled with parasailors, catamarans, kids making sand castles and couples
strolling hand-in-hand. Everyone was enjoying Christmas vacation.
We wandered up and over the steep hill separating Playa
La Ropa from Playa Madera and got a glimpse of the
anchorage from high up.
Zihuatanejo has a large ex-
pat community, and one of
the favorite hangouts is
Zorro's, a bar run by a
Canadian couple. The table
next to ours was filled with
local kids playing at being
Mexico is known for
ceramics, but Mark
and I were both
very surprised when
we ducked into the restrooms
at one establishment. We
passed the camera back and
forth between the mens room
and ladies room to get pictures
of the fancy toilets!
Behind all the bright and
colorful tourist come-ons in the
waterfront walking district,
Zihuatanejo reveals its true
Mexican soul in the central
public market just a few streets
back from the
up a full city block, this crowded and cramped series of indoor
walkways and shops offers everything imaginable for sale.
Fruit stalls, poultry stalls, meat sellers and spice sellers are all lined up
in impossibly tight spacing, along with straw hat sellers, dime store junk
sellers and bootleg DVD vendors. Turning sideways to pass other
shoppers, we gaped as we passed a display of whole chickens splayed
on their backs, heads lolling off the edge of the table and feet sticking
up in the air.
It seemed we were in the "real" Mexico. Women stood
patiently in line at each stall, waiting to fill their sacks with the
makings of a large family Christmas dinner.
Christmas piñatas were on display
too, and we passed a woman
making them from scratch. Each
one was built around a ceramic
pot that would later be cracked
open by blindfolded kids wielding
Besides the lively, touristy waterfront and the gritty, rich-smelling public market, what
made Zihuatanejo special for us was the spontaneous friendships we formed. New
friends we met on the beach invited us to spend Christmas at their condo overlooking
Ixtapa's fabulous beach. What a delight to spend such an intimate holiday with new-
A whole community of friendships sprang up between the boats anchored in the bay
during the days leading up to Christmas. We had heard that there was usually a
cruisers net on the VHF radio every morning in the wintertime. After not hearing
anything on the radio for a few mornings, I jumped in and got it started.
This gave everyone a forum to meet each other, and in no time we had
organized a Christmas Eve gathering at Rafa's Bar, a restaurant
traditionally patronized by the cruisers back when it was owned by a
guy named Rick. Rafa was thrilled when the entire cruising community
showed up in his bar in the early afternoon of Christmas Eve and
stayed until dark. It was no surprise that they did, as Mark had talked
him into offering 10 peso beers (80 cents) to the cruisers all afternoon.
Most of the cruisers are folks like ourselves, graying a bit around the
edges and living a life they have dreamed of and planned on for years.
The boats have been carefully chosen and are well equipped, with an
emphasis on comfort -- at least as much comfort as can be had in a
small space wobbling around on the ocean.
Our cruising friend Mike, however, is different. Just 25 years old, he
lives on an older trimaran that doesn't have a working engine. "I'm
living on a loaf of bread and a huge hunk of cheese," he told me. We
first met him when he was drifting down the coast about 50 miles north
of Manzanillo. Arriving two days after us ("No wind, man!"), he was
triumphant to have broken away from the grind and gone sailing,
despite parents who wanted him to come home and get a real job.
Referring to his fellow cruisers (many of whom are older than his
parents) as "bro" and "dude," and wearing his baseball cap backwards
over his long locks, he is living a life many of us dreamed of at 25 but
didn't quite have the guts to try.
Zihuatanejo welcomed 2011 with fireworks on both beaches, and a
few days later the group of cruisers began to disperse. About half
were headed south towards Central America, but our course would
keep us in Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa for another few weeks.
Find Zihuatanejo on Mexico Maps
to see more cruising posts from this area!
Lovely resorts line Ixtapa Beach.
Baby sea turtle treks to the ocean.
Baby sea turtle's new home.
Head on a telescoping arm.
Kitten at the Playa Linda market.
Yacht so big it has a garage.
Munchies on their way to the megayacht.
Here you go!
Little girl enjoys our kayak.
Ixtapa Island workers commute home.
Madera Beach in Zihautanejo.
Parasailors fill La Ropa Beach.
A parrot says "hello" on La Ropa beach.
Vendors hike to Playa Las Gatas.
Mariachi musicians walk towards Las Gatas Beach.
Shelled peanuts are a big seller on
Playa Las Gatas.
Pepe's music store in
Mark finds the perfect guitar case.
Pepe sings while Estéban looks on.
Bi-Zihuanas bike shop.
Alejandro, owner of Bi-Zihuanas.
Signed US Nationals
We share some Groovy fun with special new friends.
Carmen, the jewelry store owner,
chats with us every morning.
Beautifully decorated plates from a fine artist.
Lorenzo checks me out.
Socorro whistles and sings.
Dr. Soberanis takes great care of my teeth.
Adding some touches to Groovy's signature on Noemi's wall.
German M/V Albatros stops for a day before heading across the south Pacific to the
Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Early January, 2012 - The Ixtapa/
Zihuatanejo area is the ideal place to
relax, with lots to do, including
relax we did, for several weeks. It is a
place where people seem to be just a little
bit warmer and a little bit friendlier than in
other parts of world, a place where
everyone has the time to get to know
each other and let friendships grow.
From gringos escaping the cold north
winds for breezy beach houses to locals
living normal workaday lives, we have met
some very special people on shore here.
Ixtapa is the more sophisticated and glitzy big sister to small-town Zihuatanejo. High rises line
the beautifully groomed beach, and each resort has inviting pools and views. What a treat it was
to spend the night at a friend's condo, waking up to sunrise on shore.
While walking Ixtapa beach that morning we came
across a young couple staring intently at the sand. We looked down and there was a
baby sea turtle making its way across the beach to the sea. Soon a small crowd
gathered and we all rooted this little guy on as he took his first steps into the big world.
He knew exactly where he was going, and he was hell bent on getting there, trekking
down the beach with awkward paddle-steps. In no time he was at the frothing water's
At first the only waves that reached him were the
gentle wave-ends away from the crashing surf. The
water swept lazily across the sand, and as each
wave washed over him he would get jostled a little and dragged down the beach a few steps.
But when the wave receded he would right himself and continue his march down the beach.
Finally he got into the surf zone and in an instant a huge wave crashed on the shore and he
was sucked into its swirling depths. We all searched for him when the wave pulled back, but
that was it. He was gone.
One of the coolest things in Ixtapa is the miles long bike path
and extensive jungle sanctuary. We walked a little ways back
into the jungle where crocodiles rest with mouths wide open and
long legged birds stand like statues in the estuary waiting to
strike passing fish. I love the snaky necks on these guys. It's as
if their heads are on a long retractable arm. Imagine
being able to move your head so freely up and down
and round about without moving your body or feet.
A family of little kittens caught our eyes too as
they played around the beachside
For vacationers water play is the name of the game in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo.
Back out at Ixtapa Island we found ourselves surrounded by 75' to 100'
charter power yachts every afternoon. These luxury yachts are so big that
they even have garages in the back. The crew simply slides open the door
and roll out the jet-skis for a little fast-paced fun.
The restaurants on shore take good care of these visiting day-charters
without anyone on the charter boat having to go ashore. We watched
platter after platter of food being shuttled out to them. What a way to go:
pull in, drop the hook, and call room service for some munchies.
We live a little more simply than that and pedaled ourselves to
shore in the kayak for a toes-in-the-sand brewski some
afternoons. One day we returned to find a little girl sitting on the
edge of our kayak with the biggest grin on her face. Her dad
moved to get her off when he saw us coming, but she looked so
happy sitting there we encouraged her to stay. She sat there for
a full hour, smiling away, while we wandered around the beach one more time.
At the end of the day the workers return home from this island. Vacationers
visit the island in covered water taxis where they can escape the sun and
listen to Mexican music blaring on the water taxis' large speakers. There are
so many water taxis that the boats are never overcrowded. The workers' ride
is another story, however. The boats were so loaded down with passengers
we wondered if they would make it all the way back to the mainland without
Back on the mainland ourselves, we strolled all the
beaches around Zihua bay and soaked up the sun.
Mexicans enjoy the holidays to the fullest, continuing
to celebrate right through Epiphany on January 6th
when there is a final burst of fiestas to mark the
arrival of the three kings in Bethlehem. This is the
day when Mexican children receive their holiday gifts,
not Christmas day. I had been surprised when I
asked around on Christmas day to find out that the
kids weren't getting any gifts that morning. I
wondered if they just skipped the gift-giving and
commercialism of the holidays all together. But a
Mexican friend set me straight when he explained that
January 5th is the biggest shopping day in Mexico and
that the spirit of giving gifts to children coincides with the
gifts brought to Jesus by the Magi. That made a lot of
sense to me, as I remember when I was little trying to
figure out how that jolly old elf in the bright red suit fit
into all the other Christmastime traditions. He certainly
never seemed to show up in the nativity scenes around town…
Las Gatas Beach is separated from the other beaches
by a quarter mile trek across rocks and boulders.
Most tourists take the easier route and visit by water
taxi, but the vendors all save their pesos and do the
free hike over the rocks. I was amazed to watch an
older woman deftly managing a basket of wares on her
head as she negotiated the tricky trail.
Mariachi musicians carry their large instruments, and
from our perch on Groovy just a few hundred yards
from the trail we watched groups of musicians traipsing
to and from Las Gatas beach all day, their large
instruments strapped to their backs.
One of the most popular items sold by these vendors
is shelled peanuts. Generally about 20 pesos ($1.50)
a bag, the "cacahuate" ("peanut") vendors do a brisk
business on the beach.
One day while wandering around the back streets
of Zihuatanejo we came across a music shop. Mark always
likes to check out the guitar selection in music stores, and
suddenly he turned to me with the hugest grin ever. "Look at
this!" he said, holding up a Beatles decorated guitar bag. He
didn't have a guitar bag for his guitar on the boat, and this
one was absolutely perfect for this 45-year-long Beatles fan.
The shop owner, Pepe, was happily strumming away behind
the counter. He had an older friend and a young friend back
there with him, and they spontaneously jumped into a series
of lovely Mexican ballads on their guitars. How I wish my
Spanish were good enough to understand the song lyrics as
they were sung. Each song had a beautiful bittersweet tone
of love lost. Weak Spanish was no problem, however, when
the young boy Estéban grabbed Pepe's guitar and launched
into a 12-song set of Beatles hits. His spoken English was as
shaky as my Spanish, but he knew every word to every Beatles
song perfectly. We sang what we could with him and hummed
the verses we didn't know by heart. Just 22 years old, Estéban
sang with an affection for the songs that would make any grey-
haired Beatles lover from the sixties proud.
Another day we bumped into a bike
shop. Never one to pass up an
opportunity to talk bikes with fellow
enthusiasts, Mark walked in and found
an instant friend in owner Alejandro. It
turned out that Alejandro has had the
great fortune to ride the Alps and the
Pyrenees in France and is going to Italy
to ride this summer (but frustratingly
can't get a visa to ride the beautiful roads
of the western US). What fun to discover that his ultimate cycling idol was the
same as Mark's: the great Italian climber nicknamed "Il Pirato" ("The Pirate"),
The name of Alejandro's
shop is a wonderful play on
words. The Spanish word for "bike" is "bici,"
pronounced "bee see." The town's nickname is
"Zihua," pronounced "see wha." And the common
local dinosaur-looking critter is an "iguana,"
pronounced "iwhana." Combining all those words
together he came up with "Bi-Zihuanas" or "bee see
Offering mountain biking tours in the hinterlands
around Zihua, Alejandro is so friendly and outgoing
that his shop is always abuzz with customers and
activity. Another longtime gringo friend of his was
visiting at the time, and he had brought down a fantastic cycling jersey
signed by US National Master's men's cyclocross champ Dan Norton
to be displayed on the wall. This is one cool bike shop.
But besides all the wonderful talk of favorite Tour de France moments,
towering French mountain climbs and shared lust for various cutting
edge racing bikes and components, the best part of this shop is
Alejandro and his family. We enjoyed several visits with them, and
especially got a kick out of bringing the kids out to spend some time on
Zihuatanejo is a small community and everyone knows each
other. Every day on our way into town we would pass all the
vendors and chit-chat with many of them. Tourism is drastically
down these days, but these guys always have
smiles on their faces.
The two parrots Socorro and Lorenzo who live
at the restaurant Lilly's seem to smile a lot too.
Rarely confined to their cages, we discovered
they both talk very well, mostly in Spanish.
Socorro has lived with her owner for twenty
years, and she entertained us with her very dramatic singing
voice. She would warble and whistle and sing with intense
vibrato from up near the ceiling every time we came by.
Somewhere along the line I discovered a large filling had fallen
out of a molar in the back of my mouth, and I was really glad to
have met so many locals to get a good recommendation for a
dentist. Dr. Oliverio Soberanis came with several excellent
recommendations, and I was floored when he put a tiny
camera in my mouth to show me before and after photos of
my tooth. Here in Mexico the dentists perform the cleanings
rather than the hygienists, and both Mark and I hit the chair for
a thorough cleaning.
After the dentist replaced my
filing with one that is truly invisible, I asked him how he managed
to give it such a smooth and slippery finish. He explained that he
polished it, something, we learned later from a retired dentist
friend, that is too time consuming for many American dentists to
bother with. He also fixed some careless work I'd had done in
the States years ago. So I left with a bright and happy smile!
The cleaning was 600 pesos ($46), the large filling replacement
was 1300 pesos ($100), and a medium sized filling was 800
pesos ($61), all a bargain considering he spent three hours
working on Mark and me and he took us right when we walked in
the door, no appointment necessary. This was our third
experience with Mexican dentistry and we have been happy
customers every time.
Retracing our steps from last year, we stopped in at Noemi's
restaurant and added a few touches to our cruiser signature on
her wall. The wall is becoming quite crowded with boat names,
logos and signatures, and hopefully when we return someday it
will be filled with even more.
On our last day in town a cruise ship pulled in. Zihuatanejo
used to get dozens of cruise ships, but this one was one of only
five visiting in 2012. Like all cruise ships that drop in on Zihua,
this one had an unusual itinerary. Having left Hamburg,
Germany a week before Christmas, it was on its way to Aukland
New Zealand, a 50 day journey. Wow, and we thought we had
sailed a long ways!!
On January 14th we finally stowed everything away and
waved our last goodbyes to wonderful Bahía Zihuatanejo,
and turned Groovy's bow south towards Acapulco.
Find Zihuatanejo on Mexico Maps and explore our visit
to see more cruising posts from this area!
Playa Las Gatas
Zihuatanejo Bay's lighthouse,
Cruisers enjoy a pool party...
...charterboaters enjoy a pool party too.
"Picante" hosts spinnaker rides.
Suzanne and Tony share the cruising life as a happily married couple
sailing separate boats, both painted the same bright blue.
A parasailor enjoys the sunset,
towed by a boat that still has
plenty of gas.
Cheeseburger in paradise.
Beatlemania in Ixtapa.
Dance festival rehearsal, Ixtapa.
View from our cockpit.
Looking out to the anchorage from Playa Principal.
Table for two at La Palmera.
Cruise ship leaves for an overnight sail to Acapulco.
Mexican Navy ship stands guard just behind
the cruise ship.
Stunning sunsets were common.
Oops - look what's in the dinghy.
When the water was clear, we can see hundreds
of fish by the side of the boat.
A little school surfaces as one.
A four toed candlestick
Zihua's first people
came over Alaska's
Bearing Strait from Asia.
Noemi's cruiser wall.
We enjoy an afternoon of snacking while painting
on the wall.
Isla Ixtapa is all about fun in the sun. Babes get tans...
...while boys jump off...
...and do flips in the air.
Watertoys of all kinds are available for rent at Isla Ixtapa.
Zihuatanejo, Mexico (2)
January, 2011 - Zihuatanejo enchanted us, and we stayed firmly
planted in the anchorage with no thoughts of going elsewhere. The
bay is several miles across and is encircled by four beaches ("playas").
Playa Principal, the main beach, runs alongside the pretty little walking
streets of the town. From there, a boardwalk wanders in and out along
the curvy shoreline to a small beach, Playa Madera. Then you hike up
and over a steep hill to get to the long, wide, serious vacation beach,
Playa La Ropa. The same long ago shipwreck that deposited clothes
("la ropa") on this long beach deposited wood from the ship ("madera")
on the smaller beach, giving them each their names.
Across the bay, accessible only
by boat, is Playa Las Gatas,
beach of the whiskered sharks.
We didn't see any sharks, but could definitely see the remains of the stone breakwater
believed to have been built by a Tarascan emperor to create a calm bathing area. We
had heard you could walk to the lighthouse on the other side of the hill from the beach,
and we stopped in at Amado's beachside bar to ask where the path started. Sadly,
Amado told us the land has been purchased for commercial development and he
advised us that it was dangerous to go there because it was heavily guarded.
Well, lighthouses are visible from the sea, by definition, so even if we couldn't see it up
close on land, we were able to take the dinghy to get a glimpse of it from the water.
Back on Las Gatas beach,
the cruisers had several
in-water happy hour
afternoons. For these
events you pack your
dinghy with assorted
beverages and snacks and a swimming noodle or tube or other
toy that will help you float even as the world gets buzzy around
you. A few dinghies throw out an anchor, and the rest raft up
alongside, and everyone jumps overboard, drink in hand, and
parties away the afternoon half-submerged.
It turned out that we weren't the only folks that enjoyed this kind of thing.
Every afternoon the huge charter catamaran Picante would boogie through
the anchorage, blasting a really fun Mexican Mariachi tune. They would
drop the hook, and many of the folks -- beer in hand -- would leap over the
side. We loved the tune so much we ended up singing it for a friend in town
and asking him what it was. He made us a wonderful CD with that tune (El
Mariachi Loco - the Crazy Mariachi) and many other Mariachi tunes.
If the wind was up when Picante dropped their
anchor, they would hoist the spinnaker and give
people rides off the bow.
Hanging out in our cockpit watching all the happy and crazy
vacationers was great fun. There were so many hot babes in bikinis,
Mark's head kept whipping around, and he always seemed to have the
camera with the long lens in hand.
One afternoon a para-sailor was making the rounds when we noticed
the girl in the air was dipping lower and lower. As they passed our
boat, the line barely missed the top of our mast. Suddenly, the tow
boat stopped dead in its tracks and the girl crashed down into the
water. A neighboring cruiser roared over to her in his dinghy and
quickly untangled her from the para-sail and hauled her out of the
The community of cruisers is tight-
knit and there was always chatter on the radio as pairs and trios of boats arranged
gatherings ashore and on each other's boats for happy hour. Most are from the US western
coastal states and Canadian provinces, so there is a uniformity among us all. One pair
stood out as being very special, however. Tony from England and Suzanne from Germany
had each set out to sail solo around the world from their respective countries nearly two
decades ago. They met each other for the first time halfway around the world in New
Zealand where they soon fell in love. They were married in Samoa and they have sailed in
tandem for fifteen years since then.
For two years they sailed together aboard
her boat and for two years they sailed
together aboard his boat. But two captains
on one boat will tend to run into conflicts. So they settled on continuing their singlehanding lifestyle in tandem. She sails "So
Long," a 1950's era wooden Rhodes 41, and he is aboard "Galaneia," a similarly aged 27' plywood boat. Both are painted a
bright shade of blue. Her boat is faster, so they don't really sail together. She likes to leave port after him but is still able
to get to their destinations first. She can check out the shoreside situation and give him tips on where to anchor when he
finally arrives. "Port captains are used to seeing married couples with two last names on one boat, but they are always
surprised to see a married couple with one name on two boats," she laughed. They are now mid-way through their second
circumnavigation together, headed towards the Mediterranean.
They are such seasoned sailors that they shrugged when I
commented that their plan to sail all the way from Z-town to Panama
non-stop seemed like quite long a passage, especially for his 27
footer. What about the nasty weather in the Tehuantepec a few
hundred miles south of here, I asked, where the so-called
"Tehuantepecker" winds can howl at 60 knots or more and the
waves can reach 50 feet? Wouldn't they want to stop and wait for a
weather window of light breezes and gentle waves to glide across
that treacherous area? "Awww... the Tehuantepec is overrated,"
she said with a serene smile. "We'll just go when we're ready and
deal with the weather as it comes, and we certainly won't sneak
along the coast half a mile offshore as all the guidebooks suggest."
I was amazed. There was nothing about her quiet demeanor that
suggested she possessed such a fearless and brave heart.
A new friend of ours who has also sailed around the world with her children and now singlehands her 46' steel sloop had been
telling us how there are four types of cruising couples: the "A" group where both husband and wife are totally into the cruising
lifestyle and love it, the "B" group where one spouse is into it and the other is being dragged along against his or her will, the
"C" group of families with children aboard, and the "D" of the singlehanders. I guess Tony and Suzanne fit into an "E" group of
married couples who sail on separate boats.
Back on shore, we got a cheeseburger in paradise at a little cart that sets up
shop every evening at 6 pm and serves burgers stacked with ham slices, two
types of cheese, onions, avocado, and tomato on grilled buns until the town
shuts down at two in the morning. Run by an uncle and nephew team who do
a bang-up business for Gringos who are in need of a quickie American food
Over in Ixtapa, Mark got another
kind of fix. Yet again we happened
upon a bar where the Beatles rein
supreme. We had found
Beatlemania alive and well in Cabo
and here it was again in Ixtapa.
Before leaving Z-town we would
bump into it in one more time at a
tiny bar called "Fast Beer" that was
unfortunately closed each time we stopped by.
We were in Ixtapa to sort out our problems with our Telcel USB modem account for
our laptop. Telcel's founder Carlos Slim was the richest man in the world in 2010,
beating out all the Saudi princes and middle eastern oil barrons. Yet a simple
account that would take five minutes to set up in at a kiosk in an American mall had
taken us twelve hours of standing in lines in TelCel offices. These offices resemble
the Department of Motor Vehicles, complete with numbered booths, numbered
tickets, long lines, challenging paperwork, hassles and frustration. The difference is that (being Gringos) business is
conducted in broken English and even more broken Spanish. Understanding the
plans available, the prices, the promotions, the hardware and software installations
and methods of payment are extremely difficult, especially since there are no
brochures or written documentation. The employees are extremely well meaning,
and they try very hard, but you can feel the stress they are under. If they make a
mistake and a customer is due a refund because of their negligence, the money
comes out directly of their salary. What's worse, despite being a national company,
the nine regional divisions are totally independent and accounts established in one
region can barely be serviced in another. Not only could the supervisor in Cabo not
reach the supervisor in Ensenada, but the General Manager in Ixtapa had been given
a list of phone numbers for the General Managers in other regions that was so
erroneous that we watched
in amazement as he dialed
first a kindergarten, then a
restaurant and finally a hotel
rather than the fellow TelCel
managers he was trying to
reach on our behalf.
So it was a delight to step outside (after slowly crumpling into a
shivering ball of misery in the overly air-conditioned TelCel office) to
see a group of young Mexican dancers rehearsing on a stage next
door. An international dance festival was getting under way, and
these kids were a bundle of energy, gyrating to the pulsing music with
In the anchorage, just off our stern, a cluster of lovely villas hung
out over the water, their thatched roofs giving them a decidedly
tropical air. Set above them, looking very regal and totally out of
place, was a building Mark dubbed the Lincoln Memorial but is
locally known as The Parthenon. Built years ago by Z-town's chief
of police, it became something of a monument to his corrupt ways.
Legend has it that he constructed the building with a secret
passageway that led down to the beach. He must have known that
his ill-gotten prosperity wouldn't last and he might need an escape
route. The getaway passage came in very handy when troops
arrived to arrest him for corruption, and he slipped away into the
nighttime waves never to be seen again.
Zihuatanejo is a scenic town, and we took many long walks
along the beaches and up and over the steep hillsides.
Banana trees grow in front yards, roosters strut about, and
dusty dogs sleep soundly in the middle of the back streets.
During our month-long stay three cruise ships
came to town. Each had an unique itinerary.
One started in Los Angeles and was headed
along the Central American coast to pass
through the Panama Canal and then through the
Caribbean to Ft. Lauderdale. Another had
started in the Bahamas and was en route to
Acapulco (their last night aboard was celebrated
in Z-town, complete with a huge party with a live
band on the back deck). The third was doing a
loop through the major Mexican Pacific port
towns, originating and ending in California.
Each time a cruise ship came to town, there was
a Mexican Navy ship posted nearby.
They would come in and anchor just off the stern of the cruise ship,
and while one or two sailors stood watch the others whiled away the
hours fishing. There was a Navy presence in town at these times too,
along with the usual State Police and Municipal Police presence.
Zihuatanejo is a precious tourist destination for Mexico that is an
important source of
revenue. I suspect
all hell would break
loose if anything
happened to a
Not as well protected,
a little fish almost met his demise in our
dinghy. A series of large waves swept
under the dink, and this little guy must have jumped at
the wrong moment and wound up in the boat. You
could almost feel his panic and relief as he scurried
away when Mark tossed him back in the water.
Late every afternoon we would watch huge boiling
schools of fish moving about the bay. These guys
would dapple the surface of the water and then
suddenly jump as a group, creating a noisy woosh of white spray.
Sadly, the water was murky 90% of the
time, as one red tide (or "algal bloom")
swept through the bay after another. We
had seen these blooms on the way into Isla
Ixtapa from Manzanillo, and we watched
them engulf the boat time and again while
en route between the island and Z-town,
and again once we anchored in Z-town's
bay. Algal blooms have happened since
the dawn of recorded
human history, but it
is possible they are
more prevalent now,
caused by an over-
richness of nutrients in the water created by rainwater runoff from
land. Nitrogen used to fertilize farmland winds up in the water and
the algae suddenly thrives. We saw pale yellow-brown blooms, rich
burgundy blooms and one that was a dark forest green. At these
times there would be foam on the water, and the tiny bubbles would
be encircled in the color of the bloom. Visibility in the water would
diminish to the point where you could barely see the hull of the boat
through your mask when floating alongside and touching it with your
On the rare clear day, visibility in the water was easily 15 to 20 feet, and suddenly the huge school of fish that took up
residence under our boat was in plain view. There were two different types of fish living there, and each morning two or three
pangas would motor alongside our boat and throw hand-lines over the side to try to catch these guys to use as bait for bigger
fish further out. Our boat bottom grew barnacles at an alarming rate, and after just 10 days our propellor looked like it was
made of three pieces of concrete. A little reef system of tiny one-inch striped fish and crabs had taken up residence on the top
of our rudder as well. So we had something to keep us occupied as we dove over the side to cool off, as now we dove in
holding scrapers and scotch brite pads.
Back ashore we paid a visit to the Museo Arquaeologico de la Costa
Grande. There is evidence that indigenous people were active around
Zihuatanejo at the same time the Ancient Greeks were putting Athens on
the map in the Mediterranean. Charming tiny ceramic relics of all kinds
were on display at the museum, but the explanations of each artifact were
given only in Spanish. The four toed candlestick holder caught my
attention, reminding me of the four fingered petroglyphs we had seen in
Utah. Why did the ancients drop a digit when creating their artwork?
Surely anyone capable of such delicate handiwork could count.
For truly local Mexican food, we were told
to visit Noemi's, just one street in from the
beach. Here we were served three
burritos and two cokes for 35 pesos, about
$3 US. No wonder the place is always
loaded with locals. Not quite as yummy as
our favorite tacos in Ensenada at Las
Brisas, we were drawn to Noemi's not just
for her good cheap food but also because of her cruiser's wall. She
makes available a set of paints for all cruisers that would like to
decorate her wall with the name of their boat. We happily munched
away on our lunch and painted away on her wall, leaving a groovy
It was hard to tear ourselves away from Zihuatanejo, especially as all
departing boats were headed south towards Acapulco, and the recent chill
in the air and water made us want to go south too. But we were meeting
my mom in Manzanillo, so we began the 200 mile trek back north. A few
overnights in Isla Ixtapa gave us a last round of waterplay.
We snugged the
boat up to the rocks
on the western end
of the more popular
watched in delight as
the cove came alive
everyday at noon.
Ten or twelve 50' to 90' charter power yachts would
arrive from Ixtapa Marina, families and friends on board
sipping umbrella drinks and jumping over the sides. The
captains and their crew would work hard all day, keeping
their guests as pampered as possible. Meanwhile, as the
crew passed out drinks and took on specially ordered
meals from the restaurants ashore, the bikini clad girls
took in as much sun as possible and the energetic boys
dove into the water.
By 6 pm the boats would all be gone, and we would be left alone
in the anchorage. The waves would explode on the rocks while
the pelicans materialized out of nowhere and spent the last hour
of twilight fishing. The boiling schools of fish would move about
the water, swooshing this way and that, while the pelicans
coasted just above the water, lowering their beaks an inch for a
shallow dive, occasionally tipping their heads back with a big
gulp. Meanwhile the trees would begin to sing a racous jungle
song, birds of every kind filling their branches in the gathering
dark, singing their hearts out -- or maybe bickering among
themselves about favored night perches and discussing who
could sleep next to whom for the night.
Tiptoeing out of the anchorage at oh-dark-thirty, we left
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo for a new destination, Bahía Santiago.
Find Zihuatanejo on Mexico Maps
to see more cruising posts from this area!
Power plant in Manzanillo.
Mark's 34" yellowfin tuna.
Sea turtles were everywhere.
Slow passage: a bird catches a
Purple and Red are accurate. Orange and blue are not. Radar contours of real land
are purple. Accurate GPS markers are red. Inaccurate "charted" land is orange.
Inaccurate ocean is blue. Our boat is the size of a city block accurately marked near
bottom. Two red circles indicate the approach. Red anchor symbol (on land) tucked
into radar hook is where we will anchor. Red triangle is dangerous offshore rocks.
Circled sailboat gives info when clicked. '+' symbols are "charted" rocks.
Fishermen in a panga.
Tennis ball sized tar balls engulf the boat.
A line of congealed tar balls blocked our way.
known also as "Isla de Ixtapa"...
...and also called "Isla Grande."
Deer live on the island.
The bunnies get fed.
The snorkeling cove on the south side of Isla de Ixtapa.
A great place to relax.
A water taxi takes a group of workers to the island.
Beach umbrellas line all three beaches on the island.
among the tourists.
There are boat rides of all kinds.
Cactus thrives here.
The hidden beach.
The evening before a lunar
Manzanillo to Isla Ixtapa (Isla Grande), Mexico
Mid-December, 2010 - Our days in Manzanillo made us feel like our
cruising lifestyle was truly underway. We basked in the warm weather,
pretty scenery, and exotic locale. The only downside was the
persistently thick, smokey air. Small fires burned every night. Either
people were burning their trash or one rumor was that farmers were
burning off the remains of last year's crops. The large power plant in
the downtown port area contributed its own steady plume of smoke too.
It made an eerily pretty sight in the morning sun as we sailed away.
We had planned to make
Manzanillo our southernmost
stop, but new friends talked us
into sailing another 180 miles
south to Zihuatanejo. Most boats
do this passage in a single 30 hour run, but we took
four days to get there, stopping at each of the three
anchorages along the way.
Mark had dragged a hand fishing line for many hours on several days of our travels, with no
luck. As we approached Cabeza Negra, our first night's anchorage, he pulled the hand line
in to stow it away and suddenly yelled, "I think I've got something!" Sure enough, he had a
34" long yellowfin tuna. It was a beautiful fish. Feeling a weird mixture of excitement over
catching it and terrible sadness at the prospect of killing it, I burst into tears. What a great
fishing companion I am!
Cabeza Negra is a tiny
anchorage cradled by a private,
gated, guarded community.
Listening to a band playing on
shore, Mark cleaned the fish.
We had a delicious fish dinner
that night, and our freezer was
quickly stuffed with a month's
worth of meals.
There was no wind along this coast, so we motored most of
everyday. The sea turtles were plentiful. Our next
anchorage, Maruata, has a turtle sanctuary, and their
efforts must be working, because we passed at least ten to
twenty turtles on each of our day's passages. One turtle
was even giving a bird a ride.
We had grown to love our chartplotter, as it makes navigating so easy,
but we soon learned to watch it with a weather eye. Mexico's survey
data is ancient, and the chartplotter reflects that. Coming into each
anchorage we used the radar and hand-entered accurate GPS
waypoints from our guidebooks to get the true lay of the land. In
Maruata's case, the chartplotter drawing was half a mile off. The
guidebook's GPS coordinates for dropping the anchor appeared to be
on land, and we sailed right through the chartplotter's inaccurately
drawn, rock-strewn coast on our way in.
Maruata's bay was slightly larger than our
previous night's anchorage at Cabeza
Negra. The village has just a few
buildings and an old air strip. We
watched some young men deftly
maneuver their panga in among the surf-
pounded rocks. In no time they had
caught something in the net they had
thrown off their bow.
On a nearby bluff the birds went crazy
squawking at each other as the sun set.
After the sophisticated air of Las Hadas
resort in Manzanillo, with its loud bands
playing all day and all night, this coastline
felt very remote and rugged. We saw
nothing but sea, sky and occasional
creatures as we sailed during the day,
and all we could hear at anchor was the
surf on the beach and the birds in the
Michoacán, the state we were sailing through, is known as
a top producer of pot, and the route we were taking has
been a common drug running route. However, other than
three enormous tankers we didn't see one other boat
during our entire four day jaunt, except for a small Navy
boat that might have been patrolling the area.
Underneath our boat, however, there was all kinds of activity. Our depth gauge would read proper
depths as we left each night's anchorage in the morning and again as we approached our new
anchoring spot in the afternoon. But all day in between it would read crazy shallow depths.
Sometimes it hovered around 10 feet, and sometimes around 25 feet or 50. Schools of fish seemed
to find our shadow a pleasant place to hang out. Our speed of 6.5 to 7.5 knots suited them just fine,
and they swam along beneath us. At one point, when we stopped the motor and slowed to 3 knots to
sail for a while, they all disappeared (those fish didn't have time for 3 knots!). Suddenly our depth
gauge showed three dashes, indicating it couldn't get a depth reading. The true depth was a
thousand feet, too deep for it to measure.
Caleta Campos was our last overnight spot on our way to
Zihuatanejo. We were using three guidebooks, cross referencing
them to find areas where the authors agreed and disagreed. One
book, Charlie's Charts, was originally written 30 years ago, and
despite annual updates it gives the flavor of a different Mexico and
an era of cruising that is long gone.
His book warned that Caleta
Campos could easily be confused
with another anchorage,
Pechilinquillo, 23 miles further down
the coast, because the mountains
and coastal features are similar.
Unless your chartplotter died or the
satellites stopped transmitting, you could never be 23 miles off in your navigation these days.
But even if you were that far off, nowadays you couldn't possibly confuse these two
anchorages. One has a huge radio tower and a giant white cross placed high on a hill along
with a sizeable town that lights up like a Christmas tree at night. Its pricey looking villas cling
to the rocky cliffs. The other anchorage has just a building or two on a deserted sand beach.
As with the two previous anchorages, we
debated getting off the boat to explore
ashore at Caleta Campos but opted not
to, as landing the kayak or dinghy on the
beach looked a little challenging. But it
was delightful to view from a
distance. Boatloads of
teenagers dashed about in
pangas, and the many beach
bars were jumping.
The next day we passed by
the huge industrial port of
Lázaro Cardenas. This port
supports an oil refinery, and
huge tankers carry
cargo in and out.
We were five miles offshore, but we could smell the port long
before we could see it. Suddenly we noticed tennis ball sized
balls of tar floating past us. Just a few at first, but soon we were
engulfed. Alarmed, we hung over the rail until we noticed we
were heading straight for a long line of congealed tar balls. We
aimed for a narrow spot in what looked like a barrier wall and
motored through unscathed. The jagged line of tar zig-zagged
as far as we could see in both directions.
A little later, just as we were remarking on the deep rich blue-green color of
the water (a welcome change after the murky grey-green we had been seeing
all along this coast), we spotted an enormous swath of mustard yellow water
ahead of us. It looked like a cruise ship had dumped its holding tanks, but it
didn't smell. We passed through it unharmed but unnerved, and wondered if it
had been an algae bloom. Half an hour later, just as we approached our
destination of Isla Ixtapa, we motored through a mammoth patch of deep red-
brown. This appeared to be a red tide, something we had heard about but
never seen. During the next 10 days we watched two more red tides sweep
through the anchorage at Isla Ixtapa.
Red tide aside, Isla
Ixtapa (also known as
Isla Grande) was a
total delight. Three
charming coves shape
the perimeter of the
island. Two are ideal for swimming, strolling and kayaking and are
daytime hosts to a fleet of banana boats and jet skis that come over
from the large resorts on the mainland just a mile away.
After landing the kayak on one of these two beaches we made a
beeline along a little footpath across the island's interior for the third
cove. We tromped through the thin woods, passing six foot tall
Christmas cactus that were in full bloom. The leaves crunched under
our feet, surprising a deer who lept away at the sound. Some time later, while
we lounged under the beach umbrellas, another deer bounded across the sand
at full speed, running along the water's edge the entire length of the beach until
he reached the protection of the woods at the far end.
Not only were there deer on the island, but
there were bunnies too. Fortunately for us, the
beachside restaurants left the outer leaves of
their lettuce heads in a huge pile for the
animals. Another day we watched four deer
standing amid the lettuce, munching away. It
seemed they were in heaven.
We were too. The third, southernmost cove is a great snorkeling area, filled with craggy
rocks and live, colorful coral. No sooner did I put my head in the water than I found myself
surrounded by large schools of fish. Tiny royal blue
fish with iridescent blue spots darted in and out of
the coral. Big schools of large silver fish with bright
yellow tails cruised just under the surface, turning
and changing direction as one body. Chubby grey
fish with long flowing fins hovered over the reef.
After the weird pollution and algae blooms it was a
thrill to see bright living coral and happy fish, despite
water visibility of just 8 feet.
This little island is a vacation paradise. Tourists come out from the
mainland resorts a mile away in small water taxis, six or eight to a boat.
The day is whiled away with swimming, snorkeling, boat rides and bathing
suited beachside dining. Then the water taxis take everyone back to
shore for the evening.
At night the island closes up and
all is quiet, as only a handful of
people live there.
Lots of kids and parents enjoyed
the island together. Most tourists
were Mexicans, and while watching
the families playing together I got
chatting with Santos, one of the
restaurant workers, about how
important family is in Mexican
Comparing notes about remarriages
and step-kids and extended families,
he told me there is a saying in Mexico that
every Mexican knows: "Si la vaca es tuya,
son tuyos los becerros," or "If the cow is
yours, the calves are yours."
No woman wants to be compared to
a cow, but this saying seemed to me
to be a very profound statement of
the level of commitment that is
expected and given. I can't think of
an English expression about family
relationships that carries quite the
There is a fourth beach on this
tiny island that is accessible
only by scrambling over some
rocks. We wandered that way
and put the day's first footsteps in
the sand there.
Over on the mainland there are
several large beaches backed by
beautiful resorts. We strolled the
beaches, peering into the resorts
to see how that half lived.
Mexican law keeps all beaches open for
public access, and down by the public
access area there is a fenced estuary that
is kept as a natural wildlife habitat. Wading birds walked along the
outside of the fence, casually searching for goodies in the water.
Behind them a sign read, "No dar de comer a los crocodilos,"
"Don't feed the crocodiles!"
And there they were: on the other side of the fence were at least
20 crocodiles. These guys are big! They lolled around, looking
ever so docile, several of them resting with their mouths wide open.
To complete this exotic picture, a
group of iguanas crawled awkwardly
about. Each one had a unique body
and face. They swayed slowly,
surveying the scene around them.
We enjoyed Isla Ixtapa so much that 10 days slipped
by in an instant. Rather waterlogged from days on end
of swimming and snorkeling, we finally pulled up the
anchor and moved the boat the last ten miles to
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