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
water. It turned out that the para-sailing tow boat had run out of gas
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
Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast
to see more cruising posts from this area!