Zihuatanejo – A place people keep coming back to… us included!

Zihuatanejo catamaran cruising boat sail blog

Zihuatanejo bay was busy when we got back.

Late February, 2013 – After our whirlwind inland trip to see Morelia, the migrating monarch butterflies and the magical town of Pátzcuaro, life aboard Groovy resumed very happily. Zihuatanejo is a vacation destination, and tourists were playing around us on the beach and in the water with gusto.

Zihuatanejo cruising yacht cruising blog

This power yacht has chairs & umbrellas!

One large motor yacht pulled in near us. They had a wonderful back deck with lounge chairs and umbrellas set out. Now that looked like the way to go cruising!

Zihuatanejo Playa La Ropa beach palapa sailing blog

One of our on-shore neighbors.





On our other side, along Playa La Ropa (the bay’s biggest beach), there was a series of palapa beach restaurants. They formed the backdrop to our view as the cruising boats came and went around us. Most boats were returning north, but a few were headed south.

Paddleboard kids and dog sail blog

These girls were having so much fun together…

Two boats with families aboard anchored nearby, and we got a huge kick out of watching the kids playing together. Before we left to go cruising, I had assumed that lots of families were “living the dream” aboard sailboats. The cruising magazines publish lots of stories about cruising families, and it led me to believe the ocean was teeming with young families afloat.

Zihuatanejo sunset cruising blog sailing blog

Another great sunset off our bow

Not so! In three years of cruising Mexico, we have met eleven boats with kids on board. So it was a real treat to see two boats cruising together with kids the same age. The girls were ten and eleven, and it was heartwarming to watch them jumping in and out of the water from the backs of their boats.  They paddle-boarded over to visit each other, and they played all day with the joy and abandon that I remember from my own ten-year-old beach days.

Zihuatanejo palm trees sailing blog

Classic Zihuatanejo scene.

Zihuatanejo statue Lillys sail blog

Pretty statue outside Lilly’s restaurant.


In the evenings the sun always set off Groovys bow, silently falling into the sea. Even though it happened every afternoon, we never got tired of it. As the light would turn golden around us, we’d both run for our cameras and get up on the bow to catch the last rays.

Zihuatanejo is a busy little town with an active waterfront. Just like the sunsets, we never got tired of roaming around and watching all the action.

Zihuatanejo fish market cruising blog

Everyone comes to the fish market…




Some serious fish selling goes on in the fish market, with folks of all kinds, from moms to businessmen, stopping by to pick up a little fish for dinner.

Double yellow head amazon Socorrito sailing blog

Socorrrrrrrrrito!! (she loves to roll her r’s)

Whenever we stepped on shore from the dinghy landing on the beach, we always heard funny whistling and singing and talking coming from the rafters of one particular building. The noise-maker was Socorrito (more formally, “Socorro”), an 18 year old double yellow headed amazon parrot who lives mostly outside her cage in the little store below Lilly’s restaurant.

painted plate Zihuatanejo sail blog

One of Francisco’s plates.

She just loves to sing, and her owner would cajole her into performing for us all the time. She was terrific at improv music making. Great long trilling sounds and operatic vibrato came out of her beak, along with lots of Spanish with perfectly rolled r’s. Mark quietly rolled his eyes at the store owner while I carried on lengthy conversations with her.

plate painter Francisco de Alba Castillo cruising blog

Francisco shows off a plate.

musical instrument crutch harmonica spring sail blog

“La Bamba” on a crutch, a harmonica, a ribbed pipe and a screwdriver!

It is nice to return to a place and find things more or less as you left them the year before, and so it was with our friend the plate painter, Francisco de Alba Castillo. Like last year, he had an array of painted plates and spoons on display, and we admired his new ones each time we walked past.

As with so many street artists, this is his commercial outlet, but he loves to do fine art too. His next project, he told us, is a very large canvas painting that will show the Hand of God, a mighty fist thrust up into a brooding, lightning-filled sky, with blood dripping from the palm. Yikes! I wouldn’t have expected that from a guy who paints pretty seaside images on plates. But Francisco loves drama, and we got a huge charge out of his animated and flamboyant persona whenever we stopped to chat with him.

One of the most engaging things about Mexican seaside towns is the many clever ways people find to entertain and make money from the tourists. We stopped in a beach palapa restaurant one afternoon for a drink, and along with the usual parade of vendors, a fellow came along making the most bizarre music.

tow behind water taxi sail blog

We get a tow from a water taxi!

He had rigged up a unique instrument built on a metal crutch. He mounted a harmonica to the top and tie-wrapped a piece of ribbed pipe or tubing to the side. To the bemused smiles of us all, he played a unique rendition of La Bamba. The ragged tune came out of his harmonica while he scraped a large screwdriver against the ribs of the tube for backup rhythm. His performance was worth a few pesos just for sheer inventiveness.

Getting to and from town was an easy mile-long dinghy ride — until the day the prop on our outboard pooped out. We had “spun” the prop back in Huatulco, and Mark had fixed it, but the bolts sheered on one trip across Z-town bay. Getting it fixed was a fun adventure, but when we got back from the repair shop Mark didn’t have the tools to remount the prop on the outboard.

up the mast sail blog

Up the mast on Halcyon

We figured we’d row back to Groovy — good evercise, right? — but it was painfully slow. So Mark hailed a water taxi and we got a tow. Now that was a cool ride!!!

Zihuatanejo Fiesta Bamba tour boat sail blog

“Fiesta Bamba” gets a face lift.

Boat problems are a normal part of boating, no matter what kind of boat you have. We had anchored next to the elegant ketch Halcyon that was used for daysailing charters. It came and went almost daily, but one afternoon when there was no tour activity, we saw a guy going up the mast to fix something at the top. Luckily the bay wasn’t too rolly that afternoon.

Fiesta Bamba launch party sailing blog

Alberto (left) hosts a fiesta aboard Fiesta Bamba.

The captain of Halcyon, Alberto, was busily getting another tour boat ready for charter. From before dawn until after sunset his crew was busy banging and scraping away on Fiesta Bamba, and we saw the boat slowly come to life. “One more week and we can do tours!” Alberto proudly told us.

He threw a party for all his workers on one of the last days of work, and he invited us to stop over. What a blast! There was enough ceviche and beer to keep a boatload of young, thirsty, hungry and hardworking guys happy, and we joined right in the fun.

Zihuatanejo fishermen mend nets sailing blog

Fishermen mend nets under the shade of palm trees.



As with all these seaside towns, the local boat owners are a mix of fishermen and tour operators. The foundation of the local economy comes from the sea. The fishermen mended their nets under the shade of the trees on the beach while the waiters at the restaurants facing the beach capitalized on offering customers the romantic ambiance of dining while overlooking all that authentic fishing activity.

Chatting with a water taxi driver one day, we learned that the pangas the fishermen and water taxis drive are all built in Mazatlán. The newer ones are wonderful, sturdy, 20-odd foot fiberglass boats that cost about 30,000 pesos ($2,400 USD) for the basic hull.

Zihuatanejo pangas under tree sailing blog

The popular “panga” has a long history.


Water taxis get additional fiberglass shade enclosures added on, and everyone goes for a Yamaha outboard, anywhere from 48 to 75 hp.

Zihuatanejo Playa Principal palm tree cruising blog

Palm tree on Playa Principal, the main beach in Zihuatanejo.

These boats have their origins in canoe shaped boats from eons ago. In his Log from the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck describes the 1940’s era boats that paddled out to greeted him in ports along the coast. The panga has come a long way.

Zihuatanejo boats in bay sailing blog

Some pangas get a fiberglass shade protection build on top.

Of course, the correctness of the word “panga” is debated. Many Mexicans have told us a real panga doesn’t have a motor, and that these boats are really “lanchas” because they are outboard driven. Some Sea of Cortez fishermen even say that “panga” is a gringo word.

And down in Central America we’ve been told the word “panga” disappears entirely, replaced by “lancha.” Whatever their real name, these boats are everywhere, even 20 miles out to sea.

Zihuatanejo Fisherman statue cruising blog

Fisherman statue in a tiny seaside park.

hibiscus flower cruising blog

Mark spots a pretty hibiscus…

Zihuatanejo bay resorts cruising blog

Pretty turrets look very inviting!



Zihuatanejo bay resorts cruising blog

Colorful resorts cascade down to the bay.

Zihuatanejo is a colorful place, and we enjoyed trying to capture the vibrance of all we saw with our cameras.

Zihuatanejo bay sunset cruising blog

Another lovely sunset off Groovy’s bow.










Some of the resorts that cascade down the hillsides have been painted in rich hues of burnt orange, red and yellow, with inviting shapes and pretty shade palapas.

Out in our anchorage we caught yet another pretty sunset off the bow. It’s no wonder people come to this town year after year.

And the funny thing was, with this being our third year in Z-town, we were now among those people too!

But eventually we felt the urge to move on, and we got ready to sail up the coast to Manzanillo’s incomparable Las Hadas Resort.

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Zihuatanejo – Nautical moments with Sail Fest and the pretty schooner Patricia Belle

Zihatanejo Bay fisherman canoe ketch living aboard Mexico

We woke up to a pretty scene in the bay.

Early February, 2013 – We woke up on our first morning in Zihuatanejo, after sailing up from Huatulco, to find the sun glinting off a neighboring ketch while a fisherman cast his net from a canoe next to us. It was a beautiful, serene sight.

Zihuatanejo catamaran Mexico cruising blog

Some catamarans double as launch boats!

Zihuatanejo is a busy bay once all the tourists wake up and get going. It is lined with beaches, villas, restaurants and resorts, but our little corner by boat-in-only Playa Las Gatas got only those visitors who came by in by watercraft. Lots of people rent catamarans to sail in the bay, and one catamaran owner was even using his as a launch boat to deliver people to the beach on the opposite shore. What a fun way to get across the bay!

Zihuatanejo fishermen canoe sailboat Mexico living aboard blog

Daniel visits us in his canoe.

One very enterprising fellow, Daniel, paddled his way around the bay in a canoe, visiting every cruising boat he could find to offer his services cleaning barnacles and seaweed off the bottoms of their boat and offering to wax the hulls too. He was disappointed to find that we had just cleaned Groovy’s bottom ourselves.

What a crazy cleaning that had been. We had done our usual routine with the paint scrapers and Scotch Brite pads, scraping off the thick grass skirt that Groovy had begun to wear. We had no idea that hidden in the fluffy green seaweed were hundreds of baby crabs, about the size of mosquitos, until we got out of the water and discovered we were both covered with them.

We jumped back in, screaming, and frantically swiped each other’s backs and arms and legs to get them off. But when I took my shower a few minutes later, I found a pile of them scampering around my feet. Yuck!! Crazier still, when we told Daniel about this, he topped our story completely: one had gotten into his ear and he was still waiting for it to crawl out.

Life on a boat in the tropics can be idyllic, but you live awfully close to nature!!

Zihuatanejo Playa Last Gatas Mexico sail blog

Hilda makes daily deliveries to supply the palapa bars on Playa Las Gatas

Another visitor to our boat was one we had looked forward to for a long time. Local vendors Hilda and Ismael sell water taxi tickets at a kiosk in town and they also supply the palapa bars on boat-in only Las Gatas beach with all their inventory. So they are perfectly set up to deliver anything and everything a cruiser could possibly want, right to the boat.

Zihuatanejo water taxi living aboard blog

It’s much easier to have heavy things delivered than to lug them around by dinghy and on foot!

We put in our order for cases of coke and beer (much easier than hauling all those heavy cans via taxi, a walk to the beach, and a long dinghy ride out to the boat, so we stocked up!). We also gave Hilda our dirty laundry and empty propane tank. The full propane tank and clean laundry were delivered to us the next day. What a great service!!

Zihuatanejo Playa Principal cruising Mexico blog

View of Zihuatanejo Bay

Arriving on shore at Zihuatanejo’s main beach, Playa Principal, we strolled the pretty, tree-lined, waterfront walking paths with a strong sense of nostalgia. This was our third season of visiting Z-town, and it was still as inviting, fun and funky as ever.

7 Zihuatanejo fish market Playa Principal Mexico sailing blog

The ZIhuatanejo fish market is a busy place on the main beach.

The walking path along the shore is lined with boutique shops on one side and a large open air fish market under palm trees on the beach on the other side. Fish at this market is about as fresh as it comes. The fishing pangas land right on the beach, and the catch immediately goes on sale on tarps in the sand.

Zihuatanejo fish market Playa Principal Mexico sail blog

Fishermen show off today’s catch: red snapper.


One day while strolling past the fish market we saw a very happy fisherman showing off the marlin he had caught. Now that’s a fish!!

09 Mexico cruising blog Zihuatanejo marlin fisherman fish market 405

What a catch!!

Zihuatanejo is a walking town, and the first few streets along the waterfront have been designated as pedestrian only. This makes for a very casual and comfortable feeling, as you don’t have to dodge the traffic and you can stop and chat with vendors and tourists at leisure, and check out all the shops along the way.

Mexico sailing blog Zihuatanejo girl in toy car

Zihuatanejo is a walking town for most, but this little princess drives around town in style!











Of course, there are those among us who are little princesses, and they demand a sweet ride in a cool car regardless of which roads are pedestrian-only!!

Mexico living aboard blog Zihuatanejo mercado

Zihuatanejo’s colorful “mercado” sells everything under the sun.

Walking in from the waterfront about half a mile, there is a large “mercado,” or public market, where fresh veggies, fish and meat are sold alongside kitchenware, brooms, baskets and hats. It is a crazy jumble of little stalls housed inside a building that fills a whole city block. If one guy doesn’t have what you’re looking for, he’ll direct you to the next guy that might. In short order we had all the provisions we needed for the boat, including new Scotch Brite pads for the next boat bottom cleaning!


sail blog Zihuatanejo Mexico sunset

The sun melts into the sea off our bow.

Back on Groovy we were treated to a nightly dance of color off our bow. A huge ball of fire would sink into the waves, turning the sky brilliant orange. Even though our photos from one night to the next had a striking similarity, it was still a thrill to sit on the bow and watch the sun disappear.

living aboard blog Zihuatanejo sunset

One last wink, and then goodnight!

Every so often, when the earth’s atmosphere is just right, the sun bursts with a flare of green just before it vanishes. We’ve met sailors who have been around the world who swear there is no such thing as the “green flash,” but we have seen it several times. We never know when it will happen — most of the time the sun slips away without any fuss — but when the green flash comes, we are always elated.

cruising blog Zihuatanejo Mexico green flash

The “green flash” is real!!

One night, while sitting on the bow and lining up those same old sunset shots, we were both completely startled when it happened. “That was it!!” I cried. Amazingly, Mark managed to catch it on camera at almost the perfect moment. It’s a little like a blurry UFO shot, but it’s there — the green flash!

sailing blog Zihuatanejo Sail Fest Mexico

A boat dresses up for Sail Fest

Cruisers flock to Zihuatanejo in early February to take part in the Zihuatanejo Sail Fest, a five day fund raising event celebrating both sailing and Mexican culture that provides educational support for the children of the area. The most colorful aspects of this event on the water are the pursuit sailing race and the boat parade.

The boats filled their rigging with colorful flags (the nautical alphabet), and took off around the bay in a wonderful show.

The leader of the sailing event this year was our friend Pamela Bendall, the incredible single-hander from Canada who has sailed her 46′ steel boat, Precious Metal, as far as Peru.

living aboard blog Mexico Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

Committee boat “Precious Metal” is surrounded by racing catamarans.

Her boat was the “committee boat” for the pursuit race, and when she was suddenly encircled with racing catamarans, her boat looked like a mother swan surrounded by little rainbow colored goslings.

 sailing blog Mexico Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

Three different types of double-masted sailboats:
a schooner, a ketch and a wish-bone rigged catamaran



Another priceless moment came when three double masted boats all sailed together for a few seconds. There was a schooner (Patricia Belle), a ketch (Liebling) and a unique double masted catamaran that is wish-bone rigged like a wind surfer and that miraculously folds up (Cat-2-Fold).

sail blog Patricia Belle Zihuatanejo Sail Fest Mexico

Schooner Patricia Belle in full glory on the horizon.

Pamela proudly reported that Sail Fest raised $67,000 (USD) for the children of Zihuatanejo this year.

It is rare to see large boats out sailing in this bay, as most cruisers arrive or depart under engine power with their sails furled.

But on this special day the boats had all their sails up, making for some inspiring nautical images. The schooner, in particular, was very cool to watch, sailing with four sails raised.

cruising blog Mexico Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

We had a blast photographing all these beautiful boats.

 living aboard blog Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

The racers return to the bay.

sailing blog Mexico Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

Schooner Patricia Belle and ketch Northern Passage ride the breezes








We stopped by the schooner to learn more about it, and discovered she has a wonderful and unusual story. Patricia Belle is 65′ long (82′ on deck, including the very long bowsprit), and owners Pat and Jeann have lived and cruised aboard her for fifteen years.

Pat was a sea captain and shipwright for his entire adult life and had built seven boats, some as big as 30′, before designing and building this one.

sail blog Patricia Belle schooner Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

We were lucky to get a tour of Patricia Belle.

Patricia Belle was a special project, designed and built by Pat to match the lines of an old steel fishing vessel he admired. When he says he built this boat, he truly means that his hands did all the labor.

cruising blog Mexico schooner rigging Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

Beautiful traditional rigging.

And what a labor of love she is. There is surely a tale behind every joint and piece of rigging, and we were lucky enough to hear a few.

There was a crowd on board when we stopped by, so adding two more was not a problem.

cruising blog Mexico schooner bow sprit Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

The bowsprit

living aboard blog Captain Patricia Belle Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

Captain Pat shows us the steering mechanism that he took from an old dump truck.









We leaped up on deck and were enchanted by what we saw: tall rigging with rope ladders to get up the mast, and a solid bowsprit bearing two furled jibs.

Built of wood between 1994 and 1997, Patricia Belle was launched in California in 1998 and promptly sailed to Nicaragua.

She weighs 100,000 lbs., which turns out to be the same weight as the old Ford dump truck whose steering mechanism Pat borrowed to install in his beloved schooner.

cruising blog schooner belowdecks Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

Below decks has a wonderful old pirate ship feeling!


The keel is 21′ long, and it is 9′ deep for the entire length, making the boat track like it’s on rails. The rudder is also very over-sized, which makes her able to turn quite easily.

Down below, the crew’s bunks are stacked two high in one stateroom, and the crew get in and out by a wooden ladder. Some of Pat’s and Jeann’s friends had been cruising with them on Patricia Belle for a month or more, and some still had another month or so of cruising to go. What a fun way to spend the winter!

Pat and Jeann used to host guests for charters aboard Patricia Belle, but now they are enjoying pure retirement. All their cruising these days is just for their own pleasure.

sailing blog schooner Patricia Belle Zihuatanejo Sail Fest

Pat and Jeann used to offer charters aboard Patricia Belle, but now they enjoy simply cruising with friends.

One morning when we woke up they were gone — south to Acapulco. But they will be returning north towards Puerto Vallarta later in the season. Hopefully we will see the pretty lines of this beautiful schooner out on the ocean once again.

We still had plenty of things on our agenda for our stay in Zihuatanejo, however.  We had friends to meet up with on shore and a boat project or two to take care of.

But most exciting of all was our upcoming trip inland to visit the beautiful colonial city of Morelia.

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Zihuatanejo’s “Parthenon” – He Did What?!

Sail blog post - we toured the mysterious Zihuatanejo Parthenon built by the evil Negro del Negro Durazo, Mexico City's infamous Chief of Police, Arturo Durazo Moreno

Santa rides a Hammerhead Shark.

Las Gatas Beach Christmas.

Christmas tables set out on Las Gatas Beach.

Mexican Santa in Zihuatanejo.

Santa in a Mexican


Alvin and the Chipmunks movie poster in Z-town.

Alvin and the Chipmunks

movie poster.

Las Gatas Beach, Christmas Day.

Las Gatas Beach on Christmas Day.

Christmas music on Las Gatas Beach.

A Christmas serenade on Las Gatas Beach.

Bongo players on Las Gatas Beach, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Cool bongo players.

View of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Zihuatanejo's "Parthenon."

Road to Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.



Decaying driveway at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Driveway leading to the Parthenon's gate.

Massive gate at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The center of this mammoth gate housed vicious guard dogs.

Parking area outside Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Elegant parking area outside the gate.

Romanesque architecture at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Durazo loved ancient ornamentation.

Overgrowth at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The columned facade pokes out between the weeds.

Entering Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Wow - we get to go in!

Guard dog cage at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The cage for the guard dogs...

Tiger cage at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The cage for the tigers.

Approaching Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Approaching the Parthenon.

Roman and Greek sculptures outside Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Statues fill the yard.

Approaching the front door of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The Parthenon's entrance.

Looking through the front door of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Looking through the front door.

Roman and Greek style sculptures inside Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Lifesize sculptures line the foyer.

The view from the foyer in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The view from the foyer.

Elaborate staircase leading to the second floor of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Staircase to the second floor.


Looking down at the open-air party room from the balcony.

View from the balcony of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Views of Zihuatanejo Bay.

Bedroom mirrors in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Mirrors on the walls and ceiling of an upstairs bedroom.

jacuzzi tub in the master suite of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Bat guano covers the jacuzzi tub in the master suite.

Marble topped bar in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Marble-topped bar outside the library downstairs.

Marble dining table in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Marble dining table, murals and columns outside the kitchen.

View from the top steps of Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

View from the top steps of the Parthenon.

Looking up at Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Looking back up at the mansion.

The pool bar in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

The pool bar.

Inside the poolbar in Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Would you like a cerveza or a Margarita?

Arturo Durazo's Parthenon in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Arturo Durazo's Parthenon.

Arturo Durazo's "Parthenon" of Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Christmas, 2011 - After an easy overnight passage from Manzanillo Bay we

arrived at Isla de Ixtapa (Isla Grande) outside Zihuatanejo where we were quickly

swept up in the wild pre-Christmas beach scene.  The island's three tiny beaches

were packed to overflowing with vacationers whooping it up.

A few days later, around the

corner in Zihuatanejo, we

found Christmas festivities

were revving up with just as

much enthusiasm.  All the

waterfront restaurants were

decked out for the holidays,

and Christmas movies were

playing at the little cinema.

Zihuatanejo Bay is a mile-

wide bay surrounded by four beaches with lots

of options for anchoring.  Last year we stayed

right next to the town, but Groovy's hull got

such a thick layer of barnacles in just 10 days' time that this year

we decided to anchor on the far side of the bay by Playa Las

Gatas where the water is cleaner.

In past years we've dreamed of a having white Christmas,

but this year our Christmas came in lovely shades of blue

water, blue sky and green palm trees.  We

kayaked through throngs of people playing in

the ocean, and as we swam it felt much more

like July than December.

We hung out on Las Gatas beach all day

long on Christmas day and watched families

playing on the beach.  Musicians wandered

by to offer entertainment for a "propina" (tip).

These guys hike over a challenging rock path

from the larger La Ropa beach half a mile

away.  They carry whatever it is they play,

from guitars to drums to huge double

basses, as they walk on the precarious

rocks.  Two of the most intriguing musicians

were a couple banging on bongos and

singing Caribbean sounding tunes.  They

were from the nearest major inland city, Morelia.

Back on Groovy the following day we kept staring at a very strange

building that was perched high above the condos on the point that

juts out between two of the bay's beaches, Playa La Ropa and

Playa Madera.  The building looks like a miniature Lincoln Memorial,

and last year we found out it was called "The Parthenon" and was

cloaked in a dark, mysterious history.

Built in the early 1980's by Mexico City's infamous Chief of Police,

Arturo Durazo Moreno, it stands today as a striking monument to

his excesses and wickedness.  We had heard rumors that he had

ordered it built with hidden doors leading to secret tunnels that

snaked down to the sea, just in case he ever needed to escape.

Totally tantalized, we decided to go check it out.

There's no sign saying "This way to the Parthenon," but we knew

we were on the right path when we trudged up a very steep winding

road of crumbling concrete lined with ornate streetlights buried in

overgrown weeds.  It was obvious the road had once been carefully landscaped and very


Suddenly the heavy canopy of trees above us opened up and

the road approached an enormous gate.  I was dwarfed by the

gate when I stood next to it, and I mused on the rumor that the

gate had been stolen from the Chapultepec castle in Mexico

City.  That would have been quite a theft, but Durazo was an

impressive man fully capable of such things.

When his boyhood friend José López Portillo became

president of Mexico in 1976, Durazo's fortunes soared.

Portillo was one of Mexico's most corrupt presidents, and he

turned to loyal Durazo for his own personal security.  He

appointed Durazo to be Chief of Police in Mexico City, despite

knowing that he had been under investigation in the US for

almost a year for drug trafficking.  Portillo set him up to report

directly to himself rather than to the Mayor of Mexico City.

During his six year tenure Durazo turned the police force into

a racketeering empire.

What remains of the empire was buried in weeds all around us.  Ornate

greco-roman architecture surrounded us, but the overgrowth was so thick

and the beauty so faded that it seemed like some cursed castle in a

children's fairytale.

We peered around the

edge of the huge gate and

could just glimpse part of

the mansion's columned

facade.  Until recently, this

property was owned by the

city of Zihuatanejo.  Unlike

the city leaders of El

Ajusco, home to Durazo's

other outrageous mansion

that was built at the same

time outside Mexico City--a country estate complete with artificial

lakes, a dog racing track, a clone of New York's Studio 54 club, and a

23-car garage--the city of Zihuatanejo did not turn the Parthenon into

a museum.  Instead, they recently donated it to the Universidad

Autonóma de Guerrero.  It was private property, but we thought it

would be so cool if we could somehow get inside to take a peek…

Suddenly the guy who had been sweeping the stone flooring

outside the gate invited us in to have a look inside -- for a

fee.  We negotiated the fee to something reasonable, and lo

and behold he opened the door and let us in.  I doubt he

has any kind of official relationship with the abandoned

property, but he seems to have appointed himself the

gatekeeper, for profit, and he does have a key to the

padlock.  He gave us a lively tour -- in Spanish.  Fortunately

a large Mexican family arrived shortly after us, and their

visiting cousin from San Diego provided us with

translations when we couldn't grasp the nuances of what

our guide said.

Just inside the gate we had a close-up

look at the cage that housed Durazo's

ferocious guard dogs.  Durazo built his

empire on intimidation, and large

growling dogs were just the first stage of

welcome he offered to his arriving guests.

Next to the dog cage was the tiger cage.

We stepped inside.  In its now decrepit

state fantastic roots have crept under the

walls to cover the floor, looking like a

snarled tangle of snakes.  On the far side

of the yard was the crocodile pit.

A driveway leads up to the mansion, passing

several Romanesque stone sculptures on the

way.  When the statues were set in beautifully

landscaped grounds, this must have been a

dramatic entrance, but now the brown

vegetation and decaying sculptures give the

place an eerie air.

Much of Durazo's fortune was made from

bribes paid by the rank-and-file police officers

under his command.  He also used them as

his personal construction labor force to build

both the Parthenon and his country estate

outside of Mexico City.

He was admired worldwide for lowering

the crime rate in Mexico City and was

even honored with a prestigious award

in the Soviet Union for doing so.  But his

methods were discovered to be beyond

brutal when the tortured bodies of 12

twelve Columbians suspected of bank

robbery turned up in a river.

An investigation into his practices began which ultimately

revealed his elaborate pyramid scheme of bribes and payoffs.

Entering this palatial building is like stepping into another world.

As I passed through the foyer I was so drawn to the view in front

of me that I almost missed the six recessed marble sculptures

lining the walls on either side of us.

The architecture is fantastic for a cliff-top seaside palace in a

temperate climate.  Two rows of massive columns soar upwards

to a height of two tall stories to support the ceiling above,

creating a vast breezy Italian marble "patio" with stunning views

of Zihuatanejo Bay beyond.

The view is spectacular

from the ground floor,

but we knew it would be

even better from the

balcony upstairs.

Looking down at this wide marble "porch" it was

easy to imagine sumptuous parties filling the

immense, breezy, open-air room.  A huge marble

dining table stands to one side, backed by yet

more columns and an expansive mural.

All the bedrooms are upstairs, and each one has

windows onto this porch that could be left open to

the fresh air or closed during bad weather.  At

one time the bedroom ceilings were lined with

ornate mirrors, and the walls were covered with

painted murals and more mirrors.

This design gives each bedroom either privacy or

an open window to the lovely columned sea-

breeze room below.  Now, however, groups of

bats hang from the ceilings in the corners of every

bedroom, bathroom

and closet in the

house.  As we

entered each room

we heard a flurry of

bat wings as they

woke up and flew

off.  Bat guano

covered every floor

and smelled terrible.  At first all of Durazo's furnishing were

sold, but now it seems the building was eventually stripped

by looters.  Toilets are gone, leaving gaping holes in the

floors.  Electrical outlets are missing, chandeliers have

disappeared, and all that remains in the kitchen is some

broken wooden lower cabinets.  Anything that could be pried

off, detached, unscrewed or removed has been taken.

Back downstairs a large marble topped bar is tucked up against the shelf-

lined, once elegant library.

You have to use your imagination a bit to picture what

life might have been like here during Durazo's reign.

From 1976 to 1982 Durazo held his police chief post

and built his empire of corruption.  He extorted money

at every turn and lived a lavish lifestyle.  However, upon

the arrival of a new presidential administration whose

campaign theme was Moral Renewal, Durazo fled.

An international manhunt ensued, and after charging him

in absentia with racketeering, Mexican and US authorities

tracked him down to Costa Rica in 1984 and brought him

back to trial in Mexico.  Long referred to as "El Negro" or

"The Black One," Durazo was sentenced to a long prison

term (I've seen it reported as 11, 16 and 25 years) on

charges ranging from corruption to extortion, tax evasion,

smuggling, drug kickbacks and possession of illegal

weapons.  He was released after less than eight years in

1992 due to ill health and good conduct.  He lived out his

final days in Acapulco, redeeming himself a bit by working

with recovering alcoholics.  He died of cancer in 2000.

In the mid-1980's

Durazo's chief

bodyguard José González wrote a

runaway bestseller about his evil

boss entitled "Lo Negro del 'Negro'

Durazo" or "The Black of 'the Black

One,' Durazo."  A movie quickly

followed.  Never allowing himself to

be out maneuvered, Durazo won a

defamation lawsuit against his

former aide from behind prison


Stepping out from the vast patio I

stood at the top of a grand stone

staircase that leads down to a

swimming pool and spacious pool bar.

The stagnant brown water in the pool

had been there for years, but it was

easy to imagine delicious days of

relaxing poolside next to the

ornately columned rotunda bar as

all of Zihuatanejo Bay stretched

towards the horizon in the


Returning to the main building our

guide led us down into the

basement where he thumped on a

large section of the floor to show

that it was hollow.  He pointed to

irregularities in the flooring where it

had been sealed and explained that this was the entrance to the secret

tunnels that go down to the sea.  Durazo had indeed built himself an

escape route, but he had been caught while abroad and had never

used it.

We left the Parthenon with our heads spinning.  We had had no idea that the intriguing looking building on

the hill harbored such secrets.  The enthusiasm of the Mexican family who toured with us also made us

realize that the legacy of Arturo Durazo is well known here.  "Haven't you read the book or seen the

movie?" they asked.  We had never even heard of the book or the movie, but within a few days we had the

movie in our possession from one of the bootleg DVD sellers at the Mercado Publico.  The book may be

harder to find at a reasonable price because it is out of print.

Besides this cool, mysterious palace, Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa has many other charms that kept us in town

until mid-January.

Find Zihuatanejo on Mexico Maps

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Zihuatanejo – A Fun Town

Sail blog post - Pulling into the fabled anchorage in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, we fell in love with the lively, colorful, friendly and funky atmosphere.

Beautiful villas line Zihuatanejo's shore.

La Ropa Beach, Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico La Ropa Beach, Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico La Ropa Beach, Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Pangas on Playa Principal (Principal Beach)

La Ropa Beach, Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Dinghy valet service.

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Z-town has a waterfront walking district.

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

There are hundreds of outdoor eateries.

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico Playa Principal, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Palms sway in the sand on Playa Principal.

Town square, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

The waterfront park got a bandstand...

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

...and in no time it was finished.

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Plants and brick pavers were ready to go....

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

...and suddenly a garden sprouted.

Beach fish market, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Fishermen sell their fish from coolers.

Beach fish market, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Fresh caught fish ready for the skillet.

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Hundreds of waste bins are lined up to be assembled

and distributed around town.

Zihuatanejo Bay, Guerrero, Mexico

Looking down on Las Gatas from a beautiful

restaurant on the hilltop.

Playa La Ropa anchorage, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Toddlers love the beach.

Playa La Ropa anchorage, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Walking onto Playa La Ropa,

"Cothes Beach."

Playa La Ropa anchorage, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

The views are beautiful at every turn.

Parasailing, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico Parasailing, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Each resort and villa is unique.

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Looking down at the Zihuatanejo anchorage.

Playa Madera, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

New sculptures have been placed

all around town.

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Zihua has its touristy side

on the waterfront...

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Local kids have a happy hour all their own.

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

What a toilet!

Centro Mercado Publico, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Fresh fruits and veggies at the large central market.

Centro Mercado Publico, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Fresh chicken presented differently than we are used to.

Centro Mercado Publico, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico Centro Mercado Publico, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Christmas piñatas were a hot selling item, and this

gal made them right there.

Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico


Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Rafa's Bar, before the rowdy cruisers showed up on

Christmas Eve.

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

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

lovely painted

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

beach.  Taking

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

baseball bats.

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-

found friends.

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

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Zihuatanejo / Ixtapa – Fun in the Sun!

Ixtapa Beach, Mexico.

Lovely resorts line Ixtapa Beach.

Resort at Ixtapa Beach.


Baby sea turtle on Playa Ixtapa, Mexico.

Baby sea turtle treks to the ocean.

Ocean waves at Playa Ixtapa, Mexico.

Baby sea turtle's new home.

Snowy egret in the mangroves at the Ixtapa estuary sanctuary.

Snowy egret.

Snowy egret in the mangroves at the Ixtapa estuary sanctuary.

Head on a telescoping arm.

Kittens play at the Ixtapa market, Mexico.

Kitten at the Playa Linda market.

Charter megayacht garage, anchored at La Ropa Beach, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Yacht so big it has a garage.

Catered food delivery at Isla de Ixtapa, Mexico.

Munchies on their way to the megayacht.

Catered food delivery at Ixtapa Island, Mexico.

Here you go!

Little girl sits in our kayak at Isla de Ixtapa, Mexico.

Little girl enjoys our kayak.

Workers take a water shuttle home from Ixtapa Island, Mexico.

Ixtapa Island workers commute home.

Madera Beach, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Madera Beach in Zihautanejo.

Playa La Ropa parasailors, Mexico.

Parasailors fill La Ropa Beach.

La Ropa Beach, Zihuatanejo, Mexioc.

A parrot says "hello" on La Ropa beach.

Vendors hike the rocks from La Ropa Beach to Las Gatas Beach, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Vendors hike to Playa Las Gatas.

Mariachi musicians walk Playa La Ropa, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Mariachi musicians walk towards Las Gatas Beach.

Shelled peanuts (cacahuates) vendor on Las Gatas Beach, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Shelled peanuts are a big seller on

Playa Las Gatas.

Pepe's music store in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Pepe's music store in


Mark finds the perfect Beatles guitar case in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.s

Mark finds the perfect guitar case.

Pepe makes music for us in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Pepe sings while Estéban looks on.

Bi-Zihuanas bike shop, Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Bi-Zihuanas bike shop.

Bi-Zihuanas logo:  Alejandro Juarez of Bi-Zihuanas, Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Alejandro, owner of Bi-Zihuanas.

Awesome Dan Norton US National champions cycling jersey.

Signed US Nationals

champion's jersey.

Guests aboard Groovy

We share some Groovy fun with special new friends.

Carmen greets us warmly every time we pass.

Carmen, the jewelry store owner,

chats with us every morning.

Beautifully painted plates in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Beautifully decorated plates from a fine artist.

Lorenzo is a good talker at Lilly's Restaurant in Zihuatanejo.

Lorenzo checks me out.

Socorro has an awesome singing voice.

Socorro whistles and sings.

Dr. Soberanis is a superior dentist in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Dr. Soberanis takes great care of my teeth.

Cruisers' wall at Noemi's restaurant in Zihuatanejo.

Adding some touches to Groovy's signature on Noemi's wall.

Cruise ship M/V Albatros stops in Zihuatanejo before crossing the South Pacific.

German M/V Albatros stops for a day before heading across the south Pacific to the

Marquesas islands.

Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Early January, 2012 - The Ixtapa/

Zihuatanejo area is the ideal place to

relax, with lots to do, including

mysterious "Parthenon" tours.  And

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"),

Marco Pantani.

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 this area last year here, here and here.

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast

to see more cruising posts from this area!












































































































Zihuatanejo – Vacationland

Playa Las Gatas, Las Gatas Beach, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Playa Las Gatas

Zihuatanejo Bay lighthouse, Guerrero, Mexico

Zihuatanejo Bay's lighthouse,

now off-limits.

Playa Las Gatas, Las Gatas Beach, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Cruisers enjoy a pool party...

Picante catamaran charter, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

...charterboaters enjoy a pool party too.

Picante catamaran charter, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

"Picante" hosts spinnaker rides.

Banana boats, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico

Banana babes.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Suzanne and Tony share the cruising life as a happily married couple

sailing separate boats, both painted the same bright blue.

Parasailing Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

A parasailor enjoys the sunset,

towed by a boat that still has

plenty of gas.

Sunset Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Cheeseburger in paradise.

Ixtapa, Guerrero, Mexico

Beatlemania in Ixtapa.

Ixtapa, Guerrero, Mexico

Dance festival rehearsal, Ixtapa.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

View from our cockpit.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

"The Parthenon"

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico Playa Madera, Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico Playa Principal, Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Looking out to the anchorage from Playa Principal.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico Playa Principal, Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Playa Principal.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Table for two at La Palmera.

Cruise ship Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Cruise ship leaves for an overnight sail to Acapulco.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Mexican Navy ship stands guard just behind

the cruise ship.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Stunning sunsets were common.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Oops - look what's in the dinghy.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

When the water was clear, we can see hundreds

of fish by the side of the boat.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

A little school surfaces as one.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

A four toed candlestick


Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Zihua's first people

came over Alaska's

Bearing Strait from Asia.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

Noemi's cruiser wall.

Zihuatanejo anchorage, Guerrero, Mexico

We enjoy an afternoon of snacking while painting

on the wall.

Isla Grande - Isla Ixtapa - Isla de Ixtapa, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico

Isla Ixtapa is all about fun in the sun. Babes get tans...

Isla Grande - Isla Ixtapa - Isla de Ixtapa, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico

...while boys jump off...

Isla Grande - Isla Ixtapa - Isla de Ixtapa, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico

...and do flips in the air.

Isla Grande - Isla Ixtapa - Isla de Ixtapa, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico

Watertoys of all kinds are available for rent at Isla Ixtapa.

Isla Grande - Isla Ixtapa - Isla de Ixtapa, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico

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

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

great enthusiasm.

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

untoward ever

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

impression behind.

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

anchorage and

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!










































































































































Ixtapa Island (“Isla Grande” or “Isla Ixtapa”) – Great Spot!

Power plant in Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico

Power plant in Manzanillo.

Whale tail in Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico

Whale tail.

Yellowfin tuna catch - Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico

Mark's 34" yellowfin tuna.

Cabeza Negra anchorage, Colima, Mexico

Cabeza Negra.

Sea Turtles, Pacific mainland, Mexico

Sea turtles were everywhere.

Bird sitting on turtle's back, Pacific Mainland Coast, Mexico

Slow passage: a bird catches a

turtle ride.

Maruata Anchorage, Mexico

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.

Fishing panga, Maruata anchorage, Mexico

Fishermen in a panga.

Maruata anchorage, Mexico


Fish swimming below us, Pacific Mainland coast, Mexico Caleta Campos anchorage, Mexico

Caleta Campos.

Caleta Campos anchorage, Mexico

Caleta Campos

Caleta Campos anchorage, Mexico

Caleta Campos

Oil slick outside Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico

Tennis ball sized tar balls engulf the boat.

Oil slick outside Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico

A line of congealed tar balls blocked our way.

Kayakers on Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico

"Isla Ixtapa"

known also as "Isla de Ixtapa"...

Beach at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico

...and also called "Isla Grande."

Wid deer live on Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island , Guerrero, Mexico

Deer live on the island.

Bunnies eat lettuce from the restaurant at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico

The bunnies get fed.

Snorkeling cove at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico

The snorkeling cove on the south side of Isla de Ixtapa.

Beach umbrella made from an inner tube at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico

A great place to relax.

Water taxis ferry tourists at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico

A water taxi takes a group of workers to the island.

Beach umbrellas at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico

Beach umbrellas line all three beaches on the island.

Wandering musicians at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico

Musicians wandered

among the tourists.

Boat rides on Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico

There are boat rides of all kinds.

Playing in the sand at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico Father and daughter on the beach, Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico Strolling the beach at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico There's lots of cactus on Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico

Cactus thrives here.

Gorgeous craggy snorkeling beach at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico Hidden beach at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Guerrero, Mexico

The hidden beach.

Heron waits for dinner at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico A bird wades in the water at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico Crocodiles at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico


Crocodiles at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa, Guerrero, Mexico Iguana at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico


The evening before a lunar eclipse at Isla Ixtapa - Isla Grande - Isla de Ixtapa - Ixtapa Island, Melia Resort, Guerrero, Mexico

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

same weight.

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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