Los LaJolla's 2004 Zihuatanejo Extravaganza
Let me start by saying that this year’s trip to Zihuatanejo ranks among the best vacations I’ve ever had. The stars aligned to make everything just about perfect. The “just about” part leaves room for improvement, of course, but Zihuatanejo, Playa La Ropa, the Catalina Beach Resort, and the company I kept, all combined to make this a most wonderful trip. We stretched it out to ten days, rather than our usual seven, and that seems to be about right. We were pretty much ready for our “soft” bed by that 10th day... though now that I’m home I miss the warmth and water, of course.
You can look to my other trip reports for many of my thoughts on the area, and its attractions. I’m going to take this year’s report and simply enlarge on what I’ve laid out in the past; What’s new, what’s new to me, and the ups and downs of this year’s trip will be my thrust. If there are changes to previous reports, those will be noted also.
I’ll also be doing a separate report on the Catalina Beach Resort. I’ve had many people thank me for my 2003 report on the Hotel Irma, and it seems that that sort of an endeavor is much more useful than letting people know that I liked the guacamole at Rossie’s (which I did).
Packing The Bags
I’m a planner. I like to have my fun getting ready for a trip. To me, it’s half the enjoyment. This year I made sure I had a bigger memory stick for the camera so that I could take more and higher resolution pictures (which doesn’t make up for my lack of photography skills unfortunately). I also decided to put together a small boom box, by utilizing two pretty good sounding battery operated computer speakers and a personal CD player. I also brought along many of my Latino music CDs. It was fun for a day or two, but then went unused. I won’t bother wasting the space, and weight, again. I made my list and checked it twice, and for a couple of weeks prior to leaving I'd throw things into the suitcase, as I thought of them.
As usual, I scoured Zihu@Rob’s message board for new and fun things to do. His entire website is a marvelous resource and I thank him for doing such a fine job of moderating what has to be the most informative and easily accessed service on any vacation destination, anywhere.
So, with that said, here’s the report for this year - October 28th, through November 7th, 2004.
Coming along with us (my wife Suzie and me) this year were Suzie’s sister Lori and her husband Tom. These are great friends and we have spent many vacations with them over the years. We have children of similar ages and it’s always worked out well. There were no children on this trip however, none of the young kind anyway… we did each bring along our “inner child.”
Lori and Tom
Meeting us a few days after our arrival, and going home with us, were our friends Arthur and Kimo. I work with Arthur and it was he in fact, who sparked this year’s trip plans. He had stayed at the Villa De La Roca before and made some innocent comment about how nice it would be to go again. That’s all that was needed to set the wheels in motion.
Arthur and Kimo
Roberto! and Wynn, our friends from British Columbia, finally fulfilled their desires to drive to Zihuatanejo this year and made plans to be in town to coincide with our stay. As it turned out, they showed up a few days early, and Roberto! even made the trip to the airport to pick up Los LaJollas, upon our arrival... a very nice thing to do. I thank him for that token of friendship.
Wynn and Roberto!
The Catalina Beach Resort, hereafter referred to as the “Catalina” for the remainder of the report, was the choice for this year’s habitations. We decided to forego air conditioning and “rough it” for the 10 days. It was a decision that I wasn’t too sure about at the time, but in retrospect it was the right one. There are rooms available with A/C, at the Catalina, but they have coverings on the windows, which must certainly block out the wonderful sounds of the ocean and the local fauna. Our room had screens only (along with attractive security bars), and let the whole of La Ropa inside. As stated, I’ll be doing a separate report on the Catalina, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Just suffice to say that it is where I will stay from now on… and that comes as a pretty high recommendation. The lack of A/C was not a bother, by the way.
The Catalina Beach Resort
Once again, we decided to hit Zihuatanejo at that time just before the “high season” starts. You’re almost assured of good weather and the prices haven’t escalated yet. In 2003 we went on January 1st, and while we had a great time, the difference in the amount of people in town is amazing … that’s why it’s the high season. This year our trip coincided with Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday set aside for honoring loved ones passed. It is more a celebration of life than it is of death… not nearly as ominous as it sounds to us gringos. More on this later.
On our previous two trips to Zihuatanejo, we had never seen a cruise ship in port. I knew from searching Zihu@Rob’s website that there would be three in port while we were there this year. As it turned out, there were four. The Carnival Spirit, the Statendam, the Norwegian Star, and the Seven Seas Mariner all showed up for a brief stay. I must say, the novelty wore off quickly. One of the days there were two in port. I had thought in the past that it might be fun to look out into the bay and espy a cruise ship. I was wrong. Even though I have taken a cruise before, the ships appear much larger than I imagined and certainly dominate the view. Plus, the chugging of their boats all day, bringing people to and from the dock, isn’t nearly as pleasant as that of the pangas, which I actually rather enjoy.
Cruise Ships For Days
It is true what they say about the prices in town going up when the ships are in port. I overheard someone talking to a couple from one of the ships, who used the Catalina’s stairs to get to La Ropa. They had paid $10.00 U.S. for the $2.50 cab ride from the pier to the Catalina. My wife and Lori also reported that prices in some of the shops were doubled, but that they could get the lower prices, that they had seen a few days earlier, by letting the proprietor know that they had been in before.
All in all, I could very well do without cruise ships in Zihuatanejo Bay, but I’m a tourist as well, so I’ll leave those decisions up to those that live and work in the area. There certainly must be money for the community in the cruise ship business.
I should also mention that I didn’t see any signs of pollution caused by the ships, though I suppose there could be unseen things happening. It appeared that the Navy was pretty watchful of the ships while they were in the bay, and according to one reliable source it was partly to watch for polluting that might go on.
Water and Beach Quality
While on the subject of pollution, let me say that while I was there, the water at La Ropa was nothing but great. I went swimming in the ocean every day while I was there and never once was I concerned that I might be endangering myself in any way, regarding water cleanliness. It even rained quite hard one night and I expected to see that the bay was somewhat affected, as I have read of such things before. But I was pleasantly surprised that it seemed to make no noticeable difference.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t the occasional plastic pop bottle or piece of plastic bag floating in the water or washed up on the beach, but it was certainly no worse than any Oregon beach that I’ve been to. And considering that it’s a bay, as opposed to open shoreline, and gets as much and varied use as it does, I’d say that the water is in excellent condition. Most of what I saw floating in the water was leaves, twigs and the likes. I only saw one dead fish washed up on shore the whole time I was there. I heard of a few others. Nothing out of the ordinary I’d say, having grown up on the beaches of Southern California.
The Water Was Wonderful
The New IntraWest Development
My first thought was that it reminded me of Disneyland…. Toon Town to be exact. Then my brother-in-law mentioned that it reminded him of Disneyland. Later, I heard someone swimming nearby say that it reminded him of Disney World. This is not to be construed as anything negative really, just an observation. The development is quite attractive actually, and fits in well with the surrounding area. It makes for a pretty nice transition from the Sotavento to La Casa Que Canta.
The beach level was still boarded up and I couldn’t see into the ground level, so no pictures there, but these two images give a pretty good idea of what the overall look is. I thought (more than once) that I’d probably really enjoy staying in one of the top “penthouse” units. The view from there must be magnificent.
Note the folks hanging out at the rail of the restaurant...
It seems that the staff was in training.
It should be interesting once the place opens up, as it is right next to one of the main beach access points for the local citizens and right on the part of La Ropa that they use the most. I worry a tad that the clientele of such a development may not be the types that appreciate local families playing in the surf, and soccer games going on out front of their palapa area… and that the locals will pay the price. Hopefully, I’m wrong.
What can I say? Zihuatanejo must be a wonderful place to get married I suppose. There was at least one wedding party, a rather large one, staying at the Catalina. Most of the people were quite young and somewhat party oriented. I think that Ixtapa might have suited them better, but they did a nice job of making their own party (somewhat to the detriment of the other guests in the hotel).
One night they made quite a bit of noise down on the beach, until about 3:30 a.m. Then two other nights, at the rehearsal dinner and reception itself, they had the “Disco D.J.” pumpin’ out the jams over at Pattie’s. Now those that know me will tell you that I’m all for having a good time, and I more than allow for others to do the same, but Michael Jackson screaming "Beat it" till 2:00 a.m. even wore me a bit thin. Never did I complain to anyone, nor would I, but people should be more considerate of the other guests in their local. Then again, it’s not like I’ve never peeved anyone off.
Other than those couple of incidents, the wedding party was a great bunch of people and upright guests of the Catalina. They were always considerate when on the actual hotel grounds, going to and from their rooms, in the pool or dining room. I wish the bride and groom only the best of what life has to offer.
Most of the days went something like this: Wake, eat, swim, drink, sleep, repeat as needed. Not all of them, but most of them. There were a few days when the routine was interrupted.
A Couple of Places That We Spent a Lot of Time
We got up to Troncones this year, thanks to an offer by Biker Bob and his “friend” to give us a ride and guided tour.
Troncones is pretty laid back, to say the least. We stopped and checked out a few places, including El Burro Borracho, Eden Haciaenda, and eventually had some cervezas and guacamole at the Inn at Manzanillo Bay. We also hit the beach there, for a little swimming and saw some of the biggest surf that I saw all week. Not huge mind you, but there were a couple of sets that had the ability to knock you down hard, if you weren’t paying attention.
I often wondered why folks stay a few days in Troncones and then move along to another spot. Now I know. It’d be great for a couple of days of relaxing in the sun, reading a book or whatever. But I think, for me anyway, any more than that and I would get a little restless. It’s a beautiful area, with some very nice places, eateries, and great beaches, but I doubt you’ll find much in the way of excitement.
The Busy Life Out Troncones Way
Troncones is most assuredly worth a visit, there are some good things happening up that way… some good folks that care about the area.
The Troncones Freeway
On the Panga Osisis
Another day we took a panga ride from La Ropa, around the bay and on up the coastline to Ixtapa. It was about a three-hour tour, which kept the theme from Gilligan’s Island running through my mind the whole time. It was most interesting to see the shoreline from that angle and I’d suggest that, especially if you don’t fish, this is a “must do” on one of your trips. Find the honorable Captain Moses wandering the beach and have him set it up for you. For six of us, it cost $100 U.S. (plus a tip).
Martin and Captain Moses Were Our Guides
There are many things to see from the panga, that aren’t so easily observed from the shore. Such as, where the suggested new cruise ship pier would be built, outrageous privately owned homes, an old Japanese development that went belly-up and has sat idle for as much as 15 years, along with many caves, blow-holes, wildlife, and a host of other things that were unknown to me before the trip. Captain Moses is a great tour guide too, and a downright nice gent.
Captain Moses and Suzie
Japanese Development North of Zihuatanejo Bay
Sunset From The Panga
For me, there were just a couple of trips into town this year, as I’m not the shopping or buying kind of a guy. I mostly just like to hang in the water and keep cool instead. However, there were a few things that got me downtown.
Dia de los Muertos
One was Sunday night at the Zocalo. Any Sunday evening is great fun at the Zocalo (basketball court), but this time it was a special celebration for Dia de los Muertos. Of course, to my gringo mind many of the activities are totally alien, which is one of the reasons that it was so much fun. There were mock graves set up with flowers, pictures, characters, candles, and whatnot. Dancers demonstrated what I assume are traditional Mexican dances. Some showed their Indian ties by dressing in native costumes and dancing.
Dia de los Muertos at the Zocalo
It was all pretty strange to me, but very interesting. I plan to do some study on the event, as I assume that I’ll be back again sometime and want to better understand what it is that I’m standing outside of.
Unfortunately, I became a little woozy that night, from too much sun I believe, and left a little earlier than I would have liked to.
Another night was spent at Rick’s Bar. On his website, before I left home, it indicated that his grand opening for the season was October 31st. Roberto! and Wynn headed down on the 30th. I declined to go, as I didn’t think the bar opened until the next evening. Apparently, I missed a good one. I’m sure that Roberto! will tell you about it.
However, on the website, I also noticed that Friday nights are open mic nights, or some might say, “jam session” night. So I already had a plan to head down on Friday. My wife and I are members of a band in Portland and are always looking for someplace to entertain the masses.
I was hoping there’d be a house band there, as I’m not much of a guitar player (I play bass) and would rather sit in with a band then have to carry the show. However, the band chose to not show up that night. So I borrowed one of Rick's guitars, got up and sang a song, then called my wife up and we did a couple together.
Party, Party, Party...
A fine gent by the name of Eddie was holding down the fort for the evening, with his guitar and vocal abilities, so we asked if he might accompany Suzie on a few songs. As it turns out, the guy’s repertoire is phenomenal. Suzie sings a lot of old 30’s and 40’s type jazz songs, which are not very easy to play (that’s the reason that it wasn’t me playing them). Eddie knew a good number of them, and in Suzie’s key t’boot. It turned out to be a great evening… especially when Rick wouldn’t let me pay for my drinks, as I was part of the entertainment.
Eddie and Suzie Tear It Up
Rick’s is a truly great bar, with a good vibe and I’ll be back again, for sure. They don’t serve up dinners though, so eat before you go. There is a lunch menu however, if you stop in during the day. I hear they serve up a good burger.
As I said, my shopping was very limited. I would like to bring up one thing though. In a past report, I have made mention of the Elvira’s store located on La Ropa. It is still there and it is still very convenient, but twice I felt that they took advantage of me.
I don’t mind paying extra for convenience, but these two incidents were unreasonable. The first was on my first night in town, I had been to dos por uno at the Catalina, then headed down to Elvira’s for dinner… to put it simply, I was inebriated and the attendant knew it. He took advantage of the situation. The other time it was a simple case of not being as adept with the currency as the person (a different attendant) behind the counter.
In both situations I hold myself accountable. I was the one who handed over the money and should have been more on the ball, concerning the transactions. I only bring this up to say “buyer beware.” These incidents did not keep me from shopping at the store regularly during my trip, but they sure made me slow things down and stay on top of the situation in order to not get taken again.
For whatever reason, the crocadillo not only became the topic of many conversations, but the battle cry of this year’s LaJolla party. A whistle, approximating the sound of the word became our way of getting another’s attention from afar. Often when a yell or a wave would not get through to someone, the “crocadillo whistle” would.
I only saw one small crocadillo down at the south end of La Ropa. There is a fence there now, but you can still get around it, leaving me wondering why it is there in the first place. But there were many stories of crocadillos body surfing at night, when unsuspecting touristas chanced into the waves… all of them false of course and only fabricated to prey on the fears of a couple of our more gullible compadres. Not that the animals don’t venture into the sea, but no one has ever been attacked by one… yet!
One Small Crocadillo
First of all, an update to my last two reports. El Sanka Grill, as we know it, is gone. There is a place downtown that calls itself El Sanka Grill, but it’s not the same affair… In fact, they don’t even serve tacos at all. It’s a sad loss, in my opinion.
I really only ended up trying a couple of new restaurants this year. Oddly enough, I had never been to Rossie’s. We went a couple of times this year and I was greatly pleased with their service and menu. The food was excellent, the drinks outrageous (check out that photo at the top of the report) and the prices low. As with the other beach restaurants that I frequent (Elvira’s, Pattie’s, M.J.& Ritchie’s and La Perla), part of the satisfaction is the ability to eat a fine meal with your feet in the sand, literally yards away from the waves lapping up on the shore.
The Clan Does Elvira's
The other new restaurant that we tried this trip was downtown on fisherman’s walk, just across from the Naval Station; La Sirena Gorda. Woohoo, what a nice place! I had some chicken soup and fish tacos, both to die for. The strawberry margarita was a fine thing too. Others in our group had other things, most of which I tasted, and everything was excellent. I suppose that this restaurant was only unknown to me, but I want to pass it along to others as a mighty-fine place to eat. If I remember correctly, the prices were not out of line either.
La Sirena Gorda
Another thing we did on our last day, just before catching a taxi to the airport, was spend $9.00 U.S. on a hamburger at the Villa del Sol. Some of our friends were eating there, so we joined them. For my wife and myself, lunch, along with a couple of really tasty daiquiris (I can’t remember the kind, but they were pear like) and two bottles of water, came to $40.00 with tip. Yikes! The burger was good, but those that know me will understand that I had a much easier time swallowing the burger than I did the price. I knew it going in though, so there were no surprises. I just thought it might be fun to see what the VDS was all about. It gave me a chance to walk through the grounds and check things out. It may have been a mistake though, as Suzie wondered aloud if it might not be a good place to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary next year :-)
One final tidbit regarding restaurants is about Pattie’s. I’ve mentioned it in other reports, so I won’t go into how much I like the establishment (a lot), but I wanted to give kudos to Javier, a waiter there. It seems like every time we dined at Pattie’s (at least three times) Javier was our waiter and we all came to like him very much. He shared personal stories about himself and his children, authenticated crocadillo stories, and impressed us with his abilities as a waiter and human being. He is a very likeable, articulate man. Make sure to look him up if you’re dining at Patty’s. I'm so sorry that I never thought to get his picture.
Other Honorable Mentions
Carole: Many folks familiar with Zihu@Rob’s message board will know Carole. She and Gunner have been Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa folks for a long time. I hope that I’m not overstepping my boundaries here by mentioning that Gunner passed away this last year. Carole had every right to forego a trip this season, but decided to come down anyway. I am so glad that she did. She was a delight to be with and always had a great smile ready (and was willing to use it). Her knowledge on the area and great stories from trips past were greatly appreciated by all of us in the LaJolla party.
Cheryl and Kim: I can’t say enough about these two ladies. We met them at a Wednesday night message board party, and they became compadres from the get-go. As I write this, they are still in Zihuatanejo and I just know that they are tearing it up (in a good sense) right now. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we will meet again and again. It is meant to be. I think I can speak for each and every person in our party that Kim and Cheryl made our trip better than it would have been, had we not met them.
Rob: Most commonly known as Zihu@Rob, he provides a great service to Zihuatanejo. It was a joy to see him, and to share a few drinks with him at the message board party.
Celso: As one of the main men of the Catalina, he took care of everything prior to our arrival and proved to be an even greater asset and compadre after we arrived. I look forward to many more meetings with Celso.
Closing Thoughts…Sort of…Maybe…Unless I Think of Something Else.
Once again I am overcome with a feeling of love for Zihuatanejo. The attraction that I have for this area almost seems silly in some ways. I am never quite sure what it is that creates this feeling in me. It’s easy to say “It’s the people” or “It’s the laid back attitude.” And to be sure, those are part of it. But there are many places with good people and good vibes. I ride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and when asked why, there’s a pat answer available: “If I had to explain, you wouldn’t understand.” It’s much the same with Zihuatanejo. I can’t really explain the attraction, but come for yourself and you’ll understand. I guarantee it.
Till next time then…
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