Zihuatanejo Trip Report

Curly LaJolla - November 2001

Left: Curly at La Perla - Right: Downtown Zihua & the catch of the day

I figured that I'd do a day one, day two type thing, but it isn't my style, so I'll ramble instead.

Where to start? At the beginning, I guess.

The airport was quite empty at four A.M. in the morning. We got there three hours early, as my friend's daughter had missed her plane to Cabo recently, arriving only two hours before her flight, due to the increased security. So we decided to hit it early, and have some fun riding the moving sidewalks, if all went smoothly, leaving us with some time on our hands. Needless to say, the sidewalks were a lot of fun.

The ride down included (free of charge) a plane change in L.A., where I happened to run into a couple of guys talking about Zihuatanejo. It turned out that one of them was Dorado1, from the message board (http://www.zihuatanejo.net/wwwboard/), and we introduced ourselves. He was on his way down for a catch and release fishing tournament that he was sponsoring. This was about the only interesting thing to happen, flight wise. The best thing I could do to pass the time was sleep, a prospect aided by the four Valium that I took, to help with my unfounded fear of hurtling through space, at 33,000 feet, in a 95-ton hunk of metal, plastic and highly flammable liquids.

When we landed at Zihua, I immediately knew that it was hot and humid. Every pour in my body started flowing freely, and would continue to do so throughout the week. Believe me when I say, it didn't bother me a bit. At home it was 50 degrees and raining. As long as I kept a bandana on my head, and a cold one in my hand, the heat never bothered me.

After wading our way through the immigration maze, we hooked up with our ride to the hotel, the Villa Mexicana. Now the Villa Mexicana might seem "not too nice" to some people, those more used to the jet-set lifestyle, but it was about as pleasant an establishment as I've ever had the opportunity to patronize. The good señor that checked us in attempted to give us a room with a garden view, but we persuaded him, rather easily, to switch his thinking to an ocean view. Only after his gracious gesture, and with no prompting from him, did I tip him for his kindness. The room was literally ten feet from the sandy beach and the delightful palapa area, out front of the hotel. I spent much time just kicking back on the front patio and watching the world go by. There is a palapa bar (a palapa is like a big beach umbrella, only made from palm frons), with game boards built into the bar top, that served as a good place to sit and listen to the musica that was playing whenever the restaurant was open.

Left: Another boring sunset - Right - Palapas by the bay

Just minutes after switching into more comfortable clothing and claiming my spot on our patio, a gentleman walked by with a tray, and offered to bring me drinks… I like this aspect of civility, and couldn't resist. I ordered up two margaritas (one for my lovely wife) and the Zihua experience began. I was happy.

There were a few things we did, prior to our trip, to ensure a good time. One was to search the archives on Rob's message board, to draw on the experience of others. I have no problem with experimenting, but have found over the years that if a number of people have a good opinion about a particular place or activity, I'm probably gonna like it too. The board was also good for asking the silly questions that I couldn't find addressed in the archives. Many nice people replied and did our trip a world of good.

Another thing we did, as well as the two friends that accompanied us on the trip, was to start taking acidophilus capsules a week prior to, during, and for a few days after the trip. The logic being that it helps to build up the critters in your stomach that will eat the bad bugs one might run into, when away from the old home waters. While I can't be sure that they did the job, I can say that not one of us suffered from anything resembling Montezuma's revenge. About as close as I came was on day two, I started feeling woozy, and then realized that the only thing I'd had to drink, in this heat, was alcohol. I headed over to Elvira's store, picked up a few Gatorades, and the situation was resolved. After a couple of hours I was on top of it again. Let that be a lesson to you, stay hydrated. The sun in Z is hot and the humidity high, when you're not used to it, it will kick your butt. But I do believe that the acidophilus worked. I didn't drink the water, but ate the salsas, green leafy things, and any other common contributor to stomach ailments, and never got sick.

Left: Mary and Neil - Right: Suzie, my wonderful wife

On the first evening, after meeting up with our friends, Mary and Neil, we decided that it would be a good thing to get some dinner. Almost by default, we ended up at Elvira's, and found a bit of heaven. That first dinner I had their tuna steak, and fell in love. Elvira's got most of our breakfast, and dinner business. We tried other places of course, but Elvira's was the norm. I must say that the bar and the eatery at the Villa Mexicana leaves something to be desired, but with Elvira's, Patty's and La Perla a stone's throw away, who gives a rip? Two other places that I'd highly recommend would be Tamales y Atoles Any, with tamales as big as your head (and plenty good pozole too), and high, high, high on the list is El Sanka Grill, with tacos to die for. Both of these establishments are in downtown Z, and deserve your patronage when doing the downtown shuffle. By the way, food is one of my specialties. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I love to eat.

I had made a good friend of Roberto! prior to the trip, via the message board and email, and found him and Wynn, his significant other, right where he said they'd be on the morning after our arrival, sitting at Elvira's (how convenient) waiting to buy me a beer. After a delightful meal of chiliquiles, tequila, and Coronas, we sat and talked for close to three hours (love that Mexico time). Roberto! and Wynn proved to be good friends throughout the stay, and I look forward to meeting up with them again, hopefully in Z, but if not there, somewhere in the Great White North, from whence they emanate.

One of the nice things about the Villa Mexicana is that it sets you almost directly in the middle of Playa La Ropa, and allows you to meet all of your needs quite nicely. The little store at Elvira's is easily accessible for needs, as they may arise, as are many of the restaurants and bars along this wonderful beach. The major decision, when deciding where to eat, is do we go right or left. The parasailing, wave runners, Hobie Cats, and banana boats are all located close by, and easy to get to. The artisan's marcado is right next-door, and while it doesn't offer the multitude of trinkets available downtown, it is a representation of the local arts and crafts. There is even a small stall in which you can buy beverages etc.

A couple of views from the Playa Principal walkway

As I said before, the Villa Mexicana's restaurant is not as top notch as some of the others located close by, but we only had breakfast there once, and some appetizers. Both were good, and the guacamole was actually excellent. Breakfast, had I not already eaten elsewhere, would have been more than acceptable. The wait help was outstanding, as were the maids and front desk personnel. We brought down some lipsticks and nail polishes to leave for the maids, and set one or two out every day, along with a 10 peso coin, in order to ensure that the maid of the day would be rewarded for their great service. We tipped the usual on the last day, but I worried a bit that there might be several maids, and didn't want to leave anyone out. I think they appreciated it, as they were always very friendly, gave us great service and a towel animal, complete with flowers, on our bed after every trip cleaning up the room. I can't say enough about the good and friendly staff at the Villa Mexicana, so I'll just leave it at that.

I'd wake each morning before sunrise, and head for the patio to watch the sun come up, and the area come to life. In the distance the drone of the pangas, the local fishing boats, heading out to sea to make the daily catch, was constant. Not a bothersome noise, but a welcomed sound of the lifestyle of those I was intruding on. I'd sit at the table, and just take it all in. The night guard at the hotel would be making his rounds, and about the time he took off, the kitchen help and waiters would start arriving to set up for the day. I can't tell you how much I got to anticipate 7:30, when the coffee would be ready, and I could plop down my 16 pesos for a cup of hot joe. By that time the sun was up and the beach was abuzz with walkers, joggers, beachcombers, and fishermen. I'd watch as men groomed the beach, smoothing out the sand, and picking up any trash, that those less considerate might have left behind. That brings to mind another thing that I noticed about Playa La Ropa, the beach that our hotel is on, how clean it is. Clean, beautifully clean,

The beach was also free of the vendors that can sometimes be bothersome, in their effort to make a sale. My wife told me that vendors are outlawed on Playa La Ropa, I don't know where she heard it, but it would apparently be true. There were a few that fell by, in the week we were there, but dang few. Nice addition, to be able to lie on the beach and not have to fend off the vendors. Now it may be this way all over Z, but I'll tell you what, in Matzatlan or PV, it's not like that. There, they attack you all day long, and into the night.

I only made it downtown a few times, as I was more in tune with hangin' under the palapas, but I found downtown Zihuatanejo to be quite pleasurable. Along the waterfront, on Playa Principal, the hawkers for the restaurants are prolific, and loud, but not obnoxious. The happy hour seems to run all day at several of these establishments, and "dos por uno" is a pretty good deal in my opinion, and hard to pass up, so we sat on the beach and had margaritas a few times.

Downtown Zihuatanejo

I checked out Rob's office, and even found it open a couple of times. I had brought down some beef jerky for Rob, and a few school type items for the kids, and when I went to drop them off, was a bit dismayed to remember that he wasn't open on Saturday, as I'd now have to carry this stuff around all day. Then I remembered that his wife had the boutique around the corner, and sure enough, she was open, so I dropped the stuff off with her. Make sure you meet this amazingly charming lady if you make the trip to Z, she is wonderful, and one has to wonder how Rob made this catch. :-) Rob is a great guy too really, and has a nice little place to do your internetting. I noticed, as I walked by, that a lot of the others were very poorly equipped, and didn't have much of a comfort level. I only actually used one other, as Rob was closed and I needed to check mail, and although the price was fine, the equipment was slow, and there was a constant chatter going on in the room, as the proprietor was hangin' with his buds (one of those deals where you can't help but think they're talking about you… paranoia strikes deep).

While I was at Rob's the first time, I picked up a bottle of homebrew mescal, made by a local that I have been calling señor gunnysack. Rob had been holding it for someone who wasn't able to retrieve it. Mighty fine, mighty fine. Make sure that you find the gunnysack and partake of its pleasures, should you find yourself in Z. Anyone who has tasted will agree with me to be sure. In fact, my wife even liked it, and she usually turns up her nose at mescal, too smoky for her. But this did indeed have a bit less smoky flavor, and was very smooth. (My damned autoformat keeps turning my z's into s's in the word mescal, and I'm not going to bother changing it. I know that Mexicans prefer the z spelling, as to not confuse the product with drugs, but I'm lazy, so s it will be for now).

One other note before I drift away from Rob and Internet use in Z: The keyboards will drive you nuts. Almost guaranteed to turn you back into a hunt and pecker. They tend to move the punctuation around from where it is on an English keyboard, and boy howdy… I got to the point where I just started emails out with the phrase, "Please excuse the punctuation, these keyboards are hard to use." All my apostrophes turned into brackets, and I never could find the right key to produce an @ symbol. I had to call for help. Funny thing is, that at Rob's, it involved the use of some sort of Alt/G key and the number 2, while at the other place I went, it was that same Alt/G key and the letter Q. Go figure. Anyway, it was fun. Hey, I'm in a foreign land, right?

As far as the rest of downtown Z goes, I found it quite delightful. As in any town, there is always some construction going on, and it fascinated me to see that both the building and the demolition is done primarily by hand, rather than machine (I used to be in the building trade and note such things). The walkways are another treat. It would appear that a lot of shop owners are responsible for installing their own, and as such, it's not uncommon for the sidewalk to change completely from shop to shop. This isn't true all over town, but in sections it certainly seemed this way.

A little bit of the good life

I never made it to the super marcado, but did fall by both the regular marcado and the artisan's marcado downtown. My pard Neil was pretty grossed out with the meat section, but I reminded him that at least when you bought a chicken in Z, you knew it was fresh. Raw meat won't last long in that heat. The smell is a bit pungent, but probably only to our white Americano noses. I could see where it might smell pretty good to a hungry local.

I had a ball in the marcados, even though I didn't stay long. One of my favorite memories of Z will forever be watching my wife and our friend Mary picking over the fruit and veggies, and trying to bargain with the proprietor on the price of this and that. It was after dark, and the ally way was dimly lit, so I couldn't get a picture of it, but just as well, as it is a great memory, and a picture might just not do it justice.

Roberto! kept tellin' me about some liquor warehouse downtown, that I never found. In fact, Roberto! kept tellin' us about a lot of things that we never found, but I don't hold it against him. I figure it probably has something to do with the Canadian exchange rate thing. Anyway, I ended up buying all my tequila at Elvira's mini-mart. I'm assuming that it was probably the highest possible prices available in Z, but still beat the heck outta Portland prices. As we were fixing to go home, I picked up a couple of bottles of Cuervo 1800 añejo, for 300 pesos each, that's just short of $33 U.S. They are 100% agave, and here at home the stuff goes for $49.00. I'd consider that a savings.

Left: Roberto! and Suzie - Right: Curly and Suzie

While on the subjext of tequila, I found a delightful Sauza tequila in Z, that is for sale here in Oregon for about $27.00. It's just a model shy of the Hornitos, and isn't 100% agave, but it's an añejo, and way good, it's called Commemorativo. To my taste, it's better than Hornitos, not quite as spicy, and a couple of bucks cheaper. The Cuervo Commemorativo was quite good, as was the Cazadores and El Jimador, but my favorite that I found while in Z was the Sauza Commemorativo. What the heck, it's starting to sound like I did some drinking while in town, especially when you consider señor gunnysack's mescal. Anyway, all these tequilas are available in Oregon, and all are quite good, but a couple are a bit on the expensive side. When it all comes down to it, after a few of shots of any of these, your regular old Cuervo Gold doesn't taste too bad. Find everything you ever wanted to know about tequila here: http://www.ianchadwick.com/tequila/ This guy has way too much time on his hands.

Our two friends, Mary and Neil, were a delight to travel and hang with. They had rented a place at the Gloria Maria Bungalows that came with a kitchen out on the front patio. Mary has Fibromyalgia and was concerned about possibly not wanting, or being able to get out to lunch and dinner etc. each day, so a kitchen was a necessity. As it turns out, the heat seemed to help with her situation and she probably was one of the most active in our party. I seem to remember her dancing with waiters and parasailing, something that the rest of us declined to do. Anyway, the bungalows were very cool, and if I'm not mistaken, comparable in price to our habitation. The room was about the same as ours, but there was the way good addition of the refrigerator, sink, and stove on the patio. Mary and Neil had an upstairs room, and the view off of their patio was fantastic. I'd suggest to anyone that they check this place out, especially if you have kids, and don't want to have to drag them to a restaurant all the time. It's just a few feet away from La Perla, another fine dining establishment on Playa La Ropa

Francisco, the owner of La Perla, maintains a walk-in humidor full of Cuban cigars, and is more than proud to walk you in and show you around. Mary and I did the Cuban thing, just to say that we did. Neither of us are cigar smokers, but hey, it's a Cuban. What better way to make all them high tone wannabe's at home green with envy… sipping añejo and suckin' a Cuban (cigar). We got a picture of course, just to show off.

There were many places we didn't get to, but the one place we did hit, on Sunday, was Ixtapa. It is your typical resort type affair, and to my way of thinking, not for me. Not that I wouldn't enjoy staying there I'm sure, but Z is much more to my liking (laid back). The beach is beautiful, but lined with many high-rise hotels, with all the beautiful people basking by the pool, pretty good for ogling the opposite sex, but not much else. We left too early for the fun at Señor Frogs and Carlos and Charlie's to begin. When we stopped in, it was quiet, people wise, and noisy, noise wise. I'd of liked to stuck around for the nighttime mayhem, but we decided to head back to Z, and Elvira's for dinner. By the way, many of the shops close early, or don't open at all on Sunday, so if you must visit Ixtapa, a different day is probably a better idea. They did have some cool shops there.

Left: Ixtapa - Right: The view from the Sunset Bar/Catalina pool

On Monday night, there was a rumor that a bunch of the message boarders were going to meet at Patty's and have a bit of a get together, so we showed up, and sure enough, there were a bunch of hooligans drinking and carrying on. I'm not too good with names when I've had a few, but I do remember a few. Carol, Connie, Gunner, Roberto!, Wynn, Janice, Jeff. There, that's a few. We had a good time, and Gunner kept my end of the table in stitches, and I can't even remember one story that he told, but they were good.

There are many things to do and see in Z, and we didn't even begin to scratch the surface. I had all these grandiose plans before I went down, and once there, was quite content to let them fall by the wayside, as I just sat on my fat butt and relaxed. I was going to take the Tristar sunset cruise, maybe fish, visit Troncones and Las Gatas Beach, all sorts of things, but heck, I didn't even make it to La Madera beach, and that was just a few yards away. It's funny how easy it was to switch plans once I was there. But I've never had a better trip. True, it was the first time that my wife and I had been on a vacation alone, since the kids were born (17 years), and that alone would have made it very special, but Zihuatanejo was indeed the place for us to be.

OK then, from my limited exposure…

Best Food Overall – Elvira's

Best Piña Colada – La Perla

Best Tacos – El Sanka Grill

Best Cigars – La Perla

Best Tamales - Tamales y Atoles Any

Best View – Sunset Bar/Catalina Pool

Best Guacamole – Patty's

Best Internet Office – Rob's (of course)

Best Mango Margarita – Patty's

Best Vacation Value - Zihuatanejo

Like I said, my exposure is limited. We will have to be back many times before I can give you an accurate trip report on Zihuatanejo. There is something there for everyone, and through everyone's eyes, it will appear differently. That's a good thing.

The trip home was pretty much the trip down in reverse order. The security at the Ixtapa/Zihua airport was a little taxing, but not too bad, as we got there a bit early, and avoided the line up. They have to go through your bags, as opposed to x-raying them. I didn't envy the task. I wouldn't care to go through the dirty clothes of a bunch of people who have just spent x number of days sweating in the 80% Zihua humidity. They were very curious about batteries, which they let me keep, and cigarette lighters, which they didn't. Other than that, everything else made it through with flying colors.

Customs at LAX was an easy go, which was welcomed, as we had to pretty much run to catch our connecting flight, as it was. The rest of the flight home was as it should be.

I look forward to returning to Zihuatanejo as soon as possible. The delightful combination of Mexican culture, sunny skies and resort lifestyle is a wonderful respite from a wet old Portland winter, where the best you can hope for is a weekend without rain. The people of Z are friendly. The beaches are clean, as is the bay. The food is oh so good, and the tequila is cheap. What more could you ask for?

Curly