Now you can believe this or not. This was told to Adrienne and I over drinks as the sun went down in Zihuatanejo, a few days ago. He is a very interesting man, our guest, and there is another story behind our meeting him and having breakfast at a luxury Ixtapa hotel.
The house in the middle of the photo was owned by a Mafia person, who was a friend of the President of Mexico, five presidents back in time. It looks to me as if it were modeled on the ancient Greek. Well, the tale goes that there is a tunnel, right through the hill, and down deep in the ground he kept his enemies locked up in cells, and down there too, he kept lions and tigers!
I can imagine it, can you? I'm not sure I believe it though.
It was Malcolm Fraser, I think, as Prime Minister of Australia, that said: There is no such thing as a free lunch. Did he include the Free Breakfast? he should have.
There is a place near Zihuatanejo (Zee-what-en-AY-ho) called Ixtapa (Ix-TAR-pah) and it saves Z-Town from the gross resort hotel towers, golf courses, expensive marinas and private beaches - by doing it all a few miles away.
Normally I would not go to such places. They seem false, unreal, and they seem to make both guests and staff behave in such a stilted way, as if they were on their best behavior, as if they were second-rate actors. Besides, we don't have the money.
Now the story begins. In the internet café we met (let's call him) Steve, an American who lives and works here in Mexico, in "sales". Okay, we make friends, and tell him our whole story - living on board our boat, and so on. .Going back to the boat, we meet - let's call him Alfredo - simply by asking him if he sells beer. He does! He's working in a liquor store. I can give you free beer! He exclaims, and leads us over to a podium or small desk on the footpath. It is covered in papers, brochures and forms (the desk, not the footpath.). Who can resist free beer? He is charming, interesting, trustworthy. It takes a long time, because it is very complicated and although he, a Mexican, has good English, we can't understand what he is selling. I can get you a free T-shirt, TWO free T-shirts! And a Free Breakfast, and you can use the pool, the whole "installation"! The hook is we can help him make a commission, but there is a catch, several catches. We have to be, or pretend to be, Living in America. We have to be Staying at a Hotel. So we cook up a story and rehearse it, and - oh yes - I have to pay him One Hundred Pesos (about $10) "fully 100% refundable, of course!" Are we suckers, or just kind, or just lusting after those free T-shirts and specially that Free Breakfast?
So I pay the 100 pesos, and next morning - as arranged - meet him at Daniels, on the beach, for coffee, at 9:30. Next we hop in a taxi, and off we go to Ixtapa, the sun shining brightly. Mumbling our fake credentials we enter the Hotel, looking like grotty yachties but spruced up a bit. We tell our story about how we now live in Long beach, California, and used to live in Australia, and how we stayed at the la Rosa Hotel the last few days .. But guess what? Here is Steve, the guy we met yesterday and to whom we told the real story!. He works for the same people as does Alfredo! And he has told everyone about the living-on-a-boat bit and we are sprung! Chaos! Quickly adjusting our cover story with beautiful, sexy Carlita (not her real name) we trot behind her to one of seven restaurants (overlooking the five pools) - to have breakfast. We'll meet you here after breakfast? we plead, hoping she will leave us to pull ourselves together. No, I'm having breakfast with you, Joe and Adrienne! she chirrups, all high heels, tight skirt, flouncy red hair - and clipboard at the ready.
Thus begins the Free Breakfast, which I have capitalized for obvious reasons. Needless to say it is nearly impossible to enjoy breakfast, with questions coming at us nonstop. And how long were you in Ecuador? Carlita asks, pen poised. Two months, says Adrienne, buggerme - don't I say at the same time, '"two weeks!" Although she realizes we are lying, she presses on, with glowing promises of showing us the rooms.
I want to cut a long story short, but even then, it's still too long. We see the rooms, we stand on the balcony and are told it is a private beach. Adrienne, whose father saved the beaches at Long Beach, California, from developers who would have turned them into private beaches, immediately bridled at the description. Private beach? Well, no, actually the public COULD come and use the beach, Carlita backpedaling fast. And then came the one hour that we promised we would give, to listen to the sales pitch.
It lasted two hours, and for a while it looked as though we were not to get out of there without using the credit card to the tune of a $7,000 deposit. Every means of persuasion was used, and the offer got better every time we refused! The thing that impressed me was the way they could write all the numbers upside down, words too, so we could read them from where we sat, opposite.
It was time to look at the crocodiles. Give me half an hour, and I'll come back with a yes or a no, I said, dragging Adrienne away from a chatty Alfredo, and heading for the croc enclosure, one kilometer away. The twenty or so dirt-brown crocodiles lay not moving, looking like they were fiberglass replicas, partway in the stagnant water, partway dry, in the hot sun. Small turtles swam and white herons clung to the dull green overhanging branches, waiting for the crazy man who brings the fish guts, and who gets down right amongst the crocs to feed them. I had my answer. We would not buy the shares - giving us holidays without limit (are we not already on a permanent holiday?) - with money we did not have, because ---
Back at the hotel, the salesmen waited. For me it had been like being the prey of a huge animal, or perhaps like being a girl, being persuaded by a man to do something she didn't want to do - the whole ordeal - and it was about to end. I have been preparing for this ocean cruise for 3 years, I began. And dreaming of it for nearly fifty years. I cannot do two things and I am not going to give up this life that we have begun. I spoke passionately, and when the top guy tried again, saying just give me two seconds I said, No. They looked at us as though we did not exist, I shook an unwilling hand and we left, clutching our free T-shirts, re-entering the sunlight, immediately hopping on the old bus, back to Z-Town.
Guess who got on next stop? Alfredo! - and we chatted all the way back, he promising, yes he would love to come to the boat tomorrow, at 4:30, for a drink, and could his friend Louis come too? (Louis laughing like a child). And next day that's what happened, and they brought crocodile key rings, oatmeal cookies and red wine, chilled. As the sunset goldened, Alfredo told us the story of the president's friend, who kept lions and tigers and prisoners in dungeons, right here in Zihuatanejo.
Hello. Maybe you are interested in a brief overview of the passage, from a cruising sailor's point of view. I'll tell you what conditions we found on the direct route, which we drew on the chart as a straight line, at 295 deg True, from Cabo Passado (our departure point - just north of Bahia de Caraquez) to a point about 400 miles South of Acapulco (our original destination) and keeping at least 500 miles offshore, especially in the region of the dangerous Tehuantepec.
We found SSW to SW winds for six days and sailed a course of 290deg True to 310deg True on an apparent wind of 12 - 19 knots, just ahead of the beam. This great sail lasted until about lat 04 deg N. Then we get ITCZ hints, rain and a wind shift to NE, then back to SW. We enter stage 2, motor- sailing or sailing, pocito motoring, still averaging course 300deg T. Winds shift around E and NE , sometimes we steer North. Our autopilot has been erratic since we left, and we have to outwit it with clever ploys. We have passed through 5, 6 and 7 deg north lat.
Now on day 9, the log records "motoring, took in all sail". This heralds stage 3, motoring. By day 11, we are resigned to motoring, we have enough fuel, we estimate to take us all the way to Acapulco. By the way, on day 15, at 14deg 40'N, 098deg W, we changed course to head for Zihuatanejo, on the advice of our friend Rick, of Inshallah. Here is what HE said: "If you've never been to Acapulco, it's worth a stop. Maybe. But Zihuatenejo is one of the prime places to have the boat. No marina. No fuel dock. But still some of what cruising was like 30 years ago before everything got built up. Make sure your dinghy works and has some wheels because you'll be going up on the beach. Practice your beach landings because lots of other places have more surf. Lots of good, small restaurants in Z-town. You'll get a real chance to sample some good Mexican food". Also we found out that the only place to stay is the Acapulco yacht Club which charges USD$3.50/foot, and the ground is foul with old chain and cables, so you don't want to anchor. No mooring balls, either.
Anyway we are being pushed a lot further North than we planned, and this reduces our 500 mile buffer to the Tehuantepec. However, the Pan Pacific Net gives the forecast that the T'pec will be shut down for a week, and this is what happens. We get a safe window (300 miles off, which would not be enough for what has followed since, gale force up to storm, sometimes hurricane force winds. seas up to 30 ft, way offshore. Don, on the Amigo net, 8122 usb @ 1400 zulu, will give you the full picture on the T'pec). So, with light headwinds or no wind, we motor for nearly six days. Get there too early for a daytime entry, so dawdle under sail a day, time our entry for daybreak, motor in and drop anchor at 9 o'clock local time. 17 days passage! Great to be in Mexico!
I've told the story in more detail than you may want, as much for my benefit as yours, browsing the log. We saw dolphins and in the early morning glassy calm I got some fantastic photos, including my reflection with their images, we saw heaps of turtles, and some wild unimaginable sunsets. Very few ships. No fishing boats, or only one, drifting, luckily I had him on AIS. Oh yes, and we became nudists.
I recommend Z-town. You may have been here. It's friendly, relaxed, Port captain is happy and keeps it simple (although you have to go to the Aeropuerto to get your passport stamped). Meals are cheap if you look around, although you will be asked to buy a hammock a hundred times.
Hope this is of some interest,
We plan, at this stage, to go to Banderras bay to haul the boat out and do a bottom paint. This will happen in the next few weeks, or a month. I think we will head for French Polynesia, come March.
Joe and Adrienne
ZIHUATANEJO, Z - what, Z - town, whatever you like to call it, we are HERE. Mexico. And if you have not yet been to Mexico, let me tell you of my experiences, so far, for we plan to stay a while.
The bay is small, surrounded by hills, which the original survey, by the U.S.S. Tuscarora in 1879, shows as having 11 noticeable peaks, and Mt Chutla, at 7528 feet, is the highest. A small island lies off the mouth of the bay, called Roca Negra, or Black Rock. Enough geography - history: Aztecs named it Cihuatlan or Place of the Goddess Women. In 1522, Capitan Juan Alvarez Chico built ships in the Tehuantepec to explore this region. Bahia Zihuatanejo became the launching site for many explorers of the Pacific, China and the Philippines. When Spain moved its base to larger Bahia Acapulco, the Place of Goddesses slumbered for centuries. There's more, but I say, enough history! Look it up yourself. Yes, of course there were pirates here. Now cruise ships come in, one yesterday, one today. Prices double.
The weather is warm, mostly sunny, and the breeze is cool. We sit in the shade of our cockpit reading novels and drinking beer or rum with ice and lime. nothing need be done, because we are resting and "recuperating" from our sea voyage. Boobies shit wantonly on our blue Sunbrella covers and skylight. A heron, all white like a bride but with a much, much longer neck, perches gracefully on our dinghy. A cruiser anchored next to Bluebottle roars like a psychotic wild animal at his boobies and pounds his walking cane against the rigging - even so much as to knock the tip from his cane, but to no avail, the boobies are not frightened. They shit on into the night. Only WE are frightened.
Adrienne and I venture into town. Along the beach, where we shall land our little rubber dinghy, are people swimming, and water taxis anchored off or loading/unloading passengers from the huge concrete pier, and many, many fishing pangas pulled up on the beach on log rollers beyond the reach of the tide. Big locked boxes crowd the higher level of the beach, under the palm trees, where the fishermen keep their tackle, batteries and propane. In the shade there, they will spread a tarp and sell their catch, early in the morning. The restaurants and tourist traps are next, on a paved walk a step or two up from the beach. We land, in a flurry of little waves, getting wet. You know it's not a lonely planet - the people are content, if a little mesmerised, and warm, and will greet you with a smile. Now let me tell of an incident which shows the warmth and openness of the Mexicans:
We arrived last Tuesday.
On the first day it was put about that I was a banjo player, so, guess what, the next night - here I was playing at Rick's Bar in the town! I jammed with an American, Burke, and Lisa, a Japanese/Canadian banjo player, and I soloed on "Pub With No Beer" and "Waltzing Matilda" - which went over well.
Later that night we were carrying our instruments through the streets, and we were approached by some young musicians carrying violins, guitar, and a guitarron (that huge bass guitar thing) - and they asked if we could all play together. We were nervous, but open to the idea. When they hit off, it was obvious they knew what they were about, and the music was SO lively!! They do that whooping and hollering thing just to raise the excitement. Burke, who plays mandolin and sings, as soon as he heard them kick off, said "we're in trouble!" under his breath. But when it came our turn, we did okay, and the Mexicans loved it. Then they did another, and we did, and so forth. People gathered in the street round us and on their balconies, with their cameras popping. These musicians were so sweet, just loving all kinds of music. It is an international language. And afterwards, I showed them my ukulele and banjo, with its hospital plate-warmer for a base, and let them play with them. Everyone grinning a treat. We shook hands lots of times, and I felt so uplifted by the exchange. Where on earth do such things happen? Maybe Mexico IS a special place. The people here are gentle and happy. "Beunas dias" and a smile from everyone.
Don't tell me I'm going soft in the head. That's exactly what you do at 69. And it was my birthday yesterday.
PS I will get some photos up as soon as I can get into town and to an internet place.
12/28/2009, At sea, destination Acapulco - Day 18
It's 1027 Zulu, or 4:27 am and a big yellow moon, about to set, is less than 4 fingers above the horizon. Roca Negra, on which there is a lighthouse, is ahead, fine on the starboard bow, this is a rock sitting at the entrance to Zihuatanejo. I can see the light, and have been watching it since it was 13 nautical miles away. We are only 9.8 miles off it now, and have to first pass Punta Gorda to starboard, which will be about 6 miles off abeam, and I am quite keyed up. Approaching the land from seawards, at night we are, and I have just noticed on the chart Rocas Poloci, a bunch of rocks a mile or so off the point. So I have altered course 10 degrees to port, to give Punta Gorda and the Poloci rocks a bit more of a wide berth.
The moon is lowering herself toward her flowing reflection, she will leave me bereft, but with better visibility. To the landward of Roca Negra, the lighthouse, is a heap of glistening jewels, the lights of a small towm. This is either Zihuatanejo or Ixtapa, a resort town right next door. It reminds me of the coals of a burned down campfire.
The radar shows a ship who started off 25 minutes ago behind me, and has come up on my port side 7 miles off but was inside my 6 mile alarm zone. It beeped so much I turned the alarm off. Now he is outside. I can turn the alarm back on
This is exciting! The moon grows a duller, duskier, orange colour, as she dips seaward. The ship on my left is further away. The town lights are more yellow. This is my first landfall in Mexico, first unassisted landfall in a foreign country (we had company approaching Bahia de Caraquez Ecuador, and we had a pilot to cross the bar) and in the dark too - my moon sinks faster now, you can almost hear the steam as her molten orange is lowered into the water.
Punta Gorda is about to scrape my radar alarm range ring, moving south. Land shows on the radar, looking like clouds. Course 329 degrees true, speed 4.1 knots. Motor running. At sunset we dropped sails, started the engine and set off slowly toward Zihuat. Didn't want to arrive before dawn. Now only 8 miles off. Almost 5 am. Now I add a further 10 degrees to help clear The Rocas Poloci, and then another 10. Plenty of time. Plenty of room to seaward.
I should stop typing this in the cockpit wearing my head torch and be on watch completely, for this rendezvous with Roca Negra. No more words.
I will check in with you in the morning when we are safely anchored inside the bay of Zihuatanejo.
Ps Since writing this last night while underway - I can report that this morning we motored quietly into the small bay of Zihuatanejo, on the southern Pacific coast of Mexico, and by 9:00 am local time we had dropped anchor. We found old friends and new, met the Port captain, took a bus to the airport to do the Immigration process. Had a fun day. It's a great place - we are going to enjoy it. More later; for now, we are safe! Looking forward to a full night's sleep - no getting woken after two and a half hours and straight up on deck!