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The Two Captains


Volume 65
28 February, 2002
Zihuatenejo, Mexico

Zihuatenejo is a cruisers' mecca. It has everything to suit the social cruisers' needs and dreams. It is a beautiful, deeply-indented double-lobed bay against a background of steep mountains, with two major anchoring areas -- one off town and the other off the wide sweep of La Ropa Beach. The town successfully blends its old fishing identity with a quaint modern tourism with craft shops and restaurants on cobbled walking streets and small scale hotels and condos. It has thankfully avoided the overblown glitz of much Mexican tourism development, which here has instead been focused on nearby Ixtapa. This means there is something for all tastes in the region. There is even, as we have just found out on our way out, a few niches for those of us who prefer to be anchored away from the crowd.

We arrived in Zihuatenejo at the crack of dawn on Valentine's Day, and found anchorage quickly on the La Ropa side (17*37.4N; 101*32.9W), near our friends Jerry and Kathy of Po Oino Roa. Although it is a longer dinghy trip to town from here, the water is said to be cleaner for watermaking and swimming, since the town side is clogged with fishing pangas who are known to dump fish parts into the water! There were about 80 boats in the La Ropa anchorage alone upon our arrival, with half again as many off town! After months in Central America where eight boats made a crowd, this was quite an eye-opener.

Zihuatenejo is the southernmost destination for many West Coast cruisers who migrate seasonally up and down about a thousand miles of coastline, some in a single season, others over and over for years! Maybe 25% of the boats here are currently heading further south to the Canal. We can make this guess as I got corralled into given a presentation on "points south" for southbound cruisers. Boats coming north from Panama are just a handful.

The closest thing to Zihuatenejo we have previously experienced would be Trinidad. Like Trinidad there is a morning VHF radio net devoted exclusively to cruiser activities, which here ran the gamut from beach volleyball, morning walks, Baja rummy card games (where, oh, where has Mexican Train gone?) to volunteer efforts, charity drives and educational seminars. Unlike Trinidad, there is very little boat work going on as there are no yards, few service people and a paucity of what seems to us to be very obvious parts and products, like fuel filters or oil for diesels! On the other hand there is the very wonderful service provided by Ishmael and his wife Hilda, who will deal with your fuel jugs, your propane tanks, your laundry, your bottled water and your beer and soda needs, for fees that are sometimes cheaper than you could attain schlepping all the stuff yourself!

Quite simply, people are here for a good time, and Zihuatenejo is well equipped for that. A cruisers' map indicates there are 56 restaurants to try, and believe me, any rumors you've heard that Mexican food in Mexico doesn't measure up to US Mexican food is nuts. We have mostly enjoyed the simple eateries, like stalls near the open market specializing in, for example, carnitas (tacos of roasted meats) and chile rellenos. We have tried pozole -- an outstanding pork and hominy soup with a plateful of garnishes, tamales, fajitas, empanadas, sopes, tostadas, and of course tacos (which rarely resemble what Taco Bell or Old El Paso call tacos!) On Sunday evenings, the town square fills up with food vendors and the residents, tourists and cruisers all turn out to "graze" among the very inexpensive offerings. Well, maybe not the really transient tourists….most of them stroll through looking suspiciously down their very pales noses before wandering off to a restaurant with a tablecloth. Ironically, the favorite stop for cruisers seems to be the guy with the hamburgers. From a NYC-style pushcart, this gentlemen assembles burgers topped with ham, two cheeses, avocado, onion, salsa, mayo, mustard and ketchup! Can we say "cholesterol"!

And then there's the beer. I hate to belabor the subject of beer, an area in which I am frankly a relative lightweight, but I have to ask myself if there is any place else in the world where there is such a wide selection of interesting and delicious beer? I mean, if you are going to drink beer at all, what a pleasure it is to really enjoy it! Our favorites so far are Pacifico, Indio, & Victoria. Of course, sometimes the best beer is whatever beer is offered at 10 pesos or less!

To counteract all this consumption, we eat salads and fruit shakes at home (there is an excellent central mercado here), AND we partake of the twice weekly volleyball games and the thrice weekly power walks. The Two Captains lost a lot of weight (intentionally) during our months in the Central America culinary void (good planning), but our exercise quotient dwindled after Tiffany and Derek's visit over Thanksgiving. Oh, we walked here and there in Nicaragua and El Salvador and we swam in Huatulco, but the morning walks under the leadership of Debbie of sv Different Worlds over the hills and lanes of Zihuatenejo are in a whole different league! For a week I was seriously hobbled by cramped and rock-sore muscles! On the other hand, the reward has been the usual one of a behind the scenes look at the town, the condos, the views etc. It doesn't hurt that the walking group usually indulges in a group breakfast afterwards, a major incentive for Don since we've stuck with fruit shakes on board for four months!

Just to show we do not only think of our stomachs, we did give a day to volunteer labor at the local Indian school. The school, a facility which provides bilingual education to Indian children, is just completing new concrete facilities high up on a hill overlooking town. Their old facilites would make Americans gasp, a shed with bunks for 25 live-in children in a room maybe 25' x 30' with a couple of "classrooms" a quarter that size, all crammed into a neighborhood of cheek-by-jowl shacks. The day's effort was coordinated by Kathy of Po Oino Roa (who had now been in Zihuat for about a month) and when we first arrived at the site, we saw new buildings plopped on a steep lot strewn with trash and gullied by erosion. As the sun started to bake the dirt, I couldn't see what we could seriously accomplish without major tools. But, astoundingly, as the number of volunteers swelled, some surprisingly major engineering efforts were undertaken with scrap rebar and boards. Don had come prepared with ratchets and wrenches so he spent the morning assembling new desks (the single-arm kind popular in America) that were purchased with money raised by cruisers the month before. On the trash brigade, I found myself a strip behind a building where I spent hours picking up numerable pudding cups, broken pencils, straws-and-plastic-baggy combos (believe it or not, the way a drink of water is sold throughout Latin America) among many other things and moving rocks into retaining borders and drainage troughs. When I reemerged the workforce had doubled by the addition of the school children themselves and Mexican families from the neighborhood, all now engaged in building rock walls and filling in the steps the gringo "engineers" has constructed. When we left, it was a whole different looking place.

One of the other great aspects of cruising nodes like Zihuatenejo is the opportunity to learn things. Here in Zihuat, the center for such seminars seems to be Rick's Bar. Rick specializes in catering to the needs of cruisers and other gringo travelers. Aside from beer and bar food and live music in the evenings, he has computers available for email, a shower, a washing machine, as well as a couple of big rooms where groups can gather for seminars, talks and classes. Just how Rick actually makes a living is beyond me, since his beer prices are high enough to outweigh the loyalty of most his customers. In other words they'll buy a beer or a Coke while they listen to, say, a northbound cruiser pass on great wisdom about points south (who could that be?), then they'll scurry out to the beach where they can buy the next two drinks for half the price.

Aside from my own little talk, we attended an excellent seminar on health and cruising at Rick's. Presented by Janette Loomis, an RN who has written a book called "The Healthy Cruiser's Handbook" (Meridien Passage Consulting -- to order email InforMed at in4med@aol.com) the talk focused on preventing, diagnosing and treating various traveler's intestinal disorders (of immediate concern to "Zihuat" cruisers as a number of cases have been ravaging the fleet thanks at least in part to some underdone ceviche) and on understanding the risk of various mosquito-borne diseases, primarily malaria and dengue (of concern to southbound cruisers and to us for the future legs in the South Pacific.) I snapped up a copy of her book, my second cruiser-published volume here. The first was "Cruising Cuisine" by Kay Pastorius (McGraw Hill), a really nice cookbook with lots of Mexican emphasis. All these activities (there were Spanish classes and art classes that we didn't even look into) serve to keep a lot of cruisers in Zihuatenejo for a long time. However, the cruising season for this part of Mexico is gradually approaching its end with tropical storm season looming at the end of May. The fleet is beginning to disperse with some boats turning south for Central America and the rest starting to work back northward. One of the best things is now, at last, the boats & crews we are meeting will not all be parting ways with us. At least not for awhile. The next seasonal event of the cruisers' calendar is the Banderas Bay Regatta out of the Puertro Vallarta area, and although we will not be asking TII to mess around with that stuff again, we have been invited to crew (and enjoy the various parties) with friends on their boats if we can get there in time.

Yesterday, February 28, we picked up our anchors and motored about eight miles north of Zihuatenejo, past glitzy Ixtapa to Isla Grande, a small offshore island. Except for the inevitable line of beach palapas at the top of the sand, there is nothing else here. This means that while bustling during the day, it is dark and deserted at night. Just our cup of tea. Our next leg of 180 miles is scheduled for tomorrow with a predawn departure and a day and a half underway! Back to the diet!

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