Well...this is my second attempt to tell this tale. I labored for 7 hours to write an extensive, funny, moving story of our travels...only to have it snatched from the cyberspace thief! Oh it was a heavy blow this morning! I suppose the cyber thief was daring me with the challenge to RE-write some things again. Relive the experience one more time and make the writing better. “Are you a writer?”, It questions. Hmmm? The first draft was a pretty epic page, so here goes!
We had the lovely opportunity to be invited by our friends Jen and Mary to join them on a 10 day timeshare trip to Zihuatenajo, Mexico! We haven’t been to Mexico since Cancun in 2004. We said yes to this well needed break!
We had our concerns about the language barrier, the currency, the water and, oh yeah, the Mexican drug cartel. Despite the news and some horrible tales told about the country by friends and relatives we opted to just go and not live in fear. The girls, Jenn and Mary, flew from Portland into Mexico City and had a 5 hour layover rounding up to 21 hours of travel time! Mo does NOT like to miss her beauty sleep, and I concur, so we opted to fly into LAX and lay over for the night and then it was a quick 3 hour flight into Ixtapa/Zihuat. (The South Pacific side of Mexico.)
Upon landing, we flew over groves of coconut trees and once the plane doors opened, we felt the heat and delicious humidity curl its way over our bodies, hydrating my skin and watering my brain! Funny, I disliked the humidity in New Jersey when I was a kid, and now this climate is like an old friend.
Mary and Jen had graciously gifted us our own room at the World Mark Resort. Once there we were greeted with Margaritas and happy faces! The weather always hung between 85-93 but felt hotter with the humid tropic weather. Strangely, cactus and palm trees sat side by side in the hills off the shore. The rugged green mountains rose high and made the perfect backdrop to the stretched out sleepy bay. Sunsets were spectacular and when night fall came, twinkling lights of the village illuminated like stars set upon the landscape.
We really had NO plans and NO agenda to DO anything, which meant NO expectations (which later means NO disappointments *wink - try that sometime, it’s the PERFECT vacation plan). And with that Spirit in mind we quickly got into our suits and jumped into the pool.
The resort is small. Only 23 rooms available and a few of them were unoccupied. What that meant is a tight little community of guests and a chance to get to know them while swimming and basking in the Sun. The pool was never crowded as many a day we had it all to ourselves, overlooking the bay upon which 4-5 lovely beaches rested down below. Happy hour came and we chatted with other guests about what they experienced that day. It was wonderful to get to know the folks and listen to their stories.
While by the pool, the first few days, Ignocio the bartender at the Resort approached us with a “fishing excursion”. The girls including Mo jumped on this and truthfully, I was a bit reticent. The man wanted us to keep it on the down-low as it would compete with the concierge of the resort and I was mixed and also didn’t catch all of the details. They were all excited so I decided not to be a stick in the mud although I had my reservations. It’s not like I thought we would be hacked up by machetes and thrown to the sharks or anything. I was just apprehensive about the secrecy of it all and didn’t know what we were getting into.
Currency was actually pretty fun. I downloaded an AP that would convert Peso’s to US dollars and vise versa! It was a kick! I could do math again and Mo could speak Spanish again. These skills that were asleep had woken up! Pesos were akin to monopoly money and Mexico truly is so much more affordable. The dollar stretches much further and that is refreshing. Example, about 1000 pesos per person (50.00 US) paid for this private adventure for the 4 of us to fish, snorkel, and feast! I was very happy that I put my own concerns aside and listened to Mo and the girls about this. Little did I know it would be a day I would simply hold in my heart forever!
Experiencing the Mexican culture and finding out what kind, generous, sweet people they are rejuvenated my soul! With a hearing loss and a language barrier, you could bet I was a bit apprehensive in conversation but these people went out of their way to please you. They would greet me and say, “Buenos días, cómo estás?” (good morning, how are you?) and wait for an answer with bright enthusiasm pouring from their eyes. I would respond, “Bueno!” and they would grin. They would say more and then we would giggle because they knew that was about all I had to offer in the ways of their language. Mo on the other hand, she will tell you she doesn’t know the language yet that is not true! Her brain retains remarkable words and phrases, don’t be fooled! She made the locals laugh with her dramatic pronunciations. She was a real kick with the locals.
The Mexican culture is delightfully “old school”. We Americans have a certain standard. We like all of our buildings to me “plum and square” and I can own that we can be germaphobes and we like our space! We need wider, cleaner streets and God forbid if there is a dog running around. In Mexico the streets are tiny! The proximity is CLOSE! There are no lines on the road. Drivers merge together all at once like bees to the hive. There are dogs sleeping in the streets and running around in packs all day. The dogs know if a taxi driver is the kind that will swerve to avoid (and let them sleep) or if they need to wake and get OUT of the way! The steps are not unison in Mexico, and when you have enough Margaritas you certainly notice the non conformity of the steps and streets and angles and “tripping zones”. In Mexico, “Natural consequences” take the place of all the Americanized regulation! You don’t pay attention, you fall! The children have a wider range to roam and play. There are no seat belts and helmets! You see kids loose in pickup trucks. My mind shot back to those good old days. The wild and reckless fun of being a kid. The exuberance of these people was contagious. The energy was electric and the night air continued to quench my thirsty mind with it’s delicious humidity.
We strolled the town and my nose lead me to coffee! I smelled the most delicious aroma! I had to find it! We went a few blocks down and at the corner there was a cafe, or so it seemed. We entered the little store to find an older woman who could not speak one lick of English and her young “grandson”, about 8 years old. We noticed they sold coffee (beans), and coffee liquor, and syrups and vanilla; a famous purchase in Mexico is pure vanilla. I gestured to the little boy if they had cups I could drink, now. He took the time to try to understand me. His dark little eyes reading my face and hand gestures. He tried to pour me samples of coffee syrups and I said “no-no” and began mimicking. This all took about 5-10 minutes and the boy was extremely patient with me. Then the light bulb came over his head and he took me by the hand and led me out of the store into the next store which was where the barista was! Ah ha!!! “Oh”, I said, “Gracias!” The Barista knew a bit of English and I asked him for a “Cafe’ Latte’ with Vanilla, ‘pequena’,” I learned a new word - small. The little boy joined me with a smile on his face happy that he solved the puzzle.
I took one sip of the delicious coffee and was amazed. You know, often when I go to a new barista in the States I am often disappointed. It’s bitter, or just off. This was perfect! Strong, hot, creamy, not too sweet! I was so happy and I told him so. The price? 30 pesos! $1.10 OMG!!! The good old days...I was reliving them now!
I happily strolled back to the little boys’ original store where the other girls were still looming and buying vanilla and I purchased the same syrup the man used in the coffee I was drinking. OMG I love Mexico and its authenticity!
Our strolling landed us in the park in the middle of the town. There were restaurant owners lining the beaches trying to coax us to come in, sit and eat. But our bellies were full and they let us go with no huge guilt trip. Just a smile and a nod. We were not held hostage by any vendor. And though it may seem like scarcity or impoverishment, it feels as though, it’s simply doing business. Sure they hustle for a buck and they will sell you anything if they can find it, but there was never a “hard sell” energy that came with it. The offer of the goods are there. They ask the question, you give an answer and the deal is done. You purchase or don’t, no emotion about it, unlike some of our own vendors here.
We came upon some girls and boys playing (on the same team), a serious game of basketball at the park. Their whole family’s were cheering them on! I took in the sight. I saw little kids (2-4 year olds) on their little toy quads riding around the food vendors. I saw parents playing with their children. But you know what else I saw? NO ONE on their cell phones!!! They were all interacting! They were engaging with each other!
I saw NO Mexican person smoking or vaping, I heard NO HORN HONK in the “beehive” of crazy cars! It was beautifully old school. I did see one “Gringo” (white guy) scrolling on his iphone and I laughed, “Yes...this culture has their priorities in the right place”, I thought.
I had chosen to step away from all technology. I only unlocked my phone once, days before our return, to check for any gig prospects, urgent messages and of course see about Juno who was staying with Rev. Jackie. I could feel her doggie curiosity about the mamas through the thousands of miles, wondering when we were coming home. She was fine and enjoying Aunt Jackie and her doggie cousins. I did not miss the phone, or the computer. (Um, remember I lost the first draft of this writing! Ha ha!!! No big surprise I did not miss the computer!)
Troubles in California were abound. Jen and Mary were quite in touch and had been on their computer and found out about the fires and the shooting! So many beautiful and tragic things happening simultaneously. My heart broke as so many people lost everything and “spoiled me” was drinking a margarita by the pool. I cried. I said a prayer. For them. For us. For California. For America.
What do they think of our President?
It’s been on Mo’s bucket list to para-sail. You know, be connected to a boat via parachute and fly up high in the sky! I vowed if there was ever an opportunity, I would make it happen for her. Before we knew it, we were in a truck with Philippe. He personally picked us up from the resort and escorted us across town to Plya LaRopa (“Plya” meaning beach and “LaRopa” meaning clothes. It is a beautiful beach! Perhaps they just want you to keep your clothes on so they had to name it that so people wouldn’t strip? Who knows, I’m making this shit up!)
Philippe’ was a strong handsome gentlemen, probably in his late 50’s early 60’s; truly in shape and very friendly. We chatted and our conversation turned political. I couldn’t help but ask what he had thought of our president.
He said,”Your president is not stupid. He is a smart businessman. He just wants people to be in the States legally that’s all.” Hmmm?? I had to mull that one over. Philippe’ just saw it as business, much like the vendors down by the beach. There was no anger in him about our president. No slanted rant or objection. He went on to say how rich his country is and there is a lot of money in Mexico, which came as some surprise considering my ignorance and interpretation of dilapidated buildings and some places looking as though we pulled into a 3rd world country. Now and then we would pass Militia wearing masks driving army trucks looking like the SWAT team! (They wear masks so the drug cartel does not recognize them in a drug bust and threaten their families.) He had many things to share of which I could not comprehend at times as Mo was sitting closest to him in the truck and his accent at times would trip my understanding. But emphatically, I picked up that he was not mad about the way things were going in our country. It was just fact. No guilt. “Do you want a seat at the restaurant? Are you hungry? No? OK”, like all business in Mexico. Factual, not emotional. We are emotional about politics.
“I can’t believe our administration wants to put a wall up from these people!”, I thought. What 8 year old American would take time out for me if I were not able to speak the English and graciously see me to a coffee shop away from their own store and protection of “Grandma”? I was caught in thought for sure only to be aided by the sail of a beautiful parachute and then later a Margarita! Many a margaritas were drunk!
And then the best day came! (Did you think I forgot? You should have seen my first draft...I milked this part out so well! Ha!)
Let’s Go Fishing!!!
Halfway through the trip we have a day bag packed and we are walking in the wee hours of the morning down to the pier to catch a ride with Ignocio and Christian. We aboard the small fishing boat and head off to find the fishys!
The boys packed lures and plunked 3 lines in the water and we slowly made our way to the end of the bay and the beginning of the Sea. Zihuatanejo is an old fisherman’s town and it was evident as we got out on the bay why the called it that. The fish would leap in the air and in clouds they would strike the surface of the water which looked like a fishing frenzy. If you’ve ever thrown crackers to a pod of fish, you know the scene!
There would be these pods we would run into. We would see them jump and then see the whole pod as the swam close to the surface. Teams and teams of fish in the water and the black tuna are in abundance.
I could feel the boys getting frustrated due to lack of nibbles on their lines. I whispered to Jen, “I think they are bummed they didn’t bring live bait”. Only one other boat was on to this hot spot besides us and they were pulling fish in by the droves! They probably had live bait. So I prayed they would find the most appetizing lure for our fishy fish, not losing hope.
Then a strange thing happened. We saw something off the 11 o’clock point. “What was that?” It was big! “Was it a dolphin? There it goes again!” Christian swung the boat around and headed towards the strange creature. We waited. We watched. The Sun kissed our faces. Anticipation filled our hearts. The ocean air curled up into our nostrils and we were fixated and present. “Ohhhh!!!” We all cried in unison as it leaped up out of the water and came down with a smash right next to our boat! A STING RAY!!! “Oh my God! Oh my God! Look at that!” Up the bat like creature broke the water again and then another and then another all to belly flop hard back in the water with a resounding splash!!! “Is this really happening?” I thought! I could not believe my eyes!! What a sight! 6-10 feet they would fly like a bird, some 10 feet in wing span to deliver the most epic return as gravity pulled them back in again. Hang time would catch them and yet it was split seconds of beauty we would see each time one of them lifted and “flew” only to swim again!
We were all so amazed and each time they lifted we would cry out, “OOOHHH!!!” all at once. Of course the boys didn’t do this but we girls did and we would laugh! I could hear the boys talking in Spanish. I could feel they were probably saying, they are more into the Rays than the fish, what should we do? Follow the Rays?” Ha! We were so intrigued! It was a spectacular once in a lifetime thing to see! I will NEVER forget it as long as I live! All morning long the Ray jumped out of the Sea, as if they were there for our entertainment. We were all mesmerized and knew without a doubt that this indeed was a very special gift to see. (Here is a link to check out what we saw: Flying Manta Rays
Christian turned the boat and at one point we could see thousands upon thousands of Manta Rays under the boat and beside the boat. All “flying” in the water and so beautiful! I could have cried, heck I probably did!
And then something cool happened! Ignocio got a fish ON and handed me the pole! Wha-hoo, now this was wild! I reeled and reeled and even though my forearms have had some issues the last couple months, I was determined to catch the first fish of the day! It came in closer and darted under the boat! Christian put his hands on the line as it lifted and up it came and she was a beaut!!! A black tuna! My FIRST ever Sea catch! She was pretty and silver and black with an iridescent dark blue streak down her middle. I admired it and also felt sorry for it but gave thanks for its bounty! Yummy Tuna!
Then Mo got the pole and reeled and reeled. That fish also darted under the boat as this must be a tactic maneuver to deploy and it came unhooked and got away. Mo was not disappointed in the least. I think she was a bit relieved as she hates to kill anything. We followed another pack of manta rays and hook on! Mary stepped into the reeling chair and pulled in another beauty! Ignocio hooked one at the same time and Jen was busy filming Mary so we gave Iggy the honors of reeling that one. He pulled in a Mackerel! We had diversity!
As the day got on we made our way eventually to an area called Manzanillo (named after the chamomile trees). Here we jumped off the boat into the aqua blue ocean water! Little dart fish swam close! Much like the Mexican people, it seemed the fish had a closer proximity too! Now and then, that would creep me out. I felt one nibble on my hand once and screamed into my snorkel only to laugh at myself! What a goober!
What a masterpiece the sea world is! So many colors tantalizing our eyes! Blue, purple, yellow, orange, black; like a work of art! What a landscape! Everyone is hearing impaired like me underwater as communication happens with gestures and signs. I completely have the advantage as this is my everyday! Thousands of little “tink tink tink” sounds I could hear as the fishies were biting the coral reef! I feel so at home swimming! It’s like defying gravity and flying! My giant lungs fill and I can go deep for long periods of time and then surface and reclaim my humanness on the inhale. I am part fish somehow. I love the water and the freedom it brings!
We ended our snorkel with the sighting of an eel and climbed back on board the boat. Once we were on, Iggy handed us crackers and pointed to a board that had cut up RAW tuna with some sort of sauce, lime juice and red onions. “Hmmm?” We all peered at the plate. It kinda looked like dog food and we looked at each other. I imagine we looked like a bunch of 4 year olds trying broccoli for the first time. Our eyes darted around with anticipation with who would go first. Mary stuck her cracker in and we watched her like the “Hey Mikey” commercial for Life Cereal (I might have lost some of you young folks on that one ha ha!!!) She expressed joy upon chewing so that relieved some of our anticipation. When in Rome, or in this case Mexico!!! We sheepishly made our way over to the plate and I took my first bite. OMG! It was amazing! Absolutely amazing! It was basically “Sashimi”, what you would get in a high class Sushi bar and probably pay $100 for the size of the plate we had! Wow! And that was only half of the fish I caught!
We then boated back to a beach called “Las Gatos” (The Cats - ? Maybe many strays were found here; let’s make up another story about it!). We were VERY close to the rocks as we boated back. The cliffs that hung and outlined the bay felt an arm length away and the water was vibrant blue. I couldn’t believe when Christian steered between the cliff and a rock band! I wondered how he knew how deep the water was and that there weren’t “surprise rocks” for his propeller to find. I suppose this wasn’t his first rodeo and he knew this bay like the back of his hand. It was exciting to boat so close to the rock! Pelicans would sit on their perch and looked to be judging us with there eyes as we passed. I imagined them having English accents for some reason (ha!). They would take flight and plunge into the water big beak first! Wow!
We pulled up to Las Gatos and got off the boat and walked along the beach to a restaurant called Arnoldo’s. Christian and the cook were good friends and we had a great table under a grass hut with our feet in the sand facing the ocean only 10 yards away! “Margarita por favor?!”
Every drink and dish was decorated with little elegant purple flowers! The Chef took great pride in his masterpieces! We had guacamole and fresh chips and more Sushimi and then out came the main dishes family style! All the fish were cut in such a way, bone removed, and rolled to what looked like a cinnamon bun! They looked like fish cinnamon buns that could feed 4-6 people each! This was a Thanksgiving meal for sure!!! Oh my! There was one with a pepper sauce which was my favorite. I hogged out on that one! There was a dish in marinara sauce, almost Italian style. And then a garlic dish too! The other gringos looked at our dishes and asked questions, “Where did you get that?” Ha! We all stuffed ourselves and one thing I noticed; the men did not partake until they saw that satiated look in our eyes and our eating slowed. They waited until we filled up and then they began to eat! Ummm...I’ve NEVER witnessed this before! That wouldn’t happen in the States! Ha ha ha!!! Old school or just a culture politeness, it was worth noting.
I could not get over how wonderful everything was! What an epic day! What an epic trip! I read a book too while on vacation! Ahh to read again! I also wrote in my journal everyday for which I extracted some of my memories to this page. Ahh to write again! I read “The Art of Asking” by a musician Amanda Palmer. I was so inspired by her story and filled and delighted to write just for writing. I was excited to write you this story and to share our time.
Thank you Mexico for re-hydrating my mind, heart and soul! Thank you for your beautiful generous gifts! Thank you Amanda Palmer for igniting a fire in my pen again! I have missed pen to paper, I have missed myself. I need to write like I need to swim, eat, sleep! I am not myself when I can not express through writing. And I have been away from myself a bit trying to find my way back from all the busyness. Mexico has brought me back again, reminded me of “old school” and I am forever grateful, forever thankful! Thank God I did not let fear or ignorance keep me away from this experience and deprive me of the Manta Ray, deprive me of a beautiful culture that embraces family and sees you as you are. Thank you Mary and Jen, Mo, Ignocio, Jorge, Philippe’, Amanda Palmer, Rev. Jackie, Juno! You all shaped my experience!
Though the cyber thief stole my first draft, I hope you had a good “walk” with me on this second draft. Things spilled out in a different way, perhaps I was more poetic in the first, but writing this all over again teaches me that...why yes...yes, I’m a writer. A singer-songwriter, poet, swimming human-fish, dog-lover, artist! Thanks for the second stab and thank you for reading! May you have a beautiful season of Thanks!!!