Sunday, May 15, 2005

We are back in Zih

The Return to Paradise...

Daniel, Gerry and I returned to Zihuatanejo March 4th, 2005. The three of us travel together frequently and despite the jokes about 'third wheels' and "who is the husband?" it works for us. Gerry and I have been good friends with Daniel for about 12 years so when several years ago he suddenly and sadly became a widower it seemed a natural transition to include him when we ventured off on a new journey. A year ago we discovered Zih with Daniel so it was a given that he was with us for our return.

If last year "had me at Hola" then this year in Zih was the honeymoon. Like a newlywed my relationship with Zih became more grounded in reality. Wonderful details I hadn't noticed before stood out this visit as did the ragged and unflattering sides of Zih.

But, yes, I found myself loving Zih even more...

Start your trip off right..

Our Daily Bread...

Next day we did the Commercial Mexicana trip and stocked up on the basics, Cervesa, chips, fresh salsa, delicious rolls that we didn't need, manchego cheese, water, wine and some juice. We also lost 3000 pesos at the ATM there when it refused to spit out the full withdrawal...beware.

For the rest of our visit in Zih we established a routine of going to breakfast, the day at the beach, long siestas then a great dinner and bar hopping.

Breakfast became an important ritual and served as a constant source of debate for us. During the last year I had often extolled the merits of the Casa Cafe. Im not sure if I was more lucid ( in the morning hours at least) this year or that things have simply changed but after one return visit we reluctantly agreed that the portions seemed smaller, the side dishes were absent or lacking and quite simply there wasn't the value there that other restaurants offered. We began then the great breakfast hunt of 2005. Eating in a different restaurant almost every morning (except twice at Salvadors) our awards of merit fell into several categories with the following as the top finishers...

Best Overall Breakfast :Tamales Any
Tamales Any had a large selection of wonderful breakfast meals that were always hot and accompanied by delicious side dishes. The coffee (according to Gerry) was the best to be found.

Best Chiliquiles and biggest fresh squeezed Orange Juice : Los Braseros
Although this place seems to lack friendly help it makes up for it in darned good food, big portions and a dazzling array of choices. Good prices and sparkling clean banos are an added bonus. (the parrots in cages that you pass on the way to them are fun for kids too)

And the Sentimental Favorite:
Best Value and Newcomer: Salvadors
Located at end of the canal bridge stairs down the street from La Gula on Calle Adelita you sit in a modest cafe surrounded by a pretty little garden. The food is prepared with care and skill with generous portions, fresh squeezed juice and coffee that are included and interesting side dishes. The prices (factoring in all the side dishes and portions) are cheapest of any place we found. The owner is a polite caring person with a ready smile who truly takes pride in his little outdoor cafe. Micho (?) the cat will sit under or adjacent to your table and only adds to the experience...

Eat and be merry...

(aka how to start an argument on the Zih message boards)...

Ok.. Let's face it. What do you talk about all afternoon as you bake in the Zih sun, scarf down greasy tortilla chips, quaff down buckets of beer and observe the fascinating parade of half clothed humans. Just as you begin to think the guy next to you really is beginning to resemble that roast pig at the luau on Oahu you begin to discuss that all important question.. that's and where to go for dinner..

To be fair, as far as recommendations go, I have to admit we did alot of 'noshing' at bars like Paccolos (good fish tacos) and Bandidos (more good fish tacos) so often we just skipped the whole formal dinner thing. (um.. can I have some fish tacos please?) But the following were some of our favorite dinner establishments this time around.

Casa Vieja - nice setting, well prepared food and nice touches like the complimentary liquor at the end. (Watch out for the noseeums as the restaurant is located at the foot of Cerro Madera and away from the ocean breezes)

Caprichios - We went here twice, as much for the ambiance as the food. The restful garden dining area is dramatically lit and wonderfully decorated. It serves as a chic and romantic alternative to the overdone (ACK..Give me my sunglasses!) year round Christmas lights that make up Coconut's alfresco dining experience. The bar is filled with really comfy and elegant furnishings and is situated adjacent to the sidewalk of Calle Cinco de Mayo making it perfect for early evening people watching . Relax on the cushy white couch, order a glass of good pinot grigio and some excellent shrimp cocktail. One shrimp cocktail is enough for two people - the serving is huge. If you're lucky you might be sipping and have a local celebrity drop in. The night we were there Jimi Mamou zipped though the bar with a red head on his arm and a jaunty looking nautical number as his hat du jour. He waved in recognition as he disapeared into the dining room.. we felt like we were really AÂ List that night.

La Gula - What can I say? It has been here a year and is still putting out consistently good platters of food. It was the perfect "first night in Zih" dinner stop for us.. relaxed.. attentive service.. nice presentation... and decently priced fine dining. On Calle Adelita in the Madera neighborhood.

On the town in Zih..

Nightlife.. my evening with Don Julio and other Tales

Night in Zih rivals the day. As the sun sets behind Almacen Hill the town lights give a little conspiratorial wink . As I have noted before, this town at night is a natural setting for a bodice ripping romance novel. The heat, the expectation, the subtle exotic/erotic mood that oozes out of the very cobblestones is an author's dream. There is the ever changing cast of characters that simply cry out for a screen play; gold chained alchy retirees, wide eyed tourists, divorcees on the hunt with their jawdropping tanned cleavages, self proclaimed surfer dudes sucking on beers, Expat Zihuata-know-it-alls holding forth on bar stools, the occasional incognito celebrity and finally the serene locals seemingly oblivious to all the interest in their fair city. This whole scene never fails to make my heart beat a little faster, my step quicken and my imagination go 'offleash' . An evening usually starts with us standing at the top of the formidable Madera Hill with Gerry letting out a long, shrill whistle to the cabbies parked on the streets below. Piling into the first taxi that chugs it's way up to meet us, the three of us are off!

We tried a few new places this year including an interesting locals only pool hall that was upstairs and next to Bocanos. Although the only Gringos in the entire place, we felt welcome, if not a curiousity, as Gerry was playing like a wild man and couldn't miss.

Our search for the ultimate salsa dancing spot..

We had heard about Cantos De Las Sirena from several different sources as a great place to dance. One night we tried, unsucessfully, to tell the Cabbie that we wanted to go there. Later we asked some young people hanging out by the mercado.. no luck. Finally we asked the waiter, Enrique, at Bandidos about it. He smiled knowingly and said.. "Oh yes.. here.. I will write it down so no cab driver can mistake what you are saying. Then when you get there ask for ****** and tell him I sent you."

We did exactly as we were told and were delivered to a door in a plain building next to the main bus depot. We walked up some steep steps to a pleasant rooftop bar. When we introduced ourselves as directed to ****** we were escorted past the crowd of locals and seated in the reservado section next to the dance floor. I was flattered and honored to find myself here but on the other hand I felt extremely self conscious as everyone in the place (all locals) looked at us as if they were thinking, " .. hmm.. should we recognize these gringos? Surely they MUST be someone special..". If they only knew.. we were just Joe Schmo from Portland. That night a series of individuals performed but as it was late (and I was suffering from a cold) we left before any salsa dancing began. We will certainly try it again though I would never ask EVER for special seating.

On one Sunday night we found our way to the Basketball Court Fiesta Night and then to a bar on the second floor of a building directly across from the 'goings on'. It was strictly a local young peoples hangout but had a bird's eye view of the scene. We had a couple of beers and enjoyed the view. If you are at the basketball court just look up and across the street and you will see it.

Amuleto.. or Why do I feel like Im in Oz?

One night we decided to experience drinks and a sunset at Amuleto located high on the hill above Zihuatanejo Bay. We directed the cabbie to take us there and he was as thrilled as if we told him we wanted to go to Buckingham Palace. As we wound our way up the hill above La Ropa beach we stopped to pick up someone the cabbie knew. Our passenger perched himself on the edge of the trunk and the cabbie ground into gear and continued the steep ascent. Our hitchhiker was on his way to the night shift as a security guard at Amuleto. It was very fortunate that we picked him up as I doubt we would have ever figured out how to actually gain admittance to this place.

Amuleto appears from the outside as if it is a private home. Perhaps I missed something but I didnt notice even so much as a sign to tell you what it was. We followed our fellow passenger to a large ornate wooden door as he pointed to a buzzer/intercom. I rang it and after a bit a voice answered curtly. I tentively asked, "we.. uh.. would like to have cocktails". My answer was several moments of complete silence. Then like a scene from the Wizard of Oz the large door slowly swung open and a smiling young man beckoned for us to enter. Now my first impression was that this was an absolutely gorgeous place.. the architecture.. the interior design and the VIEW. We shly wandered into the bar area and I felt a bit odd, as if I had crashed a private party. As we took our seats in a comfortable assortment of cushioned furniture we were informed stiffly by the staff that there were NO credit cards accepted. I said, that's fine because all I have is cash.. (yeah.. the chip on my shoulder was getting bigger and bigger). But after ordering a bottle of wine I relaxed and enjoyed the view, gawking at my surroundings and eves dropping on the juicy conversations going on around me.

Would I go there again? Well.. probably not, as even though it offered a breathtaking view I just felt.. well.. awkward the entire visit. For even though I was dressed in a very nice summer dress and heels and the guys were in silk shirts and dressy shorts I felt as if we were the poor and down right suspicious relatives. I imagined them counting the silverware upon our departure. One of the guests explained because the rooms were all open - like a private home - the owners were very careful about who was admitted to the bar and restaurant. The view was extraordinary though and we spent a nice hour or so enjoying a glass of wine in sumptuous surroundings.

Those Memorable Nights..

The Old Favs..or where we went the REST of the time...

Rick's: Hailing from Nashville, Josie Kuhn, the house musician, is always good for a 'men done me wrong' ballad (and hence firing up all the women in the crowd) and the friday night open mic at Rick's is always a scene. Loosely referreed by Rick himself, you are apt to see anything from some off key crooner strumming "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" to a truly stunning electric guitar performance by some talented incognito musician on holiday. All comers are treated with respect though and noone gets less than at least a bit of polite applause. Last year one of the highlights of my trip was singing with Josie on several consecutive nights.. this year I had laryngitis or at least sounded a bit like Janice Joplin for most of the trip.. sigh.. maybe next year.

Sanka Grill: Caught some excellent Guatamalan music here this year. (even bought the CD) and had a great time as the audience members who were recruited to be the percussion section. After banging away for five songs with our unfamiliar bell contraptions we gained a new appreciation for latin artists and came home with some very sore wrists.

Bandidos: Ok,ok. This became our favorite place this year. I love everything about it...the atmosphere... the dancing...the 'full of it' cocky waiter, Enrique...Enrique

the sweet, ever-smiling.Miquel...


..the fabulous salsa band...hey...I even love Marcos! The man has GOT to win the charm award for the best host in Zih. He remembers you and sincerely seems to appreciate your business. Recognition (and the occasional rose and free drink) goes a long way with me. (and well ..uh..there is that uncanny resemblance to JohnnyDepp).

Bandidos also provides an interesting clientele served up as a customer cocktail that is equal parts Mexican locals to tourists. Gerry, who can spend five minutes in a bar and know everyone's life story within 20 feet, found this place to be a virtual treasure trove for meeting 'new friends' and practicing his broken Spanish. Now granted, one night an individual who was one of his " new friends" talked us into an iffy snorkeling excursion on his boat, (which turned out fine actually).. but all in all most nights were pleasantly memorable at Bandidos...

Except night with Don Julio...

Every night we went to Bandido's I noticed trays of small shot glasses accompanied by an elaborate assortment of salt, limes, and side juices being delivered to customers. I figured it was just tequila served up a bit on the fancy schmancy side and so didn't touch it. Tequila has NEVER been a friend to me...never...nada...but then one night I received a rather unsettling call about my poor, sweet dog, Belle, who suffers with lymphoma. She apparently had taken a turn for the worse that day and was going down hill. Just as I was about to throw in the towel and sob uncontrollably in the middle of the bar, in desperation I said to our waiter, Enrique, "Bring me what THOSE people are having." What THOSE people were having was Don Julio Blanco served with a side of tomato juice, salt and fresh limes.

Grabbing the tequila, I did my best college coed impression - salt/lime/tequila ritual- followed by Bandidos little something extra, tomato juice. WOW! It cut the BURN!! And on top of that Don Julio was obviously not your ordinary hoi polloi tequila. Heck, even Paris Hilton loves Don Julio Blanco! Nope, this was no Jose Cuervo tummy churning -run from the room retching-choke it down as fast as you can-rot gut tequila. It was GREAT.. it was the most amazing Tequila created by MAN! Of course after THAT revelation I had to try it again.. and again. And with each Don Julio I felt calmer.. sexier...more Latin.. more.. more.. Zih!! WEEEEEEEEEEEE!

When Gerry and Daniel finally realized what I was up to they quickly packed me off into the warm Zih night. For as smooth as he is, Don Julio was, with the rising of the sun, just another Tequila Don Juan... love em and leave em. (sicker than a dog so to speak..)

Zih Socializing

Board Parties and Stuff...

On our first night in Zih, March 4th, we tried to meet up with one of Zihua Rob's Message Board Parties which was being held at the Blue Mamou and hosted by one of the board members (rumor has it was Mike from CUP). But by the time we got there (ok.. we were two hours late) all attendees had already moved on to dinner and elsewhere. So we then set out to attend the next scheduled Board Party at Brisa Del Mar on the the following week. Now I have mixed feelings about meeting folks in person that you have chatted with on message boards and such. They seldom meet your expectations, so either you are horrified by the 'real person', you are STUNNED by the real person, the real person isn't nearly as snarky as you thought and is actually a decent individual and so forth. Meeting folks in the flesh is very upsetting to the preconceived notions we get into our heads. For unlike on the boards, when confronted with a complex human being face to face we are forced to be open minded! Yikes!

The board party at Brisa was lightly attended but interesting none the less. It seemed to have several 'crossover' board members in attendance, that is, members who post on other boards or several boards. At any rate, this board party provided no shocking revelations and all in all everyone seemed jolly and personable. Ellie from New York seemed like as fun a person in rl as on her posts , I hope we have a chance to get to know her and her friends better some time in the future.


Croc sighting...

We also managed to catch a glimpse of the crocodile one day that frequents the swamp outside El Manglar Restaurant on La Ropa. He was putting on quite a show looking like the cartoon gator from Peter Pan. With his mouth open wide showing an array of impressive incisors I half expected to hear a clock tick-tick-ticking. I was also quite struck by the lack of barricades. But that is what is so great about Mexico.. they figure you HAVEÂ a brain and won't be a flipping idiot and run over and pet the damned thing.

Trek Trio 2005 - Troncones

And North to Troncones...

We had decided on this trip to broaden our horizons beyond Zih. The boys both had new expensive custom body boards and were eager to try them out...on to Manzanillo Bay!

We stayed at Inn at Manzanillo Bay for a couple of stormy nights (which precluded any body boarding) but were extremely happy with the facilities. The Inn, bungalows and grounds were rustic but nicely kept and the addition of a gorgeous pool after 11 days at a non-pool facility in Zih was a welcome change. The Inn features eight two person bungalows on site and a larger room over the office. The restaurant/bar had excellent food, helpful staff and featured a talented chef. The bar sometimes has a few 'gabbers' that want to stay till the cows come home. Be sure to request Bungalows # 1, 2, 3, or 8 ,7. They are furthest away from the noise.

We were warned by several long time Zih folks that this area is really, really quiet. Well, yes. There isn't alot to do other than enjoy the days. Most of the guests at the Inn were in bed by 9:00 pm. (or earlier.. gee.. what WERE they doing???) We heard that Burro Burracho in Troncones has a band or music on weekends but other than that nothing much is going on.. so.. with that in mind here are my Troncones recommendations:

1) Rent a car. The taxis are expensive. $5.00 USD just to get from Troncones proper to Manzanillo Bay and keep in mind that is only about a mile and a half in distance over a bumpy road. And you have to hunt them down.. they aren't exactly waiting on every corner. And quite frankly, without a car it is difficult to explore the area at ALL. Want to surf in Saladita? You better just get a car..otherwise.. whew ..the taxi cost will cool your jets reeeal fast. And a final note, unfortunately we were horribly ripped off on our way back to the airport to the tune of 75.00 USD. (this was NOT a taxi recommended by the Inn however) 'Nuff said - rent a car kids.

2) If you are a couple, think the romantic Inn at Manzanillo Bay otherwise try one of the many other amazing Inns, private homes and bed and breakfasts. I toured quite a few of them this year and several looked great but I really can't recommend anything other than where I have personally stayed.

3) Bring groceries from Zih. There are a few tiendas in Troncones, but honestly, they have almost nothing you want to buy other than ice.

4) Stock a full First Aid Kit. We ran into a couple that were surfing and the husband sustained a nasty gash that could have used a nice suture kit. He ended up at the clinic a few miles away and got about ten stitches from a rustic medical facility. It was fine but it would have been nice to have your own suture kit in case it was more serious. We also had a very unfortunate encounter with a mean dog who bit one of the nice women who was a vendor on the beach. My husband, a former critical care nurse, put some make shift butterfly bandages on her wound and left her with neosporin, gauze, tape, money and strict instructions to see the clinic but we didn't hold out much hope that she would follow through... the clinic is far.. the hospital in Zih is MUCH farther. Bring your kit.

Anyway.. here are our pics.. and, yes, we will be back here next year...Hasta Pronto!

More pics of Zih and Troncones...

and here too...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Here we go again..

And So it Begins...

We arrived late afternoon after an uneventful flight,( although I suspect we are now legendary on Alaska Air as being the idiots who lugged 9 clinking liters of wine in their carry on) and checked into Bungalows Ley Club Madera Suite (slide show). Freshening up only briefly we trudged down the steep stairs to Madera Beach and to partake of our now traditional first cervesa at MJ and Ritchies. Digging our toes in the sand and gulping Pacificos we were now in a Zih state of mind.

After a couple of beers we strolled down Cerro Madera to La Gula Restaurant on Calle Adelita and were amazed when our waiter Armando remembered us from last year when he worked at Arricife on Las Gatas. Now keep in mind we went there once last year. There must be some mental trick Mexicans use to remember faces as this was not the last time it happened on our trip. From there we walked over to the new blues club, Blue Mamou, to see what all the excitement was about.

The remodeling has been extensive and the resulting ambiance is quite remarkable. The pictures on the website simply do not do the place justice as it is far nicer in person and has a definite swanky feel. I asked for directions to the banos from a very handsome gentleman at the bar and when he turned to answer me I realized it was Jimi Mamou himself. The man has a voice like honey dripping over hot Mexican blue stones. I gulped and thought, Yeah, this guy is charisma personified and I had yet to hear him play yet! The music that night was Jimi pounding out some delta blues on the keyboard, although he normally is on guitar but it served as the perfect sexy background score for a sultry Zih evening.

The only hitch to an otherwise perfect time was the blase crowd of blue hairs which tended to lean back in their chairs as if to say, entertain me.. entertain me. Fortunately, not all the nights we visited Blue Mamou were like that. On subsequent visits we found the dance floor being ripped up by more interactive and involved patrons (as well as yours truly) and the crowd vocal and appreciative.