Travelouge: Zihuatanejo

The View Consider yourself warned. This is my longest blog post to date. Just in case you haven’t gotten enough media coverage about my adventure to Zihuatanejo, Mexico that I took back in March, here’s the epic tale in its entirety. Enjoy.

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one:

On plane

It’s interesting to follow the path of my beverage choices while flying. I’ve flown somewhere in the hundreds of times, and I definitely have my drink stages. The earliest plane-drinking memory goes back to the Bloody Mary mix. I was swigging those before I even knew what the mix was supposed to be mixed with. That stage lasted from my young adolescence into my late teens. Then I jumped to the courageous sparkling water with a twist. Sometimes I’d own up to what it really is, and just order it as the boring “club soda with lime.” I’m always amused by the enormous bubbles that hug the sides of the plastic cup. Plus, half the time I feel nauseous, and the simplicity of this airborne cocktail comforts me.

But today is different. Today’s plane experience is significant in so many ways, so I’m allowing my self-imposed rules to break. Yes… I am o n v a c a t i o n. Starting at 4:21am, my run-to-the-sun vacation began. I’m cashing in my vacation-hours, bought my own out-of-the-country plane ticket, and I’m going to Zihuatanejo, Mexico with my girlfriend. I’ve never done anything like this before. Plane always equals family on the other side — but not now.

Starbucks on PlaneOur stop in LAX offered caffeine at just the right time. We found the nearest Starbucks (20 feet from our gate) and dropped $20 on a mini latte, fruit cup and sandwich. I struggled with getting sucked into their promotional drinks — something called a London Fog filled with tea and foamy milk sounded romantic but the thick line of aggravated travelers and over-qualified employees behind the counter diluted the appeal. My girlfriend and I found a clearing on the carpet and I tried savoring my spiritual ritual. Coffee, for a lot of people, is such a valued element to the repertoire of routine. Coffee has spent a lot of time in my head. I cherish its place in society and absolutely fall into a blissful trance if I get the pleasure of having a really good cup of it. And coming from Portland, Ore., I’m spoiled. I drink a lot of organic, fairly-traded, single-origin coffee. So getting a cup of Starbucks comes with some baggage. It’s on these rare-traveling moments that I find myself magnetized to its machine.

Of course, I’m no Starbucks-pro so I wasn’t surprised to find out I ordered the wrong thing. Who makes 12 oz. lattes with a single shot of espresso?! Starbucks, apparently.

My latte, therefore, had half the caffeine than I was expecting, which brings me to the current airplane beverage: Seattle’s Best brew in my already used Starbucks paper cup. I think I’ve just met my next tradition.

….

We have yet to stay one night, and there’s already too much to tell. We landed — let’s be honest — in the middle of nowhere. The beach was a half mile away from the landing strip. The stairs wheeled up to the side of the plane.

“Where is everything?” Casey asked out loud. I was thinking the same thing.

We walked down the stairs and were enveloped in the thick heat. We entered the single-level airport and snaked through the line of customs. Two seconds after approaching the podium we were stamped and officially welcomed to enter Mexico.

Next stop: bathroom. The walls were bubble-gum pink. There was a teenage girl in the corner on a laptop wearing a blue and white uniform vest. She handed out the paper towels… Two things I’ve definitely never seen in the US.

Then we went to the baggage claim. After a brief moment of panic, we saw our bags come down the conveyor belt. Phew… that would’ve sucked.

We waited in line to declare the items we were bringing into the country. Casey got called first. I could see she didn’t have the correct form filled out — I think she was in the bathroom when they handed them out on the plane. She motioned toward me, and I presented the form to the Mexican official in uniform.

“You sisters?” he asked.

“Friends” we both respond. I mentally kicked myself.

“You bring food?”

“Yes. Granola bars.”

He smiled. “Just snacks? That’s okay.”

Apparently Luna Bars aren’t considered food in Mexico, but in hindsight I now know that no, they aren’t considered food by US Customs either.

We hunted down an ATM and pulled out $200 pesos. Bright pink plastic bills popped out. We weaved through the crowd to the taxi counter. The young woman didn’t even try Spanish and asked for $25 US, even though the sign clearly said $22 to Zihuatanejo.

“You want US and not pesos?” I asked.

She glared. “Yes.”

We handed over the bills and she gave us a ticket.

Ok, I thought… this looks official… we walked outside and I tried really hard not to freak out. It was a form of chaos, with a lot of Mexican men in white shirts and black pants. We were approached by many of them at once. English was not the language they were speaking. I felt conflicted feelings of guilt for not understanding their language, and fear of so much unknown. The cars parked along side the airport’s exit looked like beat-up sedans. Very few had any clear taxi-markings.

Alright, here we go… If we’re getting kidnapped it’s probably happening right here and now. A man took Casey’s luggage, ticket and guided us to the end of the row of cars. We tried telling him the name of our hotel. I pulled out my journal and showed him the address. He handed it to another guy.

“He knows where is,” he said, and opened the car’s backseat door. Casey and I looked at each other and got in.

The driver whipped us through the barren landscape. He commented, a few times, on how Zihuatanejo was “paradise.” I tried being optimistic and glad about the adventure we had gotten ourselves into but I was fighting a lot of judgment. As we drove into more and more developed parts of Zihua, I kept thinking, what are you talking about? This is the total ghetto. Half the buildings don’t have roofs. How the hell is this paradise?! Honestly, I was pretty friggin’ scared.

We turned the corner and headed up a small, steep, cobblestone hill. I saw a sign for our hotel. Here’s the: how much did the website lie, moment…

It didn’t. Just as the online reviews had said, Lucy Hernandez was there waiting for us (how did she know we were coming? I now realize there’s only one flight a day, and everyone gets into town at roughly the same time).

Lucy was older, had glasses, smiled sweetly, and had golden-reddish brown skin. She showed us our room. It was perfect… a little Mexican cottage for two. Red hibiscus flowers donned on the beds (yes, there were two). The multi-level outside patio doubled as our kitchen and dining room. A small table looked out onto the expansive bay. The ocean crashed below. A sink, two-range stove top, and refrigerator made up the kitchen. Blooming tropical flowers encased the porch.

There were three doors, three keys, and each door locked three times, “Just for safety,” said Lucy. “There’s also a guard from 7pm-7am,” she said. Oh really? A guard? But we’re paying just $80 US to stay here. The website surely didn’t mention that detail. His name is Pedro, and I liked him before we even met. I had to — he was the guard, and for whatever reason, we needed him.

Lucy left, and Casey and I admitted that we were a little out of our comfort zone. Okay, I was definitely out of that zone. Casey probably wasn’t as much, since she’s roamed the streets of Thailand alone. But I hadn’t ever traveled out of the country this alone before.

I wanted to call Casey’s sister right away, since we both knew she’d be worrying. But the room had no phone. So we locked up — all doors — and went to find Lucy. She was doing crosswords on the front porch. “Oh, you can go into town and buy a phone card and use a pay phone. My phone doesn’t make international calls.” Alright. Count that another first… being in a hotel without a phone. So mission: find a phone card and call Portland began.

We saw another white woman walking in our same direction. “Where are you from?” I asked her immediately. I didn’t think twice that I was introducing myself to a total stranger, just because she was my same race. I wanted to gain as much understanding into the place where Casey and I were living for the next week, and I made the assumption she would help me in this way. I reached out to her with hope of communicating flawlessly, and making another ally, should the need for one exist. Turns out she’s from a few towns over from where I had lived in Iowa. Her name was Peggy. She has been here six to ten times and loves it. “But some stuff’s happened recently, so you don’t really wanna be out past dark,” she said. A sigh of relief was met with a hint of warning. Note to self: don’t be out past dark.

On the journey into town my nerves began to settle dramatically. We were walking along a main street, which parelled the town’s large dry canal. The dusty roads, and weathered buildings turned romantic in this weird, blink of an eye, moment. It’s almost as if I officially put on my vacation-glasses, and took off my bitter-worker glasses. The judgement of what I knew was quickly melting away.

Town was fun. We found a phone card fairly easily, and my Spanglish was getting us by. We had the dictionary with us, but didn’t use it. The sun was setting and we knew we had a few more things on our list before heading back to our new home: Food and a phone.

I wanted to eat something light and had hopes of putting our kitchen to use. We weren’t sure which restaurants were good, and they all looked the same, ie. empty. Casey saw an old man with a plastic bag full of produce. She stopped him by getting in front of his path, and pointed to the bag. “Donde?!” I shouted. He smiled and turned around. Moments later he guided us into a dark cement building. We were inside a dimly lit produce market. Bunches of bananas hung from the ceiling and piles of peppers and tropical fruits were in rows on tables. We got right to work.

Peggy from Iowa mentioned she was looking for potatoes so we grabbed a few for her just in case. We knew we’d see her again. The fruit selections spelled fruit salad, so we got a bag of mangoes, bananas, passionfruit and lime. Now to find that phone.

There were a few on the street but the traffic was super loud. We remembered seeing one near our hotel so headed back. We walked over the canal, and passed a wooded shack with a sandwich board outside that read, “Rufo’s.” There were clean tables and many other gringos eating there. We were just steps away from our hotel and took a seat at an empty table.

“Ok,” I said. “The lesson tonight is learning some numbers.” We had to at least knew what people were saying to us when we asked how much something was.

“Yes,” Casey agreed.

But then I couldn’t find the dictionary.

“I thought I put it back,” Casey said defensively. The dictionary wasn’t in the backpack. Sure, we were getting by with my version of Spanglish, but how irresponsible would it be for us to be in a completely different country with zero back-up tools of the language?

“You’re mad at me aren’t you?” she said tersely.

I ordered a quesadilla with guacamole.

Then Peggy from Iowa walked by.

“Hi Peggy!” I said while waving from our table. She turned.

We offered her the potatoes we found, but she had found some too.

I tried letting go of the lost dictionary. Casey said sorry, and I half-hoped that we’d find one in town somehow.

Our quesadillas were awesome, and came with hand-made corn tortillas and an array of fresh salsas. We looked over at the table next to us full of older people drinking margaritas.

How can they be sure of the ice. I could tell Casey was thinking the same thing, and probably was going to ask if I wanted one. “One thing at a time,” I said.

After dinner we wandered up the little hill and found our phone. Adventure number two: actually getting the phone call through to Portland. You could barely hear what the automated voice was saying, let alone the fact that it was all in Spanish. The dingy electronic screen was totally blown out too, so translating the written instructions was pointless. After many many failed attempts we got through to Casey’s sister’s voicemail — yess! Success! I still don’t really know how we got it to work. The smallest of things brought such happiness.

There were some steps towards our right and we followed them down towards the breaking waves. We felt the sand for the first time. The moon was out in full, and the lights from the town glittered behind us. We exhaled, kissed, and felt vacation in the best of ways.

We walked back up to our hotel and saw a teenage boy sitting in a lawn chair under a street light.

“Te llamos Pedro?” I asked.

“Si.”

He was playing techno music off the speaker of his cell phone. I knew I’d like Pedro.

We got inside our room, and oh, look at that … there’s the Spanish-English dictionary. We fell asleep to the crashing waves below. The cab driver was right; this is paradise.

two:

Today’s lesson: there are a lot of gringos here, and yes, the part of town we’re staying in is definitely not the nice part. But whatever.

We ventured into La Playa Ropa, which is where los Americanos who have muy dinero stay and play. The resorts were palletial and had organic food on their menus. The white folk were everywhere, which was a contrast to our neighborhood in La Madera. But before we made the trek to the fancy beach, I went for a run on our beach. The locals looked at me like I was loco. Then Casey and I went to the coffee shop we’d been hearing about. (Organic coffee from a coffee shop started by an Oregonian couple? OMG, Of course we’d go!). But … uhh … not so awesome. The teenage girls who were our servers were super sweet, and assured us that the ice came from purified water. Moments later we were enjoying our first Mexican coffees, which, in all honesty, were fine. The stuff was enjoyable. The bathroom, however, was a different story. I’m still a little scared by the fact that you crap behind a curtain and throw away your toilet paper in a trash can. Oh yeah, and there wasn’t any running water so washing your hands wasn’t happening (eww! How could I not be grossed out?!). Needless to say, we didn’t go back.

We opted for a long walk to the neighboring beach town, instead of a cab or bus. We walked along the the windy road and met our first Americans under 60. They flew fresh in from Minnesota the same day we did and were checking out La Playa Ropa for the first time too. They had tatoos and hip sunglasses. We tried exchanging small talk, but it was too forced. They were walking behind us for 10 minutes and it was obvious we were all Americans, all going to the same place, and of — more or less — the same demographic. I finally broke the ice and asked where they were from, but when we stopped to enjoy the view, they plowed right past us with a brisk, “See ya later.”

When I have strong negative reactions quickly about something or somebody, I often pause and try to analyze why. Am I being too judgmental? Later that night, Casey and I spoke about this guy-girl couple. I wasn’t disappointed by the fact we didn’t talk to them more. I’m on vacation, and that means taking a vacation from forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do. It’s that simple. Coming to that conclusion made it easy to ignore these two kids the next 10 times we ran into them.

Once we made it down to the beach — the perfection just hit us over the head. It was, yes, once again paradise. Huge swaying palm trees bordered the white sandy beach where rows of reclining lawn chairs were set up outside of Mexican cafes. Children ran through the waves. Men with slicked back hair brought cocktails and tacos to the sides of families sitting under umbrellas. I seriously got myself here? God, this is just awesome.

We settled in front of a place called La Perla. We were walking around being clueless when an older, deeply oranged gentleman with a large stomach offered up his empty palapa (chair, table and umbrella). He explained how it worked: $40 pesos let you use the palapa for the day, and yes, you could use the bathrooms, which were the best ones on the beach.

Moments later we were enveloped in conversation with the couple sitting next to us, who were, who knew, from Minnesota too. They had been coming here for over a decade and filled our ears with tips. Her name was Lisa, his name was Scott and they were around 50. They were on the round side and had deep dark sunglasses. He had on khakis but let his belly free. She had a modest one piece swimsuit with a tropical pattern.

We broched the subject of saftey.

“Oh, you haven’t heard what happened?” Lisa asked.

I liked her, but no, of course we didn’t know what had happened! Why would we be asking her what happened, if we knew what happened?!

“There’s a lot of rumors going around,” she started.

“Yah, lots of rumors,” Scott chimed in.

She explained that the new Mexican government is combatting the Mexican drug cartels which results in a lot of friction. “The police just walked out on the job one day last week.” Apparently there was a grenade thrown at the police station and there were a few deaths. She also said we should only eat ice if it has holes in it. That way you can be assured it came from a purified source. (Genius! Love her!)

Coconut NataraleWe ordered our first “coconut naturale” which is a freshly hacked coconut with a straw. Twenty pesos. That’s about $1.50. The sweet, clear, juice was second only to the fresh meat that I carved out of the sides with my straw.

We lesiurely went in and out of the waves and let the sun fall closer towards the horizon. Then we wandered back up to the main road back to La Madera. We had high hopes of finding this “Supermercato” we had heard so much about. Once we walked up the hill to the main road, there was a bus waiting there — and by bus, I mean a vehicle that’s a little bit bigger than a mini van. So sure, we got on, not knowing where or when we’d get off or how much it’d cost. Oh, it’s five pesos? Great. That’s like a dime in US.

Soon after the bus started driving forward an old woman started shouting something in Spanish and the bus stopped. Perfect, that’s how it stops — got it.

We got off in La Madera and started asking how to get to this Supermercado. Many long blocks later walking alongside the delapitated canal we found it: the WalMart of our little village. It was huge. They sold everything from matresses to mangos. I went a little crazy in the bakery department. Casey got her yogurt. But we couldn’t find one of the things we were sure they had: tortillas. I had walked up and down the aisles and checked their chilled section — where the hell did they keep them?

“Excuse, senorita?” I stopped the next uniformed employee I saw.

“Donde las tortillas?”

“Con maize?” She asked.

“Si.”

She led us to the gargantuan section in the back of the store under the giant sign that read: Tortillas. Whoops, how’d I miss that big clue? There were some women behind the counter working around a machine. They appeared to be making tortillas — but I didn’t see any. The counter had a festive cloth, but nope, no tortillas. Ok, whatever, I’ll just chill here until they make the next batch. They must be out or something. Shouldn’t they stock more tortillas? I guess we’re not in a hurry. That’s weird though.

“Just one package?” the woman asked.

“Yes.”

She lifts up the cloth the reveal rows upon rows of freshly made tortillas wrapped in paper. She hands us the closest package. My face breaks into a smile. “Oh my God, they’re so warm! Gracias!” Duh, Catherine.

After the woman walked away, I realized something else. Her uniform didn’t even match anyone elses who was working in the store. The fact that she was buying a Coke in front of us in the checkout line was another clue that she didn’t even work there. Wow; I’m truely a winner when it comes to shopping for tortillas in Mexico.

We left the Supermercado and journeyed home. The sun was setting and we flip-flopped through some of the roughest parts of town yet. The road was dirt with pockets of garbage every few feet. The dwellings were crumbling and few had windows or doors. Once we officially crossed the bridge back into La Madera the roads were paved and the buildings were more intact.

We were eager to sample our tortillas and the salsa fresca. We made it back to the room and I showered while Casey whipped up some guacamole. Dinner then consisted of tortillas filled with fresh guac., cotija cheese, charred Anahiem chilies and fresh squeezed lime. We tried tallying up how much money we were spending. We had gone to an ATM earlier and I pulled out the receipt.

I remembered the money-tips the guy behind us in line said.

“They get you for every fee they can,” a young, white guy with a straw hat said as we cluelessly looked at the ATM screen. “They’re asking you to donate to homeless; just say no.”

“Thanks!”

“Hey; you guys aren’t from Portland, are you?” for some totally crazy reason I can’t quite explain — I wasn’t all that surprised by that question. It was almost as if I knew he was going to ask us that.

“Yeah — that’s exactly where we’re from,” I said with a relaxed smile.

“I just had a feeling… so am I. Isn’t this paradise?”

“Totally.”

three:

Today we realized we needed a new room. The first night we didn’t sleep so well because there were noises outside, and we were amped up from being in a new place. Last night was awful because this horrid drain started draining right under our floor around 4:30am. It sounded as if we were sleeping in a draining bathtub. We both woke up saying we wanted a different room, so Casey ventured out around 10am to look around for available options. I stayed in bed trying to sleep, but no, not for long.

There was a knock at the door and it was a woman from the hotel wanting some information about us (name, address, duration of our stay). The front door was locked, and since Casey had the key, I couldn’t get it open to talk to this woman. I went out to the porch and pathetically tried to communicate with her. I told her we’d come up to the desk once Casey got back. Plus, I didn’t want to commit to staying longer than our three-day deposit, in case Casey found a better room.

And she did. She came back shortly and was excited about a few rooms she’d found down the street. Great; no more draining bathtub.

The plan for the day was to go back to La Perla, so as soon as she got back, we packed up and headed out. The first thing I realized when leaving our room was the monstrous cruise ship that had anchored in the middle of the bay. It looked like a horizontal skyscraper just layin’ down in kiddie pool. The first thought that came to our minds was: more gringos equals more palapa competition! This made Casey even more pissy since we were getting off to a later start than we’d planned.

I just stopped talking so we’d stop arguing about lame stuff. Plus, it was hot as hell, and how can you fight with your partner when it’s so hot? We got back to La Perla and got a palapa no problem. We were there for a long time. We didn’t chat up other vacationers. I just didn’t have it in me. The heat and lack of sleep made me want to keep my energy to myself. I had high hopes of going in the blissful ocean again, but the fact that you couldn’t walk two feet on the sand without squishing a dead jellyfish had me creeped. I saw two people get stung within minutes of each other. It didn’t help that I’ve been stung before, so my fear was warrented by painful experience.

I was in middle school and my best friend Taylor took me to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to her family’s beach house. It was awful. Getting stung by a jellyfish can feel like someone is running a razor blade up your vein.

But I went in the ocean anyway, and bless my soul, I got out without getting stung again. As we walked up the beach a huddle of dark-skinned local boys asked if we wanted a jet ski ride. Our default, “No gracias,” came out, but then we paused. Wait, how much again?

Ten minutes later we were in life jackets and Casey was propelling us away from shore on a gas-guzzeling ocean motorcycle. It was so awesome. We bounced across the surface like a skipping rock. We circled the giant cruise ship, feeling like grains of sand next to its gradious steel sides. I held on to Casey’s vest and “Woohooed” for 30 minutes solid.

We pulled back up to shore and one of the locals helped us off. His name was Victor and his English was smooth. He wanted to know where we were from and when I said Portland, he smiled.

“Ya, I’ve lived up in Clackamas. I still have all my family up there.”

At this point I felt a bit stuck. Casey was waiting on our jet ski so we could take a photo together. I didn’t want to be rude, or ask the wrong questions, or assume anything about Victor and his situation. I responded by saying how gorgeous it is in Zihuatanejo and smiled.

Our day on La Playa came to an end, and we again hopped the bus back to La Madera. My head was beginning to kill. I needed to absorb massive amounts of water. We treked back to our room and I passed out. Casey showered. Not wanting to waste the day light, Casey wanted to check out the other side of town. Not wanting to be a wet blanket, I put back on my clothes and joined her. Plus, I wanted to call my mom.

While we were out, we found a stark-white modern bungalow hotel with a pool. Like moths to a flame, we walked up the steps and asked about availablity. It was $20 US more per night, but we didn’t want any more nights like the last two. We put down our deposit and said we’d come back in the morning.

four:

The day started early, and even though the midnight-plumbing project happened again, I still slept a bit better. We packed up, and said goodbye to our little room on the bay. We tromped down the hill, and instead of being greeted by a nice old Mexican woman, we were greeted by a nice old Mexican man. There are some people in this world that just make you happy to be around, and this guy is one of them. His name was Manuel and was a plump, timid, balding man with a nice button-down shirt tucked into his belted-khaki shorts. He helped us settle into our new room, then we were off to The Fat Mermaid for breakfast. A few other gringo-travelers recommended it (Manuel vouched for it too), and when are you going to have coconut-banana pancakes, if not on vacation? So that’s what I got. The coffee there was great too. I actually got some kind of cream instead of plain room-temperature milk, yess! We decided to come back again.

Today’s beach is Las Gatas. You can only get there via water taxi. We’d heard mixed reviews, so wanted to see how great or sucky it was. Twenty pesos later we were on a little boat headed across the bay. We got there and were immediately greeted by eager boat-helpers asking for tips. The privelage-guilt was definitely on high while we were at Las Gatas. It is a small half-mile beach with a dozen Mexican cafes that host their own bank of palapas. Unlike La Playa Ropa, the guys who work the palapas are only paid in tips. There weren’t as many tourists there, so the vendors and servers were extra aggressive at getting your business. I knew this would be an issue, but nevertheless, guilt is a huge hidden cost of traveling.

The guy that sold us our palapa for the day was named Scott. He was a gringo from Colorado. This was very unusual. Every single other server in all the other businesses were Mexican — not Scott. His short frame, tight buzz cut, and quick reactions had me imagining his past much different than his present. Again, like Victor, I couldn’t help but wonder what his story was, but I wasn’t about to ask.

We kept the conversation casual while we drifted in and out of the pool-clear water. He made us cocktails that were the size of small children. They were the best pina coladas on earth. Entire pineapples were gutted and filled with icey coconut rum puree. Fresh stalks of hydrangeas bloomed out the sides of the fruit for decoration.

Speaking of Scotts, oh look — we saw Lisa and Scott from Minnesota again. I love them. They keep referring to themselves as old geezers, but seriously, I hope I’m that happy and fun at their age. We also saw the hipster couple from Minniapolis, but we didn’t talk to them much. We met another nice couple named Erica and Aden from Seattle.

After we let the buzz come and go from our pina coladas, we hopped a water taxi to return to the other side of the bay. We shared the boat with a few young Mexican men, and an old American couple. Exhibit A: how I do not want to become… The old guy was nice and was chatting us up, but his wife? Awful. And I was only with her for 10 minutes.

A Mexican woman with her small child got on the boat after us and the elderly couple was already sitting in the two front seats. The Mexican woman was standing in front of the American woman.

“Well, is she going to sit down?!” the elderly woman huffed to her husband. As if the Mexican woman wasn’t even there.

“It’s fine,” he responded.

“Well, I don’t want to be looking at her the entire time — it’s annoying!” She got up and moved seats so she wasn’t as close to the woman in front of her.

Oh. My. Where to even start? Who are you to be so rude? And what on earth is SO annoying by having someone stand next to you on a crowded tiny boat?!

Moments later, the water taxi left the dock and coasted to another boat in the harbor. The Mexican woman and her child got off. I felt embarrased. I hoped the Mexican woman didn’t understand how rude my fellow American woman was.

The rest of the boat ride across the bay was realitively uneventful, except for one of the Mexican boys starring at me intenstly. Then we were were pulling up to the dock, drama with the woman struck again.

The typical routine for getting off these little boats is pretty basic: the driver lets the motor idle while we slide up to the platform. Helpers on the dock hold on to the boat while passengers step off, hoping for a tip. They offer a hand if needed. Well, one of those helping hands almost put the old lady in the water.

We were pulling up to the side of the dock, and three local boys were there waiting. Everyone in the boat knew this woman wanted to get off first, so we all stood up and waited for her. She started to reach out for the side of the dock and a boy’s hand. The boat inched away with the tide. The distance between the boat and the dock widened. The body of this woman was quickly stretching to become a bridge between the two. She couldn’t effectively lunge onto the dock and no one on the other side was grabbing her. She started to panic. So did I. I mentally saw her falling into the greasy waters of the harbor.

Fuck, do something!

I couldn’t figure out a solution to this problem that was quickly developing. I didn’t want to be that person that just stands there, watching an accident happen, but the seconds ticked passed.

“Move out of my way!” she shouted at the boys on the dock.

The boat swayed toward the dock, and she collapsed on its surface.

Thank. You. God. Oh my, that would have been so horrible.

That precarious moment was already in the past. Casey and I hopped out of the boat and meandered to our fancy room through the abandoned streets of town. It was a Sunday and not much was opened.

The fact that I’ve only ingested food wrapped in corn tortillas was kind of beginning to show, so I got to know our little square of grass outside our room’s patio. Then I went for a run along the short beach of La Madera. Again, the locales looked at me like a freak show.

I tried calling my mom again and finally got through. I was glad to talk to her but also had the predictable force of worry. She’s moving, again… it’s got to be the 60th time in her life. And she’s getting older. I pray she doesn’t lift some box of books and hurts herself. Again, the guilt kicks in.

“You’ll have to come visit,” she says.

I told her I loved her and the phone card ran out. I say to myself that the next plane I get on is to see her. I swim a few laps in the gorgeous pool and try not to worry.

five:

Today was a lot like yesterday. Get up, make a modest breakfast in our cocina and get on a boat to the beach. Except we went to even a more remote one today. It was almost a deserted island.

We trekked to Ixtapa via la autobus. Eight pesos took us on a 25 minute tour of the back country of Zihua, and through the resort-laden town of Ixtapa. The actual bus was much more like the American versions, big and sounded like a shaken bag of pots and pans. But this thing was fast. All the windows were down and the wind was blowing so fiercly, I couldn’t really breathe.

Thank goodness we weren’t staying in Ixtapa. The resorts were expansive. The manicured lawns were enormous. A little Mexican man swept the gutter. There was a mall there with a Senor Frogs.

We got off the bus and looked immediately into a bog filled with moss-covered crockadiles. There were more helpful men ready to point us to the water taxis. The one that was especially friendly was eager to share that he had caught a “big salmon in the Columbia River” when he found out that we were from Portland. He had spent time all over the Northwest.

We made it to the island of Ixtapa via water taxi and, what do you know, there are Lisa and Scott. They told us about their kids (they were our age) and we talked about how deserted everything was. After I had learned the art of shopping for the best price, I found a set of snorkels for $40 pesos (someother guy wanted $90? Uh, no). We glided through the warm waters and split up schools of fish with our bodies. They got me back by eating off the scab on my knee.

We actually broke our own rule and went out past dark. We ate an incredible dinner of shrimp and scallops in a creamy lemon sauce at La Casa Veija. We walked into town and caught the last half of the outdoor volleyball game. We were totally becoming used to this.

six:

Fat Mermaid CoffeeThere was a subtle mourning to today. Casey and I didn’t speak much. We knew the end was near. We went back to the Fat Mermaid after trying a different coffee shop that sucked. It’s so funny how you can get into a routine so fast. We sat at the same table and ordered the same drinks from the same waiter. We were their only customers for the majority of the afternoon. We wrote a pile of postcards and read the last of our magazines.

The afternoon was spent with more lesiurely activities in town. We didn’t have any traveling adventures since this was our last full day. We wanted to savour the relaxation as much as possible, so we scheduled light.

Dinner was our main mission of the day. We got out of our sweaty rags and into clean girly dresses. We had been hearing about Bandidos so walked around and around trying to find it. The dinner experience there was mediocore. We were rushed to a table and had a few different eager Mexican men waiting on us. The place was a huge wall-free dining room in the center of town with small drinks and a horrific cover band. We ate chili rellanos and fish tacos while watching older American women dance to Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville.”

seven:

I wrote this in the airport while watching vacationers deplane the same machine that flew me home. They snaked through the ropes of customs. I was on the other side of the glass this time.

Today was spent mentally preparring for the return. We lugged our luggage outside our hotel to the curb and instantly was met by a taxi cab. We asked how much it was.

“Air conditioning?” he asked. It was always an extra fee.

“No way,” we said. We knew Portland hadn’t turned to summer during our seven-day absense.

The cab driver navigated through the busy streets of town and onto the highway. He got hot and clicked on the air conditioning free of charge.

“Good vacation?” he asked.

“You know what the locals say… Paradise.”

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