BY GAIL GOLD
In the dead of the cold, grey Chicago winter, if you want to jumpstart your senses and escape the churn of the modern world, how about a suggestion? For your ears, listen to the rooster’s cock-a-doodle-do in the very early morning. For your eyes, gaze on the vivid apple green, turquoise, yellow, red, and orange cut paper flags flapping between buildings. For your skin, feel the blazing sun on your arms and back, toes wiggling in the sand. After shedding my coat, hat, gloves, turtleneck, sweater, and knee socks, I’m wondering what kind of paradise I’ve descended into. How would the rhythm of my days be completely changed in Zihuatanejo, Mexico?
I’ve always had a deep, affectionate relationship with Mexico—it’s very easy to fall hard for the smiles, politeness, food, beaches, characteristic towns and villages, Spanish language, handicrafts, pottery, woven rugs, weather, tequila, cerveza, and, of course, the ever present colors. You would have to have one foot in the grave not to be seduced. It is a totally intoxicating country.
Zihuatanejo is a small, sleepy fishing village on the Pacific Ocean in the state of Guerrero. Very early morning walks down to the bay reveal the catch of the day. Local fishermen of all ages bring in their haul to work stations, where the fish are scaled, cleaned, and sold. Restaurant owners as well as housewives are there to select from dorado, snapper, grouper, mackerel, yellowtail Jack.
A Zihuatanejo specialty is called tiritas, served in local restaurants, made from the freshest and most delicious delicacies caught that morning. Raw fish strips are marinated in lime juice, which cooks them, so there is no need for a fire. Some people add onion, avocado, cilantro, orange segments, olive oil, vinegar and the bold habanero chili to spice it up. This area’s cuisine is closely related to the sea culture of Zihuatanejo and a good way to learn about the traditions and customs.
There are three sounds always heard in any part of Mexico from the coasts to inland: early morning sweeping of the sidewalks and streets, a knife chopping on a wooden board filled with onions and meat, music playing very loud from car radios, stores, or homes—somewhat of a welcome and beautiful sensory overload. Walk down any street in a small Mexican town and you’ll be witness to their way of life. One curious sound is the gas man blasting a pre-recorded message announcing his arrival.
Mexicans have a particularly beautiful way of displaying fruit. Pyramids of strawberries, green limes, and papayas make you think of the Mayan culture and how they built massive temples without mortar. Mexican gazpacho is not what you’re thinking, as in Spanish tomato-based gazpacho. In Mexico, gazpacho consists of slices of crunchy jicama, juicy watermelon, and sweet pineapple all wedged into plastic see-thru cups. Locals like to sprinkle hot chili powder on top. As you pass a vendor on a hot day, your mouth begs you to buy one. And if you do? Instant refreshment.
Being deeply religious, the majority of Mexicans, regardless of which of the 32 states they live in, revere Our Lady of Guadalupe. A picture of the patron saint in this country is everywhere: painted on walls, tattooed on bodies, by the entrances of businesses, and dangling from the rearview mirror in cars and taxicabs. Our Lady of Guadalupe has become a symbol of Mexican patriotism and justice. She is depicted with brown skin, an angel and moon at her feet, with rays of sunlight encircling her. Appealing to the poor and marginalized, she is looked upon as a healer of miracles. Look for her likeness the next time you visit the country south of our border.
And now to speak of Madera and La Ropa, both beaches but world’s apart. Madera, the smaller of the two, is really a bay. A walking path sits above the sand and is used continually for exercise and as a footpath into al centro, the center of town. La Ropa is the principle beach with big, rolling waves and a great expanse of beach to walk. Aquatic sports happen on this beach: parasailing, surfboarding, kayaking, wave running. Condos, hotels, and private homes can be found on both beaches with a variety of prices if you’d like to rent for a week, a month, or a year. The sunbathers love the mango margaritas served at the beach’s myriad restaurants. Fajitas, quesadillas, fish tacos, enchiladas—whatever you would like, ready and available.
If you’re after a relaxing, delicious, sun, and sand time in the dead of winter, escape to Zihuatanejo. You won’t be disappointed at how your senses will be awakened and how relaxed you’ll be venturing into another way of life for a short time.