Mexico´s Pacific Coast/Troncones, Guerrero

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Views and Viewpoints from the Guerrero & Michoacán Coasts.

Sunsets along the coast. Outside the Quinta d'Liz in Troncones, Guerrero (left) and at Playa Calabaza between Playa Azul and Caleta de Campos, Michoacán.

It all boils down to a road. Bring in a good road and change comes right along with the pavement.

In a 1964 travel/adventure log, AFTER THE CHILDREN HAVE GONE, author, Loren Wingard, writes it took nearly 24 hours to reach Zihuatenejo by car from Mexico City . Today, there are Mexicans who claim they can be in Acapulco (144 miles south of Zihua) two hours after leaving the capital.

The early travelers venturing along the Guerrero coast a few steps in front of the promoters and land speculators saw a different Costa Brava than tourists see today. At one time, Zihuatenejo was undoubtedly ‘the charming little fishing village' as early guidebook writers described it but its days as charming, little and a village are long gone. It's all a matter of access. The easier it is for people from the outside to reach a place, the more it changes the insides.

A Zihuatenejo from another era (photo from Another Day in Paradise, a complementary magazine that advertises itself as the only English language news source in the area) and an aerial view today.

The Zihuatenejo we saw in 1980 as we bounced along little more than a dirt track in a small caravan of family members making our way to what was probably Playa La Ropa was much closer to the Zihua of 1964. Our group numbered 24. The family we lived with at the time was large and they kept picking up more members as we made the hot, arduous, seemingly endless journey from Pátzcuaro to the beach.

The thought that 22 people could rent a bungalow for a pittance and that the two gringos with their dog could pitch a tent in front on the sand is simply laughable given the area's current image.

Access to Playa La Ropa in 2006 seems a bit of a challenge. One option is to take the malecon from the city center by the main dock and wind your way south along the walkway. Another is to get a beachfront hotel. The cheapest hotel along the beach that I found after a quick search on the NET was in the $99 - $179 (U.S.) category; 17% Mexican tax not included. Or you could go to the Villa del Sol where the digs go for $365 to $1400 per day with a four-night minimum and a mandatory $60 ( U.S. ) added per person daily in the winter high season for breakfast and lunch. Since these are quotes for a double, our group of 24 would have been out a chunk of change and the pooch simply out of luck if that same trip was made today.

Two of the modern ways to access Playa La Ropa...the Catalina Beach Resort (left) and Villa del Sol. If you can afford the rates, you will probably have the beach pretty much to yourself, just like you see it here in the promotional photos.

The paved road we took into the town center in 1980 from that basic bungalow was lined with some tropical vegetation, a lot of scrub and dotted here and there with simple homes. A far cry from the scenario that greets today's visitor.

A couple shots of the hillsides around the area today.

Our explorations in Mexico over the years have been mainly inland until we moved here full-time in 1999. Then we started to explore the Michoacán coast. Except for the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas , the towns dotting this coastline are small and typical.

Dogs bark and roosters crow at all hours; cars with megaphones strapped to the hood belt out undecipherable announcements for one product after another; garbage can be seen strewn casually about; radios at full volume compete with music from various sound systems. Venders vie for your attention along the beach selling myriad strings of the same item; rockets explode at unexpected moments; parties continue until the wee hours; people speak an awful lot of Spanish; the smell of overly-used oil wafts by from all sides.

The small-town atmosphere of Playa Azul (left) and Caleta de Campos. You'll just have to imagin the dogs, oil, venders, etc.

Some would call it chaos. I enjoy the laid-back atmosphere, the basic life-style and the friendliness of the people. One thing for sure, if you go to the surrounding beaches away from the towns at a time that does not coincide with a Mexican holiday, you can often have the whole place to yourself.

Views from the often deserted Michoacán Coast.

It can be great fun. Others can't get out fast enough.

What you will not find YET along the Michoacán coast is the pizzazz of the typical beach resort. This could change. Many of the same economic gurus who put their collective heads together to come up with Cancún and Huatulco are hunching over plans to create an Ixtapa-type resort along this isolated coastline as I write. Since a good chunk of the state is still ejido land, the ingredients for some interesting maneuvering are simmering. Ejido land is that territory set aside for communal ownership by Lázaro Cárdenas during his presidency in the 1930's and land that cannot be sold without the unanimous consent of the entire cooperative's ruling council.

While much of the ejido has gone the way of the deer that used to roam Michoacán's forests, the concept is still strong in the state. As is the concept of some pretty shady real estate practices. My favorite tale is the story of the six separate owners of a picturesque beach property close to Caleta de Campos. They finally took their collective conflicting land titles to a lawyer in Lázaro who cleared up the matter nicely by granting clear title to only one person...himself.

Then there is the story we heard from the lips of a fellow Minnesotan who lamented how he had purchased a beautiful, pristine section of an island practically within spitting distance of Playa Azul. His problem was that the Mexican Navy already owned it and anyone trespassing in the area could be arrested or shot!

After numerous visits to this coastline, a number of things have given us the impetus to explore other beaches. Playa Azul has become popular with organized busloads of day-trippers. It's marvelous to see the wonderment of Mexicans from inland locales viewing the ocean for the first time but the sheer numbers plunked down precipitously can be simply overwhelming. The increased tourist traffic combined with limited comfortable hotels pushed prices for these establishments way out of line. The heavy-handed use of oil to prepare all food except, perhaps, fruit juice, reached (sorry but I'm hopelessly addicted to the pun) my saturation point. Then there was the fact I simply couldn't get a decent cup of coffee. Actually, the latter was the deciding factor.

The nice grounds of the Maria Teresa Jerico. Although the hotel has a small pool (good), air conditioning (bad) and a restaurant, the last time we were there in 2002, we paid about $70. This is high-end for us but we were there to watch the World Cup. The management assured us they had the chanels for the game but it became apparent it was another case of someone telling you what they think you want to hear. Therefore, Playa Azul witnessed the stange spectacle of two gringos wandering about town at 3:00 AM listening for soccer sounds.

For a spell we were able to hang out at Villa Dorada by Playa Calabaza . This is a time-share beachfront development where a bit of a cash flow problem prompted management to rent out some of the bungalows on a daily basis. The place, like the entire Michoacán coast, is jammed with nationals during vacation times and many weekends but otherwise you can have it pretty much to yourself.

Naturally, it couldn't last.

Like everyplace else, they hiked the rates. Suddenly it was over a hundred bucks a pop and we lost interest and moved on.

The Villa Dorada. It was fun while it lasted.

We moved our winter beach get-aways to Troncones. Up to about ten years ago, Troncones was what any beach town was before The Road, tourists and, most importantly, land speculators. But there's no way a beach stays undiscovered in today's world.

The old Troncones road...quite different from the road today.

Dewey McMillin, an Alaskan fisherman, initially came to the area in 1983 and was the first foreign resident in 1990. In 1992, then President Salinas Gotari changed the constitution to allow ejidos to be broken up and sold as private land once the consent of the governing body was given. As a man with an eye to the bottom line, McMillin appeared to be in the right place at the right time. He convinced the governing body to okay the private land sales so the 1,000 square meter lots awarded to the individual ejido members were bought up bit by bit. Half of those landowners signed the title transfer with an X. A Wall Street Journal article used this example to illustrate how McMillin's project was a boon for the tiny village of ‘mud huts' inhabited by illiterate campesinos .

Each of those 1,000 square meter lots looks a tad different today.

McMillin is quoted as saying, ‘They had grown up in a Karl Marx community but that now it was time to enter into the Adam Smith world.'

Giving $10,000 to a campesino living in poverty in exchange for what he considered a bit of worthless land probably seemed a fortune in 1995. The fact that the 11,100 square feet of property was prime beachfront means the former owner is now able to see first hand the machinations of Adam Smith's world.

Today a parcel of a bit more than six lots at the end of Manzanilla Bay is selling for $1,850,000 (U.S.).

A sociologist would have a field day with this small community and its population mix. There are the original townspeople who may be pleased as all get out or royally ticked off by developments; there are Mexican entrepreneurs from outside the area; there are the visitors on the low end of the food chain as well as the high-end tourist population. Then there are the foreigners who have come to live out a retirement fantasy in a luxurious beach house and those foreigners who have come to make their fortune in a bit of paradise.

The latter three categories represent a sizeable contingent in a town like Troncones with its population around 400 and the reason we didn't notice them the first time around was we never turned right as you drive into town. The T separates one side of the proverbial tracks from the other. It's not that there are no foreign-run establishments or tourists to the left…far from it. It's just rather low-key in comparison. High end is quite high and the further north you go up the beach, the higher it becomes.

There is one access road into Troncones. It ends in a T at the beach and appears to represent more than a choice of two directions.

But then as people say, ‘It's only money, right?'

I can't help wondering, however, just how much luxury one wants to shove in the face of people living in a country where the minimum wage is still about five bucks a day. But then, if you make the turn to the right, this question obviously isn't an issue. To the left, it's more down to basics, especially at the Quinta d' Liz , our favorite haunt.

The entrance to the Quinta and Natasha, the reigning queen of the place.

The Quinta is described in one guidebook as ‘popular with the 20-something crowd.' This could well be viewed as a nice warning to old farts like us to stay away. And in fact, the first time around, we were housed with a young surfer set who could have cared less they were sharing their abode with a couple of old codgers like ourselves.

The second time around, there was a more distinct mix – a young couple taking their mom for a short vacation, a woman from Winnepeg, a 32-year old from England, the two of us and a couple that could well afford the high end to the north but enjoyed, as did everyone else, the laid-back atmosphere of the place. It is much like the camaraderie of a hostel but with your own quarters and a private bathroom.

There's a double bed with mosquito net, a bedside table, a few pegs for clothes, some small shelves, a fan, a sink and toilet and a cold water shower sans ceiling. Basic, yet quite pleasant.

Each of the six units is round, with a palapa -type roof. The bed is neither hard nor soft. At certain times of the year the mosquito net is mandatory. As opposed to the mosquitoes from Minnesota that were often referred to as the state bird, the little buggers in Troncones are silent but very deadly. For a long-term aficionada of hot water (even during summertime in Brasil), I was amazed that I could actually enjoy the cold shower. The crimson bougainvillea petals on the floor below and the sun or night sky above were so pleasing, I was hooked.

One of the cabañas of the Quinta and part of what you can see from the breakfast area.

Check out www.playatroncones.com and you'll really get a feel for the place plus better photos than I could ever think of taking.

Breakfasts are part of the deal and Luis Enrique, the owner, is a great cook. Plus he likes his coffee strong which is the way he serves it to his guests.

One wonders what more one needs as a traveler. You're there, after all for whatever the area offers, not, one supposes, for the lodging. Yet it seems the planners of the newer resorts get so hopped up on the building that the construction totally obstructs the locale that attracted the planners to the area in the first place.

Ixtapa is a prime example. As you drive along Highway 200, there it is between scrub growth and the ocean…a concrete monolith that makes me think, ‘Santa Barbara on steroids.' Enjoy that view of the ocean for it may be the last one you have in the area. It's one high-rise hotel or condo after another. A certain clientele that favors the package tour will love the place…all you can eat, all you can drink, air-conditioning, a pool, in-house discos, restaurants and bars, activity directors, shops, boutiques, hair dressers and lots of English. It might as well be Miami Beach . A European guest last year said he saw a tour offered from Amsterdam at 700 euros including air-fare and the whole enchilada. Hey, with all the goodies, who needs to see the beach? Which is a good thing. At that price your hotel will probably be so far from the ocean that you'll be lucky to catch the smell.

A small section of the concrete of Ixtapa.

Troncones is not that kind of place. For one, there are over three miles of accessible beach for walking. Much of the time you can have the beach to yourself or, at best, you are accompanied by one of the beach dogs. I call it The Troncones Dog Walking Service. It's not that someone is hired to take your pup on a stroll but rather that one of the canine beachside residents deigns to romp along with you as you stroll along. It seems certain dogs attach themselves to specific walkers.

A bit of the beach in Troncones. Great for walking but even with better with a dog along.

I always thought only a Golden Retriever could smile but the Pit Bull/Dalmatian cross that attached herself to me spent a lot of time with a grin from one of her stubby ears to the other as she ran out into the water in her version of ‘Go fetch the wave.'

A prime wave for my companion.

The sheer joy and energy of that dog were revitalizing. They must have been teaching her some tricks for happy living at the Perfect Moment Yoga Center where she lives. She would race ahead of me, stop and look back as if to say, ‘Come ON. Just a little more. You can do it!' When I finally turned around, there she was leaping up and over the eddies as she accompanied me back to the Quinta. By the time I walked up the sandy slope and was rinsing off my feet, I could see her, a white blur, racing the half mile back home.

If you turn to the left toward the Quinta, this is the kind of activity that is appealing. A young woman from Guadalajara confessed to spending over an hour watching a sand crab examine and reject a series of shells she had selected for him until he found one to his liking. He positioned his new house over his back and scurried off with his prize as she returned to her hammock at the Quinta, equally content.

Troncones is that kind of beach. At least for those staying at the Quinta d'Liz. It's a place where people talk, read, search for the perfect wave and are happy with a respectable one, stare off at the ocean, walk, splash in the water or swim if they are strong swimmers or else very foolish ones. Like the Michoacán coast, this area is famous for some evil rip tides.

 

Warmings along the beach are frequent and often quite graphic.

The discussion at the Quinta at breakfast often centered around ‘How long can it last?' Talking with people along the beach makes you think, ‘Maybe forever.' All the beachfront is occupied by restaurants, lodging and private homes. New construction is going on but on the other side of the road and back into the hills. Anyone who has spent even a minimum of time on the beach realizes what a difference a few hundred feet means in terms of breeze, pleasure, heat and bugs. There is no spring or well for water. All the H2O is trucked in by tanker. Any attempt to turn the area into an Ixtapa 2 would tax the natural resources past the breaking point. One likes to think this offers some hope.

Signs advertising land for sale are all over but the prime beachfront in Troncones is long gone.

Maybe this strange mix can continue its even stranger coexistence. And it is strange indeed.

On one of his walks, the Englishman staying at the Quinta met the owner of a nearby hotel and was informed of the size of the man's bank account, showed the extension to the hotel along with the newly opened gym and skateboard area and received a bit of a diatribe against Germans, all within little more than a minute of conversation. After hearing repeated allusions to the man's monetary wealth, the Englishman said he was sorely tempted to say, ‘Good for you. Do you want a biscuit?'

Obviously a true advocate of the 'If you've got it, flaunt it' school. You'll see a great deal of flaunting on the strip but one thing you can say is that it is done with great style. Some of the country's best architects have been hired to do their magic with four walls and a roof. No concrete monoliths here. It's as if they took their inspiration from Nature itself and re-created a bit of that beauty in inorganic material.

Moving north from the T, rates at the Yoga Place are $1175 (U.S.) per person double occupancy for a week with breakfast, lunch, yoga lessons, a massage, some other stuff, an ocean view, peace and tranquility plus a great dog.

In the middle of the strip, there's a house that can be rented for the week for $7,000 ( U.S. ). A cook comes with the place but you have to buy the food.

La Casa de Eden at the end of Manzanilla Bay offers an ocean view and perhaps a bit less peace and tranquility. After all, at they're often full-up and that means quite a few people are milling about. The Casa del Sol Restaurant here has the best food but also the highest prices. Lunch menu is more reasonable. For someone like me who relishes a good meal, it was worth it as an occasional treat.

Except for a couple reasonable restaurants, this side of the strip is all up-scale, a far cry from the old basic surfer days.

Change, we all know, is inevitable but it's a marvel to me how so much can be effected along this coastline in less than half my lifetime.

So it's gratifying to know there are still a few places like the Quinta d' Liz where you can turn to the left and both enjoy and afford a simple life-style in harmony with the nature surrounding you. There's a great ocean view, peace and tranquility. What more do we really need?

That and a good cup of morning coffee.

Just one of many views from the Quinta d'Liz. Be sure to check it out at www.playatroncones.com

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