Friday, March 17, 2017

La Madera is Numero Uno in Zihuatanejo

Zihuatanejo, Mexico
24 January – 28 February 2017

La Madera Beach Zihuatanejo
To see photos of  Zihuatanejo, click the following:

Why do we keep returning to La Madera Beach in Zihuatanejo? We love the beach and the good beach restaurants that allow us to sit in the shade or the sun as long as we want. The great local farmer’s market, Mercado Central, the multitude of good restaurants and the abundance of fresh fish are two more reasons. But the main reason is the number of friends we have made over the past years and friends from years past who have also discovered the charms of Zihuatanejo.

The first people who greeted us on the beach were our Minnesota friends, Don and Joyce Kaplan. Besides many of the other tourists on La Madera beach, they have become friends with all the artisan people who stroll the beach selling their wares or offering a guitar concert. A special family of three adorable little girls come after school to sell 1Peso packages of gum while their mother sells well-made bead jewelry. As well as hugs, the girls get lessons in counting in English, while we learn the Spanish names for things.

We were pleased that Suzanne and David Andrews, friends from my University days, have switched allegiance from La Ropa Beach to La Madera beach. The Andrews introduced us to Donna and David Boychuk, from Hemmingford, Quebec. The Andrews and the Boychuks all went to Lachine High School together many years ago. It was the first year the Boychuks came to Zihuatanejo and they liked it so much they have reserved for next year.

We are not the only ones who return to La Madera Beach year after year. Sandy and Ron Johnson, from Vancouver, greeted us on one of our first days on the beach. And then there is the group from Saskatchewan who come for the month of February and Nedra and Ed from northern Alberta. There was always somebody to talk to or meet while sitting under the palapa roof of our favourite beach restaurant.
Anuncien El Evangelio Chapel
The old town of Zihuatanejo still holds many charms for us. We love walking along the Malecón, the walkway along the town beach, choosing fresh fish for our dinner from the returning fishermen, listening to the guitarists and other musicians strolling past the restaurants, snapping photos of the many sculptures portraying Zihatanejo as it was when the Spanish first arrived and admiring the old churches. The Central farmers market holds all the fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish you could wish for. Of course, if we tire of our own cooking there are more than enough good restaurants to choose from both in Zihuatanejo town and especially along the streets nearest La Madera.

Our daily routine at La Madera beach included a long swim across the bay and back for me while Ray swam out to a buoy about 100 M offshore, then a pleasant walk across the sandy beach to drip dry. By then it would be time for lunch from the friendly good cooks at the beach restaurant.  We might even get a second swim after lunch. An added bonus for me was a weekly session with Anna, one of the excellent masseurs in a massage tent next to the beach restaurant. We need a little pampering now and again.

The day after we arrived I made my way to Hotel Casa Celeste in Zihatanejo town, a ten minute walk from our place, to find the Yoga class I had read about on the internet. From then on, I took classes with Victoria, originally from Victoria, every Tuesday and Thursday morning. I even got Sandy and her sister-in-law, Liz, hooked on the classes.

Some say that the best beach in Zihuatanejo is La Ropa, named for the silk clothing washed ashore from the wreck of sailing ship centuries ago. Yes, the beach is longer than Madera and there are more hotels bordering the beach, but it a long walk up and down steep hills or a taxi ride from Zihuatanejo, so we prefer the smaller La Madera. Regardless, we have to make at least one visit to La Ropa each year. We took a taxi with the Boychuks to the far end of the beach and got chairs in front of the beach restaurant Rossy. A surprise awaited us. There had been unusually high winds the night before and a sailboat had come loose from its mooring and lay wrecked in the shallows in front of the restaurant. People who stay nearby told us that they saw the sailboat in distress being approached by fishermen who tried to attach ropes to the boat to try to save the boat. The sailboat was over 30 feet long and much too big for the small fishing boats to control. Luckily no one was in the boat when it was wrecked, but the damage was severe. All day long salvage crews crawled over the carcass removing anything of value. Two days later there was nothing left except small pieces of wood that washed up on both La Ropa and La Madera.

The Kaplans introduced us to Santa Prisca Pozoleria, which serves arguably the best Pozole soup in Zihuatanejo. Pozole is a tradition Mexican soup with maiz, AKA hominy, in a pork based broth. The soup comes with a choice of chicken or pork morsels, a plate of chilies, avocado, limes, pickled vegetables, and other small snacks to put in the soup or savour separately. The portions are large so Ray and I share a chica (small) bowl. With the soup, we share a few orders from a selection of BBQ pork, tamales, tostadas, tacos or enchiladas. 
Burnhams and Andrews at Santa Prisca
One of the main reasons the restaurant is so popular is the lunch entertainment provided by a group who play all the North American favourites from the 50s to the 80s, plus lively Mexican numbers. The crowd loves it and sings along and cheers the band on. We brought the Andrews with us our first visit of the year. David was sold on Pozole lunch was the tradition of drinking shots of Mescal at the end of the meal. The first order of mescal comes in a shot glass while repeat orders are poured from a two litre coke bottle that was decanted from the cask of mescal the restaurant buys. David insisted on having his picture with a comely young waitress wearing one of the T-shirts made for the restaurant after his second shot. Her T-shirt said “We don’t just make pozole, we make happy”. The T-shirts of several of the male servers said “Eat whatever you want, this is your house”. We returned with friends every Thursday. We knew we had become regulars when the band started greeting us as they arrived for their session.

Notices went up advertising the annual Streetfest, which raises money to buy defibrillators for community centers in Zihuatanejo. One long block of a street very near our place was closed off for a Friday evening and filled with long tables and chairs, with a large dance floor in the middle, and a stage for the evening entertainment at one end. We got there in time to secure a table for ourselves, the Andrews and the Johnsons. Dinner was Hamburgers provided by a restaurant on the street. Entertainment began with the Mark and Andy Show, a duo who know all the oldies that the crowd likes to dance to. A presentation of formal Mexican dances was performed by accomplished local couples, dressed in Guaybera shirts and black pants for the men and black party dresses for the women. This was followed by an accomplished group of children performing traditional dances with their instructors. A dance contest completed the performance. Sandy and Ron, who love ballroom dancing, entered. The winners of the contest was a couple who were part of the traditional dances, but Sandy and Ron won second prize!
Ron and Sandy Johnson in dance contest

Money is raised by selling raffle tickets for diners at local restaurants, golf, and other items. We all bought tickets at Streetfest but none of us won anything. We obviously were not sitting at the right table as the table next to us won the lion’s share of the prizes. Oh well, it was a good cause.

The 5th of February brought the Superbowl and many of the restaurants bring in big screens for patrons to watch the game. We don’t watch much football during the rest of the year, but the Superbowl is a must see in Zihuatanejo. We made up a party of our friends and went to Casa La Vieja to enjoy a meal and the game. We all thought it was a ho-hum game that the Atlanta Falcons were bound to win, that is until well into the 4th quarter. Then the New England Patriots tied it up and went into scoring the winning goal in sudden death overtime. Too bad I didn’t have money on anyone.

There are a few events we missed this year and are bound to be a “must do event” next year. First on my list is to sign on one of the tours of the waters around Zihuatanejo on one of the sailboats partaking in the Sailfest annual fund raisers.  Since 2002 Sailfest, has built 102 classrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and playgrounds for disadvantaged children at more than 30 schools, including 14 brand-new schools in partnership with the local community. We did get to the annual dance with music by the M-Dock, a group of middle-aged men who come from Springfield, Missouri every year to play at the festival. Of course they know all the golden oldies that we can actually dance to. It was lots of fun, even if we, once again, were left out of the raffle prizes.

Last year we saw a sign advertising the Mexican Cooking School that is held in the back of a restaurant right near our place. We tried to reserve for one of their classes, but we too late. They were fully booked for the remaining days we would be in Zihuatanejo. This year, Ray and I were on our way to the Central Market when the sign was out again. We asked again for a reservation and again were told we were too late, but there was an option. The class was just about to start and there were two places available, if we wanted to join the class immediately. Both Ray and I said, sure, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves making chilies relleno (stuffed).  The instructor, Monica was great. She told all about the different chilies and had each student peeling flame blackened Poblano and Jalapeno chilies and removing the seeds prior to stuffing them. Monica demonstrated five variations of stuffing and with our help, dipped prepared poblano chilis, stuffed with cheese, in an egg flour batter and place them in a fry pan of hot vegetable oil for the final step. When all the peppers were stuffed, we enjoyed a lunch, sampling all the five variations. We were all surprised at what a labour intensive process it is to make stuffed peppers but the results were delicious. Another cooking experience is on my agenda for next year.

We have stayed in the same apartment, Casa Azul Abajo, (the ground floor) apartment the last two years but we are moving next year to an apartment with a view of La Madera beach. Much as we regret leaving our comfortable apartment, the noise from an all-night club became too much for us. We look forward to heading the sound of the surf rather than wearing ear plugs each night to block raucous club noise. Nevertheless, we look forward to our next trip to Zihuatanejo and especially La Madera Beach.