Friday, February 15, 2013

Zihuatanejo Part 3: Playa Municipal's statues, fishermen, and hilarious pelican population

El Pescador is one of many statues along the malecon of Playa Municipal. El Pescador ("The Fisherman") acknowledges Zihuatanejo's hard-working fishing community. Fishing has been an important activity along the Costa Grande (the "Great Coast") for thousands of years. Carved stone weights used on prehispanic fishing nets are among the artifacts displayed in the Archaeological Museum near the southern end of the malecon. Playa Municipal is also known by the names Playa Principal and Playa Almeja, but to avoid confusion, I'll just use Playa Municipal. The Playa forms the western, or water side of El Centro, the downtown part of Zihua. Its southern end is at the pedestrian bridge over a deep arroyo that empties into Zihuatanteo Bay. The Playa's northern boundary is another pedestrian bridge over the boat channel into the marina. In between are the fishermen's beach and a long pier used by tourist boats and the patrol boats of the Mexican Navy. For a Google satellite view of this area, click here.

The fishermen's beach is crowded with boats full of the daily catch. Just behind the beach you can see a grove of coconut palms that provide welcome shade. Behind the palms is the malecon, a long concrete walkway lined with restaurants. These range from simple tables set up on the beach sand to more formal affairs with waiters dressed in white. Can you guess the main course on most menus? The fish, caught that same day, are as fresh as you can get. Although the ambiance is generally good, the prices are oriented to the tourist trade, even topping those of the restaurant at Hotel Irma, where we stayed. We discovered that prices for similar meals are much more reasonable as you move back into El Centro, away from the beach. Still, dinner on the beach is nice and we tried it a couple of times.

Fortunately, we didn't run into any of these fellows wandering Playa Municipal. This bronze statue of a full-sized crocodile is one of several lurking in this beautiful little garden along the malecon. The American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) can be found along the shores of Zihuatanejo Bay, as well as many other places along the coast to the north and south. Viewing the statue, I recalled reading about a norteamericano family who visited Mexico's Pacific coast not long ago. The back yard of their vacation cottage ran down to one of the lagoons typically found behind the long beaches. After they unpacked they threw open their back door. Their labrador retriever, joyful at his freedom after the long car trip, bounded down the yard and jumped into the lagoon. He was immediately seized by one of the lagoon's resident crocs, no doubt joyful in his own way for the sudden appearance of this large meal. The family stood by in horror but could do nothing as their pet disappeared under the water. They could only be glad it was not one of their small children. It's always good to use discretion around unfamiliar bodies of water.

A pescador shakes small fish out of his "cast" net. They are probably anchovies for his own use or to sell for bait. We often saw men (never women) fishing with cast nets like this. The pescadores wade out almost chest deep, then cast the net in front of them before gradually pulling it in. That takes a lot of strength in the arms and shoulders and this guy looks pretty fit. None of the pescadores using a cast net ever seemed concerned about the crocs which are occasionally spotted in the area. I don't know whether this indicates some special knowledge, or simple fatalism.

This catch was achieved farther off shore. I haven't been able to determine what the silvery fish are, but the greenish-golden one is a dorado, also known as mahi-mahi. These four were laid out under the palms for the examination of possible purchasers. They are quite sizable, ranging from about .6 m (2 ft) for the small one in the foreground, to about 1.2 m (4 ft) for the dorado.

Statue of a woman near the plaza represents the Region Tierra Caliente. She is one of seven female statues located near the malecon. Each represents a different region of Guerrero. Her elaborately braided hair and traditional clothing identify her as an indigenous woman from the region of Guerrero known as Tierra Caliente (the "Hot Lands"). This area is inland from the Costa Grande and is known for its fruit orchards. The other regions of Guerrero are Norte, Centro, Montaña, Costa Chica, and Acapulco.

With the fishing boats in, Brown Pelicans crowd around looking for a treat.  These large birds are graceful in flight and while cruising the water's surface, but are rather comical on land. The Brown Pelicans bear a faint resemblance to Charlie Chaplin's famous Little Tramp character as they waddle about in their brown tuxedos. The pelicans are remarkably tolerant of people and almost need to be pushed out of the way to get through their massed ranks. This flock was intently focused on a pescador cutting up his catch.

The pescador uses his sharp knife to fillet his catch. Every few minutes he amused himself. and the growing crowd of human spectators, by tossing a chunk of fish to the flock of hungry birds. This immediately set off a flapping, squawking brawl, much as might result if you tossed a handful of hundred dollar bills down on a crowded city sidewalk.

Pelicans fight over a fish in a three-way stand-off. One hilarious episode in this little drama is shown above. The pescador tossed a particularly large and succulent chunk in the air and three pelicans caught it--and each other--in a complicated standoff. The left-hand pelican has caught not only part of the fish, but the middle one's beak, while the right-hand pelican clings on to one end. They swayed back and forth, with nobody willing to give up. Finally, one of them gave a jerk and got away while the others vainly pursued. When he gained a little distance, he tossed back his head and swallowed the chunk of fish whole.

Although the pescador gave the pelicans quite a feast, he had plenty left for himself. The pescadores and the pelicans seem to have a genuinely symbiotic relationship, with each providing something to the other and each gaining something. I could see what the pelicans got but I didn't understand the quid pro quo. Then early one morning I watched from the Hotel Irma balcony as a huge flock of pelicans created a ruckus in the bay just off shore. Soon, the pescadores' boats began closing in from all directions. A waiter at the hotel restaurant explained that the pelicans had cornered a large school of anchovies in the shallows. The pescadores swooped in with their nets to gather the anchovies for bait, and the relationship became clear.

Statue of a young girl with a large pan of fresh fish. She represents the Costa Grande, a region that runs from the northwestern coast of Guerrero down almost to Acapulco. Inland from the beaches are woodlands, orchards, and fertile lands. In prehispanic times, the Costa Grande area was much coveted by both the Tarascan Empire and the Mexica (Aztecs). Behind the statue are some of the small hotels, restaurants, and shops that line the street paralleling the malecon.

Tourists carrying the inevitable bags of knicknacks stroll the malecon. You can buy straw hats, t-shirts with Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo embroidered on the front (I got two), and various other small souvenirs at the little shops along the malecon. There are even more shops in the 3-block by 6 block area that makes up El Centro, just back of the beach. Most of the wares are the usual trashy trinkets one finds at any beach community, but almost anybody can find something they like. The fun is in the looking and the bargaining.

La Sirena Gorda restaurant attracted me with its sign and its reputation. La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) sits right on the malecon, so it is a good spot not only to eat but to people-watch. When we were looking for a malecon restaurant to try one day, Carole consulted her Lonely Planet guide and discovered that La Sirena Gorda came highly recommended. We remembered the sign we had seen on a previous stroll this way, so we stopped for lunch. The food and service were good and the prices moderate. We sat just behind the screen of cactus to the left and were able to people-watch to our hearts' desire.

The Navy Headquarters was right across the walkway from La Sirena Gorda. Although there were many handsome young Naval officers and sailors of both sexes bustling about, unfortunately none were there when I was ready to shoot this photo. The Navy has responsibility not only for anti-smuggling campaigns, but the Mexican Marines have played a strong role in the fight against the narcotraficantes. I was impressed by how many uniformed women, both officers and sailors, were in evidence For all its reputation as a macho country, Mexican women have penetrated most of the traditionally male occupations, including the military and the police forces.

A Naval patrol boat swings gently at anchor in the middle of the bay. Shallow draft boats like this are ideal for coastal patrol work. My guess is that this craft could speed right along if necessary. We never saw anything larger than this during our stay. However, the Mexican Navy doesn't have far-flung responsibilities. They have their hands full just patrolling Mexico's lengthy coasts.

The statue representing El Norte stands near the Plaza del Artista. El Norte is part of a Free Trade Zone and is full of plants that assemble parts brought in from elsewhere. It is the manufacturing center of Guerrero. Notice the elaborate embroidery on the girl's dress, as well as the mask she holds in her hands.

At the north end of Playa Municipal is a long pier jutting out into the bay. At the end of the pier on the far left you can see one of the Navy patrol boats tied up. The channel into the marina is just behind the pier seen above. The pier is the point where tourists can take various kinds of boat tours. These include sunset cruises around the bay, ferries across to Playa Las Gatas (see Part 1 of this series), or cruises up to Ixtapa or other locations. Behind the marina channel, the mountains rise sharply up.

The northern arm of the Zihuatanejo Bay contains a scattering of homes built into the cliffs. The twin catamarans shown in previous postings rock at anchor in the shelter of this wooded arm of land. the northern and southern arms of the bay give it a great deal of protection from the force of the open Pacific beyond. I took this shot in the early morning as the golden rays of the sun bathed the boats and homes in the distance.

Cliffside homes perch above the rocks lining the shore. This is the tip of the northern arm, an area called Puerto Mio ("My Port"). Even in Mexico, it must have cost a great deal to build these homes in such precarious spots. I imagine that the view must be pretty dramatic in stormy weather, with great waves crashing onto the rocky points just below the open decks of these houses.

A couple of pescadores try their luck as the sun drops below the horizon. We could always depend upon a dramatic, flaming sunset at Zihua. Playa Municipal is in shadow on the right of the photo. Next week, we'll take a look at Ixtapa to the north of Zihua, and also at the long, empty, palm-fringed beaches of Barra de Potosí to the south.

This completes Part 3 of my Zihuatanejo series. I always appreciate and encourage feedback. If you have a comment or question, please either use the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. I love this posting! Thanks for the sun!

  2. Jim, I really enjoy these posts of yours that show photos of contemporary scenes along with your comments. As evocative as both your prose and pictures always are, I wonder if you have considered an upgrade in your photo quality. Perhaps this is a consequence of uploading onto Blogger, but the resolution is poor for zooming to view details. Regardless, I will continue to be informed and inspired by our posts. Tom

  3. Tom, I'm glad you are enjoying the photos and commentary. As to the photo resolution, that is a balancing act. The higher resolution I use when I upload photos to my blog, the longer it will take for viewers to download them when they open the blog. Since internet attention span is sometimes pretty brief, I am afraid I will lose a number of people who don't want to wait for a minute or so while the photos download.I am continuing to experiment with this.

    I am also upgrading my camera to a Nikon with a much more powerful zoom capacity, in hopes that my photos will come out a bit crisper. My current camera is a Canon Powershot S3. It is a good camera that has served me well for 6 years, but I think I'm ready for something a bit more sophisticated.

  4. Hi Jim

    I lost my email account meken52 due to hacking and i never get it back. please send me your invitations for this blog to


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim