Cal and Holly's 2004 trip to Mexico

ships and rainbow in Z bay
A Dickins' book started with: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." So true. Everything in life has good sides and bad sides. My trip to Mexico is no exception. This was Holly's trip: she planned it and graciously paid for most of it. And despite any problems that occurred, I still had a moderately pleasurable time. Rest your mouse pointer over a picture and you'll see a description.
Note: you get what you pay for with disposable cameras, as you can tell from the quality of some of the pictures below.
Holly with Hotel Irma behind her

Saturday, January 10th:
The flight was uneventful, other than that it was really the first time I went on a trip where I got on the plane wearing a coat and long underwear, and got off in the tropics. From 20 degrees to 85 degrees. I had the GRE test scheduled for the Friday after I got back so I tried to read a Reader's Digest vocabulary builder book on the flight.
There were four customs lines when we got off the plane. Of course, we got in the wrong one. Wrong meaning it was the slowest one. This event of picking the slowest lane would repeat itself throughout the trip, and continues throughout my life. Holly was excited to get a stamp in her passport. Her happiness would be short lived.
We rode a tour-type bus full of Americans to our hotel. There was a guy that was our "tour guide" and he said he'd get us whatever we'd need. Tours, maps, guides to places, etc. Needless to say, we rarely saw him. He was the tour guide for half a dozen hotels.
We stayed at Hotel Irma in the town of Zihuatanejo ("Z"). Z is on the Pacific side of Mexico near Aucupoco. I was happy to be staying in Z because it was where Andy Dufrane, the main character of the movie Shawshank Redemption, escaped to. I knew nothing about the area. Z is an old coastal fishing town; it had plenty of hotels and shops in old stone buildings on small brick streets. We didn't do much that first day but walk around a little in Z and on the beach. Hotel Irma was this beautiful orange old-world brick and stone hotel. Trouble was that it sits on a hill and our room was on the sixth floor. Old-world charm means no elevator, so going from the beach to our room was equivilent to climbing twelve flights of stairs. The view from the balcony was great. I never saw any mice or cockroaches but Mexico does have lizards everywhere the size of mice. I don't sleep well on vacations, and this was no exception. It didn't help that the bed in our room was as soft as a stack of plywood.
hotel room invader

Sunday, January 11th:
Of course, it's only the second day of the trip and it all goes bad. The day started uneventful. I liked the hotel's breakfast eventhough their menu is pretty quaint. I learned that they serve salsa with every meal in Mexico. After breakfast we walked around Z. Lots and lots of small shops. I have never seen so many shoe stores in my life. Later I would look through a phone book and noticed the area only had two lawyers. More shoe shops than attorneys, how unlike America. Also, unlike America, noone seems to have internet access in their homes because there were as many internet cafes as shoe stores. We also went through a Mexican archeology museum that day.
On the way back to the hotel we bought some fried banana chips from an old lady. This was the fateful event that would almost ruin our trip because it was somewhere between the banana chip lady and the hotel that Holly lost her wallet. Her wallet that had her drivers license, travelers checks, and her passport. We made it all the way to the lobby of the hotel before she realized it was gone. We went back over our steps several times. The old banana lady said she saw nothing. As I walked to a nearby restaurant a waiter told me, "You look like someone that could use a beer." I said what I could use was my girlfriend's passport. No one could really help us other than give us some advice, of which, one was, go see the U.S. Consulate in Ixtapa. I told Holly I would not leave her in Mexico and if we had to we'd take a bus to Tijuana and sneak over the border. What could they do? Arrest us for sneaking into our own country.
That night we took a cab to a bar that had American Football on TV. We were in time to watch the Rams lose in double overtime. It was dark and we had no idea where we were at so we had to take a cab back to Hotel Irma. Our room did have safe so we got the key from the front desk to use it. But we were told that it would cost us $100 if we lost the safe key. We gave the key back to the front desk since now we did not have anything to put in the safe that was valued over $100. We'd have been worse off if we would lose the key than if we lost my wallet or something else.
the red blob is a fish

Monday, January 12th:
We started Monday off with going to a bank to exchange our currency because they give a better rates than the hotel. I found two things kind of odd at Mexican banks. First, the air cooling in the banks are on maximum power. Second, noone that works there is very happy. All the female cashiers frown like you are taking their own money. Ixtapa is only ten miles from Z and buses run to and from all the time but riding on a bus was taking your life in your own hands. These rickety old buses fly along at 100 km per hour although the speed limit signs clearly state 50 kmph. Noone, including the driver, wore a seat belt. Many things were like that in Mexico. You could walk along a sidewalk next to a cliff with a twenty-foot drop off, and there would be no fence or railing. The streets are narrow and big trucks hurl down them doing over 50 mph.
Ixtapa is not at all like Z. Ixtapa is modern with tall new hotels and shopping malls. It felt like our trip to Florida. I thought the US Consulate would solve all our problems. You know, like in the movies. All we had to do was go up and say, "We are US citizens. Please help us." Major disappoinment. The US Consulate was just some retired woman that hands out pamphlets. She did give us some good advice, regardless of having a passport if you can get on the plane your problems are over. Because once the plane lands in MN they aren't gonna send you back.
Also in Ixtapa we met this rep for a hotel that told us we could get a free breakfast the next day if we toured their hotel and told friends and family how nice it was. We agreed. Big mistake as we would learn later.
In Ixtapa we were able to use a pay phone and call Holly's sister, Susan, who really came through for us in the end. Sue would get Holly's birth certificate from Wisconsin and get it faxed to us a few days later.
orange buildings are Hotel Irma

Tuesday, January 13th:
Tuesday is a day I'd like to forget, because we walked, and walked, and walked. The US Consulate lady told us we'd need to file a report of a lost passport with the local police. Also, I wanted to buy some stamps for postcards and we were told the police station and post office were near each other. The post office was not on the road the map said it was on and noone at the police station spoke english so we weren't able to file a police report. I never saw any crime or violence or felt threatened in Mexico. The only time I felt scared is when I saw a policeman. Probably because all the policemen carry shotguns and machine guns: real M-16s and AK-47. I thought that maybe they use them to shoot wild animals or something. We did find a Western Union shop. It mostly dealt with tours but Holly was able to use their phone and call Western Union about her lost travelers checks. We walked so much that day that we took a cab back to the hotel which was only about half a mile.
old clock in Z
We had a good lunch that day because it was the first time we ate at a small taco shop off the main roads that was for the locals, and not for tourists. We could tell they were not used to serving tourists. Dinner that night would be different. Holly was worn out because her fears had not been abated becasue we really had not yet solved her passport problems. So I volunteered to get dinner. I walked into the dark evening streets of Z. Like I said, I'd been more afraid on the streets of America than on Z's streets. The only bad thing was my choice of dinner, I choose pizza. I wanted to see how Mexicans do at American food and I found a place that specialized in American eats. It even had a 1950's diner atmosphere. Holly's sister, Sue, had been a "best talker" about the salsa in Mexico. A "best talker" is someone that talks up something and is probably being more nostalgic than accurate. Like when someone says, "Hotdogs at baseball parks are the absolute best." We all know there are gormet hotdog places, like the Flying Weinie, that have much better hotdogs than the lusy over-priced vendors at a baseball game. Well, I can accurately say the pizza was shit. The pepperoni was some kind of weak ham. I think the cheese was American singles, not parmesan. And the sause was just some bland tomato paste. To top it all off, the pizza came with two little containers. I knew the contents of one container, it was ketchup. Yeah, everyone likes ketchup on their pizza. The other container had some unknown substance I had never tasted before. It was oily, with grit at the bottom, and spicy hot. I called it hot dirt. I never saw its like again.
Holly on a staircase catwalk

Wednesday, January 14th:
In the morning we went to the nice hotel in Ixtapa for our free breakfast and tour. The tour turned into them trying to sell us a lifetime vacation package. It was a waste of our time and theirs. They wanted to sell to a married couple that made $50,000 a year and believe travel was very important. Holly and I did not fit any of their requirements. It was not the only two hours we would waste on that vacation.
All was not a complete waste that day in Ixpata. Holly got her police report filed there and we found an office of our tour package company and we made some helpful phone calls. Helpful because we had a chartered flight, not a normal United or American or TWA flight, so we just had to convince the airline to let Holly on the plane, with or without her passport.
After that we took a long, too long, walk on the beach. All my sandals gave me blisters and the ground was not clear sand: rocks and sticks everywhere. Then Holly got scared because some female tourist, from Iceland of all places, said not to walk on the high part of the beach because there were scorpions. This lady probably didn't even know what a scorpion is. We saw some crocodiles in an enclosed pond but they were not too exciting. Later, we suffered from "best talker" again. They supposedly cook the best fish in the world on Ixtapa beach with their slow carcoal cooking. Hey, I'm all for slow cooking, but it was not the best in the world. It was still better than Long John Silvers. Fishermen would be out in the surf with a net, then a guy from the restaurant would walk out to him with a plate of ice and get the fish for our dinner. That's pretty fish. Near our table were cages with two roosters. They would cry "cock-a-doodle-do" back and forth. I translated it into: "I'm numero uno."
fresh catch

Thursday, January 15th:
Thursday would be the day where there were times I thought I might die or be maimed. And it was the best day of the trip. It started with Holly getting a refund on her lost travelers checks. So we didn't have to worry about money the rest of the trip. Then we took the bus to Ixtapa and then a ferry to Ixtapa Island. Ixtapa Island is about a mile from the beached of Ixtapa and about the size of a football field. It had a coral reef and snorkling. Again the beaches were not soft, they were made of ground-up coral and walking was kinda painful. When we rented our equipment the man said the life jacket was to protect your chest as well as for floating. He knew what he was talking about.
Holly and I went out into the clear waters and watched the schools of fish swim by, bright reds and blues and silvers. I forgot to wear my contacts so my vision was kinda limited. We split up and I swam over to by the coral. I didn't realize the dangerous possibilities so I swam over the coral. Unfortuately, there was only 2-3 feet of water above the coral. When I was in the deeper water I didn't realize how the surf lifted me up and down. Now that I was over the coral, up I went, and down I came crashing onto the coral.
Every few seconds, up, and smash down. I cut my stomach, arms, were getting cut and bruised. I was doing the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible move: trying to keep my whole body horizontally flat. I didn't panic, but I wasn't sure what to do.
waves of Ixtapa Isle
When I tried to swim back out to deeper water, the tide pushed me back over the coral. Swimming to shore meant swimming over more coral and into shallower water. Plus I was a little disoriented and wasn't totally sure which direction was the beach. Sticking my head up meant lowering my butt and losing my flat Tom Cruise position.
Since I was only in three feet of water I thought about just standing up. But I thought standing on uneven coral in my big flippers, with the surf hitting me, would just make me fall over. I decided I could take any more beatings so I tried holding onto the coral to stop the surf from tossing me. I don't know if you ever noticed this, but coral is not smooth and no fun to hold on to. It's like bumpy sandpaper. Well, it worked for a second, anchored onto the coral kept me from rising, but there became another problem. As the surf rose, the water level went above my snorkle. As water poured down my tube I had to let go of the coral.
I went back to my Tom Cruise move and tried to think. Then I saw a small red fish down in between the coral. The fish was getting tossed by the surf too, but he was doing his best to swim into the current. So I figured that's what I had to do also. By swimming into the tide I would at least be going in a straight line and I'd have to get out of the coral eventually. When the next wave came in I swam as hard as I could, then got flat when the water dropped. After a while, I made it into deep water. I took off my goggles and looked at my cut bloody hands then looked around for Holly. She had been putting around having a fun ole time. She said she didn't go near the coral because it looked dangerous.
We ate dinner then went to catch the last ferry off the island. My life was about to be put in danger once again. The ferrys are these little boats about ten-feet long. The men that pilot these ferrys were smoking, beer-drinking idiots. We were the first on one ferry and then they went to another island dock and overloaded it. The sign on the ferry said "eight to ten person maximum capacity." I counted: we had 14 adults and 7 children on the ferry. Some of the children were only diaper-wearing age. The ferry was very low in the water and every wave lapped over the edge. I thought for sure we'd capsize. I didn't think I'd drown but I was worried about Holly, and all the children, or I thought I'd get pulled down by some other passenger. That one mile trip back to the mainland seemed to take forever. It was just like in the Gordon Lightfoot song, "Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours."
coral beaches of Ixtapa Isle

Friday, January 16th:
Friday was a slow day. Holly had slept in because she had some cold symptoms. It was also colder and rainy that day. It drizzled most of the day eventhough we were in Mexico's dry season. We finally talked to some other tourists in the hotel cafe. That was really the only time we interacted with any non-locals and that was only because the cafe was full and we had to share a table. Later that day we would go to the beach on the south side of Z harbor. I climbed up a rock cliff, looked at some crabs, but it was too chilly for swimming. Since it was our last night we went to a really nice restaurant.
The night before we ate at a restaurant close to our hotel. The guy that runs the restaurant had on a Spider-man t-shirt and I asked him about it and learned that he was from Chicago and a big comic book fan. He also said he remembered me talking to him the day Holly lost her passport and that he was "talking to some people" and seeing if he could get it back. I guess he knew some people in the local Mexican thieves guild.
Cal's climb to Everest

Saturday, January 17th:
It was the travel home day. The airport knew we were coming so Holly did not get held up and made it on the jet. Our bags were only lightly searched at the airport and I didn't see an x-ray machine anywhere. I could have had two bombs and a dozen box cutters in my bag and noone would have found them. The takeoff was slightly delayed because of some old assholes that had this big dead fish they could not leave Mexico without. The runway shoots out over the ocean which made takeoff nice and thrilling. I spent most of the flight watching the Mexican mountains go by. It was dark when we made it to MN. Just like before, our customs lane was the slowest. The customs official gave me more of a hard time, asked me more questions, than Holly. We drove back to IA the next day.
The trip, like so many other things, was extremes of good and bad. I'd try to relax because we were on vacation, but we had to worry about the lost passport fiasco. Some meals were great, others awful. Walking on the beach would be hampered by blisters. The ocean and sky and jungle were beautiful, but there was also litter everywhere. Snorkling was "the best ever", when I wasn't almost being killed by it.
My depiction of our the trip may not be the most joyful, but I was not displeased with the trip. Only a month or two afterward I was having a bad day and I told Holly, "I wish we were back in Mexico".

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