Monday, 20 April 2015

Spring Fling 2015 - Zihuatanejo and the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival

Playa la Madera, Zihuatanejo from Bahia Vista Suites

Ahh, vacation. . . where to begin. . . I suppose, at the beginning.  Once again, Eric and I decided we would return to Zihuatanejo,  Guerrero, Mexico, to take in a bit of the continuous sunshine; beautiful beaches; warm smiles of the local people and, of course,  to bask in the glorious music offered by the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival (ZIGF).  While Eric would gladly return to this fabulous destination and equally fabulous festival every year for the foreseeable future, I was thinking it was time to seek out and experience another part of this great big world.  Two things changed our minds:  first, as  much as I tried, I couldn't find a music festival even close to the calibre of ZIGF that didn't involve 10,000+ of our closest friends; second, we had an opportunity to introduce the community and the Festival to good friends.  I'll get back to the former in more detail later on; suffice to say, the latter was a big boon for us.  We love spending time with this couple who, over the past 35+ years are more akin to family than mere friends.  We wanted them to experience a different kind of vacation, away from the all-inclusive resort style holiday.  We were convinced they would come to appreciate the benefits that come with 'winging it', even if that means occasionally finding yourself off the beaten track and relying a wee bit on the ol' spidy senses to read situations and rely on the kindness of strangers to help you find your way.  We hoped they would come to the realization that the world, including Mexico, is filled with honest and benevolent people.  Last but not least, we wanted them to experience the community of Zihuatanejo; in all of our travels, we have never found a community we have enjoyed as much as we enjoy Zihua.  So let's get started.
For the past three years, Eric and I have stayed in Ixtapa, Zihua's sister community about 15 minutes to the north.  For more information about Ixtapa and surrounding community, the following links will give you some background to the area and its development: and  In  search of a more traditional Mexico, we explored Playa la Ropa to see if we might prefer staying there.  While it's true that it is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area, it just wasn't what we were looking for.  On our third visit, we discovered Playa la Madera, in Zihuatanejo and that same year, were introduced to Barra de Potosi.   The first leg of our journey was spent in a condominium directly on Playa la Madera, in the heart of Zihuatanejo.  After our friends returned to their home, Eric and I moved about a half hour's drive to the south, to the village of Barra de Potosi, or Barra, as it is fondly known, and the subject of it's own post. 

Where We Stayed
Bahia Vista Beachfront Condo, Zihuatanejo:


Bayside Living Space

Bayside Bedroom

Located adjacent the public access to Playa la Madera, Doug and Ruth Johnson offer two separate condos which can be rented separately or as a single unit.  The Bayside boasts spectacular views, open floor plan kitchen and living area, separate air conditioned bedroom with queen bed and  1 1/2 bathrooms. 

Townside Bedroom
The fully air conditioned Townside offers a well stocked efficiency kitchen and compact livingroom with trundle bed, as well as a large bedroom with king bed, 2 full baths and a not one, but two (albiet smaller) balconies.  As two couples travelling together, we rented both sides, which worked perfectly.  Our friends occupied the Townside as they preferred the air conditioning.  Though the bedroom in the Bayside is also airconditioned, we opted to forego A/C, preferring instead to keep our bedroom open to the living area and dependent on the cooler night breeze. 
What did we like best?  Who could possibly have anything negative to say about the stunning ocean view and close proximity to all amenities?  The beach is 74 steps below; there are several restaurants and a small convenience store located less than a block away; and beautiful downtown Zihua is a 10 minute stroll along the beach.   What's not to love?  The only negative comment from anyone was the 74 steps down to the beach. . . well, to be honest, going down was easy; coming up was a bit more work but certainly not enough to deter anyone of us from returning and, besides, we needed something to help us balance the copious amounts of food .  

Uncrowded beaches

If you don't like the walk to the beach, there's a lovely well maintained pool on site.  The rental comes with twice weekly housekeeping and a manager, Carmen, who is friendly, professional and efficient; as well as a night guard on site from 5pm to 7am.  We met several others renting properties in the same complex, all of whom were friendly and very happy with their choice of accommodation.

As the one making all the arrangements, I found Doug and Carmen great to work with throughout the process.  Both responded quickly to any questions and everything was well represented on the website(s).  I was a bit concerned about bugs as we have never stayed in 'open air' accommodations.  We were assured this would not be a problem and it wasn't.  Someone commented that there were little tiny ants in the condo.  While true, this wasn't even close to being an issue and, in truth, we have yet to stay anywhere in the tropics that didn't have little tiny ants and trust me, we have stayed in some pretty darn nice places. 
Bahia Vista Suites was the perfect introduction for our friends to step outside the comfort of a preplanned all-inclusive resort and into something a little less structured.  They were thrilled to pieces, as were we.

Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival:

If you have read anything I have written about our previous excursions, you know that I am not a fan of returning to the same destination.  Being our fourth year in a row to attend this simply wonderful little festival pretty much says it all, don't you think?  Obviously, the festival and the community of Zihuatanejo has a piece of our hearts.  This blog post will give you an idea just how much we love ZIGF: 

This year, we were thrilled to be able to share this with friends who were astounded by the calibre of musicians and the low fees involved.  ZIGF had a few new variations from previous years.  First, the festival was extended to include the Friday and Saturday night preceding the Opening Concerts.  With venues at two all-inclusive resorts in Ixtapa, festival organizers were thrilled to sell out.  Opening night offers a small sample of what each musician will bring to their performance, which would have been the case except for a wee bit of a problem with one group's connecting flights.  Hogan & Moss were truly committed; it took them 3 days to arrive but arrive they eventually did, and they were definitely worth the wait!
My better half with Miguel, Zarina and Dany of El Chiringuito
We were thrilled to discover that our beachfront condo was located immediately above the festival venue on lovely Playa la Madera.  Even better, it was also located directly adjacent Zarina Cortez' enramada, Restaurant El Chiringuito, which very quickly became a favourite hangout.  Oddly, the weather created a bit of a hiccup with high tides and rain.  I mean, seriously, whoever heard of rain in Zihua in March?  Well, 'never' is a long time; apparently it rained one day 16 years ago. . . as it did this year.  But the Festival was on top of it; while it may have taken its loyal crew all night to do it, it successfully relocated to the City's brand new Cultural Centre in the heart of downtown for the duration.

Diego Garcia
'El Twanguero'

As with other years, artists apply to perform and are closely scrutinized.  While it is apparent there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, the Festival is, I suspect, every bit as much fun for the musicians and organizers as it is for those attending.  It hosts a mix of musicians from past years, and introduces new performers.  It was great to see some old faces, including Adrian Raso from Canada (one of my personal favourites);  Josue Tacoronte Otero (Havana, Cuba/Mexico); and Diego Garcia 'El Twanguero', of Spain (I swear, Eric has a man crush on him).  It's also amazing to see how versatile these musicians can be as some old faces arrive with completely new acts.  In this category, we find one of the Festival's dear friends and supporters, Phil Milner (USA).  In partnership with Dave Newman, these two exceptional guitarists rocked us with their own takes on some of the best American classics as well as some tunes of their own.  Last year we were introduced to Morgan  Szymanski(Mexico), an astounding classical guitarist. This year, collaborating with the equally talented Fausto Palma (Mexico) we saw Morgan in an entirely new and completely mesmerizing light which really showcased the versatility many of these individuals bring to the stage.  ZIGF would not be complete without Zihuatanejo's own Jose Luis Cabo who gets the Opening Concert off to a great start and participates in the Closing Jam.  This local legend invites the musicians to entertain at his after hours club, El Canto de las Sirenas.  We only live vicariously of the tales of the great evenings spent at las Sirenas . . . alas, we can never seem to stay up late enough to get there as our mornings come very early and frankly, I'm not very pretty on just an hour or so of sleep! 
Fausto Palma

I mentioned Hogan and Moss earlier. . . well, didn't those two get us out of our seats!  It was difficult to sit at any time they were on stage and, though I don't know for sure (I was too busy dancing), I doubt there was a single seated person by the time they finished a set.  I may not be first on the dance floor but I'm not afraid to be a fast second or third.  Eric usually sits back and watches for awhile before finally succumbing to the call (once noting that there are other men dancing. . . one would think it would be more enjoyable for him as the only man but what do I know?)

Closing Jam:  Josue Tacoronte Otero, David Gallegos,
Adam May and Diego Garcia 
Another favourite for us was Australians Adam May and Paul Carey, of Duo Agogo.  If their music doesn't captivate you, surely their sense of humour  will.  We enjoyed everything these two threw at us.  Axemunkee (USA) and Mary Zoo (Switzerland) brought an eclectic mix of acid rock meets alternative folk to entertain the crowd.  I could literally go on and on. . . but I won't.  I will, however, encourage you to check out the ZIGF website and add this super little festival to your bucket list.  Dates are set for the next few years and NOW is the time to start planning.

More Beautiful Zihuatanejo Sights

Playa la Madera
Bountiful Wildlife

Plenty of Fresh Produce (and everything else)
Colorful Streetscapes
Vendors Along the Malecon
Interested in visiting this area?  Hope so!  If you are, watch for my upcoming blog post, when we explore Barra de Potosi!