Ah, you thought we had cut our stay short!  No, we simply paid a short visit to Troncones, the designated
American Surfer Dude Capital between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.  The story on this sleepy no-burro
village nestled on the shores of the wild Pacific is that Americans discovered it and essentially bought the
place.

Now, do not mistake Troncones for its upscale Myrtle-Beach-like Ixtapa to the south.  Troncones is more
like shabby chic Pawleys Island (my non-Southern readers please forgive my blatant Palmetto State
comparisons).  There are plenty of shacks and small cinderblock buildings – well, I suppose not plenty,
there’s not really plenty of anything – mixed with really cool modern houses.  There’s nothing like the
behemoths now lining the highway from Hatteras to Corolla.  I think three stories is as high as they come,
with tiled or thatched roofs, many of them pink, and all of them with character.  Most of the inns are fairly
small and rent out bungalows, small huts, and feature lots of open-air structures.  And everywhere you go
there are young men who look like they just rolled in from Malibu.

We stayed at a place called the Burro Borracha – Drunk Donkey.  They are apparently known mostly as a
fun bar/restaurant, serving food and drinks on a large covered patio, complete with hammocks, right on the
beach.  They have three duplex bungalows, each with its own porch and hammock, also right on the beach.  
You can get an idea of what the beach looks like in our
photos.  I think I could conceivably have stayed in a
hammock the entire time, watching the surf.  The waves are huge by this Atlantic girl’s standards, and one
thing that fascinated me (though I’ve seen it before on a smaller scale back East) was looking for waves
running back out to the sea, watching for the big collision splash.  Sometimes there would be this sort of
zipper effect as the collision ran along from south to north.

A short walk south of the Burro, we found a beautiful secluded cove with a Se Vende sign (For Sale, if you
can’t figure that one out for yourself).  We had the house all designed in our heads until we got back to a
computer and pulled up the website, only to discover our land has been sold!  Oh, well, perhaps when we
have enough money, they buyer will go bankrupt – before they’ve started their own development on the site
of course.  Or even better – right after they get clearance and build a bridge to the place!  See, the lot is cut
off from the rest of Troncones by a creek, and Dave actually loves the fact that the only way you can get
there right now is by fording a tidal pool, a foot or two deep at low tide.  Being the practical one of the
family, I can think of a lot of uses for an actual road that stays dry most of the time.  (By the way, I forgot
to mention that the road into Troncones is 3 km of two-lane blacktop.  When it reaches the ocean, you can
turn either way on a bumpy, orange clay road which, while we were there, was strewn with puddles.  
Fabiola, our Land Rover, is still absolutely filthy, the way Dave loves her.)

As for Zihuatenejo ...  What first attracted me to this area was the mention of this town in the short story
“Rita Hayworth and  Shawshank Redemption,” from
Different Seasons by Stephen King (adapted beautifully
for the screen).  The  character Ellis, played by Morgan Freeman, talks about his dream to get out of prison
and move to Zihuatenejo to live out his days, and in the end of the movie he’s building a boat on a beautiful,
deserted beach as his friend Andy is walking to join him.  Zihua is nothing like this – in fact, it apparently
never was, even before the rampant development.  The movie depiction is more like Troncones or some of
the other beaches around Zihua.  This town sits nestled is a large bay, with mountains on either side.  We
didn’t spend a lot of time in the town itself, which looks like most any other crowded Mexican Centro.  
Instead, we ventured along the mountains on the southern side, in search of a fabled scuba diving center for
my friend Kristen who spent the week with us.  Nestled along the steep hills are crowds of houses and huge
condominiums.  Though I’m not fond of crowded places, as I keep saying, many really are quite beautiful,
and I can certainly understand the desire for the fabulous views afforded all around this bay. (Our photos
from Zihua are coming soon!)

Finally, we found the hotel we were searching, which had changed its name, and there was no longer any
scuba place that we could find, but we did run into Oscar on the beach at Playa de Ropa, with whom we
arranged a snorkeling adventure for the next morning.  This trek involved piling onto a small fishing boat and
heading out of the bay into the open waters, something that was a little scary at first as the swells seemed
very large to me in that little boat!  We caught a few fish on our way to a small cove where we all did a bit
of swimming, but the only life jackets were quite large and didn’t work out too well for the girls, so instead
they sat in the boat and got seasick (as did I, but that’s no surprise!).  Apparently the queasiness has not
turned them off the idea of boating, a good thing!  I think it helped that Oscar and his mate Alejandro took us
to Playa Los Gatos, the last beach on the southern side of the bay, accessible only by boat.  There is an
underwater seawall here that makes a clear, peaceful swimming area, and the girls really appreciated that.
Cherokee-skinned Abi got a bit of sunburn, she spent so much time out there.  We pretty much figured out
that this whole thing is set up for the boat guys to bring their passengers here so they can eat the fish they
just caught – I feel sure they must get a kickback, considering how much they charged us.  We paid more to
have this place cook the bonitas we caught than any place we went where they provided the fish!  And every
time you turned around there was someone coming by to sell you something – jewelry, lotions, bad mariachi
music, hair braiding services – we got a little of each, I’m afraid.  Kristen got some braids, then Elea, then
me ... and then Abigail, who it complimented probably best of all of us!  Our captain and crew joined us for
much of this, and after much swimming and eating and drinking and spending, Alejandro swam back out to
retrieve the
Sailfish and then dropped us off at Playa de la Ropa.

Now, speaking of people walking around the beach selling things ... back at Burro Borracho we were pitched
by several beachcombing salesmen, lugging carved wooden animals and jewelry up and down the beach.  I
imagine in the next month or so the strand will be crawling with them.  As it turned out, the one vendor I
really wanted to see never showed up – we saw him on the dirt road – the guy selling the hammocks.  Oh,
well.  I don’t really have any logical place to hang it up here in Patzcuaro anyway.

In short, the whole area is magnificent, the food was good, the atmosphere was relaxing and the people were
friendly.  But back to the title of this little piece:  Saturday, we drove Kristen back to the airport in Ixtapa,
and we stopped to fill up at a Pemex on the way back.  I ducked into the convenience store to get some
water, and I didn’t utter a word of English.  As I was leaving, this fellow came breezing in and said, “Hi,
how are you?”  I got into a little conversation with him and mentioned we had been in Troncones the week
before, and he commented, “Oh, yes, the Americans own that!”  Our exchange got me to thinking.  Before
we came to Mexico, I read a lot of comments that said many Mexicans speak at least a little English in the
metropolitan areas.  I didn’t expect there to be many English speakers here in Patzcuaro, but I must say in all
the places we’ve been and driven through having just the tiniest bit of Spanish language knowledge has been
practically essential.  "No!" is the standard answer to
¿Habla español? Even in Morelia.  But in Zihua,  
Ixtapa and Troncones, almost every Mexican we ran into spoke at least some English.  Sitting in several
restaurants, it was strange to me that I was hearing conversations around us in English.  I can only imagine
how strange it’s going to be when we drive into Arizona and start hearing radio announcers speaking
English.  Even though my Spanish is pretty horrible, it’s getting better, and I’ve grown accustomed to
hearing everyone around me speaking in Spanish.  Sometimes I follow it, sometimes I don’t.  More and
more, I have been trying to have conversations with people who don’t understand my coarse language – the
lady in the Plaza Grande, Alejandro the First Mate, the vendors at the Basilica.  It’s starting to become more
fun than frustrating.  

So now, it’s back to the routine and our final push to finish the first draft of
Thatcher, all as our lovely little
town dives into its Day of the Dead celebrations.  Though I know how the book ends, I remain excited at all
the twists and turns and stories that will be revealed in the coming weeks.  We figure it’s time to start doing
a little advance marketing, and I hope that you will help us out by telling all your friends to come to the
website, read our excerpt and get ready for the 2007 Summer Read!

#   #   #
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Back in the USA
Abi and Elea play on the rocks
at sunset in Troncones.
Pen's Essays - 11
The bay at Zihuatenejo.
Me, Oscar and Kristen with
our catch of the day.