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Monday, September 12, 2005

My Mexican Siesta!

Alternative titles were: ¿Dónde está la farmacia? (Sadly, that's a Pulp Fiction reference for anyone who is about five years younger than me).

The Mexican Riviera??? (The question marks are optional as a knock on socialism, perhaps more on that later...we'll see how long this post gets).

Zih... What? (From the The Shawshank Redemption; haven't seen the movie in a while, but if memory serves, Tim Robbins tells Morgan Freeman to meet him down in Zihuatanejo, I guess Morgan Freeman's response was not uncommon. Zihuatanejo [pronounced something like zee-watt-a-NEH-ho] and Ixtapa [eeks-TAH-pa] are Nahuatli words, not Spanish, so I think some of the Hotel workers pronounce the names wrong.

But I digress, and this post has gotten too long already. So Nico plans a relaxing vacation South of the Border to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. Ixtapa was conceived by the federal government in the late 1960s as a master planned tourist resort. Sort of like Irvine, only for tourists...and on a much, much larger scale...Anyway, it's supposed to be much, much quieter than say, Cancun, or any other Mexican Beach destination. Also, we were there in the off season, Americans only go to Mexico in the Winter, go figure. Here's a picture of Nico on the beach, only about half of the highrise hotels are visible: Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

But we weren't staying near those highrises, we were about 3 or 4 miles down the road at the Melia Azul Ixtapa, an all-inclusive resort in an even quieter part of Ixtapa. Here's a picture from our balcony:

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That island behind us seemed to have a few names, but was mostly called "Ixtapa Island". We kayaked there, and snorkeled with a hotel guide (Jose who spoke little English, despite having lived in Anaheim for a while)...we felt bad, because he kept diving down and breaking up the coral reef and crushing pieces together to get the fish to come by and feed. I didn't know how to stop him without being rude. On another day, we took a sort of water taxi there for 60 pesos round trip (for both of us, that's a little less than $6. We never figured out if they over charge the tourists or not). Unfortunately, the island is not terribly relaxing, as it is almost completely covered by restaurants and their beach chairs (there's supposed to be a picture of me in a very Gilligan's Island looking thing...Nico); you're never hungry when you're staying in an all inclusive resort.
Here's a shot of some of these restaurants
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And a picture of (part of) our hotel from the island, you can sort of see how isolated we were:
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I guess I've neglected to write anything about Zihuatanejo, which was about 7 or 8 miles from our hotel. Billed as a small fishing village, it felt like a large city after a few days of sitting poolside/beachside at our resort. ZIH, I think is the correct abbreviation, is a real city, not run by the feds, and it's where most of the resort workers live. The hotel said the cab fare would run about 110 pesos (around $10 or 11 US if you haven't figured out the math, but we think the hotel gets a cut for letting cabs park out front). But Nico and I are adventurous, and decided to take the bus. Buses in Mexico, at least Ixtapa/Zihautanejo are not quite what you are thinking of as I sit here typing the word bus. On our final (taxi) ride to the airport I realized I didn't have a picture of one, so I tried really hard to shoot a photo on the way...it was not easy. Here are a couple of the better ones:

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For the two of us, the trip costed 14 pesos ($1.40) to ZIH (and 12 pesos to "downtown" Ixtapa). I only saw 2 marked bus stops, and there are no schedules. Mostly we would stand on a curb, say "NO" to the taxis, and after a few minutes of waiting, a bus would stop. The bus drivers would occasionally drive very slowly, and wait for passengers to show up. At other times they would appear to race with the other buses, pitching the bus around the curves. We think the driver gets a cut, or perhaps all of the days take...if there's another bus right behind, you have to go faster, otherwise it pays better to go slower. I'm not sure if this is a shining example of capitalism or another knock on the government that is obviously paying for all of these buses.

Mainly we walked around ZIH looking for sailboats, as there's supposed to be a nice marina there. But September is fishing season. There were a couple of large sailboats for the tourists, but the cruisers don't arrive in large numbers until January or so. Some day I shall return. I do believe the link to the right still works if anybody would like to contribute. Hint, hint.

Lest I forget, I was also looking for Mexican drugs! No, not that kind. I was on a quest for Maxalt, a migraine medication that runs about $3 a tablet even with my insurance. Now I knew that pharmacists in Mexico were not terribly well trained; I had heard that most college educated pharmacists worked for industry (probably more like biochemists in this country). We must have gone into a dozen pharmacies; most were staffed by teenage girls, and I don't think a single one spoke English. ¿Tiene Maxalt? I'd ask while presenting one of my tablets. Most would just say, "No Tengo". Some would giggle and show me their condom case. In one pharmacy, that actually said "Drugstore" out front (picture below), the girl inside had to show my Maxalt to her friends outside who also had quite a chuckle over it. Even if I had been looking for condoms, is it that funny? I guess the name might be...Maxalt. For you non-pharmacists, Maxalt comes in these weird foil wrapped packages, that look like this:

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I would usually follow with: "No, para Migrania". Not sure if my spelling is correct, but I've been typing for too long to find the Spanish dictionary. Still nothing. One older woman looked around and found me some drug I had never heard of. I'm guessing it was an antihistamine based on the generic name, that I can no longer remember. Anyway, we went to a lot of FarmaProntos (they were everywhere, must be the Rite Aid of Mexico. Finally, one had a computer and offered to order it for me. "¿Cuánto?" I ask. 330 pesos. That's not sounding too bad, if they come in a package of nine like in the U.S. "¿Cuántos hay?" Which I think is "How many"? "Dos", she replies. So I'm looking at $15 per tablet. Slightly cheaper than U.S. retail prices. So now I know why no pharmacy in Mexico has heard of the stuff. Nobody making a dollar an hour can afford to treat their migraines. I'd say shame on you Merck, but the U.S. should not be subsidizing drugs for the rest of the world. I don't want to get into that here, and the drug isn't very good anyway. Regardless, anybody who thinks they can save money by pruchasing drugs in Mexico...
Here's my pictures of Mexican pharmacies, sorry I didn't take any of the insides...they were not impressive...unless you consider proximity to flies and rotting vegetables impressive (that was only one of them):

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So I did get in a little sailing. The hotel had a couple of Hobie Waves. If you're still reading and followed that link, the people in the picture make it look like I was doing something wrong, because we were not having that kind of fun sailing the thing. There was very little wind, and it was very hot, but the Hobie Wave is a pretty lame boat...also the hotel's boats were not in the best shape. For you sailors: Hobie waves lack dagger boards (the boat does not point), there is no boom vang (the boat does not sail down wind, even by catamaran standards), and there is not even a boom. Other missing items that you might expect on a sailboat (especially a catamaran): a traveler, and as I see on the Hobie site, a jib kit is available...but, no tenemos); but the worst day sailing...yada, yada. We were the only people at the resort that took the thing out alone. The last couple of days some other guests went out with activities staff members on board. They also had a Hobie Getaway that they were cleaning one day and even put the sails up. I asked if we could take it out, but was told it was broken. It looked like one of the gudgeons had broken off. If any of my sailing students have wandered here and can tell me what a gudgeon is, I will buy you a Sprite. Looks like the Getaway also has no daggerboards, boomvang, or boom. Also it's made of polyethylene. Can that be fixed? Oh well, not my boat.

Other than that, sat by the pool, sat by the beach. Ate a lot. Scale says I only gained about 3 pounds, but I also got some running/sculpting in. I planned on drinking a whole lot of mojitos. But, the hotel had no mint. So no mojitos. Also, I discovered after day 1 that even small amounts of alcohol gave me a terrible headache, so I came up with interesting non-alcoholic beverages for them to make me. I finally settled on sparkling water with lime. This was hard to order, as they did not seem to understand any Spanish word I used for sparkling, bubbles, or anything else I could think of. Finally, one of the waiters asked "Mineral water?" and that stuck. The point of the mojito story was, we planned to bring a bunch of one dollar bills to give to the waiters and bartenders, who probably make less than that per hour. The resort had said tips were included in the "all-inclusive" charge. So I go to the bank and get forty singles last Friday; not coordinating, Nicole picked up a hundred. It's very hard to spend money at an all-inclusive resort, we felt stupid tipping on water, and pesos last forever. I tried to give the pesos to the activities staff at the end of the week because I made them rig the sailboat so many times, and many of them learned our names, but most of them had the weekend off. I invited one of them sailing next time he's up here and told him to pass along the invitation to the others. This picture is from above and does not do the thickness of this wad of cash any justice. Here's what our stash looked like right before we checked out:
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One final picture of Nico on a deserted section of Ixtapa Island. We didn't stay too long because there was no shade on here. Nude photos of Nico are posted on my new website, www.takealotofdrugs.mx, also featuring the hottest in naked Mexican women. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to cover another $9 a year to register another domain on my own, so I have to charge for this one. Please make a contribution to the boat fund at the right...Any contribution will do, and I'll unlock the domain for you. Really.
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