Zihuatanejo, Mexico

June 25 - 30, 2006

Dave Svilar, Jill Wolverton, Ann Svilar, Laurie Svilar, Dan Svilar


After escaping Shawshank prison Andy makes tracks for a little town in Mexico called Zihuatanejo.

In the late winter of 2006 our collective family stress had reached its crescendo.  In the Pacific Northwest, Ma was smelling the roses on a 30-plus year service-oriented career that saw her do everything from wiping elderly butts to taking crippled children swimming.  Dad, semi-retired already, was spending days aimlessly kicking around a dreary, dank guesthouse with nothing but his thoughts and inevitable truth that he was about to embark on his 6th decade.  At the same time in San Francisco, my sister Anni was feeling the intensifying grind of grad school deadlines, not to mention a neck-deep pile of debt.  Meanwhile in Colorado, Jill tried to convince 15 year olds that life just can't go on without a solid understanding of Pythagoras.  As for myself?  Inner turmoil resulting from phantom fears regarding my abilities as a first year teacher kept me from sleeping at night and had pushed me to the brink of a mental meltdown.  When I did sleep, I'd awake with a start wondering if I had enough stopwatches for the next day's Physics lab. 

What kept this family from meeting its demise during the depths of winter is debatable, but I'd like to think it was something simple.  The same thing that keeps a cancer patient fighting under the greatest of odds.  The same thing that keeps a prisoner's spirits intact.  And, the same thing that keeps a first year teacher grading papers when all his efforts seem for naught.  Hope.  And for us, that hope would come in the form of the month of June.  My parents would realize their dream of retiring to the San Juan Islands, and the rest of us would be on summer vacation.  An occasion like this needs to be celebrated, but where would we go?


Everyone has their favorite movie.  The one you can say the lines before they happen, yet no matter how many times the movie is watched it is enjoyed more than the first watching.  For me that movie is the Shawshank Redemption, the story of a man who was wrongly accused for murdering his wife and sentenced to two life sentences.  The essence of the story, told through the eyes of fellow prisoner Red (Morgan Freeman) is in how Andy (Tim Robbins) endures the pleasures of prison life - gang rapes, months in the hole - while keeping an indominatable spirit.  Andy ultimately escapes Shawshank turning the tables on corrupt prison officials in the process.  During the afternoon of Andy's last day in prison, he speaks for the last time with Red (unbeknownst to Red) in the courtyard about his plans should he ever get out of Shawshank.

"Tell you where I'd go.  Zihuatanejo.  It's in Mexico.  Little place on the Pacific.  You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?  They say it has no memory.  That's where I'd like to finish out my life, Red.  A warm place with no memory... It's down there, and I'm in here.  I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really.  Get busy living or get busy dying."

 Later Red is released on parole, and realizing he won't cut it on the "outside" he considers earning his way back to prison.  But, before that he fulfills a promise made to Andy on that last day in the courtyard.  Following his memory of Andy's instructions he digs up a letter buried in a Maine hay field from Andy,

"Dear Red.  If you're reading this, you've gotten out.  And if you've come this far, maybe you're willing to come a little further.  You remember the name of that town (Zihuatanejo)?  Remember, Red.  Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.  I will be hoping that this letter finds you, and finds you well."


Parents enjoying their 35th year of marriage.  The following three photos were taken from our room at dawn, afternoon, and dusk.

Hope.  I looked down at my $7 helping of fish tacos and hoped that there would be more than the three bites on my plate.  I spent the first two days of a short stay in Zihuatanejo hoping that things would be different.  From the view of the plane Zihuat appeared to be the paradise I had imagined while watching The Shawshank Redemption for the 27th time shortly before leaving for Mexico.  A small fishing town, tucked away from the open waters of the Pacific in a picture-perfect horseshoe-shaped bay.  I drooled on my upright headrest as our plane circled tantalizingly over a rocky shoreline interspersed with white sandy beaches, lush inland greenery, and of course, the big, deep, blue waters of the Pacific.

However, two days into the trip I was boiling with frustration over this place, Zihuatanejo, that was supposed to be paradise.  I'm a simple person.  All I wanted was to explore the coastline and eat food in large quantities.  Most importantly, these small demands must come at an equally small price.  There is nothing worse than spending a lot of money for an inferior product.  For instance, the unmistakable smell of garbage meeting saltwater wafts into the nose of those venturing to the waterfront.  Sometimes its not obvious, but God did equip us with a nose for a reason.  Poop looks like chocolate.  If not for our sense of smell what would keep us from eating it?  Perhaps I should have taken my nose's suggestion and avoided Zihuatanejo as well.

Some people's idea of a perfect paradise pastime is receiving a massage or parasailing.  Mine?  I just want to explore.  Whether its by foot or float is beside the point, just as long as its as close to free $$ as possible.  My dreams of rugged coastline and sandy beach were stumped by an elaborate network of fences, guards, and worst of all, packs of vicious mutts.  One morning Dad and I arose before dawn in attempt to explore some coastline, and thinking we had found a way, were greeted by 13 teeth baring dogs barring our path.

Jill's nose sniffed out my frustrations and pulled me to the side for a counseling session.  "Davey, you need to fix your attitude.  You're acting like a little baby."  I just want to go exploring and eat a lot of food.  "We'll find a place for you to explore and when it comes to eating you can order two or three helpings."  Yeah, but that will cost over $10 and the food tastes like ... "Davey, stop!  First you're going to ruin the trip for your parents if you keep pouting and second you're not paying for any of it.  Grow up."  She had a point.  The trip wasn't going to cost me a dime.  I promised to not pout over expenditures and to simply enjoy this rare time to spend with family.

Upon making this agreement with myself my experience improved tenfold.  It probably helped that in the process of getting scammed we scored a free breakfast at a fancy hotel in Ixtapa, which is the made for Americans establishment several miles north of Zihuatanejo.  Little did the scammers (trying to sell hotel memberships) know that they would be the scammees.  The rest of the family ate respectable portions, but I wasn't going to leave without devouring my portion of the buffet.  Two plate sized waffles, three pancakes, a helping of eggs, cantalope, watermelon, a bowl of granola and yogurt, a sausage link, and two omelettes later we left my parents to their mandatory hour spiel and hit the beach.

Turning the corner out of the buffet I was stopped in my tracks by a familiar and beautiful sound.  Waves slamming the beach.  On our third day of the trip to what was supposedly paradise I finally heard what I had come for, the ocean.  Our hotel, located 270 vertical steps from sea-level claimed to have the best view in Zihuatanejo.  Our room, the best in the hotel, located on the top floor had sweeping 210 degree view of town and out the bay to the Pacific.  However, the delicious view came at a price, the currency being proximity to the water.  Instead of hearing the soothing white noise of ocean beating against land we heard the neighborhood dogs, of which there were numerous, barking in unison for what appeared to be no reason at all.  A morning alarm wasn't necessary as the dogs howling drowned out the roosters.

After realizing our need for a beach fix we made a point to spend our remaining three days on the beach.  Locals raved about Playa Las Gatas, a small protected beach directly across the bay from our hotel.  The food was excellent, lounge chairs put me to sleep, and we even took a side trip to a lighthouse located 20 minutes walking distance through the forest.  This would be our one successful trip to the rugged coastline that I craved, although it did not come easily.  After searching and finding the trail we ducked under a barbed wire fence, made exposed climbing moves around another, and to greet us on our arrival we fought off a grumpy German Shepherd with my tripod (dog beater).  We followed our day of beach success by trying our hand at the other Zihuat beach, Playa la Ropa.  This turned out to be the area's best beach, although we quickly learned that sitting in the shade at a Mexican beach will cost pesos.  Instead of paying we took our queue from the Mexicans who chose to sit directly in front of these paid beach spots.

On the final full day we rented a car and drove north to Las Saliditas, a beach renowned for its surfing.  Before this our collective experience totaled one day on a surfboard.  We pulled up in our Dodge Attitude nodded at the waves, enjoyed a cerveza, and kept driving.  This isn't to say that our excursion wasn't without adventure.  Jill willingly provided it by burning up 70% of the clutch driving over one speed bump.  Clutch smoke blew out the vent holes normally reserved for air conditioning.  Three hours later, after the I took over the driving reigns, the car still smelled like clutch.  After a morning of clutch burning and not surfing we found our comfort zone body surfing back on the beach in Ixtapa.

Evenings in our hotel will stand out as a personal highlight.  Our last night my sister DJ'd playing some Van Morrison and Bill Withers and was even able to convince my parents to dance.  Holding a Cerveza de la Modesto in one hand and Jill in the other we retired to our room's private veranda equipped with a jacuzzi.  It wasn't a jacuzzi in the traditional sense in that there was no heat (nothing works in Mexico), although the cool temperature was appreciated considering the ongoing mugginess of the air.  By this time my brain attenuated the neighborhood yapper dog and its amazingly consistent 39 barks per minute.  Instead I focused my senses on the bird's eye view of town spread out below. The concentration of lights gradually thinned out until reaching the mouth of the bay where any visual evidence of human existence was halted by the dark emptiness of the Pacific Ocean.  In the distance lightning flashed madly in clouds surrounding the Mexican foothills.  I wondered if Jill was experiencing the same visual feast, and as usual, she wasn't.  With this smorgasboard of views she chose to look at ... me.  Jill, aren't you looking at this incredible view?  "You're cute.  I'd rather look at you."  Once again, she was right.  I refocused on what was important, which was located right inside this cold tub and hotel room. 

I hope that Andy's dreams of Zihuatanejo and the Pacific were everything he had imagined.  I hope he found a cheap place to eat.  It's unlikely I will ever return, unless it's in my sailboat.  Just like they say, the Pacific really does have no memory.  I've already partially forgotten the vicious mutts and overpriced food.  However, no good thing ever dies, and I imagine the time spent with family here in Mexico will always reside in some recess of my small mind.  I hope to regain the 12 pounds I lost in June, but more importantly, I hope to never lose site of what is truly important in this life.   

Final scene of the movie as Red is on the long bus ride to Mexico.  Just before the credits we see Andy and Red reunite in an embrace on the beach in Zihuatanejo next his boat.

"I find I am so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head.  I think it is the excitment only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain...  I hope I can make it across the border.  I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.  I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.  I hope."


1) Anni and Jill walking the Ixtapa beach  2) Sultry sistas


Dad spots birds on our one successful trip to the coastline.
Las Gatas beach looking back towards the town of Zihuatanejo.


1) Licuados in our favorite breakfast joint, Bananas.  2) Typical indecision in the streets 3) Friendly neighborhood Rotweiller  4) Making the 270 step ascent to our hotel  5) Ann barters at the market


We watched our last Mexican sunset from Playa La Ropa.


Frequent dips in the pool were mandatory, especially after ascending 270 steps in the 90 degree humidity.

- written July 2006   

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