Los Gatos Beach | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Los Gatos Beach

Farther down the Mexican West Coast from Manzanillo lie the resort towns of Ixtapa and Zihuatenejo. Ixtapa presents a theme park prospect, a sort of poor man's Cancún. I'll leave the place to those who want four-day party weekends, the way I did forty years ago.

Today I still love going to the beach. I don't lie around tanning anymore, and I drank my last coco loco many years ago. But I like the sound of waves, the smell of salt water and the feel of warm water on my body. And I like someone bringing me fish tacos and a coke right to the umbrella I'm sitting beneath.

For that kind of relaxation, Playa Los Gatos, on the southern side of the harbor at Zihuatenejo fills the bill.

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No road leads to Playa Los Gatos. To get there, you hire a boat for the short, inexpensive ride from the pier at Zihuatenejo.

Blinding white sand (limestone?) leaves the surf milky blue. A score of palapa restaurants crowd every inch of the strand. Settping from your boat onto the mole, a shill grabs you by the hand and steers you to the place that employs him. As near as I can tell, the selection, quality and prices of each are identical, so aggressive salesmanship brings in the customers.

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Every place is fronted with umbrellas casting unbroken shade from one end of the beach to the other. The first twenty meters inland from the water's edge is devoted to cosseting visitors. I lounged for awhile, then I looked past the tourist zone to see how the restaurant owners live.

During daytime, families spend their days on the beach along with the rest of us. They take their meals in their restaurants and for relaxation, swing in hammocks. Unlike us, they wear street clothes, not bathing suits, because the water is always there for them—no big deal.

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At night they sleep in shacks hidden in the jungle.

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Their homes are little more elaborate than campsites, but they're kept immaculate. They hang hand-washed laundry out to dry. They sweep the sand clean. The environment is exactly right for living: no heat, no air conditioning needed.

And as in nearly all Mexican homes, the beach dwellers make altars venerating the Virgin.

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I can't see how palapa restaurant owners make enough to live on. When I was there, they competed for the business of only a handful of customers. Many appeared to make no sales that day. Two weeks at Christmas, one week at Easter—everybody does well then. The rest of the year, I imagine they barely scrape by.

But life is pleasant here. Plenty of fish are free for the taking; boys fish off the mole with hand lines. A small yellowfin tuna and a kilo of tortillas will feed a family of four. Beach people have no income taxes, no traffic jams, no performance reviews. Nobody works too hard. They appear to be content and happy.

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