Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Guerrero Part 3: The laid-back lagoon and beach of Barra de Potosí

Kayaks rest on a sandy beach at Barra de Potosí's lagoon. In the upper right of the photo, a line of surf shows where the freshwater lagoon meets the Pacific Ocean. This was our second visit to Barra de Potosí. On our first visit, during the winter of 2013, we walked north up the beach for a fair distance. The long arc of sand stretches for 16 km (approx. 10 miles), from the lagoon to where it meets the mountains just south of Zihuatanejo.  For most of its length, the beach is almost entirely empty. The small fishing village of Barra de Potosí is located on the lagoon at the south end of the beach. For a Google map showing the area, click here.

The Beach

View up the beach toward the mountains. As you can see, there is very little activity on this beach. A few houses and some small, family hotels are set back among the palm groves. After experiencing the throngs on the beaches of Zihua and Ixtapa, the serenity here was welcome. Although we like people-watching, sometimes it's nice to hear nothing but the surf, the palms rustling in the breeze, and the cries of sea birds.

A Brown Pelican glides along the surf line, looking for lunch. These guys are always entertaining. They not only fly very gracefully, but their method of fishing is quite dramatic. After gliding along just above the water for a distance, a pelican will spot a fish.  He then goes through a complicated series of swoops to gain some altitude before finally dropping suddenly, beak first, into the water. A moment later the bird pops up, usually with a fish. Throwing back his head, he swallows it down and the hunting cycle begins again.

The water temperature was perfect for swimming. We only waded in the shallows, but this girl headed out to paddle around in the gentle surf. She was one of only a handful of people we encountered that day, other than the locals.

Some small rocky islands lie not far off the shore. They are uninhabited, except for the sea birds. The islands are about 2500 m (1.5 mi) away in this shot. They could easily be reached with a small boat or a kayak.

A point of land, surmounted by a scrub-covered hill, marks the southern end of the bay. The point is separated from the little pueblo by the channel leading into the lagoon. On the other side of the point, another long beach begins that is almost twice as long as the one between Barra and Zihua. That beach is even less developed than this one.

The Lagoon

The mouth of the lagoon. The lagoon is fairly shallow here and I imagine it would not be difficult to wade across to the point. To get an idea of the lagoon area, click here.

An idyllic dwelling sits on the shore across the lagoon. The rustic home appears to be made entirely of rough-cut tree trunks and thatched palm fronds. Given the usual balmy weather, you wouldn't need much more shelter than this. However, in a hurricane or a tsunami, a structure like this, set this close to the water, might be destroyed in a flash. On the other hand, assuming you survived or were not in residence at the time, it could be rebuilt relatively cheaply.

A boat is anchored in the shallows of the lagoon, ready for fishermen or tourists. From here, the boatmen can head out into the bay to fish or give tours to visitors. In addition to touring the bay, it is also possible to explore the wildlife-filled lagoon. We didn't have time for such a venture, but I imagine it would be easy to arrange and probably quite inexpensive.

The restaurant scene

Rustic restaurants line the lagoon's beach. The pueblo of Barra de Potosí sits on a point of land surrounded on three sides by the lagoon, the channel, and the ocean. The boat in the middle of the group above has a canopy, clearly intended for tourists.

We chose this restaurant for our lunch. It is typical of the many that stretch around the point, some oriented to the lagoon, some to the ocean. The turquoise-painted supports are made from the trunks of small trees, while the roof is made from thatched palm fronds. The plastic tables and chairs sit on the bare sand. The kitchen is located in the back of the open-sided structure. Menu choices include various kinds of seafood, Mexican dishes, and cheeseburgers with fries. Soft drinks, Mexican beer, and endless varieties of tequila were also available. As you can see, a reservation is generally not necessary.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is venerated all over Mexico. We found this little shrine in a kiosk near the parking lot. The Virgin is the patron of Mexico in general, but the country's poor and indigenous people feel a special connection to her.

The most industrious figure on the whole beach was this small dog. Something about soft sand drives dogs like this into frenzies of excavation. I don't think he was actually looking for, or trying to bury, anything. He was just having a good time.

Wasted away again in Margaritaville. When hanging out at a beach like this, a Margarita is almost obligatory. There are various stories about how the drink got its name. One of the earliest versions holds that it was invented in 1938 by a Tijuana restauranteur named Carlos "Danny" Herrera. A visiting Hollywood starlet named Marjorie King was allergic to all forms of alcohol but tequila. The enterprising Danny came up with a special drink just for her. He named it the "Margarita" after his actress customer.  Jimmy Buffet, eat your heart out!

The author, feeling somewhat less industrious than the dog. On a warm afternoon, in the cool shade of a palapa, amply supplied with large goblets of Margaritas, I felt about as ambitious as a banana slug. I wonder if they have any Jimmy Buffet on the juke box?

This completes both Part 3 and the Guerrero Coast series itself. I hope you have enjoyed it, particularly those of you trapped in the cold and snowy north country. If you would like, you can leave any thoughts in the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Guerrero's coast Part 2: The unique pyramid at ancient Xihuacán

A broad staircase ascends nine stepped-platforms of Pyramid A. This is the only one of Xihuacán's many pyramids yet excavated. One of my goals when we re-visited the Zihuatanejo area was to return to this ancient site. I wanted to see if we could gain access to the large pyramid that archaeologists had been unearthing on our previous visit. At that time, our guide Eduardo had told us the structure was off-limits. Tantalized by what I could glimpse from afar, I had to satisfy myself with a few telephoto shots. This time, to our delight, the pyramid was at least partially open to visitors. While we were restricted to an established walkway, we could see and photograph everything. The return visit to the site was well worth it because, as it turned out, the pyramid is highly unusual in several important respects. For a Google map of the area, click here.

Pyramid A is located in the center of the chart behind where the dotted lines converge. Except for the ball court--the long, narrow structure to the left and below Pyramid A--all the other structures above were still covered with earth and brush at the time we visited. The chart shows how this ceremonial center was consciously constructed to align with astronomical phenomena such as the March equinox and the December solstice. From the altar immediately in front of Pyramid A, the priest-rulers would take sightings of the position of the sun as it appeared over three different cerros (mountains). These sightings helped them prepare calendars showing the correct dates for planting and harvesting crops, especially maiz (corn). Keeping accurate calendars meant the ability to predict the future. This gave rulers great power over agricultural societies such as Xihuacán. The ceremonial structures seen above formed the center of a city that covered at least 8 hectares (19 acres). At its peak, as many as 15,000 people lived here. Today, there are only about 500 residents in nearby La Soledad de Maciel.

Pyramid A is still not completely excavated, as can be seen above. The front part of the stepped-pyramid has been revealed, but behind it rises a huge eroded mound that remains relatively untouched. The stairs are a modern addition and are part of the walkway created by archaeologists so visitors don't disturb the site. Pyramid A is quite large. At its base, it measures 100 m (328 ft) on each of its four sides. Its nine platforms rise to a height of 16 m (52.5 ft). Xihuacán and the area around it was almost continuously occupied for 3000 years, from 1500 BC to 1500 AD. Some archaeologists believe that the great length of its habitation may make it one of the most important sites ever discovered in Mexico. Artifacts found here show connections with the Olmecs of the Pre-Classic period, the Teotihuacans of Classic era,  and the Toltecs of the Post-Classic. Xihuacán remained an important power until the Aztecs under Emperor Ahuitzotl invaded the area in 1433 AD. By the early 1500s, Xihuacán had been reduced to a tributary province. Its power and glory were all but forgotten. This era of continuous habitation was broken only by a great tsunami which inundated the coastal area, resulting in a relatively brief period of abandonment. Some of the ceremonial site's ruins are still buried under tons of sand from that cataclysm.

The stepped platforms are unique in their construction. Unlike similar structures in any other part of Mesoamerica, their smooth outer surface is covered with terra-cotta (baked clay). In those ancient times, this would have been an extraordinarily difficult process. It required detailed knowledge of the behavior of clays and great skill in managing the temperatures created by open, wood-fired furnaces. To evenly bake the clay over such vast surface areas presented an immense challenge. Even so, the method was clearly effective. The platforms on this pyramid have maintained their hard, smooth surfaces for more than 1500 years. For an aerial view of Pyramid A, click here. At the bottom center of the aerial shot is Pyramid A. The circular wooded area just above Pyramid A is an un-excavated pyramid of even greater dimensions. Above the un-excavated pyramid, and slightly to the left, is the Ball Court which has been partly truncated by the road. It is second in size only to the great Ball Court of Chichen Itza.

View from the top platform of Pyramid A, looking west. To your right, where now corn fields and orchards grow, a great plaza once spread out, bordered by pyramids, palaces, and the ball court. The Pacific Ocean is only a few kilometers away to the west. Nearby ponds and canals once linked Xihuacán with the lagoon that runs behind the beach, and from there to the sea. This water route, and the access it allowed to the ocean, was beneficial for trade. Some of the most valuable trade items included conch shells, sea salt, cotton, and cacao. Artifacts indicate that Xihuacán's trade networks extended to central and southern Mexico, Guatemala and even to the Pacific Coast of South America. Another source of power and wealth came from the conquest of outlying towns and settlements. These then became sources of tribute. At its peak between 450 AD and 1100 AD, Xihuacán dominated a considerable stretch of Guerrero's Pacific Coast.

The Ojos de Dios (Eyes of God) are a series of holes on top of a large boulder. The boulder stands about 15 m (50 ft) from the western corner of Pyramid A. About one third of the rock has split off, probably due to natural causes. The boulder is at least 2 m (6.5 ft) tall, with a diameter of about twice that. I wasn't able to get close enough to count all the holes, but there are at least 25, with more out of view. The function of the Ojos de Dios is not clear. According to one theory, they were used for astronomical observations. Upon filling them with water, particular stars in the night sky would reflect in particular holes and thus aid calendric calculations. Another interpretation asserts that the act of filling the holes with water represented feeding the rock, thus encouraging the water god to send rain.

The top of Pyramid A 

The level top of the pyramid forms its own plaza containing smaller pyramids and altars. This is another very unusual aspect of Xihuacán. Carole and I have visited ancient sites throughout Mexico, and several in Guatemala. The only other place where we have encountered a huge pyramid with smaller pyramids on top is Tonináan ancient Maya city in the highlands of Chiapas. The total area encompassed by the top, or ninth, platform is about 76 m x 76 m, (250 ft x 250 ft). In the foreground above, you can see the corner of a long rectangular pyramid. In the background at the top is another, this time square. In front of the square pyramid is a low altar, also square. In the left-center of the photo is a rectangular depression that was once part of a temescal (sweat lodge).

The central location of the altar indicates its importance. Sacrifices here may have included human offerings. In the right foreground is a circular pit that our guide described as a place for sacred fires. In the upper right you can see part of the square pyramid.

Another view of the altar and square pyramid includes a section of a water channel. Several of these ancient channels interlocked to direct rain water off the plaza. Xihuacán's builders lacked metal tools, draft animals, or the wheel, but nonetheless exhibited a sophisticated understanding of engineering principles. The water runoff was directed to pools which provided both a water supply for drinking and irrigation and a transportation link to the sea.

The foundations of a temescal stand near the rectangular pyramid. The entrance to the temescal extends out like the handle to a skillet. Temescales were used for religious purposes in ancient times, and still are by indigenous people in today's Mexico. The sweating process is intended to cleanse the participant. This may occur prior to a religious ceremony, or perhaps after an experience which may have left the person spiritually unclean. Use of a temescal was also considered medicinal and they were sometimes used by women during childbirth.

The narrow entrance to the temescal required participants to crouch low and crawl. Once all participants were assembled in the dark room, heated rocks from an outside fire--perhaps the sacred fire pit--would be brought in and sprinkled with water. Quickly, clouds of hot steam would fill the chamber.  Sometimes, the effects were hallucinogenic These experiences were considered sacred since they represented contact with spirit beings from other worlds.

The rectangular pyramid runs along the west side of Pyramid A. In the foreground you can see a section of the cobblestone paving that once covered the whole surface of the platform's plaza. Although archaeologists have aware of a pre-hispanic site in this area since at least 1925, little formal excavation occurred until the first decade of this century. For many years prior to that, local farmer's plows regularly turned up artifacts. Sensing an opportunity to bring tourist dollars to their very low-income community, some residents began to press the government to investigate. Finally, only a few years ago, the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) began a major dig. According to Eduardo, a total of 16 pyramids have been identified to date. These include some built on nearby mountains after an ancient tsunami flooded the ceremonial center. Even taking into account the work displayed in both of my postings, the vast majority of Xihuacán is still untouched by archaeologists' trowels. Given the great length of time the site was occupied, and the important part Xihuacán played in pre-hispanic times, the future may hold some eye-popping discoveries.

Deciphering the stones

Glyph on a stele at the Museo de La Soledad de Maciel. The stele was recovered during the reconstruction of the Ball Court. However, that may not have been its original location. INAH has identified the glyph as the ancient place-name for Xihuacán. One interpretation of the word Xihuacán is "Place of the people who possess turquoise", a possible reference to Xihuacán's position as a center for trade. Another is "Place of the people who control eternity (or time)", referring to the city's association with astronomy and the ancient calendars. Recently I was contacted by Javier Urcid, Associate Professor of Archaeology at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. He had stumbled across my previous blog posting on Xihuacán and was interested in additional photos of the site's stone carvings, including the one above. I agreed to email him a number of shots that I had not included in that earlier posting. Since Carole and I were about to re-visit Zihuatanejo, I also volunteered to take additional photos that might be helpful in his research. Javier was delighted by my offer and I, in turn, was happy to collaborate with a professional archaeologist from such a distinguished university.

Javier's interpretation of the stele's glyph. One thing I have discovered about archaeologists is how often they disagree with one another. Although he is careful to note that he cannot claim to have the definitive answer, Javier believes that INAH's interpretation of the glyph is not accurate. He believes that his research shows a different and better substantiated meaning. He compared the Xihuacán glyph to similar glyphs found in ancient sites in Oaxaca and Yucatan, seen above on the left. The comparative glyph that INAH used is shown on the right. It is Javier's belief that Xihuacán's glyph means "Slide Knot", and refers to the 10th day of the ancient calendar. He notes that INAH's glyph contains four small circles with dots in them that surround the perimeter of the cartouch. Those circles appear on neither the Xihuacan glyph nor on those that Javier presents. Javier also believes INAH has displayed the stele upside down and that his drawing above shows its proper orientation.

Stele of "The King" is currently displayed in front of the church in La Soledad de Maciel. Javier fully agrees with INAH that this figure, known locally as La Chole, represents a ruler. La Chole wears an elaborate head dress and is portrayed with three faces. The middle one is a full frontal view. The other two are right and left profiles and may relate to the Mesoamerican concept of Duality. This is a very important part of pre-hispanic cosmology. Within the concept of Duality, everything is intimately and inextricably connected to its opposite, i.e. day-night, light-dark, life-death, male-female, evil-beneficial, etc. Any half of a duality cannot be understood without also taking into account, and accepting, its opposite.

Javier specializes in line drawings of ancient stone carvings. Above, he has drawn La Chole from the photos I sent him. Line drawings bring out details that are easily missed when viewing the original carving. Notice, for example, the ear rings, the pectoral (necklace), the bracelets, and the belt with its buckle. The legs are no longer attached to the original statue, but are displayed separately at the museum. Is this a representation of a real person, perhaps an important ruler in his time? Future excavations may reveal the answer.

Ring from the Ball Court. This, and another ring, would have been placed about half way along the length of the Ball Court, one on each side. One method of scoring was to pass the ball through the ring. The hole in the ring is only about 20 cm (8 in) across, so the hard rubber ball couldn't have been much bigger than a grapefruit. Although the Mesoamerican  ball game was played almost everywhere, from Honduras to Arizona, specific rules seem to have varied from one place to another. Under some rules, the ball could not be touched by hands or feet and could only be propelled by a hip, shoulder, or head. Protective leather armor was sometimes worn because the heavy ball could injure or even kill an unprotected player. In some locations, including Chichen Itzá, certain players might sacrificed after the game. There is some dispute among archaeologists over whether the sacrificed players were the losers or the winners. In some Mesoamerican societies, being chosen for sacrifice was considered a great honor. While archaeologists have found evidence that human sacrifice was associated with Xihuacán's ball game, it is not presently known whether this involved the players themselves.

The Ball Court ring displays two snakes, nose to nose. When I first photographed the rings, I didn't pay much attention to the swirls and squiggles on the surfaces. It was only later, after I had used my computer to enlarge and enhance the exposures, that I thought I saw evidence of snakes. It was a bit like looking for a hidden image in a puzzle. After I received Javier's drawings, I immediately saw what I had missed. The snakes are in profile, with their curling noses pressed together at the top. The right and left eyes of the two snakes are represented by the small oval spaces which, on the actual stone ring, are carved into the granite. The two mouths are open in toothy grins and the curling tails loop down on either side. These may be "fire serpents", associated with war and the planet Venus. The ball game symbolically expressed the duality of light and darkness and the on-going war between them. The ball game was played--in part--to defeat the darkness and ensure the rise of the life-giving sun. In this context, the presence of two opposing fire serpents makes sense. In addition, the ancient people also recognized Venus as both the Evening and Morning Star and thus also connected to the duality of darkness and light.

This large stone disk was found in the plaza in front of Pyramid A. It may have been the focal point for the ritual sun-sightings over the three surrounding cerros that established the arrival of an astronomical event such as a solstice or an equinox. The dimensions of the disk are approximately 1.8 m (5 ft) in diameter and .3 m (1 ft) thick. I don't know the weight, but it must be considerable. The top surface is covered with a low-relief carving of the rain god Tlaloc. The museum had no step ladder available for me to climb, and there was no other way to shoot a photo directly over it. In the end, I had to shoot photos of the surface by quadrants. Javier was particularly interested in the designs around the rim. He had asked me to photograph them with a continuous, overlapping series of shots so he could draw and analyze them. He hasn't completed his work on these images, but I hope to hear from him soon about his findings.

Tlaloc's fanged, goggle-eyed face was immediately recognizable of the upper quadrant.  Surrounding his head is a five-pointed star, representing Venus. Notice the round "goggle eyes".  Other significant features include circular ear rings, long fangs, and a forked tongue that droops from his open mouth. Carvings, sculpture, and pottery images of Tlaloc almost always include these elements.

Javier's drawing of the surface of the Tlaloc disk. Some of the other interesting features include a large target-like pectoral, a decorative loincloth, and two snakes that appear under his legs. I am not familiar with the objects he holds in each hand. Perhaps Javier will enlighten me.  Tlaloc is one of the two oldest gods in the Mesoamerican pantheon. The other is Huehueteotl, the "Old, Old God" of fire. Statues and carvings of both of these gods have been found at sites of some of the earliest pre-hispanic civilizations. They continued to be central to Mesoamerican cosmology right through the Spanish Conquest. When you consider the importance of fire and water to ancient civilizations, and to the archaic hunter-gatherers that preceded them, the great antiquity of these two gods makes sense.

Painting of Tlaloc at Teotihuacan, one of its many links with Xihuacán. The peak of Xihuacán's power and prosperity overlaps that of Teotihuacan. The ruins of that great city are located northeast of Mexico City, many hundreds of miles away from Guerrero's coast. However, Mesoamerican trade networks linked them commercially and culturally. Notice the similarity between the painting and the Tlaloc on the stone disk. The painting has the same five-pointed star representing Venus, goggle-eyes, round ear rings, drooping fangs and a forked tongue. Tlaloc had many aspects, but he was above all the god of rain, floods, thunder and lightning. True to the concept of Duality, he was considered both beneficial to the growth of crops, and destructive in his ability to send floods and lightening strikes. The Tlaloc disk's placement in the plaza connects astronomy, the calendar, the prediction of the seasonal rains, and the correct time to harvest the all-important main crop.

This completes Part 2 of my three-part series on the Guerrero Coast. I hope you enjoyed it and can visit this remarkable site in the future. If you'd like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE include your address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Monday, January 5, 2015

The serene, palm-lined beaches of Guerrero- Part 1: Playa Troncones

Surfers turn to face the large wave about to crash over them. A few weeks ago, in December of 2014, Carole and I decided to make our second visit to the Pacific Coast of Guerrero State. On our first visit in February of 2013, we explored Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa and the area immediately to the south of it. This time we elected to go north and check out Troncones, a serene little beach town about 32 km (20 mi) from Zihua. We once again stayed at Zihua's wonderful Hotel Irma, with its spectacular views of the town and bay. However, I did not shoot many photos there this time, since I have covered Zihua pretty thoroughly in previous posts. In the following two parts of this three-part series, we'll revisit two places I briefly covered in my 2013 series, Barra Potosí and the pre-hispanic ruins at Xihuacán. We were able to spend more time at both places and see things we missed before. For a Google map of the area, click here.

The beach at Troncones is palm-fringed and covered with fine sand and scattered rocks. If you like the hustle and bustle of Zihua, or the glitzy tourist-bubble scene of its neighbor, Ixtapa, Troncones is probably not the place for you. It is not an exaggeration, or a poetic flourish, to describe this place as serene. Look at the beach above. For almost its entire length, the only person to be seen is Carole. December is considered to be the "high" season. In fairness, there may be busy times when the beach is thronged with a couple of dozen people lounging or beach-combing along the 5 km (3.1 mi) length of Troncones.

The "No Name" beach hotel

To get our bearings, we stopped at this small hotel/restaurant. It has an open-air, palapa-covered seating area overlooking the beach. A couple of rustic, palm-frond shelters stand in front. We were almost the only guests at the restaurant. When we visit a place like this, I usually pick up a card for future reference. This time I forgot. Try as I might, I can't Google up any name for the place. It is located just north of the intersection where the access road from the main highway dead-ends into the beach road. The people working here were friendly, the food was inexpensive and good, and the atmosphere was very laid-back.

A carved wooden horse rears playfully on the corner of the restaurant's deck. The horse is probably the creation of an artisan in Michoacan. They have great woodcarvers there, and I have seen similar horses on display in Uruapan and other Michoacan locations. The view here is to the north, and the beach is again almost entirely empty.

A tall coconut palm sways gently in the sea breeze. We have seen extensive palm groves everywhere we have visited along Mexico's Pacific Coast. Genetically, there are two distinct lineages of coconuts. One originated on the coasts of India and the other in the Malayan Archipelago. Each was spread by migration and trade. The Indian version was carried west to Africa, while the Malayan type was brought to the Pacific Coast of Mexico by seafaring Polynesians of the distant past. Today coconuts are grown commercially and form a significant part of Mexico's Pacific Coast economy. Many parts of the tree are used by local people. The trunks are a source of lumber, the fronds are a common roofing material, the fibres can be used to weave baskets and other goods, and the coconuts themselves produce milk, flesh, and oil for cooking.

Cantinflas is the subject of another carving on the restaurant's deck. Cantinflas, born in 1911 as Mario Fortino Alphonso Moreno Reyes, was Mexico's greatest comedic actor. Charlie Chaplin himself described Cantinflas as the world's best comedian, no small compliment. He generally wore a hat several sizes too small, and sported a very distinctive mustache. Always playing the part of an ordinary man in his movies, he regularly outfoxed pretentious people of wealth and power. Canfinflas died in 1993, a much-beloved figure in Mexico.

The surfing scene

Some pretty good waves were running opposite the restaurant. The best surfing at Troncones is on the north end where the beach meets the point that separates it from Manzanillo Bay. There is one surf shop in town near the No Name hotel on the beach road. Surfing instruction is offered there, as well as at some of the hotels.

An instructor and a novice discuss technique. I noticed this pair while we were waiting for our drinks and decided to zoom in with my telephoto to see what was happening. The girl seemed a bit tentative.

Encouraged by the instructor, she set out to try her luck. Surfing takes a pretty good sense of balance, something I am a bit short on, so I have never gotten into the sport. Long ago, a friend nicknamed me "Kung Fu Hips of Death" because of my tendency to crash into things. Even today, if anyone falls off a hiking trail, it will usually be me.

Pretty quickly, she tumbled off the board. She came up for air just as another wave crashed down. In 2008, there was a "Jaws" panic at Troncones because two surfers were killed by sharks and another injured. Apparently a cold current drew in a large number of bull sharks. It was an unusual incident, because nothing like it had happened for at least thirty years.

Like the corpse of a beached sea monster, a large volcanic rock sprawls on the beach. Rocks like this are scattered here and there along the beach and surf area. They are easy to walk around and don't impede the enjoyment of a stroll along the water's edge. However, sharp-edged as they are, I imagine that surfers need to keep a wary eye out for them.

A large driftwood sculpture sits in front of some palms near a private home. The artist has adorned an old weathered stump with turtles and conch shells which appear to be made from metal. Troncones was "discovered" by a North American sports fisherman about 20 years ago. He persuaded his friends to join him in buying property along the shore. They built private homes and some small hotels, B&Bs, and restaurants. Fortunately, none of them was inclined toward big Ixtapa-type resort hotels so the area has kept its rustic, laid-back atmosphere.

A typical beach-side restaurant. The roof is made of woven palm-fronds, the posts are small tree trunks, the floor is bare sand. A multitude of plastic chairs and tables stand in the shade, occupied by a handful of diners. The open-air cooking area is set back in the palms. There is a bottomless supply of ice-cold Mexican beer.

A local vendor displays her wares. As with every beach we have visited in Mexico, this one had wandering vendors. Ever hopeful, they move from table to table along the beach. Unlike some beach resorts, the vendors in Troncones are pretty easy going and don't plague you if you politely but firmly decline their offerings.

Troncones' wildlife

A Whimbrel struts along the beach in search of lunch. Also known as Numinous Phaeopus, the Whimbrel can be found on all continents except Antarctica. Generally it breeds in Alaska and Canada and winters along the Pacific Coast. It likes to eat worms, insect larvae, crustaceans and mollusks.

A Snowy Egret hunts for small fish in the shallows close to shore. The official name for the bird is Egretta Thula and the ones that live along the coast are non-migratory. They can be found on both coasts of North America, as well as many places inland. They generally hang out near bodies of water where they can find fish and small crustaceans.

Brown Pelicans glide gracefully over the surf line. The Pelecanus occidentalus is one of only three species of pelicans found in the Western Hemisphere. Unlike the White Pelicans that live at Lake Chapala, the Brown feeds by diving out of the air. Their aerial acrobatics are quite impressive to watch.

We were attracted by this large rock with a soccerball-sized hole in one end. Thinking we might find sea creatures, we approached cautiously. Carole held the camera ready while I examined the monolith.

Suddenly, a friendly critter poked his head out the hole. One never knows when a Humanus horribilus will show up and it's always a good idea to keep appropriate food handy. This species especially likes candy bars and Ritz crackers. It has been known to become irritable when it has gone too long between feedings.

The south end of Playa Troncones

Just before the end of the beach, we came upon this resort among the palms. I could tell that the property was sizable from the length of the yellow sea wall that separates it from the beach. As far as I can tell, this is the beach view of Hotel Casa de Oro. Like all the hotels at Troncones, it does not intrude upon or loom over the beach. Casa de Oro is pleasingly low-slung and almost invisible among the palms.

A long point of jagged, wave-lashed rocks extends out into the ocean. At low tide, this area no doubt contains tide pools filled with sea creatures. Beaches along Mexico's Pacific Coast are generally arcs with varying lengths. The tips of the arcs are usually rocky points which separate one beach from another.

A footpath leads from Playa Troncones to a small crescent beach just to the south. The crescent was unoccupied except for two houses, as far as I could see. Warm waves lapped at the curving beach. At this time of day, the sand was scorching hot, so I hustled from one shady spot to another.

A hill rises at the south end of the crescent, possibly the remains of an extinct volcano. In the foreground, the weathered trunk of a fallen tree rests on the sand between piles of volcanic boulders. The water in the cove was shallow and of a pleasant turquoise color.

Carole walks back along the beach between rocky outcrops. It was time to head back to our hotel in Zihua for "happy hour" and 2 for 1 margaritas. It had been a brilliant day, sunny and warm. It was just what we needed after a stretch of chilly weather at our home on Lake Chapala.

This completes Part 1 of my Guerrero Beaches series. If you enjoyed it and would like to make a comment, leave it in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim