This article is from the February 2004 The Mexico
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Getaway on the Coast of Mexico
A Beach Paradise that is still a Paradise
The Tiny Mexican Beach Town of Troncones
by Stuart Wasserman
Writer/Photographer Stuart Wasserman began traveling in Mexico in 1973.By 8 a.m. the Mexican sun has illuminated the tiny beach town of Troncones, splashing its early morning pink light across the town’s three mile long sandy beach. Down in front of the Burro Borracho two white snowy egrets silently flirt with each other at the water’s edge. A couple of early risers stroll hand in hand along the beach. The color bar on the horizon slowly changes from pink to tangerine to a deep tranquil blue. Temperatures are warming up and there is no need to put on anything more elaborate than a pair of shorts and a shirt, if you are so inclined, in order to begin the day in Troncones – a beach town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico located about 18 miles north of Ixtapa. West coast rush hour? Not here.I personally have a problem each time I arrive in Troncones. That is, which way to turn once I reach the Y of the beachfront. Do I turn left and head for the Burro Borracho or the Tropic of Cancer in the historical section of town where the restaurants and inns are no more than 10 years old, or do I turn right and head to the newer section where the hotels are all less than five years old? No building in Troncones is more than two stories high and several are located on little Manzanillo Bay and have restaurants thatface smack dab in the center of the setting sun. Margarita anyone?The Burro Borracho (or drunken donkey) is the granddaddy of the beach front restaurants. The Burro is a simple thatched roofed restaurant where a half-dozen early morning risers, both locals and tourists, sip coffee, eat breakfast, trade local news (like who happens to be back in town), and then map out another day of perpetual siesta – some of it spent in the shade and some spent tanning under the heat of the Mexican sol.
Today the little hamlet of Troncones, long nestled in the shadow of Ixtapa is finally earning a spot on the tourist map. But make no mistake, Troncones is a different kind of mango. There are no high-rise hotelshere, no oversized swimming pools and no discos. So what's the big attraction? Well, just a long beach with a cove at the far end that offers warm water waves, one section with rocks and tide pools that kids and adults may love to explore together, and more birds than your run-of-the-mill beach bum can identify. Simply said, there is little here that hampers serenity and today there are more than 30 different B&B's or bungalows to choose from. And much of the architecture has a Polynesian flair.Teri Terry, Jalaine Hogue and Patti Dooley, three friends from Central California, visited Troncones a year ago March and were pleasantly surprised. They had reservations for staying three days in Troncones and then moved, as planned, to an expensive Zihuatanejo beach front hotel. After the trip, Terry said all three wished that they had stayed in tiny Troncones.
Troncones is laid-back, but not without amenities. There are screens to keep insects out of the rooms, fans to keep cool and some inns have swimming pools. Bathrooms are clean and colorfully decorated with local Mexican hand-crafted tiles. Hammocks adorn most porches. There is cold beer.
Dewey McMillin, a Seattle native and ex-Alaska fisherman, founded the beach front Burro Borracho restaurant in 1992. At that time he had to hustle to keep it open. He would drive into Ixtapa and bring guests back with him for the afternoon. He advertised complete fish and lobster lunches, unlimited beer and return transportation for $10US. McMillan was such a good salesman that people came for the afternoon, got the Troncones bug, and then returned to buy land.
That happened to Ed and Ellen Weston of Santa Cruz, California, present-day owners of Casa Ki, a complex of several well-appointed wooden bungalows and a house, all set under a grove of coconut trees just steps from the Pacific Ocean. They came out with McMillan, fell in love with the town, and one month later returned to Mexico to begin building in a dream setting. In the six years they have operated Casa Ki, the Westons say they have had more than two dozen guests who now have built homes or B&Bs along the beach. To view some of the B&Bs in town just type the words “Troncones Mexico” in your computer web browser.
“For the small operators like all of us here,” McMillin says, “the web is the big equalizer. We couldn't compete otherwise with the advertising dollars of the big hotel chains in Ixtapa.” Troncones with its growing number of accommodations and assorted restaurants is having an impact on the local community. According to McMillin: “Ten years ago about 80 people from the town would walk the two and a half miles to the main road to go to work in Ixtapa or Zihuatanejo. Today 100 to 200 people come to Troncones everyday for work.”
Part of the attraction of Troncones is a tranquillo feeling between the village population and the newcomers. And that is due to the people who have located there. McMillin set the standard early on. Each year he throws a Christmas Party for the Mexican residents of the town which number about 400. He provides 30 piñatas for the community’s boy and girls. He has done that for ten years running.
Casa Ki owner, Ellen Weston, worked for 20 years as a registered nurse in the Central Valley of California. Today she uses her nursing skills for the benefit the townspeople. Weston often finds families turning to her for medical care since Troncones is much too small for a government health clinic. Weston has even served at times as the town’s veterinarian. Other B&B owners bring school supplies each time they return to Troncones and one resident has donated the money needed to build a library for the grammar school.
Longtime Santa Cruz resident Glen Novey owns the Smiling Dolphin. Located about a half mile north of Casa Ki, the Smiling Dolphin was the first B&B with a swimming pool. Up until a few years ago Novey was the self-described King of the Road, but the road keeps expanding in Troncones. Novey is well known for the personal attention he shows his guests, going so far as organizing side trips in the area and volunteering as the chauffeur and guide if they so desire.
Among the newest B&B's on the scene are the Regalo de Mar and Posada de los Raqueros. Each offers uniquely appointed spaces and charge about $100, depending on the season. Three years ago the Hotel Eden popped up, built by Jim Garritty and Eva Robbins, American émigrés from Hong Kong. She worked in a stock brokerage and he as corporate lawyer. They built a six-room hotel and found guests returning the very first year. Now they have added four one-story bungalows to the property. The Eden's Sunday Barbecue draws the local and tourist crowd who savor chef Christian Schirmer's free range chicken, tasty ribs and fresh fish. Schirmer's restaurant, the Cocina del Sol, serves hearty dinners and is a popular gathering spot in town at sunset. The view from here at sunset can't be beat. But next door the chef at the Inn at Manzanillo Bay makes killer jumbo shrimp cooked just right in garlic and butter.
Changes have come rapidly to Troncones. Last year the turnoff road from coastal Highway 200 to the beach was paved. Two years ago the town fathers built a water line that runs to the Eden Hotel and the Inn at Manzanillo Bay, making it cheaper for the Inn to fill its swimming pool. Electricity came to the town all of four years ago. Residents and inn owners there were happy to join the modern e-mail era. Yes, all of the modern conveniences have arrived, but no chain hotels yet – gracias por Dios – thank God.
Troncones is also attracting a yoga crowd because of its isolation and tranquility and because of the level of comfort the American and Canadian owned B&B’s provide. At the Hotel Eden yoga students can take classes in the morning within earshot of the crashing waves, eat a lunch of fresh fish, perhaps tuna or red snapper, or feast on a large chicken burrito. . Vegetarian? No problema! Christian will fill that burrito with plenty of ripe avocado and heaps of tasty and spicy salsa.
Troncones might not be for everybody. The beach front road, though improved, can still be dusty. Few places offer TV. There’s a lack of night life. But there are other activities should one get bored with reading, swimming and sun worship. Dewey McMillan and a partner have added a Costa Rican like jungle ride through the top of the forest for ecological thrill seekers. And now on Sunday nights the Burro Borracho offers a traditional Mexican folk dance floor show. The dancers come from the neighboring high school. The show is free but Dewey passes the hat and all tips go directly to the school for textbooks and other supplies.
With a car Troncones can be seen in an afternoon on a journey from Zihuatanejo or Ixtapa but an overnight stay affords the time for an early morning or late afternoon walk along the coast. The place is ideal except that the prices are in U.S. dollars and not pesos. But $80 to $100 a night might not be any higher than a high-rise glass enclosed hotel in Ixtapa and look at what you get here – peace and tranquility – which some people may call priceless.To Go: Many American airlines now fly directly to the Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo International Airport. Troncones is just a short bus trip or car rental ride away. Several of the inns and B&B's will arrange taxi pick-up for guests. Air conditioned rooms are available.