Have you ever stayed at a hotel where you just felt like family when you walked in? The Hotel Las Azucenas (http://hotellasazucenas.com/hotel_las_azucenas) in Zihuatanejo is one of those places. Since I have reservations about making reservations, (I never know where I will be or when I will get there), I just show up and knock on hotel doors until one seems like the right one. Las Azucenas was immediately right on all levels.
Las Azucenas doubles as a hotel and a residence hotel. There is a kitchen with a stove and fridge and enough dishes to make someone who wanted to stay for a few weeks feel at home. The rooms are built around a small pool with tropical plants and flowers. There is Internet in the room closest to the front desk and in the common area by the pool. I used to get upset by not having Internet in my room, but now see that the common areas provide opportunities to meet other travelers. Since, for me, traveling is about meeting people that is better for me.
People Make The PlaceA hotel is just a bunch of rooms if there is no soul there. Las Azucenas is way more than a hotel. It is home. The owners, Lao Sotelo and Azucena Garcia make sure you feel at home without smothering you. In Mexico today, some women keep their maiden name as in the USA. I am not a big fan of frou-frou bed and breakfasts, and their approach is just right. Call me Goldilocks.
The rooms are very large and tastefully decorated.Â?TastefulÂ? is a judgmental word. LetÂ?s just say that someone with much better taste than I would appreciate the elegant touches that made their rooms so much more inviting than mere hotel rooms. As my wife has pointed out, I am unlikely to win any awards from Better Homes and Gardens or Southern Living. My idea of decorating is pinning a map to a wall and nailing a velvet painting of a bullfighter (or Elvis) next to it.
Lao (short for the husbandÂ?s hard to pronounce name) was actually raised in the building that is now the hotel. The apple does not fall far from the tree in this case. Azucena (the wife) is Spanish for lily and also the name of their daughter Â? hence Â?LasÂ? (more than one) Azucenas. These nice people are kind, intelligent and sweet. Just being around them makes oneÂ?s whole day better. They took a genuine interest in us as people, not dollar signs. They also bought one of my books, Live Better South of the Border which makes them literary as all get out.
They are building next door with plans for condos or apartments to sell to expats. I gave them a little bit of advice on the small things that gringos look for in a residence and believe that my book will give them plenty of insights. Fortunately I refrained from sharing my decorating tips. I wish them much success in their endeavors.
Should you find yourself in Zihua (as the in-crowd calls it), be sure to drop in on them and spend a day, a week or a lifetime.
Ah, But Is Mexico Safe?
I met a number of expats in Zihua and most of them had driven down this year. Gee, I guess they had not read the news stories that dominate the reporting about Mexico. Mexico is safe, driving is fine (and with the toll roads, actually easy). Some expats did express concern that we had come from the Texas border. They all came down the Pacific coast from Nogales. While they had read new reports of violence on the Sonora and Sinaloa, they knew the reports were overstated because they knew the area. But, since the Texas border was as foreign to them as Afghanistan, they bought into the media hype.
I reassured them that our safety was never in question. The sensationalist press and those individuals who spread rumors are killing the tourism industry for their own gain. Nice people like Lao and Azucena are the ones who get hurt. Stuff happens everywhere. The sensationalist reporting and rumor-mongering by individuals is hurting good people. Put the faces of nice people who are trying to provide services for tourist in front of the bad press before you cry that Mexico is not safe. Whenever someone says something negative to you, ask when was the last time they were in the interior of Mexico. They probably have never even been here. Cd. Juarez or Reynosa etc. are not Mexico. They are parts. They are not the whole. When trouble happens, just remember that there are more killings in Los Angeles than in most of the country of Mexico.
Oh, But Not All Is Peaches And CreamI have to be absolutely honest with you. I am not Pollyannaish. I am trying to report the truth as I see it. If I said that nothing bad every happened in Mexico, I would be just as inaccurate as those who try to paint the county a being one big gun-battle where everyone is in fear for their lives.
Greg (a retired policeman, who is more street-wise than most people) and I (a neÂ?er do well writer who canÂ?t retire from anything) have driven about 3,000 miles so far and only twice did we seriously feel uncomfortable. Note that I said, Â?uncomfortable,Â? not Â?in danger.Â?
Once was in Progreso, Yucatan (north of Merida). To us, the town had a gang-like atmosphere. The graffiti on most walls may have added to that impression. Someone there called me a cabrÃ³n when I asked directions, but he was nice enough to wait until my back was turned. I felt uncomfortable there the three times I visited it in the 1990Â?s too. It has never been on my list of favorite towns. But Greg had never seen it before, so his opinion is more important. People have been calling me an old goat for years, even back in McAllen.
The point is that we would have felt just as uncomfortable had we driven into any city in the USA and gone to an area with gangs and graffiti. People need to remember that there is good and bad everywhere. I grew up near Lopezville, TX, which today is the home of a gang. Driving through there might make most people feel uncomfortable. It has nothing to do with cartels. The USA is not always the safest place to be, depending on where you are.
The other time we felt uncomfortable was when we visited some Â?off-the-beaten-trackÂ? villages on the MichoacÃ¡n coast. We didnÂ?t feel in danger, per se, but we didnÂ?t feel all that welcome. It was like we had stepped into a Twilight Zone episode. The people in those towns had secrets that we didnÂ?t want to know.
After we saw several 250 peso rooms, we stopped at a modern, elegant hotel. It has the best-stocked bar we had seen in Mexico. Greg said he saw bottles ofÂ hundred dollar a shot tequila. It had Jacuzzi suites. It had bad vibes. It was 1,200 pesos. Remember that this is a poor town with little to offer.
We decided not to spend the night there, got back on the road and spent a wonderful night in Tecoman, Colima at a downtown hotel (The Plaza) with the best Internet yet and a Buddha and reflection pool by the restaurant.
So, when you read about someone having a bad experience in Mexico, take it with a grain of salt (with or without a lime and a shot of tequila). Mexico is a big country, just like the USA. There are some rough areas, just like in the USA. But they are only small areas. They are not representative of this big, wonderful county.
Stay on the beaten track (or only go off it if I have so directed you, since that is my specialty). Listen to your instincts and you will have a wonderful time. Leave your negativity at the border.
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