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It's for the Birds..... Snowbirds that is.

Part One: Beach Chair Etiquette.

Zihuatanejo is a small fishing village on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. It acts as the service centre to the newer, slicker resort town of Ixtapa but has retained its traditional charm and character.

Here you see small, weathered fishing boats bringing in their morning catch and wizened aged fishermen tossing their nets into the sea to snag their daily catch.

Here you see colorful street markets overflowing with handmade pottery and handicrafts, T-shirts and sun hats.

This is also where you see all the 60-plus Canadians (and a few Americans from the snow belt) enthusiastically escaping winter. All you have to do is wander down any of the small winding streets and you will see them. Snowbirds, that’s what they like to be called…. Birds flying south to escape the snow.

Most have been here for weeks and even months. They can be seen… and heard… on beaches, in bars, in restaurants (the cheaper the better). It is easy to catch the song of the Snowbird, the tune goes something like this…

When I left home the temperature was minus 32. It was so cold my snow blower wouldn’t start.”

“Yeah, I know. I talked to my son, Frank, last night. Says, he can’t get in the garage to get the shovel out to shovel the driveway so he can get the truck out.”

“Well, last night, we tried this new place downtown. If you go before 5:00 you can get two cerveza for 20 pesos. Then me and Myrtle, we share a sandwich. That’ll do us fine till we get back to our room. We got some snacks there we picked up from the market.”

“Well, Jack, he’s not so much for beach or the pool, gets kinda bored, needs something to do. So, he’s like the unofficial caretaker around our complex here. Helps out the caretaker doing whatever chores need doin’.”

“Yeah, but first I had to go buy them some tools. The ones they had here were crap.”

Snowbirds are creatures of habit. They like to return to the same destination every winter. Not just the same country, or the same town, but I mean the same hotel or condo, and ideally the same room.

George is from Wisconsin. He loves the Green Bay Packers. They are his team. So every winter George and his wife, Mary, come back to Zihua. George brings his Green Bay flag and promptly and proudly installs it on the deck at the same room of the same hotel they have stayed for ten winters. And as soon as that flag goes up, it a notice to all the other returning Snowbirds that they are in residence. Let the games begin.

Then there is Jeannie. Every year she and Martin venture back to the little hotel they call home from January to March. Now, the place is small and it a bit dated. But it is cheap and it has a nice pool. But what is even better… it has a barbecue. Here the ten returning Snowbird couples reunite. They pick up some burgers at the market and a dozen cerveza. Maybe a nice bottle of wine for $7.99. And they catch up on all the happenings of the last year. Out come the pictures of the grandkids. They regale in war stories of the aches and pains and new meds they have encountered over the past year.

Now, Martin is not as enamored of the Snowbird life as Jeannie is. He misses his daily trip to IHOP where he meets up with his cronies for coffee every morning at precisely 9:45. But Jeannie, this is her element. Here she is the queen bee. She organizes the social hour by the pool. Makes sure any newcomers are made right at home and treks off for morning yoga at the Hotel next door. Every time Jeannie walks in, she is greeted by a chorus of “Good Morning Jeannie”. “Off to yoga, Jeannie?” “How was that new place you tried last night, Jeannie?” Jeannie hasn’t been so popular since she was in seventh grade and started maturing before the other girls.

She’s eating it up. Nothing like that happens back in Winnipeg. And Jeannie looks after people. Not just Snowbirds, but the workers around the hotel too. When Carmelita, the maid she has befriended over the years, mentions that her children need new uniforms or they won’t be able to go to school, Jeannie mounts a campaign among the residences to collect money to buy the uniforms.

Meanwhile Martin grumbles. He just wants to head back home where you can drink the water and you know what is in the food is when you order it. Or better yet, just eat at home for free.

The part I love about Mexico is the sun, the sand and the beach. I even occasionally go in the water… well, up to my waist anyway. You see, I am a flatlander and I like being NEAR the ocean better than being IN the ocean. Anyway, I am always intrigued by the beach lounger etiquette.

People scurry down first thing in the morning, toting down towels, maybe a book or two. They scout out the best chair and stake their claim like Armstrong planting the flag on the moon. This is then THEIR chair. Every day they rise earlier and earlier to make sure no one else gets there before them.

I was lounging on the beach the other day… in MY chair, of course… listening (well, let’s be real… eavesdropping…), to the conversations around me. I couldn’t help but notice a group of 3 or 4 couples who were always in exactly the same spot just in front of me. (Guess I got up too late for front row seats). Besides watching people can be even more entertaining than watching the sand and water.

Anyway, Murray is kind of the leader of the group. He is tall, outgoing gentleman with a booming voice (retired used car salesman? Auctioneer?) Murray is an expert on many subjects and very generous with sharing his vast knowledge with all who are fortunate enough to be within earshot.

And, Murray has the whole beach chair thing down to a science….. I know, because I have heard him expound his strategy to any and all takers. First, Murray sets his alarm every night. No, not seven o’clock, not even six o’clock. No, Murray sets his alarm every night for 3:15 am. He trundles his half-sleeping self down to the pitch black beach (I seriously hope he has a flashlight or headlamp), sets up his little camp on the beach and marks his territory with his towels and other beach paraphernalia. Now, that’s dedication. Bet Murray sold a whole lot of cars!

And, while Murray is holding court, his wife Betty calmly sits in her chair under the palapa (bet you thought I was going to say reading a book)… no, Betty sits and does her needlepoint… every day. Now that’s a vacation!

I guess I am not as strong of a presence as our friend Murray because I tried it one day. Not at 3:15, but at 8:00; went down to the beach, chose a perfectly nice chair under a palapa in the front row… a little bit of sun, a little bit of shade… perfect!

I carefully laid out my towel, put my book on top, just the way I have learned from Murray. Then I went for a walk on the beach and back up to my room for a bit of breakfast. Now, I admit, I was probably a little tardy. I really didn’t think there was a need to rush. However, when I returned to my chair, what did I find but a row of bikini-clad twenty-somethings stretched out in my chair and the neighbouring chairs. I was a bit taken aback. After all, MY things were on the chair. That meant I had dibs, right?

Apparently not. As they informed me in their most condescending tone, “Didn’t you read the sign… it says you can’t save chairs for more than an hour. After that you lose your chair. Fair game!” I guess they didn’t want to take on Murray! Or maybe my chair was better!

Que sera. I found another perfectly fine chair half a block from the beach behind yellow police tape used to mark a broken railing. I have no problem with that. Besides, it’s nice and quiet here.

Stay Tuned.... Part 2: It's all Going to the Dogs!


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