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Golf in Ixtapa and Zihuatenejo

Mornings Are Also The Best Time Inzee-Wa. At a small restaurant downtown, we sat out on a shady lane for a good breakfast: fresh eggs and potatoes, French toast made with orange juice. We lingered to watch the world go by. A lean-muscled housewife hefted a bag of fish in her right hand and cradled her infant in the left. Another balanced a plastic barrel of laundry on her head. Grandmothers strolled past on their way to market. Young girls in plaid uniforms giggled their way to school.

A place of women, indeed. If Cancún is a Latin theme park by Disney, where the only Mexicans one sees are in uniform, then Zihuatanejo is the anti-Cancún.

Around the corner, along the palm-lined Paseo del Pescador, fishermen docked their boats and hauled ashore their catch on Playa Principal, offering their goods right there on the walkway: rockfish, catfish, dorado.

"I've lived in at least a dozen other towns in Mexico, and they weren't bad," reflected Ron Hunt, a native Minnesotan with a handlebar moustache, as he set up his watercolors for sale by the pier. "But they didn't have it all, like Zee-wa. First of all, it's small--there's no big downtown bustle. I find things more on a human scale. And then there are the busloads of people from Ixtapa, with money"--no small factor, Hunt noted, "in my particular endeavor."

Exactly. Zihuatanejo thrives not in pre-Columbian purity but as a place that sells its wares without selling its soul. Yes, there is a typical tourist market on the west edge of town, a numbing warren of stalls jammed with souvenir T-shirts and machine-made pottery. Blame it on NAFTA or the leveling effect of the tourist trade,but the quality of two Mexican street commodities has slid alarmingly over the last twenty years: coffee and crafts work.

We walked six blocks east to the real market, the Mercado Central on Avenue BenitoJuárez. Seafood stalls packed with shrimp, squid and octopus. A chorus line of freshly killed chickens, their necks dangling over a rail. Mounds of fresh blackberries, and papayas and persimmons and a Technicolor riot of chile peppers. And bustling throughout were townspeople haggling with butchers and fishmongers, or sitting down to a counter lunch of freshly baked tortillas and barbeque.

Here was Zee-wa's true pulse, and we didn't have to buy a thing. It was enough to put our finger on it and listen to it beat.

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