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The Simple Pleasures of a Hideaway in Mexico

April 07, 1985|HARRY BERNSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

ZIHUATANEJO, Mexico — In moonlight astonishingly bright, the three of us beached the small launch in the sandy cove at Las Gatas, a lovely 15-minute ride across the bay.

We took our shoes and waded through the gently rippling, shallow water onto the deserted, sandy shore.

Our host, Owen Lee, asked my wife, Joanne, and me to help him push the boat farther up on the sand and, barefoot in the warm water, we felt adventurous just doing that.

As we struggled briefly to secure the heavy boat, the moon lighted the 10 or so acres of that section of Las Gatas on Zihuatanejo Bay that make up the small resort named "Hernando's Hideaway."

A friend had enthusiastically recommended the place, but cautioned us to remember that it was rather primitive.

Initial Disappointment

We looked around with an initial sense of disappointment because, although we were seeking a relatively inexpensive, isolated hideaway, it seemed a bit too primitive.

But as we walked about, that first, uneasy, "Did we make a mistake?" feeling quickly gave way to a realization that we were about to have an experience that few really achieve, a high expectation for a holiday adventure that would become reality.

Even if our kind of holiday pleasures does appeal to other travelers, every vacationer cannot take advantage of what we found at Las Gatas because it is equipped to handle only a few guests.

To appreciate Las Gatas one must like privacy, be content with rather primitive accommodations and be pleased to do without TV, radios, telephones, newspapers, movies, nightclubs, gambling, etc.

Accessible Only by Boat

It is accessible only by boat, although if one becomes desperate for more company and excitement, there's always the 15-minute boat ride back across the bay to Zihuatanejo, with its cobbled streets, moderately-priced hotels, good, inexpensive restaurants, souvenir shops, telephones and TV.

For more glamour, a 20-minute taxi ride takes you from Zihuatanejo to Ixtapa, where a dozen large, modern hotels are strung out along the ocean front. Elevators cling to the outside of the hotels and long vines cling to the walls of huge lobbies that are thronged with tourists.

At Hernando's Hideaway, the simpler pleasures are enjoyed: reading in hammocks or in lounge chairs set on the point that juts into the bay.

There is swimming in the warm, beautifully blue-green water, walking, just the two of us, for miles along jungle-like paths, bird watching, climbing along the rocky point, climbing a small mountain to reach a lighthouse, or just sitting quietly over a beer or a margarita contemplating our own good fortune.

Much of our time, though, was spent on what attracted us in the first place: snorkeling and scuba diving, guided by our host, Lee, who helped us get the air tanks, masks, weights and other necessary equipment from a well-equipped shop at the other end of Las Gatas.

Comparable to Catalina

Las Gatas water is not as clear as the Caribbean, but it is comparable to the water off Catalina on sunny days.

We snorkeled or dived either from the beach in front of our cottage or by dropping off the small launch that took us to more adventurous locations, such as an underwater mountain that abounds with spectacular plant and fish life.

We swam in usually calm waters over, around or through a wide variety of colorful plant life sinuously and constantly moved by the ocean currents.

We marveled at the beauty of the large schools of yellowtails that seemed unconcerned by our intrusion. We recognized eel, lobster, parrotfish, hogfish, sturgeon, and those intriguing puffers that inflated themselves when we caught them by hand.

We didn't know the names of most of the thousands of fishes, but when we surfaced, Lee, author of several books on scuba diving, a professional diving instructor and once a photographer and diver for Jacques Cousteau, tried to identify them for us.

Not Dangerous

Many of the fish and other forms of sea life were edible but we didn't try to become hunters, though spear guns and grab nets were available. We were assured that none of the sea life we encountered was dangerous if we didn't do such foolish things as grab or step on certain forms of spiny sea urchins or hug jelly fish.

We were the only guests at the resort that has just three circular, clean, simply furnished thatch-roofed cottages about 20 feet in diameter a few yards from the bay. Attached to our cottage was our own large concrete patio enclosed by a bamboo fence.

There is also a large, separate room, roofed with palm fronds, that was used mostly for cooking and storing food. Lee and his wife, Helena Blum, a professional photographer, have their own house nearby.

Our hosts provided a cook, bartender, gardener and maid. The entourage also included a lovely young entertainer, Debra Lovett, who softly played her guitar and sang gentle songs during our lunches that were served on small wooden tables in yet another small, thatch-roofed building on a veranda overlooking the bay.

Balmy Breezes

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