TRONCONES, Mexico — Our family goal for the turn of the millennium was straightforward but elusive: to spend the week at one of those intimate and peaceful getaways that we were certain still existed somewhere on Mexico's Pacific coast.
The search began with hours of Web-scouring to check out the many family-oriented resort areas along the ocean. But the popular spots, like Manzanillo and Mazatlan, seemed just a bit too big, too organized. I live and work in the relentless swirling madness of Mexico City, and I needed a few days of real peace. And with 3-year-old Daniel in tow, my wife, Maxine, and I were cool to the mega-hotel resort scene. Our vision was of hammocks on an empty beach, backed by middle-age-suitable comforts.
Early on, we thought of Zihuatanejo, an almost mystical destination for backpackers and wanderers in the 1960s and '70s when it was still a tranquil fishing port, the antithesis of crowded, jet-setting Acapulco to the south.
But our research soon turned up worrying signs that Zihua, as aficionados call it, had itself grown into a small city, with several hotels and condo complexes crowding the beaches around its pretty bay. What's more, Ixtapa, a formal, planned resort, had sprung up five miles away, giving Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo a touristy feel that was hardly the escape we were looking for.
Our search finally uncovered a getaway from the getaways named Troncones, 20 miles north of Ixtapa.
We couldn't find Troncones on any map. It's just a wide spot in the road--coastal Route 200. At the northern end is a typical ragged village of poor farmers; the vacation area is a collection of bed-and-breakfast inns, guest houses and private homes sprinkled along three miles of beach.
We spent a week there at the end of December, luxuriating in an affordable, elegant and virtually solitary escape. We swam in the private pool of the villa we had rented with a few friends (four one-bedroom suites costing $100 to $150 a night, or $400 for the whole villa, including housekeeping service). We read pleasantly mediocre paperbacks while rocking lazily in hammocks just a few feet from the ocean. We cooked fresh fish on our barbecue in the outdoor communal kitchen. It was the height of the winter vacation season, yet we never saw more than two dozen people on the beach.
Troncones--it means tree trunks--became a minor beach-bum and surfer hideaway back in the 1980s, when Seattle native Dewey McMillin arrived and set up the first guest house. More Americans followed, seeking to escape the clutter of modern life; the first phone lines were installed only last year. The single road skirting the beach is still unpaved (and at times unpleasantly dusty). There's still no piped water or sewer system. All drinking water must be trucked in, at substantial cost.
But in the years since McMillin set up his first funky B&B and a bar called El Burro Borracho (the Drunken Donkey), an encouraging development has changed the lives of the villagers and of the several dozen American and Canadian families who call Troncones home.
In 1992, the Mexican constitution was changed to allow owners of communally held lands--ejidos--to divide up and take title to individual plots, and then sell them if they choose.
The privatizing of ejido land throughout Mexico, and especially in potentially valuable coastal areas, has been tempered by conflicts in recent years. Since foreigners cannot own land within 30 miles of the coast or 60 miles of the border, those wanting to buy ex-ejido property have the added complication of having to create trusts or corporations in Mexico to own the property. Some of these arrangements in Baja California have ended in tears for unsuspecting U.S. buyers whose ownership titles were challenged later--in some cases, many years later.
The Troncones story has been happier, by all accounts, and that has led to a spurt of basic but chic development--sufficient to add a measure of comfort but without detracting from the splendid isolation that makes Troncones so attractive in the first place.
The villagers, working with McMillin and a few other pioneers, carved out 300 quarter-acre plots along the beachfront. The 60 native families got five sites each. They have sold off about 200 so far for small inns or private homes.
Only about 50 homes have been built, none more than two stories high. The first lucky buyers paid $10,000 to $15,000 for their lots, which now go for $65,000 and up.
The village's total of 77 rooms for rent wouldn't fill a single wing in one of the luxury Ixtapa hotels. They are scattered along a wide, sandy stretch, most of it open ocean but warm and relatively safe for children at wading depth.
The well-equipped and lovingly maintained house we rented is called Regalo del Mar (Gift From the Sea). It is owned by a Canadian couple, Cam and Bev Gesy, who reclaim the prime front suite from January to March.