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Zihuatanejo: sleepy for tourists, not for drug cartels or police

April 3, 2009 |  8:51 am


Last spring in Zihuatanejo, bull sharks represented the only tangible threat to tourists. The wily predators attacked and killed two surfers and injured a third off beaches north of town, all within a month beginning in mid-May. It was a rare phenomenon that subsided after the sharks dispersed.

This spring in Zihuatanejo, the sleepy neighbor of Ixtapa, surfers planning spring and summer trips will again be mindful of sharks. But they might also be concerned about Mexico's drug war and ruthless cartel enforcers.

Tourists are not likely to be affected by either of these notorious predators but anything is possible, and the drug war is not going away anytime soon. Locals won't soon forget the late-February grenade attack on Zihuatanejo police headquarters, followed a few days later by a highway ambush that killed four cops.

This week I e-mailed longtime resident and fly-fishing guide Ed Kunze to see how things were, and he said they're fine for tourists but a bloody mess on the drug war front.

Kunze said during the past month at least 15 people were killed in drug war violence. A police commander killed in a grenade attack was related to Kunze's wife, Rebecca, whose mother witnessed the gunning down of a policeman as he was leaving his house.


Kunze said the main route through the area, Highway 200, is "the only route that the narcos can take their product overland to get to the north" and that some of that product, marijuana and opium poppies, are grown in Guerrero's mountain villages. "A cartel needs to have exclusive rights to a crop of  a village, and it needs to be able to get it moved north," Kunze added.

But the construction contractor/fly-fishing guide stressed that those who aren't involved in the drug trade or in the war with cartels are not affected. "Just use common sense," Kunze advised. "Do not go out late at night to strip joints, high-profile bars or discos, where young men with a lot of money to flash around would hang out. I would not want to be in one of these locations if two rival factions were there at the same time."

As for bull sharks, Kunze said there have been no reports of attacks or sightings by surfers. But it's early yet.

— Pete Thomas

Photos: La Saladita, north of Zihuatanejo, last spring was labeled within the Guerrero state government's new "shark attack zone." Credit: Pete Thomas/Los Angeles Times. In second photo,  four police officers were killed in a grenade attack on this truck on a road near Zihuatanejo. Credit: Felipe Salinas/Associated Press