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MEXICO - GUERRERO
4 - 8 July 2002
by Craig Faanes
“Way Down Here
You Need a Reason to Move
Feel a Fool
Runnin’ Your Stateside Game
Lose Your Load
Leave Your Mind Behind ....”
American Airlines deposited me safely and on time in the Mexico City
airport about 3 this afternoon. After clearing customs and
migracion I walked to the Aeromexico ticket counters to check in for
their 6:00 p.m. flight to
Ixtapa/Zihuatenejo on the Pacific coast of Guerrero. Walking
through the airport I was chagrined to find that the huge old flight
departure board has been removed. Gone now are the days when I
could spend hours “reading departure signs in some big airport” and
become filled with a worsening case of wanderlust watching planes
depart for all parts of Mexico, Central America and points even further
Aeromexico 357 operated by Aeromar Airlines (✔) left from the far side
of the airport on our 1 hour hop over the Sierra to Zihuatenejo (✔)
the humid west coast of southern Mexico. We landed to the south
breaking out of the clouds near the Ixtapa resort area, then proceeded
the mouth of Zihuatenejo Harbour into the airport. My first
impression of Ixtapa from the air, that was confirmed by later
exploring on the ground, is that Ixtapa is a mirror image of Ocean
City, Maryland or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, or any of a long list
of American beach areas that need a colossal Force 6 anti-developer
hurricane to return them to how they should be. Zihuatenejo, on
the other hand, retains much of its original character as the
quintessential Mexican fishing village.
Hertz had my reservation and at the price I had confirmed on their
website before leaving the States. This was the first time I have
ever had a
rental car company in Mexico agree that the “confirmed” rate I was told
Hertz was actually the rate I would pay for the rental! The $23
day with unlimited kilometers was a fitting price for the VW bug they
I checked into the Sotovento Beach Resort on Playa la Ropa.
Finding the bulk of the hotels in Zihuatenejo is straightforward.
Coming into town on Mexico Highway 200, just follow the regular signs
for “Zona Hoteleria” and eventually you’ll find your hotel.
Linda Walsh, a cute, attractive, and recently-separated shrink from
Austin, Texas, was chatting with hotel employees when I checked into
the hotel. She chuckled as I did when I was informed that the
hotel didn’t have my reservation. This continued a trend begun on
my first trip to Mexico 16 years ago where I have never once had a
“confirmed” hotel reservation waiting for me when I arrived at the
hotel. Not one! Linda told me “I filed for divorce
last Thursday morning and caught a plane to Mexico that same
Talking to her I found myself thinking that she was the female analog
me long ago when I started escaping to the tropics to get a divorce out
I blasted out of the hotel at 0 dark 30 enroute along Highway 200 to
Atoyac. It took 2.5 hours of quick driving while dodging cows and
burros to reach the Atoyac turn. Directions in Howell’s book on
bird finding in Mexico give an optimistic view of finding your way
through Atoyac and onto the road to Paraiso. In the end, I just
asked a cop on a street corner how to find the road and then proceeded
up the side of the mountain. From the
center of Atoyac it took a little over an hour to reach Paraiso where
semblance of pavement ends. From this village I raced (as much as
can race on a Mexican mountain road) up the side of the mountain.
reached San Vincente in about 45 minutes. From here until I was
about 20 km above Paraiso, I was in the heart of the extremely limited
range of Short-crested Coquette. Martin Reid visited this area a
little later in July in 1998. He reported only two flowering
trees between San Vincente and 20 km past Paraiso. I was a little
luckier than Martin and found several flowering trees, shrubs and
vines. During Martin’s visit, he reported that White-tailed
Hummingbird was the predominant hummer along the road; he also did not
see the Coquette.
My luck was a little different. I found the first of only two
White-tailed Hummingbirds ( ✔) at a flowering tree about 5 km above
Paraiso. This was life bird # 3,800. The road above here
was in fairly good shape and I patrolled it for 22 km stopping wherever
I found flowering plants and scouring the blossoms for
“chupiflors.” Among a dazzling display at one tree that included
White-tailed Hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, Berylline
Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewing, Golden-crowned Emerald and
Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, I scored a single Short-crested Coquette
The two life birds possible above Paraiso were hummingbirds and because
of that my focus was on little things that go buzz in the night.
Accordingly I didn’t pay much attention to non-hummingbirds, although I
found Collared Trogon, Golden Vireo, Red-headed Tanager, White-winged
Tanager, Rusty Sparrow, and a host of other high elevation birds
between San Vincente and Paraiso.
Probably one of the biggest treats was re-acquainting myself with the
voice of the Brown-backed Solitaire. It has, in my estimation,
the most ethereal voice of any Mexican bird. The first one I ever
heard was in Hortensia’s Barranca in Sinaloa in 1987. I heard two
males singing with the sickening drone of chain saws drowning out their
voices as the forest was brought to submission. Today, high above
Paraiso, in exquisite cloud forest, there wasn’t a hint of a chain saw
for many kilometers around. Unlike Hortensia’s Barranca where
chain saws drowned out the Solitaire’s, today the flute like voice of
the Solitaires drowned out many other bird voices.
I reluctantly left Paraiso about 3:30 and rather quickly descended the
mountain to Atoyac and Highway 200. There I turned left and
followed the road to Acapulco where I caught the toll road (cuota) to
Chilpancingo where I spent
the night. I followed the suggestion in Lonely Planet’s Mexico
and stayed at the Hotel Presidente on Avineda Insurgentes. The
was $22 U.S. for a queen bed with a commanding view of every truck,
and honking car that passed up and down Insurgentes all night long.
About 5:00 a.m. I gave up on trying to sleep between flatulent-laden
trucks and left for the road to Filo de Caballo. From the hotel
turn left and
follow signs for “Mexico City Cuota,” the toll road to Mexico
City. At the far edge of Chilpancingo by a Pemex station on the
right side of the road, exit the cuota following signs for “Iguala” on
the “old” Highway 95. About 12 kilometers from Chilpancingo you
pass through Zumpango which has the last gasoline station you’ll see
before the mountains (top off here). Its also home to the Hotel
Cactus which may be quieter and cheaper than any place in Chilpancingo.
Follow old Highway 95 for about 15 kilometers more to Km post 190 where
there is a sign with an obvious left turn for “Filo de Caballo”.
had suggested the first kilometer of the Filo road for Balsas
Screech-Owl.. It took three repetitions of the taped voice
(thanks for the loan of the tape,
Mark) to get one to call, and two more play backs before I found the
eyes of a Balsas Screech-Owl (✔) staring back at me from some
Driving up the road in the gathering pre-dawn light some species of
Nightjar crossed the road in front of me. Its identity remains a
mystery. I reached Filo de Caballo in about an hour. On the
edge of town you will see a large sign for the regional hospital.
Bear left here and drive through the village. In another
kilometer or so a side road (signed for some village) juts off to the
right and up a hill. Stay on the main
road and continue through town. Once out of the village you’ll
come to Corrazal de los Bravos and several kilometers above it there
be an obvious fork in the road that leads off to the left. Bear
at this fork and continue up the mountain.
When Martin Reid was here in 1998, he was warned by the Federales not
to travel on the lower fork road (which supposedly leads back to
Chilpancingo) because of a problem with armed bandits. I don’t
know if there remains a banditry problem along this road, because I
didn’t test the waters. Before traveling to Guerrero I emailed
the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and asked for any late news on safety
concerns on this road. The Embassy specifically recommended
against traveling on this left fork of the road. Thus los
banditos may still be working here. No life bird is worth getting
shot over, so don’t go there.
Instead, from this fork, work your way up the mountain through
exquisitely beautiful cloud forest at least as far as the turn for
Yextla. I followed this road back and forth all morning checking
likely looking habitats and listening. Finally about 1 p.m. I
found a pair of White-throated Jay (✔) skulking around un-jay-like in
some shrubby understory vegetation. Thus, seven hours after I
drove onto the Filo road I found the real target bird for my
trip. Now, if Chris Haney would get his butt in gear and publish
his extensive research on this bird, science would be much more aware
of this gorgeous blue-black-and-white bird.
The cloud forest here, as well as the other forest habitats along the
road (pine-oak, oak transition, acacia scrub) absolutely drips with
birds. After today’s trip and another run up the road tomorrow
morning, it was easy to see that the Filo de Caballo road is one of the
“birdiest” roads in Mexico.
I returned to Chilpancingo about 4:00 p.m. and asked to have my room
changed because of the noise the night before. I was given a
windowless room on the planta primera where I caught up on a couple
hours nap time and then went out to find dinner. Despite
Chilpancingo being the capital of Guerrero,
and it being a University town, there was an obvious shortage of places
eat here. I walked the streets of Chilpancingo and hung out on
zocalo after dinner, enjoying the local crop of bronze-skinned beauties
wishing that I was 30 years younger.
Some time in the middle of the night the constant loud noise from the
television downstairs became too much so I went to the front desk to
complain. There I found a well-armed security guard with his feet
up on a table, drinking a beer as the television roared in the
triple-digit decibel range. I
had to yell for him to hear me ask to turn down the volume. I
think my chances of ever staying at the Hotel Presidente in
Chilpancingo again are
on par with my chances that I’d ever vote for a Repugnican.
A heavy and persistent fog hung low over the valley at 7 this morning
as I retraced my steps up the Filo road. I spent about three
hours in the
upper elevation forest and a little bit of time in the scrub picking up
trip birds and a couple for my Mexico list.
I reached the cuota about 11 a.m. and then beat a very fast 130 km in 1
hour 20 minutes back to Acapulco where I followed signs for Zihuatenejo
lumbered along in the brilliant sun and heavy heat. About 30 km
of Zihuatenejo I stopped at a miramar and did a seawatch. About
only thing exciting was a flock of 7 Willet.
I checked back into the Sotovento Beach Resort for my last night in
town, then drove around Zihuatenejo and went over the hill to
Ixtapa. One look at its high rises sent me back to the relative
reality of Zihuatenejo.
I returned my rental car about 9:30, then checked in for Aeromexico 357
back to Mexico City (Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters and Rufous-backed Robins
hopping around on the airport lawn). On approach to the Mexico
airport we were given spectacular views of the smoke and steam belching
of Volcan Popocatapetl just southwest of the city (“I don’t know where
a gonna go, when the volcano blow”). In Mexico City I caught
Airlines north to Dallas. A thunderstorm had passed over DFW just
our arrival causing a huge backlog of flight departures which meant
arriving flights had to sit on the tarmac and wait for a gate to open
We landed at 6:00 p.m. and finally pulled up to the gate at 7:15.
There I quickly cleared Immigration and Customs (I really wish they
would remove those pictures of Dubya Bush and Mullah Ashcroft from
Immigration and Customs in any airport in the United States, simply
because of the bad first impression those nitwits give to foreign
My 8:45 departure to Washington National was delayed until 9:30 and
then further delayed until 10:00. On taking my seat for the 2.5
hour flight to Washington I looked up and saw Pat Buchanan take a seat
three rows ahead of me. Although I detest that repulsive racist,
I will give him credit for being the first prominent Repugnican I’ve
ever been on a plane with, who
didn’t sit in First Class. Instead, Pat was back in the cheap
seats with us common Democrats. We finally landed at National at
1:40 a.m. on July 9 where I took a taxi home.
This was my 16th trip to Mexico and after it I have only seven mainland
Mexico endemics left to find. Thus this trip like all future
will no doubt be short, surgical assaults on a specific area for one or
target birds. This was the last time I’ll ever find four life
in Mexico on a trip.
Following directions in Howell’s bird finding guide will get you almost
on top of most of the West Mexico specialties in this part of
Guerrero. Supplement that information with the excellent
directions in Martin Reid’s 1998 report and, at the right time of year,
you should hit the motherlode of good birds.
Martin failed to find Short-crested Coquette despite being in the same
area on the same roads only two weeks later than me. He found
very few flowering trees that no doubt contributed to the lack of a
Coquette. During my trip, there certainly was no superabundance
of flowering trees or shrubs but
obviously more than what Martin found two weeks later. Maybe I
just mega lucky and found the one straggler Short-crested Coquette that
done an altitudinal migration to search for more flowers.
The birding here was superb. I found just short of 160 species
for the trip and the bulk of those were in the highlands. I
missed a lot of species because my diurnal search image was on three
species. Thus, unlike most times when I try to track down every
unfamiliar voice, this time (except for Sunday morning) if it didn’t
buzz like a hummingbird or squawk like a Jay I didn’t pay much
attention to it. Among the birds found on the trip were 27 of
Mexico’s 87 endemic species. Thus, almost 1/3 of the endemic
avifauna of Mexico in 3 days when I wasn’t really paying attention to
other species is nothing to sneeze at.
Many people have avoided birding Guerrero for a long time because of
narcotraficantes and armed robbers above Paraiso and above Filo.
Despite the concerns of the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy,
I never had a problem here.
Instead, almost everyone I met greeted me with a smile, and many people
along the road to see if I was hurt or needed help. Not once did
fear for my safety. In fact, I am more worried for my safety
Fairfax Drive in Arlington, Virginia each night when I walk home than I
Martin Reid mentioned a prominent policia/militar presence in the Filo
area when he visited in 1998. On my trip I was stopped by armed
road blocks in only three places: 1) at the junction of Highway 200 and
Highway 95 (libre); 2) just before entering Acapulco on Highway 200;
just below the first settlement below Filo de Caballo. The latter
was most impressive (but they did set out orange caution cones in the
as I approached around a curve). Here, below Filo, I came around
curve in the road and saw a bunch of soldiers and policia blocking the
road. Off to the right was a Humvee with a soldier riding shotgun
on the machine gun that was pointed at me. On the left side of
the road was another Humvee with someone pointing the machine gun at me.
Two soldiers with machine guns cradled in their arms blocked the road
in front of me and behind them was a military truck blocking the
lane. I rolled down my window and learned from the policia
lieutenant that they were conducting a “routine check” for “drogas y
searched under the seats, in the glove box, in the trunk, and then tore
and lifted up the back seat looking under it. They took down my
and passport number and asked me what I was doing in the area.
I told them I was looking for birds, the lieutenant laughed and asked
you mean women or the things that fly?” Everyone started laughing
then they apologized for keeping me so long. “Sorry, we have to
this to everyone,” the lieutenant said. This was a much more
sanguine encounter than the roadblock I endured in Jalisco once that
came complete with a soldier sticking a machine gun barrel in my ear
and screaming at me to open the trunk.
I enjoyed what little time I could spend in Zihuatenejo. It
reminded me a lot of Puerto Escondido when Mark Oberle and I spent a
night there in 1986. Ixtapa, on the other hand, is about as
Mexican as I am. If you want to “experience” Ixtapa, just go to
Ocean City, Maryland, or to the Jersey shore and eat at a Mexican
restaurant. You’ll have the same Mexican “experience” and you’ll
save yourself the airfare.
I stayed at the Sotovento Beach Resort on Playa la Ropa for $57 US/
night. Its considerably more in the high season. The rooms
have seen their better days and on my second stay I had to change rooms
because there was no water pressure. However, to me it was the
quintessential Mexican beach place to hang out. I’d stay here
again, no questions asked. The Sotovento has a spectacular view
of Zihuatenejo harbour, and a great beach
in front. I sat in the restaurant eating breakfast and watched
Booby, Brown Pelican, and Magnificent Frigatebirds cavort around the
while Yellow-winged Cacique’s flew regularly by my table.
The only thing that was a shock to me was the price of gasoline.
Gone are the days of 25 cent a gallon gas in Mexico! I changed
money for peso’s in the Mexico City airport and got 9.65 pesos per
dollar (though I saw it later at 9.88). Gasoline at Pemex was 5.8
peso’s per liter for Magna (the cheapest brand) or about $1.98 US per
gallon! The second surprise was the cost of the cuota road from
Acapulco to Chilpancingo - a whopping 185 pesos ($20.27 US) each way
for 130 kilometers of road.
Another real shock was how expensive flights have gotten to Mexico from
the States. I originally wanted to fly to Acapulco but
fare was $880 round trip from Washington DC, American was $980 and
was a ridiculous $1,188. At the same time Continental had a
from Washington DC to Hong Kong for $707, and American had a roundtrip
Honolulu for $684. Go figure! I searched several websites
finally on American’s they gave me a routing on them (DCA-DFW-MEX)
I connected to Aeromar/Aeromexico from MEX-ZIH for $362
Both Acapulco and Zihuatenejo would have been life airports but I got a
airline by taking Aeromar, so given that and the price, it was a
going to Zihuatenejo.
From the United States you can reach Zihuatenejo on Continental (one
non-stop daily from Houston), on Alaska (4 flights a week from LAX; one
flight a week on Sunday from San Francisco), and on America West from
Phoenix. However since America West has no idea of what “on time”
means, and the recent revelation that their pilots like to fly drunk,
I’d search for an alternative to them. Mexicana, Aeromar,
Aeromexico and Magnicharters (the Mexican charter airline) have several
nonstops daily to and from Mexico City.
Guerrero was the last of the 32 Mexican states for me to visit.
In the parts I saw I was impressed with how well preserved the lowland
forest is, and almost brought to tears by the beauty of the cloud
birding is superb in the areas I visited, and the people among the
nicest and friendliest I’ve encountered anywhere in Mexico. I
definitely saved the best part of Mexico for last. I’d go back to
Guerrero in a heartbeat.
Little Blue Heron
West Mexican Chachalaca
Western Long-tailed Hermit
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
OLD WORLD SPARROWS
Species seen - 158
Mexican Endemics - 27
Mexico Lifers - 11
Falls Church, Virginia
July 12, 2002