Zihuatanejo, or Zihua (ZEE-waaah), was made famous for its otherworldliness in the film Shawshank Redemption, with Morgan Freeman’s jailed character, Red, conjuring a Zihua with “sunshine so bright it strikes me blind. A place that is blue beyond reason. Bluer than can possibly exist. Bluer than my mind can possibly grasp.”
Nearby Ixpata (EEX-ta-pah) came to be in 1968, along with Cancún, as an international resort destination and remains popular for its golfing, fishing, nightlife and casinos; Troncones (Trone-KO-nez), thirty minutes north, is a bit more obscure, although it’s popular among big wave surfers who come for the swells, which the June-to-October rainy season brings.
Majahua (Maa-HA-wa), a fishing village with its population somewhere around eighty people (you might be starting to feel tranquil right about now), is another ten minutes north of Troncones. Majahua has been hard to reach until this past year when the paved roadway along the coast was extended to reach the edge of the village.
Cangrejo y Toro (Kaahn-greh-HO ee Tore-RO) is a private villa, or “casita” as such homes are locally known, five minutes up the dirt road from Majahua. “Casita” may bring to mind visions of a Mexican beach shack with a hammock and a palapa, in which case, if you’re looking for a luxury hide-a-way, you’ll be happily surprised when you arrive at Cangrejo y Toro because it’s hardly a shack!
Crabs and Bulls
Envisioned, designed and managed by its owners, long-time Shelter Islanders Nancy Winarick and Richie Siegler, Cangrejo y Toro started out as a dream house but has now become a go-to destination for style-loving international vacationers, fashion photographers and retreat planners.
A holiday vacation to Troncones gave them pause as to what was next for them, suddenly realizing a shift in their roles as parents (their adult children were off raising families of their own) and, for the first time, that they were able step away from their careers for extended periods. As Siegler explains, “After staying in a beachfront villa in Troncones for a family vacation, we found a special combination of people there. It was primarily fisherman with a few farmers, but it also had the sophistication of a growing art and design community.”
“Most importantly, it felt completely untouched and authentic. It was Mexico: it was cafés on the beach and eating freshly caught fish with vegetables grown down the road, while having your feet in the sand.”
After scouting Troncones and not finding the sort of privacy they wanted, Winarick and Siegler began to look at property towards Majahua and along the four-mile beach just north of the village. As Winarick remembers, “When we came upon the seven-acres we eventually built on, we knew it was ‘it’, immediately. There was almost four hundred feet of pristine beachfront on the Pacific; bulls were grazing on the land and crabs where running around the beach. That inspired the name Cangrejo y Toro, Spanish for ‘crab and bull’, which also happen to be our astrological signs.”
Welcome to a Dreamland
It’s a long trip to Cangrejo y Toro from Manhattan if you do it in one day–about thirteen hours door-to-door–including the drive to JFK, the flight to Mexico City, the layover there, the connection to Zihua, provisioning groceries and then making the drive to Majahua. Add another two hours or so if you’re traveling from the East End. And then you find yourself on a dirt road in a dry place in a deserted-looking village. It’s enough to get you to question your sanity.
But once you reach the gates of Cangrejo y Toro, everything changes. Someone has to get out of the car to open the carefully crafted handmade gates (made of a tropical hardwood called “parota”), and when they swing open you’ll know why you’ve made the journey…you’ve arrived at an oasis, and that’s exactly what you wanted.
Palms trees line the drive to the casita, which you soon discover is not a casita at all. It’s a compound, a deconstructed house of sorts, enveloped in a tropical garden and set right on the ocean. The plantings are the first things to draw you in–their lushness and abundance magically making the long trip fall away fast. Then your eye catches the pool, a 75-foot Infinity edge marvel of engineering and design that extends out towards the ocean. A set of four white-cushioned lounge chairs will reassure you that you’ve traveled the distance for all the right reasons.
It’s then that you realize you couldn’t have dreamed this. You’re in a thirty-six foot tall palm-frond-covered palapa, eyes fixed on the stunning pool and, a few feet away, a turquoise backdrop courtesy of the warm Pacific. You won’t find a wall or a window to come between you and the unfolding land and waterscapes.
The Main Palapa encompasses and “houses” the kitchen, a dining area, a poolside living room, a bathroom and a studio/office. The size of the palapa was necessitated by the need to protect these common areas, a mathematical ratio, which drove the design plan.
But, the detail in the lighting, rooms, furnishings and fixtures is anything but mathematical. As Siegler explains, “The goal was to be able to commune seamlessly with nature and luxury. Our design inspiration came mostly from our trips to beaches in Bali, Costa Rica, Kauai and our experiences in resorts around the world.”
In describing the evolution of the design, Winarick remembers, “I wanted to add a modern minimalist touch to artisanal Mexican craftsmanship to make it ‘chic’. We’d seen open palapa spaces throughout Troncones, and that appealed to us. We went to talk to the architect, Enrique Zozaya, and found he had a dome ceiling in his office. I fell in love with that and discovered building ‘cupolas’, as they call them here, was a local skill passed down from the Spaniards.”
Winarick adds, “Originally, the layout was just going to be the Main Palapa and the Dome bedroom suite, but then we realized no one would have a place to stay to visit us. So, we added the Palapa Suite.”
Those two suites, the Dome Suite and the Palapa Suite, are the “private retreats” of the compound. They stand, angled away from each other, about 60-feet on either side of the Main Palapa. A third suite, the upstairs “Arriba Suite” frames a main courtyard. Each suite has custom-built bed frames and distinctive details, with each living area, bathroom and shower configuration allowing the “seamless, nature in luxury” experience Siegler sought.
The polygonical courtyard created by the three suites is enclosed and shaded by curated plantings that keep Winarick and Siegler experimenting. “We’ve always been gardeners,” explains Winarick, “but this two-season tropical climate is a whole new ballgame. You’re basically living ‘outdoors’, so the landscaping is tremendously important. Also, when plants take here, they grow vigorously, and we have to rearrange constantly.”
What To Do
It’s easy to stay at Cangrejo y Toro without feeling the urge to wander too far from the premises. After all, there’s staff on hand; coconuts cut from the trees every morning; fresh fish coming into the village every day; water, fruit and vegetable delivery at least twice a week; cable modem-speed wifi; Majahua Palms Hotel next door and two “feet-in-the-sand” cafés within a short walk.
The fifteen-minute walk south to Majahua along the beach, or the fifteen-minute walk north along the beach to the lagoon, can quickly fill an hour with sightings of wild horses, herds of cattle, surfers and other beachcombers providing plenty of distraction.
Horseback riding, yoga, surfing, fishing, paddle boards, massage can all be arranged for you in advance but are always better handled on-premise since Majahua and Troncones are not places on a schedule; the local priorities are fishing, housekeeping and staying cool.
Eating and drinking make the time go fast. Beach-and-dirt-road-ready bikes are available on-premise as are yoga mats, beach hats, a fishing kayak and a few pool toys.
Sunset is the “happening” here; there’s a whole-spectrum beauty to sunset, and the relief it brings from the heat encourages locals and vacationers to come out to walk along the beach. Keep in mind though, if you see more than 20 people pass by Cangrejo y Toro in an hour, that’s a lot.
Cangrejo y Toro is centrally located for excursions to Zihua and Ixtapa and to La Salidita–a surf town forty minutes north that offers a consistent left-going point break, a little like Montauk’s Ditch Plains. Day trips into even more remote mountain villages can also be arranged.
Short drives to Troncones for lunch at Eden Beach Hacienda, The Inn at Manzanillo Bay, Present Moment Retreat or Café Sol can fill most of the afternoon. All those spots are open for dinner, too. The staff at Cangrejo y Toro are all eager to direct you to “the right place.”
The central market in Zihua is a day trip in itself. Fresh produce, eggs, meat, toys, housewares and textiles are available from private sellers in a roofed bazaar “organized” around a series of pathways; known as “El Centro”, it’s a city unto itself.
Outside the market are boutiques of all sorts, scattered throughout a grid of old squat-building lined streets, somewhat akin to Manhattan’s Greenwich Village; the area also has a touristy waterfront realm with cafés and gift shops.
Luxury spas can be found near the central market, in the hilly area surrounding the legendary Viceroy Hotel and the newly established Loot, a chic surf café and lifestyle boutique. Loot’s tagline claims, “It feels like you’re getting away with something just being here,” and it’s true, with its distinct art, furnishings and fashion being the draw.
Golf is available in Ixtapa, home to two world-famous golf courses: the Palma Real Golf Course, a 6,898-yard, 18-hole, par-72, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.; and the Marina Ixtapa Golf Club, a 6,793-yard, 18-hole, par-72, designed by Robert von Hagge. Tennis is also available at Palma Real.
It’s early-on in Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins’ character, Andy, starts the reverie about Zihua, musing to the other inmates, “You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That’s where I’d like to finish out my life. A warm place with no memory. Open a little hotel right on the beach. Buy some worthless old boat and fix it up like new. Take my guests out charter fishing.”
From Cangrejo y Toro, it’s possible to escape like that, and it’s remarkably easy to be on that boat!