The Character of Mexican Beaches on the Oaxaca Coast
ZIPOLITE, Mexico- “What beach near here is your favorite?” I asked Juan, a guy that we hitched a ride with from Mazunte back to Zipolite. Juan was on vacation, he said he comes to this part of the Oaxaca coast every year from where he lives in Mexico City. He seemed to know these beaches well — so much so that he was jockeying not one but two open liter bottles of beer in his lap as he worked the pedals. I could not help but wonder why any man would need to drink out of two giant bottles of beer at the same time as he was driving a car, but I did not ask — it was night time and I was grateful for the ride, which was for only around 5 kilometers anyway, and Juan’s condition was not much different than anyone else on this road through Oaxaca’s beach party central.
Instead, I asked Juan what his favorite beach was in this part of Mexico, and he replied in Spanish, “Augustinillo is very familiar, Mazunte is where young people go to forget about the world, and Zipolite is familiar and is also a place to forget about the world.”
Likewise, Juan chooses to go to Zipolite for his holidays. He was smiling and laughing a lot as he spun his little car quickly around the curves of the nighttime road. Sometimes his beers would jiggle too much for his legs to hold and he would pass one over to me to “guard” for him.
What Juan said about these beach towns was good a way to put it: they all have their own character. All three of these beaches are right next to each other in a row. Stretching west from Puerto Angel, they go Zipolite, Augustinillo, Mazunte. Around a week ago, I found myself in another conversation about these beaches with a older Mexican man in the back of a <em>camioneta</em>. He was getting real drunk off cheap mezcal and repeatedly offered some to me in rapid succession. I continuously declined his offer: I had already learned my lesson in regards to these beach mezcals. But in between his incessant offers of a drink, the old guy told me that he lives in Zipolite and talked about the beaches:
“The beaches here are very different, they all have their own ambiances,” he spoke in Spanish.
“Yes, they have different personalities, they are like different people.” I replied.
The old man just stared off into the distance, not saying anything more. I was left unsure if he did not understand me, or if he really understood me.
Either way, each beach on the planet has its own character — there are literally hundreds of different types of beaches that have evolved all around the world. It is possible to find two beaches on opposite sides of the world from each other that are very much the same, while finding two neighboring beaches completely different. This is the enigma of beaches for the world traveler: once you see enough beaches in enough regions of the world you begin to see them as personalities, you begin to see them as possessing certain character sets as though they were certain types of people. It is interesting as these personalities of beaches are often very much removed from the cultures that inhabit they land masses they butt up against.
The characters of the beaches on the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico
Puerto Angel is a small little town on the coast of Oaxaca. It seems to have tried hard to be a tourist center at one point, but found that it could be nothing other than what it is: a fishing village. The boats of the fishermen are scattered over the beaches, and the locals descend to the town center at night to play volleyball, hang out, and eat food from street stalls. This town has a good feel — it is real Mexico here — and is radically different from its neighboring beach towns in the fact that it is not centered on tourism. It is my impression that Puerto Angel is a better place to base yourself for visits to the more touristy beaches to the west.
“You can do anything you want in Zipolite, there is no police,” Juan, the drinking driver, spoke in jittery English before continuing, “well, usually there is no police.”
He was echoing one of the more romantic properties of Zipolite: the fact that law enforcement is lax seems to be one of its major points of attraction. Nearly everyone I spoke to who had been in Zipolite for an extended period of time will mention the disproportionally low police presence. Sometimes they mention this fact with a touch of romance in their voice — You are free here — sometimes they do so as a warning — Watch your back.
In fact, during my two week stay in Zipolite, I have seen the police in town only once: they were doing some sort of power puffing sting operation on some unfortunate sucker. Other than this, I have not observed any sign of governmental authority other than the military rolling through town each day — an action that is about as impotent as an exercise drill: they are not really doing anything, and everyone knows it. This lack of authority has lent a legend to Zipolite: a place beyond the law.
But the only extra liberties that I have noticed in this place is that you are free to shake your wiener around in public — it is a nude beach — blow your brains out with drugs, or get robbed. None of these additional liberties are ones that I have much of an interest in pursuing.
During the day, Zipolite is full of families vacationing, homosexuals frolicking, yoga people contorting, and impressionable youths meditating. Besides the scumbags trying to get me to buy their drugs, this is a friendly beach during the daylight hours. But during the night the hippies, drug dealers, thieves, and drunks wake from their slumber, arise, and take over.
It is a real show to walk down the main street at night. Both sides of the street are flanked by stoned or passed out hippies, travelers selling jewelry or handicrafts, creeps trying to sell drugs, the tattooed, the pierced, an entire assemblage of self made misfits who made themselves big fish in a small sub-cultural pond. None of them, besides the fire dancers, jugglers, and musicians — who are busking all over the place — seem to be doing much of anything other than sitting around getting high, drunk, and looking cool. I have rarely seen so many self induced zombies stumbling around openly in one place. Many call this freedom.
In this way, Zipolite is a rarity in the world of travel: it has not yet been shut down by gentrification. The hippies still come here and run the show — drug use and sale is pretty much in the open, and many people coming here in search of craziness masked as a spiritual journey. This is a place where run of the mill, geeky Canadian white girls come to get railed by “rasta men,” where homosexuals find many others of their persuasion, where the hippies can blast their brains with drugs in like company.
The beach is nice.
Augustinillo is like a little pearl of mid to high end tourism in a clam of hippie party beaches and local fishing towns. The beach here is tranquil, idealic, and if I could afford a room, I probably would have stayed there. Augustinillo seems to be a great place to bring your mother on a simple and easy beach vacation — the craziness of Zipolite has not bled over the cliffs. This place is a standard, relaxed, mid ranged beach town, and it seems to have been recently developed to be as such.
Mazunte is perhaps the hippie capital of the world. The place seriously smells of pot, petrulli, and incense — the later, I presume, to cover up the first two smells. The crowd on the beach is young, drunk, stoned — the party is ever flowing, and the prime occupation seems to be tripping on mushrooms and dancing like a feral Brazilian to bongo drums.
The place is truly a cliche in motion, the elements could not be scripted any better: I am here to report that the hippie stereotype is alive and well.
Beaches of Oaxaca conclusion
Each cove, each beach will have its own character. The distance between Puerto Angel and Mazunte is under 15 km, but the cultural dispersion upon each beach is radically different. Going to the coast is a good way to search for your people, as the place where the land meets the sea is often the place where cultures converge, blend, and evolve. For some travelers, the Oaxaca coast is their Zion, it is what they have been searching for; for others, it is a place to simply be amused, abused, or appalled. For me, this is another region to log into my collective impression of planet earth.
I have found this 15 kilometers of coastline unique on a global scale — but I will pocket these impressions and move on, this is not a place to stay for too long.