There’s a moment in the ocean, when you’re caught in the wrong point, at the wrong time, that you are reminded how powerless you are. Deep water becomes waist-shallow as an irresistible pull drags every inch of the water around you out. It is impossible to swim against and moves at a breakneck speed. Your body is pulled towards the wave that now commands everything around it and quickly begins to build in height, weight, and depth. It is all you can do to keep your limbs compact and try to duck your head through the black monolith of water before it is upon you and you are rocketed into its towering face.
Tons of water now have your body. It is thrown up and around the wave, curling and bending back and limbs with braking force. Wind is knocked out of your lungs and you can feel your body hurtling up the face of the wave, completely futile to fight against, although it’s impossible not to try. A brief moment of weightlessness comes as a split second of reprieve before you reach the crest and are thrown like a rock from a sling. Tons of water crash around your flailing body as you’re tumbled, rolled, battered, and drowned by the sheer weight of the ocean. Up becomes down, ground becomes air, and five seconds feels like a lifetime as you struggle to keep your cool and wait for it to be over.
More wind is knocked from your lungs as you bounce off the sea bottom, praying it won’t be your head or a rock. The white water makes swimming impossible as the aerated foam gives absolutely no resistance. The only option is to find the bottom, wait for the battering of the sea to allow you to get purchase, and kick for the surface.
Breaching back into the air leaves you as breathless as having just completed a 100-meter sprint. Your eyes are stinging with seawater, your skin is sore from the abrasive sand and sea floor. The contortions the wave put your body through leave your muscles aching. Lungs burn with the fight for oxygen. More often than not, on finally coming to the surface, the pull starts all over again, as the next wave in the set takes its deep breath, building higher than the last. These sets feel like going to war, it can take some time to get back to shore.
There is a metaphor in there somewhere for the way I like my life to be. Perhaps the feeling of weightlessness under the force of something I can’t control, maybe the pull of an irresistible force into something beyond my power, perhaps the struggle against the seemingly overwhelming. Either way, coming out of a nasty set of monstrous waves makes me feel alive.
I’m on the way to Oaxaca. A city of culture, food, and beautiful art. I’m getting sick of hearing the same things said about Mexico now, but I do think this place is actually famous for its food. The only comment anyone ever has about Mexico is ‘Oh my god, the food’. It’s well deserved, but it’s kind of boring. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to eat everything I can. Oaxaca is famous for mezcal, mole, and a few other dishes that I’m sure I’ll talk about in great detail over the next month.
After moaning about being in Peurto, as my days there came to an end, I found myself realizing I was going to miss it. There is something incredibly special about having the ocean on your doorstep. Every day was incredibly warm and the smells of mango trees and blossoms filled my room. I would try to get the writing I needed to do done before the heat of the day really set in about 1 pm and see who was about. The beach was never far away.
The hardest decision of my day would be which beach I wanted to go to. Did I fancy a little cove, did I want the full length of the ocean at Zipolite, or did I want to head out and try somewhere new? None of them took much effort, and I could grab a beer on any of them for a few pesos. The sunset would be stunning wherever I went and there was always a friend close by. Being able to swim every day was bliss.
Although ravaged by tourist prices for the most part, by the end of my time there I had found some spots that ticked my boxes. They were local, friendly, cheap, and delicious, unaffected by pretension. I found that if I head to places full of Mexicans, blasting mariachi tunes all through the night, they usually meet my standards. I just have to make sure I behave accordingly and as little like a gringo as possible. My permanent sunburn was already a step in the wrong direction.
I made sure to speak Spanish. The Mexicans in the bars and food places I went to were mostly so pissed, they thought I was fluent. It’s important to not be American noisy too. Mexican noisy is a different thing: they aren’t noisy because they want you to look at them and think they’re having a good time, they’re noisy because they’re having a good time and don’t give a fuck if you’re trying to have a quiet night. I always greet my host, ask how they are, give them a wave and a Bom Dia even if I’m just going past, and always thank them on leaving. It seems like basic etiquette, but you would be amazed at how many people forget it or don’t think it’s necessary.
One of my favorite spots was Chavez’, a bar just off La Punta strip. La Punta is a newly built area of bamboo structures with sand floors and big soundsystems. It’s the designated early drink spot and usually shuts by 11 pm. It leads right to the beach and hosts all the shite you would expect from a US Mexican ‘weekend bohemian’ beach destination. Overpriced handmade bikinis, surf hire, a late-night corner shop that sells ice cold drinks, every brand of cigarettes on the earth, and hosts about 10 dealers outside. That being said, it has some great food spots and a lot of good music too. It isn’t a bad place, but it may just be in another 5 years. It still has some character.
Chavez runs a bar that initially drew me in with an advertisement for 50 pesos mezcal and 25 pesos beers. Prices that are unheard of in the area. Chavez built his building from three walls of breezeblock and some chicken wire. His bar is built of bricks, pretty ones, and the top is made of paving slabs. His mezcal sits across the back wall and he has one fridge full of icy beers. Steel tables and chairs fill the dirt floor and his drunken mates dance all night to tunes he plays through a big TV above the bar. I would like a bar like Chavez.
‘Uno Y Mas’ is my choice for food. Just at the end of my street, by the side of the main road that runs through town, is the perfect Taqueria. From about 4 pm they get their grill fired up and the wood-burning Trompo spit turning. They keep blasting out the most succulent, spicy, overloaded tacos until 1 am. As always, the table is always laid with homemade salsa verde, Rojo, guac, pickled red onion, and habanero. Theirs are particularly good. Enough spice to take the top of your breath away, yet still complimented by the sweetness or tartness of the tomatoes depending on the color. It comes to less than 100 pesos for one order of five and a monstrous cup of their homemade Agua del Dia; Jamaica more often than not.
The tacos are huge, each one is a challenge of dexterity of hands and mouth to try to get as much in your gob as possible. No chunk of oily, spicy, grilled meat is spared. Fingering that last greasy handful into your mouth and swigging back the remnants of your cold corona is given reverence with an eyes-closed, hands on belly, lean back in the plastic chair, sigh, of pure ecstasy. The sounds of unsilenced cars and lorries screaming by the plastic tables of the roadside restaurant barely take away from the satiated ‘fuck yeahs’ from bellies full of high-grade Al Pastor.
I just complained about everyone’s only comment on Mexico being ‘oh the food is great’ and here I am waxing lyrical. Mexican food is great, but it goes beyond that. Since being here I have lost weight, gained hair, have more energy, lost allergies, and become fitter. I think this is partly due to walking more and being in weather that doesn’t try to deprive me of basic human needs, but also, the ingredients used. English food is imported, processed, preserved, and bastardized to a point of mutation and I don’t think this is good for anyone. In Mexico, the food comes straight from the ground. Even fast food is made from meat straight from a butcher, fish from the sea, and veg from a market. It hasn’t had time to be frozen, preserved, wrapped in plastic, and blended with god knows what. Wake up sheeple, your government is poisoning your water, and chemtrails are turning the frogs gay.
I took a trip to Mazunte and Zipolite on my last day. They’re an effort to get to which is why I hadn’t visited before, but I was persuaded by Dolka, a Peruvian visiting for a week from CDMX. We had mutual friends and had met through the Monarch butterfly trip. The two beaches are a few miles away and require precise coordination of private minibus and pick-up truck colectivo to get to. The trip was worth it, and the complexity of transport makes them just remote enough to not be populated by the usual beach scum.
After about an hour on a road that was determined to make me as short as a Peruvian via spinal compression, we arrived. All of a sudden the coast was the way I had imagined a chilled-out Mexican coast town to look. Paved roads were lined with quiet, Mexican-run restaurants and shops. There wasn’t the constant hassle of drug dealers and promo staff trying to pull you into every bar and food spot. I could hear the crash of waves from far away punctuated by the previously oh-so-absent sound of wildlife. There was no constant roar of industrial lorries and pounding reggaeton.
The crowds were a lot more Latin, and older in Zapolite. We took a stroll and enjoyed the joys of a nudist beach. The break was far into the sea, but the waves were like collapsing buildings. You could hear the boom of them in your chest even though they were a hundred meters or more out. The whole coast had great rising monoliths of rock down its entire stretch reminding me of the craggy seas of Cornwall. It was a breath of fresh air.
We made our way through the winding streets back towards Mazunte, hanging on the back of an incredibly packed pickup truck. This spot had a little more to it than Zapolite but still held onto a very private and exclusive atmosphere. Small, independent shops had cropped up selling the typical bohemian tat you expect from these types of places, but the prices hadn’t risen to match. A lot of handmade garments and jewelry immediately caught Dolkas eye, and rightly so, there was some actual quality here it seemed.
The beach and surrounding area were what Peurto Escondido once was I think. Young hippies from all around the world enjoyed the quiet beach without worrying about how they looked. The whole place was mostly topless and there was a few small spots of music, but mostly people were just sunning, swimming, and enjoying food and drink. It was missing the commercialized, force-fed, feeling of Peurto. If I come back, I think I’ll try to come here before it’s colonized by capitalism. Slightly too many white dreadlocks though, I think I was the only one without them. I also saw an advert for Yoni massage lessons, bit weird, you never see an advert for phallic massage lessons, you just learn that from the creep who stands in bushes next to train lines.
The bus ride over was a monstrous 11 hours through the mountains of Oaxaca. People rant about the coaches here and how glorious they are but they’re no better than your standard Uk coach fare. I think the ones they get in the US are akin to prison vans. Either way, the views were breathtaking. I only had a banana to eat, and it made me ratty despite my surroundings. It didn’t help that they played movies all the way through the journey. They played them so loud I could pick out every sound through headphones. not a bad journey, not amazing. I think my spine is now concertinaed.
Roll on Oaxaca. I’m looking forward to new faces, new places, new dishes, and a little more culture. It’ll also be nice to have reliable WiFi, I’m more westernized than I thought.