By Sam Warren
March 5, 2016 (Mexico) - How did I come to live over a thousand miles away in the sleepy Mexican beach town of Zipolite? I love San Diego. Unfortunately, as a writer who has never had a best seller, I didn't salt enough money into my Social Security to survive in a city with such a high cost of living such as San Diego. When a friend told me about this hippy beach town in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, I had to go check it out. So I flew down with a couple of friends to see the area and decided that this was where I wanted to retire. It isn't the end of the world and as they have WiFi, I can still communicate with friends with email and Skype. There are also a number of other writers living or visiting the area.
Zipolite was founded in the '60s by a few counter cultural hippies who wanted a place where they could hang out and do their own thing without being hassled. Zipolite evolved into an offbeat place with middle-class Mexicans, retired ex-patriots, people alternate lifestyles and liberal tourists who come from all over the world. The permanent population is just a little over 900. Everyone mingles together in harmony with a large number of snow birds coming from the frozen north of Canada. Many are French speaking. There are direct flights from some Canadian cities to the airport in the nearby city of Huatulco which is less than an hour taxi ride away.
This is not a place the average ex-pat retires. The people who moves here would not live anywhere else. Peter, a friend originally from Switzerland, has lived here for over 35 years. He was one of the first ex-pat residences. The nearest Walmart and gas station are over 45 minutes away by a colectivo or camioneta. A colectivo is a taxi in which the driver crowds as many people into his vehicle as he can. He only charges a few pesos per person. A camioneta is a tarp covered pickup truck with benches in the back. It is cheaper than a colectivo but not as comfortable. A joke goes, “How many passengers can fit in a camioneta?” The answer is, “Uno mas,” or “One more.”
I asked around and rented a small, three bedroom house a half block from the beach. My rent is only 3,000 pesos plus utilities with as the current exchange rate is less than $180. As it gets hot in the off season, most of the houses have large covered patios where residents do most of their living. Sitting on the patio, one can catch the breeze from the ocean. The only rooms in my house with doors are the bedrooms and bathrooms. The bedrooms are the only doors than can be locked but luckily the crime rate is low here.
The bathroom, as in most of the local homes, has only cold water which sometimes heats up in the sun. My kitchen is on the patio and my combination kitchen sink and laundry is outside. I have to do my laundry by hand as I don't have a machine yet. I think of the pictures I've seen of native women washing clothes on rocks in rivers and can relate to them. On the negative side, with no walls, one has to sweep and dust a lot, especially when it is windy. Some people in the US who have trouble sleeping, buy white-sound generators to help them sleep. With the sound of the surf 24/7 I have white-sound all the time and get so used to it I never even notice it.
There isn't much privacy as I can wave to my neighbors as they walk by. Lisa, my neighbor's dog, comes by every day for her belly rub. The house came with a house cat who keeps pestering me by rubbings against my leg and meowing all the time. If this cat was a woman, she would be a stalker. I thought that if I didn't feed it, she would go away. Not only did she not go away, she dropped a load of kittens in my storage room.
I now have a cat and her family of kittens to feed. I also have to keep the neighbor's dogs from eating their food. At least these animals don't shit on my floor like the chicken who comes by to peck at my kitchen floor for any food that has been dropped.
I was raised in the country where unless an animal brought in money on to the the table, they had to fend for themselves and where cats had to find their own food. If it needed medical attention, well, that was just tough titty. When I was a kid, our cats kept our mouse and bird population down and our dog ate the left overs. He was an animal garbage disposal and only ate what we didn't eat. Vets were only for cows, sheep and horses.
Now I have to spend money for cat food that I could be spending at a bar for beer. I friend of mine who is an animal lover, came to visit me and paid to have the cat and kittens neutered. But I have to admit, those kittens are cute little critters and mamma cat is always there to be affectionate to me. However, I don't feel any affection for her when she starts scratching and meowing at my bedroom door too early in the morning to remind me to feed her.
One day during a rain storm, as I worked on my computer on the patio, I had this feeling I was being watched. I looked down and found a small land crab looking up at me. I also saw a number of these land crabs walking sideways across my patio. Later I found out that when it rains, the crabs come out of their holes in the ground to keep from drowning. I was told that the locals gather and eat them. However, I don't see that there is enough meat on them to make it worthwhile.
My Beach Walk
I usually take a break and get a little exercise everyday by walking down the beach. I cross the road near my house and follow the path to the beach. During the off season when I was writing this, there were not as many people on the beach. Most of them were the local kids playing in the surf, some tourist and a few ex-pats. The waves on this beach come in rather high. Being originally from Kansas, I'm used to my water being flat and I am not used to battling waves. So I stay on dry land.
To warn of dangerous rip tides the volunteer life guards put up red flags where needed. They pay their expenses by selling medical marijuana and mescal to tourist. There have been a number of people who have drowned on this beach and some people call it Playa de Muertos (Death Beach). Zipolite is very pet friendly so you can see a number of dogs on the beach.
To my left, one can see a large hill with a thatched building on top. It is the bar/restaurant Vista del Amor. It over looks the Playas del Amor on the other side of the hill. Playas del Amor is a small, secluded beach with the only access being to climb up a path over the hill and past the bar and down the other side. As with many of the local establishments, the bar is usually closed during the off season.
However, the day I wrote this, George, the owner/manager, was fixing up the kitchen to get ready for the high season rush which starts gradually around November 15 through April. As I stopped by, and being a regular, he brought me my usual Corona without my asking. Whenever water is needed to fill the tank for showers and washing, a large hose is dropped down below to the bottom of the hill. I don't envy him for having to carry the large water jugs for drinking as well as the cases of beer and all the other supplies up the steep steeps.
As I stand on the patio behind the bar. I see a couple swimming nude in the small beach cove below. The waves are much more manageable and I have swum here in the past. Looking in the other direction. I see the entire Zipolite beach stretched out to another large hill in the distance. This is the best 360 degree view in all of Zipolite. All along the beach you see establishments, some permanent structures and others are just thatched buildings. Many of the structures are in bad shape due to the mar de fondo.
They have not been rebuilt yet from unusually high tides, called mar de fondo, washed many of them to near destruction a few months ago. It's quite a gamble to have a business on the beach as the waves are constantly rearranging the sand. One day you can have a beautiful beach in front; another day you can have a bank of sand in front that you have to climb over. The permanent concrete structure may weather the elements but they can always be undermined if they are too close to the ocean.
Most of the businesses are not open during the low season as many of the owners take a long vacation at this time. The ones which are open cater mostly to the locals and ex-patriots who actually prefer the off season with its tranquility and lack of crowds. The prices which can double or triple during the high season are much friendlier now.
One can rent a dormitory or pitch a tent for less than $5 a day or rent a cabana without an inside shower for $10 or $$15 a day or so. A room in one of the finer hotels with inside bathroom, air conditioning, hot water, TV and a nearby swimming pool goes for about $40 a night. There are no high rise hotels here and the tallest buildings are only three stories high.
As I walk west along the beach, although it is a hot day in the high 90s, the same temperature as it was in San Diego. I stop in at the Colibri, a bar with some cabanas for rent. It is owned by Kevin, an ex-pat who has just returned from Chicago where he was visiting family. Jilda, his wife, who is a Mexican citizen, brings me an ice cold Corona without my asking. Kevin still has a lot of work to do. He had to rebuild the bar after the mar de fondo. In the past, he had to rebuild after two hurricanes. But he says it's worth it. He says he isn't rich but makes enough during the high season to weather the problems with the weather.
Further down, I stop in at the Bang Bang bar. It was also recently rebuilt after the mar de fondo. It is an evening bar and stays open until the wee hours of the morning or as long as there is a party going on. The bar is owned by a French Canadian who goes by the name of Paco. His wife Yvonne, who is also a Mexican citizen, works with him, The bartender, Francois, a real Frenchman ex-pat who sometimes preforms in drag shows. He brings me a Corona without my asking.
Kevin told me that one day about three in the morning, he saw a female turtle the size of a human come ashore and bury her eggs in the sand. The next day he dug up the eggs and took them to the Turtle Museum in a nearby town of Mazunte where they hatched them and released them into the wild. Before it became illegal, locals would harvest the eggs to eat or sell.
Paco told me that he likes to drink beer, and as the owner of a bar, it allows him to pay wholesale prices for his beer. Beer at most bars here are only 20 pesos (about $1.20). He has as much fun as his customers. The bar has a ping pong table and some hula hoops. I tried the hula hoop but my hips were not swivel enough to keep it moving. I played ping pong with a local kid and he beat me. Being the off season, the bar is full of locals, ex-pats and a few tourists. Many of the tourist are regulars who come every year for a few weeks or a few months. Some keep winter homes here.
I ran into Austin, one of my friends from a small town in Nevada. He had a construction business but likes Zipolite so much that when his father died and left him two houses, he rented them out and hasn't left Zipolite yet. He bought some land and is still building his own house. The street he built it on is an arroyo which is a stream that is only full of water when it rains. So his street is a part time river and floods his house once a year. But that doesn't bother him. When it floods, he just stays at one of the local cabanas until the water goes down.
I also ran into Dee, a neighbor of mine, who is an ex-pat from Canada and teaches English at the local college while teaching yoga part time. I'm giving her one of my kittens when they are weaned. There are a number of places here that teach yoga. Often one can see devotees on the beach practicing. I've thought of taking a class myself.
Zipolite is a clothing optional beach in the European style. I passed an older couple from Germany walking on the beach in the buff and greeted them with “Buenas tarde” (good afternoon). I kept my clothes on as I look much better that way. There really isn't that much nudity here until the high season as the locals are more modest.
One of the local Indians was pushing a wheelbarrow full of coconuts. He was selling them on the beach by cutting off the top and sticking a straw inside for the coconut milk. For a bit extra, he will pour in a generous helping of locally made mescal. There is all kinds of stuff that is sold on the beach including hammocks, peanuts, Havana cigars, blankets, fresh fish, even plastic chairs.
Moving on down the beach I pasted some establishments which were in need of repair, I came to a place named “A Nice Place on the Beach.” Their motto is “This is the place where you come to do nothing.” It is a bar and restaurant; that also rents out cabanas. This is the first place I came to when I first visited Zipolite. One of the few Americans here is Amanda, the manager who also teaches English in the local school. She brought me an ice cold Corona with a slice of lime without my asking. Beer is the life blood of Zipolite.
Most the bars are built on the beach on the sand and don't have floors. Most of the employees and customers are barefooted and shirtless. Although some of the small children walk around nude, most of the establishments prefer their clients to have at least shorts or swimsuits on. Europeans and Commonwealth countries are not as dismayed by nudism as Americans are. As a matter of fact, there are not all that many American who visit here. It is lucky for me that English is an international language. A monolingual here is called a “Norte Americano.”
I talked with Gabby, a retired business lady from Canada. She works a few hours a day on the computer taking care of the books and the online reservations. She does not get paid but receives a free room and two meals a day. She got the job from a website which finds places where people can trade room and board for a few hours of work a day. One is not allowed to get paid and it sounds like a great way to travel and learn the culture of a country.
As I continued down the beach, I passed a number of more upscale establishments. In addition to having tables on the beach, they also have regular floors. Almost every place has hammocks. At the far end of the beach, I came to the Nude Hotel. In spite of its name, no one inside is nude. As I sit down at one of the tables the waiter brought me a Corona, without my asking. I order a delicious piscado empanando (breaded fish fillet). These are caught fresh locally in the nearby fishing village of Puerto Angel.
The Nude Hotel is only one of two places that has an ATM machine – both of which work only part of the time. Unlike Tijuana where you can pay in dollars, only pesos are spoken in Zipolite. If you want to exchange dollars or have money wired to you, you have to take a 45 minute trip to a nearby town where there is an ATM. As there are no banks in Zipolite and you can have a fist full of 500 peso bills and be the poorest person in town as is is difficult to buy anything with bills of the size that come out of the ATM.
The street in front of the bars and posadas is the Roca Blanca, the main street of Zipolite. It is named after the large white rock nearby in the ocean. The rock is white because of all the bird droppings. As it was getting dark, I left the restaurant for the street on the other side of the hotel. Many of the restaurants have tables that they set up in the evenings on the street. This is not a problem as there are more taxis here than cars. There are a number of good Italian restaurants here and there are more pizzas sold here than tacos.
Evenings, a few young international artisans set up tables on the street to sell hand made jewelry and other handcrafts. They will multiply during the high season. I stopped by a small market to shop for tomorrow's meal before I headed home. There are a number of small stores in Zipolite but for anything major, one must go to one of the larger towns nearly.
I passed by the small shop on the corner that sells artisan mescal made in the nearby mountain towns. All tequila is mescal but not all mescal is tequila as both are made from the same plant and the same way. But tequila is made in Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Most of mescal is made in the mountains of the state of Oaxaca. As it is not as controlled as tequila, there are many types and flavors of mescal. Some of the bottles have worms or scorpions in them. Some say that the poison in the scorpions adds to the effect of the product. Some are mild and others will knock your socks off. One can just buy a shot, a liter in a used water or coke bottle or one can bring their own container.
After another day in paradise, I hit the road to my house and menagerie.