A Travellerspoint blog

May 2016

Zipolite

After an enjoyable week in Oaxaca and surrounds we headed off to the coast. Rather than an 8 hour bus ride on windy mountain roads, we opted to take a small plane to Huatulco and then hired a cab to take us over to Zipolite.

View from the plane
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The Oaxacan coast between Huatulco and Puerto Escondido is one of the least developed parts of the Pacific coastline. Mostly it consists of small towns and fishing villages that are slowly drawing more tourists, but there are no high rise hotels as in Cancun. Zipolite is an old hippie hang-out that has a reputation as a laid back place where nudity is allowed. It turned out to be delightful, with plenty of eateries on the beach, small guest houses, and a very warm sea. It also is known as a place with dangerous surf and rip tides, although the swimming was generally excellent while we were there.

Our 7 room guest house was on a hillside overlooking the sea, and about a five minute walk from the beach.

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When we first arrived, two middle aged and rather out of shape and overweight couples were lounging around the pool buck naked. A bit of a shock, but they turned out to be quite ordinary and friendly folks who are more or less professional nudists. It was at least their third trip to Zipolite, but they frequent other nudist spots as well. Sorry, it seemed gauche to take their picture, although I'm sure they would not have minded. The small pool was a great place to sit around with a beer and cool off with or without your bathing suit.

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Needless to say, there was not a lot to do at Zipolite other than swim, sun, eat or drink, but that was fine by us. Our guest house owner was a gay,white, Mexican, who looked to be in his mid 40's. Apparently he had built the place with his partner, now separated. Most days he served us breakfast overlooking the pool, usually wearing only a skimpy towel.

In the five days we spent there we developed a bit of a routine. We would go down to the beach in the morning, around 10 or so and either return between 11:30 and 12 when the sun got too hot, eat in our little apartment, or go to lunch someplace along the beach.

After lunch we'd sit around the pool in the shade, or take a nap inside. By around 3:30 we walked down to the beach again for another swim.

More like 5 in this pcture
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And then it was back to our pool above the sea for sunset and a beer, and finally a walk to a restaurant, either on the beach or in the tiny town with small shops and restaurants on the only main street. The best way to get anywhere was to walk directly on the beach, although there was a dirt road that led through palm trees into town. That took longer and was more confusing. Our guest house was on one end of the beach, and so it was a bit of a walk to most restaurants, and to "main street," one block from the water. The nearby Alchemist was a frequent choice because the food was good, if a bit pricey by Zipolite standards.

Also on our side of the beach, was a spectacular set of rocks, with a large peephole to the sea, worn away over the years by waves and wind.

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Sunset was quite a show down here, as well as up at the pool.

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So what's with the nudity thing you want to know. Well of course, it was only some of the gringoes and gringas that were naked on the beach. It was an interesting thing to watch a middle aged, fully dressed Zapotec man selling coca frio to a naked gringa of indeterminate age. And it was a real mix of ages who were naked, all different shapes and sizes but only one color, or rather two, sunburn red or white. I'd say about 1/4 to 1/3 of the white people on the beach had shed their clothes, but there was no pressure either way. Sometimes I wore a suit, and other times I did not. Nobody cared either way.

I did begin to wonder just how it was that Zipolite got its start as a nude beach, and that it somehow managed to continue this way in a very Catholic and conservative country. It all began in the 60's, naturally, when a small group of hippie types showed up in this tiny and remote backwater, at least at that time. Many of them didn't bother to wear clothes. Some of them stayed and others left, but gradually as the town developed into the low key resort that it is today, the locals decided to retain the optional nudity. As in most of Oaxaca, the people are Zapotecs, and the central government more or less leaves them alone to run things as they see fit. I would guess it was more of a business decision to continue the clothes optional policy. There are of course, other small towns and resorts along this coastline, but Zipolite is the only one that allows nudity. How much the nudity helps their business is an open question, a bit like asking if the growth in Colorado is due to legal weed. I don't think it's hurting things.

On our last night we were hoping to make it to the other side of the beach, because there was a bar on top of a promontory which had a reputation for spectacular sunsets. As you can see by the picture above, we didn't make it. That sunset was on our side of the beach, but it's hard to imagine anything better. We did however, make it to our favorite restaurant, Fish and Love, which which is located just off the beach at the far end of town.

Debbie and Nanette in front of restaurant
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It is owned and run by a friendly local family. In the morning, until mid-afternoon they fish, and then return to prepare and cook what they catch. It couldn't have been any fresher, and they made a damn good margarita to go with it. If that wasn't enough, it was an incredible bargain.

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As in other restaurants people wear clothes, though we were early and thus the only customers. They did tell us that they had a popular clothes optional night once a month.

Naked Fish and Love, what could be better.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:39 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches people food Comments (0)

Excursions from Oaxaca

After a few days of wandering the streets of Oaxaca, we were ready to go a little further afield. We went on a day trip into the Sierra Norte with a small tour group to the Zapotec villages of Lachatao. It took a couple of hours of driving on the curvy mountain roads to reach the village. It is a poor area, but the indigenous people there and in several other small villages, are trying to attract eco-tourists, and have constructed a number of bungalows just outside of town. Our first stop was a small anthropological museum, largely organized and opened due to the efforts of our guide, Oscar. After that, we went on a hike to what we were told was an ancient ceremonial place on nearby Jaguar Mountain. The hike was billed as a ritualistic inner journey, and that exactly what it was. Oscar, though not indigenous, had lived in the village for a number of years, and was convinced that he had found one of the original sites of Zapotec civilization on this flattened mountain. It was not long or difficult, perhaps two hours, but we made a number of stops en route for him to explain certain things to us about the culture and the religion, which was based on worshipping the spirits of the mountains, wind, and animals. We were encouraged to close our eyes and meditate on the sounds and smells of the forest. Oscar talked about the Zapotec way of life as being in harmony with Tao, or the Way, similar to the ancient Chinese religion. I'm not sure whether this accurately described the Zapotecs, who apparently were also into human sacrifice, or if it was a reflection of Oscar's time living in San Francisco. When we got near the top, which had wide views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, we were instructed to lie down in a certain spot and glance backwards over the horizon, and then describe the colors we saw. The predominant color was supposed to be indicative of a certain aspect of our mood and personality. I forget now what my color was, or its meaning.

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We then gathered around what looked like an ancient fire pit and sent out positive energy to the other folks on the hike, and then in widening circles to all living beings. It was a bit hokey, at least to me, but enjoyable nonetheless.

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On our return, we had lunch in the town's only "restaurant," prepared by local village women. Then some of us climbed up to the roof of the old church, giving us another great view of the mountains beyond.

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Oscar on church roof
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View from church roof
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The next day we hired Luis, to take us on a tour of Monte Alban and a few other nearby points of interest. Having lived in LA for several years, his English was good, and he turned out to be quite personable and informative.

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Monte Alban is one of the oldest ruins in Mesoamerica. It goes back to 500BC, although it was abandoned some 1600 years later for unknown reasons. Like the ceremonial site in the mountains, it is located on top of a flattened mountain with a commanding view of the Oaxaca valley below. It is obviously quite large, and while some of it has been reconstructed, parts of the pyramids are original. Getting there early was a good move, as the place was practically empty.

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Pelota field
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Local man at the ruins
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After Monte Alban, we stopped at a Mescal factory, just out of town. It was interesting to see how they made it from roasted agave.

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Of course we had to sample the product. Unlike most liquor, the newer stuff, made from wild agave, was more expensive than the aged ones, most likely because they are made from cultivated agave.

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Then it was on to see the Tule tree. Said to be 1600 years old, its circumference is immense, at least 50 feet or so.

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We stopped for a late lunch at favorite buffet that Luis knew. They had all four different moles, as well as a huge assortment of other meats, fish, vegetables etc.

Finally we ended the day by going to a weaving "factory." It was very much a family run business, and although they sell some of their handwoven rugs right there, they sell more at the Santa Fe Indian Market during the summer. We wouldn't see them there, but Santa Fe was going to be our destination in a few weeks.

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It was a long day, but I couldn't resist taking a shot of these kids on the way back to our hotel.

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Posted by jonshapiro 08:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged landscapes mountains people food tourist_sites Comments (5)

Mexico and New Mexico

This winter was different. Instead of our usual travels we decided to go closer to home in consideration of a possible move from upstate New York. The Mexican portion of the trip was the only "abroad" section and was really a chance to have a couple of weeks of warm weather before driving across country to Santa Fe. We had visited both of these places many years ago.

In Mexico we spent all of our time either in Oaxaca or along the Oaxacan coast in the small town of Zipolite. We went on this trip with our friends Debbie and Bill, and stayed in what had been an ancient monastery close to the center of town. Our room, on the second story, faced an inner courtyard where we had breakfast everyday. Oaxaca did not disappoint. Although there are obviously tourists it is not overrun by them, and manages to retain its distinctly Mexican and indigenous feel. The Zocolo is remains the center of life in this mid sized city, and many of the colonial buildings are still standing. It is quite lively during the day as well as the evening, with Mexican families taking a paseo or young people just hanging out. There are shops and restaurants lining the nearby streets.

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The pace of life is relatively slow, and though the province of Oaxaca is one of the poorest in Mexico, it doesn't feel that way in the center of town. The poor live on the outskirts and in the rural areas. The city spreads out in a wide valley between two mountain ranges, with the Pacific on one side and the Atlantic on the other.

Most days we spent wandering around the streets, and exploring.

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We went to the nearby market, although we were told there was an even larger one about a mile away.

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We checked out the main catedral, and on one day they were filming a quinceanera.

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Oaxaca is said to have the best food in Mexico, and with four different kinds of moles, great seafood and beer, and inexpensive prices, I would have to concur. So when we weren't walking, we were eating.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:34 Archived in Mexico Tagged churches people food air_travel buildings_postcards cities_postcards Comments (1)

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