RYAN OSSWALD - WERO OAZAQUENO
News of a swell in Chacahua had come to the streets, and the line ups of La Punta. Jesus, or ‘Chilla’ confirmed.
“Hey white boy,” he said with a smile. “Que onda?” or ‘what’s up?’ in Mexican slang.
“Big wave coming, here and Chacahua,” he said in his broken English. “But better there for you, cause you learning. Good…long wave.” He made the shape of a wave curling with his hands as if he were holding a magic ball.
“You can ride one wave, all the way, long ride, is good.” He made a half whistle sound and then gave a little shaka.
Jesus bringing me lunch
We stuffed our boards into the front seat of a taxi and then piled into the back seat, sitting shoulder to shoulder for the hour plus ride north to Chacahua. I heard them talking about going the night before in the water. I knew Ari from the coffee shop attached to the hostel called Akumal down the street and asked him if I could tag along. We decided to taxi all the way there rather than take a bus and then hop out and wait for a cheaper ‘collectivo’ or communal taxi, which was a pick-up truck that had tarp covered benches in the back. It also had a wooden platform above the cabin where you’d often see little kids crawl up and share a ride with their mothers produce. The ride would cost around $30-$40 USD split three ways but compared to the hassle of multiple transfers and lugging our stuff around in the blazing Oaxacan sun it was worth it.
Ari was from Israel and spoke little Spanish so, after falling asleep on my shoulder I asked Giacobo, or ‘Giaco’ if I could practice some Spanish with him. We shared stories of our travels. He told me about pistachio ice cream in Sicily and the pasta of Tuscany.
“You-can’t-put-a-pineapple-on-the-pizza!” He said as if it were one long loping Italian word. We talked about Colombia, where we had both travelled.
“The mountains!” He praised with raised eyebrows, almost wondering if I had felt the same things or seen the same things.
“Ahhhhh, yes!” I agreed.
“Oh, man that place is incredible.”
“The women?” I invited
“Too good man”
The land of magical realism. The place where you see things you can’t explain. The place where I saw a white fox while riding my bike up the steep hills past El Salado through the low hanging jungle fog near ‘El Catedral’, former “prison” of Pablo Escobar on the outskirts of Envigado. I don’t know if they even exist there, but it felt like an apparition.
I reflected on the time I was sitting at a restaurant down the street from our apartment with my friend and roommate who hailed from Pereira, a city of 700,000 people, the largest in the coffee growing region and about 5 hours south of Medellin. An old man was asking for money to play songs on his harmonica. I sighed and complained to my friend saying how this was getting old. Someone always trying to sell you something. Especially cocaine if you were white. He explained to me how many farmers and families, had been forced from their homes to escape the violence related to drug-trafficking and political unrest to look for work in places like Medellin and other cities in Colombia. (Since the mid 80’s, and as of 2014, an estimated 6 million people have been displaced from their homes in Colombia. The second highest in the world just behind Syria. Basically, refugees inside their own country.) I remembered that moment, feeling ashamed for being upset with this old man. A sweet old man just wandering the streets. I realized instantly how good I had it. I looked at him again, I looked in his eyes and realized he may have seen and experienced things so horrible I could never imagine. I saw his struggle to keep hope, and our common human bond, as he marched off into the night.
The sleeping beauty of Israel awoke drooling on my shoulder with a groggy look and a soft swoop of a yawn. We reached the little boat town of El Zapotalito on the eastern edge of the lagoon. It was the launching point for most visitors who would then charter some type of boat to get to Galera, or as it was commonly referred to, Chacahua. They cracked a beer, and I drank some water. Giaco wanted weed and gave our boat taxi driver $100 MXP ($5USD), after which he promptly disappeared on a dirt bike. I had a feeling he was gone for good. The plan was to have his 12-year-old side kick and second mate take us by boat to a house on the lagoon. He wasn’t there so, for some reason we went back to where we started from via boat to look for him. We saw an older looking gentleman who seemed friendly and explained the situation to him. He laughed and said,
“No es confiable.” He is not trustworthy.
The little kid was scurrying around village looking for our man. He seemed genuine and sincere, like he really wanted to find him for us. It felt like I was watching an old silent comedy reel. This little kid going to and from anyone that would listen to him. It all seemed so perfectly orchestrated. How many people had they ripped off before? I really didn’t think the kid was in on it, and I honestly felt bad for him. Meanwhile, we tried to explain to the old man that we didn’t care about the money and just wanted to be on our way. He offered us a ride in his boat, and we loaded up.
We finally hit the water in the peak afternoon. The breeze from the lagoon was a heavenly contrast to our search for the dirt weed bandit in the dusty lot. As we slid into the mangroves the sound of the motor dropped. The colors came into focus and the shade of the trees blossomed around us as we made our way through the tight passage that connected the two main bodies of water. I absorbed the hushed blues and greens of the underbrush as the leaves combed my hair. The occasional stork or heron silently fluttering away. We were passing through an ancient fishing portal en-route to our secluded strip of beach.
Chacahua is a popular place to escape for foreigners and Mexicans alike. Most of the camping is free provided you agree to eat at the restaurant that hosts the camping area. If you want a cabana they are relatively cheap as well.
After we got checked in, we walked out to the end of the jetty and watched some long boarders getting the last waves of the day. On our walk out we made friends with the dirtiest little white collie you’ve ever seen. He had little dread locks from all the sand and salt water, so we nick named him ‘Dog Marley’. We decided there was enough time to try and pack a few waves so, we walked back with our new buddy and paddled out.
There were about ten people out besides the three of us. I recognized a group from La Punta escaping the crowds for a few days like ourselves. There was another group of three surfing near us- two women and one guy. The guy had reddish hair and looked Australian or Irish. The girls were tan and very fit. One of them had fun, infectious energy, while the other seemed darker, more mysterious yet shy at the same time.
After a slow dinner on the beach we saw them idling in front of the mezcaleria. I knew the guys wanted to chat with the girls, so I said, ‘hello’ to break the ice. Max, to my surprise, was from Mallorca and had dark red hair and a beard. His dad was from South Africa hence the light complexion. Dinorah, full of energy on land and in the water, whether it was her on a wave or someone she knew, made you feel welcomed. She was alive and made you feel alive too. Made you feel glad you were in Mexico. She and Max had met working on a charter boat catering to high end clientele in different parts of the world. He was staying in Zipolite where she helped run a pizza joint called Mestizzo. Maya worked across the street from Mestizzo in a hotel and restaurant called Posada. She was half Mexican, half Italian on her fathers’ side. Her mother Marisol, who helped run the restaurant/hotel had joined them for the trip as well. We bought a round of mezcal to sip on and joined them at the tables and chairs strewn in the sand. Max showed me where the swell was on his phone using a weather radar app. He explained to me that the pressure wasn’t quite low enough but that we’d have to keep an eye on it over the next couple days. After a while we were all getting on quite nice. Giaco, being from Milan was chatting with Maya in Italian, and they seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. Ari was laughing and having a good time with Dinorah and Marisol. He was telling them that he was going to cook them Shakshuka.
“I’m gonna make you Shakshuka like you’ve never had before,” he said in his funny sounding English that was endearing and made you laugh at the same time. Over dinners we would all argue over which country had the best tomatoes, or apples, or food in general. It became a sport.
“In Israel, we have watermelons that don’t even have seeds, they are so good man,” he explained. Giaco and I looked at each other slightly confused as it dawned on us that we also had those in our respective countries.
“Yeah, we have those too.” I said.
After a slight pause, he replied
“That is because we sold you the technology.”
We were dying. Man, Ari cracked us up.
Later, as I was chatting with Marisol, reggae music was spilling out of cheap speakers into the warm air. She told me a bit about Maya’s father and their travels to and from Italy. She told me about the restaurant and how business was going. I told her I was a bike tour guide and was spending a couple months on the coast, starting with a week in Mexico City. Some salsa music came on and I took her hand and asked her if she wanted to dance. I was still getting the hang of it, but it was fun to practice when I could. Her skin was a beautiful dark rosewood. She was attractive and intelligent. I could relate to her a little more than the others and after a month of being surrounded by mostly surfers it was a relief to talk with someone who had a refined sense of humor. I thought she must have been in her late 40’s early 50’s but I wasn’t sure.
After a joint got passed around my Spanish improved a bit. After it got passed around a second time, not so much. It was harder to find the words let alone sentences. I switched back to English.
“I can’t speak in Spanish anymore.” I confessed and handed her the spliff.
“Ahhh, don’t worry, you did great.” She assured me. “You just need more of this.” We laughed. I told her I wouldn’t be able to speak in any language if I had any more.
We made plans to surf together in the morning with the group. There was a left just west of us on the opposite side of the headland. We said our goodnights and shuffled back to our cabana laughing, talking shit, dragging our feet in the sand, and looking out over the water up at the stars lining the Milky Way. The waves gently lapping to our right. We were in collective awe of our temporary home.
In the morning we were giddy for some waves. After a quick coffee from our hosts kitchen, Giaco and I headed down the beach to reconvene with our crusty-eyed companions to scope out what was happening over the hill. Max was standing stoically.
“The girls are still sleeping,” he told us in his flat South African accent, “but they’re gonna meet up with us in a bit.”
We paddled across the mouth of the lagoon in the soft grey-blue light of the morning sky. Are there crocodiles in here? I thought to myself. There was a crocodile sanctuary close by, but we were safe. We climbed the trail to the top of the lookout just south of ‘el faro’ or, the lighthouse. The dirt and rocks transitioned to sand as we made our way down. Lizards scanned our intentions with their ancient eyes, peaking from behind weathered posts, and little wooden shacks that looked like hide outs from the last century lined the trail.
The wave was a fast, peeling left with a steep drop. There were two other guys out. I recognized one of them from back in Puerto.
“La Punta,” I said with a head nod.
“¿Si, Buena onda no?” ‘Buena onda’ is like good vibes. Similar to when people said, ‘que onda?’ it meant ‘what’s up’ or ‘what’s the vibe?’ An expression left over from the 60’s and 70’s. I assumed he was talking about La Punta the neighborhood, but he could have just as easily been talking about the waves.
Manuel, La Punta
La Punta Zicatela or, La Punta as the locals and everyone referred to it was the town just south of Puerto Escondido. It was more laid back and down to earth than the center of Puerto Escondido. The surf culture and local working-class culture where intertwined here and in La Punta, it was especially visible. A five-minute walk in any direction could get you hand-made tortillas for a peso each. You could get wood cut for your next home improvement project at a little lumber yard up the street, or get your motorcycle fixed around the corner. At any hour of the day you could spot kids running with surfboards tucked underarm heading to the water while ancient trucks delivered produce to the markets. There was a guy who rode around with a cooler attached to his motorcycle selling freshly butchered meat out of the back. There was a surfboard or ‘ding’ repair guy on every little dirt road. One night I heard a large brass band tearing through ‘son’ or ‘banda’ music at a rodeo for hours on end without stop. Men wearing plaid, denim, and cowboy hats drinking beer, and smoking cigarettes. ‘Yeah man, we gonna ride some bulls… and drink some beers.’ One guy told me. There were families eating food and milling about. The band played for 6 hours straight until 1:00 am. Usually the nights were calm though, with most of the noise coming from dogs and roosters. Maybe a few friends drinking some beers together, playing pool or ping pong at a bar. Down closer to the beach you had the usual suspects of a surf town, hostels, parties, yoga studios, acai bowls, surf schools, etc.
Mother and Daughter, El Cafetal
I caught two nice lefts and had a nice wipeout or two. Giaco’s board was a little long for these waves but he was going for it with a smile on his face as usual. Max was a solid surfer and had grown up surfing in Mallorca. He was confident and unflinching. He caught a lot of waves. Dinorah and Maya showed up and brought some extra sparkle to the water. It’s nice to have women in the water surfing. It seems to relax things and make it more fun.
“Dale mami!” Dinorah yelled, as Maya dropped down the face of a wave.
You could tell they’d spent a lot of time in the water. They were strong surfers and had a laid-back attitude that only comes from living in a place like Zipolite. (The only place in Mexico with a nude beach.) The waves were starting to close out and one by one we filtered out. Giaco and I were last to wash up on shore. Back at the water crossing we met some Mexican tourists and a fisherman who had just got back with what looked like a large Snook or robalo, and he decided to stay and talk shop after they offered a beer. I was parched and hungry for Huevos Rancheros so, I politely declined and paddled across. As I parted I heard them talking about what fish were biting, the lines they used, and other things that men drinking beer at 10 in the morning talk about- official business.
After breakfast, and some long seaward gazing from the hammocks, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a large grey whale breach the water. I sprung from my seat without breaking eye contact with the ocean and stood next to Ari. It was a few hundred yards out but still massive in appearance, as if every movement were in slow motion. Even the spray of the water was in no hurry to return from its momentary displacement. I saw a second smaller whale, maybe a calf. It was mid-January, and they were headed back to the Sea of Cortez and would be gone by March or April. Without any waves at the main break, and not much else going on, this was the highlight of the afternoon. In a place like Chacahua, you had time to savor this type of thing. A place where time as a concept was put on hold until further notice.
After some pizza in plastic chairs we were back at the Mezcal bar the following evening. We had just finished a nice evening session just to get in the water. Bad surf is still good swimming. Surfing just after sunset along this strip of Pacific coast in the Americas is a treat to the eyes. The water turns a smooth obsidian and a translucent jade at the waves edge where the water is breaking and less thick. I’ve reached states of transcendental bliss and surfed until complete darkness on many occasions. “You no see…the wave…only…you feel.” Jesús would guide me. We were on the second-floor balcony sitting in some much need couches. Creature comforts. The guys were making plans to visit Zipolite. I was staring up at the stars, half listening, head fully cocked back. The smokiness of the mezcal filled my chest cavity, like an internal Rorschach. I saw a shooting star but kept it to myself. No one likes bad news. I bought a bottle of passion fruit infused mezcal for my brother, which we would later drink on the night before his wedding a year later in Portland, Maine.
We made our way back to La Punta the same way we had come, by foot, by boat and by taxi. A few days later Max had reached out and said he wanted to come see Puerto Escondido and surf the local break. I offered him a place to stay and he was there soon after dark. He mentioned a friend named Sergio, whom he had met at Maya’s birthday party in Zipolite. Sergio was living in Barra de La Cruz and said we could go visit him if we wanted. I told Max we could get a lift with my neighbor who was driving there the next day.
Apparently, my neighbor had told a few other people the same thing because there ended up being five of us in the bed of his pick-up truck. The truck bed was all legs and longboards. I struggled for a comfortable position, but there was no use. After three hours of twisting through the mountains and dodging oncoming traffic, the lower half of my body was half asleep, and my legs reluctantly began the painful waking up process. I could not wait to get out. We made our way down to the water and hit some mediocre surf. Afterwards, we got dropped off in “town” and waited for Sergio at a restaurant that was known for its pizza. Sergio was a very laid-back dude and spoke a sort of, mellow Californian surfer English. He had just gotten off work at his government job in Huatulco. He started telling us about the local spots and the area in general. His job was in Hautulco- there wasn’t much going on in Barra he said, you had to travel for work. We slowly got to know each other over beers. Nothing is forced or rushed in Mexico, for better or for worse. There was a big teenager belting it out in the corner singing Mexican rancheros, eyes half closed over softly strummed guitar with the beautiful drunken sorrow of an old man. We all cheered and hooted and hollered and ordered more margaritas. This was Mexico after all.
I could tell Sergio liked to have a good time. He had an endless repertoire of American movie and pop-culture references. He knew how to hold serve in a match and he liked to bust your balls. They started talking about going out and I said, “No thanks.”
“Yeah, we are gonna go to Hautulco, hit the strip clubs. You are coming with us.” He said and gave a slanted eyed smile to Max.
“No way, I’m going to sleep.”
“I’m game.” Max said
“No, come with us bro. Plus where you gonna go? You don’t know where I live. You have to come with us.” He smiled and winked at Max. I knew he was just fucking with me but after a long day in the sun I wasn’t sure. We loaded our boards in his white Jeep Cherokee and started driving, I hoped, towards his house.
“Don’t worry man, you can stay here.” He said. Thankfully, Max was game, and I was off the hook. He showed me to a room with two beds. “You can stay here. And there’s an air-conditioner.” Better words had not been spoken in a while. The air down here was hot. Always hot. Like, heat stroke hot if you went out in the middle of the day.
After they left, I showered off and went outside to check the place out. We were on the second floor and out of the front door was a patio and a yard. There were lights strewn around the perimeter. Two hammocks hung between dark wooden posts across the stone floor patio. A couch lined the wall of the house, and on the other side of the door two blue kayaks were leaning against the wall. I didn’t notice his German Sheppard, Reef, starting at me, probably wondering who the hell I was, until out of the corner of my eye I saw him slowly coming towards me. They say dogs can sense fear, but I have never sensed it so much from a dog. I felt it. Our eyes locked, ‘shit’ I thought to myself. He looked scared, worried. My skin started crawling once I knew he was going to come at me. I shivered with goosebumps as I grabbed the handle to the front door. He ran towards me barking loudly, “No!” I think I managed to yell at him.
Fuck! I screamed once inside. I was still shaking with adrenaline. Holy shit! I jumped in the air trying to escape my skin for a moment. I thought for sure he was going to bite me and maybe worse. I was seconds inside the door, and he was still barking. The sound was filling the house and reverberating through the metal roof straight into my head and between my ears.
“No! No! Bad boy!” I yelled mainly just to show him I was in charge and in control of the situation. He was just afraid and so was I. The whole thing had caught me off guard. One minute I was staring off into the sky listening to the sounds of chirping crickets in the faded yellow glow of the old hanging lights, and the next I was being stalked by a large dog that I didn’t know. I barely even remembered he was there. I was very relieved to be inside without having shed any skin. There was no cell service or internet in town so contacting Max or Sergio would’ve been impossible and any doctor, if there was one, was probably sleeping. After relaxing and another Corona, I laid down and drifted off into a deep sleep.
Sergio in Barra de La Cruz
After getting home at 4:00 am Sergio rallied back to life to go check out the surf. We spent a little time in the water working for the small rights on hand that day. There weren’t many people in the water. The surf school that was there the night before had left and besides a young girl surfing it was basically empty Barra de La Cruz, all to ourselves. It was an amazing place. Something I had seen in magazines, but it felt so different to be here. So peaceful. We came back a couple hours later and found Max lying in one of the hammocks. He had sunglasses on, and fuchsia lipstick smeared all over his mouth from the night before. I’m sure he felt like a hot mess, but he looked like a work of art. Something out of ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’, the surf edition. We made a fresh pot of French press coffee and joined Max outside. We were talking about where to go surfing later that evening. Sergio mentioned a place about 10 minutes away that might be working. I was sitting on the couch sipping my coffee and felt a ping of melancholy for my former self. I remembered a particularly dreary, rainy day at my last job. I was looking at magazines of people traveling the world and doing things they loved in all these amazing locations in such a happenstance fashion. I remember feeling like they didn’t realize what they had, like they’d always had it, and that if I were in their place, I’d appreciate it more. ‘How do people live like this?’ I thought. A year later I somehow manifested a job as a bike tour guide and a few years later here I was in a surfer’s paradise staying at a cushy Mexican bungalow. Something I had been dreaming and talking about for years. I laughed to myself, realizing all those people were just people like myself. On their way to and from somewhere else. People who had worked hard and made sacrifices to get where they were and were enjoying it. And that everyone’s life looks better to someone else from the outside.
Sergio in Barra de La Cruz
“Motherfucker.” Max said quietly but firmly- Max never raised his voice, at least in the time I spent with him. “He bit me.” He put his hand to his face to check for blood. He had a cut above his left eye. I had told them what had happened the night before and Max knew there was something a little off with the pooch but, he had his guard down and was just trying to pet Reef. He was in the hammock so, being at eye level must have triggered something with the dog. Sergio brought him inside.
“Inside Reef. No, bad doggie, what are you thinking?” He scolded.
He gave him a light whack on the nose and came back out.
“Damn, I’m sorry bro.”
“I need to see a doctor, so it doesn’t get infected.”
“Yeah, there’s one in town. We can go see if he’s around.”
We drove into town, but the doc was nowhere to be found and the little clinic was closed. They would have to drive the hour it took to get to Huatulco, the closest city to get Max stitched up. They dropped me off at the house, reversed back out of the narrow driveway, and were out of sight moments later. The sound of the engine fading, dust still lingering in the air. Upstairs I took in the beauty of the homes’ surroundings. The edge of the property abutted a little sanctuary of wildlife. I watched the birds in Lago Zaras from the back deck of the house. It felt good to be alone. I had met and made friends with some amazing people over the past month, but this was the perfect place for a moment of solitude. My room back in La Punta was a basic concrete structure. Two rooms upstairs, and two rooms on the bottom floor. With only a dinky little floor fan, and two front facing windows there was no ventilation. It was a sweatbox so, watching movies from a couch and having an air-conditioned room to escape to for naps was an extreme luxury.
Max came back with a bandage above his eye and the faded pink of last night’s lipstick. He had had a rough day to say the least and was laid up on the couch for a few hours. The two of them were passed out when I left for a walk.
I like to take walks when I travel for the brief interactions I have with people from other parts of the world. I like to hear their stories, whether explicitly told or just absorbed through their unique outpost in the world. The similarities: food, music, humor. The differences: narco related violence, pre-Hispanic or indigenous traditions and practices mixed with Spanish influence- architecture, landscape, and of course language and music. Barra de La Cruz was a sleepy little town. There were a few shops open during the day selling essential food items, but not much else. After poking around for a little bit, I took the long way home and headed north along the edge of town. I stopped into an ancient looking building that had the construction of an airplane hangar converted into a modern-day trading post. I loved places like this. Part grocery store, part farm supply store, part restaurant. Kind-of-a-bar kind-of-not. A social hub. The further back I went the dustier the shelves got. A sharp contrast to the bright, shiny cooler in front of the store full of Jarritos sodas and beer of the Mexican variety. Corona, Victoria, Carta Blanca, and Modelo. There were always a few guys in places like this, drinking beers, telling jokes, talking about the latest news, and passing time together. There were three men at a table and a one woman working. She was running the shop and directing the show. I received a small cameo in my search for hand-made tortillas. They didn’t have any, so I bought a Tamarindo soda to support the cast of this priceless cinema hidden from the rest of the world and continued on.
I was surprised to see a field of boys playing baseball in full uniforms, long socks, the whole deal. It must have been 95 degrees in the sun, but the pace of the game suited the town just fine. I climbed the stairs to the apartment, sweat pouring off my brow and made my way nervously past Reef who was in self-imposed doggy time out, cowering under the table next to the couch.
There were no waves at Barra, so we decided to head down the road to a spot called Mojón. We turned down a dirt road and crept slowly over the uneven terrain. It took a while to get down to the ocean as Sergio navigated all the holes and branches in our way. More than 10 minutes for the one mile. We parked next to an abandoned hotel. I peeked in through the windows at the beds and rooms and wondered what had happened. I had heard stories of land deals gone bad. Foreigners opening restaurants or business illegally or trying to buy property too close to the water, and for whatever reason things not working out. (In Mexico you can’t buy land within 50 km of the coast without lawyers, trusts, and lots of work). Two local kids were out on boogie boards. There were some nice waves coming through. Later we were joined by a family (two brothers, a dad, and a friend) from San Diego. Even though I surfed poorly it was one of the best times I had in Mexico. The feeling of seclusion simultaneously mixed with brotherhood and gratitude for being shown such a spot like this was incredible.
The golden hour was upon us. That hour when the stratosphere opens its doors. Dipping into darkness, we slowly became shadows gliding past each other. Surfing at dusk, where each passing moment you see less and less, but know more and more. The secrets of the universe hidden and revealed to you, just within reach, slightly out of sight, always shifting, the silent comedy. The sun was piercing through the cliff walls, bouncing off the rocks and casting shadows around us. An infinite spectrum of green chandeliers were being shattered across the water, colors were being invented, wounds were being healed, and time was just a word for the constant changing of all things. The waves have a way of hypnotizing you. Sitting atop your board as they pass under you, bobbing up and down slowly for hours on end, you can’t help but relax when you come out. Lying in bed to sleep, you still feel the undulating rhythm of the sea.
Tlayuda, La Cabañita
rhythm of the sea.
Tlayuda, La Cabañita
We toweled off in the last light and headed home in the dark. We rinsed off and headed to a place called Las Gemelas (The Twins) for dinner. Fish tacos were the thing to get here and we ordered a few each. They also had Tlayudas here, Oaxacas’ answer to the pizza. A large, thin, flakey, toasted corn crust, smeared with a bean paste or puree, topped with lettuce, choice of meat, avocado, and Oaxacan cheese, also called quesillo (think string cheese, but better). They are usually cooked over a comal but sometimes folded in half and cooked over a grill. The toppings varied from place to place and like most food down here there was an array of house made salsas to throw on top, but tonight we were having tacos and lots of them.
There was a large table of surfers, a few families, and another table of locals who had clearly been drinking for a while. Their table was covered in bottles and cans. They were telling jokes, eyes smiling behind the heavy curtain of eyelids, laughing hysterically, and stumbling to get more beers. One guy, almost fell out of his chair, saved by the slow bend of a plastic leg. “A la verga,” one of them said. They were the home team and were a joy to watch.
The three of us however, had little energy to speak, but I was fine taking in the atmosphere. Observing. Drinking cold yellow beer. We were speaking in shorthand.
“Si, por favor, gracias.”
“Tomorrow, we’ll go to Zipolite and visit the girls.” Added Sergio.
“I’ll text Dinorah and tell her we’re coming.” Max said.
In the morning we headed West on Mexico 200 towards San Pedro Pochutla, and then south through the steep rugged fishing village of Puerto Angel and finally down to the eccentric beach enclave of Zipolite. Large banana leaves and jungle ferns tunneled our view and caressed the car as we weaved our way through people in the street. We parked on the sand covered stone parking and grabbed our boards. We stretched our legs and our backs and were in the water within minutes. It was a shock really, almost too abrupt after a two-hour drive. I was sleepy, but the water woke me up.
From the water and my brief moment on shore I could tell we were in a unique microcosm. The moon was full and rising to the east above the hillside homes. Pregnant and glowing with power it was bouncing the light of the sun in a silver-shock across the shoreline. The place was magnetized. I felt transfixed. I looked for some omens and felt a slight undertone of instability. The place was getting ready to party. Couples took pictures together as the sun set to my left. Sergio and I were goofy-footed, so we were hunting for lefts. They were fast, shifty, and fun as hell. It was the three of us and three local groms surfing in our little section of sand bar. We were in the middle slightly to the west or northern end of beach and just further north you could see people surfing a heavier wave that was close to the rocks. We left that to the locals.
We met back up with Dinorah at Mestizzo for dinner where she was cooking. Sergio was putting his board in the car and said we could shower behind the restaurant. There was a little yard and shower out the back door of the kitchen where we rinsed off and stashed our boards. We saddled up to the bar and glued our eyes to the surf flick playing on the TV hanging from the wall. We accepted offerings of beer like it was some sort of hard-won reward for our bravery in the water, but I knew I was not doing anything close to what the guys on screen were doing. I knew I wanted to surf waves like they were on, but I also knew I didn’t want to surf like any of them. Just the same clip of macho dudes smashing aggressive turns at the lip of the wave over and over again. I didn’t know about the history of surfing yet or the reasons why different types of boards were used in different conditions. I had seen the movie ‘Psychic Migrations’ and knew I wanted to fly like the guy riding the rainbow-colored fish board. That guy’s name was Ryan Burch, and he was a shaper who had grown up in San Diego, the birthplace of the fish. I also didn’t know that one year later I would be in northern California, riding and falling in love with the wild, loose speed that could be expressed on these short thick planks originally designed as knee boards.
A man walked in with his fresh catch from the ocean and brought it to Dinorah near the entrance of the kitchen. After a few words in rapid fire Spanish an agreement had been made. 20 minutes later she emerged with large, heaping plates of pasta and seared fish for the visiting man and his family. It looked amazing. She had gutted, cleaned, and cut and prepared everything herself.
“Hola, chicos! What do you guys want, pizza?” She asked us on her way back to the kitchen.
“Claro, yeah, sure,” we said.
“Listo.” She replied.
“Gracias,” we replied in chorus.
Max was thanking the man behind the bar for letting him borrow one of his boards for the last few days as the pizza came out. It was charred to perfection and the crust was warm and doughy. It was a nice break from tacos. After dinner, a skateboard appeared, and we took turns putzing around on it. Sergio was the only one who knew what he was doing on it. The sound of the rolling wheels on the pavement was soothing and gave us all something to do and watch. Maya joined us out front with her boyfriend after work and we all headed to the beach. We hung out on the sand under the stars. Marisol came down later as well. It was nice to see everyone again. Giaco and Ari had left a few days before. Ari had made Shakshuka after all. They said it was delicious and I didn’t doubt it. The day before we had left for Chacahua, he made Giaco and I lunch, and it was tasty. Spicy grilled meats, cucumber salad, and garlic yogurt on some pita bread.
On the beach in Zipolite you could relax, have a good time and socialize without being hassled by the police. In Puerto Escondido however, they were known to try and make a buck off anyone who looked like they might have something on them. I had seen it many times exiting the water; ‘Los Extorsionistas’ walking in groups of three or four. Their flashlights making quick little circles in the dark contrasting the slow pace of their chunky, black boots trudging through the sand in unison as they checked peoples’ bags for marijuana. I heard a story from a buddy of mine that wound up in jail after drinking too much. He wasn’t causing any trouble, but he got picked up, lost his phone on the way, and had to pay his way out for the night of fun on the town. My only encounter with the police there was, one night, sitting on the steps of the corner store waiting for a taxi, a police car rolled up and asked me what I was doing, and then asked to see my wallet. I opened it up, and he looked through the cash for anything else that might be hidden inside but I was clean. He even hailed me a cab. I had heard that sometimes they would plant something on you, but that didn’t happen to me. My only guess was that I’d had enough beers to speak Spanish confidently, but not too many to slur my speech or seem like trouble.
In the morning there were no waves, only naked flabby old white guys strolling la playa, enjoying Zipolite’s clothing optional policy. It was a safe haven for the LGBTQ community as well as freaks in general. Artists, musicians, old hippies, and surfers. People looking to lead a generally peaceful way of life. The town was waking up. I took a lap of the two-lane town as I waited for the restaurants to open. Horses trotted, drunks gazed and floundered in the sun, residents hosed down streets in the endless war on dust. I ate chilaquiles and drank coffee at a table on the street. I went to buy zinc for my face, and on the way back ran into a woman selling juices out of large plastic jugs from a little cart on wheels with a little cloth tent for shade. One of the things she mentioned was ‘Agua de Cacahuate’. Peanut water? I thought to myself. What the hell is that? I had to try it.
“Oh my god, this is amazing!” I said staring into my cup.
I could not believe how refreshing it was. Just the thought of peanuts can make your throat dry on a hot day so, how could this be any good? I thought going into it. It was made from ground peanuts, water, and panela, (unrefined cane sugar) or piloncillo as it’s known in Mexico and served over ice. I was reminded of Colombia once again. Drinking guarapo (lime juice and sugar cane) after a long day of biking with friends in the mountainous roads outside of Medellin for the weekly ‘Ciclovía’. Every Sunday the city would shut down half of the main highway for citizens to bike, walk, run, and rollerblade through the heart of the city. Something that would take a year of planning in the U.S. happened there on a weekly basis, and was full of volunteers slowing traffic, helping with flat tires or mechanical issues, and vendors on each side of the 7 mile stretch setting up shop selling food and drinks.
We surfed in the evening, and then had dinner at a busy restaurant on the beach. Two young girls were singing songs and playing together for tips. They had sweet voices and I imagined they were sisters the way they sang and moved together, hands on each other’s shoulders while discussing the next song. Their music put a nice spell on the crowd.
In the morning we parted ways. Max was heading to Oaxaca City by bus through the mountains. I wanted to go but I was low on cash and would head back to La Punta. Max was relaxing in a hammock wearing a pair of oversized headphones. As we gazed out at the sea, I was daydreaming about what Oaxaca must be like. A high elevation capital with cobblestone streets and cool mountain air. After a rich dark molé I would put on a jacket and wander the streets and fill my belly with mezcal. But alas, it would have to be next time. I was certainly torn. The best meal I had had in Mexico up to that point was made by a woman named Tere, from Oaxaca, who owned the place where I was staying while she was visiting her friend Lupe over Christmas holiday. It was a red chicken mole dish over rice that was spicy, complex, and delicious.
My Old Flame
My Old Flame
It was nice to get back to my place. My room, my stuff, and my guitar. I was already growing nostalgic for this place. This stretch of coast had lots to offer and lots to explore. La Punta is a left-handed point break that, as of this moment, is my favorite wave. It is a crowded wave, but far less dangerous than its blood thirsty cousin Zicatela up the road. It was where most of the surf lessons in the area were held. There was usually a mine field of people and students on the inside. Their coaches wearing flippers and pushing them into waves, guaranteeing they got waves. You had to respect them. This was their home turf, and they were trying to make a living. You could tell they were tired of battling foreigners for waves, but for the most part they all seemed like good guys. A couple of them lived next to me and there was always a group of them hanging out at night. Jesús was good friends with them and hung out there all the time. They would always offer me beer and I would bring locally made IPA’s or Stouts to share, which garnered mixed reviews, but we shared beers and laughs through the language barrier and on a few occasions I spent the night hanging out with them talking surf, and travel, and what it was like to live there. I still have an extensive list of places to surf in Mexico thanks to one of these guys. He spent an hour showing me on the map places to visit. He told me which breaks were lefts, which were rights, how big they got, when to go, what the town was like, and everything in between. At La Punta, the locals sat out past a big rock that rose from the ocean floor to about 10 feet above the surface of the water depending on the tide. It was a family affair here; brothers surfing together, nephews laughing as they dropped in on their uncles who’d push them off the wave. They’d come up smiling and give a loud whistle. Local shapers surfing with their wives and daughters. Up on the rocks, fathers and sons would cast fishing nets into the water. Guys were always popping up, seemingly out of nowhere right next to you, wearing snorkeling masks and gasping for air. Equipped with thick plastic fishing line, or tarraya and a bottle like contraption made from plastic, wood, or bamboo known as molotes. They would use them to get sardines for bait, and then put them on the line for larger fish. I once saw my neighbor fishing and surfing at the same time. He would throw a line of string out that was wrapped around his finger in between the larger sets. When he saw a wave approaching that he wanted, he would reel it in quickly and take off. He had a little black pouch around his waist in case he caught anything. That was life down there; you had to hustle even while you were having fun.
I had been surfing on a 6’10” made by a local shaper named Ody, who made stylish boards and was a super nice guy as well. It was a washed-out pink color with solid blue rails. I sold it to a local board repair guy who bought it for his wife. She blushed when he called her name to look at it from the porch and humbly nodded in approval. I counted my blessings that she liked it as he reluctantly forked over the pesos into my hand. I wondered how many boards he had fixed to buy that board. I took the money and headed out to the central marketplace downtown to buy gifts for family and friends.
My neighbor Citlali had some errands to run in town and said she’d give me a lift. I hopped in her vintage red VW beetle and we took off down the main stretch of road with the afternoon winds rolling up from the sea through the windows of the car. Citlali was a former professional surfer and 4x national champion of Mexico. She told me about surfing out at Pipeline with only three other women in the water.
“It was an incredible experience.” She said when I asked her about it. “Wow, I’m surfing Pipeline and there’s only 4 girls in the water, this is crazy!” She had a great smile and was easy to talk to. She was full of life and strength, physically and spiritually. She had an heir of power to her and had great insights on life. You could talk to her about anything. She was practicing massage therapy at this stage of her life, and you could tell she was the kind of person who would be great no matter what she did.
We stopped at a health food store, and the man behind the counter was friendly and familiar with her. Next, we stopped at an older woman’s house to get a special type of wood for a ceremony that Citlalli was attending and helping with that evening. Afterwards, at the central market, she showed me around and greeted the woman at the various stalls. I told her I was looking for a traditional blanket. I found a nice big one with integrated lines of black and blue with interwoven thin lines of white. There were sections of white and pink leading into a blood red. Sunny yellows leading into lime greens, avocado skin greens, and then black again. Small bands of red, orange, and yellow in between the larger sections of black. If you looked at it lying down, you could see the ice blue bands of moonlight stretching across a static electric desert night behind charred hillsides. Or the setting sun casting shadows upon fields of maize and cactus. I bought an extra spicy green hot sauce for my sister, who has been known to slip a bottle or two of the stuff into her purse if she liked it. I had been accumulating bottles of mezcal over my time there and bought a few more. I bought some huge chunks of chocolate to make hot chocolate, using a doweled wooden spoon that you put between your hands and rubbed back and forth vigorously to create a nice frothy cup on the stove top.
I spent my last two weeks surfing and eating as much as I could. I surfed with Jesus whenever we ran into each other. Jesus was probably 5’7”, compact muscular build, and a strong swimmer. A very mellow guy, and a good friend to have down there. Jesus was a humble and wise person who gave sage advice and, best of all, he had a silly sense of humor. A lot of times it was what he didn’t say that was impressive. You could learn a lot from him if you paid attention. Whenever I was hung up on something, a detail, a word in Spanish or just in general he would say: “Don’t worry, be happy.” At first, I found it dismissive or annoying, but eventually it made me laugh and helped relax me.
Jesus was one with the water when he surfed. The way he crept into a wave was smooth, and subtle, like a cat in the jungle you didn’t notice until it was too late. Many times, he’d fly by me on a wave that I hadn’t even seen him catch, coming out of nowhere, nestled in the arc of a blue wall. He seemed to disappear and reappear.
On a few occasions, he showed me some local breaks just outside of town. He pointed out good places to eat, where to find things in town, and had his ear to the ground. He was the unofficial guide of Puerto and just an all-around helpful person. You would see him riding around on his trusty, old faded black Honda motorcycle and usually donning an old 49’ers hat. I met him through a guy named Swan, who rented me a room when I first got to town.
My last session surfing in La Punta I saw Jesus in the water after being out for a couple of hours. He was paddling in from further out past the rock.
“Hey, white boy.” He joked. This was the most crowded I had ever seen it here, fifty people maybe, felt like a hundred. The waves were good, but they were dying down and it was getting dark.
“The waves are small now, I’m going home.” He told me.
I told him this was my last night and that I was leaving tomorrow. We said our goodbyes and made plans to surf again. A few minutes later, with the lull in the waves, and encroaching darkness, the crowd thinned out. It was down to just about 10 people, and then a half hour later just five of us: A father and son, a guy who rode a unicycle around town who went by Limón, and another local. I was in heaven, I had been out for 3 hours already and couldn’t find a groove, but I knew more waves were coming. I hoped anyway, but I had a feeling.
I was still dealing with the pain of losing my dad two years before. It had been a dark and confusing couple of years. My love for the ocean had pulled me back in and helped me focus on something tangible. Although the feelings that came from catching waves were inexplicable, fleeting, and intangible, that was what always kept me coming back. Over the next couple of hours there were 3 amazing sets of perfect waves and I got a wave on each of them. You could hear us all whooping, yelping, and cackling over the crests of foam in the dark, like monkeys who had just discovered some forbidden fruit, swinging from branch to branch, in the last specks of light. Celebrating in the waters that brought a message from light years away. A message only understood while actively trying to decode it- each wave a different code, a different message, each wave a different lesson. Like three kisses from the gods, spirits, angels, or whoever watches over us. I wondered if my dad had anything to do with those waves, maybe someone he knew, a new friend. Who knows, all I do know is that after two months in Mexico, and five hours in the water, I had never needed anything more in my life than those waves. It was such a release of emotions. I started crying, but I was laughing too, laughing at the ridiculousness of life. I felt the spectrum of human emotions. I was happy, grateful, and lucky to be there, and felt alive after navigating my way through the shitstorm of death. The deluge of darkness. Grief works in funny ways; it comes when it comes. It washes over you. You can feel it in your blood, like a drug you didn’t want. Whatever pain, anger, confusion, or resentment you thought you had rid yourself of is shown to you, and it feels a lot better to let it go. Or at least try, even if little by little.
I took a few minutes to say goodbye to this place. I just sat there on my board for a few minutes. I looked at the rocks, the pelicans hovering around, the water, the sun, the sky. Everything looked like a warm shade of gray and charcoal. I wanted to stay out there forever. I wondered if I’d ever come back here.
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