Cultural Foraging in Zipolite, Mexico
Zipolite– it feels like it’s at the end of the earth.
Zipolite (pronounced Zip-oh-lee-ta) took a creative combination of four flights to get to. I had no idea what rural Mexico might actually be like and felt truely delighted to discover something new for myself. After 3 flights we landed in Huatulco and rented a car (yes you can do that there!) We drove through the scrub jungle for what felt like decades. Despite my past learnings about how poor and unsafe are two completely different aspects, I’m ashamed to say that I was suspicious of everyone and everything. I was suspicious of the trash that lined both sides of the road, suspicious of the three sided and leaning structures that people appeared to be living in, and I was suspicious of the many gangly, strange looking, malnourished dogs that were on the side of the road. And I was especially suspicious of the groups of people who seemed to congregate at convenience stores and on porches. I told myself that I was going to fight back against this natural fear of the unknown & consciously try to keep an open mind.
What I found in Zipolite was much more than an unspoiled paradise. What I found in Zipolite was much more than warm naps in the sun, or hermit crabs, bungalows, palm thatched roofs, hammocks, fresh fish, or senoras patting tortillas on wood fired griddles by the side of the roads.
Guidebooks say that the area is known for its hippies, handmade crafts, and small nudist community. Foreigners wander around like they came on vacation and forgot to go home. Surfers and beach bums live in their beach attire. The surfing is some of the best in the world. Colorful villas line the beachs between Puerto Angel and Pueto Escondido. The buildings and cars are coated with dust.
But there was more to discover than that too.
What I found was something that I wouldn’t have found at the all inclusive resorts of Cancun or the Bahamas. Yes, just like those places, metaphorically speaking things ran on island time; they were slow, relaxing, whatever you want to call it. But I found a sort of detox on this little beach that stood still. It was an attitude of total contentment. I was reminded at how happiness isn’t necessarily defined by how much stuff someone can possess.
I learned that the area didn’t even have electricity until 16 years ago, and that air conditioning is an exceptional luxury. People welcome a slight sea breeze as they lay in their open and leaning homes at night. Locals chuckled and worked through our broken Spanish by day. The food was absolutely incredible. Zipolite is fresh tropical fruits like insanely delicious papaya and coconuts grown on tiny farms; it’s barbacued fish for dinner, pulled out of the water that morning. I found a region where the locals had little, but smiled.
I found a new perspective on responsible ecotourism while trampling through crocodile infested areas. And I felt delighted as I stood still on the single biggest beach for nesting Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. I marveled and felt a genuine childlike wonder at the thousands of tiny cracked eggs mixed with sand that trailed their ways to the ocean.
Lastly, I found a place that is thriving for tourists but has somehow found a balance of not trampling on the locals or the local culture. Businesses are run by locals, not millionaires. Unlike in Jamaica, locals are still allowed to play on the beach. Surprisingly, some of my favorite memories weren’t of the beautiful rock formations at the beach or the sunsets; it wasn’t even feeling like a princess while sleeping under a canopy (which was actually a huge mosquito net over the beds). Some of my favorite memories were of:
- The little girl that I saw walking to school barefoot, and how she inspired me to feel the sand sweep across the cobblestones as I walked around town for an entire afternoon without my sandals (not caring that I’m overdue for a Tetanus shot)
- The family of three who rode a single motorcycle home carrying a bucket with long fishtails sticking out.
- Befriending a local dog named Pinto who stood on guard every night outside of our door
- Feeling a total sense of wonder at the unfamiliar birds and flowers everywhere
- Getting disappointed when I couldn’t find nesting sea turtles in the wild but becoming strangely satisfied by visiting the National Mexican Turtle Center and seeing them nurse sick and injured turtles back to health
- This little guy who pretended to fish as he waited for his father to return home from fishing in Puerto Angel
- The reality of feeling like I had just left another dimension when I returned back to normal life
Zipolite is a secret that doesn’t desire to be found out.