3/10 – 3/17
Hierve el Agua is the sort of attraction that could only exist in Mexico. Calcium rich water from warm springs trickle down the edge of a cliff creating a formation that resembles a frozen waterfall. Never to miss an opportunity for selling elotes and micheladas or building things out of concrete and stone, the locals have channeled the springs into two pools, one of which is on the edge of a thousand foot drop. In the United States, this sort of property would be owned by Howard Schultz and encapsulated with a very tasteful yet modest fence for a man of such means. He would import zebras and macaws to roam freely as he sat by the pools sipping water imported from a five thousand year old Tibetan well and blessed by the Dalai Lama himself. The Mexicans, in contrast, make places like this available to everyone, drink Coca Cola, and throw food scraps to the stray dogs.
From here it was a long day to Ejutla and then a big climb to San Jose del Pacifico. We’d heard good things about this town. We hadn’t clocked that it was a very popular “Spiritual Destination.” As you roll in, you immediately notice a high ratio of foreigners. Most of them have ear to ear smiles. Some are staring at the sky while talking to themselves, others sit cross legged on café patios. I notice a young man that looks like an Ewok. He is covered in beads and wrapped in a colorful blanket. He is humming to himself with his eyes closed. Occasionally he gives blessings to passersby.
The town is known for its particularly potent psychedelic mushrooms. Broad minded wayfarers from across the globe sojourn here to partake. It is not dissimilar to walking into the bedroom of a sixteen year old obsessed with Pink Floyd and acid. All the shops sell carved wooden toadstools, fungal inspired blown glass, and hand woven mushroom keychains. It is a perpetual Rainbow Gathering. The locals love it. And why not? An endless caravan of rich Americans and Canadians stopping through to pay a small ransom for little brown buttons picked from cow shit and sitting peacefully while watching walls drip with polychromatic slime while some stranger wearing a deer head as a hat tells them they have the soul of a beautiful raven and they’re destined for greatness. It’s good work if you can get it.
Rooms were expensive. One hotel owner graciously offered to allow us to camp for free on the roof of one of his buildings. There was a spiral staircase down to a bar with local mezcals.
It is about one hundred kilometers to Zipolite from San Jose, but you drop a total of twelve thousand feet. As you descend for the coast, the temperature climbs. From what I can tell, Zipolite has been annexed by free loving Canadian pensioners. They wander the streets without shirts or shoes. They’ve inflated rents to the point that the local indigenous folks who typically hold a strong monopoly over selling arts and crafts have been pushed out by young gringos. They are better equipped to communicate the mystical restorative properties of shiny rocks they have found along the road and therefore able to demand a higher price.
“This came from the ocean,” I hear a young gypsy tell an older woman, “so it can help you harmonize with the vibrations of the waves.”
All the hip Europeans come here. This equates to overindulgence in hand rolled cigarettes.
Mexico is a modest country. You are more likely to see a person jump into a pool fully clothed than in a swimsuit. I wonder what they make of the nude beaches in Zipolite. At some point I realized that frequenting nude beaches is a hobby for many people in the same way that rock climbing is a pastime of my own. Whereas I can’t help but look at a stone wall and find the path to the top, nudists cannot help but discuss the plethora of activities that they would like to try sans apparel.
“I’d love to ride my bike nude in New York!”
“Does it count as nude cooking if you wear an apron?”
“Oh, skydiving! Now that would be great.”
After a rest day we rode a few kilometers down the beach to Mazunte. Mazunte is just like Zipolte but thirty years younger and with a bit more clothing. We ended up pitching our tent on the back porch of a restaurant. By and large we did nothing for the rest of the day.
Huatulco is Mexico’s answer to Florida. They’ve accurately replicated a vast boulevard divided by an island of well-manicured non-native grass and palm trees. The beach is nice, although crowded. We had arranged a Warmshowers stay just outside of town. It turned out to be at a hotel that was under construction. The owner, Jose, had originally said we could take a room, but it turned out to be a busy night and we ended up setting the tent up on the roof in the middle of some construction debris. We had to quickly shower before the guests arrived and it wasn’t clear where we would go to the bathroom later. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that although the amenities might not be what we come to expect in America, the genuine good nature of people here and the excitement they have at an opportunity to help a stranger is something we can learn from.
We woke early. I tripped over a feral brick in the dark and nearly impaled myself on some rebar sticking out from the roof. We rode to the park in the center of town to eat our cereal and were on the move by seven. You have the road to yourself at this time. The scent of smoke rising from wood burning stoves on the outskirts of town is better for me than any cup of coffee. Coffee helps you feel awake. The smells and sounds from the morning rituals of people preparing for real whole body work in boats and fields contagiously forces one to feel alive.
Another advantage to early rising is getting to eat breakfast twice. We stop at a little restaurant near El Coyul for eggs and chorizo. The woman runs across the street to buy corn flour for making fresh tortillas. After this we ride over a freshly sealed road. The smell is awful and to make things worse our tires acquire little tar balls and small pebbles. It feels like we’re riding across fly paper.
Our destination is Playa Colorada, a secluded beach surrounded by salt flats. There is one small restaurant that is open. They don’t have running water, but there is booze and fresh fish. It is Sunday. On Sundays, Mexicans ritualistically engage in the sort of family get togethers that only happen once every five or ten years in the US. There is usually excessive drinking and yelling about things. Occasionally, very occasionally, somebody takes their shirt off. As the booze takes hold, hammocks are brought out and slung from whatever is available. People sober up, wake up, hug, and drive off. Anybody too drunk to drive, and this is more of a personal opinion rather than something measurable, stays in their hammock or in the bed of their truck.
I laid on the ground near my bike on the fringe of the parking lot, alternating in states of consciousness. Occasionally I heard somebody walk by on their way to pee in a bush. I wondered what they wondered about me laying there. Not enough to move though. The breeze was cool. Eventually I took a dip in the ocean before recommencing my siesta.
The drunkest of the lot was the owner of the restaurant, Manuelito. Eventually he invited us to camp under the palapa. It was sheltered from the wind a bit. Still, our tent almost blew away multiple times.
Several months ago Soph read an article stating that you enjoy your food more when it is well lit. Ever since she has insisted on wearing her headlamp while eating. Every time she looks up she blinds me.
“You know I read an article that said the best light for eating is actually moonlight….”
“No you didn’t.”
“You’re right. But I firmly believe that a well-designed experiment would support my personal preferences.”
You never feel as small as when you’re sitting on the deserted shores of the ocean after dark. There is a deep resonance from the waves that you don’t hear during the day. Like a freight train. The ground shakes. Somehow amidst the violence it is peaceful. I have decided that sleeping near waterfalls is not for me. The sound is too monotonous. It is impossible to know if anything else is happening out there and I like to know that things are happening out there. In a city I find the muffled voices on the street or an ambulance in the distance somehow soothing. Just to know that there are people and things that aren’t sleeping or even yawning. Waves are always changing. They come in sets of a few large ones, then smaller. As one recedes, it curls below the next, causing it to break sooner. Winds, tides….. they are always changing. Brief moments of calm between smaller sets where you can hear a bird or a cricket.
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When I travel I will be thinking of your blogs… I can think of a
thousand trips that were rushed or glossed over without seeing
hearing, feeling, smelling the way you two do on your way. Thanks for the enlightenment.