# 23: Vacation Reprise

Oaxaca Coast :  Puerto Ángel

27- 28 November 2015

              We breakfast at 8:30 in La Galería, right across the street from the information kiosk in Puerto Escondido’s Bahía Principal. Paintings by local artists on the walls. Sheila, trained as an English teacher, settled in Puerto Escondido where her skill could make her a living. Gina, the greeter at the tourist kiosk, knowing Sheila’s interests in Jewish genealogy, gave her our card, she emailed us, and we set up a breakfast date.

Sheila has lived in Puerto about two and a half decades. We order coffee and chat for a while about Puerto Escondido and the route that brought her here. We are waiting for a couple of her friends and after a few moments one of them, Richard, sweeps in.  Richard—he says he is from the anarchist Malmeds; his father carried on with Emma Goldman—is from Albany, but his dialect suggests somewhere closer to New York’s Lower East Side. He came to Puerto Escondido with his wife Mimi even earlier than Sheila. They rented for a time and eventually built a house here. Mimi is at the exercise class she attends religiously and will not be joining us.

Sheila thinks she may have some Jewish ancestry, even though her research has uncovered that one side of her family is from Wales and the other from Scotland, neither of which historically has been a magnet for Jewish immigration. Richard, who reads widely and is fascinated by it all and especially by anything touching his Jewish heritage, has assimilated some of the usual widespread-but-erroneous legends about the Inquisition, the Expulsion, the American settlement of Jews and conversos … The two of them tag team grilled us and anecdoted us for a couple of hours. We found it a very entertaining exchange, and presumably they did too. I’m not sure that any minds were changed, but some eyebrows were from time to time raised, and the breakfast was good too.


             After dropping Richard at his place on Zicatela beach, Linda and I drove the two hours to Puerto Ángel, making a few side exploratories into some of the crescent-shaped, palm-fringed bays that are a feature of the Pacific Coast between Puerto Escondido and the Isthmus. What people call Puerto Ángel is really a series of tiny towns strung out along 15 or so kilometers of coastline. The biggest are Mazunte (known for its turtles), Zipolite (known for its waves), and Puerto Ángel. Mazunte in recent decades has become 90s hip, with tarot readers, reiki, and a martial arts dojo. On the one paved street, which is the coastal highway, tea shops—organic, of course, and chai, —alternate with stores selling bangles, bikinis, and sun screen. We did not see a crystal shop but there is bound to be one squirreled away somewhere. Zipolite’s waves have a nice curl to them, so there are hippies and tattoos and surf stuff. At one end of the kilometer-long Zipolite beach is the Nude Hotel (really, that‘s its name!) and a little secluded naturist beach.


Puerto Ángel used to be the port to which coffee planters, all up and down the western slope of the Sierra Madre Occidental, brought their beans for shipment. The concrete pier to which the freighters used to tie up isn’t of much use now, except as a place to walk your dog. Kids play beneath it in the gentle surf. Nowadays Puerto Ángel is a working fishing port, though small time: locals take outboard powered lanchas (that former New Englanders like ourselves might categorize as dinghies) into the nearby waters to fish for … well, whatever they can get. Three or four men to a lancha (we’ve not seen any women go out), coiled up nets at the ready, and buckets that start out filled with chum and return—with luck—holding a mojarra de mar or a huachinango or two. It’s been interesting watching the rhythm of the fishing. A time for mending nets, a time for chumming bait, a time for hauling the lancha up on the sand, and even time for a spirited game of beach fútbol. Some lanchas go out early in the morning, but some push off around dusk, and we can see their lights bobbing on the waves as they puttputtputt out through the narrows of the horseshoe shaped bay, past the sentinel rocks where the large waves break and spew foam into the air. On the lancha’s return the fishermen sell to the co-op or directly to the half-dozen restaurants along the beaches.


A restaurant is a cook stand and a dozen tables set out on the sand under a palm roofed palapa. On our beach there are two: one belongs to our hotel, Cordelia’s, and another, to Suzi’s (“El Lugar Para Chícharo” says the sign painted on the weathered yellow wall) is right next door. We’ve eaten at each. A waiter brings out today’s catch —lifted out of its bucket and sprawled onto a platter— and lets us choose among the mojarra, bonito, huachinango, and tilapia.


Hotel Cordelia’s (there’s no reason for the apostrophe: it’s an example of the fad of anglophilia unrestrained; lest we crow about it, think how many US restaurants serve steak “with au jus”) was recommended by our friends Melinda and Gene in San Pablo Etla. It turns out to be the nicest hotel in town, at least at beach level. Modern-ish, with four prime rooms on the bay side, each with a small balcony and a view. And clima to mitigate the oppressive midday heat and humidity that everyone tells us is very unseasonable. We suspect they are saying it to entice us to stay longer or to come back soon.


What do we do in Puerto Ángel? Not really much of anything. It’s not the sort of place that dangles attractions in front of the visitor. I birdwalk early, up in the scrub forests on the hills. I return to the hotel and Linda and I have a late breakfast in one of the two restaurants (fried bananas, this morning after our chorizo omelettes, with gooey sweet La Lechera drizzled over them). We look at the waves. Linda knits some; I write some. We shower off the stickiness. We read. We count the circling frigate birds high in the blue sky over the bay. I go for a paddle in the tepid waters of the bay. We walk on the beach. We empty the sand from our sandals. We shower again. You know, a vacation.


I misspoke. There actually is one attraction here worth a visit. In Mazunte the federal government has built a turtle and tortoise center. It has an aquarium containing various species of turtles, identified with informative plaques, swimming in tanks with unidentified colorful fish. Along the beach it has a nursery with tanks of tiny turtles waiting for their day of release. One of the Centro’s informative placards says that of the 13 species of sea turtle in the world, 11 nest on the beaches of Mexico, and almost all are threatened by poaching and by loss of habitat.  The busload of students from the Puerto Ángel campus of the Universidad del Mar who are clustered at the turtle nursery during our visit get a lesson on all this by the chief curator of the collection, and are raptly attentive, even as they take hundreds of pictures with their cell-phone cameras.  I believe they take more photos than even I do.


We have enjoyed the turtles, the eating, and, in my case, the birding and the swimming. Still, two nights in Puerto Ángel with the intervening day are really enough for us. I don’t think Linda and I are entirely into vacations. For me, anyway, relaxing is hard; I seem to be happiest when I am on task. Case in point: it’s nearly 9:30 PM and I am not sitting out on the balcony watching the full moon shimmer on the waves on the bay (which is lovely) and listening to the toddlers shouting and laughing their way through one last hilarious game of kick-sand-all-over-your-sister.  I am sitting at a desk next to the window writing on this blog.


By 10:00 the children have gone to bed. The moon is up high enough to appear to be normal size. The night-fishermen have left the bay, and all we can hear is the slap of water on the sides of the bobbing lanchas that are still in port and the lap and hiss of small waves on the sand. Time to wrap this up.


We are heading back to Oaxaca in the morning.