Mazunte (Mah-zoon-tay) is not for everyone — it is a small, quaint tropical spit of beach northwest of Puerto Angel, past Zipolite, where dreadlocks, drop-outs, and eco-travelers who want something more authentic than high-rise Huatulco mega hotels have found safe haven. It is a mix of palapas (coconut palm thatched cottages), bungalows, camp grounds, rooms for rent, hammocks for rent, that are basic accommodations starting at $10-25 per night to a few higher end locales like El Sueno that go for about $100 per night. Beach side dining runs $5-10 per person per meal. A platter of fresh fruit is $3.00; omelettes and huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs) accompanied by fresh corn tortillas, beans and rice are about $4.00. The One Really Great Eatery is Un Secreto, owned by a young Frenchman from Montpelier and his American wife. This is where you can get REAL espresso, cappuccino, cafe con leche — where the coffee is organic from the local highlands just above Pochutla. But, I digress. Food is not the reason to go to Mazunte. This is a wide, gorgeous beach with rock outcroppings, where the Pacific Ocean is warm enough to feel like a bathtub and one can swim at 8 a.m. in the morning or 6 p.m. at dusk. It is also a surfers paradise and the waves surge to maximum height (along with the strengthening undertow) in mid-afternoon. The sky is clear, bright and the night stars are truly like diamonds. It is hot in Mazunte and in January can be 85 to 90 degrees during the day, and maybe 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the night. It is laid back and one can wear a bathing suit and sarong day in and day out. For three days we rested here, laid in hammocks or sat in Adirondack chairs protected from the sun by the thatched palm palapas, drank agua de sandia (watermelon juice), ate fresh papaya, melon and pineapple drizzled with lemon juice, took early morning and evening strolls on the beach, ran down to the water to jump in the waves to cool ourselves, didn’t look at email. It felt like we were on an island far away from the world as we know it. The sun glittered on the water, the light was so strong that sometimes it hurt my eyes, the gulls and pelicans did their diving dances for sardines that swam in schools between our legs, shore fishermen cast their nets at dusk, children built sand castles, older couples walked hand in hand, the sun worshippers turned their bikini-clad bodies periodically for even roasting. A constant flow of local vendors passed our way, plying the beach, back and forth, old women and mothers with children in tow, baskets balanced on their heads, hawking tamales, dulces (dool-sez) — sweet pastries, cheap jewelry, clothing, organic coffee, mole. It is not an easy way to make a living. There is a turtle museum up the road and international teams come here to save the endangered turtles and their eggs. We met a group of veterinarians and veterinary aides from all over the U.S. who have come here through Project Mazunte for the past nine years during the turtle egg laying season. They neuter and spay dogs up and down the coast in order to reduce the marauding packs that prey on turtles and their eggs. Three difficult roads lead from Oaxaca to the Pacific Coast. They are two lane, narrow, winding switchbacks where maximum speed is about 45 mph. It took us 7 hours to get from Puerto Angel back to Oaxaca, counting one 15 minute break at the summit of highway 175, and not counting the 45 minutes we took out for comida in San Martin Tilcajete at 4:30 p.m. on the road out of Ocotlan. I have now traveled two of these roads, Mexico 190 from Oaxaca to Tehuantepec and Mexico 175. Both are a similar experience, although it takes a mere 4 hours to get to Tehuantepec! it takes an additional 2 hours to get to Huatulco from there, and then another 1 hour or so to get to Puerto Angel and then 30 minutes more to Mazunte . One does not go to the beach for a day trip. It will be some years before we do this trip again, since I cannot be in the midday sun (fair skin is a definite detriment in this climate), and sleeping is much more conducive in the cooler Oaxaca highlands. I was amazed at the differences in terrain on these roads. The road to Tehuantepec is high desert, sheer cliff precipes, suguaro cactus forests, agave fields running vertical up the hillsides for miles starting just outside of Matatlan and continuing for 100 miles. It is like driving Laurel Canyon or the coast of Big Sur for 100 miles — not for the faint of heart. Route 175, while equally dizzying, does not have the number of drop offs at the edge of the road and goes through a much more tropical region of banana, coconut, mango and coffee bean groves. Roadside stands sell freshly cut bananas — green, red and yellow — in varying varieties and stages of ripeness. Piles of coconuts are there for the picking. This road does not seem to be as heavily traveled as the one to Tehuantepec; we encountered no tourist buses swaying in front of us or breathing down our tail, no overly eager taxi drivers wanting to pass on blind curves. It was a relief to descend into the Oaxaca Valley and return home to Teotitlan. We are thinking that perhaps the next time we will take a flight to Huatulco or Puerto Escondido and save the wear and tear.A few notes about Tehuantepec and Juichitan: other than the market at Juichitan to shop for the beautifully embroidered blouses and skirts or the finely filagreed gold jewelery of the Tehuanas, there is, in my humble opinion, no compelling reason to spend more than two or three hours in the region. If you are in the market, go directly to the second floor where all the best embroidery is located. For jewelry, go to the last stall on your left for the best prices. Juichitan is definitely the more interesting town between the two, is the third largest in Oaxaca state with more than 80,000 people, and is the commercial center of the region. It’s streets are packed with cars, trucks, bicyclists, vendors, banks, a hubbub, mishmash of people and things for sale. Nothing is quiet. Bring your ear plugs if you plan to sleep here. We slept at the Hotel Calli just outside of Tehuantepec heading toward Juichitan on the left side of the Panamerican Highway beyond the bus station. This was after we drove to Juichitan, circled the town, decided nothing was hospitable looking enough for us after this grueling 4 hour road trip down the mountainside, drove back to Tehuantepec across the desert dotted cattle ranches and battling fierce 50+ mph winds to check into the Hotel Calli, an oasis well worth the $80 USD per night. A few notes about Huatulco: if you want Cancun on the Pacific Coast and Disneyland beach shuttles ferrying North Americans to the beach, with high end shopping and eateries, isolated from the real Mexico, this is a perfect destination. The beaches are beautiful, and there are a few gated beach side condominum communities that offer protection and exclusivity for those seeking this type of solitude. We went straight through Huatulco, spent the night at Crucecita in a bsic clean room at the Hotel Grifer for $500 pesos, and found our beach haven the next day at Mazunte. We did hear from a Canadian in Mazunte who was from Regina, Saskatchewan, that he found a package to Huatulco through a travel agent, dropped the land portion, ended up paying $200 USD round trip air fare to Huatulco from Regina, a 6 hour flight. We’re going to look into this when we get home.
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