Welcome to the New Home of Realoaxaca.com

We have moved the location of our web site from the giant – and getting giant-er – internet service provider, Earthlink, to a small, local service run by a friend and constant helper right here in Oaxaca. You won’t notice anything different about the service, and it won’t cost us any less; we just think it’s a good idea to support local folks when we can.

Jesus Gutierrez, now about 19 years old, started working on other people’s computers when he was 14. This service, called “www.oaxacaservices.com”, is his latest foray into electronic entrepreneurialism, and we wish him well.

Playa Amor, from the entrance in the cliff above the beach. The turtles in the masthead above are being raised along with iguanas at an “iguana nursery” located alng highway 200 just west of the Mazunte entrance.

Midwinter Travel Edition: A Few Days At the Beach

We suffered a cold snap in late December. All our neighbors agreed that they had not seen such low temperatures in ten years. Once our round of holiday commitments was over, we threw the necessary clothes and books into the Tsuru and headed south, toward the Pacific coast of Oaxaca. Of course, as luck would have it, the 29th, the day we left, was the warmest in weeks – but nothing like the hot we languished in once we got where we were going.

There is More Than One Way to Get There from Here

One of the questions I am often asked at my Orientation sessions is which is the best road to take, to get to the coast. I have always answered “it depends” – as indeed it does (on where you are starting from, where you are going to, and whether or not you suffer from motion sickness, for example).

Roca Blanca (the white rock, or the guano stone) from the balcony of Dan’s palapa at sunset. You’ll have to trust me on the “white” part…

Conventional wisdom has it that if you are starting in Oaxaca and are going to Puerto Escondido, you take the highway south through Zimatlán and Sola de Vega; if to Huatulco you choose to go east to Tehuantepec, south to Salina Cruz, and back west on the coast road; if to Puerto Angel, then through Ocotlán, up to the top of the highest pass in the state at San José del Pacifico, and Pochutla. But of course if you want to stop in San Martín Tilcajete to pick up an alebrije, then maybe you want to go through Pochutla to get to Puerto Escondido because by the time you get to Sn Martín you’ve already gone well past the turnoff to Zimatlán, and … well, you get the idea..

The choices were easy for us, because we WERE stopping in Sn Martín, AND we were headed for Zipolite beach, just outside Puerto Angel. After three hours of sinuous but newly paved mountain road, we took a break outside San José to admire the view from the terrace of the Puesta del Sol, where you can have a snack and, if you so choose, rent a cabaña for the night. When we started down the other side, the road got old and rough, and stayed that way for the three hours it took us to get to Pochutla.

Coming back, we started from Puerto Escondido, so the Sola de Vega road seemed like just the ticket. Of the six hours we were on the road, five were on broken roadway, and while the curves weren’t quite as sinuous, they weren’t exactly easy, either.

Straw men such as this one dot the beaches on the south coast. They represent the old year. On New Years’ Eve, they are burned at midnight.

Our general conclusion was that the extra hour it takes to drive down to Pochutla probably isn’t worth the better road, although it was a close call. The road that goes past the string of beach towns west of Puerto Angel was fairly smooth, but the topes are daunting and numerous.

Of course, all that will change as the heavy loads and falling stones pound the new paving to San Jose, and / or they repave the Sola de Vega road…

A String of Pearls

If you start from Puerto Angel and continue west, you pass through a series of small beach towns, all of which used to be tiny isolated villages and have now turned into tourist destinations.

Within some of these areas, there are distinct “neighborhoods”. For example, Puerto Angel itself is divided into “centrá” and Playa Panteón (where the venerable vegetarian b&b “Cañon Devata” is located. Zipolite has, on its’ eastern end, Play del Amor; and barrio Roca Blanca on the west. Then it’s over the hill to San Augustinillo, itself a small part of Playa Aragón; followed by another curvy up-and-down to Mazunte, and still another twist or two past Playa Ventanilla and back to highway 200.

We were fortunate to have the advice of our road buddy Dan McWethy, who was just winding up a volunteer stint at Piña Palmera, on the west end of Zipolite. Through his good graces, we ate well and inexpensively at several restaurants along and near the newly paved Adoquín (walking street), and at what has to be the most “romantic” eatery (not as inexpensive) in the state of Oaxaca, El Alquimista.

With all these choices of places to settle for awhile, where you decide to go really depends on your own preferences, tastes, and material circumstances. Tom Pennick’s excellent web site that includes tons of info on the area is a must consult if you’re heading that way. We rather liked the beach at Augustinillo, the one day we spent there, and the next time we go beach-ing we will probably head for one of the small pensións along the main street, all of which are just a few yards from the sand.

We also spent a couple of days in Puerto Escondido, returning to an old friend, the Hotel Ben-Zaa, an anomalous place with a Mexican feel, filled with Midwesterners from both sides of the Canadian border. Dinner the first night we were there: Cornish game hen, no spices thanks you. We chose to eat elsewhere…

An iguana family was in residence in the shrubbery around the pool at the Ben-Zaa hotel. This one was the mom.

Speaking of eating in Puerto, Dan and Carmen of Cafecito fame are well on the way to becoming a dynasty. The second Cafecito opened in Bacocho, and the old original Carmen’s Bakery is being operated under franchise (more or less). The wait for a table at the Zicatela shop can take an hour, and it is rare not to have to wait, at any time of the day. As a result, restaurants have popped up on both sides to handle the folks who don’t like lines. To the west, Mangos seems quite popular; to the west there is an Italian place that actually cooks its pizzas in a stone oven, just like in the old country.

A Rare Housing Opportunity

For the select many who subscribe to this Newsletter, we are offering our house for two months starting sometime in the first week of April, while we are off visiting family “on the other side”. Two bedrooms, completely furnished, including all appliances and mod cons (but no microwave). Computer hookup, but you have to bring your own laptop. Sorry, the Tsuru is not part of the deal.

If you are SERIOUSLY interested, drop us an e-mail and we can discuss the details. For some pictures of the house, click here.

And this young fellow is one of the babies…

Oaxaca Reaches a New Agreement with the Ambulantes

From time to time, we have reported on the occupation of the Zócalo area by itinerant peddlers (ambulantes, in Spanish). Having neither licenses nor permission, they move in all at once, hundreds at a time, and squat. This turns once-wide “walking streets” into narrow lanes to be negotiated amidst throngs of holiday buyers moving between blaring compact disk sellers, food vendors with boiling oil on precarious tables, and pickpockets who know a good opportunity when they see one. While this can happen anytime, it is generally worse around holidays.

For the most part, these vendors are poor people, who buy their goods on credit from large wholesalers and operate on an exceedingly narrow margin. While they may not pay the city, they most certainly pay an “association”. Often, the association is run by gangsters who protect the vendors from the police by a combination of payoffs and pugnacious defense of turf. The vendors are desperate; their products are cheaper than in the stores (low overhead); other poor folks are less put off than they are when they go to one of the established businesses. While one hears a lot of complaints about the ambulantes from the tourists and the business people, the poor seem to like them.

This year, the ambulantes threatened to inject over a thousand booths into the Zócalo area. The city responded by commissioning hundreds of “police specials”: muscle-for-hire, armed with batons, gas, guns, and helmets with plastic face guards, standing in large groups at all the corners of the square, and on every corner within a block.

For part of the tide cycle, this lovely tide pool on San Augustinillo beach is just right for the wader class

The ambulantes’ negotiators came to city hall with an ultimatum: either they be allowed in, or there would be a blood-bath. (It was a credible threat: not long ago in MexCity, a massive police raid on one street market was turned back by force, as practically everyone in the neighborhood grabbed a stick and joined the fight.) Both sides were adamant, and for days it looked like violence was just around the corner, until the city put an acceptable offer on the table at the last minute.

This year the puestos (stands) – some 850 of them – are located in an area south and west of the Zócalo. Ranging over several blocks of commercial and traffic streets, they appear to be doing a good amount of business. Of course, the owners of the stores and hotels and restaurants that line those streets are anything but pleased. One hardware store owner said, “My business is cut in half. Shoppers can’t get to my doorway, the way these people have the sidewalk blocked. The government puts them here because the tourists are more important.” The general attitude seems to be “anywhere but in my back yard”.

Meanwhile, a recent survey of businesses in the state of Oaxaca, done by the finance ministry, suggests that over 100,000 small entrepreneurs are suffering from a combination of the failing economy and the flood of cheap Chinese imports that have replaced home-made items in many stores and even more puestos.

For those of us who live off the dollar economy, however, this has been an uncluttered, unchaotic and picturesque season. Our view from the sidewalk cafés has been unobstructed, and our ears have been spared from the gangsta-rap that blared out at us in past years. Unless you crane your neck and look way down the street, you don’t even know they are there.

Another Fine Quarterly Posting

The eighth edition of “From the Field”, written, illustrated, and compiled by George Colman and Michele Gibbs, is now available on the realoaxaca website by clicking here. Enjoy!