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Travel in Mexico is broadening

Stan Gotlieb and Diana Ricci

Sin Drugas

Tequila Sunrise is a disco in Puerto Escondido, owned by a couple of Californians. This sign belongs to them. I just thought it ironic that "drugs" apparently does not include booze, which they are in business to sell a lot of. In fairness, they inherited the sign when they bought the place.

Taking a vacation from our vacation, Diana and I went to the beach last week. Actually, we went to several beaches, all on the south Oaxaca coast. What we did there, and what we didn't, is the subject of this discourse.

We don't have a car, although we debate the issue together every time we go on a trip. When we are out of town, we think how nice it would be to have one, and when we are in town we think how nice it is not to have a car to deal with. If we don't have a buddy like Dan willing to chauffeur us around, we take buses (plane fare being such a big expense). While the bus doesn't always go to where we want to end up, we figure that the occasional taxi cab is quite affordable when compared for example to renting a car for the day.

This trip, we did three towns in six days: Huatulco (actually, La Crucecita), Zipolite and Puerto Escondido; three beaches: La Entrega, Zipolite and Playa Principal; an eco-tour of the lagoon at Manialtepec; and the turtle museum at Mazunte. In between we managed a fish dinner (either tuna or red snapper) every night, a few games of cribbage, several books and some good conversation. Total cost: less than $200 USD apiece.

We like to do our bus travel by day. Not only is it more scenic (as in, you can see more), it is safer. The trip from Oaxaca to Huatulco takes most of the day (9:30 a.m. to about 5:00 p.m.), passing first through Salina Cruz, south of Huatulco, before heading up the coast road. Once you get to the coast, the bus rides are short (about an hour and a half to get to Zipolite, using bus and taxi; about an hour and a half more to Puerto Escondido).

The bus says "Huatulco", but it really means "La Crucecita". Huatulco is a planned mega resort encompassing some 13 bays along many miles of coastline, and Crucecita is the commercial center of the area.

Originally planned as a place to house workers, first the ones constructing the resort hotels along Tangolunda and Santa Cruz bays, and later the ones working therein, it has grown into a fine little village in its own right. Small non-resort hotels, apartments and houses are available for rent to those who cannot afford the more expensive Cancun-like hostelries on the bays. Taquerias and cheap restaurants provide food for those whose palates reject the tourist fare available in the resorts. There is a beautiful Zócalo patronized by local families. Yes, there are tourist tee-shirt shops and a few "up-scale" restaurants, but Crucecita is Mexico, not Gringolandia. We have been going there for four years now, mainly to enjoy the snorkeling at nearby Entrega bay, but this year for the first time we detected a maturity, a sense of identity, that we hadn't felt before.

Speaking of maturity, that's not what you will find in Zipolite. I doubt that anyone we saw, except for the owners of the hotels and restaurants, was over 40 - and most were under 30. With one exception - a hotel under construction - everything is on the beach, with a sand floor, wood walls, and a thatched roof. (Undoubtedly, I am exaggerating, but not by much). If you like rough (but pleasant, laid back and nude) then this is definitely for you. But be warned: a crude hotel room in Zipolite won't cost you any less than you would pay for a more plastic one in Crucecita; nor will food. Tourism, my friend, is tourism, and everyone wants to get it while they can. Arguably, the really cost-conscious traveler can find cheaper places to stay in a beach town like Zipolite: there are more sand-floored cabanas and sheds in which to hang your hammock. But, space for space, prices are pretty much the same.

The same appears to be true in Puerto Escondido, where an influx of Italian entrepreneurs has raised the level (and, to a lesser extent, the price) of cuisine.

One thing we noticed everywhere: the lack of paying customers. Tourism is down, and everywhere we went there were plenty of folks bearing witness, mostly hotel, restaurant and shop workers. Particularly in Puerto, traditionally a haven for Canadians who, with their own economy in a downturn, are very cost conscious. This year, they are being diverted to Thailand and other southeast Asian destinations.

We came back via Sola de Vega, a shorter, less spectacular route than the "old" road through Pochutla. The bus was second class, but the driving and the brakes were top notch. As usual, we were glad we went, and glad to get back.

Now for what we didn't do: we didn't check our e-mail (after six days, I had 48 messages waiting); we didn't pick up a newspaper; we didn't watch any television. Diana didn't shop for food or cook; I didn't write a line or submit an article. I did almost do an interview, but stopped because my subject was being cagey and I was feeling very unmotivated.

We also didn't follow our usual regimen of low-cholesterol low-fat eating. What is there about vacations?

Photography by Diana Ricci


Published or Updated on: April 1, 1999 by Stan Gotlieb and Diana Ricci © 1999
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