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Puerto Angel,

From the Sep/Oct 1995 issue No. 25 of the Mexican Meanderings Newsletter.

You do not get to the Port of the Angel by accident it is not really on the way to anywhere. And regardless of whether you arrive on Oaxaca's Pacific Coast by land or by air, you must still go by road to Pochutla.
Pochutla is a dusty and thriving cross-roads town (two banks, two gas stations, a Monday market and some 25,000 souls) where travelers from Acapulco and Puerto Escondido (west), Oaxaca city (north), Huatulco, Salina Cruz and Juchitán (east) mingle with those arriving from or continuing south to Puerto Angel. Some sources describe Pochutla as south of Puerto Escondido, but don't try that - the Pacific Ocean is large and wet.
We chose to take the five hour bus ride down from Oaxaca. The last three hours through the mountains were wonderfully exciting both visually and physically (you might want to bring your motion-sickness pills). On arrival, ask at the Pochutla station where to catch the Puerto Angel bus, which leaves every twenty minutes or so. Or bargain with one of the omnipresent taxi drivers. We opted to share a taxi with a couple of rather ragged male German backpackers who were headed to the beach at Zipolite.
The six mile ride from Pochutla was nothing short of stimulating. The narrow paved road wound blindly through high dunes, and our driver seemed obsessed with the idea that time was money. We gladly and thankfully bid him adiós in downtown Puerto Angel.
Having arrived without hotel reservations and little advance knowledge of the town, we sought out the "tourist agency" noted as a place where, for a few pesos per hour, one could leave bags while seeking accommodations. But first things first! It was time to relax and quaff a cold one (although it was early afternoon, my stomach still wasn't yet ready for solid food) while we studied "downtown" Puerto Angel and the surroundings.
Fortunately a palapa-roofed beach restaurant was right at hand, one of several offering cold beer, mariscos (shellfish), disinterested waiters and welcome shade from the midday sun. A block to the east was the pier we had caught a glimpse of from the taxi. Westward along the curved and dusty main street (known somewhat pretentiously as Bulevar Virgilio Uribe) lay much of the rest of the town. Some fifty yards on was a small Naval base. Landward was the excellent Villa Florencia restaurant, the market, a few small tiendas (shops) and the entrance to several hotels. Virtually all hotels are up the hill - you have to work to get to them.
Historically, Puerto Angel is almost a cipher. Meager indications suggest pre-classic occupation (sometime prior to 600 A.D.) along the coast from here eastward toward Salina Cruz and Juchitán. Mayan and later Zapotec and Mixtec influence is suggested and is reasonable. However, no Tulums nor Monte Albáns have come to light. In view of colonial shipping activity along the coast and in nearby Huatulco and Puerto Escondido, it seems very probable that the well-protected bay of Puerto Angel might have attracted some pirate layovers, although there is nary a piece-of-eight nor doubloon to confirm this.
One interesting story concerns a Danish botanist who arrived in the area shortly after 1840 to collect then unknown plants. He was surprised to find an archaic form of Danish being spoken by some of the inhabitants. Upon investigation, he learned that several generations earlier a Danish-manned vessel had foundered on the coastal rocks. The surviving sailors forsook the sea and settled in the area. Naturally they married local belles and set about teaching them and their children a language they understood Danish.
It wasn't until the mid 1800s that Benito Juárez, then 0axaca's native son president of Mexico, decreed that a port should be created here primarily for the shipment of coffee grown in the nearby hills. The town prospered for a while, but with the advent of trucking and increased access to other ports, hard times descended. Some time in this century, a light cargo pier was constructed. A 1988 publication speaking to retirement in Mexico states that it is a "...dock suitable for cruise ships..." but I have difficulty visualizing this, even after some help from the juice of the agave plant. Basically, only the fishing and the lure of uncrowded beaches remains.
The charm of the Puerto Angel of today is found mainly in its size (or lack thereof), its unsophisticated character (no discos),

Puerto Angel, with Playa Principal and the pier in the background,
Playa Panteón in the foreground.

and the sheer beauty of its location. The village sits rather like tea leaves swirled on the bottom of a teacup formed by steep hills and rocks on three and a half sides.
About mid-morning some excitement is generated as trucks draw up at the pier to await the return of fishing boats (they've been out since well before first light). This, and the actual unloading of the fish, pretty much exhausts the town, which then settles back into a prolonged siesta. It was no great observational feat to notice that movement along the street was limited, for the heat and humidity of midday even in March is fairly intense. A few dogs ambled listlessly between their turf markers and discarded flapping plastic bags. Every twenty minutes or so a bus coasted by, arriving from Pochutla or Zipolite. And occasionally a taxi slowly passed the length of the street, lending credence to the phrase "Hope springs eternal ..." In spite of the small Naval base, sailors were not in evidence. Nor was anyone else.
After we brought the body fluids back into balance, we began to search for the Posada Cañon Devata which had been recommended in several sources. It was not within our view, and we found there really is a bit more to Puerto Angel. Just past the Naval station and across the now dry arroyo, the Bulevar passes the new TelMex telephone office and a Mini-Super (neighborhood grocery store). Then it bends left past several more hotels before continuing toward the settlement of Zipolite, Playa Mazunte and beyond. However, after a short climb, a street splits off to the left toward Playa Panteón (Graveyard Beach). The name comes not from a history of losing swimmers (other nearby beaches qualify for this), but from the fact that overlooking the beach is the village cemetery. Playa Panteón is the favored swimming and diving beach for the town (and tourists), and also is inhabited by somewhat aggressive young men promoting one or another of the beach restaurants. Numerous taxis also vie for your business - the taxistas assume that if you have already walked the half mile from the town center, you probably don't want to walk back in the heat, and price themselves accordingly.
The street ended at the mouth of a small canyon, and we turned up this toward the well camouflaged Devata. This being
Editors' Picks in Puerto Angel

Posada Cañon Devata
$19 (U.S.) for a double

La Buena Vista
$17 (U.S.) for a double

$12 (U.S.) for a double

Villa Florencia
(Good local and Italian food!)

off- season, we were able to secure a lovely room halfway up the hill. When I returned later with our two bags, the serious lack of elevators and escalators in Puerto Angel was brought home to me. Our room, well screened (but bring mosquito repellent for anywhere on the coast), looked out over the lush green vegetation of the small and steep canyon. A fairly steady breeze obviated the need for the fan. We shared a bathroom with one other room.
Fresh water is a rather serious problem in Puerto Angel, as subterranean aquifers are limited. But Devata owners Suzanne and Mateo López (Suzanne was visiting her parents in the U.S. when we were there) are ecologically oriented and return both compost and graywater to the environment. Numerous parrots and miscellaneous other friendly but less frequently seen critters inhabit this little jungle oasis. During the previous year, one of the smaller yet favorite parrots went missing; a few days later it was tentatively identified as a lump partway down the length of a friendly resident non-poisonous snake.
Late afternoon finds many of the guests at Mateo's El Cielo, a perch at the high point of the property, where cold beer and wine are no competition for the glorious view of the bay bathed in the warm, super-saturated colors of the setting sun. From here you can understand how the village got its name; you can almost see angels and fairies dipping their dainty feet in their private pond. Follow this experience with one of the ample vegetarian (I'm not, but with these, I could become one) suppers served in the covered outdoor dining room, and you will purr all the way back to your room.
Mateo himself is a multitalented individual. Son of a fisherman, he knows the sea well. Plumber, electrician, carpenter, innkeeper, philosopher, good friend of nature: Mateo is all of these. But for a glimpse of his soul, look at his paintings. Some are on view in the gift shop, while others are hung in many of the rooms.
We also had a pleasant chat with the owners of La Buena Vista, a small hotel which well-deserves its name. Built into the hillside, it resembles a Mediterranean villa, and is worth the climb required to get there. Their meals also rate well.
A good budget choice on the way to Playa Panteón is Capy's, which has simple but clean rooms and an economical restaurant.
A mile or so west of Puerto Angel is the small village of Zipolite and its beach, the frequent objective of those seeking exposure to the sun and a slightly alternative lifestyle. Reached from Puerto Angel by bus or taxi, it is still fairly remote, and as such is not completely overrun by bathers. The beach itself is a lovely stretch of

Playa Zipolite

warm, clean sand fronting the open and inviting, yet unforgiving, ocean. Strong currents from time to time snatch an unsuspecting swimmer, whose senses may have been either dulled or heightened artificially. Perhaps the strongest draw to naturalists (and to those of slightly prurient interests) is the fact that local police are not overly zealous in the enforcement of laws against nude bathing. They are much less forgiving about the use of mind-altering substances. Don't even think of using them!!
The beach sports a number of rather Spartan restaurants, sleeping rooms and hammock spaces renting for minimal dollars. At the western end is Shambhala, where some years ago an American woman found her own New Age convergence. Perched on a rocky point overlooking Zipolite Beach and the ocean are a few rooms, cabins and hammock spaces - all pretty basic. But who cares about shared bathrooms when you have a view like this?
Those who are turtle lovers and get this far will probably ignore Zipolite and Shambhala and go another five miles or so to the village of Mazunte. Here on the beach is a unique enterprise: the Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga (Mexican Turtle Center). Established by the Federal Government in 1991 near the site of a long-time commercial turtle slaughter ground, it has become a respected center for turtle research and preservation. Covering some 10 acres, it includes a living museum where all marine turtle species occurring in Mexico may be seen, as well as several species of both fresh-water and terrestrial turtles.
So reserve a trip to Puerto Angel for that time when you are stressed to the max. Both Puerto Escondido and Huatulco have airports with flights arriving from Mexico City and 0axaca. There are also charter flights bringing clients in to the Club Med at Huatulco from Dallas, Chicago and other points. Extra seats are occasionally available on these at a good price. An easy bus trip brings you from either place to Pochutla, and thence to Puerto Angel. Be prepared to relax!

The above article is from the newsletter Mexican Meanderings, published 6 times per year by
Southwind Information Services
P.O. Box 33057
Austin, Texas 78764
Tel. 512-441-1815
Fax. 512-441-2330
e-mail: mexplore@aol.com
C. M. Felsted
H. H. Felsted
Subscriptions: $18 per year (USA)
$20 per year (Foreign)
Copyright 1995

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