Thursday, May 23, 2013

A mountain road came down onto a beach on the Pacific in Oaxaca State, southern Mexico. The road had taken maybe ten hours through the mountains with one stop in a coffee-growing valley that I'll never forget, because the smell has stayed with me all these years. Another thing I remember is this tiny store with old glass bottles of coca-cola.

On the beach an old guy approached me and told me that the place was called Zipolite, or killer wave. You had to watch out for that wave, he said, because the tide would draw you out a ways, then the wave would come and shoot you up against the rocks, which could be dangerous and even killed people. I listened carefully to him and vowed to be careful out there if and when I went swimming. It was a beautiful afternoon. I was a little nervous about leaving my pack against a tree because it had a camera in it, but finally I just went swimming. I was dirty and stressed out. I had been hitchhiking down through Mexico for a while and needed to swim to clean myself off.

The stunning afternoon sun made looking back at the shore a sight. I could see the palm trees and the huts that people lived in on the beach. Lots of campers were more or less permanently parked there. Most of the campers were sleeping because that's what you do late afternoons in Mexico. Some people take their siestas only 1-3 or so, but vacationers would luxuriate, and go more from 1 to about 5, and then stay up much later in the evenings, when weather was good and it cooled off a bit. The water was nice, salty but fresh and cool, ocean water.

But then the wave came; it came out of nowhere, and sure enough, rather than just shooting me back up on shore, the way I'd come, it shot me up against some jagged rocks and really scraped me. In retrospect I was probably lucky, because there was enough water there that I was only scraped across the top, whereas, if there was less water, I'd have broken limbs or died, as the man had suggested. When it was over, which was a few terrifying minutes later, I was scraped bloody, somewhat dazed, but was able to nurse my wounds before loading the pack back up and heading off to another place. This place was called Puerto Angel (ahn-hail), but the next place down the road was Puerto Escondido, slightly more commercial, for some reason, but a place where I was now too leery to take another swim. I bought a light dinner at the market, maybe a dollar or two, then camped out and headed back up into the interior.

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