Pinky, Fred and I recently had the pleasure of spending a lovely afternoon with Gloria Esperanza, a fascinating lady with some very interesting stories to tell. Gloria had been a legend to me ever since my first visit to Zipolite a few years ago. I mentioned Shambhala, her rambling, rustic resort that sits on the hills at the north end of the beach, in another one of my blog posts. She was, quite truly, the original Flower Child of Zipolite.
I have found her story—how she came to Zipolite in 1969 and ended up staying, and building this rather remarkable place called Shambhala—to be an amazing testimony to the power wielded by a determined female.
I had met Angelica, the woman who runs Gloria’s beachside restaurant, Lo Bohemio, and asked her if she could arrange for me to meet Gloria, and to see some of the jewelry she’s created over the years. I thought that there was a possibility that Gloria might be somewhat intimidating, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. She’s one of those people you meet and feel like you’ve known for a while. Her little dog, Dharma, and Pinky got along just fine. As we visited I heard stories of her first trip to this area, in the late ’60’s. They got off the bus in what was then the small village of Puerto Angel–and they got off in the wrong town. They were trying to go to Puerto Escondido, a larger town further up the coast. They decided to walk the coast a bit, following a dirt path that is now the highway. They ended up in Zipolite, not yet on the map. There was one fish shack, one small tienda, a few local families. There was no drinking water to be had for these gringas from Los Angeles. There were also no toilets, no electricity, and no hotels. The ladies had to camp on the beach and carry big bottles of drinking water along that dirt path from Puerto Angel.
As soon as she saw the cliffs at the end of Zipolite beach, Gloria was hooked. She stayed. Long story short: she married a local fisherman and settled in to life south of the border. One can only imagine what a liberated woman she was in the early ’70’s and because she experienced the macho side of the culture as a wife, the marriage ended 3 years later. But Gloria managed to eventually own the rocky north end of the beach in Zipolite. Paths had to be cut. Jungle had to be cleared. A well had to be dug. Gloria managed to pay a couple of local guys to help her. She also cut, cleared, and dug. But the well water still had to be boiled. Gloria did yoga. She chanted. She had a vision of Shambhala that started as a vegetarian restaurant and became a spiritual retreat. The seekers and the wanna-be hippies started to come. Drinking, drugs, and nudity were not allowed. Gloria continued to build. Shambhala grew. In 1994, Hurricane Pauline happened, and wrecked havoc with Shambhala. Much had to be re-built. Her personal home was damaged, and her jeweler’s tools were destroyed. At that point she started to just work with beads, and those are the pieces I saw. I liked what she had done—in fact, I came away with two necklaces.
At this point, Gloria has had some health setbacks. She finds it almost impossible to get down the hill from Shambhala, so she seems like a permanent part of it, in a house full of her artwork and stories and memories. The gleam is still in her eyes, and she still chants. She chanted while I looked at her jewelry.
Things never stay the same, and I hope that as Gloria is ready to hand It off to the next person (she now is offering part of it as lease to buy) that person will be able to find a way to carry on Gloria’s Shambhala. There is a sign right outside the restaurant that says, “Shambhala, where the 60’s never end. A continuation of the original situation. Welcoming the Return of the Flower Child.” I think Gloria could definitely bring out someone’s Inner Flower Child.
I have no idea who these guys are, or what they were up to. They are not appropriately dressed for the beach, that’s for sure. Now let’s consider a whole different direction for beach attire.
Did I mention that nudity on the beach in Zipolite is okay? In fact, as is pointed out on some websites, nudity is one of the things that this beach is known for. No shirt, no shoes, no pants; no problem. (But you can leave your hat on.). So everyday, sunrise to sunset, there are a fair share of beach-goers who are just letting it all hang out. Nudity is certainly not required, nor do the majority of the people doff their duds, but it is pretty constant. As in, at any given moment there is probably someone in your field of vision who is naked as a plucked jay bird.
I have always prided myself in being very open-minded, pretty liberated (especially when it comes to other people’s behaviors), and non-judgmental. Yet I find myself pondering this situation, and trying to figure out how I feel about it. And how I feel, in a word is — conflicted.
It bothers me that I tend to think I would like for most of these free spirits to wear a sarong, or at least a thong. Perhaps some “private parts” need to stay private. Somehow full-frontal nudity walking in my direction feels just a bit confrontational.
Since I am fairly self-centered, the first thought I have is, “Would I do that?” The answer is definitely, “No”. But I’m not sure if it is because of modesty or vanity. I’m sure part of the “no” is motivated by a desire not to be checked out. The reason I think l would be checked out is because I check other people out. I look at the nude ones with a much more critical eye than I use on the ones in attire. And, in the course of analyzing how I feel about the situation, a lot of what I’m analyzing is my own thoughts. I am, in fact, viewing others through critical and judgmental eyes. I don’t think that’s very nice. I would much rather look at beautiful bodies that out-of-shape, sloppy ones. That, too, makes me feel kind of hard-hearted.
However, one of the first things you realize is that most of the people who take part in the nudity do not look fabulous without their Speedos. They are male and female (although probably 70% are male), all types and all ages, but only a small minority could dance for tips. I think that the ones who could really pull off pulling it all off usually don’t and the ones who might want to rethink the whole thing are the ones who do. I certainly wouldn’t want to rain on their parade or cramp their style, and I appreciate their lack of self-consciousness. I really do. But then, I ask myself how anyone could possibly not be self-conscious while walking up and down the beach naked. Keep in mind I am not talking about just discreet sunbathing ( which I wouldn’t give a thought to). I’m talking about walking up and down the beach, or finding a very prominent spot to do your morning yoga, or your afternoon tai chi. Some days I think I have landed in the middle of an exhibitionist convention. Of course, all this is very dependent on the weather, and it is hot here. And, nudity only happens here on the beach. No one is trucking around on the main street without at least a bikini. In fact, on the website of the place where we are staying they respectfully request that residents don’t go nude on the pathways. No worries about the Ellis bunch messing up on that one.
It doesn’t really bother me, it simply puzzles me on a number of levels. In questioning how I feel about it, I have to question how I feel about the freedoms of others and where lines should be drawn. The real truth is, I find it a little bit entertaining, and that kind of bothers me, too.
This is a picture from a few years ago in Isla Mujeres.
I have been having a serious love affair with Mexico for a very long time. It started about 25 years ago when Fred and I went to Acapulco. We left Acapulco after the first night and went to Pie de la Cuesta, a tiny beach community that was a short bus ride – yet very far away – from Acapulco. We rented a little room right on the beach for $12 a night. It was very basic, but the main hacienda had a lot of charm, and the dogs on the beach were quite friendly. Every day was sheer bliss.
A few years later we started going to Mexico regularly, starting with Puerto Vallarta, where missing the boat back from a day trip to Yelapa led to many wintertime returns to this remote little village that could only be reached by water. When we were there we stayed in palapa-roofed cabanas, again right on the beach. I started to notice that when the plane landed in Mexico I felt an extreme feeling of happiness. The only way to describe this feeling is that whenever I land in Mexico I feel that I am right where I need to be. And when I leave, it always seems too soon.
When we finally decided we needed to explore somewhere else, we headed to the Yucatan. At that time, the mid-1990’s, Tulum wasn’t quite so hip and expensive as it is now, and we loved it. Playa del Carmen also hadn’t completely turned into “little Cancun,” and we spent some fun days there. We did a lot of traveling in the Yucatan and saw Merida, Valladolid, Chichen Itza, and many miles of interesting roadside and little villages, where life seemed to move at a far different pace than anything we were used to. One of my favorite days involved a ride in an old VW that we drove to the end of the Boca Paila Peninsula, which seemed like a ride to the end of the earth, to a little town called Punta Allen. The road was like driving in a dry, rocky creek bed and we had to frequently stop to chase huge iguanas out of the way of the car. Fred’s memory of this day is different from mine as he had to do the driving. He was very concerned that the ancient VW was going to completely fall apart, leaving us stranded in the jungle.
We spent some time in Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox (where a friendly bartender introduced me to the wonderful world of good tequila), Mahahual, at the end of the Yucatan, and visited Xcalak, the community that is as far as you can go without entering Belize. We visited Chetumal, the capitol of the state of Quintana Roo, and Lake Bacalar, called the lake of many colors for good reason.
When we realized we had pretty much covered the Yucatan and Quintana Roo, we decided to return to the Pacific Coast. Crossing the mountains by van from Oaxaca City, we ended up San Agustinillo, a tiny and very quiet fishing community. We loved Punta Placer, the hotel we found in San Agustinillo. While we were there we spent some time in the larger beach town of Zipolite, where we made friends with Javier Huesca, who runs La Providencia, the most wonderful restaurant we’ve found in Mexico. We spent some time in the beautiful colonial town of Oaxaca City as well. (Where another friendly bartender introduced us to the wonderful world of good mescal). Oaxaca is the state in Mexico that is famous for its cuisine and for its crafts. Pottery, weaving, painted wooden animales…and for its artisan mescal, another product of the agave plant.
About three years ago we started taking two trips a year to Mexico, spending some summer time in San Miguel de Allende. There are really no words to describe the beauty of this little city, which sits right in the center of the country. It is literally close to Heaven, way up in the mountains, where the weather all year is wonderful. It is an artist’s city. It is very clean, and the people are very nice. It is the kind of place I could see us settling down in, not for a vacation but for life.
Which brings me to the point of this post. Fred and I both “retired” last year. We are now free to go wherever, whenever, as long as we can budget it. That already means more time South of the Border. Last winter we again decided we needed to try something new, and went to Costa Rica for 6 weeks. Nothing against Costa Rica, but that trip pretty much sealed the deal for us. Mexico it is. So this coming year we are planning for six months in Mexico, spending time in both Zipolite and San Miguel. Then it may be time to decide what to do next. There is one more place in Mexico I am curious to explore, San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. I don’t know when we’ll take that trip. Since I am an obsessive planner, I want to see the whole picture right now. I also know that no matter how much planning you do, life is best when lived one day at a time. (But of course, you do have to book tickets and secure rentals). So, we’ll see. We leave for Zipolite on December 14 so for the next few weeks I’ll be spending lots of time working on my Spanish. I have no gift for languages, but I am very determined. I’ve always heard that the best way to learn a foreign language is when you are motivated by love.