Let’s go camping on a deserted beach! .....Okay, let’s go!
We were headed to Bahías de Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico known for its 36 beaches along the Oaxacan Riviera. I'd read online about the bays and what each had to offer, where swimming was not recommended, where to see sea turtles and crocodiles, etc. Reading online seems to afford a reasonable skeleton image of a place, but the path never becomes clear until I am filled with the place, walking step by step through its culture.
I was mildly concerned about mosquitoes naturally, but it was the dry season, and perhaps sand fleas would be worse? Wild pigs and crocodiles apparently live nearby, but maybe or maybe not where we were heading. It was the thought of the Pacific Ocean that filled me with the most fear though.
We knew that the Huatulco National Park had an office in town and we had the address. Looking on a map we identified a beach we thought was close by, but not too close, and noticed that we could hike out from it. Perfect.
Somebody knew somebody with a boat who would take us and after eating grasshopper quesadillas for breakfast, we shopped, paid our port fee and boarded the “private” tour boat.
I was trustingly being bounced through waves and swells along a rocky cliff-faced shoreline to a “deserted’ beach, through an ocean that scared me. This was going to be a great adventure!
We could pick out the beach easily, it wasn’t hard of course to count to the third one up the coast, but it’s wide sweep and grand behemoth rock island protectorate, only increased our excitement and eagerness to explore.
The boat headed to the northern end of the beach, backed into the shore, and in the bouncing surf we jumped off with our packs. We had arrived at Bahía Cacaluta!
Two other couples occupied the beach with us, but we found a cozy space to set up camp below the cliff and proceeded to indulge in roasted chicken and rice and tortillas. This was beautiful, indeed.
Hooded vultures rested on branches around us, comically ominous in appearance, but harmless. Then we noticed, we had been discovered! ANTS! We watched as our tortillas began marching away bit, by little bit as the ants scoured our campsite and headed back to their landward retreat. They’d have us cleaned out by morning, most likely. Good thing we didn’t plan to stay long!
We explored and swam, watched the pelicans dive, and the shorebirds swoop collectively and rest. We trudged through heavy coral sand which was great for building calluses, but not for sand castles. I examined a recently deceased pelican.
Later, after we had rested, we set off to the mid-beach to watch the sunset and eat watermelon. Watermelon was an essential item on our shopping list. And that was when we saw them...two figures at the end of the now empty beach near our camping spot. Who were they and why were they so close to our spot?
They made us nervous and my travel partner decided to investigate, leaving the leatherman and watermelon with me. I could only watch from afar as the figures got closer and observe the hand and arm motions of the conversation. I decide that it would be best if I joined them, watermelon on my hip, rinds and leatherman in the bag in my other hand, I headed down the beach as well.
Soon it was clear, the police had come. One of them tried to talk to me while the other one looked bored out of his mind. I tried to explain that I don’t speak spanish, but the guy kept right on talking. I told him again I didn’t understand. Clearly, he already had this conversation in spanish, repeating it to an english speaker won't help.
It turned out, they were telling us to leave. It was not safe they had said, there are bandits in the woods who will steal from you in the night. We are simultaneously frustrated and unnerved. I don't buy it, but we don’t want to be escorted out by the police as they offered, we don’t want to be vandalized, and we don’t really want to leave this paradise. And yet we do. As the police walk away down the beach, we pack and leave, heading to our exit trail in the woods as darkness falls.
The police we learn, had arrived on motorcycles, separately, one at each end of the beach. We wonder aloud whether they are actually doing their job, whether they were looking for a bribe, or just wanted the beach to themselves. Were they connected to the bandits or working against them? In Mexico, it is not always so clear.
We consider camping along the trail, but with the motorcycles at two points, surely they would have us and by then I had to admit to myself I was too scared to be okay with it. We continue walking as the stars shone brightly overhead.
Reaching the road, we turned right to head toward the restaurant that would have been our breakfast spot the next morning. Instead, we find a dead-end road, stairs going down into the darkness, and a dumpster with skulking, gleaming-eyed rats. Okay, now what? While we wait for an idea, a truck arrives to pick up a stack of plastic chairs. We ask for a ride in the back, and out of the darkness, two other young men materialize to hitch a ride with us. We never did find out what was actually at the end of the road. We were relieved, though disappointed, to be heading into town for the night.
Note: Bahía Cacaluta may look familiar. It was featured in the 2001 Mexican drama, Y Tu Mama Tambien.