Google image searching is never the way to pick a destination. As I’ve learned travelling, online dating, apartment hunting, Tindering, Airbnbing… Ok, as I apparently have NOT learned, but know on some level, you can make anything terrible look good with the right photo angle. Puerto Ángel is one of those places you regret swiping right to after seeing its pristine beaches on Google. It isn’t horrible, but it’s kind of depressing and being in such close proximity to places that are AWESOME, there’s literally no reason to go there. Maybe if you have to use the toilet while driving somewhere to Mazunte or Huatulco, but otherwise, keep driving.
We got to Puerto Ángel by a 95 peso van from San Jose del Pacifico, which I shall never do again as long as I live. El Chango, as I’m apparently calling my boyfriend in this blog, used to suspect that I was exaggerating my stories of motion sickness, and once we even got in a fight because I flat-out refused to take a seven-hour bus ride with him, but I projectile vomited vindication all over that van during the longest four hours of my life (which I suspect turned into a long four hours for all occupants of the van). I had taken two Dramamine, but I recommend being at least in a coma to weather this trip. Fortunately I got to sit next to the driver for the last half of the trip, and could whisper “Voy a vomitar” whenever the urge arose, so he could swerve to the side of the unreasonably windy road and let me throw up on the edge of the highway. I later found out that this vomit session is something of a highway 175 rite of passage for Mexicans and foreigners alike.
When we got to Pochutla, we grabbed the first taxi we saw as I was desperate for an icy shower. When we arrived at Puerto Ángel, an old hippie in flip flops came out of a nearby store.
“How much did you pay for that taxi?”
“Pendejos!!” he screamed after the taxi, shaking his fist as it sped away. He explained that it should have been 50. I was still feeling shaky and am used to taxis in my home country that charge about 150 pesos just to pull over and look at you so I didn’t care. I’m the perfect target for this kind of thing, really. “Wait are you Gatita?” he asked. He was managing our Airbnb, a sort of hotel thing right on the beach. He led us upstairs to our corner room.
Despite the fact that I speak Spanish and had made the reservation, under my name, the hippie gave El Chango the tour instead of me, a gendered pattern I was getting used to. He asked El Chango to go smoke a joint downstairs with him later, but not when his mother was around, because she lived across the street and would kill him. He was at least 50 and after his repeated refusal to include me in the conversation, I found solace in the mental image of him being yelled at by an elderly Catholic woman.
Being a woman with your boyfriend in small-town Mexico gives you a fun window into seeing what it would be like to be Bruce Willis’s character in The Sixth Sense. Men do not look at or speak to you. And women… Where are the women? Wait, which horror movie is this? On more than one occasion when men ignored me, I spent a couple seconds searching for concrete proof that I wasn’t a spirit that only El Chango could see.
“Am I real?!” I would exclaim, pulling at my skin.
“Sometimes I actually wonder,” he’d reply, which I think is supposed to be a compliment but never helps this particular situation.
El Chango explained that in small-town Mexican culture it’s rude to talk to another guy’s girlfriend and that ignoring me shows respect for our relationship.
“I’m a human being trying to order a quesadilla FIRST, your girlfriend second,” I said, getting mad, hoping one of the offending parties would overhear.
“I’m not saying I agree with it, I’m just explaining the way they think,” El Chango said. “Mexican machismo.”
As for the women, they’re inside cooking or whatever. There’s this old Mexican pick-up line that guys would say to women: “What time do you go for bread?” Women in the pueblos only ever used to leave home to go buy bread so interested men would ask them what time they planned to go out, hoping for the chance to be able to intercept the bread run outside. Now it’s mostly an archaic joke that makes fun of itself, something El Chango will say while checking me out when I’m getting dressed: “A qué hora vas por pan?” Maybe it’s archaic in Guadalajara but there are still small towns where I am the only woman outside.
I showered and took a nap. By the time I had woken up, El Chango had befriended half the town, as always happens.
“Amor, I made some friends,” he said, a little sarcastically as if the pickings were slim. He explained that he couldn’t smoke a joint with the guy downstairs because his mama was there, but had gotten talking to a group of fishermen. At first they thought El Chango was a narco because of his tattoos and the way he talks, but he explained that he was just from Guadalajara and constantly surrounded by narcos, which rubs off but is not the same thing. They finally believed him and explained that they worked for drug runners that would run cocaine to a buoy out in the water (he pointed it out to me as he told me this part) and attach weighted bags of cocaine under the water. The fishermen would collect it and bring it to shore for a small cut. The narcos would then sell the fishermen the very cocaine they ran at an exorbitant price so they could stay awake fishing all night. They showed El Chango the coke they had gotten for 500 pesos, about half a gram. He informed them they were getting ripped off, something none of them had realized, since none of them ever leave the beach. Each afternoon they head far out into the ocean, beyond any sign of land, get drunk and high and catch sharks or whatever, and they come back in the early hours of the morning. They blow their earnings on a supply of coke and alcohol for the next fishing trip then do it again. Repeat. Forever. They invited El Chango fishing and he politely declined. I looked out over the small beach. “The fishermen who don’t quite look like fisherman on the beach are the narcos,“ he said.
“Dammit,” I said, the romantic scene ruined.
My theory is that because El Chango is kind of gangster, guys want to impress him. We get invited everywhere, offered drugs, beer, and boat tours, seemingly because of some reverent fear. Any guy that’s looking at me appears stricken with terror when my tattooed boyfriend appears around the corner addressing me in the only Spanish I know, which apparently is apparently a more gangster form. I’ve done nothing for this street cred, but am consequently treated like the gringa Mia Wallace.
The eastern beach of Puerto Ángel is crowded with boats, and the water abruptly drops off in an underwater cliff, which gives me the heebie jeebies. Although our hotel was on this beach, the idea of hanging out in my bikini with a bunch of coked out fisherman from a town that doesn’t acknowledge women as full people who can be conversed with wasn’t high on my to-do list (and we both suck at swimming), so we would always walk to the western beach, where the water is shallow, there are fewer boats, and the retiree tourists hang out.
Every once in a while someone will yell from the beach to get out of the water, and a boat will fly onto the sand out of the ocean, full of giant fish. One particular time it was loaded with dead sharks.
El Chango and I watched in fascinated horror as they hacked off their fins (for soup?) and gutted them with machetes (giving me hope that the rest of them would at least be used for something).
There are lots of cool crabs which you can watch jump from rock to rock and sometimes fight. Probably makes the top five Puerto Ángel activities.
Puerto Ángel’s street dogs get a 10/10.
This is Marcel, who we named Marcel because he doesn’t speak Spanish, or at least understand Spanish commands, and could therefore be French. He followed us around for an afternoon.
The local comedores were cheap and the food was pretty good. 15 peso tortas, 25 peso enchiladas. The meal always comes with a free dog.
We tried to make our own kitchen by buying a cooler and living off of sandwiches. We didn’t see a lot of the town because I was working most of the time we were there but from what we’d seen, we weren’t missing much.
Our days were mostly comprised of sandwiches and Westworld. Naturally the wifi didn’t work but I was able to rent wifi from the shop downstairs for 50 pesos per 24 hours. Every night the local kids would crowd into the internet shop and share a couple gaming systems, rolling around on swivel chairs, the sound of shooter games reverberating around the parking lot.
We went to one fancy restaurant on the western beach and ate forgettable things I have already forgotten. The waiter refused to acknowledge me so we made a game out of it.
“Can I get you anything else, joven?” he asked El Chango.
“Yes, two more beers,” I said while El Chango pretended to be busy on his phone.
“Um…” he looked at El Chango, confused as to how he could hear a voice without El Chango moving his lips. “Coming right up.”
“Anything else?” he asked El Chango. El Chango acted like he didn’t understand Spanish.
“Can I get the bill?” I asked.
“Sure,” the server said to his feet, sweating.
He came back and handed El Chango the bill. El Chango didn’t reach for it.
“Thanks,” I said, taking it and handing the waiter money.
The waiter came back and put the change into El Chango’s hand. El Chango looked up at him making a display of confusion and transferring the money to my hand. El Chango insisted we tip almost nothing.
“Have a good night, joven,” he wished El Chango as we left the restaurant. I chuckled thinking of the two pesos waiting for him on the table.
“This town sucks,” I said.
We walked down the street, trying to see what else the town could possibly offer. Most things were closed and a giant ugly hotel loomed alone at the top of a large hill ahead of us.
“Hey man, wanna buy some LSD?” a guy yelled at El Chango from a roof.
“Am I real?” I started again. No one offers me drugs from the rooftops.
“We’re going to Zipolote if you wanna come,” the guy yelled, referencing a nearby lawless beach renown for nudism and exorbitant, unchecked drug use.
“Chido, bro,” El Chango called back.
“Why not?” he called after us. “You’ve gotta check it out!”
We bought ice cream out of a deep freezer in a guy’s yard and watched Westworld in bed with the slow internet. The highlight activity of Puerto Ángel.
So, Top Puerto Ángel Attractions:
1. Marcel the street dog
2. Fighting crabs
El Chango says we have should add ice cream as the third, but there’s ice cream that’s just as good everywhere in Mexico.
“Who’s ever heard of a top 2 list though?”
3. They have ice cream
Who cares, I’m not going to live here.
Next stop, Mazunte (the place we should have skipped Puerto Ángel for).