So we decided to drive to Punta Maldonado, in Guerrero, Mexico. It’s only steps from the Oaxaca border. Punta Maldonado is an old African settlement on the South coast of Mexico, most of the decedents are derived from escaped African slaves. This area holds the record for the highest population of Afro-Mexicans in the entire country. Punta Maldonado was recommended to us by an older Canadian gent named David, who has apparently spent several years traveling around Mexico. Today Punta Maldonado remains an out of the way fishing village on a dead end road. Tourism is non existent, locals only, mostly fisherman and their families. Our caravan consisted of Sara, Lupe and I in our truck, followed by George and Rachel in their VW Vanagon.
We spent our previous days on touristy beaches, we fought for waves amongst surfers from around the globe. Although the swell was small, the crowds were not. The holidays just past, leaving the crowds still intact. All the “cool guy” surfer types still marched the beaches and lingered in the water. The “cool guy” is just an attitude. These types are all very serious, they are everywhere, aggressively fighting for a wave no matter how small the surf may be. They wont make eye contact with you because you are the enemy, the rival wave rider. You say hello to break the tension, but they usually just sneer and grind their teeth at your salutation. We decided to get away from this nonsense.
As we swiftly drove down the dead end highway, the sun was to set at any moment. We did not want to drive at night because the roads in Mexico are complete shit. Just when you think the pavement looks fresh, a piece of the road will be missing. Where does it go? its like the devil comes down with a giant spoon and launches a section of the road into the ocean. Sometimes half of an entire lane will have washed away, leaving a dried up water slide big enough for your truck to be sucked into the bowls of a Mexican canyon. These holes in the road come with no warning, no sign, no traffic cone to prevent sudden death. Sometimes there will be a rock roughly the size of a human head, painted white, only a few feet before the hole to warn its potential victims. Driving conservatively, in daylight is something to take seriously.
The sun had just set when we arrived in the town. It was a typical Mexican beach strewn with panga boats and palapas. Large palapas, covering loads of plastic furniture displaying fading beer logos on their backrests. The road that ran parallel with the beach was lined up with a few open air restaurants. The village’s tienda blasted merengue music while skinny shirtless men painted in tattoos and fishing scars played cards and gambled. They eyed and sneered us up and down as we slowly rolled by. They were not used to people like us coming into their village.
At this point in our travels we did not mind the eyes and sneers. Eyes and sneers are everywhere we go, in the USA, Mexico, family dinners back home, everywhere.
We were approached by some restaurant employees, almost forcing us to eat at their place. Quickly without warning they approached our crew, forcefully, they said they would make us all dinner. It was almost impossible to refuse. I wanted to make my own dinner because I’m cheap, but the rest of my party accepted the meal. I ordered what I always ordered, a whole fried fish with a side of plantains. I sucked the bones dry, and just left the spine connecting the head to the tail. When I was finished I looked at the meatless fish in the eye, and sneered.
I parked our truck on the beach while George and Rachel parked alongside the restaurant, Their van could not drive through the thick sand. Personally, I liked to be away from the lights, where I could sit on the tailgate and drink, while I watched the stars and listened to the waves. This came to be a ritual. Just starring into space not thinking about, or doing anything specific. Just drinking in the dark, alone, while Sara and Lupe the dog slept. I would take in the smells and sounds of a place I would never return to again.
In the morning when we saw George and Rachel, they said their was a fire in this middle of the night at the restaurant, right next to their van. The heat and smoke woke them up. They did not know how the fire started, but it grew quick, it almost burned the whole place down. George put it out with his extinguisher and went back to bed. In the morning George explained to the restaurant owners what had happened, but they did not seem to care or acknowledge the charred debris on the side of their building. Maybe they did not know what he was trying to say. The language barrier was always an issue.
Mid-morning we were approached by a fisherman, stocky with a thick neck, squinty eyes like I was shining a light in his face, his baseball cap was clean and and had a NY emblem on the front. He was probably the same age as us, mid 30’s. He spoke excellent English but had a very raspy voice. He introduced himself as Roberto, His voice sounded like he was gargling rocks. He asked us “how did you find this place, no one ever comes here.” He was friendly, he claimed he used to live somewhere in the Carolinas, USA. He then said, “My friends warned me not to talk to you. they think you are all very angry and miserable people, they said I should not talk to you.” He claimed that he told his friends to “fuck off,” and he came over out of spite and curiosity. I do not know what gave his friends this impression of us. I was simply drinking coffee on my tailgate, enjoying the sun.
Roberto talked our ears off. He had stories of living in the USA, making a lot of money as some sort of private driver, a private taxi of sorts. Roberto said, “I was making so much money, over $1200 a week, cash.” not to bad for an illegal immigrant, I thought. He said he became an alcoholic and drug addict, spending all his money on cocaine. “I did so much cocaine, I spent all my money, and the cocaine messed up my throat, thats why my voice sounds like this.” Ahhh, I though, that explains that. Roberto then explained how during a New Years celebration, a week earlier, him and his friends were drunk, shooting guns in the air, celebrating. One of his drunk friends had a gun in his waistband and drunkly fell over, triggering the gun to fire, sending a fatal shot through his friends body. His friend left behind a wife and two young daughters.
Interrupting Roberto’s story, Lupe the dog bolts after a beach cat. Sending sand in the air, the cat heads straight towards an open air kitchen. The kitchen was filled with half a dozen chubby old Mexican women. They cooked with massive crusted pots over large flames. Meat, beans, broth, everything stewing, smoking. The cat jumps on the stove, diving through the flames and the food. Im frantically chasing Lupe, but my speed is no match. Im yelling, chasing my dog, causing a scene, it was a bit of a spectacle. Lupe chases the cat through the kitchen, jumping on the counter, bolting through the fire. The Mexican women are screaming waving there hands in the air. They were scared of my dog. I ran in the kitchen and grab Lupe by the collar, apologized to all the women, not making much eye contact due to the embarrassment. I dragged Lupe back to camp. We decided maybe we should hit the road sooner than later.
We spent less than 24 hours in Punta Maldonado. It was just another stop on the Pan-American highway. Although the town claims to be Afro-Mexican, the people looked more Mexican than African. Roberto looked Mexican, everything looked Mexican. Come to think of it, Im not 100% sure we were in the right place. It doesn’t really matter. It was just another day on the road.