The following material contains nudity, homosexuality, masturbation and hammocks. Some images may be considered offensive or hilarious. Reader discretion is advised.
Two travellers stand alone by the side of the road in southern Mexico, looking vaguely lost and a fair bit dishevelled. Baking under the hot sun, they gaze around uncertainly, slowly considering how exactly they are going to reach their next destination, the popular hippie hangout and infamous nudist beach of Zipolite.
Staggering under the weight of both the heat and a full week of over-indulgence with the family, we had just horned in on the private airport shuttle Jaime, Cliff and the kids had hired to ease their transition from sun, sand and mojitos to an airport line and long day of travel. A good start, though now we had two alternatives: a potentially long wait for the next public bus, with nary a spot of shade to be found, or a series of extremely irritating negotiations with taxi drivers who took one look at our sweating, wilting bodies and desolate, unprotected waiting spot along the side of the highway and could easily picture our balls twisting painfully in their hands. Fifteen minutes, five taxi drivers and still no bus later an agreement was reached for probably only about 100 pesos over the ideal rate. But his car had a roof, which was really our main priority by that point.
Zipolite is about an hour west of Huatulco (that’s right – west, check a map, Laynni), and is a nice long straight stretch of flat sand perfect for walking and, apparently, playing with your genitals in the surf. But I’ll get to that later. Zipolite has a long history as a hippie hangout with lots of cheap huts and tenting areas along the beach and some impressive, if dangerous, surf. The nasty currents and riptides lead to several drowning deaths every year, although that doesn’t really seem to deter anyone. For whatever reason, at some point back in the 70’s the beach started to become popular with nudists and that continues today, although its popularity among your average beach-loving tourists has increased substantially over the past decade and the vast majority of visitors do, in fact, cover their junk in public.
With uninterrupted views and some fascinating rock clefts and arches at the west end of the beach, Zipolite boasts some of the best sunsets Mexico has to offer, all perfectly visible from any of the cheap bars and restaurants along the beach where you can lean back with your XX Lager and feet in the sand to enjoy the view before shelling out less than $10 to eat like a king (well, not a serious Royalty-type king, but maybe a small protectorate sort of king. Or a Welsh duke. The point is, the fish is cheap). It’s hard to say for sure, since this was our first visit, but it feels like the whole area may be undergoing a bit of an upmarket transition, possibly due to the increased volume of international flights into nearby Huatulco (mostly filled with doughy, excited Canadians), and this uneven evolution was evidenced perfectly by one short stretch of beach near the east end. Here you find Zipolite’s most modern-looking hotel – not a giant chain resort but only a modest two-story cement building with about a dozen sea-view condos. Understated, but most likely a sign of things to come. However, directly next to this slightly upscale hotel you find a haphazard jumble of dilapidated vans, battered old school buses and small tents bursting with dreadlocks and cannabis smoke. To see this laid-back shanty town side by side with its modern counterpart gives you some idea of the wide variance of visitors currently calling in to Zipolite. As usual, of course, we fall somewhere right in between these extremes, just like we seem to in all areas of travel. Not tight budget or careless luxury, not yet old but certainly no longer young, not spending our whole time drunk but not really doing any sightseeing any more either, no way I’m using a sarong as my only towel now but yet I still find myself leaving airports on foot to catch a local taxi and avoid the extra premium on airport taxis. Anyhow, I guess that’s how we ended up in a pleasant mid-range set of cabanas up on the hill overlooking the west end. Good views, hammock, wifi, kitchen. But also no a/c, no hot water and, somewhat strangely, not really any walls. They did have good mosquito nets, however, which always cause a surge of ambiguity in me – their function is undeniable and vastly appreciated, but if I have to awkwardly climb in and out in the dark in the middle of the night one… more… time… well, someone is getting an earful. Probably Laynni, because at least she responds with a satisfying frown and grumble, while the mosquitoes just continue to dive bomb my ears.
So, that’s about it for the normal parts of Zipolite. Now, the nudism. We’ve been to nudist areas before but never for an extended period of time, and usually just to small, easily avoidable areas where sparse groups of people gathered for privacy, and showing up in clothes, even if it was just part of an innocent Auckland beach walk, for example, felt somewhat intrusive. Here, however, the nudism and the regular beach crowd integrate to a level we’ve never really seen anywhere else which, while most of it eventually starts to seem normal, still leads to some strange scenes. All in all, the nudists are a riveting faction. Probably only about 10% of the people in Zipolite were nude, maybe a bit more if you count topless women, although that is pretty common in many parts of the world. And then probably about 80% of those 10% are men. And then 80% of that 80% are unhealthily tanned and completely hairless from nose to toe. And about 20% of that 80% have lower back tattoos. Obviously.
Clearly there are many different reasons a person chooses the adventurous life of a nudist, opting to break with common social norms and challenging millions of years of evolution that led humans to protect their bodies from the elements. And while it’s not like I had a lot of deep soulful conversations with these guys while they dangled their bits at me on the beach, after a week or so I felt able to pin down several general types:
First off, and most numerous I’d say, were the older couples (50+) who just seemed to enjoy being nude, maybe they’ve finally retired after a lifetime of wearing ties and power skirts and simply find an inordinate joy in the freedom of nudity. There was often still a bit too much landscaping done to assume they were totally unconcerned with what other people think, but for the most part they appeared genuine and (relatively) unobtrusive.
Those whose greatest fears in life include unsightly tan lines. They were probably the easiest to have around because their hairless mahogany skin often completely blended into the dark sand or wooden buildings around them.
First-timers excited to check the “nudist experience” box off their travel bucket list. Obviously uncomfortable and blatantly self-conscious about every move they make, from how much of their vagina is showing when they bend over to rearrange their towel to constantly tugging at their penis to make sure it retains a full, pleasing look. These people didn’t usually last long – a few minutes lying awkwardly on their towel while glancing around to see who was watching, then alternating having photos taken of themselves frolicking bare-assed in the surf, then , suddenly, it was time to get dressed for a very early lunch.
Gay male couples. These guys often fell into one or more of the other categories as well, but for one reason or another it seemed like they made up an unusually large percentage of the total. Or maybe, in some cases, I was simply jumping to conclusions based on the fact that two naked dudes taking a long walk on the beach together is probably one of the most objectively gay things a guy can do. Right up there with having a favourite lacrosse player.
Then, of course, there were a few extremist weirdos, just like you get in any crowd of travellers or online NFL draft. Exhibitionists, perverts, men who tell their mom how hot she is on Facebook. These guys were obviously desperate for attention, likely with deep-seated emotional damage and a whole range of personal insecurities. What else would cause a naked man to plant himself directly in front of the busiest restaurant on the beach and spend an hour working through a ludicrous and confusing exercise regimen – that he was definitely making up on the spot – and resembled a combination of yoga, judo and flexing. A lot of flexing. Although it was noteworthy that he wasn’t completely naked. He was actually wearing a hat, because, you know, you have to be careful about the sun. And he probably didn’t want anyone to see that he was bald. Seeing right up into his anus, that was fine, though. He was proud of that.
Some of the other oddballs were probably just straight-up crazy, like the anorexic-looking old guy doing some sort of tai chi in front of a hand-drawn sign offering “tarot and massage”. Business seemed a little slow. Or the big guy with the ponytail sitting in the sand with his legs spread, the waves crashing into his balls while he played with his junk. But not in a masturbatory way, more like a toddler who had just discovered his penis and was eager to bat it around, like he just couldn’t believe what he’d found.
On Sunday morning there was a couple lying on the beach surrounded by empty bottles and still wearing their best Saturday night clothes, clearly having spent the night there, and next to them, obviously having arrived just that morning and for some reason choosing a spot on the otherwise empty beach just a few yards away from them, was a naked woman using a magnifying glass to read while hunched weirdly in an awkward semblance of the fetal position, ass and all the rest pointed directly at them.
In the end, though, regardless of whatever motivations, aspirations or perversions led each individual to leave their clothes at home, the end result was simply way too much “ugly naked” for our liking.
Men (they were always men), naked but for shoes and a backpack. One guy also wore a belt with tassels.
The naked old man, fully shaved and tanned to within an inch of a leather purse, actually jogging. Multiple levels of wrong.
The few groups of additional Mexican nudists that showed up on the weekend, generally not so self-conscious and consistently less manicured, with a couple of the hairier specimens forcing us to admit there was at least some merit to the shave-and-wax approach.
The elderly woman with fake breasts that may have, once upon a time, been excitingly noticeable, but now resemble grapefruits bouncing around at the bottom of a Christmas stocking.
The unfortunate fellow awkwardly trying to walk past all the sunset beer drinkers without drawing attention to his highly inappropriate erection. The fact that it was difficult to tell, at first, that he had an erection probably didn’t do anything to boost his confidence.
In the end, Zipolite is a pretty memorable place to visit, if for no other reason than to get a better look (figuratively speaking, of course) at this fascinating beach sub-culture. And after all the mocking I took at the hands of my family the previous week it was really nice to feel almost overdressed in my European-cut swimming trunks.