On August 21st 1975 I was on the beach at La Ventosa near Tehuantepec in southern Mexico.
I'm not sure why I thought that going to the beach was a good idea: surely the name La Ventosa, the windy place, would have given me a clue.
I went to the market in Tehuantepec in the morning to buy supplies. The market was an interesting place, run by the women, not unusual perhaps in Latin America, but here the women were completely dominant. The women were tall, dark and good-looking, wearing long skirts and bright blouses. As I walked around the stalls I was aware of being looked over by the women, a strange sensation for a man perhaps, though women the world over are used to it. The previous evening I had walked up a small hill where I could see the river and the bridge and the walled central area of the quiet little town. I could see these women striding grandly around, while all their men followed meekly in tow, just ordinary little men, inches shorter than their women; with down-cast Indian faces and drab white clothes, they just sat around and waited for the women to do whatever the women wanted to do, and when they were ready they carried the shopping and followed them back home several paces behind.
The beach was near the town of Salina Cruz with big waves but few palm trees. There was a little bay in the centre where I swam in a rather dirty central area and a had good lunch at the cheapest restaurant run by a big mama in a hammock. Then I crossed the river to find a good camping spot for my tent. It was a windy night but it didn't rain till after midnight. In the morning the beach had big waves and frigate-birds but the swimming was OK. I walked back off the beach to a little lake which had pelicans and sandpipers and other water birds.
When I left I wrote this in my notebook:
Waiting for the bus back to Salina Cruz on a windy dusty road under a huge Dos Eques sign. It's a dirty mean sort of place. Seven or eight lazy restaurants, mostly thatch-covered around a little bay dotted with beer-cans and coconut husks, with a little swamp where the pi-dogs play. Beyond is a river which you have to ford knee-deep and then the beach stretches a long way to the left. Big Pacific waves make the dirty bay the best bathing, but there is always music blaring out loud and lots of Mexicans who come in taxis from town. I camped two windy nights in the scrub and cactus behind the beach. The villagers are somewhat more friendly than the tourists, but as I wrote it's a mean, rotten, disorganised sort of place, there must be a well, but they'd never think of showing you there. Remember that the richer Mexicans who come to places like this have money, mainly for beer, they couldn't be friendly towards the villagers. It's not that sort of society.
The Indians of Tehuantepec are Zapotec, similar to those of Oaxaca. Their culture is sometimes seen as a matriarchy: I don't know if it is technically, but it certainly seemed that way. Pictures of the women here.
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