Discontent is the first necessity of progress.Thomas Edison
Before we left on our journey, one investment we made in our future selves was to sign up for an online organization called Work Away. The concept of this website is not unique as we came to find out, however it was the first time I had heard of anything like it, so hey, that is the one we chose. The business model for Work Away is to work as a 3rd party who connects hosts who have work they want volunteers for, with volunteers who have the proper skills to help on the hosts’ project. In exchange for the work, free lodging is provided, and depending on the host, one to three meals per day. Our goal when we headed out was to travel for as long as possible, and this seemed a good way for us to experience local culture, people, and save a bit of money. The time commitment varies from 2 weeks to several months in one location, which in Southeast Asia just wasn’t going to work given our time restraint of 3 months. With no time restraint in Mexico we decided to start looking for our first Work Away.
We sat down and started emailing hosts with a small blurb about us and what we were capable of. Ranging from working in hostels, to eco farms, to helping at an animal shelter, we spread the net wide. The only host to respond was a hostel in the small town of Zipolite. After some back and forth we settled on going to help at the El Moluzko hostel. Described as a cultural hostel set right on the beach that provided a safe space for travelers, we were excited to experience a cultural melting pot and get some solid beach time.
Zipolite is located on the south coast of Mexico in the state of Oaxaca. When you look straight out at the ocean you are looking at nothing but pure ocean all the way until you hit Antarctica. A unique perspective for my Pacific Northwest brain to wrap around. The town of Zipolite is, and has always been, a haven for forward- and free-thinking individuals. Until the 1970’s, Playa Zipolite was more a beach than a town with one family and one family only living in the area. The small beach was flooded with counter-culture hippies looking to catch an annular solar eclipse from the best spot in the world. Following the eclipse many of those same hippies enchanted by the “beach of the dead” never left, and the town grew. The free nature of the beach gave birth to what is now the only legal nudist beach in Mexico.
All of this, we didn’t know. Having spent two weeks in Zipolite, the town still feels like a magnet for people who are looking for a place to be free from ever present judgement of what society deems is normal. In addition to the nudist aspect, the town is a haven in a very conservative Mexico for gay culture, in fact El Moluzko is right next door to a gay hostel. Walking down the beach naked, loving who you want, all set to the backdrop of one of the most beautiful beaches we have seen, it is easy to see how many people simply never leave, like the hippies who first came here.
Despite the open nature of the culture, initially we didn’t feel welcome. We came to feel this was part language barrier, part the general feeling we were in someone else’s house and they hadn’t decided if we were to be trusted. Trusted with their secrets, trusted with their stories, trusted to enter the circle of safety they had created. This distrust was an armor, a necessity in a town where there are no police and plenty of drugs, a hippie wild west of sorts. Once we had earned their trust and entered their circle of safety, feelings of warmth and family immediately grew.
As mentioned before the town was a magnet for all sorts of types, from a former Italian rugby coach, a young American novelist about to start teaching special education, and our local friend Paco, who taught us his favorite adage “Don’t worry, be hippie, because the hippie is always happy!” Yet, all the people we got to know had a common thread. Some folks carried a hurt or a tragic story, while others were driven by unfulfilled desire, an unquenchable thirst for the edge; a town of broken pennies come to be polished by the sea.
Every day we woke up, cleaned the toilets, changed the sheets, swept the sand, and then completed a variety of projects. I grew calluses on thumbs from hammering and sawing. Our feet were eaten alive by the ants that protected many of the places we worked, but with every day we grew closer to the Moluzko family.
It is not my place to tell the stories of the people we met, but I will not forget the conversations and the small wild west of Zipolite. The Work Away experience at El Moluzko was as advertised. We washed our bones in the ocean every day for 2 weeks, we worked hard for our lodging, and we were exposed to a wide range of cultures, people, and experiences that we will not forget. Discontent is often what drives people to Zipolite, but on the shores of the ocean, with nothing but your thoughts, sturdy roots of growth and progress shoot out of the sand.