El Mazunte is a town in the cost of the Pacific Ocean of the state of Oaxaca, located to 264 km of the capital of Oaxaca.
El Mazunte or Mazunte as it is known worldwide, owes its name to a red and blue crab that lives in the place, but also in Náhuatl means “let me see you spawn”, and it refers to the fact that the beaches of this place are nesting site for sea turtles and from there the history of the population is revealed; since the sixties the virgin beaches of Mazunte are visited bye hundreds of turtles of the species Golfina, that spawned at nights in certain lunar stages, this natural phenomenon is known as “morriña”.
The area is currently experiencing a tourist boom, attracting the interest of visitors who seek different experiences. It is the only community in the region that has internal construction regulations, which promote buildings that alternate with the surrounding nature; so it is characterized by rusticity and direct contact with nature.
El Mazunte has an extensive list of natural attractions, the main one is Punta Cometa, also known as Cerro Sagrado; it is the most salient mountain in Mexico in the South Pacific. Its strategic location allows from this area you can appreciate amazing sunrises and magnificent sunsets. It is an important place for migrations of marine species and birds.
Highlight migrations in the period from December to March of Humpback whales that use Punta Cometa as route and geomagnetic reference; to appreciate the pass of this species from Punta Cometa does not represent any risk to people or whales, in the same way it can be appreciated the migration of flocks of pelicans frolicking in capricious shapes in the sky.
As a salient point it is a shortcut in the route of all types of boats, it is possible to observe large boats plowing only 500 meters away from the coast.
THE MAGIC OF PUNTA COMETA
Punta Cometa is considered a magic and healing place because it is a ceremonial center; its strategical position allows dominating the sea with 180 degrees of visibility; at the moment it is a community ecological enclosure with a great biodiversity in its mountain and its marine cliffs. People from all over the world come to him seeking faith, healing and leaving offerings to ask for abundance. Even the Dalai Lama sent a vessel, which toured 150 countries calling for world peace.
Local stories tell that the Aztec treasure as hidden in some place of Punta Cometa. In the pre-Hispanic era it was a military enclave of the Aztecs, who built a small wall of stone superimposed. The locals call it “the stone corral”. During the Colony it was a Spanish bastion and also of the pirates. In this place there are also several medicine plants, one of them is the copal, from which is extracted the resinous gum that is used in the healing ceremonies and in the Catholic Church.
The inhabitants mention that through the constant observation it has been discovered that, due its geographical position, Punta Cometa is aligned with the Milky Way, which allows making time calculations for the reason that it is a natural observatory of the Universe and from where it can be appreciated the course of the constellation of the Pleiades, the Orion´s belt and sword, and the Milky Way that runs from south to north; these constelar formations allow to reveal the course of both cultivation and harvest, what is evident given to the archeological remains that have been found in the place.
It is said that some pre-Hispanic towns calculated and measured time based on the observation of stars; they watched time go by, they opened and closed cycles of 52 years, for what also exists a myth that links Punta Cometa with the new fires that were lit in each sacred site of the Anáhuac, that is why there were celebrated ceremonies of solstice, equinox and of lighting the new fire; groups as the Huichol of the states of Nayarit and Jalisco and the dancers concheros visit this place to light the new fire and dance on the days of equinox; likewise because of the monolithic construction of stones that surrounds this place temazcales and wedding celebrations are performed on full moon nights.
The grandparents and ethnic groups representative of ancestral cultures that come to perform their ceremonies have revealed that is a millenary tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation, even the grandfather Guillermo, guardian of the Cerro de la Estrella in the delegation of Iztapalapa en the City of Mexico, recognizes the importance of Punta Cometa as a ceremonial center.
EL MAZUNTE AND THE TURTLES
El Mazunte is a community that knows how to adapt itself to changes and that has grown around sea turtles. The region began to populate in the early seventies. The first families that arrived to these coasts were Zapotec and mestizo indigenous, who previously worked with landowners, they arrived from the southern highlands in search of better living conditions. The people practiced migratory agriculture, extensive cattle ranching and wood extraction, which led to deforestation and erosion, which caused an ecological deterioration of large proportions.
In those years the exploitation of the skin of the crocodile was scarce and the turtle was abundant, this aroused the interest of a Spanish businessman who bought some land on the beach San Agustinillo to make a turtle slaughterhouse that would commercialize the meat, bones, carapace and the eggs of these chelonians.
The slaughterhouse was a source of employment for all those fishermen who began to populate Mazunte, it is said that it was very good business, the bad thing is that they got to kill up to two thousand turtles a day to market or process the various products that were obtained from them.
This massacre lasted around 30 years, until turtle populations declined worldwide. It was important to do something about it since seven of the eight species of sea turtles that exist, spawn on Mexican coasts.
In the early nineties, the total ban was declared which would prevent the turtle slaughter and end the commercialization of eggs by the false belief that they were aphrodisiacs, this act of protection was recognized by environmentalists around the world. However, the town of El Mazunte without knowing anything else to do, was in need of leaving the place causing migration to large cities and deforestation on land that was not fertile for growing corn and beans.
The ban decreed by the government did not consider this factor; an alternative project that would provide labor options for the community was not created, which represented the wreck of its fragile economy.
When the turtle slaughterhouse was closed, a large part of the population was without its subsistence base. The region had suffered serious damage, due to deforestation and the traditional "slash and burn" crop. Both fishermen and peasants were in a desperate situation.
Among the alternatives offered by the federal government for cooperatives and workers who were engaged to the exploitation of sea turtles, was the provision of new fishing gear and training, as well as the promotion of ecotourism, an activity that was totally new for the population and for which they were not prepared, but that over the years would become the economic support of the entire community.
This is how through a civil association that came to the town to provide advice on how to create a sustainable development project, which included workshops on environmental education and rational use of resources, and with the support of other associations arise small cooperative enterprises.
The challenge was to transform the image of sacrifice and devastation of turtles that had characterized this site, into a tourist attraction. So the natural resources of the place were harnessed and tourism becomes a subsistence option with development alternatives without damaging the environment.
Federal government in 1992 began the construction of the Mexican Turtle Center (CMT), which currently houses an aquarium for the stay and exhibition of 5 species of sea turtles and 16 non sea, freshwater species that breed and live in Mexico; where this species is protected. The public in general can attend the place to know the live specimens or to participate in the projects of nesting, marking and release of hatchlings.
This place has an aquarium, parkig, cafeteria, craft shop, portico, offices and warehouse.
The operation is in charge of the National Institute of Fisheries and its main objectives are: to carry out scientific and technologic researching for the management, development and conservation of turtles; disseminate knowledge of biology, conservation and legislation for the protection of turtles and promote the concept of ecological tourism and support the development and growth of the communities in the region.
Over the last few years, the vision of the conservation of emblematic species such as sea turtles has expanded, so the conservation of their habitats is fundamental. For this reason the CMT, along with the National Program of Sea Turtles operated by the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas have as a conservation strategy not only the care of the spaces occupied by the chelonians, but also the impulse to the participation of the communities in these tasks.
THE OTHER MAZUNTE
From this magic the locality has a variety of celebrations, where the culture of Mazunte and the region is promoted; as well as the conservation and care of the environment.
These celebrations are organized by community committees with the participation and cooperation of all the inhabitants, private companies and government entities, standing out:
The popular festivity in commemoration of the Saint Patron of Esquipulas, is celebrated every year on January 15. During three days there are various activities such as calenda, convite, burning fireworks, selling regional food, craft shows, live concerts, and etcetera.
The festivities of the Spring Equinox or the Sun year take place in the month of March; organized by the providers of tourist services in order to make known the culture of El Mazunte. In Punta Cometa rituals are carried out with the assistance of different healers, and in the esplanade of the Municipal Agency different types of dances are performed. This festivity frames the International Dance Show, during the spring equinox, on March 21. Is one of the most important events of the state of Oaxaca and southern of Mexico that promotes the dance in all its expressions, from classical to break dance, going through pre-Hispanic, the belly dance and folk dances where renowned artists participate..
On those days other activities are also carried out with themes related with the conservation and care of environment and of traditional medicine.
The International Jazz Festival is celebrated year after year on the last weekend of November lasting three days. Jazz in all its expressions is promoted and national and international artists participate. In these festivities, regional gastronomy, art and painting exhibitions and other activities stand out.
Likewise, the community has organized to operate community enterprises such as the hurricane-resistant brick and adobe factory, looms, screen-printing workshops, agroecology, palanquetas factory; also, tourist accommodations were built taking care of the environment where it is carried out, from the separation of garbage, the reuse of water and the implementation of ecological baths.
Another example of communitary enterprise that emerged in the locality and currently operates is the Mazunte Natural Products Cooperative, operated by women, which was promoted by Anita Rodik, founder of The Body Shop, English company that provided formulas to create beauty items with products that are grown in the place; articles are made as repellents for mosquitoes based on lemon, coconut bronzers, body creams with beeswax, conditioner made of avocado and other products.
In addition to all the mentioned attractions there is a wetland area where crocodiles and migratory birds can be seen; or visit the fine sandy beaches, among the main ones are:
Bermejita beach that is located in the western area of El Mazunte, with medium waves, with lush vegetation that is characterized by its peaceful tranquility special to meditate. It is a hidden place where in the starry nights you can see a brilliant effect in the waves when breaking in the sand.
San Agustinillo, just 5 minutes from El Mazunte, is a beach suitable for family tourism. It has the quietest waves in the area and medium-sized waves to practice amateur surfing; it is an ideal place to dive or snorkel due to its abundance of marine corals.
La Ventanilla, is a beach bathed by the waves of the sea where can be seen a “window” formed by the rocks over the centuries. You can tour the lagoon by canoe to know the mangrove swamp and see various birds, iguanas and crocodiles in their natural habitat.
Agua Blanca, an oasis of tranquility in the middle of a zone of great waves, a series of rocks protects bathers from the strong waves. These rocks allow the formation of small pools of calm water where children and adults can enjoy the sea without danger.
La Escobilla, in this place the olive ridley turtle nests, inside the site is the “La Salina” lagoon, in its mangrove you can observe migratory birds.
The iguanario of the paddock bar, here more than 3000 green and black iguanas are protected and conserved.
Another of the riches that this place has is its gastronomy where stand out fish and shellfish-based food, such as agujón or needle fish and keg fish caught by the locals, prepared in different ways, is very nutritious and tasty. In its various restaurants, typical Mexican food and international food is prepared.
Currently the attractions are to the care and protection of the locality so that the visitors can appreciate and enjoy it. El Mazunte has constructions made of materials friendly with the environment, among which stand out adobe, wood and palm, above which it exhibits lilac and misty dawns.
Although in 1997 the community of El Mazunte was devastated by the scourge of hurricanes Paulina and Rick, which caused destruction and economic collapse, the town has managed to move forward promoting their natural wealth, caring for their environment and promoting tourism.
El Mazunte has become a favorite place for all those who today make up the population of this riparian miracle that no longer lives of the turtles, now lives with them. It perches at the foot of upholstered hills of low jungle, with crystalline waters that play with the capricious waves in different tonalities of blue that can be seen on the coast of Oaxaca.