The Kibitzer


Over The Wall I Go

By Bill Fried
By Bill Fried

I had been building a house in Mexico for what seemed an eternity. The Vatican was built faster. But a couple of weeks ago I went down and, much to my shock and awe, actually finished the thing.

It all started in 2004, the year of the great tsunami. I was scheduled to go to Bali just after Christmas, but my flight was cancelled due to the devastating storm on Dec. 26. I went to Southern Mexico instead to visit an old friend who had moved there and built a beach house in the remote fishing village of Puerto Angel, along the rugged Oaxacan coast.

To get there I flew into the tiny airport of Huatulco. The terminal was a single, open-air palapa. I knew immediately I was somewhere exotic and remote. The drive up the mountainous coast was a series of twisty turns on a single lane road with no shoulder and seemingly endless speed bumps that were not always clearly marked (topes). The landscape was not your typical verdant jungle. It was more arid, the result of 10 months of annual sunshine, and two months of summer rain.

After 45 minutes I made a turn on a dirt road and followed the rutted path as it passed a small village filled with dogs, chickens and turkeys. The road worsened as it descended towards the beach. I finally reached my friend’s house, which sat on a perch 100 feet above a perfectly protected bay with a perfect sandy beach. Beyond that, a steep, coastal range looked like Big Sur. The house was primitive yet comfy, all open air and carved, curvy concrete, from the floors to the sofas to the kitchen counters. A giant piece of lush tropical hardwood served as the dining table. A giant palm frond palapa served as the roof. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they are an ingenious shade and ventilation structure. I was smitten by what I could only describe as early Flintstones architecture.

I realized then the advantage of an arid jungle: no bugs in winter. A regular temp of 85 during the day and 75 at night with minimal humidity and a coastal breeze keeping you comfortable in the shade. And did I mention the ocean was a consistent 78 degrees, with world class surfing everywhere? So I took the plunge and bought a lot on a cliff for $5,000, as did a few other folks who were introduced to the area by the same intrepid pioneer. Most of them never built. But I drank the Kool-Aid and broke ground immediately with a cistern and a stone stairway down to the building site.

And then, like so many dreamers in Mexico, I stopped. Other things got in the way. Among them, relationships among neighbors began to unravel. These weren’t the Mexicans, but the expat community of mostly Europeans who began to turn on each other over land disputes. It got lousy with dirty tricks, legal battles, and even skirmishes.

I stayed clear of it, claiming Swiss neutrality. But the congenial atmosphere which I sought among interesting fellow adventurers changed into something I was actually coming down to escape.

I soldiered on slowly, wanting to build my little slice of a tropical getaway within easy travel distance from home. Finally, the first floor went up around ‘12, but the second languished for years with rebar sticking out, due to some lingering health concerns, the instability in the community, and my own predilection for distraction.

I don’t know that I can ascribe any single factor in finally getting it done this year, but let’s just say the planets aligned. It turned out better than I could have ever imagined. Everything was built by hand, by local artisans. Hyper local. The village I pass each day is known as a village of masons. The craft is passed down by generation. They don’t use power tools. Carry everything by hand. The masonry and carpentry is exceptional. The local, tropical hardwoods are beyond beautiful.

So nearly a dozen years from the day I bought the land, there I was, laying in a hammock, swaying with the breeze in my open air living room, palapa overhead and miles of uninhabited coastline on either side. The silence alone is something so exquisite, so soothing, so significantly different from my daily experience, I couldn’t help but feel this home was medicine for the soul. Oaxaca too.

I have grown to love this land and its gentle people. Oaxaca is among the poorest states in Mexico, but it is a bread basket of microclimates that produces a vast array of grains, produce, fruit, cacao, coffee, textiles, and art. Nobody dies of hunger. From the sea it is a short trek up to the mountains, where indigenous tribes still live, many engaged in ceremonies like sweat lodges, cacao rituals, traditional weaving, and mushroom and peyote ceremonies. They have a deep understanding and reverence for the land, and use herbs and plants as medicine. The life is unhurried and family-centric. I am easily two thirds less efficient than I am at home. Everything takes more time and it just doesn’t matter. Many Oaxacans I meet here have lived and worked in the states at one time, but chose ultimately to come home to a simpler life. It’s why I hope to return time and again as well.


Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5 and can be reached at [email protected].


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