Friday, May 31, 2024

Otherworldly Beaches

Playa La Entrega: my favourite beach in Mexico (in Oaxaca, where the Pacific is occasionally worthy of its name.) 


Unless one grows up on the shore, beaches are a category of place that one starts to idealise from early on. 

My first family holiday outside of Britain involved a stay on the comparatively beachless Atlantic outpost of Madeira. 

Thereafter we started to spend time in the summer on the more sheltered Mediterranean island of Mallorca, and it was there that I started to form an idea of the 'perfect beach'.

And this may in part explain my current preference for La Entrega because the Mallorca of the seventies was then dotted with tranquil calas (secluded bays) with pristine shallow water covering soft yellow sand. 

The fact that I have not been back to the Balearics since the start of the following decade has probably helped me to uphold this 'unspoiled' ideal. 

For the archetype of a tropical Caribbean beach that I would later encounter has been degraded by repeat visits and an accumulation of perceptible flaws over time. 

Indeed my very first visit to the shores of Mexico occurred at this point just north of the main jetty at Playa del Carmen at which I arrived with a pair of friends from Cozumel. There was then at least 30m of white sand between the sea and the nearest building or grass verge. On returning from Tulum in the late afternoon we spent an hour or so building a massive sand castle as we waited for the next departure of the rust-bucket vessel that acted as a ferry between the island and the mainland. 

That beach is clearly now all but gone. This calamity has been decades in the making, but its recent acceleration has been astounding. When I came here during the pandemic in 2020 the beach was in a state, but the sargasso was being actively resisted with heavy machinery and there was still a good 15m of sand in front of that horrendous arched sculpture at tye front of the Plaza. 

Once we stopped going to Mallorca, subsequent sunshine sojourns tended to take place on the Costa del Sol and the non-Mayan Riviera. These coastlines have suffered considerable loss since, but not so much environmental as sociological. 

For example, Monte Carlo Beach was always a gravel pit, but in the eighties, it still functioned as a sort of time capsule where one might experience the almost phantasmal presence of the glamour and mood of a bygone period, specifically that of the Belle Epoque

Meanwhile, over in Marbella, what lingered there was the remnants of the culture that had endured on that littoral up to the moment Franco threw it open to pleasure-seekers, and to some extent for a decade or so afterwards, beyond the death of the dictator. 

For even as the jet set plonked themselves down on these otherwise unremarkable beaches, they found themselves cohabiting with Andalucian fishermen of the old school and it was juxtapositions like these which made the experience interesting. 

The last time that V and I visited the Marbella Club back in the early noughties there was not a hint left of traditional uses of that coast. 

And this left me with that sense that has been gathering in Antigua lately, of an environment somehow hollowed out by the exorcism of its ghosts. 

There are places which have an ambivalent relationship with the present moment, where one can vaguely sense — if not actually see — layers of historical apparition made possible by what could be described as only a partial decoherence of the localised past. 

And then suddenly one is left with only a few empty or inauthentic signs and the vulgar noise of modernity.




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