… And They Call It Progress!?

By Susan Birkenshaw

The first time I was in Mexico was for a student exchange in 1968. While I had been fortunate enough to travel with my family to many places, I had never been “let loose.”

Arriving in Mexico City even then, my first thoughts were – where are all the trees? There are so few places of green and so few kids on the streets simply playing tag or kick ball. I loved the family I stayed with, and learned a great deal about the culture and history of this country – all in Spanish, an incredible experience for a young and impressionable 60s era kid.

Fast forward to 2005 when, with my husband, Michael, we made our first trip to Huatulco, to a classic all-inclusive resort chosen mostly because it was cheap, available last-minute and included a direct flight from Toronto. Obviously, there were very few choices and yet we had an extraordinary two weeks. I remember we said to ourselves “Maybe someday this will be a place to consider retiring to!”

From our memories, the changes we note are numerous. In 1995, our first adventure was to walk down to the “beach” – remember this was historically a fishing village. There were still many fishing boats pulled up on shore with the catch of the day displayed for locals to shop from for the next day or two. Michael and I knew without a doubt we were looking at that evening’s meal.

We took a taxi away from our resort to see what else was in the region. We could see that the area around Santa Cruz and what is now known as La Crucecita were ready for development. The roads were dirt and oil but beautifully laid out and waiting for finishing when development made it necessary. The design has not changed.

Here and now in 2020, I write about the rapid change that our paradise has experienced. Because I have only lived in Huatulco for 2 seasons, I did an unscientific survey amongst the extraordinary friends I have made in that short time. I asked only one question: “In the time you have been coming to Huatulco, what are the 3 – 5 biggest changes you have seen and experienced?”

Despite some big variations, there was a series of common threads; these changes, I believe, are serving to increase numbers of both locals who move here to benefit from the town’s growth and the numbers of tourists who arrive needing (or demanding) services.

Without a doubt, the most important change and positive addition that has happened in Huatulco is the advent of a good, reliable internet system. The feeling I got in my conversations was that it was virtually impossible to keep up with the outside world or “mom” as recently as the late 90s. This led to huge frustrations, inability to work and large prayers that there were no emergencies on the home front. Now with fibre optic cable and huge variety of streaming services, Huatulqueño expats can work remotely, stay informed and entertained. Moreover, increased technology has created jobs for the newly self-employed locals and for those they can hire.

The next most important to all who live, play and work in Huatulco is the huge increase in the medical services here in town. There are well-trained doctors who care about their patients and speak at least enough English to help us. A new clinic – Clinica San Miguel – is well run and well equipped; there is a CAT scan available and if current conversation holds true an MRI will arrive soon.

Last in the big change list is the huge increase in construction. Condos all over town which seem to be selling consistently at varying price points. There are both very positive aspects to this growth and very sad issues that create jarring changes in town. First, the construction creates employment, income and ultimately increases tourism. All of these are great for the economy of the town and financially for its residents.

On the other hand, this construction ultimately leads to great losses as each project takes away natural highlights like beaches, natural habitats and even large mountains of granite which provided habitats for many of mother nature’s creatures. I believe that there needs to be a balance found between the construction and Mother Nature – easier said than done but this needs to be acknowledged and supported throughout Huatulco.

I sent my small survey to 16 friends. Each responded with some variation of my Big Three list, but then, things went off in a variety of tangents – but note that each point is some aspect of the theme of rapid growth, positive or negative!

– From scrub to cement – paved more and more parking lots
– Huge growth all around the town
– Land for sale is increasing in cost and amounts
– Huge demands from less and less aware tourists
– Way better roads – for example – look at the road to the airport – it’s clean and paved
– Huge cleanup efforts
– Cleaner beaches
– Private beaches are being lost
– Spay/neuter clinics
– Knowledgeable and ethical realtors
– Far more tour options with well-trained guides
– Workplace safety on the increase
– Parking problems as everywhere in the world
– The oceans are at risk – live coral is dying, tropical fish are disappearing
– Nature is at risk as are natural wonders
– Far more cruise ships – not necessarily a good thing
– Big houses – numbers are increasing
– Far more flight choices
– Rental prices are ever increasing
– The pathway joining Santa Cruz and Crucecita is magnificent

All these things come from the big three changes, technology, higher medical services and rapid growth. New services have arrived, restaurants change every day (mostly for the good) and shopping for food and necessities is readily available – larger shopping centres, larger stores and much faster delivery of goods responding to the tourist’s demands. Sadly, more cement will not make the tourist or expats any happier – there need to be additional controls.

In 1970, Joni Mitchell wrote and sang a song called Big Yellow Taxi. The first verse went like this:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

How sad that Huatulco is now at great risk of being simply a big parking lot!