Puerto Escondido would be the first city in Mexico that Edd and I had already visited! But this time around, we’d have company; the family we’d met in Oaxaca, Karine and Louis, had reserved a space for us at a campground next to Plata Zicatela.
But we had a weary drive down Mex Hwy 131 ahead of us. We had to wait for our brakes to be checked in Oaxaca. Then we drove an hour south and pulled over in a lot before it got dark.
The next day, the mountainous 200 km drive to the coast took us 12 hours.
That meant we broke our number one rule: No driving at night. And Hwy 131 put us face to face with potential consequences. Several large chunks of the road had been undermined, leaving potholes the size of small rhinoceroses. You also share the road with pedestrians, dogs, and cars with no headlights.
Relief came when we neared the coast. The air became muggy and the smell of sweet flowers slipped into the van.
Karine and Louis waved us in to the campground and made a delicious grilled fish dinner with wine! Wow. Welcome to Puerto Escondido!
Day 1 in Puerto Escondido
We joined Karine, Louis and the kids at the tourquoise Carrizalillo Beach. The water was much calmer than Edd and I had remembered. Perfect for the kids and beginning surfers!
Later, Edd and I dropped in on Michael, a former colleague of ours in Saudi Arabia. He has just moved to a top-floor apartment a couple of blocks away from Carrizalillo Beach. We picked his brain about his recent travels around Central and South America.
The girl he is dating popped over too, and Michael took us out for fish tacos and a few mezcal shots. Maybe too many. But it seemed appropriate to enjoy everything we couldn’t when we lived in Saudi!
Day 2: Christmas Eve
Karine and I went to the supermarket to do a huge food shop. It was a madhouse and it took three hours to get out of there!
But we made dinner for everyone at the campground. There was Louis, Karine, Zack and Romy, who dressed themselves up for the occasion; Rob and Emilio, two 60 year-old sun lovers who we were surprised to see wearing shirts; British couple Susan and James who made money selling clothing at US festivals; and Alfredo, a middle-aged Mexican from the capital who arrived alone that night and was setting his tent up in the dark. We gave him a light and invited him over.
Day 3: Christmas Day
Chilled. Talked to our parents over WhatsApp. Spent a sleepy afternoon on Playa Zicatela, watching surfers bobbing up and down in the waves.
Days=beach, nights=wine. One day we cycled down to the Punta beach on the far end of Zicatela. Most staff and visitors alike there were Europeans with deep tan lines, bewitched by the charms of Mexican beach life.
At night we had drinks with Karine and Louis after the kids went to bed. Karine is a visiting nurse, like my grandmother, and Louis a snowboard instructor and golf pro! They’re both very funny and kind, with English so good you forgot it wasn’t their native language, though sometimes it slipped!
Louis: Hey Edd, that bar is really cool you know. It has a pool and tons of swingers.
Louis: You know, those things you sit on and swing back and forth?
Puerto Escondido is not all Italian gelato and yoga classes. You can easily live like a local.
One way is to jump on a breezy public colectivo! Here they use a pickup trucks with a tarp-covered bed. Once, we shared our ride with a goat! Fun.
Sometimes though, the gringa in me was alive and well. The owners of the campground kept their dog tied to a tree with a rope that was a meter in length. He’d been there so long that he had run himself a trench in the radius of his tether.
One day, in the least pinche gringa way possible, I told the owner that the dog looked pretty depressed and needed to be walked a few times a day. That the tether was very short. He said the dog bit people so they didn’t like to walk it. And they were afraid that people would steal it.
Whatever the excuse, the next day, they were walking that dog, parading it back and forth in front of our campsite. I didn’t care if they did that for my benefit. That dog was fucking happy.
Conversely, the Quebecois family was in good standing with the owner. Louis had set up a new hammock near their camper, but the family that ran the campground used it whenever they felt like it! But Karine and Louis were too nice to say anything.
The last night in Puerto
We hosted a final cookout to say thanks and goodbye to Michael, Karine, Louis and the kids. Edd was getting good at grilling veggies, so we had more of those, as well as some huge prawns from the food market.
The next morning, a youth group of 40 Jehovah’s Witnesses arrived at the campground. Perhaps a salvation for our wine-soaked souls.
We were still sleeping, but Karine said that a few of them had pitched tents underneath our awning! She and the kids saw it all and couldn’t stop laughing! Good thing someone told the eager campers to move before we woke up, or Edd would have had a few good words for them.
It was our cue to be on our way, but it was a difficult farewell for us. We had a really nice time with our friends and won’t forget them!
Playas de San Agustín
Two hours down the road, near the edge of Huatulco National Park, is a small sheltered bay called San Agustín.
The moon-shaped beach was packed with Mexican families during the day. And both kids and adults loved it: the water was still and coral reefs lie just a few steps off shore.
Some of the fish we saw when we snorkeled: a black Guineafowl Puffer fish, a dark fish with blue bioluminescent spots called a Jewel Damselfish, and a school of a hundred butterflyfish. Edd pointed out a meter-long stingray whose tail and marble eyes were poking out of the sand.
New Year’s Eve
We made bread rolls in muffin tins and snacked on ham and sour stringy Oaxacan quesillo. Bienvenidos 2018!
New Year’s Day
I woke up because our bunk was rocking. We looked outside and there were three teenagers leaning against the van. As you may have noticed, the boundaries of personal property around here are sometimes annoyingly fluid.
Our last stop in Oaxaca also took us swimming again, not at a beach, but at a spring-fed swimming pool, the Ojo de Agua San Magdalena Tlacotepec. It had been a reservoir, as seen by the leftover sluice gates and valves.
I was the only female with a swimsuit. Everyone else swam in shirts and shorts. Some grandmothers even bathed with velvet tops and full-length skirts.
We got quizzed by a couple of curious college students on where we were from, about how great The Beatles and Freddy Mercury were. And were we really married? Don’t Americans hate marriage? Hey, maybe that’s the worst thing they’ve heard about Americans.
All that was left at the end of the day were styrofoam plates, Doritos wrappers, and beer cans, everywhere but in the garbage cans.
We slept in the parking lot and everything was quiet. No kids, no French-speaking neighbors, no barking dogs, no punks leaning against our van.
It was Edd and me on our own again.