It hadn’t really occurred to me up until now that I’m not undertaking this trip in the most common backpackery fashion. Well, obviously its a fairly long trip, with no set end date, which in itself is a bit unusual. But I’m referring more to how I am going about it day to day – the desinations I’ve been to so far, the accommodation I’ve stay in, the people I’ve meet. Only after getting to Puerto Escondido and checking in to a backpackers hostel did I realise with a shock that I haven’t been on “the gringo trail”, up until now. This place certainly qualifies, and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The “Gringo trail-ness” of Puerto is not just due to the fact that there were lots of English speakers around – I experienced that in Sayulita, San Miguel de Allende, and Oaxaca for example. It was also that everyone was either coming from or going to the same place, and several people unexpectedly ran into other travellers they know while on the beach. It had the feel of being an important stop on everyone’s route, for good reason. I had been looking forward to Puerto Escondido my whole trip. It is a surfing destination, and actually goes by the monika “the Mexican Pipeline”. I know a couple of people who have visited and had heard good things.
I didn’t feel so comfortable here at first though. The very first day at the hostel I felt strange, and I can’t put my finger on why. I don’t know if I felt like I was betraying my trip but being such a “backpacker”, after making such an effort to stay with and get to know locals in most places I have been. Sounds like a bit of a wank I know but I really did feel strange there. The surf in Puerto certainly attracts a lot of Australians as well. I arrived a day before Australia Day, and several bars and hostels were hosting Australia Day parties. After speaking Spanish fairly consistently for the last three months it was strange to switch back to English, and even stranger to hear Aussie accents all over the place. At first I definitely wasn’t in the spirit of the place.
I soon came around, and I attribute the great time I had purely to the hostel that I stayed at, called Osa Mariposa. Never have I stayed somewhere with such a great vibe. It was the most chilled out, homely and social hostel ever, and I met so many fantastic people there that it will definitely be a highlight of the trip. It’s the kind of place where you can get stuck – everyone I met ended up staying longer than anticipated, and I was not immune. What I first thought would be two days turned into over a week.
As its a surf town I was quite keen to have another go, seeing as Sayulita was such a failure surf-wise. However while Sayulita had no waves whatsoever, La Punta de Zicatela, which was the only place breaking at Puerto Escondido, was too big and rough by my standards. By these guys standards it was tiny but I am a big scaredy-cat and although I rented a board and paddled out, I spent the whole time practicing my duck dive and basically avoiding the waves. Another failure of a surf for me!
For swimming and general beach time the adjacent beaches of Puerto Angelito, Manzanilla and Carizilillo were safer, being small coves with no waves. I quite liked these beaches – very picturesque, with beachside huts serving cold beers, coconuts and seafood. Very summer holiday!
A highlight of my stay in the area was the three days I spent at Chacahua, which is a lagoon and beach about 2 to 3 hours away from Puerto. I went with Maria, an awesome Spanish chick I met at Osa Mariposa. Again, we stayed longer than anticipated, which was so easy to do. The area is very underdeveloped- in 10 years I’ll be saying “I was there before it got big”. At the moment its just a row of palapas on the beach, replete with hammocks. They do great seafood, cold beers and fresh coconuts- what more could you want?
Maria and I stayed at La Jungla with Ana and Leo and their family. We pitched a tent in the sand and ate at their place every day. They were the most wonderful, down to earth people ever and if anyone is going to Chacahua I beg you to stay with them. Tell them the Australian sent you – they never could remember my name!
While in Chacahua we took a boat across the inlet of the lagoon to the other side where most of the town is. We visited a Crocodrilario, climbed to the lighthouse for amazing views and caught a turtle release at sunset. In contrast to the tourist event which was the turtle release at Sayulita, this one was one local woman who unceremoniously dumped the baby turtles on the sand, with just Maria, myself and a local boy looking on. We watched the waves take them away – one of the poor things was struggling – he’ll sadly be part of the 90% that doesn’t make it…
Behind La Jungla where we were staying lives Juan Torres – a bit of a local character who took a particular liking to Maria. He took us out at night in his row boat to see the phosphorescent plankton in the lagoon. It was magical, rowing through the mangroves in the darkness with the water sparkling with the movement of the paddles making the plankton light up. We rowed through several areas teeming with fish – when the fish darted out of the path of the boat the plankton lit up and you could see shining paths of all these fish around the boat.
On our last day Juan invited us to join him for a coconut. Well, he was happy with his beer but he got a pole and knocked a couple of coconuts down from his palm tree for us. It appeared he had already had quite a few beers and he made me nervous with his free-weilding machete as he prepared my coconut – when I asked if he had ever had an accident with it he matter of factly showed me a few scars on his hands. He had all his fingers though so I guess he can’t be too bad.
Chacahua was also the location of my most successful surf in Mexico, hooray finally! The waves were tiny and almost uncatchable but I managed a couple and was very happy with my effort. Tiny, weak, rolling waves are more my style!
Again we ended up staying in Chacahua longer than anticipated – it was too easy to chill out and do nothing. The thought of packing my bag was altogether too overwhelming. But after three nights it was time to return to civilisation – I must say a shower was looking pretty attractive by that point! We didn’t return to Puerto the same way we had come. We took a boat across the lagoon which was great fun. Its a really picturesque place. From the little town on the shores of the lagoon with squished into a taxi to the highway with an Italian family and from there picked up a bus back to Puerto. Easy!
Back in Puerto I spent another two nights trying out a different hostel that was nice enough. By this time it had been a week and a half since I arrived in Puerto and I was finally prepared to move on. I didn’t go very far, just a bit down the coast to Mazunte for another couple of nights. You’ll remember I spent New Years in Mazunte and really enjoyed it, so I thought why not spend a little more time there? It was definitely a different vibe this time around, without being packed full of Mexican holiday makers. The hippie vibe was more evident and it was generally a lot more tranquil. I did stay in what must be my most interesting dorm so far…
Another couple of days, a bit more beach time, a couple of yoga classes and lots of chilling in the hammock and it was time to say goodbye to the coast for the time being. Following the gringo trail theme I headed off on an overnight bus to Chiapas – the generally accepted next stop on the trail. Mountains here I come!