Two months in paradise
After an extended 9 week stay in Puerto Escondido, it was finally time to say goodbye.
Staying in Puerto was an incredible experience, and it was hard to leave. I've had so much fun surfing and getting immersed in the community here. While my Spanish is still far from fluent, it has improved greatly, as have my surfing abilities. I became a 'regular' at more than one establishment in Riconada (the area where I lived), and I made so many great friends, with both locals and travelers alike.
Last week I had my 31st birthday, and was fortunate to share it with some great friends at Pinches Tacos (home away from home). They even surprised me with a cake! It ended up having nuts in the frosting (to which I am very allergic), so I had to cautiously only eat the cake part. It's the thought that counts, right?
While the surfing, scenery, and learning have all been great, it's always the people that share the experience with you, that really make the whole thing memorable. Here are some of the wonderful people I shared Puerto with:
Flying from Puerto to Oaxaca with AeroTucan
When it came time to leave, I decided to book a flight, rather than take a bus. Due to the windy mountain roads, that are required for land travel to Oaxaca (my next stop), the bus can take anywhere from 6 to 10 hours! After doing some research online, I found two potential airlines that fly from Puerto to Oaxaca for around $100 USD. One is called Aero Vega, which is just one pilot who owns a plane or two and flies whenever he's free, and the other is AeroTucan, which has a desk at the airport, and a website.
Originally, I wanted to fly AeroVega, because I heard it was a bit cheaper, but I never could get in contact with the pilot. My email was unanswered, and he don't seem to have a webpage or official contact method. So instead, I flew with AeroTucan. I didn't know what to expect, but it turned out being a wonderful experience.
My flight was at 8am, and left right on time. The AeroTucan plane was a small single propeller airplane with room for about twelve passengers. The cabin was tiny, with no divider between the cockpit and the passengers, so you could see all the instruments on the dash.
I expected the flight to be like a roller coaster, with turbulence over the mountains, but it was actually very smooth. The views were amazing, and the total flight time was only about 30 minutes!
I'm now staying in an AirBnB apartment in central Oaxaca, and enjoying cooler weather and a more active city scene. Live music is constant, as street performers are out in the Zócalo (main square) every day. I'll also be meeting up with a friend, who I met last time I was here in early 2016. He's from Holland, but has been teaching English here in Oaxaca for the past three years or so.
It's hard to believe I'll be back in the states, and going back to work in a few weeks. Until then, I'll be soaking up as much Mexican food, culture, and nature as I can.
Last week, I had surfed five days in a row and was feeling pretty exhausted. However, an invitation to play some pool and hang with friends in Zicatela was too tempting to refuse. When we headed out, I noticed that I had developed some sinus congestion and a case of the sniffles. I figured my body was just in need of a day off, and while I wondered if going out was a bad idea, I crawled into the taxi, and headed out.
The bar was quiet when we arrived, and the lack of music was noticed immediately. We were told their speaker had recently blown, and that's why it was quiet. "No matter." I thought. Typically, I find bars too loud for my introvert ears, so the ability to hear my friends, as we conversed over pool and drinks, was a treat. As typically happens though, each round of drinks paved the way for the next, and by the end of the night, I knew I would be paying for this night well into tomorrow.
My premonition was realized as my eyes opened around 7am the next morning. I was parched, and my whole body ached. "I'm getting to old for this." I thought, as I reached for the water bottle next to my bed. I chugged a half liter and fought for another hour of sleep. As the day progressed, my dehydration was replaced by a fever and I knew my immune system had been stretched too thin. Over the course of the next two days, I would sleep about 30 hours. On day three I was feeling decent, but wasn't sure if I was ready to surf again. However, I found out that it was photo day, and if I wanted photos of my surfing (which are used for the weekly coaching sessions each Friday night), I would need to muster my energy and hit the waves, despite my not feeling 100%.
Once I was on the water, I was feeling pretty good. The salt provided a nice nasal rinse, and the constant movement was a welcomed change, after laying in my bed or hammock the past few days. The sky was grey, and we were circled by a number of large black black birds (not sure the name of them). I actually rode quite a few waves that day, which was surprising, since I hadn't been in the water for a few days prior.
After we got out of the water though, I knew I hadn't recovered from the sickness. My body ached and felt like I had been hit by a train. I closed my eyes as we drove back home, and immediately went back to bed - sleeping another 5 hours in the afternoon, and then again 12 hours when night came. Fortunately, I recovered again in the next couple days, and i'm happy to say that I feel fine at the time of writing this.
It turned out that the timing of my getting sick could not have been better. I had just completed the rest of my Spanish lessons the week before, so I didn't have class to miss, and Puerto Escondido had a tropical depression brewing off the coast, that was expected to drop 8-12 inches of rain on our paradise town during the same week.
It rained for about 3 days in a row, causing small rivers to form in the streets. During this week was the first time I seriously considered leaving, and continuing my travels elsewhere. apart from surfing, this town doesn't offer a whole lot in terms of entertainment, so when the beaches are flooded, cabin fever sets in fast.
As soon as the storm subsided, the sun broke through, and it was back to the beaches!
Today, Wednesday, May 24th, marks one month that I've been living in Puerto Escondido, and it has been exactly what I wanted. I've come to love quite a few things about this place. I've met great people, and made friends with locals and fellow travelers alike. I have even become a 'regular' at a nearby taco establishment (yes, Diego knows my order before I ask for it). I've enjoyed my time here so much, in fact, that I'm extending my stay for at least a couple more weeks. I would still like to visit some other parts of Mexico, as well as other countries, but I'm not ready to leave Puerto quite yet.
In being here a few weeks, I'm finding that traveling slowly allows for a much richer experience. I realize that "free time" is a rare commodity for many of us, especially in the context of travel, but for those whose circumstances allow, I highly encourage you to go somewhere and stay a few weeks or longer. If you're going for the experience and adventure of it, you'll find that living is easy and there are even opportunities for work, if you need it. (Many hostels even offer free accommodation in exchange for working a few hours a day)
There have been more than a couple times in my life where seemingly countless weeks or months go by, and leave me with few notable memories or experiences. When this happens, the days blur, and clouds of discontent settle over me, historically leading to an existential crisis and, in recent cases, a one-way ticket to Mexico...
People seem to crave familiarity, so some kind of routine is inevitable and expected, regardless of where you live. I suspect then, that the goal isn't to always be moving, but rather to remove yourself from the routine for enough time to reassess your life and what you want from it, with a clear mind, and new perspective. I think traveling does that, and while it doesn't have to be in a different country, I've found a break from the norm to be such an important thing.
It feels strange to write this entry, since I just posted the "2 week update" blog a few days ago. However, my goal is to get caught up on the timeline, so that I can start posting shorter entries, but with more frequency, and you can be more in sync with the happenings during this trip. So, without further ado...
I've moved again!
After staying with the second host family for a week, the lack of WiFi prompted me to pack my bags again. I moved into the La Barca house (mentioned in the previous post), and it has proven to be a great place to set up camp. I had been spending most of my free time here anyway, so the ability to go straight to my room when I'm ready to sleep, instead of being chased by rabid dogs on the dark drive home each night, has been a pleasant change.
La Barca is equipped with a pool, which I think is a must-have in the summer, when you don't have A/C, and my new room boasts a private bathroom, mini fridge, desk, and full size bed (A bit more spacious than the twin bunk I was using previously). Since I'm nearing the end of my pre-bought accommodation/lesson package, I may have to move again next week, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
The Neighborhood Piano Man
While walking to and from class, or nearby restaurants, I pass a small house that often has piano music coming from behind its walls. This has always delighted me, and made me wish I could go inside, and play the piano as well. (while I've found a guitar to play here, I have not seen a piano yet.)
One day this past week, while walking to get some snacks from the convenient store, I saw a man leaving the house. I picked up my pace, and approached him.
"Tu eres el musico?" I asked. [are you the musician?]
"Huh?" he responded, with a confused expression.
"Tu tocas el piano, si?", "Yo toco la guitarra" [you play the piano, yes?] [I play the guitar]
He responded in Spanish, with a friendly look on his face, but it was too fast for me to understand. I explained that my Spanish wasn't great, and he asked if I spoke English. "Yes, I do" I said, and we continued the conversation. It turns out that he has a list of songs by Elton John and Billy Joel that he covers, and he's been hoping to find a guitar player to accompany him.
I told him to look no further, and we agreed that next time I walked by the house and heard him playing, I would stop in, and if we were both available, I'd go grab my guitar for a jam session.
The man, named Ángel looked to be in his late 50s, early 60s and was from Spain.
A couple days later, I walked past the house and heard music. I called his name from the gate, and he walked out and waved.
"Shall I get my guitar?" I asked.
"Yes, I'll be here!" he replied.
I came back, and we proceeded to run through three Elton John songs, that he had already written out the chords and lyrics for. The first was Crocodile Rock, then Sad Songs (Say So Much), and lastly Can You Feel The Love Tonight. It was a good time, and we were both quite pleased to have someone to jam with.
I wish that I had a picture or video clip of this scene, but alas I do not. Perhaps during the next jam session!
Barra de la Cruz
Last weekend some of us took a day trip to Barra de la Cruz, to check out a new surf spot. The beach is about a three hour drive east of Puerto Escondido, and it felt a bit longer sitting in the back of a pickup truck. I was in good company though, and the views from the truck bed are always more enjoyable than being crammed in the cab.
Barra de la Cruz has a long right-wave that starts at a point break, consisting of large boulders at the base of a cliff. The beach, like so many in this state, looks like paradise, and the huge rocks at the point barely look real. The waves were perfect and clean, but paddling out to the break line was difficult. The length from the beach to the break was about three times as long as the other beaches that we typically surf, so it took me more than one tiring attempt before I broke through the white water, and into the lineup.
Once I got out there, it was a blast, and I took quite a few long rides. After two or three hours in the water, we retreated to the shore for food and water. I later learned that this spot used to be world renowned, but construction (to accommodate an influx of visitors and surfers) resulted in a great reduction of the wave's size and consistency. It's still a well sought-after break, but the world class reputation seems to have fallen away. Fortunately, it's still perfect for the non-professionals out there, such as myself.
La Punta in a thunderstorm
Playa Punta is a beach we go to often, but last Thursday morning, it was a much different experience. As we loaded up our boards, around 7am in the morning, it started to rain lightly. Puerto is just beginning its rainy season, and usually the rain lasts for a twenty minutes or so, before the clouds are broken by sunshine, and the tropical heat envelopes the town, so we weren't concerned. In fact, the cool water and breeze was a welcomed change.
On the way to the beach though, the rain picked up, as did the wind. “Well, this will be interesting” I thought.
As we warmed up, and stretched on the beach, thunder rumbled in the distance, and ominous clouds swirled off the coast. We all learn from a young age that lighting and water activities don’t mesh, and had anyone arrived alone, they would have certainly turned around, and called off the day.
But as it is with the packs of dogs, that roam the streets at night, there is strength in numbers, and our group was not willing to yield to the sky. “Let’s go, paddle out!” an instruct yelled, and we waded into the water. The expressions on our faces probably resembled outnumbered soldiers, walking out on a battlefield.
The rain felt like needles on my face, and I squinted as I paddled towards the break point. In the lineup, thunder roared, and lightning fell in the distance. I stayed low on my board, knowing that, as the tallest in the group, I was sure to be the first to go, if lightning struck.
It was hard to see the sets through the rain, and our focus was drifting from the waves, and towards the weather. I was counting seconds between flashes of light, and rumbles in the sky. I remember learning that each second, between a lightning strike and the sound of thunder, represented the number of miles away, that the lightning had struck. I have no idea if that is true, but it helped justify our decision to stay on the water.
I took a few waves, but I no longer felt like I was on a beach in Mexico. Instead I was on a movie set, waiting to see a fishing boat (likely captained by Tom Hanks) capsize in the storm, before slowly slipping into the deep.
Suddenly, there was a large crackle, and the sky lit up. The light lingered on the faces of many students, replacing tan complexions with a ghostly shade of panic. “Whoaaaa!” rose a chorus of students and instructors alike. “Last wave!” someone yelled, and we all anxiously waited for one more ride to deliver us to shore, secretly wondering if those would be the famous last words.
As we loaded up the truck, and headed back to base, we glanced at one another. Subtle smiles validated the shared feeling that, although an arguably stupid decision had been made to surf today, it was well worth it.
Photos of this day were planned to be captured, but called off when the camera man feared that the rain would destroy his equipment. However, here are some other highlights from the past couple weeks:
Learning how to turn at Playa Carrizalillo
It’s Saturday morning, and clouds have brought the temperature down a bit. There has been a tropical storm brewing off the coast for the past few days, but it doesn’t look like it will bring more than some rain. It rained very briefly yesterday, and the day before, in some parts of Puerto. I was told that it was the first hint of rain since last October. I suppose their winters are like Austin summers, when it comes to drought.
Currently, i’m sitting under a wooden roof with clay shingles, in the La Barca surf house. (A very nice hostel, where many of the people affiliated with Oasis school are staying.)
There is construction happening on the roof of the main building, but every lull in hammering and drilling reveals a pleasant chorus of chirping from the surrounding trees. An occasional breeze keeps me from leaving my chair, to turn on the fan. The pool is ever inviting, and it's not uncommon for a conversation in the nearby patio to drift between Spanish, English and French dialects.
I’m halfway through my Surf/Spanish package with Oasis, and it’s going to be difficult to document all the daily happenings leading up to now. WiFi is no longer available where I’m staying, so I haven’t had time to put together blog posts for each day like before. Instead, I will attempt to share the highlights, some photos, and perhaps a couple videos to get us caught up to speed.
About a week after I had settled into my new room, there was some kind of dispute between the property owner, of the bungalow that I was staying in, and the family that rented the room for me to stay. I’m sure the details were explained to me quite clear in Spanish, but all I could gather was that the room had been double booked, and a miscommunication in the contract would leave me on streets at the end of the week.
My host family, kind as they are, asked if I would be willing to stay with a cousin who lives nearby, to avoid escalating the conflict with the property owner. I agreed, and began packing up my things. The cousin’s residence includes a young couple with a 1yr old son, and now myself.
They live in a nice new house, and have been incredibly welcoming. The only downside is that they don’t have WiFi set up yet. As mentioned earlier, this has drastically limited my ability to update the blog. On the bright side, it’s also prompted me to spend much more time at La Barca, and hanging out with people I’ve met here.
I spoke to the school about moving out of the host family's place, and into the hostel, in order to have WiFi access, and it looks like that will not be a problem. I'll update again, when that move is complete.
To help with transportation, I rented a moto (scooter) from the original host family for the duration of my time here. They're charging me next to nothing for it, since I had to move around so much. I also borrowed a guitar that they had. It had been collecting dust in the closet, and had a missing string, so I’m sure it won’t be missed. I combed the neighborhood, and after heeding a tip from a fellow traveler, found a music shop and bought some new strings. The guitar is old, and the frets/action are pretty rough, but it will do. It’s been great having something to strum while i’m here.
There is no shortage of things to like about Puerto Escondido. Breathtaking beaches, delicious cuisine, rich culture, and more. But beyond the natural beauty and laid back vibe of this beach town, I’ve come to love the community that it fosters, at least in the area where I'm living. Having only been here a couple weeks, I’m pleasantly surprised to have regular run-ins with people I know while at the beach, or walking to dinner.
Whether it’s a fellow traveler, that I met a few days before, a restaurant owner who makes the best pizza in town, or a local surf instructor that I pass on my moto while riding home, I can’t seem to get through a day without bumping into someone I know. I suppose this is something that people from small towns enjoy frequently, but for me it’s a pleasant change after living in larger cities where such serendipitous moments are a rarity.
Last weekend a new taco bar opened up called Pinches Tacos. It’s owned by the family of one of the surf instructors, and has quickly become the go-to spot for food and drinks. The grand opening included a DJ, much laughter, drinks, tacos, and water guns that were filled with beer by the end of the evening. Our group stayed late, and enjoyed a few rounds on the house before we loaded into a large van, and headed down to Zicatela, to a club called Barfly, where we (I pretended) to dance until 4 or 5am the next morning. The bar was packed, and I saw some of my host family, as well as a Spanish teacher there. (another example of how I always seem to find people I know, out and about!)
Nights that last until 5am are not something I can do often, but it was a great experience to add to the memory bank, and I’ve found that when such things happen, it’s more fun to be in the story, than it is to only hear about it.
I’m taking the day off from surfing today, but having the daily option to hit the waves has been a dream. This past week, I was able to visit a new beach that is about 30 minutes away called Tierra Blanca.
The shoreline seems to stretch forever, and we were the only ones in sight. It’s a beach break, so the waves break with sandbars rather than rocks, like the other beaches we usually go to. The upside to this is that there are less rocks to cut your feet on. The downside is that the waves break more sporadically and do not start in any given location, so you cannot paddle around them.
I was so exhausted after this session, it felt like it was my first day here. It was cool to go somewhere new though, and a good reminder how every beach is different, and you have to always adapt your technique to match the environmental changes.
In addition to surfing, the school offers some activities during the week. These occur in the evenings, and are usually fitness related (targeting core, balance, breathing, or endurance) to help us perform better on the water. They also have a surprise event each week, which is always different.
So far, I’ve taken yoga, cross fit, and an APNEA class (which deals with breathing exercises, and I think is usually used for scuba diving training) Last week, the surprise event was a cooking class, on how to make Mole Negra. I was more interested in eating the finished product than preparing it, but it was a lot of fun, and delicious when it was time to sample the finished product.
This week, the surprise event was a trip to La Barra Iguanario, where we saw a bunch of iguanas, turtles, parrots, crocodiles, and a baboon (which was confiscated by the police at some prior point, and taken here because they didn't know what to do with it).
There were a lot of people going and truck space was limited, so I offered to ride separately on the moto. My friend Mackenzie decided to join, as a ride on two wheels was sure to be more adventurous. The moto isn’t a pretty machine, and it’s not a well functioning machine, but it hasn’t failed me yet. After clearing its throat a few times, it sputtered to life and we rolled out, following behind the rest of the crew who were sitting in the back of the pickup truck.
The ride was not without surprises. The moto stalled on the main road, but I was able to get it started again while rolling. One the way back, the adventure continued with a hint of rain, two pairs of police lights in the rear-view mirror (The cops passed us, to my relief), and a short chase by rabid (presumably) street dogs.
Fortunately, we got back home with no incidents, and plenty of good laughs.
*** I began writing the post above last weekend, and here we are, another week later, before I've had a chance to finish it! ***
Spanish classes are going well too, but between the 3 hours of language class, 2+ hours of surfing, meals, and nightly activities, I'm in a constant state of exhaustion and bliss. My first month will end this coming Friday, and I'm not quite ready to leave. More updates will come sooner than later.
Day 3 - Rags to Riches
I woke up slow at the hippy hostel on Thursday morning. I didn’t know what time check out was, but I was happy to be moving on. I think if I had been more social it would have been a better experience, but the heat seemed to suck the life out of me, and I couldn't relax in the common areas with all those cats roaming around. Since I only had one more night before meeting my host family, and moving into my more permanent room, I decided to splurge a bit, and get a room at a real hotel.
I picked a place called Bungalow Zicatela. It was about 2.5 miles north of the hostel where I was currently staying, and in sat right in front of Zicatela beach, which is the spot famous for big waves. Before heading to the new hotel, I went to a nearby market, and got breakfast (3 bananas). I carried them out to the beach, and ate them while I watched more surfers near the rocky cove. Once I felt my skin begin to sizzle, I headed back to gathered my things and check out.
Taxis are cheap and plentiful here, so it was easy to get a cab to the next spot.
The new hotel was great. It’s a stone's throw from Zicatela beach, only separated by a small street, with some bars and restaurants. It also has a large swimming pool in its courtyard. I didn't use use the pool, but it's always nice to know it's available. My room is on the third floor, facing the beach, with a large balcony, king sized bed, AC, private bathroom, and everything else you would find in a hotel stateside.
I dropped my stuff, and went across the street, to a place called Acuari Sushi, to grab some lunch. I ordered sushi, coconut shrimp and a margarita (nice combo eh?) The sushi was decent, but not great, to my surprise, but the shrimp and drink were quite tasty. I noticed spaghetti and tacos on the menu too, so they strike me as a jack-of-all-trades type of place.
With a full belly I headed to the beach, and walked down the coast to a small marina. There were a bunch of local families, and I got a decent amount of stares. I think for being 6'3". They don't grow people that tall in these parts, so they were probably wondering where the rest of the circus was. I didn’t stay on the beach long that day, for fear of being burned before starting surf lessons. I’m bound to get a bit scorched in the coming weeks, if I'll be on the water 5 days a week. Most of the day was spent relaxing in the air conditioned room, or people watching from the balcony. I also finished the book "The Art of Learning", which was very enjoyable.
I had no idea what to expect from the host family's accommodations, so as far as I knew this could be the last hint of luxury for a while. I topped off the night by watching the beautiful sunset, then sprawled out on the king size mattress and cranked the A/C to my heart's content.
Day 4 - Meet the family
After waking up in the cold hotel room, I remembered that the staff had mentioned breakfast would be available downstairs. I headed down around 9am to see what was on the menu. I ordered the “Surfer Desayuno”, which consisted of bacon, scrambled eggs, two pancakes and sliced fruit. I had my fill and walked away with food on the plate. Anyone who knows me will assume that I must not have been feeling well, to leave food behind. They would be correct. Sadly, adaptation is not the stomach's strong suit. Rather, like governments, it's slow to change, and things can get ugly when it's forced to. I hadn't been feeling great the past couple days, so I didn't want to push my luck by gorging, like I usually do.
Soon after breakfast, I packed up my belongings, and checked out of the hotel around 11am. I planned to meet my host family at Oasis Spanish/Surf school at noon, and felt it best to arrive early. The girl who greeted me was friendly, and spoke English very well. I couldn't place her accent, but she appeared to be of European descent, rather than Mexican. She called the host family, and let them know I was ready.
A few minutes later, a Mexican woman showed up, probably in her mid-forties, and laughed after making a remark that I was her new son. I hopped in her car and away we went. She lives in a large multi-story house, with her kids and some extended family. It turns out that I am staying in a detached bungalow (think studio apts), that are about a block away from the main house. Each property is gated and she gave me five keys that I will need during my stay. One for the main house, two for separate locks on my property gate, one for the door of my bungalow, and one for another gate that leads to a main road, behind the property. "¡Muchas llaves!", she exclaimed.
After getting settled in my new place, I walked to the main house for lunch. The host prepared chicken, with peppers, mashed potatoes and steamed veggies. It was also served with delicious red salsa and tortillas. I let her know my allergies up front, and provided a card (en espanol) for reference, so I can be sure that nothing I'm served will kill me.
While I was chatting with the host, or rather, attempting to understand what was being spoken to me in Spanish, we were joined by two other students. One was a girl from Germany, who had been here for a couple weeks, and the other was a girl from the midwest, who had been here about a month, and would be leaving the next day. They were friendly, but we didn’t talk much, because that would require English, and I didn’t want to cut the host out of the conversation. Besides, I want to learn Spanish, which will require me to curb my English tongue, as often as possible.
After a nice chat with everyone, I headed to my room, packed a day pack, and walked to the nearest beach, called Playa Carrizalillo. The beach is surrounded on both sides by rocky cliffs, and the water is much more calm than the other beaches I've seen in Puerto. I set my things down on the sand, and jumped in the clear blue water. It was refreshing, but not near as cold as the U.S. Pacific coast. I swam around, and was impressed by the force of even the most seemingly gentle swells. As a child of the Gulf, I'm not used to there being such a pull from the shoreline, when a wave is getting ready to break.
I can't believe how accessible this place is to where I'm staying!
Day 5 - Surfing Playa Punta
I woke up early Saturday morning and had a small breakfast with the host around 7am. My first surf lesson was at 8am, and I was both excited and nervous. I hadn't been surfing in a few weeks, and definitely haven't done any cardio exercise to prep me for this trip. Knowing the waves would be bigger/stronger here, I was prepared to be destroyed after the 2hr session.
I met at the school, and helped load boards into a small pickup truck. I shared the back seat with a girl I met the day before, named Lynn. She was from California, and was taking some time off from the daily grind, to travel. We chatted a bit, while the instructors conversed in Spanish up front. A couple more people were riding in the back, with the boards.
Both instructors seemed young, maybe 18-24 range, and were in impeccable shape. It definitely made me wish that I had taken up this hobby years ago. We took a detour and drove past my hotel from a couple nights before (on Zicatela beach). This is where the monster waves occur, but we were heading to Playa Punta, which is where I first watched surfers in Puerto, next to the rocky cliffs, near the hostel I stayed at during my first night in town.
When we got on the beach, the instructor said we’d start with "a quick run down to the lifeguard tower and back”, to warm up. At first I thought he was messing with me, because no one else was beginning to run, except one other student who took off. I paused, and then heard a chuckle and “let’s go man”. I never run, and was already concerned about being out of shape for the surfing. “This is going to be a disaster", I thought, but I wasn't going to refuse the most basic of warm ups, so I took off down the beach.
I came back a bit winded, but not dying, so that was good. After that, the instructor had me practice a "pop up", by laying on the board in the sand, and doing a mock paddle/stand up. After approving of my form, we paddled out.
Once we got to the line-up (where you wait to catch a wave), I got to catch my breath from all the paddling, and let the swells roll under me. Occasionally, I would be warned, "Paddle out, paddle out!", and look up to see an extra large swell coming, and on target to break right before it got to us. If we didn't move, we would be rolled into a vicious salty rinse cycle. When this type of scene unfolds, it looks like a race, where you paddle as fast as possible, towards the swell, praying that you get there, and float over it, before it breaks, and subsequently breaks you. There were a couple close calls, but I'm happy to have escaped each one in time.
I got a few good rides in that day, and had a blast. I left with some minor cuts (on the chest, from the fin of the board, and on my foot from the rocks below), but it felt great to be in the water again. After the session, we all headed back to the school and I decided to walk back to Playa Carrizalillo. I took a quick dip in the water, and relaxed in the sand. I was pretty exhausted though, so it wasn't long before I retreated back to the bungalow, for water, rest, and shade.
I took it easy for the rest of the afternoon. It's hard to snap back, after being under the sun for a couple hours. I have been drinking water like crazy, and was sick of buying individual bottles from the convenient stores, so I decided to grab a 15-20L bottle (like you see in an office building) after the sun began to set. Unfortunately, without a vehicle, I would need to transport this water the old fashioned way.
You might ask, "Jake, why didn't you just pay 20-30 pesos for a taxi, and save yourself from such suffering?". To those people I would reply, "Excellent question! It's one I asked myself, halfway through the 1/2mi walk back to my bungalow".
Needless to say, after the crossfit-style masochistic hike for water, there would be no more activities for today.
It’s been almost a week since I arrived in Mexico. Today is my sixth day in country, and I've finally settled into my new home in Puerto Escondido. I meant to update the blog sooner, but the first few days left me with spotty WiFi, and I didn’t want to post without pictures.
Even with decent WiFi here, it's still a time-intensive task to upload photos/video, so I'm going to start with a recap of the first two days, and then try to crank through the follow days, until we get up to speed. Daily updates may not be sustainable, or necessary, as I get into a groove here, but we will see how it goes.
Day 1 - Mexico City
I arrived in Mexico City around 3:30pm last Tuesday. The warm “bienvenidos” from the pilot, coupled with the sweltering mid-afternoon sun, validated my recent regret for bringing a hoodie this close to the equator, especially at the end of April. My backpack is bursting at the seams, and could have done without the added cotton. Mexico is a country of diverse geography though, so if I ever find myself at a higher elevation, it may prove useful.
The initial plan, upon arrival, was to meet up with a couchsurfer, named Alan, and spend the night at his place. I had created a CouchSurfing account back in 2010, but never used it, so I was looking forward to my first experience.
Unfortunately, I got a message from Alan, the day before I left the states, letting me know that he was going to be tied up with school until around 9pm that night. He was still glad to host me, but wouldn't be able to meet until after 9pm. I decided to call off the stay, since I needed to be up before dawn, to catch a flight the next morning. Also, the idea of lugging my 30 pound backpack around for five hours didn't sit well. A quick google search led me to a less adventurous, but likely more restful stay in a nearby hostel - practically named, "Hostel DF Airport Mexico City"
After dropping my pack in the hostel room, I walked for a few blocks and discovered some street tacos sizzling over an open griddle. The smokey smell of chorizo drew me in. I stumbled through some pleasantries in Spanish, as the cook responded in broken English. With our combined efforts, we soon successfully conveyed our thoughts. The tacos were about $1 USD a piece, and I accepted his offer of preparing “the special".
A younger employee, who was also working the griddle, asked me where I was from. I told him Texas, and he asked if we had tacos up there. I couldn’t help but grin, as I explained that Texas and most of the U.S., as far as I knew, loved tacos and can rarely get enough of them. He looked pleased at this, and continued chopping chorizo and chicken on the grill.
The rest of the neighborhood didn’t seem to offer much more than an occasional street vendor, and some scattered convenient stores, so I headed back to the hostel after eating, to relax in garden patio outside of my room. The sun began to set soon after, for which I was very glad. My room was not equipped with AC or a fan, so the night air would be my only hope for a good night's sleep.
The break from motion that evening brought a realization that, apart from travel due to employment overseas in 2005-2006, I hadn’t done any solo traveling before. My thoughts felt like a pendulum, swinging back and forth between the thrill of absolute freedom and a gnawing anxiety of what life would be like when the vacation ended.
The city played like a symphony though the open window, comprised of distant horns, barking dogs, roaring planes, and since writing this entry, no fewer than four questionable explosions. The loud booms, quickly prompting protest from car alarms, scattered throughout the city streets. Another guest at the hostel looked up with alarm. I acknowledged his expression and said, "it's a big city, I'm sure we'll be fine". It reminded me of Afghanistan for a moment, where I would often hear explosions in the distance throughout the day, and took me back to the first time I found myself alone in a foreign country. It’s still hard to believe that was nearly 13 years ago. I came back a different person than when I left in 2005. It makes me wonder who I will be, when I come home this time.
Home. The idea of "home" has turned into something foreign to me, over the past year. My eyelids grew heavy as my mind wandered through existential contemplation, and soon I was asleep.
Day 2 - Puerto Escondido
The flight was relatively short, and I arrived in Puerto Escondido around 8:30am. I took a shared shuttle to my hostel, and rang a bell next to a large yellow gate. A very tan, lanky fellow came to the gated entrance, and welcomed me. Apparently, the manager was still asleep, so this guy checked my reservation and showed me to my room. This place is hippy-central.
The main living area is littered with cots and hammocks, where 20-somethings are still snoozing in the open air. There is a shared kitchen area, and shared bathroom/showers. I opted for a private room, which was still only about $15 a night. I’m glad I did because the “dorm rooms” did not have doors, and at least 6 cats lived on site. The last thing I needed was to have feral felines curling up with me, while trying to sleep. My room, though private, was still open to the outside air, so there was no AC or fan here either. Concrete floors showed a fair amount of sand and dirt that had been tracked in, and walls were a mix of fence style wood, and thick bamboo. I don't anticipate staying here more than a night, but the upside is that I hear the waves crashing on the shore, and a choir of birds are singing all day long through my walls.
I left my room and found some breakfast, then headed for the beach. Surfers were out all day, and gathered toward the end of the shore, where it meets a rocky cove, and boulders in the water make a great break point. (The spot is called "Punta Playa" and is where I would surf for my first lesson later in the week)
I didn't do much that day, other than sit on the beach. There is something completely mesmerizing about the sound of the waves, and the sight of such huge amounts of water, being smashed against sand and rock. Like starring into the embers of a dying fire, I can look at the waves for hours. I took a few breaks, to get food or hide from the sun, but ultimately, I returned to the shore, and watched the fiery sun melt into the cool Pacific Ocean.
Tomorrow morning I'll be cramming the items pictured above into a large backpack, and hopping on a plane to Mexico City. In case you're wondering what one might pack for a 30-90 day gallivant, this is what I decided to bring:
- 1 large hiking backpack (I'm not sure the size, but would guess around 60L)
- 1 hoodie
- 1 rain jacket
- toiletries and medicines/vitamins
- 2 pairs of shoes (flip flops & toms)
- small daypack that folds/zips into itself, for easy packing
- assorted chargers, gopro and external mouse
- hammock and straps
- fast-drying travel towel
- 8 pair undies
- 1 pair jeans
- 4 pair shorts (2 casual, 1 swim, 1 athletic)
- 7 shirts (4 t-shirts, 2 collars, 1 tanktop)
- Spanish phrase book
- 1 water bottle
- sunglasses / sight glasses / contacts
Did I miss anything? I guess we'll find out soon enough. When I come back home, I plan to make a "part 2" for this post, so I can write about what I should have packed, and what I should have left behind. Something tells me I'm bringing more than I need, and probably forgetting something that I will wish I had later.
Next update will be from Mexico!
The photo above was taken during the beginning of 2016, at the National Museum of Anthropology, in Mexico City.
In exactly two weeks, I will be back in Mexico City, on my way to Puerto Escondido!
I recently was approved to take a 90-day leave of absence from my job, and I intend to spend that time traveling, and getting a taste of the vagabond lifestyle. I've always envied those who find ways to travel for months and years at a time, so hopefully these 90 days will give me an idea of what that might feel like.
Puerto Escondido is located in the state of Oaxaca, and sits on the Pacific coast, about 160mi south of Oaxaca city. When I was looking for a destination, I had two things in mind:
1. I wanted to take Spanish lessons
2. I wanted to be by the beach
I visited the city of Oaxaca last year, and loved it, so I thought I'd check out beach towns in the same state. Puerto Escondido caught my eye after, literally, looking at Google Maps and finding the nearest beach town to Oaxaca city. Upon further research, I discovered it was home to one of the biggest surfing destinations in the country - a beautiful, and sometimes terrifying beach called Zicatela. (A quick YouTube search of "zicatela" and "wipeout", will show you what makes it terrifying)
Having picked up surfing as a hobby in the past year, and learning that there are amateur-friendly surf spots in the area, I was eager to add that to my to-do list while abroad.
The current plan is to stay with a host family for 4 weeks, beginning on 4/28. During that time, I will be taking Spanish lessons, as well as surf lessons, 5 or 6 days per week. It will be an exhausting, exhilarating, and without a doubt life-changing experience. After that, I intentionally have no plans for the remaining 60 days of my time off. I could end up backpacking into Guatemala, and carry on into South America. I might hop on a plane to Iceland, or Vietnam. I could burn out and ask to come back to work early.... hah, yea right!
I've never been good at making plans, and I think the best experiences tend to be unplanned anyway. So for now, I'm limiting myself to a planned 4 weeks in Mexico, and a plan to update this blog weekly (as long as WiFi is available for me to do so).
Check back soon if you'd like to virtually "tag along" in this upcoming adventure! Also, feel free to leave any questions, travel tips, or other thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Howdy Planet was created in April, 2017. The name tips its hat to my Texas roots, and is a play off "lonely planet", since I too have a deep desire to explore this beautiful rock that we call home. This site is a place where I can document and share my upcoming travel experiences. It is for the enjoyment and inspiration of others, and for myself, as such memories will undoubtedly fade over the months and years ahead.