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.
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.