Here’s the 2nd diary entry of Intrepid Den as she travels on from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido.
Oaxaca to the Puerto Escondido
At 10am, I boarded the bus with my super new huge bag and began the 250 mile journey south to the Pacific Ocean. I was just thinking how much Mexico reminded me of India, when we pulled into a town which had the same 3 wheeled tuk tuk taxis. If it wasn’t for the music, Mexico and India would be very similar – the same poverty, the same desperate street sellers along the road, the same skinny forlorn cows, donkey and goats grazing on the side of the road and the same absolutely appalling roads! There are pot holes everywhere which slows the traffic to a crawl and then, for some ludicrous reason, there are speed humps – can you imagine speed humps on the M1???
So I settled down for what was supposedly a 7 hour journey (how was that possible to cover 250 miles?) and suddenly I wished I’d had a pee before we left. No matter, I was sure we’d stop for lunch but no – it was as if our macho driver was on a mission to prove that he could drive for 7 hours without a pee! Thankfully, the weaker of us demanded a stop or two and he looked at us as if we were failures – never mind that he got out and peed too…
And so the Sierra Madre. It just goes on and on and on and on. Just when you think that you must be descending, up you go again, hour after hour and this is just a two lane road where overtaking should be banned but isn’t. Luckily our driver wasn’t a complete maniac and finally, we arrived at the little seaside town of Puerto Escondido. We were unceremoniously dumped at the side of the road and once again, I got out my mighty Rough Guide to Mexico and approached a burly policeman with a very curiously shaped and very long thumb nail(?) and pointed at the map thinking he’d understand that I wanted to know where I was and he’d just point it out. No. So I looked at my language section in the back of the guide and said
“donde este?” Why I said that I don’t know because he began to tell me in such earnest I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had no idea what he was saying and just nodded and motioned “right at the next corner”, said “muchos gracias” and smiled. He smiled back with the obligatory gold tooth and off I went with my unfeasibly heavy bag.
I don’t know how hot it was but after a few yards, I was pouring sweat like a cartoon character. I was hot. I was real hot. The pavement was full of high kerbs and steps and no place for a three stone bag on wheels. Why I didn’t get a cab, I don’t know – well I do, it would be the old budget thing again, never mind if I lost another wheel or 2… I came across 2 completely stoned dudes and asked if they spoke English and to my utter relief they did and gave me directions.
When finally I arrived at my hostel, I may have been delirious with heat and moisture loss but managed to garble that I had a reservation. The young man who looked remarkably like Antonio Banderas (good) asked why I hadn’t called ahead and he’d have picked me up. Words literally failed me. He told me how pretty I was (it must have been my wild expression) and offered to carry my bag and physically buckled under the weight of it. He lent it against the wall, it fell over and almost broke the gate. We both looked at this gargantuan bag and probably thought the same thing – what the hell has she got in there? Anyway, there was no way either of us was going to lug it up a flight of stairs and so he put me in the only ground floor room he had – never mind that it had 2 double beds and is clearly designed for 4. We simply didn’t care! He dumped the bag in the room, gave me the key and I headed straight for a cold shower. They never have hot water ever, ever, ever. But this time they did – unbelievable but who cared. I washed 3 days of grime off and prepared for the next leg of my adventure.
I was only supposed to stay for 2 nights but I just knew I needed longer. The Italian owner, Mario, said that I could stay as long as I liked and we got talking. What a legend! He’s 75 but looks way younger, was sent to military school in England when he was 9, studied architecture and a the age of 23 went to Benin as an engineer and built a water purification plant with absolutely no experience and it just went from there, working all over Africa, getting caught in wars and god knows what and surviving. He is one of those people who are totally full of outrageous but true stories and we talked the night away – he didn’t even mind me slipping out to buy a bottle of very warm wine – he did however think I was insane to drink it – serve at “room temperature” has a totally different meaning in the 40 degree heat of Mexico…
In the morning I went in search, as always, of coffee – and found it at, of all things, an Italian coffee shop! The town, like all towns in boiling hot places, is all painted white and rises up into the surrounding hills. It’s full of little shops selling all sorts of souvenirs, all wonderfully painted but which will not fit in my bag. It’s fairly empty at this time of year except for lots of Canadians, They come down from the freezing cold and stay for the winter. One such creature, replete with straw hat, gnarled countenance and very blue eyes happened to be sitting next to me and so we got talking. Maybe I’m lucky in encountering such interesting people or maybe I just choose the people who look the most interesting because he was also incredible – a sailor who was caught in a hurricane – 40 foot waves crashing through the windows and nearly capsizing the boat, a worker in a chicken factory – he said KFC modify their chicken so much it doesn’t have feathers anymore and they can’t even call it “chicken”. That’s right folks, coming to a table near you…
I meant to go to one of the many beaches, but got talk
ing to Mario again and once the beer started flowing, I wasn’t going anywhere! We talked all afternoon until it was dark but I got the feeling that he was like a seaside town at the end of the season when everyone has gone and suddenly, there is no purpose. His wife died 6 years ago and without her, he feels pointless but I maybe managed to cheer him up and promised to write a new blurb for his hostel listing.. There isn’t really much to do at night other than eat – fried everything with rice salad and of course tacos and no matter that I now know how to say “no tacos”, they still turn up wrapped in a cloth to keep them warm. But no matter, with my warm wine, my super laptop and cable TV, I remembered that there is nothing that I like to do more than write – hence this blog!
Day 3 and I was determined to get to the beach so slathered tinted body lotion over my very white body thinking it would give it a helping hand also confident that the sun factor of 15 would be enough…
I walked to Zicatelle beach where the waves are so powerful, it sounds like a jet fighter flying overhead. This is home to the famous Mexican Pipeline – waves so big that you can surf through the tubes, and wondered if it was safe to swim. I was reminded of my favourite film when Robert Duvall says “If I say it’s safe to surf this beach, it’s safe to surf this beach” (name that film). I asked a surfer if it was safe to swim and he looked at me as if I was mad. He went into great detail about the undertow, how a wave could come from nowhere and knock me over and I’d be disorientated and would have to hold my breath until I figured out which way was up, and how people drown all the time and how he wouldn’t take his daughter there and that really, I’d be much better off going around the headland to the safer beaches. I went in anyway and it was GREAT! The waves were huge knocking me over, dragging me under and spitting me out, time after rollicking time. I hadn’t seen waves that big since a couple of days prior to a hurricaine hitting palm beach when the lifeguards were practically begging me not to go in.
Ragged and happy, I lay down to sunbathe with 2 things I hadn’t noticed – 1, I had two indiscriminate logs of sand in my bikini bottoms which probably looked more like something else and 2, the surf had washed off all my rubbishy sun tan lotion. So there I lay, baking in the baking heat, and along came a young man who waded into the surf, pulled his T shirt up a la James Dean and started to pull on his todger!!! I wasn’t sure I was seeing it right but there he was, wagging it at me and grinning! It seemed like time to go and it was just as well, because by the time I’d walked back to the hostel, my legs were as red as my very red bag – oh how I laughed.. I was reminded of the Russians in Goa who would lie on the beach the colour of the whitest dinner plate and leave the colour of raw beef. My skin was so hot, you could fried eggs on them.
Weirdly, that didn’t put the Antonio Banderas look alike receptionist off – he thought it was “cute” and asked if he could take me to the beach on his day off – the following day. Why not, I thought, I didn’t have anything else to do. So moving swiftly on, he took me to the beach practically opposite for a swim. He’s quite a sweet bloke but clearly wanted more from me than I wanted to give and really all I wanted to do, was body surf. So there he was, treading water and serenading me(?), when a huge wave would crash over him and I’d turn and be hurled off into shore on the wave, leaving him bobbing about with a surprised look on his face. He kept asking me for a “hoog”, yep, you’ve guessed it – a hug, telling me that he had a son but was divorced and trying to do the right thing and how happy he’d be if I let him take me out to dinner. Hoog or not, I thought, why not – I really haven’t got anything else to do.
Turns out that he is divorced but has since remarried – to the cook at the hostel who had seem him fawning over me! Unbelievable! So, my last night in Puerta Escondido was again spent in the excellent company of super Mario and some rather good Mexican Brandy which travels a lot better than the wine does!
And so after 4 days in Puerto Escondido, I once again loaded up my enormous bag, gave Mario a huge hoog and set off up along the road to wave down a bus, pay the equivalent of £1.70 and headed off the 50 miles to San Agustinillo.
Three of us got off at the abandoned, dusty crossroads and shared a taxi along the dirt track into the tiny town. They were German girls from Hamburg who, of course, spoke perfect English. I had already booked at the Posada Paloma and they too came into see if there was a room – there wasn’t – the circus is coming to the next town, Mazunte, and everything is booked – thank god I’d planned ahead! And so I was taken to my room and what a beautiful room! Mosquito nets draped around the bed, tiled floors, ceiling fan, little desk and chair and even somewhere to hang all of my clothes and by god have I got a lot… I don’t think I’ve been as happy with a room since my one in the fort in Jaisalmeer in Rhajasthan.
The weirdest thing is though, everyone here seems to be retired Canadians. Apparently, the next towns either side are the party towns – Dixie, the lady in the next room said they’re all right if you like dread locks and tattoos and I thought, yep, they’re my type of towns. I think they will be more like Goa and Dixie even said that they are full of hippies who came in the 60’s – exactly like Goa… I am only booked here for 3 days and just know, once again, that this is a room I want to spend more time in, so I spoke to the ladies in reception and they said they’d see what they could do. Later, an unfeasibly good looking young man told me that I go and stay in his house for an unfeasibly enormous price but when I said it was too much, he said he’d find me something else for 2 days and then I could come back here. Dixie said “didn’t you tell him you’re really good company?” – I didn’t realise I was up for sale… So out for a walk along the beach and I am astonished at just how beautiful it is. Palm trees swaying, a steep beach with the obligatory waves pounding around the bay and little cafes and restaurants hiding in the shade . And everyone is so friendly! I’ve been holaing all evening. I even found a vegetarian restaurant – not that I’m a vegetarian but by god could I do with a salad and that’s exactly what I had – a veritable mountain of goodness with quinoa all washed down with (back in my room) lashings of brandy. Oh, how I like it here!
The following day, I set out for a swim. Taking no chances, I dressed in factor 30 sun cream and headed across
the road to the beach. Weirdly, the waves are bigger here than they were on the “surfer” beach I’d left behind, but maybe it’s just the time of year. The beach is made up of little bays, broken by rocky outcrops, little fishing boats lined up on the beach and condors circling silently above on the warm airy thermals.. It is lined with little restaurants crouched in the shade, none of which has any menus, and at night, little light. Never mind. I found a bay with pounding waves and other swimmers (you can’t be sure there aren’t rip tides…), dumped my stuff and waded in. The waves were huge! It reminded me of when me and my brother Sean were little kids and we’d swim like dolphins in waves too big and seas too rough for our own good, but survived. This was similar! I felt like a piece of tumbleweed, being hurled, rolled, dragged under and finally spat out on the shore. When the waves break, it is like a liquid avalanche; deafening, fierce, unstoppable and totally wild. I loved it and must have been in for an hour until the skin on my fingers looked like prunes. And It’s a good job I like swimming so much, because there isn’t much else to do…
I wonder what I expected? Somewhere like Goa I suppose where I could live happily on £10 a day for everything including an awful lot of drink… (There’s that old budget again.) But it’s not like that. People, mostly Canadians, come here to get out of the cold and do here pretty much what they would do at home – nothing. I have Canadian friends who are an exception to this (Tannis, Keith and Shelagh) but the one’s here are the type who iron their shorts, polish their leather belts, eat and sleep – very early. Weird. And to prove this point, I got talking to a Canadian in a restaurant who came from Quebec and it was like wading through custard. I was sure I was asking interesting questions about architecture, culture, language, heritage etc and he just didn’t animate. In the end, I gave up, ate so much chilli sauce I swear it’s coming out of my eyes, left and just went back to my room where at least I didn’t have to try to talk to anyone. Instead, I did some reading, writing and of course, some drinking. When all the lights were out, I headed to the bathroom and closed my door to stop bugs getting in. As soon as I heard the final click of the door, I knew I’d made a mistake – yes, I’d locked myself out!!!
What was I to do? I tried to jimmy the window frame off with a tiny coin I’d found on the floor so that I could reach around the mosquito gauze but all I managed to do was break a piece of the wood off. Luckily, I could still hear movement in the next room so tentatively knocked the door. “Dixie” came out and on hearing my plight, was keen to help – this was EXCITEMENT! So armed with her knife, which also didn’t work, and then her torch, we wandered around the deserted, dark, reception looking for help and finding none. She asked if I had a phone and she could ring the unfeasibly good looking man (Fabian) – yes, I do have a phone – in my room… In the end, she lent me a sheet and pillow from their spare bed – she even offered to let me sleep in it but it all seemed too much like a sit- com – the three of us saying good night like in The Waltons with a little harmonica beep at the end, and so I went and slept outside in a hammock, cocooned in the sheet to stop me getting eaten alive by bugs and that’s where I laid until Ramos, the so called night receptionist, burst through the door like a rampant bear, filled his rucksack with cold beer from the fridge (!???) and seing me as some sort of apparition, let me back into my room.
This morning I appealed for clemency, forgiveness, understanding and sympathy and got all 4 – apparently, Ramos should have been there and it was all HIS fault. Obviously I was happy to go along with that one… Who knows what tonight will bring but tomorrow, the circus is coming to town at the next beach along. I almost wonder if I should have brought my juggling clubs with me but realise that would have been even more insane that bringing the 6 pairs of shoes in varying degrees of sophistication; from my old worn out mocassins, to the fancy gold ones, to the stilettos which I only envisage wearing in New York and maybe Bogota, Cartagena and Mexico City and ONLY to get in and out of taxis or in my even wilder fantasy, limos – oh how I live in dreams!
I will of course, let you know. So for now, it’s over and out from a place in Paradise.