Puerto Escondido and Beyond

The beach was calling our names. We could hear it loud and clear. We just had to get there. I may have mentioned that we are not the best at getting an early start on our big driving days. This was no different. Lucky for us there are plenty of nice places to stay along the road between the city of Oaxaca and the coast.

We chose to stop off at a little eco-park called Grutas de San Sebastián. Apparently, there is a trail system that leads to some caves in the hillsides. We were really just interested in a cheap and safe place to park for the night. When we arrived, we walked over to check out the river that flowed through the park. We didn’t linger as it was clear we were interrupting a serious teenage make-out session down by the water. Mexicans are far more open about public cuddling than us stodgy Estadounidenses. I’m trying to get used to carrying on casually while lovers tongue wrestle nearby but it is slow going. Also, there was a severed goat head balanced on a rock on the opposite side of the stream surrounded by flowers and candles. The universe was gently nudging us back to our truck to make dinner and mind our own business. Which is what we did.

The next day we made the long drive down one of the worst paved roads of our trip. The distance was not extreme but the potholes were. We finally dipped down to the Pacific at Puerto Escondido and pulled into the campsite that would be our home for the next two weeks. We had not yet discussed how long we would be staying when I heard Scott telling our new neighbors that we would be there for a week so I knew he was feeling good about the vibes there. There were a number of folks who were spending the whole winter at that campground and had been wintering there for years. We fully deployed our camp. Pulled out the awning, strung up the twinkle lights, hung the hammock and prepared to really relax. I excavated a handful of books from the depths of the truck and set myself up for a reading binge. Scott pulled out his guitar and his computer as set himself up for a recording binge. The campground was across the street from the beach and in the heart of the tourist zone. The beach was not the best for swimming as the waves and currents were intense but it was great for lounging. The only thing that was hard about staying there was keeping to our budget. The restaurants were tempting and expensive. We succumbed to the temptation often. We learned the hard way to eschew the restaurants on the beach. High prices and poor quality. They were best reserved for an evening cocktail.

Mountainous vegan tacos at La Olita. High quality off-the-beach grub.
Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido.
Hubba-hubba! That is one hot hubby!

Our week flew by. We went running on the beach, went to open-air yoga classes with a view of the ocean, and generally just chilled out. We were not looking forward to leaving. On the day before we were set to leave, we went out to breakfast at a place that had a lovely courtyard dining garden (off the beach). We were feeling reticent to leave and I brought up the idea of sticking around for another week and taking some Spanish classes. Scott leaped on the idea. After breakfast, we walked up the hill to the Puerto Escondido Instituto de Lenguajes and signed up for a week of classes. We were giddy with excitement! When we got back to camp we realized that we were not really guaranteed our campsite for the following week. Some folks had reserved a spot via email and there were no spots. We had only paid through the first week. Also, a contingent of tiny houses on trailers had rolled into town and were looking for spots to fit into while they filmed a Belgian reality tv show for YouTube. We were sitting on some prime real estate and were in danger of being ousted! Scott quickly zeroed in on one of the women who ran the campground and paid her for another week before anyone else beat us to it.

Watching a tiny house try to park in the campground we were staying in… We hear it took about two hours of jostling to finally get parked. We lost interest after about ten minutes.

With that taken care of, we set ourselves to another week of blissed-out beach time… except now we had to remember to go to school! And do our homework! Spanish school was harder than I thought it would be. Mostly because we had been living without any sort of structure in our lives for months! Having to be somewhere at a specific time was foreign to us. We had signed up for private lessons and each had different teachers at the school. Scott and I spend so much time together on this road trip that it was fun and novel to go to classes at different times with different teachers and have unique experiences to tell each other about at the end of the school day.  One week of classes is not long enough to really make significant communication gains. Our teachers were really good about stuffing our heads with as much foundational information as possible and sending us on our way with more materials to study. My teacher, Alberto, is primarily an artist and a musician and was very fun to learn from. We analyzed our dreams as a way of discussing the past tense. He also invited us to come out and see a music performance in town that he was drumming in. Scott’s teacher, Gabriel, was also a musician and was really good about catering Scott’s constant need to know “why”things in Spanish are the way they are. I wish that we would have started classes when we first arrived in Puerto Escondido because it felt too soon to say goodbye to such great teachers. Our second week there came to an end and it was time to head on down the road.

A visitor at our Spanish School.
Scott in his happy place.

We were not quite ready to leave the beach now that we were finally warm and sandy and mostly tan again. Some folks at the campground in Puerto Escondido recommended that we stop at a beach campground called Don Taco in the tiny beach town of San Agustín. They promised that it would be a warm tranquil beach and the cleanest bathroom in Mexico. It did not disappoint! It was a highly reviewed spot on iOverlander as well. Only about two hours of driving later we were setting up camp again. It was such a tranquil haven. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Don Taco himself in the customary fashion of peeing on our tires. The campground is named after the dog. The facilities were as clean as promised. They were built by their neighbor to Canadian standards. Which means you can flush the toilet paper. Weird. Anyhow, we were very comfortable there. I got a little too comfortable reading my book on the beach and managed to burn my backside pretty good. Scott was also fried when he found himself in an impromptu jam session with one of our new neighbors on the beach. Our neighbor has a bass guitar and a portable amp so they played for a couple of hours without a thought to sunscreen. You would think we were new at this the way we were behaving! So, we dug out the bottle of aloe gel from the depths of the truck and applied it liberally with the hopes of a miracle healing event.

The very inviting palapa lounge at Don Taco.

At this point, we were pretty far south in Mexico. We were situated in a little cove on a generally south facing beach at an angle that allowed for the sun to rise over the Pacific. It was strange. Growing up in California, I have always known that the sun sets over the ocean but oddly enough every morning I would watch it rise over the Pacific. There is something special about being able to greet the day with a sunrise over the ocean. We were also blessed with the moon rise over the ocean. While we were camped at Don Taco we saw the largest full moon of the year. Everyone staying there dropped what they were doing to watch the moon slide up through the clouds.

Apparently, this is the closest full moon of the year. We got to watch it rise over the Pacific.

After four days at Don Taco, we headed on down the road. Thanks to recommendations of the folks we were camping beside we had two more beach spots to hit before heading inland again. The first one was a place called Flor del Pacifico. This beach is unique in that it is one of the few beaches in the world that sea turtles come to shore to nest in mass numbers. Like seriously mass numbers. Like hundreds of thousands of turtles in the span of a couple of weeks. We knew that the main turtle season had passed but there are always stragglers and we thought we might get lucky and see a mama come to shore or some babies heading out to sea. Our neighbor at Don Taco told us that the best time to see the turtles is at first light in the morning. They had been there a couple of weeks prior and saw a ton of turtles. When we arrived we immediately liked it there. It reminded us of the deserted beaches we had camped on in Baja. There was a restaurant and a couple of cabins at the beach but nobody around so we just rolled on out to the edge of the sand and set up camp.

Our boondocking camp at Flor de Pacifico.

We walked the beach a little that afternoon and saw a bunch of turtle shells and a couple of skeletons of unfortunate adults but no nesting or hatching going on. We set our alarm for 4:30 in the morning so that we could make the most of the first light turtle viewing opportunity. After a fair amount of snoozing, we made it out to the beach with our flashlights and high hopes. Unfortunately, all we saw was devastation. It was the saddest beach walk we have ever had. It became clear as we walked that all of the turtle shells we were seeing on the beach were not the remnants of nests that had hatched. They were evidence of the nests that had been dug up by feral dogs. At any point on the beach if we stopped and counted nests we would come up with no less than twenty in our direct vicinity. By nests, I mean nests that had been dug up by dogs. As we walked we saw packs of dogs all up and down the beach digging up the eggs and eating them. We would chase them off and kick sand back in the holes but there were so many dogs and so many nests that they would just go right back to digging as we walked on. At one point we counted 16 dogs surrounded by vultures and caracara birds digging up baby turtles around us. We walked for an hour towards the rising sun becoming more and more devastated by the destruction we were witnessing. Aside from the thousands of decimated nests, we came across dozens of adult turtle skeletons whom I can only assume were killed by dogs on the beach. Eventually, we couldn’t take it anymore and headed back toward our truck. It was just too sad to witness. As we neared our truck we could see a man slowly circling it. We walked a little faster. Everything was locked up but still, it made us nervous to see someone peering in our windows. As soon as that person saw us coming he left with a quickness. Maybe he was just curious and felt funny about being busted peeping in our windows. We will never know but it was just one more thing that made us want to leave that beach.

Dogs and vultures…
Morning catch at Flor del Pacifico.

We decided to make some coffee and hit the road. I was sipping my coffee on the beach and writing in my journal about how sad the demise of the turtles was making me when a guy rolled up on an ATV. Scott was back up in the tent taking a snooze. The man approached me and we shook hands. He asked me if I was alone and I let him know that I had a big strong man with me up in that tent on the truck. He let me know that he lived in the house and owned the cabins nearby. He was just checking in to make sure we were okay since he did not come home the night prior. I assured him that everything was tranquilo. He had a bucket with him. It was a bucket of baby turtles he had found that morning. He rides the beach every morning on his ATV looking for turtles and collecting them before the dogs or birds get to them so that he can ensure they make it to the ocean. He told me that he needed to get back to work in town and was hoping that I could release the bucket of baby turtles for him. It was the best gift we could have been given at that point. He left us with the bucket and asked that we leave it on his porch before we leave. No problem!  I wanted to hand deliver each turtle to the sea. I wanted to swim along with each one and guard it until it reached adulthood. Then I wanted to come ashore with each one and make sure that it was able to nest in peace. Then I wanted to stand guard over each nest and make sure that all of the turtles made it back out to the sea. Scott let me know that these were not realistic goals and I needed to just empty the bucket onto the beach. I was just sure that as soon as the turtles hit the sand we would be set upon by dogs and birds. I was wrong. All of those little turtles made it to the ocean. No birds swooped in. There were no dogs in sight. It was just 100% unadulterated awkward flippering cuteness. I have found true happiness and it is a bucket of baby turtles.

Happiness is a bucket of turtles….
A herd of turtles!

Feeling buoyed by close encounters with baby turtles we headed off to the next beach recommendation made by another neighbor at Don Taco. We went to a beach called Playa Azul. There was a restaurant there that would let you camp out in their yard if you ate at their restaurant. We were trying to save money since the Spanish classes put us way over budget for the month so we drove around looking for free camping that didn’t require the purchase of a meal. We didn’t see anything that looked good to us. So, we bellied up to a table at the restaurant and secured ourselves some camping for the night. They didn’t have anything on their menu that fit Scott’s vegan proclivities. He ended up having tortilla chips with lettuce and tomato for dinner. I had a delicious fish fillet sautéed in garlic. It was a beautiful beach.

Playa Azul looking deceptively inviting.

One problem. Wind. The beach was so very windswept. We tried to go hang out on the beach and go for a swim. One person had to hold onto everything so that it didn’t blow away while the other swam. Upon exiting the ocean, the swimmer was immediately covered in windblown sand. Not pleasant. As much as we wanted to prolong our beach life it was clear that our time had come to an end. It was a good run. From here we turned our sights inland to the beautiful state of Chiapas. But that is a story for next time…

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