Puerto Escondido: Rediscovering the PacificDiving, surfing and remote working in an unforgettable hot corner of the Oaxacan Coast. Travel/Lifestyle
Francesa, Ari and I all went from San Cristóbal to Puerto Escondido but each in our own time. Puerto happened to be the last planned destination in the improvised itineraries of each of us 3 solo-traveling, friend-finding women. Francesca (who had already been to Puerto and was coming back after 8 years) left first; I was the second, right after sending the video to my customers; and Ari followed soon after. The 3 of us took the afternoon ADO bus and traveled 12 hours through the night. We arrived with a one to two days difference and looked for accommodation to match our desires and circumstances. Mine had changed because I was halfway through a rather big online project. That meant turning the work exchange/bartering mode off and also having higher demands: stable wi fi, privacy and minimum work comfort (a desk, sockets, etc).
I had been looking at accommodation options online while I was still in San Cristóbal, but decided not to commit to any before arriving. Prices looked affordable and it was clearly not the high season, so I assumed I would have plenty of choice. I knew I would want to stay in one place for at least 2 weeks in order to finish the rest of my project. I also wanted to take my first diving course, which would take 3-4 days. (A lot of people complete their Open Water course in just 2 days but I really don’t prefer to rush through this kind of things). Precisely because of the intended length of my stay, I would not book a place without actually being there, familiarising myself with the map and having an impression of each beach. I did not only want to be comfortable enough to work but I also wanted to be within walking distance to a wave matching my level, if that was possible. As much as Internet has made travelers’ lives easier, such a particular combination of requirements can hardly be achieved before arriving. So I was headed to Puerto Escondido with no bookings but thinking about spending the first night at Lalle’s hostel. A friend I had met in Nicaragua knew her and told me I should meet her if I ever went to Puerto.
Parts of Puerto
As soon as I got to Puerto (7 am, sleepy bus face) I found my way to Lalle’s hostel. “Vivo Escondido” is right in front of Carrizalillo Beach, a small beach north of Puerto’s main one: Zicatela. What I knew about Lalle was that our common friend thought we would get along, that she was Italian and that she was also learning how to surf. Carrizalillo is tiny and cozy. You access it by walking down (and up!) a very steep stairway from which the view is breathtaking. The only thing I had heard about it was that its waves tend to be softer than Zicatela’s. Playa Zicatela is a pretty long beach, known for its fast, big and heavy waves as the “Mexican Pipeline”. The vibe changes considerably from one point to the other of Zicatela. At the northern end of Zicatela Beach there’s a Bay called Bahía Principal. It’s the area reserved for boating where the port’s Captain is. That’s were we departed from every time I went diving during my Open Water Course. As you move inland from the Bahía Principal you’ll find downtown Puerto. That’s not the same as the touristic centre, that is concentrated along the coastline starting at about the middle of the beach towards the Southern end. There’s a two way paved street along the coast that is full of hotels, Oxxos and stores on one side, and beachside restaurants on the other. La “Punta” (the South end) of Zicatela has more of a chic hippie vibe. Full of hostels for those who want to walk barefoot on the dirt (mostly sand, actually!) and have delicious candle lit dinners listening to the roaring Ocean. The area I ended up choosing for my stay, Brisas de Zicatela, is located almost in a straight line from the Punta but further away from the sea. I chose a private room with private bathroom and shared outdoor kitchen (perfect for me) on one of the dirt roads the locals call terracerías. I ended up liking that street so much that I chose it to start recording my 4th videosong: Pura Potencia.
Surfing, diving and working
I chose to be a bit further from the coastline partly because of the better price and partly because as much as I wanted to be close to the chic Punta; I preferred not to be living there. There are at times at which I need my circumstances to be slightly different to those of the touristy or traveling crowds. There are days or even weeks during which I treasure the possibility to have my dear little corner of the world with a door to close in order to dive into my reflections and digital creations. Ideally, that little corner of the world should be attached to a simple kitchen where I can prepare myself meals while videos render. That’s exactly what I found in Casa Lai, a 6 private rooms house with a shared kitchen. Because they were still finishing the painting in it, I barely shared it with 2 or 3 more people. Trina was a volunteer who was in charge when I arrived and we became instant friends. She was an English, art therapist girl with a witty sense of humor who was exchanging lodging for painting. We spent our breaks joking, sharing breakfast and picking on each other. We also went together to a bioluminescence tour. It’s one of those very common tours but it turned out to be lovely. Check, if you decide to go, for the bacteria to be quite active. We were told sometimes people are taken to the tour even with only 30% bacterial activity and the experience is certainly not as enjoyable. My ideal room cost about 5 dollars a night because I booked for 15 days. On top of that I rented a bike for 15 days for another 400 pesos (to quickly go back and forth to Punta and the dive shop). The surfboard, however, I decided to rent it one day at a time. This was especially convenient since I would be changing from one break to the other according to wave conditions, it would save me from constantly sticking the board into taxis. (although taxi drivers are very used to this practice)
In this case, because I chose to stay a few blocks away from the coast, it would be less comfortable to go surfing but, to be honest, it became clear soon after arriving that it was not surf season in Puerto. I arrived on October 18th, winter (it’s crazy hot every day but they still call it winter). The waves being small was not the issue, because as famous as Puerto’s waves are for breaking boards and spines; I wouldn’t have dared to try. But at the Punta or Carrizalillo Beach, where one should surf when not an expert, the waves were few, small and chubby… the type you need a longboard and quite some luck to catch. My first night in Puerto, Fran invited me for dinner with her and Lorenzo, the diving instructor who had been her boss 8 years ago. It was a pasta and seafood evening, laughter, mixed Spanish and Italian, toasts and Mexican stories. As we were dining, I asked Lorenzo whether I could do my Open Water course with him. After several frustrations and a prolonged wait, I wanted to finally start diving with him. I didn’t really care about the Pacific being the surf ocean rather than the diving ocean; its conditions were way less than ideal and the visibility usually much lower than the Caribbean’s. I felt like right then it was more important to me with whom and how I dove, than where. As I said, there were not great surfing possibilities at the time and I couldn’t really move again too quickly because I had to work. The beaches were stunning and the accommodation was cheap – especially cheap because teachers had been blocking roads to demonstrate against new policies and these blocks had kept a lot of tourists out of Puerto. I really liked him. He had over 10 years of experience diving right there and he would do the course just for me because there were no other customers those days. That very night we exchanged phone numbers to agree on when to begin. Things were looking good: my days in Puerto would be a dance from surfing to working to diving. Little did I know that on top of all that, I’d have the best sunsets of my whole trip. Sunsets in Puerto Escondido are simply unforgettable.
Under the Sea
My Open Water was a true pleasure. It took more days than expected because a red tide came in and had us waiting for several days. Luckily this was not a problem for me, I had plenty of time and other things to do in and out of my online little cave. I felt comfortable right from the start breathing with the gear under the water. In my first immersion ever, I descended holding the rope of the anchor because there was quite a drift and the visibility was terrible during our first 30 feet. That first moment was a little scary, but I controlled my fear by telling myself that Lorenzo was really close to me and everything was going alright. When we reached our maximum depth I was finally able to see and relax. My confidence grew over the following immersions even though the Pacific kept gifting me strong currents and limited visibility. Still, I saw colourful fish, corals and turtles and knew I had always been right: my underwater journey was only beginning. If you would like to dive with Lore in Pto, here you can find him. I love the slowness and silence of diving. To my surprise, I began to discover the many differences between the 2 water sports I had decided to learn during my trip. However, it took me several more immersions and surfing sessions to be able to name those differences. Diving had seemed more difficult and more of a challenge from a distance, before actually getting started. Surf, on the other hand, looks way easier and more natural from the shore than it actually turns out to be the first times that the sea shakes, hits you and has you swallow some salty water.
Surfing can be dangerous even in the softest of situations. For example, those very days I stayed in Puerto Escondido, the Punta Zicatela was actually a dangerous surf spot in spite of the few, soft waves… or maybe because of that. Puerto Escondido has become an extremely popular surfing destination. Therefore, Punta Zicatela gets over populated at the times of the day that waves come in. I’ve been out there for hours to see dozens of beginner classes come out as the sun goes down. I’ve seen as many as 60 aspiring surfers fighting over the very few waves, each on a remarkably big longboard they can’t control. All instructors want to work, of course, but the Punta becomes stupidly dangerous at those times. I’ve had the experience of coming in on a tiny, slow wave having to avoid a diverse bunch of tourists so as not to hit them. Another difference: Surf, unlike diving, is not a regulated activity. Instructors are just experienced surfers, there are no security boundaries or recommendations, no certifications or preventive protocols like there are in diving. The overpopulated situation of La Punta had me wondering whether this would become necessary as the sport continues to gain popularity. On the other hand, diving quickly began to feel like a soft safe experience. There are always others under the water with you and we count on safety protocols and procedures we all have been taught in order to make it down there. To be under the sea barely kicking the water with my fins as I pay attention to my breathing made me feel like I was in a Yoga class that featured stunning visuals and no sweating. After getting my certification, Lore invited me to come diving with him several more times and I was certain I would want to take the Advanced Course (The second one you can do) as soon as I made it to the Caribbean Coast of Mexico. But there was still more beauty waiting for me on the Pacific…