With an undefined period of stay, we ended up in Puerto’s grip for just over two weeks. We did a previous post on reaching Puerto Escondido with a few different options coming from the north side: Mexico City, Puebla or Oaxaca. Definitely check it out if thinking about heading that way.
Prior to heading towards this beach paradise Bia had found a few hostels through Workaway, a volunteer based site that for an annual fee can connect with different opportunities through it’s network. For room and board and sometimes even breakfast, volunteer work can be done for the exchange. With that being said, she had found an exchange with Hostal Shalom which seemed to be right off of the ocean.
After being in a bus for 10 hours heading from Oaxaca City we arrived around 10pm with a small hike from the ADO bus station to Hostal Shalom. We had been in contact with the hostel with a conformation for volunteer work but our exact start date hadn’t been confirmed yet we decided to swing by anyways. An awesome duo at the front desk, Marion and Yoan checked us in. While they did have shared dorm accommodations for volunteers we had been carrying a tent ever since we began our journey in San Diego and had yet to use it since Mexico. While late we used our lantern, set up the tent and grabbed a beer at the bar. The hostel ran a deal, 40 pesos for a 40oz with a variety of Mexican beers for volunteers. Getting acquainted with some of the guests we decompressed before calling it a night.
Volunteer work at this hostel ended up landing me in general maintenance, repair and light carpentry while Bia worked at the reception. Expectations were four hours a day which always flew by and working along the other ten or so volunteers made it quite enjoyable. We’d usually begin somewhat early in the morning as to beat the heat around noon. A pool sheltered by palm trees was our way of cooling down while at the hostel with plenty of seating surrounding for relaxing after a quick dip. The community of guests, some long term and volunteers made a family-esque collective. Amicable as much could ask for with small indifferences here and there as in any family but a wonderful collection of people from all over the globe made for a good crew for the next couple of weeks.
Benito Juarez was the Main Street along the hostel which was comprised of touristy restaurants, stores and surf shops one after another. According to on of the guests George who had lived in Puerto seventeen years prior, Benito Juarez had been a landing strip for planes before having built an airport. Apparently Puerto was very quiet and remote at the time where it now was a surfers destination, a place for foreign travelers (not so much from the US) as well as a retirement place for ex-pats. Even as it was touristy, prices were reasonable where you could get a lunch entree from 70-120 pesos at many. Surf board rentals usually ran from 100 pesos an hour with the hostel we were at offering a deal to volunteers for 100 pesos for full day use.
Surrounding the hostel as it was elevated from sea-level and a 10-minute walk were beaches all around. A more calm beach Playa Carrizalillo had a wonderful overview from the top of about 100 steps that led down to a beach restaurant with board rentals and calm waters that usually had beginner surf lessons as well. Just past this beach was Playa Coral, another calm beach with slightly bigger waves yet still great for swimming. We spent quite a few sunsets here. A twenty minute walk west of the hostel brought us to a much larger beach and a bit more touristy but still awesome, Playa Zicatela. This beach following the coast was along the main road Costera that cut through the beach side of Puerto Escondido. This was a surfers destination for sure as the waves were larger and much more clean that the smaller right around the hostel. It was much more open too. The winter months of the north was the smaller season for waves as during the summer locals talked about 3-4 meter (9-12ft) waves and larger. If you followed Playa Zicatela west to its end or point about 3km you’d end up at La Punta or the point. This was where we saw the largest waves and cleanest sets. It was probably the most popular surf spot as there were probably thirty surfers during the day with peak times around 1pm. Each wave drew about 2-3 surfers with rides lasting 15+ seconds consecutively.
The skies were always clear, the weather stuck around 30 C or about 87 F everyday and during our winter or Puerto’s dry season, lots of humidity hanging around 70% yet zero rain at all. The beaches by mid-day would be scorching, almost necessary to where chanclas to handle if not by the shore. Coconut stands were found all over Puerto with a range of prices but we would usually find fresh coconuts sliced by the machete for 20 pesos or about 1USD. After finishing the water we could have the coco sliced in half to finish the coco meat which of course was always better with chili and lime.
Tlayudas, absolutely insane and awesome local fare known throughout Oaxaca are like a large quesadilla. The tortilla like half fried so a slight chew to it, filled with refried beans, lettuce, beef and local Oaxaca cheese. The cheese is similar to a less dry mozzarella with a little more salt many times sold as a fist-size string cheese ball. The tortilla which seemed to be white corn usually were made fresh pressed at the time of order and for such a helping we would pay around 10-12 pesos, or about 50 cents.
In the east center of Puerto was a large Mexican supermarket Chedraui which was in comparison to a Walmart. You could find just about anything at a reasonable price in air-conditioning. Of course though if we wanted to visit a large supermarket chain we could have easily stayed in the US so instead found ourselves walking the extra ten or so minutes North up the hill Puerto sat on to the Benito Juarez Mercado or enormous farmers market with locals selling fare at lower prices. Surrounding the market for blocks were other street vendors lining the total area selling everything from fish to belts, pens, fresh pressed juices and shoes. If looking for local markets on Yelp or Google Maps anywhere around Mexico we definitely recommend using Mercado instead of market as markets or supermercados will many times bring up chain shopping stores. As many of these do accept credit/debit cards, the local experience and local fare bought from farmers and such will be more intimate and exciting wandering through these colorful, raw shopping Mercados.
One last thing on the grocery shopping topic and something we hadn’t done ourselves, why mainly out of laziness but was bought fresh fish directly from the fisherman. A walk towards Zicatela beach from Hostal Shalom brought you first to a harbor where many fisherman moored there dinghies and sold fresh fish for as we heard 8-10 pesos. Now I imagine it depended on the size and kind of the fish but multiple people had recommended going to this area around 8-9 in the morning for the freshest at the best price. You may end up cleaning the fish yourself which is rather easy when you get the hang of it. There are so many fish caught off of the coast but some of the most popular were pompano, chamba and one of my favorites, the huachinango or red snapper.
One of the awesome things smelled throughout Puerto are the smoking logs used to cook just about everything. So many extra flavors are added using wood over coals and especially the nearly non-existent using gas or electricity. We were lucky enough to not only have a large brick build grill but also a brick oven in the back area of Hostal Shalom built by previous volunteers. It was the gathering place for big bbq’s that brought the Hostal together. Just steps from the pool if you’d like to take a break from the heat we were able to bond with new arrivals and build upon relationships over communal dinners. A lovely family from Spain brought there expertise in building fires and cuisine from across the globe towards many of these collective dinners. One particular evening they had procured a dough the evening before and amongst fifteen or so people made pizza after pizza with local fares leaving no room for anything else by the end of the night. It was a real magical place of gathering. Grilling fish over the smoky wood really added to overall flavors as well. Not much else was needed beyond some salt, pepper and citrus as we grilled the fish whole.
Sunsets were spectacular in Puerto Escondido with a big ball of fire each evening falling into the extents of the ocean and also creating another reason to gather to bring each day to an end. The slow moving vibes of Puerto really put a damper on any sort of blog work as pool time, beach time and slowly moving around the town or maybe just grabbing cheap beers and playing card games became the staple of our life while staying here.
There were plenty of other hostels that interchanged guests as travelers would relocate to different beach areas to change things up. Musicians would come through, Mezcal would be passed around and stories shared with the various backpackers from all around the globe.
Before taking off we definitely wanted to experience Chacahua, a lagoon that led to a beautiful opening and serine beach untouched by many besides locals. Apparently there were options cheaper that we heard of afterwards but traveling with our friends from Spain, an hour cab ride and 2500 pesos later we were in a small tour boat destined for the river mouth of Chacahua. It was a tour we had all put money in on that was to last about five hours. Some of that time was actually spending time under the cabana shade lying in hammocks and watching the slow movement of everything around us. Absolute paradise. The beginning was a cruise through many uninhabited marshy islands. Our tour guide spoke of each island and history of the area. The scenery reminded me of dinosaur movies I had seen as a kid with volcanic looking mountains in the background, swamps and untouched landscapes filled with wildlife just about everywhere. Just missing the dinosaurs. After our tour we were able to watch the sun set on the horizon as we made way back to shore. A definite and absolutely wonderful day trip.
By the time we reached just past our second week of tenting, we decided it was time to move on to the next area as we had lots of good advice towards heading to Mazunte/Zipolite, two beach towns just over an hour away. Our friends from Spain joined us on our travels with a couple from Germany to join the day after. With much farewell to the secluded surf-town of Puerto we found a collective for the hour trip towards the now decided Zipolite and on towards the next adventure…