Puerto Walkin': Camino al Mirador and Playa Manzanillo

I had a vision of colourful flowers in the small pool here at the Swiss Oasis so, a couple of nights ago, when all the other guests were out, Ty and I set up the camera and I had some fun playing Ophelia floating amongst the flowers.

See more pics of this project here.

Puerto is still very much a fishing town, and lately the fishing seems pretty good, at least judging from the catch brought up on the Playa Principal, the main beach.

You just never know when you’ll run into a juggling clown …

or a piggie at the market.

On the weekend the beaches here at Puerto Escondido are packed out with local families, all laughing, having fun, and playing in the surf.

The kids here get introduced to the water very young; many of the families with tiny babies were in the waves with these little cuties, enjoying jumping in the big surf.

One couple had their very small child quite far out in the water on a tiny inflatable device.

At Playa Manzanillo the waves have been high for the last few days – olas altas took a number of people off guard, including one granny sitting on a walk who was completely engulfed, and the oyster lady, who suffered a gigantic wave up her shorts and jumped up laughing.

The Babylon Cafe near us has a fabulous collection of painted wooden masks – I am coveting all of them … (click on the link below to see more of them).

And we discovered a sushi restaurant on the beach … not as good as the one we go to in Vancouver, but not bad (don’t order a tequila drink, though – just juice, no juice).

Just a couple of days ago we discovered the Camino al Mirador, a walkway along the sea travelling from the Playa Principal to near the Playa Manzanillo.

It reminds me quite a bit of the Lovers Walk section of Italy’s Cinque Terre hike, with the same concrete and stone walkways along a steep rocky shore.The cacti here are absolutely enormous – like trees, and some have very soft brown fluffy attachments, flowers, I suppose.

In spots, this walkway has broken down and bits of it can be seen in the ocean; in other areas, the concrete is starting to crack and deteriorate – Ty figures that it will only last another few years before it drops into the ocean.

Along its length anonymous artists have tagged the shoreline and street philosophers have inscribed their thoughts into and onto the rock.

On today’s walk I floated some flowers on a small seaside pond,

while the female dog who joined us sat panting in the shade,

and installed 20 strands of coloured ribbon on a promontory viewpoint to watch them dance in the stiff breeze. These we left behind for passersby to enjoy.

Just another hard day at the office … Puerto Escondido is great – highly recommended!

See more pics here.

Road Trip: Playa Agua Blanca, Iguanario, National Turtle Center, Playa San Agustinillo, and Ventanilla Lagoon

We’ve only been in Puerto Escondido for 5 days but it feels like it’s been a month – what a wonderful place!

In addition to the three km long Playa Zicatela, the surfer’s dream beach, there are quite a few small bays and coves to the north with beautiful small swimming beaches. The other day we spent a few glorious hours at Playa Manzanillo, one of them.

Yesterday, we, along with Miguel, Brandy, Tina, and Shawn, were off on a beach-hopping road trip south.

After picking up Miguel’s friend’s car, the six of us, plus Shawn’s surf board, headed down the road. This car, an old Chevy, is a very low rider with small back tires and every time we drove over a speed bump (and there are lots of them), the car bottomed out with a horrible scraping sound as its undercarriage connected with the concrete. It didn’t help that there were three of us (two of them big men) in the back seat. However, even so, we made the trip without leaving the muffler, or any other engine part, behind on the road.

Our first stop was Playa Agua Blanca (White Water Beach), where a loud man still drunk from last night’s bender latched onto Ty and insisted that they were friends for life (or at least until the tequila ran out).

After breakfast under the trees and a walk along the almost deserted beach, we were back in the car and rolling down the highway towards the Iguanario, an iguana sanctuary.

At the sanctuary, a two person operation, are hundreds, if not thousands, of the beasts, hatched, raised, and released in the area. We saw lots of small iguanas, one of whom, a two year old girl, was given to Ty to hold as we made our tour.

She seemed to enjoy her time in Ty’s company. We watched as the caretaker chopped up two giant papayas and whistled to the huge iguanas watching from the nearby tree branches; one, the boldest, came out of the trees and strolled up to the breakfast feast, which he proceeded to chow down on with apparent delight, his pink tongue and big jaws making short work of the orange fruit. Later another large beast joined the first, while a tiny iguana raced up, grabbed a tasty morsel from his mouth and ran off with it.

Our next stop was the National Turtle Center in Mazunte, the turtle capital of Mexico. This oceanside facility has both outdoor ponds – two very large ones – and an indoor aquarium and this day, being Sunday, was visited by a horde of school kids who ignored the “Do Not Touch” signs.

We saw an amazing variety of land and sea turtles, large and small, as well as tropical fish.

The day was hot and a dip in the ocean imperative. We stopped at nearby Playa San Agustinillo, a beautiful bowl-shaped beach with high waves plyed by local boogie boarders.

It was an interesting experience being in the water here because the waves strike both coming in and, after bouncing against the sand bowl of the beach, going out again.

Standing at the right place in the water, Ty and I were hit by waves and reflections of waves, their interaction creating a huge fountain of water that blasted me into the air about three feet when the waves were particularly high.

Every once and a while a set of enormous waves rolled in, tumbling the boarders over and over, before shooting them out the other end.

Last stop on the beach-hopping tour was a trip to the Playa Ventanilla Eco-Center about five minutes drive north. On this thirty five km deserted beach is another turtle sanctuary, one restaurant, and a couple of camping spots.

Here we took a lagoon tour in a boat rowed through the mangroves by a local guide. Laguna Ventanilla is an estuary that supports a whole community of people who in turn are striving to conserve the ecosystems there. The community consists of about twenty families, all related and working together to protect their area, who offer tours in lanchas done with oars only, so as not to damage the estuary and plant life there.

Just as we were getting going, the guide pointed out the massive head of a crocodile resting against the embankment – wow!

He whistled and the head slowly slid down the bank and turned our way; not only did the head turn our way, but so did the entire beast, making its way through the water towards us as the guide paddled the boat away.

Although we did not see its body, our guide told us that the croc is four meters long. He also pointed out a couple of other smaller crocodiles as we proceeded. Their primary food source is dogs, so he said … yikes, not a pretty mental picture!

As we paddled farther into the lagoon, we saw an incredible number of birds, including white ibis, fly catchers, turkey vultures, herons, tiny finches, egrets, king fishers, and spoonbill ibis.

The sounds they made were incredible. One area was full of nesting ibis – we saw some babies in a couple of the nests. Two types of mangroves grow here, white and red.

The red mangroves are enormous and cruising slowly through the forest of their roots and trunks was fabulous. Wow, what an incredible way to end our day trip!

Once back in the car, we headed back towards Puerto as the sun, a glorious golden-red orb, was starting to set. Unfortunately, we found out that said car had no lights; even though the dashboard lit up, the road did not. Pissed off at our dark ride, someone coming from the other direction on our side of the road almost ran us off the pavement – shit! Luckily we rolled into town without further incident just as it got completely dark. Many thanks to Miguel for the fantastic tour!

For more info about the Turtle Museum, click here.

For more info about Ventanilla Lagoon, click here.

For more info about the South Pacific Coast of Mexico, click here.

For more pics, click here.

Puerto Escondido: Markets, Turtles, and Phosphorescence

Needing groceries (the hotel has a community kitchen), Ty and I, accompanied by Helen and Belinda, two Aussies also staying at the Swiss Oasis, hopped aboard the camionetta (a small pickup truck with bench seating in the back like Thai songthaews) to the market.

Puerto Escondido’s market is very clean and well maintained, with a good selection of food and small restaurants. We had a jugo verde at Myrna’s juice stand and tortas (for which Ty developed a taste in Guanajuato) for lunch,

bought a big bag full of produce, did a small walkabout downtown, and jumped on the camionetta once again for the trip back. Back at the ranch, I enjoyed a swim in the pool. Puerto Escondido is hot – the day after we arrived the temperature hit 38 degrees.

The Hotelito Swiss Oasis supports the Escondido economy by recommending local people with whom to do eco-tours. Brandy had done a turtle release and lagoon tour and highly recommended it, so yesterday evening was the moment to give it a go. Chop (not sure about the spelling), a fellow who lives at the lagoon, arrived to pick us up at 6:40 and we were off in his car to Playa Delfin (Dolphin Beach), a twenty five kilometer long beach a ways north of Escondido, to release turtles.

This beach is almost deserted along its length; a few housing developments, most shuttered or unfinished, dot the area, and one small town lies near its middle but other than that, the beach is undeveloped.

It is home to a couple of species of endangered sea turtles, the Green Turtle and the Leatherback (although leatherbacks are rare in this part of the world, apparently). We were driven to the turtle release area, which consists of a couple of small camping tents, a wooden lean-to, two quad motorcycles, three nesting areas, and one crazy dog who keeps the fellow who looks after the area company.

This place is a one man operation; the caretaker works here alone, without pay, subsisting on the tips of people who visit to participate in the turtle release. He live here all year round in one of the small tents.

This evening, in addition to Ty, myself, and Coco, there was a van load of Mexican tourists for the release of four baby turtles, three tiny greens and one larger leatherback, born that morning and ready to start their life in the ocean. The four turtles were kept in a small pink plastic tub and, after we washed our hands, we were allowed to pick up and examine them (I wasn’t sure about the merits of handling them …).

After waiting for a while to watch the sun descend in the sky, and watching a couple of kids pretend to be turtles crossing the sand, the moment for the release arrived. The caretaker drew a line in the sand and told us that we weren’t allowed to go beyond it.

I had thought that we would guide the turtles down the beach but that wasn’t the case; once released from the tub, they must make their own way down the beach to the water without human help. This enables their location to imprint and helps to ensure that they can return to this beach later on; if we simply put them into the water, or helped them out, they would likely die.

All of us lined up and each small group was given one turtle; we received the leatherback and I put it on the ground facing in the direction of the ocean. It started moving towards the water but then got disoriented and headed back up to us again. I really wanted to pick it up and turn it around but the guide said that we must leave it to make its own way. It was painful to watch the four tiny beasts attempt to crawl towards the ocean and life.

“Our” turtle, the largest and strongest of the bunch, figured out the correct direction and headed off at a fast crawl towards the huge waves; finally, after a couple of false starts, a large wave caught it, and lifted it out to sea – we all clapped.

This same process was repeated for each of the other three, one of whom was particularly weak. Although they all reached the sea eventually, the weakest one had to be helped out a couple of times by being lifted down towards the water (I don’t think that it will survive, unfortunately).

After it was washed out to sea by a wave, one of the tiny turtles was washed in again farther down the beach by another wave; Ty saw it struggling and gently put it back in the water again – hopefully it will live.

I found the whole experience very moving; it’s hard to believe that these creatures, only one day old, have to go through that onerous process in order to begin their lives. Very few turtles survive; many die on their way to the ocean, picked off by predators, and many die in the ocean from ingesting plastics they mistake for jellyfish. Cut up all plastics before disposing of them and don’t dump plastic – better still, don’t use plastic.

After the turtle release, which probably took about two hours or so, we were off north again to the six kilometer long Manialtepec Lagoon, a body of water surrounded by mangrove swamp vegetation, its tropical climate lending itself to a diverse ecosystem. Dozens of migratory bird species such as herons and ducks make Manialtepec lagoon their home at various times of the year. Chop told us that, in addition to birds and fish, crocodiles live here.

We, and six other people, boarded the small tour boat and headed out on the cloudless night to tour the lagoon and see the phosphorescence created by the water’s phytoplankton. Beside the boat, we could see streaks of bright silver zipping hither and yon; these were fish. Running our hands through the water produced long streaks of brilliant white and silver; resting in the lagoon, our hands appeared white and skeletal because of the phosporescence. Encouraged by Chop, several people, including Coco, jumped in and swam,

their bodies making white and silver patterns in the dark – fabulous (unfortunately, it was impossible to get a decent picture of the phosphorescence). We were told that, in the rainy season, the area is completely dark and the falling rain makes the entire lagoon shine brilliantly against the black background. That would be amazing to see.

See more pics here.

Puerto Escondido, Mexico – the “hidden port”

On our last day in Puerto Vallarta, as we were sitting on the Malecon having coffee, we felt the earth move … it was a small 4.7 earthquake with the epicentre 177 km south of PV, one more in a long series of west coast quakes this Spring. In addition, the volcano that dominates Mexico City’s skyline is waking from its slumber; Popo began to erupt at the beginning of April and is threatening to derail air traffic through Mexico City’s International Airport. Once again I had to worry about an ash cloud screwing up my travel plans (as in April 2010 when Iceland’s grand volcano erupted and almost put the boots to our trip to Turkey). But, luckily, we were able to take off with no difficulty and wing our way towards Huatulco – you can see the ash cloud in the above photo.

After a short one hour flight, we touched down in Huatulco, about 1,000 km south of Vallarta on the Pacific coast. As soon as we got off the plane, I could feel the heat – it reminded me of arriving in Siem Reap, Cambodia – dry and hot – about 8 – 10 degrees hotter than PV. Upon being told that a taxi to Puerto Escondido, 98 kilometers north, would be 1,590 pesos, we opted to take a collectivo, less than half that price. With us in the van were a local family, all of whom were hacking and coughing; we spent the trip north trying to avoid getting sprayed with illness producing vapours. About an hour and a half later we arrived without incident (and so far without colds) at the Hotelito Swiss Oasis, a small eight room facility with a pool half a block from the Playa Zicatela, Mexico’s top surfing beach.

The hotel is run by a great Swiss couple who have a golden retriever and four cats, one of whom tries to sneak into our room. It’s the beginning of the surfing season here and the town is beginning to fill up with young surfing folk. Staying at the Hotel with us are Brandy, a wild life biologist and college instructor from Montreal, Coco, a Dutch film maker, three Israelies, and an Australian couple who surf. Several of them are taking Spanish lessons at the school just up the road and Coco is doing research for her next film.

Playa Zicatela is a three kilometer long strech of beach onto which enormous Pacific Ocean waves roll. Great for surfing, it is extremely dangerous for swimming; in addition to the big waves, it also has bad currents and rip tides. The beach reminds me quite a bit of Long Beach or Chesterman Beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

We had a very pleasant dinner on the beach our first evening.

This place is all about the surfing (sort of like Tofino … only bigger).

Yesterday, after a tasty breakfast at Mango’s just around the corner from the Hotel, we headed off down the beach to check out the area before meeting Brandy, Coco, and Tina at Playa Carrizalillo, one of the smaller swimming beaches about 2 or 3 km north of us.

Between Playa Zicatela and Playa Principal is a set of stairs to a viewing platform in the design of a castle battlement, from which is a great view out over the beach to the lighthouse.

Since we were travelling without a map, I had to stop and ask directions a few times; the guy in the picture below walked us part of the way to the beach.

Puerto Escondido is still very much a Mexican town; it’s about one tenth the size of PV and maintains its local character. Many of the townspeople have small restaurants in their homes, quite a few with pots of something or other on open fires, very hot in this warm area (just like the folks boiling huge pots of corn in 50 degrees on the highway in Turkey).

Ty was over-heating so we had a quick cervesa pit-stop at the top of the hill before trudging on to the beach.

From the top of the cliff 167 concrete steps down to the beach have been made.

Carrizalillo Beach is a small bay with a few restaurants and bars and beautiful water for swimming, snorkelling, and beginners surfing. Here, unlike Zicatela, the waves are manageable (although even these ones seem big to me).

Quite a few folks spear fish here; one couple used a paddle board to get out past the bay – she paddled while he fished.

Both Tina and Brandy are taking surfing lessons here; in Puerto, they learn the sport young.

This dad and daughter combination spent almost the entire afternoon in the water.

Later in the afternoon, an even younger dad and child combination gave it a go.

This boy could not have been more than a year old, maybe not even that, but he was obviously loving the experience.

Several times, dad put him on a boogie board, gave him a gentle push, and off he sailed toward the beach.

Unlike the very developed, urbanised experience of Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Escondido is much more mellow and laid back, with no concrete highrises and seemingly relatively little catering to the gringo presence. We like it.

See a few more pics here.