Manialtepec Lagoon, Oaxaca

PE has the usual cast of animal characters, including this tabby cuties. Actually, there are fewer stray dogs than many other places I’ve been and they don’t look at raggedy as some. We’ve seen that some of the shops put out food and water for them, which is great.

Here’s another Mother and Child shrine, this one on a house at the far end of Zicatela Beach.

This beach is really enormous and also wide; unlike places on the east coast of Mexico (Cancun I’m looking at you), it seems that the government does not need to truck in sand here to prevent the beach from disappearing. This is probably because the place is not overdeveloped and doesn’t have massive beach-side hotel developments and piers jutting into the water which alter the ocean currents and cause the sand to wash away.

Here are two ocean goddesses just washed up by the waves:

The Zicatela area has some pretty good street art in the form of colourful graffiti; we see the ones below on our hike to Dan’s for breakfast. Pam and Cec like to get a walk in in the morning and then consume hotcakes before heading back to the poolside ranch. Works for me!

Puerto Escondido is located on the coast in the lime green area of the map below, not too far from the Guatemala border, in Oaxaca state.

Right across the street from Dan’s calle is a wellness centre that offers massage and yoga; I hope to get a healing rubdown here before I leave.

One of the must-dos in PE, if you’re into the environment, is an eco-tour to the Manialtepec Lagoon, about 18 kilometers north of here. The only unfortunate thing about it is thaat, if you want to see any wildlife, you must rise early … we had to be up at 5:45 and out the door at 6:15 for our pickup with Lalo Ecotours. Here’s a view of the beach from the walkway over the highway – the sky is just beginning to lighten. The sun rises and sets extremely quickly in the tropics; one minute it’s dark, and the next – boom – it’s light.

After picking up the other two people on our tour, we rolled on down the highway to the lagoon, along with the other rush-hour travel in PE, arriving about half an hour later lagoon-side.

A very cute little terrier mix pup ran out wiggling to greet us.

After spending a few minute tickling the little guy, we hopped on our fibreglass boat and glided over the calm lagoon as the sun rose – spectacular!

When we first arrived, we were the only boat on the lagoon; as time passed a few canoes with local fishermen appeared.

Our boatman guided us down a narrow mangrove channel while the tour guide explained how parrots lay their eggs in large termite nests, giving the newly hatched birds termites to eat and thus have sustenance when they’re born – smart creatures! The termite nest is the large blackish structure on the left attached to the tree that Eve’s pointing to.

I love mangrove trees – they’re so beautiful and interesting. Eve explained that this lagoon has three species of mangrove and that the trees reproduce in two ways: with long thin seedpods that go down into the water and with the hanging roots that do the same thing – very ingenious.

Everyone on the tour is given a good quality pair of binoculars to spot all the birds that live here.

Close to one hundred different species of bird make this lagoon their home and we saw examples of about two thirds of them.

Many of them, such as these pelicans, frequent the tree tops. Apparently, pelicans find it difficult to roost on branches because of their foot structure but these ones look happy enough.

The bird below is either the Bare Throated Tiger Heron or the Black Crowned Night Heron – lots of Herons in these waters!

The fellow below is the Boat-Billed Heron

Below is a better picture of the bird’s head by Jan Sevik; in it, you can see the bird’s large and unusual beak.

The lagoon was really peaceful at this time of morning.

We also saw lots of Yellow-Corned Night Herons (the black on in the trees below) and both Snowy and Cattle Egrets.

The egrets are beautiful white birds with long graceful necks; we saw lots of them.

The root structure of the mangrove trees is really amazing.

Here’s another Tiger Heron biding its time water-side …

Against the brown background of the tree roots, it was sometimes difficult to see these birds after the sun came out. This type of heron is nocturnal, only seen very early in the morning.

I think the bird below is also a Bare Throated Tiger Heron with its neck stretched out.

Some Great Blue Heron, a species of bird that makes our part of the world home, are snowbirds and migrate south for five months in the winter, just like their human counterparts, as do these white-billed ducks, very familiar to me from False Creek in Vancouver.

We went down some very narrow mangrove channels and had to duck our heads to avoid the roots and branches.

In the rainy season this lagoon opens to the ocean; you can see the strip of beach in the photo below. This makes the water brackish, a combination of fresh water from the Manialtepec River and the ocean salt water: “Manialtepec” means “Place where the waters meet”. Our guide spent quite a bit of time calling to the birds, imitating the sounds of a tiny predatory owl to disturb the other birds who did start to flutter and flock and fly around the boat. The sounds of this predator owl, a pygmy owl, causes the other birds to fly around in a fright; the owl then grabs as many as he can and eats them as they scatter – yikes!

This area is where the egrets mate. Eve told us that the female grows long tail feathers during mating season and then loses them after. Also, there is some kind of poisonous element in the bird guano that eventually kills the trees, hence the numerous stick-like tree skeletons here.

We drove quietly down the river channel towards the ocean, passing, unexpectedly, horses on the lagoon side, grazing on grasses.

The horses belong to a local family who have lived at the lagoon for generations and are used for transport if they need to get supplies.

Our tour concluded with breakfast and beer on a huge deserted beach where the family runs a cantina for incoming tour groups, of which there was one other group besides ours this morning.

I really enjoyed our trip. We left our place at 6:30 and were returned just after noon. The tour with Lalo Ecotours cost 600 pesos, plus a tip. Breakfast at the beach was 65 pesos and beer about 20. Highly recommended! For more info about the tour company, click here.

For more photos, click here and 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.