Cheers from the Playa

I haven’t really noticed this elsewhere in Mexico but here, lots of the cars have small shrines on their front bumpers: “Bless my home and my family” on this brand new SUV.

The bougainvillea in this town are amazing, huge and fantastically coloured.

From the Adoquin there are many peek-a-boo views of the playa between whitewashed buildings. One of the big main local hotels along the beachfront here is for sale; perhaps you have always wanted to be a hotel proprietor in a warm climate …?

Down at the Playa Marinero the fishermen have a unique way of “docking” their boats. They all have small round logs that they put out to make a pathway across the sand between the ocean and their “parking spot” up on the beach.

When the guys know that a fishing boat is coming in, they set out these logs,

while the fisherman waits at sea in his boat.

Then the man onshore waves “all clear” and the fisherman revs his engine and blasts onto the sand and up the beach to rest at the stop of the sandy incline.

Once parked, the bins are opened and the caught fish are for sale – lots of sierra and red snapper this time.

And swordfish.

We tried Los Crotos Restaurant beachside the other night for dinner and had a ringside seat for all the action, that being one or two wandering troubadours and a couple of begging dogs.

The dishes of shrimp were enormous, all this for 148 pesos (about $12 CAD, I think).

I have been surprised not to have seen much in the way of wildlife here, but the other day an iguana appeared in one of the trees around our pool; the cat was very interested in it but they didn’t get into a fight, luckily.

On our usual walk up Playa Zicatela yesterday, we saw enormous waves and the red flag was flying.

As usual, someone was swimming out beyond where the waves break, even though the red flag means no swimming. People who do this always think that the flags don’t apply to them, until something happens and they get into trouble … this beach is not swimmable – the waves are too big, the currents are too strong, and there are hidden riptides all along the beach.

No-one was having much success catching the waves this day.

After a tasty breakfast at Dan’s Cafe, we checked out a few places with rooms to rent: this one with a beautiful outdoor space looked great!

I also investigated one of Puerto’s language schools, the Experiencia Puerto off the Adoquin. In addition to classrooms, it also has rooms for students to stay in while taking classes. The compound, which is in the style of an old colonial hacienda, was very attractive. The language schools here all teach surfing as well; although I’m too old for that, if I were younger, Spanish and surfing would be a great combination of stuff to learn while spending some time down here …

And, finally, here’s Pam preparing our afternoon poolside treat – cheers!

Playa Manzanillo Redux

The three girls headed back to Playa Manzanillo Monday on a very breezy, white-cappy day. The wind was brisk, whipping up small wavelets on the surface of the turquoise ocean – really beautiful. We settled ourselves at the Mexicana sun beds underneath the white-painted trees.

So windy was it that the restaurant’s umbrellas kept getting blown over; we didn’t mind because it moderated the heat of the day. Monday is a great day to go to the beach here, always less crowded than the weekend and, in particular, Sundays when the local families come out in force to spend the sunny day together.

The fishing boats were high and dry on the beach, waiting in vain for someone to captain them.

Pam and Marion lost no time in getting into the water, much warmer than our pool, and were rocked by the small cresting waves.

A tourist with a strange orange balloon attached to his swim trunks jumped into the water and swam out to sea with it bobbing along behind him. I wasn’t sure whether it was so that the boats could see him or so he could float in case he got tired.

Watching him from the sand were a couple of local people bemusedly.

Because few of the Mexicans seem to be able to swim, some of them wear life jackets when in the ocean. They float their children on cute, small inflatables, sometimes, like this one, with canopies overhead to shield them from the sun.

Just another grand day at the beach here in P.E.

El Pantheon and La Playa

I love pelicans and they are very plentiful here, especially down on Playa Marinero and Playa Zicatela, where they can get a sniff of the fish being caught around these parts. Apparently there are still plenty of fish in the sea here …

Along the main city beach here is also an inexpensive campground, right on the sand, which seems sort of unusual in a beach town. Between the campground and the ocean is a small “lagoon” of sorts, part of an estuary, I think, in which lots of birds enjoy spending the day, like this egret. We avoid walking through it; Pam thinks it must be boiling with mosquitoes.

On our way back from the Manialtepec Lagoon the other day I noticed that we had driven past a small cemetery and was interested in going back to take a look at it. I found a quiet shady route from the house to the pantheon “The Woods”, as it is called, through a hilly local neighbourhood. It is right near the beach and beside an elementary school.

Sometimes the graves in Mexico are very brightly painted; these, though, are mostly white, like the ones at the cemetery Ty and I visited in Progresso.

After a pleasant walk through the paths communing with the shades of the dead, I made my way back out to the street, past several houses for sale and rent (likely this is a nice place to live, given the silent neighbours), and down the stone steps to Playa Manzanillo, my favourite beach in P.E.

I had quite a long chat with the servers at the beach-side restaurant; it was a quiet day and they were likely bored with not very many customers to serve. I took the opportunity to practice my Spanish, which, if I do say so myself, is getting quite good.

Playa Manzanillo is on one half of a small curved bay, the other side of which is Playa Angelito. I’ve never set foot on Playa Angelito, simply because Manzanillo is so sweet that I just can’t seem to get over there. But this day I did at least walk over the small rocky point separating the two beaches to take a few pictures of it.

At the top of the steep steps that run down the beach is this shrine dedicated to Puerto Escondido’s black Madonna. It sits under a shady small palapa which also shelters the numerous taxi drivers who ply their trade here.

When I am out and about walking around the town, I like to take my own shade with me … in different styles.

Saturday is market day around here so Pam, Cec, and I hoofed it up the road with the clattering metal cart to purchase fruit and veggies for the coming week.

Some of the locals don’t even bother to look as we pass by …

Mexican markets have the best produce; huge beautiful veggies for about 1/10 Vancouver’s cost. I am fascinated with the enormous cauliflowers here.

Something we would never see a home is a doggie strolling through the meat section of the market, hoping to capture a little something something …

Saturday is also the day when fresh fish comes to the market; here Pam and Cec are discussing the possibilities presented by the sierra, a white fish available in P.E.

After agreeing that it looked good, the man expertly filleted it for us.

Just outside the market, I saw this car with a Madonna shrine on its front bumper.

and a San Francisco shrine on the wall “downtown”.

Almost every day Pam and Cec stride Playa Zicatela beach and stop either at Dan’s Cafe for breakfast or the Bar Fly for a lemonade with mineral water. Sometimes I join them on the march.

Some of the local hotels have the most beautiful bougainvillea flowers, enormous bunches of multi-coloured blossoms.

The other night we headed down to the Adoquin to Pascales, to enjoy a tasty grilled dinner and the music by a local duo with a pretty good virtual back-up band.

All in all,a pretty good place to spend some time.

 

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.

Enjoying the Adoquin in Puerto Escondido

Here’s what you get right off the boat on the beach at PE – these particular beasts don’t look too inviting but I’m sure all the pelicans hanging around would love to get their chops on them.

Since I was here last three years ago this concrete bunker has gone up at one end of the beach, spoiling the view IMHO. We think it’s going to be a hotel but at the moment it’s an ugly grey skeleton.

The Benito Juarez Market is a must when you visit this town. Located about nine blocks from the beach in a big cavernous metal barn-like space, it’s where the locals shop for pretty much everything. The produce is wonderful and about 1/10th the price of fresh fruit and veg in Vancouver, particularly now as the Canadian dollar sinks ever lower.

On our walk to the market we passed a number of guys selling crucifixes, Jesus figures, and Madonnas from little metal trolleys.

Always on the lookout for religious shrines, I found this nice one on the way up to the market.

All of us are amazed at the tight synthetic fabric clothing people seem to be able to wear in hot climates.

Cecil was designated the cart man and did a good job of rolling his metal cart in, out, and around the various sidewalk obstacles.

Some areas of the market are beautifully scented from the lovely flowers for sale.

Others, the meat and fish sections, are not.

Pam likes to check out all the stalls before deciding on where to spend her pesos so we traversed the entire market before settling on a few places to purchase our goodies.

I was particularly taken with the enormous size of the cauliflower heads here, especially considering that in Vancouver we are paying $8 for a measly microscopic head these days.

Just below our house, on the other side of the Costera highway, is the Adoquin, a boulevard of shops, restaurants, and hotels that becomes a pedestrian only street in the evenings.

We had an ok meal at a local restaurant overlooking the Playa Principal in an attempt to hear the singing duo at Pascale’s down below; unfortunately, our restaurant was playing bongo music at such a decibel that we couldn’t really hear the singers.

This area is called the Adoquin and it is quite nice at night, with all the vendors selling the usual assortment of stuff, plus some things unique to this area, such as the black Oaxaca pottery.

Here’s Cec wondering where Pam has wandered off to.

I like the Adoquin area; lots of pretty white buildings and a good, although expensive, coffee shop called Vivace. The morning I was there a very cute little  Schnoodle pup was also there. Mexicans do seem to love their Schnauzers, and por que no!

 

Hola from Puerto Escondido

When the opportunity came up to visit Puerto Escodido, Oaxaca with friends P & C, I leapt at the chance, even though I am currently working on a contract for SFU. I figured that I can just as easily do my course development work here poolside, as in the rain in Vancouver.

Puerto Escondido is what Puerto Vallarta used to be many moons ago, a traditional Mexican fishing village, albeit at 70,000 population, no longer a tiny one.

Our place is just above the coastal highway and the Playa Marinero, the beach where fshermen sell their catch right off the sand, and about four blocks from the Super Che, the gigantic, air-conditioned local equivalent to a Super Store grocery store, although it sells much more than just groceries, including appliances. The casa has a nice peekaboo view of the huge Zicatela Beach, the two mile long surfing playa that attracts boarders from around the world.

Along with the four of us and a small black female cat, two large green parrots are ensconced poolside in a large white metal cage. While they don’t really talk, they are certainly very vocal and make some very funny noises.

Along with the parrots, roosters, and barking dogs, the pelicans make this part of the world their home; they are funny, large beasts with very sentient eyes.

Most mornings see 3 or 4 of us hoofing it down the long stretch of Playa Zicatela, often in search of breakfast at Dan’s Cafe, a local crowd-pleaser, whose hotcakes I can enthusiastically recommend.

Walking back along the road, we sometimes check out the shops selling mostly beach wear, surf boards, and jewelry.

A local guy who works for a finca (coffee plantation) invited us in to look at the coffee beans he was drying and explained to us how the unpredictable climate was causing havoc with coffee production: “It rains when it shouldn’t, and when it should rain, it doesn’t”.

Since I’m not inclined to sunbathe, I sometimes lie poolside a white ghost, wrapped up in my scarf like a mummy.

The other morning as we walked along we heard the sounds of a brass band pumping out latin music, only to find that it was the accompaniment to a funeral procession leaving from the church.

The church is situated in a beautiful small plaza at the top of a stone staircase; inside it, a black Madonna presides.

We’ve also walked along the seaside andador, a stone walkway that travels the base of the rocky cliffs here from the Bahia Principal to Playa Manzanillo.

Slightly disconcerting was the sight of a young, seemingly disconsolate man sharpening a knife in the shade of a big rock.

This route has lots of colourful graffiti on the stones.

After clambering up the staircase at the end of the walk, we chatted a bit to a woman with a very elaborate set of biblical decorations from small plastic toys, including a Nativity scene, in her front yard.

Once ensconced at the beach, we sampled some very tasty shrimp dishes and enjoyed watching the local families frolic in the very warm  water. Since most of the local people can’t swim, they cluster just at the ocean’s edge enjoying the relatively gentle waves in this bay.

Puerto Escondido is very local and I like that about it. See some pics of our earlier visit here in 2012 here.

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.