Regular readers (or in fact, anyone who can deduce the time between two different dates) might be wondering why I haven’t updated the blog in a while. I would love to say that it’s because, in the last couple of weeks, I have been so busy doing varied and wonderful things that I simply haven’t had the time. Sadly, well it’s actually not sad at all, but it’s not the case. Puerto Escondido is an almost magical place that posseses an inate ability to simply suck away time. My principal reason for coming here was for the surf – and surfing I have been doing – but it’s impossible to escape, not that you’d especially want to, the chilled out beach atmosphere of the small town, and simply hang around, doing little other than sleeping, swimming, surfing, sitting on the beach, all mixed together with the odd cerveza or 17. The temperature is regularly in the 30’s, the sun is always shining, people are happy, and spending hours mulling over suitable words to describe the experience here is often far too much effort. Well, that’s my excuse anyway.
Surfing Puerto Escondido
The main surf break here, Zicatelo, is world famous. Colloquially known as Mexpipe, it’s Mexico’s answer to the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii, or Mundaka in Northern Spain. It’s a fast, hollow wave, that breaks big on shallow sand. The beach itself is 3-4km long, with several good peaks along its breadth. I’ve yet to seen it at its absolute best, but even on a small swell, the break is gnarly. The paddle out is a workout in itself – you have to time your run perfectly – or risk getting pummeled by the ever-breaking waves. I say risk, but actually it’s a foregone conclusion – at some point you are going to get eaten by a big wave, moreorless get trapped inside, and then mÃ¡s o menos spend the next few minutes struggling for air and endeavouring to free yourself from the trappings of the strong current and the ferocious power. When it’s big, it’s nothing short of a veritable maelstrom of angry water, as the sea attempts to assert its power and banish the invaders from its watery bosom. I have surfed it on a couple of occasions, usually when it is smaller, but so far it has been a fairly ugly experience – having a 6ft piece of fibreglass, whose sole purpose in life is to float, attached to your ankle by a cord of rubber, not to mention three sharp fins, when you’re being pinned to the seabed by a barrage of water, often has gruesome consequences. In fact, bodysurfing the wave is often more fun than trying to surf it. Recently there was a big swell, which has moved and destroyed many of the main sandbanks, which makes it unpredictable at best, and at worst, quite frankly dangerous. It has also invited an enormous colony of jellyfish in to the shore, which, although not dangerous to touch, are disgusting to walk and paddle through. It is not a beginner wave and you often see lifeguards frantically patrolling the beach trying to stop the novice from even entering the water. And quite right too – I’ve already assisted one person from the water with what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder – and many more are the horror stories from people who have had a thorough beating from the place.
A small day at Zicatelo, Puerto Escondido
Fortunately, however, Puerto boasts at least two other excellent breaks. A sweet lefthander at La Punta, a big peeling wave that works at almost any tide and on most swells. Other than the solid 45 minute walk along the beach to get there, the main problem is that it is by far the busiest wave in the area and you can be assured of crowds of longboarders, bodyboarders, snorkellers and myriad other water hazards which can make surfing it frustrating. Only on a dawn mission are you likely to find it with only a handful of others there. Often the easiest approach is to sit inside and pick off the smaller waves, and just pray that you spot any big sets far enough in advance to escape out the back. Elsewhere is Carrazilillo (try saying that after a couple of shandies), a beautiful small bay, 15 minutes out of the town. Set at the bottom of several million steps, it is popular with sun worshippers and surfers alike, but fortunately escapes the crowds. There are two breaks, one each on the left and the right. The left is popular with the beginners, where the mellow rolling waves are good for practicing the art, whereas the righthand side breaks big and shallow but on a good swell will give you a fun 20 second ride. The major drawback, especially at low tide, is that it breaks on to some large and erratic rocks, covered in shell and coral like paraphernalia. I’ve spent many days since plucking spiky bits from, and tending to, injured feet. Surfing isn’t supposed to be easy, but if you’re mad enough, then there will always be a wave here for the committed enthusiast.
Another spectacular sight is that of the flocks of herons in the area, that glide gracefully across the surface of the water. They’re constantly fishing, where they will circle in the sky for a few moments, eyeing their prey and all of a sudden will descend from the skies and plummet in to the sea to make their catch. It can be a little surprising if you’re sat in the surf minding your own business when one of them does it next to you.
Despite the regular contingent of backpackers and surfies alike, Puerto Escondido manages to retain a sleepy fishing port lifestyle. The main strip has its fair share of street vendors, touting the usual pap, and the beach is lined it with local fisherman offering to take you out snorkelling, fishing or dolphin spotting. Or indeed sell you weed or coke, and probably any other substance or product you may require. I’m almost aghast that I’ve spent over two weeks here with very little to show for it. The time simply flies by. Sure, we’ve had a fair few morning eliminating nights out, and although limited, the nightlife here is vibrant. The same goes for the Mayflower Hostel*, which frequently boasts a mix of foreign visitors. The Scandinavians are here in force, but I regularly meet Australians, Americans, South Americans and even the odd Brit.
I feel slightly remiss not having mentioned the price of things around here, which, compared to US standards, at least, are great. The weak dollar makes it even cheaper for a Brit to stay here. Hostel accomodation is around 5 pounds a night, and fresh food and beer is extremely reasonable, at around 1.25 for a 3 pint bottle of Corona. I am reliably informed, however, that it gets steadily cheaper as you venture further in to Central America, with the odd exception such as Belize or Costa Rica. Whether my travels will get me to such destinations is, as yet, undecided, as most people will attest to the difficulty that is leaving Puerto Escondido.
* The hostel has a hideous website. But it does have an interesting video about Puerto Escondido, which features yours truly, around the 1 minute 10 mark.