The Mexican Pipeline

Puerto Escondido is legendary. Mostly if you’re a surfer. One of the best breaks in the world is found crashing along Playa Zicatela in Puerto. It’s nicknamed “The Mexican Pipeline” due to its similarity to the famous wave breaking in Hawaii. Of course, not at this time of year. At this time of year, the wave could barely muster up enough energy to transfer two or three surfers, out of a rather large crowd (all things relative) towards the shore. Tim didn’t even make it into the surf, as it was essentially dismal to what he’d encountered over the last week and a half. But during the summer season, and into November when large contests are held, Puerto pounds. The waves crashing into the steep beach when we were there were enough to pummel us as we attempted to go swimming. The massive waves these lunatics ride in high season will crush people, snap boards, and unquestionably have to power to do some very real harm.

Puerto itself sprawls from the central town, along Zicatela in an increasingly thin strip that hugs the coast. It is a tourist destination for Mexicans and foreigners alike, which makes for a nicer feel than many of the other tourist destinations in Mexico, which are mainly full of Canadians and Americans. Zicatela beach is probably where more of the foreigners stay. The majority of offerings for food, drinks, and accommodation are found along Calle del Morro, with the most reasonable prices being found on either end of the main strip for food and drinks. We ended up bargaining down a massive private room with a bathroom and mostly non-functioning kitchen for 200 pesos a night. With longer stays, the rates seemed very flexible. (I would highly recommend Ananda at Jarrandas 18, one block up from the beach. A few more pesos buys you some outstanding views.) We walked down the considerable length of Playa Zicatela to Punta Zicatela at the south end. There are a couple of other options for places to stay there, including some rather shiny-looking bungalows and a very appealing hostel/cabaña/campground where we could have pitched our tent for 60 pesos each. Punta Zicatela was the only place the average surf was rolling into during our time there, but its downside is the rather significant mission into town.

The first night we were there, we stumbled upon a local beer shop/bar where a handful of Mexican men were enjoying some cold Coronas at very reasonable prices. We bought a few of Corona Megas (the largest size bottle on offer, at 1.2 litres) and came home only to discover our fridge didn’t work. Our only real option was to drink them straight away, so we did. Add in a dip into the bottle of tequila we’d been carrying around for quite some time, and we were ready to go exploring. As we spoke, we heard what was essentially the sound of a marching band approaching on the street, so we went out to investigate. It appeared to be a Mexican wedding procession that was making its way through town, complete with giant, costumed, dancers; drummers; and a tuba player. A crowd surrounded, dressed in bright colours, full skirts, and cowboy hats.

Mexican Wedding

Photo Credit: Tim Binks

We were invited by a couple of the crowd to come along and were keen to follow the procession down the street. By the time we got ourselves organized, they had disappeared, but it was simply a matter of following the sound of the band through the quiet streets. We arrived at a small pavilion, and watched as different groups took centre stage and danced. A small group of older women danced at one point, swinging their long, full skirts with their hands as they circled the platform. It was beautiful. Eventually, I was pulled up to the dance floor by one of the people who had invited us. My favourite point was when I somehow ended up dancing with one of the older ladies, and we had a quick moment of figuring (no words exchanged) over who would be leading – essentially who was the “man” of the dance. It ended up being her. Feeling our wedding crashing moment should come to a close, we said goodbye to our nearest neighbours and headed off toward the strip of food and drinks along the beach where we found delicious tacos but little occasion to dance again.

At one stage we headed into the centre of town to explore and sort out the next leg of our trip. As we wandered toward that beach, we discovered that this is where the majority of Mexican families made their holidays in Puerto. The water was significantly calmer and possible for kids to swim in, hustlers were selling beach chair spots and fishing trips, and ice cream stands dotted the beach, all cluttered among the many people and the hundred-odd boats dotting the beach and anchored close to shore. Town itself contained many a restaurant, lovely old hotel, and plenty of random pathways and stairways leading to and from all of it.

Puerto EscondidoPuerto Escondido is in Oaxaca (wah-hah-kah) state. Escondido is neighboured along the coast by a number of intriguing towns, known for their hedonistic culture, great surf, or outstanding sea life. Oaxaca is renowned for having some of the best food in Mexico, and Oaxaca City is well-known as a culinary and handicraft haven. The villages in the hills north of Oaxaca City sound intriguing, and they’ve developed something of an eco-tourism co-operative which makes accessibility much more possible for nature-loving tourists. This is where we hit a crossroads, and a decision. We needed to be in Cancún on the Yucatan Peninsula in a few days to meet up with a friend of Tim’s who would be joining us for a week. We didn’t have enough time to zig and zag too much, so we had the option of going north from Puerto, through Oaxaca, and then to the northern coast before heading east to the Yucatan, or we could head through the Chiapas, hitting San Cristóbal de las Casas and the ruins of Palenque, both of which had been highly recommended to us. The decision was to head through Chiapas, in a large part because the state of Oaxaca is somewhere I would love to come back to, and spend a significant amount of time exploring. It’s reasonably easy to fly into Oaxaca City, and I would love at least a month in the state to visit the city, the villages, and spend some more time on the coast. Meanwhile, San Cristóbal and Palenque are, relatively, less accessible and put us nicely in the direction we needed to go. Oaxaca, I’ll see you again!

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