After a month in Oaxaca, taking Spanish lessons, visiting every nearby attraction we could, and going to every single museum in the city, we were looking forward to Puerto Escondido as a place to generally slow down our pace. We loved our time in Oaxaca but after a month there we wanted to go to a place where we could balance the exploring and learning with a little more time dedicated to work projects and connecting with each other.
In Puerto (as it’s known by everyone in Oaxaca) we found the restful vibe we were looking for.
Our health retreat
One of our main goals in Puerto was to focus on our health. After an extremely indulgent month in Oaxaca eating too many quesadillas and drinking too much mezcal we had agreed before getting to Puerto that we would cook lots of veggies at home while going for runs on the beach every day. This has not happened. We’ve made a few meals at home but those are countered by afternoon mojitos almost every day and so far we’ve only run once. It’s definitely a heck of a life, but not a sustainable one. So this isn’t a reflection on Puerto, but more a fessing up that after a week here I am going to have to scale back my indulgences if I am going to maintain any semblance of health while traveling for a year.
So more about Puerto.
A different side to Mexico
Though they are in the same state, Oaxaca city and Puerto feel like worlds apart. In a lot of ways, Puerto exhibits the side Mexico that came to mind before I got here- tropical, hot, rustic, lush, with a laid back atmosphere.
The town itself and surrounding beaches that make up the Puerto area feels small, bordering on somewhat rural. The center of town revolves around a large mercado and its nearby streets, and the entire area is in varying states of disrepair. It’s clear vendors in both places are lacking customers- we saw lots of decaying veggies and sunbleached packaging. It was heartbreaking to see a whole slab of peppers covered in mold or entire stalls capable of holding a wide variety of foods carrying just one or two items. We went on a walking tour and our guide told us that the low season combined with the falling peso has put many of the shops in a bind, so much so that parts of the local economy functions on the honor system because everyone knows money comes in unpredictable waves based on tourism and other factors.
And tourism is definitely a major source of income here. Our neighborhood is just north of Playa Zicatela, a ~2 mile stretch of beach that is known for its surfing, is built on a touristy boardwalk lined with souvenir shops, Americanized restaurants, and hotels catering to surfers. Puerto is particularly well liked among the backpacker set and its clearly evident they cater to that the laid back but younger vibe. The majority of people I see in our area are young and based on the conversations I overhear, about half of them are from Australia.
I am glad to be in the position to be bringing money here. It is incredibly important to me that we shop at the smaller stores and tip well in restaurants. But at this point in our travels I am a little less inclined to hang out with young westerners and I’m not as interested in staying in the areas that cater to that. After we booked our stay, we had several people recommend other beaches that are more popular among locals and Mexican tourists. If I came back I would want to stay elsewhere.
That view tho
That said, our hopes for rest and relaxation have come to fruition because our airbnb probably the nicest place to be in our neighborhood. We lucked out with a two level top floor apartment tucked about a half mile from the beach, that far exceeded the pictures posted in the listing. Thanks to a huge hill the view is absolutely stellar and its about 10 degrees cooler thanks to a continual breeze. When we do want to leave asking “is it worth walking up that monster hill?” is a totally justifiable question.
Holy humidity batman
Another factor that plays into the “is the leaving worth it” question is the weather. As a weak Californian I have to take a second to say the humidity here is no joke. We’ve had both pouring rain and overwhelming heat. The first few days we were here, it rained so hard that the street going to our apartment was a full flowing river. In fact I read a report that someone died due to the rain. Then yesterday it flipped and I was hotter than I’ve ever been in my entire life. My weather app said “88 degrees feels like 103” at 90% humidity. So not to belabor the weather point, but it has been an adjustment from what I now see in Oaxaca was just pleasantly warm.
But this kind of weather has some major upsides. One is the lush greenery. Avocado, lime, mango, almond and neem trees are around every turn while huge ferns and giant succulents grow out of every spare inch of soil. All this growth leaves the air with a musty, floral, herbaceous smell that I absolutely love, and can’t stop noticing. It reminds me of the smell of Thailand or Bali, two places I’ve been that made me notice the smell in the air the moment I stepped off the plane.
Another upside is that for the first time in my life, everyone is sweating balls, not just me. For anyone who knows me, they know that my constantly clammy palms are a source of extreme self-consciousness. But here, what are you going to do? There’s no AC, no breeze, nothing to do but wipe your brow with a paper towel and walk around with a huge wet spot on your back. I don’t feel like I’m always standing out as the sweaty one. It’s pretty ridiculous because obviously every one is hot and sweaty, but I have found this totally liberating.
My first impression of Puerto is mixed. I am glad to get away with the intention of slowing down to take in the experience of being on this trip, and the pace and vibe of Puerto lends itself well to that. I am learning though that my desire to pre-plan our trips leads to booking an apartment (though great) in an area I would have avoided. I am not usually the type of person who wants to wing my accommodations by not booking something for the entire time I was in a place, but I’m beginning to think that kind of tactic may work well for places like this- that have very specific small neighborhood vibes and are abundant in options. We’ll see how this applies as the trip goes on.
For now I’m going to go have another mojito. I’ll get that healthy balance tomorrow.