Sun, surf, and bioluminescence in Puerto Escondido

The trip to Puerto Escondido was a special kind of hell.

We boarded the bus in San Cristobal at 11.15am. Although we knew it was going to be a long, shitty bus ride, we thought it was better to spend a full day on the bus, and arrive late at night to check in and go straight to sleep than it was to take an overnight bus (that wasn’t a sleeper) to arrive really early in the morning and not be able to check in. So when we arrived to Puerto Escondido at 1am the next day, we were shattered. To add to the misery, the bus had been stopped by the police about half an hour out of town, where they’d spent 45 minutes thoroughly searching the bus, presumably for drugs. We kept desperately staring at the map on our phones. We were SO CLOSE, and these officers were not interested in expediting the process.

The next barrier occured at the hostel. Although we’d been in touch to let them know we’d be arriving late and they’d confirmed that someone would be there to let us in, we got there to find the gate locked with no one in sight, and no doorbell… We knocked, called out, tried to break in… Eventually we called the phone, which I’m sure wasn’t popular with all the sleeping guests. A slightly sleepy German girl came out to let us in, showed us to our room, and told us we could check in and pay in the morning. We very very gratefully collapsed into bed.

Lazy days at Playa Carizalillo

We got off to a slow start the next morning, but hey, we were at the beach! Who cares? We made our way down for breakfast, which was a delicious bowl of granola and fruit with yoghurt. We chatted with some of the other guests, and got some ideas about which beach to head to.

Armed with a big old bag of laundry to drop off at the laundromat, we headed off to the beach. We stopped halfway down the impressive staircase to the beach - it was stunning. Postcard perfect palm trees lined bright turquoise water. This would do just nicely!

We stopped to admire a tiny snake devouring an even tinier gecko, and made our way down to the small crescent shaped beach, lined with the usual restaurant shacks and sun loungers. We found one that looked good, agreed to spend the minimum $100 pecos each(about $8NZD), and made ourselves at home. We passed the next few hours reading, swimming, eating, drinking, and throwing a frisbee. Perfect! As the afternoon wore on and the clouds started to roll in, we headed back to the hostel. Sadly, it was harder getting back up the stairs than it was getting down… We arrived back just in time for the heavens to open and torrential rain to hit. Excellent timing!

We used the weather as a good excuse to do some admin and have some naps.

Later, we ventured back out to El Cafecito, a local restaurant where we enjoyed delicious meals (Zev had a burger and I had, shock horror, a SALAD!), before retiring for the night.

To the beach - again…

The next day was more or less a repeat of the day before, but with a little more drama thrown in. At the recommendation of one of the guys at our accommodation, we headed out to try to find Coral Beach. We thought we’d done pretty well to follow his instructions, and we found ourselves on a small path down to the water. Clearly there was no beach there though - it was a rocky headland. We consulted our maps, and it looked like we were too far around. There was a path around the headland that looked like it might get us to the beach, so we decided to give it a crack.

About 5 minutes later, as the track slowly disappeared, Zev said (I may be paraphrasing here), “Jesus fucking Christ”. I stopped and turned. “I just saw a giant fucking snake slither off down the hill.” Oh god. It was Texas all over again. I froze. While Zev reassured me that it was gone now, I pointed out (rather sensibly I thought) that it was unlikely there was only one snake in the area. I did not want to meet his friends and family. I didn’t want to carry on, but I also didn’t want to go back through what I now know was snake territory… So I remained frozen, and may or may not have begun to cry. With a little coaxing from Zev, I eventually got moving again, but it wasn’t until we were back up on the road that the panic began to subside.

We gave up on Coral Beach, and instead headed back to our trusty Playa Carizalillo, where we repeated the previous day’s activities. During the afternoon, a man came around selling tours to a nearby lagoon where you could swim in bioluminescent waters. We’d read that it was amazing, and it was something we wanted to do, so we signed up. He told us we’d be picked up from our hostel at 8.30pm.

Again, in the afternoon it started to look pretty grey, so we headed back to the hostel via the laundromat, and sheltered from the rain. To make sure we’d be ready to go in time for our tour, we headed out for an early dinner (shwarma this time).

Swimming in a Manialtapec Lagoon

Sure enough, at 8.30pm sharp, our man arrived. On a motorbike… Luckily he was followed closely behind by a van. We jumped in, taking the last two seats. Or so we thought. Shortly after, a family of three joined us. The mother and child jumped in the front seat with Zev, and the father climbed onto an unsecured plastic stool in the back. And then we were off!

About 15 minutes later, we pulled into a dirt driveway, and everyone piled out. In classic tour fashion, we all stood around for about 10 minutes, while the driver disappeared, and no one knew what was going on. Soon enough though, a man came forward and called is over to a boat.

Naturally, the boat contained three fewer seats than there were people. After a little scrambling and rearranging, we managed to make it work, and we all dutifully clipped on our life jackets as the boat started moving. As we got further out into the lagoon, we started to see a little evidence of the bioluminescence in the wake behind the boat. Within a few minutes, the driver cut the engine and started talking. He explained that it was no good trying to photograph it, so we should just enjoy ourselves. Then he explained that the more we moved, the more it would glow. Then he told us to get in!

We were lucky we happened to have timed our trip for a new moon, so there was barely any light pollution on the lagoon. We all started getting organised to get in the water, and most of us kept our life jackets on so that we could float around rather than having to tread water.

Zev and I jumped in. It was unbelievable. It was like swimming in the inside of a glowstick. Every time we agitated the water, it would light up. We paddled around and floated, sometimes staring like idiots at the water, sometimes staring like idiots at the stars. We couldn’t believe the number of people on the tour who chose to stay in the boat! The water was like bath water, and we had life jackets, so I can’t think of a good reason not to get in.

After we’d been in the water a while, Zev realised that if you submerged your hand and then pulled it out, you could see tiny clumps of the organisms glowing as they slid off your hand. It was like being in a really weird CGI movie!

The novelty didn’t really wear off for us, but apparently it did for some others. I think we were probably in the water for between 20 - 30 minutes, and we were the last people out of the water.

As we drove (or whatever you do with boats) back to the wharf.. jetty.. whatever, I’m not a sailor… The driver would rev the engine to get nearby fish to dart. As they did, they disturbed the bioluminescence and bright streaks would light up the water. It was absolutely magical. It was hands down one of the coolest things we’ve ever done.

An outing to Zicatela

Since we needed to go to the bus station to book our onward tickets, we headed a little further afield on our final day in Puerto Escondido. The day was pretty grey and overcast, so when our taxi dropped us off at Zicatela, we more or less had the beach to ourselves. It was enormous, probably about 2km long with lots of sand. We wandered for a bit, and then threw a frisbee, before heading off in search of lunch. We hit a slight problem when Zev realised that he’d ripped both his feet open while we were throwing, and could hardly walk. So instead, we jumped in a taxi back to our local shops, and had lunch there. We spent a lazy afternoon playing games and finishing Breaking Bad (for the first time for me, and the second for Zev), before heading out for a delicious pizza dinner. We were already dreading getting back on the bus the next day for what we suspected would be another long, windy, unpleasant bus ride…

Lots of love,
S & Z