Made it home from Puerto Escondido late last night. Arrived at JFK in New York around 11 p.m. after an interesting travel day (more below) and drove back to Plum Island in one shot — which may not have been the best idea since I was, quite literally, hallucinating over the final half of the drive. Arrived at home around 4:35 a.m. and went to bed around 5-something. Woke up around 8:30 so we’ll see how today goes.
But here are some — okay, a lot of — thoughts prompted by my recent trip. More verbal diarrhea from Yours Truly…
- God, I needed to get out on the road again. It’s been WAY too long. But at the same time the trip pointed out the ongoing need for some structure and discipline in my life — just not in the typical, 9-to-5 sense of those terms. When all the family stuff is straightened out once and for all this summer I will endeavor to combine those two needs — travel and structure — into a plan for the second half of my life
- Puerto Escondido was fabulous. It’s small enough that it’s not overwhelming or (too) gaudy, but big enough to have anything you want or need. (For what it’s worth, I heard the population is about 45,000.) There was good food of all varieties to be found, including some great Italian, plenty of hippy-dippy stuff like smoothies and acai bowls (it IS a surf town, after all) and, of course, the ubiquitous tacos and burritos and the like. And as with everything in Mexico, it’s WAY cheaper than in the U.S. I did find the food better in my little neighborhood than on the tourist drag on Playa Zicatela
- Speaking of Zicatela: If it was a swimming beach it would be one of the most famous beaches in the world. Long and wide with beautiful, course sand ranging from white to gold…it’s just a great beach. But the conditions that make it great for surfing make it unsuitable for swimming (seriously; I watched a rip current snatch a guy off his feet and out to sea prompting a rescue by the lifeguards) so it gets overlooked. And nightcaps at the bars on the beach are a nice touch we don’t get to enjoy in the U.S. thanks to the fucking lawyers, insurance companies and do-gooder fundamentalists. A plague on all their houses
- Everyone in Puerto that I met was really nice. Everyone — bums to BMW drivers — says “hola” as they pass on the street and even Beemer guy was pretty chill. Hell, even the vendors on the beach aren’t overbearing. And while plenty of people speak English so you can get by, not everyone does so it behooves you to speak Spanglish…or better yet, work on your Spanish, which is what I was doing. I prefer the locals NOT bend over backwards to accommodate my selfish need to speak my language in their home. Yeah, it makes things a little bumpy but in the long run I believe the effort is worth it. “When in Rome,” ya know?!
- There are hotels and apartments everywhere, some ridiculously cheap. Get your plane ticket early enough so it’s cheap and with the cheap room and board you can get a month in Puerto for less than you’d get a week in Paris or some other fancy-pants location
- Speaking of airfare: I flew on Interjet, which my pre-trip research had me wildly nervous about. But the flight down was great AND they don’t charge for surfboards and other sports gear. They have three classes of service and folks traveling in either the mid- and top-range classes get plenty of perks for not much extra money. In fact, I flew down in the top-level class because they had a deal: it was 40 percent LESS than the second-level class. Let’s see how the flights home go…
Addendum: Oh well, it was a nice run. But truth be told: it wasn’t Interjet’s fault. Weather in Mexico City had air-traffic control delaying everything flying into that hub. So my two-hour layover in the capital wound up being a sprint from one terminal to the next. I literally JUST made my flight to New York. My surfboard and bag, sadly, did not. They arrived on this morning’s flight and Interjet is FedEx-ing my stuff to me. Still, I will fly Interjet again. I had good, clean planes with friendly staff and good service, all for affordable prices. Stark contrast to most U.S. airlines
- The drivers in Mexico…holy shit. They make New Englanders look like capable, safe drivers. Just…wow. And I had been prepared to mention how bad their roads are but after just a few hours of driving between New York and New England, we really can’t go pointing any fingers. Seriously. Our roads are just as bad. But unlike our roads, all of the roads in Mexico have huge speed bumps that drastically slow the traffic entering town and throughout city streets, which I believe is a good idea. They force maniacs to slow down in areas where there are a lot of pedestrians. Can you imagine an American municipality daring to force the almighty American driver to slow down and be safe?! Neither can I
- And holy shit was it hot. If not for all the beer I drank, I’d have lost a ton of weight just walking around during the day — and walking around during the day makes you realize the whole concept of siesta just makes sense. Up and at ’em in the morning, chill during the heat of the midday, back at ’em as things cool off. How civilized! (Addendum: Even with all the beer I drank, I still managed to lose a few pounds. How doubly civilized!)
- There’s a sense of freedom that pervades Puerto Escondido and other places I’ve been to in Mexico. Granted, I’m a tourist and don’t see it day in and day out like a local, but there’s none of the nanny state or Big Brother, which is so refreshing. And by and large you don’t see people fucking it up for everyone with their selfish, “to hell with you, I wanna do THIS…” attitudes. Sure, there’s graffiti on the beautiful cliff walk below the lighthouse in Puerto but kids are kids pretty much everywhere on Earth. By and large the folks in Mexico live and let live. I believe it’s a nice way to go through your day. And your life
- Last but not least, check out Anthony Bourdain on Mexico. It’s a few years old but all too relevant in this day and age
For the surfers among you, here are few ocean-specific thoughts on my experiences in the waves of Puerto Escondido:
- If the swell pattern during my visit had been reversed — so it was small when I got there before building to big and way big — it would have been better for me. I’m not ashamed to admit I was intimidated at first and stayed wary throughout. As an excuse: I realized that since I left San Diego in May 2016, I estimate I’ve had about 15-20 sessions in the water in New England (each session 1-2 hours; two per day when conditions allow) TOTAL. So not much surfing, really. Hell, I’d get 15-20 sessions every two weeks when I lived in San Diego…and I was working 10-plus hours a day. Surfing is not like riding a bicycle; at least it isn’t for me. Next time I surf Puerto, I’m going with my groove already on because once I got mine going I had a blast
- I’ve surfed big waves before but not at a beach break like this. Blacks Beach in San Diego in December 2007 came close and it took me three tries to get out there that day. That this is a hollow, crushing beach break changed everything. That first day I got here was seriously awe inspiring. No, it wasn’t Mark Healey going XXL but it was well beyond big and into the mega category
- Here’s some of what Magic Seaweed said about Puerto: “Swells hit the…sandbars at Zicatela Beach in such a way that the waves jack up in size, which is often emphasised by a backwash. Magazine photos of this place are misleading – the waves close-out often and the paddle-out can be severe…The wave is fickle, and will often be blown out by 11am…It’s still a year-round Mecca for big barrel hunters!”
Yup. What they said: year-round good bet for waves (even when it was small it was still doable). Wind definitely goes onshore around 10 or 11 a.m. — but it’s still doable in the afternoon though no one goes out until the sunset session around 4. And the paddle out CAN be punishing (though the ever-present rip currents can definitely help though they can also hinder. Stay alert)
- Next time I come, I’m buying a step-up big-wave board for that next level of surf. I saw perfectly good, used thruster guns for 6,000 pesos — about $300. I’ll buy one when I get to town, ride it and then sell it back for even half or a third of that. My performance-focused shortboard was fine for the days I was out, but it would be insufficient for the Zicatela waves once they ramp up a notch; indeed on some of the bigger sets on the days I was out I was a bit undergunned
- All of this said, point breaks are just SO much easier and less nerve-wracking. Maybe next time I’ll tack on a run down to Salina Cruz, a few hours south of Puerto. Same swells but at point breaks with fewer people? Sounds good to me
- Magic Seaweed also said, “There’s large numbers of skilled surfers in the water.” No doubt about it. In the lineup I saw middle-aged women on bodyboards, body surfers, aggro teenyboppers, all the full-bore 20something surfers…and everything in between (except, interestingly, the older guys I expected). And most of them were more than capable. Percentage-wise, the surfers are much better in Puerto than what I see in New England (no surprise there) and even better than what I dealt with daily in San Diego. Puerto locals rip
I’ll be cleaning the Zicatela sand out of my ears and nose for a few days. But it’ll be SO worth it. I can’t wait to go back.