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Three Fears Down; None to Go

sunny 33 °C

Before we left home to drive down to Mexico, I had three distinct fears about the trip. The first fear was crossing the border - so much had been written about border crossfire, tension and turmoil - to say nothing of having our car ripped apart and searched. The border crossing was a non-event.
The second fear was the actual driving itself - I envisioned poor roads, poor signage, and cops with their hands out every few miles. The poor roads are here (but so are the great ones), signage is terrific, and the only police officer we have had contact with so far wore braces (not partially funded by us).

We just passed the third fear milestone - driving the infamous mountain road between Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido on the coast. We'd heard the stories of buses veering off the road and down embankments - too far down to be rescued. A friend told us a harrowing tale of driving that road years ago after the rainy season, when the landslides and washouts had not yet been cleared. At several points, when the road was limited to one lane, drivers would take turns driving up over rubble to get around boulders, then back down the other side. Apparently things have improved, and so after much research and consulting with my Mexican travel forum folks, away we went. It began easily enough - an hour or so of gently curving roads, and pavement in reasonable condition. Note the driver of the truck is straddling the shoulder line. This is common practice for slower-moving vehicles in Mexico - if the road allows it. It creates a third lane for people to pass easily, and actually works very well.


We drove through all sorts of landscapes, small villages, bigger towns, and still - nada. The road began to climb, and climb and climb - to 9000 feet. We had been warned to take Gravol to counter motion sickness, but we forgot, and luckily neither of us were affected. The scenery is simply stunning - one vista unfolds that takes your breath away, and then another, and another.


Out of nowhere, a small village appears, and we wonder - What do they do when they run out of milk? What if they don't like their neighbours? Where are the children that sign is warning us about - there seem to be four houses.


The road is twisty - endlessly so - turn left, turn right, turn left, turn right - repeat for hours. But the challenge was not the serpentine nature of the drive, it was the surface of the road itself - unbelievable potholes, chunks of pavement fallen away, loose gravel, road worn down in spots to the pre-asphalt level. The only reason it was not a hazard was because for most of the drive, we had the road almost to ourselves. If this same highway had been packed with the usual array of speeding trucks, buses, motorcycles and cars - all of us trying to dodge potholes - then I do believe that someone would have done a Thelma and Louise.


The road quality began to improve when we saw this fellow. Within a few hundred meters, we came around a bend to see mountains of road building material, and several crews. Mexico is trying to fix its roads - it is just a Sisyphean task as the rainy season conspires to undo the improvements they try to make each year.
About halfway through the drive, the town of San Jose del Pacifico appears like a mirage - a tidy, alpine village with lush green vegetation, wood-timbered houses, and a main street lined with restaurants, small inns and shops. Are we dreaming? As it turns out, San Jose has a thriving business in locally grown hallucinogenic mushrooms, so perhaps there is something in the air.

We stopped for lunch in this restaurant, where wooden carved mushrooms are offered for sale ( we didn't inquire about the other), as well as a cute little display of cradle-to-grave beverage choices.

Finally - 9 hours later, just 4 1/2 hours longer than estimated, we arrived in Puerto Escondido. We found our place, went out for a bite to eat, and enjoyed our first sunset over the Pacific since we left Melaque.


We did not click with Puerto Escondido for a lot of reasons, and our accommodation was no small part of our lack of comfort there. We booked our place on Air B&B, which is an online site offering rooms, units and entire houses that are privately owned. They are often very reasonably priced, and can be a great way to meet people. In this case, while the owners were very sweet and hospitable, they had a decidedly bohemian approach which did not include prompt communication, proper cleaning, or adequate kitchen supplies (no coffeemaker). Our glasses were dirty, our bed had sand in it, and during the three days and four nights we were there, they never picked up our garbage, or gave us fresh towels. And yet - we really liked them - they just needed to replace their thirty-year-old mattress and run their rental like a business. Still, we had a very pretty view from our balcony.


Our place was a 10-minute walk to Puerto Escondido's most southern beach, Zicatela. This is one very long beach that attracts surfers from all over the world, for the monster waves called the Mexican Pipeline, which is aptly named - a huge, scary roll of water that rises up and crashes down and back out, sucking everyone that is not attached to a board, with it. Not remotely swimmable.


The beach strip is lined with shops and restaurants and listless older gringos. German, Dutch, Italian and English are spoken - there was little cohesion and the overall feeling was not friendly.


On our second day, we found a great little swimming area just the next beach over. We set up chairs, umbrella, our books and some snacks, and had two wonderful days there. The water had a soft wave, and swimming conditions were perfect.


Wherever we go, we are always surprised to discover how many people have heard of Gabriola Island, and even more surprising, know people who live there. We spoke to the couple in the foreground of this photo. The woman is from Wisconsin, is currently in Mexico teaching ESL, but went to school in Victoria, and while there, she made friends with someone from Gabriola and visited the island a few times.



Two final sunset shots.

We were ready to leave Puerto Escondido in search of other beach towns. We really wanted to have a break from travelling, driving and sightseeing, and Huatulco, just two hours south down the coastal highway beckoned. We splurged a bit ($65 a night) for a lovely hotel, air conditioning, and a comfy bed. We'll be here for 5 or 6 days - so far, it is checking off all the boxes. The fears are vanquished.

Posted by millerburr 20:22 Archived in Mexico

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You have warmed my heart and almost my wrapped ankles. I sit in front of my fire as the outside temperature has plummeted to -43 with the wind chill. Reading about your adventures is an exciting diversion transporting me to another place. As always I love your prose ms miller. Have a dip in the ocean for me!!!

by Nancy

Loving the tropical travelogue as we watch the third blizzard in three weeks unfold outside this morning. The skiing is unusually great in New England this winter.

by Jim & Judy Putnam

I am so enjoying your trip!

by ailene

Great read..so glad we met you in Patzcuaro....now I really really want to visit Oaxaca!

by Jo-Anne Parneta

Although the sites you have seen have been varied and fascinating, I can understand how the sight of the ocean and the sound of the waves might prove to be a lovely contrast to your recent escapades ... hope it continues to be just what you need!

by Heather

Great descriptions and stories Ginny and Steve, we are enjoying you trip.

by Frank

Enjoying living vicariously through your travel journal. We have friends from West Vancouver that go down to Hualtulco each year and really enjoy it.

by Brock

I'm glad you made it safely to Puerto Escondido and found that perfect beach. Your post about Chiapas taught me a lot as well. Mexico is a beautiful but troubled country.

by Patrick Ward

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