La Patria Part 3: The Oaxacan Coast

8.18.17

THIS will probably be a short entry.

A travel blog about a trip interrupted by a few hours of pain and terror is more Stephen King than Good Life.  That said, our time in Zicatela highlights the reason we started The Good Life Concept in the first place.  Sometimes stuff sucks, but the Good Life presents itself when you focus on the good instead of the suck.

***

ARE you hooked??  Pain and terror!  You’re probably skipping all this to get to that part, but anyway…

We set out to drive from Oaxaca City to the coastal area around Puerto Escondido.  The tribulation of the drive is hard to put in words. On the map it’s an innocent looking couple inches (aka 162ish miles), and renting a car ended up being almost the same price as any of the decent bus options so we readied ourselves to conquer the expedition.

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Oaxacan Route

THE route started off easy, on a smooth, relatively modern highway slashing through the Oaxacan country side.  We love a good road trip, and the excitement of navigating to the coast had our adrenaline pumping.  We knew at some point we would have to hit some mountains, but an hour and a half in, as we undulated through some rolling foothills, we began to wonder if the notoriously serpentine stretch was just a bunch of hype.

IT is not hype.

Soon enough, we hit the mountains.  The grade took a drastic vertiginous pitch, and as the road became more and more twisting it seemed to get tighter and tighter.  It doesn’t help one’s nerve that to one side of the road is an unguarded cliff with a sheer drop of thousands of feet.  Oh, and eventually, after hours of climbing you reach the cloud line. Then there’s the whole lack of visibility and rain thrown in there.

The most demoralizing times were when we got stuck behind a truck or slow car chugging through the mountain passage.  Passing on the road was taking your life into your hands, but the monotony and knowledge that this crawling pace would only extend the torture led Adam to some idiotic, but ultimately successful, maneuvers.

The video below is 45 seconds long.  During the trip this was reality for 5 hours.  Back….and forth…..and back…..and forth…and back……….

EVENTUALLY though, of course you reach the other side, and a tropical land is there to lift your spirits.  It is really interesting to actually travel the route, and see with your own eyes how terrain affects environment.  You start in the steppe of the Oaxacan valley, literally drive through the clouds of oceanic moisture trapped at the top of the mountain ridge, and finally descend into a rain-forrested jungle slope.

A big question we asked ourselves is whether we’d recommend the drive.  Of course we had to do it on the way back to Oaxaca City, so we ended up doing it twice.  No question, it is a brutal drive for anyone who gets car sick and it really can be pretty dangerous if you’re not a careful driver.  Armed with that fair warning, pack the Dramamine, get a good night sleep and drive that bitch!  It’s affordable, memorable, and definitely beats the bus.  There are flight options on prop planes from Oaxaca City, but you gotta do the drive at least once.

“After all the curves of hell waking up in the clouds made me feel that I died of car sickness.” d.

“I feel like my brain just got out of a washing machine.  It’s like when you’ve been on a rocky boat and feel the up and down for hours.” a.

***

WE eventually arrived in La Punta at night which always makes Adam uneasy. La Punta is a quiet village in the jungle below the more developed, but still tiny Zicatela proper.  We had heard stories that it wasn’t safe to walk around at night and robberies, even in the daylight, were common on the beach.

When we checked into our AirBnB, Adam’s concerns about security were elevated when we saw that our dreamy little bungalow basically had no walls.  It’s funny how the mind works (at least Adam’s) when getting to an unknown destination at night, but luckily Daniela’s mind stayed clear to try to allay Adam’s unease.

Once we found dinner at a little shack down the dirt street called Amoki, saw the backpackers and surfers around us living the life, and put back a couple ice cold beer with guacamole, Adam eventually chilled the fuck out.

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La Punta Home at Night
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Blessed Comida y Cervezas

***

IT’s absolutely amazing what a difference a day makes.  When we rose to the sound of jungle all around us, and stepped out of the bedroom into our villa, we were elated.  In the light of day the place was a dream.  The view over the jungle to ocean was spectacular, and cooking breakfast in the open air lifted our spirits high.  Check out the AirBnB listing here.

We even found we had a new friend, a dog we named Mauricio.  Although he scared the shit out of us that first morning when he waltzed into the kitchen,  he became our loyal side kick for the rest of the stay.

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La Punta Home in Day
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The View
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Mauricio

BELLIES full, recharged by the sun and ocean air and ready for some beach time, we walked out to the long stretch of white sand beach known as Playa Zicatela.  If you have ever heard of Puerto Escondido, this is the area we were in.  Puerto is the urban hub, but the beaches and surf pipeline that radiate up and down the coast from the small city are the real attractions.

This day we had Playa Zicatela all to ourselves.  The red flags whipping in the wind indicated that the deadly current was in action, and not even the most fool hearty of locals messed with the currents here.  The power of the waves as they churned and mashed into themselves was evident even from the shore.

Eventually we got to the center of Zicatela where there is a cute beachfront strip of souvenir shops, surf outfits, restaurants and cafes much like one would find in any California beach town.  We stopped at El Cafecito for some refreshing iced coffee, and asked around which is the best beach to sun our buns.

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Playa Zicatela
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El Cafecito To-Go

THE consensus matched our research and we hopped a quick cab to the trail head for Playa Carrizalillo.  We’ve taken some treacherous hikes to get to spectacular beaches before, but this one was pretty easy if not steep.  The walk is well worth it to get to the secluded bay, sheltered from the nasty currents.  There are a few beach bars, and for a couple of bucks you can get yourself some chairs and umbrella, a bucket of Cervezas Bien Frias, and let the good times roll.

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Playa Carrizalillo

 

***

AFTER a sublime afternoon lounging and swimming at Playa Carrizalillo, we decided a home cooked meal at the villa sounded good, and we could rest up to try and check out the beachfront night life.  We stopped at the local mega-mart, and stocked up on the fixings for ceviche.  Outside we easily found a cab, and asked to go to La Punta.  We knew which road to take off the main highway more or less, but found ourselves lost trying to guide the taxi driver to our street.  Eventually, knowing we were close and thinking we just needed to retrace our steps, we said “‘hey just drop us here, and we’ll find the house on foot”.  These details are just a fraction of the random occurrences that lead to what happened next.

The driver obliged and pulled to the right, under the shade of a sprawling mango tree.  We have no real knowledge of how fast the next few moments lasted but it is an eye opening example of how real life goes bad quick.  As the driver came to a stop, the sound of a small object plunked on the roof.  We remember having time to think it was a mango and even having a microsecond of thinking it was funny before we realized that the “mango” was on the hood of the car spewing wasps.  The next amount of time is  blur of panic, screaming, and protecting ourselves as wasps swarmed into taxi through the open windows.  Daniela had been stung on the head, and Adam thrashed to get the wasp off of her.  Daniela screamed out “Hospital Señor!!!” to the shell shocked (or idiotic) driver, and as he pulled away we took stock of what had happened.  Daniela’s head was in serious pain, and the panic between both of us left us seriously shaken.

We got dropped off at the hospital, and eventually were able to calm down, but needless to say the rest of the day and night was spent trying to feel safe when our home had no walls.

“Everything happened so fast… it was like a scene of a Hitchcock movie… what’s the name?.. “The Birds” but “The Wasps”. Horrifying!..” d.

“It was like the tracker jacker scene from Hunger Games.  I’ll never forget that image.  We are actually really lucky.” a.

***

THE next day we did what any traveler should and got right back out there to see some shit.  Armed with a bug zapper, and with an over heightened awareness of anything flying around us, we set out to pick up our laundry at the makeshift lavanderia next door before driving down to the nearby town of Zipolite.  It’s amazing how once you know the jungle wants to kill you, “paradise” is quite a bit more sinister.

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Con Armas

ZIPOLITE is another popular beach town about an hour and fifteen minutes south of Zicatela.  We can’t find the name of the place, but it’s right on the beach side of the main street called Roca Blanca as you enter from the south, and it has the best ice coffee we’d had in weeks.  Potentially it’s called Heladeria Tuti Fruti, if you’re in the area it is worth searching out.

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Zipolite Town
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What Ever it’s Called- Good Coffee

ZIPOLITE beach is a yawning half moon of sand ringed with a bastion of aging beach resorts.  Even with it’s remote location, Zipolite felt a notch more touristy and long in the tooth than La Punta for sure and even Zicatela proper- but maybe it was just the cloud layer we had that day.  We were still on high alert and jumpy after the wasp attack, but grabbed a couple liter michelada’s and had a nice day at the beach.

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Beach Day

WE discovered a highlight when we strolled all the way north on Playa Zipolite.  Hidden in a surrounding rock formation at the end of the beach is the resort El Alquimista.  The setting itself was magnificent, and the food turned out to be top notch.  Besides a bevy of unique cocktails and cuisine, the staples (i.e.: michelada, guacamole and fish tacos) were some of the best we’d had on the trip.  If you’re squeamish, be advised that there is a large population of nudists in the area- get over it.

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El Alquimista
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El Alquimista Fish Tacos

***

ON our last night in town we finally had a chance to check out La Punta by night.  The “town” is basically a crossroads with a hand full of shops and restaurants springing out of the jungle.  Our AirBnB hosts had recommended the local Thai joint called Lychee, so we decided to change it up and get some Asian food.  Lychee Thai is one of those special places that still exist in the world if you go out to find them.  At every little known, far flung paradise this earth has to offer there is a place like Lychee.  Each find brings proof that one only needs good food, cold booze, and some friendly faces to create The Good Life in the middle of the jungle.

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Lychee Thai, La Punta
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Comida Thai in the Mexican Jungle

***

WE’d be lying if we said we were dying to stay in Zicatela.  It’s tough because the place is absolutely amazing, and 100% the kind of place we normally would love to get lost in for a little while.  It’s funny though, even after galavanting the globe enjoying backpacker outposts unscathed, when the globe bites back we found ourselves eager to get back to civilization.  That said, as we pulled out of town, looking back at it we agreed that this is one of those special places on earth and were thankful to have seen it.

“It was an absolute paradise! I would definitely come back but next time armed to fight those pinche wasps…” d.

“I hope to come back here one day.  I don’t know if it’s different than anywhere I’ve been or if I’m different than when I was where I’ve been.  Either way, I hope to return.” a.

THIS is a photo of the center of La Punta, Zicatela, Mexico August 21st, 2017.  Places like this, as good as it is, don’t last like this for long.

Wasps and all.

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