We should have got off the bus in Balacar. Instead we continued on the bus back to Playa del Carmen for one last evening out at another community project in one of the neighbourhoods on the edge of town.
Before we were travelling full time we didn’t really get involved at all in that sort of aspect of travelling. It was all about enjoying our holidays and time away from work. But now we have more time we do, on occasion, try to see and visit different areas in order to get a better understanding of how people live and see a little of the ‘bigger picture’.
Sometimes they are really enjoyable and sometimes it’s difficult to completely understand what they are all about. The visit in Playa fell, for us, into the second category. The project was certainly about helping young kids, educate them, keep them off the streets, give them guidance and a better start in life. The guy who spoke to us was very passionate, almost excessively so, but it might have been better to do the visit when the kids were there to maybe have an interaction with them.
Anyway, the project had a small kitchen and they cooked dinner for us, after which we headed back to the hotel with the intention of having a few drinks on our last night. However, on the way back Steve suddenly felt quite ill and made a quick dash to the toilet where his meal came back the way it had gone in!!! No one else suffered any adverse effects at all so Steve put it down to his allergy to fish and although he had explained this to the staff on the evening, who knows what can be lost in translation!
His bout of sickness completely wiped him out and it took him the best part of the following week to get back fully on his feet. Luckily we had booked a lovely apartment and like he said, “If I was going to be unwell anywhere this was the place to be”.
We did manage a couple of walks along the beach, but most of the week was recovering in bed or by the pool. Considering some of the places we have visited in the past, we have been very fortunate not to have had more periods of sickness so we are not complaining.
We came on this trip with only a vague plan of what we would do and after Playa we had no firm plans at all. We fancied going on to Costa Rica and possibly Panama but we had plenty of time and we were in no real hurry to get there. We both fancied seeing Mexico City so we jumped on a flight and headed there.
Apparently it’s the biggest city by population in the Western Hemisphere and fourth biggest in The World. Flying in we could see a vast ocean of buildings spreading to the horizon at every point of the compass. With over 22 million people knocking about we were expecting a chaotic scene and, yes, there were parts on the outskirts which resembled that image very well. But our time was concentrated in the city centre, which was busy but certainly not overwhelming and we enjoyed three great days there.
As we almost always do in big cities we put on our walking shoes to see as much of the sights as we can on foot. It’s a great way to see the neighbourhoods which connect the major sights and Mexico City, like other great cities, has a varied mixture of neighbourhoods.
We started off in The Historic Centre and wandered through the sometimes cobbled streets until we emerged at the entrance to Zocala square. We have been in some central squares which have been big, some that have been huge, and then there is Zocala Square. It can apparently hold 100,000 people which, when you have 22 million residents, you need a big square.
When you first see the square it almost stops you in your stride. It is not particularly pretty, just an enormous open concrete space with a huge Mexican flag in the middle, the cathedral at one end and a series of three and four story important looking buildings running the length of the other three sides. It is the vastness of the square which is impressive.
We made our way out of the Historical Centre out onto the main thoroughfare of the city. We were fortunate to be doing this walk on a Sunday because the road is completely closed to traffic and instead is packed with walkers, runners, cyclists, people on roller blades and people on skateboards. This happens every Sunday and we had encountered a similar occurrence in Santiago de Chile a few years ago. So like we did there, we stepped off the pavement into the road and joined the procession for about three miles to the city’s major park, Chapultepec.
In the park we found the Sunday market which had easily over 300 stalls but it was really a repeat of 10 or so different stalls 30 times over. But it didn’t matter, we weren’t buying, and it was the colour of it all and the atmosphere that we enjoyed.
After the park we wandered through a couple of neighbourhoods on our way back to the hotel. Probably the best was Roma Norte with its tree lined streets and cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the pavement.
We also ended up in a more dusty, run down part of town and as we walked next to a high, long wall we noticed people walking through a gap ahead. When we got there we saw it was the entrance to a market. It was so colourful and huge with a maze of stalls. We only went in to see what was there and emerged nearly an hour later. This time Sarah was buying! It was so colourful it was hard not buy something.
The following day we had planned to visit a couple of museums. The National Anthropology Museum had been recommended to us by a few people. But, unfortunately, the majority of museums were closed on Monday so we had to make do with viewing the buildings themselves. Bad planning on our part but it was still worth it.
We did manage to check out the Post Office which was open and although not a museum, with it’s amazing interior design it should be!
We had a fantastic time in Mexico City and it certainly exceeded our expectations. We wouldn’t say it’s the best city we have ever visited but on the list it, would certainly appear closer to the top than the bottom.
Now it was time to move on again and with Steve having been unwell in Playa we decided we were both in need of some time at the beach.
We were going to head North West towards Puerto Vallarta and beyond but our friend, Géraldine had really been singing the praises of a small town called Puerto Escondido in the South West so we decided to head there. When she heard we were going she extended her stay so our visits overlapped and we were able to catch up and go to dinner.
We have met some really great people over the last three years or so of travelling and it is special when we meet up with them again. Géraldine was heading off to Columbia before going home to Switzerland and we have already arranged to meet up again in Zurich in the summer.
Did we like Puerto Escondido? Well it was OK I suppose. Initially we had planned to stay for about a week, then we extended this to 10 days. As we write this, it is day 18 and we are still here! We are eventually leaving this evening, but you bet we like it.
Puerto is fab. Exactly what we were looking for. Well done Géraldine, great call. The town itself is spread over about seven miles or so, although what is and what isn’t Escondido is up for debate. It technically lies in two regions, which creates problems regarding who pays taxes to who. This in turn leads to demonstrations, protests and the odd mayor or two being kidnapped. Which is all not that surprising for Mexico!
Mexican politics aside, Puerto is a laid back surf town with a bohemian feel and a string of eight beaches. The beaches are all different in one way or another and cater for the differing people who live or visit here.
The stretch from La Punta to Downtown is physically one long stretch of sand but is four different beaches defined by the state of the water at each point and the make up of the town behind it.
La Punta is the backpacker part of town with a dirt road, lots of small restaurants and bars which all seem to have rooms above for rent. The beach here is for beginner surfers and at this time of year is packed to the point of chaos with surf schools and newly graduated surfers. We loved to sit and watch while literally dozens of bodies scramble for the same wave only to crash and burn. It’s a source of amusement for us as all the surfboards are thrown into the air with not a single body in sight!
We will point out at this stage that neither of us can surf. We have tried and we have definitely been among the ones retrieving their boards and clearing sand from every orifice known to man.
Next stop on the beach is Zicatela. The town here is more swepped up. More cafes, beach bars and restaurants, tourist shops etc. Zicatela is why Puerto Escondido exists. The waves here are famous in the World of surfing, comparable to North Shore on Oahu, Jeffries Bay in South Africa, Bells Beach in Australia and other places of ridiculous wave notoriety. ‘The Mexican Pipeline’ rolls in here and even at this time of year the wave height is up to 15 feet. When the big waves arrive in July they exceed 40 feet and that is a big powerful wave.
Steve can testify first hand how powerful they are even at 15 feet when he went out swimming. He got caught out by the current and misjudged the swell, then he found himself under a big one just as it was breaking. He felt the full force of tons of water as it crashed down on him and put him through a washing machine cycle! Luckily he is a decent swimmer and knew the wave would throw out of the back and eventually he would hit the surface. Which is what happened, (although he was minus his goggles now) and he was able to swim out beyond the break before the next one arrived. Sarah, on the other hand, wasn’t so confident and spent the best part of half an hour feeling sick as Steve bobbed about like a cork making his way parallel to the shore before eventually getting out!
The next beach is Playa Principal and this is more of a relaxed sunbathing beach. ‘The Pipeline’ has finished by now and it is much more of a swimming beach. This is where Steve will swim from now on!
Playa Principal merges where the bay curves with Bahia Marinero, which is where the locals seem to gather. This part of the bay is full of small fishing boats and is the origin of the town. It is particularly busy at weekends and the town behind the beach is more rustic but has some great traditional Mexican goods for sale.
It could be argued that Escondido finishes here and a smaller separate town of Ricondada starts. Some would agree, some wouldn’t. A protest might start, then a demonstration, then possibly a mayor might get kidnapped. By which time most most people would get fed up and go back into the surf!
Ricondada/Escondido is home to four more beaches. The first three are all small and set in wonderfully scenic coves. They can be a bit of a trek to access, either by a steep track or numerous steps. Actually 169 down to Carrazalillio (It took us 2 weeks to learn the pronunciation for that one) but they are so worth the effort. All great swimming and snorkeling beaches.
The final beach of the eight is Bacocio. We loved this beach at Sunset. It is almost three kilometres of unbroken white sand and most of the time practically deserted. However at sunset things change. The sight of the sun disappearing in a blaze of orange and red is a great sight but it isn’t the main attraction.
Bacocio beach is home to a charity which protects turtle eggs. The beach is a major nesting site for three species of turtles, however as sometimes happens in some parts of the World a market appears for the illegal purchase of certain items and in this area it is turtle eggs. Four members of the charity keep guard each night, they watch for the turtles coming ashore wait for them to lay the eggs then collect them and take them to a secure hatchery on the beach. Then during the day two Police Officers patrol the beach from the hatchery.
Every evening just before sunset people can go down to the hatchery and pay 100 pesos (£3.50) and they are given half a jaciara shell. This is a hard shell about the size of a tea cup. You then walk onto the beach and a tiny baby turtle is placed in the shell which you then take close to the water and tip it out. Then by instinct the baby turtle shuffles off into the ocean. You are encouraged to have a handful of wet sand to throw at and deter any birds that might fancy a baby turtle for supper. Although while we were there we didn’t see any of them come to grief.
You are also encouraged to give your turtle a name to create some sort of bond. Steve decided to call his turtle “Zed”. Sarah was far more thoughtful and called her turtle “Dave” after her father who very sadly passed away recently. It was a lovely moment when she let “Dave” out of his jaciara shell and off he went into the water. A new life beginning.
We strolled along the beach and sat down to watch the sunset and reminisce. We then got one more surprise as a humpback whale appeared and gave us a display of slapping and one big breach with the setting sun as a back drop.
I suppose we don’t really have to explain why we are still here after 18 days.
But now our time is up. This evening we are on a flight back to Mexico City and in the morning we are on a flight to Costa Rica, for some “Pura Vida” as they say there!