# 22: Vacationing Still

 Puerto Escondido                                                                                                                               24 November 2015

              Puerto Escondido is like Brighton, a place you might bring your kids or your grandmother for a few days of sun and sand and ticky-tacky tee-shirts. Like Brighton, Puerto Escondido also has a pensioner community, Americans eking out retirement on Social Security and Canadians doing the equivalent. It is also like Malibu, with a section of beach called Zicatela that has some of the best surf on the Mexican coast

: fit young things with California tans and fancy rides strut their stuff on the beach and occupy the most visible tables at the outdoor restaurants, where they are solicited by aging beach bums with stringy curls and acres of tattoos who are selling knicknacks. During the weekend, at one end of the Bahía Principal is a stage with DJs blasting rock music to gyrating young’uns, and next to it in the harbor a rock from which the seagulls have been exiled and replaced with three light-house size Corona beer-bottles. Plastic, inflatable, but they look permanent. A few elegant old hotels, now frayed, cater to the people who stayed in them when both were young. There are some modern hotels, mostly up on the bluff, turreted wannabes with nearly empty parking lots, and some other hotels half-finished but clearly not works-in-progress.

Ours, the Flor de María, that overlooks the junction of the Bahía Principal and Zicatela, looks like it hosted its first guests in the fifties. We selected it for its rep as well-maintained, convenient, and moderately priced, and it is all of that. The proprietors are a Slovakian expat and his Canadian wife, both our age, who have been here for a couple of decades. It is not filled to capacity, though there are a couple of other guests. We reserved for two nights, and debated whether to stay two more or to seek another hotel. Puerto Escondido is hot and humid, and while the room fan is nice, we’d pay a little more for AC, which the Mexicans call clima. As if without it Puerto Escondido would not have a climate. Turns out there aren’t many mid-range hotels with clima – I guess after you’ve been here a while the sauna just seems like natural habitat.

        Saturday night, wilted from our morning hike in Nopala and the road down to the coast, curvy and pock-marked like the earlier stretches, we opted for the restaurant directly across the cobblestone alley to the beach. El Caracol. Five tables, a menu that varies by day and offers two soups and three mains: shrimp, fish, and pork.  A postage-stamp sized kitchen, worked by the two middle-aged proprietors. We went with shrimp (in a delicate plum sauce, flanked by towers of lightly sautéed vegetables) and dorado (mahi-mahi? dolphin fish?), flakey, tender, braised to perfection, with similar towers of different vegetables. Surprise, surprise.


For a Hanukah present —or maybe just for the hellofit— Linda offered me a birding tour of the Laguna Manialtepec, 15 kilometers north along the coast. We set the alarm for 5:30 Sunday morning so we could meet the guide, Lalo, at 7:00 at an inlet on the lagoon. [An aside: for some reason we seem to contract only with people whose name begins with ‘L’: Lalo who built our house, Lázaro who is the principal gardener ,and Lauro who also works the property; the chef at the mercadito is Lupe. Some days our most strenuous activity is keeping their names straight.]


Manialtepec is a coastal lagoon about ten kilometers long that is fed by a river coming down from the mountains and by the ocean through a breach in the coastal dunes. It teems with fish and shrimp, is ringed with mangroves (white, green, and black) and hosts perhaps the most numerous and diverse assemblage of aquatic birds on the whole Pacific Coast. Well, this part of the coast, anyway. Lalo, who worked for the government in lagoon preservation for years and has been guiding for two decades, knows his stuff. In the post-dawn cool it seemed like every mangrove was perch to a heron (blue, white, snowy, tricolor, reddish, black-crowned, yellow-crowned, and tiger), a pelican, a cormorant, or a kingfisher (belted, green, ringed), all of them patiently and silently staring at the water for breakfast to appear. The few spits of sand teemed with whimbrels, terns, sandpipers, plovers, curlews, stilts, avocets, and even a woodstork and a roseate spoonbill. In a little over three hours we logged over sixty species, some of them unusual enough —like the gray-necked wood-rail—to get Lalo to whip out his camera. Very satisfying.


Here a reddish  egret, a black-necked stilt, and an aplumado falcon.

As was our rest stop for coconut and sopes de quesillo y frijol on a sand bar between the lagoon and the ocean. This time of year, at night the algae in the lagoon go phosphorescent.

While they are busy doing that, we go to sleep at our hotel. Even though the heat and the humidity and the few mosquitos that have snuck through our defenses make that difficult. So, we decide to stay two more days, but elsewhere. We browsed the web hotel accumulators for bargains at places with high ratings, moderate prices, and clima. Casa Mar fits the bill, way down at the south end of Zicatela, beyond the commerce zone and too far for all but the fittest of party goers to walk, and even if they did, when they got here they’d be too pooped to pop loud. It offers a series of apartments around a central courtyard with a nice pool; 2 minute walk from a mostly deserted stretch of beach. And a Monday night social hour with drinks, botanas (traditional snacks: totopos [aka tortilla chips], guacamole, ceviche, nuts and veggies]. Munchers included a retired California couple (teacher / school bus driver) who have just begun what they plan to be a ten-year ramble of the world – they were going to spend the first year in Mexico but have to go to Fiji in December for their daughter’s wedding, so maybe they’ll do some years in Asia first; two young women from western Australia on their walkabout (not from Perth, they assured me; from a village the desert); a Mexican couple who are both chemical engineers, a young German couple. The hotel’s owner lives on Brattle Street in Cambridge; his lieutenant is from Germany; her lieutenant is either Indian or Pakistani. Pretty much a normal Puerto Escondido crowd.


What do we do? Well, it’s a vacation. So Linda tries to sleep late. She had a wonderful massage today. We eat out, mostly fish and other sea creatures. We do some shopping. We walk on the beaches that come in three categories: surfer, family, and deserted. We appreciate the local flora because there are flowering shrubs and trees everywhere. And the fauna: the human fauna on the streets and beaches, the avian fauna in the forests, fields, and on the lagoons. I generally get up at five and make myself coffee so I can be out birding at first light. One day I walked the Universidad del Mar’s Botanical garden, several hectares of deep gully on the first ridge above the narrow coastal plane. Got a good glimpse of a citreoline trogon, endemic to around here. Handsome bird, very shy. Another day I walked a few kilometers on the road behind the Universidad del Mar’s Experiment Station. Lots of hawks and a yellow-cheeked woodpecker. And commuters, machetes instead of briefcases, on their way to another day’s fieldwork for whichever hacendado employs them. Here it is cattle ranches mostly, groves of coconut palms, and neat rows of papayas.


Late afternoon I visit a small coastal lagoon just south of Zicatela beach. Teeming with birdlife, almost everything we saw up at Manialtepec and—to boot—a flock of red-wing blackbirds, visitors from the north. Fishermen, walking down the beach with their rolled up nets tucked under their arms, looking for the perfect spot to cast them into the ocean, or sometimes the lagoon. The surf thumping and hissing to the west of the wide sand beach, herons grunting and squawking in the lagoon on the east. Spectacular sunset. Teenagers cavorting in silhouette against the red-streaked sky. What’s not to like?


Yesterday we picked up a map at the tourist kiosk. Gina the Greeter pumps us about who we are, why we are here, the usual. We give her one of our cards. Next day an email from someone we don’t know, who says Gina passed her the card. She says that for a long time she has been thinking she must be of Jewish descent. Even did a DNA test. Hopes she can meet us. We’ve committed for breakfast tomorrow. Then we’re off to Puerto Angel, an allegedly quieter beach town a couple of hours south of here. From there we’ll take what reputedly is a less curvy road —maybe only 15 twists per mile?— back to Oaxaca.


David & Linda