We awoke the following morning with a sense of achievement at finding our own spot. It wasn’t the prettiest, but it was very quiet and secluded. We wondered why no one had added it before. This soon became apparent when the local police arrived and told us, quite amiably, to leave. Still, it was past 9am at this point so quite civilised really. We packed up and drove on, heading for San Sebastian de las Grutas.
Our next major destination was Puerto Escondido, but the road between there and Oaxaca is mountainous and slow. The stop at San Sebastian was one of the only interesting sounding places that would help break up the drive. Located up in the mountains, a short detour off the main road that heads to the coast, we found the entrance. Happily, it was a very cheap 50 pesos per camper kind of place and a nice quiet spot. We parked up around a large fire pit with only the distant sound of the river and the wind in the trees. Bruno joined us a little later.
We spent the next day relaxing, I mainly did clothes washing in fact. Hanno and Kikki had already booked a tour of the caves and headed off for a slightly dubious mezcal tour in the evening. The next day, we went on the tour ourselves.
We don’t have many photos of the cave, it is a bit hard to photograph anything in the darkness, but it was two hours well spent. We started off by climbing up to the entrance where we donned our hard hats with head torches attached. We were with another Mexican family, and our guide led us down into the cave. We walked on past impressive stalactites and stalagmites and then came across perhaps the strangest thing of all, a plant. In the midst of the darkness, a bright green plant grew on the cave floor. Not the weedy white specimen you would expect in the total darkness, I had no idea how this thing was managing to be green down here.
As we went further, we could now hear the sound of water and soon we started to descend to an underground river using a series of ropes and wooden ladders. At the bottom, we could wade through the crystal clear waters and drink from one of the springs that feeds the river. We were prepared for this, clad in water shoes. The Mexican family were left to wade through the river in jeans and trainers, something I didn’t envy.
One other memorable moment of this tour was near the end. The guide made us turn around and turn off our torches. Then when we turned around, the cavern was lit with green light. He shone his laser pointer into a quartz rock and the refractions of light filled the space like a mirror ball, I have never seen anything like it before. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a moment we could record.
Now we continued to climb back out and into the daylight, passing one last impressive stalagmite on the way out.
We also got shown down to a ‘cenote’ a little later in the day. While not quite as impressive, it was still worth a look as a pillar of rock rose out of crystal clear depths. A baby turtle swam past us and a shoal of fish were apparent below. Definitely an experience that was worth the little money we paid.
The next day we decided to continue. We had planned to break up the drive into two chunks, it being nearly 6 hours to the coast. But when we arrived at the proposed stop early afternoon, we decide to push through to the coast rather than sleep in a lay-by for the sake of it. There was a brief interlude when the gears stopped working, which we quickly located to a missing bolt from the clutch cable bracket. A bit of adjusting later, and we headed off. Next was a short section of very bad road, several locals blocked it by holding a piece of string across the road, naturally, they wanted money for ‘maintenance’. We gave them a few pesos expecting to be let through. Instead, they wanted food, then water, then Lee’s hat and then our fluffy dice in the windscreen. Of course, they didn’t get any of these things and we continued on down the rough road. At the next ‘checkpoint’ we were a little wiser and barely slowed down at the offending string across the road.
In a few hours, we were in Puerto Escondido, the temperature and atmosphere noticeably different from that of the mountains. It was clearly touristy but more with the younger generation. You would feel most at home here if you were tattooed, dreadlocked and sported a colourful bandana (a look Lee seems to be working towards!). We checked at the youth hostel for camping, but it was pretty clear it was for tents only. We had a beer while we debated a point to stop. The vague plan was to stay here a few weeks and check out the surf and Spanish schools, of which there are several. We obviously needed a base. Just past the youth hostel is a large wasteland, that is mainly used as a car park for the beach. We were reassured to see several other campers there and decided it was a safe bet for the night. One of the other campers came over to have chat, he told us it was fine, the girl over there in the Vanagon had been here for over a month. We could walk over to the cliff top and check out the surf in the bay below from this vantage point too.
While this was good news, and the car park was surprisingly quiet, the main downside was the ants. They covered all imaginable floor space and were incredibly vicious. We sat on our camp chairs at any interesting angles to keep our feet off the floor. Partly to escape the ants, we headed into town for some food and enjoyed a particularly good meal at one of the local restaurants.
In the morning, we attempted to surf. There are several flights of steps down to the beach and then you are on Playa Carazillo. You, and thirty other surfers. We spent some fruitless time competing over the few waves that were there before giving up. It wasn’t exactly a success, but nice to be back in the sea nonetheless.
That evening, we decided to drive around half an hour north to check out Laguna Manialtepec and its bioluminescence.
After finding a good spot and negotiating a price for the tour, we sat on the lagoon and enjoyed a drink with the sunset.
They told us we would leave in an hour or so and we, therefore, planned to eat when we returned. Still, the time ticked on and they seemed to have forgotten us. I started making dinner as we were pretty hungry by now, and sure enough, midway through they called us to the boat. Leaving half made food for later, we climbed on.
Our guide took us to a floating tent in the middle of the lagoon, where we jumped out to swim in the dark but warm water. Inside the tent, the plankton was more visible due to the lack of moonlight. It was a bit like being a Christmas tree, as you moved the water lit up around you in bright white dots. I have never seen anything like it before, and my description does not do it justice. It was a really cool thing to see though, despite the fact that our guide explained that the reason we all felt so slimy afterwards is that the plankton was reproducing on our skin. After a wet chilly boat ride, we were glad for a shower to wash that off and finished off our half-cooked meal. The following morning, we returned to Puerto Escondido.
We left later than the others, deciding to try and see if we could get new visas at the airport. After paying for parking, just to be told that the immigration office is in town, we weren’t hopeful. Still, we had the time so we went and found it. After a surprisingly short wait, we were invited into a private office to speak to someone. I dumped our expired visas on the desk, no elaborate stories, and asked if we could get a new one. He pulled up google translate and told us yes. My heart leapt for a second, we could finally sort this! Then he told us that it would cost around £300, that’s pretty expensive considering that firstly the two visas normally cost about £45, and secondly, we were planning to leave soon anyway. When we explained we were leaving soon, he waved his hand in dismissal and began to draw a map. He carefully explained that there was no checkpoint leaving the country, and then explained how we could illegally renew our visa via a footbridge at the border. Now the third immigration officer had told us it was no problem, we began to relax a bit. If the official immigration office is giving you this information, how bad can it be?
Back at the car park, we met the others. At this point, Kikki had reached the point I had got to myself a while ago. She didn’t like her surfboard. I had hated my board since we left Baja, wanting to swap for something easier with not much luck. Now, she too wanted a change, both our boards were not right for learning on. We headed off to La Punta, another surfing destination, in the search of a more suitable board. Rather than finding one, we were horrified by the prices on the limited selection that there was. We had a beer on the beach and watched the surfers, the waves on this beach were much more impressive. After a fruitless hunt, we walked a long way back to the other end of the beach for a beer that was accompanied by a slightly odd shot of hot shrimp juice, before walking the remainder of the way back to the campers.
The next day, we returned to the surfboard hunt. Aware that we weren’t going to be getting any bargains and with a increased idea of our maximum price. There was one option in the first shop, but it was just a bit too expensive. They also didn’t want to take my board. The main problem we have is that we can only carry two boards. Ideally, I wanted to part exchange my current one. We tried another shop and this time found a few more options. Hanno and Kikki had recently made friends with a fellow German that they had bumped into who had come along for the ride. He too wanted a surfboard, and after much negotiating, we agreed and paid for three new boards. I was pretty happy with mine, the only thing left was to sell the old one. We headed back to camp and stuck up a sign with our details on a nearby palm tree, hoping for a buyer.
In the morning, we decided to try the new boards. I couldn’t quite believe how easy it was to paddle my new board, but this didn’t matter when the bay was so busy. The local surf school dominated the area. They shouted at us and pushed us out of the way for their students, but then didn’t hesitate to push their beginners out in front of us when we tried to catch a wave. Needless to say, some words were exchanged at it wasn’t a pleasant atmosphere. We didn’t try to surf again.
We had one more attempt at selling our board, by heading down to La Punta. There were two other kombis parked up here along the beach, so naturally we got chatting and before I knew it I had sold my board. We ate in the local restaurant and camped there on the beach that evening. A nice enough spot, once more ruined by the local surf school who didn’t like us being there.
We couldn’t go far from Puerto yet though, as we had ordered some stuff online and so in the interim, we headed north in search of some quieter or at least friendlier swell.