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Published: August 19th 2016
Tonight we were leaving Oaxaca City and heading south to Mazunte
on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca.
We collected our packs from the lobby of Oaxaca Real Hotel, jumped into a taxi at 8:30pm and sped through the streets of Oaxaca City for the last time on our way to the bus station. We were catching a nine hour overnight bus to Mazunte, a small beachside town on the Pacific Coast.
We arrived at the bus station around 9pm. After picking up some snacks and motion sickness pills (on the advice of our guide) from a small shop inside the station, we boarded our bus at 9:30pm. We then set off on an epic journey through the night, winding our way through the mountainous terrain of Oaxaca before finally arriving in San Pedro Pochutla at 6:30am the following day. We grabbed our packs from the undercarriage of the bus, jumped into a taxi and sped towards Mazunte, about 20km southwest of San Pedro Pochutla.
Despite the early hour, the humidity was high and rising, and we spent the next 30 minutes bumping along Oaxaca’s narrow coastal roads with air streaming through the open windows – to
make up for the lack of air conditioning. After nine and a half hours on the road, we eventually arrived at Altamira Mazunte Bungalows at 7am. This ideal beachside location was our accommodation for the next two days, and it looked fantastic (despite having the town cemetery as a neighbour).
We donned our packs and made our way down a zig-zagging path to our beachside bungalow, which was named Sirena. We dropped our packs, had a quick look around and then slowly climbed back up the steep zig-zagging path to Altamira’s restaurant (La Fragata) for breakfast at 7:30am. Under more familiar climatic conditions (i.e. Southern Australia), we would barely have raised a sweat during this ascent, but the coastal humidity was intense, so we struggled. It was such an achievement when we reached the top. The climb to La Fragata became a daily struggle, but we didn’t really mind, as there was an upside – our bungalow was the closest to the beach!
Perched on top of a cliff, covered only by a thatched roof and overlooking an infinity pool, La Fragata offered incredible views of the Pacific Coast. It was so relaxing to just sit in the
open breeze and gaze over the ocean after such a gruelling overnight bus trip. I opted for yoghurt and granola and a melon liquado
(smoothie) for breakfast, while Ren had huevos rancheros
(eggs on tortillas smothered in salsa) and a melon juice.
After breakfast we walked down to the beach, where I cooled off in the shore break while managing to stay upright in the heavy undertow. We then walked along the beach into the laid-back bohemian village of Mazunte, where we picked up some drinks and snacks before retracing our steps along the beach. I use the word ‘bohemian’ lightly, as the village exuded a distinct hippie vibe, and this was no better highlighted than a group of cheesecloth-clad and blindfolded tourists performing interpretive dance on the beach. The heat and humidity were escalating exponentially (as where the gyrations of our yogic beach performers), so we retreated to the private deck of our bungalow and caught up on some much needed sleep.
We woke mid-afternoon and ascended the steep path to the resort’s infinity pool, which we enjoyed for a while until the resident kids decided to dive bomb the pool and its occupants (namely us). Their
pastime options were limited, and I’m sure I would have done the same thing at their age, so I didn’t really mind. We descended the steep zig-zagging path to our bungalow and relaxed on the deck into the late afternoon. Ren dozed in the hammock as she rocked back and forth in the sea breeze, while I worked on my travel notes, occasionally looking up to enjoy the most amazing ocean vista from my deckchair.
At 6pm we ascended (once again) the steep zig-zagging path to Altamira’s reception area, where we set off on a picturesque coastal walk to Punta Cometa, a rocky cape jutting out from the west end of Mazunte beach. The cape is the southernmost point in the state of Oaxaca, and it offers a staggering panorama of the Pacific Coast. We sat in the balmy evening air and watched the sun slowly sink into the ocean before retracing our steps along the dusty coastal track to Altamira, our bungalow resort. We continued walking into the township of Mazunte itself, and after a brief orientation of the village in the fading dusk light, we decided to dine at Restaurant Tania (as it was the only place
After settling at a table in the alfresco restaurant, Ren ordered the aguacate relleno con camarones
(avocado stuffed with shrimps), while I opted for the pescadillas
(fish tacos). Ren’s dish was straight out of the 70s, while my tacos were some of the best that I’d tasted so far in Mexico. The night was humid, so Ren cooled down with a mango water while I cooled down with a very welcome beer. On finishing our meal, we walked back along the beach and retired to our bungalow. It had been a long travel day on the back of a long overnight bus trip – all of which had finally caught up with us.
We woke at 5:30am, as we were meant to be heading out on a fishing trip at dawn (6:30am). When we walked onto our deck the sky was filled with lightning, so we weren’t sure if the trip would still go ahead. We made our way down to the beach by torchlight, and waited in complete darkness until our two boat crew turned up. We pushed a long open boat down through the sand to the water line with the help of a
few local kids (who just appeared out of nowhere at 6:30am in the morning)! I was a bit worried about getting off the beach, as the shore break waves were fairly large, and we needed to get nine people into the boat and out through the waves as quickly as possible. The crew member in charge of piloting the boat wasn’t worried at all – he started the motor above water, waited for a lull in the waves and then yelled at us to push the boat into the water and jump in. Once we were all seated, he dropped the running motor into the water and we literally took off. We were beyond the shore break in no time.
We headed out into the Pacific Ocean, and on the way out we noticed luminescent plankton floating just under the surface. We started trawling before the sun had risen, and I had a bite within minutes. It took a while to land, but I eventually reeled in a small ‘bonito’ (which apparently isn’t good to eat, so we gave it to our two crew to use as bait). We ended up catching four bonitos, but unfortunately Ren didn’t have
any luck – she got a good bite and started reeling in a fish of some description, but it got away half way in. We decided to give up on trawling and focus more on sea life watching, and we were lucky enough to see flying stingrays, a turtle and a sea snake. On the way back to the beach we stopped at a reef for some snorkelling, but the waves had churned up the water a little too much, so visibility was fairly limited. However, being surrounded by hundreds of luminescent plankton was an incredible experience.
As we got close to shore, the crew member in charge of piloting the boat stripped off and instructed me and another guy to dive overboard with him and swim to shore (apparently to lessen the overall weight on the boat). I was a little reluctant to leave Ren on the boat for what sounded like a ‘slightly’ dangerous beach landing, especially as the younger crew member was now in charge of piloting the boat! However, the three of us dived into the ocean and swam through breaking waves to the shore. As we scrambled out of the water and looked back
out to sea, we noticed the boat zig-zagging back and forth about 100 metres off shore, obviously waiting for a suitable break in the waves. Local kids and adults ran down and helped us position three long plastic tubes in the sand on the highest part of the beach. A command was suddenly given by a number of locals, the boat went into hyper drive and started coming straight towards us. Everyone scattered as it hit the beach at full speed and slid about 50 metres up the sand. It was an amazing beach landing.
We helped push the boat further up the sand, then made our way off the beach and up a few steps to our bungalow. After a quick shower, we ascended the steep path to La Fragata for a late breakfast at 9:30am. I ordered seasonal fruit salad with yoghurt, while Ren ordered quesadillas de chori queso
(tortilla filled with cheese and chorizo). We were both very thirsty, so I opted for a lemonade (soda water with lime and sugar) and Ren had a banana liquado
The early start and intense humidity were starting to catch up with us, so we napped after breakfast
in our bungalow. At 12:30pm we headed back up the steep path to La Fragata, where our two guides (Fernando and Balam) were preparing a lip-smacking lunch of marlin and shrimp ceviche served with guacamole and fried tortillas. We helped juice the limes for the ceviche, and we shared a few glasses of mezcal as we prepared the meal. It was fantastic, and the setting – overlooking the Pacific Coast – was incredible from the cliff-top restaurant. We loved La Fragata’s lemonades, so we ordered a few more as the day grew hotter.
After lunch we cooled off in the infinity pool and then walked along the beach to San Agustinillo, the next beach around the coastline from Mazunte. Thunder filled the air, the sky filled with clouds and the temperature dropped – it was so comfortable. We retraced our steps along the beach, avoiding the crashing waves as we went, and then settled on the deck of our bungalow in the late afternoon to catch up on our travel notes. It was May 28 in Mexico, and I was very aware that it was May 29 in Australia. That meant I was 49 in Mexico and 50 in
Australia. I couldn’t think of a better place to be.
We strolled along the beach to Siddhartha Restaurant for dinner, a popular beachfront eatery in the village of Mazunte (and just along from our bungalow). We arrived at 8pm, which was perfect timing for the happy hour cocktails! We started with a couple of frozen mezquitos, and then moved on to a couple of cuish (wild) mezcals. We shared a guacamole and a pulpo al ajo and guajillo
(octopus in chile sauce) for dinner, and while the sauce was fantastic, the octopus was very rubbery and over cooked.
After picking up a beer from one of the village stores, we made our way back along the beach to our bungalow. With the sound of the waves crashing below, we sat on our deck and contemplated what we had covered over the past 40 days. Logan, a travel companion from the UK, dropped in and gave me a small bottle of Oaxacan mezcal as a 50th birthday gift. It was such a nice gesture – we had been travelling with Logan for the past month. I’m looking forward to opening the bottle on our return to Australia, and remembering
what it felt like to turn 50 in Mazunte. We sat on the deck and enjoyed the ocean breeze for as long as we could manage the mosquitoes, eventually retiring at midnight. We were leaving Mazunte in the morning and heading back to Mexico City – our travels were drawing to an end. SHE SAID...
We arrived at the bus station in Oaxaca City in a taxi and began to get ourselves organised for an overnight ADO bus to Mazunte
on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. The nine hour bus trip was quite uneventful. However, Oaxaca has a few mountain ranges, and it seems our journey was crossing through the most rugged and twisting section of the ranges. Fernando had warned us that this stretch of road was one of the most winding he’d travelled on, and suggested that those who suffer even the smallest cases of motion or travel sickness should drug themselves up.
Andrew and I don’t usually get motion sickness, but when we realised they were freely selling Dramamine at the little convenience store at the bus terminal (!), we thought we’d buy some for me. We boarded the bus at 9:30pm, and because Dramamine
takes a little while to kick in, I swallowed the two tiny tablets as soon as I sat down… a small part of me wondering if it would work at all. I was sitting in the window seat and decided to watch the beautiful night streets of Oaxaca as we drove through… well, guess who was out like a light within 10 minutes? Dramamine has a sedative in it, and I hadn’t had much of a dinner, so I guess it acted fast. The next thing I knew, it was the dead of night (3:30am) and we’d stopped for an ADO inspector to check the bus. The next time I woke it was 5:45am, and given we were supposed to be arriving at our stop at 6am, I woke Andrew and we started getting ready to get off. Andrew hadn’t had any Dramamine, but he’d also had a good night’s sleep on the bus courtesy of some night-time cold and flu tablets (to get rid of the last of his hay fever aggravated by Oaxaca’s dusty streets). The nine hour trip had literally gone past in two blinks of my eyes, and surprisingly, I was feeling fresh as a daisy.
The bus pulled into the deserted Pochutla Bus Station at 6:30am, and the only sign of life were four taxis waiting for us. We piled into the taxis and zoomed towards Puerto Escondido on the empty roads. I could smell the ocean in the fresh early morning air.
Mazunte was one of our last stops on this trip and we’d been looking forward to the fresh seafood and picturesque beaches we’d read about. Our initial destination had been Zipolite (a town two bays away). However, there had been a last minute change by Intrepid Travel due to a number of factors – the two most important being that they felt Zipolite was becoming too popular and had started to lack the ‘off the beaten track beach paradise’ feel that Mazunte had; and secondly, that an established nudist colony had stopped keeping to their designated section of the beach, and had been cause for some discomfort for people. Apparently, nothing says summer seaside sojourn like nudity… to be honest, I’m not that bothered by nudists, but I really don’t think I want to be copping an eyeful while having breakfast either. 😊
As a result of the last
minute change, I hadn’t undertaken any research on Mazunte. This turned out to be a non-issue, as Mazunte is a tiny place and we spent two blissful days doing nothing. Well, practically nothing. Mazunte was the perfect place to relax and unwind after our long trip, away from the tourist bustle of the bigger cities, and even away from some of the larger beachside towns.
The beauty of Mexico’s southwest coast was stunning, but in some ways the whole area seemed slightly unregulated and haphazard. From what I could see on our trip in the taxi, there were only beach shacks and potholed roads there. We eventually arrived at our hotel in Mazunte, and we made a bit of an entrance when our taxi had trouble driving up the near vertical driveway – and started sliding backwards.
We checked into the low key but stunningly situated Altamira Hotel, a collection of quiet thatched roof bungalows scattered down a steep hill. Our bungalow was furthest away from reception and the restaurant, but closest to the gate that took us down some stone steps to a stretch of beach surrounded by rugged cliffs and cacti.
We checked out our
simple but cute conically shaped double storey bungalow called Sirena – complete with a balcony, deck chairs and hammock – before hiking back up the lung-killing steps that snaked up to reception. The restaurant was next to a gorgeous infinity pool and a glass balcony that offered 180 degree views of the ocean and surrounding beach towns. I didn’t think I was hungry until I looked at the menu – I ordered huevos rancheros
(eggs on tortillas smothered in salsa) and Andrew ordered granola and yoghurt. It was a relief that the food was good, as we quickly realised we’d most likely be eating breakfasts and lunches at this little family run hotel. It was still relatively early, but as we ate breakfast, we could feel the heat already rising and sticking to everything around us!
I had planned on spending my spare time lazing in our hammock which overlooked the water. However, we were only there for two days, and I really wanted to explore the small town and the vast stretch of beach too. So after Andrew had a quick shower following his post-breakfast swim in the somewhat rough sea, we walked back down to the beach
from where we could access small streets into Mazunte town.
By now it was so seriously hot that we had to do an ouch-ouch barefoot shuffle until we reached some shade on the beach. We wandered through the sleepy town, which was a collection of cafes and restaurants that were just opening up, a few beach bars, hippie tourists, lots of kombis and a few yoga studios. We bought ice cream, water, some drinks and snacks and made the return hot-sand shuffle back to our bungalow. I was happy to see that the hotel staff had thoughtfully left a little feet washing basin outside our bungalow so we didn’t trudge sand inside… as someone who loves walking barefoot, gritty inside floors in one of my pet hates.
We sat on our balcony with the intention of doing a bit of relaxed writing, but apparently I fell asleep in the hammock within a few minutes! When I woke about half an hour later it was stiflingly hot, so Andrew suggested we retreat inside where an industrial-strength fan made things more comfortable – but which was so noisy that we couldn’t hear each other speak. While we were napping, an
afternoon thunderstorm slowly rolled in, but it didn’t rain enough to cool us down in any significant way.
We watched the tropical storm from our balcony until it passed, and then walked up the now hated ‘hilly steps of despair’ to the beautiful hotel pool, and gratefully collapsed into the cool water. This was the only real way to keep cool during the day in Mazunte. But alas, our cool and utterly relaxed world was totally ruined by the owner’s two young kids deciding to engage in dive bombing competitions. The cheeky little shits were clearly bored and just trying to get some attention. So we grudgingly and very grumpily retreated back to our bungalow.
Later, we tackled the ‘hilly steps of despair’ for the third time that day and reconvened at reception at 6pm. We were heading to Punta Cometa – the southernmost point in Oaxaca that is a popular spot for viewing sunrises and sunsets, and wasn’t far from our hotel. Punta Cometa is a rocky cape on the western side of the Mazunte beach, and under normal circumstances the 20 minute walk wouldn’t have been hard, however, the heat and humidity made even the smallest
of outdoor tasks quite uncomfortable. We walked along a dirt track on a thin strip of cliff that overhung the Pacific, and the views were fabulous. As we sat waiting for the sunset, more people gradually joined us. However, it was hardly a crowded spot. The sunset was beautiful for the first 30 minutes or so, but then the clouds closed in just as the sun sank into the ocean.
We walked back past our hotel’s driveway into the town of Mazunte and had dinner at Tania’s Restaurant. I knew I would miss the freshness and abundance of avocados when we got back home, so I had been having them at every opportunity. That night I couldn’t resist ordering the aguacate relleno con camarones
(avocado stuffed with shrimps), even though I had to put up with a few joking ‘how very 70s’ comments. The stuffed avocados were really really garden-fresh and luscious, especially with Tania’s homemade hot red salsa. I also ordered mango water, as mangoes were in season and exceptionally delicious. Andrew ordered the pescadillas
(fish tacos), and decided on the spot that they were the best fish tacos he’s had in his life. The food and atmosphere
at Tania’s was fabulous. However, it was an open air restaurant and we were seriously getting eaten alive by mosquitoes (even with our periodic walks into the garden to top up our stinky insect repellent spray). Very happily full, we walked back to our hotel via the pitch black beach, with only the pinpoint lights of our phone torches (flashlights) to illuminate the way.
It was a seriously hot night, the humidity kept rising and it felt like another storm was about to break. We slept with all the windows open and the fan on full bore, under a less than perfect mosquito net and every inch of our bodies sprayed with insect repellent. I woke with a start at 3am to claps of thunder and streaks of lightning, but no storm eventuated.
At that point, we didn’t think our early morning fishing trip would go ahead, but we woke at 5:30am and got ready anyway. The world seemed so peaceful that morning, despite the lightning on the horizon. I love a good sleep-in, but I love early mornings too – especially when we are travelling. The sun wasn’t up yet, the air was fresh and breezy and
not yet heavy with heat. There was an exciting sense of newness, and of having a whole beautiful day ahead of us.
We walked down to the empty beach at 6:30am and waited for a few others to join us, the main topic of conversation being the number of mosquito bites we were all sporting! We eventually walked along the beach to find our boat and captain. It was 6:45am on a quiet beach on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and we were about to go on an adventure. While there may be more exciting ways to start the day, right then I couldn't think of any.
The first order of the day was to get the boat off the high beach and into the surf, so we pushed the boat right to the edge of the water, at which point they asked the chicas
(girls) to get into the boat. So Danette, Natalie and I clambered in very gracelessly. The boys continued pushing until the last minute, when on the captain’s command they had to jump in too. We girls had a brief moment to wonder what would happen if none of the boys made it in
before the waves got hold of the boat… we giggled nervously, but it was a slightly scary thought. 😞
The fishing trip was brilliant. There were just seven of us, with a captain and deckhand on a smallish fiberglass boat. The sunrise started off as a fiery ball on the horizon, but was soon muted by clouds. The clouds cast a greyness on the day, but also kept us much cooler than if we’d had blue skies. Andrew, Jacob and Fernando caught fish while we were trawling, but they were all bonito and not suitable for the cerviche lunch we had planned. The captain was happy enough to take the fish off our hands.
I really loved our time on the water. We saw the cutest little turtle bobbing along beside us and a small but very venomous snake with a rattle-like tail. However, the absolute highlight of the trip was the sight of stingrays jumping out of the water… it’s something none of us had ever seen or heard of, so we were thrilled to see it. It was so easy to anthropomorphise them and think they were playing, especially because some were doing twists in the
air, and others were belly flopping. I’ll need to do some research to find out why they jump and fly through the air (for a few seconds at a time). The other ‘first’ for me was to see bioluminescent plankton up close – they looked like beautiful little bright blue Christmas lights in the water.
We had a brief snorkelling stop on the way back for Andrew and Jacob, but they didn’t last long in the water as visibility wasn’t great and I think they were both a bit nervous about the venomous water snake we’d seen about 20 minutes ago.
We were close enough to shore to see our bungalow now, and after a brief discussion Andrew, Jacob and the captain swam to shore to lighten the boat so we could get a good run up the beach. Those of us left in the boat hadn’t quite understood what ‘lighten the boat so we could get a good run up the beach’ meant… until the deckhand put life jackets on the floor of the boat and asked Danette, Natalie and myself to sit in the hull and brace ourselves. It was one of those ‘lol but wtf’
sort of moments, but I wasn’t too worried because Fernando and Balam were still in the boat with us. The next minute, he revved the engine really hard and drove at full speed towards the beach! From my vantage point on the floor, all I could see was that the nose of the boat was in the air and Fernando and Balam were holding on for dear life above us. I know it was probably a bit dangerous, but it was also so much fun… and in a matter of seconds, the boat had made a successful beach landing. Reflecting on the experience, it’s nice to know that in the face of impending danger, my gut survival instinct is evidently to get very excited and start ‘woo-hooing’ like I’m on a roller coaster. 😊
After a very exciting morning, we showered and staggered up the ‘hilly steps of despair’ for breakfast. I had a quesadilla
(tortilla filled with cheese) with chorizo, and Andrew had fruit with yoghurt. Again, all the food was quite delicious. I also ordered my standard breakfast drink of a banana liquado
(smoothie), and Andrew ordered a homemade lemonade. This lemonade was beyond delicious, and it
promptly became our drink of choice.
We napped between breakfast and lunch, and struggled to wake up at 12:30pm for our ceviche lunch date. Once more (this time in the afternoon heat), we stumbled up the ‘hilly steps of despair’ to the restaurant, and had to immediately order two lemonades on our arrival. What followed was an exceptionally enjoyable three or so hours of us all helping to prepare dishes for lunch. We prepared a guacamole, and we also made a ceviche of prawns and marlin. Fernando was truly the hostess with the mostest – there was beautiful Mexican music by Lila Downs playing on the iPod (which we loved so much we later bought), and at some point he cracked open a bottle of mezcal he’d picked up at the mezcaleria
(mezcal distillery) we’d visited the day before. The afternoon took on an even more enjoyable turn after that.
We had the guacamole as an entree with tasty homemade tostadas
(toasted tortillas), then the prawn and marlin ceviche with onions, tomatoes, coriander leaves/cilantro and mango. And more mezcal – which signalled the perfect beginning to our sobremesa
– a very beautiful Spanish word (with no English equivalent)
to describe that time spent talking at the table after a meal is over.
Later that afternoon we plodded down to our bungalow and were preparing for a much anticipated afternoon nap when the maid arrived to clean our room. So we trudged back up the ‘hilly steps of despair’ (amazingly made somewhat easier by the mezcal) and sat around in the infinity pool chatting with everyone.
The rest of the day was dedicated to unwinding and low key exploring. This was exactly the quiet and leisurely end we had wanted for our trip. After the heat of the sun had dissipated, we decided to walk the entire length of the beach to the next town. It was a lovely walk, but we knew there was a local nudist colony in that direction, so we had to be careful not to stray too far… and as it was, we noticed some toplessness had already drifted west to our beach. Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite make it around the cliff to the next town, as one of the beaches had eroded and drastic looking danger signs had been put up. So we ambled back to our balcony, sadly bemoaning the
fact that we only had three days to go until the end of our trip!
Is there anything more relaxing than cloud watching from a hammock on your balcony, or gazing out over a warm ocean with a cold drink in your hand? For me the answer is no. Although life would have been vastly better without my personal swarms of mosquitoes who apparently loved nothing more than to hang really close to me. Apart from thinking murderous thoughts about mosquitoes, we were super relaxed, and the only stresses we had for those few days were our walks up the ‘hilly steps of despair’ and trying to avoid burning our feet on hot sand. 😊
At dinner that night, as we sat with a glass of mezcal in the hot and humid Siddhartha Restaurant on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, we toasted the end of our very enjoyable Mexican Food Adventure trip. We were catching a plane back to Mexico City’s bright lights the next morning, and even though I was very excited about that, I also wanted to absorb every last bit of the beach culture and coastal vibe as I could. We have stayed in
nicer beachside resorts, with better service, with less blood sucking mosquitoes and possibly better views… but there was just something about the laid back cool of Mazunte that had completely and utter captured my heart.
Next we fly northwest to Mexico City, in Distrito Federal Mexico.
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