After we left Puerto Escondido and spent a few days at the turtle arribata in Playa Escobilla, we found ourselves at the beach again, this time in San Augustinillo, a small fishing village in Oaxaca (waa-haa-caa) state. I think any town that has a few boats pulled up on the sand is called a fishing village, but I haven’t seen much evidence of people making trade in fishing. Mostly some kind of livelihood seems to be made by renting cabanas, or at restaurants, and small tiendas selling chips, soda, beer, and overripe bananas. There is a small contingent of locals walking the streets and beach selling things. During our time there vendors offered us hand-made jewelry or textiles (blankets in 100 degree heat for example), or food (roasted and spiced peanuts, tamales, home-made donuts, and the ubiquitous ice-cream). R says that if she waits long enough, anything she could want will pass through. One young man even came into the hotel common area trying to sell a giant gumball of hash like you would get out of a machine at K-Mart for a quarter. That's as close as we've come to the drug trade. Undeniably it exists, just not in our realm. The afternoon we arrived, Sunday, October 4, a few guys pulled ashore after several days at sea, threw about thirty sharks of various sizes out of the boat, and started cutting the tails and heads off and sorted that stuff in sacks to haul back to sea to dump. The bodies were to be sold in Acapulco for 24 pesos a kilo. The fins were carefully removed and sorted separately, to be sold to the hungry, impotent Asian male market for shark fin soup. We asked if we could have one of the jaws and offered to pay 100 pesos for it and they agreed. One of the guys started hacking away and told us to come back later. When we came back later he wasn’t around and his buddies were two or three sheets to the wind and we never saw any signs of those fishermen again. Too bad, it would have been pretty awesome to mount a shark jaw on Wesley’s front grill under its eyelashes.
We gave up camping in the van in the heat; our thermometer registered 88 degrees at 8 a.m. and the humidity had to be at least as much, and it only gets hotter and more humid as the day progresses. Daily temperatures were usually in the low 100's. We decided the best we can do is negotiate the lowest rate available on a hotel room. The place we decided on in San Augustinillo is called Bambu and the cabana we rented was a one room loft over the shared kitchen and looking through palm trees to the ocean. It was kind of like a big tree house. It was quite lovely to keep the balcony doors open and let the breeze blow through the room during the day, as long as we didn't try to move because that would result in sweat, but the floor fan that blew on us at night through the mosquito net kept us cool enough to sleep. Though, as far as I can tell, all a mosquito net does is provide exclusive feeding rights to the bugs trapped inside.
The surf in San Augustinillo is rough; there’s a red flag stuck in the beach (by whom, we don’t know) indicating no swimming. We’ve seen that at most of the places we've been since we left Zihua, but it's more like a warning than a prohibition since the only signs of beach authority we have seen is a lifeguard stand along the Mexican Pipeline surf spot in Puerto Escondido. The only other lifeguard chair we saw was empty and had "Only God Can Save You" graffitied on its side.
Because the waves at San Augustinillo are huge and never-ending, as part of our science lessons, we googled “ocean waves” and learned some things about waves, including that the height of a wave is measured from the front – the trough to the crest. There are consistent ten foot high breakers along this coast, not to mention the wicked currents, so it’s not really a matter of swimming when we go in the water anyway, we just try to survive. My face has been scrubbed by the sand more than once after a big wave took me for a ride.
San Augustinillo is one of a string of towns/beaches within a few kilometers of each other that are all pretty small and laid back. Starting from the north, there’s Ventanilla, which has a crocodile-filled lagoon that we didn’t get a chance to visit and a monkey on an island in the lagoon; Mazunte, where we planned to stay but didn’t find anything that suited our needs; San Augustinillo; and Zipolite. We had lunch in Zipolite the other day at a restaurant situated on what turned out to be a nude beach and there were two really skinny guys splashing merrily in the surf. We called one the “father of all mermaids” and he was actually boogie boarding in the buff, and the other “the frolicking one” because he was just having a gay old time splashing naked in the waves. We decided that if you are in the ocean and don’t have any clothes on you just have to have more fun than everyone else because, jeez, you’re naked in the ocean and isn’t that the coolest thing ever?
When we visited Canoa, Ecuador, in 2008, I went swimming in the ocean late at night in the pitch dark - I did keep my shorts on because I guess it didn’t occur to me that I could take them off – and that was pretty cool, though I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to find my glasses and shirt in the dark when I was done because, you know, the undertow has a way of moving you from the spot where you go into the ocean, but I was able to find them again.
My in-laws - Opa and PoPo, the kids call them – arrived on Tuesday, October 6. We were supposed to meet them several hundred miles away in another country called Belize, but we asked them to meet us on the Pacific Coast of Mexico instead so that we didn’t have to do all that driving in such a short period of time. R and Coconut took the bus to meet them at the airport in Huatualco, and drove back in their rental car, and we had a quiet time with them at the hotel playing cards and in the ocean trying not to drown.
On Friday we all left for Oaxaca City via a curvy, mountain road (Mexico Route 175) that winds through the Sierra Madre Sur mountain range. Sufficiently chastened by our drive to the coast through a northern spur of the Sierra Madre range more than a month ago, we didn’t entertain any thoughts we could do the 200+ kilometer drive (120 miles) in one day, so we chose as our stopping point San Jose del Pacifico, a small town in the mountains that has some notoriety for the mushrooms that grow in the hills around, including psychedelic mushrooms. Although I am sure there is some element of recreational abuse of the ‘shrooms even among Mexicans, traditionally their use is spiritual, and thus, there is an unmistakable, spiritual vibe emanating from all the gringos around that are clothed in dyed wool garments, and that I can only assume are in town to recreationally abuse the mushrooms.
Shortly after we arrived in San Jose del Pacifico, Opa came and got me and told me that I better hurry because R was talking to a biker on the street. It turned out to be James, who we had met a few weeks earlier in Puerto Escondido where he lives. This was the second time since we have been in Mexico that we saw an American living in Mexico randomly in some other place than where we had met them. I don't know what it means, but on a trip like this, where we meet nothing but strangers day after day, it's nice to run into people that you have met before. James was actually the person that suggested we stop in San Jose del Pacifico, so it was appropriate that we ran into him there while he was driving his newly purchased motorcycle from Texas back to his home in Puerto Escondido.
On Saturday, R, Opa, and I had a Temazcal, which is a traditional Mexican herbal cleansing and steam bath involving a shaman, a small concrete teepee-like structure, hot stones, herbs, and a bucket of hot water. Along with three other persons – who drank the mushroom tea (we did not) - we squeezed into the teepee, while the shaman periodically brought in stones from the fire pit, and we dipped the herb branches, including arnica, chamomile, eucalyptus, and rosemary into the bucket of water and then dabbed the wet, herb package onto the stones making aromatic and cleansing steam. We sat in the teepee in the dark and steam for 45 very hot and sweaty minutes, and then stepped out and took an ice cold shower to close our pores. I did feel pretty good for a few hours afterwards, but then J, Opa, and I got involved in a soccer game with a bunch of local kids and my body became sore and tired.
We spent two nights in San Jose del Pacifico and Opa and PoPo rented a room for them and Coconut and J, which allowed R and me to sleep in Wesley. On Sunday morning our thermometer registered an outdoor temperature of 55 degrees (it was slightly warmer than that in Wesley). It seems that on October 11, Fall finally arrived for the Vanamos family.