Posted from Oaxaca, Mexico.
(Returning to Mexico)
On Monday morning we re-entered Mexico after nearly three months in Guatemala. Aside from a two-week stint on a Help Exchange farm in December, we didn’t really spend any time in Mexico when we first entered because we thought it would be helpful to first learn to speak Spanish better. Hence the 10 weeks learning Spanish in Guatemala, where the schools are generally cheaper – not to mention more populous. Although we’re not experts in the language, we do feel more confident in our abilities to communicate. And, it turns out, we each have our specialities. More on that later…
Our experience crossing the border back into Mexico was incredibly – and thankfully – uneventful. We did not use a customs broker this time for two reasons: 1) we were hoping that, after 10 weeks of Spanish, we would be able to better understand the border personnel without assistance, and 2) Apollo still has three months of Mexico time left on his permit, so we didn’t need to deal with that situation. All we had to do was have our passports stamped out of Guatemala and into Mexico, and Apollo had to have his tires sprayed. Although the Mexican officials feigned inspecting Apollo, Maggi stole the show with the inspectors asking questions like, “Can bears get up there?” Throughout of all of border crossings and road-side military inspections, Erik has demonstrated a great knack for conversing with the officers. As far as Pepe is concerned, Erik is more than welcome to continue that responsibility.
For our first night in Mexico, we revisited a campground where we had stayed in January, in Puerto Arista. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was cheap and quiet, and had running water and bathrooms. But both times there, there did seem to be an inordinate number of ants. If you stood in one place for about 30 seconds – literally – you would have more than a dozen biting ants crawling on your feet. Needless to say, there wasn’t much standing (or flip-flop wearing) going on. We did little jigs while eating our dinner and breakfast, too afraid to set up our camp chairs. But – this is the very, very, very cool part: we were parked about 30 feet from a mango tree that was dropping ripe mangos left and right. Pepe, the penny-pincher, scooped up about two dozen perfect mangos off the ground for us to take along. Then we wondered, how are we going to polish off two dozen ripe mangos before they go bad? Details, details…
Tuesday we embarked on a 7-hour journey headed up the coast to our first planned return extended stay to a place on this adventure: Playa Zipolite. During our first visit here we camped for cheap and had such a nice, quiet, relaxing time and enjoyed the general low-key vibe of the area. Sure, it has its fair share of tourists (and foreigners who never leave) but everyone seems to want to be here because of its tranquility. After 10 weeks of Spanish classes (during which time we did manage to save money) we splurged and rented a room at a luxury guesthouse. Our room was actually a separate building, and Apollo was safely parked on top of our living space.
We’re going to bend one of our boundaries here. Usually we love to share how much we saved, since our trip is budgeted. But we’re going to tell you how much we splurged, and there’s a good reason. We stayed for three nights, paying about $45 per night. This was LESS than we paid for a crappy, dirty Motel 6 room in Nogales, Arizona the night before crossing the border into Mexico in December. Nogales may have its hidden charms, but we weren’t privy to them. For about $62, we picked off long hairs from our pillows, wore flip-flops in the shower, and woke up frequently during the night to check on Apollo. Although our original intention that night was, of course, to camp, using some of Joe’s birthday money we shelled out for walls and a roof because of very strong rains and our nervousness about crossing the border early the next morning.
At Casa Sol Zipolite, we had immaculately clean quarters, a kitchenette (to prepare our unending supply of mangos), access to the large kitchen, hammocks, an ocean view, secure parking, free freshly squeeze orange juice and hot coffee every morning, access to the water sport equipment, a swimming pool, a 10-minute walk to the beach, hot water, cable TV, had incredible weather, and the two nicest, most generous hosts – not to mention their kind worker and his awesome dog. Why are we telling you this? Because too many people just don’t know that these places exist at such low prices. Need a vacation? Go there. Even if you do nothing but sit in a hammock for eight hours a day, it will be worth it. Aren’t you worth it? Of course you are! (The rates may change, of course, depending on your room or the season.)
We lazed on the deserted clothing-optional beach both days (it was empty because the next two weeks are the most popular vacation weeks in Mexico, on either side of Easter), we learned how to snorkel from one of our wonderful hosts one day, we
watched “The Simpsons” dubbed in Spanish while making dinner one evening, another evening we enjoyed a cheap dinner of fresh fish on the beach, we played in the water (word of warning if you go: Playa Zipolite really isn’t for swimming; the currents and undertows can be too dangerous to go in above your knees). In general, we decompressed, relaxed, and enjoyed just being there.
[Small world anecdote: while camping for free in Antigua, Guatemala, we had the “fortune” of having two young guys from Quebec decide to park their camper van next to us. Closer than they really needed to, in fact. They might as well have been the Quebecois version of Cheech and Chong; although there was no apparent pot smoke, they just acted weirdly goofy, made a fair amount of noise, dressed a little clown-like, and just annoyed us at times. Their van was painted very... artistically. Well, guess what! They, too, turned up at Playa Zipolite - more than 600 miles from our first encounter. Their van is, um, hard to miss. Thankfully, they were not staying at Casa Sol Zipolite, but we saw them every time we walked to the beach.]
We hated to leave Zipolite on Friday, but it was time to head to Mexico’s premier city of food: Oaxaca. The drive to Oaxaca was beautiful but a little tortuous. In the first three hours of switch-backing on mountains roads, we climbed from sea level to 9000 feet in altitude. The frequent appearances of signs stating Curva peligrosa (dangerous curve) and Camino sinuoso (winding road – although on one sign someone scratched out the u to read “sin oso”, which would be “without bear”) was hardly necessary. We were both nauseas by the time we rolled into the city of Oaxaca, about 7 hours (including a lunch break) after starting our journey. But here we are in Oaxaca, and we’re staying put for a month. We’ve rented a large studio apartment for less than our monthly budgeted allotment for lodging. To give Erik a break from numbers, Pepe is in charge of the food budget while here, which leads us to Pepe’s special talent in the Spanish language: speaking to food venders and waitstaff at restaurants. Go figure.
Coming Up: more picture of Erik (we promise!) and details from the Land of Chocolate, Mole, Chiles, and Street Food!