We're Having Oaxaca of a Good Time

Our latest post covered up until New Year’s day, but only until the morning so I’ll pick up right where we left off! Three weeks is a lot to cover so bear with me! 

We left the Pyramid of the Sun on January 1st and drove an hour and a half South to Tepoztlan. We had heard that it was a popular day trip from Mexico City and attracted a “new age” vibe. That was about all we knew, but it sounded good enough to visit. Oh, and we almost went to a “lotus-awakening” festival/ party on New Year’s Eve there. Alas, our lotuses remain asleep.

We pulled in amidst heavy traffic and were diverted from our GPS tracks by a police officer. There was a market in the street that Google was asking us to ride through. We made our way over the rough cobblestone streets and found our hotel. We gratefully took a room on the ground level, and went out to see the market. We would later learn that the market wasn’t a weekly occurrence, but a daily one. In fact, most of the entire town was a market with vendors selling crafts, clothes, honey, (vegan) bread, and gigantic micheladas. Depending on where you are in Mexico, ordering a “michelada” might get you very different things—but the basis is beer and tomato juice and that’s already too much for Rachel and me.

We stumbled upon a concert of sorts at a very “new-age” shop. A musician was visiting from Argentina and we listened to him play musical instruments he had made himself out of clay. The method was originally Nigerian, and his project was about spreading the message that anyone can create new instruments. He was very talented and we liked most of his music and some of it we can put in the “experimental” category.

The next couple days were spent enjoying the smaller feel of Tepoztlan and browsing their markets. We ate pre-Columbian food that was indigenous to the area, which was basically patties of different vegetables which were then smothered in mole. We haven’t seen that dish since, and it’s too bad because it was a perfect opportunity for us to enjoy local food and still not eat meat and cheese. Sometimes we have to miss out on the “you gotta get the _____ in _____” game because of our veganism, but at the same time we’ve gotten to meet and talk with a lot of vegans and vegetarians so that makes up for it. Well, maybe not for the lack of cheese in Rachel’s opinion… 

Atop the pyramid in Tepoztlan.

Atop the pyramid in Tepoztlan.

The main road of Tepoztlan turns into a footpath and charges steeply up a hill for about 1000ft of elevation gain over a short distance. There is a pyramid and a sweeping view to the town at the top. Legend says Tepoztlan is the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, so imagine it’s like the Aztec version of Mt. Olympus. We had just seen the Pyramid of the Sun (third largest pyramid in the world) so we were more impressed by the grandma-aged women we saw making the climb than we were by the pyramid itself. We couldn’t tell if it was normal for people of her age to be making the trek, or perhaps a yearly pilgrimage they made in January. It was a bit of a perspective shift as back home we rarely see a grandma in her grandma clothes and grandma shoes trekking up a steep mountain.

For more pictures from our time in Tepoztlan, click here.

From Tepoztlan we rode to Puebla City, the capital of the state of Puebla. Again, very little information was gathered prior to the ride in. After several hours of riding through farmland a city of 2.5 million people popped out of nowhere. We had been circumnavigating Popocatépetl, which is Mexico’s most active volcano. Luckily for us, it wasn’t active while we rode past. I kept glancing to the left anyway, half-wishing it would just explode so I could tell a great story.

Puebla was relatively uneventful aside from our best night of karaoke so far this trip. Rachel did her thing and wowed the locals with her golden pipes (3 times) and I sang what I believe to be the first-ever rendition of “Chicken Fried” ever sung in Puebla. On our visit to the Pyramid of the Sun we learned it was the world’s third largest pyramid. If that doesn’t make you wonder about the top two, you might be a communist. The second biggest is the Great Pyramid of Giza and the first is in Cholula, twenty minutes outside of Puebla City. We went to see it and found it covered in vegetation with a church perched on top. The Spanish hadn’t recognized it for what it was and built a church on top of what they thought was a hill. We trusted that there was indeed a pyramid making up the hill we saw, but we’ll probably want check out Giza at some point too.  

For pictures from our brief time in Puebla, click here.

We rode on from there towards Oaxaca City. On our way, we experienced our first nerve-wracking motorcycle issue. After stopping at a roadside vista in a large remote canyon, the bike computer read “Fuel Pump Failure” when we went to get back on. Nobody panicked, but some of us were thinking very choice words in our head. After I pushed the bike under a tree for some shade, Rachel told me to try again because she was feeling optimistic. The bike fired up and we gave each other a look and quickly climbed aboard and took off down the road.

Oaxaca City has an up and coming reputation as a great place to visit. I think we would agree it was nice, but maybe we were jaded by the cities before because we didn’t feel it was necessarily a place we would tell people they NEEDED to go if they were just flying into one city. That opinion might be tempered by the fact that Rachel came down with food poisoning that was bad enough to send us to the hospital one morning. We kept booking additional nights at our hostel after allotting one day to look into the motorcycle issues, and one day just trying to help Rachel feel better. We never got around to doing the day trips we planned from Oaxaca City, so it’s possible we just missed out on what people love about Oaxaca. Our last night we moved to their deluxe room which was much bigger and furnished nicely. Even better, we stayed for free after Rachel exchanged some photography services for the room, illness and all. Very impressive!

Outside our free room, private balcony!

Outside our free room, private balcony!

For more pictures from our time in Oaxaca, or more accurately, our hostel in Oaxaca, click here.

On Jan 11th, we loaded the gear (and Rachel) onto the bike and cut a path back toward the coast. We had set our sights on Mazunte after hearing countless descriptions of “Magical Mazunte.” There was a mountain range in between Oaxaca and Mazunte, and we climbed to over 8k ft of elevation on a twisty road. Almost at the top, the landscape completely changed to an alpine setting. The temperature dropped and the road became lined with pine trees. I have to say, it felt a lot like the northwest, and for a moment I was homesick. The small village we stopped in is called San Jose Del Pacifico. We stay on a large property that featured adobe cabins dotting a large terraced garden. The vegan restaurant at reception used mostly food from the garden and served meals in a common room with a shared table each morning and night. The temperature continued dropping and it rained as hard as we’ve seen since back in La Paz in Baja. After spending a wonderful dinner talking with two other guests, we ran back through the rain to our adobe cabin and enjoyed a smoke-filled night’s rest. (Yes, the fireplace was romantic and provided much needed warmth, but I want to remember the experience honestly and my eyes stung as I fell asleep.)

Building a fire in our adobe cabin!

Building a fire in our adobe cabin!

For more pictures from San Jose del Pacifico, click here.

We only stayed one night as we were excited to get to the beach. Looking back, we both now feel like we could have stayed longer. That’s been one of the challenges of this trip, we might love the place we’re currently in but simultaneously have a pressing curiosity about what might come next.

We dropped down all 8k ft of elevation over 3 hours of riding on the windiest road I can remember. I don’t think there was a straight stretch longer than 100ft all day. We made frequent stops so Rachel (still recovering from food poisoning and already prone to car sickness) wouldn’t throw up, and I would remember I needed to concentrate on keeping the bike on the road. The road wound through the mountains and through small villages perched on the knife-edges of ridges. The temperature increased as quickly as the elevation dropped, and two hours into the ride we had gone from a brisk 50F to 82F with a new humidity to boot. We stopped for bananas on the side of the road and found some of the best bananas we’ve ever had. They were small, but not the miniature ones that are more common. The flesh had an orange color and they were sweeter than your standard Cavendish banana. If I didn’t have more to write about, this could quickly become my banana thesis, so I’ll move on.

We pulled into Mazunte and parked at a café to find a place to stay the night. We were both hot by this time and there weren’t a ton of options. I found a room on Booking.com and immediately reserved it. As we pulled up, I got an email from the owner that the website was wrong and there was no space available. The town felt crowded and the heat wasn’t helping our clear thinking, and we were starting to panic. Rachel took the reins and found a place nearby for $20/night. This is the second time we’ve booked a $20/night room and it is astonishing what you get when you spend an extra $10 and book the $30 option. The room had a full-sized bed with mosquito net, but there wasn’t any room for our belongings and the bathroom was outside past a pool either under construction or abandoned and half-full of brown water. We try not to be travel snobs, but it was bad! We listened to the local rodeo blast their PA system until 3am that night, and in the morning we both knew it was about the last of the Mazunte Magic we could handle.  

At breakfast we decided we deserved a splurge night, and found Casa Cometa in San Augustinillo one mile down the road. I emailed them to ask if we could use the pool before check in, and after they confirmed that yes, we could, we promptly arrived 5 hours before check-in time. The hotel was double the price of our normal hotel budget, but we were both overwhelmed with the view and the pool and the fact that it wasn’t where we had stayed the night before. A Dutch couple on their way out told us that the rooms we had booked were down below the pool level, and that it was worth it to spend the difference on the rooms above the pool. We asked about the above-pool rooms, but they were booked. The penthouse, however, was available and I think Rachel’s words were “it wouldn’t hurt to look.” The penthouse and its massive balcony took up the top floor of the small hotel and the king bed overlooked the ocean below. We went downstairs and looked at what we had originally booked, and it had no view and two twin beds. There was no question: since we had decided we deserved to treat ourselves, we opted for the penthouse. So, we ended up tripling the daily accommodation budget, but it was so worth it.

The open air lobby of Casa Cometa in San Augustinillo.

The open air lobby of Casa Cometa in San Augustinillo.

For more pics from our time in San Augustinillo, click here.

Classes de Español!

Classes de Español!

The next day we lounged at the pool again for as long as we could without feeling too bad about it and left at 3pm. We rode an hour to Puerto Escondido in the hottest part of the day and found the language school. On this trip, we’ve found that booking things two cities in advance is usually a bad idea as it limits our flexibility. We’ve also found (recall Mazunte) that my romantic notion of riding into a town without any plans hardly ever (ok, never) winds up with us staying somewhere we really like. Therefore, our best bet is to look at accommodations where we think we’ll go next and book our choice the night before we ride there. This is not what we did in Puerto Escondido. For some reason, before the trip even started I decided Puerto would be a good place for Spanish lessons. That was then reinforced when a friend of my brother said they had a great experience. So we booked two weeks of staying on-site at a Spanish school in a town we had never seen and knew nothing about. The director emailed me to say that the bungalows were full, but we could stay in the “discount bungalow” for just $25/night. “Sounds great!” I responded, not fully understanding how “discount” it was nor what “bungalow” means here. After our night in Casa Cometa, it was just too big of a fall from grace to accept, and the thought of staying for two weeks there was daunting. We questioned everything from “should we just get back on the bike and ride to Guatemala now?” to “maybe we just spend a few months back at Casa Cometa and call this thing a wrap?”  In the end, we found new accommodations, and chose to stick around and at least give the language lessons a chance.  

One of many gorgeous sunsets in Puerto Escondido.

One of many gorgeous sunsets in Puerto Escondido.

We are so happy we did that. We have studied the last eight days straight, three hours each day, and feel like our Spanish has improved far more than we expected. Our teacher were fantastic and it was a great way to actually spend some time with locals and learn about them and their lives. Both of our teachers and the director said we were very fast learners, much to our glee. It was fun to learn together and we both helped each other out when the other needed it. We also developed a routine here which is something we haven’t had over the last few months.

Now, we have wrapped up Spanish lessons and we’re just hanging out in Puerto Escondido waiting for a package of motorcycle parts that were shipped to the post office here. While we’d really like to have the parts, it’s hard to complain about where we are waiting. I’m writing this while looking out over the pacific. It’s warm today but there’s a nice breeze, and if I look down a level to the right I can see Rachel taking a Muay Thai class in the hostel’s outdoor workout palapa. Our room is tiny, but the property is massive and we have A/C at night. The package can take its time.

For more pictures from Puerto Escondido, click here.