Puerto Escondido: Oaxaca’s worst AirBnb host, pocho trucks, and a bioluminescent lagoon that makes it all worth it

The first time I heard of Puerto Escondido was from a dudebro I danced with all night at a bar years ago. I didn’t know he was a dudebro at the time because we were wearing Halloween costumes. We drank and yelled to each other about Mexico over the music.

“You HAVE to see Puerto Escondido!” he reminded me at least five times between tequila shots. Small beach culture, coffee plantations. It did sound awesome. Having now been to Puerto Escondido, I feel like I finally know more about this Halloween stranger: we wouldn’t be friends in a sober situation.

Puerto Escondido is the halfway point between Cancun and Mazunte, description-wise. It’s a large-ish city with a prominent party scene. Small but crowded beaches, cool restaurants, and also enormous surf beaches, and tacky rooftop clubs. It turns out the coffee plantations aren’t actually there, they’re back near Puerto Angel. The tourists are a little less gringo then they are in Puerto Vallarta, because you have to sort of know Mexico to get there, but it’s not as big a secret as the name, literally hidden port, implies.

We got there taking a bus from Mazunte. We took a taxi to the highway for about 100 pesos, where we were instructed to just wait in the road wait for a bus. Soon enough a large, decrepit tank of a bus rattled to a stop and opened its rusting door and we dragged out suitcases up the stairs. I fell asleep from the heat, and about an hour later, El Chango woke me up. Night was falling as pulled into a huge city and we could feel each other’s disappointment at the realization that nowhere with this much asphalt could be as cool as Mazunte. We paid 34 pesos each as we got off the bus, and caught another taxi to our Airbnb.

We wandered around that night, checking out the beachside restaurants of Playa Zicatela.

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We made a dog friend until the waiter shooed him away to my great disappointment.

It was nice, but not Mazunte nice.

Often the worst part of an experience is the best part of its story. The first thing I think of when I hear Puerto Escondido is the fact that we found Mexico’s worst AirBnb host. Let’s call her Adriana. Adriana clearly did not want people in her house, touching her things, and existing, but also clearly needed the extra money, renting out box springs disguised as mattresses. It was a fully felt resentful welcome. “Who left the bowl on the counter??” she’d yell at us and the Swedish couple in the room next door. “Who washed this mug so badly?” “Come on guys, we all have to work together!”

“Why is your bedroom light on?” she’d ask, poking her head into the bedroom. “Um to see so we could get things out of our suitcase?” Our room was dark and had a covered window.

“Ok, but turn it off right away when you’re done. Electricity costs me money.”

I’m all about saving energy but isn’t using her resources why we’re paying her to be in her house? We felt that we had already overstayed our welcome the moment we had arrived.

Adriana and her daughter had a sort of act that they were clearly putting on, an unconvincing play about the perfect mother and daughter. They’d come home holding hands and skipping, Adriana speaking to her daughter with a kind of enthusiasm that’s exhausting to hear. “How does my special princess feel about baking her VERY OWN bread today??? Yay!!” They would only do it when we were in the same room, and then turn it off like a switch when we weren’t.

They couldn’t keep it up after day three, and their interactions degenerated into a lot of fighting, mostly the mother yelling while her daughter stared blankly at the TV or told her mum to shut up. The TV was always on, blaring.

Adriana clearly had the hots for my boyfriend, but in typical guy fashion, he was none the wiser. She would walk by us in booty shorts and slowly bend over in front of him to pick up things that didn’t require bending to reach. I didn’t mind, I thought it was hilarious, and it’s kind of hot to know other people wanna bang your boyfriend.

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Carrizalillo Beach

The next day we went to Carrizalillo Beach and sat around.  We smoked a joint and kind of went in the water while other people surfed, which is the height of our beach participation on a good day. Toward the end of the day, a beach vendor came by, offering us a tour of the bioluminescent waters of Manialtepec Lagoon. He introduced himself as El Pingüino, and as much as I hate to admit it, he actually resembled a human penguin very closely. We talked him down to 500 pesos for the both of us (which we later found out is half the usual price. It’s so satisfying when the deal is real!). Later, a van picked us up by the highway. The guy driving told us about the lagoon, and that it was the meeting point between a river and ocean, permitting a huge range of microorganisms to live there, one of which explodes with light when in contact with the pH of our skin. The photos we’ve seen of it are all fakes, it’s almost impossible to catch with a camera and isn’t even visible to your eyes on the full moon.

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Fake.

We arrived at some sort of outdoor restaurant where we got changed into our bathing suits in the bathrooms. We then took our things down to a motorboat on the docks. The lagoon and surrounding forest were pitch black, the sky a navy blue dotted with stairs. Nervous, we stepped into a boat being driven by a quiet teen. We sped into the blackness unable to see where the water met the air around us. It was like like the Space Mountain of water, without a seat belt and with a real fear of death. Other speedboats would slip by, a single white light like an eye in the darkness alerting us of their locations. We finally stopped somewhere and our tour guide switched off the light, telling us to put our hands in the water. As we moved our hands through the water, light turquoise light radiated out from our skin.  “What!!” I exclaimed, my expectations instantly surpassed. We slipped into the water and swam around in the alternating hot and cold currents, thrashing our arms beneath the surface and leaving trails of light behind us. We lifted our arms and watched the beads of water, each one glittering like a gem as it rolled slowly down our skin. “This is like being on acid!” we declared.

10/10 would recommend.

This is a side story, but El Chango startles easily when he’s asleep and any sudden movement results in him jumping up into some fight position as he wakes up. One night he wakes up, looks at me, looks at the wall, sits up gasping, laughs and goes back to sleep, all in the span of a couple seconds. What the fuck? I look over at the wall and my heart stops as I see a shrouded woman, her face vaguely illuminated from outside, lurking in the corner. The ways the light fell highlighted specific features of her face.

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Turns out it’s a fucking surfboard

We also checked out Playa Manzanillo and Puerto Angelito, two beaches that are technically only separate because of some rocks in the middle. They are both packed, though, and finding free shade was tough. We did find a giant iguana, though, so that was neat.

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A small chapel on the rocks separating Playa Manzanillo and Puerto Angelito

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Above Playa Carrazalillo, we went for dinner at Restaurante Espadín for El Chango’s birthday.
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Their view is the shit and their food is good if you’re feeling like paying gringo prices.

We decided to look for whatever the downtown core was and found El Adoquín,  a cobblestone street with a night market. We dropped acid and spent hours examining the fine textures and bright colours of the hard carved and hand stitched handicrafts. Later in the night, a large nightclub opened on the rooftops.

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Just a small, bored child selling alcohol.
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The world’s most no-frills bar.
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There’s lots of cool stuff like this.
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OK, why is penis art such a consistent theme in Mexican souvenirs? I hate it so much. Who buys these?

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“Is my country really this tacky?” – El Chango

So this is an interesting cultural discovery for me:

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“Ah,” El Chango said. “Camion de pocho.” He explained to me the phenomenon of this type of truck. Pochos were guys who have gone to work in the United States to work at farms or landscaping. They save up for a couple years and put all their earnings into a truck, so they can show it off when they come to Mexico to visit their hometowns, where they throw their USD savings around. A big truck is a commonly accepted symbol of living the American Dream, the personalized paint job meaning you’re specifically a Latino who’s made it.

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There doesn’t seem to be an easy way back to Oaxaca City from Puerto Escondido. The options are:

  • a seven-hour vomit van and enough Dramamine to keep you unconscious the entire time (and probably a week after. Two pills didn’t work for me last time!)
  • a private flight if you know a guy who knows a guy (I do not know either of these guys), or
  • an 11-hour coach bus ride down a less windy highway.

We unenthusiastically chose the coach.

On the last day, we wanted to ask Adriana if we could leave our suitcases in the house until it was time for us to take our bus back to Oaxaca City.

“You have to do it, because she has the hots for you,” I whispered to El Chango as we hid behind the door of our Airbnb. In the week we stayed there, Adriana had only used a friendly tone with me once, and that’s because she didn’t know how to save a Word document as a PDF and deduced that I would be the more valuable resource.

“I’ll go,” he agreed, steeling himself.

He came back a few minutes later, wide-eyed.

“I’m traumatized,” he said. “You were right.”

Apparently she purred that he can do whatever he wants, while stroking his arm.

“I am so sorry for making you go through that. But thank you. Very convenient with the suitcases.”

“I need to wash my arm.”

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Our important Puerto Escondido purchases

Liveability ratings (out of 5)

Cultural life: 3

Nature: 3

Air quality: 3

Safety: 5?

Reliable internet: 4

Accessibility from foreign locations: 3

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