Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Back to the Ocean.

Finally, after 3 months land locked in a barren desert, I have made it to the ocean. After two brief stops - the first in chaotic Mexico City and then beautiful Oaxaca - the call of the ocean became too much and I jumped on a bus and headed to the beach. Now here I am, bobbing happily on a body board off the coast of southern Mexico, the sun on my back and my flippered feet flapping in the clear blue water beneath me. I am in Puerto Escondido, a popular gringo hangout on the Pacific coast. I'm back in the ocean and I couldn't be happier.

As to be expected the locals are claiming most of the set waves, leaving the rest of us to fight over the scraps. It’s competitive here, people come from all over the world to surf this wave, and the atmosphere is a little hostile. But I am happy just to be back in the oceans cool embrace, rising and falling with her steady breathe and gazing out to the horizon, patiently waiting my turn. It’s hard enough to get out here anyway; although they don’t look so big from the shore, these waves are known in the surfing world as being heavy, powerful and unforgiving. Even the little ones are strong enough to hold you under for a few seconds.
The main beach of Puerto Escondido - Zicatela - is a long stretch of fine sand lined with restaurants and bars. I guess I came in the off season, or maybe the violence in the north has lowered the number of tourists here. Whatever the case, this place seems a little abandoned, the shops and restaurants are far from busy and all along the beach row upon row of empty deck chairs recline in the sun, waiting like open hands. Nevertheless it is still a popular destination for surfers and backpackers, neither of which I suppose are willing to pay to use a deck chair.
I see a peak rolling in wider than the others; this one’s got my name on it. I paddle hard to get into a good position, keeping my eye on the wave which has reared up to about two metres in height and is still growing.  I point my board towards the shore, looking over my shoulder and up at the giant gaping mouth as it starts to suck me in hungrily. The wave lifts me up, it is much bigger than I expected and I’m still a little deep of the take-off, the lip of the wave starts to curl in front of me. But I’m committed, I can hear the voices of my surfing friends back home “paddle, Cookie, paddle!” I kick with all my might and lean forward, teetering on the crest, my heart leaps as I peer over the drop. This wave is a monster, but I urge myself forward. With a last burst of energy I manage to push myself over the edge. I free fall down the face for what seems an eternity, then when finally my board hits the water again I lean hard into the wave and pull up with all my strength. The rail of my board slides, slips and then barely grips the wall of water. I look ahead down the length of the wave, urging myself forwards. But the wave is too fast and I can see it is about to close out on me. I try to carve higher and gain more speed, but it’s too late, the monster overtakes me with a roar like thunder and I’m enveloped in its furious grip. The board is ripped from my grasp, I am thrashed around like a rag doll in a tumble drier, then plunged deep into a silent darkness. Once the madness has passed, it takes me a second to re-orientate myself. I kick and kick towards the light, my lungs bursting, until finally I emerge gasping for air and grasping for my board. I pull at the leash on my wrist, but my board has abandoned me, I can see it, bobbing along happily still on the wave, headed to shore without me. Thanks for nothing buddy.
I manage (after a couple more rinse cycles) to swim to shore and I slump down heavily on the beach. The sun is low on the horizon and soon it will be sinking behind the hills where the main part of town is situated. I have been here for five days now, and haven’t seen any more of this place than my hostel, this beach and the road that runs parallel to it. Apparently there’s some other nice beaches around but I have been having a good enough time at this one - body boarding, swimming, reading and relaxing.  It is so good to be beside the ocean again. After three months spent further away from the ocean then I had ever been, I realised how big a part of my life it actually was. I love the mountains, I love the forest, but I think there's no better way to recharge your batteries then a trip to the sea, specifically the Pacific, in a way it's like having a physical connection with New Zealand
My hostel is right across the road from the beach, about 50 metres from where I now sit. When I arrived the owner, a jolly, long-haired, bare-chested mexican, welcomed me and showed me a dormitory. He led me over the suspicious pool of water creeping out from under the bathroom door and into a dark and dingey room smelling of surf wax and body odour. A lazy fan stirred the muggy air reluctantly and a fly droned around the room occasionally banging his head against the mildew stained walls. The metal bunk screeched like a frightened piglet when I sat on it, and the mattress was dirty and lumpy.
There was just one other occupant in the room, their sleeping outline barely visible through the sagging mosquito net. A pair of board shorts hung on the bunk bed, a towel on the floor and two surf boards leant against the wall.
I was then taken to the “kitchen” - a wobbly water-logged bench with a crooked sink, a dribbling garden hose for a tap, and a rusty gas burner - and the "bathroom" - a closet with a door that didn't shut properly and a drain which just didn't, hence the puddle spreading out the door.
“How much?” I enquired dubiously.
“7,000 pesos.” At just over $5 NZ it was cheap and nasty, but I didn’t plan on spending much time in the hostel. I was here to get reacquainted with my old friend the Pacific Ocean.
“I’ll take it.”
The owner Simon speaks perfect English, in fact he used to be a sports reporter for a television news channel in the US. It’s hard to imagine this now with his long unkempt hair, unshaven chubby face, large belly and raggedy shorts, but this guy used to be somewhat of a celebrity. After a few years in front of the camera he got tired of the stressful life in the north and moved back down to Mexico to open this hostel. He isn’t pulling in much money, but he’s his own boss, he lives across the road from the beach and he meets travellers from all over the world. He is a very sociable person, laid back, well-travelled and with many a story to tell. The perfect hostel owner, now all he needs is the perfect hostel cleaner…
One thing I’ve found while backpacking is if you can put up with the smells and dripping taps, often the dirt cheap places are where you will find the most interesting people. And this place is no exception. My roomie, Matsuo a surf board repair man from Japan, has worked hard for the past few years and now has enough money saved to travel round the planet surfing the best waves in the world. He speaks very little English and no Spanish, but he has a good, very calm energy, and we can quite happily sit in silence and watch the waves for hours. There’s Marcus the long, blonde haired surfer from Germany, stuck in Mexico because of the volcanic ash cloud floating over Europe from Iceand, he has travelled all the way up from Chile on chicken buses with his two surf boards - a feat I respect greatly knowing how hard it was for me backpacking with just a guitar. He has been to New Zealand, and likes drinking beer so, needless to say, we get along just fine. Then there’s Roberto the artesanista from Chile, who works with wire, shells, stones and beads, crafting bracelets, necklaces, and rings to sell on the street, this is how he funds his travels, and Eduardo from Guadalajara, Mexico with his bag full of random trinkets, sculptures and souvenirs he brought with him from the city to sell here, the first thing he did when he met me was place a small donkey carved from stone in my hand, “Un regalo” (a gift) he said with a smile. These two are true wheelers and dealers, great company, and there’s never a dull moment with them, they’re full of life and great ideas - but let’s just say they’re not the type of people I would lend my car to.

So many different people from all waks of life, each on their own path and this dirty hostel is the only place you will find all of them under the same roof, sharing a meal, a beer, swapping stories and travel experiences, inspirations and philosophies before carrying on their way.
As I watch the sun disappear behind the hills the waves lap gently at my feet, inviting me for one last ride. But I’m tired and hungry, and headed to Zipolite in the morning - a smaller beach further along the coast. According to my guide book it is a laid back hippy hang out. Sounds like a good place to swing in a hammock for a couple of days and take a little time to bathe in the energy which flows from the Pacific Ocean before going Indiana Jones and heading deep into the jungle of Chiapas the doorway to Central America and home to Palenque, an ancient city left all but abandoned by the mysterious Mayans. What lies in store for me down there I can only imagine, but I guess there’s just one way to find out.

No comments:

Post a Comment