We had pushed off a bit early heading for Puerto Escondido because we learned that our friends Patti and Denis were there taking a beach break from the rather chilly nights in San Miguel de Allende to the north.  They were staying at the Sunset Point Hotel to the south of town, up a rough dirt road from the beach area below but with wonderful views. There was a real community of people staying in the rooms around the heat stroke saving pool, all of which came with kitchens,  a commons area with TV and a professional kitchen where they put community dinners together.  It was really nice to be in a hotel room for a change and to have an overhead fan as it was, need I mention again, very hot, very humid.  The pool was the real cooler, however, and all gathered around it in the afternoons.

The pool at Sunset Point and Puerto Escondido beyond

The pool at Sunset Point and Puerto Escondido beyond

I remember hearing about PE back in the 1970’s as some sort of surfing beach paradise, like Cabo San Lucas in Baja in the same era.  It is just a bit different now, with a population of perhaps 60,000.  No longer a sleepy dirt street village, it bustles with urban activity and has all the upside as well:  really fine restaurants, still wonderful beaches with shops and eateries behind, and even a Blues Festival on the beach with bands from as far away as New Orleans, which we managed to enjoy for an evening.

After about 5 days in Puerto Escondido, we finally headed out but found interesting places down the road to the south, particularly after a lunch stop shared with an uninvited guest.

Lunch at the Burro's Place

Lunch at the Burro’s Place

Off the main coast road near Puerto Angel and down a narrow lane there are three small towns clustered on the beach, Mazunte, San Agustin, and Zipolite.  Mazunte is famous as the site of Mexico’s official Turtle Museum, a major complex of buildings and ponds where five of the seven varieties of turtles found in Mexico can be observed and studied.  Unfortunately we hit it on a day it was closed to all but school children, who came in waves in bus after bus from all of southern Mexico we think. We then went on to San Agustin and spent some time walking the beautiful beach there.

Beach at San Agustin with waves gentle enough to swim.

Beach at San Agustin with waves gentle enough to swim.

We then went on to Zapolite where we began a rather protracted search for a place to camp.  We could have camped in our van and stayed behind a number of beach palapa bungalows on stilts but things looked to be a bit noisy and crazy what with all the surfers and youthful backpackers who were certainly not on the same time schedule that we are.  We finally located a campground a bit back from the beach but on what had long been the grounds of a wealthy Mexican family’s estate, with specimen trees from all over the world, a wonderful pool, and a number of other campers from as far away as Quebec (always), The Yukon, and Argentina.

Zipolite is perhaps best known as a nudist beach, and while not all those swimming and sunning were suitless, they were nevertheless quite evident.

Small hotel with a targeted market in mind

Small hotel with a targeted market in mind

 

Some nudies on the beach

Some nudies on the beach

 

Zipolite Beach from the high rocks at one end

Zipolite Beach from the high rocks at one end

In spite of this distraction, it is a beautiful long beach lined with palapas and with wonderful small hotels perched on the rocks at each end.  We had lots of time on the beach, enjoyed a couple of really good meals on the beachside street in the evenings,  and spent valuable time talking and exchanging information with the campground travelers around the pool, always by far the best source of information about the road ahead.

The beachside street comes alive at night

After about three days, we thought that unless we left the coast and headed to cooler weather in the highlands, we would consider ourselves barbecued.  So we packed up, said goodbye to new camping and road friends, and headed down the coast a bit. Then we turned inland toward San Cristobal de las Casas, the wonderful colonial town in the heart of Chiapas and gateway to the Mayan cultures (and incidentally at over 6000 feet with frost on the grass of the campground when we awoke this morning).

We had intended to break this trip up over two days but when we reached our intended first night stop, we decided to just press on and make it all the way to San Cristobal, hopefully before nightfall.  What we had not anticipated sufficiently was the intensity of the winds we would encounter in what is the narrowest section of Mexico and home to the infamous winds of Tehuantepec.  In the sailing world, the Gulf of Tehuantepec is considered the most dangerous coastline to cross between Oregon and Panama, comparable to the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast of Spain.  You attempt to cross it with only the best weather forecast and fully prepared to reef down and take whatever cover you can if you encounter those winds, often from 60 to 100 miles an hour.

Unfortunately that was exactly what we encountered, but about twenty miles inland.  As the winds increased, we entered a world of endless electrical generating windmills, and Dan the Van began to do a good bit of rockin’ and rollin’.  After all, he has a pretty large profile and when the winds are from the side he does tend to feel that pressure and wants to do a bit of dancing from side to side down the road.  Very quickly the winds increased, and the storage box on the roof began to make disturbing pounding noises. It was getting seriously difficult to keep Dan headed straight down the road.

What brought this to a halt was a huge semi truck and trailer laying on its side in the road and across the downwind embankment.

The big rig on its side across the road

The big rig on its side across the road

Traffic was stopped in both directions, and when we stepped out of the van it was clear that the winds were at least 70 mph; standing was an experience in antigravity leaning.  As Dave went to walk closer to get a better view of the truck and trailer, a man in a car behind us began to whistle and wave at him to get his attention.  When Dave looked at where he was pointing, he saw that the top or cover of the black storage box on Dan’s roof was about to fly off and was buckled in the middle so severely that some of its contents were beginning to be blown out through the huge space between the box and the elevated top or cover.  Only the hinges on the front and the lock on the back were keeping it from simply disappearing with the wind into the field of windmills.

After a mighty struggle, Dave was able to secure the top of the box with rope, hanging on to whatever he could find as he tried to get the rope around the box in the howling wind.  While the job was not pretty, it worked sufficiently to keep the top from blowing off.

Two enormous tow trucks were soon on the scene and, in spite of our complete skepticism, were able to pull the truck and trailer upright on its wheels while doing all into the force of the wind.  It just looked to be an impossible feat, but they seemed to have had lots of experience with this very problem and certainly had their system down pat. Truck and trailer were of course battered on what had been the down side, but the driver seemed to be okay (no ambulance was present) and soon we were being detoured around the truck by the Federal Police on the scene.

Rather than try to make it all the way to San Cristobal before nightfall after this hour long delay, we detoured slightly to a town called Arriaga, found a room for the night, and got a good night’s sleep as the winds screamed outside.  In the morning, after doing a more professional job of securing the top of the storage box in the shelter of the hotel’s bulk, we set off in the wind and climbed up off the coast through the mountains to quieter conditions and beautiful farmland.

Oxcart

One of many ox carts seen along the road

We then arrived in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas state, and then climbed an additional 4000 feet in elevation to beautiful San Cristobal and sanctuary in a delightful grassy campground on the edge of town but within walking distance of it’s center.

San Cristobal Campground

San Cristobal Campground