Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Puerto, I Miss You

I had come down from Oaxaca late in the day, arriving in Puerto by bus in a driving rain spawned by a Gulf hurricane that had flooded much of the Oaxacan lowlands and parts of Chiapas. I recognized some fellow gringos on the bus, but it was every man and woman for themselves as we tried to cope with our backpacks and, through the rain, hail down a taxi for the trip to our hotels. Apparently, the young couple who got the next cab just missed getting a room at the Mayflower, a kind of hotel and hostal all rolled into one. Little did I know that the somewhat lengthy route taken by my hack would turn out, by daylight the following morning, to be four or five blocks as the gulls fly. The owner of the Mayflower had to turn the couple away.

During a letup in the downpour I managed to find my way down to the Adoquin, the broad tiled street that is the main in-town beachfront drag in Puerto Escondido ("Puerto" to insiders). A bit wet and disheveled, I discovered the La Galeria, which has the best pizza margherita I've had since I was in Naples, with a crunchy woodfired stove crust, excellent marinara, and "Mexican mozarella." The people-watching from a table in the Galeria is the virtual equivalent of a floor show and ought to fetch higher prices for such delicious fare.

Back in my generous room, I discovered I had three beds and one powerful ceiling fan. Puerto gets so hot during late summer, and it's so tranquilly located, one can wilt in the noonday sun. Curiously, the ceiling fan provided all of the cooling I needed at night while there. The owner explained that my room is ordinarily let only to large groups traveling together, but, due to her having a bit of a hangover the following day and not remembering her request to relocate me to smaller quarters at such time, allowed me to remain. Lucky, too, that it was a room with a view: down the alleyway to the Adoquin itself.

The following day, the rains let up and the sun came out. I quickly settled into what I suspected might be a daily routine for me were I to retire here. It began with catching a jerry-rigged small sized pickup fitted with a tin roof and wooden seats over to the world-famous surfer's beach, Playa Zicatela, and having a wonderful breakfast. (These mini-buses cost all of a quarter each way.) It's important to start with breakfast here because of the surfers, and because of Carmen's Cafecito. I say start with breakfast, cause surfers get hungry and tend to like the same things most of us do, and the couple who own the Cafecito love to serve hot Oaxacan coffee with their home-made pastries. A full breakfast here is just a few bucks.

The rest of the day can be spent in a variety of ways, most involving the beach. In relative order of roughness, undertow, and swimability, there's the one in front of Carmen's, Zicatela (for surfers only); the one on the south side of the Laguna Agua Dulce, Marinero (can be rough, just right for boogie boarders), and the one along the Adoquin, Principal (calm, lapping waves, great for families, with delightful, reliable seafood restaurants on the marina side). If you get bored with these three, you can go to others. I did not.

I bought postcards to send home, then set out for the post office to buy stamps. Tourists might be oblivious to the fact that Puerto has a center and a market and all the other amenities found in Mexican towns. The heart of the city is its commercial district, which is spread out from the coastal road, Mexico 200, to the post office several blocks up Avenida Oaxaca (a long walk, but an interesting one).

Here, I encountered one of the Mighty Strange Anomalies for which Mexico is justifiably famous. The postal clerk informed me that the post office had no stamps. Now, to a norteño accustomed to buying stamps in a supermarket or at a post office, having no stamps for sale at a post office in Mexico might seem insane. To a seasoned Mexicophile, it made perfect sense. When I asked (on a Thursday) when stamps might be available, I was told to come back Monday. Rightly or wrongly, I assumed that the stamp problem had something to do with the hurricane.

Instead of feeling I had simply wasted my time, I used the occasion to scour the shops for a replacement for my broken coil immersion heater. Absent minded, I sometimes plug these in without first immersing them in water. I guarantee you will destroy the heater doing this. You can usually make yourself understood in a hardware store if you make a cup and coil gesture and say, "Calintidor para agua en una copa." Among all of the electrical hardware was one a bit big for the tea mug, but I bought it as it was the only one in stock.

Strolling down the Adoquin became a favorite pastime for me: dipping into the doors of enticing hotels on the beachfront side to check on prices and noticing that at least one of the really big ones was empty and for sale, while another was offering drab, worn-out rooms at prices way out of proportion to what was given. The length of the Adoquin is only about four blocks, but it's an attraction in itself. It runs parallel to Playa Principal and it's got good people watching and other pursuits.

By comparison, Marineros is "local." Most of the bathers are young, handsome, and sassy. It's obvious they're really enjoying their beach and would never take it for granted. As said, Zicatela is primarily surfer, but it has its share of business wannabees and gringos in case you're looking for a conversation.

I miss Puerto so much I am going back this fall.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Driving With Pemex

I drove from Corpus Christi, Texas, to the jumping off place for Isla Mujeres and back, and learned a bit about Pemex. Rule 1: Never ask a pump man for the price, which is required to be posted outside the station. Rule 2: Stay with your car, or have someone else watching it. Rule 3: Make sure the pump is rolled back to zero before the pumping starts, or you may end up paying twice: for your gas plus that of the previous motorist and/or the attendant, who may give you less for your money by inserting in the pump his Magic Key. Rule 4: Have someone take advantage of the wonderful snack shop while you're watching the car. Rule 5: Avoid the toilets if at all possible, since they usually cost a pittance extra but don't demonstrate inside that any of the money is going to keeping them clean. (Ever notice how bad the service suddenly gets just before a USPS stamp increase?) Rule 6: Take toilet paper with you, as it will be stingily doled out as if you had the asshole of an ant. Rule 7: Tip the attendant: it is expected, but tip him only for his honesty. Rule 8: Eat at lot of Happy Meals before you go (there may not be a McDonald's in Coatepec), but save the wrapped toys so you can bring smiles to the small boys who flock around a gringo car offering to wash your windshield, &c. We found that the toys pleased so much more than money. Rule 9: Start your engines and enjoy Mexico!