Archive for the ‘Oaxaca’ Category

Oaxaca State

Oaxaca is an overwhelmingly beautiful and diverse place; continually amazing mountains and lakes, coastal lagoons, beaches, fertile crop land and sand dunes. It has a tremendous amount of incredible scenery. We’ve come across cyclists, torch bearing runners, neon turquoise churches and we’ve tried not to run down the ubiquitous moto-taxis. Here is a short video of our first little bit on the Oaxacan coast and a slew of pictures from the car, we are coming back through the northern part of the state on our way home and through the capital, hopefully we’ll update this post then.

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The drive from Barra de la Cruz to Tuxtla Gutierrez or San Cristobal de las Casas is at least 10 hours depending on where you go and which way you go. Too far for us. The aforementioned Mexican Camping book has a “campground / RV park” just outside of Santo Domingo Tehuantepec in the village of Santa Teresa, more detailed maps will show the spot as the wonderfully named Mixtequilla. While the book fully warns us of the ills of this campground it does it in such a nice sincere way that it doesn’t seem too uninviting. The campground might have been such at one time but it is no more. Rather it has been reduced to a spot to sleep in your ride for the night that isn’t the back lot of a Pemex station. There is no electricity, rendering the fluorescent fixtures mounted to the mango trees an eerie reminder of better days. The former night-time watch guard has moved into the bathroom complex with his family rendering the facilities useless and his rather unwelcoming dogs will viciously growl at you if you venture too far from your rig.

The "bathrooms"

To make matters worse we got there after the sun went down and missed the turnoff resulting in a little 4X4 action that ended with a broken side step to the van. The campground is in an intensely rural area that once used to be a sugar plantation, the decaying remnants of the hacienda make for some spooky flashlight investigating. We spent the night holed up in the van under the mosquito netting, with no exterior set-up whatsoever, drinking tequila and talking until we crashed. In the morning the guard woke us up to collect his $50 pesos, we paid, not sure what for, and drove on down the road.

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Pemex + No Luz = Malo

Yes I am filling the van with a gerry can next to the pump... ugh.

We have very rarely used the gas in the gerry cans on the back of the van. We mostly run through the annoying gauntlet of unlocking and removing them in order to fuel the generator to charge the batteries or run something else when we don’t have power. Only once have we needed to use one to get us to the next Pemex station. It isn’t like Baja in mainland, you don’t need to fill up at every possible location to ensure making it to the next one. Our usual modus operandi is to fill up when we have about 10 gallons left, which, equates to about 25% of our tank capacity. We push it from time to time if we know with 100% certainty that there will be a Pemex in time.

Dried shrimp with your motor oil?

Sunday was one of those days. We had asked where the next station was and we knew we could make it there with what we had. We pulled in with probably close to two or three gallons left in the tank; 20 -35 more miles with our incredibly efficient 460 cubic inch big block powered, 9000lb behemoth. The attendant didn’t even budge from her seat on the curb. “Hay Gasolina?” Natalie shouted from the van. “Si, pero, no luz.” Was the reply. Shit. The power was out. 35 miles is about 55 kilometers. It was 71 kilometers to Salina Cruz. No way, not even downhill with a kicking tail wind.

So we laboriously unlocked the gerry cans, lifted the 35lb cans into our thirsty beast of a girl, dripping gas on our clothes and on ourselves, but at least we could move on. And just as I was lifting the last can the power came back on. Perfect.

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When I’m not galavanting around Central America or keeping our little company Closed System chugging along, I can be found working with the awesome kids of the Resource Assessment Group of enXco (so, the vast majority of the time). enXco is the US and North American subsidiary of EDF-EN (Electricity de France – energies nouvelles), who’s parent family of companies EDF Group is amongst, if not, the largest utility in the world. So basically its a good long-term gig; one that I really liked, enjoyed the people I was working with, had good, smart bosses that I respected, felt challenged and was fairly rewarded both in salary and benefits, a gig which I promptly left for this hair-brained adventure. I’m not as smart as you think eh?

Under the EDF-EN banner enXco has a development presence in Mexico and has built at least one if not more successful projects in Oaxaca for clients like Walmart (to be a part of their 100% renewable energy goal). As an unintended, but super-cool twist of fate, Natalie and I drove directly through the Oaxacan region of La Ventosa (the vent). I’m not at all sure which of the 20 or so projects out there was ours but I am sure that the wind was howling. And the wind resource area there is huge. Bigger than Tehachapi, Altamont, Palm Springs, Columbia Gorge Plateaus, huge; it went on and on forever with winds that repeatedly threatened to topple the van, semis, or anything over 6 or 7 feet tall. I’m guessing the ground level winds were a sustained 7 – 13 meters per second (15-30 miles per hour) from Ixtepec to Santo Domingo Zanatepec, an area about 50 miles wide; there must be room for two thousand more turbines out there. Hopefully we’ll do some more projects here, and since it is only 4 hours from Barra de la Cruz, I call dibs on micrositing.

We took a ton of pictures, the ones not posted here can be found on Flickr.

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After having surfed only left handed breaks for most of Mexico’s Pacific Coast I had been anticipating getting to Barra de la Cruz and it’s now famous regular footer rights (youtube). I had tempered my enthusiasm considering how late it was in the season and that there are essentially no more south swells until May; but given the surf in Puerto Escondido we timed the remainder of that swell to peak as we rolled into Barra.

We drove straight to the break, skipping our normal routine of finding a place to camp and setting up before venturing out. My heart sunk as three lonely surfers paddled for fat, mushy, ankle biting rollers. Since we had decent internet in Puerto I had deduced the right tides and peak timing to be the following morning. We rolled back up the hill to town still hopeful it would turn on.

The setup in Barra seems to have learned something from many of the ills that plague other small towns that suddenly have become inundated with throngs of surfers. The ejido has set up the beach and the break as a community project and a park of sorts. You have to pay MX$20 per person per day to access the beach, they have bathrooms and a community run restaurant/bar on the beach but no individual ownership or accommodations on the beach or at the break. All the amenities are in town.

We stayed at what appeared, and also rumored, to be the best spot in town. Pepe’s Cabañas has nice clean toilets, cold-water showers and a little restaurant that serves up local Oaxacan food like tlayudas. We rolled in and asked how much to camp alongside the cabañas. Pepe, who speaks fluent English, replied: “something, not much, cheap.” The three surfers in the water were from a group of Aussies and a couple of British girls that had been there for 3 days without so much as paddling out for a look prior. I convinced the Brits that 7am would be the only chance. We set our alarms and were in the water by 7:30.

The first couple sets were lowly drawlers that barely let you paddle in. But about 8:15 the tide switched and started sucking out and the wave came to life. It wasn’t firing, the best waves of the day were barely shoulder high with the bulk coming in waist to chest. But it was amazingly fun. Instantly I knew that I have to come back. It lines up and races ever so perfectly, even really small, you could tell that with just a bit more swell…

The waves lasted around 3 hours and promptly shut down. Not horrible for a three foot swell coming from the northwest into a break that faces southeast. Pepe ended up charging us MX$60 to camp, pretty cheap indeed, the cabañas run MX$100 per night and have two full beds. He said that May was probably the best time to come. He said the waves are about 2 meters everyday, nothing huge, just perfect and fun, all day, with hardly anyone out. Boys, clear your calendars; Interjet has flights from TJ to Huatulco in late May for ~$400.

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Puerto Escondido

Of all the spots we’ve been Puerto Escondido is the one spot I could see myself living in for a while. It has everything I want: fishing, diving, ruins, and of course surf. It seems to have all the amenities of a decent sized city: central market, grocery stores, reliable internet; all the trappings of beach town: surf shops, copious bikinis, beach-side bars; yet none of the ridiculousness of the traditional high-rise fabricated Mexican resort towns that offer quintessential gringo snow bird desires, but retain none of the culture of true Mexico. Zicatela beach, where we are camped out in a “campground (more like an alley)” behind the Oxxo, is a mix of retail tourist shops, sidewalk craft hawkers, restaurants, palapa comedors, hotels, bungalows, cabanas; a little mix of everything. The beach runs for a couple miles in either direction along a quaint road with slow moving traffic, pedestrian plazas with umbrellas and lounge chairs dotting the sand.

I could see renting a huge house on the hill above Zicatela beach with a big group of friends or even the extended family and kicking it here for a week or more. We’d rent a jeep and some scooters and explore the surf breaks outside the city and shop for Oaxacan crafts or book a dive trip or reel in some huge fish. There is surf for everyone with beginner and intermediate breaks surrounding the Mexican pipeline. Zicatela itself is the most challenging wave I’ve ever surfed. The first day I got out a little late and the wind got on it after two waves. The next day the swell picked up and it turns out I got on it a little early. The offshores were kicking pretty good, holding the faces up for some killer barrels and some even more killer closeouts. I dodged sets for about an hour, picking off the tweeners and not really making the sections. I had seen a few guys get some really good ones so I called it and retreated for the camera.

It turns out that 95% of the people in the water were doing the same thing I was, dodging the sets and picking off the smaller ones. There were a couple of yahoos stroking into the bigger sets but they mostly got crushed in closeouts but on occasion they would make a few. Puerto Escondido, Zicatela specifically, is not like other heavy waves I’ve surfed. I’ve ridden Pipeline at 5 feet, Pascquales at 6 feet, and Black’s at 10 feet, but Puerto Escondido is way more challenging at 3.5 feet. Pascquales is heavier, Pipeline has way more serious consequences (reef versus sand), and Black’s has a tremendous amount of water moving around in every which way which can make for serious shoulder burn. But what makes Puerto scary-hard is that it is totally inconsistent and shifty. First off, it is well over-head to double overhead on the face at 3.5 feet. The peak warbles and slides around, the takeoff is anywhere within 100 yards of the last one. Its also incredibly hard to judge, wave selection is critical (mine was atrocious), I never quite knew exactly what the wave was going to do, big A-frames that looked like they were perfect would wall up and close out without warning.

Finally, once the off-shores died it got a lot more predictable and a looked super fun, it also got crowded, fast. Included are a few videos and pics, mostly from post off-shores, you can see the rest of the publishable ones on Flickr and YouTube.

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