Sun, surf and sinsemilla.
Puerto Escondido used to boom with tourism, the locals say. The streets were flush with extranjeros whose liquid funds and frivolity represent the lifeblood of the local economy, they say. And now, the tourism has dropped off precipitously and no one knows why.
When the airplane taxies into what can only be described as a one-horse airport, the tropical heat (augmented by the black tarmac and engines overhead) delivers the message of caution: the equator is near, so apply sunscreen, drink fluids and get ready to sweat.
In the surfing community, the city is a well-known destination for some world class surfers and riders trying to break it into the big scene. Referred to as the Mexican Pipeline by surfers local and abroad, Escondido’s Playa Zicatela offers waves that tower over the beachfront bars featuring cold Modelo Especial and a hammock.
One of the first post-arrival epiphanies (after realizing what the garbage can next to the toilet is for) is that surfing in Puerto Escondido is compulsory. Even the previously unfamiliar rent longboards and pay for lessons from one of the many surf schools. Somewhat fortuitously, those very instructors change out of board shorts at night and don their cannabis sales caps.
The city itself is a tethered assortment of various beach hamlets sutured to a bustling city center. There’s an outdoor marketplace, restaurants on every block and a whole lot of people trying to sell a whole lot of stuff. Why Escondido’s popularity has dwindled is anyone’s guess. Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido’s home state in Mexico, underwent some political strife a few years ago that got pretty messy (violence-and-murders-messy) and the coast was hit by a hurricane last year. However, the surf is still good and the residencies and food are cheap.
A note of warning on buying cannabis in Mexico; obviously a more dubious transaction. Possession of five grams or less won’t result in drug prosecution (just a reprimand and a suggestion that one take counseling), but the law bends depending on the philosophy of a particular city’s police force and the temperament of officers. Cannabis is readily available for purchase in Escondido and the city is fairly lax on usage (it is a surf town, after all), but it is still wise to get familiar with the locals before making any rash purchases. A common practice among dealers in resort towns is to supply cannabis to gringo buyers, then report them to police. The police then shakedown the buyer for a bribe and kick back a few pesos to the good citizen who tipped them off. The safest way to indulge in Escondido is to establish relationships with the surfing community; they’re more than happy to share a joint on the beach while the sun sets.
Once cannabis is in possession, adhere to this list. Head to Playa Principal and take a right at the mermaid sculpture. Follow the stone-cut pathway that curls around cliffs, beaches and over the surf. If timed appropriately, the medicine will kick in right as the stonework crests one of the cliffs. Share a joint with some ex-pat Australians and head to El Mercado Municipal to eat sopes and mariscos at one of the many restaurants or sample some of the delicious seasonal fruit. Walk around the neighborhoods and take in the sites and smells, colorful housing and wonky architecture. Surf. Try it at least once with an instructor at Playa Carrizalillo and rent a board for an unchaperoned session. Eat Kühl Frozen Yogurt and sit on Zicatela as the sun sets. Dance at Casa Babylon. Sit at the Super-Mini in Carrizalillo and watch soccer with a nine-peso Corona in hand and some local chocolate. Attend a fiesta in any form. Sit on an outdoor porch and watch the lightning storms. Go to the lagoon and recoil at the amount of alligators within the area. Most importantly, take one clear day to go to Playa Marinero, wade into the ocean and enjoy what truly is a wonderful bodysurfing experience.