Huatulco, Oaxaca

Nick, Ally, and I woke up in our dark, air conditioned room to texts from Mom that her and Dad were drinking coffee by the ocean and we should come see the view. After examining the map to determine where exactly we were going, we ventured out of our room for our first look at the beach. Dreams Resort is right on the ocean in a protected bay with a few islands breaking up the bright blue water. We walked past a few infinity pools to find our parents seated outside at the buffet style restaurant. The slight anxiety we had felt at the extreme culture shift from Oaxaca to an all-inclusive beach resort went away as we took in the ocean views and enjoyed what was actually a pretty good breakfast, though nothing compared to Conchita’s. My parents were excited to be able to communicate with the English-speaking staff though still trying to practice the Spanish words they had learned (I think we all did this out of a feeling of moral superiority over the ignorant gringos who had only come here to sunbathe and day drink). After breakfast we tried to figure out what activities were offered and what we should do in the next few days. We got excited about being able to go kayaking for free but were taken aback at the prices for the tours that the resort offered. Nick and Mom thought that they might indulge in a massage during their stay but after seeing the prices thought better of it. The high prices are especially shocking after seeing how much things cost in “normal” México but even by US standards these seemed high. We determined then that we were not really the all-inclusive resort type (I had known that before but it was definitively confirmed) but also decided to try to take advantage of everything that was included in our stay.

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So we slathered ourselves in sunscreen and put on coverups (we are a pretty pale family) before heading down to the beach to find the kayaks. We waited for enough kayaks to free up for us and then headed out, with the only rule being not to go into the roped off swimming area. Pretty much all of the kayakers were clustered close to the beach, maybe venturing out to the first nearby island but we are a family that grew up kayaking around entire lakes so we struck out past the first island and eventually out to where the bay opened up to the ocean. We saw secluded little inlets and imagined what it would be like to stay in one of the gorgeous houses on the edge of the bay (though we were grateful we weren’t staying in the resort on the other side of the bay which distinctly resembled a freight ship with what looked like smoke stacks rising up out of every building). The water got a lot more choppy as we kayaked around the last island in the bay but it was a welcome challenge and we slowed down to enjoy the moment on our way back in. After returning our kayaks we finally submerged ourselves in the clear water and enjoyed exploring the beach and scrambling over some rocks.

Over lunch at the beachside grill we rather smugly remarked about how we had gone out further than anyone else at the resort though our feelings of superiority didn’t make the subpar food taste much better. That afternoon we took it easy with everyone branching off to do their own thing, I made plans for our next few days and enjoyed the beach (surprisingly, although everyone got up ridiculously early to claim their beach chair and kept their things on it all day to guard it, mostly everyone cleared out around 4pm which made for a nice afternoon experience). That night we decided to try out the Mexican restaurant at the resort but were disappointed once again by the food. The menu was actually pretty authentic, sampling foods from all over Mexico, but the execution was just bad. The chicken was maybe the driest I’ve had in my life and the vegetables that were stuffed inside were boiled down to nothing. We decided then that maybe the buffet really was the best option there. Instead of continuing the all-inclusive fun at the bar, we decided to head to bed as we had planned for a busy next day, trying to squeeze all the fun Huatulco adventures into the next two days we were there.

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We woke up early to go on a mountain biking tour in the National Park with Huatulco Salvaje. Although we had come to the beach, my Dad is not really a beach person and my Mom does not do well with relaxation so I thought the bike trip would be great for us. We showed up at the office and after filling out some paperwork and getting bracelets to enter the park, got our bikes assigned to us. Their bike supply seemed aimed toward shorter people (along with being pale we are also all quite tall) and the gears were not the easiest to shift but the staff was very nice and our guide was determined to speak English. We set off down the road, assured that the National Park was just a few minutes away. When we entered the park our guide explained that it had been designated a protected area because of the biodiversity there that contains a lot of unique animals, especially birds. He had brought along a bird book and stopped every once in awhile to tell us which bird was calling out from the trees along our ride. At first the trail was wide enough for three people to ride abreast and there were occasional sand pits that would bring us to skidding out stops. Just as I was wondering if this would be a there and back trip along a not super fun trail he told us that we could go on another trail that wasn’t technically part of the tour that would take us to the beach. We jumped at the chance and rode onto some single track that got a little bit technical at times but was much more interesting than the wide dusty trail. As we were approaching the beach we rode past some houses that he told us had been there before they designated the area as a National Park and had therefore gotten grandfathered in. When the trail turned to sand we walked the rest of the way through some low trees that opened up into a wide expanse of beach. All sweaty and dirty, we took our shoes off and walked through the waves, amazed by the view. He called it a heart bay (that was not it’s real name I don’t think) because there was an island in the middle of the water so the waves came in in two direction and created a sort of heart shape. We ate the fruit and drank the water that our guide had stuffed into his giant backpack for us and stretched out on the sand. We eventually head back to our bikes, a little sad to enter the forest again but very excited now to see more of the bays in the afternoon. The way back took us along some of the same trails but eventually came to a paved road. My Dad excitedly zipped ahead (my Mom and Dad are pretty into road biking) and we went up and down some pretty intense hills (especially intense when you’re stuck in a high gear and can’t downshift) in the open sun. My face was beet red by the time we finally descended into town again and came to the office for Huatulco Salvaje.

Our guide had told us while at the beach that they also did bay tours and since we had not booked one yet (scoffing at the high price at the resort) we arranged with Huatulco Salvaje to do their sunset bay tour and they gave us a discount for doing two tours in one day. We head back to the hotel to shower and have lunch before our second tour. As we were preparing to leave, we started strategizing how to bring some beer with us on our trip (a lot of these tours have free beer included but ours did not). Since we were staying at an all inclusive hotel we grabbed the beers from our mini fridge but then thought to also call room service to restock our fridge. We thought we were being kinda sneaky to bring them out of the hotel so we laughed when we requested the tops to stay on. Even after the first delivery we decided that we simply did not have enough beers and decided to call room service again. But it took longer than expected so my mom and I decided to start leaving to grab a taxi. One our way past the hallway supply closet, where a few hotel employees were restocking the beverages, I stopped to ask if they happened to have any beers they could get us. All the hotel employees there were pretty universally surprised and delighted to have a guest speak better than broken Spanish to them and to make a long story short, we ended up with backpacks full of beer as well as some snacks! Because of the beer situation we arrived slightly late for our tour but we immediately went to the dock, met our guide and hopped on the boat to head to the first bay. We excitedly sat up front and between the rough waters and all the weight being up front, Ally and I got soaked from the constant spray for the first 20 minutes. We reluctantly went to the back when we got to the first bay but were hardly sprayed after that and still got a good view. The bays in Huatulco are pristinely beautiful, with clear blue ocean meeting undeveloped white sand and steep rock faces then green forest followed finally by the mountain range that we had crossed to get here. When we got to the second bay on our trip Dad and I decided that we really couldn’t go on a bay tour without taking a dip. The water was crisp but not too cold and as we climbed back on the boat we finally cracked open a beer (we had definitely overestimated our beer drinking on this trip). The last bay we went into had the most amazing view of the four, with the mountain range clearly visible behind it. At that point it was nearing sunset so our guide took us straight out away from the shore to get the best view of the sun sinking behind the water. The sky turned bright orange and then pink as some clouds came in and the sea rocked under us. After taking a million pictures and only drinking about 2/3 of the beer we headed back in to the dock. We unloaded happy from our boat ride and had a pleasant chat with the Huatulco Salvaje staff as we waited for our taxis to take us back. Back at the hotel, we decided to forego trying one of the fancy restaurants and ate at the outdoor buffet they had set up which was pleasantly not bad at all. Mom and Dad decided to explore the resort a little more to see what was going on but Nick, Ally and I decided to stroll on the beach on the way back to our room, excited for the day of surfing we had planned for the next day.

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I had found a surf instructor in my Lonely Planet guidebook whose contact was through his facebook page so we had set up an informal surf lesson (more of a surf rental with a hands off guide) in a town about 40 minutes away for midday on Friday.  He had also gotten a taxi to bring us there and back which was about the same price as getting one on our own so we met our taxi driver outside the hotel (minus Dad who had decided to head into town instead of surf due to his tendancy to become a lobster when out directly in the sun on the beach. We drove into Barra de la Cruz which is a small, pleasant town relatively untouched by the tourist industry. Once at the beach we followed the Surf Lessons sign to find Pablo and a nice big shady tent on the beach where the instructors were (some other family had paid for the real lesson which apparently included an individual instructor per person and a tent on the beach). We had to wait for said family to stop and give up a few of their boards so that we could head into the water. We had our guide stick to my mom, who likes having more personalized instruction and we tried to get some waves. My sister lived for awhile in one of the surf meccas in Costa Rica so she knew what she was doing and Nick and I had both tried surfing when we went to visit her. Nonetheless, we struggled out there. Surfing is physically tiring from all the paddling and staying in the same spot as wave after wave comes over you but also mentally tiring, examining each wave as it comes in and getting frustrated as you put all your effort into trying to catch one that turns out to be a dud. I did stand up a lot more though than the first time I tried and I even managed to actually sort of surf (instead of just standing up right at the end of the wave which is what I mostly did). I was not quite confident enough though to hop up from lying down so after a few hours my knees were really bruised from getting up first on them every time. Content with my progress for the day, I headed in to join my Mom (who had tapped out earlier after being whacked in the head with her board and then face-planting in the water). Ally joined us to enjoy the waves sans board as Nick tried for awhile longer to get up some more. We left Barra de la Cruz satisfied with our effort but not sure that life as an avid surfer was in the cards for most of us. After finding Dad at the hotel and grabbing some lunch we had our final activity planned for the trip – a photo shoot.

My Mom had insisted on the shoot after finding out that the hotel had a photographer on staff who did the shoot for free, you just had to purchase the pictures afterwards. My mom had been obsessed with the idea of getting a family photo shoot on this trip even before she learned of the photographer so there was no stopping her then. We tried to find semi-coordinating nice outfits (since we had not planned on doing this as we packed)  and met our spunky photographer on the beach. After being friendly teased into various poses (she called Ally twin the whole time instead of her name) and getting our lower body soaked from sitting on the beach as a wave came in, we finished up and grabbed some margaritas as we waited for her to do some quick edits. The feistiness of our photographer grew as she tried to speed us through picking out 14 pictures from the 200+ she had taken (we may not have been the best at consensus and the margaritas didn’t help). We finally ended up with some good shots and we headed over to the “fiesta” the hotel was having on the patio. Surprisingly, the Mexican buffet food at the fiesta was significantly better than at the Mexican restaurant and although the fiesta included some cheesy cruise-ship type antics like seeing who could do the best grito they had a folk dance group that was quite good and a mariachi that even played “Despacito”. Despite looking down at the unauthentic-ness of it, I actually had some fun singing along with my mom and watching the dances. We headed back to the room afterwards to pack for our departure the next day while my sister hurredly submitted an application to grad school. We went to sleep for the last time in Huatulco, slightly anxious for our return trip over the mountains the next morning.

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During our time in Huatulco we had been searching for a less vomit-inducing way to return to Oaxaca. Charter planes and buses were considered but we finally ended up paying our concierge’s neighbor with a van to take us there. We were able to leave at 5am instead of 3am with Expresos Colombo and he was picking us up right at the hotel and dropping us off at the airport (since the airport in Oaxaca is about 40 minutes south of the city it saved us a fair amount of time on that end). So in typical Croteau family fashion we were a little late in the morning but this time loaded up with Dramamine. We spent most of the trip napping and admiring the view and before we knew it we were at the airport – definitely a better experience than our first mountain crossing. Since we had even arrived early we checked our bags and headed to grab some breakfast before going through security. We finished up and headed to security only shortly before our flight (the Oaxaca airport is pretty tiny). As we went through security my mom’s carry on got flagged and a security guard took it aside to open it up. “Any liquids in here?” to which Mom responded, “No, of course not” forgetting that she had packed her carry on days ago and had put the mezcal they had bought at the distillery in that bag. The security guard soon found it and let us know that this would not get through. As the best Spanish speaker in the group I took the bag and went back out to bag check to check it for the flight. However, when I got back there and explained what had happened and how I wanted to check it the Volaris representative flatly denied my request, saying that it was too late and the computer wouldn’t let her. In a normal airport I would have understood this because it takes time to get through and they can’t guarantee that it’ll get on the plane. But she was literally steps away from the airplane and, in my opinion, could have done something. I tried complaining and protesting a bit but she was not budging. So I dejectedly went back to security and tried to offer it the two bottles of mezcal and a bottle of agave to the security guards which is apparently illegal for them to accept and they told me to throw it in the trash! Not accepting the trash as an option, I went back out of security, leaving my bag in the x-ray conveyor belt area and grabbed the first airport employee I could find, a little old lady sweeping. I explained to her that they wouldn’t let it through and told her it was good quality stuff and I hoped her or someone in her family would enjoy it. She accepted it with a big smile which somewhat soothed the aggravation I felt toward stupid Mexican airline rules (it isn’t just Volaris, all the national airlines have horrible customer service and are just looking to screw you over at every opportunity). I told my family the sad story and we spent the short flight would’ve could’ve should’ve-ing.

We tried to move past the sadness of losing the mezcal once we landed in Mexico City and headed to my house to drop off our stuff, meet up with Germán and head out to explore the city. Nick and Ally still had a few souvenirs they wanted to get so we went to La Ciudadela and literally got lost amongst the maze of stands but managed to get some good stuff. Bags full and bellies empty, Germán and I insisted we get tacos for dinner – a Mexican staple that they had not had as of yet. We went to one of our favorite places, El Tizoncito (they give you a tower of salsas with chips which includes delicious bean dip which we always ask them to refill at least 5 times) and tried to make recommendations for everyone. For Nick and Dad, they needed to try some variation of tacos al pastor, which is slices of pork skewered on an rotating sort of upright spit topped with a pineapple to give it lots of juice and flavor. You see the trompos all over the place when you walk around Mexico City and it is definitely a local must-have. For Mom and Ally, more vegetarian-minded, I recommended the veggie tacos (mushroom, cactus and rajas [slices of poblano peppers]). As we were waiting for our tacos and devouring salsa and beans, my mom saw a slightly guacamole-looking salsa and dipped in deep with her chip. When she put it into her mouth her eyes opened as wide as I’ve ever seen them and she had to spit out what was actually habanero salsa into a napkin. For those of us who hadn’t taken an accidental bite of super spicy salsa it was really funny but Mom had to down multiple glasses of water and kept feeling it for the rest of the meal. Full and content with our meal, we walked toward Paseo de la Reforma to stroll along the street that was modeled after Le Champs-Élysées and see the Ángel de la Independencia. Since our energy levels were quite low at this point we grabbed an uber to skip over the middle section of Reforma and got dropped off at Alameda, a beautiful park next to Bellas Artes, the impressive opera palace/cultural center. From there we cut through the crowds on the pedestrian streets to the Zócalo, the main plaza in Mexico City. The Christmas decorations were still up which included a giant tree, lights spelling out Feliz Navidad and even an ice skating rink. We enjoyed the festive spirit for a bit before getting an uber to head back to my house for the night, tired from our full week of travel. Mom. Dad and Nick were heading out Sunday afternoon (Ally spent another day in CDMX and flew back to Peru on Tuesday) so when we woke up they spent some time packing and then we headed to Coyoacán for breakfast, to a place Germán and I hadn’t been to but seemed to have good reviews, La Vianet. We wanted a place that would have a traditional Mexican breakfast and this place fit the bill. As always with a traditional Mexican breakfast, we chowed down on the pan dulce that they place in front of you to go with your coffee. I recommended chilaquiles to Nick (which I got too, it’s one of my favorite Mexican dishes) and even my does’t-like-eggs father was content with his enchiladas. Mom probably would have preferred something lighter but that is not in the style of traditional Mexican breakfasts. Although our original plan had been to stroll around the center of Coyoacán for a bit afterwards, we didn’t have enough time after breakfast. So we went back to my house and got everyone all ready for the airport. It’s always hard saying good bye to my family since I usually don’t know when I’ll see them again. But despite the sadness my heart was full of love and my head full of the wonderful memories we had created together in the last week. They left with promises (or maybe urging from me) to return and get a better feel for Mexico City, which they had barely scratched the surface of.

Overall, this trip was a perfect mix of urban and beach adventures, full of delicious food and amazing sights enjoyed with wonderful people who I love with all my heart. I’m already daydreaming about returning to Oaxaca to see what we didn’t have time to and drink in more of the amazing culture, and the mezcal! 😉

 

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