Christmas in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Christmas in the Oaxaca Sun

Returning to Puerto has become one of my routines in Mexico. As in Progreso, I have made good friends there and am always excited to return and catch up with their lives. In years past I have stayed at Casa Rosada, but this year I booked a place on the fourth floor of an apartment building in Rinconada, a trendy restaurant filled area close to several great beaches. I was really pleased with my apartment and the view was stunning. A bonus was that Inti, my landlord was super.. helpful, responsive and friendly too! Cielito Lindo is the name and they have studio and one bedroom suits.

My Apartment
Stunning View & Great Sunsets from Patio

With Covid in the picture I wasn’t too keen on sight seeing and exploring, but fortunately I have done a lot of that on earlier visits so going to various beaches, open air restaurants and sitting by pools had to do. I know…poor me. If you’re interested in knowing more about what you can do in and around Puerto here is a link to my previous posts on the area.https://wanderwithstella.com/2016/03/31/oaxaca-coast/ or scroll through the posts to see others including Oaxaca City.

For many people, Puerto is all about the beaches of which there are many and one can easily spend a whole day at the beach under a palapa umbrella with the odd chelada (cold beer and lime juice on ice) to quench one’s thirst. People watching is a great pastime at the beach and even in covid locals and visitors enjoyed swimming and playing in the waves. Mexican families are generally large and they tend to travel in multi-generational groups, making for lots of antics and noisy fun.

My “Home” Beach – Playa Manzanilla
Playa Zicatela – Long, Lovely, Big Surf
Playa La Punta – Javier & Gabriela, Surfer Beach like Zicatela Has Big Surf
Playa Principal – Popular with Local and Families
Watch Out for Pool Sharks Like Gabriela on Zicatela
Soft Sand and Shady Palapas!

Food in Oaxaca is among the best in Mexico and some of the worlds top chefs have made the State home, opening great restaurants in the capital, Oaxaca City, and other smaller locales. I have some personal favourite dishes: tacos pastor, pozole (soup) and tlayudas.

Street Tacos – The Best!

Mid-way through December, Christmas vacation brought large numbers of people to Puerto, which in a normal year would add to the fun. But given the crowds that began to cluster on the beaches I refrained from going every day unless it was to Bacocha Beach where there is plenty of room to social distance they have the most incredible sunsets…so again no real hardship. There are two beach clubs at Bacocha and for a fee you can eat, drink, use the pool and beach chairs for the entire day and the costs come out of you fee.

Bacocha Beach
Sunset at Bacocha

San Jose del Pacifico – A road trip from Puerto

Lucky for me, my friends Javier and Gabriela were game to rent a car and make the drive up the long and winding road to San Jose del Pacifico in the Sierra del Sur. A small town in the mountains, it is a place for adventure seekers, hikers and climbers to visit. It is truly beautiful and charming and due to its location in the middle of pine forests, the building practices incorporate more wood than is common in Mexico, giving the place a definite flavour of mountain retreats. The clima also reflects the altitude and out came the jackets, pants and socks from the bottom of the suitcase when the temperature dropped to 6 Celsius when the sun set over the mountains.

The highway between Puerto Escondido and the turn-off to San Jose is greatly improved since my last visit and and a by-pass road before Pachutla meant that we missed the traffic of this busy commercial centre. As you leave the coast and head up into the Sierra the road becomes narrow, with hair pin curves and even some “logging” trucks. The road as you would expect was lots of fun to drive and Javier and I took turns, and much to his dismay Gabriela favoured my driving to his!

Stunning Scenery Makes the Trek Up Worthwhile
Miradors Along the Way
Many Little Pueblos Along the Road

We stayed in a very nice hotel overlooking a valley, built with lots of pine wood the cabins were post and beam with timbered rafters. There weren’t many people at this newish hotel and we generally had the dining room to ourselves. I can see where the visitors will come once covid is over and the word is out. From this same road that takes you to the top of the Sierras you can take a turn a little further down the mountain and take the original road from the coast to the city of Oaxaca. Javier recalled driving his entire family, most of it in the back of a pick-up from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido when he was just a teenager. Some of the folks in the back lacked an appreciation for his enthusiasm for the road as car sickness overtook them.

Our Hotel and Gardens

We hired a local guide who showed us the sights, taking us to all of the spots of interest for visitors. Our first stop was a combination resort, restaurant, fish hatchery and zip line, with of course Javier and I had to try out.

Fish Hatchery, Hike and Even Turkeys
Guide Held This Interesting Insect for the Photo

Following our hike and zip-line adventure our guide took us to a local home where the owners have suspended a wooden swing close to the edge of a cliff and so you swing out over thin air, belted in you are relatively safe and again the views were spectacular.

Wheeeeeeee!
Javier All Set to Swing!

This was the first of our human launch experiences and I must admit the next one did take my breath away.

San Jose del Pacifico is all about tourism and forestry including furniture making. There are many attractions for visitors whether you want to jump off the edge of things or stay firmly on the ground like Gabriela, there is something for everyone.

Christmas in Puerto Escondido

Back in Puerto, after our weekend in San Jose del Pacifico, it was clear that Christmas Vacay was really ramping up and the night market on the Adoquin in Centro was packed with people and possible regalos. Decorations sprung up all over town and Javier and Gabriela invited me to join them for their Christmas Eve dinner.

Adoquín Busy with Christmas Vacationers

Lots of Christmas spirit in Puerto with lights, decorations and fireworks to celebrate the many special days in the Christmas season.

Javier and Gabriela invited me to their family Christmas Eve dinner which is the main event in Mexico. Javier picked me up at 8 PM and we drove to their home. They had set up a table in a neighbour’s yard under an almond tree strung with Christmas lights and along with four of their neighbours, Javier, Gabriela, their two sons and I enjoyed the typical Christmas feast of fish and pork. Both dishes took two days to prepare and the neighbours contributed a few dishes of their own including a sweet crepe desert with honey drizzled on top.

And now with Christmas done, I will say goodbye for now and set my mind to my next adventure….Guatemala.

London

London at Christmas…..a great time to visit.

For me, there is no place like a big city before Christmas kicks off, and London is no slouch when it comes to lighting up for the festive season. Everywhere you turn there are trees, streets, buildings and anything else that doesn’t move, festooned with bright lights, making even the usual things to do all the more enjoyable.

Luckily, I spent the first few nights in Kensington at the Holiday Inn. I say luckily because this was a complimentary upgrade from Hotels.com as my original hotel (not nearly as swank), was overbooked. A lovely predicament….my room was big by London standards, indeed I could have swung a cat by the tail in a complete circle without touching a wall. It even had a comfortable queen size bed and was in a great location. Shops, restaurants, the underground and great wandering, all right out side my door. I’m oddly happy that it gets dark in pre-Christmas London, because the holiday lights are fantastic.

Staying in Kensington I was close to Hyde Park so I took in the Queen Victoria exhibits celebrating the 200th anniversary of her birth in Kensington Palace. There were exhibits of her toys including a huge dollhouse and puppet theatre. Of course it sounds lovely to have it all and live in a palace but at what cost to personal freedom. Her history as a grownup was covered in the the crown exhibition including jewels (pretty ornate) and her story as a woman (apparently she opposed the franchise for women), mother (lots of children), wife (adored Albert by all accounts) and monarch (long did she reign).

Using both the internet and TKTS ticket both in Leicester Square (best place to get discounted same day tickets), I was able to see a number of productions. In a small theatre just off Leicester Square I saw Miss Kiddy and the Cads, the ultimate in vintage sophistication but with a modern twist giving a jazz beat to contemporary hit tunes. The audience included a couple of avid fans that never miss a Miss Kiddy show, one of whom came miles to see her. Lots of fun.

In contrast, the next night I ventured out to the Royal Albert Hall for the BT Christmas Concert featuring the Royal Symphony Orchestra with the BT choir and the London Community Gospel choir which rocked the house. People were on their feet singing, dancing and clapping, “taken to church” by the great vocals.

Seeing Hamilton in the Victoria Palace Theatre, was a highlight. Had great seats 4 rows from the stage so could see the details of the action. A real homage to the long forgotten roll of Blacks in gaining independence from England and in the writing of the US constitution.

A new musical called & Juliet was playing at the Shaftesbury and I got to witness William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway attempting to sort out their flagging marriage by cowriting a very different ending to the Romeo and Juliet. Lots of fun and quirky twists and best of all the music was chosen from contemporary hits sung to complement the story line which caused lots of laughter in the audience. Picture Juliet (not dead) singing I’m On Fire. And to cap off a perfect evening, just wandering my way through the West End, China Town and surrounding streets to and from the theatre was pleasure in itself.

Prior to heading to St. Martin’s in the Field, I was given a personal tour of the palatial Foreign Office, built to impress, by a young friend who works there. A lovely young woman, Liz and I even had a peek at No. 10 Downing as we exited the Foreign Office before heading to dine in the Crypt of St. Marin’s. St. Martin’s is another personal favourite thing to do, the acoustics are fantastic and the world class Academy of St. Martin’s performed Vivaldi’s “Winter” and were joined by a children’s choir for Christmas Carols. As at Royal Albert Hall the audience was invited to sing-along at least part of the time. London audiences love this participation element and you’d never know they had just experienced a terrorist attack on London bridge or that the UK was on the brink of a national election that might see them exit the EU. (We all know the results as I edit)

Close to St. Martin’s is Covent Garden with the Royal Opera House, Christmas markets and restaurants and where opera singers are the buskers. Cold but relatively clear, it was a good night to wander the streets all the way from Covent Garden, through Trafalgar Square, Up Regent Street and along to Oxford Circus.

Last accommodation was a tube ride away from Kensington on the Piccadilly Line to Finsbury Park where I met up with friends Dawn & Craig in a rented air BnB. Not the fanciest digs but a basic two bedroom flat with a kitchen was fine as we spent most of our time out and about. A trip to the Christmas Market on the Southbank, Harrods and Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park were great fun.

No trip to London is complete without visiting the zebra cross-walk where the Beatles famously strode their way to the Abbey Road Recording Studio. Close by is the Regent Canal and Little Venice where you can take a longboat to Camden Locks and the market and shops that were home to punk rockers but are now mainly touristy. Packed with Christmas shoppers it was cheek to jowl on the tube back to the flat.

Saying goodbye to Dawn and Craig (they left for Scotland) and I headed out to a hotel close to Heathrow for a couple of nights before I fly off to Bangkok. Another London chapter concludes!

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