I probably shouldn’t have taken the iguana tamales on the bus, but then the bus itself didn’t turn out to be such a great idea either.
The goal had been to visit some of the state of Oaxaca’s many beautiful beaches (which I’d never seen) to celebrate Jose’s birthday. We’d walked or swum a dozen beaches in four days — all with totally different personalities — and were headed back to Oaxaca City after flying into Puerto Escondido (30 minutes in a 14-seater over the mountains and to the coast). But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We had moseyed down the Pacific coast and hit the fishing towns of Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel with their public beaches, and the hippie locales at Mazunte, San Augustinillo and Zipolite. On Superbowl Sunday, I found myself sitting under a palm tree eating iguana tamales. They’re technically a protected species and not sold legally commercially, but José had found a kid with a basket of them and wanted to make my beach experience complete.
Iguana: tastes like pork, has large bones, and they don’t remove the black lizardy skin inside the tamale; I had to take it off to manage a bite. It was chased by homemade coconut ice cream and a Fresca at a beach bar, then going just far enough into the ocean to feel the riptide pulling at my ankles. A nice thing about Mexican beaches: shorts, T-shirt, flab, wrinkly knees: all are present and nobody makes you feel bad about it. A few young girls in thongs turn heads, but the rest of us are just trying to keep gravity at bay.
Going back into Mazunte’s tiny town crossroad, we were waiting for a camioneta (local transportation that’s bench seats in the back of a canvas-covered pick-up truck) and José was asking me what had happened to my friend Nancy, who had taught English with me for a few months last year in Oaxaca City.
The words “I think she’s in Puerto Angel” were still in my mouth when Jose shouted “Nancy!” — she was riding by in an open truck! I actually thought she had moved on in her job and hadn’t let her know we’d be at the beach. I hadn’t seen her since she came through Oaxaca City in September, and turns out the next day was her birthday.
José and I took the bus to Huatulco the next day for another beach experience (a planned resort community like Cancun; it has pretty beaches but I’ll take a pass next time) and came back through Zipolite to celebrate Nancy’s birthday with her. We had grilled mackerel and watermelon juice in a beachfront restaurant, checked out the secluded Playa del Amor where the nudies hang out, and in general had a very fine time. Note to aging gringoes: sunglasses and sandals do not make for a complete outfit at a certain age. Just saying.
On the bus: leftover iguana tamales (not good for lap eating), sweet bread and peanut butter, bananas and orange cookies. OK, a bizarro travel meal made even uglier by the wrenching turns of the mountain roads. Worse, at midnight the bus driver announced that an accident had totally blocked the road, so we sat motionless for 4 hours while the police, ambulance and tow truck tried to maneuver through the stalled traffic. Rolled into Oaxaca at 5 a.m. after a mere 14 hours on the bus.
The end of the story? I loved going on vacation to the beach, but I don’t want to live there. I’d rather walk the cobblestone streets in Oaxaca City than the sand, and it’s the mountains that make my heart sing.
But I have new flipflops, a souvenir sunburn and great sunrise photos.
And now I can say to iguana tamales: thanks, but been there and done that and know to take the lizard skin off now.