Part 1: Life at the Hostel Vivo Escondido
Despite having been in Mexico for nearly 4 months, this was the first time that I’d actually spent more than one or two nights at a hostel, the previous places being either AirBnBs or staying at Misión México. I’ve experienced plenty of hostels during my previous travels so I know you have to adopt a generally laid back attitude in order to make the most of them. As with most things in life, plan for the worst and hope for the best.
My first two nights at the Hostel Vivo Escondido were a reminder of why you need to maintain that certain ‘hostel tolerance’ state of mind; now in my mid-30s and staying in a dorm room for the first time in about 5 years, I ended up with a top bunk…and I hate top bunks! Whatever, suck it up, it’s somewhere to sleep and it’s only $180 Pesos per night (about £7.50 GBP); however the heat in Mexico can also make staying in dorm rooms pretty damn stuffy, even though there are ceiling fans in all the rooms at the Vivo Escondido.
The main luck of the draw however is what your fellow hostel guests are like; the chilled type…or the party type. Let’s just say that I didn’t get much sleep on the first two nights, and I was seriously considering paying a bit extra for a private room going forward; slamming doors at 2am and drunken whispering being the most testing elements.
However, I think it’s a question of synchronizing with your fellow guests, if everyone is following roughly the same sleep/activity/socializing schedule then it’s easier to go with the flow; I’m guessing I must have synchronized with the collective after the first 2 days because it got a lot easier to sleep after that. I’m sure it also helped that I moved to a bottom bunk next to a window too, meaning a fresh breeze throughout the night.
Anyway, despite my moaning above, the longer I stayed at the Vivo Escondido the more I thought that it was actually one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at! The owners, Ross from the USA and Jasmine from The Netherlands, are super friendly and informative about the local area, plus the volunteers that help with running the hostel (in return for free accommodation) are always keen for a chat, a beer, and sometimes even a surf; not to mention the artwork and murals, the free breakfast and coffee each morning, the pool, Playa Carrizalillo just a 5-minute stroll away, and of course Saki the cat.
Light and airy space around the staircase in the centre of the building
BBQ area on the first floor
My bed for two weeks
One of the many awesome murals
Deadpan birdy mural
Full to the brim after a night of heavy rain
‘Saki’ the cat
Peaceful and breezy rooftop yoga and hammock zone with ocean views
Sunset view from the hostel rooftop
Part 2: Playa Carrizalillo
Just a 5-minute stroll from the hostel (and down 169 steps) is the small but perfectly formed Playa Carrizalillo with its clear blue water, coconut palms and beginner waves. From sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling to paddle-boarding and surfing, there’s plenty to do at all times of the day.
I decided to spend my first few days getting to know the beach and the waters before venturing out for a surf; I had almost 14 days here so there was no rush. Plus, knowing how the waves crash and if there are any rocks and rips to worry about always helps to build my confidence before surfing a new spot, especially at this early stage in my surfing career.
Taking the GoPro out for a test
Chunk of coral found during a mini dive
Part 3: Surfing at Playa Carrizalillo
The beach is only about 100 metres from end to end but it never seems to get overcrowded which is a bonus; the same can’t always be said for the waves unfortunately. There were 3 places that I found for surfboard rental and they all charge $100 Pesos per hour (about £4.50 GBP); they’re generally a restaurant first with surfboard rental as an added extra. I rented from each of the 3 places in the end since they do run out of boards on some days, the friendliest lady is located at the far end of the beach on your left (when the ocean is on your right). She has a decent selection of boards and they were generally in good condition.
Whilst Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido is known for having the world’s heaviest beach break, Playa Carrizalillo is a point break protected by its horseshoe topography, so it’s a lot safer to surf for beginners like me. Unfortunately, this is common knowledge and so the water is often chock-a-block with newbies and their instructors hogging the best spots to sit and wait for waves.
An average day at Playa Carrizalillo packed with surfers
Despite my early success in Sayulita with standing up and riding a few waves, my time surfing in Puerto Escondido can only be described as ‘paying my dues’; I’ve hit a bit of a plateau in my progression as I try to combine the main elements of surfing that I’ve discovered so far:
1: Learning to balance whilst sitting upright on a floating surfboard; which seems to be a combination of tensing your core muscles whilst relaxing most of your other muscles to mirror the motion of the ocean.
2: Building up my paddling muscles and fitness; since you spend about 80% of your time paddling ‘towards’, ‘out of the way of’, or ‘on to’ waves.
3: Learning to spot the right waves to paddle for; if you’re not paddling then you’re floating around looking out to sea for the next surfable wave, and since they don’t always break in the same place you need to know when to paddle your little heart out to catch one…or to get close enough to float over the big scary ones before they break!
4: Learning when to jump up into the surf position; this seems to be the killer for me right now, as by the time I stand up the wave has often lost its shape and crumbled into whitewash. Whilst jumping up as the wave collects you and surges forward feels amazing, this is also the point where you can wipeout pretty spectacularly if the nose of your board submerges and you get catapulted ahead of it, only for the wave to then pick up your board and dump it on top of you!
5: Getting used to being absolutely munched; this is the main bit of ‘paying my dues’! One day I went out for 2 hours in 7-10 foot waves…that was an experience for sure! That point as everyone sees a massive wave rolling in and you have to quickly decide if you’re going to try and catch it (yeah, NO!) or if you have time to paddle towards it and get a roller-coaster ride over the top before it starts to crest…OR, if you’re just gonna have to ditch your board and dive, dive, DIVE! When that things hits and you’re still near the surface, that my friends is what you call getting absolutely munched! Think 10-foot-high washing machine on full speed…and you’re inside it (although I’m pretty sure getting munched whilst riding a wave like that is way worse, I’ll let you know when I get that far).
Yet despite the fact that I’m getting a little frustrated with my slow progression, I still sit on the beach after every surf with that happy, knackered and content feeling you get from sustained exercise and physical challenges. After the 7-10 foot waves I think I must have sat there looking slightly traumatised by the experience, but man did that beer taste good back at the hostel!
Sunset next to Playa Carrizalillo
Tune in next week to hear about the end of my Puerto Escondido adventure and the triumphant return to Sayulita!