Part 1: Saying goodbye to the kids
After having spent 8 weeks living and working with the kids at Misión México in Tapachula there were definitely some mixed emotions when it came time to say goodbye. In response to staff and fellow volunteers asking me what my experience had been like during the 2 months of volunteering, I found myself giving the same answer each time; it had been 50% good, 50% bad.
I think most people expect you to say things like, “Oh it’s been amazing! What a life-changing experience!” or “The kids are so wonderful, I can’t believe my time volunteering is already finished!” But that’s the thing about preconceptions, they are often based on complete nonsense. I was relieved to find that both staff and fellow volunteers didn’t look disgusted at my honest reply and instead leaned in further to hear the full explanation.
I must admit that overall I learnt a lot from the experience, not just about dealing with children, but also about myself; further perspective on where I come from in addition to timely reminders about the many advantages I had during my childhood in the UK. Whilst I had connected with a good number of the individual characters at the refuge, enjoyed getting to know them, learned about their culture, read the little ones bedtime stories and learnt some great slang words from the older ones; there were also times when chaos ruled and it was all us volunteers could do to stay sane.
To be fair to the kids and the organization as a whole though, I must admit that the location and the climate had a lot to do with me labelling it as ‘50% bad’. I learnt to enjoy Tapachula as much as I could, but realistically there’s not much to do there, and during my stay in June and July it went from stinking hot to tropical rain storm and back to stinking hot on most days. On the flipside though, by the time I left Tapa I knew quite a few local people on first name terms, from Yolly the laundry lady to Umberto in the ironmongers; so it wasn’t all bad.
Anyway, despite my ramblings above I couldn’t help but feel a little sad when I said my final goodbyes to the gang. One final bedtime story for the chiquitos, and then a big hug and a few friendly put-downs as the older kids filed back from watching TV; big smiles all round and some really heart-felt messages which I hadn’t expected. The kids even presented me with an old skateboard which they had all signed as a leaving gift. I don’t think every volunteer gets that, so I was suitably humbled.
I’ll be passing back through Tapachula one day, and when I do I’ll be sure to check in on this lot…they’re alright y’know.
Centre design of the signed skateboard
Right side (loving Alex’s random signature)
One humbled volunteer
Part 2: Tapachula to Salina Cruz
After saying farewell to the niños it was time for the 10:45pm overnight bus from Tapachula to Salina Cruz; north along the pacific coast and onwards with the adventures! As I’m fast learning, the major bus companies in Mexico appear to be ADO and OCC; however after an infuriating 30 mins trying to book my ticket online a few days earlier I’d ended up walking down to the Tapachula bus station to buy the ticket in person. There is basically only one option of departure time (10:45pm) and it will cost you $502 Pesos (about £22 GBP) for the 7-hour journey.
I wasn’t really looking forward to an overnight bus, I mean at least the bus had a toilet, but sleeping sitting upright is literally a pain in the arse! Added to this was the random stop just after midnight where everyone had to exit the bus, grab their luggage, and then proceed through an indoor security checkpoint (without any real explanation obviously). After standing around for 20 mins like slightly perplexed zombies we were then allowed to board the bus again and be on our way…random.
The driver was also a very considerate guy and made sure to switch all the internal lights on at every stop, not that anyone was trying to sleep or anything…and not that I ever heard any announcement as to where we had stopped either. The best bit was when I just happened to wake up when we stopped (note that the internal lights were not turned on this time) and ask the lady next to me where we were, “Salina Cruz” was the reply. My stop. That was lucky.
Not so lucky was the torrential downpour that Salina Cruz was experiencing upon my arrival at 7am. No problem, there are plenty of taxis at most of the ADO/OCC bus stations so I just jumped in the first one, the driver making special mention of how ferocious this particular storm was. 5 minutes later and with the windows completely steamed up from the rain and humidity, said driver and I both have our heads out of the windows trying to find my AirBnB in the tropical storm. It’s only when my hosts are kind enough to brave the storm with jackets and umbrellas that we realise we’ve driven past the place a couple of times; thanks again to Abel and Xochitll for their kindness.
Part 3: Salina Cruz
I’ll be brutally honest, Salina Cruz is a bit of a non-event and I wouldn’t suggest going there. These pictures are basically the best bits I could find…
Centennial plaque in the main plaza
Crest of the local university
Fairly epic but slightly sketchy skate park
As touristy as it gets in Salina Cruz
I’ve heard that there are some hidden gems in terms of hard-to-find surf beaches nearby if you have a car, but I didn’t, and I’m currently a crap surfer; so that was that.
In the two days I spent in Salina Cruz the best bits were chatting to Abel and Xochitll (pronounced ‘Sochil’) at my AirBnB, and spending 4 hours at the only restaurant near the main beach drinking coffee, eating great seafood and researching cryptocurrencies! The main beach is miles from town and not properly developed, apart from the large industrial port area which seems, unfortunately, to be the focal point.
…and that’s about it for Salina Cruz really…
Part 4: Salina Cruz to Huatulco
The bus from Salina Cruz to Huatulco was a much more civil affair, leaving at 1:25pm and arriving at around 5pm (with only 7 people on it), it costs $180 Pesos (about £7.50 GBP) with ADO.
Arriving into Huatulco was reassuring in the fact that it looked like a touristy beach town; hotels, cafes and restaurants, busy shops selling tacky inflatable things…proper pavements, you know, the usual stuff. It might seem odd to find these sorts of things reassuring, but after having spent the past 2 months in parts of Mexico where it was common to take large detours around holes in the pavement/road (if there was a pavement) I was happy to be back amongst the tourists.
Love a surf buggy
I was lucky enough to stay with a friend of Delmar’s called Pablo, an Aussie and a keen surfer who has called Huatulco home for the past 5 years. Pablo gave me a place to sleep for a few nights on possibly the best mattress I’ve ever seen:
Part 5: Huatulco
Pablo encouraged me to join him for a dawn surf session at Barra de la Cruz, just a 20-minute drive along the coast from Huatulco. Whilst I wasn’t overly keen on getting up at 5:45am to catch the sunrise, watching the surfers whilst being on a picturesque beach in water the temperature of a warm bath soon silenced any thoughts of tiredness.
Arriving at the beach
Surfers head out into the waves
The sun rises behind the clouds
The perfect surf shot (check out the classic laid back pose)
Coconut + Crab
No words needed
Part 6: Huatulco to Puerto Escondido
The bus from Huatulco to Puerto Escondido can be caught from the main bus station in town, they leave every hour on the hour and you can just turn up and jump on for $67 Pesos (about £3.50 GBP). The journey time is supposed to be about 2 hours, but this is dependent on how full the bus is when it leaves Huatulco and how many random stops the bus makes to pick up people along the way. I hadn’t planned on a 3.5 hour journey on a bus without a toilet, so by the time we arrived in Puerto Escondido I was basically sprinting for the loo (keep that in mind if you happen to make the same journey!)
A quick taxi to Hostel Vivo Escondido was $40 Pesos (about £1.75 GBP) and it was time to chill. The place has some amazing murals throughout and a relaxed vibe too.
Best. Mural. EVER.
Oh, and there’s Saki the cat too
Whole Red Snapper at ‘Cafecito’ not far from Vivo Escondido
Just a short walk from the hostel (and down about 200 steps) is Playa Carizalillo, an awesome little beach with some great beginner-sized surf waves.
Playa Carizalillo from above
Playa Carizalillo sunset
Tune in next week to hear more about Puerto Escondido, baby turtles and more!
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