It's about a three-minute walk to the beach from our gorgeous blue and white casita aptly named La Casa Azul in San Agustinillo, Mexico. The salty sea air is prevalent as Miky and I wake up to the sound of rooster crows and the Pacific waves crashing on the shore. If we wake up early enough, we can watch the splendid red-blood orange globe of the sun rising behind the palm tree on our balcony. For ten minutes, it keeps the intensity of that color before turning a lighter yellow as it rises above the pale blue sky and darker blue of the Pacific.
Miky and I take our bathing suits off our clothesline, sometimes still damp from the evening before. We put them on, grab our sunglasses and flip flops, walk down our steps and pass pink/white/blue flowers growing in our garden, surrounding our path. We pass the small blue swimming pool and the little casita with the arbor of fuchsia flowers. We pass the banana trees with their huge leaves swaying in the breeze and we pass the papaya trees with sexy large papayas hanging from the crook of the limbs. We finally reach the orange metal back door which leads us out of our garden and into the world of our Mexican neighbors. We descend down the steep cobblestone path, cross the dirt path and reach our pathway to the beach.
We pass Tutta, a mop-looking, white, short-legged dog, who is always lying in our path. She is so dirty and smelly that even she knows that she is untouchable. She looks up at me with these little pathetic black beady eyes and I pet her head and tell her that she is beautiful. On the right we see the lady who rakes her red clay yard every day and hardly ever looks at us. Today she saw us and answered our “Buen Dia” greeting. On the left is some broken construction and another red clay yard where two dogs are always chained and bark as we pass. There are roosters and hens everywhere – in the jungle trees, in the doorways, on the roofs, on the path. The huge roosters with their bright red heads and multi-colored feathers strut their stuff in front of the cackling hens. It's morning, they all have something to say.
A little white bunny has just crossed our path into a neighbor's yard – food for the wild dogs unless an owner intervenes and puts it back into its cage. We continue our descent. In the bend of the path, there is a doorway on the left with a muddy trail leading to the interior of a fisherman's home. A makeshift fence made of rocks, corrugated panels and barbed wire separates one cement home from another. Wooden beams hold up the earth that is someone's front yard.
On the right are some open cement and wooden buildings with glass windows (clearly an extravagance) and a yard filled with hanging laundry and smells of fried breakfast. A large family lives here – the old and young playing, eating, lying in hammocks, cooking on open fires, living their lives. Often there is water trickling down the path from the clean washed laundry – we step from side to side avoiding the dirty smelly water. There are at least two or three hammocks per Mexican household.
Carlos, the taxi driver, lives with his family across the path on the left side. His yard is made of cement and his two maroon and white San Agustinillo Nissan taxis are parked there. There is a religious shrine on one side of the taxis and a hammock on the other. A young girl sweeps the yard. Sweeping of yards is a morning ritual. A few steps down, another household lives with a colorful parrot making its morning noises. Children run between households or play with their toys on the path. Women balance loads on their heads and walk very straight up and down the path delivering their wares to their families or neighbors. Sewage, wastewater and pink laundry detergent smells mingle with the smoke of cooking or garbage fires.
We look up to the bright purple-flowered bushes that line the right side of the road, hoping for a waft of natural perfume. The road flattens out as we near the main street of San Agustinillo, which we have to cross to reach the beach. On the right side lives the family who owns the corner store where we often buy milk and water. Here too, the laundry washing is in full swing, more dirty water on the path to avoid. Almost at the end of the path is their compost pile, tucked away on the side of the road, where a mother hen has dug a home for her chicks.
The other day, I saw a young dog that wanted to play with the chicks and was chasing them around the path. The mother hen would not have any of that nonsense and flew at the dog so ferociously that the dog sat down on its haunches, stunned by the mother's bravery. Disappointed, the dog sauntered off.
Across the path on the left is the boarded-up makeshift bakery where a year ago we bought chocolate croissants for our breakfast. We would order the croissants on the way to the beach and pick them up after our walk and swim. They were still warm from the oven. They cost pennies and were the best croissants I have ever eaten. We cross Main Street, bustling with people, cars, trucks, camionetas (public transportation trucks) buses and scooters. We take a few steps down and within twenty feet of the dusty chaos, our feet touch the white sand of the beach.
We walk toward the sea to the wet part of the sand where the Pacific waves pound the shore and recede, leaving perfect curvy lines and a comfortable hard sandy surface to walk on. A clean mist rises from the waves and we're off on our walk and swim before breakfast.
Article originally published in The Eye Magazine. Written by Margarita Meyendorff She is the author of the memoir Displaced Person which is available on Amazon. www.margaritameyendorff.com
Like many Moms, I remember the moments in my life, not by the calendar year, but rather, by the age our daughter was when the event happened. This memory is forever etched in my recall banks. Hailey was five, and we were savoring those last few times when we could vacation outside of the school calendar. It was February, maybe March, and the three of us, had ventured from the Caribbean side of Mexico, and our favorite island, Isla Majors, to explore the lesser-known Pacific pueblos of Puerto Escondido, Puerto Angel and Zipolite.
On a drive outside of Puerto Angel, where we were staying, we bumped along the dirt coast road to see what lay over the bend. What greeted us was not much more than a fishing village, with a tent and RV site right on the beach, and a handful of beach restaurants, three hotels,, and a few little tiendas selling beer, chips, ice, (yes ice in those days for campers coolers), and not much else. If the amenities were limited, what captured us was the idyllic beach and fabulous swimming.
The waves were gentle enough to play in, and the water deliciously warm. After a great beach day, I remember, eating huge shrimp at a restaurant that still stands today, overlooking a setting sun. Rocking a tuckered Hailey in a hammock, my husband and I, toasted to a great day in a tiny unknown pueblo called San Agustinillo, a pronoun with far too many letters in it for me back then. We returned every day that vacation, to play in the waves and walk the wide clean beach.
Then we did not return for many years. Yet I could not shake the idea that San Agustinillo, was waiting. On a whim, wondering what had happened to our piece of paradise, we returned four or maybe five years later, staying right in town, and soaked in the atmosphere and the new changes that had arrived and were putting San Agustinillo on the map. It was like we had arrived home, again. Five years ago this month, we began the process of building our “tree house” home as we have nicknamed it, due to how it perches over the village, and is mostly open to afford the sea views.
We return now, as often as work permits, and these are the ten top reasons why I love San Agustinillo.
1. The amazing bay for swimming which allows you to just bob along in a usually deliciously warm clear ocean water.
2. The long wide clean beaches that allow me to run barefoot and free every morning
3. The sweet twisting main road with its cascading bougainvillea's in a symphony of orange and pink
4. The secret sandy cove my Dad loved, and since his passing has been nicknamed in his honor, Poppa's Cove.
5. The sunshine that shines here more than most, even with climate change
6. The Mexican spirit, that is unshakeable. The village residents are most resilient people I know.
7. The wild parrots that sing to me each morning
8. The dolphin, turtle and whale tours by my hero Captain Beto
9. The stars! Oh my, and once the Milky Way that took my breath away
10. The new relaxed rhythm of the day, as time slows down, and we learn to just BE.
Article by Leigh Marrow. Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer, and co-author of Just Push Play-on Midlife. She owns and operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the coastal village of San Agustinillo, Mexico. Her house can be rented at www.gosanagustinillo.com
It's nearly impossible to choose one attribute that I love about Huatulco. There's the amazing food, gorgeous bays, unfailing weather, friendly people, and the authenticity. I could go on and on but unfortunately I have to choose one. Well actually I will chose two because the people and authenticity of Huatulco go hand in hand. This extremely diverse town is made up of so many interesting and authentic individuals, which makes this place so captivating.
The main reason I wanted to get involved with The Eye team was by being intrigued with one of Jane Bauer's articles. I was reading The Eye for the first time. The issue was Sept 2013, ON THE ROAD. It was the “Editors Letter,” about her bike trip to Playa Zipolite. This amazed me. I knew I had to meet this fascinating person and No, I'm not being a suck-up! Then I met the rest of this talented and interesting team of people and was overjoyed to be a part it. I started to distribute the magazine to numerous establishments.
It was a way to meet locals, expats, and visitors and converse with them by using my Spanglish. Meeting new people is an everyday activity. The locals are pleasant, skillful, and accommodating. I enjoy being active in the community. Why else but to continue meeting authentic people in the authentic town of Huatulco.
By Renee Biernacki
On January 20, 2001 at exactly noon, George W. Bush became POTUS, and Jan became the former Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice. The transition of administrations had not gone well and, sure that the US was in for a catastrophic event, we decided to store all our possessions near Washington DC and drive to Mexico.
We packed some clothes, snorkel gear, a pot, a pan, a toaster oven, and Marcia's computer – essential for the research projects she was still leading in the US – and we headed south. We spent much of the coming months wandering through many states in Mexico; from north to south, from east to west. We visited major cities, rural villages, many archeological sites, and countless beach communities. After thousands of topes, many rough roads, and enough adventures to fill the Eye for years to come, we pulled off the highway into Huatulco.
We couldn't believe our eyes: absolutely smooth roads, modern infrastructure, seemingly endless stretches of pristine beaches, and schools of tropical fish that appeared to be oblivious to our intrusion. There were so few people and places to stay that it seemed as if a paradise had been created just for us. That was 17 years ago, and of course we returned.
By Marcia and Jan Chaiken
Every year we decide that we’re going to Huatulco again and every year we go through the same travel trauma, how are we going to get there? Do we fly direct from Calgary or do we fly to Florida and visit friends before flying to Huatulco through Mexico City? Is there a better route that we missed, are there better flights than WestJet and Air Canada? All of these choices make travel decisions difficult for us seniors.
Last year in the Mexico City airport, my wife, Donna, felt sick, so off she went to the First Aid Station. Turns out that she was suffering from altitude sickness and once she was hooked up to an oxygen bottle she felt fine. Mexico City is 7300 feet above sea level and that’s a little high for Miss Lazy Lungs, so no more flying through Mexico City.
Change of Plans
No stopping in Mexico City and we have reduced our travel options by one and that kind of leaves us with flying direct or driving. But wait, I don’t want to drive, so I found a new option: travel to Huatulco by boat. Go online to Vacations To Go (www.vacationstogo.com) or call your travel agent and check out cruises going through the Panama Canal with a stop in Huatulco. I just checked Vacations To Go, and there are two in December 2018 going east to west. You want to go east to west because west to east is usually a five-day cruise and that’s not worth the cost.
Thursday, December 21, 2017, and we are boarding the Coral Princess in Fort Lauderdale, for a 14-day cruise through the Panama Canal from east to west. We switched from our favourite, Holland America, because this Princess cruise was the only cruise to Huatulco that fit our schedule. Our 14-day cruise will end after 10 days when we jump ship in Huatulco on December 31.
Boarding was quick and easy because we arrived at 2pm and the line-ups were long gone. Because I booked the cheapest room available, we didn’t have a room assigned to us. The baggage guy took our bags and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll get them. “ We’re on Caribbean time so we don’t worry.
We proceeded to check-in and had a chat about staterooms with the check-in lady. Then she gave us our cards and said, “Have a nice voyage,” and off we went. Not off the ship, off to our stateroom. Everywhere we went a nice person was standing at the ready to direct us to our stateroom. We couldn’t have gotten lost if we tried. Stateroom D212, I’ll never forget this, I opened the door and we had a balcony stateroom, perfect for going through the Panama Canal and Donna was ecstatic.
Whoever had booked this room cancelled at the last minute and the room became available. We didn’t book a room when we booked the cruise because it’s cheaper that way. Don’t book the room, take whatever is available upon check-in and you save money. This time we got lucky, we were nice to the check-in lady Pamela and she returned the favour and it paid off. Thank you check-in lady.
Our luggage finally showed up about 7pm, just in time to unpack and go to bed for Donna; I stayed up till 8pm. Between check-in and luggage arrival we explored the ship. Not to worry, we found somewhere to eat without too much difficulty.
We have two sea days to enjoy before arriving in Aruba. This time it’s not the A-B-C Islands, just the A. The Aruba stop is just a half-day, so it will be off to the beach and maybe some Starbucks and free Wi-Fi if time permits. With luck, time won’t permit.
Washing It All Off
One little item on Princess that needs discussion is the shower. I told you we were assigned a balcony stateroom and that’s good. The shower in the stateroom is so small, that you have to get out of the shower to turn around and that’s not good. The shower stall is two feet by two feet minus two square corners. Donna wanted to know how I knew how big the shower stall was so I told her I measured it. Then Donna wanted to know where I got a measuring tape from and I told her I brought it with me. She seemed surprised that I would bring a measuring tape on a cruise but I thought it was normal to bring a measuring tape on a cruise. Don’t all men do that?
Anyway, back to the shower. We have established that the shower stall is less than four square feet in size. The showerhead is a fixed showerhead and it doesn’t move so it sprays half on the person showering and half on the wall, which is not good because you can only use half of the four square foot shower stall.
Port Stops Along the Way
As I said earlier, our first stop is a half-day in Aruba. A half day in Aruba is beach day, so I voted to go back to Eagle Beach and Donna voted to go to Palm Beach. Tie vote, so Donna won and we went to Palm Beach. I haven’t quite figured out how that one worked, but Donna said it was a fair vote and away we went.
Christmas Day is our second stop, and we dock in Cartagena, Colombia. There is a lot of history in Cartagena – the Old City, Las Murallas, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena’s Cathedral, La Popa Monastery and the Las Bóvedas dungeons. They were all completed, rebuilt, or renovated after Sir Francis Drake tried to demolish them in the 16th century. None of these historic buildings has changed for 415 years, and Donna and I tour them all in two hours flat.
Boxing Day 2017 – The Panama Canal – The canal cruise takes between six and eight hours, and for an extra $24,000, the Coral Princess moves to the front of the line-up. We arrived about eight in the morning and go straight into the canal at the Gatun locks. The Gatun locks raise the ship 85 feet above sea level in three lifts and we then sail out of the lock into Gatun Lake and cruise for 77 kilometres to Pedro Miguel lock. Pedro Miguel lowers us 28 feet and we then cruise into Miraflores lock which lowers us the last 56 feet and we’re back at sea level and through the Panama Canal.
I know it sounds simple and it is for something that took 33 years to build and has operated without flaw for over 100 years. All the water movement is gravity feed, no pumps to break down, and the gates are now operated by 40HP electric motors.
The ships are moved through the canal locks by modern mules (a type of electric locomotive that costs $1,000,000) and in a nutshell, that’s how the canal operates. Now you know as much about the Panama Canal as I do.
December 27 is a sea day, and what do we do on sea days? Sea days consist of eating, sleeping, tanning, eating, playing Trivia, swimming, watching movies, eating, drinking coffee, resting, sitting, sitting doing nothing, eating; all these activities tire us out, but we can rest when we get to Huatulco in four more days.
If we’re in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, it must be December 28, and we are scheduled to take a ship’s tour, having signed up for a four-hour Jungle River Tour for $69.95 each. The first and last hours are spent on a bus, and we have shopping stops before we get on the riverboat and after we get off, so the actual time on the river looking for crocodiles is about 1½ hours. We see a number of crocodiles sleeping on the riverbank, so I work it out and it costs us about $20 per croc. In addition, we saw hundreds of birds, and they were free.
Next stop is San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, but no more tours. When we get to San Juan del Sur, the sky is overcast and it looks like rain. After a leisurely breakfast, we take the tender ashore to explore. I must have been an explorer in a former life, because we do the entire town in under two hours and go back to the ship for more R&R. Tomorrow is a sea day, so I need to rest up for all our activities at sea.
Arriving in Huatulco
Today is Sunday, December 31, and the day we disembark the Coral Princess in Huatulco Mexico. To disembark a ship before the final stop, you have to apply—in advance of departure—to your cruise line for early disembarkation. Once approved, you will receive an Approved Route Deviation Request letter.
Three or four days before arriving in Huatulco, take your request letter to the ship’s front desk and ask to speak to whoever deals with customs in port. The front desk will find that person, who will walk you through the disembarkation procedure and give you whatever forms you need to fill out. It’s as easy as that.
The cost of cruising to Huatulco is about ten times the cost of flying, but it also takes ten times as long so it evens out. We enjoyed it so much that we’re booking a Holland America cruise next fall to do it again. For us, it’s so long to Mexico City and hello to the open seas.
By Vair Clendenning. Read more about Vair’s adventures on his blog:
We certainly were not spring chickens when we first came to Huatulco. We marveled that people over age sixty-five traveled here from distant places. And we were sure that by the time we were seventy, we would need to find a warm place in the U.S. rather than in Mexico to provide the comforts and care that our aging bodies would need.
It’s not the first time in our lives that we were totally wrong. We’ve found that, as the years have passed, Huatulco has become even more ideal. Culturally, physically, and financially, we reap many benefits.
Culturally, the attitudes about and reactions to aging in Huatulco, and more generally in Mexico, are heartwarming, especially as compared to other countries. In a recent Pew survey conducted in 21 countries, when asked who should bear the greatest responsibility for the elderly, unlike many other countries where the most common answer was “the government,” Mexicans were much more likely to say, “their families.” In the US, Americans were most likely to say, “themselves.” And over the years we’ve developed quasi-familial relations with younger people in Mexico who look after us as if we’re their own.
English-language songs about growing older written after the mid-20th century tend be be at best satiric, such as the Beatles, “When I’m 64,” or they are downright mean. But one of the most popular folk songs in Mexico is “Mi Querido Viejo” (My Dear Old Person), a love song to an elder with the refrain: “Yo soy tu sangre, mi viejo, Soy tu silencio y tu tiempo,” which roughly translates to, “I am your blood, my Elder; I am your silence and your time.” In Huatulco, rather than being treated as a comical nuisance, our advancing age is regarded as a cause for gentle loving care.
Experientially, in the U.S., grey hair often seems synonymous with invisibility; many teens and adults who are standing and blocking sidewalks don’t notice older people trying to pass, or certainly don’t bother to move. Nor will they give up their seat in a public area or on transportation. In cities in Mexico, including Huatulco, younger people actively monitor the ability of grey-haired people to progress unhindered and encourage them to sit down to rest.
Accidentally drop something in the U.S., and elders are lucky if it doesn’t get kicked aside by people rushing to and fro. In Huatulco, an elder is likely to experience younger people rushing over to help retrieve dropped items. And when an older person loses balance and falls in Mexico, everyone nearby rushes over to help them right themselves and check to see if they need immediate medical assistance.
The physical benefits of living in Huatulco are dramatically evident. We arrive from the cold north with stiff joints, aching bones and tense muscles. Within a few hours, the warm moist air and sea-level barometric pressure virtually washes away those common complaints of aging bodies, and we feel as if we’ve been rejuvenated.
The food available here is also conducive to a wholesome diet. Fish fresh from the ocean, organic fruits and vegetables, and wholegrain breads are not only prevalent but delicious. Although we see tourists reeling from margaritas and other alcoholic drinks, we stick to the excellent wines available from around the world. And in many Huatulco restaurants and condos, the water is entirely safe to drink without destroying the local ecology with plastic bottles.
Physical exercise is also a pleasure. While we no longer spend hours snorkeling, water exercises are just as beneficial in calm bays or ubiquitous swimming pools. Lovely gardens provide opportunities for walks. And gyms are accessible for equipment-aided strengthening.
Keeping mentally fit in Huatulco is also easy. There are many volunteer activities that keep organizational and intellectual skills sharp. Writing for The Eye is just one of these opportunities.
“But what can you do in a medical emergency?” north-of-the-border skeptics frequently ask us. We’ve had our share, and based on our experiences can assure them Huatulco is home to incredible specialists such as Dr. Miriam Lara de la Rosa, an ophthalmologist who, within a 30-minute exam, came up with the same diagnosis and treatment as U.S. retina specialists who employed hours of technologically-advanced testing.
Huatulco is also is less than one hour by air from Mexico City, where there are some of the best specialists and hospitals in the world. In our experience and that of friends who live in Huatulco, the emphasis here on holistic medicine and patient and family care results in not only availability of advanced medical procedures, but faster and more complete healing.
Financially, older people who have established official residency in Huatulco (or elsewhere in Mexico) can accrue many benefits. All it takes is an INAPAM (Instituto Nacional de las Personas Adultas Mayores) card, which can be obtained with the requisite documentation in Santa María Huatulco.
The card entitles elders to deep discounts deep discounts for taxes, water bills, hospitals, and pharmacies. Small discounts are also provided at movie theaters and other entertainment venues. And many museums and archeological sites, including Parque Eco-Arqueológico Copalita (just past La Bocana) are free for card holders.
When asked by well-meaning younger people if we aren’t getting too old to spend time in Huatulco, our usual response is, “We’re getting too old NOT to be in Huatulco.”