Fear & Loathing In Puerto Escondido, Mexico — A Travel Slog

Greg Gregory McGregor
6 min readApr 8, 2021


The Pre-ramble to Travel Slog

“Another travel blog?” you might be thinking to yourself.

Relax, cynical traveler. You won’t find any hashtags, humblebrags, or humdrum hyperbole here.

Travel Slog is for the brutal truths of travel. Those hilarious, absurd, and sometimes disturbing moments that never grace the pages of Lonely Planet.

On the way, you may snort into your matcha latte. You may wince in discomfort. But mostly, you’ll just be left with a vaguely unsettling sense of misanthropic despair.

At risk of building too much suspense, here’s our first article on Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Buckle your seatbelts, because this hippy haven gave us plenty to work with. We brave drum circles, shoulder-dislocating waves, and sports fishing with mezcal hangovers — only to discover that Mexico’s beloved surfing hotspot can be less than heavenly…

Puerto Escondido — or Puerto Encontrado?

Go to Puerto Escondido!” backpacker after backpacker told us in CDMX. “It’s a hidden gem!”. That might have been our first clue for what was to come. Oblivious, we packed our backpacks and headed down to the Pacific Coast like gormless young DiCaprios following our very own secret maps to our very own ‘Beach’.

When we arrived in La Punta, Puerto Escondido’s backpacker haven, we thought to ourselves, ‘someone took this town’s map — and leaflet-bombed California, British Columbia, and Australia’s Gold Coast for good measure’.

Think Bali’s Canggu vs untouched utopia. Trendy cafes, hip health food eateries, and yoga studios strew the neighbourhood’s dusty dirt roads. The star of the show is the sprawling 3.5km Zicatela beach that ends in a rocky point (hence, La Punta). Go there for the perfect Instagram sunset — while surfers smash into one another with reckless abandon in the waves below.

As I watched more than a few collisions, I felt a bit left out. “I want to be human flotsam!” I thought to myself. The next morning, I woke at first light and hit the water. I had the waves all to myself… until the surf schools arrived. As I dodged giant, instructor-propelled foam boards, it quickly dawned on me that being human flotsam isn’t so fun, and this wouldn’t make for a very dignified death story. I spent the rest of the day in the safe cocoon of a hammock.

Hey bro, your chakras are blocked…

In La Punta, yoga classes, beach volleyball, and sipping on super smoothies are other activities of choice. As I chugged cheap ‘XX’ Mexican lager by the beach, the sheer quantity of lean, tanned 20-somethings were a continual reminder of my own pasty, emaciated physique. And profound quotes such as “Life is Beautiful” and “Happiness Comes in Waves” scrawled on surfboard-shaped driftwood merely shone a light on just how morally-vacant, miserable, and ungrateful I am.

In that regard, Puerto’s expat community of entitled LA-transplants and counterculture hangers-on have succeeded in foisting their New-Age, feel-good sensibilities uponthe town.

It’s all good vibrations — until you have an opinion, lifestyle, or belief that doesn’t fit their paradigm. Then the feel-good facade of open-mindedness slips away and reveals itself in self-righteous dogma. Our vegan hostel owner, upon discovering some cheese in the fridge, started lecturing the room, exclaiming, “do you know how much pus is in a litre of milk?!”

It was my cheese. It was pretty good cheese, too.

*cries in ovo-lacto vegetarianism*

Head hung low, morally-bereft, I trudged my way to the nearest cafe and drowned my tears in an almond milk cappuccino.

Man and nature’s link shall be broken

Wildlife isn’t safe, either. Although pelicans can be bonafide bastards, none deserve the fate we witnessed. After breaking its neck in Zicatela’s thunderous waves, this particular pelican was saved from its natural demise by a group of young surfers.

‘That’s kind.’ I thought to myself.

Until they gathered around the bird in a circle. And started chanting. And (this is a true story) blew a cloud of weed smoke into its gaping beak. When that didn’t work (surprise surprise), they decided that burying the bird up to its neck would be the most pragmatic remedy for its shattered vertebrae. Despite the balmy afternoon heat, their deluded earnestness sent chills down my spine.

As we escaped the ghastly scene, a pragmatic local showed up with a large shovel. Hopefully he was able to end the pelican’s life swiftly and humanely. I dream of a better world, one in which the hippies would’ve received the same fate.

Cancun-to-be or not to be?

Puerto isn’t all surf bros and flower children. Further along the coast, American retirees lounge around high-end hotels in the rapidly-developing beaches of Zicatela and Carrizalillo. And the relentless cacophony of hotel construction sings a sad swan song for this once-idyllic fishing village.

But as watch denim-clad construction workers toil the soil under the 35*C sun, I can’t help but feel a pang of envy. “At least they’re having an authentic Mexican experience.” At least my frozen green spirulina-infused detox super smoothie provides some consolation.

Behind the New Age woo-woo, money is, understandably, the true driving force here. Call me a cynical bastard, but it’s true. Anything you need for the ultimate, enlightening vacation, they have — for a price. Yoga classes, chakra-balancing massages, heat-damaged LSD — you name it.

As with many rapidly-developing local economies, the tourist-local dynamic becomes an osmotic form of wealth redistribution. And that’s great; I’m all for wealth redistribution. Eat the rich, down with the entrenched elite, ya-de-ya. If only it didn’t manifest in such sinister forms.

Taxi drivers swindle unsuspecting arrivals at the airport. Police officers shake down drunk tourists under the cover of darkenss. Sleepy cabañas give way to sprawling foundations for megalithic hotels and luxury apartments. And fishing nets are exchanged for aprons to accommodate the town’s rapidly-developing tourism and service sectors. Puerto Escondido is one corrupt official’s signature away from becoming the next Tulum.

One night, we chose to support the local economy with a regretful combination; a debauched night in a mezcalería followed by sports fishing the next day — at 6am.

Teach a man to fish…

It was a tough start. As we set out to sea, blue whales breached the water’s surface, a school of dolphins playfully danced alongside our boat, and a flying manta ray launched itself, twirling, into the dreamy glow of the early morning sunrise — and I launched the poisonous contents of my stomach overboard.

After mere moments, we spotted a giant leaping sailfish which we promptly intercepted and snagged on one of our fishing lines. And as I battled the 50kg sea beast in its 20-minute defiance of death, I fancied myself a sort of millennial Hemingway. Or Captain Ahab, perhaps.

I finally wrenched the majestic creature out of the water, and it shuddered in its final death spasms as its life force drained from its beautiful, iridescent body. I gazed into his eyes and realised they were larger than mine. We weren’t so different after all, this fish and I. Where evolution had borne him to the pinnacles of speed and strength, it had brought me to the zeniths of wit and intelligence. We were two mighty boughs on the same tree of evolution.

“We might have been brothers in another life,” I thought. We might have even been friends. And I was just another tourist who had murdered a kindred spirit for a mere dopamine kick. “Call me Ishmael,” I whispered to myself. Maybe Puerto Escondido had, in fact, changed me.

Under the somber, sobering and sibilant weight of silence, we headed back home with nothing to show from the experience but low spirits and a big bag of bloody meat. Needless to say, we were not in the good graces of our vegan hostel owner when he found his freezer filled with five kilos of fish flesh.

Fare thee well, Puerto

It was finally time to leave Puerto Escondido. We said our goodbyes to the people and places that we had called home for ten days. Squashed between an old, sun-beaten campesino and a disgruntled driver, we fled the city in a local minivan. But for some reason, I felt a vague sense of loss.

Was it loss for this once-sleepy slice of paradise on the Oaxacan coast? Loss for the locals and their salt-of-the-earth way of life? Or loss, perhaps, for my younger, more naïve self — filled with hopes and dreams of a better world?

But as the sea’s infinite horizons turned to mountainous jungle and coastal roads turned to gut-wrenching serpentines above a now-distant Puerto Escondido, my melancholic reflections, too, were replaced — with an immediate urge to be sick.

It was onwards (and upwards) to the city of Oaxaca.