Having trawled through the Airbnb listings for the Oaxacan coast and created a wish list that went on for days, but not being able to decide what our best bet, I met some Kiwis who told me that Barra De La Cruz could be the perfect spot for a bit of beginners surfing and beach therapy as part of my Oaxacan adventure with Paddy and James. Typing ‘Barra De La Cruz’ into the search box on Airbnb, only one option appeared, named ‘the only house on the beach’, and, after a bit of deliberation, as we’d be putting all of our eggs in one basket, we decided to go for it.
Having caught a minibus for 200 MXN from Oaxaca City to Huatulco at 7am, we arrived about 1.30pm and then hopped on a local bus which abandoned us on the main road half an hour later. We then started walking beach-wards, soon being picked up by a taxi that, for 50 MXN, saved us from some serious sunburn and sense of humour failures. Passing the local cafe in the village, we were hailed by Eric, our host, who hadn’t expected us quite so soon, and hopped in the taxi with us for the last kilometre down to the beach.
We pulled up to the little car park to see signs announcing that this was a protected area for turtles, grabbed our packs and walked through the palms to be greeted by an endless stretch of sand with crashing waves, almost deserted. It had been chilly in Oaxaca City, which is at a much higher altitude, so I got a little hot and sweaty in my jeans on our walk up the beach, but I still got rather over-excited when Eric pointed out the freshly-made turtle tracks in the sand in a few spots along the way, and the flock of snow-white pelicans with black-tipped wings that had congregated by the mangroves and flew off as we approached.
The Kiwi guys I’d met had had no idea there was a house on the beach here, and no one would ever guess that there’s something hidden away amongst the coconut palms, about 10 minutes walk down the beach. Talk about a hidden gem.
We were greeted by Eric’s family, who would look after us beautifully for the next four days. His mum and aunt cooked us two huge meals a day, one about 11am, after we’d snacked on cereal and fruit in the morning, and another about 4pm, before they cleaned up and headed back to the village before night fall, which is at about 6.30pm, seeing as it’s currently winter, (although you’d never know). If we got hungry in the evenings, which we rarely did after second helpings of their delicious, traditional food with endless handmade tortillas, we snacked on more cereal.
Eric’s father, Alejandro, was busy looking after the coconut farm, but was always around to cut the top off a coconut for us when we wanted one. I’ve never been a big fan of coconut water, finding it a bit tasteless, but these coconuts converted me and we had them lined up for us after every surf session.
Also included in the price (USD$30 pp all inc, couldn’t be much further from your average all inclusive), was board hire for the time we were there. Eric had found me a soft board, which I’m still very much in need of despite my best efforts to master the whole surfing thing, and two long boards were produced for the boys. The point break at Barra used to be legendary apparently, and, although it isn’t quite what is was, is still huge during the summer. During the winter, it’s much more suitable for beginners like me. It was a bit of a walk up to the restaurant end where the good waves were at low tide, but we all caught some great waves during the few days we were there, and I was tickled pink when Paddy announced after one wave that it was the best surf session he’d ever had. I took full credit for having got us all there in my role as tour-leader and interpreter.
The other highlight of our time in Barra was our encounter with a leatherback turtle. I knew from Airbnb that there was a turtle protection centre on the beach and that January was the height of nesting season, but I hadn’t dared to get my hopes up that we might actually come face to face with one. Having seen the tracks in the sand however, and been assured by Eric that we’d stumble across one, we set out along the beach, by the light of the half-moon. As there are no other houses on the beach and people aren’t allowed down from the village after dark, there was no one else around apart from the conservationists.
We passed a couple of dark figures on the beach, and only realised later on that they were volunteers waiting for the turtles to appear. Only a few hundred metres on we spotted another dark shape that we thought, by its size, must be another person. It was, in fact, an enormous leatherback turtle, busy digging a hole in which she would lay her eggs. Apparently they can weigh up to 400kg, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lahanna, as we dubbed her, was getting on for that weight. She was practically as long as I am tall, slowly digging away with her back feet/flippers/whatever you call them.
James ran back for his camera and was asked what we’d found by the dark figures. Spanish not being his strong point, he managed to mime what we’d found with some international hand gestures, and they came running to get in position, ready to collect her eggs when she started laying. They asked us not to take any photos whilst she was digging, as apparently any disturbance or light could still scare her off at that point. Once she’d started laying we were allowed to take all the photos we wanted, as apparently they are programmed to stay put until all their eggs are laid, which is why they’re so vulnerable whilst on the beach.
We watched one of the conservationists fish the eggs out of the hole as she laid them, completely oblivious, and watched the pile of eggs grow, to a grand total of 82 fully developed eggs, with another 30 or so that hadn’t quite matured. Another couple of volunteers on a quad bike turned up to collect the eggs, and we were warned to stop taking photos once she’d finished laying, as she would use the reflection of the moon on the water to guide her back into the ocean. She diligently covered up her empty nest, then painstakingly went round in circles a few times on the beach, hefting her prehistoric body through the sand to disguise the exact location of her eggs. This is why it’s best for the conservationists to find her whilst she’s laying rather than discover the nest afterwards, as it can take them ages to find the exact spot where the eggs are nestling.
Once they were done, the volunteers asked us if we’d mind keeping an eye on her until she went back into the ocean. We agreed, delighted to feel like we were doing something useful. To top it all off, as we waited with her under the milky way, an incredibly bright shooting star appeared over the ocean. All in all, it was about 2 hours from when we found her to when we waved her off, and went back to the house feeling a little bemused.
I woke up the next morning without thinking about it, and it wasn’t till we were out on the beach watching our first sunrise (the sun rose over the ocean despite the fact we were on the Pacific coast and expecting sunsets!), that I suddenly remembered we’d been witness to something that’s been happening every year since the age of the dinosaurs. James couldn’t believe it had slipped my mind, but seeing something that special is pretty hard to process!
Alejandro appeared at breakfast that day with a baby leatherback turtle, a perfect miniature of Lahanna. He’d found it washed up on the beach, and they decided to put in a bucket for a while, thinking it must be tired. We weren’t sure about this decision, but didn’t want to upset our hosts so we watched little Archie (obvious name for a turtle) swim around in circles for a while, determined to escape his watery jail. When we went down to the beach we found several baby turtles washed up, some dead, some dying and some still fighting on, and swam the live ones out passed the waves to send them on their way. Our hosts soon decided that Archie should be set free too, but when Paddy swam him out to sea he said it was a bit tragic as he just swam around in circles…
When we walked down the beach to the turtle centre, which consists of a buildings set back behind the dunes and shacks on the beach surrounded by a wire enclosure which provide safety and shade for the nests, we realised they must have released a bunch of baby turtles that morning, and the ones we found were the stragglers, battered by the waves. Only 1 in 1000 turtles makes it to adulthood, but I like to think that Archie eventually figured out how to swim straight and is still going strong. As a male (we think) he’ll never return to dry land, as only the females brave the beach to lay their eggs.
We whiled away four happy days watching the waves, surfing, going on night walks in search of more turtles, watching the sunrise over the Pacific, swinging in the hammocks, playing cards and drinking the tequila and beer we had delivered. Shots after every game of ‘shit-head’ didn’t go so well for some. A dash of tequila poured into a fresh coconut quickly became a firm favourite.
On our last morning we went for one last surf, stuffed ourselves with one last meal, drank a final coconut and hopped on the back of the rickety horse and cart, being driven back to the village through coconut and banana plantations, to start our journey back to Oaxaca, sun burnt and salty, but oh so happy.
Does this sound like paradise to you? Have you discovered any other hidden gems through Airbnb?
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