Diary of a Globetrotting Family: Lunch on the beach, snorkeling, our daily adventure, Connor’s teeth, and… a brothel?
Peaceful days in a place full of good people. And with an excellent bakery down the street. As we have settled into La Crucecita, the main town in the beachside region of Huatulco, on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, we have found a relaxed place that is a lovely balance of small, yet with plenty to do and see. Here are a few highlights from the week.
As we made our travel plans and got ever closer to our “go date” in August, I made plans to start a new read-aloud book with the kids. Something that would keep us occupied for a long time, and something that both kids would find enthralling. Since I do a lot of the reading aloud, I also wanted to go for something that I knew I would really want to read as well.
Lord of the Rings? Not yet. But soon. We’re going to need to re-read The Hobbit first.
Harry Potter? Connor is ready to pick up at Order of the Phoenix. But Aster is only about to start The Prisoner of Azkaban, and that’s not until her birthday in November.
And then, searching online one day, I came across a list. A lot of the titles didn’t jump out at me, but one did. Something both kids would love. That I had read. Something that, when I re-read the ending, still makes me cry.
I checked out the ebook from our local library. Once it was clear the kids were as into it as I hoped they would be, I bought the ebook. From Washington State to Canada to Texas to Virginia to Mexico, every day I’ve been reading from this book with the kids. Often this bit of read-aloud is some dad-and-kids time, while Jodie does other things. Occasionally she is around when we’re reading, or she’ll tune in for bits and pieces.
One evening, a few days after we arrived in Oaxaca’s coastal town of La Crucecita, the kids and I snuggled on the couch. I picked up where our brave heroes had gone toward a dangerous place full of enemies who would want to kill or capture them. Then Jodie suddenly sat up and turned toward me.
“What did you just say to them?”
“Efrafa,”I said. “A bunch of the rabbits are making a long, dangerous journey from their warren to another warren, but they know the rabbits there are hostile.”
“Eh-frah-fah?” said Jodie.
“That’s the name of the other warren,” I answered. “Efrafa.”
“Thank goodness,” said Jodie. “I thought you said ‘brothel,’ and I was like, what in the world is he reading to our kids?”
Jodie and I had a good laugh. Then I immediately went back to reading, before the kids could ask what a brothel is. I mean, sure, Watership Down is a book about rabbits, but it’s not that kind of book about rabbits.*
* And seriously, the ending of Watership Down is one of the best endings even penned in all of English-language literature. I first read this book over 20 years ago, and every time I re-read the ending, I wind up bawling.†
† But bawling only in the most inspired, beautiful, optimistic yet snotty kind of way.
On southern Mexico’s Pacific coast, there are essentially two types of beaches:
- Beautiful and rugged, with pounding, rough waves, great either for surfing or seeing how far you can get sucked out to sea.
- Gentle, teeny waves, where white sand beaches shaped like crescent moons hide in deep, sheltering bays that looked like they were shaped by a celestial ice cream scoop.
As of this writing, we’ve now been to both kinds of beaches. But there is only one where you can see the LED fish* of southern Mexico.
[*Of course, as far as I’m aware, they’re not actually called LED fish. The proper biologicalistus formalica name is Oh my gosh did you see that fish? I swear it had lights!]
About 10 minutes from La Crucecita (a 60-peso taxi ride, or $3), the calm waters of Playa La Entrega await just beyond a slightly downhill sandy slope (but there are also some concrete steps). As you make your way, people are waiting to welcome you… and guide you, they hope, to the area near their beachside palapa shop or restaurant.
Fortunately, we’d read up on a few spots and already knew where we wanted to go. More fortunately, a gentleman from that very spot was among the people waiting at the entrance to the beach. Granted, Renta de Snorkel Vicente was at the opposite end of the beach, but it was worth making our way for, even with all the extra one-legged crutching work for Jodie. Our guide set out a couple of chairs for us. He and I talked over pricing for snorkeling gear, and soon we were set up with a life jacket, pair of fin, and a snorkel for each of us (about 600 pesos altogether, or about $30).
We hadn’t snorkeled since our trip to Hawaii in 2018. However, at the time Aster wasn’t quite ready for snorkeling. She tried a little, but this time around in La Crucecita, she was ready to go. Kitting out in fins and life jacket, Aster worked out getting on her mask. Before we knew it, she was lightly kicking around the surface of the water and marveling at all the fish under the surface.
Later, after Jodie and I traded places, I was all the more grateful that Playa La Entrega, with its calm beach and snorkel-perfect green waters, was the first place where Aster could get in some proper snorkeling. The kids and I snorkeled into a narrow cave, whose entrance looked like a triangle. Striped fish like rainbows with fins darted around us, each about the size of one of Aster’s feet. Now and again, we’d catch sight of a long, skinny fish, a little like a barracuda or an eel, but with a golden, pearly translucent color that seemed like proof of magical creatures in our regular ole waters.
For me, though, there was no fish like the LED fish. A deep, inky, black, these flattish, elliptical fish lazily swished through the water. Their lips blubbed at the coral. And along their spines, anywhere from four to eight blue dots shone, so bright it was as if the fish had LED lights embedded in their scales.
Lunch truly on the beach
There are many beaches in the world where I have never left a brief footprint. However, I’ve lazed, swum, wandered and romped on beaches in South Carolina, Florida, the Jersey Shore, India, the US Virgin Islands, Thailand, and Australia. I feel like I’ve got enough track record to have a decent sense about good beaches.
At Playa La Entrega near La Crucecita, Jodie and I relaxed after snorkeling, and the kids splashed about in a nearby shallow wading area. I’d nipped over to a restaurant in a palapa behind us. A couple of minutes later, a man set a small, chest-height dining table in front of us, along with a couple more chairs for the kids. Though I have no doubt there are plenty of other places where this is the norm, of all the beaches in all the places I’ve been to, this has never happened.
Soon, Jodie and I clinked glasses. She enjoyed the spicy, bloody-mary-ish beer, tomato, lime, and chili combo of a micheleda. I preferred to go simple though, with a bottle of Dos Equis. Under a cloudy yet calm sky, the little waves continued their slow, lazy lapping of the shore. Throughout the day, the number of people on the beach had increased, but only slightly. Even with the tide coming in, there was room aplenty for families to splash, wander, and relax.
As the plates arrived, we called the kids over for fried breaded shrimp (or camarones empanizados), fresh tortillas, and a whole grilled fish, rubbed with garlic butter. Serenaded by the gentle surf, we dined.
I have enjoyed many a beach. And good food and drink. But sitting at a little table with my family, just up from the tideline, enjoying a cold beer and grilled seafood where the scent of hot garlic floated on the breeze?
I’ve tasted paradise, folks. It’s got a touch of hoppiness, a garlic-butter bite, and a salty seaside tang.
There’s nothing like all that beachside dining to make a kid lose some teeth.
It had been a while since Connor had lost anymore of his baby teeth. Yet during the past week, he’s lost two—including his first baby molar.
Fortunately, the tooth fairy keeps a current passport. And a 20-peso note is about the equivalent of one US dollar, the current going rate for the tooth fairy cash-for-chompers under-pillow swap in the St. Clair household.
Getting ready to go one day, Connor stuck a newly found 20-peso note into his money belt. “Let’s go find some treats!” he said, through the new gaps in his smile.
Yesterday you told me you’d come in today
No matter where the road takes you, sooner or later you’re going to have to wash your underwear.
In the third-floor La Crucecita apartment we were renting, however, there was no washer and dryer. Jodie is aces at hand-washing in a sink, and we’ve certainly done that, and some line-drying, when needed. However, around here a washer and dryer aren’t necessary.
Instead, we bagged up our dirty clothes and wandered a couple of blocks. Our Airbnb host had texted us a map, with cafes, shops, and other services that he recommended. And one of them was a lavandería.
A lavandería is not a laundromat, where you wash, dry and fold your clothes yourselves. A lavandería is a laundry service. Typically priced by the kilogram (roughly two pounds), we could drop off our laundry and pick it up, cleaned, dried, folded, and bagged, the next day, for about 80 pesos, or $4.
Our first full day in La Crucecita, I’d wandered these streets while sorting out a few groceries, withdrawing cash from the ATM, and in general getting a sense of the town. And I knew that, just up from the lavandería, was a row of jewelry shops.
In India, when you’re approached by a person you’ve never seen before but they are convinced they know exactly what you want, they say, “my friend, my friend,” as they hope to steer you by the arm through their front door. The same principle applies in many places. In Mexico you’ll likely hear “mi amigo, mi amigo,” but the meaning is both literally and figuratively the same.
The gentleman at the silver shop had dropped many a “mi amigo” on me when I had wandered past the other day. And he recognized me too, despite my disguise of a full laundry bag in my arms.
“Mi amigo!” he called, as Jodie, the kids, and I neared the corner where we would turn right, down a side street to the lavandería. He switched to English. “Are you visiting my shop today?”
“No hoy. Posible otra día,” I replied. “Not today. Possibly another day.”
“But yesterday you said you would come visit my shop today!”
I chuckled. “You’re right,” I said. “And it’s possible that tomorrow I’ll tell you I’ll visit tomorrow as well.”
I kept smiling, and I hope I kept a kind tone in my voice. He’s just doing his job, after all (and I do need to replace a busted silver chain while we’re here). Such interactions are just part of traveling.
But the best response is the one we gave next. We continued walking, carrying our bags of laundry, so that we could return tomorrow and bring home clean clothes.
Rainy days, bees, and no hot water
October marks the tail end of the rainy season in this part of Oaxaca. While La Crucecita has shown us cloudy days and sunny days, this week we also had two near-total rainy days. Turning off the air conditioning, we opened up the windows throughout the apartment. The downfall took the edge off the day’s heat, but it certainly wasn’t the cooling rain we know from fall in Oregon. Instead, the day was mild, a little muggy, but our lluvia-loving souls thirsted for the sound of rain as it fell on the red tiled roofs and the green leaves all around us.
“What are the bees doing?” said Jodie.
Opening the curtains of the large double window behind the couch, we checked on the new tenants. A couple of days earlier, we had noticed the baseball-sized beginnings of a beehive. The hive had been growing steadily, now approaching softball size, as the bees crafted a layer of cells, then sealed it over with a brownish gray, parchment-like covering.
Yet as the rain fell, the bees stayed indoors. Just like we were.
During one rainy day, our host had arranged for someone to come and clean the apartment. Since it was raining, we were staying in to get some work and school things done. We heard a thunk, and then a smack. The cleaner had opened the window and knocked down the hive.
Water from the sky, though, was a little warmer than water in the shower. We’d let our host know that the gas-powered, on-demand hot water heater wasn’t working. Later that afternoon, a plumber made his way to the utility room off the kitchen. There were banging and tappings, and all the hard work of a pro in a trade that I understand as well as I understand astrophysics.
Soon, though, the rectangular water heater, about the size of my torso, was off the wall and sitting on the utility sink. The plumber hung and hooked up a new water heater. The other likely had a bad sensor, he explained through a translator, but it was easier to replace the whole thing, then he could figure out what part to replace later.
With a “buenas tardes,” he made his way out into the just-dimming evening. And soon we all enjoyed gloriously hot showers—one of the greatest of life’s simple pleasures, especially for the humble traveling family.
Small sacrifices… and what we kept
Every time you say yes to one thing, you say no to something else. There are things big and little that you give up, sometimes by choice (such as about 90% of our possessions), and sometimes by circumstance (such as Week 01, where a security officer at the Mexico City Airport had to confiscate my wee pocket multitool).
But, dammit, there are some things we keep.
At home, our family subscribed to a few streaming services. As we made our preparations, we knew we wouldn’t keep them all. After all, we’d be mostly doing cool things out and about, not hanging around and watching stuff.
Sometimes, though, you want a little time to hang around and watch stuff.
So we canceled Netflix. We canceled Hulu.
As the rain came down though, and we realized we hankered for a wee family movie night, we popped popcorn and were very, very glad that we had kept Disney+.
In the midst of the early afternoon in La Crucecita, with lunch finished and each of us tucking into some respective work or school, the loud clanging triangle rang. As I write that, I imagine flocks of squawking birds flying out of the treetops next to the building, terrified at the sound that had busted up the afternoon’s quiet.
For the rest of us though, it was just the signal that La Crucecita’s rubbish truck was waiting outside. Pausing my work, I ducked into the kitchen and reset the trash bag. Walking down the three flights of stairs, I made my way onto the road that connects the buildings of the apartment complex, blinking in the bright afternoon sunshine.
At home, trash day is something I do in the evening, while the dirty dishes soak in the sink, in preparation for a wash. I listen to a podcast, and in the dark, I would haul our four bins—trash, recycling, glass recycling, and yard waste—to the edge of the street. Occasionally, I might nod at someone walking by. Usually, though, trash night at home was accompanied only the stars (or clouds) in the sky, and the sound of an NPR voice in my earbuds.
In La Crucecita, trash day is very different.
I’ve hardly stepped onto the road, trash bag swinging slightly, and someone has said “buenas tardes” to me, and I’ve replied the same wish for a good afternoon back to them. As we walk among the white buildings, everyone with their respective rubbish, kids chase each other, giggling as they swing padded egg crates toward each other like weapons. Women walk together, talking over the day.
A gentleman I’ve chatted with some was outside with three heavy black trash bags, but, of course, a lack of a third hand. I stepped over toward him. “I’ve got a free hand,” I said. “Feliz ayudar. Happy to help.”
“Oh no no,” he replied.
“No problema,” I said, and picked one up, continuing on my way. He smiled, and followed with the other two. I figured it was the least I could do, since he’d helped with some translation between me and the plumber a couple of days before.
Trash stowed in the back of the rubbish truck, I wished a buenas tardes to the man at the back of the truck, and he wished one back to me. And I went back toward our apartment, where even the trash day gave you a chance to chat in the sun.
As you may have noticed, our travels are all about the simple pleasures. A day snorkeling at a calm beach. A tasty yet budget-friendly meal at a local restaurant.
And, in La Crucecita, a wonderful, delectable walk up one of the main roads, Bugambilia. Just a few blocks north of where we’re staying, near the corner of the zócalo, or main square, we turn right, and there it is.
This La Crucecita panadería, or bakery, has become a near-daily outing for us now. Donuts. Glazed pastries filled with berries, peaches, or caramelized bananas. Chocolate croissants. The baked goodness at Alejandro’s shines with flavor and texture, and we can each treat ourselves to crumbly, sweet, flaky, buttery goodness for about 40 pesos, or $2, for the whole family.
In fact, the afternoon is waning. The evening is coming. And it just may be time to try one of those peach-filled pastries that caught my eye the other day…
Ready to shave?
One last little note before we finish for the week, and I hope it gives you a chuckle too.
While brushing his long brown hair (now down almost to the small of his back), Connor wrapped a thick, ropy strand around his chin and cheeks.
“Daddy!” said my nearly-eleven-year-old, “You need to teach me to shave!”
I chuckled. “Kid, I need to teach you to mow.”
And thus, with each slow and pleasant Oaxaca day, we settled into the lovely coastal town of La Crucecita.