12/20 Puerto Escondido to Aqua Blanca, 1.5km off highway 200 between KM marker 171 & 172. 34km.
The alarm went off at 5 am. The full moon still high in the sky. We snoozed a bit longer and by 6:45 am we were on our way. The thermometer read 67F and a slight cool breeze made it perfect. We watched the sun come up over the mountains ahead of us. A few km's down the road we got on a new road being built parallel to HW 200. It was not open for car traffic yet and no work crews were working. So, for us, it was a private road, so to speak, for 20 km. By 9 am it was 83F and by 10 am 93F.
We stopped for breakfast when we spotted a small Comida. Dave enjoyed his beef tacos but my quesillo, basically a quesadilla with local cheese as far as I can make out, was subpar. Too easy on the cheese….a Dutch girl needs her cheese.
The elevation profile for today looks like a row of sharks teeth…up down up down. Not a lot of shade to be found either. By 11 am we stopped for some fruit at Santa Elena. Two km further at km post 172, we turned off on dirt road for 1.5 km and were greeted by a most beautiful beach, lined with ramshackle palapa (palm frawn roofed) restaurants, no hotels. Mostly locals come down here for the day in Colectivos (small trucks used as buses).
A friendly lady at the last little restaurant on the right, El Marisquito, beckoned us to sit down on table in the small but inviting coconut palm grove. We asked her if it was ok if we pitched a tent there for the night. "Sure, no problemo, you can even sleep in the hammocks if you like", she said, pointing to the hammocks stretched between the palms. In no time Dave was zonked out in one of them. Michelle caught up on her journaling while sipping fresh lemonade. Ahhh... life is good.
Katerina made Dave a nice fresh tuna lunch and Michelle enjoyed a grande shrimp cocktail. Katerina, a busy lady, was also directing some guys who began to sink tall beams into the sand. Soon we could tell they were erecting a palapa. No measuring to speak of. If the pole was as high as one guy could reach, it was at the right height. Squaring the corners was done by eye. In no time, they had the frame work of the palapa up and ready for palm leaf roof. That would be left for another day.
We went for a walk along the beach as the sun began to set. Had fun with some shadow-play cast upon the sand. For dinner we had to go down the beach to another restaurant to find Mexican food other than fish. Here we found larger places that had the bulk of the Mexican tourist business. One place had perhaps 30 customers. A few others had small parties of 3 or 4. Most of the dozen or more palapa restaurants along the beach were totally deserted. We ordered 2 tortas and returned to our place.
Katerina had closed and was walking to catch the colectivo bus. She asked if we wanted breakfast in the morning. We declined as we planned to be riding at daybreak. It was approaching 9 pm and now the full moon cast our shadows on the sand. We discovered Katerina had left a candle on our table. We played cards and Dave was able to beat me at a few more hands. Pure luck!
By 9:30, we were blissfully swinging comfortably in our hammocks and seconds from dozing off. That is when it happened. Our state of bliss came to an abrupt end.
Six machete wielding guys walked down the dirt path 25 feet from us. One pointed a flash light in a grove of trees in front of El Marisquito’s (our restaurant/accomodation) and began whacking away. Minutes later, a chainsaw arrived which speeded things up for the poachers. We laid in our hammock, still as church mice, a stone’s throw from the work crew. Felled wood was loaded on a truck and departed. A second truck arrived and was loaded. An hour had passed and we had not moved a muscle. We were camouflaged in the shadows of the coconut palms. Then several of the guys pointed flashlights in the tree right in front of us. We suspected that tree was next and it was way too close for our comfort. This was going to be a long night. We had the bikes leaning against the palm tree right next to us and we were afraid that if the crew spotted them, they would be loaded on the truck next, not to mention what they would do if they spotted us? Dave snuck over to me and whispered that we had to get away from there and get to the darkness under low slung old palapa on the property nearby. The only thing was, we had to cross a moonlit patio to get there plus we would be silhouetted against the moonlit white-sand beach. We spent the next 30 minutes inching our way to safe haven. We then peered nervously from under the palapa as more truckloads of wood were being carted off. Eventually, Dave could not resist the urge to attempt to get the bikes over. He managed to get back to the bikes again. One of the two guys working on the tree on “our” property stepped back from the guy running the chain saw and was standing 8 feet from Dave. Miraculously, NOT noticing Dave (or the bikes which were still sporting the reflector clad yellow bike bags) as Dave sat there peering at the action through his bike’s front chain rings. He decided it was best to avoid surprising the machete and chainsaw armed guys and retreated along the ground to the obscurity of the palms grove further away. It was amazing how difficult it was to see Dave in the shadows. The guys working in white tee shirts were visible only when they moved in the moon light or in front of each other’s flashlight. What turned out to be the last truck load departed about 12:30 am. After 30 minutes of silence, we decided they must be gone and were done for the night. Dave moved our bikes and gear to the darkness under the palapa happy that we were not detected. We discussed the reasons that none of the locals called authorities. One lived in house about a hundred yards away. And we suspected that some of restaurants along the road have night watchmen.
It took a while before sleep would find us… but it did…for a few fitful hours.