Our entry into Mexico started with a week in the quaint, small city of San Cristobal De Las Casas. This artisan center offers a colorful smorgasbord of art, crafts and food within a gorgeous valley setting that is punctuated each morning and evening by luscious sunrises and sunsets. The walled grid of cobblestone streets provides a rich playground for exploration, and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this city.
Our home base for the week was an Airbnb in a modest home on a steep hillside overlooking farmland in a lively neighborhood on the East side of town. Our hosts Sophie and Lalo were very accommodating and generous. Sophie works with a local indigenous community, finding ways to enrich their lives and Lalo recently purchased a plot of land outside of town where he is building the permaculture homestead of his dreams. One day, Lalo took us to his land to see the progress on his homestead. It was a joy to walk the land with him, dreaming and scheming about the possibilities and offering some pro-bono consultation, which he soaked up like a sponge.
If there’s any downside to this place, it’s that the neighborhood we were in is quite rambunctious at pretty much all hours, day and night, much to the chagrin of our hosts. We’re talking dogs, cats, fireworks, music, drunken neighbors and especially the young rooster that lived just the other side of our bedroom wall that crowed all through the night, every night. While we got used to the racket for the most part, it’s safe to say that we were a bit haggard and sleep-deprived by the end of it all, and our next destination was drawing us in like a magnet.
Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t going to be an easy transition. Haruka had picked up a stomach illness the day before we were leaving…the kind that sucks all of your energy dry, leaves you with no appetite and makes you go to the toilet a lot more than you’d like. I spent that day doing errands and combing the city for remedies for Haruka’s ills. I managed to find fresh epazote, chamomile and neem from the market to make a medicinal tea blend. The herbal concoction seemed to have Haruka on the upswing, and by the next day we were preparing for our journey to the coast. Part of that preparation saw me processing the fresh herbs, separating out the flowers and stems and setting the leaves out to dry, which ironically is the activity that probably led to my own demise. I’m pretty sure I probably forgot to wash my hands before heading to lunch and feasting on a delicious deli sandwich…oops. Several hours later, about 3 hours before our 10 hour overnight bus ride to the coast, I became violently ill, which made for a very uncomfortable and challenging journey. My saving grace was that I managed to expel all substances from my system before getting on the bus, leaving me nothing left to purge.
In retrospect, I totally messed up. I absolutely know better than to not wash my hands after handling fresh produce that probably got rinsed with water of very questionable quality. While traveling in Mexico and other places with questionable sanitation, stomach ills are nothing abnormal, and in some cases, totally out of our control, but following some basic guidelines can go a long way in keeping our bodies healthy on the road. For my own sake, and for anyone out there who may be traveling in such locales in the future, here’s a few things to keep in mind:
* Wash your hands with soap often, especially before eating. (Sanitary hand wipes can save you if water and soap are not an option.)
*Steer clear of eating raw foods and salads in restaurants unless you can confirm that they were washed with potable water.
* Eat food that’s hot and thoroughly cooked. If cooked food arrives to your table cold, consider sending it back to be reheated.
*Try to eat at restaurants that are busy and are currently serving customers, so as to avoid getting food that’s been sitting around. It’s best to adjust your eating schedule to that of the locals so that you’re eating at times when the food is hot and fresh. This is especially the case when eating street food.
*Don’t drink tap water. Don’t even use it to brush your teeth. (I have a friend that takes a little drink of tap water whenever he enters a new country, just to get his body used to the local germs, but I can’t recommend this.)
*Only eat fresh fruit and veggies that you can peel or wash with clean water.
So, by the time we arrived on Playa Estacahuite at 9:00 the next morning, our sand-floored, bamboo bungalow perched above the turquoise, Pacific cove was a sight for sore eyes and tortured stomachs. Again, this was an Airbnb situation, and at $23/night it might seem a bit steep for such primitive arrangements in Mexico, but clearly what we were paying for was location. And what a stellar location it is. Estacahuite consists of 3 small, crescent-shaped, white sand beaches tucked in between dramatic cliffs. The cove is fairly protected, so the wave action is minimal, and it is home to a nice coral reef which is primo for snorkeling. At the moment there are just 2 primitive bungalows on the beach, so other than a few handfuls of daytrippers each day, its pretty secluded here. Unfortunately that looks poised to change very soon, as there are several new resorts currently under construction, so our timing was good.
Estacahuite was just the medicine our bodies needed to get back on track. We’ve done a bit of swimming and snorkeling, but mostly we’ve just done a whole lot of nothing and SLEPT. It’s easy when the only sound you hear at night is the gentle caressing of waves on the beach save for the one night that we were awakened by a blood curdling scream around 11 pm. We then heard a series of frantic screams mixed in with muffled weeping coming from the other bungalow where we didn’t even know someone was staying that night. Our first thought was ‘That’s some weird-ass kinky sex’. But then we became concerned that a woman was being tortured, so I went a little closer to investigate, and what I found was a young couple that was completely losing their sh!t over a couple of spiders in their room. I get that arachnophobia is a thing for certain people, but jeez, c’mon. These were 2 mid-sized, non-poisonous spiders that definitely didn’t deserve the death sentence they received. I’d say if you’re that fearful of creepy crawlies, you probably shouldn’t travel in Mexico, and if you must, then may I suggest the Cancun Hyatt.
Food-wise, the options are pretty sparse. There are fruit stands about a 20 minute walk away that played a big role in our recovery. As far as restaurants go, there are basically 2 beachside places that serve fish, shrimp or octopus and that’s pretty much it. One restaurant also had spaghetti, and the other one had french fries and salad, which was the one we spent the most time at, as it was right next door. And while the dishes were nothing fancy, they definitely had a home-cooked feel to them that slowly but surely brought us back to good health. But even much better than the food was the experience of spending so much time in the midst of this fishing family that spanned 4 generations. As farmers we could truly empathize with their lifestyle, as these were some of the least lazy people you’ll ever see and each one of them had their role within the operation. Materially speaking, they don’t have much, but they hold a passion for life that I can only hope most humans will someday find. We’d like to extend our gratitude to them and also to Playa Estacahuite for nursing us back to health.