Friday, January 29, 2010

Ecotours Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca Pacific Coast

Puerto Escondido Ecotours Oaxaca Pacific Coast
     I was sitting at the internet cafe downstairs form the Cach Bar Disco on Friday night sipping a Corona and checking email when a pool stick came flying out of the third floor billiard room of the Cach Bar and bounced off an umbrella and onto the patio floor, a reminder that Puerto Escondido does have its wild side. 
The wildness of Puerto Escondido is not confined to the discos, however.  For some visitors, the true wildness of Puerto Escondido is located in lagoons along the coast  where there still exists a good variety of wild and endangered creatures.
     Not too many years ago the local people who now conduct tours by boat to see these creatures in the wild were the same people who were hunting the creatures for food and for market. Mazunte near Zipolite had a turtle slaughterhouse and the turtle egg trade was booming. Iguana fetched a hefty price for its meat and its perceived aphrodisiac properties. Crocodiles were hunted for meat and skin. The local trappers and hunters knew no other way to acquire cash so they were rapidly wiping out the indigenous animals.
     Government programs to promote ecotourism took hold in the early 90s and through education, the replacing of lost income through the marketing of animals with income from ecotourism, and some muscle, armed guards patrolling the turtle beaches, the animals have made a significant comeback. The local people have embraced the new trades and they now make a living by offering lodging, dining, and boat tours.

Laguna de Manialtepec
The Manialtepec Lagoon is close to the town of Puerto Escondido, just 9 miles northwest on Highway 200. Look for the restaurants with tour boats and parking to your left as you drive northwest inland along the shore of the southeastern end of the lagoon.  I booked  a tour boat ride with a group of multi pocketed birders to see how ecotourism has progressed. 
     My first trip on Manialtepec took place 10 years ago and at that time I couldn't see how a bunch of overfed Americans piling into an outboard and roaring over the lagoon to scare the bejesus out every lizard and bird, fish and bug could help the environment. What I learned, as our guide told us about the days of his youth when he hunted the iguana and crocidile with his dad in his apprenticeship as a hunter,  revealed the wisdom of the State's program to save the animals from extinction.  The former hunter was now making his living as a guide, and a good one at that.  He knew where to find the aminals and how to approach them so that we all could get a close up look. This was sustainable tourism run by families who could teach their children how to make a living while helping to protect a fragile resource.
 On my recent trip we saw Anhinga or snake bird, a cormorant-like diving bird. roseate spoonbill, pelican, ibis, egrets, herons, kingfishers, hawks, falcons, osprey, and parrots. Many Winter migrants from the north visit the lagoon and our guide knew them all.

Laguna de Chacahua National Park
About 50 miles northwest of Puerto Escondido on Route 200, you will find the Chacahua Lagoon, a larger protected lagoon of mangroves and forest. Here you will find the same bird species as in Manialtepec Lagoon along with many migratory birds that winter in the lagoon. There is also a crocodile farm working to protect and renew the once hardy crocodile population.
Reach the Lagoons by tours out of Puerto Escondido, private auto on Highway 200, or Estrella Blanca Bus (ask if they stop at Rio Grande) out of Puerto Escondido. Local buses also run north on route 200 for Rio Grand and Puerto Progresso.
For Chacahua Lagoon, (least expensive way) leave the bus at the town of Rio Grande (1.5 hours north of Puerto Escondido) and ask for local information about collective taxis to the fishing village of Zapotalito on Luguna Pastoria. From there find the collective boat that runs to Playa Chacahua which is 14 miles distant through two lagoons connected by a winding channel.
Lodging in palm frond bungalows is available at Chacahua Beach.

On the Google map (link below) Follow the road on the map called Costera. Scroll  to the left or northwest and you will come to Manialtepec Lagoon.  The tour boats travel the lenght of the lagoon and reach the sandbar at the inlet to the ocean.

For Chacahua leave the bus at the town of Rrio Grande and take a collectivo to lagoona Pastoria.  Once in the village beside the Lagoon Pastoria,  find the colective boats for the lodging at Chacahua.

Google Map link
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