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by Colleen Friesen
For Travel Writers' Tales

Wouldn't it be great to travel like a local?

Even on a supposedly stressless beach holiday, some serious decisions are required. On a recent trip to the tropical town of Puerto Escondido, my husband Kevin and I struggled with some big questions.

It started each Mexican morning: Should we eat perfectly-ripe mangoes and bananas with yogurt and fresh-from-the-market-squeezed-oranges? Or a soft-boiled egg from a local hen alongside a crisp buttery piece of toast? Or, all of the above?

Should we sit on the balcony with Iggy the resident iguana, or dine inside with the slow whup-whup of the ceiling fans? Or, maybe just finish our coffees and walk to one of the nearby cafes for huge platters of huevos rancheros served up with fresh hot tortillas?

It became more confusing by the minute. Should we shower before we did our sandy-hot beach walk, or after? Did we have enough limes for our margaritas for the evening ritual of watching the sun sizzle into the Pacific?

There were even bigger decisions to make, but luckily I had an inside secret.

A few months prior to our trip, I had made my first visit to Puerto Escondido to stay with fellow travel writer Michele Peterson. We stayed in her breezy condo overlooking the flashing turquoise ocean. Michele, having visited and then owned property in the area for many years, had the scoop on where to go, what to see, what to do and when to do it. It was fabulous to have someone who knew everything there was to know about a place. Thrilled, I flipped my brain into neutral and followed in her wake.

A few months later, Kevin and I moved into her condo (while she was back in her Toronto home). Suddenly, it was up to me to be the one-in-the-know. There was no way I could remember everything she'd shown me. Where on earth was that hole-in-the-wall cafe with the live music? Or what was the name of the guy who guided the mangrove kayak tour?

But Michele is not only a part-time resident of Puerto, she is also the creator of the Puerto Escondido Travel Essentials app. For $2.99, I became an instant local. Puerto app in hand, I too, had all the answers. It was Kevin's turn to follow me as I swanned about town like a local, secure in the fact that I was on the cutting edge of the Puerto action. I knew where to go, what to do and who to see.

Where to find the best fish tacos? No problem. Without her virutal help, this question would have crippled my brain. Puerto Escondido (Hidden Port) is a fishing and working city near the southern end of Mexico's Pacific coast (tucked between Acapulco to the north and Huatulco to the south). Each day the fishing boats tie up on the main beach with their day's catch. The resulting fresh fish tacos could be found throughout the city. Finding the best was never an idle question.

With no direct flights servicing this little city of 55,000, Puerto has been largely overlooked by the tourist junket. This, of course, is precisely its attraction. It missed becoming yet another beach town made up of generic fancy resorts (with those nasty resort prices).

Instead, Puerto attracts backpackers, surfers for some seriously consistent waves, expats for its cheap lifestyle, and local-area Oaxacans looking for a little beach time. There are no fancy high-rise condos or other grand mega-malls. This place is the real deal, complete with chattering palms, crowing roosters and beach bungalows.

When a beach town starts attracting backpacking surfer kids, you know that yoga can't be far behind. Add in all the aging boomers who want to stay limber, the increasing Italian expat contingent, and suddenly there are yoga centres popping up between the little mom-and-pop corner stores.

But which yoga centre is the best fit?

There are other questions. With so many beaches, which one do you choose? And most importantly, is there a good masseuse in town?

Michele spends a lot of time in Puerto, so all the info is continually updated.

I've always wanted to travel like a local. Who knew it was this easy?


Don't leave home without it :

PHOTOS by Colleen Friesen:

1. Surfer & Taxi
2. Huevos Rancheros
3. Watching the Sunset
4. Welcome to Puerto
5. Sunset Margaritas

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