The realities of travelling with a baby – Oaxaca City, Puerto Escondido and Mazunte
After two weeks on tour with you I can confirm that you are a right charmer! Before we’d even sat down you had our flight attendant coo’ing over you, you all smiles and grins, which seems to be your default mood, flapping your arms and legs in wild excitement. Mummy Shark and I were a bit nervous about the next 12 hours. You were blissfully oblivious and living in the moment 🙂. Our Flight Attendant liked you so much look what she brought us when you’d fallen asleep – double portions!
Mummy Shark and I are very pleased with you, and we’re off to a good start.
The Flight Over
This was our first long haul with Elsie, who had just turned 7 months. We’ve flown on small (tiny) planes up to Orkney to visit Granny & Papa Wood, so knew she could handle it for an hour or two, but the 12 hours ahead were an unknown. Hopefully i’m not tempting fate too much, but Elsie was a superstar the whole flight – it was awesome!
Kirsty had skillfully timed her feeds so the Munchkin was breastfeeding as we taxi’d and took off, then she slept for a couple of hours while we drank as much as we dared (see pic, plus 2 more). It’s tricky changing nappies in those small toilets, but we dealt with her post-sleep 💩 and then began cycling through rounds of toy bashing, book reading, face pulling, bouncing up & down, cuddles and walks along the aisles until she fell asleep again about 3 hours later.
Very different to our “old” flight routines where we’d normally get pretty tipsy before boarding, keep going til it seemed appropriate, watch a film or two, listen to music etc before passing out. But we still managed a few hours sleep ourselves and landed in Mexico City pretty chuffed with ourselves, and Elsie!
Kudos to BA too. The Family Check-In area at Heathrow is amazing, and letting you take your pram to the plane door, along with priority boarding and extra Flight Attendant attention all help make a tricky experience much easier. Also, demolishing a M&S Chicken Tikka Masala after 4 cans of Speedbird Ale while cruising at 30,000 feet is hard to beat!
We landed in Mexico City at 22:00 and didn’t get to our airport hotel until gone 23:00. All knackered, me a sweaty mess. The Deryan pop-up travel cot really came in to its own. We’d been getting Elsie used to sleeping in it on a couple of recent weekend trips up North, and our plan worked well. The cot gave her enough familiarity to let her fall asleep in this new environment – a weird little pokey airport hotel we had for the next few hours. I was looking forward to leaving before setting foot inside our room.
The next morning we had the first of our 6 internal flights (sorry Greta), a short journey down to Oaxaca City with Mexico’s equivalent of Ryanair. In a previous essay i’ve talked about why we chose to fly rather than do roadtrips, and in retrospect i’m really pleased with our decision as the internal flights so far have been really good.
We decided to reduce stress at airports by paying for priority boarding and the “infant packages” to let us take our pram and car seat to the plane door. This type of treatment came included with our BA flight over and is a little touch that makes flying with a baby slightly easier.
We had an eager beaver holding up a Brett Moreton sign waiting for us at the other side of baggage reclaim. While it costs a little extra i’d asked all of our hotels/guesthouses to arange airport pickups for us, to avoid the stress of tired/hungry baby + tired/hungry parents + zero Spanish language skills + hot weather + chaotic & crowded foreign airports + no idea where the taxi rank is + getting ripped off anyway. I guess those moments when you arrive somewhere new are part and parcel of the travelling experience, and “old us” would have baulked at the idea/expense of a pre-arranged taxi pickup – it’s all part of the adventure, right? – but I wanted things to be less stressful and relatively safer for our first trip with Elsie and was chuffed with myself as we raced to our first proper hotel. Lento lento lento I shouted with perfect prenounciation, but this was already his idea of slow. They drive fast and loose in Mexico and seatbelts, when present, seem to be largely ignored.
We stayed at a beautiful guesthouse called Los Pilares in Oaxaca City for 3 nights. In what’s become our modus-operandi, we got into our room, pushed the two double beds (booked all accom. to have two double beds, how romantic!) to the sides of the room and immediately set up Elsie’s play area in the middle, after scanning for creepy crawlies (for my sake more than Elsie’s). Sweating profusely, I take Elsie out of Kirsty’s sling and plonk her down on her mat, we surround her with her favourite toys, and whack on the aircon. She sits smiling up at us, happy as Elsie.
I feel like a good parent, and happy. I collapse on to a bed for a minute of rest, before the next task. Can’t get away from tasks.
Extract from journal, Friday 18/10, Day 1 proper: “Main focus now is making sure Elsie is happy, and de-stressing/chilling. Both had really busy few months.
It’s true we were both knackered, generally, and knackered from the journey. Our plans for the trip were to do quite little. On Day 3 we tried to do too much; we did a 3 hour morning walking tour and then we met some mutual friends who lived in Oaxaca for a late lunch, without going home for a siesta. We ended up almost burning Elsie’s cheeks (again) even though she was well covered up, and didn’t give her enough time to swadge oot (this means relax and play/chill in KJ’s Orkney tongue). It was too much for us too, we were all too tired and got hangry. We quickly realised that trying to cram too much in to one day, a habit of ours, would backfire.
The next two weeks our routine was generally: wake up between 05:00 – 07:30 depending on the night, do a workout of some kind to get moving (a wod, stretching, pilates, etc), have a leisurely breakfast, Elsie naps in the sling while we have coffee, wander the city/town, have more coffee, back around 12noon to avoid the mid-day heat & let Elsie swadge oot, have a siesta, encourage Elsie to sleep for at least 2 hours, do some exercise if not done earlier, take Elsie for a dip in the pool/sea, shower, be having a cold beer by 5pm latest, dinner around 6pm, back in the hotel by 7pm to start the evening sleep games, and hopefully be all asleep between 9-11pm.
This has worked really well for us, and even better in the accommodation where we could cook evening meals ourselves, as evening meals out have been tricky sometimes when Elsie is tired. Every day is different though; some evenings we’ve been out and she’s sat happily in her highchair while we ate and drank, others she’s fallen asleep in the sling on Kirsty, but others have just been wrong place wrong time and we’ve had to make hasty retreats. I’m learning to take the rough with the smooth. Kirsty’s really good at this and I get annoyed that I get annoyed – I’m getting better at handling it though.
Day 5 was a turning point for me. I’d come away with just two personal goals – vastly improve my skipping skills, and do lots of writing. Having done nothing of either by Day 3 I told myself that we’d need a few more days to settle in first. Mid-morning on Day 5 and my frustration at having done no writing yet was about to show. We’d found a nice little coffee shop and Elsie was asleep in the sling. I had my notebook in front of me and had started writing. Awesome, even though I was hot and tired. Then Elsie woke up, 5 minutes into a nap that normally lasts 40. I was in a right grump! To my further annoyance Kirsty took this genuine in-action photo of me.
About an hour later back at our guesthouse I was be-moaning the fact it was Day 5 and I hadn’t done what I wanted to do yet. Kirsty stepped in – this was the extract from my journal that day:
KJ being patient [with me] and gently suggested I just try to enjoy hers and Elsie’s company. Lightbulb moment. I need to chill more and just enjoy whatevers happening and treasure this time with KJ and Elsie. I’m being selfish.
It sounds simplistic and obvious reading it back now a couple of weeks later, but I was stressed out to the point I was annoyed at my own 7 month baby daughter for disturbing me and wanting my attention. To be fair to myself I quickly recognised this, took it on board and snapped out of my slump. I took her for a swim, played some games with her and 2 hours later she’d fallen asleep. She slept for almost 3 hours while I got 2.5 hours of writing done.
I was re-learning lessons i’d recently learned back in London – that life with a baby is different, but now in the context of holidays. A new normal for holidaying with a 7 month old was emerging, and it requires flexibility and adaptability. We were still managing to do everything we enjoyed, minus late boozy nights out, but had to adapt to Elsie. In Puerto Escondido we were usually awake by 06:00, so to tire Elsie out before breakfast (so she’d nap while we drank coffee at an awesome little spot) we got up and headed to the beach early every morning to do sprints and goblet squats – one sprints while t’other holds Elsie doing air squats – followed by a dip in the sea. Such an awesome and appetite-inducing start to the day, and Elsie LOVED IT!
It took about 2 weeks (when normal holidays would be ending) before I really started unwinding properly and really de-stressed. An extract from my journal on 30th Oct, 13 days in:
Really started to settle in to it now and feel like today was a turning point for me. Also feeling really close and special bond forming with Elsie. Today was exactly the sort of day I imagined with her, and I put her to sleep, twice! Awesome day!
Obviously I had a “special bond” with Elsie before now, all fathers do, but something changed in Elsie that day. She was getting used to me being around constantly. She trusted me, for the first time ever really, to let me rock her to sleep in my arms – normally it’s Mummy’s job to get her off to sleep. She was getting used to seeing me first thing every morning, and not disappearing for the rest of the day. She was hearing my droning voice ALL DAY, poor girl, and laughing more and more with me, burying her head in to my shoulder when she was wary and clinging to me like she hadn’t done before. I think all of these things would have happened anyway, you don’t have to go on a long holiday to get this stuff, but it was feeling extra special to me. Kirsty was able to relax more too. Having two pairs of hands for all the unseen basics is, handy.
We (and mainly Kirsty) have done everything ourselves the last 7 months. Like lot’s of Londoner’s we don’t have family in close proximity, and we’re nowhere near ready to get childcare (it’s prohibitively expensive in London anyway), so, like lots of young families in the same situation, the last few months have been amazing, but tiring and tough at times.
It’s beer’o’clock now, the next installment will be coming soon. Below are some highlights of places we’ve been, things we’ve done so far, and a running list of ways we’ve been keeping Elsie entertained on the trip.
Oaxaca City – highlights
- Los Pilares guesthouse hotel – great place to stay – a nice pool, friendly staff who were helpful with Elsie, great food, etc. Recommended.
- El Olivo Gastrobar to drink beers for sunset off the main busy streets. Food wasn’t great but worth it for the beers they sell from Colima brewery – one called Paramo Pale Ale was outstanding!
- General wandering around the streets of the city
- Kirsty’s pilates sessions in our hotel room
- My flipflop breaking miles from the hotel – size 11’s being then impossible to find
- We ate at a swanky-ish rooftop restaurant called Casa Oaxaca. The drinks were good, they made guac and salsa fresh at our table (pretty cool the first time you see that) and it was very high standard guac and salsa, but the rest of the food wasn’t that great and took ages to arrive. And everyone there was pretending to be cool and taking themselves very seriously – rooftop places tend to bring out the worst in people IMHO. Overall I’d recommend it though.
Puerto Escondido – highlights
- We stayed at a family run guesthouse in Playa Carrizalillo called Quinta Lili. Luis, Magda and Rosi were so kind and welcoming and were awesome with Elsie. It was a bit quiet at the guesthouse – more people staying would have improved the atmosphere, but it isn’t peak season. Overall I’d recommend it.
- Playa Carrizalillo is much quieter part of the PE area and is great for kids and families and a more relaxed vibe. There’s enough bars and restaurants to keep you happy for a few days. If you want more you’d be better off staying in Zicatela, but i’d stay in Carrizalillo for sure, way more chilled out.
- The actual beach at Carrizalillo is awesome – great spot for sundowners, snorkelling, learning to surf, morning exercise.
- In Carrizalillo the coffee at Dulce Tierra is excellent!
- It’s sourced from Finca Las Nieves, a coffee farm nearby. They have a cafe on Zicatela beach which gave me one of the best long blacks i’ve ever tasted. I wish I could drink coffee there every day.
- Luna Rossa (Italian) and Bonito Bowl (Asian) were our top dinner spots – great food!
- We took Elsie to use the pool at Selina Hostel/Hotel in Zicatela which was awesome. Cool spot.
- The journey from Oaxaca City was either a 12+ hour windy road journey, a 1 stop flight via Mexico City, or a direct flight on a small prop plane. The prop plane was awesome – amazing views and so smoothe. It’s a bit pricey but worth it.
Mazunte – highlights
- Our Airbnb – so cool
- Arquitecto Bar / Cafe on the beachfront – incredible place. Top notch coffee, really good omelettes and food, nice music, ice cold beers every time, cool vibe, lots of dogs for Elsie to flap at
- Lodeli Bar & Restaurant – good modern spot that does good healthy food
- Tiburon juice bar and La Baguette bakery a few minutes up from the beach
- We didn’t manage an evening meal at Cenzontle but we had a drink or two and reckon that it would be an awesome place to spend an evening
- Daily swims at Altamira hotel – this hotel is a 10 minute uphill walk from the strip, it’s worth seeking out. For 50 pesos each you can use their awesome pool with amazing views
- The turtle sanctuary is a bit tragic but keeps a 7 month old entertained for 30 minutes so was 10/10 in my book
- Kirsty’s favourite place – this fruit & veg shop. After 10 days of eating out for every meal we needed a week of healthier evening meals and this place obliged:
Some of our tactics used to keep the Munchkin happy and entertained while away, travelling, waiting for food, etc:
- Swimming / flapping about in a pool or the sea
- People watching
- Watching hustlers or streetside muscians – Elsie falls in to a trance watching them
- Dog watching
- Trips to supermarkets
- Books, toys, general play – the usual stuff
- Plastic bottles with the lid and label taken off
- Napkins – tearing them up (dummy needed to stop them eating it)
- Magazines – tearing them up (dummy needed)
- Pepper Pig – I hadn’t wanted to introduce screens to Elsie until not-sure-when-but-not-yet. But we decided to have some Pepper Pigs downloaded on the iPad just in case. Elsie has developed a habit of kicking off just as we’re about to get our food or start eating, so we decided to start showing her Pepper Pig while we ate, as some nights we were just knackered and starving and needing to eat. It was fascinating watching her reaction – she lost her shit and LOVED it. I must admit actually that I quite like it too. There’s something nice and innocent about it which you don’t get much these days. I don’t think that’s why Elsie likes it. Her attention span is short, so she’ll engage with it for about 5 minutes then want to do something else – just enough time to scoff a meal. We’re keeping these episodes as last resorts for now, but she’s already taking to screens and clambers after our iPhones whenever they are near.
- Songs. Firm favourites at the moment are:
- Five Little Speckled Frogs
- The Wheels On The Bus
- The Grand Old Duke of York
- One, two, three four five, once I caught a fish alive
- Splish Splash Splosh