Sayulita!

I’d recently read about the town of Sayulita in a book called Gringos in Paradise, and it sounded pretty cool. I’m not a resort-type of person, so the fishing and surfing village of 4,000 residents made up of a mixture of Mexicans and Gringos sounded like a much better spot for my first trip to Mexico than say, Cabo San Lucas or Cancun. It also helped that Sayulita is an easy busy ride north from the Puerto Vallarta airport, which also happens to be a relatively affordable airport to fly into.

Touching down in Puerto Vallarta, the first things I noticed were the mountains to the southeast and the size of the palm trees. I wasn’t expecting the area to be mountainous, and the palm trees were huge. The airport was a bit unorganized, especially in the baggage claim area. The travelers were primarily Canadians and Americans, which made it easy to ask people questions, but unfortunately none of them had any answers. After getting our checked bag and going through customs, we eventually found our way into a room full of salespeople representing hotels, timeshares, and guided trips. I knew this room would be a huge challenge to get through, because David is unable to ignore anyone. When one of them who was fairly close asked us where we were going, David was unable to keep walking. Answering all of this salesperson’s questions and engaging him in a lengthy conversation, we were trapped in this room for another 30 minutes until I said that I needed to catch a bus. Thankfully David took my lead and came with me.

Puerto Vallarta Airport

We had been told that the ATMs near the outside of the airport are cheaper than the exchange rate booth inside the airport, so we got our pesos at an ATM. We never did confirm that was the better deal, but we were quite happy to avoid the long line at the exchange rate booth. One thing that I found disappointing was that I was charged a bank fee for the ATM withdrawal even though I’d opened up a Charles Schwab account to avoid international fees and ATM fees. I am happy to report that a week after I got home, I was reimbursed for those ATM fees by Charles Schwab. What an awesome bank. However at the time, it appeared that I’d be paying that fee, so I withdrew money frugally the entire trip. We did learn that banks charge significantly different fees, so if your bank isn’t Charles Schwab or some other bank that offers that deal, comparing ATM fees is a good idea. And it’s wise to take out the maximum amount of pesos, because it’s a fixed fee, not a percentage. One thing I hadn’t done but luckily David had was come up with an easy way to convert pesos to US dollars. With 1 dollar equaling roughly 18 pesos, we divided the number of pesos by 20 then added a little bit back in. Or if dividing by 20 was challenging, we divided by 2 then divided again by 10.

After withdrawing five hundred pesos each, which seemed like way too much money at the time but in reality was only about $28 US, we walked out of the airport, crossed the pedestrian bridge over the busy street, and found a green and white Compostela bus heading north to Sayulita that we’d been instructed to take by our guesthouse proprietor. We rode the bus for about an hour, arriving in Sayulita with still another hour before dusk, which was good since we still needed to find our guesthouse.

Compostela bus from PV to Sayulita

I knew we needed to walk a bit from the bus stop to our guesthouse, so I was glad I was using my backpacking backpack as my luggage, and it was especially appreciated when we got lost and found ourselves walking a lot longer and farther than expected. Many hills and much frustration later, we eventually found our guesthouse overlooking the ocean and tropical setting below. Amazing!

From the deck of our airbnb

We grabbed some dinner in our neighborhood, then headed back up the hill in the dark with our flashlights. We couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning and explore.

Our first meal in Sayulita…most restaurants here have only outside dining

DAY 2 / BASEBALL AND SUPER BOWL SUNDAY

Waking up at dawn, it was a bit disorienting to find ourselves in a tropical paradise. It only took me a nanosecond however to remember to turn on the lights before setting my foot down to make sure I wouldn’t be stepping on a scorpion. While I had to constantly remind myself not to drink the tap water, I never forgot to look before I stepped.

Drinking our coffee in bed facing the balcony overlooking the ocean and the trees is indescribable. Sadly, I did wake up with a cold, which I’d started coming down with the day before the trip. While I’d hoped that it wasn’t going to amount to much, I was disappointed to discover that my sore throat was worse and my head was very congested. However I was not going to let a little cold stop me from exploring on our first day in Mexico, because that is by far my most favorite thing to do.

What we woke up to every morning!

Taking off down our hill, David tried to find a scorpion for some strange reason. He lifted up a couple of rocks and found an ugly black bug with pincers that looked like it could be related to the scorpion. We found out later that it was a tailless whip scorpion, which is not a scorpion at all and is totally harmless to humans. We never did see a scorpion that day or the rest of our time in Sayulita, thank god.

The first place we wanted to check out was the beach of course, which was only a 5-minute walk from our guesthouse. I think everything is about 5 minutes away in Sayulita actually. It’s a pretty small place. The beach parallels the entire town and is pretty darn nice. The north end of the beach is quieter and a good place to get away from the crowd, and the south end is the busy area. The closest beach access to our guesthouse brought us to the northern, more secluded part of the beach, which suited us well.

Our closest beach

Walking south on the beach and getting to the end, we veered left and found ourselves entering the bustling streets near the town square. We walked right by Don Pedro’s restaurant, which was great to discover its location, because we’d been informed that it’s the best place to get money. Since we were at Don Pedro’s at lunchtime and the view was quite wonderful, we ordered some food, then we were back on our way to explore.

Meal at Don Pancho

One of the things I really like about Sayulita are the streets. Most of the streets in the center of town are cobblestone, with the rest of the town’s streets mostly, if not all, being dirt. Sometimes they’re empty, and sometimes they’re full of horses, motorcycles, cars, golf carts, atvs, pedestrians, all at the same time, managing together quite well. No one seems to be in a hurry, except for the occasional teenage boy driver. The Mexicans were on the motorcycles and atvs, and the Gringos were in the golf carts. I personally would’ve wanted to rent a scooter for a couple of hours, but we didn’t see any of those available for rent. Only golf carts. And speaking of vehicles, we got by our entire 12 days in Sayulita on foot. We didn’t even rent bikes or kayaks, which I was thinking we’d do before we got there. But the town wasn’t all that bikeable nor were the waves very kayakable.

Meandering aimlessly around town, we found ourselves at a baseball field. While neither David nor I have ever voluntarily attended a baseball game that my son, Jack, wasn’t playing in, we thought it would be fun to watch a baseball game in Mexico. It was quite entertaining, especially when they brought out the roosters. They must have been announcing a future “event” though, because they took the roosters away and the baseball proceedings began. We couldn’t understand what they were saying of course, since David nor I know Spanish. A really nice guy who spoke English started chatting with us. Offering us some beers out of his cooler, he explained that the game was a fundraiser for a young baseball player who’d gotten hurt and was in the hospital. The kid was fine now but just had some hospital bills that he needed help with. It was such a fun game to watch, and we were happy to contribute to the cause. There were lots of children, food and noise. We stayed for only one inning, because we got restless and wanted to continue our explorations.

Baseball game fundraiser

Finding ourselves back at the beach that afternoon, David went for a swim. From what I could see from the beach, it looked like the current was pretty strong, but he said it was fine and had a blast. After he got out and we walked up to the center of the beach, we saw red flags posted in the sand, indicating dangerous swim conditions. I guess undertows are typically worse in the center of a bay, and since the area of the beach he was swimming at was off towards the side of the bay, maybe it was safe for him to have gone in. But I’m glad I hadn’t gone swimming. I’m a good swimmer, but I’m not so keen on being pulled out to sea while being pummeled by waves, which is exactly what those waves do to you in Sayulita.

Exploring again, we discovered a restaurant in a jungle setting that happened to also be right behind the baseball field and that advertised microbrews from Mexico. We loved the setting of this place. It was outside, as are about 99% of all the restaurants in Sayulita. I don’t know what they do in the summer during the monsoon season. Speaking of rain and the jungle, I would also like to mention that mosquitoes weren’t a problem at all while we were there. I did get 4 huge mosquito bites the first 2 days we were there, but they stopped biting me on day 3. David never got bit. We didn’t even use the bug spray we’d brought with us. We actually got bit by sand fleas more, but it wasn’t an issue. The sand flea bites weren’t itchy or painful and were barely even noticeable.

Old school techniques that still work

As we were entering the jungle restaurant, we met a really nice couple from Canada and promised to come back and have a drink with them as soon as we got more pesos at the ATM at Don Pedro’s. Why we hadn’t gotten money while we were eating there, I have no idea. Eventually going back and having a beer with Joseph and Marcy from Vancouver, we were feeling like this was a pretty great vacation. We would also soon find out that the people who travel to Sayulita are a very friendly group. Most of the Gringos we met were from Canada and not from the states. It was also interesting to see that there were a lot of Mexican vacationers there as well. It was most definitely more crowded on the weekend, and while I suspect most of them were from relatively close inland Mexican communities, I also suspect that some of the weekend crowd was from Los Angeles with it being a very quick and direct flight from L.A. to Puerto Vallarta.

At around 5, the streets emptied, because everyone apparently went inside to watch the Super Bowl. We considered joining the crowd and watching it with them but decided that would be silly since we never even watch the game at home. We did end up eating dinner at a neighborhood restaurant that had a television and was consequently packed. The only reason we got a table was because it had no view of the television, not that it mattered to us one bit. We got to walk up our hill to our guesthouse in the dark with our flashlights again.

Everyone watching Super Bowl but us

It was a phenomenally great first day.

DAY 3 / SURFING AND BEER

My cold is even worse today, but I was again determined not to let it slow me down. We started our 2nd day much like the first by exploring. For such a small town, it’s amazing how much there is to see and do.

Today we discovered the coolest beach restaurant with bungalows for rent next to it that’s somewhat hidden in the trees. We loved this place. The restaurant had swings as chairs and had great music too. We also discovered the Sayulita Public House that features even more microbrews than the jungle microbrewery and is in a cool location.

My favorite beach bar. I think it was even called Beach Bar Restaurant. It’s the one with the swings.

Unfortunately we also discovered something today that we wished he hadn’t. First let me tell you that the south end of the beach has a stream cutting through it. On our first day, we walked through that stream while walking the beach. What we discovered today is that the water treatment plant releases its “treated” water right into this stream, not very far from the beach. And if you ask us, that water has not been thoroughly treated, because we saw what sure looked like deteriorating toilet paper down-current from that pipe. So you definitely need to be jumping over that stream, not wading through it. Most people on the beach do jump over it, which is quite a challenge, because it’s a fairly wide stream. But there were always some people wading across it, and it became quite clear to us that those are the people who have not yet discovered what we just discovered. We considered making a bridge out of a log or piece of wood, but we soon got distracted and completely forgot about it, that is until the next time we had to jump the stream.

We went to the jungle microbrewery place for lunch, because David had wanted to try octopus, and he’d seen it on the menu the day before. I don’t believe I have ever seen anything so disgusting. He actually ate more of it than I could’ve ever imagined before he finally gave up.

Octopus, anyone?

After lunch, we went back up to the guesthouse and grabbed a surfboard, so David could try surfing. He was contemplating taking lessons, as there are tons of places to take surfing lessons all over Sayulita, but he figured he’d try it on his own first. He actually was successful in standing up. He probably didn’t stay up longer than 5 seconds, but it was rather impressive that he stood up at all.

That’s David…the one about to fall off

So while David’s surfing, I’m hanging out on the beach, with all these local merchants walking by, trying to sell me things. Right on the beach. They sell jewelry, blankets, hammocks, doughnuts, meat on sticks, pipes, cigars, drugs, and lots of other things. Some will even braid your hair or give you a henna tattoo. Many of them seem to make the things they’re selling. I did buy a bracelet one day from a 19-year old boy/young man who made it for me on the spot in less than 10 minutes. If the vendors hadn’t made what they were selling, according to them, either a family member or friend did. Some of it, actually most of it, is pretty nice stuff. It was a little intrusive when they’d approach you on the beach, especially when you’re reading a book, but you couldn’t help but be impressed with their hardworking ways. I don’t think I could’ve walked up and down that beach in that heat all day long. Most of them even wear long pants and long shirts, possibly to protect themselves from the sun, but we weren’t able to confirm that because of the language barrier.

Doughnuts for sale right on the beach. Is this heaven?

I think I must’ve done a bit of shopping today, because we needed to make another stop at Don Pedro’s to withdraw some more pesos. I also wasn’t bartering with anyone because the prices for most everything were so fair that it just felt wrong offering less. Interestingly, the ATMs, and I would assume especially the one at Don Pedro’s because of its popularity, run out of pesos every once in awhile, which is what happened today. And it took days before it was replenished. We could’ve used the other ATM at Don Pedro’s which disbursed US dollars, which was strange to us that you can get US dollars in Mexico from an ATM. Many merchants do seem to take both currencies, but we wanted to stick with pesos.

We were also trying our hardest to communicate in Spanish. Surprisingly, I found myself knowing more Spanish words than I thought and I found myself learning new words pretty easily, even though I’d taken French in high school. It was pretty fun trying to speak Spanish, especially when you were understood. The locals were very patient and seemed just as interested in learning English as we were to learn Spanish.

I could definitely live here.

DAY 4 / RUNNING, SURFING, IGUANAS, BUTTERFLIES & TURTLES

Our first sunny day. Our first 2 days in Sayulita were overcast, which we hadn’t even noticed, because we were so distracted by the warm weather and all the other goodness that Sayulita had to offer. But today, the sun came out and it was incredible. What was perfect before was even more perfect now.

My cold was a lot better too, so we decided it was time for a run. I love running while on vacation, because you see places that you would otherwise miss. We wanted to check out the area south of town. I specifically wanted to find this yoga retreat place that I was hoping we could go to for Valentine’s Day. We’d looked at the map before leaving, and it didn’t seem that confusing. Running south, just past town, we ran by the Villa Amor, which we made a mental note to come back to on Valentine’s Day. After passing Villa Amor, we ran by the cemetery, after which we were officially lost…or at least I was. There seemed to be a lot more roads than our map had indicated. We ran into a lot of dead ends, rather inconveniently located at the bottom of hills, so we had to run uphill to get back. We ran by 2 beaches, one of which curiously had a naked, elderly, long-haired man walking on it. The other beach had something to do with turtles, but the sign was in Spanish, so we didn’t know what. We found our way back to town somehow and ended up with a nice 4.5 mile run. We hadn’t found the yoga retreat place, but we still had plenty of time before Valentine’s Day.

Our running tracks

Getting back to our guesthouse after our run, we noticed the iguanas in the trees off our balcony. I absolutely love iguanas and all lizards for that matter. But I had no idea iguanas hung out in trees. There appeared to be 1 iguana in each tree, except for one of the trees. It took us a while to realize it, since they’re a little tricky to see, but there were 3 in one tree. And I would have to guess that they’re a bit territorial. At first we thought they were mating, but that was when we thought there were just 2. But I’d now have to guess that they were fighting. Eventually, 2 of them fell from the tree, so the remaining iguana eventually had the tree all to himself. Things settled down quite a bit in the trees once the 2 fell. We never did find out if they survived. It was quite the thud.

Iguana in a tree

It was this morning that we also noticed for the first time how beautiful all the butterflies are here. Maybe it’s just because they have different colors than we’re used to seeing, but they really are exceptionally pretty. I also especially liked the puffy black caterpillars on our balcony. At first we were nervous they were poisonous, but they weren’t. We ended up seeing a poisonous caterpillar later, which wasn’t at all cute. Very easy to distinguish the poisonous caterpillars from the non-poisonous. If it’s ugly and creepy, stay away from it.

I think this caterpillar is poisonous

We ate some lunch at a neighborhood place then went to a bookstore, where we learned some details about the trail to San Pancho from Sayulita. This was very helpful since we were planning on running that trail at some point, which happened to be the very next day actually.

We went back up to the guesthouse to grab the surfboard, and we headed back to the beach. The waves were breaking really close to the beach, so it was a bit more of a challenge for David. Not a lot of people were even surfing today, because the conditions were so lousy. He eventually gave up and we headed to the Public House for a beer. We thought maybe Thomas, the bartender there, might know about that turtle beach we’d seen earlier. He did know of a group in town located on the beach that releases baby turtles into the ocean and suggested we talk to them. It didn’t take us too long to find the turtle place, also known as Cafe Miramar. We learned that turtles are released right there and not on that far away beach. They’d just released turtles a couple days ago, but they were planning on doing it again that night at dusk! If there’s one thing I love more than iguanas, it’s turtles. Can this day get any better?!

The turtles provided much entertainment for everyone

We hung around the turtle place until dusk, which wasn’t that long to wait. There were 9 baby turtles to be released that night, including 1 leatherback, which was apparently rather special. It was pretty fun lining up on the beach in anticipation. Unfortunately the turtles were a lot less active than normal. As it turns out, it was an exceptionally sluggish group. Maybe they hadn’t incubated long enough or had incubated too long. Who knows. Eric, the turtle guy, ended up picking them up and putting them in the water. It caused us all a bit of concern for the little guys. Luckily, 2 days later, we got to see yet another turtle release and it was a much more active group. It was pretty cute watching that group make their way into the ocean.

Waiting for the next big wave to carry the little guys into the ocean

David and I ended up eating at Estrella de Mar again for dinner. I love it here.

DAY 5 / TRAIL RUN THROUGH THE JUNGLE TO SAN PANCHO

My cold was mostly gone this morning, but now David felt like he was coming down with something. Following our mantra of not letting a little cold get in our way, we decided to go for another run. For today’s run, we wanted to check out the jungle/beach trail that links Sayulita and San Pancho to the north. I’d read about this trail online, and of all the trails I’d read about, this was my top pick. What an amazing trail this was. It was more of a jungle trail than a beach trail, but that was completely fine with us. We knew it would take us to a different Mexican village, and we were excited to explore another town. We passed some very large, beautiful homes immediately upon leaving our guesthouse. Running north, we passed a gorgeous beach just 1 mile from the guesthouse, making a mental note to come back, which sadly we did not. After taking a side trail and discovering another amazing beach, we proceeded to run through some amazing jungle scenery, which describes the rest of the run pretty much. The trail eventually led us to a road, which then led us to a busy road, which was actually a highway yet was nothing like a highway that you’d find in the states so we just ran on it. We only had to run on the highway for about 1/4 mile, which was far from ideal seeing as how it had very little shoulder or protection from the passing cars, but we survived. Once getting into San Pancho, it was surprising to me how long it took to get to the beach. As far as the mileage goes, from the guesthouse to the highway was just under 3 miles. And the highway, like I mentioned, was about 1/4 mile. Then from the highway to the beach in San Pancho was a little more than a mile. The entire run was 4.2 miles, but because of the terrain, it took us about an hour to run it.

San Pancho

Arriving at the beach in San Pancho, we took our running shoes off and walked through the ultra soft sand down to the water. Pure joy let me tell you. Conveniently we didn’t have to go far to quench our thirst, as there were 2 restaurants right on the beach. We picked a table closest to the water, which also happened to have its very own palapa, and waited for someone to come and take our order. David ordered the best pineapple smoothie he’s ever had, and I order a mango juice, which was the best juice I’ve ever had. After our most favorite drinks, we walked around town a bit before deciding we needed to go back to the beach and have some lunch. At that very same restaurant where we’d had our smoothie and juice earlier, we ordered the best chips and salsa we’ve ever had, along with the best fish tacos I’ve ever had and the best shrimp cocktail David’s ever had. Life couldn’t get much better.

Best drinks ever!

San Pancho is surprisingly busy with lots of stores, yet it’s not congested like Sayulita. There appeared to be just as many gringos there as there were Mexican nationals, just like Sayulita. I bought the prettiest necklace there. The jewelry in Mexico is beautiful. The clothes are too. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time, or I should say, I didn’t make enough time, to shop. David’s pretty patient, but he has his limits. The town was very clean, unlike Sayulita, and it felt so safe, which was similar to Sayulita. It had the same architecture and types of streets, and even had a big plaza just like Sayulita. I think I could buy property in San Pancho and be very happy there. It may even suit me better than Sayulita, since it’s quieter. But real estate in both Sayulita and San Pancho is pretty expensive. Strange that it’s so high too considering that non-Mexicans can’t even “own” the land in either towns because it’s within the maximum number of miles from the ocean. Seems a bit risky.

San Pancho

We’d planned on running back to Sayulita on the trail, but as we were heading back to the trail, we passed the bus on the corner of the highway and the main street. It was just too hard to pass up. After all, we’d eaten lunch, shopped, and walked around in our sweaty clothes after running there hours before, and while running back was totally doable, it sure was easier to take a bus back. So we did. It only cost 15 pesos. Unfortunately, we’d planned on taking photos on the trail run back and hadn’t taken any yet, so we have no photos of the trail. We figured we’d go back and take photos another day, which we never did.

The bus dropped us off right on the highway at the road leading into Sayulita, which was a different place than the bus from Puerto Vallarta dropped us off. It’s actually quite a ways away from the town of Sayulita. So we decided to take advantage of this inconvenience and walked into town via the back road. On our way into Sayulita via the back roads, we saw a lot more of the locals’ homes and businesses. And we saw a lot of concrete being made. It seems like everywhere we went, we saw men mixing concrete. And they do it right on the street, as in, not in buckets.

Area between bus dropoff and Sayulita town vis backroads

Eventually finding our way back into and through Sayulita, which felt like hours later, we went back to our guesthouse to change out of our running clothes finally. We got into our suits and headed down to the beach to finally just sit down and not move for a bit. At the beach, we met another really nice couple, Hal and Heather, from Saskatchewan, Canada. We had margaritas at Bar Miramar (the turtle bar) and talked to Eric, the turtle guy. As it turns out, Eric was from Santa Barbara. The Public House guy was also from Santa Barbara. The odds. I’d also lived in Santa Barbara for a few years after college, and I have to say that I do see the connection between Sayulita and Santa Barbara. They’re both extremely gorgeous beach towns. One just happens to be a lot warmer than the other. For those of you who might not be aware, Santa Barbara isn’t very warm unless a Santa Ana wind is blowing.

Getting back to the guesthouse, I had the best shower of my life. I’m sure it had something to do with running in the morning on a jungle trail, walking around all day, then spending the entire late afternoon and early evening at the beach. David and I were finally on Sayulita time, because we fell fast asleep at 9 (which was 6 our time) and woke up the next morning at 5:30. The day was utterly exhausting but a total blast. It was actually my favorite day we spent in Mexico.

DAY 6 / PUERTO VALLARTA TO YELAPA BY BOAT TAXI

Not much agitates David, but this morning, he jumped out of bed and immediately told me not to look while he attended to a spider. The spider crawling down our wall was enormous. And fast. And David’s not exactly the best spider catcher either, because he tries to gently capture the spider to relocate him safely outside. Well as you can imagine, this spider got away. I have 1 word. Horrifying.

Thankfully we were vacating the guesthouse anyway since our plan for the day was to catch a bus south to Puerto Vallarta and find a boat taxi to Yelapa, a coastal village that’s only accessible by boat. We were quite adept at catching the bus to PV but finding our boat taxi at Los Muertos Pier was going to be the challenge of the day. Luckily I sat next to a very helpful 20-something woman who spoke great English and helped us find our way. She even got off with us, as that happened to be the stop she was getting off at anyway, so she sent us in the right direction. What a different scene Puerto Vallarta is from Sayulita! So busy. And so touristy. We had to even pay to use a restroom.

Puerto Vallarta from Los Muertos Pier

We found Los Muertos Pier and waited for our boat taxi. David was totally chill at this point and thought we should drink a beer at the outside bar on the beach while we waited. I, on the other hand, did not want to risk missing the taxi, so I waited on the pier. I’d already bought the tickets at a tourism booth that I hung out at while David was using the underground bathroom facility that we had to pay for. The guy at the booth instructed me to catch the boat at the end of the “pier”, which was still a bit of a walk down the beach. There was no signage anywhere, so I wasn’t 100% confident that we were at the right pier. At about the time David finished his beer, the boat taxi showed up, which caused many of us to breathe a sigh of relief because apparently I wasn’t the only one who was thinking I might be in the wrong place. We all boarded, some of us more steadily than others. I can’t remember how long the boat ride was. I think it was less than a hour but maybe 45 minutes. We stopped at 1 other place first. (It’s now 5 months later. I’ve gotten behind on my travelblogging.)

Taking the boat taxi

Disembarking at Yelapa, which involves jumping off the boat into the shallow water, David and I were immediately approached by a man holding an iguana. He thrust it into my arms, which couldn’t have made me any happier. I couldn’t believe how soft he was! The man took my camera and took a picture of me, then it was David’s turn. After we were done with our Iguana photo-op session, the man tried charging us 100 pesos. Even though this wasn’t very much money, and I thought it was totally worth it, David bartered for the very first and only time with a vendor, because he wasn’t quite as enamored with the iguana as I’d been. He gave him 50 pesos I think, after which we were then quickly ushered by someone who worked at the restaurant to some lounge chairs on the beach just a few steps away from where we got off the boat actually. It was sort of strange to have people do all your decision making for you. It was sort of relaxing. We decided not to fight it and go with the flow. We could be forced to do much worse.

Where we were ushered after holding the iguana

It wasn’t long before we had food and beer. David’s oysters and my avocado salad were amazingly good. As if life couldn’t get any easier, they also had a tent set up right on the beach right next to all the lounge chairs selling all kinds of things. I got some shopping in, and I didn’t even have to walk 10 steps to do it. I bought souvenirs for Jack and Zane and a really beautiful sarong for myself.

While we wouldn’t have minded hanging out on the lounge chairs all afternoon and eating and drinking our way into gluttony, we knew we better skedaddle if we were going to hike to the waterfall and back before the last boat would be leaving back to Puerto Vallarta. We headed toward “town” if you can call it that. There were a couple buildings off toward the end of the beach, so that was where we headed. As we walked toward these very interesting buildings, passing some adorable french-speaking children playing in the water, we came to a hand-painted sign that directed us to town and to the waterfall.

Within minutes of leaving our lounge chairs

We followed a meandering, slightly uphill, paved cobblestone pathway the entire way up to the waterfall. We passed very cool looking structures and waterways. It was a little like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney, but it was real and we were on foot. I wouldn’t call it a hike but a really cool walk.

Path to the waterfall

At the top, there was a restaurant, or bar, where we had a beer by the waterfall. We were served the beer out of a guy’s cooler. We ended up rushing back, because we actually didn’t even know what time the last boat was leaving, nor did anyone else for that matter.

When we got back to our lounge chairs, we asked a few people about the boat and got the discussion going. Most people were needing to get back to PV, as very few of them were staying in Yelapa that night. I don’t even know where you’d stay there. No one was sure when or where the boat would be. Someone finally noticed a boat off towards the end of the beach on the other side of the beach from the “town”. Some of the people started rushing over to it. It eventually occurred to me that there’s no way we could get into the boat without a ladder from the beach. We’d have to get on at a pier. So I started rushing over to the pier as well. David wasn’t so sure he was going to follow me, nor was another stubborn guy, but eventually they saw the reasoning. Making our way to the pier finally, there was some discussion that not all of us would fit on the 2 boats and some would need to be left behind, but thankfully we all squeezed in.

On the boat ride back, we ended up sitting right next to a couple from north Idaho who knew some people we knew. Small world. It was just like the Na Pali coast boat ride in Hawaii where we sat right next to a couple from Walla Walla. Rather than getting right on a bus back to Sayulita, we decided to hang out in Puerto Vallarta for a beer on the beach. We actually got to watch a wedding going on right next to us. The wedding party was from Seattle, and it was a very big group. I thought it was sort of fun to watch a wedding with the sunset in the background, but David was more interested in getting out of tourist central.

Sunset in PV – the wedding just off to the left

Just as it was getting dark, we got on a bus headed north. We didn’t know how to get on a bus that would take us to Sayulita, but we knew we could find one at the airport. We never made it that far. The bus driver helped us out, and we soon found ourselves on the Sayulita bus. That bus ride took forever. There was a protest going on just north of PV in Bucerias that slowed down traffic significantly. Apparently it happens a lot. We never did find out what they were protesting.

We got back to Sayulita, and were let off in town this time, which was nice, since it was dark now and it would’ve been rough walking into town the long way being so dark, plus it had been a long day. We went to dinner at Chiles and Margaritas, which is owned by Eric, the turtle guy, and his wife, Odette. We were quite happy to learn that the spider we saw that morning is a wall spider and is not only harmless but eats scorpions. Good thing David hadn’t killed it I guess. It was at this point that I felt like Sayulita could very easily become home for me.

After dinner, as we were walking back to our guesthouse, we ran into Hal and Heather from Saskatchewan, the couple we’d met on the beach the day before. We planned a sport fishing boat trip for Saturday. It was Thursday, so we had the next day to be a down day and relax before another adventure.

I had shin splints and we ached everywhere. But I can’t remember when I’ve ever been so happy.

DAY 7 / HORSEBACK RIDE

I’ve been wanting to ride a horse for quite some time now, and we knew of a place we could do just that, because we were passing them multiple times a day as we walked between town and our guesthouse. David’s ridden a horse before and wasn’t quite as excited as I was. But I grew up extremely allergic to horses and never had the chance. I was still probably allergic to them but was older and wiser to know how to prevent the itching from getting out of control. Mainly, I wore long pants and real shoes, which was recommended for riding a horse anyway. We showed up without a reservation and were the only ones there. We figured we’d have to wait for more people to show up before the ride began, but no. Oskar, the guide, got us all set up and the 3 of us took off, just Oskar, David and me. We rode through town and down to the beach down a rocky path. I felt like my horse was going to fall and crush me in the process. I wasn’t really loving it like I’d expected. Then we went down to the beach, which was cool until Oskar led our horses into the water. It was not very relaxing. What I’d really wanted to do was gallop, but I couldn’t get my horse to do it. With how most everything else was stressing me out on the horse, it was probably a good thing there was no galluping. I also ended up getting some pretty horrendous hives all up my neck that did stick with me all day even though I washed thoroughly afterward. Guess I’m still highly allergic to horses. I’m really glad I rode a horse, but I don’t need to do it again.

My first horseback ride

After our horseback ride, we went to the beach restaurant in front of the jungle microbrewery. We ate some pretty good guacamole and chips there.

Swings at Beach Bar Restaurant

We went back to our guesthouse and got into our suits. I grabbed a chair, the beach umbrella and my book, and David grabbed the surfboard. Claiming a most awesome spot on the beach, I settled in. David surfed, or attempted to surf, while I read and napped. Finally I was relaxing! We saw Heather and Hal and hung out with them, drinking margaritas and watching more baby turtles get released. This turtle release was a lot more fun to watch. The little guys were absolutely adorable and very eager to get into the ocean.

We parted ways only briefly to get dressed into real clothes, meeting very soon afterward for dinner at Chiles and Margaritas. We listened to live music and ended up getting home really late. David even walked home barefoot, not even worrying about stepping on a scorpion. We slept very well.

DAY 8 / SPORT FISHING EXCURSION

We started the day with a run heading south of Sayulita to explore that area some more. We found some more cool places and another beautiful beach, and due to David’s awesome sense of direction, we not only didn’t get lost, but we even ran a loop, which is my favorite kind of run. This run had been a hot one and had been our longest one yet in Sayulita at 5 1/2 miles, and when I got inside to the guesthouse, out of habit, I poured myself some water out of the tap and took a big gulp before I realized the error of my ways. I immediately spit it out, but it was too late. I was to pay for that mistake.

We met up with Hal and Heather at 1:30 at the dive shop for our sport fishing excursion. I was feeling waves of nausea but wasn’t realizing that it was from drinking the water. I’d been having nausea off and on for a few days now, and we were guessing it was because I was brushing my teeth with the water that came out of the sink. Not sure how I missed the memo on that brushing teeth thing. Once on the boat, I did throw up, but I once I did, I felt much better. Thankfully, I didn’t have any diarrhea symptoms from drinking the water while on the boat. I don’t even want to think about how horrible that situation could’ve been.

Heather and her catch

Everyone caught something except for me, since I didn’t even fish, not having come for the purpose. I was just mostly tagging along and was there to enjoy the boat ride and hopefully see some whales. We didn’t see any whales, but we did see some trash (very sad) and a beautiful sunset.

Sunset fishing

For dinner, we went to the boat owner’s/captain’s aunts place afterward, and she cooked us our fish for a price of course. I think it might’ve even been the same price as if we hadn’t even provided the fish, but it was still inexpensive. And very good. We hung out afterward with Hal and Heather awhile longer and met their interesting neighbor at their condo from Ames, Iowa. He told us about a few people in his cooking traveling group who had also been throwing ups and dealing with gastrointestinal problems. We were thinking that maybe it was just something going around Sayulita and I caught it, but the more I think about it, I think we all just drank the water.

DAY 9 / VALENTINE’S DAY

We started our day by having massages in a tent set up right on the beach, then afterward, walked south down the beach to Villa Amor. It was so surprising to us that we didn’t even need to make reservations there on Valentine’s Day. We even had our choice of seats. I ordered a tuna sandwich, which was raw but great. I even got french fries with it that were so delicious. Although I love Mexican food, by day 9, I was getting fairly tired of it, so the french fries were a nice change.

Villa Amor

Back at our guesthouse, David napped while I walked downtown to shop. I bought a sun dress and even was able to charge it to my visa, a rare treat in Mexico, since most vendors just take cash.

When David woke up from his nap, we walked north on the beach to find out if it was possible to walk to San Pancho along the beach rather than the jungle, but we couldn’t see that it was doable. If there is one, there’s a lot of rock scrambling to do, and it would be pretty treacherous.

As far north on the beach as we could go

For dinner, we ate at Medusa, which is in our guesthouse neighborhood. We were barefoot but of course that was no problem. It was the first time this entire trip that the food wasn’t great. I had flank steak nachos and margaritas for a change, since I was tired of Pacifico at this point as well as Mexican food. The place had great ambiance but the food left a bit to be desired. We saw a huge cockroach in the bathroom but still haven’t seen a scorpion. I was still looking everywhere I stepped, but I was definitely feeling less apprehensive about it.

LAST 3 DAYS / MORE EXPLORATION AND RELAXATION

Monday morning started off with a run on the beach. Drinking the water finally caught up to me or I really did just catch a bug, and my nausea changed to a gastrointestinal issue. I took imodium ad and it worked amazingly. We hung out on chairs all day in front of Beach Bar Restaurant and read. We were going to walk to that great beach north of Sayulita that we’d found during our trail run to San Pancho but decided that might not be a good idea with my current GI situation as there would be no bathroom nearby. That evening, we went back to Villa Amor for happy hour then went to Cafe Sayulita to split a chile rellano, because we’d been told they have the best chile rellanos. I really can’t say how it fared, since I’d never had one before.

View from Villa Amor

On Tuesday, we took a bus north to Chacala. We wanted to see if there were any other cool beach towns in the nearby vicinity and had heard that Chacala is what Sayulita used to be 20 years ago. Well, having now spent some time in Chacala, if Sayulita was like that 20 years ago, it sure has changed. And definitely for the better. The town was pretty hard to get to with public transportation. We got off at a bus stop where we then had to find a different means of transport to the town. Not such an easy task when you don’t speak the language. An extremely nice women at the stop called her English-speaking son on the phone, and he came and helped us get a taxi. As it turned out, we could’ve taken a collectivo, which comes every 30 minutes, but we didn’t know about the collectivo until we got to Chacala and were trying to get back.

Chacala

We ate a beachside restaurant in Chacala and enjoyed watching the children play in the water. It was a lot more family friendly beach, as it was much safer with the lack of pounding waves. We met a really nice beach vendor who’s been selling soap on the beach for decades, and it was very interesting to hear about how he spends hours making the soap before and after hitting the beach every day to sell. He sells 12 months out of the year and said the beach is even more crowded in the summer, even though it’s almost unbearable hot, because all the locals come to the beach for vacation, and he sells even more soap then. I can’t imagine the beach vendors walking up and down the beach in that heat.

It was easy getting back to Sayulita, as we took the collectivo back to the highway where we then caught the bus. It’s remarkable how friendly and helpful Mexicans are when they don’t even speak much English. David and the bus driver were using sign language to communicate about their interests. Back in Sayulita, we went to the highest restaurant/bar we could find, which ended up being only 3 floors, and sat on the balcony while drinking a beer and taking in the views of town.

Sayulita from highest restaurant we could find

On the walk back, we visited Thomas at Sayulita Public House then picked up some dinner to go at a restaurant and ate at the table on our guesthouse balcony.

Our last day in Sayulita, we actually went to a coffeehouse, finally sunbathed, had an interesting talk with a pot vendor on the beach, and I went swimming in the ocean! This is something I really thought I wouldn’t do, but David made it look so easy. As it turned out, I totally got pummeled and hated it.

Just before I got the courage to swim out into the ocean resulting in me getting painfully pummelled by waves

But I still love Sayulita.

Things I learned…

  • Mexico is not all dangerous. I felt just as safe here as I do in Moscow, Idaho. And I felt safer here than in Spokane!
  • Learn how to convert currency before you get to your destination.
  • Don’t ever drink the water in Mexico, and that includes brushing your teeth with it.
  • Bring imodium AD with you. It works.
  • There’s no need to bring a hair dryer and curling iron to the Puerto Vallarta area, because your hair’s just going to be a wild mess that you’ll braid or put into a ponytail every day.
  • You can download a map with Google maps onto your phone and then use it without wifi or cell coverage.
  • Only pack a bathing suit, flip flops, running stuff, and one outfit to wear on the plane but that is layered. Buy more clothes while there because they’re beautiful and inexpensive.
  • Budget into your trip extra money for shopping, because the shopping is great.
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