At first sight, the string of open-air food stands clustered
along the dusty highway appeared as little more than a rest
stop, a south of the border version of the Baghdad Cafe
for travelers on Mexicos highway 200, but when we turned
off the road and headed toward the bay, a town appeared.
In a narrow stretch of land between the highway and beach,
there was a zocalo -a town square- and it was humming with
small town life.
one end of the plaza, tanned taxi drivers in short-sleeved
shirts stood together and gossiped. Nearby, marketstall
vendors hawked tropical fruits and vegetables, department-store
clothes and housewares. Kids rode bikes and played basketball,
or, if they were older than a little
border, ducked in doorways to smooch with their sweethearts.
wife and I were in the town of Bucerias, looking for paradise.
"This must be it", I said to Laurie. The sky was
watermelon pink. A honey-colored light hung in the hills.
A buoyant tropical breeze was blowing in from Banderas Bay.
to the point, we were searching for a quiet vacation spot,
an out-of-the-way place to enjoy if not Old Mexico, then
at least some remnant of the sleepy beachland that used
to lure Americans southward. The plan was simple : Fly to
Puerto Vallarta, drive north along the coast, and hope that
my high-school Spanish, rusty as a 57 Chevy sitting in the
back yard, would spring to life when needed. So, we hopped
into a rented VW "Bug" - the generic car of Mexico
- and struck out for parts unknown.
First stop, Bucerias, about 30 kilometers north of Vallarta.
Once an outpost to collect shellfish - the town name is
derived from bucer, to dive - Bucerias now is a bustling
little town of 20,000 people. More than 750 expatriates,
most of them Americans, live in white villas and bungalows
scattered along the beach. The town also has the distinction
of serving as the filmshooting locale for the TV detective
show Sweating Bullets.
for the address of a friend of a friend, we drove through
one of the towns dirt streets - there were no street lights
and no sidewalks - and gaped at the natural beauty of the
area. Rich, bright green vegetation draped down from the
hill surrounding town. Palm trees lined the beach. Thick,
hand-sized red and purple hibiscus and bouganvillea blossoms
cascaded over every wall.
at this garden", Laurie gasped when we located the
house two blocks from the beach. The yard overflowed with
gracefull coconut palms and leafy banana trees, a lemon
tree, a papaya tree, row upon row of bouganvilleas.
strolled past a thatched-roof "palapa" hut, used
as a large umbrella for sitting outdoors, and entered an
open, airy two-story house with all the nice mexican touches:
handmade tiles, intricate brickwork and a mirador - a rooftop
balcony - to view the bay.
host was Mr. Lee Gibson, a 47-year-old, likable, gregarious
American who owned a folk-art shop in Oakland before moving
to Bucerias. Four years ago, he opened a travel agency in
Bucerias. He is bilingual travel-savvy and willing to go
out of his way to help tourists. Not surprisingly, the agency
is like Vallarta 25 years ago", Lee told us as we watched
a crimson-and-gold-sunset from his porch. "Its very
quiet, very residential. There are a few hotels, a few good
restaurants, but theres zero nightlife. Here, you just relax
on the beach".
next morning, we made a dash for the beach - 5 miles of
blissful, powdery white sand. For two hours, Laurie and
I lay on the blanket of sand, baking two weeks of Seattle
rain out of our skin.
the next few days, we did little else, content to take dips
in the warm water and listen to the surf. It didn't take
long to slide into a routine: Stake out a sunbathing spot,
sink into a book and exchange pleasantries with the handful
of fellow tourists who walked by.
Puerto Vallarta is young, sporty and hormonal, Bucerias
is as comfortable as a pair of huaraches. In Puerto Vallarta,
you might drink and dance through the night; in Bucerias,
you collect beach shells, grill a piece of fresh fish at
your condo and sip tequila in the dark on the balcony.
we mustered energy to ride bicycles around town. Each trip
ended with a guilty pleasure at Pie in the Sky, a local
bakery that created out-of-this-world treats: Chocolate
fudge brownies, pecan tarts, Grand Marnier cheesecake. These
were desserts of the gods, made by a couple of ex-San Francisco
didnt take long to realize that Bucerias wasnt "Old
Mexico", but it was congenial and full of small kindnesses.
One morning, we ate at El Gringo Viejo, a restaurant not
known for gourmet cuisine, but when we asked for papaya
and there was no papaya, the Mexican owner felt obliged
to retrieve a melon from his own kitchen at home.
Back on the road, we reached a junction just as we pulled
out of Bucerias. We could follow the coastal highway or
continue on route 200, which veered inland, we chose the
highway now became narrow, curving, full of tropical vines
and vegetation. A cool, dark air reached out from the jungle.
Creeping through a canopy of trees, we climbed a low mountain
range before the road flattened out.
the next half-hour, we cruised through verdant ranchland,
dotted with horses and cattle and a scattering of tall trees.
The sun beat down on a broad, leafy crop. We didnt recognize
it until we drove past several large, opensided barns where
the plant was hung to dry: tobacco.
20 kilometers from Bucerias, we turned off the road for
Sayulita, a fishing settlement of 1,000 people tucked into
hilly jungle terrain. Noisy roosters greeted us as we made
our way through a small, vibrant village. At the end was
a secluded bay, an inlet with a black beach. Big waves crashed
against the shore.
come from Australia to surf here", said a woman standing
beside us. Her name was Adrienne, a former Californian who
moved to Sayulita 13 years ago to start T¡a Adrianas, a
bed-and-breakfast. A B&B in a primitive village? It
sounded improbable, but we took a look.
sun filled tile-and-adobe house was immaculate-tearoom tidy
and brightly decorated with ceramic sculptures, painted
fabrics, and sea paintings. Built in 1979 to host group
retreats, the B&B now houses individuals who seek a
quiet, meditative spot. Adrienne said she encourages travelers
to get involved with the village and was pleased that some
had volunteered to work on community projects.
about B&B proprietorship, we returned to the highway
and traveled in silence until we spotted a cobblestone road.
It led to a drowsy little town called San Francisco, where
the few people we saw were sitting idly on porches and wearing
aimless faces. We drove until we hit the ocean. Two open-air
restaurants bordered the beach, but neither looked eager
for business. A shaggy mutt slept in the shade, completing
the picture of small-town languor.
the beach was a jewel: a thick swath of talcum-soft white
sand beside a roaring sea. Again, the smell of the ocean
filled the air. And, again, the number of tourists was small
enough to fit into the trunk of our VW.
water is so beautiful", I remarked to a mexican woman
traveling with her new husband. Yes, she said. But it was
"muy bravo" very strong. I was glad I asked: A
stiff undercurrent and a steep drop-off made swimming dangerous.
stretches of the beach nearby were less wild, we were assured
by Rick Gardino, the manager of Costa Azul Adventure Resorts,
a cluster of white villas set outside of town overlooking
the ocean. The resort, closed for repairs, was re-opening
and would rent sea kayaks and mountain bykes. He hoped to
market the resort to "older generation adventurists".
"Y know surfers who now are lawyers and have families",
creaky and somewhat diminished, we moseyed back to the highway
and headed for Rincon de Guayabitos. Rincon has a reputation
as a poor mans Puerto Vallarta, a picturesque town on the
verge of discovery. We arrived just as the sun was going
down. Situated on a pretty half-moon bay - the Bay of Jaltemba
- the town was bathed in a glorious light, the kind of light
you could take a butter knife to thick, syrupy rays that
coated bathers with a warm golden glow.
of brightly colored fishing boats, called pangas, glistened
in the sea. Pelicans swooped into the water, crashing the
waves for fish. A group of mexican children squealed in
delight as they tried to hold onto a large rubber raft being
towed through the shallow, gentle water.
was thoroughly charming scene, made even more satisfying
by the piquant smell of barbecued fish wafting through the
air. A string of a half-dozen palapa restaurants lined the
wandered into the Villanueva restaurant and sat down to
a bowl of soup heaping with seafood, a brochette of jumbo
shrimp and a lip-smacking-good piece of filleted dorado
(mahi mahi). "This must be paradise", I sighed,
happily, Pancha a second Dos Equis.
pretty near used to be ", came the voice from the next
table. I turned to see an older man, a John Huston look-alike
who was addressing me in midbite. He was a sports fisherman,
a retiree named Ray who had been coming to Rincon for 10
he said, was a gentle place alive with plenty of eccentric,
crusty characters, mostly vacationing fishermen and RV types
who stay for several weeks or months at a time. A throwback
to the old days when a dollar went a long way, the town
still was a bargain: You could stay at a clean hotel for
20 bucks, eat a fish dinner for under $ 10, and spend your
change on a few drinks at the Posada Real before turning
in for the night. But things are changing, he said. Rincon
is turning glitzy with several highrise hotels, lavish private
homes and a commercial district.
With our trip winding down, we doubled back toward
Bucerias, just north of the town, we turned eastward along
the coastal highway. The road, which deadends at Punta de
Mita 22 kilometers away, follows the Bay of Banderas, curving
in and out of thick vegetation to offer spectacular views
of the bay.
passing through Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a small town popular
among sailors because it has a low-cost marina, we stopped
at Playa Destiladeras. By now, we'd become slightly inured
to the scenic charms of beautiful beaches, but Destiladeras
took our breath away.
has stunning panoramic view of the bay, along stretch of
silvery beach backed by sandstone cliffs and clear, turquoise-colored
water. Its lonely beauty and solitude suggested timelessness:
We could have been in the year 1992 B. C.
continue to skip along several smaller beaches before reaching
our final destination: Punta de Mita, the point where the
bay meets the ocean. It was the end of the road. We turned
the engine off and took a look around.
place had an edge-of-the-world feeling. Instead of lush,
tropical landscape, the land was flat, arid, desertlike.
A fierce, ever-present wind had reduced everything higher
than a shrub to kindling.
years from now, you wont recognize this area", said
our host, Lee Gibson, pointing to the open sweep of land
in front of us. Developers were planning a major upscale
destination resort community featuring a sleek 200 room-hotel,
championship golf courses and private landing strips.
walked down to the beach, littered with jagged white coral
to see fishermen mending nets and caring for their boats.
They'd had a good day and were cheerful and smiling.
Mexico, the sea is the show; and here, where the ocean was
filled with rock outcroppings, snorkeling was ideal. We
donned masks and slid into clear, softly churning water.
For the next several hours, we drifted in and out of a series
of coves. Schools of brightly colored fish swam by as we
meandered through the water.
on the beach, we opened a bottle of raisilla - mexican moonshine
- and soaked up the sun. "This is it", I said
to Laurie. "This must be paradise". "No,
no, this isnït paradise", Lee interjected. "You
see those islands over there?". He was pointing across
the water . "They've dolphins and sea turtles and crazy
birds called blue-footed booby birds. Its like the Galapagos,
and nobodys out there. You want to see paradise?, Thats
thought about hiring a boat to see paradise. Then, I took
another sip of raicilla and lay back in the sun to contemplate
Gallo is a freelance writer living in Seattleand is a frequent
contributor to Alaska Airlines Magazine.
Las Palmas Vacation Rentals, Property Management and Real Estate Sales Lazaro Cardenas #504 Col. Dorada Bucerías, Nay. Tel. 011-52-329-298-0060 Fax. 011-52-329-298-0061 firstname.lastname@example.org
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