Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 3

The brochure for Punta Sayulita was left behind in the house that we rented, living in the stack of airport magazines abandoned by previous visitors, and my husband, always on the lookout for a new periodical, picked it up. It was expensively produced, with an embossed cover sporting only Punta Sayulita's inscrutable logo, and delicate strands of transparent buzz words floating in the background: relaxation... authenticity... camaraderie.... If the Artist Formerly Known as a Symbol had a housing development, this would be it.

The folder that accompanied this well-produced brochure was filled with information regarding the houses that were going to be built on the pristine point at the edge of Sayulita. And there would be no need to ever leave the point, as everything was gated, exclusive, luxurious, all inclusive.

"Jesus," my husband said. "This place is insane." I took one of the sheets touting the dimensions of what would be a "Casita," presumably the smallest house on the Punta, as "casa" was followed by the diminutive "-ita." The house itself, sitting on approximately 10,000 square feet of lovely jungle overlooking the Pacific, had almost 2,928 feet of interior living space. This did not include the "cart garage" (no cars allowed), the pools, terraces and decks, which added another 2,000 square feet. At a hair shy of 5000 square feet, this created a living area equal to more than three of my houses in Portland, a stunning amount of footage to keep clean.

Of course, that's irrelevant in Sayulita since everyone has "help." No less than our little week-long oasis had a dedicated housekeeper named Cynthia, who came and made our beds, washed our dishes, swept out the buckets of sand we dragged in every day. And because I'm a bad tourist with even worse Spanish, I tried and failed to communicate with Cynthia about her life there. In the end I simply let her clean the house. I didn't know how to tell her to leave the dishes in the sink, and it made her visibly upset every time we intervened in some menial task. This was extremely embarrassing for me, and probably annoying for her. "Just let me clean the damned house, you crazy gringa! I have to be here anyway because that's what they're paying me for! Get out of my way!"

This sort of cultural friction does not exist in the brochure for Punta Sayulita, because the faces are uniformly white. Punta Sayulita is not to be a Mexican oasis for Mexicans. The happy faces glowing in the Sayulita sun are blond, sun-kissed, reflecting the joy of having all their mental, physical and emotional needs met. Surf boards for the whole family--plus instruction, if you desire. Dining at your outdoor grill, eating fresh seafood brought in by invisible hands. Margaritas after a dip in your own pool. Yoga to regain your equilibrium after all the mental anguish of having to decide your recreational activity for the day. Do you even want to expend the energy to grill your own shrimp? Walk to the Punta Sayulita restaurant instead. Drink at the Punta Sayulita bar. Work out at the Punta Sayulita fitness center.

This sort of insularity gives me the creeps. Not simply because the unseen hands anticipating your every need will invariably be Mexican, but because this embryonic nurturing of the self is so utterly contrary to the joys of Sayulita. Part of the reason Sayulita has been such a strange success is the extremely relaxed mingling between the Mexicans and the gringos. We don't go to Sayulita to live in a McMansion and be cut off from Mexico. We want the fish tacos, the halting but polite communication with the residents, who are so patient with us as long as we give it our best, the beautiful hand-crafted folk art, terracotta stoneware and bead work created by the Huichols. We want to be in Mexico, not Sun City, Arizona.

But the developers of Punta Sayulita don't see it that way. They don't have a very finely tuned irony alarm either, as they've peppered their brochure with almost comical headers: "The Camaraderie of Club Life," and "An Intimate Kingdom to Call One's Own." Let's ignore that we've pretty much ruled out monarchy as a form of government, but to crown oneself "king" is also an awkwardly indiscreet flaunting of pomposity.

Perhaps the most egregious double-speak in the entire twenty-odd pages is the header which announces "A Return to Authenticity." I'm curious about the authenticity to which the future owners are returning, isolated as they will be from the actual town in Mexico they are presumably a part of. Which is fine with me, really. But if overgrown mini-mansions are authentic, and the only people you are likely to mingle with are Americans like yourself, I'm quite sure I have no idea what Mexico is all about. And the only place I've seen hulking monsters of real estate like these have been in US suburbs, places called Happy Valley and Country Walk, suffering now due to a mortally wounded housing market.

So if you're willing to spend 1.75 million dollars (US, not Pesos, just to be clear) on your Casita in Punta Sayulita, you have a grand experience awaiting you. Not a Mexican experience, certainly, because that's been stripped away by the very nature of its Club Life. But you can hang out under your Authentic Palapa™ or at the communal Jungle Pool™, meeting other Small Kings of your Intimate Kingdoms, after surfing in the Unspoiled Pacific Waters.

I'll be at my favorite restaurant in town, listening to the roosters crow, mangling Spanish with the Mexican residents who politely tolerate me, eating fresh fish tacos and drinking Negro Modelo.

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