Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 4

We rediscovered our favorite chicken place on the opposite side of town from where it had been a few years earlier. Sayulita is magical like that–things open and close, move with no warning, change and evolve in ways peculiar to Sayulita. Like the recently paved road, which has been masterfully poured but ends dramatically with exposed re-bar threatening every tire that passes, restaurants and shops seem to work outside the rules of normal business practice. I turned a corner and there it was: La Pechuga. I marched right up, whipped out my meager Spanish, chatted briefly with the very nice man wrapping up my bird, and paid for a feast: a whole chicken with rice, fresh tortillas, and homemade salsa (85 pesos), and roast potatoes (15 pesos). I carried my quarry back to the den, proud to offer up such an unexpected delight to my family. We ate like kings (sorry Punta Sayulita, maybe dukes), rounded out by a couple Mexican Cokes (no corn syrup, but real cane sugar as the sweetener) and a vast appreciation for the simple pleasures of Mexican pollo.

We were so happy to rediscover our chicken place, which consisted of nothing more than an enormous rotisserie oven and a bunch of plastic bags to wrap up the birds, that we had to share this gem of intelligence with the new friends we had made in our housing complex. We planned a dinner for all of us, and we bought two chickens with all the trimmings. We sat down to our shared pollo meal on their rented patio overlooking the sea, amazed at our good fortune. And they too became enamored of the chicken place.

Our last night in Sayulita also happened to be the birthday of one of our new friends, so we agreed that getting a La Pechuga chicken was the best way to celebrate Brian’s birthday and cap our perfect vacation. At about four-thirty the men-folk mounted up and set out for the glory of the hunt. We women and children remained behind, with our sage leader, my father, rounding out the tribe.

We waited. We waited and waited. We wondered where they could be; had they come to harm along the peaceful Sayulita streets? Had they ended up in a bar doing shots with young surfers for Brian’s birthday, leaving us to our over-active fantastical imagination? Had they in fact found the chicken so irresistible they ate it all before they got back to the house, and now, having realized their folly, needed to acquire more fodder for the tribe? We toddled down to the beach at dusk to look for baby sea turtles. We toddled back. Our husbands were still not there.

The sun had left Sayulita, and a blue half-light covered the town. The ocean was roaring in the distance, now invisible as night had fallen.

They arrived at last, chicken in hand, weary, travel worn, but in one piece.

“The chicken place was gone,” Brian said. “They moved to Guadalajara.”

This was unexpected.

We had walked by the day before, planning with our stomachs how many chickens to buy for our celebration. There, La Pechuga’s long line, its rotisserie turning out perfect chicken, its staff of two helping its devoted customers, had beguiled us with a future that was not to be. It had faded overnight, gone, like a mirage. An oasis of chicken disappearing into the mists of Sayulita businesses gone by.

But our husbands had brought chicken, a mystery yet to be revealed.

“We didn’t know what to do now that there was no chicken place, so we just started walking through the town, hoping we could find an alternative.”

This was not ideal, as my husband is rather inflexible when it comes to his stomach and its cravings. He had been banking on La Pechuga, and now that it had disappeared overnight, he was at a loss. Brian and Lars wandered into the little downtown across the tiny river, looking up dirt roads and down little avenues for dinner alternatives to be revealed. They came upon a dry erase board with a hand-written name “Yolanda” on it, an arrow pointing them up a dry dirt road to their next best chicken hope.

They came up empty-handed–Yolanda’s chicken place had also closed up shop, making them wonder if there was a dire chicken shortage that had befallen Sayulita, the Great Pollo Disaster of 2010.

Finally, perhaps because she took pity upon the strangers staring at the place Yolanda’s once stood, or maybe noting that they had walked past in some circular, confused route, a woman sitting in front of her house asked them what they were looking for.

“Yolanda?” my husband asked.

“Yolanda is gone,” she replied.

“Closed?” they asked.

“Just gone,” she said, in a way that made them wonder if Yolanda had slipped the yoke on this mortal coil. “What are you looking for?” she asked.

Pollo, chicken. We’re looking for chicken for dinner,” they said.

She shrugged, “I’ll make you a chicken.”

They looked at each other. She had a grill in front of her house, and its coals were hot. Why not?

“How many chickens you want?” she asked.

Dos,” they requested.

“Half an hour, you come back,” she said.

So our husbands wandered off into town again. They covered the whole downtown and doubled back, meandering through alleys and streets, with potholes the size of small ponds. The town is small enough that they re-traced their path many times before the half hour ran out and they ambled back to the woman’s house.

“Fifteen more minutes,” she said.

They set out again, taking spurs and side streets they hadn’t yet investigated. They had covered most of the town by the time fifteen minutes past.

“Not done yet,” she announced, so they chatted politely in front of her grill while she puttered about. The sun had pretty much set behind the future Punta Sayulita community, and the dusky blue wrapped them in cool light when she finally held out the bag with two chickens in it.

“Wow,” we said, back at the house. “She just made you two chickens? Just because?” We were stunned and moved. Her two chickens cost 170 pesos, about 12 dollars, but completely priceless. They were different from La Pechuga chickens, but delicious just the same. It was a meal worth waiting for.

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My husband, bless him, thinks that Punta Sayulita is a pipe dream that will come to nothing. They supposedly broke ground in February, 2009, and looking at their website I see that out of their future plans for “just 62 exotic and handcrafted homes” only three plots are noted as sales “pending.” The rest are “available” or marked as “future releases” which gives me hope.

On the other hand the “unspoiled 33-acre peninsula of lush and tranquil shoreline” has been purchased by someone, or some consortium, and ownership implies development, even if Punta Sayulita fails in its mission of creating a luxury hideaway for Americans who only want to see other Americans. But what a loss. What a loss for the people who purchase their stake in an Intimate Kingdom; no random chicken stories for them in their tightly modulated experience of luxury.

And what a loss for the residents of Sayulita, who deserve better than more people like Mr. and Mrs. Walrus washing up on their shores, demanding service they have no right to demand in ways that give a bad name to all travelers who arrive there. We have tried hard to be good, if fleeting, citizens of Sayulita; to honor the spirit of the town’s easy-going and casual atmosphere, even if we know that there is still a level of hypocrisy in our sucking up the best beachfront real estate for our brief visits. But we are open to the experience of Sayulita, not Club Med.

And what of the “unspoiled 33-acre peninsula”? It will be spoiled. By the very act of breaking ground, the spoiling has begun. How can anyone read such base descriptions of pristine shoreline and the “new ocean sanctuary...set to rise” without feeling bile tickle the back of their throats just a little? We shouldn’t aspire to being royalty in our intimate kingdoms, especially in someone else’s country. Best to aspire to being good neighbors, equal in the desire for good stewardship of such a precious jewel.

Sayulita, and all its residents, tamarindos, iguanas, and mangoes, deserves no less.

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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