Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 2

As a private residential community of just 62 exotic and handcrafted homes, this serene Mexican hideaway will also offer its residents a stunning Beach and Surf Club designed by de Reus Architects with an engaging beach bar, lounge, Jungle Pool and stylish restaurant. There will be a modern fitness center and spa facilities and Concierge services, outdoor yoga pavilions, community watercraft and a casual Surf Club boasting an array of ocean activities for the entire family.

--Brochure for Punta Sayulita

The mythology of Sayulita is this: it was discovered in the 70's by two surfers who came through on a lark and stayed for the easy life. From them, Sayulita has grown up from an isolated fishing village to a recreation destination for both Mexicans on vacation and Northerners looking to escape their chilly climes. And now, having grown up through several generational shifts, the children who are residents have known no other town than the one with a transient tourist population, swinging through in weekly migrations. Many of them benefit from this peculiar migrant population as restaurants and shops have grown up to support the tides of travelers.

And many of them still do not speak English, which makes me easy, somehow. Even though their town is at any given time probably a third to half foreigners, they have retained their cultural heritage and their language. Or at least the language of the earlier, more violent colonial invaders; it seems that many of the locals are in some part descended from the Huichols who still maintain a vivid and brightly decorated presence there.

We discovered Sayulita several years ago, well after it had already been established as a hidden jewel of Nayarit. But the problem with hidden jewels is no-one seems to be able to keep the secret. I share responsibility and some of blame for this: several of our friends have also made the trip to Sayulita based upon our ringing endorsement, and I'm sure that they in turn have passed on the secret as well. And they told two friends, and they told two friends...

But Sayulita is at a crossroads. It's a 45-minute ride down a winding two lane highway from Puerto Vallarta in whatever taxi or bus you find to take you. There were no paved streets in the town itself save the highway until recently; now there are paved roads. Granted, they don't really qualify as "improved" since they start and stop abruptly, one of them actually ending in tire-destroying re-bar which juts out, threatening every vehicle willing to take the risk with a flat. But just the same, paved. And it's no surprise that they needed some paved roads in town, as the development around little Sayulita is rocketing along at a tidy clip.

We got a taste of its pace at breakfast time as we walked to ChocoBanana, a weird little restaurant that seems to anchor the Norteños and the locals together in some funny unsettled way. And at eight in the morning, the streets are rumbling with the engines of countless trucks all going to the new construction sites throughout the town. There are many trucks going to many sites.

Development is no new thing here. The entire beachfront seems to have been swallowed up by larger and larger complexes of houses, each one boasting more amenities and greater size than the ones before. We have availed ourselves of this extreme decadence, though we do it with a touch of sheepishness and a little confusion about our intersection with the lifestyles of the residents of the town. But we, being part and parcel with the Northwest, are always looking for new ways to flee the weather, and Sayulita has become the point on our radar upon which we focus.

The residents to date seem to be placid about the massive transient population that has washed up there. There have been great entrepreneurial possibilities opening for those willing to suck up the foreign cash, which is in abundance. Still, just the same, I can't help but sense that we have, by swallowing up the choicest sections of beachfront properties and then hiring the Mexicans from Sayulita to build them, clean them and manage them, imported our inequitable treatment of the residents with us from the Northern reaches. Even though we are in effect the migrants.

•   •   •

The best thing about a place like Sayulita is that one is forced, by the very nature of its inaccessibility and sleepiness, to take it slow. The greatest challenge that faced us each day was what to eat and where to eat it. Tacos? Fresh fish pulled from the sea? Maybe a little tamale from the Señora that wandered through the complex?

Anyone who has been there knows the Muffin Lady by reputation; she sells freshly baked pies and muffins every morning along the beachfront houses on the North side of town. Breakfast while rubbing our eyes free of the night's humid descent was always a non-issue as our son would cram cheese pies in his face and we adults would drink stiff coffee with our orange muffins baked in old tin cans. If one chose, you could not move from under your palapa on your rented terracotta patio for the entire day: muffins in the morning, tamales for lunch, grab some shrimp from the fish trucks that drive through town shouting the catch of the day from the back. Throw them on a grill and you've had yourself a good day.

But the benefits of moving off the patio are great: if you like surfing, or just smelling the ocean you've got it made. The jungle rises up behind you on steep hills, and there are horses to ride through them, led by the enterprising locals. Boat rides, beers on the beach, simple basking in the sun, weighed down by nothing heavier than the tropical humidity. Everything is slow.

There is a sort of friction between old and new Sayulita as it becomes more popular. Just to absorb the huge influx of tourists, the roads have to be improved. The demands for accessible health care have risen from the potential drowning victims who wallow in the deceptively placid ocean and an unfortunate outbreak of dengue fever, and tidy new clinics have resulted. There is a necessity for efficient waste management, and a bunch of little recycling bins have spread throughout the town. The new sewage treatment plant is a huge improvement in the quality of life there; the smell on funky days was pretty punishing. The tiny rivulet that separates North from South Sayulita seems wholesome again, though I wouldn't drink the water on a bet.

Many of the features that we travelers find so intimately alluring must be an unendurable pain in the ass for people who live there. The potholes in the unpaved roads are so enormous and voluminous that cars and trucks must go through fabulous numbers of shocks and repairs. So while we Norteños wander through on foot, wearing our flip flops and beach pareos on our way to discover some other quaint delight, the more respectably attired locals on their way to work on new constructions or to open their shops, or unloading their goods from the back of trucks battered from crappy roads, must wish for a nice route through the town.

But convenience for them will mean the loss of charm for us. It's an uneasy moment in Sayulita, and the ex pat community is cognizant of the need for and awareness of growth regulation. The very active foreign community encourages the involvement of Mexicans in their own destiny, which is good but may overtake all of them no matter how well-managed their growth.

And as the foreign presence swells, so does modernity. It is impossible at this point to get much work done if you're from the north; the internet is too spotty. But even this is changing, and cafes and restaurants all tout their Wi-Fi connections. Speed is not aces, but then, who would want it to be? Not when you could toddle down to the beach with a beer and watch the pelicans diving. The last day we were there, high speed internet was being installed in the complex we were leaving. It's only a matter of time, really, before everything is wired, even the odd chicken roticerias. And who am I to complain? It will probably ease the annoyance of many there. And yet, I'm grieved by the addition.

The charm of Sayulita has been it's laid back, timeless quality. In this, change is in the air. There is a stylish convenience store right in the center of town now, looking flashy and modern standing next to the rather less well-put-together farmacia/tienda next door. They are both populated with all the same passers-by, but I can't help but feel that the Oxxo has put the farmacia on notice: evolve or die.

And then there is the newest addition to Sayulita: Punta Sayulita, a gated community developing on the once pristine ocean point just outside of town.

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 1

A stone's throw from the allure of Sayulita, there is an unspoiled 33-acre peninsula of lush and tranquil shoreline. Upon this romantic sweep of coast, amidst a tropical jungle thick with wild orchids, mangoes, tamarindos and pelicans soaring overhead, a new ocean sanctuary is set to rise. --Brochure for Punta Sayulita, a development in Mexico on the Nayarit Coast

The speed with which our taxi driver raced into the complex to drive us to the airport was contradictory to all our other experiences in Sayulita, Mexico. Certainly it was contrary to our experience with the same driver only seven days earlier, who picked us up in a Chevy Suburban with a cooler of Tecate which we swilled with impish delight on the winding highway through the jungle to Sayulita. We drank with some part "fuck you" to the rules and regulations of the United States, and some part ablutions to the lords of vacation.

But upon vacation's end, the driver Antonio was in a frenzy. He threw our bags in the back while being verbally assaulted by the source of his excitement, an overgrown walrus of an American telling Antonio there wasn't room for our family, that he needed the taxi for himself. Antonio was trying to explain to him through obvious strain and his thick Spanish accent that my family had arranged for the taxi days before; the walrus was an interloper injecting himself into a car that wasn't available. The walrus neither heard nor cared, and harrumphed into the seat in front of the other object of Antonio's distress, the walrus's girlfriend.

Having come late to the party, we were confused. We had arranged with Antonio for a round trip to and from the airport; sharing the taxi was not a part of negotiations so we were similarly miffed. Plus I had no idea we were to share a taxi with Princess Grace's lesser sibling. Through her Midwestern twang she barked at Antonio, "There's not enough room for them, we need this taxi FOR US." Antonio got in the Suburban and started to drive. He called someone on his cell while navigating the potholes and crevasses that opened up in Sayulita's completely unimproved streets, speaking frantically while avoiding skinny dogs and surfers clogging up the road. "He wants to talk to you," Antonio said to Princess Walrus, handing her his cell phone.

She berated the voice on the other end. "We need to be at the airport AT FIVE; I want YOU to PICK ME UP. We're in a van with other people; there's no room for other people. You meet me and drive me YOURSELF. We're going to our hotel NOW. Twenty-five minutes, I want you THERE." She handed the phone back to Antonio who was quietly seething in the driver's seat. "Just take us to our fucking hotel," Princess Walrus complained. Over staggering potholes of dirt road we jumbled together, our six-year-old the only one laughing at the absurdity of the thing, the van's shocks failing us over every bump, making it better than any amusement park ride.

I turned to my husband. "This is like the West Bank," I explained. I've always tried to describe it to him--the Middle East Relations major who never got the chance to visit the Middle East--and this was it: bad roads, insane Americans bitching at people, taxis bottoming out every five feet, dust covering everything. Sometimes the Third World seems universal: one dusty road populated by a bitchy American woman assaulting a local is as good as another. Princess and Master Walrus tumbled out of the van at their swank hotel on the spectacular Nayarit shore, apparently more inclined to miss their plane than to share a taxi they were never welcome to in the first place. The last I saw of the Walrus Tribe was Princess Walrus yelling at anyone who would listen how unfairly she had been treated.

Antonio was puce with fury as he drove back down the impassable narrow dirt path to the main highway. "Pendejo" featured prominently in the tumble of Spanish that fell from his spluttering lips as we pulled away. He spat out words to explain what had happened, between gesticulations at the truck that almost backed into us, which we pieced together however we could: The Walruses had jumped in his taxi when he dropped another fare, and he, both because they were too stupid to listen and too belligerent to care, couldn't eject them. They wanted his taxi, and damn it, they were going to take it. That there were other arrangements did not enter the equation, even when he picked us up, the totally mystified family who had scheduled ahead of time.

"They had another taxi, but they didn't wait for it--they just took this one. No pay, no nada! And she's yelling at me! I drive them to their hotel, I call the other company for them..." He dissolved into a tirade of Spanglish so thick we couldn't parse any more, other than that his hatred for the Walruses knew no bounds. I was completely sympathetic. She was the stereotype of horrific American tourist: nasal, bitchy, entitled. We hated her even before she humiliated Antonio, with her insouciant freshly-fucked hair-style, expensive yoga pants and high heeled flip flops. It was all façade; the small blunderbuss rammed up her ass was evidence of no true human contact in more than a decade. Though I despised him, I also pitied Mr. Walrus; it was an unbearable trip to go across an idyllic village in Mexico with this piece of work; a trip across the country in a plane with her would qualify as torture under Geneva.

•  •  •