Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A sleepy, sunny place for Spanish lessons

Yelapa yet to become Mexican tourist trap

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ONE Saturday morning at our weekly coffee klatch, I informed my friend Harry that I was going to Mexico to study Spanish. My pronouncement was met with hoots of derision.

"I'm thinking of going to Yelapa," I responded, fully expecting that he'd never heard of the place.

"It's a little flyspeck of a village about an hour's boat ride from Puerto Vallarta," I told him. "You can only get there by boat."

"I've been there," he said casually. "Have they got electricity yet?"

I like small, out-of-the-way places and Yelapa seemed to be perfect. It was relatively close to Puerto Vallarta, yet far enough away from the tourist crowds and the cost for accommodation is reasonable. You can get a fairly nice villa for about $300 a week in the low season.

The only way to Yelapa is by water taxi -- also sometimes referred to euphemistically as a boat.

The ride from Puerto Vallarta takes about an hour. Upon being unceremoniously dumped on the beach in Yelapa, I hired two Sherpas to schlep my bags up the mountain to my residence since Yelapa doesn't have any cars or trucks.

The only tailpipe emissions you need be concerned about emanate from the rear end of the numerous horses and burros that ply the streets. In the last couple of years, the occasional ATV has surfaced, and I imagine in a few years the place will look like a Sun Belt retirement town with the ATVs replacing the golf carts.

Yelapa is split into two parts: one side being the tourist area and the other being the town itself.

The tourist side is a long stretch of white beach populated by a series of ramshackle restaurants and tourist shops that cater exclusively to the daily boatloads of tourists who arrive for a few hours, and are immediately set upon by the beach sharks selling everything from T-shirts to Israeli jeeps. After a few hours of being thoroughly picked over by the sharks, they get back on the boat and return to Puerto Vallarta.

Although Yelapa is small by anybody's standards, I was continually getting lost in the narrow, winding streets. I came up with a unique solution: I would mark my path with flagging tape, which I conveniently brought with me -- since it's a given that I will get lost no matter where I go. I filled my pockets with fluorescent red flagging tape and slowly made my way into the village carefully flagging each turn.

A few days later there was a buzz of excitement in Yelapa. It seems that the federal government had finally decided to build a road connecting Yelapa to Puerto Vallarta. A survey team had secretly arrived from Puerto Vallarta one night and marked the new highway route with fluorescent red flagging tape. It appeared the new highway seemed to stop right at my front door!

Sleeping in Yelapa can be a challenge because of the roosters. I was lucky enough to be living next door to the Prime Rooster. The Prime Rooster is sort of an alarm clock rooster, whose sole job is to wake up every other rooster in Yelapa, and there are lots of them.

The rooster cacophony lasts about 45 minutes until the Prime Rooster realizes he's still on daylight time and goes back to sleep again -- only to reawaken at 4:30 a.m. and start the whole thing over again. One of my neighbours, a strict vegetarian, seriously considered adding rooster to her allowed supplements.

My Spanish lessons were to be held at the prestigious Yelapa English Spanish Institute.

The institute turned out to be my teacher's house, which had previously been owned by one of the Three Little Pigs (or Los Tres Cerditos, as they say in Spanish). In this particular case, the purchase was made from the middle pig -- the one who built his house out of straw. This house must have been an early attempt by the late Senior Cerdito, as it would take a minimum of huffing and puffing to blow it down.

The classes were to be held on the institute's front porch, which was fine for me until I spotted a small bottle on the table with a large bug inside.

What's that? I asked. Oh, that's a scorpion I caught in my kitchen last week, said my teacher Jean (or Juanita, staying with our Spanish theme).

I examined the bottle carefully. Inside was a large scorpion about 10 centimetres long with a mean-looking stinger.

"Do you have many of these?" I asked.

"Oh, you see them now and then," she replied casually. "I've only been bitten once or twice in the last few years. Just make sure you shake your shoes each morning, and shake out your laundry."

I made a mental note to beat my laundry with a stick when I returned to my room.

We didn't spend much more time discussing scorpions as Juanita was concerned about her missing cat. She was afraid it might have suffered the same fate as one of her others.

"Stung by a scorpion?" I asked.

No, eaten by a python. It appeared when she was out of her straw house, a large python slithered into her house and gobbled up her sleeping cat.

I suggested that in future we might want to conduct our lessons on my patio.

Unlike the institute, my casa was built by the last little pig -- a nice, solid concrete house -- hopefully immune to big, bad wolves, scorpions and cat-eating pythons.

If you discount the occasional scorpion and python, Yelapa does have a certain charm. However, if you're looking for the fast-paced life of the big-city tourist resorts you might find Yelapa ... well -- slow. There are no discos or nightclubs -- only the local yacht club that plays loud Mexican music on weekends. But if you like folk music or '60s rock, you'll find it somewhere in Yelapa on the weekends.

If you're looking for something a little less touristy with a lot of charm, then kick back, chill out, and spend a week or so in Yelapa.

-- Canwest News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2010 E4

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