Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Surfing Sayulita

Go see the real Mexico

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SAYULITA, Mexico -- I sit dumbfounded, on the rooftop patio of my little villa right on the beach in a town called Sayulita. I've just watched a man climb a palm tree with little more than a yellow rope tossed over his shoulder, his feet gripping the tree as he climbed more than 70 feet.

Atop the tree, he pulled on the string, hand over hand, as his machete bobbed and pulled alongside him. He balanced on one leg and leaning all the way over -- and began to cut away the massive palm leaves, tossing them to the ground, where his young sons waited to stack them.

Then he threw down the coconuts -- obviously the bad ones -- before tying and lowering again stacks of seven or eight of the lemon-toned footballs. When he had nearly finished his tree pruning, he began cutting away at one last coconut and chugged the milk, wiping his chin with the collar of his T-shirt. And then he managed to belay down the tree.

I considered my sense of awe may have been a result of the beer I'd been sipping. Now would be a good time to mention that, when your surf instructor tells you never to stand behind your board, and to think of surfing like fighting, and always get your arms up to protect your face, that those are the important lessons.

They just make it look so easy, all of those other surfers, dancing with the waves as they twist along with them all the way to the shore.

Being my first time, I was not so graceful. In fact, I had no grace, so when I tumbled off my board, and saw it six feet in front of me in the surf -- exactly the distance my ankle strap could stretch -- I knew things were going to get ugly.

Yet there was no time to get my arms up, since I was still completely startled by the waves that I swear tried to drown me just seconds earlier. I saw that thing coming toward me like a fastball.

Then I saw the stars. And then blood. Did sharks come that close to shore? Were there sharks in Sayulita?

As it turned out, I had split my lip right through. However, I was alive, and while I would have to put my surfboard away for the time being, I still had a few days left to try it again. That's if I could give up the boogie board.

And working the waves can build up a great appetite, which is also mandatory, since the food is so damn good. After six days of eating out, we had not sampled anything we didn't like, and, for the most part, the food was some of the best we've tasted.

Thanks to the owner of our villa, a great guy named Bruce, who repeatedly popped in on us and gave us tips to all the best local hangouts, we didn't waste any time finding the good stuff.

There's a little European bakery in town, called Pannini's. They have great pain du chocolate and ham and cheese croissants, yet you must arrive early, since they sell out before noon. A local specialty called chile relleno is a must-savour.

Cafe Sayulita was the perfect spot to get this dish, but we also heard this is Lorenzo's specialty. Lorenzo is a guy in town who supports a group of young mountain bikers. He converts his house to a restaurant most nights by pulling out a few tables and sells this signature dish to the locals and tourists fortunate enough to learn about him.

And the dish is to die for. Large chilies about the size of our green peppers are stuffed with anything you like, from veggies, to shrimp, marlin, or chicken, and are then grilled in cornmeal and topped with cream cheese. Pomegranate seeds are a typical garnish.

Sayulita was not the Mexico of my imagination. Our first night, we walked out on the beach only to see a local artisan doing a fire dance in front of one of three of the beach-front campgrounds. Then, walking the dirt and bumpy road that takes you to the centre of town, we were passed by a horse. Just a horse, not a person in sight.

A few minutes later, we watched in awe as the soccer pitch teemed with players and covered our ears as musicians practised their trombones and saxophones nearby. And by the sounds of things, they really needed the practice before they would take centre stage in the town's only gazebo for Revolution Day -- a day the locals come together to drink beer, eat and dance in the square.

There's little infrastructure here. The roads are not paved and are badly rutted, which isn't a real issue, since there's no need to drive anywhere.

There are close to 100 restaurants -- many with inner courtyards filled with trees and spectacular local art lining the walls -- and quaint bakeries that stay open late into the evening, with the families who run them sitting out front and hopping off their chairs just to serve you their deep-fried doughnuts.

In November, when we were there, the rainy season had just ended and the tourist season had not yet really begun. The place was tranquil and the servers eager and friendly.

I never did hear the Gypsy Kings, though I witnessed a lot of men in small trucks blaring propaganda from megaphones in the middle of the day. The bars closed at midnight, so we saw no real debauchery and the cerveza came in really tall, ice-cold cans -- the perfect height for my straw.

-- Postmedia News

IF YOU GO

Fly into Puerto Vallarta, since Sayulita is about 40 kilometres north of the airport.

If you're hiring a driver, have them stop at the Mega store so you can buy groceries on your way. The Mega is located just before the town of Bucerias on your right. You can buy groceries in Sayulita, but Mega is cheaper and well-stocked.

We rented a villa -- Casa Luna y Sol de Ensuena -- through VRBO.com. The place was clean and charming and Bruce, the owner, shared all the local secrets. The common areas in a villa like this are open air.

Visit sayulitalife.com to learn more about this village and its amenities.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 6, 2010 E4

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