Central Pacific Coast beach bum paradise
Words by Gary
The four days sunning it up in Yelapa was downright glorious. Could have easily stayed an extra few days for added bronzing value and dining out on passion fruit margaritas but our next destination beckoned: Tailwind Jungle Lodge in San Francisco — or San Pancho as it was affectionately known by her locals — about one hour’s drive north from Puerto Vallarta up the M200 I reserved our two bedroom casita soon after resigning, a good five months before our departure date. We agreed a 2-week stay would be an ideal way to find our groove and rid ourselves of the stress brought on by high-octane Sydney living.
We picked up our trusty 4-door Dodge sedan from Alamo Puerta Vallarta and got our first taste of Mexican roads. Pretty tame overall and not half as hairy as China or Vietnam and not a patch on the carnage that is Italian roads. A quick pit stop at Wal-Mart for the mother of all grocery shops and 45 minutes later we arrived at our own 2 bedroom jungle home, Casa Pumita, the pick of the dwellings at Tailwind Jungle Lodge. Perfect. Two level home, neatly appointed with two bathrooms, kitchen and a top floor terrace perfect for late afternoon margaritas, cervezas and a spot of whale watching.
Four poster bed and ensuite for the grown ups. Result! The kids immediate reaction tells you whether you’ve nailed it or not and on this occasion we’d scored big time. Tailwind Lodge caters for 16 people max across 5 different dwellings and was designed so that you feel at one with your surrounds. Privacy is tantamount here. It is owned and operated by the delightfully warm Jacobi’s – a Canadian family of four that boast more travel miles than most and have called this patch of Mexico home for the past 12 years. Almost feels like a home stay. Truly divine people.
A typical day would start with a lazy lie-in and cooked egg breakfast followed by serious downtime. Afternoon’s for the adults meant Pacifico beer or homemade Margarita’s on the intimate upper deck watching the setting sun and discussing the untold benefits of emancipating to the great unknown. Lost count of the smiles and high fives that were traded. In the days in between we’d make the short trip to San Pancho for some surf beach action and continue our quest to tick off every restaurant the town had to offer. Take a bow:
* Bistro Organico – for breakfast
* Barracuda – for fish taco
* Los Arbolitos – for tacos of all varieties
And as bona fide coffee and ice cream addicts special mentions to “Choco Banana’ and ‘Cafe Paradaiso’. Loved your laborious wifi too!! How to aptly describe San Pancho?? Think Mullumbimby laden with taco stands. Super tight-knit and active community that is devoted to the arts, eating well and spiritual well-being. If money were no issue it’s the kind of joint you could easily find yourself calling home.
A short stroll away from our casa was the gorgeous Playa Los Muertos – I kid you not, every place we’ve come across in Mexico boasts a ‘beach of death’ – which was as tranquil a setting as you could hope for. Secluded and rugged with golden sands and a verdant green jungle backdrop. If you were lucky you’d bag the beach to yourself. Worse case, you’d be sharing it with half a dozen.
Christmas Day 2015 was as glorious as they come. After sharing presents bought locally and thoughtfully wrapped with pages of the trashy mags we’d read on the plane – Who, Famous and Dolly – we made for Los Muertos under a phenomenal blue sky.
For three hours we frolicked in the sun on our very own private beach (occasionally smearing ourselves with the bentonite clay found at the foot of the jungle path), that is, until we spotted a lone figure in the distance lying prostrate on the shore. Initially we thought he’d been washed up after fighting a rip but when we approached we learned he was a paraplegic who swam from a nearby beach as part of his exercise routine. Extraordinary fella! Back to Casa Pumita for our scrumptious Christmas lunch: roast chicken wrapped in bacon, baked potatoes and veg, guacamole and washed down with Chilean Chardonnay. The girls had lovingly prepared Strawberry Cheesecake and Chocolate Mudcake for dessert. Just the four of us, willingly ensconced in paradise, practising the much maligned art of gluttony. The unravelling process had hit hyper speed.
On Boxing Day we were very fortunate to meet a trio who we’ll likely call our friends for time permanent. The Melcherts are a family of three from California who like us booked two weeks at Tailwind to fly and flop. Bjorn, Manuela and Fritz fast became our social companions at the dinner table, at the beaches and in the jungle and thanks to the virtual world of Minecraft, Ruby and Amalia had found a bestie to share their cyber life. Kids really can be the best of baby-sitters.
We rang in 2016 together on San Pancho beach, lighting Chinese lanterns and setting them skywards, in company with our aspirations for the year ahead. The Burchett’s had set a few goals:
1. Learn Spanish
2. Learn to surf
3. Learn to dance
2016 was the year of acquiring new passions. It was also a likely contender for the best year ever. We made sure 2015 ended in superb fashion with a spot of early morning whale watching at Punta Mita in the Bahia de Banderras. A fine way to cap off one of the most defining and disruptive years of our lives.
As much as we loved jungle life we were ready to move on to our next home. Sayulita.
One thing the jungle doesn’t spoil you with is sunlight and we were primed for a solid week of surfing and Spanish. Thanks to a little oversight on TripAdvisor we unexpectedly landed ourselves a 5 bedroom mansion for a bargain price – Casa Ovalada – on ‘Gringo Hill’ which was a 5-minute stroll to the heart of the surf village. Lucky or what? It was January 3 and accommodation was near impossible to come by. Arguably the busiest time of the year and we had palatial digs that Kanye and Kimmy would have approved of.
Sayulita is primarily a surfer’s haunt and gained popularity in the 60’s when hoards of Californian board riders discovered her neat little breaks and laid back charm. Nowadays it’s not so laid back, in fact it feels a little like Hat Rin meets Bondi but it’s easy to see why people flock here.
Despite her popularity we came across very few Aussies, although we’d bump into Curtis Stone at Cafe El Espresso every morning and he had the good grace to pose for selfies with a few of the locals. Note to self: become a chef in your next life!
Our introduction to Latin American Spanish was at Sayulita Experiencia – a small school that charged $USD 180 each for 5 x 3 hour lessons. Our maestro was Carolina, a Masters of Linguistics graduate who hailed from Hamburg, Germany of all places, and had a passion for the Spanish language and incidentally for one of the local lads. As such she had been living in Sayulita for about a year. Nothing beats a teacher with a profound love for linguistics. Throw in some German discipline and you’re set. Amalia and Ruby were in a separate classroom under the tutelage of Estefania and it was here we commenced our long journey of acquiring a second language. Rach, thanks to her rudimentary high school French, grasped the verb conjugations in no time, whereas my strength was small phrases and the ability to memorise key words. Together we make a fine pair.
After Tuesday’s studies we ambled off to WildMex adventures for our two-hour surfing lesson with Jorge. If you’re a bloke in Mexico good chance you’re name is Juan, Jorge, Pedro or Carlos. Surf was small but offered tidy little breaks to triumph on our long boards. The two gymnasts showed their balance and poise and standing up simultaneously on practically their first wave.
Parents didn’t embarrass themselves either and by the end of the two hours we’d gone some way in achieving passion number 2.
Passion number 1 would be a perennial work in progress although we did manage to book a hotel room in Tequila conversing entirely in Castellano. And these will be our long lasting memories of Sayulita. Espresso cafes and Chocolate Caliente to start the day, studies, surfing and delicious feeds to round off. A night to remember involved a home-cooked dinner with the Melchert’s, some lip-smacking reds from Mexico — yes, they exist!! – and Manuela giving Rach a most fabulous haircut. Well, she was a stylist in NYC, darling!
Six days later and it was adios to the beach. The next stage of travels centred around the Tequila Trail and colonial silver towns. The beaches had done their job. The Burchett’s were well rested and primed for a change of scenery and a chance to really practice that Spanish.
We ate well at: Yeikame
Drank espresso cortados at: Cafe El Espresso
Surfing lessons through: WildMex
Spanish lessons through: Experienca Sayulita