on a plane
SFO to PVR
Time to destination: 0:20 minutes
Distance: 101 miles
Destination: Sayulita (by way of Puerto Vallarta)
Reason for destination: Kaylee (and a desire for a vacation, which is to say a break, a break from the rain and cold and efforts to do good, be good, be whom I am supposed to be, the sort of woman who knows when to use whom, for example, a skill of no real consequence, a party trick for all those grammarian parties to which I’m invited, I’d prefer a hat trick, a trick up my sleeve, not that I’m wearing sleeves, Mexico is hot, chica, which is why Kaylee is here, which is why I’m here, for her)
Small world moments related to this trip:
- Kaylee had chosen Sayulita somewhat at random via Workaway, seeking a warm place with surf where she could live for a while after graduating UC Santa Cruz last year. She and I both follow Robin Lanei, a delightful surfer-artist, on Instagram; I knew that Robin lived in Sayulita from her account. My friend Stacie Vanags, whom I know through Surfrider, interviews awesome water women for her podcast Salted Spirit; I remembered that Stacey had interviewed Robin and suggested to Kaylee that we listen. In the podcast, Stacey asks Robin how she ended up in Sayulita and she explained a friend of hers from Monterey, Dionne Ybarra, connected her. I know Dionne from her work as founder of The Wahine Project – we did a presentation together last year. (She’s also part of Surfrider’s Monterey chapter!). I reached out to Dionne to get the scoop on Sayulita, turned out she was heading there a few days before Kaylee. Dionne not only picked Kaylee up at the PV airport, but set her up at Robin’s place to fill the gap before K could move into the Workaway dorm. They surfed and hung out (Robin even removed sea urchin spikes from K’s foot!) helping make this new place quickly familiar.
- I booked this trip to see K without much planning – the opportunity happened to come up and I took it. Meanwhile my friends Peri and Scott spontaneously booked their own trip to San Pancho, just north of Sayulita, during the time Kaylee is here and during a San Pancho music festival. We did not coordinate, but we ended up in Mexico at the same time and hung out!
- My seatmates on the plane to Puerto Vallarta traveled out for the San Pancho music fest because the husband’s cousin is performing.
- When chatting with my seatmates about surfing and music and where I’m from, the woman in the row ahead of ours called back, “I’m from Humboldt, too! Garberville. Do you know about The Wahine Project in Monterey? Surfers? People say I look just like someone there.” Circle, complete.
Punta de Mita
Borrowed a longboard from her workplace, surfed knee-high waves at La Lancha with K this morning. While such small waves are not inherently exciting, to be in warm water always feels like a miracle. Sitting and writing at the restaurant adjacent to WildMex; I’m taking a moment to write while Kaylee checks out surfboards to tourists.
The lack of sleep hits me. The Airbnb I rented sits adjacent to a live music bar in downtown Sayulita. I imagined Sayulita as people had described it to me: laid-back, surfy, artsy. I did not expect the Mexican version of a mini-New Orleans. If I had, I would’ve taken the “noisy AF” reviews more to heart. Instead I paid more attention to the price (cheap!) and what looked to be a convenient location – and it is, if what you want to do is party in downtown Sayulita.
The Airbnb also sits only a couple blocks from the beach and main surf break… where raw sewage flows into the ocean. Fortunately I opted to rent a car (a smart decision executed poorly as trying to work one’s way through the various scams grows tiresome and so a person sometimes simply pays more than she should in order to get on with it already), enabling us to get away from the noise and crowds and into cleaner water.
To see Kaylee is worth it.
I nap on the beach for a while, then walk south, away from the surf lessons, around the rocky points, past the woman straddling the man, her ass hanging out of her skirt as she lifts her chest to the sky.
Back in front of the surf shop, I hang out in a chair, air warm against my skin, more skin than has been exposed for months, California’s winter a particularly wet and cold one, even bringing snow – snow! – to Arcata just weeks ago. Always in February, we go mad from all the rain, the dark.
Nearby, an American tells a Mexican he’s on a “blues break.”
“Blues break? Never heard of it. Spring break, Christmas break, sure. Blues break?”
A break from the winter blues, the American explains, laughs.
I feel that, I think, making a note in my journal before setting it aside. I stretch in the sunshine, skin salty as the rim of a margarita glass.
I know I’m supposed to like Sayulita, to find it delightful. I fear my actual reaction – It’s crowded! Rowdy! Expensive! – reflects some ugly Americanism that I don’t want to embody. Those of us who identify as liberal progressive types are supposed to want to travel and, most importantly, to insist that all places enchant us. This experience reminds me of the importance of expectations: What are they and why and are they born of research and should we ever even have them at all?
Truth is, random opportunities have inspired most of my travels – a friend has a house, a conference is happening, my daughter is there – rather than intention around a particular places. I’ve never had the money to simply pick a destination and go. I’m amazed, grateful, that hard work and a fondness for people has launched me to Taiwan, Mexico, Alaska, New York, New Orleans… the opportunities may have been random, but they’ve brought no less adventure and joy because of it.
I join K and her friends on a surf expedition via boat. We do not go far, only about 15 minutes around the corner, but what fun! I’ve never jumped off a boat onto a surfboard before. Kaylee and I split a wave and her friends hoot. “Family wave!” they holler. I watch her catch a million more waves, find a few of my own. My heart swells with love and pride every time she goes down the line just as it always has since she was eight and catching tiny green waves at the Jetty. This is why I’m here.
Sleep did not come easily last night. Not because of the band rocking out at the bar next door, but because my brain would not cease reciting a litany of worries despite my admonishments and attempts to listen to anxiety-reducing apps.
And I have it pretty good, all things considered. I think often about those who never get rest, who go cold, go hungry, whose illnesses go without treatment, whose needs become invisible because to meet them requires more than we can conceive of giving. We, by whom I mean people who have careers and are far enough along in them to be financially sound, more or less, grow used to adjusting our environments to suit us. Turn on the air conditioning, turn up the heat, order the layers necessary for warmth to be delivered to our door. Thick socks and puffy jackets are practically a birthright. We seek outdoor experiences to enrich us – little requires us to leave the building – and purchase all the necessary gear to ensure an adequate buffer between ourselves and the elements. My skin browns in the sun making me more beautiful without an ounce of privilege lost.
I hike from Sayulita to San Pablo, emerge from the jungle onto the highway, where I urge the Canadians to hurry around the blind curve rather than pressing into the bushes every time a car or truck hurtles toward us. “I would feel better if we jogged,” the one says to the other. We survive. I find Scott and Peri at the beach, and together we launch into the night.
The restaurants we frequent in Sayulita boast smoothie bowls and fancy toast as if we were in L.A., Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, whichever coastal town you prefer your modern day healthfest breakfast in, albeit for two-thirds the price.
A parade winds toward us as Kaylee and I walk to her place – Flag Day. A flatbed covered in musicians leads the way. Dancing horses follow. Later, Kaylee and I join a horseback tour at the ranch boasting those same dancing horses. Our horses do not dance, but they carry us through the jungle and gallop on the beach once Carlos gives the okay. Both K and Chelsea grew up riding horses at Field of Dreams in Trinidad; I’m reminded of my childhood passion for horses, how I collected all the Breyer models, read all the Black Stallion, Black Beauty books, rode for a few years. Kaylee and I note the waves, bigger here and more to them than the knee-high mush back in town.
somewhere outside Sayulita
Using landmarks and Google Maps till the service drops, we wind our way back toward the beach from the day before. We park in a spot that may or not be okay to park and, as a precaution, leave the rental car unlocked to reduce the chance someone might smash the windows. We carry our boards – mine a good eight inches shorter than what I usually ride because less to carry and more suited to fast takeoffs – through the jungle, somewhat confident we’re going the right way, but hoping for some luck to lead us, too.
The combination of internet research and luck serve us: We emerge at the south end of our desired beach. The swell dropped a couple feet overnight, flattening the usual breaks, but some fun chest-high peaks promise to reward our efforts. Kaylee catches left after left. I get into some waves, manage to land on my feet, but the board is faster than I am, so it’s a lot of pop-and-tumble. Nonetheless, I’m having fun trying. After, we stretch out on the beach, let the sun do its thing. I read a book I found in K’s house, a translation of a Russian comic masterpiece. When the sun’s heat on my body makes me dizzy, I plunge into the ocean to steady my senses. I’m in heaven.
I’m staying in the dorms with K tonight, to have a bit more time with her and also to have one night without the madness of downtown. The dorms consist of a room in a house owned by the same guy who owns the business where K and her fellow travelers volunteer. The house sits on the north side of Sayulita, the quiet side, with a lovely, clean, uncrowded beach out front.
Three bunkbeds take up space in the bedroom; above me sleeps a 20-something Canadian. “Hi, I’m Kaylee’s mom. I’ll be sleeping here,” I’d said, gesturing to the lower bunk. He blinked and promised he’d try to not move around too much.
Earlier today, we’d tripped up to La Penita to visit Duane and Micki Flatmo, other friends from Humboldt. The top of their house features hammocks and an ocean view, so we spent some time lazing in hammocks and admiring the expanse of blue water under blue sky, the island in the middle of it, the birds, trees and flowers all around. As we climbed down the spiral stairs, I caught sight of a spouting whale, the first of the season, Micki said.
on a plane
PVR to SFO via SAN
I’m a matter-of–fact good-byer. I don’t linger. I say farewell and get in the car and drive away and then spend however long necessary weeping to be separated from whichever loved one I’ve just left (or perhaps they’re the ones who’ve left, in which case I curl up on my bed till the tears pass). The drive back to Puerto Vallarta affords this opportunity. I manage to return the rental car, get to the airport, board the plane without problem. In San Diego, I’m distracted when asked if I’ve brought anything back. I’m thinking fruit, for some reason, which I have not brought back, so I fail to disclose the chocolate-honey mask from Mexicolate or the pack of Robin’s postcards I purchased. I then fail to make the sharp left turn that takes me into the airport proper and wander into secondary.
“Um,” I say, suddenly aware that I’ve nowhere to go.
“Can I help you?” the agent asks.
“I’m trying to get out?” I say.
“Were you sent in here?”
“Do you want a free search of your belongings?”
“No, thank you.”
“Then just go back out and turn right.”
And although exiting customs wasn’t quite the end of my trip – the length of my layover afforded me time to spend with a friend in San Diego – stepping out of the airport brought the Sayulita chapter to close.