Lazy hazy days in Mexico

CanWest News Service
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Hop a bus or a taxi to explore small towns and the wide, white sandy beaches north of Puerto Vallarta

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico - The pelican sleeping on the dock ignores the man with a fishing rod and a tempting tackle box full of bait. It is equally impervious to the roar of speedboats and the hum from the crowded beach.

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico - The pelican sleeping on the dock ignores the man with a fishing rod and a tempting tackle box full of bait. It is equally impervious to the roar of speedboats and the hum from the crowded beach.

When I get too close with my camera, the bird lazily opens one orange eye, stares at me and seems to say, "Slow down. Relax." Then it closes its eye. I creep closer and get my shot.

In Puerto Vallarta, even the birds are relaxed.

We're waiting on the Malecon for the water taxi that will take us to Yelapa, a tiny town on the south side of Banderas Bay.

There are no cars in Yelapa; people get around by foot or by horse. For day-trippers, it can only be reached via a 45-minute boat ride. It received electricity about four years ago, and gives new meaning to the word "relaxed."

It's one of four towns I plan to visit during this trip, my second to Puerto Vallarta.

Yelapa may be tiny, but it is not exactly undiscovered. A tour boat filled with laughing tourists and blaring music is parked close to shore, while smaller boats periodically roar into the bay, bringing the smell of exhaust.

So we make tracks for the waterfall, a 20-minute walk or a three-mile hike from the beach, depending on who you ask. There aren't any signs, so we ask a man in dreadlocks and another man riding a horse. They direct us through the town and tell us to "follow the path."

As we pass one dilapidated shack after another, it becomes very evident that four-legged creatures are the main means of transportation; it smells very strongly of dirt and eau de horse.

When we're back at the beach, we're happy to see the tour boat is gone, and there are only a handful of people left. I bury my feet in the hot white sand and watch a few people unloading cases of Corona.

We become so distracted by the charms of Yelapa that we almost miss our ride home. The driver comes ashore and asks us if we're waiting to go back to Puerto Vallarta. We're thankful that he does; it's the last boat of the day, and while Yelapa is rapidly growing, hotels are scarce and its difficult to find a room two months in advance, never mind two hours.

The next day, the cuts on Mike's feet are fire-engine red, puffy and weeping. The lady at the pharmacy tsks when she looks at them.

"You should have gone to Bucerias," she says. "It's easier on the feet."



BUCERIAS

The next morning, I find myself tapping my foot while we wait for the Bucerias-bound bus, 10 pesos ($1 US) in my hand.

The small coastal village, about 18 kilometres north of the Puerto Vallarta airport, is home to around 10,000 people. But when we step off the bus onto a narrow street cluttered with minivans and ancient jeeps, it's hard to believe it's that populated.

We manoeuvre through cobblestone streets lined with vendors hawking the traditional beach bags, straw hats and cheap silver trinkets.

The beach is long, wide and gloriously uncrowded; Bucerias means "place of the divers," and it's easy to see why.

The beach can easily accommodate tourists and locals alike without feeling cramped.

When we've finished swimming, we simply move our towels four feet and take a seat at an open-air restaurant. We order a bucket of beer - five Coronas or Pacificos for 45 pesos - and prepare to settle in for the afternoon.

The sun is setting, the sky streaked with stripes of brilliant purple and pink. Two boys chase each other through the surf. A sandcastle at the water's edge is slowly washed away by the incoming tide. I think I'm beginning to understand what this relaxing is all about.



SAYULITA

By now, I'm beginning to learn how to take a "Mexican minute." We don't set an alarm for the next morning, and miss the bus to Sayulita. So we take a taxi on the 40-km trip northwest of Puerto Vallarta. "Sayulita," the cab driver says, "is like California in the '70s."

I see exactly what he means. The streets are lined with yoga studios, a pet store, real estate offices and lots of ice-cream parlours, along with restaurants that offer wheatgrass smoothies and vegetarian menus. It's considerably busier than Bucerias. Most of the people we pass are young, bronzed and fit.

The wares offered for sale are very different from the silver, Mexican blankets and sarongs seen elsewhere. Instead, there are handmade pendants on leather thongs and funky wooden salad bowls.

It's cheaper than downtown, and some restaurants are even cheaper than Bucerias. Lunch costs $18 for both of us, including two drinks, two entrees and an appetizer.

To find the beach, we follow the legions of people carrying surfboards and beach towels. With its consistent break and long waves, Sayulita is a surfers' paradise, but it's also good for swimming. The water stays shallow for kilometres, and on certain parts of the beach the waves are gentle enough that children can enjoy the water, too.

We've just come out of the water - which is some of the cleanest that I've seen in Puerto Vallarta - when a troupe of performers settle themselves near our spot.

A few play the drums and one performs a complex routine with a fire baton.

Even the dogs playing on the beach stop to watch the performer's antics.

When he's finished, the fire baton twirler smiles and performs a courtly bow. The crowd applauds, and we add 50 pesos to the sombrero that is passed around.

David, who mans the Duende Surf Shop - a beachfront kiosk that offers surf lessons and board rentals - sees this repeated almost daily.

He grew up in California, but he says that after living five years in Sayulita, he has become addicted to the laid-back culture.

He fears the steady expansion Sayulita is undergoing as its reputation as an excellent surf spot for beginners attracts more and more people.

"We are trying to stop the big hotels from coming here, because we want to keep the small-town feel," David says.



PUNTA MITA

Walking the streets of Punta Mita is surreal, as if we've landed in another country. We don't hear a word of English, and 10 minutes pass before we hear a single car. A group of children playing soccer in the street stop and step off to the side to let us pass. There are no sidewalks.

It's almost like people don't know how to react to tourists in Punta Mita. No one asks us to take a look at their wares. One man at the corner store steps out onto the street and asks if we're lost.

Punta Mita is quickly becoming one of Mexico's most exclusive resort developments. On the main road, we count four hotel developments. .

Punta Mita is undeniably the slowest, most relaxed town we visited. Get there soon, because as the population explodes, the little town will change forever.

Organizations: Duende Surf Shop

Geographic location: Puerto Vallarta, California, Mexico Banderas Bay US

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