First impressions: Pisa

I love Italy.

I love the way people speak the language, the hint of warmth in the air even when it’s supposed to be cold out, the fact that it is absolutely normal to be called “bella” as a term not only of endearment but as a salutation, and the idea of going for walks along the river Arno just because.

leaning tower of pisaPisa, so far, is wonderful. I was lucky enough to land in PSA on a sunny day (a warm 14 degrees) so my cousin took me to the Piazza dei Miracoli where, among other wonders, the leaning tower stands. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting to see it so soon.

It blew my mind.

Its angle (defying gravity), its size (smaller but more profound than expected), its pure existence (always so surreal in photographs) – here it was right in front of me, leaning under the glow of the sun. It was breathtaking. I fell in love with it the way I fell for Venice.

I love Italy.

A Typical Day in Sayulita, Mexico

10:30am – Wake up real slow from a most delicious sleep, and throw open the shutters. Savor the view of the sun shining on the ocean for a few moments before grabbing a quick wake-me-up beer and throwing on some shorts, a tee and flip flops and heading out for breakfast.

11:00am – Take the 20 minute jungle path down into town walking right past Playa de los Muertos and through the cemetery before reaching the beginning of the beach.

los muertos cemetary

11:30am – Choose between quick and fresh ChocoBanana or full and mouthwatering Rollie’s for lunch and pick Rollie’s. Enjoy the famous stuffed french toast, and nod enthusiatically when Rollie offers to buy you a pancake. Ignore the scrappy dog looking thing that comes around. Do not ignore the guitar player, Antonio del Toro, that comes around. Request “Ti Voglio Bene Assai,” sit back and savor the moment.

12:30pm – Look through the market and consider purchasing some organic coffee, herbs or a few sarongs. Stop by the liquor store to pick up some tequila to make margaritas/a sixpack of Pacifico beer/a bottle of red.
the beginning of the beach, villa amor in the background

1:00pm – Sign up for a fishing safari with Captain Pablo out to the Islas Maritas/take a surfing lesson with Pepe Le Pew further down the beach/plop down on a beach chair and wait for someone from Captain Cook’s to come by with a menu/walk along the beach towards Villa Amor for a sweaty trek back to Casa Pacifica.

playing with hermit crabs

1:30pm – Grab a swim suit and a towel and head down to the nearly private Playa Carricitos. Suntan/swim and try to study some Spanish/find some hermit crabs until you’ve had enough sun for the week.

4:30pm – Cool off with a quick shower and grab a beer. Plop down on the patio to relax, read, write, catch up on some emails or just chat for a couple hours. Watch the sun slowly melt into the ocean before getting ready for dinner out.

8:00pm – Arrive in town just in time for a late dinner and contemplate between Café Sayulita’s Chile Rellenos and El Costeno’s fish ceviche. Settle instead on Tacorriendo for a lighter dinner and nibble on some chicken, beef and cow tongue tacos before heading back to the plaza.

sunset

8:30pm – Find a seat at Restauant Carmelita in the main plaza to enjoy some chips and 2 for 65pesos margaritas/mojitos and listen to the band playing next door at the Rubber Duck Pub. Ignore the greyhound that comes around.

10:00pm – Grab an ice cream at the plaza before entering the darkness of the cemetary to begin the jungle trek back to Casa Pacifica. Good thing you remembered your headlamps. Sing songs to pass the time and keep an eye out for that tricky first right that looks like it’s a dead end.

11:00pm – Get home and make some margaritas/pop open a can of Pacifico/uncork a bottle of red and take a seat out on the patio, staring out onto the no longer visible ocean or the night sky and discuss philosophy/the day’s adventures/your latest book.

1:00am – Hop in to bed and pass out giddily buzzed and gleefully exhausted.

The Moments I’ll Remember Most from Sayulita

The things I’ll never forget, and always think of when Sayulita comes to mind. (Click on the links to read the full story!)

  1. Trekking the jungle forest trail everyday in and out of town. Whether I loved it, hated it, was scared of it, or embraced it, I will never ever forget it.
  2. Jumping in the back of a pickup truck when offered a ride into town on our walk through the jungle at night.
  3. Very calmly letting Charlie know that I was pretty sure there was a scorpion in the bathroom while I was on the toilet in the middle of the night. And him promptly running in and slapping it to death with a flip-flop.
  4. Getting swept under a 2-meter wave that crashed down like the fountains at the Bellagio and genuinely fearing for my life.
  5. Rollie asking, Would you like a pancake? I’ll buy you one.
  6. Standing up on the surfboard on my second try and riding till I stopped. And upon surfacing immediately having my bottoms pulled down by a wave.
  7. Getting choked-up at cantante Alberto del Toro playing a rendition of “O Sole Mio” at our table at Rollie’s at Night.
  8. little burned scorpionNonchalantly mentioning to Charlie that there was a scorpion by my chair after his warning that there was one in the shower. And him promptly running out with a lighter and some spray and blow torching it to death. (Photo).
  9. Staring in disbelief at a humpback whale fully breaching less than a hundred meters from our boat.
  10. Scrambling over giant beach boulders coming back from Playa Escondida Restaurant in the dark, laughing my a** off, barefoot in a strapless dress with a headlamp on.

Everyday we did this walk, every day.

I had a love/hate relationship with what I now ominously call “the walk,” but the reality is that “the walk” will go down as the one of the things I remember most about Sayulita.

What is the walk? It’s the main walking path (though I use the term ‘main’ loosely) from Sayulita’s town center to the secluded Playa Carricitos, and since our rented bungalow was on the hill right over Carricitos, it was the walking path we took everyday to get to town.

Usually twice.

the jungle walk
The beginning of the walk down…

It started on a wide dirt path through a jungle of sorts, then ran down, down, down, until it reached the cemetery. After that it was an easy stroll along the gravel dirt seawall past the giant yellow Villa Amor, an adventure tour provider shack, and then finally, into the outskirts of town.

walking past the cemetary

It was a nice 20 minute wake me up walk in the morning, and a very sweaty 30 minute work out during the heat wave coming home after lunch; a quite enjoyable evening amble to town for dinner, and, well, something else entirely in the pitch-blackness on the way back.

The first time, we got lost. Even though we were warned to not take the first right but the second right, and shown specifically where, we of course took the first right, and not the second right… But you see, when everything is black and there’s only the light from two meandering headlamps, the first right isn’t a ‘right,’ it’s just the only road you can see.

Well, we hit a dead end after walking up a giant hill and had to traipse back all the way to the cemetery – a really appropriate landmark in the middle of the night.

villa amor in the distance

When we stopped getting lost, it became a great time to sing songs, learn to spot land crabs and spider eyes, and to get terrified of random sounds and giant wasp nests. So, not so bad, really.

Well, except for that last part walking up, the part where we knew we were rounding the last corner because all of a sudden our legs would give out and the incline felt like it increased by about 10 degrees. “Oh, we’re here.” We’d both say, dread in our voices.

But we were always rewarded at that point with the knowledge that we were close to home…and by the glowing eyes of the neighbor’s dog, staring at us from the darkness of the driveway, silently watching us as we passed.

Everyday we did this walk, every day.

can't see anything? yeah, neither could we.
Can’t see anything? Yeah, neither could we.

Captain Pablo’s Boat Adventure

We threw our bags in the under-seat compartments, pushed the boat out onto the water and jumped in. There were eight of us in total: three friends from New York, a couple from Comox, Charlie and I, and our captain William, and we were on Captain Pablo’s boat adventure headed to the southern Islas Marietas.

Las Islas Marietas boat tour, Sayulita, Mexico

Getting to the Islands

We hadn’t gotten far out of the bay when we had our first sighting: dolphins! And not like those fake dolphins swimming in pools and jumping through hoops either, but real live ones, swooshing past our boat all slick and silver and almost invisible. We bobbed around until they were out of sight, and then continued on to Las Islas Martietas.

The Islas weren’t islands so much as dark rocky cliffs covered in bird crap. They had a large population of boobies on them which were a sight in and of themselves but it wasn’t until we rounded the bend to the snorkel spot that we understood the islands’ appeal. A ‘tunnel’ overhang opened up into a small turquoise uncovered beach about a hundred meters away.

Snorkel, Swim and Fish

Everyone except for William donned the provided snorkel masks and fins and took a dip around the boat to take in the tropical fish beneath. Charlie and I took the time to swim to the shore inside the island and sit on the beach. This, this we could get into.

As we sailed away from the group of islands, William took out a few fishing rods and set one up for himself and for a couple of the men that wanted to have a try. We drifted like this for a while, further and further from the Islas, directing the boat towards the pelicans and other birds bomb diving the fish schools, when someone yelled, “Whale!”

Captain Pablo, Sayulita, Mexico

Whale!

We threw the fishing rods aside. Two humpback whales were swimming side-by-side further out towards the open ocean. They were doing half turn flips out of the water, teasing us, slapping their fins at each other. We ‘oooh’ed. We ‘aaah’ed. We laughed at our own giddiness. We waited at the edge of our benches until someone else yelled, “There!” and then we’d all scoot to the other side of the boat and stare.

We kept our distance but inched closer. About a hundred meters in front of us, one after the other the humpbacks almost fully breached out and crashed onto the water. Again. And again. And again. We all stared wide eyed, breath caught mid-throat, until one emerged, and flew…

We just saw a whale fully horizontally and out of the water. Shock.

When they were no more, William turned the boat around, and we started drifting in the general direction of home, concentrating on nothing more than lazily setting up the fishing rods again, and spotting a few jumping sting rays.

A Wave Back to Shore

When we neared the bend of the main bay, William positioned the boat to ride a wave in, telling us to hold on. It came under us, and off we went, furling towards the shore. When we got close enough, we jumped out, pulled the boat onto the shore and grabbed our bags from the under-seat compartments.

Sign up for Captain Pablo's Boat Adventures here, Sayulita, Mexico

We were all rosy cheeks, suntans and giant smiles. That was pretty much amazing. And worth it. And amazing again. We all said our thanks and our goodbyes to William and Captain Pablo who came out to greet us. One of the New Yorkers said “Gracias,” and was very pleased with their Spanish. Yes, we could all go home happy.