Our closest beach getaway is Puerto Vallarta, eight hours west of San Miguel de Allende. But PV is not to our taste. Resort hotels insulate visitors from Mexican culture. Beach vendors hit on sunbathers every ten minutes: jewelry, sunglasses, hats, fish-on-a-stick. Forget dozing in the sun.
On the street, ambulatory salesman carrying photo-filled binders offer snorkeling trips that turn out to be come-ons for time-share pitches. Your snorkeling trip won't be free as advertised. You'll have to endure hours of high-pressure selling to pay for it.
And man are those high-rise hotels and condos ugly!
Wouldn't you rather stay here?
The better option lies forty-five minutes south of PV: the tiny fishing village of Yelapa. Here are few phones and no TV. Electricity arrived only a few years ago. Oddly, broadband internet access is available via microwave link from the city.
The way to get here is by water taxi. You can catch one at the pier at the end of the romantic zone in Puerto Vallarta. A rudimentary road exists but nobody takes it; not unless they're delivering a load of bricks. Boats are quicker by a couple of hours and they're much more scenic.
We stayed at the Hotel lagunita, on the north shore of Yelapa's small bay. Low season started on the first of May, bringing with it promotions and deep discounts. Our palapa cost $180 USD for four nights—$45 per night. A local resident told us that May is Yelapa's best-kept secret. Rates are low and the hot weather hasn't yet kicked in.
No road connects the town of Yelapa with the resort area. Instead, the beach serves as a road. People deliver goods in wheelbarrows or on their heads.
Everyday necessities—fresh groceries, beer, coke, gasoline for the boats—all of it arrives via small boat, over the water and across the beach. On delivery day, empty gas cylinders are dragged out onto the sand to await exchange for full ones.
What comes in must go out. Boxes of empty beer bottles and bags of garbage get loaded onto pangas for return to PV.
A desultory fishing industry helps feed Yelapa's 2,000 residents. The fleet contains maybe a couple dozen boats. Most remain moored all day long. Sleepy Yelapa produces more dreams (of whatever kind) than fish.
The tanned guy in dishabille has been free-diving for abalone. He's throwing empty shells back into the water for tourists to step on. His friends are shelling the couple hundred baby mollusks he caught. In California, taking abalone this size can land you in jail.
I asked the guy on the right if I could take a photo of the catch. He replied, "Want some weed?"
Around noon every day one or two excursion boats arrive with a load of tourists from PV. Day trippers.
They're ferried to the beach by panga and steered to a couple of restaurants and gift shops that exist solely for the purpose of extracting their dollars. Barkers harangue blinking, disoriented visitors. A guy thrusts a large iguana into unsuspecting arms as he pitches a $10 photo-op. Around three in the afternoon when the boat leaves, all those umbrellas are folded. They get stowed away along with the beach chairs, and the restaurants shut down. Locals don't eat in these places: the food is mediocre and the drinks are overpriced.
Arrival of the tourist boat signals siesta time for us. We retire to our veranda to read, to nap, or just to sit back and take in the peaceful view.
That's what's so nice about a room on the beach. We can retreat while the crowds baste themselves with oil and lie in the sun, ordering yet another Pacifico and shooing away jewelry salesmen.
The other nice thing is that long after they're gone, we go back out on the deserted sand to watch the sunset.
Yelapa used to be an old hippie hangout. People came here for the laid back lifestyle and for the drug scene. A few old hippies remain, hanging on to fading dreams of the counterculture. Their presence ensures good food and good music, yoga sessions and excellent bodywork.
Old-timers complain that the place is becoming popular. They say that expatriates are being priced out of the market for beach houses and forced to move upriver into the jungle. But Yelapa remains a great, inexpensive getaway. Unless (God forbid) a good road gets put in, it's likely to remain that way.