I am swinging in a hammock in paradise – I could stay here forever. Life is uncomplicated here. I have abandoned my watch and keep time by the movement of the sea and the sun. The sound of children laughing in the village floats out over the water. Along the main path, old women sit and pass the time gossiping. Men unload fresh tuna and marlin from their early morning fishing trips. The pungent smell of horse manure and live animals comes and goes on the wind. There are no cars here, no computers, no electricity. It is returning to a different time.
Yelapa is an indigenous Mexican village on a peninsula just south of Puerto Vallarta. The density of the jungle and mountains around the village make it inaccessible by land, it is only reachable by boat. Because there are no roads, it feels like an island — an oasis in a tourist-filled country. This is Mexico at its finest. This is where you can disappear.
On one of our first days in Yelapa, my husband and I walk to the main beach and eat papas fritas and drink limonadas at one of the small restaurants. The pie lady appears, balancing a big yellow bowl on her head and carrying other large bowls under her arm. Pulling off the lids, she reveals succulent treasures: banana cream pie, lemon meringue, pecan pie, cheesecake, apple pie, chocolate and coconut dreams piled in perfect triangles. We buy seven pieces for forty pesos. Then it’s off to the far end of the playa to sit by the small hotel with some new friends from Texas. Swimming, more papas fritas, a new anklet for me from the local galleria, and more limonadas. What a life. We decide to hang out until we don’t feel like it anymore.
A disturbing event brings tension to the otherwise blissful day. A mother had decided to let her young daughter try parasailling. Up she goes, hanging from the parachute in an oversized harness. The boat pulling her swings out into the bay, and she pops straight up into the sky. The boat circles left, the rope taut. She is hauled across the sky and ends up over the coast. All they need to do is head out to sea.
Suddenly, the motor sputters to a halt, a column of smoke rising from the boat. Is it possible? The boat is being pulled toward the beach by the girl and her parachute — the little boat no match for the strong wind. Cries go up in the village as people realize she is heading for the mountain. There is no water to catch her, only unforgiving trees and buildings. A crowd of villagers runs toward the rope that connects her to the useless boat. It crosses the beach like an abandoned, angled clothesline. All of the men begin pulling on the rope, her umbilical cord back to the land. Like Icarus she flies, legs dangling as the Yelapa men struggle with all their might to pull her back to earth. Tug of war with the wind. Twenty straining men pulling her in one stroke at a time. Occasionally the wind subsides and she drops a few feet, seemingly about to plummet to the ground. Each time, gasps rise from the crowd on the beach. But she remains up, the mocking wind easily recapturing her light frame. Finally the wind relinquishes its plaything and she is pulled into the arms of the villagers. A cheer rises from the crowd. The boat crew conveniently is nowhere to be found, not wanting to explain why such a small girl was up there to begin with. The village slowly slips back into tropical pleasures.
Night comes and we go to Casa Isabel’s armed with fresh guacamole and our pie slices. A small group of us feast on the local bounty – mangoes, cantaloupe, bananas, black beans, rice, tortillas, cabbage, onions, fresh salsa, and limes. And, of course, the pies. Then jokes, tall tales, riddles, mind-bending physics discussions, and political bantering fill the candle-lit home. After many hours we climb the stone steps back up to our pelapa that overlooks the Yelapa world. Exhausted, we climb into bed. The calm of the peninsula fills us completely. We read a short story by Isabel Allende and are lost in her Latin blooded tale. That night we dream of sensuality.
Animals come and go during the night, causing quite a stir with the resident dog and three cats. Yowls, barks and loud crashing interrupt our sleep more than once. Every time, my husband excitedly sits up, hoping to catch a glimpse of the exotic creatures that are foraging in the darkness, To his great disappointment, all he ever sees are a few moths. We conclude that these aren’t real animals — they are ghosts slipping through the pelapas as people sleep, causing avocados and bananas to disappear into their ghost realm.
Finally the darkness recedes, and morning arrives in full glory. I sit in the hammock, hanging over a canyon of green. Outrageously colored birds soar by, singing of morning and mangoes. Some of them have an almost metallic voice. Unearthly sound. The crash of the sea is like a background voice, easily forgotten, but always there, influencing everything. A lizard walks by. Then a crab, struggling through the giant leaves, looking like a lost old man. “No, the beach is downhill,” I announce. He mutters something about giants who don’t know anything and insists upon continuing towards some imaginary ocean at the top of the mountain.
After breakfast we decide to take the water taxi into Puerto Vallarta. The calm sea stretches out before us like an endless blue highway as we pass coastal villages and deserted beaches. Marlins leap from the water alongside our boat, silver scales flashing in the sun. The sound of the engine is a mesmerizing drone, and although the boat is full, no one speaks. Along the coast, thatched pelapas sit high on the jungle hillsides, like Chinese hats drying in the sun. The homes here are simple, beautiful in their practicality. Nothing is symmetrical or factory-made. Local trees are used to frame houses – whole trees, not boards. Bamboo sticks become floors and walls; palm fronds are roofs. Shelves, beds, towels hang from woven ropes. It is a personal style, these are houses that someone ordinary made using natural ingenuity.
In Puerto Vallarta, we eat fish that tastes like sweet blessing from the gods but twists knots in our stomachs, see caged monkeys and parrots, shop in the supermercado, buy clothes and Native art, and swelter in the thick, tropical heat. Our late-afternoon departure from that “let-me-sell-you-the-clothes-off-my-back” city becomes something of an adventure. The ocean had become angry since the morning, and white caps now churn and boil along the coast. Our typically 45 minute boat ride lasts a lengthy hour and a half, but our skilled teenage captain brings us home intact. We eat rice and beans and tortillas before calling it a night and drifting into dreams of silvery marlins and ripe avocados.
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