The night ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan. This is not something that I am looking forward to. The Baja ferry across the Sea of Cortez or the Gulf of California….whatever it is. Roughly 250 miles to Mazatlan, (it doesn’t look that far on the damn map!). Promises to be at least a 17 hour trip. We say goodbye to La Paz with a final fish taco at 1200 and get on the bus for the ferry port. You have to be there 3 hours before you see. I would find out later that this is due to general disorganisation. That’s unfair actually. Just a general need to do things a long and confused way. While we’re at the port some Americans who can feel the spirit of the Lord start some joyful music with a keyboard and tambourine, whilst many baffled Mexicans just look on. It was a nice relief really until they broke out in a quite inappropriate rendition of the Titanic soundtrack…without irony of course.
Boarding the boat we met another (more chilled) Yankee (Matt) who was heading our way of course after taking a more adventurous hitchhiking journey through Baja, and now planning on heading as south as his money can take him. Finally getting onto the boat the truckers were busy smashing back the cervezas in the canteen and on deck whilst we found our seats. All the while being treated to an 80’s top 100 count down. The final straw was Tiffany’s only hit ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ and with that we retreated to the deck with the half-cut road warriors.
The coast of Baja was beautiful. The rugged and elevated rolling terrain seeming alien, yet so familiar after our 10 days there. Soon there was only sea. We met up with Matt and chatted on the deck when Clarke came into our lives. (Over the next few days, I lost count of how many times we asked the question, “Where’s Clarke gone?” Only to receive an amazing unexpected answer or purely speculating on what he could be possibly doing) Clarke had left his hometown in the Mid-West (I think Tennessee) with only the clothes on his back to head to Ecuador, to buy a farm, for the woman he met two weeks previously. Such an amazing guy with an infectious spirit and lust for life, I believe made us all feel we should be a little more like Clarke. After a delicious dinner we decided to try and settle into our seats for the night.
Tropical storm…over Mazatlan. I couldn’t sleep and was starting to get a bit seasick. Decided to lie on deck with the rest of the suffering souls and focus on the lightning strikes in the distance in lieu of any horizon. A sight I will never forget.
20 boat hours later, were onshore and found ourselves in the company of Clarke, Matt and the owner of a hostel called the Funky Monkey . We were soon on our way there, having planned to stay in a hotel in the ‘Centro Historico’ initially, we decided to come with this dude and his promise of cheap digs with nice showers, comfy beds, air-con and a pool.
“Where’s Clarke man, I need to get going?” asked Salem, the owner of the hostel. Clarke then appeared with his phone telling us he had asked this girl to marry him, and we were then urged to persuade her to say yes. Thankfully it was video message…we obliged never the less.
Mazatlan is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word meaning ‘Place of the Deer.’ The 10km length of the Malecon was impressive, giving it the feel of a city on a beach, much like Vietnam’s Nha Trang (but a lot nicer in my humble opinion). Apparently the second longest in the Americas? We zipped past the Central area and into the Zona Dorada, having a tour along the way. You can see three islands off the coast, one of which is called ‘Deer Island’. I don’t think there are actually deer on it anymore or in Mazatlan for that matter. We didn’t look very hard though so I could be wrong.
Our time in Mazatlan was meant to be short. Only a day, but due to the hostel we stayed an extra one. No sooner had we arrived and met some other residents, we were in a convoy to see the sunset over Mazatlan, then back to the hostel for BBQ and beer. We ended up in a local biker metal bar for some pool playing and further consumption. After walking through a drive through off-license (I know!) on the way home, we sat drinking tequila until silly o’clock.
“Where’s Clarke?” someone asked. “I don’t know man, last time I saw him he was walking down the road with a cat and talking about buying a boat.”
The next day was slow, but we were intent on walking around a bit and getting lost in the historical centre in true Ollie and Rich fashion. Lovely plaza Machado was a peaceful retreat from the night before followed by a view of the ‘Cathedral Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepcion.’ We then wandered around the markets, picked up some shrimp for dinner, then headed back. The evening took an unexpected turn where we ended up at a Baseball game for the local team ‘The Venados’. Drinking 1L beers and learning the rules as we went by, the game soon ended and we were back at the hostel for a last night of chill.
Early start for the bus journey from Mazatlan to Sayulita, a small surf town further south on the Pacific coast, (35k from Puerto Vallarta) that we had only heard about since we hit the mainland. After a way too philosophical conversation with Clarke at 7:30am, we headed out. Unable to go direct, we got a bus to Tepic, 4 hours down the road to Guadalajara. This bus was awful. The chemical toilet smell was overpowering and it felt like sitting in a toilet that year at Glastonbury Festival when it hit 30 degrees for the whole ride. Changing at Tepic we found fresh air as well as a bus that claimed to go to Sayulita. So on we hopped, stopping randomly to pick up locals at what we figured was the fraction of the cost, and I suspect made a tidy little earner for the driver.
Driving along Highway 200 we were zipping through some captivating cloud forests as we went but we were soon back by the Pacific coast. The bus swiftly went past the Sayulita turn off with us still on board. Bus driver said he didn’t stop there, our tickets said otherwise, but we were soon off the bus, 2k further down the road. Hitching a ride back from a nice taxi man to the turnoff, we started to walk the remaining 2k into town when the heavens opened up. Seeking refuge in a mechanics garage, we watched the rain beat down on the jungle-like terrain surrounding us. Making it into town, we headed for the Amazing Hostel Sayulita and scored a couple of bunk beds for the night in a mixed dorm. (Ollie being the only female of course). A nice hostel if you’re after bunks. HI membership came in handy.
Escaping the hostel we walked around Sayulita and found it to be full of Americans mainly. Mainly surfers, but also young families, who were once surfer dudes I guess. This initially worried me, feeling like we had landed in some kind of resort town. We had, but the town has a relaxed feel about it and everyone there is chilled and is just there for the beach. I felt the Americans had claimed this place in the effort to get away from the usual American tourist spots.
The beach looked impressive. A vast expanse of dark brown sand surrounded by palm trees on hills dotted with financially unattainable lodgings. We sought refreshment in Monchis bar and got a recommendation for a hotel further down the road, (Hotel Diamante) to book for the next couple of nights where we could have some privacy. As we got back to the hostel, our American pal Matt had turned up with Cole the Kiwi who had also been at the Funky Monkey. The night was spent chilling by the pool, talking nonsense, until it was bedtime.
“What happened to Clarke?” I asked Matt. “ Oh, he’s decided to go to San Diego now for a little while.” Whatever Clarke is doing now…I wish him all the best, hope I see him again, and that he gets his farm…if that is what he still wants of course.
A couple nights turned into four in total. Three further nights spent at the Hotel Diamante, where a swimming pool was welcomed and use of a communal kitchen meant us making our twist on Mexican dishes. Mainly, what we could do with eggs and avocados. While in Sayulita you have the option of doing many activities including canopy zip lines, boats out to the islands, renting quad bikes or the most popular activity…surfing. We just chilled. It’s all quite pricey here when you’re on a backpacker budget as you can expect, but if you’re going for a two week holiday, I couldn’t recommend it enough…if you can put up with 32 degree heat and some killer humidity at times. Your dollars will go far!
Playa De Los Muertos, is a smaller beach in Sayulita, where the waves are calmer and the sand a glinting gold colour. The water is gorgeous, also having the same shimmering effect. You get there by walking to the end of the main beach, past the Villa Amor hotel and go through the cemetery. Thus the name ‘Beach of the dead’. The cemetery is set in a jungle-like hillside, covered by palms with graves dotted all around. Dia De Muertos being just a week before, there was evidence of remembrance all around. Another day we were told of a better beach by a bartender, which we tried to walk to, but in true Ollie and Rich fashion, ended up walking a huge circle through a jungle/forest (I don’t know the difference, something to do with the climate and shrubs) track until we came full circle back into town. We spent a second day on the beach of the dead…
It would have been quite easy to stay in Sayulita for longer. I could sit on the beach and watch the Brown Pelicans (It’s a bit big for a pelican…) dive like kamikaze pilots into the water amongst the waves all day, learn how to surf and drink a couple of Bulldogs a night on happy hour, but we had plans to move onto Guadalajara and the Central Highlands over the next week.