“You’re travelling around Mexico by yourself?!” “Have you ever even been there before?!”
From the day I booked my flight and was excitedly telling people about my trip to Mexico, this was all I heard. When I landed in Mexico and spoke to the locals, even they thought I was mad. But I’d already committed. I had six weeks, no plans, and a goal to learn to get barrelled. I wrote this travel article for SurfGirl magazine last year, after a pretty amazing and life changing trip to Mexico. I haven’t shared it since but thought why not put it here for those that fancy it; a little read. It’s not a destination based article, just so you know, more of a story of the journey I took.
I started the adventure in the magical town of Sayulita after flying from Mexico City to Puerto Vallarta. And a magical town it is. The streets are lined with poms poms, woven hearts and local artisan treasures. Taco stalls sit on every corner and the margaritas are cheaper than water. With all my senses on fire, my first week there was bright, colourful and undeniably a little bit wild. The surf is forgiving here. Sayulita itself is a home for some of the best longboarders in the world, including Lola Mignot and Joel Alcantar. Sharing waves with them was a dream; stylish and gracefully dancing on the sea to the music that reaches the line-up from the bars that fringe the beach. I could have stayed here for my entirety. Sayulita is so much fun. It’s safe, it’s friendly, and there were plenty of waves at an easy hitchhiking distance for all levels of surfers. However, I had bigger sights on my horizons; I wanted to get more lost, find my barrels. But before I go let me give you a couple of pieces of advice: Buy your pompoms here, you’ll only find them in Sayulita and close surrounding areas. They are made by the Huicholes, the Mexican tribe native to the area of Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas and Durango and you won’t see them anywhere else. Buy a hat, and a beach umbrella on day one. You’ll end up at the end of trails and spend whole days on beaches in and out of the sea, shade will be your best friend. Learn a bit of basic Spanish if you can, it gets you a long way. Use the local buses, they’re cheap and easy. Seek out the paletas (traditional Mexican popsicles. Leave space in your luggage when packing; and finally, don’t drink the cheap tequila, you’ll thank me later.
I think it was a Tuesday that I left the magical town. Through a friend of a friend and some far-fetched Facebook connection, I’d managed to find a ride to a place about four hours south where I was promised to find barrels. Not one person advised me to go by myself, in fact quite the opposite. My sunny smile was frowned upon. Travelling South meant leaving the safety of the tourist hub and travelling through narco and unstable territory. I was stoked to have found a ride at least. First of all I had to make it to Guadalajara where my lift was leaving from, a town sitting five hours inland. The journey began with hitchhiking, so many different stories to tell. One which I don’t think I’ll ever forget was a lorry pulling over when I was on the highway. Two men in the front asked where I wanted to go and I smiled and explained in Spanish that I had a stop about 25km north that I need to get off at. They welcomed me aboard and as I went to climb into the front of the truck they quickly wagged their fingers, “no, no, no, atras”, “in the back,” they said. They opened the back of the truck and parked me and my board on a small mountain of papayas, and shut me in the dark. I later found out it was two and a half thousand papayas, it was a big truck, and when they dropped me off I waved as they continued on their journey. Maybe I’d see them in Sainsburys soon. After a couple more missed busses, some trekking on the highway and a lot of thanking the lord that I’d packed lightly and only brought one board, I made it to Guadalajara and met my ride. He was, I swear to god, the Mexican version of Ace Ventura. How I got blessed with his company I have no idea. We set off early Wednesday morning on the journey south, drinking beers and sharing stories. It was only a week ago that he’d been driving a similar route and had a gun put to his head and his truck stolen, so that’s why we were in this tiny car he said. We had Waiena, Niwa and Matilda in the back, our Mexican streets dogs and trusty travel companions. As we ventured south the palm trees got bigger, the land got greener, and there were no buildings to be seen. We passed four road blocks where we were met by armed men, but Ace Ventura as a local made his way through with no problems at all. Then before I knew it we had arrived at what I didn’t know at the time would be my favourite place in the world.
We set up our hammocks in the pallapa, sank some beers and waited for the morning to come. At first light we surfed. Ace Ventura put something around his ankle before we paddled out. I looked at him and asked what that was about – he said it was for blocking sharks – seriously though I was thinking ‘what the hell is he on’. But low and behold when paddling out, that’s when I saw the first one. I’m British right, so seeing sharks isn’t something I’m used to, know how to deal with, or something I’ve ever dealt with before. Freaked out, the locals assured me that they were no harm and reminded me that we are playing in their home. “This is where they live and they don’t really have any interest in us.” Well I guess they didn’t – and in the three weeks I spent surfing eight hours a day in their waters I never got bit. I saw four sharks in total. We would sit in the line-up with our feet up on our boards, a balancing act. Once I was sitting outback and whilst tying my hair up left my feet left to dangle – in my head I thought “hmmm what a cheap shot it would be if a shark came and got me right now while I’m trying to do my hair,” and that was the closest I came to one. The fin came towards me almost in slow motion, and as it neared me it whipped around in the other direction, hitting me in the leg as it swerved off. That was close enough for me, but I still stayed out there and kept surfing. The waves are too good.
Travelling alone opens up a whole new world to meeting people which often can be overlooked when travelling with a friend or in groups. About three weeks in to my trip I met Miles. Miles taught me how to get barrelled. We like Miles. We shared adventures together and it was amazing to have someone who wanted to explore as much as I did. We hitchhiked to remote beaches, jumped in the back of gas vans to get to new places, and found incredible cabinas in the middle of nowhere where we stayed and drank mezcal, smoked weed gifted by our hosts, and surfed alone. On my last day, we woke up at sunrise and made our ritual morning coffee and sat in the sand, the sky was alight and there was a pink rainbow over the river mouth. We had the most mind blowing surf, a little chilly in the offshore winds but I got my first two proper barrels (on purpose!). That was all wanted from my trip. I was on an all-time high. But the evening surf for me was the most magical. The water was like butter; smooth, perfect, the purple sky illuminating the sea. It was one of the bigger days we’d had, well over head and super hollow, but I didn’t have any fear at all. It was magical out there. I’d seen my first whales here a couple of weeks before but never experienced anything like what happened in the next few moments. Miles paddled over to me and told me to put my head under the water and listen. Seriously? But I did it because I trusted him. The sound was unreal. It made my skin prickle and my tummy turn. It was the whales. A mumma and a baby. So clear. They were talking to one another, I couldn’t believe it. It was so clear. So loud, so emotional. It was the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced, I can’t even find words to explain. A moment that really made Mexico the trip of a life time for me.
It’s an incredible country. One of the most beautiful I’ve ever travelled. The locals are so kind and warm. It has a bad reputation and it’s not always easy, but sometimes if you go where people tell you not to, that’s where you’ll find the magic.
Featured Article in Surf Girl Magazine