I had been standing on the beach for an hour, the bungee cords holding my dive knife to my leg cutting off the circulation to my foot. The nefarious no-see-ums of San Blas dined gluttonously on my flesh as I stood with my fishing pole in hand, line extending into the surf. It had been over three weeks since we reached the ocean, and I still hadn’t caught a fish. The only thing saving us from starvation every day had been the miracle of commerce. I was clearly no fisherman. That is, until I felt the ever so light tug on my line.
Could it be? I wondered. I waited with my eyes concentrated on the tip of my rod. Yes, something was tugging on my line. I had all but decided that this ocean was completely devoid of life until this, the tug of my line, proof that life does exist in the ocean. The scientists are right!
I quickly reacquainted myself with the functionality of my reel, as I was until this point unpracticed in reeling anything in. With each feeble twist of the little twisty handle thing I pulled the sure-to-be behemoth sea monster of a fish closer to shore. Closer to our Dutch oven, which would be especially retrieved from Nacho’s cabinet just for the occasion of this abundant fish dinner. As it neared shore, the ocean exploded as if a giant wave were crashing ashore. Moments later, as I reeled the fish onto the beach, I realized that the commotion was indeed a wave crashing ashore. My fish was lacking. Flaccid. An anticlimax. My throat began to close up with the swell of tears at my ongoing failure as a fisherman, but I held it back. Just because everyone else catches big fish doesn’t mean I have to. Come on Brad, I thought, don’t ride the bandwagon.
Moments after I finished chopping up the tiny fish into bait for future failed fishing ventures, I heard a squeal of joy wafting up from the beach. I looked up and saw Sheena very rapidly flapping one hand at me in a motion that I assumed was intended to make me come to her. As I approached, I saw a tiny rock next to her feet having a seizure. Upon further scrutiny, I realized that the tiny rock was actually a baby sea turtle instinctively, slowly, making its way from its nest to the ocean. The hyperventilation and the look of utter bliss on her face. The genuine satisfaction and eye-popping joy. This must be how it feels to catch a fish.
After two nights of beach camping in San Blas, the witnessing of the miracle of life, the surfing, and the reminder of my perpetual failure as a fisherman, we pointed south. Everyone we had encountered had spoken highly of Sayulita, a small and quirky expat surf town where the jungle-covered mountains meet the ocean just north of Puerto Vallarta.
We pulled into Sayulita, a compact town with cobbled dirt roads and lots of color. We hadn’t seen many tourists in Baja, nor had we seen many in Mazatlan after tourism’s recoil due to occasional violence between drug cartels. San Blas had a few retired expats, but not many. Sayulita was a different story. Most of the signs and almost all of the voices we heard were in English. If the Americans left, the town would be gone. At first it was a put off, but then we decided to roll with it. We’re far from home, so we might as well have the taste of home when we can. We proceeded to drink espresso, eat banana pancakes, and speak English. Later, I proceeded to fall off of my surfboard and shove an ice axe-like rock right into my heel. In my scramble to find my board I took three sea urchin spines in the same foot. I swore out loud, in English.
When it came time to find a campground for the night, we were told where to find it. We found the beach front property surrounded by a tall brick fence and dotted with palm trees, and inquired about the price. $35. You must be out of your damn mind I thought. $35 to park for the night? We cursed our American brethren and the economic fortune they’d brought on this small town, and decided to head north a few miles to the equally small, but relatively undiscovered town of San Francisco.
In San Francisco we drove down the main street until it dead ended in a very small parking lot at the beach. A small river emptied from the jungle into the bay next to where a merengue band played while people danced. Couples sat beneath palm trees and watched the sunset. We walked over to a lady who ran a small restaurant and asked her where we could park Nacho to camp. She twirled her hand in the air and said “anywhere’s fine”. I pointed to the van. “Right there?” She nodded her head and said something about it being a public space. The spot was pretty perfect; a thick canopy of trees overhead, the beach a few yards away, a quiet dead end with little traffic. I asked a passing police officer if it was really okay. He thought about it for a second, looking a little confused, and then said, “sure, I don’t see why not.”
After the sun set, all of the cars left and we had the place to ourselves. We popped the camper top and made ourselves at home. We heard some beautiful music coming from the street outside of a café a stone’s throw away, so we walked over and ordered a couple of drinks. The music was wonderful; the melancholy voice of Portuguese fado, coupled with simple guitar and a hand drum. I couldn’t resist the temptation to finally pull out our digital recorder for a song. Turns out it was Argentinean folk music played by a couple from Argentina. I’ve embedded the audio below for your listening pleasure (click to play).
After a few songs we headed back to Nacho and called it a night. We paid a beach front restaurant owner $3 to plug Nacho into her electricity for an overnight battery conditioning, pulled the curtains, and slipped away to sleep. No brick walls, no neighbors, and $32 cheaper than the alternative. Bandwagons be damned.