Today, in New York, it snows.
It snows sideways to the left, and sideways to the right.
It snows upwards, as if the whoosh of a subway pulling into a station underground has blown air up through vents tossing it back against itself.
It snows fast and hard, before suspending in air. It hovers over fire escapes and then melts, or cuddles up with other flakes to accumulate height on railings.
It snows slowly, straight down to the ground, where it’ll create a big ole pile of mush at every street corner.
You know, the one that forces you to stop and ponder the path of least messiness. Too slushy on the sides, too deep in the center—one misstep and you’re flat on your ass in a bike lane or ankle deep in grit and grime.
But as lovely as it is to watch the snowfall from the comfort of my studio apartment; to study its behavior through the window and become mesmerized by its patterns as if I were inside my own private snow globe, the slush and grime that it bequeaths in its wake gives us the opportunity to do something we don’t always do—especially in New York. (After, of course, doing what we always do—especially in New York: bitch, moan, complain, hold our breaths, and bite our lips.)
We go around them. We take a different route. A longer one, perhaps. And in my experience, taking the long way around, is often the quickest way to paradise.
I sat curbside across from the Westin in Puerto Vallarta, coffee in hand, waiting. I was determined to take the local bus.
Up until this point, my sister and I had been cabbing it around Mexico. We did take the metro a bunch of times in the D.F., which provided its own glimpse into Mexican culture. (Including the fact that during rush hour, there are “women only” cars.) But other than that, whenever we wanted to go into Sayulita town from the plush hideaway Playa Escondida where we staying prior to arriving at the Westin, we had to take a 100-peso cab ride. (That’s about $10.) Go back and forth twice a day, and, well, it adds up. You could walk, which we tried once. But it requires climbing over a jetty with the Pacific crashing up against it, steep inclines through the jungle where unknown birds squawk and gawk, leaving you, mouth agape, head back, wondering where (and what!) the heck they are.
In other words, my idea of a good time.
My sister? Not so much. At least not without first having had a cup of coffee or breakfast.
Fast forward a few days, and there I sat waiting impatiently to embark on what I hoped would be a similar adventure to another sleepy, dirty beach town called Yelapa. My sister and brother wanted to hang back at the hotel, which gave me the opportunity to take the long way around…and probably get lost along the way without having to feel bad about it.
See, when I get lost alone, I eventually end up finding my way in time, learning something new about myself or my surroundings or meeting someone extraordinary that makes it all worthwhile—despite, of course, all the feelings of anxiety, fear and insecurity that I undoubtedly (but silently) have along the way. But when there’s someone else with me and I’m leading the way, there’s additional pressure not to f–k up. And if I do, well, there’s someone else who will be affected, and they may not have the same optimistic, warm and mushy, “ha ha, that was scary, but we made it!” feelings about it as I do.
The bus supposedly came every 20 minutes. And because this is Mexico, they said I could wait on either side of the road, which didn’t quite make sense because aren’t I going in one specific direction? Eventually, one rolled up. I climbed aboard, said, “Centro?” to which the driver nodded, took my 7 pesos (!) and began driving away before he even shut the door.
I was fairly confident in this part of the journey, as I’d done it before in a cab and could see we were traveling in the right direction. I’d take this bus to the center of PV, then get off at the end of the line and find an orange bus that says “Boca” on it.
About half-hour later, as my rickety ride rolled over the cobblestones, past the malecon and onto a side street, to my surprise, I found the second bus right away. But there was a problemo: I only had about 300 pesos ($30) on me and there are no ATMs or credit card machines on Yelapa. In fact, there aren’t even any cars. This next bus would take me to a boat! But I didn’t want to risk missing it by detouring to find a bank, so I hopped aboard hopeful that my frugality would take me far.
About half-hour later, I was at the end of the line again, this time unsure of where to go once I disembarked. I also had to use the facilities badly, so I stopped into what looked like an adventure outfitters shop for some help. Thankfully, the person there spoke English and let me her use bathroom (for a “tip”) before directing me down a set of battered concrete stairs to the shore. There, several water taxis wait to take passengers on a 20 minute boat ride to Yelapa.
This would cost me 70 pesos, leaving me another 70 for the ride back, plus 12 for the two buses and 136 for food while there.
Until, that is, I realized I must’ve dropped 100 pesos somewhere along the way. (Quite possibly while attempting to disembark the small, outrigger boat barefoot, a bag in one hand, my shoes in the other, and a big, scary Mexican dude yelling at me to hand over the fee.)
So that happened.
OK, I thought. I’ll eat cheap. 36 pesos. What’s that? It’s not even $5.
Of course, I was starving. It was about 10:30a.m. at this point and all I’d had was coffee and mini danish from the hotel. Thankfully, though, I had a big bottle of water and a banana to hold me over for a bit longer.
Rather than follow the rest of the gringos who had taken the boat over and were now headed for lounge chairs on the beach, I swung a left inland, following my favorite scent in the world; the scent of a dirty, dingy, but oh-so-beautiful beach town: burning palm leaves. If I could bottle this up I would.
En route, I came upon parrots and donkeys and horses. There was a small, shallow river and what looked like huts on the other side, but I was afraid to cross it barefoot, lest there be crocodiles in there I didn’t know about. Eventually, I found a bridge.
By this point, my stomach was growling. I needed some real food. And that’s when I came upon a juice stand.
Oooh. Juice. That’d be delicious, I thought. (And cheap, right?)
“How much? Cambian?” I asked, well aware the latter means change. (Hey, it’s close.)
“It really needs ice,” piped in a pretty hippie chick with a nose piercing who had been conversing with the juicer prior to my arrival.
Hmmm. Ice in Mexico, I thought.
“I think I’ll wait,” I said, not wanting to waste my dwindling pesos on warm blended produce. “Got any suggestions for where to get something cheap to eat?”
“Oh, you have to go to Cafe Bahia,” she said.
“Fairly cheap?” I asked again.
“Do you need money, honey?” she asked, while pulling out a colorful pouch.
“I couldn’t,” I started to say, sheepishly. “I just, I thought I had enough money, and I must’ve lost 100 pesos, and I need the rest to get back later and there are no ATM’s…”
I was rambling.
“Here,” she said, stuffing 200 pesos in my hand, no questions asked. “Go to Cafe Bahia on me.”
I was gobsmacked. I offered to pay her back via Paypal once I got home, but she replied with a sweet smile: “Just pay it forward.”
Thanks to this kind, kind woman, I could now relax and enjoy a full day without worry in what seemed to be a very magical place.
A place, not unlike Ubud, Bali and Antigua, Guatemala. Or the Perhentian islands in Malaysia and Hvar, Croatia. All dirty little beach towns where “necessities” like electricity, Wi-Fi or hot water come at a premium. Where directions to town are, “up a little ways, down a dirt path, over a small wooden bridge and behind the big tree.” Small dots on maps that are authentically soaked in local culture; a little bit worrisome and sketchy at times, but a lotta bit friendly. Dilapidated, yet self-sufficient with communities that are capable in every way.
These are my favorite kind of places; where it always smells of burning palm leaves and sand is always stuck in between my toes.
I arrived at Cafe Bahia to find I’d have to wait for a table. (Clearly, this was Yelapa’s version of Rosemary’s in the West Village: the hottest spot in the ‘hood. Score!)
Run by an expat chef who moved to Yelapa over a decade ago, she now cooks and bakes organic food alongside Mexican locals, and it’s all worthy of a Bon Appetit feature. Between the smoked beans, Mexican-style eggs with peppers and cheese, not to mention the seaside view, it was one of the best meals I ate in Mexico.
I could’ve sat there all day—and I thought this before I learned they were the only spot in Yelapa with WiFi—but instead, I moved on to explore “out of range” territory, specifically a waterfall up above town.
I so badly wanted to swim up to it. Those who have done so know it’s the literal definition of breathtaking; treading water against a current, mist in your eyes and nose, inhaling and exhaling as deep as you can, but it never being enough. That said, I’m not the most confident swimmer, not to mention that the water was a teensy bit cold for such a dip. So I sat on a big boulder instead, reading my book, the hard sound of water-falling-onto-water as my soundtrack.
Eventually, I started to make my way down to the beach where I was dropped off hours earlier. I still had about three hours to just sit…and do nothing, with the last boat back to PV leaving at 5:45. (If I didn’t make it, I’d be stuck in Yelapa for the night, which wouldn’t be terrible if I didn’t have dwindling funds and a flight to catch first thing in the morning.)
So I followed the signs for the beach, which, in a town like Yelapa, look like this:
Down a whole bunch of steps, I eventually came upon this view:
Once I got to the shore, I had a laugh at the signs pointing people towards town, which I didn’t see because I went a different direction to get there. (Inland with the parrots, donkey’s and crossable river, remember?)
Before I found a lounge chair, which were free to use at any of the beachside restaurants where the water taxis pull up, I saw this, providing further inspiration to pause, relax and lay horizontal with a cervaza in hand for the rest of the afternoon:
The boat ride back was just as eventful as the ride there, if not more so. There was the sunset, there were pelicans perched on anchored boats in the bay, and there was us trying to let a local passenger off by the shore where surfers were riding massive waves. But, you see, the waves were so large we were in serious danger of being toppled by them ourselves. Just as I thought that was about to happen, our driver revved up the motor and we flew over a swell, lifting the bow of the boat high in the air. It was crazy!
Back at Boca, I hopped off the boat, this time knowing I had to walk up those concrete steps to wait for the bus back. It came in no time, and I climbed aboard with one of the couples who had been on the beach with me earlier, along with a Mexican dude holding a live rooster. I was in good company.
I stopped in town for dinner, so by the time I got back to the hotel, it was after 10p.m.
“You were gone all day!” said my sister.
“Geez, Sa, where’d you go?” asked my brother.
I took the long way around, I thought to myself.
So for those of you dealing with puddles of slush and grime on street corners, hurrying to get this way, to do it the “right” way, or to get published in the Times (ahem) or meet The One (double ahem), I challenge you to look at them as an opportunity for adventure. And maybe, just maybe, the detour you take will bring you to…paradise.