The guidebooks rave about this place; a “cruiser’s paradise” they call it. Embodying what Mexican cruising should be, they say, it holds the honor of cover photo. A calm anchorage at the base of a European style whitewashed resort that climbs the hillside, dotted with palm trees and draped with a deep blue sky. For a small fee, they said, cruisers can use the resort’s purpose built dinghy dock. Once ashore, the amenities are mouth-watering; a pool and hot tub, laundry facilities, trash disposal, hot showers, a marine store, several restaurants and easy access to town, they said.
We always try to tame our expectations based on the guidebooks’ recommendations. Our newest guide is 8 years old. Nothing is static in a country fighting its way out of third world-dom with good ideas and crooked politics and happy tourists and failed investments.
Even with tempered expectations, this place has us baffled. The resort is there, still climbing its way up the hillside, but very little else remains true. The calm anchorage is infested with jet skis, like oversized mosquitos pestering the boats, the buzz an ever present irritant, the wake upsetting equilibrium. They scream past close enough to soak with a water gun, if one was so disposed.
The “small fee” is 250 pesos per day. That’s $12.50. That’s a week’s worth of groceries. Those employed to enforce this fee seem to recognize the absurdity of the request, but instead of leniency this embarrassment compels them to be harsh and even rude in the insistence of obedience. Before the dinghy can even approach the main dock (there is no dedicated dinghy dock, of course), two employees, feet stomping and fingers already wagging in the entitlement born of the small embroidered resort logo stitched to the corner of their starched white shirts, bear down with dollar signs in their eyes.
OK, we say, it’s expensive. But perhaps it is worth it for those luxurious amenities. The pool and hot tub are off limits, reserved for the sparse scattering of hotel guests. The laundry room contains three broken down machines, a moldy floor and an inch of dust. The bathrooms haven’t seen a mop in years, the spigots don’t work, the only toilet paper is pasted to the floors. I ask, in as friendly a tone as I can muster, what benefits this hefty fee allows us. “you can use bathrooms, trash can and electricity on the dock”. Electricity? For my dinghy?
Cruisers are not shaken easily. But there are two circumstances that it seems will fire up even the most laid back sailor: over-priced services and perceived injustices to the cruising community. We were fired up. Intent on evading the greedy clutching fist of the resort, three boats of us – Agape, Pura Vida and Halcyon – geared up and dinghy-ed to a tiny square of beach between rocks and the high tide line. We surfed the dinghies in between the rolling swell, dragged them straight up the steep beach, and cabled them to a concrete post.
Pleased with ourselves for arriving ashore for free, we surveyed the area to determine our next move. To the left – a dead end and a gate. To the right – a dead end and a gate. Ahead, a single dirt road headed inland. Off we went, in the name of adventure.
The dirt road landed us next to the clubhouse inside a fenced golf course. Google maps seemed to think we could cut across the course and tumble out by the main road. We wove between tees, over creeks, around sand traps, across cart paths and greens, keeping our eyes on the persistent fence to our left. Eventually a gate hidden behind a grove of trees appeared, a gap in the otherwise obstinate fence, neglected and abandoned. The sign was faced away from us, crooked but still speaking to those who walked by on the better side of the fence. “Stay out”, it stated loudly, “private property”.
Well, we’re out now. With our newfound freedom, we hopped on the first bus, gladly presenting our 7-peso fare ($0.35). A large market, apparently, was just down the road. We bounced along, peaking out between seats at the dusty landscape sliding by. What sometimes must be a market, today was a large swath of brown earth, a pile of rotting lettuce and a scattering of colorful wrappers, discarded easily by sugar-propelled kids the only remnants of life. We stayed on the bus.
Without a plan or clear clan leader, inertia held us there, bouncing along right out of town. Eventually, we figured, the bus would turn around and carry us back. We rode to the end of the line and into a dirt patch. The driver cut the engine, gazing at us through the rearview mirror. I threw out some Spanish words that might get our point across. Ritorno? Al centro? Pronto?
Sure, the bus heads back to town. Sure, we leave soon – in 45 minutes. A Mexican “soon”. We lounge, chatting, enjoying, everybody relaxed, nobody upset. A baby donkey hops and prances around his mama across the street. Another bus pulls in and promises a quick departure. We present another 7 pesos and hop on.
Back in town, our bus adventure has pushed us right up against dinnertime. We pile off the bus, still without a plan, standing in sight of our crooked sign, still warning us away. The best way to find a great restaurant in Mexico is to stumble upon it. Our usual methods, innate in 30-something Americans, of turning to our pocket-computers to scan through yelp, tripadvisor and google, is hopeless here. We try anyway.
We get on a third bus, perhaps closer to town will be better. Finally tripadvisor reveals its secrets – a restaurant, that has tequila, on the water, with a review. Bingo. We miss the stop, pile off the bus at the Home Depot, and start back along the beach.
Margaritas, steak, fish, empenadas, guacamole, sunset. Dinner is a success. Satiated, leftovers in hand, buzzed on tequila, we set off towards home, a long but uneventful walk down the beach, we assume. As the sun touches the horizon, we reach a stream. There’s a bridge – that leads to a locked gate. We ford the stream to the stairs – that lead to a locked gate. We rock-hop around the point to a hole in the fence. Without another option offered, on hands and knees we enter the grounds of an upscale resort. Upright, brushed off, smiling, we walk the paths looking like we belong. Past the water features, the swim up bars, the pool-sized jacuzzis, through the lobby and right out the front door.
Reoriented with our surroundings, the golf course appears on our left, apparently unfenced on this end. It’s dark, but we scratch at our collective memories for the placements of sand traps, water hazards, and bridges. We wind our way across greens and tees until the clubhouse appears, then the dirt road, and finally the beach. The dinghies are there, unaffected and still above the incoming tide. We drag them to the water line and stash phones in waterproof bags, empty pockets, ditch shoes, and watch the swell.
Between rolls, a collective push sends the dinghies into the water with gunned engines and soaked skirts. We motor into the night, squinting against the resort lights climbing the hill to spot a single swaying point of white light, the beacon of home. We are tired, sweaty, salty and very thirsty. But a stranger watching on would see nothing but shouts of laughter, smiles and contentment. It is a day for the books, an adventure spurned by the injustice of an entitled marina; a day spent with friends, exploring and bonding and laughing. A day to write home about.