A Travellerspoint blog

Tacos, tamales and tomatillos; jamaica, cerveza and tequila

...these are a few of our favourite things (with apologies to Julie Andrews)

semi-overcast 27 °C

We're starting our sixth week in Mexico, and surprisingly, it has taken this long to get around to writing about one of my favourite things - food and wine. There's not so much to report about wine - it is mainly all imported, and we have a hard time finding decent red wine (while sticking to our budget), so we usually drink white wine or beer. Pacifico - bright yellow label, icy cold, with a wedge of lime. Flavoured waters (agua frescas) are big here, and one of our favourites is Jamaica (pronounced ha-may-ka), a light and refreshing drink made from hibiscus flowers.

Street food and food safety - apparently the idea of cooking outdoors with flies and dogs and questionable storage has some folks concerned, but here in Sayulita, generally everything is dependable and delicious. On our drive down here, we stopped at a Pemex for gas, and as Stephen was starving, he ordered a sandwich from a stand at the back of the station. Great slabs of meat were frying up on a greasy grill, and the floor and counters looked filthy. Steve's sandwich was slapped together on oily bread and liberally doused with mayo from a squeeze bottle that had been resting on a ledge in the sun. He ate it all up with great gusto and no ill-effects. This is the sort of meal that would land me in the hospital, so I bought a bag of chips and a diet Coke. That set the bar for the lowest acceptable standard, so I'm hoping it bodes well for the rest of the trip.

Beach food, street food, taco stands, grocery stores, little family-run restaurants, fancy tourist joints - we've tried them all. We do some cooking at home and split our shopping between the small stores in Sayulita and the occasional big shop at Mega in Bucerias, a bigger town about 25 minutes from here.


This Rosticeria is just around the corner from us. For M$110 pesos, (less than $10), you get a whole roasted chicken, sauce,
fresh flour tortillas and rice or roasted potatoes. So delicious.


One of the tiendas (small grocery stores) in town. They sell everything from local coffee and vanilla, super fresh eggs that are unrefrigerated, sold singly, weighed and placed in a plastic bag, to hair spray and snack food. A few years ago, we suspected there might be a difference between local and tourist prices, but most tiendas now have cash registers where everything is scanned.


Another tienda, but with an abundance of fresh produce. We buy local yogurt, fat, meaty avocados,
really luscious pineapple, mangoes and papayas.


Then, there is Mega - and it is everything the name implies. Massive sign, seen 1/2 km. away, with its own designated turning lane from the highway. (Further down the road is Walmart, Sams Club and Costco). We have gone here twice to withdraw money from the attached bank ATMs (safer than some of the local free-standing ATMs), and have picked up things not readily available in Sayulita. Mega is where the snowbirds land, and they outnumber Mexicans four to one. It's an experience - you can get anything here that you might want from home (balsamic vinegar, Cheerios), as well as $3.00 flip-flops, major appliances and free samples from the cheese counter.

Beach vendors are a big part of the beach experience, and the food vendors are among our favourites. They sell everything: fish or shrimp on a stick, fresh oysters, fresh fruit, tamales, empanadas - we've tried most of them. Here are a few of our favourites:


If you had to say what your favourite beach snack might be, it's unlikely that a so-so sugar donut, made from a commissary in PV, would be top of mind. For some reason, our hearts skip a beat when we see the donut man coming our way.


Rafael, the pie man from New York City, has lived in Sayulita for years, and makes dozens of small turnovers every day - apple, blueberry, cherry. Nice light pastry, skimpy on the filling - he always sells out.


Yes, pushing a wheelbarrow full of candy and nuts through sand is about as easy as it sounds, but we must all be kids at heart,
because these "Candy Men" do a booming business.

We've been living on tacos - they are cheap, delicious, really fresh, hit all the food groups, and the experience is almost always convivial, as tables are lined up cheek by jowl on the road, and are often shared.


This little stand is clean, lined with flowers, and serves fresh shrimp tacos for around $1.00 each.
The very charming and slightly pudgy owner always seems surprised that we only order two tacos each!


Fantastic coffee, big healthy breakfasts - this is a favourite with tourists.


One taco stand after another - all good


Panino's has been a mainstay for us for the past few years. They started out in Puerto Vallarta as a high-end coffee shop, with French patisserie offerings, and great sandwiches, and then opened a branch in Sayulita. It has been packed ever since, attracts lots of local characters, and is just a block from the beach, so offers great people-watching. This photo says it all.


Ricardo, who used to work at Panino's, opened his own place a couple of years ago - Coffee on the Corner. Great food,
better prices, and he is just sweet.


This River Cafe is a pseudo-Mexican Puerto Vallarta import, with American prices and mediocre food (burrito comes with french fries). But, for tourists hungry for a touch of home, this hits the spot, and they have large-screen TVs. We watched a football game here last Sunday - Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas (Green Bay won). We chatted with two other couples from the U.S. - it was fun.

Oh, there's more - all the sweets - the cake lady, the man who sells baking from the back of his truck in the plaza , piping hot churros dipped in sugar, and the ice cream store - premium ice creams like whisky or pistachio, or coconut bars dipped in chocolate that taste like frozen Bounty bars.


Since beach strolls and lazy swimming aren't doing enough to counteract the effects of the food, we are once again doing "the rocks" with Peter, our friend from Portland, who has just arrived in Sayulita. Peter is a former fitness coach of the U.S. Olympic fencing team, an avid tennis player and an awesome swimmer, and he has devised a series of exercises using beach rocks for resistance and strength. I'll end this post with this photo - motivation for us to continue working out once we leave town.

Posted by millerburr 10:22 Archived in Mexico Comments (4)

We're Not Lost, We're Exploring

sunny 29 °C


Driving around Mexico without getting lost is no small challenge, and one that , frankly, we don't expect to meet. We have no GPS, and we really have no reliable map (unless you count the smart new National Geographic Map of Mexico we ordered online, that shows main highways, main cities and towns, and little else). Based on our experience driving south from Nogales to Sayulita, we are here to tell you that it is possible to drive through Mexico with Google Maps and virtually no Spanish. That is our plan for the rest of our travels, although we would kill to get our hands on a current Guia Roji, an atlas of detailed Mexican road maps; readily available from Amazon in Canada as interesting reading material, and rarer than hen's teeth in Mexico, where it is actually useful. Before we left, we did read in numerous forums and articles that Mexico has a curious dearth of road maps - a helpful piece of advice we chose to ignore.

No map is necessary in Sayulita, and while we walk everywhere, it has been great fun to watch how the locals get around. Let's start with Volkswagen - 10 million cars have rolled off the assembly line in Puebla, a large city near Mexico City - the second largest car manufacturer in the world. Our 2008 VW Rabbit has "hecho in Mexico" stamped on its engine, and needless to say, parts are readily available and mechanics are familiar with its quirks - very reassuring as we drive through the country.

While our little car is quite dusty, it has so far (with the exception of a burned-out rear turn indicator light that cost $6 to replace), behaved well.


Our car

We've seen a couple of VW's for sale - like this ubiquitous old van that can be found in driveways and garages all over North America, just waiting for the next road trip.


Fred MacDonald - this one's for you

Then there was this one, with dollar signs $ on two windows, that just begged the question , "Are you kidding me?" I'd love to find out more, but I suspect it has been parked on the street with a hidden camera as some sort of performance art (with me being the unwitting performer.)


So, back to Sayulita. We've discovered that helmets are not only not required by law, but they are the very rare exception. The odd person who drives by on a motorcycle with helmet and jacket looks overly cautious. This doesn't just apply to this small town. We saw people riding on the highway with their helmets swinging jauntily from the handlebars.

When these two ladies and their children rode by, it got me thinking. a) Mexicans love their children and want to protect them, b) there can't be that many bad accidents, or this practice would cease and c) where do these tiny kids get their enviable balance?


This father and son rode by at a slower pace, not a helmet or knee pad in sight...


And then there was this father and son, tearing around town. This little boy is hunkered down in a box, secured with bungie cords, which at first glance looks sort of safe. Neither the parents nor the children seem fussed, so this is my cue to stop worrying about other people's children. Who's to say our approach is better?


Business in Sayulita is conducted very efficiently, by a fascinating and inventive variety of conveyances. Each year we come here, we wait for the music of SoniGas - bellowing from the speakers of a large truck as it drives up one street and down the other, loaded down with gas canisters. I try to imagine how this works, as a consumer. You are home in your pyjamas, drinking coffee, when you hear the distinctive song from a distance. You rush to throw on a coat and make it out the door in time to flag down the truck. It seems like such an arbitrary and whimsical way to sell an essential service, somehow.


Trucks selling everything from produce to ice cream to shrimp to mattresses operate the same way - funny little songs playing from tinny speakers at full volume.


Trucks bring in fresh produce from nearby farms


Coconuts and sugar cane


Getting the message out

Delivery service in Sayulita is executed by bike, motorcycle, and trucks of all sizes. We even saw surf boards being delivered to the beach by golf cart.





Of course, as tourists, we get to play.


Dan horseback riding in the jungle


Surfing - part of what makes this town so popular

Walking and hiking. Steve and I have walked over most of Sayulita, and some of our walks have become "accidental hikes", as was the case with this one. We started off intending to walk a short distance, take some photos, and then cut down to the beach. Instead, we walked up a steep hill to see a place we rented one year,and then just kept walking. We climbed and climbed, high up into the rarified air of gringo villas, and came upon this newly constructed sentry box (currently unoccupied, but a definite reflection of the increasing wealth in Sayulita and the need (or perceived need) to protect it.


Then, we found ourselves in the ridiculous position of after having spent 30 sweaty minutes on the ThighMaster, we hit a dead end. Our only way down was to backtrack or follow a sign that indicated "La Playa" with an arrow. We took that path, then found ourselves on very steep and crumbling brick steps, surrounded by barbed wire and torn yellow caution tape. I was wearing flip flops, so the going was a bit tentative, but we made it. We trespassed across someone's driveway, and found ourselves back on a street.


Finally, the last stretch - a steep and cobbled street that led to the beach. Great adventure and some much-needed exercise.


Dona, do you recognize this street? We ended up on Calle Chachalaca - the street you stayed on at Christmas!

Posted by millerburr 12:08 Archived in Mexico Comments (8)

Death in Sayulita

semi-overcast 27 °C

We've been having sunny, life-affirming experiences in Mexico, so death and dying are not top of mind. However, you cannot be in Mexico for very long before the spectre of death comes up. Beach vendors sell papier mache skulls , and local stores stock the famous Catrina dolls - skeletons slyly depicted as elegantly dressed women to illustrate the democracy of death.


In Mexico, while grief is felt deeply, death is celebrated, and the dead are revered. La Dia de Muertos, (Day of the Dead), is a huge celebration every November 1 and November 2 , and is a distillation of ancient Aztec and Spanish Catholicism ceremonies. It is an opportunity to celebrate Mexicans' memories of loved ones, and the belief is that celebrations will keep those souls alive forever. An underlying message is to live life with the awareness that death is inevitable, so we can give our lives meaning. During this holiday, families build altars with offerings such as candy, fruit, marigolds, candles and photos to welcome the spirits of the departed.


Dia de Muertos altar

Cemeteries in Mexico are no less extravagant, and the small cemetery in Sayulita is a lovely example. It is set back in the jungle, between Sayulita's main beach and the smaller, more remote beach, called, appropriately, Playa Los Muertos. To reach the beach, you must climb up a dirt road that takes you right through the cemetery.


This gravesite is haunting - David Rodriguez - born September 1971, died September 2014 - died on or near his 43rd birthday. He died young, and under what circumstances? I've always been fascinated by cemeteries - they reveal just enough details about their inhabitants to pique interest, but in most cases, the details are unknowable, so you are left to imagine. Small families buried together, died on the same day - was it a car accident? A house fire?


Sayulita is a modest fishing village, and most of the inhabitants here are not wealthy. But, as we wandered through this small cemetery, we noticed that each gravesite was well-tended, with flowers, momentoes, photos, and crucifixes - their dead are gone, but not forgotten.



Entrance to Sayulita's cemetery

In Mexico, you cannot drive very far without seeing roadside shrines. Whether here or in Canada, these shrines are upsetting - needless death, senseless tragedy - and a reminder that this could happen to any of us. However, these vulnerable clusters of white crosses, teddy bears, candles and faded flowers do not seem to serve as a deterrant. Drivers still race around the "Curva Peligrosa" (dangerous curve) on the road from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita, passing on this blind corner, right in front of the monument to the four lives that were lost there.

Right in the town of Sayulita, there are two very poignant shrines to young lives lost. The main street, Avenue Revolucion, runs through the centre of town, and leads over the bridge that divides Sayulita into north and south. Two or three years ago, a little girl was stuck and killed by a bus as it was making a U-turn right before the bridge, and naturally the entire town was devastated. As a result, buses no longer enter the town, and this shrine was erected as a memorial. (Not sure if the Coke bottle was intentionally placed)


The other shrine has more sinister undertones, and is a reminder of the collateral damage of the narco wars. The story behind this young man's death are murky, but go roughly like this. He ran a kiosk selling pirated CDs and DVDs, and he also attempted (this is heresay) to move in on the drug trade, and was apparently given a couple of chances to back off. He was at his stand when a car pulled up beside him and shot him on the street. His shrine, built across the street from his former kiosk, is powerful.


As I stopped to look at it, and read the inscription, a car drove by and the female passenger made a sign of the cross. I have to say, I had a similar inclination, lapsed Anglican that I am.

For now, our days are filled with beach, sun and an appreciation for life. Looking forward to discovering more about the darker sides of Mexico as our travels continue.

Posted by millerburr 09:40 Archived in Mexico Comments (9)

La Familia in Sayulita

sun, surf and stray dogs

sunny 29 °C



I've been trying to get this blog entry written for a few days, but our company has been way more entertaining and diverting. Last night we celebrated New Year's Eve , today is our last full day together, and like all holidays, the long days that stretched ahead in the beginning have sped up and now it is almost over.

For the past couple of days, Alex and Dan have been struggling with la turista, and unfortunately last night Dan succumbed and had to stay home. Sayulitans bring in the New Year in quite a meaningful way - they head down to the beach mid-evening, and begin the countdown with food, drinks, bonfires, fireworks, sparklers - all things festive and noisy. We purchased sky lanterns - white paper lanterns with paraffin disks attached to a crosswire that are lit, and sent soaring into the sky (after first having made a wish). Literally hundreds of sky lanterns were sent off to bring in the new year, and that, combined with hundreds of sparklers and small fireworks made for quite the spectacle. As well, it is also customary to have your feet in the water right at midnight for good luck, so we should have 2015 well covered.

We wish you all a very happy new year, filled with good health and happiness.

Here is a synopsis of our time with Dan, Alex and Alanna - wonderful fun, with a few sick days thrown in, just to keep things real.



Dan on the beach

You know you've started to relax when you can spend hours playing in warm water, with the sun on your face and sand up your backside. Add a beach chair, some Pacificos and a mystery novel. Surround yourself with family and watch the parade go by - so lazy and delicious. With the exception of one stormy day, we have been blessed with perfect weather, so chunks of every day have been spent on the beach - early morning beach walks, surfing, swimming, reading, napping, eating, drinking, chatting with our neighbours, evaluating bodies and bathing suits, and buying souvenirs from vendors.


Ginny and Stephen on a morning walk


Ginny and Stephen - definitely on holiday


Our stormy day in Sayulita


Jungle walk at the end of the beach


Dan with Ray, a vendor we have known for a few years. He always remembers us, always stops to chat, and has been a good insider source for Mexico's current safety situation, which changes from year to year.

We've spent most of the time on Sayulita's main beach, but have also ventured off to a couple of other nearby beaches, and last night, trekked out to Carrecitas Beach, which is about a 45 minute walk (uphill, sweaty, but worth it) to see the sunset. It was gorgeous (photos can't capture it, at least not with my camera), and then we hiked back in a cooler, darker, noisier jungle road; trying to imagine what critters were hiding there.


Entrance to Carrecitas Beach


Alex and Alanna


Sunset at Carrecitas


Alex at Carrecitas


Try to imagine casting about four dozen stray dogs in a Disney movie set in Sayulita. Most of the dogs don't have a home, or someone to love them, but they have each other. They rarely fight. The weather works well for them, so shelter is not a problem, but the odd one has been on the losing end of a run-in with a car, or an unfortunate and curious gene pool. HOWEVER...they are the lucky recipients of tourists like Alanna, who is an animal lover. Alanna has befriended a number of little mutts on this holiday, and she travels everywhere with bags of dog food.


Alanna and friend on the beach

One dog in particular has wound its way into her heart - a filthy little ruffian appropriately named Scrappy. Scrappy actually does have an owner, but he spends his days on the loose, running with his amigos, chasing cars and playing in the ballfield. When he's not eating chicken bones he's found on the road, he is quite happy to cuddle up with Alanna.



Alanna and Scrappy

Steve and I were quite entertained by these two surfer dogs. They showed up on the beach one day, and then ran straight for the water - bodysurfing with the best of them. The German Shepherd showed the keenest instincts - she seemed to gauge the waves, and hit them right as they crested. They have collars, so presumably have homes, but also appear to have that independent surfer spirit.


Beach buddies


On Sunday, we headed to La Cruz for an outing, just because the idea of spending almost an hour with five of us crammed into a small car in CRAZY, MURDEROUS driving conditions seemed like an idea. La Cruz is south of here, and while the town is quiet, they have a magnificent international marina there, and an impressive weekly market. Once we were off the main road leading to Puerto Vallarta, things calmed down a bit.


Produce stand




Pelican waiting hopefully for a snack


Higuera tree - common to Mexico - gorgeous hardwood tree with fig leaves and gourds


Food in Mexico is so fantastic and so fraught. Is there e coli lurking in the lettuce? How long has that mayo-based hot sauce been sitting in the sun? Are the ice cubes really made with filtered water? Unless you come down here and eat straight out of a tin, you have no way of knowing. So... better to jump in, try everything and be prepared that from time to time, it might not work out for you. That is Mexico, and anti-diarrhea meds become part of your arsenal. We have all had tummy bugs (and worse), but the taco stands keep beckoning. El Ivan's is a fixture in Sayulita - famous for the pastor (pork) tacos, that are sliced right off the rotisserie, with the tiniest sliver of pork fat mixed in - all for about one dollar. There are four long tables set on the street, and the lineups never stop. Alanna prompted us to try this place, and it has become a favourite.


El Ivan's taco stand

We've had many great meals all over town - fish and seafood right out of the bay, wonderful coffee, fresh-pressed juices, complex spices. Freshly made tortillas, juicy rotisserie chicken, local yogurt - all simple, cheap and delicious. We're just hoping our systems will develop an immunity, so we can continue this food quest without any more problems.

Lots more to tell, but I'll finish with this photo. We will miss their presence and energy very much.


Dan hitching a ride

Posted by millerburr 11:56 Archived in Mexico Comments (7)

Feliz Navidad!

We want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of our hearts

sunny 25 °C


To our dear friends and family

This is a brief (for me) blog posting to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. We are so happy to have Danny, Alex and Alanna with us in Mexico for Christmas and New Years. Christmas Eve is the big holiday here - a family gathering of food and fireworks - December 25th is just another day. We made a feast tonight of guacamole, chicken, rice, roast potatoes, tortillas and veggies - enjoyed on our deck, while listening to the sounds of Sayulita.

A few hours ago, Santa Claus drove by, cushioned in the back of a light-bedecked truck - "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" played from the loudspeaker. As fiestas go, Christmas Eve is quiet - all we can hear at 11:00 pm is the sound of children singing and the odd firecracker. We are thinking this may truly be "Silent Night", as we haven't heard a peep from the neighbourhood dogs.


Tomorrow we will begin the day with a beach walk, and then back through the jungle into town. We'll make a few phone calls home, then spend the afternoon surfing, swimming and boogie boarding. It doesn't feel like Christmas, but it does feel very special.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Love Ginny and Stephen

Posted by millerburr 21:01 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico christmas Comments (16)

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