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The Sayulita beach. (Click to enlarge)

The Sayulita beach. (Click to enlarge)

Yesterday we hopped on a two-dollar bus for the one-hour trip to Sayulita, a fabled old surfing town that has blossomed, since the ’60s, into a chic-but-still-shabby cluster of shops, restaurants, and very expensive real estate. No big hotels, no high rises, and the 4,000 permanent residents all seem to know each other.

And what a peculiar mix they were! There were the natives, descendants of tribes that the Spanish could not find because Sayulita was a beach surrounded by a jungle until 1941, when the road was built. There were the aging hippies with gray ponytails, selling odd crafts clearly conceived in a haze of smoke. There were the expats running the board stores: Rent! Buy! Lessons! There was the usual passel of Canadian and American tourists, in for the day. And there were the non-Mexican residents and renters, including — gasp! — Europeans!  Most of them probably don’t arrive as we did, dropped off at an outdoor bus “station” furnished with bursting old bus seats under a tin roof (no walls). No, they descend into town from $500-a-night-villas in the hills, wearing their Lily Pulitzers and Helly Hansens, managing the pot-holed, cobble-stoned, (and sometimes unpaved) streets, driving golf carts, ATVs, and old Jeeps.

It all reminded me a bit of Martha’s Vineyard, a relaxed but vibrant retreat for the slightly eccentric of all incomes — if, that is, Martha’s Vineyard permitted any corner to be shabby, moldy, and smelly.

We observed all this at very close range from our restaurant table on the street. I’ve eaten on sidewalks before, but never on actual streets where a roving dog could nip a chicken wing right out of a diner’s hand. (We actually saw that happen.)

We paused for a beer at a beach bar, but had not yet been warned about the annoying tenacity of the vendors there. Display cases of silver goodies were plopped in my lap, bracelets strapped on to my wrists, earrings to match my necklace hastily produced with this year’s favorite vendor slogan: “Almost free!” I guess the retail theory was that since I was wearing a silver bracelet and necklace, I must want forty more of each. At the same time, Tom was batting a bee away from his beer. It was much the same struggle.

I later learned that Sayulita is famous for its dogged pesty vendors, but at the time we just fled. We did see that which Sayulita is most famous for: the regularly-spaced, big-enough waves that are perfect for beginning surfers, and an army of short- and longboarders of all ages tumbling joyously about.

We climbed the hill that led away from the sea, past the moldy old white pre-zoning houses into the land of ever-more-beautiful villas with fresh paint and wood-railed balconies, with locked gates harboring Jeeps and golf carts and the occasional Mercedes SUV. Casa Suerte. Casa Olas Vista. Casa Colorado. Even Casa Chicago.

Alas, it was literally downhill from there. Past the very-popular woman roasting chicken parts on the street, over the bridge above the chocolate-brown river, past a few grimy bars, and back to the outdoor bus station for the trip home through the jungle.

Back at Los Tules, we sat on our own quiet beach and watched the puny waves that are never worth surfing upon. A few children danced at the waterline. Familiar vendors walked by and waved. There was laughter. Nothing was pesty. Sayulita is very Mexican and partially glamorous and perhaps on the way to being glossy. We didn’t dislike it; we just couldn’t quite grok it. That’s a ’60s word for a ’60s place — one that’s trying to make sense of what it has become. It has a way to go.