“Pie lady! I’m the pie lady!”
She said this as though she were the Statue of Liberty. Yes, I’m what you’re looking for! We had indeed heard that when we got to the beach at the ancient town of Yelapa, fifteen miles southwest of Puerto Vallarta, we would find the pie lady roaming the beach, selling slices out of Tupperware. We bought a lemon meringue slice and ate it from our hands (she doesn’t offer forks) while walking down the beach.
Yelapa (pictured at the top of this post) is bayside in a mountainous jungle, unserved by paved roads, inhabited by 1500 descendants of five indigenous families. They welcomed the conquering Cortes in 1524 with a big warm party, and were so generally cozy that the Spanish couldn’t bear to wipe them out. It’s been an official indigenous community since 1581.
To get to Yelapa, we took the fifteen-minute blue bus (blue line on map) from our apartment in Los Tules to downtown Vallarta, then the thirty-minute orange bus to Boca de Tomatlan (orange line), then a thirty-minute green water taxi to Yelapa (green line). Total fare: 110 pesos round trip, or about $8 US.
The surf was raucous that day, and we jumped into the water taxi from four feet up. After my own clumsy embarkation, I watched with great relief as people of all ages tumbled, crumbled, fell, jumped, and rolled on and off the boat. The simplest commute looked like the rescue from the Titanic. The boy captain throttled the 225 horsepower outboard up to about 22 knots, and we went flying and thumping over the emerald surf, far too close to the rocky shore for my taste.
Onshore, we met the pie lady, then crossed a rushing scary stream to get to town. We climbed a rustic steep-stepped stairway for about ten minutes, then spent another twenty wandering up and down steep dirt paths made by streams and mules, with houses stuck here and there at odd angles. It looked like Santorini would if nobody ever painted it and there was no garbage service and skinny dogs roamed free. Water is piped from the uphill river in plastic pipes, and electricity didn’t arrive until 2001. The town is auténtico México; the view is authentic OMG.
There are no roads to Yelapa. Everything here had been brought in by boat (our taxi also brought eight dozen eggs and three cases of Corona) or four-wheeled ATV, or horse or mule. We saw plenty of all of them, but not a single car.
Our destination was Trip Advisor’s best restaurant in Yelapa, the Bahia Café. At eight outdoor tables adjoining the town dock, surrounded by half of the thirty local gringos and a few fellow tourists, we downed beer and sublime bean soup, with salad greens harvested from pots ten feet away. Our hostess, Susan Goodman, let us photograph the rustic kitchen (pictured in the gallery below), which looked exactly like an old Laura Ashley decorating book, and would cost zillions to reproduce in the US.
After a quick hike to Yelapa’s only tourist attraction, the waterfall named The Waterfall, we returned to the dock and tumbled into the 4:00PM water taxi, whitened our knuckles, and bounced and crashed thirty minutes back to Boca. The tide had receded and there was no longer water around the dock, so we gunned up on shore and jumped off the bow into the sea. We mounted the 110 steps back to the bus stop and reversed our commute.
Yelapa is odd and beautiful, and is still relatively untouched by the polish that comes with heavy tourism. Nobody had warned us that the trip would be aggressively athletic and not for sissies. We didn’t see a single sissy anywhere, in fact.
This was the second most grueling day of sightseeing ever, right after our 26-mile bike ride in Spain. I had to wake Tom up to get him off the bus.
It suddenly became clear that before there were cars in the world, there were no gyms and no obesity epidemic. In Yelapa, there are no cars or elevators, so people have to climb around, and then they can eat as much bean soup and beach-vended pie as they want. It was wonderful. It was exhausting. I can’t wait to go back.
(More of Yelapa below. Click any picture to enlarge.)