Pase Usted

A Mexicana writer observes a beach where it’s always warm—with a chance of sketch.
Photo: Mark Kronemeyer

Light / Dark

At twilight we are hobbling around the palm plantation. A surreal, man-made jungle. Half lost in lanes of fronds and trunks, I finally discover a dirt passage and find my way out. The smell of burned coconut hangs like a fog in a forest. 

Mexico is full of secrets. This Pacific coastal town is an outpost where far-wanderers come to ride waves. Over time the Americans, the most notorious of them, began to add a pronounced and sometimes disreputable character to the area. Home to one of the most active volcanoes in Latin America, this is also the place where huge swells slam the black sandbars, generating dreams and sometimes nightmares.

By dark, crooked characters come out to scare the hell out of newcomers. Some of them are the bare remains of former surfers who once reigned in this outlaw town. Their skinny bodies and decayed faces remind us that the real enemies here are not natural challenges, but cheap drugs. Episodes from a sci-fi novel come alive during the afterhours. Every night one hears abstract squawks and firecracker-like pops. You always imagine the worst. Illegal drug use marks the most perplexing coda of this country, and it is now the root of our unending disorder. 

Even those on a tight budget can survive here. Accommodation is tolerable and just a few meters from the surf break, and all for a pittance. The region is so food-rich that no one could ever really starve. There are endless banana, coconut, and lemon plantations all around. Everything germinates into blooms. Robalo, corvina, and snapper are abundant, courtesy of the river mouth. The restaurants, called enramadas because of the rough-wooden construction and palo de arco ceilings, offer delicious traditional dishes and ice-cold beer. Here, as they say, the more you know, the less you need. The simple delight of mounding guacamole onto a colossal chavindeca—a 1-foot-diameter, fluffy, handmade corn tortilla filled with carne asada, beans, and cheese—and then drinking fresh coconut water is a joy. 

At dawn, the rooster’s chants reveal that we are the intruders. We stand on the black-sand beach to greet perfection. With the sunlight caught in the mist, we are already sweating.   

Since Mexico’s surfing culture is still young and tenuous, it is strange how the sport becomes an obvious spectacle for the national visitors. They mostly stay ashore and cheer on the wave riders. You can often observe kids and the elderly swimming and splashing regardless of the strong currents. The sea can betray them in seconds, and it often does.

An air of secrecy and collusion vibrates among the foreigners. “In a harsh place like this, just try to stay in the shade,” said a local who radiates warmth and happiness despite his deteriorating condition. 

The volcanic sierra, the A-frame peaks, the smoking plantations all inspire an overpowering impression of earnestness and force. This unchanging panorama will attract new drifters looking for their ride. Whatever that may be. Some of them will leave their mark, but all will definitely be marked by the astounding authenticity of this place.

“Live, don’t know how long,
And die, don’t know when;
Must go, don’t know where;
I am astonished I am so cheerful.” 
—Patrick Leigh Fermor

Photograph by Mark Kronemeyer.