FOR MOST OF MY ADULT life, I’ve traveled south to revel in everything the USA is not, the old Mexico where a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish is mandatory, siesta persists as a tradition, and simpático really means what it suggests. “The weirder the better” was the code I lived by on the road. But between globalization, NAFTA, and the rise of tourism as an industry, that romantic version of Mexico has become harder and harder to find.
Of course my wife, Kris, and I have changed too. We were once card-carrying members of the international backpacking set, proud of how far we could go on $500. Today we wouldn’t be able to squeeze our two sons and all our stuff into her old VW convertible. And even if we could, there’s no way we could just take off for a month like we did way back when, bumming around south of the border. We have lives to live and so do our kids, whose schedules are far more complicated than ours.
In July we all managed to find happiness in a Pacific Coast fishing village called Yelapa. Although only a forty-minute water-taxi ride from the glitzy resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Yelapa seems a world away. Its draw is as much what it doesn’t have as what it does: There are no roads, no cars, no pools, no air conditioning, no cell phone service, no newspapers, no chain resorts, no little shampoos and hand creams. Electricity arrived in the village of two thousand residents only a year ago.
To some, these conditions might sound rustic, even primitive. To me, they add up to the Mexican coastal experience distilled to its sweetest essence: a tranquil bay ringed by mountains, thick with tropical vegetation, that fall to a small, sloping beach and blue water busy with pelicans, albatross, and gulls. No additives are necessary.
Unless you really want to rough it—or rent a house by the week or the month—the hotel of choice is the Lagunita, a clutch of 28 palm-thatched casitas above the rocks at one end of the beach. Each casita has two beds with mosquito nets, a toilet and shower, tile floors, a reading table and light, candles, a bare overhead bulb, and a fan, but no TV or phone.
My regimen consisted of rising late in a state of blissful lethargy not unlike a drug-induced stupor; shuffling to the beach for a morning swim; then having a leisurely breakfast of fresh-squeezed orange juice, a fruit plate, eggs, and maybe bacon or hotcakes under the hotel’s big palapa on the beach. After that Kris and I spent most of