The flight from Toronto Pearson to Puerto Vallarta was an odd mix of extremes. Seniors, infants and a hand full of young parents yo-yoing between their companion’s needs made up the bulk of the flight’s passengers, while a fleet of strollers must have had the cargo bay brimming. A noticeable absence of surfboard bags in the oversized luggage area should have been my first indication that this trip wasn’t going to go as expected. Here’s how it all played out. Back around Christmas, the boys and I got together to hash out our biannual surf adventure. Fresh off a trip to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, I was keen to keep the ball rolling on warm water destinations so, after kicking around a few bucket list spots, we settled on the Mainland Mexican village of Sayulita. None of us, except for my girlfriend (see picture of cast above), had been before and we’d heard the surf was consistent and the vibe friendly. With our various commitments: family, job, pets, etc., and only 7 days to burn, the gringo-friendly hamlet – which boasts a sand-bottomed river mouth and a left/right beach break steps from our rented villa – proved to be perfect.
Sayulita, the sandy jewel of the Riviera Nayarit
The town itself is inhabited by an eclectic mix of California ex-pats, snowbirds, local Cora and Huichol people and Mexican vacationers. With all the creature comforts one could ask for, including a gelato shop complete with creams – and staff – imported from Tuscany, myriad eateries, delicious, inexpensive street food and proximity to the resort Mecca of Puerto Vallarta, the plane packed with families should have come as no surprise. Sayulita was, however, refreshingly unlike other Mexican destinations I’ve been to – I’m thinking Cabo or Cancun – in that it was free of the all-inclusive, buffet-grazing set. The streets are cobbled, if paved at all. Unruly dogs and kids run rampant. You can take a 45-minute local bus ride from the PVR airport to Sayulita for 35 pesos… (and stop at WalMart or Mega on the way). There are even lots of surf shops from which to rent decent boards, which we did, rather than fly with your own. And, week-long villa rentals – the best way to stay, IMHO – are down right reasonable. Its even safe, although they do tell you to lock up at night.
Getting there and away
Anastasiya (whom you see in the first picture) and I arrived on separate flights Saturday afternoon, a day after the first half of our party touched down in Mexico. She was coming off a month-long work assignment on the other side of the Pacific (basically skipping Toronto’s brutally cold winter all together. But I digress…) and I was locked into that not-so-cheap ‘discount,’ kid-filled flight on Air Canada Rouge. After braving the local bus (which I completely recommend, especially since a pre-barter taxi fare could run $60) Nastia, who’d landed ahead of me, met me at the dirt bus lot in town and we hiked the short but steep steps up Gringo Hill to our digs, where Rob, Sharon and Jacob were waiting. Tequila happened. Then Nastia and I slipped down to our room to catch up (we hadn’t seen one another in a month, after all). Then tacos. Cervezas. More tequila. All was good.
Sunday, after a sleep-in and a trip back into town for groceries, we cruised through Sayulita looking for boards to rent for the week. I got a nice mid-length McTavish Sumo – which made paddling and picking up close-outs close to shore a joy with its thick, fat nose – while Nastia picked out a similarly shaped Robert August, (whom we met) in a nod back to our recent trip to Costa Rica. The boys hauled away a couple longboards to round out the quiver and we were off for a sunset session.
The part about the broken bones…
It was all shaping up nicely. However, things got interesting. Fast. Brother Sterling, the last of our group to arrive, touched down on Monday with a board bag filled with freshly planed and oiled wooden boards, called paipo. They’re short, heavy and lots of fun to ride boogieboard style. Their thin rails are also surprisingly blade-like. Fast forward to Tuesday morning. Nastia is fresh off a bout of food poisoning – her first brush with misfortune on the trip – and ready to get back in the water. I’d just caught a nice, peeling right-hander (which is unusual for me since I’m a goofy foot and prefer lefts) and things are looking up. Then, disaster.
Sterling and Nastia, who were caught on the inside, ended up colliding in the whitewater. When they surface, her finger, which was caught between their boards, is facing the wrong direction. There is blood in the water and momentary panic in the air. Its quick thinking time. Numbed by the the pain-deadening effects of shock, Nastia instructs Sterling to straighten her finger. He does, and a local surfer, who we learned was a pro by the name of Adrián gato Rodríguez, helps get her prone on her board. With a push, she’s riding the next wave shoreward. At this point, I’m hot on their heels. We pull off leashes, ditch boards under an umbrella – we’d send the boys back for them later – and run, dripping, after Adrián who’s volunteered to get us to the clinic.
One look at Nastia’s right hand and the doctor (or pharmacist, its hard to tell) concludes he can’t do anything for us and our best bet is to hop a cab to the hospital in San Pancho, a community 15 minutes drive up the beach. At this point, Sterling has caught up with towels and flip flops and I’ve run, breathless and in the midst of my own little panic attack, back to the beach to relay instructions to the others, who have no idea what has happened. By the time I’m back at the clinic, Nastia is waiting in a cab, as is another Canadian couple whom we’d learn are from Kelowna, B.C. Small world indeed. She’s suffered a collarbone injury (inflicted on her first attempt at stand-up paddle boarding ever). Fare negotiated ($120 pesos) we head off to San Pancho.
The hospital is clean and the doctor, an improbably young looking woman sporting a neat bun hairdo and jeans, is quick and efficient. Shock is wearing off. Pain is setting in. A few tears are shed (about time, tough girl) and the injury – which X-rays reveal to be a clean, lateral fracture of the right ring finger – is cleaned and splinted. Jacob (father to 3 girls) has arrived with our wallets, phones and snacks. A specialist is called and we’re back in a cab bound for a private clinic in Bucerías, near Puerto Vallarta, where another young, competent, casually-dressed doctor readies Nastia for minor surgery. Fast forward again and, after what amounted only to a few hours, we’re back in Sayulita, in the casa, reunited with the rest of the crew.
Cervezas are cracked (Nastia, now on antibiotics, abstains). Tacos acquired and a semblance of normalcy returns.
We surfed again the next day and the day after that. Nastia, who couldn’t get her cast wet, was a trooper and in between phone calls with the insurance company and emails to her brother, who just happens to be a surgeon, she stuck it out on the beach, smoothie in hand.
Ultimately Nastia and I cut our trip short, opting to leave on Thursday afternoon instead of Sunday, all on the assurances of full coverage by our respective insurance companies. She has since undergone a second surgery to insert ‘pins’ ensuring the finger heals straight. She’s in a pretty serious-looking cast but after a week of taking it easy, she has returned to work. The cast comes off in 3 weeks, then rehab. We still plan on following through on a climbing trip to Yosemite in August.
All in all, from my perspective anyway, the trip was a good one and we’ve certainly got a story to tell. ‘Remember that time Nastia broke her finger?’
How could we forget? The doctor let me shoot this video of the surgery.
And, for the friends who were on the trip, you can DL pictures from this Google Drive.
From here, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.