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Lessons in Yelapa
Everything I had read about Yelapa promised a slice of relaxing paradise. With no paved roads into town, this remote fishing village isn’t as easily accessible to tourists as other seaside communities. Over the years, it has gained a reputation as a refuge for people who are seeking to “get away from it all.” I envisioned relaxing in the sun, finding a special place to snorkel among colorful fish, and (after 5 sleepless nights in Sayulita) drifting off to dreamland with only the sound of the waves lapping the shore.
Instead, Yelapa provided an invaluable lesson in mindset, expectations, going with the flow, and how we as tourists affect—and drastically change—the communities that we visit.
Yelapa is located on the southern shore of the Bay of Banderas, along the Pacific Ocean. To get there from Sayulita, which is north of the Bay, we rode a public bus 70 minutes south, transferred to a city bus on the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta, rode another 10 minutes to the beach, walked past all the hucksters who tried to convince us that we had missed our water taxi and needed to buy special tickets from them, and then took a 50 minute water taxi ride to the main dock in Yelapa.
To board the water taxi, we removed our shoes and waded out to the boat. Here is Sebastian before boarding:
Our boat left the high-rise condos of Puerto Vallarta behind:
We followed the hilly coastline, curving west:
The Bay was very peaceful:
Arrr, me hearties! Was this the land of pirates?
I am glad to say, “No.” It was merely a tourist boat that offers guests a “swashbuckling good time” with a dinner cruise, pirate show, sword fight, acrobatics, and even a fireworks display.
Arriving in Yelapa:
Yelapa has a variety of tempting open-air cabañas for rent. However, given Sebastian’s lack of fondness for big bugs flying around him at night, even with a mosquito net, we opted for an enclosed place. After careful research, we selected what seemed like a pleasant 2-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a water-front building:
While the apartment was clean and comfortable enough, it had its quirks, including unfinished electrical wiring hanging from the ceiling in the master bedroom, and a bunk bed in the children’s room that was so loose and wobbly that we banned the top bunk from use.
The children’s room:
The quirks weren’t a big deal, as we are accustomed to eccentricities during our travels, and we just viewed them as part of the “personality” of the place.
The best part of our apartment was the large deck outside, with a view of the town and water.
Sebastian took advantage of the hammock:
Watching all the boats:
A view of the town:
Now, let’s zoom in on the town, and focus on that colorful outdoor deck area, which turned out to be part of a nightclub called “The Yacht Club”:
The Yacht Club was a popular place that had a live rock band, with ragingly LOUD amplifiers, playing until the wee hours of the morning.
My bedroom window, with its single-pane glass, overlooked the deck.
I could lie in bed each night and feel as if I were right there in the midst of all the action, without having to change out of my PJs.
On a positive note, the band was actually quite good—a female version of The Lynyrd Skynyrd Band. This might have been a great thing . . . but for the fact that I was sleep deprived and desperately craved a solid night’s rest.
But that would not occur in Yelapa.
Another surprise here was the unwelcoming behavior of many of the local people. During our walks through town, or visits to the local market for groceries, we had greeted people with “Buenos días” (Good day); most of the people had not even looked at us, and no one had ever returned our smiles. Only the waiters in the restaurants acted happy to see us.
At first, I had thought the behavior odd, as it was contrary to our usual friendly (or at least cordial) encounters in Mexico. I had chocked the behavior up to the fact that we were at the tail end of tourist season, and the residents were probably just tired of people invading their small town.
However, after the first long night of being kept awake by booming music and reveling bar guests—noise that surely must have reached up and penetrated every single home nestled against the hillside—it dawned on me that perhaps the locals were just wishing all the tourists would leave so that they could get a good night’s sleep!
Genevieve, Sebastian and Ben, walking through town:
The town was built at the mouth of a small river, which flows into the cove and divides the main part of town from a long stretch of beach that caters to daytrippers from Puerto Vallarta. To reach that beach, you can wade through the shallow river and climb over the sandy embankment. Here is Genevieve wading across:
Another option is to walk about 1/2 of a mile inland along the river, and then cross over a pedestrian bridge and walk back to the beach on the other side.
The river below:
We enjoyed the rural setting along the river.
A mother hen and her chicks:
Sebastian and Genevieve found a smaller bridge off to the side:
The path had a fascinating, wiggly black line that turned out to be ants:
Genevieve, on the beach:
Climbing back up to the main road:
By “road”, I’m not referring to a double lane of asphalt that cars drive on. In fact, there were no cars here. The local transportation consisted of your own two feet, some quads, and an occasional donkey:
Before arriving in Yelapa, we had arranged with a local guide (who was raised here) to do two special activities on separate days: 1) snorkeling in a “secret” place that most tourists wouldn’t know about, and 2) taking a long hike to a special waterfall where we could jump off boulders into the water below. This was going to be a real treat for us.
When we arrived, however, the guide told us that he had started a new restaurant, so his brother (a man of few words) would be leading our excursions. Furthermore, another family had come along and requested a snorkeling trip out to the Marietas Islands—a group of islands about an hour’s boat ride from Yelapa that is a popular tourist destination. That trip was over twice as much per person as our local snorkeling trip would have been, so our guide had bumped us from the boat. Yes, he really did!
This was the first time in our travels that we had had a guide promise us one thing and then renege because someone else offered to pay him more to do something else. We were stunned. Calmly explaining our disappointment didn’t change things. However, we were invited to join that family if we wanted to pay the extra cost. In the spirit of “going with the flow,” we ignored the writing on the wall and agreed to join the Marietas Islands trip (which will be covered in another story).
During that trip, the guide tried to convince the other family (parents and 2 kids) to do the waterfall hike with us the next day; when he wasn’t successful, he told us that he wouldn’t be able to take us after all—the boat suddenly was being used elsewhere. Apparently, the cost for 4 people, as opposed to 8, wasn’t enticing enough for him to lead the hike. Our spirits sagged. Yes, we were disappointed that the exciting activity we had planned was not going to happen as promised; but even more, we were disheartened by the guide’s blatantly uncaring and dismissive attitude.
We had held such high hopes for Yelapa. Perhaps the experience would have been different if we hadn’t expected so much. We constantly had to readjust our mindset in order to appreciate the positive aspects of our time here. (After all, we did have a lovely view of the water from our apartment, and . . . well . . . let’s see . . . the water taxi didn’t sink delivering us to and from!) Perhaps Yelapa was once a quaint fishing village, but the influx of tourists seemed to be wearing on the local spirit.
With the blaring night-time rock ’n roll, the unfriendly vibe from the residents, and the existence of local tourist guides who catered to the highest bidder and canceled plans to suit their own needs, Yelapa was a place that we were glad to leave behind.
Genevieve and Sebastian, waiting for the water taxi to carry us away:
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