From Pascuales, I took a bus to Tecoman, and another bus to Manzanillo. Then a seven-hour bus ride to Puerto Vallarta. I arrived after midnight and set up camp on the floor of the incinerating bus station. To pass the time, I sat down at one of the station’s computers to check my email and inserted a 10 peso coin into the slot. The computer came to life, but there was no internet, which meant it was basically useless. I complained to the cashier at the adjacent store, who informed me that it was not her problem and refused to refund my money. So I complained to the bus line attendants and security guard, who directed me back to the cashier in the store. Though I had spent less than $1 USD, it was the principle that infuriated me. I pulled out my pocketknife, cut the zip ties holding the wires of the computer components together, and tore out the mouse. Holding it up like a trophy, I waved it mockingly at the cashier. She shrugged.
Disappointed that my tantrum had failed to raise a noteworthy uproar, I went to sleep. At 4:30am, I boarded a bus to Sayulita and arrived before dawn, passing the time in an empty hammock at the bus stop until the sun finally rose, at which point I beelined it for the ocean. Seeking to cleanse the dark, sticky stains of travelling, I plunged into the water and took a long swim out to the rocks at the point, where I promptly stepped on a sea urchin and got a foot full of spines. So it goes.
Sayulita is pleasant tourist destination with abundant amenities. Within a few minutes of wandering into town, I was seated at a posh café with WiFi, washing down huevos rancheros with a freshly brewed cup of Americano, served with steamed milk and raw sugar. I messaged Javier, the owner of Wildmex Surf & Adventure, who I’d met in Salina Cruz 6 weeks ago. He was out of town, but insisted that I stay at his place, and sent one of his employees to deliver his spare keys and transport my luggage up the hill to his home. An overgrowth of green foliage shaded worn brick steps leading up to a vintage wooden door. The house was spacious and comfortable, and the guest room had air-conditioning. After the exhausting debacle of bus stations, this was VIP treatment.
When Javier returned, we caught up over dinner. He was an excellent host, loaning me a bike to ride around town, giving me full access to the quiver of boards available at Wildmex, and inviting me to catch rides with the staff anywhere I wanted to go. We went paddle boarding around the point at Sayulita and had an impromptu SUP yoga session. He showed me his new office in nearby Punta Mita and the trail that he had just opened through the jungle to the beach at La Lancha. I took one of the long boards out and had a blast surfing the pristine white sand beach as turtles bobbed in the immaculate clear water. Other than getting devoured by mosquitos on the walk down the jungle path, I had it pretty good. There was only one thing missing, and it was something essential: Good Waves.
Sayulita is a great place to learn to surf. The waves are gentle and forgiving, great for beginners. There are also a handful of rippers who make the best of what the tame ocean hands them and manage to do roundhouses and 360s on waist-high, mushy waves. But what I began to understand about myself in Sayulita is that surfing is the most fun for me when I’m profoundly, deathly afraid.
A new swell was due on Thursday, and I tactfully posited to Javier my desire to get barreled. I didn’t need to elaborate, he understood, and was anxious to get some good waves himself. He was tied up at work for the remainder of the week, but suggested that we take a trip to the north on Saturday. It meant that I might miss the peak of the swell, but it would put me closer to the ferry in Mazatlan, which I planned to take to Baja the following week. I weighed leaving earlier on the bus versus going later with Javier, and decided to wait for him. He’d said that we’d go to an epic spot that wasn’t accessible by bus; which of course I found irresistible.
On Friday, Javier invited me for dinner at a nearby pizza place with the Wildmex staff. “They’ve been doing a great job,” he said, “Plus it’s your goodbye party.” After work, he took off for a quick road bike ride and said he would meet me later at the restaurant. I dressed and walked down, had a beer. The pizzas came out of the oven, but Javier still hadn’t arrived. One of the girls got a text message on her phone. “He’s at the clinic,” she said. Uh oh.
Javier had been riding his bike when he saw two dogs engaged in a serious fight. Afraid that one of the dogs would be killed, he tried to break it up. That’s when a third dog locked its jaws on his leg. By the time he’d wrenched himself loose, he was bleeding profusely and in need of stitches. Eventually, he made it to dinner, hopping on one leg, the other one swathed in a blood soaked bandage.
I felt bad for Javier. Clearly, he wouldn’t be surfing, or even walking, for a while. Selfish though it was, I also felt bad for myself. I had patiently waited two full days during the peak of a swell to take a special trip with him. It’s basically unheard of for me to do such a thing. I always prioritize good waves over everything.
Before anything was said, I sensed that our surf trip was off the table. I waited what I thought was an appropriate amount of time to broach the subject, and then as diplomatically as possible, tried to solicit advice on formulating a new plan. Javier suggested that I wait until morning, go back to Puerto Vallarta, and take a bus to somewhere, then somewhere else. All I heard was another day of potentially good surf missed. My idea was to pack immediately and commence hitch hiking that night. True, it’s not a good idea to hitch hike in the middle of the night, but it seemed irrelevant in light of the fact that I couldn’t bear to miss more surf. Ultimately, we compromised. I would get up at dawn and get a ride to the highway; rapists and murderers are less abundant at 6am.
We returned home and I tended to Javier as best I could. He reluctantly accepted a piggyback ride since he couldn’t walk. I changed the soaked bandage on his leg and cleaned up the blood that it had leaked all over the place. I fed the dogs and did all those random, simple things that are a pain in the ass to do when you can’t walk. Then I set an alarm and went to bed.
At some point during the middle of the night, my stomach started to hurt. Badly. I suspected the pizza place. Maybe it was the pepperoni. Or the salad. Or maybe the creamy spread in the middle of the table. Something was not right. I went to the bathroom doubled over in pain. The sickness came on normally enough. At this point, I am no stranger to diarrhea. But then it reached another level. Dizziness, nausea, chills. On the verge of blacking out, I felt like I was hovering above my body, hearing myself cry out in agony. Then the vomiting began. But the diarrhea did not stop.
During those few minutes, I can honestly say that I was the most violently ill I have ever been in my life. It was not a quiet event. I heard Javier call from the other side of the door, asking if I needed help. “Do not come in here for any reason!” I choked out. Thankfully, the man knows how to listen. I slumped like a pile of dirty clothes on the floor until I had recovered enough to clean up the nightmare that had unfolded in the bathroom. That’s when I realized that the toilet wouldn’t flush. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I exclaimed in horror.
Luckily, I just needed to plug in the water pump downstairs and do a trick with the toilet handle. And luckily, Javier anticipated that I needed this information and volunteered it without discussion or direct involvement. Still, I was mortified. I finished cleaning up, showered, and collapsed into bed. The alarm went off at 5am, alerting me that it was time to get up and commence hitchhiking. I laughed weakly and went back to sleep.
The next morning we hobbled into the clinic together like a pair of geriatrics, me clutching my stomach and grimacing; Javier using my shoulder as a crutch, hopping on one leg and still bleeding profusely. The nurse pulled out a giant syringe and gave me an intravenous injection of what I assumed was rehydrating fluid. Then I got a shot in the ass of something else, probably antibiotics. And prescriptions for other medicines. Too tired to care about the details, I submitted to the doctors and didn’t ask too many questions.
I spent the rest of the day sleeping and drinking fluids. Javier tried to go to work, but returned at mid-day bathed in sweat and wincing in pain, fighting off an infection. His staff confirmed that the swell had arrived; La Lancha was overhead, too big for surf lessons. But clearly there were forces in the universe that did not want either of us to go surfing that day. So we both began letting go of what we had been holding onto, cranked up the air conditioning, and conceded to watching Netflix together. When it was all said and done, I had it pretty good. At least I wasn’t hitchhiking.