Thurnesday – La Lancha

Thurnesday – La Lancha

It was time to step up.

We were each getting up pretty easily and riding waves into the beach. The Chica Surfista had her running route down, my spanish was becoming muy buen, and we met a couple more great bartenders here in Punta Mita. Maybe a little more on that later. We even kind of sometimes knew what time it was. And the Chica even laughed when we saw a Chihuahua trying to saddle up a pit bull but couldn’t get past the knee joint.

It was time to go to a real surfing break.

La Lancha is a point break a little more than a 5 minute drive outside of Punta Mita. It’s the kind of place you think about when you think of a surfing spot: rocky landscape, surfers bobbing up and down in the water, random surfer stuff laying around on the beach. It also has a beach break that beginners can ride without having to get in the way of real surfers. It’s the real deal and the reason you would travel all the way to Mexico. But, this being Mexico, there’s a little catch.

According to my spanish translator app “la lancha” means “the boat.” Not so. It actually means “5 minute walk to the beach down a mud caked path through a rain forest populated with any number of bugs you wish you never knew existed but the ones you are certain that exist are the thousands of mosquitos that are flying around and biting you relentlessly that you can’t swat away because you’re carrying a surfboard and you’re afraid of falling and never being able to get out of the mud because it’s so thick and you really start to think you’re the guy in the boat who was sent to get Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” except instead of bullets and arrows mosquitos have been sent to kill you and you’ll never see your kids again and why in the hell am I doing this.” Yeah, I wish I would have known this when I tried my translator. I better get my money back.

So our man Jesse has taught us to gather ourselves when we get to the beach and spend time looking out at the ocean evaluating the waves. Look for where the waves are breaking. See when the sets are coming in and get a feel for their rhythm. I only pretended to do this. Instead I took a deep breath, took in my surroundings, and then tried my best to figure out where in the hell a helicopter could land to get me out of there so that I didn’t have to walk back to the car. Then I wondered how much it was going to cost me. Not that I wasn’t going to pay any amount. I just needed to know so I could start to figure out how many pesos it was since I always freeze at the cash register and when the clerk says “two pesos” and I say “Lo siento, no hablo espanol” and she repeats “two pesos” and everyone in line laughs well the whole pesos thing is a problem “Okay let’s get in the water.” What? What?

Oh, and by the way, there was no chance I was going to look at the Chica Surfista. You know how a dog always looks away when it knows it’s in trouble? Exactly.

With my helicopter plan foiled I strapped on my leash, grabbed my board and headed into the water. The difference between La Lancha and Higuera Blanca was pretty significant. At La Lancha we needed to know and use the skills Jesse had talked to us about and you really got a sense of the ocean’s power. One of the first things Jesse taught us was knowing how to either push up or turtle roll when a wave is coming at you. A push up is self-explanatory and it basically keeps the wave from smacking you in the face. When it doesn’t look like you can push up and get over the wave and the wave is going to break on you then you need to turtle roll. Now, the Chica had been a little freaked out when Jesse was going over the whole bottom of the ocean thing. When he explained the turtle roll I kind of hesitated. The turtle roll isn’t hard to understand. Before the wave breaks you grab the board by the rails and flip over so you’re under the board as the wave goes over you. So the concept is pretty simple. What isn’t simple is the reaction your mind has to being instructed to do something completely opposite of what a million years of evolution have taught it to do. Ok, let me get this straight. I have a potential safety issue in the water and the solution is to capsize myself? Huh. That’s like your mom yelling at you to run faster with scissors or your driving instructor passing you a cold one.

But it works and a couple of times at La Lancha I needed it. The waves were bigger and longer which meant the rides were faster and longer as well. That’s the fun part. It also means the paddling is much, much harder and the wipeouts just a little more hairy.

The folks at Wildmex give us a rash guard, which is basically like a skin tight athletic shirt, to put on each day. It’s not mandatory but it’s a pretty good idea unless you don’t care if your nipples are scraped off the rest of your chest. At La Lancha I noticed another couple with the same rash guards and realized they were also there learning to surf.

Here’s the thing about surfers – they’re in great shape. I mean great shape. Old or young they’re almost all ripped. I’m not, and neither was this guy. If I was going to leave Mexico with any pride left I was at least going to out surf the only other guy like me out there.

Who knows if I did. In the end it doesn’t really matter. What did matter was that the imaginary competition in my mind covered up some of the fatigue I was feeling in my body. After a brief break for some water I paddled back out but my arms felt like cement. I had a goal of five more waves and then I’d be done. I caught one wave but fell over pretty quickly because I was just too tired. Pissed, I paddled out again. This time I caught my best wave of the trip and rode it all the way into the beach.

I would have walked an hour in that jungle for that one ride.

Monday, Wednesday, Tuesday – Surf, Paddle, Snorkle, Surf, Eat

Monday, Wednesday, Tuesday- Surf, Paddle, Snorkle, Surf, Eat

One quick housekeeping issue: I started writing this blog a day behind and after a couple of days in the Mexican time space continuum I can no longer attest that anything I write is in chronological order. I’ve also started wearing bronzing cream in the hopes that I will fit in better in my adopted country. I also apologize in advance for the annoying habit I’ll have of using my now expanded vocabulary of 8 Spanish words whenever I can.

I also want to let everyone who’s been worried about our personal safety here in Mexico that it finally happened. We were assaulted but everything is ok.

Now, we weren’t assaulted in the traditional sense and it didn’t happen at the hands of my Mexican brothers although it’s not like it couldn’t have happened.

Half the fun, ok maybe most of the fun, has been taking the opportunity to live as much as we can in the town and not in our hotel. We were driving by this monstrosity of a half built development when I asked Jesse what the Mexicans think of this stuff. He said it was a complicated issue. On the one hand development brings jobs and economic benefits but on the other had it often shuts out Mexicans from being able to enjoy their own country. The town of Punta Mita used to be in what is now the Four Seasons development. They moved the whole town to the other, less desirable part of the peninsula and effectively closed the best beaches to the locals. We’ve stayed at the Four Seasons. It’s really nice but it ain’t Mexico. There are no dogs there and the clocks work.

Hermosa Chica Surfista is training for a marathon so I picked a place to stay that had a treadmill so she could keep running during the week. Of course we get here and the treadmill doesn’t work. Which was irritating. We went through the options. We could order one from Dick’s and have it shipped here. Not going to happen. We could find another one in Mexico that doesn’t work. Highly likely but still a problem. Or, she could run through and outside of town.

I wasn’t going to run with Hermosa Chica Surfista but I did want to keep her company. She was going to do her four mile run while I followed behind walking in sandals.

Whenever you go somewhere there’s an internal scale that ranges from completely comfortable, like when you go to a friend’s house, to a little uncomfortable, like at a dinner where there’s awkward silences, to “holy shit what am I doing here and when am I getting out of here?” Or, at least that’s where I thought the scale stopped. It actually goes further to “Holy shit, there’s a rooster in everyone’s yard!”

But, it turned out to be really cool because, you know, it’s Mexico. Everything right turns out a little wrong and everything wrong is actually a little right. I’m sure it was just as weird for the school kids on their way to school and people waiting on the highway for the bus to see some white dude in a visor and flip flops go strolling by. You got a stone face stare but if you said “Hola” or Buenas dias” first it was like you met a new best friend. I’m sure it was my awesome spanish. Well, that and my bronzing.

FYI, on her run the Chica got to see her favorite canines doing their thing. Hmmm. Let’s see. Dogs can’t see color and these two can’t stop having sex. I’m betting large that there’s a Spanish version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” somewhere in Punta Mita.

We went back to Litibu which was the beginner’s beach and this time were were actually prepared. We knew what the drill was and we knew what to expect. Plus, we had water because I might have been dehydrated. We spent a solid two hours in the water catching wave after wave. What’s crazy about surfing is that the hardest part is not actually surfing. The Chica Surfista and I probably had a little head start. We snowboard and paddleboard and I wakesurf so the whole balance and moving the board thing came pretty quickly. What’s hard as hell is paddling and picking the right wave.

It’s so much different than snowboarding that way. When you learn how to snowboard you’re basically learning how to slow and control the energy that results when gravity meets snow. And although there are steeper parts of a hill and parts where the snow may be a little more icy, those two things are constant and usually consistent.

Not so with surfing. You have to propel yourself with enough force and at the right time to then tap into the energy of the wave and each wave is different. Once you get the wave the hard part is done.

Which is why it’s is so damn fun when you do catch a wave.

Except it made me nauseous. It turns out I wasn’t dehydrated.

Have you ever really, really wanted to go out with someone and, once you did, had a great time but there was just something that wasn’t right? Have you ever gone out with them a second time and in the middle of talking with them thought to yourself “Wow, I wish I didn’t know that about her” or “I hope she doesn’t laugh because it hurts my ears.”

My hot new mistress was making me seasick. Aarggghhhh. She’s giving me the Mexican head fake!

Our man Jesse must have sensed something was up or, more accurately, figured I was some lame ass middle aged softie because he suggested that we paddle board and snorkle the next day. I actually thought that was a pretty cool idea. And, how was I going to defend myself against him thinking I was soft? That it wasn’t that I was soft but that I got seasick when I surf? That’s like fighting the accusation of being a clown by arguing that you’re in fact not a clown but actually a mime.

Paddle boarding was cool. And so was snorkeling for that matter. We didn’t have a lot of sun so the colors weren’t as vibrant but it was fun to hang out in the coral and swim with the fish. I had never snorkeled before but I figured it was just a matter of relaxing and floating around in someone else’s neighborhood. Some of the fish check you out while most others just go about the business of being a fish. I thought it was the perfect metaphor for our trip to Mexico. I was lost in that thought when I got water in my tube and choked on some seawater. And I was reminded that the word perfect has a different meaning in Mexico.

Sunday – Surf day

Sunday – Surf day

I think Einstein had something to say about the space time continuum. I don’t know exactly what it is that he said. I only know that somehow space and time move differently as you get to the speed of light. I think the same is true when you travel to Mexico.

Take a shower for instance. A good shower can last you 24 hours. Maybe you have to take two if took one in the morning, worked outside all day, then had to go out at night. Or, maybe you’re a nine year old boy and then a shower can last you 240 hours. When you travel at the speed of Mexico a shower may last you 24 minutes. If you do anything except sit still in an air conditioned room you will look like James Brown closing a show with “Cold Sweat.” I mean soaked. Ever see people getting wheeled around in wheelchairs hooked up to oxygen tanks? I have a friend we call Big Sweaty II and all I could think about was him having to be in a wheelchair hooked up to a water cooler.

Which is why I think I was dehydrated.

We got picked up for our first surf lesson by Jesse, who was driving an enormous green van with a couple of surfboards on top. He seemed to be a half hour early or so which turned out to be a half hour late or so because we crossed a river into a new time zone except people don’t like changing their watches when they cross the river so they just use the same time zone. The Mexican space time continuum.

Talk about being completely unprepared.

When you prepare to go snowboarding, even for the first time, you become mentally prepared if only because you go through a process of armoring yourself. Baselayer? Check. Warm socks? Check. Second layer? Check. Outer shell? Check. Boots? Check. Gloves? Check. Helmet? Check. Goggles… It takes a good half hour before you can even think about putting on a board.

Surfing? Ok let’s see. Sunscreen? Check. Board shorts? Check. You’re ready to go. And just like that you’re in a van driving into the Mexican countryside to go surfing.

Jesse is American which is nice There’s only so many times you can say the 5 Spanish words you know just so people here don’t think you’re an asshole. I never say hello, or good afternoon, or friend, or thank you to anybody really. But, if you’re brown and I’m in your town, it’s “Hola, Buenos Dias, amigo, gracias” as soon as you glance at me.

We drove to the other side of Punta Mita from where we’re staying. Driving is a relative term. It’s basically a process of going as fast as you can between speed bumps otherwise known as “Mexican radar guns.” It’s like the whole country is a parking lot except with enormous potholes. We made our way on the main road to Sayulita and then turned off onto a cobblestone road that was the entrance to a little town called “Something Blanca.” Not my words but somebody described it as driving into an old Western. True, but even more than just any old Western I expected to see Clint talking to an empty chair. I thought if you listened closely you could hear the theme song from the “Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” whistling under the sounds of roosters, the shock absorbers of a van under duress, and my nervous chattering/interrogation of Jesse.

From the cobblestone street we turned onto a dirt road which, again, is a relative term. The dirt roads that we’re used to seeing the Amish build? Those things are like Interstate 71 compared to these dirt roads. But just as Mexico can be perfect but flawed it can also be flawed but perfect. This road led us to the coolest beach I’ve ever seen.

Ever watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island and think “Man, that’s a cool setup. Why do they want to leave?” (You know you did. Admit it) That’s what I was thinking as we carried the surfboards to the beach. We were at the apex of a gentle curve of beach that was bookended by two giant rock formations. Like being the queen on a chessboard. We set up under a (insert the whatever the hell the Mexican word for a shelter that’s made from sticks and that has old palm fronds for a ceiling) for a little shade and began our lesson.

It didn’t start well. And we weren’t even in the water yet.

Truth is that Cachorro de Gato wasn’t really that thrilled to go surfing. She’s a gamer so she got on the plane but as we were standing there on the beach, feet and minutes (again, relative term given the Mexican time space continuum) from heading into the water her reservations were pretty clear on her face. It didn’t help that Jesse started our lesson with the suggestion that we shuffle our feet at all times because the ocean floor has all kinds of dangerous things on it. He might as well have said we were going to saddle up some spiders and ride them out to the waves.

Ever want to smack someone who’s completely innocent? It’s such a raging personal conflict between doing what you really want to do and needs doing versus the pain of having to explain your actions. Oh, yeah, and there’s the whole morality part of it.

In the end, I didn’t really want to explain myself. Plus, I was betting long. I was betting that despite being away from the kids, despite the travel, despite the Mexican head fake, despite the dogs consummating their relationship without, you know, at least taking their action behind a car or something, that as soon as she rode a wave that it would all be worth it. I was betting that there are transcendental moments in life and surfing was going to be one of them.

Did I mention the dogs?

I have a different fear of them than Cachorro de Gato. I think of them the exact same way as I do people. I really don’t care what they do with their personal lives as long as they don’t bite me. Which is exactly what was going through my mind when I was laying prone on a beached surfboard.

A German shepherd is intimidating. Two of them are scary.

Every relationship begins with the check out. The sizing up. A lot of times it’s friendly and sometimes it’s not. What’s disconcerting is when you can’t tell the difference when it matters.

I couldn’t tell the difference with these dogs. They were beautiful, almost all black with even blacker eyes. And that was the problem. I couldn’t read their eyes. They could size me up but I couldn’t return the favor.

When Jesse threw the stick I knew he could teach us how to surf. He went from saying the absolute wrong thing at the absolute worst time to doing the absolute right thing at the absolute right time. The difference was this time he knew what he was doing.

She got up the first time and rode the wave all the way into the beach.

Hermosa Chica Surfista.

I had to quit before she did.

I think I was dehydrated.

Oh, and the dogs?

They stole one of Hermosa Chica Surfista’s sandals while she was surfing.

And then they brought it back when we were leaving.

The Mexican head fake.

Saturday – Travel Day

Hola desde Mexico mis amigos.

As some of you may know I’m about to turn 45. I wanted to get a girlfriend for my birthday but it would have been awkward to do that in the same month that PuppyKat and I celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. Since I couldn’t get a real life girlfriend to cheat on with my real wife, I’d thought I get different kind of girlfriend to cheat on the other love of my life – snowboarding. Which is why Cachorro de Gato and I are in Mexico. To learn how to surf.

We’ve been down this road before. Almost three years ago we learned how to snowboard in Park City. I’m hoping learning to surf is a different animal than learning to snowboard. Those first three days of snowboarding are physically a bitch. Like being in a car accident every day.

We’ve been to this same part of Mexico too. Four years ago when Cachorro de Gato was pregnant with Demonio de Tasmania we traveled to the Four Seasons in Punta Mita for a week. We went Hollywood on that trip. On this one we’ve gone neighborhood.

We almost didn’t get here.

It’s funny how you can lose track of time in a place where time matters so much. But that can happen with a three hour layover, especially when you’re at Ricky’s House, aka the United Club in Terminal E at IAH. Nothing like casually strolling through the airport when you hear the announcement that your flight has boarded and the doors are about to close. It’s the quintessential “oh, shit!” moment. All you can think about is the punishing depression that comes with killing time in a lifeless, soul sucking building. Like being sent to a special part of Purgatory reserved for travelers. Or worse, like being in a casino with no money. On the other hand, it does give you the opportunity to do your best “OJ before he was a killer and if he was wearing jeans, a t shirt and sandals, and he was a grey haired, middle aged, really, really slow white guy” impersonation.

I forgot how sometimes you don’t forget. And I’m a person who doesn’t remember much.

But this time I remembered everything about landing in Puerto Vallarta and driving to Punta Mita. It had been four years and it was only one trip but it was like watching the same movie twice. I read once where adrenalin affects memory. It’s why world class athletes can remember everything about a competition. Arriving in a foreign country, especially one like Mexico, is disorienting and thrilling and definitely gets the adrenalin flowing. It starts as soon as you go through customs when you can’t get the book Midnight Express out of your mind. It’s completely irrational but you wonder if you’ll spend the next ten years in a Mexican prison if you look at these guys the wrong way. Then you get to proceed to the Mexican shakedown otherwise known as the rest of the airport. There is a gauntlet you have to go through as soon as you clear customs. It looks official; white counters staffed by pleasant looking people all dressed smartly in white shirts and black pants. Very pleasant. A Mexican welcome wagon. Except the sole purpose is to sell you something you don’t want or send you somewhere you don’t want to go. The good news is it prepares you to say “No, gracias”… a lot.

We found our driver or, more accurately, he found us. Rico. Nice kid. He took us to our “2010 or better Suburban” which looked suspiciously and identically like a 2005 white Ford Econoline cargo van. I love the Mexican head fake. It’s what make this place so charming. Paradise but not quite. Perfect but flawed. The athletic facility with a treadmill that’s really a street. The condo with a full service kitchen that has a Viking range but no toaster or sharp knives. A washer, but no dryer. Two chairs, one cushion. Going to Mexico is like getting into the ring with a great fighter. You keep looking for the left hand and you get hit with the right.

Cachorro de Gato and I made our way to the grocery store which was a lot of fun. The Mega looked like any grocery store in the states. Produce section, rows with dry goods, meat section. Some things even looked familiar. But everything is in Spanish and you have to fumble your way through. It’s strange to walk into a place that your mind first goes into auto pilot because you recognize everything but then it slowly switches into survival mode when you realize you don’t have a clue. It’s like when a big storm blows a river in the opposite direction. instead of getting calmer as you’re exposed to a situation, you get more rattled. Is this really butter? How much is 80 pesos? Why is the orange juice in a box? Who is Tony Tigre and are those really Frosted Flakes or are they going to be mini-corn tostadaenchilacotillas with jalapenos?

Have I mentioned the dogs yet? They’re everywhere.

The Hotel Cinco is a great place. After a long day of traveling we were met by Horatio and Rodrigo who couldn’t be nicer. It strikes me how similar Mexicans are to the Irish. They both live next to rich neighbors who look down on them. They love God just as deeply as they love their music, dancing, and their big families. And, my favorite part, they’re incredibly warm and welcoming and funny but in the back of your mind you know that they know that they could kick your ass anytime they wanted to. The Mexican head fake.

I’ve learned from Ricky that no matter where you go in the world you have to find your spot. Here’s the thing about a spot: it only has to have one thing to qualify. That one thing? Great bartender.

We found our spot. Sam and Emma. He tends bar and she cooks and they both do it really well. After a long day of traveling, and grocery shopping, we were looking forward to a cold cerveza. We made our way to the rooftop bar at the hotel which is unbelievable cool. Sam gave us the lowdown on where to go and where to eat and Emma made us these awesome lobster tacos and this shrimp cerviche that was killer. Gave us a chance to collect our breath and get our bearings because we then…

…took a walk in Mexico!

So Punta Mita is a tourist town but not in the traditional sense. It’s very small with a couple of hotels and restaurants. There’s a surf shop and a place you can rent bikes and that’s about it. One block from the beach is safe but definitely not touristy. We forgot sunscreen so we decided to go out and grab some. We headed to a little store a couple blocks away on a nice romantic walk. Mexico and a couple cervezas can do that to you. As we were dodging rain drops we came across the archetypal symbols of Mexico: kids playing soccer barefoot in the street, men drinking cervezas in a open air bar, beat up cars avoiding being beaten even more by giant potholes, soldiers in fatigues walking down the street with semi- automatic weapons, dog..wait..WTFa Are those guys really carrying…? Holy shit. Now I’m certain even my gun loving friends would have thought twice about a couple of guys walking down the street with rifles. The Mexican head fake.

Well, that’s about it for Sunday. Thanks for reading. Hope to add more.

Oh, wait. The dogs. Can’t forget the dogs.

Almost missing a flight. Landing in a foreign country. Running the PVR gauntlet. Driving to Punta Mita next to 11 passenger pickup trucks otherwise known as the official vehicle of Mexico. Grocery shopping when you don’t know what the hell anything says or anyone is saying. Walking by guys carrying semi-automatic rifles.

You want to know what really bothered Cachorro de Gato?

Seeing two dogs getting it on. Seriously.m

I mean after the day we had and literally a minute after passing heavily armed men my girl was shocked! shocked! that two dogs would have the audacity to get funky in the middle of the street. The Cachorro de Gato head fake.

That’s why I love her.