PV: La Cruz & Sayulita – Cruisers, Surfers & Fun Loving Mexicans

Marina Nayarit at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.

Marina Nayarit at La Cruz de


La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

Cobbled streets of La Cruz.

Fish market at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nayarit, Mexico

Mark buys some Sierra at the local fish market.

Sailing schools at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

The Vancouver Sailing Academy was in residence for a week of training.

Marina Nayarit at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

The March 11 tsunami destroyed a dock at Marina Narayit.

Whale attack

The whale attack resulted in a bent

strut and missing propellor.

Huichol Galeria La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

Huichol Galeria at the Octopus's Garden.

Huichol bead art, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nayarit, Mexico

Huichol yarn art. Yarn is pressed into a wax backing.

Huichol yarn art La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

Like their yarn art, Huichol bead art involves

pressing beads into a wax backing, sometimes

on a sculpture as with this jaguar.

Alvaro Ortiz, Huichol artist

Alvaro Ortiz works on a sun and moon.

Huichol bead art

The finished product a few hours later.

Huichol bead art

Bead bracelets and necklaces come off

of small looms like this one.

Huanacaxtle pods or

Huanacaxtle pods, or "ears" in


God's cross leaves on the Cuastecomate tree

God one-upped the devil and

shaped the Cuastecomate tree's

leaves like crosses.

Sayulita campground

Sayulita's campground was teeming with surfer dudes and dudettes.

Sayulita surf beach

Sayulita's surf beach.

Sayulita surf beach tsunami damage, Sayulita

The tsunami nearly sent the public bathrooms into

the drink.

Sayulita Mexico

Hot bikini babes everywhere.

Surfing at Sayulita Mexico

Surf and surfing are the heart of Sayulita.

Surfing at Sayulita, Mexico

Like father like son.

Sayulita Mexico Huichol leaf art

Leaf art on exhibit at

Sayulita's Huichol


Huichol leaf carving art

Leaf carving.

Panga launch at Sayulita

The pros show us how to get a big heavy

panga off the beach into the surf.

Panga launch at Sayulita Panga launch at Sayulita Iguana at Marina Vallarta

An iguana poses at Marina Vallarta.

Iguana at Marina Vallarta

...all done posing.

Tortilla machine in La Cruz

A pile of dough sits at the top of

a tortilla machine.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle outside Puerto Vallarta

We join a group of Mexicans in a dusty yard for beers and

"pollo asado."

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle outside Puerto Vallarta

Gilberto shares his beer with a bull.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle outside Puerto Vallarta

Marciela is the perfect young hostess.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle outside Puerto Vallarta

Baby Juliana is at the center of it all.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nayarit, Mexico

Late March, 2011 - Cruisers gathered in Bahía Chamela for days, waiting for the

right weather to make the overnight passage north around Cabo Corrientes ("Cape

of Currents") to the Puerto Vallarta area.  This cape is known for being treacherous

at times, willfully dishing out strong currents, powerful winds and contrary wave

patterns and offering nowhere to hide.  We got lucky.  The wind was perfect, and we

had a delightful sail all afternoon and all night long.  It was the best sailing we've had

in Mexico yet.  We arrived in Banderas Bay ("Flag Bay") in utter pitch dark with no

moon and no horizon to be seen anywhere, flying along at 7.5 knots into black

oblivion, relying on our radar to show us all obstacles.

Suddenly the radar screen was filled with green dots.  Bogies everywhere!  Looking

around, a huge fleet of commercial fishing boats surrounded us, their lights filling the

inky night air like bright pin pricks.  One large boat was bearing down on us with

such speed we could clearly see the fishing booms lit up on either side.  We threw

on every light on our boat to make sure they saw us and tacked outta there in a

hurry.  Just then a cruise ship appeared, blazing across the radar screen at full

speed.  It loomed on the water as it passed us, a christmas tree of party lights and

good times steaming by.  Back on the radar screen, a line of fellow cruising sailboats

that had crept around the cape under power made a ragged line of dots.  They

hailed each other repeatedly on the radio, keeping tabs on who was where in line

and how things were going on each others' boats.  This bay was a busy place.

As the sun rose the wind

died and the boats disappeared, but a multitude of voices filled the

radio waves.  Banderas Bay is 20 miles wide with 60 miles of

shoreline, and as we motored across the glassy water we listened

to two different cruisers' nets on the radio, each originating in

separate marinas on the bay.  We heard well over 100 boat names

checking in, along with another 30 or so vendors pitching their

services.  Despite the suddenly still air and sunny waters around us,

I felt like we were arriving at JFK.

Puerto Vallarta was the original heart of the bay, but the area has

grown so much that there are now several hearts.  None of them

has an anchorage, however, just pricey marinas, so we stayed on

the outskirts of it all at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (pronounced


As we dropped the hook among 35 other boats and

dinghied ashore into the pin cushion of sailboat

masts at the new Marina Nayarit at La Cruz, my

impression changed from JFK airport to San Diego

South.  Swank amenities for boaters abound,

accompanied by equally swank prices.

The daily schedule of organized entertainment is long, and the pace

of life is fast, with yoga classes, art classes, sailing academies for kids

during the days, followed by marina hosted movie nights, restaurant

hosted meat loaf nights, and live music at many venues.  And this is

just one of the four major marinas in the area.

We finally found a tiny hint of Mexico across from the marina

at a small upscale fish market, and we enjoyed watching an

expert fillet three Sierras.  These are beautiful silver mackerel

covered with golden polka dots.

Over in the boatyard

we found the final

chapter of Luffin' It,

the boat that had been

struck by a whale back in Tenacatita (bottom of page). The propellor strut was bent,

the prop was gone, and the starboard side of the hull suffered huge cracks in the

fiberglass.  The boat was considered a total loss by the insurance company.  Watch out

for those whales!

The town of La Cruz

itself is just a

nondescript dusty

stretch of charmless

cobblestone streets.

However, the tight-knit

sailing community and plethora of gringo bars makes it a

favorite for many cruisers.  We enjoyed an afternoon at The

Octopus's Garden where a courtyard is shaded by an

enormous huanacaxtle tree and an ex-pat Frenchman roasts

and grinds his own French roast coffee while overseeing a

small gallery of Huichol art.

The Huichol (who call themselves the Wixaritari, or "the

people") are one of the few indigenous groups that

survived the Spanish conquests.  16,000 of them retain

their language, religion and culture to this day.

One of their beliefs is that their father, the sun, created all the creatures of

the earth, including people, from his saliva which is red sea foam.  We feel

like experts on sea foam now, since we have seen a lot of it over the past

few months, especially when the red tide blooms begin to wane.  Little

foamy blobs and all kinds of flotsam float around in the foam, and as it

ages it coagulates and gets stringy and sticky, like phlegm.  Red tides have

happened for eons, but it is refreshing to know that at least one culture has

been able to find not only a kind of beauty in it but a purpose for it too.

We stopped to chat with Alvaro Ortiz one morning, a Huichol artist who sits quietly

creating beautiful beaded works by a coffee shop many days.  Like so many indigenous

people who set up shop on folding tables to sell their wares to tourists, it was easy to

dismiss him, and most people brushed by him with hardly a glance in his direction.

As we chatted in simple Spanish, he

opened a notebook showing newspaper

clippings of his amazing work.  He was one

of eight Huichol artists who decorated a

VW bug with their bead art a few years

ago.  The photos featured him at the wheel,

and the car is now on a traveling exhibit

across Europe.

He has recently been commissioned by the

Mexican government to decorate a piano

with Huichol bead art too.  Besides

traditional craftwork, he is an accomplished

musician as well.  In April he will be giving a

concert of classical piano, traditional Huichol

flute and operatic songs, and he is currently

composing an opera.

This kind of renaissance skill is hard to find in these days of ultra-specialization, and we

talked a bit about that.  "In my culture, to be an artist and musician and composer is not

unusual," he explained.  "But in the modern world most people are very limited."  It is

also easy to shrug off street hawkers as one step above beggars.  We bumped into him

later at a market.  Dressed in conventional western clothes, he looked like any other well

dressed Mexican.

Back in the Octopus's Garden, the French owner of the Galería Huichol explained to us

that the huanacaxtle tree shading his courtyard is named for its ear-shaped pod:

"huanacaxtle" means "ear" in the indigenous language Nahuatl.  It is one of the few

specimens of this enormous tree remaining in this town that bears its name, La Cruz de

Huanacaxtle.  A cross ("La Cruz") made of its wood stands in the center of town.  He

went on to explain that the Cuastecomate tree, for which the Bahía Cuastecomate

between Barra de Navidad and Tenacatita is named, also has a unique story.

Apparently the devil and God both contributed to

the creation of the Cuastecomate tree.  The devil

created a spider's web of ugly criss-crossing

branches with weird hard tennis ball sized fruit

growing right out of the branches.  God threw his

blessing on the tree by gracing it with cross-shaped


We found a bit

more of the

devil's and God's

work nearby at

Sayulita.  This is

a hippie surfing town that is the opposite of La Cruz.

Rather than grey haired retired cruisers enjoying

sedate organized activities, this place was humming

with the buzz of twenty-something surfers.  A

campground in the middle of town was home for a lot

of them, and a stroll through it revealed the gritty life

of young backpackers out on a surfing safari.  Tents

were jammed together cheek-by-jowel, and as noon

neared the kids were still walking around in sandy pj's

with slitted sleepy eyes.

The tsunami had left a set of public bathrooms in the lurch,

but brought in a surf break that still seemed to be pounding.

Hot babes in bikinis were all over town, and everyone had

wet hair and sandy feet from playing in the waves.

Non-surfers can learn the

moves from an array of surf

shops, surf instructors and

surf rental places all over

the beach, and one dad was giving his young

son a quickie lesson on a roller board.

In town we found another Huichol art gallery

that was featuring a new art form:  carved

leaves.  Leaves of all kinds had been

surgically cut along the veins to create

silhouettes of people and animals.

After struggling with dinghy launches and

landings on this crazy surf-pounded Pacific

coast, it was fun to watch the professionals

do it.  A couple had hired a panga for a

tour, and it took no less than a five people

to get the boat into the water after a pickup

truck pushed it down from the high water

mark.  Timing the waves carefully, they got

off with just one little hop over a wave.  The

panga before that -- and before I had my

camera in hand -- had gone completely

airborne three times as it flew over the

crashing surf to deeper water.

La Cruz is a 30

minute bus ride from

downtown Puerto

Vallarta, and we

took the wild city bus

one day.  There are

many different

buses, and being

new to the area we

did not realize that

some are express and others go through the back barrios.  What a

surprise to get into the outer parts of urban Puerto Vallarta and see

the dusty shacks that house many local residents.  A man herded

twenty pigs across the bus's path at one point, and there were

cows and chickens in many yards.  Once we got to Marina Vallarta,

however, the world of high end luxury engulfed us once again.

What fun to see an iguana perched along the rocks overlooking the

boats.  He posed for a while, looking like a sculpture planted there

for effect.  He drew a chuckle from everyone when he crawled

away across the sidewalk towards the row of shops.

Back in La Cruz we were missing

the simplicity of the little Mexican

towns that have hosted us for the

past few months.  Joining the

cruisers for tacos at a featureless

gringo hangout called "Tacos on

the Street" and bar-hopping at

cruiser bars where I found bathrooms labeled "Ladies" because no Mexican women ever uses

them, we had a good time but could have easily been in Austin, Texas where Americans enjoy

a nightly live music scene that is every bit as active as in La Cruz/Puerto Vallarta.

We finally found the homeyness we were looking for when we wandered into the streets at the

farther end of town.  We watched a man loading dough into a tortilla machine and sampled his

delicious "totopos."  These are deep fried corn tortilla chips that make a yummy snack.

A little further on we bought a

"pollo asado," which is chicken

grilled street-side.  These delicious

chickens are opened

up and cooked flat,

looking like roadkill

spread across the grill.

We were asked if we

wanted to take it with

us or eat it there in the

dusty yard behind the

grill.  We peered out

back and looked at the

group of Mexican men

drinking beer at a folding table.  Roosters and chickens squawked and scratched

at their feet while a large bull chewed its cud in the corner.  "We'll eat here!" we

both grinned.  A rip-roaring Spanglish conversation ensued as we sat down with

Hugo, Joel and Gilberto and shared a few beers at their table.  We toasted each other and

life, and watched in amusement as Gilberto wandered over to the bull and held out his

beer for it to drink.  Between the bull's slurps, Gilberto took a swig now and then, while a

toddler bounced and cooed in a swing between us all.  We knew enough of each other's

languages to talk in simple terms about the joys of grandkids, the perils of sailing, the heat

of living in Phoenix and the contentedness of their life in La Cruz.

This strange town, Banderas Bay, and the

Puerto Vallarta area in general hadn't really

appealed to us until that moment.

Suddenly, sitting in tottering plastic chairs

under the shade of a big tree at a rickety

table while our sandals scuffled the soft dirt

at our feet, we felt La Cruz had reached our hearts.  Listening to the hearty

laughter of these rugged, burly men as they teased each other and us in

whatever mixture of language we could share, we felt welcomed.  All the while

the mom worked her grill and sold chickens to passersby, and her sweet seven-

year-old daughter played perfect hostess to us all, giggling shyly as we asked

her basic questions with a poor Spanish accent and iffy grammar.

Before long it was time to move on, and we soon made our way north towards Mazatlan via San Blas and Isla Isabel.

Find La Cruz (Puerto Vallarta) on Mexico Maps