The details of that lovely place are all draped with the gossamer wings of a butterfly, drenched in the crystalline blue of an endless sea beneath a great and mighty sun and twinkling like a net of stars above the palm fronds swaying gently in a balmy, tranquil night.
The drought had settled in before I came, and went on long after I arrived, but no one around me doubted it would end; that great torrents of fresh water would fill the two rivers to overflowing, that sheets of water would come rushing down the mountains, tumbling hermit crabs and pebbles, rotted mangoes and coconuts that would heap along the mountain-side perched palapa houses. No one doubted that as much time as we spent now conserving water we would spend an equal amount of time keeping the drainage holes free inside our homes of leaves and other debris so that the water would have a quick escape to the sea and not swell up and rush our homes over the cliffs, not to mention our pot and pans, books, wax-candle stubs, and mosquito netting, that five dollar USD bottle of Pantene champu, snorkeling gear, a broken piece of mirror, other things hard to come by in the sticks of Mexico.
No roads to speak of led in or out of the village. One could come up to four hours away in a vehicle and then have to hike the rest of the way because the foliage in the jungle was impossible to get through in any other way other than having someone lead the way with a machete.
The best way in or out of Yelapa is by boat. One disembarks from the mainland, Puerto Vallarta, from Los Muertos pier, which translated, means “the dead.” Of course that side of town is anything but, with fifty dollar USD fresh lobster feasts, children selling tiny, wooden, bobbly-headed, brightly painted animals, ten for a peso, and women selling jewelry up and down the pier. For 120 pesos you can hitch a ride to Yelapa, on a boat that looks like it will crack in two on the next wave.
I watched from high up on the cliff the tourist boat coming in, loaded with couples on their honeymoon, looking for some authentic adventure together that would seal their connection. I dig my toes into the crevices and squint my eyes and whisper to the ghost of Pepé who is always close by, a constant companion. Whenever “his” palapa isn’t rented to someone (and sometimes when it is) I will go there and sleep away the night or for special guests “we” will make red snapper ceviche with fresh garlic, tomatoes, and avocado. Pepé insists I use his recipe for the ceviche. No one ever says anything but, “muy bien” about Pepé’s ceviche.
He died probably before I was born I think. He was almost certainly Isabel’s lover, but while she won’t admit it and neither will he exactly, whenever they talk to me about each other there is an intimacy in their voices that coats their words like mango juice.
Isabel is a retired art dealer, professor, author and eighty-plus-year-old matron of the palapa villa that stray cats like me and Pepé find ourselves at – hanging out on the porch for so long we eventually get taken in on a more permanent basis. We make ourselves useful and we’ll get fed at least.
Of course Pepé — whose time was spent doing only-God- knows-what while he was alive, like aiding and abetting the Black Widow who hid out in the mountainous jungle of Yelapa for awhile before the FBI tracked her down, or smoking marijuana with Bob Dylan — a long-time expat Yelapan in Bahia de Banderas — was dead if I didn’t make that clear and he didn’t really eat anymore, but he did make himself useful. He was a broken-down old ghost, and we related to each other in our infinite sadness, and poetic way of looking at the world. I guess. He was better company than myself alone was at any rate, and I spent my time in Yelapa mostly alone, writing: My alone time was interspersed with horseback rides into the mountains, snorkeling trips, bird watching, rodeos, beer drinking, bailars, hikes, hang gliding, soccer on the beach with the locals…
It is legend that when Cortes arrived on the beach he was so taken by the beauty and serenity of the small tranquil playa that he built a church to show an everlasting truce between the people of that land and the kingdom of Spain. The church remains in the village on the sea and Cortes, while he was not so kind to the rest of Mexico, kept his word and never returned to Yelapa to cause harm to the people or the land.
One day, a young Huichol Indian family journeyed to the village from down out of the mountains. It was a young mom and dad and their tiny papoose who didn’t wear any clothes ever and just peed anywhere.
The dad was 16, I found out, and so now they were kids who were running away he tells Isabel in Huichol and broken Spanish. They know each other because she has purchased his art and sold it before in California and he has brought some of his art with him and wants her to sell it for him so he and his bride can be together with their baby and have money.
While he explains all of this I take the mom and the baby down the twisty path through the jungle, down to the tranquila Bahia, the sparkling sea under the sun and we go swimming. The baby is delighted and so is the girl and the light sparks rainbows in their eyes and in the droplets that splash around us. She speaks no Spanish. I speak no Huichol. I can’t tell her how adorable her baby is so we just laugh when he does and call it a day.
After dinner I search the linen closet in the main house for tiny rags to use as diapers and a bin of sorts for baby washing, soaps and creams and blankets, whatever I can find and take it to her. When I arrive in the candlelight glow of their palapa I get the baby from her hip and diaper him on the table in front of them.
The trip to the current location of the Huichol village is by foot and it takes a long time. The people are almost completely untouched by the modern world and have remained thus for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. In 2009 almost nothing is any different in their world than it was thousands and thousands and thousands of years ago: This young family are direct descendents of the Aztec, and as such we treat them reverently.
In Yelapa, like anywhere, there’s always a million things to do if you want to do things and need to get them done. There really are a million things to do but life isn’t lived like that here; the jungle is just kept at bay, it is never conquered.
Work is done joyfully and one’s own pace. People’s individual skills appreciated: The pie lady makes the best pie, the piano player the best notes, the fisherman, the fattest fish he finds everyday. The children of the village play among the trees, when they get old enough they take a boat to Catholic school in Puerto Vallarta each morning. But like I said, each memory of the place is honey and granola with chunks of the pineapple I picked off the tree and cut up fresh just that morning, still warm from the fire of the sun. La cocina in the main house is always full of laughter as the women cut mangoes into containers with Isabel. Ana, the frail, olive skinned girl with big dark eyes and a British accent, and a woman from British Columbia who can’t take the heat and while she doesn’t complain, certainly she wants to. The history professor from Yale who made documentaries in South Africa during the fall of apartheid, the Huichol family making cooing sounds to one another on the porch as the sheets from all the guest beds in the palapas flutter prettily in bright colors of pinks and yellows in the smooth and hopeful breeze, a well-tended garden of popping red, orange and purple blooms, high on the mountain, perched on the cliff, overlooking the ocean, multiple colors of blue waves caressing the rocks far below, birds of paradise float by, and always in my memory when a mango falls off the tree, lands on the roof and rolls into the court yard , I go and get it.