Yelapa (pronounced J-lapa) is located at the southernmost tip of Banderas Bay in Mexico. It turns out the geography which has made life more difficult in many ways has also been key in keeping life simple here. There are no roads that are car worthy connecting this settlement to the other towns further up and down the coast. It is rugged and mountainous and paths connect the houses built along the river valley to the town. Supplies, food and visitors come by boats which regularly do the commute between here and Puerto Vallarta forty-five minutes away. Electricity arrived in 2001 and is still limited so a flashlight is needed at night.
This town awakes slowly. It gets lighter about 6:30 this time of year but the sun doesn’t poke above the mountains until 7:40. The Yelapa dogs are the first to rouse and spend the early morning chasing the shore birds and swimming back and forth in the river. The lucky ones find plastic bottles and bring them to the beach to greet the first visitors arriving by water taxi.
The widest paths here are made of a very rough cobblestone and are about 3 meters wide – just wide enough to accommodate the burros/mules and small horses that ply these paths transporting people and supplies. (They are not quite wide enough for the four wheelers that are beginning to take hold here.)
We spend our mornings hiking while it is still cool enough to explore. There is a one hour hike to the waterfall upriver that takes you on narrow, dusty, boulder strewn paths past small rancheros. The vegetation is lusher here in the river valley.
Yesterday we found the infamous mountain road to Chacala that can only be reached by truck and starts high above the village. It is a long, bumpy road that winds its way up and over the mountains. The trucks can’t get down into the village but a few are parked where the road becomes passable to them. I was trying to imagine what this trip would be like as I looked up the sinuous path and to the top of the first mountain that needed to be climbed. Not for the faint hearted.
One of our favourite walks is to the point with stunning ocean vistas. You might pass a burro or two carrying bags of cement to a building site further up the way.
It is quiet here. The beach which is in the protected bay gets busy around noon when the tourist boats from Puerto Vallarta bring in the day visitors. They are gone by four and the beach chairs are mostly empty by then. The restaurants on the beach close early with only a few people lingering after hours to watch the sunset or eat at one of the beach restaurants that stay open after the tourists leave.
Yelapa is not for everyone. The terrain is mountainous and rugged and there are lots of stairs to climb. The accommodations are rustic for the most part. But if taking a break from things a little off the beaten path appeals, this just might be the place for you. It is small and intimate and faces quickly become familiar – the waiter by night becomes the water taxi driver by day.
For this winter weary traveller, I leave Yelapa grateful that for a time I am able to “rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
*Last line courtesy of Wendell Berry and his poem The Peace of Wild Things.