Hang loose with the surfer dudes and hippies, the sailors and one-percenters

By Stuart Dee, Special To The Vancouver Sun

One of the pristine white sand crescent beaches, Four Seasons Punta Mita.

One of the pristine white sand crescent beaches, Four Seasons Punta Mita.

Photograph by: Stuart Dee , for Postmedia News

Probably not as well-known as the Riviera Maya, many Canadians are becoming more familiar with Riviera Nayarit. Stretching from the Ameca River to San Blas, it offers more than 300 kilometres of tropical Pacific coastline dotted with beaches and quaint towns.

With Banderas Bay and Sayulita, the area has great wind and surf conditions, making it a top destination for many nautical sports, including boating, windsurfing, surfing, kitesurfing, and paddle boarding. I went down and checked it out for a few days and found it to be a cool, eco-friendly destination where the 99 percenters and one percenters coexist happily.

After a 15-minute drive from the Puerto Vallarta Airport, I checked in at the Grand Palladium, an all-inclusive near Punta de Mita. I rushed out to catch the warm fading light over the beach. After the sun set behind a strip of land, I started to walk back for dinner.

“Don’t leave yet,” shouted a man heading in my direction, “you can still see the sun set over the water if you go to the end of the saltwater pool!” Randy, a fellow Canuck from Kelowna, was clutching an SLR camera and walking briskly with his wife carrying their baby son to catch the sunset. We walked very slowly along the thin stone edge of the saltwater pool that extended several meters into the ocean past the beach.

Sure enough, at the end of the pool, unobstructed by the strip of land, we witnessed the last few seconds of the sun slowly sinking into the ocean. A fisherman’s boat drifted across the sun ball as if on cue. And to top it all off, the rare green flash blinked as the last bit of sun disappeared. First time ever – two sunsets one right after another.

On the way back, the aroma of fresh barbecued ribs at the beach dining area was so irresistible, I stopped by and had a small bite as an appetizer. Awesome, melt-in-your-mouth ribs. That’s the beauty of this type of all-inclusive- dine anywhere you want. At Bambu, the Asian restaurant, I had my fill of stir-fried prawns and fresh sushi. But in the middle of the night, I woke up starving. I went down to the Sports Bar, where chef Pedro custom-made the best chicken fajita ever, at 4 a.m.!

The next morning, I joined a boat out to Banderas Bay to watch a J24 yacht race, one of the Copa Regata Mexico events. (J24s are a design-class of yacht, 24-feet long.) From the marina onward, and even on the boat, I noticed segregated recycling bins everywhere – very impressive. We had front row seats to see dozens of yachts line up for the start and watch the exciting turns around the buoys up close. Several boat owners and yachting enthusiasts were generous with background info on yachting, which helped us landlubbers follow the race.

After all the hard work watching the races, I needed a break. What else might a one-percenter do after watching the boat races? Of course – watch a polo match! Headed to San Francisco, more affectionately and commonly known as San Pancho, another small town on the coast. With a lot of wealthy Mexicans and expats settling in the area, this quaint village also happens to be home to the La Patrona Polo Club, one of only a few polo clubs in all of Mexico. We nibbled on modern Mexican tapas and drank esophagus-burning mescal as we idly watched the horses and players chase the tiny ball around the field. Just before sundown, I went over to the beach to contemplate another lazy sunset as the surfers were walking home with their boards.

The next day, I went up the coast to Sayulita, a small, laid-back fishing village with great surf that has attracted surfers since the ’60s. More recently, it has also attracted international artists and tourists.

Now, there are many “hippie chic” shops and boutiques such as Revolucion del Sueno, started by a designer from Paris. I started the day with my first authentic Mexican chilaquiles breakfast at Chocobanana. While savouring the eggs and beans, I learnt that it was started by Tracie, a Canadian working as a casino dealer on a cruise ship who was booted off during a cruise for denouncing the ship’s dumping garbage into the sea. She started selling chocolate-covered fruit she remembered from a trip to Guatemala, and the rest is history. The restaurant is now one of the landmarks of the town.

On the way to the beach, I checked out Revolucion, Mexican Surf Mafia, some other funky shops, and then walked through the colourful Farmer’s Market by the river. Held every Friday, it features local food, fruit, vegetables, flowers, local arts and crafts. Reflecting the earth-friendly philosophy of the community, everything is organic, and the whole market is Styrofoam free. I picked up some beautiful shells for my nieces and some friends.

At the beach, the Annual Sayulita Longboard and Stand-Up Paddle Classic event was on. Before watching any races, I saw some pro-surfers teaching kids how to surf – it was a Therasurf clinic. Top pros volunteer their time to teach special needs or under-privileged kids how to surf. The kids could hardly contain their excitement as they waited their turn. Seeing the joy on the their faces as they surfed for the first time was priceless.

Rushing over to the thick crowds by the water, I caught the start of the stand-up paddle race. It looks a bit strange seeing surfers standing up with paddles, but that’s actually how the Hawaiians used to do it decades ago. As the races progressed, and as dozens of competitors rounded the buoys, it became more apparent how gruelling the sport was and we all cheered them on as they ran up the beach for the land portion of the races.

After all the excitement, I moved to the Four Seasons Punta Mita for a couple of nights to experience a bit of the quieter, luxe lifestyle that the one-per-center enjoys. With two golf courses, white-sand beaches and an infinity pool that stretches on forever over a gorgeous sea view, it’s tempting never to leave the resort. The Coral Suite, for a mere $27,000 a night with taxes (yes, that’s three zeros), has 20,000 square feet of space, comes with a butler and opens right onto Manzanilla Beach. Charlie Sheen sometimes brings his entourage down when he wants to relax in privacy.

Slowing down a bit, I just meandered along the white sand beaches, and visited the five different pools, including the Oasis pool, a large circular “lazy river” where a gentle current carries you around a lush tropical setting as you float on an inner tube.

After watching another sublime sunset with some of the other guests by the infinity pool, I dove in and swam a few soothing laps in the bathwater-warm pool, stopping every once in a while to watch the orange sky slowly faded to a deep blue.

On the morning of my departure, right before my long flight home, I squeezed in a one-hour relaxation massage at the spa. As I struggled to get up after it, I was hoping I’d lost my passport and maybe be forced to couch-surf at SeƱor Sheen’s casita for a few days -