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Southern comfort

Alison Berkley

I’m in Sayulita, Mexico, with everyone else from Aspen/Telluride/Crested Butte, and I’m not sure if I ever want to go home.

Colorado people just love to come here so we can travel 1,500 miles to another country and feel right at home in a quaint, small town where everyone else who comes to visit is just like us, mountain-town folk who want to go on a “surf trip” without getting our asses kicked.

We also love it for all the luxuries we can’t afford at home: ocean views, hot sun, fresh fish and big colorful produce that doesn’t look puckered and wrinkled and sad. We can stay in big, beautiful houses within walking distance to the beach, with tiled patios and swimming pools and daily maid service and still spend less money than we would during one weekend of partying at home.

Hell, I’d come here for the mangoes and avocados alone, two fruits that should be way more forbidden than a dumb old apple if you ask me, so good they must be sinful.

Sayulita’s popularity has a lot to do with its user-friendly wave, a gentle, predictable break that allows your average ski bum to come down here and call himself a surfer whether he knows what he’s doing or not. Most breaks pose hazards like powerful currents and heavy, unpredictable waves that tug and spin, that drill you down beneath the depths and hold you there, so that surfing requires not only survival but actual skill.

But the waves here roll slowly and peel over the reef, so the takeoff point is obvious and the consequences low. Mountain Town Guy can strut right on down to the beach in those new board shorts he bought at the snowboard shop, his beer-belly paunch spilling over the drawstring and Velcro closure like the knot on a balloon.

MTG is easily identifiable by his scruffy, tan face and sunburned body, his fit, muscular legs and furry, soft belly. He usually rents the biggest board possible, a nine-and-a-half-foot log that weighs like 30 pounds with long, sharp fins that would chop off the head of anyone stupid enough to get in his way.

Watch out for MTG when he paddles for that wave, his arms and legs flailing wildly about, eyes crossed with determination, blind to any living thing he might trample or mutilate. On a good day he’ll catch a few ankle-high waves without killing anyone and manage to get to his feet so he can go to the bar later and talk about how he caught “the biggest wave of his life,” which is even better than the sickest powder day because he did it in bare feet. He can go home to Breckenridge/Steamboat and talk about how he “surfed in Mex” during the offseason, dude. It was so rad.

One thing your next-door neighbor won’t be exaggerating about is how good the food is here, where $5 can buy a meal fit for a king, served under a palappa on the beach.

My brother says every dish is the “best he’s had in his whole life,” each plate a myriad of colors and flavors, blood-red tomatoes and grass-green cilantro, rich whole-milk cheeses, catch-of-the day fish, and homemade tortillas kept warm in thick cotton napkins. Yesterday I made mango salsa and guacamole for quesadillas, with fruit smoothies from plump sugary bananas and fleshy sweet peaches, all for less money than it costs me to park my car in downtown Aspen for an hour.

We really splurged on lodging and spent $300 apiece for seven days in a house that is closer to what I had in mind when I imagined where I want to live when I grow up. It has not one, but two swimming pools – a small one close to the main house for that quick cool-down dip and a larger infinity pool on the lower terrace that lives up to its name with views of the ocean below and the sky above, every possible shade of blue.

The house sits on top of a steep hill (locally known as “Gringo Hill”) that affords the best view and the shortest walk to the beach. The tiny fishing village sprawls out below, small houses in candy-colors like lemon and cherry and vanilla, scattered beneath palm trees the color of limes. (No, I am not on acid, it really is like that. I swear!) Coming from the drab of mud season, my eyes absorb the color like an empty stomach digests a big meal, like my vision is starving for it.

The true taste of Mexico comes through not only in the food but in the way you stop wearing a watch and don’t have a phone or TV. Time passes without thought or notice, so I sleep when I’m tired, eat when I’m hungry, swim when I’m hot, and surf in between. Getting dressed means finding a dry bathing suit and wrapping my curly, sea-salt frizzy hair in a loose bun. The only shoes I need are flip-flops.

I imagine what it would be like if I never went home. My hair would grow down to the middle of my back, bleached blonde from salt water and sun. My skin would turn the color of cinnamon, taut and dark and toned from surfing.

I would live on fish and fresh veggies and fruit and have no idea who won Season 10 of “The Apprentice” or what City Council has in mind for the S-Curves. I would never have to worry about parking tickets or losing my season pass when I get fired. I could actually live like a Princess instead of just acting like one.

But then everything would be fine and good and I’d have nothing left to write about, the life and love that always leads me back to Aspen.

The Princess is sunburned and will be home soon. E-mail your welcome back greetings to her at alison@berkleymedia.com


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