GOING BARMY IN BARRA

As I grew increasingly accustomed to the laid-back beach-life around which the tiny Pacific Coast town of Melaque revolves, I realised it was going to be no easy task to pull myself away from this area of Jalisco, Mexico.The pace of life which afflicts Melaque is a world away from the hustle and bustle that comes as part and parcel of larger towns and cities in the country.There’s no wonder then that small communities of this calibre are so popular with visitors who aspire to de-stress and get away from madding crowds.
As beguiling as Melaque is, I persuaded Karl Bushby (the British explorer who has set himself the mind-blowing challenge of walking all the way back to England from the tip of South America) into giving me a guided tour of Barra de Navidad, yet another small community whose economy relies on a mixture of fishing, farming and tourism, with the influence of the latter element blatantly apparent at all times.
Barra de Navidad means Christmas Sandbar – something of a bizarre translation if ever there was one. However, things become clearer upon arrival in the town, for its main tourist drag is indeed strung out along the sandbar, behind which a lagoon asserts its picturesque presence.
Standing loud and proud right at the end of the sandbar is the Grand Bay Hotel, an eye-catching edifice of palatial proportions which is regularly voted as one of the best hotel complexes in the land. Given its status and enviable location, prices to stay there understandably don’t come cheap, forcing those on tight budgets to dream of the types of luxuries that could possibly lay within its secure walls.To be honest, though, I’d probably hate kicking back in such luxury. I much prefer to live within simpler means and humbler surroundings. Thus, I turned my back on the hotel in order to absorb the view of the attractively sweeping bay in the direction of Melaque, north of which a rocky and heavily vegetated headland spectacularly extends into the ocean.
While both Melaque and Barra are towns which teem with Americans and Canadians escaping the harsh winters that their countries annually inflict, this stretch of the Pacific Coast is equally as popular with water sports enthusiasts from elsewhere in the world.Surfing is one such sport that can be enjoyed in the vicinity.The thrill of watersports aside, a smattering of tour companies are also being set up in the area.
Coincidentally, Karl has forged friendships with two fellow Brits who have left England in order to focus on a tour company of their own. Run by Ruth Hazlewood, originally from Hartlepool, and Daniel Patman, who hails from Hampshire, their Experience Mex-ECO tour company is going from strength to strength, due in no small part to the fact that they are keen to promote conservation and preservation issues in all that they do, regardless of whether they are running tours to see sea turtles, or helping to co-ordinate community projects.
Their tour company also arranges fishing, diving and sailing trips, amongst other must-have Mexican experiences. Running with their reassuring tag-line, ‘Giving nature a helping hand‘, the Experience Mex-ECO office can be found on Gomez Farias in the centre of Melaque, a block back from the beach.
After strolling to the tip of Barra’s sandbar, Karl and I joined a Canadian guy for a drink on the terrace of one of Barra’s tallest hotels in order to savour the sunset. It was just a shame that the sun was smothered by a bank of clouds before it got chance to sink below the horizon and treat all those assembled to a show of nature at its most breathtaking.The Canadian guy kindly offered to give us a lift back to Melaque where he joined us for another Pacifico beer at a restaurant down by the water. As The Blonde Gypsies played up a musical storm of fast rhythms and wistful vocals behind us, Karl and I chatted some more about his hopes and fears for the next part of his hugely demanding trek into the Russian interior.
Some of Karl’s friends later joined us to eat and drink. While Karl chatted to Lupita, a friend who was due to leave Melaque the following morning to go and work with her mother further up the coast in the more commercial environs of Puerta Vallarta, I got to know another of his friends, a surfing-obsessed guy called Arturo who had ‘fled’ Mexico City in favour of living ‘the easy life’ and making a living through giving surfing lessons and doing bar-work on the coast.
An engaged couple called Kyla and Antonio also swung by our table around midnight, having finished their shifts working at the restaurant.
Eager for me to sample the night-life in Barra, Arturo soon managed to persuade me to jump in a taxi with him, bound for the main nightclub in town. Although the place was worryingly quiet, our spirits were high enough for us to have a decent enough night nonetheless. We caught a bus back to Melaque at five.Boarding the bus, I couldn’t believe my woefully bloodshot eyes. It was literally packed to the rafters with schoolchildren. I didn’t realise that many schools in Mexico begin lessons as early as seven in the morning. Learning as much was an education in itself.
(Steve Rudd)

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