The morning sunlight poured through our stateroom portlight while the smell of burning coconut husks wafted throughout the cabin. Cleo was curled up in the quarter berth next to Kenna’s head, as content as could be while Chris quietly moved to the galley to start the coffee train. Truth be told, I slept pretty uneasy due to the events that had happened just before we went to bed the following night and would need all the coffee in the world to get me ready for our day.
Yelapa is a small beach town in Cabo Corrientes, Jalisco, Mexico. The village lies in the southernmost cove of Bahía de Banderas Yelapa’s climate is typical tropical wet and dry, with a marked dry season in the winter. The high temperature and variations in humidity can make July through September nearly intolerable. It has pronounced wet and dry seasonal variation, with sudden monsoon-like rains from July through September, normally for a few hours in the evenings. Prevailing winds are from the southwest, and most weather systems approaching Yelapa and surrounding areas are consequently weakened as they pass over Cabo Corriente. Thus even during the rainy season Yelapa’s weather tends to be mild compared to other areas along the Mexican Pacific coast.
We had just arrived in Yelapa the evening prior with our friends Jay and Kenna aboard, and after a terrible experience with the palapas on shore we retreated back to Avocet where we settled in for the night. I made boatmade pizza and we put on the Road to El Dorado (since Jay had never seen it) and afterwards Kenna went outside for some fresh air. “Uh guys… this boat seems kind of close” she said from the cockpit. We were on a mooring ball next to one other boat; surely we couldn’t be close enough for concern…
As it turns out, the mooring situation in Yelapa is kind of haphazard and when the wind flips (or dies entirely) the boats free float every which way. The stern of the 36 foot boat next to us was about one yard away from our quarter and it didn’t appear anyone was aboard. We grabbed our big fenders and had them at the ready, but we drifted away to the other end of our “scope” and pulled in a good amount of our bridle just to be safe. It was unsettling to not know the condition of the mooring anchors that lay 80 feet beneath us, and one of the many reasons we prefer to anchor over mooring balls. Every noise I heard that night prompted me to spring awake and look out our port lights for evidence of near collision, that fortunately would never happen.
After breakfast we said goodbye to Cleo for the day then dinghied to shore. Although the pangarous will taxi to and from your vessel, they stop services around 6:00 and we were unsure what our day would hold so decided it was the safest bet to take Winglet instead. Chris dropped us off at the loading platform where the excursion boats offload their people like cattle, then he beached the dinghy on the north end of the cove. He was able to time the crashing swell perfectly and pulled the 8’ boat up the shore to a coconut tree where we locked her up – just in case. Dogs ran from the palapas to greet us as we walked by concession, gently turning down the offers for drinks (at 8:00 am) while making our way to the town that sat beautifully within the luscious mountainside.
We wandered up the narrow streets alongside burros, ATV’s and tiendas, enjoying every vista along the way. The signs for the “Cascada” were far and few between but we followed our gut (and the river) enjoying the half-mile walk through the village alleyways, past local farms, houses and vendor stands just before we arrived at the waterfall. The sound of music echoed in the basin where the 150-foot cascada pooled at our feet. We were the only four there, but it didn’t last long since the spot is a main attraction for visitors. While we had the place to ourselves, we dipped our toes in and enjoyed the sounds of falling water while taking in the jungle vibes. A man with a huge iguana wrapped around his shoulders asked if we would like to buy mota but we respectfully declined, just trying to enjoy the scenery – and then the flood of influencers came.
It was like a river of people surrounding the waterfall, fighting for the best “selfie spot” and each doing their best to take up as much space as possible. Trying to navigate through the herd was a mission, but eventually our crew was able to reconvene at the base of the vendor ally, away from the hustle and bustle which in Yelapa, is not that hard to accomplish. Despite the infiltration of influencers snapping away selfies, visiting Yelapa does harken back to a simpler time when Mexican beach villages were quiet, close-knit communities tied to the sea, before the arrival of blacktop highways, daily flights, Starbucks, resort Zones, and all the drama that comes with it. Amongst the preservation of simple living the modern world still managed to leave its mark on Yelapa, but in more subtle ways than the vast majority of beach destinations in Mexico (like Chacala).
While wandering through the colorful streets we stumbled upon a torta place where we all agreed had the best tortas to date. They were full of flavor, perfectly sized and extremely affordable even given our remote location. My mouth is watering while writing about it and although the restaurant name escapes me, I am sure it will make an appearance in our upcoming YouTube video so stay tuned! The restaurant clearly doubled as a residence as children came and went from the back doorway. A little girl, probably just barely a year old toddled over to us with wide eyes for Chris’s camera. I removed the fluffy microphone and tickled her cheek with it, resulting in the sweetest giggles in the world.
After finishing the best torta ever we thanked the señora then walked back down to the beach, and met up with Edgar who helped us move to a new mooring closer to shore where we could set a stern hook. We felt more confident with these arrangements and hoped we would have a more sound night of sleep. Once we were set, we returned to shore and attempted to visit the second waterfall.
The 4.9 mile trail started on the main road (Calle Marlin) until it curved south when it reached the Rio Tuito. There was a suspended pedestrian bridge across the river that would send my sister in law Shannon into an absolute coma as the cables were rusting and anchored precariously through cement blocks on either end. The wooden slats beneath our feet were set in various lengths from each other, some slats missing entirely – a good reminder to mind your footing. Kenna and Chris were quick to jump across, seriously testing the integrity with every hop that made the bridge sway. Jay followed behind them while I took a deep breath and walked across once the movement ceased. Two school girls passed me in the middle, going about their everyday lives. If they weren’t worried, I shouldn’t be.
The other side of the river was much different from the side we came from – the cobblestone road had large houses on both sides that didn’t necessarily mesh with the Yelapa aesthetic. A green lawn leading up to one home sat across from another adorned in American and POWMIA flags with an eagle banner strewn across the second story. These were vacation homes, vacant, scattered in the wild landscape. As we continued on the cobblestone road we passed by the school, then continued along a dirt path where chickens bawked and dogs greeted us. Horses and caballeros played in the river as the sun turned our surroundings golden.
We reached a restaurant where we asked for directions to the falls. “Jaguars” the man said, pointing at his watch. Ah. That’s right. In California we have mountain lions, and here, in the Mexican jungle, we have their spotted cousin the jaguar. We thanked the señor for his input and continued on our walk just a little further where we pulled off to play in the water before walking back to Avocet. Honestly, the boys were more afraid of big spiders than the big kitties, especially after their experience swimming in the river at the Stone House – I’ll never forget the sound of their screams and laughs as they tried to scramble back to safety. Although we never made it to the second waterfall, I know it will be there when we return in the future, giving us something to look forward to.
We made it back to the sandy shore with just an hour of sunlight left, deciding to use the time to play a bit of volleyball. A timelapse went off on the camera behind us as we soaked up all the goodness associated with friends and being able to experience this special place with them. When the sun went down, the bugs came out and that was our que to get back to Avocet… except there were only three of us in Winglet. Jay decided to become aquaman and swim back to the boat taking full advantage of our closer proximity to shore.
Although we were in a new mooring spot, the drama followed us. We had just finished dinner and were playing an exhilarating round of Mao Mao (one of our favorite card games) when I heard something outside. After years of managing a marina, I had a sixth sense for trouble and when I heard shouting voices I had a feeling there was a domestic happening nearby. “It’s nothing, let it go” Chris said before I hopped over him to check outside. Then we were all outside.
Under the veil of darkness we could see the shapes of a man and a woman in a panga, shouting at each other. We may not know a ton of spanish, but I would like to thank my public high school for teaching me the basics when it comes to Spanish insults and could vaguely piece together that (according to the woman) the man was a massive piece of sh!t. But you wouldn’t need a translator to decipher that message, she was actively beating the crap out of the guy who cowered by the outboard. They would rip around the anchorage every few minutes before stopping, getting closer to some boats, then buggering off again. Eventually they drifted into our mooring line – super spooky because we were anticipating their prop to wrap the moment they decided to bolt again.
“¡Andante! Tranquilo!” We shouted as the couple continued to spat off our bow. “Should I jump aboard?” Chris said, always wanting to help but usually a bit to naive to see how many ways that could go terribly wrong. “You stay on this boat” I said using my captain voice. I passed up our big fenders to Chris and Jay who stood on the bow, and the GoPro to Kenna who filled the kerfuffle for Karen to translate for us later. Finally, about 10 minutes later, they buzzed off to the other side of the anchorage and we went below deck. I sincerely hoped we wouldn’t awake to a body floating around – but maybe that was just my past marina manager experiences coming to mind.
“Buen día amigos! Time to go home!” I said as our friends awoke in the quarter berth. I’m not sure when La Cruz became synonymous for “home” amongst us, but it was understood and noncontested. Cleo was under Kenna’s arm with a frustrated look on her little furry face. “Cleo tried to snuff out Jay last night” she said, as Jay agreed with a muffled “uh-humf”. Cleo has a knack for singling out the people with severe allergies and deciding that they are the ones she wants to love the most. She doesn’t understand why they won’t pet her, which turns her more into velcro… which isn’t ideal considering her favorite way to show affection is my sleeping on your face. Luckily Kenna handled the situation and acted as a buffer between the stubborn feline and sneezy Jason, soaking up all the snuggles.
Before we left for Yelapa, Chris and I interviewed Cat from PV Sailing who is essentially the community cheerleader. She organizes so many events for the cruisers and makes sure everyone has the resources needed before embarking on their next journey – from Spanish lessons to first aid classes she will find someone with a skill and convince them to share it with others. It is truly amazing, and when we heard her bubbly voice on the net every morning we knew we needed to talk to her for our channel. After the interview she asked me point blank if I would be a guest speaker for the upcoming Women Who Sail’s gathering. I said yes, despite the fact I am not good at talking about myself, but didn’t think much of it then sailed off to Yelapa with our friends.
Our spinnaker was full of fair winds as our bow pointed straight for La Cruz. “Do you know what youre going to talk about yet?” Kenna asked. With a history of public speaking and an ability to generally think on my toes I figured I would wing it and talk about how things change in life and sailing… which is bitterly ironic because even that plan changed.
Once anchored back besides Sitka, I cleaned up and we headed to shore where we met at the marina restaurant for the presentations. I would be speaking alongside two notable women, one being the incredible Jeanne Socrates who was actually filling in for the scheduled speaker who couldn’t make it. I was the second to go, and started off strong with what I practiced in my head but once the sound of blenders from the bar took over my airspace and Chris looked up at me from the front row with his adoring smile I lost my train of thought and couldn’t seem to get it back. “Cat, can I turn this into a Q and A?” I asked over the mic. She smiled and gave me two thumbs up as I opened the floor for questions.
I was brutally honest and transparent about my struggles with imposter syndrome and anxiety which seemed to be relatable to a lot of the people in the crowd. I was approached by many afterwards who thanked me for being real and sharing my human experience in such a raw way. I was asked about my published works, how I got into writing and about my business Fair Winds Media. I was asked about sailing with my partner, becoming a captain (which earned some cheers) and what our cruising plans for the future were. Although I was stressed in the moment about an imperfect presentation, I was honored to have the chance to entertain a crowd of inquisitive women, men and my friends who sat in the corner supporting me with every awkward smile. Regardless of how I did, I did it and that was cause for celebration enough – to the local watering hole we went!
Huge thank you to Jay and Kenna who agreed to be kidnapped for this adventure, to PV Sailing for organizing our mooring rental, and to you, dear reader, for being here.
Marissa (and Chris and Cleo)