By Dan Windler

Some were good. Others were very troubling. I doubt I'll ever go back.

I was at a surf camp in Sayulita Mexico this May. The only other guy in the group suffered a bad fin cut below his left eye on the first day, and went home. More on that later. I was left with 4 women. Our fearless leader Susan, and I'm not being sarcastic. She could easily be a cop. She has a calm assertive nature, and sometimes a distant angry edge, the combination of which creates a command presence. Susan's friend and assistant Ceone, and two other students from Seattle. Katie the cheerful photographer with long dreadlocks, and Erica the more sophisticated, but very warm hearted interior designer who is currently working on yachts. Katie and Erica struck me as unlikely friends. But they were clearly good friends. I'm guessing that Susan is about 30, Ceone 25, Katie 25, and Erica 28. I'm 47. So, in addition to the gender difference, there was also a considerable age difference.

When the guys at the Firehouse saw the photos there was lots of winking, and nodding, and talk about me being a lucky dog. I was a lucky dog. But not in the way they were thinking. I was lucky to be accepted by a group of decent women. If the situation had been a 47 year old woman with a group of young men. I think that she would have probably been ostracized.

The weather was great. There were very few bugs. The water was warm and clean, and the waves were waist to shoulder high with nice form for longboarding. The town was very mellow. Sayulita has a population of about 1000, but it felt smaller than that. Probably because people live and grocery shop right in their neighborhoods. Traffic on the cobble stone and dirt streets only went 10mph max. That also contributes to a mellow feel. I had the best tacos of my life while sitting at a small table on the side of one of those mellow streets.

70 cent taco stand

The tacos were only 70 cents each, and the ambience of the outdoor taco stand was more comfortable to me than any fancy restaurant that I've ever been to. It's right next to a small grocery store that sells beers by the bottle, and has a bottle opener right next to the door. The only down sides were : a few belligerent local shortboarders who were predisposed to verbally venting levels of anger that would only be appropriate if somebody had kidnapped one of their kids, some crowded surfing sessions, and the vulnerability I felt when I learned that the town does not have ambulance service. Having spent 28 years working on ambulances and medical helicopters; I know that even simple medical devices like backboards and traction splints can make the difference between a good recovery and disability. Not to mention the lifesaving intervention provided by Paramedics and Flight Nurses. Puerto Vallarta is about a 30 minute drive, and has two good hospitals. San Javier is the equivalent of a level one trauma center in the states according to my MEXICO HEALTH AND SAFETY TRAVEL GUIDE Susan took the guy with the fin cut to the Ameri-Med hospital in Puerto Vallarta, and they called in a plastic surgeon. The total bill was $350!!! For those of you not familiar with health care costs, that is a phenomenal deal! He paid with his credit card, because Mexican hospitals are not set up to file insurance claims with US insurance companies. When I travel to Mexico I always buy travel health insurance from They will make quick emergency room payments, and if necessary arrange for evacuation on an air ambulance. In addition to those high priorities there is also some trip cancellation, and lost baggage coverage. I hope I'm not bumming anybody out, but I would sure hate for you to be standing on the beach yelling "somebody call 911", and then 30 minutes later wondering where the help was. You are on your own in Sayulita. The emergency medical services that you take for granted in the U.S.A are nonexistant there. If you don't have access to a car… get a cab. Don't waste time waiting for an ambulance that's not coming.

I live in Wisconsin because that's where my family and old friends live. I love my job on the Fire Dept, and summer is fun; but winter is hard on me. I hate being cold, and the drastic reduction in sunlight is depressing.

Back in February I had the blahs. Luckily I also had enough bonus points on my credit card for a free flight to Mexico, and vacation time scheduled in May. Having a surf trip to look forward to cheers me up and motivates me. I swim and work-out more, try harder to eat healthier, and this time I quit alcohol for the month before the trip. I was trying to lose some of my belly. I think that I would be a better surfer if my strength to weight ratio was higher. It was satisfying to reach that goal in spite of temptations, and a somewhat disturbing rationalization that frequently popped into my head. " You got a lot of exercise today. You deserve a few beers." That thought/rationalization is probably one of the main reasons that construction workers drink more than accountants. But then my accountant drinks like a fish after rugby matches. Maybe the thought is produced by sweating.

I've been trying to learn how to surf since I beat leukemia 4.5 years ago. I started chemo in June of 2001. My first week in the hospital just happened to be a week that I had picked for vacation 7 months earlier. The sun was shining and I was cooped up in a hospital. A true test of my patience. Acute promylocitic leukemia has the highest peri induction mortality. More patients die during the first week of chemo than with any of the other forms of leukemia. I put my affairs in order, but I didn't expect to die. I kept telling myself that every minute that went by brought me closer to a time when all of this would just be a story that I sometimes told. A Minister prayed with me, a young shrink asked me how I felt, and then my Brother came and really helped me. He asked " what do ya wana do ta celebrate when ya beat this thing"? I had always figured that I would spend my honeymoon in Hawaii, but I never managed to get married, so I said "I wana go ta Hawaii". I blurted it out almost immediately, and was 100% serious. I surprised myself because it was something that I hadn't given any conscious thought to in years. "Ok… we're going ta Hawaii"! It was great to have something to look forward to.

6 months later we were on Kauai. It's the only Hawaiian island with rivers big enough to canoe down. I wanted to canoe down a tropical river.

One day we were walking on the beach when I noticed a guy unloading what I now know to be foam top surfboards. "Why do you have so many I asked?" "I'm giving lessons, and I have room for one more." "I doubt I'd be able ta do it. I'm in remission from leukemia." He talked me into a lesson by telling me that he would refund my money if I didn't stand up. He pushed me into a little wave, I stood up, turned a little to the right, and my life was changed forever. A sentence like that doesn't need an exclamation point. Leukemia lead to surfing, and for that I am grateful. Please check out my web site

I would be traveling to Mexico alone. My Lake Michigan surfing buddy was busy in Paramedic school. It's not safe or fun to surf alone; so I started looking on the internet for a surf camp. I had been to many surf camps. They had all been in the $1200 to $1800 range. Ed Guzman's "Club Ed" is my favorite. I've been Ed's student on 3 different occasions, and he is by far the best coach that I have had. Given my past experience I was pleasantly surprised to learn that was hosting a camp in Sayulita for $500 !

Surfers on the Wana Surf forum wrote that Sayulita was crowded, and that there were some hostile locals. But they also wrote that the possibility of good waves for beginners was very good, and the Surfers complaining about hostile locals seemed pretty belligerent and hostile themselves. I figured that they had probably contributed to most of the problems that they encountered. I had been around hostile surfers before, and for the most part had managed to stay out of their way. Going out of my way to make apologies had smoothed over a few rough spots. And a willingness to ride in on a small wave when I get tired had probably prevented a few rough spots. I was also confident that aggressive young surfers in Sayulita would be like the aggressive young surfers that I had encountered in other parts of the world, and they would not be getting up early in the morning. I booked with SafariMex.

SafariMex rents a spot in a campground that has: a fresh water shower near the beach, hot water showers in the back, bathrooms, an outdoor bar, and umbrellas with two chairs on the beach for $15 a day. It's surrounded by a concrete wall that gives a sense of security, but is big enough that you don't feel caged in.

$500 gets you: a tent with an air mattress that is 200 yards from the lineup of the main break, access to : a collection of soft top and fiberglass surfboards, some of which have the Surfco safety fins, a nice palapa with tables, chairs, hammocks, CD player, ice chest, and a lock box. There was also a daily breakfast of fruit, muffins, and coffee, a few mountain bikes, a trip to a good snorkeling spot, a combination horse back ride and zip line trip, two surfing safaris to breaks where we were the only surfers, and a group dinner one nite. Wow ! The woman in California who took my credit card info told me that I could catch a bus across the street from the Puerto Vallarta airport, and that the 45 minute ride to Sayulita would only cost 20 pesos! Two dollars! Given that, and the fact that the instructors had a Suburban truck, meant that I wouldn't have to rent a car. That represented a big savings, and a big relief. I had been to Puerto Vallarta once before. I had sailed up and down the coast with Amigo Surf Mexico. Unfortunately there weren't any decent waves on that trip. Afterwards I rented a car in Puerto Vallarta in order to drive to a Bed and Breakfast (Casa Obelisco) in San Poncho. Which is north of Sayulita. Ten minutes after leaving the Alamo office I got pulled over by a cop. He said I had been speeding. I was certain that I had not been speeding! I have no feel for 40 kilometers per hour, so I was paying close attention to the speedometer. I wasn't listening to the radio, or talking on a cell phone. I was paying complete attention to my driving. So, without thinking, I told the cop "you know, and I know, and God knows, that I was not speeding." To which he replied in an angry tone of voice "you were speeding so fast that you passed a red light!" He was a foot shorter than me, and was not physically fit. One of his top front teeth was missing, and the other was gold. If he had been an unarmed mugger in the street I would have told him to take a flying leap at the moon. But he had : a badge, a gun, and a radio. I hung my head and said "OK,… what do I have to do. Where are you staying he asked? Suddenly civil. Being the big dummy that I am; I told him the truth. He smiled because he knew he had me. Then he went on to explain that he would keep my license, and I would have to show up in court the next day. Exasperated, I said " I've been sailing, and surfing for 6 days. I'm worn out! I just wana get to San Pancho and relax! "Ok, you can pay me. But there will be no receipt" It cost $90! But I still think that I did the right thing. If I would have driven an hour back into Puerto Vallarta the next day I would have been vulnerable to him and his partners all over again. And I doubt that court would have gone quickly. It might have taken all day.

After considering my free airfare, the SafariMex bargain, and the fact that I didn't need a car. I figured that I could afford a room with AC. I like having a cool spot to crawl off to for siestas. After a little more internet research I decided on Bungalos De Los Arbolitos. Bungalows of the trees. $80 a nite seemed a little high for a place without an ocean view, but they claimed to be a 30 second walk from the surf camp, and the rooms looked nice.

I got a little chilled on the flight down there. So the 85 degree airport felt good at first. After thawing out I slipped into a bathroom to get into my shorts, sleeveless t-shirt, and sandals. As I walked out of the airport at least 10 different people asked me if I needed a taxi. No gracias, I responded politely.

A few others asked me where I was staying. I ignored them completely. They were circling and swooping in like vultures. I was glad to get away from them by crossing the highway on a very nice pedestrian bridge. While I was waiting for the bus a cab driver asked me, in English, where I was going. I gave him a confused look. He pointed at his cab and said with a questioning tone and look, "taxi, taxi"? I answered in Spanish that I was waiting for the bus to Sayulita. My Spanish isn't good. I can construct rough sentences, but I have to think first, and most of the time I have to pause somewhere in the middle while I try to think of a word. He said that the bus to Sayulita didn't run on Sunday, but he would take me there for $50. I repeated that I was waiting for a bus. "ok.. $40". No !... Gracias !! "Speak English" he commanded in a disgusted tone of voice. No habla Engles. Poly vu france. He gave me an angry look. Vocet tre bell. Jey swee un canard. Which means, you are very beautiful. I am a duck. It rolled off my tongue with a smooth, slightly exaggerated nasal tone. It's the only other French I know. The cabby walked away. I think that it's a good idea to practice not appearing American. You just never know when an al quieda agent posing as a cabby is going to take you to a remote site where his partners will over power you and make you say bad things about President Bush. That, and I hate to support liers. 15 minutes later I got on a bus to Sayulita for $2 . The bus was nicer than I expected. It had to stop a few blocks before the Sayulita town square because the two lane paved road suddenly turned into a 1.5 lane dirt and cobblestone road.

I found Bungalow de los Arbolitos 10 minutes later. It's right on the town square. I was only carrying a small day pack, and a small duffel, but I wasn't use to the heat, and I was dripping in sweat. It's a very secure place. The rooms are in a courtyard, and at night the door to the courtyard is locked. I had a courtyard key, and a room key. During the day there is almost always a staff member sitting at the courtyard entrance. The manager spoke very good English and was friendly. I had one small problem with the room, and it was fixed in 2 days. It turned out to be about a 5 minute walk to the Safari Mex camp, but there was a surfboard rental place, on the beach, that a person could walk to in 30 seconds. That must have been what the owner was thinking of when she said that the surf camp was a 30 second walk away.

I arrived a day and a half early with plans to rent a board from the SafariMex staff, and use it until the camp started. The only boards Susan offered were soft tops, but that was ok. I had fun with a 9'6" soft top, and it was extremely handy to be able to leave it at the Safarimex camp when I walked back to my room. I also left some of my stuff hanging on their cloths line to dry. A couple days later Susan suggested that I use her 9'6" Town and Country board. The top of the board was compressed to the point that the center stringer protruded noticeably; but I liked that. It helped me keep track of my feet. When I could feel the stringer pressing into my insteps I knew that my feet were centered.

Katie and Erica had arrived early also. On day 2 Erica suggested that the three of us should go out for dinner. I mentioned the El Tiger seafood place. Erica mentioned an Argentinean place that Susan had recommended. We decided to wait for dinner time in order to see what we were in the mood for. That evening I waited more than an hour for them to return from the bathroom. I got bored after about 20 minutes and walked to the beach gate in order to watch the surfers and the sunset. I tried to glance back towards the campsite and bathrooms every few minutes. But there were some very good surfers out, and it was a beautiful sunset. I may have gone more than 5 minutes on a couple occasions. Eventually I decided that I must have missed them between glances, and walked to the El Tiger. I hate messing things up, and I was disappointed that I wouldn't have company for dinner. So I was very happy to see Erica and Katie walk in ten minutes after I ordered. I waved and smiled, they smiled and sat down at my table. I explained myself, concluded with a "sorry", and complemented them on tracking me down. They had put the time to good use. They looked like a million bucks. If they were angry about my lack of patience, or surprised by a 47 year old man who didn't know that women sometimes took longer than an hour to get ready, they didn't show it. It was fun and interesting getting to know them better. I felt blessed; and I wished that I had started surfing when I was 23 instead of 43. I think that the chances of marriage would have been better. After dinner Erica asked if I was going to Salsa nite at a near by bar. "No, I don't have the energy". Serious exhaustion had set in despite my afternoon siesta. In addition to that, the month of sobriety prior to the trip had turned me into a lightweight. Alcohol wise. Three beers had tranquilized me. Katie and Erica stopped to see my room on their way to Salsa night. Erica enjoyed the architecture and artifacts in my room.

Ed arrived the next morning, and we packed the Suburban for a surfing safari. I asked Erica how Salsa night was. "It was fun… We both met nice local guys". I was jealous. I wished I was young, and a good surfer, and thin, and energetic enough for Salsa dancing after a long day.

Susan introduced a young local longboarder named Sergio. Sergio is a part-time employee of SafariMex, and would be joining us on safari. He works full time as a waiter at the Choco Banana, but that isn't where his heart is. He was very happy to be going with us! On the way out of town we stopped at his family's little store for a drink, and we got to meet his Mom. I love stuff like that.

The hilly jungle around Sayulita was 80% brown. I asked Susan if there was something wrong. "No, it's just the end of the dry season. In a week or so it'll start raining, and everything will turn green". After about 15 minutes on the main highway we started seeing mango orchards on both sides of the highway. The mango trees looked like big tall apple trees. The orchards went on for miles. Susan pulled into a big fruit stand and treated us to some Yuca. It was my first, and it was interesting to watch the clerk cut it up. They look like an elongated green football, and only the seed coverings in the middle are edible. The other 95% of the 5 pound fruit is discarded. We also bought a case of small yellow mangos. I had never seen mangos like these before. The mangos I see in Wisconsin are always green and red, and bigger. The little yellow mangos were sweet, and perfectly ripe. Sergio taught me a new way to eat mangos. He would cut a wedge shaped piece, and then strip the edible part off the peal with his lower teeth. I happily put that skill into my bag of tricks. Shortly after that Susan turned off the highway onto a rough side road that took us through a small seaside town where I think we were probably the only tourists. Sergio hired a panga to take us to the break. I'm withholding the name of the town for several reasons. I think that the break is one of Susan's semi secret spots. I'm worried about visiting surfers getting into trouble using the fisherman's camp at the break; and even if I did name the town, there's no sign on the highway. Furthermore, I couldn't find the town on mapquest.

Susan told us that we would be paddling to the lineup from the boat; so I didn't bring any water. After a scenic 20 minute boat ride past cliffs and rugged coastline we put to shore on a small beach just north of a pronounced point. It was dumb of me not to bring a few essentials, like water. What was the worst case scenario if we did paddle into the break? I would have had to leave my inexpensive essentials in the boat. Wisdom is one of the things that I pray for daily; but I continue to act like a big dummy. The girls were all wiser than me, they had: water, snacks, towels, sunscreen and god knows what else in various bags.

After walking up on the beach everybody gravitated twards a 12'X20' palapa on the edge of the beach and the jungle. It was impressive. Live trees had been used as vertical supports. It appeared to be strong but yet potentially flexible in the face of bad weather. The thatched roof looked thick enough to shed any rain that made it through the leaves and palm frons of the trees that had been used for the vertical supports. There was a second story sleeping loft made out of plywood, it was complete with blankets. On the ground floor several hammocks were strung up. Stumps served as tables, and there were various pieces of fishing and cooking equipment strewn about. I got the impression that the owners could return at any time. The others were treating this shelter like it was their motel room. I was very nervous about this. Twice in my life I have wound up fearing for my life after treating somebody else's shelter like a tourist attraction. In 1980, before most of the girls were even born; I was interrogated at rifle point in the Alaskan bush by a man who's cabin I had naively approached. In 2006, on the NE corner of Maui, on a remote beach, I was approached by an angry young Hawaiian man with a rock in his hand after just walking within 30 yards of his ramshackle shelter. Prior to that encounter I had been warned that there was a crystal meth epidemic on Maui, and to be careful around locals who acted strange. Susan did not seem to understand my concerns, and acted quickly to shut me up. "Chill out dude" she snapped in a tone that invited no discussion. I respected her authority, and experience, and complied. Maybe she knew the owners, or knew that they were not around. I would have appreciated an explanation, but there was none forthcoming. The Fire Dept is a paramilitary organization. I have learned to take orders even if I don't like them. Then Sergio looked at me like I was crazy. That was my biggest clue not to worry. When I was a Flightmedic on a hospital based helicopter in Las Vegas, and the ship was rocked, I would look at the pilot to determine how serious it was. If he was relaxed; I relaxed. In this case Sergio was the guy who probably really knew what was happening. However, I would have been more confident if he had been older than 18. I decided to just go with the flow. What were the chances that the owners would return while we were there? And if they did return, what were the chances that they would attack us? The other girls were enjoying the tourist attraction. Apparently I was the only one calculating these odds. I believe that in a stressful situation, like a fight, a person will revert to the way that they have trained; and if they have not trained, they will probably freeze in panic. Training does not have to be done in a formal classroom. Sometimes it is just what a person considers before an event. I was aware of the potential for trouble. Susan may, or may not have been aware of the potential for trouble. The other girls were oblivious.

The wave was a thick and steep left. I have never gone left. I have briefly turned left while cutting back on a right; but that seemed way different than what I was currently facing. I decided to hang back and watch. Susan caught one, but it was a short ride. It would have been more attractive to me if there had been a potential for a long ride. Long rides are my current goal in surfing. Ed's only surfing experience was Waikiki, but he charged this wave anyway. I seem to remember some talk about snowboarding; so he probably wasn't intimidated by a steep drop. He rolled over to his left on his take off, and I expected his board to shoot twards the point, but I'm guessing that he tried to hold on to it. Susan paddled towards him quickly, and then the two of them paddled in. I was sitting there wondering what had happened when I noticed a burning sensation on my left calf. Being a curious dummy I reached down with my left hand to investigate. When my hand started burning also it dawned on me that I was being stung by a jellyfish. I pulled my hand up and there was something resembling a long human hair wrapped around it. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had suffered a life threatening anaphylactic reaction to IVP dye while going through treatment for leukemia, and my Doctor had given me an epinephrine auto injector (epi-pen) in case I ran into anything else that I was deathly allergic to. It was in my day pack, in the Suburban, back in town. I figured that I better get back to shore pronto. I tried to catch my first steep left and fell to my right down the face of the wave. There was a strong pull on my right leg when the leash became taught, and then suddenly there was nothing. When my head broke the surface my board was nowhere to be seen. My first left, after my first jellyfish sting, had resulted in my first leash break. I put my face in the water and swam hard to get out of the impact zone in order to avoid my first drowning. After I was clear I started swimming with my face out of the water in order to avoid choking when waves washed over me. I couldn't swim to the point because the waves were breaking hard on jagged rocks. The beach was at least 100 yards away, and my superman style swimming stroke was not moving me very fast. It was only a couple minutes after my jellyfish sting, and as such it was still possible to develop a bad reaction. I was concerned, very concerned. If nothing else changed; I figured that I could make it to the beach. But I wasn't sure. It didn't occur to me to yell for help; but I should have because Erica had noticed that I wasn't attached to my board, and was nervously looking for me. After she spotted me she retrieved my board and brought it to me. I was very relieved, and grateful! Erica told me that the sight of my board bobbing in the water without me had sent chills down her spine. A lesser person might have paddled away for help. A person with worries about sharks probably would have paddled away quickly. She stayed and conducted a search and rescue. Honor - adherence to action or principals considered right. Courage - the confronting of fear. Erica demonstrated those qualities to me. Can you ask for more in a surfing buddy?

When I got to shore I found Ed in a hammock. He was holding a bloody towel below his left eye. "I was a Paramedic for 16 years, would you like me ta take a look at it"? Ed removed the towel to reveal a horrendous 3 inch gash. It was all the way through the skin! I was surprised that the bleeding had stopped. Gravity was drawing his left cheek down. That opened the wound up enough for me to see muscle and a little bone. The drooping on the left side of his face was like an exaggerated stroke symptom. I have seen a lot of bad wounds over the years, but I didn't expect this. I must have inadvertently expressed my surprise with a facial expression because Ed said "that bad huh". "Yea…your gona need a few stitches". His vision was fine, and he was: alert, oriented, and amazingly calm. Susan had irrigated the wound with some hydrogen peroxide, and sent Sergio back to town for the panga. Otherwise they would not have returned for 3 hours. Earlier her leadership had irritated me, but at that point I was impressed by it. I went on to recommend that he go into Puerto Vallarta in order to find a plastic surgeon. I offered to go with him as I lay down in the hammock next to him. One by one all the girls came to check on him. I was impressed when none of them gasped. Everybody felt bad for him, expressed sympathy, and tried to be as supportive as possible. Ed said " if this was Survivor, I guess I would be the first one leaving". I smiled and told him that I had been thinking similar thoughts about how our situation was similar to the TV show Survivor. We were in a remote spot, in a crude shelter, waiting for a boat.

Up on a little hill behind the palapa was a white cross similar to the memorials that people put up at the scene of fatal car accidents. Somebody had died here, and I was wondering how. The combination of all these events gave the place an eerie feeling. It's a beautiful place, but also dangerous and mysterious. I also felt lucky because I wasn't allergic to jellyfish, and didn't drown. I felt sorry for Ed, and very alive ! If not for Ed's injury I would have been thrilled to spend a little more time there.

30 minutes later the panga showed up. I had been expecting at least an hour wait. Sergio must have ran all the way! What a good man! What a good crew!

On the drive back the long shadows of late afternoon were sharply contrasted by the orange light of sunset. A local radio station was playing Eastern Indian sitar music with chanting and humming lyrics. The music mixed well with the buffeting of the very warm wind through the Suburban's open windows. The music and the light created a strong mood. It was almost a meditation. The present was so consuming that my mind did not wander to the past or the future. Fatigue and jellyfish venom might have also played a role. This is one of the reasons that I strike out on adventures.

The original plan had been for Ed and I to go to Puerto Vallarta in a cab. But Susan had a better plan. She would take Ed in the Suburban. She speaks much better Spanish than I do, and she could save Ed $80 to $100 in cab fares. I was starting to grow fond of her.

The next morning we surfed Sayulita. After our session Erica told me about a near miss with a shortboarder who seemed to be faking an injury afterwards. I downplayed the incident by saying that the best thing she could have done would have been to give him a suspicious look and smile. To call his obvious bluff. I talked about how my hero the Dog Whisperer (Cesar Millan, on the National Geographic channel) shows no fear around aggressive dogs, and how the dogs come to respect him. She replied "Maybe…… Later he did a trick in front of me. It was like he couldn't decide weather to be mean to me, or flirt with me." I had basically implied that she was overreacting. It wasn't a matter of disrespect; I thought I was helping her to deal with aggressive young men. But later in the week I would suffer a similar incident, and realize how vicious they could be. At which point I would also feel bad about having downplayed Erica's experience. Later that day I learned from Katie that Erica had been very upset, and had considered quitting surfing because she didn't like some of the other people in the sport. Her first love is snowboarding. Surfing is just something that she has goofed around with. First with her Dad, and now with Katie. She seemed pretty good to me. It must be nice to have that kind of athletic ability. But to get back on track; it was surprising to me that an: athletic, courageous, and honorable woman like Erica could become so upset by what a bratty kid wrongly thought about her. The kid was also hurt in this situation. He was losing out on the friendship of an exceptional woman because he wanted to appear hard on tourists in front of his punk friends.

Later that morning was the horseback ride and zip line tour. Erica and Katie are both experienced horsewomen. They were talking about running there horses full speed. I have sat on horses that were walking and following the rump of the horse in front of them, but I have never been on a running horse. I have never had any training, and I wasn't about to wing it in an area without ambulance service. In addition to that I wanted to give the girls a chance to go out without me. After all, it only takes one guy to turn girls day out into something else. I'm not sure which term to use, but I'm pretty sure that girls day out is more fun.

Father and Daughter loving life. My favorite photo of the trip.

While the girls were gone I went surfing. Out in the main lineup a local longboarder was giving lessons to a tourist. The tourist was a white woman in her 30's. She had her own board, and was a pretty good surfer. I think she hired the local instructor as more of a guide and companion. One of the local shortboarders was yelling at the instructor. I got the impression that the furious shortboarder wanted the instructor to take his student to the beginners break a few hundred yards away. He was wrong in my opinion. Obviously wrong. But that did not stop him from: yelling, swearing, pointing, and punching the air for what seemed like at least 5 minutes. He was crazy angry. I had butterflies in my stomach. I've seen punches thrown by guys who seemed less angry. The instructor stayed much calmer, but ended up doing some yelling himself. The shortboarder was about 20, and powerfully built. I made up my mind to stay out of his way. Little did I know that my encounter with him was only a few days away. I wished that I could help him see how ridiculously he was acting. How unnecessary the whole attack was. But, over the years I have learned that trying to talk sense to a furious man only provokes him. Especially if he considers himself to be dominant over the sense talker. That level of hostility is unhealthy. Over the years it can raise a persons blood pressure and make them more susceptible to heart attacks and strokes, it also lowers their immune system, and makes them unhappy. When I was young I wasted a lot of time being angry. Mostly I was angry at God for allowing all the tragedy and injustice that I saw as a Paramedic. But carrying that anger around also lead to displacing it on people. A wise old Minister convinced me that it was the epitome of arrogance for me to judge God, and be angry with God. God made the world and everything in it. I can't even make a blade of grass. After letting my anger go I felt much better. Ten minutes later the shortboarder went in; shortly after that the instructor and his student went in. For the next 15 minutes there was just a half dozen beginning longboarders, and some happy go lucky local shortboarders in their early teens. I was able to relax intill the instructor came back out. When he paddled for a wave I paddled over it to give him a clearer shot. I knew I couldn't out paddle him. On about the tenth wave it didn't look like he was going for it, so I did. He must have turned at the same time I did because when I looked left there he was. I started to sit back on my board, but he waved me on. I gave it 100% and caught the wave. I took the drop on my feet, and turned to see the wave walling up in front of me. It was a magnificent sight for me. I know that this is no big deal to you experienced surfers out there, but it is a sight that I have only seen a few dozen times in my life. When I first started I would get exhausted in a half hour or so. On my third surf trip I tore a tendon in my right shoulder a couple days into the trip, and didn't paddle a surfboard again for the next year. When I first got to Sayulita I wasn't turning quick enough on most of my attempts, and was getting stuck in the whitewater. I hurried back to the lineup to thank the guy. "Thanks a lot !" "Was it a good wave?" "Yea." I said in my most sincere tone as I nodded my head and smiled. He had a big charismatic smile, like President Kennedy. God bless him. A little kindness and respect goes a long way. After resting for 10 minutes or so I decided to take my happiness back to shore. I paddled for a wave that I figured would not be attractive to the shortboarders sitting inside. At the last possible second one of them turned. I was seconds away from standing up when I sat back on my board. As I swong the nose back out to sea from the top of the wave the kid ducked and surfed under it. Now, I had spend hours watching these guys. Both from shore, and the water. They were that good. He didn't have to duck under my board. He was showing off. I didn't expect any trouble to come from it. But when he got back he made it clear that I didn't belong there. He didn't seem very angry. He seemed more nervous, and in a hurry to speak his piece and move on. It was a very odd encounter. But later that night I would gain some insight into the animosity in the lineup.

The beginners area isn't really a break. It's more like an area where beginners are pushed into the whitewater. To send me, or the woman that was with the instructor to this area was the equivalent of telling a high school baseball player to throw away his ball and bat, and to start playing with rocks and sticks.

That night I sat down at the front table of a restaurant on the square. I don't remember the name of the place. I wasn't planning to write this story when I was in Sayulita. I was encouraged to write it after telling part of it. So there I was, at a table one step up from the sidewalk, in a restaurant with an open air front. A Mexican guy in his 50s came walking up the street with an American looking guy who was also in his 50s. The Mexican guy was talking loudly about Sayulita. They stopped in front of my table and the Mexican guy said "this is the best table, too bad it's taken." I replied "I'm not using the other 3 chairs, help yourselves." They sat down and the tourist ordered a round of Margaritas, and supper for himself. The Mexican guy, Cisco, spoke perfect English; but he claimed to have never set foot in the U.S.A. I considered two possibilities. One- he was lieing. Two- he had a gift for language. I complemented him on his gift for language. There's no sense in irritating a man who is most likely on the run from the law in the U.S.A., and if he did have a gift for language, then the complement was well deserved. When he and the tourist, I forget his name, sat down they were talking about buying local property. The tourist portrayed himself as wealthy. Probably not a good idea in a country where kidnapping for ransom is much more common than in the U.S.A. When they tired of that Cisco asked me what I was doing in Sayulita. When I told him I was surfing he identified himself as a surfer and launched into some surfing stories designed to make me never want to return. Stories of fights on the water, and fights on the beach. Stories of locals diving for rocks to use against tourists and their boards. Cisco is a good story teller. He had my complete attention. A rock can be a formidable weapon. No doubt countless people have been killed with rocks since the dawn of man. Didn't Cane kill Able with a rock? I'm positive that David slew Goliath with a rock. Criminals and prostitutes were also stoned in biblical times. Except for the prostitute who was lucky enough to have Jesus come along and say "let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone." These days people prefer guns and knives, but if crazy angry man confronted me with a rock in his hand I would consider him a deadly threat. The average person doesn't appreciate the danger of head trauma because they have seen people being temporarily knocked out on TV for years. On TV the victim always wakes up a short time later with no residual effect. In real life people die, or suffer with disabilities like seizures, and memory problems for the rest of their lives. Cisco summed thing up by saying that the fights were sometimes hard, "but fucking your women has always been easy". Back when the property conversation was slowing down the tourist had mentioned that he had put his wife and three daughters on a plane home a couple days ago. I imagine that he had to be offended, but he didn't let on. It seemed that Cisco didn't want either of us back again. I don't think that he was trying to pick a fight, because he didn't needle us any further. But he was clearly enjoying talking smack within eavesdropping distance of the local waiters. Now some of you are probably thinking- aw.. that's just guy talk. Locker room talk. It doesn't mean anything. Well, sometimes your right. But not this time. First of all, only a small but highly vocal percentage of guys talk like that. Secondly, there are guys who talk smack, but will probably never misbehave. Then there are guys who have been misbehaving all their lives, and given the chance will do it again in 5 minutes. Cisco is a handsome, slick talking surfer. I suspect that he is also an immoral man who has had sex with more tourists than he can remember. Mostly consensual, but he struck me as a man who would be comfortable working in the grey area between consensual and rape. No doubt he has caught and passed on more than his share of sexually transmitted diseases. If I had daughters I would not want them around Cisco and his Lieutenants. I didn't want the girls in camp around Cisco and his Lieutenants either. I suspect the trouble makers out at the break were some of Cisco's Lieutenants. Crazy angry man might be a general. Furthermore, I think that Cisco has encouraged them to treat visiting surfers badly. Older men are suppose to promote calm rational thinking, and justice. When elders go bad and fire up the wild young men instead, real trouble can come! I felt a desire to provoke Cisco a little. So I said "I haven't had any trouble". At which point he decided to drop the atomic bomb of scare stories. " Did you know that there's no sewage treatment plant in Sayulita?" I did know that. Rumor has it that the Mexican Gov will be installing one soon because Sayulita has become such a surfing destination, but sewerage is currently piped into the ocean. He went on to say that there were people in town with typhoid, and sewage from there houses was being dumped into the ocean. Now I had seen local kids snorkeling around the surfing area and taking fish and octopus every day. I think that it was foolish of them to expect surfers not to hit them, but that's another subject. I didn't think the ocean could be a real health threat because the locals were in it every day, and were even eating seafood speared 100 yards off the beach. But I have to admit that Cisco got me thinking. Before I went to sleep that night I prayed for protection for the good local who had waved me on, and as I was writhing this I was reminded to pray for him again. Good people often fall prey to sociopaths in our twisted world.

While I was in Sayulita I noticed some stickers on vehicles. When I got home I went to that site and learned that there are people who are trying to make sure that Sayulita dosen't turn into another tourist spot with highrise hotels. I hope they succeed, but I'm opposed to Cisco's war. How would Cisco's army plug the hole in their economy if surfers stopped coming? How many waves do they want to catch? As it is they are catching 10 for every one that tourists like me catch. I guess they want all of them!

The next day I tried to talk to Susan about Cisco, but she seemed preoccupied and uninterested. I didn't tell Katie and Erica because it seemed that the locals they were hanging around with weren't Cisco disciples. Erica's guy builds surfboards and skate boards, and has the calm patient air of a craftsman. I didn't like Katie's rastafarin wana be guy, but she seemed to be keeping him at arms length.

Susan took us to a break called La Launcha that day. We drove for a half hour, and then we had to walk on a single track trail for about 15 minutes. When we arrived Susan walked down the beach and up a steep hill where she stood for a long time surveying the area. It was the kind of thing that I might have done if she hadn't done it first. Her sad, preoccupied mood was especially strong that day. I hope it's nothing serious. We had the spot to ourselves, but the waves weren't as good as in Sayulita. I was ready to go after surfing. But everybody else wanted to : look for shiny shells, roll in the sand, fly kite board practice kites, sunbathe, and gaze at the ocean. At first I was impatient. But when I accepted the slow playful pace, my impatience went away. When I realized some of the differences between a group of men and a group of women I started to really relax. A group of men would have moved out immediately after surfing inless they had a cooler of beer to drink. As they drank they probably would have engaged in verbal banter/abuse. Some of it might be fun, and funny. But it could also be mean. There would also be stories. My favorite stories at the Firehouse are honest ones about some kind of problem a guy got himself into, and how he worked it out. When it came time to move there would be impatience with any guy who didn't keep up. Katie tired herself out pretty good at La Launcha. It took her 15 minutes longer than everybody else to walk out. A group of guys would have grilled a guy who did that. He might even get a nickname like pokey. Nobody said anything mean to Katie. What if all the countries in the world were lead by women? Would the world be like La Launcha was that day?

The next day Katie came back to camp crying because she had been stung by a jellyfish. Sergio rode off on one of the bikes to get some vinegar. Erica wrapped her left arm around Katies shoulders and gave her a squeeze. And I said " I have something ta cheer you up." Then I fetched my combination sun block and jellyfish block, which by the way I wasn't wearing when I got stung. Katie started laughing hysterically ! "yea, I know it dosen't do ya any good now. But it could give you some confidence next time you go out." She responded by laughing harder. She was gasping in air, and then barking like a seal. It was extremely contagious. Pretty soon we were all laughing like we were stoned. I haven't smoked pot since I was a kid, but because I also quit when I was a kid I can remember the hysterical laughing. "I'm glad I crack you up Katie, but I'm starting to worry that your gona have a heart attack." More hysterical laughter. A dripping wet Susan came walking up with her board under her arm and wanted to know what was going on. When she learned that Katie had been stung she said in a totally calm tone of voice "I got stung twice, there must be a lot of them out there." She got stung twice! That means that she did not come in after the first sting! Are you starting to see what I mean about her being tough? After Katie had been treated with vinegar, and hugs, and tequila, to calm her laughter, a big black beetle walked into camp. Erica reached down to touch it's back. Susan said "She's petting a bug! This is the first time I've seen that."

Erica the animal lover.

Erica is an animal lover, and the local dogs could sense it. Dogs in Sayulita run free. I guess that they don't get hit by cars because the cars go so slow. The dogs that love the water go to the beach every day. I saw a pit bull fetching a water jug for a tourist that she just met. I didn't know that pit bulls could swim. In addition to swimming this pit bull would time the wave before jumping in. I don't know if that tourist fed that dog. But he should have, she earned it. All the dogs were very mellow. None of them were barking and charging like the dogs in my neighborhood do when I go for walks, runs, and bike rides.

That night we went out for the group dinner. Susan took us to the same restaurant where I had met Cisco. She also invited Pepe, one of the guys who works at the campground, and Sergio. I like both of those guys, and was happy that the group was more balanced. Erica's favorite dog must have heard her laugh, or smelled her sent, because he showed up and joined the party. No wonder dogs are mellow and happy there. Susan tried to convince me that cabron was a Spanish word that I could safely add to my vocabulary. The literal translation of cabra is goat. In South America cabro is informal for guy. In Mexican slang cabron means a man who's wife is unfaithful. Buddies playfully call each other cabron. It can also be used as the equivalent of - Shit !! If you stub your toe you might exclaim Ah cabron! I might use it that way, but I would never say to a local- "Hey.. cabronnnn, que pasa?" Apparently there is a Hot Chili Peppers tune that starts out cabronnnn, caaabronnnn. Susan sang it and laughed. It was the first time I had heard her laugh. It was a nice surprise. After that she and Pepe would break out in song every time somebody called me cabron. I know it sounds stupid; but I love stuff like that. The hard core group, everybody but me, went back to camp for a camp fire. From what I heard I missed a good time. Erica's and Katie's beaus showed up also. I was so tired that the 50 yard walk to my door was a challenge.

The next day I was having a so so day at the main break. It was crowded; and I get nervous when I have to surf past and around other surfers. Erica and Katie had taken to surfing the left that is about a .5 mile walk north. Katie had run afoul of the angry shortboarders, and a Canadian woman. General crazy angry man was out, and I let about 10 good waves go by because he seemed to be eyeing them up. After he would catch one I would try hard to catch a subsequent wave in, but things were not working out. Finally I paddled for a mediocre wave just to get in. I looked left and saw that it was clear. It wasn't a good pop up. My feet were too close together, and while I was fighting for my balance the time to turn came and went. I fell backwards and watched my board fly a little to the right. A few seconds later a shortboard flew past from left to right. The white water moved 10 feet closer to shore and revealed crazy angry man in the water. I gave a hard yank on my leash. My board came skipping back to me, and I climbed on. The general was swimming quickly for his board. He wasn't using a leash, so it was going to take him another 10 seconds. I paddled towards his board and stopped about 10 feet away as he was pulling his board under himself. "usted bueno?" You ok? I asked. "no I'm not fucking ok asshole! You fucking hit me!" He looked at his right hand and then karate chopped it into the water. Not something that I would do with an injured hand. I'm certain that I didn't hit him. His board had moved left to right in front of me seconds after I saw my board fly to the right about 3 feet off the water. But calling him a liar would only provoke him. So I ignored that statement.

I'm gona snake him. No, I'm gona snake him. This is part of the reason that some of the locals are angry. Tourists are more apt to cut in front of (snake) a surfer who is already riding the wave.

I paused a few seconds and said "I'm sorry I took off in front of you and fell." "Yea…don't you look?" "I looked when I paddled for the wave, but not after I stood up. I was too busy fighting for my balance." "You should be over by the beginners!" "I didn't paddle for a bunch of waves because I thought you might take em, and I didn't wana get in your way. Then I take off on a shitty wave just to get in, and you have to go at the last possible second? Just to fuck with me? What kind of shit is that?" "Just go in then, and I don't want to see you out here again." He said as he was paddling back to the lineup. A guy paddling back to the line up is less threatening than a guy sitting on his board and waiting for me to turn my back. I paddled hard for shore. Trying to get out of rock throwing distance. I glanced back and he was still paddling. I wish I could say that I wasn't scared. Just like I wish I was young, and thin, and a good surfer. He was very intimidating up close. Powerfully built and committed to his line of shit. If he would have attacked; I would have fought back. I'm worn out, but I have accumulated a few moves over the years. If he didn't drown me like a 30lb raccoon drowning a 80lb hound dog by climbing up on my head, then we would have both dragged ourselves up on the beach injured. I doubt he would have been arrested. I on the other hand would probably spend serious time and money to get out of a Puerto Vallarta jail.

At this time I have no desire to ever return. I have never experienced anything like this before. The closest to this was in Hanalua Bay. I was told that I was in over my head and should go in. But that guy was right, and he wasn't threatening, he was just talking. I think that the best thing for traveling surfers to do is stay away from Sayulia for a while. Maybe that will cause an attitude adjustment. My next trip is tentatively planned for California in fall. My Lake Michigan surfing buddy wants to go to Ocean Side. It would be my first chance to split costs on a trip, and that is very attractive. I have spent a lot of money on my surfing path. My Lake Michigan surfing buddy had been planning to visit Sayulita, but after hearing my stories decided not to. He's physically tougher than me, but he hates fighting and animosity. He's also a Firefighter/Paramedic who knows first hand the value of being able to count on 911. Both Cabo, and San Jose Del Cabo have Fire Departments! I think that the main problem in Sayulita is lack of decent leadership. They need to put a 15% tax on tourist stuff like they do on the tip of Baja in order to provide for basic services. When I was driving to Todos Santos, not the island smart asses, the town north of Cabo. I had to stop at a Police road block where volunteers solicited donations for the red cross ambulance. Some people probably get mad. I gave them $50.

I'd like to go to New Zealand someday. I read in the most recent issue of The Surfers Journal that the breaks are uncrowded, and the people you do meet are most likely going to be decent and friendly.

Good luck to you where ever you go.