Nouvelle Vauge: Learning to Love Banda in Nayarit

This piece was originally published by Nouvelle Vague. Click here to read it in it’s entire original format.

When I first travelled to México, I landed in Léon, far from the ocean, and made my way to Guanajuato, even further from the sea. It was 2010 and I was travelling under many naive assumptions about México, chiefly that everyone spoke English. That first night in Guanajuato, when me and my taxi driver were winding up and down through the underground streets, I remember feeling more than a little lost, bouncing between the lights and the music and the throngs of people on the streets, freshly dumped and utterly out of my element.

No Español?” my cabbie said.

No.. Un po d’italiano? Français?” I asked, hopefully.

He just shook his head and repeated “no español.”

The next week, I found myself in the quiet coastal town of Barra de Navidad, just a few hours south of busy Puerto Vallarta. In Barra, we danced in the surf under the light of the moon and looked out across the bay to Malaque during the day. Nothing was going when we were there, just a quick closeout beach break. As I watched the waves crash before heading back to Guadalajara, I resolved to come back to México when I wasn’t on the clock for a research project, to seek out the quiet beach town life I’d gotten a glimpse of in Barra.Credit: Kevin Tan

I didn’t think it would take me so long, but four years later I boarded a flight at an ungodly hour in the morning, headed to Puerto Vallarta with four friends from Vancouver.  A van picked us up at the airport, took us to the grocery store where we stocked up on everything we thought we could possibly need for the next ten days, then started the two hour drive north to the town of Sayulita.

Sayulita is no hidden gem, there isn’t much that’s secret about the area anymore. I had received a lot of second-hand advice about the area from friends who’d made the pilgrimage before me, and a friend of one of the guys in our house that had surfed right in town and graciously emailed all of us pictures of his eye infection and matching chic IV drip courtesy of some poor local sanitation.

Credit: Kevin Tan

Here’s a fun fact about México: the sewage situation is privatized, and the “new” sewer system was outdated before it was finished. Sayulita’s population is nearly 3 times greater than predicted, and as a result, when there are the local holidays, the sewage system overloads even more than usual. A few weeks prior to our arrival, Sayulita had hosted a surf competition of sorts when the town population spiked quite high from its barely sustainable 4,000. So that should paint a fairly odour-heavy picture for you.

There was a little river that ran past the treatment facility that left little to the imagination about the state of the water.  As a result, we never actually went into the water at Sayulita. Instead, we wandered around the state of Nayarit seeking waves, a common theme on most of our surf trips.

There’s a general rule about international surf trips booked more than a few weeks in advance – the swell is never what you hope for. And for the first day we were there, neither was the weather.

The house we had rented was beautiful and bright and had a large patio behind the house that looked out into a lush garden. The first day it rained hard and the swell was nonexistent, so our local guides, Chris and Agustin, called off the trip we’d had planned for the day and we stretched ourselves out from the flight in a backyard yoga session. That back patio saw many yoga sessions, hammock naps, and ukulele jams during our stay.

Credit: Bader Almazán

In the town of Sayulita, banda music plays from sunrise to sunset on speakers placed strategically to make sure that you are never out of earshot, which I imagine is fine if you don’t loathe banda music. But it’s all part of the charm of Sayulita. From the rainy streets to the beer league baseball, local life in Sayulita is charming and vibrant.

When things got going again, there were plenty of waves to be had in the surrounding area. La Lancha has a nice, forgiving beach break, and everyone who didn’t get absolutely worked at the Cove in Punta de Mita said it was incredible. Had I not gotten absolutely worked at the Cove, I’d probably say the same.

For anyone that has ever surfed in the area, these spots are all standards, they’re not hidden or free of crowds. For a slightly different taste of Nayarit, head about two hours North to Platanitos where you’ll find Playa las Tortugas. You’ll already know it’s magic since it’s literally translated to Turtle Beach near Little Bananas, which is like something out of a crazy dream as far as location names go.

Playa Las Tortugas by Bader Almazán

Emerging from the thick of the brush along the path, you’ll find yourself on a ledge overlooking the beach, and you must do your best to keep breathing, so you don’t faint and fall down the cliffside from the sheer beauty. It’s like your dad’s tropical stock photo screensaver. You must also remember to shuffle step if you’re going to be walking in the water so as not to mess with the local wildlife, as one of our friends did when he curbstomped a stingray stepping off of his board. It’s a long walk back up with one foot out of commission, and while your friends do love you, I guarantee they don’t really want to have to push you across the river mouth on a longboard.

After you nurse your stingray wounds, be sure to enjoy a drink on the beach, and looking up at the houses dotting the hillside, wonder why you didn’t book to stay here instead of bustling Sayulita. When you get home to Sayulita though, after a day at Playa las Tortugas, when you’re knee deep in horchata, fruit popsicles, and your housemates are whipping up margaritas, everything will feel so good, you’ll even swear to the Virgen de Guadalupe that you’re really coming around to the local banda obsession.

Four years on from that first trip to México, I felt that my return was (in spite of my poor performance at the Cove) altogether triumphant. Far from the lost girl trying to mangle together French and Italian to find her hotel, watching quick close-outs, four years later I was bargaining competently in Spanish, and feeling at ease amongst the lights and the noises of Nayarit – even the banda felt familiar.

Credit: Bader Almazán



Nouvelle Vague: The Great Californian Wave Hunt

This piece was originally published by NouvelleVague. View it in it’s entire original format here. 

I think that most people, regardless of their affinity for surfing, dream of doing a road trip through California at some point. Short of the great American cross-country road trip, cruising up the California coastline is the kind of trip that’s held up in the mythos of America, and what it means to travel through America.

Visiting my family in Mendocino County as an adolescent never really lent itself to surfing, so it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to get in the water down there. Aside from long weekends spent in Santa Barbara visiting friends, my exposure to surfing the California coastline was very limited. In November of 2015, I changed that and indulged in one of my greatest fantasies: the Great California Road Trip.

We landed at LAX on a sunny Saturday morning and dipped into Inglewood to pick up our wheels for the next two weeks – an upgraded mini van rental named Stinger. Stinger was covered in the most ridiculous jellyfish spray paint job, and I was in love. It was the stuff of stereotypical surf trip dreams. With a pop up sleeper up top, room for our boards in the back seat, and a tailgate that opened up to a mini fridge, countertop and a grill, we were pretty well set. After a quick jaunt through Koreatown to grab a bite with a friend, we hit the road.

We made our way north of Malibu to Leo Carillo state beach where we stayed in an overpriced state-run campground a short walk down to the beach.

In the morning we made our way to Neptune’s Net and scoped as locals snagged some short, rocky rides.  With nearly two weeks to kill, we figured we could be a bit picky (rookie mistake) and carried on up the coast through the endless farms of Oxnard up to Ventura.

Ventura was all the things my little surfing heart longed for in November – warm weather, sunny skies, and friendly people. It was also where I realized that in my hastiness to get out of LAX, possibly the worst airport on the west coast, I had missed a ding on my board courtesy of either the airline or the airport. Either way, I had to grab some ding repair and wait in the sun for my board to cure while my travel companion jumped in at the bottom of C-Street and I watched with a level of impatience I didn’t even know I had.

That night we stayed just north of town at Emma Wood, where the train rocks past the campground all night long, blasting its horn at all hours. Sleep is for the weak anyways. We woke up to close-out waves crashing several metres from the foot of our van.

Story of my life, C-Street wasn’t going and Ventura was dead calm. So we found our way up to Rincon. Rincon was small but clean, glassy, and consistent. It was more busy by virtue of being Rincon, but everyone in the water was hyping each other and it was all of the good vibes. The feeling of finally getting into the water was unbeatable. With the sun on my face and salt in my hair, I finally felt like I’d gotten what I’d come for. Vacation mode was officially engaged and my cares were far and away.

After an idyllic session at Rincon, my travel partner was keen to head further north and happy to continue cruising and be diplomatic, I acquiesced to leaving Ventura and continuing north to Carpinteria where it was much, much colder. Like, ‘down jacket over head to toe wool baselayers with every single NXNW wool scarf and headband I owned’ colder.

There, again, we had no waves. It was starting to look like the only place we’d get any was even further north towards Morro Bay.  Luckily, a stop off in Santa Barbara proved to be worthwhile as we paddled out by the Campus Point and surfed long cruisy waves and bobbed around with the seals. The waves were on the smaller side but still better than anything else we’d had aside from Rincon.

We paddled back in, that happy kind of exhausted that surfing makes you, and made our way to San Luis Obispo to indulge my wine obsession and do some tastings before setting up camp in Pismo Beach.

If Ventura was everything I had expected and wanted a Southern California surf town to be, then Pismo Beach was everything I had kind of hoped it wouldn’t be. I imagine in the summer that Pismo Beach is probably bumping, but aside from a questionable marching band performance, Pismo was a strange ghost town where I’m fairly certain you can find the corpse of the American dream out back in a dumpster behind a burger shack. However, beside the Pismo pier there were waves to be had, and waves were what we had come for. They were quick to close but we’d already learned that we couldn’t afford to be picky this trip.

Camping out in a parking lot stealing some restaurant’s wifi, Magic Seaweed alerted us to the troubling news that the swell would die down even more over the next few days. Not to have our fun defeated, we carried our vacation vibes with us further north again up Big Sur to Monterey to check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium and their Tentacles exhibit.

This not only helped us kill time until the waves came back, but also indulged the marine biology nerd in my heart. We spent the next few days alternating between surfing at Morro Bay and Pismo Beach, with the few stalwart cold-water Californian surfers.

After pining away for the warm Ventura sunshine for a few days of this, my travel partner and I finally agreed to head back down to Goleta and visit our friends at UCSB on the way back to LA before our flight. While I was thrilled to see our incredibly gracious hosts again, I was pleased in equal measure to shed my down jacket and feel some sun on my skin again out in the water.

After we said goodbye to Stinger back in Inglewood, I took some time in the Air Canada lounge with the complementary hard bar to think back on the trip and how it had stacked up next to my fantasy.

November is certainly a quieter time to do a trip like this – the lineups were nearly nonexistent.  I determined that Rincon is the stuff of dreams, and while Morro and Pismo gave us a lot of love during our time there, there’s a lot to be said for a splash of warm sunshine with your wave.  Most importantly though, I confirmed my highly scientific theory that one can quite happily live off of little more than bread, cheese, wine and ocean baths for nearly two weeks as long as there is a little surf to be had. And even with the meagre waves we had, it was still an important trip to be done and one that I’d love to repeat – just not in November.

View this article it in it’s entire original format, with photos, here. 

Bella Coola

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Bella Coola had a group of settlers from Norway show up in 1894, and they brought their (weird, northern) dialect of Nynorsk, bunads, and lefse with them. The town is still littered with last names like Nygaard, Brekke, Svisdahl and Saugstad from the families, including my own, that moved here from towns like Tromsø, Bodø and Bardufoss.
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The Vosburgh Farm sits up in Firvale and is pretty much a little piece of paradise tucked between the mountains and the river. I swing by every time I come to town and collect eggs, eat pie, and drink coffee in this gorgeous spot. It’s been a long time since I’ve been home for haying season up there, but it’s one of my fondest memories of home: helping toss bales under the hot July sun, then picking apples off the roof and making pies in the kitchen with my favourite auntie. I’m convinced that dinner always tastes 150% better after farm chores.

On my second trip home this year, I spent an afternoon visiting with my aunt and mum up on the farm for a heavy dose of nostalgia. The little girl who lives next door to the farm accompanied me on a little walk around with the camera to capture the things I love about the farm in between sips of coffee and bites of pie.


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