A Stranger in Paradise: My Life in Yelapa

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George Santayana once wrote that, “…the world is too much with us, and we are too much with ourselves. We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure haphazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what.”

The intrepid traveler realizes the true essence of Santayana’s words.

To live amongst the Jaguars and mosquitos of Jalisco’s jungles may bother some who move to Yelapa. But even those with a sojourning heart rapture in the glory of the surrounding landscape and remoteness that engulfs this isolated yet raw paradise on Mexico’s western coastline.

To the wandering nomand and brazen traveler, this small, almost desolate outpost with no cars and a mere ten donkeys offers a respite from the sobering and mundane life of the American metropolis. Whether a Yelapan visitor chooses to reside among the jungles or on the beach, this quaint, off-the-grid fishing village entrances the soul and heals the spirit.

Yelapa: “where the waters meet,” and that’s what the Mexican Indians dubbed this place. Summertime is the rainy season, and that’s when Yelapa truly lives up to its name. Rushing waters cascade down from the mountains, passing the through the jungle basin, and finally meander to their destination in the town’s sprawling lagunita.

The sediment from the mountainside flows with the water, painting the lagoon a brackish color during the rainy season. But in the dry months, the waves emit an incomparable azure of crystal clear tides.

Living in town means crossing the river or swimming to reach the beach, unless you’re one of the few to live on the east side of the settlement. Jungle dwellers may be inconvienced by the hike to the as well, but the payoff is well worth the trip. One of Yelapa’s crowning jewels is the heavenly waterfall just a short distance from the town, where legend says a daily bath can extend life by decades.

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The friendly residents of Yelapa both fish for a living and ferry the ocassional tourist group to and from the village from the seemingly world’s apart city of Puerto Vallarta. Neighboring Yelapa and along the entire coast, the intrepid traveler will find any number of lesser outposts and abandoned beaches that, with the right skillset, remain habitable, at least for a short while.

Even further from the already hermitic village are the Marietas Islands. The islands, although campable, occupy government land and long term habitation is out of the question.

Back in Yelapa, visitors and new residents alike will find renting a place to be the best option for brief visits as well as protracted stays.

Making friends in the town is critical to daily life in a place with limited internet, electricity and a nearly cash only policy for purchases. Although benevolence in any town is never entirely universal, Yelapa stands out among many. The kindness of the villagers is always on full display, even with just a few words of broken English at their disposal.

On one particular night, I forgot the key to my apartment, and in the pouring rain, a generous Yelapan family allowed this soaked American a place to rest his head, albeit, to my dismay, adjacent to an incessantly crowing rooster. But even the roosters in Yelapa echo a call of friendship.

People, roosters and donkeys aren’t the only residents of the town lending a smile and word of comradery. Any variety of dogs and cats call beaches and rickety roads home, taken care of collectively by the townspeople.

The furry creatures often cuddle up for a warm hug or, more likely that otherwise, a bite to eat by the shore as beachgoers soak up the sun and the sea. The ocassional hermit crab and fruit fly may also stop by for a bite but sometimes not just for the shrimp on your plate. Drinks, fingers and toes are all sometimes on the menu. But often, the little creatures’ presence is innocuous.

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The awe and beauty of nature manifested in Yelapa only colors a partial picture, limited by words. There are few paradises on Earth unvarnished by civilization. Yelapa is one of them and brings man to the gates of Eden in his quest to replenish the soul.

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