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  • Writer's pictureEmily Hutchins

Gift of Experiences

This holiday, we decided to do something adventurous, fun, and non-traditional since last year was difficult and spent recovering from brain surgery. A friend recommended a trip to Mexico and the town of Sayulita, located in the Banderas Bay on the Pacific Ocean in the state of Nayarit.

Sayulita was surprisingly easy to get to. We flew out of Atlanta since my in-laws were gracious enough to watch our fur baby while we were away. The flight was only 3.5 hours to Puerto Vallarta. From PV, we took a taxi to Sayulita which was a 45 minute ride and cost ~750p ($40usd). In hindsight, we would have taken the local green and white Compostela bus, which is only $3 pp, runs every 20 minutes and is a 1.5 hour ride.

We were dropped off in Sayulita at our AirBnB, a lovely rooftop palapa, owned by Summer and Rogelio. This place was perfect for us as it had an outdoor shower and kitchen, along with a lovely sleeping hut. We had the entire roof to ourselves and the location was perfect - only a 5 minute walk from town, but far enough away to get out of the hustle and bustle.

We spent our arrival day eating lunch at Mary's, getting our bearings around town, buying essential groceries and scoping out dinner.

For dinner, we ate al pastor tacos at El Ivan. Best tacos ever. I did not eat vegetarian on this vacation for this exact purpose. There is no way I could deny myself the al pastor taco experience.

Sleeping in the palapa was interesting. Our first night we experienced all the noises -- bongo drums echoing from town until 3 a.m. and fireworks; then starting around 4:30, we heard all the roosters and donkeys throughout the town.

Christmas Day. Woke up and enjoyed freshly ground coffee and smoothies on the roof with our resident pups before a trail run north of town. I was in absolute trail heaven as we ran along the ocean and through the jungle. We spent the afternoon at Los Muertos beach, which is more low-key than the main beach in Sayulita. Pacificos are hand-delivered on the beach for only 25p ($1.50usd). We enjoyed dinner at Itacate, where I had the best shrimp relleno that included a layer of fried cheese. Tacos cost about 35p ($2usd) here.

The next morning, we woke up for our morning workout, which consisted of an exploratory run to find Playa Carricitos, a secluded beach up the coast. We had the beach all to ourselves and made up a HIITT workout in the sand.

We spent the afternoon just north of the main beach, which ended up being our favorite beach spot - it was still great for people watching and Jeremy liked the surf for swimming. This was the day where I learned about Don Julio Blanco and Jeremy started whipping up "skinny-ritas" for me to drink on the beach. The recipe is simple. Fresh-squeezed lime and orange, 1-2 shots of tequila, homemade sugar water, over ice with the rim coated in tajin seasoning.

We ate dinner at La Rustico and had beet salad and shrimp pizza. Cost around $570p ($35usd). We walked across the bridge for fresh churros from the "Churro Lady." Well worth the walk and it wouldn't be our only post-dinner visit across the bridge.

The next morning, we began to get settled into our daily routine: coffee, trail running, smoothies, beach, cocktail hour, dinner out. We pursued the Friday farmer's market in town and bought goat cheese, delicious greens, veggies for salads and sauteing, more coffee beans, and fresh fruit for our morning smoothies. Dinner was at Don Pablos, one of the nicer dining establishments, where we watched the sunset over the ocean. We enjoyed fried calamari and the fresh Mahi, followed by banana cream pie.

Saturday was our first attempt at trying to run to the summit of Monkey Mountain. We ran from town and met a baby burro who ran out at me and tried to eat my bright socks. Jeremy navigated us through cobblestone roads and dirt paths until we found ourselves running up a creek bed, searching for the "trailhead". A local stopped in her jeep and told us how to get to the trail; however 2 miles in, we came across a No Pasar sign and decided that we should not proceed.

We spent the afternoon shopping around town and checking out the markets. Dinner was at Burrito Revolution. This place was amazing and we loved the cozy ambiance and the bartender. We had shrimp nachos, tacos de cameron and a spicy margarita. The bartender kept pouring us "shots" from his tin canteen. Dinner was around $450p ($23usd).

Sunday was spent attempting the Monkey Mountain trail run again. This time, we took a taxi to town of Higuera Blanca to begin the run from the official trailhead, but there were still no signs and the cab driver essentially dropped us off in a creek bed and pointed us in the right direction. It was a 2 mile ascent and we finally saw a trail sign, which was a monkey in a tree. The views on top of Mountain Mountain provided us with a 360 degree views of the shores, jungle and surrounding mountains. Monkey Mountain is considered sacred to the Huichol Indians.

We talked to a trail guide at the summit and asked him about the feasibility of running back to town through the private property we encountered the day before. He assured us we would be fine if we followed the creek bed through the jungle. We ended up successfully running point to point and made it home by lunch and enjoyed another afternoon on the beach. We had dinner at Yeikame and this is where I had the best meal of the trip: Azteca Soup with Shrimp and Cochinita Pibil Tacos, followed by another walk across the bridge to visit the Churro Lady.

Monday was our last full day in Sayulita, so I started the morning off with a trail run on the trails north of town. We spent the whole day on the beach, people-watching, and enjoying margaritas and Pacificos.

We decided to spend our last dinner at Mary's, where Jeremy housed two large empanadas and I ordered an extremely spicy shrimp diablo dish. Very spicy.

New Years Eve. We woke up to the most beautiful sunrise from our bed. We spent the morning packing, eating the rest of our food and drinking the last Pacifico. We caught the local bus for a cheap, easy 1 hour ride back to the airport.

What we learned/enjoyed most:

- Walking everywhere, especially the "secret" path from town to our palapa. However, we only scratched the surface of this part of Mexico, so next time we'll explore more of the surrounding region.

- No schedule, except running, beach lounging, eating and experiencing the culture.

- The AirBNB experience with fantastic hosts who gave us advice, local tips and inspiration for how to live life.

- The desire to become fluent in Spanish.

- Traveling together is good for the soul and your marriage! I came away from this trip more in love, if that's even possible.

- Gained more appreciation for our jobs, family, friends and this opportunity. Already brainstorming the next trip together!

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