A DAY TRIP TO SAN PANCHO
Charming Sayulita with its little bay beach has plenty to occupy the vacationer. The sand is adorned with families, young hipster newlyweds wandering town from the giant Spanish mansions perched on the hill and locals hocking everything from straw hats and chicken on a stick to donuts.
However, a fifteen minute drive up Federal Highway 200 takes you to San Francisco, which is called San Pancho by locals (I was told that Pancho is an affectionate Mexican nickname for Francisco; often if a father and son are both named Francisco, the son is called Pancho). Entering the town feels like walking into a yoga studio before class has started. The place is quiet, the air is cool and clean, a few people are slowly moving toward the center. The walls of the small Mexican style stucco homes are painted red with hot pink trim, or purple with chartreuse, blue with yellow and palm trees in the gardens gesticulate tiny “hello” waves.
I quickly discovered the reason for the feeling of calm relaxation as San Francisco offers several yoga studios, healthy food , even and organic bistro.and a bird sanctuary, all so peaceful that I suddenly wanted to trade in my youth to become one of the retired expats that frequent the lounger chairs on the beach. (I admit, I may not be that “youthful”, but I’m not retirement age YET)
It was a Tuesday, so we strolled through a craft market set up in the plaza. A live band of 3 young indie rockers played music, blankets, silver, pottery and leather were tastefully laid out on tables for the retired vacationers perusing the wares.
On the opposite side of the plaza, the beach lured us where with its silky sand and lagoon that flowed into a large body of water separated from the surf by barely 20 yards. It’s an estuary that harbors birds in such density that just walking close to it sounds like the front row seat of a concert played by various tweets, whistles and caws. San Francisco is known for it’s bird conservation. Small birds fly like bats, swooping close than quickly jerking in the other direction. A white egret eyed me suspiciously when I came within 5 feet of it and it’s harem. The egret stretched out its neck and began rhythmically nodding at me in a way that I assume was a threat.
The surf was shore break, so my friends weren’t able to take advantage of the rented surf and boogie boards we had tied to the roof of our rented truck (I rarely swim, but I tested the temperature of the water and it was refreshingly cool without being cold). We ended up spending about 2 hours on the virtually empty beach napping and reading books. I took a walk to one end of the playa and realized that the 3 or 4 tents set up on the sand were homes to several permanent residents. I had noticed a sign near a bar serving the beach that said NO CAMPING… the other side read NO CAMPING IN THIS AREA. I guess the tents were not in that “area”. The other end of the beach has a camping area and tents that appear to be permitted.
My stomach started rumbling, so we wandered through the center of town where several nice looking establishments advertised on chalkboards TACOS, CAMARONES, TORTAS. A painted sign placed on the corner a few blocks from the beach was written in sharpie, CHILI RELLENO, POLLO, POLLO MOLE.
I am a freak for mole! And I find the best is always the out of the place hole-in-the-wall, so we immediately turned away from the tourist populated establishments and headed up a cobble stone street to a huge patio restaurant, La Chalupa. The front patio was empty with the exception of a large table, six kitchen chairs and a few caged parrots. The back patio had a roof and 8 tables, seating locals eating home made salsa on corn tortillas and roast chicken. We sat at the traditionally table-clothed red and green table. This is the way I like my Mexican restaurants, an older man speaking very little English told me about the specials while a radio played traditional Mexican ballads in the kitchen for the cook’s entertainment, and a vat of deep red/purple agua fresca sat on the counter.
I was informed they didn’t have mole that day, but one of the specials was a chili relleno stuffed with shrimp. We ordered that as well as chicken fajitas, which turned out to be plenty for 3 people. I requested a michelada, and watched as the gentleman prepared a tintcture of various liquid spices in my salt rimmed glass, added the juice of 3–4 limes, clamato and a bottle of pacifico. It was good, but the color of the agua fresca called to me and I ordered that too. It was jamaica agua fresca(habiscus), slightly sweet, slightly tart, it reminded me of a sweet cranberry tea (after drinking both the michelada and the agua fresca, my friend, Doug, the driver of truck, informed me I better use the ladies room BEFORE we got in the car because he was NOT stopping).
Our food came and was happily cooked in a lot of lard, the fajitas were pretty standard and we were disappointed to discover the “camarones” in the chili relleno were tiny bay shrimp, most likely frozen ones that had been thawed for the daily special, certainly not local.
The food was nothing special, but we were entertained by Dona Raina, the matriarch of El Chalupa, a 70 year old woman who sat with one severely swollen foot resting on a stool. .Each local or vendor entering the premises paid tribute to her, greeting her as “Dona” and waiting for her to approve the camerones, or the fish they were selling; chatting with her about the fish they were buying or planning to order for lunch.
After obediently using the ladies room, we hopped back into the truck and decided to follow a dirt road that appeared to run north along the coast. The first off-shoot of the road was for Las Olas, a gated community and then a gate leading to Las Huertas, an expensive looking 9 hole golf course. We continued for several miles on a jolting dirt road constantly heading up hill anticipating the view from the top (and an opportunity for me to use a ladies room again!) Deep jungle grew on both sides of the road making a view of the ocean impossible. I was surprised at the frequency with which the jungle was broken by the wall of some fancy villa too far back from the road for us to see anything except it’s locked gates. Stucco wall after jungle, then more stucco walls. (“The first thing we do is build a wall. Gee, I wonder who said that,” joked my friend Doug.)
After about 5 miles, we reached the end of the road, where the ultimate in gated communities had instructed their “guard” to encourage people to go back to San Francisco, which we did (I had instructed MY friends, anytime we are stopped in the car, pretend we don’t speak Spanish, it discourages questions and allows most officials to just wave you on).
We drove back through town stopping at the charming community center selling crafts that support children’s education. Thirty or forty children of various ages were taking advantage of the books shelved all over, or the foosball table. Several were working on arts and crafts projects, and a group was out back playing soccer.
Diagonally across the street from the community center was a gem of a find, Mexicolate, a traditional Mexican chocolate shop.
We tried the “love shot”, 10 grams of pure cocoa cooked in a traditional Mexican olla, an earthenware pot, with a small amount of water. The Love Shot was served sprinkled with cayenne (no sugar). The woman at the counter informed us this was the way the Aztecs drank chocolate and it was considered beneficial for health (I took this advice to heart and decided my health needs a lot more chocolate!). We also ordered Agua de Cocoa, a mixture of coconut, cardamom, cinnamon, water and toasted cocoa beans in a cold brew. It was sweeter than the Love shot, but neither were overly bitter and both were delicious. The shop also sells jars of local honey mixed with toasted cocoa beans and snack bags of the toasted bean as well.
One more trip to the ladies’ room, and we headed back to Sayulita for a craft beer at Trapiche, but more about that later, first I need to use the ladies room!