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Family Vacations in Mexico

David Tsay

Photo: David Tsay

The waves were small and sweet, and on my fifth or sixth try, I miraculously caught one. Crouched in fear and elation, I rode the wave in, a little too far, as it turned out; as Aaron had warned us, there were some sharp rocks on the bottom. I ended up with a slightly cut foot—but was so "stoked" that I barely felt it and immediately paddled back out.

Afterward we took over a restaurant on the beach, and Scott, one of the friendly Lagunans, bought a big dorado from the back of a fisherman's pickup for the restaurant to grill. As I opened my second bottle, it seemed a shame to me that anyone ever has to drink Corona beer anywhere besides a Mexican beach. Margot arrived with a new collection of striped market bags just as the fish was coming off the grill.

If only all of our meals had been that good. Costa Azul's restaurant opened onto the beach but its kitchen often seemed understaffed, its menu needlessly elaborate. One night, Enrique, the chef, staged a feast, with tiny sopes, chicken tamales, chiles rellenos, crisp flautas, and, for dessert, fried bananas wrapped in a tortilla and sprinkled with cinnamon. Three nights later, he somehow ran out of chicken, corn tortillas, and, apparently, help, as we waited more than an hour for food. Also, oddly, there was no kids' menu. However, nothing we tried—strawberries, lettuce, unpeeled tomatoes, ice (gingerly at first, but after a day or so, without concern)—made anyone sick, and much of the food was terrific, such as the pico de gallo salad, done with fresh orange, jicama, cucumber, chile powder, salt, and lime.

Perhaps the best thing about the restaurant was the fabulous menu of live music. Every other night it was different: mariachis, an ensemble of regional folk dancers, and, unexpectedly great, a local gypsy trio that included a German, a Swede, and a Mexican (Gitans Blonds was the name of their CD). We all loved every band, Nell in particular; she danced solo, or with the Laguna gang, stopping to eat only during their breaks.

When we heard that Daly and Jesús, our kayak guide, were planning to attend the rodeo in Sayulita, we had to go, too. Inside the low concrete arena we saw a little rodeo and a lot of pageantry: bull-riding contestants would explode into the ring, and, because in Mexico they're allowed to use both hands, hang on for a good long ride. For big intervals in between, we were entertained by a brass salsa band with an unbelievably large wall of speakers on a stage awash in artificial smoke. The Sunday-night affair was notable for the consumption of exotica—we ate elote (corn cut from the cob and mixed with sour cream and chile powder), pepino (cucumber spears, served in a plastic bag), and local oranges, and drank Modelo beer, watching as everyone else tossed their empty cans into the arena. The crowd included couples, a few families, and men out with their buddies. "That man is drunk," I found myself explaining to the children for the first time. As the sun set, colored lights illuminated the band, which seemed to conspire with the rodeo announcer to fill every available moment of silence. We ended the evening in Sayulita with a round of rides and chocolaty churros at a traveling carnival.

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