THOUGH WE THOUGHT OUR BIG HOUSE AND LAWN WERE PRETTY GREAT, Asa and Nell found the neighbor's bungalow to be superior: it was a staff residence, and its parched yard, shaded by a couple of palms and banana trees, was heaven for small lizards. Our housekeeper, we discovered, lived there with her children—Would we like to meet them? she asked. They were home on a school holiday, and just slightly older and younger than ours. It was a great match—her son, Ivan, showed our kids how they were being too gentle in their lizard pursuit; our kids delighted hers with the discovery of a particularly large blue-bellied reptile that appeared to be only recently dead. It was the kind of encounter you always hope for in a foreign place, a reminder that the best kind of kids' activity is hard to plan for, and utterly free.
The climax of our trip came on a day that started with a visit to the local kindergarten, where the Mexican children treated ours like honored guests, singing fervent choruses of "De Colores" and "Una Rata Vieja," about a grandma rat. (An attempt by Nell and me to reciprocate with "Twinkle, Twinkle" fell a bit short, but they were forgiving.) Just before dusk, a contingent of maybe 40 adults and children from the hotel trooped down the beach for one of the periodic releases of baby sea turtles hatched nearby. The turtles, explained local conservationist Frank Smith, a retiree from California standing beside his dune buggy, were endangered by shrimp fishing, poaching, and dogs and people who dig up the eggs for food. His group collects eggs as soon as possible after they're laid, hatches them in a special tent on the beach, and then returns the babies to the sea. We discovered that the kids had visited the tent with Daly; they already knew that Frank didn't mind if they handled the animals, as long they did it carefully.
Finally he emptied the laundry baskets of young turtles onto the sand, and the crowd parted. The tiny creatures, only 1 1/4 inches long, used their flippers to clamber down the beach to the crashing surf. Children picked up those that went astray and set them straight. With the pink sky on his face, Smith told us that the turtles would now begin a 6,000-mile sojourn, and somehow, nobody knew how, find their way back to this beach at the end of three years, to start the cycle all over again. I thought we might try to do the same.
Costa Azul Adventure Resort Hwy. 200, KM-118, Amapas y las Palmas, San Francisco, Nayarit; 800/365-7613 or 949/498-3223, fax 949/498-6300; www.costaazul.com; doubles from $120; packages from $308 a night for a family of four (including all activities, three meals, and unlimited drinks); children under three free; children under five $36 a night; children six to ten $62. Villa Mar is $300 a night, not including activities, meals, and drinks.
For privately owned rental houses, many with pools and near the resort, contact Brian Stine at International Shores Realty, 52-325/84020, fax 52-325/84021; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ted Conover's latest book, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing (Random House), won the National Book Critics Circle award for nonfiction.