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Exploring Mexico’s Pacific Coast

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Photo: Anne Menke

For the price of a Four Seasons cabana—$300 per day in high season—you could stay three nights at the Hafa in Sayulita and get change back. Within a cabana's two hard and two curtained walls are a sumptuous daybed mounded with cushions, a 42-inch plasma TV, and a mini-bar stocked with sunblock and an eye mask filled with coolant. Pick up the phone, and before you have time to put down your paperback the spa sends someone with all the fixings for a chilled-margarita manicure. If it's two o'clock it must be time for a visit from the sunglass doctor, who cleans, tightens, and makes the scratches disappear from your shades. Every hour a staffer comes by proffering some little temptation: unfermented palm wine, frozen fruit, lassi, a piña colada "whip." The bar lays on six kinds of caviar. And you thought there was a world caviar crisis.

Anyone who has had his feet rubbed with lime juice, salt, and tequila knows you have to come down to earth sometime. Yelapa lies south of PV, 45 miles from Punta Mita, and is accessible only by boat, by mountain bike, or on foot. To reach the Verana hotel from the shore, you take a 15-minute donkey ride through steep jungle—a little jostly, as you'd expect, but also very exciting. Up top, the landscape opens up rather suddenly to disclose the bay below and, over your shoulder, the Sierra Madre Occidental. Like the views, the eight guest rooms are exhilarating but at the same time extremely peaceful. They follow the same indoor-outdoor principle as Villa Amor's, but with guts, style, and emotion. Heinz Legler, Verana's architect, loves half-walls, but no walls even more. The toilet was the only enclosed part of my bathroom, i.e. the washbasin was completely out in the open. Do you shave in the nude?

The look of sophisticated rusticity Legler favors is shared by his wife, Veronique Lievre, who decorated the hotel with a cocktail of Mexican handicrafts, found objects, flea-market bits and bobs, old milking stools, wrought-iron sling chairs of her own creation, George Nelson lighting, and twig furniture made on-site by the groundskeeper. People this design-centric rarely have a corresponding interest in food, but Lievre and Legler break the mold. Their restaurant is one of the best on the Bay of Banderas, serving red snapper grilled whole on a stick, coconut-mango sticky rice, and lemongrass crème brûlée.

Yelapa's population of 1,500 was introduced to the pleasures of electricity just five years ago and is still waiting to discover those of the automobile, though if cars do make it, there'll be nowhere to drive them. The Tuito River slices through the village, emptying into the Pacific, and in the rainy season you have to wade across to get from one side of Yelapa to the other. Occasionally the calm is broken by a farmer and a pack of dogs giving chase to an escaped bull. Someone should make a movie.

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