By Carmen Poon
I love water, period. Despite growing up in landlocked Alberta, I have always been a water baby. I have many happy memories associated with water and spending time with my parents. Maybe that is why I love many activities surrounding water. In Calgary, a section of the Elbow River passes through Stanley Park. There, the water is shallow enough for wading and the current gentle enough for safe inner tubing (at least it was in the 70’s and 80’s). My mom would often take my brother and me there. We would gently float on an inner tube to the bend in the river (nobody’s mom let them go past the bend) , then haul the black rubber ring out of the water, and drag it to our picnic spot a few hundred meters back along the river. There we would happily begin the mini voyage all over again. We literally spend hours on this aquatic conveyer belt of fun, while our mom sat and read, occasionally agreeing to take a float with us.
Another memory that stands out for me is jumping off the dock at Waterton Lake. One summer my family took a day trip to Waterton National Park located in the Rocky Mountains. It was horribly hot that day (Okay, not Puerto Vallarta hot, but hot none the less.) So my dad, my brother and I decided that a swim was in order. We also decided that wading in gingerly from the shore was for sissies and instead decided to go to the dock. There, we ran, jumped, cannon balled, belly flopped, and occasionally, dove into the lake. I don’t know if you have ever swum in a mountain lake, but they are usually pretty cold. On this day, however, the sun was beating down on the town site and the lake was actually warm. Well, in reality only the first few feet of the water were warm. Once you hit a certain depth where the sunlight no longer penetrated, the water became its usual ice cube cold. The first time I hit the band of cold water it was a complete shock, but after that it became a game. I would fly into the warm water and then allow my body to sink further down until the lake “turned on” the cold water. A shiver of fun would ripple through my body as I kicked my feet to rise to the warm surface. It was crazy, invigorating fun and my father was clearly enjoying it as much as my brother and I were. In some ways, it felt like the lake was also playing a game of hot and cold, enjoying the presence of our laughing bodies slipping through its gentle lapping waves.
Nowadays, I usually go to the beach in Puerto Vallarta to get my dose of water fun. While preparing to write this article I pondered what I like about the beach. Puerto Vallarta is a beach destination, but I have heard more than one person say that the beaches aren’t that nice here. Usually, that person is comparing them to the beaches on the Caribbean side of Mexico. I guess that many people decide what makes a great beach based on how fine the sand is and how gentle the waves are. I certainly do enjoy fine, soft sand between my toes and gentle lapping waves, but those are not my only criteria. I have enjoyed myself on powdery soft beaches and rocky ones alike. Each beach has a distinct personality and I like getting to know what makes that beach different from the others.
My son and I are avid treasure hunters. For us, treasure is anything that makes us say, “Oh cool!” or “Wow!” One of Ethan’s most cherished pieces is a bone that he found on the beach on Halloween. It appears to be a vertebrae and it is almost perfectly intact. Neither one of us has any idea what animal it came from, (presumably some sort of fish), but finding it was as wondrous to us as finding the Ark of the Covenant was to Indiana Jones. Discovering cool shells, marvelling at oddly shaped rocks and mucking about with slimy seaweed is just, well, FUN. (Ethan would add finding dead fish, or a squishy squashy jelly fish carcass to that list. Ewww) In other words I enjoy the small things with my son just as my parents did with me jumping off a dock and floating down a lazy river.
One thing that initially surprised me was how similar the rocks on Vallarta’s beaches are to the stones along the shores of Waterton Lake. I can still clearly recall looking at a nice oval purple/pink stone and thinking, “Huh! Just like in Waterton.” As I continued along the beach I realized that the vast majority looked like they had been taken from Waterton and then deposited here in Mexico. I know that there is probably some practical explanation like receding glaciers or that Waterton used to be an ocean millions of years ago, but as far as I was concerned, it was as if a little piece of home had been dropped there just for me. Mother Nature had put out the welcome mat for me.
One of my favourite beaches is located just south of the Sheraton hotel on the main hotel strip. I believe it is called Playa Camarones, Shrimps Beach, but I’m not a hundred percent sure. I often don’t know the names of beaches here. This beach usually only has a handful of people on it. Normally, there are one or two people fishing, a couple more swimming, and another small group on the shore. The reason for the lack of people is the terrain. It is extremely rocky. In fact, when we first started visiting the beach, there was almost no sand on it, just rocks, a few shells, and (much to Ethan’s delight), the occasional dead fish. Clarence, Ethan and I just loved puttering around, skipping stones, showing other ones to each other and pocketing the priceless ones. Unfortunately, over the course of the last year the face of the shoreline has changed dramatically. Thanks to storms and some big waves, there are now large patches of sand many inches deep covering most of our beloved stone treasures.
Being from Alberta, I had no idea that a beach could change so significantly in a relatively short time. It was quite a shock to go down to our favourite rock beach one day and see so much sand. We had to find another beach that was as rich with treasure as this one. We found it at Boca de Tomates Beach near the marina. Again, this beach is not well developed. Most days there are very few people on it, because it is located at the end of the airport runway. Yep. When we hang out at this beach we get our hair combed by jets leaving the Puerto Vallarta Airport. It’s fun to be talking and then suddenly be interrupted by a roaring, flying monster. If you use your imagination, you can almost picture silver dragons flying over your head and out to sea.
Since no hotel is ever going to be built on this site, the beach is more “natural” meaning that there is not a group of staff out every morning cleaning up the jetsam that washes up onto it. As such, there is a wealth of interesting things to marvel at, pick up, and if interesting enough, take home. This beach is mostly sand, but it also boasts interesting rocks, lots of floating sticks and logs, shells of all sizes and shapes, as well as, wonderful inhabitants like turtles, crabs, pelicans, other cool birds, and crocodiles. Yes, I said crocodiles. I personally have never come across one, but I have been warned by more than one local not to venture into the brush and waters bordering the east side of the beach because of the toothy reptiles.
If you walk far enough up this beach you will find the Campamento Tortuguero Boca de Tomates. It is a turtle hatchery run by some very dedicated individuals. We stumbled upon it our first time up the beach and we were allowed to hold a baby turtle. Later that same day, we volunteered to release the babies at the water’s edge. What an amazing experience. I’m not certain, but I believe that the man in charge of the campamento (Antonio if I remember correctly) actually lives there fulltime. He and the other members of the group work very hard to ensure that the next generation of turtles makes it to the ocean.
Obviously, my main reason for going to the beach is relaxation and play. Going to the beach is a wonderful place to unwind. It’s also, surprisingly, a great form of physical therapy. Like many people of a certain age, I have chronic low back pain. I have had issues with my back off and on for years, but in the last year or so it has become quite an irritant in my life, disturbing my sleep, impeding movement and sometimes affecting my ability to sit for any length of time. (Blah, blah, blah) One day I went to Boca de Tomates Beach with Clarence and Ethan. We got there early and hung out for a good four hours. I divided my time between lounging underneath the umbrella, body surfing, swimming, playing in the sand, and wave punching. (If you’ve never done wave punching I HIGHLY recommend that you try it. First, you position yourself about hip deep in the water. Then, when a wave comes in toward shore, you the beat tar out of it like a ninja or a professional wrestler! My favourite move is jumping up and over the wave and coming down on it with my elbow out; picture a pro wrestler jumping off the top rope of a wrestling ring. Screaming something like, “Is that all you got? Come on!” is also popular amongst wave punchers. It is in short, a gloriously fun and silly activity) Anyway, back to my story. On that particular day I had conveniently forgotten my physiotherapy exercises. We had decided to leave the house early and so I just didn’t manage to get them done that day. As we packed up our various paraphernalia to return home and walked over the uneven, shifting sand I realized quite suddenly that my back wasn’t stiff and sore. In fact, it felt pretty much normal! I don’t know if it was the relaxation or that the various aquatic activities moved my back in new ways, but the pain was gone. Every time that I have gone to the beach since, I have later left the sand with little to no back pain. My acupuncturist and chiropractor have said that it might be the magical mix of relaxation and using different muscles in my back. Whatever it is, I am glad that I have another excuse to hit the beach more often! Despite what my friends think, I don’t get to the beach as frequently as I would like.
I guess that it is pretty obvious that I am just a big kid. For me, the beach is an excuse to play, but it is also a place to meditate and connect with nature. In my work I teach preschoolers. It is general practice in preschool to expose the students to as many different tactile stimuli as possible. This means lots of games and activities with things like play dough, rice grains, rocks, plants, and sand. Small children develop fine motor skills during these activities and also learn about the characteristics of the various substances. As adults we are generally no longer encouraged to engage in this form of basic exploration, but I think we should all do it. Simply put, I think it is good for the soul. Playing in the sand is meditative for me. Like the preschoolers that I teach, I too get to indulge in a variety of tactile sensations. It is like playing in a giant Zen garden, you know those mini sand boxes that they sell in gift shops with the little bamboo rake and a handful of rounded stones. But on the beach I am not limited by a small wooden box and some rocks that another person picked out for me. I have a huge natural canvas that has any number of wondrous elements for me to use. Sometimes I just like to pick up the sand and rub it back and forth in my hands, inspecting its composition. There is a rainbow of colours in a handful of sand. I shut off my brain and observe.
Other times I like to walk down the beach. Boca de Tomates is a long, quiet, glittering beach. The water and the sand look like they have been sprinkled with golden fairy dust. Even though I know that it isn’t real, it still feels luxurious and almost magical to tread a golden path. As I walk along the water’s edge, the waves lap at my feet like the pulse from a giant heart. It is calming; I like to focus on the rhythm and breathe. If I walk close enough to the waves they crisply tickle my ankles and shins. Every once in a while a larger wave will mischievously slap my upper thighs, making me gasp and laugh, soaking my shorts. For me the waters of the Pacific are just as alive and playful as Waterton Lake so many years ago. Yep, I’m a water baby…
If you are interested in connecting with the Campamento Tortuguero Boca de Tomates you can find them on Facebook.
This Op-Ed reflects the views and opinions of the author and may not reflect the views of PVDN. We encourage people to submit their opinions for publication pending approval to [email protected] All submissions must be well-written and ready for publication. We do not approve opinion pieces containing profanity, personal attacks, libel, or defamation.