C is for Casa (or how hard could it be to find a place to live in Mexico)

I’m ready!

The phone rang late on Thursday night. I was supposed to be in Mexico, but I was still in Texas because, in spite of showing up to the airport at 6:30 that morning, I hadn’t been able to fly out. It was too cold to put Bodhi in the cargo hold. Come back tomorrow, the Aeromexico attendant said. It’s going to be warmer tomorrow.

My travel companion’s panicked voice pierced the late night quiet: “Pam, this place is awful. We can’t stay here. The driver took one look around and asked me if I’d already paid. He said he couldn’t leave me in danger.”

“Hey,” I tried to be reassuring, “it’s been a long day of travel. I’ll be there tomorrow. Try to get some sleep. I’m sure it’s fine.” I rolled my eyes. We’d picked this place out on Airbnb, the pictures were cute. How bad could it be? I tried to muster a reassuring tone. “I’ll be there soon. Just breathe and get some rest. It’s Mexico—it’s gonna be a little funky.”

I arrived the next day, and it was just as bad as she had tried to tell me. Way worse than funky.  

There was really no way we could have known the kitchen chairs were broken and uncomfortable or that the one (as in only, single) non-kitchen chair in the room sank all the way to the ground if one sat on it. Or that the “river” was a dried-up mud pit that, when it flowed, flowed with sewage. Never mind that they didn’t bother to mention to rooster farm next door nor the 24/7 cockadoodle-dooing. I have to admit reader, we didn’t read between the lines on the reviews: “exactly as advertised,” and “basic but fine.” No one mentioned the construction next door or the cranky mama pitbull.

It took us five days, but we found another place, for less than half what we’d paid for this one. We snuck out under the cover of early morning darkness because by now we had read the reviews thoroughly, especially the one about the fight with the landlady’s husband and the tone with which the landlady replied to all of the negative reviews, well, let’s just say, she gave us pause.

Our new house was perfect. Clean, quiet, affordable. Cute enough. Safe. The owners, made sure we had what we needed and then left. It was perfect. Until we realized we’d landed in the Mexican suburbs. Suburbia. Where nothing happens, where there’s nothing to see but a gazillion homes that all look alike—a lovely representation of the Mexican middle class. Just one problem—I had not come to Mexico to spend three months nowhere near the beach.

My travel companion didn’t seem to mind, but I knew we could do better. She advocated for nearby Bucerias (so crowded, so expensive, so clogged with gringos) or Nuevo Nayarit (ditto). We just needed to head north, I explained, up the coast, beyond Sayulita. A handful of lovely beach towns dot the coast between the touristy cesspool that is Sayulita and San Blas, an ancient military stronghold about four hours to the north.

“C’mon,” I begged my friend, “It’s so much better in San Pancho (though it is too pretentious for its own good), or Lo De Marcos, or Guayabitos—cheaper, cleaner, better/cleaner, more sand and surf, more bars and restaurants to explore on the beaches.”

She reluctantly relented, and we headed north to Guaybitos, the little Mexican resort town, a feisty town full of tourists, sandwiched between Los Ayala, to the south and  La Penita to the north, a place I’d spent several vacations visiting my father and his wife who’ve lived there for 16 years.

The funny thing about this town is that it’s very near the dateline between Central and Mountain time, which meant we spent a lot of time asking strangers for the correct time. As we sat at Juan’s Place on the beach, sipping our morning margaritas, I turned to ask a gentleman for the time. Which led to a longer conversation about our need for a nearby rental.

“Our neighbor’s house is for rent—he’s leaving tomorrow for California. It’s about 400 yards from here.”

Reader, it was perfect. Affordable. Clean. Close to the beach, fenced for the dogs. Big enough for guests.

A casa to call our own.