Creative Sources: Reflections from a Trip to Sayulita

19 Jan, 2024 | Admin | No Comments

Creative Sources: Reflections from a Trip to Sayulita

Every morning, when I get ready for my day, I put on a pair of silver bracelets I inherited from my grandmother. One comprises small circles fused together in a large, wrist-sized ring, and the other is a thin cuff with a slight twist in the metal. My mom has told me that my grandmother bought each of these for herself on one of her trips to Mexico decades ago. She, too, wore these bracelets habitually.

I took my first trip to Mexico at the end of last year, when my family and I went on a holiday vacation to the small coastal town of Sayulita. Roughly a 45-minute drive from the pulsing parties of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita is a lesser-known Mexican gem along the western coast in the southern Nayarit region. Sought after primarily by wave-chasing surfers, Sayulita has a population of just about 5,000, though that number ebbs and flows in and out of the tourist season.

Upon arriving in Sayulita days before the new year, with my grandmother’s silver bracelets clanging around my wrists, I was immediately captivated by the small yet spirited fishing village.

Garlands of papel picado of all colors and designs were strung across each of Sayulita’s narrow, cobble-stoned streets. The papel picado motif, swaying softly in the wind with their thin plastic glinting in the sun, wove colorfully throughout the town, physically connecting each shop and restaurant with a celebratory flair.

Sayulita is saturated with bright colors, from the bold-hued stucco of buildings to the painted and mosaic-tiled murals peppering the walls, stairwells, and every other surface in between. As a sign painter myself infatuated by all things hand-painted, I moved through the town, taken by the signage and lettering clearly executed by a human with a paintbrush. I documented many of the hand-painted signs I encountered, like the facade of a custom boot shop and the enamel window sign adorning a golf cart rental service.

At the center of Sayulita sits a baseball field. Home of the Sayulita Jaibos (crabs), this field serves as an epicenter of commerce in the town, as merchants and vendors set up booths around the field’s perimeter each morning to sell their goods for the day. Beaded hummingbird ornaments, ceramic housewares, and embroidered tunics are among the merchants’ most popular items. As I made my laps around the field in search of the perfect trinket keepsakes, pawing through strands of beaded necklaces, haggling for a knock-off Lionel Messi jersey, accumulating abalone hair clips and other mementos, I started to recognize certain design elements and aesthetics I associated with my grandmother. The same penchant for jewel tones and beaded figurines I’d inherited from my mother, I was now tracing back to my grandmother and her time in Mexico.

There’s an abundance of tiles in Sayulita, with stairwells, sidewalks, and restaurant tables festooned with all sorts of these ceramic squares. I’ve been obsessed with tiles for as long as I can remember, and have the annoying habit of taking photos of any noteworthy tile specimen that crosses my path. I spent much of my exploration of Sayulita holding up my family as we walked to dinner or the beach, stopping dead in my tracks to capture the perfect angle of one of the many tiled staircases I came upon.

As a white American visiting Mexico with my white American family, I think it’s important to acknowledge my anxiety about the power dynamics we would inevitably bring with us during our stay. These sensitivities are inherent to traveling and the general concept of “going on vacation.” Maybe it was the baseball field in the center of town, or the local surfers scuttling around the streets barefoot with their boards held over their heads, or the squinty-eyed beach Chihuahua that befriended my dad at the water’s edge, but there was a refreshing integration of the tourists and the local Sayulita community that felt palpable to me. Of course, privilege imbalances will always be at play, and Sayulita is far from immune to that. Still, there was a sense of intimacy within the community we were visiting and a feeling of genuine welcoming from the town that I was grateful for throughout our visit.

As at the end of all great traveling experiences, I left Sayulita feeling as if I understood myself a little bit better. I was able to chart some of the origins of my interest in tiles, bougainvillea, and the color turquoise by spending a week in a little Mexican town that’s bustling with golf carts, fishermen, and sandy street dogs. I feel nostalgic for the trip already, missing the vibrant energy and aesthetic, the humble hum of the streets in the mornings, and the music spilling out from bars at night. Whenever I return from traveling, I question whether or not I imagined the whole thing; did I fabricate that place in my mind or create an alternate reality that I’ve suddenly snapped out of? The particular magic of Sayulita makes me even more dubious, but the newest treasures in my jewelry box give me hope.

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