A dispatch from lovely Mexico, where officials were slow to react to COVID-19

Posted on Posted in News

All Photos Craig & Annie Okerstrom-Lang

Sayulita, Mexico – My wife, Annie, and I with our two Chihuahua’s (Olive & Bella) took a long-planned working vacation to Sayulita, Mexico and have been here since February 22nd.

Our three boys visited the first two weeks along with my Mom from Sonoma County, CA.

This is a beautiful, small surfing town about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta.

We rented Casa Mariluna, 1/2 mile north of the town center, from a friend we’ve previously rented from in California. She just happens to have a cottage in Sheffield, too! The casa overlooks the Pacific with a view of the south end of the bay.

Many homes have open-air living with the kitchen, dining and living area under a roof and only the bedrooms enclosed with four walls and AC’s.

This is our home-office view of the main interior, pool & view of the ocean
The north end of our beach with the town center in the background

Sayulita has an official population of 2,300 but it feels twice that size with all of the visitors and families from the US and Canada—a few Europeans, too.
The downtown streets have colorful hand-made fabric banners called ‘ojos de Dios’, Eyes of God, which thickly fill the sky and add to the festive atmosphere.
Locally owned shops and restaurants and a vibrant beach scene with restaurants and bars, umbrella and chaise rentals, surfing and hiking, make this an attractive home for many retired ex-pats and Canadians–both part and full-time. Smaller, less expensive towns dot the shoreline as you go further north.

The peso exchange was 17 per US dollar when we arrived a month ago and today it is 23.50 . The virus has weakened the peso.

Sayulita Main Street

Golf carts and walking are the main mode of transportation for visitors and can be parked wherever there isn’t a yellow curb (possible parking solution for GB 🙂 The streets are mostly cobblestone, in poor condition, so all vehicles are forced to drive slowly. There are no traffic lights but many “reductores de velocidad” (speed bumps) which forces vehicles to slow down. You see people of all ages driving golf carts including young teenagers.

Annie on her cell from our golf cart

The majority of dining is al fresco and most restaurants have tables set up along the sidewalks. The street entertainment arrives nightly making the rounds, from local music to break dancers and performers with fire. One evening a group playing near our favorite gelato stop was playing bosa nova music that made my wife swoon. Many street vendors go table to table offering everything from Mexican blankets and silver jewelry to beaded souvenirs and piles of a coconut dessert scooped by fingers into a sandwich bag. It is an intoxicating, fun-filled atmosphere.

Beachside dining in south end of town at Si Senor

The dining along the beach in open-air restaurants under giant palapas with tables and umbrellas out in the sand is lovely… a fresh ceviche and grilled red snapper on many menus. One of the restaurants becomes a popular dance club at night with music starting at 10:00pm and going until who knows when. Our three sons returned home at 3:00am the night before they left us and the dancing hadn’t stopped.

One of the local markets along the river

Then there are the food trucks and street food. Tacos from solitary stands are about 30 pesos. Our favorite food truck, the pink VW is at the north end of main street. It is permanently parked along the curb. Notice how the van is leveled and secured on the sloping street. Late in the day the 35 pesos Gordita, a delicious combination of tortillas w pork, sweet onion, avocado cream, crumbled cheese and cilantro… is served with candles and soft jazz wafting from the back of the pink van. Very sweet.

We also have a favorite spot to pick up a whole grilled chicken with coleslaw, rice, hot sauce and homemade tortillas for 150 pesos.

Joyleta’s Chicken right in front of her house on a side alley off Main Street
The pink VW van street cart “Why Not” (one of our favorites)
Gordita at “Why Not”

In the restaurants a cold cerveza is 5-6 pesos but a glass of wine ranges from 120 – 240 pesos; so we switched to Margaritas and cervezas quickly! We also got very good at making them at home for our ritual of “sundowners”, carrying our beach chairs down the 50 ft to the beach for sunsets.

Craig’s favorite t-shirt & cerveza

The public art is beautiful! There are many small and large murals painted on the ubiquitous stucco walls with subjects ranging from nature to politics to cultural icons. So much talent and pride in these temporary works of art. Murals are around every corner in Puerto Vallarta and every small town… our appreciation of them growing more the longer we were here. We saw this blank-blue wall transformed with about 8 different murals that appear to have been selected by an arts committee to install. The photo taken of the woman flanked by leopards was painted during our visit and is not quite finished. That is the artist with Annie

Murals being painted on the middle school’s wall while we are visiting
Woman with Leopards mural almost finished
Los Muertos (the dead) on blue mural wall

This is also an area for whale migration, especially Humpback Whales. We took an all-day boat tour and saw many whales breaching out of the water.

Unusual Landscape Vegetation
During our 30 day stay it did not rain a single day during their early spring weather and the temperature averaged 72 degrees. Hardly any cloudy days. It felt more like an arid-jungle climate, but the surrounding small mountains combined with the ocean bring in fog and mist, which seems to keep plants lush. That also creates humidity, so the bedrooms had AC units. The ocean felt warm to swim in but you have to be very careful with the wave action.

It was springtime there so many flowers were emerging and leaves starting to come out of their buds on deciduous trees. Their summer-hot season is June thru October.

A wide variety of plants we would normally grow indoors in the Berkshires, thrive here, including:

  • Aloe
  • Cactus
  • Ficus trees (huge like our Oak trees); they are deciduous also
  • Jade
  • Palm trees of many varieties and sizes
  • Peace Lily
Ficus Tree at the lower house
Plumeria at upper house; small deciduous flowering tree
Craig photographing the local landscape
Banana tree at lower house pool area
Bougainvillea at the upper house

The Virus

Though in the news, the Coronavirus had not yet become a thing in the US when we departed on February 22nd for Mexico. Since then life as we know it has changed for everyone. While Mexico was taking a hands-off “ignorance is bliss” position we were hearing the US and our local situation in the Berkshires getting graver and more frightening.

While cases were adding up at BMC and shelves were being emptied at our local stores, Sayulita had dances on the plaza, populated beaches with margaritas flowing and vacationing tourists doing what they do unimpeded.

It had been very difficult to reconcile these two worlds.

We kept looking for Covid-19 news in Mexico in the NY Times and The Washington Post but none was forthcoming…only that a two-day concert of 14,000 people was allowed to take place in Mexico City and that President Lopez Obrador was still big on walking through crowds and kissing babies.

Now in our 60’s should we stay here in relative safety or run the gauntlet of international travel to return home to a Covid-19 hot bed and self-isolation?

Our first concern was our three sons whom we’ve conferenced with regularly. Two are safe and working from home in Boston while our youngest, an actor in NYC, lost his restaurant job and was hunkered down with his girlfriend in his Washington Heights apt. All of them have been social-distancing to the point of paranoia, while going out for groceries, walks and one-on-one basketball between brothers. We are so proud of them all.

Alas, the reality of Covid-19 arrived in Mexico just this week. Health officials here have confirmed 203 cases and a second death. Suddenly the streets of Sayulita are quieter, the restaurants are thinning, bartenders are wearing masks, and Americans and Canadians are headed for the border and flights home.

Coming Home

Sunset at beach below our house

At the news of New York shutting down we were able to get our son, Skylar, and his girlfriend, Jasmine, out of Washington Heights and to our home in GB. They are continuing their isolation-which is easy for lovebirds. And yesterday, when the state department said US citizens must return home asap or risk staying abroad indefinitely, we called American Airlines and changed our flight for the third time. We will return to the Shire this Monday, the 23rd. Back to reality… We know we will be coming home to a very quiet and changed Berkshires and Great Barrington and will be vigilant in how we handle ourselves, keeping our distance from everyone including, Karen, our longtime office manager, even from our sons.

Self-quarantine for Two Weeks
We look forward to being back in our own bed and we are fortunate that we can still do plenty of work from home, though site visits to my landscape projects aren’t possible. I can’t wait to get working in our own garden and the innumerable spring chores.

The memories of palms swaying, blue waters beckoning, and 5 peso cervezas will sustain us…and the understanding we are protecting our community… and that in two weeks we can hug our sons again.

We hope to visit here again, to this beautiful Nayarit Peninsula of Mexico.

Craig & Annie Okerstrom-Lang
March 20, 2020

Brief Update
March 25, 2020

So much is happening so fast with responses to the Corona Virus in the world. We are trying not to follow the news too much to keep our stress levels down and get updates as needed. Really appreciate the calm-straightforward talking by Governors Baker and Cuomo in our region.

We are simply glad to be home and near our 3 sons, friends and clients. We are done with our quarantines on April 7th. Hoping I will learn more on how to use social media, like Instagram and Facebook from my sons during this down time; plus reading books and cooking good meals with Annie.

I am touching base with our current clients and their projects via email, text and phone.

Best to all, Craig Okerstrom-Lang