If you know me, you probably know that the area of Mexico’s western coast roughly between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo — know as the Costa Alegre — is one of my favorite places in the world. If you don’t know me or didn’t know that, well, now you do.
So when Maria recently got me a subscription to Travel+Leisure magazine as part of a school fundraiser for our niece, you can imagine my excitement when the first issue arrived in the mailbox sporting a cover story devoted to the region.
But the article, titled “Mexico’s New Costa Alegre Hideaways,” is a new standard-bearer for all that is — or, I suppose, all that can be — wrong with travel writing.
Here’s a sample from the author’s graf dedicated to Sayulita, a small surf town north of Puerto Vallarta that, despite occasionally being overrun with wealthy tourists bussed in from nearby Punta Mita, has nonetheless held on to just enough of it’s bohemian beach charm and $1 Pacificos to keep us coming back:
We wander the wide streets past small candlelit restaurants and bars powered by generators and quirky design concepts. We choose one with swings affixed to tree branches instead of chairs. The Italian chef, a surfer by day, cooks homemade pasta on a small camp stove. His Spanish wife doubles as our waitress. It’s a challenge to eat seafood linguine in white wine sauce while sitting on a wobbly swing, but I applaud their effort to subvert the conventional dining experience. I’m pretty sure André Breton would have approved, too.
Gag me with stick. Here’s the letter I wrote to the magazine, which I’m all but certain will not be read by anyone, much less printed:
Dear T+L Editors,
I can’t help but wonder if the assigning editor in charge if last month’s story of Mexico’s Costa Alegre is at all satisfied with the finished product. Three people were sent to one of the most beautiful places on earth and returned with some 1,200 words that accomplished little more than babbling about surrealism and name-dropping artists as if the trio had never left the yuppie East Village coffee shop where you surely found them.
They scuttle between the most expensive hotels and resorts, stopping only for brief moments to spit on the locals and anyone who would spend less than $600 a night in an area so hurt by declining tourism that you can stay in princely suites for pauper prices. And what does your intrepid reporting team do when rounding out their trip in Sayulita? Complain that it’s overrun with hippies and tourists — which it is — then proceed to best all of them in their own douchebaggery by somehow finding the town’s only Italian restaurant and generally making the entire region one small bit worse just by being there.
As a frequent traveller to this area, I was thrilled when I first saw the Costa Alegre cover story, but the article and maddeningly pointless photography could not have disappointed me more.
We’ve visited this area three times in as many years, spending a total of more than six weeks roaming between the small towns and bustling port cities. We’ve enjoyed 5-star hotels, rented individual’s beachfront apartments, camped out in a semi-enclosed treehouse-type construction, and generally done our best to check out everything the area has to offer. Here at POTM, we don’t eschew luxury — we love it, in fact. But when it’s valued more than the authentic experiences offered by the place you’re visiting, you might have been better off staying stateside and booking a mani-pedi at the nearest Four Seasons.
Now get off my lawn!
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