La Peñita de Jaltemba is the largest of the four towns that make up the community of Jaltemba Bay. A long, leisurely stroll up Guayabitos Beach, which lies just north of Los Ayala, will get you there. As will a short ride on the colectivo, a unique Mexican form of transportation. It’s a Volkswagen van that seats eight comfortably but rarely carries less than a dozen people. It’s worth the trip – especially on a Thursday.

La Peñita is a community in transition. It’s a town where you still might see a woebegone donkey tied in the back of a rusting pick-up truck right across the street from a ritzy Italian Restaurant.

Certainly, it has its share of fine restaurants. Gigio’s, adjacent to the town plaza, serves fine Italian fare. And then there is the Xaltemba Restaurante & Galeria next door, which is run by Eddie and Roberto, two tireless volunteers who seem to be involved in every community event going. It features fine dining and art exhibits and hosts a wide range of special events.

But it is still, above all, a working town. Along with La Colonia, it is home to the locals who work in the hotels and restaurants and stores of Guayabitos.

There are no vendors on the beach in La Peñita. Instead, pelicans dart and dive for the remnants the fishermen have left on the beach and the air is punctuated by the roar of the fishermen gunning their engines as they ram their boats as far onto the shore as they can, before tying them up to a house or a tree or, occasionally, a post on the far side of the road.

The best day of the week to visit La Peñita is Thursday: market day. The town has one of the biggest markets in the State of Nayarit. In fact, for all intents and purposes, it has two markets.

The ‘gringo’ market fills the town plaza. Vendors come from all over the country to sell blankets and table cloths and handcrafted jewellery. It is here you buy the distinctive blue goblets and jugs and water glasses from Guadalajara. Native women from up in the mountains sit behind tables laden with plates and bowls decorated with brightly painted chilli peppers or scenes of donkeys or mountains or Mexicans with big sombreros sleeping in the shade of a cactus. And everything is “almost free.”

There is a saying in Mexico that when you see something, you want, buy it or you may never see it again. It is never truer than at the market.

But it is not just souvenirs that are for sale. The smell of churros, the fried dough snack that is the Mexican equivalent of a donut, assaults the nostrils as they cook in a bubbling vat of oil. A middle-aged woman hands out samples of peanut brittle and tempts you with the aroma of fresh ground coffee. Newbies, still too timid to buy directly from the fishermen, buy shrimp from the lady with the umbrella, the umbrella designed to ensure that there is at least some ice remaining under them until the close of the market.

Nord Americanos fight with the locals for a place in line at the vegetable stand, the one that serves as the border between the ‘gringo’ market and the Mexican one.

The ‘other’ market runs south for five blocks from the plaza to Lucio Blanco. A vendor displays an eclectic collection of rusted out tools and motor parts on a blanket. You can buy fresh pineapple or papaya or watermelon in a plastic cup. An open grill cooks tacos with a meat of some description that assaults the nostrils in quite a different manner than the churros that cook on the plaza. Salsa music blares from overworked ghetto blasters as CD merchants compete for business. Sellers hawk DVDs of the latest Hollywood movies – English with Spanish sub-titles – available well before they hit the legitimate market and although the quality is generally pretty good, there is an occasional break in the action when the fellow in the row ahead gets up to go for popcorn. Everything is for sale: used cloths, birdhouses, Tupperware, cancer remedies, stuffed toys, hand-made furniture.

It may be only a hundred meters or so across the bridge that joins Guayabitos and La Peñita but, in many ways, the communities are worlds apart; the difference is as great as the gap between the two La Peñita markets.

As a working town, La Peñita de Jaltemba offers plenty of opportunities for visitors and seasonal residents who get bored with sunbathing and golf to do exactly that: work.

For those who only have a couple of days to spend in the community, there are a number of fund-raising events that take place over the winter season: the Los Amigos Fiesta, the Fashion Show, the Horseshoe Tournament, the Margarita Challenge, the Golf Tournament, Wine Tastings, and many others. They provide an opportunity not only to have fun but to contribute to the community. And they are all run entirely by volunteers.

For those who plan a longer stay, there are lots of ways to “get your hands dirty.”

Los Amigos de Jaltemba is a community service organization, comprised of both international and national members who are involved in a wide variety of projects. They run a plastics recycling program which serves all the towns of Jaltemba Bay.

Los Amigos also host clean-up days for the beach. They provide scholarships to needy students and have completed a number of construction and maintenance projects at local schools and helped to build a children’s park that is a now a focal point for community events.

Jaltemba Bay Animal Rescue runs free spay and neuter clinics, staffed almost entirely by volunteers. There is a Rotary Club that is involved in a wide variety of projects. And the Jaltemba Foundation and the McKibben Foundation collect funds from a variety of event and disburse them to worthy causes.

The reward is well worth the effort.

About the Author: “They Tore Down the Russell Hotel” is the first book by Dave Easby. Dave spends his summers in Ontario, Canada and his winters in La Peñita de Jaltemba, Nayarit, Mexico with his wife Anne and his Mexican rescue dog Amarillo.

He retired in 2005 after a thirty year career with the Canadian and New Brunswick Governments. Since much of that time was spent working on speeches and briefing notes for Ministers and other Senior Officials, he decided to try writing non-fiction for a change in his retirement years.

“They Tore Down the Russell Hotel”
Share the adventure of Dave and his wife Anne in this collection of amusing stories as they adapt to life in the enchanting Mexican town of La Peñita de Jaltemba. Click here for more information and/or to purchase the Kindle version of They Tore Down the Russell Hotel.

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This article was originally published August 1, 2010 on Magical Los Ayala under “Jaltemba Bay Articles of Interest.”

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