One of the eclectic conglomeration of tables which passes for a beachside restaurant in San Pancho, Riviera Nayarit had my name on it. I had a couple of hours to kill waiting for friends to return and could see myself, sipping mojitos while watching the world pass by, one problem, cero dinero, and I hadn’t seen an ATM on my wanders through the small town.
San Pancho Currency Exchange
However, being an optimist, where there is a will there is usually a way, I had over fifty pounds sterling and more than one hundred euros, in various denominations, a cunning plan was forming.
Assuming the exchange rate wasn’t likely to be in my favour, I took a twenty euro note over the barman, handed him it and asked him if there was anywhere it could be exchanged for pesos.
Taking it, he looked at me, slightly bemused, looked at the note and looked at me again. “I’ll ask the boss” he said.
A few minutes later, the boss came out, the note looking tiny in his huge, weathered hand, he looked at me, bemused, looked at the note and looked at me again.
“Like dollars, no?”
A broad grin spread over my face, realising he meant the exchange rate, “absolutely, exactly like dollars” I replied, already thinking of mojitos. He started to explain how many pesos it was worth.
“How many mojitos will it buy?” I interrupted.
It was his turn to smile, a beaming smile lighting up his leathery face, three, but today four, I’ll make you a pitcher” he replied.
Several minutes later the pitcher arrived at the table I had chosen, and sure enough most of the world did seem to pass by in the next few hours.
A group of surfers were catching waves, laughing among themselves, while pelicans and terns dived bombed shoals of fish beneath their boards. Families played among the waves or in the sand, sheltering under beach umbrellas when the sun became too much.
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Dogs roamed the beach looking for scraps left behind by the families, chasing off the seagulls which always seemed to arrive first, only to be ambushed by magnificent frigate birds as soon as they took to the air. When a fisherman emptied his basket net of small fish and crabs in the shallows, a flock of these birds suddenly descended, just as a family passed by.
A man in a motor boat, off loaded an insulated container into the breakers, while another guy waded into fetch it; a Daniel Craig moment it wasn’t! What was in the box, was I witnessing a drug smuggling operation right here on the beach? My imagination was running into overdrive by this time, possibly something to do with the half empty pitcher on the table.
A guy wearing a cowboy hat rode past on a horse, and a lady in a brightly coloured dress, with big flowers greeted everybody at the bar with a smile that nearly split her cheerful face in half. This was one lively beach!
A Cooler San Francisco
I should not have been surprised, it was merely an extension of San Pancho itself, a colourful town, chilled out, which felt more hippy than hip. Chickens and dogs roam freely in the streets, many of the walls are decorated with colourful murals, some include elaborate mosaics made from tiny, ceramic tiles.
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The real name of San Pancho is San Francisco, and it even has its own “Golden Gate” bridge, which is slightly less grand than the one in California. Street vendors sell chilli hot-dogs or possibly burritos, and exotic fruit and vegetables are sold from the backs of pickup trucks. Dining out is more a case of dressing down rather than dressing up, I liked this place within sixty seconds.
Two guys work out of a dilapidated house, which could loosely be called a garage turning rust buckets into half decent bangers, including two original Volkswagen beetles which appeared more rust than chassis. They certainly enjoyed a challenge!
There are a couple of art galleries, including a quirky one with some very eccentric pieces, it just seems to fit right in. I chatted with the manager for a few minutes, he informed he and his wife had come down a year back to visit friends, and had quickly decided to sell up and move here. In fact, there appears a thriving community of American expats in San Pancho.
Heart of San Pancho
The community centre is the hub of the town, and seems to epitomise the atmosphere of the town, an eclectic series of projects within one building. A bookshop and souvenir shop, eccentric sculptures and street art, a recycling scheme where children return empty cans and bottles for cash, all of which is then recycled into further art pieces.
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I was given a guided tour by community leader, Nicole, who explained the ethos of the centre, her passion evident and infectious. She explained about a small coffee shop run by two young girls, earning the money to take them through university and the bric-a-brac store selling second-hand clothes and other unwanted goods, all profits going towards community projects.
By the time my companions returned, the sun was setting and my pitcher was empty, fortunately it had been collected, so we’ll keep that between us, right?
I couldn’t help smiling, when our guide asked “would you like a drink?” as he pulled up a seat.