I’m in the state of Guerrero on Mexico’s Pacific coast, surrounded by mountains smoked in wet season rain, at a writing table, under coconut palms, watching the sea. I could almost believe this to be paradise, a riskless place, beauty without a price tag.
Then I learn that the highway, just up the road, is a popular corpse-dumping ground for people who have fallen afoul of the cartel. I learn of surfers en route to a dawnie greeted with a vision of dead bodies dangling from a bridge. I learn that a gringa driving back here from yoga in Troncones at 9.30am had a car slam its brakes on in front of her. Four guys jumped out with guns. She hit the accelerator, swung a hard u-turn, and drove until the rear view mirror went blank.
—Peel back the tropical veneer and Mex can be a pretty scary place.
That's what a young Aussie bloke with a Mexican wife told me in the surf at La Saladita. He drove here from the north coast but was careful to skirt the night, drive the day, was careful to bypass or take back roads around whole towns.
Years ago, Tom and I were given a map of Maputo, in Mozambique, covered with cross-hatched no go zones: steer clear of that tumble of jungle trees and thieves and junkies and murderers; steer clear of the wilderness bordering the eerie feira.
Still, there’s been no darkness so far on this trip. My week in Troncones was completely serene. I stayed in a handcrafted wooden bungalow, open-air, full with the smell of the sea and the thick, close, melancholy smell of the rain. When storms boiled up in the night, the wind would send my bed swinging and fill the place with dry leaves. The thunder was loud enough to blow the roof off.
Living mostly in the desert, I’ve grown to love the rain.
The Troncones beach stretch was odd, mostly privately or foreign-owned villas in shades of terracotta with decorative cactus—some tall as trees! Armies of cooks, cleaners and groundsmen would arrive by the truckload very early in the morning.
A gated community, in a way.
The gate, wealth. Or lack thereof.
A tourist place.
I liked the discretion. Tourist places out-of-season are perfectly lonely. I spent the days reading Ocean Vuong’s beautiful novel, putting together paragraphs like Moroccan tiles, crafting villains, rinsing the head in the surf out the front and cooking the head at midday to surf Manzanillo Point on my own.
And I liked the town of Troncones—the gritty restaurants and bars. One morning I ordered a seafood soup, a bowl of prawns and fish with an accompaniment of chilli.
The tourist restaurants are stingy with their chilli and so I was delighted, dumped the whole lot in!
The other diners fell silent.
—You know that’s chilli, someone said.
—I love chilli! I replied.
—She loves chilli, the other diners murmured.
Then I started crying. And as I continued to wrangle with my soup my shirt went translucent.
When I got up to leave, the old girl who ran the place eyed me with disgust.
I’d left a sweat puddle on the seat.
Fast-forward to La Saladita and, despite the writing table in the shade of a coconut palm, work on the book has slowed. I blame a manic week of surfing, missioning with a Bavarian girlfriend living in Zihuatenejo, gorging on the WSL’s comp at Teahupo'o, slamming crushed ice margaritas in full sun, itching sunscreen rashes through the night, running low on wax, dodging the bull ants that swarm my room when night falls and finally, the onset of a bacteria that turns my guts and brain inside out, leaves me feverish for days.
You always end up paying for hard playing.
But for fortnights like this—off the grid, brimming with ideas, creativity and adrenaline, contemplating a unique and foreign beauty—the risk is always worth it.