Note: I’ve changed the key name here to protect the privacy of the near-drowner
For some reason I had my bachelor party in the fall of 2014 in Sayulita, Mexico. Sayulita is a rural resort town about 40km north of Puerto Vallarta, a well known destination with a regional airport. A friend of mine has a friend who owns a large mansion there, and I was about to get a good deal on it — 15,500 pesos for 4 days. This is under $1,000 American.
I brought 13 people with me.
The days consisted mostly of what you would expect. We drank from cut coconuts, we swam, we caroused, we sat around in the main square listening to music. We ate hand-pressed tortillas. Along for the ride were a couple of my cousins, some of my colleagues, some old friends, my two brothers-in-law. Eric who hates my writing. Len.
Len very nearly died.
The catamaran trip
As a surprise, my boss at the time, Chris Ostoich, got the rest of the guys to go in a private catamaran trip. He found one that would take us out for the entire day, be open bar, and serve us food on board. It would take us out into the Bahia de Banderas (maybe named for Antonio Banderas?) for swimming and to look at some kind of waterfall.
We sailed for a while across blue ocean that you can’t possibly imagine. Off the western coast of Mexico the water is warm, the sky is obscenely blue. Large sea birds fly high — seemingly miles above the crystalline surface, lazily trailing us as we skate across the waves.
One of the crew, the man mixing and delivering drinks has a long, jagged crescent of a scar down his side. A reminder, he claims, of a mix-up with a shark he had in his youth.
We are promised cliff diving as part of this experience, and we drink to get ready for it. Rum runners and margaritas with bad tequila, sugary and sour. We become lethargic from the sun and the wind and constantly working on our balance to keep from toppling into the ocean. We arrive at a small cove and immediately realize this is going to be wild.
Tide is high and waves are crashing hard against the rocks. The crew chatters excitedly in Spanish, in hindsight not a great sign. One of the crew jumps out with goggles and a snorkle. We are told to jump into the water and follow him.
It is immediately a struggle — the waves are high and fast, there is nothing to grab onto. You must swim away quickly from the boat or risk being smashed onto the hull. We are treading water and waiting to get the all clear to climb the rocks. Our tour guide is near the rocks, rising and falling precipitously close to the face of the cliff.
“Okay! Watch out for the URCHINS! They are POISON! Watch out for the URCHINS! Come on, let’s go!”
I will never forget the accented way he said the word urchins — it is forever seared into my brain. There was no possible way, without water shoes, to climb those rocks without impaling the soft parts of your feet on poisonous urchins. This guy was insane. The only thing we could do was swim to the little beach, some 75 yards away, against the receding tide.
This is when Len almost died.
I start breast stroking in a lethargic, overfed way, I work as hard as I can, reaching the shore after tremendous effort. There are two men in a small row boat fishing, wondering what in the hell they are watching. I am lying on the sand, panting, when I hear a loud guttural utterance, a sort of groan. Against the crashing waves, maybe with just bad luck, Len has taken a mouth and snout full of briney ocean water, and is choking. I can see his body stiffen, he has frozen like a statue. His head dips under.
I start sprinting immediately into the water. One of the men in the rowboat throws his fishing pole and dives into the water, much closer to Len. My cousin, Timmy, happens to be just behind Len, and grabs him, holding him barely above the water. The fisherman gets to them and between the two of them, they drag him through the water and the surf to the beach.
After coughing up what water he’s got in his lungs, he lays on the sand for some time. We are all stricken, suddenly sobered. I have never felt more glad to see Len in my life.
Eventually, the water has calmed and we swim back to the boat.
Len is still alive, but I doubt he’s been on many Mexican catamaran tours since the fall of 2014.