If one goes to the farthest south end of the Sayulita beach where the sand turns to jagged rock, a secret road can be found that leads behind the rocks to Playa de los Muertos, a hidden beach invisible from the rest of the world. On the way, to the side of the road, one passes a grand old cemetery. The headstones, various granite memorials and gargoyled stone mausoleums can be seen, recently festooned with new flowers or streamers or papier-mâché effigies. There is no grass, only barren gray soil and stones. Trees that must have grown long before the graveyard was built hang sadly overhead providing shade in the motionless heat.
Every night, skeletons, ghosts, Catrinas and even La Llorona herself, rise from their resting places, glistening under the pale moonlight, to come and frolic in the ocean, kicking sea spray, body surfing. The waves wash through their ribcages and loose-fitting jawbones, and gurgle down from their empty eye sockets.
During the day, the few mortals who discover the secluded beach wander vacantly on the shore or venture into the water, their souls heavy with woe and the cares of this world. The sunlight is more bronze there, more penetrating, so much so that one can almost see the bones of the living through their thin skin. And the water whispers of countless old vessels that have landed there or, if less fortunate, were crushed to splinters upon the rocks.
Studying a map, I noticed the secluded beach with its mysterious name. We decided we had to go there.
Where the outcropping of sharp rocks marks the end of Sayulita Beach, a sidewalk leads further, past the more elite condos withdrawn from the teeming crowds. Kiosks serving wine and mimosas, cafe tables and chairs, and quiet, manicured foliage create a placid atmosphere. No peddlers come down this far. But shortly the resort condos end and the sidewalk turns into a dirt road leading inland and uphill into a dusty neighborhood. This is where we found ourselves late Monday morning.
Suddenly we were alone, the din of town and tourists behind us. The dirt road meandered between the hulking concrete blocks of what aspired to be multi-story apartment buildings apparently abandoned midway through construction. Enigmatic graffiti defaced the blocks. Tall weeds, vagrant firepits, and rubbish persuade most of the curious to turn back at this point.
I realized a stray dog had been following us for ten minutes, perhaps reading from our eyes that we were headed for Playa de los Muertos. Nobody claimed the dog. Could they even see it? It trotted along as if we were old friends, frolicking between the structures. We approached the dusty cemetery, the dog was the only living creature to be seen. He seemed familiar with the place. “Where is everyone?” I wondered aloud to Trina.
The dog came and went. We would look around and notice he’d left us, and then he would reappear carrying some item in his mouth like a leg bone or half of a fish. I commented to Trina that his appearing and disappearing seemed fitting for the Beach of the Dead. The forlorn yet promising entrance to the beach then appeared on our right.
Passing under an arch of high palm fronds, our route changed from dirt and rock to lovely white sand. Suddenly the view was beautiful again and the steady crash of the waves restored that unique seaside calm to our souls, disturbed only by a few strange human sights.
An ageless wight rose from a chair in which he seemed to be sleeping, and he approached us slowly, his gait stilted, his eyes hazy like the undead, struggling to form his words into sentences. We perceived that he was asking if we wanted to rent an umbrella and chairs in the manner in which a witch would invite children into an oven. We said no with a furtive smile and a quick gesture. Behind him through the window of the lone food trailer, we could see hunched figures toiling obscurely over bright flames, but the trailer was not open for business.
We walked out onto the short beach to wet our feet, our little carnivore still darting around us. To the right, a chaotic mass of ancient igneous formed a rugged peninsula, including one island with a forty-foot natural tower, accessible with a few careful leaps across boulders spanning frothing seawater that washed in between. I had to take a closer look.
Here and there a few specimens of sad, statuelike animal life could be discerned if you looked carefully, often the same ashen hue as the ancient lava flow. A pelican with its bill nodded to its chest sat regally like an avian Ozymandias. An orange crab defied my approach and held its ground.
On the island I saw fishing line strung randomly, a leather gauntlet, a golden earring. From the extremity facing back toward the land I could see that the summit of the tower was climbable but more treacherous than I dared. A pirate’s bones were likely arrayed on top for a witch doctor’s midnight bacchanal.
Back on the beach, a man indistinguishable from an Indian swami appeared in loose-fitting cotton trousers and no shirt. His wild mane of hair and long beard were white, and his skin was like leather tanned to a dark umber. He sat under a small tree meditating then, rising slowly, he walked into the water and swam away and was never seen again.
One or two other undead couples arrived and set up camp in the nearby grove inland from the water’s edge. They seemed to be content to sit in their loose-fitting, gypsy attire, avoiding sunlight, mostly concerned with each other rather than the features of nature. They produced black bottles of potions that they drank from pewter spoons, ate unrecognizable fruits, and smoked Bubonic #9.
The weight of the sun and the languor of the beach of the dead, and the mulling and skulking of outcasts who trickled through the entrance gates began to wear on us and, feeling an inward pull from the holy ghost to return to the land of the living, we decided to return. Our little dog was gone and we never saw him again.