On the way to Oregon: Adventurers settle on Mexico’s Bay of Banderas

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Marvin West


Real life is sometimes stranger than fiction.

We stopped for late lunch at Octopus Garden in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, once an old fishing village a few feet uphill from the beautiful Bay of Banderas. The lasagna needed help but the ambiance was superb – classy courtyard with fountain, showplace wooden tables and chairs, slivers of sunshine, shade trees and bougainvillea, sailboat mural on one wall, Huichol art gallery inviting you to part with more pesos.

The setting was sensational but it paled in comparison to the star attractions, Wayland Combe-Wright and Aruna Piroshki. They are proprietors and principals in a fairy tale.

Once upon a time, in jolly old England, under different names, these people were engineers or artists or adventurers or entertainers or maybe gypsies. They had met while studying architecture in London. They dreamed big dreams but started small, bicycles hitched to a cart and umbrella, riding along together, selling tacos and snacks.

They graduated to a horse and wagon. After that, they turned the horse loose with Aruna riding bareback, gripping the mane.

“We thought of ourselves as performing artists,” she said.

“It was like a mini-circus,” he said.

English horses are so bland. Show biz required color and excitement. The troupers broadened their search. They heard about quarter horses, even pintos, in the United States, in Oregon.

“We decided to go to Oregon and get perfect horses,” he said.

“Only we didn’t have enough money to make the flight,” she said.

What to do? They built a sailboat. It was an almost unbelievable do-it-yourself story, except it was in the London Sunday Times and on the telly back in the ’70s. They chose Westley Farm as construction site – because the moon led them to it and it had trees.

The owner, intrigued by the plot, said OK, six months. He learned that genius has a price.

The couple avoided rent by building a treehouse. Dale (who became Wayland) built a scale model of the dreamboat, then cut and shaped timbers for a 32-foot catamaran. Brits loved the wild scheme. They flocked to see the show and paid for the privilege. They also made donations, including barrels of tar, canvas for sails and a 12-horsepower auxiliary motor.

The project ran overtime by 18 months. Forty volunteer firemen carried the Taulua to the 18-wheeler that hauled it to Bristol for the launch. A big crowd cheered.

Wayland and Aruna took aboard food and water, woodworking tools, can of gas, ham radio and a five-month-old daughter, Kaerolik. Very few pounds were in their pockets.

“National Enquirer paid the equivalent of 100 U.S. dollars for exclusive rights to our story,” said Aruna.

Editors anticipated deadly storms in the Atlantic, maybe a shark attack, perhaps an encounter with a giant whale or a midnight collision with a cruise ship. Didn’t happen. Not even serious sunburn.

The family sailed south toward the coast of Africa, then west to the Panama Canal.

“Our longest stretch at sea was 25 days,” said Wayland.

National Enquirer lost interest and forfeited the money.

It took eight years to get to where they are now. The sailors stayed nine months on an island off the coast of Panama, four years in Costa Rica and two in Nicaragua. They made and sold things for living expenses. They refinished boats and repaired sails to get a few coins ahead, to go for those Oregon horses.

Never made it. The west coast of Mexico was too tempting. They stayed a while in Puerto Vallarta and found a perfect anchorage in the Bay of Banderas at La Cruz. Eventually Taulua was dragged onto the beach. Local lore says vandals torched it. Wayland says some of the wood is now café furniture. La Cruz de Huanacaxtle has been home for 18 years.

“We have put down roots,” she said, smiling.

“I think we are learning to like it,” he said with a wink.

They are now business people, community contributors. Wayland, intrigued by the Huichols, made them spinning wheels to encourage Huichol arts and crafts. Aruna taught the necessary skills to the Sierra Indian women. Wayland sells their wares.

Wayland created a remarkable printing machine and produces T-shirts with stunning artwork. With tools from England, he makes windows, doors and custom furniture.

If a wildly imaginative traveler stops some day in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Wayland Combe-Wright could be persuaded to build another sailboat. He has precise plans, exact measurements, all the details stored in a wooden chest. He also has a spare map of the west coast of the United States with an X on Oregon.

(Marvin West, mostly retired after just 42 years with Scripps Howard newspapers, is senior partner in an international communications consulting company. This column is from his forthcoming book, “Mexico? What you doing in Mexico?” He welcomes email.)

Published or Updated on: April 2, 2009 by Marvin West © 2009
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