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What Happens in Mexico...

By: Sophie Bonomi

Salt, lime, sand, sun and adventure. Combined (at-times) with a near-potent mix of sex, alcohol and ocean air. You know what they say, what happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico. 


But from what I can tell you is, every trip impresses my soul with more vivid color and a gritty taste of nostalgia enticing me back across the border for more. 


I’ve been to Mexico four different times in my life and each vibrant experience has been enlightening in one way or another, providing a deeper perspective of culture along with a crispy tan.


2008 was my first introduction to the warm-hearted nature of the south, while on a family cruise to several regions of Mexico I experienced many traveling “first-times.”


My first trip parasailing occurred in Mazatlán. My first time drunk in public, accompanied by my parents and younger brother, left me spinning back to the boat with glee. In true teenage fashion, I simply had to have my entire head braided somewhere between the Port of San Diego and Puerto Vallarta. 


Forgetting to sunscreen in between my cornrows for 10-days, left my scalp snowing into summer. 

While young and still distracted by souvenirs and childish antics, I was always the documentarian, and when not acting my age, I studied a different culture through my camera. Photos, I felt were the best souvenirs. This trip encouraged me to keep hunting for “the shot.”

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Roll Out   13 x 20

In 2011, I found myself back to the land where I felt so at home several years prior, Puerto Vallarta.


I had recently arrived back stateside after nearly a year of international travel, but my vagabond heart still longed for more. 


When I had an opportunity at another “jaunt” out of the country, I quickly booked it with reckless abandon. No job, and little money, I packed a bag and set off for another adventure — never far from my camera. 

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Beach Kids  13 x 6

This time, I accompanied my older cousin and his posse on a week-long adventure with a “Spring Break” —‘party hard’ — ‘you only live once’ type-of theme that continued throughout the whole week. As our group of young, wild and free tourists spent our days with endless sex on the beaches, coupled by fire burning sunsets and street tacos; a quick nap to wash the day-drink away, we were ready for the club as the night rolled in. 


As a recovering solo traveler, walking by myself with my camera was where I felt most alive. One day, after dodging another monotonous group activity, I found myself walking the sunny Malecon, marveling at the fascinating architecture and large sand sculptures transforming along the shore, I met a new friend. 

There was something in his eyes, a friendly and familiar soul. A boy about my age, he didn’t speak English and I spoke very little Spanish (except to order a beer or ask for the bathroom — two very important phrases to have handy).


Regardless of those surface differences, we spent a lovely sunny afternoon enjoying the sights, exploring the Museo Histórico de Puerto Vallarta, sipping on the most delicious lemonade and thoroughly enjoying each other’s company.


Who needs words when the universal language of love and camaraderie surround you?


Flash forward several more years later, and I was back again.

AUTOBÚS PÚBLICO, SOMEWHERE, NAYARIT, MEX.—  It was like a scene from a movie… 

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Fire Opal   13 x 10

The wise elderly teacher, or was it the cherished grandfather? Boarded the old green public bus with a young musician with a mariachi set of lungs and a fiery talent on the strings to boot. 


I didn’t catch it all, but I suspect the man asked the bus something to the effect of, ‘mind if we play some music?’ No one opposed. 


They belted out three songs on the fly, while surfing for balance over the bumpy, worn down streets, as the rickety bus cruised through dusty villages at 40 kilometers per hour. 


After the third song, I was compelled to clap. Not sure why I was the first one — perhaps it's a cultural thing. If you acknowledge someone's talent by clapping, do they expect you to pay them?

Well these guys did, so, proudly I handed them a well-deserved $1 coin. Being in the country less than an hour, I didn't realize at the time it was only just a peso.


Jostled inside the tacky old bus like a sardine in a tin drum, my heart sang along with the music. I already felt back at home passing the jungles and smelling the sweet hot air..


The warm sun glowed through the open window and kissed my skin. 


I drifted off for a peaceful moment, then opened my eyes to find the lush greenery and immense magnitude of a foreign land surrounding me. 

Back in my element — the element of the unknown. It’s always as surreal as it is exciting.


I almost drifted off again, lulled by the swaying of the old bus, but a gust of wind grazed my face and brought me back.


Eyes back open! There’s always something else to see, from the street vendors to the wild animals. I hadn’t slept in almost 24-hours by that point, but what's a few more?

SAYULITA, MEX. — A vivacious and colorful hippie-town with ample music, fireworks and street vendors. Words do little to describe the essence of this coastal village. 

Perched high atop Gringo Hill, tucked away in the heart of paradise, myself and the Mr. quietly relaxed on plush white couches overlooking the still blue waters. We were back to celebrate our five year wedding anniversary. The distant sounds of tropical birds, rolling engines and invigorating music from the plaza down below, echoed like high definition surround-sound in the outdoor living space with tall white ceilings. 


The flickering lanterns made beautiful iridescent reflections on the mirror-like pool by our feet.


Dream House   20 x 13

“What a day,” I said contently as I lay there, wrapping his arms around me. The adventure brought us all around the village in a golf cart, a main mode of pedestrian transport. We met some locals, relaxed on the golden beaches, built sand castles, ate from the street trucks and basked in the hot sun. 

I took my gaze off the dark night sky to the iguana freely moving about the walls. Each time I looked toward the animal it moved closer and closer out of parameter, until soon he was out of view. Hidden in plain sight, much like our residence —‘Mi Otra Casa’ or “My Other Home” — Should you ever find yourself in Sayulita I highly recommend this residence go visit Sandra and Luis, they will take excellent care of you in this hotel that feels like a private mansion.


As the mariachi music transitioned from a quiet tune to a brighter tempo with a trumpet solo, the iguana poked out his head, ‘I guess he is enjoying this song too,’ I thought. The band finished their last song and the crowd down below cheered with approval. I signed relief as I thought of the comradery of the village people down below.


Eyes tired, and heart content, I left for bed in anticipation of the beauty and excitement to come. 


Later that night….

EL BAÑO, MI OTRA CASA, SAYULITA, MEX. — What happens in Mexico stays in Mexico, or at least what happens in Mexico you may never forget.


That was the thought that struck in my head as I hurled over the toilet. 


‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ struck with the force of a thousand gods and I lay gasping for air, struggling to steady my mind through heaves, and diabolical bouts of stomach pain. That, and the kitschy rainbow terracotta phoenix on the bathroom backsplash.


I’d never been so sick in my life, all I wanted to do was make like that imaginary clay bird and rise from the ashes, transcend, become reborn and fly. Fly far far away from this body and this bathroom.

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I went to bed 15 more times that night with the room spinning, praying for redemption. My dull, tired eyes watched the iguana crawl across on the ceiling in the late musky night.


It wasn’t long before my husband suffered the same fate. 


24-hours later we were functioning again. 24-hours after that we were almost lively tourists.

We had made it. Mind over matter. Lots and lots of matter.


We conserved just enough energy to take the excursion of our lives as we embarked on a tour to the Islas de Marietas.


Located in federal waters just southwest of Punta de Mita, the islands are considered National Park, and are heavily monitored and protected. In fact, only 100 tourists are allowed to visit these natural wonders per day. What makes the adventure so thrilling is the arrival to the beach. Tours closely monitor the tides and the only point of entry (and exit) is by swimming under the caverns to a private, and secluded white beach inside the cave. Home to a number of native wildlife species, as well as some of the most breathtaking landscapes in all of Mexico, the Islas are a fabulous way to explore the rich landscape of the region of Nayarit. 

Birds of a Feather   9 x 12

Ironically, love brought me down south and would unexpectedly bring me back just a month later…


ROOM 207, HARRISON HOSPITAL, SILVERDALE, WA, USA — Don’t underestimate the signs of the future.


We didn’t think when we walked through those hospital doors we would be saying goodbye to a loved one. But then again, I guess you never do. 


By the late evening, he was off the ventilator. Laying, peaceful in his bed, each humbled breath was overshadowed by the immense rattling in his lungs. 


She was in ‘The Quiet Room’ tucked in the corner in the back. Exhausted and trying to speak, she had endured one of the most traumatic days of her life. Eyes swollen from crying, drying, wetting, and being wiped over and over, she looked down and spoke softly.

It was an abrupt end to a long-time love. Having only been married for six years, they were fondly in each other’s lives for decades. They had just moved to their dream house, finally about to start their best lives. Then, just days before the grave situation she found herself in now, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.


This was the night her life was changed forever. This was the night she became a widow. And I was witness to it.

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Santa Maria  13 x 20

Mom said it best, as she tried to comfort her. It really was like a bad dream. 


You know, those lucid dreams where you wish you could wake up and set it back to do things differently, because that’s not how it’s supposed to be? Much like my bout with food poisoning on the previous trip.


He was pronounced dead at 10:10pm.


Upon her request, mom and I borrowed some surgical scissors and collected a few locks of his hair.


For the first time, I looked death in the face. I helplessly gazed at the corpse of a great man who once was.


There was nothing we could do to comfort her, so we did the next best thing. We booked flights to join her in her escape from reality to Mexico, at least if nothing else, we would be a welcomed distraction.

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Seat 22E, on Delta Flight No. 357 brought me back south, this time with an intention in mind. 


First and foremost, we would support and comfort a dear friend who suffered an unimaginable loss. 


Second, I would use this opportunity to really use my creative skills to bring the vibrance and spirit of Mexico alive in my photos. 

I rented a car, and along with my mom, made a 10-hour tour around the most southern tip of Baja California Sur. It was an adventure that symbolized love and life and the ever-fleeting beautiful moments prior to mortality.

And yes, we did stop in at the Hotel California, and left.

Hotel California 13 x 20

They say traveling leaves you speechless and then turns you into a storyteller. I wouldn’t say my adventures across the border are any more special than someone else’s experiences. But each encounter with the culture of Méjico has taught me a lesson or two in humility, humanity and harmony; making me a better artist and storyteller with each passing trip.

— Sophie Bonomi is a travel photographer and freelance journalist. Published and awarded for her work, her passions include exploring new areas and experiences and sharing her adventures. You can learn mor about her adventures here at 

Sea Turtle Release

By: Sophie Bonomi


Flip  14 x 17

FAR NORTH OF THE BEACH, SAYULITA, NAYARIT, MEX. — Just walk along the shore and you’re bound to run into something fun and exciting in this little lively and colorful warm-hearted coastal town.


One day, it was a 60-minute massage. Right along the coast under the sun, listening to the waves crash with each tide, I drifted off to sleep during one of the most relaxing experiences of my life. Another time, it was a water taxi to a neighboring beach bar with rolling waves and rolling margaritas. 


But of all the wonderful and exciting activities a tourist could encounter while visiting blue waters and warm beaches, I would argue, the release of baby sea turtles into the wild was most memorable.  

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Step Lightly   20 x 13

If you're lucky enough to visit between the months of Aug. through Dec., be sure to walk up the coast to Sayulita’s far north end just before Pajaro de Fuego. There, you’ll find the volunteers at Campamento Tortuguero Sayulita busily preparing to release recently hatched Olive Ridley sea turtles into the wild to start their lives. 


Two months after incubating in their nests on the warm beaches, these second smallest sea turtles of the world (about two-inches long as hatchlings) erupt as a group from their nest in the cool of the night, and with some help from locals and visitors, scurry down the beach to the sea.


Living up to 50-years, the sea turtles spend most of their lives in the ocean. However, female sea turtles return to the exact location where they, themselves, were born to lay their eggs for the next generation. Because of this, the volunteers said, ‘it’s extremely crucial to preserve the turtles' natural habitat and preserve their species from poaching.’


The organization (entirely dependent on volunteerism and donations) works hard to educate locals and visitors of the importance of sea turtle preservation and environmental compassion. And while the turtle conservation program is still young itself, it has already helped liberate more than 21,000 newborn turtles. Leatherback turtles, the largest of all living sea turtles, have also been found emerging from Sayulita’s coastal nests. 

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Olive Ridley   15 x 12

Circle of Life  20 x 13

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Founders of Campamento Tortuguero Sayulita emphasize their wish to keep the local Sayulita beachfront clean and are trying to provide an example to others about the importance of volunteering and giving back to nature. 


“Educating and protecting the beach helps the little baby turtles get a chance at life and has become an important goal within the Sayulita community,” the organization explains.

And what a send off they have, as the crowds gather just after sunset to watch the babies make their dash into the sea to begin their next chapter of life.

Pro Tip: Planning to visit Sayulita or neighboring Mexico in the future? Adopt a nest!

Off They Go  8 x 6

Campamento Tortuguero Sayulita welcomes all local residents and those visiting Sayulita to adopt a turtle nest. Turtle nests are available for adoption for $500 pesos and patrons will have the opportunity to release the baby turtles when they hatch. 


By adopting a turtle nest, funds go directly to the camp for use of materials including flashlights, wood for the incubation area, marking points, markers and more.


To learn more or to make a donation, visit their Facebook page at:

Buena Bolillo

By: Sophie Bonomi



We must have arrived at Sayulita during a religious ceremony in early December because every morning, like clockwork, loud bursts of fireworks (or maybe dynamite) would jolt us awake long before dawn.


The first night, I sprang from bed thinking we were under attack. Slightly jet-lagged and tired from a long day of travel, we held each other closer and tried to fall back asleep.
We’d assess the situation tomorrow. 


Awakening came too early as the hot morning sun gleamed through the windows and began baking the cobblestone streets. It wasn’t the light or the emerging village folk below the hill from our beds at ‘Mi Otra Casa’, but the loud, deep echoing voice of someone shouting. 


“Boliiiillllllo!” It rang through the town and caught my ear. 


I sat up and listened. 


“Bolillio!! “Boliillllo!” The voice repeated over and over again, each time a little louder, longer and with more intention. 




Awakening my husband in a frantic, I could only assume the worst.


“Basti!” He jolted.

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Bolillo Lady  12 x 20

“Remember last night with those explosions?! Listen!! I think some man has lost his son, Bolillo. He keeps shouting for him. Gosh I hope he’s ok…”


My husband, quite used to my antics after five years of marriage, grunted and rolled over. 


“There was nothing we could do anyway, was there?’ I wondered. I fell back asleep, hoping for the best.


The next morning, following the explosions was another trip to the Twilight Zone. 




‘Fuck, can’t we get a little peace here?’ I thought. But again, clearly whatever that man was looking for, he still hasn’t found.


‘It wasn’t his son,’ I deduced in true Sherlock Holmes fashion. ‘But maybe it’s his dog. It probably was his damn dog. Ol’ Bolillo, got loose again…”


By the third and fourth day, we didn’t notice it. Maybe the man finally found what he was looking for, or maybe because Basti and I both fell violently ill with food poisoning for 72-hours, we were too dehydrated and weak to care. 


It wasn’t until the day before we left for home that we caught notice of a familiar sound. 


There, while on a sunrise walk around the village we saw her — 

The Bolillo lady — was a lady — Trudging up the hills with her basket each morning, she called out to the people. 


“Bolillo!” she yelled. Reaching for a bread roll out of her basket.


[Bolillo = Bread Roll]

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