“You’re travelling around Mexico by yourself? Have you ever even been there before?!” From the day I booked my flight and was excitedly telling people about my trip to Mexico, these were the sorts of comments I heard. When I landed in Mexico and spoke to the locals, even they thought I was mad. But I’d committed. I had six weeks, no plans, and a goal to get barrelled.

I started my adventure in the magical town of Sayulita, having flown from Mexico City to Puerto Vallarta. Here the streets are lined with pom poms, woven hearts and local artisan treasures. Taco stalls sit on every corner and margaritas are cheaper than water. With all my senses on fire, my first week was vibrant and, undeniably, a little bit wild. The surf here is forgiving. Sayulita is home of some of the best longboarders in the world, including Lola Mignot and Joel Alcantar. Sharing waves with them both was a dream; watching them gracefully dancing on the sea to music that reaches the line-up from the bars that fringe the beach.

Sayulita is fun, safe and friendly. There were plenty of waves within easy hitchhiking distance, and for all levels of surfers. Yet I had my sights set on wider horizons; I wanted to get lost and get barrelled. I think it was a Tuesday that I left to find a ride to a place about four hours south, where I was promised to find barrels. Not one person advised me to go by myself; in fact, quite the opposite.

Travelling south meant leaving the safety of the tourist hub and travelling through more unstable territory. I was stoked to have found a ride, but first of all I had to make it to Guadalajara, five hours inland, to meet my lift. So my journey began with hitchhiking, from which there are so many different stories to tell.

One I don’t think I’ll ever forget was when a lorry pulled over on the highway and I asked the two men in the front, in my best Spanish, if I could stop about 25km north. They welcomed me aboard, but as I went to climb into the front of the truck they quickly wagged their fingers: “No, no, no, atras,” (in the back), they said, and opened the back of the truck, where they parked me and my board in the dark on a small mountain of papayas. When they dropped me off and I waved them on their way, I wondered if I’d later see some of the 2,500 papayas in Sainsbury’s.

After a couple more missed busses, some trekking on the highway and a lot of thanking the lord that I’d packed lightly and only brought one board, I made it to Guadalajara and met my ride. He was, I swear to god, the Mexican version of Ace Ventura. How I got blessed with his company, I have no idea. We set off early Wednesday morning on the journey south, drinking beers and sharing stories. We had Waiena, Niwa and Matilda in the back, our Mexican streets dogs and trusty travel companions. As we ventured south the palm trees got bigger, the land got greener, and there were no buildings to be seen. We passed four roadblocks manned by armed men, but Ace Ventura made his way through with no problems at all. Then, before I knew it, we had arrived in what would turn out to be my favourite place in the world.

We set up our hammocks in the pallapa, sank some beers and waited for the morning to come. At first light we surfed. Ace Ventura put something around his ankle that he said it was for blocking sharks and, low and behold, when paddling out, I saw the first one. Being British, seeing sharks isn’t something I’m used to, so I freaked out. However, the locals assured me that they were no harm, had no interest in us, and reminded me that we were playing in their home. I guess they were right, as during the three weeks I spent surfing eight hours a day in their waters, I saw four sharks and wasn’t ever attacked. Once I was sitting outback trying to do my hair and a fin came towards me almost in slow motion, but it quickly whipped around in the other direction, leaving me to stay our there and keep surfing.

Travelling alone opens up a whole new world of opportunities to meet people more easily than when travelling with a friend or in groups. About three weeks into my trip I met Miles, who taught me how to get barrelled and shared adventures with me. We hitchhiked to remote beaches, jumped in the back of gas vans to get to new places, and found incredible cabanas in the middle of nowhere where we drank mezcal and surfed deserted breaks.

On my last day, we woke up at sunrise, made our ritual morning coffee and sat in the sand. The sky was alight and there was a pink rainbow over the river mouth. The offshore winds made it a little chilly, yet we had a mind-blowing surf and I got my first two proper barrels. That was all wanted from my trip. However the evening surf was even more magical: the water was as smooth as butter and the purple sky illuminating the sea. It was one of the bigger days we’d had, well overhead and super hollow, but I didn’t have any fear at all.

It was simply magical. I’d seen my first whales here a couple of weeks earlier, but when Miles paddled over and told me to put my head under the water and listen, I could actually hear a mamma and a baby whale communicating with each other. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced, and made Mexico the trip of a lifetime for me.

Mexico is an incredible country, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever travelled to. Despite a bad reputation and not being the easiest place to travel solo, the locals are kind and warm and there are plenty of magical places to discover.

If you’re thinking of travelling to Mexico, here are a few bits of advice:

  • Buy your pompoms in Sayulita. They’re made by the Huicholes – the Mexican tribe native to the area of Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas and Durango – and you won’t see them anywhere else.
  • Buy a hat and a beach umbrella on day one. You’ll end up spending whole days on beaches getting in and out of the sea, and shade will be your best friend.
  • Learn a bit of basic Spanish; it gets you a long way.
  • Use the local buses; they’re cheap and easy.
  • Seek out the paletas, which are the traditional Mexican popsicles.
  • Leave space in your luggage when packing.
  • Finally, don’t drink the cheap tequila, you’ll thank me later.