Mexico Vacation

Puerto Vallarta

scribblings on our guide bookWe left a dreary Boston on Sunday afternoon bound for Puerto Vallarta via St. Louis and Dallas.  Even the seasoned check-in agent was surprised about the stop in St. Louis, but I guess you can’t complain when you are using frequent flyer miles.  I’ve never been a fan of Chili’s One (or as I call it Chiji’s), but strongly suggest avoiding Chiji’s Too if you are ever in St. Louis.  By 10PM we were in mild nighttime Peurto Vallarta.  We chose to take a shared taxi to our hotel.  After we dropped off some resort-goers, Kate started practicing her Spanish with the taxi driver.  It turned out he was better than a tour guide and spent at least 15 minutes telling us (her) about some of the places we planned to go after we picked up a rental car.  Every time Kate mentioned somewhere we were interested in, he would get a light in his eyes and tell us about it and write down [pic] some interesting facts.  He was pretty emphatic about Tapalpa, “Taaappppalpa – si, Talpa – no,” he said a number of times referring to two different towns.  I was very disappointed that we did not have time to visit Tapalpa to try some “birria de conejo” (rabbit stew) as suggested by our taxi driver.  It was great to get his opinions, and as a bonus he told us the best map to get, the mapa Roji, a real road atlas.

The first morning we were woken up to a chopping sound and the crack of breaking wood.  Turned out there was a guy over 4 stories up in the palm [pic] outside our window trimming it – fun job.  We had some breakfast at a corner café and walked around Puerto Vallarta, which is quite hilly leading to quite a few interesting and varying sets of stairs [pic].  We wandered through Isla Rio Cuale, a small island in the middle of Puerto Vallarta packed with tourist kitsch.  It was fun to watch people attempting to cross one of the swaying bridges to the island [pic].  After lunch on the beach (a less than thrilling Tex-Mex wrap at tourist prices for me) we went for a swim.  It was all fun and games until in a little bit of confusion, I got picked up by a wave, along with my glasses and the credit card I was carrying.  No, it’s not the first time I have lost glasses in the ocean; I don’t seem to learn my lesson.  I had visions of having to wear glacier glasses everywhere for the rest of the trip.  Luckily, sorry to say, Puerto Vallarta has a Sam’s Club.  I spent about 20 minutes – a record – picking out some new glasses, and the optometrist put lenses in them in 15 minutes.  What service!  It came at US prices, but I was desperate.

We took the bus back downtown and wandered around looking for a restaurant.  Passing “No Name”, Kate noted she had seen it in the guide book.  We peered inside and were slightly accosted by the host who told us “the game was on”.  We instinctively walked faster.  We weren’t interested in spending time watching a football game with a bunch of gringos on our vacation in Mexico – not that we would have been watching it at home either.  We found a decent place to eat on a second floor balcony, right next to the Guadalupe Cathedral.  We noticed during the meal that we could look down into the cars and at times 90% of the people would look over as they passed by the cathedral and make the sign of the cross.

The next morning we had breakfast on the beach at a borrowed table (it wasn’t reserved until 11) which an American we dubbed “the Warden” was keeping a sharp eye on for his friends.  From the short time we spent in Peurto Vallarta, it was clear that every day is the same there, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, doesn’t matter.  The tables and chairs are put out with the beach umbrellas in the same way, at the same time every day.  The lifeguards show up at the same time.  This day must have been slightly out of the ordinary, as waves were actually washing under our table from time-to-time [movie]  We enjoyed having to put our feet up once in a while as we ate breakfast.

Enough of Peurto Vallarta, we wanted to explore some of the surrounding areas.  We had a car reserved at Dollar.  I highly recommend not renting from Dollar.  The first car they tried to give us was a beat up Hyundai which had only 3 out of the 4 lug nuts per wheel [pic].  We ended up with 4-door standard “chevy” – just chevy – this car had no model or any identifying marks but “chevy” [pic].  But it worked, and it was a standard.  We headed up to San Sabastian, a small mountain town.  On the way, there was some construction.  Everyone, including the bus passengers, got out of their cars [pic] to look at the bulldozer high on the hill [pic] pushing debris down, which was subsequently pushed out of the road so we could pass [pic].

San Sebastian, Mascota, Nevado de Colima

Kate with Poquito and RowlfSan Sebastian was calm and quiet with the feel, sound and pine oak forest smells of a mountain town.  Our hotel had a great view of the town square [pic].  As we walked around town and headed up a dirt road to the east, a random dog ran past us over a concrete bridge.  I called him, but he was pretty standoffish.  We didn’t think much of it, but as we continued walking, it became obvious that we were walking the dog, Rowlf, too.  When we neared a house with dogs, it started to sound like trouble.  Since we were now taking Rowlf for a walk, I’m pretty sure he would have “defended” us, so we turned around and headed back to town.  Rowlf was not easily shaken.  In the end we had two dogs following us around town, after we made the mistake of giving Poquito some attention [pic].  It was funny how these dogs now became our problem – we had to protect Poquito from Rowlf’s jealous aggression.  We finally shook the dogs by going into our hotel and letting the hotel people shoo them away.  Rowlf even found us again the next morning when we were walking before leaving.

We drove from San Sebastian to Mascota, where we went for a horseback ride [pic].  We followed a canal through some fields, ending up on a dirt road.  Unfortunately, some tourists pulled up next to us in their Land Rover and started talking to us.  After a while the horses got restless and we ended up having to turn around and ride back through town [pic].  That evening we walked out of town into some fields that were being harvested.  The smell was so different from the night before in the mountains, much more like a damp fall evening in New England, when the cold air is settling down into the valleys.

The next day we drove to Ciudad Guzman to prepare for our hike up Nevado de Colima, the 14000 ft not-currently-active volcano in the National Park.  We took the scenic route, and I was really hoping to drive through Tapalpa, the town our taxi driver had told us about.  We made one attempt to get there, but the first town off the main road seemed impossible to get out of.  After driving to all 4 corners, and back (passing one group of men on a corner 4 times), I gave up.  From Ciudad Guzman, we found the road to the park and then found a hotel.  It was a horrible night.  Someone somewhere in the hotel [pic] (since the doors were 1/16” steel, it didn’t matter where) decided to leave the TV on all night.  I practiced sleeping with one earplug, and an ipod headphone.

We left before sunrise to get up to the national park in good time.  In fact, we woke up the ranger at the entrance station [pic].  He seemed to confirm what I had read online, that the staff at the antennas at about 13000 ft would tell us if we could hike all the way up.  It’s a 21km drive on a narrow dirt road to the parking area.  It’s then another 2km walking to the antennas.  On the walk up we met some college students from Guadalajara who had camped in the shelter [pic] at the parking area.  We were also startled and passed by a runner who came from the athletic training area at about 8000 feet.  We were lucky on the walk up to see the active volcano, Vulcan de Fuego spout a little bit of steam [pic].  At the Civil Protection building, our Mexican acquaintances knocked on the door and asked if we were allowed to climb the volcano.  We don’t know exactly what was said, but it was clear that we were not allowed.  We all walked up to the highest point near the antennas, took some pictures [pic], and wondered why we were not allowed to hike.  I was glad the Mexican guys had asked, and had no idea what the situation was; it was definitely not just a language barrier, but we were given no reasons as to why we couldn’t hike.  We thought about going anyway; it was a sort of the if you do we will thing, but in the end, we headed down.  I was very disappointed.  I even started to wonder if I should have paid a tour place to take us up, but it had seemed a bit silly to pay $80 per person for a hike that doesn’t require any special equipment.

The Coast

sunsetWe headed to the beach to forget about our disappointment on the mountain.  We sort-of mistakenly passed Manzanillo, but it looked a bit big anyway, and we ended up at Melaque.  Melaque is probably a typical beach town, crawling with tourists and “snowbirds”, especially Canadians.  I made the comment to Kate that it looked like the some of the snowbirds come to Mexico to “leather up and die”.  We were rushed to find some dinner quick the first night in Melaque and ate at a restaurant on the beach. We paid tourist prices, but I did enjoy the pasta.  There were only tourists at the restaurant, and I found it amusing that the band that was getting ready to play consisted of a group of American guys in Hawaiian shirts.  Later we found local food in the town center and I had two good tacos for 16 Pesos, or about $1.60.

While staying in Melaque we drove to the town down the beach to find some sort of boat ride or snorkeling.  We came across the “Sociedad Coopertiva de Servicios Turisticos S.C. de R.L. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi”, or as I am fond of refering it, SCSTSCRLMLL.  It seemed to be a cooperative of local boats available mostly for fishing trips.  We negotiated a 1.5 hour tour of out to the point of land and through the harbor.  Captain Jim [pic] took us out of the harbor to the ocean and then back to see the Yachts at the Wyndham Grand Bay Hotel [pic].  We stopped by and saw the prize of a fishing contest [pic] where a friend of the captain had beers for us.  Later we walked out to the northwest end of the beach at Melaque past the informal camping area [pic].  In looking around at the northern campers, I noticed all their sewer outlets were buried in the ground.  I wondered, do these Canadians and American come down here, camp at a free spot on the beach and do something they would never dream of doing at home, dump their sewer in the sand?  Unfortunately, according this informative website, that is exactly what they do.

From Melaque, we headed back to Puerto Vallarta via Tenacatita, where we hoped to do some snorkeling in the coral reef.  We didn’t find a place that rented snorkels, but found them hanging for sale outside a restaurant.  They weren’t the best snorkels, but they worked OK.  It was a lot of fun.  As we were having lunch before heading out I had the distinct feeling I was missing the car keys.  Sure enough, I had locked them in the car.  We hoped the waitress might know someone who could help us, but she didn’t.  I decided to try and get in the car myself, and we told the waitress that we were looking for a piece of wire.  Low and behold as she was looking around with us, she spotted a bucket handle lying in the sandy road.  I thought we might be in luck, but the chevy wasn’t as easy to get into as my old Corolla.  We needed professional help and hitched a ride in the back of a pickup [pic] to El Rabalsito.  The kids with whom we hitched (and I mean kids, we guessed 14 at the oldest) offered to wait for us.  Kate conferred with some people in the Mini-Super and they gave us the name of a person in Tenacatita who could help us.  Lucky for us, we had a ride back and went off in search of Terano.  As we found out, Terano was his nickname, and we found Arturo in a restaurant eating lunch with his lady friend.  Kate explained our situation and said he should finish his lunch multiple times, but Arturo was on the case.  He rummaged around the area for some wire, grabbed a pair of pliers and gave us a ride over to our car [pic].  He was in pretty fast, despite the distraction of a friend who came by to check out the situation.  Arturo indicated he didn’t want any money, and probably would have been happy to do it for free, but we insisted, and we were on our way.

On the final stretch, we took a drive down to Playa Chalacatepec [pic].  As we came over the top of a hill near the beach, some guys at the bottom were waving at us.  I had already decided the road wasn’t good enough for the chevy and parked a little ways back.  This beach was isolated, although the surf was too rough for swimming, it was my favorite beach, no people!  On our walk out we stopped and talked with the guys we had seen who were very friendly and helpful.  They told us the best part of the beach and offered to show us where it was.  We were getting tight for time, though, so we headed out.

We spent the last night in Puerto Vallarta where we ate at a French (inspired, anyway) restaurant.  Despite breaking most of the rules except tap water (food from the street, lettuce, etc) we hadn’t had any digestive problems to this point.  The situation changed that night, as Kate was “tormented by waves of vomiting.”  In the morning she was feeling a little better [pic], but sick enough that I finally made my first purchase without her translation skills.  I hadn’t shown any sickness, but downed a Pepto, Imodium, vitamin I cocktail, and we left for home.  Luckily we gave ourselves plenty of time, so we had an extra hour to argue with Dollar about the car rental charges.  In the end, I walked out without a bill and without signing a credit card receipt, prepared to just dispute the charges.  Not to end on a sour note, it was a great trip.  We really enjoyed the people we met and the scenery and look forward to visiting Mexico again.

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