Matt and I went to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate our one-and-a-half year anniversary. You can view the entire Flickr photoset here!
Read from the beginning below, or jump to each day:
Matt and I went to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate our one-and-a-half year anniversary. You can view the entire Flickr photoset here!
Read from the beginning below, or jump to each day:
Since Wendyis the best friend ever, she picked us up before 8am on a Saturday morning and gave us a ride to the airport. It was pleasantly uncrowded, and we had plenty of time to get breakfast and food for the plane (does Northwest feed you on a 4.5 hour international flight? No, it does not). We sat by the gate, and managed to be the 2nd and 3rd last to board the plane. This was mostly intentional (who wants to sit on the plane for half an hour?), but it was kind of funny when they paged us. I apologized to the gate agent, and he said, “It’s ok, hon! Just being official!”
The flight was uneventful, and involved much giggling at Skymall, and the in-flight magazine crossword puzzle. As we were landing in Puerto Vallarta, Matt got to talking to the guy in our row, and got some good advice getting around. The people sitting in front of us overheard us telling him where we were staying, and said they were there too. We decided to share a cab.
We got off the plane and took the jetway right to a pair of waiting buses. We hopped on, and the buses rolled approximately 500 feet to the other side of the terminal. We hopped off, and went to wait in long lines for customs. It wasn’t too bad, except for the heat. It took me far too long to find my bag, so we asked a guy for help. He asked me to describe it, and we still couldn’t find anything. He started telling us that a lot of bags look exactly like that, and pointed to the one in front of him as an example. And, hey, it was my bag!! I appreciate the fact he didn’t smack me for that.
I’d read a lot about the timeshare bit in Puerto Vallarta, and knew we’d have to run a gauntlet of salespeople on the way out of the airport. Our new friends got caught up in the fracas briefly, believing they could get a cab that way. We spent some time fending off cab/shuttle attacks, and Matt and I ran to the ATM to get pesos. Finally, we escaped the airport and saw our destination: the cab stand across the highway. We dragged our bags up the incline, already gross and sweaty in the head, and descended to a waiting cab driver.
I asked him how much, and he said 100 pesos. Not per person like the shuttles (many of which take you to a timeshare first), but for each of us. That’s less than $2.50 apiece. SCORE.
We crowded into a tiny car with no air conditioning: me in the hump seat with Matt and Michelle on either side of me, and Bob in the front with one of our giant suitcases on his lap, because it didn’t fit in the trunk. We took off down a back street behind the airport, bumping over ruts and cobblestones, sometimes seeming like we were going to pull off into a dark courtyard. Instead, our driver pulled into the gas station. He had to put air in the back tires, because we were bottoming out.
We tore off into Puerto Vallarta, the cabbie weaving in and out of traffic, even pulling into turn lanes to go around other cars and run red lights. On the main drag, the cops waved him over to the side of the road. Matt and I were dying of amusement (and fear for the driving, obviously), but the other two were not as amused. They still weren’t convinced we’d make it to the hotel alive.
We arrived without incident, and went inside our hotel (the Sheraton Buganvilias) to check in. While we waited in line, Michelle noticed the pink Breast Cancer 3Day tag on my suitcase. She asked if I’d done it, and then told me that they’d been on the safety crew, riding motorcycles last year. I knewBob looked familiar!! We were thrilled.
The bellboy brought our bags up, and showed us around the room. It was great: we had a kitchen with everything we didn’t even need (like a blender!), an awesome Murphy bed, and a balcony overlooking a pool, with the ocean just beyond.
We sat on the balcony admiring the view for a while, then changed and went downstairs to see the resort. I’d chosen the place because it was one of the many options available from RCI, a voucher program that allows you to stay for a week at a timeshare. Their main goal is to get you to buy a place, but we were prepared to be on the lookout for salespeople. Oh, and I got the voucher for free from my parents, so we were there for the cost of airfare.
We got ourselves margaritas at the pool bar (one which I will probably remember as the best margarita of my life, mainly because of the surroundings), and toured the grounds. There was a line of beach chairs facing out toward the ocean, and a cute little cabana on a pier. There were palapas all over the beach, and flowering plants everywhere.
Walking around the second pool, we saw an iguana scuttling under a chair. I had no idea we’d see lizards that big in Mexico! They seemed to live by the pools.
We decided to swim in that pool, because it was far less crowded. The second we got in, I knew it was the best day ever.
We bobbed around the pool, and spent a long time climbing on each other. Everybody else there seemed to be in love, too, so it was the thing to do. I could’ve stayed in there forever, especially with the swim-up bar. You just give them your room number, and bam!, a margarita appears.
We stayed in the pool for a very long time, until it started to feel cold. Then we took up spots in our deck chairs to dry off, discussing how immensely stressed and angry we were. Then we’d sit there and laugh.
We went back to our room to shower and change, and headed toward the Malecon as the sun began to set. We didn’t know how long a walk it’d be, but it didn’t look too far on the map. If we needed to get a cab, we could grab one anywhere.
We discovered it was about a mile to the Malecon, which wasn’t bad at all. We’d pass the fenced-off area next to our resort with the scary falling-down empty house (the one I discovered later wasn’t empty at all, because there were lights and noises in there), then cross the ravine, which looked shady and posed the danger of falling. Then there was the weird fenced-off yard with the mini replica of Los Arcos, and the very happy graffiti.
After that, the gauntlet began. There were guys standing outside half the shops along the street, trying to get you to come inside. They were timeshare salesmen, but all had some kind of cover story, like selling you tequila or getting you a tour discount. They offered cash, free meals, and free shots. It would only get annoying when they were really out in force (like when the cruise ship arrived later in the week), but otherwise we just got really used to saying, ‘no, gracias!’ while we kept walking.
We reached the Malecon, and walked along it for a while, looking at the statues and the sand sculptures. It wasn’t super-crowded yet, but would get to be so later at night. Also, walking on the Malecon side meant avoiding the timeshare dudes in all the shops across the street.
We were in search of dinner somewhere overlooking the Malecon and the ocean, and La Chata seemed perfect. The server took us upstairs and got us a table along the balcony, where we could watch the sun set.
We ordered the house drink, and were very surprised when the waiter showed up with a couple of soup bowls. Then we realized that wasthe house drink. Hell yes!
We had an awesome dinner, and watched the sun set over the ocean. It was amazing. So was the atmosphere in the restaurant, with mariachis singing and dancing, and parties going on around us.
We were more than a little tipsy when we left, both of us unable to finish our second drink.
We took off down the Malecon, partly to see the sights, and also to find another bar to hang out in. The bars all had people standing at the entrances trying to pull people in; we successfully avoided a bunch of them, but one bar caught our attention. It was named ZOO, and the place was loud, wide-open, and had a dance floor in the back. We made a mental note and kept going.
A few blocks down, we ran into Bob and Michelle, who were out doing the same thing. We decided to go back to ZOO together. Walking in, they told us it was ladies’ night, but it took us a very long time to figure out what that meant. What we were able to determine was that everyone got 2-for-1s, and ladies got free margaritas. I think that’s how it worked, at least. We really had no idea.
The girls at the next table were going tequila shots, and this involved a highly elaborate setup. There was a snifter of 151, pineapple, and cinnamon dropped from above and set on fire so it seared the fruit. It was kind of spectacular. There was also a pair of shot girls wandering around blowing whistles, and the tequila shots were 2-for-1 as well. Of course we had to try them, so Matt and I paid our 40 pesos and got ready. They poured the shots and dumped them down our throats, then grabbed our heads and shook them back and forth. They pinched our foreheads, our noses, and one grabbed my boobs while the other pinched Matt’s nipples. And now every time I hear whistles blowing, I don’t know whether to be really excited or run away.
Also, we heard ‘Push It’. Just like we were at the 90s.
Bob and Michelle left a bit before we did. I have no idea what time we left, but we quickly discovered that the mile-long walk back to the resort was one of the best ideas ever. There were drunk people all over the street, thronging around Oxxos (the convenience store like 7-11, of which there were three on our walk back). We found one we could actually go inside instead of just ordered through the window, and got water and Nescafe to make coffee in the morning.
As we got to the ravine, we saw a scary-looking figure standing there, wearing all black. We were kind of concerned until we realized he was a cop, guarding the area on a Saturday night. Good idea, dudes. We made it back to the hotel safely, and, um, you can probably guess the rest.
We got up Sunday morning and headed to MARIACHI BRUNCH at our hotel. It was expensive, but I figured it’d be worth it for a big Mexican buffet and unlimited champagne.
Make that ‘the largest Mexican buffet on earth’. We were amazed. They had so many different stations, it was hard to keep track of where everything was. They had every kind of traditional breakfast food, and a huge array of traditional stuff. It was all excellent. We tried things like a pumpkin flower crepe, pozole, tamales, tacos al pastor, enchiladas, and platanos, among other things. We also made our own mimosas with pineapple juice.
The funny thing, though, is that our appetites were already disappearing. We didn’t really eat that much, just tried a lot. The heat and sun was a big part of that, I think.
pastry swan! Matt ate his head.
After brunch, we headed to the pool for what felt like hours. We went to the other one this time, the one with the hot tub and waterfalls. And a bar, of course. We had margaritas and bobbed around for a long time. It didn’t take us long to figure out that this was the most appropriate way of dealing with the midday sun.
a big iguana came up and licked my lime.
We finally left the pool after lounging on chairs for a while. We’d pretty much lost all sense of time by then, which was absolutely excellent. We changed and headed back toward the Malecon.
puerto vallarta from the front of our hotel
the ‘ravine’: kind of scary at night.
Right as we turned the corner to the Malecon, we encountered Bob and Michelle. Michelle was staggering and giggling. They’d found a bar, and learned all about tequila that day. She kept yelling, “FUCK IT!” It was hysterical. Bob was dragging her back to the hotel for a nap.
At the north end of the Malecon, we went down to the beach to put our feet in the ocean. While we were standing there, we realized it was the exact view we were used to seeing from the Puerto Vallarta webcam! It must be located on top of the Hotel Rosita.
beach along the Malecon
Hotel Rosita: the oldest in PV (with webcam!)
We walked down the length of the Malecon, checking out all the sculptures along the way. There were also two guys building gigantic sand sculptures.
’twas mothers day. this was lit with a novena at night.
part of the rotunda of the sea
in search of reason
Matt, in search of reason!
the sea horse, symbol of PV
cathedral of our lady of guadalupe
The cathedral is amazing, especially the metalwork on the top (and the fact that it’s lit in neon at night). Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to photograph, because it’s at the end of a very narrow street.
We walked all the way down to the end of the Malecon. The last part is a little different; it’s a big plaza with a bunch of tiny shops. The people there don’t harass you as much to buy timeshares as they do to buy jewelry, tequila, and handmade stuff.
We were dying of thirst, so we stopped into a little cafe for bottles of water. The guy there was wearing a Messi jersey, so Matt started referring to him as such. He told us to stop back after dark, because the place converted to a bar, and we could get anything we wanted. This ‘anything you want’ offer was fairly popular in Puerto Vallarta! We figured it probably included hookers and drugs, but wondered what else? Endangered species? Children on the black market? Nuclear weapons?? I kind of wanted to go back.
At the end of the Malecon, we crossed the bridge to Old Town, or the Zona Romantica. (I’d been offering to show Matt my Zona Romantica the whole time we were there. And maybe for a couple months beforehand, when I learned of it.) There were a ton of kids swimming in the Cuale River, right where it emptied into the ocean. It looked really gross, but at least there was no surf.
We turned off the street and walked down along the beach. There was a walkway part of the way, then a boardwalk. It was all older resorts, bars and restaurants, and packed-full beaches.
my idea of perfect.
along playa los muertos
the pier where you get the water taxi to yelapa.
playa los muertos
We were worn out from all the walking in the sun, and surely dehydrated at that point. We decided it was time to find food, so we headed up the street into the Zona Romantica to see what we’d find. Right as we turned off the beach, a dog joined us. He was wearing a collar but appeared to be stray, and he was most definitely a boy.
As we walked up the hill, he took the lead. We kept following for no good reason, and finally he led us here:
It was an abandoned bar, chained shut and in disarray. We decided that it probably should be ours. Stanky the dog led us right to it, after all. I should mention that it’s pretty much become our dream to own a bar in a tropical place. We’d be awesome at it.
We walked a few blocks through the Zona Romantica and saw several restaurants, but none were as appealing as the ones on the beach. I stopped for another bottle of water, and we headed back to the Bar Los Burros, the one with the sign daring us to come in, and a board advertising 2-for-1s starting very soon.
best chips ever
We sat there for a very long time, having margaritas, followed by 2-for-1 cuba libres. We shared a small plate of nachos, because we were decidedly not very hungry at all, but knew we should eat. Also, all the food we encountered in Mexico was excellent: everything was fresh and well-made.
A band called Dub Stylee was playing, and the lead singer looked exactly as if he could be Sammy Hagar’s son. They played reggae and classic rock, and had a constant battle-of-the-bands going on with the mariachis at the restaurant next door.
We finally read the history of the place on the back of the menu, and it mentioned their very popular burro. We looked and looked, and couldn’t see a burro everywhere. The place was completely open, so where could he be hiding?
Matt asked our server the next time he came around. He very apologetically informed us:
Our spirits were not dampened by the dead burro, however. We were drinking margaritas with our feet in the sand on a Mexican beach, and we were about to see another sunset. It doesn’t get much better than that.
At a table near us, there was a family with two little kids having dinner. They were drinking a blue beverage in a bottle called C-ICE that we had to assume was pop, because the kids were drinking it, too. Matt suspected it was probably alcoholic, however.
The only downside to sitting on the beach was the vendors that came up to all of us constantly, asking us to buy stuff. We were already pretty accomplished at ‘no, gracias’, so it wasn’t a huge problem, but there were many of them. I did a really good job of not even looking at their wares until a little kid came up and held out a tacky bobbling sea turtle magnet and offered it to us. For the life of me, I could not determine the child’s gender AT ALL. I ended up buying the sea turtle, and his/her persistence paid off. Man, that kind of killed me.
There was a strange lady sitting at a table near us, and she seemed to somehow be associated to the little kids selling stuff. She also knew the head waiter, because he came over and talked to her a lot. After a while, she came and introduced herself to us. Her name was America (seriously!), and the waiter was her husband. We talked, and finally she asked to take our picture on her cellphone. She asked our names so she could label it; after some confusion, she ended up with ‘Mateo y Yeni’. So awesome.
After 2-for-1s ended and I had gone to the bathroom in the weird building housing Burros’ kitchen approximately seven times (ok, twice), we decided to head back towards the Malecon.
There was a band playing on the stage in front of Los Arcos. (I only cursed that stage a few times, because it blocked the view of the most well-known statue on the Malecon. Still, the shows there every night were awesome.) We watched some Mexican hip-hop for a while, then headed up the street to check out the bar selection.
A few blocks up, we saw the No Name Bar. We’d passed it a couple times already and hadn’t thought much of it, but we’d been walking on the Malecon side of the street. As we approached it, we very slowly realized what it was about: it was a HOCKEY BAR. A HOCKEY BAR IN MEXICO.
After we both died of excitement twice, we went in and got a table. Before the trip, I’d asked Cindi to keep me updated on the progress of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I was sad about missing them. Not sad enough to not go to Mexico then, but still. All of a sudden, everything was resolved. I wanted to stay there forever.
We bought ‘Hockey Night in Puerto Vallarta’ tshirts that were a parody of the Hockey Night in Canada logo. Then we ordered food that we ate very, very little of, and of course had beverages. They had a house drink that I remember very little of, except that it was deadly. We saw hockey, and then part of the Twins game, which was kind of mindblowing. I asked Matt the same question over and over again. That’s probably when he figured it was time to go.
We headed back toward our hotel. Along the way, I detailed my plan to keep people from killing us at the ravine, should the cop not be standing there this time. It involved singing (‘One More Time’, a track I’ve danced to in the annex at the Gay 90s too many times to count, and heard blasting from a bar along the Malecon) and dancing and generally acting drunk. Nobody would rob or murder a drunk person, right? That’s unpossible!
We stopped into our favorite Oxxo (now dubbed ‘Oxxo Medio’ because it was the middle one) for pop and water, and there in the case was C-ICE. It was indeed a vodka-based beverage. Matt purchased one, because how could he not? We made it back to our hotel with no incident, though I was slightly disappointed about not being able to pull out my mad dance maneuvers. Maybe next time.
Monday, we set out to find out about dune buggy tours. We had a general idea of what we wanted, but the prices were variable, and we had to figure out where to go to get them. We asked at the hotel’s excursion desk, and she told us it was $100, but she could get us a discount if we went to the stupid timeshare presentation. We ducked out posthaste.
We headed up toward the marina area, without a clue about how far it was, or what there really was to see there. We just figured we’d go and see what we saw along the way. We stopped into a grocery store to buy water so we didn’t die of heat, and headed northward.
Matt and the giant futbol
A ways up the road, we saw a little kiosk full of excursion info. A lady called to us from inside, so we decided to go check it out. We asked about dune buggies, and she had 2 tours. One of them was 800 pesos (a little less than $80) for the both of us, was four hours long, started at 2pm, and took us to a tequila factory. We didn’t even have to go see timeshares. SOLD.
She called to make reservations, and told us we’d need our drivers licenses. They were in the safe at the hotel, but we had plenty of time to walk back to get them. We took the brochure and receipt, and headed back toward the grocery store .
We were wandering around the giant market ogling things and generally being amused when I realized that it was close to noon and I wasn’t hungry at all. That was unusual, because I’m on a pretty regular schedule as far as meals. We decided to find food there to bring back with us. I looked at everything they had to offer, and nothing looked good at all. I finally picked out some crunchy toast, for reasons I’m not even clear on. All I know is I was quickly feeling worse and worse; I was shaky, dizzy, and confused. I figured I needed food, but I didn’t want to eat at all.
We checked out and went to the little deli area where they had hot food. I was hoping they’d have something vegetarian, but they didn’t. We sat at a table while Matt ate a sandwich and I drank my water as quickly as possible. I then ate bites of toast, forcing myself to not throw up. It sucked a lot, mostly because I didn’t know what was wrong.
I finally felt OK enough to walk back to the hotel, so we headed that way. In the room, I drank more water and tried to eat. I laid down and realized there was no way I’d be able to get on a dune buggy in an hour. I was pretty convinced I was going to die. Heroically, Matt called the PANTHERS OF THE JUNGLE and had a conversation with them completely in Spanish, because the guy didn’t speak English. He asked if we could change our reservations to the next day, and they said yes. That’s what he was hoping happened, at least!
I tried to nap, and ended up laying there delirious for an hour or so. Eventually I felt well enough to stand up, so I went and sat on the patio with water and trail mix. It was in the mid-80s outside, but I was freezing cold from chills. It was freaking me out a lot.
I started to feel better around 2:30, so we decided to go downstairs, sit near the ocean, and drink some more water. We got beach chairs and hung out for a while, and then decided food was probably a good idea, since I hadn’t had very much of it in the last 24 hours. I really had no urge to eat at all, and the thought of it made me want to gag.
We wandered around the hotel, and couldn’t find anything open. It was siesta time, so most of the shops were closed. We finally realized they served food at the beach bar, so we ordered from there. Matt got tacos al pastor, and I got a cheese pizza. I didn’t care what I ate at that point, I just mostly wanted to start feeling normal again. Being sick on vacation sucks, especially when it prevents you from doing things.
even the hotel food was amazing!
I felt more human after eating some pizza, so we decided to go for a swim. We tried the beach, but the ocean was really rough, and the beach in that area was mostly pebbles. Since we had two perfect pools at the resort, we went for that instead.
Once the sun started to go down around 7:30, we went back to the room for a personal siesta. Then we sat on the balcony, watching the sun set, and Matt decided it was time to try C-ICE. I think he liked it!
After dark, we headed downtown with one destination in mind. Well, after some souvenir shopping for the folks back home, some free tequila shots from a guy who thought he’d sell us a non-timeshare (the dudes who worked there bet a bottle of water on whether Matt was British or not, because he’s perhaps a little pasty white and was wearing a soccer jersey), and after a taxi driver offered him a cab ride, weed, cocaine and pills. I love Mexico.
Also, Matt had to make sure I was feeling up to it. Señor Frog’s? It’s a commitment!
The place was pretty empty when we arrived; there were only a few tables full of people who looked like they’d been there all night. I noticed that at one of them, they were all trashed on Coors Light: the taste of the Rockies. In Mexico? At Señor Frog’s, home of the yard? I guess whatever works.
I still wasn’t hungry, so we ordered The Best Chips and Salsa in the World (that’s what it’s called on their menu, and I have to admit it was spectacular; they even made it at the table), some soup that came with many sides, and some very, very tall beverages. Thankfully, you could get anything in a yard, so I had Cuba Libres, which didn’t make my stomach sad. The balloon artist guy came by and talked to us in very broken English about tattoos and sex; we didn’t understand half of what he said, but he was still hilarious.
Shortly after our drinks arrived, the announcer guy (who was the Mexican version of Pepe from our cruise, so we loved him) got up on a table and announced that we’d be playing music trivia. They’d play short clips from TV shows, and whoever yelled ‘Señor Frogs!’ and answered correctly first would get a free shot. We also had to announce where we were all from, so we were excited to learn that there were other Minnesotans in the house, as well as some Iowans. The Coors folks were from North Carolina.
Matt won one of the rounds, and after a while, they ended up giving the rest of the bottle to the North Carolina people. That was probably a bad idea. Also, Matt did a bacon shot with the little cup of toppings I hadn’t used in my soup.
When the DJ got the music going, and we heard some of our favorite and not-so-favorite hits such as ‘Don’t you Wish your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me’, ‘Get Low’, and ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’, Soulja Boy, and ‘Baby Got Back’. They got people up on stage to dance the Electric Slide, and I kept telling Matt that they had to play the Cupid Shuffle. And then they did, so we danced right at our table.
We almost died when they played ‘Lean Like a Cholo’, which we’d seen on MTV Tres only a few weeks before. On my way to the bathroom, I decided I should see if the DJ took requests. I stopped into the booth while both he and the MC were there, and asked if he could play ‘Rompe’. He looked so shocked that I said, ‘Do you have Daddy Yankee?’ It turns out he was so floored at a white chick asking for reggaeton that he didn’t know what to think. Ha!
The MC said, ‘I hate reggaeton!’ and the DJ told me to ignore him because he was crazy. Once they started playing ‘Rompe’, the MC came up to our table to try to get me to sing it (no thanks!), and tried to explain why he hated reggaeton. It was something to do with how it was more dance music, I think. I asked him what he listened to, and he said American rap. We got into a long discussion about how they don’t really have a big hiphop scene in Mexico. I found that hard to believe, because there’s so much of it focused in the Caribbean.
A huge wedding party from Alberta came in, so they got them all dancing. They held a drinking contest up on stage, and the MC told one of the ladies if she didn’t come up to play, he was going to get Mrs. Reggaeton instead. I almost died. Best title ever!
Right as we were about to leave for the night, we caught a glimpse of Bob and Michelle on the other side of the dance floor. Oh, Señor Frog’s! Everybody loves it. Not just because they gave us free shots before we left with our six yard glasses, either.
Back at the hotel, we found Pancetta the cat waiting for us at the car rental desk. We spent a lot time sitting on the balcony giggling, and then went to bed.
Tuesday morning, I felt somewhat better than the day before. My stomach was still pretty unhappy, but I didn’t want to die or anything. We decided to follow what we had realized was the best plan for the Mexican summer: spend the hot hours relaxing in the pool, and wait til it was cooler to go out.
Unfortunately, we could only spend about an hour in there, because we had a date with dune buggies. Still, it was very good; we also ran into Bob and Michelle in the hot tub, so we sat there talking to them for a long time.
For lunch, we hit up a place right across the street called 100% Natural. They had a ton of vegetarian stuff on the menu, and it was hard to decide what to get. Everything looked amazing. I had a sort of quesadilla sammich, and Matt’s lunch involved a Mexican smoothie.
After eating, we headed back up to the same area we’d visited the previous day, in the direction of the marina. It was even hotter than the previous day, and we were extremely warm by the time we reached the offices of THE PANTHERS OF THE JUNGLE. And by ‘offices’, I mean a dirt lot full of assorted vehicles, and a hut-like building on stilts.
There was already a crowd standing around when we got there, trying to fill out paperwork and put down their deposits in the most confused and disorganized way possible. Over the course of the day, we learned that this group of nine was part of a larger wedding party (the bride and groom were among them, but I never determined which couple it was), and they were from the Vancouver area. They were all in their very early twenties, and obviously didn’t travel much. They were intensely suspicious of the company’s motives (so making their $200-per-vehicle deposit soon turned into a gigantic catastrophe), and argued with the staff and each other about everything. Regardless, they were very amusing.
We stood around far too long in the heat, and finally got to the point of claiming our dune buggies. Several of them had pedals or fluid canisters that had been replaced with beer cans; ours didn’t have a gas pedal, but a lever with a bolt through it. I was concerned about my ability to reach the clutch and the steering wheel til they gave me a booster seat. We got goggles and bandanas to wear over our faces on the dirt roads, but obviously didn’t need helmets; we had a roll cage, after all.
They started up the dune buggies for us, and the only instruction we really got was that the engines were from old VW Beetles, so that’s how we should drive them. I really did NOT want to have to drive that thing on city streets without any familiarity with it, but I had no choice—Matt doesn’t drive a stick, and we had nowhere to practice. So, off we went, with me not-so-quietly panicking about Mexican traffic.
We got about three blocks and stalled on the side of the road. The guides in the back got us running again, and we caught up with the group. I figured we’d maybe go a little ways through the less-busy parts of Puerto Vallarta and out into the mountains, but that was not to be: next thing I knew, we were turning onto the highway that skirts the town. I considered maybe pulling over and refusing to go on, but I was in a dune buggy parade with a bunch of Canadian kids, and if they could do it, so could we. Well, except for the ones who stalled right on the highway and had to be pushed to get going again.
After a mile or so, I felt better about it, and figured that was the hardest we’d really have to do. Until we headed into a tunnel through the mountains. HOLY CRAP.
On the other side of the tunnel, though, we got to pull off the highway and head off onto dusty cobblestone streets through cute villages. That, I could handle, and they were obviously used to the tours going through there a few times a day.
Past the little town, we turned off onto a dirt road and headed into the Sierra Madres, following the Cuale River. The dune buggies were a little hard to control on tight corners, but it was still far easier to drive them there than on city streets. One of the Canadians a few cars ahead of us stalled, so we all lined up to push them, with the guides in the back behind us. We’d all get rolling in 2nd gear, and the stalled vehicle would be able to pop the clutch and be on the way away. That seemed to happen a lot.
Matt: either riding in a dune buggy, or overthrowing your government.
Because of the delay, our group of three dune buggies was a ways behind the rest of the group. The guy in front was obviously just following the trail of dust down the paths, which was occasionally tricky. I noticed that the one we were on was suddenly getting really steep, and as we turned a corner, we saw two of them stuck at the top of a hill, trying to turn around. We stopped fast, stuck on a steep incline, and I jammed my foot down as hard as I could, because the brakes obviously sucked. We started rolling backwards a little, toward the edge of the dropoff, and then our dune buggy stalled. Right at that moment, I was officially terrified of dying in the mountains in Mexico.
It turns out that the Canadians had led us astray; they’d taken a wrong turn up this hill, and only realized it at the top. We all had to turn our dune buggies around, but there was hardly any room to do so. There was no way we were getting ours restarted, the guides were nowhere in sight, and I couldn’t take my foot off the brake because we’d roll backwards down the hill, possibly on the most direct downward path. Finally, the two guides came running up the hill on foot (I have no idea how they managed that in the heat). They helped the Canadians turn around, then took over our dune buggy to turn it around. I really did NOT want to even drive down the hill, but they said I had to. I put it in neutral and just rolled it the whole way.
It was really funny in retrospect. Not so much at the time, though.
Back on the correct, far less steep, path. They took us to a little oasis in the jungle. They had pools formed by the waterfall there, and a little building with a bar, some tables, and a lady selling crafts. I just wanted a pop and some water right then after our life-threatening adventure, but then upon consuming that, decided that what I really wanted was a drink.
Some of the Canadians went swimming in the pools, which looked really awesome, but we didn’t have bathing suits with us. We got talking to a few of them about hockey, and then they were our pals. They were the kind of dudes you’d want to punch in a bar, but there in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, they were pretty awesome.
Next to the bar, they had a big cage containing a disturbingly-large snake. The guy behind the bar said he’d just come across it in the jungle, and caught it by stepping on it right behind the head. He told us it wasn’t poisonous, but would still bite. A couple of the Canadian guys (not surprisingly, the ones who thought they were manliest) were practically having fits, they were so scared of the snake.
The little dog had invented a game, though: he’d hover near the snake’s cage and wait for it to start hissing at him, and then he’d start barking his head off. It was hysterical.
We went back to our dune buggies, and something about the Cuba Libre I’d just had made it all seem a lot easier. We rolled back down the hill, out of the jungle, and into the little town we’d driven through before. Our next stop was a tequila factory!
The tequila factory was more a shop than a factory (at least as far as we could see), but that didn’t bother us any. They made sure we stopped at the bar first (margarita time!), then one of the employees explained how tequila was made. We did actually learn a lot about mezcal and the meaning of the different categories of tequila.
After that, we headed into the shop for samples. They passed around small shots of several different offerings, all of them awesome, and even taught the Canadians our new favorite toast: arriba! abajo! al centro! aldentro! (Because Matt is awesome, he had come prepared with that knowledge.)
In the shop, we managed to find the last two sampler packs they had on hand. Each box contained six small bottles of the tequila made at that site, two each of the blanco, reposado, and añejo. The Canadians were stuck buying big bottles of tequila, not even necessarily the stuff made locally. The guides packed up all our purchases and loaded them onto their dune buggies, thankfully. We hopped back into our vehicles, now all sufficiently tipsy, and headed back toward Puerto Vallarta.
I’m not going to advocate this anywhere else, but drunk driving is the way to go when you’re in a dune buggy in Mexico. Seriously. It’s far easier to drive. I think I only stalled our crappy engine once after that.
We drove up to an overlook on a mountain, and could see the Zona Romantica, the Cuale River, and the rest of Puerto Vallarta along the coast beyond that. They took some cheesy photos of us, and we headed back into town. I had lost any sense of where we were at that point, figuring we were somewhere in Old Town. We pulled up to a restaurant, where they told us we could get drinks and dinner, if we wished.
The restaurant also had a swimming pool, and showers and towels for people wishing to use it. So awesome. We still weren’t hungry (both of us seemed at least somewhat affected by the sickness, which we’d decided had to do with a combination of dehydration, heat, and something I’d eaten), so we ordered chips and drinks. The Canadians ordered a 50-person margarita (or so it seemed), and hamburgers. Oh, silly Canadians.
While they swam and ate, we hit up the jukebox. They of course had Daddy Yankee, and a bunch of American hip-hop.
After everybody paid up, we headed back toward our starting point. As we turned a corner past the restaurant, we realized where we were: it was located on the other side of the sports stadium from our resort. We all hopped onto the main drag right in front of the Sheraton, and Matt and I were thrilled. We all raced down the road, even keeping pace with the crazy taxis. So much fun.
We dropped off our dune buggies, said bye to the Canadians, and headed back toward our hotel. We were sunburnt and filthy, covered in sweat and dust. Also, we were carrying some awesome tequila, and we’d survived a near-death experience in the mountains. WIN.
After a very long shower, we got dressed again, drank a ton of water (I was convinced at various points that I might die of dehydration), and headed toward the Malecon in search of dinner. We were planning on walking all the way back to the Zona Romantica to check out some of the stuff off the beach, but couldn’t even make it that far. We found a really awesome-looking rooftop restaurant near Los Arcos that overlooked the plaza, called Chilaquiles. The menu looked good, so we decided to give it a try.
The food was indeed excellent, but the service was extremely strange. Our server spoke no English, so it took a while to figure out the part about them not having an actual bar. (They did have margaritas, thankfully.) I had cheese enchiladas with the best mole ever, and Matt had tortilla soup and masa cakes. It took forever to get our tab, but I was ok sitting there for a while… I’d started to feel really crappy again, and walking took a lot of effort.
We headed back up the street to the No Name, and grabbed seats at the bar to watch sports. We saw one of the NBA playoff games, and a ton of hockey highlights. I was very happy with that, because it was oddly comforting to someone who wasn’t feeling well. It was just like home, after all!
Wednesday morning, we had to be up and checked out by 10am. SIGH. Technically we had the room for a week, but work needed us.
We stashed our bags at the hotel, and walked down to the Malecon to do some more souvenir shopping. It seemed like each day had gotten hotter, or maybe it’s because we weren’t in the pool; all I know is I’m not accustomed to having sweat dripping down the back of my pants. We even stopped at Vallarta Mart (the PV equivalent of Cozumel Mart, so of course we had to visit) twice for water.
We found one really awesome shop a block or so off the Malecon, called Querubines. I ended up doing most of my non-tacky souvenir shopping there. We then rushed off in search of a bathroom, because, well, I still wasn’t really done being sick.
As on most vacations, Starbucks was there to provide us with relatively clean restrooms. And while ordinarily I’d avoid visiting an American company in Mexico, they also had caffeine and food that I didn’t want to eat, but knew I should. We sat and enjoyed the air conditioning for a while.
We walked down to the bridge to the Zona Romantica, then slowly headed back up the Malecon. I realized that wearing my Canada hockey t-shirt wasn’t the best choice; while no one but the locals could escape the timeshare harangue, they seemed to take particular interest in Canadians. A few guys had asked us where we were from in the US, but everyone wanted to know were we lived in Canada. Half of them seemed to not want to believe me about being America. What’s the deal with Canadians in Puerto Vallarta, anyway? Is it just easy to get to from the west coast?
It was so hot, and we were so run-down from dehydration and the sickness, that we had to find a bench in the shade and sit down for a while. I finished what seemed like my 10th bottle of water that morning. After a while, we got up and headed the rest of the way back to the hotel.
our favorite: oxxo medio!!
We got our bags, and they called us a cab. (Note: cabs from the hotel are the regular 100 pesos; you don’t have to deal with the timeshare crap on the way out, obviously.) The taxi driver scared the hell out of us on the way to the airport, but thankfully didn’t get pulled over by the cops this time. Driving past the marina area, we realized that 1) we never could’ve walked there and back, and 2) we were really glad we hadn’t stayed in that area. You’d have to take a bus or cab everywhere.
At the airport, they searched our bags in a very cursory way at the check-in desk, and we headed upstairs, expecting to go through security. Apparently we already had, though, because that was it. We did some shopping and food-gathering, preparing for another flight sans meal (thanks, Northwest!).
I had a bottle of water and a pop, and only once we went to board, learned that they were confiscating liquids. What the hell? The guy missed my bottle of pop, though, so I at least got to bring that with me.
The flight back was uneventful, and thankfully almost an hour shorter than the trip down; it’s hard to occupy yourself when you’ve already read Skymall. The plane wasn’t very full, so we got a whole row to ourselves.
Wendy picked us up at the airport, and we found out that in the 5 days we’d been away, she’d gone and fallen in love. WHAT?