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!