|Decemmber 11 to 21, 2010 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Wednesday December 11th
I check into room #17 at the Hotel Hortencia
in Old Town Puerto Vallarta and pick up a six pack of 'Indio' beer at the corner OXO store (the Mexican equivalent of a 7-eleven). My room has a small balcony that overlooks a busy intersection and I sit and feel the pulse of the place while I contemplate my next move. The sidewalks are a gauntlet of uneven pavement with curbs and steps thrown in every few meters for no apparent reason. I am impressed that few citizens have limps or crutches. Kids are loosely bouncing in the backs of pickups, seat belts hang unused and youths ride tandem without helmets on motorbikes over jaw-snapping cobblestones. Traffic maneuvers are measured in mere inches. The sound of a thumping machete chopping up the offal of a cows head at a Taquita stall across the street can be heard over the blaring Mexican music coming from a few doors down.
Little did I know that I have arrived on the biggest day of the year. The Festival of the Virgen de Guadalupe is in it's 11th day of a 12 day celebration whereby the faithful pay homage to this 16th century Roman Catholic symbol of the Virgin Mary. I wander over to the Parish Church and join the throngs of people witnessing the parade of worshippers carrying candles and banners.
A young girl dressed as Guadalupe spins like meat on an upright spit high above the street on the back of a truck.
I shoulder my way into the Church where a priest and more youths dressed as bible characters with the fakest of fake beards solemnly partake in some important ritual. The Church is overly decorated as only the Catholics know how. The parade continues for hours and hours. Fast forward to the bar stool in 'The Omelet House' overlooking the parade route, where I sip on a 'Pacifico' beer and Xavier tries to explain all things Guadalupe. I am not sure, but I think he may be an atheist as he has trouble explaining pretty much anything Guadalupe although his English is very good.
Sunday, December 12th
The parade of the faithful continues and I squeeze through the spectators towards the food carts and I try a plastic cup filled with hot maize, salt, cream and cheese. It’s not as good as it sounds. Mexicans have perfected ‘flan’ and giant rounds with caramelized sugar are sliced and served, stabbed in the heart with a plastic fork. What looks like a middle-eastern 'donar' is actually a pork-pile
with a pineapple pierced on the spit tip that spins along up top. A talented guy with a big machete slices thin strips of the pork and with the tip of his knife lops off thin strips of the pineapple that fly like wood chips into a small tortilla.
The parade continues for hours and hours. Fast forward to a bar stool at ‘The Bodeguito del Medio’ on the entertainment strip known as the Malacon which finds me sipping on a Mohito. I have only ever had one Mohito, the real thing in Cuba, and I was less than enthusiastic but this one has made a believer out of me. The Bodeguito is based on the famous bar in Cuba where Hemmingway used to hang his hat. There is a good vibe here and I watch as an eight piece Cuban band called Zenda Septeto arranges itself on a two tier platform no bigger than 6’ x 12’. Even though the place feels a bit empty, as soon as the first notes of music fill the void people come out of the woodwork and Salsa like pros on the tiny dance floor. It is one of life's small pleasures to watch real dancing with men who know how to lead and I arrange my face friendly like and hope for an invitation. I must have a arranged a different face though as I am the only one in the place approached by the band during the break to buy a used CD.
Monday, December 13th
I am sitting at a table by the rail at a beach bar having a beer around lunch time when a jewelery vendor approaches with his case open and starts his sales pitch. 'No thank you' says I in my best Spanish. 'No charge for looking says he' in his best English. This is a standard line which works pretty well. He asks my name and I ask his which turns out to be of all things... 'Romeo.' We talk jewelery for a bit but then he mentions he does personal tours as well and shows me his card which an American friend has made up for him. At the bottom it says 'English Speeking'.
Romeo has a good sense of humour, and great dimples so we agree on a price and we leave right then for San Sebastion in the hills near Puerto Vallarta. We stop and pick up a bag of mandarin oranges. He tells me his story which is as wrought with hardship comparable to anything in Angela's Ashes. His father was murdered when he was four and his mother raised eight children on her own in abject poverty in a small town outside of Acapulco. He only received a primary school education but seems to be doing alright for himself as he has managed to purchase a new Dodge truck on credit a year ago which he babies over potholes and dry river beds. He is married with three kids but has a few others strewn around Mexico, a bit of a lothario is our man Romeo.
The road to San Sebastian is beautiful and offers up a few farm-gate Tequila and Racilla operations .
We stop at one and I try some in the tasting room, Tequila with mandarin, Tequila with vanilla bean, Tequila with coffee and so on. I also try the Racilla which we would call hooch and I must say I almost like it better. There is also honey or 'miel' in Spanish for sale and I notice Romeo starts calling me mieletta after this and says ‘I like you' and touches my arm. Uh Huh.
A road sign warns of black panthers crossing the road (the animal not the militant fist raisers) . We stop at a small coffee plantation and forage in among the sweet lime trees and coffee bushes. The proprietor shows us different types of nuts she also grows and makes snacks out of and I buy a small bag of coffee and small bag of mixed nuts.
It is dinner time when we get to San Sebastian so we dine al fresco at one of the quaint restaurants in the village. I have burritos and a beer and Romeo has some kind of shredded meat dish and a purple drink made from a flower who’s name gets lost in translation. I taste it but it is innocuous in its subtlety. The air up here is much colder and as neither of us has brought a jacket we hurry our meal so we can get back to the truck.
There is nothing to see in the dark so we wind our way back to Puerto Vallarta. Romeo keeps throwing endearments my way then lines up for the pitch and says
'I really like you, just a little more money and I serviceo you no problem'
'I like you too Romeo, how bout you serviceo me for free?'
No I didn't say that, I told him what a dog he is but in actual fact I was really rather enjoying the banter.
We get to my hotel and Romeo makes one last ditch effort and says 'you want I come up to your room?’. Oh you darling man. I allow him a friendly peck on the cheek and exit stage left into the lobby. I forget to take the coffee and mixed nuts.
Tuesday, December 14th
Today I meet my friend Roy at the town square. We have lunch and spend the afternoon walking around then have dinner at a fish restaurant. I have octopus stew but Roy has the biggest whole snapper on a single serving plate I have ever seen. I mentally measured it at about 20".
I awake at 6:00 am with uneasy rumblings in my stomach and vomit until I am wrung dry.
Wednesday, December 15th
Am I in hell or am I in Paradise Village.
On the first day of my arrival in Puerto Vallarta I subjected myself to a timeshare sales pitch because I was offered ‘gifts’ I couldn’t refuse. One of which was a seven night stay at Paradise Village.
Today I pack my bags, bid a fond adieux to the Hotel Hortencia and Old Town, hop on a local bus to Nuevo Vallarta and arrive at an Aztec version of Disneyland. Fountains gush water over a miniature Chichen itza and statues of Aztec gods support pillars and guard doorways.
I walk past three majestic caged Tigers as a mom with a baby in an Evercomfort stroller snaps a photo. Colourful Parrots roost in their own hell as tourists marvel and click away.
I check into room #1318 in the Uxel Tower which overlooks one of the pools and a beautiful white sand beach with rows of palapas and sun loungers.
Suffice to say that for the next five days my time is spent something like this:
Put on bathing attire
Head to beach, sit in sun lounger and read a book
Take a swim in the ocean and play in the surf
Back to sun lounger
Order a Margarita or Pina Colada from Pepe the beach waiter
Jump in the pool that has a hot tub area that looks like it is straight out of Flintstones Bedrock City
Back to sun lounger
Order another Margarita or Pina Colada and watch the sun go down
This is where I run into difficulty and the resort experience proves less than stellar for a solo traveler. Like a cruise ship on land you are pretty much isolated from the rest of the world and are limited to an array of Theme Nights, Restaurants and Entertainment designed to impress and dazzle the everyman but for me is a tortured lesson in mediocrity.
I arrive on a Wednesday which is Western Theme Night. My balcony overlooks this spectacle but as tables fill with couples and families I don’t see myself yeehawing enthusiastically along with the rest of them. I opt to go to a Restaurant called The Jungle ‘where wild people meet in a jungle setting!’. I inquire as to the whereabouts of this bastion for wild people but I am told it is no longer open. ‘How about a Lounge or Bar’ I ask and I am directed to the Tikil Bar off the main lobby. I have my choice of seating as it is completely empty and the silence echos loudly from all the hard surfaces. There is no ambient lighting and the lights from the ceiling cast a dim pall one might imagine would be common in a Russian Gulag. I order beef tacos and a Margarita and tilt my book into the gloom and try to read. Back in my room Western Theme Night is in full swing and I am forced to stay up until the ungodly hour of 10:30pm before it shuts down for the night.
Thursdays Theme Night is Lobster and I look forward to this all day while I lounge on my sun lounger. I inquire as to the whereabouts that this homage to the king of crustaceans is taking place but I am told they no longer have Lobster Night. I opt to go to one of the seven restaurants on site and pick El Pescatore Italian Grill which overlooks the Marina. I am seated by the railing next to the open air kitchen which is a hive of activity with everyone wearing 12” conical chefs hats. There are only two other occupied tables but they are much further down the rail. I order a glass of Mexican Semillon from the Baja and penne with tomato and basil (the cheapest thing on the menu). Before I can even pull my book out a waiter arrives with bread sticks in a glass, a basket with 2 pieces of focaccia, a cruet set with oil and vinegar, and delicately tongs a rosebud of frozen butter on my bread plate. Out of the corner of my eye I see another waiter stealthily place my glass of wine at my elbow. It is the colour of apple juice or urine that has been held in the bladder for too long. As I take my first sip of wine the penne arrives. It is cooked al dente and tastes quite good but there is not a speck of basil in it. I try to lengthen my fine dining experience as long as I can but within a half hour I am back in my room. They are very efficient here.
The theme for Friday night is Neptune's Nets. I don’t bother to inquire whether this is still a going concern or not and I stay in my room and order room service, chicken caesar salad and a fruit plate. The fruit plate arrives in a hollow pineapple boat but inexplicably does not actually contain any pineapple chunks.
Saturday night I am mercifully saved from Notte Italiana Theme Night and have been invited for dinner at my friends Roy and Liz who own a modern condo called Aqua Flamingos further down the Bay near Bucerias. The condo complex owner has some uncomfortable and questionable taste in art which kind of freaks out most people.
I have not had breakfast all week so I ask at the Front Desk in my best Spanish ‘Where can I get breakfast here’. The two attendants look at me with furrowed brows and I know I have not hit the mark so I ask in English and their faces light up like a Christmas tree and point me in the right direction. My eggs arrive with a pile of bright pink raw onions on top? I am constantly confused by the food here.
Sunday night orientation party, a free drink (singular), entertainment, prizes. I actually enjoy some of the antics on the stage but am not sure what to think of the ‘Kids of the Dump’ charity auction set to the soundtrack of ‘we are the world’.
The BBQ Cook Out Theme night sounds promising and I am seated behind a glass wind break on the beach at a table for two. I throw caution to the wind and order the most expensive thing on the buffet menu which is Rib Eye steak. I make the mistake of saving some of my ‘all you can eat salad bar’ salad to eat with my dinner because in less than a minute I have had three different waiters try to snatch my plate off the table. Did I mention the service is extremely efficient here.
It is Monday night and I am in no mood to go to the Feria del Pueblito Theme night. I think I will be eating enough Mexican food to last me a life time.
There are lots of things to do here other than sit on the beach and eat but I don’t see myself playing volleyball with the hard bodies, skidooing, strapping myself into a parachute harness and being hauled around Banderos Bay, marlin fishing, golfing, playing tennis, subjecting a dolphin to have an encounter with me, or spending a fortune on spa treatments. The whole thing is kind of wasted on me.
I have just been startled by a small fireworks display taking place over the beach as part of the Fiera del Pueblito Theme night. I can hear the festivities from my room. Maybe I should have gone and joined them in a rousing chorus of ‘la cucaracha’.
One more day in Paradise (Village) and I will be looking for a place to hang my hat for Christmas and New Years.
Felize Navidad mis amigos