Published: June 10th 2008January 17th 2008
Beautiful Puerto Vallarta
A view of the cathedral in downtown Puerto Vallarta
We traveled to Puerto Vallarta from January 17th to January 22nd, 2008. This was our second vacation together to a "tropical" destination (our first was to the island of Oahu back in September 2005 for a week). Truth be told, I was not as excited for this trip as I have been in the past for other places we have traveled to. However, in the end we both decided Puerto Vallarta was a great place to visit and we definitely want to go back again in the future! We began missing the incredible food as soon as we left!
Just so you know, I refer to Puerto Vallarta as “PV” throughout this entry.
Day 1 (Thursday, January 17th)
Our direct flight to PV left Seattle around 09:00. Since PV isn't necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when thinking "family vacation", Mike and I had high hopes that there would be no small children (i.e. no crying or screaming) on the flight. We were disappointed when we saw several small children, although none of them ended up being screamers, so in the end it worked out okay! The flight itself was fine, although we were somewhat
frustrated with what Alaska offered in terms of on-board amenities. There were no TVs on the flight, which is the first I've ever encountered on a flight with a length of four plus hours, and the only food available cost $5. We knew this ahead of time, so we planned accordingly and bought extra food at the airport.
We took off from cold and cloudy Seattle, and landed about 4.5 hours later in warm and sunny PV. I felt the heat hit us as soon as we walked off of the plane. We waited in line to get through customs, but to my great disappointment, didn't receive a stamp on our passport! We then proceeded through the airport, which eventually leads straight into the timeshare trap. There were a ton of people in this room, everyone shouting and screaming, trying to get the tourists to sign up for tours, hotels, etc. We made sure to ignore everyone and walked straight out. We found the taxicab booth and got a taxi to take us into downtown PV (where our hotel was located). Although I knew it would obviously be much warmer than back in Seattle, the heat was quite shocking
to my system!
For those of you who are not familiar with PV, there are three main areas. The location North of downtown PV is filled with resorts and all-inclusive hotels and is called Nuevo Vallarta. To put it nicely, this area is about as un-authentically Mexican as it gets. I didn't come to Mexico to vacation in a hotel that provides all of the comforts and amenities of home and makes me feel as if I am vacation in Southern Florida. If I wanted Florida, I would go to Florida, not PV. We are firm believers in what I call "authentic traveling". We travel to places to experience new cultures, see amazing sites, and eat delicious local food. I don’t want to be surrounded by American things or food. It just drives me completely up the wall when I find out that people are going somewhere in Mexico or the Caribbean and staying at an all-inclusive. They are generally the type of people who don't leave the resort. They spend every waking moment of their precious vacation time at the hotel, never experiencing the amazing destination and culture that is 15 minutes outside the hotel gates. I just
don't get it. These people miss out on so much.
Anyways, off my soap-box and continuing on...so, there is Nuevo Vallarta, downtown PV (where we stayed) and then an area South of PV where more resorts are located, and also lots of condos.
Due to traffic, our taxi ride to our hotel took about 30 minutes. I noticed immediately that Mexicans are very aggressive drivers. In fact, they reminded very much of the drivers I saw when I had visited Italy. Mike looked very concern during that ride, knowing that just a few days later, he would be driving on these same streets (more on that later).
Once you reach the downtown area, the paved streets turn into charming cobblestone roads. Hearing the tires bump against the cobblestones instantly brought me back to Florence and Rome, where you hear that sound so often. We finally arrived at our hotel Casa Andrea (http://www.casa-andrea.com/) around 4:00 PM (PV is two hours ahead of Seattle).
We waited for a minute at the gate, and then a cute little Mexican girl came running towards us smiling and shouted "Hola!" She let us in the gate and we were introduced to
the owner (Andrea) and the little girl's mother, who brought us up into our room.
I immediately feel in love with the property. They only have 10 or 11 rooms, and the property itself can't be any larger than 1/2 an acre. Although it's right in the middle of all of the hustle and bustle of busy PV, you feel as if you are in a different world once you enter the gate. There are lots of palm trees (and other tropical foliage), a pool, and beautiful and colorful architecture. It was filled with the kind of travelers that have the same type of travel style and mentality that Mike and I enjoy so much. We ended up having lots of great and interesting conversations with several of the guests there. The hotel also had no AC, no ice machines, no room service, or a television in our room-SHOCK-well, not for us! It’s exactly the kind of place we enjoy staying at! We loved the owner, Andrea. We had noticed immediately upon entering the property that there were several small dogs walking around. We soon found out that Andrea runs one of only three dog rescue organizations in PV.
The grounds of Casa Andrea
This was the view from the patio balcony of our room
She is so passionate about what she does and since both Mike and I are animal lovers, we immediately formed a connection.
We were both so excited as soon as we opened the doors to our room. The room had Mexican tiled floors, tall ceilings with dark wood beams that contrasted beautifully with the white walls, a small but cute bathroom, and an awesome patio that overlooked the property and included our own outdoor kitchen and eating area.
The cute little girl came back up to our room and asked in Spanish if we wanted something to drink (I only know this because Mike speaks Spanish. Thank GOD, because I speak none, and we definitely used his two years of High School Spanish frequently during our six days here). Mike asked for a cerveza and I requested a Sprite.
After Mike finished his Corona, we left to check out the town. By this time, a few clouds had rolled in, and the temperature had cooled down significantly; I even had to bring a light jacket with me! I can’t really complain though; it was still sunny and much warmer than back in Seattle. I loved feeling the
Our walk along the palm-tree lined streets
sun on my back as we walked around. We strolled along the Malecon for a bit, which I guess you could compare to the Champs-Elysees in Paris, except instead of expensive designer stores and chic cafes, you have palm trees and sand! It’s the main thoroughfare in PV, and stretches next to the water for about half a mile thru town. It’s a great place to people watch, and also to catch the beautiful sunset.
We ended up making a huge mistake this night; before we left our room we had noticed that our travel alarm clock was dead. A normal thinking person probably would have thought “gee, the battery is dead, let’s find a new battery to replace it”. Us? Nope! Our first thought was, “well, we definitely need an alarm clock to wake us up, so lets go try and find an alarm clock at a store in PV”. Why we thought this, I have no idea. I blame it on the fact that we didn’t get much sleep the night before.
So, after walking along the Malecon, we ventured further into town to begin our search. We walked into a few stores, and determined right
away that we would need to find a more specialized store that the locals would frequent (i.e. a pharmacy, grocery store, etc). We also figured out very quickly that it would be helpful to know what “alarm clock” meant in Spanish. As Mike would ask the salesperson “donde esta alarm clock” we would always get back a puzzled expression. Alarm clock was obviously not in their vocabulary, and we figured the Spanish word must not have been similar in any way. So, I proceeded to make a buzz sound and then used my hands to make it look as though I was sleeping. They eventually figured it out. The word in Spanish is despertador.
Two hours later and after walking around for what had to have been at least two miles, we were still empty-handed. We would walk into a store, ask if them had despertador, they would say no, and then offer their advice for another store, which we would then walk to and then be given a completely different recommendation for another store. We did eventually find an electronic store, and they did indeed have an alarm clock, but it was a huge one, and we only
needed a travel-sized one (plus, they wanted like $30). At this point, I was tired, my feet were sore, and I was starving; therefore, I was very grumpy. I had the bright idea that maybe Andrea back at the hotel would have one for us to use. We finally walked back, and she actually had one! That situation became much more time consuming and complicated then it ever needed to be. Oh well. At least we found an alarm clock! Mike also reminded me that those two hours allowed us to become quickly acquainted with many of the streets in downtown PV. We had found a huge grocery store during the walk, which we ended up going back to later to buy food. So, I guess it all wasn’t a complete waste of time!
By this point, we were starving, so we decided to eat dinner early (anything earlier than 9 PM is considered early in PV). In preparation for our trip, I had done a lot of research regarding recommended restaurants. PV is known as a foodie town, and considered to have the best food in all of Mexico, outside of Guadalajara. I had found an awesome website,
Iguana in a tree
An iguana we saw while walking aimlessly through PV looking for that stupid alarm clock
run by a local expatriate (www.vallarta info.com). He had created a list of the best restaurants in town, and I used that as my “food bible” during our stay. This first night, we decided to eat at a place called Café de Olla. At 6:30, this place already had a huge line! We knew the wait would be worth it though, because this place was also recommended in both guidebooks I had. While standing in line, we noticed a gay couple that we had seen on the plane a few rows ahead of us. We thought this was a strange coincidence, considering there are several hundred restaurants in PV, and what would be the chance you would see anyone more than once? Well, little did we know, we would run into this same couple every day of our trip; I’ll mention them throughout the entry!
Anyways, back to Café de Olla; we were finally seated about 20 minutes later. The margaritas looked amazing (and they were HUGE-the biggest we had ever seen) and I thought about getting one, until I saw the price. They were charging 80 Pesos (which is about $8). I was floored! The food their was
Asadero Los Jardines Restaurant
Mike waiting at the meeting spot for Rancho el Charro's horseback tours
appropriately priced (meals around $7-$8) but they made sure to over-charge for those drinks! They didn’t seem to have any issues selling the drinks though, as most people in the restaurant had one. We purposely didn’t get any for this reason; we didn’t want to be sucked into the tourist trap that so many Americans put themselves in. Instead, Mike ordered a Corona for around a $1. Much better deal! As is usual for us in Mexican restaurants, Mike ordered chicken fajitas and I had cheese enchiladas. The food was great! What we enjoyed eating most were the chips. They are much less greasy than what you find at Mexican restaurants in the states, and they tasted slightly different. They are thicker and crunchier and absolutely delicious!
We walked back to the hotel that night feeling very full and completely exhausted.
Day 2 (Friday, January 18th)
Our main plan for Friday was to go horseback riding. Neither Mike nor I had gone riding for years, and I had heard about a great place on the Trip Advisor forums (www.tripadvisor.com). It’s called Rancho el Charro (www.ranchoelcharro.com/), and is located outside of PV. There are many horseback
Rancho el Charro
Entrance sign to Rancho el Charro
tours to choose from in PV, but I specifically chose this company as locals on the forum had firsthand experience riding with Rancho el Charro and stated that the horses were treated humanely and were well taken care of. We signed up for the 5.5 hour “Wonders BBQ Trail Ride” which included an authentic Mexican meal at the end of the tour.
We woke up around 8:00 and got ready. We went down and ate a quick breakfast with the other hotel guests, and then called a taxi to come pick us up. Then taxi drove us outside of town to the meeting place (Asadero Los Jardines Restaurant) where a staff member of Rancho el Charro came to pick-up all of the guests. I was very happy to see that there were only two other guests waiting to be picked-up. The small van arrived, and there were two other guests already inside, so we had a total of six riders.
The drive from the restaurant to Rancho el Charro was an interesting one. It didn’t take long for the paved roads to turn into a dirt road. It definitely made for a fun and bumpy ride, although as
Rancho el Charro
The staff getting the horses ready for our ride
we were driving along, I imagined that the cars in this area must take a beating from the roads. The van kicked up a ton of dust and dirt as we drove along, and we saw many small villages along the way. Most Americans would consider what we saw as poverty, but I viewed it differently. Although the people were obviously poor, they all seemed so happy. I saw kids playing with one another in the streets, and adults smiling and conversing as we drove past small neighborhood stores. These people only know of the life they have lived, and are unaware of how life can be so vastly different than their own. But that‘s okay, because they are content with the people and things they have in their lives. Sometimes I dream about what it would be like to live in such a non-materialist, simple, and uncomplicated life as they do.
We arrived at Rancho el Charro in the city of Playa Grande about 20 minutes later. There was a small breakfast waiting for us (nothing fancy, just breads, fruits, and juices) and then we were each assigned a horse. We had explained to the staff that our
Walking along the Pitillal River
Our guide led us as we walked along the river
riding experience was very minimal, so they paired us up with easygoing horses. They did warn Mike however that his horse had a tendency to become lazy, so they gave him a small twig to tap the horse with if he fell behind.
The first 30 minutes of the walk was very easy, through the town and then the guide gradually took us along the Pitillal River, which is located at the foot of the Sierra Madre Mountains.
We began riding up the side of a mountain, which I immediately felt slightly hesitant about. The trail was very steep and rocky, and I was concerned about my horse tumbling us off the mountain. Remember how I mentioned that Mike’s horse was lazy? Well, apparently they must have confused his horse with mine, because my horse had a lot of difficulty climbing up the trail. None of the other horses did, so the guide had to get behind my horse and coax him along. It took a LONG time, and I constantly felt that my horse was unbalanced, and that he would fall at any moment. As bad as it was going up, I knew that going back down
A cow that we randomly saw at the top of the mountain lookout
would be twice as worse. The ride up was beautiful, although I had a difficult time enjoying the view since I was so concerned about my horse falling. We reached the top, and had an awesome view of Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding towns. It was slightly hazy out, so I knew that if it had been sunny, we would have been able to see all the way to the ocean. We also saw a random cow at the top, which I found to be quite strange.
After a hair-raising climb back down, we continued the ride upriver, crossing back and forth between the water several times. The scenery along the way was incredible, and parts reminded me of the beautiful red rocks we had seen previously in Sedona, Arizona. I also noticed that the foliage here was different than I had seen anywhere else I had traveled to. It reminded me of what a jungle might look like.
About two hours into the ride, my inner thighs began to SCREAM. My previous experiences in horseback riding had left me with stiff and bowed legs, but I could not remember the extreme discomfort I felt this day. The
The impressive red rock formations we saw along the way
pain continued to increase as the tour went along, and became much worse when my lazy horse decided suddenly to wake-up and began to run constantly. Mike also thought it was fun to tap the back of my horse with his stick, which would make him run faster than before, causing my thighs to scream even louder, while my face grimaced in pain, all the while Mike laughed loudly behind me. NOT FUN.
We finally stopped around 3.5 hours later, where it would have been impossible for us to walk along the river any longer. As I got off my horse, I ended up tweaking my left knee somehow, which only added to my misery. Thankfully, we ended up resting for about 15 minutes. I was trying hard not to focus on my pain, and instead on the scenery, but I was having difficulties doing so, especially because I was concerned about my knee. I seem to somehow always hurt that same knee whenever Mike and I partake in a physical activity.
I was not looking forward to getting back on that horse, but I didn’t have much of an option. It’s not like I was going to
walk all the way back to the town. I got back on and tried to focus on other things, including a countdown guess as to how long it was going to be until the tour was over. (Hindsight and note to self; in the future, if a horseback tour sounds like fun, make sure to only do so for two to three hours. Any additional time on a horse will cause extreme pain and discomfort to your inner thighs).
We eventually reached the town where the restaurant was located. At the time, I assumed this was a different town than Playa Grande, and thought we would have more riding time after lunch. Thankfully, we were actually in Playa Grande, just on the opposite side of the very small town.
I was starving and my legs were SO happy to be off of the horse. The restaurant was larger than I expected, although the size of it made sense, as it is the only restaurant in town. There were several women in the kitchen, and they started to prepare the food as soon as we arrived. It smelled wonderful, and we were so excited to try some authentic Mexican
food. They brought out our plates, which had fresh homemade tortillas, rice (which was not plain rice, but flavored deliciously), a mixture of pork, and fresh guacamole, beans, and chips. The food was amazing, simply delicious. The tortillas in Mexico are made from corn flour, but taste nothing like corn tortillas do here. They are so freaking good I cannot possibly describe the taste in words. The same goes for the guacamole and chips. My new mission is to find these things somewhere in Washington, as we have both been going through Mexican food withdrawals since we left, and Azteca Restaurant simply no longer cuts it for us.
We got back on our horses after lunch, and rode about three minutes through town, until we reached Rancho el Charro again. As much as I enjoyed the trip, I was very happy to be done. My legs could not handle anymore of my horse.
A staff member drove us back to Casa Andrea. We freshened up, and then decided to walk further into town to check out a couple of sites. We first ventured into an area called the “Gringo Gulch” where many American expatriates live. The homes here
A beautiful home in the Gringo Gulch area of PV
are large and beautiful, and many have a view of the bay since they are located on the hills of PV We also visited La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe). The architectural style of the cathedral is very interesting, especially considering it is relatively new (built in 1951). We didn’t take any pictures inside the church as a wedding party was going through a rehearsal. We kept on walking through town, taking lots of pictures of the different styles of architecture we saw. I was very impressed with how clean the city streets and sidewalks were considering the vast number of tourists and locals that walk through the city each day.
Around 5:00, we began to feel hungry. I pulled out our “food bible” and found a restaurant called El Arrayan (http://elarrayan.com.mx/) that was deemed as the best Mexican food in all of PV. This rave review sounded right up our alley, but as we approached the restaurant, we noticed it wasn’t going to be open for an hour. As we debated whether or not we should go somewhere else, a local happened to walk past us, and asked if we were
waiting to eat at El Arrayan. I said yes, but that we were discussing if we should go somewhere else, as we didn’t want to wait. He told us that we MUST wait, as this place had the best food in town. He seemed very convincing, so we decided to wait.
When we finally sat down to eat in the restaurant, we were very impressed with what we saw. I loved the décor and atmosphere of El Arrayan, although we felt slightly under dressed. Thankfully there was another couple in the restaurant that were also in shorts, so we didn’t feel too bad. For an appetizer, we ordered taquitos that were filled with seasoned chicken and toasted pumpkin seed puree; these were insanely delicious. The appearance of the taquitos was much different than what we have seen in the past, but they actually tasted much better. For the main course, we both ordered a beef filet with mole sauce. Neither of us had ever had mole, but I knew it was popular here, so I had to try some. I thought the sauce itself was ok, but Mike really liked it. The steak on the other hand was very
good. For desert we ordered flan, the most popular of all Mexican desserts. It tasted okay, but I have eaten better flan before. Our bill with tax and tip came to around $55 USD. Although this was our most expensive meal in PV, we didn’t consider the value to be overly priced, as a nice restaurant of the same caliber in the US would have been twice as expensive. About halfway through dinner, the same gay couple we had seen the night before at dinner and on the plane walked in. They didn’t seem to notice us, but we thought it was hilarious that we saw them again, considering El Arrayan was at least 25 blocks North of the restaurant we had seen them at the night before.
We left the restaurant feeling overly stuffed, and walked all the way back to the hotel. We had considered taking a taxi since the walk was a good 30 minutes and my thighs were still killing me, but we decided to walk in order to burn off the huge dinner we had just consumed.
Day 3 (Saturday, January 19th)
We left early this morning and hailed
a cab to take us to the airport where we had reserved our car rental through Budget Car. The plan for the day was to drive up into the Sierra Madre Mountains to the former mining town of San Sebastian, then possibly drive South from there to the town of Mascota.
When we initially told people that we were going to rent a car for one day during our trip in PV, most told us that we were crazy and insane, and that it was a very dangerous thing to do. I disagreed for the most part, based on what I had read from other people's experiences on the Trip Advisor forums. The most important piece of advice I walked away with was to buy as much extra insurance as you could with the car rental agency in case of an accident. If (God forbid!) you were involved in an accident (your fault or not) you would be held liable and could be jailed if you had no insurance, per Mexican law. We bought the extra insurance and our total bill for the car rental came to $66.44 and off we went with our car onto the crazy streets
I never expected to see this scenery...
We saw countless red rock formations similar to this one along our drive from PV
When we had taken the cab ride into town on our first day from the airport, Mike had closely watched the interactions between drivers and made sure to look at all of the different road signs; he was concerned with the overall pace. Everyone drives very fast and makes quick turns and merges. Those who can't keep up shouldn't be driving on the road as a safety precaution.
We made sure to get very clear road directions from the staff at the rental agency. Before getting to the "highway", we had to navigate our way through a busy stretch of road in PV and we definitely didn't feel like getting lost (which seems to be a common occurrence when we rent a car). We made our way through PV, but missed a right hand turn the car rental agency had informed us about. I was like "oh crap, here we go again" but we managed to turn around and find the correct way to the "highway", as strange as it was. Once we did get on that "highway" things went much smoother. In fact, we were quite shocked as to how easy it was to drive.
The only annoying factor was the speed bumps (a.k.a. topes) that occurred about once every mile.
As we headed east towards the mountains, the streets lining the "highway" were packed with homes and businesses. The further we drove, the more rural it became until eventually we were surrounded by the mountains and trees (and the occasional farm animal). The scenery was surprisingly peaceful and the landscape was far more beautiful that what I had expected. It reminded me of what a savanna might look like; vast open fields with large trees and bushes, and mountains providing a dramatic backdrop.
As we drove our way up into the mountains, my beliefs in why renting a car while traveling is so important were reaffirmed. There is nothing like the feeling of freedom, flexibility, and adventure you experience when driving to an unknown destination in a foreign country. You are in so much more control when you take your travels into your own hands, instead of relying on others, such as a tour company. Although it may require more work and be more stressful initially, the experience is so much more authentic and meaningful when created by you instead of someone
else. We don't travel to go on "vacation" and relax. We travel in order to see the world and push ourselves out of our comfort zones and see all of the beautiful and amazing places, people, and food each place has to offer. Renting a car allows you to visit far-flung destinations that you wouldn't normally be able to see or experience. These types of destinations tend to be much less touristy and are able to give you more of a realistic insight of a particular culture or country. Anyway, I cannot say enough good things about renting a car while traveling. If you are scared or hesitant about the thought of driving in a different country, think of the time that Mike and I became lost while driving in central London. Aside from the fact that we were driving on the opposite side of the road and that the driving rules and laws are completely different in England, we were lost in one of the biggest cities in the world. However, we managed to find our way out of London and into the English countryside. All it took was a lot of breathing and calming down on my side
and good directions and a detailed map that we picked up from a gas station. It was well worth all of the hassle and stress, as that only lasted for a short time.
Back to Mexico; as we began to gain elevation, the landscape changed from the savanna to a more desolate environment, similar to a desert climate. As we drove along the windy roads through the mountains, the scenery was stunning with gorgeous orange and pink hued rocks and boulders. We were immediately reminded on the time we had spent in Sedona, Arizona back in 2005.
The roads in this area were slightly treacherous to navigate as large pieces of the mountainside constantly tumbled onto the road and small rocks were strewn everywhere. Since the highway wasn't the busiest of roads, the rocks weren't often cleaned up. I was concerned that some of the smaller rocks would get kicked up as we drove by, possibly scratching the bottom part of the car, but luckily, there was never any damage.
After about 90 minutes, we approached the city of La Estancia, where the directions indicated we would need to turn off. The unpaved dirt road we turned
off of eventually diverted into two separate roads. Unfortunately, the directions we had did not clearly indicate which of the two roads to take, so we decided to take the one on the right. This road was also unpaved, but had to have been one of the worst dirt roads we have ever driven on. There were huge dips and a tremendous dirt cloud began to form around us. At one point, I thought our car was going to bottom out. After about five minutes, we decided that we had probably chosen the wrong direction, so we turned around and chose to take the road on the left instead.
About a mile down that road, it turned back into a paved road, so we figured we were going the right way. About 30 minutes passed by when we began seeing signs for San Sebastian. The smooth paved road changed back into another bumpy dirt road. We began seeing people walking alongside the street, so we knew we were getting close.
As we drove along and more buildings began appearing, I noticed even more people and many cars. We drove all the way into the central part of San
Sebastian to the main square. I was surprised with the town; it was small and quaint, but very colorful and full of life.
We parked our car (hoping that it was parked in an area where we wouldn’t be towed) and began walking through the cobblestone-lined streets. There was some sort of celebration going on that day and there were people everywhere, although Mike and I were definitely the only tourists around!
As we were wandering around, we noticed that a small and gentle brown dog began to follow behind us. He was very friendly, but obviously hungry! I had crackers with me, but he didn't seem interested in those, so I decided that we needed to buy him some food. We were hoping to find the little guy some meat, but there was none to be found :( Mike ended up purchasing some packaged bread, which he wasn't interested in either initially. We went and sat in the shade on a bench, but the dog seemed frightened and laid down between Mike's feet. He was so cute, friendly, and easygoing, and reminded us of one of our friend's dog named Jeffrey. I decided to name the cute
pup Pepe Le Chou. Pepe sounded "Mexican" to me, and everyone knows I love all things French, so I added "Le Chou". He followed us everywhere, never leaving our side.
After awhile, we decided to find a place in town to eat. A person on the forums of Trip Advisor recommended an Italian place called "Real Y Minas" run by an Italian husband and his Mexican wife. We found the restaurant quickly, but had to wait 30 minutes before it opened for lunch. The place looked really good (and there didn't seem to be many other options) so we decided to wait around.
We noticed there was a beautiful Golden Retriever walking inside the restaurant. We commented on the dog's beauty to the owner and then started telling her about our Goldens. At some point, Pepe noticed the Golden (who happened to be female) and ran after her into the restaurant. The lady began freaking out because she said her dog was in heat, and Pepe (the stray) was obviously not fixed. We were able to separate the dogs and then took Pepe outside. In later conversations with the owner of Casa Andrea, we found out that very
few cats or dogs are fixed in PV (or Mexico in general). Apparently, most people believe it's cruel and mean to fix an animal and that all females should have at least one litter (or two, three, etc). However, those litters then turn into puppies, which are never taken care of and are often abandoned, like poor Pepe. This explanation by Andrea clarified why we saw so many homeless dogs on our trip.
We hung out with Pepe while we waited for the restaurant to open. He eventually decided to eat some of the bread we had bought for him earlier. We parted ways with him and I felt so terrible and guilty. I promised him that if we waited for us outside, we would bring him some yummy leftover pizza. Unfortunately, Pepe was gone when we left the restaurant :( I hope he found someone else to dote on him for a few hours.
At the restaurant, we each ordered pizza (of course!) hoping that it would be the delicious and authentic Italian kind. We were slightly disappointed with the results. The crust was good; crispy, thin, and cooked on a wood fired grill. The cheese seemed
to taste like buffalo mozzarella, which is authentic for true Italian pizza. The sauce however was not so good and in my opinion, ruined the rest of the pizza. Having eaten the very best pizza in Italy, I'll be the first to admit that I am a pizza snob. The sauce should always be extremely simple; crushed roma tomatoes with olive oil, and maybe a few leaves of fresh basil, but nothing else. If it deviates from this, then it can't be considered Italian pizza. Anyway, I was very surprised that the Italian owner of the restaurant did not make true Italian tomato sauce.
After leaving the restaurant, we decided to get going. I had read up on a place just 10 minutes outside of San Sebastian called Hacienda Jalisco (http://www.haciendajalisco.com/) which is a beautiful 170 year old colonial home owned and maintained by American expatriate Bud Acord. To access the Hacienda, we pulled off of the main road, opened a metal gate, and drove through his property on a private road through beautiful agave fields. As we approached the house, we didn't see any cars so I was concerned if anyone was even home or if it was
really open to the public for tours.
We got out of the car and a man approached us. We asked if Bud was home and he led us through the house into the backyard where an older man was laying on lounge chair in the sun. We said "hello" and I told him we had come to visit for a tour. The situation was a little strange, as he seemed slightly perplexed as to why we were even there. He wanted to know how we had heard about him, and I explained that the Hacienda was mentioned on the Internet and in a guidebook. He then asked the man who had greeted us (Jose) to give us a tour.
We first toured the main level of the Hacienda, which was gorgeous. It was immediately obvious that Bud had spent many years restoring the place. There was also a table where they had laid out several types of bugs that they had found over the years throughout the house. I jumped when I saw the GIANT bugs and immediately thought of my sister Kimberly and wondered how she would have reacted (she is literally deathly afraid of spiders).
After walking through the house, Jose showed us the grounds surrounding the Hacienda. It was very warm out that day and we definitely felt the heat in the mid-afternoon sun. The tour was over fairly quick and then we left. We had initially thought of venturing further South to the colonial city of Mascota. We started to drive towards Mascota, but after about 15 minutes of switchbacks, Mike was beginning to feel carsick, and I myself felt a little nauseous, so we turned around. Plus, it was getting late, so we thought it was probably best to start heading back to PV.
The drive down the mountain was stunning and we stopped several times to take pictures. Along the way, we went to a small, family run Tequila place to try some samples. I like Tequila in mixed drinks but did not enjoy the taste of those samples. In fact, I gave most of mine to Mike, who seemed to be very much enjoying all of the different tequila flavors. There was a vanilla flavored one that he liked so much he contemplated buying a bottle; however, we had only brought carry-on luggage with us and no liquid over
three ounces is allowed. The tequila guy seemed somewhat disappointed himself as he was looking forward to an easy sale!
It took about 1.5 hours until we reached PV. Driving back into PV was slightly trickier than driving out of the city, and we somehow managed to get on the wrong highway and were lost for a few minutes. Luckily, Mike was quickly able get us in the right direction.
We dropped the rental car off, and took another taxi back into town. Once we arrived at our hotel, we decided to take advantage of the outdoor kitchen on our balcony and cook dinner. We walked to the large grocery store in town and looked for ingredients to make enchiladas. This would seem to be an easy enough thing to do in Mexico; however, we could find NO enchilada sauce anywhere! We looked, and looked, and looked, to no avail. Finally, Mike decided to ask someone who worked at the store and he pointed Mike to the imported food aisle. They only had one kind of enchilada sauce and it was imported from the United States! I thought that was hilarious! Enchiladas must be an American recipe created
using ingredients commonly used in Mexican cuisine.
At the hotel, I tried my best to make the enchiladas with the limited cooking utensils and cookware we had available. They tasted okay, but I think we would have been better off going out to eat. We spent the rest of the night relaxing at the hotel. It had been a long and busy day.
Day 4 (Sunday, January 20th)
The main planned activity for Sunday was a zip line tour with Canopy Tours de los Veranos (http://www.canopytours-vallarta.com/). This was the event I was most excited for on our trip, yet it was also the activity I was most dreading.
For years I had been interested in zip lining and seen people doing it on television, but the concept seemed too scary to me to try on my own. As I began planning our trip to PV, I knew we would have the opportunity to try it, so we had to go for it! There was one major stipulation however; a weight limit of 250 lbs. This was problematic for Mike as he was around 285-290. I discussed with him how much I wanted to try zip
lining and that I really hoped he would be able to participate with me. He himself was also very interested and stated that he would try his best to lose enough weight to get under 250 before the trip. That was at the beginning of September 2007, and 4.5 months later, he was just under 250! He lost over 35 lbs the right way by exercising and eating less. I was so proud of him! As of the date I published this entry (June 9th, 2008), he is now down to around 232, having lost about 55 pounds total and 12 more to go until he reaches his goal weight!
We woke up that morning and then walked about 10 minutes from our hotel to the meeting point where the tour bus for Canopy Tours was waiting. Part of the fee for the tour included transportation from downtown PV to their location about 30 minutes South of town in an area called Banderas Bay. We saw the bus from a distance with the Los Veranos sign and hopped right on. We were about 15 minutes early, but I thought it was a little strange that no one else was
there. About five minutes later, we still didn’t see anyone else, so Mike decided to get off of the bus and walk further down the street. He came back and told me that everyone else was on a much smaller bus down the street. I was slightly agitated as the tour bus we were on was large and comfortable and the other was small and crowded.
I gave Mike some Dramamine, as he tends to get carsick on bus rides. I overheard other people on the bus talking about someone who was hung over and felt nauseous. They were looking to buy Dramamine at the store, but couldn’t find any. Knowing that the guy felt like crap and realizing that we were on a small bus and the chance of him puking was good, I walked over to him and his wife and offered him some Dramamine and ginger pills. They were both thankful, but especially his wife. (By the way; for those who don’t know, ginger is a natural remedy to help prevent motion sickness and nausea, and it really does work!).
Several other people on the bus were also nervous about the windy and twisty roads
we were about to face as we drove along the coast and the possibility of getting sick. They all asked if they could have some Dramamine too! The wife of the first man I gave medicine to called me “Nurse Jennifer”.
As the remaining people arrived for the tour, we noticed that there wasn’t going to be enough seats on the bus. The tour guides looked perplexed and asked if everyone had checked in…huh? We hadn’t done that, so we raised our hands and then they asked us to get off of the bus! I was like “WHAT!” One of the women said “No, not them! She is our nurse!” We were very confused and the tour operators scolded us for not checking in (teasing of course!) and told us that they were going to send us and another couple via taxi. I was so happy as we weren’t going to be stuck with any pukers!
Mike and I sat in the back with the husband and his wife sat in the front seat. The taxi driver took off very fast and never really stopped. As we drove over the windy twisting roads, we were shoved from side
to side. This was just slightly uncomfortable for me as I was squashing a complete stranger sitting next to me. All of the windows in the car were rolled down and the wind was blowing my hair around like crazy. The drive along the coast was beautiful and before long we couldn’t see the tour bus behind us, as the taxi was able to go much faster around those curves.
We arrived at the Los Veranos ecological preserve about 20 minutes later. I was beginning to feel very nervous at this point. We were required to pack all of our belongings (with the exception of my camera) into one of the lockers they provided. It took about 10 minutes for the bus to arrive and then we all walked up to the informational platform.
There was a fairly large group of people signed up for the tour (30 +) of all different ages. In fact, there were two or three older couples that had to be close to 70. Many of the men were definitely over the 250 lb weight limit, which we found interesting considering how much the company stressed the weight limit.
The staff of
about 10 men were loud and pumped up and were hooting and hollering as they strapped each one of us into our harnesses. As we sat down, I overheard the older ladies talking about how excited they were for the one zip line ride. Another women interrupted them and said “hun, do you realize there is like 14 separate zip lines?” You should have seen the absolute look of shock and terror of the older women’s face. I guess they had been under the impression that it was going to be a quick tour!
The guides went over some safety information and then performed some demonstrations and explained all of our equipment, and then we were ready to go!
We walked up several hundred steps and then saw a platform above us, which had a circular spiral staircase attached. We were in the first group of six people that walked up the staircase, and as we approached the top of the staircase, I began to start shaking.
The first zip line across wasn’t as scary as I had anticipated; they strapped the harness to the line above you, you leaned back and brought your knees to your
chest, placed your hands on the handlebars, and off you went. The first zip line wasn’t that high above the ground and the length was relatively short.
The second zip line however was a much different story. It was much longer than the first, and as I took off, I began to feel scared out of my mind. I felt completely out of control and when I looked down I nearly passed out from the fear. I ended up closing my eyes, which is bad. We were told to keep our eyes open so that if we started to go too fast, the guides on the arriving platform would give us a hand signal to break by moving the handlebars from side to side. I thought to myself “what in the HELL have I gotten myself into?” Once you start, the only way off is via a zip line. As I approached the end of the several hundred-foot line, I opened my eyes again.
The landing was scarier to me than the actual ride on the zip line as each and every time I slammed hard into the platform, even though there was a ton of padding. It’s
supposedly safe but feels very dangerous!
I got unhooked at the second landing platform and didn’t want to go any further, but had no choice! I was still shaking and my knees were wobbly as we walked uphill to the next platform. Mike thought the whole ordeal was scary too, but didn’t seem to be as bothered by it all as I was! Luckily, we had about a 10-minute break at the next platform as we waited for the other guides to help the rest of the group.
A few of the other members in our group had gotten “stuck” in the middle of the zip line. This tends to happen when you break too soon, or when you do not sit and lean back far enough in your harness causing you to place too much of your weight forward. If that happened, one of the guides had to attach themselves to the zip line and come out to get the person as they waited, JUST hanging several hundred feet up in the air. The guide would then hook his strap to the person and pull them back to the platform. This seemed to happen constantly during the
duration of the tour with the older folks, as they never leaned back far enough in their harness. The guides were somewhat irritated with this, which I totally understood!
On the third line, one of the guides who was filming grabbed me as his first “volunteer” and strapped himself onto my line and filmed me as I screamed bloody murder across the entire line. I’m sure those who paid the ridiculous $60 fee for the DVD saw a great shot of my lungs as I screamed!
The fourth line had to have been the worst of the entire tour for me. Not only was it the longest zip line (1312 feet) but also was several hundred feet off of the ground with a raging river below. The previous three zip lines had been in the jungle foliage, so at least I psychologically “felt” safer. I couldn’t see a vast open space beneath me, because there were so many bushes and trees.
I truly thought I might pass out as I went across that fourth zip line. As I watched the five people go before me, my hands began to sweat profusely. As it became my turn, the
guide strapping me in asked “are you ready?” and I yelled “NO!” and didn’t move, so he pushed me off of the platform! For just a second, I managed to keep my eyes open and looked down at the river below me. However, the immensity of fear I felt instantly made me close my eyes, as I physically could not handle looking down. The fear of heights I inherited from my father was definitely kicking in full force. I just wanted to be done with it all and for me to be safely on the ground. This was a complete out of body experience; it was definitely surreal. The fourth line seemed to go on forever, but about 30 seconds later, I landed hard against the platform. I had been going so fast on the zip line it felt as though I was going to crash into the tree that the platform was attached to.
A few runs later, I still felt just as nervous, but was beginning to get used to the out of control feeling.
On the sixth or seventh run, a different guide decided to use me as a “volunteer” once again (GREAT!). He strapped
himself to me and as we took off, he made me let go of the handlebars (my only security blanket) and started spinning us around on the line like crazy. I was screaming my head off! That had to have been the scariest moment of the tour for me. I was absolutely petrified.
The very last zip line had two lines side by side, so that spouses or friends could race one another. Being much lighter than Mike, I of course easily won the race. The platform at the end of the last zip line corralled you straight into the bar and restaurant of Canopy Los Veranos; go figure-another way to make more money off of the tourists! We took a quick look at the menu, but said “no thanks” as the prices were about double what you would pay back in town.
Being an ecological preserve, they did have a small area with several varieties of small monkeys. We stepped inside of the enclosures for about 15 minutes and had a ton of fun feeding the monkeys and watching them run, jump and fly through the air around us. They were so quick and it was difficult
Los Arcos (The Arches)
Backdrop that is used for music and dance performances during the weekend
to take pictures, but we managed to get a few goods ones.
We then hopped onto our small bus for a ride back into town. After freshening up at the hotel, we ventured into town to finally try some of the street food via a taco stand. Using our “food bible” we found a place on Moreno that had great reviews. It had a ton of locals standing around it, which we thought was promising. Mike ordered a few meat tacos and I had some cheese quesadillas. Both were good, but not really outstanding. However, they were very cheap. I think we spend less than $4 for everything.
After leaving the taco stand, we decided to take another walk along the Malecon. The vibe was much different on the streets as more locals than tourists were out enjoying their Sunday. It was great to see all of the families interacting with one another. A little girl played peek-a-boo with me for a bit and I later helped a little boy feed some birds. We didn’t speak each other’s languages, but that didn’t prevent us from interacting or having a good time together. We even had a local woman
ask to take a picture of Mike and I on our camera; that was such a nice offer!
During our walk along the Malecon, we ventured East into town to look for a place to eat dinner. In our “food bible” there was a place called La Ronda that was listed as having awesome food and generally being frequented by locals rather than tourists. We stopped, took a look at the menu, and told the owner we would be back later for dinner.
Two and a half hours later, we walked back to La Ronda. We were the only ones in the restaurant as it was early (around 7 PM). I ordered chicken enchiladas and Mike had chicken fajitas. The food was amazing, but what was even better was the guacamole and chips. The guacamole was some of the best I’ve ever had; I’m still craving it to this day. Eventually, a few locals started strolling in. The restaurant is located several blocks East of the Malecon, so we weren’t surprised we didn’t see any tourists; it’s too far off the beaten path for most. We left feeling very satisfied.
We returned to our hotel and began
talking with Andrea. She happened to mention that each Sunday night, there is a huge festival with lots of food, music, dancing, and people down on the Malecon. It sounded like fun, so we walked down. There were people everywhere, both locals and tourists. There was loud music and a ton of street food stands; the atmosphere was great! We looked around for a bit, and then found several crepe stands (our favorite!). I opted for a crepe with Nutella and sweetened condensed milk, which was delicious but extremely sweet and super rich. Mike had a banana and Nutella crepe. We did lots of people watching and just enjoyed the atmosphere before later walking back to the hotel.
Day 5 (Monday, January 21st)
On our fifth day in PV, the only activity we had planned was several hours at a local massage place called Metamorfosis Day Spa (http://www.metamorfosisdayspa.com/). I had read about the spa on the Trip Advisor forums, where it once again was highly regarded as a great place to get an affordable massage. Lucky for us, Metamorfosis was about four buildings down from our hotel.
Prior to our trip, via email I had
booked a 90-minute hot stone massage for both of us and a 60-minute chocolate therapy session for myself. For everything, we were quoted 2000 Pesos (about $192) for all three services. Prices would be twice that cost at spas in the US!
Our massages started at 10:00. The configuration of the rooms was slightly strange. They had four massage rooms side by side with curtains acting as the door to each room. Mike I and were placed in rooms right next to one another. I began with the hot chocolate treatment, while Mike had the hot stone massage. The warmed chocolate smelled heavenly, but the feeling of dripping oozing chocolate on my back took a few minutes to get used to. I could hear the masseuse in Mike's room clanking the hot stones together.
Before I knew it, the hot chocolate treatment was over and a different masseuse came in to give me the hot stone massage. By this point, Mike had already taken off back to the hotel to rest. The hot stones felt wonderful, until she placed some of the bottom of my feet...OWW! I jumped and the masseuse asked if I had problems with my
colon; I told her I had no idea. She told me that sensitivity of pressure points on the feet is often a sign that a person's colon is unbalanced or needs help. Knowing that I have had a history of foods (i.e. spicy) disagree with my stomach, my mind began to wander and I wondered if that was a sign of something more serious! I had a difficult time relaxing for the rest of the massage after that information was provided to me!
About three hours later, I was all done. With the exception of the colon problem stuck in my head, I felt very relaxed. Even after three hours of massage, it still hadn't felt long enough! While I was getting massaged, Mike had seen the gay couple again at the ATM. The total bill for our massages ended up coming to only 1500 Pesos (about $145); they had given us a very large and generous discount!
We went back to the hotel and I attempted to degrease myself from all of the massage lotion and oil. We were hungry, so we decided to try out a different taco stand called El Cunado, which happened to be
only one block down from the hotel. This stand was packed with both locals and some tourists. I decided to try some meat tacos with cheese and guacamole; these were single-handily the BEST TACOS I have ever consumed in my entire life. The flavors blended together perfectly, but were amazingly simple. We both wished that we had come to this taco stand much earlier in our trip! I will never again forget those tacos and hope to eat them again someday!
After lunch, we walked down to the beach and took some pictures. We wandered back to the hotel and didn't really do much of anything else for the rest of the day. We found some comfortable lounge chairs next to the pool at the hotel and just relaxed, which is not something we often find ourselves doing while on vacation! We also spent a few hours playing with two of Andrea's rescue dogs; little Pedro and Dottie, who was some sort of small Dalmatian mix. Pedro was an active, playful, and adorable tiny puppy. Dottie was shy and timid, but very loving. I had seriously considered adopting Dottie, but Mike overruled me!
For dinner, we had several
choices from my "food bible" that I still wanted to try out. Several of the restaurants ended up being closed, but we eventually decided on Las Margeritas, which was not one of my first choices, but we hoped it would work. We arrived "early" as usual (7:00 PM) and there was hardly anyone there. We ordered an appetizer and two entrees, but I can't remember what they were, as it obviously wasn't that memorable. The food wasn't bad; it just wasn't as spectacular as all of the previous places we had eaten at in PV.
After dinner, my goal was to attempt to take some beautiful sunset pictures on the beach. Unfortunately, my camera didn't cooperate and all of the pictures turned out blurry. I was very irritated and knew that we would need to invest in a better quality and thus more expensive camera before we went to Europe in September. I cannot stand when I miss out on the opportunity for an awesome photo.
As our day came to an end, I began to feel sad, knowing that our trip would soon be over.
Day 6 (Tuesday, January 22nd)
As Tuesday was
our last day in PV, I did not plan anything to do this day. We laid around by the pool at the hotel for a few hours and made sure to play with Pedro again.
As lunch approached, we decided to go out in the city to find a restaurant from the "food bible" called Quimixto. It was listed as being fast Mexican food, so we weren't sure what to expect. After walking several blocks East on Basilio Badillo, we finally found it. The building itself was very modern looking and seemed to be fairly new. The concept of the restaurant is similar to Chipolte or Qdoba, meaning that you place your order at the counter and then they prepare the food fresh for you. We ordered chips and guacamole, chicken taquitos, and I had chicken tacos while Mike had a beef burrito and a Corona. The total for all of that food only came to $15. The food was absolutely delicious and I have to say, aside from the taco stand, this was the best food we ate on the entire trip! We were sad that we had only found the place on our last day in PV,
The Isla Rio Cuale
An area in downtown PV with arts and crafts vendors
as we probably would have eaten there several times if we had known about it earlier.
After lunch, we walked back to the hotel, finished packing and eventually took a cab to the airport. We were very sad to leave; however, on the other hand, we were also extremely satisfied with our amazing trip to PV. The food was outstanding, the weather was perfectly warm, and the Mexican people were so hospitable and welcoming. We have so many places we want to visit in the world over the next few years, so we aren't sure when we will able to fit PV in for another trip, but we would love to someday combine a future visit with the historic city of Guadalajara.
I have added extra pictures below from our trip.
There are more photos below