We have been coming to Puerto Vallarta since 1996.
Once a year we swap a week of cold Colorado weather for a week
of tropical sun and warmth.
It is a city of 300,000 that
continues to delight our senses with colors, sounds,
foods, neighborhoods, and the Bay of Banderas. We feel comfortable and
safe, and at home, as much as gringos can in Mexico. The people we meet
are welcoming. We like walking along the malecon watching the families,
the mimes, the artists, and street performers; we like the narrow,
noisy streets in the “Zona Romantica” or old section. We like the
adventure of riding the buses. We have found many good restaurants; we
return to certain favorites every year, yet we continue to discover new
Usually we use our time share at
the Krystal Vallarta with family,
sometimes by ourselves. This year cousins Ken and Carol McKenzie joined
us for a week of reading and pool time, jungle adventure, Day of the
Dead celebrations, the Puerto Vallarta International 5K race, and
plenty of good food and dining. We played many hands of Shanghai Rummy
and drank margaritas. We did what we came to do: relaxation and renewal.
The Church of
Our Lady of Guadeloupe
(above) has been called the most endearing landmark
in the city. It dominates the central city skyline and though it has
the look of an historic building, the church was completed in the
mid-1900s. The crown is patterned after the crown worn by Empress
Carlota wife of Emperor Maximillian who ruled Mexico in 1864–67.
Each year for the past four years,
Puerto Vallarta has hosted an international half marathon and 5K race,
usually on the first Sunday in November. This is the second year Judy
has run in
the 5K race. Several members
of the Boulder Roadrunners participate as well. The conditions are very
un-Boulderish: in spite of the early start (7:00 am, before sunrise),
sea level, and the season (mid-autumn), the humidity is high and the
temperature very warm. It’s not an easy run. The course takes runners
from the city’s sports complex north on the main street of the city
towards the airport. The 5K turnaround is just before the Krystal
Vallarta; the half marathon goes beyond the airport before turning
around. The surface is flat and, for Puerto Vallarta, smooth.
The early start required the only alarm
clock of the week. We were up and out of the rooms by 6:00 in order to
catch a bus to the sports complex. There was a bit of waiting before
the start of the races (the 5K started 10 minutes after the half
marathon). When Judy finished we had breakfast at “100% Natural”
restaurant, a small family-run eatery across from the Sheraton that has
perhaps the best health food we’ve run across anywhere. There was a
long wait afterwards while the results were compiled and verified, the
presentation of awards, and claiming the award money. We got back to
the Krystal by about 1:00.
Judy’s second place finish last year
was controversial. To make sure runners are who they say they are and
are entered in the right age group, this year runners were required to
provide photo IDs with their birth dates. Judy won second place money
this year. Other Boulder runners who placed in the top three finishers
in their age group included Colleen De Reuck, Dave Dooley, Tom Lemire,
Rich Castro, and Carl Mohr—pretty good for a small contingent from high
and dry Colorado.
II. DAY OF THE DEAD
Judy’s race was one of reasons we chose
this particular week to come to Puerto Vallarta. Day of the Dead was
originally a summer celebration of the Aztecs. Catholic missionaries,
in an effort to blend Christian and indigenous beliefs, made the
celebrations coincide with All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day. Today,
the festivities begin with Hallowe’en (October 31), All Saints’ Day,
and All Souls’ Day (November 1 and 2). El Dia do los Muertos celebrates
life and honors those who have passed away.
All Saints’ Day is a time to remember
children who have died by decorating their grave sites with toys.
Deceased adults are honored on All Souls’ Day with public displays
decorated with photos, food, and other memorabilia. Marigolds are part
of the lavish displays that celebrate the lives of departed family
members, reassuring them they are not forgotten.
We walked downtown to see the displays
surround the city building. They were elaborate, personal, touching,
and are the result of careful planning. While we didn’t go the city
cemetery this year, we have vivid memories from last year of the
decorated graves that we saw everywhere. We’ll return to the cemetery
next year. Mexicans certainly do to far greater lengths than in this
country to remember and honor their ancestors, at least once a year.
Hallowe’en is a more recent addition to
the celebration; children with their parents scour the malecon with
bags hoping for candy or money. Children don’t say “Trick or treat;”
rather they come up to folks and say “Hallowe’en” and show their bag in
hopes for a treat or cash. Anyone who gives a treat/cash becomes the
target of all the kids in the vicinity—think of feeding pigeons in the
park. Hallowe’en night goes strong until at least 10:00 (when we left
for home at the Krystal).
III. DAY TRIP
We usually plan at least one activity
that gets us out of town for a change in scenery. In the past we’ve
taken the “Pirate Ship” cruise, day trips to Yelapa and Quixmoto to
snorkel and ride horses, explored the old mining town of San Sebastian
in the hills to the north and east of town, and we once took a tourist bus north to
the tiny resort beach at Chacala to check out a holistic-style living
center called Mar de Jade (closed, but a nearby beach restaurant served
outstanding ceviche). This year we spent the better part of a day
getting to El Eden, a jungle destination (site of location for the
movie “Predator”) where they serve a traditional lunch under a huge
palapa beside cascades of the Rio Tuito. Getting there required a stop
for some retail in the “Zona Romatica” area of town and at a “tequilla
factory outlet” in Mismaloya, both very disappointing ways to
spend our time. When we finally arrived at El Eden both Ken and Hughes
had a surge of testosterone and thought they should slide down the
cascade rocks in the river. They returned safely and refreshed, and
didn’t catch anything from gulping the river water. The beer was
refreshing and the snack foods were tasty.
The entire experience was tame
compared with our first trip to El Eden. Getting there years ago was
the day Judy drove for the first and last time in Mexico, an experience
neither of us nor Michael and Cindy will forget. (The road is much
better now, though still not for ordinary cars and still very dusty.)
While Michael and Cindy hung out to enjoy the food, drink, and shopping
at the big palapa, we hiked a couple of miles upstream through the
jungle guided by an enterprising teenager named Maximillian, who jumped
out of the jungle and offered his services as a guide to take us safely
to the end of the trail where the waterfall was too steep to go beyond.
It was a real jungle adventure. When Judy had asked about snakes,
Maximillian assured us (especially Judy whose aversion to snakes is
known around the world) that there was nothing to worry about. “No
snakes on the ground. They live up there (pointing to the trees).”
IV. VACATION R
Ken and Carol, like us, are
retired and in truth it is difficult to think of any trip as a
vacation. Aren’t we always “on vacation?” The thing about going to
Puerto Vallarta is that we act like we are on vacation: We eat dinner out
every night (and occasionally some other meals as well), we play a lot
of cards every day (sometimes in the evening). We swim and sit by the
pool every day, and we’ve been known to shop for stuff we don’t really
need. We don’t have meetings to go to, no volunteer job commitments to
meet, and we never make our beds, wash our dishes, clean our bathrooms,
or do laundry.
The Krystal Vallarta, in spite of some
ups and downs over the ten years we’ve been coming, remains a tropical
urban island of quiet and greenery where the pace of living slows to a
crawl. We fell in love with the ambiance when we first walked through
it and, though there are newer resorts, none give us a sense of
peacefulness that we continue to find at the Krystal. We started out
buying a one bedroom timeshare in 1996, we upgraded
to a two-bedroom unit three years later, and last year we upgraded to a
two-bedroom villa with a private pool that we share with no one else
(skinny dipping in the evenings is not a problem). We continue to use
some of the other “big pools” because at certain times of the day there
is more shade. But how nice it is to walk out your bedroom door and
into a private pool and play cards or read there until you need to cool
off. There is no loud music nor are there loud kids, American tourists,
or water aerobics creating a noisy atmosphere that seems to be endemic
among some age groups or cultures.
Typically before breakfast Judy would
run and Hughes would use the stationary bike on the grounds and meet at
the pool for a cool down. Then we had breakfast by the pool, usually
with Ken and Carol. This would give us a chance to plan the day or get
back into our reading. By about 9:30, the sun would bear down on the
pool area of our particular unit and we would pack up for town or a
trip, or we’d plan to go to the quieter larger pool where there was
good shade all day for reading or playing cards.
Good food can be found throughout the
town. We have a list of at least dozen places we have tried and would
not hesitate to recommend. Unlike our experience in Italy where we never
had a “Wow” dinner, these are places that create a dining experience
featuring outstanding traditional food, especially fresh seafood: red
snapper, shrimp, mahi mahi, calamari, lobster, and the ubiquitous
“catch of the day.” In addition, there is often guacamole made fresh to
order at the table, special desserts and coffees prepared at the table
that require experienced waiters (Spanish coffee, bananas flambe,
etc.), and margaritas that reflect the specialty of the house. Every
good restaurant serves outstanding flan;
if the dinner is second rate, the flan
will be second rate also.
In addition to the 100% Natural (where we ate both a
light dinner and a hearty breakfast), we returned to Pipi’s
(and who wouldn’t?), Los Feliz
Langosta/The Happy Lobster) which still has outstanding food and
service, and Tino’s (a
family oriented restaurant in Pitillal where the service is always
cheerful and outstanding). We also tried two new restaurants: The
Blue Shrimp, which serves shrimp a hundred different ways in
an attractive semi-outdoor setting complete with two caged macaws, and El Arrayan, which features
from all over Mexico in an out of the way side street we finally found.
We might not hurry back to The Blue Shrimp, but El Arrayan will get our
business from now on. We wish we could include a photo from each place,
but El Arrayan’s Huichole yarn paintings on the wall are worth noting.
They belong to the owner of the restaurant whose grandmother collected
them years before they became fashionable. We should add that
washbasins in the baños are worth time out to wash your hands
when your arrive as well as leave. And their flan was exceptional.
During the day, when we did not have a
day trip planned, we usually spent part of the day walking through the
city. We shopped at the tile store in the old section of town. Ken and
Carol spent several mornings searching out the perfect Huichole yarn
painting, which they eventually found and brought home with them.
Hughes found his favorite discount liquor store where the Tequila was
cheaper than at Wal-Mart. We tried to get downtown walking finished
before the real heat of the day arrived. Back to the Krystal for a walk
on the beach or swim in the pool.
Most evenings we spent walking
the malecon, watching the mimes, the street performers, and all the
people, both locals and tourists, enjoying the cooler evening air and
sea breeze. We listened to music in the square next to city hall, and
one evening we were entranced by traditional dancers in an outdoor park
a few blocks north of downtown which were part of a week-long program
highlighting indigenous traditions in the state of Jalisco. Vendors
around the park offered traditional clothing, art, and food.
However, we spent a good
deal of our time reading or playing Shanghai rummy, enjoying homemade
margaritas, and occasionally snoozing around one of the pools. After
all, R&R usually is an abbreviation for “rest and relaxation.” It
was exactly the reason we came.