Oblivion. A place we intend to or unintendedly meet on any Puerto Vallarta booze cruise. I met it unintendedly. I did it to stave off contextually onset depression. The plastic bathtub boat us and as many others could be shoved in. The subpar continental restaurant. The scuba spot occupied by at least 85 hundred (accurate count) other “tour group” bathtub boats. This was not a place to see fish, but rather the fat, pink wiggling bait of thousands of fleshy limbs. The waterfall. Oh. Sorry. The waterfall wasn’t the depressing part itself. It was the way there. A mud path, where horses were being unvoluntarily pulled, topped by unamused, drunken camera clicking, sombreroed tourists, passing through electricless towns, where kids hobbies included obligatory begging for money from the insensitive kings and queens for an all inclusive week getaway, riding atop their slave horses.
Let me suggest an alternative, a few things that I don’t usually see on the Puerto Vallarta to do list, which I think make for a more cultured, different experience.
Walking Around Beyond the Malecon…
If your not at the beach, The Malecon is the PLACE to be in if you’re a tourist in PV. It has everything you could ever want: street performers, art, food, hawkers, gawkers, walkers, lots of exposed skin steaming out of the open faced bars and clubs that line the boardwalk. It’s a no brainer and super close to the hotels, so there is no way of getting lost. In a way, it’s the epitome of John Huston’s Mexico, a theme park like Americanized Mexico, manageable, accessible, rife with stereotypes and panchos and sumbraros. So keep walking, go beyond the Malecon, beyond the Senior Frogs, beyond the Yellow Brick Road. Get a map of the city, a good map of the city, even BETTER a digital map and just wander. Don’t set a destination, don’t route a course, just explore.
On my random walk I found a beautifully ornate and peacefully silent Church, just North West of the Malecon, found a lovely Mexican Candy store and a place that made fresh tortillas, the old school way. Yes, numerous people have been/seen/ate at these places, but for myself, they’re not in the guidebooks, they’re not on the tourist radar, so when I happen upon them, it feels as if I have made a triumphant discover, a discovery you can tell people about later, but more so, a discovery that you can experience. Some of these findings may not be a SIGHT, but could just be a place of everyday business, a residential area, a school, something. Just like Alice in wonderland – If you walk long enough, you’ll get somewhere and if your not too concerned about what that somewhere entails, then your in good hands in Puerto Vallarta, with small surprises around every corner. There’s a desire to find the “real” _____________ (country name). I am not sure exactly what that fully means ever, but I feel that you have a better chance of finding authenticity outside of the marketed, consumer based downtown hub.
Exploring the Art Galleries
This is an activity that many partake in, but can be a great way to traverse the city, see art and see all the wonderful places in between. The city is full of amazing art and amazing artists, with many contemporary galleries displaying everything from installations, to mixed media, to everything in between. The Dante Galleria on Basillio Badilio is a wonderful cluttered art space, that is both in doors and outdoors and claims to be the biggest gallery in the city. Your eyes dart too and fro, trying to take everything in, an impossible task, as there are so many unique pieces, from the pop culture influence origami paintings of Emilio Rama, hiding behind the ceremonial garbed metal, stone and wood statues of Oscar Zamarripa.
Galeria Contempo has some funky up and comers, while the Sergio Bustamante gallery and jewelry store, with the artist’s signature long faced figures (which are even on the door handles to the store), is a great place to not only see, but also own some pretty amazing functional art. And that’s just the tip of the paintbrush or pen or whatever medium you wish to work in. There are also a lot of places with folk art, though, personally, I am not a BIG fan of beading, tiles or simple cut wood carved masks (though the gallery with the masks, of which the name escapes me, is in a REALLY cool building that was an old colonial house, one of the few originals still up).
Trying a Local Restaurant
If your at an all inclusive or the hotel zone, it’s easy to simply pop into a tourist filled eatery and indulge on fare that is made particularly to suit your tastes. But why not get out of your comfort zone and, for that matter, the tourist zone, and try eating at a small, family run hole in the wall, with an assortment of mismatched tables and chairs, maybe a football match, blaring on a fuzzy, old school television set, the smell of food and sweat, both pungent and thrillingly aromatic filling your nostril with fear and curiosity. Sure, at these joints, the menus might not be sprawling or in English, but with a little Spanish or some fancy gestures, I’m sure you’ll be eating something super yummy, with the owners more than happy to take your money (support the local, local economy) as well as your kind praises. On Calle Jacarendas, at a restaurant that was, I believe, entitled something “Dolphins”, I had the best mole I have ever had, period. This restaurant is not in a guidebook, not even on a blog. It’s there and serves the local populous, good, affordable sustenance.
Take a chance, find a restaurant full of locals, which is a sure bet that it’s pretty good. Not all local restaurants can be classified as “hole-in-the-walls” either. Chenan2 Restaurant, which was a blog recommended place, is a family owned establishment, where the chef, who was formally a painter, decided to pick up cooking, after his mother passed. His work is both on the plates and on the walls of this medium sized restaurant. The sala, guac and chips were pretty on point, but it was my main meal, grilled octopus in a white wine sauce that blew me away with a lovely, rich flavor palette of salty butter goodness, with a slight and desired tang. Num Num Num! If I hadn’t gotten severe stomach poisoning (a story unto itself), I would have eaten at many more wonderful places throughout PV, because, rest assure, there are many.
Planning Your Own Taco Tour
There are some great professional guided taco tours that I have heard about in PV and saw several of them while I was on my own taco tour. Due to budgetary restrictions, an official taco tour was not in the cards, but that doesn’t mean a unofficial tour wasn’t possible. So how did I know where to go? Well how about I give you a link of a map that I used:
It’s a good starting point that you can add to for future trips!
Visiting Outlying Towns
PV started off as a small fishing village that expanded due to the influx of tourists flocking to see the place made famous by John Huston’s films, so a lot of the culture is geared towards that market and presenting it in it’s most big and bold forms. For something more intimate and what many would consider more authentic Jalisco culture, one has to leave the city.
The issue with leaving the city is….where do you go? There are many options out there, such as Bucerias, a small fishing/artist community, but many of them too, are overrun with tourists and have lost a bit of their charm (not all of it, just a bit!). It all depends what you are interested in. For me, I was interested in culture and history, not beaches and booze. By doing a few google searches I found Talpa De Allende, a former silver mining town that has an important church for Christian pilgrimage and Mascota, a old colonial town. After searching online for tours, we decided to go with Vallarta Adventures, who we actually got connected with by a tourist agency on the beach. Now, usually I would travel via public transit bus, but I was with my father, so I thought to give him a little more ease by taking a tour. And what a wonderful tour it was! We were fed a continental breakfast right at the door of the tour. Once we got on the bus, Alfonzo, our knowledgeable guide started to tell us information of what we were seeing out the windows, as well as the history of the area. You had a question, Alfonzo had a very well articulate answer. The tour wasn’t your regular SEE THE SITES tour. “This tour will attempt to give you a glimpse into the REAL Mexico”, Alfonzo, as if reading my mind, told the four of us on the bus as we were leaving the hustle and bustle of PV, “and it’s not for everyone”. He shared with us that he liked that the tours were small, so that they could talk more, rather than him simply lecturing and spewing out facts.
In Mascota, we visited a practical application high school, where students learned to farm and make cheese and raise animals. We saw the unfinished cathedral, ate fresh baked cookies and hot chocolate in a local’s house and hung out in the town square for a bit, along with men conversing on benches, sporting big cowboy hats, getting their shoes blackened and shined.
In Talpa, we saw how guava roll candies are made, along to Rompope, an eggnog like alcohol, that tricks you into finishing off the whole bottle on a school night (true story). We were given time to walk around the town centre, where I purchased a taco-press, engraving the wood with “Tacotim!” (it was suppose to be “Tacotime!”, but that’s what I get for trying to get a Mexican engraver to write in a foreign language), as well as visiting the much venerated church, that was packed to the brim for services, complete with Mariachi Band. Our lunch was taken back in Mascota, before we returned along the mountainous, lush green, roadway that took us back to PV. An amazing day-trip, which really felt like I saw and partook in something really special, that not everyone bothers to see.
Again, my idea of a good time might be slightly different than yours. But who knows? Some of those likes might sink up and you’ll find value in this post. If not…hope you liked my word choice and the pretty pictures. Ditto for those who are interested in what I am interested in as well, when it comes to travel, at least!
Again, if you ever have any questions about what you see or have seen, suggestions, ideas for Each Mile and the BIG trip in 2017 (World Cycle Tour – Vancouver, Canada to Beijing China), let me know! Or just comment, hate it? like it? Care very little for it?
I see my reflection in dented metal siding. My face is the borscht pink. My limbs and spine tingle with the weight of exhaustion and anxiety. There is a small, undetectable grin on my face, that even a ruler is placed up against my face may miss. Am I sick? Delirious due to the situational stress? No. It’s perspective.
That is the extreme situation. I understand why many would respond to that description with a big WTF. Being trapped in Russia due to a Visa violation isn’t Mardi Gras, but it’s still raw adventure, a story for the bulging back-pocket, for attentive eyes, for inducing salivation. This is short and sweet. Happiness cannot be dictated from the higher ups. They can inspire us and implore us, but ultimately it is up to us to define our own happiness. Even then, it may be considered beyond decision, something deeper, involuntary, and uncontrollable like flowing blood. And they will try. They will try to get you to conform to their smiles. To their tears. To their boxes. Don’t check them. Don’t live in them. Don’t pass it on to your next akin, with the preamble of “that’s just the way we do things”.
All versions of happiness are valid and are form fitting. When you are sitting in your version of a tent, rippling with blistering gales and pelting rain, your drenched to the apple core, and all your electronic devices are gasping for a last bit of life, as their non-water compatible electronic components drown in small pools as you sleep in every piece of clothing you have with you, that is happiness. Typing away at a report in some 4 by 4 cubicle well into the weekend, while your boss spends his Saturday, spending time with his kids….that also can be happiness. Happiness cannot be argued and if it does no harm to others, it should not be prevented. This post reiterates the obvious, but something that sometimes we need to be reminded of, to set long list of duties into perspective.
Pause. Put down whatever it is you are burdened by, whether it is thoughts or a stapler. Ask yourself:
Are you happy?
What can you do right now that will make you so?