Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Puerto Vallarta, The Rest of the Story

One of the things that cruisers do to entertain themselves in Mexico*s resort towns is figure out how to get free use of the swimming pools and other facilities of the big, posh resorts. The Marriott? Easy, all you need is a white towel, and the attendants who make most of their money earning tips are happy to see you. Oh, you do have to sneak past Reception via the side entrance from the adjoining Japanese restaurant.

Velas Vallarta? Not so easy. Here you need a Towel Card, which they issue to (paying) guests when they check in. So the trick here is to know or meet a guest who is willing to give you their towel card. But it is worth it because the Velas has a great pool--but then so does the Marriott.

Fortunately for us, fellow cruisers and marina neighbors, Hugh and Vickey of Redondo Beach, Ca. just happen to have scored four Velas Vallarta towel cards. With those, we just walk in like we own the place, find some chaise lounges and wait for the boys to bring the beer, Margaritas and snacks as we settle in to read, swim and indulge.

We had a surprise visit from another marina neighbor, but this one was from our home marina in Gig Harbor. Mark Learned, a retired airline pilot and his wife, Gail, own a condo in Puerto Vallarta (PV). But this time Mark was down by himself to help a friend sail his boat from PV to La Paz, across the Sea of Cortez. Mark knew from our website that we were in Marina Vallarta.

Aside from just having a nice chat with Mark, he told us about their condo on the south shore of Banderas Bay, the large bay that PV sits in. It sounded like a nice place, so a few days after Mark left, with nothing better to do, we caught the Mismaloya bus and got off at the Girasol Sur condos. To make a long story shorter (I don*t do short stories), we were so impressed by the place that we started looking at other condos. Over the course of the month that followed we must have visited and toured over 20 condo apartments. They ran the gamut from ones that looked like typical block apartments in South Tacoma to places like Girasol and the Bayview Grand with their incredible views of Banderas Bay.

Since spending over a month in Zihuatenejo, it has occurred to us that living in Mexico during the cold, wet winter months of the Pacific Northwest, is not a bad thing. Hmmm. Not something we could do right now, but something to file away for the future. In the meantime, condo shopping was a fun thing to do, especially since our friends Hugh and Vickey were of the same minds. We went together on at least half of our tours.

Another thing that cruisers do in towns like PV is dine out--a lot. The food is so good and so reasonably priced down here that it is hard to resist the temptation every night. For example, there is a new restaurant at Marina Vallarta called La Coleguita that serves a shrimp combination with shrimp cooked three different ways. It is way too much for one person to eat, the oval platter is just heaped with shrimp. So we order it to share and they even serve it on two separate plates. But then with your beer you get two cold shrimp as well. It comes with soup. It comes with a complimentary bottle of tequila placed on your table--drink as much as you can stand. It comes with fried banana dessert and a kaluha apertif. All this for 99 pesos ($9 USD). That*s a dinner for $4.50 plus drinks. This is just one example. We could list several more.

Our friends Bob and Diana on White Swan caught up with us and arrived in Marina Vallarta just in time to join us, along with Hugh and Vickey, on a hike to a natural hot spring. We caught a bus (7 pesos) to the little town of La Disembocada, a few minutes inland from PV. Using the directions given to us by Anne on Sunseeker, we followed a horse trail that crossed the Rio Mascota River three times. We found the hot springs and had the all to ourselves. Someone had built a series of three stair-stepped pools into the rock river bank using stone and cement. The pools were quite hot and it was refreshing to go back and forth between the cool river and the hot pools. And the scenery was unspoiled and beautiful. Upstream a ways we spotted a deep hole with a Tarzan rope suspended from a tree leaning out over the river. An item to file away for our next visit.

We hiked back to La Disembocada, had a great lunch with loud American rock music from a juke box in an open air restaurant. Before catching the bus back to PV we discovered the hacienda next door that gives tequila distillery tours so naturally we took the tour and forced ourselves to test the product. We even bought some--mainly for Steve. Before leaving Kay was treated to sight of a Mexican cowboy training a horse how to do the piaffe, a fancy high-stepping dressage gait.

Another cruiser favorite is Mexican Train dominoes, a really wild, free-for-all way to play dominoes with a lot of people and a lot of rules. We*ve played a couple of times now.

There are currently three commercial movie theaters in PV and we took advantage of that fact by seeing at least one movie a week including Robots, Sideways, Garden State, Hitch, Ray and Million Dollar Baby--and dare we admit it, Miss Congeniality 2--Armed and Fabulous. All but the latter are worthwhile.

Having had such a good time on the hot springs hike we decided to try another one of Sunseeker Anne*s recommendations. This time it was to a waterfall. Bob and Diana accompanied us on this one. It was a much longer hike and slightly less rewarding than the hot springs hike but still the scenery was great and the fall was very pretty. It was upriver from a horseback riding establishment called Rancho Capomo, near the town of Las Palmas, further inland from La Disembocada. The seven suspension bridges on the trail just before reaching the falls would give an OSHA inspector apoplexy. They ran from tree to tree and bank to bank about 50 feet above the river. If you ever saw the movie Romancing the Stone, the suspension bridges we crossed were similar to the one in that film.

And for Puerto Vallarta, that is the rest of the story, on the QT and very hush hush.