Puerto Vallarta: Je Ne Sais Quoi

31.08.2009 – 03.09.2009

Puerto Vallarta: Je Ne Sais Quoi

Tenacatita bay proved to be just as lovely as I'd been told. But the mid-day heat had already risen to that level you get to in the summer where all your vision is obscured by salty haze. I pulled off the main road that wound around to the beach and a couple two or three beautiful bays. Given the signage and boat packages going to this place, I figured it’d be full of hotels. I was pleasantly surprised to find almost none! There was only a few tiendas and a strip of rustic restaurants along one side of the beach, but not developed that much yet. I wasn’t there more than an hour to capture a few images, so it’s possible I just missed all of the development. If so, they did a fine job hiding it.

It wasn’t long before I was again slowing back down to wind through some pretty lagoons to yet another unspoiled bay called Chamela. Gladis’ Restaurant was still there and hadn’t changed at all the almost five years since I was last there, other than it looked like the palapa rooftop had been replaced. Gladis and her family looked about the same as before and they all remembered me.

Gladis asked if I wanted to string my hammock again for the night. If I did, she said I was more than welcome. I said I was just passing through and remembered how kind she and her family had been to let me sleep there before, so I wanted to spend my lunch money at her restaurant. I asked if she had octopus today. She did. I asked if it was fresh. She said it'd been caught only hours ago. In short, the octopus was magnificent.

While I cooled down some with a Mexican Coca-Cola and lime, I noticed the giant eyesore of concrete that looked like it was once on it’s way of becoming a fancy hotel, was still looming on the backdrop hillside behind Gladis' place. Some of it had crumbled, but nothing more was done on it from the last time I was here. I suppose in another decade or so, it’ll still be there. It’s tragic to see something like that spoiling an otherwise gorgeous bay landscape. On the other hand, I amused myself by imagining it was serving the same function as a human skull on the end of a stick… to ward off other potential developers who might get the same idea to destroy yet another lovely Pacific bay.

The girl who was serving me at Gladis’ place was off getting some buckets of water I think, so I paid Gladis and gave her an extra fifteen pesos or so. She asked what it was for and I said it’s for the girl who served my food. She asked why? I said it was a tip for the service. Gladis seemed confused and surprised with the idea of gratuity for service, but thanked me for her. As I rode off I saw Gladis giving the waitress the extra pesos and she ran out waving to me as I road off. I tried to wave back, but the sand was getting the best of my front tire, so I had to just know she’d understand.

Riding along that part of the coast is easy and smooth with just a few nice curves here and there. That is, until right before you get to Puerto Vallarta when you start going up and up until you can actually feel the temperature drop. So refreshing if you’re already pretty soaked in sweat underneath a riding jacket, boots, gloves and full-face black helmet!

The winding continues a good while and then you start to descend again into what appears to be a completely new terrain. I’m sure the foliage is similar, but it just gets so much more “tropical” quickly in only about fifteen minutes . So lush and sensuously balmy that you start dreaming of finding a nice bit of cool beverage, a hammock and a slice of shade while you adapt the Pacific’s heart, beating in waves and in time with your own internal mantra as you slip away into an exotic siesta.

I’m really not the touristy, resort sort of tourist, but I make an exception for Puerto Vallarta for some reason. And, every time I try to figure out what exactly it is about the place that keeps me coming back. The place really has a sort of je ne sais quoi that never fails to captivate my soul. It could be the liquid-gold light you get there just about every day in the late afternoon that changes from rich golden to purple and blue velvet as it gently settles and blankets the city.

The expats you meet there are also different from the garden-variety expats you meet all over other parts of Mexico. These expats do like their drink of course, but they don’t seem sad like other’s I’ve known. They seem like they’ve found some secret utopia that I hope to find myself someday… that let’s them just coast along in a relaxed and hazy buzz with a slight grin on their faces as the rest of the world struggles with itself.

One such expat is my ol’ English pal John Russell. He goes by J.R. and I met him several years ago via his website http://www.vallartainfo.com/ where I was looking up some strange elixir called Raicilla. After we a few exchanged a few online notes, he met with me and we were off to a nearby town where you buy Raicilla in a jug from some dark alley. J.R. showed me the ropes of Raicilla. We’ve been friends ever since and I try to bring him what he asks for when I can. That can be anything from fresh-cut peyote from the desert, to an old style telephone with a louder bell. Every visit with J.R. always seems to end with me basically stumbling down a cobblestone boulevard in a smoky and happy haze delirium.

This time was no different, only I was in extra luck. John invited me to crash out in his spare bedroom for free! Not only that, he fed me and kept me pretty buzzed most of the time I was there. This was a welcome change since my funds have been getting dangerously low with still many more kilometers to cover before I get home. So if you’re reading this JR… Muchas Gracias amigo!

Maybe I’m getting old and crusty, but I feel more obligated to go to the beach than real desire to do so. There’s all that sand and salt to deal with. And, it’s just so unbearably hot. Could it be sacrilege to go to a place like Puerto Vallarta and NOT go to the beach? I didn’t want to find out, so I bucked up and trudged out along the coastline to the delightful spot I’ve gone to in the past. And oh so glad I did! I suppose anything, and pretty much everything you do in your life that’s worthwhile requires you pay up somehow. Either you pay with a horrible drive through Mexico City during CRUSH hour in order to make it to a peaceful strip of beach after an almost spiritual ride through the volcanoes. Or, you must endure sand and salt to completely commune with the outer reaches of paradise.

My favorite hike in Puerto Vallarta is to hug the footpath on the far Southern end of the city on the South side of the river Cuale. This is my favorite part of Puerto Vallarta because it’s older and though it’s flanked by condos and amazing haciendas, it still feels like Mexico and not as much like a tourist destination.

If you just follow the beach as far as you can, you’ll go up over a giant hunk of earth and rock. There are stone steps to help you along and though you’ll certainly be dripping in sweat by that point, you’ll be richly rewarded with an amazing view of the next bay. Keep on going and going, and eventually you won’t be able to go any further by foot. This is where you wanna be and where I’ll be every time I’m lucky enough to land in Puerto Vallarta.

After a few days of complete relaxation and almost zero hassles (except or the occasional accosting by the local time-share sharks), my sharp and focussed awareness was starting to get a little too distracted. I barely even went out to take any photos and just completely succumbed to total relaxation in that hazy buzz I mentioned. Could have had something to do with the thick, and sticky balm that penetrates that area this time of year too. In any case, it was time to move on down the road.

There’s time for one more stop before I wrap up with a trip back out into the Huiricuta desert to confer with mescalito if I leave now. Though, over the giant solid wall of think green foliage that backs Puerto Vallarta like some surrealistic movie set, there’s some awfully ominous rain clouds that look like they could easily turn into something not-so-pleasant to be riding a motorcycle through.

J.R. thinks it’ll likely burn off but says it’s a crap shoot to try and guess the weather here. I want to stay and just sink even deeper into ultra relaxation, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome, and I’m afraid if I sink much deeper… I may not be able to climb back up. So, rain or shine… the road calls.

I had hoped to have decide where I would go from here by the time I left, but am still clueless. If this turns out to be a wicked storm, I’ll be lucky to just make Guadalajara. If it’s short, I’ll be able to go further. Can’t decide between Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato or perhaps some place I see along the way with a funny name that calls to me. Quien sabe? Will decide after I hopefully pop out the other side of Guadalajara.