Ritmos de la Noche
Trip Start Nov 23, 2011
4Trip End Nov 30, 2011
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Where I stayed
Villa del Palmar Flamingos Nuevo Vallarta
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Read my review - 5/5 stars
What I did
Las Caletas Puerto Vallarta
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Read my review - 5/5 stars
"Huh?" Senan immediately curtailed his crying and turned his head at me in confusion, the same way a dog does when it's begging for food. "But Sydney [his sister] won't turn the portable DVD screen my way, and I can't see The Naked Gun!" I knew my now-routine tequila hangover was probably skewing my mental processing slightly, but I could have sworn he was referring to the classic film with Leslie Nielsen.
"What? You don't need to be watching that movie anyway. It's too funny for you to understand." My niece, Sydney, informed me that she'd borrowed my portable DVD player and went through my DVD collection. I suppose she could have picked a much worse one. I acquiesced, and later found it ironic when I placed the DVD back in my binder next to the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Pulp Fiction.
We washed away last night down by the pool. I worked it out so that I had the ideal setup in there as the playful, involved uncle. My three-year-old nephew, Callan, wanted to throw an orange ball ball back and forth in the pool. This simple act was making him the happiest kid in the world, but my mobility remained impaired, so his errant throws made me work too hard. That is, until I placed him strategically in front of a pool jet so the downstream current would funnel that ball directly to me, no matter where he threw it. Check mate, hangover!
"Let's blow this popsicle stand!" I hollered at Joanna, who looked like she was cheating on me with the sun's rays. A lady with mom-jean "jorts (jean shorts)" walked by and that signified that pool time was over. Parked on the beach and watching the waves dance over the feet of the tourists, it occurred to me that we did not yet have the proverbial "Corona picture". To accomplish this feat, the rules are simple: place two beach chairs so that they face the ocean, put a table in between to hold two Corona bottles adorned with limes, and "clink" said Coronas together while you and your beautiful woman admire the crystal clear beauty of the ocean in an isolated paradise. Sounds pretty easy, only we managed to fail at it. Our chairs were at an angle, we were drinking Coronas from a can, there were beach vendors in the background, and worst of all, you can't even see Joanna. This moment will forever be known as the "Corona Pic Fail".
Not having plans for the evening called for a bit of a return to routine, and we watched the New Orleans Saints play the New York Giants on Monday Night Football in the resort's lobby. It was still a unique experience, as the game commentary was entirely in Spanish. I kept my fingers crossed in hopes that the announcer would shout the scoring in true soccer fashion. It came with an exclamation point when Drew Brees, on his way to a record-breaking season, threw a 4-yard pass to Lance Moore. "TOUCHDOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWNNNNNN!!!!" I believe the announcer was still finishing up his holler while the Saints were kicking the after point.
Margaritas and sunbathing had become our morning way of life. The beach and pool servers from the resort were depending on their tips from rich vacationers, and had established some kind of loyalty claim to their customers. Whenever the coast was clear, a different server would approach and try to steal the business away from their cohorts. Valerie had pointed out early on in our vacation that our server, Coronado, was the same gentleman who served her and her family the previous year. As the tequila sunrises and margaritas added up, it was becoming harder to distinguish Coronado. Since our vantage point usually involved looking up at the servers against the sunshine, we had to use another means of identification.
"He's the one with the tannest legs in the whole resort." I murmured to Joanna, face down on the lounge chair. Ordering drinks at this point meant trying to time a hand wave that corresponded with tan legs, since the sun was taking my range of vision (and any sort of lifelike motivation) from me. My thirst seemed unquenchable, this most likely on account of the Fuego chips that we could not resist munching away to their extinction.
"These chips are mal, babe," Joanna remarked, "but I can't help myself from eating them." Using the word "mal (Spanish for 'bad')" became a recurring theme throughout the vacation. Back in the bedroom, we ran into the maids as we were getting dressed. I remembered how putrid the pillows smelled from the night before, so I gestured to my nose and let the maids know about them.
"Estas almohadas huelen MAL." Joanna broke out into a chuckle, and the ladies joined her, half laughing and half apologizing. Every time I spoke in Spanish to any of the staff members, they would always smile and look away like "he couldn't be talking to me", so I would frequently repeat myself. I suppose the legions of foreign tourists they typically encounter aren't much for conversation, and especially one in Spanish. Upon learning that I spoke a little of their language, it was nothing but dead silence from them. I never understood why people in the maid service industry always seem to feel that conversing with the customer is mal.
Downstairs at the pool, we were treated to some unexpected entertainment. Jenny, a sea lion, was visiting with her trainer, and she was taking pictures with the guests at the resort. Looking at Jenny, I would have assumed she was a seal, but we learned that sea lions are different from seals in that they have ears (tiny ones at that). For a "small" fee of $15 a picture, you could take home a fresh print almost immediately after. One-by-one, the kids cautiously approached Jenny and waited with apprehensive looks on their faces until Jenny leaned in and gave them a smooch on the cheek. I asked the attendant in charge of the waiting line if Joanna and I could go simultaneously.
"Do you have back problems?" Jenny's trainer asked me.
"No..." I responded, clearly puzzled.
"What about knee issues?"
"No. Why?" I could see the growing impatience from the kids waiting on me in line. One girl looked up at her mother and shrugged her shoulders.
"Put your hands on your knees please and bend over." The man instructed me.
"What kind of seal show is this?" I blindly obeyed the man, who then produced some kind of clicking sound that made the seal disappear behind me.
"Oof!" I grunted as the monstrous, 200-lb. slippery mammal mounted me and slapped her flippers over my chest. Joanna was laughing throughout this whole ordeal, and clearly so when the picture was taken. The trainer grabbed a fresh fish from his bucket and nearly hit me in the head when he hurled it right into Jenny's mouth.
"Look, Babe!" She was beaming when she saw the photo. "It's smiling with us!" I looked closer and, sure enough, she was cheesing right there with us. Now that's an obedient sea lion! My happiness dampened rather abruptly as I reached into my wallet to become $15 poorer.
Since our trip coincided with Joanna's birthday, I wanted to do something special for her, and for us, especially since it was her first birthday spent away from her family. When I was speaking with the consultant who helped me buy our getaway to Las Marietas Islands, she also showed me a video clip of an excursion called "Ritmos de la Noche (Rhythms of the Night)". The trailer sold me, and now we were getting ready for a Mexican Cirque du Soleil. I was seated out on the patio waiting for Joanna to get ready when my niece Sydney approached me with the most thought-evoking of questions.
"Unkie Junkie," She said to me, looking out over the railing at a couple walking their dog beside the ocean. "do dogs speak Spanish?" She scratched her chin inquisitively.
"Well, sweetheart," I pondered whether to use this opportunity for a well-timed joke that would make its way back to Valerie, but decided on the honest answer instead. "I am pretty sure that dogs trained by Spanish-speaking people respond to Spanish commands, wouldn't you say?"
"Yeah. Good point." She agreed after a few moments of reflection. Joanna came out of the bathroom looking extra stunning, and I knew tonight was going to be one to remember. When we arrived once again at Vallarta Adventures office, we were told there would be a brief wait for the boat. What they didn't tell us was that the wait was merely a ruse, and that there would be surprise entertainment provided by a mime. Seriously? This aroused a lengthy debate between me and Joanna about how the first mimes came to exist, and how those people should have been slapped by a smarter person for this abomination of an idea. Of course, just to spite me, the mime sneaks up behind me and Joanna and waves his obnoxious little prop in our face, startling us both.
"If he's on the boat with us, I'm throwing him overboard when no one is looking." I informed Joanna ahead of time. The boat set sail into a magnificent sunset over the pacific ocean. The servers immediately showered us with margaritas and a delicious pink concoction that reminded me of guava juice in a can that I enjoyed when I was about 5 years old. The boat was heading to Las Caletas, an island about an hour off the coast. The ride was a bit more low key than the last one, and Joanna and I spent much of it keeping each other warm from the cold breeze. Pulling into downtown Puerto Vallarta, there was an enormous cruise ship with the words "HOLLAND OOSTERDAM" emblazoned on a high deck. I made myself a mental note right then and there: take Joanna to Amsterdam. No, wait...cruise first, then Amsterdam.
Joanna and I had a private spot on the top of the boat deck where we could sip our drinks and critique the other passengers with a harmless game of "guess what they do". One couple stood out to us, and we affectionately referred to them as "Speidi", the name not-so-affectionately bestowed upon famous celebrity couple Heidi Montag and Spencer Moron, or whatever his last name is. The guy was a kid who looked fresh out of college, and was trying visibly hard to please and cater to his woman. She looked a little over 30 years old, and had on an outfit that screamed "I want to be pampered". Another couple consisted of an Italian guy who had his shirt open, revealing a shiny gold chain and a thicket of chest hair. He and his wife spent most of the boat ride exchanging complaints about the cold. Button up those last four buttons on your shirt, Fonzi!
The most annoying guy, however, was the proverbial single guy who takes advantage of the free drinks. The one who stops the drink guy on the way in, grabs two off his tray, and then has the first one finished in time to grab another from the server when he swings back around. Worst of all, he spoke such broken Spanish, but not in a friendly way that would indicate effort. For example, the boat crew passed around stickers for a game conveniently called "the sticker game", where the objective was to get to know the other passengers, and taking their stickers whenever one said "no" to you. He went up to one of the servers to let them know he'd lost his sticker.
"Um, senor, no tengo my...sticker-o. Lost it."
The server put down his tray and spoke in near-perfect English. "I am sorry, Sir. I will go find you another one."
"Ok, bueno, bueno. Gracias...cool." He smiled sheepishly. "OK, I'm drunk. Gotta hit el bano." I heard him mention that to himself, and I exchanged a look with Joanna that conveyed my disappointment in this guy. Joanna leaned over and told me her thoughts on him as well ("horrendioso"), which was her attempt at Spanishafying her favorite word: horrendous.
"Es frio, Babe." I held Joanna closely to warm her up. The stars were out and provided a peaceful canopy for the cold voyage to the island. The crew members cut the lights off briefly, and just when everyone was wondering what was going on, Michael Jackson's "Beat It" sounded out through the speakers. Several of the crew were dressed up like characters you would imagine in a 1980s MJ video.
"Amigos! It's showtiiiime!" I recognized Carlos' voice from our previous snorkeling excursion to Las Marietas. The dancing and singing show was enjoyable, and helped to distract us from the cold until we finally arrived at Las Caletas. Everyone deboarded in droves, and aimlessly followed the candles that laid out a path to the center of the island. I felt like a member of the People's Temple getting off at Jonestown in Guyana.
A musical trio clad in khaki and white welcomed us to the show, and it wasn't long before we spotted actors in the trees and hiding behind bushes, all donned in the ceremonial tribal garb. Shouts and echoing chants surrounded us as we made our trek to the island's amphitheater. A man in a huge native headdress was yelling at everyone to take a seat (in acceptable fashion, of course), as the act had apparently already started. The theme of the night was ancient Mexican dance rituals and celebrations of the Mayan and Aztec cultures. Large, lit torches were being lobbed across the stage from performer to performer, Aztec warriors were zip-lining from the trees onto the stage, and dancers acrobatically tumbled down the pyramid backdrop. I learned that the pyramid was designed to be a replica of the Templo Mayor, an ancient Aztec temple located in what is now Mexico City. To say the show was thrilling would be a significant understatement.
The show ended about 90 minutes later to a roaring audience, and the ushers promptly led us to a secluded beach front.
"Party of two, ustedes?" The escort waved a forward gesture and bowed in the direction of the table, making me and Joanna feel like James Bond and his femme du jour. Our table was located right on the sand with nothing but the sounds of waves creeping along about 10 yards from our feet. The other tables were about 20 yards from us, but they might as well have been on another continent. Joanna and I had our own ocean that night. Bellies full of delicious shrimp and wine, we laid in the hammock until we were literally told to get out and get back on the boat.
Any great night deserves a great conclusion to it, and the comedy that ensued on the boat ride back provided us with just that. In a nutshell, we saw a fat man's belly spill someone else's beer on their pants, a fat woman cradling a small Mexican man, a couple getting engaged which subsequently led to an impromptu dance party, another song and dance (this time Neil Diamond-themed), and not only did we accidentally befriend Speidi, we split a cab with them back to our resort. They were from Colorado! We couldn't help it! The guy was a recent graduate of Colorado University in Boulder, and the woman was 10 years his senior, and affectionately referred herself as "his cougar".
Morning came early, and we all sulked our way down to the cab, inching ourselves closer to reality. Gazing out of the window on the way to the airport, I thought about all that made Mexico so different, and so compelling. Every native we encountered was so unique, yet their collective mentality seemed to all obey the golden rule. Conversations were carried on with genuine interest from both parties, and even in the worst of the blazing heat conditions, everyone was always smiling. Mexico is a place where the tourist comes first, and is often treated like extended family. My wish is for tourists to take a little more time to practice some basic Spanish before coming to Mexico, because believe me, it goes a very long way. And then I go and catapult myself back to predictable tourist status and become another stereotype by throwing on an ostentatious sombrero. Ole!