Trip Start Dec 04, 2011
10Trip End Jan 12, 2012
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Where I stayed
It was just on dawn as I took the lift down to the ground floor to check out and I could see the big stone cross on the hill silhouetted against the pale yellow-orange sky through the glass walls. The cab picked me up from the hotel at 6.30 as arranged. The fare to the airport is a flat 250 pesos (docientos cincuenta) which I managed to confirm in my atrocious broken Spanish.
The plane was less than half full so I had two exit row seats to myself and spent the hour and fifteen minute flight reading. I'm becoming quite familiar with Benito Juarez, particularly the American Express Centurion Lounge where I find myself for the third time. I managed to get one of the little booths that run along one wall. These have an L-shaped lounge in dark aqua velour, a small round table and a string curtain hanging over the front instead of a fourth wall
A taxi from the airport to downtown PV costs about 260 pesos – once again a flat fee - and takes about 30 minutes. Arrived at the hotel about 2.30. I’d asked for a large room with a balcony but got a small room with no balcony and a nasty, musty smell. I asked to be moved to a room that resembled what I thought I’d paid for, and after an hour or two of negotiation I was moved to a room a floor up with a balcony looking over Rodriguez street – much better, and worth the $15 a night extra I had to pay to get it.
While I waited for the said negotiations to move towards a successful conclusion I got a map from reception and asked the guy at the desk to mark it with the locations of my tour pickups for tomorrow and the day after, as well as the best place to change money. I took care of the money first, cashing US$200 at a place around the corner called Electra. The rate is the best I’ve seen so far – 13.56:1. Still no luck finding a place that changes AUD.
The City & Tropical tour meeting point was literally two minutes walk from the hotel at a restaurant called Fuento de la Puento. It’s on the Rio Cuale that runs through the middle of the old town, next to one of the two bridges that cross it
"Adiós mi Chaparrita, No llores por tu Pancho, Que si se va del Rancho, Muy pronto volverá."
According to Babel Fish this translates as:
"Goodbye my short female, You do not cry by your Pancho, Who if he goes away, In a moment of the Farm will return."
Quite cryptic but beautiful really.
The hotel is good overall, but probably has the least as far as facilities of anywhere I’ve stayed; no fridge or phone in the room (which I thought was very odd), no spa, no bar, but the location makes up for all this. It’s right in the middle of the tourist district in the old city, minutes away from the Malecon, PV’s beautiful boardwalk (which luckily had been upgraded in November just in time for my arrival) a couple of short blocks from the flea market, and surrounded by bars and restaurants. First impressions are very favourable!
There’s a Tequileria right next door too and the guy working there lured me in with the promise of a free tasting. He only sells local brands (ie those made in the state of Jalisco). I tried a couple and they were quite smooth. You can see Vallarta Cathedral from the landing outside my door, so I made that my first tourist stop. The church, like the city, is not that old and only dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, but it’s quite striking with the central tower capped with a huge metal crown and flanked by two more spires.
I took a walk around the immediate area and found a street cart selling ceviche which was surrounded by locals having a late afternoon snack
I then took a walk along the Malecon which is lined with bars and restaurants and crowded with locals and tourists strolling in the cool evening air. I stopped into one of the bars and ordered a rum and coke and the guy asked me if I wanted to drink it there or take it away. Yes, PV has Go Cups!! I opted to take away and took a leisurely turn down the strip before turning inland and walking along the river. There’s a place called cafe Roma that has a bar on the first floor. I ordered a Margarita there and listened to the live entertainment – some old guy singing country and western and playing guitar.
I walked back towards the cathedral and stopped for dinner at a restaurant called La Revolucion – prawn fahitas which I ate at the bar then headed back to the hotel. Great start to my stay in PV.
I was at Fuente de la Puente 5 minutes early, but the bus was 20 minutes late. While I waited I took a photo of a statue of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton near the entrance – their film Night of the Iguana was filmed here in the early 60.’s which is credited with kick starting the tourist industry in Puerto Vallarta. The house Burton bought for Taylor is close by and now operates as a bed and breakfast
There are only about 15 other people on the tour – three Mexican families with kids and about eight Canadians. Our guide Carlos began the tour with a walk around the old city, starting at the Malecon and one of the city's symbols; the bronze statue of a boy riding on a Seahorse. From here we walked to the main square with its statue of a former governor of Jalisco Ignacio Vallarta, after whom the town is named. Like all the other zocalos I’ve visited this one has a bandstand which is normally used for musical performances each Sunday.
Across from the square is the cathedral, or more correctly Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, on Calle Hidalgo. I’d already been here but it was worth another look around. There was a trestle table set up outside the on the porch selling rosaries and other religious paraphernalia.
From here we walked around the corner to a jewellery store where the group had 25 minutes to shop for gold and silver. I had no interest in either but luckily they were serving free teqila and lemon in plastic cups so I sipped a couple of those on the steps outside the shop - along with most of the group who had opted to do instead of shopping. There were at least two other tours there, I think all managed by the same company, TB.
We joined the bus again where I was picked up this morning and drove south along the coast stopping at a cluster of stalls on the edge of a cliff with beautiful views across Banderas Bay (the 3rd largest in Mexico Carlos told us) and some rocky outcrops just off the coast
We passed Mismaloya where the 1964 Richard Burton film Night of the Iguana was shot. The movie has been overshadowed by the sizzling affair Burton conducted with Elizabeth Taylor during the shoot which brought paparazzi from all over the world, and changed Puerto Vallarta forever from a quiet town of a few thousand residents to a tourist destination that today draws well over three million visitors a year.
Burton bought Taylor a 9 bedroom villa – Casa Kimberley - at the top of Calle Zarazoga for $57,000 which was linked to his own house on the other side of the cobbled street by a pink and white bridge called "Lover’s Arch". The villa is now being converted into a boutique hotel
We left the coast and headed inland along winding roads and climbed 600 metres through thick lush jungle to reach the Quinta Dona Chelina tequila factory. This is a family run business that makes tequila in the traditional method and does not mass produce like its larger rivals (they only make about 8,000 a year). Our guide Geraldo (who was educated in the States and still spoke with an American accent) explained how the spirit is made and gave us a small taste of five of the different varieties they produce here; Reposado (aged for a minimum of 6 months), Anejo (aged in wine barrels for 18 months), and three types of flavoured tequila – chocolate and coffee, mandarin, and almond. They were all excellent, particularly the chocolate and almond varieties, so I bought a bottle of the latter for 300 pesos. The flavoured tequila has only about half the alcohol content of normal type and can be used not only for drinking but in cooking or just drizzled over ice cream as a desert.
We drove to a nearby village which had a cluster of restaurants on the banks of a small river, all open to the air and sheltered beneath thatched rooves. There were a group of guys selling horse rides and another group running a zipline over the water – similar to the one I saw in St Lucia but not nearly as big.
I wasn’t hungry so I went for a walk around the village (it’s noticeably cooler at this altitude than down on the coast) returning to the bus at 3pm as advised. Unfortunately some of the other tourists weren’t as punctual and we didn’t head back to PV until almost an hour later
The guy at reception recommended a place around the corner called Cuquita where I could get a massage 350 pesos for an hour which I did before walking to the River Cafe for dinner. This is a lovely restaurant on the Isla del Cuale which divides the Rio Cuale into two branches just before it reaches the ocean. The service is excellent, however the food was just average despite the gushing reviews on Trip Advisor. I had three appetisers starting with the baked brie wheel. This was similar to the entree served at my local pub at twice the cost but no discernable improvement in the taste or presentation. I then had Mussels Chipotle served in a garlic and cream sauce. This was OK as well, but again nothing I haven’t had better in other places. I finished with Lobster Ravioli which was nowhere near as good as the equivalent dish served at GW Finns in New Orleans. The bill came to 615 pesos – quite a lot by Mexican standards and not good value for money.
The guide for the food tour was waiting for me at Mole Rosa’s in Aquiles Serdan when I arrived at 11am. Her name is Lindsay, a bright bubbly American lady who has been living in PV for three years now. There was only one other person on the tour – another US expat called Marcella – which was bad for Lindsay but great for Marcella and I as the three of us walked through the streets of Centro and the old town chatting, eating and drinking
Our first tasting was at the place we met. Mole Rosa as the name suggests specialises in mole, more specifically Rosa mole which comes from Taxco and gets its pink colour via the inclusion of beets in the recipe. We also tried a verde and a rojo varieties, each one poured over a little chicken enchilada. All very good, but the verde was my favourite.
Our next stop was Robles Tacos, a street stall that specialises in Birria tacos. Birria tacos are made with beef that is slow cooked overnight for 8 hours and served on a fried tortilla. We ate ours at the counter with salsa verde. Once again, a really delicious dish.
El Guerro specialises in seafood and we tried their ceviche which was very tasty – similar to the one I had the other night, but hopefully without the same after effects. It was made from fish cured in lime juice instead of cooked and minced with onion and a little chilli with a slice of avocado in top, served on a crispy tortilla. We also tried Jamaica – a drink made from hibiscus flowers that was very sweet and refreshing.
Back on Aquiles Serdan is Cesar’s Coconut stand. Cesar served us fresh coconut water followed by the coconut meat chopped and sprinkled with chilli and spices. I was a little sceptical about this initially but the combination actually works really well.
We visited a local tortilla factory next, then walked over the wooden pedestrian suspension bridges that link Isla Cuale to the mainland. Our next stop was La Revolucion, a place I ate at a couple of nights ago. This is the oldest cantina in PV. Today they served us a trio of soups; cream of broccoli, Fleur de Calabasa (made from squash flowers) and Sopa Azteca, which is also called tortilla soup as it contains cut up strips of tortilla. All lovely, but my favourite was the Calabasa. We also had a little tequila and Lindsay showed us the proper way to drink it. Apparently Lick/Sip/Suck is an American invention and Mexicans prefer to sip their tequila. We were each given three shot glasses – one with lime juice, one with a good tequila and one with a tomato based drink called sangrita. First we sipped the lime, then the tequila, and finally washed that down with the sangrita. Much better than the salt and lemon shots I’ve had previously.
We walked back down to the Malecon and had a glass of Tuba - a soft drink based on palm juice
Our last stop of the day was Con Orgullo Azteca Candies, a family owned sweet shop in Avendia Juarez where we tried Leche (a sort of Mexican fudge) and cocitas (which tasted like coconut macaroons). Not only did we get to experience some of the food in Puerto Vallarta, but Lindsay also explained some of the history and culture of the town as we walked through the streets. Excellent little tour and right up there with the South Beach equivalent.
I managed to delete most of my photos last night – not a big deal as I’ve already posted them on Travelpod – but I spent the last hour retaking some of the shots of the hotel and the cathedral that I took yesterday. I also walked up the steps at the end of Zarazoga, called "Gringo Alley" due to the number of Americans who moved here during the 50’s & 60’s – Liz and Dick included. I found Casa Kimberley (the house Burton bought for Taylor) which is now just a concrete shell waiting transformation into a boutique hotel. The Lover’s Arch is looking a bit old and tired too and obscured by powerlines and Burton’s villa appears abandoned
Just around the corner is a restaurant called Puerto di Cielo. The dining room is beautiful, on a terrace overlooking Banderas Bay and the spires and crown of the cathedral. Bought some postcards (2 for a dollar) then came back to the room to write them up. Just mixed the first drink of the day – a Jose Cuervo with lime drink. I can’t believe this is the last night of the year and tomorrow will be 2012. Lindsay assured us that the Malecon will be packed tonight and there will be a big fireworks display - we saw the rocket tubes set up along the water line during our tour.
New Year’s Eve in Puerto Vallarte was great – a lot more civilised and family oriented than back home, at least from what I saw. I started at Cafe Roma and had another one of their huge Margaritas (a bargain at 30 pesos) which I sipped while reading my Kindle at the bar. It was still quite early (about 7pm) and there was hardly anyone there except the staff. The owner (an American guy) wished me Happy New Year as I was leaving.
From here I walked down to the Malecon which while busy was not yet overflowing with people. Another thing I like about PV is that although the days are hot and sticky, the evenings are pleasantly mild so it was very comfortable walking around.
I strolled down the esplanade which at this time was mainly full of family groups (as opposed to groups of young people hanging out together)
There were a few boats anchored just offshore, presumably private parties enjoying the view and waiting for the fireworks later in the evening, and the resorts and villas stretching along the northern curve of Banderas Bay were ablaze with a thousand coloured fairy lights of red and blue and gold.
I reached the end of the Malecon where police had set up a metal barricade and were searching bags before letting people in. On the street corner outside was an army truck with a mounted machine gun manned by a soldier in flak jacket and helmet with more of his brother-in-arms standing around with M-16s. I’ve noticed this level of security everywhere I’ve been in Mexico so far.
The Malecon was starting to fill up so I walked a block up to where the streets were almost deserted. By now I’d finished my Go Cup so stopped for another one at an empty little bar called Bebotera and started heading back the way I’d come. I cut back onto the southern end of the Malecon and followed the road that runs beside the bridge crossing the Rio Cuale where I found another bar and ordered another Go Cup
January 1, 2012
I wanted to try the place Lindsay recommended for breakfast yesterday - Freddy Tucan’s - which is across the river on Basilio Badillo. The place was packed with more people waiting on the street outside for a table, but I managed to get a stool at the bar. I ordered the Campesino (peasant or farm labourer) breakfast which consisted of 180 grams of arrachera (a type of beef flank or skirt steak that originated in Monterrey) with refried beans, scrambled egg, and chiliquiles (salsa and fried tortilla chips). The steak was delicious – quite tough but really flavoursome – and the dish came with sides of tomato and onion salad, fresh green chillies and a brown chilli sauce as well as a bowl of warm, soft tortillas. I tried a bit of everything rolled into tortillas and managed to get through four before I was full, but even then there was a lot of food left on my plate
By the time I’d finished eating it was about 10.30 and was starting to get hot again as I walked back to the hotel. The cleaning lady just came in to tidy my room so I went for a walk to the cathedral. The Sunday Mass was in progress and the place was literally full to overflowing with people standing outside all the doors and in the side courtyard listening to the service.
Went back to one of the stores in Aquiles Serdan and bought five DVDs for 100 pesos – nothing I particularly wanted to watch but there hasn’t been much on TV so any movie would be a nice change. Also found a place just across the bridge (the one nearest the ocean) that had an hour massage for 300 pesos so I had one of those as well. Very relaxing so I might go back tomorrow for another one.
As per my quasi New Year’s resolution not to wear a watch today I didn’t, but I think I left the hotel around 5pm as it was still a couple of hours away from sunset. Walked along Playa de los Muertos - The Beach of the Dead - so called because the first settlers here in the 1800’s discovered an ancient Indian burial ground when they were digging the foundations for their houses
I stopped at a place called Anuale which is a block back from the beach as they were having a 2 for 1 happy hour with Margaritas at 25 pesos. That’s right – two Margaritas for 25 pesos, or $1 each! Read on the veranda then walked along the beach until the bars ran out and found a place called walked back to a bar called Fedicio’s next to a little arched bridge which had a great view of the bay and the mountains to the south and looked to be the perfect place to take some photos of the sunset.
Sunset was still 30 minutes away so I ordered a Tequila Sunrise and sat at a table on the sand a read some more before taking the remnants of my drink onto the bridge and taking multiple shots of the sun setting, none of which looked particularly stunning.
I ordered a Go Cup of Cuba Libre (basically rum and coke with lime) and walked back to Anuale. Happy Hour had finished but I bought a mango Daiquiri for 40 pesos and drank it on the balcony and read some more. I wanted to have dinner at one of the places on the food map but they all had people lining up to get into them so even though they were obviously popular, I kept walking in the hope of finding somewhere quieter
Had a Margarita at Mexican Joe’s – this was also two for one so I had one there and one to go. By the time I got to the supermarket I still hadn’t found anywhere I felt like eating so I bought some ham, Roquefort cheese and biscuits from the deli section and came home.
I’m sitting on the balcony now on one of the little red chairs which seem like they were made for kindergarten children. I’ve opened the bottle of Licor del Almendra, the almond flavoured tequila I bought on the tequila tour, and have sipped my way through almost half the 500 ml bottle. It’s much cooler now that the sun has gone down, and I could quite happily sit out here all night sipping what tastes like a Mexican version of Amaretto.
January 2, 2012
Asked Mara and Jayling at reception to confirm my flight to Mexico City tomorrow then walked to the Post Office which is basically straight down Hidalgo and about 20 minutes by foot. Bought stamps and posted my cards then walked back on Morelos. I stopped at a little stall on the footpath selling food. There were a few locals standing around eating and two of them recommended the tacos so I asked for one of those
I took a few photos of the statues on the Malecon. There were a group of people standing next to the Millennium by Mathis Lidice staring out to sea at some long dark shadows in the water just off shore. I thought maybe these were whales as apparently this is the time of year they come to PV but none of them sounded so I guess I’ll never know.
I picked up a bag of laundry from the lavanderia around the corner, dropped it back in the room and went out for another walk. I crossed the bridge at the end of Juarez intending to buy some pastries at La Yarita which is right across the road from Freddy Tucan’s, but just a couple of doors up from Freddy was a massage place offering a special promotion – 75 minute massages for 350 pesos, so I had one of those first. The place was like the one I had a massage at yesterday – just a tiny anteroom that opens onto the footpath with a room at the back just big enough to hold a massage table, some shelving and an air conditioning unit. Great massage and I’m tempted to go back for another one this afternoon.
Bought a cream pastry, a coconut tart and a coconut cheese cake from the bakery. I ate the coconut tart I bought from La Yarita (a delicious combination of shaved coconut with a light custard in a soft sweet pastry shell- luckily I haven’t discovered Mexican cakes before now otherwise I would have put on a lot more weight than I already have) as I walked to Esquina de los Caprichos – a Spanish tapas restaurant up the hill on Mirimar near Liz Taylor’s house
Esquina de los Caprichos is a nice place – in the middle of a residential area so very quiet and simply but tastefully decorated. There was one other customer when I arrived – an older American guy – and he was just settling his bill. The waitress only spoke Spanish but gave me a menu in English which seemed to have most of the tapas staples such as patatas bravas, stuffed mushrooms and chorizo, but I picked a couple of dishes I hadn’t tried before; Morcilla (pronounced mor-see-ya) and Chistorra. Morcilla is the Spanish version of black pudding made with onions and rice and chistorra is a small thin sausage from Northern Spain that tastes like chorizo. The meal was served with sliced baguette and some sort of garlic mayo which was a really good combination with the black pudding. I also ordered a jug of sangria and sipped my way through most of it as I read my Kindle. An American woman came in for lunch as well, leaving before me, and a Mexican couple. Considering how good the food was I’m surprised it wasn’t busier, however I’d put that down to the location which is a little off the tourist track.
Picked up ice from the usual place on the corner of Libertad and Juarez and poured myself a couple of almond tequilas on the rocks
Walked through the square at dusk where a guy was playing a killer version of Stairway to Heaven from the bandstand, and one middle aged tourist was playing air guitar along with the solos. They’d set up a stage next to the nativity scene on the Malecon and a band called Los Arcano – a guy on keyboards and a girl playing violin – were entertaining the crowd. I got a table upstairs at Murphy’s Irish Pub next to the balcony and listened to them play covers of Unchained Melody and Imagine while sipping on a rum and coke. Beautiful night, like they’ve all been, with temperatures in the low to mid twenties. I watched a sailboat glide past between the palm trees in the fading light.
I had dinner at a French restaurant called La Cigale French Bistro just down the street from the cathedral which serves typical French bistro food - and they were playing Piaf
Walked back to the hotel and had a few drinks while watching The Mentalist on TV while updating my journal. Can't believe I've been here for five night's already and really don't want to leave yet.
PV is a great place – pretty, friendly, perfect weather, laid back locals, a huge selection of bars and restaurants to choose from, and just about everything is comparatively cheap. I can see why so many Americans choose to retire here. As I overheard one guy say to a couple of friends over drinks at a sidewalk cafe one evening: "Why would I live anywhere else?"