Monday, October 17, 2005
I had never been to Mexico and had always wanted to see it. After all, our daughters had visited Cancun three times and Bob had crossed the border several times while stationed in San Antonio during his Air Force tenure. So when our new credit card company offered us a "free" trip, we said, “Why not?” It had been a horrific year: Hurricane Charley had destroyed our business and building in Pt. Charlotte. FL, we had suffered through the ignominy of negotiations with the county and the insurance company, the building was finally sold and we needed to celebrate our 27th anniversary! We could have chosen Cabo San Lucas or Ixtapa, but neither had the appeal, at least for me, of Puerto Vallarta. All I could think of was Night of the Iguana. Off we drove to Miami, parked the Vette in an off-site lot, flew to Cancun,
and, finally, Puerto Vallarta.
When we deplaned at our final destination, we were accosted by a nice but pushy time-share salesman, the first of hundreds! When we had visited Belize City in 1996, every man there aspired to be a cab driver; here it seemed they were all hawking time-shares. After a short cab ride, we arrived at the Westin, a genuine palace, part of the credit card package.
We had never experienced such luxury and knew we would not likely ever experience it again. Our idea of travel is to touch the country as much as possible—the castles, cathedrals, ruins, landscape, people, the real people who live and work there, not the make-believe atmosphere of an all-inclusive resort. But, we were where we were and, after a long nap, we investigated our new digs: extensive pools, private oceanfront, inviting balcony outside our door. That night we ate a scrumptious seafood meal in the hotel.
Tuesday, October 18
Today it was time to see the sights.
The cabs are not equipped with AC and neither are the buses; the streets are a wreck with rough cobblestone and the most disorganized traffic we had ever seen. Everyone drives wherever, whenever they like, obeying no rules of the road.
The bus is as quick as and cheaper than a taxi, so that became our mode of transportation
We meandered around the downtown area until we stumbled into the Hotel Escuela. This little gem has a restaurant, so we ordered breakfast. Escuela means school, and fledgling waiters, cooks, maids, clerks all get their training on the job! We met one of the teachers and consumed a very delicious, reasonable meal.
La Eglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe,
the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe is topped by an ornate crown that replicates the one worn by Carlota, the empress of Mexico in the late 1800s. It is a pretty, charming church with tall white-washed arches adorned by intricate moldings. We spent the remainder of the day browsing shops, mostly the outdoor market at Isla Rio Cuale, an island that slices downtown in two. Bob purchased a beautifully carved swordfish and I prayed we would get it home in one piece!
Wednesday, October 19
Bob had booked a scuba diving trip today, so I spent the day at the hotel pools.
I had brought along the Ridley Scott book about the making of Kingdom of Heaven and spent a leisurely day reading most of it. How ironic, I thought, that this movie, set in 1184 during the Crusades, depicts so much bloodshed between Christians and Muslims and now, 1000 years later, we are still embroiled in the same senseless slaughter. That night we consumed a scrumptious meal of lobster and shrimp at Café de Olla, a downtown destination with a large tree extending from the dining room floor up through the roof, local artwork adorning the walls and salsa music throughout.
Thursday, October 20
We spent the morning downtown today, starting with breakfast at Hotel Escuela.
On the return trip, we took the WRONG bus. It took us past the Corona Bottling plant, an ultra-modern, attractive building with manicured grounds. Suddenly we were in a squalid, poverty-stricken neighborhood. I was almost brought to tears thinking that human beings had to live in such hovels and certainly feeling guilty about where we were staying! The bus stopped, facing another bus, and we remained while the last passengers disembarked. Thankfully, the driver motioned for us to get on the OTHER bus
After one more transfer, we were back at our hotel. That night we took the Puerto Vallarta Pirate Cruise.
So, one more bus to the pier where our boat was docked next to mammoth cruise ships. This dock is opposite Sam's Club and Wal-Mart, so that is the first view people see as they leave the ship. We loved the whole event: loads of entertainment, yummy dinner, fireworks, even a bit of ancient Indian history.
Friday, October 21
Bob had promised me a look at Casa Kimberley before we left, so we took the bus downtown
and worked like mountain goats climbing the steep hills to find it!
This is the famous 24,000-square-foot home that Richard Burton purchased for Elizabeth Taylor after the filming of Night of the Iguana
Although Liz was not in the cast, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr were, so she felt compelled to be close to Dick throughout the filming. He, in turn, bought himself a house directly across the street, and then had a bridge constructed over the street to join the two houses
The bridge is patterned after one in Venice, Italy and painted pink. That way they could use the bridge and not be detected by the paparazzi who were always lying in wait. There is a gate at each side of the bridge, so if Liz was angry at Dick or vice versa, the gate could be locked at either end.
Burton’s house sported the first swimming pool installed in PV
The guide delighted us with tidbits about their time there; Liz left virtually everything when she sold the property in 1990.
I could have spent all day flipping through the photo albums and magazines with all the articles on the famous pair. The picture that is embedded in my memory is the one taken by Roddy McDowell of the two of them facing each other on Liz’s balcony with the mountains in the background.
After that sentimental journey, we bolted back to reality and caught a bus to Misamaloya and El Eden, where Predator was filmed. In case you don’t know, we are movie buffs, having spent all of our married lives together in the video business. Off the bus, we toured a tequila distillery, then continued our trek on foot.
We encountered four small boys playing on the dusty road and took their picture.
Unbeknownst to me, I lost my small black coin purse at that point. It contained my driver’s license and my Westin key. We walked a long way, stopped to look at the river meandering through rocks and woods as we hiked up the hill. Finally we gave in and hailed a cab. Upon our arrival at El Eden, we marveled at the huge stones, the rushing rapids, the touristas frolicking in the water and we couldn’t wait to join them!
Bob had brought a swimsuit, but I had nothing to change into, so he bought an outfit while I was in the bathroom, where I discovered that I had lost my purse! Alas, I thought it contained a credit card, too and I could not be consoled enough to do anything but leave! Upon arrival back at the hotel, I looked in our safe and there was my credit card. We ate at the Wal-Mart buffet, cheap and tasty.
Saturday, October 22
Today we boarded the bus for Punta de Mita. We decided to take a northern route as yesterday’s ride was to the south. There was much construction along the way and the bus was very full. Upon arrival at this seaside town, we saw condos on one side of a high hill and shops and restaurants on the other adjoining the sea. Punta de Mita is home to the posh Four Seasons and Casa Las Brisas
We picked a place to eat, had a reasonably priced nice meal (except for the ants in our lemonade!), were serenaded by a minstrel, bought some trinkets (we must have been approached by 10 vendors), and took the bus home, which turned out to be quite an exciting ride.
First we traveled around to the back of the hill with the condos and, lo and behold, here was a whole town with at least a hundred people, mostly men, just milling around. The town was very typical with poorly-constructed buildings; later we noticed the numbers of men seemed to be lined up at specific locations.
We guessed it might be payday. As we drove nearer to PV, the bus got fuller and fuller. An American woman and two young girls sat in front of us on the opposite side from the driver. All of a sudden, we heard a crash, felt flying glass, and saw blood gushing from one of the young girl’s legs. We soon realized our bus had traded mirrors with a passing dump truck. The driver was cut quite badly, but he kept driving and even appeared unfazed by the whole ordeal when an auditor came on the bus during one of our stops. I offered all the Kleenex I had to the cut girl. When we returned to our hotel, we began to get anxious about Hurricane Wilma.
Sunday, October 23
After all the excitement yesterday, we decided to stay at the hotel
We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant and lay around the pool for a bit. Bob had been offered the use of a small sailboat by the scuba guide and we took his offer
Never mind that neither of us had ever sailed before! But, Bob, ever the adventurer, listened carefully to Ernesto, the beach instructor, who literally got in the boat with us, showed us the ropes (no pun intended), and then jumped out of the boat and left us afloat.
It was great and turned out to be the highlight of the trip—a sailboat at sunset off a quiet Mexican beach.
Monday, October 24
Today we discovered that our store back in N. Ft. Myers, FL, was closed due to Wilma’s impending arrival. Unfortunately, the Miami airport, where we were scheduled to fly into TODAY, was also closed. We tried not to think about our car in an uncovered parking lot. To distract ourselves from all this possible disaster, we decided, why not take another bus? This time we went south again, passing Misamaloya and on to Chico’s Paradise.
The moniker is apt, for this is an attractive locale with a restaurant set amongst huge boulders and waterfalls.
There are walking paths with bridges that snake through the rocks and young boys diving precipitously off the cliffs into the rushing water. We sat down for a great Mexican lunch and were soon treating the divers to coins and crumpled bills. Finally, one of the older boys convinced Bob to join them and he did! That was the best time of the day and I captured as much as I could with the camera.
Tuesday, October 25
Today we were assured by airport personnel that we could fly to Miami. Never, ever trust a Mexican airline! We left PV only to arrive in Mexico City (22 million and counting—no wonder they are desperate to enter the US!), learned that Mexicana Airlines wasn’t flying to MIA, wasn’t flying us anywhere and no airline would trade our tickets. This airport handles 24 million passengers each year, so you can imagine the cavernous size of it. And we never travel light, so we dragged too much luggage along, desperately looking for a place to land. The only chairs available are in the food court, hard plastic, uncomfortable to say the least. At one point, Bob stretched out on the floor, only to be poked by a Mexican policeman’s stick. There were armed, uniformed men everywhere, many different uniforms. We ate a Subway sandwich (and were sorry later), tried to rest and periodically checked the lengthy lines at various airline check-ins. We also purchased a phone card in an attempt to check on the MIA status with our daughter, Jeanine. But, the card did not work, and when I went back to retrieve my $10, the reply of “No,” only added to the frustration of the whole nasty ordeal.
Wednesday, October 26
After a sleepless, miserable night, we stood in line at the Continental Airlines counter at 4 AM, having exhausted our options everywhere else. We paid $900 for the two of us to fly into Ft. Myers. The kind clerk noticed Bob’s sailfish carving in his carry-on and suggested that he pack it into checked luggage—“Otherwise security will take it from you.” We listened to his advice. However, security DID remove a battery that we carried for our DVD player (Bob said they probably thought it would work for a motorcycle—it wouldn’t) and an unopened bottle of tequila. More injury heaped upon insult! By 10 PM, we had landed in Ft. Myers where we rented a car (another $125), drove 70 miles home to Englewood, fell into bed at midnight, exhausted but thankful that we were still in one piece.
Thursday, October 27
Would this trip ever end? We summoned up the strength to get out of bed, get into the rental car and begin the 150-mile trek to Miami. By the time we arrived, we found a major city in the dark, no electricity anywhere. That meant no stop lights, no streetlights, no gas (Bob had the foresight to bring two full 5-gallon cans, we hadn’t forgotten Charley), no restaurants and construction all around the airport. We found the parking lot where we had left our car, only to discover that the interior light had been left on and the battery was dead. Of course, a jump was available for $10, we filled the tank with gas, left the cans in the bushes, and set out to find the rental car lot to return the car. Well, easier said than done. We could see the place but, due to the construction, couldn’t GET TO IT! After a scary drive around the area, complete with one stop where an SUV blocked me in and Bob told me to reach for the GUN he had stashed in the Vette, we were on our way home. Thank you, God.
P.S. About a month after we had returned home, I received an envelope postmarked Ohio with the following note enclosed:
Hello! Ms. Hampton!
While vacationing around Mismaloya Hotel Jungle, I found this driving license on the dirt road. I have waited to return to the U.S. before mailing it to you.
Have a Happy Holidays.