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Irene's Adventures

Mexico - Puerto Vallarta

MEXICO | Monday, 28 November 2016 | Views [260]

We were originally going to go to Costa Rica, but Hurricane Otto changed our plans.  WestJet allowed us to change our flights to a different destination. Considering we had 36 hours until our flight was scheduled to depart, we didn’t have a lot of choices regarding seat availability or hotel availability.  We picked Puerto Vallarta, with the first week in Bucerias.

 bathroom signs  Mexican flag

We arrived in Bucerias on Saturday and went directly to the Royal Decameron hotel.  It is a larger hotel with 6 sections or buildings.  We were in building 5, with our balcony overlooking the large adults only pool.  There was also a family pool on the opposite side of our building.  There were pools by the other buildings, also.  Each area had its own snack bar.  There were 5 a la carte restaurants that were super easy to book.  Even though we were told to book right at 8:00, with a queue forming from 7:30, if we waited until 8:30 there was still lots of availability.  I think we ate at the buffet the first night, then chose a different restaurant every night afterward.

  Royal Decameron   adults pool

There were lots of beach chairs and we never had to go out early to reserve a spot, but the chairs were not very comfy.  There were two large lobbies which were the only places to have wifi.  There were large couches and armchairs to relax in while checking emails.  There never seemed to be a problem finding a place to sit.  It was nice to see that most people didn’t linger over their cell phones while on holidays.

 beach area

There was a lovely evening bar, near the main lobby.  There were TV’s on, as in a typical bar, but they were not loud, so we could actually sit and have a conversation without the TV drowning our voices out.

There were also iguanas running around, with signs saying to leave them alone.

iguana by bushes

 Sunday was spent at an orientation meeting in the morning and then booking some excursions that they mentioned.  The afternoon was spent by the pool.

On Monday we went on a Sea Safari tour.  We had to catch a taxi to the Vallarta Adventure office.  It was an amazing facility.  It was all jungly looking as we entered.  The reception area was very professional with different agents helping specific tours.  There was a small gift shop also.  There was a jungly hall that took us to the toilets (which were rustic and jungly looking, but very modern) and to the small coffee shop / waiting area at the back.  

 Vallarta Adventures office

We were loaded into a boat and taken to across the bay to a small village that I am sure exists only on the tourists.  We were handed bandanas and helmets which were mandatory for our horse ride up to the waterfall.  Unfortunately, I did not get a horse - I got a mule.  And it did not fail to live up to its species reputation.  Initially, it took off at a trot but quickly slowed to barely a walk.  I had to keep giving him my heels to make him move.  There was a lot of steep up and down, and he did NOT like to go downhill.  He would stop and at times I felt I would have to get off and lead him down.  The trail was very very narrow.  At times I had to lift my feet up so as not to scrape them on the rocks on either side.

 Irene & Ed  trail to the waterfalls

However, we all got the waterfall fine.  We got off the horses at a very flat area with a small stream with a running through it.  We still did not see or hear any waterfall.  We went up a short narrow path and came to a small kiosk looking shack and were told that we could order beer, water, and even a small snack.  Immediately to the right of the shack was a small bridge.  At first, I could not understand what people were doing stopping on it.  It became crystal clear when I stepped away from the shack.  The bridge was over a narrow gorge.  Not very deep, but deep enough - maybe 6 meters. Across the bridge was a patio built on top of an outcrop of the cliff behind it.  To the right of the bridge, water was ambling along to become the small stream we left the horses near.  To the right was the falls.  

 Irene & Ed at the waterfalls  the waterfalls & patio

The falls were not super high or all that impressive, but the alcove it had carved for itself was fantastic.  From the patio, one could sit and look across to the falls, which were about 15 meters away, or down to the pool created by the falls.  On the far edge of the patio was a crude set of stone steps leading down to the pool.  Although most of the people bought a beer and sat on the patio, Ed and Irene ventured down to the pool.  

 Ed in the pool  Irene right in the falls

The day was hot, even though it was still morning.  The water in the pool was shockingly cold by comparison.  We splashed and played in the water, venturing as close to the falls as possible.  The force of the water kept pushing us back, but with some tenacity, we made it to the edge of the falls and enjoyed the water pounding on our backs.  There was a professional photographer hired by the tour company. She took pictures of us in the village, on the trail, and now in the pool.  She got some amazing shots!

 Ed & Irene

We came out of the pool with barely enough time to drink a beer before we were herded back to the horses and our journey back to the village.  I honestly thought the mule would pick up the pace, knowing it was going home.  No such luck.  If anything, I had to beat it harder to move.  I thought it was just my mule, but Ed had a horse and he said that it was no better.

 Irene & Ed

Back at the village we got back into the boat and were taken to a small bay to go snorkeling.  The water was fairly clear and the guides threw bread into the water to lure the fish close.  There were lots of damselfish and one small jack.  That was about it.  I was slightly disappointed.  Once the bread was eaten up the fish ventured off, but the clumsy legs and fins of inexperienced snorkelers lingered.

 snorkeling

Back into the boat.  We made a brief stop at Los Arcos.  These small beautiful granite islands protruding from the sea surface, visible even from downtown PV, which are protected as a National Marine Park since 1984.  We were told that the San Andreas fault ends here.  

It is said that the waters around the islands are also the deepest in the bay, with a depth ranging from 9 to 480 meters (30 and 1,600 feet).  No one really knows what is down there.  A group of 5 professional divers/scientists decided to check it out.  Not one returned to the surface.

It is a popular spot to snorkel and dive - but dive on the northeast side, not the southwest side.  The archipelago consists of four land masses: two islets and two islands. The first and largest is 130 feet high (43 meters) and 1500 feet (700 meters) wide. The second is 160 feet high (54 meters) and a mile wide, approximately.  It is a protected area for various seabird species that breed there, some of these include penguins, various species of parrots, pelicans, blue-footed boobies and magnificent frigate birds  (these last two are only other seen on the Galapagos islands).  In total, about 400 different bird species call these rocks home.  Yes, there is a LOT of bird poop, which probably accounts for the abundance of fish species lingering about.  Humpback whales, dolphins, sea turtles and manta rays are frequently seen.  We saw a pod of dolphins on this day then again on another day.

 Los Arcos  Los Arcos - bird poop

We were still on our way to our final destination, which I believe was Yelapa.  It was a secluded beach that we had all to ourselves.  A nice lunch was waiting for us.  There was a wounded butterfly under our table.  It was the most beautiful butterfly any of us had seen and we all took loads of pictures of it.  Afterward, we could lounge about until it was time to return to Puerto Vallarta and our taxi back to Bucerias.

secluded beach   beautiful butterfly  lounging at the secluded beach

On Tuesday we hung around the pool and beach.  Laaazzzzyyyy…..

 lounging by the pool

On Wednesday I went scuba diving to a spot way out past the bay, into the open ocean.  It was near Islas Marietas.  We went down near some large rocks that were jutting out of the water.  The sea was not exactly calm and the waves kept threatening to dash us onto the rocks.  We were all a bit concerned because we were not in a large boat.  But down we went.  Quite frankly I felt safer in the water than in the boat.  But not for long.  It was a deep dive and the visibility was poor, poor, poor.  We hardly saw anything and had to be on constant lookout so as not to lose sight of the dive master. We all had to be advanced divers for this particular dive, which meant we all had ample experience.  We all agreed it was not a good dive.  I mentioned to the other divers that I was considering going to Los Arcos - the Marine Park.  I didn’t even finish my sentence and some of the other divers all started shaking their heads.  “Don’t bother.  It is hyped up but little to actually see.”  OK then, that settled that idea.  This was to be my only two dives on this trip.  We did see a humpback whale on our way to the dive site, which kind of made up for the bad dive.

On Thursday we took a walk to the market.  We got a bit lost but eventually found it.  It was your typical market filled with trinkets and souvenirs.  I wanted to buy the girls small stone jewelry boxes that I saw.  I offered 50 pesos for her asked 70. The young girl was on strict instruction from her mother not to negotiate in her absence.  So we moved on.  I eventually found the same boxes, marked for 50 pesos.  I didn’t even bother to negotiate.  We had lunch in a quaint bar just across the square from the market.  A man played a piano while a young lady played guitar.  They both sang.   It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

On Friday I went on the Hidden Mexico tour.  I got to the Vallarta Adventure office early.  One of the guides told me to amuse myself at the dolphin pool they had on site.  (They had swimming with dolphins packages). There was a large pool outside and an underground viewing area.  I went into the viewing area and another guide told me they just released the dolphins into the big pool to feed them.  I went up to a viewing area outside.  The dolphins were swimming around and around when a couple of them noticed me on the deck.  They must have realized I was not one of their trainers, because they stopped, poked their heads out of the water and just stared at me for a moment.  Wow!  I quickly got my camera ready lest they do it again, but they didn’t. There was a baby dolphin swimming around with its mother.  Then I noticed that the mother and baby were shooed back into the smaller tank with the underground viewing.  I went back down to see them from that angle.  The mother and baby were swimming around and around and I was trying to catch a photo of them as they swam past the window.  All of a sudden the baby noticed me.  While the mother kept swimming the baby stopped and bobbing this way and that, trying to get a better look at me.  What an experience!  Who was looking at who?  It really hits home that these are very intelligent animals and we have no right to pen them up this way.  

 baby dolphin  baby dolphin

On a side note:  I once met a fellow who was a dolphin trainer in Jamaica.  Now I have no verification of this, but he told me that the dolphins where he worked were rescued dolphins.  They were not penned up.  There was a sea wall they could swim over anytime they wanted.  But after being cared for while recuperating, even though they were trained to do tricks, they did not leave.  Easy lunches, I guess.  He also told me stories of how cheeky and clever they were.  They would throw themselves onto the trainer's platform, smack the cooler of fish into the water with their tail, then return the cooler to the platform after they ate all the fish.  

Back to the tour.  The big selling feature for me with the Hidden Mexico tour was the botanical gardens.  We were all loaded into the back of a big truck with a canopy - the kind you see people on African safaris in.  While on the journey, our guide Uziel was asking everyone their name and where they were from.  One fellow from Amsterdam said his name was Roel.  The guide asked “Ron?’  “no, Roel”  “Rule?”  “no, Roel”  after a few more attempts to pronounce his name the guide asked, “Do you have a middle name I could call you?”  Too funny!!

We arrived at the botanical gardens.  Apparently, the soil in this particular area is good to grow anything.  It was built for the propagation, study, discovery, conservation, and display of Mexican native plants. (Wikipedia)  A fellow and his mother were concerned about the number of orchids that poachers were taking from the jungle and he wanted to protect them.  They began their work in 2004 and opened to the public in 2005.  We walked past all sorts of flowers, mostly orchids, to a building (fancy gift shop) where we were given hibiscus tea.  We drank it on the back balcony with an incredible view of the valley below.  It was gorgeous.  I bought some hibiscus and coffee to bring home.

 Irene Cabay at botanical gardens

We started our tour of the gardens with the cactus plants. I thought this was rather strange.  But the guide pointed out that the cactus is such an important plant in Mexico that it is actually on the money.  We had to dig out some coins to verify this.  It is.  We saw a peyote cactus.  Certain indigenous tribes are still allowed to use peyote in their religious ceremonies.   He also pointed out some trees.

 the cactus on Mexican money  

He told us a story of an Aztec goddess, Coatlicue, who had 400 sons and one daughter, Coyolxauhqui.  Then she had another son, Huitzilopochtli, who was born a warrior - he sprang from the womb in full armor. ouch!  The daughter was jealous and rallied her 400 brothers to kill the youngster and mother.  The young warrior killed all the brothers by cutting off their heads and flinging them into the sky.  He did the same with his sister.  The brothers are what we now see as stars and the sister is the moon so that the mother would be comforted in seeing her daughter in the sky every night.  The mother remains as the sun.

This story is relevant because when the Spaniards came, bearing the image of Guadalupe, the Aztecs thought it was Coatlicue.  She has a sun-like radiance behind her, her cloak is covered in stars, and she stands on the crescent moon.  So these warrior people, who didn’t have a problem with human sacrifice, cutting out the heart and dismembering the body, who should have been able to whip the Spaniards without a problem, were hoodwinked.  These Spaniards must be friends - look they worship Coatlicue too.

 Lady of Guadalupe

After the cactus tour and Aztec story we were loaded back into the truck and on our way without seeing one orchid up close at the botanical garden.  Sigh…..  I found out later that a proper tour takes about 3 hours.

 the closest I came to orchids

We were headed to the small village of Tinto.  We first made a stop at some ancient petroglyphs made by the indigenous people 2,500 years ago.  They were well worn and mysterious, sitting in the middle of a pasture in the middle of nowhere.  

petroglyphys

Further along, we stopped at a roadside bakery. There was no village even remotely close.  It reminded me of the juice wagons that would appear in obscure places along the Camino.   It was an old fashioned clay oven, similar to a pizza oven but reminded me more of the type of oven my Grandma used to bake with.  We were given a small sample of sweet and savory stuffed breads.  It was basically a flat bread with a hint of stuffing, then folded over to resemble a burrito, then baked.  We all bought something, as they were super cheap (6 pesos) and we were feeling a bit hungry.

 roadside bakery  bread ready for oven

We stopped at the cemetery outside of Tinto.  That seems like an unusual spot for a tour but it was actually quite interesting.  Although they bury their dead in the soil, they build an elaborate tombstone on top, that looks like a mausoleum.  It is generally three tiers high, with the top layer housing things like flowers and pictures inside.  What looked like a small chapel in the center of the cemetery was actually just another tombstone. There were huge arrangements of gaudy flowers all over the place. Everything was crowded together, even though it was probably just as evenly spaced as any north American cemetery, the size of the headstones gave it an almost claustrophobic feel.   It didn’t help that it was starting to rain.

 cemetery  looks like chapel but is a headstone

Tinto is a small village that has not been influenced too much with tourism.  We stopped at the town hall for a quick bathroom break then a short talk in the square outside.  The most interesting thing was the roof of the town hall was the original tile roof built back in the 1700’s.  It looked like a normal Mexican tile roof.  Our guide said that back in former times the tiles were made by molding the clay over a grown man’s thigh to give it the proper curvature.  We went into the church - which was NOT on the edge of the square, thereby making the town square technically not a square.  The church looked fairly modern and it was.  It had collapsed 3 times due to earthquakes.  Yet the original town hall remains.  Wrath of God on the Church?  hmmm...

 Tinto town square  Tinto church

It was a short visit to the town and we didn’t have a chance to walk around, which is probably why they have maintained their humble status, being tourist free.  We did make a stop at a rosewood craftsman shop.   Rosewood is a scarce wood and only deadfall can be used in the shop.  This man hires people to scour the forests looking for a fallen tree.  The shop was passed down from his father.  No new shops are allowed to operate.  The man handed us a small stump, about a foot across.  It was surprisingly heavy, I would guess to be 3-4 times the weight of a normal stump. I have always liked the look and feel of rosewood, from my engraving days.  I bought a small vase.  The man assured me it is waterproof due to its density and hardness.

From Tinto we went to another small village, El Tuito where we were treated to a most unusual lunch.  The meal itself was regular fare, it was the location that was unusual.  We ate on picnic tables in the middle of a stream.  I can see how this would have been absolutely wonderful on a typical hot day in Mexico, after a long day of touring in the back of a truck. The trees created a canopy overhead and the water was delightfully cool on our tired feet.  But it was thundering and lightening and threatening to rain.  Is it smart to be in a body of water in a lightening storm?  Probably not!

 lunch in a stream  lunch in a stream

After lunch, we went back up the bank, where towels awaited, and we all put our shoes back on.  The tequila tasting was about to begin. I declined.  He showed how one should take a sip on an in-breath then swallow on the out-breath (or was it the other way around?)  The guide then made a tequila cocktail with jalapeño tequila, pineapple crushed, orange liqueur, sugar water.  He was persuasive in getting me to take a sip.  It was actually very good, but not something I would justify buying a bottle of tequila for.

Back into the truck for our journey home, which should be the end of the story.  But it isn’t.  Since some of us came from Bucerias and others were picked up in Puerto Vallarta, it was decided that those of us from Bucerias would take a speedboat back to the Vallarta Adventure office so we didn’t have to spend extra time going through Puerto Vallarta at rush hour.  It would be faster - we were told.  They dropped us off at Boca de Tomatlan and left us there to wait for the boat, which we were assured would be there within minutes.  The truck with the PV people left.  So we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  An hour later the boat arrived.  (I honestly think when they got back to the office before dispatching the boat).  

 waiting for our boat ride

The waiting was rather boring and disconcerting (it was sprinkling a bit) but then we noticed a group of men loading what appeared to be a refrigerator and washing machine from the dock onto a long boat.  What a gong show!  The long boat was heaving this way and that.  A guy was holding a rope that kept the bow close to the dock, but the stern was constantly drifting away and back. The men had no special equipment or straps to secure the large appliances. They were manhandling it.  One guy was in the boat and a couple more were on the dock basically shoving the thing over the edge of the dock and into the rocking boat. We were all gasping as the boat suddenly moved away from the dock with the splash of a wave.  We were certain the fridge was going into the drink.  The boat was still heaving along and the guy in the boat was trying to singlehandedly keep it from crashing through the boat or over the edge.  He had no shoes on, at all, and this huge appliance was balancing precariously close to his bare toes.  There was a lot of shouting with what sounded like “Watch out!  Careful!”  Those of us tourists,  from countries that have safety laws, could not believe our eyes.  

loading a refrigerator on a boat

Our boat arrived shortly after and off we went.  Because we were kept waiting so long, they decided to give us a treat and stop at Los Arcos again.  This is when we saw more dolphins.  Although I had already made a stop at Los Arcos on a prior tour, it was interesting to come in the evening, when the birds were beginning to roost.  I ended up getting back to Bucerias very late and missing our a la carte.

 roosting birds at Los Arcos

The next day, Saturday, we packed up and headed into Puerto Vallarta for the second half of our stay. We checked into the Buenaventura Hotel which is located just 1.2 km off the Malecon.  It was a smaller hotel with not very many people.  They put up the Christmas tree the day we arrived.  It was different to see a Christmas tree with palm trees and ocean in the background.

Buenaventura Hotel

The main dining area very nice and they had better food.  The prep kitchen was enclosed in glass just off from the dining area.  There were also tours, every day, to view the kitchen.

Buenaventura Hotel kitchen

 A la carte no problem.  They had only the one restaurant but it was very nice and the service was some of the best I have ever experienced anywhere.  They were doing renovations on ocean view restaurant the entire time we were there.  The bar finally opened on our last day.

 glass mosaic at ocean view bar

We went to the Malecon in the afternoon and had a great time looking at the funky statues and poking around some shops. We ran into Roel and his friend John.  We exchanged information so we can keep in touch.   We found a shop with nice linen clothes.  I bought a very casual pair of capris, exactly what I had been looking for.   Nice enough to pass on all-inclusive holidays, casual enough for backpacking holidays.  Ed found a nice outfit but they didn’t have his size.  They said they would find his size if we came back the next day, Sunday.  

Malecon made entirely of tiny beads  funky statues on the Malecon  funky statues on the Malecon  funky bench on Malecon

As it turned out, the hurricane we avoided in Costa Rica found its way up the western coast as a tropical storm.  It poured rain all day on Sunday, with harsh winds.  No one went anywhere.  We stayed in our room reading and I did some cross stitching that I thankfully brought along.   Normally we had an excellent view of the ocean and the setting sun every evening.  

sunset

We went back to the shop on Monday.  Ed ended up buying 2 pairs of trousers and 3 shirts.  I bought a top.  Then we went to the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It was very bright and cheery inside.  As we were leaving the church bells began to ring, and ring.  It was fantastic!

 Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe  Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

I did partake in a fruit carving class where we made a swan out of an apple.  I also took a cooking class.  Hardly Mexican fare - it was coleslaw.  I also participated in a couple of water aerobics. The remainder of time our time was spent on beach reading books – I read 7 on this holiday.  

 swan apple

The beach was not busy and we did not have to reserve any chairs - which were much more comfortable than the ones in Bucerias.  There was a towel booth in the middle of the beach area, and we always chose the side closer to the construction and renovations.  Although it was noisier with the banging and sawing, it was actually more peaceful as it was on the opposite side from the pool bar and all the drunks.  

32 degrees and she is wearing a sweater!

The biggest problem was the number of touts on the beach.  They were constantly shoving stuff in your face, regardless of seeing us trying to read.  Finally, on Friday, I complained, and I was not the only one to do so.  The hotel was busier with locals coming for the weekend and the touts knew it.  When I went to the lobby and complained the concierge said I was the 4th that morning to complain.  She called the security guard and he said every time he turned his back they would sneak past the ropes and harass the guests.  (I never saw him out there)  However, with a formal complaint in place and the concierge putting him on notice, he was more diligent.  But he could not be on both sides of the towel shack at once.  The touts kept sneaking in.  I was so frustrated that I told the next tout he was not to be on this side of the rope.  He challenged me by saying it was a public beach.  I asked for his name so that I could take it up with security.  He scurried off and never returned.  In fact, we hardly got bothered by any tout again, although others did.

 touts on the beach

I came home with a tan!  I have not had a tan in years.  I came home rested and actually enjoyed doing nothing for two weeks.  That said,  I did take some excursions.  I believe that is the key to my not going crazy sitting in once spot.

getting a tan

Final notes:

Although Bucerias was not as highly rated, I preferred it.  PV was pretentious tried to appear top rate but failed.  The maid service was ridiculously late (4:30-5:00 pm), the waiters in the main dining area hovered too close and were constantly asking if we needed anything else (main reason we ate in the a la carte for dinner), the hall floors were dirty, there too many touts on beach, and no security to keep them away from the guests.  One redeeming factor was the dining hall. It had a nicer layout and better food.

 

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