Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Al Final: Adios, Amigos.

Our trip down here seemed to conveniently section itself for blog posts.  We had about a 10 days to get to know the town.  Then San Pancho days started and we had guests come to visit.  Now the Fiesta is over and we have had about 2 weeks to enjoy our quiet little town.   We can’t believe that we’ll be back to the States so soon.  My internal calendar is all messed up.  Here we are, in July-like heat, enjoying the beach and using up a big bottle of sunscreen, yet, tomorrow, we’ll land in Seattle, nearing the end of October.  Cold weather and crunchy leaves?  Pumpkins?  Early evenings and dark mornings? I know, I know. Woe is me.  I don’t expect any pity from my Wyoming amigos.  How’s the snow out there, guys?   

A few days after the Fiesta we decided to take a day trip into Puerto Vallarta.  We had been told not to miss the Malecón; an ocean side walk through the old town.  Some of it was under construction, which we were sad to see initially, but when we happened to see men carefully selecting each black pebble to make a mosaic in the new walkway, decided it wasn’t so bad.  It was nice to walk around town, and see the art pieces throughout the city.   We really liked this one, and only a few days earlier we had seen dancers just like this perform in San Pancho.

Catholicism is big part to the culture here; in fact, on the last day of the fiesta the Church served a free lunch to everyone.  Sunday mornings are always sleepy and slow, and families dine together out on the sidewalks in front of their homes in the evenings.  In Puerto Vallarta there are two beautiful cathedrals within a few blocks of each other.  Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside, out of respect for the dress code- my tank top and Cody’s shorts wouldn’t fly.  

La Corona

We had a fun time in Puerto Vallarta, but ran out of patience for the salesmen, who prey on anyone blonde, and decided to take the bus to Marina Vallarta.  The bus system is very easy to use and very affordable.  Busses run often and their destinations are written on the windshields. 

We like to walk the docks in places we go, and the dock in Marina Vallarta was a far cry from the Winslow Warf Marina.   Rather than sailboats and small runabout powerboats, it is full of large power yachts and surrounded by ritzy hotels and restaurants.  We had a nice lunch of Pozole (soup) and Chicken Molé.  The air-conditioned bus ride home felt great, after spending all day in the heat. 

Cody has been out on the “dawn patrol” most mornings this week, trying to avoid the crowd of surfers that congregate on the waves later in the day.  He’s been learning to navigate the etiquette system of sharing the surf, which reads something like: “Whomsoever stands up first shall obtain the right-of-way, brah.” A hurricane warning was issued for San Pancho last week, and the predicted 9-15 foot swell had surfers coming from all over to catch the waves.  But the hurricane brought only heavy rain, no giant swell, no strong wind, and no power-outages.  The river swelled, carrying silt from the mountains into the sea, so it looked like Cody was surfing Willy Wonka’s Chocolate River. 

Oompa Loompa doopitie doo...  
When we heard a new vendor blaring ads from their truck, we headed out to see what they had to sell.  A cooler full of glistening shrimp sat beside another full of Mahi Mahi fillets, beside another of sea scallops.  The shrimp were the biggest we had seen, and we both name scallops as our favorite seafood.  We bought too much of both, unable to resist the cheap prices and beautiful, fresh goods.  The fishermen were from San Blas, a town three hours north of us. 

Lovely Mahi Mahi Fillets

A simple dinner, and cheap too!  
We had been interested in going farther north to explore another town, and San Blas sounded interesting.  The three-hour bus ride, however, didn’t sound so great.  We considered looking for a room in San Blas, so we could spend a whole day up there, but eventually settled for going to a small town close by with a mouthful of a name: La Peñita de Jaltemba, known locally simply as La Peñita.  The 20 minute bus ride was vastly preferable, and passed quickly as we watched the jungle slide by the window. 

A colorful and bustling La Penita. 

The Playa La Penita.
 Deserted but for the Pelicans, who you can just barely make out dotting the waves.   
We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the cobblestone streets of La Peñita, stumbling upon a market that took over a side street for several blocks.  The first few stalls were all tourist goods, silver and beaded jewelry, painted pottery and tablecloths, but as we wandered further, we saw more household goods, clothing, shoes, and, consequently, more Mexicans.   We bought a sweet roll from a nice lady with a Mayan face.  The top of her glossy black head was no higher than my nose. (Beth’s nose, that is, not Cody’s.)    We tore the fragrant bread in half and continued meandering along, enjoying the shade. Our favorite stall sold cleaning products in bulk, with a BYO jug policy.   The market ended right outside of an arena, presumably used for rodeos. 

Fabuloso, or Pine Sol?
Last night we had a fire on the beach with some new friends- Anna, who was born and raised here in San Pancho, and her boyfriend Jesse, an American from Hawaii.  Anna speaks perfect English, almost better than Jesse, who has a thick Hawaiian accent.  We sat out on the beach late into the night, watching the stars, waves, and embers flicker, talking about travel and life in general.  We were interested to hear that Jesse has done a fair bit of sailing, aboard a 50 foot trimaran, making passages with his brother-in-law from Hawaii to California, down Baja, even to the South Pacific.  We’ll be sad to leave our new friends, but we always seem to meet the most interesting people at the end of our trips.   It can be a bummer, but also an excuse to come back, and soon! 

The Happiest Dog in the World.
I will be sad to leave him, but, I couldn't take him away from San Pancho, even if we could have a dog.  It's kind of a doggy paradise- lots of trash to dig into, no rules to follow, a beach to play on, full of fish heads to roll in...  Not to mention that San Francisco de Assis, the local Saint, is supposed to look out for animals.  He's healthy, well fed, insanely loyal and friendly.  In fact, as I write, he has snuck into the library and is laying on the floor behind me.   Oh, Matthew Mcstinky.  We will miss you.  
Our days spent here are slow and comfortable, with plenty of time for reading, multiple visits to the beach, sun bathing, exploring the side streets, snacking, and playing music on the electric guitar and ukulele.  We like to watch the sunsets.  I’m starting to relate to Jimmy Buffett more and more every day.  

Life is good.  See you stateside!

Oh, yeah, PS.  

Guess who's back?

I wish I could bring them home with me.
There is nothing in the world like a fresh, hot crispy churro.  

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Amigos and Rodeos

We headed down to Puerto Vallarta to meet Brian and Hannah on the 28th.  We left early so we would have time to buy some groceries at the massive Wal-Mart, which happens to be located right across the street from the cruise ship dock.  It was disconcerting to see so many Americans disembarking their Disney cruise liner to lumber across the street to Wal-Mart for aloe lotion.  Also disconcerting is that the Mexican version of Wal-Mart smells exactly like the American version.  Anyway, we loaded up another bottle of sunscreen, a few toiletries that are very expensive in San Pancho, and a box or two of cereal, then took a cab to the airport for Brian and Hannah. 

A simple lunch of quesadillas, burritos, and iced cokes followed our return to San Pancho.   We spent the rest of the day playing on the beach.   Cody impressed us all with his wave-catching ability.  

Catch a wave and you're sittin' on top of the world... 
As the sun sank into the pacific horizon, we strolled down the beach toward the fenced-off area that protects the nests of sea turtles.  They release hatchlings every night around 8pm, and it was a thrill to see those tiny creatures inch their way toward the pounding surf.  They’re only as big as your palm!  

Good luck little guy!  
The Fiesta was just ramping up when Brian and Hannah arrived.  We saw traditional Mexican dancing and huge brass mariachi bands.  We drank fantastic pina coladas and margaritas served in terra-cotta cups, and watched as the locals danced salsa to the music.   We tried to dance the salsa, but it’s harder than it looks and most Mexicans don’t suffer from an 11in. difference in height! 

The San Pancho Band!  These guys practice across the street from our place.
It was fun to see them in action! 
The fiesta is thrown in honor of San Francisco de Assis, the patron saint of San Pancho.  It’s an interesting mix of a festival- religious, but more like a county fair.  There were several games set up for kids and adults, one involving bb guns and little plastic toys, our favorite featuring a pile of rocks on a folding table and racks of bottles.  Break three bottles in a row, and you get an 8pack of Corona or Modelo.  Cody didn’t break any, but Brian broke one and walked away with an ice cold Modelo. 

The Church all decked out for the fiesta.  

A highly evolved game of skill.  
We had a lot of fun with Brian and Hannah.  We visited the beach at Sayulita, had a fabulous lunch and boogie boarded all afternoon.  We took a long, hot hike through the jungle to a new hidden beach, recommended to us by the girl at the internet café/ tea shop.  The Playa de Lydia was spectacular- edged by rocky outcroppings and palm trees, and completely deserted.

The incredible Playa Lydia
We took a tour boat out to the Marietas Islands, a national park off a few miles off the coast.  The food was great, (breakfast, lunch and open bar), the staff gave informative and interesting talks about the islands, and cracked jokes, but best of all was the people watching. 

Isn't this a great picture of Cody?
(Click to enlarge for a better view.)
Actually, the snorkeling was by far the best part.  The water was bath-temperature, turquoise and clear, the fish were abundant, and the coral reef and rock formations were  beautiful.  It was easy to forget to look not only below the water, but above, where blue-footed boobies waddled around the rocks, joined by pelicans, cormorants, and their lesser known cousins, the yellow-footed boobies, and plain-jane brown boobies.  I would highly recommend a visit to the Marietas to anyone planning to visit Puerto Vallarta. 

The week flew by, and suddenly, we were hugging Brian and Hannah goodbye as they hopped on a bus to Puerto Vallarta to catch their flight back home.  So glad you guys could come! 

The day after Hannah and Brian left was October 4th- San Pancho Day.  We were lazing around in the midmorning and heard drums just down the street.  We headed out to see what all the commotion was about, and caught the parade half way through.  There were native Mexican Indians (Mayans?) dancing with enormous feathered headdresses, marching bands, a statue of San Francisco, another of the Virgin Mary, and bringing up the rear were horses.  There must have been 30 or 40 of them, their riders decked out in their finest sombreros, neckerchiefs and tall boots.  They pranced along, some horses quickstepping to the beat of the drums.   

Note the huge saddle horn that seems typical of Mexican Saddles,
 as well as the shiny handle of the Machete under his leg.  

Senor Ortega-  One of the best horse dancers of the bunch.  
They all joined up at the park after the parade to show off their incredible horsemanship.  Those horses really can dance!  And back up into a slot between two other horses (which doesn’t really look that impressive to the uninitiated, but Cody, with his Wyoming upbringing, assured me that it was truly a difficult feat.)   It was quite a show, and as it wound down, everyone was well lubricated with Modelo and Corona.  

After siesta time, we headed to the Rodeo going on in the little corral just outside of town.  Everyone had told us, oh yeah, rodeo starts at 5.  So we showed up around 5:30, everyone else showed up at 7,  and the rodeo actually began at 7:30.   Bull riding was the only event, and in between bulls, the clowns, joined by a cross-dressed man in a yellow tube top and mini-skirt, put on a comedy routine.  He/she made his/her way around the stands, flirting and dancing with various men, and of course, she stops in front of Cody and plops down on his lap, shimmying away.  I only wish I had been close enough to get a good picture!

We snuck off early to cook up a pot of shrimp for dinner, purchased from another truck vendor.  We cannot believe the prices of fresh seafood down here!  One kilo of fresh, still wiggling shrimp costs 75 pesos, which boils down to less than $3.50 a pound!  We’ve been eating shrimp for weeks now. 

Oh, yes, and the Terrible News.  The churro truck has gone AWOL.  It hasn’t shown up in a week and a half.  We’re facing serious withdrawal issues.  Not really.  But we are bummed Brian and Hannah never got to taste one! 

Until next time….