As has become my custom in recent years, as we drove away from the house, I put a CD in the car stereo and played some music to set the mood. This time, it was two selections by a Mexican a capella group, Voz en Punto, that I discovered on our last trip to Mexico. The selections were "Que Bonita Es Mi Tierra" (How Lovely Is My Country) and "Como Mexico No Hay Dos" (literally, Like Mexico There Are Not Two - a better translation would be There's Only One Mexico).
We drove, not to the airport, but to our auto mechanic - we left the car there for servicing while we were gone. We were met there by our friend Joanne Wolfe, who gamely accompanied us on this adventure (in spite of the fact that we would all have to share the same hotel room), and her daughter Jodi, who drove us all to the airport.
Terry says: We had wanted to have a friend come along with us, and had thought that maybe one of our native Mexican friends could do so. For one reason or another, nobody could. So, after dinner at Joanne's house one night, I suggested that she join us. Always up for an adventure, she agreed... and history was made!
After the usual hassles of post-9-11 plane travel, we were on our way. I had some wonderful views of Baja California and the Gulf of California through the plane window, and as we approached Puerto Vallarta, I took these pictures:
Living here in Southern California, our impression of Mexico tends to be colored by our experience of Baja California, which is all mountains and desert, and generally brown. But much of Mexico is tropical, and as you can see from those two pictures, the area around Puerto Vallarta is very green. Also, the weather was extremely hot and humid.
We landed at the Puerto Vallarta airport...
...got through immigration and customs... and ran into the first of the rough spots I mentioned earlier.
To take a dog - even a guide dog - into Mexico, you need to have two things: an international health certificate, signed by a veterinarian, and endorsed by the FDA, and an up to date rabies vaccination certificate. But there's a catch. In the US, rabies vaccinations are needed every three years. But in Mexico, they're required every year. And Trooper's last vaccination was in September 2009.
Shortly before we left, Terry tried to tell me that we needed to get Trooper vaccinated again. But I insisted that she was wrong, that vaccinations are good for three years. Sigh. After almost 29 years of marriage, you'd think I'd have learned to listen to my wife. She was right, and I was wrong. When we presented our papers to the government official in the Department of Agriculture office, Trooper almost didn't make it into Mexico. At first, the official told us that a vet would have to come out to the airport and give Trooper a vaccination - except it was Sunday evening, and no vets were available. For a while, we thought we'd have to leave Trooper in quarantine at the airport, and come back the next day to pick him up. Finally, the government man relented and let us go, warning us to be careful to follow the regulations in the future. Terry was quite upset with me, and with good reason, although she handled it well. But at least we were in the country. So we picked up our rental car and headed for our hotel.
Let's take a look at where we were, courtesy of Google Maps:
The red dot shows the approximate location of Puerto Vallarta. Here's a closer view:
...and here's an even closer view, showing the location of our hotel:
As you can see, we were actually a few miles (excuse me, kilometers) north of Puerto Vallarta, in an area called Nuevo Vallarta. Notice that, between the airport and the hotel, we had to cross a river, Rio Ameca. The map shows two roads crossing the river. However, only one road - the western one - was open, the other having been recently washed out in a flood:
As I drove, I saw evidence that, modern cities and luxury resorts notwithstanding, Mexico's rural character is never far away - witness these cows I saw grazing in the field by the river, just off the highway:
If you look closely at the map, you'll also notice that while Puerto Vallarta itself is in the state of Jalisco, Nuevo Vallarta, on the other side of the river, is in the state of Nayarit. That's not such a big deal, except that Nayarit is in the Mountain time zone, and Jalisco is in the Central time zone. When I first noticed this, a few days before I left, I thought that we'd be jumping back and forth an hour for the whole trip - I commented that by the end of the trip, we'd all be saying "Does anybody really know what time it is?" Actually, it turns out that the big hotels in Nuevo Vallarta - at least the one we were staying at - operate on Puerto Vallarta time, which made life much less confusing. However, my cell phone must have been getting its time signal from the Nuevo Vallarta side, because it consistenly showed Nuevo Vallarta time the entire time we were there, even when we were in Puerto Vallarta! So every time I looked at my phone to see what time it was, I had to add an hour!
Nuevo Vallarta is an area of huge luxury resorts, catering primarily to foreign tourists. And one of the resorts is:
...which is where we were staying. And here we ran into our second roadblock - the security guard at the gate didn't want to let us in with the dog. Before we left, we had gone over this whole issue with the reservation agent at the hotel. She was initially reluctant, but Terry got in touch with someone at the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, who got in touch with the hotel, and it was all settled that the dog would be no problem. Except the guard at the gate didn't seem to have gotten the memo. So it was touch and go for a while. But he made some phone calls, and apparently managed to get in touch with someone who knew the score. (He also endeared himself to Terry by asking if she "had bad eyes.")
Paradise Village is a time share resort. People staying there who are owners have ID cards, but people who are paying guests, or people like us who are being comped in exchange for attending a sales presentation, have to wear wristbands - kind of like the ones they put on you in hospitals. Those were a little irritating, and we were glad to cut them off when we left. I must say, however, that there was no difference in the way we were treated. We were pampered within an inch of our lives. For example, as soon as we got in the front door, while we were at the front desk registering, a staff member came up and offered each of us a cool, damp towel - which we needed. I've already mentioned how hot and humid the weather was, and the towels were very refreshing. A minute later, another staff member appeared and offered us each a glass of jamaica - no, not the Caribbean country, but ha-MY-ka, a popular Mexican drink made from hibiscus flowers, which tastes a little like cranberry juice. Terry says it was the best jamaica she's ever had.
Well, maybe it's just my white middle class liberal guilt showing, but all this pampering makes me a little uneasy. I don't mind it to a certain extent, but at this place, it was a little over the top. A little later, I went out to find some hand sanitizer for Terry - I had forgotten to pack hers. The hotel doesn't have a gift shop, but there's a mall just outside the grounds, with a market and a Starbucks, among other things. So as I'm getting into the car, another staff member comes over and tells me I don't need to drive - he'll take me there in a golf cart. This was too much for me. I smiled politely and said that was very nice, but I like to drive.
When I got back to our room, I commented to Terry and Joanne that it was getting a little unnerving how all of the staff were constantly smiling. I called them "Stepford Staff." I commented that I felt like I could say to one of them "Chinga tu madre!" (F___ your mother), and they'd smile and say, "Si, gracias, Seņor!"
I was also struck by the fact that all of the guests appeared to be gringos, and all of the staff (of course) were Mexican. Which also got my white middle class liberal guilt stirred up. But then I saw some guests who appeared to Mexican, and I felt a little better.
Well, enough of that. Anyway, we got settled in our room - it was actually a one-bedroom suite, complete with kitchenette, and a foldout couch bed in the living room for Joanne:
...and then went to get dinner, at Mayapan, one of the resort's several restaurants. The seating was outside on the patio, overlooking the bay, with a gorgeous sunset and palm trees silhouetted against the sky - a lovely ending to a stressful day.