Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad in Puerto Vallarta. Never thought I would be disembarking from a cruise ship on Christmas Day in Mexico. As soon as we flashed our cruise cards, we were walking on Mexican “Tierra”. We piled into a white van with other tourists who were getting impatient. Apparently they had been waiting in the taxi van for at least 20 minutes. The Taxi driver was going to maximize his trip with as many tourists as he could. The lady who was super impatient yelled out in the van “I’m from LA, I have no patience” She stormed out of the van and yelled at the taxi cab driver. The taxi cab driver was able to squish in two more unfortunate souls and it was a $4 taxi cab drive to old town.
The first thing that I noticed was that the streets were cobblestone, a direct influence from hundreds of years of colonization. I was so happy to get away from the painstaking view of Walmart and Sam’s Club and major shopping mall located right by our cruise ship. The deeper we got into Puerto Vallarta, I was happy to see mom and pop shops. Although there was a Starbucks scattered in between our drive. I was reminded about the differences of safety standards from the U.S. to that of Mexico as I launched out of my seat in the back of the van as my head slammed up on the top of the van. Inner Dialogue: “I’m in Mexico….just go with it”
As we fought through traffic on a one way in road and one way out road, I saw lots of families traveling to go to the nearest relatives house for some kind of Christmas festivity. I heard blasting music that mimicked good old polka music and noticed that license plates showing Jalisco. There were a few cool buildings here and there as we briskly raced by via van. I would have much rather been in a truck than a van trying to blend in with the people. Coming from a cruise ship, you have a direct target on your head reminding everyone that practically everything is being catered to you, that is the only thing I dislike about the cruising club. I’m more of a traveler who likes to walk the side streets, pop into a cozy cafe, and try my language skills and impress a few here and there with some history.
Yes, in case you are wondering, Puerto Vallarta is commercialized. Old Hollywood brought some glitz and glam to it in the 60’s-70’s. There was a scandalous affair that unfolded in Puerto Vallarta that brought a lot of paparazzi to the sleepy old fishing town. What actress may have brought such attention to this small fishing village you ask? Elizabeth Taylor. I got a glimpse of her house in an area called Gringo Gulch. I wasn’t able to make the climb up some stairs because my mom has a difficult time walking as it is. But I was able to catch a sneak peak of her house. Apparently an American bought her house and is now turning it into upscale and exclusive condo property.
One of the beautiful parts about Puerto Vallarta is the stunning coastline. We were there on a hazy day, but I can imagine how gorgeous it would be on a clear day with no clouds up in the sky to damper with one’s day. The coastline is filled with clubs, restaurants, tequila tasting shops and souvenir shops. By the way, the prices for souvenirs has definitely gone way up compared to the days that I used to barter in Tijuana. A typical tourist t-shirt is anywhere from 7$ to $15. You’ll find tequila packages, caracas (Mexican skeletons), magnets, handpainted ashtrays, crazy postcards, maracas, and lots of jewelry. There are lots of specials on the boardwalk like 2 for 1 margaritas to draw you into an establishment. And of course, there are the guys that still loiter and yell out pick up lines. As you cruise along the boardwalk, you’ll see street entertainers, an occasional flyby parasailer, an ice cream cart with a bell and families sitting and relaxing.
Seeing some sand castle art was pretty surprising. The Virgin Mary is one of the most important saints in Latin America, specifically Mexico. This stunning sand art caught my eye.
There were less people on the boardwalk than usual since it was Christmas Day. The building facades reminded me of a small beach town in Sitges, Spain. Seeing specks of lime green, tangerine orange and whitewashed buildings brought back a sense of spirit of “fiesta” and summer. The boardwalk was clean and well manicured. It was nice sharing a bench with many Mexican families and hearing Spanish in their native tongues. I wish I had paid more special attention in Spanish class in high school.
Puerto Vallarta is a good compromise of Mexico. There are many opportunities to “feel” how the local people live. You can go to the local flea market that is run by local “Indios” and you can go to your upscale trendy restaurant. There are plenty of seafood restaurants and seafood shacks. It is relatively clean and it feels pretty safe. If you go into Viejo Vallarta (Old Town), you can really feel and see people engaging in their daily activities. You’ll see a mix of jungle and urban street life in the area. There were little juice stands, chicharonnes (fried pork rinds) stands and peanut vendors.