Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mexico! Part II

When last I left you we were in Sayulita and I was recovering from food poisoning.

Friday, December 7 – Melaque

Our last morning in Sayulita. We had breakfast at Rollie’s again, and by “we” I mean “Carson.” As is always the case with this bastard bacteria, I had a good day followed by a bad day. As someone who lives to eat, possibly the worst sensation in the world for me is being both starving and nauseous. I watched him eat with envy. I don’t think I was particularly pleasant company.

From there we headed to Melaque, a sleepy beach town about 3.5 hours south at the edge of the state of Jalisco. Carson enjoyed learning to surf but his ribs were bruised and we were both tired of the crowded, overly touristy vibe, so we were both ready to get out of dodge and didn't even mind sitting in the car for a few hours.

During the ride, about every 30 minutes I would eat five or six almonds and cashews, feeling totally stuffed after each handful. If you know me you know the hilarity of that scenario, considering I generally manage to out-eat everyone else. Other than having to drive through the madness that is Puerto Vallarta yet again, including a very pot-holey section of highway 200 that was a little like a mine field (which we drove about a dozen times), the ride was uneventful. Once in Melaque we parked and wandered around. All the oceanfront hotels were essentially the same so we picked one with a seaside balcony and the customary hard beds. 

Carson using the internet at our Melaque hotel,
Puesta del Sol. Everywhere we went had internet.
View from our Melaque balcony. This place was cool
because the kitchen was actually outside on the
balcony (sadly no picture).

It was only 5:00 but we hadn’t eaten lunch, so we headed to a pizza place I’d read about for an early dinner. It was distractingly salty, but I did manage to take down two whole pieces. Then we hit the plaza, just in time for the Guadalupe procession complete with marching band and fireworks.

December 8 – Barra de Navidad

Melaque is in the same cove as its more famous neighbor, Barra de Navidad. It’s only about a mile away so after a breakfast of leftover pizza we walked there on the sloping beach, admiring skinboarders and stopping for a swim along the way (and just stopping a lot in general since I was still so easily winded - I was pathetic and Carson was patient). The cove has great big waves that crash with a thunderous boom against the shore – I love that sound!

Taking a break
We walked the pier at Barra where we found this beautiful statue. I'm totally obsessed with it!

Then we were roped into a private boat tour of the bay, including a populated canal and an expensive hotel with disgustingly large yachts anchored in front.

Barra de Navidad canal
From there he asked if we would like to see “just a little bit of the ocean” and I said sure, thinking he’d just pop out and back and include it in the price of the tour. No such thing – he took us on the full “peninsula” tour, trying to talk us into a full-day fishing and snorkeling expedition the next day all the while, and then charged us for both the bay and ocean tours when we declined the fishing trip. It was boring and it was a swindle at $60, but… oh well. I didn’t really feel like arguing about it as I could tell he was desperate for some business (tourism not being what it once was).

On our "peninsula" tour (note the Gatorade - still not
fully recovered at this point).
We had a nice lunch at a little French bakery – croissants and the first post-sick coffee for me, ham panini for Carson – and then took a cab the short distance back to Melaque. We had a pretty uninspired plate of street tacos for dinner and thought we missed the procession that night, though we found out later it was held in a neighboring town (apparently if the towns are small enough they take turns). What we didn’t miss, however, was the most incredible thing I ate the entire trip (tied with tacos al pastor): The BEST CHURROS OF MY LIFE. I consider myself a churro connoisseur, so I do not say this lightly. I was cursing my shrunken stomach for only being able to take down two of the five pieces we got for ONE DOLLAR, but I savored every bite. My mouth is watering right now.

Mmmm.... churros....

December 9 – Sunday football

After breakfast at the local market and a morning walk on the beach, I talked Carson into a lazy day of watching football and playing rummy in our hotel room. We went out for lunch at El Froy’s on the beach where I ate some decent ribs (once I scraped the gallon of gross BBQ sauce off them).

Carson has a beer at El Froy's

Then we swam and lounged for awhile on the beach before going back to our hotel to swim and lounge by the pool. We saw some fruit vendors walking by and beckoned to them, buying a mango and a pineapple filled with watermelon and papaya, all for about $5. We had a lot of fun horsing around in the pool and I suspect the old people staying there (why were we constantly surrounded by old people??) were divided as to whether we were sweet or obnoxious.

Dinner was, again, uninspired. The whole trip I was disappointed by the food in general (not that food poisoning made anything more appetizing, but usually I eat really great food in Mexico). Luckily the churro vendor was out again and I was able to reach sugar nirvana for the second night in a row. More football and rummy before going to bed. I thanked Carson for indulging my sports request and in his constant, good-natured way, he just shrugged and said “sure.”

Monday, December 10 – Snakes and crocodiles and an unexpected change in plans

We woke up early and headed south again, this time to Cuyutlan in the state of Colima. We stopped for breakfast in Manzanillo, one of Mexico’s biggest ports and also a big tourist spot which I almost chose to fly into instead of PV. An hour was enough to see that we weren’t missing much, though I did have a delicious latte. Further down the road we stopped for a coconut, the second of the trip, and while it tasted just like the coconut water I love to drink, Carson was disappointed both times.

Machete-ing coconuts in style (she had on heels).
It wasn’t long before we were in Cuyutlan, specifically at the sanctuary that inspired this destination. Called “el tortugario” (the turtle-arium), it was originally designed to help preserve the 13 species of ocean turtle that come to Mexico. It has since evolved to include crocodiles and iguanas under its protective wing.

A baby crocodile in captivity (they are
eventually released into the mangroves).
After checking out the turtles and crocs that were housed in a variety of pools, we took a boat tour through the Palo Verde mangroves. This was the highlight of the whole trip for me.

Soooo happy right now
It was just the two of us, and even though it was a private tour it only cost 120 pesos (I gave him 200 – best $15 I spent). The mangroves are fiercely protected by the locals and our guide was both knowledgeable and passionate without being preachy. He also had an incredible eye for crocodile heads in the water, birds in the branches, and even camouflaged snakes. After passing by at a good speed, he suddenly reversed and slowly drew up next to a mangrove with a sleeping viper curled up in it. A moment later we came upon this baby alligator taking a nap on the lily pads:

So tiny! Hard to imagine it ripping you apart.
We also saw tons of birds: blue, green, and white herons, cormorans, falcons, pelicans, and lots more I can’t name.

A falcon looking regal.
Then we went into the mangrove tunnel, which was created by nature but expanded by man with federal permission so they could take boats through.

About to enter the tunnel
Caution: low branches and possible snakes!

He warned us to watch out for vipers dropping into the boat, but assured us they don’t bite – they squeeze you to death instead (awesome). He also had something special to show us: a boa sleeping off a meal. It was about 5 feet long, according to our guide, and would stay there for 2-3 days until it was done digesting. Awesome!

Digesting boa (this is about half of him)
Mind the hanging roots!
After we got off the boat Carson took this picture of me on the walkway. He took a lot of pictures of my back; I am a fast walker and I guess I left him behind a lot!

All we had left to see were the iguanas, and this big guy was proudly situated at the top of the food pedestal. I guess they're illegal to hunt and semi-endangered, making me feel guilty about having eaten iguana tamales on a past trip (whoops).

After that we headed into Cuyutlan, a truly teeny tiny beach town. I imagine on the weekends it's probably a bit more hopping, but on a Monday it was the definition of dead.

Empty main drag
Empty beach boardwalk
We wandered to the three nearby hotels, one of which was under construction but open (no thanks), one of which was closed, and the other of which was pretty cheap for a pretty gross little room, which we took. Then we walked to the only open food stall and had a torta before hitting the beach. We swam for a bit but the waves were big and the undertow strong, so we walked down the abandoned beach instead.

Cuyutlan is the only beach I'd seen with kiddie pools;
anyone else seen this on a beach anywhere else?

We stopped a ways down, buried my legs in the sand, let the tide wash them off, and then walked back. By then it was only about 4:30 and we were bored. Hanging in our room was not an option, and there was nothing else to do... so we took a quick shower under the weak trickle (it probably would have been better water pressure if we turned the bathroom sink on and submerged various parts of our bodies), packed our bags back into the car, dropped our room key on the counter without saying anything to the staff, and hightailed it back north on the 100!

The best part of our hotel was the
door to the bathroom.
We figured we'd drive until we didn't feel like it, stop for the night somewhere, and finish the drive back to Puerto Vallarta the next day. We accidentally got on the toll road which we decided was okay until we discovered it was $10 for only 30 minutes' worth of road! There was no turning back so we paid it, but we were shocked at the price.

We ended up making the entire five-hour drive in one go, pulling up to a beachfront hotel I'd previously vetted about 20 minutes south of PV at 10 pm. The night clerk was surprised to see us but gladly let us into a room. We were both very happy to not be sleeping in our cheap, dingy Cuyutlan room, and that our long return drive was already behind us.

Tuesday, Dec 11 - Tequila, Mismaloya, and El Kliff

We woke up and the first thing I did - the first thing I did every single morning, in fact - was scan the ocean for dolphins or whales. They were evasive buggers. Our hotel room at the Mar Sereno had large balcony with a gorgeous view. The room itself was inexplicably large, and the entire hotel was clearly a sight to behold in its glory days (possibly the 1970s), but has since fallen into a state of disrepair.

Ginormous, mostly empty room
Beautiful balcony
There were few guests and fewer employees, and it was rather like staying in an abandoned mansion. It was about six stories tall, with the top of the building at street level and the bottom a sheer drop or some steep stone stairs down to the rocky ocean.

Mar Sereno from the beach
Someone a long time ago built a little swimming hole where the water comes in at high tide, and at low tide you could walk around it and look at the crabs and little fish stuck in the pools. Everything was overgrown and rusted or eroded away, and I felt like I was in the secret garden, ocean edition.

Carson in pursuit of marine life

The hotel changed hands a few years ago, and I suspect someone who didn't know much about hotels (and the maintenance inherent in oceanfront property) bought it without realizing what it would take to restore. We were glad for the emptiness, though; it was a far cry from our fancy resort.

We needed gas and I was craving roasted chicken, so we drove into PV to accomplish those two goals. Then we went to a tequila distillery near our hotel where the tastings were free and self-serve; their trick was to get you drunk so you bought more, and from the looks of the people there, it was very effective. The guy who came to help us was already beyond tipsy at 1 pm, often overstepping the boundaries of appropriate with dirty jokes and even a flash of the bag of weed he had in his pocket when we told him we were from Northern California. Luckily his drunkenness worked in our favor as he offered us a steal on a sampler of flavored tequilas (the girl ringing us up called him "Santa Claus," not a little annoyed). I usually hate tequila but this stuff was really good; it's entirely made and sold on premise, all in small batches and none of it exported. It was expensive but we felt like we'd gotten our money's worth.

Carson models a fancy bottle while our salesperson
gives us the hard sell.
From there we drove to nearby Mismaloya beach and lounged next to the ocean, drinking fancy drinks, playing cards, saying no to the many vendors, and trying to ignore the many American tourists surrounding us.

The Mismaloya river terminates there so the water was much colder to swim in than usual, but we still had a nice final dip before heading back to the hotel to dress for dinner.

I thought it would be nice if we had a fancy meal on our last night. We tried to go to Chico's Paradise which looked super cool, but it was only open for lunch, so instead we ended up at Le Kliff, one of the most expensive restaurants in the greater PV area which happened to be right next to our hotel. The first thing we noticed was a romantic table for two set up beneath the restaurant; the host told us someone was going to propose there that night, but they showed up after dark and missed the view!

Wedding central
We were relatively early - a little before 6 - and we were seated at a great table right on the edge of the open-air patio overlooking the ocean. One other party was already there, and soon a group of 40ish women were seated right next to us. It soon became clear these ladies were here to celebrate the end of a meaningful vacation with gusto.

The service was clumsy and forced; rather than creating their own style, they were clearly trying to emulate the uber fine dining establishments in the U.S., with little success. Our waiter was unimpressive. Rather than offering us menus, he asked what we were drinking and pushed the 'special seafood platter.' I said what, you don't have menus? He begrudgingly supplied a wine list and food menu, and we got a bottle of red that I used to drink in Chile, calamari to start, and steaks for the main course. The calamari was salty and tough and the steaks didn't fare much better, with tough meat and globs of congealed cheese between the slices of semi-raw potato gratin, but neither dish lacked the fussy detail people seem to associate with expensive meals.

Not great

Our waiter insisted on addressing every communication to Carson, even though I was always the one to respond to him. Even when he brought the bill and I personally handed him my credit card, he still put it down in front of Carson. I wanted to strangle him, especially when he asked how much tip we wanted to include. "None," I said. "We'll leave cash." And we did, but not as much as he expected I'm sure. So all in all, the food and the service were a bust. But the night was worth its $100+ price tag.

First... there were the neighbors. A group of coati (cousins of the raccoon) live nearby, and I'm sure no better meal can be found than in an open air restaurant filled with tourists. I noticed them first and cautioned Carson not to feed them since they are notoriously aggressive, at least in Argentina. Then a few minutes later came a scream. Not a little one; a full-blown "OMG" scream, from the older woman at the first table. She had just noticed our dining companions. The waiters lazily shooed them away, but it wasn't long before the same terrified scream was heard. The poor lady was so terrified she actually went to wait in the car while her dining companions hurriedly finished their entrees and her husband spoke harshly to the manager, who looked sympathetic but indicated their surroundings and said, "the restaurant is open and they live in the jungle; there's not much we can do."

Coati invader - it was hard to get a good
picture of them but they have looong tails.
Then there was the group who came next, a three-generation family of 12 led by a bitchy matriarch who, upon seeing Carson and I occupying a table for four at a superior table, asked why we couldn't be moved so they could enjoy our seats instead. I only know this because I watched it go down; to their credit, the wait staff did not indulge her request. After they were seated next to us, they proceeded to do those tourist things I hate the most: mock the menu, the restaurant, and in essence the culture; ask for complicated things in rapid-fire English, like a "sample of wine tastes;" and talk loudly as if they were the only ones present. Luckily I was half a bottle of wine in by then so I was more amused than annoyed. Carson joked about saying something to the woman on our way out, like "you can have our seats now."

Then there was our favorite group - the 40ish ladies. They were there to have a memorable night, including three courses each, tearful toasts, dozens of flash-happy photos, and best of all... homemade music. One of them brought her guitar, and their elder companion went to each table and asked if we wouldn't mind listening to "one song from our friend who is a wonderful musician." What were we going to say, no? They finally got the manager to turn down the (admittedly awful smooth jazz) music, and then she proceeded to play and sing a song from their table. But that wasn't all, my friends! She then got up and walked to each table, playing private concerts for all of us lucky diners. We were last on her rounds and had actually just paid our bill, but we didn't quite escape.

She was a pleasant woman and had a sweet enough voice, but she didn't have a trained voice and she didn't play the guitar particularly well; in short, not the kind of person you'd expect to have the balls to treat a restaurant like a house party. We were very polite, however, and did not laugh about any of this until we were safely back in our room. We both agreed the night was worth it, but that the next time we dropped a bill on a meal it would be on killer food and hopefully less tacky dining companions.

Wednesday, December 12 - Adios, Mexico

I woke up and made a last hopeful scan of the waters for marine life, only to be disappointed yet again. I wanted to go to one last beach (our flight wasn't until 5), but Carson didn't feel like getting wet and sandy before flying, so instead we packed and headed into PV to see what the final day of the Guadalupe festival looked like. First, traffic was crazy. We finally got through town around 11:00, parked on the other side of everything, and walked back. There were THOUSANDS of people cramming the streets, waiting to get into the Church of Guadalupe. Apparently this would go on all day and all night.

This doesn't even capture the madness
We found what we thought was our original al pastor vendor and had a delicious plate of tacos while watching the hordes slowly pass by.

Then we headed to the Malecon to get a few cheesy souvenirs and an ice cream. We also admired the many performers, including living statues dressed to the nines, a pair of sand-covered chess players, and sandcastle builders. What drives me crazy is American tourists snapping pictures of them like crazy but not giving them a single peso. Tourists of the world, take note! If you take a picture, you should really pay for it.

I loved this wishing well and threw several peso into it:

With nothing much left to do, we headed to the rental car agency, turned in our trusty Scala, and had nearly three hours to kill before our flight. We passed them in a generic airport restaurant, eating bar food and playing many rounds of rummy.

Finally it was time to board and we ended up with a row of three to ourselves. I hogged the computer writing this blog and before I knew it we were in San Francisco. Customs wasn't too bad, our bags came right away, and we walked out right as our shuttle was pulling up - I love perfect timing! We were both pretty hungry so once we got the car I found a nearby Vietnamese restaurant (something you can't get in Ukiah) and introduced Carson to the wonderful world of pho. It was the third best thing I ate on my entire vacation.

We made it to Ukiah at about midnight, dragged our bags in through the rain, and promptly passed out.

And that was our successful Mexico vacation!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mexico! Part I

I wrote this blog on the plane back from Mexico but am just now getting around to posting it. It was SO LONG that I'm actually breaking it into two. Sheesh.

Carson and I are on the plane back from Mexico. I have three hours to kill so I figured I might as well write what we all know will be an epically long blog about the last 12 days. I cannot emphasize enough that I write this as a personal record for my own memories, and I encourage you to enjoy the pictures and skim the rest since no one else could possibly care about this level of detail.

November 30: To Mexico we go!

After spending the night in San Francisco we had an easy and uneventful flight to Puerto Vallarta. When we got to the rental car place we were in for a bit of a shock – apparently the insurance is as much as the car itself, and we were unable to waive it. We also upgraded to a slightly larger vehicle so our rental ended up costing us 1.5 times as much as we thought – whoops. Luckily the upgraded car was an automatic, a huge blessing since it turns out my aggressive driving and experience in foreign countries made me much better suited to navigating the Mexican roads. I drove about 90% of the time.

We got to our “fancy” resort (about 10 minutes south of downtown Puerto Vallarta) just after sunset. We had to change rooms almost immediately due to a pretty nasty sewage smell, and as I was checking out our second room I got stuck in the elevator. I had to pry the doors open and jump up about a foot to the floor – eek! We changed from a one bedroom suite to a studio room which was surprisingly much nicer – the bedrooms faced the noisy hallway and the living room was uncomfortable, whereas in the huge studio the bed was right next to the ocean-facing balcony. Much nicer to sleep to the sounds of the sea than people in the hall.

Carson using the computer in our second room.
The view from our room - admittedly pretty awesome.
Sunset from our balcony

A fun shell Carson found (I admit we threw it back into the
ocean from our balcony).
The next night we ended up changing rooms again due to ants in the bed – third time was the charm, though I did end up complaining and getting a partial refund due to our treatment. Having to change rooms twice should be cause for some apology from the hotel staff, I think, but instead they acted like I was the problem. In addition to the refund they have offered us a two night complimentary stay in the future, but I doubt we’ll take them up on it. The resort had sort of a strange vibe, partially because we were the youngest people there by decades. My parents would have been young there!

We ended our first evening with a late swim in the pool and dinner at the bar in our bathing suits – nice way to start a vacation.

December 1 – Gardens and Guadalupe

A day of false starts. We thought we’d go kayaking, but they only had one and not two person kayaks which didn’t appeal to me. Then we rented snorkels, but the ocean was choppy so we returned them to use at a later time. Finally we decided to drive a few kilometers south to check out the botanical gardens. What a lovely spot! One of the best parts was that the grounds were essentially empty so we had the trails to ourselves. Part of it lay along a river which was nice to wade in.
Main building at botanical gardens.
We almost ran smack into these beauties
a few times.
On the way back we stopped for roadside tacos, then spent an hour at the pool before getting massages at the spa. There was a 2 for 1 promotion going on, but I didn’t realize this meant we would get our massages together – I don’t really understand the appeal of a “couples” massage. Having Carson on the table next to me was more a funny distraction than anything, but it was still a good massage. After that the ocean had calmed down so we used the snorkels, and then we headed into Puerto Vallarta for dinner.

Unbeknownst to us, December 1-12 is the festival of Guadalupe, which happened to be the exact length of our stay. Each night in every city and town across Mexico, people make “pilgrimages” in the form of parades to the local church. A band accompanies them and they carry candles and sing “La Guadalupana,” a song that is now perpetually stuck in my head. They’re also generally accompanied by a young boy who lights loud fireworks in his hands and lets them go at the last minute – a very safe practice. Of course, we didn’t know any of this at the time, but we figured it out soon enough when we were crawling through traffic. We finally found somewhere to park on the dizzying hills behind downtown.

A slight exaggeration of the camera, but it was pretty crazy.
Of course, the benefit of any festival is the availability of street food. That first night we had an elote – a cup filled with fresh corn kernels, cream, lemon juice, and hot sauce – and then several tacos and tamales wrapped in banana leaves, followed by a torta for good measure. After all that eating, plus some wandering of the Malecon (main drag by the beach), we were ready to head back. Trying to get out of Puerto Vallarta was a whole other scene and it took me about 20 minutes of harrowingly steep and narrow street driving to finally find a road that wasn’t closed by the processions that would take us back to the highway.

Start of the procession on day 1 of the festival
Adolescent dancers in costume

Church of Guadalupe, the procession's

Self portrait on the Malecon
December 2 – Yelapa

At the recommendation of several people including friends in Ukiah, we decided to take a boat to the secluded beach of Yelapa. Rather than driving in and taking the tourist boat from Puerto Vallarta, we spent a fraction of the cost by driving a bit south to Boca de Tomatlan and taking the local water taxi. It was half as much and twice as interesting since it’s a primary form of transportation for locals who live in beach towns that are more easily accessed by boat than car. They load massive coolers, bags and boxes of groceries, and very old ladies into these boats, making for an even more interesting unloading process. For the beaches with piers they would pull up and hastily unload as many things and people as possible between the large waves; for beaches without, they just get as close as they can and then you have to jump out into the water. Yelapa was one of those beaches. We got there around 10 am, long before the tourist boats, and had the place to ourselves. We decided to walk on the main “road” which a path that is only big enough for quads (there are no cars in Yelapa). There were a lot of horses on this path.
You know your town is tiny when this is the main road.
The road follows the river and we walked for about 30 minutes before coming to a nice clearing where I went swimming. Unfortunately this was inhabited by the dreaded “noseeums” and we paid dearly for our lack of bug spray. I got off relatively easy, but Carson’s legs looked leprous until just a day or two ago. Luckily I had some liquid lidocaine left over from my Argentina days (which we sadly lost along the way, just before I was attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes).

Can you find Carson in this picture?
After we’d had our fill of the river we walked back and sat on the beach for hours, drinking pina coladas and people watching. The cove was great for swimming and we spent a lot of time in the water. This was Carson’s favorite part of the whole trip.

The ultimate beach vacation photo op.
Yelapa panorama (click to enlarge)
That night we went back into PV to watch the processions and eat more street food. We had the most incredible tacos al pastor – marinated pork that they cut from a huge slab (similar to what you see gyros meat cut from) and served with hunks of pineapple. These tacos tied for best food of the entire vacation.

December 3 – San Sebastian del Oeste

Our three nights at the fancy resort up, we got in the car and headed inland 2 hours to a tiny Sierra Madre mountain town called San Sebastian del Oeste. It’s principal industry is – or at least once was – mining. Since almost no streets leaving PV were marked, and since we got four or five conflicting directions from Google and various people, it took us quite a while to find the right road. Carson also had the misfortune of a power outage directly in the middle of an ATM transaction so that he only got half of what he was charged for (we’re still working on resolving that one). But eventually we were on the right path, and the road was well paved if not obnoxiously filled with invisible and  huge speed bumps. Seriously, Mexico – paint those suckers!

I had read that the best place to eat was La Lupita, and it was the very first place we saw. We went for lunch which was a fixed price for several courses – fresh squeezed orange juice, a quesadilla, rice and beans, a pork and egg dish called machaca, chicken mole, and the ever-present handmade tortillas. It was the best full meal we had anywhere by a long shot. 

Lunch at La Lupita
After lunch we moseyed to the main plaza after lunch and found a cheap hotel I’d read was a good value called El Puente. It was definitely cheap and as a 100 year old building had lots of charm, but we were glad it was just for one night since the bathroom was only separated by a swinging door. We went for a walk and found a coffee plantation (delicious coffee that I bought in abundance) and an abandoned rodeo/bullfighting ring. 

The ring was strangely romantic

Me admiring coffee plants

Coffee in its many stages
Then we drove down two of the narrow cobblestone roads leading out of town, just to see where they went. They all turned from cobblestone to an even narrower dirt path, and we had to turn around both times before we got anywhere (our little Scala was not exactly an off-roading vehicle).
View of San Sebastian from one of our off-road trips.
View from the second road; it was getting dark so
we turned back before reaching the tiny town  high
in the mountains with incredible views, apparently.
We missed the Guadalupe procession which was, not surprisingly, tiny. For dinner we stumbled across what seemed like an out-of-place Italian restaurant, run by a real Italian. It was delicious! We each had homemade pasta which came with a salad and fresh baked bread, and then the owner brought us a small slice of pizza which made us regret not having ordered a whole one. Seriously impressive for a town with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants.

Not much to do after that but go to sleep.

December 4 – Sayulita and ceviche (ruined for eternity)

We woke up early and left without eating breakfast. Our destination was Sayulita, an infamous surf town about 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta. It was about a three hour drive, and one we arrived we ate some tortas for lunch and then found a hotel I’d read about – Hotel Eden, a block from the beach and very reasonably priced considering the cable TV, air conditioning, and rooftop patio. Carson wasn't feeling so hot so we napped in the room for a few hours, finally hitting the beach in the late afternoon. It took us awhile to figure out what time it was. Technically Sayulita (which is in the state of Nayarit) is an hour behind Puerto Vallarta, but to make it easier on everyone the Mexican government recently decreed that Sayulita and several other nearby towns would switch to Puerto Vallarta time (which is in the state of Jalisco).

Even though it was 4 pm, it didn’t take long for Carson (sufficiently recovered) to find someone to give him a surf lesson right then and there. For $30 he got an hour and a half lesson and then another hour to use the surfboard by himself, which he redeemed the next morning. 
Carson, his huge board, and his instructor.
I found a chair and tried to read my book but couldn’t help watching him from afar – I even took a few pictures, though I was too far away and didn’t get him in most of the frames. This is the only one I got with him up on the board, though he got up quite a few times.

For dinner we went to the main plaza a block from our hotel and sat down at a restaurant for a front row seat of the Guadalupe processions. These ones were lively, with tons of loud fireworks including what I called the “firework head.” Picture this – a young boy, probably 12 or 13, holds a large hat-like structure over his head which has been fitted with about 2 minutes’ worth of sparking, crackling fireworks. He lights it on fire and then runs around the plaza chasing people – young kids, old people, terrified tourists – until the last spark goes out. I was agape.

I was on the verge of ordering fajitas when the waiter casually mentioned that they had ceviche. I don’t like the traditional Nayarit/Jalisco style of ground fish ceviche, but he told me it was hunks of fish and shrimp and I was sold. I wish I had ordered the fajitas. My old friend e coli came to stay for a few days after that. Now that ceviche has made me sick in two countries (damn you, Bolivia) I’m pretty sure it’s ruined forever. Even now, the word makes my stomach turn. All I can say is it’s a good thing that hotel room had a bathroom door that closed an a toilet that flushed properly.

December 5 – Just… gross

After assuring him I was fine and even preferred being left alone, Carson went surfing again and wandered about, coming back to the room occasionally with Gatorade and Pepto Bismol. I felt decent enough by around 2 to go for a short walk, and I talked a restaurant into making me some mint tea and uber-salty chicken broth while Carson ate real food. I know I needed the fluids and salts but it was an ugly scene after that and I didn’t bother drinking much of anything until the next morning. I did watch a lot of Keeping up with the Kardashians, though, so the day wasn’t an entire waste (note heavy sarcasm).

December 6 – A Day at the Beach

I got a good night’s sleep and woke up feeling more or less human, so we hit a local hot spot called Rollie’s, run by a retired American high school principal. Rollie himself was our waiter and he was a really sweet guy who told us he'd just become a grandfather for the first time. I had more mint tea and managed to eat a pancake without incident. After that we hit the beach, renting lounge chairs from a restaurant for 150 pesos (about $12) for the whole day. I read while Carson people watched, then I ventured into the water for a few minutes. It’s always amazing to me how exhausting everything is after just a day or two of being sick and I tried not to push it, but I really wanted to play in those awesome Sayulita waves. When we got back to our chairs the woman next to me asked if my name was Beth and if I was from Lake Forest Park. It was Evelyn, my high school best friend’s mom’s best friend! I’d been on vacation with their two families twice and remembered her fondly. That’s a small world scenario for you!

Lounging (you can see Ev and her husband next to us!)

For lunch, I managed to very slowly eat an entire chicken “milanesa” (basically a flattened, breaded chicken breast) and some French fries, and I felt fine.

Sayulita is extremely popular with tourists, and is therefore extremely popular with vendors. I understand these are people trying to make a living, and we did get some items – I bought a coral bracelet and Carson bought me a pearl necklace – but it was tiresome having to say “no gracias” literally every minute or two, and sad to say it to young children who shouldn’t have to sell crap on the beach in the first place.

That night we went back to watch the processions. They were particularly eventful since instead of the usual pickup truck used to cart around the live models – young children dressed up as the Virgin Mary and angels staring adoringly at her – they had outfitted a semi. The problem was twofold: first, the backdrop they’d built extended much higher than the wires crisscrossing the streets, resulting in a group of men running in front with sticks to push the wires up and over the frame (just a few inches from the exasperated teenager playing Guadalupe); two, the driver was not very adept at navigating the tiny, twisty roads. Suffice to say it was painful but amusing to watch and I’m still kicking both of us for forgetting the camera.

We ran into Ev and her husband and chatted for awhile before looking for dinner. I found a falafel stand and managed to eat about ¼ of a pita sandwich while talking to the very sweet owners and admiring their adorable baby, while Carson had some street tacos.

Panorama of Sayulita from our hotel's rooftop deck -
plaza to the left, ocean to the right.
And that's the first half of our vacation! I'll post the second half soon.