DAY 1: Our first big vacation adventure was the Rhythms of the Night cruise. The boat, called Vallarta Adventure II, followed the coastline as we motored toward a small island where we were going to eat an authentic Mayan dinner and see a performance. From one side of the boat, the town of Puerto Vallarta wound up into the hills, on the other side a beautiful Pacific sunset. As we made our way, you could see the Malecon, or boardwalk, of downtown Puerto Vallarta and on the southern end was the spire of Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral. I ran out of film before we even got out of the Banderas Bay.
After an hour, we arrived on a small island. The closest thing I could compare it to was a Hawaiian luau. Dancers dressed in native costumes acted out an ancient myth about how the gods gave man corn. Afterwards dinner was held on the beach. We had fish and chicken, steamed vegetables and a banana pudding for dessert. After dinner, my husband and I walked along the beach lit only by tiki torches. Soon we were herded back on the boat. We had barely left the dock when the captain announced over the loudspeaker it was “Partytime!” and the crew thrust Styrofoam cups of rum punch into our hands. The music was turned up, the lights turned off and we danced and drank the whole hour back to the Marina. Turned out many of the people on the boat were staying at our resort. We met Michael, a regional store manager, and Richard, a guy who had so much money he didn’t have to work, and the “Girls,” a group of 40-something recently single women on a girls-only vacation. We all agreed to meet at the resort pool the next day.
DAY 2: The day began late as we slept off a rum punch hangover. However, we still managed to stake our claim on some prime lounge chairs near the resort swim-up bar. After an hour of lying in the humid, Mexican sun, my husband and I got into the pool to cool off. We waded to the swim-up bar and who should be sitting there, but Michael from the booze cruise. He introduced us to bartender Senior Hector and offered us Pacificos. SEVEN HOURS LATER, we sauntered back up to our room desperate to shower off the chlorine and sweat. We were both loopy from the Pacificos, pruney from the pool and our backs were bright red from the UV rays that reflected off the water as we sat on the underwater bar stools. We had spent the entire afternoon talking to Michael, our new friend from Minnesota who was on his second week in Mexico, and two other travelers we had just met, Allen and Michelle, a brother and sister from California using their parents’ timeshare. After such a tough day we were too tired to go out to dinner. We just got a pizza at a place across the street.
DAY 3: After a good night sleep the next day began like the first only this time we managed to get up and to the pool early. No one was there and the swim-up bar had yet to open. Just then Michael rolled up in his wheelchair with Richard pushing him. (The day before the Rhythms cruise, Michael had tripped on the curb trying to hail a cab and severely twisted his ankle. He would spend his second week in Mexico on crutches.) Apparently Richard had cozied up to one of the “Girls” we met on the cruise and they were going sailing. So, once again it was just Michael and us followed shortly by Allen and Michelle. We debated whether we should order Pacificos or not, after all, it wasn’t noon yet. An eavesdropping voice a few lounge chairs down from us spoke up, “It’s noon somewhere in the world. Might as well start now…” With that settled, Michael ordered Pacificos.
I, however, was determined to avoid the evil swim-up bar. I walked along the beach and checked out the vendors who sell all kinds of things from hash pipes to jewelry to T-shirts. I photographed the rock dikes, which were covered with tiny colorful crabs. I even played beach volleyball with the resort activities staff. Finally, the heat got to me. I saw people sitting at the swim-up bar and I too drifted there by the end of the day. I ordered a margarita and was introduced to two nice young brothers from Wisconsin, who had taken a liking to Michelle, a couple from New Jersey who owned a construction company that did some of the clean up work from the World Trade Center site, and a family of five from England (whose youngest daughter took a liking to Michelle’s brother, Allen). Our new friend Michael said he knew all the best places to eat, drink and dance so we all agreed to go with him downtown for an evening of activities. Finally, something to do besides sit at this damn bar!
The evening began at Fugoso’s restaurant. Michael knew the owner because he dined there whenever he was in Puerto Vallarta. A lovely, young waitress made guacamole from scratch at our table. Then Michael took us to a tiny bar called Kiosco and it was in the center of the Puerto Vallarta flea market. Luis, the bartender, knew Michael by name and took everyone’s drink order. I put him to the test and asked for a Colorado Bulldog. Not only did he know what that was (people in Colorado didn’t even know what it was), but he made the best Bulldog I had ever tasted. He whipped it in a blender and it had a smooth, creamy taste, like a tootsie roll shake. At ten o’clock Luis announced last call and closed down the tiny bar.
We went to Carlos O’Brien’s down the street. We drank and danced, but the place was unbelievably hot and kind of dumpy. We sat in small, uncomfortable wooden chairs around a wobbly wooden table. The sound system was fuzzy. Sure they had pretty tequila girls roaming around and male bartenders that danced on top of the bar with their shirts off, but something wasn’t right. Maybe it was that gift shop in the corner. However, that didn’t stop us from drinking a lot of Coronas.
DAY 4: We were supposed to take a Jeep jungle tour this morning. A taxi was to pick us up at 8:15 a.m. I woke up at 8:05 and asked my husband if he wanted to go.
“Good, me neither.”
Just like the previous day, we met everyone at the swim-up bar and ordered Pacificos from Senior Hector. However, I noticed something…our little group of five had turned into a group of 15. We spent the whole day trading stories, laughing and drinking. We now called Michael “the Cruise Director” and he made arrangements for all of us to dine at Pipi’s, a popular 17-year-old restaurant. We all met in the resort lobby and took a convoy of taxis downtown. When we got there, Pipi had a long table lined up for us. Richard and the “Girls” were going to join us later. Again Michael had picked a winner. My husband thought the menu looked awfully similar to Fugoso’s and began talking to Pipi. Turned out Pipi was the brother of the owner of Fugoso’s, which was the family name. He even pulled out his driver’s license to show us. Good food runs in the family. After dinner, all of us marched down to Kiosco. Luis wasn’t there because he had to study for a test. His friend, Ricardo, served us instead. I asked him for a Colorado Bulldog and he knew how to make it, but it wasn’t as good as Luis’. He didn’t use the blender.
At Kiosco’s 10 p.m. last call, the family from England and the couple from Jersey called it a night, but the rest of us went on to find some excitement. We walked along the Malecon and found the Zoo Bar. What attracted us most was the cool air conditioning blowing from the open doors and windows. Just as we were walking in, Richard and the “Girls” were coming the other way. Michelle and I were having a great time drinking and dancing, that was until one of the “Girls” ordered all of us a shot from the wandering shot girls. The drink was horrible. I assumed it was some kind of tequila with pulpy orange juice, but it could have been sugared turpentine for all I knew. While we took a drink of beer to get the taste out of our mouths, the shot girl talked to us in Spanish. She rubbed her thumb and fingers together.
“She wants payment,” Michelle yelled in my ear. We looked around for the “Girl” who ordered it. She was no where to be seen.
“How much?” I asked. The shot girl answered, but I couldn’t hear her.
“It’s 300 pesos,” Michelle yelled. Twenty-eight dollars???? For three shots???? Plus tip??? Pissed, Michelle and I dug into our pockets
DAY 5: We didn’t wake up until noon. My head pounded from that damn shot. I groggily found a lounge chair and slept off the hangover under the blazing sun. I slept until I heard Senior Hector shouting “Happy hour!” Four o’clock already? I looked for my husband and there he was with Michael at the swim-up bar. He looked over at me, smiled and waved. The swim-up bar had us in its clutches again, but things were different. Allen and Michelle had left for California that morning. The couple from Jersey left this afternoon. Michael was leaving Sunday. And Richard? He liked Puerto Vallarta so much he called a realtor.
As the sun set on another day at the swim-up bar, I reflected on my vacation in Puerto Vallarta. I realized you don’t have to trek through jungles or visit ancient cathedrals to have an experience. We spent time with some wonderful people. So what we never left the swim-up bar.