Category Archives: Puerto Vallarta

Beyond the Bay (The Marietas Islands, Mexico)

Sunset on Bay of Banderas

In my mind, it’s better to “go” than to wait for that perfect someday.  Branches of my family tree sag with somebodies who waited upon “somedays” that never came.  And so, when the choice is between traveling by myself or staying home, I water my plants and pack a bag.  Faced with a full week of unfettered days a few years ago,  I opted for Nuevo Vallarta and some time with a new favorite friend, Me.  On one of my final days, I joined a group sailing out of Banderas Bay toward the Marietas Islands.

One interesting element of traveling alone is the way it enables one to drift in and out of conversations.  One can listen to others -or ignore them.  There is the opportunity to engage with those around you or to take a personal retreat. One can rev up the brain or simply observe as your senses soak in the impressions of each moment.  The optimal method to achieving this mental utopia is to situate oneself within groups of a certain size.  My sailing trip from Nuevo Vallarta to the Marietas Islands violated that self-imposed standard by at least one hundred people.  The gleaming wood sailing vessel was elegant, classic, but unfortunately, much smaller than I had expected and hoped for…  My fellow passengers numbered only twenty and included cozy couples, a family of four and an extended family group of about twelve from Appleton, Wisconsin.  But, the morning sun was warming up a perfect day, and it was infinitely better to be there alone than to not be there at all.  I settled onto a white canvas cushion and floated into my own thoughts as we sailed out onto Banderas Bay.

Children climbing ladder and Mother; Puerto Vallarta

Grief over the closely-timed deaths of my parents, grandfather and marriage had created a watery barrier around my moments of joy and muffled its volume.  I was no longer somebody’s daughter, nor anyone’s wife.  And for this week, I was a mother traveling without children.  I was simply “Heather.”

The difficult part comes during the “look at that!” nudging moments. Sharing the remarkable seems almost an elemental part of processing it and saving it into our internal hard drive.  We define the extraordinary against those who are familiar with our ordinary zones.  That afternoon in Mexico, I knew I was sailing toward “extraordinary.”  And, instead of saving it for “someday,” I was ripping open the package and taking the first bite all by myself.

The Sierra Madres merged into a singular broad expanse behind us as the sea sprayed the bow and the afternoon rolled into a brilliant sort of serenity.  I somehow became part of a couple of family groups,  learning the early and mid-chapters of lives for which I’d be unlikely to read the endings.  Although the whale migration season had officially ended, two humpbacks swam in the mouth of the bay.  Our guide, Gustavo,  speculated that the stragglers were a mother and calf who had not been ready for the pod’s swim north.  I’ve watched bus-sized humpbacks breach with dramatic splashes in Maui’s waters. This was different.  We were further away, but the glimpse of determined mother with her child was a more intimate encounter.

Schooling dolphins by Marietas Islands

We cut sharply through the dark blue waters, eventually spotting the stumpy blobs of volcanic matter that are the Marietas Islands, but before we could get there, we were surrounded by about four hundred dolphins. They circled us again and again as a dancing, leaping parade. From the reactions of the boat’s crew, I knew it was unlikely I’d see such a spectacular display again.

The largest island loomed ahead like an overly puffed and then squashed marshmallow…

The magic of the Marietas lay just ahead.


A “Favorite Day” in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco (Part II)

Chair people; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco Mexico

Recently, I wrote about a “favorite day” spent in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It began on a city bus that dumped me unceremoniously at the edge of a Wal-Mart parking lot.

The “Photo Hike” (Intro)…

A “Photo Hike” through Puerto Vallarta (Part I)
Public bus; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco Mexico

And I was OK with that, actually… It was the bus transfer site, and I needed to pick up some bug repellant, being the “human of choice” for most biting insects. Armed with “hormiga”, the Spanish word for ant gleaned from a fellow traveler, and a vague notion to somehow illustrate “spray”, charade-style, I planned to pop in for the repellant and grab the next bus into town.

Wow. Wal-Mart is soooo different in Spanish! It actually generates a slight thrill in me to be completely lost. Good thing with the whims I occasionally follow… Suffice it to say that my spray motion and “hormiga” pronunciation landed me in the deodorant aisle, my blue-shirted escort smiling broadly as he helpfully repeated my spraying pantomime. It took a manager and another walk across the store to secure the desired insect repellant, but it was more like walking through some kitschy art gallery than “shopping” as most of the colorful advertising was indecipherable to me.

I scanned the splashy candy display on my way through check-out. “Hot” is to their candy confections as “sour” is to ours. It seems Mexicans will put peppers in and on about anything, which seems reasonable to a woman who carries hot sauce in her purse. How about chili-coated strawberry flavored gummies? Nothing is so odd that it can’t be perfectly normal somewhere in the world. I like that.

Dominos delivers; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco MexicoCrossing the parking lot by foot was slightly treacherous. Motorized traffic in Mexico always feels slightly disorganized and terribly aggressive, but I safely caught the “Centro” bus into Puerto Vallarta .

I disembarked with a huge smile in old Vallarta (Viejo), also called El Centro . After Taxi row; old Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexicosoaking it all in for maybe ten seconds, I instinctively headed east toward the lovely Banderas Bay . A waterfront promenade, the Malecon, gilded by whimsical bronze sculptures, frames the city in a splendid way. The sculptures, created by renowned Mexican artists, are more than lovely art pieces. They entertain and invite interaction as they sparkle in the sunlight.

NostalgiaI felt the melancholy warmth of “Nostalgia”, a bronzed couple fluidly gazing slightly behind themselves, their backs to the Bay, and photographed some wacky “chair people” (top photo).

Climbing the ladder; sculpture on Malecon in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, MexicoOne of my favorite encounters of the day came beneath the sculpture of a “blob” of a mom (the weight of stress or gravity of aging, I wonder?) calling to her two blob children who are escaping up a ladder to nowhere. In the US there would be a fence around the base of the ladder and a plaque absolving the city of any responsibility should someone be tempted to climb and risk probable injury or death. In PV, it’s assumed that a ladder is for climbing, and so there are rarely just the two bronze children on the skyward escape route.

boy with I photographed a couple of brothers playing on and around the metallicized people. One of them grew extremely fascinated with my camera, thrilling to see his own image on the review screen. I had to Let me see!laugh as his eagerness to see his image resulted in photo after photo of him darting out of the frame toward me and my camera.

Crown of Templo de Guadelupe Cathedral with bird; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco MexicoAfter bartering for a handful of lovely Taxco silver bracelets and admiring some remarkable sand sculptures, I wandered inland to the Templo de Guadelupe Cathedral. Its filigreed crown commands notice, drawing devoted worshippers into a sanctuary, stunning in beauty and weighty with spiritual drama.

school children in Puerto Vallarta MX

Groups of uniformed children savored after-school ice cream on the sidewalks as I made my way back toward the oceanfront.

Beach vendor; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco MexicoI trailed a blanket vendor across the Rio Cuale, pausing to watch children swimming and splashing beneath the bridge.

Playa Olas Altas lay just beyond: a beach rimmed with outdoor restaurants Beach kebabs; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco Mexicoas well as some on-the-beach dining. Dusk was only an hour away now as I wandered from melody to melody; enjoying the music, smells, and the lovely vivid colors of old Mexico.

Serenade on the Bay of Banderas; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco Mexico

On the not-so-far horizon, glowing ships bobbed in the Bay of Banderas hillside; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco Mexicosetting sunlight as hills dotted with an innumerable variety of houses rose behind them, eventually becoming the Sierra Madre mountains.

I hated to leave, but feeling the need to be as prudent as I would want my daughter to be, I began retracing my steps. I did detour to see an enormous 300-year old tree, but who wouldn’t? A couple of shopkeepers helped me fine-tune my return route, one even writing down phrases for every eventuality. I was charmed by their helpfulness.

Finally, as the sun sank lower, I ran for the last bus out of town, feeling that satisfied glow that comes from filling a single day to its fullest.


A “Photo Hike” through Puerto Vallarta; Part I

Blue to blue roofline; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
One of my favorite days began on an uncomfortably crowded bus in Nuevo Vallarta.

The “Photo Hike” (Intro)

I planned to travel from “Nuevo”, in the state of Nayarit, Mexico to Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; city busa simple slide down and around the crescent Bay of Banderas with a moderately challenging bus transfer near the WalMart. Already in the midst of a major life re-alignment, I simply grabbed a couple of maps with my camera and figured that I’d find my path as it appeared.

This was an absolutely amazing day. The people I met, the vignettes that played out before me… As the sun plunged back into the sea, I remember thinking, “Wait! I was going to have a fish taco!” Too late, though. By then, I was racing to catch the last bus home from the depot; a “Cinderella at midnight” moment but with flip flops and a pretty nice sun tan…

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; ice cream and politicsOk. Me and my camera… I hopped my bus that morning and immediately met Jessie, young mom of Isabel. Jessie was riding to her office job, in a bit of a struggle to support her baby and her husband as he looked for a sales position. I was both an encouraging ear and her “English practice” for the length of her bus ride. We developed a mutual admiration, sharing the common bonds of motherhood and a curiousity about the worlds beyond our own. A couple of guitarists in the back aisle of our bus generated a surprisingly energetic sing-a-long that seemed to revive even the most bleary-eyed commuter. I knew “Stand By Me”, the only song sung in English, and picked up what Spanish phrases I could in the rest… It was fun.
Jessie and I would have enjoyed chatting a few more minutes. She spent the last couple looking over my map and haltingly advising me on my pending transfer. She made a slow exit at her stop, telling me that she hoped we’d meet again. An unlikely event, I knew, but sweet to hope for… In what felt almost like a benediction, she pronounced me “very kind”, and said that she knew I’d meet many nice people that day.

She was right. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; bull-fight poster That’s usually the best part of travel for me… The random exchanges with individuals just slightly removed from their own “usual”.

There were a couple of high school kids from Chicago then… Mom held the grocery list and a short leash on the schedule. The daughter was on the cusp of college selection and brimmed with her own possibilities. Her younger brother was deeply troubled by the bull-fighting phenomenon his bi-lingual, 70-ish grandmother found so captivating. He traded seats to better converse with me. We talked about a lot of things but always slid back to the bull-fighting. I silently sided with him, praying she wouldn’t compel him to watch another blood-bath on their annual vacation. One grandma’s “art” form; one grandson’s garish nightmare… We’re all made so differently, aren’t we?

There’s more. Much more…

A “Favorite Day” in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco (Part Two)

*I’m headed out-of-town in the next couple of days on another one of those long drives that I find so challenging. However, my oldest son does have his temporary driving permit now, so it should be much easier this time (right?)…


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