It’s been very strange these past several days to be so dang hot and wearing all my summer clothes again while people make reference to The Holidays being just around the corner (so, you know, I should buy all sorts of souvenirs, they make me deal!).
In Puerto Vallarta, we docked near a shopping mall that had “Feliz Navidad” and pine wreaths and reindeer decorating the building. With 86 degree temps and high humidity, the image was just plain wrong.
I can tell I am finally relaxing. I have gotten lots of glorious and much-needed rest over the past week. Something about being rocked (mostly gently – I’m down 2 Dramamine) to sleep each night has induced much slumber.
I also got hit by a cold yesterday. Historically, my body seems to know when I am running on empty and it can finally let its guard down to give into the sniffles and sneezes. Yesterday was our last port before home and sure enough, just hours after returning to our cabin, I was pawing around in our medicine stash for Sudafed.
Today I am trying very hard to stay away from public spaces so as not to infect anyone else (yay for the highly unpopular Skywalkers Lounge!). I’m not thrilled about having a cold, but I am grateful it’s a head thing and not a tummy thing. Rob is actually pleased I am sick because he knows that means I finally stopped fighting. So in a very weird way, my sea of Kleenex wads is a sign of a vacation much-needed and well-done.
Our three ports this cruise were the main ones that The Love Boat typically visited. Occasionally they went to Ensenada and/or Acapulco, but the primary ones tended to be Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. I am here to tell you, every one of them looks quite different now than in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Especially Cabo San Lucas. Yikes! The growth is mind-blowing!
When we booked the cruise, we fully anticipated never leaving the ship. Did I mention we don’t like Mexico? But as we perused the excursions offered by the cruise line, we decided that it might not be too awful if we stuck with a tour and were lead around like sheep by fully vetted and accredited tour guides. And thus we bravely got off the ship each day and tentatively explored a little of what each town had to offer.
Our tour was billed as a walking tour of the town’s newish boardwalk, a visit to a church (no shorts allowed, poor overheated Rob), a stop at a tile factory (in reality more gift shop than factory), and then a final stop at a tequila distillery about 45 minutes outside of town for lunch and learn-how-they-make-stuff instruction. Free samples were also promised. Ole!
The highlight of the walking tour was going into the City Hall and seeing a mural on the wall. David, our tour guide, was quite proud to show it to us.
As nice as the mural was, what made the visit memorable was that there was a reporter from the local newspaper there and she asked to take our group’s picture for a front-page tourism article for the next day’s paper. David was VERY excited.
Rob and I smiled at each other, silently remembering the trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico several years ago when we ended up on the front page of the newspaper watching a beautiful wildfire-induced sunset. It remains one of my favorite pictures of us. And it was our first brush with paparazzi.
Back in Puerto Vallarta’s City Hall, all us little tour ducklings lined up, with a few people shamelessly angling to be right next to David so that they would be front and center in the photo. Even though Rob and I ended up in the middle of the photo, it was mostly because we got bumped into that position.
With some anticipation, I finally got online this morning to search for the lengthy tourism article and the accompanying professional photo of our tour proudly in front of the mural. If you want to check it out yourself, here’s the link. Because I like to be a full-service blogger, though, here is the photo:
And here is the full and complete translation of the extensive article: “The national and international tourism, is very important for our city, because besides the economic benefit they generate, in the end each one of those visitors become promoters of our beautiful Puerto Vallarta.”
I hope David is still proud and excited. Me, I am highly amused.
The other highlight of the day was the visit to the tequila factory. It was quite a ways out of town, past the prison.
Once there, we had a fantastic beef taco lunch and the very best habanero salsa I have ever tasted. Tummies full, we then learned about how tequila is made and got to sample 6 different versions (Rob and I maturely split the shots. Yeah, we’re wimps. But sober ones!). Here’s what I learned:
-- Real tequila is made from 100% blue agave. If it is made from green agave, it is called mezcal. Mezcal is apparently sort of nasty and it is the stuff with the worm in it. So, worm = no bueno.
|That pine cone thing is the heart of a blue agave plant.|
-- The process of making tequila is more similar to making whiskey than making wine. Lots of distilling and high alcohol content. Nevertheless, Rob had a fascinating yet rather technical side conversation with the head tequila maker. The factory was family-run and the maker was the founder’s grandson. The family sent him to France to learn wine making and sort of earn some credibility. Interesting tactic that apparently was successful.
-- Much like champagne, tequila can only be legally called that if it is made in the Tequila region of Mexico.
-- The delicious limey citrus smell of a margarita is actually the tequila, not the mix. Having not had straight tequila since the bachelorette bar-hopping party my co-workers threw for me 25 years ago (I remember the first 5 shots – oy), I had no idea how wonderful tequila smells. This was dangerous insight.
-- The real way you are supposed to drink a margarita is without lime or salt. Mexicans started adding lime and salt to cover up bad tequila. Since I love salt, this information is unlikely to change the way I order my margaritas. Call me inauthentic.
-- Some people make flavored tequilas. We tried a peach one, an almond one, and a coffee one. Later, in a touristy market place, we sampled a mango one and a hibiscus one.
-- Relatedly, we now know the process for bringing hard alcohol on board a cruise ship. You have to check it in immediately and they stash it away until the last day of the cruise. Then you get it back, pack it, and take it home with you.
-- For a limited time only, free samples of peach and hibiscus flavored tequilas at Woodhaven!
Our tour was an “off-the-beaten-path” boat ride through an estuary to see birds and mangroves. Although neither of us is really into birds, Rob and I remembered having quite enjoyed seeing new-to-us wildlife on different trips. So this sounded like a relaxing, soothing, educational way to avoid the city of Mazatlan itself.
Instead, we got to experience Mexico tourism at its authentic best. Or worst? Either way, it was a decidedly we’re-not-in-the-US day. Some entertaining highlights:
As I stepped into the small boat we toured around in, I was alarmed and then amused that the boat’s floor was rather squishy. It was freshly painted, though, so at least it looked in operable condition.
Each seat sported an uninflatable faded orange life jacket. As I eyed mine, I surmised that the best it could do would be to indicate where I was flailing about in the water trying to stay afloat. No matter, though. Hugo, our tour guide, announced that it was too hot to wear the life jackets and assured us that Carlos the Driver would not capsize the boat. None of us felt very confident but none of us put on the life jackets either.
The bird watching wasn’t terribly exotic. We mostly saw buzzards, blue herons, and pelicans. We did get to see the pelicans up close though, thanks to some smelly fish Hugo brought on board for photo ops. He was adorably confused why nobody was volunteering to feed the pelicans the stinky treats.
After our boat ride, we were to be taken to a restaurant on the beach for lunch and then an hour of free time playing in the water. I assumed we would be transported via another tour bus lacking functional AC. Instead, we got to take what Hugo kept calling a “Mexican limo.”
The “limo” was a large rickety wooden cart with boards nailed across for benches. The cart had an awning, so at least it was shady. And it had lots of organic AC (yay for a breeze!). We entered the limo from the back by scrambling up two very high, rotted-wood steps.
Once inside, we had to hurdle over the benches to find a seat. Well, my knee wasn’t having any of that, so I snagged a seat in the far back that required no track and fielding. I was the youngest on the tour and by far not the only one with knee issues, so that back area filled up quickly.
Did I mention that the cart was pulled by a tractor? Oh, and Chester the Chihuahua rode along up front. It was quite hard not to notice that he was all boy.
Once we got going, the limo took us off-roading through the jungle and sand dunes for a good half-hour until we came to the beach. Then it drove us right along the water’s edge, running over a cormorant along the way (yeah, it squawked quite loudly, hobbled about afterwards, and quite upset a number of passengers. Rather unwise form to run over a bird with a vehicle carrying a bunch of bird-lovers. Oops.). It was a very looooong 6 miles.
I took a few blurry pictures but decided a video tells the story best. Please note that my camera has a motion stabilizer and I was doing everything I could to keep my hands steady. And yes, my back was NOT happy with this adventure. And yes, I have passed along to people who should know that the tour’s description needs to be amended a bit.
Finally at the restaurant, we spent the next couple of hours commiserating with other sore tourists and fending off musicians and vendors selling beaded jewelry and iron wood turtles.
I had brought along my swimsuit to go play in the uncommonly warm water (it was reportedly about 84 degrees), but I just couldn’t muster the courage to change my clothes in the restaurant’s rustic bathroom. The fact that the ocean water was an icky brown didn’t help entice me either. I did go put my feet in it, though. And then killed the rest of the time trying to figure out how to clean them off.
Cabo San Lucas
Our tour in Cabo San Lucas was our favorite. It took us about an hour north of the increasingly large and touristy town to a little colonial village called Todos Santos.
Todos Santos has a beautiful mission founded by the Jesuits – that’s pretty much what started the town several centuries ago. More recently, The Eagles and Don Henley wrote a very famous song about a hotel there and fans often stop by as a sort of a pilgrimage.
Todos Santos got hit a bit hard by a hurricane a few years ago, so some of it is still being repaired while other parts are newly renovated. From the looks of things, Todos Santos aims to be the Carmel (California) or Cannon Beach (Oregon) of Baja. There were a number of artsy stores and studios, and the souvenirs were much more authentic and handcrafted than all the mass-produced pottery and beadwork and silver jewelry we saw in the other ports.
The town was named by the Mexican government as an historic place (officially called a Magic Town). As such, Todos Santos is getting some additional funding and is the first to get some improvements like a desalinization plant (adequate supplies of water are a big issue on this desert peninsula of Baja California).
Overall, the town just felt more real and less touristy that where we visited in Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. It wasn’t crowded at all. In fact, our tour of 20 caused many locals to stare for a bit. This has a lot to do with why it was our favorite tour.
After walking around town and visiting the mission, we settled in for lunch at the cantina inside the Hotel California. Yep, THAT Hotel California. It was a very pleasant, comfortable, welcoming place. The food was delicious, the margarita was fantastic, and they were kind enough to play The Song twice while we were there.
As I listened to the song in the place that inspired it, I thought a lot about a friend of mine who traveled all over the world for about 3 years. Andi she said she heard “Hotel California” played at least once in every single country she visited – Germany, Jordan, China, you name it, they played it. I’m not sure if Andi has ever been to Todos Santos. If not, she definitely needs to add it to her travel list. They even have t-shirts for when she marks the occasion (yeah, touristy but still not as touristy as the other ports).
We still need to pack and I still have about a half-hour left of internet minutes I can use. Oh, right! This is my first official cruise with free wifi! Well, 150 minutes of free wifi. Which has been plenty to check email, get fantasy football teams situated, check in for our flights, and upload 13 photos and 2 videos to my blog. My loyalty to Princess has paid off! And rest assured, soon we’ll be making another run. Well, at least soonish.