Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Two months later...

Since I've been getting non-stop requests for another update (ok, maybe 2 requests...) here goes...

It's been 2 months and change since we left Vancouver, which seems, as usual, like both the blink of an eye and a whole lifetime ago. Time is funny like that.

Since the last update, Sam and I have left Tulan, visited Sayulita (tourist mecca, but not my favourite spot thus far), spent several days hanging out in Puerto Vallarta, a few more days hanging out in Lo de Marcos, and then rented an apartment for two weeks in Bucerias (4 days to go...).

It all started with a craving for a bacon cheeseburger. Just because I've been feeling healthy and happy with my vegetarian Tulan diet doesn't mean I've completely changed, after all, and sometimes a body just needs bacon cheeseburgers. And beer.

Being an excellent guide and knowledgeable about such things as how to find a real burger in Mexico, Sam suggested we hit tourist land and go to Sayulita, which we did. The burger was excellent.

A series of events led us to Puerto Vallarta for a few days, which really is a lovely place, although also a tourist mecca. Forgive this digression, but I really do feel the need to share my observations about the Pacific coastal towns of Mexico (or what I've seen thus far).

Sayulita, a wildly popular destination judging from the enormous number of Canadian and Americans I saw there, is in my view a totally bizarre place. When we walked into stores or restaurants, people automatically started speaking to us in English. Even when we (and by "we" I mean Sam of course) spoke in Spanish, we still got English replies. It is a crazily expensive town - even the "cheap" hostel cost about the same as our perfectly decent (and private) hotel room in P.V.

Puerto Vallarta is, obviously, also a wildly popular tourist destination, but whereas Sayulita appears to have been built by developers specifically as a place for tourists to go (I have no idea how it evolved, that's just how it appeared to me), P.V. is a real Mexican city with a port and a local population in addition to the resorts that have been developed. So, while it is possible to find a Starbucks, Walmart, and almost any other American amenity one may be looking for in P.V., it is also possible to find a cheap hotel and an absolutely delightful comedor (cafe) with home-cooked, authentic Mexican food prepared and served by a seƱora with a kindly smile.

Lo de Marcos, on the other hand, does not appear to be a wildly popular tourist destination, but has by far the best beach of the three; affordable, modest accommodations; good comedors as well as an ex-pat breakfast joint with drinkable coffee, and no crowds of noisy tourists. No one spoke English to us except at the ex-pat breakfast place. The beer on the beach was 5 to 10 pesos less per bottle than any of the other beach establishments we’ve been to. The best part of Lo de Marcos, though, is that the local population is incredibly friendly. Unlike Sayulita, in particular, the locals do not appear to have become full of animosity and hostility toward gringos. On the contrary, we were greeted with friendly smiles and words by passers-by, and frequently offered assistance if we looked even momentarily indecisive about where we were going.

San Blas, where we spent our first beach vacation in February, is a bit of a mix of the others. It’s got an incredible beach, which was nearly empty the whole week we were there, some tourists but nothing like Sayulita or P.V., a sizeable ex-pat community (along with the requisite ex-pat bar, boasting live music and good steak), cheap beer on the beach (though not as cheap as Lo de Marcos). The town is larger and therefore offers a few more amenities than Lo de Marcos, but the local population wasn’t as friendly – not unfriendly, just more indifferent to the gringos.

For those of you out there who want to have a beach vacation but also experience a bit more of authentic Mexico, I’d recommend a visit to Lo de Marcos. Our hotel room had a small kitchenette and a pool (quite a treat), and cost $250 pesos per night (a bit less than $25 cdn). It was just a few blocks from the beach (everything is just a few blocks from the beach, it’s a very small place) and there’s good food everywhere for hardly any money. I believe I touted the surf camp in San Blas in a previous post, so won’t repeat that here, but it’s also a great alternative to the all-inclusive resort.

Anyway, back to the main point of this story. After we left P.V., we hit Lo de Marcos, escaping the crowds and having a very restful few days while we figured out what to do next. “Next” turned out to be renting a small apartment in Bucerias for a couple of weeks, to relax, read, and spend some time with a friend we have here.

Our apartment is great. It’s in a part of Bucerias that our friend jokingly calls “gringo-ville”, since it’s in the tourist part of town. It’s a quiet, pleasant neighbourhood, quite affordable (about $250 Cdn for 15 days), just a block and a bit from the beach. There’s a pool right outside our door, and we have the best unit in the place. We have the only patio, with a table and chairs and a tarp overhead in case it rains, and potted plants decorating it. Inside, we have a small kitchen with a gas stove, stocked with most of the dishes we need (we did buy a pot for cooking with), benches built into the walls, and the best feature, a king-size bed. The hot water works almost all of the time, a very nice amenity that took us two days to enjoy, since no one had mentioned when we arrived that the cold and hot taps are reversed.

I’ve been spending my days walking on the beach (deep sand really does give a better workout than walking on pavement), swimming in the ocean, floating in our pool on the little air mattress I bought, reading (English) books, and cooking. Sam informed me last night that my Mexican cooking has now reached the lofty height of ensuring my ability to catch a nice Mexican husband. I felt quite complimented.

We have a few days left here, and I’ve just started reading the first of an Isaac Asimov trilogy that is bound to take me several days to get through, so I’ll obviously be quite busy with that. It’s a hard life.

We’re not sure what’s next, but we do know that we want to get out of Bucerias and any other popular tourist destination before Semana Santa (Holy Week), which is always a gong show. Every Mexican in the country will be flocking to the coast for their holiday.

In the meantime, I have some reading to do.

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