Viva Puerto Vallarta

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Perhaps tearing a page out of my book, my younger sister Larissa took a 6-month job dancing and working with the entertainment crew at a resort in Mexico, on the west coast city of Puerto Vallarta. And that was all the excuse I needed to make a January escape from what is probably the most brutal winter in recent memory with my other sister, Nicole, her friend Janelle, and my friend John. A very early morning had us in Calgary by 7 AM, which would’ve been fine but we had five hours to wait before flying to Puerto Vallarta which itself is a 5.5 hour flight. Why they don’t have another flight into Calgary at even 9 AM is beyond me – there’s one at noon which I’m sure is all but empty. And getting no sleep – which is what the girls did (I got 2 hours and John the full 8) – only to sit waiting in an airport is not exactly an award-winning strategy.

The girls took advantage of this by going shopping in town while John and I relaxed and watched the sunrise as planes came and left, discussing myriad topics of interest to us and probably not you. Soon, they were back and we were off on a much less comfortable 737-700 (the 600 we took up was downright roomy in comparison) watching the snow line disappear into the distance and Utah’s red desert unfold. On the way down I read the Warren Buffet bio I’d picked up at the library (Nicole had brought the same book, oddly enough) and watched – wait for it – Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Whoa. Before long our own excellent adventure was underway; we pushed the button at customs, four green lights, and it was begun. Time share agents to the left of me, hockers to the rights, we battled our way through and past the cabbies – even the ones offering us $8 – to the ones that were supposed to be cheaper across the freeway.

Larissa’s resort, Hola Puerto Vallarta, is about eight minutes from the airport towards downtown. And while it isn’t five star, both John and I instantly agreed it was a big step up from where we stayed when we went to Cancun (and quite a bit bigger too). Basically one step out from the cab and the bellhop recognized us as Larissa’s family. We waited around the lobby and then all of a sudden there was Larissa. It may not have been all of a sudden, I may have been looking right at her as she was walking towards us, but I wouldn’t have recognized her anyway. Between the dark from working everyday in the Mexican sun since October and her getting so much exercise kayaking and doing water aerobics 6 days a week, she looked very different from when she left.

In either case, it was a nice reunion but she had to run off to dance and we had to recuperate from the WestJet diet (Bits and Bites) with a buffet meal. The girls weren’t too fond of the food, but we all agreed that the fish was excellent. It was too late to use it on day one, but the pool looked inviting and I was quite looking forward to stretching out on a lawn chair with the cheesy Spanish music playing, the sun beaming down, and a cocktail in my hand. But of course that would have to wait until tomorrow, for tonight we were all pretty wiped (especially with some food and wine and very little sleep) so we visited with Larissa in the lobby and went to sleep.

What a glorious way to wake up. Opening the door of our balcony, the pool languished below, just beginning to catch the morning sun and now that it was day, we could see the Pacific ocean spread beyond a thin strand of beach, umbrellas, and palms. We met the girls down at the restaurant for breakfast, or at least tried to, but I had no sandals – so I had to go shopping before I could even eat breakfast. Aside from the hiccup and breakfast on my own I was soon on the beach doing exactly what I’d planned to. And despite my late arrival my lack of sunscreen meant that I had to get out of the sun early in the afternoon. Sound like a bummer? Well, no problem at all, I grabbed a drink and sat on my balcony watching the pool action unfold. Todo tomorrow: Water polo.

But tonight they had Latin Night, which frankly was just in time. John and I wandered down to the beach where the show was and got a table right in front of the stage with some other prairie folk. Actually, it was pretty interesting that almost everyone we met at the resort was Canadian and specifically western Canadian (aside from BC). Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Ontario? Nada. Quebec? One couple. Anyway, I say it was just in time because the girls were getting pretty down on the food here, and tonight it was fantastic. Fresh fish, beach barbecue, it was Malaysia all over again but even cheaper thanks to the magic of all-inclusive. And all while we ate, Larissa and the crew got up on stage and did some dances. Pretty awesome and I felt like a celebrity’s brother having Larissa up there.

Any pride quickly turned to embarrassment however, when John was pulled on stage, stripped down to his bikini top, and had to dance like a girl. Two words: Hi and larious. And he won a bottle of champagne for his excellent efforts, and then back to the crew dancing again. Finally, we got to meet all of them as they sat with us after their show, and I was very happy to see that they all seem like nice and fun people. And so the days, for the most part, went. Larissa took John and I to lunch at a little Mexican restaurant for some unbelievable Shrimp burritos – it doesn’t sound so good, but combined with all the fresh dips and salsas, well, we were stuffed halfway along and had to finish it because it was so good.

We took one day excursion for $78 US on something called Vallarta Adventures that I was pleasantly surprised by. Not to sound pompous, but to put it in perspective, I spent two months in New Zealand doing anything and everything that ever fell under the category of outdoor adventure in much less supervised fashion. And while this didn’t get my blood pumping like some of the other things I have done what it was was fun. Good, old fashioned, flying through the trees fun. And pretty good value even if you find yourself paying full price. They take you on a boat to Banderas Bay whereupon you load up into old Merc troop transports and bounce up the mountain. When you can go no farther, you trade for a donkey and after that and a short hike you trade that in for a zip line and bounce back and forth between the mountains. Then you’re rappelling down a waterfall and off a hanging platform that looks like it is hanging from the sky. Before you know it, it’s over and they’re trying to charge you waaaaaay too much for photos. If they were more reasonably priced, I’m pretty sure they would’ve sold to everyone, but instead they were greedy and didn’t sell a single photo.

Moral lesson learned, we stopped in for some tequila tasting (as if we hadn’t done enough of that in our lives already) and to see how it’s made. The rest of the holiday was just that, but there were a few more notable events before running back to Saskatoon. The dancers put on an international show and the Mexicans attempted to dance Zorba, which was a good if ill-fated effort. It was nice to see them struggling since they blow away anything I could ever do with every other one of their dances. We went to watch Mexican volleyball championships which two of Larissa’s friends were in. We watched the sunset every night. And we karaoked so that we knew that good or (more likely) bad, we’d left our impression on the place. I’m sure we were missed on the Water Polo games after our departure. I’m sure the bartenders were happy not to have to do cerveza con limon. And I’m sure glad that we didn’t end up having to sleep in the Calgary airport on our way home, though it was close.

Puerto Vallarta Photos
Water Polo Photos

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