While we were in Puerto Vallarta we took the opportunity to pick the brains of people we met to find out good places to stop as we crossed Mexico. Our informers suggested Guadalajara as the capital of Jalisco state, described as the heart of Mexico. Next up Morelia, capital of Michoacán state and a UNESCO world heritage city with fabulous, well preserved colonial architecture. It didn't disappoint, in fact I can safely say it was love at first site. We arrived in the late afternoon and the buildings were bathed in the gorgeous light of sunset which enhanced the slightly pink hue of the cathedral. Our hotel had been a building associated with the church in previous times. It was located right in the centre of town, almost opposite the cathedral. We stayed for 4 nights over the weekend and the atmosphere in town was lively at night, enhanced by the large student population, and very family oriented during the day. The central square was continually packed with families relaxing in the sunshine. There was no shortage of entertainment either with colourfully dressed folk singers and performers taking to a wooden stage for Sunday afternoon and evening. Everyone we met was so cheerful and relaxed, if they spoke English they were very helpful and welcoming too. Having seen less than half a dozen Gringo faces over the 5 day period made us feel like exclusive tourists, which we like.
All the buildings in the city are well preserved and hardly any restoration has been necessary as they have been looked after so well.
Click here to see more photos of our Mexico trip
Mike and I have enjoyed using the local bus service since we first arrived in Mexico. A standard flat fare of 6 or 7 pesos (28p) has covered a single fare for each journey we have taken.These buses are at the other end of the evolutionary scale to the elite coach described in my last entry. Hard plastic seats and non existent suspension give the impression of a square wheeled bus. Initially I assumed the driver for our return from Tlaquepaque this afternoon was struggling with the clutch as he was accelerating quickly and shuddering to a very abrupt standstill at each bus stop. It didn't matter if an elderly person with a stick was standing to get off, everyone received the same rough treatment. However, when another bus pulled out and cut him up, road rage took over and after our man raced to overtake he stopped our bus to block the other one, taking up two lanes of the dual carriageway. He then got out and he went to punch the other driver while he was still sat at the wheel. Harsh words and raised voices ensued and our driver returned to the bus. This did not calm him down and us passengers continued to be thrown about inside, I was the only one who found it funny, everyone else wore the same deadpan expressions, which made me laugh even more. Their look seemed to say, 'Goddam Gringos, laughing at us all.'
Our visit to Tlaquepaque had by contrast been very restful. A neat little suburb of Guadalajara famous for artisans and craft shops, it provided a very pleasant place for a stroll and for me to try the Torta Ahogada, (wet sandwich). This turned out to be chunks of roast pork in a half baguette with hot chilli sauce poured over, served with raw onions and lime. Quite delicious. Another new taste sensation, experienced yesterday was the Michelada Beer. This was served in a frosted mug with a salted rim and ice cubes. At the base of the glass was about 50mls of black sauce made with Worcestershire Sauce (salsa Inglesa), tabasco, liquid gravy browning (Maggi) and lime. I also enjoyed this, although I know it doesn't sound too good but it took the taste away of the accidentally ordered assorted carnitas, consisting of finely chopped pork from all parts of the animal (brain, trotter and snout included). Suitable punishment for being a carnivore.
Although the urban sprawl of Guadalajara spreads over 100sq miles it has proved to have a fine old city of pedestrian walkways, fountains, churches and plazas. There is even a temporary ice skating rink set up behind the cathedral. The shops are roughly divided into clusters selling the same thing, everything from wedding frocks to boom boxes. The whole city centre has free wifi and the council has thoughtfully provided outdoor electrical sockets for people to use. Tomorrow we're off to Morelia and tonight I will be sampling more delicious street food.
In a country where tyre specialists guarantee wheel alignment for 5 minutes after leaving the garage, we were understandably a bit apprehensive about the ride quality for our first Mexican bus journey. Make way for Primera Plus, the gold coloured buses. The hydraulic suspension was soft so the bus wallowed along the very curvaceous route but all settled down again when we got to the four lane highway. The road had been recently resurfaced which helped.This is a first class bus line and we were given a sandwich and choice of soft drink as we boarded. The cheese and ham was from the same gene pool as the packaging, but it filled a gap.
All in all an excellent 5 star service, which couldn't have been more straight forward. There was even a pre pay taxi service at the coach station in Guadalajara, which saved us battling to find a bus. So Guadalajara it is, the capital of Jalisco Province, birthplace of Mariachi music and tequila. Visit due to commence after Mike's siesta. My oh my, this is hot off the press.
A big thank you to Mark and Ivan, a swell party that lasted 3 whole weeks and with luck it won't be too far into the future until we meet again somewhere in the world. They also gave us the opportunity to see Joann, Mitch and David again, without whom we'd have never met the boys in the first place. And finally, a toast to the new friends we made in PV, you made us feel so welcome.
There were loads of whales out in the bay, they were popping up out of the water all over the place. We went with Ocean Friendly Tours who provide an educational, highly enjoyable day out. The adult whales really did come to the surface to have a look at us in the boat and one mother dived underneath with her baby.
"Ever been on a zipline before, Ali?"
"Yes, no problem"
Was it scary Ali?"
"Not at all, really enjoyed it"
But that was in 2009, Go Ape, Thetford Forest and it really had not prepared me, as I had believed for the Canopy River zipline experience in Puerto Vallarta. I was zooming along at over 40km per hour high over the jungle and the Cuale River Valley below, over 300m away. That part wasn't scary, it was the approach to the landing platform as I thought I could never stop in time. I went with Mike, Ivan and his nephew David. Mike is an adrenaline junkie and was happy to complete one zip upside down but I shook like a leaf off the canopy each time I completed a run. 12 of these and a ride on a mule to take you back to the top afterwards. A great afternoon out but I certainly did face my fear that day and Go Ape in Thetford? Kindergarten.
Look at the photos below for some great facial expressions. Double click to enlarge and see the caption
Puerto Vallarta centre is just a 10 minute drive from the house and we haven't tired of it. It is a busy seaside resort frequented by American, Canadian and Mexican tourists. Originally a small fishing village, the population has swelled to over 200, 000 in recent times. It was put on the map in the 1960's by the American Film Industry as The Night of The Iguana was filmed here, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. This is the best time of year to visit weather-wise and many of Mark and Ivan's friends spend the winter here. This has meant lots of invitations out for meals in restaurants and homes, which we have, unsurprisingly enjoyed very much. Mexican food is delicious and we have eaten in a full range of establishments ranging from a Taco Stand on the roof of an unfinished building to 5 star fine dining. Mark tells me if I write enough reviews on Trip Advisor I could get a free luggage label. Woo, hoo, I can hardly contain the excitement but I've also got to actually start writing reviews on Trip Advisor first I suppose.
One really fun thing you can do here is take a Panga (water taxi) along the coast to beaches that are inaccessible by road. A group of us were invited to join Bob and Steve, friends of our hosts for a wonderful day out on a boat with lunch at Yelapa Beach.
The following day we took another boat trip out to the Ocean Grill Restaurant, only accessible by boat. The food here was good enough to entice Mark to join us as he won't normally get on anything smaller than a cruise ship. I ate their speciality octopus, which was delicious. Yes, and tender, no rubberyness at all. A visit to the toilet here is also a must due to the view.
The days are passing by so quickly, in a dreamy laid back holiday kind of way, as we're Mark and Ivan's house guests for January. They have consistently invited us to Puerto Vallarta every winter since they moved here six years ago. What with one thing and another, this is the first year we have made it south of the border to see them. Living in Mexico presents its challenges but they have created the most wonderful home you can imagine. It has the style and luxury of a boutique hotel and is built into the granite mountainside, overlooking the bay. There are three outdoor terraces for the kitchen, dining, living, and sunning areas, connected by stairs. There is one en suite bedroom on each level, each with a balcony and another indoor living area underneath the pool. You can look at the photographs here.
Mark and Ivan put a huge effort into their annual bash on 12th night and this was no exception. The decorating theme for the house was a 'Streetcar Named Desire' and they had the front of a streetcar (American for tram) made for the occasion and for their guests to pose for photographs on arrival. The house was decked out in purple, gold and green, the colours of Mardi Gras. The invitees had all made a fantastic effort with their fancy dress and in honour of their British guests Mark and Ivan were at their regal best.
Mark provided us with costumes, I was meant to be Marie Antoinette but didn't really pull it off. Mike, however, made an extremely convincing Tracey Turnblad from Hairspray.
If anyone told you to fly to Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, via Chicago and Houston from Florida, you'd think they were bonkers. United Airlines are declared bonkers by me. Chicago is a hub for United Airlines, 1000 miles in the wrong direction but that is the route I was presented with at the time of booking. The flight time and departure airport in Florida suited us best but we also had to endure a 7 hour wait overnight at Chicago, which we spent on the concourse. Prior to our journey I was tormented with a vision of a sequel to Planes, Trains and Automobiles involving the Kingstons trying to get to Mexico in time for New Years Eve. Who chooses to fly via Chicago in winter? Then there was the other issue of the change at Houston. An airport so vast it had 5 terminals connected by a mono rail system and according to the flight times we only had 30 minutes to spare, without the taxiing time factored in. Feeling compelled to run for our connection, we arrived at the gate 20 minutes late, which was, of course, the furthest terminal from the one we had arrived at, but they had waited. The in flight entertainment was provided by the air hostess, as she picked up the seatbelt for the safety demonstration her opening line was,
" You won't know how to use one of these if you've not been in a car since 1958".
Anyway, all had gone according to plan and just as I allowed myself to breathe out a huge sigh of relief that I hadn't after all, made the biggest journey plan bungle of the year, when we discovered that Mike's backpack wasn't on the baggage carousel. I made light of it along with the baggage handler manager, Carlos. We didn't know the full address of our destination, just the house name and I made a feeble joke about the bag having potentially gone astray at any point between Fort Myers and Casa Magnolias. However, he was confident and said we should ring after the next, and last flight arrived and he would put it in a taxi. I remained positive and flippant about the issue until I remembered that half my gear was in there along with all of Mike's.
It seems the plane waited for us passengers in Houston but not long enough for Mike's bag. It arrived at the house in time for us to get ready to go out for New Years' Eve. Fortified by a nap and copious amounts of strong coffee we proceeded to attend 4 parties and had a restaurant meal out. There is a sizeable gay community in PV and at one point I proved the opposite to the 'Only Gay in the Village' as the 'Only Straight Female in the Bistro'. At midnight we watched simultaneous firework displays around the bay from a penthouse balcony in town that provided a panoramic view. We finally flopped into bed at 4am, our latest night in years. Great fun, lovely to see Mark and Ivan again and meet some of their friends.
I love travel, any type. There is always a buzz in finding & exploring a place for the first time, meeting and making new friends and if you return things are never quite the same.
Going away? Travel essentials from across Amazon
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