As is the norm with everything in life, you don't know what a place is going to be like until you get there. That's why I try hard not to let my imagination get going before I arrive. We had heard and read stuff about Mexico City. A population over 21 million, pollution, a large geographical area, crime, drug taking, fancy restaurants, cathedral, historic old town, museums, ancient sites. Looking at that list makes it no different to any other city we have visited, apart from the population, as the greater metropolitan area qualifies it as the third biggest in the world. As we approached the outskirts I could see the grey houses spreading out over the hillsides, mainly single storey dwellings made out of concrete breeze blocks.
We pre paid our taxi at the booth in the coach station and as our driver spoke a bit of English and us a bit of Spanish he was able to point things out along the way and we all spoke Spanglish. Our hotel was in the Zona Rosa, a busy area with lots of bars, clubs, shops and restaurants. It was mainly pedestrianised and first impressions were favourable. For our first meal we found a restaurant packed with Mexicans called the Casa de Tono and when we saw that Cochinita Pibil was on the menu we were lured straight in off the street. This is my favourite Mexican dish, and we make it at home. To end this great start to the visit our hotel was located in a quiet street so we had the best sleep, in the place we least expected it.
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
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.
"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.
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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