Rock n Roll Hoochi Koo
in Bucerias Mexico
Here's The Plan: Our friends, Jeff and Teri, purchased a home in Bucerias, Mexico last October. Jeff was the keyboard player in the band that I have been playing in for the past several years. He has dreamed of snowbirding it down in the Puerto Vallarta area for years, and he now is living his dream. Within two weeks of moving down to Bucerias, Jeff found a couple of solo gigs. He plays drum and bass tracks from his iPad while he sings and plays his keyboards live. It works out great; however, it sounds even better, at least in my view, with a live guitar player added to the mix.
So, we were invited to Mexico to play some duo gigs for March, and we jumped on the idea. After a couple of weeks of packing and planning and a month of polar vortexes and blizzards in Wisconsin, it was finally time to head for Margaritas and sunshine. The 10-day forecast shows full sun and 80º every day. Boring? Not on your life!
Tuesday, February 26, 2019. The drive down to Chicago was uneventful. We reached the Quality Inn O’Hare around 5 pm. Our flight boards at 6:25 am so we will spend the night at Quality Inn just a few miles from the airport.
Our bags are ready and loaded with maps, public transportation info, and tons of day trip ideas to visit beaches, islands, jungle hiking trails, and mountain villages. Oh yeah, and two gigs a week at a couple of beach bars.
Nayarit - February 27
Tarralta 1 in Bucerias Mexico
Wednesday, February 27, 2019. We gave up sleeping at 2:30 am after a restless night. Usually, I can sleep well past 8 or even much later. However, when I need to get up very early for an important appointment or an early flight, my internal alarm clock goes off all night long.
Quality Inn O’Hare runs 24/7 shuttles to the airport, and we caught the 4 am shuttle. At the ticket counter, we discovered that American Airlines charges $30 extra for each checked bag to Mexico. This charge surprised us because we weren’t charged for a checked bag to Spain last fall. We found out flights to Europe includes one checked bag free, fights to Asia includes two checked bags free, but flights to Mexico have no free checked bags.
We discussed my guitar with the ticket agent. All the web articles that I read frowned on baggage checking guitars. Supposedly, guitars are allowed in the cabin if there is room in the overhead bins. Boarding early helps because you can find empty overhead bins easier. The worst case scenario is having to gate check your guitar. Gate checking requires far less baggage handling then baggage checking. No problem as the ticket agent agreed and allowed me to take the guitar to the gate.
With our Global Entry status, our tickets are automatically assigned Pre-Check status. This is awesome as it makes going through security checks a cinch. The lines are short and you don’t have to remove your liquids or laptops. I had no problems going through security with the guitar.
Boarding was on-time at 6:25 am. The gate agent called the flight attendants on the plane to ask if there was room in the front closet for my guitar and there was. The plane left the gate early, the flight was routine, and we landed 40 minutes early on this glorious hot Mexico morning.
Jeff and Teri picked us up at the airport, and within 20 minutes we arrived at their house at Tarralta 1, a gated community in Bucerias, a small town on the northern arm of the huge Bay of Banderas. We got the tour of the house and met a zillion friendly neighbors.
Rock n Roll at Buzzo's in Bucerias Mexico
The 10-day forecast mentioned above was correct - it is gloriously hot and sunny. The first thing to go was the long pants. I won’t see them again until we return home. Before we knew it, it was 4 pm and time to take the band equipment to Buzzo's Seafood Restaurant for my first Mexican gig. Buzzo's is a medium-sized bar and restaurant with a beautiful beachfront. Jeff introduced me to a bunch of the regulars that hang out as we set up.
This first gig doesn’t pay much, but all the drinks and snacks are free - and the drinks did flow. It was wonderful reuniting with my amp; Jeff had brought it down with him back in October. It never sounded so good. The first set went smooth, and we nailed it. We got a little too cocky and tried some new tunes that we had never played together. Most worked out well, but a few were rocky. Still, I call the evening a success. Wiping the smile off my face was hard.
I love these baby boomer gig hours. First of all, these gigs are only 3 hours long, and this gig was 6 pm to 9 pm. The highlight of the night, besides the playing, was the unbelievable sunset over the beach as we were playing. The bar is mainly a roof over a floor with the back completely open to the ocean. We set up in the back - NICE!
Rock n Roll at Buzzos in Bucerias Mexico
After the gig, we met up with Wanda and Teri at the Drunken Duck, the hippest bar in town to hear an excellent band called the Gecko Band. The band played a lot of standards like Mustang Sally and Funky Music. Plus anything ’60s and the retired rockers only got wilder. The Drunken Duck was packed with wild customers dancing on the dance floor and the bar all night. No kidding, I said “wild seniors,” and that isn’t an oxymoron. Bucerias is Spring Break for Boomers that lasts for six months.
On our way back to the house we stopped off at a taco cart for a boatload of tacos and salad tostadas to take back to the house. They did not disappoint. Included with our order were little baggies of terrific sauces. My favorite sauce was a cucumber sauce that blended very well with the Picante sauce. I am in love with taco stands in Bucerias.
Nayarit - March 1
Rock n Roll in the Bay of Banderas
Thursday, March 1, 2019. We got up a little earlier today, but not much. The roosters started to announce the new day around 5 am, but we quickly fell back to sleep. It was a slow morning of coffee and reliving the highlights of yesterday. Jeff and I rehearsed for an hour or so and then it was off to the beach.
It is just a 15-minute walk to the nearly pure-white sandy beach in front of Bucerias. The Bay of Banderas wraps the ocean in a half-moon shaped hug which offers a lot of pounding-wave protection. The wind has to be at just the perfect angle to produce the big ones, and sometimes it does happen.
We set up in front of Dugarel Play’s, one of a line of bar and restaurants on the beach. Margaritas, beef nachos, and chicken enchiladas were fun and delicious foods to eat in front of a spectacular ocean view. Of course, there was the endless line of walking vendors that approach from the beach with armfuls of products to sell as you comfortably sit on the beach.
Wanda has been eyeing Teri’s little Mexican purse that is not only colorful but has a handy pocket for her cellphone. Teri promised that a vendor with those purses would show up. Sure enough, and almost on cue, a lady sporting all sorts of colorful bags and purses materialized. Wanda, not a strong bargainer, did manage, with Teri’s help, to get the price down to $180 Pesos ($10 USD).
Buying something from one vendor only salivates the other vendor, so it was time to hit the water for some vendor relief. Although, I must say, after having experienced the insanely tenacious street vendors in Morocco, these folks were quiet, polite and respectful. A simple "No gracias" was respected.
The ocean bay was gentle today and a perfect temperature. I usually run into the water at full speed and then dive in as opposed to the excruciating slow one-inch-at-a-time method. Unfortunately, as I was running into the water, I clumsily stubbed my left big toe and flopped in the shallow water too early. It did provide a funny spectacle for Jeff, Teri, and Wanda but I badly jammed my big toe.
Wanda and I spent a good hour in the water enjoying its warmth and gentle wave action. There were a couple of kite surfers racing across the bay. The sky was cloudless; the sun was radiately warm without the harsh heat; the breeze was cooling but not strong enough to kick up the sand - a perfect beach day.
The plan for today was to swim then walk around Bucerias and photograph the streets and shops, but my big toe was killing me. Instead, when we had enough sun for two Midwesterners who just left 7" of snow just day's earlier, we walked the block and a half to visit a couple of Teri and Jeff's buddies they met since arriving as new "MexPats" October 2018.
Best Burgers in Bucerias. Meet Oliver, and Michelle (see above below), a very friendly husband and wife team and owners of Las Famosas Burgers, a corner burger bistro. Not very Mexican names for two very Mexican people. They are also next-door-neighbors. We caught a margarita there. Jeff reports that their burgers are great and they serve the best fries in Bucerias.
A couple of doors down we stopped off at the “You Can’t Beat Our Meats” shop. Actually, that is their slogan. The name of the shop is Lighthouse Specialty Foods. This is a little shop with attitude that sells wonderful smoked meats and fish. Ray, the proprietor, is a Canadian expat that made Jeff and I charter members of the LMFAO, which stands for something like Lesbian Men For Audacious Organisms. I may have that a bit off, but that does give a little insight into Ray’s personality. He has a plastic table and chair set with a sun umbrella out front of the shop. He sits with friends sipping a beer while waiting for customers.
One guy named Bryce, was his beer mate that day. Bryce had an interesting story. He had been homeless in Idaho for 2 1/2 years before he heard that he could live quite well on his Social Security Disability in Mexico. Six months ago he arrived at Puerto Vallarta and soon settled down in Bucerias. He needs extensive dental work and is getting that taken care at a substantially reduced price in Bucerias and claims that he is living quite comfortably and fully enjoying life.
We sampled some smoked bacon that beat any bacon I have ever tasted - thick tender meat, no fat, and natural smoke flavor (not chemically induced). Then we sampled some wonderful lightly smoked pastrami, which Teri bought for a pool party we are going to tomorrow.
Bucerias was hosting a Vegan Festival and we were planning on checking it out but my toe was throbbing. We returned to the house where I downed a bunch of Anacin aspirin tablets. Teri graciously made a batch of very authentic tacos (yes, I spelled it correctly this time).
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo in Drunken Duck
After another couple of aspirins, we went to the Drunken Duck at 9 pm to hear a band that Jeff plays with occasionally called The Crazy Boys with Andra. Andra is a tiny cute spark-plug of an entertainer. She is a young snowbird from Vancouver. Andra sings with bands in Vancouver over the summer and then spends winters in the Puerto area fronting bands here. Along with a strong voice, that doesn’t make sense coming out of a dinky little 50-pound frame; she is an energetic front-girl for the band.
The bass player was just as hot as the Gecko Band’s bass player. The drummer was terrific, and the two made a tight rhythm section. The band was rounded out with the guitar player’s wife on the keyboards.
I have made three interesting observations regarding bar-bands in Mexico:
Bucerias has some excellent rock musicians. Two years ago, we didn’t see any decent groups in Puerto Vallarta. Last year in the Yucatan we heard some world-class traditional Mexican bands, but the rock bands were not good. Bucerias seems to have hogged all the good rock players.
These guys can get a ton of full, rich and balanced tones out the crappiest equipment imaginable.
The musicians are all very friendly. Jeff has networked his way into the music scene and every musician he has introduced me to have been very cool.
Again, the Drunken Duck was hopping with “wild retirees,” drinking and spending money like water. That place is a goldmine. After two sets, including Jeff sitting in playing the Stone’s “Miss You,” we went home.
Nayarit - March 2
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo in Bucerias Mexico
Saturday, March 2, 2019. Another day in paradise. We woke to a spectacular bright clear day promising lots of warmth. Sadly, the pool party got canceled, but my toe was feeling much better. Jeff and I rehearsed for a bit; Tanya, the neighbor, stopped by and we discussed day trips; Jeff, Wanda, and I drove into town, and before you knew it, it was afternoon. It was time to try out the toe. I wanted to walk the town of Bucerias from one end to the other. So, with my toe bravely leading the way, Wanda and I broke away from the mothership.
Bucerias is bisected by Hwy 200 with half of the town on the flat ocean side and the other half on a hill overlooking the ocean. Jeff and Teri live in a beautiful gated subdivision. Most of the homes are white, which shows off all the flowering bushes, mostly red but also some oranges, yellows, and whites. These bushes pump out the flowers, maybe three flowers for every green leaf. Behind their house is the manicured subdivision park. The 3rd level open deck also has a roof, and it is a favorite spot. A gentle ocean breeze together with a third-story sky view furnished with a variety of hanging hammocks makes this spot an ideal place to lounge during the mornings.
After leaving the gated subdivision, you enter the oldest and dustiest part of town. The streets are rough cobblestone, or maybe better described as cobble rock. Down one road, turn left down another street, lands you in a small commercial area with a couple of tiny grocery stores, a taco cart, a bar or two, and the fish market where Teri purchased those delicious Mahi Mahi fish fillets freshly cut to her specifications. Jeff tells me the taco cart is a good one, so we made a mental note to try it out later on.
At the main road, Hwy 200, we found the bus stops. We were surprised to see not only a parade of buses but also several collectivos all going to Punta Mita. We hadn’t seen collectivos in the Puerto area before. They are van-taxis that carry passengers on a particular route, much like a small bus. Collectivos are cheap and only leave when the seats are full. Last year when we were in the Yucatan, collectivos were our “go-to” mode of transportation to the various towns around the bigger cities.
Once across the highway, we enter the now familiar bar and restaurant area where all the bands play. This neighborhood is laid back with Haight-Ashbury stylings only dustier. It is the thumping heart of Bucerias, and where all the expats flock. North of this area is a common medium-upscale condo area. It is nicely taken care of with lush foliage, small, modest high rises, and plenty of elbow room between buildings.
We walked back south on the clean-white beach lined with restaurants and bars, after restaurant and bar, all sporting that same Mexican-tourist charm - not Miami ritzy and not Miami garish.
Smack in the middle of town is the central plaza, a colorful and lush open area circled with shops slightly more upscale but still fun. One of my favorite shops was the Tequila Pharmacy, an excellent name for a shop of “all-things” Tequila. We treated ourselves to paletas, only the tastiest frozen-fruit dessert on a stick. Wand and I split a strawberry with large chunks of strawberries a creamy coconut paleta with dates and nuts.
South of the plaza is an extensive outdoor Mexican souvenir market. These are mom-and-pop booths jammed with all kinds of colorful Mexican souvenir stuff. It is all under tarps, so it feels pleasantly cool for being so crowded. The market leads to the Bucerias Kissing Bridge, a narrow walking bridge with solid cement side rails painted with a brightly colored mural.
Once across the Kissing Bridge, the northern, more artsy section of town starts. The Main Street, Lazaro Cardenas, is just one block off the ocean beach. The Lazaro area is more upscale shops and residences with well-landscaped yards. The shops, restaurants, and condos are tightly gated. We walked as far as we were allowed before running into a couple of large gated-condo complexes. So we circled back toward the central plaza, walking down a different street.
At the plaza, we were lured to a table under an awning where delicious grilling scents of taco vendors tugged at our appetites. We ordered one giant beef burrito and one giant pork burrito, a Modelo Negra beer and a bottle of water for $140 Pesos ($7.18 USD).
We wandered around the band area of town and caught another band playing at a bar called Jax, just two doors from the Drunken Duck, where yet another live band was setting up. Bucerias is classic rock’n’roll haven.
On our way back to Tarralto 1, we sat at the bus stop to check out which busses were passing by and how often and were surprised with how many and how often buses and van-taxis stopped by. Buses in Mexico usually have their routes in large print directly on the windshield. Most seemed to be going from Puerto Vallarta to Punta de Mita and back. Others were ATM buses going to Sayulita and one Pacifico bus that went much farther north.
A nightcap with our hosts, Jeff, and Teri with a light snack of Cape Cod chips and an incredible dip from Ray’s “Beat your Meat” market made for another enjoyable day in Mexico.
Nayarit - March 3
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo at La Cruz
Sunday, March 3, 2019. Today was La Cruz market day. Jeff needed to get some homemade artisan pasta, and in La Cruz, there is a vendor that makes it fresh. Jeff piqued our interest to go along describing a market at the marina located on the waterfront with several musical acts tossed into the mix. Wanda and I love going to markets, and this sounded interesting.
La Cruz is a sleepy little town just north of Bucerias. We arrived at the market-at-the-marina around 10:45 am as it was just opening up. The setting was as I visualized a market-on-the-waterfront-by-a-marina would be.
This market was a high-end artisan market on the waterfront that catered to yachters and expats. All the food vendors sold homemade gourmet goods like specialty tamales, bread and pastries, hand smoked meats, exotic cheeses, natural spices. The artists showed off their gorgeous canvas paintings and beautiful metal sculptures. Clothing vendors displayed the light, airy, and cheerful clothing expected in paradise, a glass blower performed his art, and beautiful handcrafted jewelry was everywhere.
The best band at the market was an incredible traditional Mexican-guitar band with an adorable little girl in her traditional Spanish-laced dress, performing Mexican folk dancing. Another Mexican band with a Flamenco-style guitar sound was also outstanding. Unfortunately, they were having all kinds of feedback problems. Amplifying acoustic instruments is always tricky.
It is the food we discover in markets that we enjoy the most. We started with a hand-squeezed half-tangerine, half-orange juice. It was incredibly fresh and sweet, but the real fun was watching the vendor squeezing oranges with an old fashion hand squeezer frantically trying to keep up with the orders. Jeff enjoyed freshly made shrimp Jambalaya. Wanda found the Tamal Gourmet stand and ordered a standard pork tamale as well as a portobello mushroom tamale. Both were good, but the portobello was incredible. Who would have thought up a portobello-mushroom tamale? Only an artisan tamale maker! We topped it all off with a cute little mushroom and cheese mini-tart from another vendor and left the market-on-the-waterfront pleasantly stuffed.
After the market, we stopped off at The Green Tomato, a rooftop bar also in La Cruz. Jeff’s friends, The Crazy Boys Band, were playing a weekly gig with just the bass, drums, and guitar. What an amazingly full sound for being a 3-piece band. Even more impressive was their gutsy song selection like Hotel California that has a zillion guitar parts and the guitar player was able to distill all that down to one guitar, and it worked.
When we got back to the house, it was time to get ready for our Sunday gig at the Rhythm and Blues bar. Equipment was loaded up, and Jeff again found a parking spot just across the street from the bar. The bar is tiny, so most of the patrons sit outside on the sidewalk table and chairs. That's where we set up, partly on the sidewalk and partly on the road.
Once set up, the bar manager treated us to beers, and the owner’s sister-in-law fed us an excellent pork tamale and a Mexican lentil soup to die for. 7 pm rolled around, and it was time to start playing.
Things started well, with the crowd taking up all the sidewalk tables and politely clapping. By the middle of the set, all were dancing in the street. No, the street was not cordoned off for just walking traffic. Not here in Mexico. Luckily, not many cars tried to drive down the road. Jeff slowly pumped up the volume as the liquor-fueled patrons gyrated to all the tunes. They couldn’t get enough of 60s stuff; Mr. Tambourine Man, Bus Stop, Beatles (anything), and Heart Full Of Soul. I figured it was 60s music for people in their sixties. The tips dropped into the tip bucket, beers and tequila shots kept arriving. We had so much fun that we played the whole three hours with only one short break for the night.
Tequila shots in Mexico are pretty strong. The shot glasses are six inches tall, and always filled to the brim and are equivalent to about three US shots. Full of after-the-gig-tequila-glow, it was nearly 1 am before Jeff and I completed assessing and reassessing every note played this evening.
The end of the line is at a park just a block from the ocean in the middle of the Old Town hotels on Pino Suarez street. The hotels in this section have done an excellent job of keeping a fun, simple Mexican attractiveness. They are modest in size and decorated with odd but funny themes. Our first order of business was to find the two bus stops for the buses running further south. One bus goes to Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlan. Mismaloya is where we can hire a panga, or water taxi, to take us snorkeling at the Roca Los Arcos, two small rock islands about a kilometer offshore that are supposed to be a good snorkeling spot. Boca is the beginning of a jungle and hidden beach trail. We found that the bus stop on the corner of Constitution and Basilio Badillo.