Nayarit - March 16
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo at Vallarta Botanical Gardens
Saturday, March 16, 2019. Today, we decided to visit the Vallarta Botanical Gardens near the small mountain town of El Tuito, south of Puerto Vallarta. I figured the Vallarta Gardens would require less walking as we were going to use public transportation (three bus connections) and give my toe a break.
The first bus took us from Bucerias to the Las Glorias neighborhood, the hotel zone of Puerto Vallarta for $20 Pesos ($1.03 USD). After a lot of research, and asking a lot of local people, I finally discovered that the buses going to the mountain towns of San Sebastian, Mascota, and Talpa, depart from an obscure station two-blocks away from the Las Glorias bus stop.
Before getting on our next bus, we set out to find this phantom bus depot. Tucked well out of sight on the corner of Calle (street) Harve and Lucerna, we found a small parking lot with two very-used Red ATM buses, plus a waiting area with a ticket desk covered by a tin roof. We found the depot at 9 am. With the bus schedule displayed on a small billboard by the counter, it stated that a bus is scheduled to depart at 9 am. One of the Red ATM buses in the lot was preparing to leave. Being spontaneous, we asked if we could get on that 9 am departure. We could have, however, all the seats were sold and this is the one bus in all of Mexico, or so it seemed, that did not allow standing. Sadly, we watched the bus leave without us. Oh well, back to plan A.
Immediately upon our return to the Las Glorias bus stop, we caught a Centro bus to Old Town for $10 Pesos ($.52 USD) to connect with the El Tuito bus. Because of our previous scouting trip to Puerto Vallarta, we knew where to catch the El Tuito bus. On our short walk to the El Tuito bus stop, we got a delicious soft flour pork taco from a friendly and crowded street cart (no pig head this time). The information was that the Vallarta Botanical Gardens have swarms of bothersome “no-see-ums” and sell bug spray at a hefty premium. We decided to pick up a bottle of bug spray at a Farmacia for much less. Farmacias are as ubiquitous in Mexico as Subways, Starbucks and Walgreens are in the US. No prescriptions are needed, and many have a resident doctor that will do minor walk-in examinations.
Armed with our spray, we waited at the bus stop. In Mexico, you don’t wait long for buses to arrive. Ours came along within 5 minutes. We boarded, and off we went. It was Saturday, and the driver’s 12ish-year-old son proudly rode next to Dad, the driver, and collected the bus fare of $30 Pesos ($1.55 USD). You could see they had an extraordinary father-son bond.
The Vallarta Botanical Gardens is in the mountain jungle. The bus trip was a great way to see this backcountry. The old bus clawed its way up the steep twisting mountain road as the still very green jungle passed by our window. Wanda decided to shut her eyes and nap. I was wide-eyed and taking it all in.
The Garden is an explosion of botanical splendor on a 65-acre plot of the jungle, started by an Englishman. At the hub of the plot is a most beautiful Garden Restaurant surrounded by a large area of well maintained, lush and colorful plants and birds and souvenirs. A spectacular display of manicured beauty worth the $10 USD ($193 Pesos) price of admission. The plants seem to attract a large number of songbirds filling the air with visual and aural beauty. We caught glimpses of bright yellow-and-black birds, of gorgeous, oddly shaped butterflies I have never seen before, and huge but docile bumble bees playing on gigantic stamens.
Radiating out from this hub is a network of trails that penetrate the jungle. These paths are rugged and not for the faint of heart. So much for my easy walking day, my toe was in for some challenging terrain.
Several of the path loops went through an area that is cultivated with vanilla plants. We learned that vanilla, a native Mexican plant, is an orchid vine that can be trained to grow up tall wooden poles for easier harvesting. It was claimed that vanilla is the hardest spice to harvest. I always thought that distinction went to saffron.
Another tough mountain loop descended to a crystal clear mountain river splashing around and over a rock garden of gigantic white boulders. The water formed pools in between the rapids, and a handful of people were swimming. I crawled all over the river rocks to get good photos and carefully looked for wicked “creatures” in the river rock crevasses and with every step on the jungle paths, but I didn’t see anything moving.
After our mountain jungle trek, we ate at the restaurant, a beautiful 2nd-floor restaurant at treetop level overlooking a large chunk of the mountain-view garden acres. The breeze was refreshing, almost chilly, and the birds were serenading. We ordered a shrimp quesadilla, a bowl of tortilla soup, and a mango pina colada, all to split. The food was ridiculously expensive but just as ridiculously delicious. However, as good as the mango pina colada was, Jeff’s drinks are still a shade better. By the way, the entire complex takes pesos, dollars, and credit cards. On another side-note, we were not bothered at all by any bugs. I barely put any spray on because I don’t like the chemicals. Either the little bit I did put on worked wonders, or there just weren’t any bugs around.
We intended to go on to El Tuito, but my toe was killing me. Instead, we started our return bus odyssey back to Bucerias. At Bucerias, Wanda got a hankering to go swimming. The sky was overcast, so we wouldn’t have to fight the sun or find an umbrella. The ocean salt water does feel good on my bum toe, so I agreed.
This time the waves were gentle. Without the sun, it was almost chilly like swimming back home in Wisconsin when the water seems warmer than the air. Bobbing up and down in the easy swells felt good on my painful toe.
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo at Rythm and Blues Cafe and Lounge
Nayarit - March 17
Sunday, March 17, 2019. With my stupid little toe killing me, we decided to go easy all day and wait for our Sunday evening gig at the Rhythm and Blues Cafe. Buzzo's lack of crowd was so disappointing last Wednesday that I kept my fingers crossed that St. Pat’s Day would bring out the hordes of wild and crazy customers.
And come out they did. Bucerias streets were a sea of green, and the Rhythm and Blues Cafe was hopping all night long. Paul, the manager, and Rick, the owner, were beaming and gracious. April is quickly approaching, and at our band break, we heard lots of sad stories of people getting ready for their migratory flight north for the summer.
We played several encores, and the tips were good. We even got a private party gig for Saturday evening. A couple came down to Bucerias to renew their wedding vows, and after hearing us, they wanted to hire Jeff and me to play for the ceremony. We agreed to $2000 Pesos for a 2-set gig.
We finally got the gear packed up by 11 pm. Thania's favorite 3-piece all-girl heavy-metal band is playing until midnight so we agreed to meet at Jax Bar and Grill just a couple of blocks away. The group was there, but Thania had already left.
The band was good, and we found a familiar group of wild-boomers that were at our gig earlier. They were sitting in the paid-for-preferred-seating-lounge for $2000 Pesos ($102 USD). Really? Jax is a medium-sized, outdoor-raised deck, approximately 5 feet above street level, on a corner lot. Near the back of the deck is another higher deck raised another 3 feet or so. The bar is on the back deck, as well as a U-shaped lounge area (the primary-seating-cove) that give a decent view of the band stage. Wanda said the lady who paid for the primary lounge seating said it was the best $100 bucks she did that night. She was a delighted customer.
Being minor celebrities ourselves, we got invited into the primary lounge area for shots of lime flavored booze, probably vodka. There must have been 20 shots on a huge platter. The actual deal is, the $2000 Pesos is the minimum drink tab. If you don’t use it all up, too bad. Of course, if you go over the $2000 Pesos, the extra is added to the tab - drinks were flowing all around.
It was a crazy night. My toe was feeling no pain.
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo at Destileria Beach
Nayarit - March 18
Monday, March 18, 1019. My toe (again?!) was feeling pain. We had initially planned to go to the mountain-town of Mascota today, but that would require a fair amount of walking. Jeff and Teri checked the weather report and heard that it was going to hot. They decided to return to Playa Destiladeras, Thania’s favorite beach. My toe talked me into taking it easy at the beach. As a bonus, Teri promised to make her shrimp lasagna for supper.
First, Jeff and I went to the tiny Pescaderia (fish shop) to get the shrimp. We bought 1 kilo of fresh shrimp for $170 Pesos ($8.75 USD) first, then packed up folding chairs, umbrella, cooler, towels, and took off to while away the day at the beach.
Today is a Mexican national holiday, celebrating Presidente Benito Juarez’s birthday. President Juarez unified Mexico after the Mexican civil war and French invasion. In the mid-1800s, the conservatives (the aristocracy), battled the liberals (the common folk). The French saw the turmoil as a chance to acquire a North American colony. The conservatives allied themselves with the French. Liberal Juarez, was president during this turmoil and after his side won, he was revered as the “uniter” of Mexico.
Consequently, Playa Destiladeras had twice as many local families than the last time we were here. It is a large beach, and there was plenty of room for everyone because the waves were whipped up to a frothy-frenzy scaring many people out of the water.
I spent at least 1 1/2 hours slamming into the monster waves. There’s an art to this. If you are out farther than the break-line, you just bob up and down, even on the big ones. If you are standing where the big ones break, you are in an eggbeater somersaulting your way into shore. The best technique is to dive into the wave the moment the wave starts to curl over at the top. You feel the power, but you emerge on the other side standing upright.
Body surfing is another matter. You have to jump forward and straighten yourself forward like a flying-superman, just as the wave breaks. With my toe, I didn’t dare try it on these waves. As it was, I got tumbled by a couple of mistimed big-uns.
The sky was overcast and deceived us into not gooping up with suntan lotion. We paid for it with red noses and foreheads — another glorious March day at the beach.
After we had our fill, it was time for Teri’s shrimp lasagna. As Teri worked her magic in the kitchen, Jeff and I practiced. We worked out some new tunes. When Teri finished, we all enjoyed the magic. Thania stopped by, and we talked about Benito Juarez, the holiday, and her love of Mexican history. It was fun hearing a non-American taking pride in their nation.
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo at El Tuito
Nayarit - March 19
Tuesday, March 19, 2019. “Damn the toes, full speed ahead.” Our trip was winding down, and we have so many things left on our bucket list to do and see. Today, we went to El Tuito, a small mountain village south of Vallarta Botanical Gardens. As it turned out, it was a lot farther than I thought.
We left the house at 9:00 am and walked to the bus stop and almost immediately caught the bus into the Las Glorias neighborhood in the Hotel Zone of Puerto Vallarta. At Las Glorias, we walked back to the ATM Red Line bus station to pre-buy our tickets to Mascota. We planned to make that trip on Wednesday. Unfortunately, even though the sign read “venta de boletos: 6 am - 2:40 pm”, no one was attending the ticket desk at 10 am. Oh well, back to Las Glorias to pick up the Puerto Vallarta city bus into Old Town, which we caught - you guessed it - immediately.
Before getting on the El Tuito bus, we picked up a liter-sized hand squeezed OJ (orange juice) to split. I never get tired of these flavorful OJs, nor watching the cart vendors work those squeezers.
The bus fare to the Gardens was $30 Pesos ($1.54 USD), so when the ticket was only 5 pesos more to go on to El Tuito, we thought that it must just be a hop and a jump down the road from the Gardens. In reality, it was more than twice as far as the Vallarta Botanical Gardens was from Puerto Vallarta.
The bus ride to El Tuito is stunning. The twisting drive through the mountains is more than worth the $35 Pesos ($1.80 USD). Just past the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, the highway climbs out of the jungle and into an Alpine forest with tall pines and gorgeous vistas.
IEl Tuito was an average Mexican small town, but it does have a delightful downtown and central plaza. The plaza is triangular shaped, and ringing around the market plaza are shops and restaurants plus the Mayor’s office, the police station, and the Cultural Center. We met two ladies with New York accents, on the bus also visiting el Tuito for the bus ride, to purchase some homemade cheese and have an afternoon meal at a local restaurant. They recommended El Patio de Mario as the best restaurant in town.
We had heard that in El Tuito some people sell homemade cheese right out of their homes. Dona Nitza Placito was the home to find for handmade Panela and Oaxaca cheeses. I have no idea what kind of cheese that is, but it sounds exotic and tasty. Sadly, she closed after 2 pm.
The 200-year-old San Pedro Apostol Iglesia (church) was easy to find - just let the steeple guide you. It is a beautiful church with an interesting scene in one of the small rooms; a European looking Jesus was in a glass coffin with Mary praying to a cross. I have never seen a presentation like that before.
We also heard that artisan bread is baked in wood-fired ovens here. We couldn’t locate that, but we did find a terrific panaderia and pasteleria (bread and pastry shop) where Wanda purchased a deliciously moist cake. The cake was in a plastic container with a thin layer of sweet milk on the bottom keeping the cake extra moist. Odd. We thought the sweet milk would make the cake soggy and fall apart. Somehow it worked scrumptiously.
For lunch, we sought out the recommended El Patio de Mario restaurant. We found it in the ring of shops around the plaza. Sure enough, the two ladies were also there. I ordered Mole Poblano, a local dish, without having any idea what it was. The owner, presumably Mario, explained in very broken Spanglish, that it was a traditional sauce made from 15 different chilies, then something about chicken, and something about chocolate. He had me at “traditional.” Wanda got a plate of Mexican style eggs. The setting at Mario’s Patio was pleasant. After entering through a reception area and the cooking area, it opens out into a small courtyard garden with tables around the edges.
My Mole Pablano turned out to be two pieces of extremely tender baked chicken, one breast and one leg, drowning in a delicious dark-brown mole sauce with a hint of chocolate. We both had refried beans and rice on the side. The requisite salsas included a creamy white sauce that I believe was yogurt-based. We loved it.
After our meal, we tooled around town a bit more and then settled in with the two ladies on a bench where the bus comes to take us back to Puerto Vallarta. Unbeknownst to us, the best part of the trip was about to happen.
Most buses in the Puerto region are pretty beat up, and we get a kick out of that. So, when a brand new Mercedes diesel bus with a very young driver pulled up, we were shocked. Wanda and I grabbed the front passenger-side seats to best experience the panoramic views of the gorgeous mountain road.
It only took about 2 miles to realize that the kid was an aspiring Le Mans Formula 1 race car driver. I swear he took those hairpin turns on two wheels - accelerating around them rather than braking for them. The look on the two old ladies faces was sheer-abject terror. Around each blind curve, the kid leaned right into the turn motorcycle-style. Wanda and I, with our front row seats looking out the expansive windshield, got the full effect. At first, I admit, I was nervous. But the sheer exhilaration overtook the terror, and I dug it. The kid was good.
Jeff had planned to make his shrimp avocado burgers for supper, so we hurried back to Bucerias as fast as we could. We were shooting for 6:30, but we didn’t arrive until 7:30, to face two starving people. Jeff put together an excellent ShrimpMex burger. He inserted several whole shrimp into each beef paddy and grilled them on the Weber. Served on a toasted bun with sliced tomato and lettuce and topped with guacamole, the combination of beef, shrimp, and avocado was delicious. However, this put our stomach’s over the top. I think I’ll fast tomorrow.
And my toe? It hurt with every step, but it was still great to visit our first Mexican mountain town. Tomorrow, it’s off to Mascota, our 2nd Mexican mountain town.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019. We put a lot of planning and research into going to the mountain town of Mascota now designated a “Magic Town.” We have enjoyed visiting other Magic Towns, especially Izamal, in the Yucatan. Mexico’s Department of Tourism started the Pueblos Magico program in 2001. To date, Mexico has designated about 120 towns with unique charms, as magical. Sayulita was bestowed the Magic Town moniker in 2015, as was Mascota.
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo at Talpas de Allende
Nayarit - March 20
The ATM Red Line bus leaves at 9 am from the Las Glorias neighborhood of Puerto Vallarta. Las Glorias is almost an hour on the bus from Bucerias. When we visited the ATM bus depot a couple of days ago, we saw that the bus fills up fast, and they don’t allow standing. So, we were up at 6 am, caught the bus from Bucerias to Las Glorias at 7 am and arrived at the ATM Red Line depot at 8 am. Even with coming an hour early, half the seats were already sold.
While at the depot, Wanda struck up a conversation with a friendly lady that spoke excellent English. She was going to Talpa to visit her father, a farmer that grows fruits and vegetables. Promptly at 9 am, the bus swept us away for a magnificent ride through the mountains.
Like the bus to the Botanical Gardens and El Tuito, it clawed its way up and around tight curving switchbacks. The vistas were even more stunning as we got deeper and deeper into the mountains. Mascota lays in a high valley snuggled in the mountains. There is a lot of agriculture in the valley, with good looking plowed fields waiting for planting.
Just as we were about to enter Mascota, the friendly lady-in-the-bus discovered we were going to Mascota and suggested we continue the bus ride to Talpa. Talpa had more things to offer a new visitor. Plus the half-hour ride from Mascota to Talpa was exceptionally beautiful. As we were riding into the back streets of Mascota, it looked dry and dusty. Of course, this was an unfair and ridiculous spur-of-the-moment assessment, but we spontaneously decided to stay on the bus and go on to Talpa. The friendly bus lady laughed with glee.
She was right about the beauty of the ride but wrong about the extra half hour. It took an hour. About 3 miles away from Talpa, we could see the town, way down below us, nestled in a valley. It was an impressive overview of the town as we crept down the switchback mountain roads to reach the valley floor
Like so many Mexican towns, the outskirts of Moscota was impoverished, with a fair number of abandoned houses and shops crumbling away. Buses in Mexico never follow the main thoroughfare into a town or city. They take the back-street tour of all these depressed neighborhoods. I was starting to get concerned. Did we make the right choice? I became especially worrisome when the bus let us out at the bus depot, in the dustiest part of town.
Our friendly lady-in-the-bus stepped up to give us directions to the town center and off we went. Talpa was amid a huge pilgrimage devoted to the Virgin Mary. The whole town was set up with the usual colorful Mexican outdoor market vendors and taco carts. It went on and on, for blocks and blocks.
When we turned the corner to the city center, Talpa’s splendor opened up, right in front of us. Rows of colorful shops pointed to a delightful center plaza that was anchored by a sizeable medieval-looking cathedral.
We noticed a peculiar, but pleasant scent, that permeated throughout the downtown and discovered that it was guayaba (or guava), a tropical fruit. Just about every third or fourth shop had cement mixer-like machines, twirling with a guayaba-goo inside. They were making all kinds of candies and fruit roll-ups with this guayaba paste. We bought a couple of the guayaba products and especially loved one labeled “Guayaba Rellena Artisanal,” or artisan made stuffed guayaba.
I had read about rompope, an eggnog-like drink that locally made in the mountain towns. One shop allowed us to try several different flavors of rompopes; almond, vanilla, coffee, chocolate, milk candy, and a bunch of others that I don’t remember. They were all sinfully delicious. The young gentleman who let us do the sampling said his favorite was the milk candy. He was right, and we bought a bottle. I envision a rompope and rum drink tonight.
We did our usual wandering and zigzagging. We saw motorized tuk-tuks being used extensively as taxis for the locals. Last year, we saw tons of beat-up, homemade, cobbled together, tuk-tuks in the Yucatan. But these tuk-tuks were brand new factory built models.
The Cathedral, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa, had been recently restored, with all the gold trim sparkling like new. Another nearby church was also in the middle of a restoration retouching the gold trim. We learned that Talpa was also a recently designated Magic City. Part of being in the Pueblos Magico program is that these towns get some tourist funding. We wondered if the brand new tuk-tuks and church restorations were part of that funding.
In the Basilica, we saw a couple of sights that we’ve never seen before. First, was a mariachi band playing religious oompah-music. Several of the praying parishioners sang the choruses with them. Oompah hymns were new to us but delightful. Then, we saw a procession of worshippers walking down the center aisle on their knees. It turns out there is a popular pilgrimage route that is gearing up for the Easter week that ends in Talpa (The reason that people visit Talpa is the belief that the diminutive, antique statue of Our Lady of the Rosary-Nuestra Senora del Rosario - has life-changing powers. Hundreds of miracles are attributed to the handmade statue from the mid-1600s... Each year, about 3 million people walk along this route.)
The friendly lady-on-the-bus that referred us to Talpa told us there are many hotels in Talpa but suggested the Herradero Hotel and Restaurant, near downtown. She said the food was good, and the hotel was just $400 Pesos ($22 USD) a night. I thought about staying the night, but I was dead set on going snorkeling the next day at Los Arcos. Instead, we had lunch at Herradero before starting our bus ride - and it was awesome.
We returned to the bus depot at 4:15 pm to catch the last bus of the day at 5 pm. I was glad we came early as over half of the seats sold out.
The return trip was great. As the sun set in the mountains, a full moon bathed the mountains in a silvery glow. When we reached Puerto Vallarta, we asked to get out at the Puerto Vallarta Walmart, where we catch the bus to Bucerias. That saved us a relatively long walk from the Las Glorias bus depot. That’s one more thing to love about Mexican buses and colectivos; you can tailor make your bus experience.
We arrived at the house just as Jeff and Teri were arriving from Jeff’s gig at Buzzo's Bar, at 10 pm. They brought home a guest, who had about 10 margaritas and a dozen beers and was in no shape to get home. He lives in Puerto Vallarta and his car is all smashed up, which is another interesting story involving alcohol, police, and 4500 pesos. He crashed on the couch.
It was a long day, but worth it. Talpa did have a unique and wonderful character to it, well deserving of its Magic Town status. Had my toe not laid me up for a few days, getting us behind schedule, we would have stayed in Talpa overnight. We could have ridden the 6 am bus to Mascota the next morning then leave Mascota for Puerto Vallarta at 6 pm. But I was determined to not cancel our snorkeling experience.
If we had access to a car, there is the Mascota travel circuit; a 30-mile loop to other villages and sites. Within that loop is 1) Juanactlan, a nearby village with a crystal clear 25-acre crater lake and spas. 2) A scenic forest road from Mascota to Juanactlan. 3) El Molcajete, an extinct volcano to explore. 4) Navidad, a colonial village of 250 people founded in 1644. It boasts a distillery that produces Raicilla, another drink made from the Agave plant. 5) Corrinchis Dam, holding back a reservoir in an arid landscape. Picnicking and hiking are available there. 6) Yeryauena, a village with a lake. 7) Waterfalls at El Coamil.
There’s always next year!
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo Snorkeling at Mismaloya
Nayarit - March 21
Thursday, March 21, 2019. After the Coral Island debacle, I’ve been itching to go snorkeling. Los Arcos, an archipelago small in diameter, but tall in height, rocky islets in the southern part of the Bay of Banderas, is considered the best place to snorkel in the Puerto Vallarta area. It is a designated National Marine Park just a mile from the tiny picturesque town of Mismaloya.
Wanda and I got out the door around 9 am and walked towards town with our surprise night guest. He was surprisingly chipper for the “toot” he had going the night before. On the way to the bus stop, Wand aand I stopped at the morning taco cart that Thania declared to be the best stand for breakfast. We each got a small taco with all the fixings and a pineapple drink. It was as mouthwatering as we’ve come to expect.
Today is another three-bus trip to Mismaloya. The first two bus connections are now a very familiar part of our day-treks; catch the first bus at the Bucerias bus stop around 9:30 am, and the second bus at the Las Glorias stop. The third bus is three blocks away; a white and orange bus that runs from an Oxxo store in Old Town to the neighboring villages of Mismaloya and Boca. The Oxxo store and bus stop is on the corner of Calle (streets) Badillo and Constitution. It costs a mere $10 Pesos ($ .51 USD) and let us off at the top of the hill overlooking Mismaloya.
The town hangs on both sides of a steep, narrow canyon that ends at a small bay with a gorgeous beach. Mismaloya has a stream in the middle of town that empties into the tiny harbor. A quaint walking bridge unites the two canyon walls lined with hotels hidden behind a cement wall under a shaded canopy of trees leading to the sandy bay lined with beach restaurants, palapas and lounge chairs inviting you to stop, breath deep, relax, here. It is a small harb} that seems to integrate modern luxury with authentic-village whimsy.
On the way down to the beach, we were approached by Captain El Lobo, who offered us a private boat ride on Pirata, his Pirate Boat to Los Arcos for $40 USD ($777.20 Pesos). We agreed and walked to the beach together. I am embarrassed to admit that I was way too excited to haggle a different price. He had a great boat and along with his son, took us to Los Arcos to snorkel for an hour. Yamaha Outboards have cleaned up in the Bay of Banderas. Every single outboard motor, without exception, is a Yamaha boat motor. I am partial to Yamaha motors - my pontoon boat in Wisconsin has a Yamaha outboard motor.
Just go down to the beach and ask for El Lobo or look for the Pirate boat. His Cell: 044 322 1368 955.
Taking a private boat instead of a packaged boat tour, meant that we didn’t have to wear a life preserver while snorkeling. Tour boats are required by Mexican law to enforce life preservers for snorkelers. Nothing is more of a drag than snorkeling with a life preserver. You can’t dive below the surface, which is a big part of snorkeling. Although, Wanda said she enjoyed using her life jacket like a water-noodle. LOS ARCOS NATIONAL MARINE PARK Los Arcos National Marine Park is a popular destination. There were a half dozen boats loaded with snorkelers for a good reason; there is a small but beautiful coral reef just off the biggest islet.
With so much coral dying off in the world, it was nice to see the pink and yellows of a living reef. The more you stared down, the more details you saw. There were delicate black sea urchins, fluorescent blue fish, colorful clown fish, camouflaged puffer or stone fish that blended well into the coral, and hordes of tiny silver fish. The term “schools of fish” didn’t describe what we experienced. It was hordes, or clouds, or thick masses of these small fish. Some were large blue and yellow fish. Some were small brown and red fish. These hordes were so thick that we couldn’t even see through them as they engulfed their way past us. Here's a sample video of what we were lucky enough to witness: https://youtu.be/StiYwZoo6ps
The reef structures were tall, reaching nearly to the water surface, and down to the sea bottom about 40 feet deep. We snorkeled until our throats were too dry to continue. Snorkeling does that. It was yet another glorious adventure in Mexico.
On the return trip, Captain Lobo gave us a little tour of the tiny islands, with their caves and tunnels carved by the violent waves. Scores of pelicans were nesting in the barren trees. Our boat captain pointed out that in April, there will be lots of pelican chicks learning to fly. After being dropped off, we hung around Mismaloya for a little while and then started our three-bus odyssey back to Bucerias looking for a restaurant on the beach with Wi-Fi.
Note: Massages are all the rage at the beaches. You can get a $5 USD leg massage (or whatever) for a half hour while laying in your lounge chair or in private behind bright white sheets under a shady palapa.
Back in Bucerias, we headed for the beach to find a restaurant with Wi-Fi. The Breakers Beach Club Restaurant and Bar happens to have an acoustic guitar player entertaining the customers, so we settled down at a table on the sand under a large umbrella. Wanda ordered what she thought was a snack - shrimp salad stuffed avocado. What arrived at our table was a mountain of shrimp, diced tomatoes, big chunks of avocado, and a bunch of other yummy stuff in a light mayo-based sauce, stuffed inside four giant avocado shells. Yikes! That was a ton of food. Yikes! We ate it all.
The acoustic player was using a Bose “stick” sound system. It sounded good, as you would expect from Bose. However, Jeff’s Italian-made RCF sound system is at least two notches better. Thank you Kent Laabs, from Soundworks Systems of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, for that recommendation.
Back at the house, Teri whipped a rotisserie chicken white bean chili, something she just made up. Although we were pretty full from the stuffed avocado shrimp salad, we had to try her concoction. As we suspected, it was great, and once again we overate.
With every day being in the low 80’s with mostly full sun, it is hard to recognize that we slipped into Spring today.
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo Jungle Walk at Boca de Tomatlan
Nayarit - March 22
Friday, March 22, 2019. It was time to give the jungle walk from Boca to Playa Animas a go. This rugged hike is about 3 miles long. It follows the mostly undeveloped coastline, up and down through the jungle. The up and down part easily added another mile to the distance.
It was a repeat of the same three-bus connection to Boca, that we took yesterday to the twin village of Mismaloya. Like Mismaloya, Boca is set in a steep narrow canyon, bisected by a stream with a quaint footbridge, and all opening up to a tiny beach in a narrow bay.
We had heard that finding the trail at Boca can be kind of tricky. When we got off the bus at the top of the hill overlooking Boca, I noticed a fit woman and an older gentleman also disembarking from the bus. I asked if they were taking the hike. They were father and daughter from Minneapolis, and, yes they were hiking the trail. Although they never walked the trail before, the daughter had watched a YouTube video about the trail the night before. I saw the same video, but it was a couple of months ago. Anyway, we teamed up to find the trail.
It turned out to be a fairly easy trail to follow, although there were some tricky spots. First, you follow the stream to the footbridge. After crossing the stream, you follow the path to the right. This goes through the part of the village that is hanging on that side of the cliff. It practically takes you through people’s homes. A local lady was walking this part of the trail to get the Ocean Grill reserve-only restaurant on the path so we just followed her.
At the outskirts of Boca, the trail turns wild and difficult, but the vistas are stunning. This is paradise in every sense of the concept. There are a handful of signs that point the way to Playa Los Colomitos, the first secluded beach on the way to Playa Animas. The stretch from Boca to Playa Los Colomitos is the toughest, with steep climbs. There are stretches with crude but sturdy handrails that helped out a lot. We heard that these were installed just last year. It is only 1300 meters to Playas Los Colomitos, but they are tough meters. The dad that we were walking with, really struggled, but he gamely moved forward.
After a tough, but spectacular hike, the final approach to the beach presented us with yet another challenge. The crude staircase stops in mid-air, making you have to hop on some rocks before reaching the tiny shore. That isn’t too bad, except it was high tide when we got there. The ocean funnels down into the narrow beach, amplifying the waves as they flood the rocks that we were supposed to use. Timing became important. As soon as one wave started to recede, you had to crawl down to the rocks, crawl over the rocks, and jump to dry sand. Often, that took a hair too long before the next deluge. I’d estimate that one in four hikers got caught with wet feet.
I couldn’t wait to get in that funneled-torrent of water. The strong undertow made Wanda very cautious. There is a trick to dealing with undercurrents. If you float entirely on the surface, the next wave will bring you in. If even a toe sinks below the surface, you start to get sucked out. I saw some snorkelers bobbing along the left side in the deeper water. Drat, we didn’t bring our gear. Next year! I think a “next year” theme, is developing here.
Luckily, a vendor was set up on the beach, selling beer, cokes, water, and coconut milk with future intentions of having an actual food stand. We bought his last two bottles of agua. Then, it was off on the next leg of our hike. Getting up the opposite side of the cliff involved the same “wave timing” to scramble up the rocks to the same kind of crude stairway as we encountered coming down to the beach. Being pros, we both made it without getting wet.
The remaining trail was twice as long but far flatter than the first section. The vistas just kept getting more and more impressive. The crashing surf oddly sculptured the huge boulders lining the coastline. A couple of times they gave way to small hidden sand beaches. A handful of swimmers frolicked at these spots. Most of the trail is entirely undeveloped, showing off its natural splendor. However, one beach, Playa La Troza, is dominated by Playa La Troza Resort, a spectacular Luxury resort with stunning tropical rooms and spectacular ocean views.
The end of the trail emerges from the jungle at Playa Animas and a pleasant village rests atop a vast stretch of Playa Animas beach. Nestled in the lush forest sits Hotelito Mio's row of fantastical tree-house hotel rooms.
The village proper has the usual selection of open-air bars and restaurants under long-thatched roofs. Each establishment has the requisite chaise lounges under umbrellas beaconing the traveler to stop and smell the roses here.
Right in the middle of the beach is a long cement pier for the string of pangas (water taxis) lining up to take people to Yalapa, Boca, Los Colomitos, Mismaloya, or just about any nearby village or beach you’d like to go. After a long bout of lounging on a shaded chaise lounge, and sipping a Pacifico and margarita, we took a panga back to Boca. There are no roads to Playa Animas, so, there are no buses.
Jeff had warned me that the panga drivers tend to overfill their boats. We witnessed one crowded panga leaving for a few meters away to unload their passengers to a nearby party boat.
Our boat was severely underloaded. It was also cheap, $50 Pesos (each ($2.50 USD). Earlier, when we were at Los Colomitos, a panga Captain wanted $150 Pesos ( $1.72 USD) just to go from Playa Los Colomitos to Playa Animas.
We explored Boca more thoroughly when we got back. That took about a half hour. Boca, like Mismaloya, is tiny. And like Mismaloya, it is a pleasant, quiet back village filled with Mexican charm. Perhaps the only difference is that Mismaloya pangas cater to Los Arcos snorkelers, and Boca pangas specialize in ferrying passengers to Playa Animas and the other micro beaches along the way.
Also unique to Boca, we saw that a couple of the more back-street restaurants were roasting whole fish on sticks over an open fire.
Today was a highlight of our entire trip to date. For sheer beauty, it was the most spectacular day we have had in Mexico yet.
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo Band Gig at Los Picos Hotel
Nayarit - March 23
Today, the plan was to stay close to home because we have an anniversary gig to play in the evening. Wanda and I started the day off going for lunch at Karen’s Restaurant on the beach for a cheese and bean quesadilla with a fried egg on top, a gorgeous vista, refreshing breezes, and fast Wi-Fi.
Around noon we headed to the northern part of the Bucerias beach to meet up with Jeff and Teri and the Boogie-Board Queen, Isabella. Yes, Mexico days are getting hotter as spring takes hold, even the ocean water seemed warmer. Bobbing up and down in the warm salt water soothed my toes, which hurt a bit more, after overdoing the jungle walk yesterday. The waves were moderate with the occasional rogue wave surprising us.
At 3 pm, it was time to get ready for the band gig tonight changing guitar strings and practicing a couple of tunes. Jeff’s tracks sometimes have a four-beat count, and sometimes they are in an eight-beat count, and we wanted to make sure that we clear on the counts at Los Picos Hotel tonight.
We play at the Los Picos Hotel which didn’t mean much to us when the gig was scheduled until we pulled up to a very posh facility overlooking the beach. The party itself wasn’t anything like what we expected. The couple was an older, traditional Mexican couple, celebrating their 41st anniversary. As it turned out, most of the extended family lived and worked in America. Even the celebrating couple lived in Virginia. The son, who put the party together, however, was living in Puerto Vallarta. He stated that this was the first time in over 20 years that the family had gotten together like this. The American ties did not diminish the strong Mexican family culture.
His parents renewed their vows in a torchlit ceremony on the beach. We were set up on a 2nd story platform. The area was delightfully decorated and lit up for wedding vows. The catered food was oh so good. The bar served wine from a big glass jug with all kinds of tiny diced fruits adding a natural Sangria-like flavor. It reminded me of the big glass jugs that every bar in St. Lucia had. (Each bar had its special concoction of stuff inside, but instead of soaking in wine, it was soaking in 180 proof rum.)
We didn’t realize just how traditionally Mexican the celebration was going to be. 80s rock was not going to be appropriate. Mariachi music would have been a better match. But, Jeff called out just about every light, easy-going tune that we knew. The 60s stuff, like Bus Stop and Mr. Tambourine Man, worked. The first song, Stand by Me, was explicitly for the bride and groom' renewal dance.
Overall, we all had a wonderful time.
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo Last Gig in Mexico
Nayarit - March 24
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Another slow day as we waited for the last Jeff-and-Dave show at the Rhythm & Blues Cafe and Lounge in Bucerias, Mexico. Jeff has been advertising us as the EZ (for Eisberner-Zuege) Band. Since Jeff plays solo, duos, trios, and with bands, I always told Jeff that he should call his act, the Jeff Eisen Project. That would fit just about any combination he played with, and I think Jeff Eisen is a cool stage name. But Jeff is too humble to take all the billing.
Wanda got a touch of cabin fever and decided to take a walkabout. I wanted to rest my toe a couple more days. Tomorrow was packing and cleaning, then Tuesday was going to be a big adventure day of ziplining in the canyons.
Wanda bought a colorful table cloth for our dining room table while in Puerto Vallarta earlier. So today she found a traditional Mexican blanket to fold in half and place on top of the entertainment center. These two items would give our Wisconsin-knotty-pine interior a nice splash of color.
The Bucerias snowbirds are starting to fly north for their six months of summer. We expected to have a lighter crowd tonight, so the Eisberners invited everyone they knew to join in the celebratory night. Fortunately, 15 of these folks showed up to fill out the crowd very nicely, thank you.
Paul, the Manager, and Rick, the Owner, were gracious and complimentary. Paul served us plenty of tequila and Pacificos. He’d periodically check the top of my amp to gauge the progress of my drinking. As soon as he saw my beer and shot about half full, he was out with another round. Jeez, Paul is a good bartender. I had to leave my drinks full to slow him down purposely.
He also served us a couple of awesome hamburger sliders and French fries. I told the cook that it just wasn’t fair. Not only does she cook the best Mexican food, but now she also cooks the best American food. How good can a burger slider be? Worth bragging about.
We heard that Rythm and Blues Cafe and Lounge were closing on April 8th and not reopening until November. This evening, Rick announced that he was closing even earlier. Tonight is the last Sunday evening show. We put everything into this last triumphant send-off performance.
Monday, March 25, 2019. This day was devoted to finding, organizing, packing, and cleaning for our return trip to Wisconsin. Locating the essentials, like passports, car keys, airport parking lot tickets, airplane tickets, and our customs form that we were told never to lose under penalty of dire consequences, gave me one or two panicky moments - but we found everything.
Surprisingly, it took most of the day. We travel very light, or should I say, we travel with very few small bags, and still, we bring too much stuff. It takes at least 4 or 5 pack-and-repacks until the lid closes. On the next trip, we’ll fit everything in a matchbox - an old Carl Perkins lyric that few will get - “I’m sitting here wondering, will a matchbox hold my clothes”).
We got done around 3 pm and celebrated with a glass of Jumex brand Nectar de Duranzo. The Mexican juice maker, Jumex, makes a wide selection of juice drinks that tastes nearly as good as the street vendor's hand-squeezed, OJ we tasted in Puerto Vallarta. Mango is my favorite. Duranzo (peach), is incredible, as is pina (pineapple). Their coconut is the go-to juice for rum drinks.
Wanda had a last dental check-up at 6 pm, so we killed a couple of hours watching the new Netflix Star Trek Discovery. It is the best Star Trek of the whole lot. Not as swashbuckling as the first Kirk show. It is not filled with so much goofy techno-babble as the Picard version. I did like Voyager, but their effects were only average. This one has a significant special-effects budget, and is a bit less goofy than the first two, although it does have its share of eye-rolling moments. Still, I got a kick out of it.
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo Packing Day
Nayarit - March 25
At 5:30 pm, Wanda and I took the bus to the dentist office for a final follow up checkup. They thought the height of her bridge, on one side of her mouth, was a tad high and made slight adjustments. Wanda seemed pleased, saying it felt very comfortable. We talked with the two young doctors and the owner of the clinic that happened to be there today. The owner’s wife taught dentistry for eight years before starting a dental clinic 15 years ago. Today they run two clinics with the primary clinic located in Puerto Vallarta and a satellite clinic in Bucerias. They also have affiliations with other dentists that specialize in other areas. It is all very modern and very professional.
When we returned at 7:15 pm, Teri made an excellent spaghetti supper from scratch. Although she didn’t have any more of the artisan pasta, she found some high-quality pasta at the big La Comer grocery store. Jeff and Teri, both are semi-experts at pasta and have observed that the best pasta takes a shorter time to cook. That makes sense, as my bargain-bin pasta takes all day to cook. We had a very laid back evening with drinks and another NetFlix show. Can’t wait to go zip lining tomorrow.
Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo Los
Zip Lining Veranos Canopy Tour
Nayarit - March 26
Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Two years ago in Puerto Vallarta, Jeff took us to El Eden, a so-called Adventure Park. There is a stream feeding a small reservoir for swimming, a restaurant, and 12 treetop zip lines. The area has two Hollywood connections: 1) More scenes of the 1964 movie, The Night of the Iguana, were filmed along the river. 2) Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator movie was filmed here.
Ever since seeing this zip line, Wanda has been lobbying to do a zip line adventure. There are several zipline operations in the Puerto Vallarta area. Ray, from the, Can’t Beat Our Meats deli shop, had a connection with the Los Veranos Canopy Tour Company.
His son-in-law worked for them, and he could get tickets at 25% off the $99 US ticket price. Even with his bias, he swore up and down that it was the best zip line in Mexico. Sadly, when he called to set up the tickets, his son-in-law was on vacation and not available to get the tickets. We went online and saw that if we ordered the tickets two days in advance, we would receive a 15% discount, bringing the price to $85 USD each ($1622.56 Pesos).
As pricey as this was, it was still a decent bargain considering that they provided transportation in a speedboat and gave free access to the swimming area. Two years ago, El Eden wanted $80 US, and you had to find your own way there, which is quite a trip from Puerto Vallarta, not to mention Bucerias.
It really is ingenious that Los Veranos provide transportation. The zip lines at El Eden had few customers. Los Veranos had tons because they had several pickup points all over the Bay of Banderas, practically ensuring a boatload of customers. (Sorry for the pun.)
Our pick up point was at the Marina in Nuevo Vallarta at 11 am just 20 minutes from Bucerias. Teri was terrified, but gamely came along. Wanda and I had never been to Nuevo Vallarta, a modern American community in Mexico. There wasn’t one ounce of Mexican flavor in this little Miami-in-Mexico community. Between the mega golf course and the large marina filled with yachts, was a manicured hotel and shopping area for the people who don’t want to be bothered with the grittiness of common Mexican culture and life. One does not go to Nuevo Vallarta for a Mexican experience. Nuevo Vallarta is a rich American experience.
One nice thing, however, is that an artisan market was set up in the Marina parking lot. Pretty much the same high-end artsy vendors of the La Cruz market were also here.
At 11 am, 20 of us loaded into a sizeable Zodiac-style boat powered by twin 250 hp Yamaha outboards. Wanda and I grabbed the front seat, as the front gets the bouncier ride and this was going to be a carnie-ride! We all ooooohed and ahhhhhed as we slowly passed by gargantuan yachts.
Once in open waters, the boat driver opened it up. Later, we found out that the boat’s top end was 60 mph. The driver enhanced the carnie-ride effect by sticking close to the shore and catching the crest of the waves. Most of us screamed with delight. After a bit, the boat aimed farther out in the bay towards a gathering of three tour boats. Suddenly, a mama and a baby whale broke the surface to breathe. We stopped to take a peek, and sure enough, the whales breached the surface three more times. It was quite a sight - much more dramatic than a jumping bass fish back home. The first thing that came to mind was that we were on a save-the-whales-Greenpeace-Zodiac boat doing battle with a Japanese whaling ship.
We were loaded onto an open jungle-truck for the remaining 20-minute mountain trek to Los Veranos only 1.5 kilometers from the Botanical Gardens. The open truck provided even better views of the mountains than a bus.
Near the facility, we turned off the main road and drove through a small mountain village on the banks of the same clear-running gorgeous river that flowed through the Botanical Gardens. At the end of the village, we disembarked at the front check-in building with lockers and banos (bathrooms).
They don’t allow any cameras or cell phones unless they have a wrist strap, or maybe some small pack that doesn’t interfere with the harness, or a secure pocket that won’t let anything slip out. The rule is for two reasons: 1) It is impractical to bring anything along. You need both hands to ride the zip lines, the harness takes precedence over backpacks, and stuff can fall out of your pockets and lost in the jungle forever. 2) They provide the photographs, but at a very hefty price. They have six photographers and videographers with each group. When you get done, they cleverly show you their pictures and GoPro videos of your experience. As soon as they have you giggling and wowing, they tell you the price: $90 per couple and $110 for a group of four. Yes, that’s US dollars, not pesos.
The first order of business was some valuable instructions and harnessing up. The chief instructor had lots of canned jokes to lighten the mood for any nervous first-timers. After that, it was a long walk up a winding set of stairs to the first four short practice lines. The first line took all the apprehension away for me. It was well run, easy to and I could see that it was a blast.
We had to do a bit more climbing to reach line number 5. It was longer, faster, and higher. For each line after that, we had to climb more and more until we reached a line that was 1300 feet long and 575 feet high. It spanned from one side of a canyon to the other, with the beautiful river running through the gorge. I quickly goose-necked my head around the whole time to catch as much detail of the canyon scenery as possible while screaming away at 40 mph.
The next line was higher yet, over 600 feet high. One of the videographers asked Wanda if she wanted to do this one upside down while he rode right behind her, videoing her ride. She was game. I declined on this run because I wanted to concentrate on the scenery. I did the upside down thing on a shorter less spectacular line later on.
There were 14 lines in total. Besides the two highest lines, the last one was a favorite. It was a double line, so Wanda and I could go side-by-side. It was about 1300 feet and skimmed the whole length of the river.
Once our equipment was retrieved, it was time to present the photos. They had 10 or so computers set up, and we went through each photo and video. While Jeff and I suffered cardiac arrest over the price, the girls fluttered their eyes, and we both knew we were toast. Wanda picked up the thumb drive.
The swimming area was nicely set up and inviting, but we didn’t go in. It was a long trek back, and my shorts would be itchy on the return trip. Instead, we ate at the restaurant overlooking the swimming area. The food was delicious but pricey. Jeff had a shot of 1800 Tequila that cost $150 Pesos ($7.50 USD) - ouch.
The return trip was just as much fun as the morning trip with waves more significant in the afternoon. On several occasions, we went airborne, and Wanda and I loved every second. All in all, it was an awesome day of adventuring. The Los Veranos Canopy Tour outfit is a well-run, professional operation that doesn’t leave you with a lot of downtimes. If you can avoid the tourist traps along the way, it is reasonably priced providing you get the 15% discount. I don’t know if it is the best zip line operation. There are many more. Vallarta Adventure is another big operation that provides transportation. But, it was the Los Verano's speedboat ride that hooked me.
Back in Bucerias, we stopped off to get a couple of pollo asados (rotisserie chickens) and papas (potatoes, also roasted in rotisserie spice) and tortillas. Thania and Isabella stopped by to say goodbye and proposed some cool Mexico City trips next year. We were all ears. Next year!