FEB 15, 2020. Custer, Wisconsin
Our front yard on the day we left on February 15, 2020. We first went to Green Bay and visited my sister and her family. On February 16, we flew to Chicago and spent the night. Finally, on February 17, we flew, non-stop, to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
30-days in Bucerias Mexico
FEB 17, 2020. BUCERIAS - We're Back!
We landed in Puerto Vallarta at 1 pm. Going through Customs was a breeze for us, but not for one guy, who was hauled out of the airport shoeless, shirtless, and in handcuffs, stiffly guided by two stern-looking policia. One woman on the side shouted out to him, “Sorry, baby. Be cool.”
Our friends, Jeff and Teri Eisberner, picked us up at the Puerto Vallarta Airport (PVR) and swished us back into paradise, Bucerias, Mexico. This time we rented a three-bedroom house just a couple of blocks away from Jeff and Teri. Our new hosts, Letty and Marcos, recently completed renovating the house, and we are the lucky first tenants for a special first-timer's price of, 1100 USD (20,802 MXN) for 30 days. This 3-bedroom home was substantially more rental then we usually plan. However, my nieces, Mo and Kack (nicknames for Maureen and Kathleen), will be experiencing their first Bucerias, Mexico trip and staying with us for a week - so we splurged to accommodate our guests. I can’t wait, it will be fun to entertain them when they arrive next week.
After meeting our hosts, I took off to watch Jeff play with The MexPats at JAX Bar & Grill. I helped him set up and get a free Pacifico beer and shot of Tequila for my efforts. Mexico is generous. JAX Bar & Grill was packed. JAX is the new hot spot in town this year, replacing The Drunken Duck - last year’s hot-spot. Wanda and Teri arrived around the second set. It was awesome seeing many familiar folks still there that also returned this year or are year-round expats. Bucerias is an addicting place.
FEB 18, 2020. BUCERIAS Rekindling.
We walked the whole town and marveled at how much smaller it is then we remembered.
The small town splits into three parts: Hwy 200, the north-south corridor, divides Bucerias between the jungle mountain inland side, and the oceanfront beachside. The beachside is further divided by a dry gulch. The northern half of Bucerias is the funkier side with bars, food carts, local markets, and the main downtown located in this section. The southern half is the ritzier side where expensive homes, condos, and apartments are located along with swanky art shops and restaurants. The best part of Bucerias is that even the ritzy side of town kept the small-town Bucerias' unique funkiness without the Miami-style box hi-rise architecture.
Bucerias is going through all kinds of construction this year. The already rough cobble-rock streets are torn up. A small road crew is laying a narrow band of rock & cement in the road. We couldn't see how that would possibly improve the street, but it is their road-construction style. Several new buildings are going up, and lots of buildings are getting a major renovation. That brings jobs, but it also makes the town dustier.
We decided on breakfast at Karen's Place Beach Restaurant and Bar, located on the ritzy side of town. The food is excellent, yet reasonably priced. Wanda and I are determined to monitor our calorie intake. Sharing calories has worked well for us, so we split a large plate of spectacular Huevos Rancheros. Wanda added a delicious cup of coffee to go with her breakfast. The bill was 118 MXN (6.25 USD). Even though we split the egg rancheros, we were both stuffed - there was more than enough to share.
Part of our surveying Bucerias on this first day is to check out all of the great street-food carts and the mom-and-pop restaurants that we enjoyed last year. Most were still around. By noon, it was getting hot. Our respite from the heat always was to eat a cold paletas, a frozen fruit purée on a stick. We discovered a new paletas shop that was cheaper and had more flavors than our favorite paletas shop from last year. Paletas come in three varieties, water-based, cream-based, and yogurt-based. As good as the water-based fruit purée is, the cream-based and yogurt-based paletas are to-die-for. My strawberry cream paletas was chock-full of whole strawberries in a frozen ice cream-like base. It was scrumptious. Wanda likes coconut cream paletas - it was great but not my first choice.
At 1 pm, we headed to Jeff and Teri's place. Jeff and I were scheduled to play at Buzzo's Restaurant Bar on the beach at 3:30 pm. Around 2 pm, we drove first to the Airbnb to pick up my guitar then headed to Buzzo's to set up.
Jeff had been saying that the crowds at Buzzo's Restaurant Bar were much improved since last year, and he was right. We had an excellent and vocal audience. Dave, the owner of Buzzo's Restaurant Bar, made one crucial building improvement that I believe helped. The back of the bar, facing the ocean and also facing west, was open. The afternoon sun baked the bar. Dave added a big grass awning that blocked the sun without cutting off the cool ocean breeze or the spectacular ocean view. That, and the excellent music, of course, has built Buzzo's clientele. All-in-all, it was a great time.
FEB 19, 2020 JAX BAR
Wednesday was the Jax Bar's 5th-anniversary bash. They cordoned off one street and set up two stages. Bands were scheduled to play all day and evening until midnight.
There was a chance that Jeff and I could squeeze in a small set. Unfortunately, the schedule got goofed up right from the get-go. Bands played in the wrong order and on the wrong stages. Our little set kept getting pushed back. Finally, I decided not to try to play even though we probably could have if Jeff wanted to push it. The festival ended earlier than scheduled when a powerful local politician made Jax open the street back up. The bands and crowd had to move into the bar. With only one stage in the bar, some bands couldn't play. Wanda and I left around 8 pm.
FEB 20, 2020. PUERTO VALLARTA
Thursday was Puerto Vallarta day. Although I brought some MXN Pesos from the United States that were leftover from last year, we needed more MXN Pesos. The official exchange rate was 18.73 MXN / USD. I had hoped to get 18 MXN / USD at a bank or exchange window in Puerto Vallarta. Bucerias didn't seem to have a currency exchange unless you have an account at a bank. We hopped on the buses to reach the Romantic Zone or Old Town section of Puerto Vallarta.
We are now savvy travelers at using the public transportation system in this area. The entire two-bus tag-team bus trip cost us 30 MEX or 1.60 USD for each leg. First, we rode the bus from Bucerias to the Las Glorias neighborhood in north Puerto Vallarta (20 MXN). From Las Glorias, we immediately caught the Centro bus to Old Town (10 MXN Pesos).
We did have one huge surprise. The Centro buses don't go to the main plaza in Old Town anymore. Two months ago, the end-of-the-line location for the buses was moved from the plaza to the corner of Venustiano Carranza and Hwy 200. This new location was only a few blocks away, but not quite as convenient as the plaza.
Last year we noticed that Puerto brought on a bunch of New Mexican-made Dina buses. These are mid-sized and are still equipped with manual transmissions, making the drivers work. After one year of service on the rough Puerto streets, the buses were already showing signs of wear. The old Mercedes buses were beat, but they run for decades.
We zigzag-walked our way around town, re-locating all the other bus routes we will be using this month, finding familiar restaurants and shops, and tracking down a currency exchange windows. One bank that would have exchanged our currency without an account was only giving 17.50 MXN to USD. We saw several exchange windows for 17 MXN to USD. Finally, we found one that listed 17.90 MXN to USD. It was the best we could find, so we converted 500 USD for 9,444.91 MXN.
Sadly, our favorite shrimp burrito street-cart was gone. It had been there the last two times we visited Puerto. Plan B - last year, we found a delicious looking sidewalk restaurant, but it was full. This year we found a seat and were rewarded with absolutely divine flavors. Their daily-made fresh sauces with only a mild kick let us pour them over everything.
The ocean walk on the Malecon was just as pleasant as we remembered. Again, Puerto Vallarta seemed much smaller this time around than we remembered. Maybe we are just getting good at this walking thing that a mile feels like a few yards. Whatever, we enjoyed our day in Puerto Vallarta.
FEB 21, 2020. SAYULITA
The most accessible beach to reach with big waves from Bucerias by bus is at Sayulita, a designated Magic Town in Mexico. The Mexican Department of Tourism’s Magic Town program identifies towns and small cities that have a unique flavor. Our favorite Mexican Magic City was Izamal, also called the Yellow City in the Yucatán.
Sayulita has an artsy, surfer-flowerchild flavor and is recognized as such. Four years ago, when we first visited Sayulita, it was very laid back, tiny, and fun. Last year, it was a hot-spot for a young-family tourist crowd. This year we found a gigantic building boom taking place. The streets were crowded and dusty because of all the construction. Still, Sayulita is a cool town with a terrific beach with great long waves for playing in or surfing for all levels.
The Compostela Bus company runs buses from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita every 10 minutes or so.
Between the bus depot (yes, Sayulita has a bus depot) and the downtown, we ran into the Friday Art Market. The food looked terrific, and the arts and crafts were first-rate and unique. The cute family quartet that was playing at the market turns out to be the same family band we saw at the La Cruz market last year, featuring a young girl singing and her young brother playing guitar.
After thoroughly walking the town and seeing how it has vastly expanded, we headed for our favorite spot on the long curved beach. This location is about a half-mile south of the crowded city section of the beach. We found a shaded spot on the sand to lay out our towels and headed straight for the breakers. They didn’t disappoint. We got slammed, crashed into, and tumbled for nearly two hours. It was glorious.
The bus ride back to Bucerias was uneventful. After walking Wanda back to our Airbnb, I walked over to Jeff and Teri’s house. Terri twisted my arm, and I ate a plate of her incredible beef stroganoff. Jeff made a delicious rum drink. It was an excellent day all around.
FEB 22, 2020. SAN PANCHO (aka San Francisco)
Last year we had a hard time identifying the bus to San Pancho. This year it seemed a lot easier. I believe that a lot more buses head to San Pancho from Puerto Vallarta through Bucerias. San Pancho is about 20 kilometers north of Sayulita, smaller but artsier than Sayulita, and has our favorite beach with punchier waves to wrestle with.
San Pancho doesn’t have a bus depot. The bus drops off it’s San Pancho passengers on the main highway. It’s a pleasant 1-kilometer walk to the downtown. There are several shops, sidewalk vendors, and restaurants along the way. Being as small as it is, San Pancho has a lovely intimate feel to it.
But it’s the dazzling ocean beachfront and those great long waves that attracts us. We rented an umbrella and chaise lounge set for 250 MXN (13.30 USD) for the day and got nested in for the afternoon. The 250 MXN was substantially higher than the 150 MXN Pesos I remembered. It might be inflation or it might just be the weekend rate is higher. Still, the total cost for the day is well worth the comfort factor.
The high waves created screams of delight from the swimmers just before cascading over them. There was one group of 20 teenagers with their arms linked together facing the onslaught. They chanted as the wave built up in front of them. With all their might, they tried not to uncouple as the froth crashed down on them. It was great fun just watching. Wanda and I got churned up all day and loved it. Finally, around 3:30 pm, we had to pack it in. Satisfied we were beaten up enough, we left the beach in search of a taco stand close by to catch our breath and plan for tomorrow.
FEB 23, 2020. LA CRUZ SUNDAY MARKET
The plan today was to go to the La Cruz Art Fair with Jeff and Teri. We had to wait for a maintenance specialist to check the hot water heater, which has been acting erratically. Of course, when he came by, the heater worked perfectly. Oh well.