by Nancy Bernard
Please note that there are absolutely no lies or exaggerations in this account. It is, however, an incomplete report.
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Thanks so much for my birthday gift! I still can’t believe you gave me a week at your time-share. Mexico is absolutely gorgeous, and the Grand Mayan is absolutely luxurious—a real tropical paradise. Full of friendly Americans in very little clothing. It’s so nice to see people be so unself-concious about their figure flaws! And so happy about actually being in Mexico, drinking cervezas, singing “La Cucaracha,” and calling the hotel staff amigo and amiga.
The hotel took such good care of us all that I knew this was going to be the easiest, most comfortable trip I’ve ever taken—I mean, I’m the girl who went all over Japan with a Berlitz phrase book, a map, and a train ticket and practically had a nervous breakdown when she missed the last train to Tokyo the day her ticket was due to run out.
The Grand Mayan is the kind of place that caters to your every need. I really appreciated this the day I went blind. It seems that there is a reason you’re not supposed to go swimming with contacts on. Not that I went underwater or anything, but I guess a few drops went in my eyes, and oh, man. Woke up before dawn with the eyes on fire, tried to wash them with saline, it got worse, so I put on shades and a hat and walked down to the concierge desk with my eyes open just enough to see a sliver of floor and tears streaming down. They took total care of me. Guided me to the hotel doctor’s office, filled the prescription, brought it to my room, and delivered my meals to me. For only about two hundred dollars, plus tips. I thought of them gratefully while I lay in the room all day with the blinds closed and a cool compress on my eyes.
The next day I was able to open my eyes—so long as I wore a big hat and kept my sunglasses on—so I decided to rent a car and drive around the REAL Mexico. The plan was to run up the coast, stop at every little beach town and wind up about two hundred kilometers north to take the Mangrove Jungle Tour in San Blas.
I knew it would be an adventure because I couldn’t get a proper map—which didn’t matter because I wouldn’t have been able to read it anyway. So I made a list of towns, in sequence, from my guidebook and took off on the excellent Mexican roads, following the signs. I only missed one turnoff. I was enjoying driving on the excellent, well-marked roads in the state of Nayarit so much that I sort of went about two hundred kilometers out of my way, through one lovely mountain valley after another. Lots and lots and lots of them, in fact.
Made it to San Blas at sundown, had supper, and drove back through all these adorable little towns on very well-marked roads. At every intersection (except one) there was a sign saying “Puerto Vallarta 186 KM,” and so on. At the exceptional town, I went up to a guy making barbeque on the street, and said Sí, señor, estoy perdida. (Yes sir, I’m lost). ¿Donde está el camino por Puerto Vallarta? (Where is the road to Puerto Vallarta?) He gave me a big grin, gestured to the right, and said, Uno, dos, ¡vamonos! I vamonosed.
Got back alright with only one more little incident. You see, I had been drinking a lot of water because of the heat, and there is a lot of distance between towns, and I could find a rest stop or anything so I finally got so desperate that I pulled over to go into a sleazy bar.
And peed all over myself right in the street.
As an experienced traveller, I quickly tore open all my little antiseptic hand-washing towels and did a quick sidewalk ablution. Lucky for me, it was ten thirty p.m. and the streets were deserted.
A couple days later I took the catamaran trip I’d originally booked for the blind day. It was truly splendid. Met all kinds of fascinating people—my favorite were the skinny sisters from Argentina who were enjoying what they called la vida loca (the crazy life) with a couple of very elegant, westernized Masai from Canada. Singing and dancing with them to hot Latin versions of Beatles songs on the boat. Mi very own vida loca!
The water was so nice, and it was so nice not to be sheeting sweat for the first time all week, and the reefs and the fish were so lovely that I really didn’t mind it much when I got stung by jellyfish all up and down my right side at this lovely beach.
When I got back to the hotel, I really appreciated the little river they’ve built around the swimming pools. It was so cool and relaxing that the stinging died down after an hour or so.
Overall, it was a lovely trip. But I’m glad to be home.
Anti Nancy, globe-trotting aunty
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Puerto Vallarta and it’s brand-new, all-resort cousin, Nuevo Vallarta, are really lovely, and worth considering for a beach vacation.
• When you arrive, smiling men will greet you, pretending to represent your resort. Ignore
them. They’re selling time shares.
• Taxis from the airport to Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta are $13 U.S. ($130 Pesos) this
year. I was charged $20…
• For departures, get there two hours early. Check-in and security lines can be long.
• You won’t need Spanish at the hotel.
• Outside, you’ll need travel Spanish: greetings and politeness phrases, bathroom, money, and
restaurant words, plus direction words like left, right, near, far, etc.
• When speaking English with Mexicans, don’t raise your voice. Speak slowly, with little breaks between words.
• Carry Pesos. Most vendors, including tour operators, don’t take credit cards.
• The better hotels have everything you need, and bend over backwards to serve you.
• Hotel restaurants are very expensive, if excellent. Find a buffet, or go out.
• Tip bellboys, etc., about $1 US. The coin marked $1 is actually worth ten cents. The big brass coin with the silver center, or the bill marked 100 is a real dollar. And the staff deserves it. They’re only paid about $4.50 US a day.
• The sandy beach is miles long, with warm water, gentle surf, and little current. Away from the hotels, it’s practically deserted.
• Carry white vinegar in case of jellyfish—watch out for the tiny “no-see-ums” that got me. Vinegar works great.
• Many options, from Jungle to scuba to historic houses, all well managed by professional staff.
• Licensed tour guides are highly educated, and can answer any question.
• Book tours through the American Express office in Puerto Vallarta, which is right in the old town area. Hotels charge too much, and the guys on the street are all selling time shares.
• Ignore aggressive sidewalk vendors, politely. Most are selling time shares.
• Haggle with sidewalk and flea market sellers. Start by offering 25% less than they ask.
• If you want to see the Cathedral, go on Sunday. Masses, Weddings, and funerals go on all day—a
slice of life! But only take pictures if the locals are doing so.
Out of Town
• If you want to get out of town, there are beach villages and native culture sites all up and down the coast. Check a guidebook.
• People are friendly, curious, and helpful-if you are!
• Rates are fixed for common trips. Ask your hotel for a list.
• A great cost-saving option. If you don’t plan to tour the area, you don’t need a car.
• Always ask if the route is local or express (in Spanish). A local bus can add an hour to your trip.
• The only driving difference is that you get in the far RIGHT lane to make a LEFT turn.
• City roads have an extra right-hand lane for pulling into and out of shops, etc.
• The roads are mostly excellent. Curves and speed limits are very well marked.
• If you want to pass a truck, wait until you see the left turn signal. Truck drivers watch out for your safety!
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Nancy Bernard writes about design, branding—and now travel—for various public and corporate publications. Her first trip was to Japan, at the age of thirty-six. Since then, she’s been to Italy, England, Ireland, and India, as well as to various places in the U.S. In almost every case, she has travelled alone. And survived!