Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Been There Done That.

Curiosity got the best of us.

After a pretty dismal first impression from the bus on our way north to Sayulita - we decided to research Puerto Vallarta's. It wasn't surprising that PV offered more - after all - throngs of aging Canadians and Americans flock there annually. The part of PV we saw on our first day was north of the tourist area - which we read had a great boardwalk, shops and even a Mexican brewpub.

Sold - we figured it was worth checking out.

First thing we did was get my passport (members card) stamped at the embassy (Starbucks). I've been Starbucks free since arriving and needed a fix. It was like I never Vancouver. It was more or less identical to ever other Starbucks ever but felt oddly upscale compared to other Mexican establishments.

We then walked the boardwalk and quickly got bored. Years of American/Canadian tourists have transformed it into a piece of Americana. Lined with tourist traps like Senior frog (which had three separate official merchandise shops along the boardwalk) and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company - a kitschy Forest Gump parody restaurant. In between were overpriced liquor and clothes merchants.
More or less the antithesis of what I want in a travel experience. I hate to sound like a hipster but if at one point PV's board walk was cool - it no longer is.

That's fine. I'm sure if I lived in PV, I'd find some cool places and the board walk is more or less the epicenter of the tourist trap. Government St in Victoria is the same, and I felt similarly with Check Point Charlie in Berlin - something that once was interesting but now to commercialized (it's not the volume of people that bothers me - it's what it brings with it).

We headed away from the beach and up the hill to Los Muertos brewery. I love craft beer and have been tiring of the Pacifico/Corona options - it is PV's first brewpub - no doubt a product of the aforementioned throngs of northerners (particularly those from the Pacific NW). Still - I was curious to see what they had to offer.

Being a stout boy - naturally I had the McSanchez (their stout). It was a basic stout - but good. I was about to order another when the Anillo de Fuego caught my eye. It's a chilli beer.

Not a chilly beer - a chilli beer. I don't like chillies - but desperate to satiate my sense of adventure - I went for it.

Regrets. Not only does it taste strongly of chillies - it burns your lips like them too. It's borders on unpleasant. A novelty beer at best - I can't see anyone going out of their way to drink it on a regular basis - unless they were insane.

I finished my pint. Waste not - want not, right?

Not going to lie - it was slow going near the end. My recommendation is to get it in a flight of beer. That way you can say - wow - this is weird and reminisce later about the one time you had chilli beer. Oooooor, perhaps it's better in a Michelada (as I just read on their website while retrieving the name of the beer). I wish the bartender had recommended that.

After that we bussed back to Walmart and scoped out the overpriced mall next to the cruise ship dock. At first we couldn't figure out why everything was overly priced - but then we remembered what was parked in the slip. A Walmart and an expensive mall - the first thing the passengers experience in Mexico. Great.

Which got me to thinking. For the majority of the time I've been down here - we've been paying pretty comparable prices to back home (it's definitely cheaper but we've been pretty frugal).  The question arises - where is all this money going? Even Punta de Mita, which is next to a massive resort - doesn't seem to profit/capitalize on it. Other than a couple of boutiques (one selling a 4000USD rug) and a restaurant or two - it's actually pretty poor. Sayulita was the same way - tons of tourists, high prices, yet everything is pretty ghetto.

PV isn't all bad. :-)
Obligatory Starbucks visit.

^ Tamara's reaction to the chilli beer.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Punta de Mita Photos

Some photos from Punta de Mita so far:
Punta de Mita from the top of our building

My girlfriend and our host

Watched the sun set drinking beer.

Chilling by the pool

Haven't gathered the courage to try the pork rinds. Soon...

A Need For Speed.

The fair is in town - we can hear it playing rather creepy music on a loop across town as we fall asleep. We have yet to actually visit it but I can't imagine what a fair in this country looks like, or how anyone survives the rides.

I am starting to suspect the locals have a high threshold for danger. A Mexican bus ride, for example, is a cheap alternative to putting your life in a carney's hands. The bus seem to be threadbare and held together with baling wire - yet the drivers seem to enjoy pushing them as fast as they can go along winding roads through the jungle.

On the way to Punta de Mita - our bus driver seriously considered passing on a double yellow line while cresting a blind hill (to pass a large oil/gas tanker). It's almost hilarious if it didn't put everyone in jeopardy.

We traveled to the a couple markets (first a real mexican one, then a gringo trap) today - and again - Mario Andretti was our driver. I'm not entirely certain _why_ they line and sign the road if noone obeys it (at all).

I tried to peek at the speedo as on our way towards La Cruz. I was trying to determine how fast we'd rocket off the road at the next tight corner. The speedometer was registering zero.

I tried to capture it in video (we were going uphill and had slowed down by the time I decided to record it for prosperity):


Street Meat

Punta de Mita is a big change to Sayulita. It's more of a one burro town attached at the hip to a massive exclusive Four Seasons Resort (takes up most of the peninsula) and a few gated communities - so very quiet.

We are staying in one of the gated communities. Having our own room in a large 3 bedroom place overlooking a private pool and palm trees - feels very weird coming from a hostel. A little less exciting but in some ways - particularly being productive with work - that is a good thing.

Our host took us to one of his local favorites - an impromptu taco stand that appears on Saturday and Sundays (no menus etc - real street). I am getting more bold with what I like to call Mexican Intestinal Roulette...and perhaps flew a little close to the sun last night...having my first real Mexican bathroom experience in the morning.

Gotta remember to ease up on the spicy sauce...

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Marietas Islands

I tend to avoid guided tours, not because I'm an anti-tourist, but because I just don't feel they are worth it (and I usually find them lacking interesting content and devoid of real excitement). Generally speaking - there have been exceptions.

The first thing that popped onto the radar when I started to look into Sayulita is the Marietas Islands. It is a ecological reserve off the coast which has a interesting beach/cave (essentially the cave collapsed, leaving a crater like beach). I put it on my list of things to do (among the millions of other people who visit this area). Upon arriving - we heard a variety of reports from the hostel guests on experiences and what they paid.

I started to get the impression the islands had become a bit of a tourist trap. Regardless - my girlfriend really wanted to go, so she went out hunting for the best deal. She seemed to find it with the Chica Locca trimaran. Whale watching, open bar, island tour, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling, water slides (on the boat) all for $85 - for a trip that is around 8 hours (I think) from the parking lot in Sayulita - not bad for $10/hr.

Frankly, I could've done without the whale watching - which mostly consists of harassing humpback whales trying to feed. Maybe that's just the hippy in me - that said - we did get to see a lot of whales...which was cool.

The staff was very friendly and the banter was funny (a canned tour - but still fun). The drinks came fast and furious. I generally limit my booze intake on the water - I feel it's a bit of a recipe for disaster - but I needed a bit in me to dull my overwhelming fear of sharks (my kryptonite). The pina colada's went down easily (I expected watered down drinks which wasn't the case - they didn't skimp on the booze).

I think I liked the kayaking the best - bombing around in them with my girlfriend was a lot of fun.
The snorkeling was good - a first for me. I got to put my tough camera to the test (overall I took 300 photos - 3 of which are decent).

The island tour itself was quick but unless the beach was deserted I wouldn't want to stay there much longer than we did. We explored a couple of the smaller caves which was a nice mini-adventure...a safe way to feel like Indiana Jones.

Overall it we both felt it was well worth it and were pleasantly surprised (I went into it with no expectations - maybe that is the trick).


Monkey Mountain Sayulita

Staying at the hostel is turning out to be more of a boon than bust. I mentioned in my previous post that one of the advantages of hostels is the collective knowledge - another advantage is safety/economy in numbers.

Yesterday we joined a group from the hostel and hiked Monkey Mountain, one of the higher hills in the area. If it were just me and my girlfriend - I'm not sure we would have done it. First, it's a ways from Sayulita - so a ride to and from is required (in this case we rented a collectivo - van taxi). Secondly - the hike isn't well marked and foreign terrain is a little intimidating without prior research/preparation.

To get to the trail head we needed to walk through some farms - skirting our way around sharp horned bulls, skittish horses and territorial dogs. The best map we had was an aerial photo of the area and written directions - so a few wrong turns were made. Through luck and collective reasoning - we reached the top. We hung out soaking up the sun and enjoying the view of Sayulita in the north and Punta de Mita (our new home as of the 17th) in the south.

Apparently there are tours up monkey mountain for $45 - I think it cost each of us around $3. I'm sure the tours have fewer missed turns - but where is the fun in that? That's all part of the adventure.

If you do hike Monkey Mountain - here is some supplementary info:

Be sure to bring plenty to drink. I had a Nalgene bottle and half a Gatoraid and probably could've gone for a little more. The trail isn't rugged but I'd recommend closed footwear. I did it in a pair of runners without problem - some of the guys had flip flops, which sucked coming down.Ticks are a problem...the group accrued quite a few - I had two myself - so check yourself frequently.

We found the directions given online missed a couple of points. We initially walked by the trail to the peak off the main track - if you start climbing a really steep hill on the main track, you've gone too far. The trail up Monkey Mountain is single track that branches left up a creek bed (there is a bit of a clearing and an irrigation pipe leading up the hill). You then come to a fork at the top of the creek, to the right is a rope up a steep slope, we took the left fork and that lead us to the top - not sure where the right fork goes.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Hidden Gems

Saw my first cockroach last night - didn't even phase me. I'm obviously starting to acclimatize.

We have been exploring the 'hidden beaches' in the area. The good thing about hostels is that there is a 'collective' knowledge that gets past along amongst the people staying in them.

The last two beaches we've been are good examples. They have been spectacular and frankly we would probably not have found them without tapping into that knowledge base. They are a little 'out of the way'....but by Sayulita standards that means a short walk. I'm not sure if people are lazy or just don't know about these other beaches but they are great. Yesterday's beach had massive surf which was fun to frolic in. It was much longer than 'private' cove the day before but was mostly empty.

Today we are looking into de Marietas Islands, which are very touristy (first thing that popped onto my radar when i was researching Sayulita) - but look amazing regardless of that.

Updates soon. Pictures below. :-)