Adios Amigos!

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Where I stayed
Posada Iris

Flag of Mexico  , Pacific Coast,
Monday, January 24, 2011

Our time in Puerta Vallarta is coming to an end. We have been able to visit most of the sites and interesting towns within a days travel, and have walked almost every street of the town (at least once). After leaving Los Tules and moving into Posada Iris we quickly learned the rhythms of life here. We are awoken between 7.45 and 8am every morning by the man who drives a truck up and down each street delivering replacement gas cylinders (no mains gas supply). He announces his presence by playing a continuous message interspersed with the refrain that I am sure you are familiar with. Do you remember the old cowboy films when they are surrounded by indians and about to be overrun? Then you hear the cavalry charging to the rescue? That is the very loud refrain played every minute either increasing or decreasing in volume as he criss-crosses the grid pattern of streets. It is an very effective alarm clock.

This is followed by the slow awakening of the town, with shops opening around ten or eleven, the sun warming up quickly as people drift to the beach, the buzz of the cafes and restaurants in the early afternoon, then the various attractions offered during “Happy Hours” which, with careful planning, can last from noon until 10pm (in which we have participated only a couple of times – honestly!), the afternoon beach volley ball games of a high standard that stop only when it is too dark to see the ball,and finally the removal of loungers to be replaced with tables and chairs on the beach for dining, and at the same time the Malecon food stalls burst into life to serve the evening strollers. It is a gentle pace of life that we have really enjoyed and that enabled us to spend time observing some essentials of life such as how the river changes its path to the sea with the tides, the heron and cormorant that competed for the same fish, and of course people watching.

One of the most pleasing aspects of life here is the way people talk to each other – all the time, everywhere. It would be impossible to feel lonely or isolated in PV. Even popping into the bakers for a moment I can guarantee Jim will be deep in conversation with someone by the time I come out. As the hotel did not have internet access we started going into Starbucks to log in there, and quickly came to appreciate the contrast with England. It is more like a youth club for adults! We have seen people come in to go online without buying anything, some people are there for hours (I think our record was 3 hours plus) on one drink, another man gives an English lesson to a young woman every day for a couple of hours. We soon came to recognise the regulars. The other reason to visit is the soft sofas. We now realise that the greatest need of the traveller and backpacker is a comfortable seat as most of the time we sit on hard seats, rocks, benches, sea walls, beaches, buses, bar seats etc. The Starbucks sofas are bliss!

One day we visited the PV Botanical gardens – a rather grand name for the gardens of some 12 acres which are still in the early stages of development. A couple bought what was a coffee hacienda and started to create a garden with the help of volunteers. There is a river running through the garden, an area of jungle, an orchid conservatory and various endemic species of plants and trees but what makes it a special place is the hacienda itself, now a restaurant, meeting place and events centre. It is a traditional colonial style with airy verandahs on four sides to provide shade and breeze with furnishings and plants that blend into the building and blur the boundaries of inside and outside making it a relaxing place to sit and enjoy the view and watch the humming birds visiting the plants.

With the help of Juan Carlos from our hostel we finally made it to San Sebastian in the Sierra Madre mountains. The enterprise involved taking the local bus to the edge of town to catch the country bus for a journey of an hour and a half. Then, leaving the bus at a small village on the main road (La Estancia) we had to walk through the village to find a taxi. This is where Juan Carlos was invaluable as he kept asking people where to find the taxi and they pointed up the hill. After about 10 minutes walking the taxi came down the hill and we climbed in. How the system works we never really understood but it did and the taxi took us the last 9 kilometres to san Sebastian. It was a special day, the culmination of a 4 day festival. It was very cold first thing as we arrived about 9am but by 11 it was hot and the procession was due to start. It took another hour to get underway (it is Mexico JC reminded us) but it was great fun with all groups who live, and have ever lived in San Sebastian being represented. The town was founded by the Spaniards in the 16th century to mine silver and the mines can still be visited but because of the party in the town square we gave the mines a miss as we guessed there would be no-one there and it was a forty minute walk each way. Juan Carlos had not visited the town before and he wanted to see the party because of the food and tequila but unfortunately he has just started to diet so could not be tempted. He has a family wedding in a few months time and wants to be slimmer by then.

We did the journey in reverse to get home but the taxi driver told us about his house where he grows coffee for sale, so we stopped there to have a look around and buy some coffee. It was great having Juan Carlos with us because he spoke to everybody which gave me a chance to meet more people and practise the language.

We can't leave Mexico without talking about the Voladores de Papantla. They are descendants of the Totonac people and as part of their religious rituals a group will climb to the top of a pole and then descend upside down, attached only by a rope which swings them around the pole. One man is usually sitting on the top playing a flute and/or drums as the others descend. It is haunting music which can be heard from a great distance and of course is useful as a means of attracting spectators who give a contribution at the end of the performance. Although originally from Papantla they can be seen all over Mexico now.

In the centre of Puerta Vallarta there is a river with 3 islands in it. When we walk to the seafront we like to go through the islands as it is a lovely park area with lots of greenery and a swing bridge which is challenging if more than 2 people try to cross at the same time. I have had to cling onto the wire mesh a few times when it starts to swing violently.

We have really enjoyed our time in Mexico and would love to return. We still want to see the Copper Canyon and ride the train there but when the weather is milder. We decided we did not want to go when the nights were freezing. During our 3 months here the birds, butterflies, scenery, ruins and historic buildings have all given great pleasure but the most powerful impact of our stay has been the people who have without fail been pleasant, helpful and fun, not only with us and other visitors but with each other. It is a real contrast with the behaviour at home and made me aware of how tense and angry lots of people are in England. Even on the busy Metro everyone was patient and polite even when crowded together. Here, I have never seen anyone be rude, impatient or irritable, however challenging the situation they are dealing with.




Tomorrow we move on to Los Angeles, en route to New Zealand.
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