Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Puerto Vallarta!

Saturday, January 24, 2009 – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Up very early for our first private excursion tour. It was gray and foggy out at 7AM when the sun is normally up but soon cleared for a beautiful day. The Sierra Madre mountains were looming in the background we glanced toward land. The ship docked in Marina Vallarta/northern Puerto Vallarta (with a beautiful beach, 18-hole golf course and luxury hotels) and we were soon cleared to depart the ship.

Puerto Vallarta is a resort city situated on the Bahia de Banderas with a population of 250,000 making it the fifth-largest city in the state of Jalisco. Gold and silver were found in the mountains surrounding the city. The peso is the currency and is valued at approx. 1US$ = 14 Mexican pesos.

The group was on time and our guide and bus were late! Bit of a panic but they showed up and we were on our way to the tequila factory – at 9:30 AM!! They showed how the agave cactus is beaten and milled and offered quite a few samples of plain, chocolate and almond and other fancy kinds of tequila. We made our way to the historical center of Puerto Vallarta and along the malecon, the Champs Elysees of Puerto Vallarta – their boardwalk. The mile-long concrete walkway bordering the sea is where locals and tourists stroll, vendors and peddlers sell empanadas, corn on the cob, fried bananas, helium balloons, and cotton candy. It is lined with interesting pieces of sculpture – some mythical, some contemporary and some nautical but all very beautiful – especially the symbol of the city, the sea-horse icon. There were quite a few sand sculptures being built also.

On to the downtown area and we stopped right by a silver jeweler – how convenient! – in for a quick look around and some purchases. Mexican sterling silver is stamped 925 and there are beautiful stones to accent the silver – opals, malachite (green stone), jade (various colors) and many other precious and semi-precious stones.

We drove out to the south along the coastline past $3-9 million dollar residences to Mismaloya Beach, where “Night of the Iguana” was filmed in the ‘60s with Richard Burton and Ava Gardner. Elizabeth Taylor was also along to be with Burton and it was the largest scandal of the day. From that date on, Puerto Vallarta was no longer a sleepy village – it was discovered as dthe new gem on the Pacific.

We drove back to town, to the Plaza de Armas, for a stop at the glass factory store and then to the Church of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. And we were so fortunate!! They were holding a mass for a girl’s 15-year old birthday celebration. This is a very big event in the life of a young girl – only at her wedding will there be a larger celebration. The church was completely filled with family and friends, the young girl was seated in the center of the aisle near the nave in an elegant gown and the Priest was saying mass. The aisles were overflowing with huge bouquets of flowers and the waiting cars at the entrance to the church were decorated with flowers, just as if it were a wedding. What a wonderful opportunity to get a glimpse into the Mexican culture.

We divided the group into minivans to go up the very steep and narrow cobble-stoned streets to La Hacienda San Angel, the home Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor. We had a quick tour of the rooms (now an elegant and historical hotel) to see beautiful bedrooms with exquisitely embroidered linens and antique armoires and private plunge pools and an inner grass courtyard with arches… a stunningly beautiful residence/hotel. We had a four-course meal on the upper terrace, with a view overlooking the city and bay, AND as we dined we enjoyed a folkloric fashion show showcasing each state in Mexico and their local clothing. It was absolutely stunning to see the handiwork, the colors, the laces, the head gear and shoes of the people of the various regions. Very professionally presented and we found out later the models are ballet dancers from the PuertoVallarta professional ballet troupe.

We reached the ship and were hot and exhausted after a full day of exploration.
It was an easy departure – due west and now headed north to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Dinner and variety show tonight – Royal Court Singers and Dancers in a Frank Sinatra tribute (just up my alley!) and then the comedian and Ventriloquist. Mexican Fiesta Deck party is being held on the top deck by the pool in the area with a retractable roof.