*Disclaimer: if you follow me on social media, you already know about the troubles I had trying to get to Mexico for Spring Break. Always double check your passport. Some of you also know about the slight problem I ran into when I tried to leave Mexico. But this story isn't about passports, or issues with tickets. That's a story for another day, and a lesson learned. You can't let the fear of those things happening keep you from seeing the things you want to see. This is about Mexico, and all of the rich, beautiful things they have to offer.
It was Tuesday afternoon. I had already been flying since 7 in the morning, and been through two major airports. I took a deep breath on the plane and looked out the window, as the captain announced we would soon begin our descent into Puerta Vallarta. 35,000 feet below me, I watched the Gulf of Mexico wrap around Texas, and then turn into a foreign place. Mountains poked up through the clouds. As we got lower, I saw small villages tucked between the mountains. The land turned into farms, some of them with round patches. Heather, my roommate, told me this is because it's more economically efficient to plant some crops in a circle. They'll cover every possible inch. We were beginning to get lower now, and I was seeing different stores and businesses I had never heard of, and then, BAM, Home Depot. I found it funny that I had set an expectation for some things about Mexico, and they were way off. Mexico is beginning to be Americanized in some ways. I think the biggest thing I learned early in this week was to leave my expectations behind. They can ruin your vacation. Just treat people with kindness, try to pick-up on some of the language (if you haven't already), and enjoy your time.
When I got to the airport, my Spanish was forced back to me. I immediately began asking questions about where to find the Exchange counter, and what the Wifi was, so I could tell Heather and Ian I was there. They met me at the airport, just like they promised, and we took a taxi to The Hilton. Everything in Mexico was so fast paced. It was difficult to work with the metric system, I'll admit, but from what I could tell, it's pretty normal to drive 60 through town, and 80+ down the highway. Wrapping through the mountains is the only time the drivers felt overly cautious. It didn't make me feel unsafe, though.They know their roads.
That first night there felt like three nights. I was overwhelmed that I had made it there, sad that I had already missed some things, and exhausted from the flights, but I didn't want to waste a moment. Ian, Heather's fiancé, told me the best advice he could give me: Forget about time. We all immediately went to the beach. People come up to the tourists constantly, offering to sell everything from small knick-knacks, to asking if we want to "party," while giving a swift brush under their noses. We politely declined, but found some of the best prices for souvenirs on the beach. One man came by with his horses, offering an hour ride for 35 American dollars. It's best to keep both forms of currency on you in Mexico because many people will bargain on prices. We rode our horses up and down the beach, joking that mine was perfect for me, as she bucked at the other two horses. Paloma was sassy, but beautiful. I made sure to tell her in Spanish how much joy riding her had brought me.
Aside from the people selling things, there were also hotel workers who constantly brought us drinks. Heather told me she gave one man, Jorge, a 5 dollar bill, and he went out of his way to set up a table for her and Ian the next day. Somewhere after mojito number four, we went to eat. How can I describe the food I had there? Is "Foodgasm" a word? I have never had such fresh fish. (Mexico is predominantly Catholic, and they are currently practicing Lent, so fish was the main meat.) The tacos we have here are not tacos. In Mexico they give you a corn tortilla with a fresh meat inside. There are also typically peppers and onions to add, guacamole, salsas, and rice and beans. There was queso fresco in some places, and I was happy to learn it was goat cheese, something I had never tried before.
Toward the end of the first night, it was really only the beginning. We still had plans to go to Señor Frog's, a club in downtown Puerta Vallarta. After a quick nap, we were on our way. For those of you who have gone out with me, you know I don't normally like huge crowds of people in a small space. It was shoulder to shoulder, and taken over by drunk spring breakers, reaching over the bar to help themselves. But as Heather said, we paid money to be there, so we made the most of it. If you know how I do in crowded bars, you also probably know about my ability to talk to people, especially men. I'd do better writing love letters and sending them via carrier pigeon. But Spring Break was about stepping out of my comfort zone, so, would you believe I met a guy while in Mexico? I awkwardly made my move and suddenly found myself dancing with a Scottish man, who was visiting from Colorado. And he wanted to dance with me. I can't be sure if it was the strong accent, or the blue eyes that melted me, but for a little while I felt brave and beautiful. If you're reading this and scared like me, I encourage you to take the plunge. Talk to people. Tell the cute guy he's cute. The worst he's going to say is no, and the best he's going to say is, "You look like you want to dance," in a surprise accent.
The next day, we made plans to go to Sayulita, a small town about 45 minutes from Puerta Vallarta. Heather described it as a hippy town, so we had to go. Our cab driver, Javier, was fluent in English, so we learned a lot about the culture and he answered many of my questions in the cab. I told him that what I've been told about Mexico was way off. Mexicans are not dirty. They're not lazy. Javier explained that Mexico is different from the United States, but the same in the fact that everyone is just trying to make it. Drug cartels are very common, and even the Mexican army has been said to be involved. But, it's a living. The cartel is described as the Robin Hood of Mexico. They don't like people who cheat them, and they protect their own. They make their money as easily as the beggars on the streets, or the farmers selling fresh fruits out of their trucks and stands along the mountain roads. Javier told us "Cocos Frios" are a very popular thing to sell. They are cold coconuts, and they're as fresh as they could ever be. When a homeless man approached our taxi, Javier handed me a couple pesos and said we should give to him. He said the people in Mexico are generally very giving to the homeless. They're down on their luck, and if you can spread a little kindness into the world, it might come back to you. When we approached Sayulita, Javier dropped us in the downtown area. Colorful flags lined the streets, and people from all walks of life were there. There were people selling their hand made things, surfers looking for the perfect wave, and foreigners who had moved there, looking for a slower pace in life. We spent the afternoon shopping, eating more amazing food, and meeting new people. I think some day I want to go back and stay in the hostel in Sayulita. Everyone there was so nice, skilled in their professions (weavers, painters,jewelry makers, etc), and welcoming to tourists.
The third day in Puerta Vallarta, Heather and I went to the spa in the hotel and got massages. I was happy I had that time with my best friend. It was quiet, and we're still talking about how amazing our masseuses were. Mine was Marisol. She was kind and relieved all of the stress from the beginning of the week. I wish I could have thanked her in person, but I tipped her at the desk, and we went on with our day. From there, we went to downtown Puerta Vallarta to see the shops and historical spots. We met an artist who was going along stacking rocks of different sizes, and we did a professional tequila tasting with Mauricio, who was from California, but said he loved it in Mexico. We learned about the process of making tequila and the different kinds there are. We had lunch at a local restaurant, where we told them Mauricio sent us, and they gave us free table-side guacamole and salsa. After that we went back to make dinner reservations at the hotel. We had originally made plans to go back to the clubs that night, but I'm glad we ended up staying in. I found a salsa lesson in the hotel, and remembered everything I had learned from Ballroom dancing. It felt good to be dancing again and teaching people who were convinced they were hopeless. I told them I use to be hopeless, and now I have a room full of people in Mexico looking to me for answers. It was a reminder that not everything on vacation is about the party, sometime's it's taking a vacation from how busy life gets and getting back into something you love doing (and apparently still know how to do.)
On Friday, the last full day in Mexico, I took some time to go out by myself. I was nervous, but I've been determined for months to see the jungle where Predator was filmed. So after breakfast, I got an early cab and he took me up the mountain. My driver's name was Paco, and he told me anything I need, he was there for me. We curled through the dirt roads, seeing families and cattle walking the roads along the way. He also pointed out lizards sitting on branches and joked that they are, "everywhere! Like chickens!" At one point he took me past the beautiful Villas where the rich and retired live. When we got to El Eden, I was surprised to see how touristy it had become. This was an instance of my expectations getting in the way. But, I gave it a chance, and had an amazing time. The natural rocks and waterfall had been covered by man-made steps and patios to make it easier for tourists to get to the ziplines, and to make room for restaurants. Paco talked the price down for me, and so I ziplined for about half the regular price, and was able to do what I had been talking about for months. My zipline instructor was also named Paco, and he named me, "Abby-guy-eel," the Spanish pronunciation for Abigail. He showed me his short cuts to the biggest ziplines, which consisted of me climbing a mountain for the first time. I soared over the jungle, saw the waterfalls and even faced my fears when Paco suggested I zipline up-side-down. "Let gooo, Abby-guy-eel!" It was an amazing experience, and anyone who thinks they might want to go to Mexico, go. It was relatively cheap, and unforgettable.