Puerto Vallarta

Our plan for Puerto Vallarta was based on our experiences in Ensenada: disembark from the cruise ship, look for a local shuttle to the downtown area, hang out for an hour or two, go back to the Splendor and enjoy the extra peace that comes with most of the ship's population staying in port until 10 p.m.

It's not that Puerto Vallarta doesn't have much to offer; the list of shore excursions was two pages long. But, you know, this is us.

Arthur Frommer (apparently) refuses to classify cruising as "real" travel, since at best you get only a small sample of your various destinations. It's true that once upon a time I didn't understand why people would, say, bop into Mexican ports on a cruise, and not just (possibly) save some money and stay in Mexico for a week instead, really getting to see more of the country.

But now I get that the cruise ship is more than just transportation, and there's a reason people go on "Cruises to Nowhere."

And if Frommer really said that, about the "real" travel, then he's a git. I don't think it's any more noble to spend your vacation sitting on a hotel beach, yet his books and blog entries don't scold those who do that.

Speaking of hotel beaches, many of the ship's tours to PV involved taking people to spend time at a "luxury resort." Read the boards: folks get very excited about the best hotel day pass. Not that there's anything wrong with that, especially perhaps if you live in Minnesota and don't get a lot of beach time.

But we are not beach people. Wait. Not quite true. I do love beaches, but the thought of just sitting on one makes me cry, especially if sunshine is involved, and even more especially if it's hot. It was very hot in Puerto Vallarta. And muggy.

And of course anything sporty - ATVs, kayaking, zip lines - was out. The dolphin/sea lion encounters sounded neat, but they ask you not to wear sunscreen, and I don't last long without sunscreen. (And then I get chills and sniffles when I get even a little sunburnt. Why yes, I did freshly escape from an Edith Wharton novel, thanks for asking.)

Also, one person said their meet-n-greet with a sea lion was really, really sad. The poor thing was in a nasty cage and wearing a shock collar. They went through a local tour provider, I think, instead of a sanitized and sanctioned Carnival tour, but it still made me wary.

The "Countryside Adventure" tour looked right up our alley. Only one stylized figure on the "level of activity" icon, mostly on an air-conditioned bus, with an emphasis on history and culture. But... four hours? When, after two "Fun Days at Sea," we were still really into the ship? When we had a seven-hour bus tour planned for Mazatlan the next day?

And so, your honor, that's why we decided to just stick our noses into PV then run back to our floating Western debauchery.

The plan mostly, eventually worked.

Clouds over Puerto Vallarta

After a misty, muggy arrival in port, we lolled around, reminding ourselves that it's always hotter on the balcony than it is on the ground. We strolled off the boat around 10, I guess. I don't really remember. The camera, the ship, and Puerto Vallarta are on three different times. (Actually, the camera may have been on ship time. I don't know. I forget if it's set for or against DST.) Mid-morning, let's say.

The souvenir photo gauntlet was out in force, and of course we sidestepped it all. (A photo of it and the rest of the PV photos, half of which won't be in this post, is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamsters/tags/puertovallarta/show/. I wasn't jazzed about how most of the photos came out, but that's another story.)

We walked past all of the tour placards and through something called the "Jungle," which ended up being a little (trapped) spot for tourists to enter and interact with parrots on their way to the street. Here's Mike showing off his parrot-karate moves:

Mike Shows Mexican Parrot Some Karate Moves

Once on the street? Nothing. Taxis, yes, but where was the "Hi, this is the friendly shuttle for people who just want to glimpse the boardwalk and downtown area!" option. You know, like the two-buck ride we had in Ensenada.

We peered at the map given out by the cruise ship. Sorry, given out by the cruise ship's "Shopping Expert," which means it was a nearly useless grid of how to best get to Diamonds International. I'd WTF?! all over this , but it seems that a lot of people are really into getting jewelry at these places, often citing the "triple appraisal value" they get back home.

(I do wonder if they get their US-bought jewelry appraised? Because back in the day, when I wore finer things, my rings always appraised at more than triple the purchase cost. Never minding the artificial scarcity and blood politics involved in the gem market, I think much-higher-than-purchase appraisals are the norm, and thus not a good reason to salivate over making an "investment" while in port. Not that I'd ever begrudge anyone their idea of a good time, but buy the jewelry because you like it, not because you think you can't get this deal in the US. Stories of the cruise ship's Shopping Expert being so amazed at what you bought and reassuring you that you got a great deal? Yeah, I'm not convinced. Let's see, what does she get paid to do, again?)

Could we walk to the Malecon (boardwalk)? Oops, no, not with that wall there. How about we step into this little marketplace? Eh, everything looks like crap. And it's so hot. And so muggy. And we love the ship. Let's go back on the ship.

Port Terminal - Puerto Vallarta

So we went through Customs, me disgruntled and Mike willing to do whatever, he was just happy to be there, etc. You know his happy-go-lucky, good-natured ways. Pft. It's more than a crabapple (pronounce that the Simpsons way) like me can sometimes bear.

I stared at the big map inside the terminal. The thing to do, obviously, was get a cab. I knew that. Mike had mentioned it. But I wasn't up to dealing with the taxi.

That last sentence will not make any sense to some people. If it doesn't, I don't think there's anything I can do to explain it. (Partially because I'm not a good 'splainer about emotional matters.) If the last sentence does make sense, then I don't need to explain it any further.

Eventually Mike asked if I wanted him to arrange a taxi. Yes, please.

Once at the sedan, we found another couple already inside, an older couple who'd come to Long Beach for the square dancing convention. I felt bad that they'd been sitting in the cab, waiting for the driver to find more people to stuff in for more money. Then again, they were on their way to Diamonds International, so maybe they like sitting in taxis. (Those DI people are such a mystery to me.)

We asked the driver (after a short drive that, nevertheless, was far beyond our walking interests) to let us off by the Virgen de Guadalupe church, which on the map seemed to be near both the sea and a small market. For about 30 seconds, we seemed to have landed outside the tourism zone, for better or for worse.

Then a small tour group appeared out of nowhere and marched upon the church steps, and we slipped in with them, getting the essential "tourists descend on house of worship for 90 seconds, then leave" shot:

Inside Virgen de Guadalupe Church - Puerto Vallarta

There were enough ware-sellers around the church, including a nun, for me not to feel bad about "intruding." (It's not like there was a priest in action, anyway.)

Outside Virgen de Guadalupe Church - Puerto Vallarta

(Me applying the "this photo is crap - let's over-process it and pretend it's Photoshop's fault" filter.)

Mike by Church Clinic - Puerto Vallarta

We decided to walk through Los Arcos Plaza, heading east toward the market. I, of course, neglected to take photos of things like the Starbucks, the interesting shop signs, etc.

Mike in Los Arcos Plaza - Puerto Vallarta

On the streets of PV, it's all about smiling and nodding and not breaking your stride as the relentless vendors step from each doorway and follow you - by voice or bodily - with the hard sell.

It must work, of course, since everyone does it and has been doing it for at least as long as I've been a south-of-the-border tourist (27 years), but I still found myself wanting to write the "Alternative Approaches for Getting American Tourist Dollars for Dummies" book. There were many shops where I wouldn't have minded a look, but unless I saw something in my first sideways glance, it wasn't worth the hassle. I know people say, "oh, just ignore the come-ons," and I do do that, when something has caught my eye, but otherwise, no, I guess it's not in my temperament to have a good time while someone is trying to make conversation, draw me to items, ask what I would pay for this, for that, for surely this essential thing.

Here's what would have worked on me: "Senora, Senor. if you wish to look in here, you can shop in peace. Mine is not like the other stores. I am here if you have questions, but I will let you look around. Please come in if you wish to see our wonderful (whatever the standout product is)."

I probably would've dropped $50 with such a merchant on principle. Even if all they sold was stupid Senor Frog knock-offs.

Stupid Senor Frog's - Puerto Vallarta

"Senor Frog's" is the Starbucks of Mexican tourist areas. I swear there's one on every corner. As far as I can tell, it's a trendy bar offering lots and lots of branded merchandise. And that's the nicest thing I can say about that. But again, it's popular,

Anyway, I'm giving away my Alternative Approach for Getting American Tourist Dollars spiel away for free in the name of furthering US/Mexico diplomatic relations. Also, if it works, maybe Mexico will get really rich and fewer people will undergo the peril and uncertainty of crossing the border. I'm all about solutions here. No one can say I spent my whole summer break playing Farm Town on Facebook.

Century 21 Real Estate - Puerto Vallarta

I liked the Century 21 sign.

The Jumpy Bridge - Puerto Vallarta

So, there was this bridge made up of wooden slats, hanging from ropes, as you can almost see in the background behind Mike above. Just past the flea market was this bridge, surrounded by lush (there really is no other word) green with the brown Rio Cuale running underneath. I planned to take some pics once we started walking across.

Unfortunately, walking across was all about survival. I watched Mike and the man in front of him lurch from side to side, grasping at ropes, while I whipped around and gave my teacher-eye to the two young girls behind us who were jumping up and down, making the bridge look like an excerpt from one of those Great Engineering Disasters programs that comes on every third hour on the Discovery channel.

(Anyone who has seen me teach knows that my teacher-eye is a mildly sullen device at best, so - without trying to think too hard about the wide gaps between the planks below - I just got across the bridge and then, greeted by the usual annoying merchant spiels on the other side, ignored the camera until we were out of the riverside market. A market that specialized in things like t-shirts that read, "I'm not a gynecologist, but I'll take a look.")

El Pescador and Mike - Puerto Vallarta

Just around the corner, though, the springs on the tourist trap released, and we were able to wander unbothered on the streets.

Religious Artifacts Store - Puerto Vallarta

Maybe in the background you can see girls going to school? Everywhere in this area were individual girls in uniforms being walked to (or from?) school by women I assume were their mothers. The ratio was almost always 1:1, sometimes with a father instead of a mother, and the escorted kids were always girls. We did see some boys in school uniforms, but they traveled in small, unchaperoned packs.

It made me wonder if this is how it is every day, or just on days when the cruise ship rolls into port and releases a flood strangers upon the city.

A Man and His Squirt - Puerto Vallarta

Mike stepped into the Religious Goods store (last photo) to buy a made-with-sugar Squirt from the case just inside the entryway. Seven pesos or a dollar, but we - being cruise cattle in a tourist zone - hadn't bothered to exchange money, so he had to pay American-style. (Which is to say that not only did he pay with dollars, but he paid extra, and he felt generous instead of cheated.)

The Sun - Puerto Vallarta

PV is pretty messy in places, but in other places it's pretty in the mess. This photo shows how much I abuse the circular polarizer filter on my regular lens. I always like what I see in the viewfinder, then I get home and wish I'd backed off. Unfortunately, we still have two more days' worth of port photos where I hadn't learned my lesson.

The polarizer is great if not magic when you want to get rid of glare off a window or something shiny, or maybe bump up the saturation a touch, but I always twirl it to max, and we end up with midnight skies at noon.

Which, actually, I like in the photo above, but for every photo like this, there are 20 that no one is going to see because I'm so embarrassed by my Canon-based klutziness.

Dolphin Statue - Puerto Vallarta

One thing I really liked were the statues along the boardwalk. I wish we could have spent an hour walking along the beach, enjoying each one, posing, just breathing in the salt air that I miss so much in the desert.

However, the only thing we were breathing in was the muggy sweat of the broiling heat. We would trot across the street to admire a statue, then double-trot back to the shady sidewalk. Alas, we were back in hard-sell territory, worse than on the side streets before, so we pinballed between overbearing sun and overbearing people.

Fiddler Statue - Puerto Vallarta

Sea Horse Statue - Puerto Vallarta

Children and Ladder Statue - Puerto Vallarta

Sand Sculptures - Puerto Vallarta

Eyescope Statue - Puerto Vallarta

El Bosco Lives? - Puerto Vallarta

(Little-Known Factoid: Hieronymous Bosch successfully bargained for immortality. Today he designs statues to be placed along Puerto Vallarta's Malecon.)

(I can't help but point out that I'm correctly using "factoid" here. Yes, even I find myself insufferable at times.)

Tentacular - Puerto Vallarta

I think it has an aura of 1957 British Horror Movie about it, no? Or it's just me overcompensating in Photoshop again.

Mike in the Mexican Sun - Puerto Vallarta

Again, it was so hot and so humid.

Mike on the Beach - Puerto Vallarta

Welcome (Carnival Splendor) Passengers - Puerto Vallarta

Heh. We are but the flavour of the day.

McDonalds Shelter - Puerto Vallarta

So, guess where you can take a moment to catch your breath, check your map, stand in the shade, and be unmolested by sellers of Cuban cigars and sundresses? Finally, McDonald's has some purpose in my life.

Mike Pays the Cab Driver - Puerto Vallarta

We continued walking to what seemed to be the edge of respectability, which turned out to be Diamonds International, and I swear that wasn't even an intentional dig. Beyond DI things briefly got seedier, and I remembered from the cab ride over that there wasn't much reason to continue west.

Wal-Mart - Puerto Vallarta

We grabbed a taxi back to the terminal. (Predictably, the fare was a couple of bucks more to return. Ten bucks, if I remember correctly? I know all things are negotiable, but when it's miserably hot and you just want to get back to your majestic cruise ship before the pleasantness of the outing takes a turn, you don't quibble over two bucks. Besides, anything I can do to make Mexico a better place to live...)

Mike Walking to Sam's Club - Puerto Vallarta

After lunch and rest and wandering and I forget what, Mike decided to leave the ship for a brief run across the street to Sam's Club or Wal-Mart. (Can you find him above?) First, there was the novelty of it. (Yes, how sad that WM is in PV, or even anywhere, but since it is, why not check out how it compares?) Second, Mike hoped to get more Squirt - again, the lovely sugar kind that we can't easily get in the corn-syrupy veins of the United States.

I decided to stay home. Mike's a fast walker. I'm a slow hobbler. Also, my shirt was still damp from the morning excursion. Ew. Instead, I chose to watch from the balcony:

Mike took a couple of photos inside of Sam's Club:

Inside Sam's Club - Puerto Vallarta

Soda at Sam's Club - Puerto Vallarta

And I kept taking photos, the focus going soft from the humidity causing condensation on the lens:

Mexican Naval Vessels - Puerto Vallarta

Gallerias Vallarta Shopping Mall - Puerto Vallarta

(Note the English.)

The zoom lens was a lot of fun, too, as I watched people return or set out on excursions (we were in port until 10 p.m.):

Enjoying the Zoom Lens - Puerto Vallarta

Overall, I liked our little taste of Puerto Vallarta. I wish we'd walked back down Rio Cuale and gone to the museum, but it slipped my mind once we were out and about. I didn't see anything I wanted to buy (unlike in Mazatlan, Cabo, and previously in Ensenada), but, in the right weather, I'd happily stroll the beach, maybe try a restaurant. I know there's a lot more to see. Any place that has made a tourist spot out of a place called Playa de los Muertos has to be worth a second look.

(Next Post in This Cruise Report: An Hour or So in Cabo San Lucas.)

27 July 2009 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)