A common returning point for us over the years, the early days of 2019 took us to old town Puerto Vallarta for the first time in years, still one of the best party destinations in Mexico. While things have certainly changed – busier, more touristy, immeasurably more gay – there simply isn’t room for anything all that big or new, which means it is still a great place to spend some time away from the big resorts.
We had a group all-inclusive booked for January 6th with family and friends (more on that next post), leaving us to wonder about the other 5 days of early January, namely, what was to be done with them. Rather than opting to spend them back home in SK where it was still definitely winter, and where everyone was settling into the traditional January process of recovering from the numerous over-indulgences of the holidays – over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending, generally just over-socializing – we decided to head down to Mexico a few days early. It gave us a chance to get a head start on the rest of our crew as far as acclimatizing (that 28C/18C partly cloudy split can be tricky to adjust to), drinking (well, hello there, Pacífico, it’s been too long, my friend), eating (A round of tacos el pastor, amigo! Round two, why not!), and sweating (even merino wool has its work cut out on hot coastal hikes in Mexico).
Not sure if we were simply unlucky or willfully targeted for punishment by Westjet for booking our flight free through RBC Rewards, but on the flight down we were assigned two middle seats 5 rows apart. Luckily, with some sweet-talking at the counter we were soon able to secure an upgrade to a pair of aisle seats just 4 rows apart, and both squeezed tightly next to men roughly the size of mature male mountain gorillas featuring similar arms, although both men were much fatter.
While waiting in the customs line behind an airport employee pushing an elderly lady in a wheelchair, this flamboyant douchebag wearing a blinding silver jacket approached them to implore in his most whiny and wheedling tone to let him cut in line in front of them because he “tore his upper back, I think it happened after security in San Francisco”.
Apparently, despite the impressive speed with which he had rushed up to join us, ducking under the barrier like an agile parkour enthusiast, the pain of standing was simply too great to bear a minute longer. He was “still able to do forward yoga poses”, he hastened to add (at what point he had been able to test this since the disastrous incident in the SF airport was decidedly unclear), but pretty much anything else was pure agony. I mean, with the obvious exceptions of walking, talking, crouching and, apparently, vigorous bullshitting. It worked, though, so there’s that.
We stayed in a spacious AirBnB at the bottom of the Conchis Chinas hill which featured every conceivable amenity but not a single window to the outside. Still, it served our purposes well, and was ideally positioned as a base for our numerous malecón walks and many taco excursions. The most famous of these was at the absurdly popular Pancho’s Takos, which opened every night at 6 pm to a line-up that remained steadily in the 20-30-person range for the rest of the night.
Laynni assured me that a large number of strangers had assured her, via TripAdvisor, that the wait would be well worth it, so we settled in, passing the time people-watching and drinking the beer they were happy to serve us while in line. Well, I can happily report that those hundreds of hungry strangers didn’t lie, those were some of the best tacos el pastor we’d ever tasted. Or at least it seemed like it after 8 months in SK and half an hour standing in line watching other people eat.
Earlier I mentioned that Puerto Vallarta, especially La Zona Romantica, has gotten “immeasurably more gay”. Well, that isn’t entirely true. I’m sure it is completely measurable, I just didn’t feel the need to count exactly how many dudes offered me smirking massages the one morning I spent walking around by myself. It was weird, we barely noticed any of these fit, clean-cut corner lurkers when wandering as a couple, but the moment I was alone they materialized everywhere like dandelions the one time I actually had a lawn. Surprising, but not problematic, as they were always polite and never pushy like those you might encounter selling 2 for 1 daiquiris or Saskatchewan Roughrider sombreros.
Besides the professional side of things, however, the area we stayed in (just south of the old town) was emphatically populated by gay men on vacation, often in large groups. Large, fit, well-tanned, well-dressed groups. Apparently, PV has become one of the premier gay travel destinations, at least judging by the sheer number of free guides published listing all the fun activities on offer in “Gay PV”. Fascinating demographic anomaly, and far more rainbow flag decorations than we were accustomed to.
But did you do anything interesting, you ask, or are you just going to keep rambling on about sexual orientation, eventually moving on to all those truly excellent haircuts? Well, we did go hiking one day. We took the bus out to Boca de Tomatlán, and from there we hiked along the coast through Comitos (tiny, popular beach), Playa Caballos (long beach dominated by an eye-wateringly pricey yoga retreat), Las Animas (the normal end to the hike, and home to at least a dozen beach bars), finally ending after about 7 km at the beautiful, serene beach at Quimixto.
This long, quiet beach had just 2 bars, one of which graciously offered us cold Pacífico and shrimp quesadillas in exchange for a pre-determined number of Mexican pesos. We washed the sweat off with a brief, refreshing swim. From there we had almost continued on to Yelapa, one of the most popular day trips from Puerto Vallarta, but were feeling pretty exhausted so instead chose to take a water taxi back to Boca and from there a bus back to town, arriving potentially earlier than expected because the brakes seemed on the verge of exploding, leading to the driver using them sparingly, if at all.
That night we met up with Brian, my friend and soccer teammate from home, and his girlfriend Setare, for a leisurely meal at Polo’s and a couple drinks at the Los Muertos Brewing. Despite the name, which translates to “The Dead”, we walked home without fatal incident.
Yada, yada, yada – had some stomach complications – yada, yada, yada – addressed my self-image issues with a sharp new haircut by Chuy – yada, yada, yada – went for some terrific mole chicken at the appropriately-named El Mole de Jovita – yada, yada, yada – more malecón – yada, yada, yada – made our way via a series of mostly-empty public buses out to Samba Vallarta Resort in Nuevo Vallarta in anticipation of the arrival of 21 of our closest family (on the Johnston side) and friends (not our first choices, but their eagerness was endearing enough to warrant invitations). Spoiler alert: they showed up, fun was had, much food was eaten, much skin was fried, and livers were heavily tested. More on that next time…