Tuesday, November 11, 2014

¡Hola Paraiso! - Walking El Malecon

"There is no end to the adventures we can have if we only seek them with our eyes wide open." (Jawaharal Nehru)

It was time. We were ready to do some exploring. Deborah and I had soaked up the sun in the cabanas of the Sunset Plaza for a couple of days, but now we were ready to stretch our legs. Whenever we go away, we always like putting on our sneakers, holding each other's hand, and setting off on a long walk to who knows where. We love the exercise, and we love the chance to see something new. So that's what we wanted to do.

The view looking east from our hotel room. Downtown Puerto Vallarta is off to the right
Our destination would be Puerto Vallarta's famed "El Malecon" boardwalk. Everyone said "You must go and see it!" It had quaint shops, cobblestone lanes, street art and performances, food, history - all the culture you could want, and beautiful beaches too. All "just" 2-3 miles from our hotel - at least that didn't seem far to us! We've hiked further in the woods of Lake Tahoe, along the streets of Florence, Italy, and in the neighborhoods of southern California. Pshaw! "A piece of cake!" So, off we went that morning.

The first mile of our walk was uneventful; just walking along side the busiest thoroughfare in the city. Dieselly buses clanked and stank as they rattled by; motorcycles and sedans swerved maniacally around them, and the sidewalks soon filled with people all walking to work. Life like in any other city on a Friday morning. But there were differences. No one was in a suit and tie. We passed some magnificent buildings (like the Sheraton Buganvilias), but right next door to it was a vacant concrete shell of an empty building. And as we got closer to downtown, we began to see more and more people just standing around, looking at us as we approached.

Oh yeah. And it was hot. And humid. And we were sweating. And sweating. Our hands were slippery with moisture, even though we had only been walking for about 20 minutes. The funny thing was that we seemed to be the only ones sweating - none of the Mexicans we passed seemed to be bothered in the least by the weather... sheesh!

We had begun to enter Old Puerto Vallarta, and now the main street was lined with shops and flags.

And the people just standing around began to come to life. "Hey, senor! Come and see what I've got! Good stuff here. Come take a look!"... "Hey, senorita! Take a look - you never know what you'll find! 1/2 price today!"... "Buenos dias, senor...come have a free shot of tequila and look around!". We had entered another Mexican "gauntlet" - just like the time share reps at the airport. The only difference was these people were selling blankets, earrings, hats, and tacos instead of a resort. They were very sharp sighted too. One guy saw the bracelets we were wearing that were our identification at the resort and yelled to us, "Hey! We met at the Sunset Plaza! Don't you remember me? Come over here!"... Clever!

Just when we were beginning to think we had made a mistake coming here and having to wade through all of this, we turned a corner, and there it was: the entrance to the Malecon, The cacophony of the vendors died down a little bit as the sea breeze took its place....beautiful...

There were statues every where along the way.

There were street artists, like this man sculpting a sand Virgin Mary.

And then there were the Birdmen of Papantla. We had heard of this daily act, and there they were right in front of us. 4 brightly costumed acrobats climbed to the top of a 100 foot pole and then leaned back and slowly fell to the earth, twirling to the sound of ancient pipes and drums. An incredible show!

We were grateful for the show, but I was even more grateful for the rest. I was pooped after only 40 minutes of walking (and so were all the other tourists who had plopped down around us to watch the Birdmen!).  It was time to go find something to eat...and a margarita to boost our spirits a little bit.

Too tired to resist, we were "shanghaied" by another friendly sidewalk barker who shuffled us upstairs into a nearby restaurant: The Bar Oceano. We enjoyed the view, the margaritas, and the fajitas. In just an hour and a half, Mexican culture had washed over us like a wave. We laughed at how much we had seen and experienced in so little time. How much more did we have the energy for?

We got up and continued our stroll. We saw more shops - Deborah stopped and bought a beautiful "peasant" dress from one very excited lady who fussed and fussed over her as she tried it on. Then when we left, eagerly looked out the window, hunting for the next "catch".

We finally came to the Malecon's most famous landmark, its Arches. These Arches are part of an amphitheater next to the Naval Museum there. We stopped for a picture.

There was more of the Malecon to walk - the "Zona Romantica", Viejo Vallarta - still lay ahead of us to wander around. But the weather had gotten the best of us. All we wanted to do was go back to the hotel, change our clothes, and dive into the pool. We could return to finish the "Malecon Mile" another day.

We turned around at the arches and started the steamy slog back to the resort. We walked by the city's famed Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with its distinctive crown-shaped dome, but didn't stop for long.

We walked through a couple of more of the city's flea markets, but had little stomach for more haggling, and for carrying anything else with us on our trek back.

We could've hailed a cab. A number of drivers slowed as they neared us and offered us a comfortable return to home. But we were stubborn. We had walked down here. We were going to walk all the way back. An adventure begun must be ended properly. It was a looong ways back, but we would do it.

Looking back to our hotel from the Malecon. Our hotel is the tiny orange one way far away!
"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." (Neale Donald Walsh)

By 4 pm, we were back at the Sunset Plaza - exhausted, but glad we had gone on our journey.  It was a unique experience to walk around a city in a lesser developed country and experience all that we did: to see the contrasts of riches right next to sheer poverty, to feel the persistence of the vendors whose lives relied on their ability to attract customers without making them feel like "marks", to savor the cool sea breeze at the same time as the sun steamed our necks, and to wade through all that was vibrant and alive.

And most of all, it made me more appreciative of all that Deborah and I had back at home. That would be a thought that would come to us more than once as our vacation here in "Paradise" continued.  We had stepped out of our "comfort zones" just a little by coming here to Mexico - it would've been easier to have just gone someplace that we had always gone to (Lake Tahoe, the Oregon coast) - and we would've settled comfortably into what we liked, seen what we've always seen. But in doing that, we would've missed a valuable gift.

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." (Henry Miller)

This trip was bringing us closer and closer together. Through its challenges and new experiences, we were feeling a greater appreciation for all that we already had...and most importantly, for each other.  Gracias to Puerto Vallarta for that special gift... it has anchored us ever since!

There is more to tell about this trip...but I'll save that for that next chapter... Adios, amigos!

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