In search of the authentic Mexico
Vail, CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of travel stories from Edwards residents Dennis Jones and Yolanda Marshall about their journey through Mexico. Jones is a professional photographer. View more of his work at http://www.dreamcatcherimaging.com.
It has been 40 years since I first camped on the beach in Puerto Vallarta. Mismaloya Cove of Night of the Iguana fame, was little more than a lovely beach with exceptionally clean water, palapas and a small restaurant. The movie set with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s house lay deserted and crumbling on the point.
Now, the picturesque cove is another resort hotel like the untold numbers which have sprung up over the years. The formerly tranquil Puerto Vallarta long ago joined the ranks of all-to-popular beach destinations.
This is my third visit over the ensuing years. The growth is staggering. Yolanda and I made reservations on-line for two nights at a four-star hotel north of the city in Nueva Vallarta, the most recent area of development.
At a reasonable $100 per night, the Villas del Palmar was well worth the price. Situated on a narrow beach with a lovely view north to Punta Mita, it delivers on it’s promised resort experience. Three beautifully landscaped, saltwater pools cascade one into another surrounded by palm trees and lounge chairs.
We took a rickety bus into Puerto Vallarta and found the city dirty and overrun with tourist traps.
Dinner was at La Vitea, an outdoor restaurant. A soft, warm breeze played across the paseo. Conversations of promenading locals and tourists were punctuated by the gentle sounds of rolling surf. For under $30, including a glass of wine and a beer, Yolanda and I shared a generous salad, delicious crab cannelonis and an excellent linguini with large shrimp in a rich, flavorful saffron sauce. No need to buy the large portion. The smaller portions, costing a third less, were sufficient.
Two buses are required to get back to Nuevo Vallarta. The brakes on the first rattletrap made a long, deafening, metallic groan that vibrated through my spine every time they were applied. The second bus, much nicer, took us on a long, winding tour through the sprawling resort of Nuevo Vallarta.
I was blown away by the development. Guarded gates shielded the inmates from the populace. Marinas, golf courses, high-rise condos and mega-resorts go on for miles. This is not the Mexico I came to experience.
After two nights of luxury, we boarded a first-class bus for the 12-hour trip to San Miguel de Allende and hoped for taste of authentic Mexico.
The road to Guadalajara, our first stop, rose quickly through a dense, tropical landscape. Enormous, flowering trees competed with palms and lush foliage for light. Colorful birds flitted amidst the canopy, startled by our passing. Even now, during the dry season, the beauty is lustrous.
An hour later and we reached the vast central plateau. For the next four-and-a-half hours we moved eastward through a landscape of verdant hills, lush valleys, small, dusty towns and agave-filled fields. Mountains rose to meet the sky. It’s been 40 years since first driving this road and none of it is familiar.
Guadalajara’s huge suburbs met us far from the city center. The bus deposited us at a terminal somewhere to wait the hour for our connection to San Miguel.
The last five-and-a-half hours proved less interesting. The landscape was drier and flatter, with large expanses of huge Nopales, a beavertail-type cactus used in cooking and salads.
We passed slowly through the crowded streets of Leon, a big, unattractive, industrial city. After the sun set, the outskirts of Guanajuato appeared through the windows. In the dark we made our way on a two-lane road through low mountains, held up briefly by the aftermath of a horrific head-on collision.
The lovely lights of what I suspected to be San Miguel de Allende appeared in the plain below. Exactly 12 long hours after we began, we arrived. For 30 pesos, about $3, a taxi took us to Casa Crayola, a small, eclectic grouping of colorful casitas and rooms surrounding a lovely garden. Already I sensed a change in atmosphere and attitude, an authenticity, a pride of place with deep cultural roots, a tranquility born in confidence; knowing that your town is among the best places on earth.
Dennis Jones is a local photographer and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.