Though we are only on our second day, this trip has been very special to me already. I am writing this entry in our open air bedroom – the one that is three stories above the ground with no walls allowing me to overlook the Mexican jungle and hillside. There is a symphony of wildlife playing on the hillside…down below, in the town, I can hear fisherman shouting out that they’ve got a fresh catch for sale. Lily has been in our pool for hours. Next to me Bird is still sleeping with shards of sunlight spreading across her face. She doesn’t feel well this morning.
But let me not start there. It was such a struggle to actually get to Mexico yesterday that it feels like we’ve been here for weeks. For starters, I had an awful travel schedule last week that put me in nine different airports in four days. That’s right – nine airports. In four days. Tuesday was I was in 15 degree Madison, WI and Thursday and Friday were in Washington DC, also cold. I flew Back to Ohio via Cincinnati and was supposed to be home by 7pm Friday, but didn’t make it until about 10pm because the entire state was getting snow and the roads were slow moving. I guess that would be ok, except for the fact that our flight to Mexico was scheduled to depart Columbus at 7am the next morning and I hadn’t packed so much as a t-shirt.
It was still snowing, too. So after some quick calculations about our drive-time, the fact that we were flying internationally, etc… we decided we would need to leave the house at 3am. And that meant getting everything together and waking up at 2:30. So basically no sleep. Worse yet, our airplane not only had to be de-iced, but it had a mechanical problem as well. And, as our pilot informed us, since US Air no longer has its own maintenance crews and instead uses contractors, the fix we needed was going to take awhile…because the contractors don’t work on weekends. Ugh. It’s not fun to have your flight delayed, ever. Its worse when it’s your vacation that’s being delayed. But knowing that you are exactly the beneficiary of the airline cutbacks and your vacation is suffering is the absolute worst of all.
We easily missed our connection in Phoenix, but with some quick on the ground action, we jumped on another flight and made it to Puerto Vallarta without further delay. Then customs, then car rental, then a 45 minute drive through the jungle where Rhonda and I each entertained our own quiet thoughts about how we had no clue where we were or where we were going. It’s true – we didn’t have a map or an address, just a general idea of where we were supposed to go.
I have a strange affliction – maybe all men do – where I innately think it is shorter to continue on to a destination when I am lost than it is to turn around and head back, or stop. It really makes no sense, at least not as much sense as just admitting that continuing on is merely a gamble. Maybe our destination is in front of us, maybe it isn’t. I’m lost, remember? As we followed a green truck whose driver was without question hammered off his ass and careening back and forth on an unbelievably dark, narrow and curvy road in the jungle, Rhonda started suggesting that we’d gone too far. I, of course, insisted that we were on track. But the truth is that I didn’t know where we were. I was equal parts convinced that we had at least a 50% chance of reaching our destination and a 50% chance of getting killed by a drug cartel if we stopped in the jungle to turn around. Either way, not the odds you want.
Luckily right before I conceded defeat we hit a little village with people walking around. I’m not afraid of anyone and I am certainly not against asking for help. So I pulled up next to some young kid and asked him in Spanish where we could find Sayulita. Wouldn’t you know it…it was just the next “pueblo”. We were almost there.
But almost where? Remember, we’ve never been here before and didn’t have an address or anything more than a pencil drawn map of how to get to the house once we reached the town. I won’t belabor the experience of us driving in the dark, up and down the lush hills of Sayulita looking for a house that resembled the one we’d seen online. We did eventually find it, just by recognizing it. Oh yeah, then when we got inside the compound we found out that no one left the keys to actually get into our house. Nice. But we did get in and from that point forward we have been living in a perfectly tranquil tropical dream.
One thing worth remembering – for that entire 18 hour endeavor we had nothing to eat except carrot sticks, chips and apple slices. Nothing. Parental FAIL. We usually pack all kinds of things but I think the stress of the pressured timeline made us forget some of our usual key details. We didn’t have time to get anything in the airports either. At 8pm (literally 18 hours from when we started) we finally had a fabulous dinner of seafood pasta, carne asada, shrimp fajitas and fresh guacamole….but that was nearly a day after we’d started.
But the point worth remembering isn’t the food – it’s how well our girls did. No sleep, no food and no clear answers about when it would all end is a recipe for aggravation in ANY human being and its exponentially stressful for young kids. Both our girls were absolute champs. We had no crying, no fighting – nothing but sweet little girls who are growing increasingly comfortable with the ups and downs of travel. It was such a long day and by the time we got food in our bellies they were ready to crash. In fact, Lily fell asleep sitting up in the restaurant and I carried her all the way home. Bird held hands with her mom and chatted all the way home about her plans for the week and her fear of getting bitten by one of the hundreds of stray dogs running around, but she was asleep within minutes once we got home. So proud of them both.
Our accommodations are pretty interesting. It’s an enclosed compound with three different casitas built into a hillside. In the middle is a pool and all of the bathrooms and bedrooms are open air. Pretty crazy and awesome. Several architects from Boulder designed the place so even though there aren’t windows and walls in some places when it rains you aren’t going to get wet. In fact, there are some parts of the house where there is live foliage growing that gets watered by the rain coming through the ceiling. Here is the view from the shower.
The town is pretty spectacular. Sayulita is a languid little fishing and surfing town about 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta. It’s got narrow, cobblestone roads and they all lead to a sleepy beach at the end of every street. Dozens of small bakeries, markets and restaurants line the roads and you can probably tour the entire town by foot in less than 45 minutes. The most appealing thing is, unsurprisingly, that it hasn’t (yet) been overrun with American tourism. I’m sure it won’t be the same in 10 years.
There are definitely a fair amount of Americans here. I’d say they divide into three groups – surfers, retirees and couples just like us – 40 somethings with young children. But these are the cool Americans, the ones that aren’t looking to have an experience they could have back home. They like it the way it is here – quiet, authentic and beautiful. These are people that wouldn’t dream of spending their vacation on the Miami-esque beaches of Cancun, or in Carlos and Charlies – where once you’re inside its impossible to tell whether you’re actually in Mexico or the knock-off franchise in the Baltimore Airport. (Yes, I included myself in the group of ‘cool Americans’)
Our first day was spent feeling everything out. I had to run into Puerto Vallarta to pick up Rich, Maria and their little boy Max around noon. Before I even left the girls and I had been to a restaurant for breakfast, the pool and the beach. That’s right – we weren’t messing around. Later in the day after I’d returned with everyone else we walked the town and had fish tacos at a place a friend had recommended. For dinner Rich and I hit the road to see what we could gather from the locals. We started at a bakery by the beach, then purchased some more rolls out of the back of a truck. The fish market was closed, but I spoke to a woman running a vegetable stand across the road and she knew who to talk to in order to get them to get the fishermen to pause their game of pool on the roof and open up their coolers for us. We bought three pounds of fresh caught mahi mahi for about $10 – which would cost us $60 at Whole Foods back in the states and not be as fresh. Back to the vegetable stand we went and an hour later we were grilling our catch with frosty tequila drinks in our hand…made from a mix of things we bought at the fruit stand. Not bad.
I’ve been very reflective since arriving. Already this trip reminds me of my childhood trips to Mexico. Now, more than ever, I see the continuum – how what my parents translated their values and beliefs on to me and they made a concerted effort to ensure that we would have childhood experiences that would shape our character for the rest of our lives. Now I see the next chapter – how it all plays out on my kids. And of course, Rhonda and I remind me of my parents and my kids remind me of, well, me. But I think they’re better than me. At five and six I think they’ve had more experiences than me and are perhaps more seasoned.
I walk through the little roads of this town with a permanent smile on my face, grateful to my parents, happy about my children. Things are good.