Just got back from a lovely weekend in Puerto Vallarta; lost a pretty serious farmer´s tan and gained some battle-scars from surfing in very shallow water over barnacle-encrusted rocks. Highlights: snorkeling under Los Arcos (monumental rock arches soaring above the water near Mismaloya beach). We snorkelled in the middle of a torrential downpour, so the contrast between the tranquil teal ocean and the turbulent, steely rain drops falling from above was cool. I spent a lot of time diving and flipping around on my back…when viewed from below, the rain drops impacting the surface looked like millions of camera flashes at a football game. Our fearless leader and tour guide, Captain Sergio, brought a loaf of sliced white bread, which the fish loved. He chucked handfulls into the water, engulfing us in schools of fluted trumpetfish, blue, yellow, and black striped angelfish, and some angry-looking chubby grey fish, one of which bit Andy on the finger (understandably…most of us did look a little like white bread before we spent much time getting tan on the beach). We also caught a very distraught looking pufferfish. Purple, spiky, and fat, its eyes bulged and beaked mouth garbled as we mercilessly petted and passed it around. When we finally made it back ashore after three hours in the water, we grabbed cameras, bags, shoes, and ran for the nearest shelter from the downpour…a little beach side restaurant. It had a less-than- sound thatched roof that sent rivulets of water shooting into puddles in the middle of the floor, but it was drier than being out on the beach! We sat around comparing prune-fingers and drinking free margaritas (the perks of traveling in large groups!) until our food came. Stay tuned for some underwater photos (featuring the pufferfish), I´ll upload them when I get my hands on them.
Another highlight was a very cool Cuban restaurant/bar that we discovered on Saturday night. It was filled the the brim with well dressed Mexicanos of all ages, and the dance floor was packed. We cautiously tried out some salsa moves, discreetly (hopefully) peeking at the dancers around us to try to pick up some tips. Also, we had some delicious empanadas and dirty rice topped with a blistering scotch-bonnet salsa, tall, dry mojitos, and Holly ordered a humongous, iridescent red strawberry margarita. If only I had had my camera!
We bussed over to Sayulita, a small surf town about an hour away, on Sunday. Sayulita is small and cute, and the beach was filled with Brits and Americans surfing and lounging the day away. There was a group of 80 university students from Guadalajara up for the weekend, and I actually bumped into 4 or 5 friends from the first hostel I stayed at in Guadalajara. It was an overcast day, but I still managed to get pretty burnt while surfing. A few of us rented boards (figuring that lessons from a surf instructor are for the unadventurous) and proceeded to get up and fall off for an hour or more, scraping fingers and feet on the crusty rocks just below the surface (the waves were breaking very close to the beach so the water was quite shallow)! I have four matching abrasions on my chest and stomach from wiggling around on the foam surface of my board, but it was definitely worth those few brief, thrilling moments of successful riding (and the more thrilling, more frequent moments of having my board catapulted out from under me by an unexpected swell). Nancy and Chris, I think you guys will love it there!
Reflecting on the weekend during the bus ride back, I realized I´d learned a ton about myself this weekend. Traveling in a large group really put my own preferences, my own style of traveling and exploring, into relief. I like getting up early, grabbing a quick breakfast, grabbing my camera and heading off for points unknown. Wandering, getting lost, and getting home late for dinner are all part of the fun for me. This is difficult (and somewhat inconsiderate) to do when you´re with a group of friends, each of whom has their own desires, preferences, and schedules. Seeing so many different traveling styles at once was a boon…everyone has their own way of encountering a new place, of familiarizing themselves, exploring, and interacting with new people, and it was really cool to see it all unfold over the weekend. I learned a lot about patience, about compromise, but I also learned that you don´t have to be with people you´ve known for years to really connect, and have a great time to boot!
We got back exhausted on Monday night, but I dragged myself out (camera in hand, money in shoe) to the enormous festival de la Virgin de Zapopan. I hopped a commuter bus to Zapopan, about 10 minutes from my house, and wandered through the festivities taking photos . There were huge crowds, bands and dance performances by leaf-clad dancers, carnival games, street food galore, and even impromptu blanket auctions presided over by breathless men wearing clip-on microphones. The coolest part was the long, snaking line stretching from the Basilica across the huge plaza and out to the street…probably a quarter of a mile long. The faithful (and curious) waited all night long, inching up bit by bit, to pay their respects to the Virgin of Zapopan (a knee-height, ornate doll), who had been conveyed from Guadalaraja´s main cathedral to Zapopan by a large procession earlier that day. I didn´t get in line to see the Virgin, but I definitely took advantage of the abundance of street food, grabbing an interesting cone of prune-flavored ice cream.
Next on the agenda: more salsa lessons this week, a soccer game, more volunteering at the orphanage, and off to Guanajuato this weekend to see the Cervantino Festival. Rock!