Neither of us slept well the first night following our traumatic entrance into Puerto Vallarta. But by 10 a.m. the next morning, we found ourselves in the backseat of the car of Mr. Benjamin Sanchez, our Uber driver, as he drove us to Sayulita on a mountainous, winding 2-lane tropical jungle road. We left behind the resort-style campus of the Hilton with its numerous buffets of bland (but free) California sushi rolls, bland red wine, bland quesadillas. But we had discovered the best Mexican beer.
In my opinion, Pacifico is the best of all the popular Mexican beers and I give it my heartiest recommendation. Even more exciting is the fact that even Trina, who never drinks beer, liked it! More on that later.
We soon came to trust Benjamin and shared stories about our families. We passed through coastal towns of Nueva Vallarta and Bucerias before plunging into the hot Mexican jungle for the final leg. Up and down hills, through narrow passes and always under lush high foliage. We zoomed by secluded fruit stands and merchandise vendors.
I told Benjamin that we had considered renting a car at the airport, and asked what he thought. Was there any danger? Just a couple of rich gringos. Could we be captured by the cartels and held for ransom? No, he said. The cartels leave American tourists alone because local business depends on them. Kidnapping Americans would give Mexico a bad reputation, tourism would dry up, and the whole area would suffer.
The ones to worry about are the police, he said, because if your car breaks down or if you get in an accident and need police support, their eyes will start spinning with dollar signs and you will have to pay a steep price to get them to lift a finger for you. It was better to skip the rental car and use Uber or the taxis. I think that was the first really good news we received on the trip.
Sayulita’s streets are all cobblestone and we drove slowly. The sidewalks were teeming with people. Skies were clear, the sun was warm, and the air was dry. Benjamin had trouble finding our boutique hotel, The Distrito 88. There was no sign, no marquee, no welcoming entrance, and no check-in counter. After a call to the hotel, we learned that an understated, wrought-iron gate was the entrance, and it stayed locked at all times.
The concierge whose name was Lalo met us at the gate with smiles and fluent English. Almost everyone spoke English. Benjamin wanted to book our trip back to the airport, but Lalo warned us all that the taxi union was very territorial about Sayulita, and they had an ongoing feud with Uber. Past hotel guests had been trapped in Sayulita when taxi drivers saw tourists getting the much cheaper Uber car and blocked their exit. If you want to use Uber, you need to meet at the edge of town to avoid angry taxi drivers. We told Benjamin Sorry, but we would be getting a taxi.
Distrito 88 has only 8 rooms. No children allowed. The rooms were gorgeous and the view of the water from up the side of a steep hill was spectacular. Lalo led us on a long trip up outdoor stairways to get to the very top of the facility which was built into the mountainside. Our studio apartment had air conditioning, fast wifi and kitchenette. No rice on the bedspread.
We skipped out to find some lunch: a hamburger and chicken enchiladas, and chips and the best guacamole anyone has ever eaten at a place called Chocobanana. We gave some pesos to a woman who came up to our table with a sign that said she had leukemia.
It was still early afternoon so we went down to the beach for a dip in the ocean and a little beach reading. A man brought us cheap margaritas in our lounge chairs. I bought a breezy hat from a man walking around with 20 of them stacked in his hands. A group of teenagers sitting next to us was drinking tequila from a bottle and singing Mexican pop songs. After a while, they all fell asleep.
At this point may I remind you that this vacation was just shortly after the Texas snowstorm that left us traumatized without power for five days. When we got back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner, the power was out in the whole block. Our hearts sank. I texted Lalo, did he know what was going on? Yes, he said, there was an explosion and probably a transformer had blown up nearby. It was Sunday evening. What chance was there, I wondered, that the Sayulita utility company would get power restored? I thought we were doomed to have no power for days.
Back in the room we had no lights, no internet. Trina took a shower using up all water in the water tank on the roof. I took a bath in the swimming pool.
We went out to buy candles and bottled water, and to find a place to eat. We saw that most of the rest of the town still had power.
We ate at a restaurant called Davalu that had a balcony overlooking the town square. The food was unbelievably delicious. I had the Filet Dorado al Pastor and Trina had Pasta Mexicana. Lalo texted me while we were there to say that the power was back on.
A meek little girl about five years old and all alone came up to our table with a bundle of the same colorful woven bracelets we had seen other vendors selling. She mumbled something in Spanish that probably meant Would I like to buy one? We were already used to saying No to the numerous peddlers who were everywhere selling crafts, and Trina said “No thank you” at the exact moment that I said, “Sure! I’ll take one,” and the little girl turned to Trina and said “Ha!” right in her face. The bracelet was 10 pesos or 5 US cents, certainly worth it to make that spunky little girl happy.
When we were walking back, there was the utility truck and three men who had just finished getting power restored! Shame on me for being such a pessimist about Mexico. I’m happy to report that contrary to what is often reported on American TV, it is a strong, beautiful country. So much of what we’ve heard about drug kingpins and gun violence was nowhere to be seen on our trip.
That evening we heard that there had been mass shooting in Austin.
The end of Day 2.